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Birthday cake

For my birthday this year I  made a cherry cheesecake so I could have as much cake as I wanted.

cherry cheesecake

I based the recipe off the London Cheesecake in Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I’ve made this cake several times, with various modifications and it always works out well.

This cake has an hour in the oven, plus it needs to be refrigerated to fully set, so I usually make it one day ahead.

The first modification is to use almond meal for the base instead of crushed biscuits, this is a quick and easy way to make a gluten free cheesecake base.

The base:

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter (or vegetable oil)

Put almond meal and butter or oil into a frying pan on medium heat. Stir together, and move gently around the pan so that the almond meal toasts evenly. Once it is a nice golden brown, turn off heat.

The trick to this cheesecake is that it baked in a water bath. Grease a spring-form pan and line with baking paper. I cut the paper into a circle a bit bigger than bottom of the pan, and use strips of paper to line the sides. Unlike other cakes, I like to set up the pan so that the paper is sticking out where the bottom and the sides meet before using the spring to clasp everything together.

Then wrap the outside of the pan in two big sheets of aluminium foil. I scrinch the foil over the top edge of the pan to  keep it in place, and cross the rectangles of foil over each other to make sure there are no gaps.

Press the toasted almond meal and oil into the bottom of the pan to make the base and refrigerate.  Pre-heat oven to 180ºC or 350ºF.

The filling:

  • 500g cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup of castor sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla, and add in the eggs and egg yolks one at a time until you have a thick and smooth consistency.

This is the basic cheesecake filling. Nigella adds in some lemon juice at this point, but  because I’m modifying the recipe to make it a flavoured cheesecake, I skip it.

  • 1 cup frozen cherries
  • 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 1/3 of the cheesecake mixture

In a blender or with a stick mixer puree the cherries and sugar with one third of the cheesecake mixture until smooth and evenly mixed.

Bring out the pan and pour half the remaining plain mixture over the base. Then alternately spoon in the cherry mix and the plain mix and swirl together to make a marble effect. The plain mix will be thicker than the cheery mix, which is why it is good to start with a layer of plain.

Place cake tin into a large and deep baking pan, and the fill the baking pan with water so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the cake tin. Place on middle shelf of pre-heated oven and bake for 50 minutes.

The Topping:

  • 3/4 cup of sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat together until smooth.

After 50 minutes, the cheesecake will have gelled, but still be a bit wobbly* when you bring it out. Gently spoon over the sour cream topping until it is evenly covered, then return to oven for addition 10 minutes.

When the time is up, remove from oven and carefully remove cake tin from the water bath. Place entire tin, foil and all, on a cooling rack. When it is cool enough to touch, you can remove the foil. Once the cake has cooled, cover and refrigerate.

When you are ready to serve, release and remove the sides of the spring-form pan. If, like me, you are making this for eating at home, you can leave the cake on the base of the pan and serve directly off that. If you have a special occasion, this is where the extra baking paper comes in handy. remove paper from the sides of the cake, then very gently lift the paper up around the edges of the base, and holding onto the paper, slide the cake onto a serving plate.

Serve and eat!

*A technical term


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Sunday Cooking

Lately it seems that I’ve been cooking more on Sundays, which makes sense in that Sundays are a day when I’m generally at home with time to cook (even though I’m also home a couple of days during the week). Here are couple of things I’ve made recently:

Lemon Roast Chicken:

chicken 031

I more or less followed this recipe. The less part being that I didn’t have any rosemary so I substituted za’atar instead, and that after an hour at 180 C my chicken was not cooked through, so I put it back for another 30 minutes.

I also made a quick gravy with the pan juices while the chicken was resting, and blanched some green beans to balance out the meal.
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Chicken with vegetables and lemon tajine

chicken tajine 02

I’ve been wanting a tajine for a few years now, so it was a no brainer to include a couple of options on our wedding gift wishlist. Unfortunately, the store where we had our list was out of them at the time, but our friend T. ordered one and gave us a jar of preserved lemons and some Tunisian spice mix to be going on with.

The problem with shipping tajines is that if they are not padded and packed correctly, they can break in transit, and that’s what happened to the first lot which arrived in the shop. Then some arrived, but they were not the ones from the Lombok Pottery Centre, which is what I’d listed and T. had ordered.

Last week, at the Wool Day market, I’d stopped at a stall which sold spices and oils and vinegars, and ended up with some Ras El Hanout, which is a traditional Moroccan spice mix. The next day I found out my tajine had arrived, so I took it home after work.

I had thought about cooking with it on Tuesday, which I had off, but it took most of the afternoon to season it by soaking until all the air bubbles were gone (about an hour in the sink each for the base and the lid), then letting it air dry, and finally seasoning it by rubbing olive oil all over the inside, and placing in a warm oven for a few hours. (Tajines shouldn’t be moved quickly from hot to cold or vice versa, so I put the tajine in a cold oven, which I then turned on and allowed it to heat slowly. When was done I turned off the oven and let it cool before removing the tajine). That didn’t leave much time for the type of cooking which needs a long, slow simmer, so I made a quick curry in the wok, and left it until my next day off.

In the meantime, I browsed through Morrocan style recipes, and thought about what I might like to cook. In the end I settled on a hybrid between chicken tajine with seven vegetables, chicken with olive and lemon, and chicken with ginger and garbanzo beans (all from Food Down Under)<sup1 to create a dish with chicken, vegetables, chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) and preserved lemon. Partly this was because I didn’t have the right ingredients to make any of those recipes, but did have some. But I have a pretty good track record when it comes to putting flavours together, so I wasn’t worried about exactly following a recipe, and even though it was my first cooking in a tajine, it wasn’t the first time I have made dishes which are meant for tajines.

This is what I came up with:
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Norwegian Cinnamon Buns – à la Nigella Lawson

buns 50

“I’ve always thought that bad weather has it’s compensations, most of them culinary”

So says Nigella Lawson in her introduction to this recipe, and it’s true that as the weather gets colder, the desire for warm, freshly baked things grows stronger, at least, I always find it does. As does the my desire for comfort foods in general.

When I was very little, my parents had a friend called Jenny who used to babysit me occasionally. I don’t remember much about Jenny except that she had long hair which she wore in two plaits, and for a special treat she used to give me white bread with butter that was sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar which crunched between my teeth like tiny, sweet grains of sand. (As I said, was very little, certainly young enough to recall eating sand.) I don’t eat sugar and cinnamon sandwiches anymore, but I do love cinnamon pastries, buns, and doughnuts.

So when I decided to try baking with yeast for the first time since… well, lets just say that last time I baked with yeast, the whole process was being supervised by an adult (who probably took care of any tricky bits), it didn’t take long to settle on these cinnamon buns for my first attempt. Part of my reasoning was that, if, for some reason, the buns should fail to rise, I would probably find some way to eat a sticky, doughy, cinnamony accident, whereas regular bread or rolls would be tossed way. As it was, I didn’t have to worry, they rose beautifully and were exactly what I wanted.

buns 56

Well, almost exactly. The recipe calls for a hot oven (450°F or 230°C), and Nigella says:

“Put in hot oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, by which time the buns will have risen and will be golden-brown in colour. Don’t worry if they catch in places…”

I left mine in for 25 minutes and they didn’t only catch on top, which is okay, but were completely burned on the bottom. However, dealt with this by breaking off the burnt bottoms, and eating the perfect soft, slightly sweet, and very cinnamon flavoured centres.
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Apple Cake

Apple cake with cream cheese frosting

Sometimes the baking mood can strike when I’m short on supplies, but as long as I have eggs, sugar, some sort of flour, and spices it’s usually possible to throw something together. It’s even easier when there is fruit that needs using before it gets too old.

Today I had 3 apples, an orange, and some cinnamon. So clearly the solution was to make an apple cake. I also had some lefter over cream cheese, which we had with smoked salmon and capers on turkish bread on the weekend, so that took care of the frosting.

I decided to use a mix of gluten-free flour and almond meal, to make the cake dense and moist (and allergy friendly).

The finished cake is rich without being too sweet, and would make a pretty good tea cake just as it is, but the frosting takes it to a whole other level.

Apple cake with cream cheese frosting Continue reading


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Pomegranate braised lamb shanks with creamy leek and potato

This recipe is heavily inspired by Danielle’s Pomegranate ginger saffron braised lamb neck on Habeas Brulee.

But it’s made with lamb shanks.

And the method is a little different.

And I was out of beef stock.

shanks 01

Here’s what happened:

It was my partner’s birthday on Thursday, so I went to the Fyshwick Markets to pick up some steaks from the organic butcher, and I noticed they had lamb shanks, which are probably my favourite cut of meat, so I grabbed four. I didn’t get home until 6.30ish, so I made the steaks for the birthday dinner, and put the lamb shanks in the fridge to cook on the weekend.

But a week or two before that, I was working at Oxfam one afternoon, and I took my lunch break at about 3pm, and went to the Italian cafe/deli place in the Canberra Centre, and as I was eating my pumpkin and chick pea pie and drinking my coffee, I spotted pomegranate molasses on the shelves, and they haven’t had any in months, so I bought a bottle, and since then I’ve been thinking about what to use it in. So when I got the lamb shanks, I knew they would have to be cooked with the pomegranate molasses somehow or another, and the other night I was skimming through the Habeas Brulee archives for inspiration.

Now, earlier in the week I’d told my friend I’d bake her a cake if she got into the gold and silver smithing course she was applying for at the ANU (and take her out for sweets and alcohol if she didn’t). On Wednesday she found out she got in, and she was free yesterday, so I baked the Chocolate raspberry pudding cake from Nigella Lawson’s How To Cook, which was very rich and chocolaty. But there wasn’t enough time to bake a cake and roast the lamb shanks, so we ordered Chinese food, and ate the cake. Then they left a little after 10, and we watched a tv show, and I went to bed and read until very late. I got to sleep before dawn, but probably not by much.

And today I woke up at the crack of 3pm or so, and stumbled around eating toast and catching up on the internets, as I do on the weekend, and all of a sudden it was nearly five, and I figured I’d better start doing something about those lamb shanks if we wanted to have dinner before 9pm.

So after flipping through a few different recipes for lamb shanks, I decided I would braise them on the stove for an hour and then put them in the oven to roast for an hour or so, and with any luck they would be tender and ready to eat by about 7.30 ( Which would have worked if I hadn’t received a phone call before 7- we didn’t eat until a little after 8.) Continue reading

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Sticky Date Ice Cream

It’s summer, and that means Ice Cream!

sticky date 03

This is a particularly rich and creamy ice cream, which works equally well on by itself, or accompanying cake or pudding. So if it’s not summer where you live, don’t let that stop you trying it. Seriously, what’s the point of indoor heating if we can’t have ice cream in the middle of winter.

Makes about 1.5 litres.

Very Basic Vanilla Ice Cream mixture sticky date 02
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1/4 cup caster sugar
3 egg yolks
pinch salt
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract

Basically making ice cream is like making custard, and then freezing it.

Mix a couple of tablespoons of milk with the cornflour in saucepan and stir until smooth. Boil or nuke the rest of the milk and cream, then add to the milk/cornflour mix. Bring to boil, then let cool.

Beat sugar, egg yolks and salt until thick and creamy, add about 1/4 of the milk and mix together, then pour this back into the to saucepan and heat on medium, stirring continually until mixture thickens slightly. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in vanilla. Pour into suitable container and refrigerate.

(I often use a vanilla pod, which I heat with the milk and cream, and then slice lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the mix. But this time I just used vanilla extract.)

Sticky Date mix:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp butter
1 cup roughly chopped dates

Place sugar, water, and butter in saucepan and bring to boil. Turn heat down to medium, stir until sugar is dissolved, and add dates. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally until the dates are gooey and caramelized. Cool.

Start churning the vanilla cream mixture in ice cream maker as per instructions. When it is just over halfway churned, add 1/2 the sticky date mixture, and continue churning. Then, when transferring ice cream to a container for freezing, fold in the rest of the sticky dates so that they form ripples of caramelized goo.

Freeze until needed. Eat.

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