Tuesday, June 14, 2011


This week, a short post for a just past long weekend. It’s freezing cold, sleeting rain, and blowing a gale in my neck of the woods, and the only thing for it is to hide out at home, grab a cup of tea, whip up a cake, retreat to the couch, and bury your nose in a book. 
This coconut cake from Lynne Mullins is dead simple, and that’s why it’s great if you want to be super indulgent for almost zero effort.  
Easiest Coconut Cake Ever
125g softened butter
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1 1/2 cups SR flour, sifted
300 g sour cream
1/3 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 180C. Put the butter, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat with electric beaters until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add the coconut, flour, sour cream, and milk, and stir thoroughly until completely combined. (You can do this in two batches to be sure, but I don’t bother.)
Pour the mixture into a greased, springform cake tin (23cm in diameter) and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean. Serve with cream.
Or these brownies (sourced from Sunday Life magazine) take about 15 minutes more work. 

Makes 16 - 20
250g softened butter
300g brown sugar
3 eggs
250g dark chocolate, melted
80g plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder
65g cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
pinch of table salt
100g toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped 
Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a 24 by 34cm rectangle slice tin (or a 23cm square tin) with baking paper.
In your food processor combine the butter and sugar and whizz for approx 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Fold eggs in, mixing well. Then fold the melted chocolate into the mixture. 
In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa and salt. Add the chopped nuts. Then fold the dry mixture into the butter mixture.  
Pour the mixture into tin and bake for 35-40 minutes. A cake tester won’t come out clean, but as long as the consistency is crumbly, not runny, the brownies will set on cooling.
Cool in tin, and dust with cocoa, and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Easy. And then it’s all about the book. So people, here are my great Top Rainy Day Reads, in no particular order:

Disgrace, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Secret History for rendering the shadow side of human nature with chilling accuracy. Breath for its elemental power. High Fidelity and The Corrections for having a sense of humour. And Shantaram, Let the Great World Spin, The Book Thief, and The Great Gatsby for having the power to possess your soul.
And one to watch out for, come September: The Language of Flowers.
I would love to hear what your picks are, because if this wild weather continues I’m parked on the couch indefinitely.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


I am not a practising vegetarian and never have been. But over the years I’ve got into the habit of lessening the reliance on meat taking a starring role on the dinner plate – a stark contrast to growing up in a household in an era where Australian dinner was meat and three veg. At first my reasons were budgetary, then habit forming due to an aversion to half a lifetime of lamb chops, plus the joy of learning to cook for myself and the independence to make new choices. And then there was suspicion of those monstrously large, pale chicken breasts on the supermarket shelves (antibiotics, anyone?) before organic chicken was more readily available. In recent times it’s become second nature, and dovetailed with a growing awareness that it’s better for the environment (livestock emit more greenhouse gas than all transportation put together) and the many studies that have shown eating mostly a plant-based diet lessens your risk of heart disease and cancer. Oh, and you consume less calories. So a win win win. Good for the planet, and good for you, inside and out. 
And yet I don’t want to give up meat entirely. Yes, I have a weak will when the smell of roast chicken wafts through the house on a cold winter’s day. Add to that the visceral association I have, and I’m sure many of you share, with the Australian tradition of the Sunday roast: the table, the aromas, the togetherness. Some of those loved ones at my grandma’s table have passed away, but those Sunday dinners remain integral to a time and place, that as a little girl tied me to stability and family and delivered me safely into adulthood. The roast dinner is still a ritual that brings us together.
So betwixt and between. The usual position of the ambivalent! But in this case, what I consider to be a middle ground. 
How? By being a weekday vegetarian. I’d never thought about it quite like that, until I happened upon this great Ted talk by Graham Hill. His simple message? Eating “nothing with a face” Monday to Friday equates to being vegetarian about 70 percent of the time. 
In some senses this is easily achievable, given vegetarian food is incredibly sophisticated in settings as varied as India to Italy, and has a wide-ranging adaptable recipe base. Pies, pizza (such as the pumpkin, olive and bocconcini one above), pasta, stir fries, pilafs, risotto... the possibilities are endless. But it can be tough, if you’re trying to avoid carbing up with pasta, bread, potato and rice. 
This silverbeet pie is a variation of a Greek spinach pie I cook often, when I want to break with my reliance on pasta in weekday veg. From Adrian Richardson’s new book The Good Life out in August, it jazzes up the often worthy silverbeet with currants, pine nuts and lashings of buttery filo pastry.

Silverbeet, Currant and Pine Nut Pie
From The Good Life
Serves 6
1kg silverbeet
200g butter
1 large onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
120g currants
80g pine nuts
100ml cream
100g feta, crumbled
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
4 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and black pepper
10 sheets of filo pastry
Cut the silverbeet leaves from the stems. Slice the stems into 1cm pieces and roughly chop the leaves.
Melt half the butter in a large, heavy based frying pan. Add the onion and garlic and gently fry fro 3-4 minutes, until the onion is soft but not coloured. Add the ginger and silverbeet stems and cook for 5 minutes, until the stems are beginning to soften. Add the silverbeet leaves and stir well over the heat for another 5 minutes until they are completely wilted.
Stir in the cinnamon, currants and pine nuts, then the cream, feta, parsley and lemon juice. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes before stirring in the eggs, salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Melt the rest of the butter and lightly brush some inside a 20x22cm baking dish. Lay a sheet of filo into the dish and brush with more butter. Top with 4 more sheets, brushing with butter as you go. Now spoon in the silverbeet filling and spread it out evenly. Top with the remaining sheets of pastry, brushing each with butter. Fold in the edges of the pie and brush the top and edges with butter. Bake for 25-30minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature with a garden salad.
Okay, it doesn’t look amazing in my incarnation(!), but I’m eating it this week, and it’s more-ish and filling, and goes down a treat amid freezing cold and non-stop rain.
So while I will never be strictly veg, I am part of the clan Michael Pollan refers to as  ‘flexitarian’: mostly veg, occasionally a meat eater, and on Hill’s terms about a 70/30 split. The timing is a work in progress though, as give me a strict guideline and I’m guaranteed to break it with bacon in that weekday pasta. But the beauty of the flexi is, that you would never ever find yourself to be in that tug of war of denial and craving, yet you’re no longer heavily dependent on one part of the industrial food chain to feed you.
Each to their own, right? But on occasion, in future, if I have a great weekday veg recipe I’ll be posting it here.
Have a great first week of winter... or summer if you’re a Northie.