birthday lunch with a difference: Silverbeet pie and orange cake

It’s been a while since we’ve had a family gathering at the house. Like everyone else, Covid-19 has been a real kill joy and we’ve been reclused since end of March, following instructions from those who know best, a.k.a experts.

Last weekend was a milestone in as much that 20 people were allowed to gather in someone’s house, up from the initial number of 5. Other rules were relaxed, I know, but that particular announcement made our day because with our family, a gathering attracts easily 15 to 20 people.

It also happened to be Sam’s 5th birthday, and since we missed out on big celebrations for the April and May birthdays, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to make it an occasion for a get together.

For these of you not in the know, Sam is our beloved Labrador. Yes, we are talking about a dog’s birthday party. We have officially joined “the other side” and become the kind of dog owners who consider their pet as family member ( he is known at the Vet as Sam Steen! )

So the family was invited for a Sunday lunch. As usual, everyone asked what to bring and my initial suggestion was for dog themed and friendly food. How different and fun!

While I am sure our guests were confused, I cheerfully searched for dog treat recipes that could be suitable for humans and proceeded to bake NQN’s bone biscuits and pup cakes from here. 

Sam was ordered to stay still for the photo, then I had to quickly take away the tray of biscuits before he devoured them!!

Luckily, I cooked these a couple of days ahead of the party. I gave some to Sam to try and he wolfed them down. Then the kids sampled a piece and their reaction was “ that’s for the dog, right? we’re having different food? ”. I took one bite and realised there and then, why the vet keeps telling me to stop trying to feed my dog human food: the ingredients were fresh and wholesome ( wholemeal flour, cheese, herbs, carrots, even organic peanut only butter ! ) but it all tasted so bland…to us. It turns out, our dog ( and I believe all Labradors ) loves food, no matter how bland or tasty ( with the exception of lettuce and lemon, both items he steadfastily refuse to touch ) and they do not need the addition of sugar, salt or spices to make their meals appealing. 

We, on the other hand, are big fans of flavours, savoury or sweet. After a chat with Shelley, who offered to bring some white anchovies bruschetta, a plan B was rapidly established and I texted our guests with a new lunch theme: Mediterranean flavours. 

So Danielle arrived with washed rind cheese ( the stinky kind ), crackers and garlic bread. Kathy, went to the same shop as Danielle, and brought more cheese ( a blue, parmesan, and truffled cheddar! ).

Then Tania showed up with all the makings of a dark board: charcoal crackers, kalamata olives, dark grapes, blackberries, bresaiola, tamari almonds, a pomegranate and the piece de resistance…a prosciutto wrapped garlic studded baked brie! As I type, I am still dreaming about it.

Shelley’s bruschetta were a sight to behold: loaded with marinated cherry tomatoes ( lovingly chopped by husband Jai, we were told ), pickled red onions and tangy white anchovies. It all looked so pretty, we all swooned over with our phones.

As the self appointed mains cook, I decided to make a simple dish that would satisfy anyone’s carbs cravings and please adults and kids alike: lasagna. With my lasagna making years long gone, I resorted to a well tested recipe from Donna Hay. Nothing too fancy, basic ingredients and some patience was all that was required to assemble the whole thing. 

Next was looking for ideas for a vegetarian side, as I had ample supply of silverbeet in my weekly veggie box. All my cookbooks came out to play, and after what seemed like hours of browsing, I came across another one of Donna Hay’s recipe, for a silverbeet and cavalo nero whole-wheat pie. The health conscious would be taken care of.

Now for dessert. Chocolate was out of the question, as the presence of component theobromine makes it highly toxic to dogs. Having previously dealt with chocolate poisoning, when Sam “stole” a chocolate mud cake at Marc’s birthday party a few years ago, I wasn’t taking the risk of him getting his paws on even the tiniest crumb.

So fruits it was, and with a glut of oranges, it was easy to come up with this orange and almond syrup cake, from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook.

Sam enjoyed his presents very much, especially the fake chicken and the sausage links he’s still trying to “eat”. Lunch ended with a birthday song and a pile of pupcakes being devoured in 5 seconds!


Silverbeet and Celery wholemeal pie

This recipe is adapted from Donna Hay’s Life in Balance

She uses cavalo nero or tuscan Kale, but I substituted celery leaves. Also the original recipe calls for whole-wheat spelt flour, which I didn’t have. I used ordinary wholemeal flour instead. This makes for 4 x 15cm round pies or one 35x25cm rectangular pie. Steps 1 and 2 can be done a day or so  in advance, and the pie assembled on the day of serving.  

Serves 8-10 as a main, 12-16 as a buffet


2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 celeriac approx 500g, peeled and grated

2 tbsp thyme leaves

3 stalks silverbeet, trimmed and shredded 

3 stalks celery, leaves included, trimmed and shredded

1 tbsp dilll, chopped

1 cup fresh ricotta

salt and pepper

100g soft goat cheese, sliced 

1 egg, lightly beaten

poppyseeds, for sprinkling

Wholemeal pastry 

3 cups wholemeal flour

1/2 cup psyllium husk powder

1 tsp salt

300g cold unsalted butter, chopped

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp iced cold water 

  1. First make the wholemeal pastry: place the flour, psyllium husk powder, salt and butter in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and iced water, and process until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, divide in 2 portions and shape into flat rectangles. Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for 30 minutes ( if kept overnight, bring out of the fridge and leave at room temperature for an hour or so for the dough to thaw out and soften before using )
  2. For the filling: Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, celeriac, thyme and cook stirring for 10 minutes until soft. Add the silverbeet and the celery and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes until the leaves are wilted. Remove from the heat, transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool for a while. Add the dill, ricotta, salt and pepper and mix to combine. 
  3. Preheat the oven to 190C
  4. Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper to a 4mm thickness, shaping it into 2 rectangles approx 35x25cm ( it’s ok to be free-form if you’re after a rustic look )
  5. Arrange one rectangle on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper ( or a baking silicone mat ). Spoon the ricotta mixture evenly over, top with the goat cheese slices. Brush the edges with the egg yolks and cover with the other rectangle of dough. Press the edges with a fork to seal, brush the pie with the rest of the egg yolks and sprinkle with poppy seeds. 
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Orange and Almond Syrup Cake

I adapted Ottolenghi’s clementine and almond syrup cake recipe, using oranges instead. This is such a classic, full of flavour, moist and delicious. It keeps well and is perfect at the end of a meal with ice cream, for breakfast with yoghurt or a sweet pick me up with coffee!

Serves 12 as dessert


200g unsalted butter

380g caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 3 oranges 

grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

280g ground almonds

5 eggs, beaten

100g plain flour, sifted

A pinch of salt

Strips of orange zest, for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Lightly grease a 24cm springform tin and line the sides and base with baking paper ( I omit this step, as I have a springform silicone mould with a ceramic plate, so nothing sticks )
  3. Place the butter, 300g of the sugar and both zests in a mixer bowl and beat on low speed until well combined. Make sure not to overmix or incorporate too much air. Add half the amount of ground almonds and keep mixing to fold through.
  4. Add the eggs gradually, while the machine is still running, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the remaining ground almonds, flour, and salt and continue mixing until completely smooth.
  5. Spread the batter inside the cake tin, levelling it out with a palette knife
  6. Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes, checking that it is ready by inserting a skewer inside. It should come out a little bit moist.
  7. Before the cake is ready, place the reamining sugar and the citrus juices in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. You should have approx 120ml of syrup. When it comes to the boil, remove from the heat.
  8. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, make a few holes in it, using the skewer. Brush with the boiling syrup, making sure all the liquid soaks in. Leave the cake to cook down completely in the tin before removing it. 
  9. Garnish with orange strips and serve as is, with ice cream. It can also be stored in an airtight container up to 3 days ( longer in the fridge, but bring it back to room temperature before eating as the cold tends to dry it out a bit )

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