Friday, February 22, 2013

Refreshing Chilled Berry Water

What could be more refreshing and thirst quenching than water? I have a feeling that lemonade somehow tops water for me--I mean that home made, chilled and super summery liquid gold that goes down so easily on hot summer days, and not the fizzy stuff (ugh!).
But the other day I discovered something perhaps equally as satisfying with no added sugar and prettied up with natural colours and flavours.
It's an elegant option for afternoon teas with the girls out on the deck or for summer dinner parties where water is in hot demand. I'm always on the look out for a fancy non-alcoholic drink to serve to my guests, and this really brought wows to the table when I served it.
Over time, the fruit encrusted ice blocks melted and issued the most beautiful pink colour through the lightly-berry flavoured water, and looked ever so pretty, and the wows started up again.
I served this lemon infused, chilled still raspberry water at a brunch we held for a friend of mine, along with bacon and egg quiches, croissants, blueberry and apple danishes and plenty of tea. You can add any type of fruit you like to the ice tray, and even garnish the jug with slices of lemon or lime to add some contrasting colour and that really fresh zing.


1 large ice tray (we used a tray with half sphere shaped holes)
1/3 cup frozen or fresh berries of your choice (we used raspberries)
1 lemon, juiced
Water to fill the ice tray
Water to fill the jug (preferably chilled)

Place the berries at the bottom of each of the ice tray hollows. Squirt a little lemon juice into each. Top up the tray with water until the hollows are almost full. (The berries will float) Transfer to the freezer and freeze for at least 2 hours. When solid, press from the ice tray into a jug of ice cold water. Garnish with lime, lemon or mint if desired. Serve as is, or sit the full jug for 10-15 minutes for the colour from the berries and the berry flavour and refreshing lemon juice to issue through the water. Serve.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Savoiardi and Roses Engagement Cake

My weekend rocked. I got to spend the whole day with a lovely young pastry chef who showed me and some other women the art of croissant making. When she started talking about how the weather affects baking, I knew she was a cook after my own heart. Yes...someone to lament with me!
She talked about melting ingredients and things like the humidity of Queensland making it impossible to get the macaron's shine on, and how butter bursting from between the layers of croissant pastry dough while rolling was not uncommon.
If you know about Queensland, It happens to have at least 6 months of summer weather, and it's quite a tropical climate. Think hot and sticky. It's great holiday weather, but when it comes to baking, it can definitely mean struggle street.
So when my long time friend asked me to make a cake for his soon to be wife and his engagement party, I had flashbacks of oozing rolled fondant, sticky figurines and chocolate panels that melted in on cakes, sliding layers and butter cream icing that just wouldn't hold and all such nightmares. But my mouth said yes. Every time I make a fancy cake I swear I'm never going to do it again. The time and stress that goes into it, plus the unsatisfying results, which I like to blame on the weather, are part of this swearing.
So I was determined to think up a cake that could not melt, would not melt, and was simple, elegant and fancy enough to be an engagement cake--one that was doable with little people present and swinging from my legs.
It ended up being a two tier cake, the sides lined in sugar crusted savoiardi sponge fingers and tied with ribbon, topped with a gorgeous array of salmon coloured roses and green ferns (that did all the hard decorating work for me.)


2x 20cm round cake tins
2x 15cm cm round cake tins
3 cake mixes
A good quantity of thick butter icing (I used about 1 kg of icing sugar)
3-4 packets mini savoiardi fingers or sponge fingers (I bought 4 and used 3 but they do break easily so its good to have spares)
1.5 metres ribbon
2 dozen roses
small green florist island
a small flat dish 

According to the instructions of your recipe or cake mix box, bake two 20cm cakes using two of the cake mixes. Divide the third cake mix evenly between the two smaller cake tins and bake.
When all the cakes have cooled and are ready for assembly, arrange the first of the 20cm cake on a cake board or cake stand. Lather the top with icing and proceed to place the second 20cm cake on top of this. Lather this layer with icing also. Continue with the remaining smaller cakes, ensuring that they are positioned directly in the centre of the larger cakes. Ice the top of the final layer. Ice the sides of the bottom layer of the cake, and carefully stick the savoiardi fingers neatly around the edges. Ice the second layer and repeat this process. The sponge fingers should hold together by themselves with the help of the icing, but you can tie both layers with ribbon for a pretty effect, and to ensure their stability.
On the day of serving, take the small flat dish and fill it with water. This dish should be small enough so that it is hidden by the roses once they are arranged. Cut the florist island to fit inside the dish. Allow the water to soak into the island. Cut the stems of the roses short and arrange over the top and the sides of the island. Hide any tell-tale green foam island popping through the edges with foliage from the rose stems, or some delicate ferns or gyp. Position the bouquet and dish on the top of the cake and refrigerate until serving time if your climate is a hot one. (The roses stay fresher in the refrigerator.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Crumbed Parmesan Zucchini Fries

I don't follow fads. I pride myself on not following them. For example, when adding bacon to every dessert became popular in the cooking blogosphere, I did not go there.
When everyone had their cake-pop faze, I refused to go there too. Regardless of how pretty some people made them. I think people can get totally carried away on the waves of what's popular without thinking.
But I have been meaning for a long time to make zucchini fries. That's one craze I cant resist, and when I saw them featured on Chelsy's blog, Magnia, I knew I was about to taste those lovely, crumbed vegetable sticks. I know that doesn't particularly sound appetizing, but they make great vegetarian appetizers, or a delicious, meatless side to your Lenten dinner plate.
And we're sneaking veggies in here.
In a very delicious way.
I was delighted to discover through my designated Secret Recipe Club reveal blog, that magnia means eat in Italian. I'm a total sucker for Italian food, and Chelsy's blog is packed with yummy recipes that show off that gorgeous culture.
Seriously, if I were ever to travel the world, I'd go directly to Italy and do a culinary tour and put on at least 20kg just from taste testing. It would be heaven.
There has been a request or two in the past few months for some Italian foods to be featured here--so, you have your wish in these crunchy on the outside, soft in the inside Crumbed Parmesan Zucchini Fries. Actually, they're not even fries, because they're baked, so I suppose that title is a little misleading.
Chelsy's recipe had pecan meal instead of bread crumbs, but I found myself nut-less, and hence I omitted the nut for bread.
I also made my own Italian Seasoning, because I'm not Italian enough to have it kept in my pantry. Shame on me! Luckily the home made Italian Seasoning has been a hit since I made it, and will certainly become a staple in this house. Home made is always better--but feel free to simplify this recipe by buying your own Italian Seasoning all bottled up from the store if you're pressed for time.


1 large zucchini
1 egg
1 egg white
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. Italian Seasoning
salt to taste

Preheat the oven at 220C. Line a tray with non stick baking paper and set aside.
Cut the zucchini down the centre lengthways, then halve both pieces again and again until you have long, thin strips of zucchini. (the thinner the tastier!)
Combine the egg and egg white in a small bowl, whisking until well combined.
In a shallow dish or plate, combine the Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, seasoning and salt to taste.
Dip each zucchini strip into the egg mixture and shake off the excess. then coat it in the dry crumb mixture and place it on the prepared tray. Repeat until all the zucchini strips are coated. Then place the tray in the oven for 10 minutes before flipping the zucchini fries and cooking for a further 10 minutes. Serve immediately with a dipping sauce or salsa.


3 tablespoons dried basil
3 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
a pinch of black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a mortar and crush with a pestle until well ground. 
Place in an airtight jar for up until 6 months.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Baked Mini Red Velvet Cheesecakes

Anyone who has known me for more than a year knows that St.Valentine's Day and I have a love hate relationship. I'm a hopeless romantic. Yet The Man Up Stairs has a great sense of humor and has sent me disappointments on that day just about every year since I have been in love. Yes, I'm talking about you, ex-boyfriends. Just kidding. They never lasted till St.Valentine's Day.
I've only ever been wined and dined by my darling husband for St.Valentine's Day, seeing as we both met at 19. He's the sweetest man and always spoils me, and St.Valentine's Day is no exception. But what do you do when fate wants to put a damper on your romantic evening? Every year?
Like what if the waterfront restaurant you booked happens to float away down the river?
Or the dozens of Chinese lanterns you decked the veranda out with decide to only light up for half an hour?
The bouquet of chocolates you sent to his work didn't arrive at his work before he left?
These are just a few of the things that could go wrong on St.Valentine's Day, and for me they did. Yes, that restaurant literally drifted away down the river a few days before our booking. Ironically, the restaurant was called "Drift".
Anyway, from past experience I now know that I can't rely on anyone else to make St.Valentine's Day special--with the exception of my husband, he has planned the dinner and is cooking it himself, and I can't wait to see what he serves. As you might have guessed, I'm to create the dessert. So I've been trialing a few different recipes that would make lovely romantic St. Valentine's Day desserts. Here's one of them--baked mini red velvet cheesecakes with a chocolate crust bottom, topped with a swirl of whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa. Needless to say, I'm in love with these deliciously creamy morsels.


10 chocolate chip biscuits
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp butter, melted

250g cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp red food colouring
1 egg
1/2 cup whipped cream to decorate
chocolate shavings to decorate if desired

 Preheat the oven to 180C.
Lightly great 20 mini muffin holes (I used a silicone mini muffin tray.)
In a food blender, place the broken biscuits and chop until they resemble fine bread crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl and add the cocoa powder and melted butter. Combine thoroughly, then divide the mixture between the 20 mini muffin holes. Press the mixture firmly into each hole using your fingers or the back of a spoon. Place in the refrigerator while preparing the cheesecake filling.
To make the filling, beat the cream cheese in a medium bowl until smooth. Add the sugar and cocoa and beat until fluffy. Add the vanilla and red food colouring and beat until well combined. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Divide the cheesecake mixture evenly among the muffin holes  so that the cups are almost full. Bake for 20-25 minutes until centres are firm, and leave for 15 minutes to cool in the tray. The cheesecakes may sink a little.
Cover and refrigerate for an hour at least, before garnishing with whipped cream and chocolate, if desired.

Makes 20 mini cheesecakes