Friday, February 29, 2008

Oh... my... God...

Watching re-runs of Bill Granger's 2004 series, bills food, late at night on the Lifestyle Channel, I have realised the following:

1. Bill's kitchen, circa 2004, is made up of 80% Mud Ceramics. Mud Ceramics is a Sydney-based company who create incredibly beautiful, delicate and expensive handmade ceramics from Limoges porcelain. I have been wanting these gorgeous plates ever since I saw them in the shops from around mid-2007, but have never been able to bring myself to pay $60 for a dinner plate. Bill uses his Mud bowls for everything - for mixing batters, baking puddings, whisking up dressings, whatever. You have no idea how jealous I am. My dream bowls are Bill's everyday knockabout bowls!!!

(These days, you can't open an Australian Gourmet Traveller or a Vogue Entertaining and Travel without a million Mud pieces staring back at you. Looks like Bill was way ahead of the trend.)

2. Bill's outfits match his kitchen. And I'm pretty sure it's not an accident.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Japan 2007: Vending Machines and Coffee

Me with canned Café au lait.

Sarah does not function without caffeine. This makes things hard when I'm overseas, far away from my favourite cafes, and separated from my private stash of ground coffee and plunger. (Am I the only one who's noticed how crap and expensive the coffee is outside of Melbourne and Italy?)

The solution? Funky Japanese Vending machines!

Every other street corner in Japan has vending machines, selling a massive variety of hot and cold drinks, including soup and alcohol. And they're cheap! ¥110 for a tasty canned coffee totally beats ¥500 or whatever it is for a latte of variable quality at Starbucks or any other cafe.

Here's a tip - on a cold winter morning, popping a couple of warm coffee cans into your pockets will totally keep you warm as you walk to the station.

Sarah with coffee of choice - Boss brand Rainbow Mountain Blend. It's advertised by Academy Award® winner Tommy Lee Jones, so you know it's gotta be good. Click here for the awesome TV commercial.

Vending machine selling film and disposable cameras.

The following photo is of an awesome coffee/tea vending machine in Nikko train station. This one sells cups, not cans. The red ones are for hot drinks, and the blue ones on the left are cold.

And here it is in action. Ta-dah!


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Snow-Topped Spice Cake

Nigella's snow-topped spice cake, in the Christmas chapter of How to be a Domestic Goddess, was one of those recipes I've consistently ignored. Until I started watching Big Love, HBO's fantastic family drama.

Bill Paxton plays Bill Henrickson, a modern-day polygamist, juggling three wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin), seven children, and his own business, all whilst trying to protect his family from the police and the prophet from the old Juniper Creek compound. Awesome. In one episode, the whole family sits around the (massive) dinner table, and tuck into spice cake for dessert. I'm not quite sure why, but it made me really want spice cake. After watching the show, it was a simple hop-skip and a jump to the kitchen to make my own cake.

The recipe is supposed to be made in a 25cm Bundt tin, but as my family is not nearly as big as Bill Henrickson's, I halved the mixture and made it in a 16cm Bundt tin. Perfect! Furthermore, the instant royal icing that Nigella suggests seems to be unavailable in Australia, so I made it from scratch using a recipe from Joy of Baking. As you can see in the top photo, I had a bit of trouble getting the icing to look good, but no-one seemed to mind. The finished cake was much lighter and spongier than I expected. The deep spiciness of the cake made me think it would be dense and dark, but as the egg whites are whipped, the result is very soft and light.

Mmm... spongy.

The cake was a huge success! It wasn't too sweet, despite the blanket of royal icing. In fact, I think that the cake benefits from the crackly sweet topping. It tastes quite like lebkuchen or pfeffernuesse, those lovely German treats. I also think this cake would make a great alternative to a traditional Christmas cake or pudding, for those who don't like fruitcake.

Snow-Topped Spice Cake with Royal Icing
How to be a Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)
Joy of Baking (Stephanie Jaworski)

4 large eggs, separated, plus 2 extra large egg whites
125ml vegetable oil
125ml water
2 tbsp runny honey
200g dark muscovado sugar
75g ground almonds
150g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp all-spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
zest of 1/2 an orange
100g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180c.
Whisk together the yolks and oil, then add the water, honey and dark muscovado sugar. Add the almonds, flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt, spices and zest, folding in gently. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add the caster sugar. Fold the whites into the cake mixture, and pour into a well buttered 25cm Bundt tin. Cook for 45 minutes, or until the cake is springy on top and beginning to shrink away from the edges. Let the cake cool in its tin on a rack for 25 minutes before turning it out.

When it's completely cold, you can make up the icing. Beat the egg white with the lemon juice. Add the sifted icing sugar and beat on a low speed until well combined and smooth. The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container, as it hardens when exposed to air.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Japan 2007: Bentohs!

Bentohs! A bentoh is a lunch box. They are inexpensive and usually delicious. Available at all convenience stores (konbini) and major train stations, the bentoh is the thrifty traveller's key to living cheaply in Japan. I found bentohs ranging from around ¥200 and up to ¥1000 for fancy-pants ones, like the wrapped up sake no osushi (salmon sushi) you see below. And as an aside, they all taste infinitely better than they look. Oishii!

Salmon Sushi Box, Train Station.

One piece fried chicken. Family mart.

Cheese Chicken Gratin thing, 7-11, Tokyo.

Tuna Chirashi Sushi, Rox Supermarket, Tokyo.

Mabo Tofu and fried rice, 7-11, Tokyo.

Chirashi sushi, train station, Osaka.

Chicken mayo rice, Family Mart, Osaka.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

2008 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival

Hey hey!

It looks like it's that time of year again - the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is back on. It starts this Friday, 22nd February and runs 'til the 8th of March. I only managed to go to one event last year, Indulgence Day, and would have loved to see a bit more.

Food bloggers and readers (bloggees?) will be interested to hear that this year's food media discussion, Out of the Frying Pan, will include online trends and blogs! Wahey! I think it's awesome that bloggers are included in this event (because we rock).

Anyone interested in food media, trends and food blogging should check it out! Ed from Tomato and Matt Preston are giving the first 20 bloggers who advertise the event a free ticket. Have a look at Ed's blog for the details. For those of you who miss out, or are sadly blog-less, tickets can be bought here.

For fellow Melbournians - who's heading to the festival this year? Which events are you interested in?

xox Sarah

Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hello everyone! I am back home!

I still have heaps of Japan and German blogs to put up, but this might take some time while I organise my photos and come to terms with Australia's crap internet speed. Meanwhile, let's all have a look at my Valentine's Day '08 baking project - red velvet cupcakes. Red Velvet Cake, for those of you not in the know, is a light chocolate cake, dyed a deep red with a generous amount of colouring. It is traditionally a 3-layered affair, covered in white icing. This gives you a surprising visual contrast when you slice into the finished product.

I made some heart shaped ones (above), and, so as not to lose the visual-surprise-thing completely, made some miniature stacks. I recently acquired a snazzy silicone heart-shaped muffin tray - a total impulse buy - at Leo's supermarket, and for the stacks, I used a Chicago metallic 6-cup Molten N' More pan. This specialised pan, designed for molten chocolate puddings (N' more!), has 6 straight-sided holes (not slanted like a muffin tray). The pan is totally non-stick, with loose bases. How awesome! I have to admit I had my eye on this pan for quite a while, but could never justify the ridiculous price. ($60 for a baking pan that'd only get used once or twice a year? *AHEM*) However, shopping with my mum before Christmas last year, she surprised me with an uncharacteristic display of impulse shopping. She saw the pans in an expensive homeware shop, and without any prodding from me, decided she loved them, and proceeded to explain to me why we needed this pan.

"Hey Sarah, you know ah, this pan would be good for my fruit cakes!".

Then she bought it. My mum rocks.

Ta-dah. Miniature red velvet cakes.

I got the idea for making red velvet cakes partly from my friend Lisa, partly from the gorgeous Little Cupcakes bakery shop on Flinders Street. I love Little Cupcakes - their cupcakes are cute and delicious, unlike some of the other much-hyped, dry, sickly-sweet cupcakes around Melbourne. Yurgh. The recipe for the cake base comes from The Buttercup Bakeshop Cookbook, whilst the icing is from More from Magnolia. Bizarre, I know, to use 2 separate books, but the Buttercup cake recipe had less sugar, and the red velvet icing in More from Magnolia had clearer instructions. So there you go.

The cake, apart from its striking red colour, is rather plain tasting - not that this is a bad thing. I think of it as a crowd pleaser that could be called into service for birthdays or whatever. However, it is quite tedious to make, not least of all because red colouring gets everywhere. The icing is also a palaver - you first cook flour and milk in a pan until thick, and let it cool before adding it to a buttercream mixture. Then you gotta refrigerate it for 15 minutes exactly and then use it straight away!!! Or else! The resulting icing is beautifully white and very smooth, and - OMG - not migraine-inducingly sweet. The icing worked very well for the stacks, but wasn't so great for the cupcakes. I think the ratio of icing to cake was wrong. Anyway, if I were to make red velvet cupcakes again, I would take the lead of Little Cupcakes and make a cream-cheese based frosting. Yum.

I took the cupcakes to a friend's house in the afternoon for a catch-up session. And if you're transporting cute cupcakes, you need a cute box to transport them in! Check out this fantastic cake box I picked up at the Daiso 100-yen shop in Harajuku. Only 100 yen!!! (That's approx $1.10). It really spoke to me when I saw it in the store.

Yes, I DO like cake! How did you know?
Aww... how sweet!

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from The Buttercup Bake Shop Cookbook (Jennifer Appel)

1/4 c red food colouring
2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c (112.5g) unsalted butter, softened
1.5 c sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 1/4 c cake flour
1 c buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease 12 muffin moulds.
In a small bowl, whisk together the food colouring, cocoa powder and vanilla until well combined. Set aside.
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk, beating well after each addition. Add the salt.

Beat in the cocoa mixture until thoroughly incorporated.

In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter at the end, mixing well.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, before removing from the pan and letting them cool completely on a wire rack. Be careful not to break them, as the cooked cakes are quite soft and delicate.

When cold, ice with Creamy Vanilla Frosting.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting
More from Magnolia (Allysa Torey)

3 tbs plain flour
1 c milk
1 c (225g) unsalted butter, softened
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk until smooth. Place over medium heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to bubble, 10 -15 minutes. Cover with waxed paper placed directly on the surface and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, beat the butter on the medium high speed of an electric mixer for 3 minutes, until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating continuously for 3 minutes until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat well.
Add the cooled milk mixture, and continue to beat on medium high speed for 5 minutes, until very smooth and noticeably whiter in colour. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes exactly (set a timer). Use immediately.

Happy Valentine's Day!