Orange and Almond cupcakes

This morning it threatened to rain and spoil the planned amble of the Gentlemen’s Walking Group. Mr Tranquillo and two of his mates do an easy eight kilometre walk once a month. There was much checking of the radar, a flutter of emails beforehand about the location, wet weather gear, pick up spot, as well as the proximity of a nearby cafe. It always makes me laugh, reminding me of an old joke about feminists and light bulbs!

This time the café is here in my little castello.  The bush walk is in the foothills nearby. These orange and almond cupcakes are easy to whip up, it’s a foolproof recipe.  They look a bit Cafe-ish and taste un po’ siciliano.  They have become my morning tea standby and I wish I could remember the original source. It comes from my faded handwritten cake book, the one dedicated to cake recipes that actually work. Do you, fellow bloggers, friends and readers, note the source of your recipes when re-writing them in your special book?


125 grams butter, softened

2/3 cup caster sugar

1 large orange, rind zested, then juiced (to make 1/4 cup of juice)

2 large eggs

1 cup Self Raising flour

3/4 cup almond meal

Pure icing sugar to dust.


Heat oven to 180c. Beat the butter, sugar and rind in a mixer for 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add a little flour if the mixture begins to curdle. Then add flour, orange juice and almond meal. Beat with a large spoon to incorporate.  Grease one large 12 hole muffin tin, then add large muffin cases. Distribute mixture evenly into cases.  Bake for 18- 20 mins, or until golden brown.

Cool in pan for five or so minutes, then again on a wire rack.

Peel papers off to serve, dust with icing sugar.

They keep well for around three days in a container, or longer in the fridge. They can be jazzed up for dessert with marscarpone or whipped cream and berries.

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Life of an intellectually bereft blogger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday the power was off all day and my usual pastimes were just not available! Internet, writing, blogging, researching – the computer battery only lasts an hour or so; watering the garden, no- we live in the country and our tank water is supplied via an electric pump, vacuuming, no- this is a joke, Mr Tranquillo always does this, baking cakes, cooking farro salad, pasta, no electric oven, no water. And so on.  After a cleaning frenzy, reading and some handwriting in an exercise book (!), I ventured out for a drive and purchased, amongst other things, Vogue Living Magazine ( November/December 2013) . My enjoyment of enforced leisure and the new glossy mag slowly faded after reading the editorial by its Melbourne editor, Anne Marie Kiely.

Anne Marie Kiely opens her article “The War Against Cliché ” with reference to the clichéd use of language, a topic close to my heart and of interest to many bloggers. She notes the overuse of words such as ‘iconic’, and expressions such as “it’s not rocket science” and “at the end of the day”. Hang on, didn’t Don Watson expose these exact words and phrases in his excellent ‘Weasel Words – Contemporary Clichés, Cant and Management Jargon’ back in 2004 and subsequent editions?  Or did Anne Marie just discover this 10 years later? But I digress.

She continues, “clichés are the currency of publicity machines, in the full service of capitalist consumption. They are the trend forecasters that have made pattern recognition into the big business of future prediction….They ( clichés) are suburban homes hung with hunting lodge trophies. They are the Hans Wegner ‘Wishbone’ chairs made mainstream by replica merchants … they are neo-19th century faces with full beards; library cards printed with business credentials; boxed moths; bottled gardens; flowers as food; pop- up shops; and endless typography installations ( if Eat is essential provocation in the kitchen, will POO do above the loo?). They are Keep Calm and Carry On posters ( a trend as tenacious as teenage acne); bowls of string balls; numbers stencilled onto gym- locker storage; clusters of empty frames; ‘artisanal’ everything………… clichés are the intellectually bereft speak of bloggers ( not all, but most) who think that something is good because they like it, rather than something being likeable because it’s good….. Oh, it was so much easier when a clearly defined culture of criticism placed talent in an understandable hierarchy. That was before ‘digital’ went and democratised media and destabilised structure such that all sentiment assumed equal weight.”

Hmmm. All very clever, except that Anne Marie, it seems, as Melbourne Editor of Vogue  Living, is an employee of News Corp Australia. It’s hard to find many ‘publicity machines’ that are not owned by News Corp, ie Rupert Murdoch, in Australia.  Media which (at present) lies outside this insidious monopoly, include privately owned blogs, many foreign newspapers, and a wealth of other online news and resources. I have recently enjoyed reading the blogs of talented writers from Italy and intriguing storytellers from Sydney, press articles from newspapers around the globe, and so on, all free and beyond the clutches of News Corp and its mighty taste sculpting, clichéd machine. Talented bloggers must present a bit of a threat to the exclusive domain of journalists such as Anne Marie Kiely.

A quick browse through Vogue Living will reveal a cluster of empty frames used as decor, (the back side page of her editorial) large advertisements for Matt Blatt replicas and Milandirect, both companies specialising in knock off designs. I am sure that other clichéd homewares were once featured in Vogue Living before they became suburban and therefore less desirable and exclusive.

As well as Vogue Living,  News Corp owns the following media assets worldwide.  Quickly scroll through this long list of Murdoch media assets  and then decide, fellow bloggers, readers, and friends, who has the more ‘authentic’ voice? A humble blogger, talented or not, or Ms Anne Marie Kiely, employee and pawn of News Corp, arbiter of fashion, taste; exclusivist?

*Photo of me doing my Munch SCREAM face again.



Pizza Wars. La Porchetta, Greensborough

Is the Pope a Catholic? This is the response that comes to mind when the waitress asks us if we would like our pizza with anchovies! We always order Pizza Napolitana because of the anchovies, so the question strikes me as very odd.  Yes, please!  Anchovies are the best thing about  pizzas. Young chef Daisy loves anchovies and usually picks these off first, followed by the olives, savouring all that saltiness, before eating the plain doughy remains.  Her favourite outing is a train ride, followed by a pizza at – La Porchetta! Some of you may be thinking – Pizza Industriale and you would be right. La Porchetta is a pizza chain franchised throughout Melbourne, often making more headlines for gangland or mafia activity than for pizzas. Providing a large family style restaurant setting, it fits my policy of reviewing all pizza restaurants in Melbourne. There may be thousands so its a mission of some proportion. Humble and famous are included.

Although La Porchetta has a formulaic approach to their menus, some branches do better than others,  with new chalked menu offerings. The Greensborough branch does it well. The pizza menu also offers two styles- Traditional and Artigianale.  Artiginale/ artisan is to Pizza what bespoke is to Kevin McCloud’s house renovations. As far as I’m concerned, I am the only one in Melbourne making truely artigianale pizza, but I digress. I am yet to try one of these supposed hand crafted numbers from La Porchetta!

We ordered a large Napolitana, $14.50, and a half litre of house wine, $7.50. The retro styled carafe of cask wine was light and dry and suited the occasion. Cheap and cheerful.

My ratings. Setting- 5, pizza- 5, value for money- 10, the Irish waitress who loves kids, gives them stamps and coloured pencils and does tricks, 100.


These are considered some of Melbourne’s better Pizza restaurants. I am keen to try them all.

Melbourne Cup Day Italian Style

Cup day for many Melbournians is as big as Christmas.  It’s not just about the horses, or the lovely Spring weather, the State holiday, or the frocks. Cup Day marks the beginning of our festive season; it’s a carnival and I love it!  Always occurring on the first Tuesday of November, many Melbournians take advantage of this and enjoy a four day holiday. Not much point in going to work or school on the Monday is there?  Oaks Day, or ‘Ladies Day’ follows on the Thursday-  which provides another excuse for a party with all your amiche, preferably wearing an OTT hat and drinking more vino frizzante.

Mr Tranquillo doesn’t particularly care for Cup Day. He dislikes gambling, is not interested in horses, it’s a mug’s game as far as he is concerned. He and I belong to that old Australian cultural divide- Scottish/Irish, Presbyterian/Catholic, wowser/splurger, squatter/working class.  These class and religious divisions have largely disappeared from multi- cultural Australia, hooray, but can re-emerge on Melbourne Cup Day here in our little Castello. I’m the card-playing, dancing mad Irish woman when it comes to Cup Day and he becomes the sensible, taciturn Scot. Whilst I run about writing silly lists for finger food,  Mr Tranquillo calmly works on the gardens. It’s party time again and it will stay that way for at least two months.  We can all breathe a sigh of relief on New Year’s Day when I put my Irish party monster to rest.

My search has begun for Italian sounding horses for the Corsa di Cavalli, the ‘big horse race that stops the nation’. There are ten races on the day, and my rule is that the horse must have an Italian name.  It’s a kind of system for a once a year gambler. Some beautiful sounding cavalli con nomi italiani are running this year. Bella Roma, Pelicano and Lampedusa just to name a few but in the big race, the Melbourne Cup,  Dandino, Fiorente and Ruscello  are my hot tips for this year’s Melbourne cup. But please don’t follow me, my “Italian name” approach to betting is rarely successful!!

The party food  prep for Cup Day is a dress rehearsal for the whole mad season.  Bite size portions -stuzzichini- will enable the guests to sip champagne, check the form guide, eat, manage bets online, and watch the horses parade on the TV, simultaneously.  My first little finger food offering, Pesto Arancini, will be served with a sugo di arrabiatta – a chilli laced tomato sauce and caper berry on piccolissimo plates.  The beauty is that they can be made ahead of time, frozen and reheated on the day. There will be nine other mini piatti to go with each race.  Can I take photos of each dish on the day? I don’t think I’m that dexterous.

Arancini di pesto

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons butter

1 small onion very finely chopped

1 cup arborio rice *

3 cups stock, made with one vegetable or chicken stock cube, heated

3 generous tablespoons pesto

1 cm cubes of mozzarella or bocconcini

1 cup plain flour

3 eggs lightly beaten

two cups dried breadcrumbs

vegetable oil to deep fry.

Heat oil in a large heavy based saucepan. ( ideally cast iron ) Add the  onion and gently cook for a few minutes until soft. Add the rice, tossing till coated, then add the hot stock, stir a little, then put the lid on, turn to low heat, ad cook for around 20-25 minutes. There is no need to make a serious risotto style dish for Arancini. Cheat!

Transfer the rice to a bowl and while cooling, add the pesto. Stir, let cool completely, then chill overnight.

Take a heaped tablespoon or so of the mixture, and roll into balls. Push a little cube of mozzarella ( or other melting cheese) into the centre and re-shape, roll in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Chill again.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, cook the arancini in batches for a few minutes until crisp and golden brown, Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain. When cool, place the balls on a baking tray lined with non-stick paper: freeze until solid. Then remove and pop into plastic storage bags.

When required, heat the oven to 180c ( 400 F), and reheat, covered with foil for 15 minutes. Serve the arancini with arrabbiata.

* I use an everyday arborio rice for this dish, saving the good stuff, Vialone Nano and Canaroli, for risotto.

Photos. The arancini is stages of production. My balls are a bit larger than I wanted! Onto a tray for initial freezing.  Into stand up plastic zip lock bags once frozen. Re-heated in the oven ( 180c) for 20-25 minutes. Served with arrabbiata sauce and a caper berry.

pesto rice, ready to rock and roll
pesto rice, ready to rock and rollMy big balls! I wanted them smaller.

My big balls! I wanted them smaller.Frying the arancini- don't crowd the pot.
Frying the arancini- don’t crowd the pot.
ready for the freezer
ready for the freezer

Frozen arancini bagged for later use.
Frozen arancini bagged for later use.

Time to sample- the night before.
Time to sample- the night before.