Sunday, December 18, 2011

18 Christmas Cakes & A Gingerbread House

Well it has been a marathon couple of weeks in my kitchen. I have been baking Christmas cakes for sale as I blogged about earlier. I finished decorating the last of my cakes today and it was such a relief. I am really pleased with how it all went as I ended up with orders for 18 cakes. So far the response to the cakes has been extremely positive. The decorating went well, helped along by my awesome mum. Between the two of us we decorated 16 of the cakes in 2 hours last week. The other two cakes were still baking, and I decorated them this afternoon.

Some of the cakes ready for decoration. We cut out boards to fit under each of them.

The first six cakes decorated. My mum brought a selection of ornaments to put on top of the cakes.

All finished and ready to be wrapped in cellophane.

In the midst of baking and decorating Christmas cakes I have also been baking decorated Christmas cookies, gingerbread Christmas ornaments and now today, a Gingerbread House.

My kids were given a kit of cutters to make a Gingerbread House, so we decided to use it before Christmas so that they could show their uncle on Christmas Day (he is the one who gave them the kit). I love making gingerbread and have a great recipe from my mum. We make it every year, cutting out Christmas shapes and then once they are baked, we hang them on our Christmas tree. My kids love spending the week before Christmas eating them, and it makes the house smell delicious.  So this year I have made gingerbread twice, once with my neighbour and her two kids, and now again today to make a Gingerbread House. Once the house was cut out and baked we started taking photos and putting it all together.

I used a recipe for the royal icing that I found over at Sweetopia. The only thing I found was that my egg whites were very fresh and I think that affected the consistency of the icing. I needed to use almost twice the amount of icing sugar to get it right.

Once I did get the right consistency I was about to start raising the walls and putting the roof on.

Raising the walls.

First side of the roof is going on.

I did decorative trim along the joins to make it prettier.
 Because the icing is so thick I did all the assembly work and then my kids were able to start decorating.

I have to say that I am really happy with the job they did. They worked really hard, and only ate a few of the lollies as they were going along. Most of them ended up on the house!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Painted Presents

My sister and I have been busy painting again, and this week we both finished the projects we have currently been working on. We are starting to advertise our pieces for sale, and are putting together an album on our facebook page for people to look at. If you are local and would like to purchase one of our hand painted items for a great Christmas gift, feel free to pop over and browse our album at Painted For You. If you like what you see there, feel free to share our page with your family and friends too. We are trying to build our profile and would love it if you could "like" our page. The more the merrier, I say!

Also, you might be interested in having a look at the new page I have created called  Pay It Forward Project 2011 at the top of this blog. The Pay It Forward (PIF) Project was something I took part in on Facebook. It began as a status update (somewhere, by someone - I don't know who) that offered to give 5 friends something handmade if they promised to copy and paste the status as their own and offer the same to 5 of their friends; thereby paying it forward. I thought this sounded like fun, and it was a good reason to get back into painting again. I finished my first project on the 19th of February, 2011 and finished my last project on 28th September, 2011. It took an average of 8 - 10 hours to complete each project. I had great fun doing it, but won't be participating again next year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Cakes by Jen

"Christmas Cakes by Jen." That's what the sign on the wall at my work says. I decided a week ago that I would try to sell a few Christmas Cakes at work to make a bit of pocket money. Optimistic in my selling power, I put 12 spaces on the order form as I thought that I would be doing well to get that many. I am selling 8" Decorated Christmas Cakes for $35 each and this is obviously a bargain as in the space of a week I have have received orders for 15!

Needless to say, I am madly preparing myself to bake and decorate this many cakes. So far I have baked 5 and have another 4 ready to go in the oven over this weekend. I need to do something each day to make sure that I keep up with demand. I'm hoping to decorate them all next weekend, so they must all be baked by then.

The exciting thing about all this? I said on my form that I would be taking orders up until the 9th December. So I still have another week of potential orders! Who knows how many cakes I will end up selling by the end of the week! I am truly thankful that I said COD and pick up only, I would hate to have to deliver them all!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cookies for a Cure & Gingerdead Men

I've decided that cupcakes are so last year. I have discovered decorated cookies and I love them! I think they are gorgeous and some of the ones I have seen are so intricate that they scare me. I have begun following a couple of bloggers on Facebook who do these cookies on a regular basis and I am head over heels in love with them. You can check them out here Bubble and Sweet and here Sweetopia. I am not the most confident person when it comes to working with icing, so this is a bit of a stretch for me. Luckily there are some great videos over at Sweetopia that have given me a head start on the decorating with royal icing. I also thank Bubble and Sweet for some great tips with recipes to follow and advice on using the fondant icing.

My SH and I have been trying to cut out sugar from our diets at the moment for health reasons, so I have been backing off the baking. This is all well and good, but I have to bring something to our Girls' Night In at work on Wednesday night this week. The other night I browsed the internet to find some Pink recipes that I could make that were relatively easy to make. I came up with Pink Marbled Meringues and Cookies for a Cure. Yay! I had a legitimate reason to bake some cookies now.

The first thing I decided to make was the meringues as I figured this would be an easy recipe as I make pavlova all the time with great success. I followed the recipe exactly, and they were a fizzer! The meringues took on a golden colour on the outside and they were undercooked inside. I have decided that I am never going to follow another recipe for pavlova or meringue again. Mine works, and I should have trusted myself to begin with. So saying, I made a second batch, my way, and they were awesome! Exactly how I envisaged them turning out. The recipe is the same as my pavlova with a few drops of red food colouring swirled through it. Then I dropped small spoonfuls of the mixture onto baking trays dusted with cornflour.

The cookies were next, and I used a recipe that I found over at Bubble and Sweet. It is the easiest cookie recipe to make and cut. I am really happy with how well they turned out. I chose a simple design, a heart shape, covered with white fondant and then a pink fondant ribbon on top. They are super delicious too, which is making it really hard for me to leave them safe inside their Tupperware container!

The other batch of cookies I made are very different from the first batch. I don't remember exactly what prompted my online search, but I was looking at cookie cutters and came across this little guy and just had to have him! I decided to steer clear of gingerbread as the base for these cookies, opting instead for a chocolate sugar cookie. Again, I found the recipe on Bubble and Sweet's blog. I decided to use Dutch cocoa instead of the regular cocoa I normally bake with as I really wanted a dark chocolate biscuit. I am so very impressed with this recipe and how easy it is to use. These are my gorgeous Chocolate Skeleton Cookies.

The skeletons are filled in with Royal Icing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Yay for Birthdays!

I must be the slackest of slack bloggers. It's been nearly a month and a half since my last post in here. In my defense though, it has been the craziest of times for us. September sees my two eldest children through their birthdays, as well as school holidays, and Fathers' Day. Then in October it is my nephew's birthday and most importantly of all, MY birthday!

I have been very lucky this year to have some money put aside for myself. This never happens as I always end up spending it on my kids, or the garden (I love putting new plants in the garden, it's such a good feeling!). This time however, I was determined to spend it all on me. I have always dreamed one day of owning a KitchenAid mixer but the price is prohibitive. At $799 rrp ($AU) I didn't have enough to get one from a major store like Myer or David Jones, so I started researching online to see if I could get a better price. In the end I could get close, but not close enough. Which is when my SH stepped in and said that he would put in the remainder and give it to me for my birthday! Yay for Birthdays! Anyway, my Super Hubby is also a Super Shopper and he managed the best price yet from one of our local whitegoods suppliers, E & S Traders Moorabbin - $650!! I am now the proud owner of Rosie, my beautiful Empire Red KitchenAid Mixer.

I have already used it a couple of times now. My first task was to try out the chocolate cake recipe that my family all use. I have been struggling to get a cake to rise using this recipe and yet anyone else who makes it has no problem at all. I have cake envy! Well with my new mixer the cake was a success! Obviously my old mixer has been on its last legs for some time now. It is 15 years old and has well and truly worked itself into the grave. I also managed to whip up the most gorgeous Chocolate Pavlova from my Maggie's Kitchen recipe book. This was a hit with my family from a taste perspective, but the actual recipe needs to be tweaked as it spread when it was cooking and went very thin in the middle. Not at all like my pavs normally turn out. I'll show the picture here, but not the recipe until I try it again and get it right. I have spoken to someone else who has made this particular pav recipe and she had the same problem, so I know it's not my error in this case, there must be something with the recipe that is not quite right.

It still looks gorgeous though!

This is the pavlova mixture before I baked it according to the recipe.

Finished and decorated. You can see how it has spread to the very edge of the plate.
Anyway, my next post will be up very quickly as I am going to put up all the photos of my craft project that I have been working on this year, so stay tuned!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kitchen 1 - Jen 0

My SH has taken the kids to visit his family in Yarrawonga for an four-day weekend, leaving me at home for work - and a bit of "me" time. I have enjoyed my weekend, with dinners out , movies, shopping and of course, lots of work (I picked up some extra shifts, yay $$). When I realised that I would be alone for an extended period I decided that I wouldn't cook. At all. Now, you've probably realised that I love to cook. So this was going to be my break. Four whole days without doing more than heating up my Tupperware Rock'n'Serve container filled with tasty left-overs. I have plenty of meals in my freezer, so it should have been fine.


Sunday morning and I woke up feeling fabulous. Breakfast in bed (although I had to make it myself) with the newspaper for company. Then some lunch and some gardening, what a gorgeous Spring day it was. I took myself shopping and to the movies. Red Dog is definitely a "must see" movie! I laughed and cried along with the rest of the audience. I think I must have been high from the great day, because I came home and just HAD to bake.

I pulled out my family recipe book (the one with all the hand written recipes in it) and dug around for one I haven't made in a while. I found my recipe for Coffee Kisses, and decided to make a chocolate version instead. At least the kids can eat them then!  If you get the urge to try these biscuits you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cake Pops - By Request or For One Night Only?

A few months ago I discovered Cake Pops. I thought they were the most adorable things I had ever seen, but had no clue how to make them. I did think that they would be far to tricky for me to tackle because they are so intricately detailed with fondant icing and fancy tricks. I even asked my local cake decorating shop if they were offering classes and the answer was "No, they are too much trouble to be worth it". Suitably put off, I consigned them to the back of my mind. Until two days ago, when a friend of mine popped up on my Facebook with a picture of some Cake Pops she had won. Her comment was "I bet you could make these Jen!".

Challenge accepted!

The first thing I had to do was figure out how to make them. I was clueless, so I went to my trusty research assistant, Google, and asked the magic question "How do I make Cake Pops". Why didn't I do this months ago? All the information was right there, and they didn't look tricky at all! Obviously the fancier ones would be too much for me, but the ones with sprinkles looked right up my alley.

(I have actually encountered some stumbling points along the way, so today's blog is going to be a bit more of a show and tell than normal. I have a number of step by step photos of what I did. Mostly because it is different than I expected. If you want to give these ago, I hope my instructions help you avoid the problems that I had.)

The first thing I needed to do was have all the ingredients ready. I've been watching MasterChef this year, and they focused a lot on the "mise en plus" which basically means everything in it's place. So this is my "mise en plus" for the cake pops.

You will need chocolate for melting to cover your cakes. Here you can see I have milk and white chocolate. You will also need Lolly Pop Sticks to put the cake pops onto. The third thing in this picture is the tub of frosting at the back. If you are using one cake, you will need about half of this tub of frosting. I used Betty Crocker Chocolate Frosting with my chocolate cake. The flavour is great!

Disclaimer: The recipe I followed was from the US. If I was making these again, I wouldn't use the same quantities. What I am going to do instead is suggest that you start smaller and work up to it. There are far too many pops to make with the quantities you see in my picture.

So, as you can see I have two cakes. You are going to need one cake. I've made our standard chocolate cake, but you could use a packet mix if you don't have a cake recipe you make yourself. It doesn't need to be a fancy cake, you are going to turn it into crumbs in the food processor anyway! Other than the cake and the food processor you are going to need a large mixing bowl and a spatula. The bowl you see in the picture would be sufficient for one cake. As you will see in my next lot of pictures, I used a different bowl because the two cakes crumbed were too much for the bowl here.

Once you have the cake crumbs and the frosting ready, you mix them together until they are a truffle like consistency. If the mixture is too dry then it won't form into balls correctly, they will crumble apart. It's very important to make sure you get the right consistency. After I had mixed the frosting through, I kneaded it to get the mix to combine completely.

The cake crumbs with the frosting  - starting to mix them together.

Sorry for the glare (blame the lack of photography skills). This is what the mixture looked like after some kneading.

When you have a lovely mix to play with you can make balls out of it. You don't want the balls to be too large, or they will fall off the lolly pop sticks when you are coating them later. All the tips I read online suggested that you should make the balls about 1 inch in size. I found that 1 tablespoon of mixture was the right amount for me.

After the first couple of tries I got my rhythm going, then the balls were easy to make. I lined some trays with baking paper and managed to get 2 dozen on each tray. As I mentioned earlier, you probably won't want to make the amount that I have made. One cake will most likely generate about 28 - 30 balls.

That's a whole lot of cake balls!
Even without the coating they look pretty yummy!
I would recommend making the cake balls the day before you are ready to decorate them. You need to put them in the fridge after they have been rolled so that they are chilled through before the next step. If you don't, you will find them difficult to work with and they won't stay on the lolly pop sticks as well as you would like.

Next you will need to melt some of the chocolate to glue the lolly pop sticks in. Each of the balls will have a flat spot from resting on the tray. I used one stick as a guide and pressed it into each ball to make a hole halfway into the ball. Then I went back and glued the sticks in each ball.

Obviously my cake balls aren't perfectly round. Look at all the crazy directions they are pointing!
Then it's back into the fridge again to set the chocolate glue and let them rest before coating them in chocolate and beginning the decorating process.

I started off by melting the chocolate in a double bowl over a saucepan of water. This is where I encountered my first real problem. The chocolate was very thick and not at all suitable for dipping in. When I tried my first two cake pops, they were literally sucked into the chocolate off the sticks. It was a disaster! I know that working with chocolate can be tricky. I think my problem in this case was that the steam from the saucepan caused the chocolate to seize. I was able to save it by adding some oil to it (my sister's suggestion) and covered another few balls before it seized again.

The two in the top right were the first two. They are darker and look messier. 

The next batch that I decorated was much more successful. I melted the chocolate in the microwave and added some copha to it. This meant it was much runnier and they coated beautifully. I decorated each one with sprinkles or piped melted chocolate on them. You need to move quickly as the chocolate sets really fast! I had some polystyrene which I covered in plastic wrap that I used to stand the cake pops in to set. (the plastic wrap protects the pops from the polystyrene and means that you can reuse it for next time.

This is my second batch. They look great!

My Cake Pop. Ready to eat.
Probably the most important thing I found about all of this is the time needed. They really aren't difficult, but they are time consuming. You need to keep the pops in the fridge while you are working, so doing them in batches works best. You will find that half a dozen at a time would work nicely. My cake pops are fairly simple compared to some I have seen. Perhaps the best blog I found on the cake pops, and definitely the most popular, most mentioned blog is Bakerella. If you want to see some truly amazing cake pops you should head over and check them out.

Anyway, making the cake pops has been a challenge. It has frustrated me and pleased me in equal parts. I have a great bunch of friends who gave me very helpful suggestions when I was stuck with the chocolate. So to them I say a big Thanks! Their help gave me the patience to try again, and I'm glad I did as the second attempt went so much better. As they say, if at first you don't succeed and all that. As my blog post title suggests, the jury is out on whether I will make these again or not. I know that I can. I'm not sure that I want to. I guess time will tell. Perhaps the kids will get involved next time and lessen the work load. Although having said that, kids tend to increase the work load rather than lessen it!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Red is the new White.

A couple of weeks ago I won another competition. This time it was through one of our favourite wineries, Tahbilk in Nagambie. The prize was two tickets (valued at $150 each) to their Wine Club Dinner at the Comme Bar, in the city. SH was pretty excited about the prize as the dinner was actually their "Celebration of Shiraz" dinner. A four course meal, with shiraz tastings at each course. He was salivating! I, on the other hand, was more excited about the food. My dad felt that he should go in my place, and his logic was faultless... I don't drink red wine - only white wine, so it would be wasted on me. Unfortunately I had to disappoint him. There was no way I was missing out on this! I decided that if ever I was going to learn how to drink red wine, this dinner would be my chance. I can't talk about all these wonderful foods in this blog (although admittedly a lot of my favourite foods are sweet dishes) without being well rounded in my tastes. I can't spend my whole life completely ignoring red wine!

Our night began with pre-dinner drinks, glasses of Sparkling Shiraz, which were presented to us as we reached the top of the grand staircase. Half an hour of small talk later and we were shown to our tables in the Grand Room. We were seated with 7 other people, right up the front of the room. Our table was all decked out, with three glasses of Shiraz in front of each place. When I say glasses, they were tasters, so there was about 100ml in each. We were very lucky to be seated at the table with one of the Winemakers and his wife. He was a great talker, and happy to answer all our questions. It was also a plus sitting with him as he told us the order we should taste the wines in, as opposed to the order we were supposed to drink them. He smelled each wine, looked at each glass and then said "this one first" etc. When we did as he suggested, you could really appreciate what he was getting at.

We also got to take home the Shiraz Grape Jelly!

The remainder of the people at our table were great fun, and we had some very lively conversations going around them all. I found that the man sitting next to me had never drunk wine at all, he was a beer drinker, but it turns out his favourite rum is also mine - Mt. Gay. Anyway, enough about the people. I was talking about food and wine!

The menu for the evening was like something straight out of MasterChef. I was in heaven!

Carpaccio of venison with celeriac, Lyonnaise salad, soft cooked quail egg.
Wines: 1991 Shiraz, 2002 Shiraz, 2008 Shiraz

O'Connors Striploin, tongue and cheek with horseradish croquette, jus viande
Wines: 1999 Reserve Shiraz, 2003 ESP Shiraz, 2006 ESP Shiraz
The "steak" is the tongue and the darker meat is the cheek. They were actually both delicious!

Cheese Plate:
Will Studds aged cheddar, parsley cream, quince and watercress
Wines: 1995 Magnum 1860 Vines Shiraz, 2005 Magnum 1860 Vines Shiraz
I didn't like the parsley cream, it tasted like lawn clippings!

Coffee and Petit fours
Wine: Muscat

Our evening finished with an invitation from the Winemaker to ask for him personally when we next travel to Tahbilk. SH is very excited about it, he loves that sort of thing. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and by the end of the evening, I had come to enjoy the taste of the Shiraz too. My favourite was the 1999 Reserve Shiraz, but don't ask me why. My taste for it is still too new to really break it down for you. I will say, that I am certain I will try other red wines now. I'm no longer afraid of trying them. I might not like them all, but I am sure to like some of them!

Finally I would like to leave you with a photo of me, enjoying a glass of red. Nothing momentous for most people, but something that my family felt sure they would never see me do.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Secret Family Recipes

I am very excited about my prize for the May Foodie Competition from albumworks and am really looking forward to spending the $100 voucher on making my own photobook. I have decided to use this opportunity to make my own personal cookbook (might be my only chance!), making the recipes that have been passed down from my Grandma, Oma, and various relatives and family friends. Once I have made them, I will photograph them, same as I have been for this blog, and then put it all together into an album. I have been tossing around names for the album, and think I am going to settle on "Secret Family Recipes". Which is silly, I know, considering that I share the recipes on here anyway! It just sounds cool to me. If someone asks me how did I make my Grandma's Nut Loaf, I can say it's a "Secret Family Recipe". (yes, yes, I am that lame!)

Anyway - my family are looking forward to me doing this as they get to eat all of our favourite recipes too! It's turning out to be heaps of fun already, and I have even tried a recipe that I have never been game to do before.

It was my sister's birthday at the end of June and we had dinner at my mum and dad's house with the whole family. I usually bring a dessert along, so decided to make a cake. Looking through my list of recipes that I want to put into the album I saw that I had put a "Blowaway Sponge" on the list. I've never made a sponge before as I have heard that they can be quite tricky. So I figured that now was the time to give it a try. I have been getting more adventurous with my cooking, so I figured I was up for the task. It turned out well, with only a minor sag in the middle. I have since made another for my neighbour as a birthday cake, and will probably make a third before it makes it to the cookbook.

Blowaway Sponge with whipped cream, Peaches and Passionfruit.
It's the first week of the school holidays now, and the kids are looking forward to baking with me. They love helping, mostly because they can lick the bowl, or taste the biscuit dough. Yesterday afternoon I made a batch of Oma's Chocolate & Vanilla Biscuits, a definite family favourite.

Chocolate & Vanilla Biscuits
These are very easy to make, and they look great. They are absolutely delicious too. I am going to play with the recipe a bit, add some different flavours, maybe mix up the colours a bit. Whatever I decide to do, I have a ready supply of taste-testers lining up to help.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Painted for You

Well it's official - we are open for business! Lynette and I have created a Facebook page called Painted for You that showcases projects from our weekly painting sessions. There are some items that are ready for sale, and others that are examples of work we can do for you. I hope you come along and check out the page, remember to "Like" it so that we can keep you updated as we add more things to it. Thanks!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Female Prerogative

When I was growing up, my dad would always say if ever any of us girls changed our minds about something that it was a woman's prerogative to do so. With that in mind, I am going to make use of my female prerogative to change my mind about the Cook The Issue competition. Basically I am wimping out of it. I have entered two of the photos that I have taken, and have cooked a further 3 dishes now. My problem is, I have looked at the gallery of other entries and it seems to me that I wouldn't have a chance in the competition as there are a number of photos that look to have been taken professionally. I just don't have the energy at the moment to try to be more than I am. I am quite happy cooking for my family and myself, for pleasure, so that is what I will continue to do.

I am very happy with my win in the albumworks Facebook competition and I am looking forward to receiving my prizes. In the meantime I have been watching MasterChef avidly on the tv, and drooling over the great recipes. Last night's episode featured Nigella Lawson and her recipes. I love her! She is such a diva in the kitchen, she makes cooking look such fun.

I was inspired by the episode and decided that I absolutely had to give her Red Velvet Cupcakes a try. Needless to say, my family were behind that decision one hundred percent! Now up until yesterday, I didn't have any idea what a Red Velvet Cupcake was. I was under the mistaken impression that it was a "hot" spicy cake, perhaps with chilli or hot cinnamon in it. I don't really know why I thought that, perhaps just that the colour is such a "hot" colour. I know now that it is a chocolate cake with red colouring, which seems pretty straight forward to me.

Thanks to my sister for sending me a link to an article that features Nigella Lawson - Sharing the Love which includes her recipe for these cupcakes. A quick read over the recipe and I realised I would have to go shopping as she doesn't use regular everyday ingredients. I needed to pick up Buttermilk, Cream Cheese and Christmas Red paste food colouring. Luckily we have a great cake decorating shop near us, so I was able to get an awesome "Red Red" Wilton food paste that would do the trick, and grabbed the rest of the things from the supermarket.

I spent a great afternoon painting, although without my sister as she is ill (it's not the same without her, but I managed) and after a lovely dinner with mum and dad, decided the time had come to whip up the cupcakes. So recipe in hand, I went into the kitchen. It was surprisingly easy to make, although I altered the recipe just a touch. This batch of cupcakes is for the kids, so with all the allergies we have in our family I wasn't keen to use a tablespoon of food colouring! I decided to try a third of that and see how it turned out. The recipe says it serves 24, but when I spooned it into the cases I was lucky to get 18. I think for my next batch I will make 12 decent sized ones, and I will try more colouring to see if I can get a really red cake. Today's batch were delicious, but they are a light chocolate red. I am really happy with how they turned out. They are a delicious cake and I can see myself making them again, perhaps without the red colouring, for a regular cupcake.

Decorated with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting and a sprinkle of Rainbow Coconut

This is a third of the strength of the food colouring.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


At the start of May I received an email from my Dad suggesting that I might like to enter a competition online. It was a Facebook Foodies contest that asked for the entry of your favourite foodie photo of something you have cooked. I thought it sounded like a bit of fun and entered my photo of the Cookie Monster Cupcakes. It involved getting votes to win, so I shared it amongst my friends on facebook, and they shared it with theirs. I was interested to see how I would go, as the odds seemed to be in my favour. There weren't many entries, and I had entered at the start of the month, so had plenty of time to build up my voting base. I have a large circle of friends on facebook, but soon found that friends of friends of friends seemed to be voting for me too. I was definitely feeling the love!

Anyway, as you can no doubt guess from the title of this post, I was placed First! in this contest. I logged on to check it out yesterday and they had just announced that my photo was the winner. I am very excited about this! The prize is a $100 voucher for a photo album from the company running the competition. Also included in the prize is a 12 month subscription to the MasterChef Magazine, and Adam Liaw's Two Asian Kitchen's hardcover cookbook. I can't wait to receive these in the mail, and then also to choose the photos that I would like to form into a hardcover album.

Needless to say, I am immensely grateful to my dad for suggesting I enter, and to all the family and friends who have voted for me over the month. Thanks for the support! (Oh, and thank you to the Tupperware recipe page from where I got the idea in the first place).

My SH and the kids are very excited that I won, and SH has taken to calling me his personal MasterChef. He is glad that I have decided to enter the Cook the Issue competition as he gets to continue trying new dishes as I cook them.

I don't know where I am going to go with my cooking. At the moment it is something that I am doing for me (although my family are benefiting from it) so while I enjoy trying all these new things, I will continue. I am like a sponge, everything I can watch, or read about cooking, I will. I have just started reading Julia Child's cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" which I first learned of in the movie "Julie and Julia". It's an old old book, but it has some fantastic knowledge in it, which is what I am looking for.

My favourite cookbook is the one I used when we were taught cooking at school "Cookery the Australian Way". I really enjoy reading a cookbook to discover the techniques that different cooks or chefs use. Slowly I am piecing these together and I think it is starting to pay off in the dishes I am able to prepare now. Where before I was a tentative cook, now I am becoming more ambitious and adventurous. I am really enjoying pushing myself in the kitchen, and I know my family are too.

Monday, May 30, 2011

I must be crazy!

I spent the night poring madly over the Good Taste magazine, trying to decide what recipes I would like to try my hand at. I had a notebook and pen handy, so that I could note down the recipe and page number of each one. I realised quite quickly that I wouldn't be cooking everything in the magazine, there simply aren't enough days in my week to do that. Especially as I have too many after school activities with the kids, plus my own part time job and the job of being a mum/housewife. So, I have made a cut-down list, and I don't even know that I will get through all of those!

So far I have cooked two recipes (and I only bought the magazine yesterday), so I am on my way. The rest of the recipes that I would like to tackle, in no particular order, are as follows:

Beef & Guinness Pies
Choy Sum (side dish)
Pear & Frangipane Tart
Beef Lo Mein
Pea & Ham Soup
Smashed Roasted Garlic Potatoes
Tomato, Zucchini & Capsicum Bruschetta
Baby Beetroot & Lemon Chicken
Ricotta, Mixed Vegetable & Beef Lasagne
Chickpea & Prosciutto Minestrone
Chicken with Ham & Cheese
Yaki Udon with Chicken & Mushrooms
Chicken Cacciatore
Chicken Cottage Pie
Choc-Chip Cupcakes
Raspberry & Lime Friands
Spiced Fruit Scones with Maple Walnut Butter
Choc-Vanilla Cupcakes
Hazelnut Choc-Chip Biscuits
Rocky Road Brownies
Banana Cinnamon Muffins
Golden Syrup Dumplings
Chewy Caramel Slice
Mini Baked Coconut Cheesecakes
Beef & Potato Pot Roast
Bolognaise Pies

At this point, I was 3/4 of the way through the magazine and forced myself to stop as there is no way known that I can finish these, let alone any others. Anyway, as I go along, I am going to cross out the ones I have done, and post their picture on the other page. Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cook The Issue Competition

I have been inspired by my dad to enter a Foodie competition on Facebook over the last month. I submitted my photo of the Cookie Monster Cupcakes as my entry and am now waiting for the month to end and a winner to be announced.

This has given me a bit of confidence and I've decided to enter another competition to see how I go. The new competition is in the Woolworths Australian Good Taste Magazine (available at your local Woolworths Supermarket) and is called Cook the Issue. Basically to enter you need to cook one of the recipes from either the June or July issues, photograph it and then submit it as your entry. You can do this for one recipe, or for as many recipes as you like. There are a couple of different ways to win, you can even try to cook every recipe! That sounds like a challenge, but the trouble is, we wouldn't eat half of the food I would be cooking. Unfortunately our family are not fans of anything with chili or curry (really hot spicy flavours) which are so popular with most people.

I have created a new page on here for all the photos of the recipes as I make them. I started today, so there is already a photo in there. I am going to make the sweets, cakes and desserts first, as I know that my family are definitely fond of those! Today's effort was a Butter Cake with Orange Icing. It was absolutely delicious with my coffee, so I will make that one again.

If you are interested in knowing the recipes, I can probably put them up too. I will just reference the page in the magazine at the moment though. So let me know in the comments if you are wanting the recipes too.

Wish me luck, I'm going to enter my first photo now!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Step Away from the Cook Book.

These last couple of months have been all about stretching myself creatively. I have been working hard at my painting for the Pay It Forward Projects (no spoilers yet... I'm in the meaty part at the middle now) and have delivered two of them now. These have been great fun to work on, and I am doing things with them that I have never done before. I have been mixing my own colours, and in the current project I am even working on my own designs! This sort of thing terrifies me, as I am much more comfortable following someone's instructions.

This need for instruction spills over into my cooking. I love a good recipe and have a cupboard full of cook books that are well loved and definitely well used. I'm usually just not game enough to trust myself to make something without following a recipe (well unless it is a meal that I make all the time, and even then it takes me many attempts before I branch out on my own). This is particularly true of baking, because it is a science.  It involves exact measures, correct ratios of liquid to dry ingredients, perfect cooking temperatures etc. My mum is great at baking, her biscuits are the best ever, and she never uses a recipe or measures anything. She just works on instinct. Did I mention that it terrifies me?

Anyway, as you have seen in previous posts, my kids love a good cupcake. I have made many different types of cupcakes this year as I have a cook book dedicated to the Perfect Cupcake (what a surprise!). I've made Lemon and Coconut; Triple Chocolate; Vanilla; Pineapple, and most recently Pear cupcakes. With the exception of the pineapple and the pear ones, these have all been made by following a recipe to the letter. However, the last two I made by altering one of these recipes just slightly. They worked ok, but really, you couldn't notice the addition of the pineapple or the pear - the flavours just aren't strong enough.

What happened last night with the Pear cupcakes surprised me though. While I was eating it, I started to think about what I could do to bring out the flavour more, or what would even be a better flavour. I thought that the pear would work really well with a ginger spice cake, rather than a regular cake. I don't have a recipe for that, so I realised I would have to wing it! My sister suggested having larger pieces of the fruit, rather than the puree that the recipe called for. So with these thoughts in mind, I whipped up another batch this afternoon. I took the base recipe, added  the spices I would put into gingerbread (cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, ginger and cocoa) and then put some roughly chopped stewed apples into it. I am really pleased with how they turned out and I have put the recipe in the other page. It was a very light spice, so if you wanted a more heavily spiced cake, you would need to alter the quantities to suit your tastes.  I've put a glaze icing on them and sprinkled them with dusting chocolate. My kids had them warm as a dessert, and are looking forward to taking them to school tomorrow for their morning snack.

Being such an easy recipe, I will be sure to make them again, and might even play with some other flavours now that I am more confident. Probably the biggest highlight for me though? I made the recipe completely from memory and invention. Not a cook book in sight!

Note: It was Mother's Day last Sunday and as I said earlier, I made Pineapple and Lemon/Coconut cupcakes. What I didn't say was that I decorated them and took them to dinner. Here's what I did with them.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Best. Sticky Date. Ever!

I am a sucker for a good dessert, especially if it is warm and pudding-y with a decadent sauce dripping over it and a scoop of ice-cream on the side. My usual tried and tested pudding is a family favourite that we call "Apple Upside Down Cake". It is nothing like an upside down cake in the traditional sense, in fact it isn't even upside down! Tonight I decided to serve something a bit fancier.

Taking the "fancy" theme to the main meal too, I served a Chicken, Mushroom and Zucchini Quiche (with a homemade Shortcrust Pastry) with a fresh green salad on the side. I followed this with little individual Sticky Date Puddings with a Butterscotch Sauce and vanilla ice-cream. Dinner was a success, which is always a relief. I know my family will eat most things that I serve, but it is better when they lick the plates clean, raving about the food. It makes me feel really good!

While the quiche was good, it was the puddings that really stood out. SH thought they were better than any he had tasted at a restaurant. It is such an easy recipe, I will definitely be making them again.

Having said that though, I am sitting in my family room watching MasterChef on the tv while typing this. I could never be on that show! (or any others like it). I couldn't take the pressure, and I know that my presentation of my dishes is not of the same standard either. So if you are reading my blog and expecting great things... you will find it in the taste of the food. The name of the blog says it all - Something I Whipped Up. My recipes are quick, easy to follow, and not a lot of fuss. My family love them, and people are always asking me for them, so that's what prompted the blog. I have to say... watching this show has really gotten under my skin. I have a picture of my pudding, but it isn't as fancy as I would like. I'm going to post it anyway, but don't judge a book by it's cover. It really is delicious.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Grandma's Nut Loaf

Thanks to my commenter Jessica, I realised that I have never told you how my attempt at making Grandma's Nut Loaf turned out. I took her recipe and a recipe from the cookbook and figured out how to make them work as a baked Nut Loaf. This was much easier than all the rigmarole involved with making the original boiled version, and the end result was delicious! Of the two nut loaf recipes I have posted (I just put Grandma's recipe up) I definitely prefer Grandma's for flavour. Whether or not that is because it is a flavour I grew up with, and as such has many great memories attached, I don't know. Perhaps you will make them and be the judge.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reality Strikes

After the roaring success of my Cookie Monster cupcakes, I was asked by one of my friends "What are you bringing to our house for dessert?" I loved making these cupcakes, but didn't know where to go with them next. My biggest concern was, did I peak too soon? Are they the best I would ever make? What on earth was I going to make next?

Anyway, I don't come up with all my ideas by myself, so I decided to chat with my mum about my cupcake dilemma. I had been looking online for inspiration but couldn't find any. I am really glad that I talked to mum as she came up with a great idea, which I was able to bring about. She suggested we make Easter Bunny cupcakes. I loved the idea as it was one that would be easy to implement, and I could get the kids to help with the decorating. This would effectively kill two birds with one stone as I was looking for some school holiday activities anyway.

As you have probably gathered by now, I love to bake and make things "from scratch". Sometimes however, things happen and I have to reassess my priorities.  I have a long standing problem with my neck (too long and boring to go into here) that means that there are times when I am really not capable of much. For the last 3 months I have been in pretty good condition, with little to no pain. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, the last week has not been so good. I have been experiencing some of my old symptoms and I have been quite stressed about it. The other bad thing about all this is the fatigue it brings with it. So saying, when I was driving with my SH on Tuesday on our way home from dinner with his family, I asked him to stop by the supermarket to pick up the various bits I needed to decorate the bunnies.  I had been exhausted all day and the day before that, and SH very politely suggested that I have a tendency to "overdo" things and really couldn't afford to do that and risk injuring myself again. He is right, and I have started to understand that I need to listen sometimes and not take on too much.

So I will admit to something here and now... my Easter Bunny Cupcakes are not mine! I made the cupcakes using packet mixes. I iced this with the packets that came in the box of cake mix. In fact, I didn't even decorate them! My two beautiful daughters, aged 8 and 12, are the super cake decorators in this instance. All credit should go to them for these beauties!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Something Went Wrong.

After a BIG week at work, I was really looking forward to this weekend. We had been invited to dinner at our neighbours' house, and it was set to be a great night. I really enjoy their company (as does my SH) and their kids and ours play really well together. As dinner was to be at their house, I offered to bring a dessert. It was my intention that I would blog about this dessert afterwards. I was probably going to be really smug about it too, in that annoying way that people who do things really well can do. Yes, I admit that I am that person some times. Look at me. Look what I can do. Well there was none of that in my dessert! (well, there is a little bit of that, but in the other dessert I made for the kids. More on that in a minute).

Anyway, my chosen dessert for tonight is one that we all love. Tried and tested, but I haven't made it in ages. Lemon Meringue Pie. What could possibly go wrong with that? Well apparently, a lot! I chose a recipe from my favourite cook book as I know that it has fool proof recipes. Hmmmm... can you already get the sense that they should have tested their recipes with me before declaring them "fool proof"?

I went the whole hog with this recipe, made my own pastry casing for it and everything. Only trouble is that I was also making the kids' dessert at the same time. In addition to this, I chose this time to have a deep-and-meaningful with my SH. So not just doing two things at once, but three, and this was after a full week at work, with an extra shift this morning thrown in for luck. Needless to say, I probably should have been paying a little more attention to what I was cooking, and a little less attention to my SH. lol

So, long and the short of it, I missed a step while preparing the Lemon Meringue Pie. Just a little step, but with massive consequences. I forgot to blind bake the pastry case! Now, this is pretty critical. You make the pastry, you roll it out, you lay it in the pie dish and you bake it. There is no avoiding this step. Once you assemble the pie it actually only goes back in the oven for 5 minutes, so there is no way that the base would get cooked in that short amount of time. Well, I forgot. Plain and simple. I didn't actually realise that I had forgotten until the pie was finished and I was pulling it out of the oven. It looked gorgeous. Lovely browning on the meringue top. It smelled delicious. But something was off. I knew it. On closer inspection, I realised what I had done. I had a raw pastry casing under my pie. I was devastated! I called mum and told her what had happened, and we both decided there was nothing I could do to save the pie. The filling was perfect, I just couldn't do anything to rectify the base.

It was delicious, we just couldn't eat the pastry case.

Well luckily for me, my neighbours are very forgiving. When it came time for dessert, everyone received a serving of the lemon filling with the meringue topping and some icecream on the side. The pastry was a write-off, but the dessert was still deemed a success by them all. We talked a little about the TV show, My Kitchen Rules, and decided that I would have received a 4 as my score for it on presentation, but would have scored higher for taste. Ah well. I never said I was perfect, and this proves it.

Now, on to the other dessert I made tonight. The Lemon Meringue Pie was for the adults and I had intended to make a jelly dessert for the kids. When I came home from work yesterday I saw a bag from mum on the kitchen bench and it had a box of vanilla cupcake mix in it. This changed everything for me. I decided to make cupcakes for the kids and decorate them up. Turns out the box was only the icing packets, the cake mix had already been used, never mind. So this afternoon I looked up a recipe for cupcakes from a Facebook page I follow called "365 Tupperware Recipes in 365 Days". I had seen it in my news feed a couple of weeks ago and thought they were really cute. I am not going to post the recipe in my blog as you can find it by following the link. These Cookie Monster Cupcakes were really easy to make, and I have to say, a massive success! The kids were so excited, and I was thrilled with Nat's reaction when she first saw them. Taste test responses from everyone were really good too. You should definitely give these a go!

Cookie Monsters!

Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Something Grandma Whipped up.

Last night my youngest sister was over for dinner with her 9 week old son. We had a lovely evening, very quiet and relaxed. As we were talking about our plans for the rest of the weekend, I mentioned that I would be baking snacks for the kids' school lunches. My plan was just to use up the couple of packets of muffin mixes that Super Husband (he told me that, after my earlier post, this was now his Official Title) had purchased the week before. Low stress, easy, no mess baking. My subconscious obviously had other ideas.

Last night I dreamed of my Grandma. She passed away a few years ago now, and spent the last years of her life suffering from Alzheimer's. This terrible disease took her from us well before it took her body. My dream was of Grandma as I remember her from my childhood. We regularly went to visit her and Pa for lunch on a Sunday. We would be dressed in our Sunday best, heading straight over there after church. Grandma had this tiny little dining room table that at best sat 4 people, yet there we were, 8 of us, sitting around it happily. We would usually have fresh salad sandwiches that we could make up ourselves, accompanied by a glass of icy cold Cottees Coola Cordial (mum never had this, so it was a real "only at Grandma's" treat ).

After lunch we would sit around and talk and talk. I would do crossword puzzles with Grandma's help, or go into her spare room and read one of the many old books that she had in the book case there. After a while, it was time for the adults to have a cuppa. This was our favourite part of visiting Grandma and Pa because she always baked. She would serve "Slater" Biscuits (so named because they were ridged like a Slater Bug), or Shortbread, and always had plenty of Nut Loaf on hand. This is what I dreamed of last night. Afternoon tea with Grandma and Pa and her Nut Loaf.

Yes, Subconscious Self, I can take a hint. I woke up this morning with a massive craving for Nut Loaf! SH and I went grocery shopping before lunch, and I proceeded to buy the various bits and pieces that I would need to fulfill this craving.

When we first realised that Grandma was getting sick I asked my mum if it would be rude to ask Grandma for the recipes that she uses to bake all the yummy things she served us. I couldn't bear the thought of them being lost for all time as I was quite sure that she just made them from memory (like my mum does). Anyway, mum said I should ask, and so I did. I now have copies of her Nut Loaf (plus a few others) and a sheaf of recipes from my Oma as well. I figured that what was good for one was good for the other. I didn't want to miss any of their great baking treats after they were gone. Good thing I did too, recently one of my cousins asked if anyone knew any good Dutch recipes (my mum is from Holland). I was able to help out with the many recipes that I had "inherited" from Oma. Yay!

Anyway, Grandma's Nut Loaf is a great recipe and we all love it. The only trouble is, it requires soaking some of the ingredients overnight. Obviously having just dreamed about it last night, I hadn't the opportunity to do that. I wasn't going to be beaten however, and dug out another of my many cookbooks to find a suitable recipe that I could use instead. The book I grabbed was The Australian Women's Weekly Cakes & Slices Cookbook. There are a couple of baked Nut Loaves that I have tried out previously and I knew that I could whip one of them up no worries. Looking at the recipes on offer I settled on the Date & Walnut Rolls. My kids love Dates and this was sure to be a winner. It's not a tricky recipe, and before long I had a saucepan on the stove, and then the loaves were in the oven.

Nut Loaf Tins aren't like regular cake tins.

The Nut Loaves smelled delicious and before the hour was up I knew they were ready. Not long after I pulled them out of the oven I received a phone call from my other sister. She wanted to know if they could pop over for a coffee, but I invited them to stay for dinner. By the time they arrived, the Nut Loaf had cooled enough for a taste test so I sliced a little bit off the roll. My plan was for my sister and I to taste it, but not to tell the boys (SH and Brother-In-Law). Why share the goodness? Just kidding. Anyway, I kept slicing because the kids came running once the smell hit the other room. We quickly spread the slices with butter, and I called out to the boys "Who wants some Nut Loaf". Imagine my surprise when an unexpected voice answered back, quick as a wink "Is the Pope a Catholic?". It was my brother, and I had no idea that he was even here! Talk about good timing. He couldn't believe his timing either. He said that he was only telling mum yesterday that she should make some of Grandma's Nut Loaf as he missed it terribly. What luck! I am just really pleased that the recipe makes 2 loaves, given how fast we went through the first one this afternoon.

Kids are in bed... this is my supper. Yummo!