Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday Travels - From Russia with Food

Russia has always fascinated me.

I can't pinpoint exactly why either.

Is it to do with the sheer oppulance of the aristocracy pre-1917 or the advent of communism?

Or a result of watching too many consipracy theory shows centered on 'What really happend to the Romanovs?'

Or maybe it derives from my strong affection for vodka?

Reading George Orwell's Animal Farm as a fifteen year old and realising it was an analogy of the of the Russian Revolution just added to my Russian obssession. 9 years later I decided it was time to visit this great land. And sample the food on offer of course.

My first few food forays into Russia were interesting. The meals were mostly meat and 3 vegetables. I started to feel confused. Was I trapped back in 1950's Australia? I soon realised that being on the tourist circuit sadly brings with it 'tourist friendly' food. This was, afterall my first organised travel tour after 18 months of backpacking. It took me a while to get used to eating in resturants. And with cutlery.
Thankfully it got better. Russia gave me some of the best breakfasts ever. EVER. Thank you Russia for introducing me to the breakfast buffet of all time. Russia also re-introduced me to omelettes, which I am now obsessed with eating.

Meal 1 - Light salad for starter.

Meal 1 - Baked potato, snitzel and boiled veggies aka 1950's Australiana.

Meal 1 - Softserve ice-cream with strawberry sauce.

Meal 2 - Fish with vegetables. I dislike fish but I ate it because it was Russian fish.

Meal 2 - Sweet rolls filled with jam for dessert. Any culture that puts dessert out with their mains is my type of culture.

Meal 3 - Borshch. This is what I'd been waiting for. I love beetroots and after 18 months living in the UK I was craving beetroot anything like mad.

Snack 1 - A sweet tart/cake with icing and a jam filling. Super sugary and super edible.

Caviar. Not much to say other than I loved it. I preferred the black to the orange though.

Breakfast Buffet of All Time - I'm still kicking myself that I didn't photograph the savoury breakfast foods on offer. I was just so smitten by the fact that I could get dessert with breakfast. Not to mention the jumbo cup of coffee accompanied by a biscuit.

The other breakfast goods on offer ranged from an egg bar where they would fry, scramble, poach or make omelettes in front of you, to savoury meals such as pasta, stroganoff, roast meats with sauces (I am serious) and borshch. You could select bacon, pancakes, a variety of cereals, fruit salads galore and juices. It was just pure bliss for me. I could honestly think of no better way to start my day.

Meal 4 - Tea and sweet cake dusted with icing sugar. Not sure why I neglected to photograph the mail meal.....

The best thing about Russia? Finding Taralli biscuits on sale.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Add fruit, it eliminates the calories.

Melting Moments would have to be my favourite biscuits of all time. They aren't sickly sweet but have just enough sugar in the filling to appease the dessert gods. While I'm fond of the vanilla version which is what you find in most cafes and bakeries I live for Chocolate Melting Moments.

The recipe is from taste.com of course. I changed the filling to passionfruit icing (frozen from my Dad's home-grown passionfruit). I beat 3 tablespoons of butter with 3 cups of icing sugar and kept adding passionfruit pulp until I had the right consistency to join the melting moments. The chocolate and passionfruit combination seems to work well as a bit into these biscuits is like a hint of sunshine on a wintry, rainy day.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sundays are for Roasting

Four years ago I was living in London. Most Sundays were spent eating roasts at various pubs in whichever area of London I happened to find myself wandering around in. This was my very last Sunday Roast eaten at a pub in Hammersmith near where I lived in Acton Town.

Yes the roast was served inside a giant Yorkshire Pudding. Yes there it came with both roast and mashed potatoes. Talk about bliss!

One of my tasks while on 'holidays' from uni is to bake my own Yorkshire puddings. Watch this space.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I'm un-Australian

Because I really don't like Vegemite.
I never have.
I just can't stand the strong taste.
It looks like car grease.
Plus the texture is too slimey.

But I love peanut butter.
Peanut butter on toasted anything.
Peanut butter on celery.
Especially peanut butter in biscuits.

There is nothing better than baking biscuits with peanut butter.

Creaming the butter and the sugar, adding the eggs, sugar and vanilla (I'm pretty heavy handed when it comes to vanilla). Then comes the best part.....the add ins. This recipes has half a cup of peanut butter added in with the chocolate chips. Sometimes I also add half a cup of oats for some extra chewey-ness.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Holidays are Here

Well sort of.

A few hours ago I handed up my last assignment for Semester 1.
I knew that going back to study at night and working near on full-time would be stressful.
The last 18 months have certainly been just that.
Especially because I spent the first 7 months working full-time and trying to study.
Sheer Lunacy!
I didn't realise just how hard life would be.
That I would have no time to bake.
That I'd have little or no free time.
That I would have no time to bake.
That I'd stop reading novels.
That I would have no time to bake.
That I'd go cold turkey on the tv addiction.
That I would have no time to bake.
That I wouldn't have time to call my interstate and overseas friends.
That I'd have no time to bake.
I also didn't realise how much I'd learn from this experience, so much more than what I read in my text books or journals.
I've learnt how to handle stress better.
I've learnt to prioritise.
I've learnt how to not worry about the little things that don't need to get done.
I've learnt how to walk away from a bad job.
And I've learnt to appreciate not having a single thing to do!
When I have nothing to do I bake.

This is actually my first ever vanilla sponge cake using the Australian Women's Weekly recipe.
If anyone knows my mother they know that this is her specialty.

I'm hoping that there's something in the genes.
Vanilla sponge cake, filled with cream and raspberries, iced with raspberry icing and decorated with sugar flowers.

P.S. Sadly it's only a holiday from uni...I still have to work and the next 2 and half weeks are going to be crazy busy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rockin in the Free World

There is nothing as satisfying as some no-bake baking. Rocky Road was never my favourite as a child but as an adult I've developed quite an affection for it. I love Rocklea Road Easter Eggs. I love Cadbury Rocky Road Chocolate and have been known to eat half a block without even realising it.

Nothing beats home-made Rocky Road though. I initially made it with a recipe that used Copha. But the texture is too sloopy for my liking.

Now I make it using 350 grams of either dark or milk chocolate, some raspberry lollies, unsalted peanuts and white marshmellows that have been cut into quarters. Once I've melted the chocolate I usually add in a cup of each of the add-ins. I like my Rocky Road to be extra chocolatey but you can tweak the measurements to suit your taste buds. This will make about 20 normal sized patty pan cups.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What goes around comes around

Yes I should be studying and not cruising tastespotting for new recipes to try out during my 'study breaks'.

As I sat at my laptop to commence my 'studies' yesterday morning, tastespotting offered a glimpse of Chocolate Peanut Butter Crispy Bars which came from Carrie's Kitchen Creations who recommended that the recipe from Smitten Kitchen be used to make the bars.

Smitten Kitchen was one of the first cooking blogs I stumbled across in late 2007. For some reason it escaped me for 2008 which may have had more to do with my two job changes, starting my post-grad degree, house-hunting and having to push my baking to the backburner as opposed to me not liking the blog. Everything happens for a reason and I now have not only rediscovered Smitten Kitchen but also Carrie's Kitchen Creations. Something tells me my four week semester break is going to be filled with baking rather than wedding planning.

Luckily yesterday I was in need of a good recipe for a sweet treat to nibble on as my lovely cousin was having us over for drinks. As my phobia of visiting friends without food in hand increasingly worsens I had the perfect opportunity on my hands to make these beauties:

I used Smitten Kitchen's recipe but used Golden Syrup instead of corn syrup. I was so lazy/pressed for time that I didn't check to see if this is a true substitution. The end result has a wonderful flavour that works well with the peanut butter filling so I think I got it right. I also cooked the first stage without a candy thermometer and it all worked out well.

While my 'studies' have been somewhat lacking this weekend I am thrilled to have found two new food blogs to gleam ideas from and a decadent new sweets recipes that will be put on high rotation. Good times!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Jelly Belly Birthday Cake

Happy to take any opportunity to bake, I offered to make a birthday cake for my future brother-in-law's girlfriend.

Chocolate mud cake with chocolate ganache icing and Jelly Belly Jelly Beans galore.

I had a slight drama in that I stupidly underbaked the cake.
As appalled as I was at my lack of judgement, the mini crater in the middle of the cake worked out well. I simply poured the ganache icing into the mini crater to give the cake an extra chocolatey surprise with each slice.
The birthday girl loved it!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When Friends Drop By

The past weekend was a long one here.
It was raining and cold on Monday.
One of my loveliest friends called round for a cup of tea in the afternoon.
Cups of tea get lonely on their own.
Cream cheese and chocolate brownies are the perfect match for a cup of tea on a winter's afternoon.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Ring Deserves a Great Cake

It was The Fiance's birthday last week.

He loves chocolate orange mud cakes.

Loves a slice of chocolate orange mud cake to bits.

I'm pretty sure he loves that flavour of cake more than he does me.

I like home-made birthday cakes.

I know it's not to everyone's liking (or baking skills) but that was how I was raised.

So I went here and found a great recipe.
Please excuse the lack of appropriate cake stand as I decorated the cake at the Out-Laws and forgot to bring one of mine with me.

The recipe incorporates the orange flavour through boiling and pulping two whole oranges.

While the process may be a little time consuming it gives a better 'orange' flavour than a dash or orange essence.

I was a little stressed over how to decorate the cake.
Do I try a butter cream?
Is the cake rich enough to be left un-iced?
In the end I went with a chocolate ganache which was my first attempt and one I will repeat time and time again.
From such a simple process and using only two ingredients you get an amazing result.
As a finishing touch I dipped some mandarin segments into melted chocolate and placed them upon the ganache'd cake.
The Out-Laws were impressed and there was a hint at making the cake again for The Sister Out-Laws upcoming 21st birthday.

Again please excuse the air bubbles, I'll get there on perfecting my ganache!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Inspiration Behind My Baking Is.....

My mother.

She bakes a great cake.
The example below was made by Mum for my auntie's recent birthday

Vanilla sponge cake filled with cream and home-made plum jam. Decorated with whipped cream, almond slivers, grated chocolate and chocolate dipped strawberries

As children my sister and I were spoilt when it came to cakes made by mum.

She made both our communion cakes and our birthday cakes were always chosen from the Australian Women's Weekly Birthday Cake Book and made beautifully by Mum.

We quite often got to have two birthday cakes. One for our family party and one for our friends/school party.

Of course my sister and I now have an addiction to eating the leftover cake batter.

I can't take the credit....but I can try.

It's cold in my part of the world at the moment.

For our Southern Hemisphere country and my desert state it is freezing. It has also been raining.

I know we need the rain. For our farmers, for our River Murray and for our rain-water tanks. But it is still cold.

At least all this 'coldness' is a great excuse to bring out the comfort food. I'd love to take credit for the meal and dessert below but they were both created by my father.

It is a firm belief of my father's that every meal should be followed by dessert.

My Italian mother has never adopted this custom on a regular enough basis for my dad's liking.

To resolve this injustice my dad will on occasion take over in the kitchen to create a warming winter dessert.

Sausage and mashed potato with a side of boiled carrots and peas
Boiled vanilla and plum jam pudding

Pudding covered with home made vanilla custard. A seasonal dad specialty for winter.

Yes I get my love of sweet baked goods from my father.

Got to love those Irish genes!