Saturday, August 27, 2016

Choc chip cookies, two ways

From a very young age I used to make chocolate chip cookies using this recipe, found in my Mum's handwritten cookbook from her teenage years. They were easy to make and a real crowd-pleaser, but very sweet. Recently I've been experimenting with adding chocolate chips  and other goodies  to traditional Scottish shortbread biscuits instead. They have a different texture, less chewy and not so sweet, and you can make the dough ahead of time, pop it in the fridge or freezer, and cook at a later date. This week I made a batch of choc chip shortbread cookies for a colleague's birthday:

The shortbread mixture welcomes all sorts of other inclusions. I've made this recipe with white choc chips and macadamias, pistachios and cranberries, and white choc chips and cocoa. You could also use M&Ms or other sweets [candies]. More experimentation may be required. I wonder if green tea or peanut butter shortbread would work ...?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Precrastination (no, that's not a typo)

I'm not a procrastinator. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m the sort of person who gets chores out of the way before doing fun stuff, who completes their uni assignments weeks before others have started theirs, and who sometimes rushes into a decision before she has all the facts (not ideal, I know). I’ve long searched for a word to describe non-procrastinators such as myself. The Macquarie Thesaurus ( shows four synonyms for procrastination – avoidance, idleness, indecision and lateness – but no antonyms.

Anyway … a couple of years ago I reread Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did series of books, which were originally published between 1872 and 1890. They're kids’ books, but still enjoyable to read now I'm an adult. In the fourth book, Clover, Katy is described as having forehandedness and it seems that this is the opposite of procrastination. A handy, if archaic, term.

This week, I've found another, newly-coined, word for non-procrastination: precrastination! If you type it into Google it will initially assume you've made a mistake, but there have been several articles on the subject in, for example, Scientific American and Psychology Today over the past couple of years. They argue that this tendency has both pros and cons (of course it does!) but on balance I feel pretty comfortable doing things ahead of time rather than waiting till the last minute. It's a bit like having a personal incentive program, where you get unpleasant or difficult tasks out of the way before allowing yourself to relax. Now, I'd better go and clean the bathroom before I go out for coffee ...

Rocky road ... mmmmmm!

I've always been partial to rocky road, so yesterday had a go at making it myself. Essentially it is just a mélange of ... whatever you like ... bound together with melted chocolate. For this one, I lined a baking tin with nonstick paper, then spread a layer of dark chocolate mixed with desiccated coconut on the bottom, then studded the base with marshmallows, toasted pistachio nuts, white chocolate chunks and chopped Turkish Delight, and drizzled more melted chocolate over the top. It was pretty hard to cut, even with a warm knife, so looks a bit rustic! Tastes great though.

We're taking the rocky road to our friends' place for dinner tonight

Thursday, August 11, 2016

When corn muffins get even cornier ... or is it more corny?

Last week's Rio Olympics-themed brekkie at Stand By Me featured a fabulous cornbread! Great flavour, great texture, and actual corn kernels throughout. I've often made cornmeal muffins but it had never occurred to me to add chunks of corn. Tried it today and the resulting muffins were excellent ...

1 cob of corn (microwave it for about three minutes, then slice the kernels off with a sharp knife)

1 cup wholemeal flour
0.5 cup cornmeal (also known as polenta)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
1.5 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
0.75 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Mix the dry ingredients. Stir in the egg, milk, butter and corn kernels. Spoon into greased muffin pans and bake at 180 degrees C for about 20 to 25 minutes (test with a skewer). These freeze well for weekday lunches.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Pumpkin scones

An easy, delicious and quintessentially Australian recipe ... for my friend Elizabeth!

900 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
50 g butter
2 eggs
4 cups wholemeal flour
4 tsp baking powder

Microwave the pumpkin until it is soft, then mash roughly and stir the butter in so it melts through. Cool the mixture a little, then beat the eggs in. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well, adding up to half a cup of milk if required to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured tray and pat into a square or round about 3 cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 20 minutes. Cool a little, then break into chunks and serve with butter.

I like to freeze buttered scones to take to work for lunch.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Red velvet cake

Red velvet cake is simply a purple-tinged chocolate cake. Some recipes use red food colouring, but another (healthier) option is to use fresh beetroot [Beta vulgaris, or beets].

1 bunch beetroot (anywhere between 200 g and 500 g seems OK)
2 cups wholemeal flour
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 teaspoons baking powder
0.5 cup olive oil
4 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Cook and purée the beetroot. (My tip: I wash, peel and chop the beetroot, then microwave it for about five to seven minutes. Make sure you put a lid on the container you use, or the microwave will end up looking like a crime scene. Cool the cooked beetroot before attempting to purée it.)

Oil and flour a 25 cm round cake tin. Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking powder together. In another bowl, mix the oil, eggs and puréed beetroot together. Fold all ingredients together. Bake 50 to 60 minutes. Cool on a rack, and serve topped with cream cheese icing:

100 g cream cheese
50 g butter
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Beat all together. Ice when cake is cold.

This cake contains vegetables and cheese. Could we perhaps argue that
it is actually a salad? (Just kidding!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Brekkie @ WickEd Corner Cafe, Brisbane

We stumbled across this cute wee cafe a few years ago while visiting Brisbane and liked it so much we've been back several times now. The food is good, the service fabulous, and the location ... close to our favourite hotel in Anzac Square. On our latest visit (en route back to Canberra from Lady Elliot Island) we ate:

Poached eggs with smoked salmon, red onion,
spinach, capers and hollandaise sauce

The big breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms,
tomatoes, hash brown, ciabatta toast, and juice

WickEd Corner Cafe is at Shop 2, 166 Wickham Terrace, Spring Hill, Brisbane.

Oh, and just for fun, here's a picture of a Brisbane bridge lit up in green. Cute ;-)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Hello again, Lady Elliot Island

Andrew and I like fish. Not so much to eat, but to look at and swim with. Recently we made our third visit to Lady Elliot Island and it was spectacular! Our previous visits, in February 2013 and March 2014, were in late summer/early autumn, and this time we specifically chose to go in mid-winter to coincide with manta ray migration season. We were not disappointed. There were SOOOO many mantas ... and humpback whales! While many people snorkel with cameras we don't, so I can't show photos of the marine critters we saw. But here are a few other pics from the holiday in case anyone is interested ...

Tantalising view of the island from the window of a tiny plane

Buffet brekkie ...

... and the Buff-banded rail (a.k.a. the buffet bandit)

Chateau de hermit crabs

The Red-tailed tropicbird snoozes under a tree

Lunch ... Reuben sandwich

Sunrise ...

... and sunset


I'm a more adventurous snorkeller than Andrew, so although we snorkelled together in the (shallow) lagoon each morning, I went out on boat trips each day while he stayed behind and enjoyed more land-based pursuits. On my first 'snorkel safari' trip we saw about sixty manta rays, and on the second ... two humpback whales cruised past while our group was exploring the deep water. A truly amazing experience. I hope we'll go back again someday.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dinner @ Lanterne Rooms

Considering I've opted to celebrate my birthday at Lanterne Rooms in Campbell for, oh, at least the past five years, it's strange it has taken me so long to write about it. Perhaps it is because I'm too busy soaking up the ambience and demolishing the food each time ... or perhaps it's because I want to keep the place a secret? There's not much chance of that. It always seems popular. No wonder ... the food is magnificent. Lanterne Rooms is part of the Chairman Group, which runs several Asian-themed fine dining establishments around Canberra. (You can read my joyful review of Lilotang here.)

The Shanghai rice noodles are particularly addictive, but EVERYTHING is good. The set menus are inspired and you won't be disappointed if you just order a banquet rather than faffing around with the a la carte menu. Last week we did just that, and enjoyed:

For the entree:

Sweet and sour lamb with nam jim dressing (pictured);
Malaysian duck rolls with kaffir lime and chilli dressing;
and tom yum infused prawns with rockmelon and apple

For the main course:

Shanghai rice noodles with dark soy, calamari, prawns
and scallops; chicken breast fillet with shiitake and herbal jus;
slow-cooked Wagyu beef curry; and warm roasted vegetable salad

For dessert:

(Can't quite remember the details! Warm cassava
cake and ... some other lovely things!)

This is my FAVOURITE Canberra restaurant. I hope it is around for many birthdays to come. Their website describes the food as 'Nyonya Malay cuisine, with a modern twist'. The decor is also fabulous.

Lanterne Rooms is at Shop 3, Blamey Place, Campbell ACT 2612.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Lemon Meringue Pie

A recipe for my coffee buddy Jacqui ...

My partner doesn't like lemons so I don't make this much unless we're going out to dinner and need to take dessert ... though once in a while we have been known to share a lemon meringue pie (I eat the bottom, he eats the top) à la Jack Sprat!

3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
20 grams butter
rind and juice of 2 lemons
4 tablespoons cornflour

Place all ingredients in a glass bowl or jug. Microwave for about 4 minutes on high, whisking mixture at the end of each minute. Cool, then pour into a cooked pastry shell *.

3 egg whites
4 tablespoons caster sugar

Beat egg whites till stiff, add sugar and beat until sugar dissolves. Pile on top of lemon mixture. Bake for a few minutes until meringue is golden.

* I usually cheat and use a ready-rolled pastry sheet rather than making it from scratch. Of course, another option is to dispense with the pastry altogether and just make lemon meringue puddings in little bowls.


Sunday, July 03, 2016

Milo biccies

It may have been just a tad ambitious ... trying a new-ish recipe in an as yet untested oven! My Kiwi friend Bernice recently mentioned that she makes a variant of Afghan biscuits using Milo cereal. Sounded sort of yummy so I gave it a go. The oven at our new place dates back to the 1970s:

Not just a baroness, but a baroness deluxe!

There were multiple types of Milo cereal at the supermarket. We chose this one:

The oven worked OK! It takes longer to heat up than the much-younger one at our previous place, but the biscuits were fine. Here's the recipe. Next time I might double the amount of cereal. It made the biscuits wonderfully crunchy.

200 g (7 oz) butter
50 g (2 oz) sugar
175 g (6 oz) flour
25 g (1 oz) cocoa powder
50 g (2 oz) Milo cereal

Soften butter. Add sugar and beat to a cream. Add flour and cocoa. Lastly, mix cereal in. Put spoonfuls on a greased oven tray and bake about 15 minutes at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).

Just like a chocolate milkshake ... only crunchy ...

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The beginning, the middle and the end ... three wonderful books I've read lately

I always have several books in progress on my Kindle. Usually at least one non-fiction, one general or historical fiction, and maybe one biography or mystery fiction. It means that, whatever mood I'm in, there's always something interesting to read at hand.

Just lately I've finished three non-fiction books that triggered deep introspection and gratitude. Each had relevance to a particular time of life (or at least, to a particular time of my life).

The beginning ...

Alfred Lubrano's Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams discusses the challenges of growing up in a working-class, uneducated family, and moving (via education) into a middle-class, white-collar adulthood. As the blurb says 'torn between the world they were raised in and the life they aspire to, they hover between worlds, not quite accepted in either'. I grew up in a family where education was frowned upon and I made my escape as soon as possible. Although these days I live a white-collar life among middle-class friends and colleagues there are still moments when I feel like a fish out of water. Limbo reminded me be proud of what I've achieved in life. The book moved me so much that I emailed the author to thank him; he sent a very gracious reply!

... the middle ...

Stuffocation: Living More with Less, by James Wallman, is another thought-provoking read. The book discusses materialism and clutter, arguing that by transforming what we value (focusing less on possessions and more on experiences) we will be happier and healthier. Having recently moved house and thus been forced to get up close and personal with all my possessions I've realised that while I'm not a hoarder I do have more than enough stuff and really should use what I have rather than buying anything new.

... and the end

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine, and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande, is a book about death. It is an absolutely wonderful read: compassionate, powerful, moving, and beautifully woven. I enjoyed the book so much I didn't want it to end ... and have now sought out other books by Dr Gawande. As one of the reviewers said '[the book is] not just about dying and the limits of medicine but about living to the last with autonomy, dignity, and joy'. Indeed! Don't miss it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brekkie @ the National Arboretum

Last week we popped into the National Arboretum in Canberra in search of coffee ... and noticed that they offered breakfast on weekends. There are a couple of eateries at the Arboretum, the casual Sprout Cafe and the fancier Conservatory Restaurant. I checked online and it said bookings were recommended at the Conservatory; I confess we decided to take a risk this morning and go there without booking! It was, after all, a foggy Sunday morning and 5 degrees C. (!!) They very kindly managed to fit us in, but I'll book in future as the place filled up fairly quickly. The menu had numerous yummy-looking options and I ended up choosing something off the daily specials list:

Crooked Madame: jalapeno cornbread,
gruyere and grilled ham, with fried eggs

Andrew had:

Francis Bacon and the eggs: scrambled eggs, toast,
grilled bacon, chipolata sausage, boudin noir, baked beans,
thyme roasted tomato, grilled mushrooms and hash brown

It was delicious and delightful. We'll have to go back and try more menu items.

No picturesque piccies of trees and rolling hills (the fog was like a thick soup today) but here's a photo of the restaurant and the wider viewing area at the Arboretum:

Don't miss the Arboretum if you find yourself in beautiful Canberra. It is on Forest Drive, off Tuggeranong Parkway, at Weston Creek.

Conservatory Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, June 24, 2016

Pumpkin soup with drizzled coriander pesto

Brrrrrr, it's cold outside. Many thanks to my fabulous vego friend Liana for this delicious recipe.

1 pumpkin, roughly diced
1 brown onion, chopped
olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 to 2 cups vegetable stock
400 ml coconut milk

Coriander pesto stuff
1 bunch of coriander [cilantro]
1 lemon (rind and juice)
1 to 2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon honey
about a tablespoon of olive oil

Heat the oil in a pot. Add the onion and curry paste and stir until onion is brown. Add the vegetable stock and the pumpkin. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is soft. Blend the mixture with one of those hand-held whizzy things. Stir in the coconut milk.

Pesto stuff
Chuck all ingredients into a blender and whiz until nice and smooth.

Serve the soup with a generous drizzle of the coriander stuff and some nice crusty bread.

You can freeze lunch-sized portions of this to take to work. Yum!