Monday, 28 February 2011

Yes, I love cake!

Okay, I admit it, I love cake.  I’m not a big cake eater, but I am still a cake lover.  They are such beautiful things to look at and I love to dream about all the different flavour combinations out there.  They are lots of fun to make and can be decorated in a gazillion ways.  I’m guessing I’m not alone in my passion, whether you love cake to eat, to look at, or to bake, use cake lovers come in all types!

Look what I found by Easy Cake Ideas!  The perfect way to declare your love to the world!  You can choose from t-shirts, bags and aprons and they have heaps of cool sayings too, like “A Life Without Cake is No Life At All”, “Save The Earth, It’s The Only Planet With Cake”, “Love, A Temporary Insanity Cured With Love”, “Is Life Worth Living?  It All Depends on The Cake” and “Nothing Great Was Ever Achieved Without Cake”.  Or, you can keep it plain and simple with


Which one is your favourite?

The Importance of Sharing a Meal

I come from a family who sits down and shares a meal together every night.  No TV, no balancing plates on your lap, and no shovelling grub in to your face.  We all sit around the table together and no one starts until everyone is seated.  We don’t say Grace, but we do always thank the cook for their hard work.  As we eat, we chat together and discuss our day.  We talk about school and work and what we want to do on the weekend.  If there is something the family needs to talk about, it is a comfortable environment to bring it up in.  Fears can be resolved and accomplishments celebrated.  At the end of the meal, no one leaves the table until everyone has finished eating.

This is a tradition that I was brought up with, thinking that was how everyone ate.  I’ve since found out it isn’t so.  I have however tried to instil its importance in my own children.  As my husband is a shift worker, we see it as a treat when he can sit down and join us for a meal.  It turns out that this special family time shared over a meal is actually of significant cultural importance!

Last year, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) recognised the cultural significance of the French Gastronomic Meal.  It has been designated as a cultural icon alongside flamenco and acupuncture as significant components of a culture to be protected.  Incorporating 5 or so courses of food, carefully matched to wine, it is about so much more than just the meal on the table.  It recognises the importance of loved ones and family preparing and sharing a meal together, and the role of food in celebrating major milestones in life such as weddings, baptisms, birthdays and the like.

The French do not lay sole claim to this prestigious cultural honour, the Mexican Michoacan cuisine and the Mediterranean diet have also been recognised and protected for future generations.

Where does the importance of food fit in your family’s traditions?  Do you only eat certain foods at particular celebrations?  Do you have rituals around the food you eat?  Or, do you think it’s a whole lot of nonsense over something you do just to sustain yourself?

Recipe–Grape Pate de Fruit

Last year we planted a vine to run along our front verandah.  The idea was that it would shade the kitchen windows in summer with its foliage, and let the winter sun through to warm us up when the leaves dropped.  As we like to have multi tasking plants where possible, we decided to put in an edible grape.  We opted for a green one so that we wouldn’t have to worry about the wooden decking getting stained from falling fruit.

This summer we have enjoyed our first crop.  The vine has grown like crazy and does a fantastic  job of keeping the direct sun out of the front of the house, not to mention that the greenery right outside the large windows looks lovely from inside the house, and softens the look of the building from the street too.   The vine was so heavy with fruit that we had to cut off many of the immature bunches which the chooks were more than happy to gobble up!  Unfortunately, although they tasted beautiful, the texture was a bit spongey.  Having never grown grapes before, we weren’t sure if it was something we had done wrong or not, but put it down to the crazy weather we have had this summer.  Our days have been fluctuating back and forth between 42oC with 80% humidity, to 20oC only 2 days later!  It’s put some of the chickens off the lay and is definately taking its toll on the kids’ tempers too!


As a result, we had a couple of kilos of fruit that tasted great but weren’t any good to eat, so what to do?  Once again, Google to the rescue!  I found a few references to Canelle et Vanille, one of my favourite food blogs.  I figured they would definately know what they were doing, so I converted their recipe for Strawberry Pate de Fruit to Grape Pate de Fruit.

It was a weekend, so I had my two trusty helpers home to lend a hand, so we pureed the fruit, boiled it up with the sugar and pectin then let it sit.  Luckily it didn’t take any where near as long to set as I thought it would (but much longer than Madeleine wanted!).  It turned out of the silicon pan beautifully and we coated it with just normal white sugar.  Next time though I think I’ll use caster sugar as it is just that little bit finer.  They tasted beautiful, you could really taste the grape in them and the texture was lovely, not at all rubbery.  You can find a printer friendly version of the recipe here.  The girls and I can’t wait to make them again and were thinking raspberries will definately be worth trying.  Have you made these before?  What flavours do you think would work well?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Our Smallest Egg Ever!

For those of you who know us, you might remember our HUUUUUGE chicken egg laid by one of our Ancona hens just over a year ago (December 2009).  For everyone else, here is a photo of the whopper…

It was something ridiculous like 8cm long!  Now, for the other end of the scale.  Just when we thought we had seen just about everything, Matthew returned from the hen house the other day (no, not the dog house…this time…) with this little cutie in tow.


Yep, that’s 3cm folks!  A mere 1.18 inch!  Here it is sitting in his wedding ring and with some other “normal” chicken eggs:


And for comparison’s sake, here it is in my hand, side by side with the whopper!


I’d love to hear about your most unusual “garden produce”…

Recipe–Turkish Bread

Today I am going to share with you one of my favourite bread recipes ever!  It is from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s book Turquoise - A Chef’s Travels in Turkey.  I highly recommend this book.  It is admittedly one of the more expensive books in my collection, but you certainly get what you pay for, and more.  The recipes are all fantastic and quickly become family favourites.  There are also plenty of stunning photographs and beautiful little travel tidbits too.  I always like to hear the stories behind recipes and growing up travelling the world, I love to sit and day dream of far off exotic places (and meals!!)

One of the great things about this particular recipe is its versatility.  You can use it to make gorgeous sandwiches, slice it in thick “fingers” and dip it into balsamic vinegar and olive oil, serve it with olive oil and dukkah, make bruscetta, use it as a pizza base, or make Turkish pide pies.

So without further ado, here it is:

1 tablespoon yeast

pinch sugar

375ml warm water

480g bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

60ml olive oil

1 egg

25ml milk

nigella or sesame seeds

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 125ml of the water and set aside for 10 minutes or until frothy.  Mix in 90g of the flour to form the “sponge” and set it aside somewhere warm for 30 minutes.

After letting it rest, add the remainder of the flour & water along with the salt and olive oil.  Mix it in your mixer with a dough hook on low for around 10 to 15 minutes.  Don’t panic – it is a really wet mix.  Now you need to let is sit somewhere warm for an hour to rise.

Once it has doubled in size, turn it out on to a very well floured bench and shape into 2 long logs.  Gently place them onto lined, greased or floured trays and sit for another half an hour.

Finally, combine the egg and milk and brush over the loaves then sprinkle them with the seeds.  Preheat your oven to its hottest setting (I do mine at 250oC with the fan on) and cook them for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown and they should sound hollow when you tap them on the bottom.  Finally, allow a good 10 minutes or so of cooling time before you cut into them so the bread doesn’t collapse in on itself.


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Making Sausages

Okay, so this week’s write up is not cake related, but is still all about food.  Last Tuesday Matthew and I were invited to Evan and Shelley’s property out at Copmanhurst on the other side of Grafton.  The boys work together and we are all super passionate about food.  Like us, they are trying to get their own veggies growing and fruit trees in.  As they have 100 acres, they are also raising animals for meat which brings us to today’s post.  Evan kept the hind half of his first pig for making sausages.

So, once the kids were on the school bus, we piled into the car with a mountain of salt, a variety of spices, my Kenwood mixer (with mincer and sausage extruder attachments) and loads of enthusiasm.  As we turned into their property we were amazed at the recent storm damage which had carved massive holes into the road and parts of it had caved in.  Lucky we took the Pajero!

Sausage Making Resized (5) Sausage Making Resized (9)

On arrival, we were welcomed in.  First we had to unload the Muscovy ducks and Naked Neck chickens we had brought for their flock.  Once inside though, the hospitality was really turned on.  Evan supplied us with glass after glass of thick, luscious coffee with an amazing dense crema on top.   We had been hearing all about his coffee machine for months, so it was quite a treat to finally get to sample it’s coffee!  It was certainly everything he said it would be!

Sausage Making Resized (31) Sausage Making Resized (33)

After a little trepidation, and standing around looking at each other wondering how we were going to go about it all as none of us have ever made sausages before, we finally dove in.

Sausage Making Resized (35)

The boys took charge of carving the meat off the bones and us girls chopped it into pieces small enough to put through the mincers.

Sausage Making Resized (11) Sausage Making Resized (37)

Matthew was the first to cut himself – slicing his finger right through to the bone.  We picked on him a bit for doing anything to get out of the work, but figured he could sit and watch once we realised it wasn’t going to stop bleeding!  I was next as I nicked a chunk out of my knuckle.  Luckily with a really tightly applied bandaid, I was able to soldier on.  To Evan’s credit, the knives were incredibly sharp – I didn’t even feel it when I cut myself!

Once the meat had all been diced, we cleaned up and Shelley served up a gorgeous lunch of pickings.  We had grilled Chorizo and another spicy sausage, cheese, and fresh fruit, all washed down with an icy cold beer!   Just as Matthew and I looked at each other and thought if they keep looking after us this well, we’ll never leave, it was back to work.

Sausage Making Resized (12)

We set out two mixers up side by side on the stainless steel trolley.  I have a Kenwood Chef and Shelley has a Kitchenaid.  I was really looking forward to seeing the Kitchenaid in action as I have heard so many rave reviews about them – and lets face it, they come in so many pretty colours and are lovely to look at!  The first thing I noticed was that all of the Kitchenaid attachments (including the mincer) were plastic as opposed to the Kenwood’s alloy fittings.  The Kenwood also had 3 different sized mincing discs to the Kitchenaid’s two.  While they both did a great job of mincing, it was much more fiddly with the Kitchenaid as the feeder tray was just too small to be practical.  You pretty much had to feed the meat straight into the tube of the mincer.  With my Kenwood, you were able to pile up a heap of meat on the feeder tray which made life much easier when operating it on your own.

Sausage Making Resized (14) Sausage Making Resized (15)

Once the meat had all been through the coarse grind, we added our seasonings to the first batch to make a coarse grained Fennel & Chilli salami.  We had put aside some diced fat which we then folded through at this stage also.

Sausage Making Resized (18) Sausage Making Resized (13)

Next job was the casings.  Shelley had bought a big pack of natural pig casings from their local butcher which were already prepped.  All we had to do was soak them in water and lemon juice and change the water a few times to get rid of the excess salt from the brine they were preserved in.

Sausage Making Resized (17) Sausage Making Resized (16) Sausage Making Resized (19)

Once they had been soaked sufficiently, we threaded them on to the extruders on the mixers.  I must say, Matthew was quite adept at this particular manoeuver!  Must have been all those years in the Navy! lol!  Yes, there were lots of giggles and snide remarks flying around the room as we stood back and watched!

Sausage Making Resized (21) Sausage Making Resized (22)

When we turned them on and started stuffing the casings, we really saw the difference in the two mixers.  The Kenwood was pushing out the meat at a very steady rate (which can be adjusted with the speed dial), while maintaining the textural integrity of the meat.  The Kitchenaid however was emulsifying the meat at turning it into a smooth paste, so we abandoned use of the Kitchenaid and only used the Kenwood for stuffing the casings.

We were all amazed at how easy this part of the operation was.  We all thought that stuffing them would be the most difficult part, but it was really quite straight forward.  And, I have to say, I was quite impressed with my sausage twisting and bundling capabilities – must be in the blood (my grandfather was a butcher).

Sausage Making Resized (25) Sausage Making Resized (24)

As these first sausages were a salami style and had to be air dried, we tied them off with natural fibre string between each sausage where they were twisted, and pierced any air bubbles that we could see.

Sausage Making Resized (29)

The final stage is to hang them up to dry for 6 to 12 weeks.

Sausage Making Resized (32)

The next batch we made were a spicy Italian sausage (to be eaten fresh) and our version of a Chorizo.  The Chorizo is supposed to have a high salt content for drying and preservation, and the addition of a bacterial culture to ferment the meat, however being our first attempt at sausages, we didn’t want to hang them all to dry in case they didn’t work out, so we reduced the amount of salt and omitted the culture all together.

By the end of the exercise, we had about 75 sausages for each family, and oh my, don’t they taste awesome!  I was amazed at how easy it all was, and really can’t see myself buying sausages from the shops again knowing how good they are when you make them yourself.  We were also discussing the idea of making up the spiced mince and then making it into hamburger patties if you couldn’t be bothered stuffing them.

Last but certainly not least, I brought home half of the bones and made THE most delicious bolognaise sauce ever!

Sausage Making Resized (28)

All in all, a wonderful adventure!  I really hope we get invited back for their next pig!

Sausage Making Resized (26) Sausage Making Resized (27)

Monday, 14 February 2011

Cool Gadget–Kenwood Chef Kitchen Machine

This is my baby.  My hard working, favourite of favourite pieces of kit.  It does almost everything!  I’m sure if I had of bought it a few years earlier, it could have changed nappies too!  I’ve had it for coming up on 18 months now, and I honestly don’t know how I ever survived without it.  I got rid of my breadmaker because with the dough hook, it kneads beautifully.  I can put my bread ingredients in, set the timer and walk away.  Fifteen minutes later, I can come back and guess what – it’s ready to rise!  Seriously, how easy is that!  I do have to admit, 9 times out of 10 when I make bread, it is a hand shaped loaf, so I only rarely ever used to bake my bread in the machine, preferring to use the oven.

It has a lovely big whisk, and with its planetary action, there are not spots in the middle that don’t get mixed.  My favourite mixing “bit” though is the K-beater with a built in spatula.  Yep, it beats and scrapes down the inside of the bowl at the same time!  Awesome?  I think so!  When I bought it, Kenwood had a special offer available where you got the juicer, mincer and sausage making attachments free via redemption.  I had my form in the mail that afternoon, and sure enough, a week or two later, they arrived in the mail.  I was able to give away my old Breville juicer which took up an enormous amount of space in the cupboard, and the mincer is fantastic!  To see what it can do, be sure to check back tomorrow to read about our sausage making escapades and how it matches up to the ever popular Kitchenaid!

When it comes to buttercream, you really need a bench top mixer to do it, and this one does the job really well.  Unlike my Breville mixer, I can set the timer for 20 minutes, and it will mix on high speed without even heating up!

So what is your favourite kitchen appliance?  Be sure to leave a comment and let us know what piece of equipment you just can’t live without.

Raspberry Mousse

This Raspberry Mousse is absolutely divine!  It is sweet, yet tart and the most gorgeous colour!  The Raspberries can be replaced with juice or puree of any fruit you like. I have also made it with both lemons and limes, both of which were just luscious!  Anyway, without further ado, here is this week’s recipe.



Part 1:  Italian Meringue

¼ Cup Sugar

½ teaspoon Glucose

20ml water

1 Egg White

Part 2:  Raspberry Mousse

550g Raspberries (fresh or frozen)

1 ½ teaspoons Gelatine

10ml Raspberry Liqueur

200ml Cream


Part 1:  Italian Meringue

Combine sugar, glucose and water in a small pan.
Heat gently, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Bring to the boil and stop stirring.
Continue to boil until liquid reaches 16oC.
Remove from heat and allow bubbles to subside.
Meanwhile, beat the egg white to stiff peak.
Slowly add hot sugar syrup to egg white while beating on low.
Continue beating until the bowl has reached room temperature (approx 5 minutes)

Part 2:  Raspberry Mousse

Bloom gelatine in 1 teaspoon of water.
Heat raspberries until they liquefy.
Pass raspberries through a sieve to remove the seeds.
Return raspberries to pan with liqueur and heat to just below boiling.
Add gelatine and mix thoroughly.

Fold raspberry mixture into Italian Meringue.
In a separate bowl, beat cream to soft peaks.
Fold raspberry mixture into cream.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Party Presentation Ideas – Where to get Inspiration Online

I have completely stolen todays title from Pink Frosting’s site Australia Entertains.  I follow Pink Frosting on Facebook, and had to click on the link to this article as I am always on the lookout for cool ideas for my daughters’ birthday parties.  This one is awesome.  The ideas are fun and original, and can be simplified or expanded as much as you like.  Her photography is pure eye candy.

The Pink Frosting site is an online store with all the bits and pieces you need for any fabulous celebration.  Everything from Weddings and Baby Showers, to Halloween and Sweet 16.  And I love the fact that they are another Australian site.  We are slowly getting there with the online retail thing aren’t we!

Kathryn Porritt who owns both sites has done a wonderful job on her blog Australia Entertains, giving links to all manner of sites to help you with not only coming up with awesome ideas, but others to help with decorations, food, invitations and the like.

I strongly suggest you pop on over and have a look!

Where do you go for inspiration when planning a party?

How to Bake a Round, Ball Shaped Cake

If you are anything at all like me, you love buying cool and unusual kitchen gadgets, but hate having to fork out big bucks for specialty cake pans that take up heaps of room in the cupboard, cost heaps, and may not get used an awful lot – and that’s if you can even find the right shaped pan in the first place (not so easy outside of a major city).  They are also not the greatest thing to have to buy online as they are bulky and therefore costly to post.

A few times, I’ve needed a round cake.  Not round as in a flat circle, but round as in a sphere – like boobs,  a ball of wool, or Santa’s belly.  Turns out all you need is a good shaped mixing bowl in metal, ceramic or pyrex glass – NOT PLASTIC!!!!!!  (And before you start laughing at me, for once, I’m not speaking from experience, even I know not to put a plastic bowl in the oven!)

Here is how I did it.

If you’ve read the post on baking a level cake, you’ll know all about the trick of putting an icing nail (metal again) in the bottom of the pan to help it cook evenly.  I think it is really important here as the cake is quite high and has a low surface area to volume ratio (that’s my scientist past coming through lol!)


I used pyrex bowls because that is what I had in the right shape and size for the cake I was making.  Luckily I have 2 the same so I only have to bake once, otherwise you would have to bake one cake, then bake the second half later.  Grease the inside of the bowl really well.  I use a spray on oil, and cut a round of baking paper slightly smaller than the base of the bowl.  Push the icing nail through the middle of the paper, then place them in the bottom of the bowl.


Here is a close up.


Now carefully pour your cake batter in.  If it pushes the nail off to one side, just gently slide it back to the middle.  Try to keep it on the bottom of the bowl while you move it across as this helps get the cake out after baking.


And it’s as simple as that.  you may have to adjust your baking time, and you will have to guesstimate what size bowl and how much batter to use, but that’s half the fun isn’t it!  If you are after a small ball shape, you could use a pair of tea cups.

I’d love to hear what other improvisations you have used for non-standard cakes.