February 28, 2009


Spaetzle are little noodles, or tiny dumplings, made with a simple batter of flour, egg and milk. They're plump and tactile; comforting in the same way potatoes are, but lighter; and more flavoursome than pasta. They're also very quick to make, and once you've boiled them you can toss them in butter, or pan fry them in a little butter and dill, as I did today. Then serve them as a substitute for pasta, noodles or potato.

You can form the noodles by pushing the batter through a colander with large holes directly into the boiling water, or by using a dedicated spaetzle maker, which looks like a grater with an extra attachment that runs on a track over the holes. The makers aren't expensive, and mine is possibly the most fun thing in my kitchen: it sits snugly over the saucepan, and when you begin it looks unlikely to work, but soon enough the dough is falling, perfectly formed, into the water. But Germans were cooking spaetzle before colanders and spaetzle makers were invented, and it's also easy enough to squeeze the dough between your fingers, or to cut it off a chopping board, as long as you do these things directly into the boiling water. When it's time to clean your cooking implements, it's easier to remove the sticky batter with cold water rather than hot.

from The Joy of Cooking

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk or water

Combine dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Pour liquid mixture into flour mixture and combine. The batter should be slightly elastic. Boil 6 cups of salted water in a large saucepan. Press batter through a large-holed colander or spaetzle maker. Don't try to use all the batter all at once. As the noodles rise to the top of the water, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place them in a colander to drain. The noodles should be light - if they're on the heavy side, add more milk to the batter before continuing with the next batch.

February 22, 2009

cabbage & carrot salad

A winter salad for these final weeks of an epic season: sweet carrots, crisp cabbage and green onions with a simple soy and lime dressing. To the original dressing recipe, I added a drop of sesame oil and about 1/8 of a teaspoon of tamarind paste. The result is, I suppose, a cleaner, tarter species of coleslaw. I don't naturally incline toward salad on a winter's night, but this one left me optimistic about spring.

Cabbage & Carrot Salad
from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything

1 lb cabbage (the recipe calls for Napa or Savoy, but I used plain green), cored and shredded
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 or 3 scallions (green/spring onions), minced
1/4 to 1/3 cup peanut oil
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the vegetables. Whisk together the oil, lime juice, and soy; taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Toss the dressing with the vegetables and serve.

February 16, 2009

arabic sweets in paris

Three weeks ago I was in Paris, and I went to the tea rooms of the Grand Mosque. There in an outdoor courtyard were blue tiled tables. There were sparrows at the feet of these tables, and when we sat at one a waiter gave us mint tea - not the clean, head-clearing mint tea I drink at home, but a thicker, sweeter version made with green tea, sugar and fresh mint. We ordered pastries from the counter - pistachio and almond flavoured sweets, and baklava. There was a hammam and a shop where we bought the soap used in the hammam, and a box of rose tea from Damascus. The sparrows flew to our table as we stood up to leave.

Another day in Paris, my friend took us to Les Doigts de Fée, a patisserie selling Arabic sweets near her home in the 20th. Here we ate hazelnut and sesame pastries, but there were also marzipan fruits, flaky almond biscuits, semolina cakes and filo pastries.

And more sweet mint tea - from a silver teapot on a silver tray.

Grande Mosquée de Paris
39 rue Geoffrey-Saint-Hilaire, Paris
9am - 11.30pm daily

Les Doigts de F
356 Rue des Pyrénées, Paris
Metro stop:

February 15, 2009

white chocolate cupcakes with vienna cream frosting

Impromptu Valentine's Day cupcakes shouldn't be time-consuming or precious. I like this Donna Hay recipe for a white chocolate cake because it's fast and easy: you melt the liquid ingredients together (no softening butter), add them to the dry ingredients, and that's basically all. It tastes sweetly of white chocolate, in a fudgy, almost mud-cake way, but isn't too sweet or overpowering. The quality of white chocolate you use will make a difference because the flavour is strong, but this also isn't a time to use the very best quality.

The truly important thing about these cupcakes is their icing, which adorned every birthday cake of my childhood and comes from a Women's Weekly children's cake cookbook that was owned by all the families I knew. Australian children in the 1980s would go to each other's houses and seek out this cookbook, with its luridly coloured train cake on the cover. With fond familiarity, with the most piercing nostalgia, we'd flip through the book to point out the cakes our mothers had made for us: the piano cake with licorice black keys (my brother dropped this cake; my heart breaks, retroactively, for my mother); the plastic doll a-swim in the green jelly-filled swimming pool cake; the robot cake, somehow so touchingly Cold War; the oven cake, which had a small pan of eggs frying on the hot plate.

No matter the shape of the cake, it was covered in this Vienna Cream Frosting. The name is important because Australians don't use the term frosting - we call it icing. I don't know how "frosting" entered the culinary bible of Australian childhood; I also don't know how, having made its way there, the term didn't instantly pass into orthodoxy. When I started making this icing (really just a buttercream frosting) for myself, it didn't taste like my childhood. Then I realised that was because I was using unsalted butter. Was all Australian butter slighty salted in the 80s?

When I was a child, I told my mother that when I grew up I would make an entire bowlful of this frosting in order to eat it all on its own, without any cake. She told me that when I was grown up, I wouldn't want to. That isn't true.

Easy White Chocolate Cake
by Donna Hay

185g butter, chopped
1 cup milk
1.5 cups caster sugar
150g white chocolate
2 cups plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius (320 degrees fahrenheit). Place the butter, milk, sugar and chocolate in a saucepan over low heat and stir until melted and smooth. Place the flour, baking powder, vanilla and eggs in a bowl. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 22cm round cake tin lined with non-stick baking paper*. Bake for 50 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool in the tin. Ice the cake when cooled. Serves 8-10.

* Or, divide among approximately 10 large cupcake papers.

Vienna Cream Frosting

125g (4 oz) butter, softened
1.5 cups icing (confectioner's) sugar
2 tbsp milk

Beat butter until as white as possible. Gradually add half the icing sugar, beating constantly. Add milk, then gradually beat in the remaining icing sugar. Mixture should be smooth and easy to spread.

For chocolate Vienna Cream Frosting, add 1 tsp of sifted cocoa. The frosting will turn a lovely soft brown shade and taste even better.

February 14, 2009

february 14