Monday, November 29, 2010

Mia Cucina

I want to share with you a look inside my humble little kitchen and some of the sweet and quirky little things I love about it. 

I have been a busy bee during the last week, spring cleaning in preparation for Christmas.  I don't know what put the bee in my bonnet about cleaning, but I did it from top to bottom.  I can't say that it didn't hurt - the kitchen and myself included.  It was so nice to see everything sparkle when I was finished.

I believe ovens are meant for cooking, not cleaning.  When you are wearing gloves that go up to your armpits and you are spraying caustic foam around it is not a good thing.  With all the bending, stretching and contorting, I felt like I needed to see my physiotherapist after I was done.  (Like I need an excuse to see my physiotherapist - he is gorgeous!)  Now that my oven is clean, I can't stop looking at it like it is going to do something magical now that it is clean.  I am reluctant to cook in it, but I know that will wear off soon enough.

Now I know this is not everyone's definition of a great weekend, but last weekend I went on a salvage hunt at the local tip.  They have a recycling depot where they sell things that can be re-sold.  Now it isn't Bloomingdale's, but you can find some really sweet vintage things out there.  (Notice I justify purchasing junk by calling it 'Vintage').  I bought a 4 drawer dresser which really should be for clothing, but I think it has found its place in my kitchen.  It is perfect for all my mismatched tea set items, ramekins, plates and things that I don't use all the time.  It helped free up more space in my cupboards to allow me to buy more junk! 

Of all the things I am addicted to, my favourite thing would be candlelight.  I have a penchant for lanterns.  I love them.  I really enjoy the glow that candles give, rather than the harsh glow of a light bulb.  Candles are soft and romantic and can transport you to another place - I have lots of hanging lanterns out on my patio which I enjoy in the summer with a mojito and lots of mosquitoes.  My new lust-worthy items to show off to you are these wonderful Moroccan style glass star lanterns.  They are so sweet - plus I can colour coordinate for Christmas or just for all-year round.

Speaking of Christmas, I love decorating my house for Christmas - kitchen included.  I mean, if you are going to spend lots of time in the kitchen making food for yourself and the people you love, it might as well look fun and festive!  I bought some beautiful decorations from Crate and Barrel in New York last month and they are right at home on my pot rack.  I especially love the mini-utensil deco.

I love collecting tea-towels.  I think nothing brightens up a dull and boring hob like a deliciously bright and cheerful tea-towel.  I have nicknamed this my 'gay pride' tea towel (hence the colours).  It is just so yummy and bright, like candy.  It makes me smile whenever I look at it.

I am so lucky to have a really clever Dad who can make things out of my visions.  (It is fun to ask him just to hear him say 'Bloody Hell!')  He made my butcher's block for me a few Christmas's ago from a big old salvaged chopping board I found.  I love it.  It is great for all sorts of things, from giving me a little extra bench space, to serving as a nook for a quick breakfast, or simply decorating it with beautiful flowers. 

One thing I have found indispensable in the kitchen is my netbook.  It is almost a permanent fixture.  I love being able to look up recipes or to play music while I cook.  Sometimes I even blog while I'm cooking.  I would be lost without it. 

So there you have it, my little cucina.  I just re-read this entry before posting and I realise I sound like Martha Stewart...  'It's a good thing'.  Only you won't find most of my items for purchase at Macy's.  Sorry!  You will have to scavenge, hunt, beg, borrow, steal and barter like I do!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Possibly the BEST cake I have EVER baked!

There are moments in life where you just have to stop and pinch yourself.  When you are in the moment and you are thinking 'Is this really happening to me?' Let me tell you, I had one of those amazing-epiphany-Oprah Winfrey 'Light Bulb Moments' on Tuesday when I baked a cake which I possibly think could change my life.

I cannot take all the credit.  I must refer you to brilliant American Blogger David Lebovitz who, incidentally does not even know I exist - even though I did comment on his blog entry regarding said cake, which goes a little like this...

 'So glad I have the day off work.  So glad I have rum and apples in pantry.  So glad I have a French Apple cake baking in my oven for afternoon tea'. 

So in the flurry of messages that this gentleman receives each time he writes a blog entry, there sits my little comment, out there in the wilderness of cyberspace.  What is amusing to me is at the time I didn't even know how really good this cake was going to be - let alone if it would work for me.

I get excited when I read about people who love food.  It gets my juices flowing to read how they, just like me, get excited about food.  Food has so many elements, other than just being 'stuff to eat'.  I love the wit and charm that food can have.  Food is a great conversation starter.  It is comforting, it is playful, it is sexy, it is nurturing.  What is there not to love?

So reading David's entry for French Apple cake (which incidentally is a Dorie Greenspan recipe), I could not help but be inspired.  I was excited because this cake looks (and is) so simple to bake.  Plus I had all of the ingredients on hand.  At first I thought it would turn out to be a little crumbly, or maybe a little rubbery - as I have had attempts at making apple cakes before without success. 

I am impatient.  I will start a recipe with only having read the ingredients list first - naughty I know!  I felt a little trepidation as I read through the method.  To me this recipe had a 'sponge cake' feel about it.  I get nervous when it comes to beating eggs - It's the whole 'not knocking the air out of them' when you add flour and melted butter.  My last sponge cake was anything but - more like a giant over sized crispy sugar cookie!  I decided I just needed to take a deep breath and what will be will be!  

I prepared my batter as per instructions and folded in my beautifully crisp Granny Smith apple pieces, being careful to not knock the air out of my batter.  I then poured it gently into my greased cake pan.  (Which I did not line with parchment - word of warning, if you attempt this cake it is a good idea to grease and line your springform tin, otherwise your cake will end up being a little more 'rustic' than you might appreciate). 

To add insult to injury, silly me had put the base of my springform tin in upside down and I am sure you can imagine my horror as I saw the batter slowly seeping out of the sides of the tin... 

I took another deep breath and said to myself 'Keep calm and carry on'.  I blessed myself, I blessed the cake and I blessed the oven .  It was all in the lap of the Gods - If this cake was going to succeed there wasn't anything more I could do for it.  Of course I could have scraped it out of the tin and put it into another pan, but hey, I love a little drama!

After almost an hour my cake was baked.  The sweet aroma of apple spiked with rum filled the kitchen.  The cake was golden and looked delicious.  I left it to cool and here I discovered my lack of lining dilemma - I overcame it brilliantly.  The upshot was that the little skim of cake stuck to the bottom of the pan, became a treat for the cook!  The downside was that it made the cake look a little more like a Bulldog than a Ballerina - but you know, that is why God invented icing sugar!  (Flipping it helps disguise blemishes as well).

The taste - My my my!  How do I describe it... It is spongy, with lovely chunks of apple,  with a lovely warm glow from the flavour of the rum.  Even though the alcohol is cooked out, you can't help but feel a little naughty. (I'm amused how people always get slap happy about things that have alcohol in them).

This cake is quite the dark horse - from its exterior you kind of write it off as being nothing too special - but then you taste it... 

Do try this cake.  It is simply amazing.  I must thank David and Dorie for bringing it into my life.  I hope you will one day thank them too.  By the way, here is the link for the recipe!  French Apple Cake

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Monday, November 15, 2010

Christmas Baking

When did I suddenly become a baker?  I started this blog earlier this year talking about the trepidation I felt about baking, and now... it seems to be what gets my juices flowing!

I am really excited about Christmas this year.  Mainly because I am spending it in Australia (even though I enjoyed a truly wonderful American Thanksgiving/Christmas experience last year), and because I am making the Christmas cake! 

Last week I bought an insane amount of dried fruit to make this cake- which set me back $30.  It kind of stung that all the ingredients for just the fruit component of the cake cost that much, along with the fact that I ended up with little piddly bits left over from the quantity my recipe called for. (which now makes me think... fruit pies... hmmm, maybe this excess fruit situation isn't such a bad thing).

My Mum and Dad had come to visit and brought my two cute, boisterous little Nephews along who are so full of energy (and that age where they still love their Aunt Teddy Bear) and rather than plonk them in front of the Playstation, I decided it would be nice for them to help with the fruit cake.  I got them to help measure out the quantities of the fruit, to cut up the dates and pineapple into smaller pieces, to add the rum and to each give the fruit mixture a good stir.  They were fascinated with all the different types of dried fruit that went into the cake and I let them taste each one as they added them to the mix.  Thankfully the confronting strong smell of rum was enough put them off tasting the fruit once it was mixed in.  

It was nice to see the boys excited about cooking.  I don't think you can ever be too young to learn about food.  I hope I have given them a nice memory.

Since then, my fruit has been soaking for a week in the refrigerator, with the occasional stir every other day.  The recipe only called for 2 days soaking, but I know that when my Mum has made cakes and puddings in the past, the fruit has had at least a week (if not more) worth of macerating.  I think it is what gives the cake a wonderful depth of flavour when the fruit is allowed to 'mature'.

Once I get cracking, I have 3 hours where it is just me and the oven...

The preparation is simple - even easier than a stock standard cake recipe and the kitchen fills with the wonderful aromas of Christmas!  Now all I need do is wait as it bakes...

In the end, it was almost 4 hours until my cake had baked.  I took it out of the oven and anointed it with two more tablespoons of rum, then left it to cool.

Once the cake was cool I covered it with brown paper and sealed it up in my enamel cake tin.  From now it has 6 weeks to do it's thing - become even more delicious!

I have to resist all temptation - I really want to sample a slice.  I might just have to bake another small cake so I know what I have to look forward to!

Christmas Cake - Recipe inspired / adapted from

3 cups sultanas
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 cup currants
1 cup pitted dates, chopped
100g red glace cherries
1/2 cup dried cranberries 
1/2 cup dried pineapple, chopped
1/4 cup mixed peel
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
3/4 cup rum
grated rind of 1 orange
Melted butter, to grease
250g butter, at room temperature
1 cup, firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 eggs
2 cups plain flour
2 tsp mixed spice
Blanched almonds, to decorate
2 tbs rum, extra

In a large bowl, combine sultanas, raisins, currants, dates, cherries, dried cranberries, pineapple, mixed peel, rum and orange.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for 1 week to macerate. 

Preheat oven to 150°C. Grease a round 22cm (base measurement) cake pan with melted butter.  Line the base and side with a layer of brown paper.

Beat butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well between each addition.  Add fruit mixture to butter mixture and stir to combine. Sift in flour and mixed spice and stir until well combined.  Add nuts and stir until combined.  

If you are lucky enough to have family or loved ones nearby, it is always nice to let them give the cake a stir for good luck.  Spoon into prepared cake pan and smooth the surface. Give the pan a light tap on benchtop to release any air bubbles.  Arrange almonds in a series of circular patterns on top of the cake.

Bake in oven, for 3 hours 40 minutes to 4 hours or until a skewer inserted into centre comes out clean. Drizzle hot cake with extra rum. Set aside to cool in tin before turning out.

This cake can be baked up to 3 months ahead. Cover with brown paper and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I get excited about home made anything.  I love a home cooked dinner, made with love and shared.  I love the smell of home baked bread - it is so warm and comforting and instantly sets off butterflies of anticipation - especially of it slathered with butter and home made preserves.

In my own perfect little world I would be so home spun.  I already get taunted by my peers about how much 'time' and 'effort' I put into my cooking.  I enjoy having 'too much time on my hands' to make my own delicious things, even if it does make me come across as a smug 1950's housewife!  

I made a promise to myself as a teen that I would learn how to cook before I left home.  I was very lucky to have family (especially my older brother, Wayne) who instilled in me an interest in food.  I was determined not to be one of these kids who moved out of home and lived on 40 cent packets of no-name dehydrated noodles.  I wanted to eat good food that was affordable and healthy that I could prepare myself where possible.

Even now I keep my shopping habits very restrained.  I will buy the ingredients to make cakes, rather than buying a cake and so on.  OK so I am a little self-righteous and frugal but I like that my cart is full of fresh and healthy ingredients.  (I know you will forgive my 'Sleasy Mac' indiscretions).

The upshot for me is that I really do enjoy cooking - so it is not a chore.  I get excited about what I am going to cook and when and even where!  I am lucky that I am able to say that cooking is my outlet and it is something I love to do.

It's great is when you have friends who love to cook.  The joy is contagious.  I love sharing recipes and food with friends who I know really appreciate it themselves.  I get excited when people share the same with me.  (Louie, I can't wait to sample your 'Hand Picked, Home Brined' Claire Valley Olives).

By the way, I have to overcome my latest obsession -  With the $AUD above parity with the Greenback, I am looting their supply of cookbooks.  It is nice to be able to cash in for once to feed my inspiration.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Happiness is a fresh hot bagel

I've never met a pastry I didn't like.  I love all things hot, crusty, chewy and bready.  Bagels are all that, rolled into one sweet (or savoury) little boiled and baked donut shaped delight.  They are great toasted, traditionally with cream cheese or as I had mine recently, warm, fresh and toasty.

So I was lured in to H&H Bagel on Broadway, NYC with the promise that I would get a hot, fresh bagel.  Luck was on my side.  They had just baked some blueberry bagels so I took it outside to snaffle up immediately while it was still nice and warm.  

It was one of those moments that you just want to be left alone to enjoy, to just soak up the taste, the surrounds and the 'Oh my God, I am eating a fresh hot bagel in NYC' feeling.

Now fresh and hot isn't just the only way I like my bagels - I love, love, love, bagel chips, especially the ones that you can buy from the Westside Market in NYC, which are made in-house.  You get a really nice mix of all different kinds of bagels - my favourite being pumpernickel.  Yum-O.  A bowl of home made hummous, some marinated olives and I am a happy girl!

I have a recipe for onion bagels kicking around here somewhere, maybe it's time I became brave enough to try baking my own.  

Remember - If it aint boiled, it aint a bagel!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Sweet Thing

Sunday is a great day for baking.  It is a great distraction to keep me out of the department stores too.  Even while I was away on holiday I baked and loved being in the kitchen.  It truly is my 'Happy Place'.

Sometimes you just want something that is sweet and uncomplicated.  For me its Date and Walnut loaf.  You have to love a recipe that involves no creaming of butter and sugar!  You do have to 'cook' the dates beforehand, though this shouldn't be a problem, you can sit and flick through a magazine with a cup of tea, put the washing on or do whatever you 'never find time for' while you wait for the mixture to cool.

I decided to develop my own recipe - touching on the things that I feel go well with dates - orange, cinnamon, and pistachio.  I have given my date loaf a Middle Eastern flavour with the addition of these ingredients, as well as some ground ginger for earthy spice.

Persian Date Loaf

1 1/2 cups pitted dried dates
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup dark brown sugar firmly packed
100g butter
2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
2 eggs, lightly beaten
pinch salt
80g raw pistachio nuts
Zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 180C.  Grease and line a loaf pan.  Place dates, water, brown sugar and butter into a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and add orange zest.  Set aside until completely cool.  When cool beat in eggs.

Sift flour, baking powder, spices and salt together.  Pour date mixture into flour and fold until evenly combined.  Fold in pistachio nuts. 

Spoon mixture into prepared loaf pan.  Bake in preheated oven for 55-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let sit in the tin for 5 mins.  Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

This is a very moorish cake, with a dense texture and a nice zesty orange background flavour.  Enjoy as is, or with a smear of butter, or a dollop of natural yoghurt.  Belly dancing is optional, but encouraged.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Yes, I do give a Whoop!

Whoopie pies - Have I been living under a rock?  Do I need to get out more?  Whilst in the States I watched quite a bit of Food Network.  I keep hearing 'Whoopie Pies' and want to know, what are these things that sound like a Bronx cheer?

Today, to satisfy my curiosity I did a little online research.  I found that these sweet lil' treats are traditional to Pennsylvanian Dutch culture and are about to have a resurgence and possibly be BIGGER than CUPCAKES! (I didn't even know they existed up until about 3 weeks ago)...

As you would know by now, I am currently having a deep and meaningful love affair with cupcakes.  Am I jumping ship by venturing into whoopie pie waters?

I need to make these to see what the fuss is about - NOW!

(First I must wait for my egg to reach room temperature...)

OK, let's bake!

These little cakes are surprisingly simple to make.  Traditionally they have a marshmallow filling - but of course I had to bastardise it and fill mine with vanilla buttercream - I didn't have marshmallows on hand and thought that the cakes could use the extra creaminess of buttercream as opposed to a gooey spreading of marshmallow, but that is just me, you do as you wish and let your own taste be your guide.

Whoopie Pies (recipe courtesy of
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup dutch cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
120g unsalted butter, softened
100g (1/2 cup) brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 180C/350F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Sift dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.  Beat butter and sugar to a cream, add vanilla and egg and beat to combine.  With a wooden spoon, fold in flour and milk, alternating a third at a time until well combined.  Drop tablespoons of the mixture onto your baking sheet, making sure you leave a 2 inch gap between each, as they will spread.  Bake for between 10-15 minutes, or until springy to the touch.  Allow to cool completely on a wire rack and sandwich with vanilla buttercream.

Vanilla Buttercream
3 cups pure icing sugar
2 tbs unsalted butter
3 tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt

With an electric mixer, beat icing sugar and butter until mixture becomes crumbly.  Add milk,vanilla and salt and beat until mixture becomes smooth.  Carefully spread on one half of your whoopie pie and sandwich with another half.  Alternatively you can use a piping bag and pipe your buttercream for a neat result.

For the purists - Marshmallow Cream
100g Marshmallow
1 tsp warm water

In a microwave proof bowl, add marshmallows and water.  Microwave on high for 20 seconds.  Stir until smooth.  Spread over half of your whoopie pie and sandwich with another half.

This recipe should give you about 9 decent sized Whoopie Pies.  A nice little Amish inspired treat, sure to make you go 'Whoopie!' when you take your first bite.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Monday, November 1, 2010

Home Safe!

I am back in Australia, after a wonderful 5+ weeks in my favourite city, New York!  I am a little travel weary and tired, so I will be using the next few days to recharge my batteries and I promise soon to share with you my food experiences whilst away.

I have lots of inspiration so stay tuned!

Until next time...

Kitty xx