Australia Day 2017

You might recall that last year we indulged in a full tasting menu for Australia Day. Yes, 8 courses that took us on a culinary tour around the Country – celebrating fresh, local and seasonal produce.

And while this year was much more ‘low key’, we still filled the day with family and food, and a favourite pastime – a morning hike!

Needless to say after the morning’s outdoor adventures, we were quite hungry when the afternoon rolled around. Our family joined us for an early dinner – and with the temperature exceeding 30 degrees outside, a BBQ seemed to be the most logical, if not sanest, choice.

On the menu?

Some homemade sausages by our local butcher. Served with a few “Aussie-themed” sides.

Starting with a mango macadamia salad – comprising of salad leaves, fresh mango, avocado and macadamias. Dressed simply with a mixture of lime juice, seeded mustard, oil and sliced red chilli.

I also turned on the oven for 20 minutes or so, in order to make another iconic Australian side…damper! Flavoured with camembert and cracked pepper (and these turned out very moreish indeed).

For dessert we kept things pretty simple. Instead of a large pavlova, I went with mini versions instead. Topped with cream, lemon curd and a fresh raspberry.


And to keep us hydrated, we served a fresh fruit cocktail.

Akin to a punch – I guess you’d say – made with vodka, coconut rum, cooled tea, pineapple juice and ginger ale – finished with some frozen honeydew balls, mint and raspberry.

And so another Australia Day came to pass  – and we retired to bed with full bellies and fond memories of the day.

What about you? What did you get up to this Australia Day?

2016 – A Year in Review

I’ve heard a lot of people lamenting 2016 – and bidding it a quick and eager farewell. For us, though, 2016 was a good year. Sure, there were some less than stellar moments dotted throughout (but that’s generally the case isn’t it?) but for the most part, we finally managed to strike an ok work / life balance. We also made it through the year with good health and in good spirits, such that we enter 2017 with a sense of anticipation for what the new year might bring.

But before I turn to our hopes and aims for the year to come, it seems only fair to recap the year that was. 

January 

Summer holidays continued in full swing. We celebrated a late Christmas linner, devoured a 8-course Australia Day ‘tasting menu‘, and spent time playing tourist in our home town.

February

Josie turned ONE(!), Charlotte started Pre-School(!) and we took a week-long cruise around New Caledonia (see here, here, here and here).

March

Charlotte turned FOUR, we celebrated Easter and took lots of family hikes.

April

We took more family hikes, cheered on the Brumbies, went camping and got all dressed up for a costume party!

May

We celebrated Mother’s Day, took more hikes,  and had lots of little adventures – both indoors and out.

June

With the Canberra Winter having arrived, we had lots of fun indoors. We also took a girl’s road trip down to Melbourne to catch up with family and visit the zoo!

July

We had dance classes, visitors in town and lots of good food.

August

We celebrated Book Week, took a quick trip to Melbourne and then a family holiday to Fiji!

September

We celebrated Father’s Day – Italian Style, painted, created a fairy garden and flew a kite.

October

We took another trip to Melbourne, the girls dressed up for Halloween and the husband and I went on a “Bloody Long Walk” for charity.

November

We baked, we went to the Circus, we visited the Show and we celebrated our dear friends’ wedding in Thredbo (where we played in snow!).  

December

We ate, we drank, we partied.  We took a quick trip to Melbourne to celebrate my nephew’s 1st birthday. Then we had lots of family arrive into town, and celebrated Christmas accordingly.

And so our 2016 came to a close. Filled to the brim with new memories, time spent with family and a seemingly better balance between work and play (well better than in previous years, that’s for sure!!).

Here’s to an even bigger and better 2017!

Caramel chocolate celebration cake

img_1354It’s been a while since I put my ‘cake creation cap’ on. But when I was tasked with supplying dessert at a recent family dinner, well I figured it was well and truly time to dust off the ol’ cap and get to work.  Particularly when it was to be a birthday and “bon voyage” cake all in one.

img_1351I’ve seen lots of layer “drip” cakes doing the rounds, and decided to give one a try. I think my ganache was a little runny (resulting in rather drippy drips that were far from their picturesque pinterest cousins), but the flavour was still there. And I even went so far as to try my hand at Italian meringue buttercream in place of the usually sickly sweet American buttercream – and boy I’m glad that I did. For it worked just beautifully at mellowing out the otherwise rich caramel mudcake hidden inside – and meant that we reserved our sugar overload for the other goodies piled high on the cake – twix bars, jersey caramels, chocolate stars, malteasers and butterscotch popcorn.

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Yes, I think this was very appropriately dubbed a celebration cake – for it had a little of everything!        img_1358Caramel chocolate celebration cake

For the caramel mud cakes:

  • 400g butter, cubed
  • 400g white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  • 2 tbs golden syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups plain flour, sifted
  • 2 cups self raising flour, sifted
  1. Preheat oven to 160C. Grease and line 2 x 22cm cake tins.
  2. Place the butter, sugar, water, golden syrup and vanilla in a saucepan. Stir over low heat, stirring, until the butter and chocolate melt and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Place the cooled chocolate mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Add the sifted flours and stir until combined.
  5. Divide the mixture between the two prepared pans, and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the caramel Italian meringue buttercream:

  • 1 sugar + 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 egg whites
  • 500g butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce (or more to taste)
  1. Place the water and 1 cup of sugar in a small saucepan, and stir to combine. Heat over a low to medium heat. Clip on a candy thermometer.
  2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add a pinch of cream of tartar if you like. Start the mixer on medium-low to begin frothing the whites
  3. When the sugar begins to boil, increase the speed of the mixer to medium-high. When the whites are at soft peaks, gradually add the 1/4 cup of reserved sugar. Continue beating until they become stiff peaks, then change to the beater attachment.
  4. When the sugar reaches 120C, turn off the heat. With the mixer running on a low speed, slowly pour the hot sugar in a fine stream down the side of the bowl with the egg whites
  5. When all the sugar is added, increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture has almost cooled (this takes a good 5–10 mins).
  6. When the meringue has cooled, start adding the butter, a tablespoon at a time, while the mixer is running on medium.
  7. When all the butter has been added, increase the mixer to high to beat until the buttercream forms and is smooth. Change to the whisk attachment, add the caramel sauce, and whisk for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
For the chocolate ganache:
  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped
  1. Heat the double cream in a saucepan over medium heat. As soon as it begins to bubble, remove it from the heat and stir in the dark chocolate. Continue to stir until the mixture is thick and smooth, without any remaining lumps of chocolate. Place in the fridge until the desired “drip” consistency is reached.

To decorate

  • Prepared buttercream icing and ganache
  • Leftover caramel sauce
  • malteasers
  • butterscotch or caramel popcorn
  • chocolate stars
  • jersey caramels, halved
  • twix bars, halved

To assemble:

  1. Trim the tops off the cakes, so that they are even.
  2. Put a small dot of the buttercream on your serving plate, then place one of the cakes on top. Spread with a good amount of the buttercream, a little caramel sauce, then place the other cake on top.
  3. Using a palette knife, cover the cakes completely in the buttercream, starting with a crumb layer then a smooth outer layer. Place in the fridge for one hour to chill.
  4. Remove the cake from the fridge and pour the ganache over. You can do this using a disposable piping bag , or by gently spooning the ganache onto the centre of the cake and encouraging drips to fall down the sides.
  5. Top the cake with the various edible decorations, and place back in the fridge.
  6. Remove the cake from the fridge about half an hour before serving.

Banana raisin muffins

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Yes, I did it again.

I left some bananas in the fruit bowl too long.

Meaning they were waaaay too overripe to eat, yes, but perfect for a batch of banana muffins.

This time I went with a simple version. No coconut, no berries, just the addition of raisins for some extra sweetness.

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What I love about recipes like these is the yield. Some for now, some for later, and some packaged up and frozen for school lunchbox treats.

And suddenly leaving a few bananas in the fruit bowl too long doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all!

img_1263 Banana raisin muffins (makes 12)

  • 2 cups self raising flour – sifted
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup natural yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a muffin pan with cases.
  2. Combine dry ingredients, and make a well in the centre.
  3. Combine eggs, bananas, oil, yoghurt and milk – and pour into the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined, then fold through the raisins.
  4. Spoon into the muffin cases, and bake for 20 minutes – or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

 

White chocolate and macadamia cookies

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Canberra feels more like Melbourne at the moment – warm Spring days one minute, and cold overcast days the next.

And rain.

So much rain.

So with two kids who are also a little under the weather, there has been lots of time spent indoors. Lego, puzzles, dress-ups and a personal favourite, baking!

Cookies were on the agenda the other day. But rather than turn to our regular spelt chocolate chip or freckle cookies, we went with a white chocolate and macadamia version instead.

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As is usually the case, Miss C had a great time helping me measure out the ingredients and control the mixer speed, and Little J loved flattening down the cookies when they were placed on the trays. Although both kids quickly disappeared when they realised it was time to do the dishes!?
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The cookies kept well for a few days, and I suspect they would keep for longer if they weren’t gobbled up so quickly!

White chocolate and macadamia cookies (makes 12 large)

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups self raising flour, sifted
  • 120g white chocolate chips
  • 120g chopped macadamias
  1. Preheat oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
  2. Beat the butter and brown sugar until pale and creamy. Add the egg, and continue beating until combined.
  3. Stir in the sifted flour, chocolate and nuts, and mix until well combined.
  4. Roll out heaped tablespoons of the mixture into balls, and place on the prepared trays (well spaced). Gently press to flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

What about you? Do you have a favourite cookie recipe?

Rainbow cookies

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Being a family that loves the outdoors, spending almost an entire week inside with 2 sick kids has been..well…interesting.

We’ve had to avoid the frigid outdoor temperatures (which even resulted in a little snow on one day) searching instead for indoor activities to keep everyone entertained.

Needless to say there has been lots of movies, drawing, role play, lego and…baking!

These rainbow cookies were a great baking activity for the girls. Not only for the end result (and all the chocolate freckles we consumed along the way), but also for the process of creating them itself. C loved turning the mixer on and off, and helping me roll the biscuits into little balls, before placing a freckle on top of each. And, J, well she sat nearby passing us various ingredients and even gave the mixture a little stir.

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Into the oven for 14 minutes, then it was ‘hands off’ for at least a few more minutes to allow them to cool. We then wasted no time in having ourselves a lovely afternoon tea of warm cookies straight out of the oven.

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So, while a trip to the park was not an option this week, spending time in the kitchen backing with the kids was a pretty great (and delicious) alternative!

You can find the recipe here.

5 things Friday

I know, I know. Two posts in one week! That has to be some kinda record for me right?!  But I’m working on improving my blogging routine, so here goes! Perhaps the colder weather has got something to do with it? For even the cat is picking the warmth of home over her usual daily adventures outside…

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1. While my two girls definitely enjoy playing outside, they are seemingly happy to take little adventures inside too. Particularly when they can transform our dining room into a cubby house…

IMG_46572. Also on the cards? Lots of baking and creating in the kitchen. With a side kick who is more than happy to help when she realises there is chocolate involved…
IMG_46343. I *finally* finished J’s “first year” album, and I could not be more pleased. I did one for C too – and they have been such a great trip down memory lane (and great gifts for the grandparents!)

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4. Currently loving? These lunchboxes from “Yum Box”.

IMG_8406They are definitely not the cheapest, but they are sturdy and easy to clean (win for me!). C also loves the novelty of the compartments and always directs, with great precision, what must feature and in what compartment.

5. We have a rather ‘free’ weekend coming up, which is pretty damn awesome. A parents’ night out and a degustation dinner just *might* be on the cards too…Can’t wait!

What about you? What are you up to on the weekend?

Cherry & Seed ANZAC Slice

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We kept things low-key this ANZAC day, opting for silent and personal reflections on the significance of the day – rather than heading out with the crowds for the Dawn Service or a game of two-up.

There was, however, an opportunity to pay tribute to an ol’ classic of the day – the ANZAC biscuit.

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Although, on this occasion, I made a slice instead of individual biscuits. It had all the usual ANZAC biscuit characteristics – with oats, coconut and golden syrup making their star appearances. But it had a few new flavours also – with wild cherries and various seeds being thrown into the mix.

IMG_8073 The result being a rather lovely little slice that we have been nibbling on most of the day.  A handy addition to the kids’ lunchboxes this week too, I suspect.

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Cherry & Seed ANZAC slice

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup dessicated coconut
  • 1/2 cup seed mix
  • 125g butter
  • 2 tbs golden syrup
  • 2 tbs boiling water
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb soda
  1. Preheat oven to 170C and line a slice pan with baking paper.
  2. Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar and coconut in a bowl – then stir through the cherries and seeds.
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat. Remove.
  4. Add the boiling water to the bicarb soda, and stir. Then add to the golden syrup mixture (careful – it will bubble up).
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir until combined.
  6. Spoon into the prepared slice tray, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. Slice and serve.

What about you? How did you commemorate ANZAC day?

Other ANZAC baking ideas you might like to try:

Coco-banana muffins

My weekly routine inevitably changed when Miss C started pre-school and I increased my work hours, and I feel as if I’ve been trying to find the “new normal” ever since. The days are quite frantic, as I work out who needs to be where, with what, and when (all while desperately hoping that I don’t  mess things up and forget a school pick-up!).

To try and streamline things, I’ve changed from little grocery shops throughout the week to (hopefully) a big shop once per week. This is working quite well, although the rate at which my girls consume yoghurt has meant there have been a few emergency yoghurt dashes.

And, on occasion, the bananas that I bought at the start of the week do not look so fantastic at the end of the week.  But we all know that overripe bananas can be perfect for baking – with the added bonus that a healthy baked treat makes a perfect school lunch-box addition.

On this occasion, I had two quite sad looking bananas taking up my fruit bowl. A quick rustle through the pantry revealed that we also had coconut and honey.

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And so these little banana-coconut beauties came to be.

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I used smaller patty cases, which yielded around 20 – and the whole batch took only 20 minutes or so to make – from start to finish.

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I kept some out for the next few days, and froze the others in bags of two for future lunch-box additions.
IMG_7608 Miss C wolfed down a few as soon as the came out of the oven, without noticing that I’d reduced the sugar content – so I’m calling it a kid snack win!

Coco-Banana Muffins – makes 20 small muffins

  • 2 cups self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbs honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  1. Preheat oven to 180C, and line a couple muffin pans with paper cases.
  2. Sift the flour, bicarb soda and cinnamon into a large bowl. Stir through the salt, sugar and coconut.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, milk, honey, eggs, vanilla extract and banana until well combined.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined.
  5. Divide between paper cases and bake for 12-15 minutes.

(As I mentioned, I made 20 smaller muffins. If you wanted to make bigger muffins, just allow a little longer cooking time).

What about you? What’s your favourite way to use up  leftover bananas?

Mocha Brownie Cake

IMG_6714 When you have a one year old who is yet to sleep through the night, and someone offers to send you free coffee, well you are most certainly NOT going to say no.

Throw in an invitation to create a coffee-inspired recipe, and well it is pretty much a sure-fire thing.

The caffeine hero on this occasion was Di Bella Coffee, who treated me with some coffee beans and aromatic coffee capsules (that I was super pleased to find out fit into our trusty Nespresso machine just perfectly.

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Starting as a small coffee roasting business in Brisbane in 2002, Di Bella now has an international reach (although they still source 100% of their coffee beans “directly from the farmer”). I tested their Ari blend – touted to be “rich and strong with hints of raw cacao and a bright citrus finish” – and it did not disappoint. It was definitely smooth, and had a wonderful aroma.

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But I also wanted to test out its flavour in a recipe. And given that coffee + chocolate seem to be an appropriate combination when one has a little case of the sleepies, a mocha brownie cake seemed to be a logical solution.

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Rich fudgey chocolate cake, that was a little more “brownie” than your traditional chocolate cake. Completed with a little caffeine kick owing to the coffee contained within. On this occasion, we served slices of the cake as an after-dinner treat, although it would also work served warm with a scoop of vanilla icecream.

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Mocha brownie cake 

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 125g butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 pods espresso (extracted / short poured)
  • 1 cup plain flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line a square baking tin (18  x 18cm).
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir until smooth.
  3. Add the sugar, oil, eggs and coffee, and whisk until well combined.
  4. Sift over the flour and baking powder, and fold in with a metal spoon until just combined.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan, and bake for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan.

A big thankyou to Di Bella Coffee for the opportunity to work with a new (to me) Aussie product (and for the caffeine kick!)

What about you? Are you a coffee fan?