Sunday, August 30, 2009

I see red, I see red, I see red

My initial interest and now obsession with red velvet cake started with this London bakery which I have the upmost respect for. On my very first visit I remember being dizzy with excitement by the neverending choices of cake on offer.
The red velvet cupcakes grabbed my attention as I vaguely recalled there being some sort of red velvet cake mentioned in the movie 'Steel Magnolias'.
Red is one of my favourite colours.
I love velvet.
Cream cheese icing has long been a favourite of mine so it was only natural that I should gravitate towards buying a red velvet cupcake.
That first bite in 2005 has led to four years of being enamoured with the look and taste of red velvet cake.

It wasn't until late 2007 that I attempted to bake my own red velvet cake. I have used several different recipes and have to say I love them all.
I can't imagine ever getting tired of baking or eating red velvet cake.
I've baked a few for different friends, cupcakes for my sister's birthday a few years ago and cupcakes for my cousin's engagement party dessert.
Red velvet cake is still such a novelty here in Australia that people get very excited when they catch their first glimpse of red.
This cake introduced my good friend Speechie to the wonder that is red velvet cake.
She was hooked on first bite!

I also got to try out my new cake decorating triangle.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Recipes Without Recipes

My tea tonight consisted of roasted vegetables, cous cous and hommus. A good friend first cooked this for me and it quickly became a favourite. It's the sort of the recipe or cooking style that my mother would refer to as 'Alleluia'. Which could be taken to mean, 'throw it all together and pray that it works out ok'. Mum's interpretation is somewhat deeper. Her 'Alleluia' cooking method is more about an intuitive understanding of food and which combinations work best.

Take any of your favourite vegetables, peel and chop them. Toss through some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add herbs and spices of your liking. I added dried chilli seeds, basil, thyme and rosemary. Cook on a moderate temperature for around 1 hour. Serve with plain cous cous and hommus to taste. Best consumed with a nice glass of red wine.

I like getting new cousins

The majority of my first cousins are either older than me or around my age.
So that meant that there weren't too many baby cousins born after about my third birthday.
Luckily my mother has a brother who is younger than her by nine years.
This uncle and his wife waited to have a family and had their three sons when I was six, ten and twelve.
I remember being more excited about each of 'The Boys' being born than I was about Christmas.
Apart from the birth of my two third cousins when I was nineteen and twenty-four, there have been no new cousins in the family for quite some time.
Thank goodness for weddings!
Over the last 18 months my first cousins have begun to marry their partners and I have so far inherited two new cousins.
Two more will join them before the year is out.
One of my new cousins celebrated his birthday a few weeks ago.
I decided to welcome him into the family by baking him this cake:

Buttercake with chocolate cream cheese icing, raspberry jam filling and licorice allsort decorations.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vanilla Slice

Who influences your baking?

My biggest baking influences would have to be my Mother and my Nonna with one of my Aunts also providing me with lots of baking advice.
None of these ladies has ever made Vanilla Slice which is why I've always stayed away from baking them myself.
I'd always just assumed that they would be too hard, too tricky, too messy or too fidly to bake. Wrong. Wrong and Wrong!
No wonder they say never to assume things.

Since discovering the best Vanilla Slice in Australia it's fair to say I've been obsessed with learning how to bake my own.
I used a recipe from the Australian Women's Weekly Cooking Class Cookbook.
The whole process was a lot simpler than I'd imagined.
So simple that I will definitely be making these again soon.

Preparing the store brought puff pasty.

Have your tin, foil and bottom layer of pastry ready to go before you make the custard filling.

The surprisingly quick to make custard filling. As soon as it thickens get it off the stove and into the pan as it sets quickly.

After a little over 24 hours in the fridge the vanilla slice had set beautifully.

I went with super pink icing. Next time I'll use crushed berries or strawberries and make a real flavoured icing.

Two of my baking influences mentioned that they would now attempt a Vanilla Slice. I'm taking that as a compliment!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The price of hunger

What's the most expensive meal you've ever eaten and what's the best meal you've ever had?

This is the question posted this week for the blog tour group which I belong to.

At first I tried to think of what expensive restaurants I had visited but decided to look at the first part of the question differently. If I think in terms of value for money one of the most expensesive meals I've eaten would have to have been at an airport. I am always fascinated by the crazy prices which airports charge for their food. A sandwich for $12? Sure! A bottle of water for $6? Why not. What fascinates me more is the fact that I will always buy this over-priced food. The fact that the food is expensive seems to make it irrestiable to my purse strings. It goes against my normal shopping behaviour (I am by nature a bargain junkie and live for hunting down great bargains) but when it comes to food I will never, ever go without or take a cheaper option. I just can't do it.

I'm stumped on the second part of the question. Best. Meal. Ever? For someone who loves food and will eat quite a wide variety of it, I consider pretty much every meal to be my best meal ever. Seriously. A bad meal or food envy literally ruins my day. My sandwich at work on Thursday? Grilled ham, cheese, avacado and sun-dried tomatoes on wholemeal and pumkin bread. Delicious! I looked forward to it all morning and it made my afternoon trapped in front of the computer a tad nicer than usual. Breakfast this morning? Berry and banana smoothie with wholemeal toast and hard boiled eggs. I'm still smiling about it now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cure a Craving with Cake

I love coffee.
Whether it be made at home or a barrista is fine by me.
So long as it's not instant I'll drink it in a heart beat.
Sadly I've had to cut coffee from my life as it's been
adding to my sinus headache problems of late.
Being half Italian has made this a very difficult task indeed.
The results are worth it as my head feels better
but I'm still craving coffee on a daily basis.
I'm hoping that the coffee cake below will help me somewhat.

Melt 'N' Mix Coffee Cake
(Recipe from The Australian Women's Weekly Quick Mix Cakes)
125g butter, chopped
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons instant coffee powder (I used ground coffee beans)
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 cups self-raising flour
Grease a 14cm by 21cm loaf pan

Combine butter, sugars, milk and coffee in medium sauce pan. Stir over low heat without boiling until butter in melted. Stand 10 minutes. Stir in eggs and flour. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in moderate over about 40 minutes. Turn onto wire rack to cool. Ice if desired.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Scandinavia to Horsham

The northern summer of 2005 I spent travelling in Scandinavia and Russia. I choose a tour that took up most of my six weeks of school holidays. I didn't know a single soul on the tour. I need not have worried so much about being a 'billy no mates' as I quickly made friends with six other hilariously funny and similarly minded girls. I was single at the time and a few of my friends back in London would text or email me asking if I'd found the love of my life on tour. I didn't. Instead I found six friends for life. We nicknamed our selves The Erectors which is a story in itself.

Four years on and five of the seven Erectors travelled to Horsham in country Victoria for our second reunion weekend. Here is the food that I sampled over the weekend:

First stop was Coonalpyn Bakery in country South Australia for a fruity Danish. Which was quite appropriate as The Erectors first met in Copenhagen, Denmark. I didn't get round to eating it in the car and it somehow disappeared from our apartment.

Next up was this super sweet mini lemon meringue pie from a tiny town called Kaniva.

It was so sweet that it actually took me two tries to eat it all. Which is pretty rare for me.

Tea on Friday night was some good Aussie nachos from Moe's. Who would have thought there'd be a Mexican restaurant in country Victoria?

I have saved the best for last. My dad is a huge country bakery fan and lives for vanilla slices. My dad and I share both a last name and a massive sweet tooth for baked goods. One of the bakeries in Horsham boasted 'Australia's Best Vanilla Slice'. I was sceptical. I am South Australian and always take the Victorians with a grain of salt. I was sceptical for no reason. These vanilla slices are the best I've ever eaten. I'm not going to gush as there are no words that will do justice to the magnificence of these vanilla slices.

Hands down the Victorians have beaten the South Australians in the vanilla slice stakes. The pasty, custard and icing were all superb.

Thank you girls for a great weekend. We missed you RR and JB!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

As Aussie as Pavlova

I love pavlova.
It can't be the soft, mushy, marshmallow type.
Or the cheats type that comes from the
abnormally large plastic egg in Coles supermarket.
It has to come from a simple recipe from
The Australian Women's Weekly Cooking Class cookbook.
It requires egg whites from free range hens.
It delivers a crispy, crunchy pavlova with just the tiniest hint of mushiness.

The pavlova below was made for a very good friend
who was visiting from London, Netball Queen.
Netball Queen has spent the last 6 years in London
but maintains one of the best Australian accents I've ever heard.
She'll never lose it.
A strong, Australian accent that can survive 6 years
under the influence of the English deserves a medal, a green and gold medal that is.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Waffles are just as good as Cupcakes

The last year has seen a cupcake explosion of sorts in my little part of Australia. It seems that more and more cupcake shops are opening every week. Since late January I have been visiting different cupcake shops to do a series of posts. Today I was meant to visit the last shop on my review list. Guess who needs to check opening times a little more carefully in future? Luckily a few doors down from the cupcake place is this dessert establishment. So my outing with my sister and my 'adopted sister' wasn't wasted.

They are well known for their chocolate based desserts and drinks but have recently branched out to include light meals. My sensible sisters both ordered rolls seeing as it was lunch time.

Salmon salad roll. It was apparently quite tasty.

Turkey roll which my sources also tell me was kind to the tastebuds.

Signature hot chocolate.

I of course ordered dessert for lunch: soft yet crispy waffles with melted chocolate, strawberries and vanilla ice-cream.

With a green tea to balance it all out.