No more night songs and flourless chocolate cake

For as long as I can remember, Kid 1 has always wanted me to sing him a bed time song. That song is Edelweiss from The Sound of Music. (Please don’t ask if I sound better than Julie Andrews ever did, I don’t want to hurt her feelings.)

Recently, my pink and purple soul was trampled upon.

As I went in to sing; my beautiful, wombat hair coloured, think outside the box, question me always, ten year old said ‘No Mum. I don’t want a song thanks.’ ‘Are you sure?’ I asked. The wobble in my voice ever so slightly perceptible (from outer space I am sure.)

I tried singing the first line. ‘No mum, I really don’t want you to sing.’

Naturally I handled this situation with adult dignity and aplomb. I didn’t really say ‘Wow, you hurt my feelings!’ (Ummm, more than once, in the pathetic hope of guilting him into allowing me to sing to him.)

Time ticked by, I thought that he would shout to me at any moment. ‘Mum, can you sing me a song?’

But that night, not a peep, squeak, burp, fart or mild kerfluffle. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come. My heart hung low as I faced the fact that this special time may have passed between us.

This mum knows that we are lucky to have each other whole and hearty. Yet I am also a mumma with a tender squidgy middle. Somewhat akin to a Cadburys strawberry soft centred chocolate. (The kind of chocolate that we ate back in the old days and now pretend that we don’t like.)

Tomorrow, I thought to myself, I will bake him his favorite cake. This is it.

(I did not, I repeat, did not, go into his room when he was asleep and sing to him. I will deny it.)

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE

This is our celebration cake and sometimes, our ‘just because’ cake. A meringue like crispy shell with a moist, fudgy but still light crumb. It is a Donna Hay recipe that I have been baking for over ten years now. This gluten free wonder has NEVER (sorry to shout, I got a bit excited) failed me.

Not wanting to go all chocolate elitist on you, I have baked this cake with regular dark cooking chocolate and it is always very, very good. But when you use top shelf swankarama chocolate, it is elevated to the realm of special cakes that will be served in heaven.

WHAT YOU NEED
200g (7oz) chopped dark cooking chocolate (I used Callebaut dark chocolate)
150g (5oz) butter, chopped
5 eggs, separated
3/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar (I used raw caster sugar)
1 1/2 cups almond meal
Icing sugar for dusting

WHAT YOU DO
Preheat oven to 160C (325F). Line and grease a non-stick 22cm (9 in) springform cake tin.
Place chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat and stir until melted and combined.
Cool slightly, then pour into a large bowl.
Stir in the egg yolks, sugar and almond meal.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggwhites until stiff peaks form.
Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until just combined.
Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. (I usually test it at 50 minutes.)
Cool completely in the tin.
Run a knife around the edge of the cake and remove from the tin.
Dust with icing sugar. It’s grand when served with berries and double cream.

From a Donna hay magazine from 10 years ago. A second dedication goes out to Jon, cause she loves this cake.

Cooking Notes: when melting chocolate be aware that water is the enemy as it will make the mixture seize up. Use a super, clean bowl when whisking egg whites.

Variations on a theme: Use orange flavoured dark cooking chocolate and decorate with thin slices of candied orange. For a spiced version add 1/2 tsp each of cardamom powder and cinnamon powder to the almond meal and sugar mixture and stir well.

PostScript. Lately Kid 1 has wanted me to sing again so I am enjoying this reprieve whilst it lasts.

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Shadow sisters and the Apple Bar

Time away with friends is precious. A week or so ago, I was lucky enough to spend three whole nights and four, yes four, days away with some long time girlfriends. One of these gorgeous women has a mum-in-law with a beautiful 100 acre property outside of Bathurst in the NSW countryside in Rock Forest. We have been lucky enough to visit there before and were excited to get the chance to go there once again.

We travelled up on the Thursday, kidlets tucked safely away in school. Us womenfolk giddy with freedom and hedonistic joy, crammed ourselves into a car and headed up towards the Blue Mountains. There may have been whooping, I cannot deny or confirm that.

First stop is Leura, a delightful Blue Mountains town. We wandered happily through craft, homeware and vintage shops. Lunch was at the Red Door Cafe where we ate a superb salmon fillet with crispy skin, preserved lemon, capers, nut butter sauce on a bed of mash. People, this dish was the bees knees. A yummy goats cheese tart with rocket, balsamic and caramelised onion was also consumed without complaint. Then, a few groceries were purchased and we piled back in the car.

Before we knew it we had arrived. The gate is opened and we drive onto this rocky and glorious landscape. (This area ain’t called Rock Forest for nowt.) We organise ourselves with military precision and a brisk walk up the driveway settles down the crazy car leg spasms we have all contracted.

The inaugural fire is built by our very own talented fire starter. This spacious log mansion has a spectacular open fireplace and a mantlepiece that is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Fizzy wine is popped, whilst cheese and bikkie snackles hit the spot. Yes, we now know we are on holiday.

Cold, cold country nights with clear sparkling skies. The night song of the river rocks me to sleep and is a salve to my citified soul.

Friday morning we ventured into Bathurst town to the divine Legall Patisserie once more, where toffee choux and other assorted delights were the order of the day. We ate patisserie for our breakfast, oh yeah. A quick squiz at the well cool Keppel Street shops, then a takeaway Fish River coffee from the Hub and back to the farm for some more hard work chilling out. Lunch was silky scrambled eggs and crunchy bacon with a side serving of tomatoes and mushrooms. Why? Because we can have breakfast for lunch if we damn well please.

Shadow sister figures on rocks, movies that made us cry until our insides hurt and caused eyes to swell up like stepped on puffer fish. We revel in this time to be just ourselves without being mums, wives or employees. We are not ungrateful for these roles but it’s good to feel the form of ‘just yourself’ once again.

Rocks in the shape of particular body parts that made us guffaw our way back down the hill. Our raucousness causes kangaroos to jump and sheep looked at us askance as they once again followed each other (as sheep will do) away from the insanity of five women laughing like their lives might just depend upon it.

Cliff the alpaca stood his ground and guarded the sheep because his life might very well depend upon it.

Steaming hot bowls of slow cooked Chilli Con Carne for dinner shore us up until the next feed. And who knew that it also makes a great breakfast dish on toast?

This trip is free from animal attack. On a previous trip a baby giant bat flew into the hair of one of our number in a vicious nighttime attack. It’s hard to explain the horror of being awoken by a high pitched squeak and a rustle across the top of your head. The brave woman valiantly fought off this flying rat with wings but vowed never to sleep in that particular bedroom again. To this very day, she never has.

Reading books that have been greedily hoarded for this occasion in the sweet knowledge and safety that there is no ‘Mum, Mum…I need, want, would like…’ The sunny, funny days warmed every vertebrae in our spines as we sat and read on grassy knolls overlooking the Macquarie River. The temperature at night dropped into the minuses but winter weight doonas soothed and lulled us into a satiated slumber. (As did a good side serving of nougat, chocolate and the odd glass of wine.)

Homemade chicken soup made by one of us, really is good for the soul. Friendship with these women isn’t always about seeing eye to eye. The longer we know each other we sometimes speak truths that are softened by good food and the solid love that underpins these conversations. The sounds of the crackling fire is the only musical backdrop we need on this long, lazy weekend.

Naturally, all good things must come to an end and as my wise mother always says, you can’t come back if you don’t leave. The blow of going home is softened by a lunch visit to the Apple Bar in Bilpin. We had booked weeks in advance to ensure we got a table. The food here floats our boats. A glass of Pinot Gris from Orange sets the tone, as does the glow from the fireplace.

This simple, rustic restaurant has an eclectic group of diners ranging from our sweet selves to inner city hipsters, from country folk to grey nomad travellers passing by. Choices are made from a menu overflowing with good sounding tucker. This Cheergerm gobbles down an amazing wood grilled pork loin cutlet with Patomaki’s messmate honey, black pepper, garlic, soya glaze, avocado salad with chips. I kid you not, this was the best darned pork I have eaten in years. Juicy and tender with a sweet spicy glaze. The assumption is that Patomaki’s messmate honey is a honey from bees that hang out near eucalypts but whatever it’s story, it tastes darned good.

Other dishes included a glorious woodgrilled salmon fillet with Lombok ‘Honeymoon’ sauce and a tasty version of fish and chips using lightly battered mirror dory.

The good news is that I married my dessert and we are now living happily together in a two bedroom bedsit in the inner city. Churros with a caramel mou and Belgian chocolate ice cream. Crunchy batons of deep fried batter with a melting interior accompanied by a fancy caramel sauce with hints of salt. The chocolate ice cream is to die for, it’s bitter undertones the perfect foil to the richness of the sauce. Other desserts tasted were a decent caramelised upside down orange and poppy seed cake and a rather wonderful gluten free local raspberry, coconut, white chocolate and almond clafoutis. (Try saying that five times quickly.)

Satiated we said adios to the Apple Bar and continued on our merry way back to the bosoms of our beloved families, who were waiting with bated breath for our return. (Hello, I’m home….hello…anyone here?)

Goodbye dear shadow sisters, until next years trip.

http://www.applebar.com.au

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Red-Door-Cafe/171123429579921?ref=ts&fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/LegallPatisserieCafe

http://www.fishriverroasters.com.au

https://www.facebook.com/thehubbathurst

http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/bathurst-area

http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/blue-mountains


Soul Cages and Japanese Food

My current musical obsession is Sting’s latest album ‘The Last Ship’, a musical inspired by his childhood experiences and the shipbuilding industry in the north of the UK. The music and lyrics are beautiful, folksy and are a moving and melancholy delight.

I am particularly struck by a song in which Sting suggests that we keep our souls in a cage. That is, before they are set free from this mortal coil and sent to the ‘Island of Souls’ for eternity. He talks about his father’s soul, living in the same cage as the carrier pigeons that he lovingly tended to. My understanding is that his fathers soul resides in the place it feels whole, happy and rounded. Which gets me to thinking, where would my soul cage be?

Probably somewhere in our kitchen. Perhaps squashed between the pages of one of the many loved recipe books or nestled in a well used mixing bowls? Is it tucked away in the motor of the KitchenAid or possibly lounging in the base of my cast iron casserole dish? I do know that one of the places I feel most content and most, well, myself, is the kitchen.

This is how I show my sons, husband, family and friends; my love and appreciation. Through baking and cooking food that nourishes them, warms them, cheers them up, heals them and sometimes even challenges them.

The Yak is a vegetarian and a coeliac and these dishes were cooked because I love him. Well, most of the time, except when he ships me. (That is not a mis-type.)

The inspiration came from a giant eggplant that needed to be eaten and a Hairy Bikers episode in Kyoto, Japan. The Hairy Bikers (like Sting and The Yak), herald from the north of England. Their passionate love of food and delightful turn of phrase is an absolute joy.

The silken eggplant combined with the umami miso paste is a revelation. Teeny miso angels rose up and played little eggplant trumpets whilst we ate…really, they did. Combined with crunchy bites of tofu, we were replete and content.

As the Hairy Bikers, Sting, Northern English shipwrights or The Yak might say, this was a right cracking feed.

NASU DENGAKU (Miso glazed eggplant)

WHAT YOU NEED
1 ginormous eggplant or two medium sized
1 tbl sugar
1 tbl mirin
3 tbl miso paste
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbl water
1 tbl toasted sesame seeds for garnish

WHAT YOU DO
Slice the eggplant in half lengthways and score with a criss cross pattern, this helps retain the sauce.
Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, scored side down and bake in oven for 20 to 25 minutes until tender. Remove and set aside.
Whilst the eggplant is baking, place all the remaining ingredients (except the sesame seeds) in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until they are combined.
Brush sauce over the cooked eggplant and grill for 3-5 minutes until dark golden brown and bubbling.
Serve and garnish with sesame seeds.

TOFU AGEDASHI

WHAT YOU NEED
400g silken tofu (I only had firm so I just used what I had, you can make this recipe with less tofu.)
1 cup Vegetarian dashi (which I didn’t have, so it was really Tofu Age?)
2 tbl Soy sauce
2 tbl mirin
Vegetable oil for shallow frying
5 tbl brown or white rice flour for coating
1 Spring onion, finely sliced ( which I also didn’t have)

WHAT YOU DO
Wrap the tofu in paper towel and drain by placing a dish upon it to get rid of excess moisture.
Put the dashi, soy sauce and mirin in a saucepan, bring to the boil then take off the heat and set aside.
Discard the paper towel, slice the tofu in half lengthways and cut each piece into 9 pieces.
Heat 1 cm of oil in a frypan or saucepan. Coat the tofu in brown rice flour and fry on each side until they are light golden brown.
Drain on paper towel.
Serve the tofu with the dashi sauce poured over and garnish with the spring onion.

Both recipes are based on past experiments and the recipes from websites listed after the photos.

http://www.justasdelish.com/grilled-miso-glazed-eggplant/

http://www.justonecookbook.com/recipes/agedashi-tofu-2/


Pinata Rage and Coconut Macaroons

It was the longest piñata hit in history. This gaily coloured Mexican bombonierre was seemingly made of cast iron. Possibly forged in the smelters of dwarven folk from the Kingdom under the Lonely Mountain (a Tolkien reference to all you non Hobbit loving peeps).

Child after strong armed child faced this monster. Bashing it with the supressed rage of youngsters against the iron fists of their parental controllers. Sadly, it was to no avail.

Finally, deliverance came in the guise of the smallest and youngest child (an angelic blonde haired 4 year old). It is difficult to explain the collective surprise at witnessing this beautiful young person flying into, what will henceforth be known as, ‘piñata rage’.

There was violent and assured bashing, followed by targeted smashing. The paper mâché split open and Mexican manna fell from the heavens. All was once again right with the world.

Kid 1 came up to me afterwards, proclaiming ‘The bowl of holiness has been split!’ His hands overflowing with sweet loot, some whole and some crushed. Not caring that they were in a less than perfect state, he snarfled them all in record time.

These coconuts macaroons may not have been a piñata full of sweet and lollylike goodness but they were still a huge hit with Kid 1. Being gluten free, the Yak was also a fan.

Some folk may say the macaroon is the poor, tenement living cousin to the more difficult to make and penthouse living macaron. I tell all those people to rack off. Yes, the macaroon has only 4 ingredients and yes, they are quick and yes, you don’t have to cure the egg whites for 2 days. So, yes, maybe after careful consideration ‘those people’ have a point. But as that overused cooking TV show catchphrase goes, ‘I made them with love’. (I don’t often cook with hate in my heart, although sometimes, I have been know to give a misbehaving cake batter a stern glance or two).

Floral vanilla and chewy coconut, reminiscent of a Polynesian wonderland. Close your eyes as you bite into their crispy exterior and you could be lying on a beach in Tahiti. They may easy peasey lemon squeezy but they are bloody delicious.

COCONUT MACAROONS

WHAT YOU NEED
2 egg whites
Pinch salt
100g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
125g desiccated coconut (or shredded)
1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste (or pure vanilla essence)

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 150C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
Place the egg whites and salt in a medium sized bowl and beat them until they are stiff.
Gradually beat in the sugar and fold in the remaining ingredients.
Drop the mixture in teaspoonfuls about 5cm apart on the trays (as I did) or use a piping bag with a 1cm tip.
Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway through. When the macaroons are dry and cooked, they will be a pale, pinky-gold.
Cool on wire racks and store airtight, Makes about 20.

Recipe from Ladies, A Plate by Alexa Johnston.

A quick shout out to the lovely chicks from I Need a Feed and Vegas Hungry Girl for nominating me for some blogger awards lately. Not sure when I will get to that but in the meantime, just wanted to give you the links to their delightful blogs.

http://ineedafeed.wordpress.com

http://vegashungrygirl.wordpress.com