Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Chocolate Blancmange

Remember the days of the old schoolyard?  as the song goes.  We had to do Home Ec. as it was called back then- i.e.-mainly cooking and a bit of sewing.  And we used to make those wonderful old stalwarts like Irish Stew, and scones, and tea cakes and of course blancmange.   Oh crumbs!  I hated it.  The only flavouring was a teaspoon of vanilla essence (no extract or beans in them thar days), and it was generally a bit lumpy and glutinous.   But of course adding chocolate improves most anything.   I was watching a bit of daytime TV last week and saw an episode of Alive and Cooking with James Reason. (I used to love him on the ABC- that ponytail and that accent).  The ponytail has long gone, but the accent is still amazing with those flat as a pancake vowels.  Anyways, back to blancmange.  He made a chocolate version, so I thought Right I will give that a go, so this week I have.  And it is quite delicious!


1 1/2 tbs cornflour
1 tsp Dutch cocoa or raw cacao
600mls milk
100g dark chocolate- grated or chopped finely
1 tbs caster sugar- or try coconut sugar


Blend a few tablespoons of the milk with the cornflour and cocoa till you have a nice slurry (thin and lumpless) -set aside
Place the rest of the milk, the chocolate and the sugar into a medium saucepan
Grab a whisk and heat up the mixture gently, whisking all the while to prevent lumps (the scourge of any blancmange)
When it is close to boiling, throw in your cornflour slurry and keep whisking
Give it a few minutes to cook out the flour and thicken slightly
Turn it off and leave to cool down for about 20 minutes
Pour it into moulds or cups or one big bowl if you feel inclined
Refrigerate for several hours
Serve with whipped cream and Dutch chocolate sprinkles on top

making the slurry; and chopping the chocolate

I forgot to add the cocoa to my slurry!

starting to thicken after the slurry added

looking very pretty in the little cups

File:Eight girls and teacher in a cooking class in a Washington, D.C., high school.png
(stock image-photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston 1899)

Friday, 29 August 2014

Parsley ice cubes

In days of yore when I was a small child, the only herbs mothers used were parsley and well... parsley.  In fact, thinking about it, my mother didn't even use that.  My dad was very particular about what he ate which was very little except meat and 3 veg done to death.  You would end up with grey meat and vegies that were boiled till they were mush.  So perhaps it is odd that I now eat almost anything and everything.  Even as a child, I loved to try new things to eat, and relished my schoolmates' strange foods like wholemeal or rye bread sandwiches with huge chunks of vintage cheddar cheese and jam.  Or vegan foods, or Austrian foods like strudel with pastry that you could read through, made by a friend's Austrian grandmother.  We did occasionally eat wild rabbits that Dad would go out and shoot, or chooks that had had their necks wrung by someone's dad, which our poor Mum then had to pluck and gut.  Oh the joy!  My siblings and I planted vegies out in the backyard to supplement our diet.  The only problem being that we rented a house with a huge yard from the local butcher.   He for some obscure reason decided to house his goat in a corrugated tin half-moon shaped shed in the backyard.  This goat used to escape (though we figured the butcher let him free to annoy us) and eat the washing off the old washing line strung between 2 poles, and of course eat our vegies.  There was an old toilet down the back covered in mint, which grew bountifully due I imagine to the wonderful fertiliser!  I think Mum used to put the mint in some of our meals, which horrifies me now to think about.  My sister tells me that we had mint sauce with lamb;  this is odd 'cos I don't remember eating lamb as a child.
So as an adult, my diet is madly different and I eat all sorts of diverse things (even tripe in a Belgrade workers' cafe) though it took me a while to get used to coriander and basil and tarragon and thyme and.... And in my fridge today I saw that we had a bag of parsley which was looking very very sad.  I didn't want to throw it out- so wasteful- so I did the Jamie Oliver thing and decided to freeze it.  I have been very good this week and also saved some excruciatingly limp celery by sticking it into a glass of iced water.  See - I am being very thrifty in my old age!

So here is what I did with the parsley:

limp parsley looking sad

adding salt and pepper and olive oil

ready to blitz


ready for the freezer

I threw the parsley into the food processor, added salt and pepper and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and blitzed!  Top up each little cavity with a bit more olive oil and chuck into the freezer.  The next day you can place the cubes into a plastic bag for easy access.
They are now sitting in the freezer, ready to go into stews and soups.  In fact, Mr Pickings chucked a couple of cubes into the vegie stew he made tonight for my vegetarian sister.   Nooiiice one Mr Pickings!

(stock image by Trialsanderrors)

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Cabbage Cobbler

What's that you say?  I thought cobbler was a sweet dish?  Me too.  It was only when I was checking up the meaning of cobbler that I saw that it could be either sweet or savoury.  And why was I checking up the meaning of cobbler you may well ask?  Because I had been planning to make a cabbage galette, and was searching the Net for recipes and came across one from the NZ Women's Weekly (there seems to be a bit of an obsession going on with me re NZ recipes and food history lately).  So when I actually made this dish, I discovered that it was nothing like any French galette I had ever seen, so in honesty I thought I had to re-name it.  And the word "cobbler" jumped into my head.  I think it is much more accurate for this particular dish.  Either way, it is a comforting and filling dish on a cold winter's night.
Mr Pickings and I have been to New Zealand several times over the last few years, and always love to visit. And the food is always wonderful, and sometimes a bit different.  I think the scariest dish we saw there was possum pie.  Possums are considered a pest, and they kill them to make possum gloves etc, and they turn them into pies!  I couldn't actually bring myself to eat one so I cannot report on the flavour.  Ah well, next time!


850g cabbage, finely shredded
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
250g rindless bacon, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
a good pinch of cayenne
a few good twists of freshly ground nutmeg
salt and pepper

for the batter:

2 cups self-raising flour
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley chopped + 2 tsp lightly dried parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbs olive oil
2 cups milk


Heat the oven to 180C
Grease a lasagne-sized baking dish with some olive oil  (approx 22cm x 32cm dish)
Steam the chopped cabbage for about 5 mins till slightly softened; no need to cook it thru
Let it cool for 5-10 mins
Place the cabbage, garlic and bacon in a large mixing bowl
Add the oregano, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper
Mix well
Place the mixture into the baking dish; bang it down well with your hands or the back of a large spoon
Grab a medium bowl and throw in the flour, spring onions, parsley, eggs, oil, milk
Season with lots of salt and pepper
Beat it with a whisk till the lumps are gone
Pour this thick batter over the top of the cabbage in an even layer
Bake for 35 mins till the top is golden and firm


lots of chopping!

stirring the batter ready to become the cobbler topping

bake till golden and firm

We had this with steamed veggies; feel free to eat it with salad.  There is plenty left over for lunch the next day, which is always handy.  I think next time I will add more herbs and spices, and I might try adding 100g of sauerkraut to give it a buzz.  You could reduce the cabbage somewhat in that case, or not- whatever takes your fancy.  All the recipes for cabbage galette that I have seen suggest using Savoy cabbage, but these seem to be almost impossible to find in the average supermarket or greengrocer lately, so I used what was available - sugarloaf.  Really, I think you could even use kale or cauliflower instead of or as well. Somewhat like a sweet cobbler where you use whichever fruit is in season at the time.  Anyway, it was a tasty dish, and comforting to eat.

possum trapper's camp 1908 (stock image- held in State Library QLD)

Friday, 15 August 2014

Stanthorpe getaway Part 2-and Felsberg winery Bell Tower Cafe

Our second full day away involved a lot of eating and driving around the countryside, which was very dry but still quite beautiful in that understated Aussie way of muted colours, tall twisted trees and dry grassy paddocks.

I love signs!  And the sunlight gleaming thru the tall grasses was lovely

Before the drive, we had lunch at Felsberg winery up on the ridge.   There are a number of wineries around Stanthorpe but not many do lunch; and as we have been here before, it was a no-brainer.  There is a long gravel drive up to the main building which looks Bavarian-kind of cute if a bit far from home.

beautiful views from the windows

Luckily we got to the restaurant just before a coach came up the drive, so were able to order and eat without having to wait for the huge hoard to be fed.  We sat by the front window with the sun streaming in, and actually getting a bit hot even though it was a cool Winter's day.  The Bell Tower Cafe currently has its Autumn/Winter menu in place.with soup, pizza, pasta and some meaty mains.
Mr Pickings usually eats vegetarian when we are out, but this time it was I who chose the haloumi and roast veggie stack, with chickpeas and home made tomato relish.  This was filling and so delish, so I was very glad I chose the small size.  Especially 'cos we also had those ubiquitous sweet potato chips. (I must have missed the memo as to when they became the staple chips on menus!)  And they were yummy- crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.

entree size $18 M $24

sweet potato chips $7 for a large side

Mr Pickings chose a pizza which came out on a wooden paddle and was substantial.  Actually this was also a vegetarian choice with potato of the normal kind, onion, mozzarella and goat's cheese.  It almost defeated Mr Pickings which is not an easy thing.

tasty and filling potato pizza $20

Sadly we were too full to try the cakes and coffee though judging from the delicious lunch, I feel sure they would have been equally tasty.  And I would love to try some of the other dishes like lamb shanks ($26), and Beef Wellington ($28). You can sample the wines in the tasting room before your meal, and then choose to have a glass of your favourite with your repast.
This is a very pleasant place to spend some time; the food is filling and tasty, the staff are friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere is relaxing.  The chef came out when we had finished to check if all was ok; we were happy to tell her we had had a great lunch.  And on our way out, we came across this flying pig.

very cute!

After lunch, we went driving in the countryside.  It was a gorgeous sunny day with those lovely polarised blue skies you get in a Queensland winter.  The wattle are just coming out so everywhere we went, we drove past bright yellow balls of sunshine cloaking the trees.  Really wonderful!

the fire on the left was a controlled burn, the other was some poor farmer's tractor ablaze

Next day we had to head home, but we took it very slow.  We stopped off for coffee and damper at the Info centre which has a little cafe, then headed north by way of the cheese factory.  The cafe is really popular here, and there were lots of people enjoying that Jersey milk.  We bought more relishes, and a locally crafted wooden spoon.

Mr Pickings looking pensive after scoffing down that damper and jam

lots of people were enjoying the sunshine and Jersey milk here

a country lane full of pinecones

just so you know-no rabbits allowed in Queensland:)

typical country house

We will be taking another short trip to Stanthorpe next month to pick up an artwork I bought at the local Gallery- cant't wait!

Felsberg Winery 'Bell Tower' Cafe on Urbanspoon