Monday, January 19, 2009

Super-moist banana & spelt cake

Another busy weekend, another Monday rolls around.

I actually did a bit of cooking on the weekend - pancakes for breakfast, roast beef on Saturday night, and the top tier of the wedding cake. The whole house smelled gorgeous for about 24 hours and I'm pretty happy with the result. Now for about 8 weeks of drizzling it with brandy and I'll be ready to try my hand at old fashioned white icing for the first time in my life. If I think about it too much, I'll realise how insane that sounds and get discouraged. So I'll move on quickly...

Yesterday I made two banana cakes.  In this heat, everything ripens so quickly and I hate wasting food so the bananas had to go. Banana cakes are not nearly as glamorous as old fashioned rich fruit cake destined for the all-important top tier, but  they're really nice in the lunchbox and I was grateful for the sugar hit today at about 3pm. It's so moist that butter was not necessary.

This recipe makes two cakes. I had a loaf pan and a standard sized round tin on hand so that's what I used. Both work, but the loaf is probably more traditional and manageable. If you don't like or have spelt, just use regular plain flour. Or use self-raising flour, and leave out the baking powder.


4 medium sized, ripe bananas
4 cups spelt flour
4 eggs
250g butter, softened but not melted
2 1/2 firmly packed cups brown sugar
3/4 cup milk
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp baking powder

I usually make cakes the old fashioned way that my mother taught me. That is, cream the butter and sugar first. Then in go the eggs, one by one. Followed by the baking powder, cinnamon & vanilla and half the flour. Add half the milk and once it's all mixing together well, thrown in the rest of the flour and milk. Add a little more milk if you feel the mix is too stiff. It should have some body to it, but not too much. Oh, and I use an electric mixer, but once all the ingredients are in, you don't need to beat it to death. Just combine everything really well and get some air in there.

Bake for about 45 mins to one hour at 180ºC (or 160ºC fan forced). Depending on your oven and whether you cook both at once you might need a little more or less time. Keep an eye on it and when you think it's cooked, test with a skewer - if it comes out clean, you're done. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Canberra when it sizzles...

It's hot. I mean, really hot. Dry and hot, but that's Canberra for you in the summertime.

Today it was too hot to walk the 10 minutes into town at lunch time. And I even wore flat shoes and a cotton dress to work. My natural inclination is to tend towards comfort by not wearing more clothing than necessary when summer heats up, while still maintaining a modicum of dignity and my professionalism. I would definitely not be inclined to wear something as archaic as a slip. But being such a lady I wore a slip today as I didn't think a clear view of my underpants was appropriate for the office. Pity I didn't realise until I got to work that the damned thing had slid down and was slightly longer than the dress. The whole effect was slightly grandmotherish and wouldn't do. So out came the stapler.

Stapling up the back bit was tricky, but my very accommodating and unflappable colleague Emma (who would never wear a slip that's too long), helped. She assured me that as a mother of two girls, nothing (such as the week before waxing legs) would phase her. I was in no position to be proud.

With hem of aforementionedd slip safely raised and with no fawn coloured beige lace showing, I ventured out onto the street. The slip situation didn't help, but at the end of the day it was just too darn hot, as the song goes. So I went back to my airconditioned office and read the news online. It's funny how we all long for summer and then when it heats up, everyone complains. Except Tim who loves the heat.

It's getting late but I'm still hot. Tim's hot. Ladybug is hot. We had hot soup for dinner. (Ladybug had cold dogfood. Dogs are smart). Maybe not that well thought through a decision, but it meant nobody had to cook and it's the first day the local laksa place has been open in a month. It's certainly too hot to attempt going to sleep. Grrrr....

So how does all this drivel lead into a food blog entry? Well, the long and the short of it is that it's too hot to cook and looks like it will stay too hot for another day or so. But stay tuned folks because I have a few cool things coming up on the weekend, including the start of a wedding cake which will be an experiment I promise to share, even if it's a total disaster!

In the meantime, I suggest a cool shower and a lemonade icypole.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The world's top 10 most interesting foods

Here's something different - a cool little article about the world's 10 most interesting foods. While I'd love to try a hachiyagaki persimmon, I think I'll pass on the mite cheese. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Man colds and comfort food

I've been back at work for two days and not even struggling. The same can't be said for Tim, who has a man-cold and is suffering. Sadly, he does not suffer in silence. Calling him 'Rudolph' didn't help. We now have the paramedics on stand by and my mother is scheduled to make chicken soup in the morning after she gets home from night shift. Sigh...

Comfort food is the word in these situations, preferably something you've got close at hand. Cottage pie on this occasion. It's warm without being too hot so on a warm, but not scorching, day like today, it still works. It's comforting without being heavy or stodgy. It's good for you... relatively good for you... And it's delicious. I actually made this on the weekend and the brilliance of it is that it is not only comforting and able to tempt the palate of someone on his death bed (aka the couch), it also freezes really, really well. So I was set when I got home to my poor, sick, germie, man-cold victim.

This recipe makes enough for several meals for two hungry people. Or it could probably feed an average family with leftovers. Unless your family is made up of rugby players and then it's an entree. 


tbsp or two of olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finally chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped or grated
1 kg beef mince
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
140g tub tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 tsp ground cumin (optional)
1 tsp dried oregano
salt & pepper
1 tsp finely ground chilli powder (optional)
1 kg potatoes, peeled & boiled
60 g butter
1/2 cup milk
1 cups frozen peas
1/2 cup grated cheese (or more if you like)

In a pan with a little olive oil, soften the onions, garlic & carrots. There's no need to brown them. Then throw in the mince and parsley. I don't use the leanest of lean mince as I find it gets too dry. Brown off the meat and make sure you break it apart with a spoon or spatula as you go. You don't want big chunks and you want to spread the flavour.

Add the parsley, tomato paste, wine, oregano & cumin if you like it. Some people don't, but it gives it a really nice taste and it's not hot, so leave it in if you can. Same with the chilli - I like it a little hot. I know it's not traditional, but whatever. A hint of chilli, and that's all it should be, gives the flavour extra depth. Salt & pepper to taste. Don't overdo the salt though.

Make up the mashed potato. I've given my ingredients, but do it however you like. Salt to taste but again, not too much. Not a health kick, you just don't need salt taking over a flavoursome dish. 

To assemble, put the mince into a baking dish and flatten out a bit. Then a layer of frozen peas - they'll soften up in the oven. Flatten them down. Then gently top with the mash. If you like, scatter some cheese on top. More or less as you like. 

Cook for around half an hour or until you see the mince bubbling a bit and the cheese is brown. Alternatively, cook for a bit, then stick the cheese on top and brown under a grill. All the ingredients are cooked and at a minimum you could probably just grill, but I like to give it a chance to get all the flavours working and each layer sticking together really well. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back to work...almost

I couldn't face going back to work today. Thankfully I realised this on Friday and my wonderfully understanding boss didn't press the point. (If you're reading this, you're the best!) Having had two weeks off work, I'm more tired than when I started! Why? I suspect it has to do with too much holiday spirit, the lurgy, and not enough cooking. On the weekend I took steps to rectify this by mucking about in the kitchen. 

The first thing I made is a sort of 'getting back into the swing of normal living' comfort type dish. I'll share that later this week. After all the richness of holiday feasting, I just felt like something simple and normal and unfussy. Still tasty and good, but without the intricate flavours and heaviness that sometimes creeps into Christmas food. Last week we attempted lots of salads and simple pastas, but still managed a few bbqs with friends and on one occasion my mother cooked one of her favourites. Nobody complained. I think this week we need to return to utter simplicity and since I will have to go back to work at some stage, lunches will be a priority.

But back to the new recipes, the one I'm sharing today is a sort of left-over thing you can do with your Christmas goodies, if you have any left. A friend mentioned something along these lines on Friday night, and I just had to come up with my own recipe on Saturday because it sounded so good. Basically, it's a variation of cookies and cream ice-cream. Instead of cream filled cookies, you use fruit mince pies. 

This may sound weird but it really works. I can't actually eat it, but I have it on the authority of both Tim and my brother Sam that it's good. It's also totally simple to make and literally takes a few minutes.

Fruit mince pie ice-cream

1.5 lt good quality vanilla ice cream
4 mince pies
1/2 cup fruit mince (see my earlier recipe)
1/2 cup frozen pitted cherries

Plonk the whole lot in a food processor or mixer (I cut up the cherries roughly first and used the mixer) until well combined. Put the mixture into moulds or into a single container and freeze until firm. 

Serve with whatever you like, but I used some more cherries blended with Cointreau into a thin sauce. You could also drizzle white chocolate over the top. 

NB. Tim's not happy with this photo, but you can't have everything.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!!!

First, thanks to everyone who made Christmas brilliant this year. It really was something extra special. Huge thanks to my super-hospitable Melbourne friends - Samira, Tamare and Nigel, my beautiful mother, and of course Tim, who out-did himself in the super-thoughtful surprise present category.

Christmas day was brilliant and involved some truly wonderful and very memorable food, none of which we photographed because we were having too much fun (and possibly a little too much champagne as well). As soon as we returned from Melbourne (and I mean within hours) I got sick so as not to be sick when I'm back at work next week because that would be so disappointing. 

Second, congratulations to my friends Jane and Mic who decided to get married over the break. We were two of the four people invited to attend. All the best you two!

Third, Happy New Year!!!!!

I'm sure that like a lot of people, I can't believe that it's already 2009! The last few weeks of 2008 were certainly a little mental and I felt like I bolted to the finish line with work, slightly struggling in the final days. The hair cut from hell that I nipped out to get on my final day of work did not help the situation. Thank God my hair grows quickly. 

But moving on, there's lots of good stuff coming up in the next few weeks. For now I thought I'd share one of Tim and my favourite photos of Christmas food that I made. They're my gingerbread cookies that I make every year as gifts. There's no recipe coming but since Christmas is past, I can't see anyone minding. It's the one recipe of mine that I selfishly keep to myself, year after year. Sorry. 

And now back to 2009.