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Celebration Cake | Orange Blossom, Yoghurt, Cardamom

A cake for spring - Orange & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

Thank you for your feedback on the last post. Those thoughts had been brewing for some time and I needed to get it off my chest. It turns out that many of you feel the same – big sigh of relief for me and virtual high-five for you! I have a feeling that I have more to say about this topic, and others, but you might be pleased to know that there is no crankiness from me today: there is only cake and it’s a good one.

Fresh oranges for Orange & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

There are many reasons to celebrate this cake and the first is that there is no creaming of butter and sugar involved. I really, really dislike creaming butter and sugar. It sounds petulant (and that’s a fair judgement) but the whole faffing about with bringing the butter to room temperature and setting up the cake mixer just annoys me. Batters that come together with a light stir make the whole experience so much more relaxing and this one takes all of 15 minutes to whisk the dry ingredients, whisk the wet (in another bowl), stir the two together and shove in the oven. This is a cake that gives far more than it takes.

Hetty McKinnon's Orange & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

For all its minimum effort, this cake delivers on maximum flavour – its second obvious virtue. I love the light, damp flavoursome crumb that you get from yoghurt cakes and this one is infused with the beguiling fragrance of orange blossom and ground cardamom. If you’ve never used orange blossom water it’s worth tracking down from Middle Eastern delis, herb and spice retailers, or even some good supermarkets. A little goes a long way, so buy a small bottle, and I promise that you will get through it soon enough when this recipe becomes your go-to cake. Atop the pale orange crumb you may, if you are so inclined, drizzle an orange-infused cream cheese icing. Cream-cheese icing just has that OMG factor (don’t you think?) and this one is no different. It’s gorgeously indulgent, but I only include it when making the cake for a party or gathering. If I’m making the cake for casual snacking I like to keep it simple with a light dusting of icing sugar and tangy Greek yoghurt served alongside. Both versions are divine.

Prepping your bundt tin properly is the key to successful bundt cakes

Third and last, this cake looks great. The original recipe calls for a sprinkle of chopped pistachios to top the icing, which sets off the golden cake and creamy icing perfectly. I happen to have dried rose petals in my cupboard right now (bought for a culinary experiment that is still in the experimental stage) and a few of these scattered over makes the cake look extra special. The pretty is upped even more if you bake it in a bundt tin and make it look like a giant flower. Speaking of bundts, if you’re going to use one, save yourself the heartbreak of stickage/breakage by prepping the pan properly. Grease the pan throughly with butter, don’t miss a single tiny ridge or crease, and dust the entire surface with icing sugar, not flour. If you’re skeptical of my advice, I refer you to the experts and this authoritative article.

Hetty McKinnon's Orange & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

The recipe for this delightful cake comes from the creative Hetty McKinnon of Arthur Street Kitchen, but I first saw it featured on Elizabeth’s lovely blog, The Backyard Lemon Tree. I’ve made a couple of tiny adjustments to the original (more juice in the icing to make it thinner and the addition of rose petals) but really, it was already perfect. You’ll note in the recipe that you can make it with either melted butter or macadamia oil. I’ve tried both and agree with Elizabeth that the oil version is slightly better, so that’s what I recommend. I also recommend that you freely and openly share this cake as it will do wonders for your baking reputation. No-one has to know how simple it was to make.

Orange Blossom & Cardamom Yoghurt Cake

Slightly adapted from Hetty McKinnon’s Neighbourhood

250ml macadamia oil (or 250g salted butter, melted and cooled)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one orange
3 Tsbp orange juice
1 cup Greek yoghurt
2 tsp orange blossom water
300g self-raising flour (or 2 cups plain with 4 tsp baking powder whisked through)
330g raw sugar, granulated/caster
1 tsp ground cardamom
Pinch of salt (if using oil, not butter)
Icing sugar (powdered sugar), for dusting

For the icing:
125g cream cheese, at room temperature
90g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
dash of vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp orange juice
1/2 tsp orange zest

To decorate (optional):
2 Tbsp pistachios, chopped
2 tsp rose petals

Preheat oven to 160ºC / 320ºF. If using a bundt tin, grease it thoroughly with butter and sprinkle icing sugar over all surfaces, shaking the tin to get it into every crevice and then tapping it upside down to remove the excess. Alternatively, grease and line a 22cm springform tin with baking paper.

Combine the flour, sugar and cardamom in a large bowl and mix well using a whisk.

In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients by whisking together the oil (or butter), eggs, vanilla, orange zest, orange juice, yoghurt and orange blossom water.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet and fold together gently using a large spoon or spatula. Mix until just combined – do not overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer or toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a serving platter. Dust the top with icing sugar or, wait until the cake is completely cool then top with cream cheese icing (instructions below).

If making the icing, whisk together the cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla extract, orange juice and zest. Once smooth, spread the icing over the cooled cake, nudging it to the edges and letting it run down the sides a little. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and rose petals.

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Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz (+ blog rant)

Fennel infused gin and rhubarb syrup

In these days of conservative politics, human rights abuses and global unrest, writing a food blog seems vapid and frivolous, and I agree that it mostly is. Not only is blogging supposedly dead – in the “old-school” sense of daily blogs written by a single person and designed to engage readers in conversation – but who actually reads them now? We’re all over on Instagram curating our lives; who has time to read an article longer than 250 words? Even if we do, are we genuinely engaged by the continuous churn of reposted, sponsored, SEO-optimised content titled: “Beyond the chip: 20 new ways with kale” or “Avoid these 8 common mistakes when buttering toast”? For a long time now, blogging has been about building your brand, driving traffic to your site and trying to land sponsorship deals and I have to say that I’m weary of the rampant consumerism. Blogging was once the domain of citizen journalism; now it’s all affiliate links and clickbait, radical democracy perverted as “the establishment itself”.

Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz - a fresh and fruity spring cocktail

Here’s a story to make you cringe – three years ago we travelled to Mudgee in NSW for a week of relaxation and wine tasting. I wasn’t familiar with wines from Mudgee, so I sought recommendations from The Wine Wankers (a group of Australian wine experts with an extensive online following) about the best wineries to visit. A member of the team kindly supplied me with a list and asked me to pass on his regards to one of the recommended winemakers if I saw him. As it happened, I did see him (it was a small, boutique winery), and the encounter sparked a discussion about blogging that quickly turned sour. The winemaker had recently been contacted by a blogger who requested that he host she and a friend for dinner at his restaurant in return for a feature on her website. Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with mutual back-scratching in principle, but what made the winemaker uncomfortable was the thinly-veiled threat that if he asked her to pay for the meal, well, she couldn’t guarantee a positive review. Unfortunately this is not an isolated experience for those in the hospitality industry and the winemaker had every right to feel outraged at the attempted manipulation. I felt guilty by association and weakly argued that mine wasn’t “that” type of blog.

Market haul - fresh spring fennel and rhubarb

I’m doing that thing that people do, right, painting the past as a lost utopia? The reality is that blogging was exploited for its commercial potential virtually from the beginning and has been highly lucrative for those who got in early. It’s much harder to make a living as a professional blogger now (does this explain the rise of dodgy tactics?) but that doesn’t stop many trying. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the use of blogs as a marketing tool. It’s a competitive world out there and for people whose livelihood depends on making a sale, blogging is an important communication medium, among many. The crux of the matter is that I crave originality. Don’t give me pop-up ads and expect me to hang around your site. I want to enrich my life with blogs that are beautifully written, that make me think deeply, provoke me, challenge me, inspire me to action, even if it’s just to cook. Fortunately there are many bloggers out there who still write like this: consider Tim’s thoughts on racism, Steve’s informative posts on food politics and Molly’s heroic coming out narrative. Food bloggers, all of them, and all with something really gutsy and interesting to say, not to sell. If I follow your blog, you can be assured that it’s because I think you do too (thank you).

Baby fennel - about to become fennel-infused gin

I’ve been writing this blog for six years and have been contacted by my fair share of PR reps offering free products or cash in exchange for reviews, or app developers chasing content. All very modest in scale I assure you and nothing that I couldn’t easily refuse, but as the offers slowly mounted up I was forced to think hard about my position. Essentially it is this: we already live in an over-advertised world and I don’t want to write to influence you to buy just to make a buck myself. Monetisation is a slippery slope and I won’t even take the smallest step. You’ll never find sponsored content on this blog. I’ll never ask for or accept any product or service in exchange for a review. If I do happen to mention a specific brand (which is extremely rare) it’s because the recipe calls for it or it’s truly exceptional in some way. This stance makes me a dinosaur, I’m well aware, but I only want to write how I want to write (and read). I have a job that pays the bills and this blog will never be that.

Making fennel-infused gin, to be paired with rhubarb syrup in Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz cocktail

So what has this got to do with cocktails or rhubarb or fennel? Not one thing. I’m sorry to be all serious and grumpy but this is something I had to say. Make this (delicious) drink and forgive me? Please?

Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz - a delicious fresh and fruity cocktail to welcome spring

Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz

  • Servings: 4-6 drinks
  • Print
Very slightly adapted from A Year in Food

For the fennel-infused gin and rhubarb syrup:
1 small fennel bulb
350ml gin
500g rhubarb
350ml water
1/4 cup sugar

For each drink:
90ml rhubarb syrup
60ml fennel-infused gin
60ml sparkling water
Squeeze of lemon, to taste
1 lemon slice

First, prepare the gin. Wash and roughly chop the fennel, reserving a few pieces of fennel frond for garnishing the drinks later. Add the chopped fennel to a tall, narrow-mouthed glass jar and top with about half of the gin. Using a muddler, heavy wooden spoon (or the end of a rolling pin, as I did) vigorously muddle the fennel for two or three minutes. Add the remaining gin, stir and let the infusion sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours (2 hours produces a stronger flavour, but 1 is fine if you’re in a rush).

While the gin is infusing, prepare the rhubarb. Wash and chop the rhubarb and combine with the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until soft but not completely collapsed. Remove from the heat and strain immediately through a fine sieve. Use a spoon to press the juice from the pulp. The pulp can be reserved for another use, such as muffins.

Strain the gin and discard the fennel. Refrigerate the gin and syrup until chilled.

For each cocktail, mix 90ml rhubarb syrup, 60ml gin, a squeeze of lemon and a small handful of ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled glass or small mason jar. Add 60ml sparkling water, a few ice cubes, a slice of lemon and a piece of fennel frond.

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Cauliflower & Parsnip Soup with Bacon Sprinkle

Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup with Crispy Bacon Sprinkle

This winter the planets aligned to give me an Epic Cauliflower Soup and I insist that you make it at once. See recipe below. The end.

Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup with Bacon Sprinkle

Ok, ok, I am physically incapable of stopping there so before you get off the couch to cook, let me give you the background. This recipe was first handed to me by a friend who was so in love with this soup that she had to share it immediately. I promptly made it and – á la Lyn – swooned helplessly into its warm, mellow, creaminess and the topping of chewy sprinkles. Not long after I spent a week at home in New Zealand, relishing the winter chill, the sodden, muddy ground and roaring fires every night (photos to come – updated, see photos here). At one point Mum made a big pot of cauliflower soup using similar ingredients to Lyn’s recipe but including crème fraîche, which added a delicious cheesy-tang. My nine-month-old nephew loved that soup, opening his mouth like a baby bird to devour spoonful after spoonful. Fortunately his little stomach filled up quickly, leaving enough for us to enjoy it again the next day.

Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup with Bacon Sprinkles

Back in Brisbane I tinkered with Lyn’s original recipe, using crème fraîche instead of cream, skipping the potatoes and adding a bunch of parsnips that were languishing in the fridge. In the third iteration the parsnips stayed because of the sweetness they added and I used Greek yoghurt for that now essential hint of zing. This soup started out great but, in my humble opinion, these slight enhancements mean that it is now knee-weakening, lip-smacking, mind-blowingly good. Happy belly, happy life.

Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup with Bacon Sprinkle

You can eat the soup on its own but I do have to say something about the topping: the bacon sprinkle, which is all kinds of amazing. This is noteworthy because I don’t really like bacon (I’m sorry). They say that nothing will break a vegetarian faster than the smell of frying bacon (it’s not called “the gateway” meat for nothing) but I remained unwaveringly immune to its charms while vegetarian. Even deep into my meat-curious phase when I was sampling most carnivorous offerings, bacon just stressed me out (too strong, too salty, too greasy, too full of preservatives). Happily, it turns out that I’ve spent my entire life eating (or rather, avoiding) the wrong kind of bacon. Backfatters is a local Queensland business that farms free range heritage pigs and uses an extract of celery to cure the meat. I don’t know if it’s the happy pigs or the lack of chemicals, but these guys are onto something. I’m not about to eat a bacon sandwich just yet but Backfatters’ Maple-Smoked Bacon is utterly delectable in these sprinkles. The rind crisps and caramelises in the oven but somehow remains unctuous and chewy. I’m going to say that again…crispy, caramelised, unctuous, chewy. Fork…YES (not sponsored).

Just make the soup, you’ll understand.

Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup with Bacon Sprinkles

Cauliflower & Parsnip Soup with Bacon Sprinkles

Adapted from Taste

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large cauliflower (about 1 kg), cut into florets
3-4 medium parsnips (about 400g), peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
1.5 litres (6 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche
80g parmesan cheese, finely grated
3-4 rashers of bacon, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sweat for a couple of minutes. Add the celery and garlic and a good pinch of salt and fry for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add three-quarters of the cauliflower, three-quarters of the parsnips, the bay leaves and chicken stock. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are cooked to the point where they break up easily when pressed with a spoon – about 15 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, preheat the oven to 200°C / 395°F. Line a large baking tray with foil. Finely chop the reserved cauliflower and parsnip and cut the bacon into tiny dice. Toss these onto the prepared tray and scatter with rosemary (if desired), freshly ground black pepper and a glug of olive oil. Toss to combine and then spread out on the tray. Grate the parmesan cheese and sprinkle 2-3 Tbsp over the vegetables and bacon, reserving the rest. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the vegetable are browned and the bacon is crispy.

Finish the soup by removing the bay leaves then blending the vegetables and stock until completely smooth. Add the Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche and reserved parmesan cheese and stir through until melted and combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve in bowls topped with the bacon sprinkles and chopped fresh parsley, if desired.

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Fire Cider | Horseradish, Chilli & Apple Cider Vinegar

Fresh horseradish, ginger, chilli, turmeric, onions and citrus - ingredients for Fire Cider

Before winter is over altogether I must tell you about Fire Cider – my new favourite tonic to ward off winter ills. Despite all attempts to remain virus-free, I got sick this year. It was nothing but a nasty cold but it left me with a hacking cough for weeks and sinuses so blocked I felt like my head was under water. I work in an open plan office and at the height of my suffering it seemed that everyone else was sick too. For several weeks all I could hear was a chorus of coughing and complaining; rows of desks were half empty, and those who remained stumbled around bleary-eyed pumping hand sanitiser into snotty palms. Even the ABC agrees that it’s been a rough winter for bugs so I’ll take all the help I can get, even if it means swilling apple cider vinegar infused with horseradish, chilli and onion in the name of health (I know it sounds disgusting, but stay with me).

Apple cider vinegar infused with horseradish, chilli, onion, garlic and turmeric - a great winter tonic

Yes, we are deep into hippy territory now, but don’t fret, I’m not about to go all Gwyneth Paltrow on you and insist on the benefits of putting steam and jade eggs inside your vagina or $200 smoothies that contain enough weird mushrooms to sound a bit like microdosing (go Gwyneth!). Coffee enemas, rose quartz and mandalas aside, you’ve probably already guessed that I’m a bit alternative at heart. I’m no stranger to homemade remedies and have always been partial to nutrition and herbal medicine over doctors and pills. I make my own kombucha, treat indigestion with aloe vera juice and always have a bottle of tea tree oil in the cupboard. Nothing too fringe, I swear; just small efforts to limit my exposure to chemicals and maintain a sense of balance in a rush-rush world. Now excuse me while I go order my ground fossils, also known as Diatomaceous Earth powder (no really, I just did that).

Turmeric, horseradish, chilli and lime

Making Fire Cider - winter herbal health tonic for the immune system

Who am I kidding? I’m a sucker for self-medication and it’s a bonus if I can concoct it myself. As published in Martha Stewart Living (and we all know how trustworthy Martha is) Fire Cider was created in the 1970s by US herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar, as a home remedy for winter colds and flu. The principle is simple – take naturally fermented apple cider vinegar and a selection of herbs and vegetables known for their medicinal properties, macerate together for several weeks, strain, mix with honey and drink. It’s all stuff you can get at your local supermarket and nothing weird at all (see recipe below). You can drink it straight (although be careful, as vinegar is extremely acidic), or do as I do, and mix 1-2 Tbsp in a small glass of water. The dilution has the effect of making the mixture surprisingly tasty in a spicy, onion-y, savoury way; in fact, a bit of vodka wouldn’t go amiss if you wanted to turn your morning health tonic into a herbaceous martini (no irony intended).

Fire Cider - immune system tonic based on apple cider vinegar and herbs

Look, roll your eyes over this one if you must, but I can tell you that each dose of this pungent, fiery, garlicky liquid was heaven to my clogged sinuses, or maybe that was the phenylephrine that I was simultaneously ingesting in a desperate bid for relief…? Since I confounded my own experiment I’ll never really know but I’ll try it again next year as a preventative. Until then, because winter isn’t entirely over yet, I’ll continue to start the day with a swig of medicinal vinegar and yes, I feel pretty virtuous about that.

Disclaimer: I am not a trained health professional, just a regular human being. Make up your own mind how to live your life (except for jade eggs – can we all just agree not to do that?).

Update 24/9/17: currently shot down with September colds (both of us) but having Fire Cider in the fridge is almost as good as having our Mums cross the Tasman Sea to do the laundry and make some soup. Thanks for the foresight, past self.

Apple cider vinegar infused with horseradish, chilli, onion, garlic and turmeric - a great winter tonic

Fire Cider

  • Servings: makes about 1 litre
  • Print
Adapted from A Year in Food

1 cup diced, fresh horseradish root (buy a piece that weighs about 125grams)
1 cup diced, fresh ginger
1 cup diced, fresh turmeric root
1 cup diced onion
2 small heads garlic, cloves peeled and diced
4-8 hot chilies, sliced
2 lemons, quartered and sliced
2 limes, quartered and sliced
750ml to 1 litre raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
2 litre jar, with a lid
Runny honey, optional (1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp sea salt

This is a guide rather than a strict formula so adjust the quantities and ingredients to fit what you can get (and organic or spray-free if possible).

Clean, dice and slice all of your ingredients, layering them in the jar as you go. It really doesn’t matter how you fill the jar, but I couldn’t help alternating bland coloured ingredients with brightly coloured ones to increase the visual appeal.

Once all of the ingredients are in, fill the jar with apple cider vinegar, leaving a couple of centimetres space at the top. Screw the top on the jar (if you only have a metal lid, place a square of baking paper between the jar and the lid, otherwise the vinegar will cause the metal to rust slightly). Place the jar in a dark corner, out of the way of direct sunlight but in a place where you’ll remember to give it a shake now and then. Let the mixture brew for two weeks, or longer if you prefer.

After two weeks, strain the liquid from the solids through a sieve lined with fine cheesecloth. Stir runny honey and salt into the liquid until dissolved. Use a funnel to fill sterilised bottles, and store in the fridge. I used about 800ml vinegar to start with and ended up with just under one litre of Fire Cider, once the runny honey was incorporated.

Take your Fire Cider at the rate of 1-2 tablespoons per day, straight down the hatch or diluted with a little water.

Filed under: Eat