Monday, May 28, 2012

Thoughts on food blogging...

Note: there is a block of writing coming up. Prepare your eyes for the onslaught! No pictures. Just thoughts, musings, a little rant, and some big ups.

Everyone has a story about how their blog started, and mine is no different to anyone elses really. A mix of boredom, and wanting to document the recipes I was cooking, both my own and from various cookbooks. I had no idea about how to format a website, I didn't really know if I was a good writer or not, or how I would put it together. I didn't know where it was going to go, and to be honest, I still don't really know...  I'm not the kind to have a 5 year plan anyway, and so I'm unlikely to plan where I want a blog to take me. I'm all about finding a balance between doing what you love, doing what you need to, and being with the people who mean the most to you. So blogging was always just going to have to find the time to slot into my life, just as everything else does. It's not a massive, blinking priority.

The blog led me to use Twitter, which then introduced me to loads of other food bloggers. Not only them as people, but how they conduct themselves, if they have a personality or if they're advertising themselves/creating a "brand". I didn't know what the food blogging community would be like, in fact, I didn't even really know if there was one. The Perth food blogger scene is pretty good, there is a mix of friendly bloggers who just like to write, cook and take photos, as well as people who share that love but take their blog more seriously. There are snarky bloggers who see themselves above the rest of us, some cliques, some people are learning as they go, and there are people with abundant knowledge to share about a variety of cultures, cooking methods and ideas in food. It's an interesting mix of people. There are people with a plan for their blog, and people seeing where it takes them.

I'm of the school where I see where it takes me. I expect it takes me nowhere. Not anywhere glittering fame is anyway. It's allowed me to meet some fantastic people, of whom I call my friends now, and not just online friends (that doesn't sound sad at all!), friends who I call up and we do things on weekends, go out for drinks and chatter. It's great because a lot of my old friends I had before the blog, I was feeling disconnected from, like I had nothing to say to them anymore. It's a process everyone goes through a couple of times, where you're between friends so to speak. So the blog/twitter exposed me to some fabulous people whom I'm so glad I met. The online comradery is great too, twitter will answer any question you have straight away. Not sure how to substitute a hard to find ingredient? Someone on twitter will know. Messed up something in a recipe and want to know if it's salvagable or not? Someone on twitter has already made the same mistake and can tell you. The instant gratification of twitter is suited to the fast paced NOW culture we live in, and it suits me, most of the time.

The part about food blogging that doesn't suit me is the shameless self promotion that goes on. There is the publishing of a link to a new post, thats alright. You need to get your blog out there, and no one knows it's there until you tell them. That I have no real problem with. It's the people who are so fake that I can't handle. I have no idea who the person behind the blog is. I just know they're sickly sweet, always saying lovely, wonderful things about everyone and everything, acting as if they never make mistakes, everything they make turns out perfectly. Who the fuck ARE YOU? There are so many food bloggers who just sound like they've read too many Nigel Slater books and are trying to romanticise everything they cook (note, Nige is great, I love his writing style, but its HIS writing style). There are so many wannabe Nigellas that it makes seek out the X and click it, she's become laughably fake enough as it is. I don't care to read about these people, I don't care about their "brand" because they aren't a person. They have created some online presence which is so forgettable. So many people out there are working on branding, working on creating a public image of themselves that they must stick to. Isn't being yourself, writing with your own voice, ideas and tone enough? It worked for Anthony Bourdain. Or is his brand the kind that goes against the grain, of a chain smoking, potty mouthed travelling chef? I don't know, but it just doesn't resonate with me at all.

But I am just one reader of millions. One blogger of millions. Who am I anyway? Have I done the same thing that I ranted about? I hope not. I do appreciate good writing. I just find so many blogs a bit samey. Same old shit, different name.

The blogs I have big respect for are ones like Eat Meets West, because she has her own voice, it's so obviously HER writing, she's not trying to be anyone, she's not creating a brand, and if she is, her brand is just who she is.

I enjoy reading Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse, because again she has her own voice, and I like the fact that she researches what she's writing about and gives you background information. I learn something when I read her blog, the origins of something, how authentic something might be (though authenticity is under fire now too), and she uses some different ingredients. I don't actually cook much from her blog, but it's a good read.

There are lots of blogs I like and I wont name every single one. There are lots I'm obligated to like, and ones I just dont read, because they're really boring. Mine isn't an example of a blog thats amazing. It's not that well formatted, it's not got some amazing style of writing that everyone needs to read. For me, my blog is about sharing recipes I've created, or recipes from other blogs/cookbooks. I like to try recipes from books before I buy them, and so I like to contribute to this by posting some of these recipes myself, for others to have a look at. Not for popularity contests, just for other peoples reference. I like photography anyway, not just food based, but all kinds, so some posts have good quality pictures on them. When I have time. I didn't say they were good... They're just there. Other times it's just a phone picture. My blog isn't really made for fame and fortune. My blog is pretty forgettable. But thats cool.

My ultimate philosophy on food is that it's a hobby for me. I don't want to be cooking all day, every day. I really enjoy cooking for the people I love, it's how I show I care. I don't cook for readership, or blog points. I cook because I want to. I cook because I like to see people I care about, sat around a table with nice food, good company and great wine, having a conversation and a laugh. Clichèd? Maybe. True though!

Thats whats important to me, over readership, branding, followers, and being little Miss Nigella, the domestic goddess.

I should add that I'm not scornful of the whole scene. I'm really happy with some parts of it, and I enjoy being involved. It's the commercialisation I don't enjoy. But I don't enjoy any aspect of commercialism really...

I just want to feed people good, interesting food. I wanna eat that food too. I'm interested in where the food comes from, and I like quality.

Thats it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tapas for Life round up!

On the 24th of March my sister Jenni and I held a tapas event for her Relay for Life team, and we were both blown away by the generosity of the local businesses who donated their wares so we could run the event and earn as much profit as we could to donate to the Cancer Council. We ended up making over $800 from the night which was such a great success, we have some fabulously generous friends!

The Organic Collective donated a gorgeous box of tomatoes, onions, potatoes, lemons, oranges and capsicums which could not have tasted any better - they were fresh, local and unbelievably tasty. You NEED to try one of their boxes, the quality is amazing.

I used the onions, capsicums, tomatoes and oranges to make orange scented albondigas, which went down a treat, they were a little bit different, but really moreish!

Photo c/o Carolanne Rushe

The same organic onions were caramalised, and paired with some gorgeous Ringwould goats milk fetta from a previous Urban Locavore box I had received to make a tasty frittata, that I cooked gently in a pan first, and then transferred into a shallow baking dish and finished off in the oven. This was gone - fast! I also used the caperberries from a previous box on the platters - there were none left at the end of the night!

I also had a smoked trout that I had frozen from the very first box, that I wasn't sure how to use. I ended up making some savoury pancakes with them, which were nice, but I used too much of the trout! Very nice if you love smoked fish ;) It was full of paprika, spinach and bites of trout. Unlike the pancakes I made at the Breakfast with Benefits, these were SO easy to make, and flipped like a dream!

Speaking of Urban Locavore, Paul, the brains behind the operation, was really generous and donated a box to the raffle. Rhianna Clarke was the lucky winner of the straw packed box of local goods, and was pretty stoked!

I had gone to The Tasting Plate at the Mezz shopping centre in Mt Hawthorn looking for some stuff of my own, and got talking to the manager Janine, about food, Relay for Life and her chilli company, Habaneros for Gringos. I realised I had tried some of her products at the Araluen Chilli Festival in Freo and had really enjoyed the curried onion dip! I told her what I was doing and she generously donated some of her products, as well as plenty of great items from the shop. We ended up having tasting plates of their DELICIOUS Habaneros 4 Gringos chilli fetta (Seriously. Find this stuff, its awesome), curried onion dip, and chilli olive tapanade, with marinated octopus, olives and manchego cheese from The Tasting Plate. There were loads of comments about the chilli products - everyone loved them, especially the curried onion dip!

Photos c/o Habaneros 4 Gringos

These went down so well with the Casalinga sourdough baguettes that New Norcia Bakery donated. Seriously good bread, as soon as you crack it open, you just want to take a bite. Just walk in there and TRY to walk out with nothing. I never do. Their coffee is great too.

Gorgeous bread from New Norcia Bakery, Mt Hawthorn.

I may have tried a portugese tart when I picked up the bread... for research of course! They are GORGEOUS!

One of the highlights of the meal was probably the amazing meat provided by El Asador. This business run by couple Emily and Max specialise in Argentine products and if you've been to any food markets in the last 6 months you would have seen their stall, or smelled their amazing giant bbq cooking up chorizo and asado! We were lucky to get loads of meat from them - beef asado, chorizo and morcillas! The beef asado is an Argentine cut of beef that is super tasty, slow roasted with their herb and salt rub (AMAZING! I always have this in the house) and then grilled to crispy deliciousness. This meat... Is genius. I couldn't cook on the bbq that night, so cooked them in a pan (after slow roasting them for 2 hours the night before). They are quite fatty, but a lot of the fat melts away when you bbq them - I cut a lot of the fat off (not all - fat is flavour!), took it off the bone and sliced it into sharing sized pieces, with chimmichurri on the side. That meat was gone in 5 minutes. It was so tasty and tender... If you see the El Asador bbq stall ANYWHERE, buy the asado. It is gorgeous.

Beef asado from El Asador - YUM! (Photo c/o

Their chorizo is fresh not cured, and really juicy. Served with chimmichurri again, these were super moreish bites that everyone loved. Look for the Choripan at their stall!

The morcilla is the Argentine version of black pudding. This is not something I've tried before, and that wasn't breaking my heart. Carolanne cooked it up, as the Irish love their black pudding and so I figured she would do it justice! It was quite crumbly, but had a great flavour - pretty much everyone tried some, even though the thought of it grossed some people out. Thing is though, everyone loved it!

Morcillas from El Asador (Photo c/o Carolanne Rushe)

El Asador also donated a fantastic hamper with a bunch of their products which was won by Jemma Edwards (I'm not jealous at all!).

El Asador hamper, full of goodies! (photo c/o Carolanne Rushe)

There I also made a huge batch of spicy paprika nuts, which were REALLY easy to make, and cheap. I went to Kakulas in Northbridge and bought about 2kg of blanched raw almonds and peanuts and it set me back about $15 - not a bad price for a MASSIVE bag of nuts!

Just in case there were still people who could eat, I bought out some flatbreads with tomato, herbs, roasted peppers and rock salt, just to fill any savoury holes people might have had in their tummies!

There had to be dessert... well there didn't really, there was so much food eaten! But I had made it anyway and so people were gonna eat it! Some pseudo Portugese tarts, made with yoghurt and orange instead of cream. Some had orange caramel on top, some were naked. They went down a treat and there were none left! Not too sweet, only a few bites, it was all we really needed after feasting all night.

Crust Mt Lawley were also awesome and contributed 2 $25 vouchers to the raffle - it wasn't hard to talk these up, have you tried the peri peri chicken, or veggie supreme pizza? Do it, they're SO nice.

Red Hot Spatula donated a voucher for 30% off one of their cooking classes, which is an awesome deal because Yvonnes classes are brilliant. I've been to one and we all loved it! They have just released a new line of spice pastes and rubs, which I can't wait to get my hands on!

Jenni's bath was FULL of donated booze for everyone to drink, including a carton of Custard Cider from the Real River Company - needless to say, people were merry!!

Cider for all! (photo c/o Carolanne Rushe)

The night was great fun - and most importantly, we raised a bunch of money for the Relay for Life in Katanning. All up the event raised over $70000 which is amazing considering its a town of about 4000 people. It just goes to show that everyone is touched by cancer in some way or another, and are willing to give generously if its going to help combat such a terrible disease. Its worth remembering though, that a cancer diagnosis is not always a death sentence. For some its an incredibly trying time which tests every limit they have, but eventually they come out of it with a greater zest for life than ever. Its these people who offer hope to others, who need to have their stories listened to and learned from. They deliver a message of appreciating what you have right in front of you every day, and taking nothing for granted.

Eat, drink and be merry, and savour every bite, every moment.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pimped chocolate red wine cake

If there are 2 things in life that are meant to be together, it's chocolate and red wine. How many bad days are sorted out by a combination of these 2 magical things? Cake can sometimes fix a crap day too. If you know a monumentally shit day is coming up, then you'd better stock up on red wine and chocolate. and cake. 

Or better yet...

Make chocolate red wine cake!!

It is REALLY good. Moist, not too sweet and rich enough to feel good, but not too rich to make you feel sick. It's fab with ganache. Its just fab. 

This was my contribution to the first meeting of the Clandestine Cake Club. I had read about this cake club on facebook and other blogs, and thought well, why can't we be the first CCC in Australia? So I put it to my dear friend Carolanne, and we held our first meeting in April. Basically, people come bearing cake, and it very specifically states it must be CAKE - not cupcakes or brownies or tray bakes or pies. Cake. The Clandestine Cake Club started small - but its quality not quantity, and that, we had in spades! All the cakes were fabulous, Liv from Col Panna made a BRILLIANT apple pie cheese cake (which S devoured when he got home!), which was layered with caramel, pecans, cheesecake, and stewed apples. It was a OMG moment. Bri from Eat Meets West made a caramalised pear and apple semolina cake, which I had never had before. I loved the texture of the semolina, and found that it was even better the next day! Carolanne from Carolannes Kitchen made a bit of a layer cake extravaganza! Olive oil sponge with orange blossom water, coconut sugar, persimmon cream and delicious ganache. WOOAAH!

The other cakey contributions!

Each meeting has a theme and ours was autumnal fruits, as we wanted to be seasonal and take advantage of all the wonderful fruit we have at the markets at the moment. I chose to adorn my cake with pear and glaze it with the Maggies Place fig jam I got from my Urban Locavore box, being that pears and figs are at their peak right now!

This recipe will make one roughly inch high cake. Considering this was the Clandestine Cake Club, I upped the cake a notch and made the recipe twice, and sandwiched the 2 cakes together with dark chocolate ganache. It was a delicious tweak! I used the ganache recipe from Maggie Beers Harvest book, that goes along with the chocolate fig cake.

This recipe was adapted from the one I found at Smitten Kitchen. There are a few recipes floating around on the net, all pretty similar, so far, all great!

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 generous cup plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1) Preheat the oven to 160°C, and non stick your tin (I just gave my silicon mould a spray with canola oil). 

2) In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until it forms ribbons. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine and vanilla. At this point, the cake will look a little split, but its all good, it'll come together!

3) Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and cinnamon together, and add to the wet ingredients. Mix gently until combined, then spread batter into the greased tin/mould. 

4) Slice up a pear into half cm slices, and arrange them gently on top of the batter in any pattern you like.

5) Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer  comes out clean. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. If you're using a silicon mould, wait until its completely cooled before turning the cake out.

6) Warm up a couple of tablespoons of fig jam in a small saucepan, and brush it over the cooled cake.

If you wish to add ganache just make sure the cake is fully cooled! The cake does not rise a huge amount, so I would make 2 cakes if you're looking to layer them - however would love to know how you go if you just cut one in half!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chocolate Beetroot Cake - Nigel Slater

I'm a fan of the barter system. A big fan. I would much rather pay in cake for something than hand over cash, I find it really impersonal. Sometimes its necessary, sometimes though, someone gets to have their cake and eat it too!

I recently needed a measuring cylinder for some home brewing, and some copper sulphate for my fish tank (pesky algae!). Being that I'm a science teacher I  have access to these things, and I asked my head of dept what would be required for me to borrow the cylinder and have some CuSO4. After a staff room discussion it turns out that the price for these things was a chocolate beetroot cake. I'd never made one before, and so this was the price we agreed upon!

While I was at Coventry Markets in Morley, I was hunting down some  pretty purple beetroot, when I saw that one of the market stalls has both golden and purple beetroot in stock! This was pretty great, as I had wanted to try baking with the golden beetroot before as a taste test with a friend had decided that the golden ones were less earthy and slightly sweeter. They looked so pretty, bright yellow orange amongst abundant green leaves, flanked by the dark ruby purple beetroots. I couldn't help but buy both! I ended up making a electric pink dip with the purple ones, blitzed up with danish fetta and seasoned with dukkuh, it went a dream with toasted freshly made turkish flatbreads I picked up from Sevims from the same market.

I came home and had a search for recipes and ended up finding a David Lebovitz post about a choc beetroot cake, which was inspired by Nigel Slaters recipe from Tender Vol 1, which I have. I'm always looking for reasons to use my cookbooks, and so I went and grabbed it, and decided that this was the one! I read the recipe, and saw that it followed the same method as Maggie Beers recipe for a rich chocolate cake with figs that I completely killed a couple of weeks ago, as the chocolate split - THREE TIMES that weekend. I was apprehensive about having to do this again but figured that I'd better just get back on the horse! I'm glad I did, the cake turned out great.

When I added the coffee to the chocolate, it did begin to split, and I almost stirred it too much, but them remembered Slater had specified to stir it ONLY ONCE! I added the butter and left it, as instructed. I came back to it and gave it a stir and it looked like it had split. I almost didn't trust Nigel anymore! But I read the recipe again, and he had specified to mix it firmly (I had just been using a spoon previously), so I got out my whisk and gave it a firmer beating and it came together beautifully. How could I have doubted Mr Slater?! He has proven that I can trust his recipes!

I have also learned something new about melting chocolate - Don't overstir it, just leave it to melt on a gentle heat. This will be my method from now on!

Heres the recipe below, which I got from the Telegraph UK website.

250g beetroot
200g fine dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids)
4 tbsp hot espresso
200g butter
135g plain flour
a heaped tsp baking powder
3 tbsp good-quality cocoa powder
5 eggs
190g golden caster sugar
crème fraîche and poppy seeds, to serve

1) Lightly butter a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and line the base with a disc of baking parchment. Set the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

2) Cook the beetroot, whole and unpeeled, in boiling unsalted water. Depending on their size, they will be knifepoint tender within 30 to 40 minutes. Young ones may take slightly less. Drain them, let them cool under running water, then peel them, slice out their stem and root, and blitz to a rough purée.

3) Melt the chocolate, snapped into small pieces, in a small bowl resting over a pot of simmering water. Don’t stir. When the chocolate looks almost melted, pour the hot coffee over it and stir once. Cut the butter into small pieces – the smaller the better –and add to the melted chocolate. Dip the butter down under the surface of the chocolate with a spoon (as best you can) and leave to soften.

4) Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Separate the eggs; put the whites in a mixing bowl. Stir the yolks together.

5) Now, working quickly but gently, remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter has melted into the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes, then stir in the egg yolks. Do this quickly, mixing firmly so the eggs blend into the mixture. Fold in the beetroot. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold in the sugar. Firmly but tenderly fold the beaten egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture. A large metal spoon is what you want; work in a deep, figure-of-eight movement but take care not to over-mix. Fold in the flour and cocoa.

5) Transfer quickly to the prepared cake tin and put in the oven, turning the heat down immediately to 160C/gas mark 3. Bake for 40 minutes. The rim of the cake will feel spongy, the inner part should still wobble a little when gently shaken.

6) Leave to cool (it will sink a tad in the centre), loosening it around the edges with a palette knife after half an hour or so. It is not a good idea to remove the cake from its tin until it is completely cold. Serve in thick slices, with crème fraîche and poppy seeds.

I decided to make 2 cakes with this mix, and while the cake was lovely, it would definately be much better made as the larger cake, much more moist and dense. I didn't adjust the cooking time enough, so the cake was a touch drier than it should have been, but through no fault of the recipe! Note to self... Don't cook stuff too long!

Will make this again, following Nigels instructions to the letter!