Sticky Date Cake with Butterscotch Sauce

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On a recent girls’ night out, perhaps my first in over 2 years, I had the misfortune of ordering fish and chips for dinner at a joint more well-known for its hamburgers. My fish looked unrecognisable in its thick and over-cooked batter; a pierce with a knife revealed mostly air pockets inside and an unappetising oil leak. The French fries were cooked well beyond golden and limping with oil, not to mention smelling of a fishmonger’s shop from having been cooked in the same oil as the fish. Both were delivered on a plate sans any green salad or sauce. I almost laughed at the presentation of deep-fried brownness before me, thinking it was a joke, but the owner came to wish me a good meal and I realised that he actually expected me to eat (and pay for) the woeful meal before me.

The only saving grace that night was dessert, my way of giving the restaurant a second chance because my dinner was returned largely uneaten. Thankfully, dessert was a lovely sticky date cake served with a warm butterscotch sauce and a scattering of tart raspberries. I was sharing the dessert with a friend (who shared the misfortune of ordering the same fish and chips), and much politeness was expressed over who should have the last bite, before I feigned reluctance and happily devoured what remained on the plate.

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Old-Fashioned Tomboy Cake

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I recently offered to help out at a kid’s birthday party and somehow ended up with the task of making the actual birthday cake. My first thought was to make Nigella Lawson’s Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake, a simple two-tiered chocolate cake covered in a thick, chocolate frosting with maybe some (shop-bought) sugar flowers for decoration. Simple. I had made this cake many times before and knew it to be a very reliable recipe.

But as ran my eyes across my sprawling bookshelf of cookbooks, the Miette cookbook caught my eye and, before I could think about it reasonably, I sent a link to my friend to see if she approved of the Tomboy Cake, to which she replied that it was the most beautiful cake she had ever seen. And so I had unwittingly set myself an almost impossibly high challenge and wondered over the coming days how I was going to avoid disappointing the birthday girl.

The Tomboy Cake is comprised “simply” of three tiers of chocolate sponge, separated by a piped layer of raspberry buttercream, and elegantly adorned with an understated rose in the centre of the cake. It is called a “Tomboy Cake” because the sides of the cake are left bare and unfrosted, and thereby does not appear as feminine as it would if the whole cake were to be covered in pink frosting. It is a stunning cake to look at and equally deceptive in the level of skill required to achieve such a simple look.

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Chicken Curry Puffs

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A visit to most Chinese restaurants will reveal curry puffs on the appetiser menu and I am always a sucker for anything wrapped in pastry. I could sometimes quite happily forego the main dish and just sit down to a huge serving of curry puffs, but afraid of any negative reaction this could elicit in public, I’ve never quite gone that far. So making curry puffs at home, and eating them by the plateful in private, is the far better and more ladylike option.

Chinese curry puffs can be wrapped in a variety of different pastries, such as filo pastry, wonton wrappers, spring roll wrappers or puff pastry. The restaurants typically serve them deep-fried, but baking them is also an option, especially if you are using puff pastry.

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Happy Australia Day! Lamingtons …

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Happy Australia Day! Although lamingtons have an iconic status in Australia and are enjoyed throughout the year, it seems rather fitting to make lamingtons for Australia Day.

Lamingtons are quite popular at bake sales, and anyone growing up in Australia will know of the lamington drives, a fundraising event (usually in schools) where lamingtons would be sold by the half dozen to raise money for charity.

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Sweetcorn Soup

Don’t look too closely at this photo. No, really! A close inspection of this soup might not be so pleasant on the eyes, nor the tummy …

Having had a rather intense week at work, I have been resorting to Bill’s Everyday Asian when I haven’t been reaching for the telephone to order (another) pizza home-delivery. One particular evening, I felt that making this Sweetcorn Soup from scratch, using fresh corn, would be a welcome distraction from the stressful events which had been taking place in the office.

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Vietnamese Pork Chops

Here is another fabulous short-cut recipe from Bill Granger’s new book, Bill’s Everyday Asian.

The Vietnamese have a popular dish called sườn nướng where the main component is a pork chop which is typically marinated with garlic, lemongrass and fish sauce. The pork is either grilled or pan-fried until it is golden in colour and caramelised, and served on a bed of plain Jasmine rice with accompaniments such as pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cucumber and tomatoes, and some traditional Vietnamese specialities such as finely shredded pork belly and a steamed pork and egg custard. And if you’re really hungry, you could also order this dish with a fried egg on top, sunny-side up. Some restaurants even offer a small bowl of clear soup on the side to make this truly a complete and satisfying meal.

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Chicken Curry Soup

One of my all-time favourite Vietnamese dishes is chicken curry with sweet potato. My mum makes this dish using a whole chicken which is first marinated in a special mixture of Vietnamese curry powder and other seasoning, and then slowly simmered on the stove with an array of aromatics until the chicken is tender and almost falls from the bone. Towards the end, she adds potatoes and/or sweet potatoes which has been deep-fried so that it keeps its shape in the curry, and the whole dish is served with loaves of crusty baguette (preferably from a Vietnamese bakery) to soak up the lovely curry sauce. The bread is undoubtedly French-inspired as this is one of the few Vietnamese meals which is not served with rice or noodles.

I dream constantly of my mum’s curry and, over the years, I have developed my own recipe which at least satisfies my taste buds but still falls short of my mum’s version. It is a dish which requires a bit of planning and preparation, so definitely not something I would attempt during the working week.

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