Monday, April 30, 2007

April 28, 2007: Pumpkin and spelt muffins

Probably the biggest and baddest eating temptation in my routine is mid-afternoon at work. The pace slows down and as the hours plod on, I start thinking about the fat-laden snacks at the FoodWorks no more than fifty paces from my desk. While there is certainly a psychological element to my cravings, I am often genuinely hungry by 4:00 and I need to eat to maintain those last threads of concentration. Thus, I'm often on the lookout for recipes and snacks that I can prepare and pack from home that'll minimise the damage done. Muffins have frequently popped up as a possible solution but they're usually very cakey and sweet, not much better than the chocolate bar I'm most tempted by! Trust the super-natural Heidi from 101 Cookbooks to present me with an alternative, with a recipe taken from Homegrown Pure and Simple by Michel Nischan.

The photograph of Heidi's batch had the austere and no-frills look I sought to emulate, hinting at lots of fibre and little sugar. The inclusion of pureed pumpkin gave me hope that there would still be some smooth sweetness to enjoy. My batch, by contrast, turned out to be sticky and spongy little critters, not at all dry or humourless. They're pretty tasty, but I probably won't reproduce them in their original form because they take a lot of time and a lot of dishes! If you bother to read the recipe properly before beginning (I didn't) you'll realise why: not only do you have to roast the pumpkin, but you have to reduce a litre of apple juice to a syrup of only a quarter of a cup. That took me about an hour and a half. It's actually quite a revelation to taste and play with this syrup and if you're curious, don't let me dissuade you from attempting it! But for a weekday muffin an equal quantity of honey, golden syrup or maple syrup will surely do the job. The other nuisance step is the separation of eggs, and the gentle folding in of the fluffy whites. To be honest, this afternoon grazer couldn't really detect the peppercorns, cinnamon or coriander seeds in the final product. My future adaption of this recipe would probably use maple syrup, some ground cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg.

Pumpkin and spelt muffins
(Heidi made 12 muffins, I got 19 small cupcakes out of this quantity)

10 black peppercorns (Heidi said 8, but 10 popped into my hand and I wasn't going to send the last two back)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
4 cups apple juice
~500g pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed and chopped into cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup raw sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup apple puree
1/4 cup sunflower oil
4 egg whites
2 cups spelt flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Put the peppercorns, cinnamon sticks and coriander seeds in a saucepan over medium to high heat for a few minutes, tossing until fragrant. Take them off the heat for half a minute, then pour in the apple juice. Return it to the heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced to a 1/4 cup of syrup. (This took me about 1 1/2 hours.)

While the juice is simmering, spread the pumpkin cubes in a baking tray and sprinkle with the first teaspoon of salt. Bake until tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

When the juice is reduced, push it through a fine seive and discard the spices. Puree the cooked pumpkin and the reduced juice in a food processor.

In a separate large bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks together for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Stir in the apple puree, oil and pumpkin puree until just combined.

Make sure your beaters are clean and dry, then beat the egg whites in yet another bowl until foamy but not quite at the soft peak stage.

Got any bowls left? You need one more, in which to combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda and second teaspoon of salt. Gradually add it to the cake batter stir, again until only just mixed. Gently fold in the egg whites.

Lightly grease a muffin tray or line it with patty cases. Spoon the batter into the cups until 3/4 full. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

April 28, 2007: Turkish Delight

The hectic excitement of Kingaroy had left us feeling like a pretty lazy weekend, which meant a quiet dinner at home on Saturday evening. Cindy's enthusiastic consumption of thousands of food blogs means we always have a backlog of worthy recipes to sample. This weekend's treat: Turkish food from Ceviz at Only Turkish Food. I was feeling ready for a crazy kitchenathon, so I decided to attempt two courses: Lemon Zucchini in Olive Oil and Turkish Lentil Balls (see links for the full recipes).

The whole process was quite time consuming, particularly because I'm not big on multi-tasking. I'm sure I could have set the vegies up to cook and then made the lentil balls while they were simmering away, but that's not how I do things. I start at the start and work all the way through to the end. So by the time I'd cooked the lentils and the onions, stirred through the bulghur, tomato paste and spices, a good half hour had passed and I hadn't even started on the zuchs. I mucked up the recipe for the vegies slightly by halving the entire recipe except for the zucchini, which probably threw the balance out slightly. Still, after another half an hour or so of vegie cooking, it was all ready to go. Cindy chipped in by lightly toasting some Turkish bread and the meal was complete.

The lentil balls were quite tasty, but I think I may have enjoyed them a little more if we'd eaten them fresh from the stove - or possibly given them a quick turn in the fry pan before serving them up. Still, they were remarkably easy patties to make and, with a little tweaking of the spices (I'd add in something with a bit more heat - chilli or cayenne), these could come in handy as part of a Turkish feast. The vegies were also a success - the oil and lemon juice combined well and the thoroughly cooked vegetables were soft and flavoursome. With the bread on hand to mop up the oily run-off and the lentil patties to provide some bulk, I was pretty happy with this Turkish experiment.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

5 things about (him and) me

Paul recently tagged us for a "5 Things About Me" meme. He cheekily handed the task of selecting five things about him over to his partner, and Mike provided a most pithy profile of the gourmand. We've decided to appropriate this idea and write 5 things about each other.

Here are five things you might not already know about Michael:

1. Michael's CV boasts 3 degrees: in maths, IT and criminology.

2. The first meal that he cooked for me was a huge wok-full of noodles, chicken, veges, peanut butter, and a sachet of curry paste. This was his signature dish and he was secretly disappointed at the lukewarm response it received from me. I was just trying to keep my watering eyes in check - I was no match for the chilli oneupmanship that goes on in a sharehouse of 20-something males. Still, a man who cooks at all is pretty attractive, right? He's since refined his style but still provides most of the enthusiasm (and labour) for the hearty and/or spicy meals on our table: one-pot wonders, curries, Mexican, and the like.

3. Much to my bewilderment, Michael's a sport lover. He thoroughly enjoys a social game of soccer or netball, and has been known to rise early (3am early) to watch a soccer or cricket game in another time zone.

4. Michael's most hated foods are fresh tomatoes and bananas. His tomato tolerance has gradually developed to sauces, sun-dried and the occasional sandwich but there's been no shift on the banana front. Consequently they rarely enter our house at all.

5. Contrary to popular assumption, Michael decided to go vegetarian before I did. (Seems like it's the kind of bleeding-heart thing girls do, and then bully their boyfs into...?) He challenged himself to try it for 5 weeks and then didn't stop. I followed his lead about a month later.

So, to return the favour: five things you don't know about Cindy:

1. Cindy has a PhD. Unfortunately, she makes scant use of her impressive title, leaving it to me to book flights and things for Dr Cindy.

2. Cindy is a weird eater. There are all kinds of rules by which her eating is governed: fizzy drinks only go with fatty foods, pasta and salad must travel to work in separate lunch boxes, coffee can only be consumed with chocolate. And so on. Most weird of all though, is her obsession with eating neatly. On one of our earliest outings together, I sat and watched Cindy painstakingly pick at a slice of cheesecake so that it always looked like it had just been served up. There was nary a bump or chunk missing anywhere, strictly straight lines. After watching this for some time (another thing: Cindy eats more slowly than anyone I've ever known), I took my fork and mashed her cake up a bit. Not a wise move. I honestly think she didn't enjoy the rest of the cake at all. Weird.

3. Cindy's vegetarianism (while copied off me) brought her into line with the way most people saw her anyway. I've lost count of the number of people who've met Cindy and somehow decided that she was vego. It used to happen with startling regularity. At least now their assumptions don't make an ass out of anyone.

4. Contrary to our inner-city, latte-sipping lifestyles, Cindy doesn't like olives. I've been working on her for years, but even a tapenade is enough to turn her off. Other food phobias: uncooked onion and uncooked mushrooms (despite an almost pathological love of cooked mushrooms).

5. Cindy is a talented (if currently inactive) painter - there are at least three of her pictures adorning the walls of our house. She's tried to paint pictures of me twice, but I can't sit still for long enough without falling asleep, so they're both of me in the land of nod (I wonder if it just means she doesn't know how to paint eyes? Hmmm.)

We won't tag anyone else in particular, but please join in if you feel so inclined and give us a link to your post. I'd love to know at least 5 more things about you!

April 24, 2007: Kingaroy

Michael and I took advantage of the mid-week public holiday to schedule a loooong weekend in Queensland. This included an overnight stay in Kingaroy, where my brother Liam has just landed his first job as a journalist. I suspect it was actually my mum who did a bit of early research, identified and then booked the most attractive and veg-friendly restaurant in the area, the Bell Tower Restaurant. With Liam's job success, mum's recent birthday and this rare opportunity to share a meal together, there was plenty to celebrate.

While the food at the Bell Tower was quite tasty, reasonably priced and certainly at the more gourmet end of what Kingaroy has to offer, the biggest reason to eat there is the view. Our booking ensured we had a table on the restaurant's back deck, which offers a stunning view of the farmland below and blue-tinged Great Dividing Range beyond.

We were further blessed with a warm day, blue skies and cotton-ball clouds to best appreciate our prime location. In keeping with the region's most prominent industry, I finished the meal with a nip of roasted peanut liqueur, produced at the Booie Range Distillery (in the foreground of the first picture). This cream-based liqueur reminded me very much of Baileys Irish Cream, but its after-taste was all peanut.

As we returned to the town, we made a stop at the landmark Peanut Van for some souvenirs. I picked out bags of hickory smoked, spicy Mexican and butterscotch & caramel flavoured peanuts, with the intention of sharing them with my eternally snacking lab. Unfortunately the other souvenir I picked up in Queensland was a cold, and it'll be another day or two before I can take the peanuts and not the disease to work! My sense of taste has almost disappeared, so it could be a few days more before I'm inclined to cook or buy any blog-worthy food. Lucky for me, Michael put together a pot of harira soup last night - its peppery warmth was just the nourishment my dull tastebuds and small appetite needed. Furthermore, we've been meme-tagged by the Gourmand (of the food blog Eat Me!), so there's at least one more post to come as my love of all things edible recovers.

Friday, April 20, 2007

April 18, 2007: Crunchy chewy chocolate clusters

Little more than a week after we entertained Beth in our home, the adventure girl did some serious damage to her foot while rock climbing! She'll be stuck in hospital for several weeks, with surgery and months of recovery to come. After hearing the news on Tuesday afternoon, a small delegation was swiftly organised to visit her for lunch on Wednesday - apparently the hospital food is depressingly bland. As I walked home on Tuesday evening, I racked my brain for some small but flavour-packed offering that I could throw together without too much fuss. A most successful solution came from ingredients already in the cupboard after I made a crucial connection between Beth's habitual work-time snacking on dried fruits and the bag of dried cherries that I impulsively purchased at the Queen Vic markets and had yet to use. Combined with pistachios and dark chocolate, I would be guaranteed little mouthfuls of vibrant colour; crunchy, chewy and smooth textures; tart sweetness, rich cocoa and a hint of the exotic. One taste (for research purposes, you understand!) confirmed that as long as these dried cherries are available, my relationship with the Cherry Ripe bar is over. I've moved on and I'm seeing someone else now! He might not be as well-groomed, but he's got a lot more substance. It might have been the morphine talking, but Beth was just as intrigued and subsequently won over. She even detected the hint of rose!

Crunchy chewy chocolate clusters

100g dark chocolate
2/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup dried cherries
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup dessicated coconut
a drop of rosewater

Gently melt the chocolate in a saucepan. While it's melting, combine the pistachios, cherries and salt in a bowl. When the chocolate's ready add the rosewater and stir through the coconut. Finally mix through the cherries and pistachios.

Cover a baking tray with foil and drop teaspoons-full of the mixture onto it. Use a second teaspoon to push the stray bits together if you need to. Refrigerate the clusters for about an hour, or just freeze 'em for 10 minutes if you're in a rush.

Store these in a cool place so they don't melt but don't worry too much - they'll be gobbled up pretty quick!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

April 17, 2007: Leftover makeover - Vege pancakes

This meal's featured leftovers are buttermilk and baby spinach salad. I whipped them up into some savoury buttermilk pancakes, with a hint of India in the salad spices, the chickpea flour and the ghee I fried them in. The buttermilk has them fluffy and buttery all the way through and there's just a hint of crispness on the outside when fresh out of the pan. Delicious! We made a meal of them by trying this capsicum and coconut dhal, put together by dhalmaster Michael. It wasn't one of our favourites, probably because we used lentils with their husks intact, thus preventing them from disintegrating into the broth.

Vege pancakes

2 cups grated vegetables
1 1/2 cups besan (chickpea flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
ghee, for frying

Combine the grated veges, besan, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Mix in the buttermilk and eggs, stopping when the batter is only just combined - it's best not to over-mix. Heat a frypan and throw in a teaspoon of ghee, then pour in a half-cup of batter. When bubbles appear on the surface it's time to flip the pancake - it'll only take half as long to cook this side. Repeat with the rest of the batter. If you're picky about keeping the pancakes warm, you can layer them on a plate and keep them in an oven on its coolest setting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

April 16, 2007: Indian-spiced potatoes

Recently, Lucy from Nourish Me inadvertantly posted a recipe that would transform our Eastern vegetarian burgers into Eastern vegetarian burgers and chips! These are chips of the self-saucing variety, moist with a paste of garlic, ginger and ghee and luridly yellow thanks to turmeric and yes, more ghee. If anything, these spuds were a bit too oily for my taste so next time I'll start with 2 tablespoons of the ghee and then up it to three if they look like they can soak up a bit more. Now that I've had 'em, I don't think I'll be making these burgers without 'em.

Indian-spiced potatoes

500g of waxy potatoes
a thumb-sized piece of ginger
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 tablespoons ghee (next time I'll use 2-3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Scrub the potatoes, place in a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a pinch of salt. Bring the potatoes to the boil and then simmer them until tender. Drain, cool, and dice.

Peel and coarsely chop the ginger and garlic. Add them to a mortar with the turmeric and a teaspoon of salt, pound it all together into a paste. Lucy says you could use a food processor instead, and in that case you might need to add a few tablespoons of water too.

Warm the ghee in a frying pan and first add the fennel seeds. Let them sizzle and sputter for a few seconds before reducing the heat. Add the spice paste and stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

Next in go the diced potatoes - turn the heat up again and continually stir the potatoes for about 10 minutes as they cook. Hopefully they'll develop a bit of a crispy skin and your self-saucing chips are done!

April 15, 2007: Wonton soup

In our explorations of the South Melbourne Markets, we stumbled onto Mama Tran's dumpling shop - they make the dumplings while you watch and sell them in packs of 9 for $5.90. I'm sure proper foodies would have bought all the ingredients from the fresh stalls at the markets and then made their own little vegie parcels, but I was happy to take the easy way out and pick up a pack of pre-made dumplings.

The plan for the dumplings was some sort of improvised won-ton soup: a big pot filled with garlic, vegie stock, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, a dash of kecap manis, a few dried chillies, some chinese cabbage and carrot peelings and the dumplings, all boiled together into a delicious soup. It was thrown together pretty much off the top of my head, but things turned out well - spicy and richly flavoured, with just enough of the dumplings to fill us up. Tremendous.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

April 14, 2007: Q11

When Cindy and I first moved to Melbourne we were overwhelmed by the number and range of markets that this food-obsessed city could sustain. In the early months, we spent numerous Saturdays exploring - visiting CERES, Queen Vic, Collingwood, and Prahran. We've slacked off a bit lately - spending our weekends hanging around the northern suburbs rather than heading off into the rest of the city. This weekend we finally got back into the swing of things, with a trip to the South Melbourne markets via breakfast on Coventry Street. Knowing full well that by the time we made it across the river we'd be starving, we skimped on our research barely consulting The Breakfast Blog and not even picking up the Cheap Eats. All I knew was that Coventry Street was where it was at. We started a quick stroll along the cafe strip, but our increasing hunger and the fantastic looking menu at Q11 soon put a stop to our explorations. Q11 is bright and airy - not particularly trendy, but spacious and welcoming.

The menu is chock full of wonderful sounding breakfasts - mostly made using organic and free-range products (and they promise gluten-free versions of heaps of the menu items). There were more than half a dozen savoury vego choices and an impressive range of sweeter alternatives. Looking at the menu again, I can't believe how easily I made my choice - still, there's no going past a breakfast that has the words 'Mexican' and 'Extravaganza' in its title. Cindy prevaricated for a while, once again tossing up between sweet and savoury, but this time deciding to take a punt on the pudding rather than the panini. A creamed sago pudding with lime, coconut, berries and yoghurt to be precise.

The berries were tangy and sweet and the jellyish sago was an intriguing pudding experience - the only downside was the lack of discernible lime or coconut flavours. Still, it was a hearty pudding and kept Cindy chomping away for some time. The menu entry for my Q11 Mexican Extravaganza promised refried beans, fried eggs on a pumpkin roesti with tomato and corn salsa and chipotle mayo. It sounded 1) amazing and 2) massive. Thankfully, they served up a sensible sized portion - the roesti was fairly small and the refried beans came stuffed into a mini tortilla. I disposed of it in double-quick time - the salsa and smokey chipotle mayo were superb, the eggs (it was the first time I'd had fried rather than poached eggs in ages) had startlingly bright and flavoursome yolks and the refried bean mix was a good combo of beans, tomato and spices. Throw in a couple of cups of well made coffee and it was one heck of a brekkie.

The service was friendly, if a little slow (the kitchen was working pretty hard to keep up with the Saturday morning demand) and the price came in under $30, putting it into the upper tier of our Melbourne breakfast experiences.

Address: 303 Coventry Street, South Melbourne
Ph: 9645 7311
Price: Veg breakfasts: $6 - $15

Sunday, April 15, 2007

April 13, 2007: The White Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

Edit 11/11/2017: Sadly White Lotus is no longer in business, but there's a Loving Hut here now.

It could only be a matter of time before Michael and I sampled the 2007 Cheap Eats vegetarian dish of the year, from the White Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant in West Melbourne. As luck would have it, this restaurant is a leisurely bike ride from Michael's and my workplaces. Well, it would be leisurely if it didn't involve negotiating Victoria St in peak hour. For the last couple of blocks I took the safe but wussy option of walking my bike along the footpath - it's the only way to observe the regular honking and occasional yelling from the streets with a detached air and perhaps a short, dismayed laugh.

Had I been utilising my prop in the way it was intended, I could easily have glided right past the White Lotus, mistaking it for the local greasy takeaway. The cheap-looking tiles, paper tablecloths and vinyl seats are all there. The menu, however, is a study in the fine Buddhist tradition of mock meats. Sure, you could order some tofu, soup or noodles, but wouldn't you rather try the "fish" in tamarind sauce, succulent "duck" fillet with mushroom gravy or the Mongolian "beef"? Michael had already claimed the dish of the year for himself ($17) and it took some time for me to select a second faux-meat to sample. Nostalgia won out with a plate of lemon "chicken" ($14), surely one of the most popular orders from the suburban Anglicised Chinese takeaway. Most of the mock-meat dishes come with minimal veges (the waitress explained that the "fish" came with "five slices of cucumber" and lo and behold, she was right!). Thus, we ordered a plate of the mixed vegetables with bean sprouts ($11.50); rice also needs to be ordered separately (simple steamed is $1.50 per person).

The much-anticipated "fish" with tamarind sauce arrived first, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Thin sheets of bean curd are layered on top of one another to produce a soft, flaky, somewhat fleshy texture; a top layer of seaweed gives a crispy skin and the essence of the sea; finally, the moderately spicy sauce has just the tangy kick that so many of us seek to accompany fish.

The lemon "chicken" looked flourescently familiar, and must surely be colour-enhanced, right? The battered chicken bites measure up to the most convincing mock meats I've tasted previously, but all of them are at the 'processed' rather than the 'high quality, lean' end of the meat spectrum. Thankfully the lemon sauce proved to be a little less gluggy and sweet than those of my childhood experience, and I found that mushing the garnishing lemon slices into my bowl brought the sour element up to my liking.

The mixed veges were a welcome respite from our heavily sauced feature dishes, and the roasted cashews were a tasty, crunchy treat. The veges weren't jaw-dropping material, but then I really only had eyes for the fake flesh - I just know I would have missed the greens if we'd stuck with "meat" and rice.

Astoundingly, Michael and I nearly cleared the three huge plates between us - it was that good. No chance of a tofu ice-cream this time! I'd actually recommend one mock-meat and one vege dish to share between two for dinner, but on this first visit Michael and I couldn't resist ordering more. We're unlikely to reduce our order in the future either: although it's not accessible from the customer side of the counter, there are some takeaway menus tucked away. I think there'll be many future nights where one of us pulls out the pushy for a trip down to the White Lotus to pick up a mock-meat banquet that'll last two dinners and leftover lunches. This little vego has re-discovered the guilty pleasure of a night in with Chinese takeaway.

Address: 185 Victoria St, West Melbourne
Ph: 9326 6040
Price: vege mains $10-18, rice extra

April 11, 2007: Leftover Makeover - Savoury bread pudding

So, I made myself two little loaves of bread and you can only stuff yourself with so much during that first day of freshness. What to do with the rest - French toast? Bread and butter pudding? Thing is, this bread's got chilli and cumin going on! Lucky for me, Heidi from 101 Cookbooks recently demonstrated that bread pudding goes down just as sweetly when it's made in savoury form. I used her recipe for the key ingredients and proportions and got my own slightly different combination of flavours going - button mushrooms, shallots, flat-leaf parsley and parmesan. Served with a salad of baby spinach leaves and strips of roasted red capsicum, this made for a very tasty and satisfying dinner - a real autumn/winter warmer. Leftovers are great re-heated or at room temperature.

Savoury bread pudding

500g of stale bread, sliced or cubed
2 shallots, chopped finely
2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon continental parsley leaves, roughly torn
3 cups milk
1 stock cube, dissolved in 1 cup hot water
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C and lightly grease a baking dish.

Arrange the bread in the dish and then layer it with the shallots, mushrooms and parsley. If your bread's cubed, mix it up a bit; otherwise you could tuck some of the veges between the bread slices.

Whisk together the milk, stock, eggs and pepper. Pour it evenly over the bread, and then sprinkle over the grated cheese.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the cheese is browned and there's no liquid in the middle of the pudding. Let it sit out of the oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

April 9, 2007: The Vegie Bar IV

Here are a few more dishes from the extensive meat-free menu at the Vegie Bar. First up, Michael's nachos ($8.50): a typically generous Vegie Bar portion, but a shame that it doesn't include some saucy beans. I had two starters: first, a couple of kofta balls ($5.50) and then a Siamese samosa ($2.80). The accompanying tomato sauce has a spunky spicy kick; the kofta balls have an earthy flavour and a few nutty surprises; the samosa is reassuringly squidgy and curry-flavoured.

This place is for the vegetarian (and veg-friendly) fast-food lover: filling and cheap with few flourishes.

(You can also read about our first, second and third visits to the Vegie Bar.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

April 9, 2007: Cream-cheese brownies

Many moons ago, for some no-longer-fathomable reason, I told Cindy I'd bake her a cake for her birthday. All sorts of things conspired against me actually doing so (for starters, she was swanning about Brisbane on her birthday while I was still down here) and it had become something of a running joke in the subsequent months. With four fairly empty Easter weekend days to fill, it finally happened - I baked for Cindy.

I insisted that the baked goods be of her choosing, but that they had to be from Nigella Lawson's 'How to Be a Domestic Goddess'. This was partly due to the startling ratio of its price to the number of things Cindy has made from it and partly due to my desire to feel like a fully fledged goddess. Just once in my life. After much careful browsing (mostly in the chocolate section it must be said), Cindy settled on cream-cheese brownies. I have a sneaking suspicion that she combined ease of preparation with perceived deliciousness in her selection criteria, but I'm not going to complain.

Now I'm not really a baking man - I've never been enthusiastic enough about sweet things to justify all the effort that goes into their preparation. But my main problem I think is all the fiddly precision that's required - I'd prefer recipes that asked for a slosh, sprinkle or chunk of something rather than those that specify things right down to the 1/4 teaspoon. And as soon as something goes even slightly wrong I just fall to pieces.

This recipe started well, with lots of fairly straightforward tasks like whisking eggs and melting butter but things began to go off the rails when it asked me to line a baking tin. I'm all for making things easy to extract from cooking receptacles, but greaseproof paper and I are not good friends. I can never make it sit properly and any pretence at neatness soon flies out the window. Sunday was no exception. Things weren't helped by the mixture not quite filling the pan as well as I'd have liked (see - the tiniest little things can set me off when I'm baking) and by the awkwardness of slicing 'spreadable' cream cheese. But, with a little help from Cindy (mainly with the pan-lining), I struggled through and, in the end, I was pretty proud of my efforts. The brownies could probably have used another five minutes in the oven, but they're a credible first effort: the cheese ended up in a fairly well-defined layer, the dough was moist, sticky and chocolatey and, most importantly, Cindy chomped one down gleefully. I must have done something right.

Cream-cheese brownies
125g dark chocolate
125g butter
2 large eggs
200g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g plain flour
pinch of salt
200g cold Philadelphia (or some other cream cheese that is more amenable to being sliced)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat.

While it's all turning to mush, combine the flour and the salt in a bowl and whisk the eggs in another bowl with the sugar and the vanilla extract (Nigella suggests "idly beating" the eggs, but I think just plain whisking will do).

Just before the last of the chocolate is melted, take the saucepan off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Once it's cooled slightly, stir in the egg and sugar mixture and then the flour and salt. Beat the mixture until it's smooth.

Pour about half the mixture into a smallish baking tin (the recipe suggests a 23cm square tin, 4 cm deep - I'd go for something slightly smaller if possible) that has been greased and lined.

Slice the cream cheese as finely as you can and layer it on top of the brownie mixture in the tin. If you've got problems slicing cream cheese (as I did), you'll find this step is more about smearing than layering. Still, as long as there's a good layer of cream cheese on top of the brownie mush, things will be okay.

Finally, pour the rest of the brownie mixture on top of the cream cheese layer and smooth things out so that none of the cheese is peeking out and the whole thing is a) vaguely rectangular and b) approximately smooth.

Bake for about twenty minutes, maybe a little longer if you like the inside of the brownies to be only slightly moist and sticky. Once it's done, let the tray cool and then extract the slab of brownie (aren't things easy when you've lined your tray?) and slice into appropriately sized pieces.

April 8, 2007: Tasty tomato-striped pasta

Adam from the Amateur Gourmet recently raved about a pasta dish that he made at home and desperately craved again less than a week later. It looked pretty easy so we stopped Medditeranean Wholesalers after our Cafe 3A breakfast in Brunswick, and collected the essential ingredients. It is rather tasty - in particular I was wowed by the transformation of leathery little sundried tomatoes into moist but chewy explosions of flavour. They strike a most agreeable compromise between Michael's hatred of fresh tomatoes and my aversion to shrivelled fully-dried ones.

As you'll be able to see from the recipe (and perhaps the pic), this is basically a bowl of oiled carbs (with a bit of beany protein, sure), so make yourself a big bowl of salad to pair with it.

Tasty tomato-striped pasta

375g pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained and sliced, plus 2 tablespoons of oil from their jar
4 cloves garlic, sliced finely
a couple of shakes of chilli powder
400g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup grated parmesan (or similar) cheese

Get the pasta boiling with lots of water in a saucepan.

In a frypan, heat up 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the oil from the sundried tomatoes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute or two and then add the chilli powder. After another half-minute, add the sun-dried tomatoes and let 'em sizzle for a further minute. Pour in 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and simmer the mix until it has reduced by half.

Add in the cannellini beans, salt and 1 1/2 cups more of the pasta cooking water. Bring the liquid to the boil, stirring occasionally, and continue to simmer it for 4 more minutes. When the pasta's ready, drain it and drizzle over the last tablespoon of olive oil. Pour the sauce in, gently stirring it through, and then add the parsley and cheese. Serve with a glass of vino and a big salad.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

April 8, 2007: Peanut bread

I am steadily accumulating a recipe wish-list from other food blogs and with a relatively free and easy Easter weekend at hand, I decided to knock one more down. This amount of spare time made more yeast action a possibility and so I finally retrieved one of my earliest bookmarks, for toasted peanut bread. I came across the recipe when Heidi wrote about it on 101 Cookbooks, but the recipe is originally from The Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelsson. It's a curious African-style mix including coconut milk and your own spicy home-made peanut butter. As bread-baking will do, this recipe takes a while to get together, then fills your house with a very homely aroma and is delicious straight out of the oven with a bit of butter. Even cooled, it has a warm tint of chilli powder, and the texture is a bit more cakey and less spongey than I expect from bread.

To be perfectly honest, the kneading and feeding of home yeast-baking isn't as therapeutic for me as it is for Nigella and many other home cooks. As pleasant as this recipe was, it didn't thrill me enough to justify the hours spent and the kitchen mess made. I'll probably give yeast a rest (pun unintended) for a while, with the exception of pizza!

Peanut bread

1 x 400mL can coconut milk
3 tablespoons honey
1 sachet active dry yeast (7g, I think)
1 1/2 cups peanuts
1 1/2 teaspoons chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 1/2 cups plain flour
2 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon salt
60g butter, melted

Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the honey and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let it cool until it's just lukewarm. Whisk in the yeast and let it stand until frothy, 5-10 minutes.

While you're waiting for the coconut milk to cool or froth, heat up a frypan and toast the peanuts for a couple of minutes, until they're golden and smelling de-li-cious. Add the chilli powder and cumin and toast, stirring, until they're bursting with spicy smells too. Let them cool a bit, then blend in a food processor until you've got a smooth paste.

In a large bowl, combine the flours and salt. Add the butter, coconut milk and peanut paste and mix together carefully. It's difficult to get all of the peanut butter mixed in, and it doesn't hurt to have just a little marbling visible. Plonk the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Then it's into a greased bowl, covered with a tea towel to rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Butter one large or two small loaf pans. Mush up the dough into one or two loaf shapes and plonk it/'em into the pan(s). Cover them again and give the dough another 40 minutes of rising time.

Bake in a 280 degrees C oven for about 35 minutes.

April 7, 2007: Pizza Meine Liebe

As has happened several times before, Michael has been inspired by Cheap Eats and I by a food blog to visit exactly the same restaurant. But we bided (bode? bid?) our time for a Northcote gig before getting ourselves a vague booking at Pizza Meine Liebe. (Vague in that they consented to writing down the reservation but thought that there might be another group still finishing their meal at that table - as it happened, the table was clean and ready to use on our punctual arrival.)

Tonight our booking was for three - along for the ride was my young-at-heart aunt Carol, who would also be joining us at the Northcote Social Club for some indie rock. Glancing at the circles traced on the wall, we soon agreed to share two large pizzas but required some more bargaining time to agree on the toppings. There's a page-long list with extra specials, too - not exactly traditional (as evidenced by the Queenslander and Ozzi pizzas in Mellie's review), but carefully grouped into complementary flavours (nothing irritates me more than a single 'vegetarian pizza' option on a menu, consisting of every non-meat product in the pantry). Multiple vegetarian choices were scattered throughout the list, and I suspect that the staff would willingly omit the meat from some of the non-veg choices too. Our final consensus was to order a Madame Pi Pi (mozzarella, pumpkin, porcini, rocket and fetta; $17) and from the specials list, Rosemary 4 Michelle (mozzarella, taleggio, potatoes, slow-cooked onions and rosemary; $17.50).

To my taste, they were great choices. The bases are fairly thin - chewy, doughy and crispy in equal parts, and comparable to those we've eaten at Oskar and at I Carusi. The difference I noted was that the pizza trays are liberally greased with oil but don't worry, we're not getting into icky Pizza Hut territory here! Similarly I was pleased that the cheeses played restrained roles rather than creating a congealed and oily top layer. Madame Pi Pi was a delicious clash of sweet and tender pumpkin against fresh leafy rocket - the porcinis were flavoursome but scarce. I enjoyed Rosemary 4 Michelle more than my similar order at Oskar - the cheese was more subtle and the onions were eye-rollingly soft and sweet. Some slices had just the right aromatic hit of rosemary, while others left me needing more. It takes a bit of care for the bread/potato/cheese combination to transcend its heavy, fatty foundation!

Comparison to I Carusi runs further than the pizza bases, with loud conversation bouncing off the walls and efficient, hip staff who fall just short of friendly. Oskar still tops Michael's pizza list and we live closer to I Carusi, but I'd like to revisit Pizza Meine Liebe next time there's a gig in Northcote - not least because we skipped dessert.

Address: 231 High St, Northcote
Ph: 9482 7001
BYO & licenced
Price: veg pizzas $11-20

Monday, April 09, 2007

April 7, 2007: Cafe 3A

Update 31/12/2014: Cafe 3A is closed.

Easter Saturday dawned crisp and sunny - a perfect day for a stroll up to Sydney Road for breakfast. The original plan was to check out Mule, but they'd wisely decided to enjoy the beautiful long weekend and shut up shop. Luckily, Cafe 3A around the corner was open for business.

The menu makes for impressive reading. The savoury breakfasts are egg-based, but with a few intriguing variations from the standard fare. Slightly exotic ingredients like capers, olive tapenade and goat's cheese are dotted throughout the menu and you can build your own brekkie from a base of eggs on sourdough. I decided to skip the poached eggs for a change and instead opted for a vegetarian omelette (see above), filled with red peppers, goat's cheese, salsa verde and capers. It was quite tasty - the capers in particular providing tiny bursts of flavour as my teeth located them. Unfortunately it was all a bit dry - the toast came without butter (although I could have asked if I really cared), and the omelette seemed just slightly overcooked. I was hoping that the salsa verde would be a kind of sauce for the omelette, but it had instead been stirred though the omelette mix. It was fine (and quite cheap at $9.50), but the positive things I'd read elsewhere had me hoping for more.

Cindy spent a good while studying the sweet breakfast options on the menu - there were two wonderful sounding choices. First of all, turkish bread slathered with rhubarb, strawberry and nectarine compote, with cinnamon and juniper berries, organic yoghurt and pistachios (for a remarkable $6.50). There was also a french toast dish, incorporating sour cherries, roasted almonds and cherry syrup ($8.50). After much humming and hahing, Cindy bizarrely opted for something off the lunch menu: a vegetarian panini with plum chutney, avocado, goat's cheese and rocket ($8.50). I stole a tiny taste of the cheese and chutney, both of which were wonderful - it made me wonder where the goat's cheese had gone in my omelet, the flavour didn't compare at all. Cindy raved about the fresh avocado and she seemed very content with her surprisingly non-dessert styled breakfast.

Address: 3A Edward Street, Brunswick
Ph: 9380 4996
Prices: Veg brekkies $3.50-$10, lunches $8.50-$10

April 6, 2007: Leftover Makeover - Mexican Toastie

From Wednesday night Mexican comes Friday night's dinner: a toasted sandwich filled with chilli and tasty cheese and topped with guacamole.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

April 6, 2007: Transport Public Bar

Post-modern sculpture? If it looks to you like the kind of overblown interpretive concrete geometry that belongs in a public space such as Federation Square you're getting warmer. It's actually the deck furniture at Transport Public Bar (perhaps you noticed the white sneaker toe just past the red padded seat). Even with most retail outlets closed, the city (and the pub) were healthily populated on Good Friday. With books and blankets, Michael and I sought an hour or two's refuge in the city gardens before our growling stomachs led us back to the concrete park and the deep-frier. (Ironically, the Transport public bar claims an "emphasis on organic meals and environmental design". With not a leafy green to be seen, we really missed their point.)

While much thought has clearly gone into the modern design of the Transport public bar, it's more pub than trendy bar. It's a place for a beer, a steak or burger with chips and perhaps a yell at the footy on screen - not really somewhere to be seen, and definitely not the place for a date. In the absence of any televised football, this was just fine for us - an open ceiling and wall of louvres let the sun and 'fresh' city air in and provided ample view of the Swanston St goings-on.

The menu at the bar has a few vego options. Michael was well pleased to see a veggie burger (with chips, $10) among them, and I predictably had eyes only for the chips ($6.50). They were of a pretty good standard, I think they were lightly battered for extra crunch, with a sizable dose of seasoning. Get 'em down quick, though, because they're far less interesting once lukewarm. The tomato sauce and capsicum mayo were portioned quite generously, but were average in flavour. Michael's burger was an excellent balance of crunchy and chewy, fried and fresh, but the potato-heavy patty is a bit much given that the prescribed side is a handful-and-a-half of chips.

When only partially full, the Transport public bar is a pleasant (and well-located) place to sit back with a friend, a beer, and a salty snack or meal. For this purpose a vegetarian is just as likely to enjoy it as any other punter.

Address: Ground Floor, Transport Hotel, Federation Square, cnr of Flinders and Swanston Streets, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9654 8808
Price: veg mains ~$10-13

April 5, 2007: Shakahari II

Cindy and I marked the start of the Easter long weekend with a jaunt to Cinema Nova to see The Namesake. In keeping with appropriate long-weekend behaviour, we took the lazy option of buying dinner somewhere beforehand and, after pondering our local choices, found ourselves at Shakahari for a second go.

The menu had changed slightly since we'd last visited, and we were overwhelmed with delicious -sounding dishes to sample. Often when we eat out we find ourselves limited to choices from a small subsection of the menus, so it's very exciting to go to a restaurant overflowing with vegetarian delights. Rather than limit ourselves to one each, we shared three of the starters to taste as much as we could.

First up was the mushroom aroi mak: assorted mushrooms fried in basil oil served with fragrant Thai herbs and crunchy greens with a lemongrass dressing ($12). This dish was more salad-like than I anticipated, but was still loaded up with a fine array of mushrooms. The dressing chilli-hot but not particularly lemony; the basil oil and the herbs provided enough flavour for it not to matter.

Then came the avocado rolls ($12), apparently a signature dish: tempura fried avocado rolled in thin eggplant slices in rice batter, drizzled with a sesame coriander puree. The corainder sauce provided an eye-catching burst of colour and a flavour that compliments the fried batter and avocado perfectly. It's easy to see why this is one of their more popular dishes - it was by far the most difficult one to share.

Finally, we had hijiki parcels ($12.50): crispy beancurd pastry rolled with julienne vegetables and hijiki seaweed, served with a wasabi miso sauce and a pile of mixed sprouts. These were quite good, the chewy beancurd and the crisp vegetables giving our teeth a good workout. The sweet miso sauce lacked any noticeable wasabi bite, but was still a tasty accompaniment.

While the prices are a little higher than we'd generally pay, it's worth it to eat at a vegetarian restaurant that makes a bit of an effort to come up with some interesting flavour and texture combinations and provides some options beyond the standard vego fare. With its warm, earthy atmosphere and friendly staff, it's little wonder Shakahari has been around for more than thirty years.

You can read about our previous visit to Shakahari here.

Friday, April 06, 2007

April 4, 2007: Wednesday night Mexican

It's been a while since we entertained anyone in our home, but some newcomers to my workplace provided a good reason to pull out the biggest saucepan and buy an extra 6-pack of beer. Tracy and her partner Lee are the latest Brisbane migrants to Melbourne's inner north and from even further afield (the Northern Territory!), Beth has now taken up residence at a desk adjacent to mine. On Wednesday evening they gave me an hour or so head start from the office to cook up a Mexican-themed dinner at home.

On my previous night's planning, I made the decision to keep this weeknight meal quite casual and low-stress. This meant no-fuss appetisers and desserts, and a serve-yourself main course. Michael had picked out some perfectly ripe avocadoes and it didn't take too long to mash them with a very juicy lime and stir in some finely chopped red onion and a bit of sour cream. Voila! Tangy guacamole. I brought out the Chilli Factory salsa as a spicy side, and there were Coronas all round.

Michael can take most of the credit for dinner - an enormous pot of TVP/red bean chilli. This is the kind of hearty vegetarian dish that ensures we'll never hanker for spag bol: thick tomato sauce with chopped veges, red kidney beans and our favourite pseudo-mince ladled into bowls and garnished with a dab of sour cream. My contribution was to whip up a cheesy cornbread batter and bake it in a muffin tray. We kept the chilli and cornbread minimally spicy, offering pickled jalapenos and finely diced chipotles to cater for the varying tastes and tolerances among us.

For once, I showed a bit of restraint on the dessert front. Rather than poring over cookbooks for days and baking something rich and labour-intensive, I turned to Allergy Block for some theme-appropriate chocolate. I found the Green and Black's Maya Gold I was after and also picked up another doozy - dark chocolate with cayenne! Good news that it's organic, vegan and made with ethically-purchased cocoa. It was a pleasant 70% cocoa block and a slow burner - I was chewing for a good five seconds before I detected the cayenne, but it's an unmistakable heat at the back of the throat once it does arrive. The G&B's was everything I remembered it to be: smooth but not waxy and with an intensely orange and subtly spiced edge.

Admittedly this was a bit more involved than our usual weeknight meal, but we lost nothing in stripping the menu back from my more elaborate efforts of the past. When the guests have left and I'm stacking the dishwasher, I feel more satisfied from having spent time in good company than I ever will from huddling in the kitchen for hours on end, trying to impress with risky and complicated food.

Chilli with TVP
(from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 large red capsicum, diced
2 cups of TVP, re-hydrated in 2 cups of hot water
2 x 800g cans crushed tomatoes
2 x 800g cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2/3 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
Tabasco or other hot sauce to taste
salt, to taste
optional garnish of grated cheese or sour cream

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, frying the onions and garlic until soft. Add the cumin, coriander and chilli powder and stir well. Next add the diced zucchini and capsicum, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the TVP and cook for a few more minutes until it's heated through. The canned tomatoes and beans go in next, then finally the parsley and seasonings. The chilli can remain covered on a low to medium heat, with occasional stirs, if you are preparing other food (such as delicious cornbread!). If the chilli is thicker than you prefer, thin it out with a little water or stock just a minute or two before serving. To serve, ladle the chilli into bowls or mugs and garnish if you wish.

Cajun Cornbread
(from Kurma Dasa's World Vegetarian Food)

1 cup polenta
1/2 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika (substitute some or all of this with cayenne if you like)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced green chillies (optional)
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons oil
3/4 cup grated tasty cheese

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Combine the dry ingredients, polenta through to the optional chillies, in a bowl and mix well. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and oil. Combine the dry and wet ingredients (don't over-mix) and fold in the grated cheese. Spoon the mixture into a greased loaf pan, pie dish or muffin tray (I made 8 small muffin portions). Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden on top. Serve warm.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

April 1, 2007: Beetroot and Carrot Soup

Another week, another soup. I think as winter comes on, we'll be souping it up more and more often. Luckily, Cindy's been keeping up with dozens of different food blogs and taking note of some of the particularly delicious looking recipes she stumbles across. This week's winner was the tremendously pink-looking creation on Eat Me: beetroot and carrot soup.

I made a few changes, through both laziness and a lack of ingredients (we also decided to cut back on the quantities), but it still turned out pretty well. It was slightly starchy, so I might readjust the vegie proportions next time - maybe an extra beetroot and one or two less potatoes, but otherwise it really hit the spot. I'm really getting a taste for these blended soups - it's hard to believe that I coped for so many years without a food processor.

I'll reproduced my version of the recipe here, but feel free to try out the original instead.

1 tbsp butter
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots, diced
1 large/2 small beetroots, peeled and diced
1 large/2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup milk
1 Massel chicken-style stock cube, dissolved in 2 cups of hot water
Salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar to taste

Melt the butter in a large pot and cook the onion and garlic for about ten minutes. Add the cumin and mix it up thoroughly.

Throw in the diced vegies and add in the stock - you really want a fair bit of stock to boil the vegies in. I ended up padding things out with a bit of extra hot water here, so you may want to just make up more stock.

Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour - until all the vegies are nice and soft. Whizz the whole mix up in a food processor and return it to the pot. Stir in the milk and add salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar to taste.

Serve up with some fresh bread slices and enjoy the warming goodness.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

April 1, 2007: Easter buns

Just a few days ago, Melinda of Melbourne Larder posted her recipe for hot cross buns and strongly encouraged her readers to try making their own. Never having tried it myself, and with a spare Sunday morning on hand, I decided to take the challenge. As Melinda notes, baking with yeast often puts people off: I inherited this attitude from my mum, who presented my teenage self with a decades-old box of dry yeast sachets when I first raised an interest. I raised no further questions about home-baked yeasty delights until a few years ago, when I finally got sick of inferior purchased pizza bases and resolved to make my own. My revised theory on yeast is that anyone who can carefully follow a recipe and spare some time for the dough to rise is capable of making some pretty good bread products - superior to anything you'll buy from a supermarket bakery. Beyond that it may take some research, experimentation and experience to produce some truly sublime eating. I'm far from reaching that point! By the time one batch of dough is in my stomach, I'm not at all interested in trying a refined recipe any time soon.

Thankfully, this recipe proved gratifying from the very first mouthful. I couldn't resist breaking off one still-warm bun and smearing it with soon-melting butter. Carbolicious bliss! As you can probably see, my crosses are a bit wonky. I think my paste could have been a bit more watery and flexible, but ultimately I need to work on my icing skills! Maybe with a bit of practice and a hundred more posts, I'll be able to mark the occasion more attractively...

... because this is our 200th post! (We got there in 225 days, which means we're getting faster.)

I'm reproducing the method I used here, because I made a couple of substitutions. I like peel, not sultanas, and my spice situation was looking a bit different. But this is essentially Melinda's recipe.

Easter Buns


2 x 7g packets of dried yeast, with a minor spill that means you use ~12g as directed by Melinda
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
4 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, allspice and ginger
1 generous shake each of ground cloves, star anise and nutmeg
50g butter, melted
1 egg
2 cups mixed citrus peel, finely chopped

1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup water (I'll try using a bit more next time)

(This was a lot more glaze than I needed, so you could go down to 1/8 cup each)
1/4 cup castor sugar
1/4 cup water
shakes of ground cloves, star anise and nutmeg

Place the yeast, two teaspoons of the sugar and all of the milk in a bowl. Set it aside for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture foams.

Gently mix in the flour, spices, butter, egg, peel and remaining sugar until you have a sticky dough. Get it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes or until it feels elastic (I definitely needed to knead in a bit more flour at this stage, because the dough was very sticky). Place the dough ball in an oiled bowl, covering it with a tea towel, and stand it in a warm place for an hour or until it has doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll them into balls. Grease and line a 23cm square cake tin or baking dish with non-stick baking paper and place the dough balls into the tin. Cover the tray with a tea towel and set it aside for 30 minutes, or until the buns have risen.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Combine the flour and water for the paste and place in a piping bag (or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off) and pipe crosses on the buns. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until well browned and springy to touch. Remove from oven and brush on the warm glaze while the buns are still hot.

To make the glaze, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and then simmer for two minutes.