29 Nov 2015

dark spelt brownies

You know you’re feeling better when you start thinking beyond food as medicine, food as fuel and vitamins, and you start craving dark chocolate brownies. And when you eat a good third of the slab in the first sitting. Sinfully rich fudgy brownies are very good convalescent food I have discovered, whether warm out of the oven or, surprisingly, fridge-cold and chewy-hard.

But hey, you can be in the peak of health and enjoy these too. So please do!
Dark spelt brownies
Adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe. Melt and mix and you’re done — what could be easier?
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep a 20 cm brownie tin.
  • In a large bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt 110 gms butter with 170 gms 70% cooking chocolate (I used Lindt brand). It will look like a black dream, but resist the temptation to toss aside the recipe and simply eat this…
  • Stir in ¾ cup white sugar plus ¾ cup dark brown sugar and once well combined, remove the bowl from the heat.
  • Stir in a scant ½ tspn salt, ¼ cup cocoa powder (Martha advises unsweetened; I used Cadbury’s Bourneville brand which was labelled ‘Dutch process’).
  • Fold thru 3 large rich eggs and then ¾ cup wholemeal spelt flour (I have to say, with all the deep chocolaty-ness going on, you can’t really tell it’s wholemeal or spelt. But it was a lovely fine flour and I look forward to baking with it again).
  • Finally if you wish, fold thru ½ cup walnut pieces.
  • Pour batter into the tin, making sure there’s enough left in the bowl and on the spoon for the cook to enjoy. Then bake for 35–45 minutes or until cooked: the sides pull away and the top gets that lovely crinkly top, but a skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool in tin for a few minutes before lifting onto wire rack. Enjoy!  
Have another fudgy pic!

22 Nov 2015

garden ramble: on garlic and pansies

Two very exciting things have happened in the garden this week.

First, I pulled my garlic. I don’t think I’m supposed to yet, if you go by the ‘shortest day/longest day’ rule of planting and pulling, but when I saw Jane’s lovely harvest, I was stirred to action. I’d already been investigating: rubbing the dirt from around the bulbs every now and then, to peek at their progress. But with the stalks drying and in some cases rotting off, I decided it was time to harvest.

And — wow! Best garlic harvest ever, easily. Big fat healthy heads, smelling fresh and garlicky and wonderful. I’d pulled the ones I grew in a polystyrene box (as an experiment — container vs ground) a couple of weeks ago; they were only as big as a large marble and none segmented into cloves. However they smell and taste pungent, delicious.

So I’m hanging these undercover for a few days to dry out a little, but then I’ll separate the cloves and freeze them, as I saw Tino suggest on a recent Gardening Australia. Our summers can be haphazard, and I’m always worried they’ll either rot or start shooting. With this abundance, I don’t want to risk it.

The other great thing to happen this week was I took delivery of a car-boot full of pansy plants. Don’t they look so happy?

I work practically next door to my local council’s offices, so most lunchtimes I walk or ride my bike past their beautiful flower beds. I’ve emailed council before to say how much I enjoy seeing these pretty displays (I’ve also emailed them when the plovers are nesting in the little park near home, to please not mow the birds and eggs over, but that’s another story).

This time I said, rather cheekily, I’d love some of the pansies when they’re dug out for the next display. Does your council change its flower beds regularly, and seemingly when the colours and plants are at their best? It seems a shame for them to be discarded, so maybe I could re-house them.

To my delight, Council was happy for me to take some plants, and we spoke about probable dates; I made sure I had a big box and plastic sheets in the car. So when they called — we’re digging today, come over in a couple of hours! — I was ready.

The three gardeners were so friendly and helpful, digging and carrying the plants over to my car (I was in my office clothes, not gardening gear). Eight all up; it’s all I could fit. We looked for small plants that would transplant best, and they noticed my preference for purple and white faces, so I picked out a rusty red one too. As much as getting free plants, it was lovely to meet the gardeners who make these colourful displays happen; we talked about watering systems and weeds and mulches.


That evening, I planted the pansies into my garden beds (which are not as rich and moist as council’s). The gardeners advised cutting off the flowers, to help them settle in, and while I know that is best, I couldn’t bear to. They had so much colour still! So if they last only a couple of weeks before they get straggly and poorly, hopefully their roots will settle in and I’ll be give them a big chop — and they’ll come back next season. Many of the plants had fat promising seed heads on them, too, so maybe I’ll get new plants from those.

So thank you council, you’ve made me very happy. And the gardeners said that going in next were zinnias, and I love zinnias … so I’ll be in touch.

15 Nov 2015

garden ramble: november

I’m warding off a cold at the moment, so my ability to think creatively is being obstructed by many snotty hankies! So instead of words, I share with you some pictures from my vegie and ornamental gardens, taken one lovely mild evening. Lots of cheering colour from the flowers, but not much happening with the veg. I’m waiting impatiently for seeds to poke thru — they are very tardy — and I’m mounting increasing defences against the sparrows and blackbirds who scruff out zinnia seedlings or snip off tender new pea shoots.

See you next week with hopefully more words.
Above, under the nectarine tree; below, mesh to keep the birds from my carrots and beetroot

 Above, nemophilias ... and a smudge on my camera lens; below, girly dahlias

 Above, tatty dianthus; below, is that little bug on my new dahlias a friendly one?

 Above, cloud of blue and white nigellas; below, the pea, bean and lettuce bed netted against the birds

 Above, the passionfruit progress; below, plums!

 Above, a Queen Anne's lace with more of those bugs; below, a perfect Pierre du Ronsard

 Above, the climbing rose with all its buds; below, one of my favourite flowers, sweet williams

 Above, tomato progress; below, final nigellas

8 Nov 2015

lemon syrup cake

I have professed before my love of plain cakes, and I really think that if I did write a cookbook, it would be all about plain cakes. Because there are so many possibilities. Is it made with butter, natural yoghurt, sour cream or olive oil? Flours or almond meal or polenta? A hint of vanilla or a hint of lemon? A light as air sponge or a denser wodge that is almost pudding? See, I class all of these as plain cake.
A plain cake should be able to stand on its own two feet, shine by itself in a quiet, unassuming way. Equally, it should be star enough to play supporting role to say a good scoop of rich berries or dollop of stewed fruit.
This syrup cake started out as a plain cake, made with just enough lemon zest to brighten it up. It included a modest amount of semolina — have you ever baked with semolina before? I’ve used polenta, with very pleasing results, but not semolina (I’m not even entirely sure what semolina is…). It made the fine crust of this cake slightly crunchy, in a very good way.
I thought this cake was pretty good as it was, without the syrup and candied lemon slices that were next in the recipe. In fact, I was loathe to make them in case they ruined a perfectly serviceable plain cake! Even tasting the syrup I thought — if such a thing is possible — that it was too lemony, too acid.
But then I cut a test slice (okay, second test slice — the first was to see what the truly naked cake tasted like), dribbled over some of the syrup, and was wowed. This is one of those occasions when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because plain cake (with nice crunchy edges) plus syrupy sauce equals amazing.
It wasn’t just me who thought that: I took a still-oven-warm slice to my lovely friend A, who I was sure was in need of sustenance; and gave another slice to the just-as-lovely V, with instructions to zap it in the microwave for a few minutes, as this is a cake best served slightly warm. Both were effusive in their praise (not of me, of the cake). V hit it on the head perfectly when she said it was just the right amount of tartness and sweetness. She also said it sent her to ‘lemony deliciousness heaven’, which is possibly an even better way of describing this cake. So maybe it’s not quite a plain cake afterall.
On another note, I’m sharing with you some pictures of my sage, which is growing spectacularly well at the moment, and makes for a wonderful vase in the kitchen. Nothing to do with the lemon cake, it just made its way into the picture.
Lemon syrup cake
Adapted from taste.com.au. I used my deep fluted bundt tin rather than the specified deep 20cm round tin. Cooking time still took the same!
  • Preheat oven to 180 and prep your chosen baking tin.
  • Cream together 125 gms soft butter, the zest of 2 or 3 lemons, and 1 scant cup of sugar.
  • Add 2 eggs.
  • Fold in 2/3 cup semolina, 1 1/2 cups SR flour, 1/2 cup natural or greek yoghurt, plus the juice of half a lemon.
  • Blob into pan and bake for 45 minutes or so until done.
  • Meanwhile, make the syrup. Place 1 scant cup sugar, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup water in small saucepan and gently dissolve the sugar. Then add some very fine slices of lemon; enough to ring around your cake as you can see in my first photo (I needed two small lemons). Increase the heat to bring to boil and boil carefully until syrup thickens. Apparently 'without stirring', but I couldn't resist a prod. This took me a good 15 minutes.
  • Allow cake to cool a little before turning out. Then while it is still warm, pour some of the syrup over, reserving some. Arrange your lemon slices prettily and serve each slice with a good slosh more of the sticky syrup and a good blob of the yoghurt you used for baking. As before, I think this is best enjoyed warm.