Gypsy and the Botanist

Month: August, 2014

Chocolate beetroot cake.

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Today marks the last day of winter. Beetroot, a sweet and earthy root vegetable, sings of winter, and rich, decadent roasts. However, the deep pink stains that it cries upon contact sing to the pops of colour that emerge with spring.  It’s arguably, a trans-seasonal vegetable. With my Polish upbringing, beetroot was commonly used in dishes throughout my growing up, mostly used as a sweet touch to rich meals. With this in mind, I decided to take the beetroot, and make it the centre-piece of a light chocolate cake to bring in spring. The earthiness of the beetroot carries the chocolate especially well, and the vanilla bean cream cheese frosting gives it enough creaminess to bring it together, without making it a heavy cake.



250g raw beetroots, peeled and finely grated

A piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated

4 eggs, separated

250g good quality dark chocolate, melted

Juice of 1 orange

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of nutmeg

120ml olive oil

250g plain flour, sifted

2 teaspoons of baking powder

100g brown sugar


Vanilla bean cream cheese frosting

125g unsalted butter, softened

200g full-fat cream cheese

250g icing sugar, sifted

1 vanilla bean


Preheat the oven to 180C.

Beat the egg yolks with the brown sugar until creamy. Stir in the beetroot, ginger, olive oil, raisins, orange juice, and cinnamon and nutmeg. Then add the melted chocolate. Once combined, add in the flour and baking powder, and stir to combine well. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, and fold into the beetroot mixture.

Transfer the mixture into a prepared tin, and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake skewer is inserted into the centre and comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and leave to cool completely.

To make the frosting, in a mixer, beat the butter for about 4-5 minutes. Add the cream cheese and vanilla bean, and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the icing sugar, and continue to beat for another 2-3 minutes, until the frosting is smooth and even.

Once the cake has cooled completely, spread the cake with the frosting.

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Cornflower blue.

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Cornflowers are one of my favourite flowers.  The petals with the brightest, cool hues, dancinging between cerulean, azure and prussian blues.  The dainty, delicate shapes of the countless petals.  These take me back to Poland, the Polish summer.  In the country side, these grew everywhere, and I remember seeing fields of them, dotted with white daisies.  Cornflower featured in the very first floral headband I ever made, back when I was 10, sitting under an apple tree in my grandparents’ backyard.

Cornflowers are also edible, so it seems fitting I share them here on this blog.  My mum has always grown them for me in her gardens.  But recently, I decided I would try to grow them in a pot on my balcony.  A few weeks after adding this tiny plant into my pots, I woke on Saturday morning to find that my little cornflower had opened, shining brightly among the soft lavender.  Now to keep this tiny thing growing strong.

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Shepherd’s pie.

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With the forecast for non-stop rain and wind here in Sydney, I thought shepherd’s pie was an appropriate choice to warm the soul. Tender, rich meat; creamy mashed potato; and winter vegetables. These all make for a perfect comfort meal (from which I’m still enjoying the leftovers).



500g lamb mince

A few splashes of olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

1 brown onion, roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic

1 carrot, roughly chopped

2 celery sticks, roughly chopped

1 can of peeled tomatoes, chopped

A few sprigs of fresh rosemary

A few sprigs of fresh thyme

A pinch of cinnamon

1kg desiree potatoes, peeled

200ml whole milk

A couple of spoons of good quality butter


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Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.

Fry the garlic, onion, carrot, celery in a large heated pan with olive oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Once the onion is slightly caramelised and translucent, add the lamb mince, and fry until the lamb is brown. Add the rosemary, thyme and can of tomatoes. Simmer for a few minutes. Transfer the mixture into an ovenproof dish, and cover and bake for an hour.

In the meantime, make the mashed potato. Boil the potatoes in salted water until they are cooked through, then drain. Heat the milk and butter in a saucepan, and add the potato to this, and mash through until soft creamy.

After an hour, remove the ovenproof dish, and top the meat mixture with the mashed potato, some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Return the dish uncovered to the oven, and bake for another 30-40 minutes, or until brown and crispy on top.

Serve with steamed greens.

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Crispy roast pork with spiced apple cider sauce.

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A few nights ago, one of my dearest friends, Emily, came over for a roast dinner. We decided we would drink wine and cook dinner together (in that order). Given the chilly winter week, we had our hearts set on a roast, and decided upon a pork roast, with all the trimmings (i.e. lots and lots of crispy crackling).

Pork is a meat that roasts superbly. The fat keeps it moist, tender and juicy. We paired this roast with a spicy apple cider sauce. I wanted a dry cider, that wasn’t overbearingly sweet, so used a favourite of mine, produced by a local brewery in the next suburb – Young Henry’s.

The roast was accompanied by roast kipfler potatoes made my Emily, my partner in crime that night, and some baby carrots cooked in the roast’s juices. My mum always served pork with braised red cabbage – a traditional Polish pairing. So I made a batch, not braising it too much to retain a bit of crunch. Its acidity provided a perfect balance to the rich flavours of the roast, the sweetness from the sauce and carrots, and the creaminess of the crispy potatoes.


Ingredients (serves 4)

800g pork rack, fat scored

Sea salt

Cracked pepper

A few splashes of olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and quartered

A bunch of baby carrots

Some sprigs of thyme

8 kipfler potatoes


Braised red cabbage

Half a mini red cabbage, roughly chopped

1 red onion, roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

A few splashes of olive oil

A few splashes of good quality red wine vinegar

A sprinkle of sea salt


Spiced apple cider sauce

500ml good quality dry cider (I used Young Henry’s)

2 pink lady apples, chopped roughly

140ml water

A few spoons of caster sugar

Zest from one orange

6 cloves

1 quill of cinnamon

A couple of spoonfuls of good quality butter

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Preheat the oven to 230C.  Season the pork with the sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and olive oil. Place on a roasting tray, and roast the pork for 30 minutes. Add the carrots, onion and thyme onto the roasting tray, and lower the heat to 160C, cooking the pork for another 1.5-2 hours, or until the pork is tender, and the crackling is crisp.

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Parboil the potatoes, until a fork can go through them. Toss them in some sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and olive oil, and add to the roast for the last 30 minutes.

For spiced apple cider sauce, place the cider, apples, water, sugar, orange set, cloves and cinnamon into a pan, and simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes. Then add in the butter, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

For the braised red cabbage, place the oil and garlic on a pan, and cook the garlic until it is golden in colour. Add the red cabbage and stir through, with red wine vinegar and sea salt. Stir the cabbage for 5-10 minutes, until it has softened a little.

To serve, transfer the pork, carrots and potato onto a plate, and add the braised red cabbage, and some of the cider apple sauce.

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Chai tea sticky date and cashew cake, with pepitas and marigold petals.


So it’s been a while. With winter nearly over, it was high time I experimented with a traditional favourite – sticky date. I love the caramel goodness of dates, and I thought this winter warmer would pair beautifully with the spicy flavours of chai tea. Given the dense texture of this case, the cashews blend in beautifully for extra creaminess and moisture.

I  also thought it was about time that I started sharing my recipes, and so it begins…




30g dates, unpitted

30g sultanas

30g dried apricots

60g raw cashews

1 teaspoon baking powder

140g self-raising flour

40g brown sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1 egg

50g butter, melted

2 teaspoons good quality chai tea

100ml milk, full cream

100ml water, hot


For the caramel topping

50g butter

50g sugar

60g good quality milk chocolate

70ml fresh cream


Preheat the oven to 200º C. Bring the chai tea and milk to the boil on a stovetop, and simmer for a few minutes. Strain this mixture, and put to the side to cool. Blitz the dates, sultanas, apricots and cashews in a food processor. To avoid the mixture sticking to the blades, add a tablespoon of flour. Move this mixture into a bowl, and add the brown sugar, golden syrup, egg, and melted butter, and stir together. Add the chai milk and hot water to the mixture, along with the flour. Mix this through until well combined. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined round cake tin, and place on a baking tray in your oven. Bake in a preheated oven for approximately 40 minutes.

For the topping, place all the ingredients in a saucepan, and melt them down. Keep it on the heat for a few minutes to let it bubble and thicken, and darken slightly in colour. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.

Once the cake has cooled, pour the topping over the cake, and decorate with pepitas.



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