Saturday, February 25, 2012


Growing up, my mum often made us 'Pflaumenkuchen' (German for Plum Cake), which as a kid was a mouthful to say. It is probably one of my favourite cakes ever (the other being Armenian Orange Cake, another specialty of my mother's), and the best part is the combination of a sweet crumbly cake topped with fresh, tart plums.

Since plums came into season, I've been meaning to make some Pflaumenkuchen, but somehow every time I buy plums I end up just eating them. I can't help myself, I love stone fruits (plums, apricots, peaches, etc.).  Luckily for me, someone at work brought in a huge bag of plums which I suppose were from their tree at home, and I quickly pilfered a selection and vowed to make a plum cake. I even went so far as to tell other people at work about my plan, which forces me to actually follow through (otherwise I get that look that says 'where's the cake?'). I think they all think I'm insane since I'm constantly bringing baked goods into the office for no reason, but they hardly complain when they get to eat the fruits of my labour. Except for that one guy who reminded me of the recent article pointing out that sugar is a poison.  He still ate my cupcakes though, so that says something.

This recipe calls for plum prunes, because they're a more tart variety, but since I was using free plums, I have no idea what variety I used. They were a delicious variety.

Pflaumenkuchen (German Plum Cake)
1 1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 egg
1/2 lemon peel, grated (zested, etc)
1 t baking soda
~1 T milk
1/2 to 1 t cinnamon
1-2 T bread crumbs
(1-2 t lemon juice, optional)
Plums (6-7)
  1. Using a food processor (preferred) or hand blender, cream butter and sugar, add egg, flour, baking soda and lemon peel.  Mix well.
  2. Add milk, mix well.*
  3. Wrap dough in wax paper and refrigerate until cool. (I left it in the fridge over night, an hour would probably do).
  4. Preheat over to 400F/200C (190C if fan forced).
  5. Lightly grease a springform pan (or a pie dish, that's what I used.... the springform is much better though).
  6. Lightly flour your fingers so the dough doesn't stick, and transfer into pan.  Press down around edges with your fingers to create a slight ridge. The dough will be fairly shallow across the base of your dish.
  7. Wash, pit and slice plums and arrange across the top of the dough.  I prefer concentric circles of slices (quarters or eighths), but you could also use halves, arranging them face up.
  8. Mix bread crumbs, 1-2 t sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, and using your fingers sprinkle across the  plums.  The amount of cinnamon you use is totally up to your taste, I'd recommend the smaller amount. Add a few small dollops of butter ontop of the plums.
  9. If your plums are quite sweet, squeeze a small amount of lemon juice across the plums to add a hint of tartness to the flavour. **
  10. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Cake is done when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clear.
* For the amount of milk to add, my recipe actually says 'a little'.  This is one of those things where you want to have an idea of the desired texture of the dough, you don't need much as it's a relatively dry dough, you just want enough to bind all the ingredients.
** I *really* like the tartness, and the plums I used were quite sweet so it worked well for me when I squeezed maybe a quarter of a lemon across the surface. If you prefer a sweeter flavour, or if your plums are already tart, you can skip this step entirely.

Another useful tip, since it's about 30C here (summer, finally!), I put the plums in the fridge overnight, which actually made them easier to slice.  They weren't as juicy and dribbly and mushy (which of course is the best part if you're simply eating them over the sink) as they would have been had I left them on the counter. This was helpful since these plums were a bit bruised.  I may or may not have had to eat a few aesthetically unpleasing slices (they're the most delicious) during the preparation.

So, this cake disappeared within 10 minutes at my office. These people are food ninjas!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cucumber and Cream Cheese Salad

No photo this post, I ate too quickly.

Last week, I decided to do a 'leftover dump' and eat all the fresh veg in my fridge before it went bad.  So, I made some spaghetti sauce from scratch, which I may post about another day, but oddly, I also found some cucumber and thought "what can I do with cucumber today?".

I had a fair amount of leftover cream cheese from the Red Velvet Cupcakes I made for Valentines day and said 'hey, lets see what Google gives us'. I'll be honest, that's how a lot of meals come about. Without further rambling, here's what I found, based on a bento box recipe from I don't think this qualifies as healthy, sadly, but it did fall under delicious.

Cucumber and Cream Cheese Salad
1 cucumber (telegraph/English)
Half an 8 oz block cream cheese
1 tsp dill
Salt and Pepper

  1. Wash the cucumber and chop off the ends.
  2. Using the slicing side of a cheese grater, thinly slice the cucumber.
  3. Soften cream cheese (either leave out for an hour or so, or microwave on low for 10-20 seconds).
  4. Mix cream cheese with cucumber slices and add dill,  fresh cracked pepper and salt (to taste).
  5. Serve chilled.
I have two complaints about this meal. The first complaint was from boyfriend who said it wasn't chilled enough, he was probably right. The second complaint was that I was really looking forward to eating the leftovers the next day, but boyfriend ate them all. As a side, one cucumber was just enough for two people who really enjoyed this, so feel free to upscale and add cream cheese to achieve desired 'creaminess'.
I might also recommend adding some lemon juice or seeded mustard.  This was mostly inspired by Jamie Oliver's Evolution Cucumber Salad (online) from his Ministry of Food book, which uses greek or plain low-fat yogurt instead of cream cheese. It's also delicious, but is less... well... Philly.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Easy, Fluffy Hamburger Buns

Last weekend, I was minding my own business, looking at the various cooking people I follow on Google+, and someone (I'm sorry, I can't remember who) posted a link to the Kitchn's post on 12 Recipes to Know By Heart, and I got sucked in (no surprise there).  So one of the recipes posted on this list was How To Make Your Own Hamburger Buns.  I thought to myself, this must be difficult, bread is complicated, but wait, all the other recipes here are so easy, I'll check it out.

So I did.

And it was easy.

After spending the weekend at the Multicultural Festival here in Canberra, I woke up on Sunday morning envigorated and decided to make slow cooker chili. I'm not going to bore you with the recipe because a) ground beef in the slow cooker is nothing special and b) my chili recipe is nothing special either.

However, these buns were delicious. I halved the recipe from the Kitchn blog, simply because I only had enough yeast for half a batch, and it worked pretty well. I look forward to trying the full recipe some time soon and seeing if it makes a difference (it often does).  They were great with chili and not bad the next day either :)

Easy, Fluffy Hamburger Buns
1 7g packet active dry yeast (1/2 T)
1/4 c warm water
1/4 c milk
1 large egg
1 T olive oil
1 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 c plain flour
1 T butter
(Sesame Seeds)

  1. Poor water into mixing bowl, stir in yeast and let sit until dissolved.
  2. In a second bowl, whisk milk, egg, oil, sugar and salt.
  3. Pour milk mixture into mixing bowl with yeast and stir.
  4. Add flour and mix until combined. 
  5. Using a hand mixer (or similar pastry mixer), mix on low speed for 10 minutes, or knead slowly by hand against the counter.
  6. Finished dough will be smooth and springy.
  7. Place dough into mixing bowl and cover (tea towels are perfect for this).  Let sit in a warm area for ~1 hour (until doubled in size).
  8. Turn dough out onto floured surface.
  9. Divide dough into 8 pieces and shape into a tight ball by rolling between your hands. *
  10. Place balls on baking sheet and let rise until puffy, roughly 30-40 minutes.**
  11. Preheat oven to 375F/190C
  12. Brush melted butter over risen buns, and then sprinkle lightly with sesame seeds if desired.
  13. Bake until golden, ~15 minutes.
  14. Slice when buns cool to room temperature.

* I made slider-sized buns, so I made 8, for full sized burgers, this recipe would only make 4. If you make full sized buns, cook for 15-18 minutes.
** Don't touch the buns after they finish rising, I had the brilliant idea to reposition the buns on the sheet before baking and my bun deflated! Horror!

Anyway, these were delicious and light and were great with chilli, and with jam the next morning. I highly recommend them, and pretty much every other recipe I've seen over at the Kitchn Blog, and for the record, the original post has some suggestions on substituting in wheat flour and tips on kneading dough, etc.

On yeasts, they also have a brilliant post that makes yeast seem less scary. For me, this isn't a huge deal, however, since the only yeast they have at my local grocery store is the 7g sachets of active dried yeast... It's really easy to use.  My local grocery store, however, is easy to hate.  I had to explain the difference between baking cocoa and hot chocolate powder to the stock boy today when I asked if they had any cocoa powder in the back. He rolled his eyes at me. I deliberately put the hot chocolate powder back in the wrong aisle. I'm a rebel.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Red Velvet cupcakes.  What a perfect Valentine's Day treat, right? It's red, it's chocolate, it's delicious, what else can you ask for?

So, that's what I made. I found a recipe for these delicious red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing over at The Cake Mistress, and it looked both delicious and easy, which it was.
Tilt shift does not really add anything to photos of mini cupcakes.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
Makes 12
60 g (~3T)  unsalted butter, at room temperature
150 g (2/3 cup) caster sugar
1 large egg
10 g cocoa powder*
20 ml red food colouring**
1/2 t vanilla extract
120 mL (1/2 cup) buttermilk
150 g (1 1/4 cup) plain flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t bicarb (baking) soda
1 1/2 t white wine vinegar***

Cream Cheese Icing
300 g (2 cups) icing sugar, sifted ****
50 g (2 1/2 T) unsalted butter, room temperature
125g cream cheese, softened (half a standard Philadelphia block)
1 t vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 170C/340F and line cupcake tin with cupcake papers.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light in colour and fluffy.
  3. Mix egg in a small bowl and gradually add to butter and sugar mix, beating until thoroughly mixed.
  4. In another small bowl, mix cocoa powder, food colour and vanilla extract, mixing colour throughout and forming a paste.
  5. Add paste to butter mixture and beat until mixed throughout. Scrape the sides of the mixing bowl down with a spatula as needed.  The batter will be a dark-ish pink colour at this point.
  6. Beating on a low setting, add half the butter milk, mix, then add half the flour, repeat until all ingredients are combined.
  7. Add the vinegar, salt and bicarb and beat until just combined.
  8. Spoon mixture into paper cases in cupcake tin, filling until ~2/3 full.
  9. Bake 20-25 minutes in centre of oven.
  1. Beat icing sugar and butter until grainy and well mixed.
  2. Cut cream cheese into small cubes and add them individually.
  3. Add vanilla.
  4. Beat mixture until desired texture (should be light and fluffy).
  5. Transfer to piping bag or use a butter knife to decorate cupcakes once they've cooled to room temperature.

* There is a difference between baking cocoa and drinking cocoa, a huge difference. I also recommend, if your grocers carries it, to get the 70% or 80% Green and Black Organic baking cocoa, because it is the absolute best.  I could only find some Cadbury this time.
** Food colouring - I recommend using the liquid food colouring, but this may also be because I more often than not have it lying around the house so its easy
*** Many recipes I've looked at called for plain white vinegar, so this could be used as a substitute if you're not a vinegar snob like me.
**** Wow, this is a lot of notes. So, I never used to sift ingredients until I made this one cake, and then all of a sudden I realised it DID make a difference.  That being said, my icing sugar got half sifted half food-processed, because the icing sugar at the store was ALL bricklike

A helpful hint - take out the egg and butter ahead of time and let sit on counter for 1-2 hours while you enjoy a cup of coffee and a few chapters of a good book. I tend to do this with anything I cook anyways, room temperature eggs always make recipes taste better.

Another note to add here, using an icing bag is way more fun for icing cupcakes, you can make beautiful swirls, or something that is supposed to be a swirl, and you end up with way more icing on each cupcake. This is a good thing. However, if you're pressed for time, lazy, or trying to make a sad attempt to make your cupcakes healthier by having less icing on them, you can spread the icing on using a butter knife. You can still make the cupcakes pretty using this method, and is especially good if you plan on adding sparkles or chocolate shavings or etc on top of the icing.  I actually went back and added more icing after these photos were taken, and I still have leftover icing in the fridge. I wonder what I shall do with it.. wait, where's that spoon?
I made these for a special Valentines desert for the boyfriend, we enjoyed them, and the leftovers that I took to my office lasted less than an hour (no surprise there).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Baked Onion Rings and Potato Wedges

Here's a funny side to this blogpost - I actually found the recipe for onion rings in the South Beach Diet cookbook.  Don't go getting any funny ideas, I'm not a dieter, but for some reason this cookbook was on sale for $2 so I snatched it up.  The irony being that I find most of the recipes in the cookbook to be too unhealthy for my tastes (salt and oil) - you can tell it's American in origin by many of the ingredients.   Anyways, for a 'healthy' version of a food I love, these onion rings are great! A tiny bit on the dry side, but not enough to be annoying.

Baked Onion Rings and Potato Wedges
Onion Rings
1 Onion (brown or white)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup breadcrumbs and/or crushed crackers.
olive oil or cooking spray

Potato Wedges
4 potatoes, washed
olive oil
chili powder

Onion Rings
  1. Preheat oven to ~200-210C (my cookbook says max... so hotter works too I suppose)
  2. Peel onion and slice into ~0.5-1cm thick rings.
  3. Separate individual rings (I set aside the small inner ones to use later)
  4. Pour buttermilk into shallow bowl and put breadcrumb/cracker mixture into another shallow bowl or on a plate. I use a mix of Premium crackers (like saltines) and store bought breadcrumbs.
  5. Dredge onion rings through butter milk, then coat with breadcrumb mixture.
  6. Place on a cookie tray (I put down wax paper so they don't stick).  
  7. Recipe says to lightly coat in cooking spray. I don't own any cooking spray so I use a bit of olive oil and just lightly brush them.
  8. Bake for ~20 minutes or until golden and tender.
Potato Wedges
  1. Preheat oven to 220C
  2. Slice potatoes into wedges, and toss into a large bowl.
  3. Toss with oil, salt and spices.  Don't use too much oil (a few glugs? I didn't measure, sorry).
  4. Spread out evenly on a baking tray (or two, I used two).  Again, I laid down wax paper first to keep it from sticking.  
  5. Bake for 30-50 minutes or until crispy and brown.  Check after 30 minutes, depending on thickness of slices, they are usually ready around 40 minutes.
  6. Really good with ketchup and Tabasco.
Ideally, with both of these recipes, you would cook them on a silpat or similar, I don't own one of those, so I used wax paper on baking sheets.  I've recently been informed that we should use parchment paper instead of wax paper in baking, so I'll be trying that in the future. 

The recipe for potato wedges can also be applied for sweet potato fries as well. In this case, I'd add some brown sugar and cumin along with the paprika.  Sweet Hungarian paprika is best for sweet potato, while a smoked paprika is better on the potato wedges. It's not a huge difference, however, and I use whatever is handy.

If you are wary of buying buttermilk because you're thinking to yourself 'what the heck am I going to do with the rest of this?'.  Well, it can be used in breading chicken, or you can make Buttermilk Biscuits,  or there are a multitude of other recipes that call for it - why not plan ahead?

I think the next blog post will be pickled vegetables. Either that or the slow cooker chili I plan on making this weekend along with some no-knead bread.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Simple Baked Pork Chops with Tomatoes and Onions

So, on a whim I picked up some pork chops at the grocers this week. I don't actually like pork chops, and as a general rule I don't eat pork, however they were cheap and I'd been discussing them earlier in the week so I gave into temptation.  Of course, then I was faced with the decision of what to do with them. I don't like pork chops, so it would have to be good.

830 on Friday night rolled around and I still hadn't made up my mind so I scoured the internet and most of the recipes for baked pork chops took an hour, and then I found this recipe for Pork Chops with Baked Apples. of course, I only had one apple so this recipe simply wouldn't do, but I decided to take the principle and run with it. I was pretty well satisfied, and the premise can be fairly loosely adjusted to fit whatever you have lying around.

This was so easy, and only took me about 20 minutes in total to prepare.

Simple Baked Pork Chops with Tomatoes and Onions
3 Pork Chops
1 Brown Onion
2 Vine Tomatoes*
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
~2 T Brown Sugar
Salt & Pepper
Fresh Chives

  1. Preheat oven to 210C (200C fan forced)/400F.
  2. Score fat on the side of the pork chops every 2-3cm.
  3. Sprinkle brown sugar, salt and pepper on both sides of pork chops.
  4. Heat oil in a pan.
  5. Brown pork chops 2-3 minutes per side.
  6. Slice 1 onion into 1/2cm rings (keep together), place in bottom of oven proof dish.
  7. Slice tomatoes into 1/2-1cm slices, place on top of onions.
  8. Sprinkle with fresh chives (fresh rosemary would also be good) and balsamic vinegar.
  9. Place pork chops on top of onions and tomatoes and bake for ~10 minutes.
I served this with steamed frozen peas and corn, a lazy but delicious and well rounded meal. Mashed or baked potatoes would be a good side for this too, if you were so inclined.

Boyfriend claimed the pork chops were a bit tough, but this is what I'm used to. Aren't pork chops always tough? So, perhaps sear them for a shorter period of time.  Either way *I* enjoyed it, and I don't even like pork chops.  I think that in terms of seasoning you could use just about anything, garlic would be a great addition to the bake, or rosemary instead of chives, anything else you have on hand.  I cooked this in a a pyrex pie dish, but the original recipe called for a baking dish without wax paper. I imagine a casserole dish would be great as well. And you can up the recipe as much as you want without adjusting the cooking times as long as the pork chops sit in a single layer in your dish.

Sorry there's no picture of the finished product, but I was hungry!


PS - Last night, I went to turn on the light over our stove, since the overhead light in the kitchen doesn't work, and it blew the lightbulb AND the fuse for the kitchen.  I found out tonight while searing the pork chops that it also blew the motor on the fan over the stove. Did you know if your pan is sufficiently hot, pork chops will smoke when you sear them?  Yeah.  That was fun.