Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake - a là Nigella Lawson

 Mr P. can still surprise me after all these years: he doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter together!  Quelle horreur!  I used to make a fluffy PB cheesecake on a chocolate crust.  He told me after some years that he didn't like it.  Whaaaat the?  Sacrilege, my dears.  But I love the salty, sweet combo, so this is right up my alley, and down my gullet.

Here we have another Nigella recipe, from her book Cook, Eat, Repeat.  I've said before that Nigella has been a lasting influence on my cooking - her simple techniques and family-friendly flavours.  A friend of mine recently spoke of her with disdain - to my horror.  He thought she was uppity and snobby and so on.  Hmmmph, is all I can say to that.  Though I have to confess, when I saw her 'in concert' so to speak a few years ago, she was - mmm - incredibly dull.  Perhaps if she weren't beautiful and rich and well-connected ...     

soooo delicious, she says modestly

Serves 8-12:


for the cake:

200g./7oz unsalted butter (use salted if you wish; I won't tell) which you have chopped into biiiig chunks

250 mL/8.5oz just-boiled water

50g./1.8oz cocoa

100g./3.5oz soft dark brown sugar 

125g./4.5oz caster sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

225g./8oz plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarb of soda

2 large eggs 

For the icing:

300g./10.5oz icing sugar (powdered sugar)

150g./5.3oz unsalted butter, at room temp.

200g./7oz smooth peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

4 x 15mL/0.5oz tbs thickened cream/double cream

Decorate with:

a couple of palmfuls (Nigella says 60g./2oz) of roasted peanuts or nuts of your choice


Whack your oven on at 180C/350F

Butter 2 x 20cm/8 inch cake tins, and line with baking paper 

Grab a large and wide (ish) saucepan, into which you put the butter, the boiled water, the cocoa and both sugars

Have it on a low heat, and whisk gently away till everything is beautifully amalgamated

Take it off the heat, whisk in the vanilla, and leave to cool for five minutes

In a smallish mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and bicarb soda together

Grab a small jug and whisk the eggs lightly together

Pour and whisk the eggs gradually into the cocoa mixture till well combined

Lastly, whisk in the flour mixture gently till you have a beautiful, smooth, dark batter

Pour into the prepared tins, and bake for 18-20 minutes - till a skewer (yes, you guessed it) is plunged into its dark heart and comes out kinda/mostly clean

Let the cakes sit around (on racks) ruminating on life for fifteen minutes while you make the icing

Sift the icing sugar/mixture into a large bowl 

Grab another large mixing bowl (or the stand mixer bowl if using), and beat the PB and butter together for 3-5 minutes (five mins. with a hand whisk), then beat in the vanilla and salt

Now add the icing sugar bit by bit into the butter/PB mix; and keep going till all the sugar is incorporated (you can get a bit frisky after you've beaten half the sugar in, and go for it in three biiiig amounts)

Keep beating for three minutes; scrape the mixture down and beat for another minute

And add the cream spoon by spoon, (whilst still beating), then keep beating for six minutes until it's soft and light and airy

Peel off the baking paper from the cooled cake bottoms, lay one layer down on a serving plate, flat-side up and spread a third of the icing over the cake with an angled/offset palette knife/spatula   

On goes the second cake layer, flat-side down (dome-side up), and slap on another third of the icing, all over the top of the cake

The rest of the icing goes over the sides of the whole cake; smooth it out and top with the nuts (or not, as you choose)

The cake will last in an airtight container for 3-4 days, or in the fridge if you live in sunny, humid Queensland :-)


Nigella says you can make this in 4 shallow cake tins; if you're interested in that, check out her website, 'cos I think 2 layers is fine

I quite like salted butter in sweets, so go ahead and use it if you wish in the cake and the icing

Okay, I confess; I used icing mixture, not icing sugar!  Who cares?  It's so much easier to use

And I reckon I'll use crunchy PB next time.  I like it crunchy!  Just don't use the health-store stuff; Nigella says to use regular commercial PB

whisk in the water, cocoa and sugars with the butter

whisk the flour, baking powder and bicarb soda, then the eggs, 

lastly you add in the flour mixture after the eggs

pour the batter into the prepared tins

beat the devil out of that PB and butter

till you get this

spread a third of the icing over the bottom layer

iced and ready to go

afternoon tea

Mr P. had his lady employee in on the day I made this beauty; he had a designer mate from up north visiting, and another northern lady designer in, and then another designer mate dropped by, and I took some over to our elderly neighbour, and then Princess Pia dropped by for a piece ...  By the end of the day, we had demolished much of the cake.  But I did put the rest in the fridge.  It's hot and it's humid here, and I didn't want buttercream icing slip-sliding away.  

© Sherry's Pickings

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Violet Crumble Friands

Mm, I haven't made friands for centuries.  Maybe it's the thought of using six egg whites in one go ...  So I saw this recipe the other day (on Facebook?) and decided I'd try it out.  I love a Violet Crumble, probably even more than the (British) Crunchie bar.  It's the original honeycomb bar, covered in chocolate, and is still made in Australia (after a hiatus of some years).  'They're big and they're crunchy', as the old saying goes, or not.  (Google Bobo from the Fat Pizza tv show.)  

I had to laugh when Mr P. told me he'd offered a 'freon' to our neighbour, Princess Pia.  As you probably know, this is a tasteless, odourless gas used in refrigerants, and is well poisonous!  I definitely didn't bake some of those :-)  Princess P. suggested strongly that I make them again, as her house painter had eyed them off, and she felt obliged to give him one.  I kindly gave her an extra one, so she didn't suffer.  Chocolate soothes the savage breast, or is that beast?  She's having her house lifted and renovated, and it is VERY stressful for her.  Those darn tradies stomping their way around the house in their dust-ridden boots ...

tender, chocolatey, tasty morsels


240g. (8.5 oz) icing sugar/powdered sugar

25g. (1oz) cocoa powder

120g. (4.2 oz) almond meal

75g. (2.6 oz) plain flour

185g. (6.5 oz) butter, melted and cooled

6 large egg-whites, lightly whisked with a fork or hand whisk till white and frothy

2 x 50g. (1.8 oz) Violet Crumble bars, chopped roughly (keep a dozen pieces to top the friands after baking if you wish)

icing sugar and cocoa powder for dusting


Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl

Whisk in the almond meal and plain flour

Make a well in the centre of the dry mix, pour in the butter, and add the egg whites

Whisk or stir till well combined

Add the pieces of Violet Crumble, and stir them in

Spoon (or pour from a jug) the batter into a well-greased 12-hole friand or muffin tin

Bake at 180C fan-forced, or 200C without the fan for about 15-20 minutes

Check with a skewer into its dark, chocolatey heart - if the skewer is clean, the friand is done

Let them cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then tip them out onto a wire rack

Dust with icing sugar and cocoa powder, and jam a piece of Violet Crumble into each friand if you feel so inclined

sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together

whisk the dry ingredients together

bash your bars into pieces

whisk the egg whites till frothy

whisk in the egg whites

stir in the choc bar pieces

pour into the friand tin

after 20 minutes at 180C fan forced

dusted and ready to eat

artwork © Sherry's Pickings

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Pasta with Mushroom Cheese Sauce and Basil

Regular readers may be aware that I'm not a huge pasta fan, especially if it comes floating in a sea of tomato sauce.  Darn those Spanish conquistadors.  Did they have to bring the tomato back to Europe, after invading the Aztec empire?  Ah well, at least they brought back chocolate, for all the chocoholic fiends (who? Me?).  

So you're probably thinking, what's going on here?  Well, this is pasta enveloped in a cheesy sauce, made with Mersey Valley spreadable cheese.  I decided to make (nearly) the ultimate sacrifice, and give this recipe a go for the blog.  Mr P. was very happy, as he looooves pasta.

This recipe is on the packet, and normally I shy away from such things, but this one caught my eye, so here we are.  I added bacon to it for a meaty zing, but make it without and you have an easy vego dinner.  This soft cheese is described as 'Vintage Club Cheddar, sharp and creamy', so you get the idea if you're hunting up a similar cheese.  Apparently a Club Cheddar is a mix of cheeses, blended till it becomes soft in texture.

creamy, cheesy, herby - delish!

Serves 4:


300-350g./10.5-12.3oz pasta (fusilli or penne)

2 tbs olive oil

1 brown onion, chopped

3 rashers (about 100g./10.5oz) rindless bacon, chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

250g./8oz of mushrooms, sliced

375 mL (1½ cups) of cream - thickened or pure

1/2 bunch basil leaves, chopped or torn

150g./5oz of Mersey Valley Spreadable cheese

a hefty dash of dried oregano, and of lightly dried chives (optional)

sea salt and black pepper, to taste

40g./1.4oz of parmesan cheese, grated


Fill a large saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil (see next step now), tip in your pasta of choice and cook it for the requisite number of minutes as per the packet - or to your favoured degree of al dente

While the water decides to boil, get on with the sauce - i.e. start chopping!

Grab a large saucepan or frypan, pour in the oil, let it heat up, then tip in the onion, bacon, garlic and mushrooms

Stir till everything becomes tender, golden and smells delicious

Now pour in the cream, and let it simmer till the sauce starts to thicken

Grab a wooden spoon and stir in the Mersey Valley cheese

Turn down the heat, and season with the salt and pepper

Throw on the basil leaves, and the dried herbs, toss the drained pasta and sauce together, and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese

Serve with a chopped tomato and red onion salad - tomato, red onion, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper


Their recipe says to cook up the pasta after the sauce is done, but that seems odd to me, as your sauce will be sitting around getting cold and gluggy for up to 20 minutes!  I reckon start the pasta when you start chopping, so they're ready at the same time

They say use 350 grams of pasta - this is a lot!  You can easily use less, unless you really love lots (and lots) of pasta with your sauce

gather your ingredients

sauté the veg.

add the cream and basil

get Mr P. to stir in the pasta

grate the parmesan

and eat!

This is a very rich dish, so you may not need a lot of it.  The salad helps cut the kilojoules (if only!).  I've been giving meals to our elderly neighbour during Covid, so we took a bowl over to her.  I hope she doesn't think I'm trying to do her in - death by cholesterol:-)

(Joining up with Marg from the Intrepid Reader for Weekend Cooking.)

artwork © Sherry's Pickings

Monday, 1 February 2021

In My Kitchen - February 2021

It's February, it was our wedding anniversary on the first, and wow, we must be old - our 35th!  Crumbs, I don't know where the years went.  Mr P. arranged the whole shebang (in our friends' backyard), and I just turned up in a pink dress that I'd bought the day before.  He had a female 'best man'; we had 30 guests, and the food was catered by a local café.  And it cost about $500 all up.  I'm thinking that even all those years ago, that was a bloody cheap wedding:-)

So it's time for another IMK.  We're sweltering away in another hot, humid Brisbane summer.  And thankfully, the border with New South Wales is about to come down next week.  I can't wait to head over the border and check out our fave art gallery and our fave seaside towns on the 'other side'.  

I hope your January has been a good one, and I look forward to checking out your IMK posts.  Feel free to let your foodie blogging friends know they are welcome to join us!  Just a reminder: IMK posts are about your kitchen (and maybe garden) happenings over the past month.  Dishes you've cooked, or preserves you've made, or herbs and veg in your garden, kitchen gadgets, and goings-on.  You get the picture:-)  And one curveball!  Throw in whatever you fancy.   

In My Kitchen:

leftover panettone with raspberry and lemon sorbets

Our friend Princess Pia gave us a lemon-scented panettone.  I tore it up and made layers of panettone, interspersed with layers of sorbets.  Then fresh raspberries and blueberries went on top.  Yep, it was delicious.

my cousin sent me this

My cousin always sends me interesting food items for Christmas; here we have some coconut bacon.  It was ... interesting, but I'll stick to the real stuff.  Sorry, little porcine beasties!

I bought more olive oil, and olives in apple balsamic

I like to buy boutique olive oil, and I got some olives in apple balsamic too.   Very tasty!

my homemade Worcestershire sauce after filtering

I ended up with these three bottles, after my sauce had matured for a couple of weeks.  I filtered out all the bits and bobs, and bottled it.  I put in plums this year too, which gave it a fabulous texture and flavour.

ceramic plate with gum flowers

I grabbed this little beauty in Kingaroy.  It's made by a local artist - Fay Stumm, and depicts gumnuts and flowers (as in eucalyptus gum trees).

a gift from a friend

Gotta laugh at this one.  I shall enjoy shoving his head into a filthy saucepan!

Hojiblanca olive oil

More oil.  I loved the name of the olive variety: Hojiblanca.  It means white leaf in Spanish.

my curveball - a carpet python having a snooze in the windowsill

Well, I headed into my study on the weekend, to find this little (did I say little?) beauty snoozing away in the windowsill.  S/he was all curled up, in about three or four loops.  That's her head at the back right.  S/he stayed for a couple of days - digesting something I guess - then headed out to pastures new.  That's me done; now it's your turn.

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Monday, 25 January 2021

Apricot Harissa Chicken And Vegetables

 So I made the harissa last week in readiness for this recipe.  I find Cook, eat, repeat (Nigella's latest) more like her tv shows - very lyrical and wordy, and personal - in a good way.  I was saying to Mr P. the other day that I've learned most about cooking from my mum (of course), then Nigella and the marvellous Delia Smith. 

I still remember making a roux for white sauce, then adding the (cold) milk and stirring, stirring...  I used to sit on a high stool as I was - mm - rather short as a small child.  But who could forget Delia's marvellous method for bechamel?  Chuck everything into a saucepan and let it rip; i.e. stir madly till it all comes together.  Oops, sorry, that has nothing to do with this recipe.  Concentrate, woman!

ready to eat


900g./2 lb sweet potatoes - or use a mix of sweet and regular

2-3 red capsicum (about 400g./14 oz)

2 leeks or a mix of brown onions, French shallots and spring onions

45 mL/1.5 oz EV olive oil

60 mL/2 oz apricot harissa

1 kg/2.2 lb chicken thighs - choose bone-in, skin-on OR go for thigh fillets as I did, as Mr P. hates bones and skin:-)

2-3 limes, juiced (you want about 2 tbs)

2 tbs maple syrup (optional)

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp sea salt flakes

a wee bit (or a lot) of ground black pepper



On goes the oven at 200C/400F

Scrub and/or peel the sweet potatoes, and chop into 4-5cm chunks

Chop the capsicums into 4-5cm chunks (get rid of the seeds)

Clean and slice the leeks, or roughly chop the onion, shallots and spring onion

Cut each thigh fillet (if using) into three pieces; leave the bony ones whole

Grab your biggest roasting tin (or 2 as the case may be) and throw in the olive oil and harissa

Stir them together with a fork (or your hand), then in go the veg. and chicken, and toss very well together - I suggest using a food-safe glove as this is messy!

Now add the lime juice, the maple syrup, the oregano, salt and pepper and give it another toss

This will take 50 mins to 1 hour to bake: skin-on and bone-in thighs will take the hour most likely

Nigella says to serve with a salad; we did what we were told:-)


Nigella suggests a tray that is 34 x 37 x 5cm.  Mine was smaller, so I needed 2 trays

I used one brown onion, 3 French shallots and one fat spring onion.  Much to my surprise, Mr P. doesn't like leeks.  Who knew?!

I decided to add the oregano, maple syrup and pepper just for... They added a delicious frisson of flavour

ingredients gathered

and chopped

I used this chicken - vego fed!

seasoned and ready to go into the oven

baked till tender after 50 mins.

I'm hungry ...

I'm going in - as Nigella would say

and for those interested in Naked Ginger ...

artwork © Sherry's Pickings

Monday, 18 January 2021

Apricot Harissa a là Nigella

Happy New Year, my friends.  I hope you had a lovely festive break, and feel full of vim and vigour for 2021.  I'm not sure how I feel lately; life, blogging, writing, drawing, reading - they all seem a teensy bit hard right now, but let's keep on keeping on (as Martin Luther King once said).  So here's my first food post for this year - a recipe from Nigella's new book Cook, eat, repeat which Mr P. gave me for Christmas.  I am a big Nigella fan, and I love her new book which has lots of lovely essays as well as recipes.

During the Christmas break, Mr P. and I headed west to Murgon and Kingaroy, small Queensland towns.  He is designing a cultural centre in Murgon, and wanted to check the lay of the land.  We stayed in Kingaroy, the peanut capital.  And yes their peanuts are fabulous.  We loved the heritage-listed peanut silos out there - soooo huge!

the back end of the peanut silos

silos silos everywhere ... (built in 1938)

Silos to the right of us, silos to the left of us ... And a massive storm rolling in!  Anyway, back to the recipe.  Just so you know, I always re-write recipes from books, etc.  Re: copyright - a list of ingredients does not come under copyright but prose does, so I always re-write the method in my own words (and the ingredients if poss.).


20g. large dried chillies or 15-20g. small fresh red chillies

1 tsp cummin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp caraway seeds

the seeds from 4-5 cardamom pods

45g. soft dried apricots, chopped into 2 or 3 pieces

1 tsp ground turmeric (or 15g fresh turmeric, sliced)

4 juicy cloves of garlic

25g. fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

a few small pieces of naked ginger (uncrystallised ginger) (optional - my idea)

2 tsp dried rose petals (optional - my idea)

2 tsp sea salt flakes or 1 tsp fine salt

1 tsp sweet smoked paprika

60 mL (4 x 15 mL tablespoons) olive oil

1 tsp vinegar (I used raspberry 'cos that's what came to hand first, tho' Nigella says to use apple cider vinegar)


If using dried chillies, put them in a bowl and pour over 500 mL of boiling water, and let them soak for 15 minutes

Tip the four kinds of seeds into a small frying pan, and let them toast carefully over medium heat - watch them, my friends as they can burn so very easily!  Give them a bit of a shake often as they toast.  When they smell delightful after a few minutes, take them off the heat and tip into a bowl to cool

Grab your food processor (I used my small one), and throw in the apricot pieces, turmeric, garlic, ginger, naked ginger, rose petals, salt and paprika

Drain the dried chillies, take off the stalks, and chuck 'em into the processor - or if using fresh chillies, de-stalk and throw into the processor

Add the cooled spices, the oil and vinegar and blitz to a lovely, fiery paste - Nigella suggests using a bowl and a stick blender but I think the processor was a better bet


Try adding another couple of apricots if you want a fruitier flavour, and less chillies if they bring you out in a sweat

I only had small, fiery red chillies in my freezer so that's what I used - phew!  hot hot hot ... la la la ...

Naked ginger is ginger that has been infused in cane sugar syrup, and then allowed to dry out, with no crystals of sugar on the surface

gather your ingredients (this is 20g. small chillies BTW)

dry-toast your spices (no oil needed)

ready for zapping and blitzing

beautifully blitzed!

keeps for 2 weeks in the fridge

all ready for my next blog post :-)

artwork © Sherry's Pickings