Farmyard Cupcake Toppers

Working with fondant is far from my strong point when it comes to baking. But I have, over the years, being trying to improve my skills, which admittedly remain very basic.

When we settled on a Farmyard theme for Miss M’s recent birthday party, I decided to carry over the theme for a batch of cupcakes she would be taking to daycare. And while I was initially tempted to purchase the toppers (there are so many great cake decorators out there!) I figured that perhaps it was a good opportunity to work on my fondant skills.

Armed with fondant of various colours, – along with edible glue, eyes  and 3 little helpers who were more than eager to assist – we got to work.

First – the pigs!

I rolled out some pink fondant, then cut four large circles for the faces, four smaller circles for the nose, and four more circles that I cut in half and shaped into ears. Glued together with the edible glue, and finished with the pre-made edible eyes…

Next up – the chickens!

I rolled out yellow fondant, and cut four large circles for the bodies, and four small circles that were then cut in half to make the wings. I used red fondant cut into small triangles for the beaks, and again, edible eyes.

And finally, the cows!

These were probably the most fiddly. I used four circles of white fondant for the faces, four smaller pink circles for the noses, then shaped smaller black circles (again, cut in half) for the ears and the “spots”.

After a few hours of construction, we had ourselves some farmyard cupcake toppers! I let them sit out (uncovered) overnight, so that they could firm up a little, then attached them to cupcakes with a swirl of buttercream. And thanks to a cardboard cupcake box (purchased from Latorta), we were able to easily transfer them to daycare for the kids to enjoy!

I was so happy with how they turned out – and can’t wait to try my hand at another theme sometime soon! Using pre-coloured fondant (as opposed to colouring my own) was probably not the cheapest option, but it definitely saved me a bit of time – not to mention avoiding the inevitable staining of hands…

A Barnyard 2nd Birthday Party

Long time readers of this blog will realise that this is not the first time we  transformed our backyard into a farmyard, of sorts. Miss M seemingly loves animals just as much as her biggest sister did at the same age (and truthfully, still does) so an animal themed party for her recent birthday seemed like the perfect theme!

We again invited a local petting zoo to set up outside, and before long – our backyard was transformed into a mini farm – complete with chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits and ducks.

I must admit I was a tad nervous about holding an outdoor party in July – knowing the Canberra Winter can be brutal. But we must have pleased the weather gods because the sun came out and the afternoon ended up being relatively mild (for Canberra, at least).

In advance of the party, Miss C declared herself no.1 party helper – so we spent the morning setting up the food table and an activity table for the kids topped with textas and bubbles. She even ran a scavenger hunt for the kiddies during the party, and helped them find plastic eggs that the “chickens” had hidden around the garden.

As for the food, well we had a lot of fun creating ‘barnyard’ themed party food – including mousse (topped with homemade fondant pigs), jelly, vegetables / hummus, savoury scrolls, wagon wheels and a bunch of other goodies.

In anticipation of a chilly afternoon, we also set up a hot chocolate bar – with hot chocolate made in the slow cooker – along with marshmallows and whipped cream.

As for the cake, I topped some store-made mud cakes with fondant – the bottom layer resembling cow print and the top being a little farmyard. Finished with some purchased cardboard barn and farm animal toppers.

Before we knew it, the sun began to set and it was time to say goodbye to our guests – both furry and human. I have no doubt that Miss Maggie loved being the centre of attention – although she was a little confused when she went outside the following day to find it devoid of animals.

How is it that she is TWO already though?!

Thai green pea soup

With soup featuring on our weekly meal plan with regularity (thanks Canberra Winter!) I am always on the look out for soup recipes that are a little different. Something a bit more adventurous than our usual go toes (pumpkin, vegetable….actually I think I mentioned that a little while ago.)

So when I came across a vibrant green soup in a recent edition of the Healthy Food Guide – and saw that it was packed with spice, peas and spinach – well I was immediately sold.

The fact I had all the necessary ingredients on hand (save for the spring onions) was a big plus too. Frozen peas, spring onions, coconut milk, spinach, mint, stock and green curry paste – blended in the food processor, then simmered until warmed through.

I loved the suggested toppings too – which took what might be considered a plain looking soup to one that was full of interest! Mint, chilli, fried onions and sesame seeds.

And although I have said this more than once recently – this soup is definitely a keeper! I particularly loved the spice hit from the curry paste, and the creaminess from the coconut milk.

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Thai green pea soup
Course Soup
Servings
people
Course Soup
Servings
people
Instructions
  1. Place peas in a food processor with the spring onions and coconut milk. Process until well combined. Add the baby spinach, mint and half the stock, and continue to process until smooth.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the pea mixture and the remaining stock, and simmer for 10 minutes or until heated through.
  3. Divide the soup among serving bowls, and top with chopped mint leaves, chilli, fried onions and sesame seeds.
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Chocolate Banana Muffins

And so we have ourselves another long weekend! It really does feel as though we’ve had quite the run of them lately.

Unfortunately the weather has been a little drab, meaning outdoor adventures are not all that appealing. Instead, we’ve been making the most of having quiet time at home. Movies have been watched, artwork has been created, and games have been played. I even managed to finish another book (!) and gratefully ticked off some little admin tasks I’ve had on my ‘to do’ list for a while.

There has also been time spent in the kitchen. I cooked up a chicken tikka masala last night, and I’ve got some homemade vegetable stock currently bubbling away on the stove. And this morning, when I realised a couple of bananas had seemingly turned brown overnight, a batch of banana muffins was the solution!

I decided to add a chocolate spin to my regular recipe – for with the fog lingering outside – chocolate would surely add some cheer. Some were topped with walnuts, some without (school friendly). We enjoyed some of the muffins warm straight out of the oven for morning tea, with the rest being packaged away to be added to the lunchboxes during the week.

Not a bad way to spend a long weekend indeed!

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Chocolate Banana Muffins
Course Baking
Keyword muffin
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Course Baking
Keyword muffin
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 160C (fan forced). Line a 12-cup muffin tin with muffin cases.
  2. Cream butter and sugar in a mixer until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Add the banana and vanilla, and beat until combined.
  4. Sift in cocoa powder and flour, and add milk. Stir until just combined.
  5. Spoon into prepared cases, and top with walnuts (optional). Bake for 30 minutes (or until cooked through).
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Miso chicken salad

Do you ever get stuck in a cooking rut? Using the same recipes, same cooking methods?

For a long time, grilling was my cooking method of choice when it came to chicken. Or possibly even oven baking. But then I discovered poaching, and boy has it been a game changer. The meat is tender, there are no messy grills to clean, and there is usually enough leftover for sandwiches through the week.

It is also a great option to add to salads.

Sometimes I poach the chicken in stock, other times water – with a bunch of herbs, ginger and garlic.

On this occasion, I poached the chicken in stock with a little miso paste. I then shredded the chicken and used it to create a Japanese-inspired miso chicken salad. With wombok, cucumber and radish for crunch, drizzled with a miso / mirin / soy dressing, and finished with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

We served this for dinner a little while back, and I’ve also had it for lunch on multiple occasions since then. I love that it can be thrown together easily, with minimal fuss, and that it is a little different than my regular salad styles.

Definitely a winner in my book…and a great reminder to get out of my comfort zone in the kitchen!

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Miso Chicken Salad
Course Salad
Keyword salad
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Dressing
Course Salad
Keyword salad
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Dressing
Instructions
  1. Place stock and miso paste in a small saucepan. Add the chicken (adding some additional water if necessary to cover). Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes, then cover and set aside in the poaching liquid. Allow to cool a little, then shred.
  2. Meanwhile, divide the salad ingredients amont two serving bowls. Top with shredded chicken.
  3. To make the dressing, whisk together the miso, mirin, soy and sesame in a small bowl. Drizzle over salad, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
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Spicy lentil stew

It is rather appropriate that I am posting about a slow-cooked stew on a day where the temperature has not exceeded 8 degrees outside (although, if I’m completely honest, it feels more like 2 degrees).

I know this because I took my regular morning walk this morning, and despite wearing thermals, gloves and a beanie, I still returned home with chilled toes and a yearning for a warm bowl of something for lunch. Luckily, I had made a batch of this stew a few weeks back, with extra portions frozen for a later date. So today was definitely that ‘later date’!

Created on a Monday – which is now known as ‘slow cooker Monday’ in our house, this stew was so very easy to prepare. With one pot, lots of vegetables and the benefit of time – a delicious meal was brought to life with minimal effort on our part.

Today I kept it super simple, and served the stew with a side of greens and a sprinkle of parsley. But if you were wanting to make the meal even more substantial, I think a spoonful of yoghurt or sourcream, and a side of toasted flatbread or sourdough, would work just beautifully.


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Spicy lentil stew
Course Main Dish
Servings
people
Course Main Dish
Servings
people
Instructions
  1. Put the vegetables and lentils in a slow cooker, along with the garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper and stock. Stir to combine.
  2. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Just before serving, stir through the lemon juice and season to taste.
  3. Divide into bowls and top with parsley and sour cream / yoghurt to serve.
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Strawberry Cheesecake

I don’t tend to bake sweet treats much these days. Not because I don’t enjoy it (I really do!) – its just that I generally crave savoury snacks over sweet – particularly when the weather is warmer. But now that the days are getting shorter, and t-shirts are being replaced with snuggly knits and scarves – there is something quite comforting about indulging in something sweet.

This strawberry cheesecake made an appearance at our Easter lunch. Actually it was one of two cakes we made for the occasion (the other being a tim tam cheesecake). I loved its simplicity – and the fact that the beautiful strawberries were the star of the show. It was also a non-baked version – so we could pull it together the day before.

I used shortbread for the base – flavoured with a little coconut. The creamy filling was made with cream cheese, cream, sweetened condensed milk and, of course, fresh strawberries. Jazzed up with a little fresh lime juice and zest.

The overall result was a cheesecake that was effortlessly delicious. Packed with flavour (and had me going back for seconds in the days that followed). A nice break from the chocolate overload over Easter too!

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Strawberry Cheesecake
Course Baking
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Baking
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Grease and line a springform baking tin.
  2. Process biscuits and coconut until they are a fine crumb. Add the melted butter, and process until combined. Press into the prepared tin, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the cream cheese and condensed milk to a clean food processor, and process until smooth. Add 400g of the strawberries and cream, and continue to process until smooth.
  4. Heat the lime juice in a small saucepan until simmering. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves, and add to the heated juice. Stir until dissolved, then allow to cool slightly.
  5. Add the gelatine mix to the processor, along with the lime zest, and process until combined. Carefully pour the mixture on top of the base, and refrigerate until set.
  6. Remove the cake from the tin, and top with extra strawberries to serve.
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Pumpkin and carrot soup

As I sit here typing, the rain is falling steadily outside. It was, of course, raining most heavily right at the school drop off – where I am sure my attempts to wrangle 3 kids, 3 bags and 3 umbrellas was met with more than a few laughs.

But I have well and truly warmed up after tucking into a big bowl of soup that I had stashed away in the freezer. A perfect go-to lunch on days such as this, when the day is dreary and the temperatures have lowered.

I actually made this pumpkin and carrot soup a while back, but realised I never shared it on the blog. And what a shame that would be – for what a soup it is!

Simply – onion, garlic, carrots and pumpkin, simmered with stock and given a golden hue by the addition of turmeric. Finished with a dollop of natural yoghurt, and a sprinkle of pepitas and parsley.

And, as is always a plus with dishes such as these, the recipe yields enough to store some away in the freezer for easy re-heatable lunches on days such as this!

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Pumpkin and carrot soup
Course Soup
Keyword soup
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Soup
Keyword soup
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and stir until starting to soften.
  2. Add the pumpkin, carrots and turmeric, stirring to coat in the spice mixture. Add the stock and 500ml water, and bring to the boil.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Puree the soup using a stick blender until smooth. Divide among bowls, and top with a dollop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of pepitas and parsley.
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Curried quinoa and sprout soup

I can be little predicable when it comes to soup. Pumpkin is a family favourite, as is chicken or vegetable soup when there are sniffles in the household. Potato and leek is a regular go-to, as is tomato (with fond memories of childhood family lunches where the soup was mopped up with slices of freshly baked bread).

But a soup in a recent Woolworths (?) magazine caught my attention. Not only did it have one of my favourite ingredients (quinoa) it also included a packet of crunchy sprouts. Something I had never thought of including in a soup before!

The soup was flavoured with fennel and mustard seeds, along with garlic, ginger, turmeric and curry powder. Aside from the sprouts and quinoa, I also added zucchini, celery, carrot, tomatoes and capsicum. Served with a dollop of natural yoghurt and a sprinkle of coriander.

What a truly tasty and hearty meal this turned out to be! I loved the spiciness and the crunch of the sprouts, and we readily went back for seconds when our first bowls disappeared. A perfect little addition to our regular soup regime indeed.

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Curried quinoa and sprout soup
Course Soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the fennel and mustard seeds and cook for a minute or so or until they start to pop.
  2. Add celery, garlic, ginger, turmeric and curry powder. Cook for a few minutes - or until the celery starts to soften.
  3. Add the zucchini, carrot, sprouts and quinoa, and stir to coat in the spice mixture.
  4. Stir in the tomatoes, capsicum, stock and 2 cups water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Stir through the coriander leaves and season to taste.
  5. To serve - divide the soup among serving bowls and top with extra coriander and a spoonful of yoghurt.
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Roasted Pumpkin Hummus

Miss J is proving to be quite the fussy eater at the moment. She loves banana smoothies, but wont go anywhere near an actual banana. Apples and pears are eaten by the bucket load, but grapes and watermelon are nothing short of offensive. Pasta is a firm favourite, as are prawn dumplings (!), but getting her to try new things is generally difficult.

So when she came home from day-care boasting a new love for celery (!) and hummus – well that was a combination I could embrace with gusto!

Since then, I’ve been making a batch of regular ol’ hummus most weeks. Although, recently I thought I would be a little clever and sneak some veg in by adding roasted pumpkin.

Did it work? Not even close. She turned her nose up at the combination, preferring her usual hummus instead.

On the plus side, though, we now had ourselves a lovely recipe for an appetiser to contribute at a recent lunch with friends.

We topped the hummus with parsley, sesame seeds, chilli flakes and olive oil, and served it alongside toasted pita chips, cucumber and olives. Unlike Miss J, we loved the roasted pumpkin addition – and the chilli added a little extra zing!

But I guess it will be back to regular ol’ hummus for Miss J next week…

Print Recipe
Roasted Pumpkin Hummus
Course Appetiser
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
Course Appetiser
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 220C.
  2. Place the cubed pumpkin on a lined baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with cumin.
  3. Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
  4. Place the pumpkin, chickpeas, garlic, tahini, salt and chilli in a food processor - and process until smooth. Add water, as necessary, to reach desired consistency.
  5. Spoon into a serving bowl, and top with parsley, sesame seeds, chilli flakes and a little drizzle of olive oil.
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