Thursday, 27 December 2012

Lime coconut bread

It's the day after the day after Christmas.  It's the in between time of year.  The presents are unwrapped but the new year's resolutions yet to be made.  While the official festivities are over, you can't quite go back to your regular bowl of muesli just yet.  So here's the in between of the breakfasts - quite a bit more special than cereal or toast but not so elaborate it requires multiple bowls, cooking coordination or fancy ingredients.  And once it's made, all that's required over the next few days is slicing it up and popping it into the toaster. 

It rained in Sydney on Christmas Day this year.  I love the rain so that suited me fine.  But it meant that the bag of limes I had bought in anticipation of gin and tonics languished while long sleeves were donned and wine was poured.  The sun is out now but not before I swiped one to make this for the days ahead.  Despite the name, this loaf is somewhere in between itself - not quite bread, not quite cake.  But definitively delicious.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Nutmeg maple butter cookies

So to Christmas.  As I see it you have two choices.  Spend a horrendous couple of days battling stressed-out shoppers in search of over-priced (and inevitably under-appreciated) gifts, or take a couple of hours one evening to bake.  Cookies are fast, easy to make in large quantities and require very little concentration in their preparation – allowing you listen to a podcast, watch TV, or drink a glass of wine at the same time as solving all your present problems.  You can’t do that in the small appliances section of a department store.  

These butter cookies are simple, yet – with the addition of freshly grated nutmeg and golden maple syrup - luxurious.  While you can make them in any shape you like, I think they look especially sweet cut to resemble leaves.  Package them up prettily with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of thought: click here, here or here for some great ideas.  Happy holidays.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Rhubarb snacking cake

I was a latecomer to rhubarb.  I never ate it growing up, and then when I was all grown and buying groceries myself I still had no idea what to make of it.  It was unclear to me whether it was a fruit or a vegetable, and whatever it was you couldn't just pick up and eat it, like an orange or a carrot.  It required advance knowledge of what to do and I just didn’t have it.  Occasionally when travelling, I’d encounter it in pie form – rhubarb apple, strawberry rhubarb… it seemed like a sort of also-ran, always paired with something else, not good enough to have a vehicle of its own.  It also had a disconcerting resemblance to celery.  And who wants to eat celery pie?  So I continued in my ignorance.  But this all changed when I came across this recipe.  Maybe it was just the name (who wouldn’t immediately feel a need for something called snacking cake?), maybe I was procrastinating about something else I had to do that day, but all of a sudden I was motivated to understand rhubarb.  It turns out it’s not that complicated.  You just add sugar and suddenly – or slowly, in this case, as it bakes in the oven – it transforms from a stiff, stringy stalk into a jewel-toned jam with a pleasantly tart kick, which here nestles perfectly between a light, cakey base and a dense crumb topping.  I won’t ever underestimate it again.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


Someone asked me this morning what we eat for breakfast in Australia.  I told them that really there wasn’t anything particularly distinctive about our morning meal.  We eat cereal, eggs, bacon, pancakes, muffins, oatmeal (though we call it porridge) - all those things people in other places eat.  And then I remembered these corncakes.  They’re not the sort of thing you’d eat every day (though certainly you could) but more likely on the weekend, when you’ve got a bit of time up your sleeve and an inclination to linger…  

Breakfast is far and away my favourite meal.  I think my inability to sleep in is due in part to some kind of subconscious excitement about waking up and getting to eat (again).  It almost doesn’t matter what what's on my plate, whether I’m alone or with others, there’s something intrinsically optimistic about the first meal of the day.  Maybe it’s the light, which, in combination with a cup of coffee, renders anything - even a rubbery, reheated rectangle of eggs and bacon on an international flight - with a golden glow.

This particular breakfast feels very Sydney, perhaps because it’s a Bill Granger recipe and his style of cooking is very much of that city – clean, simple flavours, unfussy, beautiful to look at…  Eating his food is somehow like diving into an ocean pool, or watching the sunlight glitter on the harbour.  

I’m not in Sydney or even summer right now… 

But soon(ish) I will return and when I do, I’m making these.  Straight after a swim.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


I had always loved oatcakes but I had never thought to make them myself until my friend Emily, an American writer then living in the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, met a Scottish novelist visiting Australia and began a long distance love affair not only with him, but this one particular specialty of his homeland.  She’d return from Glasgow bemoaning the high cost of this Scottish standard in Australian supermarkets.  I turned, as you do, to Nigella Lawson.  Of course she had the solution.  It’s amazing just how easy they are to make and how few ingredients you need, all of which are probably already in your pantry.    

Oatcakes aren’t cakes per se, but dense, chewy, savoury crackers on which to pile all manner of good things.  I favour cheese, whether a wedge of soft brie or camembert, a sharp cheddar or a stinky blue, ideally embellished with a smear of quince paste.  There’s something pleasantly austere about these very plain biscuits.  Something straight-forward, no-nonsense.  They’re not so much moreish, as satisfyingly substantial, like a bowl of porridge.  My grandmother was Scottish and though she never made these for me, they remind me of her in some small way.  And now Emily too, since she married the Scot and lived happily ever after on a loch, far, far away.  

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Lemon polenta cakes

Though there’s nothing more satisfying than a slice of cake, it’s often excess to need to make a whole one to entertain just one friend, or two.  To counter the temptation to eat leftovers for breakfast, lunch and tea - not that there’s anything wrong with that - I (sometimes) scale down the size.  Lemon is a favourite flavour of mine in cooking, whether it’s the kick of the zest in pasta, the combination of the juice with olive oil in salad dressing or the simplicity of a wedge squeezed onto a slice of grilled haloumi.  And then there’s the magic that happens when you combine it with sugar.  Sweet and sharp is the order of the day.  Here, the yellow of the polenta goes nicely with the colour scheme, and cuts the smooth density of the almond meal with unexpected texture.  Similarly, the addition of the sugar syrup on top provides a satisfying crunch.  The other obvious advantage of making smaller cakes is the reduction in cooking time.  These can be whipped up without breaking a sweat in the hour before guests arrive. They’re as good warm as they are at room temperature or even refrigerated… just in case you do happen to have one left over to eat the next day.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Hands up who likes meatballs?  Hands up who never makes them because they’re too labour intensive or they’re still nursing the scars from frying off multiple batches in spattering hot oil?  Vegetarians stop looking smug.  Obviously, I'm not talking to you.  Maybe I’m just talking to me and you all love long prep times and third degree burns but I doubt it.  This game-changing recipe came to me via my friend Elizabeth (check out her wonderful blog The Back Yard Lemon Tree) who’d spied it on The Wednesday Chef.  Elizabeth (a vegetarian, incidentally) has a nine year old son, is routinely required to feed gangs of little boys after school on short notice and extolled the virtues of this super easy standby.  There’s no getting away from the fact you have to roll each meatball by hand, but here’s the revolutionary part – instead of frying each individually, they cook in one big batch in the sauce you serve them with.   

Bypassing the frying stage altogether means not just no more scars, but less fat too, and a whole lot less washing up.  What's more, cooking them this way allows the meat to take on more of the flavour of the garlicky tomato, which is no bad thing either.  If anyone still has their hands in the air, get them downYou need to make these.  Now.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Chocolate puddle cookies

So I had some egg whites to use up.  The last few weeks I've been running down my supplies, eating my way through the contents of my freezer, the bulk of which is surplus stock of whatever meals I've made in the last week, or month or (more likely I suspect) months, plural.  In theory I should enjoy - not to mention find convenient - retrieving something delicious that's available to me instantaneously (or at least, in the time it takes to resurrect it in the microwave) but the truth is, I miss cooking.  Food somehow doesn't taste the same when it's prepared with a bing rather than a hiss or a chop or a bubble.  So imagine my excitement when I found, tucked away behind the catering company quantities of chicken soup (prepared for a monster cold that never eventuated) and solid blocks of Bolognese, a little ziplock bag labelled EGGWHITES X 2.  As it happened, just that week, in a bout of serious food blog procrastination to fill the cooking void, I'd come across a recipe for chocolate puddle cookies.  

The name alone was enough to make me look, the accompanying image further encouragement.  Having made them, I now know it was no false advertising.  These cookies are seriously good, their crisp, cracked exterior giving way to a moist, chewy centre.  Miraculously, they manage to have an intense chocolate flavour without the usual heaviness that accompanies such an indulgence because they're made without butter or flour.  Not that I'm averse to either but some people are, so it's good to have a recipe up my sleeve that satisfies their needs without compromising my own sense of identity (as an eater of all good things).    

My freezer is empty now, my little kitchen a hemisphere away.  I won't be cooking for a while but I've got lots of recipes stored up to share in the weeks ahead.  Hopefully it'll be as therapeutic as finding those eggwhites. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Pear and ginger upside-down cake

We all have favourite places.  Places we return to again and again because they make us feel inspired, or comforted, or even just plain old happy.  Macrina Bakery in Seattle is one of these places for meThough there are three stores now, the original, down on 1st Ave is the one I head for like a homing pigeon whenever I find myself in town. I've clocked countless hours there having breakfast, coffee (well, never just coffee) or lunch with people I love, or by myself either staring out the window or writing postcards at their chrysanthemum adorned tables

A couple of years ago, Macrina published a cookbook, generously sharing their recipes, and making it possible for those of us who live far, far away and can't just pop in as much as they might like to, to have a little piece of our favourite place right here in our kitchen.

You can make this with whatever seasonal fruit is to hand - apples, nectarines, plums - but I particularly like the silkiness of the pear against the chewy crumb of the cake.  With its caramel crown and dark, brooding beauty, it looks far more high maintenance than it actually is.  It comes together quickly and is eaten just as fast.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Pumpkin chowder with rice and thyme

Sometimes, life is hard.  And for those times, there's soup.  It's kind of like the edible equivalent of a hug - warm, comforting, generous.  Here, outside my window in Sydney, the leaves flutter pale green and new on the trees.  Spring is definitely in the air but there are still just enough cool days left to wear jumpers, work indoors without resentment and... make soup.  Once you have a pot on the stove, bubbling away, you can relax, knowing that for all the other things that might be swirling around your head, at least you're fed.  And fed well.

There's something about pumpkin soup in particular, that defies difficulty.  I think partly just because of its relentlessly cheerful colour.  While I find a lot of blended vegetable soups bear an unfortunate resemblance to baby or else retirement home food, this one is neither bland or fusty.  The cinnamon imparts a lovely, warm flavour to the pureed pumpkin, the red onion a subtle sweetness, the chilli a nice kick, and the rice an unexpected texture, and a satisfying starchiness. 

For those who'll have a spare pumpkin or three lying around next week, this one's for you.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Sardinian ricotta cake

Like a lot of white middle-class people of my generation, I have a few too many university degrees. My first tertiary study was an Arts degree with a double major in French which I undertook perhaps partly to legitimise my avid reading of Paris Match (and its extensive coverage of ageing French pop stars and minor European royalty). The main things I got out of those three years were two friends called Joanna and this recipe, given to us by a boy in our class. I'm not sure where he got it from - it's way more sophisticated than any 18 year old has any right to be.  But he was French, so perhaps that explains it. The three of us quickly incorporated it into our baking repertoire and all these years later, it's still being made with regularity. For good reason. It's simple, elegant and utterly delicious. Somehow it manages to be both densely squidgy and light, its lemon flavour is subtle yet striking and it works equally well as a showstopping dessert or as an everyday cake, one which tastes especially fine with a cup of the inkiest black coffee. Voilà.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chicken biryani

Though I've never been to India, I love Indian food: the colours, the flavours, the heat...  It's quick and easy cooking with a minimum of pots and pans, which, as someone with neither a dishwasher or a large kitchen I particularly appreciate.  This dish gets double points on that front as it doesn't even require you to cook rice separately.  Brilliantly, the basmati sits on top of the marinated meat in the same pot, and steams as it's cooked in the oven, infusing with all the glorious flavour of the spices, tang of the yoghurt and sweetness of the onions. 

But far and away the very best thing about Indian food is how - with the addition of store-bought chutney or yoghurt, poppadoms or pickles, naan or roti (or all of the above) - a simple meal can be transformed into a lavish feast.  This is food to share - make a one pot dish (with a minimum of fuss and maximum of flavour), cluster your condiments and breads on the table around it, crack open some beers and dig in.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


About this time last year, my father and I did a road trip in the American midwest.  I was researching a project of mine and he came along for the ride.  Well, technically speaking, it was me who was doing the riding as Dad drove most of the time.  On the agenda were Minnesotan lakes (for me) and notable regional architecture (for him) - from dilapidated barns, to a Frank Lloyd Wright gas station (with an observation deck for you to look over the countryside you've just traversed), to the most beautiful bank in all the world, in Owatonna MN (designed by Louis Sullivan).  We clocked up a lot of miles, saw a lot of pretty leaves and ate a lot of pancakes.  Most days we'd start the morning perusing a laminated plastic menu while sipping bottomless cups of lukewarm coffee, the Rand McNally road atlas open on the table between us. 

Dad came down to visit recently.  We looked at photos from our trip.  And I made him pancakes.

There's something about pancakes for breakfast that is inherently exciting,  hence the inclusion of the exclamation mark in the title of this post.  There are endless variations on the basic combination of eggs, flour, milk and sugar (fruit, nuts, grains, ricotta... the list goes on and on) but when I'm making them at home, I like to keep it simple. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


In the biscuit world, there are the elegant – the macacrons, the madeleines, the sablés… (the French have it all sewn up basically) and then... there are these.  Hailing from New Zealand via Bedrock, these delicious pebbles of chocolaty goodness are fabulously low-rent, containing as they do, a certain secret ingredient: cornflakes!  I can imagine Fred Flintstone throwing down a few on his coffee break at the quarry, but they’re equally appropriate to serve to friends who come over with their fancy cameras (and IT skills) to help you with your blog.  Ironically, the photographs that resulted make these biscuits look as chic as their more high-class relatives.  But so much more approachable.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Pear, pistachio and chocolate cake

This cake will change your life.  This is no small claim I know, but it’s true.  This cake is so good it’s starred at a wedding reception, been immortalised in a script (not written by me) and its recipe used as leverage to extract fundraising dollars at a preschool.  Unlike other loaf cakes, it’s far from homely, its cross-section studded with pistachios, chunks of pear and chocolate and flecks of orange zest.  If you’re a person who isn’t a confident baker, or even a baker at all, then this is the cake for you.  It takes one bowl, five minutes to prepare and about an hour later, you will be swimming in compliments.  Guaranteed.  

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

French toast

I never got French toast.  The appeal of soggy, milky, eggy fried bread was lost on me.  Everything changed when I was introduced to this distant cousin of the original by my own distant cousin on my first trip to the United States. The difference here was that the bread was soaked not in milk, but orange juice (though an egg was still involved). It was not fried, but baked. And even better than that, the underside crisped and caramelised as it cooked, with no supervision required. I've made this French toast for years now and it has many converts, including my parents, who have been known to break with their routine porridge/muesli breakfast for it on my visits home. It's a great way to use use odd ends of stale bread, or oranges after you've used the zest for something else. I like to serve it with a dollop of yoghurt to undercut the sweetness, some raspberries and pistachios for texture (other combinations of fruit and nuts would work just as well I'll bet), and maple syrup for tradition. Any old ovenproof dish will do to bake it in but in my experience it tastes best (like most things) cooked in a cast iron frypan.

I first posted this recipe in September last year but somehow - in one of the great mysteries of the internet - it got knocked back into the draft section of my blog. So I'm reposting it, with better photos taken from this weekend, when I had the honour of making it for its creator - the one and only Ann Darling - who is visiting Australia and staying with me at the moment.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Apple pie


You have to start somewhere and this seems like a good place.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the United States over the years and perhaps this is why.  Pie is uniquely American and comes in as many varieties as there are states in the union, maybe more.  Over the years, I’ve tried to sample as many as possible and been shuttled around by various friends and family (good sports, all, particularly the gluten intolerant ones) in my pursuit of the perfect slice.  The truth is I like them all – marionberry, rhubarb and strawberry, blackberry, apple, key lime, cherry, loganberry, pecan, peach, blueberry, lemon meringue….  though I think they always taste best when consumed with a bottomless cup of stale coffee in a dingy diner on the side of a highway.  On a rainy day. 

Generally, I enjoy eating pie more than I enjoy making pie.  This is largely due to my crust rolling technique, or more precisely, lack thereof.  No matter how many online tutorials I watch or tips I read in recipe books, I never seem to be able to roll out pie dough without swearing as I watch it spread into a shape that in no way resembles a perfect round.  Each time, I manage to piece it together into a sort of crazy frankenpie, and somehow in the baking process it magically transforms into a smooth, perfect whole, making me forget all the pain I went through in its construction. 

A gift given to me on my last trip to the US was Adrienne Kane’s opus The United States of Pie.  This apple pie is the first recipe in the book.  By the time I get to the last I hope to have conquered the crust, once and for all.