Tuesday 26 February 2013

Chocolate Mud Cupcakes for a Little Party Girl

When did small girls' parties become such a big old deal? I'm not sure I know the answer to that question; but I can tell you that the food for Little Miss nearly -4s party is shaping up to be quite a big deal indeed. She is so excited that we have had to keep playing it down.
"Is it my birthday tomorrow Mummy?"
"No, not tomorrow; not for a long time yet. Don't worry we will remind you when it arrives"
"We will have party hats wont we Mummy?"
"Sure will"
"And all my Buddies will come to my party"
"Sure will"

This is the second part of my food auditioning exercise. It's one thing to bring out all the old favs, but I don't want to be making the same old thing as last year. The Man-of-the-house got me this recipe from one of his Baking Colleagues after we were lucky enough to sample them. The had intended them to be much smaller, but the mixture rose and rose. Its a great recipe for a crowd as it will makes at lease two dozen smaller cup cakes. Not sure how many actual cupcakes will be eaten, as icing licking is often the order of the day!

Chocolate Mud Cupcakes with Chocolate Butter Meringue Frosting

250g butter
250g dark chocolate
1 double shot of espresso coffee topped up to 185ml hot water

290g flour
10g baking powder
60g cocoa powder
2g baking soda
500g caster sugar

3 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
30ml oil
125g sour cream

Preheat the oven to 160deg. C
Combine the hot water and coffee in a double boiler; add the butter and chocolate. Melt over a low heat until smooth. Allow to cool a little.

Whisk eggs, oil and sour cream to combine - be sure to beat the lumps of sour cream out or they will show up as white spots in the mixture.

Yes that's my little kitchen helper on whisk duty!

Add sieved dry ingredients to the egg mixture with a spatula.
Lastly stir in the chocolate mixture.

Pour into the cupcake cases and bake for approximately 35 to 40 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Don't over bake or the cupcakes will be dry.

 Chocolate Butter Meringue Frosting

4 egg whites
2 cups sugar
a splash of water
4 tablespoons cocoa
500g butter

Yes this recipe is huge! But you will need it all to decorate all those cupcakes.

Beat the egg white with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Don't over beat; they shouldn't look dry.
Put the sugar into a large pot and add the water. Melt over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar is melted. Stop stirring once the sugar is dissolved or the syrup will turn grainy.
Boil the sugar until it reaches 120 deg C on a sweet thermometer.
With the mixer running, gradually pour the sugar syrup onto the beaten egg whites to form an Italian meringue. Once all the syrup is added, beat for a few minutes longer until the mix starts to cool. Add the cocoa to the mix and beat again. Be careful not to start the beater too fast or the cocoa powder will fly everywhere.
Lastly add the cubed, softened butter, and beat into a soft, light butter cream.
I used a piping bag to pipe rosettes onto each cupcake. You can just spread the mixture on with a knife, but I find piping quicker and easier to get a professional finish.

Little Miss nearly-4 helped to decorate them by adding the sprinkles, and we served them to our friends for an all important taste test. I will definitely make them smaller for the party; with less mixture in each case so they don't rise over the edges.
They have made great lunch box treats this week, with plenty of icing licking opportunities. 

Sunday 24 February 2013

Auditioning the Party Food

This was a bowl full of delicious Bacon Wrapped Beef and Goat Feta Meatballs. As often happens when we have guests, I forget to get the final shot before the dish goes to the table. The proof of all dishes is in the eating, and these, as you can tell by the almost empty plate, were delicious. Little Miss 3 has a birthday soon - much excitement in our house - and with lots of her little buddies and their parents coming to the party, I need to try out some possible yummy cocktail food solutions.

Some lovely friends of ours came around this morning for coffee and a catch up - the perfect guinea pigs for a bit of party food.

Bacon Wrapped Beef and Goat Feta Meatballs

750g beef mince
150g fresh white bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic
2 tomatoes 
1 onion
a handful of fresh herbs - parsley, basil, mint
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon chilli sauce
2 teaspoons salt
75g goats milk feta
approximately 28 strips of streaky bacon 

Preheat the oven to 200deg. C. Line an oven tray with cooking foil.
Put the peeled onion and garlic into the food processor; cut a cross into the top of the tomatoes, squeeze out the seeds and add to the processor with the oil, chilli sauce and salt. Blend into a semi-smooth paste. Crumble the feta.
Combine the mince, crumbs and tomato mix.

Lastly mix in the feta - you don't want it to crumble too small, so try not to over mix.

Roll the meatballs about the size of a small walnut. Cut the streaky bacon slices in half, and wrap each meatball in a section of bacon. Skewer two meatballs onto each small cocktail stick and place them onto the oven tray. At this stage the meatballs can be stored in the fridge until required.

I baked them for about 20 minutes in total, turning them half way through the cooking process. The bacon should be crispy and the meat balls cooked through.

Then just serve them up and enjoy. Lucky last ones left. Yes I had eaten two previously - quality control of course!

I'm thinking of just serving one per stick for the party, as there will be plenty more treats on offer for our little guests.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

I Spy Plum Pie

"Each peach pear plum, I spy Tom Thumb..."
Little Miss 3 just loves this book; and as autumn is nearing and all the joys of late summer fruit are upon us it's time for one our favourite seasonal treats: Plum Pie. Part of the attraction is the opportunity to take the pie and the book to Preschool to share with her buddies. She was so excited and just couldn't wait to get out the door with her pie.

I adapted this pie from a recipe I found on-line at www.thekitchin.com

End of Summer Plum Pie

1 recipe of sweet pastry (previously blogged here - just leave the walnuts out)
20 Black Doris Plums
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 200 deg. C.
Roll out the pastry between two sheets of plastic food wrap.

Peel off the top layer and lay the pastry into the tin. Once in place peel off the second sheet of plastic wrap and place the lined tin into the fridge to chill.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a small bowl. Sprinkle a 1/4 of the dry mix over the bottom of the pie. Lay the plums into the pie, cut side down.

Sprinkle the remaining dry ingredients over top of the plums, letting it settle in between the plums. Dot the butter over the top of the pie.

Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 180deg. C for approximately 30 minutes until fruit is bubbling and the pastry is golden brown.

Serve warm or cold. It makes a lovely lunch box filler too.

All ready to go.
At preschool they read Each Peach Pear Plum at story time and shared the pie.
Happy little girl.

Monday 18 February 2013

Delicious Plum Jam

The humble plum is much overlooked among today's vast selection of seasonal fruit. Many of the trees that once grew in everyone's back yard have been felled in favour of less maintenance intensive specimens. As such, many of my plum supplier options have dwindled. So when I spotted a case of Black Doris Plums in our local growers market, I knew they just had to be coming home with us. So many plums, so many possibilities, so getting riper by the minute. I just love plum jam. It's generally better to make small batches of jam, however, care of the chef, almost all of the case load was waiting all stoned and ready to make into after work jammy goodness.

I used the old standby recipe ratio of equal parts fruit and sugar by volume: 2 litres of cooked fruit pulp and 2 litres of sugar. Put the clean jars into the oven - set at 120deg. C - for about 15 minutes to sterilise them.

Add a little water to the pan to help the fruit cook down into  pulp. Use a potato masher to encourage the fruit to break up. Once the fruit is pulp, add the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

My Grandmother would have told you that you shouldn't stir the jam until the sugar has melted, but I am not willing to risk the fruit catching on the bottom of the pan and burning. 
Boil the jam for about 10 minutes.

Take the pan from the heat and test a tablespoonful for setting by putting it on a plate in the fridge.

It will form a skin on top once its sufficiently set.

I also checked the temperature with a sweet thermometer. It should reach 104Deg C. If the jam hasn't reached the setting stage return it to the heat for another few minutes.

Use a jug to pour the jam into the hot jars and seal immediately. Leave to cool before storing in a cool dark place.

I always put a little of the newly made jam into a small container ready for my morning toast. 

At winter's height, there is nothing more satisfying than getting the home made jam out to fill a cake or make a jam tarts.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Fruity Chocolate Caramel Slice

OK, so adding fruit and rolled oats is not going to make this any healthier, but it does make it quite tasty. I have adapted this Donna Hay recipe to make it  bit more interesting; I substituted rolled oats instead of coconut in the base, and sprinkled lots of fruit on the base before adding the caramel.

Fruity Chocolate Carmel Slice

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
125g butter - melted
approximately 1 cup dried currents, cranberries and crystallised ginger

Caramel filling:
1/3 cup golden syrup
125g melted butter
2 x 400g cans of condensed milk
1 block of dark chocolate
a tablespoon of vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 180deg. C
Mix the flour, oats, brown sugar and melted butter. Spread into a lined slice tin and bake for 15 minutes or until brown.

Sprinkle the base with the dried fruit.

To make the filling, place the golden syrup, butter and condensed milk into a large heavy based saucepan and stir over a low heat until the caramel thickens.

Pour the caramel over the fruit and base and smooth out. Return to the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes until the caramel is bubbly. Leave to cool.

Once the base is cold, melt the chocolate, add the oil, and spread it over the base. Leave until cold before cutting into small squares.
The perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea in the garden.

Monday 11 February 2013

Spicy Fruit Loaf

Our Grandmothers knew a thing or two about domestic harmony. Keeping everything and everyone happily ticking along nicely. Seemingly simultaneously attending to the baby, keeping the coal range stoked, cooking the dinner, and mending the children's jerseys.
Many of that generation's recipe books are packed with recipes for loaves of every description. I've never been one for making fruit loaf. It never seemed enough of a challenge, or even technically interesting enough to worry about. But when I dived into my copy of Recipes from Edna's Kitchen in a desperate search for quick Sunday night lunch box bakes, the significance of the good old fashioned loaf all fell into place: made with good pantry staples, melted and stirred up in a flash, and happily left to bake for an hour while more pressing matters are attended to.

I adapted this recipe from Edna Low's Ginger Fruit Loaf recipe.

Cranberry and Sultana Spicy Fruit Loaf

125g butter
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 cups flour
50g slivered almonds
2 teaspoons baking soda
pinch salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon mixed spice
200g dried cranberries and golden sultanas

Preheat the oven to 175deg. C.
In a saucepan, melt the butter, sugar, golden syrup and milk. Leave to cool then stir in the dried fruit.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the nuts.

Make a well in the centre and fold in the butter mixture until smooth.

Pour into a greased and lined loaf tin. I used a silicone tin that doesn't require lining as the sides just peel away.

Bake for approximately 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

When cold slice and butter to serve.
And so on a Monday morning domestic harmony has been restored, and Little Miss 3 heads off to her day job with a tasty snack in her lunch box.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Knitted up a Storm

I know it's a strange time of year, in the southern hemisphere that is, to be knitting up a storm, but I am on a mission to complete my  stash of long time unfinished projects. Every crafter has unfinished items lurking in the cupboard. Things started with great enthusiasm then shelved because something more pressing comes along.

This was my Christmas Holiday project; I took it away with us and knitted on the days when the weather wasn't so memorable. Now I have finally got around to sewing it together and crocheting the edges.

I think I got this pattern from a Tender Centre in a box with a whole collection of others. More patterns than I could probably ever knit in a lifetime.

The wool came from my stash as well. I'm not even sure you can still buy this one, or if it's still made in New Zealand. I have it in the cupboard for more than 10 years.
It knits up on 7mm needles. They were quite clunky to work with until I got used to them. It is super quick to knit up and finished in no time.

I used a double crochet stitch on a 4mm needle around the collar and cuffs. Rather than automatically opting for the black, I decided on a bright, cheerful pink. Instead of working the button hole into the cardy, I crocheted a loop on the edge.

Couldn't be bothered making a special trip to the fabric store to find one button, so I turned over my haberdashery stash and found a cool 70s style button.

The mohair fibre is so light and fluffy, and extremely warm on a chilly evening. I have a good few balls left over; Little Miss Three thinks its lovely and now wants a fluffy cardy of her own.

Monday 4 February 2013

Making Sushi for Lunch

I know that everyone in the civilised world these days knows how to make sushi, but I decided to make some for lunch in the weekend and thought you might appreciate me sharing the process with you. Oh how times change; I think I was in my teens before I even tried it, now Little Miss 3 regards it as a staple.

Sushi Rice

3 cups sushi rice
3 cups water

3 tablespoons rice wine
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
5 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons salt

Wash the rice in a sieve under running cold water. Place into a rice cooker with the water, cover with the lid and switch on to cook.
Place all the dressing ingredients in a small saucepan and gently heat until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
If you have a wooden sushi bowl, fill it with water and allow it to soak in so the rice doesn't stick when you get it out of the cooker.

Once the rice cooker has switched off, lift the lid and cover with a clean tea towel. Put the lid back on and leave to steam for about 10 minutes.

Using a large flat wooden spoon, place the rice into the empty wooden rice bowl. Pour the dressing over the hot rice and use the wooden spoon to blend it in.
Allow to cook before making the sushi.

Marinated Chicken

2 boned chicken thighs - skin removed
soy sauce
rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

Place the chicken into a bowl and add the marinade ingredients. Leave to rest in the fridge until your ready to cook the chicken.
Cook the chicken on a hot grill for approximately 8 minutes each side. I always use a meat thermometer to test its done-ness. It should reach 75deg. C internal temperature when measured in the thickest part. Leave it to cool before cutting into thick strips.

Sushi Rolls

4 or 5 nori sheets
1 sliced capsicum
1 sliced spring onion
wasabi paste and pink pickled ginger

Spread some rice onto a nori sheet, leaving a gap at each end. Make a grove along one end in which to place the filling.

Line up your spring onion, capsicum and chicken. Using a sushi mat roll the sushi as tight as you can. Dampen the outside edge so it sticks the roll together.

A good tip for cutting even sized pieces is to cut the roll in half then into quarters, and again into eighths.

Arrange on a plate with pick ginger and wasabi. Sushi is traditionally served immediately after it is made.
If you don't want to make all the rice into sushi rolls it will keep in the fridge until the next day, and is quite delicious served on its own - deconstruction style.
Sushi rolls make a great snack to serve a crowd as well as a nice lunch snack for the family.