Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Of Chocolate Dogs, Curry Chicken, and Sinking Cakes

Sydney was fun. We saw the Lunamorph fashion show, and Meow Meow's Vamp, and went shopping, and met up with friends, and looked at the Art on the Street, and watched Fee from Gypsy Noir dance, and drank and danced at Ascension in our new finery. I can has new boots. Big black gothy buckly things, except of course it's me, so they're flat, not ludicrous heels or ridiculous platforms.

We stayed in a teeny box of a room in a South King Street hotel. Handy, but minimal. Amusingly, it was worse than anywhere I stayed in China. No air con - and it was 35 degrees on Friday - and no bathroom. Toilet and shower down the hall, which was all good except for the last day, when we needed to check out and so did everyone else. Cross-legged queues ensued.

A block away from the hotel, down at 549 King Street Newtown, you'll find the Chocolate Dog cafe. We liked it so much that we had breakfast there every morning. A friend recommended it ages ago (Hi Tania!), and I gather it's changed hands since then. But the coffee was excellent on day one, and still pretty good (though not quite as good) on the other days with a different barista.

The breakfasts were great. I had perfect poached eggs with turkish toast, and a generous serve of spinach and tasty mushrooms ($12.50) one morning. Another time I had apple hotcakes, with apple chunks in the batter and topped with berry compote, maple syrup and Greek yoghurt. The bloke tried the BRAT (bacon, rocket, avocado and tomato) and pronounced it excellent - lean bacon for the health-conscious, good fresh salads. Service was unfussed and prompt, and the ambience is fairly standard South Newtown: simple, lightly bohemian with local artworks. A nice spot. They do Mexican at night but we never got to try that. We did make a pitch for it once, but they closed the kitchen too early for us.

We came home on Monday, and I had time to do a little shopping and cooking for the week. Read on for more details including a recipe for coconut passion cake.
My agenda for the Monday cooking was twofold: to prepare for the week, including a curry by request, and to make a cake to take to work today. I wasn't feeling very inspired, so I just made up the curry from a Patak's paste: chicken madras, using those pre-skinned drumsticks sold as "lovely legs". I did a veggie curry as a side dish, using as base a Charmaine Solomon recipe for a potato curry. It's simply mustard & black cumin seeds popped in oil, fried ginger, onion, turmeric, chilli, cumin, then veggie stock and veggies. I used cauliflower, a tin of kidney beans and some frozen peas as the veg. A nice mix, even though I forgot to add the garam masala and lemon juice at the end. But there's lots of leftovers, so I can vary it a bit for tomorrow's dinner.

Why add cake? It's tradition where I work to bring in a cake for your birthday, and although that was last week, today was my first day back at work. I tried out a coconut and passionfruit cake from a book on Islander cooking that I picked up in Fiji a few years back. It went over OK, though I wasn't very pleased with it myself. The flavours were good, but it managed to be both a bit overdone at the edges and a bit underdone in the middle. Sometimes I despair of ever understanding my fancypants Smeg oven. Though to be fair, I don't really get much practice any more. I used to bake a lot more, but since I've been trying for healthier cooking I've mainly used the oven for roasts, casseroles and muffins. And I do do rather well with muffins, even if I say so myself.

Anyway, the cake was quite easy, and very nicely flavoured if you like coconut and passionfruit. It's got equal amounts of coconut and flour, so it's not a soft cake texture, but rather rough, almost macaroon-like. And the passionfruit-coconut icing was a good match.

Recipe: Coconut Passion Cake
150g butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups dessicated coconut
2 cups self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/4 cup passionfruit pulp
1 cup chopped fruit (optional)

50g butter
3 tbsp passionfruit pulp
1 tbsp coconut cream (or a little more)
3 cups icing sugar

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one by one.
Combine dry ingredients, fold in alternately with the passionfruit and coconut cream.
Fold optional fruit through last if using.
Pour into baking paper lined 25cm cake tin.
Bake at 180C in a non-fan forced oven for 1 hour, or until skewer in centre comes out clean.
Cool on a rack.
Ice when cold.

For the icing: cream together butter and icing sugar. Add passionfruit pulp, and then dilute with coconut cream to a spreading consistency.

Notes: Original recipe from Savour the Pacific by Annabel Langbein. I used tinned pineapple for the optional fruit - the recipe suggests anything acid, like berries or feijoas. And as noted, I had some problem with the oven setting - I think the cake sank a little in the middle because I opened the oven for the first test too early, at 45 minutes. But it's such a fast oven... I think it browned marginally too much at the edges because I left it the full hour. Tricky thing. But anyway, it got eaten and praised, so it wasn't totally bad, just slightly imperfect.

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