ricotta gnocchi with peas and mint

18 Sep 2017

You know I do cook other things don't you, not just cakes and desserts? In fact I spend all weekend cooking meals for the week ahead. As well as things I can heat up like curries and casseroles, I also like to cook things that take about 20 minutes to get onto the plate.

A few years ago my friend Vanessa asked if I'd ever made ricotta gnocchi. I hadn't but when I eventually did, I wondered why I'd ever made them any other way. You can have gnocchi in the pot in about 10 minutes flat and whilst I love potatoes, I probably love ricotta just as much. 

Apart from salt, pepper and nutmeg all you need are 4 key ingredients - eggs, parmesan cheese, flour and ricotta.

Like all gnocchi, you need to use a light hand with these and only use enough flour to stop the dough from sticking.

I don't usually bother but I decided to roll the gnocchi over a fork to make those characteristic ridges.

I made these gnocchi for my lunch on Saturday but I was faced with a dilemma. What sauce should I make to pair with the gnocchi? I make tomato based sauces all the time and I was a bit worried a tomato sauce would swamp these delicate gnocchi so I looked to Gordon Ramsay for some inspiration. I found this recipe and adapted the sauce a little by swapping mint for the thyme. I thought peas and mint sounded like the perfect combination of spring flavours.

The gnocchi only took a minute or two to cook and the sauce took about 5 minutes to put together so the gnocchi were on my plate in next to no time. If you'd like to try these for yourself, here's the recipe for you. For all my recipes I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon and all eggs are 60 grams. 

Ricotta gnocchi with peas and mint - serves 4

500g fresh ricotta
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus a little extra to serve
2 large egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg
1 cup plain flour, plus extra if required

Olive oil, for frying
Freshly ground black pepper
150g peas, defrosted if frozen
Knob of butter
a few sprigs of mint,  leaves only
Zest of 1 lemon

Place ricotta in a fine sieve over a bowl for 30 minutes to drain off any excess liquid. Place drained ricotta in a bowl with grated cheese, egg yolks, salt and nutmeg. Add flour and mix to form a dough. Add a little extra flour if the dough is too sticky and wet. Be careful not to overwork.

Divide dough into quarters and gently roll into two-centimetre-diameter logs on a lightly floured surface. Cut into two-centimetre pieces and gently place on a lightly floured tray. Press down with back of a fork to make indents in each gnocchi. Continue with remaining dough.

To cook gnocchi, drop into a saucepan of simmering, lightly salted water and remove as soon as they float to the top, after one or two minutes. Drain thoroughly.

Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Add the gnocchi to the pan with a pinch of salt and black pepper and sauté for 1-2 minutes on each side until coloured. Add the peas and butter and season to taste. Toss, then add the lemon zest. Serve topped with the mint leaves and some grated parmesan.

So how were the gnocchi? Brilliant! The parmesan cheese in the gnocchi turned a bit crusty when fried and the peas, mint and lemon made for a lovely fresh and light sauce. I've stored some of these gnocchi in the freezer and I'll be having them again for my dinner later this week.

I hope you all had lovely weekends.

See you all again soon.

Bye for now,



upside down blood orange, ricotta, almond and polenta cake

11 Sep 2017

While browsing through instagram a few weeks back, I spied a picture of an upside down blood orange, ricotta, almond and polenta cake adapted from the River Cafe's Lemon Polenta Cake.  

Blood oranges and ricotta are 2 of my favourite things and as I'd already made the River Cafe's lemon cake a few times before, I was keen to give this version a try. When I found that blood oranges were on special at the fruit shop this week I bought a few to make this cake.

Early on Sunday morning, I collected all the ingredients.

You need to use well drained ricotta from the deli for this recipe.

I used a combination of brown sugar and water at the base of the tin as suggested by Deb from Smitten Kitchen then arranged the orange slices over the base before carefully spooning the delicate batter over the fruit. 

Here's the recipe for you, which makes an 8 inch cake. For all my recipes I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. All eggs are 60 grams and my oven is a conventional gas oven not fan forced, so you may need to reduce your oven temperature by 20°C. 

Upside down blood orange, polenta and ricotta cake
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
3 blood oranges
1 lemon
125g almond meal
50g polenta flour
115g unsalted butter, softened
135g caster sugar
3 large eggs, separated
165 grams ricotta, drained
75mls orange/lemon juice
Additional 1 tbs caster sugar
¼ cup apricot jam or marmalade

Preheat oven to 170°C. Butter a 8-inch round cake pan and line the base and sides with baking paper. Stir brown sugar and water together. Pour into the base of the prepared cake pan and spread thinly. Set aside. Grate the zest of 1 of the oranges and the lemon. Using a small, sharp knife, slice off 1 cm from the top and bottom of 2 of the oranges. Standing each orange up on a board, carefully but neatly follow the natural curves of the orange with the knife to peel off the remaining skin and all the white pith. Cut each orange horizontally into thin slices. Remove the pips then arrange the slices over the brown sugar base in the cake pan. Juice the third orange then add sufficient lemon juice to make 75 mls.

In a small bowl, combine the almond meal with the polenta flour. Beat the butter, sugar and zests together in a mixer until pale and light. Add the egg yolks one by one. Put the ricotta in a bowl and lightly beat with a fork before adding the blood orange juice. Gently stir the ricotta mixture into the cake batter alternating with the almond mixture. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the extra tablespoon of sugar and whisk until combined. Gently fold the egg whites into the almond mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and gently smooth the cake batter, trying not to disturb orange slices underneath then bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour or until set. Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing from the tin and inverting onto a cake plate. Don't leave the cake for too long before unmoulding or the topping will set and you'll find it impossible to get the cake out of the tin.

While the cake is cooling, heat the jam in the microwave until it melts then gently brush over the cake top. Let the cake cool completely before cutting into slices. Serve as is or with a dollop of double cream. 

This cake is best served on the day of making as the oranges tend to lose their shine. Store any leftover cake in the fridge.

The cake is almost more of a cheesecake than a regular cake and the addition of the orange slices does make this quite soft and a bit of a challenge to cut into neat slices. So don't do what I did and allow the cake to cool completely before cutting a slice. The blood orange version of the cake is much sweeter than the lemon version due to the brown sugar base, which isn't a bad thing. In case you're wondering, the unused blood orange rind didn't go to waste. I candied it in preparation for my Christmas baking and it's drying out on a rack while I type this.

See you all again next week with some more baking from my kitchen.

Bye for now,



lemon buttermilk cake with passionfruit syrup

4 Sep 2017

I've made lemon yoghurt cake many times but with half a container of buttermilk about to expire in the fridge I wondered how the cake would taste made with buttermilk instead of yoghurt.

I was up really early on Sunday, too early to use my stand mixer so I made this all in one bowl, stirred with a wooden spoon just like I did when I first started baking.

I bought a net of passionfruit a few weeks ago and had to use them quickly as the skins were starting to soften. I decided to make a passionfruit syrup to pour over the cake. It's not a new idea and I've made something like this before using a different lemon cake recipe.

It was a lovely day on Sunday so I went out for a few hours while the cake was cooling.

Once home I doused the cake with some more of the syrup before cutting a slice.

Here's the recipe for you which makes a small bundt cake. For all my recipes I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. All eggs are 60 grams and my oven is a conventional oven not fan forced, so you may need to reduce your oven temperature by 20°C. To make a large bundt cake, just double all the cake ingredients and bake for the same time. The passionfruit syrup recipe makes a generous amount which should be enough for the large cake.

Lemon buttermilk cake with passionfruit syrup
⅔ cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 tbl finely grated lemon rind
110g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1¼ cups self-raising flour
Pinch salt
½ cup buttermilk
⅓ cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180°C (conventional). Grease and flour a small bundt tin. In a large bowl, combine the caster sugar, the egg and the grated lemon rind. Gradually add the cooled butter and mix thoroughly. Sift the flour with the pinch of salt and stir into the egg mixture in thirds, alternately with the buttermilk and the lemon juice. 

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes. The top should be golden and when tested, a skewer comes out clean. Cool the cake in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a rack before dousing with the passionfruit syrup.

Passionfruit Syrup
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
2 passionfruit, pulped

In a small saucepan combine the sugar, water and the juice. Bring to the boil and lower the heat. Simmer the mixture for a few minutes. Gently stir in the passionfruit pulp and simmer for a further minute. Remove from the heat.

The verdict? The syrup makes for a more dense cake than usual but overall it tastes pretty yummy.

I hope you had a lovely Father's Day on Sunday. See you all again soon.

Bye for now,


namibia part III - etosha national park

30 Aug 2017

This year I was only able to take 3 weeks annual leave instead of my usual 4 weeks leave. When I booked my trip to Namibia, the trip was chosen solely on dates that fitted my tight schedule. My travel agent looked through the trip I'd booked online and commented that I'd love being on safari.

At that point I hadn't realised the trip included 2 days on safari. About 2 weeks before I flew out I started looking at a suitable lens. The new Fuji 100-400mm lens was way out of my price range so I tried renting the lens. I encountered every road block imaginable so in the end I went on safari without a long lens. I knew I wouldn't be able to get the close-up shots I wanted and instead sat back and tried to enjoy the experience in real time.

The safari took place in the Etosha National Park. We arrived when the park gates opened for the day and waited for our open top vehicle to arrive. We were warned not to expect too much and for a while we saw nothing. We stopped at a water hole for a while and soon after we started to see some animals. Here's a photo of my favourite beasts, the zebras.

There were springboks aplenty

and less common sightings like these wildebeest on the move.

Did I mention the giraffes?

and the elephants having a bath,

having a drink,

and even (?) running. The other animals wisely kept out of their way.

The water holes, where all the action happened.

At the water holes there was an obvious hierarchy and all the other animals would leave when the elephants arrived, even the rhinos.

Startled impala.

because there was a pride of lions close by.

The first night we stayed at the Moringa Waterhole. When I walked down there in the heat of the day, there were no animals in sight. I went to bed early and  the following day heard tales of the rhinos who'd come to drink at the waterhole. I did see a tiny little squirrel though.

The next day we climbed back on board Mike the truck for our safari. Again there was little to see in the morning so we made our way to the Pan, a large salt pan visible from space.

There was some plant life and plenty of salt.

The salt was crunchy underfoot.

We may have ignored the 'stay in vehicle' part of the message.

On our second day on safari we moved to a different camp located near the Okaukuejo Water hole where I found a weaver bird hard at work building it's nest.

Our second day on safari was a great day guided by Thandi, our Nomad tour leader. We found this herd of red hartebeest grazing nearby.

and of course the by now ubiquitous elephants.

A male ostrich wandering through the plains.

Then it was back to our camp for lunch under the common weaver nest and a chance to gather around the waterhole before returning to the the truck.

A zebra crossing and yes they do walk in single file.

There could never be too many zebras for me.

I roamed around the campsite with my camera.

Before returning to the water hole at dusk

where I finally caught sight of the elusive rhino. The rhinos waited until the elephants had finished bathing. As no flash was allowed all I have is a grainy image of 3 rhinos on my mobile phone and a few photos of a herd of elephants in a cloud of swirling dust.

The safari was just magical,


blood orange almond polenta and semolina cake

28 Aug 2017

Blood oranges are back in season. I just love blood oranges and I'm always looking for new recipes incorporating them.

Some time ago I made Claudia Roden's classic flourless orange and almond cake recipe but 
I found the cake quite bitter. I then found this Philip Johnson recipe for a crushed almond and orange cake and have been meaning to make it ever since. Philip Johnson runs e'cco bistro in Brisbane and e'cco was my family's go to restaurant for special occasions. 

I used Philip's recipe as a starting point and took it from there. The ground almonds and flour in the original recipe morphed into almonds, semolina and fine polenta inspired by an Ottolenghi recipe.

I kept my fingers crossed that the recipe would work out. Once the cake cooled, I dredged it with icing sugar then served it with some blood orange segments and double cream.

The cake was nice and moist with a slightly grainy texture from the semolina and an intense orange flavour without any bitterness. I'm sure you could use mandarins or tangelos instead of blood oranges and next time I make this cake I think I'll use lemons.

Here's the recipe for you, which makes an 18cm cake. For all my recipes I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. All eggs are 60 grams and my oven is a conventional oven not fan forced, so you may need to reduce your oven temperature by 20°C. If you'd like to make a bigger version, double all the ingredients to make a 23cm cake. The baking time will remain the same.

Blood orange, almond, polenta and semolina cake 

1 blood orange 
125g unsalted butter, room temperature 
125g caster sugar 
3 eggs 
¾ tsp baking powder 
tbs (scant ¼ cup) fine polenta or maize flour 
⅓ cup (60g) fine semolina 
⅔ cup (60g) ground almonds 

To serve 
Icing sugar 
Blood orange segments 
Double cream 

Put the orange in a saucepan then cover with water. Place a plate over the orange to keep it submerged then boil until soft, about 2 hours. Drain and cool, then quarter the orange, removing any seeds you come across. Pulse the orange in a food processor until finely chopped. Measure out 125mls of the orange pulp and freeze any leftover pulp for another time. 

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line the base and sides of a 18cm round spring-form cake tin with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and pale. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the baking powder with the maize flour and semolina, then stir in the almond meal. Add to the butter, mixing in 3 additions, alternating with the orange pulp. 

Pour into the prepared tin and bake at 180°C for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake on a cooling rack before inverting and removing the baking paper. Just before serving dust with icing sugar. Serve with blood orange segments and some thick cream. 

I hope you get to try the recipe soon. Meanwhile, I'll be back again later in the week with my final post from Namibia.

See you all again soon,

Bye for now,

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