Thursday, April 7, 2016

Apple & Rasberry Iced Tea

What makes a great hostess? Who's with me in feeling like a failure in this regard most of the time? Guests swish in all glammed up, and you're standing there in the kitchen covered in a cloud of self raising flour in bare feet wondering where time got to. In a flash you have bolted to the bedroom, thrown on that trusty little black dress and cleaned up with a baby wipe-only to realise your guests are standing around without a drink in hand. There's nothing like that sense of  panic of feeling like the world's worst host or hostess (they should make a TV reality show on that one)
Never feel like that again. Be the host (est) with the mostest.

-Plan your gathering in advance. Try to visualize the ambiance, mood and the food you want to create. Make a list of cooking supplies you will need for your meal, as well as music choices for the night, beverages that you will serve and of course, dessert. Make a list also of when you will be making each of the edible components of the night. Make sure that there are a few you can make in advance to reduce the fluster and time spent in the kitchen when your guests are over. Ensure one option is non alcoholic, for those who are the designated drivers, or pregnant.

-Make sure you take into account any of the guests who may have allergies or intolerance when planning the menu.

-Feel free to buy any food from the store to make your job quicker and easier, as long as some components are home made (okay, lets leave that packet of quick cook pasta Alfredo on the shelf, though). You can buy things like meringue nests that can make putting together a dessert effortless and quick, and it looks like you've slaved the whole afternoon over the stove for your guests.

-Keep the food simple. You may want to look like Mather Stewart, but refrain from creating anything too complex and time consuming. At least make sure this is not the first time you are cooking the meal-it may go terribly wrong or just not taste as good as you thought it would. Also, if you are planning a three course meal, ensure there is a variety of textures and flavours. Too much of a good thing can often be a bad thing! (for example, risotto for entree, curry and rice for main and creamed rice for dessert. Too much rice, obviously. Keep the entree and dessert lighter than the main.)

-The first bite is taken with the eyes. Keep the dishes looking good! A sprig of fresh herbs here and there goes a long way and makes it look like you've made efforts where you have not.

 -Have your table set in advance, if possible. Also, any mood lighting such as tealights or candelabras should be lit before guests arrive so that they can experience the ambiance change as soon as they enter your house. If you are dining outside, such as the garden, fairy lights or tea lights set out in mason jars is a lovely way to make the even magical by creating warm glowing surroundings. If you're not planning on lighting any wicks, see if you can dim the lights a little.

-Prepare a welcome charcuterie platter in advance. You can whip this out of the refrigerator as soon as you hear the first knock on the door. Place it somewhere central where the guests can see it and help themselves to it while you fix the last bits and pieces of the food or set the table. You could also have a tray of drinks ready and waiting to be given for after your guests put down their coats and bags.

-Have a small table or coat rack handy so you can take jackets and bags when your guests enter. Your friends will love to be waited on, and it makes them feel more special.

-Surprise your guests with something unexpected. When my girlfriends come for tea, for example, I like to pamper them by offering to give them a Jamberry Manicure while we chat. This works well for an afternoon tea, but you might like to try something less time consuming if you're holding a dinner party. A friend of mine has a drinks trolley that he wheels out when he entertains. There's a cocktail book on the trolley along with a selection of liqueurs, and the guest chooses one, and the host will create it for them. You could also have a little take home gift of chutney or something you have made as a thank you for the guest's company.

-Make sure there is something on your charcuterie platter or tea and coffee tray that your guests have never tasted before, just to add to the experience. It might be some cookies from a foreign country, or wasabi covered dried peas to snack on-something exotic and unusual. These sort of surprised are often pleasant and make the night memorable.

-Chill out! Have a glass of wine or something to relax before any one arrives. Turn that groovy music on. And if anything goes off plan, go with it, just roll with the punches. Your guests are actually there for your company-the food, atmosphere and the rest are just a bonus. Enjoy yourself!

Do you have any other tips for entertaining? What's your fool proof go to? We'd love to hear! And while I'm waiting for your responses, I'm going to be sipping this delicious iced tea. Its delightful on hot summer days and so easy to make in bulk, you could pour some into a bottle and tie a ribbon around it and send it home with your guests! Perfect for sipping on a balcony with a good friend in the afternoon too, with a side of cake. There should always be cake.




APPLE & RASPBERRY ICED TEA

4 strong black tea bags
4 cups boiling water
2 cups iced water
1/2 cup concentrated Apple Raspberry cordial (add more or less to taste)
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup mint leaves

In a large heat proof jug, place the tea bags and boiling water. Stir the tea bags around and let steep for two or three minutes. Discard the bags. Add the chilled water and concentrated cordial to the tea. Add lemon to taste. Before serving, garnish with mint, ice and a slice of lemon if desired.

NOTES: this recipe is largely dependent on your tastes and the strength of your chosen tea and cordial brands. Alter as desired. A few tablespoons of sugar or honey may be added to the hot tea if desired to increase the sweetness. You can also use other flavours of cordial to change the type of iced tea-the options are endless!



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fluffy Pikelets

A parent requires a great deal of devious know-how. Often mind games and trickery are involved to get the goods into tiny bodies and picky little eaters. My mum used to try to disguise the left over breakfast porridge by adding it to our after school pikelets. It was a pretty ingenious way of getting more fiber into us and not wasting food. She inspires me-waste not, want not, right? Sometimes when I sweep the floor at home, my toddler and two preschoolers make sure I feel guilty at the amount of food swept from under the table and into the bin. It could feed a small army, I assume. Don't even get me started on the amount of remnants I find in the bin-bananas with one bite taken out of them, crusts from lunches that my daughter has snuck in there when I popped out of the room for a quick bathroom trip. I'm pretty sure we're fermenting various fruits under the couch, regardless of how frequently I sweep. That funky odor you may smell on entering the house? Possibly a lost orange stashed somewhere impossible, slowly rotting away.
Just kidding.
But sometimes this food wastage makes me thinking about how repetitive the snacks can become for the kids. That's when I make an emergency batch of soft, fluffy pikelets, sans the porridge. A small spread of jam on these warm little beauties and the plate is soon completely cleaned off. If you wanted, you could even make them bigger to make pancakes-they really are the same thing just in a different size. My favourite use for this recipe is making mini ones and stacking them with a fresh berry on top and a skewer through the middle-perfect appetizers and a great party food idea!



FLUFFY PIKELETS (Adapted from Taste.com)

3 tbsp butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 1/4 cups Self Raising flour
2 tbsp sugar
extra butter for cooking

Place butter, milk and egg in a medium bowl. Add the flour and sugar. Beat with the electric beaters until incorporated and smooth. Heat  a teaspoon of extra butter in a large frypan; turn the heat down to low. Dollop the batter in spoonfuls onto the hot pan, leaving a little room for spreading. Flip the cooking pikelets when small bubbles come to the surface and the bottom is golden. Cook the other side until golden also. Serve with a spread of jam, or stack the small ones with a toothpick down the centre with a berry garnish on the top. The small stacks also look really pretty with a fine sprinkling of icing sugar on the top.

Makes approximately 12snack sized pikelets, or 6 snack stacks


Monday, December 14, 2015

Slider Buns -Mini Burger Buns

I've been quite unwell the last 6 months, so I have refrained from doing any new projects. If you've noticed my lull, I appologise-new babies and health problems don't mix well with food blogging. With Christmas on the radar, I am back into cooking! So much of the mirth around Christmas time revolves about food, dinner tables shared with family and friends and an added emphasis on gourmet foods and drinks.
Recently we had a fundraising beer tasting session which I volunteered to cater for to raise money for St Philomena's School in Park Ridge. It's a blossoming little Catholic school where my eldest son is starting prep next year. (Yes, I'm feeling sad already!)
I made lots of scrumptious finger food and thought how well the same food might go at a Christmas party or gathering with friends on Boxing Day.
I did a quick poll on facebook about what foods people would like at the beer tasting, and slider buns came out on top. You know those adorable miniature hamburger buns you sometimes see in magazines and on blogs? Well I couldn't for the life of me find where to get hold of them  (apparently Coles sells them but I'm thinking that might be a grand old myth.)
Well they're the perfect entertaining bread roll. And I needed them.
So I made them from scratch and they were fabulous. Cute even.
Hubby cooked up a pork roast and we shredded it, and threw on a bit of lettuce with mayo for the centres too. Scrum-diddly-umptious!
They were a hit! The favourite of the night by quite a few accounts.
And just on a side note, the beer presenter and connoisseur Matt Kirkgard was nothing short of fabulous. If you ever get the chance to go to one of his tastings, run to it! I don't even like beer and completely enjoyed myself listening to him from the kitchen. It was fascinating and funny and everyone had a wonderful time.
So try out these gorgeous home made mini burger buns. They're perfect for entertaining and will be a big hit on your Christmas table for friends and family big and small. Merry Christmas!




SLIDER BUNS-MINI BURGER BUNS (adapted from Cook Republic)

7g dried yeast
250ml (1 cup) lukewarm water
400g bread flour, extra for dusting
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 tbsp. sesame seeds
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 250C and line and grease two cookie trays with non stick paper.
In a large bowl, combine yeast and water, and set aside until foamy, approximately 5-10 minutes.
Add the flour and salt. Lightly flour a clean surface. Gently mix the contents of the bowl, and dump this loose dough onto the prepared surface. Kneed for 10 minutes until soft and elastic and well incorporated. Roll the dough into a smooth ball.
Lightly grease a glass bowl and place the dough inside. cover with cling wrap and let it sit to rise for 30 minutes.
It should double in size.
Knock back dough and divide into 24 golf ball sized rounds. Roll them a little bit in your palms to get a nice shape.
Place them on the prepared trays with a generous gap between them to allow for spreading. Cover the trays with clean tea towels and allow them to double in size, about 10-15 minutes.
Beat the egg and blush this egg on the tops of each uncooked roll. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Place in the preheated oven. Spay the bottom of the oven with water and cook for 10-12 minutes.
Serve warm with your choice of filling. You can also freeze these for 2 months.


Makes 24


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Decadent Flourless Chocolate Torte

When sugar, chocolate and egg come together, it's hard to imagine it becoming a cake without a flour. My amazement is in the gluten free, the slop that looks too runny to become a solid-but does upon baking. If you love gluten free treats and you love being pleasantly surprised in the kitchen, you will die over this scrumptious gluten free chocolate torte-complete with decadent, fudgy centre, crispy, crackly top and lavish deckings of thick cream and strawberries. It's indulgent and chic-the type of food that is impressive in its simplicity. Of course if you're like me and need embellishment, a pile of strawberries and cream in the middle could never go astray...and some edible gold dust is a beautiful enhancement on it's own, especially if this torte is gracing your Christmas table.
There's often  a "healthy" gritty consistency of most gluten free things I have eaten-but not this one. It doesn't contain any unusual ingredients and isn't particularly healthy. But even people with gluten intolerance need naughty, wickedly decadent desserts sometimes-I am certain of that!
By the way, I recently went for a week without dairy. My breastfed son came out in a nasty allergy looking rash, and we thought it might have been a cows milk protein intolerance. The test results came back negative, but I'd already taken myself off dairy in anticipation, and in desperation to get dairy out of my system for his sake. Did you know it takes 2 weeks for dairy to completely leave your system?
I tell you, once you start reading labels, you will never look at anything the same again! I even found dairy products listed in the tomato based pasta sauce in the pantry.
I lost 5 kg that week.
My diet consisted of ice. It was one of the only "solids" I could be sure was dairy free.
Okay, there was some fruit as well.
But little else.
I jest-but honestly, when the results for my son came back negative for that intolerance, I embraced dairy again like it was a long, long lost child of mine. How funny it is that my life revolved so much around it, and I had no idea. What foods are a staple in your pantry? I've got a feeling this torte is about to become one of mine! I have a few of those pretty glass pastry domes that don't get much use, after all...It would be wasteful not to have a torte or two not residing in them at least once a week.

Ps. I picked up that beautiful tea towel with hand crocheted trim and matching oven mitt in a lace shop in Richmond, Tasmania. Isn't it divine?


 DECADENT FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE (Adapted from Simply Delicious)

6 eggs
100g white sugar
100g brown sugar
300g dark chocolate
1 tbsp instant coffee

Optional garnishes:
100g strawberries, sliced
3 tbsp thick dollop cream
edible gold shimmer dust

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 27cm round springform cake tin (or 2 x 13cm round springform tins like I used)
Whisk together the eggs and sugar with an electric beater until light and creamy, approximately 5 minutes. Place chocolate in a microwave proof bowl and heat  gently until melted, stopping and stirring a few times to avoid burning. Pour the melted chocolate slowly into the egg mixture, whisking continuously to combine. Fold in the coffee granules.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin, and bake for 25 minutes. The top of the torte should feel firm to the touch, and will have risen slightly.
Cool before decorating and serving.

Serves 10-12



Torte at time of serving.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Rose Petal Princess Doll Cake

After the arrival of my new son, I found myself doing what I might have considered unthinkable years ago. My daughter turned 2 just weeks after his birth, and I found myself cakeless the day before and thinking her birthday was a few days away. What a cloudy fog that is the first weeks after a baby is born! I found myself buying Woolworth's sponge cakes, whipping cream for the middle and decorating it with strawberry jam,vanilla icing, strawberries and marshmallows. Her eyes were wide and excited as she gazed at it, and I was delighted to realise that the little people don't mind if you can't give them the Minnie Mouse or Toy Story cake you thought you were going to attempt creating.
However, she had asked for a Dolly cake, and I found myself making one for the weekend of her party. It was a fairy themed party, and although I didn't have time to affix wings to the Barbie decked out in a pink ombre rose petal cake dress, Cece didn't notice. She kept saying "Princess! It's a princess cake! It's so beautiful."



I used a packet cake mix for convenience and speed. The dress was made by cooking the cake in two separate oven-proof bowls. One was a bit smaller than the other, and stacked to create the A-line skirt of the doll. Once stacked, I cut a hole in the centre of the cake stack for Barbie's legs to slide into, and wrapped those legs in plastic wrap to avoid toy and cake from meeting.
A thin crumb coat was applied to the cake. Then I divided the fondant (or gumpaste) and used liquid rose coloured food dye to shade them from light to dark pink.


Starting with the darkest pink and the smallest petal cutter, I rolled the fondant thinly and cut out a multitude of petals. I shaped the edges slightly for variation and applied them layer-style with Wilton Dab and Hold Edible adhesive. (You don't have to use expensive edible glues if you don't have them. You can dampen the parts of the petal you apply with a touch of water to make it adhere, or use a tiny dab of icing as a glue).


Once I had completed the doll's bodice, I used the next darkest pink and continued on in a larger  petal cutter size. I continued in this fashion, working downwards and sliding the next row of petals slightly underneath the previous row. Allow to dry, and voila! Cake done.





Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Cauliflower & Potato Soup

If you'd asked me a few weeks ago what I thought of cauliflower, I probably would have told you I thought the stuff was vile and to be avoided. It's not really the flavour, I just figured it didn't really have anything going for it. But I just had not had it prepared in an appetising way before I discovered this quick and easy winter warming soup. Determined to get more veggies into my family, and being winter, I decided to try something different. I went and brought cauliflower. My husband stared at me as if to say "what are you going to do with that?!"
I'm currently 39 weeks pregnant and have not had the energy for anything too convoluted. Seriously, I can't really even get that close to the kitchen bench with baby bump in the way-I literally feel like a T-rex, with a huge body and puny arms that just don't reach far enough. So as you can imagine, I need something remarkably quick, something that limits my time reaching over the belly to the bench.. (Don't even ask how I manage to wash the dishes, I am sure my back will not thank me for it in the future.)
I need simple, tasty meals that are not going to take me all day to prepare, so I am sharing this beauty with you. It's simple! It's tasty! It's veggies! Even my kids eat it with gusto, served with a side of steaming garlic bread.
I love these type of meals you simply chop, throw into a pot and later on puree and serve. It doesn't get much easier. You could even do this meal in a slow cooker or crock pot if you preferred. That's always a great option for busy people who can't keep going back and checking on the stove every few minutes! And-it's freezable. Just leave out the cream until you've defrosted and reheated it, and you're good to go.



CAULIFLOWER & POTATO SOUP (Adapted from Taste.com)

1 onion, roughly chopped (I used a red onion, but a brown one is great fine)
2 tsp crushed garlic
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets (about 1.3 kg)
500g potatoes, peeled and cubed
salt and pepper to season
1 litre chicken stock
1/2 cup cream

Toss the chopped onion and garlic into a large pot with a dash of oil or butter and cook until the onion begins to soften. Add the cauliflower florets and potato, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Add the chicken stock and place the lid on the pot. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from heat for 5 minutes, then puree in a blender. Before serving, stir the cream through and garnish, if desired.

Serves 4
NOTES: This recipe is suitable for freezing. Freeze the soup without the addition of the cream, and add the cream after defrosting and reheating.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Torba Restaurant Review

Reviews are somewhat varied, but my husband and I think we stumbled across an Eastern European gem of a restaurant in Brisbane city. If you're tired of eating the same old cuisines (we personally have got into an Indian rut), you'll be delighted at the menu options at Torba on Southbank. Authentic cuisine from all over eastern Europe star at this little restaurant-we were able to enjoy food from Russia, Moldova and Hungary while remaining seated in the one place, in the comfiest chairs. The food was hearty and full of flavour-rustic, traditional and decidedly scrumptious. The food is a sharp contrast from the opulent  and trendy decor and yet somehow the restaurant lounge pulls it off beautifully. We will definitely be returning! (Monday to Wednesday it's 2 for the price of 1 cocktails too...how can you go wrong there?)


Shades of purple opulence and such comfy armchairs. We found it hard to pull ourselves out of those velvet chairs when we were ready to pay the bill.


 Extensive bar and more private curtained seating booths beyond.


 Divine strawberry mocktail for the fat pregnant lady (that'd be me!)


 Romantic ambiance.


 Cinnamon and Apple Pie cocktail (absinthe, cinnamon, Zubrowka, butterscotch liqueur, vanilla sugar syrup and apple juice)




 Russian Pelmini for starters- boiled dumplings filled with pork and beef and served with garlic and herb butter and fried onions.


 Moldavian Lamb Pilaf with pomegranate molasses, grilled eggplant, feta, lemon...so good!


 Hungarian Beef Goulash with tender slow braised beef cooked in red wine and served with mash. Hearty and melt in your mouth goodness.


 My husband got shat upon by an overhead gecko-couldn't help laughing raucously! (they are everywhere in Queensland, probably not Eastern Europe though!)


Dessert to share because we were so full of our yummy filling mains. Russian Blini filled with vanilla ricotta cheese.


Torba Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ultimate Potato Soup

Recently I touched on a topic I am sure we have all experienced at some stage in life before-food ruts. You buy the same ingredients repeatedly and use the same recipes. You cycle through and through until you no longer enjoy eating and cooking what you're serving. Or worse still, you have no idea what you're having for dinner, and end up spending a fortune on take away or some last minute ingredients that are quick and easy solutions. So how do you get out of food ruts? Here are a few ideas on how to move away from living the same food day in day out. Any step is a step forward!

1. Buy something you've never tried-a vegetable you've never tasted, that quinoa that everyone has been raving about, or that weird gooey stuff you have been curious about in the foreign food isle at your supermarket. Ensure it gets used within your grocery period. It might just become a new favourite.

2. Menu plan, making sure that you schedule to try one new recipe. Menu planning not only ensures you're only buying what you need for the week/fortnight, but you have everything ready to go without any last minute grocery store dashes (and lets face it, you always end up buying more than you intended!) Menu planning has been the best way in cutting down costs for me personally. Our shopping bills have been heavily reduced. There is great peace of mind in knowing what you're cooking at the beginning of the day.

3. Use pinterest for inspiration-sometimes all it takes is a little tweaking of the same ingredients to make it a whole new meal. Do you always buy chicken breast? There are a million and one ideas on how to change up chicken breast on that damned addictive site.

4. Challenge yourself to use what is in the pantry before stepping out to grocery shop. Had a can of  cream of chicken soup in the pantry for a few months? Got chicken and pasta and broccoli? Type these ingredients into a recipe finder such as Recipe Matcher to generate dozens of new recipes using those ingredients.

5. Buy a food magazine every so often. Woolworths and Coles often has publications they give out for free. Have them in a central area like the coffee table and you will probably have other family members looking at them and making requests. These mags are also great reminders that you are in a food rut and should or can do something about it.

Good luck getting out of the rut and finding new favourites to cycle through! Here's one to kick start you off. It's the best potato soup I have ever tasted. It's the ultimate comfort meal- hot and hearty, thick, cheesey, bacony, potatoey goodness just packed with flavour. You will have people groaning with delight as they spoon this down-it's a real keeper! I have served this at the end of a party once, serving it in mugs as everyone huddled around the fire outside. My guests just couldn't get enough! I have also served it as a dip in a cob loaf, which worked well, as it gets quite thick as it cools. It's one of my most requested recipes. I know you will cherish it too.
Got any other tips? I'd love to hear them! 


THE ULTIMATE POTATO SOUP

500g diced bacon
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cups potato, peeled and diced
1 carrot, finely grated
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 tbsp plain flour
3 cups milk
1 cup grated cheese
1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped (optional)

Fry the diced bacon until golden and crispy. Drain any bacon at that may be in the saucepan. Add the onion, potato and carrot, along with the stock, parsley, salt and pepper. Place a lid on the saucepan and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the potato is quite tender (this time will depend on the size of your potato chunks.) Meanwhile, place the flour in a bowl, and adding a little of the milk at a time, whisk until a smooth paste forms. Add the remainder of the milk, and mix until well incorporated. Add this milk mixture to the pot of stock and potato. Let it reach the boil, then stir continuously for a further two minutes, until it thickens. Add the cheese and stir through. Serve sprinkled with chopped green onion if desired.

Serves 6-8