Today’s cake is inspired by Israeli food blogger Keren Agam https://www.instagram.com/keren_agam/?hl=en who I discovered through my lovely friend Hagar who has been spoiling us with Rugelach and Challah and all manner of baked treats. If you want the English version of her recipes (and you will) go to her blog using Chrome and click translate. I added a little lemon juice/icing sugar drizzle after baking to add a bit more punch.

What is it about making cake that is therapeutic? 

One part nostalgia- there is something about the sense of smell that is one of our earliest and deepest memories. It is connected to our long term memory in ways we are not even conscious of. One of my favourite food memories is my mum making Chicken Everest by Charmaine Solomon, a roast chicken, covered in spices, fragrant yet delicate, cooked in a bag to contain the juices and keep it moist. I used to request it all the time.

My grandmother was also a fan of Charmaine Solomon, and I was surprised to discover that my grandmother’s famous Christmas cake recipe was actually from the pages of a Charmaine Solomon classic tome, first published in 1976, The Complete Asian Cookbook. Rich with eggs, spices, almonds, semolina and fruit, sticky with ginger, lemon zest, rosewater…truly delicious and unrelated to a dry fruitcake studded with sultanas alone.

One part scientist- whether it is the fascination of watching bicarb fizz in water, or a yeast mixture rise and turn bubbly or a cake grow and set in the oven, there is something exciting about watching and smelling these changes in the kitchen.

I’m often amazed when making a cake that one minute the kitchen will smell of nothing much, then the next it will smell slightly sweet and ‘cooked’ a little caramelised but in a good way, this is often when I know the cake is done, even if the timer hasn’t gone off yet. if you leave it to go longer (maybe you’re in the shower etc and don’t notice the smell) it will start to smell like a darker caramel and eventually burn (ask me how I know). As well as the colour of the cake and the time recommended it’s good to keep a nose out for this change in smell too.

Many people don’t realise most baking recipes are not written for a fan-forced oven so if you don’t have a non-fan setting (which is my preference for baking as it is more gentle and even) you should drop the temperature by 10-20C from say 180C to 170C. Using an oven thermometer would save many a cake from being dry and overcooked as some ovens run very hot.

One part greedy glutton- I’m just talking about myself here ok? One of the main joys of being able to make something at home is to have something fresh, warm, straight out of the oven, and exactly what you were craving- it is such a pleasure.

One part superfairy- there is something about being able to make something special for someone who you know will enjoy it and know it will make them feel appreciated and looked after. It doesn’t have to be sweet either, some of my favourite food gifts have been salty sour pickles to be eaten alongside a curry or a bag of lemons to be turned into lemon curd or preserved lemons, or an invitation to pick olives that will turn into treats for months.

So if the mood takes you take your nostalgia, scientific discovery, gluttony and super fairy powers into the kitchen, clear some time and space and enjoy making yourself or someone you like something delicious.

 

Artichokes…do you eat them, know what to do with them? I love the little artichoke hearts you get from the deli, on their own as part of a mezze plate or on pizza with ham, olives and mushrooms.

My stepmother introduced me to eating artichokes whole, as a meal in their own right. She’s English and was a food editor so has the most wonderful palate for appreciating good food, nicely prepared but not overly complicated. I remember her cooking them until they were tender and then teaching me to peel the leaves off one by one, dipping in whole egg mayonnaise (S&W brand from memory), and scraping the flesh off with my teeth.

It was a delicious meal you had to work for a little, but totally worth the effort, like a meal of spaghetti vongole, the sweet little pippis that we used to dig up with our toes with my dad at dusk on the waters edge of the beach at Dunbogan.

When I received these lovely artichokes in my produce box I hadn’t quite decided what to do with them, but thought it might be nice to preserve them and then have them on hand for pizza night, which we do every fortnight or so. I’d say more often during these recent Covid times of carbo-loading, which seems to keep us a little happier (and rounder).

So I found a recipe online by Hank Shaw https://honest-food.net/pickled-artichokes-recipe/

and adjusted accordingly as I had less artichokes (I used half his amount of pickling liquid as I had 3 large artichokes and about 4 tiny ones), but I pretty much followed the process he uses. You can find additional information in the artichoke section outlined in Stephanie Alexanders Cook’s Companion.

The important part is to have a bowl of lemon juice and water ready before you start chopping and peeling, as they oxidise/brown immediately.

Anyway, they are really delicious, with a nice crunch to them, you could certainly cook them longer if you like them softer, but to me they are perfect as is.

This crispy pork mince stir fry is very loosely based on the Thai dish Pad Kra Pao, but now I have kids I tone it down a bit. I’m not cooking multiple meals if I don’t have to! They love this one…so delicious…

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (you can use less if you like)

6 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2-1 large red chilli (or more if you want it more authentic)

500g pork mince

1 packet silken tofu 250g ish

1-2 tablespoons fish sauce

2-3 tablespoons kecap manis

1/2 green Savoy cabbage, sliced (use any veg, wombok is great, red capsicum etc)

Fresh lime juice or lemon juice

1 bunch Thai basil, or coriander, to serve

Fried egg, jasmine rice, crispy chilli sauce to serve, optional

 

Heat a wok until very hot, add vegetable oil, swirl to coat, add garlic and chilli (these days it is only 1/2-1…it used to be 2-3) and stir for a few seconds only as it will burn quickly, then add pork mince all at once. I use 500g and it feeds 4 of us plus some leftover for lunch the next day. Stir a little to avoid sticking then leave it to brown a bit. Then break up with a wooden spoon. I like a flat-edged one, it is better for scraping. It needs to be hot enough so it doesn’t stew…it should be on the hottest burner.

If you can, get pork mince with some fat in it, from a butcher, it will taste much better and cook better too. Beware supermarket mince that looks like worms, I always find that turns out dry.

While mince is cooking bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and use a large spoon to slide tofu into water. Careful not to splash yourself. Turn off heat and leave to warm through while mince cooks.

Once the mince has lost its pink colour, add fish sauce, stir until it evaporates, then add kecap manis and cook until deeply golden brown. If it goes extra crispy that is extra delicious. Add cabbage or whatever veg you have on hand and stir through until just starting to soften but still green and a bit crisp. If you have a lot of veg you can put a lid on and let it steam for 30 seconds to a minute. If you add a lot of veg you’ll probably need to add extra fish sauce and kecap manis. 

Remove tofu from water with a slotted spoon to a bowl or the wok.

Taste, check seasoning, add lime or lemon and adjust salt/fish sauce/kecap manis as desired. Plunge herbs in a bowl of water to clean thoroughly, then shake off and roughly chop, stir through stir fry at last minute off the heat. Serve with jasmine rice and silken tofu.

 

We just had a beautiful weekend at our friends’ property in Fosterton NSW, about 3 hours north of Sydney. The last time we visited they cooked for us, so it was time for us to return the favour.

Here’s the menu, I cooked the spanakopita and osso buco, D cooked the pancakes, crumpets and nasi goreng. He’s a keeper.

Friday night- Spanakopita (which is a meal in its own right but…a long drive and ravenous children mean the addition of pork and ginger sausages from Feather and Bone https://featherandbone.com.au/

Saturday morning- Sourdough ricotta pancakes served with extra ricotta, lemon curd and maple syrup

Sat lunch- Nasi goreng with prawns and bok choy

D usually makes it with lap cheung (Chinese sausage…delicious!) but I forgot to pack it so we used the leftover sausages from the night before

Sat night- Osso buco, broccoli, crisp rosemary and garlic potato chips

I cooked 3 times what I normally would so we’d have enough for all 8 of us plus leftovers for lunch the next day, we still had a bit extra so the scraps went in the freezer for puppy treats for next time.

It was interesting trying out the gas oven. Hagar had made rugelach last time and noticed it took a while to bake so I allowed extra time (I started making dinner at 2pm) and had plenty of time to leisurely get dinner on and then left it to do its thing. The potatoes would normally take an hour, but took 2 hours to really crisp up. It will take me some time to figure out this new oven but it did make really nicely crisp potato chips!

Sun am- Sourdough crumpets with butter and local honey

We were fighting over them at the end, and D had made 22! Everbody adored them, they were so moreish.

Sun lunch- leftover spanakopita and osso buco plus a nice salad by Hagar (queen of salads) of all the crisp veg in the fridge plus feta

After all that food we needed a big walk so we took a stroll down to a neighbours farm and (with permission of course) the kids played on the hay bales. It’s pretty fun taking a running leap up onto a hay bale.

Ever fearful of running out of food (as if we could have!!) I had brought with me a tray of nutella brownies and a tray of lemon slice just in case anyone was hungry! The brownies got demolished by the kids, cramming them into their little mouths with gusto. I prefer the sweet tartness of the lemon bars…so I’m happy to have some leftover 🙂