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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Caramel Mudcake with Chocolate Ganache Glaze - It's a Birthday Cake!

        It's so typical of me, whenever there is an occasion to celebrate, I will usually volunteer to bake something for it. Even if I wasn't asked, I'd usually like to whip something up for it. A bunch of us were spending the new years weekend up in the Blue Mountains. There was an email going around that there was to be a suprise birthday cake for 2 people who were celebrating their birthdays around that time so I put my hand up to bake a cake. Why spend money on a cake when I can bake one? No charge! Just a whole lot of love and pride =).

        As always, there is the decision of what kind of cake to make. I was told chocolate mud was always a winner, BORING I thought to myself. Then I remembered that there was a caramel mud cake recipe on taste that I wanted to have a go at. It was an easy recipe execution wise which was perfect for me as I was busy organising and cooking for family coming over on new year's eve before I headed to the mountains on new year's day.
        I baked this while Di was over for dinner. Talk about multi-tasking, I made her one of my brioche bun burgers (without the parmesan fries), and then while she ate I was baking the cake and prepping all the food for the family dinner, and baking creme caramel for the family too. (Did I mention Mum and Dad had gone away to Vietnam? I was cooking for 15-20 people all by myself!) I also had her helping me peel garlic, talk about making the girl pay for her dinner! =D

Recipe for Caramel Mud Cake (as is from taste.com.au)

Ingredients
• Melted butter, to grease
• 200g butter, cubed
• 200g white chocolate (Nestle brand), chopped
• 200g (1 cup, firmly packed) dark brown sugar
• 180ml (3/4 cup) hot water
• 1 tbs golden syrup
• 2 tsp vanilla essence
• 2 eggs, at room temperature
• 150g (1 cup) plain flour
• 150g (1 cup) self-raising flour
1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Brush a round 22cm (base measurement) cake pan with melted butter. Line base and side with non-stick baking paper.
2. Place butter, chocolate, sugar, water, golden syrup and vanilla essence in a heavy-based saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat with a wooden spoon for 5 mins or until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Set aside for 20 mins to cool.
3. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift combined flours over chocolate mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.
4. Pour mixture into pan and bake in preheated oven for 50-60 mins or until a skewer comes out almost clean. Stand cake for 20 mins before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

        I had to restrain from buying any more things for my already overstocked pantry and start actually using the stuff in there to decorate my cake with. I had these wild figs which were close to expiry date so they needed to be used quickly and I thought that they would look quite pretty as cake decorations. A few also had to be eaten in the process, yummy!

        I decided to make a dark chocolate ganache to glaze the cake with. It was pretty much one part thickened cream to one part dark chocolate melts, microwaved in bursts of 30 seconds and stirred until melted. I was originally thinking a caramel frosting but thought a dark chocolate ganache would be a good contrast to the sweet dense caramel mud cake. And using the ganache in a glazing manner meant the cracks in the top of my cake would be disguised nicely. Di did mention the cake looked a little small, I assured here that because it was a mud cake it would go a long way, and it sure did! 
        For the writing I just melted some white chocolate in a small plastic sleeve in a bowl of boiling hot water, cut the corner tip off and then piped the wording. After 'Birthday' I made a bit of a booboo and had no way of rectifying it so I improvised and turned it into the strange flower and wavey thingy. Before leaving the house I grabbed a tube of black writing gel and wrote some extra stuff on the cake board 'Happy New Year' and 'Happy Engagement' to the newly engaged couple.
        The new year's weekend was a very hot one. I was worried that the cake would not be able to survive the long car ride from my house, via Di's house, via Ryan's house to the Blue Mountains. But thankfully the cake arrived unscathed and intact. The ganache actually held really well too. After some subtle pleading from Di we managed to score some vanilla ice cream to serve with the cake for dessert that night. It was more like a midnight snack by the time we ate it due to a late and heavy dinner of spaghetti bolognese. But it was well worth the extra calories! =D

Monday, February 14, 2011

Steak with Mushroom Red Wine Sauce, Sweet Corn Puree & Duck Fat Chips - Ryan Cooks

        It's been a while since Ryan has cooked for me and even longer since I've posted about him doing so. The last post on Ryan cooking was when he made the loin of lamb with broad beans. It's nice to know he doesn't need some overcomercialised day in the calendar to spoil me ;). He's working tonight anyway so there is no romantic dinner for two or anything 'special'. We did catch up for afternoon tea before he went to work as we usually would, and watched all the male species of the world queue up at the florist for last minute roses/flowers.

        I did bake him some cupcakes as a 'Valentine' present yesterday. I would have baked them either way just to cheer him up a bit from the weekend's events. Oh and to think I knew everything there was to know after 10 and a half years, I only recently discovered his favourite cake as a kid was banana cake, especially the cream cheese frosting. No wonder he absolutely demolished my hummingbird cake! So I whipped up a batch of banana cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and had some frosted especially for him. He absolutely loved them! =)

        If you've followed me for a while you'll know that I love watching Ryan in the kitchen. Look at the concentration =). I had absolutely no idea what he was going to cook for me before he showed up at my place a few weeks ago. He just said 'beef'. I spied Matt Moran's book which I bought for him in his car on the weekend, which I can safely assume is where he got his inspiration from (he would have taken it to go shopping with).

        I thought I would get away without having to lift a finger in the kitchen but I have to help him peel the potatoes. The peeler which we use at home is not to his liking, but it's one that I am used to using.

Lurveee sweet corn!

        Cooking the corn in milk and cream, was wondering what the white streaks are in the top left corner and realised I must have taken this while he was seasoning it with salt =D.

        He wanted to make some fat chips and I remembered that I had some duck fat in the freezer (saved from when I made duck a l'orange (backlogged post) so I pulled it out so he could fry the potatoes in it.

Blender, best kitchen applicance next to the food processer.

Ryan frying the fat chips in the duck fat - YUMM.

Steaks resting.

Mmm corn puree!

He makes a mushroom and red wine sauce to go with the steak.

And dinner is served!

        The steak was nice and pink. Ryan said he was a little disappointed by the quality of the steaks he was given at the local butchers but I was totally happy with it. I loved all the flavours on the plate.

        The potato chips were really tasty straight out of the pan but quickly lost their crispiness. He was meant to finish them off in the oven but we ran out of time - too hungry to wait!

        Being a pair of sweet tooth's that we are we got the munchies later that night so decided to whip up some dessert. I've had a hankering for a souffle for a while and was about to give up when I discovered my electric beater had still not been returned but Ryan volunteered to whisk the egg whites by hand. It was all very impromptu and made up as we went along but I can say that we had Nutella and corn infused cream/milk (from the corn puree) in this souffle (was originally meant to be white chocolate & grand marnier, but the white chocolate didnt melt properly and we actually ran out of milk).
        It turned out to be the most spectacular looking souffle that we have made so far and the flavour of it, well I can say it was very interesting. It was not too sweet, and a little nutty according to Ryan. The souffle stood for what seemed like forever before it started deflating ever so slowly. We were mightly impressed, and even did a bit of a high five =D.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

10 years of Valentines


        Ryan and I have been together for just over 10 and a half years now. We met in July 2000 and have been together since. I'm sitting here trying to remember back to each year and how we spent Valentine's Day and it's tough without photo evidence.

        2001. Our first Valentine's date and I went to meet up with him after school in Burwood. We would have been 16/17 (Year 10/11) at the time. He gave me a box of Cadbury chocolates and a stuffed toy dog.

        2002. Ryan attempted to cook for me this year. This guy was in high school (year 11) and was already wanting to cook to impress his girlfriend. He tried cooking some whole blue swimmer crabs for me but had absolutely no idea of how to even break them open to eat. I had to go in with both hands and show him how it was done.

        2003 - 2005. This is where it was the end of Valentine's for me. Ryan was in year 12 but I was a year above him so had already left high school. I eventually decided I was going to study floristry at TAFE and that also involved working part time at a florist. I found a job about 1 week before Valentine's and discovered my love hate relationship for red roses and their thorns. It also meant that I was going to spend Valentine's every year working flat out. After leaving high school Ryan got a job at Outback Steakhouse Strathfield, eventually moving to Cafe Bello Burwood waiting to get himself through uni. He also spent majority of his Valentine's days working flat chat too. Working behind the scenes meant we were pretty much over all the hype and couldn't give a toss about the day.

        2006. We were both still working the floristry and hospitality industry but I was meant to be finishing work earlier that day so Ryan had gone all out to cook a Japanese feast for me for a late lunch catch up. I got held up at work and Ryan couldn't wait any longer and had to head off to work too. I ended up coming over the next day and ate the food a day old. I remember he made a cold soba noodle salad and some salmon onigiri for me. He was so very proud of himself. I can't say that it was his best work and he's improved so much and come such a long way with his cooking knowledge but it was such a sweet gesture.

        2007. This was the very first time ever that we were both able to go out on Valentine's day. I had left the industry temporarily for a year to stay home and help mum and I can't even remember how Ryan had gotten out of working that night but he took me out for a suprise dinner date to Costa Esmerelda at Parramatta (photo above). This was our first ever fancy dinner out - Lobster! The food was good, though service was a little hectic where they left us sitting there waiting for our mains for a very long time. Complimentary garlic bread to make up for it.

        2008. Ryan was yet again working that night. Cafe Rendevouz at Burwood on a Thursday night. Even though I had a long exhausting day at work (florist) I went to Burwood to meet up with him once he finished work. We ended up at Georges cafe work a quick casual meal after all the hustle and bustle of the night had died down. He suprised me with a few small corny gifts =).

        2009. Ryan was finally out of the hospitality industry and I had moved to a different part of the floristry industry. Even though work for me was flat chat I still had my evenings. Ryan took me out on a suprise dinner date again this year. Location was Times on the Park at the Sheraton on the Park Hotel. Was a lovely 3 course meal but yet again, let down by poor service. Is it really worth going out and spending all that money for this one day of the year?

        2010. Last year Ryan and I decided to go away for the weekend coming back the day before Valentine's. We went up to the Gold Coast for 3 days and 2 nights going out to dinner at the very fine favourite of ours Vanita on the first night and then stayed in on the second night where Ryan cooked a scrumptious meal for us. We had the freshest of fresh cooked prawns we picked up at the local fisherman's co-op and some pan seared Harvey Bay scallops.

        We were hoping for some Morten Bay bugs but unfortunatly they were so popular and in limited supply that we missed out so settled for some lamb racks instead which Ryan cooked with a warm pear and fennel salad.

        We ended the night going up the Q-Deck of the Q1 tower and had some cocktails. The actual Valentine's day was spent recovering from the 2 days away and gearing up for work the next day.

        2011. Well, this year has not started off well for us with both our families suffering losses of some magnitude. This weekend was spent doing funeral preperations and saying good bye to Ryan's grandmother. Valentine's Day this year is not so important anymore. To be honest though, if you really do love your partnet/soul mate in life, every day should be Valentine's Day. I know that it sounds so cliche but it's true, why should one day of the year dictate how you should treat that person you truly love. It's funny how the true meaning of the day has become blurred with commercialism throughout the years, just like every other religious holiday...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gruyere & Smoked Salmon Gougeres - Christmas Baking Project #4

        Dilema! Dilema! It's the week of our office Christmas lunch and I'm supposed to be bringing in a dish, I still had no idea what to make! After all the sweet baking starting off with the Gingerbread House, Orange Cardamom and Pistachio Cupcakes and my Slice and Bake Cookies, I thought I should try and make something savoury. I'm now known as the cooking/baking fanatic who is always in the kitchen on the weekend whipping up scrumptious food. I'm even more loved (and hated) when I bring in the goods produced (hated because, well, sweets are ever good for your health are they?). I've always brought in sweet items so thought I would be different and bring in something savoury.
        The dilema of course is what do I make to bring in? As with the blogger's picnic, it had to be something that was easily shared, something that could be served cold, or microwaveable without spoiling it's texture/consistency. After going backwards and forwards between so many ideas in my head I settled on making some gougeres as I have always wanted to make a savoury version of the choux pastry seeing as I've made plenty of profiteroles in my lifetime.

        So after flipping through various recipes for gougeres, I settled on adapting a recipe from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook for savoury choux pastry and made my own filling.

Gruyere Cheese Gougeres with Smoked Salmon Cream Cheese
Ingredients:
Choux Pastry
  • 1 cup plain flour, sifted
  • 1 cup milk
  • 125gr unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 200gr gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

1. For the pastry, place the butter and milk into a saucepan and place over medium heat until butter melts, turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. As soon as it is boiling add the flour and quickly beat the mixture until it comes together away from the sides of the saucepan. Take off the heat and cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees celcius. Beat the eggs into the flour mixture one at a time, making sure it is well incorporated before adding the next egg. The mixture may seperate at first but it should all come together into a thick smooth paste.
3. Stir in the gruyere cheese and mix until combined. Pipe or spoon the pastry mixture onto a lined baking tray. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Leave aside to cool.

Smoked Salmon Cream Cheese
250gr tub spreadable cream cheese
150gr smoked salmon slices
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 bunch chives, finely chopped

1. Place the cream cheese and salmon and lemon juice into a food processer and process until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the chives. Make an incision in chuox and then pipe the filling.

        Not sure if I've shared this tip before, to make it easier to fill the piping bag, fold the nozzle over and then place the bag into a tall glass or jug. Spread out the bag and tuck the overhanging sleeve over the edge of the glass. Just remember not to overfill and don't walk away from it, you'll have a nice messy pool leaking everywhere on your return.

        To prevent them from having little burnt peaks, dip your finger into a bit of water and smooth down the tips. Brushing them with eggwash gives them the nice golden finish.

        I love the food processor, makes it all so much easier. Look at the gorgeous colour of the cream cheese once the salmon is mixed through.

        Salmon and cream cheese filled gruyer puffs ready to go, of course I have to taste test one (or two) to make sure they were up to standard before I let everyone else at work try them.

        So this was our office Christmas lunch spread. Doesn't look like much here but there was actually quite a bit of food and plenty of leftovers at the end. We had pasta salad, garden salad, bread rolls, ham, turkey, potato salad, meatballs, chicken drumettes, gougeres, chocolate cake, fruit cake, shortbread, pineapple and vanilla yogurt (which I threw together last minute but remained untouched).

'Merry Xmas' in m&m's - too cute.

        The HR department had a competition going for who could decorate their workstations the best. Our manufacturing HR team came together and had a combined effort to decorating our office area. For the month of December what we usually call 'Nova North Offices' became Santa's Cave or the North Pole.
ER - Elf Resources = Human Resources, clever hey? 

We actually do have a performance rating system at work.

The Health and Safety department.

        The North Pole, normally Health & Safety but I think safety went out the window in December.
Even the Christmas tree was sporting our company logo.

The North Pole.

Hang gliding Santa, I hope he's had safety checks done.

Elf School - formerly the Manufacturing Learning department.

They provide the training for all manufacturing staff (elves).

Lesson plan.

Elf workshop.

Reindeer feeding station.

The naughty or nice list.

        That's me! Department Coordinator, well for December I turned into Elf Co-ordinator. I'm an honorary member of the ER (HR) team as most of the office space is occupied by them and they try to include me in things because I do help support them, my Engineering/Operations team is spread out all over the place. And for this project I was recruited to help decorate the office (which I usually do anyway).

        And my gingerbread house! The judging was done in the last week while I was already on annual leave. I came back to news that they won, and I would have been disappointed otherwise! It was a sad moment when we had to pull everything down and pack all the deco's away. It just looks so bare now.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Slice & Bake Cookies - Christmas Baking Project #3 (Christmas Gifts)

        So my previous post was from July and there's so much stuff from before Christmas but I thought I better at least get Christmas out of the way before Valentine's and Easter comes around! (Still have another few posts after this). So Christmas baking started with my gingerbread house, followed by my orange, cardamom & pistachio cupcakes. I also wanted to make some edible gifts to give away at work seeing as it was now my 3rd Christmas there and I'm always getting little gifts at work from other people. Though my gift was small in size it was big in heart! Everyone loved the gesture and I reckon home made edible gifts beat a box of chocolates =).
        Trying to find the the right thing(s) to bake was hard! I had to make a lot of whatever it was I was going to give away. I had planned to give gifts to at least 15 or so people if not more. I thought cookies were cheap and easier to make in bulk. But what type of cookies? What flavours? Which ones were easy and quick to make masses of? I finally settled for a recipe I had used a long while ago for slice and bake cookies from my Women's Weekly Cookies book. I'll post up the original recipe along with the flavour variations provided. 


Slice and Bake Cookies
Ingredients:
• 250g butter, softened
• 1 ¼ (200g) cups icing sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 2 cups (300g) plain flour
• ½ (75g) rice flour
• 1/3 cup (50g) cornflour
• 2 tablespoons milk

1. Beat together the butter, icing sugar and extract until light and fluffy, sift the flours together and stir into the butter mixture.
2. Divide the mixture in half and knead on floured surface until smooth. Roll each half into a log about 25cm long and wrap in cling wrap then refridgerate until firm (about 1 hour).
3. Preheat oven to about 160degrees celcius, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
4. Cut logs into 1 cm slices and place about 3cm apart on the trays. Bake for 20 minutes and then cool on wire rack

Variations:
Orange and Poppy Seed
In place of the vanilla extract, beat in 1 tablespoon of finely grated orange rind with the butter. Add 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds to the flours.

Lemon and Craisen
In place of vanilla extract, beat in 1 tablespoon of finely grated lemon rind with the butter. Add 3/4 cup (120g) coarsley chopped craisen (dried cranberries) with the flours.

Pecan and Cinnamon
Add 1 tablespoon of cinnamon to the flours. Stire in 1 cup (120g) of chopped pecans. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar before baking.

M&M's
Stire in 70g of mini M&M's with the flours.

I chose to go with Lemon & Craisen as my first flavour.

        This is what drew me to the recipe, slice and bake! You're guaranteed to have almost perfect looking cookies and it's so quick to go from dough to tray without having to try and shape the cookies.

The second flavour I chose was Orange and Poppyseed, a classic but a goody.

Cookies baked and almost perfect.

        I did find that the craisens were slightly hard to cut through, the knife kept getting caught and wouldn't cut properly. Possibly because I didn't finely chop my craisens enough. I ended up having to shape them by hand to get a nice round cookie.

They smelt so good straight out of the oven, just wanted to eat them all!

Geared with my big bucket of cookies ready to be packaged up.

        I saved some gingerbread men from the leftovers I baked from the Gingerbread house to add to my little cookie packs. I gave each person 2 Orange and Poppyseed, and 2 Lemon and Craisen cookies plus a gingerbread man. I was a bit worried my gifts were a little small but everyone was suprised by the fact that I made the cookies myself (and so many of them) and individually packaged them all up myself too. It just goes to show that the labour of love behind home made gifts does pay off  =).