All of the pleasure, none of the pain

It’s properly cold now. I mean it’s only getting up to 16°C during the day. Well, OK, but it has been 1°C overnight. And the Aussies have NO IDEA about insulation, double glazing, or appropriate heating for their houses. I fear I may lose some fingers.

Now can I get some sympathy?

For me, as well as for my poor cats, the only answer is to stuff in the calories like they’re going out of fashion. It’s a dangerous game and is the reason Bertie has turned into a little dumpling in a few short weeks.

theboys

But I still need to eat, so I thought I’d roll out the fun-free cake again, this time in a different incarnation.

apple and date cake

Apple and date cake

This time I replaced a third of the dried fruit with diced apple and sliced the remaining apple to line in the bottom of the tin, along with a little spray oil, before baking. I also added 1 tsp cinnamon. Goddamn, it was delicious!

For interest’s sake, I thought I’d do a little calorie counting. Each 70g slice (1/12th) contains:*

  • 15g dried fruit, 30g fresh fruit and 20ml fruit juice
  • 8g of almonds
  • 3g protein
  • 2g fibre
  • 140 kcals (600kJ) (vs 275kcals (1170kJ) for shop-bought lemon drizzle)

But … that’s nearly half the calories.

So I had two pieces. With some Baileys ice cream.

I am my own worst enemy.

 

*I am not a nutritionist and all the maths is my own. You’ve been warned.

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Food and nostalgia

Smell in one of the strongest trigger for memories that there is.

In fact, behavioural studies have shown the smell triggers more vivid emotional memories than images do.

And what is more evocative than the smell of your childhood kitchen?

  • Garlic roast chicken on a Sunday afternoon
  • Richly savoury bolognese bubbling way on the heat for hours at a time
  • Spicy cinnamon and cloves in every part of the house from the 4 hours the Christmas cake spent in the oven
  • And what about jam and chutney season?

That’s probably the reason family recipes live on. They connect us to our past, to our families, some of whom have departed.

It’s 2 years since both Mr Eleanor and I lost our last grandparents, just 3 days apart. And tomorrow is Mr Eleanor’s birthday. So it’s time for a little food nostalgia with this sentimental nod for his birthday cake.

Nan Ruth's fruit cake

I hope I’ve done it justice. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow!

Nan Ruth’s Fruit Cake

Mum Fruit Cake receipe 001

*SR flour replaced with white spelt flour and 1.5 tsp baking powder; milk was lactose free

Sugar-free, fat-free, fun-free cake?

Oh, goddamit, I’ve got to stop baking – I’m going to develop diabetes at this rate.

But on the other hand, if there was a cake that was low fat and low sugar, that would be ok, wouldn’t it? To be honest, I’m not really asking your permission 🙂

I was doing a little research for my writing (alright, alright, I was procrastinating and surfing the internet, dreaming up things to eat) and bumped into this Maltese recipe from SBS which contains NO ADDED SUGAR OR FAT OR EGGS!

No sugar, fat or eggs? Blergh, I hear you say, but you’d be wrong.

sugarless apricot and date cake

You can find the recipe here:

SBS: Sugarless apricot and date cake

The texture was surprisingly good – I expected it to be crumbly but it wasn’t. It was soft and moist and sweet, and everything a cake should be. As a bonus it is completely dairy free and vegan, and could easily be adapted for gluten free.

Tips from TheO
  • Soak the fruit in a little apple juice for an hour before you bake to keep it moist
  • Switch out the wheat flour for a wheat/gluten free option – I used wholemeal spelt, but perhaps this is taking the concept of healthy cake a step too far
  • If you’re not using SRF, add 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • Although the recipe didn’t say so, I assumed the oven temperature should be 180°C
  • Adapt the cooking time for your tin – I didn’t have a ring tin so used a loaf tin which took 50 minutes to cook
  • Mr Eleanor found the apricot flavour a little too strong so I might try using dried mixed fruit next time, and a bit of cinnamon.

Try it, you might like it.

Cauliflower and scallop pasta with hazelnut pangrattato

I’m gettin’ all Masterchef on yo asses!

Ok, I’ll stop.

For Melbourne summer’s absolutely last, promise this time, really last hurrah, Mr Eleanor and I went down to Cape Woolamai on Philip Island.

Cape Woolamai beach

On the way back we picked up some seafood. A kilo of the stuff. All for meeeeeeee! Woop!

Pasta photos are tough going, especially when it’s dark. I assure you this is tastier than it looks.

cauli scallop pasta

Pasta in a creamed cauliflower sauce with roasted florets, scallops and crispy hazelnut, lemon zest and garlic pangrattato

But you don’t have to take my word for it, try it for yourself – here’s the recipe

The biscuit tin needs a refill

I’ve really enjoyed having a tin of homemade Anzac biscuits winking at me from the kitchen this week. As a kid, my mum always had some freshly made delights waiting for us when we got home from school but as I didn’t drink tea or coffee until I was over 30 (I know! And I call myself British!) I never got into the whole ‘tea and biscuits’ scene.

Cake’s good, but there’s something rewarding about the crisp snap of a biscuit, or the way it yields to the warmth of a cuppa.biscotti

So I thought I might make some crisp, versatile biscotti. These are another type of biscuit that were made to travel. Traditional recipes do not call for any butter or oil, thus they are

  • naturally lactose free
  • low fat
  • keep for weeks

If you wanna make them a little more decadent, dip one end in dark chocolate and almond nibs.

There seem to be several techniques to make them, but Paul Hollywood’s method is a cinch – no processor or arm power required, and Martha Stewart’s uses polenta (cornmeal) – and as always I’m drawn to recipes that use ingredients other than wheat.

So this recipe is a combination of the two. Next time I might reduce the amount of sugar, and switch out for some almond meal. And there will be a next time!

Pea and avo pasta with fennel

This might be my new pasta obsession – I always have to have one on the go. I would cheerfully lick the blades of the food processor to get at the smears of sauce hiding from my persistent spatula.

pea and avo pasta with fennel

Pasta with pea, avocado and goats cheese sauce, with caramelised fennel and Parmesan and almonds

The avocado sauce so smooth and has a really good bite of raw garlic; the caramelised fennel gives a great sweet balance to it, with the Parmesan providing the salty umami flavour.

This is easily adapted for all sorts of food intolerance without losing much:

  • GF – use GF pasta
  • LF – use lactose free cream instead of goats
  • Vegetarian – use a vegetarian hard cheese instead of Parmesan
  • Vegan – omit cheese
  • Nut free – omit almonds

I’m REALLY glad I outgrew my childhood avocado allergy though!

If you wanna make it, the recipe’s here.

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What? They’re delicious AND vegan?

Anzac Day is nearly upon again: Australia’s equivalent to the British Remembrance Sunday to honour all those who have served.

Whilst Easter has Creme Eggs and Christmas has, well, all the food under the sun, Anzac Day is commemorated with the consumption of the Anzac biscuits. These sweet oaty biscuits do not, and never will, contain eggs – this was because of the scarcity of eggs during the war, and it also prolonged their shelf life. It also makes them incredibly easy to adapt to vegan.

Wikipedia tells me that Anzac is a protected term and, unless I abide strictly by the original recipe, I can’t call mine Anzac biscuits (never cookie!). I only read this AFTER I had gone buggering about with the ingredients. So here are my Anzac-style biscuits, adapted from the original for the inclusion and enjoyment of all.

anzac style biscuits

ingredients

  • 75g coconut oil*
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar*
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1/2 cup each rolled oats, desiccated coconut and flour (I used wholemeal spelt)
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • a dash of water

*NB I have used coconut products here only to enhance the flavour and not because of any particular beliefs about the superpowers of coconut – after all, oil is oil and sugar is sugar.

method

  1. Put the oven on to 180°C and line a large baking sheet with baking paper
  2. Put a small pan on a low-medium heat, melt together the oil, sugar and syrup. Once the oil has melted, cook for 1-2 mins then set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the oats, dessicated coconut and flour
  4. Add the bicarbonate and water to the syrup mix, stir and then pour over the oats**
  5. Mix to combine then form 12 golf sized balls, lay them on the baking sheet and give them a little press to flatten and bake for 10-12 minutes until they are golden and firm – allow to cool on a wire
  6. Don’t use your pilates class as an excuse to eat two whilst they are still warm

**Should you not be afraid that the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs will find out, you could add a quarter cup of raisins and 1 tbsp raw cacao powder here. Maybe even some cinnamon. I’m not saying you should, just that you could.

How long you cook them will depend how soft or crisp you like your biscuit – traditionally they are crisp which I think works best for this method. If you’re going to go buggering about with the traditional recipe as well, then changing the syrup could provide you with a texture or flavour more to your liking:

  • maple syrup – more crisp
  • honey – more soft
  • treacle (molasses) – deep, dark flavour

Ooo, naughty!

Now this is not the sort of breakfast I would usually advocate for a Thursday morning but, well, let’s call it recipe development for the next book.

blueberry French toast sandwiches

blueberry French toast

For us food freaks, the dish pictured above is:

  • gluten free
  • lactose free
  • vegetarian
  • refined sugar free
  • contains a superfood

And was frickin’ delicious!

Chicken and mango curry

This is such an easy curry you’ll never need to order out again – no paste to make, no list of ingredients as long as your arm, and no longer than 30 minutes from start to finish

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Curry leaves might be a bit of a pain in the proverbial to get hold of, but worth it – I have to confess that I only started using this spice when we moved into our current house and found we had a curry tree in the garden. They have a really unique fragrance, almost petrol-like! Bear with! I assure you it’s fabulous.

This is also great with fish and seafood.

Chilli freak

I have 8 chilli plants … and this after a concerted effort to get rid of some last year. Lots of plants means lots of chillis, so I also currently have:

  • 2 bags of frozen chillis
  • 1 jar of dried chillis
  • 8 jars of chilli jam, in a variety of flavours
  • 4 jars of jalapenos
  • 1 jar of effin’ hot sauce

This is not my doing but is, apparently, my hobby. Mr Eleanor has a chilli problem. And I think I might be his dealer …

Fish chillis

Chilli plants are really easy to grow in pots, which I guess has been part of the problem. I like to keep a variety of chillis in hand, from the (relatively) mild jalapeno up to the mind-blowing Thai. Amongst others I’ve also grown the fragrant and incendiary Habanero, beautiful variegated Fish and the infamous ‘roulette’ tapas chilli, Padron.

In Melbourne they are happy as larry outside for the most of the year, but might need a little protection if a frost threatens to hit. Keep them watered and give them a feed once in a while and they will reward you tens of chillis every year, perhaps even up to 150 per plant (I kid you not, see above list).

Obviously there’s loads of food that you can put chilli into from stir fry to chocolate brownies (oh, yes!) but if your chilli basket overfloweth, you’ll need recipes that use a few more than one or two of these little beauties, and these are my standby recipes:

Nigella’s chilli jam 

Once you’ve perfected your technique you can mix it up this recipe. I’ve got some rather cheeky 100% habanero chilli jam. No jam sugar or pectin? Add half a grated apple and half a lemon cut into chunks instead and boil it for about 30 minutes to make a thinner sauce – don’t forget to fish out the lemon before you bottle 🙂 This jam goes with EVERYTHING – a splodge on top of your Thai curry, a scraping in a sandwich, to dip with barbecued lamb

Pickled jalapenos

I don’t bother with the cumin – Mr Eleanor’s a jalapeno purist – but you can add any spices you like, or other veggies like onion or garlic. To make this into a sauce, liquidise after step 2.

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