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Japanese Style Christmas Cake

Japanese roll cakes have a  lovely soft texture and like most Japanese cakes are not overtly sweet. I have used the roll cake recipe to make a two colour layer cake filled and topped with fresh berries and with a matcha flavoured cream to give a little nod to Japan and a decidedly Christmas look. If the green tea flavour is not to your taste then fold some pureed and sieved raspberries through the cream instead or just use plain whipped cream. The good thing about Japanese roll cake is it improves after a day or two in the fridge, so it is part of the Christmas menu that can comfortably be made in advance. Just add fresh berries to the top on Christmas day.

Cake Layers

The cake layers are baked in a 20 x 30 cm Swiss roll baking tray for 9 minutes, so each layer is reasonably quick to make. Choose what colours you want to make the layers and prepare accordingly. I have made two matcha and one raspberry cake.

Matcha cake

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 tbs matcha
  • 4 tbs hot water
  • 30 g cake flour*
  • 60 g sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Raspberry Cake: as above but substitute the hot water and matcha with 4 tbs sieved, puréed raspberries and a couple of drops red food dye.

Line 20x 30 cm tray with baking paper.

Preheat oven to 200°C fan forced.

Beat egg whites with half the sugar until stiff, beat in cream of tartar.

Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until pale and thickened. Mix the matcha with the hot water and stir to dissolve. Add to the egg yolks and mix well.

Add the sifted flour and then gently fold in the beaten egg whites.

Pour into the prepared tray and drop the filled tray once onto the kitchen bench to remove any large bubbles. Bake for 9 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Assembly

600 ml thickened cream

Approx. 6 punnets of berries (strawberries, blue berries, raspberries and red currents). You will need double the amount of raspberries if using raspberries to flavour the whipped cream instead of matcha.

Whip the cream and remove one third to colour with either matcha dissolved in water or 1/2 cup of sieved raspberry puree. Fill the sponge layers with cream and a little fruit and cover the top with the matcha or raspberry whipped cream and refrigerate. Before serving pile the top generously with berries. Decorate with small mint leaves.

*To Make Cake Flour: remove 2 tablespoons from I cup plain flour and replace with 2 tablespoons cornflour. Sift.

Christmas layer cake



Fluffy Slippers

During lockdown fluffy slippers or slippers of some sort have been de rigueur as have attempts at baking sourdough bread. Post lockdown we may not have as much time for the rigors of maintaining our sourdough starters, so the less demanding ciabatta might be a way to keep the smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the kitchen.  Ciabatta (meaning slipper in Italian) is a delightfully fluffy slipper of a loaf; it’s full of air bubbles and the quite moist dough is tipped out from the proving bowl onto a baking tray, divided with a pastry scraper into two and coaxed into rough oval shoe-shapes with plenty of wriggle room. Maintaining the air bubbles is essential, so little handling or kneading is required, the moistness helping to develop the gluten. Ciabatta is a lovely bread for sandwiches, providing plenty of surface area for fillings, including barbecued or slow roasted meats. The next day ciabatta is great toasted.

Ciabatta

Starter

  • 150 g bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp freeze-dried yeast
  • 120 ml water
  • 3 tbs milk

Mix the yeast with the water and milk in a large ceramic bowl. Add the flour and mix well with a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap with a small air hole or use a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place to start the yeast growing. Leave overnight at room temperature.

The bread dough

  • 350 g bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250 ml water
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp yeast
  • flour for dusting

Add the salt into the flour and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon. Mix the liquids with the yeast and add to the starter mix which should be full of bubbles and well risen. Mix together and then stir in the flour. Stir for a few minutes as a rudimentary kneading process, cover the bowl and place in a warm position for three hours. The dough should rise to the top of the bowl. Cover a baking sheet with baking paper. Dust the risen dough well with flour and using a spatula scrape it out onto the sheet. Using a pastry scraper divide the dough into two and roughly shape into ovals by tucking the dough around the sides without depressing the dough and losing the air bubbles. Alternatively, divide the dough into four or six smaller slippers. Cover and leave for prove for 15 minutes and meanwhile preheat the oven to 220°C. Bake the loaves for 20-25 minutes.

Ciabatta loaves proving before baking.



$10 Family Meals

Recently I have been costing  family meals for under $10 and confirmed what has often been said, that fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive for people with little disposable income. It really is not easy making a meal using fresh vegetables for two adults and two or three children for under $10. A bunch of silverbeet would blow half the meal budget and you can forget about salads, fresh herbs and other fancy garnishes like feta cheese, a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts or even crushed peanuts on a curry. It seems eating cheaply has always been a carb-heavy affair. In Australia, even buying protein, like chicken pieces and eggs, is relatively cheap compared with fresh fruit and vegetables. It seems that for $10 you either have meat or vegetables, not both. There are a couple of ways of adding vegetables on a tight budget; being strategic, such as buying on closing time at fresh produce markets and aiming for frozen vegetables, particularly peas and spinach which are good products and quite cheap. The other solution is to grow your own vegetables but a vegetable garden not only requires an initial outlay but knowledge and time to maintain in a cost effective way. However, at the very least a bed of easy to grow parsley can add much needed nutrients to a carb-laden meal. I am pretty sure that, apart from esthetic considerations, my mother put chopped parsley on just about everything to keep us healthy. 

While we are told to increase our vegetable intake over meat and carbohydrate for a healthy diet it remains something easier said than done for a lot of people. I’ve costed three examples of economical meals based on supermarket prices. While I have resorted to using frozen vegetables in some meals, a fresh head of cauliflower is quite economical at around $4 and can feed a family when made into fritters, a curry korma or a pasta bake. Spaghetti and meatballs, made my preferred way, with Italian pork sausage rather than mincemeat, happily turned out to be the cheaper option. I’m just very lucky I can afford a green salad to have with it. Even if your food budget allows for a lot more latitude it is a sobering exercise to cost every ingredient of some of your meals.

Spaghetti with Meatballs

To keep the cost below $10 I have suggested bought bread crumbs which are very cheap but you can use crumbs made from stale bread you have at hand. Coating the meatballs with flour not only gives it a nice crust but thickens the sauce. The meatballs can also be coated with breadcrumbs. I have suggested a tin of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste as an economical option to get two ingredients at one hit but a plain can of tomatoes is fine.

  • 2 Italian style pork sausages or chipolatas (approx. 230g) $4.50
  • 1 can Ardmona Rich & Thick diced tomatoes with tomato paste $1.80
  • 60 g bread crumbs $0.14 ($1.69/750g bag)
  • 50 ml milk $0.06 ($1.29/L)
  • 100 g plain flour $0.10 ($1/kg)
  • pinch fennel seeds, optional $0.14 ($1.46/100 g)
  • 100 ml olive oil $0.58 (Spanish $5.80/L)
  • Less than 500 g durum wheat pasta $1 (supermarket brand) (about 85 g per adult)
  • 100 g grated Parmesan cheese $1.60 (packet grated cheese)

Total $9.92

Soak the bread crumbs in milk until soft. Drain off any excess milk. Remove the sausages from the casing and add to the breadcrumbs with the crushed fennel seeds. Knead together well and form into small balls (as a rule of thumb, about the size of the first joint of your thumb). Roll the balls in flour and shallow fry in olive oil, rotating each ball with two forks until golden brown. Take the frying pan off the heat for a minute to prevent any splatter when you add the can of crushed tomatoes to the pan. Cook the meatballs and sauce gently for about 15-20 minutes. The flour on the meatballs should thicken the sauce nicely. Boil water in a large pot, salt it well and cook the pasta al dente. Drain the pasta and add it directly to the frypan with the meatballs, stirring to coat the pasta with the sauce. Plate up and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Rice Bowl with Edamame and Mushrooms

Buying crushed ginger in a jar is much cheaper then buying fresh ginger. Edamame or soy beans are a nutritious and high protein vegetable and available frozen in their pods.

  • 2 onions 250 g $0.62 ($2.50/kg)
  • 20 g crushed ginger $0.24 ($2.80/230g jar)
  • 50 ml vegetable oil $0.40 ($3/750 ml)
  • 500 g button mushrooms $4.00
  • 100 ml soy sauce $0.57 ($2.85/500 ml)
  • 450 g frozen edamame $2.90
  • 400 g rice $0.56 or $1.60 (supermarket brand long grain $1.40/kg or Hinata short grain rice $4/kg)

Total $8.89 or $9.93

Cook the rice in a rice cooker or on the stove by the absorption method. Meanwhile cook the vegetables. Boil the edamame for about 5 minutes in a pot of water. Drain and peel the soy beans, discarding the shells. Slice the onions and saute in a frypan with the crushed ginger until golden. Slice and add the mushrooms to pan and cook until soft. Add the soy sauce, stir and reduce the liquid. Add the cooked edamame and stir briefly. Put cooked rice in the rice bowls and top with the vegetables. Extras-top with toasted sesame seeds.

Orzotto with Spinach and Peas

Orzotto is like a risotto but made with pearl barley instead of arborio rice. It is very nutritious, sustaining and has a lower glycemic index than white rice.

  • 2 onions 250 g $0.62 ($2.50/kg)
  • 100 ml olive oil $0.58 (50 ml for finishing)
  • 400 g pearl barley $1.04 ($2.60/ kg)
  • Approx 200 g pork sausages $4.70 ($23.63/ kg)
  • 1 clove garlic $0.12  ($1.25/head)
  • 250 g packet frozen spinach $0.95
  • 300 g frozen peas $0.60 ($2/kg)

Total $8.61

Chop the onions and saute in large saucepan with a little olive oil until translucent. Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble into the saucepan and stir until it has lost it raw colour. Finely chop the garlic and add to the pot along with the pearl barely. Stir to coat with the oil and then add water or vegetable stock to cover. Cook until tender, approximately 25-30 minutes, adding more water if needed. Add the peas and spinach and cook for a further five minutes. Add a few slugs of olive oil and stir well to create a creamy emulsion and serve.




Creative Zoom Dinners

While some work-from-home people that spend all day in meetings would recoil at the idea of dinner zooms, for others it can be a creative way of maintaining social connection. The mental focus of zooms do make them exhausting but if you can create a sense of excitement that comes from the planning as well as the zoom dinner itself then it can be rewarding. I always thought a large part of the travelling experience was the research done beforehand, whether it be a meticulously planned itinerary, cultural research or language classes. Over our protracted Melbourne lockdowns I’ve been regularly zooming with family and friends over themed dinners. These have included explorations of the cuisine of Malaysia, Vietnam, Croatia, Peru and Scotland just to name a few. We have also dabbled with master classes in risotto, gnocchi, pizza, dumpling and bread making as well as more artistic themes of cooking with flowers, royal foods and Michelin starred dishes. To keep us well grounded in reality we also worked on producing and costing a family meal for six for under $10. Food in Art was one recent creative zoom dinner theme which intrigued me and lead me to study the still life paintings of the Dutch Golden Age. I settled on the works of Pieter Claesz (1597-1660) who liked to use Römer glass goblets and a pie of some sort in many of his works.

My partner and I decided on a pie with a mix of the sweet and the savoury, much loved of the times; a duck and prune pie with dried mandarin, star anise, cinnamon and black pepper. The week before I practiced the set up for the photo shoot; a darkish room with only natural light from a small window and the requisite drapery and my attempt at the translucence of a peeled lemon. Come the time of the zoom and with the duck pie baked I just had to place it in situ.

Duck and Prune Pie

For four as a main meal.

2 duck Marylands

Poaching liquid

  • 250 ml stock (veal, beef or duck)
  • 2 small pieces of mace
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp juniper berries
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 strip dried mandarin peel
  • handful of prunes, roughly chopped

Pie Filling

  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • sprig of thyme
  • salt
  • poached and deboned duck meat
  • prunes
  • strained poaching stock
  • a handful of chestnuts
  • 1 tbs cornflour
  • black pepper, to taste

Remove skins and poach duck in above ingredients gently until tender. Cool. Strain and retain the stock, prunes and duck. Remove meat from bones. 

Saute the mirepoix of onion, carrot, celery and four cloves garlic. Add leaves of a sprig of thyme. Saute with a pinch of salt until soft. Add the duck meat, prunes and strained stock. Add a handful of chestnuts. Dissolve the cornflour in a little water and add to the meat mix. Cook gently until thickened. Adjust seasoning. Cool and refrigerate until ready to assemble pie.

Pastry

Pate Brisé

  • 320 g plain flour
  • 240 g unsalted butter
  • 1 whole egg with water to approx. 80 ml
  • pinch salt

Roll out pastry for the base and a lid and line a 22 cm diameter pie tin. Refrigerate for 15 minutes and then fill and bake. Bake at 180°C for 25 minutes.

When slightly cooled, dust with icing sugar




The Second Life Of Bread

My Austrian mother would always save the end of loaves, slice them thinly, leave them to dry out in a low oven and then grind them into breadcrumbs. Making schnitzel with home made breadcrumbs was second nature, just the done thing. Recipes that use up stale bread are a hallmark of good kitchen economics, whether in the home kitchen or a commercial one. Of all the food waste we generate ($42 worth a week per Victorian household) bread is probably the easiest one to give a second life to. Dried breadcrumbs keep a long time stored in an airtight container, so it is a no brainer to stop bread going to landfill. Fresh crumbs can be stored in the freezer and used for stuffing a roast chicken or be mixed with mince when making meatballs. Making bread crumbs was probably my earliest kitchen experience, along with coating the schnitzels in flour, egg and those lovely toasted crumbs. One of my favourite childhood dishes was dumplings made with bread (semmel knödel). These tasty dumplings could be a stand alone dish with a creamy mushroom sauce or be served as an accompaniment to stews. In fact they could get a third life sliced, pan fried and then stirred through with a beaten egg for brunch the next day. A lot of food cultures give bread a second life, think of fattouche (pita bread) salad, zuppa pomodoro (Italian bread soup), bread, cabbage and fontina cheese soup from the Italian/French Alps and bread and butter pudding. Next time you put together a cheese board or put out dips why not serve thin toasts of left over baguette or sourdough instead of bought crackers. It’s a simple and spontaneous way to give bread a second life.
These Austrian bread dumplings are made by toasting the cubed bread in a little olive oil until lightly golden before soaking in milk. This helps to keep the dumpling as an aggregate of bread cubes, stopping them from becoming doughy and heavy. If you cut through a cooked dumpling you should see quite a bit of the open texture of the bread.

The bread dumplings can be made as balls or formed into a long fat sausage, wrapped up in a serviette or muslin cloth, poached in boiling water and then cut into thick slices. The basic ingredients are stale white bread, milk, egg, chopped onion, parsley and a little flour with various optional additions like chopped cooked spinach or finely diced bacon.

Bread Dumplings

for 4 people as a side

  • 3 thick slices of white bread, crusts removed
  • olive oil
  • milk
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg, broken up with a fork
  • 1-2 tbs plain flour

Cut the bread up into 1 cm cubes. Heat a frypan with a little oil and toast the cubed bread, tossing it around until it is lightly golden in colour. Place the cubes in a large bowl and add enough milk to moisten them and leave for 15 minutes. Stir after 5 minutes to ensure all the cubed bread gets wet. Wash and wilt the spinach if using. Drain and when cool, squeeze out the water and chop finely. Alternately finely chop the parsley. Sauté the onion. Squeeze out the bread and discard the milk. Add the onions, spinach or parsley, a grating of nutmeg and the egg. Mix well, adding a little flour to help bind it. Don’t be too heavy handed as you want to keep the dumpling together but still light in texture. Wet your hands and roll the mix into balls slightly smaller than a tennis ball or form a large fat sausage, wrap in a cloth and tie the ends with kitchen string. Rest the dumplings for 20-30 minutes and meanwhile bring a large pot of water to the boil. To test the consistency of the mix it is a good idea to just cook one to see if it holds together in the water. Add dumplings to the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer and poach for 10 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon. Tie the cloth dumpling to a long wooden spoon to suspend it over the pot and simmer the dumpling sausage for 30 minutes.  Serve with a mushroom cream sauce or melted butter, toasted breadcrumbs and a grating of cheese. This is a delicious and very economical vegetarian meal. Paired with a meaty stew with plenty of gravy, the dumplings really have equal billing.

bread soaking in milk
ready for wrapping in cloth
poaching cloth dumpling
cooked and ready to slice
spinach bread dumpling balls with mushroom sauce