family · recipes

Blurred Line

Chocolate Yoghurt Birthday Cake

Whoever drew the dividing line between girlhood and womanhood must have brushed across the ink before it had time to dry, making this transitional time of life is so indistinct. Nothing could illustrate this more clearly for me than when a significant teen-age (17) was celebrated at our home this week.

The media darkly cautions us of the increasing ‘sophistication’ of our young girls. Accordingly, contemporary parents hold their breath when the question of a ‘party’ is raised, fearing the worst. Before I had the opportunity to exhale, our impending event was carefully mapped out before me – a sleepover for eleven, pyjamas, DVDs, pizzas and a pancake breakfast. Could it be that simple?

As I mentally prepared for sly grog, inappropriate footage and complex sleeping arrangements, the party-goers minds’ were elsewhere. They instead were busily packing onesies, sleeping mats and wait for it – The Lion King.

Upon arrival, as I stood superfluously to one side, mats were unfurled and arranged tetris-like in our living area so one and all could reach for the lolly snakes, take a swig of orange-fizz and most importantly, not miss a frame of Simba’s struggle against the hyenas to restore peace in the Pride Lands…

So, as I had been relieved of my duties of bag searching, door security or police dialling, there was nothing else left to do other than tie the bow around the cake, position the lawn daisies into the slowly setting icing, and dip a leftover party pie into an abandoned bowl of tomato sauce.

1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raspberry jam
1/2 cup natural yoghurt
3 eggs
200g melted butter
50g dark chocolate
40g butter

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake pan.
  2. Combine self-raising flour, cocoa and brown sugar.
  3. Stir in raspberry jam, yoghurt, eggs and melted butter.
  4. Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the surface. Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
  5. Melt dark chocolate and 40g butter in a bowl over hot water until smooth. Set aside to thicken slightly. Pour the icing over the cake and leave to set.
  6. Raid your sewing box and garden for decorative pieces.

Fairy Bread

Postscript: and of all provisions supplied, guess which two plates were the first to vanish?

gardening · recipes


Golden Wattle

Nothing speaks of mid-Winter in Melbourne quite like the golden wattle. With a choice of bare deciduous or lush green rain-fed under-growth, our early winter neighbourhood landscape generally lacks imagination. Suddenly as the season gets into its stride, strollers, joggers, cyclists and commuters are met with glorious bursts of vivid yellow, and the collective relief can be heard in communal expression, ‘the wattle is out!’

The distance travelled is relatively small for my first glimpse of the golden beauty. Not far short of my mail-box, a neighbour has a majestic specimen lighting up our grove. Throughout the year it blends chameleon-like in an ash-green shade amongst other leafy companions putting on their summer display. As the season pulls out its crispest of days, the summer pretties are leafless and forgotten – but now the wattle takes centre stage.

And fortunate we are, as short drive through our district reveals an incredible variety. The early flowerers are now fading, the golden is in her prime and others are poised to burst. A spectrum of gold has painted our neighbourhood, it surely is Winter.

Wattle, though magnificent an outdoor display, does not fare well indoors. It’s pungent aroma tickles the allergies and the tiny florets sprinkle the surfaces. So for us, indoor winter gold must come in this form:

Lemon Deliciious Pudding

Lemon Delicious pudding. All things golden: butter, egg yolks, lemon and crust. Gold.

100g softened butter
grated rind and juice of 1 large lemon
2/3 cup caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sifted SR Flour
1 1/4 cups milk
icing sugar to dust

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease a casserole dish.
  2. Cream the butter with the lemon rind and sugar.
  3. Beat in the egg yolks.
  4. Stir in the flour alternately with the milk.
  5. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the mixture with the lemon juice, lightly and gently.
  6. Pour into casserole dish and bake for 45-50 minutes.
  7. Dust with icing sugar and serve hot with cream or ice-cream.

Hot lemon delicious pudding

Postscript: So as the neighbourly tree lit up our street, this lemony pudding did its part shining in the kitchen.

health and wellbeing · recipes


Orange cake

‘The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.’ I’m sure we all relate on a weekly, if not daily, basis to this translation of a line from Robert Burns’ immortal work. And so it was here, when the day’s to do list was shredded – not by the gnawing of rodent teeth, but rather a domestic chain of events leaving little time for the planned bake. In a circumstance such as this, with afternoon tea far closer than the horizon, a shortcut is the only option. Today’s shortcut presented as an ‘all-in-and-process’ orange cake.

For some inexplicable reason, if we opt for a shortcut our perception of the outcome is often one of below par. When we follow a quicker alternate route rather than the long and (regularly convoluted) well-trod path through a task, some deeply imbedded inner wiring seems to illuminate the mental ‘inferior’ warning symbol. Put simply, a shortcut often triggers self-reproach.

Whether it be a quick wipe across the bathroom rather than the usual deep clean, vegemite rather than multi-ingredient salad in the school lunch sandwich or a pony-tail rather than the full blow-dry, shortcuts are essential to daily living. While it is very rewarding to see a task through its entirety with the theme song ‘A job worth doing is worth doing well’, playing in the background, it is equally satisfying to address priorities. And sometimes there are more important events in life than clean bathrooms, nutritional sandwiches, hairstyles and labour-intensive cakes.

1 orange (any size)
180g melted butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups SR Flour
juice from a second orange and icing sugar

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease a loaf tin.
  2. Place roughly chopped orange in food processor and blend until finely processed.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and process briefly (approx. 30 seconds until mixture is smooth).
  4. Spoon batter into tin and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Make up a generous portion of icing (icing sugar and orange juice) and pour over the cooled cake.

orange cake with orange glace icing

Postscript: and incredibly, this shortcut cake is well above par.

book reviews · recipes


Rachel Khoo

On occasion I have succumbed to kitchen envy. Lamenting lack of space, aged appliances and pokey cupboards, it was easy for my eye to travel in an emerald fashion over magazine splashes of the latest designs. If anything was to cure me of this, it was Rachel Khoo and her Little Paris Kitchen. It was and she has.

Have you not yet become acquainted with Rachel, then let me introduce you. Rachel Khoo, an English girl at a tender age, travelled to Paris,without a word of French and enrolled in and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu cookery school. She lives in a tiny apartment in Paris, from which she runs an even tinier restaurant (one table) and cooks for her guests whatever she feels is most seasonally delightful on the day. From this eventually flowed the BBC2 series The Little Paris Kitchen, where many of us have come to know her well.

The essence of Rachel’s cooking is French at its simplest. Through her series and book, she inspires us to close over the Larousse Gastronomique, and gather a handful of fresh ingredients to turn out delightful French classics – simply. And what snared my interest above all, is that she does it in a space far from cat swinging. A little two burner cooktop and an (almost) camp style oven, along with her basic utensils suspended on a rail above, Rachel’s lovely dishes appear without complication or stress. No imported stone bench tops or European appliances within coo-wee.

Rachel’s book is a beautiful adjunct to the series and is a great place to delve into when it’s time to be reminded of the beauty of the basic. My first LPK recipe was Quiche Lorraine, because I had quite forgotten the charm of eggs, cream and bacon on buttery pastry. Quiches have been overloaded in recent years and it was lovely to enjoy one in its simplest form tonight.

Quiche Lorraine

I’m guessing you’re also keen to relive the memory, so here is Rachel talking you through the Quiche Lorraine recipe from pastry to filling. If you have a little space on the bookshelf and need a bit of a nudge to remember how wonderful simple food really is, then this publication will be a valued acquisition.

The Little Paris Kitchen

Postscript: and I haven’t even begun to tell you about the gorgeous vintage dresses and the smashing red lipstick!



Lemon and Walnut Loaf

It’s a quick stride from the kitchen door and an easy scramble over the aging side fence into our neighbour’s backyard to collect an apron or shirt-full of fresh lemons. An errand that appeals and is never met with a long sigh from the nominated individual that a requested visit to the washing line or rubbish bins would generally elicit. This welcome task usually includes a friendly greeting from the resident terrier and a chance to observe first-hand, territory normally restricted to retrieving over zealously kicked balls or delivery of messages. The object of the assignment, a rangy old lemon tree (similar vintage to its owners), provides an abundance of lemons, far more than the senior couple who planted it or their fortunate neighbours could ever consume in a season.

With no end to the uses of lemons in our kitchen, visits to this tree are regular. The lemons that arrive home are not the waxy, uniformly shaped specimens that are available year round in our local supermarket, but rather ones that are pitted, marked and are regularly accompanied by a partial branch (depending on the harvester’s age) and some bird ‘matter’. However, following a quick scrub, they zest and grate like billy-o, and juice like the Watsons (whoever they may be).

Crisp, sunny Melbourne winter days, are well paired with tangy lemon loaves and hot coffee. Should you spy a laden citrus in your district, use this as an opportunity to pay a visit and make your introductions. In my experience, lemon tree owners are generous folk who are always looking for homes for their crops. Make it your business to bake two of these Lemon and Walnut loaves and return one to the citrus producer. A sure guarantee of friendship – and lemons for life.

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
125g butter, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
grated rind of a lemon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease and line a loaf tin.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a bow.
  3. Rub in the butter.
  4. Combine the eggs and milk and stir them into the flour mixture.
  5. Fold in the lemon rind and walnuts.
  6. Spoon into the tin and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.
  7. Ice with and icing sugar and lemon juice mix.

This really is a loaf rather than a fine cake, so is best served and eaten on the day.

Backyard lemons

Postscript: and if you have never smelt a citrus blossom or broken a leaf and inhaled, I suggest you do so at your next opportunity.



Chocolate self-saucing pudding

As Winter bares its ugly teeth there is little other recourse than to seek refuge in a huge helping of chocolate self-saucing pudding. Rising from a deep pool of steaming rich sauce, this robust pudding is so densely fortified with chocolate, cocoa and goodwill, it can ward off any biting chill in a single serve.

 To beat wolves from our door, we unleash this devilish dark pudding. As the rain beats against glass and wind buffets the external, all members of the clan dig in (and often two or three times). So, if ever there is a time to unearth the cherished pudding manuals, is doesn’t get any better than this.

And to flood your heavily shrouded home with the smell of baked chocolate, well after darkness has descended, is the very essence of how treasured olfactory memories begin.

If you have similar villainous elements that need to be kept at bay, this pudding is a magnificent way to armour your troops.

50g dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70% cocoa), chopped
50g butter, chopped
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2/3 cup milk
1 cup SR flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten

fudge sauce
1 1/2 cups water
50g butter chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa

icing sugar to dust the top

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease a 6 cup capacity oven proof dish.
  2. Combine chocolate, butter, sifted cocoa and milk in a saucepan and stir over low heat until chocolate has melted.
  3. Sift flour into a large bowl and stir in the sugars. Add the chocolate mixture and egg – mix well.
  4. Pour mixture into baking dish.
  5. To make the sauce, combine the water, butter, sugar and sifted cocoa in a saucepan and stir over low heat until combined.
  6. Pour the sauce over the back of a spoon across the surface of the pudding mix.
  7. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until firm.
  8. Serve dusted with icing sugar and cream or vanilla ice cream on the side.

dusted chocolate pudding

Postscript: and perhaps had the Starks (of Game of Thrones notoriety) been aware of the properties of the humble chocolate pudding,  the threat that ”Winter is Coming” may have been nullified.




Apart from providing glamorous pre-midnight transportation to royal balls, pumpkins are a wonderful kitchen staple. Restaurants are incredibly inventive with them, delivering burnished coulis, sorbet, and ravioli to their anticipative patrons.  At our place, these orange stalwarts typically convert to soups, scones or roasted accompaniments – and are equally appreciated.

It was the perfect squat shape and the speckled skin, rather than shopping list requirement that ensured this weighty vegetable’s place in the trolley this week. There’s something quite reassuring about the sight of a big pumpkin on the kitchen bench. Perhaps it is the promise of soup and scones to come, or simply the rustic, homely image. Definitely those, but also something quite intangible yet equally significant. With the ever-increasing availability of pre-cut, prepackaged green grocery these days, the uniqueness of bringing home an uncut, unwrapped vegetable is so gratifying. And like a trophy for the wholesome shopper, worthy of proud display.

This week, haul your prize home, position it prominently and allow at least a day or two of solid admiration before applying your sharpest blade to provide your family with the spoils.

2 kg pumpkin cut into wedges with skin on
6 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
fresh coriander

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius.
  2. Place pumpkin in roasting dish and bake for up to an hour until soft and skin begins to crisp.
  3. Remove flesh from skin and place half in a blender with one cup of the stock. Blend until smooth and repeat with remaining flesh.
  4. Put all of the soup in a large pot with remaining stock, honey and mustard. Simmer for 10 minutes until heated through.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into bowls and garnish with coriander leaves.

Pumpkin scones

and for the scones….

2 cups SR flour
pinch salt
50g butter, chopped
1/4 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin
1 egg, beaten lightly
milk for brushing

  1. Preheat oven to 220 degrees celsius. Grease baking tray.
  2. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter.
  3. Add the pumpkin and egg.
  4. Mix into a dough then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. A little extra flour may be required.
  5. Pat out into a round and cut with scone cutter. Place on prepared tray and brush tops with milk.
  6. Bake for 2o minutes or until risen and golden.

Postscript: we all have our ways with pumpkin soup and pumpkin scones. For me, it is to roast the pumpkin off before pureeing into soup, for depth of flavour. For the scones, as they are to be paired with the soup, sugar is deliberately omitted.



Cherry Almond cake

Oh for the days when you could pack the children off to a nearby forest with jam sandwiches and ginger beer for sustenance, only for them to return famished at dusk, to scoff drop-scones and cocoa before falling into bed to dream wonderous dreams of their adventure-filled day. How simple the meal plans, grocery shop and cooking would have been, not mention all that independent time to be had whilst they were up the Faraway tree somewhere or other.

I am of course, referring to the fantasy tales created by Enid Blyton – the ones that shaped my childhood from The Enchanted Wood through to The Secret Seven. I always longed to have midnight feasts of homemade chocolate cake and toffees in boarding schools, picnics of orange aid and macaroons in tree-houses or returning home to a ‘tremendous steamed pudding, with lashings of treacle’.

It seems another much respected writer of mine, Angela Mollard, has also been touched by Enid’s writing. Angela is equally fascinated with the food depicted in Blyton’s novels. She states, “It’s all “great slices of cherry cake”, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread and gingerbread described as “dark brown and sticky to eat”. Indeed, it’s a measure of Ms Blyton’s talent that she even makes “potted meat”, “tongue sandwiches” and “lashings of hard-boiled eggs” sound like lovely picnic fare.”

Upon reading that phrase “great slices of cherry cake”, I knew what would be coming out of my oven on the next available baking day….

And just so you know, this Cherry Almond cake really is scrumptious – with or without the lashings of ginger beer.

185g butter, room temperature, chopped
3/4 cup castor sugar
3 eggs
2 cups SR flour
2 tbspn almond meal
1/4 cup milk
200g glace cherries

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius and grease a loaf tin.
  2. Place all ingredients, EXCEPT cherries in a mixing bowl and using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until all ingredients are combined.
  3. Increase speed to medium and beat until mixture is smooth and changed in color. Stir in cherries.
  4. Spread mixture into tin and bake for 50-60 minutes.
  5. Cool and dust generously with icing sugar.

cherry cake and Secret Seven

Postscript: and being that this is the 100th post for Plain and Simple Blog, it seemed fitting to reference such a magical and prolific writer as Enid Blyton (some sources quote her published tales were in excess of 7500!) Since October last, this blog has catalogued one hundred examples of the plain and simple elements of living – Enid has certainly set the bar high.

family · recipes


Forcer Biscuits

Autumnal rain, while gratefully received, does tend to curb weekend activity. However, where a door to outdoor occupation closes, a window of indoor opportunity opens – a chance to assemble the biscuit forcer and press out an intricate array of delicate little icing sugar sprinkled treats.

If you’ve never been acquainted with a biscuit forcer (or more recently, cookie press) before, there is a creative pursuit waiting to be explored. With little culinary skill required, it is simply a case of mixing up a buttery dough – recipes accompany the kit – rolling it into a sausage and feeding it into the cylinder. Choosing the patterned discs dictating the biscuit shape is the only challenge – the press chef is provided with quite an extensive collection. (Where a number of chefs are involved ie house bound young, this stage can become quite interesting).

Once arbitration and conciliation is complete, it’s time to start pressing. Suddenly a baking sheet full of dainty shapes appear, which when removed bronzed from the oven and dusted with icing sugar, provide an irresistible plate of afternoon treats.

Plate of pressed cookies

My observation of cookies these days, is that they are of ever increasing dimension and far outlast any cup of tea or coffee they were originally designed to complement. These little forcer biscuits scale back this recent up-sizing trend and are a reasonable representation of the portion size a treat was intended to be.

Readily available on Ebay or the like, a biscuit press may well add a new dimension to your life.

Ampia biscuit press

Postscript: Once the simple process of individual pressing is mastered, the logical progression is to create pairs for sandwiching with icing and jam for homemade melting moments – bring on the rain I say.


Miss Drake

Miss Drake's Home Cookery

How wonderful it was for newly married women of the 1950’s (and decades prior) to have the wisdom of Miss Lucy Drake to see them through any cookery challenge that may have presented. Armed with her Diploma of Domestic Economy and a Trained Teacher of Domestic Arts, (awarded in Melbourne no less), this accomplished domestic champion was qualified to see these lasses through any boiled fowl in egg sauce, diplomatic pudding or jellied rabbit situation that may have arisen, without even having to refresh the lipstick. As it happened, my mother was one of those fortunate brides, as evidenced by our well-worn copy of The Original and Only Miss Drake’s Home Cookery, ever at the ready in the kitchen of my upbringing.

I guess then, it was no accident that Miss Drake had a hand in my early cookery development. With Miss D’s guiding hand, I learned the art of the Lemon Meringue Pie, so often in fact that the book would fall open to the spattered page. So for old time’s sake, this millennium family was treated to one this evening. Here is how Miss Drake directs one:

”LEMON TART. This quantity for big sandwich tin; half this for small tin. I lb. plain or good short crust (page 120). Interior for Tart.—2 lemons, 2 eggs, 5 tablespoons sugar, 5 tablespoons cold water, 2 dessertspoons butter, 1 dessertspoon arrowroot blended with 2 dessertspoons cold water. Reserve the whites of eggs to whip stiffly for the top; then fold 3 dessertspoons castor sugar into stiff whites, 1 cherry and little angelica. If eggs and butter are dear, half this quantity of interior is sufficient. Method— 1. Light oven. Make short crust. 2. Shape tart. Whilst it is cooking, get ingredients for interior. Put water, egg yolks, sugar, butter, blended cornflour, grated lemon rind and juice all into a small saucepan. Stir over fire till it boils and thickens. When tart is cold put in the mixture. Whip whites stiffly, fold the castor sugar in. Decorate the top like icebergs. Return to oven just to tint. Decorate with cherry and angelica.”

Miss Drake's Lemon Meringue Pie

For me, following Miss Drake’s directions was an indulgent exercise in nostalgia, but you may not find the vintage terminology as endearing. Therefore, here is a Lemon Meringue Pie in modern terms (from another domestic matriarch, Margaret Fulton), that you may be more comfortable with.

Shortcrust Pastry (frozen sheet)
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tbsp Plain flour
grated rind and juice of two lemons
4 tbsp water
3 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
1/4 cup caster sugar

  1. Line your pie dish with shortcrust pastry sheet and pinch the edges for decoration. Weight down with rice or dried beans and bake for 15 mins at 180 degrees celsius. Remove weight and bake for a further 5-10 minutes or until golden.
  2. Make filling by mixing the egg yolks, sugar , flour and lemon rind in a heavy based saucepan and gradually stir in the lemon juice and water.
  3. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the mixture is smooth and thick. Cool, then pour into cooled pastry shell.
  4. To make meringue, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until thick. Gradually add the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until the mixture is thick and glossy and the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Spread over the filling in the pie shell, sealing it completely with the meringue.
  6. Bake in a 180 degrees celsius oven for 8-10 minutes or until meringue is golden. Serve cold.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Postscript: I would love to be able to tell you our old ”Miss Drake”‘ lives on in my kitchen, but alas not. All is not lost however, as I have recently discovered that some wonderful people at Swinburne University, have archived this book within their image bank and have made the entire publication available as a downloadable PDF – so Miss Drake can assist you too, with your next Boiled Jam Roly.