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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Hello Sweetie

 Reading Epicure in The Age this week, there was an article titled "Lollies We Love"  (
 Someone had done their PhD on lollies! Australian lollies through the years to be precise. I'm not sure why (or how) they chose this topic and what area of study it relates to (maybe they'll be a Doctor of Lolliology), and what the qualifications of the assessor must have been (I want THAT job), but who cares! Lollies and Sweets and Candy O My!! So instead of a PhD, I present my DgB.

"Lollies are talisman of their era ... Many of our best memories revolve around lollies".
You bet your sweet bippy they do.

 I have always been a Sweet Tooth. Always. Maybe its genetic, my parent's (Mum is a Cherry Ripe fan, Dad is partial to black jelly beans) courtship was apparently moved along nicely by a well timed packet of scorched almonds.  I remember the Great Childhood Ritual of buying lollies at the Milk Bar; the agonising over how to get the best value for money. Do you buy five 1 cent lollies or one 5 cent lollie? This was when 20c would buy you a decent bag of mixed lollies (a 50c bag and you were set for a week!) and you still could buy Fags and chocolate cigars with the red ends. I remember the freaky but utterly cool sensation of crunching on Moon Rocks, of trying to make a tune with a Melody Pop and of long long car trips punctuated by the Tupperware container of Raspberries handed around the back seat. There was the excitement of getting the chocolate "stocking" at Christmas and wondering who was going to want the Mint Pattie or Coconut Rough, and the joy when Santa discovered the Cadbury Stocking. I honed my memory skills learning all of the Quality Street and Roses selections thanks to a yearly chocolate box gift from a family friend (and still no one can tell me what a Noisette Pate is).
 In high school were the slumber parties where we dared each other to try Warheads (which were actually fine once you got through that outer layer), and I got through Year 12 Swot Vac with a packet a Darrel Lea soft eating licorice by my side. Dates at the movies with Hubby To Be involved sharing almost a whole bag of peanut MnM's during the previews. I had the phase where sucking on Chupa Chumps was "cool", and I could probably rustle up a few "holders" if I looked hard enough. Late afternoon slumps brought on by Physics lectures at Uni were often remedied by a Snickers Bar from the vending machine (until I realised they had the highest fat content of any chocolate bar and switched to a Time Out, or a Twirl; much healthier)
  In my working life, I was fortunate (or not) to be within walking distance of a Haigh's chocolates store and those famous Frogs. If we were having one of Those days, there would be the pooling of gold coins for someone to do a "Haigh's Run" - the choice was up to the runner, but Speckles were always a good choice, as was their Nut Combination, Berry Chocs were the In things for a while but there was always the Frogs if you were feeling particularly flush with Cash.

 So as you can see, lollies and I have had a long and delicious history.

 And since we've just celebrated Australia Day, let give a shout-out to all those distinctly "Aussie Lollies" - Jaffas that were apparently awesome for rolling down the aisles at the movies (what a waste of good chocolate!), Minties who had the added enjoyment of the wrapper ripping contest to see who could get the longest ribbon, Violet Crumble (though I was always more a of a Crunchie Girl myself. And then that blissful spell when Crunchie Nuggets were out! The Perfect proportion of chocolate to honeycomb!!), Fruit Tingles and Life Savers (and seeing who could get it to the smallest circle without it breaking), Choo Choo Bars that you would always find half-eaten and smooshed to some furniture/clothing/car seat like tar, Redskins which always remind me of Mill Valley Ranch (but not the Spearmint! Sacrilege!), Turkish Delight which has been a sweet around the world for eons but it took an Aussie to put it in chocolate, Cherry Ripes which are apparently one of the only Australian delicacies that you can't get in Northern America (much to my Brother's chagrin), Peppermint Crisp which I have never seen eaten by anyone -  just crunched on top of a chocolate ripple cake (Flake was also a good topping option, but the melted green always looked much more impressive), Fantales which were consumed once a  year while watching the Oscars, Kit Kats which were pretty good all along, but then they became Chunky and reached a new level of yum (higher chocolate to wafer ratio! Am I the only person who want a mini Kit Kat Chunky?) and of course Mars bars - not only delicious but a great ingredient in the best "baking" options around; Mars Bar Slice.

 But of course being brought up on a steady stream of American movies and TV shows, I always knew there was more Out There. Hersheys were the first exotic chocolate bar I tasted, and then fell in love with their Cookies and Cream. My girlfriend's travels to the US brought me Reece's and all their wonderful incarnations - peanut butter cups and Piece and more. I got over the weird flavour and sensation of Big Red gum to request it from anyone who was going to America, I loved Galaxy when I was in the UK and even tried Tiffin (chocolate with raisins and biscuits chunks) when a friend sent it over. And then Canada brought us Turtles with their oddly shaped pecans and caramel in chocolate.

 So much chocolate, not nearly enough salad and exercise!

 So what does a Sweet Tooth like me choose to crave now? Well, the peanut MnM's have stayed consistently in my lollie jar, even though they have a pretty high fat content (Almond MnMs just don't taste as good); my reasoning is that there is less chocolate in each one, so one or two won't hurt (especially if you have them with a handful of raw mixed nuts as I do somethings to assuage my guilt). If Hubby or I venture near a Haighs store, we know that Chocolate Macadamias are the go-to purchase (Turkish Delight for him, though he'd probably prefer a good French cheese. Weirdo). As for chocolate, I have adopted a slight snobbery in that Nothing Less Cadbury (sorry Red Tulip and Rowntree), with Lindor being the chocolate of choice. I try to have block and Lindor balls in hand, because some days you don't feel like the awesome yumminess that are Lindor balls. I prefer Milk, but do love the choice afforded by the box of Assorted - Dark when I'm feeling virtuous, Mint for a bit of difference and Hazelnut for trying to spin it that its healthier.

 And what about the next generation? What will be the lollies that take my kids back to their childhood? This being the No Artificial Colours or Flavours  No Sugar No Peanuts No Gluten No Additive generation; the one that ate the plate of fruit kebabs at Son 2's party but left the plate of chocolate crackles. I can't speak for all kids but mine are partial to Smarties or MnMs (because they are ones that Mummy can dole out one at a time guilt free). Kinder Surprise score well, but that may be more to do with the cool toys inside. And really, anything that comes in a party bag is greeted with a smile.
 But the choice for my boys when they've eaten their dinner and a yogurt and thus qualify for a Special Treat? "Tim Tam please!"

 Aussie Aussie Aussie.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Mum's the Word

 I had a “My Mum’s” dish at the weekend. You know, those dishes that everyone makes a version of but your mum’s (potato salad, spaghetti bolognaise, chicken soup etc) is The Best?

 It was kind of nice to be reminded of my mum’s culinary skills, as I do feel that she may have got a bit of a bad rap in my previous blogs. Yes, she is practically allergic to anything spicier than Saxa ground black pepper. Yes, her ability to make rock-hard pastry is a family legend. Yes, scrambled (or poached) eggs were a perfectly suitable Sunday night dinner.
 But she also served up home cooked meals for my family most nights of the week for my entire childhood (excluding the odd Fish and Chips or Gus and Rosie’s pizza nights). Granted they were usually of the Meat and Three Veg variety (and more often than not, vertically-grilled sausages or chops with pressure cooked veges – because that was the healthy way to cook them. Hmmm, maybe she was ahead of her time in some areas), but that was probably because it’s what her mum served up her family, and what most families (including mine) still get served up most nights. And she also makes a mean roast dinner (her roast pork with crackling was, and still is a favourite). And she once made sesame prawn toasts from scratch because that’s what I said I wanted for a Special Dinner (followed by banana fritters for dessert. I had obviously not heard about cholesterol at that age).

 And more importantly, she cooked the Foods of my Childhood; those dishes that immediately take you back to your kitchen table or backyard and make you feel like a kid again. Such as her chocolate cake (made with drinking chocolate not cocoa) topped with chocolate icing and dessicated coconut. Or her “stringy egg” chicken and corn soup. Or for my brother, her cauliflower and cheese sauce. And how could I forget (thanks Little Bro)Chocolate Self Saucing Pudding! (made from the PMWU cookbook) - my first experience with cooking alchemy (you pour water on the top, cook it, and it goes to the bottom and makes sauce - magic!)
 But for me, this recent trip down memory lane was caused by a dessert. We had a big family BBQ at the weekend as we have 3 family birthdays within 2 days. As is standard in our family we all “bring something” to share the Hosting Load. My mum had mentioned that she was on dessert duty and “… I thought I might make a trifle”.

 I was immediately transported to my childhood backyard; the sun was just going down, the smell of charred meat (and fried roast potatoes) hung in the air. The rice salad was half eaten, the cutlery stand only had spoons left and my mum walks past carrying the aqua casserole dish with the 70’s design on the lid. Ace – it’s dessert time.
  Now I know that Trifle isn’t up there with a croquembouche for daring desserts – 'snake cake' (with a few liberal dashes of sherry), topped with canned Two Fruits, custard, whipped cream, jelly (red is preferred but we will accept green) and a generous sprinkling of crushed nuts. In fact, my grandma (who is generally the Matriarch of Making Yummy Things) makes one to a very similar recipe. But it doesn’t taste as good as My Mum’s.

 And I’m quite happy if no one else agrees with me, because that is the essence of a Mum’s Dish – there are lots of different recipes and variations, some will be quite nice but they are Just Not The Same.
 So here’s a salute to my Mum’s Trifle, for its deliciousness and for reminding me that you don’t have to be a sophisticated cook to be a great one.

"Hello gorgeous!"

Looking exactly as it should

  It did, however make me wonder what my boys will remember for their “mum’s dish”. Their Favorite meals at the moment is “circle pasta” (ravioli/tortellini pasta from the supermarket) with veges, or chicken nuggets with veges. *sigh* Maybe I’ll work on memorable desserts…..

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Sticking Together

 Now although I am not a vegetarian I have always been a fan of the Vege Burger and have tried lots of different receipes over the years. All have been quite varied in their ingedients (brown rice, tofu, cous cous, +/- cheese, lots of different herbs etc), but the one consistent factor is the they never seem to hold together during the cooking process. Never. Ever. I generally get one or two that stay together, lots that fall apart and a whole heap of crispy crumbs left  in the bottom of the frypan. I have tried lots of different techniques and additions (mashed potato or pumpkin, egg, breadcrumbs) but none have made them hold together as well as the good ol' beef mince hambuger. *sigh*

 But at the weekend I had a Eureka! moment. I was making quinoa patties for my vegetarian sister-in-law who had most unfortunately sliced her finger while cutting up an avocado and had required surgery (as you do when you sever a tendon, artery and two nerves) which was going to impact on her cooking skills (among other things). I made some recently after Christmas, where I ended up with about a cup and half of cooked quinoa left over from salalds I made for my contribution to Christmas lunch. Those patties was a bit of a hotch-potch in that I grabbed a receipe from Google and added a few things that I had in the fridge (including bacon). Tasted great, but again, more fell apart than retained their shape. However I did try out a new technique, which was using an egg ring in the frypan, but more on that later.

 So the successful entrant was a Bill Granger receipe from the Decemeber Delicious Magazine (Quinoa Fritters with Green Goddess Sauce, check it out at,1637). Seemed pretty standard ingredients as previously tried but the stars aligned and the delightful cooking alchemy of Everything Going Right worked its magic and they all stayed together. All of them. So with that in mind, here are my tips for Sticking Together.

1. Moisture + Flour = Glue
 Do you remember the cheap glue you could make wih flour and water? I think there's something in that for all of us. Flour will help to bind almost anything together but it needs some sort of liquid to help it stick; whether this is sauce (sweet chilli or soy sace or something like tahini) or trying to be cheeky by not fully cooking your rice/quinoa/cous cous so there is some excess liquid.

2. Eggs-ellent
 Have you ever tried to make an egg-less cake? I have - one of my brother's friends when he was growing up was allergice to egg, so his mum had one that tasted quite good (and actually amazing straight out of the oven with butter - mmmmm). But generally, not a great rule to follow. And this is because Egg is a Great Binder. Egg and Flour are an even more dynamic duo. Not so great when cooking for vegans (or whichever strain of vegetarianism that doesn't eat eggs) but great for the rest of us. So throw in an egg; or two (the receipe asked for 2 eggs plus an extra egg yolk; as I had 2 spare egg yolks from another receipe, I used them and one whole egg. Worked fine)

3. Shape it Up
 - which usually meant rolling it into a ball/patty shape and hoping for the best. In my youth I worked at Johnny Rockets Hamburger restaurant (ask me after a wine or two and I'll break out the dance moves) and they had a technique for their patties where they threw a lump of meat from hand to hand over and over until it turned into a malleable ball. I have tried this with vege burgers and just made a lot of mess on my bench. Same goes for sqeezing the mix together; doesn't always help.
 What I tried this weekend was using an egg ring (or in this case a large scone cutter) on a baking tray, spooning in the mixture and pressing it down to create a lovely round patty. Remove cutter, move onto next one and repeat.

4. Chill Out
 Certain things get firmer in the fridge. Which is why you need to bring butter to room temperature before creaming it. So once you've shaped you patties, pop them in the fridge for a while to firm up; which gives them more of a chance to hold their shape. The weekend receipe said to chill for an hour, but as this was a late afternoon decision to cook them, I cheated with 30 minutes in the freezer which seemed to do the trick.

Then all that was left to do was pop them in a heated oiled frypan, and gentle press on top, flip (when browned) and repeat! I would love to have some some photos to share with you the various stages, but it wasn't until half way through the cooking process that I realised what I had stumbled across; the best discoveries are usually by accident!

 So hope this helps you in your healthy cooking endavour, and I will be adding this ripper recipe to my repertoire. Just maybe next time adding a bit of bacon.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Let Them Eat (Decorated Cup) Cake!

  So here is my latest Thing; where “Thing” is loosely defined as That Which I am currently Getting Excited over, which consumes my Thinking Time and often ends up with spending money.

 Cake Decorating.
 Which has kind of been a simmering Thing for a few years now, but has recently gone to the full rolling boil.
 There are a few sources from which this Well of Enthusiasm for the Icing and the Piping may have sprung. Firstly the many childhood hours spent pouring over the Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book (the original with the train cake on the cover – all good 80’s mums had one!) and deciding which of the amazing cakes I would have to the next 5 birthday parties. I never did end up getting The Castle but O Joy! O Rapture! the year my mum learned how to make a Dolly Varden ice cream cake!!
 Or maybe it was the rather impressive cakes my girlfriend made for her daughter’s parties (she was the first child born in our group of friends). The cakes in the first few years were good, but then she really hit her stride and we were treated to an Emerald City (for a Wizard of Oz themed party; it was The Castle! In green!!), a merry-go-round, and even a foray into rolled royal icing with a moulded sleeping child. So the bar had kind of been set high.

 My own personal forays were what I’d call Simple But Effective; they didn’t take hours to make (some of the above-mentioned took up to four hours to create, baking not included!) but still looked good.

 We had Mr Hankey (from South Park) ...
  … Mud Cake cut into shape with licorice arms and mouth, marshmallow hands and hat trimming and a red roll-up (how that stuff is termed  ”fruit” I have no idea) for the hat.
  Got a bit more creative for a Murder-Mystery Birthday party; props, different colored icing, “piping” and even food coloring fingerprints.

 Then I became a mum and had two annual (and sometime up to 4) birthday parties (and thus cakes) a year. Before I discovered cake toppers (the amazing printed icing sheets that kids think are waaaaaay more impressive than anything you take hours to make, and only take 10 minutes for you to decorate your cake! Win-Win!!), I did the number-cake thing for a few years. But I did refer back to the WW Cake Bible to make a Mickey Mouse…

…as well as a Spiderman. Hint – the ‘writing icing’ you can buy at the Supermarket is a godsend!!

 So all not-too-tricky, looked quite good and everyone happy.
 Then I had the delightful opportunity to go along to a Mamma Bake Cake decorating class ( They come along to your house and bring EVERYTHING necessary (cupcakes, icing and ganache, piping bags and tips, patient instructor) to learn how to make amazing looking cupcakes! Brilliant!! They also sold all the tools required so I came home with six beautifully decorated (if oddly coloured) cupcakes, a new set of piping equipment (sorry Tupperware, your set was just not cutting it) and Enthusiasm to make hundreds more cupcakes.

  But where precisely was I going to use these fabulous new skills? Being a mum of two boys meant I wasn’t going to be called on very often to make roses and flowers for their cakes. In fact, Son 2’s response to my cakes? “They’re very girly ...” So I knew I had to get creative to use my new creativity.
 Luckily Christmas was coming up, and with it, lots of Catch-Ups and Dinners and Bring-a-Plates. Excellent.

 First up were some Rudolph cupcakes straight from the Mamma Bake website. I did tweak them a bit so I only had to make one lot of ganache, but as this meant there were more lollies involved so I didn’t hear any complaints!

 So we had piped chocolate ganache, pretzel antlers, white chocolate button with MnMs for eyes, and a half marshmallow with a half jelly baby (because I had them in the cupboard!) for the nose. They looked great and the kids (of which there were 9 at this particular gathering) devoured them with great joy. Well, they devoured the icing at least (though I’m proud that my son was one of the only to eat the cupcake as well – a good kid who appreciates good baking).
 So this was a great First Experience that taught me a few things: ganache takes a LONG time to cool/set before it gets to a good piping consistency (chilling it in the fridge helps but it still takes a few hours). And I really needed to invest in a cupcake carrier! There were quite a few large roundabouts to navigate on the way to The House, which I took at a very slow and sedate speed (Must Protect Cupcakes!!).

 Next up was a Christmas Family Gathering. I had been inspired by a photo on the Mamma Bake website of some very cute themed cupcake designs which would enable me to use more of the piping tips and techniques I had learned. So I created a few more designs of my own, baked a batch each of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, dipped them all in white chocolate ganache, coloured my butter icing (red and green of course) and I was Ready to Pipe.

 Two not-as-frustrating-as-I-thought-it-may-have-been hours later, I had these….
 Not too bad methinks. There was lots of practising first and remembering the techniques (“ohhh, you hold it the Other way!”) and switching back and forth between colours and tips but I was pretty happy with my effort.
 And so was everyone at the party – lots of “oooohs” and “aaaahs” and “did you make those???” However, no one seemed to want to actually Eat any of them! Apparently they DID look too good to eat. Hmmm, a problem perhaps? But I did manage to send everyone home with one for their morning tea the next day, which was great as it meant I didn’t have to eat 20 or so cupcakes!

 My most recent foray was more exciting as I got to make flowers and decorate pretty girly cupcakes. My girlfriend's little girl was having her first birthday party the weekend before Christmas, and if a First Birthday isn’t the time to go all pink and flowery (especially as she has two older brothers) then I don’t know when is!! I had pretty pink proper cupcake papers (try saying that three times fast!) from her mum which made things a little interesting, in that they made taller and thinner cupcakes than the traditional concertina papers. This changed the cooking times and meant I had less “area” on top of the cupcake to work with. As I had done my previous “practice” on larger diameter cupcakes I was a little concerned about whether there would be any issues with the smaller space. Plus I was piping ganache with a smaller tip which we hadn’t been shown in class (so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out or if it would work at all). PLUS it was the first time I was making Proper Flowers since the class. So after a few deep calming breaths, I waded in.

 The flowers went alright….

 And the rest of them turned out pretty good as well!
The 6 different designs
Close up of The Rose
Ready for the Party!
  But again, hardly any were eaten at the party! Whether the papers made them too tricky to eat (you have to rip them away from the cupcake; much trickier than the normal papers), or people were put off my too much icing/decoration on top (I try not to pipe too high or too much as this is something I don’t like about a lot of cupcakes; when there is more frosting than cake!), or again they were “too pretty to eat”, even though I had made some “simpler” designs (such as the ‘1’ and ‘A’)  that would be easier to eat. Hmmm … this is not a good pattern developing here. But I still had fun doing them (and I’ve got to get value for money from my piping set) so I will carry on!

 Next Up? I’m looking for inspiration for some Lego related cupcakes for Son 1’s birthday.

Pipe on!