Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Raspberry and White Chocolate Biscuits

One of the benefits of cleaning your house out is that you need to use up what’s left in the fridge/freezer/cupboards, or, at least, the perishables. So, following my batch of Raspberry Spiked Chocolate Brownies, I had some raspberries left over. I also discovered that I had a whole bag of really manky, heat-effected white chocolate chips. Unfortunately, as I discovered, manky white chocolate doesn’t recover its tastiness quite as well as manky dark or milk chocolate when baked so it came out kind of chalky. It still tasted okay, but I recommend using new choc chips!

I used a basic recipe for Whatever Biscuits that I remember by calling it “half, half, one, one, one”. Which is actually totally inaccurate, it’s just a way of remembering it, same as I remember how to make pavlova (4-1-1-1, which, conversely, actually IS completely accurate). I turned one of the “one”s into “slightly bigger than a half, x2” and added some vanilla, which I guess could be another “one” because it was probably about one teaspoon, but may also be a “half” because I guess I didn’t put that much into it, so maybe it was half a teaspoon? Of course, the first half isn’t actually a half, either – it’s slightly less than a half. And if you’re American, I’m pretty sure you’d call it “One, half, one, one, one” because that first half is a little less than half an Australian block of butter, which I **think** equates to about one American “stick”. But I’m not American. I’m also rambling. I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s a fairly flexible recipe, and that if you’re Rain Man enough you can find a pattern in anything!

110g butter, cubed. Helps if it’s soft. (half #1 = half an Australian block of butter)
½c sugar (half #2)
1 egg (one #1)
Vanilla to taste (new, mystery entity that could be either a half or a one, depending on your taste)
1c SR flour (one #2)
½c + a bit of white chocolate chips (combined with the raspberries is one #3)
½c + a bit of frozen raspberries (I think having them frozen helps so that they disintegrate into little balls not mush)

1. Preheat oven to 180oC (the magic number for most baked goods! That said, I would probably consider turning it down a bit next time because of the sugar in the raspberries)
2. Line 2 trays with baking paper
3. Beat butter and sugar until smooth/creamy/pale
4. Add egg and beat until combined
5. Add vanilla to taste
6. Add flour; mix well
7. Add choc chips; mix well
8. Add raspberries; mix well but try not to completely crush them into oblivion. You want some pieces in there, not just a pink biscuit dough
9. Roll into tablespoon-sized balls and bake for 12 minutes or so. Keep an eye on them because the raspberry component seems to like to catch
10. Cool for a minute or two and then transfer onto a cooling rack
11. Test-eat all the ugly ones whilst watching Gilmore Girls in your pyjamas
13. If you’re not happy with them, give them another run in the oven
14. Test-eat one more, just to be sure
12. Share them with friends

Now, I found these to be a little on the soft side – not at all a crunchy biscuit – so it you’re feeling especially coordinated you could maybe add a little more flour to compensate for the juiciness of the berries (and the ice crystals stuck to them – so maybe the trick is NOT to use old frozen raspberries!). I am aware it’s common to dust berries with flour prior to adding them to cake batters to stop them sinking so much, so maybe that’s the sort of quantity of flour we’re talking about here.

In the end, the following morning (before I brought them to someone’s house for morning tea – I am incapable of not fiddling with food if I don’t think it’s quite right and someone else will eat it), I whacked them in the oven for about another 6-8 minutes at about 180oC (and at some point I turned it up higher, because we know what an impatient and imprecise cook I am). I watched them VERY closely this time to make sure they didn’t catch. They seemed to brown on top more than the bottom this time around. I guess some of the moisture had evaporated from them overnight or something.

Anyway, here they are!

Do you like the plate, by the way?

I had a sudden stroke of genius the other day when I saw this on sale. I realised how hard it is to take photos of biscuits on glossy white plates, and also kind of boring, so I found a few of different colours and patterns in various bargain bins. This one set me back – wait for it – a dollar. And from a really expensive store that sells only Waterford and Villeroy & Boch and Royal Albert the like, too. Bargain! Don’t ask me what brand it is, though. Don’t get me wrong, white plates look great with some foods. Anything involving Bok Choy looks spectacular on a white plate – I think it’s the crisp white and the crisp green that does it. Biscuits? Not so much. Not to me, anyhow.

If the white background has you puzzled, it’s a piece of tissue paper (from the purchase of this plate) draped over my clotheshorse near the only window that gets good natural light. There were some better photos of the biscuits, but that was before I added the tissue paper, so the plate is basically sitting on top of towels, underwear and socks that were drying, and I didn’t think you really needed to see that when you’re supposed to be focussing on the biscuits!

Also, about a week earlier I made a variation of these but with dark chocolate and pecans, both chopped. I ate them before I remembered I was supposed to take a photo of them. And some of them were GIGANTIC biscuits (but not quite as gigantic as the ones me and my BFF Alice used to make as teenagers. Or as phallic. Giggle. Yep, we used to make phallic choc-chip biscuits, and also giant ones, and then we’d eat them with giant glasses of milk. It was one of the many things that cemented our friendship J Hi, Alice! *waves* Um, sorry if you didn’t want the entire universe to know about that!).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, those dark choc and pecan ones were soooo gigantic and soooo tasty... *has a sudden epiphany as to why I gained weight last week* Oh, and I didn’t mention in the above recipe that I was using unsalted butter because it’s all I had left, and added salt to compensate, so I don’t know whether you may want to add some salt to your mix. Up to you. Do what feels right. Same went for the dark chocolate/pecan combination, which I suspect could probably benefit from a pinch of salt.

Damnit, now I want biscuits!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Donna Hay's Raspberry-Spiked Chocolate Brownies

Oh boy, oh boy, oh BOY, these are scrum-diddily-umptious! Diddily.

Assuming you like rasperries.

If you don't, you'll probably hate them.

But that's not really my problem. More brownies for me!

I made Donna's Raspberry-Spiked Chocolate Brownies for my friend Jody's kitchen tea, along with those Short-Black Cupcakes I posted out a few posts back (I'm having connection dramas so I won't give you the link but you can probably find it yourself if you click on Recipe on the word cloud in the side bar). I've made them before with the same results but I never bloody learn. See notes below.

Oh, FYI, I refer to her simply as "Donna", cos we're, like, totz BFFs. Totz.

Again, the recipe is out of Chocolate from her Simple Essentials range, available for purchase here (see disclaimer below).

200g dark chocolate, chopped
250g butter <-- always onto a winner when your baked good contains a whole block of butter :)
1 3/4c brown sugar
4 eggs
1 1/3c plain flour
1/4tsp baking powder
1/3c cocoa powder, sifted
1 1/2c raspberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 180oC. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat and stir until smooth (note that this is where I diverged from the instructions to save some washing up, but I don't think it made a great deal of difference). Remove from the heat and add the sugar and stir. Then add the eggs and stir quickly as you add each one (I made the assumption that the saucepan may cause the chocolate mixture to retain heat and therefore cook the eggs on impact, so I wanted to make sure I didn't have big fat chunks of cooked egg in my mixture!). Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa and mix.

Pour into a 23cm, greased and lined square cake tin (line it a fair way up the sides so you can pull the brownie out using the baking paper once it's done and plop it on the cooling rack). Top with raspberries and bake for 45 minutes or until set. Brownies should be very fudgy in the middle.

Note that this final instruction is somewhat misleading. It never **really** sets, and my definition of "fudgy" is more like "moist mud cake; lot of crumbs and a little batter may stick to the skewer when you test it", whereas in this instance I think it means "thick cake batter".

Foolishly, I made the mistake of leaving it in the oven to cool while I ran off to the movies, and as a result the edges dried out and charred a little. This meant that I had to cut the outsides off and lost at least 1/4 of each brownie, if not more.

The instructions stop after the notes on the texture, but I think that you would ideally let it cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes to keep some moisture in the outer edges, and then lift it onto a cooling rack. I also found that refrigerating them overnight kind of made them set a bit better.

They're very sweet and rich and fudgy, but the raspberries really set that off. I love foods that feature two competing flavours like this. Definitely a winner!

Note that if there is no photo of the brownies then this means that I have been unable to transfer the photo from my phone to my laptop before the scheduled post date. Or that I have in fact gotten my laptop back from the Laptop Doctor but I've been too lazy forgotten to upload the photo. If there is a photo, please don't judge it. It's a bad photo. But a very tasty brownie. C'mon people, you all know what brownies look like!

Disclaimer: Donna Hay (or Donna, as I like to call her) has no idea that I exist. I like to link to her personal website's shopping section to prevent her from suing my butt off for publishing her recipes without her permission. I'm not sure how Copyright works but I like to think this helps, somehow...

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Daring Kitchen: Cooking with Tea

Well. This post is going to be totally crap because I not only did a really half-arsed job of the recipe (i.e. I read it two weeks prior to cooking it and then sort of... guessed what was in it!) but I also cooked it in one helluva rush (after the brownies - yet to post on that - but before the cupcakes) on my way out the door to the movies to see The Cup (great movie, btw), but then the only photo I was able to take of it was with my phone, under terrible lighting conditions (fluorescent lights plus the light of an LED headtorch because I realised that there wasn't enough light for my phone to cope!). I was hungry and determined not to miss another Daring Kitchen challenge so I sort of threw it all together. And then I ate it. And then I powerwalked to the movies (cos I'm not allowed to run alone, but frankly, a seriously determined powerwalk coupled with the stress of running in late was probably worse for the ol' ticker than actually jogging would have been. I think my boobs prefer me to powerwalk, though... just sayin'!), and then I had to sit in the cinema, dripping with sweat with a stitch from eating my soup too fast and then powerwalking. Luckily I remembered to bring a jumper, otherwise I would have frozen to death as my sweat evaporated.

I know, you all loved that visual. You're welcome :)

Also, three cheers for sentence structure!

Aaaaaaaaanyway, Sarah from Simply Cooked was our November Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to create something truly unique in both taste and technique! We learned how to cook using tea with recipes from Tea Cookbook by Tonia George and The New Tea Book by Sara Perry

So... I guess, first up I'll tell you what I did, and then I'll tell you what I was supposed to do!

2 green teabags
A kettle full of boiling water (filtered - I cooked it in Adelaide and didn't think the natural tap water would do much to improve the taste of the soup!)
A 2cm chunk of ginger from my freezer that had been thawed, and was oozing liquid all over the place and not very aesthetically pleasing and kind of rubbery in texture, but the flavour of which was okay *draws breath*, kind of peeled (= the skin hacked off) and chopped into tiny little pieces
Beef, finely sliced (I wanted to use a decent steak but couldn't find it in a small enough quantity, so ended up finely slicing gravy beef, which is why it turned out tough, but I'm totally okay with that!)
Bunch of bok choy, bottom cut off, sliced in half, rinsed
Small packet of rice vermicelli
Chinese five spice

So I boiled the kettle, soaked the tea in the hot water in a saucepan until I had a saucepan of green tea, removed the teabags, put the saucepan on the heat, added the ginger and brought it to the boil, then threw in the beef and the bok choy and topped up the water so the bok choy was mostly covered.

I boiled it until the bok choy was done but still a bit crispy, cos that's how I like it. Then I put half the packet of rice vermicelli in a large-ish serving (soup) bowl and added about half the soup. Rice vermicelli, you see, basically cooks on its own in a minute or two when you pour boiling liquid over it. I kept the other half for the following night's dinner, which I then captured in a crappy photo on my phone, which isn't part of this post because my normal laptop is at the doctor's (it gave me the Blue Screen of Death the other day) and I can't make my phone synchronise with either my old laptop or my mum's. Boo. Don't worry, you're not missing out - it's a super-duper-crappy photo.

In hindsight, it needed soy sauce. Or possibly a wee pinch of stock powder And maybe a little chilli. But I must say that I'm a little bit curious and quite impressed at how quick and easy this was, and also quite liked the unaccustomed flavour of the green tea - I will definitely be trying to make variations of this in the future. Thanks for the inspiration, Sarah!

So, anyway...


Servings: 4
4 green tea teabags, or 1½ tablespoons (22½ ml) (3 gm) green tea leaves
1¼ inches (3 cm) fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
5 oz (140 gm) thick or thin egg noodles
10 oz (280 gm) firm tofu, drained and cubed
5 oz (140 gm) bok choy or spring greens, shredded
1-2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) light soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (1 oz) (30 gm) red or white miso paste
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) sesame oil
6 scallions (also called spring onion or green onion), trimmed and sliced
a handful of shiso (Japanese basil or perilla) or mustard cress, or other micro greens, to garnish
  1. Place 6 cup (1½ litre) water in a pan with the green tea bags or leaves and the ginger slices. Heat until the water is just below boiling and bubbles start to form.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and let it steep for four minutes.
  3. Remove the tea bags or strain the liquid to remove the tea leaves. Return the ginger slices to the liquid and reserve.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package instructions in a separate pan.
  5. Return the tea liquid to the heat and add the tofu, bok choy
  6. Scoop out some liquid to a small bowl and mix in the miso paste. Then return the liquid to the pan.
  7. Add the sesame oil and scallions. Spoon into bowls and garnish with the shiso, cress, or greens.
Having just read over this recipe, it is far superior to the one I whipped up and and I can imagine how awesome it would taste. Although, to make it boy-friendly you would probably replace the tofu with either thinly-sliced steak or maybe dumplings of some sort. And  you may consider frying the steak first and dumping it in at the last possible minute. Just a thought! I recommend trying the recipe that I was supposed to cook and not the one I actually did. Watch this space for a new and improved version...

Green Tea, Tofu, and Noodle Soup

Sunday, 6 November 2011

When the Goal Posts Move

I'm not really sure what I'm going to write here. I've mentioned a few times over the last couple of months that I have been going through hell, and I'm not sure how far to go with explaining that. It hurts to write about, it hurts to think about, and it could possibly hurt some people to read about it, and I don't want to hurt anyone. There has already been far too much hurt going around lately, although in the midst of all of this, new friends have been discovered and old friendships have been, for the most part, strengthened. I also want to protect privacy, because it's not really fair to go splashing personal business about that could impact several people, and blogging about the situation could also make things worse.

Basically, the rug has been pulled out from under my feet and staying upright has been a bit tricky lately. The whole thing doesn't make a lot of sense, and I don't have any answers, but I do know that what is going on at present is largely unwarranted. The outcome of it is that Grant and I are going through a really tough time right now, and won't be getting married, at least, not this year.

And no, he didn't sleep with someone else.

And neither did I!

And nobody has cancer.

That we know of.

Touch wood - I really don't need to add THAT to the list of things to worry about...

It's just a really tough time, one that defies description, and I guess if you're close enough to be involved then you probably know most of it.

Oh, and we ARE still engaged. I have only taken the ring off twice since this nightmare began, once to clean it and once to make pastry. None of what has happened has changed my love for the big schmuck. In some ways it has made me treasure him more, and the situation also has the potential to incite some positive changes to our world. It's just... hard. Bloody hard. And it won't get easier for a long time, and even when it does get easier it will still be hard for quite some time.

The only reason I'm posting about it is because today (presuming I figured out how to schedule this post!), Sunday the 6th of November, is the day we were supposed to be getting hitched, and instead we're spending it apart. My would-be bridesmaids will have whisked me away for the weekend, which will probably involve drowing my sorrows in wine and cheese. I don't know whether any amount of wine or cheese or company will help me focus on anything besides the fact that all my hopes and expectations have been shattered and that the love of my life can't be by my side on - not just our wedding day, but on our anniversary.

Words can't really describe the pain and the confusion and the anger. I can't compare my situation to Jennie's - she recently lost her husband Mikey and has bravely kept blogging throughout it - but I still don't know if Grant is coming home, and if so, when. And I am terrified that I will lose him, and I am terrified that I never made the effort to appreciate those little things - even just being able to reach out and touch him, or pick up the phone and call him, or know that I'm safe and secure and loved with him lying beside me in bed - and I am terrified that I forgot to tell him how much I love him the last time I saw him, and I am terrified that I forgot to notice how he smelt and tasted and that I will forget how he smells and tastes. There's more, but I won't go on. That's a lot of fear for one defective little heart.

So besides sharing my troubles, I am also taking the opportunity to explain how this impacts my list of 101 Things to do. You may have noticed a flurry of activity on my blog - twenty posts in two months, which is probably 3 or 4 times my normal posting rate. This list has kept me busy, and gave me something else to focus on. And maybe that means that it's not entirely the positive experience it should be - because I'm stressing about posting - but it's still keeping me busy, and that's a good thing. I'll probably slow down a little, but for now, here are the items that may or will change:

#8 - Make my own wedding cake. Well, I may yet do that. And it may well be within the 1001 days allocated. But it also may not be, and, short of having access to the Delorian, there will be no way of telling for quite some time. I'll keep an eye on this one and if it looks like it ain't going to happen, well I guess I'll change it to "make a super-fancy, highly-decorated cake for someone's birthday". Or something. Watch this space.

#35 - Exercise 4 times per week in the lead-up to the wedding. Well, I guess I should change that one to "Exercise 4 times per week in the lead-up to the hike". And again, this may still apply within the 1001 days but I'm changing the goal because it makes sense to do so.

#52 - Take Grant to the snow. Could happen, but might not. Change to "go skiing again". I realised recently that the last time I skiied was in January 2006 in Liechtenstein. Yes, I've skiied in Liechtenstein. Hah. How's THAT for a travel brag!

#59 - Take Grant to Kangaroo Island. Again, could happen, but might not. Change to "organise a camping/4WDing trip with friends"

#73 - Get married. Hah, totally NOT a foregone conclusion after all. Don't count your chickens, people! I'm not really willing to change this one because it feels like giving up hope that this horrible situation will sort itself out, but I honestly don't know what to replace it with. Maybe "be in a loving relationship, and be thankful for every day that you have them in your life". Hopefully that's with Grant. If it's not, hopefully I have gotten over the pain of it not being Grant well enough to actually make this happen.

This post probably comes across as callous because it may seem like I'm writing Grant off, but I'm not. I am absolutely not. I am just being realistic. He is still the centre of my universe, but I can't guarantee that these things will work out the way I had planned anymore. Being realistic will make me feel like less of a failure.

I guess you never can guarantee anything in life.

So all of you, take a moment - not just now, but every single day - to appreciate what you have. Life is short, and it can be cruel, and it can be unfair, and it can certainly be unpredictable. The person who holds your heart in their hands may not be there tomorrow, or, if they are, they may crush your heart. Make long term plans, by all means, but make sure you enjoy the little things. Socks on the floor don't matter that much, when it means that the person is actually there to leave them lying around.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Year of the Cupcake #4 - Donna Hay's Short-Black Cupcakes

Well here we are for my fourth installment of Year of the Cupcake for my 101 Things list, and it's going swimmingly. I had originally intended to make some sort of pumpkin-based cupcakes for Hallowe'en and had even purchased Hallowe'en-themed cupcake liners and sprinkles (by which I mean things in purple, black, orange and green with some cute little spooky sprinkles), but then I a) ran out of time and b) felt a bit funny about making Hallowe'en-themed anything when I don't actually celebrate it myself on account of it being an American thing and I'm an Australian, damnit!

You know, for a second there when I was writing the title, I thought it odd that the title in the recipe book was "short-black". I never thought that there was a hyphen. And then I wrote it without the hyphen, and realised that it could be read as "short, black" and although short, these cupcakes aren't black. They're brown. And they're tasty. And the icing will have you bouncing off the ceiling. HOORAY FOR CAFFEINE!!!

They're from the below book, which is the book that first got me hooked on Donna Hay. It sat there, beckoning to me as I walked into my first ever Borders Store and the presentation grabbed me immediately. So cute! Such amazing photos! I was in heaven - a combination of books (and LOTS OF THEM!!!), and cooking. Sadly, Borders is no more. But Donna Hay lives on!

I have since bought or begged all the other books in the series. And you know what? Given her food styling abilities (or perhaps the abilities of her food stylers and photographers?? Who knows...), I wouldn't be at all surprised if she was at least partially responsible for inspiring the food blogging craze. The timeline fits, as does the styling and photography and the fact she obviously publishes her recipes for an international audience (cups AND grams AND alternative names for things). Just a thought.

Also, does anyone know whether I could get my arsed kicked for re-publishing Donna's recipes on my lowly blog? I always make an effort to tell everyone how awesome the book the recipe is from is, so surely I'm recommending the purchase of her products and not detracting from her sales??

You can get this online at, and if you don't want to search for it, click here

Aaaanyway, I made these for my friend Jody's kitchen tea, along with the chocolate brownies I will shortly post a recipe for. Sorry the photos are so bad, but they were taken with the camera on my phone, which has no luvz for taking close-ups. As you'll notice, I took the cupcake photo at arm's length and the damned thing STILL focused on the mini-orb on my verandah, dangit. Also, I don't know why I keep writing "photos" (plural) when I only took one and stole the other. And I took only one because I knew there was no point bothering with such a cruddy camera.

125g butter, softened
1/4c castor sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4c self raising flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2c milk
100g dark chocolate, melted.

Heat oven to 160oC (140oC F/F). Put mini muffin wrappers in 4 x 12-hole mini muffin tins (I used 1 x 24 and then made 6 larger cupcakes to feed friends who were coming over before the kitchen tea).

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well. Sift over the flour and cocoa and beat until combined, then add the milk and keep going until that's combined, too.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate. You know, if you're that coordinated. If not, having the batter sitting there while you sort yourself out probably isn't a big deal. Once melted, stir through the batter.

Transfer into mini muffin tins (I found that each took a little over 1/2tbsp of mixture). Refrain from licking the bowl until you really have scraped as much as you can from it. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool on wire racks and then ice.

COFFEE ICING (which when I think about it is an Italian meringue icing, which is another one of those things that looks hard (maybe because everyone gets really hung up with using candy thermometers and testing the syrup??) but isn't! Hoorah!):
1c castor sugar
1/4c water
1/4tsp cream of tartar
2tbsp instant coffee granules/powder (that's right people, two TABLEspoons! My head is buzzing just thinking about it)
3 egg whites

(Note that I shall copy the instructions precisely because sugar syrup isn't something I'm an expert it, and also probably not something I should mess with!)

Place sugar, water, cream of tartar and coffee in saucepan over high heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes.

Place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until soft peaks form. With the motor running, gradually add the sugar mixture and beat until thick and glossy. Spread over the cupcakes.


A couple of notes:
1. The texture of the cupcakes is odd. Good, but odd. I don't know whether I overcooked them, but when I first bit into them they seemed a little dry and crumbly... BUT THEN! Then, they melted in my mouth. I'm serious. It was just so light and it literally dissolved. Soooo gooood. So don't let that freak you out.

2. The sugar syrup seems to take on a life of its own once it is heated, I guess because the sugar holds the heat well. Mine just kept bubbling away off the heat, which made me concerned I was going to end up with toffee and not a nice soft ball syrup (which I assume is what this recipe was angling for). So keep an eye on it!

3. I really ought to moisturise my hands and remove my scrappy nail polish before taking photos of them and posting them online!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Droptober: The Weigh-In

Well. I did a pretty ordinary job with Droptober. I didn't lose 2kg, but I DID lose 1kg and if I keep that up then one day I'll get to where I want to be. I have a million excuses as to why it didn't go my way, but let's face it, I mostly lacked motivation. The final week though, when I had a source of inspriation, I totally blitzed it. And knowing how well I can blitz it will probably keep me a bit more motivated.

I also came up with a system of tracking my progress that was relatively relaxed but just enough to keep me in line. I call it my Traffic Light system, and if nobody has already invented it then it'll probably only be a matter of time before some bastard celebrity trainer steals it and makes a bajillion dollars off it. Grr.

Thanks to the handful of people who sponsored me - very much appreciated, and it's for a good cause.

Righto, I'm off to go for a walk. Exercising on a public holiday. Phht, I must be broken!