Archive | April, 2012

Olive Oil and Dessert Wine Cake

28 Apr

When Alice and I were putting together our menu for the day of cooking, we wanted a nice cake that was simple, unpretentious but a nice end to the meal. Alice knew of a rosemary olive oil cake, but had no recipe for it. In our search for the perfect cake, Betsy helped us with this tried and true recipe. You may be surprised to hear of a cake made with olive oil. Let me tell you right now, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. It will change any preconceived notions you might have about sweet and savory.

(Do it!)

What a winner! Light and fluffy but with a gorgeous texture from the olive oil and a richness from the dessert wine. It was just the thing.

We used the best ingredients possible

first separating the eggs and beating the yolks with the sugar

Or in our case, mistaking the salt for sugar and wondering why it wasn’t beating up so nicely, with Karen going to a great deal of effort to get it to beat up into a light fluffy mixture

before finally realizing that we had used salt. Once we got the proper ingredients in the mixer, we achieved a nice light yellow creamy mixture of egg yolks and sugar as the base for the cake.

The oil and dessert wine were added to the mixing bowl

along with the sifted flour and other dry ingredients.

Then the egg whites were beat into soft peaks

and folded into the rest of the batter.

By carefully folding in the whipped egg whites, the rich cake batter became very light and airy. We poured it into the prepared baking pan

and put it into the oven.

While the cake was baking, we also made a lemon zest infused sugar syrup that we mixed through some blackberries to serve.

In a small bowl, we rubbed the zest of one lemon

into a 1/2 cup of sugar until well combined

Then added to a 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan

and let it simmer until slightly thickened and syrupy.

After the cake was done, we tossed the blackberries in the syrup, piled them atop the cake, and then gave a light dusting of powdered sugar before being served.

This recipe is a favourite of Betsy. It is in the Australian ‘bible’ of cooking – The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander.




5 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dessert wine
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
150g plain flour, sifted
pinch of salt
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
pure icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 F). Butter a 24 cm (9 inch) springform cake tin and line base with baking paper. Beat egg yolks with half the sugar until pale and thick, then add wine and oil. Fold in flour and salt and transfer to a large bowl. Wash and dry mixer bowl and beat all 7 egg whites with cream of tartar until they hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining sugar until you have a soft meringue. Fold lightly but thoroughly into yolk mixture. Spoon in to prepared tin and bake for 20 minutes. Turn off oven, cover cake with a buttered round of baking paper and leave to cook slowly. Remove from oven after 15 minutes. (The cake tends to deflate as it cools so it needs to be protected from all sudden changes of temperature.) Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Black Mussels with Chorizo, Chilli, Tomato and Pearl Pasta

23 Apr

Here is another recipe from our day of cooking.

This recipe is by Karen Martini, a Melbourne chef, and is a long favourite of mine. It isn’t loads of work, but tastes spectacular. It comes from her book Where The Heart Is.

I started by making the sauce, so it had a little time to cook and the flavours to meld while I prepared everything else.

I chopped up some chorizo, and then sautéed it in a large saucepan with a little olive oil on medium to high heat. You want it to crisp up a little bit.

While that cooked, I chopped up some shallots, and red chilli. Also some garlic.

I added them in to the chorizo when it was ready… along with some saffron and a bay leaf or two, and let the shallots cook until translucent.

When they looked lovely and cooked, I added in a bottle of tomato sugo, sometimes called passata. This one here is my favourite, and I use it pretty much always instead of tinned tomatoes. It has better flavour and tastes as though it has been cooked through. Sorry I have no picture of the sauce with the sugo added, but I just let it simmer happily on the stove as I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

I cooked some risoni pasta (pasta that is in the shape of rice) in boiling water in another pot, and then left it aside in a colander  with a tiny bit of olive oil mixed through it to keep it from getting sticky. Any small pasta would work, or even a large couscous. Imagine a picture here please.

I also chopped up some parsley in advance of the next stage… cooking the mussels. Pictorial imagination would be terrific here too.

I had stored the mussels in a colander in the fridge, wrapped in a damp tea towel. They last a day or two like this.

I cleaned and bearded the mussels. Basically scrub off any stuff you can from the shells, and pull down in the grubby beard until you detach it, which takes a bit of force.

Then in another pot, I poured in some wine and added half the mussels. I put the lid on and cooked on high for about three minutes, until the mussels had opened. I used tongs to remove the mussels to a bowl, and added the remaining mussels to the wine and repeated the cooking process. I pulled the top shell off all of the mussels in the bowl. Sometimes I also pull the tops off the second batch too, just depends on how I feel. It is easier to eat them when the top shell is removed, it is just that they look so good with both shells on.

When all of the mussels were cooked, I put both batches along with their cooking liquid, and the cooked risoni and parsley in to the red sauce and gave it a mix.

I serve it in the pot… or ladle it in to a serving bowl and let people serve themselves.

I have never added the extra oil at the end like the original recipe says.

And that is it!  A few cooking pots strewn along the wayside, but pretty quick to make.

Place a bowl on the table for your discarded shells… and serve with a fork and a spoon pasta style.  The pasta and sauce manages to mingle through in to each and every mussel. There is lots of scooping and slurping, it is a tactile dish.



by Karen Martini 


100 ml olive oil
250 g hot chorizo sausage, finely chopped. Best if the chorizo has some age to it.
6 golden shallots, finely sliced, or diced
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
3 small red chillies, finely sliced
1 bay leaf
2 pinches saffron threads
2 cups tomato sugo (passata) or crushed tomatoes
300g dried small pasta such as risoni or iranian couscous
300ml dry white wine
1.5 kg black mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat. Fry chorizo for 6-8 minutes or until it begins to brown. Add golden shallots, garlic, chillies, bay leaf and saffron and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Pour in tomato sugo, stir, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add the pasta to a saucepan of lightly salted boiling water. Stir and bring the water back to the boil, then cook for 5 minutes. Drain, then mix 2 tablespoons of the olive oil through the pasta. Cover and keep warm.

Pour wine in to a large saucepan and add half the mussels. Cook covered, over high heat for 2-3 minutes or until mussels open. Remove mussels and discard any that have not opened. Repeat with remaining mussels. Remove top shells from half the mussels and reserve the cooking liquid. Add chorizo mixture, parsley, pasta and mussels to the cooking liquid and bring to a simmer over high heat. Drizzle over remaining olive oil and serve.

Serves 4 (generously).

Vegetable Salad with Vinaigrette

18 Apr

Alice took me to the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne for cooking supplies for our day of cooking. Have I mentioned how much I love fresh markets like this? Have I mentioned how much I love farm fresh vegetables? Remember this picture?

It was fantastic! Just the place to pick up all the necessary vegetables to make my Dad’s cold steamed vegetable salad. He would make this salad for special dinners. It’s a bit different from most leafy green salads as you can use whatever is in season, including root vegetables, but everything is steamed then chilled before being dressed with a simple vinaigrette dressing. It makes for a very dramatic presentation as well, a beautiful addition to any nice dinner.

I picked up some beautiful vegetables from Keegan, the green grocer at Fresh Generation, just a bit of whatever looked nice. I tried to get some vegetables that would taste good steamed and whose colors looked nice together. We picked out some zucchini, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, beets (beetroot) and potatoes. I peeled and trimmed them in preparation for the steamer.

Into the steam bath they went, a few at a time.

I finished slicing some of them, then mounded them on a large serving platter and put them in the refrigerator to chill.

Before serving, I whisked together some red wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard,  some finely chopped red onion with salt and pepper then drizzled it over the mounded vegetables.

A few farm fresh hard boiled eggs sliced onto the top completed the platter.

It was a great hearty and healthy dish befitting a nice relaxed dinner with friends.

Steamed Vegetable Salad

Steam the vegetables of your choice – some of the best vegetables for this salad include carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, beets (beetroot), potatoes, green beans, chayote squash or chuchu if you’re Brazilian. I believe that every time my Dad made this dish, he included different things, a bit of whatever happened to be in season at the time.

Steam vegetables just until barely softened, as you want a little bit of crunch to remain. Cut them into bite sized pieces and chill. Mound onto a serving platter, drizzle with dressing and serve.

Basic Vinaigrette
3/4 cup of nice extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon of finely chopped red onion
1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard
salt & fresh ground pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a medium bowl and whisk together until combined. Pour over vegetables.

You can make an endless combination of flavors with this one general recipe. You need to start with base of a 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, for example, 3 tablespoons of olive oil to 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar. Then you can add fresh herbs such as tarragon, oregano or rosemary which all go very nicely with the vegetables, or you can chop up some onion or shallots very fine and whisk them in and you can add Dijon mustard with salt and pepper.  You can vary the vinegar, if for instance, you have a nice fruit infused vinegar or balsamic vinegar, use that. You can use regular salad oil or a little sesame oil for an Asian flair. The sky’s the limit! Have fun creating a flavor you will enjoy.

A Day of Cooking

12 Apr

B, Karen and I gathered around the kitchen bench on a Sunday afternoon, with the company and hospitality of my father Malcolm, his wife Betsy, and the boisterous cocker spaniel Manny, we spent hours cooking and laughing.

It was mayhem as we chopped, skinned, mixed, blended, talked, and stirred up a few courses that we shared in the evening with my brother Sam and his partner Jacqui.

I wish I had taken more pictures of us as we went, but the mayhem I mentioned above… well, yeah.

Betsy was busy with a tapestry she was making as a wedding gift, and Manny was busy being Manny. That is a full time job in case you were wondering. Betsy is a wonderful cook and was helping from the sidelines most of the day. She also contributed the idea of the olive oil and dessert wine cake for our last course.

Karen used to work as a cook, in high pressured, fine dining kitchens. She has also taught cooking classes, and is always an absolute pleasure to cook with and learn from. She spent the day giving us sage advice, and making up a chickpea fritter with a fresh tomato salsa recipe. It was all measured by eye and taste, but the fritters were made with… mashed cooked chickpeas, Indian besan flour (made from chickpeas), white flour, baking powder, milk, chopped spring onion, cumin seed, salt, chilli powder, fresh oregano and garlic. If you want her to develop a recipe for us to post… you need to campaign her. Feel free to be vocal in the comments.

The salsa was fresh and vibrant, delicious on the crispy  fritters. The salsa was a mix of tomato, spanish onion, chilli powder, fresh oregano, De Soto sherry vinegar, olive oil, a small pinch of  brown sugar and salt.

We ate those first as we all gathered around the kitchen bench (which looked like a whirlwind had been through), to have a pre-dinner Campari and soda.

The first dish we ate at the table was one of my long time favourites, a mussels recipe by Karen Martini with chorizo, white wine, tomato and onion as the main flavours. The mussels are mixed through pearl or risoni pasta. I will post the recipe soon.

B made a vegetable dish that was as beautiful as it was filled with love. It is something her father used to make. It was a lovely clean dish to have after the rich flavoured mussels. This one is so simple in concept, and B is planning to post the recipe.

And then came the olive oil and dessert wine cake, from a recipe by Stephanie Alexander. B and Karen made this cake with a little help from me. If you call ‘help’ handing them the salt instead of the sugar, and then making them start over again. It was sensational in spite of my innocent attempts at sabotage. It was light like a sponge, but with a lovely density thanks to the oil and sticky wine.

My partners in crime… B and Karen



Dad, or as you may wish to call him, Malcolm…

and my younger brother Sam.

One guess who was taking the photos and didn’t get one of herself?

Will another picture of Manny suffice?


A love letter

10 Apr

I had such a wonderful time with Alice in Melbourne. Here’s the letter I wrote about it.

(click to enlarge)

It was such a wonderful trip, I can’t wait to go back or even live there. If I win that lotto, I will be on the first plane over!


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