Sunday, 29 July 2012

Some cakes and a competition

I went along with two friends to a cake competition and exhibition at the New Dowse in Lower Hutt last weekend. I had seen this advertised along the main street of the suburb I live in, so decided to check it out.

The Wellington Regional Sugarcraft Guilds hosted this event, and if you're interested you can find out more information here. But, I thought I would try and give a quick run down.

There were lots of different categories - the ones I expected such as wedding cake, celebration cake and novelty cake; and others I wasn't expecting such as bonsai tree (I'll explain soon), miniature cake, and floral spray.

Overall, the cakes on show were not really to my taste. They were a bit, well, old fashioned. While I don't argue that an awful lot of skill and love has gone into them, they are something that I'm sure my 80-something year old Nan would appreciate but they are not very appealing to me. I took lots of photos of the cakes I really liked and will talk about a few of them here.

We got to vote for our favourite cake, and this was mine. I loved the simplicity and the colour, although I would ditch the terrible vase and flowers on top.

It was closely followed by this cake. How adorable! The figures were just so well done.

These were my favourites from the floral spray category. Although again, I'm not sure how relevant these are in 2012. But still very clever bearing mind it's pretty much all edible sugar work.

Now onto the bonsai tree. Everything but the container had to be edible, and the tree could not be deciduous, i.e. it had to have leaves. None of this bare twigs business with the excuse that it's winter! Why there is a bonsai category in a cake decorating competition I couldn't quite figure out, but they were pretty cool nevertheless. Remember, everything is edible.

In celebration of the Year of the Dragon, there was a mini cake category. I loved the scales on the first dragon.

There was another random floral arrangement category. Again, random but very well done.

Finally, I just had to share this cake. Is it a cake or is it something else? Half cake, half light show. Again, random. But a cool random. The icing was so well done. Perfectly smooth, not a hint of a crinkle, and so clean.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Engagement cupcakes

Engagement cupcakes? What on earth are engagement cupcakes? Well, this is my take on an engagement cupcake.

I wanted to celebrate four engagements over the last week. (Four!) What better way than with cupcakes, especially when only one couple lives in the same city as me! Congratulations to those four happy couples, I'm so pleased for you! These cupcakes are for you.

Nothing says romance better than chocolate, so I made a delicious chocolate cupcake from the Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Book (I admired this cookbook here). The recipe has a tablespoon of instant coffee in it - I'm a real fan of coffee in chocolate cake/cupcakes, it really brings out the intensity of the chocolate. You can't taste the coffee at all - believe me, I think coffee is yuck, so I wouldn't put it in there if you could taste it.

Anyway, the star of these cupcakes was the icing. Sticking with my theme, the icing needed to be something special, not your ordinary icing. With that in mind, I decided to do a bit of experimenting. A while ago I purchased some Fresh As freeze-dried powdered raspberries, and I have been thinking about different ways to use it. (It's amazing mixed with a chocolate ganache to make truffles).

There are lots of different yummy flavours - blackcurrant, mango, passionfruit, pineapple, plum, strawberry; as well as freeze-dried chunks of feijoa, lychee, mandarin, pineapple and blueberry. Yummo. In Wellington you can buy it from Moore Wilson; outside Wellington from the Kiwicakes website. (Kiwicakes is Whangarei-based, therefore close to my heart. I totally recommend you check out the website, you could spend hours trawling through all the goodies).

Back to my icing. I made a standard buttercream icing and added a couple of spoonfuls of the raspberry powder. This gave my buttercream an incredibly intense, zingy, wonderful raspberry flavour. As well as a beautiful pink colour. This icing was delicious, I was so pleased with how it turned out.

But, I'm biased, so I needed an independent opinion. Or 24. I took the cupcakes to work for taste-testing (one half of one of the four happy couples is my workmate, so it was only fitting). Unfortunately my workmate was away (should have checked that!) Not to worry, everyone else happily obliged!

Apparently the cupcakes were a winner, the icing especially!! A touch of glitter topped off the cupcakes. I'm off to Moore Wilson this weekend to buy some more flavours!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Wild pork roast

My Dad went on a hunting trip to the South Island recently. On his way back through Wellington he stopped to drop off some wild pork. Lucky me!

My poor, poor freezer though! I had to resort to carefully stacking everything in until there wasn't a speck of space left, and then quickly slamming the door shut to hold everything in there. This worked well until my partner opened the door to get something out, only to have half the contents of the freezer collapse on him. Oops. (Of course, it was his fault for opening the freezer - what was he thinking? He he).

Anyway, a giant leg roast was taking up the most room, so it had to go. And by go, I mean it was time for dinner.

As with all wild meats, wild pork needs to be treated carefully. It generally has little fat on it, so you can easily wreck it by drying it out. You skin a wild pig, so wild pork does not have that protective layer of skin and fat that supermarket pork has.

I made my roast a nice little bed of veges to sit on - apples, yams and garlic as well as some rosemary, salt and pepper.

Into the tray I poured some wine, water and pineapple juice. All of these things I thought would give the pork a lovely flavour and tenderness.

I covered this tightly with tinfoil and put it into a really hot oven (250 degrees) and immediately turned it down to 150 degrees for about three and a half hours.

Now, I was so excited about how my roast turned out, that I forgot to take photos! Mind you, as delicious as it was, it just looked like a big hunk of cooked meat, so you're not missing out on too much!

As I carved the meat, I spooned over some of the juices left over in the pan - this helps to ensure it stays lovely and tender as you serve it.

There are only two of us to feed, and despite me piling our plates high - pork is such a treat as I rarely buy supermarket pork (and only ever free-range) - we had a lot left over. So, I thought I would share my ideas for the leftovers.

On the first night of leftovers we had pork fried noodles with Chinese-inspired flavours - I used a marinade of sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, chilli, rice wine vinegar, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. (As an aside, worcestershire is the most ridiculously hard word to spell!! Not to mention that you don't pronounce it anything like it looks, but don't get me started on that one).

I quickly stir-fried some carrot, broccoli and mushrooms, and added the pork as it only needed to be heated through. Some more sauce plus the cooked rice noodles, and dinner was done!

The next night we had tacos - this time I didn't flavour the pork directly, but added a delicious chilli salsa to the pork and salad on the tacos. The meat was still so tender and delicious, yum, yum, yum.

There was even enough left over for lunch the next day!

So, thanks very much Dad!!!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Quest for the Perfect Fudge, part 2

I'm on a mission to find the perfect fudge. Part 1 was not so successful. Oh well, on to part 2.

Following my request for fudge recipes, my wonderful cousin Kelli sent me a recipe to try. And try I did. The result? Yum!

This fudge was a winner! Creamy, no grainy texture at all and a beautiful colour too. And so easy to make! Bung everything in a bowl and zap it in the microwave, stirring now and then.

The recipe called for the fudge to be cooked on medium-high, but my microwave, like my stovetop, has one temperature - scalding hot. So, I adapted and only cooked it for one minute at a time. This seemed to work just fine. I also halved the recipe - with my track record of fudge-making, I didn't trust myself to make a full recipe and run the risk of ruining it all.

Even half a batch made enough for me and my Paul to take to work. An all-round great recipe!

At work, the general consensus was that it was smooth and creamy, and that you could taste the chocolate. I guess my only critisism was that it was quite hard to cut - it tended to crumble rather than cut smoothly. To be fair though, I didn't put it in the fridge as the recipe instructed.

Bring on part 3!!

Creamy Caramel Fudge

2x 395g cans sweetened condensed milk
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
250g butter, chopped
1/3 cup liquid glucose
1/4 cup golden syrup
400g good-quality white chocolate, chopped

1. Grease a 3.5cm deep, 16.5cm x 26cm (base) slab pan. Line with baking paper, allowing a 2cm overhang at both long ends.
2. Place condensed milk, sugar, butter, glucose and golden syrup in a large (14-cup capacity), heatproof, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM-HIGH (70%) for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring with a balloon whisk every 2 minutes, or until mixture comes to the boil.
3. Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM-HIGH (70%) for a further 5 to 6 minutes, stirring every minute with a wooden spoon, or until thick and golden.
4. Place bowl on a board. Stand for 2 minutes or until bubbles subside. Add white chocolate. Stir until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Pour hot fudge mixture into prepared pan. Smooth surface. Stand at room temperature for 3 hours. Refrigerate until firm. Lift out onto a board. Cut into squares.
• Note: You can make fudge ahead, wrap it in wax paper and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Pan De Muerto

"It is written in ancient Mexican legend, obscured by the mists of time, that amongst us will dwell the "shadow-walker". A man who can freely pass between the living & the realm of the dead.
Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) is that gift, & through it you can now taste the afterlife, and partake of the celebration of the dead...
So enjoy your food, and take time to thank and remember those who have passed before us... and don't forget to "live like you’re dead"!!!"

These are the words that greet you when you enter Pan De Muerto in Kent Terrace. Six of us went there for dinner on Thursday, so as something new I thought I would share my thoughts.

The atmosphere inside is strange, but somehow it all fits. We couldn't quite work out how the fairy angel pained on the wall fitted next to the skeleton, but hey, it provided us with a discussion point at the very least.

The menu had loads of gluten free options which was awesome - meant that there was lots of choice. Further, all the gluten free options were clearly labelled. There were also a number of vegetarian options.

For a starter we went for a tasting platter. Probably the highlight of the platter (at least for me) were the jalapenos rellenos, which were tasty little jalapeno chillis stuffed with something cheesy and delicious, crumbed and then deep fried. They were exactly the right balance of cheesy, chilli and spice. Delicious, I could have eaten them all night.

The rest of the platter was pretty good - some nacho chips, dip, meatballs, and some quesdillas, all tasty.

For my main I had fish tacos. The soft tacos came with a bowl of black beans, some very tasty rice, and salsa. While everything was very delicious, I couldn't really taste my fish, it was more "generic protein". By itself the fish was well cooked, and well flavoured. It just got overpowered by the strong flavours of the rest of the dish.

Probably the only disappointment of the meal was the margarita jug. Jug being the word to focus on here. Turns out our margarita jug was not a jug at all but a glass carafe. Hmmm. We all managed a couple of yummy mouthfulls.

Overall, Pan De Muerto provided us with a fun, delicious and filling meal. I would certainly go back. There is a lot more on the menu to work my way through!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Lamb shanks

I don't often buy lamb. It's fair to say I'm a bit of a lamb snob. I'll admit it.

I'm a farm girl - I grew up helping Dad kill and butcher our own sheep. I unknowingly became accustomed to eating the best lamb, and I find that supermarket lamb just does not cut it. It's not as tender, it's not as tasty, it does not look as good (I'm often skeptical whether "lamb" in the supermarket is actually lamb).

Whenever I go home my Dad makes sure I head back with a suitcase full of delicious homegrown and home killed lamb. (Fitting it in my miniature freezer is always a challenge but I have found that, where there is a will, there is a way).

The other day I had a real treat - lamb shanks. Yum.

I wanted to try something different, so I asked Google for some ideas. I found this recipe from Jax Hamilton (of MasterChef fame).

Naturally I changed it a bit, so here's my adaptation of the recipe, and what I did.

2 lamb shanks
Flour for dusting, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 springs of rosemary, picked, chopped
160ml red wine
120ml balsamic vinegar
2 T brown sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Dust the lamb shanks with the seasoned flour.

Fry the lamb shanks in the olive oil until they are well browned. Remove and add the garlic and rosemary for a couple of minutes.

Put everything into a casserole dish. Cover with a lid or tinfoil.

Cook for about one and a half hours. Check the lamb shanks - they should be falling off the bone and beautifully tender.

I served my shanks with mashed carrot and pumpkin, peas and blanched spinach. (I love lamb and spinach, I think they are such great friends).

It's fair to say, the result was delicious. The right balance of sweet and savoury. Meaty and tasty. Everything you want out of a winter time meal. Topped off with a hearty glass of red wine, it was wonderful.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Quest for the Perfect Fudge, part 1

I am rubbish at making fudge. Always have been. I fear it has now turned into some kind of baking bogey man for me. So, I am determined to overcome this baking blip and with this I have launched The Quest for the Perfect Fudge.

I decided to test all different types of fudge from a variety of sources - anything goes and I have asked friends, family and workmates for their best fudge recipes. I'll make these fudge recipes and rate them on taste, texture, and how easy it is to make.

I started my quest the other day. A quick google search for the best fudge, and I discovered this recipe , so I decided to start there.

This fudge proved problematic, I just could not get it to 120 degrees without it catching on the bottom.

The result was a fudge that tasted amazing, but had a very non-fudge like grainy texture that crumbled when cut. It was a delicious caramel-like fudge, but it was unpleasant in your mouth - no one wants a mouthful of sugar crystals.

I'll just have to try again. On to part 2...