December 14, 2011

Holiday safety....

A terrible, terrible month it has been for me. I have been snapping away with the camera and waiting for that one night when I get a chance to write about a few yummy meals we have eaten. Alas, it is December and the busiest time of the year for any caterer I am sure.

I know it sounds like an excuse but I can assure you I am not happy with my blogging performance!
Another thing I'm a little miffed about would be the fact that I made a fabulous chocolate cake for a clients champagne breakfast last weekend and didn't even get a change to nab a photo due to my stupidity.

That's right, I didn't take the festive seasons safely course (I know it doesn't exist but maybe I should do one every year just to remind myself I am not really capable of working EVERY job I can). OK I will let you in on why I am unable to blog at the moment...you see I was helping out a friend of mine who needed a server/waiter to make her last evening of dinners a roaring success. I said 'yes' knowing I had the breakfast the next morning but I was confident I really wasn't over doing it.

Before we could even get all the entrees out I was opening a guests champagne bottle, got distracted and popped the cork straight into my eye!! As the ER eye doctor commented, 'Ouch, corks and eyes DON'T mix very well- WOW look at that mess!" (not the type of conversation you want to have with an eye doctor on a Saturday night in the ER). Anyway I was put on total bed rest with the hope that my eye will stop bleeding (behind the eye FYI). Sadly it was still bleeding on Monday and I really can't see straight so I'm hoping tomorrows appointment will be full of good news and festive joy when I go back for another look.
Staring at a computer screen is a nightmare, so please excuse the errors in this post- I'm doing the best I can with one eye open. Please, please, please take care around all corks but especially champagne ones and have yourself a fantastic holiday season. I will leave you with the chocolate cake recipe because it really was a delicious looking cake!




HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Moist chocolate cake

250 grams unsalted butter
200grams dark chocolate
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup perculated coffee
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 150 degrees.
Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl over simmering water until it has melted then remove from heat.
Add sugar and stir until well mixed.
Add cocoa powder and boiling water together to make a paste then add to the chocolate mixture along with the coffee then stir to combine.
Add flour and lightly beat until mixed then add an egg one at a time followed by the vanilla essence.
It is a very wet mixture so line your tin with baking paper.
Pour in mixture, place on a tray and into the oven for 1 and half hours. Check with a wooden skewer that it is cooked.
Cool on a wire rack and cover with chocolate ganache.

November 29, 2011

Dr.No

Hello dear readers!
It is true I have been off gallivanting across the states of Australia instead of cooking for my family but with very good reason.
Last month a got an S.O.S email from a reader who is lucky enough to be a chef on a fantastic boat called Dr.No which is travelling all over the Pacific in search of amazing dive locations and destinations where they can launch the fabulous little mini-submarine they just so happen to have on board. Now, while docking in Cairns for some air conditioning attention and a bit of 'land' time I was asked if I'd come up and join Lisa (chef) in the galley for a bit of one-on-one cooking time.

Like some of you, Lisa has been powering through Family of Foodies looking for food ideas and inspiration for the endless meals she has to cook on board the boat. At the best of times cooking for a group of people can be a bit tricky but when you throw in challengers like; one person is gluten intolerant, another dairy free/no fish and last but not least a vegetarian, well this just makes meal time a tad tricky and we haven't even begun to talk about what happens when the guests rock up, this is only the crew!

How could I resist the challenge and the fact that it was in sunny Cairns, thus making my decision that much easier (how quickly I forgot the galley was a hot box due to no air conditioning!).

Lisa and I had a massive amount of cooking to do and not nearly enough time to do it in, but we covered a LOT. Our first day kicked off with a quick shopping trip to the markets and then it was back to the galley to whip up lunch for the crew which consisted of two soups. A spiced carrot and orange soup and a potato and leek soup with a side of garlic and rocket sauce. The soups were teamed with tomato, basil and bocconcini quesadillas which were a big hit with everyone except Lisa who is the gluten free person, however, she loved the carrot soup.


With lunch out of the way we swiftly moved on to one of the breads I wanted to show Lisa. Bread is a great way to feed a large number of people, especially when you can play with the flavours and toppings once the kneading is done. I took this little video of Lisa doing all the work......after all she needs to know just how much work that dough kneads! :)

video

While we were waiting for the bread to prove we  moved on to a vegetarian dish consisting of broad (fava) beans, fennel, tomato and lemon. It was more the process of cooking the vegetables that I was showing her, so she could adapt the method to other vegetarian recipes.


So much to do in so little time! By this stage we were both sweating up a storm and looking at getting this day in the kitchen over and done with so we could relax in the pool before we started all over again tomorrow morning.
 One of the items high on Lisa's list was sushi so in between making a galette pastry for the next days morning tea and the beef and red cabbage stir fry for all the meat eaters for dinner that night, we quickly had a lesson on sushi rolling and making, while also slipping in a lesson on making a delicious coral trout ceviche that was awesome (if I do say so myself). We flavoured it with lime juice, jalapenos, tomato, red onion and extra virgin olive oil and it was soooo delicious.
I am sorry I don't have a photo of the ceviche.....we were in the weeds at this stage: trying to put all the dinner items up on deck and taking photos just didn't mix.
However, the next morning was a little more relaxed and I did manage to take a photo of the  mango and strawberry galette and the apple and raspberry galette we made and served with some home made custard (gluten free of course so Lisa could eat it). Lunch on the following day was all about butchering, pizzas, cry-vac machines, salads and spinach gnocchi. It was busy, fun and a wonderful experience for me and I hope Lisa! When we were all done with the cooking and cleaning side of the day we managed to relax in the comfort of some air conditioning at the house the crew were staying in (you just couldn't possibly stay on a boat without AC, trust me!) where we flicked through cookbooks, sipped a glass of vino and talked a little more about food.
There is always more to talk about and of course plenty more to cook, however, I think I filled Lisa with oodles of information and ideas so now she'll have fun putting it all together while she is sailing on the Pacific with her crew and the lucky guests that get to eat her wonderful food.

Good Luck! And for those of you who would like to see a few photos of their adventures click here


November 20, 2011

Christmas Cakes are done



I think it is a first for me to have the Christmas cake baked and decorated before December. Last year I managed to make it and decorate it about a week before Christmas. The brandied soaked fruit didn't really have enough time to soak but that didn't stop us from enjoying this very moist and delicious cake while sipping cups of tea.
Christmas cake is something that you either love or hate. I must confess I was never really much of a fan, however, I married a man that gets excited in October just thinking about the slices of cake he'll be eating in the coming months. Nic LOVES fruit cake!

My mum used to send us a fruit pudding every year no matter where we lived in the world (actually she still does), something my family always looks forward to every December. For me it helped that we were living on the other side of the world and eating Christmas pudding when it was cold outside, it seemed much more appropriate to eat a warm pudding in the winter months. For these warmer Australian Christmases I think I would rather have something a little lighter, fresher and maybe even a little lemony, however, I know that wouldn't sit right with the boys so just like last year I have made a fruit cake, mum's bringing the pudding (right mum?) and we'll be eating pudding and cake with the best of them.

Another reason I want to make our Christmas cake this year is to do so out of respect for the lady who gave me her recipe. Wendy, my dear neighbour in Virginia promised me it was a winning fruit cake and one she has made for years (I wasn't about to argue with an English woman over a good fruit cake!).
 Sadly Wendy lost her battle with cancer earlier in the year and passed away. So Wendy, I know your family will be missing you more than ever this December and missing your wonderful laugh and smile, not to mention your wonderful baking. The only way I know how to honour you is by recreating the recipes you passed on to me. We couldn't live without your bread and now that Christmas is upon us, I really don't think it would feel the same if I didn't make "the Wendy bird's" Christmas cake...I just wish it was that simple for the rest of your family x.


Wendy's Christmas Cake
1 large egg and 3 egg whites
1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup apple juice
2 cups apple sauce/puree
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
3 1/4 cups plain flour
1.5 kg mixed dried fruit (approx 52 oz)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/4 cups brandy

Soak fruit in brandy for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 190 degree (350).
Grease and line one loaf tin and one cake tin then place to the side.
Combine all dry ingredients except wheat germ.
Combine egg, whites, sugar, oil, honey, juice and apple sauce.
Set a sifter over a large bowl and add dry ingredients to wet, then add the wheat germ and mix until blended.
Add the fruit and mix until well combined.
Divide batter among pans up to 3/4 full.
Small tins will take 50-60 minutes while large cake tins 1-1.5hours.
When cooled, wrap in brandy soaked cloths and foil until ready to decorate with royal icing.

November 16, 2011

Pikelets- An after school snack


The kids came out of school today with rumbling tummies. It is true, they always seems to be rumbling after the school bell rings but today Max was particularly grumpy and broody. I was contemplating a sticky bun at the bakery but didn't have the energy to walk up and down the big hill and I also didn't have the head space for all the huffing and puffing I would of had to listen to on the way down the hill!

I give them popcorn at least three days a week and thought maybe I should try something else for a change. Alex was in the mood to help out while Max lay on the couch with a book in his hand and a rumbly tummy- the world did not look good in his eyes!

As Alex and I were sifting flour and cracking eggs, I realised I was short on milk. I put it to the boys as to what added flavour they would prefer- apple or orange juice? Apple it was for the last 1/4 cup of liquid and with that said our batter was whipped up in a matter of seconds (no really, it took all of 3 minutes to make!).


The boys were munching their way through the first batch in no time. Alex pulled down every spread he could think of while Max just stood in the kitchen and ate (he is not even into double digits and he is eating me out of house and home!)
A regular batch makes about 35 pikelets so I'll be able to keep some for tomorrows after school feasting. Now I have to go and be the big meanie who makes them do homework and trumpet practice...if only they realised I hate homework time as much as them!



Pikelets
2 cups self raising flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup apple juice (if you run out of milk!)

Sift flour into a bowl then stir in the sugar.
Drop in the egg (unbeaten) and then mix in the liquid until you have a thick batter, beat for a few minutes.
Heat frying pan or griddle, drop in a tablespoon of mixture and wait for bubbles to appear before turning.

Once bubbles appear, flip and cook for 1-2 minutes.


Remove from heat and spread with jam, peanut butter, nutella or what ever else tickles your fancy.




November 9, 2011

Zucchini Pie

My mum introduced this to me way back when I was a kid and I just love it with any roast. Actually, I think I only ever make it when I'm having a roast come to think of it. I can't ever remember not liking zucchinis but to offer this to my boys would be a great waste of time and zucchini!

I think I have finally learnt not to make the boys eat foods they REALLY hate. After 3 years of putting food that I know they don't like on their plate and getting the same reaction EVERY time, I have decided to give myself a break so I can enjoy the family gathering around the dinner table without me being annoyed because they are saying what ever it is, is DISGUSTING.....yep, I'm picking my battles!

Nic and I on the other hand devoured our zucchini and tomato pie while the boys got extra helpings of beans and peas tossed with fresh basil, lemon juice and olive oil which I have to admit always has them asking for seconds, so really there is nothing to complain about when cooking a roast (I know, maybe I should do a roast every night!)

OK so for those of you who love your zucchini then this recipe is for you, it is simple, quick and oh so tasty.

Zucchini Pie  for 2 people
1 zucchini, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
1 small onion, peeled and slices
4 basil leaves
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 180 degree (350)then lightly grease a small oven proof bowl with butter then place a few slices of onion on the bottom, followed by a layer of zucchini slices, a few small knobs of butter, salt and pepper.


Add some slices of tomato followed by a few more onion slices, freshly ripped basil leaves and pepper.


Repeat the layering process until you have used up all the zucchini, tomato and onion



Just before popping it into a 180 degree oven, sprinkle on some breadcrumbs and finish with a couple knobs of butter


Bake for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft, the breadcrumbs are browned and it smells delicious!


You can make the zucchini pie ahead of time and then just warm it in the oven when needed. A great side dish for Thanksgiving that I'm sure no one else will have.

November 6, 2011

Sponge cakes


I don't know why but making a sponge has always been something that I have been scared of. I think I was told years ago that they were tricky, only people with 'the touch' can make a good one. Perhaps this was something I talked myself into so I didn't have to make one?

Whatever the reason, sponge cakes have never been high on my to-do-list, until recently. We made a trip down to Melbourne a month or two ago for a friend's wedding and while we were living it up in one of Melbourne's fabulous cafes having a scrummy breakfast, I couldn't help but be blown away by the fabulous looking sponge cakes on display. They looked so good and so simple I had to at least give the old sponge ago. OK so it has taken me a few weeks, or dare I say months but today I finally had enough eggs in the house for me to have a play.

I wanted to make a good one straight off the bat and I new exactly which book to turn too. The PWMU Centenary Cookbook 1904-2004. I didn't want the latest and greatest recipe from the web, no, I wanted a sure winner and if I couldn't trust the women who have made hundreds of sponges in their lifetime then who could I trust? The Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union has been making sponge cakes for decades so I was not about to fiddle with the recipe they supplied. I was a little surprised when I saw the addition of boiling water, so I followed it to the letter.

What I ended up with was a very light, airy and delicious sponge. I did it and to my surprise it wasn't a flop thank goodness as I have added mini sponge cakes with berry jam and marscapone cheese to my High Tea sweets list and if I ruined my first attempt it would of been a bit of a soul destroyer to say the least!

I made mine in a baking tray because I wanted to experiment with cutter sizes for individual cakes but of course you can also make one fabulous looking whole cake. The only bit of advice I can offer and I think it was something I was once told- just make sure you beat a lot of air into the eggs and use a gentle touch when folding through the flour.  Nic being the lovely hubby he is, made a perfect cup of tea so it was mini sponges all round while watching a beautiful sunny day turn into a blackened sky with rain drops.

The PWMU sponge cake
4 eggs, separated
1 cup castor sugar
1 cup SR flour, sifted
1 tablespoon boiling water

Preheat oven to 180 degree and grease cake tins or one large baking tray then dust with flour and set aside.
Add egg whites to a mixing bowl and with an electric beater, beat until whites are thick and creamy.
Add sugar and beat until sugar is dissolved, then beat in egg yolks.
Fold in sifted flour and lastly the boiling water.
Once folded through put into greased tins and bake for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack then fill with what ever filling you desire!


November 2, 2011

Alex loves all things seaweed



I have been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks and today is my first midweek day off in over 2 years, so I am doing all the things I want to do.

There were tears on the couch last night. I had just finished the biggest day of catering (Melbourne Cup) and I was relaxing, revelling in the fact that I might not have to do it next year when Alex asked if we could have sushi for dinner because apparently I promised him we could.

I looked in the cupboard and all we had to put in the sushi was tinned tuna (not something I really fancied for dinner) so I told him we could make it tomorrow for school lunch.

'Noooo mum, you promised!', this was when the bottom lipped dropped and a few tears sprang into his eyes.

"Come on mate, I don't think I would of promised making sushi on the day of Melbourne cup?" This seemed to be a reasonable argument from me....but I was mistaken.

More tears poured down his face and I was reminded of the broken promises I gave him a couple of weeks ago when he first asked (oops!)

SO with a 'what a terrible mummy I am.......and we will defiantly make them tomorrow morning before school promise' I think I got off pretty lightly with a few pages of reading from those god awful Pokemon books my boys are loving these days.

Without a word of a lie, we did make sushi rolls this morning and the boys were delighted with their lunch box treats. I was also pretty impressed when I cut up the one they made for me when I sat down for lunch. Although tuna wouldn't be my first choice, it was yummy, tightly packed and fresh so what more could I ask for?


Anyway, back to Alex and seaweed.
I am not to sure when this love of his started but it is something that hasn't disappeared. For his 5th birthday he was adamant that he and his friends would make sushi rolls and whenever he gets the chance he'll nibble on a sheet. In fact when it came to pulling out a sheet of nori paper this morning there were nibble bites in them where Alex happily tells us he helps himself when he is a bit peckish- Oh really!?

Alex was helping me with dinner a week or so ago when he asked if he was allowed to do something different. Me being one to encourage ideas told him that as long as it was tasty I'm sure it would be OK. It was at this stage that he helped himself to my nori supply and started ripping bits off and arranging them on top of the steamed rice I was serving with some fish.

The addition of ripped nori to the rice was a great idea. Max wasn't so keen and opted out but the rest of us enjoyed the earthy taste with our fish and vegetables.
I love that Alex was thinking about flavours and combinations and I loved it even more that he asked if he could try it out on the family meal. If I could just get him to try cooked carrots then I could start him on a whole different food journey but for now I guess I will have to make do with raw carrots and a few more pieces of nori!


October 16, 2011

BBQ pizza


This was not the blog I thought I would be writing today. As I downloaded a few images from the camera, I have realised I really need to find time to get talking about some of the meals we have been eating this week, however, like most things in life we were thrown a curve ball.
Last night Nic and I went out to dinner at a wonderful little French restaurant in Surry Hills with a good friend of ours. We have been meaning to catch up for ages but the universe never seemed to co operate with our previous arrangements. Anyway, the sitter was booked and the boys excited because they were going to finished watching their movie and have pizza for dinner.......even the sitter was looking forward to some homemade pizza.

Half way through the day Nic noticed our oven clock wasn't on- weird. He then tried to turn the oven on- still nothing. Our brand new oven had decided to stop working which is not good, especially considering it took the landlords about 8 weeks to replace the old one!

Now not one for encouraging a melt down from the boys I was determined to have pizza on the menu, after all the dough was already made and proving on the bench.  I remembered one of my friends telling me they eat pizza when camping and I have always wondered how good it would be, so I decided to wonder no more and give it a go.

I made a pita bread dough so I knew it would cook quickly on the base but didn't know how good the toppings would be. I am happy to report it was baby Q to the rescue. I popped the pizzas on grease proof paper and a thin tray then turned the temperature to medium heat on the BBQ, put the pizzas in the middle and closed the lid.

The pizzas were ready in a flash (aprox. 8 min) and so I hear, tasted awesome. Alex was very happy that they cooled down a lot faster than regular pizza and Max loved the crispy thin base. I have to admit I was keen to have a piece when I pulled them off the grill plate but decided to keep myself hungry for the feast ahead (turned out to be a very wise decision as I ate way to much pate and cheese!)

Anyway, if you happen to be struck down with a broken oven or in the bush with your barbie, don't despair because I am here to tell you BBQ pizza is the way to go. In fact I am tempted to make the next one in the BBQ because it did look so yummy but you be the judge.


As you can see, the bottom was perfect and the top dripping with soft melted cheese, what more could you ask for?


Pita bread
3 teaspoons dried yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
375ml warm water

Place the above ingredients into a measuring jug and let the yeast ferment for 5 min.
In a mixing bowl with a dough hook (or big bowl and your hands) add the following

625 grams plain flour
2 teaspoons salt

Mix in the yeast mixture then add in
1/4 cup olive oil

Kneed into a soft ball of dough then cover and place in a warm spot to let the dough double in size.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, cover and prove again. Continue this step at least 4 times for a light dough.

Roll out as needed for pizza.

October 13, 2011

Snack time for the kids



I'm sure you all get the same looks as I do when you go and pick the kids up from school. The grumpy face stares up at you like it was all your fault the school bell didn't chime an hour ago.

"Hello boys!" is 9 times out of 10 met with....

'Ohhh I am soooo hungry, did you bring anything to eat?' where the answer is always 'no, but I'm sure there is something at home'.

It's when we get home I then realise there really isn't anything amazing to eat (surprise, surprise because if there was, I would of polished off a piece before I picked them up!).

Yesterday was a little different and I am wondering if it was a good or bad thing to do?

The cupboards were open then closed and then reopened in search of food. I looked in the fridge and declared I might have something. I pulled some bread out (thankfully Nic baked the day before) at the same time Alex found the leftover lemon curd. We decided to put them together and finish with slices of strawberries (I think that was my 'healthy' contribution).

I'm not to sure if it's a good school snack or not but one thing I do know, it kept them quiet for the rest of the afternoon and that can't be to much of a bad thing....right?

October 9, 2011

Life


Yesterday I started the day cooking pumpkin risotto at 8am. The boys poked their heads into the kitchen to see what was for breakfast...
'Yumm, what's for breakfast' Max asked sniffing the butter, garlic and onion combo sauteing on the stove.
'Cereal was my reply.....and some toast if your lucky'. 

You see I was running behind schedule for my TVSN shoot and because it's live filming I know I am not allowed to be late! 
For those of you who don't know what TVSN is, it's the selling network on Foxtel. It's where I get to have a play with KitchenAid pots and pans for an hour enticing people to buy the cookware and enjoy playing with it as much as I do, and now that my nerves have settled I really love doing the show.

With the risotto made and other ingredients shoved in bags, I flew out the door ten minutes behind schedule and still had to pick up some milk on the way as I completely forgot I needed it for the homemade custard I was making?!
Minutes to spare I managed to pull it all together and we had a fantastic show. The host was awesome and a lot of fun was had, so much so that I felt like I needed to cook something a bit special for my family for a change.

Of course there was nothing left in the fridge from the following week so I needed to do a big shop before I was cooking anything yummy.

Rhubarb was on special, two beautiful, young bunches for $5- bargain! I knew I had some left over pastry in the fridge so I grabbed a few green apples and decided on apple and rhubarb galette for the evenings dessert.

After roasting the rhubarb with a little brown sugar, knobs of butter and some lemon juice, I added slices of green apple, stirred it all through then let it cool before wrapping it in pastry and popping it in the oven.

The day went on with the usual events. When I have the time I love to hop on the net and read up on what is happening in my friends lives via the blogsphere. This week I have been very worried about a friend of mines little boy as he has been very sick. Lisa was a friend of mine back in high school. There was a group of us that knocked around, hanging out at the basketball courts, gossiping, laughing and even playing the odd game of basketball when no one was looking. Actually all the girls I hung around with were very good basket ballers, I on the other hand was tall and lanky with no basketball ability except to catch the rebounds and pass them off quickly before I ruined the entire game. I'm sure I was only invited to play purely because I was their friend.....and I was grateful for that.

As life moved on and college started our little group of girls slowly broke apart. Lisa and I started at the same college in Devonport with a few other good friends of ours while the other half of our high school bunch decided to go to school in Launceston (about an hour and a half away from Devonport). We all started becoming interested in things other than our small country town and basketball. 
I think I started getting itchy feet as soon as I saw a way out of our small country town and was probably one of the first to jump ship and discover the big wide world. 

My dear friend Rebecca (Bec) always kept me up to pace with what the girls were up to over the years. I always knew when someone had a baby, got married or moved away. Although I never kept in touch, I always liked to know how everyone was doing. All our lives were full of adventure and progression however, it wasn't until I came back from the US that I got back in contact with Lisa via her blog (and via Bec....or was it Lisa who got in contact with me? this sound much more likely).

Lisa writes about her family, I started reading about her life and it started to fill in the blanks from the bits and pieces I had heard over the years. I liked the connection, it reminded me of life before responsibility, marriage and everything else that comes with being an adult. I liked that I knew her before we really grew up and to read about her life now and to see what an amazing job she is doing raising her family of boys with her wonderful husband just makes me feel happy in this crazy world we live in.

Last night Bec continued to keep me updated, she told me Lisa's son Noah passed away after they had to make the decision to turn off the ventilator that was keeping Noah breathing. Uncontrollable tears fell from my eyes and my heart swelled with hurt and pain for Lisa and her family. I know they are surrounded by family and friends and I am also grateful to have found an old friend and to know her story this far. 

As I sat with my piece of rhubarb pie and tears stinging my eyes, I know why I write my blog. It is something I want to share, something I want my boys to have to read back on when they are wondering why there are the men they will become. It is my piece of the blogosphere where I get to tell my story and it is nice to know there are other people out there willing to listen, after all, we are all just trying to make the most out of this crazy, yet wonderful life we have all made for ourselves.

October 3, 2011

High Tea to You

Look I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, nor have I been eaten by aliens or had surgery to my hands.
 No, I have been on a path trying to find a new direction for my life. More importantly, I have been trying very hard to start living my life the way I actually want to, instead of my work life ruling me.

As most of you know I have been working in the corporate catering sector where I spend most of my days feeding people in suits lovely sandwiches, rolls and salads. If I get really lucky I get to cook hundreds of homemade beef, lamb and chicken pies, sweet chili sausage rolls and even cupcakes. I shouldn't complain as I have also been known to feed the odd celebrity on their trip to Sydney. Only the other day I made Hugh Jackman's steamed veggies with bye eye cod (which I am happy to report he loved), but believe it or not it just isn't ticking all the food boxes for me. I have met so many wonderful people in the two years I have had Sydney corporate catering but it has also been a toll on my family life. The boys know way to much about my work kitchen and not so much about their mum....that is unless I am telling them 'in a minute' 'No, don't touch that, don't eat that...' blah,blah.

Sydney corporate catering has been SOLD to a wonderful, young, energetic and blissfully single lady who cannot wait to take it on and I couldn't be happier. For these past few weeks I have been thinking of what I am to do with myself in between a few really busy days in the kitchen. If the past few weeks are a sign, I'll be flat out until handover at the end of the month.

Not being one to sit back, relax and wait for things to come to me. I have been wondering what it is that I really would like to do. What do I love about cooking and the hospitality industry?

One of my favourite past times is High tea. For my 18th birthday I went to the ex Hobart Sheraton with my mum and dad and enjoyed the delights of small pastries, cucumber sandwiches and hot floral tea.

Every year I turned another year older in Chicago, my good friend Sara use to spoil me and take me to high tea spots around Chicago. The last time we were seen out eating divine cakes and pastries was just after Alex was born and it is a memory I always turn to when I need a pick me up.

  When I decided I would like to bring a bit of glamour, flare and happiness to others the art of a good high tea was first on my list.

A few weeks ago I bought the name "High Tea to You" and within a week I had my first booking- a bridal shower, how perfect! It is a business in progress but a business I cannot wait to grow. Because my family have put up with my 12-15 hour days, cooking until all hours of the night and extremely early starts I have decided to keep the high teas to weekends and very special events. Now all I need to do is find a day job where flexibility is the key and the working day ends after 8 hours.......shouldn't be to hard, right? Pity I haven't worked out how to blog for a living :)

And just in case you are thinking you would like your own high tea at your house, a beautiful park or special place then give me a buzz at camillabaker.com and let it happen!


 Jansz on ice with chicken and cucumber sandwiches, prawn cocktails and mini berry brioche....


Not to mention the lemon curd tarts, scones jam and cream and red velvet cakes that were the biggest hit.


Bride to be Nicky going in for a scone with her cup of tea.


September 11, 2011

Basque Dinner


On Thursday a good chef friend of mine and I put on a dinner at Sydney's Basque Club. Tustra from The Big Paella and I are trying to narrow our field down to the jobs that we actually really want to do instead of the food we must do to survive!
When you have been cooking professionally for over 20 years (eek!) you start to get a bit fed up with all the bulls----t of the kitchen world (and believe me there is a lot). Cooking for a job realistically can get a bit ho hum. It's not all wow and ooh behind the scenes....sorry to burst that bubble for any of you who were thinking of giving up your current job and stepping into the throws of a commercial kitchen.

Tustra is from the Canary Islands, he has cooked all over the world and now in Australia. The man is infatuated with this great big country of ours, so it has been his mission for the past 10 or so years to live and cook all over the Great Southern land. Every time I work with him we have a great time. We laugh, work hard and then laugh some more so when he asked me if I'd like to start doing dinners around Sydney, food we actually WANTED to cook I thought it was an awesome idea.


Our first night was Thursday just gone.....my sides are still hurting from all the laughter and tomfoolery. Our first group was small but totally successful. Because the Basque club kindly let us use their building we wanted to honour their tradition and incorporate our ideas into their history and I think it worked a treat. Lots and lots of pintxos were eaten and well received, I shall now give you a photo commentary so I don't bore you with the details.....

We started with beautiful Sydney Rock oysters topped with an orange and balsamic salsa, plus oregano and garlic marinated olives




after this little taste we moved on to jamon with a drop of aioli and served with lightly roasted cherry tomatoes and coriander flavoured white anchovies.
I love how pintxo's are mainly served on slices of bread.....according to Tustra you are not meant to eat all the pieces of bread, it is more like a vehicle for the flavoured toppings, however, I remember when Nic and I were travelling Spain on a shoestring we ate everything!


Tustra made a delicious lemon and bacalao mix that we stuffed into these beautiful mini Spanish capsicums. We also served the traditional omelet with mushrooms and spinach.


Moving right along to our meat pintxo where we couldn't go past some beautiful, freshly made chorizo. Tustra went to visit his Spanish supplier for this wonderful sausage while I rolled apricots in a pork fillet, lightly poached and sliced it then warmed the slices in the oven and served it with sweet caramelized onions.


Just when everyone thought the show was over we managed to keep their attention with slow braised beef cheeks served with sauteed asparagus and oyster mushrooms. No wonder our lovely server Kris was surprised when we told her to set for the main course!

In traditional Basque style we served fish and potatoes. Roast ling fillet served on a baked potato with a parsley volute made from the mussel and pippi stock and garnished with a boiled egg, asparagus and squid ink squeeze.


By this stage we allowed ourselves a beer and a little light entertainment while everyone was finishing up. I think we might of got a little too relaxed because I totally forgot to take pictures of the churro and chocolate sauce for dessert!

Once the kitchen was spotless and the guests stopped dragging us out to say thank you and "come have a drink" my eyes were starting to glaze over and the legs were a little sore. I think it had something to do with the 5.30am start that morning and the 100 sandwiches I had to make before I got to have a little fun in the kitchen. Tustra being the good Spaniard managed to party into the night with the guests until 1.30am. I however had to get up at the crack of dawn and make morning tea for 60, so 11am was super late for me.  
Sore legs and all, I will do this again and again. It is why I first started my trade many moons ago and I am just happy I have realised once again why I love working with food and great people and why I need to pursue the bits I love and not necessarily focus on the part of cooking I loathe- sandwiches!
Stay tuned for our next location dinner.








September 5, 2011

Chocolate Pie


I bought a pie crust last week...this is not something I thought I would ever say! However, my lovely blogger friend Susie wrote a post a couple weeks ago about a delicious chocolate pie she recently made and her pictures were VERY convincing.
After reading through the recipe I thought I would give it ago seeing as I hadn't done much in the dessert line lately. I also thought I had a can of evaporated milk in the cupboard, alas, there were only two cans of condensed milk and after some through reading on both I decided NOT use one instead of the other....this small decision is why the pie crust went back in the freezer and it has taken me over a week and a half to finally buy the correct milk! Does anyone else out there feel like the days are just moving way to fast at the moment?
Anyhow, Susie you were right this is a very quick and easy dessert to whip up, however, I am thinking I got lost in translation and didn't quite manage to deliver a pie as magnificent as yours!

I had to convert ounces into grams and I could of got a little heavy when gigging the figures because when I look at Susie's pie here, as you can see hers is firm but silky where mine looks more silky centred than voluptuously firm and has a spongy skin (Help-is what I am saying Susie!!)



As you can see from Alex licking the bowl, the mixture is pretty darn tasty and I have to say when we sat down to a piece with a cup of tea yesterday I was impressed with the flavour. I have decided to remove a few grams from my original 150 something grams of evaporated milk down to 145grams and see how that works but first we need to polish off the rest of this pie and from the oohhh's and arrgh's coming from the boys that won't take long!


September 4, 2011

Father's Day waffles!

Firstly I have to send a big Happy Father's Day greeting to my dad.

 I let the weeks go by and never got to the post office...... Not only did I not send a card, my sister the more organised one out of his daughters actually got him a card/present but thought it was the following Sunday. Poor dad had to wake up this morning with nothing from his daughters except a couple of phone calls and excuses. So I am terribly sorry dad and l promise to make it up to you with yummy food when you come for Christmas this year. As you can see, my dad is of the adventurous variety so something tells me he'll have a fabulous day no matter what!


Actually, when you look at your life as you grow older, there are quite a few patterns forming without you really realizing the similarities of your childhood versus adult life.
 Strong childhood memories for me are food and music. When I was growing up there was always music in our house. The weekends were for dad to play his records all day long (or was it just the mornings?) while mum always seemed to have something brewing in the kitchen.
To this day whenever I hear a Fleetwood Mac tune or Doctor Hook song it takes me back to the green carpet of our one-time living room in Tiwi (a suburb of Darwin) and dad drumming his fingers and thumbs on anything and everything around. Memories of a few decades ago mirror the scene of today.

What to get Nic for Father's Day? Music was on top of the boys list, along with a Doctor Who iPhone case (not quite the same as Doctor Hook!) and a book, not to mention a 'special' breakfast. Max pointed it out that Nic should choose breakfast seeing as it was fathers day.

"What do you think boys?" was Nic's reply and without a moment of hesitation the three of them in unison yelled out

WAFFLES!!!


Nic was very happy with his itunes gift card and instead of Doctor Hook playing on the record player we had The Killers humming out of itunes while I made a batch of waffles in the kitchen. A scene that felt perfectly comfortable and natural....as if I had been doing it all my life, when in fact I was only watching all those years ago without even realizing the enjoyment I had of such an everyday moment.

Basic waffle mix
2 cups plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
pinch salt
4 tablespoons sugar
4 eggs (separated)
100grams melted butter
21/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and leave until needed. (you will have to tip the w/m husks back into the mix)
Separate egg and place the yolks into the centre of the dry ingredients.
Whisk the whites in a medium bowl until peaks just start to stiffen.
Gradually pour in the milk and melted butter into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Your batter will be lumpy and that is all good.
Add vanilla essence and egg whites then fold until combined.
Heat up your waffle iron and begin cooking!

August 20, 2011

Alex cooks roast chicken



Last night I was pulling a chicken out of the fridge when Alex pops his head in to show off his latest costume (he was wearing his dressing gown and declared he was spider man!). After telling him how cool he looked I then turned my attention back to the chicken. As I was pulling it out of the plastic and rinsing it off I hear "Cool mum, is that what a chicken would look like without a head?"

"Yes, it IS what a chicken looks like without a head and feathers" was my reply.

"Can I touch it?"

"Sure, but wash your hands first AND afterward..."

I don't know about you, but sometimes I am in such a rush to get dinner on the table I forget that kids are fascinated with the everyday tasks we try to complete in record time just to get them over and done with (like popping the chicken in the oven so you can then keep an eye on homework, run a bath and finish some paper work that has been staring you in the face for a good part of a week!).

It was Friday night, homework was over for the week, I was excited to have Saturday away from work and nothing was really happening so I let the boys discover a raw chicken. At first they poked and prodded the wings and thighs with the tips of their fingernails, then once they felt comfortable they went further. Max gave up after wiggling a leg around then got grossed out when Alex decided to really investigate and poked his finger down the chooks neck cavity.

With Max off scrubbing his hands within an inch of his life, Alex started in on the questions-

"What's in there?" (the middle cavity) "can I touch it?.....can I stuff it?.......can I cook the chicken?"

My first reaction which I am not really proud of was forming in my head (NO, because it would take twice as long), thankfully went with YES- after all it was Friday and he actually wanted to learn!

I have to let it be known I wasn't very happy with the position he was in when stuffing the bird but he looked at me when I asked him to stop squatting on the bench and pleaded that it was way to hard to stuff the bird while standing on the step! (I'm still trying to work out the logic to this one?)

Anyway, I cut up an onion and he delicately placed the first half in the chickens cavity, the second piece of onion was pushed in with a little more force and then the half piece of lemon was squashed in with quite a bit of force ( confidence is a wonderful tool). I gave him a branch of basil and asked him to put it in with the lemon and onion, however, he was convinced there was no room left! Once I started doing it myself he quickly took control as he was not going to be letting mummy anywhere near his bird!

OK so hard part over, I then gave Alex some dried oregano to sprinkle on top, I added the salt (he LOVES salt so never a good idea to leave him alone with the stuff) and we were just about ready to add the butter. I think his favouring part was slitting the skin of the chicken and stuffing in butter pieces...we ended up with double the amount of butter I would usually put in but I have to tell you it was one juicy tasting bird!  As you can see, I was so impressed with Alex's chicken skills I completely forgot to take a photo of the beautifully cooked bird.....this was all that was left!


A great job by my mini master chef and as he has informed me, he will cook ALL the chicken dishes from now on seeing as he did such a good job (his words not mine...but I have to agree he did an excellent job).  I'm just hoping he'll always enjoy pottering around in the kitchen and enjoy cooking for others well beyond the ripe old age of 6. Well done Alex!




August 7, 2011

Preserved lemons


I decided to try something different today.  I've been meaning to preserve myself some lemons for about a year now but just never got around to having ALL the ingredients in the house at one time. It really hurt when I was making the lamb tagine last week and I had to use fresh lemons instead. Even though I still got a beautiful lemonly flavour it wasn't nearly as intense as it could of been if I had of used preserved lemons!

So with that in mind I set about buying a bunch of lemons, a massive bag of table salt and got to work.  I am also trying to break out on my own and start opening up new branches of my website. I am in the process of writing a menu for a home delivery meal service and a few other bits and pieces so I have been trying to get a little more savvy when it comes to self promoting.....I have a long way to go, but we all have to start somewhere!

OK, so with the help of my 9 year old, I decided to video my recipe of preserved lemons and see how that went. Max, I have to say did a sterling job at videoing my efforts, however, after looking back at the video I left out a lot of info! I have added the video for a bit of a laugh, however, if you'd like some actual information on preserving lemons please read on.


As I forgot to mention in the above video, you need to leave your preserved lemons for a minimum of 10 days for a good flavour. They will last for months and months if you have a sterile jar and the lemons are always covered with salt and juice to prevent mould.
When you want to use the lemon; simply pull out a piece, wash it under cold water to remove excess salt, remove the middle and then slice up the skin as thin or as thick as you would like.

I love to use them in loads of dishes from summer salads to slow braised lamb, pork or chicken dishes. Veggie hot pots also are a winner with some chilli flakes and slices of preserved lemons added. I'll post this in a few weeks time when I can finally use my stash.

I have already opened the jar and added a couple extra lemons and more salt then pressed them down again to squeeze out a little more of the juice. Now all I have to do is leave them until needed. Have a go, you'll be blown away with the flavour it adds to your next meal.

August 5, 2011

Lamb Tagine



It was a cooking frenzy last weekend. I somehow managed to wrangle a full day off on Sunday and where do you think I spend most of my day? (bar the morning watching Max play football)- in the kitchen!

I know I cook for a living and spend a crazy amount of time around food every other day, but when I manage to have a spare few hours of peace and quiet I love to cook healthy and delicious meals for my family. Like any other parent I prefer the quick 30 minute meals on weeknights I mean let's face it, there is just too much going on to give the evening meal lots of attention when you've just come back from swimming, footy training or whatever else you have going on!
 However, a spare weekend and I can think of nothing more fabulous than making yummy food and sitting down to eat a leisurely meal with a glass of wine and that is exactly what I did on Sunday evening!

I bought a tagine a few months ago. I have always wanted one but never got around to actually buying one for myself. I was given a clay pot a few years ago (that could be around ten years I'm thinking) and used it just like a tagine with wonderful results. However, the day it got smashed on the kitchen tiles was a very sad day indeed and also time for me to upgrade to a bigger version with a little more room as we didn't have kids when I was given the clay pot.

The fact that I can cook a whole meal in one dish is a total winner in my books. Right from searing the meat and sauteing the vegetables and finishing the dish off with slow cooking Israeli couscous (the nice big round balls).

Seeing as I photographed the cooking process I thought I'd explain as you looked....something new for me.

OK so I bought about a kilo of diced lamb from my butcher and seasoned the meat with salt and pepper before I began searing the meat. Once the tagine was hot I did the meat in 3 batches to make sure I got good colouring and did not to stew the meat.


Once the meat is all seared I then added chopped veggies but to my surprise (I simply forgot to cut them) I didn't have any onion? I decided to proceed without it. I sauteed off about a cup of diced eggplant, diced green capsicum, bunch of Tuscan cabbage which they have at Harris Farm, 3 large smashed garlic cloves and last but not least a whole lemon cut in half, squeezed and then left in the dish.
When I could smell the aroma of the vegetables, I tossed the seared lamb pieces back into the tagine and stirred it around. I then added a large fresh tomato, diced and a good splash of white wine.


The juices of the meat were also added so there were a lot of yummy flavours that needed to be slowly cooked. This is when I brought it to the boil, skimmed the top of the braise, put the lid on and placed it on a smaller burner, turned the gas down to low and forgot about it for a bit over an hour. (This is when I snuck off to my room with a tim tam, cuppa tea and my book!)

After about an hour maybe even an hour and a half lift the lid and test the meat. If it is feeling like it is almost pulling apart but not quite then it's time to add your couscous. Sprinkle about 3/4 cup over the lamb then gently fold through and place the lid back on and leave it alone again for twenty minutes.
Once the couscous absorbs the excess liquid, turn off the heat and stir once then place the lid back on and leave it to rest for 5 minutes. You may need to add about 1/2 cup of extra water if you like it a little wetter but it is up to your tastes....I added the water!
The boys ate there's as is and loved it, however, for Nic and I, I added fresh coriander and chili flakes which married beautifully with the rich flavours of the tagine. 


So if you'd like to learn how to make this dish along with say some pita bread, and a few extra yummy and healthy dishes maybe you should pop on over to my website camillabaker, book a class and meet me in the kitchen!