Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TWD - Coconut Butter Thins

This week's Tuesday with Dorie is hosted by Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch, who has chosen Dorie's recipe for Coconut Butter Thins.

These biscuits are like a tropical shortbread, with flavours of coconut, lime and macadamias. They were relatively straightforward to make, although I chopped my macadamias a little too chunky for easy rolling.

There was nothing lacy or thin about my version of these biscuits, despite Dorie's description.

I liked these biscuits, although I didn't think they were special enough to make again.

You can see how everyone else went with these biscuits by checking out the TWD blogroll.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Twilight cupcakes

One of the latest crazes around at the moment is the Twilight series of books by Stephenie Meyer. I was initially cynical, dismissing these books as overhyped teenage literature that I would give a miss. However, my friend Loretta loved them so much and thought so highly of them that I succumbed and bought the first Twilight book - and never looked back. I was hooked!! I was compelled to read the whole series in a row over Christmas, and I could not put them down. These books were fantastic. My friend Aphrodite also became hooked on them through her teenage daughter. We have all now not only read the books, but we've seen the movie and own the merchandise. For the record, I am on Team Edward (even though I like Jake).

For a long while, I have wanted to make Twilight cupcakes in honour of the books. I know that quite a few people have made Twilight cupcakes and cakes, but my vision was different to the ones that I had seen, so I finally got around to making them last week. Although the execution of my idea did not turn out as perfectly as I would have liked, I still think these cupcakes look pretty good - and they tasted great!

I wanted to combine the three key colours of the Twilight cover art - namely black, white and red - into my cupcakes. The components that I put together in my Twilight cupcakes to achieve this aim were:

The Yeti Cupcake recipe from Cupcakes Galore by Gail Wagman without the mini marshmallows:

with a whole raspberry "heart" in each cupcake:

and iced with the jet black Halloween cupcake frosting from Nigella Lawson's Feast, with the initials "E &B" (for Edward and Bella) and a red apple (from the cover of the first book) piped on top:

Here is the interior view of the cupcakes, which shows the overall effect:

These cupcakes tasted delicious and were very popular. Loretta loved them (thanks Loretta!!), and another colleague, Jason, declared them my best cupcakes yet.

While these cupcakes were quite labour intensive to decorate, they were lots of fun to make. These cupcakes are dedicated to Stephenie Meyer and all Twilight fans.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

Mamma mia! This month's Daring Bakers challenge transports us to Italy to make pasta - spinach lasagne noodles to be exact. But first, here's a word from our sponsor:

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

I have previously shied away from making my own pasta, putting it in the "too hard" basket. In fact, I have owned a book on pasta making for more than 10 years, and a pasta machine for more than 4 years, and have used neither of them. This challenge not only forced me to confront my pasta making fear, but the pasta had to be made entirely by hand - no machine! Just as well, as I am soon to move house, and I didn't plan on opening the mint condition pasta machine after all this time right now.

Here is the birth of my lasagne noodles - flour, eggs and spinach:

I found that I had to add a significant amount of water (not in the recipe) to make a coherent dough.

Eventually, after mixing and kneading, I ended up with this lovely, silky-smooth green ball of dough:

Next came some seriously hard yakka and quality time with my rolling pin as I rolled the rested dough into transparent sheets, and cut it into smaller sheets of uniform size using a template as a guide:

Here are my lasagne sheets hanging "on the line" (or in my case, on my bathroom towel rack!) to dry:

I didn't bother drying the lasagne sheets completely, and instead used them while they were still pliable. This meant that I didn't have to pre-boil them before using them in my lasagne.

For the filling, I made the bechamel and the country ragu suggested by our hosts (recipe on their sites). The ragu itself took some serious work, from mincing the meat in the food processor through to cooking it for two hours plus. I always struggle with slow cooking things on my gas cooktop, which burns furiously even at the lowest setting, so I had to constantly top up my ragu with water during the cooking process.

Here is the lasagne mid-layering, showing all of the delicious components:

I didn't realise that I had to buy additional cheese for assembling the lasagne until after I had completed the shopping, so I just used some pre-grated light cheddar cheese that I already had.

After five hours worth of work, including 40 minutes of oven time, I ended up with a hefty dish of hand-made lasagne:

Slicing into its depths, the many layers of the lasagne are clearly visible:

Even though I was rather bemused by the length of time it took to make this lasagne, the taste was fantastic - rich, hearty and very satisfying. I could really tell the taste difference between my beautiful fresh hand-made lasagne sheets and the dried packet lasgane sheets that I usually use. For the sake of convenience, given the work that lasagne takes in any event, I will probably stick with dried packet lasagne. However, I am now inspired to make other types of pasta from scratch, which can be used in less labour-intensive dishes.

I only used half of my lasagne sheets to make this lasagne, although all the bechamel and ragu was used. I was at a loss what to do with the remaining sheets - originally I was going to take them to work and beg someone to take them. There was no way that I was going to throw them out after all of that work.

Eventually, I was inspired by the fact that I was going to make tuna pasta for my work lunches this week anyway, so I switched from packet pasta to tuna lasagne, made from
this recipe, but using breadcrumbs on top instead of cheese:

Of the two, I actually preferred the tuna lasagne, simply because it is not as heavy. However, both versions are delicious.

Thanks to our hosts this month for choosing a very different challenge. You can check out all the other variations and permutations of this lasagne at
The Daring Kitchen blogroll.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chocolate and Pear Cake

Way back in January, I saw this scrumptious looking chocolate and pear cake on Smitten Kitten, and I printed off the recipe. With the best intentions in the world, it is only now that I have gotten around to making it, by virtue of having some lovely ripe pears left over from lunches in my fridge.

I never read the comments at the end of a recipe before trying it myself, for fear it will put me off. Once again, I am glad that I didn't read those comments until after I had made my cake, because a number of people had problems with making it.

I found this cake very easy to make. The only possible issue I had is that most of my chocolate chunks and pear cubes sank to the bottom of the cake during baking, even though they are sprinkled on top just before baking and not mixed in - hardly a problem, really!

This cake is just delightful - the browned butter, fruit and chocolate combine to create a taste sensation. The cake is also lovely and high, so it is attractive without further adornment. I would make it again in a heartbeat, and thank Smitten Kitten (Deb) for persisting for a year and a half to obtain this recipe from Anna, a pastry chef at Al Di La Trattoria, where she first tasted the cake. Yum!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TWD - Blueberry Crumb Cake

This week's Tuesday with Dorie is hosted by Sihan of Befuddlement. She has chosen the Blueberry Crumb Cake.

What can I say - I am in love:

It's fruity, nutty, buttery and delicious - I loved it from the get go. It was easy to make, and the only thing that I would do next time is to line the bottom of the tin, because all of that fruit makes unmoulding a risky business.
I dedicate my Blueberry Crumb Cake to all the people who are victims of the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria. The blueberries that I used were frozen from the early summer, and I felt a pang when I realised that they had come from Kinglake, one of the towns that was razed by the bushfires:

To check out how everyone else went with this cake, check out the
Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Farewell to Craig with Beer & Walnut Cake; Some Little Cupcakes

On Friday, it was my colleague and friend Craig's last day with the company after 8 years. He is going on to a fantastic new role as a project manager with a charity organisation, so that he can give something back to the wider community, and I wish him well. However, I will miss him.

Now, I was not at all sure what sort of cake Craig might like for his farewell, but I know that, like most Australian blokes, he drinks beer. Accordingly, I searched the Net for beer cake recipes for which I had all of the ingredients. I didn't want to make a Guinness or stout cake, as I had been there, done that, and I had ordinary lager. I eventually settled for a beer, pecan and date cake recipe from the ABC website (that's the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the Antipodes ;)).

Here is the resulting cake:

I didn't use dates ('cause I didn't have any), substituted walnuts for pecans, used white sugar instead of brown, and used Crown lager (which has been living in my fridge since before Christmas). I frosted the cake with a simple icing made of beer and icing sugar, and used some Mike and Ike lollies that I received from Nikki in the last round of Blogging by Mail to decorate the top of the cake.

This recipe produced a rather handsome cake, but I have no idea if it tasted good, because I was not there. I am on secondment on Fridays, so I had to run this cake into my usual workplace at 7am (a bit like Santa) before going on to my secondment job. Craig very kindly sent me an email to say that it did taste good, so you and I will have to believe him.

This cake was nearly never made, as I didn't get home until 10.30pm on Thursday night after dinner with friends, and by the end of the week, I am kind of over everything. Accordingly, starting a cake from scratch late at night was not particularly appealing. However, I bucked up and did it anyway, and was glad that I did.

On Thursday, my friend Loretta and I went to Little Cupcakes in Degraves Street, Melbourne. These cupcakes are not the best or the prettiest that I have ever had, but they are certainly nice enough, and reign as the closest cupcake destination to my secondment job.

Here is Loretta modelling our cupcakes:

We bought two minis each - a cookies and cream each, and I got a lemon mini while Loretta got a white chocolate mini (the one at the back with the Tiny Teddy on top). The cookies and cream cupcake was the stand out for me - I found the lemon one slightly "meh". And of course, none of them challenged Cupcakes to Go.

Stay tuned for my next culinary adventure ...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spice crisps

I wanted to make some cookies for my colleagues at my secondment job last week, but needed something no fuss, as it was late at night and I wasn't in the mood for making masterpieces.

Flipping through Ladies A Plate, a baking book by New Zealand author Alexa Johnston, I found the perfect recipe - for spice crisps, a type of gingernut cookie. However, unlike store-bought gingernuts, these cookies are relatively soft.

These cookies are very tasty - Alexa herself says that if you only make one recipe out of her book, you should make these. I actually ate 3 of them myself - unheard of for me, as (a) I am not a huge cookie fan, and (b) I would normally resist in a bid to curb my expanding backside.

My friend Tammy has also just posted about these - you can see her version and get the recipe here. I used the original treacle in the recipe (Tammy used golden syrup).

On the same day as I made these cookies, my wonderful Mum sent me some flowers at work to cheer me up:

Well, she actually sent two bunches by mistake:

Thanks Mum! We don't always see eye to eye, but she can sometimes be a gem.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TWD - Yoghurt cake with marmalade glaze

Woohoo, it's Tuesday with Dorie time again! This week, our host is Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction, who has chosen yet another winner - Yoghurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze.

Dorie describes this cake as a cross between a pound cake and a sponge cake, but it is ever so much tastier than either of them - it is somehow light and fluffy while being quite a solid cake. When this cake came out of the oven, I was rather unexcited, because it looks extremely plain. However, just like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, this cake bursts forth with bright, tangy flavour - I loved it!

My version of the cake used orange zest and orange marmalade (instead of the lemon zest and lemon marmalade suggested by Dorie). By rubbing the zest into the sugar, it really brings out the citrus flavour. My cake is especially orange because I used carotina oil which consists of half red palm oil and half canola oil, and is therefore orange in colour.

The other great thing about this cake is that it is a lazy cook's dream - it only uses one bowl, and is all hand mixed. I have been a bit off baking lately, so the ease of making this cake was a welcome relief. Just make sure you grease your pan well - I had an anxious half an hour or so when my cake stuck steadfastly in the bottom of the tin. However, a little patience, a damp cloth and some coaxing finally released it safely.

If you only make one Dorie recipe this year, make this one (recipe on Liliana's blog). To check out how the other TWD membes interpreted this recipe, please check out the TWD blogroll.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blueberry and lime friands

I am a fan of anything with citrus in it - sweet or savoury, it doesn't matter. There's nothing like the mouth-puckering tang that a little citrus zest gives to a dish.

When I was looking for a simple baking recipe to keep my colleagues happy, but which didn't require a trip to the shops, I came across a gem of a recipe for lime and blueberry friands from The Australian Womens Weekly Sweet book. Not only were these easy for a weary traveller like me to make late at night, but they contained a citrus burst in the form of lime zest - perfect. They are baked in mini muffin tins, so you get a bite-sized morsel only.

Handily for all of us, the recipe for these friands is posted here, so that you too can enjoy them at home.

These friands are perfect with a sprinkling of icing sugar on top for fancy presentation.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TWD - Lemon Cup Custard

Hey there sports fans, bet you were starting to think that I wouldn't make TWD this week. Ha! I have left it to very close to the deadline, but there's nothing like a little adrenaline to give a girl a natural high.

Our host this week is Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles, and she has chosen Dorie's Lemon Cup Custard. Because I left this so late, I had the benefit of reading everyone else's comments on the P&Q, and of seeing some actual posts, and I was kinda unethused after reading them. A lot of people did not like this because it is, at its heart, a baked egg custard. I remember my Mum's baked custard, which was not my favourite thing - it was generally bland, lumpy and curdled looking.

However, because I was only making custard for one (therefore a quarter of all of the ingredients), I felt that I did not have much to lose in giving it a burl - and I am so glad that I did! Perhaps I am an odd bod, because I wasn't enthused by the Caramel Crunch Bars, which most people loved, but I really enjoyed this - which most people either did not like or were pretty luke-warm about. But hey, that's the joy of having a diverse group of like-minded people with different tastes and interpretations of the same recipe, and is one of the things that makes TWD fun.

I made the recipe straight down the line, with no extra lemon oil, so it was only very faintly lemony, and I used skim milk ('cause that is the only type I have). And I still loved it!! It is oh so smooth and melt in the mouth. Sure, it's an egg custard, but I did not find it overbearingly eggy (cf the Floating Islands), and there was no unpleasant eggy aftertaste. My custard behaved itself in a very lady-like fashion in the oven, setting up nicely within the the alotted time in the recipe.

Would I make this again? Sure - and it's actually less fussy than making pouring custard, which requires the devotion of substantial time in continuously stirring until it thickens, while this pretty much looks after itself.

Thanks to Bridget for being our host this week. You can check out how the other TWDers went with Lemon Cup Custard by checking out the TWD blogroll.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Festa Italiana - Tiramisu

Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita and Marie of Proud Italian Cook are hosting Festa Italiana. How do you participate? Simply post about an Italian dish that you have made by 9 March.

My contribution is tiramisu, made from
this recipe, which contains low fat ricotta cheese and light cream cheese instead of marscapone, so you can enjoy the taste without all the calories.

It is a melt-in-the-mouth combination of lady fingers soaked in coffee and Tia Maria, ricotta cheese, cream cheese and cocoa, lightened with beaten egg whites.

Enjoy! Thanks to Maryann and Marie for hosting this wonderful celebration of everything Italian once again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Boris's Birthday - "Healthy" Black Devil's Food Cake

Birthdays at my work always come in twos and threes, and so it was last week. Chris celebrated his birthday on the Monday, followed by our gym junkie, Boris, on the Tuesday. Now Boris is a big guy - not quite as pumped as Arnie in his day, but you get the idea. This means that you do not mess with Boris.

Boris likes to look after himself, and prefers lower calorie cakes than I would normally make. He loves the chocolate date cake, made with silken tofu, but I refuse to make that again, especially as I have already made it twice, once for him especially. This means I had to get creative and do a little Google searching for a suitable cake for Boris's birthday. After following a few false leads, I came across a recipe for Black Devil's Food Cake, which is stated to be low in fat and cholesterol. Perfect!

As you can see, it is a lovely tall chocolatey cake, which I added a few more calories to by frosting it with cream cheese frosting (albeit light cream cheese):

What the pictures do not reveal is how lovely and moist this cake is inside. I will attribute this to the applesauce used in the cake. It was so moist and dark that some people thought this cake contained booze (it didn't).

If you are looking for a naughty but nice option for a birthday cake that is not as aesthetically challenged as the chocolate date cake, then this could be the recipe for you.

Taking us back into the realms of the naughty, here is a slice of a wonderful bread pudding that I purchased from Eugenie French Cake Shop at 192 Commercial Road, Prahran:

This is a fabulous slab consisting of stale brioche melded together with custard and sultanas, and decorated with icing sugar. You get a hefty slice for just over $3. It is magnificent, but don't eat it before dinner, or you'll definitely spoil your appetite.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TWD - Chocolate Brandy Cake

This week, Tuesday with Dorie is hosted by Lyb of And then I do the dishes. She has chosen a reicpe that I have wanted to make for a long time - Dorie's Chocolate Armagnac Cake or The Cake That Got Me Fired!

This cake is a rich, dark chocolate sensation, and is very grown-up tasting - it would be perfect for any dinner party. I made my cake with prunes flamed in brandy (in place of armagnac), and almond meal instead of pecan nut meal.

OMG - this cake is soooooooooooo good. I was a little scared of flaming the fruit, but I need not have worried - the alcohol only managed a low blue flame which was not anywhere near as exciting as I was afraid it would be, and it did not even show up in my photo:

There is a lot of chocolate in this cake, which is responsible with the alcohol for the dark, smoky flavour:

Here is my uniced cake:

And the finished product, decorated with chocolate glaze and piped treble clefs left over from another project:

This cake is a decadent sensation, and I would gladly make it again. To see how the other TWD members interpreted this recipe, check out the
Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Russian Rendezvous - Russian Tea Cookies

Joan of Foodalogue is continuing to lead us on a culinary tour of the world to promote BloggerAid, and this week, we are visiting Russia.

I wanted to avoid anything to do with borsch and potatoes, so I have gone for sweets instead. I found a recipe for Russian Tea Biscuits on All Recipes.com - I am hoping it is an authentic recipe and not just called that because the dough contains vodka.

These biscuits are delicious shortbread biscuits contaning hazelnut meal and vodka, and are very easy to make. They also hold their shape well in the oven, so they turn out just perfect.

I am displaying my biscuits on my "new" Malingware tea set and placemats from a retro shop I discovered in Northcote on Wednesday night before the Tim Finn concert. I love the shimmery, pearly effect of the cup and plate, which goes perfectly with the pretty blue placemats embroidered with daisies.

To check out the other foodie discoveries made in Russia, you can visit out Joan's blog on Wednesday for the roundup. The next stop is India on March 9.