recipes

Tim Tam

Tim Tam Brownie

It is better to give than to receive. I know this because I had the opportunity to watch a friend blissfully devour umpteen pieces of brownie I baked her for her birthday. A work colleague actually,  from a neighbouring shore who has developed a passion for Tim Tams – what better birthday gift than to present her with a packet, hidden in a brownie?

There aren’t too many than can pass up a Tim Tam or a chunk of brownie either. Such a perfect match the two have made. Soft chewy brownie with crisp chunks of chocolate biscuit – a devilish treat. Combine this with the recipient’s pleasure and you’ve created yourself one happy day.

tray of Tim Tam brownie

Do you feel like indulging? Thought so. Here is how they are done. Start with the basic brownie recipe I use, and leave out the honeycomb. Once the batter is made, dab about four heaped spoonfuls onto the base of the lined tin and smooth over to form a bed for your Tim Tams. Lay out an entire packet of the biscuits over the base. Now top with the remaining batter and smooth over so the Tim Tams are hidden inside. Bake for 30-35 minutes, and when the brownie has cooled, slice into blocks. Dust with cocoa powder.

brownie mix

Postscript: and then it occurred to me that there are a host of other chocolate biscuits on the shelves ……

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recipes

Pound

Cream cheese pound cake

Pound cake. Just how did this traditional bake come to be named so? Here are my four theories:

  1. From the increment of weight gained per slice consumed.
  2. Where your dog winds up when you are too busy scoffing a slice to remember to close the front gate.
  3. The sum your British mates will offer you for a piece.
  4. The manner in which the neighbourhood children will strike your front door when the freshly baked aroma escapes the kitchen window.

Surprisingly, none of my suggestions come even close. The name originates from the fact that early American pound cakes contained one pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. Simple to remember, straightforward to prepare and superb to eat. I guess what typifies a pound cake is its density. With no rising agents such as bicarbonate of soda or baking powder added, the resulting crumb is butter rich and firm – so satisfying when you just want to eat a decent whack of cake, nothing ‘fly-away’ about it.

Here in the sunburnt country, our version is known as madeira cake. Not quite as hefty, but certainly as well-loved. I grew-up knowing it to be ‘plain cake’. A slice wrapped in waxed paper tucked in my lunch-box was such a treat, while across in Germany, the school children were unwrapping Eischwerkuchen, and the French, quatre-quarts. So you see, we were all eating an interpretation of the same recipe – just happy kids eating cake.

Today, a serious pound cake was on the agenda, so it was the American region that I turned to – Cream Cheese Pound Cake. So generous in quantity, this recipe allows you to make two. Wrap your second in clingwrap, and that’s the baking done for next week as well. Strawberries are ripening beautifully in our northern states right now, so a punnet was economically converted into sauce to spoon across each slice.

To sum up, a pound cake represents stability. A pound cake made with cream cheese represents moisture-rich stability. A cream cheese pound cake bathed in strawberry sauce represents gluttony.

Pound cake with strawberry sauce

250g butter, softened
250g cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Grease and line two loaf tins.
  2. Beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar, beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
  4. Add flour and salt in two batches, beating until just combined.
  5. Pour batter evenly into both tins. Tap tins on bench to release air bubbles. Bake for approximately 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  6. Cool in tins for 5-10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack.
  7. Slice and serve with strawberry sauce or just as it is!

For the strawberry sauce, hull and slice a punnet of strawberries and place in a small saucepan with two tablespoons of sugar on a low heat. Let them simmer away slowly, keeping a close eye, and shortly you will have softened fruit in a thick juice. Add a splash of water if you need to and maybe whizz with a stick blender if you like your coulis smooth. Serve warm over thick slices of poundy.

a slice of pound cake

Postscript: So robust is this cake, It could easily be dubbed ‘Slab Cake’ and marketed to our tradies…..

recipes

Trash

Good Housekeeping Magazine

There has been the odd day where I’ve felt the need to herald from a high vantage point, ”OK, stick a fork in me, I’m done!” Well done. Done washing, done grocery shopping, done bed making, done basin scrubbing, done path sweeping. On these occasions, the only way to self-tenderise, is to make like the meat does after a big roasting – and rest. And what better way to get some juice flowing back into the soul, than a bit of quiet trashy mag time.

As much as I love some thought-provoking non-fiction or a masterful piece of literary excellence, at certain times of the week, the developments of a Kardashian relationship or a royal outing are about all I have the head space to absorb. In fact, I consider time spent with a glossy and a coffee, to be time well spent. Apart from the celebrity trials and trysts, I really enjoy the convenience of leafing through the snapshots of up-and-coming fashion peeks, the latest beauty product and ways to scatter my cushions, without having to leave the kitchen. By the time I have read the entire mag (usually 30 minutes), I have been recharged with a posse of new ideas and feel abreast of emerging trends.

Personal development aside, I love the humour these magazines elicit. Articles on weight-loss programs followed by pages of pudding recipes, never fail to make me smile. The outrageous claims made by ”close sources” of the famous are also worth a chuckle. And of course there are also the latest research snippets: people who eat less and exercise more are inclined to live longer….

Of course the food coverage always takes my eye – and the growing pile of tear sheets next to my recipe books bears evidence of this. There would be very few weekly publications that I would reach the end of without at least one recipe snaring my attention. This week was no different. When I flipped the page to this Chicken, artichoke and lemon dish and saw that I had most of the ingredients on hand and they could all cook together in one dish, an instant ripping of paper broke the sunny afternoon silence.

Chicken Artichoke and Lemon

1/4 cup olive oil
8 chicken drumsticks
500g potatoes, cut into wedges (skin left on)
1 onion, cut into wedges
1 lemon, sliced into rings
4 thyme sprigs
1/2 cup white wine
170g jar artichokes, drained
1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
  2. In an ovenproof pan, heat half of the oil and brown off the drumsticks until golden.
  3. Add potatoes and onion with the rest of the oil and mix around. Top with lemon slices and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place pan in the oven and bake for 35 minutes.
  5. Pour over wine, and stir in artichokes and tomatoes.
  6. Bake for a further 10-15 minutes, ensuring chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender.
    (Even though this dish contains potatoes, I served it over steamed rice because the sauce is delicious when absorbed into the rice.)

Postscript: and after reading of the births, remarriages and body makeovers it’s heartening to realise your own life is not that exhausting after all.

recipes

Fortified

Brandy Orange Marmalade

Madeira, port and sherry – all delightfully robust examples of wine fortified by matured, beautifully structured brandy. Small pours are all that is required to enjoy such aperitifs or digestifs, who resoundingly boast bold and explosive flavours – all the while supported silently by the strength and complexity of their custodian – brandy.

We each have our own internal fortitude (hopefully yours is not reliant on brandy). Unlike the liqueurs, often the things that give us our internal strength are entirely external to us – family, friends or the patterns of nature. To wake and see the sun lifting the chill from the garden, a sleepy rosy-cheeked child rising from his bed or even a genial wave from a neighbour, has a core-settling effect – the day is motion. And when all is as such, there is every reason to place your foot forward, roll up your sleeves and grasp hold of another new day unlike any other that was.

I’m not sure that marmalade has the good fortune we share. So to be sure that this batch was able to embrace it’s personal journey, I slipped some brandy into the pan at the final stage.

1.5kg oranges (blood or Seville if you can get them, otherwise any)
1.5 kg sugar
4 tbsp brandy
1 pkt Jamsetta (optional)

  1. Put the oranges and 2.25 litres of water in a large preserving pan, cover and simmer for 50-60 minutes until the fruit is very soft.
  2. Remove from heat, lift out the fruit, and cool.
  3. Measure the liquid and if required add extra water until you have 1.7 litres. Stir in the sugar.
  4. Halve the oranges, scoop out the flesh and pips. Tie these in some muslin cloth or similar.
  5. Chop the peel coarsely. Add to the pan with the muslin bag.
  6. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and cook at a full rolling boil for 10 minutes or until the marmalade has reached setting point. (If you are having any issues with setting, now is the time to stir through the Jamsetta).
  7. Cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the brandy.
  8. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

marmalade toast

Postscript: The brandy worked wonders on the marmalade’s character and on toast in the morning, it has certainly strengthened mine.

recipes

Flexible

Nutty Lemon Slice

Flexibility is the key. To what you may ask. To everything, actually. To peace, contentment and dare I utter the most platitudinous word of recent times, happiness.

In case you’ve not yet realised, things don’t always go the way we desire, and the botheration of this is not the situation itself but usually, the internal fuss we are making of it. If only we replaced the mental energy exerted on resisting the issue with a more solutions focused outlook, then equilibrium could be restored without delay. Some incredibly gifted individuals I know are masters of this process and I hold them in great esteem, as this is not a skill that comes easily in my camp. I continually marvel at these sages who can turn interruptions into social opportunities, disasters into adventures and failed cakes into puddings. All the while with a smile. I keep them near and watch with awe in the hope that some of their creative thinking will cross the airwaves and seep into my soul.

So as I  wait for this esoteric process to take place, what better way to while away time than to prepare a slice. And this slice is flexibility personified. The biscuits can be anything: gingernuts, shortbreads or butternut snaps. The lemon will interchange with an orange and providing you chop them, the nuts can be any unsalted variety you have packaged away. So in fact this Nutty Lemon Slice, could be reworked by you to become the Ginger Orange Pistachio slice, the Shortbread Lemon Walnut slice or the Chocolate Orange Pecan slice. It’s your call, examine the contents of you pantry and be flexible.

250g pkt Scotch Finger biscuits
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
1 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
125g butter
1 3/4 cups icing sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp butter, softened
1/4 cup chopped almonds

  1. Line a slice tray with baking paper.
  2. Crush biscuits in a food processor and combine in a bowl with zest, coconut and pistachios.
  3. Stir milk and butter in a saucepan over low heat until melted and combined then pour over dry mix.
  4. Mix well and press into the base of the slice tray. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  5. To make icing, beat icing sugar, lemon juice and butter together and spread over slice base (add a small amount of hot water if icing is too stiff to spread).
  6. Sprinkle with almonds. Wait until icing has set before cutting into squares.

Get your coffee happening.

Nutty Lemon Slice afternoon tea

Postscript: still waiting….

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

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.

recipes

Meatloaf

sticky glazed meatloaf

It may be sacrilegious to say this, but this meatloaf performed in true loaves and fishes style recently. Spanning a number of meals (ie intended dinner to lunchtime rolls with relish) and across the suburb – to my mother and her temporarily housebound neighbour, it just kept on giving. All were sated and many enquired about seconds. Not customary for the humble weeknight meatloaf – but this one was holding a couple of illicit secrets close to its glazed chest. Bourbon and coffee.

I’m not sure how many meatloaves I’ve shaped and baked over the years, but most have been met with reasonable appreciation – although never requested for birthday meals. Hearty, hale and hot, they do their winter mealtime job well. However, as with all things in life, there is always room for improvement. So when Masterchef’s hale and hearty Matt P coated his meatloaf in homemade barbeque sauce, it occurred to me how just how naked our meatloaves had been.

Once this sauce was whipped up, there was plenty to dress the meatloaf in and ample over to freeze for rissole and burger nights to come.

250ml tomato sauce
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp English mustard powder
120g treacle
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp paprika
2 tbspn Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup  maple syrup
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 tbspn brown sugar
3 tbspn bourbon
1 espresso shot

  1. Combine all ingredients except for bourbon and espresso in a saucepan set over medium heat.
  2. Cook for 20 minutes or until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add bourbon and espresso, stir to combine.

If you need a simple meatloaf recipe to play with this one makes a good starting point. If there are herbs or condiments that you prefer, simply add them and take out those that don’t appeal. Shape the loaf and bake it for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and brush liberally with the barbeque sauce and bake for a further 30-40 minutes or until well cooked through. Slice and serve with mash and steamed greens. Now you’re ready to feed the masses.

Meatloaf glazed in BBQ sauce

Postscript: If a strong shot of coffee and good swig of bourbon has a kid eating meatloaf and a neighbour feeling better, then I say bring it.

recipes

Thrift

Chicken cacciatore

The appearance of smoked oysters, Red Tulip After Dinner Mints or a roasted chicken signalled only one thing in my early years – a special occasion. An odd combination you may observe, but the common denominator was price tag. By economic necessity, these expensive  indulgences had to be restricted to events involving guests or calendar holidays. Today, the oyster packets are tossed into the trolley without hesitation and sadly, the individually enveloped mints are no longer. The chicken, however, once a precious commodity, due to modern farming techniques is now regarded as one of our affordable protein options and a regular inclusion in the weekly shop.

In my mother’s rural growing years, my grandfather would ‘harvest’ one of his birds for the celebration table. By the time I was growing up in the suburbs, backyard chook houses had become redundant, so to secure a bird, there was financial outlay to be considered. Today, my children witness me unwrapping white paper deli parcels of select chicken joints with neither an axe nor king’s ransom to be had.

While on the subject of economy, chicken performs beautifully in our kitchens. As practised cooks we come to learn, it is the bone centred cuts of the bird that give biggest flavour –  and require smallest outlay. Some slow gentle cooking is all that is required to produce succulent tender meat playing an excellent host to all of the vegetables in its surrounding sauce. Every culture and region has its method for ‘hot-potting’ its chicken and vegetables, but it is the Italians I turn to in these circumstances. Chicken cacciatore has been served from my kitchen on occasions too numerous to contemplate, but the result is always delicious and cost effective.

olive oil
8 chicken drumsticks
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 green capsicum, sliced
1 red capsicum, sliced
200g button mushrooms, thickly sliced
a small handful of black olives, pitted
440g can whole peeled tomatoes
250ml chicken stock
salt and pepper
fresh or dried oregano
2 bay leaves

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Heat the oil in a heavy-based, oven proof pan and brown chicken well. Remove chicken and set aside. Add some extra oil to the pan and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the capsicums, and mushrooms and cook for 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the olives and pour over the tomatoes and stock. Mix well and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and season well with salt and pepper. Add the oregano and bay leaves and cover pan. Place pan in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Serve over steamed rice.

If you don’t have an oven-proof frying pan, simply transfer into a casserole dish for baking.

Italian Chicken Casserole

Postscript: Some may consider that today’s cook has the advantage with access and affordability. I think otherwise. With limits on supply comes resourcefulness, prudence and conservation – not to mention, my grandfather’s completely natural product.

health and wellbeing · recipes

Shortcut

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.