Tuesday, 2 October 2012

YArrrrr! Said the Pirate.

The weekend before International Talk like a Pirate Day was my nephew Blair's fourth birthday and when asked what he'd like for his birthday by his mother (a month previously) he said simply "I surprise party at Vaari's (grandfather) house."

So the excitement began... I had been brainstorming and new that he was mad keen on Bear Grylls Man vs. Wild and proposed BLAIR GRYLLS BOY VS. WILD! But Alas! Apparently we've moved on to PIRATES now.

My parents home is well known by local kids as the Pirate Party House. For years my brother and I had pirate birthday parties (pirate, fairies and peter-pan for me) and our big backyard meant that anyone and everyone could be invited (there was none of this 'you can bring 5 friends' business). We had the usual chocolate coins and invitations with burnt edges and tea stains, but my parents made it really special. When we awoke on the morning of our parties the PIRATES HAD LANDED!! Constructed in our front yard (in the middle of the night by some very hard-working, sleep-deprived and over-excited grown up fairies) would be a very large climbable, sailable, magical pirate ship! And to accompany this we'd have huge chests of dress-ups and a rusted old tin treasure chest filled to the brim with all sorts of gold and silver treasure - goblets, chains, mirrors, coins, you name it, if it's piratey it's in our garden!

One of the memories my mother has from these parties is the look on a child's face when her parents said 'okay, it's time to go, put the treasure back now' and my mum said 'oh no! you found that treasure - it's all yours!'. (we never needed lolly bags ;) )

So the pressure was on - could we recreate the pirate magic? You betcha!

This time the pirate ship was constructed in daylight (phew!) and with a whole lot of new materials (my parents are kicking themselves for throwing out the old cot frame and cupboard doors we used to use). We found a brilliant chest and plenty of treasure, and even manage to hunt out enough dress ups for the party.

I got cake-planning and chose to make a pirate ship with my first human figurine. The cake was to be chocolate and I flicked through my recipes and found one that I've been wanting to try - Nigella Lawson's Devils Food Cake.

What I didn't realise was that I was about to make the most delicious chocolate cake I have ever eaten or cooked in my life. Oh my. It's super rich so we served it to the kids with vanilla icecream, and I adapted the recipe to be dairy, soy and egg free as per my new restrictions (hey - i'm not missing out!). The full recipe can be found on my other blog here! The finished product may not be perfect but there's no doubt it's a pirate ship - it even sported a jolly roger flag my dad carefully painted with his large fingers for it :D

What a great success - They my be grandparents now, but boy have they still got it ;)

Friday, 21 September 2012


You can read more about my adventures into allergy-friendly cooking on my other blog: Dare to Go Free! Happy Baking!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Allergies! Woe is me!

Today I received my allergy testing results. Cow's milk, egg white, soya bean.
5 or so years ago my naturopath suggested I had a dairy intolerance so I went off dairy for 12 months and it helped my health significantly but then I got lazy... I love chocolate! However, I still avoid cheese, substitute all cow's milk with soy milk and use dairy free margarine instead of butter (still eat yogurt, and am lazy when it comes to products containing dairy).
So now I've found out that I can no longer substitute cow's milk with soy - what am I going to do?!
Oat and rice milk are very runny and sweet, I can't imagine cooking with them the same way as other milks. But we'll have to try....
My vegan relatives will be happy.

Any suggestions to great milk-egg-soy sites are very welcome!

And so, another chapter begins.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Happy Birthday Superstar!

My gorgeous niece turned 15 this weekend and to celebrate we threw a big party in our garden (I think our house has become The Party Garden - I said 'palace' but we're much more rugged than that). My gift to her was, as usual, a birthday cake.
Last year I made her a pair of Doc Martens and this year wanted to make something a little more abstract that would hopefully look better than last years haphazard work. She told me her favourite colours were dark purple and green and I decided to work with the purple.

This cake gave me reason to finally visit A Tiny Bit Marvellous, a local cake decorating shop and I am super thankful for all their help and encouragement.
The party was filled with friends and family, food and fun! The cake was a hit and (after a previous night of mayhem leaving me ready to give up cake decorating for good) I was very pleased with my (slightly off centre) creation. (Please excuse my terrible photography).

The cakes I baked were chocolate (top layer) with a chocolate buttercream and marble (bottom layer) with vanilla buttercream. I filled the centre of each cake with buttercream and a layer of raspberry jam for the marble cake.

Happy Caking!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Mother's Day Lunch

This Mother's Day we've opted to host lunch at our house to save the $$$ we spend at restaurants every year. My gorgeous, fellow-foodie aunt has been excited making home made jam to serve with freshly baked scones and honey murcott cake - yum!! Being lunch time I felt we needed something savoury, and with this freezing weather hot was definitely the way to go.
Brainstorming, I was tossing up between finger food/high tea mini-quiche and spinach dips and a warm meal when the angels above heard my call. We recently house sat for a friend of a friend and she had passed on a thank you gift for us. Last time we house sat she gave us Nigel Slater's Tender Volume 1: a cook and his vegetable patch, AND Volume 2: a cook and his fruit garden. I absolutely 150% recommend these books, they not only give delicious recipes but suggestions on how to grow, store and cook (almost all) vegetables and fruit, and which herbs, spices and other flavours bring out the best in each of them. I've used it a thousand times to pick spices for soups and roasts to give old favourites new twists, and learnt to cook with vegetables I'd never tried before. Nigel Slater: you are a god.
Anyhow.. After this incredible gift last year I was quite excited to open the gift she had sent us this time. We received a beautiful lime and eucalyptus candle (I'm not much of a candle person but this scent is incredible) and Matthew Evans' Winter on the Farm.
Now lets just recall my situation: freezing mother's day lunch coming up. Solution? Winter on the Farm!

This book is delightful. It offers mouth-watering breakfasts, heart-warming desserts, warm drinks perfect to have while snuggled under a winter rug, a selection of hearty meat dishes and a fantastic range of vegetarian soups, stews, and all the other winter delights you need to stay warm.

The recipe that captured my attention was Paprika Braised Chickpeas with Kale. This will be served to warm our fingers for lunch. It takes quite a while to make, with chickpeas needing soaking overnight and two hour long simmering times, but is definitely worth the result.

Paprika Braised Chickpeas with Kale
from Matthew Evans Winter on the Farm
500g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
10 large kale leaves (or silverbeet if you can't find any)
1 tbsp olive oil
3 large onions, diced
2 bay leaves
1 small piece cinnamon stick
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped (I reduced this as my grandmother isn't keen on garlic)
3 tsp sweet paprika (I used Spanish)
1 tsp ground cumin
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Put the chickpeas in a large saucepan, cover with water and simmer for 1 hour, or until they are just starting to become tender, but not cooked through. Drain well, reserving the cooking liquid and set aside. Strip the soft green part from above the the ribs of the kale leaves and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, bay leaves and cinnamon and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then reduce the heat, add the paprika and cumin and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly and being careful not to scorch the spices. Add the tomato, kale and 500ml water and stir to combine.
Add the chickpeas and salt to the pan with just enough of the reserved cooking liquid to cover. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until the chickpeas are buttery soft.
Alternatively, you can cook this dish in a 140 degree oven for 2 hours.
Just before serving, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir in the extra virgin oilve oil. Serve warm with turkish bread.

I've been dying to use my new casserole dish so opted to make a double batch of this stew, with one in the oven for 2 hours and one over the stove. I found the one cooked in the oven (pictured) had softer chickpeas which I preferred, but both were delicious.

Then I came across Matthew's Cardamom-scented Rice Pudding with Baked Rhubarb and I knew this was the book for me. This is the recipe to highlight my Finnish roots thoroughly. Every christmas I make Finnish rice pies en masse which involves enormous amounts of rice porridge. I always enjoy any left overs warmed with prunes or jam - yummmmmmm. Finnish delicousness is often coated in cardamom, and my grandmother makes rhubarb everything - I have got to try this!
I initially considered making this for mum for breakfast but it takes a little while to cook so I chose to serve it alongside my stew at lunch time, to compliment my aunt's honey murcott cake and scones (which were amazing, by the way). We were far too stuffed after stew, tea and cake to find room for the pudding so left it aside and had it later in the evening. We didn't bother re-heating it and it tasted delicious cold.

Cardamom-scented Rice Pudding with Baked Rhubarb
1 small bunch rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3cm pieces
70g soft brown sugar
Preheat oven to 220 degrees. Arrange rhubarb in a single layer in a baking tray and spinkle over the sugar. Bake rhubarb for about 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Set aside until ready to serve. Baked rhubarb will keep stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup pouring (whipping) cream - I used thickened
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
5 large cardamom pods
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways
90g raw sugar
80g short-grain white rice
Place milk, cream, lemon zest, cardamom and vanilla bean and seeds in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and leave to stand for 15 minutes to allow flavours to infuse. Discard the vanilla bean and pour the mixture into a 20cm round casserole dish. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves, then stir in the rice until well combined.
Bake the pudding for 1.5 hours, or until cooked (stir occasionally if you don't like the skin that forms on the top of the pudding).
If the pudding seems a bit runny let it cool and it will thicken. 
Serve the pudding warm with baked rhubarb.

Mothers Day, an absolute delight with the beautiful women in my family (and some of the men as well)!

While finding pictures of this divine cookbook I've found a link to Matthew Evans' blog: http://www.sbs.com.au/food/blog/111942/Gourmet-Farmer check it out!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Children's Birthday Parties!

Aren't they just the best?
I had an absolutely fabulous time celebrating my nephew's first birthday this weekend. After pouring rain all week the park party was relocated to my parents house which meant it was myself and ma doing the catering - making children's party food, is there a greater joy?
We made and played with playdough, bubbles, balloons. We had a fairy castle, and lots of dancing and bands jamming (for the big kids!). 
Ma and I had so much fun filling bowls with lollies, finding party pies, sausage rolls, mini hot dogs and buns, quiches, mini pizza slices and so much more! 
I had the enormous privilege of being asked to create his first birthday cake, a second to the cake being provided by another aunt. This meant busy me, so most of our other mini-child-sized food was bought but still super yum and super fun!

First birthday cake. Boy. Father is a truck driver. Is there any other option? Train cake!
It began as a disaster. I baked on Thursday night which ended in me going to bed very grumpy with a pile of mushed up cake crumbs in two containers on my table. After overflowing tins caused me to scrub my crappy oven halfway through the baking process, the cakes stuck to each of the baking dishes I used. I had little hope.

On Friday morning (thankfully classes started at 12 that day) I began shaping my train. I was holding my breath, praying that I wouldn't have to do a last minute dash to the store and shape some supermarket cakes instead - bluerrggh! But the heaven's heard: a couple of hours later I had train shaped chocolate cake. I wanted to cover the cake in a thin layer of ganache to stop any crumbs getting into the cream I planned to cover it with. Of course, I ran out of ganache half way through this process. Dad to the rescue - ran to the shop and picked up more cream and chocolate. Came back. Brought 'almond chocolate'. COME ON! 'It's the only one they had. The lumps will come out when you melt it!' he says. Oh daddy.
Anyway, stuck for options I made the almond ganache and lumpy almonds and all it worked alright.
That evening I got decorating! Then realised that my main train piece (sorry, not up with mechanisms of transport) was in the CENTRE of the tray I was using. This was not going well.. but dad came to the rescue (and this time in the right way) and suggested I use the 'lip' of the tray as a hill, and have my carriages going over the hill and onto a second tray!
So got decorating, covering bits with coloured cream and writing number ones. Of course, at this time I didn't have enough room in the fridge for two trays so the decorating of the last carriages came on Saturday morning, just in time.

I couldn't have been happier with my train! The first cake I've liked 100% :) My sister brought a Bananas in Pyjamas cake made by her friend which was also delightful!

The cake was received with continuous compliments and tasted absolutely delicious - moist, rich and super-doop chocolatey! 

To accompany the cake a lady from Registration and Licensing (how fitting) told us how to make little chocolate cars - milky bars with smartie wheels, tiny teddies and smartie steering wheels! We used sliced candy-filled licorice instead of smarties for wheels which we found to be even sweeter - tyres! They looked great with my cake and tasted the way children's party food should - full of sugar, super sweet (oh, and bite sized)!