Sunday 26 August 2007

zucchini & pistachio spice cake w lime frosting

Vicky and Roberto came over for dinner, before Roberto headed to Osaka to cover the World Athletics’ Championships, and I cooked three dishes that I’d never made before. I know it’s risky to cook new dishes for an audience, but the only time I get to cook with meat is when Jonas is working and friends come over.

We had a fun time and Roberto brought over his new camera and fancy lens to try out some foodie photos. We had fun taking snap shots of each dish as we prepared it, although I'm sure Vicky was annoyed that we took so long before we could eat.

I made a salad of mixed lettuce, chorizo and bocconccini and then olive crusted veal cutlets, which were soooooooo good. For dessert I made this weird and wonderful Zucchini & Pistachio Spice Cake.

I subscribe to Delicious Magazine and so I’ve been eyeing this recipe for some time now. When I first saw it I was a bit unsure of how zucchini would taste in a cake but the entire concept excited me as a new version of the old carrot and walnut cake. I just had to try it out.

The verdict:
The cake has a light, spicy flavour to it and since the zucchini adds no flavour at all, it must be there to provide moisture and flecks of verdant colour.

I ground the pistachio nuts in my coffee grinder, which gave me both nut chunks for texture as well as a fine meal that gave the cake a lovely pale green colour.

Tiny green threads of lime zest are visible in the fluffy icing and the lime juice just cuts right through the richness of the cream cheese.

I highly recommend this cake. The flavour is great and the concept has a bit of a wow factor. I will definitely make it again.

Zucchini & Pistachio Spice Cake w Lime Frosting

Recipe from Delicious Magazine (February 2007). Serves 10-12.


¾ cup (185ml) sunflower oil
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup (75g) unsalted pistachios, finely chopped
½ cup (60g) almond meal
2 cups grated zucchini (approx. 3 medium sized)
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground mixed spice
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
1½ cups (225g) self-raising flour
½ cup (75g) plain flour
Lime frosting
180 g unsalted butter, softened
1¼ cups (200 g) icing sugar, sifted
250 g cream cheese, softened, chopped
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
¼ cup (35 g) slivered unsalted pistachios to decorate

1. Preheat oven to 170°C.
2. Grease a 22 cm spring-form pan and line base and sides with baking paper.
3. Using an electric mixer beat the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla until thick.
4. Stir in nuts, meal, zucchini and spices.
5. Sift over soda and flours, and stir to combine.
6. Pour into pan and bake for 70 min or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean.
7. Cool in pan for 20 min, then turn onto a wire rack and cool completely.
8. For frosting, use electric beaters to beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
9. Gradually add cheese, beating well between additions.
10. Add zest and beat until smooth
11. Using a bread knife, slice the cake into two rounds and set aside top.
12. Spread a third of the frosting over the bottom half, replace the top and spread cake with remaining frosting.
13. Decorate with slivered pistachios.
Note: I halved the butter content in the icing. It just seemed like way too much butter.

I think it’s so interesting to see how the English language diverges in the various countries around the world. You can learn so much about the history of an object by the etymology of a word.

For instance, in the US and Australia it was clearly the Italians (zucchini) that introduced this squash into our diets, whereas in the Brits have the French (courgette) to thank.

This is quite funny because all squash actually had their origins in the Americas, which meant squash was transported to Europe, mutated into the green form we know today (in northern Italy) and then transported back to the USA by Italian migrants. Full circle.

In Italian, zucchini means “little zucche” and a zucca is a pumpkin or squash. This works the same in French as courgette means “little courge” and a courge is a squash.

Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) are small so-called ‘summer’ squash which can be yellow, dark green or light green. They look similar to cucumbers, although some can be bottle shaped and are particularly good for stuffing (the Lebanese do this wonderfully).

Even though we all eat zucchini as a veggie, it’s technically an immature fruit. Apparently, the edible flowers can be both male and female, but it’s the female flowers that appear on the end of baby zucchini, whereas the male flowers grow from the stem.

Zucchini can actually be eaten raw and are lovely grated thin in cold Thai-style salads in lieu of green mango or green papaya.

They’re good for us too, being low in calories and high in folate, potassium, vitamin A and manganese, which boosts your metabolism and helps to burn fat.

The Weekend Herb Blogging host for this week is Scott from the Real Epicurean, an environmentally friendly food blog. Visit Scott for the recap.



Wednesday 22 August 2007

cinnamon twists

Imagine you're hard at work, your fingers are cold from too much typing and your feet have been stationery so you developed pins and needles. Imagine you’re tired and sleepy but you have to get the report done for tomorrow.

Then imagine that the second you hit save, and congratulate yourself for finishing your work, you hear your husband calling from the kitchen to tell you that he’s made you an evening snack.


I came out from the study to discover this yummy little cinnamon twists and a big cup of Mexican-style hot chocolate waiting for me.

He’d just whipped it all up from ingredients we had on hand!

Cinnamon Twists
Jonas’ very own recipe. Makes 6-8.
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, softened
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Milk, for wash
1. Preheat oven to temperature recommended by pastry manufacturer.
2. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a bowl then sprinkle over pastry.
3. Slice the pastry sheet so that you cut rough pie slice shapes.
4. Roll the wide ends in so that the twist finishes in a point that can be folded decoratively on top.
5. Brush with milk to encourage a glossy finish.
6. Bake in the oven until puffy and slightly browned (around 15-20 minutes). Eat while still warm.
Note: you could do any number of different flavours: nutella, jam, fruit, cheese, tomato and garlic – the possibilities are endless.

What a dreamy hubby :)


Sunday 19 August 2007

bresaola e rucola

One of many Italian salumi, bresaola originated in Lombardy, on the border between Italy and Switzerland.

It is made by taking a beef eye of round (round steak section from a beef hind quarter) and then salting it and leaving it to air-dry for a few months. Sounds a bit risky, but I’m sure the cold mountain air meant there wasn’t much danger.

Bresaola with rocket is one of my favourite snacks and is also the perfect starter for a dinner party since it doesn't involve cooking. You can mix the dressing before hand then just plate it when you want to eat.

Bresaola also a good alternative to prosciutto for those who don’t eat pork.

When I lived in Rome, Paola would serve this at least once a week and I became an absolute addict. The saltiness of the bresaola and parmigiano combined with the acidity of the lemon juice and the nuttiness of the rocket: magic! Each night I would increase my levels of cheese and lemon juice as I grew immune to the effects of this intoxicating drug.

When we relocated to New York we still ate bresaola but it wasn’t as good as the Italian versions. It seemed drier and a lot of the delis sold square bresaola rather than round, leading me to believe it was processed more.

In Australia, where quarantine laws wouldn’t allow imported cured meats until just recently, I stumbled across a local brand that was round, tender and almost as good as the Italian versions. Almost.

When you buy bresaola ensure they slice it paper thin and that they put grease proof paper between every layer, otherwise it all gets stuck together and tears. Also, make sure you eat bresaola a day or two after buying it (preferably on the day) as it dries out fast and should be eaten moist.

Bresaola e Rucola
Common Italian way to eat bresaola. Serves 1 as starter.

10 slices of bresaola
1 cup loosely packed baby rocket leaves, washed
2 tablespoons parmigiano, freshly grated
1 tablespoon lemon juice (2T if you’re a sour fiend like me)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Lay your bresaola on a plate, slightly overlapping
2. In a bowl, dress the rocket with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt & pepper
3. Sprinkle parmigiano over bresaola
4. Arrange rocket over bresaola
5. Drizzle any remaining dressing over the bresaola and serve, preferably with a lemon wedge

Rocket is excellent combined with bresaola but it also works well with sfilacci di cavallo, a dish from the Veneto region consisting of cured horse meat shredded and served over rocket in much the same way. I tried it when I was in Verona and it was wonderful.

Rocket (Eruca vesicaria) is also known as arugula, garden rocket, rocket salad, rugola, rucola, roquette and rughetta. It has a peppery flavour so it’s not surprising that it’s a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae: Cruciferae).

Rich in iron and vitamin C, rocket has only 4 calories per cup. It's used as a salad leaf or to flavour oils, is wilted onto pizzas, blended in pestos and cooked with meats, as it is in one of my favourite dinners: strachetti con rughetta (thinly sliced pieces of beef cooked with wilted rocket and parmigiano).

Rocket is well known in the Mediterranean, especially in Italy where it has been used since Ancient Rome and was considered an aphrodisiac that could increase semen levels.

It was usually collected from the wild and it wasn’t until as late as the 1990s that large scale cultivation was undertaken. Now it is grown worldwide, although the Italian region of Veneto is still a mass producer.

Apart from Italy, there are many Biblical references to rocket, where it was known in the Bible as oroth and in the Talmud as gargir. It seemed to be found wild in the Jordan Valley where Bedouins grew it in pots.

Pliny, physician and botanist from the 1st century, claimed that tea made from rocket seeds could get rid of intestinal worms and ancient Jews used it to treat eye infections.

The Medieval physician, Maimonides, believed rocket seeds increased saliva levels while his counterpart, Asaph Haropheh, used rocket to treat liver and stomach problems, kidney stones and to increase milk levels in new mothers.

Wild rocket was also used as a traditional medicine in Portugal for digestive ailments and as a cough syrup, diuretic, tonic, stimulant, laxative and anti-inflammatory. It also, of all things, was used to treat greasy scalps and hair loss.

In Turkey, rocket is served as a side salad with pide (Turkish pizza) or as a snack to accompany raki (a fiery alcohol).

This week Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted by Zorra from Kochtopf so head on over to Swiss Food Goddess in Spain for the full story.




Friday 17 August 2007

cacio e pepe

Cacio e Pepe is a delicious and simple recipe from Rome that comprises just three ingredients: pasta, pepper and pecorino romano (an Italian sheep's milk cheese).

I discovered this recipe on Orchidea’s food blog Viaggi & Sappori so this is both a Recipe Road Test and my first entry in Presto Pasta Night, a weekly event founded by Ruth from Once Upon A Feast.

Cacio e Pepe
Orchidea’s recipe.
2 ½ tablespoons Pecorino Romano, per person
½ teaspoon freshly milled black pepper, per person
Cooking water
1. Cook pasta al dente.
2. Grate Pecorino Romano and add black pepper.
3. When pasta is cooked, strain it and reserve some of the cooking water.
4. Quickly sprinkle pasta with Pecorino and pepper, adding hot cooking water to melt the cheese and form a creamy sauce.
Anna’s Variations: I increased the amounts of cheese, because that’s what I always do.

Jonas and I both really enjoy this recipe. It’s fast to make and even better it’s something you can eat when you get home from work and discover there’s nothing in the fridge.


Wednesday 15 August 2007

dining out in bali

I thought I'd share some of the delicious meals that Jonas and I enjoyed during our Balinese honeymoon.

Sit back and salivate . . .

Nasi Campur
This effectively translates to “mixed rice” and is an Indonesian (and Malaysian) institution. Rice is topped with a variety of curries, sambals and salads. This particular version had a boiled egg that had been deep fried then topped with chilli sauce; chicken skewers; tempeh, tofu stuffed with meat and vegetables then battered and fried; stir-fried vegetables; fish curry; and beef rendang.

Ayam Goreng Kalasan
A sweet, fried chicken dish from Java. Flavoured with chilli, coconut juice, tomato, shallots, salam leaves, galangal & palm sugar. It was wonderful: one of the best things I ate in Bali.

Daluman (V)
I picked this drink up at Ubud markets. It’s made from natural chlorophyll jelly, coconut milk and some kind of pink goop. After tasting it I decided it needed more sugar, more coconut milk, more pink goop and less swamp muck. It also needed a lot less ants and dirt swimming in the pots it was made from. Not to mention that everyone used the same cups over and over and over and . . . you get the picture, I wasn’t too keen.

Tuna w Balinese Sauce
Tuna is by far the most popular fish in Bali and this dish was an interesting fusion of Balinese spices and European serving styles. The fish was peppered then lightly seared and served on boiled and salted new potatoes. Everything floated on a pool of thick, creamy sauce spiced with chilli, tumeric and ginger.

Mixed skewers of pork, chicken and beef are served smoking on hot coals. On a side plate came a large bowl of spicy peanut sauce, urab and rice.

Pelecing (V)
Kangkung (or water spinach) is steamed and then stir fried with garlic, mung beans and soy sauce. This vegetable side dish is warm and comforting and would be very easy to replicate.

Pisang Goreng (V)
Ripe bananas are battered, fried and served warm with fresh coconut and palm sugar syrup. Delish!

Vanilla & Brandy Martini
It’s worth showing this photo simply to illustrate how unimportant vanilla is in Balinese cuisine when they use a whole pod as a garnish. The locals don’t use it in their cooking at all and grow it purely for export. While one vanilla bean would fetch around AUD$5 in Sydney, we bought about 10 pods for 65c!!!

Soto Ayam
Ayam means chicken and soto means soup and Indonesia’s version is smooth and hearty. Chicken broth is filled with vermicelli noodles, slices of fresh tomato, chunks of boiled egg, crispy fried shallots (bawang goreng) and fresh herbs. The yellow hue in the broth gives away the presence of tumeric too.

Tempe Urab (V)
I covered urab in my cooking school post, but since this was one of the best things Jonas ate on the trip I thought it was worth showing the happy snap and mentioning again. It’s a salad that alternates the vegetables but always seems to include the same "seasoning" of shredded, roasted coconut and kaffir lime with sambal goreng (fried chilli sauce of shallots, chilli & garlic). This version had tempeh too.

Tempeh & Tofu Chips (V)
This is a fun snack of curry flavoured batter around pieces of tempeh and tofu which are then deep fried and served with a salsa or sambal.

Ikan Bakar
Grilled fish with sambals is the simple way of describing it, but basically the fish had been rubbed with a sweet, spicy marinade and grilled until sticky but still moist.

Lemongrass & Ginger Drink
Young lemongrass stalks, fresh ginger and black pepper are boiled into a concentrate then served with sugar and water as a refreshing drink.

Mie Goreng (V)
Another Indonesian staple of fried noodles. This, alongside nasi goreng, is the most common breakfast option. It came with a fried egg, very spicy sambals and fresh cucumber and tomato.

Otak Otak
These fish cakes are found throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and are made by turning fish into a paste, seasoning with spices and then wrapping the paste in banana leaves before grilling or steaming. These were made from tenggiri (Spanish mackerel) and came with a spicy sate dipping sauce.

Babi Bali
Boiled pork is smothered in a delicious, spicy sauce flavoured with tumeric and ginger. It’s served with rice and vegetables.

Bebek Betutu
Smoked duck is a Balinese specialty and is usually served only on special occasions. A paste is made of various ingredients (most importantly lemongrass, candlenuts, turmeric, kencur, and shrimp paste) and is spread all over the duck and inside the cavity. It’s then wrapped in banana leaves and roasted until moist. In this case it was served with pakis (fern shoots) and red rice.

Gado Gado (V)
This salad is probably one of Indonesia’s most famous dishes. Steamed or boiled vegetables are topped with a spicy peanut sauce as well as tofu, boiled eggs and tofu crackers. It’s warming, filling and incredibly tasty. A vegetarian delight!

Here are some of the restaurants, from our travels, worth recommending:

Café Jaya (Monkey Forest Rd)
Casa Luna (Jalan Raya)
The Waroeng (Monkey Forest Rd)

Hu’u (Jalan Pantai Kaya Aya)
Ku Dé Ta (Jalan Laksmana/Oberoi)
Kuni’s (Jalan Laksmana/Oberoi)
La Lucciola (Jalan Pantai Kaya Aya)
Trattoria (Jalan Laksmana/Oberoi)
Tuesday Pizza Club (Jalan Laksmana/Oberoi)
Warung Murah (Jalan Laksmana/Oberoi)


Sunday 12 August 2007

gochujang salmon w chilli & ginger bok choy

I must admit I have been very remiss and haven’t been blogging much of late. Work is very busy, I have been writing articles for a travel website called and Jonas has been home nights so we actually get to spend time together. I hardly want to be attached to the computer when I could be hanging out with him.

Nonetheless, I am going to make a concerted effort to blog at least two or three times a week again. Starting today with this bok choy WHB post.

You couldn’t ask for a more simpler recipe than stir fried bok choy. First you blanch it a little to soften it, then you fry it with oil, ginger and chilli. The End.

And it tastes marvellous.

Bok choy can be eaten stir-fried, blanched and steamed. You can add it to stir fries, noodle dishes, soups and you can use young leaves in salads. Tougher leaves can be pickled and since they are cool climate plants, usually grown in spring and autumn, they lend themselves to various types of preserving for winter months.

Bok choy has bright green leaves with paler, chunky, smooth surfaced and oval shaped stems. In fact its shape is a bit like a squat celery bunch.

In English speaking countries, bok choy also known as buk choy, pak choy, pak tsoi, Chinese chard, Chinese celery cabbage and Chinese white cabbage.

Chilli & Ginger Bok Choy
Jonas’ very own recipe. Serves 2.
1 bok choy
2 tablespoons diced bamboo shoots in chilli oil
1 teaspoon minced red chilli
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1. Blanch bok choy in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Pat dry.
2. Heat sesame oil in a wok.
3. Add garlic, chilli and ginger then stir until fragrant.
4. Add bok choy and stir until thick stem softens a little.
5. Add bamboo shoots and heat through. Remove from heat.

I ate the bok choy with steamed rice and salmon marinated in gochujang - a Korean chilli paste. I first discovered it on a shopping expedition in Chinatown and it’s turning out to have many uses.

Gochujang (고추장) is not too spicy and has quite a sweet flavour. Apparently it’s made from glutinous rice powder (or wheat or barley), soybeans, chilli powder, salt, sugar or honey and then fermented in the sun. It comes out a dark red colour and is quite sticky (at least the brand I use is). Wikipedia claims gochujang was invented in the 1500s, as soon as chilli made its way to Korea, and that there’s a similar paste used in Szechuan cooking too.

Gochujang Salmon
Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 2.
2 salmon fillets
1 tablespoon gochujang
1 teaspoon red miso paste
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Sesame oil for frying
1. Mix the gochujang with the miso paste, soy sauce and lemon juice then smothered over salmon. Refrigerate and leave for 1-2 hours.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add salmon and cook to your liking.

Weekend Herb Blogging is being hosted by the Panamanian gourmet, Melissa, from Cooking Diva. Be sure to click over to her blog to view the results of our international cooking frenzy.



Saturday 4 August 2007

hot silverbeet cheesecake

This is one of the most delicious recipes ever. I’m not exaggerating.

The concept is a bit strange, but if you consider it’s almost like a quiche it suddenly doesn’t seem that weird at all.

The recipe follows the basic sweet cheesecake idea, but uses fetta cheese and silverbeet to flavour it rather than fruit or chocolate. It’s also served hot rather than cold.

Usually I cook the cheesecake in a springform cake tin, but last time I baked the mixture in muffin trays to create individual serves. This was perfect for the occasion: a brunch buffet where we also served
khabeesa (Omani semolina porridge),
breakfast crumbles and
asparagus & gruyere tart

For this cheesecake recipe, I choose to use silverbeet (Swiss chard) since it’s quite strong in flavour and can compete with the cream cheese and feta, although spinach would be an obvious substitute.

As I said the outcome is similar to a quiche, but so much better because it takes on a rich, sour creaminess from the cream cheese.

After making this I have been inspired to try other variations and am coming up with a recipe for a hot dessert cheesecake too.

Silverbeet Cheesecake
Anna’s adaptation of a recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly ‘Great Vegetarian Food’. Makes about 16 small cakes or a large cake to feed 6 as a main.
1 cup (100g) finely crushed cheese biscuit crumbs
60g butter
600g silverbeet (Swiss chard)
1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
250g cream cheese
250g sour cream
250g feta
4 eggs
¼ cup grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese
1. Preheat oven to 160’C.
2. To make base, melt butter and mix well with biscuit crumbs. Press mixture firmly into a 20cm springform cake tin and refrigerate 30 minutes.
3. Steam silverbeet until limp. Squeeze out excess water. Chop coarsely.
4. Sauté onion and garlic in a frying pan until soft, being careful not to brown.
5. In a food processor, blend silverbeet, onion, garlic and feta until smooth. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Repeat with sour cream and then eggs.
6. Place cake tin on oven tray (it may leak a little during cooking) and pour filling over biscuit base. Bake for 1 hour or until set and top has browned.
7. Remove from oven and sprinkle parmigiano over the top.
8. Sit cake 10 minutes before serving still warm.
Note: Can be made the day ahead and stored, covered, in fridge. Reheat, covered with foil, for approx. 20-30 minutes.

Since I have already covered the nutritional properties of silverbeet when I posted my silverbeet and feta pie recipe, I won't wax lyrical again.

What I will say again is that I love baby spinach in salads, but I prefer silverbeet in cooked form. I feel like I can actually taste the mineral richness and all those vitamins doing me good.

If you do decide to give this cheesecake a try, let me know how you like the flavour!

Weekend Herb Blogging is being hosted by Kalyn herself so visit the Kitchen for the round-up.

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