food for thought

by michelle

baclava cheesecake

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My friend Deborah made this for a recent celebration. What a brilliant combination of two delicious cakes!

Preheat your oven to 180°C (350ºF). Place ⅓ of a cup each of blanched almonds and hazelnuts on a baking tray and bake for 5-8 minutes until toasted. Meanwhile, make the honey syrup by combining ½ a cup each of caster sugar and honey, ⅔ of a cup of water and a cinnamon quill in a saucepan. Place over medium heat until the sugar dissolves then simmer without stirring for approximately 15 minutes until syrup thickens slightly. Discard the cinnamon and set aside to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C (320ºF). Butter a 22cm (8″) springform pan and line the bottom with baking paper. Finely chop the almonds and hazelnuts plus ¼ of a cup of walnuts in a food processor and transfer to a large bowl. Add ½ a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Now add ¼ of a cup of the honey syrup to the nut mixture and stir to combine. Clean the food processor and add 500g (1 lb) of cream cheese (at room temperature), 300g (10½ oz) of sour cream and ¾ of a cup of caster sugar. Process until smooth. Add 3 eggs and 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla essence and combine. To assemble you will need approximately 10 sheets of filo pastry and melted butter. Brush the first sheet with some melted butter then fold it in half. Place it in the pan allowing it to overhang slightly. Repeat with the remaining filo and melted butter, turning and overlapping each sheet slightly to line the pan completely. Pour half of the cream cheese mixture into the pastry and top with the nut mixture. Pour in the remaining cheese mixture then fold the edges of the pastry over the top of the filling. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the centre is just set. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and leave cheesecake inside until cooled completely. Chill in the fridge for 6 hours and serve with the remaining honey syrup.

* This recipe is from


Written by michelle picker

September 20, 2017 at 12:17 am

home-made pastrami

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As a gift I was given CHARCUTERIE The Craft of Salting Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Bryan Polcyn. It’s packed full of excellent recipes. This is how our home-made pastrami turned out.

To make this you will need some beef brisket with most of the fat removed. For a 2¼kg (5 lb) brisket make a brine of 4 litres (1 gallon) of water, 1½ cups of kosher salt, 6 teaspoons of pink curing salt, 1 cup of sugar, ½ a cup of dark brown sugar, ¼ of a cup of honey, 5 minced cloves of garlic and 1 tablespoon of pickling spice. Place the beef in the brine with a plate on top so that it is completely submerged and refrigerate for 3 days. Next, remove the beef, rinse and dry it and discard the brine. In a spice mill or mortar and pestle grind 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns and 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds. Coat the beef evenly with this mixture. Now the beef needs to be hot smoked, or cooked very slowly over a charcoal barbecue with some wood chips for extra smoke. The internal temperature should be 66ºC (150ºF) when it’s cooked. The final step is to steam the pastrami. Heat your oven to 140ºC (275ºF) and place the beef on a rack over a tray with 2.5cm (1″) of water in it. When the water is simmering, cover the pastrami and steam it in the oven for 2-3 hours. Now it’s ready to serve.

Try it in a Pastrami Reuben, a classic American sandwich served hot on toasted rye bread with pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing.

Written by michelle picker

September 13, 2017 at 12:40 am


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sauerkraut-jarAll you need to make Sauerkraut is cabbage, salt and time.

Shred 1 whole cabbage finely and place it in a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt and massage the salt into the cabbage until the cellular structure breaks down, releasing liquid and making the cabbage quite limp. Pack the cabbage tightly into a jar or crock, eliminating any air pockets and weighing it down so that it is submerged in it’s own juices. I find the easiest way to do this is to find a smaller jar which will fit quite snugly into the mouth of the larger jar. Fill the small jar with water to add weight. Now place the large jar on a tray or in a bucket as it will bubble up while it’s fermenting. Cover it loosely and allow it to ferment at room temperature for a week or a few months – it really depends how you like your sauerkraut. I like mine quite crunchy so I’m happy with a week but taste it as you go. When you’ve achieved what you want, refrigerate it to stop further fermentation. Sauerkraut is delicious as is but can also be cooked in a variety of ways.

This Ukrainian Sauerkraut Soup (Kapusnyak) is adapted from a recipe by Barbara Rolek.

To a large soup pot or pressure cooker add a ham hock, 10 cups of water, 1 chopped onion, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1 bay leaf and some black peppercorns. Cook until the meat is falling off the bones. Remove the meat and when it’s cool enough to handle chop it into bite-size pieces. Set aside. To the soup add 1 large peeled and sliced carrot, 1 large peeled and diced potato, 30g (1 oz) of dried porcini mushrooms and 900g (2 lbs) of sauerkraut. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Mix 2 tablespoons of flour with 2 tablespoons sour cream. Add a few ladles of hot soup to this mixture before returning it to the soup. Mix well and allow the soup to thicken slightly. Now add the reserved meat to the soup, heat through and serve with fresh parsley and rye bread on the side.

I often cook sauerkraut with onions and apples but here’s a delicious version with tomatoes.

In a little vegetable oil fry 1 sliced onion with 1 minced clove of garlic until soft and transluscent. Add a can of chopped tomatoes, 450g (1 lb) of drained sauerkraut and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Simmer uncovered until the liquid evaporates and the tomatoes and sauerkraut begin to caramelise. Taste for seasoning and serve hot.

Written by michelle picker

September 6, 2017 at 12:39 am

blood limes

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I’ve been interested in native Australian finger limes for a while so I chose to plant a blood lime as it suits the cool climate here. A cross between red finger lime and Ellendale mandarin, their colour ranges from lime to burgundy and they’re a little sweeter then standard limes. The skin and flesh can both be eaten and the juice is both in and around the little vesicles which pop in your mouth. As they’re so small, I thought laterally about how to juice them and I came up with the idea of a garlic press! It’s a bit like a mini Mexican-style lime squeezer and as long as it’s stainless steel the garlic taste won’t linger.


I decided to make a blood lime and coconut ice cream. First, squeeze the limes (any limes will work) and keep the skins. Measure 2 cups of milk and take out 2 tablespoons to make a slurry with 2 tablespoons of cornflour (cornstarch) and set this aside. Heat the rest of the milk in a saucepan with 1¼ cups of heavy cream, ⅔ of a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of glucose, 1 cup of desicaated coconut and all the lime skins. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour in the cornflour slurry. Stir and return to the heat to thicken. Meanwhile heat the lime juice with 2 tablespoons of sugar until the sugar has dissolved. In another bowl whisk 3 tablespoons of softened cream cheese with ⅛ of a teaspoon of salt. Pour the hot milk mixture and the lime syrup into the bowl and mix until smooth. Cool the mixture down by placing the bowl in an ice bath. When the mixture is cold, strain to remove the coconut and lime skins and it’s ready to churn.


Written by michelle picker

August 31, 2017 at 5:28 am

mushroom, walnut and lentil loaf

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Not in the mood for meat? Here’s a high protein, gluten free loaf that everyone will enjoy.

Preheat your oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Line the base and sides of a 1.5 litre loaf tin with baking paper. Heat 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter in a saucepan and add a mirepoix of finely diced onion, celery and carrot in roughly equal portions. Cook until the onion is translucent and soft. Add 240g (8½ oz) of finely chopped mushrooms. I used Swiss brown mushrooms and added a sprinkling of powdered porcini mushroom for added flavour. Cook until the mushrooms are soft then add 2 finely diced or crushed cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1 teaspoon of smoky paprika and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Continue to cook for a few minutes more before adding ½ a cup of red lentils and 1¼ cups of vegetable stock. Cook over low heat until the lentils are soft and all the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to col a little. Finally add 150g (5 oz) of crushed walnuts, 100g (3½ oz) of finely ground (instant) oats, 100g (3½ oz) of grated sharp cheddar cheese, 3 lightly beaten eggs and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and mix well to combine. Transfer the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and press it down. Bake covered for 20 minutes and uncovered for a further 15-20 minutes until quite firm. Serve with tomato sauce and a fresh green salad.

hainanese chicken rice

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Adapted from early Chinese immigrants from Hainan province in Southern China, Hainanese Chicken Rice is a popular street food in Singapore and Malaysia. There are many different cooking methods and the dipping sauces seem to be a personal choice. I chose to follow Rosemary Brissenden’s recipe from her book South East Asian Food.

The chicken is steeped rather than boiled and this gives a tender juicy result. First remove the 2 pads of fat from near the opening of your chicken and keep them. Boil a pot of water large enough to fit your chicken and fill enough to immerse it completely. When the water boils add the chicken, 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic, an equal amount of sliced ginger and ½ a brown onion. Boil for 2-3 minutes then take the pot off the heat and allow the chicken to steep for 30 minutes. Repeat this one more time and the chicken should be cooked. While the chicken is cooking you can make your sauces. I made a chilli/ginger sauce and a sweet soy sauce. For the chilli/ginger sauce, with a mortar and pestle pound 6 chopped red chillies with 3 chopped cloves of garlic and an equal amount of diced ginger until they become a paste. Season with salt to taste and a drizzle of white rice vinegar. If you need more moisture add a little of the chicken stock. For the sweet soy sauce, caramelise some sugar and add soy sauce to taste. While the chicken cooks you can also prepare some chopped coriander (cilantro) and spring onion for garnish as well as slicing some cucumber and tomato as an accompaniment to the meal. When the chicken is cooked remove it to a plate and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Now take the chicken fat and in a saucepan fry it in some oil until the fat renders then remove the solids. Rinse and drain your rice and add it to the saucepan, cooking for a few minutes until coated with the fat and a little translucent. Add the chicken stock (for 2 cups of rice you will need 3 cups of stock) and some salt to taste. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Meanwhile season the remaining chicken stock to taste with salt and white pepper. Traditionally the chicken is  garnished with chopped coriander and spring onion and chopped then eaten with rice, cucumber and tomato, a small bowl of soup and the dipping sauces.

coconut and pineapple upside down cake

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Wonderfully caramelised ripe pineapple crowns this coconut cake.

Preheat your oven to 175ºC (350ºF) and grease a 20cm (8″) round, deep-sided cake tin. Peel and slice half a very ripe pineapple into thin slices. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a large pan over medium-high heat and cook the pineapple slices for 3 minutes on each side or until lightly caramelised. Arrange them in the base of the prepared cake tin, overlapping them so no gap remains. In a bowl beat 200g (7 oz) of butter and 150g (5¼ oz) of sugar until fluffy and pale. Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time, then add 200g (7 oz) of plain flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 45g (1½ oz) of desiccated coconut, 1 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and ½ a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Mix to combine well. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin over the pineapple and bake for 50 minutes or until the cake tests clean. Cool in the tin before turning out.

* Adapted from a Jill Dupleix recipe on

Written by michelle picker

August 13, 2017 at 5:25 am