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A Few of My Favourite Things!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Just Clowning Around with Burnt Butter Cupcakes

We had friends over last night to help us celebrate A's birthday. We served dips with rosemary foccacias to start with then later had roast lamb, chicken, green salad with dates & feat and thai red rice with raisins. I was too busy with friends to take any pictures though!

For dessert, I wanted to bake a great birthday cake for A, not just a normal run-of-the-mill chocolate birthday. No, an ordinary cake would not do for my baby! So I turned to my library of cookbooks & food magazines. I came across some beautifully decorated cupcakes in the Donna Hay's second annual kids issue and decided that these would be most appropriate for our party. Instead of following the vanilla cupcake recipe suggested in the magazine, I turned once again to Nigella for help. I was intrigued by the Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes and made some small adjustments based on the ingredients I had on hand. I don't know if the cupcakes tasted any different from a normal cupcake, but it was so great to hear the ooohs and aaaahs when these were served.

The fun part was in the decorating of these little cupcakes! Look at the burnt butter cupcakes prior to construction:

And here is a single clown cupcake looking right at you!

Burnt Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes
150g unsalted butter, 125g SR flour, 60g caster sugar, 65g dark muscovado sugar, 2 large eggs, 1 tsp vanilla bean paste, 1 tsp baking powder, 2-3 tbs milk
  1. Melt butter in saucepan on medium heat, stirring constantly until it turns a dark golden colour. Take pan off heat and strain clarified butter into a bowl. Wait until the butter has solidified but is still soft.
  2. Put all ingredients except milk into a food processor and blitz into a smooth paste. Add milk gradually until a soft, dropping consistency is reached.
  3. Scoop into cupcake cases and bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Coat with a thin layer of buttercream icing and use your imagination to decorate!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

WCB 21 - Party Time!

Bella & Tasha wish Kiri a Happy Birthday!

I was wondering what to make for this special WCB and yesterday the lighbulb went on! What could be more appropriate for a kitty gathering than a sardine-flavoured dish? I remember a dish that mum used to make with sardines in tomato sauce. I used to love pulling out the string of bones and crunching on them. I don't have sardines very much now, but I still love them and I still love pulling out the string of bones. For these sardine puffs, I drained canned sardines from the tomato sauce they were in then added chopped onion, lime juice, chilli flakes & sliced red chilli and pepper. After reducing the sauce, I added the flaked sardines and cooked until it was pretty dry. I wrapped the filling with puff pastry and baked at 190C for ~20min before glazing it with and egg/milk mixture. Bella & Tasha didn't actually get to have the sardine puffs as they are for party tomorrow, but they did get to taste a little bit of filling...and yes, they enjoyed it very much.

Want to join our party? Visit Kiri & Clare at Eat Stuff...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

More goodies in the mail!

I was most surprised to receive yet another package in the mail last week. My BBM recipient could not fit all the items she had gathered into the package for her recipient - wicked grin - so she thoughtfully sent them onto me. I received an assortment of sweets, which I shared with my office colleagues, two types of biscuits, a jar of pate de olive nero, an apple syrup to have with cheese.

Thanks so much, Eva! I'm looking forward to slowly savouring these delicious-looking food items.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"Blog in, don't wait"

The word is out!

There are some fantastic Australian foodblogs out there and some of them are featured in this article by Liesl Rampono. I think it's great that Rampono has actually looked into the Australian blogging scene in more detail than this article. There are even some quotes from the lovely Saffron at The Food Palate, so please check it out. Access is free however if you have any difficulties, I can email you a copy instead.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Heads Up on Food Blogging Article

There is going to be an article on 'The Food Blog Boom' in the Epicure section of The Age tomorrow. I'm not sure if this will be the same article as the one reported by Saffron at The Food Palate, however I will keep an eye out for it and let you know.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

WCB #20

Cats are curious creatures, aren't they?

Look, Bella! There's something in the window!

Why can't I get it?

Visit Clare at Eat Stuff to see all the other curious kitties...

Friday, October 21, 2005

SHF? Well, not quite...

Well, it has been a 'sugar-high' Friday but, unfortunately, my creations are not sufficiently dark enough to qualify for SHF #13 although I desperately wanted to participate.

It all started last night when I made my first attempt to bake my MIL a cheesecake in a waterbath. After baking for 1.5 hours and cooling for another hour in the oven, I discovered that it's not a good idea to bake the cake in a springform tin! I went to bed with cakes on my mind and the first thing I did upon waking this morning was to pull out and flick through Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess. After 1 lopsided cake and a failed cheesecake, I was determined to not have a third disaster. Having used up 7 eggs on yesterday's botched cheesecake, I was low on ingredients but I had everything required for a Victoria Sponge. I only made one small substitution, which was to use soymilk in place of regular milk as we don't often have milk in the house unless we are expecting company. This is a really straightforward recipe and the batter can even be made by blitzing all the ingredients in a food processor before adding the milk.

The sponge was left to cool while I took A on a surprise birthday adventure - Diving with the Sharks in the Melbourne Aquarium. It should really be called Diving with the Rays as they really were the feature in the dive. We were able to even stroke them as they swam by!

Upon getting home this evening, I decided to bake yet another cake so that we would have one cake for my MIL and another one for A (yes, Plum, this would be the third lot of cake for him but what can I say? I like celebrating his birthday!). I have been eyeing the recipe for a Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (again from Nigella) for some time now and this looked like a good time to try it. Another straightforward recipe that involves creaming the butter with dry ingredients, mixing wet ingredients with cocoa, then mixing both together. It really couldn't be any easier and results in a light moist chocolate cake. After brushing some syrup on the bottom half, I filled it with whipped cream and sour cherries and topped the cake with more cream. The cake demanded some shavings of chocolate to be sprinkeled over the cream - but wait, I had no chocolate on hand to shave. Luckily, I had recently been presented with some Fran's Chocolate bars! While the chocolate cake was in the oven, I filled the Victoria Sponge with a mango-cream mixture and topped it with diced mango.

Both cakes were a hit and we're hard-pressed to choose a favourite out of the two. The mango complemented the sponge beautifully and made for a lovely springtime dessert. The chocolate cake is very light on chocolatiness, the very opposite of a mudcake which I sometimes feel can be a little too rich. The sourcherries, which seemed overly sour on their own, were just right in the moist chocolate cake. All-in-all a succesful baking day - phew!

Victoria Sponge

225g soft unsalted butter, 225g caster sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 4 large eggs, 200g self raising flour, 25 g cornflour, 3-4 tbs milk

  1. Cream butter and sugar until pale
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour in between each.
  3. Fold in rest of the flour and cornflour and when it has all been incorporated, all a little milk as required to obtain a 'soft, dropping consistency'.
  4. Pour into 20" springform tin and bake for 50 - 55 min.
  5. Leave in tin for 10 min before turning out to cool.

Sour-Cream Chocolate Cake

200g plain flour, 200g caster sugar, 3/4 tsp baing powder, 1/4 tsp bicarb soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 200g soft unsalted butter, 40g cocoa, 150ml sour cream, 2 large eggs, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Combine all dry ingredients except cocoa in large bowl and mix butter in well.
  2. In separate bowl, whisk together set ingredients and cocoa.
  3. Slowly add cocoa mixture to dry ingredients mixture, beating until thoroughly mixed.
  4. Bake in 20" springform tin at 180C for 45 min.
  5. Leave for 10 min in tin before turning out to cool.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Chocolate Sponge Cake - hmmm

Have you ever had one of those baking days when things just do not go according to plan? Sigh, what can you do?

Last night, I set out to bake a light airy chocolate sponge cake for my hubby whose birthday is coming up this weekend - talk about being deflated (the cake, that is!). I was looking forward to slicing the airy chocolate sponge in half and brushing the middle with jam before filling it with strawberries and cream and perhaps dusting the top with icing sugar...well, that was the PLAN, right?

I found a recipe for a basic chocolate sponge and I followed its instructions to the letter and everything was looking quite good until it came to the actual baking of the cake. The instructions were to bake the cake at 175C for 15 minutes, which I thought was quite a short amount of time but being the kind of person that I am, I followed the instructions. Hah! I won't be doing that in a hurry again! I pierced a skewer through at 15 min at found (surprise, surprise) that it wasn't ready. I left it for another 15 before checking, then another 15, then another. I think I must have opened the overn door about 3-4 times before the cake was finally done, but the result was a very sad-looking collapsed chocolate sponge cake. The cake didn't even have the decency just to be collapsed in the middle but it had to be lopsided as well.

This morning, I came to decorate the cake and discovered that it's mighty difficult to slice a lopsided, collapsed cake evenly much less top it with whipped cream evenly. But I made a valiant attempt to make it look half decent and to distract people from the leaning-tower look by topping it with blueberries and stranberries.

I did have another look at the instructions and noticed that they used a jelly roll tin, which I'm now guessing means a really shallow tin that is used to make roulades...so maybe I didn't follow the instructions to the letter then - oops! :-P

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Pepperminty Chocolate Cupcakes

Some time ago, my husband asked me to bake some chocolate cupcakes to his specifications. He wanted to have peppermint-flavoured chocolate cupcakes - more specifically, chocolate cupcakes topped with a white peppermint frosting. I finally got around to baking these yesterday, basing it on Nigella's recipe for Aromatic Chocolate Cupcakes from her 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' book. As my decision to bake these cupcakes was pretty impulsive, I didn't get a chance to stock up on everything the recipe called for and I had to swap plain old brown sugar for the muscovado sugar. I also added some extra egg white that was leftover from another recipe. After mixing the batter, I filled the muffin cases half way and sprinkled some crumbled Peppermint Crisp chocolate in the middle before filling the rest of the case up with batter. Peppermint Crisps are bars of crispy mint shards covered in chocolate and I believe that they are uniquely Australian as I haven't seen them anywhere else.

After baking, I wanted to frost them with a peppermint icing, but alas, found that I was not in possession of any peppermint essence. I was SURE that I had bought some a couple of months ago in preparation for these cupcakes, but no...my memory deceived me. Instead, I iced them and sprinkeld more Peppermint Crisp over the top (not shown in picture).

I was hoping (fingers crossed) that the peppermint crisp in the middle of the batter would have stayed there to form a nice pepperminty centre to the cupcake, but when I cut one of them open to get a photo, I found that the chocolate had sunk to the bottom and did not make for a pretty picture :-( Nevertheless, these cupcakes were moreishly yummilicious. They had a crispy top (my favourite part) but the peppermint at the bottom also made this section interesting to eat. The icing was a little sweet for my liking so I'd like to try a different type of (peppermint) frosting next time. Any ideas on this would be much appreciated!

Aromatic Chocolate Cupcakes

110g unsalted butter, 200g dark muscovado or brown sugar, 1 large egg, beaten, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 50g dark chocolate, melted and cooled slightly, 100g pl flour, 1/2 tsp bicarb soda, 125ml boiling water

  1. Cream butter & sugar, then beat in egg and vanilla extract
  2. Fold melted chocolate and blend well but do not overbeat
  3. Add alternating spoonfuls of flour/bicarb soda and boiling water until you obtain a smooth & fairly liquid batter
  4. Fill muffin cases halfway and sprinkle chunks of Peppermint Crisp in centre. Spoon more batter over the chocolate to fill case & bake at 180C for 30min
  5. Ice and sprinkle more Peppermint Crisp over top

Saturday, October 15, 2005

WCB #19

Have I mentioned that Bella & Tasha both LOVE brown paper bags? Even when there is nothing inside, they will convince themselves that they can see something and they will dash into the bag head first so that all we can see is their bottom sticking out, tail up in the air! They sometimes even manage to scare themselves and take a huge backwards leap back out of the bag before pouncing on it again. It's great that they can amuse themselves so easily and with such a simple toy :-p

Clare is back this week as the host of WCB so head over to Eat Stuff to catch up on what the other kitties have been up to...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

BBM2 - my recipient!

My BBM recipient has received the two parcels that I posted some time ago!

As she does not have her own blog (yet) I'm posting photos of the items that I sent her:

Donna Hay magazine: I love this mag because it has lovely heavy pages and the covers always catch my eye. Look at this one - a beautiful almost midnight blue.

Tim Tams: Couldn't go past this, but I went with my favourite - the Double Coat - instead of the classic. I almost sent the Black Forest as well, but A thought there might be an overkill of chocolate (is that possible, I hear you ask, and I can tell you from experience that it most definitely is when you are doing Tim Tam slammers!).

Paton's Macadamia Royals: These macadamias are coated in a crunchy toffee before being dipped in milk chocolate. We served these at our wedding in large balloon glasses with coffee.

Classic Australian chocolate assortment: Violet Crumble, Cherry Ripe, Caramello Koala

Vegemite (in-a-biskit): I thought about sending Vegemite, but because it is an acquired taste, I went with these Vegemite-flavoured biscuits instead.

Asian Spice Pastes: Australian society is very multinational and seeing as we are so close to Asia, I decided to include these spice pastes: Vietnamese Lemongrass Marinade, Malaysian Chicken Curry Paste, Thai Green Curry Paste. I'm not sure I saw any stores selling these in Brugge, the hometown of my BBM recipient.

Wartaka Dukkah: I picked this up at the Slow Food Festival. Although the Australian spices are not listed on their pack I managed to find out that it contains, amongst other spices, Lemon Myrtle, a native Australia herb.

Pavlova Magic: I wanted to send a very Australian Pavlova over but didn't think it would survive the trip! So the next best thing was to send a DIY kit.

Yo-Yo biscuits: A classic in cafes all around town although I'm a little uncertain of its origins. As these are quite delicate, I'm hoping that they didn't get shaken around too much.

You will need to visit the Samantha Files to see what Eva thought about the goodies I sent...

Monday, October 10, 2005


Yesterday morning, I went (as I do every morning) to collect our mail from the post office box. On most days there is some registered mail that I have to sign for, but that morning I noticed that there was a medium-sized box with my name across the side! I was ready to leap over the counter, snatch the box from the person behind reception, run home and rip the box open so that I could examine its contents! BUT, I managed to summon up sufficient self control to sign for all the registered mail, thank the gentleman who handed me the box and saunter out of the post office with the box under my arm, looking as if I received parcels like this every day. I even managed to wait for A so that he could share the excitement with me. What a great parcel this was! My BBM partner, Sandra who is an Australian expat now living in the US, put so much thought into the parcel - have a look at what I received:

Copper River Smoked Sockeye Salmon, a Seattle's Best Coffee mini-sampler pack, Redhook Brewery Party Mix , chocolate mint shortbread cookies and chocolate from Fran Bigelow, Maury Island Marionberry jam, a Space Needle Douglas Fir ornament. I've never heard of Marionberries, but these are a domesticated blackberry variety that is favoured for pie, yoghurt, ice cream and jam. I can't wait to try everything out!

Sandra's cat, Jasper, sent Bella & Tasha some Wild Side Salmon cat treats. Look at them trying to get their paws on the treats! They sent purrs of delight and thanks to Jasper for thinking of them.

I stopped by the post office again this morning and was delighted to find another parcel from Sandra waiting for me. Knowing that Australian customs can be pretty strict on allowing food items through, she sent two parcels in the hope that I would receive at least one of them. The second parcel contained a Seattle cookbook, a Halloween edition of Martha Stewart Living magazine, Halloween tissues, Halloween hot chocolate and a hand salve and lip cream. Sandra also wisely chose to send 3 biscuit recipes instead of actual biscuits because it is likely that they would not have made it through customs. I'm looking forward to trying her special Chocolate, Cranberry & Orange Sable biscuits - yum!

I'm blown away by the effort Sandra has put into my parcel - thanks so much, Sandra! - and I hope that she received an equally great parcel from her BBM partner.

Head over to The Samantha Files for the round up and make sure you sign up for BBM3...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

WCB 18

We had some lovely weather in Melbourne last Sunday. The sun was shining and crowds of people were outside in T-shirts and singlets enjoying the spring weather. A & I packed a picnic lunch and took the cats out for their first outdoor adventure. We placed the girls in their harnesses and carried them to the nearby Carlton Gardens, laid out a picnid rug and let the cats out of the bag. At first, they both stayed close by A, getting used to their new environment.

Soon, however, we noticed Bella creeping off the picnic rug to lay on the ground. Look at her reaching out with her tongue for the blades of grass! She was just soaking up the glorious sunshine and keeping a sharp eye on her new surroundings, her curiousity aroused by the movement of people, birds and bees around her. Tasha remained too cautious to stray off the rug. She remained close to A the entire time, content to sit in front of him and to share some gourmet cheese offerings that we had picked up from Simon Johnson. Look at the way she is gazing adoringly at A in this next photo:

Head over to Clare's at Eat Stuff to see photos of the other gorgeous felines...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Easy-Peasy Lemon Squeezy Soup (sans Peas)

A asked for a chicken and vegetable soup, so I sauteed some red capsicums, leek, fennel and carrots in a little olive oil then added water, brought to a boil and simmered for about 20 min. Added 2 icecubes of chicken stock, cooked chicken strips, mushroom and fresh chilli before serving the soup with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dollop of home-made pesto - Voila!

Mmmmmm.......utterly appropriate for the balmy spring weather we have been enjoying and, more importantly, exactly what my husband wanted :-D

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I want to thank...

I have been rendered speechless! I've just been informed by a fellow Australian blogger, Kelly , that my first ever entry for DMBLGIT #9 won! After entering the photo of my cookie-press cookies, I browsed through the other entries and left the site feeling rather despondent about the quality of my entry. What a surprise it was then to hear that not only has my entry won for Top Originality but it has also taken out the Grand Championship! I feel like someone is playing a trick on me and this is not real - pinch, ouch!
Have a look at the other winning entries here. My personal favourites were from Chubby Hubby at #21 and Mahanandi at #29. Thanks to Alice for hosting the event and to the judges - I won't be able to stop grinning all evening!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Luscious fruits!

This is a wonderful time of year! The weather is getting warmer - warm enough for us to spend some time in the park last weekend so look out for some pictures of Bella & Tasha on their first outdoor adventure in WCB 18 this weekend ;-D

One of my favourite things about this time of year is the emergence of luscious, beautiful fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and passionfruit. Try drizzling the strawberries and blueberries with some lime juice - delicious!

We've also been enjoying the sweet mangoes (with lime juice, of course) although they are rather expensive at $4.95 each. I'm hanging out for blackberries and raspberries to make an appearance.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

WCB #17

The kung-fu fighting photos of Bella & Tasha were so popular that I had to show you these pictures that I took yesterday morning!

They usually play-fight in the evenings when A & I are at home watching TV (I think it's a ploy to distract us from the big screen and, hey, it works pretty well!) In the mornings, though, they usually just want to sleep. Yesterday morning was quite a different story as Tasha starting nipping at Bella while she was quietly trying to catch a nap. Of course, Bella couldn't just sit there and take it, could she now? And off they went!

Bella & Tasha have very different fighting styles. Bella will always be the one lying on the ground with her paws up in the air, waiting for Tasha to pounce. Tasha, on the other hand, will circle Bella strategically looking for an unprotected side to nip at or pounce from. After this description, you should easily be able to tell who you are looking at in these photos!
Head over to Clare's at Eat Stuff to see photos of the other gorgeous felines...