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How do you make caramel slice?

16 Nov

caramel slice1

My care factor for cooking is generally as high as my care factor for the safety of reality TV show stars. By which I mean middling to none.

I mean sure, I can cook staples such as pasta and steak, but my heart’s not really in it. Especially when there’s always so much good TV to watch.

On the flipside, I do love baking. Especially as it provides easy access to raw cookie dough filled with chocolate chips. Or so I’m told…

Anyway, for the most part, I start my creations with the contents of a packet mix, but when I signed up to host a friend’s baby shower, something more impressive was clearly required.

So I turned to a kitchen-whiz friend with a plea for a recipe to make caramel slice. She obliged in wonderful style.

And since she was quite happy to tell me, I’m going to share it with you. Here goes…

Steph’s caramel slice

Mix a cup of plain flour (gluten-free is fine) with half a cup of almond meal, about ¾ of a cup of caster sugar and 125g of melted butter.

Press into a lined slice tin.

Cook on about 180-200C for about 10-15 minutes until it’s starting to turn golden (time might differ from oven to oven) and then pop into the fridge for half an hour.

Once it’s cool, cover with caramel – I confess to using 1.5 tins of Top ‘n’ Fill here – and refrigerate again.

Meanwhile, melt 250g of chocolate melts with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (I did it on a stove in a bowl above a pot of boiling water), pour it over the caramel and put it back in the fridge again to set.

Then comes the tricky bit – the cutting. As the above photo shows, I do not have this process down nearly even pat. But a friend suggested a knife or similar tool dipped in hot water might do the trick.

Happy baking!

How do you adapt ice cream for winter?

7 Jun

I love ice cream. It’s one of my favourite food groups along with chocolate, garlic bread and various other unhealthy treats.

On a summer day it’s the perfect way to cool down. But in winter, it’s less of a practical treat, being pretty hard to force down through chattering teeth.

So with Queensland temperatures currently hovering around the -30 mark (or so it feels) drastic action was needed. So I took it, asking Google to find me ‘ice cream recipes for winter’. And it did, with the below treat from epicurious emerging a favourite. Now to find a less lazy cook to whip it up for me . . .

Winter-spiced molten chocolate cakes with rum-ginger ice cream

Ingredients
Ice cream 
1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened
2 tbsp chopped crystallised ginger
1 tbsp dark rum
Cakes
14 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1.25 cups unsalted butter
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
6 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
Additional powdered sugar
Crystallised ginger strips

Method
Ice cream
Place softened ice cream in medium bowl. Using plastic spatula, fold ginger and rum into ice cream. Transfer to airtight container. Freeze ice cream mixture until firm, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep frozen.)
Cakes
Generously butter eight 3/4-cup soufflé dishes. Stir chocolate, butter, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and white pepper in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Cool slightly. Whisk eggs, egg yolks and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Whisk in 3 cups powdered sugar, then chocolate mixture, then flour. Transfer batter to prepared dishes, filling to top and dividing equally. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Preheat oven to 425F. Bake cakes until batter has risen above dish, top edges are dark brown, and centres are still soft and runny, about 15 minutes, or about 18 minutes for refrigerated batter. Run small knife around cakes to loosen. Allow cakes to rest in dishes 5 minutes. Using hot pad and holding dish very firmly, place plate gently atop 1 cake and invert on to plate. Repeat with remaining cakes. Dust with powdered sugar. Top with crystallised ginger. Serve with rum-ginger ice cream.

Delicious. Now somebody get me a spoon!

What is a Reuben sandwich?

19 Apr

Hands up who’s heard of a Reuben sandwich?

No one? Well me neither. At least not until today.

I was in a local deli when the owners mentioned they would be serving it as their signature sanga for winter.

Now I assumed it was just a name they had given to a creation from their kitchen, but it turns out it’s a specific set of ingredients served on rye bread. They are corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian or Thousand Island dressing.

Admittedly, there are a few variations. And more than one person is credited with inventing the sandwich. But all of them hail from America, which has already done more than enough for international culinary relations with the likes of Krispy Kreme, massive pretzels and Dippin’ Dots.

Here’s a recipe for the sandwich.

How do you make Easter eggs?

6 Apr

I have the feeling I was the Easter Bunny in a previous life.

I mean just look at how much we have in common. It likes chocolate. I like chocolate. It works one day of the year. I would like to do so. It puts eggs in my nephews’ easter baskets. I steal liberate them when they aren’t looking.

The similarities are uncanny.

Then there’s my ongoing work to have the bogness that is candy Easter eggs outlawed. And my commitment to inhaling my own body weight in chocolate. Clearly, my passion for the cause knows no bounds.

But this year I thought I might expand my repertoire even further and have a go at actually making the eggs I eat. And while I don’t rule out superseding this well-intentioned plan with some urgent napping/catching up on Castle episodes, I did get as far as finding a few recipes on the Nestle website. Here they are…

CARAMEL NUT EASTER EGGS

Ingredients
Makes 20
• 395g can Nestle sweetened condensed milk
• 60g butter, chopped
• 2 tsp golden syrup
• 1/2 cup (70g) chopped toasted peanuts
• 1 1/4 cups (185g) Nestle dark melts, melted
• 20g copha (white vegetable shortening), melted
• 1/2 cup (75g) Nestle milk melts, melted

Method
Combine condensed milk, butter and golden syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, simmer, stirring constantly for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Stir in peanuts and cool. Roll heaped teaspoonfuls of mixture into egg shapes, refrigerate until firm. Coat eggs with combined dark melts and copha; place on wire rack until set. Place melted milk melts in a small sturdy plastic bag and cut a very fine hole in the corner to drizzle and decorate eggs as desired.

BUNNY TRUFFLES

Ingredients
Makes 35
• 3/4 cup (190ml) Nestle sweetened condensed milk
• 60g butter
• 1 egg, lightly beaten
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 250g packet sweet biscuits, crushed
• 1 cup (80g) desiccated coconut
• 100g Plaistowe premium dark chocolate, melted
• Silver cachous
• Nestle white choc bits
• Coloured sprinkles
• Desiccated coconut, extra, for decorating

Method
Place condensed milk and butter in pan, stir over low heat until butter has melted; remove from heat, stir in egg and vanilla. Transfer to a medium bowl with biscuit crumbs, coconut and dark chocolate. Mix well; refrigerate 30 minutes. Shape different amounts of mixture into tear drop shapes to form a family of bunnies, place on foil lined tray. Refrigerate until just firm. Using scissors, snip at an angle, the pointed end of bunnies to form ears. Decorate bunnies with silver cachous for eyes, choc bits for tail and coloured sprinkles for whiskers. If desired, sprinkle bunnies with coconut. Refrigerate bunnies until ready to serve.

Anyway, I should point out that I wasn’t paid for this blog as Nestle doesn’t even know I’ve written it. I just knew they had good recipes that would be easy to follow. You can get other Easter goodie ideas at their website.

How do you make toffee apples?

31 Mar

Tonight I have the good fortune to be staying in Adelaide, a place I once used to live, work and dream of getting out of.

Now, I’m being a little bit harsh with that last comment, especially as I made some great friends while working there for three years. And it was one of them who reminded me of my almost literal fall from grace when I sprained my ankle perving on boys (at least that’s how she puts in). Clearly I should explain.

At the time, I was working as Features Editor for the Sunday Mail, where my rounds included entertainment. So every year when the Adelaide Fringe Festival rolled into town, I was snowed under with more stories, reviews and tickets than I could shake a leg at.

One year, as part of the gig, I headed down to the city’s parklands to interview two guys who were members of a famous strongman show that involved lifting each other in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to the huge delight of the audience. And it’s here things went pear-shaped.

My friends will tell you I’ve always been partial to a bit of hot shoulder action, so when these two HUGELY muscled gents appeared wearing only singlet tops, I stopped looking at the ground and consequently tread in a hole, spraining my ankle badly. I needed physiotherapy, which sucked, but in the tradition of silver linings everywhere, the gents in question did carry me back to my car.

Anyway, all the pain made me doubly determined to see their show. And it was as good as the hype suggested. But the memory that really stands out is the toffee apple I had at intermission.

It had been years, nay decades, since I’d last indulged. And my memory had not let me down on how delicious they were. So tonight, after relaying my sad tale of woe, I decided it was time to revisit the past and find out how to make them. Reader moriais on taste kitchen came to the rescue. So here goes…

TOFFEE APPLES

Ingredients
15 small apples, red or green
4 cups white sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1 cup water
1 tsp red food colouring

Method
Lightly grease a baking tray. Wash and dry the apples and insert chop sticks, thick wooden skewers or paddle pop sticks into each apple. Combine sugar, vinegar and water in a small heavy based pot. Bring to the boil and stir in the food colouring. Heat to 150C or simmer for about 20 minutes or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water reaches crack stage – it should set hard and be hard to crack with your fingers. 
Remove pot from the heat and stand in a baking dish of water until the mixture stops bubbling. When the mixture has stopped boiling, hold an apple by its stick, dip into the syrup, tilt the pan (and the apple) until the whole apple is covered. Rotate the apple and let it drain a little then place on a baking tray to harden.Repeat with the remaining apples.

Oh. My. God. How delicious does this sound? Soooo worth the effort. Now if anyone needs me, I will be in the bathroom trying to unglue my jaw!

 

 

Are strawberry lovers really duds in the sack?

29 Mar

Yet again dodgy internet providers put paid to my quest for knowledge tonight, forcing me to turn elsewhere to learn something new.

Fortunately I was well prepared for such an eventuality given I own more than 1000 books. And while a good 70% of those fall under the tiresome definition of chick lit I just knew there would be a gem to help me out. And there was.

It was a very old title called Fortune Telling With Food by Noriko Kuriyama, which promised, among other things, to unlock the secrets of your psyche depending on your breakfast/snack/lunch/dinner of choice.

Here’s a few of her findings:

* No one is more passionate than lovers of raw cabbage (or more flatulent, but that’s another story)
* Eggplant lovers love themselves too much
* Green onion lovers are jealous mates
* Potato lovers get along especially well with their spouses
* Turnip lovers do well in the stock market
* Fig lovers often become wealthy
* Grapefruit lovers marry for looks only
* Herring fans make mountains out of molehills

And finally, comes my, ahem, favourite – strawberry lovers don’t have good sex techniques but they can keep going a long time.

Anyone recognise themself?

Who invented Maltesers?

23 Mar

I am a creature of simple habits when it comes to the movies.

I must sit on the aisle, I must be seated in time to see ALL the trailers and I must be accompanied by a choc top and Maltesers. At a pinch I can do without both of them, but at least one sweet treat is compulsory. A friend to come with me is not.

And so it was that at midnight on Wednesday as the opening strains of The Hunger Games brought an audience of mostly teenage girls to shush, I started in on my packet of delicious malt balls, secure in the knowledge their excited screams would soon drown out any sound of my packet rustling. They did, and I munched away happily. In an even bigger bonus, I had some left over for breakfast the next day (a sad yet ultimately true state of affairs).

So tonight, when I longed to finish the working week with a simple quest for knowledge, my eyes fell on the by now empty packet and I knew what I wanted to know – who invented Maltesers? And the name probably won’t be a massive surprise to fellow connoisseurs of the chocolate arts.

His name was  Forrest E Mars (maybe the surname rings a bell?) and he came up with the confectionary in 1936. These days it’s still produced by his famous family-named brand and here’s a fun fact I discovered – the balls are actually so light they can float on water. I wonder if they’ve considered making life jackets? At least then people might actually listen to the safety briefings!

Anyway, I don’t want to rave on, in case people start thinking I was paid for this blog (I wasn’t). But I do like to know about who makes my favourites movies, my favourites books and my favourite music, so somehow doing the same for my favourite chocolate doesn’t seem so bad.

Now, who wants to know how to make that delicious looking confection above?

MALTESERS LAYER CAKE

INGREDIENTS
If you want to use normal sandwich tins, double the ingredients and split between the two tins.

65g self raising flour
65g room temperature butter
65g golden caster sugar
35g Horlicks
1/3 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1.5 tbsp milk
1.5 tbsp boiling water
Ganache
150g dark chocolate
150ml cream
Decoration
2 packets Maltesers

METHOD

Cakes
This is the mixture for a 5″ tin – you make two batches and then split each one into two. Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter and line the bottom of a 5″ tin. Cream the softened butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and beat in. Sieve the flour, baking powder and Horlicks into the bowl and then fold in until nearly combined. Add the milk and fold again, then finally add the boiling water. Quickly spoon into the tin and put in the oven. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until deep gold and a skewer comes out clean.
Ganache
Break the chocolate up into small pieces and put into a bowl. Heat the cream then pour over the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes and then beat in.
Decoration
Split the cakes carefully into two. Sandwich them with some of the ganache, then cover the whole cake with a ‘crumb coat’ – this is a thin layer of the ganache icing and will give your cake a better looking finish. Put it the fridge to set slightly. While it is cooling, chop the Maltesers. Remove the cake from the fridge and use the remaining ganache to cover the cake. Starting from the top, arrange the Maltesers in the desired pattern, then go down the sides, being careful when placing the pale-side-out halves. Put in the fridge for 10 minutes or so, then serve. Best eaten on the day.

How do you make an apple tart?

20 Mar

I have a friend whose sole ambition in life is to be Martha Stewart.

Goodness knows why, as she would look terrible in prison garb (and seems to have conveniently glossed over the whole insider training thing), but the idea of a world that’s beautiful from the moment you wake until the moment you go to bed has her enthralled.

Now, that sounds kind of Stepfordy to me – I love clutter and lots of it. But I can appreciate the desire for an elegant life. However if we’re going to do things stylishly, I’m more about Donna Hay, especially since she’s Australian.

As I’ve noted before, I buy a lot of magazines, and Donna is often among them, not so much because I want her recipes (although they are delicious) but more because I adore her colour palette and gorgeous food styling. So naturally, when I was trying to find something to take to a Queensland election party on Saturday night (I tip an absolute shellacking for Anna Bligh and Labour) there was nowhere else to turn but her website.

And she came to the party, with the below recipe – from her entertaining section – proving just the trick. It’s so easy and looks so professional I already know I will have to spend half the night trying to convince people I actually made it myself. Oh well, so worth it. Here goes…

DONNA HAY’S EASY APPLE TART

Ingredients
2 red apples, thinly sliced
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
80g butter, melted
1 sheet ready-prepared puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten
Double (thick) cream to serve

Method
Preheat oven to 200C. Place the apple, sugar, cinnamon and butter in a small bowl and mix to combine. Cut the pastry into four equal squares and score the edges to create a 1cm border. Layer with the apple mixture and brush with the egg. Place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cook for 10–15 minutes or until golden and puffed. Serve with double cream or ice-cream.

Apparently, the recipe is supposed to serve four people but clearly, Donna has never met my family!

Bon appetit!

How many stations does Australia have in Antarctica?

19 Mar

I have a bit of a thing for Antarctica. I’ve always wanted to go and always will want to go, even with the lack of reception my mobile phone would be sure to have.

I’m not sure what first sparked this interest. Perhaps it’s the fact that heat makes me so very unreasonable grumpy while cold weather gives me an excuse (like I need one) to drink copious amount of hot chocolate. Then there’s the fact you can see penguins and don’t have to worry about being eaten by a polar bear. It’s also the setting for one of my favourite books – Ice Station by Matthew Reilly.

Anyway, my hunger to go was made all the worse earlier this year when my parents embarked on my – and to be fair their – trip of a lifetime down south, spending weeks on end exploring the southernmost reaches of our planet.

I asked them to bring back a penguin but instead got Gucci’s new Envy perfume, which I imagine tastes far less palatable roasted over an open flame. But on a serious note they did manage to fulfil one of my bucket list items – to visit one of the permanent stations. And the stories they bought back only made me want to learn more. Here’s what I discovered.

The Australian Antarctic Division maintains four permanent research stations, which are occupied year-round by scientists and support staff. They are:

* Mawson (Antarctic continent)
* Casey (Antarctic continent)
* Davis (Antarctic continent)
* Macquarie Island (subantarctic)

You can read more about them here, with information ranging from webcams and science overviews to cultural heritage and information on station facilities. But I found the write-ups so fascinating I had to share one. Here goes…

CASEY

“About 150-160 expeditioners, including Wilkins Aerodrome ground crew, visit Casey  during the summer. About 16-20 remain on station over winter.

Living at Casey is very comfortable and has often been compared to ski lodges, with the odd exceptions. The local ‘supermarket’ is substituted by a walk in cupboard called “Woolies”, where all expeditioners can browse the shelves for soap, linen etc. in a cashless society.

When blizzard days inhibit fieldwork, the main living area (the Red Shed) has indoor climbing, a home theatre, gym, photographic dark room, library and many communal sitting areas for expeditioners to pass the time.

Casey living is very communal and all expeditioners contribute to the day-to-day running of the station. Rosters are set up for Saturday duties that may include vacuuming the living area, shovelling snow, cleaning the cold porches etc. Expeditioners are rostered on to help the chef out in the kitchen (“Slushy duty”) to help feed the station.

Expeditioners have private bedrooms and share a bathroom between three people. Before the summer melt, water is scarce and therefore all expeditioners are limited to two-minute showers every second day.

Casey living is also very social after work and on days off. Every Saturday night expeditioners dress up for dinner and occasionally a theme night will be organised – with very adventurous costumes! The Casey bar “Splinters” is often occupied after work and on weekends with expeditioners playing pool and darts and drinking the home brewed beer.

Casey also boasts a special hydroponics building, which we use to grow lettuce, green vegetables, tomatoes and fresh herbs. These are welcome additions to our winter diet.”

Wow, sounds amazing, doesn’t it? And I would love nothing more than to spend six months living and working there. But sadly sarcasm, a comprehensive knowledge of power ballads and a liking for D-grade monster movies don’t seem to appear anywhere on the list of preferred candidate attributes. As Homer J Simpson would say: “D’oh”.

Did St Patrick really banish snakes from Ireland?

17 Mar

You know it’s St Patrick’s Day when you turn on the TV just in time to hear some dim-witted host utter the immortal line “to be sure, to be sure”.

I mean honestly, I’ve never met an Irish person who actually says that. Nor have I met any who subsist on just potatoes and leprechaun gold.

But year after year the same stereotypes get trotted out. Much in the same way, I guess, as a Canadian airport worker once yelled “Crikey” at me after discovering I hailed from the land of Steve Irwin.

Anyway, knowing how much fantasy surrounds the annual festival on March 17, I came to wonder if many of the stories about St Patrick – Ireland’s patron saint – might also be a little (or entirely) embellished. And turns out they are. The History Channel offered more information.

For starters, St Pat wasn’t even from Ireland; he was born in Britain but kidnapped by Irish raiders as a teenager and taken to the Emerald Isle. After gaining his freedom he returned to England for religious instruction before returning to Ireland as a missionary. Here’s two more myths they bust…

St Patrick banished snakes from the Emerald Isle
Legend has it Patrick stood on an Irish hillside and delivered a sermon that drove the island’s serpents into the sea. While it’s true the Emerald Isle is mercifully snake-free, chances are that’s been the case throughout human history. Water has surrounded Ireland since the end of the last glacial period, preventing snakes from slithering over; before that, it was blanketed in ice and too chilly for the cold-blooded creatures. Scholars believe the snake story is an allegory for St. Patrick’s eradication of pagan ideology.

Green has historically been associated with St Patrick’s Day
The Irish countryside may be many shades of green, but knights in the Order of St Patrick wore a colour known as St Patrick’s blue. Why did green become so emblematic of St Patrick that people began drinking green beer, wearing green and, of course, dyeing the Chicago River green to mark the holiday he inspired? The association probably dates back to the 18th century, when supporters of Irish independence used the color to represent their cause.

Of course even with this knowledge that most of the mythology around St Patrick is just that, it’s not going to stop me going in search of a four-leaf clover to bring me good luck in the Lotto. Just think of all the potatoes I could buy with my winnings. To be sure, to be sure…