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Monday, 18 July 2016

It's All About Balance

 It’s been a long time between blogs.

 Last week marked two years since I returned to full time work.

 Which means two years of not being the main Meal Planner and Food Organizer, as well as being home A LOT less during the week. All of which logically add up to Less Time for Cooking. But then there are the other hidden issues that sneak up on you. Like being so tired on a Friday night that you don’t have the mental energy to look through a cook book and see "what takes your fancy” as something to cook, even though its kind of “your turn” to cook at weekends. Like leaning more towards recipes spruiking “quick and easy” rather than new ingredients/techniques/cuisines. Because much and all as it would be lovely to hide in the kitchen on a weekend and spend 5 hours lovingly making lasagne from scratch (fresh pasta lasagne sheets included), there is also the important task of making sure the Stay At Home parent gets a break from parenting/pet caring/housework at the weekend too.

  So my cooking exploits lately have narrowed considerably to include Muffins for the Kids school lunches and cooked Weekend breakfasts. I have thrown in a few Thanks for the (insert good deed) Cookies and a batch of soup for a sick friend but nothing anywhere near 8 hour pulled pork tacos or the like. I even tried to do a Cook Each of my Soups on a Sunday for the winter, but I think I stopped after three. Life gets in the way. 

 So what does a domestic goddess do when faced with this situation?

 One could try and Rage against the Machine and do what the “organized people” do and schedule “meal planning” sessions and “make time” for my cooking; make good on my promise of cooking all the recipes that I have stuffed in my cookbook. Try and shoehorn a (meant to be) fun and creative activity into my already busy life, which would probably squeeze out other things like Chilling Out with Husband or Playing Games with Kids. I’m not sure I’ve gained anything there…

 Or I could (more sensibly) go with the flow. Recognize that Culinary goals change; that perhaps teaching Sons 1 & 2 how to make Caramel Slice is a good use of my skills. Or getting creative with leftovers rather than starting from scratch (much less brain power required as part of the ingredients are already there). Point in case: we had left over roast pumpkin that I turned into pumpkin and haloumi burgers for dinner (and my lunch the next day), and I also used up an about-to-expire tub of sour cream by making beef stroganoff. 
So I guess I’m going through a fallow period at present – I have the recipes and the skills (and many cool ingredients), I just need the time, and brain space to get the creative juices flowing again.

 So maybe, now that the chaos of renovations at work has calmed down, I just need a good session with my recipe book; re-cook some old favorites, earmark some “quick and easy” recipe for dinner, and maybe even pick some recipes that need no excuse apart from I Want To (like my hot chocolate cookies....mmmmm)

It won't happen overnight but it will happen

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Ain't no Party like a Star Wars party (Episode II)

 So you've done a rather successful Star Wars party for your younger son. You've taken both boys to see the new Star Wars movie and they both loved it. Son 1's birthday is coming up. What theme do you think he was requesting??

 Yep, the Return of the Star Wars party. This time, for 10 year olds.

 As the kids get older, I have been aware of things that Were Cool only a year ago, suddenly become Not Cool, or "for babies, mum!!". Luckily Son 1 was at home for Son 2's party, so I could ask "what did you want at your party?" without seeming like a clueless mum. I was already ahead of the curve, as at his party last year, we switched the format to an afternoon-early evening party time, and gotten take-away pizza as the hot food meal (MUCH cooler than party pies and chicken nuggets). So that was sorted and meant less foods to organise.
 Also, amidst all the cool Christmas presents, we got a "Stormtrooper Cookie Kit" - packet mix cookie dough, white and black icing and a cookie cutter. Son 1 was very excited to be making these; I just had to get over my prejudice against Packet Mix (*sniff!* Mine made from scratch would taste Sooooo much better).

 In their defence, the "just add water" instructions were pretty easy to follow. It was easy to roll out and cook (though only made 10 cookies).
Birthday Boy lending a Helping Hand
 But I did run into some issues with icing them. Rather than use the "icing sugar" mix they had supplied, I used some royal icing I had left over from decorating gingerbread men at Christmas. Because that's what it had been used for, it was a bit thicker than you would usually use to ice a large area. I started with Ro's technique of outlining the cookie shape, then filling in and mixing the icing with a toothpick to get a smooth finish, but that ended up with more icing being pulled OFF the biscuits rather than on. In the end I went with the good ol' knife/spatula option. Worked a treat.

 I did use the black icing gel supplied in the box as it meant I didn't have to try and source or color black icing. *  It worked well; the nozzle was quite small so gave a lot of control. I did try and be clever and make First Order trooper helmets as well, but they didn't look as good in my opinion). The lesson? Retro always looks good.

Same design reference, all different. They're like the Seven Dwarfs of Stormtroopers

(apart from the top middle one - this was the first to be "blacked" with the icing. I think the gel has separated in transit and so was a bit runny at the start. I ended up scraping it off and trying again, which made him look like he hadn't cleaned his helmet. For Shame)

 We had chips and cheezels again, but as we had a new movie (and cool new characters), these were now Jakku Chips and BB-8 bits! (thankfully funny food labels are Still Cool).
Galaxy Bread also made an encore appearance; you're never too old for THAT apparently.

 For the cake, I felt it was time to stretch myself creatively; at least a little bit, in the confines of working and having a dinner the night before. A mini stretch maybe? 

 My girlfriend had her daughter's 4th birthday before Christmas and it was (as you would imagine for a girl that age) a Frozen theme. She had seen on Pintrest that people were using the Disney Infinity game pieces as cake decorations: not only did they look awesome but you could then play with them afterwards! We were quite happy to lend her ours (we are big Disney fans as well as Star Wars),  and it looked very effective .

Frosting + fondant + snowflake cutter + candles = awesome cake
 Which got me thinking that maybe I could use the same theory for this cake. There is a fairly important scene in "The Force Awakens" set in a snowy forest (relax - no spoilers, there are scenes from it in the trailer). So I wondered if I could make a snowy forest landscape for my Star Wars-Force Awakens figurines - chocolate frosting as the "ground", mint sticks for the bare tree trunks, and coconut or icing sugar dusted over all as the snow. Sounds good in theory (and looked good in my imagination), let's hope it translated.

 I started well., with a rectangle cake and a heap of chocolate frosting. I quickly realised after my crumb coat that I had to ignore all the Rules of Frosting; forget all the skills I had developed over several years of decorating. This was meant to be a forest, and one where a lightsaber duel had been taking place. So no smooth edges and neat sharp corners, there needed to be lots of texture and uneven ground and piles of .... foresty stuff. So it was quite fun being very haphazard in my frosting application.

 After leaving space for my figurines, I planted my mint-stick-tree-forest, complete with a few chopped off at shorter lengths, and a few fallen limbs here and there. Realising it needed a bit more texture to the terrain, I also chopped up a few pieces of chocolate to make rocks and boulders, and added any bit of cake that had fallen off to look like moss. Too much chocolate?? Never!**

 We then had a blizzard of coconut (both shredded and dessicated for a more textured effect) over everything, before placing our heroes safely in their scene.

Top View
Side View

 I must admit I was pretty happy how it turned out. Possibly because it was such a simple idea, and also because it was one that I was kind of making up as I went along. This does not always go well (there is usually lots of swearing and wishing I had drawn up a Plan), so it was nice to have an end product that vaguely resembled what I had in my mind.

 I got a big "Cool!!" from the birthday boy and lots of other compliments which is always good. In fact the only drawback was one of the kids who "I don't like coconut!". It was alwasy a risk (at least it wasn't an "I don't like chocolate!"), so he got a piece of cake with the frosting shaved off.

 So another successful Star Wars party. And as the next movie is due for release at the end of 2017, there's not harm in putting away ideas for what will be a 9th and 12th birthday party is there?!?!

* although I did realise afterwards that I had black chocolate melts in my cupboard that would have work well. Next time....

** here was another place where the black choc melts would have looked great - different colored rocks and boulders!!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Ain’t no party like a Star Wars party (Episode I)

(Wow – it HAS been a long time between blogs – apologies. Full time work (plus a study course for a few months) AND an awesome hubby who cooks most of my meals, doesn’t leave much time to blog and space for inspiration! But stay tuned, ".....there is another")

 I’m always a fan of a themed party; whether its Yule (see here and here), Christmas, or age appropriate birthday themes. Thus, I always have sleepless nights get excited when I have a kids birthday party coming up. Son 2’s birthday was in October, so I started dropping hints early September about what type of theme he would like (It's always a delicate dance between what HE wants and what I think I can work with). His first suggestion was Jurassic World, which had me envisioning lots of fossil and dinosaur related treats (which I had seen around the Interweb). Not a bad start, BUT with the new Star Wars movie (Episode VII:The Force Awakens) coming out a few months later (and us being a house of huge Star Wars fans), I easily steered him in that direction.
 We have always been fans of Star Wars. Husband and I have had several occasions where we watched the original trilogy back to back (one time with special blue colored milk). We went and saw all of the remastered movies when they came out, as well as all of the prequels on opening night. We have shelves of books, boxes of toys, cups and plates,  and even had a large film poster dominating our lounge room for many years. With the newer cartoons of the last few years, I had done a previous Star Wars:The Clone Wars party for Son 1.  We had that party in a park, which did impact on my creativity as I had to be able to transport everything there and back. I was able to have a few Star Wars touches (like lightsaber breadsticks, and we made Stormtrooper masks), but not the whole shebang like I would have with a party at home.

 Now was my chance.

 As with most themed parties I throw, it becomes more about what I DON'T end up making than what I do. With Pintrest and many many Star Wars fans on the internet, there are A LOT of party ideas around! After my Minecraft party (....which I didn't actually blog about), Son 2 liked the idea of cool food labels, so it was also what I could get a good pun name for. 
I did see some great labels online, but some of them made NO sense....

 Han Burgers?? **
 No – much more sensible to do Han SOLO! And his friend, Luke Sky-Water!

Printed labels to the rescue

 (In their defense, Americans don’t have Solo as a drink. Hooray for us)

 I did my breadstick lightsabers again - small pieces of aluminium foil wrapped around grissini-style breadsticks. (I even still had the on-off switch colored stickers I had used from Son 1’s party; I kept them “just in case”. Because that's what I do).

   We also had A.T-C.H.I.P.S and Death Star Bites – not very pun-worthy but it was then best I could come up with for potato chips and cheezels (two party staples)!

 Another party staple is fairy bread, which has made it into several parties by way of cookie cutters to cut the bread. Luckily for me, my brother (who lives in Canada) had sent me some Star Wars sandwich cutters (as well as some pancake moulds – if only I could have incorporated them!).
 So that made it easy to have Galaxy bread (as in “… a galaxy far, far away).

TIE fighters on the left, Millennium Falcons on the right 

 For hot food, we had mini Hutt Dogs (straight from Pintrest) and X-wing bites. 

 The X-Wing bites came from trying to think of something to do with chicken nuggets (One of Son 2's favorite foods)! I ended up using chicken fingers (rather than nuggets), and joining them in an X-shape with toothpicks: very low tech but very well received.

 I also made a batch of Wookie cookies (thanks to Ro for the idea). I used a slightly different recipe (its quite tricky to find "tofffee bits"); the Neiman-Marcus oatmeal cookie recipe (I didn't blend the oats to give them more of a textured look). I also attempted to make elongated cookies (more Chewbacca-esque shape) than Ro's round ones; but as you can see, they did that anyway as I didn't space them our enough on the tray (seriously, I was not going to dirty another tray for ONE cookie!). The most misshapen ones were the "quality control" cookies.

Looking more like Adipose from Doctor Who rather than a warrior from Kashyyyk. But still yum.

I also did a a variation on the s’mores that I had been making.
 I had seen a few variations on TIE fighter snacks on Pintrest – usually with cheese biscuits and a piece of cheese in between

Thankyou random Star Wars fan

But by this stage of planning I needed a few more sweet things, so decided to make my own s’mores TIE cookies!   A batch of chocolate cookies cut in a hexagon (very hard to find a hexagonal cookie cutter!), with a marshmallow in-between, held in place by melted chocolate. Yum!

Again with the too-closely spaced cookies! You'd think I'd have learnt....

TIE assembly line: cookies, chocolate, marshmallow, chocolate, cookie

 If I was making them again, I would make the biscuits a bit smaller, like this...
Thankyou other random Star Wars Fan
 (wait, is that peanut butter they've used to stick them together?? Yum!!!)
 I was trying to do them to scale (yes, I did get out a TIE fighter toy and measure it. Beacause that's what I do), but they ended up being about 7cm long which made them quite ungainly to stick together and store. Delicious, just awkward, and the cookie-to-marhsmallow ratio was all wrong.)

  And to offset all that sugar, I also made FruiTIE fighters as well – (smaller) hexagons of melon with a grape or strawberry in between.

 AND in the just-because-its-cool category, I had marshmallow Storm trooper helmets. This one mainly came about because I had been suckered into buying a bag of Jumbo marshmallows from Costco. Which look great, but are quite difficult to toast over a fire, so I still had ¾ of a bag-full! This was fun as I could use the helmet design for the newest trooper from “The Force Awakens” as well as Clone Troopers. The trick with this was tracking down a black food pen, as well as drawing precisely on a spongy surface!

Not terribly drawn, just not super well drawn.
In easy Grab-and-Eat appropriately themed cups.

 And you can’t just eat at a party, you need activities (especially with boys!!). Husband has amassed quite a collection of Star Wars figures over the years, so they got pulled out. And being 7 year old boys, I knew that if I could incorporate shooting things, it would be a bigger hit. So I set up a Star Wars shooting gallery – Nerf guns aimed at different size figurines. We found that Jabba the Hutt was quite difficult to knock over due to his wide base. As was the super sized Qui Gon Jinn.

 Sticking with the idea of Use What You Have , I also organized Trooper Bowling (another Pintrest idea) – I printed out a few Stormtrooper masks and stuck them to the pins on our bowling set. The we could roll our “Death Star” bowling ball to it and see how many troopers got knocked over (and for the Fans out there – yes, I know the Stormtroopers were on the same side as the Death Star, but it worked better that way!).

Definitely too short to be Stormtroopers

 And finally some combat practice. A popular Star Wars party idea was to make your own lightsabers; some parties even made this as an activity. I knew from previous years that the kids didn’t want to MAKE things so much as PLAY with them, so I pre-made these. Super complicated: Step one – purchase pool noodle from shop (in appropriate colours – I had blue and green as I didn’t want any red Dark Side sabers). Step 2 – cut pool noodle in half to make a suitable blade for 7-year-olds. Step 3 – sticky tape “Lightsaber hilts” (printed out from the internet) around the base and voila!
Looks effective, super easy. My favorite
 But make sure to set some rules before you unleash them on each other, or it would be chaos (ours were No Hitting on the Head and only Two people fighting each other at a time).

Working up an appetite AND burning off sugar
 Last but not least, we had the cake. If I had the time I would have made something awesome like this  or even this!!! (I would have loved making the X-wing and TIE Fighters. The oodles and oodles of Death Star building bits not so much). But as I had the kids party as well as a family party in three days I decided to be sensible and go the cake topper route.
Family Party cake

Kids party Cake. Two toppers = better value postage


 The kids had a ball, the food was a hit and all went home happy.

 The Force was indeed with us.

** I did eventually get this - it was a pun worthy twist on HAMburgers.....

Friday, 10 April 2015


 Traditions – those time honoured rituals that can put a big smile on your face and make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, or conversely scowl and fume with obligation. They can have been around for thousands of years or just a nice recent habit that kept going. On the whole, I love A Tradition – something that you often get to do only once a year, which reminds you of the fun times you had doing it in previous years. Some are outdated, some don’t correspond to our hemisphere and some we’ve just adapted for the obscurest of reasons, and some are just, well, Tradition.

 It was Easter the weekend just passed; four days with lots of traditions (some more strictly adhered to than others)

Tradition: we catch up with friends (Mr and Mrs Frenchman) for dinner.
 This lovely tradition has been happening since the early Getting-to-Know-You days of our friendship; in fact I think it was our third or fourth dinner together that we caught up on Good Friday, because I happened to mention that I cooked homemade Hot CrossBuns. Which became that dinner’s dessert. And I think we've caught up every Easter since; 4 days off means 3 nights to catch up, plus there is usually a baby sitter or two available. So it was our turn to host this time. But what to serve?
  I do love the planning stage of dinners. You can start in one cuisine and end up totally in another. I usually start with a dish or a theme in mind and go from there, but this time I had Nothing. Nada. Not even a half inkling. Maybe is the working-full-time thing, where I am cooking less during the week plus being a Bit Worn Out, but I hadn’t the vaguest flash of inspiration. I thought maybe something pork? but that was only because I had seen a few recipes using it recently. Plus it was a white meat…

Tradition: don’t eat red meat on Good Friday.
 Ahhh That religious tradition. This was one I strictly adhered to throughout my childhood – you would always have fish fingers or I & J fish fillets for dinner on Good Friday. As I got older and realized where the tradition came from, I took great joy in eating hamburgers, or spaghetti bolognaise or steak on Good Friday. But this year, it seemed like a good source of inspiration (or madness).

 I would make Fish Tacos. Again.

 Whenever I have a recipe fail (read here if you need a reminder), I always feel I need to go back and Get It Right. Prove that I am the Domestic Goddess that I like to think that I am. So this one had been bugging me for a while, and if Good Friday wasn’t a good day to cook fish then I didn’t know when was!
 Right – so Tacos. Which makes me think of Mexican. And the Tapas Feast that wasn’t. I had the same dinner guests which meant they would have a chance to try the dishes they missed out on (except the pulled pork tacos), such as sherry glazed chorizo and chickpeas and patatas bravas. And now we had a Theme (sort of)

 Dessert is always tricky in Mexican meals, so I decided to ignore that and just cook something yummy. The latest Delicious Mag had a chocolate dessert sections so I had a short list of about 5 to choose from. But I ended up going with the Baked Doughnuts (with whiskey chocolate glaze). Possibly because all the proving and rising of the dough reminded me of hot cross buns, possibly because of the chocolate whiskey glaze (so Easter but so Adult), possibly because I figured I could make non-glazed ones for the kiddies to munch on. But mainly because I had this picture staring at me from benchtops for a week or two
You want to eat them, don't you?!?
 Plus, being doughnuts, this was a dessert that was more …..hol(e)y 

 And I was interested in making Baked doughnuts, as one of the reasons I am reluctant to make traditional doughnuts more often is the whole Frying in a Large Pot of Boiling Oil thing. Which I really should get over as I have about 4 or 5 yummy looking recipes to try.

 Right so mains and dessert sorted, just appetisers/nibbles to organise. Well, that was easy.

Tradition: we start our dinners with bubbles and cheese.
Champagne is a no-brainer. I think most of my celebrations and parties officially start when the cork is popped. Cheese is a Let’s-Be-French tradition that we have heartily adopted (though our hearts probably don’t appreciate too much d’aphinois).
So menu sorted, ingredients purchased and a day off to get it all sorted.

Tradition: I will forget at least one ingredient.
  So this time, it wasn’t a Forgetting, rather than an Assuming – that the ice cream we had in the freezer was vanilla, when in fact it was Cookies and Cream, which is quite yummy but might just be a bit too much chocolate for some. But where to buy ice cream on Good Friday when all the supermarkets are closed? I had hope my local petrol station/mini-supermarket would have some small tubs but alas they didn’t so we switched to cream for dessert. No biggie.
 The chickpeas were another story. Now in my defence they were on the shopping list, just put it down to shopping on the Thursday Before Good-Friday (when people at supermarkets are mental!!) by Mr DG (the artist formerly known as Hubby). Luckily I had two small tins in the cupboard for use in salads, so it just meant a smaller batch, but as it was a Side dish that was ok.
 Not sure what happened to the fresh coriander, I think that was me. But luckily the dried stuff worked ok.

Tradition: The new recipe I try will be almost perfect (but not quite).
 Common hostessing lore suggests you never cook a new recipe when throwing a dinner party. I use dinner parties to try out new recipes! Which as readers will know, usually turns out ok. But more often than not there is something that could be improved. The doughnuts were going along swimmingly, rising and proving. I didn’t have a 3.5cm cookie cutter for cutting out the holes so had to freehand it. The glaze was all made and I was preparing to dip them. However I don’t think I let the glaze cool quite enough as it was still a bit runny, which mean they weren’t as picture perfect as the cover. Still tasted quite yummy, if anything it meant there was more glaze to dip your doughnut in (which is never a bad thing).
"Mmmmmm ... double glazed.."
 So all things pre-prepared as much as possible, guests arrived,, champagne popped and cheese munched on while I cooked the dinner. Learning from my mistake, I had the frypan in med-LOW (not med-high) for cooking the fish and had plenty of olive oil in the Good Frypan (the one whose non-stick base hasn’t been scratched and worn away). And the tacos turned out great! My only Point of Improvement would be to not “flour” them until just before cooking (the recipe calls for throwing your pieces of fish into a mix of flour ad spices to coat them). The flour did become a bit like a paste on some pieces, which thankfully didn’t increase their sticking to the pan-ness.
 So with nicely cooked fish, some yummy salsa and sour cream, and tapas side dishes, out Mexican feast was ready to consume.

Front-back: Fish, tortillas, salsa, lettuce, sour cream, patatas bravas
(& sauce) and sherry glazed chickpeas
 Followed up by yummy doughnuts (for those that still had room), it marked another delicious Easter feast....
Not as pretty as the picture but still yum

... even if the glaze slid off and it was cream not ice cream on the side.

What traditions do you like to follow (or ignore)?

Thursday, 9 April 2015

S'more and more

 Cooking is such a collaborative process. There are only so many ingredients to cook with (until they find the next super food that is OMG totes amazeballs and will, like, totally Save Your Life!!) and unless you get all finicky and molecular gastronomic (yes, it’s a word), only so many way to cook it. So you take a handed down recipe from Grandma and tweak it yourself, you substitute an ingredient for another you prefer and a new dish is born, you see an idea and think – Hmmm, I can do better than that. Which is my favourite part – seeing an idea in a magazine, on a Pintrest board or in a You Tube video; and making something cooler and (slightly) newer.
 Here are some of my recent creations, or Riffs on the Traditional.

Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches
I’m not sure where my fascination for ice cream sandwiches came from, but I’m going to blame Ro from Nerdy Nummies, who had these super cute cheeseburgers ice cream sandwiches. And then she followed them up with Captain America ice cream sandwiches! (love the star on that one). And THEN I saw a Jamie Oliver recipe with a sponge like “bread” rather than biscuits. Plus we went to Fat Bob’s Burgers (which I highly recommend) and they had Pat and Stick’s IceCream sandwiches, which were small enough for Son 1 and 2 to have one each – hooray! So it just got  to a point where I felt I HAD to make them. Like when you see a new fashions trend that you think you’d NEVER wear but after seeing it over and over and over, you start to think, “yeah, I could totally pull off harem pants!”.
 I decided to stick with cookies for my “bread” and was going to go with a basic sugar cookie recipe like Ro, but while flicking through my recipe book I glanced at my Double Chocolate Cookies recipe. Hmmm (me thinks) – if I don’t add the white choc chips, that would make a great chocolate cookie recipe. And THEN it would be like an Oreo – chocolate biscuits with vanilla filling – winner!
 I made the cookies using a scone cutter to get a sensible size (which, for those of you playing along at home, is small enough to eat in one hand). Watching Ro’s two rather unsuccessful attempts to make the ice cream centres, I devised my own; allow your ice cream to soften and then spoon it into your cookie cutter (much like making a vege burger); pop these circles on a tray back in the freezer until serving time when you assemble said sandwiches- much less mess and fuss and wastage and faffing.

You will note that the scone cutter didn't make Perfect Circles of Ice Cream.
 Which I kind of like 
 And two big thumbs up from the 5 boys I served them to as well.

S’mores cookies.
 This one was more of a direct substitution. My Cupcake Addiction had a great video on Bake Sale Hacks, which had some really cute ideas. Now while I will probably never make a Twix Pie, I did like the idea of the S’mores cookies.
 S’mores have been another treat that has been kicking around my brain for a while; it’s the whole American thing as well as it taking me so long to figure out What they were, and I STILL haven’t worked out how to make them on a campfire! So these cookies seemed like a great idea for a burnt-finger-less S’more. And while I love choc chip cookies, I did think that the traditional Graham cracker would work better. But as we all know, we don’t HAVE them in Australia, to the vexation of many American ex-pats and those who have partaken of the s’mores while overseas. As luck would have it, Ro had done a video where she made s’mores cookies, as well as the marshmallow filling From Scratch! So I grabbed her recipe, adjusted it for Australian cooking (note – Pastry Flour is not SR Flour or Plain pasta flour; its  something we don’t have Down Under– I got a conversion that its plain flour with cornflour mixed in. OK? OK).
 So I made a heap of graham cracker circles; I was even going to put a smiley faces on them (with two choc chip eyes) and call them Smiley S’mores but thought perhaps too much chocolate? Maybe next time….
  When I added the chocolate and marshmallow to melt, I found that if I had my oven on Really Low it took forever (I blame my electric oven that takes Forever to heat up!) – so I bumped up the heat and kept an eye on them. I found that the freezer is indeed better than the fridge for “setting” them, after which you can then store them in a container until they are devoured by the 9 kids at your lunch-catch-up.

  So with the success if them, it was only a matter of time before I made the link to ….

S’mOreos Cookies
I think Son 1 and I where chatting about whether he could have a s’mores cookie or an Oreo as his “treat”, when I made the glorious link to a s’moreos: marshmallow/chocolate filling but with Chocolate biscuit rather than Graham Cracker. (who was saying something about too much chocolate??). So substituting the cookie recipe from my ice cream oreos worked a treat, and they looked good as that recipe makes quite a dark chocolate cookie, which meant you could see the milk chocolate inside.

 Again heartily munched on by one and all, definitely a Treat rather than Snack, but it gave me the satisfaction of (maybe) creating a new cookie (which will go straight to my Pintrest board)

 What new dishes or baking creations have you come up with?

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Christmas Catch Up

 So we've taken down the decorations and recovered from celebrating the New Year; it seems like a goods time to look back on my Christmas culinary adventures for 2014.

 As regular readers would know, this year I made gingerbread trees to give out to friends/family/work colleagues/school teachers/comic book shop guys/the school crossing man. So I ended up making a LOT of gingerbread. Each batch made 64 Christmas tress, and I made 3 batches. That is a lot of mixing, rolling, cutting, baking, piping and bagging. Suffice to say, I don’t want to even think about gingerbread for a few months! Ironically I actually got to taste my first Christmas gingerbread at the weekend (the last two trees left over from Christmas day) and they still tasted good, almost two weeks after baking!
 One thing I did different this year was an attempt at Gluten Free (GF) gingerbread. With a friend who is coeliac and several gluten intolerant friends, I felt bad that they couldn't share in the spoils of my baking. Luckily, the only ingredient that contains gluten in my gingerbread recipe is plain flour (it uses bicarb soda as a raising agent), so I thought it was be a fairly easy substitution. I had some GF self-raising flour in the cupboard from a previous GF baking session which I usually wouldn’t substitute for plain flour. However, using my Science Brain, I remembered that it was the gluten in the flour that bound the baking together and helped it raise, so GF self raising flour was probably closer to non-GF plain flour than non-GF SR flour. All clear??
 And it worked quite well. I went more on Feel than exact measurements when adding the flour; GF flour has a rather different texture to non-GF so I probably had to add more to made the dough sticky enough to roll out. And I think the GF SR flour did make a difference, in that they were a bit more rounded, a bit softer, less crispy-biscuit like (next time I'll buy GF plain flour). But the main thing is they still tasted (and looked) like gingerbread, and my GF friends were very appreciative, even though I didn't get a chance to ice them.

(the darker ones were chocolate gingerbread)
 My next step is to try and make a refined-sugar free gingerbread (have I mentioned that a lot of my friends are very health/diet conscious with a lot of “…. Intolerant” kids???). I figure that I can substitute coconut sugar for brown sugar, and maple syrup for the golden syrup. This will probably affect the consistency and “stickiness” of the dough, so will probably mean a bit of fiddling with the (GF or not) flour. Next challenge will be going dairy free – should be a straight swap with nuttelex for butter which would hopefully cream up well with the sugar. I thought I had almost got everything sorted to finally make a batch for one of my friends (who is gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugar free), who then informed me that she doesn’t eat refined oils, which nuttelex is. *sigh*  My other option is then trying to cream coconut oil and coconut sugar together (and hope that it holds together), mix it with maple syrup and GF flour, and hopefully the addition of ginger will make it still taste vaguely like gingerbread.
 (Or maybe I can just resign myself to not making her gingerbread!)

 Regular readers will also know that I love a good theme, and Christmas is a great excuse to get Creative with Cooking. Last year it was my Rudolph pancakes, which this, year when I made them in early December, Son 2 proclaimed that he wasn't much of a fan of because he doesn't like bacon (Son 2 LOVES bacon, so he didn't see the issue). Nerdy Nummies Ro had made some Snowman pancakes (its the third 'treat') but that wasn't really suitable for an Australian Summer Christmas (but will be great if we go to the snow!). I then came across this awesome blog called The Joys of Boys (they had blog on making Star Wars snowflakes. So cool). They had Santa pancakes, which apart from having a HEAP of whipped cream (which I would think would be that nasty stuff from a can – what is it with Americans and a tonne of fake whipped cream?!?), they also had cherries for the hat. I have a girlfriend whose kids would adore this version (their dad was raised on a cherry farm and they are massive Fresh Fruit Fans), but mine, not so much. So what to use? Coincidentally at this time, one of my girlfriends (She with the French husband) was getting ready to go the Paris to celebrate Christmas with the Hubby’s family. For 5 weeks. And so was clearing out her freezer. As well as a packet of breadcrumbs (which my chickens loved) she also gave me a bag of 5 frozen eggs whites; which were leftover from an awesome chocolate Crème Brulee she had made the last time I went for dinner. Hmmmm – how fortuitous! So on Boxing day (as Christmas morning breakfast was taken up with the traditional croissants and fresh fruit breakfast), I made these Santa Pancakes...

...bacon for the hat, an egg-white omelette (badly) cut into shape for the beard and hat trimming, blueberry eyes and a strawberry nose. I got big smiles from both Sons who then carefully removed the fruit, swapped the bacon for egg and happily devoured them!

 My last piece of Christmas faffing was something that had been hovering around my Christmas Pintrest board for a while – the Christmas fruit tree. There are lots of really cool variations (when you have a spare 5 minutes, type “Christmas fruit tree” in the search engine and check them out). I did like the 3D version, but it didn't seem to be able to support a lot of fruit and as I was doing this for our family Christmas lunch of about 15 adults, I wanted to make sure there was bit available. Plus I knew I would be assembling it after I had hosted breakfast but before jumping in the car to drive to lunch. So it trying to keep things less stressed on Dec 25th, I settled for the 2D version. I had no grand plans as to how it would look (how very unlike me! I must have had my brain filled with other Christmas Organising), but ended up using cantaloupe (or rockmelon depending on where you were born) as “boughs”. Small bunches of grapes were great for greenery, strawberries and blueberries for a touch of colour and some watermelon star cutouts to make it look Christmassy.

 So I hope you all had a fun and festive Christmas with lots of yummy food (as I did) and I look forward to doing it all again in 11 months time

(but maybe not gingerbread this time…..)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Hot Chocolate

 I do love it when you work out a solution to a problem – especially when it doesn't involve paying someone/buying something/spending hours searching on the internet. It can be as simple as a system for taking washing off the line (Things that needs a hot iron off first so they are at the bottom of the basket and will be ironed last when the iron is the hottest), or for keeping you Tupperware drawer tidy (lids all in one spot people!). Thankfully this was a bit more of an interesting problem to solve – how to keep melted chocolate, well… melted.

 After my recent fondant fetish (click here and here and here!), I had started experimenting with melted chocolate as a decorating tool. It started with plans for Son 2’s Minecraft birthday party, which involved making black shapes for Creeper faces.
This is a Creeper. It explodes if you get too close. Just so you know
 While I was wandering the cake supplies shop, I noticed that black chocolate melts were much cheaper per kg than the black fondant. Interesting. PLUS chocolate could be piped in fine lines for smaller creeper faces (which I was planning to put on green rice krispie squares for taking to school) , where as it would be annoying to cut out very small slivers of fondant. AND it always looked so easy when my You Tube bloggers used it – what could possibly go wrong?


 Melted chocolate assumes a liquid form. And the hotter it is, the more liquid it becomes, to the point of it oozing and not making pretty straight lines like you are supposed to. Not good when you are a perfectionist bordering on–OCD.

Not my finest work. They either look possessed, evil or stupid (still tasted yum though).
 Melted chocolate also has a tendency to set when it cools. And this doesn't always happen once it is piped out, it can also happen while it sits in your piping bag. Which leads to lumps of semi solid chocolate blocking up your piping nozzle, and it coming out unevenly. Which leads to much Fiddling and Fixing and Touch Ups and Swearing and Stress.

Like a Monet - good from a distance but a mess up close
 At first I thought it was just the colored chocolate, as it took quite a while to melt and didn't really mix together very well. But when I had the same problem using good ol’ Cadbury that I realised it was a Chocolate Issue.

My Groot Sundaes: more "messy" than "gnarled tree" appearance
(click here for what they were supposed to look like)
 So what to do?? I could use royal icing for all of my future decorating. It pipes nicely, colours well and you can keep it in the fridge between times.

(and a little goes a long way)
 But it doesn't taste as nice. And it’s not chocolate.

 So a solution had to be found. Especially with my plans to make gingerbread trees for my Christmas gifts this year.

LOTS of gingerbread trees!  (this was batch 1 of 3)
 At first I tried microwaving the chocolate intermittently, which worked well. I found I could ice and decorate four trees before it needed a minute in the microwave. But I had to unscrew the metal piping tip and scrape out the solidified chocolate each time. Annoying. And stop piping. More annoying.

 I did think about some sort of hot water bath to put the piping bag in, but I have found the no matter how carefully you seal the bag up or pop it in several plastic bags, water still gets in and ruins your chocolate. Not helpful

 There are cool cups (as in Cold, rather than Clever and Awesome) that you can put in the freezer to keep your drinks cool over summer, I just needed a Hot version .

 So I made one myself! Pour boiling water in a large cup, place a smaller cup inside and voila!

 (I shall add a picture here when I take one at this weekend's piping session)

Pop your piping bag in it in between sprinkled sanding sugar or carefully placing cachoos and you are ready to for your next set of trees. So simple, so cheap, so effective, so clever (well, I think so).
Oh! Christmas tree (s)
 So I hope that this has helped you to keep your chocolate hot and your piping pretty.

In other Kitchen News, I received a kitchen blowtorch at the weekend, so look forward to a creme brulee post in the future (which will hopefully not be entitled “What can go wrong with a Kitchen Blowtorch" or "Effective Ways to put out a Kitchen Fire")