Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nosh @ Newport

Slower to gentrify than neighbouring suburbs Seddon and Yarraville, Newport's culinary desert is starting to awaken. Situated in the eclectic Hall St shopping strip (an interesting mix of shops, including a grocery store, a wine shop, a tattooist, a lighting and design store, and offices for legal services and asphalt) Nosh @ Newport is the newest cafe in the area. Newport lacks the village atmosphere of Seddon or Yarraville but its three small main shopping strips (Mason Street, Hall Street and Melbourne Road) all have little banks of shops just crying out for development. There's a ready-made audience in the burgeoning local mothers' groups and Nosh has clearly done its research, as the kid-friendly touches include high chairs, books, crayons and paper, plus a a kid's menu featuring cheese toasties, vegemite toast and coco pops.

Situated on the site formerly occupied by the Pepper Tree Cafe on the corner of Hall Street and Tait Street, the interior has been gutted and redone in schmick cafe style. Sage-green wooden chairs and pale wood tables are offset by the beige, brown, cream and terracotta artworks on the walls, which are for sale. Window-seat diners perch on little mushroom-shaped stools and gaze out at the peppercorn tree-shaded train station opposite. Specials of the day are chalked up on a blackboard above a glass cabinet filled with cakes and topped with clear jars filled with biscuits. There's plenty of room for prams, and there are also outside tables where you can soak up the afternoon sun.

The menu is modest but ticks all the right boxes, with the standard favourites of a big breakfast plate, eggs of your choice, homemade bircher muesli and toasted vine bread balanced with more unusual offerings of orange and strawberry salad with muesli crumble or homemade bean bake with a cracked egg and cheese-melt French stick.

Lunch could feature long plump rice paper rolls filled with poached chicken, bean shoots, coriander and roasted peanuts, with an accompanying sauce of rice wine, palm sugar and sweet chilli vinegar. The warm roti wraps could be filled with chicken caesar salad, haloumi, spinach and avocado, or smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers and pistachio mayonnaise. Other choices include soup of the day, chef's salad, a thick, juicy steak sandwich, or plump sweet corn and potato fritters served with smoked salmon.

If you just feel like a snack, there are several cakes - perhaps a lemon tart, a carrot cake or a cheesecake - on offer, as well as excellent, smooth coffee. Open just a month, Nosh is already a hit with the locals, both those with and without prams.

Nosh @ Newport
24 Hall Street, Newport

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hot pudding for a cold night

As the days have turned colder and darker, I've started dreaming of puddings: hot steamed puddings, studded with dried fruit, flavoured with chocolate or ginger or topped with hot jam, treacle or golden syrup, and served smothered in custard or chocolate sauce or dolloped with thick cream.

I have two classic recipes from my grandmother, one for golden syrup dumplings and one for a self-saucing chocolate pudding, both of which have been eaten on many a winter's night in my family. The chocolate pudding is always a hit, whether it is dressed up with whipped cream for a dinner party or served with a scoop of ice-cream after a casual Sunday night meal of soup. It tastes good hot or cold and reheats well.

Despite my love of chocolate, I've had golden syrup steamed pudding on my mind recently. But when Adam called at 6pm to say he was on his way home from work and would pick up some cream to have with dessert (hint hint...), there was no time to make a steamed pudding, which requires at least an hour-and-a-half steaming time, or even my grandmother's chocolate self-saucing pudding, which needs 45 minutes in the oven. There wasn't even time to consult my recipe books and drool over potential options.

Fortunately I've recently reorganised my large collection of food magazines into seasons, rather than by calendar month, so I went to the winter section and pulled out a copy of Delicious magazine that had hot brownie puddings on the front cover. Amazingly, there was a block of dark chocolate in the pantry that Adam hadn't found and devoured, and the puddings took only 25 minutes to cook. It was a winner!

Delicious magazine food writer Valli Little served these puddings with chocolate leaves and a sauce made from white chocolate and cream. Although I think they add a lovely touch, especially for the photos, I didn't have the ingredients or the time to make these and served the puddings with just a dollop of whipped cream, which worked well. The combination of melted chocolate and cocoa gives these puddings a rich, fudgy flavour that is even better when reheated the next night.


120g dark chocolate
125g butter
4 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon liqueur (such as frangelico or amaretto, although brandy also works well)
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Place the chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until melted, then take off heat and set aside.

Beat the eggs until creamy, then beat in the sugar until the mixture is thick. Beat in the chocolate mixture and the liqueur. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa together and fold into the mixture.

Grease four large ramekins and divide the mixture between the ramekins. Bake for about 25 minutes (be careful not to overlook, as there should be a slight squidginess in the centre). Run a knife around the edge and tip out into a bowl. Serve with cream, ice-cream or thick chocolate sauce.

Adapted from a recipe by Valli Little in Delicious magazine, August 2005

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The art of the sponge

Ah, sponge cake! Is there anything more likely to strike fear into the hearts of cooks and joy in the faces of the afternoon tea guests?

Epicure in today's Age features a gorgeous article on sponge cake, which it says has become an endangered species. "The sponge was an early casualty of the post-WWII economic boom. Dramatic social and economic changes led to a decline in home preserving and home baking ... The sponge, being a time-consuming cake, was almost lost in the rush for modernity," Richard Cornish writes. The County Women's Association are the self-appointed guardians of the traditional sponge and they outline in the article their many theories as to why the sponge has declined, chief among them being lack of time. CWA state president Noela MacLeod says that people are too busy to bake sponges and find it easier to buy a cream-filled sponge from the supermarket (personally, I would rather eat cardboard than one of those cakes).

My great-aunt always served a sponge for afternoon tea, usually a traditional sponge with a cream and jam filling, but occasionally chocolate sponge or ginger fluff sponge. Mystique surrounds sponge cakes because they can be temperamental and nothing is more deflating to a cook's ego than a flat sponge. You must use fresh eggs, sift the dry ingredients several times, take care not to overbeat the mixture, grease the tins well and make sure the oven is the correct temperature.

I made sponges often as a little girl but have steered clear of them in recent years because of my temperamental oven. However, mum recently gave me her recipe for ginger fluff sponge. I love the spicy gingeriness of this cake, much more than a traditional sponge and it's great for afternoon tea. It's good timing as I plan to make it this weekend as a tribute to the sponge - long may it live!


4 eggs
3/4 cup white sugar
1 dessertspoon golden syrup
1/2 cup arrowroot or cornflour
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cocoa
2 dessertspoons plain flour
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda

Beat eggs and sugar until thick and creamy. Add golden syrup. Sift together twice arrowroot, ginger, cinnamon, cocoa, flour, bicarb soda and cream of tartar. Fold into egg mixture. Pour into two 20cm well-greased sandwich tins. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for 15-20 minutes. Fill with whipped cream, ice with chocolate icing and dot with cherries or chopped walnuts. Best eaten on the day it's made.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A little burst of sunshine

Our passionfruit vine has been very prolific this year. I've been gathering passionfruit for nearly a fortnight now, piling them up in the fruit bowl while I ponder what to do with them. Earlier in the season, the March edition of Gourmet Traveller arrived on the same day I gathered the first crop, conveniently featuring a special on passionfruit. Although we enjoyed the passionfruit yo-yos I made, I didn't feel like them this time, nor passionfruit mousse, or the flummery recipe I found in my grandmother's cookbook. So the passionfruit sat and grew wrinkly, and Adam kept asking what I was going to do with them, and still I couldn't decide.

Finally, inspiration struck and I decided to make passionfruit cupcakes. Cupcakes seem to be featured everywhere at the moment, so obviously the idea of cute little cakes had lodged in my brain. I made a basic butter cake recipe, substituting passionfruit juice for milk, divided it into paper muffin cases and iced the cakes with a sunny yellow passionfruit-flavoured icing.

The cupcakes are a bright, cheery yellow and taste like sunshine - a perfect treat as the days grow shorter and darker. Because my vine produces quite small fruit, I've specified a juice measurement, rather than the number of fruit, as it depends on the size you grow or buy. Feel free to adjust the measurements to suit your taste.


125g butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
60ml passionfruit juice, strained

Cut the passionfruit in half, scoop out the pulp and put into a strainer set over a bowl. Use the back of a teaspoon to push the pulp through the strainer, extracting the juice. Discard the pulp and seeds.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the sifted flour and the passionfruit juice. Spoon into a 12-cup muffin tin, lined with paper cases (I found this quantity made only nine cupcakes but my muffin tin is quite large). Bake at 180 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack and ice when cold. For the icing, mix one cup of icing sugar with enough passionfruit juice to make a soft icing consistency (not too runny).

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday morning tea - heavenly jelly slice

There were many great cooks in the district where I grew up, but Mrs Schulze was the best. At birthday parties or suppers after the school concert, we all eagerly looked for a plate of her jelly slice or hedgehog. The jelly slice had a crunchy biscuit base, a soft tangy cheesecake-like centre and was topped with a slab of gloriously red wobbly jelly, while the hedgehog was deliciously chocolatey and studded with nuts and chunks of marie biscuit.

Mrs Schulze was the person who supervised and assessed us when we went for our cooking badge for Brownies. It was a little intimidating stepping into her kitchen but she was a generous teacher and we all proudly received our badge to sew onto our Brownie uniforms. But alas! we did not save the recipes.

After finishing high school, I moved to Melbourne to study at university so it's been more than a decade since I've sampled Mrs Schulze's cooking but I can still picture and taste her slices - the memories grow more fond as the years pass. So I was thrilled when Mum recently obtained the famous jelly slice recipe and passed it onto me. We tested the recipe by making a plate for my son's first birthday party and it quickly disappeared, so it appears there are many jelly slice fans out there. One note regarding the jelly topping: you may need to use less water than specified, as you want the jelly to set quite firm so that it doesn't slide off as you eat it.


1 packet marie biscuits
180g melted butter

Lemon layer
400g can condensed milk
juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons gelatine, dissolved in 3/4 cup boiling water

1 packet jelly crystals, made up with 1 1/2 cups water

To make base, mix together the crushed biscuits and melted butter. Press into the base of a slice tray.

Blend the condensed milk with the lemon juice and dissolved gelatine. Spread over the base and refrigerate until set.

Make up the jelly, cool before pouring over the slice. Chill until set.