Thursday, July 31, 2008

Melbourne's falling newspaper standards leave me feeling "depresso"

**Too good to leave soley on my little Coffee of the Week archive**

That's a pic of me, back in wintry Germany, drinking a nice warm white mocha at Starbucks Viernheim.


In yesterday's Age newspaper there were a few articles about Starbucks. If you haven't yet heard, they're closing 70% of their Australian stores. For all affected Starbucks' employees, this must seriously suck. However, what caught my eye about one of the articles wasn't the big economic news, or even the insight into Melbourne's coffee culture. It was the hilariously bad title and captions:


Bean and gone, espresso turns to depresso (Get it, get it??) by Michael Shmith (sic)

The accompanying photo is of a young person drinking a Starbucks coffee, with the caption:
"A long black day at Starbucks".

Ba-dum-tush.

Get it? Because a long black is a type of coffee, but "a long black day" also means that Starbucks is having a tough time. Clever huh??? Not!

We were cracking up yesterday reading the papers over breakfast. It seems that people are paid to write what is essentially the journalistic equivalent of a dad joke.

More Starbucks-related articles available here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Old-fashioned chocolate cupcakes


I made these cupcakes last week, as a result of 2 things: sour cream left over from Mum's birthday party, and our friend Justin having a big ol' movie night at his house. I wanted to make something nice to take over, so I thought that Nigella's old-fashioned chocolate cake (in cupcake form!) would fit the bill. I've made this once before, in normal-cake form, and wasn't a huge fan, but I thought I might have more luck this time.

The batter is made easily in a processor...


... and then dolloped into muffin-tins with an ice-cream scoop. My only advice here is not to fill them too high (anywhere between half and three-quarters seems about right), as they rise quite a bit.

I taste-tested one (I am all about the quality control), and - wow - they were awesome as cupcakes! Soft on the inside, crusty outside. I think they're better as cupcakes because it tends to be a bit stodgy as a whole cake.

I made the cupcakes the night before, and was going to top them with old-fashioned chocolate icing on the day, and take them over to Justin's house. Unfortunately, I had a hideously tiring day at work, and following that, an unpleasant visit to the doctor. (I used to think I was good with needles. Turns out I'm not!) As such, I could not even contemplate leaving the couch, let alone decorating cupcakes. Come to think of it, in my fragile state I had to have KFC that night for dinner. Shhh...

Anyway, my brother ended up taking the plain cupcakes over, and they seemed pretty popular. I think they're definitely moist and sweet enough not to need any extra icing. For some reason, without any icing, everyone thought of them as muffins.

Next day I got a post on my Facebook wall from Justin:

hey sarah! thanks heaps for the muffins last night! they were awesome! shame u couldnt make it! oh well, next time!

Yay! I suppose the next movie night will have to be at my house. (You know I'm already planning a huge snack menu for proposed future video night, muahaha!)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Challah


I drove a great deal out of my way, from Kikki K Doncaster Shoppingtown, all the way to Kikki K Malvern Central, just because I really, really wanted a set of these impossibly cute heart-shaped stickers (happy Love day, everybody!), and the Doncaster shop had sold out. Am I a slave to consumerism or simply passionate about Swedish design? I like to think that I'm the latter.

Anyway, after I fought my way through the heavy school-time traffic of Glenferrie Road, and got my hands on those fabulous stickers, I thought that I'd better make my trip worth my while. I stopped into Glick's for some challah. How I love their challah. Heads up - they bake on a Thursday, so this is the best day of the week to stop in. I know they've got amazing bagels, breads, donuts, savouries and more, but I can never go past their delicious challah. My dad loves it too, so I thought it would be nice to share it.

As I was driving back, every time I stopped the car I would break off a little piece to eat. And remembering that I was driving down Glenferrie road in school traffic, I ended up eating about half the loaf. Whoops!

I love it plain and fresh, but after a couple of days, it's good toasted with jam... made into French toast.. whatever. YUM!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bacon Butty


Two weeks ago, I was inexplicably hit by an intense craving for a bacon sandwich. (General bacon cravings being a rather normal occurrence, I'm afraid). It started when I had a BLT at work on my break. I carefully removed the bacon from the sandwich, and grilled them separately, thus maximising the bacon crunch factor when both sandwich and bacon were, joyfully, reunited. There was lettuce, there was melted cheese, there was tomato, there was toasty bread, there was mayo and there was crunchy bacon. Good lord, it was good. But after that, I couldn't get the idea of a pure bacon sandwich out of my head. The type I read about in Nigel Slater books, the type that 'ard bastards eat in English cop shows - soft white bread, butter, bacon fat, crispy streaky bacon.

I went so far as to do some internet research on the topic. It seems that there are people out there who are absolutely passionate about bacon butties. (Butty is a Northern English word for sandwich. You could also say "sarnie", but I am a big fan of alliteration). According to a scientific study (no joke), an integral part of a successful bacon butty is the aural factor - i.e. how loud the crunch is when you bite into it.

So, a couple of days later, I decided to have this treat for breakfast. I bought myself the whitest-of-white breads: a white bap from Baker's Delight. I looked for streaky bacon, but couldn't find any at my local butcher or supermarket. I think that health consciousness is really on the up-and-up. I ended up "settling" for some lovely free range, non-hormoned lean bacon from a fabulous local butcher. I wouldn't get too precious about it either way though; I hardly think that the original versions of these sandwiches, served in greasy spoons all over the UK, include such distinguished bacon. But I digress. I fried said bacon in my black steel pan, spread some butter on the inside of the bap, and (oh dear) used the bread to mop up the pan juices once the bacon was cooked. I wasn't even hungover. What can I say? It was a strong craving.


As you can imagine, it tasted great, but even halfway through I'd developed a slightly sick feeling in my stomach. This was the least healthy breakfast I could have had, and I don't recommend that it be eaten on a regular basis by anyone who values the use of their arteries. As a once off, however, it seemed ok. And it totally killed my bacon butty craving. The next day, I was back on my usual porridge breakfast with great enthusiasm. What is it they say about needing to hit rock bottom before turning your life around?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mum's Birthday Party: The PARTY!

The finished croquembouche. After all the day's dramas, I was so proud and relieved to have completed it! I may have even done a little happy dance once it was safely on the table.

See all the little caramel threads? They actually built themselves as I was building the 'bouche - as I transferred my tongs from the pot of caramel to the cone and back again, and rotated the plate, the little threads of caramel would follow the trail. Cool, huh? After the whole 'bouche was finished, I added a few extra caramel threads - using a teaspoon to drizzle the caramel over the cone.





The Dessert Buffet

From left - raspberry/blueberry frangipane tartlets, the croquembouche, madeleines.


Nibbles

Cheese 'stars'. I had a few bowls of these dotted about the place.
Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts. I had 3 bowls of these in various places around the house.

I had planned on buying olives, but we ran out of time that day. I don't think anyone missed them though.


The Table

Pumpkin and Bocconcini Skewers - I'd over-roasted the pumpkin and it was quite soft (whoops), but we managed to get a decent number of skewers. Phew. The chillies ranged from mild to very, very hot.


Beans wrapped in prosciutto

Bread rolls ready for sausages.

Quiches ready for anyone who was still hungry.

The cheese platter. Clockwise from left hand side: cornichons, muscatels, Brazilian guava paste, Bergader BlouBayou Cheese (it's German!), Double Brie, Cheddar.

The cheese platter and quiches stayed on the table, whilst the skewers and beans were passed around.

We had oysters as well, but I didn't manage to get a photo of them. As the menu had stated, we were supposed to have cooked prawns, but when my bro went to pick them up, they were raw! Whoops. I didn't have any time to cook them, so I stashed them in the freezer, and we'll have them for a treat sometime this week.


Hot Foods


Gruyère Cheese Choux Puffs - I reheated these in a 180C oven for about 10 minutes and then passed them around.

Flammkuchen - bacon flavour. I made 2 bacon and 2 chicken, and these were surprisingly very popular! My cousin Jacob did a super-job of passing this around. Thanks Cuz!!!


Su's Gyoza... a-freakin'-mazing!
She started frying/steaming the gyoza as I was onto the second round of flammkuchen. Man, it was smoky in the kitchen! And it was also very crowded in the kitchen, so it was a bit of a challenge co-ordinating the pans and knives and boards and food amongst all the guests. But still fun.


By this stage, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and and sleep; my throat was killing from yelling to talk to everyone over the hubbub. And because I was sick, food just wasn't looking appealing to me. I cooked 1.5 kg of beef chipolatas on the stove, but I seriously couldn't imagine anyone wanting to eat more. But they did! It seems that everybody loves sausages! (All meat-eaters, that is). They were wolfed down ravenously.


People





At about 9, we moved into the lounge-room for dessert! I should mention now that over the course of the evening, a couple of balls had fallen off the cone - we'd had a few candles nearby which I think were slowly melting the caramel. But we moved the candles out of the way and the other balls remained firmly stuck onto the cone. Phew!

Sparklers on the 'bouche. Shh... don't tell anyone, but one of the polyester flowers caught on fire! I just picked it up and my mum and I blew it out, hee-hee!

After singing happy birthday, we passed the balls around on napkins. I was surprised that so many people really liked them. Did you know that profiteroles are a super-popular dessert? I should totally add them to my dinner-party-dessert repertoire.

Chocolate ball!!!


Cone halfway through...

Aftermath in the kitchen...




So, the party was a lot of fun. I've never seen my house this crowded before! We made only a bit too much food, and bought way too much alcohol. We've got heaps of drinks leftover! My parents had a great time, and people seemed to stick around quite late, which I assume means they were all having fun. I think a couple of people were having a bit too much fun... but that's all part of the party atmosphere. (Yelling out at me, "Chef! Where's your wine glass?!?! Drink more!! Meet my son!") I should add here, that I was beaten by my lovely cousin Catherine, who had TWO fathers interested in introducing her to their sons. I suppose it's a hazard of attending inter-generational parties.

My bro was awesome DJ for the night, mixing up a great selection of R&B and chill-out songs, and pulling out the Stevie Wonder for cake time. Stevie rules!

A big thank-you to my parents for letting me take control of the kitchen, to Dad for paying for everything and setting things up beautifully, to Su for her awesome gyoza and incredible help, and to Dan for DJ'ing and transportation! And the biggest thank-you to Mum, for being the best mum in the whole wide world and looking so lovely on her special day.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY MUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mum's Birthday Party: Food Preparations on the Day

The table at 6:25pm.

As y'all know, I woke up on Sunday at around 9:30am feeling sick and totally worse for wear. But there was no stopping! Guests were due to arrive at 6:30pm and we had to get the house into shape!

I started the day by chucking last night's pumpkin into the oven. Then we all ate yummy birthday noodles, and got straight into the preparation.


Preparation


I got to work on 2 batches of crème pâtissière. While this was going on, I put my brother and his girlfriend Su on canapé-assembling duty.

Mum sewed the table runner (as you can see in the first photo), and answered the dozens of phone calls from well-wishers.

Culinary disaster struck at around 2pm, when BOTH my batches of crème turned out too runny. Maybe I was being too cautious while cooking the crèmes, maybe I didn't whip the cream enough, maybe I was just fluey and totally out of it. Whatever the reason, after I folded the cream through the crème pâtissière, I ended up with 2 big bowls of runny custard mess.

The annoying thing about this (apart from the 8 wasted eggs), was that the crèmes still tasted so damn good! They just weren't suitable for ball-stuffing. Still, following in the footsteps of my party-planning-role-model Colin Cowie, I tried to keep my cool and when my bro went out to pick up the oysters and the 50 dinner rolls, I asked him to get more eggs, more cream and more milk.


Aah... my toastie. Dan brought back a sandwich for me with the bread rolls and oysters. I shared the sandwich with my mum, and it was pretty much the only substantial food I could stomach all day.


Aah.. that's the way the crème is supposed to look! Thick and gloopy. It goes to the exact right texture when you've folded the whipped cream in. (N.B. blue silicon whisk from Aldi Prahran, only $3!!) I was getting progressively more tense as time went on. You see, the crème takes some time to make, as it has to cool to room temperature before you can add the cream. All you can do is wait!

Well, with that stress out of the way, it was time to fill the balls.
New icing syringe from Cake Deco. If you're interested, the amount of crème that went in the syringe filled about 7 balls at one time.

With balls filled, I melted some plain dark chocolate, and made the caramel for dipping. (Unlike last time, I used plain melted chocolate instead of a ganache, to add extra contrasting crunch). The chocolate takes longer to set than the caramel, so I coated the chocolate balls first.
It was surprisingly speedy coating the balls in caramel. Must have been from all that practise and adrenaline. It was about 4:30pm by this stage, and pressure was mounting.
Luckily the caramel only takes about a nanosecond to harden.

Assembly time! 4:45pm... a lot later than I intended for it to be. As you can see, the supposed spirals weren't perfect, and there were quite a few little gaps, but I filled them with decorations. You'll be able to see them and the finished 'bouche in the next post!



Decorations and Setting Up

While I was covered in hot caramel, my family did an awesome job of setting up everything.


The bathroom, all daily items removed, clean, and adorned with candles and a few flowers from our garden. A very Colin touch, expertly done by my dad!

A beautiful bunch of tulips, a bowl of nuts, and a little plate of candles in the lounge room.

I ordered the tulips online from Roses Only as a birthday gift for mum. I love this company! I was lucky enough to receive a bunch of Roses Only roses for my birthday this year, and they were absolutely stunning - delivered to my front door, beautifully presented in a box with a little bottle of rose oil and some Lindor Chocolates, and some water-treatment to keep them fresh. They were perfect and lasted for over a week. Mum also loved the roses, so I thought she'd like her very own tulips for her birthday! (She does!)

I only finished assembling the entire 'bouche at 5:45 (cutting it very fine, seeing as guests were due to arrive at 6:30), and ran into the shower. On the way in I yelled out, "Can someone put the table runner on the bench????" And when I came out of the bathroom, the bench was cleaned of the day's debris and dramas, and covered in the very festive red table runner. As Colin would say, an instant drab to fab makeover!

A glass bowl, with floating tea-lights in Moroccan teacups and some potpourri petals floating about.


More coming up soon...