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How did Bear Grylls break his back?

14 Mar

Bear Grylls is no more. Actually wait, that sounds a bit too dramatic. What I mean is, Man vs Wild is no more. At least not for the foreseeable future.

I was very sad to learn today the Discovery Channel had fired the action man over a contract dispute. I mean I know the show drew a lot of criticism for its staged elements, but I always found him an amazing role model. He certainly encouraged plenty of kids I know to spend a bit more time outdoors and a bit less time glued to a TV or video game screen.

Anyway, the news got me thinking about what an interesting life Bear has led, with feats including scaling Mt Everest. And it’s all the more remarkable when you consider he fought back from a broken back in 1996 when he was just 22.

Now, I knew he suffered this injury in a skydiving accident. And I was even in the audience at a live show where he shared the story. But somehow I missed it. Probably because I was out getting a drink. For the record not my own urine.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to track down this excerpt from his book Mud, Sweat and Tears

“I was in the SAS Reserves, and though I was years away from my TV career, life was perfect. I was fit and doing a job I adored. What young man wouldn’t love being trained in blowing stuff up, climbing cliffs and high-speed driving?

“That summer, I was helping out on a game farm in South Africa and decided to head to Zimbabwe for some down time before going home to the UK. Fun, for me, meant skydiving with good friends. Little did I know how much I was going to rely on the qualities that first got me a place in the SAS.

“One evening, as the brilliance of the African sun was being replaced by the glow of dusk, my friends and I huddled together in a small plane as we climbed to nearly 16,000 feet. The plane levelled out. Someone reached for the door. One by one, the guys dropped from the door and fell away. Soon I was alone. I looked down, took that familiar deep breath, then slid off the step.

“Three thousand feet. Time to pull. I reached to my right hip and gripped the ripcord. I pulled it strongly. Initially, it responded as normal.

“The canopy opened with a crack that interrupted the noise of the 130mph free fall. My descent rate slowed to 25mph. Then I looked up and saw something was wrong. Instead of a smooth rectangular shape, I had a very deformed looking tangle of chute, which meant it would be a nightmare to control.

“I pulled hard on both steering toggles to see if that would help. I started to panic. The desert floor was coming closer. My descent was far too fast. I was too low to use my reserve chute. I was getting close to the ground, coming in at speed – and then I smashed into the desert floor.

“I bounced like a rag doll and landed directly on my back, right on top of the tightly packed reserve chute. It felt as if something had driven clean through the centre of my spine. I could only roll over, crying in agony. In the pit of my stomach I feared that my life would never be the same again.”

Of course, as we know, Bear’s life never was the same again as it took off in ways he couldn’t have imagined. He climbed Everest, became a global TV star and in the meantime managed to eat any animal not quick enough to get away.

So what I want to know is this. Who will now fill the void of TV presenters willing to give themselves an enema while floating on a raft at sea? RIP Man vs Wild.

BTW you can read the full extract with the story of his accident and recovery here. And here’s another interview I liked in which he revealed the answer to a question I’m dying to know. Here it is.

Question: What is the worst food you’ve eaten in a survival situation?
Answer: Raw frozen yak eyeballs; camel intestine juice; raw goat testicles; live snake; maggots as big as a hand, pulsating with yellow pus; and giant live spiders.

 Ick.

Why does a baker’s dozen add up to 13 instead of 12?

5 Mar

There’s many things in the world that just don’t make sense. Donald Trump’s hair, the success of Jersey Shore and the tabloid world’s continued focus on an obviously non-existent Aniston/Pitt/Jolie love triangle.

Then there’s the baker’s dozen.

Now, I might have just (barely) snagged a C grade in Maths 1, but even I know what a dozen is. So I’ve always been perplexed that a baker’s dozen is counted as 13 rather than 12.

I assumed it was a bit of a quirk, like the way builders used to hoist a XXXX sign to the top of a construction site where they hadn’t been given any beer yet. But there’s actually a legal reason for it, one that goes way back in history.

Because bread has long been a staple food of society, many ancient civilisations levelled harsh punishments on bakers who cheated their customers. The ancient Egyptians, for example, would nail their ear to the door.

And in 13th Century England, things weren’t much better, as penalties for accidentally cheating a customer were severe, starting with fines and going through to the loss of a hand.

With regulations centred around the weight of the loaves, and the almost impossible task of making them uniform, bakers began giving customers more than what they paid for, ensuring they were always over and never under. And in the case of a dozen, say, loaves of bread, that meant customers walked away with 13 instead of 12, ensuring everyone lived to see another punishment-free day.

And thus came the measurement of a baker’s dozen.

How do you make a decadent chocolate brownie?

4 Mar

I never make any secret of my lack of domestic ability. But in tune with this blog I’m determined to try and pick up at least one new recipe a week this year.

Many of them will be practical, but others are oh so indulgent, inspired by my sweet tooth and the weather. And with today being rainy, my thoughts turned only to one chef – the magnificent Nigella Lawson.

I just knew she would have something amazingly decadently to ward off the chills, and I was right. In fact I found the perfect recipe on the front page, and it’s even something I could take to work to share with my staff.

It’s flourless chocolate brownies with hot chocolate sauce. And it just sounds delicious doesn’t it? So without further ado, here’s what she had to share.

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE BROWNIES WITH HOT CHOCOLATE SAUCE

Ingredients

Brownie 
225g dark chocolate, 70 per cent cocoa solids
225g butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
150g ground almonds
100g chopped walnuts
Sauce
75g dark chocolate, 70 per cent cocoa solids
125ml double cream
2 x 15ml tbsp Camp coffee or 2 tsp instant espresso powder dissolved in 2 tbsp water
1 x 15ml tablespoon golden syrup

Method
Makes 16 squares

Brownie
Preheat the oven to 170C. Melt the chocolate and butter gently over a low heat in a heavy-based saucepan. Take the pan off the heat, mix in the vanilla and sugar, and let it cool a little. Beat the eggs into the pan along with the ground almonds and chopped walnuts. Turn into a 24cm square baking tin or, most sensibly, use a foil one. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, by which time the top will have set but the mixture will still be gooey. Once cooler, cut carefully, four down, four across, into 16 squidgybellied squares.
Sauce
Break up the chocolate and put into a heavy-based saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients, then place the pan over a gentle heat and let everything melt together. Once everything has melted  stir well, take off the heat and pour into a jug to serve.

How do you make macarons (and what does this have to do with John Cleese)?

23 Feb

I live about an hour from my nearest capital city, so whenever the big name acts come to town – invariably on a weeknight – I find myself doing a mad dash after work to see them. And so it was this week when John Cleese’s tour arrived..

Now, he wasn’t on until 8pm, but I was blessed with the gene that spawns pathological lateness, so didn’t even arrive at the venue until 10 to. Which left me no time to get dinner, or even a snack.

Needless to say I was ready to eat my own arm – or that of the coughing machine sitting beside me – when the interval arrived. So I headed to the cafeteria with a determined look in my eyes.

Keen to ensure I ordered my essential daily intake of chocolate healthy and nutritious food, I carefully studied the display cabinet row by row, until suddenly, my eyes struck gold.

Macarons. Those tasty treats so popularised on MasterChef and so often eaten by me before I even get back to my car after grocery shopping.

Very unpredictably, good intentions won out, and I had something else. But I decided they would be a good thing to learn to bake so I could casually whip them out next time if ever I host a dinner party. But where to go for a recipe?

Well the MasterChef website naturally (ps, this is not a paid plug). Where I found a delicious looking pistachio and chocolate variety. In fairness, I should point out it is a Western Star recipe rather than an official one from the show.

But seriously, who cares? As long as they taste good. So here goes …

Pistachio and chocolate macarons
Makes 12 macarons

Ingredients
* 125g Western Star unsalted butter, chopped
* 100g dark cooking chocolate, chopped
* 125g pistachio nuts
* 1 1/4 cups icing sugar
* 1/3 cup egg whites
* Pinch salt
* 1/4 cup caster sugar

Method
To make chocolate ganache, combine butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and melt on high for 1-2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until firm. Process nuts and icing sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in caster sugar, beating well between each addition, until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in pistachio mixture in two batches with a metal spoon until incorporated. Pipe 24 x 5cm diameter rounds of mixture on to paper-lined baking trays. Stand for 1 hour before baking, so macarons can form a ‘skin’. Bake at 170C for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely before using a spatula to carefully remove from trays. To assemble macarons, sandwich two cool biscuits together with chocolate ganache.

So there you have it. Now wish me luck as I have a go. I personally suspect the whole thing will end in tears. But at least I can cheer myself up with this Monty Python clip featuring the Black Night. Remember, it’s just a flesh wound!

What is a dirty martini?

9 Feb

My head was not in a good space as I turned the radio on.

I was grumpy beyond measure and all I wanted to do was get home and relax. Instead, I found myself detouring via a service station to replace the $40 worth of diesel I had put in only the day before. Yes. All gone in a matter of 24 hours.

Hoping to find an ’80s track to warble (badly) along too, I reached for the AM band just in time to hear Pink singing about a dirty martini making her girlfriend flirty. Suddenly I realised that while I’ve heard about this drink 1000 times before, I don’t actually know what it is.

I hit the internet to find out when I eventually made it home and it took me all of one second, courtesy of a cool looking website called Dirty Martini

In their words, the definition is basically … “gin or vodka with a small amount of dry vermouth and olive juice (also known as olive brine) mixed and garnished with olives. The resulting dirty martini is a little cloudy, due to the olive juice, hence the name dirty martini.”

A great answer, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to know how to make one. And since the site is obviously a lover of shaken, stirred and more, I figured they wouldn’t mind me showcasing one of their many recipes. Here goes…

Cheesy Dirty Martini

Ingredients
3 ounces vodka
½ ounce dry vermouth
1 tbsp olive brine
3 blue cheese stuffed olives

Method
In a shaker combine all ingredients except two of the olives. Take the third olive and squeeze the blue cheese into the shaker. Shake well for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with remaining two blue cheese stuffed olives and enjoy.

As James Bond would say. I’ll drink to that!

PS: I am aware this is my second alcohol related post in only a few days. And?

How do you make mango daiquiri jelly shots?

7 Feb

I don’t know Kylie Banning from a bar of soap. But I suspect she could well be my new BFF. And it’s all because of those three (OK four) little words I’ve been waiting to hear my whole life – “mango daiquiri jelly shots”.

Now, my love affair with the humble shot goes back a very long way, and was crystallised on the night I hired out a hotel suite to host an Oscars viewing party. I made what seemed like about 100 vodka jelly shots and by conservative estimates had at least 91 of them myself.

Delicious.

Ever since then they have been a bit of a party staple, even as my repertoire has expanded to include creamy concoctions that tell of carnal pleasures with cowboys. But they do say variety is the spice of life, and with the Oscars fast approaching, I needed fresh inspiration.

Enter one very smart cookie called Sam, who brought forth her  copy of Kylie’s book “Legless, desserts to get you in the spirit” which, as the name suggests, offers up alcoholic recipes for everything from fondues to pudding.

Again, I must say, they all sound delicious. But in truth I was only interested in one section – the vodka jelly shots. And who would have thought you could be so creative with ingredients such as vanilla and blackberry mousse, honey, vanilla and cinnamon?

I felt duty bound to do some thorough ‘research’. But as predicted there was only one clear winner – and here’s a recipe I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing . . .

Mango Daiquiri Jelly Shots

Ingredients
1 packet mango jelly crystals
300ml boiling water
1 mango, pureed
90ml Bacardi
60ml Cointreau

Method
Dissolve jelly crystals in boiling water. Pour into blender with pureed mango, blend, then add alcohol and blend again. Pour into shot glasses and refrigerate to set, preferably overnight.

You can read more about the book here. But in the meantime, happy shooting!

 

How do I make pavlova?

26 Jan

Today is Australia Day, so in keeping with the celebration of our wonderful nation, I wanted to learn something true blue. And the answer seemed obvious – finally find out how to cook a pavlova.

The only problem is I have been known to burn water, so expert help was clearly needed. And I knew just where to turn – my friend Petra Frieser, who runs some of the best food websites/blogs you’ll ever find. You can find her wit and wisdom at Sunshine Coast Regional Food and Regional Foodie.

But in the meantime, here is the recipe she was happy to share for her mini pav. Happy cooking and (hopefully) happy Hottest 100.

 INGREDIENTS
6 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
350g castor sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp malt vinegar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 punnet strawberries
1 tbsp glace ginger, finely diced
½ tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tbsp castor sugar extra
½ cup cream, whipped
Persian fairy floss or sifted icing sugar, to garnish

METHOD
Line two baking trays with aluminium foil. Coat foil with butter and sprinkle with cornflour; set aside. Preheat oven to 125C. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff, taking care not to over beat. Slowly add castor sugar, small quantities at a time, beating as you go. When the mixture is extremely stiff and all the sugar has been added, add the vinegar and vanilla essence and combine. Fold sifted cornflour lightly into the mix.
Divide the mixture into eight mounds, four on each baking tray. Stack the mound high by dragging up the sides with the back of a spoon and scoop a hollow out of the centre. Place the trays into the oven and bake for about 
2-2 ½  hours at 125C. The meringues should be hard when tapped. Allow to cool slowly in the switched-off oven with the door slightly ajar.
Slice four of the strawberries into ½cm slices. Place on a small dish and sprinkle with half of the extra castor sugar and glace ginger. Set aside. Process the remaining strawberries in a blender with the last of the extra castor sugar and grated ginger until pureed. Set aside also.
To serve, place each meringue on a dish. Fill the hollow of each meringue with a spoonful of whipped cream. Perch two or three of the sliced strawberries on the cream and scatter the remaining slices around the meringue. Sprinkle with any leftover glace ginger.  
Drizzle the strawberry puree on top of the meringue and around the dish. Garnish with a tuft of Persian fairy floss or sifted icing sugar.

What is the world’s most expensive dessert?

12 Jan

I am a truly excellent cook. I make a mean microwave rice, a mean microwave lasagne and a mean microwave dim sum.

But every so often I like to venture out to a restaurant to taste the work of other, lesser chefs. And so it was today when I caught up with my friend Sarah for an important gossip session work meeting to strategise future analytics.

After a lovely meal of chargrilled prawns with rocket and pear salad (me) and zucchini and corn hotcakes (her), talk turned to dessert and whether I was interested. After a reply that may or may not have included the words ‘bear’ and ‘woods’ the confection arrived – the sumptuously named volcano brownie.

It was divine. Truly divine. So much so it was all I thought about this afternoon. Which led me to wonder – if a brownie that cost less than $10 could taste so good, imagine how good something worth $1000 would be.

And thus came today’s question: what is the world’s most expensive dessert?

I assumed, to be honest, it would be some sort of decadent Parisian or Arab creation, but according to The Most Expensive Journal, it was actually served in the UK – and only last year.

The scene was Lindeth Howe Country House Hotel in Windermere, Cumbria, and the dessertee was British diamond merchant Carl Weininger. He tucked into a three-inch by three-inch chocolate flavoured cake that boasted ingredients such as peach, orange, dark chocolate and golf leaf.

Sounds pretty ordinary, but the real kicker was the ornamentation. As the Journal reveals…

To fully bring the dessert to the level of an ostentatious display, the dessert is topped with a two-carat diamond.

And the cost? A mere $US34,000. No worries. I’ll pop over next time I’m staying in a nearby backpackers.

In the meantime, watch a video of head chef Marc Guibert preparing the dish here.