Sunday, 30 October 2011

Ginger Prawn and Green Mango Salad

This is a recipe that I got inspriation for when I googled "green mango salad", as I had green mangoes and seemed to recall that I enjoyed it in Thailand. True to form I forgot to buy half the ingredients and had to substitute several others that I **thought** were in the cupboard, and further to that had opted to take a little bit from several recipes, so it came out quite a bit different to the original. This serves two people and is quite a light, summery meal.

1 green mango, finely sliced (note that my mango was green on the outside but fairly soft on the inside. I don't recall that being the texture from Thailand but it had a certain tartness that offset the normal mango sweetness)
1/2 a continental cucumber, or 1 whole lebanese cucumber, julienned
1/4c chopped, roasted peanuts
2tbsp mint leaves, finely sliced

10 green prawns, deveined
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp finely sliced, or grated ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, torn
1 small chilli, seeded and finely sliced
Sesame oil to taste

Combine ingredients as far as the mint leaves in a bowl. Save some of the peanuts and a couple of whole mint sprigs for garnish.

Cook prawns in frying pan with ginger and oil until cooked through (white) and vaguely pale brown, turning once.

Add cooked prawns to salad ingredients.

Combine remaining ingredients in a cup, reserving a couple of sprigs of coriander for a garnish. Add to salad and toss through.

Yummm. It's a winner. I'm not sure whether I prefer it over the Thai Beef Salad I make, but it's good to know I have this up my sleeve for an alternative quick and light summer meal.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

It's Time (Also, I Have Shoes Now)

As that totally not-famous, now-deceased body builder known as Zyzz said, you be gettin' jelly and you be 'mirin' (that's getting jealous, and to be admiring, btw). Oh yes, get jelly. For I have shoes. All kneel. But rest assured that, no matter what inspiration the shoes may bring, I will not be gettin' shredded.

(Did poor Zyzz mean for his 1.5 seconds of fame to come via an untimely end in a sauna in Bangkok and the vague ramblings of a blogger who tripped over his non-obituary whilst wasting time at work one day? Probably not. Am I being disrespectful by taking the piss? Perhaps a little. But this is about the shoes, people! The shoes!)


And then be jelly.

Very jelly.

Anyway, I finally fulfilled my 101 Things target of buying sneakers that fit me properly and support my feet.

These puppies.

(Do you have any idea how hard it is to take a photo of your shoe while it's on your foot??)

How much were they? A hundred bucks off, that's how much!

I wanted them in pink, but, as anyone who has seen me barefoot can attest, I have weird feet so my options were rather limited. Some call my feet cute. I'm not sure whether they're just being polite, but I think they kinda are. So don't go bursting my bubble! (I'm also okay with you saying they're weird because, frankly, they are) Anyway, my point is that they didn't have the style I wanted in the wider size left in stock, so they put me in manshoes *pouts*

When I had finished pouting and telling the guy I hadz the sadz (that's almost as grammatically awesome as 'mirin' and jelly!) cos I liked the pink ones, and he still insisted on putting me in green manshoes (which actually aren't all that green, now that I've seen a photo of them, but they seem green) rather than the pink ones a step up or a step down in the range, I realised this guy was committed to putting me in the shoe that was right for my foot. What a trooper to put up with my illogical, girly shoe-sook! So I drank a concrete milkshake and bought them.

They ain't so bad, and they really aren't all that manly. But they ARE comfy. Super comfy! Besides which, being a tree hugger, if I can't have pink shoes then green is the next best choice.

So now that I own them, do you think I use them? Well yes, a little. I've been for a few walks in them but last time ended up with these little tiny flies going up my nose and drowning in my eyeballs, so I realised that it was the time of year to head back to the gym. But I just hadn't really made myself do it. I've been once or twice but I'm always tired/busy/sick... yeah, you got me - lazy.

But now, it's time.

Not because my thighs (actually, knee fat. Everyone hates something about themselves, and that's my pet hate. Just add it to the list of "things that make me a freak") have started jiggling when I walk, which I must say is in itself quite odd because my clothes fit just fine.

Not because I read today that if I exercise regularly then I can eat what I want (YEE-HAH, MOTHERFARKERS!!! Ahem. Actually I kinda already knew that, but it was nice to see some doctory-type person put it in writing).

No, it's because of these.

The shoes! MORE SHOES!!!

Hmm... if anyone happened upon this as their first experience of my blog, they may think, based on my choice of footwear, that I was some sort of butch, lumberjack-esque lesbian with a penchant for manshoes. But I'm not! I may live in manboots or sneakers or thongs 99.99999% of the time, but I very much like boys* (okay, men... but do they ever actually grow up??). And I also very much like pretty, girly shoes. In fact, I have this one truly spectacular pair that I've never worn cos I'm a bit scared of them that are peep toe, enclosed heel, ankle strap, emerald green, ruched satin 4" stilettos with a massive diamante clasp on the front, from Wittners. Oh! I have a picture!

Admire the pretty! The picture really doesn't do them justice.

Also, told you I have weird feet.

Also, that flesh-coloured thing to the far right of the photo is my hand, in case you were having trouble figuring it out. Balancing to take a photo from that angle was HARD!

Also, I do have plans to wear these, possibly to my 30th birthday... plans are a-brewin'... so this isn't going to be one of those total wastes of money. Besides which, I got them on sale. How much were they, you ask? HALF PRICE, THAT'S HOW MUCH!!!

How did I get here??

Oh yeah, lesbian footwear.

Mind you, I must say that whilst the few lesbians I know in person do opt for sensible footwear and show no interest in, and in some cases an aversion to, girly heels, calling it "lesbian footwear" is a bit daft. Plenty of non-lesbians wear sensible manshoes (like myself), and I can think of at least two famous lesbians who wear girly shoes (being Anne Heche and Portia de Rossi) and two who don't (Ellen De Generes and Rosie O'Donnell). I actually dress more like Rosie than any of the rest of them.

How did I get here??

Oh yeah.

It's time.

It's time to exercise because now that I own these boots and have started to break them in, there's no going back. I intend to climb Mount Bogong at Christmas, and I think I speak for most of those within my acquaintance when I say that I would prefer it not to kill me or cause me any kind of Medivac-type situation (I've had enough of those for one lifetime, thankyouverymuchFuerzaAereadelPeru...).

So, eight and a half weeks out, best I be hitting that gym, pounding that pavement and raising my cardio fitness to make the whole thing less stressful for my body, and therefore more enjoyable (and also less likely to kill me).

Anyone wanna come???

Seriously. I have 1 definite yes and 2 maybes. I need something concrete here, people!!! I need at least 2 more definites, 1 of whom needs to be a big, tough male because there's a real chance you may have to carry my lifeless body, or possibly just my stuff when I girl out about it and decide it's just all too hard. Any takers?? Hehe, I make it sound so appealing.

Okay, so if that spiel didn't make you want to give it a go, how about the following:
1. You get to climb Mount Bogong. It's not the biggest mountain in the world but it is the biggest one in Victoria and it's still a decent achievement, and not what I would call easy (I've done it before, from another approach, and I didn't die so that may ease your mind...?)
2. You get to help ME climb Mount Bogong. Cue warm, fuzzy feeling from helping a poor girl who feels that she is crippled by Long QT Syndrome to realise one of her mountain-related dreams (also cue guilt trip... is it working?? ;)
3. You get to work off your Christmas dinner before putting it all back on with a new year's eve drinking binge
4. You get to see a beautiful part of the country.

That's about all the benefits I can think of. But if you're interested, or know anyone who is, give me a hoy.

Right. I'm off to take these shoes off and have a shower. I hit the gym in them this evening and had a reeeeeeally good workout. But you don't need to know how gross and sweaty my weird feet are, do you ;)

*there's a story about that one that involves an awkward conversation with my mother, but that's storytime for another day

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Rich & Ruffled Chocolate Celebration Cake

A little while ago I was blog-hopping when I stumbled across this amazing cake at Sweetapolita's blog. The lovely Rosie's presentation skills are pretty friggin' amazing, and I hope that one day my cakes - and my photos of them - are as good as hers. All hail Sweetapolita!

Anyway, I once I clapped my peepers on this cake, it became my mission in life to make it. I don't know whether it was the challenge of the ruffles, or the fact that towered layer cakes seem to appeal to me, but I just NEEDED to make it! So I did. I put it on my 101 Things list, and I made it. So there.

I made some mistakes along the way, mostly (all) with the frosting. Let's just say that it's a good thing eggs were on a special this week...

RICH AND DARK CHOCOLATE CAKE (ex Sweetapolita - see above link for the printable, or below for my bastardised version. I multiplied the below by 1.5 for the layer cake and it made three flattish cakes)

Dry ingredients:
1 3/4c plain flour
2c sugar
3/4c cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
1tsp salt

Wet ingredients:
2 eggs
1c buttermilk, room temperature
1/2c vegetable oil
1tbsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180oC. Butter and flour/line 3 x 8" round baking tins.

Sift dry ingredients into bowl. Dump wet ingredients into bowl and mix with electric mixer 2 mins on medium speed. It's wet and quite runny and may splash. Be warned!

Bake for 20mins then rotate pans around and bake for another 15 or so minutes (total time approx. 35 mins). Cakes are done with toothpick or skewer comes out clean. Try not to overbake. Cool in tin on wire rack for 20mins then turn out.

Note that I'm a bit of a spaz and not very precise so I ended up with 2 cakes smaller than the third one, so I split the third one. If you have more of an eye for detail you would probably actually weigh the mix, but I'm lazy. And I think I'm okay with that. But if someone ever asks me to make a layer cake for them for a special event I'll probably make more of an effort!

So then comes the icing...

SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM (again, the printable is at Sweetapolita's blog, link above. Note that I did a triple batch of this and there was some left over - maybe enough for a sedately-frosted batch of cupcakes, and apparently you can freeze it for 6-8 weeks - so don't think that a triple batch is OTT cos it's not)

5 large egg whites (30g each) <-- yes, that equals 15 egg whites if you're doing a triple batch!!!
1c + 2tbsp castor sugar
450g unsalted butter, cut into cubes (that's a more precise total of 1356g for a triple batch, or 12 sticks for Americans)
2tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt (actually important - normally something I would omit, but I don't suggest doing that cos you're using unsalted butter)

Told you it was a lot of egg white!

Wipe mixer bowl and all your utensils that will touch the mix with white vinegar to cut the grease.

Add egg whites and sugar to a heatproof bowl and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly, until 140oF or until sugar has completely dissolved and egg whites are hot. (Note that this is a little under 60oC, which is how I came to use 30 egg whites, not 15, because I bollocksed up the temperature the first time around. Yes, that's officially a buttload of eggs, and a hell of a lot of egg yolk to get through. I guess custard and pastry and hollondaise sauce must be on the horizon for me!) I was skeptical that mum's old Kenwood mixer bowl from the 60's was heatproof so I did it in a stainless steel bowl and then tipped it into the mixer once the sugar was dissolved.

With the whisk attachment, whip until the mixture is thick, glossy and cool. It'll look like a thin meringue, for those who have made a pav lately.

Switch to paddle attachment and, whilst mixing on medium speed continuously, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if it curdles, keep going and it will come good).

(Also a lot of butter!!! Try not to think about what it's doing to your body and you'll enjoy the cake more...)

Add vanilla, salt and colourings (note that I used a heap of Americolour gel colouring and the colour uptake was poor. I think it has something to with the greasiness of it and the lack of intact sugar granules to attach itself to but I'm not entirely sure. Maybe I should have added the colouring at the heating stage...??? Can anyone help me with that?? Anyway, using tonnes of fuschia colouring makes it turn out a very pale, almost purplish colour. I wasn't particularly pleased with it but that's probably because I was comparing it to this image in my head of an electric pink cake!). You can also add fruit purees, extracts or other flavourings.

Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, leaving out at room temperature when needed and rewhipping for 5 mins. Can freeze for 6-8 weeks.

To the decorating!

Cut your cake into as many layers as you see fit, then stack them on a... okay, it would be easier if you use a proper cake turntable but I just put it on the serving plate and rotated the plate on the bench. It doesn't give you as much control but it does the job. Anyway, stick them together using buttercream and then add a crumb coat to the outside. Try not to contaminate your bowl with cake crumbs though cos it'll make the piping harder.

(Note of irony: I dressed in work-out clothes before I started to make the first batch of icing, and then when I buggered it up I obviously ran out of time to actually work out. So not only did I eat a slice of this cake, I also didn't exercise. Boo. Sure was tasty, though!)

Get a petal tip, fill a large piping bag (mine's 14") with the buttercream, and, skinny bit facing out and tip facing down, start at the bottom and go back and forth in 1"-wide rows. It'll take a few rows to get the hang of it.
I'm also not sure whether my petal tip wasn't fine enough or whether the consistency of my buttercream was wrong, but the edges on my ruffles weren't as sharp as Sweetapolitas. It may also have been because it was quite warm where I was decorating the cake. Who knows? Seriously, who knows?? Can someone tell me?

I got to a point where I marked out guides for the width of the ruffles so I could fit the last few in without making them too big or too small. I also marked out guides on the top. When you do the top, kind of start with the piping bag upright to "stick" the buttercream to the cake and then bring it down nearly level with the cake to make the ruffles.

Transporting it was fun! I was in the front seat of a car, nursing it with a teatowel on my lap in case we braked suddenly! I'm not sure how comfortable I would be having it in a box in the boot, but I guess if you had foam in there and it was all secure and you drove carefully (lots of ifs there!) it would be okay.

When it comes to slicing it, I believe you'd be better off using a hot knife. You can see the buttercream smudged over the cake a bit so if you care how pretty it is when you serve it (and you should, given how much effort you just put into it), use a hot knife. I also used a gentle sawing motion rather than a pushing one. Not sure whether that was the right thing to do but it felt right at the time!

So I did it. I stepped outside of my decorating comfort zone again, and won. Go me!

Note that you should eat this with a cup of tea. It'll make you feel less sick afterwards :)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Book Review - Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.

Hi, everyone! *waves* I’ve been gone for a while – I took a trip to sunny* Brisbane to visit Grant’s parents, and found myself eating a lot more than I normally would. Luckily, walking Oscar their beloved Shar Pei stopped it from being a complete disaster for my poor ol’ waistline. More on that in another post.

In the meantime, I thought I’d plug the posting gap (I know, I know, if I was any good at scheduling posts this wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m just not) with an item from my 101 Things – reading Gone With the Wind. Now, before you point out to me that one of my other challenges has been to read all my unread books before purchasing more, I need to inform you that my BFF Emma (who first introduced me to the concept of 101 Things in 1001 days, way back in 2009) very thoughtfully bought me a copy for my birthday. She is also going to help me ma... *trails off* oh, never mind! If I tell you that I’ll ruin a surprise for some friends. I’ll tell you about it next week. Hi, Em!

At 1461 pages long, this book is inconveniently addictive. Seriously. It’s dangerous. As in, you may wish to wander around in public reading it, which can cause you to walk into things, or possibly even in front of heavy machinery. It will also cause you to stay up well past your bedtime, suckered into finding out what heinous or scandalous thing Scarlett O’Hara says or does next. At least, that’s what **I** found. Others I have spoken to found it to be a complete bore and not at all their cup of tea. Mind you, none hated it with a passion, which is a start! I will possibly confirm this when I watch the movie, but it was like a chick-flick in book form. A very long chick-flick. One that won a Pulitzer Prize (the film itself won an Academy award).

My best description of GWTW is a fusion of Mills & Boon, a Jodi Piccoult novel and Wuthering Heights. I know that’s a really odd concoction, but it contains a bit of mild bodice-ripping and heavy flirtation from the vixenish Scarlett O’Hara  (with a hefty side of deviousness and manipulation); suspense, emotion and generally well-written prose; and a mean and selfish lead role in a romantic situation with someone dark and brooding.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised that I enjoyed it once I realised how alike Scarlett O’Hara was to Cathy Linton from Wuthering Heights – both are selfish and manipulative with a fiery temper and are too stupid to know what they want in life, let alone in a man. They really are quite awful people. Luckily Scarlett has some redeeming features (although not many!), and GWTW, although long, is nowhere near as heavy or tortuous as WH and I can actually read it more quickly even though it is at least four times as long. GWTW inspires more exasperated forehead-slapping when Scarlett vagues out when men say intelligent things in her classic bimbo fashion, than does WH its teeth-grindingly “are we there yet??” sensations. It seems odd that Scarlett acts like such a bimbo when she really is quite smart. I suppose she was brought up that way, because apparently being dumb helps “catch a man”. In her words, “fiddle-dee-dee!” (yes, she really uses that phrase... *cue forehead slap*).

If you’re not familiar with the story, it is the tale of a Southern belle from Georgia who grows up on a plantation (= rolling in money; a Society girl), raised to believe that she has the world at her feet, and whatever man she should choose along with it.

Two things happen in the opening pages to set the scene for the rest of the novel: 1) she falls in love with Ashley, who is engaged to his cousin (ew) Melanie, even though he loves Scarlett, and when Scarlett confronts him about this he opts to do the honourable thing and stay with Melanie. Unbeknownst to Scarlett, Rhett Butler is also in the room secretly witnessing her indecorous behaviour, and this is the beginning of their tempestuous love/hate relationship. 2) Hot on the heels of this scene comes the American Civil War.

Directly following the scene where Scarlett declares her love to Ashley, she decides to make him jealous and show him that she can have any man she wants by becoming engaged to Melanie’s brother that very afternoon. It’s a bit short-sighted because she ends up pregnant and married to a dead Confederate soldier (the first of three husbands and three children for her). She and Melanie stick together throughout the war, even though she is insanely jealous of Melanie and she drives her nuts with her niceness.

I won’t say much more about the plot, but this is not just a riches-to-rags-to-riches story. It is deeper than just a tale of the love-life of a rich white girl. The slaves from the plantation have quite a prominent role in the book, especially the house-slaves who are like family to them. It is interesting to see a different perspective on slavery and on the Klu-Klux Klan. I have no idea whether what was written is based on the true state of play following the Civil War (and I dare say that’s partly attributable to perspective), but it’s something that I’d like to do a little research into. If you’re not interested in it for its romantic aspects or for light entertainment, I would suggest reading it for that reason alone. I personally plan to start by reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin because apparently this represents the direct opposite perspective (and that has made me realise that there are actually several boxes of books that I haven’t read – all my dad’s and his siblings’ ones from childhood – but I won’t count them for the purposes of “books I haven’t read”. They’ve been a box for years and there they can stay until I’m good and danged well ready!) and is actually mentioned within the text of GWTW.

If you’re after a light, fluffy read and can handle being frustrated at the callous behaviour of a Southern belle and are also okay with your life being disrupted, I highly recommended Gone With The Wind. Although I suggest this may not apply to the male portion of the species!

* it actually rained harder in Brisbane than I have seen in a long time, with the most spectacular lightning. But it was nice and warm!

Saturday, 1 October 2011



(Yeah, Droptober, I stole your banner. So whatcha gonna do about it??)

Well I suppose it is a little bit ironic that, following three back-to-back posts on deliciously fattening foods, I am now posting about Droptober. Chances are, the ones that follow will also be about food. I'm good like that :)

Droptober is basically a challenge to lost 2kg in the month of October and be sponsored to do so.

That's a hint, people!!!

Money goes to Kids for Life, and I figured that since I've been struggling a bit to keep in shape this last month or so, that if I can't do it for myself then I'd do it for the kids.

If you'd like to sponsor me, email me - there should be a little envelope icon at the bottom of this post that allows you to do so. Alternately, leave a comment including your email address and I'll contact you.

Doing this will also help me to achieve #49 on my 101 Things list. Today, being the first of October, I weigh 77kg (which surprises me, given how much crap I've been eating (lots) and how much excercise I've been doing (none). Ahh, the human body is a surprising machine!). I'll check in mid-month and again at the end to let you know you're getting what you pay for.

Wish me luck!

Gnocchi with Burnt Butter and Tomato

Well, well, well! As luck would have it, the AWW have kindly put ANOTHER of the recipes I have recently used on their website. This means that I don't have to copy it out of a book - AWW Cook - that is in Adelaide. I did actually copy it onto the back of a boarding pass so I could blog about it, but seem to have lost the boarding pass. Knowing me, it was the one time I threw "rubbish" out and it's gone. But it doesn't matter! Because here's the link!

Again, I didn't take photos of this, except for of the final product. I only made half the quantity, which made three generous serves (generous based on stomach capacity, not based on the quantity on your plate - gnocchi is very filling!), and have frozen the rest of the dough. I'll let you know how well it freezes at some point in the future. The recipe says that it is not suitable for freezing, but that may apply to the finished product, or perhaps to the un-boiled product. Who knows. And who knows what "suitable" means - it may also mean that it just comes out a bit watery/separated, like many defrosted things do.

As was expected, it was a little fiddy but not at all difficult. I had heard it was hard but it wasn't. I had heard that it could go horribly wrong - heavy and gluggy - and it didn't. The only thing I would suggest is that you peel your potatoes first because if you only have a crappy plastic masher that bends very easily, you'll have quite a bit of trouble getting a fine consistency when you mash your potatoes if they still have skins on.

I'd call this a weekend dish - do it when you have time. It's kind of fun and gives you a sense of achievement.

Serve with plenty of parmesan. I also added extra basil cos I luvz it.


Lemon Tart

Well, for once I followed a recipe and have nothing smart to say about it. I'm not going to copy it out because the cookbook - AWW Cooking School - is on my shelf in Adelaide *sighs* I really miss my cook books! But luckily the AWW have posted the recipe on their site, so I will simply give you the link for it here. This one is one of my 101 Things challenges - I did three in a weekend, including this, Monkeyface biscuits and gnocchi. I was on a roll!

I didn't really take any photos to prove that I made it, besides a line-up of the ingredients, and that's actually on a different SD card which I can't be bothered finding.

Good work, Vanessa. Brilliant blog material.

I also didn't take a picture of the tart before my friend Mary and I hoed into it for dessert, and had luckily decided to keep one slice for breakfast (as you do...) when I sent the rest home with her because otherwise there would be zero evidence that the tart had ever existed. I think I was a bit light on the photos because I finished cooking it at 1am after I came home from the movies. I think I saw The Help that night. Great movie!

So here it is.

And here's a better angle.

I'm all about the presentation, you see.

Sometimes I wonder what our neighbours think when I wander about the back yard in my pyjamas taking photos of food. But given their own...colourful existence, which they share with us (and the rest of the street) via raised voices, I don't think I've got much to worry about!

One little note is that this recipe seems to make a little bit too much pastry and quite a bit too much filling for the sized tin specified. I ended up making four mini tarts and had about a cereal bowl of filling left over. Not really a big deal as the filling is tasty on its own, but just thought I'd let you know.

Second note - We served it the night before with a dollop of cream. Very tasty.

Third note - pay attention to your pie crust when you're blind baking. I think I overdid it on account of the fact I was writing a letter and fluked looking up in time. As such, it was probably a little tougher than it should have been. I blame me, not the recipe.

Year of the Cupcake #3 - The Ultimate Gluten Free Vanilla Cupcake

It's a little late for September's entry into Year of the Cupcake, but only by a day, and I think that's okay. I would have made them last night, but went to see Crazy, Stupid Love with my BFF Ness instead. Seemed to make more sense to kick back and relax after a long week, rather than stay up all night baking. Plus, the people I promised cupcakes to come Monday will appreciate them being fresher.

PS - Ryan Gosling does indeed appear to be photoshopped as the ads for Crazy, Stupid Love would have you believe, in a tasty way. He's probably a little bit to tidy-looking and skinny (= too intimidating to get n@ked with) for my liking (I'm not a fan of being able to see veins on stomachs) and also a little bit too spray-tanned (probably deliberate, given the nature of his character), but it didn't stop my tongue from falling out of my mouth when he took his shirt off. Sorry if that makes any of my male readers squirm but it's true. And he does have yummy arms, which makes me forgive the icky veins on his stomach.

*Swoons* Yummy arms FTW!

*slaps self across face*

*shakes it off*

Aaaaaaaanyway, you know how I lack the ability to actually follow a recipe? Even if it's reputed to be the perfect recipe? Well, I did it again. Yes Siree-Bob, I tried to stick to a perfectly good recipe - in fact, the ultimate vanilla cupcake recipe, perfected through many trials by the lovely Stef (and 50 test cooks) who brings us, the site that ran the icecream cupcake contest earlier in the year - but the fact that I've been known to make decisions based on cost (for example, I already have a similar ingredient - like milk or sour cream - at home and am not willing to purchase, say, the full-fat version of it until I have used up what I have), and also based on the audience (eg. every time I bake at mum's, which is most of the time these days, she begs me to make it gluten free so that she can partake), meant that I once again failed to follow a recipe. This seemed particularly outrageous today, given that it is the ultimate vanilla cupcake.

By the way, I'm not taking the piss. I actually can see why this could be described as the ultimate vanilla cupcake. I only made the gluten free version of it, which, let's face it, is never anywhere near as tasty, and it was fan-bloody-tastic. Every time I eat one (three so far and counting! *burps*) I roll my eyes back in pleasure as I get a whiff of the vanilla-ey goodness. If you want your cupcake to actually be light and fluffy and taste like vanilla, this is the one. It's not a butter cake and it's not a sponge and it's kind of made a little bit backwards, but *drools*... okay, I'll get to the recipe so you can try it for yourself!

Note that I'm copying out's recipe and annotating in brackets what I changed. If you want it with less mess, just click on the link above and that will take you straight to the original recipe.

1c (225g) granulated sugar (I took this to mean normal white sugar)
1 vanilla bean (I used a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste instead, as 1tsp = 1 bean, and the jar cost about nine bucks and I estimate that it has at least 10tsp in it, maybe 20, and a single bean cost about six bucks... It may have an inferior taste (does it really? Anyone?) but at that cost to benefit ratio I just don't care!!!)
1 3/4c (175g) cake flour (my famed tight-arseness strikes again! I didn't much care for having ANOTHER baking product in the cupboard, so I Googled it and combined the wisdom of this and this and decided that if I made it about a cup and a half of plain flour and added 2tbsp of cornflour, that would probably just about do the job. Note that I used gluten free flour and 1/2tsp of xanthan gum, rather than regular plain flour, to keep mum happy and to stop her from snacking on my arm)
1 1/2tsp baking powder (hah! I didn't have to substitue any ingredients on this one, unlike last time)
1/2tsp baking soda (yeah, I totally forgot to put this in... oops... might explain why they came out a little wonky. And here I was, blaming it on the GF flour! They didn't end up concave, mind you, so it wasn't a total tragedy)
1/2tsp salt (I'm not sure if I measured this properly because I found the cupcakes slightly too salty for my palate (which usually encounters approximately zero salt), but I think that was actually part of the appeal - it made them taste a little more commercial, and, psychologically, I think that seems to make people like them more, because they seem more professional. Weird, I know)
1/4c (57g) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3c sour cream (I used light sour cream cos it's what I had in the fridge, and we don't go through enough of it to warrant having a whole tub of light sour cream and half a tub of full fat sour cream sitting in the fridge, waiting to go mouldy)
1/2c canola oil (I bought vegetable oil because I knew all we had was olive oil, and I also knew that we would get more use out of it at home on account of it having a higher flash point the canola oil... I think I got that around the right way... so it can be used for roasting)
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2/3c whole milk (I used light milk, again, because that's what was in the fridge)

TO DECORATE (note my awesome use of quantities):
White sugar
Liquid food colouring (there IS a use for it!)
Gel food colouring (much prettier colours - I used leaf green, sky blue, lemon yellow and black Americolor gel colours)
Icing sugar (NOT icing sugar MIXTURE, and I STILL haven't figured out why anyone bothers with that stuff...)
Boiling water
White marshmallows

First up, scrape seeds out of vanilla bean (or in my case, scoop 1tsp of vanilla bean paste out the jar) and mix through the sugar until it's all evenly distributed throughout the sugar and there are no clumps.

This is the stuff I used.

This is what the product looks like. You will get tiny dots throughout your baked goods when you use it, but apparently that's "in" right now... phht, yeah, cos I care what's in...

Place flour, baking powder, OH CRAP I MISSED AN INGREDIENT WHEN I MADE THEM!!! *scrolls up and corrects ingredients list*, baking soda and salt into a mixer bowl and combine. Add sugar mixture and mix until well combined (I just had the Kenwood on low the whole time, and kept it on low as I added and mixed all the bits and pieces). Add the butter. The mixture will resemble fine breadcrumbs.

While the butter is mixing in, in a small bowl combine eggs, sour cream, canola oil and vanilla. Mix until smooth (I used a small whisk which seemed to work. I also used the bowl the sugar was originally in to save more washing up). Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Then add milk, a little at a time, until just combined. I stopped the mixer the second this had happened and gave it a scrape down, and then mixed for about another 5-10 seconds. At this point the batter will be quite runny but don't let that freak you out.

Fill 16 wrappers half full and bake at 175oC for 14 minutes (I filled 18 wrappers half full and my cupcakes were probably a little bit small. I guess my perception of half full was out of whack but I didn't want them to spew over the tops and go all over the place. It is also possible that an Australian cupcake wrapper is slightly smaller than an American one. I baked the first 6 or so minutes at 190oC (apparently this helps GF products rise) and then turned it down to 175. I also forgot to look at the clock when I began so I'm guessing a little bit here, but I baked them for closer to 16 or 18 minutes after checking at 14 minutes. The ones on the little tray took a couple of minutes longer still, and I have reached the conclusion that the seals on mum's oven door are totally buggered, and that the hot spots and cold spots are far hotter and colder than they ever were before!). Check with a toothpick - it should come out without wet batter on it.

If you want to pipe really retarded bees like me, go right ahead. They're definitely kind of cute, but, as I said, also kind of retarded. I blame it mostly on the fact that I was using mum's old piping set with its fat, inaccurate tips and not my beautiful new one with the fine tips (one of the many things I miss about life in Adelaide). I also don't have wikkid piping skillz (although I am improving - makes you wonder just how bad I was before! - and also just remembered that I have photos in my camera of some piping practice I did which I haven't posted yet).

You can also decorate them with flowers, which, like a lot of things I make, look kind of impressive but aren't. I'll tell you how I made them below.

I just made the most simple icing possible - icing sugar and boiling water with whatever food colouring you want. I didn't even bother sifting the flour. THAT'S how lazy I be gettin'.

I iced 2/3 with a green background and the remaining 1/3 with a blue background. For the background you want the icing to be a bit softer but not stupidly wet. You want a bit of thickness about it, not just a glaze, but you don't want it too thick otherwise it'll rip the top off your cupcake as you spread it, and you'll end up with too much icing on it. I'm sorry I didn't measure it but it's just too hard. Figure it yourself, dawg, a'ight?

These are my bees. The icing for the bee was a bit thicker than that of the base, so that it wouldn't run. I kind of did a yellow oval with a round bit stuck to it and filled them in, and then overlayed the black stuff. You need a fair bit of colouring to make it properly black. Don't be gettin' it on your hands. That's why I luvz the Americolor squeeze bottles. Also, when you squeeze, hold it totally upside-down. If you hold it a little bit sideways you'll get it all over the top of the bottle which sort of defeats the purpose of the squeeze bottle.

As for the flowers, well, I reckon I knew how to make these before I could walk, and I'm actually not exaggerating by much there. You know the AWW birthday cake cookbook that EVERYONE's mum had back in the eighties? You know, this one?

Well, as a little tacker I used to spend hours and hours reading it, deciding which birthday cake I would have for my birthday that year. You see, mum would let us choose one and would make it for us. If you flip through her copy of the book the cakes we had have our name and our age written at the top of the page, up until about the age of eight or nine. Maybe that's where I get my love for baking from and also my desire to challenge myself and decorate outside of my comfort zone (hah! And, in the case of these bees, not do a great job... but hey, I tried, right?).

Anyway, somewhere near the front of it there are instructions on how to make flowers out of marshmallows. Basically, you cut a marshmallow in half horizontally with a pair of (clean!) scissors, dip each half in jelly crystals, then cut each half horizontally in half again, and dip each of the sticky sides in jelly crystals again. You end up with four pieces per marshmallow. White marshmallows give you the best results because the colour stands out better. Squeeze the ends together to make a petal shape. Also, I tinted sugar with liquid colour instead of using jelly crystals because I wanted two colours and didn't want to waste most of two packets of jelly crystals (knowing that I wasn't about to make jelly).

These days, the AWW have put out a more modern version of the book but I prefer the old one - the new one is a bit heavy on the use of sugar paste/fondant and are a little bit complex for your average working mum, and I think that kid's cakes should be more about buttercream frosting and be able to be whipped up the night before after work rather than having to get up at 4am to decorate the damned thing. Kids like colours and they like sugar and they don't give a hoot if you spent an hour tinting and rolling out fondant, or five minutes mixing up a buttercream and slapping it on.

I also think that people who spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy bought cake for their kid's birthday should be shot. It's one thing to bake a fancy one if you're into cake decorating, but if you're not and you want to fake it, well don't. Nobody will be impressed, and most people will feel sorry that you didn't have time to make your kid a cake, or, better yet, make the cake WITH your kid like our mum used to do for us after she got home from work. Sure, some people have challenging family or health situations that genuinely do eat up their time and energy, but most people who buy fancy cakes for their kids don't fall into that category. Pull your finger out and buy a packet mix (or, if you're THAT busy, most supermakets stock ready-made plain buttercakes of various shapes and sizes) and some lollies to decorate it. Rant over! Anyway, this link goes through the process a bit more thoroughly than I did above with the modern version of the original cake that I learnt the instructions from.

(Segue, much? :) What can I say - I'm passionate about kids getting a birthday cake that mum made, and I don't know why. Maybe it's because it meant so much to me that my mum would be knackered and run off her feet but she'd do it for us anyway.)

Oh, and I made the petals first so that I could stick them on while the icing was still wet. I then dipped the m side of an M&M (hah! Here's an old one: Q - Why did the blonde get fired from the M&M factory? A - Cos she kept throwing out the W's) and "glued" it into the middle of the petal.

I originally intended that the theme of these cupcakes be "spring" on account of the fact that it is (erm, was yesterday, anyway) September, and flowers and bees kind of spring (hah! I'm on a roll) to mind. It never occurred to me how cute they would look together... I really am a subconscious decorating genius, aren't I... bzzzzzzzzzzzzz...