Friday, March 23, 2012

Hello Sunshine!

I am so happy to see the sun.  Like you wouldn't believe.  Not only do I get my laundry done (what is it about women - at the first sign of inclement weather all we think about is how are we going to get our sheets dry).  I don't have to stay inside getting fat from all the baking and episodes of Mad Men I have been watching.

Despite all this shiny happy weather, I do have plans to cook today.  I have a hankering for French Apple Cake.  I bought some New Season Delicious Apples last week which really should be called 'Floury Disappointment Apples' because they were exactly that.  On the outside they looked stunning.  Deep red, shiny and achingly crisp (I know crisp is more a texture rather than a visual but you get the picture).  They looked like the kind of apple a Wicked Witch would offer a Fairy Princess.  And, just like in the fairy tales, one bite was all it took.  Yuk.

So I think rather than throw them away, I will try and transform them with the magic of adding , rum, sugar and heat. 

As I write you, I am sitting out in my garden enjoying my morning cup of tea and trying to stretch out my black skinny jeans.  I really need to stop kidding myself when I buy clothing.  I mean, 'skinny'... One can dream.

It is amazing what a little sunshine can do for your day.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wet Weather, Weekends and Slow Cook Sundays

Weather.  It is starting to drive me a little crazy.  It really shouldn't though.  I have lived here for 10 plus years and I should be used to the whole monsoon-type weather we experience here in Queensland.  I can't complain too much, we get lots of sunshine, our winters are mild and our summers really are delicious, even if they can get a little hot and humid.

I escaped the mild Australian Winter last year for the most part, enjoying a warm New York Summer.  Then I escaped the harsh Australian summer for a cool but mild New York Winter.  So I not only swap hemispheres, I swap seasons as well.  Cheeky!

I love cold weather, I love New York in the Wintertime (apart from trying to get about when it is snowing and it is hard to fall with style and grace on black ice...) though to compare it Winter in Queensland it is like night and day.

Still, I always joke that the mercury only needs to drop half a degree for me to put the soup pot on.  Rainy weekends like this inspire me to get into the kitchen.

When the weather is cold and wet I crave big, hearty food.  I love rich, thick soups and stews, slow cooked veal shin and lamb shanks, served with thick buttery polenta or mashed potato.

There is nothing like slow cooked meat on the bone, yielding its sweet and sticky marrow.  Delicious!

Slow cook weather is my favourite kind of cooking weather, next to baking.  If I were married to baking, I would cheat on it with slow cooking.  It is uncomplicated and looks after itself with minimal effort or fuss.  Even though Autumn has only just begun here, I have started early, my tradition of  'Slow Cook Sundays'.  Sunday is a great day for me to kick back and unwind.  To do a little work in my patio garden, to hang out with my dogs or to read books and magazines or work with my hands.  (I love designing and making things from wood and recycled materials but that could be another blog in itself).

The things I love to cook most are the ones that you can just put on the stove on a low heat and forget about, like Osso Bucco, Lamb Shanks, Slow Roasted Pork and tonight's offering, Corned Beef.

I am really looking forward to my dinner tonight.  I mean what could be simpler?  Take beef out of bag, put in a dutch oven with a few peppercorns, a splash of vinegar, a bay leaf and a tsp of sugar.  Cover with water, bring to boil, simmer away for a couple of hours, serve with mashed potato and cabbage.  In two hours I'm a happy girl.  Plus there is the extra goodness of corned beef sandwiches for lunch tomorrow.  Mmmm... with lots of mustard pickles on fresh bread.  Yum-o.  I am almost looking more forward to my lunch tomorrow!

Enjoy your weekend!  I hope I have inspired you.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Gentle Prod...

A prod, a boost, whatever.  Yes!  Sit at the laptop and enjoy seeing the words magically appear on the screen again.

Oh how good it feels!

I have been so very busy of late, holidaying over Christmas and settling back into work for the new school year.  I even had my first attempt at catering, baking cupcakes for a Wedding!  How exciting!

I spent December and January in my adopted 'homeland', America.  Enjoying time in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Christmas and New Year in New York.  Oh bliss!  And my yearning for all things buttery, maple-ey, hot-doggery and pretzel-y will likely see my return in September this year.

But enough about my summertime antics, lets talk about the absolutely gorgeous cupcakes I made for the Wedding last month... 

Bless you Larissa Lindsay for asking me to bake the sweet morsels for your nuptials.  It indeed was a pleasure. 

Also many many many thanks to The Hummingbird Bakery.  I have no affiliation with you (or anyone in the bakery world for that matter) but it is your cookbook that provided me with the recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes.  In my opinion, this is the best Red Velvet recipe I have ever baked and I have tried a few.  I doubled the mixture and baked it 6 times and it worked out perfect each time, producing a whopping 85 large cupcakes.

I was a little nervous to start with as I had never really 'catered' for anyone before.  I turned my nerves into confidence and made sure I had everything at hand on the day of baking.  I even did a test batch of the cupcakes for the Bride and Groom beforehand so I knew for certain that they were going to be happy.  I mean, you do want things to be perfect on your wedding day, right? 

I am happy to report there are no tales of dropped cake pans, faulty ovens, broken mix masters or tantrums.  I was super-organised and started early.  I baked all morning up until lunchtime with Def Leppard playing in the background.  I was rocking out old school and having a wonderful time. 

The following day, after coming home from work, it was time to pipe on the cream cheese frosting.

Frosting the cupcakes was a little more of a challenge.  With there being so many cupcakes and such a large quantity of cream cheese frosting, I knew I would need a little help.  I enlisted in the help of friend (and the Bride's Maid of Honour) Kellie and her beautiful 9 year old daughter, Chloe to gild each cream cheese frosted cake with gold dust as I piped on the frosting.  It was like a little production line!

I delivered the cupcakes, all 7 boxes of them to the restaurant, with my car air conditioner pumping overtime and felt the biggest sense of relief as the cakes were taken from my hands and placed into the restaurant's cold room.  Be free my little babies!

So for two days work, (including me going to my day job) a lot of love, rock music and over-heating electric hand beaters, I got the cakes baked, iced and delivered.  I even got to attend the Wedding and Reception!  I was very nervous as dessert was served, but I was worried over nothing.  The cakes were a success!  *Phew!*

The whole experience was a very positive one for me.  I really love baking.  Most of all it is lovely to hear from others that my efforts are both delicious as well as visually appealing.  Maybe if I had a bigger oven and a mixer with a little more oomph I might even consider doing this more often.  Who knows!  At this stage, my biggest aspirations are to buy a stand mixer.  I still love my dinky little hand beater, even if at times it feels and smells like it is going to blow up. 

Would I do this again?  Absolutely!  I really enjoyed the whole experience.  I truly feel that I have a calling for baking.  It is something that really does make me happy.  If I could make a living out of it and still be happy?  Well that remains to be seen.  Wish me luck anyway!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Rainy Days and Cookies

I think I live in Queensland's rain capital.  Northern Queensland would like to say that it has the state's greatest rainfall, but I believe where I live on the Sunshine Coast trumps what falls out of the sky up North. 

It is Saturday and I had so many plans for the weekend.  It is early Autumn and I have been re-acquainting myself with my garden again, after a summer of neglect, making myself busy moving around the garden furniture, mulching my fruit trees and adding a few pops of colour with some potted flowers.  For the afternoons after work where I have had the opportunity to be outside, I have been enjoying pottering about and loving my space again.

And then the rain came tumbling down...

Well it has been raining for weeks, with a day of respite here and there, well enough to get the sheets almost dry or make you wish you hadn't washed at all. 

Good weather for baking!  Which is exactly what I did today.  I baked and I watched the rain fall outside and it was lovely.  As much as I enjoyed myself, it is now evening and the rain is still heavily falling, tomorrow is Sunday and I think I may develop morbid obesity if this weather keeps up, plus a scorching case of cabin fever.

Chewy Chocolate Cheesecake Cookies (Recipe from Real Living Magazine, March 2012)

180g dark chocolate
140g butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs whisked
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups plain flour
pinch salt

140g cream cheese @ room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 180C.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Place chocolate, butter and sugar into a saucepan over low heat, stirring regularly until chocolate and butter have melted.  Remove the pan from heat and add vanilla and eggs.  Stir to combine, making sure the eggs are well mixed into the chocolate mixture to ensure they do not scramble.  Sift in cocoa, flour and salt and mix well to combine.

Place dough in the fridge for about 10 mins, this will firm it up a little and make it easier to work with.

In a separate bowl, place cream cheese and icing sugar and mix with a hand held mixer or by hand until smooth.

Remove dough from fridge and roll tblsps of dough into balls.  Place on lined trays, ensuring you leave space for spreading (I put about 8 per tray but this will depend on the size of your tray).  Make an indent in each cookie with your thumb and fill centre with a dollop (about a teaspoon) of the cream cheese mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until you notice the cookies are cracked on the outside but soft in the centre.  Swap trays after 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

The cookies should keep for about 5 days in an airtight container if they don't get eaten beforehand!  Makes approximately 24.

I will say this, I did manage to get up very early this morning and go for a jog before it started raining, so I believe eating one or two cookies on a rainy day like today is perfectly acceptable.  (That's my story and I am sticking to it!)

Until next time...

Kitty xx