Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hundreds and Thousands Freckle Cake

As a busy mum, I know how stressful organising birthday food can be. My little daughter Vienna turned one yesterday, and pintrest has filled me with the urge to have one of those incredibly gorgeous arrangements on the table for her party come Sunday. But the truth is, pintrest party mums have got to be super mums. I know it can probably be done in a simple manner, but still, most families have to budget and a beautiful, pastel spread can be a little out of people's price range for a babies birthday. Don't get me wrong, I am going to attempt doing something lovely, but there will be no fretting about it. Whatever happens, happens.
I may end up going to Woolies and buying one of their sponge cakes after all.
But I know I dont have to, even when it comes to the last minutes before people arrive and I havnt prepared anything I had planned.
Sometimes simple is best. Easy is sometimes best too. You want to make the day special and memorable, but you dont have to have everything super fancy.
Here's an alternative to rushing down to the store for a last minute Woolies cake. It's a very simple way of making a child's birthday cake memorable without the fuss and without spending a lot of money, and you don't need much time either. To simplify this cake even further, I have used my favorite boxed cake mix. Don't be afraid of the boxed cake mix! These days even some of the cheap ones are delicious and moist.
Well, enjoy! I'm off to clean my very sticky, icing covered camera.


1 cake mix of your choice
2 cups of icing sugar
1 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp strawberry essence (or any other flavouring of your choice, such as vanilla)
a dash of cream (no more than 1/4 cup)
1-2 cups coloured hundreds and thousands decorations

Bake the cake as directed on the box. While cooling, combine the icing sugar, melted butter and flavouring in a medium sized bowl with the electric beaters. Add a little cream at a time, mixing between additions until you reach a desired consistency and thickness. The icing should be quite thick, yet easy to smooth on the cake without any sort of dripping. (see below picture for a guideline)
Place the cake on a wire cooling rack.
Ice the cake, ensuring the entire visible surface is covered.
Pour the hundreds and thousands onto a dinner plate. Remove the cake from the wire rack and turn it on its side, holding the top and the bottom of the cake with each hand. Roll the cake along through the hundreds and thousands to coat the sides. You may have to pause half way through to rearrange the hundreds and thousands on the plate, or add some more depending on the size of the surface of your cake. When the sides are coated, place the cake back on the wire rack. Put the plate beneath the cake to catch any falling hundreds and thousands, as you sprinkle the top with the remainder. If you have any gaps where there are no hundreds and thousands, the icing in this place may have dried out a little. Just dab a tiny amount of icing from the sides of the bowl on those bald spots and touch up with a few sprinkles.
You can top the cake with a figurine or a nice candle if preferred. To learn how to make the easy fondant roses I used for this cake, I have a tutorial here.

It's as simple as rolling around in hundreds and thousands...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cinnamon Brown Sugar and Almond Instant Oatmeal

Like so many things in the kitchen, vegan food has scared me a little bit. I suppose it's just because I've never known life without eggs, milk, cheese, meat and anything pertaining to the animal world. I've never lived without chocolate! And I've never had to cook without my trusty and well known ingredients.
I was pretty intrigued that for this month's Secret Recipe Club assignment, I was given the vegan blog We Heart Vegan to select a recipe from. There are lots of interesting looking recipes on this blog, and I planned to go all out and buy some ingredients I usually wouldn't have in the kitchen, such as flax seed. But unfortunately I had a busy busy month and found myself running out of time, with the reveal day just looming in the very near future. It gets a bit like that sometimes, when you have children. Sometimes you need to do things in a very quick manner, although I do like to spend time and lots of love over my creations in the kitchen.
But I didn't have too much time to spare, so I went hunting on the blog gain, and found a very time-pressed-mummy-friendly recipe on We Heart Vegan. Then this yummy recipe hit me in the face--Cinnamon Brown Sugar Oatmeal--which just happens to be a favourite around here! My babies even love it and I love the idea of having it packaged up in ziplock bags, already mixed and ready to pop straight into the breakfast bowl with some boiling water. You could even take them to work those mornings you don't have time to eat at home, or on road trips and the likes.
I omitted the chai seeds and walnuts that were in the original recipe, and added a few tasty things of my own from the pantry, including milk powder for extra creamy oatmeal. Thanks We Heart Vegan for making my life that little bit easier in the morning...makes my sleepy smile appear more quickly than usual, and my eyes can stay closed just that tiny, tiny bit longer!


1 1/4 cup oats
1 flat tsp cinnamon
2 heaped tbsp brown sugar
1 cup dried milk powder
1/4 cup slithered almonds, walnuts or other nuts and fruit of your choice

Place the oats in a food processor. Pulse until the oats have broken down into smaller peices. Place the oatmeal in a medium bowl and stir in the cinnamon, brown sugar and milk powder. Add any dried fruit and nuts you desire. Mix thoroughly, and divide between three ziplock bags, about 1/2 a cup to each.
To serve, pour into a bowl and add boiling water, and stir through. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Almond Meringue Seashells

I've always wondered at those people who eat a whole block of chocolate in one sitting. I'm not judging. I've probably done it before too. After last weekend, I assure you I felt like doing just that!
I don't wonder at why anyone does it, I wonder at the flavours and the textures they are missing by eating it so rapidly. When I was a kid, sometimes we'd get treated with a couple of squares of chocolate on Sunday arvos. There are ten of us kids, so as you can imagine a block of chocolate didn't go far. We didn't care, we were satisfied with a small amount.
I remember sitting there and nibbling away at those squares like it was the last food I would ever taste, just because I appreciated the thrill of it so much.
It seriously made it taste better. You'd let it sit in your mouth long enough for it to melt, and savor it, before taking another cm bite of chocolate to repeat the blissful sensation. You experience different levels of flavour and texture that way, and I often think these levels of appreciation are missed when people robotically eat something. I'd probably have missed it all together if I'd been dealt out two rows of chocolate as a treat instead of two squares.
So when you bite into these Almond Meringue Shells, fully experience the layers of flavours and textures in your mouth. It takes it to a new level!
There's that great and delicate crunch with the toasted almond, then a crisp shell of meringue before the softer spongier layer, and then a hit creamy of vanilla. It's truly a delight to eat your food slowly. Unless you're a toddler, and then I just want you to hurry up. One hour is too long to chew a spoonful. Seriously, my son may look like his father, but he takes after me.


2 egg whites
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup slithered almonds
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
dash of water

Preheat oven to 150C. Line two trays with baking paper.
Beat the egg whites on the highest setting until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the sugar, beating well in between, until sugar dissolves,  and the mixture is thick, smooth and glossy. Pipe meringue mixture onto the baking sheets, in small round disc shapes (about the size of the circle made when you join your thumb and pointer together). Sprinkle the tops with the slithered almonds. Bake for one hour, alternating the trays at the end of the first half hour. Cool with the oven door slightly ajar.
To make the icing, in a small bowl combine the icing sugar and vanilla. Add a very small amount of water at a time, stirring the mixture until a thick frosting forms. Pair the meringues together with this icing in between. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What Happened at the Chopping Block

It's a little bit embarrassing. Your friends are excited, your family is excited, you are excited. There's a long build up to an event that feels important at the time.
And then comes the day, and you sort of fall short. I mean, there's always that chance you're not going to win a competition. But you don't want to think about that too much--you just want to savor that time of possibility. You get so emotionally involved in the preparation and the selection of flavours. You add things and you take things away, you try the dish out a hundred times on your friends and loved ones. Ahh--in the mind it all becomes too serious! Whether you want it to or not.
I admit to making a bee line to have a little taste of red wine at the Good Food and Wine Show in Brisbane on the weekend. The man behind the stall gave me an inch of something in my glass, and it was enough to shake off the nervous tension I was feeling.
Then I made another beeline towards The Chopping Block Stand, after watching Toby Puttock paring a chicken.
I had to remind myself to breathe and passed into the backroom to prepare for the Gourmet Garden's Cook Off that we had all so keenly anticipated. I was immediately met by a warm smile of Amanda from the very humorous foodie blog Cooker and a Looker. Amanda is a relatively new foodie blogger and has a great story to go along with her awesome blog name. I wont spoil her story by putting it in my own words, but here she tells it so well. And it's true by the way, she's both a cooker and a looker! The judges agreed, and called us "the glamorous ones". Aw shucks!
I shook her hand and met some other lovely ladies from Gourmet Garden's. Then when I was about to get stuck into peeling potatoes, Amanda offered me some she had peeled herself, as she had extras.
I have to mention here that Amanda is the first foodie blogger I have ever met. I was so pleasantly surprised--I have heard so many horrifying stories about blogging mums having wars with each other, competing, belittling each other, pushing each other down to bring themselves up. It was one reason I was a little hesitant to meet anyone who might feel the need to compete. We really were going to compete--and here she was, handing me peeled potatoes for my dish.

Getting ready to start, and working out how to use the appliances...(I'm third from the left, Amanda is fourth!)

And then it began, with celebrity chefs Skye Craig and Dominique Rizzo as judges. We had both brought our cheer squads, they sat in-front of us looking intently as we moved from chopping board to stove top and busily worked our way to completing our dishes. We only had 30 minutes from beginning to finish. I felt pretty relaxed, and I knew I could cruise, as most of the time I was simply waiting for my salmon to cook and the potatoes to boil. The judges kept buzzing about our faces with the mic and quizzing us, questioning temperatures and ingredient choices. The last few minutes were a panicked rush as I quickly tried to plate up the dish and lost my salmon steak, which slid from the egg flip onto the bench. I managed to save it and put it together just in time.
We stood back--the creations were plated.  

Amanda had cooked up a lovely crispy skinned Trout with green beans, herbed wedges and herbed butter on the side. I had put together a decorative bed of baby spinach, topped with half a red capsicum, stuffed with cheesy mashed potato--upon which sat a salmon steak drizzled with creamy mushroom sauce. 

The chefs took the two meals and sat away from the stage and discussed them while they picked away at our original creations.
When they came back to the Chopping Block Stand and they started talking about my dish first, I knew who the winner was. Ohh! I felt myself nodding, nodding as I listened to my dish get bumped.
There were some criticisms. In a nutshell I should have roasted my capsicum, and put more flavour into the dish. There were a few nice things said too, but Amanda's trout was not to be trumped. They had an excellent report for Amanda's dish--it certainly was packed with good wholesome flavours and so wonderfully herby. Every bite was an explosion to the taste buds (as I soon discovered when we sat down together an tasted each others dishes.) Amanda was the winner! I am really happy for her and she certainly deserved it. She will be heading off to the Sunshine Coast with the other lucky cook off winners in May for some Gourmet Garden fun.
Then we both got interviewed about how we felt about the outcome, and Amanda was so darling and all she talked about was my blog. Of course I commented on how delicious her meal was and we both showed off mutilated, picked-at meals to the camera. Such great presentation! (Does anyone else find pictures of half eaten meals sort of yucky?)
I was fine with not winning, I always knew that was probably going to be the outcome of the day. You get gut feelings sometimes just before something happens.
Then after a while, a huge rush of emotion came over me. It was overwhelming in a way, and strangely anti-climatic at the same time. It sort of happened when people started saying nice things to me I think, almost consoling. It confirmed that I should be feeling something I didn't want to. Then I cracked a little and got teary. I couldn't believe it was going this way, and I was so embarrassed but I couldn't help it. After all the build up to this day, there was a rush of relief, a little disappointment in myself and a whole swag of other weird feelings tossed in there--hungry, tired, embarrassed, relived, exhausted ad surprised at myself. I swear Amanda must have wished herself away at that instant. The photographer wanted more photos. I wanted to sink into the floor.
Anyway, I walked away with a range of lovely Gourmet Garden goodies and a great experience, and met my first foodie blogger ever, and a very gracious one at that. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures with her or Dominique and Skye, as my camera battery had died half was through the cook off. My darling husband took some photos, all of me though (he had eyes only for me I'm guessing). I'm hoping to see some more up on the Gourmet Garden website soon (hopefully none of me with red eyes). And I'm looking forward to seeing pictures of what those bloggers get up to on the coast for the Gourmet Garden convention--keep me posted ladies and I will live vicariously through you all! Don't forget to pop over and have a look at the winner's blog Cooker and a Looker! Amanda has some great and very interesting recipes, including savoury macaroons!

We had fun on behind that bench.
I think I almost swallowed the mic at one stage...my head kept moving backwards and Rizzo kept moving it closer!
I like to think I was the runner up hehe

Amanda from Cooker and A Looker was kind enough to pass along her own photos of the day, which are much better. Thanks Amanda!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Strawberry Custard

That's right--I'm still making my way through the killos and killos of strawberries I have stashed away in my freezer. And loving it! There's nothing quite like excessive ingredients to get the creative juices flowing. It doesn't matter if it flops. There are always more berries to use. But what I had in mind didn't flop, and made a delicious dessert and afternoon snack for the babies too.
My love for strawberries and custard were combined to make one delicious pink and fruity version of the original vanilla custard, which disappeared from the fridge very quickly. We even had trails of it leading to secret hiding places where small children hid licking spoons covered in sticky goodness. Oh the things kids get up to when your back is turned!
I myself felt like hiding in a wardrobe and rocking backwards and forwards with a bowl of strawberry custard, as the nerves for my big cook off on the weekend have well and truly hit. Breathe. I just have to keep reminding myself. Breathe! (And eat custard).

STRAWBERRY CUSTARD (A Lick The Spoon Original)

2 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. cornflour

2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, room temperature
1/4 cup icing sugar

Place milk in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.
Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, combine yolks, sugar and cornflour and whisk over a low heat. When the milk has boiled, add a few tablespoons into the yolk mixture and whisk. Gradually add the remaining milk and whisk vigorously on a medium heat. Custard will thicken. Continue to whisk until boils, and remove from heat. Scrape into a small bowl and sit this bowl in a few inches of cold water or ice, to cease the cooking process. While cooling, hull the strawberries and process into a puree in the blender. Add the icing sugar and stir to combine well. Add to the warm custard and mix through well. Custard thickens upon refrigeration. Stores for 2-3 days.