Sponge, I have conquered thee


Thanks to this recipe, I no longer fear the sponge! Instead, I laugh in the face of sponge! Manically! Can’t be bothered clicking through? Cornflour and custard powder (and eggs and sugar).

This one is sandwiched with birthday-gift lemon curd and cream.

Here’s how they came out of the oven:


… so I was pretty happy right from the start. Although if anyone can tell me why this happened, I’d be ever so grateful:


(They left their bottoms behind. Too little greasing perhaps?)

The cake was very well received at work. It was, in fact, devoured.

Acts of Kitchen: Monday Morning Cooking Club

AoK_logo_v2In this episode, I CONQUER A NEMESIS – sponge cake! – and cook from The Feast Goes On, and talk to Natanya and Merelyn from the Monday Morning Cooking Club (you should totally check them out) about their books and cooking in general.



The sponge cake recipe to DEFEAT ALL ENEMIES. Look what I created! img_1318

My bagels: 



What’s that you say? MORE bread? Oh yes, friends. More bread.

This time: bagels. I had vaguely thought about making them in the past but then the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s And the Feast Goes On has a recipe and… well, it looked easy. For some reason I always thought bagels were hard! (This recipe is basically the same.) Maybe I was thinking of croissants…

Anyway, today I made them.

IMG_1311.JPGMaking the dough is a cinch – it’s just a yeasted dough. I very smugly used my stand mixer, but kneading by hand would be perfectly doable. Leave to rise; divide into 12 and poke a hole in the middle and shape a bit; leave to rise again. I didn’t take a photo at this point because they looked a bit weedy, so I thought I’d failed on my first attempt.

IMG_1312.JPGThen the fun bit – boil for two minutes on each side, sprinkle with salt (or sesame seed if you like). And look! They puffed up beautifully!

Then bake. And look at those lovelies!

Some of them are clearly a bit small… I think next time I might be ultra geeky and actually weigh each portion rather than thinking I can just wing it. I know, I know. Whatever.


And the exciting thing I discovered? You can freeze bagels easily. Just split them first, then toast them…


mmccthefeast.jpgI received a copy of the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s book The Feast Goes On from the awesome Alisa for my birthday, and I’ve got a plethora of tags sticking out already because there’s a heap of things I want to cook. (For starters, look at the cake on the front.) This weekend I took the opportunity to cook three of them.

Mains was slow-cooked beef with ras el hanout. I went with chuck steak, and I used the slow cooker, which was awesome. It’s got onion and garlic, I did grate the tomatoes although I’m not convinced it was necessary, and I chucked in all the right spices for the ras el hanout. I used the cured lemon that I made courtesy of Palomar and I think it really was better than preserved lemon. It was… smoother, somehow (I mean yes it is a smooth paste, but even the taste seemed smoother). It cooked in about 6 hours, I think, and it has gone straight to the top few recipes of How To Impress Without Too Much Effort. I served it with yoghurt and some more cured lemon.

(I can’t find a recipe online for cured lemons like in Palomar. At any rate, it’s layer the lemons with salt and canola + olive oil; leave for three days then strain out the oil, blitz the lemons with some chilli and add some oil until it’s smooth.)

On the side I did a potato and onion gratin, with a big bunch of thyme and rosemary (the recipe called for one or the other, but why not have both?). I layered this too densely so I IMG_1301.JPGended up having to cook it for longer. Which was fine but I felt stupid. I will make this again and I will use a bigger dish.

For dessert I kinda committed sacrilege. In my family, Mum’s lemon delicious is almost holy. So to make mandarine delicious, and to make it in individual ramekins, and to follow someone else’s recipe – ! They were quite lovely. They had quite a different texture from the lemon delicious I have made in the past; not sure if that’s the recipe or the individual ramekin or if I made some mistake. But they weren’t as sponge-y; they were a bit more gelatinous, and they didn’t have much syrup underneath – it was more on the inside. Nonetheless I will be making these again, too… even though it did mean I had to blitz a mandarine in the wee processor and then strain the juice through a tea strainer.


Acts of Kitchen 11: Mexican cooking class

AoK_logo_v2In which I discuss Mexican cooking classes with my sister, and I mention three cookbooks and a TV show.

Palomar: the book, and the food.

The other books I mention are Pulse and Monday Morning Cooking Club.

unknownDuff till Dawn.

The cooking school my sister attended.

Contact me at actsofkitchen @ gmail dot com – or leave a review on iTunes!



Palomar: the food

This book was sent to me by the publisher. Go here for discussion of the physical product.


There’s some nice basics in here: harissa, watercress pesto (which I used to make snow pea pesto, and it was quite good), labneh and tapenade. I have prepared the cured lemons – one thing I do not lack is lemons – which the book promises will eliminate a “bleach-y taste” they claim preserved lemons carry. I haven’t noticed. I haven’t turned them into cured lemon paste, yet, but I definitely plan to. These things are in “The meal before the meal,” along with other dips and felafel and such.

The next section is “Raw beginnings” and I haven’t made anything from this section… and I’m not likely to. I’m allergic to scallops so that’s a few recipes gone, and I’m just not the sort of person who will ever come to steak tartare. There are one or two salads that might get a look at.

I have mostly cooked from “The main act.” The book has two shakshuka recipes; I’ve made the “New style” one with cauliflower, zucchini, garlic and chilli and coriander – then eggs cracked over. It was ok – I was perfectly happy to eat it – but not completely brilliant. It was one I had altered, taking out the eggplant because my beloved isn’t a huge fan… but since the recipe has a section called “Variations,” telling you to “reinvent” it every time, this shouldn’t have been a problem. I am intrigued with making it with chorizo and/or olives, feta… or, they promise, “any old stew or cooked vegetable you have as leftovers from yesterday’s main meal.” So I’m not quite giving up on this.

Polenta Jerusalem style: I admit I used instant polenta, which the author of the book would abhor, but that’s what I have. This involves making polenta; putting “mushroom ragout” on top (mushrooms cooked in butter), and then blanched asparagus. Garnish with Parmesan. I mean yes, it was tasty, but it’s not all that miraculous. Maybe ‘real’ polenta makes a huge difference?

Aubergine and feta boureka: ok these were quite cool. Bourekas are made by cutting butter puff pastry into four triangles, then brushing with egg, sprinkling with sesame seeds and cooking for about 18 minutes at 200C. Then you halve them and throw stuff on top – again, I omitted the eggplant, but the swiss chard stew with bacon and feta was really good. (This recipe also looks awesome.)

Papi’s spinach gnocchi: was a disaster. I’ll wear this one because I didn’t want to simmer them in goat’s yoghurt (too hard), so I simmered them in water instead. They just fell apart. I didn’t drain the spinach enough? Who knows.

Right in the middle there’s a series of pictures showing octopus – both cut up and not cut up. It’s my least favourite part of the book.

Cod chraymeh: I didn’t use cod, because that’s too hard in Australia; I think I used ling. This was … well, not flavourless, but really not worth the effort. It has red capsicum, garlic, spices, harissa… I was surprised how much it didn’t work.

Chicken thighs in green olive and tomato sauce: this was quite nice – the chicken with the olives worked really well.

IMG_1293.JPGLabneh kreplach tortellini: probably my favourite recipe to date. Kreplach are “the Ashkenazi Jewish version of Italian ravioli, Chinese wonton or Russian pelmeni.” Palomar suggests making IMG_1294.JPGthem like choux (choux? I can totes make choux) – flour into boiling water, into the processor to add more flour and egg yolks (which means making meringues later), then leaving the dough til the next day to roll and fill. As the name suggests, these were filled with labneh (yes, homemade) mixed with za’atar. I then simmered them in borscht (made with some of my own beetroots, EAT YOUR HEART OUT Katering Show). It was awesome. (I’m interested that a number of online recipes, like this one, call for whole eggs – no meringues! – but very excited that it points out that like dumplings, kreplach can of course by frozen. EXCELLENT.)

IMG_1295.JPGVerdict: I’m not sad to have experimented with it, but I wouldn’t be rushing out to buy it for all my friends. Possibly I’m spoiled by Jerusalem plus my two Sabrina Ghayour books, and The Saffron Tales, which basically cover these sorts of recipes – the ones I’ve enjoyed anyway. That said, I am looking forward to trying the date roulade, and their version of pitta bread.


This book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It was published in August; RRP $39.99.

4The-Palomar.jpgPalomar is apparently one of the hottest restaurants in London at the moment: it seats 34 people and the waiting list is up to six months, I’m told (I hadn’t heard of it – because Australian, and because not really up on my Famous Restaurants Trivia). I’ve been a bit conflicted about the cookbook.

But I’m ready to call it now. Sadly, this book has not become one of my favourites.

What it is:

  1. Beautifully presented. I mean, that cover is elegant and alluring, and under the slip cover is a glorious blue hard cover with a gold pattern such that I am agonising over whether to keep the cover or not. The inside is beautifully presented as well. The photography is delightful – a mix of shots in the restaurant, shots of the people, and shots of the food. The recipes themselves are well laid-out, with the ingredients in a black-lined box, and clear steps to follow for each recipe (although sometimes the small type isn’t great). Each recipe also has a little story in italics at the start; the stories are sometimes funny, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes practical. And there’s a little insert of cocktail recipes too.
  2. Largely accessible. Like Indian Made Easy and The Saffron Tales it has a section called “What’s in the cupboard?” which has clearly become The Thing You Must Do When Talking About “Ethnic” Food. This section has info about everything rom freekah to date syrup and information about spices and nuts. Most of the recipes I’ve looked at have ingredients that, today, in a multicultural city or with access to the internet a home cook would have access to. The final mini-bio, of Yossi ‘Papi’ Elad, instructs the reader not to consider “recipes as sacrosanct – they are creations of human beings, so use your imagination” – a blessing that I really appreciate, since I don’t always have the right things to hand. Some of the recipes do, of course, require time and skills – but not all.

What it isn’t:

That inspiring.

Some of the recipes I’ve made have been flops, and they have mostly been my fault, so I’m wearing that and definitely not blaming the book. But others… they’ve worked, but they just haven’t been super exciting. I haven’t made any dessert yet, and some of them do look intriguing, so maybe that’s where I’ll find the lurve.

I’ll discuss the recipes in detail in tomorrow’s post.


Camping food

So we went camping for about ten days recently, and we managed to make dinner on the fire every night. Which was ace. We’d done a lot of prep beforehand, which stood us in good stead.

We did a few pretty normal things: eye fillet and lamb backstrap on the grill. A whole lot of roast potatoes. We’d marinated some lamb with onion, garlic, and ginger and then vac-sealed it; we cooked that with a tin of peas and it was quite good! We took many tins of vegetables – easier to transport, especially when our trip involved running the quarantine regulations of travel between Victoria and South Australia. We had some that were just boiled, and they were just… average. So I decided to change it up by warming them in a pan with some butter and herbs. Herbs were courtesy of a Gewurzhaus gift from a friend and they really lifted the veg.

In terms of dessert, we did two experiments. One, I discovered that you can buy packet mug cake! Which is so wrong but so awesome. And we decided to make them in the sandwich maker and they worked brilliantly. Two, we decided to try and make a proper cake too. My beloved was convinced that we could do it in a cast-iron cauldron. I thought we should put alfoil in the bottom. And… well, the bottom burnt, which was sad, but probably not a surprise. We still ate the cake, and it was ok – I mean, it was cake in the middle of the Flinders Ranges – but it did have a burnt tang. Which was sad. Next time we might try a pot-inside-a-pot… or just take a cake tin with us. Or, easiest, just rely on mug cake packets.

Breakfast was mostly pancakes and bacon and egg wraps. There was also a lot of tea and aeropress coffee. Lunch was wraps, or occasionally using the sandwich maker for its actual purpose.

Duff till Dawn

My mother has Foxtel and whenever I’m there I watch food programmes, of course. When I’m really lucky, there are episodes of Ace of Cakes to watch.

I adore Ace of Cakes.

Unknown.jpegSo imagine my joy at discovering that in SBS’ baking October, they’re showing a new show with Duff Goldman: Duff til Dawn. I don’t really do cooking challenge shows, but Duff has managed to make this feel less like competition than I feared. Maybe because it’s just two groups competing, maybe because it’s happening overnight so they’re all a bit mad, maybe it’s because they’re not always referencing the clock, maybe I’m willing to put up with elements that I otherwise wouldn’t when there’s awesome cake-decorating skillz on display.

Could be all of the above.

Unknown-1.jpegAnyway, the premise is just what I’ve outlined: two teams of cake-decorators come in and, overnight, in Charmed City Cakes, they design and decorate a cake.

No biggie. Except that Duff always throws in a curveball at about the four hour mark – an additional element that must be included. And of course cakes break and fondant cracks and you’re doing this at three AM. In fact at 3am you have about another 3 hours to go. Because that’s not going to make anyone nuts.

They’re judged on design and taste, which makes me very happy since half the time those decorated cakes I’ve seen on other shows just seem like they’re all fluff and no substance. (The one I just watched had a Baileys Irish Cream creme brûlée buttercream. WOAH.)

I’ll be watching the heck out of this show, and dreaming of being one of the judges.

In Australia, it’s on SBS’ Food Network; episodes are available on their catch up service until the end of October as far as I can tell.