Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes

A wet Saturday in early autumn seemed like a good time to make some cupcakes for afternoon tea. These decadent little chocolate brownie cupcakes hit the spot.

Cakes:
80g butter
180g dark chocolate, broken into squares
¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
2 Tbs cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
Good pinch of salt
100g ground almonds (see note below)
Icing:
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup icing sugar
2 Tbs cocoa
100g dark chocolate, melted
To decorate (optional):
Chocolates or chocolate almonds

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place cupcake liners in a 12 hole muffin tray.

Cakes: place chocolate, butter and sugar in a bowl over simmering water and heat until just melted, stirring from time to time. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, the ground almonds and finally add the dry ingredients through a sieve and fold in thoroughly. Divide mixture between the cupcake liners and smooth the tops. Bake for 12-20 minutes or until risen and firm on top, but still a bit moist inside. Ovens vary and it’s best to err on the side of undercooking. Cool.

Icing: mix cream cheese with sifted icing sugar and cocoa, then lastly mix in the cooled, melted chocolate. Once they are cold, pipe or spread icing onto cakes and decorate as desired.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Substitutions: use butter or mascarpone instead of cream cheese in the icing.

Note: you can either buy the almond meal or make your own, which allows you to make it coarser than what you buy. Just blitz almonds, with or without skin (I used with) until fairly fine.

Two days and three nights in Orange

The town of Orange is three and a half hour’s drive north of where we live in Canberra. It has a pleasant climate, lots of good restaurants and is somewhere we’ve been meaning to visit for some time.

We recently booked a pet-friendly B & B, so we could take our golden retriever, Serek, and headed off for a long-overdue catch-up with friends who joined us from Sydney. The drive from Sydney to Orange, driving west, also takes about three and a half hours.

The first night we dined at the Peacock Room at the Oriana Motel. As we walked through the garden to the entrance we were greeted by the owner, a tall friendly Norwegian called Espen Harbitz, who has made his home in Orange. He invited us to make the most of the balmy summer weather and join some guests who were enjoying an aperitif at tables set out under the trees.

The meal was excellent, especially Espen’s Gravlax, so I emailed after we arrived home and asked if he was willing to share his recipe. He did so with alacrity. It’s the same as mine, but with one addition: a cup of Aquavit. So I ordered a side of salmon online from Huon Salmon (which has great colour and flavour) and a bottle of Aquavit from Nick’s Wine Merchants and the result was delicious.

To make Espen’s Gravlax follow my recipe but add a cup of Aquavit (or vodka) to the mixture of salt, sugar, pepper and dill used to cure the fish. In the photo below I served it with sweet mustard sauce (recipe is with the Gravlax recipe) and toasted sourdough, as an aperitif.

Next day we enjoyed an excellent lunch accompanied by superb wines at Sister’s Rock restaurant at the Borrodell Vineyard.

There are plenty of interesting things to do in the region, including a wander around the picturesque heritage town of Millthorpe and a visit to the Orange Botanic Gardens.

Dinner on our last evening was at The Schoolhouse restaurant in the old Union Bank building. Inspired by my light beetroot starter, I created the dish you can see in the photo below, using macadamia hummus as a base (use macadamias instead of cashews and soak them longer), topped with wedges of cooked and pickled beetroot, thin slivers of radish, a few toasted macadamia halves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. A thin lengthwise slice of a home-grown zucchini (use a vegetable peeler), some parsley, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a grind of pepper completed the plate.

Watermelon Sorbet with Olive Oil & Maldon Sea Salt

This recipe is easy to make and never fails to impress. Serve it in shot glasses as a palate cleanser between courses or a very light starter. The combination of sweet watermelon sorbet, fruity olive oil and salt flakes is amazing.

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1½ kg watermelon, rind removed, cubed
Juice of half a lemon (or more, to taste)
1 egg white
To serve:
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt flakes

Place water and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes.  Cool.  Puree the watermelon cubes in a food processor.  Push through a fine sieve, pressing hard on the solids.  You should have at least 600ml juice.

Add syrup and lemon juice to watermelon juice and mix well.  Tip into a shallow plastic container and freeze for 4-5 hours, covered, or until almost solid.  Scrape sorbet into a food processor, add the egg white and process until smooth.  Return to the plastic container, cover and freeze again.

Serve a scoop or two per person in a shot glass.  Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a few salt flakes.

Serves lots and keeps for up to a month in the freezer

Renés Chicken with Pernod

For over two decades, the iconic Omaha restaurant Dixie Quicks drew customers of all ages and backgrounds like a magnet, for good food, acceptance and respect. René Orduña ran the restaurant with his husband Rob Gilmer and it soon became a hotspot for artists, drag queens, musicians and creative types, giving sanctuary and guidance to gay Omahans.

When René died of cancer in 2016 Rob continued to run the restaurant on his own for two years. But it was not the same. “This was Renés restaurant” he said. “He was the catalyst, he was the force.” So after 22 years in business Dixie Quicks finally closed its doors in January 2018.

René gave his recipe for Chicken with Pernod to my cousin Mary Beth who lives in Omaha. It was one of the most popular dishes on the menu and her favourite.

2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts (or 4 small ones)
1/3 to 1/2 cup plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tsp butter and 2 tsp oil
1 large shallot or 1 small onion, finely diced
250g tomatoes cut in quarters or cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ to ½ cup chicken stock
½ cup cream (or coconut cream)
½ cup Pernod
To serve
:
Steamed Rice
Finely chopped parsley

Trim chicken breasts, cut each one in half and hammer out a bit with a meat mallet. Season the flour and use it to coat chicken on both sides, discarding any excess. Heat butter and oil in a frying pan which holds the 4 pieces of chicken in one layer. Brown chicken on both sides, then lower the heat and continue to cook until cooked through. Remove from pan.

Add shallots or onion to the pan and cook, stirring over low heat until soft. Add tomatoes and a little salt and pepper. Return chicken to the pan, add Pernod and stir to deglaze the pan. Flambé, shaking the pan until the flames subside. Add chicken stock and cream and cook, stirring and turning the chicken until sauce has thickened and reduced a bit. This will only take a coupe of minutes. Check for seasoning.

Serve over steamed rice, sprinkled with parsley.

Servs 4

 

Chicken with Coconut Pilaf

We recently hosted a 60th birthday dinner on a balmy summer’s evening, for a friend who follows a gluten-free, dairy-free diet.

Watermelon and Feta squares went down well with drinks on the verandah, then we started the meal with Gin-Cured Salmon with Kewpie Mayonnaise and Pickled Grapes and finished with Big Mary’s Mexican Bombe. I replaced the dairy cream with Organic Coconut Whipping Cream, made by The Tender Table and sold in some specialty shops. With six candles, one for each decade, this dessert doubled as a birthday cake.

For the main course I served this chicken dish which was given to me by my daughter’s friend Mel over a decade ago. Mel is a fabulous chef and now makes special cakes to order in Canberra.

A chicken supreme is a boneless breast with the skin and first section of the wing left on. If you’re not sure what it looks like watch this video. There’s a shop in a nearby shopping mall that specialises in chicken. They didn’t have supremes on display, but the butcher knew what I wanted and prepared them for me.

Chicken:
6-8 chicken supremes (boneless breasts with skin & first piece of wing attached)
Grated rind 1 lemon
1-2 small red chillies, very finely chopped
2 Tbs finely chopped coriander
2 Tbs olive oil
S and P
Pilaf:
2 Tbs  butter (or olive oil to keep it dairy-free)
2 cups basmati rice
1 x 400ml can coconut milk or cream and about 2 tins water
Juice of 1 lime or half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salad:
2 cups beansprouts
2 cups coriander leaves – broken off, not chopped
2 cups Vietnamese mint leaves (or ordinary mint)
2 cups purple basil leaves (or ordinary basil)
Dressing:
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs vinegar
To serve:
toasted shredded coconut

Trim any untidy bits off the chicken and if you think they look a bit too big, remove the fillets and keep them for a stir fry another day. Mix the chicken with the marinate ingredients and leave for several hours, or overnight if possible, in the fridge. Arrange chicken on a shallow baking tray (lined with baking paper if liked) and bake for 25-30 mins at 180°C, or until cooked and tender. Be careful not to overcook it, or it will be dry.

For the pilaf melt butter, add rice and stir to coat. Add coconut cream or milk and stir over low heat until the rice starts to thicken. Add water, lime juice, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then cover tightly and cook on a very low heat until liquid has all been absorbed. You may need to add slightly more or less water, so don’t add it all at the beginning and see how it goes, stirring and adding more if necessary. You can also do the rice in a rice cooker, just putting all the ingredients in together and adding a bit more water towards the end, if necessary.

Remove any stringy bits from the beansprouts. For the salad dressing, heat vinegar and sugar in a small pan, bring to the boil. Boil for a minute then cool. Mix all the salad ingredients together and at the last minute add the dressing, mixing gently using your fingers, so you don’t bruise the leaves.

To serve, divide rice among six serving plates. Place chicken on rice, top with the salad and finally the toasted coconut. I used large dried coconut from Aldi, stirred in a dry frying pan over moderate heat until lightly browned.

Serves 6-8

Plum and Rum Jam made in the Oven

My German friend Rosi gave me the recipe for a delicious plum jam which is made in the oven with far less sugar than most jam recipes use and is flavoured with rum and cinnamon.

While you can use any plums in this recipe, blood plums produce a beautiful deep ruby-red colour and I found some in Aldi. Serve the jam with croissants, or plain thick Greek yoghurt. I haven’t tried  making it with other fruits, but plan to. I am sure it will work. Next on the list to try is rhubarb and strawberry, fifty fifty.

1½ kg plums, stoned and quartered
500g sugar
1½ cups dark rum
1 stick cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 200°C or 180°C if you have a fan-forced oven. Place all ingredients in a Le Creuset type heavy casserole with lid and stir to combine. Cook for 2 to 2½ hours, stirring every half hour.

Heat jars without lids in microwave on High for 2 minutes. Pour hot jam into the hot jars filling to about 1cm below the top (discard cinnamon stick) and seal with the lids immediately.

Jam keeps for several months, unopened. Once opened keep in the fridge.

Makes about 4 jars

Chocolate Orange Cake

I’ve always liked the combination of orange and chocolate which works well in this quick and easy cake. It’s moist and keeps for several days in a sealed tin.

140g butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs
1¾ cups SR flour
1 rounded tsp baking powder
1/3 cup milk
Grated rind 2 oranges
Syrup:
2 Tbs sugar
Juice 2 oranges
Topping:
75g dark chocolate
Piece of Copha the size of a walnut (or substitute butter or 2 tsp oil)

Preheat oven to 180°C (170°C fan oven) and grease and line a loaf pan.  I used a silicone pan which you don’t need to grease.

With electric beaters or in a food processor, mix butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides. Add sifted flour and baking powder and lastly the milk and orange rind. Scrape into loaf pan and smooth over the top with a knife. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown, risen and firm to the touch in the middle. Leave cake to cool in the pan.

Meanwhile, place sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan and heat until sugar has dissolved. Boil for 2-3 minutes. Pierce cake all over with a skewer and spoon syrup evenly over the top. Place chocolate and Copha (butter or oil) in a bowl and stand the bowl in simmering water until melted. Cool a bit so it’s not too runny, then when the cake has cooled, drizzle chocolate all over the top,

Keeps in a tin for several days.

Rhubarb Pie

We grow masses of rhubarb and I always like to cook what we grow, before going to buy ingredients.

With several grandkids staying at our farm with their parents for a few days during school holidays I needed to serve desserts with general all-round appeal. This rhubarb pie ticks all the boxes and, once second helpings had been fought over, there were no leftovers.

2 or 3 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry
About 5 cups rhubarb (600g or so) cut into 2cm (½ inch) slices
1 cup plain flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbs butter
1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water
Extra sugar
To serve:
Cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 9-10 inch (20-22cm) pie plate or tin and line with pastry. You will probably need more than one sheet, but just press the pieces together where they join. Use mostly the red part of each rhubarb stick – you need enough to fill the pie shell and mound up a bit. Mix rhubarb with flour, sugar and cinnamon, then tip into pie shell and spread evenly. Dot with small pieces of butter.

Cut 2cm strips of pastry and use to cover the pie with a lattice, pinching to seal them to the sides. Brush all over with the beaten egg and water, then sprinkle with some extra sugar. Bake for 45 minutes, or until nicely browned and you can see the rhubarb in the middle of the pie is bubbling. Serve warm with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8-10

 

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon

Our potato crop has just started so I put these delicious potato cakes on the menu for a light lunch last weekend. They originate in Scandinavia and when we were living in Copenhagen we ordered them quite often in restaurants.

They don’t contain any flour making them gluten free, which is good news for readers who avoid eating wheat and other grains.

500g potatoes
1 small onion, grated (optional)
1 egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil to fry
To serve:
Smoked Salmon or Trout
Sour Cream
Snipped chives

Peel potatoes and coarsely grate by hand or using a 0.5cm attachment on your food processor, transferring to a large bowl of cold water as grated. Soak potatoes for a couple of minutes then drain well in a colander. Spread potatoes on a tea towel and roll up. Twist towel tightly over the sink, to remove as much liquid as possible.

Transfer grated potato to a bowl and mix in the grated onion (if using), egg, salt and pepper. Heat ¼ cup oil in a large nonstick frying pan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of four, spoon 2 tablespoons potato mixture per potato cake into frying pan, spreading into 3-inch rounds with a fork. Reduce heat to moderate and cook for 4-5 minutes, until undersides are browned. Turn over and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Transfer to paper towels to drain and season lightly with salt. Add more oil to pan as needed. Keep potato cakes warm on a wire rack over a shallow baking pan in a low oven. Leftovers can be reheated in a low oven.

Serve potato cakes with smoked salmon or trout, sour cream and chives and cracked pepper.

Makes 6-8 cakes serving 3-4

Individual Tiramisus

Keeping the weight off becomes a constant battle for most people over the age of forty. Some have to pay attention much earlier and a few lucky ones never have to think about it.

Unless we’re entertaining, I rarely make desserts. Every now and then, however, I think what the hell, life’s too short, especially during this Covid pandemic, when we’re entertaining and going out far less.

When I think we deserve a treat I make individual desserts in small glasses and put them in the fridge for us to eat over a few days. These small indulgences are not so big as to make you feel guilty, but when you feel like something sweet they just hit the spot.

I often think of my Irish grandmother who said to me after Grandpa died at the age of 62 “I didn’t let him have all those English puddings he loved and he died young anyway.” Actually I think it was the smoking rather than the weight that did it. Or maybe a combination of the two.

I have several quick and easy desserts I make in these small glasses and this is one of them. Any plain chocolate biscuits will do. Buy ones which are made with a chocolate mix, such as Arnott’s Chocolate Ripple, not ones which are iced with chocolate. If in doubt Google Arnott’s Chocolate Ripple so you can see what they look like and find something similar.

8 (or 12) un-iced chocolate biscuits, eg Arnott’s Chocolate Ripple
1 cup strong coffee (see note below)
2 Tbs brandy or rum (optional)
1½ cups cream
½ cup cream cheese or mascarpone, at room temp
2 Tbs icing sugar
Cocoa powder

Find 8 small glasses or ramekins which each hold about half a cup or 125ml.

Mix coffee and brandy or rum. Dip biscuits in this mixture to thoroughly soak and put one, or one and a half in each glass. Divide any leftover coffee amongst glasses, drizzling it over the biscuits.

Whip cream and when it holds soft peaks add cream cheese or mascarpone and mix to combine, then add the icing sugar. Divide amongst the glasses, pushing it under and around the biscuits. It doesn’t matter if they break up. Smooth the tops, then cover with sifted cocoa. Refrigerate, loosely covered. I put them in one large dish and cover it with a shower cap.

Makes 8 individual desserts

Note: use brewed coffee, cooled, or a cup of boiling water mixed with a heaped tablespoon of instant coffee, cooled. You could leave out the cream cheese or mascarpone and use more cream.