Sunday Morning Glory

As I mentioned in a previous post, when it comes to breakfast I'm not your traditional toast-or-cereal kinda gal. In fact, I can't remember the last time I had cereal, and I intend to keep it that way. The last breakfast-themed-post was something to eat when you're on your way out the door. This one is for those weekend mornings where after sleeping in, breakfast turns inevitably into lunch. The mushroom recipe I stole from my sister many years ago, and have been enjoying ever since. Couscous is a much loved staple in my house, stemming in part from my aversion to toast. The poached eggs - well. You may have your own method of poaching eggs, if so, I encourage you to go for it. But I have tried for years to get that perfect poached egg without any luck. I've tried swirling the water, different kinds of vinegar, everything. And then I discovered cheating...

Marisa's Mustardy Mushrooms, and Easy Poached Eggs

What You Will Need:

  • One (or two) fresh free range egg(s)
  • 8-10 button mushrooms
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp sour cream
  • A dash worcester sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Couscous (or bread, if you so wish!)

What You Will Need to Do:

  • Heat about 1/2 tbsp of butter in a fry pan.
  • Slice mushrooms and add.
  • After a couple of minutes add mustard and mustard seeds. Stir to make sure all the mushrooms are coated.
  • Add the sour cream and dash of worcester sauce. Stir. You should have something like a sauce at this point. Let it bubble away on a low heat while you make your eggs.
  • You'll need to give it a stir everyone now and then. The sauce should cook down until it's sticky and creamy, and some of the mushrooms are browning.

How to Poach Eggs (the cheating way)

  • Put glad wrap (or cling film) over the top of a cup or mug, ensuring that it is concave enough to hold a large egg
  • Rub the plastic with a bit of oil
  • Crack the egg into the plastic, and gently bring the edges together so that the egg is sitting in a little pouch, ensuring there is a pocket of air at the top
  • Twist the top together, and peg it closed
  • Tie your little egg bundle to a spoon handle long enough to rest on top of a pot of boiling water, ensuring that the egg will be completely submerged (but not touching the bottom or sides of the pot. That will end badly, trust me)
  • Lower into boiling water, and let cook for 3 - 5 minutes, or until done to your liking
  • Unwrap and voila - perfectly cooked, smooth, round, restaurant quality poached eggs. No messing around with whirlpools or vinegar required!

A couple of minutes before the eggs are done, prepare couscous.

I never bother with the whole saucepan, bringing things to the boil deal; just add your cous cous to a measuring cup and double the volume by adding boiling water . (ie, for 1/4 cup of couscous, add enough water to bring it up to 1/2 cup.) Stir with a fork, and cover for a couple of minutes. It's done when the water has been fully absorbed.

Remember that butter you saved by not frying your eggs? Yeah, we're going to use it now. Stir about a tsp through the couscous. If you've never liked couscous, you probably were missing this crucial step. Butter makes everything nice.

Pile everything on a plate, poached egg on top, and go to town, my friends.

It may seem a bit involved for breakfast, but if you know what you're doing, this recipe can easily be made in under 10 minutes. And it's worth it - trust me.

The Best Birthday Cake

About two weeks ago my little brother celebrated his first birthday, and as such I had the pleasure of heading home to Canberra to attend his very first birthday party.  The party was held on a lovely Saturday afternoon, there were balloons, presents, lollies for all, and glasses of champagne on offer for the older guests too. The younger attendees enjoyed a few giddy hours playing in the backyard with a bubble machine, while the grown ups enjoyed a very civilised afternoon tea and a relaxing drink in the sun. Birthday Boy had a fantastic day (despite being completely unaware that all of the excitement was in his honour) and I spent the day in awe of my talented little brother's new and exciting abilities. He stands up all on his own now, babbles away in a most conversational manner, and to my sheer amazement offers to share his food! Bless his little heart.

The event was a great success, in part due to my Stepmum's seemingly innate skill for entertaining, and in part due to the inaugural First Birthday Cake, prepared by my Dad. Dad is a fantastic cook, and his roast dinners, freshly caught fish, pastas and delicious deserts have fostered my love of food for as long as I can remember. Birthday Boy's cake was up to his usual standard (and absolutely huge - the photos don't do it justice!) and I'm going to share the recipe with you here. It is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe that I *think* can be found in his first book, The Naked Chef. I haven't been able to find it online so I reproduce it for you here:

What you will need:
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g butter
  • 200g flour
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
For the filling:
  • 200ml whipped cream
  • Fruit jam or fresh berries if desired
What you will need to do:

1. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, flour, baking powder and cocoa and beat with an electric mixer until the batter is smooth. Finally, stir through the slivered almonds.
2. Divide the mixture evenly across two 20cm spring form cake tins and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
3. Remove the cakes from oven, allow to cool completely before removing them from cake tins. Cover one cake with whipped cream and any jam or fruits that you would like to include, then carefully place the second cake on top of the first. Refrigerate the lot for at least half an hour before icing.

Apparently the original Jamie recipe calls for a runny chocolate drizzle icing. Given that many of the attendees at this particular party were under the age of three and likely to make a mess, Dad opted for a creamy dark chocolate icing that didn't so much drizzle as meld to the cake like delicious chocolate cement. I could wax lyrical about how marvellous the cake tasted, but I think the demolition-style 'after' shot speaks for itself...

Children's birthday parties always stir in me a strange sense of melancholy. A nostalgia for barely remembered parties of the past perhaps, or maybe I'm just so hopelessly emotional that any sort of happy family moment makes me feel a little weepy. Which leads me to my musical segue for this post. Listen to these girls, they are sisters - sixteen and eighteen years old - and they are divine. Melancholy, naive, and with adorable Jens Lekman-esque accents that seem somehow at odds with their startlingly strong voices. This is the second post in a row where I've featured them -I'm ever so slightly besotted, and I think everyone should rush out and buy their new EP: Drunken Trees. First Aid Kit have stolen my heart.

Punky's Choc Chip Cookies

My favourite food as a child was the humble chocolate chip cookie. Give me a pile of cookies and a big ole glass of milk and I was the world's happiest camper. Although we all know by now cookies are a "sometimes food" it's not something I ever intend to grow out of. My treat for you today is my recipe for double chocolate and macadamia cookies. They're chunky, chewy, fat and full of chocolate, my requisites for the perfect cookie.

Double Chocolate and Macadamia Cookies

What You Will Need

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 melted butter
  • 1 egg and one egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 tbs vanilla essence
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate bits
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate bits
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, halved or quartered

What You Will Need to Do

  • Mix sugar and butter with electric beaters
  • And egg, egg yolk and vanilla, and blend until light and creamy
  • Sift in flour and baking soda, combine
  • Stir in chocolate chips and nuts
  • Eat some of the dough. You know you want to. Just a little. A teaspoon, maybe. Or two.
  • Time to shape your cookies. I use a loaded tablespoon per cookie. Roll dough between your hands until you have a little cookie ball and set on a tray lined with baking paper.
  • Compress each cookie softly with the heel of your hand, just so it's a bit less spherical.
  • Place in an oven preheated to 170 degrees C and bake for roughly 15 minutes, or until golden at the edges.

For me, these cookies always come with a big heap of nostalgia. In honour of this, and the fact that fact that these fine fellows are touring the country, I thought I would post some of my favourite childhood music, Simon and Garfunkel. These following tracks are childish in the very best way.

Check the tour dates here.

Oranges & Lemons

It seems that winter has arrived early this year. So early, and with such unforgiving speed, that at our house we simply weren't prepared for the onset of the cold. My house is a darling little terrace, built in 1888. It's quaint, it's charming, I'm in love with the plaster fixtures and high ceilings, but the fireplaces are strictly decorative, and the place is about as well insulated as a particularly flimsy shoebox. I've been looking for every excuse to have our oven pumping these last few weeks, and these cakes are two great reasons to turn the gas on. Two delicious, citrusy offerings that put me in mind of the sunny autumn days we're apparently not going to see this year. Put on your warmest woollen socks, and enjoy these cakes with a piping hot cup of tea.

Lemon Syrup Cake

This recipe comes to me courtesy of The Boy and his Mum. It was originally written down by The Boy's Great Great Grandmother, making him the fifth generation of his family to have prepared and enjoyed it. It is seriously delicious, and if you have a Boy around the house who is as big an eater as mine is, I'd suggest making double quantities.

What you will need:
  • 125g butter
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup self raising flour
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon zest
For the syrup:
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
What you will need to do:

1. Heat your oven to 180 degrees, grease a loaf tin and line the bottom with baking paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture appears light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beat the mixture well after each addition.
3. Sift the flours and salt and add in a little at a time. For each addition of flour mix in a little of the milk too.
4. Once all the flours and milk are mixed through, add lemon rind to what is now your cake batter and give the lot one last stir.
5. Pour the batter into your greased loaf tin and bake for 40-45 minutes

Adding the syrup:

1. While the cake is cooking, combine 1/3 cup of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of caster sugar, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
2. When cake is cooked and still hot from the oven, pour over the lemon mixture and leave to stand until the cake has absorbed it all. Mmm, delicious.

Flourless Orange Cake

This recipe is quite time consuming, but entirely worthwhile. In my opinion Oranges + Cake = Best Thing Ever, and this cake in particular is really orangey. It's dense and moist without being too sweet. Everything a good cake should be. Adapted from the Claudia Roden Middle Eastern Cookbook.

What you will need:
  • 2 large oranges
  • 6 eggs
  • 250 grams almond meal
  • 250 grams of caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
What you will need to do:

1. Place oranges in a pot and cover with water, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for two hours.
2. Remove oranges from water, chop into chunks and remove any pips. Using a food processor, blend the orange chunks until smooth. Then set aside to cool completely.
3. Preheat your oven to 190 degrees, and grease a 24cm spring form cake tin.
4. Beat the eggs together and add to the orange mixture, blend until combined.
5. Add in almond meal, sugar and baking powder and stir until all ingredients are wet. Pour the mixture into cake tin and bake for one hour.

Serve this cake with just a little bit of cream poured over the top. It is delicious warm as well as cold, in this cooler weather I warm mine in the microwave a little before digging in.

These two cakes are delicious, they make for perfect afternoon tea. Fresh and fruity, and a great way to enliven the kitchen when you're cooped up inside, hiding away from the dismal winter weather. The second cake in particular does take quite a while to prepare, but the boiling oranges filled my kitchen with a lovely sweet smell, and while my cake baked I listened to these sweet young things, their Fleet Foxes cover warms my heart. Play it on repeat for a little while, they're magic.

Music to Keep You Warm - Firekites and Seagull

We seem to have missed autumn this year. As soon as the leaves started to turn the cold, cold weather set in, more winter than autumn for my money. Thick fog in the morning, frost on the windshield. Bitter winds that cut right through you and tell you somewhere, not far away, it's snowing. When I was a kid my brother and I would fill a frisbee with water and leave it, upturned, on the grass outside. In the morning we would have a perfect disc of ice, with a couple of perfectly preserved insects in it if we were lucky. I'm pretty sure it's ice-frisbee time of year already.

There are upsides, of course. Coloured stockings. A renewed interest in knitting. Soup, oh, so much soup. And a certain kind of music that lends itself to stillness. Music to listen to huddled up on the bus, or snuggled down under the doona. I imagine if I were walking through the cold city, looking pensive, perhaps warming my hands at a convenient barrel fire, then the following two albums would be my soundtrack.

Seagull - Goodbye Weather

Seagull is a lovely Australian band. Seagull is the project of bright young thing, Chris Bolton, and his friends. Their debut long player Goodbye Weather promises, according to the band's most excellently written press release, "tragical romanticism" "universal melancholy" and "distorted folk apocalypses". Now, I'm not sure I'd enjoy a folk apocalypse, but I do enjoy Seagull.
Simple, sparse, melodic. Minimalist lyrics, deceptively complex arrangements, and a kind of fondness for feelin' blue.
I think Seagull is a good band to have in your headphones when you've missed the bus and have to walk to the city in the cold. Push your hands into your pockets and enjoy the grey sky.

Seagull - Half Sleep
Seagull - Joy
Seagull - Label page
Seagull - Myspace

Firekites - The Bowery

Newcastlians and all 'round nice people Firekites have been making a scene with their debut album The Bowery. But the scene is a rather nice one, with a fireplace, drawn tea, and maybe someone teaching you how to crochet. (I really would like someone to teach me to crochet.)
The Bowery is careful and considered, sweet without being twee and subtle without becoming background music. There is a depth to the melodies, and an intricacy behind the pleasing vocals and violin motifs. Firekites are nice music to have on the stereo of a winter evening when dishing up lovely big bowls of pumpkin soup to friends and loved ones. And the film clip for Autumn Story is just beautiful.