28 March 2006: Honey-glazed pears


Can you tell that I unearthed a stash of old Donna Hay magazines? Here's another recipe of hers, this time from issue 17. Again, it's good, if not precisely what I was expecting.

These pears are so sweet it almost hurts, and I think they're best served with Greek yoghurt rather than the cream or ice-cream suggested in the original recipe. They're also very buttery - I wonder if I could modify the recipe to use a glass of white wine instead of the butter?


75 g butter
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons orange-flavoured liqueur
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
4 or 5 brown pears, peeled and halved

Melt the butter, honey and liqueur together in a large, deep frying pan, stirring to combine. Add the lemon and orange rinds and the pear halves, and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the pears are tender.

Remove the pears from the liquid to a bowl. Drizzle some of the liquid over the top. (If you would like a thicker syrup, continue to simmer the liquid for a couple of minutes after removing the pears. It will thicken further on cooling.)

Serve warm, with Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche. The original recipe allows 2 pears per person, but I think they're so sweet you really only want one each, stingy though that may appear on the plate.


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25 March 2006: Fig and oat biscuits


Don't these fig and oat biscuits look good and wholesome, not to mention delicious? You agree? Excellent. Now, let's talk about eating unborn incestuous insect babies.

Even when I was a vegetarian, I had no qualms about eating figs. That was a little hypocritical of me, since every fig eaten is potentialy a site of mass slaughter. If you observe a fig tree throughout the year, you'll see that it never appears to bear flowers, only fruit. But figs are angiosperms, or flowering plants, so where are the flowers? They're hidden inside the fruit, which is lined with hundreds of tiny florets.

This setup presents a bit of a problem for cross-pollination, as you can imagine, as many of the normal pollen-carriers - birds, bees, beetles, the wind - can't access the flowers. Only one insect can get to the pollen: the fig wasp. It's not an easy journey even for them, however.

Imagine a pregnant female fig wasp. Looking for a place to lay her eggs, she locates a fig tree, and lands on an unripe fig. She crawls over it to find the ostiole, the tiny hole opposite the stem, which leads into the interior of the fig. Thrusting her head into the hole, she begins to wriggle inside. It's a tight squeeze between the bracts lining the ostiole, and frequently the wasp will lose both wings and antennae in the process. But that's not a terribly important problem, as she's never going to leave this fig again.

Once inside, the wasp proceeds to move about the inside of the fig, using her ovipositor to deposit eggs into the ovules of some of the florets, and brushing the pollen she's carrying onto others. Eggs safely laid, she dies. Over the next weeks or months, her larval offspring develop to maturity within the florets. In some species, the female and male offspring chew their way out of their florets at the same time, and have a big old group shag inside the centre of the fig. In other species, the males emerge first, and rush around inseminating their sisters through the walls of the ovules before they emerge. Super.

In their final act, the males chew a hole in the wall of the fig to allow theirs sisters to escape, before dying, presumably from sexual exaustion. The females, having passively or actively picked up some pollen from the florets during all the excitement, emerge through the hole into the sunlight, ready to go find their own fig to have babies in, and thus complete the cycle of both fig pollination and wasp reproduction. Awww.

And that, devoted readers who have made it this far, is why I shouldn't have been eating figs when I was supposedly non-carnivorous. But hey, figs are really tasty.



So, these biscuits. They're quite light, which is not at all what I was expecting from the photo beside the recipe (in issue 14 of Donna Hay magazine), in which they looked a little more solid. I like them as they are, but I think I will experiment a bit more with some variations, too. I've got an idea for a much heavier, chunkier biscuit, with more oats, possibly half wholemeal flour, and a punchier flavour (maybe fig syrup? I've never tried this, never even seen it in fact, but I've found a recipe for it and I wonder if it would increase the figgy flavour). I'd happily make this recipe again for a morning tea, but I'm on the track of an imagined fig and oat biscuit that would keep you going on a cold winter's morning.


3/4 cup brown sugar
125 g butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup (140 g) chopped dried figs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large fresh figs, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Line two or three baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

Beat the sugar and butter until they are light and creamy. Beat in the egg. Add the sifted flour and bicarb soda, the oats, chopped dried figs and cinnamon, and fold all together.

Form golf-ball sized balls of the mixture and place them on the trays spaced well apart. Press down on the top of each ball to form rounds approximately 7 cm across. Lay a fig slice on the centre of each biscuit. Don't worry if there's not much biscuit showing around the fig slice - they spread quite a lot during cooking.

Bake the biscuits for 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on wire racks. Makes 15 biscuits.


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23 March 2006: Lemon yoghurt cake


This cake looks plain, but it is delicious: sharp and tangy, not too sweet, and very moist. And it's a doddle to make.


For the cake
125 g softened butter
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 cup thick plain yoghurt
60 ml lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

For the lemon syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
90 ml lemon juice
2 wide strips of lemon rind (use a potato peeler on the lemon)

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Butter and line a 23 cm round cake tin.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well.

Stir in the lemon juice and zest and half the flour. Then add the yoghurt, the remaining flour, and the bicarbonate of soda, and mix to combine. (It's easier to mix in the flour in two batches rather than all at once; there's no magical order of addition of yoghurt and lemon or anything.)

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, and smooth the top well. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the cake starts to come away from the sides of the tin, and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

A few minutes before the cake is ready to come out of the oven, prepare the syrup. Place the sugar, water, lemon juice, and strips of lemon rind in a small saucepan. (If your lemons are very sharp, reduce the amount of lemon juice a little and make the volume up with water.) Cook, stirring, over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Allow the syrup to simmer gently for 4 minutes, then remove from the heat and fish out the two strips of rind. Immediately pour the syrup over the top of the cake, while it is still hot and in the tin.

Let the cake sit for at least 5 minutes before turning out of the tin and serving. It is good both warm and at room temperature, for up to a day or so after making. Serve plain or with a dollop of yoghurt.



Adapted from a recipe in Marie Claire Cooking.


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14 March 2006: First noodle soup


Something I really missed when we were living in Brighton was noodle soups. In Brisbane, the laundromat we used to go to in Highgate Hill was right across the road from a Vietnamese restaurant, so often on weekends we'd pile our laundry into a couple of washers and head over to Pho Pasteur for vegetable and noodle soup, served with copious fresh veggies floating in the soup, and a plate piled with fresh sliced chilli, mint leaves, lime wedges and bean sprouts on the side. And then there was Renu Thai in Toowong, where I ate many steaming bowls of almost painfully spicy vegetable, tofu and noodle soup, and of course the awesome laksa at FFF Noodle Bar on Given Tce, the memory of which still makes me go weak at the knees.

In Brighton, I craved noodles above all things for quite a while, until I finally discovered Oki-Nami, and the Japanese restaurant above Yum Yum grocery store, both of which served superb vegetable and noodle soups in miso broth. The Yum Yum version was particularly excellent - it contained several different kinds of delicate fresh mushroom, seaweed and other greens; it was a spiritual restorative of the highest order. But I still missed the plethora of noodle soup purveyors I was used to.

As with so many restaurant desires, Dublin has provided. The noodle soup closest to my heart at the moment is the version with duck and sour mustard greens at Charming Noodle on Parnell St. Good duck, great greens, possibly the best broth ever. (I should mention, however, that Carolin ordered it a second time and found it wasn't as good as the first - please god let the second have been the exception, not the first.) I've also gone back a few times for the chilli chicken ramen at Cafe Mao, which is delightfully spicy, and the vegetable ramen at Wakamama is always a safe bet.

Despite the fact that I can now wander out and get the noodle soup of my choice any evening of the week, I decided it was time to try tackling it at home. This recipe is a starting point - this was my first attempt, and I hope that I'll get better as I practice. In particular, I need to work on getting a more flavoursome broth (though I suspect this will require making proper fowl stock, and I wonder if I can be bothered). Next time I'll also either swap to tofu or use a different meat. We used a couple of free-range chicken fillets and they were still tasteless, and I just don't see the point. Why not just have tofu (which I love, anyway)? Perhaps I might try duck next time.


2 bowls worth of vegetable or meat stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 red chilli, sliced
a couple of cloves of garlic, finely minced
rice vinegar
sesame oil
140 g noodles
meat or tofu (see below)
vegetables (see below)
coriander leaves/other fresh herbs/green onions

Broth: Place the stock, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and chilli in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the stock is infused with the flavour of the other ingredients. A few minutes before you are ready to serve, add a dash of rice vinegar (optional) and a shake of sesame oil.

Noodles: Bring a large pan of water to the boil, the add the noodles. Stir to separate them, then boil until cooked. Drain.

Meat or tofu: prepare this as you think best. We chopped the chicken and fried it with garlic, but it wasn't a stunning success. You could just slice it finely and add it to the stock to cook that way - I think this may be how they do it at Cafe Mao. Tofu could be deep fried (if bought that way, then reheat in a pan before adding to the soup), or you could just use cubes of firm tofu, warmed in the stock.

Vegetables: for this soup we were limited by what we could lay our hands on, so we used broccoli and sliced shitake mushrooms. Next time I will definitely add one or more kinds of Asian greens, and more mushrooms. We cooked them by adding them to the stock a few minutes before we were ready to serve it.

To plate: place half the noodles in the bottom of each bowl. Pour over the stock, making sure each bowl gets half the vegetables. Add the meat or tofu. Add a handful of chopped coriander leaves and spring onions, and some additional slices of chilli.

Serves 2.


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13 March 2006: Grännaknäcke


I never thought that I would be writing a gushing entry about crispbreads - but here it comes. These are grännaknäcke, crispbreads made with stone-ground rye, wheat flour, sesame seeds, linseed and sunflower seeds. Carolin brought me back the bag of them from Sweden a couple of weeks ago, and ever since I have found myself thinking "mmm, crispbread" when in the mood for a snack. They are excellent on their own, crispy and flavoursome, but even better with cheese - in fact they have paired brilliantly with several different kinds of cheese in my extensive testing. And I just checked out their webpage and saw that they recommend trying them with goats cheese and honey - oh yes, coming right up.


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10 March 2006: Pumpkin and red pepper soup with lemongrass and ginger


Ignore this awful photo - this soup isn't really tomato-red, but instead an intense pumpkiny orange. The flavour is just as intense - sharp lemongrass and chilli, bright ginger, warm pumpkin and peppers. Perfect for a chilly evening.


1 medium butternut squash
2 large carrots
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
3 red or orange peppers/capsicums
a smallish knob of fresh ginger
an inch of lemongrass
1 fresh red chilli, seeded and chopped, or a pinch of chilli flakes
1.5 litres water or dilute vegetable stock
plain yoghurt or coconut cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Peel the squash and carrots and chop into 2 cm cubes. Toss in a baking dish with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and put into the oven. Roast for 40 minutes or until tender and golden on the edges. Remove and set aside.

At the same time, place the three peppers in a separate dish and place them in the oven. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, turning them now and then, until the skin is blackened and wrinkled. Remove from the oven, cool for five minutes, then peel the skins off and remove the stems and seeds.

In a large saucepan, combine the roast squash and carrots, the peeled peppers, some peeled and chopped ginger, chopped lemongrass, chilli, and the stock or water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the vegetables are very soft, and the lemongrass and ginger have infused the broth.

In a food processor or blender, puree the soup, adding a little more water if necessary. Make sure you give it a good blend, to get all the lemongrass. Return to the saucepan, bring back to a simmer, then serve. Add a spoonful of yoghurt or coconut cream if you like.

Serves 6-8 as a starter, 3-4 as a main.


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10 March 2006: Reuben from heaven

I had possibly the best sandwich ever for lunch today: a New York Reuben from Pig & Heifer, a New York-style deli on Pearse St. It was totally worth getting caught in a hailstorm on the way back from the shop. I kept the sandwich dry under my coat, while it, snugly paper-wrapped, kept my ribcage toasty. Once we got back to uni, I unwrapped its magnificence and watched observers get drooly about its beauty.

This New York Reuben comes on a big, square, soft sourdough bun, split and swiped with mayonnaise and a big spoonful of seed mustard, then filled with a pile of warm pastrami and two slices of melty swiss cheese, sauerkraut, copious chopped spinach salad and freshly sliced dill pickles. Moan. It was a perfect combination. I'm going back on Monday for another.

Additional advantages to this place: I ate the sandwich at 2, it's now 8.30 and I'm only just getting hungry again; it's a pleasure to watch the two sandwich-makers in the tiny deli moving balletically around one another as they efficiently and carefully produce sandwich after sandwich, never getting flustered or forgetting an order, despite the queue of people stretching out the door; there are piles of other good-looking sandwiches on the menu - Carolin had hot beef with horseradish, Brian had Greek lamb; and this lunchtime masterpiece cost a titchy €5.50. Awesome.

The Pig and Heifer
151 Pearse St, Dublin 2
01 6753714.


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9 March 2006: Lenten pancakes


No, I don't mean pancakes on Mardi Gras, the day before Lent; I mean delicious, sacreligeous crepes, eaten in large quantities and good company, right in the middle of Lent. Going to hell; so worth it. After all, I'll be there with most of the rest of our lab, who also went to Nora's for a crepe-making fest, co-sponsored by Marie and Laurent, and utilising Laurent's mother's recipes.

We had two frypans going at all times, and took turns to step up to the stove and make ourselves a crepe. There were about 15 of us there, but the turnover was fairly swift, and the pace was in fact ideal - a crepe each every 40 minutes or so. There was a bit of experimentation in the way of dynamic flipping techniques going on (*cough* Devin *cough*), but for those of us who stuck to the basic manoeuvres, the crepe-making was dead easy, and the product was delicious. I much prefer the buckwheat crepes, Ted would rather always have the plain flour ones - that'll make it a bit tricky to make crepes for two, so perhaps the solution is a further group crepe-ing at my place.


Galettes de sarrasin (savoury crepes)
500 g buckwheat flour
250 g plain wheat flour
3 eggs
pinch of salt
approx 400 ml water
approx 400 ml milk

Mix together the flours and salt, then stir in the eggs. Combine the milk and water, and add gradually, little by little, to the flour, stirring well, until you have a smooth, thin batter. The quantity of liquid given is very approximate - add enough that the batter is well thinned (to produce good thin crepes) but not too watery. You can always add a little more later after you have tried the first crepe, if it is a little too thick. Set the batter aside for two hours.

To make the crepes, heat a flat pan over a high heat, until the pan is very hot. Grease it well with butter. Tip a ladle of batter onto the pan, tilting the pan quickly to encourage the batter to spread over the entire surface in a thin film. Tiny bubble holes should appear in the crepe almost immediately. Let it cook until it no longer looks liquid on top, and when you peek underneath you can see some golden spots on the underside. Flip the crepe over to cook the other side. As soon as you have turned the crepe, you can add the filling on top of the crepe to warm. After another minute, when the crepe is golden on the second side, fold the sides of the crepe over the filling, and slide onto a plate. Eat at once. The next cook should re-grease the pan and start the process again.

Good fillings: some combination of grated cheeses, mushrooms, ham, spinach, onions, an egg (crack it onto the crepe, spread out the white but leave the yolk whole and wobbly). Serve with cidre.


Sweet crepes
750 g plain wheat flour
3 eggs
a handful of sugar
approx 400 ml milk
approx 400 ml water

Prepare as above. Good fillings include butter and sugar, lemon juice and sugar, jam, melted chocolate, nutella, or fresh fruit.


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