Sunday, August 28, 2011

a little bit of sewing and a giveaway winner

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get onto this, but this week has been insanely busy! I sat at my desk the other day and wrote all your names on little bits of paper, highlighted them in pink, folded them up and tossed them into my keep cup and stuck my hand in to pull out just one. And it was Oona's! Which is so great, because it was just her birthday, did you know? Also, she's one of my friends from the blogosphere who lives in New York, so hopefully these little trinkets can provide a little post-Irene cheer.

There ain't no 'random number generator' on this blog, cause I just don't like the way they look. But why is Oona's name sitting on a copy of a promo poster for the film Orgy of the Dead (1965)? Well, because that's the kind of thing that is laying about on my desk at work, that's why. One day I'll tell y'all what I'm writing my PhD on, but for now, I'll just congratulate Oona and thank you all so much for reading my little blog. Really, thank you!

Oh - and I'll show you the little (and I mean little) bit of sewing I've been doing in my "spare time" this week:

Pretty cute, huh? My friend Whitney named them Skunkity-skunk, Hoots and Lucas the Hedgehog; "they're all British", she says. OK! They're members of a little set of finger puppets I've made for my friend Jane's little girl who just turned one - special birthday! I hope she likes them. I had planned to design my own critters, but work got the better of me and I turned to etsy for a pattern to whip these up with. This one came from Floral Blossom and was only $5. It was speedily emailed to me as a pdf, I printed it out and made one puppet every night until I had a whole little gang of them. You can buy your own here. The only real change I made was to stitch every detail on, rather than use glue. I like the effect this achieves and it's probably safer if little one decides to stick a puppet in her pie hole. I'd forgotten how much fun working with felt can be. Of course now tempted to make a whole bunch of owls and an Agent Dale Cooper, but for now, must return to Orgy of the Dead. Not reluctantly, either.


Monday, August 22, 2011

retro recipe revamp: cinnamon scroll cake with fresh raspberry frosting

I'm so excited about this little project; I reckon I spent like, 47% of my time last week thinking about what to make next. That's a lot of time, when you're meant to be finishing a PhD. Unfortunately, all of the rest of the time I was thinking about my thesis; this didn't leave much room for anything else. Oh well. Sorry Martha Stewart.

I'll tell you what though, it was worth it. This week's retro recipe comes from one of my little McAlpin's Test Kitchen Recipe booklets, of which I have a couple. They're not dated, but the Mixmaster in the test kitchen picture is the same 1950s model that I have at home and judging from the ovens and stoves, I'd say we're looking at the mid 1950s. You want to see what this test kitchen looks like - trust me.

Dita Von Teese, eat your heart out! Oh, I guess she already did. I just love the set up here: not only can the audience see how to use McAlpin's flour to make all kinds of goodies, but they can marvel at the pristine white cooking-lab coats the demonstrators wear. This little booklet cost 1 florin (or 2 shillings) at the time, which is equivalent to around $2.90 today, according to the Reserve Bank's pre-decimal inflation calculator (!). I guess that makes these little treasures the equivalent of a modern budget cooking publication like Woolworth's goodtaste magazine ($3.95), only it's filled with around 175 recipes for baked goods. Which, of course, made it difficult to decide what to make. I was tempted (?) by the Wholemeal Savoury Tongue Squares, but decided in the end to go with what had caught my eye early on, the Cinnamon Scroll Cake with Pink Frosting. So on Saturday morning, I got to work.

This is basically a coffee cake, flavoured with cinnamon and coffee essence, with a gorgeous pink swirl running right through. The Test Kitchen tops this marvel off with a frosting flavoured with raspberry essence that is tinted pink. I realised this week - with ensuing shame - that I had never made a marble cake before, or indeed anything 'swirled' or 'marbled', so it was this that I was most excited about. I decided to go with the cake recipe mostly as it was originally written; I only swapped the coffee essence for some espresso powder and added a little more milk, because the batter seemed a little thick. The resulting was light and moist, with just a pretty whisper of cinnamon and coffee flavours. And yes, swirling pink batter through coffee-coloured batter with a knife was as exciting as I'd hoped it would be.

The real excitement in the end though, was the frosting. I kept an eye out this week for raspberry essence but the closest I came was Queen's Strawberry Essence. This is just didn't seem right. And actually, I realised, I wanted a bright and punchy raspberry flavour to liven up a relatively plain coffee cake. So, I used fresh raspberries in my frosting. And Quincy nodded in her small puffy way, the sun came out and the birds began to sing.

Another excellent retro recipe vamp experiment. I'd do this for a living, I reckon.


Cinnamon Scroll Cake with Fresh Raspberry Frosting
Cake recipe adapted from McAlpin's Test Kitchen Recipes (circa 1955) 
Frosting recipe adapted from

For cake:
230g plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
200g caster sugar
115g butter, softened
2 eggs
7 tbsp milk
1 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
a few drops of rose (or cochineal) food colouring
1 quantity of Fresh Raspberry Frosting (recipe below)

1. Heat oven to 180C. Prepare a 7 inch square cake tin by greasing and lining bottom with baking paper.

2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a medium bowl.

3. Add the espresso powder to 1 tbsp of the milk, mix to dissolve and set aside.

3. In the large bowl of your stand mixer, or a larger bowl, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Sift in the   dry ingredients, add 4 tbsp of milk, and mix at medium speed until well combined. Don't worry if your batter looks a little dry and lumpy at this point.

4. Add the eggs and 2 remaining tbsp of milk and mix to make a smooth batter.

5. Pour or spoon 1/4 of the batter into a medium bowl. To this smaller quantity, add a few drop of food colouring. Beat to incorporate. Pretty!

6. To the remaining mixture, add the dissolved espresso mixture and the cinnamon. Beat to combine.

7. Pour or spoon the cinnamon batter into your prepared cake tin. Add the pink batter to the top of this and with a butter knife, swirl the pink mixture through until it looks pleasantly marbled.

8. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes (or until a cake tester poked into the middle comes out clean; mine took 45.)

9. Sit on a cake rack to cool for 10 minutes, then carefully remove cake from tin. Allow to cool completely on rack before frosting.

For frosting:
3/4 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
55g butter
1/4 - 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted
a little milk to loosen, if needed

1. Heat raspberries in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon to break up. When the berries are no longer whole and look more like a coulis or sauce, strain to remove the seeds. Return the seedless liquid to the saucepan and look a little longer until reduced by nearly half. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

2. In the small bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand-held mixer, beat butter a little. Add 1 cup of icing sugar, 1/2 tsp lemon juice and raspberry puree. Beat until well combined, then add remaining icing sugar. If the mixture seems too stiff, add the extra lemon juice. Check again and if you still want it softer, add milk a teaspoon at a time until you reach desired consistency.

3. Put on your cooking-lab coat, and spread artfully onto your cake.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

hello my new favourite dinner! you're vegan, even though i'm not

I spent an hour or so trawling through Angela's back catalogue of posts the other day and for some reason, become obsessed with making this quiche. But because I've been trying to limit my consumption of pastry, bread and nutella (my three favourite food groups), I wondered if I could turn it into a quiche of the "impossible" kind; that is, a quiche without pastry. Angela reckoned it could be done - and boy, can it be done!

Angela calls this recipe Versatile Vegan Quiche - and it really is versatile. This was a spinach and mushroom version, spooned straight into the tin, with some extra cashews substituted for the nutritional yeast. It took just five minutes longer in the oven than the original version, possibly because it was a little more wet. But I could tell from the delicious smell in the kitchen in that final five minutes that it was going to be good. This quiche has a lovely nubbly texture and a sweet nutty flavour that can be pushed in almost any direction. It is slightly delicate, but cuts pretty clean after a few minutes resting while you make a little salad. You should definitely make this salad:

This is a Creamy Kale Salad, based upon a recipe I found a little while ago on It was the dressing, I think, that drew me to it initially; you simply add olive oil, white wine vinegar, dijon mustard and the flesh of an avocado to your food processor and after a few seconds, you end up with this gorgeous cream. As far as dressings go, it's quite thick, and so is best suited to more robust greens like kale. So you've got your kale, stemmed and torn into pieces. Then you add super-thin slices of peeled beetroot, slivers of crisp, sweet apple and some fresh oily walnuts. And you end up with one of the best salads I've had in ages. 

Once you mix through the dressing, it all looks gloriously messy and tastes sort of like a walfdorf salad, only more punchy and nutritious. I dropped a giant pile of it next to a slice of Angela's quiche and it was one of those evenings where I looked down at my plate and thought, goddamn this is a good dinner. And I thought that again with every bite I took. 

P.S. Kids! Don't forget to enter the Sanjou giveaway. You've got until Sunday evening. They're real pretty, trust me. x

Creamy Kale Salad
Adapted from recipe at
Serves 4 as a side

For dressing:
1 ripe avocado, halved with seed removed
2 tbsp white wine vinegar (I used white "balsamic"
1.5 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp good olive oil
salt and pepper

For salad:
around 1/2 bunch of kale, stemmed and torn into pieces
1 beetroot, peeled and sliced thin with a mandolin
1 apple (a sweet, crisp variety), cored and cut into thin pieces
1/3 cup fresh walnuts (toasted if you like - I didn't)

1. To make dressing, add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until creamy. Taste and adjust as required.

2. Toss salad ingredients to combine. Serve with dressing on the side.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

mini mid-week giveaway: gorgeous Sanjou thread cards

Hi friends. I mentioned in my last post how much I love collecting vintage bits and pieces. I told you about my clothing and cookbook collections, and I mentioned my buttons. But actually I love all vintage haberdashery and just can't get enough of old notions and gadgets. One place this has led me to is a little shop in Melbourne called L'ucello. If you love old buttons, silk ribbons and and velvet flowers from old Parisian milliner's shops or just gorgeous interiors and visual merchandising, you should really visit.

Last time I was there, I came across some beautiful French haberdashery by Maison Sajou, a vintage brand that was relaunched in 2004. The bits and pieces are just stunning; there's gorgeous detailed embroidery scissors and cases, thimbles, needle-threaders, lace-making bobbins and these sweet little thread cards in gorgeous Parisian designs (see above), perfect for winding up your bits and pieces of embroidery thread, or just to have around as a pretty nick-knack. I picked up one set for myself, but thought my blogging friends might appreciate the chance to have a set too?

The set that I'm giving away is made of six thread cards, each featuring the Eiffel tower in different colours. They're gorgeous! They do pop up on Etsy from time to time, and the exact set I'm giving away is this one here that sold a little while ago. They come in a sweet folded box and make gorgeous gifts - if you can bear to give them away!

This giveaway is open to readers world-wide; all you need to do is become a follower of this blog and comment below this post to let me know. Of course those already following can enter. Just leave a comment below here to say 'hello Lexi, count me in'! I'll draw the winner at 9 am on Monday morning (which will be Sunday evening for most of you folk o/s). Good luck!


The fine print: This giveaway is self-funded and has in not been sponsored by Sanjou or L'ucello. I love to support small, independent businesses though and encourage you all to visit L'ucello if you're in town.

Monday, August 15, 2011

retro recipe revamp: toad-in-the-hole with apple and thyme

I don't know if shows, but I collect stuff. Like, lots of stuff, of all different kinds. It isn't about completing sets of anything and it isn't about the chase. I just love old things - a lot. I have a bunch of salt and pepper shakers that I use as decoration, because the designs are so bonkers that you can't use them to shake seasoning out of. I have a giant old biscuit tin of vintage buttons. I love things - almost anything - made from old plastics. I think it drove my poor parents nuts when I was a teenager living at home, because beyond the door of my bedroom was a realm of perpetual chaos. I'm sorry about that, Mum and Dad.

But actually all the things I collect these days, I use in some way. I love my vintage dresses and sweaters, because I live my life in them. I love my vintage dressmaking patterns, because they're this portal into the past that I can look into for inspiration, or instruction. And I love my vintage cookbooks, but, I don't really get to use them very often. I've been thinking recently about how I might change this, but the answer was pretty clear.

One of my favourite bloggers, Casey at Casey's Elegant Musings, often shares pages from her collection of vintage magazines and books - and I love those posts. So I thought I'd share some of the wonders I come across in my own collection of recipe books. Some look delicious, some look ridiculous; there are many reasons I love my books. But I've decided, in the spirit of actually using the books, to try and revamp recipes (where necessary). The idea is to help translate some of these dishes into things we might actually want to cook and eat, without losing too much of their original appeal. Some I think will be easier than others, but I'm looking forward to the challenge!

So, first up, I've chosen a dish from what was probably the first vintage recipe book I become fascinated with: The Golden Circle Tropical Recipe Book. My Mum had a copy in our cupboard and then I chanced upon another years later at a book fair. I picked it up and realised that I knew all the recipes and illustrations by heart, because I'd leafed through it so often as a child. It's full of wonderful recipes, great photos and illustrations - and every one of them features Golden Circle canned pineapple.

I'd been looking for an excuse to make toad-in-a-hole for a while. I mean, sausages baked in batter? Yes please! The Golden Circle recipe book has you add an entire can of drained canned pineapple to the batter; I couldn't quite bring myself to do this. But I did like the idea of a little bit of sweet fruit cutting through the richness of the pork sausages and moistening the batter. So I threw in some apple and added a little fresh thyme to make the batter a little more savory and moody. Then, 'why stop there?' I thought, so I replaced the milk with buttermilk and the full-sized pork sausages with Jonathan's chipolatas - and baked the dish in individual little pie tins. This is what mine looked like.

It was totally delicious. The apple did just what I'd hoped it would and the thyme lifted the batter to new heights. I'll totally make this again, perhaps though with gravy and company, served as part of a retro menu.

I think we're off to a good start...

*Please note: apologies if when you first visited the recipe wasn't here. It disappeared without me realising. All fixed now!

Toad-in-the-hole with apple and thyme
Adapted from The Golden Circle Tropical Recipe Book (circa 1965)
Serves 2

butter, to grease
6 good-quality pork chipolatas
115 g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
a few grinds of black pepper
a sprig of thyme, leaves removed and chopped if necessary
1 egg
130 ml of buttermilk
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into 6

1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Grease individual tins with butter. 

2. Cook pork chipolatas in a frying pan over medium heat until browned. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and thyme leaves until well combined. In a smaller bowl, whisk egg and buttermilk gently until combined. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir gently until combined. 

4. Pour batter equally into greased dishes. Top each with three sausages and squeeze a piece of apple between the snags, three each dish.

5. Pop into oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

olives with orange, rosemary, oregano and garlic

Making dinner for a friend last night, I wondered if I should blog any of the dishes I was preparing. In the moment I had that thought, I was peeling a long strip of orange peel to toss into my bowl of olives. Because preparing these is part of my weekly routine and is sort of this automatic thing I do after coming home from the market, I didn't realise that what I should write about are these olives, precisely. This is my favorite way to prepare olives.

I don't mean to cure olives from scratch; that's one thing that I just haven't had time to try, though I think about it often. This is just a simple preparation that will lift a tub of good, plain olives to a new level. I've never been one to buy pre-marinated olives; so often they seem overloaded with poor-quality dried herbs and flakes of stuff that cling annoyingly to the olives in a thick slick of poor-quality oil. I preferred a good olive plain, meaty and fruity - those ones that strike you during a meal like some ingenious use of punctuation when you're reading. Until I made these, that is.

What I love about these is that the clean, robust mouthfeel of the plump olive is preserved, but when you bite in, there's this wonderful aromatic explosion that happens. And it is led predominantly, surprisingly, by the flavour of the orange. Rosemary is a natural pairing for the citrus fruit, but oregano is very good too and here I've used both. Sometimes I add garlic, sometimes I don't. In short, you can add what you like here, as long as you try throwing in that long strip of orange peel - and then tell me what you think.

Lastly, some things I think are important in olives. People often comment how nice the olives I buy are - it's not a fluke! I'm fussy. It's worth sourcing good-quality olives - it doesn't necessarily mean they'll be more expensive or hard to find. Just ask to try one before you buy. I buy large Kalamata olives, out of habit and because I love them. My family is from Kalamata; this may have something to do with it. But as a rule of thumb, they shouldn't be mushy or really, really salty; instead you want meaty and robustly flavoured fruit. If you can't find large olives firm enough for your taste, try going the next size down: with less meat they often hold up better to storage and transportation. And finally, pitted or unpitted? Whole olives with their stone will win my heart every time, even if a pitted olive can sing like Jarvis Cocker. When the stone is taken out, brine washes right through the flesh of the olive, often leaving them really salty and destroying the fruit's texture. Besides, there's nothing more sexy than eating olives with your hands on a dinner date; as Jarvis says, "if you didn't come here to party, then why did you come here?"

Olives with orange, rosemary, oregano and garlic

1 small tub of large Kalamata olives (or whatever you prefer)
2 strips of orange peel
2 small sprigs rosemary
2 small sprigs oregano (or other fresh herb)
2 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, but poked in a few places with the tip of your knife
3 tbsp good-quality olive oil

1. Mix all ingredients together gently and pop into the fridge. Leave overnight, tossing them about a little whenever you think of it (2 or 3 times). Voila.

Monday, August 8, 2011

vegan pumpkin & chocolate muffins

D'you know, this is my first ever attempt at vegan baking? I feel a bit silly about that, for a number of reasons: I know vegans, I read vegan blogs, I know some of my readers are vegan. What really pushed me to finally have a go though, was something I've been thinking about while putting together my forthcoming (mega)post on buffet dinners. When planning my last large-scale dinner party, I think one of the most useful things I did was to put some time into finding dishes that cater to nearly everyone. Your guests may or may not eat meat, or can't eat gluten, or are allergic to eggs, or puff up after prawns, but it's so important for the meal to be a shared experience - and it's harder for that to happen when there's a "special" plate in the back corner for the person who can't eat whatever else is on offer.

I'm so glad I finally got around to making these, because they're totally one of those treats that nearly everyone will enjoy - whether they're vegan or not. These muffins are fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg, studded with dark chocolate and little oily bursts of walnut and are the colour of sunshine, thanks to the pumpkin puree. They're nice warm or at room temperature and they're super moist, without being wet (there's nothing I hate more than a stale, cakey, dry muffin: blerg). 

I've made a couple of changes to the original recipe. I upped the cinnamon, swapped the flax seeds for chia (super energy!) and I also dialed back the sugar. I didn't want anything too sweet and I thought they were perfect this way, but increase it back to the original 1 cup if your sweet tooth's calling out. And yes, I "made my own pumpkin puree": down under, I don't think there's much of a choice! If you're wondering what the best way to do this is, visit The Pioneer Woman for an excellent guide. 

Vegan pumpkin & chocolate muffins
Adapted from Caroline's recipe at Whipped
Makes 12

1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup mild-flavoured vegetable oil (grapeseed etc)
2 tsp chia seeds
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup wholemeal flour
2/3 cup unbleached white flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
100g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped roughly
3 teaspoons raw sugar (optional)

1. Heat your oven to 180/350.
2. In a large bowl, whisk pumpkin, water, oil, chia seeds and vanilla until thoroughly blended.
3. In another bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.
4. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and mix with a wooden spoon to combine. If the mixture seems too dry, add a tiny splash of water. When your consistency is right, add the chopped chocolate and nuts.
5. Spoon into a 12 capacity nonstick muffin tin and top each with raw sugar if you're using it. 
6. Bake 30 minutes. Let the muffins cool in tin for at least ten minutes, then turn out onto a rack. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Oona!

Not long ago, I was invited to a virtual birthday party by the amazing Oona of oonaballoona. And... tonight's the night! Hi Oona! Happy Birthday!

Because Oona is one of the craftiest peeps on the internets, we were all asked to come along in something we'd made ourselves. I didn't have time to whip something new up, so decided I'd wear the 'Some Magnificent Ship Dress' I made last year. It's chilly down here, after all!

If you're a Mad Men fan, you might recognise the phrase that I've named the dress with: in one episode Roger Sterling is losing it over the way Joan 'glides about the office like some magnificent ship'. My Mum calls this my Joan dress, so I just extended the idea. I hope when I wear it, it prompts being objectified by handsome older men (?) (No - not really). Anyway, Oona: I've brought Cava, for a little something sparkly. Happy Birthday, lovely girl.


Friday, August 5, 2011

cob salad

One thing I like about growing up is that now my body seems to tell me more stuff in a language I can understand. It might say: "here is a skin rash, for you are stressed." Or, "we can't stop yawning because you haven't been taking your iron." Today, at the market, my body was rambling some crap about how all the fruit and vegetables looked so colourful and ripe and juicy and then I realised that it was trying to tell me that I needed to eat the biggest mofo of a salad ever, as soon as possible.

It wasn't kidding. A couple of restless nights, a handful of skipped breakfasts and a good number of whatever-I-don't-care meals (baked potato with salt, anyone? toast with jam? a piece of cheese?) left me with a definite good-stuff deficit. Not even my new fringe, favourite geeky glasses or watching DVDs could pep me up (ps please reassure me my haircut is ok, even though all I do is work and stay home on the couch so it doesn't really matter anyway. Thanks).

This then, was the opportunity to go all out and re-imagine that giant cob salad I ate in Brooklyn, NY for lunch one day on our trip. My body told me to do it, so I did it - and it was so, so good!

Cob salads are everywhere in the States, but I'd never come across the idea until I started reading American food blogs and food writing online. I loved the whole thing right away: a big, substantial salad with chicken, tomato, boiled egg, bacon and blue cheese that is characteristically plated in the most retro way, with little coloured stripes of all the ingredients resting happily atop a big mound of cos and iceberg lettuces and watercress. So as soon as I had my first shot, I ordered one at a little cafe in Brooklyn that served lots of fresh, organic food. The salad I got was already mixed up and a little less chunkily-conceived than what I expected, but the flavours were everything I wanted and I chowed my way happily through the entire giant bowl. Which is also what I did today. Make it and you'll see why. 

I used Deb's classic cob salad recipe from Smitten Kitchen and highly recommend you do this also, but I made the following changes and notes you might want to know about:

  • I made a (roughly estimated) 1/3 quantity of Deb's recipe for one big, big salad. Probably should serve two, but I ate it all.
  • swapped the iceberg lettuce for more romaine (Cos in Australia) and watercress
  • used purchased free-range BBQ chicken for more flavour and less prep
  • swapped Stilton for Adel Blue, because I like it. It's made by La Vera in Adelaide and I think of it as the cheese that was born after stilton had sex with gorgonzola. It's buttery and not too strong and mid-priced. 
  • used (unpeeled) cherry tomatoes, cause it's still Winter here

I can't wait to make this again and again as a light meal once the weather warms up. But now I'm off to juice a bag of bright, sparkling Navel oranges. Apparently I also need Vitamin C.

Related Posts with Thumbnails