Recipe: Vegetarian Curry

I've been making a list of questions that keep coming up in comments and emails. Not only for the love of a good list, but so I can finally do that FAQ and be a wee bit more helpful to the folks out there.

One question that has popped up a lot is: Could I get the recipe for the veggie curry you cooked for Gareth in the book?

SpicedahlsoupOh yes. Forget flowers and chocs, there is no better gift to give your new vegetarian love interest than the Gift of Fragrance.

The recipe mentioned in the book is this Spiced Dahl Soup from BBC Good Homes magazine, February 2004 (click on the pic to enlarge). In February 2004 I was living in a sharehouse with six other chicks so I figure the purchase was desperate escapism.

It's an easy recipe and the ingredients are dead cheap. I didn't have a food processor at the time to make the paste so I just chopped and chopped til I couldn't chop no more. I also used yogurt instead of crème fraîche for the garnish thingy.

I've got a few more easy curry recipes/links to share but I'm about to nick off to Glasgow to see Mogwai et al at the Triptych Festival, WOOHOO! But the recipe says "One to cook on lazy Sundays" and tomorrow is Sunday so I scanned it in case anyone is looking to lazify their Sunday!

You’d Butter Believe It

Last year in a post called Why Stripping Wallpaper Is Like Weight Loss I reckoned that you could pretty much turn anything into a crappy metaphor for lard busting. Sunglasses, chickens, bananas, etc. I’ve got another one for you today: Making Your Own Almond Butter Is Like Weight Loss. Ohhh… yeah!

Way back in July 2006 Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini fame posted a recipe for homemade cashew nut butter, or beurre de cajou as they so elegantly say across the Channel. You grind raw nuts in a food processor until the natural oils emerge and transforms into a preservative-free trans-fatless natural goo. I was dying to make an almond version, but was convinced I couldn’t be trusted not to gobble the whole jar with a spoon.

Eighteen months later, I try not to say that sort of thing. I don’t like to think of foods as dangerous or triggers or any word that implies that I am a powerless, out of control fruitloop that needs to be muzzled at farmer’s markets. So I felt I was ready to pulverise some nuts.

Almond butter is delicately grainy and almonds are very nutritious, don’t you know. But it is pricey. £1.80 for a tiny 170g jar! It’s a lot cheaper in the USA – I lugged a big jar of Trader Joe’s stuff back from Chicago. It had honking huge shards of almond that stabbed the roof of the mouth in a painfully pleasant way. But once that ran out I was back to the expensive one, which made me recall Clotilde’s recipe. Hmmm, I said in a tightwad tone befitting of one who has lived in Scotland almost five years, I could buy a half a kilo of raw almonds for the same price and make my own! THRIFT-O-RAMA!

Back in January, I bought my bag o’ nuts and prepared to churn out another shitty metaphor.

Making almond butter is like weight loss because…

1. You start out with a lumpy mess!


Ho ho ho.
This is actually 500 grams of raw almonds, which I toasted in the oven.

2. The fundamental recipe is simple
Dump almonds into food processor, process at high speed until creamy. That’s all there is to it! Eat less, move more! EASY!

3. The reality is painfully slow and messy and tedious frustrating as hell.
I hit the button.
And I ground and I ground and I ground.
And nothing happened.
So I looked at the clock. Ground some more.
Grind grind grind.
Sweat swear sweat.
Nothing happening!
It’s not working! WHY ISN’T IT WORKING?! The recipe said it would work!
Twenty minutes of solid labour and all I had was almond clods!
This blows. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?!


4. When you least expect it, it all comes together.
By this point the food processor was almost too hot to touch. I was waiting for the smoke to appear. But after twenty five minutes the first trickle of oil oozed out. BROWN GOLD! And then finally it started to take shape.


5. The end product may not be exactly what you’d dreamed of. Might a bit rough. And lumpy.
Or look like complete dogs droppings. And I’d overtoasted the nuts – our oven has two settings: Cold Indifference or Cremains, so you can never get things right. But perfection is for… perfect people. This stuff had character! It was delicious too, subtle and creamy.

I also managed to eat it in a sensible manner, spread over a series of breakfasts (with Bonne Maman apricot jam, CHOICE!) I didn’t attack it with spoons or write odes of longing when we were apart. There’s hope for me yet.

This mega jar of almond butter was a bargain at just £2. Of course that doesn’t account for labour and half an hour of electricity. But just like the lard busting, sometimes the most effective method is not the most efficient!


Recipe Corner: Pumpkin and Tomato Soup

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who partook yesterday!

I hope you dined well, whether you turkeyed or tofuturkeyed or something else altogether. I don't know much about Thanksgiving except for the general themes of eating too much and being thankful. Sounds like the perfect holiday to me.

In the spirit of the event, here is a wee list of lard-busting things I am thankful for:

Internet Shopping – As much as I love wandering down the aisles of supermarkets admiring the goods, I hate the people. I hate when they meet their friends in the dairy aisle and park their trolleys nose to nose and chatter away oblivious to me trying to squeeze past. I hate the crowded car parks and the checkout queues and jumping up and down at the fish counter trying to get some service. I hate how miserable everyone looks.

So this is why I order groceries online and have them delivered for no more than the cost of trekking to the megamart on the bus. I plan a week's meals in advance, click click for ten minutes, then sit back while some other poor bastard has to scour the aisles with my shopping list then cart it to my door. And they don't "accidentally" chuck in cakes or bars of chocolate. It's a lard-buster's dream!

Dumbells Under The Bed – Again, I hate people. Bah, humbug. And I hate venturing out in the cold and dark, so I like to work out at home this time of year and not have to interact with the world.

Soup – Everything you need in a bowl. Easy to cook, easy to clean up. Endless leftovers. Equally healthy as, but far less fiddly than, a summer salad.

External Validation – The other day I had two separate people ask me if I'd lost weight. Amazing! This hasn't happened to me in so long. The first was a lovely woman who'd been away for six months and the other was someone I see in passing most days. They both used the word "load". As in, "Have you lost a load of weight?".

Dietgirl wept.

Actually, I just said, "Well, maybe a wee bit". Because I haven't lost anything, really. But I've been doing well for a few weeks now and had been annoyed with the scales as you well know, so to hear some nice words from impartial observers was a real boost to the ol' motivation. The number on the scale can faff around all it wants, but at the end of the day I just want to look like I take up less space, darnit.

Other things I'm thankful for: Good friends and internet people, emails from siblings, emerging biceps and Thursday night repeats of The Avengers on BBC4.

. . .

I've been meaning to apologise for my horribly slow email replies. But then I wondered if apologising would make me sound like a raging egomaniac, as though I can't get through the front door of our flat because there's just soooo many emails that they've all burst out of the computer and flooded the hallway. But then I figure if I don't say anything then it looks like I am a unresponsive snob. Hmm, dilemma!

So let me reassure you I have neither delusions of megastardom nor am I too important to answer my emails, I've just been a bit busy. Anyway I'm now down to 18 emails in my ReplyTo folder, and the oldest one is from late September so that's much better. Woohoo!

. . .

Recipe Corner

Well it's not much of a corner, more the arse end of the page. But there's no time for pedantry, we have to make the world's most delicious soup. Allez allez!

Seriously, it's the best soup I've had in yonks. It comes from Good Food magazine and was described as "rustic and robust". I thought that a rather poncy and optimistic description but it was really sublime! Hearty, rich, smooth and sweet. And strangely creamy despite absence of actual creamy ingredients. Hubba hubba.


  • In the mag the soup was served with some fancy cheese croutons but I skipped those as I am trying to shrink, dammit.
  • The recipe said to roast the vegies with the herbs left on their stalks, and remove the leaves afterward. I thought that sounded far too fiddly so I just did that before it went into the oven.
  • I chopped the tomatoes in half before roasting, which was a bad move as the juices ran everywhere and the veggies were more steamed than roasted. Next time I'll leave them whole.
  • The recipe calls for pumpkin but I used butternut squash as that's all there bloody ever seems to be in the shops, except for Halloween. Then felt guilty as hell when I discovered my butternut had been flown in from NEW ZEALAND!?!

I don't have the recipe on me right now so I will blurt from memory and apologise in advance for any glaring inaccuracies! (Update – Have now checked recipe, should all be functional now!)

Serves: 4
Source: BBC Good Food

650 – 900g (1.5 – 2lb) chunk of winter pumpkin or squash, peeled and cut into cubes
450g (1lb) ripe tomatoes
one red onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
6 whole cloves of garlic, unpeeled
a few sprigs of each fresh rosemary and thyme (I used about 6 of each)
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1.2 litres (2 pints) vegetable or chicken stock

  1. Preheat oven to 220'C (430'F).
  2. Pull the leaves off the herb stalks and chop finely.
  3. Put all of the ingredients, except for the stock, into a roasting tin. Turn in your hands so everything is coated in oil. Roast, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes, turning occasionally, until it all looks… roasty.
  4. Remove veg from oven. Squeeze garlic cloves out of their skins.
  5. Scrape the veggies into a blender and liquidise with the stock, in two batches if necessary. (I just put the lot in a big pot then blasted to smithereens with my trusty hand-held pulveriser thingy)
  6. Pour into a large pot and heat a little if needed.
  7. Check seasoning then EAT. Ooh yeah.
  8. Actually, put it some bowls first, THEN eat. If you insist on being civilised.

Per serve: 212 calories, 12g fat

Bon weekend, you groovers!

Let Them Eat Crispbread

I'm glad folks enjoyed the MSN article. And just so you know, I didn't come up with that Queen of Diet Blogging title! I would never dare to refer to myself in such lofty terms.


. . .

As predicted, last week's mega loss (4.5lb) did not stick. Once my appetite returned things levelled out again. I was 2lb up this week which means 2.5lb down over two weeks which is more indicative of my efforts. I'm happy with that, woo!

. . .

SALAD! It's what makes you skinny. Unless it's an unhealthy salad. Did you know there is a salad in Britain called Savoury Cheese, which basically means grated cheddar mixed with mayonnaise. They really stretch the definition here. You can get it on a bread roll or perhaps plopped atop a baked potato.

But back to the skinny salads. This week I am obsessed with this Carrot Salad that I got from a Weight Watchers cookbook. Say what you will about the twin dubyas, but in my opinion they consistently come up with the most innovative diet-friendly recipes. I couldn't be bothered fetching the cookbook, but here's a brief rundown.


Serves 4

  • Grate 4-5 big fat carrots
  • Chop up a wee bunch of coriander (cilantro if you're American).
  • Throw it all into a bowl with
    • 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds
    • 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
    • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon of honey.
  • Mix it all up and eat. Serves 4!

I was out of pumpkin seeds so used extra sunflowers. I also added the juice of one lime to zing it up a little. It tastes so refreshing and vaguely Japanesey! We had it with tuna steaks and steamed new potatoes.

Why is this not on my cooking blog? Because that's on hiatus while I write that stinking book. Which is on hiatus for ten minutes while I write this entry 🙂

The White Stuff

This post was imported from my short-lived, now-defunct food blog, Cooking With Ginger.


Yes, for shame, I will need to admit defeat on this food blogging caper for now. At least until I get this stinking Dietgirl book written. No, I’m not one of them high-falutin’ bloggers with bookdeals, this is a personal project I have undertaken purely to see if I can rise to the challenge. But I have been far too easily distracted from it lately. Thanks very much, bloody World Cup.

The thing is, I have cooked so many wonderful healthy dishes that I’m sure the lard busting crowd would be interested in hearing about. As I’ve said before, I’m not short of ideas and I love writing about food. But after wasting the first third of 2006, I came up with a timetabled writing plan in May and I am determined to stick to my deadlines. So this is it for now, unless I suddenly become ridiculously ahead of schedule.

Thank you for all humouring me as I made my ill-advised foray into the foodblogging arena. I made this pavlova today and I could spend hours composing a witty post full of childhood pavlova anecdotes, but instead I will just link to the caption on Flickr which outlines my problems. If you have any handy hints on how to make my meringue taller, I’d love to hear from you!

Recipe Corner: Mighty Sputnik

This post was imported from my short-lived, now-defunct food blog, Cooking With Ginger.


A couple of weeks ago this strange and seemingly extra-terrestrial vegetable appeared in our organic box delivery. Thanks to the clever citizens of the internet, I quickly discovered it was kolhrabi. Most people recommended I try it raw, and indeed the lovely and famous Clotilde once wrote about the joys of pressing slices of it into a wee pile of sea salt. And it sounds even more exotic in French: le chou-rave! 

In the end I opted for this Kohlrabi Slaw. If you're trying to lose some blubber, SLAWS ARE YOUR FRIEND, people! Sick of lunchtime salads? Tired of grilled fish for dinner? Worrying about how to fit in your Five A Day? Just get out the grater, baby. It's easy to mow through a pile of vegetables when they're in slaw form. And you don't need barrells of mayo either! This recipe calls for just a few tablespoons, but I think it would taste fine if you left it out altogether and just used the lime juice and vinegar. We had this with some tuna steaks and a oven-roasted potato wedges. The kohlrabi is zingy and fresh and makes a nice change from ol' fashioned cabbage-based slaws. Thanks for your help, Internet Detectives!

Serves:  4
Source:  Slashfood

1 large kohlrabi, peeled and grated
1/2 fuji apple, peeled and grated (I used a whole bog-standard Braeburn!)
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1/2 sweet yellow or red onion, thinly sliced
handful of chopped parsley (whoops, forgot this)
juice of half a lime
3 or 4 shakes of sherry wine vinegar (I subbed white wine vinegar)
mayonnaise, just enough to bind ingredients
sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Combine everything in a large bowl. Mix well. Chill 30 minutes to blend flavours. Serve. You cannae get easier than that! 

Serving dish courtesy of New Blossom Chinese takeaway down the street. One day I will take a proper photo instead of hasty snaps of leftovers!

Recipe Corner: Wild Mushroom Risotto

This post was imported from my short-lived, now-defunct food blog, Cooking With Ginger.

mushroom.jpg Healthy recipes tend to taste light and clean – full of fresh herbs and strong flavours, like Elise's amazing Seared Tuna that we've been devouring every week since she posted it. Just one mouthful of dish like that makes you feel holy and virtuous. But sometimes you don't feel holy and virtuous. Sometimes the body screams out for decadence, comfort and stodge! 

Traditionally, comfort and stodge means a pound of butter and/or a pint of cream. But the best healthier recipes make the most of ingredients that add maximum richness and flavour without mega calories. This Weight Watchers mushroom risotto proved a great example – rich and creamy without actual cream or dodgy low-fat dairy. Just look at the main ingredients:

  • arborio rice – inherently creamy and starchy
  • white wine – just 150mL but it adds a bit of posh
  • dried porcini mushrooms – soaked in boiling water, both shrooms and stock adding richness
  • parmesan cheese – a scant 50g for four serves, but plenty to give creaminess

The beauty of most Weight Watchers recipes today (apart from the shitey ones with artificial sweetners) is that they cleverly reduce the amounts of the most calorific yet flavoursome ingredients, while adding bulk with low-cal or low-fat stuff like vegetables. The recipes taste a bit lighter than the Original versions, but not so "diet-y" that you feel you're being defrauded. It was nicely luxurious, with all those mushrooms making for a meaty and satisfying meal for this faux-vegetarian. 

My tiny mods to this recipe: I used bog standard cheapo button mushies but added a pack of Tesco "Mixed Exotic" mushrooms for fun. I should have written down their names, but we're basically talking all the odd-shaped weird ones. They were mighty flavoursome. I probably twice the specified quantity too, that way I got to have more in my bowl! I forgot to buy parsley so chucked in some baby spinach, which was noice. I also stirred in the parmesan in the saucepan, as opposed to sprinkling on top, so you get that nice creamy cheesiness in every bite.

Source:  How To Cook The Weight Watchers Way 
Serves:  4 

20 g dried porcini mushrooms 
150 ml boiling water
low fat cooking spray
1 onion, finely chopped 
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
350 g arborio rice 
100 ml white wine 
1.2 litres hot vegetable stock 
200 g mushrooms, sliced 
a small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped 
salt and freshly ground pepper 
50 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated, to serve 

Place the dried mushrooms in a measuring jug and add the boiling water. Soak for 25 minutes. 
Heat a large, heavy saucepan, spray with the cooking spray, and gently stir fry the onion and garlic until softened. Add the rice and and stir to mix well, then add the wine. 
Drain the dried mushrooms, reserving the stock, chop into small pieces. Strain the soaking water through a fine mesh sieve or piece of muslin and add to the risotto (I did not strain it: too lazy/hungry), with the reconstituted and fresh mushrooms. (I actually stir-fried fresh mushies a wee bit before I added the porcini and liquid) 
Add the vegetable stock in small quantities, cooking and stirring frequently until all of it has been absorbed. 
Check the seasoning and stir in the parsley (or spinach til wilted). 
Serve with the parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top. 

Per serve:  418 calories, or 6 WW Points 

NB:  Photo is copyright of and unceremoniously nicked from the Weight Watchers UK website, as once again I forgot to photograph before eating! Oh dear. 

UPDATE: Thanks to Pamela who cooked this recipe and pointed out there was no mention of stock! Oh dear. The ingredients list has been amended 🙂

So I Married A Vegetarian

This post was imported from my short-lived, now-defunct food blog, Cooking With Ginger.

Vegetarianism was once considered a crime in my family. Some parents worry about their child bringing home an undesirable boyfriend or a venereal disease, but the worst thing I could have done was saunter in with a bag of lentils or a Linda McCartney sausage. We raised sheep and cattle on our farm; pigs too until the late 80s when we sold off their pink unprofitable asses. Meat truly brought home the bacon for us. We only ate what had once roamed the fields. Our freezer was brimming with home grown roasts and mince and little plastic bags of lamb chops. And in the springtime my sister and I bottle-fed the abandoned baby lambs, fattening them up for market then pocketing the profits.

Our beef was chopped up by a proper butcher, but if we needed lamb my stepfather did the slaughtering himself. I don't think he enjoyed the task one bit, and was always as kind and merciful to the sheep as one can be in these situations. But I liked to imagine things were more ghoulish. He'd always tell us stay in the house, but I listened out for the telltale sound of the chosen sheep doing its final woolly twitch. It would always be at sunset and my stepdad would turn on the headlights of the truck to see better. I'd peer through the trees at this silhouetted scene, finding it all quite macabre and dramatic. The red sky, the dogs barking and straining against their chains, the unmistakable scratch scratch of the knife separating wool from flesh.

Today I would love to have access to what was essentially an endless bounty of free-roaming organic meat. But as a surly teen I resented the homegrown stuff. I envied my friends and their cheap Woolworths sausages on styrofoam trays. "Lamb chops AGAIN!?", I'd bitch at the dinner table, rolling my eyes in anticipation of the reminder that meat was our livelihood.

There was just no escaping meat. I even had a meaty weekend job, selling the Colonel's finest goods at KFC. I'd come home on a Saturday night reeking of chicken grease and secret herbs and spices, only to be greeted by a sheep carcass hanging on a hook in the laundry. On Sunday morning my precious slumber was disturbed by the sound of said sheep being buzzed to pieces with my stepfathers meat saw.

So it amuses me somewhat that after all that, I ended up marrying a vegetarian. I asked Gareth why he chose to abandon the flesh ten years ago, expecting it would be about economics, taste, or sympathy for the poor little lambies. But his main reason was because it makes a mess!

"Too many dishes," he said. While the lad likes good food, he hates cleaning, and vegetarian fare generally means less scrubbing afterwards.

When we got married and moved in together, he was adamant that I should cook and eat meat as much as I wanted. He is not one of those militant vegetarians. But I think perhaps I'd had my fill of red meat as a child. Since I moved to the UK I'd gone semi-vegetarian anyway, mostly due to budget restrictions. I've also found weight loss easier when I go meatless, although I still eat fish. But above all, I am a lazy bastard, and I don't miss the flesh enough to cook two different dishes.

So the past year has been an interesting challenge, coming up with repertoire of healthy vegetarian meals that are quick and easy, and address the following criteria: 

1. Not be too reliant on butter, eggs or cheese 
2. Not be too reliant on meat substitutes such as Quorn
3. Not make you fart all freaking night. 

Number three is often the biggest challenge. I cooked this Pumpkin and Spinach Frittata last night and there were no ill-effects. While it is heavy on the eggs, I am not one of those Egg Whites Only nutters. Divided by six is only an egg and a half each! It also has a smidgen of cheese, and I used Marks and Spencer Half Fat Mature Cheddar. Unlike super low fat cheeses, it doesn't taste like a monkey's rubbery armpit, but is far less calorific than the original.

I scrawled this one down from my sister's copy of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet in a godawful hurry, so excuse the sloppy instructions. And furthermore, please excuse the extremely ordinary photos here. I cooked this after a gruelling Spinning class, and I just needed to EAT, dammit!


As with everything I make, tastes better than it looks.


Source: CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet 
Serves: 6 (or 4 gluttons) 

400g pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes (I used 600g of butternut squash)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp soy sauce 
2 leeks, washed and sliced 
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely 
300g baby spinach (I only had a wee 180g bag) 
8 eggs 
400g low fat yogurt (I used 3 x 150g pots Total 0% Fat Greek Yogurt)
50g mature cheddar cheese 

Preheat oven to 170'C. Place pumpkin cubes on oven tray, toss with half the olive oil and soy sauce. Bake for 25 mins (I did 230'C because our oven is crap and I was impatient and hungry). While this is happening, sautee leeks for five minutes in remaining olive oil, then add garlic and spinach, cook until wilted. Tip mixture onto work surface and chop roughly (I didn't do that because I was lazy and hungry). Whisk eggs, yogurt and cheese. Tip in pumpkin and spinach mixture, stir to combine. Pour into a greased baking dish. Bake 20 minutes until set. (I turned down the oven to 180'C and it took 20 minutes to set with a nice pale golden top) 


The Ultra-Classy Sloppy Leftovers In A Chinese Takeaway Dish shot.

. . . Oooh lordy, this frittata was deliciously creamy and subtly cheesy. Creamy and cheesy are two things you don't get much on a diet, but it's all happening here, thanks to the magic of Total 0% Greek Yogurt! The spinach and pumpkin are fantastic together, but I can't wait to try it again with different vegies. Or with feta cheese. Or bacon.

Recipe Corner: Friday Night Cookie Emergency

This post was imported from my short-lived, now-defunct food blog, Cooking With Ginger.

Gareth has some pals drop over unexpectedly last night, and there we were without any biscuits to offer. These evenings typically consist of the lads sitting around on the couch in a cloud of smoke, playing records and scoffing tea and biscuits into the wee small hours. It soon became apparent that without something buttery and sugary to dunk into their mugs it just wasn't going to work. 

I happened to be leafing though the latest copy of Good Food magazine, which I'd purchased in spite of my New Year's resolve to buy less food magazines. D'oh! They had a great Mother's Day feature in which readers sent in favourite recipes handed down from their mums. I pounced on these Simple Jammy Biscuits, because the title says it all! Simple, jammy, biscuit – how can you go wrong?

The blokes usually tear into packets of nasty supermarket-brand Custard Creams, Rich Tea and Bourbons. How can I put this nicely? These biscuits are shite. They cost about 59p for a huge pack and they're full of hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially inverted glucose syrups and a rainbow of colourings and flavours. I usually sit frowning into my tea, watching the boys demolish them by the handful and thinking, that ain't good for you! Butter, sugar and jam are hardly have a place in the temple of health foods but at least you know what you're dealing with there. 

So I had an attack of the 50s Housewife, disappeared into the kitchen and had these babies in the oven within ten minutes. The biscuits in the magazine picture were golden discs of perfection. Mine were lumpy and sprawling but they were happily scoffed by Gareth and friends. I'm still being a Sugar Martyr so I only stole one bite. They were beautifully buttery, simple, soft and Mumsy – ideal for mindless dunking into tea. 


I'll scan the magazine picture later so you can see the more appetising, non-deformed version!


Source: Good Food, March 2006
Makes: 12 

200g/8oz self-raising flour
100g/4oz caster sugar
100g/4oz butter
1 egg, lightly beaten 
4 tbsp strawberry jam (I used Bonne Maman Raspberry. Choice!) 

Heat oven to 190°C, Rub the flour, sugar and butter together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Alternatively, you can do this in the food processor (Yeah right. I did it by hand, less washing up that way!) 

Add enough egg to bring the mixture together to form a stiff dough. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a tube, about 5cm in diameter. Cut into 2cm-thick slices and place on a large baking sheet. Space them out as the mixture will spread while baking. Make a small indentation in the middle of each slice with the end of a wooden spoon, and drop a teaspoon of jam in the centre. 

Bake for 10-15 minutes until slightly risen and just golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Note: Next time I'd probably make 24 wee ones instead of the recommended 12, so you'd get more jam per bite!

Per Biscuit: 170 calories, 5g saturated fat. WW Points: 3.5 (ouch!)

Recipe Corner: A Little Chunk of Oz

This post was imported from my short-lived, now-defunct food blog, Cooking With Ginger.

noice, different.

Just when the body has recovered from the guts-and-starch-orama that is Burns Night, along comes Australia Day on January 26. If I was Down Under I 'd have celebrated traditionally beneath relentless sunshine — pavlova, snags on the barbie and the Triple J Hottest 100 Countdown blaring on the radio. But I was in Scotland, so I trudged off to work in the darkness. On the way home I bought a can of Fosters Lager for 67p, presented it to Gareth and said, "Happy Australia Day!"

"Ah, thanks!" he said and wrinkled up his nose. "How about some lamingtons?" 

Crikey. Lamingtons. Baking and diets are incompatible. Sure, one may experiment with applesauce and low-fat margarine and artificial sweeteners. But for me, if it's not the real deal I'd rather not eat it at all. And since I can't seem to bake without licking the bowl, spoon and kitchen bench clean, my tactic has been to completely avoid baking altogether while trying to lose weight.

Unless, of course, it's a Special Occasion™. Recently I surveyed the year ahead and declared the following 2006 Official Special Occasions:

  • Australia Day
  • Wedding Anniversary – March 3
  • Anzac Day – April 25 – the mandatory Anzac Biscuits
  • Easter – It's about time I learned to make Hot Cross Buns
  • Gareth's Birthday – August 12
  • My Birthday – November 1
  • Christmas Day – an inevitable trifle

Now that sounded all well and good, until I added a few Supplementary Occasions. Such as the Anniversary of the Day I Moved To Scotland, the Anniversary of the Day I Met Gareth, the Anniversary of Our First Date and the Anniverary of the Day I Discovered Green and Blacks Chocolate. Then there's the birthdays of my mum, sister, best friend and grandmother. They don't live anywhere near me but it would be rude not to have cake in their honour. And while I'm at it, I should pay respect to Halloween, the summer solstice and the National Days of a few obscure African nations.

It is all too easy to find a flimsy premise for a baking frenzy, and before you know it your healthy habits have been derailed. But there is something so fundamentally peaceful and satisfying about smushing butter and sugar together; of cracking eggs and waiting impatiently by the oven door, that I can't imagine limiting that pleasure to a few times a year. So here are a few more tactics I've employed:

  • Bake smaller quantities. I love fruit scones, and once had a craving that would not shut up. So I got a trusty recipe and divided the quantities until it yielded just four scones. Yes, it's not very energy efficient to fire up the oven for such a small batch, but two for me and two for Gareth meant I could answer the Call of the Scone without the Baker's Remorse for weeks afterward.  
  • Go through your favourite recipes and enter the ingredients into a calorie counter/recipe builder/Points©™® Calculator such as Weight Loss Resources. How many calories per serve? How much saturated fat? How small can you make the servings to reduce the damage but still be satisfying? Some results will be so shocking it will put you off them for life, but others will surprise and be a managable treat.
  • Bake stuff you don't like. For me the kick comes from the stirring, creaming and messing up the kitchen just as much from eating the results. So make something you don't fancy then give it someone who does.
  • Freeze half of the batch. But this only works if you can be trusted not to eat frozen cookie dough in a weak moment. Not that I've done that that or anything.
  • Bake for a crowd. I like to make a batch of brownies, allocate myself a piece or two, then take the rest to work where it's guaranteed to be snarfed up in minutes. This Bake-and-Dispose method means you are popular AND your house stinks deliciously of chocolate without affecting the size of your arse.

Anyway, back to the lamingtons. Lamingtons are a great Australian tradition, and defined as "a small square of sponge cake… coated all over in softish chocolate icing and then in desiccated coconut". An exhaustive history can be found here. I like my lamingtons after a day or two in the fridge, when chocolate icing has seeped into the sponge, making each bite a coconutty chocolately mess. It goes down like a charm with a cup of tea.

My grandmother is the master Lamington Maker. Her sponge is always light and airy. Her lammos are always uniform cubes, with just the right balance of icing and coconut. Back in the Farm Days she'd whip up a batch at Shearing Time. We'd carry them down to the shearing shed for morning tea, along with cheese and tomato sandwiches and Billy Tea. The shearers held the dainty cakes in their thick greasy hands, coconut flying in all directions. The dogs snuffled around on the wooden floors, searching for stray crumbs amongst the tufts of wool. My eyes would be glued to the Tupperware container, counting and calculating, hoping there'd be one left over for me.

I was discussing lamingtons with my grandmother when I was back in Oz last October, whining that mine were always a deformed, lumpy mess. The kitchen floor and my shirt inevitably wore more icing than the cakes. But she said the problem was my technique. I'd been cutting the cake into cubes then dunking them in the icing, fondue stylee, then throwing them into the dish and pelting them with coconut. She said it was far easier to divide the cake mixture into two loaf tins, then simply ice a WHOLE cake and roll it in the coconut, one side at a time. Then once it's set you cut it into smaller pieces and then carefully ice the remaining sides. Much tidier and far quicker. 

I should have quit while I was ahead

The cake in loaf form.

Well that all sounded very good in theory but my lamingtons turned out just as sloppy as ever. First I realised after 25 minutes that I'd set the oven ten degrees too low, so I turned it up to 180 then promptly forgot about it. So the cakes were a little bronzed and dry. It was somewhat easier to ice a whole cake in loaf form, but I still had my usual problems of dripping excess icing into the coconut dish, and spraying excess coconut into the icing dish. Oh, and excessive manhandling of the cakes, resulting in huge thumb dents and smudges that you can only fill in with so much coconut.

So: lamingtons! Very Australian, very tasty, but very messy. By the time I'd made the bastards I was so cranky that I didn't want to eat them. Now there's another Diet Baking Tip: Bake something so convoluted and frustrating that you'd rather throw it at a wall than eat it! 

Crikey Mate! It's a mess.


Source:  The Grandmothership
Makes:  24  (or 12 bigguns if you are greedy, or just too lazy to go on)

For the cake
125 g butter
125 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs
250 g self-raising flour
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease and line a rectangular tin (30 x 22 cm approx) or two loaf tins. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Add flour and milk alternately, beat well. Pour into tin(s), smooth surface with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes or until risen and firm. Allow to stand for a few minutes then turn out onto a rack. Once cooled, refrigerate cake at least 30 minutes before icing. 

For the icing
125 ml boiling water
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
500 g pure icing sugar, sifted
250 g dessicated coconut

Mix water, cocoa, butter and vanilla togeter in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Gradually beat in icing sugar to form a smooth mixture. Trim cake edges and cut into 24 cubes, or less if you want bigger lamingtons. Place coconut onto a tray or dish ready for rolling. Using a fork, dip cake into icing then toss in the coconut. Leave on a cake rack to dry for a wee while.

NB: I tend to use slightly less water so the icing is thicker if doing the whole cake method, as opposed to the fondue-esque technique.