Sunday

As promised, my next recipe is for something savory: Sunday ragu. When I started working full time I was so excited about weekends – they were going to be jam packed full of exercise, catching up with friends (cocktails!), movies, going to the beach and barely sitting down. Now that I’m a few weeks in, weekends are not like I envisaged. Don’t get me wrong – I love (love!) weekends but they’re not frantic in the way I expected. Honestly, by the time Friday rolls around, I’m so exhausted I need down time. I can’t hack the frantic. I started declining all invitations for Sunday afternoon until I realised it’s become something of a “thing”. And so now Sunday afternoons are for me, for doing nothing. I find really savouring this time to relax and be alone puts me in the right place to head back to work on Monday. I feel refreshed and excited and that I really used my weekend wisely.

This is a very long winded way of saying that Sunday afternoon is a great time to make ragu. My housemate is from a big Italian family and when she moved in her mum loaded up our freezer with her home made ragu. It’s been perfect for Tuesday nights when you get home late and don’t want to wait for totally average, greasy take away. But last week we ran out of ragu and so I decided to cook some up. I popped it in the slow cooker at about 11 on Sunday morning and spent the rest of the day doing nothing. It’s very hard to take a pretty picture of ragu but I will say it makes for the perfect Sunday night in…

Sunday ragu

Serves 6

1 kg stew beef, diced into 2 cm pieces

olive oil

salt and pepper

1 onion, diced

2 small carrots, peeled and diced

2 sticks of celery, diced

6 large cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 sprigs rosemary

6 sprigs thyme

2 cups red wine

3 tins chopped tomatoes


1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan or pot (something like a Le Creuset). Season the beef with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Make sure the pan isn’t overcrowded. You may need to do this in two batches. Brown the lamb. This will take 5-10 minutes. Remove from the pan and repeat if necessary.

2. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Add another tablespoon of oil, followed by the onion, celery and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and lightly golden (10-15 minutes).

3. Add the garlic, chilli and herbs and stir for a minute or until fragrant. Add the wine to the pan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down slightly and allow the wine to burn off for a few minutes. Return the meat to the pan with the tinned tomatoes. Stir to combine and transfer to a slow cooker. Set the slow cooker on low and walk away! I left my ragu simmering for about 8 hours but I imagine it would be good to go at about the 6 hour mark.

4. Just before serving, flake the meat with a fork. Serve ragu over pasta with plenty of parmesan and a green salad on the side. Stash leftovers in the freezer.

Notes

  • There is quite a lot of wine in this recipe. It could easily be replaced with some more tinned tomatoes or beef stock if you’d like to reduce the amount.

Lately

I downloaded the Couch-to-5K app a few days ago and did my first run yesterday. I gave up my gym membership almost three years ago (so expensive!!) and have relied on my morning sprints to the bus stop to keep me in shape since then. But since starting work a month or so ago, I’m spending so much time sitting at a desk and my suit is definitely feeling more snug that it should. Besides wanting to trim down just a teeny-tiny bit, it would be a great feeling to be able to run 5ks. I’m not very good at sticking with exercise, so I’m hoping the app will keep me on the straight and narrow.

This week was a pretty great one. (Mid-week!) my boyfriend and I shared some dessert wine, a beautiful panna cotta and tiramisu at 10 William Street in Paddington and we’re just about to head off to breakfast here. I’m so excited – the menu looks amazing and a friend from work claims they have the best coffee in Sydney.

Still on the topic of food, I’m going to spend the afternoon making ragu to stash in the freezer for quick dinners and these muffins for my lunch box. I couldn’t find a ragu recipe that seems right so I’m taking inspiration from a few different ones. And any recommendations would be very welcome!!

I saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy last weekend. I find it hard to watch violent or scary films and this one had a far amount of violence (it’s a spy movie after all) but I still loved it – the script is well written, visually it’s so rich, the cast is full of fine actors (Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones) and it doesn’t lose momentum despite being over two hours long. It helped that I have a soft spot for Benedict Cumberbatch. And I made up for the violence by watching Waitress when I got home!

Is anyone out there a fan of Virginia Woolf? I’m reading Mrs Dalloway at the moment. I won’t lie: the beautiful cover sucked me in. I can’t say its gripped me like some of my other recent reads (post on that soon!) but I am enjoying it.

Happy Sunday everyone. May it be filled with sunshine, coffee and great company. Xo

Never enough cake

Given that my last post was about cupcakes, it seemed appropriate to follow up with a cupcake recipe. These aren’t quite Sparkle but they’re more than close enough. And they get brownie (!) points for being home made!

One of the things I love about food blogs is the way that great recipes and cookbooks get passed on and shared. But sometimes it means that you see the same recipe (see, eg, this tomato sauce) and the same food writers again and again. So sometimes, it’s really great to see something different. Some of you are probably staring at your computer screens in puzzlement right now because how could a cupcake recipe (and a plain old vanilla cupcake recipe at that) be considered in any way novel? Well, that’s totally true! But the source of the recipe is something a little bit different, so stay with me …

Earlier this year I went to New Zealand with my family and along the way we noticed a cookbook here and there called Ladies, A Plate – Traditional Home Baking by Alexa Johnson (available here). After fretting over whether I really needed another cookbook in my collection, my sister solved my dilemma and bought it for me. And I’m so glad she did!

Ladies, A Plate is utterly charming. It’s has the feel of a Country Women’s Association cookbook (imagine your favourite great aunt stepping into the kitchen with you and talking you through her favourite recipes) but with 21st century design. The book covers traditional NZ baking, going far beyond pavlova and ANZAC biscuits. Recipes include old-fashioned favourites such as health biscuits, Mrs Mackie’s moist and spicy fruit loaf, neenish tarts and, most importantly, cupcakes. Trendy these recipes are not, but they are understated, full of history and love and totally delicious.

Cupcakes (adapted from Ladies, A Plate by Alexa Johnson)

These cakes are the perfect vanilla butter cake in cupcake form. They’re moist without being heavy, fluffy and light but not spongey. The original recipe stated that you would get 24 cakes. I used slightly taller patty cases (but the kind that fit into a standard muffin tin) and got 11. If you use smaller patty cases, start checking for done-ness at 15 minutes.

For the cake:

115 g butter, softened

3/4 c caster sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 c plain flour

1 tsp baking power

1/2 c milk (I had some cream sitting around so I used half cream and half milk)

1 tsp vanilla essence

For the butter cream icing: 

1 c icing sugar mixture

50 g butter, softened

1 tbsp milk

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

food colouring, if desired

1. Preheat the oven to 350’F/180’C and put patty cases into a 12 hole muffin tin.

2. Cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until pale and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture will appear curdled at first but keep going – the batter will come together.

4. Add the flour and baking powder to the batter in three lots, alternating with the milk. Sift the flour as you add it. Add the vanilla essence and beat until just combined.

5. Spoon the batter into the patty cases, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake in the preheated oven for 18-22 minutes, or until golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool.

6. While the cakes are cooling make the icing. Combine the sifted icing sugar mixture, butter, milk and vanilla in a bowl and beat until smooth. Add food colouring if desired and then smooth over the cakes in a thick layer. Enjoy!!

Notes:

  • I made this recipe by hand but I imagine it would work just find with a stand or hand mixer. Just be careful not to over mix it.

P.s. I promise the next recipe will be something savory. Xo

Afternoon tea

As a general rule I hate the cupcake craze that’s swept through Sydney in the past few years. Most of the cupcakes I’ve tried have had the texture and taste of sawdust. And don’t even get me started on the icing. There always seems to be more icing than cake. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it tasted like rich buttercream. But it doesn’t – it’s just an explosion of sugar without even a hint of buttery-goodness. However, they say that the exception makes the rule and in this case the exception is Sparkle Cupcakery. Sparkle just opened up a Martin Place booth, right near my office, and I popped by to check it out with a friend at lunchtime. I got a Pure Sparkle – vanilla butter cake with vanilla icing. It was truly divine. The cake was moist, but not heavy, and the flavours rich and full. And don’t get me started on the smooth gloss of buttercream on top. It was closer to perfection than its cupcake friends are to sawdust…

Layer Cake

Image

My boyfriend leaned over my shoulder just as I opened this post and begged me to make the cake for a weekend treat. Never one to say no to a complicated, way-too-involved baking project I readily agreed. But on Saturday morning, just as we headed out the door to the supermarket he decided he wanted a chocolate on chocolate layer cake, not a vanilla cake. I clicked through a few of my favourite blogs but came up blank: everything required half a dozen eggs or three pans. Where was my standard issue chocolate layer cake?! Not having hours to pour over and compare dozens of recipes like I usually do, I logged on to the Epicurious app and chose the first cake that looked like a safe bet.  It looked moist and chocolatey, didn’t require separating eggs and it has a whopping 1,468 (overwhelmingly positive!) reviews. I guess it goes to show that sometimes the best decisions are the ones made in an instant, because this cake lived up to all our expectations. Granted, it’s so big that we’ll be eating it around the clock for the next week. But still, that’s hardly a sacrifice given that it’s super delicious and it made for a very fun way to spend a Saturday.

Chocolate Chocolate Layer Cake (adapted from here)

Two 20 cm cake pans

For the cake:

90 g dark chocolate

1 1/2 c strong hot coffee

2 1/2 c plain flour

1 1/2 c cocoa powder

2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp baking powder

big pinch salt (I used beautiful, flakey Maldon sea salt)

2 1/2 cups caster sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

3/4 c vegetable oil

1 1/2 c buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache:

400 g dark chocolate (I used Cadbury Old Gold), roughly chopped

1 c thickened cream

1 heaped tablespoon honey or golden syrup

50 g butter

1. Preheat the oven to 300’F and place the racks on the middle shelf.

2. Prepare your pans. I like to line the bottom of the pans with baking paper. I then coat the sides with softened butter, drop a couple of table spoons of sugar or almond meal into the pans and shake it around until the sides are fully covered. This forms a barrier between the cake and the pan and makes the sides of the cake sweet and slightly crunchy (yum!). You can also line the bottom and sides of the pans with baking paper if you prefer.

3. Chop the chocolate for the cake up and pour the hot coffee over it. Leave the mixture to stand for a few minutes, or until the chocolate has melted. Stir until smooth.

4. In a large bowl sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking power and salt. Add the sugar and stir together.

5. In another bowl, beat the eggs until thickened slightly and pale. I did this by hand, which took about 6 minutes, but you could also use a stand mixer or a hand mixer.

6. Slowly until the oil, buttermilk, vanilla extract and coffee/chocolate mixture to the eggs. Mix gently until combined.

7. Add the sugar and flour mixture to the eggs and beat until well combined and smooth.

8. Divide the mixture between the two pans. They will be about 3/4 full but don’t worry – the mixture doesn’t rise too much.

9. Place into the oven and bake until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. For me this took 1 hour but start checking at 55 minutes and note that it may take up to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

10. Remove the cakes from the oven and leave to cool in the pans for 10 – 15 minutes before turning out to cool.

11. While the cakes are cooling, get started with the ganache. Pour the honey and cream into a medium sized saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. When the mixture has started to bubble, remove from the heat and pour in the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the butter and stir until the butter has melted and is mixed evenly through the ganache. Leave the ganache to cool. I made this cake on a hot and humid day so I put it in the fridge to firm up.

12. Put the first cake on your serving plate and spread ganache over the top. Don’t be skimpy but don’t be greedy either. Pop the next cake on top and spread the top and sides with a thin layer of ganache. Put in the cake to cool slightly (about half an hour). This is called a crumb layer – it means that when you put the final layer of ganache on the cake it will look silky, smooth and crumb-free! Pull the cake out of the fridge and spread over a thick layer of ganache. Now you’re ready to go!

Notes

    I made this cake by hand, with an old-fashioned wooden spoon and mixing bowl. For some completely irrational reason I just can’t bring myself to use a mixer but in this case it would have been for the best – I ended up with slightly lumpy batter and a few flecks of flour in the finished cake. This did not at all detract from the finished cake but it looked a bit odd.
    The original recipe called for 3 cups of sugar. I cut this down to 2 1/2 cups and it would probably be fine with even a little bit less.
    The ganache recipe had 2 tbsp corn syrup and 2 tbsp sugar. Corn syrup is hard to get in Aus so I used honey. I’m sure golden syrup would be fine too. It was plenty sweet without the sugar and with the smaller amount of honey.
    My boyfriend requested sprinkles so that’s what we had! I cut out a piece of baking paper slightly smaller than the cake and gently placed it on the iced cake. I sprinkled the 100s and 1000s around the paper to form a border and then gently removed the paper.

Link Love

Wish I was here right now …

These would make for my dream Valentine’s Day (hold the champagne and overpriced set menu)

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, how cute (and true!) is this??

One of my favourite weeknight dinners

I have a thing for tea towels and Beatrice might just be perfection

Top of my winter wishlist (emphasis on wish)

(On a more serious note) a great explanation of where the Labor Party is right now

Have a wonderful week everyone xo