Thursday, 31 May 2012

101 Things Update - May 2012

Hey there everyone! Thought I'd do a quick 101 Things update for the month of May. Much like last month I was pretty convinced I hadn't done much off my list. But I was wrong!

#1 - Year of the Cupcake: It's done! It's finished! Kaput! 12 types of cupcake, all baked, and a month ahead of time!

#2 and #4 - Tasting wine in the Clare and Barossa Valleys: Well I'm planning to, but it will depend on whether my partners in crime are able to join me. And of course I am unable to log into FB from work so I can't check my messages and therefore whether my Adelaide buddies said they were available. I really hope they are cos I have a hankering for a wine tasting!

#22 - to learn to make cheese: Done! I did it at Red Hill Cheese. I will write a post on it shortly, but for now be satisfied that it is complete. We did goat milk cheese, including a feta, a farmhouse cheese, ricotta and yoghurt. So far I've eaten some of the yoghurt and some of the farmhouse cheese, and I am suitably impressed.

#30 - to do a jigsaw puzzle: Done! I did a Ken Duncan one, and enjoyed every moment. It was kind of a meditative process, and it enabled me to clear my mind of everything but the puzzle. It's rare that my brain is that quiet and it was lovely.
#54 & 55 - to visit Mexico and Africa: I'm a step closer to this because I chatted about it with my project manager, and he didn't seem to be against it. As my friend Matt pointed out, even if they needed me on site, if I take holidays then it costs them less!

#57 - to write a list of 10 places I wanted to visit: I'm on to about the third draft of this list as I come up with new places and refine the list! I'll share it soon, though.

#60 & 61 - to re-read Wuthering Heights, and to read Long Walk to Freedom. Both are complete, and - scandal - I didn't hate Wuthering Heights!!! So I kind of failed one part of #60, because it specified that I was to try not to be angry when I realised I'd wasted my time. Technically I didn't have to try not to be angry, and I didn't realise I'd wasted my time, so I technically failed!

#64 - to get a food handler's certificate: I've found an online course and enrolled. Now I just have to find a couple of spare hours to sit down and actually do it!

#93 - to ask my dad about his life and take notes. I've actually started to talk to him about it. No notes yet, but it's a start.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Year of the Cupcake #12 - Coca-Cola Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

Hello All.

It's been an interesting year. If you'd been paying attention, you would have realised that it was -


The year was interesting in a lot of other ways, but I mean "interesting" in the sense of "science experiment gone horribly wrong". I'm not even going to start on that, but cupcakes have helped get me through, and so has posting here regularly. It's time spent focusing on something productive, instead of sitting back and let everything wash over me.

Don't ask me how I ended up with 12 cupcakes in 11 months. Actually, I DO know - I made two batches in the month of April, because I had an unexpected detour into Daring Cooks challenge territory. And that's not counting the ones I made and didn't blog about (but may yet do so on a slow week). So here I am, finished a month early! For those who know me, you would realise that this is a little uncharacteristic, and I imagine that nobody is suprised that it happened entirely by accident ;)

Here's a wee round-up of the year's cupcakes (and you can also find it here):

July 2011 - Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting (GF). These were my first foray into gluten free cupcakery, and I was suitably impressed by how they turned out. That is to say, I wasn't disheartened as I imagine I may have been if the pumpkin cupcakes (see below) had been my first attempt.

August 2011 - Rosewater Cupcakes with Pistachio Frosting (GF). I love rosewater as a flavouring. I don't think I got the icing right because I didn't have a lot of experience in buttercream back then - it was too butter and could use the addition of milk to thin it if you're going to make them - but I'm learning!

September 2011 - The Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake (GF). Also, HAHAHA - I just realised that this page has had the greatest number of hits of any on this blog. And why, pray tell? Because it contains a picture of Ryan Gosling with his shirt off!

October 2011 - Donna Hay's Short Black Cupcakes. Tiny but mighty! They have quite an odd texture but they melt in your mouth. The fact they are mini-cupcakes also makes you feel virtuous when you eat five. Well, maybe not virtuous, but non-piggish. O, happy day :)

November 2011 - Pumpkin Cupcakes with Vanilla Icecream Frosting (GF). These were a little bit concave. I'm not quite sure what went wrong; maybe it was that there was too much moisture in the pumpkin, or maybe it was always going to be one of those gluten free cakes that will never perform like you want it to. But what it lacked in altitude it more than made up for in taste (plus, because you have to backfill the pothole with icing, you get more icing!). These will definitely be made again.

December 2011 - Christmas Cupcakes. Basically tiny little Christmas cakes, only without the drawn-out faffing about with soaking fruit in brandy for three days and cooking it for two and a half hours at a low temperature. Be careful not to overcook them because nobody likes dry fruitcake. Unless it's swimming in custard... which gives me an awesome idea for NEXT Christmas! I'll give you a hint: it involves injecting the cupcakes with something tasty. I'm officially a genius.

January 2012 - Chai Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting (GF). These were another absolute winner, not the least because they actually rose! I think the fact that I was so attracted to these, as well as to the pumpkin cupcakes, tells me that I like the spices that are common to both cupcakes. What can I say - I'm a spicy lass ;) Pity that the icing looks a little like poo, though.

February 2012 - Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Ganache Filling. I was a little low on inspiration in February. Life was busy kicking me in the pants so I figured the best way to deal with that was with chocolate. But not too much chocolate. So I made vanilla cupcake... and then filled and iced it with chocolate. The fact that the vanilla cupcake was just a means for getting chocolate into my mouth is irrelevant! I also just really wanted to use these super-cute sprinkles.

March 2012 - St Patrick's Day Irish Soda Bread Cupcakes with Whiskey Frosting. Oh yes, you can put whiskey into your icing, to be sure, to be sure! The cupcakes were a little odd because they were almost semi-savoury on account of the addition of caraway seeds, which I feel worked well with the icing. They also taste healthier than normal cupcakes because of the savoury-ness but, eyeballing the ingredients, this is but an illusion.

April 2012 #1 - Chocolate Heartache Cupcakes with Maple-Goat Cheese Frosting (GF). Wow. Just, wow. YOU NEED TO EAT THESE NOW!!! These contain no butter and no flour - eggplant takes the place of both. Which I would like to imagine makes them healthy, but we all know how chronically I suffer from imaginitis when it comes to that massive blind spot called my stomach! Now, if there was eggplant but no 200g of honey, and no 300g of dark chocolate, THEN I might be on the right track with imagining that they're healthy. Actually, honestly, they are a healthier alternative to your usual mud cake - eggplant contains nutrients that flour and butter don't but without the gluten or quite as many calories, and is also far lower GI than flour. But really, who cares. You  need to eat them. Now.

April 2012 #2 - Apricot Upside-Down Cakes. I chose these ones because they appeared to be relatively low calorie (for a cupcake), as well as being slightly better for you on account of using wholemeal flour and containing fruit.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, May 2012 brings us Coca-Cola Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting!

This recipe is from and I halved the icing recipe... and still have enough left over to ice a few more cupcakes! I imagine if I got my pretty piping tips out I may have used it all up, but it's just so rich that I decided that less is definitely more.

1c coca-cola
1/2c cocoa powder
4tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2c + 2tbsp castor sugar
1/2c brown sugar, firmly packed
1c plain flour
1/2 + 1/8tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/tsp salt
1 egg

Preheat oven to 175oC. Line 12-hole cupcake tin with cupcake liners (note that the mixture will stain the liner, so, if you observe the photos in the original recipe (link above), you'll noticed that the lovely Heather placed her cupcakes inside a second wrapper. I don't know whether that was for effect or because of the staining, but mine discoloured quite badly).

Heat coke, cocoa powder and butter in saucepan until butter melts. Add sugars and whisk until dissolved. Cool to room temperature then add the egg, lightly whisked.

Meanwhile, mix remaining dry ingredients in a larger bowl, then add coke mixture to it and mix.

Divide amongst 12 cupcake liners and bake at 175oC (350oF) for 20-25 minutes, until cake springs back when touched.

PEANUT BUTTER FROSTING (this recipe is halved and slightly changed):
2c icing sugar
1/2c unsalted butter
1/2c peanut butter (I assumed - and used - smooth but I suppose crunchy could also be used)
1/4tsp salt
1-2tbsp milk
Optional: sea salt, chocolate jimmies and crushed peanuts to serve.

Mix butters, sugar and salt until even in consistency and fairly smooth. Add milk slowly until you achieve the fluffiness you desire.

Mmm, desirable fluffiness...

Ice cupcakes when totally cooled.

Attempt to disregard the fact they contain in excess of FOUR HUNDRED CALORIES EACH!!!

 (do you like my new cupcake carrier? It has a rubber strip around the middle and can be adjusted to carry a normal-sized cake or a tall cake; or, one or two layers of cupcakes. I also discovered that you can carry one fairly flat cake AND a dozen cupcakes)

(I only added this photo because it was my favourite swirl)

As I said, super-high calorie... but also super-delicious. I never expected peanuts to go so well with Coke, but I suppose, when I think about it, I have eaten them together before.

Now, I'm off to jog off that cupcake, and lure one of the boys in the office into eating the last one so I'm not tempted! That's one of the best parts about working with mainly men - they are generally completely unconcerned with the impact of baked goods on their waistline, so I can still indulge in my love for baking, and eat one slice, and leave the rest for them. Win-win :)

Monday, 28 May 2012

Wilton Decorating Course - Decorating Basics, Week Three

Today was the third and final installment of my Wilton Decorating Basics course at the Greensborough Cake Decorating Centre. It kind of feels like they taught us things a little bit back-to-front because, pretty though some of the cakes we made today were, I don't think they were in quite the same league as the ones we made last week. Then again, I suppose the piping skills we picked up over the last few weeks were necessary for this week's project, so ignore everything I just said!

This week's project was novelty cakes. Wilton (and other companies) make bajillions of different shaped novelty tins, and I chose the flower pot.

This is what it was supposed to look like:
Flower Pot Pan

(except, not that horrible Grecian urn. Cos, eeuw... although it does show you that you don't necessarily have to follow the pattern precisely. For example, I saw another one that kept the terra cotta pot but had proper piped roses instead of daisies.)

And this is what it does look like:

(Did you notice the bottom of the flower pot was missing? No? Excellent *wipes crumbs from mouth*)


- Choose what colours you will use for your design and prepare buttercream as needed. Put it in piping bags, ready to go. I suggest having a couple of each sized tip you will use as it will make it quicker and easier to switch colours and tips. Oh, and use couplers. They're awesome.
- Glue cake to centre of cake board with buttercream.
- Brush crumbs off with pastry brush (if you remember).
- Fill in any flat, white (or not white - it will depend on the design) areas on the picture and smooth them by dipping your small spatula in boiling water, wiping it dry and then smoothing it over the buttercream. Better to over-fill an area than under-fill it because you're just going to pipe over the top of it anyhow.
- Do any crumb-coating that may be required - think large, flat areas and bits around the sides. You will be icing zig-zags around the side at the end so a crumb coating will assist with coverage and also help the zig-zags to stick.
- Pipe any outlines with a #3 tip in the appropriate colour.
- Fill in the pattern using stars (I used the #14 and #16 star tips), leaving no gaps anywhere on the surface of the cake.
- Zig-zag around the vertical edges of the cake using a large star tip (#21??), being sure to come right up to where you have filled in your pattern on top of the cake. So, you end up with an edge that looks like a series of vertical lines, only it's a lot easier than actually piping a series of vertical lines because they're all connected like a continuous S-bend.
- If desired, pipe stars or shells around the base perimeter to neaten things up - those zig-zags never quite touch the board properly.

And there you have it. This one took me a little under two hours, not including dyeing the buttercream (+40 minutes or so) or filling the piping bags, or un-filling the bags when I realised that it was almost impossible to pipe with a full bag. You're far better off continutally re-filling piping bags than getting sore hands/arms from having to push too hard because the bag is too full. Don't make it any harder than it has to be!

Oh, look. I'm a moron. The PDF instructions can be found here.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Wilton Cake Decorating Course - Decorating Basics, Week 2

Following on from last week's class at the Greensborough Cake Decorating Centre, we built on the skills that we had already learnt.

The first thing we did - besides spending an hour prepping our icing - was learn to pipe shells. Apparently this is the hardest thing you can learn, after properly smoothing a cake. It took me a while ot get the hang of it, but I got there in the end!

We also learnt to make drop flowers, which are a heckload easier than they look, and decorated cupcakes with them in various ways.

(I had to include one of the wrapper, cos they are just so darned cute!)

Once we had decorated the cupcakes, it was time to learn to make ribbon roses and turn our attention to the masterpiece - our cake.

I'm still feeling a little smug about the fact that I finished my roses a good ten minutes before the rest of the class. They're not that hard. I may sing a different tune when it comes to more complex things, but a ribbon rose is a walk in the park for me.

This is my completed cake. I have a way to go yet in controlling my dots and stopping them from turning out spiky, but I quite like the overall appearance. You know what they say - practice makes perfect!

Next week we're decorating novelty cakes. I'm doing a flower pot with flowers in it. Could be interesting...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Fancy-Pants Pizza, Two Ways - Caprese Pizza; and Pumpkin, Spinach, Feta and Caramelised Onion

Yesterday I attended my second cake decorating course - more on that later. Last night I finished a jigsaw puzzle, thus crossing another item off my 101 Things list. Right now I'm ridiculously excited about the season premiere of Downton Abbey, which seems like a nice finish to a day that included a cheese making course (will post on that once I've sampled said cheese), also for my 101 Things list, and a day that involved fancy-pants pizza for dinner.

I consider any pizza that doesn't use standard grated mozzarella or tasty cheese and has at least one slightly unusual ingredient to be fancy-pants. Said pizza is often found on a thin crust to allow the flavours to shine, which I certainly achieved in this case on account of using mountain bread (and gluten free wraps for mum) as a base.

Pizza #1 - Caprese Pizza

1 large mountain/pita bread (gluten free wraps can also be used - I used the Freedom Foods ones from Safeway)
1-2tbsp of basil in a tube (I used Garden Gourmet)
1 medium vine-ripened tomato, sliced into 5 slices (not including the icky ends)
2 bocconcini balls (buffalo mozzarella), sliced into a total of 9 pieces (or, 10 and then eat one)
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil leaves to garnish, if desired

Have we all encountered Caprese salad?
Caprese salad
I'm actually sort of devastated to realise that I didn't invent the pizza version myself because, until I Googled this image just now and came up with a million pizza recipes, I sort of thought I had. Damnit!

They're dead easy to make, though.

Preheat oven to 220oC. Line baking tray with foil.
Smear the basil paste on the mountain bread.
Arrange the tomato and bocconcini alternately on pizza, with one slice of tomato in the middle, and each slice topped with bocconcini.
Drizzle very lightly with balsamic vinegar.
Bake 10-15 minutes, until cheese melted and bread crisps.
Note that using single-thickness GF wraps will mean it is problematic to remove the pizza from the tray, as the balsamic soaks through.

Pizza #2 - Pumpkin, Spinach, Feta and Caramelised Onion Pizza

1 large mountain/pita bread (gluten free wraps can also be used - I used the Freedom Foods ones from Safeway)
1 small brown onion
1tbsp brown sugar
Approx. 200g pumpkin, cubed, steamed (i.e. enough to cover the pizza with a few gaps)
90g feta cheese (I used the Lemnos organic one)
2-3 handfuls baby spinach leaves

I first encountered this flavour sensation up in my beloved High Country, when I was staying at Falls Creek for some field work with awesome alpine ecologists Suz and Sera, who both happened to be vegetarian. Sera whipped this beauty up one night (using plain store-bought pizza bases to make them more filling) and I haven't looked back.
Fry onion until softened but not brown, then add brown sugar and a little water and cook until bubbles and caramelises (you may need to add a little water. Keep stirring so it doesn't turn to glue!). Spread onion mixture on pizza base.
Arrange pumpkin on pizza base. Crumble 1/3 of the feta over it.
Bake approx. 10 minutes until base starts to crisp and cheese is soft.
Remove from oven and spread with baby spinach and crumble remaining feta over it.
Bake a further 5 or so minutes until spinach is wilted.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Moral Question

So is it wrong to steal if what you're stealing is an intangible concept like the Internet a d the only reason you're doing it is cos Telstra are taking their sweet time to serve you??? Oh well At least I get to try all the phones out!

(Edit - FYI, I wrote this on an iPhone in the Telstra shop whilst I awaited assistance. That's why there's letters in funny places)

Friday, 18 May 2012

Weird Bloggy Dreams

So, it's agreed that I'm a bit of a freak, right? Right. Well it gets better. And kind of nerdier.

Last night, something happened that was simultaneously the best dream ever and also my worst nightmare -  I had a dream that Ree Drummond, AKA Pioneer Woman, had mentioned a comment I had made on this post and linked it up to my blog. Tens of thousands of people then clicked on the link and saw what a sad and unprofessional state my blog is in. Some liked it, and some did not.

This dream woke me up, and it actually took me a couple of hours to get back to sleep! It has prompted me to think a bit harder about housekeeping, branding, filing etc. Don't expect any changes any time soon, but I'm beginning to think of it along the same lines as I think of my room - if I were to die tomorrow and someone (or, worse still, several people) had to go through it, what would they think???

So, let the plotting begin...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Seriously Dorky Things To Get Excited About #1

First up, I put the "#1" up there in the title because I am quite sure there will be many more dorky things that I feel the need to announce to the blogosphere that I am excited about. I'm good with sharing public humiliation like that. This is a safe space, dawg!

(Don't ask me why I just got all gangsta on yo' asses [I spelled it the American way because that's how it sounds in my head in this particular sentence, but the Americans out there need to know that it's making my head explode because an ass is a donkey and not at all related to one's gluteal muscles, and that sentence makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Unless I intend to locate your donkeys and pop a cap in their... arses]. It's probably just an attempt to deflect attention from the dorky announcement I am about to make.)

The announcement is that as of today, my number of followers from the interwebs now outweighs the number of my IRL friends who follow me!!!

See, I told you that was dorky. Especially when people like Kirsti (who, btw, is a friend IRL who started blogging a couple of months after I did) have just topped 100 followers. But given that I spend an infinitesimal amount of time tending to this blog and being part of the blogging community, I can't say I'm surprised. Much more important things call my attention. Like gardening. Like cake decorating courses. Like going to the pub with the boys from work for a parma. Like baking, taking photos of it and forgetting to post the recipe because I'm too busy scoffing it. Like trying to work off the weight I gained in hospital (which is not at allllll related to the last three items on the list...). Like trying to prevent mum's house from descening into chaos. Like going to yoga (or, as I like to call it, yoghurt). Like watching re-runs of The OC - Lordy, how I love the OC!

So thankyou, new followers and IRL friends alike. I <3 you guys!

Yep, dorky things get me excited :)

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Daring Kitchen: Boeuf Bourguignon

Well. I have to say that I am well and truly ticked off. I wrote the entire post, hit publish and then Blogger threw up an error and ate the majority of the post, and now all that is left of my hard work are the words "This month's chal". Grr *shakes fist*

I had a really good post worked up, too, if I do say so myself. And I can't really remember what I wrote, but I know I was on a roll and that it was awesome. Sigh.

Our May 2012 Daring Cooks’ hostess was Fabi of fabsfood. Fabi challenged us to make Boeuf Bourguignon, a classic French stew originating from the Burgundy region of France.

This month's challenge was Boeuf Bourguignon (aka Beef Burgandy), first popularised by Julia Childs. This recipe is the very same one that Julie messed up in the movie Julie and Julia. For anyone not familiar with the movie, blogger Julie decides to cook and blog her way through Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking and makes a colossal mess of her life (and kitchen) along the way. At the time I first saw the movie I was not a blogger and so I didn't understand how what she was doing could possibly be so hard and invade her life so much.


Obviously I have since discovered what a time-consuming practice blogging can be. I love doing it, but sometimes I freak out a little because I haven't posted in a while, and sometimes I go on a posting spree and spend an afternoon (or more) scheduling posts to cover me for the next few weeks. Sometimes I don't participate in a Daring Cooks challenge because I'm just too busy, or I do what I did last month - go to the effort of making the meal but never getting around to blogging about it.

Also take into account the fact that poor Julie had committed to cooking every single recipe in the book over the period of a year, and that there were more than 365 recipes in there, which meant that she was cooking more than one French meal each day. And don't get me started on the fact that the actress who played her didn't appear to gain any weight over that year!!!

I nearly did what Julie did - dry the entire thing out and burn it - but I caught it in time, added a heap of water and turned the heat down so that it simmered instead of rapidly bubbling away. You, too, should be careful not to be distracted by something shiny or, in Julie's case, fall asleep on the couch!

First up, bacon. The smell of bacon makes my heart sing with gladness.

Until you more or less render it, at which point it stimulates my upchuck reflex.

But frying it afterwards makes me happy again.

And a word of warning - they weren't mucking about when they gave the instruction to carefully dry the bacon after rendering it. There's a piece of bacon in the above picture that is actually mid-air as it leapt out of the pan and spattered oil and fat at me as the water on it boiled. It's a bit hard to see, but it's one near the middle of the pan. Scary stuff!

Peeling this many onions will annoy you - curse the French and their teensy, tiny, delicious onions! *shakes fist*

But the flavour, once boiled in beef stock, is truly divine. As is the flavour of mushrooms sauteed in butter.

And no, not all of this collection of delciousness made it to the casserole. Why do you ask?  :)

This dish was amazing, if time-consuming, and I'm really glad I had the opportunity to make it. It teaches you a few things about method, which I like in a recipe, and allows you to think about what you could do differently next time. In my case, that will involve browning the meat and veg and dumping them in a crock pot with a bottle of plonk! I'd still do the onions and mushrooms the same and add them later, but I didn't feel like I could just walk away from it all like you can with a crock pot, and that made me somewhat less than relaxed.

My mouth is watering just looking at that picture. Some sort of piping hot casserole with mashed potato and green beans is one of my favourite combinations of food EVER. After corned beef with mash, peas and arrots. And maybe after sausages in onion gravy with mash, beans and carrots. What can I say - I like home-style food. But I'm not 100% sure about the sausages being in second place because this one was pretty freakin' spectacular...

Recipe that follows as written by Fabi:

Equipment required:
  • 1 large Dutch oven/Cocotte/Cast iron casserole, or an oven proof dish, possibly lidded, otherwise a double piece of aluminium foil will do the trick.
  • 1 sauce pan
  • 1 cutting board
  • Knives
  • Measuring cups and spoons


Ingredients for 6 people:
1 x 6 oz (200 gm) chunk of streaky bacon
Olive oil
3 pounds (1⅓ kg) stewing beef cut into 2 inches (5 cm) cubes
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) salt
½ teaspoon (5 ml) (2 gm) pepper
3 tablespoons (45 ml) (1 oz/30 gm) flour
3 cups (1½ pint/720 ml) of young red wine. Suggestions: Bourgogne, of course, but also Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Rioja etc., depending on your country and your taste. Being Spanish, my choice this time was a good Rioja. It really has to be a good one but it hasn’t necessarily to be a very expensive one, you know, il ne faut pas exagérer Smile
1 carrot, sliced (I prefer to cut it into chunks, but that's just my taste)
1 onion, sliced in julienne
1 ½ to 2 cups (¾ to 1 pint/355 to 475 ml) of beef stock or beef bouillon
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (½ oz/15 gm) tomato paste or tomato puree
2 cloves mashed garlic
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) (1 gm) thyme leaves
1 bay leave (Julia says it has to be crushed, I prefer not to crush it so that I can remove it at the end of the process)
The blanched bacon rind
18-24 small onions, brown-braised in stock
1 pound (½ kg) mushrooms sautéed in butter (Champignons are perfect for this purpose)
Fresh parsley sprigs to serve

1.Prepare the bacon: Remove the rind. Cut the bacon into lardons (Sticks, ¼ inch thick and ½ inch (5 mm x 15 mm) long) and simmer everything in 4 cups (1 litre) of water for 10 minutes. Drain and dry carefully with paper towels.
2.Dry the meat cubes carefully with paper towels.
3.Preheat oven to hot 450ºF/230ºC/gas mark 8
4.In a fireproof casserole or a frying pan, sauté the lardons in a tablespoon of olive oil for 2-3 minutes until they’re lightly brown. Remove them to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
5.In the same casserole/pan, sauté the beef until it’s golden brown. Remove it to the side dish where you keep the bacon and set aside.
6.Still in the same casserole/pan, sauté the carrot and the onion.
7.Return the bacon and the beef to the casserole. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper, then add the flour and toss.
8.Place the casserole/dish uncovered in the middle position of the oven for 4 minutes. This gives the meat a lovely crust.
9.Remove the casserole/dish from the oven. Stir in the wine, stock, tomato paste, mashed garlic cloves, thyme, bay and the blanched bacon rind.
10.Bring it to simmering point on the stove. Now, if you were using a frying pan, discard it and put the stew in an oven proof dish.
11.Cover the casserole/dish (If your dish doesn't have a lid, use aluminum foil and stretch it to the edges of the dish in order to minimize the loss of juices) and place it low in the oven. Adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers very slowly, it has to go on for 3-4 hours.
12.While the stew is cooking, prepare onions and mushrooms. For the onions: Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a frying pan and sauté the peeled onions until golden brown. Add beef stock until they’re almost covered and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until almost all the liquid disappears and they’re tender but keep their shape. Set aside.
13.Prepare the mushrooms as well: Wash quarter and sauté them in 2 tablespoons butter. Keep on stirring until they’re nicely brown. Set aside.
14.When meat is tender, put the stew into a sieve over a saucepan, wash out the casserole and return the stew to it. Put onions and mushrooms over the meat.
15.Skim the fat off the sauce. Put the saucepan on the stove and simmer it for 2-3 minutes. Skim additional fat if it rises. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon. If not, boil it until it thickens. If it’s too thick, stir in some stock or bouillon to make it lighter.
16.Pour the sauce over the stew. Put the casserole on the stove or in the oven and reheat for 2-3 minutes. Serve it in the casserole with some sprigs of fresh parsley. Some goods sides are potatoes, noodles or rice.

Freezing/Storage Instructions/Tips: You can keep leftovers in the fridge for 2-3 days. If you want to freeze it, it lasts up to 3 months.

•This recipe gives its best when prepared in a Dutch oven (Aka cocotte, cast iron casserole, or simply casserole). It’s not mandatory to have one, I know it’s an expensive thing but if you really love to cook, it is an excellent investment. Otherwise, an oven proof dish with a lid, or sealed with aluminum foil, will do the trick.
•I confess sometimes I skip the skimming process. If you don’t use too much oil or butter and you remove all the fat from the meat, it is not mandatory at all (this is just my opinion)
•Some people add, 10 minutes before serving, a couple of spoonfuls of beurre manié (A paste made of 50% flour and 50% butter) in order to thicken the sauce and make it look more brilliant. I don’t add it cause I like the sauce just the way it is, but if you heard about it and want to try, please feel free to do it.
•I know some people hate mushrooms. If this is your case, just don’t add them. And have no sense of guilt at all.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Wilton Cake Decorating Course - Decorating Basics, plus Cut-And-Keep Butter Cake recipe

For a little while now I have been quite keen to get a handle on cake decorating. You may have realised this considering that I have now attended not one, but TWO cupcake decorating courses... and if you didn't figure it out from that, then I guess you're just a little bit slow off the mark. Either that, or maybe you just thought I liked cupcakes. Which I do. And now, for a touch of irony, scroll down to see the cake we made in class...

Anyhow, yesterday morning I attended the first of three consecutive Saturdays of Wilton cake decorating courses at the Greensborough Cake Decorating Centre. Normally they are held over five weeks, but they do offer the option of running four of the five lessons in pairs, so we covered lessons one and two out of the Wilton Decorating Basics Lesson Plan.

I just realised that this is going to come across as a huge plug for Wilton products, but that's because it happened to be a Wilton class. What can I say - I'm a sucker for structured lessons! The lessons do come with a student kit which includes things like piping bags, basic piping tips, couplers, a lesson plan booklet and so forth. I already own most of the tips (most, not all), and several piping bags and couplers, but you can never have too many so it didn't really bother me.

Anyhow, Lesson One covers some baking tips, buttercream consistency, how to use decorating bags and tips, levelling and toring the cake, filling the layers, icing the cake (as in, a plain, smooth base on which to decorate, including crumb coating), some piping practice and using piping gel to transfer a pattern.

Lesson Two taught pressure control and dimensional decorating (which basically involves building icing up using continual pressure), and then put all the skills from Lessons One and Two together to make this cake:

Sorry about the terrrrrrrrrible photo - I took it with my phone and didn't realise how badly the skylight had reflected on the cake board until I uploaded the photos just now. I've played with the light balance and contrast but it's still not great. Sorry about that. More to the point, sorry to ME because now I don't have a good photo of a cake that I so fabulously decorated. D'oh! If anyone wants this cake for their birthday let me know - it'll give me a great excuse to take a decent photo.

Stay tuned for Lessons Three and Four, where we learn to fill and ice cupcakes, pipe flowers and decorate another cake with them. But don't hold your breath because I'll be off learning to make cheese next Sunday at Red Hill Cheese, instead of slothing around in my pyjamas and blogging... Mind you, the only reason I'm slothing about in my pyjamas and not out horse riding with my BFF Ness' twin Dean (still haven't figured out which one is the evil twin...) is because I've come down with one heck of a cold, and I didn't think that being sick and spending four hours on horseback on a nine degree day was ever going to end in anything besides perhaps pneumonia! ACHOO!

Oh, one last thing - I made a cut-and-keep butter cake from AWW's Bake for this decorating project. It turned out a little flat for decorating, so I would probably double the recipe and take maybe half a batch of cupcakes out of it and bake the rest to get a taller cake, obviously adjusting baking times accordingly.

125g butter, softened
1tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 (275g) castor sugar
3 eggs
1c (150g) plain flour
1/2c (75g) SR flour
1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2c (125mL) milk

1. Preheat oven to 160oC. Grease deep 20cm round cake pan; line base with baking paper.
2. Beat ingredients in medium bowl on low speed with electric mixer until combined. Increase speed to medium; beat until mixture is smooth and changed to paler colour. Spread mixture in pan.
3. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours. Stand cake in pan 5 minutes then turn out onto wire rack to cool.

Note that these instructions are contradictory to what is found on the informational spread a few pages later, entitled Butter Cake Basics. This tells you to beat your butter until pale, add all the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (scraping bowl as required) but without dissolving the sugar, and then adding the eggs one by one until just absorbed. Then you add the flour and milk alternately and mix until the ingredients have just come together, otherwise the mixture gets tough.

Yeah, I don't get why there are two such different sets of instructions so close together either!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Michelle Bridges' Lentil Shepherd's Pie

Well, as I promised on the 16th of March, I have tried out one of Michelle Bridges' recipes. I've been feeling a bit out of control with my eating, and so I figured that if I put a bit more structure into feeding myself (i.e. preparing meals for the week ahead) I would be off to a good start.

I must admit I was a little bit concerned that it would taste like @rse, as a lot of "diet" recipes are wont to do. This reminded me a lot of this Weight Watchers recipe for a lentil-vegie curry, only without the sweet potato and therefore without being quite as satisfying. It had one foot in the "watery/flavourless" camp and the other in the "the cheese makes it tolerable enough to eat it four nights running". I imagine it could be made quite spectacular by adding herbs and spices, but I dutifully obeyed The Terrifyingly Fit Ms Bridges and didn't eat whilst I was cooking. Which means that I didn't taste whist I was cooking. Which meant that I had no idea what it tasted like until last night when I reheated portion number one! Ah well, live and learn.

Also, it filled me up temporarily, but it went down quickly, as diet foods tend to do. Luckily I had enough space in my day for another piece of fruit and a little tub of frozen yoghurt, so that stopped me from dying from hunger during my waking hours.

I made it sound bad, didn't I.

It's not that bad, I swear! Seriously, I will make it again, with either curry powder and salt (the tinned tomatoes I used were unsalted), or a mixture of herbs. My perception of it is also no doubt quite skewed because I have been eating badly for quite a while, and this is a sudden change from the delicious diet-damaging pub meal of my choice - 300g steak, cooked medium-rare, served with pepper sauce, chips and salad *drools* Not that I have it more than once a week, but gosh I love it...

Lentil Shepherd's Pie with Steamed Broccoli, from Michelle Bridges' Crunch Time Cookbook
Serves 4; Prep 20mins; Cook 1hr 10mins; 290cal per serve

1/2c dried brown onions
1 whole + 1 chopped onion
1 bay leaf
500g cauliflower, broken into florets
1/3c low-cal ricotta
Olive oil spray
I large carrot, diced
150g mushrooms, halved depending on size
1 garlic clove, crushed
400g can diced tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3c grated parmesan
400g steamed broccoli to serve

Place lentils, whole oinion and bay leaf in a saucepan. Cover with 2c water and bring to the boil. Gently boil for 40mins (you may need to stir/slightly top up water a couple of times to stop it from catching) until lentils are tender. Drain and discard onion and bay leaf.

Meanwhile, steam cauliflower until very soft. Transfer to a bowl and mash with ricotta to make a coarse puree.

Lightly spray frying pan with olive oil. Cook chopped onion, carrot, mushroom and garlic for 8mins, stirring until softened and lightly browned. Stir through tomatoes, drained lentils and 1/4c water. Season then spoon into 32x20cm ovenproof dish (which I also gave a quick spray of oil). Top with cauliflower mash and parmesan.

Bake 30mins until cheese is golden. Serve with steamed broccoli.


No, really... enjoy!

(and if you don't enjoy it all that much, at least the virtuous feeling should keep you going for a bit)

Friday, 4 May 2012

Pioneer Woman's Mocha Brownies

Well. I finally did it. After resisting for the longest time due to the crazy amount of butter and sugar in these, I made Pioneer Woman's mocha brownies from her first cookbook.

I just want to say what an absolute hero Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) is to me. I stumbled upon her blog via Cake Wrecks way back in 2009 (might even have been 2008...) and I haven't looked back. Not only did her buttery recipes appeal to me, but I also became hooked on the story of she and her husband's romance, entitled Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. You can read it on her blog (I'm having trouble finding the whole lot of them - perhaps the category was removed once the book was published? But at least some of the components seem to remain, so search for Black Heels), or buy it in book form. She comes across as being this lovely, sweet, slightly ditzy woman and is totally relatable in so many ways. It's going to sound really twee, but she made me believe in true love when I was doubting it, and she made me feel kinda normal cos hey, I'm a bit of a ditz myself and I share her love for food and family and friends, too. I love you, Ree!

(No... declaring your undying love to a blogger you've never met isn't weird. At all...)

Anyway, enough babble. To the brownies!

I have scribbled this out on the back of a receipt and am transcribing it on my bus ride back up to Barham, so hopefully I wrote it down correctly. Note that I have written the Australian measurements here, and that I have only included a half quantity of the icing as I (accurately) assessed a whole batch to be a bit over the top. If you want the original recipe, buy the book! Your thighs won't thank me, but your heart will sing with joy. There's this amazing recipe for berry cobbler and... oh, just by the dang book already!


120g dark chocolate
220g butter
2c sugar
4 large eggs
3tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4c plain flour (I used gluten free flour and they turned out wonderfully)

Preheat oven at around 160oC (325F was what the original said - you may wish to check my conversion!)

Melt chocolate, being careful not to burn. Set aside to cool slightly.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and mix until batter is an even consistency.

Drizzle melted choclate into sugar/butter/egg mixture with the mixer still running. Add vanilla and mix. Add flour and mix until just combined.

Spread into greased 8" tin (I also lined it with baking paper coming up two of the sides to make it easier to remove the cooked brownie). Bake for 40-45 minutes until set in the middle (note that I cooked mine for closer to an hour, but I think the thermostat on mum's oven is buggered - I have ordered an oven thermometer and hope this will assist future recipes!).


110g butter, softened
2 1/2c icing sugar
1/8c cocoa powder
Pinch salt
1 1/2tsp vanilla extract
1/4 - 1/3c brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
(optional: coffee essence)

Mix all but the coffee until just combined  in the mixer. Then, add a little under 1/4c of the coffee and whip until light and fluffy. If the mix is too stiff then add a little more coffee. I added some coffee essence at the end because I only used instant coffee and the flavour wasn't strong enough for me.

Spread icing on brownie and refrigerate until set. Cut into 16 slices.

Note that if you cut it into 16 slices, I calculated that there are around 540 calories PER SLICE!!! Yes, really. So I cut it into 25 slices and I feel much more comfortable with my decision to eat two in one day :)

Bon appetit!