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Dear Lovely Readers,

First up, a huge thank you to those of you who have been asking for an update! My trip to Melbourne was hectic to say the least. (Thankfully I ate LOTS of food to fortify me!) I came back to Toowoomba late last Wednesday and by Friday afternoon I’d landed myself a new job. So, in the midst of recovering from my trip, I’ve been gearing up to go back to work and then, actually going back to work. (For those of you who are interested – work is a part-time gig editing/updating a consulting firm’s research reports and marketing materials. Lots of desktop publishing!)

Unfortunately, my return to work means the end of daily updates here – at least for the time being. I’m aiming to update 2-3 times a week, and perhaps more frequently as I become more au fait with work and no longer come away feeling like my brain’s been through a juicer. There’s the Working Mum thing to get used to, as well!

I’ll be posting some highlights of my Melbourne trip this week, and then some recipes to come – soon!

Thanks for coming by.

Jo

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Dear Lovely Readers,

On Thursday this week, I’ll be setting off on my own to Melbourne. We are going to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday on Saturday. My Ah Mah hasn’t been well of late and is in hospital on an extended stay. I’m feeling a bittersweet squeeze in my heart… Can’t help but wonder if this will be her last birthday. It’s an awful feeling. But I’m determined to focus on the positives.

We will be celebrating her birthday with a thanksgiving service, followed by an afternoon tea. I’ve offered to help with the catering and am oddly excited at the prospect of providing light refreshments for some 20-odd – oops, perhaps should I say – 20-plus people. So I will be busy organising that, and then having lots of family time once everyone arrives in Melbourne.

I’ve decided to take a break from blogging to focus on family. I’ll be taking photos and probably planning posts; but will be away from the blogosphere from Thursday 31 March. I’ll start posting again from Thursday 7 April.

Thank you for coming by each day – or every now and again – it’s always a pleasure to have you.

Jo

 

      

Dear Readers,

 I have a Joseph Joseph spaghetti server and a pair of sage green-tipped mini tongs to giveaway to one lucky – or rather, curious – winner! All you have to do is post a question(in the comments section) on a culinary conundrum, and the person whose question that I end up answering in a post will win the giveaway. Questions can be anything from – why are hamburgers called hamburgers, when there’s no ham in it? To – how is it that millions of people can eat MSG everyday and not suffer the dreaded Chinese Restaurant syndrome, ie headache and dry throat? Or, why is tomato sauce called catsup? Or, what’s the difference between cookies and biscuits? So go put your thinking hats on, and post me a lovely, juicy conundrum and I might just post you the prize.

Happy cooking and thinking about food!

Jo

Of course, the sensible thing to do would be to use a spoon rest…

But then you wouldn’t have an excuse to use a nifty gadget like this…

Dear Readers,

A friend has just launched a new food blog and I’m pretty excited about it. Called Easy Food Hacks, it guides you through easy-to-make recipes that look and taste great. Please check it out – I’m dying to try out her recipes already!

More Happy Cooking!

Jo

Coming soon to your mailbox, Toh Puan!

Congratulations to Toh Puan, winner of my Thank-You giveaway! Thanks to all of you for visiting this blog daily, and a big, big thank you for those who take the time to comment. Please keep coming by, I love having your company! Toh Puan, your prize will be in the mail tomorrow.

There will be more giveaways to come! Stay tuned!

I have to fess up. I’m a cook book wh*re. I have dozens of them at home. And, every other week, I’m back at the library, pawing and poring over more of them, and then bringing home as many as I can carry without breaking my back. (BBQ Man knows that when I ask him to come with me to the library, it’s not his company that I want. It’s just… he’s an awesome pack mule.) The other thing I need to confess is that I have cookbooks that I absolutely adore, but have not cooked a single recipe from. I did a tally and I have some 40-odd cookbooks and I’ve used recipes from a mere 10 or so of them. But the thing is (and I KNOW I’m not alone), that this doesn’t mean the other cookbooks have been sitting around neglected. Cookbooks, apart from being instructive, are also really good for just plain ogling. Am I right, here?

         

Here’s another confession: I have an apalling disrespect for recipes. It’s a defect in me that I’m trying to overcome – I’ve learned the hard way that baking recipes CANNOT be tampered with.  And yet – I still struggle with substitute-alitis. (You know that condition, where if you don’t have the right ingredient, you casually throw something else in as a substitute?) You’d think I’d learned my lesson the time I subbed some soda bicarb for baking powder. I baked this chocolate cake that rose to an alarming height in the oven, and when I opened the oven door, it collapsed like a popped baloon and I had sticky chocolate froth baked to the insides of my oven. This happened years ago… but remember the Valentine’s Day cake I made for BBQ Man only recently? I didn’t have enough dark chocolate, so I subbed with dark choc chips. The recipe then said, melt the chocolate and butter in a pan and stir gently together. Reality: the butter melted into a puddle around the choc chips, which sat in the pan and defiantly refused to melt. And then it dawned on me that choc chips were invented by some clever so-and-so to NOT melt! So then I have to do things that no recipe ever tells you to do, like taking the potato masher to some choc chips to uh, melt them.

So for what it’s worth, here are some of my favourite cookbooks – for both the cook and voyeur in us.

 

The Family Circle Recipe Encyclopedia – the first cook book I bought. A friend had a copy and I bought it the next day. Lots of great recipes from apples to zabaglione. The apricot danish recipe featured in the Danish fo Dummies post came from this treasure trove.

My first foodie magazine, from Aug/Sept 1996. It has wonderful cake recipes and is possibly the only food magazine that I’ve cooked from. The price tag reads $4.90!!

Baking with Passion by Lepard and Whittington – the best baking cook book I’ve ever come across. They go into amazing detail about making sourdough starters, pastries, different types of cakes and other treats. A must for all serious home bakers. (Uh. Confession: Not being a serious baker by any means, this is one of those well-thumbed books that I’ve not cooked from)

Stephanie Alexander is Australia’s cooking doyenne, and she shares her encyclopedic knowledge in this heavy tome. I’ve actually cooked from this one. I’m planning to do a post on one of my favourite recipes from this book: coriander and peanut pesto. Yummm.

The books from Konemann’s Culinaria series are like gold to food geeks. Want to know how, where, what and why say, chorizo sausages came to be? It’s right there in Culinaria Spain. You’ll be transported to the region of its origin, meet the paprika growers, the pig farmers, the sausage maker, etc etc. I LOVE these books. The Southeast Asian Specialties makes me homesick!

I picked up this book in a second-hand store one day. It’s more of a culinary treatise on the history of Chinese food in Australia, than a cook book. A deeply fascinating read – from how the Chinese migrants fed the communities during the Gold Rush, to how the classic Chine-Oz dishes like beef and black bean, lemon chicken etc came to be. You get to meet the Chinese inventor of the Chico Roll-a classic Australian fast/junk food. (BBQ Man and I love them, but we wouldn’t be able to tell you what’s in them other than it’s tasty goo.)

These little Womens Weekly recipe booklets are a great favourite of mine. I have quite a few of them, but these two are used the most. BBQ Man’s choc fruit cake was from the Choc Cake one, and the Little Miss’ triple choc chip cookies were from the other. Great recipes and pics for a reasonable price. Couldn’t ask for more.

This is my newest cook book, a Christmas gift from a friend who quite possibly loves cooking more than I do (that’s you, Melissa!). I’ve not cooked from it but I WILL, because the recipes look fantastic and there are lots of dishes for my vego readers.

It occurred to me as I wrote this piece that these days, whenever I want a recipe I’m more likely to Google it than reach for my cook books. But I still love cook books as much as I ever have. I think it’s probably because cook books are more than just recipe books these days. More often than not, through the fantastic photographs and the stories behind the recipes, cook books are insights into other cooks and their cultures, and their unique takes on cooking and eating. I’ve decided that I’m going to do better justice to my cook books and will aim to feature a recipe from each one, in the coming weeks. Maybe at the end of it I might be cured of substitute-alitis. Maybe.

My BBQ Man loves cake, in spite of the fact that cakes do not often contain meat products or hops. So my kind-of Valentine’s Day tradition is to bake him a cake. This is no ordinary cake, however. Some wizard at Women’s Weekly came up with the idea of a chocolate fruit cake, and the result is swoonworthy. The richness of all that fruit, beautifully balanced by the bittersweet endnote of chocolate. And then there’s the icing, a sour cream and dark chocolate ganache. A smooth, unctuous topping, not at all sweet but very, very intruiging…a fitting highlight for this particular cake.

If you’re not a fruitcake fan, or if you have someone in your life who needs enlightening in this regard, this is the fruitcake to go with. It’s also one of the easiest cakes I’ve ever made, if you need further convincing.

To make the cake, line tin, measure out first lot of ingredients, melt together in a saucepan.

       

Whew! That was hardwork! Now have a drink and take a break. Oh-wait a minute-the drink’s for the cake. Sigh. Throw it in the saucepan, too.

 

Now for the home stretch. Measure out the last lot of ingredients. Into the saucepan they go, mix and pour into the cake tin. 

     

NOW have a drink and relax. Allow no one to interrupt you for next hour and a half, because you are busy baking, (yes, even if you’re on the sofa researching your next kitchen adventure. You are still baking.) After an hour and a half, check the cake. If the cake tester comes out clean – well you won’t have to wash it. And oh, the cake will be ready.

Leave it to cool in the pan before turning it out. Look, it turned out nicely! (Pun intended, awfully sorry).

   

To make the ganache,  chop chocolate and melt, measure out sour cream, stir together.

         

And now, ice ice baby!

     

After playing with 5 different patterns on the cake, I finally settled for this one.

 Put it on a man-sized plate. Now it’s ready for the BBQ Man!

 

 

BBQ Man takes matters into his own hands and goes back for seconds… Guess it’s a winner! 😀

 

Chocolate Fruit Cake (adapted from Women’s Weekly recipes)

125g butter

150g brown sugar

50g dark eating chocolate, chopped

125ml water

60ml dark rum (I used Frangelico)

445g mixed dried fruit of your choice. I add peel to my mix

110g plain flour

2 tbs cocoa powder

2 tbs self raising flour

1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground

1/2 a nutmeg, freshly grated (or 1/2 tsp ground)

2 eggs, beaten lightly

Icing:

80g dark chocolate, melted

60g sour cream

Method:

Preheat oven to 150C or 140C for fanforced

Grease and line bottom of 20cm ring pan, or a small heart shaped pan, or a 14cm x 21 cm load pan.

Combine butter, sugar, chocolate and water in saucepan, stir over heat until sugar dissolves.

Remove from heat, stir in rum and fruit

Add sifted dry ingredients and eggs, stir until combined. Spoon mixture into pan.

Bake for 1 hour if you are using a ring pan, or 1.5 hours if using a heart shaped or a loaf pan

Cool cake in pan. I leave mine overnight.

To make icing, melt and cool chocolate, stir into sour cream until smooth.

Turn cake out on to baking paper, spread icing over the top of the cake. If you want to do the sides of the cake, double the icing recipe.

Use baking paper to life cake onto serving plate, slide paper out from under the cake.

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