Back in November last year I went on a research trip to the UK for my PhD. I arrived in London jetlagged out of my brain and spent three days striding maniacally from museum to museum. Often doubling over my own path like a history-hungry roomba. Going to bed at 7:30pm and waking up at any time from 2:00am to 5:30am. There were some amazing meals along the way, of course. Including the comforting Bone Daddies ramen above – which I lined up out the door for one chilly afternoon – and the ludicrous Ottolenghi spiced pumpkin cheesecake below – which I ate for dinner the same day, after trekking from South Kensington to Belgravia and back. Holy shit. Look at it. London was what you might expect, but that doesn’t really mean anything. Expectations don’t make things real. I rode the tube rather successfully, despite what Australian public transport has led me to believe about my ability to fuck these things up. I hung out in Hyde Park and took pictures of squirrels. I didn’t see Buckingham Palace or Big Ben or the London Bridge, but I did get a picture of one of the Queen’s spies. My first day, wide-awake and stunned, I wandered through the actually-sometimes-cobbled streets with my breath misting out in front of me. There was holly, actual holly – bright red and glossy green – growing in a public garden. Something I hadn’t seen since those frosty Tasmanian winters of my childhood. There was moss growing along the top of every stone fence, sunk into the mortar, springing from every crack. And in the evenings when I looked out from the window of my dorm – rows and rows of chimneys like Dick Van Dyke might come dancing along them at an minute. I guess I like travel for moments like this, when I step out of my body and can actually think about the world as a whole stupid thing. Not just the one tiny cluster of city lights that from the sky look like party decorations. Not just the thing I make up every day. It’s real. It’s real. It’s real.
It was Patrick’s birthday last weekend. So, to soften the blow of ageing and the unwelcome reminder of mortality, ten of us packed ourselves into cars and ambled out of Sydney laden with food and booze. Four people just barely managed to squeeze into my station wagon around the case of beer, many rolling wine bottles, guitar and mound of groceries packed into it. We headed to a house in Wollombi, near the Hunter Valley, to play a million board games and roam the countryside tasting wines.
We had amazing meals, which everyone contributed to; found some amazing wines; and tackled the Game of Thrones board game, among other things. Saturday night was the party night and my night to cook. I bought sausages, chicken wings, vegetables and haloumi and grilled it all up goooood on the BBQ with much help from East. After a quick clean up it was time for cake, which we lit up like a medieval alarm signal and gathered around to sing Single Ladies, instead of the traditional birthday jam.
The cake was of my own devising. A ricotta cheesecake with a chocolate biscuit base and a layer of rum-spiked ganache. It was light and rich at once. Fragrant vanilla and lemon laced cheese atop a thin layer of punchy chocolate goo. Patrick loves ricotta cake, but I always find them a little too bland, so this was my compromise. If you can ever call adding chocolate and rum to something a compromise.
After cake we played our own version of the New Girl drinking game True American – True Australian. It was truly ridiculous. This took about four hours, after which, we retired for hectic dancing.
It was a wonderful weekend. Full of silliness, geekiness and shenanigans. Ordinary life just isn’t the same.
Thank god there’s always cake.
For the base
250g (1 packet) chocolate ripple biscuits
125g melted butter
For the ganache
shot of rum
1/2 cup cream
For the ricotta filling
750g ricotta cheese
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
rind of one lemon
Process together biscuits and butter. Press into base of springform tin. Combine chocolate and cream in bowl and either place above saucepan of boiling water to melt or melt in microwave. Add rum. Pour this on top of base and set aside. Put in fridge if you want a really even coverage of ganache. Combine ricotta filling ingredients in food processor or blender. Carefully add this on top of ganache. Bake for 20-30 mins until cooked through and firm in middle. Let cake cool and serve with fresh berries.
Some things in life should be messy. Admittedly, most of those things are food-type-things. But one of the most indisputable messy pleasures in the entire spectrum of untidy things that just shouldn’t be messed with are burgers. There’s a reason Rosie of The Londoner refers to the very best she encounters as “filthy”. Aside from the obvious innuendo: a truly good burger is often signified by a trail of sweet burger juices worn down to the elbow.
But the same is sadly not as true of veggie burgers. I’m not shitting on veggie burgers. I love ’em and have countless times opted for them over meat, but I don’t know if I could have called any of them “filthy” while summoning the mixture of primal desire and guilty pleasure that Rosie does when encountering an impressive tower of beef. Sure, it’s not exactly the mess that makes the burger good, but when the burger is good and you’re left with a plate swimming in the bloody remains of your enemy/meal it’s all the more satisfying.
When I came across Baking = Love’s version of a homemade Big Mac I was intrigued, but didn’t think much of it until eating a not-really-worth-$19 burger the other night. There was nothing inherently wrong with it, but I was just a little meh about the whole thing. Poor condiment execution probably. And then, it struck me: what knowing the recipe for special sauce really means is that we are free to make Big Macs to suit our dietary needs/desires! It’s all about the condiments anyway.
It’s been years since I ate McDonalds and I’ve never eaten it very often. When I was a kid I remember a cousin asking if we were “gonna get Maccas” on the way home and just looking at him blankly, blinking like an imbecile. Er, what you say? Meccers?
I found out years later when a McDonalds actually opened in my home town, but still, aside from those birthday parties back in primary school I’ve never been a very frequent customer. That said, everyone should have the pleasure of a truly trashy, fucking WRECK of a burger, and this, my friends surely is.
Oh, sure, anybody can get a mushroom to weep into a bun, but this thing has the classic messy burger gratification, plastic cheese for that true junk food feel, and you know what? The thing that makes it taste most like a fast food burger: teeny little pieces of onion. What? What what?
This thing is filthy. It’s sloppy. It’s a beast (to use one of Rosie’s other favourites). But the awesome thing? It’s only metaphorically.
[My special sauce recipe won’t be a close to the original as the one here, because I couldn’t get the real american brand ingredients, but it’s close, and like I said, the cheese and onion really pull it together in terms of Big Mac taste. You can see the original here.]
Special Sauce (makes enough for about 4):
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp French dressing
1 tbsp + 2 tsp mustard pickles
1 tbsp finely minced onion
1 tsp white sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
four large mushrooms
2tbsp soy sauce
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
salt & pepper
nice round buns ;)
lettuce (I only had baby spinach, but iceberg is probably more authentic)
gherkins, finely sliced
packaged cheese slices
finely minced onion
Combine ingredients for special sauce. Store in fridge for flavours to develop (you can not do this if you didn’t realise this was a thing). Combine ingredients for mushroom marinade – olive oil, soy sauce, balsamic, salt and pepper, garlic – coat stemmed mushrooms in marinade and let sit for two hours.
Put marinated mushrooms on oven tray and bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked through. Remove from oven and top half of them with a slice of cheese each. Return to oven for 30 sec or until cheese is melted. Cut buns into three parts. When mushrooms are done layer ingredients on bun in this order: bottom bun, sauce, lettuce, sprinkle of onion, mushroom, cheese, middle bun, sauce, lettuce, sprinkle of onion, sliced gherkins, mushroom, top bun.
I have been fucking remiss! Doubly so, since despite not blogging for a couple of months now, I have in fact had a recipe photographed and stored up since August. And it’s SUCH a perfect August cake. Not that you can’t eat a delicious citrus-frosted vegan pumpkin cake in spring, just that it’s so much more an autumn/winter thing. Luckily, it’s October – month of the pumpkin! Well, just ignoring the whole Halloween is supposed to be in autumn deal. In any case this cake is still – despite all the flaws of its maker – perfect!
August is my mum’s birthday and so to commemorate the day my family all came over to my place to crash on the floor for a night and eat cake. Actually, Tom was supposed to be in charge of cake, but I received a text message from him the day before saying he accidentally got day drunk instead.
Actually though, I understand that sometimes you need/want to get day drunk. Sometimes you also have to make emergency cake as a result of someone else’s day drunk. Is cool.
Anyway, the cake turned out pretty lovely. It’s based on a recipe for pumpkin slice I’ve been using for so many years I’ve forgotten where it came from. The icing I made up myself. The original slice uses just lemons and icing sugar for frosting, but I sincerely believe limes > lemons. For guacamole, for gin, for everything. Pfft, “lemons”.
(Shh. No, Actually I like lemons too, but limes rule so much more)
Anyway, now it’s October (month of pumpkins! – sort of) and since I last blogged I’ve done a huge presentation for uni, participated in a writer’s festival and moved house. And on Halloween it’s my birthday. Which is both horrifying and sweet. So here is a cake that I dare you to not want to eat right now. Along with a promise to be less remiss next time something like this is lurking in my to do list.
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups cooked pumpkin
1 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
4 cups S.R. Flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp ginger
1 tsp salt
1 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup coconut oil
For on top:
Combine sugar, pumpkin, oil and vanilla then add remaining ingredients. Cook in moderate oven 1-1.5 hrs OR until middle of cake springs back when touched. Combine coconut oil and icing sugar. Stir until smooth. Then add lime juice. Allow cake to cool. Ice cake. Dry fry almonds or roast in oven. Arrange on top of cake. Eat cake.
Doughnut worry. Listen to me and everything will be dough-kay. This is nut a drill, but as long as you follow these easy steps we’ll all get out hole.
Wait patiently. In the interim check out my mad left-handed egg-cracking skills. If you’re super bored waiting for your doughnut tray maybe you can practise cracking eggs with your less-favoured hand, so one day, like me, you can crack TWO EGGS AT ONCE. I’ll show you that some other time.
Once you’ve got your tray, you’re ready to make some dough. Nuts.
When the suckers are in the hot box you have one of two vices to choose from: bacon or coffee. Then either mix up a batch of super smooth and chocolatey glaze:
Or introduce Mr Maple to Colonel Cream Cheese and Dr Bacon to Mrs Hot Plate:
When everything is cool put the icing/glaze/bacon on the rings of cakey goodness:
Admire your handiwork:
If you’re some kind of super-demon of willpower, brew up a good cup of tea:
Doughn’t look back:
For the doughnuts:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk
For the espresso dark chocolate glaze:
3 tbsp coconut oil
1.5 tbsp agave
4.5 tbsp cacao
1 tbsp freshly brewed espresso
For the maple cream cheese frosting:
1/2 cup spreadable cream cheese
3 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
2.5 tbsp icing sugar
For the bacon:
3 rashers of short cut bacon
Combine dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients. Stir together. Oil doughnut tray. Fill doughnut tray. Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes until spongy on top.
If you are making maple-bacon doughnuts cut bacon into small bits. While the doughnuts are baking add them to a small pan and fry until crunchy – this will take a while. Maybe 20 minutes. If the bacon starts jumping out of the pan turn down the heat.
Take doughnuts out of oven and let cool.
If you are making espresso chocolate doughnuts: melt coconut oil. Then add agave and cacao. Stir. Pour in espresso and stir again. Let sit for a short time. Do not refrigerate.
When the bacon is cooked transfer to plate or bowl and let sit as well.
Dip cooled doughnuts in glaze or ice with knife. Let glaze cool or, if using maple icing, add cooled bacon bits to icing.
Today I have double the reason to need warming and cheering. Not only has it been cold enough that we’re breathing steam inside gaddayum house over here. Not only has it been cold enough that I have been baking just to get warm. But now, to top it all off, there’s a Red Wedding quantity of blood coming out of me.
Sorry/not sorry. I had to go there. Because this recipe is completely perfect for when your pants look like something from Hannibal. Luckily enough, it’s also great for when you are deep-down-to-your-core cold from sitting still too long, or have just escaped from the torrential downpour outside and put your slippers on. Will Sydney ever stop raining? From the looks of it, probably no.
To me this is the perfect hot chocolate recipe because you can make the chocolate flavour as strong as you like without it getting too heavy. This recipe also doesn’t have any cane sugar, which makes it (a) better for you (b) easier to dissolve the ingredients (c) more complex in flavour. Win, win, win. Plus there are only three ingredients! The chilli is totally optional anyway – you could add some ground cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger instead for a less intense variation. And – AND – if you go for cacao powder instead of your regular processed cocoa it’s actually super good for you.
If you’re fatigued and in need of some serious comfort like me, this’ll pick you up. Or if your hands are purpled and the nerve endings in your nose feel like they’re on death’s door, it’ll sort that out too. Happy no-baby day, everyjerk! Let’s hope, having showed it means business, winter will back off a little.
PS: check out my crochet
3 tbsp good quality cocoa or cacao
3 tbsp hot water
1 ½ tbsp. maple syrup
pinch of ground chilli
Combine chilli, cocoa, water and maple in bottom of mug. Stir well. Add the milk of your choice bit by bit, stirring extremely well with the first few additions. Place mug in the microwave and heat in 30 second burst for 1-2 minutes until warm.