June 30, 2012

Black Forest Cupcakes

A friend of mine has been carrying on about his wife being heavily pregnant with their second child and saying out loud 'when is it going to come already?!' I know he is excited at the prospect of being a dad for the second time but the lady standing next to me listening to his whinging simply said 'Well I think you have the wrong audience for any sympathy here!' Something I am sure he knew but thought he'd try it on anyway.

I was happy to hear his wife delivered their beautiful, healthy little girl in a record 3 hour labour this week and I couldn't be happier from them. Welcome to the world Isabelle!

Instead of buying a cute little toy or a box of nappies I decided to spoil them with something sweet and home made. I sit next to Mr.T in my office job and I noticed fairly quickly he has a sweet tooth. I think it was on the second or third day that he started at the office when I noticed a massive container of melting moments sitting right next to the opened packet of gummy bears on his desk! Although I only work 2 days a week in the office, we have a lot of fun ribbing each other and talking food (what else!). I also quickly learnt his favourite all time cake was Black Forest cake. A cake I swore I'd never make again after spending two days in the pastry section of the Sheraton Hobart Hotel in my apprenticeship days where we cranked out over 100 of the bloody things in two days, (I guess that was how I honed my cake masking skills!).

So, instead of a cake I went about my business and made Black Forest cupcakes.
Firstly I made my favourite chocolate cake recipe, baked them and then cooled the cupcakes. Once cool I then cut away the centres.
Secondly I drizzled some brandy into the centres for a bit of extra punch before filling the middle with sour cherry compote.
Just before leaving to drop them off I whipped up some chantilly cream, something I also haven't made since my Sheraton days (for those who don't know what chantilly is, it's sweetened cream).
Once the cream is piped on over the cherry compote and looking all lush and yummy, I then shaved a bit of chocolate over each one and popped a fresh cherry on top for the black forest seal.

Mr T was looking pretty happy with himself when I saw him, however, when I presented him with the box of cupcakes it was the first time I'd seen him speechless for more than 5 seconds- my job was done!

I'm looking forward to hearing the stories of sleepless nights and seeing some baby photos- there is something wonderful about looking at new born babies that makes you feel good inside.

June 24, 2012

Spicy Chicken Wings

I bought some chicken drumsticks and wings last weekend with the intention of making something really yummy. On Monday I had a feeling the week wasn't going to be a relaxed one so I popped them in the freezer for later on. On Wednesday I pulled them out again and last night (Saturday) I finally got inspired to make them into tasty morsals.  We usually eat Saturday night dinners separately from the boys so we can eat flavours Nic and I really enjoy and ones that the boys aren't quite ready for. Nic usually whips up a delicious and hot eggplant and potato curry or I'll make a stir fry with plenty of chilli and greens. Saturday is a night of no arguments at the dinner table because we all get to eat the foods we like and no one has to rush off anywhere!

The boys have the same reaction to chicken wings and legs as Nic and I do and I knew they would be gutted if they missed out so I marinated their chicken bits in a soy, garlic, black vinegar, curry powder (Keen's) and brown sugar mariande. Sadly I only had about an hour to let them marinate, however, that didn't seem to matter as they ate them with their noodles and veggies at rapid speed.

Once I had their chicken marinating I started on ours. Garlic, chilli and ginger were always going to be main contenders but I hadn't yet worked out the rest. I made a rub that was inspired by Vietnamese street stalls last year and it was a wonderful flavour with peppercorns being one of the main ingredients so I decided to try another version, also adding lime leaves to this equasion. Once I had pounded about 4 garlic cloves, a good size piece of ginger, 2 birds eye chillies and a pinch of salt together with the whole peppercorns, I then added the chopped lime leaf and about 2 tablespoons of rice bran oil to combine the flavours which will also make it easier to rub into the chicken wings.

The aroma was delicious as was the thought of combing them on the grill with the smokey BBQ flavour. They would be a wonderful snack if your sitting around watching the football, for a cocktail party or to eat with a big bowl of veggies and noodles as we did.
The wings crispen up on the bbq and are incredibly morish. Max had one of the leftover ones for lunch today and said he really enjoyed the flavour and that he likes chilli now....but the ones he had last night were yummy too. I guess we will be all eating dinner together on Saturday nights if the boys are enjoying our leftovers so much.......maybe we need to feed them a bit of leftover eggplant curry to deter them, after all we all need our relaxed meal times at least once a week.

June 20, 2012

Dinner Party Ideas

Who doesn't love a good dinner party?
I love them and I especially love them when I don't spend half the night in the kitchen cooking!
Champers or a good dry martini sets the mood for a soirée at the Bakers' house. Of course, there must be something super delicious to whet the palette before moving over to the table for dinner.

Home-made bread usually does the trick and if you serve it with a delicious dip, I find you usually have set the mood for a fabulous evening ahead.
I recently made a yummy eggplant dip that blew my mind along with those of our friends. It was simple, made the day before and looked impressive. Feast magazine provided me with this recipe and it is one I'll use again and again. The combination of smoky eggplant, grilled haloumi and pomegranate molasses is an absolute winner.
Once the martinis have dried up, the flat bread is all eaten and conversation flowing, we usually move over to the dining table, and this is when I like to make my first entry into the kitchen. I mean, if you can't sit down and enjoy the company of your guests with your first martini then when can you?

The entree will set the tone for the night's feast. If it is sparse then guest will wonder if they have to pick up KFC on the way home. If it's too heavy then they won't finish main course, and only pick at dessert, so in my opinion the entree has to taste fantastic making your guests wanting more!
On this occasion I decided to go with an old favourite of mine -- gnocchi. I hardly ever make it any more, hardly ever eat it out (I hate the disappointment of it being served all watery, or with a creamy sauce) and so I decided to make it to see if I still had the magic touch. I pan-seared the gnocchi in a little butter then portioned it up and melted Raclette cheese over the top and served it with a citrus, tomato and basil salsa.

Thankfully the potato gnocchi was fluffy, light and moreish! Having the citrus salsa with the buttery gnocchi really helps even out the richness of the dish. 
With wine flowing and conversation in full swing, this allows me time to pop into the kitchen and give the main course a bit of attention. I was serving pork fillet that I'd marinated in a chili, brown sugar and porcini mushroom rub. The pork fillets needed to be thrown on the grill while I reheated the baked Jerusalem artichokes and green beans. The pork is rich and sweet and the hit of chili really works well with the mushrooms. You know you have a winning dish on your hands when all you can hear is the background music!

At this stage of the evening everyone is feeling extremely good. The happy food fog is wrapped around everyone, a good debate is usually underway and that 3rd, 4th or 5th bottle of wine you saved just in case it was one of those 'fun' nights has just been opened. Really by this stage you could serve a bowl of seasonal fruit and everyone would be happy.....alas, you know everyone is really dying for a sweet little something and dessert is usually the course that everyone remembers when they wake up in the morning.
I love citrus so I like to keep dessert light, fun with a hint of tart. Small bites are also a great way to serve dessert after the previous three courses. To wrap this dinner party up I served a trio of citrus that started with a lemon mousse; pistachio shortcake with fresh strawberries and a lime curd and finished with a sherry glass of limoncello -- what isn't there to love about that?

Just before the boys went off to bed they whispered in my ear "can you please make sure there is some dessert left for us?" and I think I remember saying the same thing to my mum many moons ago!

June 14, 2012

Rocky Road is a great after school snack

When the temperature drops, the rain settles in and the kids can't run all their energy off I retreat to the kitchen. I was trying to think of something to have in the fridge for when the boys get home from school this week. We have done popcorn to death, smoothies aren't so popular now it is cooler and Vegemite crackers are getting a little repetitive. I told them that when I was an exchange student living over in New Zealand my host mum use to lay out a tin of sardines, alfalfa sprouts and dry crackers for our after school snack, as surprised as I am (not) they didn't want to try it.

A few weeks ago I started making my own trail mixes with pistachio nuts, peanuts, marshmallows and sultanas and they went down a treat along with their hot chocolate. Taking this on board I decided to go one step further and combine the two which makes.......rocky road!

You may be thinking that is a bit full on for a after school snack but I beg to differ. You see all the nuts that I used were raw (peanuts, almonds and walnuts), yes marshmallows are all sugar but at the rate they flip around, it is burnt off by dinner. To bulk it out I added dried cranberries and raisins then melted a 70% cocoa dark chocolate block to combine it all together, not forgetting a hefty sprinkle of shredded coconut.

OK, it is decedent and totally delicious but it is also packed full of energy. The boys have always been given small serves of cakes, brownies etc so they never get upset when I cut a good bite size piece of rocky road, they are to busy focusing on the pink marshmallows! One small piece with a glass of milk and after school snack is done and dusted. The boys are off practicing dance moves in their bedroom while trying to slay each other with light sabers.

It won't be on the after school snack list every week but this week is covered, there is no winging about something to eat and if there still hungry then there is always fruit.
Rocky road, the Oh so yummy treat adults and kids love.....and it's even better if you don't eat all the pistachio nuts before making it!!

June 11, 2012

Potato and Tuscan cabbage soup

The long weekend has proven to be wet and cold. When it rains in Sydney is seems to have these constant downpours that go on for days. We are in day two of non stop rain. I miss the rainy days of the tropics when I was a kid.
You'd be on your bike cruisin' the streets with your mates when you saw the black clouds rolling in off the ocean. Sometimes they would just blow out to sea and you were annoyed the burst of rain did not come to release the dry heat in the day. Or, on more that one occasion you'd look up at the sky and quickly try to calculate whether to make a bolt for home or to wait it out under the closest shelter.
The Darwin rain storms I remember were intense, noisy with thunder and over within minutes. I have fond memories of trying to beat a storm when I was about 10-11 years old. I belted around two blocks with the dark sky trying to catch me, however, my legs were like pistons and I hovered inches in front of the darkening sky. I was about 5 metres from home when the sky opened up and dumped what felt like a swimming pool of rain drops on me as I stared at the dry veranda of my home.

It's funny, I don't have a lot of clear memories from my childhood but I can still remember the annoyed feeling of defeat combined with the rich smell of rain when this memory floats into my mind.

Alas, I do not live in the tropics any more and the weather this far south east of Darwin is much colder and incredibly wet, the kind of weather you sit at home and start craving warm, wholesome food. Luckily I stocked the fridge well on Friday so I could have a play in the kitchen this weekend.

I learnt to love Tuscan cabbage or cavalo nero when we were living in Florence a few years ago and living in cold....very cold climates. It is a deep green vegetable that loves to be gently braised and has a rich earthy flavour. Every time I eat it, I just feel better. However, it is a vegetable you have to learn to love when you're one of my kids.
I had some leftover pancetta in the fridge that need to be used up so I slowly started sauteing onions then adding about 5 cloves of smashed garlic and roughly chopped pancetta. Once the fat of the pancetta started to go transparent I added a bunch of roughly chopped Tuscan cabbage with salt and pepper. So all the flavour stays in the vegetable I placed a lid on top, while it wilted down and absorbed the flavours of the pancetta and garlic.

Diced carrots were added to the soup base and then 4-5 large potatoes roughly cut. I leave the skins on, of course you can peel them for a smoother texture. After sauteing the base for a further 5 minutes I then added a couple pieces of parmesan skin (always save that last bit of rind when you've grated all the cheese for just such occasions) and then topped the soup pot up with cold water. Once you bring it to a boil with the lid off, skim the top, reduce the heat to a medium-to-low and leave it to reduce down.

When the potatoes have broken down and the smell is rich and wholesome turn off your soup and leave to steep for about 10 minutes before you serve. To make our lunch even more exciting I had some raclette cheese in the fridge from a previous dinner party. That combined with cheddar cheese and then melted on Turkish bread was the absolute perfect rainy, damp and cold long weekend holiday lunch!

I have to be honest and tell you the boys were not impressed with the dark green leaves in the soup. Max dared to try it and actually enjoyed it, Alex however, refused to like it (without even tasting it!) and then tried to pick out all the potato while asking why we didn't just have noodles for lunch? I think a few more bowls of this soup over winter should set him straight......or make him really hungry and stubborn. I'll just have to wait and see but one thing was certain, the melted cheesy toast was a big hit!

June 8, 2012

5 years on

I have been trying to sit in front of the computer for the past two weeks and blog about a few tasty meals we have eaten. However, every time I manage to peel the kids from the computer I find an invoice I'd forgotten to write, a quote that needed to be written.....or my mind goes completely blank when I begin to type.

While trying to get my mojo happening once again I started flicking through some older posts and it hit me that it has been 5 years since I first started writing my blog! A part of me thinks I had a better voice way back then when live wasn't so hectic (mind you I bet I thought it was hectic with two young kids).

 Thankfully I have improved on my photo skills, though acknowledge I still have a long way to go!
I first started this blog when we lived in Lexington, Virginia. The boys were 2 and 5, and it was back in the days of leisurely baking, vegetable gardens (despite the rabbits always getting to it first!) and cocktails on the front porch. Five years on I have an almost 7 year old and a 10 year old who constantly eat me out of house and home, no veggie garden, barely a cake in the oven and a much smaller kitchen filled with pots, pans and bakeware that could easily feed 100 people in one sitting (I think my husband puts up with a lot).

I also got to thinking that five years ago I launched my first website. It was flimsy, unprofessional and a bit out there if I was to be brutally honest (it was a do it yourself job). Then we moved back to Australia where I was fortunate enough to meet a new friend who built websites and who just so happened to be in need of recipes....lots of recipes. Camillabaker.com got a facelift and suddenly grew up into something that was useful! Now three years on and living in Sydney, starting my own catering business and developing a cooking school it was time for me to evolve once more in the world of the web. I am excited to launch my brand new gorgeous website Camillabaker.com

Kim Rahi did a fantastic job of capturing my style and food footprint, then turning it into an online site. Kim and her husband Henry are a fantastic team when it comes to the web and I couldn't recommend them enough.

Looking back I can see the cultural changes in my cooking style, I found a few forgotten family favourites recipes I'll be digging up and making again and I have also seen changes in the boys. Seeing them go from no green vegetable passing their lips without a fight to gobbling down a garden salad in 10 seconds flat. Memories I would of forgot if it wasn't for my blogging efforts.

It's been a bit hard this past month to tap out a few food moments but I love that I have reached five years as a blogger. I have met some fantastic bloggers online (still to have the pleasure in the flesh) and have read some funny, delicious and heart felt stories over the years, stories I will continue to read and enjoy. Here's to another five years on the web and seeing where it takes me. Thanks for reading x