Monday, 30 July 2012

Christmas In July. Sort Of!

I made these cute biscuits on the weekend as a practice run for 80-odd I'll be making for my cousin's engagement party. I'm none too confident with biscuits but - whether it was because I was paying especial care, or it was just a great recipe - these are a winner. Think gingerbread with no ginger - spicy and more chewy than crunchy. I did a half batch and got about twenty out of it using two largish snowflake cutters. We shan't discuss how many there would have been if I hadn't picked at the straggly bits of cookie dough as I cut the biscuits out...

CHRISTMAS SPICE BISCUITS - Margaret Fulton's "Baking"

2 2/3c (400g) SR flour
Pinch of salt
1 1/2tsp each of ground cinnamon, ground cloves and ground nutmeg
1tsp ground white pepper (I used black pepper with no apparent ill effects)
1/2c (110g) each of castor sugar and firmly packed brown sugar
250g butter, diced
1/3c milk
1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
Decorating stuff (I used royal icing, silver cachous and disco dust, plus a snowflake stencil

Oven at 180oC. Line trays with baking paper (I used 2 trays for a half batch)

Sift everything as far as the sugars into a large bowl. Add butter and rub in until resembles breadcrumbs (or be lazy like me and dump the whole lot in a food processor to do most of the work then finish it off by hand).

Combine milk and bicarb in a cup and stir into flour mixture (I used a butter knife to get it started). Knead lightly to form a firm but elastic dough (I kept going until it stuck together properly and could roll a ball with it. Wouldn't say it was an especially light knead but it came out okay). Halve dough, wrap in Glad wrap and refrigerate 30mins.

Roll out dough (leave other bit in fridge) to about 4mm and cut with cutters of choice. Re-knead dough scraps and re chill before rolling out again.

Bake 15-20mins or until golden. Keep an eye on them as they will catch quickly. You may need to rotate pans. Decorate as desired (recipe suggests a dusting of icing sugar.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Unexpected Grief

I've been cleaning my childhood bedroom out a bit and in my desk drawer came across my yearbook from my last year of high school. I was flipping through when I came across a photographic montage - a two page spread which I helped collate all those years ago - and smiling out at me were the faces of two classmates who have since passed away. They were so young in those photos, with so much ahead of them. At least, they should have had so much ahead of them.

I was close with neither Mat nor Eva, although both ran in the same crowd, which was loosely attached to my (dorkier) crowd. They weren't so high above my friends and I that they would ignore us or make us feel we weren't worthy of breathing the same air as them with a single glance like the cool kids did, and although not really friends with them our paths would cross in the playground and, in later years, at parties.

Mat was in my Chinese class for years and I had a tiny crush on him in year eight. He was one of those guys that just shouldn't have died young. He was smart and funny and sporty and kind and cheeky and was no doubt destined for great things. He had spectacularly curly, dark hair, a dimple and a very slight lisp. To cap it all off he was dating probably the sweetest girl to ever walk this earth, Petrea. The yearbook tells me that at the time they were the most inseparable couple in the year level.

I don't think they were still an item when he died but I'm pretty sure they were still best friends, and that she had to bury two of her best friends within the first eight years of leaving high school is just grossly unfair. Mat's best friend Jason, who was also the son of a favourite teacher at our school, had been travelling with him just before he died, gave a eulogy... and within about four years also had to bury his brother who died in a car accent.

Mat died while travelling in South America. I don't know what country or the exact circumstances, although the grape vine told me that he had been travelling alone in a fairly remote area and when nobody heard from him in a few days they raised the alarm with DFAT. Eventually a tour operator got wind of a white guy who had been found by some villagers in a river, and they had given him a proper burial. It would seem he had slipped, hit his head on a rock and drowned.

I don't know how long it was between him going missing and his funeral, that around 6-800 attended. It was at least a couple of weeks and longer than it should have been because he had to be identified and shipped home. If it felt like forever to me then I can't even imagine what waiting must have been like for his loved ones.

Eva died in the Black Saturday bush fires, along with both of her parents. I believe Kinglake address listed in the yearbook is the house they died in. Her brother wasn't home that day and in the space of a couple of hours he lost his entire family as well as his best friend.

Eva's dad, Richard Zann, was a greatly respected scientist specialising in animal behaviour with a special affinity towards zebra finches and other birds. He was also one of my university lecturers, an odd, quietly intelligent man who taught me statistics - not my favourite subject!

At their memorial service I felt guilty when I realised Eva had joined our school in Year 4 and not Year 7 as I had thought. How could I have just not remembered three years of her life?? That Dr Zann's passing was a bigger thing to me (maybe because if the added layer of it being a massive loss to the scientific community) than the loss of Eva also made me feel awful, and wasn't something I even realised until afterwards. But as I said, I was never close to Eva and I shouldn't feel bad for that.

I don't feel like I have the right to be touched like this just by opening an old book... but I have been crying like a baby the whole time I have been writing this. I just feel so badly for that wonderful group of humans that were their friends. I hope they don't have to endure much more pain because it doesn't seem fair. But I guess life isn't fair. I also hope that if they are reading this that they are not offended that I shared something so personal to them with you.

Another student passed away somewhere between Mat and Eva. It was suicide, and the news was whispered around quietly and then forgotten. There was no mass funeral, no outpouring of grief for Ben (the second Ben we lost - the first died of cancer in Year 12) or sympathy for his family. I scarcely remember him except that he was fairly quiet and would blush easily. I vaguely recall that he had a temper, wasn't a good student and had the most brilliant blue, but sad, eyes I have ever seen but that's it. In some ways, his passing is more tragic than Mat and Eva's.

One day in Chinese class, Mat was sitting with his friend Nathan in front of my friend Kaye and I and tormenting us playfully as he was wont to do. Suddenly he turned to me and said "do you like Reid?" (Um, yes. Big, fat, embarrassing, ridiculous crush. But c'mon, he was a hottie!) When I admitted it - an humiliating moment for an overweight, thoroughly uncool Year 8 girl - he said "but how can you like him? You never even talk to him." I didn't know what to say but he was right. Wise words, and a piece of wisdom I have applied to several areas of my life since. I was also stunned to register that Mat thought the only thing wrong with the equation was that I didn't really know Reid, and that the invisible barrier between dorks and the rest of the world could apparently be breached just by speaking to someone, which was news to me.

Thanks, Mat. I won't forget that. I'm sorry that you're gone and I hope you and Eva and Ben are all okay and happy, wherever you are. I am sure you are all missed by many, and I'm quite sure the world missed out on something great when you left it.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Book Review - Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela

This book has been on my mum's bookshelf for almost as long as I can recall. I think, in the beginning, I had a natural aversion to it on account of the fact that she had recommended it to me. Same reason as I hated Nirvana and the Foo Fighters and Metallica - because my brother liked them.

I know. I'm a dolt.

But I'm a loveable dolt! Right??? *looks hopeful*

Two vaguely interesting although minor segues - one, two of my closest friends Al and Emma have both read this book. As in, this copy. As in, they spend maybe 10 hours per year in my mum's house and they still read it before I did. Al beat it to me by a good ten years, perhaps even closer to fifteen (although it can't be fifteen because I didn't meet him until 1998).

Two, I had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela, thanks to Al... and I turned it down because I didn't really want to race to the station and catch a train into town and THEN find wherever it was this youth conference was being held, on time, all on my own (bear in mind that this was in a time before Google Maps and iPhones) - I think it was Etihad Stadium, previously known as Docklands Stadium, the Telstra Dome and Colonial Stadium, depending on who sponsored it that week . As it turns out, I would have been grossly underdressed to meet a leader of such global significance (I was wearing more casual clothing than the girl in burgandy shirt below), plus, at the time I knew he was a pretty awesome dude but that was about it because at seventeen I just had NO clue what the fuss was about... so my scardey-bone winning out probably wasn't such a terrible thing. Imagine an awkward moment where Dr Mandela asks me a really deep question and I blink at him like a goldfish, and that is how it would have gone.

This is a picture from the Day I Could Have Met Nelson Mandela But Didn't. Al is the well-dressed young man in the centre, and the guy over his shoulder to the left is another friend I have long since lost contact with, but who my money is still on to make a mark on the world somehow. I think I was also his first kiss during a highschool game of spin the bottle! The lady to the left of him was my Year 7 tute teacher, as well as my humanities teacher, and she was an odd one. Normally she was lovely, but don't even consider crossing her because she could just turn on you and get reeeeeeally nasty. As in, her eyes would send daggers of ice into your heart. I wonder what became of her, and what she was actually like outside of the classroom...
Anyway, back to the book.

It certainly WAS a long walk to freedom! But not in the same way that you felt you suffered through every single step and every single day that Brad Pitt spent in his Seven Years in Tibet (mind you, I was fifteen when I saw it so I may get more value out of it now). No, this was an informative and enlightening journey; and, as I find happens when I read any sort of book that lays down the history of a region, I felt like I understand the world a little better. It really is true that to move forward you have to acknowledge- but not dwell on - what came before.

The only thing I will say against it is that it is the only true (auto)biography I have read (the closest I have come is Three Cups of Tea, which is a really interesting book about Dr Greg Mortimer's experience building schools where girls are welcome, in the Pakistani foothills of the Himalayas), and that so far I don't find (auto)biographies to really be my style. Obviously that's not the fault of the author - it's just a matter of preference on my part. Some, like Three Cups of Tea, are written as though they are a story and that makes it a more enjoyable read for me. It is probably testament to the fact that Three Cups of Tea was a story told by the Dr Greg to the author, who then documented his journey. Long Walk to Freedom, on the other hand, was actually written by Dr Mandela, with only fact-checking and re-writing of confiscated sections completed or co-written by others.

As a novel (which I had mistakenly thought it was) it is a little bit heavy on the detail, but it's not a novel at all (well done, Vanessa. Well done.) - it's a work of non-fiction; an historical document, if you will. It chronicles every single name of every single person involved in any vague way with the fight for freedom in South Africa, and on what dates they particpated in that fight. Because of that saturation of information I can only recall literally a handful of names used (note: I began writing this six weeks ago and have since forgotten all but two names). But because  it is an autobiography it therefore makes sense to document the minutae of Dr Mandela's (and the African National Congress') struggle for freedom and for non-racial democracy in South Africa.

It begins with his childhood on his father's "farm" in the country, and his gradual move to the city for education. He completes highschool and obtains a law degree, all whilst being a major player in the ANC - initially in its youth arm and then then later in the main body of the organisation. Later still, as the fight intensifies, he founds an armed arm (heh. Sorry about that) of the organisation in response to the white government's refusal to cease violence against blacks, coloureds and Indians. (That's something else I learnt - that the three groups were treated separately, and that there was a hierarchy amongst them in terms of how the white government viewed them.) The book also describes the lengthy trial against himself and other freedom fighters, and what follows is quite a large portion of the book taking place on Roben Island, where Mandela was incarcerated for the majority of his 27 years in prison.

I never really understood the significance of Mandela being freed, or the circumstances under which he was locked up, until I read this. I knew it was a great step forward for the world when he was released, but I didn't know why. Some would call him a trouble-maker, and there is no question at all that he was a law-breaker and a revolutionary, but only because he existed in a climate that made it all but impossible to live freely in a lawful fashion. Being criminalised was an obvious outcome of not being allowed some quite basic freedoms.

I would definitely recommend a read. It willl take you quite a while to get through, but it is compelling enough to help you cope with the length. At the very least it should help you appreciate some very basic freedoms that we take for granted.

Lastly, it also raised some interesting questions in my mind about accepting the status quo in today's age, at least in the Western world (watch out, my mind's about to wander off-topic!). The freedoms we fight for seem so very trivial when you consider the marginalisation or unfair laws that various ethnic groups suffer in different parts of the world - even when they represent the majority of the population. These people's heads would probably explode if they ever heard about the CFMEU's latest EBA, and that under that agreement you can be paid around $1100 per 36-hour week for driving a 12-tonne truck (which just requires the appropriate licence), and $750 per week living away from home alowance. Sure, our cost of living is greater, but surely it's not twenty to forty times greater than the majority of African nations. Our expectations, on the other hand, probably are twenty to forty times higher, and that's the stuff mainstream society fights for here (freedom to own a flatscreen TV! Freedom for every family to own two cars! Freedom to not be made to do your homework! Freedom to be handed money by the government for breeding (accidentally or otherwise), and then the freedom to complain about not being paid enough to not work while you bring the kid up! (heh. Sorry. Capitalist rant over. Although this is an interesting read - barstool economics)), not real, basic freedoms.

With the focus in the West so heavily on individual entitlement and freedom to do whatever one jolly well pleases with no consequence and no thought of others (precious little petals that we are), surely it's only a matter of time until life as we know it collapses into a smoking heap of rubble. The lack of genuine freedom has a similarly chaotic effect - Long Walk to Freedom demonstrated that very clearly - but after the point where basic, actual freedoms are fought for and (hopefully) obtained it becomes a philosphical argument. Why should some little punk with his underwear sticking out the top of his pants, in the space of half an hour, be free to graffitti public property, evade train fares and listen to his iPod so loudly that everyone within a 20m radius can hear it, too? And if his freedom encroaches on my freedom to be proud of where I live, not be visually assaulted by his underwear (or worse, his bum crack) and enjoy a reasonable level of serenity, then why can't I be free to drag him by the ear to the local cop shop? It's my country, too, and I'm not so keen for jerks like that to exist.

And on it goes.

I think that that we in the West should take a moment to think about which freedoms are important and which are not. Society became regulated for a reason, and even the most basic structures in society have some form of regulation. Even a hive of bees has rules and structure and process.

So what freedoms would you give up? And what does freedom mean to you? And how far would you go to fight for it?

PS - I turned 30 last week, and I think it really shows in this cranky old lady rant. I'm enjoying this 30 business!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Wilton Decorating Course - Flowers and Cake Design

You may recall that I quite recently completed the Wilton Decorating Basics course at the Greensborough Cake Decorating Centre (whoah, that's a lot of links!). Well, the next logical step was to enrol in Wilton Flowers and Cake Design. As discussed previously, the Wilton way isn't the only way, or necessarily the best way, but I personally respond well to that sort of instruction.

This course was held over four weeks and, again, we built up our skills and ended with a pretty cake at the end. Because I'm lazy I will just post photos of the flowers we learnt (piping flowers in royal icing has always been something I wanted to know how to do), and a picture of the finished cake.

First up, we learnt to make these cute but crazily annoying button flowers out of gumpaste, using a mould. There's quite a good chance I won't use the mould again, and, that if I do, I will quite likely swear and throw it across the room at some point - the flowers have a propensity to stick (although you do eventually get the hang of poking them out of the mould without destroying the flower). But if someone really wanted these cute button-style flowers, well I guess I'd make them again... after a calming drink or two!*

Next was a pansy, again from gum paste. We were taught to use a balling tool for this one. I'm not a big fan of the pansy - I found it to be quite an ungainly flower - but perhaps that has more to do with my clumsy hands than anything else. It might look nicer a little smaller, too.

After that we learnt to make royal icing - you can read about it until the cows come home, but until you've actually seen it I think you'd pretty much just be lucky to get the consistency right. I've done it as per instructions three times before, and improved each time but still not had the desired result. But once I saw it demonstrated it was okay. The key is, it should defy gravity! But if you need to use your #1 tip then you should be thinning it down, otherwise you have no hope of pushing it through that tiny hole.

The next few flowers were variations on the same theme - apple blossoms,

primroses (don't ask me why it roatated the picture... also, I think my pink icing was a wee bit runny, and I should also mention that most of my flowers had a small accident on their way home so they're a bit smooshed),

daffodils (my favourites! Can't wait to make them with orange centres), and


We also learnt to make a Wilton rose
(the full seven outer petals)
(only five outer petals)

and an oriental lily (mine's a bit wonky, but that's because my brain is incapable of dividing an invisible circle into six even pieces. This is one I'd love to improve on!).

Lastly, we were taught reverse shells and ropes (ropes are used below, although not good ones!)
and basket weave, to make the final product upon which we stuck the flowers from earlier classes.

Again, I will show you how to make these at some point when I'm less lazy, but I reiterate that there is no substitute for a proper class. I strongly urge you to find one near you!

*the author in no way advocates the use of alcohol as a sedative or other mood-altering device to assist in the more frustrating steps of cake decorating. But advocating and casually suggesting are two quite different things, right??

Monday, 16 July 2012

Scottish Tablet Cup Cakes with Whisky Icing - A Makey-Cakey Birthday Surprise Ingredient Swap

A little while back I agreed to participate in an ingredient swap, initiated by Ruth over at Makey Cakey, to distract her from her impending 30th birthday. Happy birthday, Ruth! (Just quietly, I'm turning 30 on Friday and I'm a little freaked out about it too, and plan on distracting myself by spending a lot of the day baking and decorating an awesome (hopefully!) birthday cake for my party on Saturday night...)

I was paired with Ruth's husband Jono, who posts four-ingredient recipes on Tumblr. Pretty good idea, those four recipe things, because let's face it - you're far more likely to try something new if you don't have to climb a mountain in the French Pyrenees and pluck a feather from the first-born chick of the incredibly rare and exotic Mystery Fabulous Bird to stir your cake batter with. By which I mean, if the ingredient ain't in my cupboard or am not likely to use it again, then chances are I won't cook it!

Being from Scotland, the ingredients that Jono sent me were some 10-year-old Scotch, and some Scottish Tablet. Scotch doesn't need much of a preamble (although perhaps I should apologise to Jono for wasting it on cup cakes), but Scottish Tablet is kind of like... hmm... a dry, crumbly, rich fudge, would probably be the best way of describing it. I Googled it and  basically you can make your own by boiling condensed milk (which contains sugar) with butter and - wait for it - more sugar. It comes as no surprise to me at all that it comes in very small packets! A little bit goes a long, long way.

I decided to bake something "inspired by" the Tablet, rather than just cooking with it. And then I decided that what I made tasted kind of crap, so I decorated it with some crumbled up Tablet and it became 90,475,178,394,156,128.99465^784 (a prize will be awarded to the first person who can actually tell me in writing what that number is!) times more palatable.

This meant that I was going to base my cup cake recipe on the concept of condensed milk, sugar and butter. I wanted it to be golden in colour so I tried to caramelise the condensed milk, which didn't go so well - I mainly kept getting distracted and burning it, but it did thicken... which probably wasn't a good thing for the cup cake texture, in the end. I also added brown sugar because it wasn't brown enough or sweet enough or really tasted like anything at all. Boo.

I also had a moment of insipiration whilst I was "browning" the condensed milk - when you make Anzac Biscuits, you melt your butter with golden syrup and then add half a teaspoon of baking soda with a tablespoon of boiling water to cause a fizzy reaction, then you dump it in with the melted butter/syrup and it goes crazy and grows in size by at least three or four times. So I wanted that to be the raising agent... only it didn't fizz out like it was supposed to. Perhaps the baking soda was past its prime - who knows. But because that didn't really work I added a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour, just in cases. At the very least the baking soda would make the cup cakes brown more. 

After all that, it's not suprising my recipe was kind of crap because I totally winged it, no recipe book in sight, and had to keep adding ingredients to make it "look right"! But hey, I had fun trying. And they're not that bad, but they could use a lot of improvement. For one, I would cook them for less time. But they did rise!

1/2c sweetened condensed milk (turns out this equates to half a can of the Carnation stuff)
100g-ish butter
1tsp baking soda
1tbsp boiling water
1tsp whisky
1 1/2c plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/4c brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2c milk (or was it 1/4c? Again, very much a case of judging the texture of your batter. How about you start with 1/4c and go from there!)

Stir condensed milk over low heat until it goes a bit golden (this didn't happen quite like I had hoped - most of the golden colour came from when I walked away for half a second and it caught on the bottom!). Remove from heat and add room-temperature chopped butter; stir it in quickly to melt it and stop the condensed milk from seizing.

Meanwhile, boil kettle. Mix 1tsp baking soda with 1tbsp boiling water in a mug or similar, mix quickly and tip into the condensed milk/butter mix (I'm wondering now whether it reacts with the sugar in Anzacs, and because there was only the sugar from the condensed milk present it may not have been enough?? Nah, I'd say the baking soda was past its prime). Stir around quickly, hope it froths and become disappointed when it doesn't.

Before this you should have put your flour in a large mixing bowl! And at this point you would also have dumped a quick teaspoon of baking powder in because you've realised your cup cakes won't rise without it.

Add condensed milk mixture to flour and stir quite vigorously until blended. Add 1/4c brown sugar and mix in. Add one egg at a time, mixing between each addition, then the whisky, and the milk - start with 1/4c then work your way up.

Divide into (10-ish) cup cake liners and bake at 170oC for... shoot. I think it was a total of around 20 minutes, or, at least, it should have been around that! Check it at about the 18 minute mark and if they're still sloppy like mine were, put them in for another five minutes and check again. Watch them carefully - I made the mistake of thinking that a wet skewer meant it was waaaay undercooked when I think it could have done with being a little undercooked rather than overcooked. Live and learn. Plus I think I cooked mine for an extra ten or so minutes after the 18 minute mark so don't be me!

When they spring back I guess they're done... cool on a rack. I covered mine with a tea towel while I cooled them to arrest the drying-out of cooling cupcakes. I think I realised just in time!

Verdict: Dense, a little boring and a little dry. Adjust baking times and consider adding more milk. Or less flour. Or more sugar. Or cooking for less time. Or something. One thing I will say, though, is that they leave quite a pleasant, silky-smooth sensation in your mouth. Like, you know how gluten free stuff leaves a "squeaky" feeling? This is kind of the opposite.

Cream around 125g butter with 1/4c densely packed brown sugar until well mixed. Gradually add 1c icing sugar with the mixer running. Scrape bowl down. Start mixing again. Add 1tbsp or so of whisky and mix. The icing will be a little on the wet side. I added a total of 1/2c more icing sugar, 1/4c at a time, until it reached the right consistency. It smells and tastes very strongly of whisky so you don't need to pile it up too high on the cupcakes. A dessert spoon-full or so should do; apply it and swirl around with the back of the spoon.

Chop up some Tablet and decorate the tops of the cupcakes with it. The sweetness will balance the harsh whiskey flavour; the cupcakes themselves are a little on the boring side so they barely factor into the overall impact!

I imagine this recipe is one that could be improved quite easily but I wanted to get it posted in time for the challenge. I also went as Scottish as I could with the cup cake wrapper - do you like it?

I posted Jono some ingredients that were kind of Australian (although we're such a hotch-potch of cultures and have had many influxes of the English, Scottish and Irish (as well as other cultures in more recent years) that it's quite difficult to come up with a quintessentially Australian baking ingredient that isn't originally British!). I went with macadamias - because they are endemic to Australia, no matter what the Hawai'ians say!; ginger - because apparently some of the best ginger in the world is Buderim ginger from Queensland (but that's probably a rumour started by the Buderim ginger company!); and some Manuka honey - honey from a tree native to Australia (and NZ), which apparently has magical healing properties. I can't wait to see what he has made!

Update: Jono posted his recipe - chocolate macadamia cupcakes (only four ingredients!!!) - here, and Ruth posted a recipe roundup here.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Daring Kitchen: Cooking "En Papillote"

I've been a little bit slack with the whole blogging/cooking thing of late. Part of it is that I've been quite busy, and other parts are because it just hasn't seemed all that important to me. I think Joelene over at DeterminedUncensored said it well - living more and chronicling less. I do enjoy blogging, but I sometimes find that I won't be present in the moment because I'm thinking about clever little phrases to use, and forming a blog post in my head as I do something. Does anyone else do that??

Anyway, I thought I'd post about this month's Daring Cooks challenge before I forgot and the deadline passed me by again!

Our July 2012 Daring Cooks’ host was Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie! Sarah challenges us to learn a new cooking technique called “Cooking En Papillote” which is French and translates to “cooking in parchment”.

So basically what we had to do is cook food in the oven in parchment paper. This is best achieved by adding some sort of moisture (e.g. stock or wine), or to select foods that will release moisture, so that it kind of steams in the paper. I have come across this method of cooking before in various Donna Hay cook books, amongs others, and you may have encountered recipes including the phrase "paper bag " or similar. I don't know why I never tried it because it really is dead simple, and healthy to boot. You know, provided your moisture doesn't come from butter... *whistles nonchalantly*

Sarah gave us a few ideas to get us started, but I decided to try something she hadn't even suggeted and cook pork.

First, I bought some pork medallions - they're basically pork fillets about the length of your palm but skinner, with no bone or fat on them.

Actually, first I preheated the oven to about 190oC. There I go again, running before I can walk!

Next, I washed and halved some raw beetroot. I also washed and chopped up parsnip into inch-thick lengths. These went on a baking tray on baking paper and were sprinkled lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper. They went in the oven and spent about twenty minutes there before anything else went in.

Okay, back to the pork. I placed the fillets flat on a cutting board, and inserted a knife and sliced them along one side to form a pocket that went almost all the way through to the other side but not quite - it needs to hold together on three "sides" when you stuff it.

I then got a Granny Smith apple (I believe they're known as cooking apples elsewhere in the world - a bright green, crisp, tart apple that I LOVE to eat as an apple, but other people can't stand), peeled it, and diced about two thirds of it up into fine cubes (I cut straight down beside the core three times so there was an oblong piece remaining, one side of which was apple and the other side of which was core... buuut that may have just confused you more!). I added about an inch of fresh ginger, finely sliced into tiny matchsticks; a little under a teaspoon of crushed garlic; about half a teaspoon of soy sauce; and a heaped teaspoon of honey, then mixed it around.

I stuffed this mixture into the pockets I made in pork medallions and secured it with a toothpick, tucking the toothpick carefully into the meat because for some reason I was paranoid it would burn, even though I was basically steaming it. Then I placed each medallion into a square of baking paper the longest side being on the diagonal of the paper; squeezed a fat slice of lemon on it (8mm thick or so, half a longitudinal lemon wide - this was my moisture, plus the water in the apple which I knew would ooze out as it cooked) and then placed the slice on top, along with a piece of star anise; and secured the paper by tightly rolling down the opposite diagonals on the short side of the pork (i.e. so that you're rolling the longest pieces of paper), then twist the end pieces tightly to finish the package off.

Note that the beetroot has now been in the oven for about twenty minutes. I put these stuffed pork medallions on a tray in the oven and set the timer for fifteen minutes.

Next, I took some baby carrots, fresh green beans and fresh asparagus; topped and tailed and halved the beans, took the leaves and tails off the carrots, and snapped the woody base off the asparagus and then cut them in half. I used five baby carrots and three asparagus spears per person plus enough beans to complete a serving. I washed them all and didn't dry them because I hadn't thought the moisture through and figured it wouldn't hurt.

Same deal with the paper - place the vegies on a square of baking paper, add some moisture (in my case, about half a tablespoon of chicken stock and a wee pat of butter), do the foldy-twisty thing with the paper and bung them in the oven. I think I set the timer for about twenty minutes (which had just gone off from the pork's first fifteen).

So, if you're confused (and, frankly, I can't blame you if you are), it went a little something like this:

Beetroot & parsnip + olive oil, salt, pepper: 55 minutes

Pork + apple, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, star anise: 35 minutes

Carrots, asparagus & beans + chicken stock, butter: 20 minutes.

The beetroot and parsnip were good. I'd probably turn the parsnip half way because it started to go a bit brown on the bottom side. It was also a little soft but in a good way.

The pork was probably a little over-done, but with pork, better to over-cook than under-cook!

The carrots and beans were a little on the crunchy side but the asparagus was perfect. But they were definitely edible.

All things considered, I will definitely cook "en papillote" again!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion and Fund Raising: Run Melbourne 2012 5km Fun Run

Most of you were probably too busy drooling over recipes to notice, but I do have a tab on this page called Fit for 30.  The idea was to be in the best possible shape of my life when I hit 30, because surely that's as good as it will ever get!

Ten days out from the big 3-0, and I have realised something: that 30 is just a number (albeit a scary one, to women, at least, for some reason that probably doesn't make much sense but which may very well involve deteriorating collagen and encroaching sagginess...), and just because you say something will happen doesn't make it so. I'm not in the shape I want to be, and I have only myself to blame. That, and a bout of bronchitis that benched me for about two weeks in my Couch to 5km running (HAHAHAHA okay, shuffling!) program. So, partly my fault and partly the fault of the bacteria that attacked my lungs. Thanks a lot, bacteria.

I should stop saying bacteria. It's kind of gross, isn't it. I'm sorry.

So, this coming Sunday I'm entered in the Run Melbourne 5km fun run/walk. I have a friend running with me, and another friend who is running the half marathon. I'm also not sure but I thought I heard a rumour that another friend still was running the full marathon, but surely I don't associate with such crazy people... do I??

I started training in time but didn't allow for pesky winter inconveniences such as illness and torrential rain. Silly Nessie. But I'm still going to give it a crack. I don't know how much of it I will run (as discussed, my style is more of a shuffle. And it's about walking pace, but a totally different motion! Sad, I know...), but I do know that I will be dragging myself out of bed on a Sunday to participate in a physical activity, and surely that in itself is a good sign of a healthy lifestyle, right?

(Please disregard the fact that I will most likely be brunching afterwards with my 5km Partner in Crime...)

I am raising money for the Victor Chang Heart Research Institute. They do lots of amazing research into cardiac disease and conditions, including my personal favourite (NOT!) - Long QT Syndrome. That's the one that I have, so the more of you who donate to the cause, the more likely it is that they'll fix me for good one day and I can go hiking without the intervention of helicopters!

I'm not usually big on begging, but please, please, PLEASE, donate today by clicking here. You can read more about my motivation for doing this if you follow this link, and the Donate button is in the lower right hand corner of the page. And tell your friends, too! Better yet, you could always enter yourself and raise some money for the charity of your choice... or you could just enter your credit card details instead of the race and be with me in spirit, as you enjoy a cosy cup of tea and a bikkie on the couch on what is bound to be a cold and wet Melbourne morning ;)

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Date and Chocolate Torte

Not so very long ago in a land not at all far away (might have been this very chair, in fact), I came across this recipe on Hotly Spiced, an always-amusing food blog. Charlie is a great story teller, so I find myself popping over a couple of times a week to see what recipes she has up her sleeve and what story she has woven around it.

On this particular day I was suffering a surplus of egg whites on account of the lemon curd and ice cream I had recently made. The single paltry egg white I used for the meringe in that recipe wasn't quite enough to balance out the yolks so I had seven sitting in the fridge, thinking about what they would become (macarons were a vauge possiblity, but I'm still a bit scared of them). So when I stumbled across the recipe Charlie had posted for date and chocolate torte it was like a sign from above. It's from the Vogue Australia Wine and Food Cookbook... 1985! AND it's gluten free.

Preheat oven to 180oC. Grease a springform tin and line the base with baking paper.

Roughly chop 250g of each of dark cooking chocolate, dates, and almonds (skin still on). I used the stick mixer's food processor and found that the chocolate became jammed on the side of the bowl so you could really only chop one row at a time. Quite frustrating! You'll also need to hold it with two hands because once it starts chopping it kind of tap-dances on the bench.

Whip 6 egg whites until stiff peaks form and gradually add castor sugar, beating until it dissolves/disperses. Fold in almonds, chocolate and dates (I did this in a couple of batches so as to not completely flatten the meringue mixture).

Spread in tin and bake for 45 minutes.

Switch off oven, open oven door slightly and allow to cool in tin. If you're not me, once it's cool, turn onto platter, cover and refrigerate overnight.

If you are me, cool for about half an hour then carefully remove from the tin while it's still kind of warm and melty.

Serve it up with a round of double cream and some granny smith apple slithers (I like the tartness to balance the sweetness of the chocolate and dates; I imagine strawberries or raspberries or perhaps even nectarines would also work well).

Thanks for the recipe, Charlie!

PS - I did the maths and it has 338cal per serving (1/12th of the torte), without the cream. Not too bad considering its extreme deliciousness!