Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

For some strange reason, my parents never christened my sister or me when we were babies. Christenings aren’t that popular any more – people simply hold a naming day. But back in the sixties, Christianity was still in, so it was the norm to have a baby Christened. My sister was Christened when she was eleven years old – mainly so she could be confirmed a few weeks later with all her sixth grade classmates. As it turned out, I was also Christened when I was eleven – not because my parents were trying to establish some whacky kind of tradition. It was more about convenience.

My cousin was being Christened – she was six months old at the time. I remember standing at the front door one night, farewelling my Aunty Kathy and my uncle Yuri. They were telling Dad about their plans to have Tashi Christened at the Wayside Chapel, by the Reverend Ted Knoffs, who’d Christened Tashi’s older brother three years previously. “We’ll get Pet done at the same time!” my dad declared! He and Mum would be Tashi’s God Parents, and Aunty Kathy and Yuri would be mine.

So there I was, nearly 12 years old, standing up the front of the Wayside Chapel, with the good Reverend Ted wiping holy water across my forehead. I felt a silly goose! But these things are a rite of passage, aren’t they? Where some people subsequently form a bond with their God Parents, I felt more of a connection to my fellow-Christenee, and new God sister, Tashi.

Years later, Tashi was eleven years old and allergic to wheat. Being the cake maker in our family, this was quite a challenge for me. I wracked my brains to think up a suitably delicious cake that was wheat free. What I invented was a meringue-based torte laced with nutella and whipped cream. It’s been more than a decade since then, and even on my most recent visit to see Tashi’s new baby, she was still raving about that cake. Last week I plumbed the depths of my memory and reproduced it for my new husband’s birthday. How funny that I’m now the one that’s gone wheat free!

And incidentally, it’s Tashi’s birthday today. Happy birthday Tashi!

8 egg whites
2 cups caster sugar
3 tsp white vinegar
200g hazelnut meal

250g dark cooking chocolate
1 cup caster sugar
3 whole eggs
200ml pure cream
500g jar of Nutella (or similar chocolate hazelnut spread)
1.2 litres thickened cream

Approx. 10 Ferrero Rocher

1. Preheat your oven to 150 degrees celcius – also known as a slow oven.
2. Divide the torte ingredients in half to make two separate batches – unless you have a double oven!
3. Cover two large pizza trays with aluminium foil. Place a dinner plate face down on each and mark a circle with the back of a knife.
4. Place egg whites in small bowl of electric mixer and beat until soft peaks for,
5. Gradually add the sugar and continue to mix on high speed until the sugar is well combined and dissolved.
6. Gently fold in the hazelnut meal and white vinegar. Ensure both are well combined with the meringue mix.
7. Divide the mixture equally between the two baking trays and spread to the boundary of the marked area, ensure the mixture is an even thickness all over.
8. Bake for 45 minutes or until the edges of the meringues are a light golden brown. Switch oven off and allow meringues to cool in over with door ajar. Do not remove until completely cold.
9. Repeat again so that you’ve created four separate meringue layers for the torte.

1. Break chocolate into small squares and place in large oven proof mixing bowl. Add sugar and microwave on high (600w) for four and a half minutes. Stir vigorously to combine sugar and chocolate until sugar has dissolved.
2. Crack eggs into a bowl and lightly beat with a fork. Add to chocolate mixture while it’s still hot. If it’s cooled slightly, reheat in microwave for 20 seconds – the heat of the chocolate is what cooks the eggs and this is very important to eliminate any eggie taste. Use a large balloon whisk to combine the egg and chocolate mixture if your mix has lumps.
3. Whip the pure cream until it forms firm peaks. Stir into chocolate mixture – it will melt, but don’t worry, it’s supposed to. Again, use your balloon whisk if lumps forms.
4. Place chocolate filling (aka chocolate mousse) in the fridge and allow to chill until the mixture is completely firm. This should take a minimum of two hours.
5. Whip the thickened cream, again until firm peaks form. You need this cream to hold it’s shape so don’t under whip it.

1. Place one of the meringue layers on a flat serving platter. Make sure you choose the one you really want as there’s no moving this torte once it’s assembled.
2. Spoon the Nutella into a piping bag with a 4mm round piping tube. Pipe Nutella over the meringue – you don’t need to completely cover it or be neat.
3. Spoon half the chocolate mousse filling onto the meringue and carefully spread evenly to the edges of the meringue. Place a second meringue layer over the chocolate mousse filling.
4. Pipe more Nutella over the second layer of meringue. Spoon one third of the whipped cream over the Nutella and again, spread carefully to the edges of the meringue.
5. Place the third meringue layer over the whipped cream layer and repeat steps 11 and 12. Place the fourth and final meringue layer over the chocolate mousse layer. This will be the top of your torte.
6. Spoon half of the remaining whipped thickened cream onto the top of the torte. Spread carefully to the edges with a large spatula, smoothing the top decoratively.
7. Pipe the remaining Nutella across the top of the whipped cream in a decorative zig-zag pattern.
8. Spoon the remaining whipped thickened cream into a fresh piping bag fitted with a 8mm round piping nozzle. Pipe swirls of cream around the edges of the torte – approximately 1 inches wide. Place a Ferrero Rocher on every second swirl – you should get about nine onto the cake, depending on how you’ve spaced your swirls.
9. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the whole thing settle and set. Serve with fresh raspberries – or with nothing. This one’s good enough to eat on it’s own!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Chocolate Fudge Sauce

As a child my first encounter with sugar came when my dad slipped a chocolate under both my sister’s and my pillows while we were asleep. I woke up and found the chocolate and ate it immediately. My sister was still asleep at that point, so I got out of bed, retrieved her chocolate, and ate that too.

This early acquired obsession led me to an exploration of sugary after school delights, in the absence of my parents of course! My favourite, for sheer ease of access, was the chocolate sprinkles jar. Step one: remove lid. Step two: pour contents into mouth. Repeat until satiated. I tried this one on my little brother recently. Since I’m a grown up and he’s not, I think he was shocked by my childish behaviour!

Another favourite after school snack was Milo mud. You get a glass, half fill it with Milo, drip some fresh milk into and mix it until it forms a thick, pasty mud. Then you eat it with a spoon.

I also liked making sherbet – only I didn’t bother with the excessive sifting process that combines the sugar and the tartaric acid together. I’d just stick the two in a glass, mix until the lumps in the icing sugar had crumbled, then up-ended the cup into my mouth. I never failed to choke at this point, coughing fine white particles of sugar through my nose, across the kitchen bench.

Sugar is great! But I understand it’s also addictive (although my propeller head friend, Jeannette, will tell you otherwise!). A man once came to Mahatma Ghandi and asked him how to break his addiction to sugar. Ghandi told the man to come back in four days and he would give him the answer then. The man went away, puzzled, and came back four days later. Ghandi then told the man how to give up sugar. “Why did you need four days to give me this answer, Ghandi-ji?” the man asked. “Because I had to break my own sugar addiction first!” was his reply.

100g dark cooking chocolate
2 tblsp sour cream (light if you want to kid yourself!)
2 tsp Kahlua (coffee liqueur)

1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave oven for approximately two and a half minutes. If you don’t have a microwave you should get one. Just kidding! You can melt the chocolate in a double bowl over simmering hot water.

2. Quickly stir the sour cream into the melted chocolate. Continue to stir until both are well combined. Mixture will thicken and become quite fudgy.
3. Add the coffee liqueur and check for taste. Add more if you want a stronger flavour.
4. Serve hot with icecream. You could have enough for two serves here, but only if silly enough to share!

Extra Notes on Fruit Cake

An anonymous reader left a message saying they'd over cooked their fruit cake, so I thought I'd add some more on this topic.

Firstly, I want to say that where cooking is concerned, let your intuition be your guide. Begin with the aroma of the thing you're cooking - in this instance, the fruit cake. Your cake will release its aroma as it begins to reach completion. That's the time to start checking on its progress!

1. Check the surface of the cake. Is it shiny? Is it sticky? These indicate it's not yet cooked.

2. Pierce the centre with a skewer, pushing all the way to the bottom of the tin. Draw the skewer out and check for raw cake mix. If the skewer is clean, the cake is cooked.

3. Is time up? I've found all my fruit cakes require the full cooking time. I then give them an extra 15 minutes, just to be sure.

4. Is the aroma making you want to get out a Christmas tree and decorate it? Do you feel like bursting out into song? Namely, Christmas carols? If the answer's yes, it's probably because the smell of your cooked fruit cake has weaved its magic spell on you.

5. Failing all else, you can cut a hunk off the cake in question and eat it. THEN you'll know if it's cooked. But you might have to bake another one to replace the cake you ate!

And for those who enquired - yes I have cooked my wedding cake! All three tiers of it. Each tier has been quietly sitting in an airtight container for about six weeks now. We cut one of the spare cakes (there are three) the other week when my parents met my future in-laws. Despite having given up eating wheat and gluten, I tried the cake and was delighted to see it was seriously moist and gooey! It could easily have been consumed with a big dollop of brandy custard!

After the wedding I'll experiment with wheat free cooking. Come back for more great recipes then!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Pumpkin Dip

I’ve mentioned my first cat, Bill, and I’ve mentioned my current furry friend, Derek, but I think I have completely overlooked Angus, the gorgeous ginger manx who came to live with us when I was seventeen years old.

Angus came to us via Vesna, a girl at school who lived on a farm out near Ludenham. She spread the word at school that she was giving away kittens, and I thought my sister, who had just moved in with her boyfriend, was in desperate need of a little kitty kat.

It took some time for Angus to be handed over – he was the last of the litter, and the runt to boot. His mother kept taking him off and hiding him in the paddock because she didn’t want to lose her last baby. Never the less, Vesna arrived at school one day with Angus in a box. He hadn’t been weaned yet, so I had to take him to Mrs Knoffs, an art teacher and a well known animal lover, who helped me show Angus how to drink milk from a saucer.

He was a sweet little ginger and white angel who attended French class (he was held up before us all and declared “le chat”), slept through history class, and finally made it after school into the arms of my sister. She invested so much love in Angus, he grew to be big, bold and intelligent – undoubtedly the best cat that ever lived. His eyes were like gold jewel facets, and when I looked into them, I was positive there was a person in there, staring back at me through his feline form.

I went to live in Hong Kong in the early nineties, and my greatest fear while I was away was that Angus would forget me. But when I came home after eighteen months for a holiday, Angus came strutting down the footpath, meowing and carrying on. Not only did he recognise me, I felt like he was demanding to know exactly where I’d been. That night at the dinner table, Angus sat on a stool next to me, his right front paw poised on my left forearm arm, not (I don’t believe!) in demand for food, but simply to be close, to acknowledge, “You’re here. I’ve missed you.”

My mother had grown some amazing pumpkins that summer – they’d sprung up from some jap pumpkin seeds she’d thrown in the compost. Every time it rained they expanded ten fold, it seemed. When she finally picked one, I decided a photo session was in order – the cat and the pumpkin! I laid out a sheet on the back verandah and positioned the pumpkin in the middle of it, then coaxed Angus to sit next to the giant vegetable. He was not pleased. Not really that interested. But he was patient. He let me get the shots. They are great shots, I think.

When Angus passed away it was awful. He had pink skin and had sported a cancerous growth on the end of his nose for some time. We had to let him go. It was the decent thing to do. But I expect, when my time comes, Angus will greet me on the other side. And I’m sure he’ll say “You’re here. I’ve missed you.”

1 cup steamed butternut pumpkin
3 tblsp low fat natural yghurt
3 tblsp tahini (sesame paste)
2 tblsp lemon juice
1 clove of garlic (raw, although roasted would be good too!)
1 tblsp water
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tblsp ground cumin

1. Place all the ingredients in a blender.

2. Blend on high speed until all ingredients are combined and mixture is smooth.

3. Serve in a gorgeous presentation bowl with white corn chips, lavosh crackers, or raw vegetable crudites. Garnish with lots of parsley to neutralise the garlic!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Bodacious Banana Cake

There have been some excellent animals that have transitted in and out of my life since I was three years old. Scrunch the Sydney Silky, Bill the black cat, and Angus the ginger manx. And for the last almost nine years there's been Derek Dog, a mad mini-foxy who isn't very mini at all and to my knowledge, isn't really aware that he's a dog at all.

Derek carrived at a time when I really needed a friend. He was so insane as a puppy, he was an extremely good diversion from the woes that characterised that period of my life. He ate anything - my Converse One Stars, my best black lace bra, even the stone feet on my magazine rack! In fact, he was so crazy, I'm not even sure I really liked him until he'd clocked up his second birthday.

But these days, Derek actually astounds me with his complexity of character. He is very cleary an individual with his own agenda and his own preferences. His daily antics never fail to infuriate and amuse me all at the same time. He is a beacon of light, sent to teach me the true meaning of love in its most unconditional form, which, despite his manic approach to life, I am forever grateful for.

A couple of months back I had a friend over for afternoon tea. I'd carefully sliced up four pieces of banana cake and arranged them on a bread and butter plate. I put the kettle on, picked up the plate of cake and went to the lounge room where I deposited the cake on the coffee table. My friend and I took a moment to admire one of the plants on my balcony, and when I heard the kettle click to indicate it was boiled, I turned around and found Derek swallowing his second piece of banana cake!

Stupid me! It never occurred to me that banana cake would appeal to him - bacon is more his style! But dang it, that coffee table is the perfect height for Derek to dine off, and I'm sure in his mind I wouldn't have put those pieces of cake there if they weren't specifically for him to eat!

My guest and I made do with the remaining two slices of cake, which thankfully had not come into contact with Derek's lips or tongue! But it was the last time I left any food I valued on that coffee table.

125g butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
2-3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp mixed spice
1.5 cups self raising flour
2/3 cup of milk
1 tsp bicarb soda

1. Place the butter and brown sugar in the small bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and creamy. This will take at least five minutes - more if the butter isn't at room temperature.

2. Add vanilla essence and then the eggs, one at a time, mixing to combine all ingredients.

3. Add mashed bananas and mixed spice to mixture and lightly combine.

4. Now add the flour - sift if you like. It will make the cake lighter, but it's not absolutely compulsory.

5. Gradually add the milk and mix until all ingredients are well combined. Don't over mix!

6. Lastly, add the bicarb soda and stir well. Banana cake can be a little heavy and the bicarb soda will aerate it. But be sure to mix it well - any pockets of bicarb will discolour the cake and create a bitter lump!

7. Pour batter into a loaf tin or a 20cm round cake tin, greased and lined with baking paper. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees celsius) for approximately 45 minutes or until the cake is cooked. Pierce a skewer through the middle of the cake to test if it's cooked. If the skewer comes out clean, it's cooked!

Note: you can ice this cake with the same cream cheese icing used for Humming Bird Cake, the recipe for which is also on this blog. Or you can ice it with caramel icing, the recipe for which I'll publish some time in the near future. You can also slice this cake up without icing, slather it in butter and eat it as a teacake!

Traditional Christmas Cake

In my family there is no greater tradition than the Christmas Cake. Unless of course we're talking about Christmas Pudding!

As a little kid, I had absolutely no interest in either of these fruit-laden, booze laced Christmas staples. Their flavour was far too complex and mature for me to appreciate. It wasn't until well into my twenties that I started to take an interest in the fruit cake and puddings my mother makes. She and her sisters had obviously learned the art of Christmas cookery from my Nana, who cooked a wicked fruitcake in her heyday, if I do say so myself.

But my interest in Christmas cookery always lay with the sweeter delicacies we liked to enjoy on the day - rum balls, coconut ice, mixed spice biscuits. I appointed myself at a very early age to cook the Christmas fancies, and took great delight in seeing my family devour them and grow fat as a result!

A couple of years back, my dad suddenly passed away. When Christmas came round that year, my mother arrived at the family gathering with a massive pudding and a beautifully decorated Christmas cake - complete with marzipan, fondant, the red foil wrapper with silver 'Merry Christmas' written on it, and a glazed holly leaf poking out the top. It occurred to me that Mum's pudding and cake would go with her to the grave if I didn't do something about it - lord knows my sister would never be able to cook them. So I asked Mum for her Christmas Cake recipe, which she gladly gave me. I took it home, put it inside my copy of Jill Dupleix's 'New Food', and proceeded to ignore it.

Until last year. I was going away for Christmas and wasn't going to see my mum before hand. The realisation that I'd be without fruit cake struck me like a bolt of lightning! I scrabbled through my cookbooks looking for Mum's recipe. I reviewed the list of ingredients and felt afraid. But I decided I was equal to the task despite my trepidation.

I went off to the supermarket, acquired all the ingredients, took them home and covered them with sherry. By that stage I was sooo excited, I think I only let the fruit soak for three hours! I decided to divide the mix between two large loaf tins, making one cake for my best friend Jeannette, and one to take to my holiday hosts. I wrapped the tins in layers of newspaper then put the cakes in the oven. It was 6.05pm on the clock. They would be done at 9.05pm.

By 8.00pm the smell of Christmas filled my house. I knew I'd gotten the cakes right and I couldn't wait to taste them. Christmas cake! Yum!

750g sultanas
250g raisins
125g currants
125g dried pineapple pieces
125g glace cherries
125g mixed peel
1 can fruit salad in natural juice (Golden Circle is best!)
1 cup sherry (or brandy or whiskey)
250g butter
1.5 cups dark brown sugar, tightly packed
4 eggs
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2.5 cups plain flour

1. Combine all the fruit in a large bowl. A LARGE bowl! Cover with sherry and allow to soak for one week. If you can't manage a week, make it a least 24 hours. Stir periodically to make sure all the fruit has a chance to absorb the sherry. You'll know it's good to go when you can see the raisins are plump with extra moisture from the soaking process.

2. In a large bowl on the electric mixer, combine softened butter and brown sugar. Mix until just combined. Try not to eat this mix - it's delicious, but you should resist!

3. Add eggs one by one, scraping down any mixture on the sides of the bowl to make sure it's properly combined.

4. Add the orange and lemon zest and then the spices. You can use one of those zest strippers to create long thin strips of zest, or just use the zester side of the grate for finely grated zest.

5. Change beaters on the mixer to dough hooks (if you have them). Alternate adding flour and fruit mix, combining on the lowest speed so as to gently fold the flour and fruit into the cake mix. Dough hooks will prevent your glace cherries from being minced (a slice of cake with a whole cherry in it is very enticing!). Continue until all ingredients are combined. (If you don't have dough hooks for your mixer, combine the ingredients by hand - and don't lick your fingers until you've finished mixing!).

6. Line a large round cake tin - at least 22cm in diameter for this size mix- with a double layer of heavy baking paper - make sure you cover the bottom and sides. Then wrap four layers of newspaper around the outside of the tin, securing with sticky tape. Place tin on a tray covered with four layers of newspaper - this will help prevent the cake from burning.

7. Spoon the fruit cake mix into the tin, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Tap the filled tin on the bench top about eight times to help the cake mix to settle. Don't forget to smooth the top down, ensuring the mix is level in the tin.

8. Bake in a slow oven (160 degrees Celsius) for three hours or until cake is cooked. If your oven is good, this cake should be ready dead on three hours. If anything, it might require an extra 15 minutes cooking time, but no more! Test by inserting a skewer in the middle of the cake - if it comes out clean, the cake is cooked. But honestly, the smell will tell you when this cake is cooked - it is positively Christmasey!

9. Cover a board with foil and place over the top of the cooked cake while it's still in its tin. Turn upside and leave on the bench to cool over night. This will help flatten the top of the cake which is handy if you're planning on decorating it. In the morning, lift the tin off the cooled cake, leave baking paper on base and sides of cake and wrap in Glad Wrap. Then wrap in aluminium foil and for extra measure, store in an airtight container. Keep in this manner for as long as possible before serving. Fruit cakes can keep for an incredibly long time if they've been stored correctly. A fruit cake that's about three months old when cut will be absolutely delicious.

10. If desired, decorate cake with marzipan and fondant about a week before serving. You'll need to leave it exposed to air at this stage, as an airtight container will encourage the fondant to become wet and sticky. If giving the cake as a gift, wrap tightly in clear cellophane, then bag bottom of cake with decorative paper, leaving top exposed. Secure paper with a gorgeous big bow!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Mushroom Pizza

I can't say I ever remember having pizza as a kid growing up in Newcastle - other than the horrid frozen abominations McCain's stocked in the freezer section of our local supermarket.

Imagine my delight, then, when we moved to Penrith and discovered the full flavoured authentic Italian pizza served at Capitano's on the High Street. In fact, there were two pizzerias on the High Street - Capitano's and Renee's. My dad was attracted to Capitano's because it was more of a sit down affair than Renee's - if you dined in at Renee's you invariably had to sit in full view of the passing traffic (the seats were in the window), whereas Capitano's had a proper shopfront with tables and chairs set up well away from the window.

Capitano's became a regular occurrence in our new lives in Penrith. We went grocery shopping every second Thursday, and always began the evening with a meal, either at Capitano's, or at a little burger cafe in the Medibank Arcade. But Capitano's was my favourite. Their pizzas featured proper thin crust with sauce all the way to the edges. When you asked for a pepperoni pizza, you got proper pepperoni - the stuff that leaves your lips stinging - not the lame stuff you got up at Pizza Hut.

Strangely enough, Capitano's was not the most popular of the two independent pizza makers in Penrith. It eventually closed up shop in the face of Renee's booming business. Their pizzas weren't anywhere near as good. But they were to pizza what VHS was to video - less attractive, yet strangely more appealing.

1 piece lebanese bread
2.5 tblsp Leggos Pizza Sauce*
pinch of chili flakes
3-4 button mushrooms - thinly sliced
2 black olives - cut into quarters
1 anchovy - cut into four
60g light tasty or mozzarella cheese

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees Celsius

2. Place the lebanese bread on a pizza tray. Smear with pizza sauce - all the way to the edges. Sprinkle lightly with chili flakes

3. Arrange mushroom slices to cover entire surface area of pizza. Arrange black olive and anchovie pieces decoratively.

4. Sprinkle cheese evenly over pizza.

5. Cook in over for 12-15 minutes - until base is crisp and cheese is fully melted.

6. Remove from oven, slide onto cutting board, slice into six pieces and enjoy! Oh! This pizza feeds one hungry person. Don't feel guilty about that - it's incredibly low in fat!

* In Australia there are several different pizza sauces available. I recommend Leggos Pizza Sauce as superior to all the others. Ardmona tastes too apple-ish and sweet. Dolmio has a bunch of different flavours, but it's watery and thin. If you want your pizza to taste like you got it from Capitano's, go for the Leggos Pizza Sauce. And if you don't live in Australia, let me know which is the best pizza sauce where you come from!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Chai Tea

Tea. It's something that we very much take for granted these days. When we want one, we just put the kettle on, whack a tea bag into a cup, pour boiling water over the bag, jiggle it a bit and voila - a good ole' cuppa!

But that's not the kind of tea we drank when I was a kid. We had a tea pot, a tin of tea leaves and a well weathered strainer. Tea bags were non-existent in my house! My parents loved a well brewed cup of tea. They also liked a good sleep in. So when I was about eight years old, I appointed myself the official maker of Breakfast In Bed.

The menu was simple: toast and tea. Toast was easy enough, but the first time I made a pot of tea to go with it, I was mortified by my father's reaction. "Cat's pee!" he exclaimed after one little sip. This of course would be enough to crumble the enthusiams of most kids, but not me! The following Sunday I set about working on my tea making technique - with a little bit of coaching from Mum, of course!

There were several very important steps vital to the perfect cup of pot brewed tea. Firstly, the old tea leaves had to be emptied from the pot. In retrospect I realise it was naughty, but we rinsed the rehydrated tea leaves down the kitchen sink. Next we filled the freshly cleansed pot (no scrubbing with detergent - it ruins the flavour) with hot water and set it on the sink. This served to warm the pot in readiness. As the kettle approached, Mum swirled the water in the pot - once - twice - then poured it into the sink. Three scoops of tea leaves were then added to the pot and the water from the kettle was poured in - still on the rolling boil.

Next, my mum told me, the lid went onto the tea pot, and it was time to let the tea draw. She explained that this was where the tea had a chance to develop its flavour. The leaves would soak up the boiling water, rehydrating and releasing their delicate flavour into a full bodied tea. At least three minutes were required for this - but five was better.

We set two tea cups out on the breakfast tray - not mugs! Those were for coffee. Into each a dash of milk was poured. This was the English way to pour tea - milk first so as not to scold it by adding it to boiling hot tea. Don't ask me why this matters - recently I've heard the Queen doesn't even put the milk in her tea cup first, so I'm not sure why we should either!

I positioned the toast, butter and jam on the tray alongside the teacups and the teapot, then carried the heavily loaded tray to my dad, who was still in bed. He placed the strainer over his cup, poured the tea into the milk, added one teaspoon of sugar then took a sip. I watched his face closely - he was a hard man to please back then. "Hmmpf!" he said, nodding his head, then picking up a slice of toast. "Very good." I was thrilled.

1 cup milk (soy is best)
1 tsp chai tea mix (Byron Bay Chai is my favourite)
1 tsp honey
boiling water

1. Pour milk into a heat proof glass jug (Fire King) and warm in microwave oven for two minutes.

2. Empty your kettle and fill it with fresh water. Fresh water contains more oxygen than already boiled water.

3. Prepare an individual sized tea pot by rinsing it with hot tap water. As the kettle boils, pour the water out and add chai tea mix and honey. Pour boiling water into tea pot while still on the boil. Allow tea to draw for a full five minutes.

4. Choose your drinking vessel - cup or mug. Fill one third of the cup with chai tea. Fill remaining two thirds of cup with warmed milk. Stir to ensure honey is well combined. Enjoy!

Apple Teacakes

I have very strong memories of our visits to Jimmy's Fruit Shop in the small town where I lived as a kid. Beresfield was about thirty minutes outside of Newcastle (I've got no idea of the direction!). We had a main drag, which of course seem endless to me because I was a little kid. I've been past that street in recent years - it's a block long!

On the main drag we had a supermarket. We had a Chemist, a hardware store, and a fruit shop. Jimmy was the owner - ethnic (one of few in our town) and a very friendly man, especially with little kids. Jimmy is responsible for feeding me endless mandarins as a kid - they seemed so absolutely delicious! The skin was loose and there was never a seed to be found in any of the individual segments. I've honestly never had a mandarins as good as an adult.

But there was one thing in Jimmy's shop that appealed to me above all else: cherry apples. Big fat bulbs of boiled confectionery coloured red and green jammed onto a little paddle pop stick. I remember one or two times when Jimmy just handed me one for nix. The rest of the time I had to pull all my resources together to find the five cents necessary to buy one for myself.

I'm sure my mother would have been a lot happier were I eating real apples instead of 'cherry apples'. But I was a kid with a sugar addiction to feed. I see those cherry apples around occasionally these days - they're still sold in the same tall glass jar with the black lid - usually on the counter of a corner shop. I think about the fillings in my teeth when I see them. But I have no regrets!

125g butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups self raising flour
1 cup milk
2 green apples, peeled cored and sliced into thin wedges
extra cinnamon and castor sugar

1. Pre-heat over to 180 degrees Celsius.

2. Place butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, flour and milk in the large bowl of your electric mixer. Beat on the lowest speed until all ingredients are combined. Then increase speed to cream the mixture for five to seven minutes (choose the seventh notch on a Sunbeam Mix Master, if you have one!). Mixture will become thick, pale and glossy.

3. Spoon tablespoons of the mixture into greased rectangular muffin tins (Baker's Secret sells an eight hole tin). You should have enough mixture for 12 holes.

4. Vertically insert three apple wedges round side up, side by side into each of the cakes. Combine the extra cinnamon and castor sugar (about two teaspoons of each) and sprinkle generously over tops of each cake.

5. Bake in moderate oven for 35 minutes or until tops and sides are golden brown. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool. Serve with a cup of tea! Cakes will last in an air tight container for up to five days.