Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Pumpkin Pecan Cupcakes

Happy Halloween!  Halloween, also known as All Hallows Eve, was not recognised in Australia until the last few years, and when I was growing up, was something I had only heard of in a Charlie Brown cartoon.  Fast forward a few decades, and the houses in my neighbourhood are decked out with Halloween decorations and children are roaming the streets trick or treating.  It is nothing like the scale on which I saw Halloween decorations in the US when I was there just before Halloween about 13 years ago (wow, was it that long ago?), but it is leaps and bounds from the previous non-recognition of Halloween.

It's been five years since I made anything for Halloween (gosh time flies when you're having fun),  so I am glad that I finally made the effort again this year.  I decided that Gail Wagman's Cupcakes Galore would be just the ticket, and sure enough, she had a great recipe for Halloween Pumpkin Pecan Cupcakes.  These cupcakes smell like autumn - while baking, they fill the kitchen with a heavenly scent of pumpkin and spice.  And best of all, when they are done, they are orange inside - perfect for Halloween:   

Instead of using Gail's suggested frosting, I just used ordinary water icing dyed orange, and piped chocolate "cobwebs" on top to give the cupcakes that Halloween feel.  Best of all, they tasted delicious - not as sweet as a regular cupcake, much more flavoursome that a regular muffin, and with a nice crunch from the pecans.

The recipe is as follows:

1 2/3 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (I used salted butter and left this out)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
125g butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
250g mashed cooked pumpkin
1 cup chopped pecans (I used a combination of pecans and walnuts)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with cupcake papers (I ended up with 14 cakes).  

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices together in a bowl, and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Next, beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and pumpkin and beat until smooth. (The mixture will be quite sloppy at this stage - don't panic.)  Fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the nuts.  

Divide the batter between the lined muffin tin holes, filling them approximately two thirds full.  (I always use an icecream scoop to divide the batter evenly between the holes in the tin.)  Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the cakes from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the icing, sift about two cups of icing sugar into a bowl, then add just enough water (or orange juice) to make the icing a spreadable consistency.  Use gel colours (red and yellow) to make the icing orange.  While the icing is still wet, pipe three or four concentric circles in dark chocolate on top of the cake, and run a skewer from the centre of each cake to the edge of the cake enough times for the design to look like a spider's web.  Done!

WWDH - Chicken and Sweet Corn Soup

This week's Wednesday with Donna Hay has a distinctly Asian flavour in the form of Chicken and Sweet Corn Soup from page 30 of Modern Classics 1.  Chaya is our host this week and selected this dish.  Chicken and sweet corn soup is a Chinese classic, on the menu as a starter at most Chinese restauarnts, and is a good choice for its light but flavoursome qualities.

This was rather lovely soup - nice enough to take to work for lunch.  It is also relatively simple to make.  I substituted the Chinese rice wine for sherry, which I read has the closest flavour to the rice wine.

To see what Chaya and Margaret thought of this soup, do go visit them.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Daring Bakers - Layering Up: Mille-feuille/Napoleon

Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!

The challenge required us to make puff pastry, vanilla pastry cream and royal icing, then assemble these components into Napoleons (or as we would say, vanilla slices).  I have made all of these components before, so I wasn't fazed by this challenge.  However, it is a time consuming process, especially as the pastry needs to be turned and rested numerous times, so I recommend setting aside the best part of a day to make these, or making them over several days.

The end result was delicious, if rather sweet.  At work, my Napoleons were judged to be professional and delicious, so I guess I did OK on this one.

There will be mille feuille all over the food blogosphere today should you care to see some more.

Friday, October 26, 2012

FFwD - Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes & Prunes; Eggplant “tartine” with tomatoes, olives, and cucumbers

Hooray, it's Friday again!  I am having some pretty turgid weeks lately, so it always brings a smile to my dial when I make it to yet another Friday and know that I can settle in with a drink after work with friends and forget all about it.

This French Friday with Dorie recipe was Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes.  I was pretty excited about this one, as this is my kind of food.  I adore meat and fruit dishes (which I know others hate with a passion), so this one was a no brainer for me to make.

I used "lovely legs" for my chicken pieces, being chicken thighs with the bone in and skin off.    When I worked in a deli as a teenager, we used to titter about the "lovely legs".  I  made the recipe as written, except that I added half a preserved lemon to the mix - hey, I have a big jar of them, so I might as well use them.

I loved this tagine every bit as much as I thought I would - the sauce was so devine that I even mopped it up with a slice of bread so as not to waste a drop.  Superb recipe and a keeper!

I then did a rewind to the first Friday in September to make  the Eggplant Tartine with Olives, Tomatoes and Cucumbers:    

This dish was not such a hit with me, although it looks pretty.  I did like the rounds of baked eggplant, but found the salsa on top a little too bitey for my tastes.

To see what the other Dorie participants thought of this week's tagine, visit the LYL section of the FFwD website.

Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pink Ribbon Day Cupcakes 2012

Today is Pink Ribbon Day at work, where people bring a plate and others make a gold coin donation to sample the goodies and raise funds for breast cancer research.  I can't pass up a good opportunity to bake, so I have made chocolate cupcakes with pink rosewater buttercream.

I wanted to branch out with my cupcake recipes, so instead of my old faithful Dinosaur Rock Chocolate Cupcakes, I made the chocolate cupcakes from p21 of The Primrose Bakery Book by Martha Swift and Lisa Thomas, and their vanilla buttercream (from p52) with a dash of cochineal to make it pink and half a teaspoon of rosewater so that the icing tasted pink.  Everything turned out so well that this could be my new favourite  cupcake recipe.

To top them off, I used some pink ribbon sprinkles and some little chocolate rounds containing popping candy that I bought as oddments from Sisko.

I am really proud of these cupcakes, especially the frosting, as I have for the first time ever successfully piped buttercream swirl roses.  Previously, I have had problems with my icing consistency so that the swirls collapsed. However, this time, the icing was the perfect piping consistency, and the swirls stayed firm and strong.

I hope that people enjoy them as we raise funds in support of Pink Ribbon Day.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WWDH - Pasta with Tomato, Basil and Olives

For this week's Wednesday with Donna Hay, Margaret chose Pasta with Tomato, Basil and Olives from p18 of Off the Shelf.

This dish is simplicity itself to make - boil your pasta, make a sauce based on tinned tomatoes, mix them together and bingo!

It was delicious, and I think it would be great with chorizo.  I was going to add chorizo, but I thawed the wrong thing from my freezer, so my version is vegetarian, as Donna intended it.

Check out what Margaret, Kayte and Chaya may have thought of this dish by visiting their sites.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chester squares

Have you ever had leftover fruit cake that you are at a loss what to do with?  I always make a Christmas cake and end up with heaps leftover, which sits sad and neglected in a dark corner of my cupboard.  Given that fruit cake is not cheap to make, you don't want to throw it away.  Today, I have one solution for what to do with that stale fruit cake - the Chester Square!

Chester squares are a memory from my childhood.  Certain bakeries in my regional hometown made Chester squares, which were pieces of shortcrust pastry filled with a pitch black filling made of treacle and crumbled stale cake, and topped with bright pink buttercream icing.  I haven't seen them anywhere else - perhaps making Chester squares is a "country" habit?

Alas, I have not yet found a recipe for Chester squares that gives me the same aesthetic result or quite the same flavour, but I have found an alternative that uses golden syrup.  I used this recipe for the pastry and this recipe for the filling, and made it in a 20cm by 30cm slice (bar) tin.  Instead of sugaring the top of my Chester squares, I iced them with lemon icing - not quite the pink buttercream of my childhood, but close enough.

The end result, as I mentioned, is not the soft squidgy black cake of my memory, but it is still pretty good.  Although it is a bit of a faff to make, it's a great way to serve fruit cake in a different way if it has gone stale or you are just sick of fruit cake.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Breakfast on US West Coast trip

Morning y'all.  Hope you are having a great weekend.  On a lazy weekend, I think the most important meal of the day is breakfast.  Weekends are the only time that I get to diverge from my milk and cereal routine, and it's time to let my inner chef out and have some fun.

I have already shared my take on lunches on the road while on the US West Coast, so fittingly for a weekend, I I going to share my brekky experiences.  You have already seen the Dennys pancake stack, but there were plenty of other things that I tried for brekky.

One of our first brekkies in downtown LA was at the Yorkshire Grill (610 W. 6th St., Los Angeles).  If you are looking for a hearty eggs and bacon breakfast in downtown LA, you can't go wrong with this old-fasioned diner style establishment. At the top of this post is my room mate's breakfast of eggs benedict, complete with potatoes ($8.95).  She loved it, although I have to say its richness makes me feel a little queasy. 

I went for the Sunrise Sandwich ($5.95):

Ham, egg and cheese on toast.  It was pretty good. 

The Yorkshire Grill can be a little hard to find among all the skyscrapers, so here's what it looks like:

On the morning that my room mate and I skedaddled to Disneyland, it was breakfast on the go at Union Station, LA.  I bought my breakfast from Famima!!, a convenience store chain which is all over the place in LA.  (Tip - it is a great place to buy cheap bananas on the go, 3 for $1.)  For breakfast, I selected a peach non-fat yoghurt: 

and a delicious bowl of fruit salad:

Then it was off to Anaheim and Disneyland, where fittingly, you can ride in a breakfast essential, a tea cup:

After a couple of Dennys pancake breakfasts in Arizona, it was on to Las Vegas, where I tried McDonalds Blueberry Banana Nut Oatmeal:

This was cheap and delicious, and one of my favourite breakfasts.  I also liked the ad featuring  a lady who was going to blog about her oatmeal with fruit.  McDonalds in Australia does not sell oatmeal, which is kind of disappointing, because I am never going to eat a bacon and egg McMuffin as a breakfast of choice - ever. Another bonus about McDonalds is that it has free wi-fi - yeah!

Eventually we ended up back in downtown LA, and I again sought out a chain that I would never go to for breakfast in Oz -Starbucks.  There, I bought their peach raspberry yoghurt granola and a passionfruit raspberry iced tea lemonade:

This combination was light and delicious - a perfect way to start the day.  Starbucks in Australia does not sell these things (as far as I know).

I hope that you are sitting back and enjoying a leisurely weekend breakfast yourself.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Easter egg brownies

Unbelievably, I still have a few Easter chocolates in the house.  No wanting to waste them, I decided to make Lorraine's Easter egg brownies

I had an issue with some of the butter seeming to separate out and form a liquid layer on top during baking, but I poured it off and kept baking, and the brownies seemed fine.

Verdict - extreme chocolate experience, but ultimately delicious.

Friday, October 19, 2012

FFwD - Spur-of-the-moment Vegetable Soup

This week's FFwD recipe is Spur-of-the-moment Vegetable Soup.  Basically, you fry up some onion, carrot, garlic, ginger, celery and thyme, then add chicken stock and a cubed potato, simmer it for a while, puree it and then bingo - soup.

I don't think this looked or tasted much different to the Paris mushroom soup, but hey, that's just me.  I won't make this again - it just didn't grab me.

To se what other Dorie fans thought of this soup, visit the LYL section of the website.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Caramel apple streusel cheesecake bars

When I was in San Franciso, I tried caramel apple cheescake from the cheesecake factory.  It has now given me a taste for this delicious flavour combination.

Accordingly, when I saw a recipe for caramel apple cheesecake bars with streusel topping on Tracey's Culinary Adventures, I was hooked right in and had to make them.

Luckily, I had just made caramel sauce, so that part of the recipe was easy.

Here are the fruits of my labour: 

Doesn't this photo just speak for itself.  These are dangerously good.  Next time, I think I would add less spice and more sugar to the apple, but otherwise I wouldn't change them.  These bars are just downright delicious!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

WWDH - Tomato and Basil Poached Fish

For Wednesday with Donna Hay this week, Kayte chose Tomato and Basil Poached Fish from p97 of Off the Shelf.  This dish is comprised of a rich tomato sauce, with the fish cooked and served on top of it.

I didn't have basil, so there was no basil involved in my dish.

The end result was rather tasty and even a tad rich - so spoil yourself and make it.

To see what Kayte, Margaret and Chaya thought, visit their websites.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

BWJ - Bagels

Baking with Julia this week, hosted by Heather of Heather's Bytes,  has taken me to new territory - making bagels.  I have never made a bagel before, and I was a little wary of the boiling then baking process.  However, it wasn't as scary as I thought, and I was very happy with the end result.

I wanted sweet bagels, so I topped mine with cranberries, chopped walnuts and sugar:

I slathered a bagel in fig jam for the taste test:

Passed with flying colours!

Visit the LYL section of the Baking with Julia website to see what the other bakers thought of these bagels.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Blood orange cake and Caulfield Guineas

I subscribe to Gourmet Traveller, an Australian food magazine packed with food porn.  Every month, I bookmark numerous recipes to make, but unfortunately, life goes too quickly for me to make them all before I receive the next month's instalment.

In October's Gourmet Traveller, there is a spread about Mike McEnearney of Kitchen By Mike.  Funnily enough, Kitchen By Mike is right next door to the Sydney office of my workplace, so I have been there.  Among a number of other recipes featured was Mike's recipe for blood orange cake.  However, this was not your average orange cake - instead of plain flour, it contains semolina, polenta and almond meal.  This fact, along with the blood oranges, pulled me in hook, line and sinker, and I knew I had to make this cake.  

What I failed to realise is that the syrup for the cake was not an optional extra - it actually needs to be poured over the hot cake to make it moist.  With no more oranges in the house, I turned to their citrus cousins, lemons, and made the lemon syrup from this recipe to pour over my cake.  It seemed to do the trick, as the cake received plenty of praise at work and no-one recognised that I had used lemon syrup on the orange cake.  The polenta adds a nice crunchy texture to the cake, and I think that the only thing that might make it better is a glaze - optional, but I like sweet things.


To make this cake (with my lemon syrup substitution), you will need:


215g butter
215g sugar
grated zest and juice of 4 blood oranges
4 eggs

250g semolina
1 tablespoon baking powder
155g almond meal
100g polenta


60 ml lemon juice
grated zest of one lemon

1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water

To make the syrup, combine lemon juice in a small saucepan with the lemon zest, sugar and water. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, then simmer for 2-3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Set aside to cool.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease and line a 22cm round cake tin.

Beat the butter, sugar and orange zest until light and creamy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the baking powder and half of each of the orange juice, semolina, polenta and almond meal,  mixing until just combined.  Add the remaining juice, semolina, polenta and almond meal and mix until just combined. 

Scrape the batter into the prepared cake tin, and bake for 20 minutes before reducing the temperature to 150 degrees  and baking for a further 25-30 minutes or until the cake is cooked through.  Remove the cake from the oven and poke small holes all over the top of it with a skewer. Pour over the lemon syrup, then allow the cake to cool in the tin.  Once cooled, glaze if desired.

To serve, remove the cake from the tin and cut into slices. 

Yesterday, I went to the Caulfield Guineas, a horse racing day that is part of the Spring Raching Carnival in Melbourne.  Here I am at the mounting yards in my overcoat and hat, and it was as cold, grey and wet as it looks:

I was a guest in a corporate marquee.  The highlight of the hospitality was the dessert, where we were offered cake pops and macarons:

turkish delight, raspberry cakes and lemon cheesecake tarts:

and cheese, crackers and fruit:

It was a fun day, despite the awful weather, but I did not do too well on the betting front - luckily for me my bets were mostly 50 cents each way.

Perversely, it is fine and hot in Melbourne today.

Hope you had a great weekend.

Friday, October 12, 2012

FFwD - Crispy Crackly Apple Almond Tart

For French Fridays with Dorie this week, our recipe is Crispy Crackly Apple Almond Tart. Basically, this comprises a filo pastry base layered with butter and sugar, topped with an almond cream and apple slices, then glazed with apricot jam.

I served my tart warm with vanilla icecream, and also had it cold the next day. I enjoyed it immensely both ways, and except for the fact that I despise working with filo pastry, I would make it regularly.

I deleted the nice photos of the whole tart by accident, so here is a blurry one to give you an idea of what it is supposed to look like:

To see what the other Dorie cooks thought of this week's recipe, visit the LYL section of the FFwD website.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Salted caramel sauce

I had a fair amount of leftover cream in my fridge recently, and was wondering what to do with it when I stumbled across a recipe for salted caramel sauce by Adriano Zumbo via Mmmm, Sugar!

This sauce was relatively easy to make.  The only tip that I have is to use a saucepan or skillet with a wide surface area, otherwise it takes way too long for the sugar to melt and it tends to clump.

This sauce can be used in cakes and other sweets, to top icecream, or to fill chocolates.  I am unsure how I will use mine as yet, but I am leaning towards making caramel filled chocolates as gifts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WWDH - Parmesan Crusted Pork Cutlets

This week for Wednesday with Donna Hay, I chose Parmesan Crusted Veal Cutlets from p94 of Off the Shelf.  This recipe entailed making a tomato sauce on which to rest a veal cutlet coated with parmesan cheese.  I used pork cutlets instead, as veal was hard to find.  I served the dish with simple steamed veges.

Verdict - this dish was quite tasty - the parmesan adds a nice flavour to the meat as well as a crispy crunch.

To see what Margaret, Kayte and Chaya thought of this dish, visit their blogs this time tomorrow.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Vue de Monde, Rialto, Melbourne

On Sunday, Tim took me to Vue de Monde at the Rialto in Melbourne as a belated birthday treat.  Vue de Monde (meaning "View of the World") is owned by Shannon Bennett, who has celebrity chef status in Australia.

Vue de Monde is on the 55th floor of the Rialto.  After being greeted on the ground floor of the Rialto, you are shown into a lift to the restaurant, where you alight in the  fancy bar area. The restaurant has stylish dark decor:

We are ushered to our table which, oh joy, is by the windows, with an incredible panoramic view overlooking the ports area of Melbourne: 

We also have the bustling open kitchen behind us, which has been fitted with "green" energy devices.

For starters, we are served parsnip chips with macadamia puree:

These are a tasty introduction to what is to come.  Next, we are served a number of snacks, including celeriac filo parcels and caramelised white chocolate coated eel (with a crisp candied snap to it): 

and two oysters au naturel on a seaside themed plate, with salt cured wallaby filled with a herb emulsion (rolled on a hot rock at the table):

We choose to dine a la carte, and I am grateful, as I don't think I could possibly have eaten any more.  The a la carte menu involves four courses:  entree, main, cheese and jams, and dessert.  We decided not to match wine, and instead started with a glass of house bubbly each, followed by a shiraz for me and a cab sav for Tim, and finishing off with a glass of dessert wine each (Riesling for me, a Punt Road  something or other for Tim).

For entree, Tim ordered kangaroo, Jerusalem artichoke, brussels sprout, pear and smoked bone marrow:

As you can see, wood, twigs, stones and kangaroo hide are a recurring theme in both the furniture and the serving dishes.

I ordered the Greenvale farm pork, marron and wild herb cream (in this case, decorated with garlic flowers and genista flowers):

The pork was served as little fried patties of shredded meat, with pieces of marron on top and what appeared to be little cubes of pork fat.  It was delicious - I especially loved the marron. 

We were then served with two types of bread (one was leek and pumpkin) in a kangaroo hide pouch, with a quinelle of French butter:

A palate cleanser then magically appeared.  This one comprised of microherbs over which liquid nitrogen was poured at the table:

After we ground the herbs with a mortar and pestle, a quinelle of cucumber sorbet was place on top:

The cucumber sorbet was very refreshing, and could easily pass as a dessert in its own right.

Next came the main - in Tim's case, Blackmore beef with nettles, potato  (sliced, pureed and in crunchy cup form) with a  beef cheek and tongue mixture hiding under the nettles:   

I ordered Mark's Catch (being baby snapper on the day), leek, black cabbage, oyster emulsion and tarragon:             

The fish was cooked to perfection - it flaked easily on the fork and was moist and flavoursome.

Next we were served the richest course of the day - cheese, bread and jams.  The breads comprised beetroot bread, fruit bread and plain bread.  The condiments sitting next to the breads were apple matchsticks, apple butter and quince butter (I think): 

The jams were quince jelly, caramelised onion jam and fig jam:

For the cheeses, the waitress brought out a very impressive cheese cart, and we nominated what we would like.  Tim chose camembert, and I just nominated soft cheeses.  Our waitress suggested a selection of washed rind cheeses, so we went with that - from left to right, we have camembert (the least impressive for me), triple cream (soft as butter), a washed rind cheese from Alsace and another washed rind French cheese, where the rind had been washed in brandy:

The cheeses were arrayed from mildest to strongest.  My favourite was the last cheese - I didn't find it strong at all, and it was "just right".

Next came another palate cleanser, this time in the form of "beer and nuts" - passionfruit and licorice beer:

with coconut icecream "nuts":

Finally, we moved on to dessert  in my case, smoked truffle icecream and spiced bread:

The truffle part appeared to be chocolate truffles encasing vanilla icecream.  The spiced bread comprised of gorgeous little rounds of gingerbread with what I believe to be a pear puree in the middle, topped with a tuile, then some ginger mousse, then another tuile and finally what may have been a candied grape.

Tim ordered mandarin, violet and vanilla:

This comprised vanilla snow, violet meringues, and two types of frozen mandarin, decorated with violet petals and served with a mandarin sauce.
Finally, we were given some stunning petit fours.  First, we were each given fruit jelly "two up" pennies, painted with gold lustre dust, and served off a wooden paddle:

Next, there was an assortment of very Australian looking treats served in a tray bedecked with eucalyptus leaves: 

From left to right, there were chocolate mousse cubes filled with raspberry jam and disguised to look like lamingtons; musk flavoured "eucalyptus" leaves; gumnuts made of eucalyptus icecream; and shards of tempered dark chocolate containing popping candy.  These little petit fours were an absolute delight - they gave the meal a "wow" finish.

For four courses a la carte (including all the palate cleansers and snacks shown here), it costs $150 per head.  This makes it occasion dining, but think of it as an experience with plenty of wow factor.

Here is Tim relaxing in his kangaroo hide chair after lunch:

The bathrooms are also quite an adventure.  They are labelled "sheilas" and "blokes", and like the kitchen, they contain innovations designed to make for a "green" footprint - in this case, specially salinated water from a ceiling mounted, hand movement operated water tap, that is meant to do away with the need for soap (although soap is also provided in case the salinated water idea does not appeal), and Dyson blade hand dryers.  Finding your way out of the bathroom is a bit of a challenge, as the back of the door blends into the walls.

The service at Vue de Monde is impeccable - I tried to take my photos quickly and surreptitiously, but I failed dismally as the friendly, professional staff seamlessly moved in and out with dishes - kind of like Mary Poppins, appearing from nowhere.  They were also very helpful in explaining the dishes to us as they were served. There was no 'tude involved, despite it being high end dining - every one of the staff was absolutely lovely and courteous, and we were made to feel special.  Afterwards, we were invited to stay and listen to jazz music in the bar - although we declined on this occasion in favour of going home to sleep it all off.  

What else can I say - if you ever get the chance to go to Vue de Monde, grab it, as it is an amazing dining experience, and the best that I have ever encountered. 

Vue de Monde
Level 55, Rialto
525 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000     
Phone: +61 3 9691 3888