Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Mum's Carrot & Pineapple Cake

Food is the universal language of memories isn't it? There are so many occasions when I'm cooking or eating that evoke places and people in my mind.

I remember not even being high enough to see over the bench top and "assisting" my Mum in the kitchen. The many times me, my youngest sister, and my very tiny nephew would clamber up while mum was mixing a cake and wait eagerly for a beater or the spatula to lick - lucky there was only three of us! Of course that was in the 80s and 90s when no one was getting hysterical for letting children taste raw cake batter. What I say, we all managed to survive...

Carrot and pineapple cake was - and is- my favourite. So today, I stood in her Tasmanian kitchen and used the same bowl, same spatula, and same recipe she used hundreds if not thousands of times in various homes and did my best not to cry into the mix. It doesn't seem possible a year today has already passed since we lost her, and being in the kitchen seems to me to be the best way to remember her.

When I was getting married I recall Mum telling me that if I wanted to ask my husband for something, then I should wait until after a good meal when his blood sugar was up. After over a decade of married  life I can attest that not only has this proved true, but a slice of cake works just as well 😉

Here is Mum's recipe, exactly as she jotted down. Kept inside sealed container it can last for a week, but it's unlikely not to be eaten before then!

Sift together in a large mixing bowl 1 1/2 cups of sifted all purpose flour, 1 cup sugar, 1tsp baking powder, 1tsp baking soda, 1tsp cinnamon powder, 1/2 tsp salt

Add 2/3 cup salad oil, 2 eggs, 1 cup shredded carrot, 1/2 cup crushed pineapple (with juice or syrup), and 1 TSP vanilla.

Mix until moistened, and then beat for two minutes on medium speed with a mixer.

Bake in greased and lightly floured 9" tin moderate (180°C) oven about 30 minutes or until done.

Cool 10 minutes, remove from pan and frost with your preferred icing (cream cheese icing or plain light buttercream).

***To make a vegan version omit the eggs and add another two heaped tablespoons of crushed pineapple, or two heaped tablespoons of apple sauce. Top with vegan cream cheese icing or non dairy buttercream icing.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Smoky Plum Sauce Marinated Tofu & Wilted Greens

Ah, Spring. So much choice at the fruit shop! Mangoes and strawberries are high on my must have list at present. Meals become lighter and I don't know about you but enjoying the great outdoors becomes more manageable here on our mountaintop. I've been busy in the garden soaking up lots of Vitamin D and generally enjoying being in shorts and t-shirt. The houndies have of course been ever so helpfully supervising all garden activities and sunning themselves at the same time. What would I do without them? Luckily, nobody of great concern is about to be blinded by this mountaineer's white winter legs apart from the residents of Fowlty Towers but the girls are too busy looking for grubs in any case.

This recipe makes use of autumn's plum sauce, and the fresh bright greens that are sweet and in abundance at present. Make sure you marinate the tofu from the day before for the flavour to develop fully, and top with some toasted peanuts. 

If you haven't made your own plum sauce yet I have included it at the end, but a good quality shop bought one is fine. The liquid smoke isn't essential but it does add a good flavour to the tofu, so use it if you can.

Ingredients (Dinner for Two)
250gr firm tofu
2/3 cup plum sauce (shop bought or home made)
2-3 drops of liquid smoke
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2-3 cups of Asian greens ( pak choy, gai lan, wombok, choi sum etc)
1 small bunch coriander leaves
2 cups brown rice (cooked)
toasted peanuts to serve
oil for frying


1. One day ahead, drain and cube the tofu, and put it into a container with the plum sauce and liquid smoke. Toss well to coat evenly and leave in the fridge overnight.
2. Cook rice according to packet directions and set aside, keeping warm.
3. Put  a little oil in your wok or frypan, and fry the tofu on high heat, until it is brown and sticky from the sauce. Set aside.
4. Crush the garlic and fry on high heat for a few seconds before adding your choice of greens and coriander. Add the soy sauce and a tablespoon of water and put the lid on, giving it a shake. The water helps the greens steam and wilt quickly. Leave it  a minute and take off the lid.
5. Serve the greens over the rice, with the tofu and top with toasted peanuts.

 Spicy Plum Sauce

2kg pitted red or purple plums 
1 large diced brown onion
1 cup sugar 
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 teaspoon crushed ginger
2 tsp Chinese five spice
1/4 tsp chilli powder
a little oil for frying

In a large saucepan saute the onions, garlic, ginger, spices, and plums in a little oil until onion is translucent.
Add the sugar and vinegar, and gently bring to the boil, and then reduce to low heat and put on the lid, Leave for about 30 minutes, or until the plums are very tender. Take off the heat and allow to cool a little.
You can run the mixture through a mouli, or use a hand blender, until smooth. Return to the pan and simmer on low until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Wild Mushroom Pie

I love autumn. The days are still warm enough to be outside pottering around the garden, the nights are getting quite chilly and towards the end of April we start lighting our slow combustion fire. It's cosy and pleasant. And there are mushrooms. We had so much rain at the beginning of autumn the mushrooms have been popping up ever since. ***Word of warning here folks - if you don't know which mushrooms are safe to eat don't go collecting wild mushrooms*** Here where we live in the upper Blue Mountains saffron milkcaps abound for easy picking if you know where to look. Lucky for us a great deal can just be found in our own garden under the pine trees and azaleas where they flourish and pop up reliably every year. So I took to making a delcious wild mushroom pie.If you don't have wild mushrooms, just get a nice of full flavour mushrooms from the market or grocer.

shortcrust pastry for bottom (I used two sheets of store bought because I was lazy)
puff pastry for the top (1 sheet)
3 cups sliced wild mushrooms (or mixed bought doesn't matter!)
1 stick of celery diced
1 carrot diced
2 bay leaves
handful sage leaves, shredded
1 brown onion diced
1 clove garlic
1 small bunch fresh thyme, chopped
cracked black pepper to taste (few twists will do)
2 cups porcini mushroom stock (porcini mushrooms left to soak in hot water) OR beef style stock powder
1 tablespoon of plain flour
2 tablepoons butter or vegan margarine
vegetable oil for frying plus  butter (or vegan margarine)

1. Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat and  add a tablespoon of butter. Add the onion, carrot, an celery, and saute until soft.Add the garlic, bay leaves,sage, thyme, and cracked pepper.
2. Add the sliced mushrooms, and a little more butter if needed, cooking gently on low heat until the mushrooms soften and wilt down.
3.In a saucepan melt two tablespoons of butter on low heat and whisk in the flour. Keep stirring for a few minutes to cook out the flour (or your pie will taste like batter!). Slowly begin adding in the hot stock, a tablespoon at a time and keep whisking to prevent lumps as it begins to thicken.
4. add this sauce to the mushroom mix and simmer on a ow heat for about 10- 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves, and set aside to cool. (Tip: Making this the day ahead and leaving to be completely cool also enhances the flavour for the next day).
5. Grease a 20 cm pie tin and line with shortcrust pastry. Blind bake for 10 minutes and then remove.
Spread out the mushroom filling into the case, and top with puff pastry, pressing firmly all the way around (I do a little roll around the edge to ensure it stays put).
6. Bake in a 180C preheated oven for approximately 30minutes or until the top is puffy and lightly golden.
7. Let the pie rest for a few minutes when out of the oven before slicing and serving.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Cherry Plum & Lavender Jam

I remember learning how to make jam by watching my mum as a child. I clearly recall one year my Dad had picked all the ripe plums off our enormous tree and brought them to her to make jam. It was 40 degrees in the middle of a Victorian heatwave and the last thing Mum wanted to do was hover over a hot stove. Being  a Pom (that's a Brit for those of you that don't know) she always wilted in the heat, so she popped on her swimmers and that's how she made the jam. I can still picture her in her red costume standing in our kitchen,making it.

My mum passed away in November, and I flew down to Tasmania for a week to keep my Dad company over Christmas. We went to visit Bridestowe Lavender Farm and I picked up some culinary lavender as I hadn't got around to replacing my lavender bushes yet. When the cherry plums were ripe last week I decided to pair them together to make jam - lavender adds a really lovely floral fragrance and taste to sweets, don't be afraid to try it! It is important you use lavender that has not been sprayed, so either grow some of your on or purchase the Culinary kind.

1 kilo cherry plums, pitted
1 kilo caster sugar
2 lemons
1 tablespoon lavender

Sterilise your jars and place a couple of teaplates in the fridge before you begin.

1. Place the plums and sugar in  a squeaky clean heavy based saucepan. Juice the lemons and add the juice to the pan. Add the lemon peel to the mixture (this helps the jam set, you will remove it later).

2. Stir the pan well, and bring the mixture to a boil, then quickly turn to a simmer, stirring often to prevent burning. Add the lavender and keep cooking until the fruit is very soft, and falling apart.

3.You can use a slotted spoon to skim scum off the top for a clear jam. To test if the jam is set take one of your plates from the fridge and drop a teaspoon of jam onto it. Give it  a minute to cool, and tip the plate to the side. If it is set the jam shouldn't run down the plate but stay in a blob.

4. Remove the lemon peel, and pour the hot jam into your sterilised jars, pop the lid on and allow to cool. To help the lids seal better, once the lid is on turn the jar upside down for five minutes, and then right side up, it heats the lid and as it cools brings it down. Any opened jam should be stored in the fridge, but in a cool dark cupboard unopened the jam should keep for at least six months.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Black Tahini Baba Ganouj

Dips are definitely a comfort food - but depending on what kind they can definitely be good for you too in moderation! One of my favourites is baba ganouj, I could eat a bucket of it. Tahini - an important ingredient in baba ganouj is  a great source of protein, calcium, B1, and fibre, as well as many other minerals such as copper and magnesium. You don't have to use black tahini, however use unhulled tahini if you can - it contains a much higher amount of the vitamins and minerals you are after!

1 large eggplant
2 Tablespooons black tahini
2 tablespoons unhulled tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
juice of 1 large lemon (approx 1/4 cup)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (extra for garnish)
1/4 tsp ground cumin
pinch salt
1 /2 cup chopped parsley (extra for garnish)
EVOO for drizzling

1.Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the eggplant, whole, on a baking tray and bake for 20 -30 minutes, until soft.
2.To get the smoky flavour you can either use a BBQ hotplate to finish it off, or if you have a gas stove using tongs turn the eggplant over the flame frequently until the skin blackens. Allow to cool.
3.Cut the eggplant inot large chunks, and place into a food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Pulse until smooth and well combined.
4. Put into a bowl or jar, sprinkle some extra paprika and parsley over the top, and drizzle with a little oil.

Serve with some good bread or crackers, on its own or part of a platter!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Comfort Food: Pulled Mushroom Burger with Wasabi Cashew Sauce

It has been quite a while since I have done a post. If you don't want the boring details skip to the recipe. It's great, I promise! I'll be doing a series on comfort foods over the next few weeks, and not all of them are the "give me something deep fat fried and smothered in chocolate" variety although those do have their place occasionally. I'm talking about comfort foods that nourish the body as well as the spirit. If you're in Australia remember that ad for Uncle Toby's oats where the kid tucks into a bowl of warm porridge and eating it is "like having a hug"? That's what I mean. Food that gives your body a hug.

To put this into perspective, life has been extraordinarily busy and somehow I lost time to do things for myself. I do a lot of volunteer work which is quite demanding, and this coupled with a Series  of Unfortunate Events  has left me a frazzled burnt out human. Word of warning here folks: self care is not optional. How can we take care of others if we don't take care of ourselves? No matter how demanding the world is, if you don't take time for yourself and recharge, you won't be a help to anyone! You know when you hop on a plane and the flight attendant gives you the instructions for emergencies? The first thing you do is put your oxygen mask on before you assist anyone else. That's what I need to do, and right now that oxygen mask is taking time to do the things I love.

So, about this burger....

Oyster mushrooms when cooked take on a silky texture like slow cooked pulled meat. It's been a very long time since I had meat, but I think it's a fair approximation. Cooked with ginger, garlic, and coriander root it sucks up the flavours to make a great vego version of Vietnamese banh mi thit. With a crunchy slaw it's a pretty healthy looking roll. Admittedly wasabi isn't Vietnamese but with cashews it makes a very tangy dressing. The Beloved really liked them and wants them again, so give them a bash and enjoy!

Makes 6 rolls

Tip: Make everything ahead but slicing up the apple, cover and store in the fridge to make up a snappy dinner or lunch!

6 crusty rolls

For the Filling:
300g oyster mushrooms
1 clove garlic
1 thumb piece ginger
5cm piece of lemongrass
1 bunch of coriander (including root and stem)
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 sliced Lebanese cucumber
1 shredded apple
1/2 cup sliced spring onions (I'm talking about the long thin variety which some people call shallots).
rice wine vinegar
vegetable oil

For the Dressing:
125g raw cashews
2 tsp veg stock powder (I used massel)
1 1/2 cups of water
1 tube wasabi (used in increments to get the desired heat)


1. Put the cashews, veg stock, and water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Once it has reached a boil turn down and simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes, then set aside to cool.

2. While the cashews are cooking, cut off the leafy part of the coriander and set aside. Finely chop the roots and stems and put into a small bowl. Crush the garlic,  zest the lemongrass and ginger, and add to coriander stem with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to make a paste.

3.In a deep frypan or wok fry the spice paste on low heat until fragrant. Add the spring onions, and then add the oyster mushrooms and cook for a couple of minutes more.

4. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan  and put the lid on, turning the heat down to a simmer for about 10 minutes.

5. Remove the lid from the mushroom mixture and keep cooking until all the liquid has evaporated (if it hasn't already). Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.

6. Shred the cabbage, carrot, chop the coriander leaves roughly and toss together ina bowl with a little rice wine vinegar. Shred apple and slice the cucumber and put into a bowl and toss two tablespoons rice wine vinegar over it, set aside.

7. Blitz the cashews with the stock in a blender until thick and smooth (You can use a stick blender but it will take longer). If it is too thick just add a little more water. Blend the wasabi a little at a time until you reach the "heat" you're after. I put a whole 45g tube in, but you might not want that much!

8. Shred the cooked mushrooms with two forks to pull them apart, it will look a lot like shredded meat.

9. Cut your buns in half and spread a thin layer of margarine if desired. Put a layer of slaw, and then a a couple of spoons of the mushroom, topping with a generous dollop of wasabi cashew sauce. Serve on its own or with chips. Enjoy!