Stephanie’s Hazelnut Sponge with Coffee Cream

Last year I held a cake stall in my backyard to raise some money for the famine appeal in East Africa. With the help of wonderful friends and family, we raised almost $600 for Oxfam and the World Food Program.

Fundraising aside, the best thing about the day for me was discovering people’s favourite cake recipes. My friend Nada’s mum, Stephanie, brought this beautiful hazelnut sponge and it was a big hit.

Stephanie is a Croatian Australian and hands down the best cook I know. I love everything about her attitude to food and cooking. She makes simple but stunning food with the freshest and best ingredients possible, and nothing is ever wasted. She grows her own vegetables, fruit and herbs, and a visit to her garden is inspirational. It’s almost unbelievable how much produce her small garden in inner city Melbourne provides.

Stephanie kindly shared this recipe with me and now I’m sharing it with you. It’s such a beautiful cake – delicate and nutty. It is perfect with afternoon coffee or tea, or after dinner with a liqueur. I’ve only really made one change, and that is to reduce the amount of sugar, as it’s my standard operating procedure to do so. The coffee cream is my touch. If you prefer, as Stephanie suggests, chocolate cream, then substitute the coffee for a teaspoon of cocoa powder.

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • pinch of cream of tartar (about 1/4 teaspoon)
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar (or 1/2 cup if you want it sweeter)
  • 2/3 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup self raising flour (or plain flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder)
  • 25 g, or two level tablespoons, butter melted in 2 tablespoons boiling water.
  • 150 ml pure cream
  • 1 level tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee

Preheat oven to 180c.

Grease a 20cm square cake tin or high sided tray (you can use a larger one if that’s all you have, as I did, but the sponge will be thinner).

Assemble all your ingredients so you have everything at hand once you get cracking.

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar with electric beaters until peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and beat until thick and glossy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Sift over the flour, add the hazelnuts and fold in carefully with a metal spoon. Add the melted butter and water and mix gently. Pour into the tin and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool a little then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Beat the cream, coffee and sugar in an electric mixer until thick and spreadable. If the coffee granules haven’t dissolved, let it sit for five minutes then stir through.
Carefully slice the sponge in half horizontally. Spread the cream over the bottom half, put the top half on and dust with icing sugar. Cut into squares.

Coconut Dahl With Spinach

This is a super easy dahl that everyone will love. I’ve adapted it from a much loved Indian cookbook. It’s healthy and tasty, and makes a lovely meal on its own with rice and accompaniments, as a side to meat or fish, or as part of a curry banquet.

Most of the dahl ingredients all go into the pot at the same time to simmer. The dish is then tempered at the end with a spicy onion mix.

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 250 ml coconut milk
  • 1 x 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 green chillis sliced, or chilli powder or flakes to taste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cummin seeds
  • about 2 cups or handfuls of english spinach leaves

Wash and rinse the lentils and place in a heavy based saucepan with the tomatoes, coconut milk, half the onion, the cumin powder, turmeric, garam masala, chilli and water. Stir and heat, then let simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring as you go, and adding more water if necessary.

While it’s cooking, sauté the remaining onion in some oil until soft and golden. Add the garlic, cumin and mustard seeds and stir for a minute. Add to the lentil mix after 20 minutes, then simmer for another 10 minutes. Stir the washed spinach leaves through at the end and serve with rice and your favourite accompaniments, such as raita, mango or lime chutney, or banana tossed in coconut.

Tip: If you want to speed this up for a fast mid-week meal, keep a jar of caramelised onions, or caramelised onion relish, in the fridge and add a tablespoon at the end instead of sautéing the second half of the onion. Then just pop the cumin and mustard seeds in the microwave for 30 seconds in a dish with some oil. If you do this, just use a small onion for the first part.

Banana and Pecan Loaf

Welcome back bananas! After almost a year at around $16/kilo following the devastation caused by Cyclone Yasi, bananas are now back in abundant supply, and currently selling for around $3-4/kilo.

To celebrate, I’m sharing my favourite banana recipe with you. It’s basically Tessa Kiros’ banana bread recipe, with pecans added, and a few other slight changes. I’ve been making it for my son now since he was 1, although I now leave out the pecans when making it for his school lunch box.

If you make this, you will never be able to eat bland banana bread from a cafe again.

  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 350 g – about 3 – ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • 1 and half teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon bicarb soda, dissolved in 3 tablespoons warm milk
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 180c. Grease and line a standard size loaf tin.

Do your prep: mash the bananas and set aside. Sift the flour and baking powder in a bowl and add the cinnamon, set aside. Chop the pecans and set aside. Have the eggs, and the milk and bicarb mixture ready to go.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, mixing until combined, then the banana. Mix well. Add the flour mixture and milk, and fold in until combined. Fold in the nuts.

Pour the mixture in the loaf tin and even out on top a little. Bake for about 55 minutes. Insert a skewer into the middle. If it doesn’t come out clean, continue baking for another 5 or so minutes (you might have to do what I do here, and drop the temperature slightly to stop it burning on the bottom)

Cool on a rack, and preferably serve while warm 🙂



Chorizo Meatballs

I am not a big fan of chorizo. I like the flavour, but it always makes me feel a little ill. I think it’s the combination of cured meat and the rich spices and flavours.

I thought if I took the basic chorizo ingredients – pork, garlic, paprika – and made meatballs I’d end up with a fresher take on it. I was right. These are delicious and contain far fewer nasties than your favourite chorizo sausage. Barbecuing or grilling them is a healthier option than pan frying too.

You could serve them in many ways: as part of tapas, in a paella, in a pasta sauce, with grilled prawns and salad, or make very small ones and serve with toothpicks as finger food. I like them with fresh ingredients to balance out the richness – pureed peas or broad beans for example.

Makes about 12 meatballs.

  • 500 grams pork mince
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 teaspoons good quality smoky paprika (get some from a market or specialty food store, it will be much better than the supermarket option)
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Form into balls of your desired size and cook on a hot barbecue, turning to cook on all sides. Drain on paper towel. I like a squeeze of lemon juice over them when done.



Halloween Gingerbread Men

These dismembered, bloodied and bandaged gingerbread men are so much fun to make and decorate. Make a whole batch of all one design, or mix them up. The gingerbread recipe is one I have used for years from a Donna Hay magazine, but I add a little fresh ginger to it for extra taste and zing, and reduce the sugar a little.

Makes approx 12 gingerbread men.

For the gingerbread men:

  • 2.5 cups plain flour
  • 125 g soft butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger (powdered)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

For the icing:

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • red and black food colouring (get the good quality gel pastes from a specialty store, you won’t get great colour from the supermarket ones)

Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until creamy. Add the golden syrup and beat until combined. Add the fresh grated ginger. Sift the flour, bicarb soda and powdered ginger and mix until combined.  Knead to form a dough, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour.

Heat the oven to 190c.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper until roughly half a centimetre thick. It will be quite crumbly and this is normal.

Cut out the gingerbread men using a cutter. Tip: dip the cookie cutter in flour to stop it sticking to the dough.

Slash your gingerbread men according to your fancy, carefully lift them onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, and cook for 10-12 minutes.

Allow to cool on a rack completely before icing.

Mix the icing sugar and egg white until a smooth, thick paste forms. You don’t want it too runny so add more icing sugar until you have a workable, thick consistency.

Divide icing into three bowls, add the red food colouring to one, and the black to another.

Using a small tipped icing nozzle, or a plastic icing syringe from a specialty store, ice your biscuits as you please.

A few tips:

  • If you can, have three nozzles and bags so you don’t have to do all one colour first, then rinse and do the next colour.
  • You can also use small ziplock plastic bags with a tiny piece of the corner snipped off.
  • Have a damp clean cloth on hand for fixing mistakes, and some toothpicks will also come in handy.
  • Use wine and champagne glasses to stand the pieces in while waiting for the icing to dry, or ooze over the body artistically.
  • Have a biscuit to practice on, wipe away mistakes with a clean damp cloth, or wait for small mistakes to dry and scrape them off. This will be tricky with the coloured ones, they will leave a smudge.

Chicken and Potato Curry with Coconut, Lime and Cinnamon

When it comes to curries, I find it hard to stick to the rule book. This curry is really a hybrid: southern Indian, Malay, Thai. Who cares. It’s easy to make (in spite of the long list of ingredients), aromatic and utterly delicious.

Serves 3-4

  • 500g skinless chicken drumsticks (I like the chicken to simmer in the curry on the bone, which makes it tender. If you prefer, use sliced chicken fillets)
  • 3 medium sized potatoes (any variety in season will do)
  • 1-1.5 cups coconut milk
  • 1 x 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • fresh coriander
Curry paste:
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • about 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 red birdseye chilli, seeds included (1 chilli will make it mildly spicy; use more or less, depending on taste)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cummin
  • juice of one lime
Preheat oven to 180c (you can use oven or stovetop – I prefer oven as you don’t have to keep checking so often).
Peel and cut potatoes into just bigger than bite sized pieces.
Place all the curry ingredients in a food processor and process until a chunky paste.
Heat some oil in a flameproof casserole dish (or large heavy based saucepan/pot if doing on the stove).
Add the paste to the heated oil, stir for a minute or two (stand back a little, it will make your eyes water!)
Add the chicken, coat in the curry paste, and cook for about 5 minutes, turning. Add the potato pieces and coat in the mixture. Stir over heat for a minute.
Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, lime leaves, and cinnamon sticks. Stir to combine. Place in oven for at least one hour, but no more than 1.5. Check throughout to see if it needs a little water or extra coconut milk. When cooked,  the meat should come easily away from the bone.
If cooking on the stove top, reduce the heat to as low after adding the last ingredients, simmer for an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes to stop the bottom sticking, adding more liquid if needed.
When cooked, remove the meat off the bones if you want to, or serve on the bone.
Served with steamed rice and chopped coriander.

Cavalo Nero Omelette with Feta and Dill

Cavalo nero is in season, it’s ludicrously good for you, and it’s versatile and delicious. What’s not to like? I picked up a bunch at the market yesterday and I woke up craving it this morning.

This is a breakfast that will make you feel good all day.

If you can’t get cavalo nero, use silverbeet instead.

Serves 1

  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 cavalo nero leaves
  • 1 small shallot (spring onion), finely sliced
  • About a teaspoon of chopped fresh dill
  • A chunk of feta – about a quarter of a cup
  • 1/4 cup water

Step 1.

Cook the cavalo nero. Wash the leaves, place in a saucepan with about an inch of water in the bottom, put a lid on, and cook over a medium for about 10 minutes. The leaves will steam soft.

Step 2.

While the leaves are steaming, in a bowl, beat the eggs, dill, shallots, feta and water to combine. Season with pepper, you shouldn’t need salt as the feta will take care of that.

Step 3.

Remove the leaves from the pot and drain. Chop and add to the egg mixture.

Step 4.

Heat some oil in a frying pan with a lid. Pour the mixture in, turn heat down to low, place a lid on the top and let it cook for about 5-7 minutes, checking to make sure it’s not burning and that it’s cooking through. You can turn it if you like, but I don’t like to risk breaking it, so I put the pan under the grill for a few minutes at the end.

I like to serve this with something fresh and contrasting, like a tomato, basil and balsamic salad.


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