Thursday 25 June 2020

Chocolate Midnight Cake

I've never baked as much in my life as during COVID.  Cakes mostly, but muffins, pies and tarts too.  I've been perusing a lot of cookbooks lately, and recently came across this book by Samin Nosrat - Salt Fat Acid Heat.  I really love this book!  It's full of food drawings (you can even buy a set of the artist's foodie handiwork), and lots of information about how cooking works.  

There are lots of recipes, of course, but also explanations of how and why things happen when you cook - things like Using Acid, or How to Salt, or What is Heat?  Very useful for a novice cook, I think.  She explains about Fat, and Rendering, and Fixing Emulsions, and about Using Recipes, amongst other things.  As Samin says: ' A good recipe can be invaluable, ... but no recipe is infallible.'  Never a truer word, I think ...  

just a wee bit of cream :-)

Serves 10-12:


50g. (1/2 cup) good-quality cocoa powder

300g. (1½ cups) caster sugar

1 tsp sea salt flakes

310g. (1¾ cups) plain flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp vanilla extract

120 mL (1/2 cup) flavourless oil (I used sunflower)

360 mL (1½ cups) boiling water, or strong coffee - I used 3 heaped teaspoons of strong, instant coffee powder with the boiling water

2 large eggs, lightly whisked

Chantilly cream:

500 mL (2 cups) whipping cream

1 heaped tbs icing sugar

1 healthy tsp vanilla extract

1 chocolate Flake bar for the top (optional)


Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F

Grease two 20cm./8 inch cake tins, then line the bottom with baking paper

Now grease the baking paper, tip some plain flour into each tin, making sure that the flour goes all around the tins

Tip out the excess flour, and leave the tins till needed - luckily for me, Mr P. always does the greasing :-)

Sift the cocoa, sugar, salt, flour and baking soda into a large mixing bowl

Grab a whisk, and now whisk these ingredients together well

Mix the vanilla and oil together in a medium bowl (or a Pyrex jug), then add the boiling water/coffee into this mixture

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and gradually stir  in the wet ingredients

Whisk in the eggs, till your batter is smooth - don't worry if it looks thin; it's meant to!

Put half the batter into each tin (Samin suggests dropping the tins onto the counter to get out any air bubbles, but I forgot)

Place the tins into the upper third of your oven for 25-30 minutes, till a skewer comes out clean, and the top of the cakes spring back to the touch

Cool them completely on a wire rack, take them out of the tins and pull off the paper

Put a thick layer of the cream that you have whipped with the vanilla and sugar into firm peaks, onto one layer of the cake

Whack on the second layer, (but gently!) and spread that glorious cream all over the top, and down the sides if you have enough

Sprinkle the Flake bar over the top, if using

Chill for a couple of hours before eating

Keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for several days


As the cookbook is American, I used Samin's U.S. amounts for the cake, but put them in grams and mLs for Aussie readers.  Does that make sense?  As in, a half cup for Aussies is 125 mL, but an American cup is smaller, so I used 120 mL, and so on ...

If your cakes end up slightly lopsided (like mine did), trim them a bit with a sharp knife before putting the cakes together

Don't know why it's called a Midnight cake, but as I used some black cocoa in the recipe, it did in fact turn into quite the Midnight cake

sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl

whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ones

whisk the eggs into the mixture

out of the oven after 30 minutes

level off the top if it's a wee bit crooked (that bit at the back looks like a spider!)

smother your cake with lots of Chantilly cream

ready to eat

yep, we hoed into it gleefully and with gusto

Princess Pia displaying her piece of cake before chowing down

a slightly grubby library copy :-) 

Wednesday 17 June 2020

The Cheffy Nephew's Quinoa Salad

I was chatting (via text) to my sister Blondie the other day, as we do every day.  We talked about what we'd been eating lately, as you do.  She told me her son (my cheffy nephew) had been cooking up quinoa for a salad.  Then she asked what I was up to?  I said blogging, and she said: 'How about The CN cooks up something for your blog?'  'Go for it!' I replied.  Et voilà, here we have his quinoa salad.  And yes, he is a qualified chef, as is my sister's son-in-law.  The nephew-in-law has a café in Melbourne called Settle Gretel if ever you're down that way.  (Yes, gratuitous, unashamed plug.)    

healthy salad for lunch

Serves 2:


1 cup water

1/2 cup organic quinoa, rinsed well under running water

1 small tomato, diced

1/4 continental cucumber, diced

half a large orange, segmented and chopped into chunks

1/3 red onion, finely sliced and sautéed in 1 tbs EV olive oil

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

2 tbs pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

2 tbs pine nuts (optional)


stir together lime juice, olive oil, salt (and sneak in some freshly ground black pepper), and pour over the salad.  I suggest 1 tbs lime juice to 2 tbs oil, and a really big pinch of salt (and pepper).  The cheffy nephew suggests you could use balsamic vinegar or a shop-bought dressing if you're taking it easy


Put the water and well-rinsed quinoa in a saucepan, bring to a boil, turn down and let it simmer for about fifteen minutes till tender; allow to cool

Place the quinoa in a large bowl; add the chopped tomato, cucumber, orange and sautéed onion

Give it all a good stir, then add the sunflower seeds, pepitas and pine nuts

Stir the dressing into the salad

Serve with extra tomato slices, cucumber, grated carrot and whatever else you fancy - some fetta or bocconcini would be nice, and some sliced apple or celery

gather your ingredients

1/2 cup quinoa cooked in  one cup of water for about fifteen minutes till tender

cheffy nephew about to start chopping

add the chopped tomato

chop that orange

dice the cucumber

finely slice the red onion for sautéeing

try some balsamic if you wish:-)

Hear the clatter!  Such a great sound.  (Press play twice if the video doesn't appear.)

add the seeds

ready to eat

looking delicious and healthy

gratuitous shot of the cheffy nephew :-)

(Thanks Sis for the photos and video.)

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Za'atar Salmon With White Bean Mash

Here we have another recipe from Yasmin Khan's delightful book - Zaitoun.  Salmon is often on the dinner roster here at chez Pickings, so I was happy to see another way of blinging it up.  I have some lovely memories of devouring smoked salmon in Scotland (the best I've ever eaten), and watching the fish travel up the Pitlochry salmon ladder.  Google it, my friends!

I have adjusted Yasmin's recipe a wee bit, as Mr P. and I felt the mash was kinda bland, and the fish ended up a bit dry.  Hubby gave me some suggestions to adjust to our tastes, so here is the Mr P. version:-)  I guess Yasmin really, really likes za'atar:-)  Or maybe she used a fresh, homemade version...

spicy salmon with bean mash

Serves 2-3:


For the paste:

2 tbs EV olive oil

1/2 tsp sea salt

half a dozen grinds of black pepper

 tbs za'atar 

2 salmon fillets - I used 4 small ones = 460g. (16 oz)

For the bean mash:

25g. (1 scant oz) butter

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

zest of 1 lemon

1 wedge of preserved lemon, finely chopped

a big pinch of sea salt

a few grinds of black pepper

400g. (14 oz) tin of cannellini beans, drained 

2 tbs water

2 tbs cream (optional)

fresh parsley - say a palmful? - chopped

1 tbs pine nuts (optional)

a bit more water (and/or cream) if the mash looks too dry


Make the paste by mixing the four ingredients together

Slather it on the non-skin side of the fish

Place the coated fish, skin-side down, on a lined baking tray

Bake at 200C/400F for 11-13 minutes; I suggest checking for your fave 'doneness' after ten minutes

While the fish is baking, make the mash

Melt the butter, then add the garlic, lemon zest and preserved lemon

Stir over a low heat for a few minutes

Add the salt and pepper, beans, water and cream; stir in well, and let the beans warm up for a couple of minutes

Take off the heat and mash roughly with a fork or masher

Add the parsley and pine nuts, and a bit more water/cream/salt and pepper if needed

Give it a final stir, and serve with the baked fish and a salad of chopped cucumber and tomato, or veg. of your choice


Use up to 3 tbs of za'atar if you really love it.  Yasmin's recipe does say 3 tbs but Mr P. says it is too much:-)  I agree!  It overpowered the fish

Yasmin uses one clove of garlic; we used two but I reckon you could even go for three

Check the fish after ten minutes in the oven; we found 12-13 minutes was a bit too far for our tastes

fish ready for the oven

cooking up the bean mash

Mr P. does the mashing - borrow him, if you like :-)

baked - after twelve minutes

ready to eat

artwork © Sherry's Pickings

Monday 1 June 2020

In My Kitchen - June 2020

Winter is upon us, here in sunny Queensland.  That means average daily temps of about 20C - yep I hear you northern hemisphere types sniggering.  But we rug up, and whack on the heating, and drink hot chocolate in cafés.  It's actually on June 12 that we can do more drinking in cafés, and so on.  'Twill be Stage two restrictions, so things will be lightening up somewhat: twenty people at a funeral, ten people in your house - exciting times!  Hope you're all coping well during COVID, my virtual friends.  It has been a slog, hasn't it?

Let's talk about kitchens!  Not much happened in mine during May, but I do have a few things to show you.  I did do a lot of cooking, but not much for the blog, and nothing very exciting.  But it is a comfort to be tootling around in the kitchen, I find.

blanching celery

Exciting stuff!  I needed a wee bit of celery recently, but Mr P. brought back a huge bunch from the shop.  Not his fault; that's all they had.  Our mate Princess Pia happened to be over, and suggested freezing it.  So I googled it, and yes you need to blanch it for a few minutes, then freeze it.  Yeehah!  I used to throw so much away (sorry, guilty as charged), but now I am the freezer queen:-)

my collection of supoons

I am a mad keen supoon fan.  As you can see, I have a few.  I use them so often that I wonder how I did without them before.  Believe it or not, I often use more than one at a time.  So useful to scrape out jars, etc.

lime curd
I made lime curd/butter with organic limes gifted from friends' trees.  So tangy and delicious.

Greek olive oil and salt

In my COVID madness, I went and bought some Greek goodies online.  Total madness!  Don't know what came over me ...

Greek oregano and sea salt
All I really wanted was some oregano :-)   Tee hee ...

birthday cake
I actually made two birthday cakes in April for Mr P. and Princess Pia, whose birthdays are only a few days apart.  This was the second one, covered in gold bling.

Plump red chillies from my cousin's garden.  That's us in the background photo with Mr P.; just a few years ago ...

an exciting shot of my kitchen drawer

This is COVID-clean:-)  My new term for all the decluttering I've been doing during the social iso.  I bought another wee tray and shoved lots of excess things in it, so now there is actually some room there.  Especially now I have de-registered some old stuff, and sent it to the archives.  Sorry, librarian-speak; can't help myself.

So that's it for this month in my COVID kitchen.  I'm looking forward to your posts as usual.  It has been fascinating catching up with people virtually, and seeing how they're coping.  Many bloggers have gone great guns, and ramped up their output.  I am merely puttering along, but doing my best.  Take care!

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In My Kitchen:

Moya @ Food and Tools

Pauline @ Happy Retirees Kitchen