Friday, 29 June 2012

2012 Ice Cream Cupcake Contest - Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Cupcakes

This is the contest that kindled my interest in perfecting cupcakes a year ago. It is what incited me to declare one of my 101 Things Challenges to be Year of the Cupcake, and bake a new cupcake each month for twelve months (Heheh. And I wonder why I have struggled with my weight this year...). Last year's effort was Thai Ginger Cupcakes, which featured a ginger base (which I seem to recall was pure bliss), and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top rolled in toasted coconut and lime zest. Yummo spagummo.
Looking back at last year's post, I cringe a little bit. I can probably blame most of the bad photography on the fact I took the photos indoors at night under fluorescent light, but the styling wasn't crash hot, either. Not that it's much better now (please ignore the green curtains in the background - they're the cheap ones mum made in the eighties and has been intending to replace them with cream-coloured roller blinds for quite a time, but, in true Mum style, this hasn't happened yet), but these days I make more of an effort to take photos in daylight. It doesn't always pan out that way, and sometimes I just need to eat it immediately so I point and shoot with a flash on, but I do try a little harder now to compose the photo. Plus I've realised the redundancy of taking photos of every damned step of the recipe, unless you are an awesome photographer (like Ree Drummond) or you have something interesting or quirky or important to say about the step. Ree does her cooking commentary well and is the reason I fell in love with that style of food blogging, but I don't think I'm quite up to her level. You know, quite. <--- UNDERSTATEMENT!!!

The rules for the Ice Cream Cupcake Contest include posting your cupcake recipe (which must include both cake and icecream elements) and photo; linking back to Stef over at TheCupcakeProject and Tina/Bethany/Kevin over at Scoopalicious; add your link to the bottom of Stef's competition page; and fill out the entry form.

So that's the links taken care of, and once this post is complete, that will be the posting taken care of! (also, so I'm not just paying lip service to the rules, I will also link you to Stef's ultimate vanilla cupcakes. I've only ever made a self-styled GF version, but if they are anything to go by, oh, my. You must try them. Now! VANILLA! Nom.)

To preface the post, I will show you what we're aiming for. I actually went a little bit schmancy this year and combined three elements to make my Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Cupcakes, all of which were home-made: Cupcakes, ice cream and meringue. Oh, make that four - lemon curd, which was piped into the cupcake and also swirled through the ice cream.

PART ONE: The ice cream. This should be done a couple of days in advance, I think. I began it the night before and as you will see in later photos, its structural integrity was somewhat questionable.

This one's from and was the only basic ice cream recipe I could find that a) required only the amount of cream I knew was already in the fridge, and b) didn't call for an ice cream maker (which I don't have. By the way, I have a big birthday coming up. Hint hint. And I like the colour red. Just in case anyone (like the people at Cuisinart, for example, or Kitchenwaredirect, who have received a wee bit of my income over the years) are listening... HAHAHA as if. Mind you, if they are listening, if they give me an ice cream maker I promise to blog my way through their recipe book! Yep, good thing dreams are free... and surely you can forgive me for dreaming, because my brain is a little fried at present on account of being precisely three weeks from the big 3-0. Denial is a beautiful place.).


Because I've linked to the recipe I won't rehash it, but I will tell you that I think I did something wrong. I suspect it was something to do with how hot the liquid was when I added it to the egg yolks, but I'm not sure. I don't know whether it's supposed to look like this (the froth on the top of which looked and tasted like when you leave a tub of ice cream in the car on a hot day and it melts and expands and foams like a rabid dog, so I thought I was on the right track at the time)...
(and don't ask me why it's sideways. It was taken in landscape. This usually only happens with photos that were previously rotated. Sorry!)

But then, when I was eating a spoonful of foam to confirm its deliciousness carefully stirring, the foam parted to reveal an un-homogenous "custard". Yes, it had been coating the back of my spoon as the recipe stipulated, but not thickly as I had expected. Perhaps this is why:
The lower layer is all chunky (albeit fine, soft chunks, like a porridge made of polenta), so I attacked it with the stick mixer and all was well in the world. Yep, world peace and the dissolving of world debt really is as simple as fixing your custard-y errors with a stick mixer. You're welcome.

As I said before, leave plenty of time for the freezing part. It'll take longer than you think.

Once it was (mostly) frozen I took about eight heaped spoonfuls out (one for each cupcake) and stirred through some crushed meringue and about 1/4 of the lemon curd. You want it to be frozen enough to hold its shape (unlike mine!) when it comes time to put it on the cupcakes.

PART TWO: The lemon curd. Yields... I dunno, about 1/2-3/4 cup? Enough to fill some cupcakes with but not much more.

I got this one out of my new cupcake book. Given I have to post this before I get home for the weekend I will have to forgo citing it for now, but promise to edit it in shortly.

2 egg yolks
1/3 castor sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (approx. 1/4c juice)
65g butter, softened and cubed

Beat egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice until combined. Add zest and stir. Place in heatproof bowl over saucepan of simmering water (don't let the bowl touch the water) and add butter. Stir with wooden spoon until butter melts and then keep stirring until it thickens into a custard, about four minutes or so. Push through a seive to get rid of the zest chunks (I may or may not have gathered them together out of the seive and sucked the residual lemon curd off it before discarding it... but nobody saw it so it probably didn't happen). Cover with plastic wrap to stop a skin forming and cool in refrigerator.

PART THREE: The meringue. These are from AWW's Cook, the recipe for Meringue Kisses with Passionfruit Filling, but obviously without the filling. Sounds like they could be tasty, though...

1 egg white
1/2tsp white vinegar
1/3c castor sugar
1tsp icing sugar.

Preheat oven to 130oC. Line tray with baking paper.

Beat the first three ingredients until stiff peaks form. Fold in the icing sugar.

Using a "soft serve" tip (I think it's a Wilton 2D but could be wrong. It's a low number and a letter, I think!)...

...pipe soft-serve-esque meringues to fit on the cupcakes. You will want to have some meringue left over to crush into the ice cream so if you pipe nine swirls and use the ugly one for the ice cream you'll be fine.

Bake until they have dried out. The first clue is that they will move on the tray when gently pushed (wet meringue sticks), and the second clue is that they will feel light and sound hollow when the bottom is tapped. This will take 30-50 minutes. Keep an eye on them because you don't want them going brown - soft serve isn't brown!

Once cooled, use a fruit pitter/stoner like this:

... to gouge holes in the underside of the meringue. This is partly to quarry more meringue to stir through the ice cream and partly to allow the meringue to grip to it and not just immediately slide off. I guess you could probably use a paring knife (wow. Only took me eight goes to spell it correctly!) and a teaspoon, or perhaps a grapefruit knife, but this bladed spoon with a point did a good job of gently scraping at the meringue without stabbing myself, slipping or otherwise crushing the meringue or putting a hole through it. Go gently, grasshopper.

PART THREE: The cupcakes.

This is a basic butter (cup)cake recipe from the AWW Cooking School cookbook. I divided the below recipe into thirds to yield eight cupcakes (so this one yields 24). Mine were a little overcooked so maybe check them before the stipulated 20 minutes is up.

250 butter
1 1/4c castor sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4c SR flour
3/4c milk <-- edit: check this quantity on weekend

Preheat oven to 190oC. Do the usual - whip butter until light and fluffy, add sugar and whip until nice and combined, add eggs (don't over-beat), add flour and milk in 2 batches each, just combining (again, don't over-mix). Divide into 24 cupcake cases. Bake for a little under 20 minutes, until they spring back when touched. Remove from oven, cool 5 minutes in tin then turn onto rack.


Once the cupcakes have cooled, the curd has set, the meringues are sorted and the ice cream is frozen, get your bismarck tip (yay! I know things! I imagine you could also do it with a round tip, or get that paring knife out again and cut little rounds out the top of the cake, squirt some curd into it with whatever tip you have, then replace the little round of cake) and stab each cupcake with it, wiggle it about a bit to make a cavity and then pipe the curd into the cupcake.

I got a couple of squirts into each cupcake, and then dusted them with icing sugar in case someone didn't want to eat the cupcake fully assembled (scandalous I know, but it was a possibility. I also had to test the cupcakes to make sure they were up to snuff, so I can confirm that they taste good like this, even if they look a bit scrappy).

Finally, get a spoonful of your (hopefully frozen!) ice cream, smear it carefully on the underside of the meringue and assemble the cupcake. It was a pleasing combination of sweet and tangy, and the competing textures made it a pure joy to eat. A messy joy. Note the melty ice cream sliding off my cupcakes - don't be me. I suspect that if the ice cream had been much harder, though, the meringue may have shattered when I applied the ice cream to it. It's a fine line!

If I had my time again, I would make the ice cream a week in advance. Or I would just use store-bought vanilla ice cream and soften it on the bench before stirring through the crushed meringue and lemon curd. But altogether I'm pleased enough with them - how they tasted and how they looked - to post a second photo!

Must... eat... quickly!

PS - if you want to be a Cheaty McCheaterson, I can't see a reason that you couldn't just use packet mix cake and store-bought lemon curd and ice cream. I don't know whether you'll get the same quality product (unlikely) but if you're in a hurry, better to have Cheaty Cupcakes than no cupcakes at all!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Rainbow Cake

All the cool kids are doing it. And I'm not talking about smoking pot or getting your belly button pierced or giving *cough* unnecessary levels of affection to boys at parties or drinking bourbon/vodka/whatever the week's "in" drink is until you spew or pashing your bestie's boyfriend.

No. We've (okay, they've - I was never a cool kid) all reached a higher level of maturity now (one hopes) and baking is cool again. Did ya get the memo??

(I would like to go on the record as saying that I was baking before it became cool again, so perhaps it is I who is responsible for the resurgance... Yeah, I don't buy it either...)

And these ladies are doing it in style -
Rosie, aka Sweetapolita
Susan, aka ChocolateSuz
Kaitlin, aka Whisk Kid

If you happened to click through you'll notice a glow that I think Kaitlin started and Rosie fanned into a healthy flame. Actually, Martha made it really famous but Rosie brought it to the forefront of the bloggy world, as far as I'm aware. (And, on the side, how awesome would it be if Martha found something she liked on my blog and re-published it??? That would be AWESOME!!!)

That's right, I'm talking about the rainbow cake. It has been on my 101 Things list, mocking me, for around 350 days... And I finally made it! It was for my BFF Kaye's birthday and due to a few dietary issues amongst the consumers I made it gluten and dairy free. So yes, I was a Betty Crocker Cheat because hey, when you need to muck about dividing your cake batter into six precise batches and then dye them you don't really want to be mucking about with from-scratch baking. Actually, I was a Basco Cheat, but let's not split hairs.

2 boxes of Basco sponge cake mix, 6 eggs, 1c water, 200g dairy and gluten free white chocolate, 1 small carton lactose free cream (UHT), 1 bag frozen raspberries, 1 tub Nuttlex and 2 bags pure icing sugar. Oh plus essence of your choice to make the Nuttlex buttercream you will make taste less feral. And food dye - I have the Americolor student kit.

Make up cake mix, divide into six bowls evenly by weight, dye whatever colour you want (I went red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple, using my Americolour student kit, and put about 2 drops in each, with the exception of the purple/violet which I added a drop of fuschia to in order to give the colour a bit of depth), and cook in pairs in greased, lined sandwich pans (I used industrial Pancoat but assume the usual grease/line business is the go. Follow the directions on your cake mix box!). Bake for about 30% less time than the mix specifies, because the cake is much smaller and will dry out much faster.

Meanwhile, make the ganache. Heat up cream until bubbles form, then remove from heat/microwave and add chopped white (lactose free - Woolworths stocks it, at least, they do online) chocolate. Allow to sit for a moment, then stir until of a consistent texture. Now, I was winging this step so there was a bit of trial and error involved. I ended up tipping off a whole lot of cream that I shouldn't have, and ended up with a solid mass when I left it overnight. So, back to square one and luckily I had a second carton of lactose free cream on hand! I used about 1/3 of the second container so I imagine you need at least 1/2 a container, if not 3/4. Anyway, allow this to set in the fridge. It shouldn't be rock solid, just pleasantly thick and stirrable. You can whip ganache which was my original plan, but my first lot was too hard and the second lot was too runny!

Meanwhile-meanwhile, defrost the packet of raspberries (i.e. leave on the bench) and once they've thawed, cut the bottom corner off the bag and balance it on a heavy whiskey tumbler (or similar) to drain the juice out. Once that's done, add the raspberries to your white chocolate ganache and smoosh around. Resist the urge to eat it because even though it's lactose free and has that distinct, sweet, soy flavour about it, it still tastes really nice!

Meanwhile-meanwhile-meanwhile, make up some buttercream. Mine was dairy free, using about 2/3 of a tub of Nuttlex and close to 2 bags of pure icing sugar. I was too lazy to sift it so I didn't. I just whipped the Nuttlex up with it and kept adding icing sugar until it tasted right and had the texture I wanted (fairly fluffy). I also added a big spoonful of vanilla bean paste to take away the icky Nuttlex flavour, which gave my cake a grainy, rustic finish which I quite like.

Brush cooled cakes with a bit of the raspberri juice to moisten them (because I bet you overcooked it like me). Don't go too nuts - you don't want soggy cake. Then, using a #12 tip (large-ish round), pipe a dam with buttercream because you know your ganache is too runny to stay put!

Use 1/5th of the raspberry-white chocolate ganache per layer. Repeat the process, starting from the bottom layer and working your way up (purple-blue-green-yellow-orange-red) like so: brush with juice, pipe a dam, fill the dam with ganache, add the next layer. Repeat. I cheated in coating the cake because I have a large plastic piping tip that looks a lot like the narrow slot hairdryer attatchment which makes it far easier to cover the sides of a cake - you pipe the icing on, and then smooth it out. Have a friend take a photo of you smoothing icing at the kitchen table which is clearly too low a work surface for you, where you can't quite tell which part of the photo is in focus but suspect it may be a polka dot on your apron.

Decorate with cute li'l flowers you learned to pipe in royal icing the day before. (I'll write a tutorial on that one day, I promise!) Admire your handiwork.

And when you cut into the inside, prepare to be amazed. Even though you know exactly what's inside you will still be amazed.

Now, don't forget that you need only eat a verrrrrry skinny slice, because it's basically two cakes stacked atop one other. And you'd better believe that people will volunteer to bring cake home with them, and that all that will remain is a shattered, desolate slice.

Not to bad for gluten free, lactose free cake! And now I've checked another thing off my 101 Things list. Whoohoo :)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Jubilee Afternoon Tea, Part Two - Apple Streusel Cake, and Mini Crustless Quiches

If you've been following along, you may recall that I had an afternoon tea a couple of weeks ago in a small nod to HRH Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years of service. That post mainly contained some very half-@rsed recipes for sandwiches, which, duh, and a link to a scone recipe that I first posted quite some time ago.

Today, I will attempt to actually provide you with a meaningful recipe to make ammends for the last one. And then I will post a half-@rsed mini crustless quiche recipe below it. Again, the photos aren't any better than in the last post, but let's face it - eating the food is far more important than taking pretty photos!


1/2c plain flour (plus the below)
1/4c SR flour (plus the below)
1/3c brown sugar, firmly packed (plus the below)
1/2tsp cinnamon
80g chopped butter (plus the below)

200g softened butter
2tsp grated lemon rind
2/3c castor sugar

3 eggs

1c SR flour
1/2c plain flour
1/3c milk

25g butter
5 medium (750g) apples, peeled, cored, quartered and finely sliced
1/3c brown sugar.

Process the first 5 ingredients until they come together (mine came out like fine bread crumbs and I then had to squish it with my hands to make it come together, but even so it was crumbly. But who cares, because it tasted AWESOME). Wrap in gladwrap and freeze 1hr or until firm.

Beat the second group of ingredients until fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time, until mixed. Do not over-mix.

Add the fourth group of ingredients to the batter in 2 batches (wet-dry-wet-dry), spread in greased, lined, 22cm round tin and bake at 180oC for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter from the last set of ingredients and cook the apples for around 5 minutes, until brown. Add the sugar and cook for 5 minutes more until thickened.

At the 25 minute mark, pull the cake out of the oven and, working quickly, spread the apple mixture across the top of the cake and top with grated streusel mix (mine was more of a crumbly powder which I poured evenly across it).

Bake for around 25 minutes more, stand for 10 minutes in the tin then turn onto a rack (I did this by putting foil over the top, turning it onto the foil then turning it, right side up, onto the rack). Serve warm or at room tempterature, preferably with a little cream. Yum.

Mmm, delicious, crumbly top... *drools* I think it's supposed to be chunkier and crumblier, but I liked mine just fine. Don't be fooled into baking it for longer to try and crisp the top up, because it won't work. It will only dry the cake out. Trust me, I'm a doctor (actually, I'm not).


For each batch of 12 or so mini quiches (made in a 12-hole, rounded-base patty pan tin), you will need 4 eggs, a slosh of milk and whatever you want to put in to flavour them. I imagine the more milk (or cream) you put in it, the less eggy the filling and the more... custardy? Quichey?... it becomes.

Spray the tin with oil spray, beat the eggs and milk until of a consistent texture, add fillings such as the following and bake at... gosh, I think it was about 190oC for around 10-15 minutes. Just keep an eye on them, okay? They'll puff up when you cook them, and then fall when you take them out of the oven.

The fillings:

Cherry/grape tomatoes, halved, oven roasted with some oil, salt and pepper. Mix a big squeeze of basil from one of those Garden Gourmet tubes into your egg mix and spoon into the pan, then pop one or two of these puppies on top.


Baby spinach, wilted in a wee bit of olive oil, and some (home made, in my case!) feta cheese, crumbled. Mmm, home made cheese tastes so smug :)

Or, prosciutto, chopped up finely (this picture makes me so happy. As did eating several slices of prosciutto before I reminded myself that I actually needed to use it), and a handful of grated cheddar.

This lot were a little bit on the eggy side, but I guess that's what happens when you don't use a recipe! They were still tasty, though, especially the spinach/feta ones. And so quick, and, compared to the ones with pastry cases, low calorie. Which should balance out that cake with its dollop of cream quite nicely :)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Sweet Enough Already

Remember when you were a kid, and your mum tried to make you eat Weet-Bix or Rice Bubbles without any sugar on top, and you whinged and whined and squirmed because it wasn't sweet enough and it was borrrrrrrrrring, even if it had chopped banana on top? (or was that just me? I loved nothing better than sprinkling heaps of sugar on my Rice Bubbles so that it formed a bit of a sugary, crusty raft, adrift in a sea of milk... no prizes for guessing why I was porky!).

Well anyway, the point I wish to make is that, at some point in relatively recent history (the last 3-4 years), my tastebuds have changed quite dramatically. For starters, I eat olives now. Yep, I do. It's true. I used to hate them with a passion, but now - provided they're the good quality ones, of course - I will scoff them down with reckless abandon. And I will also quite happily chow down on a bowl of steamed vegies and a serving of lean protein, and feel the most odd sensation of... well, I don't quite know what it is. It could be my body responding well to a food that is not high in fats or sugars or things that it has to really battle to process. It could be that I enjoy the taste. Or it could also be a liberal serving of Smug.

Similarly, a couple of years ago I realised that Weet-Bix with a wee sprinkling of All-Bran, served with either chopped banana or a spoonful of sultanas, was actually quite naturally sweet. And something about it pleased me and made me very happy of a morning. Perhaps it was the feeling of virtue for having made a healthy start to my day. Perhaps it was that my blood sugar wasn't all over the place, or knowing that it would be a good few hours before the urge to snack reared its ugly head. Who knows. But at around the same time I began to recognise that the natural sweetness of fruits and spices is actually enough to balance the sourness of natural (in this case, home-made goat's milk) yoghurt.

And that's how I used my yoghurt. The first two serves were with grated apple, a few sultanas and a sprinkling of each of cinnamon and ground cloves. What can I say - I'm a sucker for the ol' apple-cinnamon-cloves combination. If I were on Death Row, I would want steaming hot apple crumble with a crunchy top as my final meal, served with a liberal helping of vanilla icecream. And while we're at it, also some double cream. Because Death Row calories don't count! Actually, it would be my final dessert of my final meal, because I would also need to eat corned beef one last time before passing into the Hereafter. With mashed potato, of course.

That wasn't weird at all, was it.

And this most recent serve included chopped apple (because I didn't feel like cleaning the grater again!), pear and banana, topped with my goat-ghurt and the aforementioned spices. The sweetness of the fruit was enough for me. I guess I really am all grown up!

Note - this was my Sunday breakfast in bed, as evidenced by the background, and took it as an afterthought using my new iPhone (squee!). And the book upon which my breakfast rests is 50 Shades of Grey. No, I didn't purchase it myself (I'm still wading through my pile of unread books as part of my 101 Things challenge so I'm not allowed to buy new books) but yes, I'm having a bit of trouble putting it down. I'm not sure exactly how I will go about reviewing it, considering the content is fairly graphic and involves SPOILER ALERT some fairly k!inky stuff (the ! is so this site isn't blocked by your workplace's firewall!), but it's... I dunno, a little bit Twilight, in that it's not that well written but if you accept it for what it is then it's not so bad. Let's just say that it may surprise you!

Returning from that segue, you should definitely try grated apple and sultanas with natural yoghurt and a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg on top. I first tried it in a hostel in Austria, and initially I was horrified by the fact I had apparently inadvertently served myself a whopping bowl of unsweetened natural yoghurt, but then my tongue acclimatised and registered the apple juice and all was well in the world :)

Saturday, 16 June 2012

A Jubilee Afternoon Tea, Part One - Coronation Chicken, and Cucumber Cream Cheese Sandwiches, and Scones

I decided that I had to get on top of this themed dinner party business as part of my 101 Things challenge. Almost a year has elapsed since I began my challenge and not a single dinner party had been had. So I decided that I needed to relax my definition of "dinner party" to include all social gatherings that involve serving food.

So... afternoon tea's a theme, right?? *looks hopeful*

I decided that, what with the Queen's jubilee celebrations, that as a member nation of the British Commonwealth we ought to celebrate, British style. And that meant afternoon tea. There was suggestion that we should all be wearing tiaras, but I forgot, and someone else's broke, and a crown ended up serving as a table decoration.

I also decided that I need to start using my recipe books. I have (counting in my head) at least twenty-three cook books, not including the miniature ones, and there are at least five that I have definitely never cooked a recipe from. So I have decided that I will average one recipe per week for a year, making an effort to cook from a different book each week. I have decided that it's okay to cook partial recipes - for example, if I want to make creme patisserie then it is perfectly acceptable to use the recipe from within the croquembouche recipe. Hopefully this means that this time next year I will have 52 more recipes on my blog, and I will therefore be eligible to participate in the Secret Recipe Club.

I know, I have some odd goals in life.

For this afternoon tea, I only used one new recipe. Unfortunately. But there you go - it's my recipe for the week, and there are already plans afoot for the coming weekend. Delicious plans. Oh, yes.

I apologise for the photography. It was late afternoon on an overcast, wintry day and in circumstances like those, especially when there are five other hungry people waiting to dig in, setting up visually pleasing photos has to take a back seat. I will also be posting the cake and quiche recipes separately to the sandwiches and scones. It was too much recipe-ing for one post.

Here is the spread. There are a couple of things on the table that other people made - the yo-yo biscuits, and a chocolate slice (and there were some yummy lemon and lime tarts that someone else made that aren't in the photo), but the rest was my doing, including a batch of scones that aren't on the table in this picture (but the whipped cream and jam are. See that massive pile of white stuff? Yep. That's cream.).

I made the scones using the same recipe I used for these ones, back in the early days of my blog. I have since made these scones several times and they are generally thoroughly spectacular - light, fluffy and just mmmm. This time, I was a little disappointed by them. I think the problem was that I opened the oven just a minute too soon, and as a result they weren't as perfect as usual. Sigh. Better luck next time!

There are two types of sandwich in the lower left hand side of the photo - the first is my take on coronation chicken, and the second is cucumber and cream cheese.

I'd just like to go in to bat for cucumber sandwiches. I don't know whether the cucumber sandwiches people pick on have cream cheese in them or not, but if they do, then people have rocks in their heads. These are YUMMY! (but hey, white bread and philly - how can you go wrong??)

I made four complete sandwiches each of the coronation chicken and of the cucumber, then cut the crusts off and cut them into corners. I then finished the chicken ones with a smear of cream cheese and a wee dusting of sweet paprika down one side, and cucumber ones with chopped chives.

I went through about half a tub of light Philadelphia cream cheese spread, less than half a cucumber, a small bunch of chives and eight slices of bread for the cucumber-cream cheese sandwiches. Slice your cucumber thinly, and leave your philly out on the bench for a while before use to soften. Once no longer rock solid, whip the philly up in the tub with a butter knife to make it more pliable before you begin spreading, otherwise you'll put dirty great holes in your bread. Spread one side of each slice of the bread (make sure they're matched up so they join together evenly when sandwiched); place about 9 thin slice of cucumber on one side; give it a wee sprinkle of salt; sandwich together; cut off crusts and cut into 4 triangles; smear one side of the triangle with more philly; press into chopped chives.

For the coronation chicken, I lightly buttered eight slices of bread (paired as above). I went through the breast (both sides) off a ready-roasted whole chicken; two stalks of celery; somewhere between half and one cups of whole egg mayonnaise (I really have no idea how much I used, so if you're getting low in the jar you should probably buy a new one, just in case you run out half way!); and a little margarine/olive oil spread. Remove the skin from cooled chicken breast; shred with two forks; add finely sliced celery; start by adding about half a cup of mayonnaise and mixing that in, then taste-testing it for texture from there on in. I added more mayo a spoonful at a time (making sure to use a clean spoon for the mayo and not cross-contaminate it with chicken - mayo and chicken are two of the worst culprits in the world of food poisoning and I wanted to avoid that!), then, once it was sufficiently mayo-y, I added salt and pepper to taste. The whole sandwich making/presentation thing was as above, but using sweet paprika rather than chives to decorate.

Gosh, I write good recipes...

Oh, look! I found a photo!

Next up: Mini crustless quiches, and apple streusel cake. Yum.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Basic Chocolate Brownies

Hey there, kiddiewinks! I thought it was about time that I posted a recipe, given that, between blogging about books, and cheese making courses, and travel bucket lists, it has now been two weeks since I dished something up.

These brownies are from the same Oxfam cookbook as the Fair Trade Toffee Brownies that I made six months or so ago, but which, strangely, don't appear anywhere near them in the book. It's set up in quite an odd way, with sections for desserts, chocolate and "oh my gosh I must have something sweet NOW" all totally separate from one another. Yeah. I don't get it either.

Note that I only had milk chocolate in the house, so these turned out tasting quite fudgy and caramel-y. I have written a note to myself on this recipe as follows:

Made it wholly with milk choc. Tasted like caramel. A little too buttery. Would be a great brownie base though - quite fudgy. Would probably benefit from adding nuts.

(did I mention? I don't think I did. I bought myself a little notebook to keep in my handbag and write recipe notes or food inspiration in. Or any other sort of inspiration, buuuut so far it's just food! It's quite handy because I'm terrible at remembering things. So I wrote that down 2 or 3 months ago - the first entry in my notebook, actually - and I'm really glad I did because even I can't remember the difference between every batch of brownies I ever made!)

I would say that if you actually followed the recipe and used the dark and white chocolate where it tells you to, it might turn out less fudgy. And yes, being less fudgy can be a good thing! I would also add some chopped walnuts (because I heart brownies with walnuts) and would also considering adding a little more flour to mop up the moisture (I think that ever since Cadbury changed their recipe, their milk chocolate is oilier. Boo. Either that or I put too much butter in it).

Edit: Huh. Maybe I need to rescind the above statement. I have written milk chocolate twice in my little notebook, with no mention at all of dark chocolate, and I only just realised it as I wrote the recipe out just now. I suggest replacing the second lot of milk chocolate with dark chocolate for the aforementioned reasons.

125g butter
200g milk chocolate + 40g milk (dark?) chocolate + 40g white chocolate (all chopped; keep separate)
200g sugar
120g plain flour
30g SR flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1tbsp cocoa

1. Preheat oven to 180oC. Grease and line 23cm square tin.
2. Melt butter with the milk chocolate. Cool and mix in sugar.
3. Sift flours together and add in cooled chocolate mixture.
4. Stir in eggs and 40g of milk/dark(??) chocolate. Spread in pan.
5. Sprinkle chopped white chocolate on top and stir through with a teaspoon.
6. Bake approx. 25 minutes. Cool in pan, cut into 24 pieces and dust with cocoa.

See them glistening temptingly? Yep. Brownies aren't supposed to glisten. See notes on chocolate and flour and so forth.

Mind you, they were still mighty tasty...

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Let There Be Cheese!

A few weeks back my BFF Emma and I headed for a goat cheese making course at Red Hill Cheese on the Mornington Peninsula. Cheese has long held a special place in my heart - from memories of my dad making us crispy toasted cheese sandwiches filled with sharp, melted cheddar for lunch on a winter's day, served with a Granny Smith apple; to our usual Cup Day lounge floor picnic, complete with every cheese under the sun, not to mention the cured meats; to visits to the highly-scented Preston Markets, where salamis of every shape and colour hung temptingly above wheels of cheese stacked 5' high. I. Love. Cheese.

In more recent times - specifically, following my move to Adelaide and subsequent sojourns about the amazing wineries there - I broadened my cheesy horizons a little with various trips about the Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. You see, pretty much all there is to do for a visitor in Adelaide is to visit wineries, and so that is what I would do when my Melbourne friends came to stay. And what better way to do that than with a wine trail pack, that provides you with a cooler full of cheese and a recommendation of which wine to try from what winery to match with each cheese in your pack. So every time I had a visitor I would take them for a cheesy, winey wander.

McLaren Vale's cheese-tastic self-tours begin at Blessed Cheese; The Barossa's begin at The Barossa Valley Cheese Co. in Angaston; and the hills' one begins at Udder Delights in Hahndorf. They vary a little in price, but for around $50 you will get 3-4 types of cheese with crackers and a little dried fruit, and that's enough to keep two people pretty well satisfied (although not over-stuffed) on a day of wine tasting. You'll be ready for dinner when you're done, but you will have no need to buy lunch, so it is decent value for money with a day's entertainment included.

So, back to my cheesemaking adventure!

Emma and I headed to Red Hill on a cold and rainy morning in late May. Starting at 10am, we spend around six hours doing the Purely Goat course, which walked us through making feta, farmhouse goat cheese, Greek-style yoghurt and ricotta. It showed us about sterilization, cultures, draining, salting and maturing.

This is Emma in her cheese-making gear. I thought she'd like the entire internet to see her kitted out in a dorky hair net. Hi, Em! :)

This is what feta looks like when you cut the curd. First you test for readiness by slicing the curd fairly shallowly then placing the knife under it and pushing upwards; if it is firm - almost like jelly - and the cheese continues to split on its own, it is ready. Then you cut the cheese like so, and, eventually, drain it.

To get the feta cheese to this stage, we had filled this container with goat milk, added some calcium and some renin (starter) and left it to do its thing at a certain temperature - it was all wrapped up in a styrofoam box and had towels over the box, too. Different starters give you different cheeses.

The cheese is then drained in baskets like this - known as a cheese hoop. This one is upside down because you basically flip it back and forth a few times over several hours to ensure it is properly drained.

This is what it looks like when it has drained. When the curd was first scooped into the cheese hoop it filled it almost to the top, but with draining and flipping it compacts itself. After this you brine it; I haven't yet tasted my brined feta yet but I'm quite looking forward to it!

The farmhouse cheese was a little simpler - we filled our individual containers with goat milk and renin, left it in an esky to stay warm and, after a certain period of time had elapsed, we strained it. Then flipped it. Then flipped it. Then flipped it. Then flipped it. Then salted it. Then ate it. It comes out a little like mozzarella in texture (or a little softer), but tasting like a weak chevre. I ate mine on rye crackers with tomato, salt and pepper. Yum :)

Lastly, we made yoghurt, which was milk + cultures. I found the yoghurt to be a bit of a pain in the backside because you have to keep it at a certain temperature for a sustained period of time. This means having an esky full of warm water, and a thermometer, and you have to keep that water between 40 and 45 degrees celcius for 3-8 hours. My yoghurt didn't seem especially keen to play the game, so after I gave up expecting it to turn out like a thick greek yoghurt, I tipped it into a colander lined with cheesecloth (= a couple of layers of clean Chux!) and let it do its own thing for a while. It worked wonders! Apparently you can also purchase commercial yoghurt making machines which would take a lot of the work out of the fermentation. The yield wasn't great given the amount of milk used, but I guess at least you know what's in it.

Mum said it tasted like goats or hay or something, but I thought it tasted just fine :) I added a grated apple, some sultanas and some cinnamon and ground cloves and made a super-yummy dessert out of it. Or breakfast - I was inspired by something similar I ate in Austria for breakfast. I did take a photo of it, but it turned out blurrry and really, it's just a sloppy mess of apple-y, sultana-y yoghurt!

Oh! And the ricotta was made using the whey from the feta plus a little warm milk, which had vinegar added and was kept at a certain temperature (I think it was up around 80deg celcius) for (I think!!!) about ten minutes and then strained. It turned out quite eggy, which I wasn't a big fan of, but apparently you can change the egginess by changing the ratio of ingredients. The vinegar-adding made sense, when I think about it, because it is a bit like when you make buttermilk by adding vinegar to milk - it forces the curds out.

If you liked home economics and you enjoyed science or maths at school you will most likely enjoy this course - it is a fusion of the two. It's basically "add X amount of product A to Y amount of product B and stir at Z degrees for C minutes". At first it seems a little daunting but once you realise you're just following a recipe a bit more carefully than you would in the kitchen, it's okay.

During lunch they gave us the opportunity to try several of their cheeses, and my favourites were as follows:

Point Nepean with Cumin - this one was a firm cheese with cumin mixed through it, which was a surprising (and delicious!) touch.
Bushranger Gold - I believe this one was a washed rind cheese, and I was surprised I enjoyed it because washed rind cheeses are often a bit stronger.
Arthurs Peak - this one was like a chevre with oregano on the outside. Yum.
Paradigm Log - this one was similar to Arthurs Peak, but was coated with vine ash.

The cheese courses book out fast so get in early. They also do camembert courses, amongst others. Em has done that one and said it was thoroughly enjoyable. And really, how can making cheese not be enjoyable?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The One Where I Tell Myself Where To Go

It's not really what it sounds like. I have no intention of telling myself to eff off. Well, not in the traditional sense. No, as part of my 101 Things challenge I decided that I needed to figure out ten places that I want to visit in this lifetime. It's taken me a while to decide because various items crop up and bump others off the list, but I've finally pulled something together. I guess the list can change because it's not like I have to actually visit these places during the lifetime of this challenge, but it's a good starting point. Bear in mind also that I haven't included places that I am fairly certain to visit in the next year or so, or places (like Mexico) that already appear on my list (Africa is on the list, but I meant "safari-style" Africa, not "spectacular monuments and lost civilizations" Africa).

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, this is how I plan to increase my carbon footprint (and Frequent Flyer status! And personal debt!):

1. Santorini, Greece. There have been a number of movies and books that make the Caldera region sound like quite an appealing place for a holiday - good food, beautiful weather, stunning scenery (honestly, you could have sold me on the good food!). I am vaguely ashamed to admit that one of those movies was Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants... but only vaguely.

Photo of the Week: Oia, Santorini Greece
2. Egypt, specifically, Karnak. Of course I want to see the Pyramids of Giza, and wander through the Cairo Museum, and sail down the Nile, but Karnak always captured my imagination. I think it was the columns that did it. That, and a scene from a James Bond movie. Only, without that Jaws guy chasing me about trying to kill me.
File:Hypostyle hall, Karnak temple.jpg
From Wiki
3. Antarctica. It feels like a bit of a w@nk having it on the list, especially given the hypocricy of a tree-hugger flying all the way to Ushaia and then travelling by a boat that could very well spring an oil/fuel/sewage leak and foul the relatively pristine environment, but c'monnnnn, it's Antarrrrrrcticaaaaaaa!!! I think the draw is partly all the documentaries I've seen of the place, plus the rugged beauty of ice crystals being blown across the snow - I've hiked remote beaches and seen similar things with sand - not to mention my desire to see it before it melts and/or is otherwise ruined by humans. Stupid humans. I wouldn't mind spending a season down there helping out with scientific research, but I somehow suspect they wouldn't be all that interested in me and my dodgy heart...
Blus Snows of Antarctica
4. Alaska. Not only did my mum visit there in the 70's and pique my interest in the place with her stories and slide shows, but The Proposal made me fall in love with it. I would prefer  it if my visit there came complete with Ryan Reynolds and that beautiful house his family owns in that movie, but let's face it, I'm dreaming! I'd also like to see the Aurora Borealis.

5. Galapagos Islands. I was supposed to go there back in 2008, but my previously undiagnosed heart condition had other thoughts on the matter! This is where the cogs started turning for Charles Darwin and his theory of Evolution, so that, coupled with the high number of endemic species, makes it a tree-huggers' paradise.
6. The Caribbean. I'm not quite sure why. Probably a James Bond film first made me want to visit there. The combination of island paradise (never mind the hurricanes!) and being a bit of a cultural melting pot with an interesting history certainly appeals. Melting pot = interesting food.
7. The South (of the US of A). Again, probably a desire borne of a movie. Sweet Home Alabama is one of my all-time favourite movies, but I don't think that's what sparked my desire to head South; more likely it was a movie made in the 50's or 60's filled with women in beautiful clothing sipping iced tea, whilst well-dressed men rolling in money payed them attention. But I'm certainly a sucker for a Southern accent. And don't get me started on the food. Or the possibility of bumping into Harry Connick Jnr at a jazz bar in New Orleans...

8. Turkey. I think the fact that it is perceived to be both Asian/Middle Eastern and yet European enough to be visitor-friendly contributes to this one. I have also seen photos of Istanbul and am keen for a visit. This photo of a market does a lot to sum it up - I have had a thing for the smells and colours of markets ever since my mum took us to the Preston Market as kids. And don't get me started on the food...
Egyptian Spice Bazaar Istanbul Turkey
From The Guardian

9. India. I read Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, the first time I was on my @rse with this stupid heart of mine (thanks for the lend, John! You can come get it any time, you know - I've had it for four years now...), and something in it kindled an interest in observing the chaos and the noise and the colour. Add to that a few movies, including black-and-white-tiger-hunting-colonial-era ones as well as Bride and Prejudice and Slumdog Millionaire; the fact that my favourite book ever (The Secret Garden) starts there; a brief stop in Sri Lanka at the age of ten, en route from London to Melbourne, which gave me a small glimpse of the region; and the memory of an Indian workmate of my parents cooking us the most delicious meal have all converged into a storm of wanderlust for this place. Plus of course seeing the Taj Mahal, and the Ganges, and the Golden Temple, and the crazy-packed trains...
The Taj Mahal
From WikiTravel
10. Hawai'i. I'm not sure whether I inherited the desire to see this place genetically (my nanna was apparently completely obsessed with the place), or if it was the Brady Bunch Goes to Hawai'i special, or Elvis' Blue Hawai'i, but the place looks like somewhere I would like to visit. Beaches, plus national parks, plus cool stuff (=volcanoes!!!), plus food, and I'm happy :) Oh, and I hear they do a mean roast pork there. When they're not eating Spam.
From AOL Travel
Did anyone else notice that I seem to be guided by my stomach??

There are other places I would love to see. The Cinque Terre in Italy. Disneyland. The Red Square in Russia. Neuschwanstein Castle (or any other Disney-esque castle, for that matter). Anzac Cove. Easter Island. Re-visit a lot of the places I visited on my trip to Europe and spend more time and more money there (gondola ride in Venice. Going to the TOP of the Eiffel Tower. The Moulin Rouge. The Sound of Music tour. Eating more than just cheese sandwiches...). The Trans-Siberian Railway. Japan. Morocco. A million and one places in Australia, mostly (but not all) in the outback. I don't know whether I'll see them all in this lifetime, but I'd sure like to try!

So, dear readers, what's your Top 10?

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Book Review: Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

This is one from my 101 Things list - to re-read Wuthering Heights and attempt to enjoy it. And nobody is more surprised than myself to discover that it was nowhere near as tedious as I found it on the first two reads!

I know, shocking, isn't it.

Don't get me wrong - Heathcliff and Cathy are still two fairly abhorrent human beings. They're rude and sneaky and inconsiderate and downright mean... but I think they really do love each other, and this book is touted as one of the greatest love stories in literature, and I'm beginning to understand why. You see, contrary to what we are fed by movies and poets and musicians and authors, love ain't always pretty. It's messy and it can hurt and there aren't always rainbows and puppy dogs abound as you skip down the road holding hands. The oft-quoted Corinthians got it wrong: Love isn't always patient or kind. It can be jealous and boastful and proud and rude and demanding. It can be irritable; and it can keep tally of grievances; and it doesn't always rejoice when the truth wins out. Heathcliff and Cathy demonstrate that quite soundly, I feel!

My best guess is that the last time I read the book - about six or seven years (which feels like a lifetime) ago, I was much more idealistic and naive. I don't think I'd ever really had my heart broken, or had to compromise in a relationship (or had a serious argument in one, come to that), or been badly betrayed, or even reached the age where relationships become permanent fixtures that are unable to be compromised just by telling a boy that you like him. So to me, back then, it was just a tedious tale of two cranky people who would love each other to the ends of the earth but who could never actually be together. I did understand unrequited love in a relatively juvenile way (or perhaps unrequited lust, or obsession, or something to the effect), but it had not yet occurred to me that loving someone could be that messy, and that the object of your affection could be anything but flawless in their conduct towards you and towards the world.

My other feeling is that between all the children named for their forebears, both Christian and surnames; and the fact that Cathy Jnr marries not one, but two of her cousins (not concurrently, but still, kinda icky!); and that one of the cousins is the son of Heathcliff, so that Heathcliff and Cathy Snr's progeny get it on, I have, in the past, been horribly confused by who was who. This time, however, I kept my finger firmly in the family tree page and continued to refer to it throughout the story.

For those who haven't read it, what follows is a rough plot synopsis.

Cathy and her brother Hindley Earnshaw are brought up at Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff, a stray that her father adopts and brings into the family. Hindley is always jealous of him and takes every opportunity to spite him, but Heathcliff and Cathy get along like a house on fire. Hindley goes off to university and meets a woman who he marries and returns to Wuthering Heights. He becomes master when Mr Earnshaw dies and forces Heathcliff into being a servent.

Nearby at Thrushcross Grange are the Lintons, Edgar and Isabella. Cathy grows closer to them when she is bitten by their dog and has to spend time staying with them recouperating. When she returns home she behaves as though she is better than Heathcliff. As time goes by she becomes closer and closer to Edgar until he proposes to her. She is overheard by Heathcliff when she confides in Nelly the housemaid (who narrates most of the story within a narration by the existing tennant of Thrushcross Grange), and tells Nelly that she doesn't love Edgar but that she can't lower herself to marrying Heathcliff, even though he has her heart. Heathcliff runs out before hearing that she does in fact love him, and that she only plans to marry Edgar so that she can help support Heathcliff and improve his existing situation of manservant. Heathcliff disappears after that and in the end is nowhere to be found for a few years.

Edgar and Cathy eventually marry after a couple of years, and several months later Heathcliff returns, much refined and much more wealthy. Heathcliff establishes himself at Wuthering Heights and sets about ruining Hindley, encouraging him to gamble and taking his fortune, piece by piece. He also influences Hindley's son Hareton and teaches him to be bitter and hateful and to neglect his studies and become worthless and unloveable. All of this is to gain vengeance for Hindley's poor treatment of Heathcliff growing up.

Cathy becomes ill following an argument with Edgar about Heathcliff being in her life, and her health spirals. Meanwhile, Heathcliff elopes with Edgar's sister Isabella more or less to be spiteful. After the elopement Heathcliff finds out exactly how critically ill Cathy is and rushes to her bedside. In between her feverish ramblings they declare their undying love for one another, and then Cathy dies, but not before she give birth to Cathy Jnr.

Meanwhile, Isabella is also pregnant with Heathcliff's child, and runs away following a physical domestic dispute. She gives birth to Linton and brings him up alone.

Fast forward serveal years - when Linton is thirteen Isabella dies and he returns to live with his uncle Edgar; but Heathcliff finds out that Linton has come home and forces him to move in with him.

Linton is a sickly and petulant child, and Cathy Jnr feels quite sorry for him so spends quite a bit of time with him, reading and pandering to his whims so forth. By the time they are teenagers there is a bit of a flame there but Cathy doesn't seem 100% into it. Linton is more or less dying, as is Edgar, and one day Heathcliff lures Cathy Jnr into his house and refuses to let her leave until she and Linton marry. This is in a bid to combine the estates of the two people he hated most - Hindley, for making his life a misery, and Edgar, for marrying Cathy Snr - and thus seek his vengence.

So they marry, and it doesn't last long because Linton dies. I think Edgard dies first, though. And then Heathcliff dies! Creepy ol' fella seems to live (die) happily ever after, because he pays the sexton at the local church to prise open Cathy Snr's coffin lid on the side that he will be be buried, and to do the same to his coffin, so they can... hold hands?? Share worms?? Who knows. Weird cat, that one. Anyway, he's happy when he dies and everyone who's left living (Cathy Jnr and Hareton, I think, plus servants) are just as happy that he's six feet under. Huzzah!

(Yeah. Plagiarise that, uni students. I know you've done it before. I've seen what your search terms are, which server you come from and how long you loiter for. Statcounter knows evvvvvvverything... so cite me, biatches! I'm totes a reliable source!)

So there you have it. Two people who love one another, despite their (multiple, hideous) flaws, and who, though unable to be together in this lifetime, are determined to be together in the next. So I guess Corinthians isn't entirely wrong. Because Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. They both died knowing they were loved by the other, and that was enough for them.