December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas everyone!   Hope you have a fantastic day, eat up big, and laze around...  cos that's what it's all about!

x Tash

December 22, 2011

One for the fail file: Gingerbread biscuits

So I promised I was going to mention the gingerbreads.  And I wrote this long post whinging about how they failed, pointing the finger at a certain woman who most people love.  And I still want to blame her.

But it’s like this.  You know when you bitch about someone, and turns out your bitching to her best friend, and there’s that awkward moment when you want to run and hide cos you know that person is going to choose the others persons side (did you get that?  I hope so), well this is that moment.

I’m going to put it out there, and I hope you still like me, but...

I don’t like Martha Stewart.

There.  I said it.

Her recipes fail me.  All the time.  And I’m sure she’s a great women and she seems to make lots of cool stuff, but it’s not for me.

Her gingerbread recipe was an epic fail.  Now I don’t know if it’s a matter of metric versus imperial measurements.  It’s hard for us Aussies to get exactly 113g butter when the recipe calls for a stick.  Or an ounce of something here and there.  Same goes for Fahrenheit.

So anyway, this is what they looked like:

Laying out all nice, ready to be iced.  I tasted one, spat it out, then threw them all in the bin.  It happens.  I’m not going to dwell.

December 19, 2011

Pizza (with Sourdough Starter)

I learnt a lesson this weekend.  A lesson in life that I shouldn’t take notice of too closely, cos well, it’s not a good one.  But it made me feel better about a massive failure.  The failure – gingerbread cookies.  The lesson – stick to what you know.  What do I know – Italian food.

When it comes to baking (I will talk about the gingerbreads soon, promise), I've learnt it’s good to stick to the recipe because someone has worked hard to figure out the exact quantities so you have a baking success.  If you’re confident, change them around!  If you know that something will work better, then give it a try.  If you’re awesome, make up a recipe from scratch (so jealous if this is you!).  Me, I need to follow the recipe, and sometimes I can change things.  I’m slowly gaining experience in baking, enough to know how it all works.

Italian food, that’s a whole other ball game!  I know Italian food, and so should a lot of people, cos let’s be honest, it’s the easiest food to make and the hardest to stuff up.  If I get an idea in my head I’m confident enough to run off with it and play.  There’s olive oil, sea salt, garlic and tomatoes.  Basic.  Throw in a couple more ingredients – pasta, onion, basil, oregano, pepper, rice, meat etc, and there you have it, a meal, or two or three.  You know all the ingredients go together, and you can make it to your style buy adjusting quantity.  Well, this is how I feel about it anyway.

Which leads me to this recipe. 

My cousin Stefan gave me some of his yeast starter a while back, and since then have been making loaves of sourdough.  It’s awesome and dense and full of flavour!  I’ve been meaning to make pizza for a while now, and when I picked up a cheap pizza stone recently, my first Sunday free was dedicated to making pizza!

I searched around for a good dough recipe, but didn’t settle on one I liked.  I know it consists of flour, salt, water and yeast starter, so kinda winged this recipe (experience made me do this!).   The dough turned out to be crisp and light, but also dense like sourdough, very tasty!  I think I rolled it to thin though.  It held the toppings really well.

I’m curious to see how other pizza dough tastes so stay tuned.

Not sure where this came from, was given to me by my cousin, will find a link soon
2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon honey 
2 tablespoons dried yeast
4 cups plain flour

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, honey and yeast. When the yeast is dissolved and bubbly, stir in 2 cups flour until smooth.

Add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until well-mixed each time. Cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap and let it sit. It will initially balloon up hugely, and then settle down.

Transfer the mixture it to a plastic ice cream bucket or ceramic bowl and put the lid on or cover it in plastic wrap. Let it sit and ferment for 4 days in a warm spot.

After 4 days, uncover the mixture and stir well. After this point in time you can use the starter to make sourdough bread. It will take a few loafs until your starter is at its best. You can either store it in the refrigerator, in which case you have to “feed” it once a week, or on your counter, in which case, you feed it every day.

To feed the starter, take out 1 cup (after stirring it well) and either discard it or use it in a recipe. Then add 1 cup each of warm water and flour. Mix well and cover again.

1 cup (200g) yeast starter
1 cup warm water
3 ½ cups ‘00’ flour
2 teaspoons sea salt

Makes 4.

Bring the yeast starter to room temperature, then mix with the warm water.  Set aside for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, add the flour and salt, then slowly mix in the wet mix, either with a bread mixer or a wooden spoon.  When all combined, turn out onto a clean and lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes.  The dough should be smooth and spring back when touched.  If too dry, add a bit more water.  If too wet, add a bit more flour.

Place the dough ball a lightly oiled ceramic bowl, and cover with plastic and a damp tea towel.  Place in a warm drought free area for 4 hours, or until double in size.  I like to place it in a warm oven (40°C).

When doubled, divide into 4 even balls, and knead each ball for 2 minutes, flouring the surface as required.  Place the balls on a plate, cover with plastic, and let them rise for a second time in a warm drought free area.

2 roma or vine-ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeds removed
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
Extra virgin olive oil
Pinch salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano

Olive oil

To remove the skins off the tomatoes easily, place the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water.  Leave for 10 minutes, then carefully remove and peel back skins.

Place the flesh of the tomatoes (no seeds) in a blender and puree for a minute.  Place the tomato into a bowl, add a splash of olive oil, salt, garlic and oregano, mix and set aside.


To make the pizza, place the pizza stone (or tray) in the oven at 250°C, and leave for 20-30 minutes.

On a well floured surface, roll out the pizza dough to about 8mm thick.  Place the dough onto a floured board or flat surface you can slide onto the stone.  Place 2-3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce on the pizza, then add slices of bocconcini and basil leaves evenly over the pizza.  Drizzle a little olive oil and grated parmesan.

Carefully slide the pizza onto the stone and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

When cooked, you add slices of fresh prosciutto and rocket, or eat plain Margarita-style.

Buon appetito!

December 12, 2011

Pina Colada Cupcakes

I had big cooking plans this weekend.  I had picked up a cheap pizza stone from a local kitchen store and had a tub of yeast starter in my fridge, so was eager to make some pizza’s Sunday night.  I also wanted to test a recipe for gingerbread cookies.  I had it all planned.  I had bought the cookie cutter, piping pencil, an extra tray, everything I need to make them.

But its Christmas time isn’t it.  There are so many things to do to prepare for, that my plan to cook just never happened! 

I hit the shops both Saturday and Sunday, and got most of my Christmas shopping out the way.  I’m quite a fussy person, I get ideas in my head of what I want to buy people, and if I can’t find the exact thing, if it’s not perfect, then I keep looking!  Apparently I’m quite particular in what I receive too, which is really bad (and I got an earful about it the whole weekend from my other half).  It’s just that if I like something, I buy it!  Which leaves it really hard for others to shop for me.

So while I sit here and type this, I’m really disappointed that I can’t share the gingerbreads.  I am adamant in making them tonight, so maybe you’ll get another post in a couple of days.

In the meantime, I leave you with these Pina Colada cupcakes.  Really they are just the pineapple and coconut cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, but I like to think I’m eating a pina colada, because well that’s what they taste like!


1 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
50g unsalted butter, room temperature
145ml coconut milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
Small tin of pineapple pieces

2 cups icing sugar
80g unsalted butter, room temperature
25ml coconut milk

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Line a 12-hole cupcake tin with paper cases.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, coconut milk and vanilla and keep beating.

Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, and gently beat for 2 minutes.

Evenly distribute the pineapple pieces among the paper cases (4-5 each case), then evenly fill up the cases with the batter.  Place in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when tested.

Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then completely cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, beat the icing sugar, butter and coconut milk on high for 2-4 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Generously top the cupcakes with the icing, then sprinkle with the desiccated coconut.

Makes 12.

December 5, 2011

Double-Layer Chocolate Cake

Isn’t birthday cake just better than normal cake?  There’s something about it that I can’t put my finger on.  On Saturday it was Colin’s birthday.  It was also Thanksgiving lunch for a few close friends.  I’ll tell you about that in a bit, but first this cake. 

What made it even more special were the tins.  These tins.

When I moved out of home a few years ago, my nanna gave me about three boxes of kitchen ‘stuff’.  She said “I don’t need these things, throw out anything you don’t want”.  There was lots of great stuff in these boxes, and even greater were these two copper-coloured tins.  They were so beautiful to look at, and all I could think about was an old fashioned sponge cake with strawberries and cream.  I put them in my cupboard and forgot about them.  A couple of weeks ago I was looking for a baking dish, when I noticed the two tins.  I pulled them out and put them on the microwave.  This was a way of reminding myself to use them.

A couple of weeks after that, Jessica from Pencil Kitchen posted a very impressive 6-layer chocolate cake.  I was inspired.  If it were ever a time to make a layer cake, it was a birthday.  With Colin’s only a week away, I search for a recipe and came across Ina Gartens.  As I kept looking I realised a lot of people had cooked this same recipe, referencing various different sites.  Seemed the best option!

The result.  Wow.  Awesome.  Moist and light chocolate cake with sweet buttercream icing.  It’s been a couple of days and the cake is still super moist.  Will be making this one again for sure!

Oh and Thanksgiving – so much fun!  Although there was a pool and it was extremely hot (felt like 40°C!) in American tradition, we did all pass out after lunch while American football was on TV.  Great times..

And another note - ignore the crappy pipping..  I used a piece of baking paper to pipe, because well, I don't have a pipping bag.  It's on my list.

Double-Layer Chocolate Cake
1 ¾ cups plain flour, plus more for dusting
2 cups sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk*
½ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup freshly brewed hot coffee

1 cup (225g) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 ½ cups icing sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons milk or pouring cream (cream will give a richer flavour)

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Line two 8-inch baking tins with paper, and butter the paper.  Dust the pans lightly with flour and remove any excess.

To make the cake, in a large bowl, sift in the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt, and stir to combine all ingredients.

In a small bowl, add the buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla extract.  Whisk until all ingredients are well combined.

With an electric mixer, slowly beat the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then slowly beat in the hot coffee.  Increase the speed to medium and beat for further minute.

Pour the batter into the prepared tins, and back for 40 minutes to one hour.  (Ovens will vary on time, although the original recipe said 35 minutes, mine took an hour – when the cake looks cooked on top, test with a skewer.)  Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in the tins for 30 minutes.  Turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the butter in a medium bowl until very soft.  Sift in the icing sugar and cocoa powder and beat on a very slow speed.  When ingredients have combined, add vanilla, salt and milk/cream, and beat on high for 2-4 minutes until you have a thick and luscious icing.  Add more icing sugar or milk if icing is too wet or dry.

To ice the cake – if cake has a peak or dip, carefully slice a thin layer off the top using a bread knife, so you have a flat surface.  Spread one-fourth of the cake mix on the top of one cake.  Carefully place the second cake on top, and continue icing the top and sides.  If the cake crumbles while you’re icing, place it in the fridge for 10 minutes.  The icing will keep in the fridge in a seal container.

* If you don’t have buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to 1 cup of milk, and set aside for 10 minutes. 

November 30, 2011

Book Review: 1/3 of the way through French Women Don't Get Fat

So I’ve started reading the book French Women Don’t Get Fat.  Currently a third of the way through, and I’m really enjoying it.  It’s a mix of a story, self-help and cookbook.  I like Mireille, I like the way she writes, and I love her personal story.  There are times when I have actually laughed out loud, like the part where after not seeing his daughter for 12 months, the first thing her father says to her is “you look like a sack of potatoes”.  Not to be mean or hurtful, but just an innocent reaction to her weight gain.  It made me laugh cos it’s not too far from something my dad would say.  He is first to comment if he thinks I have gained a few kilos, always saying that my bum looks bigger.  It’s ok, I’ve learned to live with it.  When my brother says it, I know he’s just trying to be wind me up.

So back to this book.  So far I’ve come to realise that the French way of eating is not so different to the Italian way of eating.  Major difference is the French would never sit down to a big plate of pasta, where Italians do, mainly for lunch.  But the concept of meals is the same - we eat together as a family at the dinner table.  From when we sit down to when we clear out plates an hour could have easily passed.  We enjoy our food, eat slowly, talk, laugh and debate over our meal.  We eat three decent meals a day (maybe not so much me as I tend to skip breakfast due to choosing an extra half hour to sleep in the morning) and finish with fruit.  We don’t go to the gym to exercise (a more-modern lifestyle is changing this), but we generally eat in moderation, eat well, and enjoy the ‘treats’ every now and then.

I needed this book to remind me of the way to eat.  Too often now I eat dinner quickly as I have other things to do, or I work throughout lunch.  I’ve started snacking, which means my main meal wasn't sufficient enough.  I’ve steered away from my normal way of eating and I need to get back to it.  I do eat healthy and have a good range of protein, vegetables, fibre and water, although I could definitely drink more water.

I’ve come across a some recipes so far, and noticed that there are more at the back of the book, so don’t be surprised if a couple pop up on this blog!  I’m really excited to see what the rest of the book has to offer.

To be continued...
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