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.