Saturday, December 22, 2018

Weekend Cooking: Soft Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

This year, more than I ever remember before, it seems my Christmas flavour is gingerbread. There was the mousse recipe I posted last week that I still need to try, then there are the gingerbread cupcakes that I m going to be making on Monday to take to our Christmas gathering, and then there are these little beauties.

I have mentioned before being part of the Queen Baking Club on Facebook. Each fortnight they put up a challenge for the members to make. This week, they put up two. The first was for a Chocolate Salami and the other was for these Soft Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies. I made them for the sous chef to take for his team's morning tea and I ended up taking half. One of the reviews from my co workers was that these were the best thing I had ever taken in, which is a big call because I do take a lot of delicious baking into work.

Somewhere I saw that these are inspired by German Lebkuchen biscuits. There's a couple of other German recipes I am intending to try at some stage, most notably a Beesting cake.

I really want to be able to find this recipe next year so I am sharing it with all of you here too.

For this year though, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Soft Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

100g butter
½ cup (180g) honey
2 tsp orange zest
1 tsp Queen Vanilla Bean Paste
1 large egg, lightly whisked
1 1/3 cup (200g) plain flour
¾ cup (75g) almond meal
¾ cup (75g) hazelnut meal
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup (110g) dark brown sugar, firmly packed
Pinch salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
150g milk chocolate

Pre-heat oven to 180°C (fan forced). Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.

Combine butter and honey in a large saucepan over a medium heat until butter has melted. Set aside and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Add orange zest, Vanilla Bean Paste and egg to cooled honey mixture and stir to combine.

In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Pour honey mixture into flour mixture and mix to form a dough.

Roll heaped teaspoons into balls and place on prepared baking trays 5cm apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, allowing to cool on tray.

Place chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and heat in 30 second increments in the microwave until melted. Dip face of cookies in melted chocolate then allow to set before serving.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Weekend Cooking: Gingerbread Souffle

Recently I went to the Cake, Bake and Sweets Show that was held in Melbourne. It is kind of like the Good Food show but is just about the sweeter things in life.

Throughout the venue there were lots of vendors selling various gadgets and different types of chocolates, fudges and cakes, and there were plenty of tasting opportunities too.  We were very controlled and I only ended up buying one cookbook. I do kind of regret not buying one other, but that night we were also going to see Bon Jovi in concert so we couldn't really carry too much around with us all day and night.

The thing that makes these shows more than the gadgets and shopping though is the demonstrations. I think I said this last time I went to the Good Food Show, but I need to be more strategic about planning out the demonstrations I go to. We were working on our deck (more about that another time) in the morning so didn't end up going in until lunch time but if you planned your day better I am sure you could see multiple demonstrations and still see all the exhibits without too much difficulty

As it was I did see two demonstrations and picked up a couple of handy hints along the way. The first demonstration was by French patissier Eric Lanlard and the other was a chocolate demonstration by Jessica Pedemont.  The tip that I have used most since learning it related to piping bags. The first tip is that piping nozzle goes inside the piping bag. I had been putting it on the outside and hoping that the pressure would hold the tip in.  Who knew!

The other tip was about putting the nozzle in and then twisting the piping bag and almost tucking it in the nozzle which creates a lock. You then fill the bag, untwist it and then you are ready for piping and nothing has run out the end unexpectedly!  Simple but effective

Today I am going to share one of the recipes that was shared in the demonstration by Eric Lanlard who apparently has a British TV show called Glamour Puds, several cookbooks and a baking app available from his website. He made two recipes. The first was Gingerbread souffle, which is the recipe below, and the other recipe was a Jamaican Chocolate tart.

The demonstration was lots of fun. Plenty of banter, especially between Eric and the cameraman, lots of encouragement and tips were shared along the way, and the food looked amazing! A couple of the things that he mentioned were to never buy your chocolate from the baking aisle, but buy good quality chocolate from the confectionery aisle. The other thing he talked about was making your own pastry. He totally gave us permission to use shop bought puff and filo pastry but said that shortcrust pastry is totally doable. Not that I needed his permission but still.

So onto the recipe. Now admittedly Eric Lanlard is a professionally trained patissier so of course he makes things look easy, but this recipe really, really did look as though it is something that I could do, and if I can so can others!! He did say this is a recipe for small dinner party. It's not something you want to do for 20 people, but make it straight before you want to eat it. Get it out of the oven and take it to the table and wow your guests. And it is a perfect dessert for this time of the year with the spices making it feel very festive.

Gingerbread Souffle (Eric Lanlard)

50g (2oz) unsalted butter
135g (43/4oz) caster sugar
210g (71/4oz) dark or couverture chocolate
(70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp dark rum
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
5 eggs, separated

To serve

vanilla custard or creme fraiche


1. Preheat the oven to 180.C (fan 160.C)/350.F/gas mark 4. Melt half the butter and use to brush the inside of eight small ramekins. Tip 25g (1oz) of the caster sugar into one ramekin and tap around the sides to lightly coat. Pour the excess into the next ramekin and repeat until all the ramekins are butter- and sugar-coated.

2. Melt the chocolate with the spices, rum, vanilla extract and remaining butter in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (the base of the bowl must not touch the water). Stir until smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and mix the egg yolks in one at a time.

3. In a large clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft, moist-looking peaks. Mix a little into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the rest, using a large metal spoon.

4. Divide the souffle mixture between the ramekins, spooning it in, and place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for exactly 11 minutes.

5. Serve with vanilla custard poured into the centre of each souffle


These souffl├ęs must be cooked just before eating; they will flatten within 2 minutes of being removed from the oven. Be careful not to open the oven during cooking, as this may prevent them from rising.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Weekend Cooking: Cook books?

I recently was looking for a specific recipe and thought I would have a look through the cookbooks that I have on my shelf. I did think that, surely, at least one of them would have the recipe I wanted. It turned out that they didn't actually have exactly what I was looking for but the exercise did have me pondering a couple of things about cookbooks and what their current roles are in our cooking lives?

I wouldn't say I have a lot of cookbooks, maybe 50 or 60 or so, but I am always looking at buying more longingly.

When I looked at my shelves, there are a number from the mid 90s that I bought when I lived in the UK and that I bought back with me when I returned to Australia in late 1999. I can't remember what my thinking was in selecting which ones to bring back although it looks as though any chef whose name is either Ainsley or Delia was a criteria. I am not sure if they were books that I loved cooking from, or perhaps books that I didn't necessarily think I could get here easily. I do know that I left a lot behind though.

When I found the book above though I was surprised to see the tag line there of 'A new edition for the 1990s'

Currently my cookbooks are organised into two distinct groups. There are two shelves of cookbooks by Australian authors, and then another couple of shelves of overseas authors.

I do love looking through cookbooks, and often find inspiration to try new recipes as a result of this. I wonder if this makes cookbooks more glorified coffee table books rather than truly every day items. The truth is though that I get a couple of magazines each month and often these for trying new recipes. And if I am completely truthful, the reality is that most of the time these days I think of a recipe, or see it on a cooking show,  and then search for it online.

So how do you see the role of cookbooks in your kitchen? Has it changed over the years?

And the recipe that I was looking for? I really wanted to make some Viennese biscuits. Normally you can have these sandwiched together with jam but I really just wanted to make the biscuits and then dip them in chocolate and cover in sprinkles because I saw them done that way on Instagram. In the end though it was really hot here so my butter was too soft, I should have put the biscuits in the fridge before baking them so they spread everywhere, the biscuits were too soft to dip in chocolate so I had to just spoon the chocolate over. It was actually too hot for the chocolate to set. So, in the end it was a bit of a baking fail, but gee they tasted good. These were the last two and they are gone now!

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Weekend Cooking: What's your cooking passion?

I have mentioned once before that, in addition to doing the Bake It Boxes, I have also joined a baking club on Facebook called The Queen Baking Club (where Queen is the name of a company that makes all sorts of flavouring, food colouring etc).

They set a fortnightly challenge for the members in the club and so far I have made the following .....

Banana Caramel Upside Down Cake

Coconut Rough Magic Cake

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

Creamy Ginger Nut Cheesecake

Strawberries & Cream Sheet Cake

Oozing Eyeball Marshmallow Slice

And I have just made Baklava Slice and I am planning to make Easy Vanilla Bean Fudge tomorrow to take for work on Monday

This week they asked a question though about what kind of baking people wanted to have set as challenges in the club (slices, desserts, cupcakes, cake, foodie gifts, healthy baking etc) and it's prompted me to ask a similar question to all my fellow Weekend Cooking bloggers

If you could cook just for pleasure, where you had access to all the ingredients that you needed, time was no object, what would you cook? What's your cooking passion?

If you asked me a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have said baking but these days baking is definitely my thing. I have so many recipes I want to find and make. For example, a couple of months ago, the sous chef bought me some half dome silicone moulds. My intention over the next few weeks is to try and locate a recipe to make in that, even if it means having several steps like maybe doing chocolate domes filled with lemon mousse and a sponge base. I don't know exactly what but something. I also still want to try making choux pastry, and so much more!

Just the other day I mentioned on Twitter that my Instagram account is now all about the cakes and that provides extra inspiration too!

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Weekend Cooking: The Lost Pearl by Emily Madden (Lemon Crunch Cake)

Recently I finished reading The Lost Pearl by Emily Madden. Actually, let me start again. Recently I finished listening to the audiobook of The Lost Pearl by Emily Madden. It is one of my favourite kinds of books - dual storylines in the past and the present linked together.

The story starts with Kit who has been called to the bedside of her ailing grandmother, Katherine. In their final conversation, Katherine surprises Kit by revealing a life long secret. It shocks Kit to think that she didn't know such a big thing about her grandmother as they had always been incredibly close. That is just the beginning as Kit begins to uncover secret after secret. Katherine had never really talked about her early life, and it turns out there were big reasons why. Kit isn't even sure how it was that Katherine ended up living in Australia despite being born in the US

Katherine's story starts in Hawaii, in the weeks prior to the bombing of the fleet in the harbor that was the final impetus to draw the US into WWII. Kitty McGarrie, as she was known then, was the 16 years old daughter of a Rear Admiral and lived a very comfortable life of parties, going to the movies with her friends, and spending time at the beach. The only dampener in her life is really her mother, who is determined that Kitty must be the perfect daughter at all times.

On her 16th birthday her family throws a glamorous party for her, and it is there that Kitty meets Charlie, a sailor who her parents will never approve of as he comes from a lower social class. They fall in love and are determined that they will be together, but fate has a way of having other ideas.

As Kit tries to trace her grandmother's history, she finds herself attending the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing in her stead. She meets people who knew Kitty and can help fill in some of the gaps. She also meets Adam, a man who is self assured to the point of arrogance, but who agrees to show her around Hawaii, in particular taking Kit to places which help her see glimpses into how Kitty's life would have been in the lead up to that fateful day when everything changed.

Adam also had a tendency to challenge Kit about her own past and how it is affecting her life now.

The narration was quite good on this one. I do some times find it difficult to transition from one audiobook to the next as I am used to listening to one voice and the new voice can be jarring. At first, the narrator's voice sounded a bit light (particularly seeing as the previous book I listened to was Lethal White, the latest Robert Cormoran book) but overall it was a good performance, and I found myself thinking about the book when I was doing other things. When I started my next audiobook after this one I once again had the transition issue, so I guess that means that I was invested in this performance.

Recently I have had a couple of conversations on Facebook where people had asked whether we are at saturation point for stories set in WWII. I will admit that I have been at saturation point for the Tudors for many, many years. The difference for me is that the Tudors were all about one family, with three or four main characters, covering a period of 50 - 60 years but there is so much scope for a WWII story. It covers a shorter period but the story can be set in numerous countries in Europe, in the Pacific or even the stories of people left at home. There are literally millions of people whose story can be told and more often that not, the stories I love are not necessarily about the mechanics of war but rather about the stories of people living with extreme adversity and still managing to survive and find happiness.

There is still plenty of scope for the big events though. As I mentioned above the main historical part of this book is set around the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Whilst I am sure that there are plenty of books set in that time and place, this is the first time I recall reading it, especially hearing it from the perspective of the sailors who were on the ships as they were bombed.

There are quite a few mentions in the book of different food that you would have found in Hawaii in the early 1940's including something called shave ice, but the item that caught my attention was  called Lemon Crunch Cake. I have been looking around for recipes and found one at Fork to Belly which looks pretty good. Most interestingly, the blogger has added a bit of history about the cake and the places it used to be and still is served in which was interesting reading, especially seeing as I was hearing about some of those same places in the book.

A few weeks ago I posted about my evolution as a baker, and I think that this cake represents that pretty well.  There was a time when I wouldn't have been confident enough to try making a layer cake with lots of elements, but I very nearly ended up taking bits and pieces from numerous different recipes to put together.

I was a bit concerned about making a cake using American measurements rather than the Australian ones I am used to, and there was also a couple of ingredients that were initially a bit unfamiliar to me. I was also keen to use real lemon juice rather than lemon extract.   I was therefore looking around for other lemon sponge cake recipes that I could use, and I almost got to the point where I was going to take a sponge cake recipe from one website, and the pastry cream and the toffee crunch from the original recipe. The other thing was that the recipe called for shop bought lemon curd, but I have made that before when I made a lemon mousse cake a couple of months ago, so I already knew that I was going to make my own curd. In the end though, I decided to go with the original recipe because it looked like such a light, fluffy sponge and I didn't want to make a cake that was too dense. It turns out that those unfamiliar ingredients really just have different names here.

So here is my take on the Lemon Crunch Cake. It is a super light lemon sponge, with a layer of pastry cream (which I have never made before), a layer of lemon curd, covered with lemon flavoured whipped cream and then topped with a toffee crunch. So delicious! I will make it again, although I might make half the toffee and only put it on the top

And with all that delicious leftover lemon curd we could have pancakes with lemon curd or mini lemon tarts with some leftover pastry that I have in the fridge. Or crumpets with butter and lemon curd! I'm sure we will find something.

I have a bit of the travel bug really, and I came home several times and said to the sous chef that I wanted to go to the Arizona Memorial. It was already on our list of places to go one day, but this book just reiterated it. And if I do go, I will be sure to make my way to The Alley, one of two places who still serve this cake.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Weekend Cooking: "Fried" chicken

When we aren't eating cake we are trying to eat a little healthier, but I am struggling a little bit with it. One of the reasons that I am struggling is that the sous chef has decided that we are going to eat more low carb high fat/keto rather than the traditional low fat/calorie counting philosophy of losing weight. This means we have been doing things like eating cauliflower mash and cauliflower fried rice. Where I am struggling is with things like eating bacon and eggs for breakfast on a regular basis or eating keto cheesecake as dessert. I have 30 years plus of conditioning around eating low fat yoghurt, drinking low fat milk, not frying anything, and certainly not having a kind of cheesecake for dessert.

Having said that, we are currently watching a British cooking show called Lose Weight for Good. It is hosted by a chef called Tom Kerridge. Tom was very, very overweight and lost a lot of weight by cutting out carbs and exercising but his show is all about how to eat delicious low fat, calorie counted food because that is what the UK government recommends as the best way to lose weight.  I am interested in getting hold of his previous book where he talked about the food he actually ate to lose weight.

It does make it a bit challenging to have the two different ways of eating but at the end of the day it's about trying to find tasty food to enjoy.

One of the early recipes in the series was for a Southern "fried" chicken and it looked so delicious that we had to try it, and the recipe was definitely a winner. We took it for lunch a couple of days with salad. Definitely a recipe to try again and again. If fact we had it for dinner again tonight!

We did also have an avocado dressing with the salad. I don't love avo but the sous chef is very keen on it, but it was very tasty to have with the chicken and salad.

Southern "fried" chicken (Tom Kerridge)

12 boneless chicken thighs (1kg/2lb 4oz in total), skin and visible fat removed
sunflower oil spray

For the crispy coating

75g/2½oz plain flour
1 tsp garlic salt
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp flaky sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the marinade

200ml/7fl oz low-fat buttermilk
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp flaky sea salt
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried sage
¼ tsp white pepper

For the marinade, mix the ingredients together in a large bowl, add the chicken and coat well. Refrigerate overnight, or for at least four hours.

Preheat the oven to its hottest setting and line a large baking tray with baking paper.

For the crispy coating, mix all the ingredients together in a shallow bowl. Dip the chicken into the mixture and turn to coat well on all sides. Place on the lined baking tray. Spray each thigh 4–5 times with the oil.

Cook on the top shelf for 20–30 minutes, or until crispy, browned and cooked through. To test, poke the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer, the juices should run clear.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Weekend Cooking: Lemon Meringue Pie

Last week I made Mary Berry's Lemon Meringue Pie, and I have been pondering the way that I have, in effect, been learning the different basics of baking. A couple of years ago I wouldn't have actually attempted making this. Pastry from scratch? Not likely. Meringue? Even more unlikely. But gradually, by taking a series of small steps, I have got to the point where it doesn't feel as thought it is impossible.

So, what were the steps along the way?

Firstly, in relation to pastry, I started out by making Donna Hay's Lemon Tart (actually making the pastry twice due to my own rookie error), and then recently I made chocolate chess tart which starts with a chocolate pastry.  I am most definitely not ready to start making filo pastry or even puff pastry, but I think that shortcrust pastry is something that doesn't intimate me anymore. I do intend trying to make a rough puff pastry at some point, and also to try choux pastry, but not sure when that will be.

I had some exposure to making the lemon filling when I made the lemon tart, but also a few weeks ago I made a lemon mousse cake that started with making lemon curd which was delicious be itself, but then it was folded through cream etc to make a lemon mousse that was so good! As in really, really good!

Meringue has been a little more challenging, but I think that is because it can be influenced by so many factors. You can get the mixture right, but it still might not cook correctly because of humidity or even your equipment not being scrupulously clean. 

I started trying to make meringue last year when we made Eton Mess but that wasn't 100% successful. Since then I have made meringues a couple of times, most recently when I made meringue kisses to put on my mother's 70th birthday cake. Next steps will be to make a pavlova from scratch!!

Now don't be fooled. Whilst I my confidence is definitely up, I don't have these techniques mastered! Today I managed to not get the lemon filling exactly right because I didn't pay attention when I was adding the sugar to the egg yolks. I forgot to reset the scales to 0 and so when I realised I didn't know  how much sugar I had already added. I suspect I was a bit under so the lemon is very lemony, but it still tasted delicious. I guess if you want to eat something lemon, you want to taste it as lemon!

This is actually a Mary Berry recipe. Mary Berry has been a TV cook in the UK for many years, but I first heard of her when I started watching Great British Bake Off a few years ago. That show, the spin-off that features professional pastry chefs (Bake Off The Professionals), and the Australian version all are part of my must see TV viewing.  To get some idea of how long Mary has been on TV, her she is making Lemon Meringue Pie back in 1973!

And now, here is the recipe for the current recipe. You can also watch a more recent video for a variation on this recipe here and there is a link to the recipe I made below

Lemon Meringue Pie (Mary Berry)

For the pastry
225g/8oz plain flour
175g/6oz butter
45g/1¾oz icing sugar
1 large free-range egg, beaten

For the lemon filling
6 lemons, zest and juice
65g/2¼oz cornflour
250g/9oz caster sugar
6 free-range egg yolks

For the meringue topping
4 free-range egg whites
225g/8oz caster sugar
2 tsp cornflour


Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

First make the pastry. Measure the flour and butter into a food processor and blend together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the icing sugar, egg and one tablespoon of water and whizz again until combined to a ball.

Tip the pastry onto a work surface and roll out to a 3mm thickness. Use the rolling pin to lift the pastry up and transfer it to line a 23cm/9in loose-bottomed flan tin. Be careful not to stretch the pastry as you tuck it into the corners. Cover in cling film and place in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Take the pastry-lined tin out of the fridge and trim the excess pastry. Press the top edge of the pastry so that it stands slightly higher than the top of the tin.

Line the pastry case with parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake for about 15 minutes then remove the beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further five minutes.

Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 170C/340F/Gas 3½.

For the filling, mix the lemon zest and juice with the cornflour and stir to form a smooth paste. Measure 450ml/16fl oz of water into a pan and bring to the boil. Add the lemon cornflour mixture to the hot water and stir over the heat until the mixture has thickened, then remove from the heat.

In a bowl mix together the sugar and egg yolks and carefully whisk into the lemon mixture in the pan. Stir over a medium heat until thickened. Set aside for a few minutes and then pour into the baked pastry case.

For the meringue, whisk the egg whites in a free-standing mixer until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Add the caster sugar a little at a time, still whisking until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Add the cornflour and whisk again.

Spoon on top of the filled pastry case and spread the meringue to completely cover the lemon filling. Then create a swirl on the top of the meringue.

Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the filling is completely set and the meringue is lightly golden and crisp. Allow to cool completely before cutting or serve very slightly warm.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Summer Seaside Kitchen and The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan

Like many others I am a sucker for good foodie fiction, and for books set in Scotland,  so when you get both in the one book its a fair chance it is a winner. In this case, it is actually two separate but linked books!

The first book is called The Summer Seaside Kitchen here, but it is published in some places the book is called The Cafe by the Sea.

The book opens when we meet Flora who is working in a law firm in London. She is madly in love with her boss, Joel, who barely knows she exists. That is until one of the firms biggest clients needs assistance with his business concerns that just happen to be located on her home island. Flora soon finds herself unwillingly returning home in anticipation of being asked to assist the big name client.

The main reason Flora is unwilling to return home is that it just isn't the same for her since her beloved mother died. Flora isn't the only one struggling. Her brothers and her father are existing, but certainly not thriving. The house is untidy, the men are eating poorly and they are all clearly unhappy.

While she waits for her work with the millionaire client to begin, she starts to do some tidying and reorganising in the house, and it is this that leads her to find her mother's notebook that is filled with the recipes that she used to feed her family over the years. Reading through the recipes reminds Flora of the times when she was helping her mother. learning how to cook by her side and soon Flora finds herself cooking some of these recipes, and in the process finds that it helps bring her some peace in relation to the loss of her mother.

It is not only healing for Flora though, cooking some of their favourite family recipes helps her brothers also. Each of them is dealing with their own issues. One of her brothers is divorced and dealing with shared custody of his young daughter, another has a secret passion for cheesemaking and they are all faced with a future of hard work trying to make their family business work.

Through a series of events, related to the client, Flora ends up staying on the island for much longer than intended and, using her mother's recipes as a starting point, opens a cafe near the beach. Soon the locals and visitors are singing her praises, and Flora finds herself wondering if maybe, just maybe, she should be coming home for good, and leaving her hum drum life in London behind her.

If there was one aspect where I didn't love this book it was in the romance. Flora has been obsessively in love with her boss for years and he had barely noticed her, let along reciprocated any level of interest. When she comes home to the island she meets Charlie, and finds herself having to examine her feelings for both men to see where they truly lie. I must say, I don't necessarily agree with the direction that the author took the novel in, but hey, it's her story, and it certainly set the scene for the follow up book.

I've just realised that it was probably not such a smart idea to write about both of these books in the same post as it is going to be difficult to discuss the second book without spoiling the first book, but we'll give it a go, or maybe I will just skim around the edges of what the book is about.

Firstly, while I enjoyed The Summer Seaside Kitchen, it did feel a bit like the other book that I have previously read by this author (see review here) but The Endless Beach felt different. It felt deeper in the way that it treated some really serious topics. I don't know what this book would be classified as. Remember when there was a whole genre of chick-lit. That doesn't seem to be a thing anymore. Maybe now it is women's fiction or some such label. A lot of those books deal with serious subplots, but this one just feels deeper, less superficial, than usual to me.

Flora and her family are still the focus of the second book, but things have changed a lot. She is now at home permanently, running the cafe but wondering how she is going to make it into a profitable going concern. Her brother's love of cheesemaking is no longer a secret and he is in love and looking forward to living happily ever after. Even her dad seems to be happier, not that he says much given that he is a man of few words.

The part of the story I loved though, relates to the new doctor who has moved to the island. Saif has moved the island of Mure after arriving in Britain as a refugee. As a qualified doctor he basically had to go where he was sent and he is now trying to get used to living in a tiny village community in the islands in the north of Scotland. Everything is different from his homeland. The food, the people, and most definitely the weather. And no matter how accommodating people try to be (for example, Flora insists on making truly awful falafel), some people are distrusting of someone who is different.

For all that Saif was trying to get used to his new life, it is in some ways a half life as he is waiting for news from his homeland. His wife and children have been missing in his war torn homeland and he has no idea where they are or even if they are alive.

There are plenty of immigrant stories around where that is the whole story, but what I loved about this one was that it was just included in the story like it is just a normal, every day occurrence. Yes, it is challenging for lots of people from the patients who have to get used to Saif, to Flora's best friend Lorna who is attracted to this quiet, lonely man, to the school community as a whole, but it is also just a big part of the story.

I was very excited to see that there is a new book out that continues this series, especially seeing as I can't get hold of the short story that was only released in the UK. The new book once again has a couple of different titles. On the author's website it is called An Island Christmas, but on Goodreads it appears to be called Christmas on the Island. Definitely planning on reading it soon.

Both of the books have a selections of recipes in it which is always fun, all with a Scottish feel. For example, in The Endless Beach there are recipes for Shortbread, Cheese Scones and Haggis Pakora.

I did wonder if any of my fellow Weekend Cooks had ever found or been given a family cookbook that they were then able to cook out of. I haven't, an to be honest, there's only really one recipe of my mother's that I would like to get hold of at some point but maybe someone else has!

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Weekend Cooking: Steak with Mushroom Sauce

We interrupt the recent cake fest on my blog to bring you something savoury!!

It may be a bit hard to tell from all the cakes I have been posting lately but in theory we are still trying to eat a bit healthier. This is a recipe we have made a couple of times now so I wanted to save it somewhere we can find it!!

This week I am sharing a recipe that is not only delicious but it includes a fair amount of vegetables too. It comes from the last edition of Diabetic Living. I do still buy this magazine, I just haven't quite been cooking out of it constantly as I have been in the past. I possibly am paying the price for that weight wise, but never mind.

Steak with Mushroom Sauce

500g lean rump steak, trimmed of fat, cut into 4 pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tspn olive oil
1 bunch broccolini, trimmed, diagonally halved
290g (2 cups) frozen peas
250g Swiss Brown mushrooms, sliced (or a selection of other mushrooms)
250ml (1 cup) salt-reduced beef stock or gluten-free stock
1 tbspn wholegrain mustard
2 tspn cornflour or gluten free cornflour
1 bunch baby carrots, trimmed, scrubbed, steamed, to serve
500g small potatoes, halved, steamed, to serve

Preheat over to 180C (fan forced). Rub steak with garlic and pepper. Heat oil in a large cast iron or stoveproof frying pan over medium-high heat. Add steak and broccolini. Cook for 2 minutes, turning steak once. Place peas around steak. Add pan to oven and cook for 5 minutes, or until steak is cooked to your liking.

Transfer meat and vegies to a platter. Cover with foil to keep warm. Add mushrooms to pan and cook over medium-high for 3 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft. Whisk stock, mustard and cornflour together. Stir into pan. Cook, stirring, until sauce comes to a simmer. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens.

Slice the steak. Return steak and peas to the pan. Sprinkle with pepper. Serve with the steamed carrots and potatoes

Serves 4

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Whilst I am not reading anywhere near as many books as I used to, things are much better than they have been over the last few years when it comes to reading. I think last year I read 12 books in total for the year. 12!! A few years ago, reading 12 books in a month would have been a bad month! At the moment, I am on track to read about 50 books for this year, which I am pretty happy with.

When I was on Instagram the other day I saw about RIPXIII - the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge that is hosted at Readers Imbibing Peril. This is a challenge that I used to look forward to every year, and that I participated in regularly. It is something of a shock to realise that I haven't participated in it for 5 years. When I was thinking about my previous participation in this challenge it has lead me to think about so many people who blogged but have now disappeared, including Carl who originally hosted this challenge. It pleased me to see that the challenge is still recognisable as the RIP reading challenge of old, but still moving forward as well.

When I looked at what I want to read over the next few weeks though, I realised that quite a few of the books I want to read fit the challenge criteria which is to read and enjoy books that are

Dark Fantasy.

The books that I have in mind to read before the end of October include The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan, The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton and Lethal White by Robert Galbraith.  I am thinking that I am going to try and stretch myself to read one more and therefore meet the Peril the IVth level of participation. I have no idea if I will actually review any other books, but there's still fun to be had on Litsy, Instagram, Twitter etc even if that doesn't actually happen.

I actually finished listening to The Ruin yesterday and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. The audiobook was narrated by Aoife McMahon and she did a great job in telling the story. I wasn't always 100% convinced by her Irish-Australian accent, but I think that every Irish-Australian out there probably have different inflections in their accent anyway. I also swear that at one point the wrong name (Ella) was used for a character  (Emma) but I didn't end up trying to find it again to see if it really happened of it was just my hearing!

The story itself was interesting. It starts with a young police man being sent to a house where there has been a report of domestic violence but when he gets there he finds two kids who have been obviously neglected and abused, and their dead mother who has apparently died of a heroin overdose.

Fast forward 20 years and Cormac Reilly has just returned to Galway having lived in Dublin for many years and worked his way up into specialist units in the Garda. He has returned to Galway for personal reasons and finds himself ostracised from his colleagues, not knowing if he can trust some people he called friends, suspicious of some of the events that are happening within the station and only being allocated cold cases.

One of the cold cases he is allocated to reinvestigate is the death of the mother, and he is taken back in time to the case that he has thought of many times over the years. But when the young boy, now grown, is found dead in a suspected suicide, things get complicated.

I enjoyed the narrative a lot, and I like that this is the first in a series. I particularly like that there are still threads of the story that I suspect will flow into the next book. I think we got to know just enough about Cormac in this book to keep me reading, without having his whole backstory overwhelm the storyline of the book.

Dervla McTiernan is an Irish born author who moved to Australia a few years ago. It's a long standing Aussie tradition to claim anyone with this kind of background as an Aussie, and I am therefore counting this towards the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
I never really wrote a post declaring that I was participating in the challenge this year, but I would say at least half of the books I am reading at the moment are by Australian women writers, so my participation in this challenge over the last five or six years has definitely left a lasting impact on my reading choices.
Rating 4.5/5

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Weekend Cooking: Caramel Banana Upside Down Cake

It seems that baking has become my thing. I think it is partially because it is nice to have an appreciative audience. The SC is always happy to eat what I cook. His theory regarding cooking is that it doesn't really matter if it's not quite perfect because you can eat your mistakes. Previously, if I made something new my son would be unlikely to even try it. Actually, that still hasn't changed.

I have posted before about the Bake it Boxes that I have been doing, but the other thing I have done is joined a Facebook club called Queen Baking Club. Queen is a brand of baking products such as vanilla extract, food colouring etc here. The idea is that every fortnight, the good bakers at Queen set a challenge and then anyone who wants to can attempt to make it. They also have a better baking newsletter as well where they send out some hints on how to bake better. From this I made a raspberry roulade with an amazing cream cheese filling.

Back to the baking club. So far, there have been four challenges. The first one was for Vanilla Slice. I haven't actually done that one yet, but I will eventually. The third was for cupcakes that included unicorn and mermaid flavouring. Whilst I am keen to try the meringue frosting, I am not sure what unicorn and mermaid taste like so I am thinking I am going to give that one a miss. The fourth one was a Chocolate Sour Cream Cake with Ganache. Oh my goodness. So good! I will probably post that recipe soon. Wait, there was Chocolate Coconut Custard Layer cake too that I did make too.

The eagle eyed amongst you may notice that I missed the second one which was a Caramel Banana Upside Down Cake which is the recipe I am posting today. I made this for my son's last family dinner before he went back to America to college a few weeks ago.

I think I had the oven a fraction hot (still getting used to the new oven) so it might be a fraction dark, but everyone enjoyed it, and it was delicious with whipped cream (as whipped by the sous chef who also goes by the moniker of the cream whipperer!)

Caramel Banana Upside Down Cake

  1. 125g butter, at room temperature
  2. ¾ cup, firmly packed (165g) brown sugar
  3. 2 tsp Queen Cinnamon Baking Paste
  4. 1 tsp Queen Natural Organic Vanilla Extract
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 275g (1 cup) mashed very ripe banana
  7. 185g (1 ¼ cups) plain flour
  8. 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  9. ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  1. 150g (¾ cup, softly packed) brown sugar
  2. 75g butter, diced
  3. 4 medium (about 170g each, with skin) ripe bananas, peeled and cut lengthways

For the Topping

1. Preheat oven to 160°C (fan-forced). Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

2. Combine sugar and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves and starts to bubble. Simmer for 15 sec without stirring. Pour into prepared tin, spread to cover base then set aside to cool slightly.

3.Arrange  bananas in tin over sugar mixture, cutting to fit when necessary.

For the Cake

1.Beat butter, sugar, Cinnamon Baking Paste, and Vanilla until pale and creamy, scraping down sides when necessary. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until well combined.

2. Use a fork to mash bananas on a plate. Add to butter mixture and beat on low to combine. Sift together flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add to banana mixture and beat on lowest speed until just combined.

3. Spoon mixture into prepared tin and smooth surface with back of a metal spoon, making a shallow well in centre.

4. Bake for 70 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Stand in tin for at least 10 minutes before turning onto a serving plate or cake stand with a lip.

Tip: Pack the bananas as tightly as possible in the base of the tin for the best visual effect

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Weekend Cooking: Jolly Good Food by Allegra McEvedy

A while ago now I mentioned a Youtube TV series called Word of Mouth which seeks to combine a love of books and a love of food into one delicious package. In the course of one of the episodes one of the guest authors mentioned this book and I just had to go and get it from the library.

I have posted a couple of times over the year about how much I loved the Enid Blyton books, especially the Magic Faraway Tree books and the Wishing Chair books. I wasn't as fond of the Famous Five and never read the Malory Towers books, but those books where the children found adventures in other lands were amazing to me. Such good memories.\

I am not really the target audience for this book. It is really a children's cookbook, and the recipes reflect that, but it has been fun for me to take a look at as an adult.

The book is broken into six parts and each part includes a small snippet from the relevant books. There is Breakfast with the Naughtiest Girl, Elevenses in the Secret Seven's Shed, Picnicking with the Famous Five, Teatime Treats up the Faraway Tree, Suppers on the Secret Island and Midnight Feasts at Mallory Towers.

My favourite chapter was the teatime treats of course. Why wouldn't it be when the treats include Google Buns (back before google was google), Mother's Macaroons, Silky's Pop Tarts, Toffee for Moon Face, Clementine Treacle Tart and Raspberry and Vanilla Water Ice.

Below is a video of the author making Google Buns with her daughter

I thought though that I would share a page which is the recipe for the pop cakes so you can see the style of the book and the sheer fun of the illustrations

Silky was pleased. She sat there brushing her beautiful golden hair and ate sandwiches with them. She brought out a tin of Pop cakes, which were lovely. As soon as you bit into them they went pop! an you suddenly found your mouth filled with new honey from the middle of the little cakes. Frannie took seven, one after another, for she was rather greedy. 

Beth stopped her. "You'll go pop if you eat any more!"

As an aside, do you ever find yourself reading your own old blog posts. I do it with Weekend Cooking posts, but when I do find myself looking back at some of my old content I realise that I wasn't too bad at this book blogging thing back in the day. Not now, but never mind.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Weekend Cooking: Raspberry-flecked Sour Cream Cake

A few weeks ago now I posted a Nigella Lawson recipe that I got from Masterchef Australia of Walnut, Ginger and Carrot Cake. As a result of how delicious that cake was I thought I would take a look at some of her other recipes.

Nigella Lawson must be one of the most famous food names in the world. Whilst I obviously know who she is and have watched the occasional episode of her TV shows I wouldn't really call myself a fan. I certainly can't remember cooking any of her recipes before.

Having borrowed At My Table from the library, I took a leisurely look through all the recipes and found several that I am interested in making. I must say I really enjoyed reading the intros to each of her recipes. There are warnings to not even think of substituting light coconut milk for full cream coconut milk, or my favourite one which is the introduction to a Brussels Sprouts with Preserved Lemons and Pomegranate. The paragraph starts "There is a vociferous anti-sprout brigade, but I have no time for the Brussels bashing bigotry." As an anti-sprouter I laughed!

There's a number of recipes I want to try. Some of the recipes that I want to try are Chicken and Pea Tray Bake, and the Chocolate Olive Oil Mousse. There's also a White Chocolate Cheesecake that I am tempted to try so that I can compare it to the one that I have been making to great acclaim for several years.

My first recipe to try though was this one, mainly because I wanted to try out the freeze dried raspberries but also because it looks really pretty and not too difficult. In the intro to this recipe it advises that you shouldn't substitute fresh raspberries, and that if you don't have a savarin ring, which I don't, then you can make this in a 1lb (450g) loaf tin.

Raspberry-flecked Sour Cream Cake

175g plain flour
1/2 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda
175ml sour cream, room temperature
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tspn vanilla extract
125ml vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing the tin
2 x 15ml tbspns freeze-dried raspberries, plus more for sprinkling


125g icing sugar
1-2 x 15ml tbspns freshly boiled water

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan-forced. Grease your 22cm savarin ring generously with oil using a pastry brush., and leave the tin upside down over a piece of newspaper or baking parchment while you get on with making the cake batter. Or line a loaf tin.

Mix the flour, baking powder and bicarb in a bowl. Put the sour cream into a large measuring jug, add the caster sugar, eggs, vanilla and oil and whisk to mix.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and beat until you've got a smooth batter. Fold in the freeze-dried raspberries, then pour the mixture into the prepared mould (or loaf tin) and bake for 30-35 minutes (or 45-50 minutes if using a loaf tin) until the cake is risen and golden brown and a cake tester pronged into two parts of the cake comes out clean. Sit the cake in its tin on a wire rack until cool before turning out, easing it gently with a small spatula first.

Once the cake's completely cold, transfer to a cake stand or plate. Mix the icing sugar with the freshly boiled water, adding 1 tspn at a time, until you have a thick but still pourable consistency: around 4 teaspoons of water generally does it. Make sure there  are no lumps before you spoon it all over the top of the cake and sprinkle immediately with freeze dried raspberries.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.


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