Sunday, 31 July 2011

Going bananas! Winter baking at its best

The beautiful scent permeates the whole house, carrying a delicious promise as it travels from room to room.  I love the smell of banana bread baking on a cold winter’s afternoon.  It’s one of Mr D.’s frequent requests and very easy to make.
My favourite banana bread recipe is based on Sophie Dahl’s recipe in her delectable book “Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights” (see a version of the recipe).  Brown sugar results in a luscious dark, caramel overtone.
I substitute canola oil for the butter in the recipe, with excellent results.  Another little secret I have discovered is to turn the fan off in my fan-forced oven, to avoid the top of the cake from burning (as it’s in the oven for about an hour). 
My final tip is to use over- ripe bananas that have been frozen then thawed; the freezing and thawing process results in much easier mashing and a smooth texture to the resulting banana pulp.   Blackened over-ripe bananas can simply just be placed into the freezer whole (in my case, for months at a time in an ever-increasing pile) and then defrosted in the fridge overnight or in the microwave for a few minutes.
Eaten at my desk at work, a slice of banana bread with a coffee is often my saviour on those rushed mid-week mornings when there’s no time for breakfast at home.   I find it satisfying but not too heavy, and it keeps me going for hours.

What’s your favourite banana bread recipe?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Weekend in July - Canberra's Farmers Market

What's better than a sleep-in on a cold winter Saturday morning in July?  A trip to the Farmers Market, of course.  OK, who am I kidding!  But how can I refuse an early morning wake-up call from my Mum?  She goes religiously every week and loves to have company  So I roll out of bed, dress up warm and head out in the freezing grey light of day.  I'm off to satisfy my primeval hunter-gatherer urge and keep my Mum happy.

A couple of hours later and I've bagged myself some fresh beetroot and walnuts, as well as load of firm, furry kiwifruit.  Meanwhile, Mum chats to all her favourite stallholders, who now know her on first name basis.  She's turned just a little bit country since moving just out of Canberra a few years ago, so she's right into this scene.

The Canberra Farmers Market website has some useful information about the stallholders and products on offer (see  Not all the stallholders are there all the time, so it's the luck of the draw, especially in winter when things are quieter. 

So what do I make with all my goodies? 

A beetroot, walnut and feta tart for starters.  Perfect for a light and tasty meal.  The combination of sweet beetroot, crunchy walnuts and salty feta is classic.

Some people get a bit squeamish about handling fresh beetroot because of the way the juice stains everything a brilliant bright pink.  Don't let it put you off - I don't think it's that bad and the taste is worth it.


fresh beetroot - 1 bunch, around 500g
olive oil - 1 tablespoon
puff pastry - 1 sheet (store-bought)
cream cheese or ricotta cheese - 100g
fresh walnuts - 1/2 cup, chopped roughly
feta cheese - 200g, cubed
rocket - 1 cup
red wine vinegar - 1/2 tablespoon


- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. 

- Wash the beetroot and place in baking dish.  Drizzle with half the olive oil and place in the oven for 30 minutes or until tender (turning after 15 minutes).  Allow the beetroot to cool enough to handle, then peel and cut into cubes.

- Cut the puff pastry sheet in half so that you have two even rectangles.  Using a sharp knife, score a 1cm border around the edge of each piece, taking care not to cut all the way through.

- Spread the cheese within the border of each piece of pastry.  Scatter the beetroot, fetta and walnuts on top of the cheese. Then sprinkle the tarts with a little cracked black pepper.

- Place the tarts on a non-stick baking tray and bake for 12 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden.

- Dress the rocket with the red wine vinegar and remaining olive oil and scatter over the cooked tarts to serve.

Serves 2  as a light meal.

Followed by some sweet kiwifruit jam.  Sounds a little unusual, I know, but  tastes quite good - think toffee-apple with slight tang.  Try it with some hot buttered crumpets, or freshly baked scones and cream.


kiwifruit - 1 kg
jam setting sugar - 1 kg (available from supermarkets)


- Wash two medium (400g) glass jars and their lids with warm soapy water.  Dry the jars the in the oven at 120 degrees C for 15 minutes to sterilise them.

- Cut each kiwi fruit and half and scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon. Place fruit and sugar in a large heavy-based saucepan and put on low heat until the sugar fully dissolves.

- Bring fruit mixture to the boil, stirring every now and then.  Skim off any foam that forms using a large metal spoon.

- After around 10 minutes, test to see if the jam is set by spooning a dollop on a cold saucer.  Run your finger through the middle - if the jam stays on each side of the line your finger makes, it's ready.

- Spoon the hot jam carefully into the jars, seal them and turn upside down so the heat sterilises the lids.

- When cool, store the jars in the fridge.

What's your favourite market experience?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Fabulous Foodie Online Shopping Sites

I have to admit to being just a little bit addicted to online shopping.  It's fun, fast and cheap. What's not to love!  Here are five of the best sites for you fabulous foodies.  Enjoy!

1.  The Book Depository
Great for browsing through luscious cookbooks to add to your collection.  Bargain prices, free shipping and reasonably quick delivery.

2.  Gourmet Shopper
For those sometimes hard to find gourmet food supplies.

3.  Everten Online
If you have a secret kitchenware fetish, this is for you.

4. Fine Food Wholesalers
For a fascinating foray into the secret society of gourmet food producers across Australia.

5. StrawberryNet
OK, I couldn't resist including this one.  Perfect for pampering yourself!

What's your favourite online shopping site?

Friday, 1 July 2011

My Love/Hate Relationship with MasterChef

We’ve reached the halfway point for MasterChef Australia Series 3.  Anyone getting bored yet? Love it or hate it, there is no escaping it!   

Five things I love about MasterChef Australia:
  1. Seeing some of the world’s top chefs in action - no, I don't mean the contestants!
  2. MasterChef master classes – ‘don’t try this at home, kids!’
  3. Gary’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies in the kitchen – a man after my own heart!
  4. The website - – great for recipes and catching up on those missed episodes, so you know what everyone's talking about at work
  5. Knowing I can cook better than that - OK, mostly
Five things I hate about MasterChef Australia:
  1. The contestants – especially the sulky ones who cry all the time and can’t cook! (which is pretty much all of them)
  2. The way Matt gluttonously licks his fingers clean after a judging session – looks like we've finally found a use for that crevat!
  3. Total greaseballs running a river of sweat from their greasy head straight into their food – yuck!
  4.  George’s kooky commentary – George, get a decent writer, please!
  5. Stupid pretentious food – George, what were you thinking with that corn custard!?
I love the Age’s hilarious weekly column - it sends up the MasterChef series mercilessly!  (read the article).
What do you love/hate about MasterChef?