Saturday, 19 March 2011

Sad Little Emo Gingerbread Men

Last year I came across these awesome gingerbread man cutters on the Pioneer Woman’s website. They’re called Already Been Chewed and they look – you guessed it – like they’ve already been chewed.

I ordered them  (God bless the internet!) and they arrived, and quite some time later I finally took them for a spin and was really satisfied with how they turned out. Sure, my floodwork icing leaves a bit to be desired (I actually didn’t bother watering the icing down, instead opting to smear it about with a toothpick), but I had fun doing it. I also succeeded in producing royal icing from scratch (i.e. from egg white, not from powder) that was of a pipeable consistency. It probably wasn’t as stiff as it should have been, but it was certainly better than my last attempt. Then again, I wasn’t quite as ambitious this time...

I used the gingerbread recipe from AWW Cooking School book I got from Grant for Christmas (tip to you fellas out there: if your missus likes cooking, a cook book is a mutually beneficial gift that just keeps on giving!).

Please note that I did in fact edit that photo and made the cookbook upright, but for some reason I can't fathom, even though it appears upright in all thumbnails, it insists on tipping on its side.

I was making an effort to use my new book, inspired by Kirsti’s cooking challenge), and even though they didn’t turn out looking quite as peppy as the picture (were they ever really gonna?), the texture and flavour was really good. Well, good enough to inspire me to eat them in groups of three (you know, one of each type of missing appendage, you know, for the sake of equality and all). The only down side is that they tasted ever so slightly eggy, but I reckon that could be combated with the application of additional spices (probably ground cloves) to mask it. They were still mighty tasty, though!

INGREDIENTS: Note: please check cup quantities - the g ones are right but I can't read the c ones
(Biscuit dough) 125 butter; 1/3c (70g) firmly packed brown sugar; 1/2c (175g) golden syrup; 3c (450g) plain flour; 2tsp ground ginger; 2tsp ground cinnamon; 1/2tsp ground clove; 2tsp bicarbonate of soda; 1 egg, lightly beaten; 1tsp vanilla extract; (Royal icing) 1 egg white; 1c (160g) pure icing sugar; food colourings

Melt butter, sugar and golden syrup in microwave safe bowl, uncovered, in microwave on High about 1min. Remove from microwave (caution! Hot!); cool 5 mins.
Sift plain flour, spices and soda into bowl; add melted butter mixture, eggs and extract. Stir until combined.
Divide dough in half; knead each half on floured board. Roll to 5mm and cut.
Bake 10mins/until golden brown. Cool on tray.
Beat egg white in small bowl with electric mixer until just frothy. Gradually add sifted icing sugar, beating well after each addition, until stiff peaks form.

Something I loved about these cutters is that you actually get a heck of a lot more mileage out of each roll-out of your dough, which saves a lot of mucking about. They fit together quite well, probably due to the absence of their limbs (heh. Have you ever been cuddling your partner in bed, and wished that you could temporarily detach an arm to make things more comfortable and less awkward? Wait, that’s not just me, is it?? Oh. Ok L). So you get a batch of biscuits that are a lot more even in texture and height, which is always a good thing, because it means they all come out quite uniformly.

Somewhere before this point, I actually remembered to play around with the shelves in the oven to get them at the right height BEFORE I turned the heat on, and in doing so, discovered what I took to be the thermostat's temperature probe was just hangin' out in the middle of the oven, right in the way, and probably broken. This was around the point where I began to swear...

So then I tried to fix it and put it back in those brackets you see on the side of the oven... and broke one of the brackets!

Oops. Also, that mark on my hand isn't dirt - it's a blood blister from doing the Tree to Tree Adventure on our cruise.

But I managed to poke it into the remaining brackets, and it seems to be okay...

So here are my delicious, uniform, sad little Emo gingerbread men.

Sorry about the photo, by the way. I was still using my awesome digital SLR camera (which Grant got me for my birthday... which I’m not sure I have actually mentioned on this blog, but the point is, it’s awesome) on Auto at the time. I think I might have figured out how to manually get better results now, though, so hopefully from here on in my (new) food photos will look better.

Oh, and next time I’m totally getting black food colouring and giving my Sad Little Emo gingerbread men hair. It’s only right.

Meanwhile, I have my eye on a set of NINJAbread men cutters! Click on the P-Dub link above for details.

Monday, 14 March 2011

My quirky (=dangerous) cooktop

Here's one I wrote quite some time ago, back in August last year. I thought I'd finally post it, and then have a bit of a think about what I'm going to write for my fiftieth post. Fifty posts since October 2009 probably isn't particularly conducive to developing a solid reader base, but I've had a lot on my plate.

I learnt to cook on gas, so imagine my horror at the fact that the last three houses I have lived (including this one) have had an electric stove and cooktop.
The electric oven thing I got used to – the first two houses, well you didn’t really have to adjust the temperature by 20oC to allow for the fan forced, possibly because the ovens were a little older and more sluggish. Every time I adjusted it, I would have to cook something for half an hour longer. The oven at the new house, though, needs you to do that. I think. I probably haven’t done quite enough baking to say that for sure, but I get the feeling that I’m right, judging by how quickly the Anzacs I baked the other day browned. But that’s okay, I can deal with that (although I may need to hunt down a third shelf for the oven, because there’s only 2, and I suspect I’ll need a third one at some point).

(Note: I have done quite a bit of baking since then, and yes, you do have to adjust the temperature. And so far, I haven't had a burning need for a third shelf. Yet.)
What I can’t deal with, though, is the electric cooktop. Not only is it electric (fail!) and therefore notoriously difficult to get the heat right, but there’s also what I take to be quite a serious electrical flaw in it.

The reason I think that it’s serious is because my cooktop has a retro-fitted override switch.

Doesn’t seem right, does it.

But it gets worse.

It would seem that flicking this switch gives the front right-hand element a licence to turn on, even if the knob on the cooktop is off. No matter which other element you use, it is ALWAYS on, and I could be wrong, but I think it might be an “all or nothing” situation – there can be no adjusting of the heat of this particular element. This leads to either cooking everything on this element on high (which can work okay because it’s a smaller element, unless you’re melting butter – DON’T DO IT!!!), or just making sure you don’t put your hand/plastic/utensils/pot handles/tea towels on it.

Secretly I’m a little bit glad, though – because now I can more easily justify the purchase of a gas cooktop. Whoohoo!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Two Things About My Mum

As you know, I’ve been living away from home – Melbourne – for two and a half years. I’ve been working and living in Adelaide with my fiancĂ© Grant, and I bought a house there because I was sick of paying other people’s mortgages (plus, the sooner you get into the property market the better). We have a wonderful life there in our little house, a ten minute walk from the beach, but we’re basically never there. I am happy enough there because I’m with Grant, but it’s just not home.

Since about October, though, I’ve been working up on the Murray River and being flown back to Adelaide once a month to see my Mister. All the other weekends have been spent in my childhood home in Melbourne, spending time with my family and friends, and it has made me realise how much I miss Melbourne, or, more to the point, them. I miss them so much that, in conjunction with the fact that I love the job I’m on and have actually found my long-lost passion for what I do, and feel like maybe I’m heading in the right direction, the very thought of going back to the drudgery of the office in Adelaide leaves me cold (too bad if someone from work is reading this!). If Grant were there all the time it would be tolerable, for a while, but he’s away most of the time, and I had no idea what I was missing back here until I had it again. I’m not sure how I’d go being in Adelaide on my own again.

Anyway, this weekend just gone I stayed with mum, helped her around the house and cooked up a storm (and, as per usual, forgot to photograph any of it. I will however give you the link to the Butterscotch Pecan Self-Saucing Pudding that I made on Sunday night). On Monday morning, she made me a packed lunch for my trip up, bless her! This reminded me of two things about my mum:

1)      She likes butter (or butter substitutes). In my packed lunch she gave me hot cross buns, which I requested she put a LITTLE bit of butter on (by which I meant a wee scrape). When I bit into it, there was quite a bit more than a wee scrape on it. It wasn’t quite as bad as, say, when you buy a buttered apple scroll from a country truck stop, bite into it and the butter squishes up between your teeth, but there was still enough to get the texture of it on my tongue. I have no idea what she would have given me if I hadn’t specified that I only wanted a little bit!
2)      She is a world-champion Glad-Wrapper. Everything she Glad Wraps is tight as a drum, completely airtight... and also completely inaccessible! Yes, mum’s Glad Wrapping is harder to get into than an RSL in a singlet and thongs*. Generally speaking it takes me in excess of a minute to even find where the Glad Wrap starts so that I can peel it off, and at times I’ve had to actually rip the Glad Wrap because there was no apparent starting point (much like when the newsagency wraps your morning paper in plastic). I am relieved to say that my own Wikkid Glad Wrapping Skillz are a hybrid of my mum’s and my dad’s – dad’s tends to be loose and... useless, at best... so you run the risk of your sandwiches falling out of their wrapping . I have acquired mum’s ability to make the wrapping tight, and dad’s ability to make it very un-wrappable. Yay for me!

I love my mum J

* for any non-Australians, RSL stands for the Returned & Serviceman’s League, and they run a club in most towns over a certain size where meals, drinks and sometimes pokies (= slot machines) and other entertainment (bingo, bands, trivia... you name it) are available to members. Non-members are generally also welcome and just have to sign in. An RSL is basically like a pub (and are occasionally attached to the local lawn bowls club) but a bit of a step up in the sense that you are expected to dress and behave more respectably than you would in a pub. The above reference to trying to get into an RSL in a singlet and thongs is related to the common policy “no shirt, no shoes, no service”