Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hot Winter Drinks

The temperature has dropped about 15 degrees here in Alice Springs, and it's finally raining.   We have a beautiful wood fire going (thanks to the protection of the pizza oven ) and the family are hankering after warm milky drinks.

There's chai, made with soy milk and honey - we have this every other evening.. and then there's hot milk with cinnamon sticks and cardamom.. but best of all, we sometimes have Salep.

My relationship with Salep began about two years ago when I came across a recipe for Salep ice-cream.  I seem to have friends who understand my preoccupation with cooking and offer to buy me ingredients when they travel interstate.  On this occasion I took up the offer and asked for 'Salep' from a visitor from Canberra.

Two packets of instant Salep (and other treats) arrived a few weeks later, and the Salep was as aromatic and beautiful as I anticipated. I won't begin to describe and would say to anyone, if you have the chance, try this drink.  Apparently it was the drink of choice 200 years ago before tea and coffee dominated the hot drink scene...and it is very good for you with a range of therapeutic benefits.  In keeping with my 5:2 diet, I just drank a cup made with very low calorie almond milk, and while nowhere near as joyful a drink was quite palatable..

One day.... one day..... I will visit the Bosphorous and enjoy a cup of authentic hot Turkish salep.....

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Pain of Entertaining

I had this idea of few weekends ago to entertain.  It had been 2 months since I'd previously entertained/cooked for more than our small family and two friends at a time, and so the memory of the stress and disappointment of my birthday celebration had dissipated and I was entertaining, entertaining again.

It had started with the pizza oven, and Kleftiko.  'Simple and painless', I thought. But as the days grew closer my desire to cook something dazzling and daring overtook the more pragmatic side of my nature.  I changed the menu to Paella.  (After over-doing Paella a year ago, I had started cooking the dish again from memory (ie. without a recipe), with wonderful results.)

It's hard to know where it all went wrong.

I had planned well in advance, buying my meat on the Friday, preparing the stock on the Saturday, and timetabling my Sunday so the Paella would start to be cooked at 6.45... with guests arriving between 7 and 7.30.

I suspect it was the guests arriving too early, the champagne being opened too early,  and the paella started 30 minutes too late.. but my well planned evening dissipated into chaos much earlier than I wanted.  It wasn't the best paella I've ever cooked, and the dessert of goats curd cheesecake and stewed quinces didn't get the "oohs and ahhs" usually reserved for my desserts... it was a dinner of aromatic and textural surprises, not a visual feast.  And I was so busy cooking and running around, I can't say I had a fab time... I had the feeling that something special, the essence of why I like to cook was lost or missing.... I'm still looking for that lost essence.  When I find it, I might cook to entertain again.. and this time I'll write it down.. that elusive missing essence..
But the real 'pain' of entertaining that evening, is with me still.  It's the pain of what feels like an injured cocyx, damaged while trying to show off on my son's scooter after drinking too much red wine.. yes, that will teach me.. something!  Not sure what!

5:2 diet

I'm trialling the ever popular 5:2 fasting diet.  This means that over a week, I have two days of 500 calories  each and the other five days I can eat what I  like.  I've reached that point in my life where I'm carrying over 10kg more than my body frame can carry, and sooner or later something's going to give.  I want to avoid this, and so I have set myself a task.... to weigh 70kg by Christmas this year (2013).

I've done this before, but it was six months of joyless eating, and I can't do that again... I just can't give up on food altogether.  What would I do for my leisure?  How would I show my family I love them?  And how would I fulfill my craving for love through the consumption of beautiful food?

So this diet really appeals to me.. two days off food, five days on!  I reckon I can do that. 

I'm up to week three, and my scales don't work so not sure how it's going.  I am very cranky on my 500 Calorie days, but have started recovering a bit quicker.  I had a 500 calorie day yesterday and due to have another tomorrow.  In between I have cooked a Mississippi Mud Cake with the beautiful Jorge, my son, and I have a bunch of glorious Kale that I am going to massage with salt tomorrow night to wilt and eat with a light dressing. (An Easter recipe from Alison).

I have also discovered the joy of salads such as fennel, orange, black olives and fetta and plain steamed broccoli with salt.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Aunty Violet's Cinnamon Apple (and/or Quince) Cakes

It's been raining here in Alice Springs and my memories of childhood in north Queensland flood back in spurts... and these cakes comes to mind.  They were made by my Great Aunty Violet in her mysterious house in north Queensland with its moss and passion flowers, and scary planks to get to the toilet.  The house and Aunty Violet have long since gone, but these little cakes are still as beautiful, or potentially beautiful as when I first tasted them.

My mother would often praise Aunty Violet for these cakes and their beautiful smooth lemon icing, gentle sprinkle of cinnamon  and delicate filling of apple (or quince in my version).  I have played around with the  recipe and am reasonable happy with it... although next time I will make a couple of adjustments to the cake mixture on top more liequied and the icing to make it, much smoother...

Cake mixture
125gm unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup castor sugar 
1 egg
Vanilla bean (halved)
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tbs milk

3 apples, stewed with 2 tbsp sugar and cinnamon stick
1 quince stewed with sugar syrup and cinnamon stick *

2 cups icing sugar
3 tbsp lemon or lime juice (strained)
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon or 2 limes

  1. Heat oven to 180 degrees celcius.
  2. Butter 2 small cake trays.
  3. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy.
  4. Add egg and continue beating until mixture is even lighter and fluffier.
  5. Add vanilla bean pores.
  6. Sift flour and gradually add to mixture in halves, intermittently with 3 tbsp milk.
  7. Place a small amount of mixture in each of the cups of the cake trays.
  8. Spoon a small amount of apple and/or quince.
  9. Add the remaining tbsp of milk to mixture and spoon over each cake.
  10. Bake for around 20 minutes until nicely browned on top.
  11. Allow to sit for a few minutes and then carefully take each cake out and place on rack.
  12. Add lemon juice to icing sugar mixture and beat out any lumps in stainless steel bowl
    Add rind.
  13. Place icing over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water.
  14. Heat until the mixture is warmed and thinner.
  15. Pour icing over cakes and sprinkle each one with a small amount of cinnamon.
  16. Allow icing to set and enjoy!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Easter Flaounes

Earlier this year, a Greek Australian woman described to me these strange Greek Cypriot Easter pies that she would make with her friend each Easter in Darwin. She described a cheese filling with yeast, mastic and another ingredient I had never heard of: Mahlep.
My partner is Greek Cypriot/Australian and he heard never heard of these pies, so I was intrigued to find out more about them.
And then  Flaounes found me during our weekly vigil of  Thursday night food shows on SBS.  And just in time for Easter, and with enough time to have a friend source the mysterious Mahlepi from Melbourne
This is pretty much the recipe I used: (Cypriot Easter Bread), although I changed the cheeses  (big sigh for Alice Springs) and the percentages, and only made a half batch.  I also found the size of flaounes they suggested was too big for me.  The recipe below is adapted from the SBS one.


 2 packets of haloumi (about 250gms)
250gm good cheddar cheese
1 tsp dried yeast 1/2 cup semolina 1/2 cup flour 4 eggs
 mint, leaves picked and chopped
1 tsp baking powder 1/3 cup sultanas, or to taste

 500gm plain flour 5 g mastic, crushed 
10 g mahlep (a friend bought seeds in Smith Street in Melbourne, and we crushed them)
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast  
70 g soft unsalted butter
 pinch of salt  
2 cups milk

1 bottle of sesame seeds 
  dash of white vinegar 2 egg yolks.

Follow the method on the SBS website, halving amounts for smaller flaounes.

Quinoa Pancakes...

As part of my new 5:2 diet, I've been introducing some new carbs into our diet, and last week I was left with an abundance of quinoa, and it wasn't a fasting day.
Quinoa (keenwa) is a South American, a grain, a "pseudo-cereal', apparently.  It tastes good.
So, I experimented and made these wonderful pancakes. Now, I'm guessing the quantities, and will measure them next time.
1 cup cooked white quinoa
2 eggs
1/3 cup flour (or gluten free flour)
1 tbsp melted butter
1/3 cup milk

  1. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Melt butter in pancake pan on medium heat, and pour around a 1/3 cup of mixture.
  3. Flip over pancake.

Serve with maple syrup and yoghurt.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lime Pickle Pursuits Volume #3

.The next stages for the "Amazing pickle" went something like this:

Then this...............

And then they were bottled, and 'no' I don't reckon they're mild at all.

In the meantime, the Kurma Dasa version is looking more and more like mush each day.

And I still have more limes than I can use.. so wait for the next instalment of my lime preservation pursuits.

In the meantime, I am about 3 weeks off the final test tasting for these two recipes.