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Friday, 27 December 2013

Happy Hoppy Christmas

 Like many Foodie-Crafty-Industrious type people, I love Christmas. Not only is it a fun family time with lots of food (and presents!!) but it gives us like-minded people a chance to shine and flex our collective creative muscles. From hand making presents, to new riffs on classic dishes, to clever effective decorations, there are so many way to get into the Spirit of the Season.


My December related shenanigans took a different turn this year, when, while trampolining wth Son 2 in November, I landed awkwardly and broke two bones in my left foot and well as "destroying" (the surgeon's words, not mine) the ligaments that run across the top of my foot. Which meant surgery to put it all back together again. Then a cast for two weeks. Then 4 weeks on crutches. Which did put a serious dent in what I was able to achieve for and in the run up to Christmas Day.

 But being the determined (or "stubborn and pig-headed" as Hubby would say) person that I am, I  knew that I would find a way to do at least SOMETHING festive around the home. As the pain in my foot (and my reliance on medication) decreased, I was able to get up and move about more. We also purchased a little stool on wheels which meant I could move around the kitchen fairly well. But, I was still trying to be aware of my limitations and not create too long a list of things to do. One thing I did have plenty of time for, was sitting on the couch and browsing the internet for ideas. Thank goodness for sites like Pintrest, where I could search things like "Christmas cookies" and "Christmas table" and find all sorts of ideas that I could adapt. It also (thankfully) helped stave off the boredom

 First up was the work Christmas present. Last Christmas was the Year of the New Icing Techniques and they got a batch of festively decorated cupcakes. Scaling it back for this year, I thought I could come at gingerbread: simple to make but very yummy. Add a batch of royal icing and I could still get creative with decorarting.

 So my lovely work colleagues, who had had to deal with me not being there for the month before Christmas, got a batch of "Kim-gerbread Men" - complete with cast.

 ... and their smiles were similar to the ones on their gingerbread men.

 I also found this cute idea for pancakes on Pintrest, which gave the Son 1 and 2 a nice pre-Christmas breakfast...
 ...  bacon for antlers, blueberries for eyes and a raspberry nose.

 Christmas Day posed its own list of challenges. In our family, we rotate who hosts lunch on Dec 25th and this was my year to host. There were quite a few discussions post foot-break as to whether that would still be a viable option. I knew I wouldn't have to slave away in the kitchen as everyone brings something along and really, the only specific job of the host is to provide the table/chairs/plates/glasses etc and the crackers (which I had already bought at last year's post-Christmas sales). So Hubby convinced me that we would be fine, and as he would be doing the majority of the "heavy-lifting" work wise, I took his word for it. And it probably made more sense as I was quite good at moving around our house  by this stage. But it did require a re-think of how to run tae day.
 First thing was to confirm the meal as Cold Meat and Salad. Much more sensible when Dec 25 can be a scorcher to have this rather than the full roast and trimmings. So we had ham, (cold) roast chicken and a roast pork, which was more because Hubby had become such a whizz with his pork and crackling that is seemed a shame not to share it with the family. I made a yummy (and healthy) quinoa salad that is made in layers and looked very festive with a  layer of baby spinach leaves and layer of chopped tomatoes. We did bow to tradition and have a Christmas pudding for dessert (as my aunt makes a fantastic one), but I also whipped up a Christmas ice cream (with nutmeg and brandy), and we had a fruit platter as well (not the Christmas tree ones I had seen online -maybe I'll do that next time...)

  Next up were the decorations. The last time I hosted, I had gotten very excited and done the full Christmas table set up, with decorations and bonbonierre for each guest.

 I think it took me about an hour to set that table, not including the baking and boxing up the cookies in the noodle boxes!
 This year I went for simplicity and a Serve Yourself mentality. Instead of the full table set-up, I had all the plates on a separate table, and I had bundled up a set of cutlery with a napkin and cracker and placed them on each table.: the theory being that each guest could grab their plate, fill it and sit anywhere at the table and go from there.

This year's more streamlined table
 But I still wanted something for my guests, as much to say "thankyou" for helping out and putting up with a more low-key Christmas. After the gingerbread was so well received at work, I though that could be the magical Simple-but-Effective again.  I was going to make individual gingerbread men for everyone, but realized that would mean about 2 batches to make and roll and cook and decorate. I did find a smaller gingerbread man cutter, but, as a few family members have 6 letters in their name, I knew it would be a tight squeeze. So I settled for my favorite shape (which is luckily still Christmas themed) - stars.

  This meant every guest that was coming to our house on Christmas Day had their own gingerbread star that they could eat whenever thy liked, or take home for a quiet Christmas night cuppa.

Christmas breakfast table
 So how did my one-legged Christmas Day go? Wonderfully well. Sons 1 and 2 were great little helpers, getting things out of cupboards and moving things into place. Hubby dutifully completed the list of tasks that seemed to keep extending as he neared the end. Family brought delicious food and helped out with serving and tidying up and it was a lovely relaxing fun day, just like I had hoped it would be.

 And it now gives me just under 1,100 days to plan and get creative for the next time I host Christmas!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Down Mexico Way

 So after my last blog, lamenting that I had been unable to organise a Mexican Feast; I was able to rectify this at the weekend! A dinner catch up with friends was a good excuse to look through my To Cook list, and right at the top was ‘Easy Does it – Tapas’ in the November Delicious magazine; four great simple recipes for your Spanish feast. The two that caught my eye were ‘Sherry-glazed chickpeas and chorizo' and a ‘Patatas Bravas’; the latter I had tried when I went to my first real proper Spanish Tapas restaurant recently; and the former reminded me of a dish from The Black Toro. So, straightaway, I had two dishes and the beginnings of a Spanish Spread.

 To round out the selection, I thought I would take a second try at tacos (click here to reminisce on my first ‘mis-adventure’). I had a “proper” Taco recipe from the Lonely Planet “Street Food” book; which had the filling as mince meat cooked with a bit of salt and pepper. Authentic, I'm sure. Just not very Dinner-Party-esque. Then there was a Lime and Prawn taco which showed promise (except for them wanting prawns with the tail still on – how is that a good thing when munching through a hand held taco?!?!); but it did require canned black beans. I'm sure I could have sourced them, but didn’t have that much free time for scouring my local gourmet food stores and delis. Then I remembered a shredded pork taco recipe that I had stored for a while, because every time I looked at the first set of instructions (that included “cook for 1 and a half hours”), I put it back. Now I am well aware of the benefits of long preparations (my 4 hour slow cooked lamb is testament to that), but for tacos, it seemed like too much work. But then, what is a dinner party if not an excuse to faff about in the kitchen and boil a piece of pork for 90 minutes?!?!  Plus it meant I could finally open the can of Chipotle* chillies in Adobe that I bought a while back for alllllll the Mexican cooking that I would use it with (but hadn’t gotten  around to using yet).

 She kept looking at me every time I went into my spices section,  “ Why haven’t you used me yet? You're just afraid of my Guatamalaness” (with apologies to Hank Azaria)
 And with that , main course was sorted. Throw in some salsa and nacho chips (with carrot and celery) for nibbles and all we needed was a dessert.

 Now, as much as I love Mexican, I have always found the desserts a bit tricky. The Black Toro are quite liberal in their interpretation (last time I had a 'deconstructed peanut butter cheesecake', which I’m sure the conquistadors munched on as they travelled to The New World); though I am looking forward to trying their Crème Catalan. “Jamie’s America” has a chocolate mole tart, which has an amazing spice mix (including cinnamon and chilli) sprinkled over the top, but I’d already made that before. Having the Lonely Planet book out reminded me of the Pastel de Belem (Portuguese Custard Tart) I had earmarked. I know that Portugal is not really a neighbour of Mexico, but I figured as there were a lot of Portuguese speakers in South America, I could probably get away with it.

  I started making the tarts the night before the dinner:  Son 2 has been sick that week and I wasn’t quite sure what sort of mess and time-consuming-task the following day would bring  (Kids always add an extra degree of randomness and uncertainty to your plans!). First step was making a custard from scratch, which I was familiar with from making ice cream. However, this custard had a tablespoon of flour in it, which sped up the thickening process no end! In fact I did end up with a slightly lumpy custard as I didn’t get to stir it as regularly as I should have (reading a bedtime story between stirs is probably not something I’ll repeat next time). The tart cases were made from puff pastry, which the receipe suggested to buy a block and roll out to 0.1 inch thick. I figured my sheets of frozen puff pastry already in the freezer were about 2.5mm so I would go with that! It was all going along swimmingly apart from the actual baking; which seemed to take much longer than specified (15 mins at 150°C). I’m sure they were "cooked" by 15 minutes, but the pastry was not golden (as the instructions specified), nor was the custard browned like the picture illustrated. So another 15 mins (done in 5 minute increments, checking them each time and increasing the temp) got it looking much more like in the book.

  Dinner party morning starting with the boiling of the pork, followed by the cooling of the pork, followed by the shredding of the pork! There was the roasting of the garlic and tomatoes for the chipotle sauce, followed by the all-important Opening of the Chipotle Can. The receipe suggested adding the (3) chillies one at a time and tasting as you go “until you achieve the heat level you require”.  I added two, and nearly singed several layers on skin off my tongue! So I stopped there. And then fished out the pieces of chilli skin that had not blended in! Argh!! So they were as spicy as everyone had suggested! It is tricky as the actual chillies can vary in size, and I’m guessing the amount of sauce that gets added in is also a factor. I could only hope that once it was added to the pork that it would lower the spice rating a bit (and be grateful that my mum wasn't one of the dinner guests!).  Preparations also included par-boiled the potatoes for the bravas, as well as making the sauce to go on top.
 By this time it was beer o’clock and so we opened a few Coronas to assist with the cooking process (with lime for me, lemon for Hubby), and went on to the fourth stage of pork preparation – the frying of the cooled shredded pork! (for so much faffing, this had better taste amazing!). While that was thickening (after the addition of the tomato sauce and some raisins (Raisins? Yes raisins. Not what I would usually associate with pork, but I kept an open mind for the first-time cook through), I fried up the potato for the bravas, as well as cooking up the chorizo. And with the sour cream, aioli and (homemade) salsa and guacamole already of the festively decorated table, we were ready to roll.
 Except our dinner party had slightly decreased. Guest 1 had an impending work assisgnement and was staying home to work on that. Guest 2 had arrived (with her beautiful 3 month old daughter), had a sip of champagne, and then spent the next 45 minutes tring to settle said child who had gottten a bit upset at missing a sleep and being handed around to everyone! (what was I saying about Kids and Plans?!?) So they went home home, leaving Hubby and I with a rather large feast between the two of us. To which I immediately thought of what we could use as leftovers for another dinner (hooray! Another night off cooking!!). But only after savouring THIS dinner.
Tacos, with our special Chilean wine (which we will save for another time)
 I'm happy to report that adding the pork and rasisins did dial the chipotle sauce down a few Scoville units, and made it very super tasty; so all the faffing was worth it. It would be a great recipe to work on through the day, or even cook the pork the night before.
 The Patatas Bravas were great as well; a nice mix between wedges and roast potatoes that will be a great starter or side dish. I'm not sure what to do with the yummy tomato sauce; we seemed to have a lot of that left over ....

All that was left of the chickpeas and chorizo!
 And the chorizo dish was just amazing. It took about 10 minutes to cook and was easily the yummiest dish of the night (it went straight into Hubby’s top 10). Which just goes to show that more time and effort doesn’t always mean better (especially when kids are involved!).

 And after polishing off a few extra serves of that, there wasn't much room for the Pastel de Belem, which we brought out as part of a family lunch the next day. The custard was delicious, but there seemed to be a bit too much pastry. This may have been because I didn’t have it thin enough, or I left too much of a “lip” and the top of the tin. Might just have to make them again to work it out....
 So with the weather finally warming up over here, I look forward to a long summer of tapas inspired meals (and lots of Coronas with lime). But for now, I’m off to find all of those Chipotle recipes to use up the rest of the can! I’m pretty sure I have a grilled corn with chipotle mayonnaise, but lets see what other latino gems I can unearth.


* I am never sure if its Chip-pot-lay or Chip-pottle (as in bottle). I will have to check with my friend who speaks Spanish.  Although she still might be laughing from when I ordered the Jamon (hard J)  croquets rather than the “hamon”.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Fondant and Fondue

 It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve yammered on about food n’ stuff; a few changes at this end have mean there seems to have been less time for faffing about the kitchen and trying new recipes. The fact that October Delicious Magazine’s “20 meals in 20 minutes” got me the most excited in the recent issue is fairly indicative of my current state! But I am determined to get back in the kitchen (in a totally non-sexist, non-50’s housewife kind of way) and flex my culinary muscle: I did make receipe 17 (Chicken Pad Kee Mao) last week, and will make receipe 18 (Thai Beef Salad) this week.

 But the major event of the last month or so was Son 2 turning 5: cue weeks of thinking on a theme and how best to get related food/cake/games/party bags  that look awesome but don’t take too much time or money. Like any good male child we had a superhero party – this year was Batman, which is a great theme as you can basically use anything, as long as you prefix it with “Bat-“. So we had Bat bread (fairy bread cut out with a bat shaped cookie cutter), Bat bikkies (choc shortbread in a bat shape), fruit-Bat sticks (fruit kebabs) – you get the idea. And of course the centre of any good party is The Cake. As you know from previous flogs (Let Them Eat (Decorated Cup) Cake), I am a fan of the Well Decorated Cake. However, after organising over 10 kids parties, I now know that the kids don’t care how many hours you have spent agonizing and frosting and decorating, they just care what it looks like. So I have become a big fan of the Edible Cake topper: there are a heap of (probably at-home-mum) suppliers on eBay who can print out just about anything (even customise them with the kid’s name) and post it to you, which makes cake decorating take…oooh, about 10 minutes. But of course this doesn’t satisfy the Cake Creator within, so another outlet had to be sourced.

 I have started following a series on You Tube called Nerdy Nummies . She is an amateur cook who “… really enjoy(s) making nerdy themed goodies and decorating them. I'm not a pro, but I love baking as a hobby”. I first stumbled across her GingerbreadTardis and have made the bear pancakes (with blueberries for eyes rather the chocolate); as well as the maple syrup cupcakes which I made a second time with variations (banana maple and maple pecan – both yum!). I now also have a long list of cool things I want to try; including the Captain America Cake which will be perfect for July 4th celebrations) and the Lego cakes and.… well, too many to list here! **

 But most importantly for me, she made Batman cupcakes, helped ably by with Batman (who my boys though was Hilarious!)

 The process seemed pretty simple, but I have never used fondant icing. Whether it was fear of the unknown or stubbornness, I had managed so far to get all of my decorating done without fondant; frosting had been fine. I had two girlfriends who had done a course and had learned how to do the whole professional cake-with-fondant and I had always been in slight awe of them. But there is a first time for everything, and I happened to know that there was left over black fondant in someone’s’ cupboard that I could use (it had been a racetrack, and a record and it still kept going). So after a few tips from my Learned Colleagues, I started Cake 1.

 Well, I’m not sure what I was so worried about. It was just like baking cookie – roll out, cut to desired shape stick on.  

 It went so well (and was so quick) that I went back and added the birthday boy’s name. He was suitably impressed; as were guests at the party.
 For my next trick, I decided to make Nerdy Nummies Batman cupcakes for the kid’s birthday party, with a slight alteration. I used yellow frosting (rather than black) and just a black Bat symbol on top (to avoid having to go and buy yellow fondant, and to reduce the number of steps). Again quite simple, however I did have to modify my design to slightly larger than planned, as it was quite tricky to cut fondant shapes that small with the paring knife I was using. I did try and source a “fondant cutting tool” but the ones I found were more to do with cutting long strips than small shapes. Might have to dig out the ol’ dissection kit from uni…..

 But still, I was pretty happy with them:- 
 So there we go, my first foray into fondant, which means I’m sure its only a matter of time before I start churning out things like these …

 ... or even this!!

 So to finish off, a bit on the other “F” word of my title. Delicious magazine has a Latin America Special a few months back, which apart from some super yummy salads (and a citrus margarita recipe) had a recipe for Queso Fundido; which I’m sure translates to “yummy cheesy fun”. It is a Mexican cheese fondue, topped with chorizo and served with potato skins (has your cholesterol shot up just thinking about it??). I had only had potato skins once before; back at Planet Hollywood (in the same meal that I had their divine Snickers pie for dessert *sigh* - back in the day where I could eat that in the same meal without even thinking twice about it!). So I knew they were yum, but always seemed a bit fiddly. My plan was to have them as the entree of a fabulous Mexican feast-dinner party, but I couldn’t seem to find the time, and so just decided to make them for Hubby and I one Saturday night.  The potato skins were fairly straight forwards, they just took a bit of time (bake 90 mins, scoop out centre, bake for another 20 mins), but they were worth it, and stayed in one piece while we scooped out the divine gooey mess of cheddar and mozzarella cheese melted with fried chorizo sprinkled on top. Soooooo yum. But definitely a Sometimes Food! Would be brilliant as part of a mid-winter feast like your traditional fondue, but with less chance of the forfeits caused by dropping your bread.

**so do yourself a favour and have look at her videos!  She covers a whole range of nerdy topics and makes everything quite simple for the amateur cook. So much fun and inspiration!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Way the Cookie (I mean, Biscuit) Crumbles

I have been brooding on biscuits lately; cogitating on cookies if you will. An article in Epicure this week was the inspiration for this blog (Big Bikkies), but they had been on my mind for a few different reasons (and stay with me because this will meander is a bit).

 While celebrating Independence Day (4th July) the other week, we had toasted marshmallows. They were toasted in our kitchen over a candle as it was blowing a gale outside, but at least we got into the spirit of things! One of my girlfriends who moved to America, then sent me a receipe for S'mores ("If you have success roasting marshmallows over a candle, you'll have to try this recipe! ... they're delish!"). They were something I had heard of (thanks, Buzz Lightyear) but hadn't ever found out what they were; and here's the link for anyone else waiting to be enlightened: Classic S'mores. Only in America would they think of adding melted chocolate to a toasted marshmallow!! I was quite excited to try these out the next time we had a campfire, but was stymied by the inclusion of "graham crackers". And since they were out of stock at USA Foods, I googled to find the Australian equivalent. The consensus was a Digestive biscuit (most commonly used in cheesecake bases) or a Marie biscuit; which ironically some Americans-in-Australia thought made their s'mores too sweet. I have decided to wait until I have the "proper" ingredients, but it did get me thinking (again) about the different foods we grow up with in different countries.

 Of couse you can't get much more Australian than Tim Tams, which was always the "special treat" biscuit in my house growing up (though with 11 in the packet (and five in our family) there was always a fight over the last one). Family folklore has it that my Dad would eat Tim Tams for breakfast (with warm milk of course); a delicacy he introduced to my delighted cousin one sleepover. They have stayed high on my list, though I have moved to the Double Coat Tim Tams in the last few years (better chocolate to biscuit ratio), and have been quietly impressed with the new flavours that have come out recently (Turkish Delight is divine!!). This is a love I have passed on to my children, who are allowed a Tim Tam as dessert; only after eating all their dinner (and a tub of yoghurt). Son 2 has a "Tim Tam Phone" where he takes off the top biscuit and then proceeds to talk to people ("Hello, Hello! I'm on a Tim Tam Phone!!); Son 1 just eats them.

  Growing up, we also had chocolate Teddy Bear biscuits and Mint Slices, though the latter did seem to infuse all the biscuits in the tin with a minty flavour. And on super special occasions (translation: when mum was away for the weekend) we were treated to the delicacy that is an Iced Vo Vo (has anyone ever seen an un-iced Vo Vo? I can imagine it would be very depressing). Like most kids of my era, I learned to tell the time with Tic Toc biscuits (pink not yellow!) and I have vivid memories of my friend in grade one having a Shortbread Cream (wrapped carefully in waxed paper)  every day for play-lunch. I obviously didn't have anything nearly as exciting as I can't remember what I had! And then there was the joy of the Arnotts Assorted packs - Family assorted, with the Scotch Fingers and Teddy Bear Biscuits, and Assorted Cream if you were really fancy. My go-to was always the Monte Carlo (I loved the weird white and red centre), until someone put me on to Kingston biscuits. Already being a fan of Butternut Snaps, it was natural I would fall in love with these mini versions with a chocolate centre (even if the ad for them was ridiculous).

Then there are the home- made biscuits and family recipes. I have yet to find a better Yo-Yo biscuit than my gradnmother makes; but that may have to do with everywhere trying to make them so large! If you can't fit one in your mouth in one go, it's too big. 
 Being Australian, Anzacs were made every April, and I always found it funny that my Aunt's were the thin and crispy version while my dad's were the thicker "cookie" style. Both delicious for different reasons. My dad also introduced me to the perenially American Tollhouse Cookies, the recipe for which he found on the side of the choc bits package. They were nice, but I prefer a chunkier style; probably because the first "cookie" I was introduced to was  Mrs Fields Semi Sweet Macademia Nut (still my No.1 when I feel the urge). Which brings me to my own biscuit making adventures.

 It has well documented that I am always on the lookout for The Best Biscuit recipe (Baked Goods). I was very excited when I found the Neiman Marcus cookie receipe, figuring that if Americans didn't have the best cookie* receipe, then what hope was there for the rest of us?? It does make a delicious cookie, but is a bit fiddly in its preparation and so has fallen away to be replaced by a much simpler double-choc recipe (from Delicious 'Baking'), where there are two types of chocolate (plus or minus macadamia nuts); versus the other double choc receipe which is a chocolate mix with white chocolate chunks. The most recent addition to my cookie repertoire are Hot Chocolate Cookies, which were part of a Latin America special in Delicious magazine. They were a chocolate mix with chocolate chips, and a touch of chilli and cayenne pepper to give it a kick. Divine.
 And of course being a mother, I have an extensive collection of cookie cutters for making gingerbread shapes, decorated with smarties of course! Such a great activity to get the kids to help make the dough (taking turns adding the ingredients), then choosing their shapes (dinosaur or aeroplane? Crocodile or rocket?) and then waiting for them to cook. I'm not sure whether its the Making or the prospect of Eating that enthuses my boys about cooking, but I don't mind either way. I had them assisting me with making madeleines (for Bastille Day) at the weekend, which I'm still not sure if they are a biscuit or a small cake but they were declious and we ate almost the whole batch!

 So whether you whip up a batch of snickerdoodles to put in the cookie jar, have a Tim Tam Slam or steal the last Delta Cream from the bikkie barrel, enjoy your biscuits any way you can.

* I feel I must clarify my position here on what is a Cookie and what is a Biscuit. In the article, it had Hugh Jackman correcting Oprah Winfrey that a Time Tam is a "biscuit" and I would heartily agree with him. In my expereince, a "cookie" only applies to the American style chewy biscuits, usually with chocolate and nuts. Anything else sweet is a biscuit. (not sure where a "cracker" falls into this categorisation; probably leans towards is being a savoury biscuits, like a rice cracker or water cracker). But really, who cares. As long as they are yum and satisfy that afternoon energy slump.


 An epilogue to my biscuit adventures occurred at the weekend, where it was my first time cooking medicinal biscuits. Now before you get excited, these are not the cookies or brownies that are illegal in Australia (but soon to be legal in Colorado); these were Lactation Cookies; or as my new-mum friend so eloquently called them; Boobie Bikkies! Somehow I managed to get through breastfeeding two of my own children without realising these things existed. They are biscuits designed to sustain or increase your breast milk supplies, with the special ingredients being linseed (or flaxseed) meal and brewers yeast. According to the many recipes I found online, it doesn’t really matter what other ingredients the biscuits have, and it’s actually more beneficial to eat the dough raw. Being the non-breastfeeding-baking-friend, I chose to bake them (much easier to transport)!
 Having tracked down the essential ingredients (a health food store will sort you out) I proceeded to mix up a batch for two of my friends who had given birth within the same week. I decided on adding white chocolate and cranberries as I though the cranberries would give an extra boost to their immune systems (if they’re medicinal, I want to make them as beneficial as possible!). However, the next batch I make will be more chocolatey (and even double choc)! Having never cooked with brewers yeast before, I didn’t realise the delightful smell and aftertaste it added to the cookies. Its kind of like off vegemite, but not as sweet.; mmmmm. The recipe called for “heaped tablespoons” and knowing this was an Important Ingredient I was probably a bit heavy handed, and the sourness of the cranberries  didn’t really help to offset or disguise the taste. But the New Mums ate them enthusiastically and were very grateful (and I was the favourite guest of one of the hospital midwives; which is always helpful when you arrive just at the end of visiting hours!).

 So making Batch No.2 tonight with lots of Cadbury chocolate chunks; and I think this will be a helpful addition to my Visiting the New Baby care package (which currently includes a small bottle of champagne and some sort of soft cheese). Yum!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Yule Have a Great Time!

 Growing up in Australia, Christmas was always a slightly confusing time for a young child. Sure, the presents and school holidays were great, but why were we singing about sleigh bells and Frosty the Snowman while it was baking hot and bushfires outside? And a strange man delivering presents to your house in the middle of the night was weird enough without wondering why he was wearing a fur-lined red suit on a Total Fire Ban day. And then sitting down on December 25 to a roast with all the trimmings followed by plum pudding and custard when all I wanted was any icy pole and to jump in the pool again.
 So it was a revelation when I worked out that the early Christians had tagged the celebration of Christmas onto the long-standing Pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. Suddenly it made sense; we, in the land Down Under, were having Christmas at the wrong time of the year! So it also makes sense that celebrating the Shortest Day, or as a Southern hemispheric pagan would call it; Yule, has become a good excuse for getting together with friends for a feast.

 Looking back, I held my first Yule dinner about 10 years ago and have tried to celebrate it in some way every since. Some years it has been the large dinner party with all the bells and whistles, sometimes it is just a nice meal with the family. But when I have time, I do prefer the former, which I did on this past Saturday night.
 Having done a few of these dinners over the years, I have a few constants: there is always a roast of some sort. Mulled wine or cider, or mead is also on the menu, and we finish with some sort of pudding. Lots of red and green and candles for table decorations as well as oranges and lemons and gifts for the guests. But there are always a few new recipes that I end up trying out.

 The first new addition this year was baked camembert, which Hubby spotted while watching the TV series Cheese Slices. A wheel of camembert (preferably from Normandy) is doused with red wine, herbs and garlic and baked in the oven in the wooden box it comes in, and then dipped into like a pseudo-fondue. To me it initially seemed like a waste of good camembert, but it looked so mouth-wateringly good (and so suited to a cold night) that I had to try it.
Ready to Go - garlic slivers inserted, topped with thyme and rosemary and a good red wine
 And boy was I glad I did. The result was a deliciously oozy cheesy mess that was happily dipped into with bread and pear slices; divine.

 This was served with mugs of Mulled Cider. For some reason I have always been a fan of "mulling" - its sounds so cool and ye Olde English. I stumbled across a packet of "mulling spices" in a country shop one year which was my first foray into mulling and I have tried different versions each year. I think as long as you have oranges and lemons and cinnamon & cloves, the rest is variable. Just be sure not to let is sit for too long as it can become a bit sour with the spices: I learnt this from a pub in Salamanca (Tasmania) where they had a crock-pot of mulled wine on the bar; the first mug was delicious but a later glass which was near the end of the pot wasn't nearly as good.
 This year's mulled cider recipe had cardamon pods, as well as whiskey and cointreau added so it packed a punch and definitely helped warm us up!

 Main course was Roast Turkey, being that I had made roast pork the last time we had our guests over and one of them is not a fan of roast lamb. And instead of my triple-roasted potatoes, I made Tartiflette, which is a French Style cheese and potato bake (it's so helpful having a friend who's French so I can make these dishes!). Slices of par-boiled potato were mixed with a sauce consisting of fried bacon and eschalot with sour cream and chopped parsley. The whole thing was put in a casserole dish and a wheel of camembert (or reblochon, if you were making it in France) was chopped up and place on top before being baked in the oven. Not for the faint of heart or those with high cholesterol! But as you can imagine it was delicious. And to offset that, blanched carrots and broccoli to make it slightly healthier!

 Dessert took a bit of deliberation this year. Previously I have favoured sticky date pudding with caramel sauce; I make individual puddings in a muffin tin, slice them in half and serve with a scoop of ice cream in the middle. Then I was leaning towards chocolate, with a Heston Blumenthal Liquid Centre chocolate pudding, but it got passed over due to the fiddly factor. I toyed with the idea of a chocolate hazelnut cake as that seemed seasonal, but it didn't have the ooey-gooey pudding factor. So I settled on Walnut and Honey pudding, which I had made for a Mother's day dinner so I knew for a fact that my dessert-avoiding Hubby liked it!

 So that was the menu, but another big part of Yule celebrations for me is the Table. I am a big fan of a Well-Set table; a chance to get out the Good Crockery and the butter dishes and matching serviettes, so this is always a chance to go all out. And to give the Christmas decorations a mid-year airing!

This was my Yule table from 2011...

... candles, oranges and lemons, some ivy from my garden and plates of gingerbread and shortbread biscuits. Plus 'noodle boxes' filled with cranberry and pistachio sable biscuits as a bonbonierre gift for my guests to take home. Most of these found a place at this years' table, but had a new 'gift' idea for my guests.

 I had spotted Gingerbread Boxes in the Coles Christmas magazine, and they seemed so simple but effective that I had to give them a try.
 You start with making the normal gingerbread recipe, but cutting it out into squares.
It's hip to be square
 If I make these again, I will be a lot more precise in measuring and cutting the pieces as it did make for a few interesting shaped boxes!

 Next the sides are joined together with piped melted white chocolate. I had to work quickly as it was so cold in my kitchen that the chocolate was re-solidifying in the piping bag!

 Once they had set, the seams were covered with royal icing and cachoos to make it look pretty. I had made a few stars with the last bit of the gingerbread dough so they were stuck in the 'lids".
"Edible ball bearings - genius!"
 Pop in a few caramel Lindor balls and voila! A delicious and edible table decoration.

Too pretty to eat (well almost)
 And to top off The Table, a mini Christmas tree plus a string of lights (rather than candles; the lights literally fell out of the Christmas cupboard!), holly gravy boat (which I found in a  $2 Shop one year - brilliant!) and a few sprigs of ivy.

  And the finishing touch was a plate of "Winter Spiced Madeleine's" brought by one of my guests (Madame Clochette herself), which meant that yes, we all had a great time on the longest night of the year.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Easter Feaster

  And so another full-moon-after-the-equinox has passed, leaving in its wake a deluge of chocolate eggs, random pieces of foil, empty Hot Cross Bun bags (I didn’t get around to baking any this year – for shame!) and a few unwanted kilos (or is that just me??). Regular readers will note that the four-day long weekend is traditionally a time for The Making of Fabulous Breakfasts; though I seemed to have missed writing about it last year. For those of you playing along at home,  I do remember making a Smashed Pea Bruschetta (with goats cheese and egg, from Donna Hay “Simple Dinners"), which will be getting a revisit when all of the peas Hubby has planted around the place over the last few weeks start producing (he was inspired by Verge Gardening, and our car port now has little pots and stakes all around the place); as well as Huevos Rancheros, which was a Mexican tomato-capsicum stew concoction, into which you cracked a couple of eggs which cooked in the mix. Quite tasty but don’t try and freeze the leftovers to reuse at a later stage; thawing is not its friend.

 This year’s Feaster started on Good Friday with “Baked Egg Cups” (from Delicious magazine) which were like a deconstructed egg and bacon pie: a blind baked mini tart case lined with prosciutto and filled with egg and baked in the oven. It was supposed to be finished with a drizzle of truffle oil, but although I had sourced it at my local gourmet grocer, I hadn’t gotten back to buy it! (there was no way I was going to the shops on the day before Good Friday!). And I hadn't decided whether black or white, or australian or French truffle oil would be best (decisions decisions!!).  So I served it will a bit of aioli on the side; which is my stand-by condiment for everything these days! For the record, the only thing it hasn’t improved was quesadillas (I had forgotten the sour cream – despicable!)

 This recipe was quite easy to make but was a little bit time consuming, it lost points for not being able to roll out of bed and have it on the table in 10 minutes: I got up and got the sheet of pastry out of the freezer, went for a walk while it defrosted, then blind baked the pastry while I was in the shower, and baked the filling while getting table set and such. If you really wanted the extra sleep you could probably bake the pastry the night before and put it together in the morning; which I will probably do next time as it was quite delicious (and looked quite cool) – Son 2 was also a fan!
 Easter Saturday missed out on Cooked Breakfast as I have a gym class on Saturday mornings so it’s more like Brunch by the time I get back. I did try a variation on my blueberry quinoa porridge (I was too hungry to wait the 15 minute simmering time) using rolled oats in the microwave. Which didn’t work. Which is good to know!

 Easter Sunday was “Fetta Fritters with Roast Capsicum and Tomato Salad” (Delicious Mag again) – you’ve got to love a title that leaves nothing to the imagination. This was definitely not a roll-out-of bed and throw it on the table breakfast option! Firstly you had to roast the tomatoes for an hour (which I did the night before), grill the capsicum so you could peel it, and double-crumb your fetta (with a 15 minute chill period). But it wasn’t too fiddly, just time consuming. And very yummy.

The fetta fritters were really tasty; and I imagine haloumi done the same way would be equally as delicious. The salad was really light and I am planning on making this again but as more of a bruschetta brunch; adding more basil and some red onion to the salad, and then having smaller bite-sized fetta fritters on the top – mmmmmm.

 By Easter Monday I had just about gone through my stash of To Cook breakfast receipes, and I thought that by this stage I would be a bit over preparing and fiddling first thing in the morning. So I stuck to an old favourite, “Smoky Ham, Egg and Jarlesberg sandwiches” (another detailed title!). This was from a receipe book called (strangely enough) “Breakfast” (from Marie Claire) that I got for Mother’s Day about 5-6 years ago. Hubby was a bit sheepish in giving it as he felt it was asking me to make breakfast for him, on the day when I should have got breakfast in bed. But he of course was wrong, I loved it and I have used it many times over the ensuing years. It has given us “Scrambled eggs with salmon on croissants” (or with ham for me, the non-smoked salmon eater), and “Fried haloumi, rocket and tomato sandwiches”, as well as classics such as Eggs Benedict, Croque Monsieur and many variations of pancakes. But this was a favourite, mostly due to its simplicity, plus the fact that I usually had all the ingredients in the fridge. I do try to have a nice solid bread such as pasta dura, and after frying an egg and putting it all together (with a slurp of Dijon mustard,) it gets toasted in the sandwich maker and voila !

 So before I sign off I’ll just let you know about another awesome breakfast that came my way via the " Hot Food” section of Epicure (in The Age) – F.A.T, which stands for Fetta, Avocado and Tomato. This delightful combo was one I had been moving towards over the past few years;  I had replaced butter with avocado as a spread on salad sandwiches a few years ago, and a BLT was always my meal of choice when working at Johnny Rockets (with Red Red sauce of course!). The combo of salty, creamy and tangy works so well. Our preferred method of F.A.T ingestion is to smash up an avocado, add some S&P and basil or mint, pop that on a piece of toast, crumble over some fetta (Greek or Persian, whatever you have handy) and top with chopped cherry tomatoes (and a bit of onion if you feel like it) – divine, no cook and healthy (ish) breakfast in less than 10 minutes

Happy breakfasting!

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

B is for Birthday (and bubbles!)

 It was my birthday at the weekend - Happy Birthday To Me!

 For as long as I can remember I have liked Birthdays - the presents, the lovely messages, the catching up with friends and family, the legitimate excuse to have lots of yummy (and often bad for you) food and drink PLUS being The Centre of Attention; what's not to like?!?!? As part of my annual Birthday Celebrations, I generally have a Family catch-up (traditionally a backyard BBQ) and a Friends catch up at whatever new or cool restaurant I've unearthed that I want to try out. Last year my birthday fell on a Wednesday which was most annoying and very tricky to organise - do you celebrate the weekend before or after?? And I work on Wednesdays and thus I was unable to cook up any type of storm, so Friends and Family all decamped to my local pub for a rowdy and raucous dinner in the bistro. Lots of fun (and no cooking or cleaning up for me) but no new Cooking Endeavors.

 So this year I was looking forward to trying out at least one or two recipes from my never-ending collection of Yummy Thing to Cook. I invited some friends over for dinner on the night of my birthday; we could have gone out somewhere but my Restaurant of the Moment is The Black Toro which makes divine Mexican food but is not always a cheap option. So I decided to have a dinner party at home. Which to most people is the antithesis of Birthday Celebrations: "Why are you doing the cooking on your birthday?" Because I Like To. Because I enjoy it. Because I love trying new recipes and sharing them with friends. Because its My Birthday and I can do whatever I want!! And Cook whatever I want (taking into account guests likes and dislikes, of course). So this led to several lovely hours flipping through cookbooks, and mixing and matching various meal ideas; something relaxed and fun like tacos? Or themed like a Moroccan feast? Or go all out and try some molecular gastronomy?? I did decide that cooking fresh doughnuts for dessert was probably not a good choice as deep frying after a few glasses of wine would not amuse the Health and Safety guys (i.e Husband).

 So after much deliberating I settled on  pork belly for mains as roast pork was always one of my favorite dishes growing up, and I hadn't been brave enough to tackle pork belly yet. I had a recipe from the Vineyard Cookbook ("Max's Tuscan Stuffed Pork" from Max's at Red Hill Estate - one of my favorite wineries) that I had earmarked the first time I looked through the book, but had never had the appropriate occasion. I also hadn't had a good look around for where to  buy pork belly, but that gave me a good research project. The recipe suggested serving it with mashed potato (meaning it was probably better suited to a mid-winter feast rather than a late summer birthday. Oh well!) so I decided to make 'Paris Mash' by Guillaume Brahimi; as The Frenchman and his wife were dinner guests it seemed appropriate! And then to add a bit of color (and something cholesterol free!) with some green beans. I was tossing up between a few versions of some sort of chocolate flan/tart thing for dessert, until I came across a Baci Gelato recipe in the Delicious Summer Special. Having already had one Epic Fail at Baci ice cream (read this to be reminded) you may wonder why I chose to revisit such a Disaster. Well, this recipe looked a lot more like  other ice cream recipes I had been making (and Delicious magazine haven't really steered me wrong yet), and I was not going to a let a recipe (let alone a chocolate related dessert one) beat me! Plus it would hopefully appease my not-a-fan-of-dessert-Husband.

 Birthday Day arrived and after a lovely day at work with text messages and cookies and cupcakes, I headed home early, because well, hey! It's my birthday! I picked some herbs from my garden (because I can and I love it) and  proceeded to Prepare The Pork. Knowing full well that The Crackling will either make or break a pork roast, I followed the anecdotal advice to dry it out as much as possible before cooking. I also knew that Salt was an Important part, which was not a problem in this recipe as roughly 1/3 cup salt was used for 1.2kg of pork! So lots of lovely pink Murray River Salt Flakes were rubbed all over the skin, plus inside with the herb and fennel mix before the whole thing was rolled and tied. Into a  lovely hot over it went for an hour, then lowered the temperature for the next hour or so. It smelled divine while cooking which is always a good sign, but I was more interested in how it crunched! I churned the ice cream while the pork was cooking, and it was going so far so good with Baci Mark II - it was already way ahead of the other recipe in that the custard had actually thickened on the stove! I also prepared The Mash, which had an interesting twist in that you cooked the potatoes whole with the skin on and THEN peeled them. I'm not sure how this contributed to the end product but I won't argue with a Frenchman. After peeling them and passing through a potato ricer, the mash is then put back in the saucepan for a few minutes to remove excess moisture. THEN you mixed in hot milk and a LOT of butter - the recipe had 600g of potato to 250g of butter! I think its safe to say that it won't get the Heart Foundation tick anytime soon, and no wonder is supposedly tasted divine! I cooked just under 500g of potato for the 4 of us and had out about 120g of butter, but it was getting to quite a liquid consistency before I added it all so I stopped (and I think I heard my arteries cheer as I did).

 Guests arrived, champagne was popped, presents were given (Hooray!) and then it was The Moment of Truth - Crackling Time. And it did (double hooray!). It was so crispy and crunchy, but the meat inside was still tender and just about falling apart as I carved - yummmmmm. In fact it was so yum that there was hardly any leftovers! I will definitely make more nexy time as cold roast pork sandwiches are delcious.

Bon Appetit!

 The ice cream set beautifully and was also delcious, with the white chocolate-hazelnut slab on the side. So obviously the culinary angels were smiling at me on my birthday. Success!

 Now onto the Family Gathering. Mindful of keeping things easy and relaxed, summer family get-togethers are generally BBQ related - everyone can bring a salad or dessert and it all works well. In previous years I have served various kebabs/shaslicks combinations, slow roasted and marinated meats and even Beer Butt Chicken (Google it if you are unfamiliar with this quirky cooking style). This year I expanded on an regular family dinner idea - mini hot dogs. Grab some small chipolata sausages and a packet of Bake-at-Home dinner rolls and it makes a nice change from sausages-in-bread. To make it a bit more Grown Up for my party, I cooked onions and had out shredded cheeses, tomato and barbeque sauce as well as American Mustard, so you could have your 'Dog with whatever 'fixins' you liked. Easy to prepare, easy to serve and yum and fun to eat.

"Whad'll it be??"

   And then there was The Cake. For what is a birthday without a Birthday Cake?!?!

 I found this recipe in the January Delicious: "Indulgent Chocolate Cake with Dulce de Leche".

 You had me at Indulgent. You had me even more at Indulgent Chocolate Cake!

 And they weren't kidding - four layers of cake with chocolate filling and caramel in between . Probably a bit too much for my usual dinner part desserts (it served 8-10 and I don't think it could have been easily adapted for a half or quarter version!), but it sounded perfect for a Birthday Cake.

 Well, not only was it Indulgent, it was also Involved. For the cake batter, you had to cream the butter and sugar, then gradually add flour and alternate it with buttermilk, THEN add whipped egg whites! 

  The Filling was whipped butter and sugar mixed with melted chocolate, and to assemble, it was a layer of cake, then chocolate filling, then dulce de leche (which I couldn't source so I used Caramel Top n' Fill - sneaky!), repeated 3 times, then topped with melted chocolate. Obviously a Weight Watchers - Diabetic Australia Approved recipe!

 It was the first time I'd made a multi-level cake and a I managed to avoid some of the rookie mistakes such as cutting uneven layers. The only issues I has was the Stability of the Cake! It was warm day and the filling was very soft which meant there was a bit of sliding when putting on the top layers! Eeek!

 I managed to keep it all together and even piped on some flowers to make it look all pur-dee.

('T' being my girlfriend who had her birthday on the day of my party) 

  And good lord it was Delicious. Thankfully not too intensely chocolate as some cakes can be, just very sweet and yummy. Everyone was very happy with a small slice (which was no mean feat trying to keep all four layers together during the slicing!) which did mean I had about a quarter left over. Thankfully its all gone now; I managed to "share the calories" with my work mates and also deliver a piece to my cousin who had missed the party. I think my blood sugar is just starting to go back to normal....

 However, I have already had a request to make this magnificent cake again for one of my Ladies Lunches I have regularly with some girlfriends. I felt a little like the guy in MacArthur Park (no, my cake didn't get left out in the Rain)  "cause it took so long to bake it! Oh noooooo!!!" But its not the difficulty of the cake, more that there would be only three of us to share The Cake, which not be good for any of our waistlines. Maybe I can save it for one of their birthdays....

 In the meantime, I have 360 odd days to work out what I can cook for my birthday Next Year! Might just go flick through a recipe book now......

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.