Saturday, December 2, 2017

Coffee cake

I've been getting more interested in coffee cake lately, after one of our guests brought a particularly delicious one to the Lasagna Lunch. I've also recently rediscovered one of my favorite flavor combos from my first stint in Australia - rhubarb and peaches - when the first peaches of the season turned up at the farmer's market. I combined them to make a coffee cake which, though I say it myself, was thoroughly delicious.

Rhubarb-peach coffee cake

Dry ingredients
8 oz/240 g self-raising flour
1 tsp/5 g salt
4 Tbsp/60 g sugar (I used my citrus sugar here)

Wet ingredients
4 oz/120 g milk
4 oz/120 g Greek yogurt (for a slightly denser and more complex muffin)
1 tsp/5 g vanilla
2 eggs (= 4 oz/120 g)
4 oz/120 g (1 stick) butter, melted

1 cup chopped rhubarb and peaches, tossed with 1-2 oz/30-60 g sugar
Crumb topping (I used a combination of roughly 2 oz/60 g each butter and sugar + 4 oz/120 g flour)

Heat oven to 350F/180C. Line an 8 in/20 cm square cake pan with parchment paper. 

Make the crumb topping by whisking together the ingredients. (I also added some cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger to the mix.) Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a medium-sized jug, whisk together all the wet ingredients except the butter; add the butter slowly and carefully last, so as not to scramble the egg. Dump wet into dry and whisk until just combined.

Scoop all but about one cup of the batter into the prepared baking pan. Scatter the fruit across the surface of the batter, then do the same with the remaining cup of batter and the crumb topping.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned, rotating pan halfway through.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mass quantities

Despite the length of time since my last post, I can't face doing another round-up write-up. It feels like too much of a chore, and counterproductive to the practice of meticulous mindfulness. (Or mindful meticulousness; I still can't decide.) So for the time being, I've decided to take a different approach: I'm going to work through my photo backlog, one at a time. I'm hoping having a well of inspiration to dip into will motivate me to get back into a more regular habit of doing actual writing, as opposed to rapid-fire updates.

In any case, this one deserves its own post: it's my family recipe for lasagna, and as well as being iconic, it is fairly massive, as you will see. To give you a sense of how massive: I made this in August for a Sunday lunch we hosted for a group of DP's students and their families - 12 adults and 15 children, including us. Given the numbers, I decided to multiply the base recipe by 1.5. And we had leftovers.

Lasagna alla mia famiglia
As noted, even this base recipe makes mass quantities - it involves more than 15 lbs (~7 kilos) of ingredients. (When I say it like that, multiplying it seems kind of insane. But then, like Nigella, I am never knowingly undercatered.)

One of the good things about this recipe is that you don't have to do it all in one go; when I made this last time, I cooked the meats and the sauce the day before. This made assembly on the day much simpler. 

a double batch of Disruptive Bolognese (or substitute your favorite Bolognese-type sauce; the key components you need are ~2 lbs/1 kg of hamburger/beef mince, and ~48 oz/1400 g tomato passata or equivalent. More is better than less.)

2 lbs/1 kg pork butt (confusingly, this American term actually refers to a cut from the upper shoulder of the front leg; also known as Boston butt)
2 lbs/1 kg sweet Italian sausage
4 lbs/2 kg good-quality ricotta cheese4-6 jumbo/extra-large eggs
3 cups/~10 oz/~300 g grated pecorino romano cheese, divided
2 lbs/1 kg lasagna noodles (ready-to-cook are fine)

Preparing the lasagna components
1. Make the sauce as you normally would.

2. Heat oven to 350F/180C.

3. Slice pork butt thickly (it takes much longer to cook if it is one piece), place in a shallow roasting pan, and put in the oven.

4. Line another shallow roasting pan with foil; place sausages in this pan, and put in oven as well.

5. Cook both meats for 40-50 minutes, or until just cooked, turning once. (Remember that they will cook further in the lasagna.)

6. In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, *2* cups of the pecorino, and as many eggs as you need. (The consistency of this once mixed should be creamy and somewhat grainy, more of a batter than a cheesy consistency. You may get to this point with only 4 eggs, or it may take all 6. Likewise, you may need a bit more than 2 cups grated cheese, but save some to sprinkle over the top of the finished lasagna.) Put aside.

7. After both meats have cooked and cooled, cut into bite-sized pieces. Put aside.

(Please note that all steps to this point can be completed up to a day ahead. Refrigerate the components separately until you are ready to assemble.)

Assembling and cooking the lasagna
(If you are using ready-to-cook noodles, skips steps 8 and 9 and proceed to step 10.)

8. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add 2 heaping Tbsp of salt, a few drops of olive oil, and the noodles.

9. Cook noodles for no more than 10 minutes after water returns to boil. Drain noodles and return to colander to cool for a few minutes, shaking to distribute so they're less likely to stick together.

10. If not already on, heat oven to 350F/180C.

11. Cover the bottom of a very large roasting pan with sauce to a depth of ~.5 in/1 cm.
(Please note that when I say "very large" - my mother used an oval 18 in x 12 in x 4 in/~46 cm x 31 cm x 10 cm turkey roasting pan to make this. I make it in 2 rectangular 14.5 in x 11 in x 2 in/36.8 cm x 27.9 x 5.08 cm roasting pans. Either way, you should be aiming to get three complete sauce-noodles-cheese-meat layers in a pan, plus a noodles-and-sauce cover, so divide your ingredients accordingly. I assemble both pans at the same time, essentially treating it like one giant lasagna, so I can divide the cheese and meat by 3 and the noodles by 4.)

12. Place a single layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan, making sure they cover it completely with no gaps. (Slightly overlapping the noodles at the edges is okay, as is breaking the noodles to  get a good fit.)

13. Cover the noodles with a thick layer of the cheese mixture.

14. Scatter a portion of the pork and sausage over the cheese.

15. Generously cover layer with sauce.

16. Repeat noodles-cheese-meat-sauce twice more. You should now have used up all the cheese and meat, and have some noodles left.

17. Cover the pan(s) with the remaining noodles. Spread top with sauce, and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.

18. Cover pan with foil and bake in oven for 45-60 minutes, until hot and bubbling. During last 15 minutes, remove foil to allow top to crisp.

19. When fully cooked, shut off oven, re-cover lasagna, and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

20. Serve topped with more sauce and grated cheese.

Serves about 20. Can be halved or multiplied.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Late winter

Just when I was getting into a regular routine of publishing on Sundays, winter school holidays began and poof went the normal schedule! Here's what's been going on since my last post:


Lots of Canberrans go to the snow during July school holidays, but I find the idea of getting away from the cold much more attractive, and that's what we usually do. This year we went to New Caledonia, a Pacific island which is also a French territory. July is the "cool" season, which means temperatures are in the 20C-23C (70F-75F) range - perfect beach (and tropical flora) weather for us, although we did notice several locals wearing puffer coats.

The sunset view from our balcony - a nightly highlight of our visit.


Miss B is 13! I didn't manage a birthday post this year, but we celebrated twice - once with dinner and cake for family and a few close friends (can you guess this year's obsession?)...

...and again a couple of weeks later with laser tag, pizza, more cake, and friends. (13! How did that happen?)


I recently tweaked my method for cooking homemade pizza after reading something online that I've now lost track of; my takeaway was to put my biggest cast-iron skillet in a very hot oven and heat it thoroughly for about 10 minutes. Then, remove the skillet carefully and throw in a pizza crust. Stick it back in the oven for about 5 minutes, remove again, and flip the crust. Spread it with sauce, top it with cheese, and put back in for another 5 minutes or more, until the cheese is browned and bubbling. This method has produced the best homemade pizza I've made yet, and I tested it on Miss B and two visiting friends who seemed to agree; of course as guests they were very polite - but they also devoured nearly two whole pizzas among three adolescents, which I took as an endorsement.

Speaking of my giant cast-iron skillet, I put it to good use again soon after, making a batch of polpette for the first time in far too long - certainly the first time since we moved here 2 years ago. They were very well received at Miss B's birthday dinner; and even though the recipe makes about 40, I'm going to have make another batch soon because we're already running low!


Holiday in New Caledonia meant daily access to boulangeries and croissants, and going into withdrawal when we got home compelled me to do something I've been contemplating for years - making my own. It's definitely a project for a weekend when you don't have much else on - the recipe I used has you start 36 hours before you want to eat them - but the actual hands-on work was less than 2 hours total. And it was totally worth it, for the eating and the sense of achievement. I'm already planning my next batch.

Today I baked something a little less ambitious: a variation on this cake from Melissa Clark for snacking and lunchboxes this week. It's a simple recipe, but notable because it marks my official initiation as a user (and fan) of the Eat Your Books website - which indexes thousands of cookbooks, magazines, and blogs and allows you to register and search your own collection, and dig into what you have. (Apparently I have 60,000+ recipes on my shelves.)

That's what's been happening here - although before I finish I must note that I feel lucky to have the privilege to focus on these things as a distraction from recent events in the US - and to come from a city from whose response I can take heart and courage. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Keeping warm

It's July! Term is over, winter holidays have begun, and overnight temperatures are consistently below freezing. Keeping warm in houses built for summer is a high priority.

I was very excited to find this on my trip to Kinokuniya Sydney a few weeks ago; I'm still working my way through it and haven't picked my first recipe to try yet. But looking forward to having lots of excuses to turn on the oven this month. (Recommendations welcome!)

Speaking of excited, we got two care packages from the US in the last week - full of healthy treats, as you can see. The resulting jumping up and down helped us generate some heat.

Hot chocolate season is in full swing, of course. I've topped up my stash of hot chocolate mix (using this recipe), as well as some suitably giant American marshmallows from Costco.

I can't give up on fruit salad just because it's winter, even if I do have to use canned apricots and peaches. (These make the salad more appealing to Miss B, so whatever works, I guess?)

This week one of our friends had an impromptu winter cookout housewarming, including breaking in her new fire pit. I brought along the ingredients to make s'mores, and since graham crackers are hard to come by in Australia I made my own - the classic version (on the right) following this recipe, and a grain-free version (on the left) using this recipe.

I also brought this along for us to nibble on while dinner was coming together - a hot spinach dip. I've made this several times over the past few weeks, but I haven't been following a precise recipe - it's basically 1 part sauteed baby spinach to 2 parts a combination of cream cheese, Boursin-style fresh herbed cheese, and sour cream - how much of each depending on what's in the fridge. Add seasoning to taste - salt, pepper, lemon juice are what I generally go for. Bake in a 350F/180C oven for 20-25 minutes until hot and bubbling. Serve with crackers. A good way to warm people up on a cold winter's night.

Hope you're keeping warm where you are - or cool, as the case may be.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Winter shenanigans

Winter is in full swing, complete with lots of recent gloom and damp in Canberra. A good excuse to try various antidotes, including:

Knit! I started trying to re-teach myself to knit about 2 years ago, and I am delighted to say that this week I taught myself how to cast off, and I finished this scarf. It's a bit rustic-looking, but it's the first knitting project I've ever completed and I'm proud of it - especially the buttons, which I added for design interest and which actually work. Miss B has already requested one of her own.

Sew! I'm continuing to work through my double-sided kitchen cloth project - here's my latest effort. I particularly like these fabrics, both separately and together.

Cook winter food! I had a ridiculous amount of leftover mashed potato in the fridge at the end of the week, and I was too lazy to make gnocchi, which had been my first plan. So instead I made a potato gatto (one of our longstanding Secret Dinners), which is great comfort food on a cold night.

Get out of town! We've had a trip to Sydney booked for this weekend for months, and I was hoping for the usual dramatic difference in temperature and weather between Canberra and...pretty much everywhere else. It was warmer, but not any brighter for the most part. Undaunted, we hit some of our favorite spots and tried out some new stuff as well. A high point (in every sense) was our early-evening walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge, complete with stunning views.

Our objective in crossing the harbour was to visit an American-style burger joint, Batch Burgers & Espresso, at the foot of the bridge's north side in Kirribilli. It came highly recommended from fellow expats, and was totally worth the walk - hands down the best burger I've had in Australia.

The walk back was even better, giving us a birds'-eye view of the final weekend of Vivid Sydney, especially the Opera House:

My iPhone camera does not do it justice - if you click on the link above you'll get a much better idea of the effect.

And last but not least, my favorite winter activity and the reason for our Sydney weekend - ice hockey! We got tickets to see the USA-Canada Ice Hockey Classic, the first time in a looooong time (3+ years I think) that I've been able to see professional-level hockey live. It wasn't the NHL playoffs, and I'm pretty sure I haven't infected Miss B with the hockey love, but as far as I was concerned it was worth the trip.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Long weekend

It's a long weekend in Australia! (Have I mentioned before that I find it endlessly entertaining that the Queen's birthday is a public holiday here, but not in the UK? Because I do. Also I have to make the most of it because this is our last Monday public holiday until, I think, October. Yikes!)

Here's the latest news from around here:

DP's birthday was this past week - can you work out how old he is from the candles? Appropriately given his profession and interests (and name), his birthday falls on a major event in military history, and this year his seminar students found out and celebrated by giving him a running real-time recap of happenings throughout that fateful day 73 years ago. I took the easy route by making his favorite dinner (steak au poivre and mashed potatoes) and baking his favorite cake.

Also this past week - family friends of ours are dealing with some medical stuff and, like us, are far from their family support networks. So, on the day when one parent was in the hospital overnight and the other parent was wrangling everything else (including three kids), I volunteered to bring over dinner. Pasta bake to the rescue!

I didn't really use a recipe for this - just made a batch of Disruptive Bolognese in the slow cooker ahead of time, then boiled up 3 boxes (about 3 lbs/1.5 kg) of rigatoni. I mixed it all up together with lots of grated cheese and some baby spinach (vegetables makes it a nutritionally complete main course!), scooped it into a disposable baking tin, and wrapped it up. (I also made up a smaller pan for us to have for dinner that night, killing two birds with one stone.) With a loaf of bread and a batch of blondies, it made a complete meal and was a pretty low-stress way to lend a helping hand.

And a good reminder to be grateful for little things - like Sunday breakfast with my own family.

And flowers to cheer us - even on the gloomiest winter days.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Brisket experimentation

It's officially winter in Canberra! There was frost on the grass on Friday morning - can you see it?

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for actual snow this year. (It's only snowed twice the entire time I've lived here, and it's never stuck, but I live in hope.)

Cold weather turns my thoughts to cold-weather food, and I recently discovered that my favorite beef sellers at the farmers' market sell brisket. I bought one a couple of weeks ago and followed a typical recipe, but it didn't produce quite the results I was hoping for. This time around I decided to take a slightly different approach:

1. When I got home from the farmers' market Saturday morning, I opened the plastic wrapping, liberally seasoned the brisket with salt and pepper, re-wrapped it, and stuck it in the fridge.

2. Saturday evening, while preparing dinner, I sauteed some red onions and chopped mushrooms in olive oil and pork fat.

3. After dinner, I turned the slow cooker on to low, dumped in the onions and mushrooms, and added a couple of anchovy fillets, and took the brisket out of the fridge. After letting all that warm up for a bit while I did other stuff, I added half a bottle of red wine, half a can of ginger ale (both of which needed to be used up), and a packet of tomato paste (about 2 Tbsp/60g), and let that heat up as well.

4. The last thing I did before bed was sliding the brisket into the hot liquid. I left it to cook on low overnight.

5. This morning when I got up, I turned off the slow cooker and let everything cool off for a bit. At this point the brisket had been cooking on low for about 9 hours.

6. After everything had cooled for a bit, I took out the brisket. Then I strained the cooking liquid into a jug and put it in the fridge, adding the solids in with the brisket and putting that in the fridge separately.

7. (The point of cooling the liquid is to separate out the fat - brisket produces a lot of fat, and one of the things I didn't like last time was how greasy it made the sauce. (This is also why I cooked it ahead of time - so there was time to do this.))

8. About an hour before serving, I put the brisket back in the slow cooker on low; scraped the now-congealed fat off the top of the sauce in the jug; and put the sauce on the stove to reheat. I got it thoroughly hot, then whisked in a few big spoonfuls of sour cream and mustard. When it was fully heated, I poured it back into the slow cooker and left it all to finish heating through.

9. Just before lunch, I removed the brisket to a cutting board and sliced it (very tender); put the sauce in a jug; and served it for Sunday lunch with potato gratin (with blue cheese), braised peas, and bread:

I'm definitely going to use this method going forward. Any other tips from brisket experts are welcome!

And finally, this week's flower selection - enjoy!


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Weekend cooking

Over the years I have regularly read food writing and blog posts that make offhand remarks about how it's so easy to do prep or batch cooking on the weekend, and how it makes your life so much easier during the week. Sound familiar? Roast some veggies! Cook up a big pot of grains! Make a stew! Etc.

I have the same response to this oft-repeated sentiment that I do to people saying, "Oh, and just make a salad!", like that's no big thing. I don't know about you, but even on weekends when I have no formal plans, I usually have a lot of things I want to accomplish and if I want to carve out 3 hours (or even 1 hour) for non-meal cooking I'm going to have to do some planning, and something else that I wanted to do is going to fall by the wayside. As much as I love cooking, I don't want it to take over my regular weekend routine to that extent.

So instead I've started trying to develop cooking routines that fit in with our typical weekend schedule, at least on the weekends when we're just hanging around and have some time. On Saturday afternoon, I'll start dinner prep a bit early - say around 4:30 - to allow time to start a batch of bread dough, get potatoes in the oven to bake (Saturday night dinner at our house is invariably steak, Italian potatoes, and a vegetable or two, unless and sometimes even if we have guests), and make something sweet for that night's dessert and lunchboxes for the coming week. This week it was a batch of cupcakes:

One of which I had for breakfast dessert this morning - breakfast dessert is one of the perks of being an adult.

Sunday breakfast in our house alternates between pancakes and waffles, both of which involve a fair amount of down time during prep. I've got the routine down now to where I get them going, and while each batch is cooking I do things like empty the dishwasher, make a big batch of fruit salad (I started this in January as you can see here), and start a batch of homemade cereal in the slow cooker if I'm out (first mentioned here - my version uses 720g oats, 240ml canola/olive oil mixed, 180ml maple syrup, and lasts me about 2 weeks).

Today I made a start at adding another regular to the routine: I made a big kale salad for lunch. Having Miss B's Food Tech salad in the fridge reminded me how great it is to have something tasty and healthy waiting when you're hungry and too impatient to chop salad (see first point).

All of that leaves me feeling pretty well set up for the week, while still having had a weekend - after all, here I am updating my blog for the second week in a row! And I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon getting to know my sewing machine - I read the manual, figured out how to thread it, and started practicing straight seams on fabric I bought for a project about 3? (4?) years ago.

Inspired by this tutorial - which I forgot to look at before my first attempt, so not perfect. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to making this part of my weekend routine too!

Hope you got to spend the weekend doing whatever you like best.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday digest

Hey, it's only been 3 weeks! Here's the latest news from around here:

Work/school We are deep into Term 2 and everyone is working hard. DP has started teaching his intensive master's program; I'm trying to help launch a major organizational initiative which is taking a little longer than planned; and Miss B is into her second round of Year 7 electives - which involves cooking!

Last weekend I helped her with her first Food Tech assignment - designing a recipe for and making a salad. I managed to capture a few action shots; here's Miss B chopping celery:

And here's the final result:

Miss B's personal tweaks to the standard salad recipe included chopped salami and pickles - surprisingly delicious, since guess who ended up eating this salad for lunch all week?

Recreation Hanging around our local places playing cards and board games; streaming lots of movies now that we've finally figured out how to work our cable system (it only took 18 months); and indulging Miss B's renewed interest (not to say fangirling) in Doctor Who.

Food Two sets of dinner guests in the space of a couple of days this week meant thinking of ways to be efficient in the kitchen. For the first round, I made my favorite slow cooker chicken recipe, served with potatoes and peas; then, for today's guests, I used the leftover chicken, sauce, and peas as the base of a chicken pot pie:

I rounded out the filling with sauteed bacon, red onion, carrots, and celery, plus a few porcini mushrooms, then stuck it in the oven to heat through and combine. I made a variation on my Emergency Scone recipe for the topping (swapped out sugar for rosemary salt, and some of the cream for olive oil to make it more savory), cooked it separately (I don't like a soggy bottom on my pot pie topping), and slipped it on just before serving. It made a great and frugal late-autumn Sunday lunch (with bread and salad and brownies for dessert) for four adults and three children.

Weather As I may have already mentioned, it's late autumn here: fall foliage, warm days and cold nights, flannel sheets and hot water bottles. And my latest discovery about this season in Australia - native flora are back in season:

 Hope you're having a lovely weekend wherever you are.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Autumn shenanigans

One day I will post an update that is not a round-up of pictures since the last time I posted; but today is not that day. So here's what's been happening around here lately:


To Melbourne for a friend's 60th birthday party, where we helped make drinks and lunch for 40, then sat on the lawn (till it started raining) to drink Pimm's and champagne and east roast beef and salads... Hobart with my best friend from Boston, who came to Australia for the first time to attend a conference, then stayed on for a week to goof off with me. We wandered Salamanca Market, visited the Cascades Brewery, did lots of walking and talking and had lots of good food and drink (including these tiny pancakes doused with raspberry sauce from a market stall) - a fabulous weekend.

And an impromptu weekend to my always-favorite destination - the beach - to kick off the April school holiday.

A headline from our travels - no comment.


I finished a craft project! One that's been on my list for a loooong time - I made a doona cover (that's 'duvet' in Australian) for Miss B's bed, using some inherited bed linen and handstitched seams with yarn from my embroidery stash.

Inspired by my success, I have also finally identified and organized a place for my sewing machine, after 3+ years of it languishing in a box.


The usual four-day extravaganza of cooking and eating, plus this year's experiment, at Miss B's request - hot cross buns, modified to her specifications (chocolate chips instead of fruit, buttercream icing crosses on top).

And here's the obligatory photo of the brunch spread - on our new kitchen table, which DP and I assembled together without filing for divorce afterwards!

Also I thought you'd like to see the mixed-message Easter spread on display at my gym to kick off the holiday weekend.


The leaves are changing color in Canberra - I love that I get to have my favorite season here, even if I'm forever disoriented by having it happen in April.

So I even did a little flower arranging to bring the autumn colors indoors.

Back outdoors - Miss B and I took part in our local March for Science last weekend....

...and this weekend a friend gave me a bag full of limes from her overloaded trees. What to do with them? Lime curd? Lime meringue pie? A giant pitcher of margaritas? Ideas welcome!

Hope all is well in your worlds, and that I'll have another, shorter update soon!
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