Friday, June 29, 2012

Kitchenware Update in White and Another Cooking Competition

I promise this isn't a foodie blog entirely, although lately you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise.  It must be the fact that it's the middle of Winter here and I am so loving cooking and of course eating right now.  When I saw the Aldi catalogue this week, I couldn't believe my luck.  I have wanted some cast iron cook top to oven ware for a while now.  So on Wednesday morning, I was there with my fellow bargain hunters....going a little crazy.....comenserate with the price of this stuff.  I chose the white enamel, as it look beachy and stylish.  This little lot was bagged for around $130 and it is not cheap cr*p either.  This is quality cookware with a 5 year guarantee.  

Included in that price was the linen, the knives and three ABC Delicious cookbooks.  Amazing.  To me the quality at Aldi is always good because they have more to prove.  By the way this isn't a sponsored post, except that it's sponsored by me.

I thought this book was very me as it's called 'faking it', which is often my attitude to food.  It has to be great, but oh so simple as well.

Now girls I am burying a request to you deep in the middle of this post, so that only the most die hard of you Desire Empire followers will get the message.  I have entered another cooking competition.  This time it's the good taste magazine that are running 'a cook the issue' style competition over the months of June and July.  As usual, I have joined in a little late and only started cooking in July.  It's based on votes, with the top 20 going through to a final of 6.  The rub however, is that it's a popularity contest.....I've never been great at asking for people to vote for me.   Even though I was voted sports captain for my house in 6th grade,  I haven't really entered one since. Liking me is more a take it or leave it affair these days. I guess what I'm getting at here is, I need your votes, to have any chance of proceeding.  So I would be much obliged.  But will still love you either way.

You can go here to vote for my zucchini sauteed  with fennel seeds 

Or this ab fab chicken pie I made here

This chicken pie is honestly about the nicest one I've ever cooked.  It would also be the one I cooked on the night that Mr Beach House attended a yacht club meeting without letting me know. To think I wasted time worrying about where he was. I felt like throwing it at him when he walked through the door at 10pm that evening and asked was there any dinner left.  As you can see, I still have smoke coming out of my ears over that one. But this is a marriage ladies and I am stuck with the bad as well as enjoying the good, as I promised to do all those years ago, when I had stars in my youthful eye's at the beachy alter.

Oh and this is my version of a rosemary and pine nut scones, which you can vote for here.

You have to sign up to the good taste website to vote, but it may suit you, as there lots of competitions for great kitchen stuff and all things cooking, which may be of interest.  No pressure or anything, and as I said, I'll still love you either way.  Oh and if there is anything I can do for you please let me know!!!!!!!

Today I'm linked up here

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Easy Baking and Craft Ideas for Christmas in July

Well it's that time of the year again.  It's more freezing inside the house in Sydney, than the Mid West of America in a snow storm in February.  Why??  Because our homes here is Australia are built for Summer.  They are all glass, floor boards and open plan.   The heating and insulation are completely inadequate for even the mildest of Winter conditions.  Suffice to say I am shivering as I write this.  But the great thing is, it's also the time we have our Christmas in July parties here in Australia.  That's right,  although my family has been known to drink egg nog and tuck into a pork roast with all the trimmings on a 40 degree day (102 F) as Sydney swelters at Christmas time.  We like to do it all again when the temperature really is like a Northern Christmas.  So for my fellow Aussies who are thinking about having a Christmas in July party, here are some easy bake, craft and styling ideas to add some zing to your Christmas shin dig.  And for anyone else, it's only 6 months to go 'til the real thing and it's never too early to get into the Christmas spirit.  To find the 'how to' on all these projects, just click on the shot you like.

Here are some of the projects I posted about last Christmas
First I showed you several ways to set a table on an absolute budget

Then there were these mini ice cream cone Christmas trees

I showed you how to decorate your mantel with a beachy Christmas theme.

and how to make a snow dome on a cake stand 

Then I got baking.  There were rice bubble and Mars Bar plum puddings

and Santa's fat tummy cakes

There was a tutorial on how to make this Christmas tree on a platter, using marshmallows dipped in white chocolate and topped with crushed candy.

Then I showed you how to create some unique and simple decorations out of house hold materials

I had some great gift wrapping ideas here

And these were the best of all.  My second most favourite post of all time, some fabulous reindeer cookies.  So easy to make and a complete hit on Christmas table

So there you go just a few simple ideas for a great Christmas in July Festival.  For more Christmas craft and baking ideas go here.
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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Black Caviar Wasn't the Only Old Mare to Win By a Nose Last Weekend

If you know horse racing and even if you don't, you could have hardly missed Royal Ascot and the appearance of 'it girl' horse of the minute, Black Caviar in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes over the weekend.  It was not about how much she won by, because as we all know ladies, a win is a win is a win.  She was almost pipped at the post, but she did it.  Her experience and bravado got her over the line by a whisker.   And so it was on the Chopping Block at the Sydney Good Food and Wine Show last Friday.

I faced a worthy opponent, Rhianna  who gave me a run for my money. 

 Preparation conditions were tight.

And when it was announced that a pallet off cooking equipment had failed to turn up.  I was thankful I had brought my own serving dishes and measuring implements.

The prep area was a bit of a come down from the Beach House kitchen, but when Rhianna announced that she was a hippie from Ballana and could cope.  I said "Yeah I'm a mother and that means I can do anything too." I probably draw the line at chopping fillet steak with a dinner knife (left), but when Sammy and Bella, our gorgeous judges, hot off the back of a win from My Kitchen Rules, leant me a  beautifully sharpe knife (right) that sliced through the meat like butter on a hot day, I almost chopped my finger off.  Suffice to say, the equipment pallet that hadn't turned up, must have also had the first aid kit on it too, because there was not a band aide to be found. Not wanting my blood to be a feature of the dish,  I downed tools to charge off into the depths of the Good Food and Wine Show in search of a first aid post.

Man the glamour of celebrity chefing....who knew!!!!!

Fearing an unfair advantage, I ditched the idea of  wasting time finding the ambos and grabbed a security guard by the lapels of his jacket...risky I know, but I was on a mission.....I think he saw the whites of my eyes and was scared.  He put his hand in his pocket.  I though he was going for his gun, but he pulled out a couple of band aides instead.  I could have kissed him.

Next, it was back to the Chopping Block for a quick run down on how to use induction cooking from the lovely V Zug man.  Until Friday I was an induction cooking virgin, but not any more ladies.  This is the one where you hit the button and the water is boiling in a matter of seconds, you immediately remove the pan, put your hand on the hot plate and it's cold.  It seemed great, but there's nothing like flying by the seat of your pants, cooking in a competition with new technology that you don't know how to rock.

By now my gorgeous posse of cheer leaders had shown up.  The lovely Sonia from Life Love and Hiccups, Fiona from My Mummy Daze and Gemma from My Big Nutshell, who had made these fantastic streamers in Desire Empire colours on the way in on the bus, apparently to some very weird stares from her fellow passengers.

 Gemma's kindness touched my heart and the support of these three lovely gals was priceless.

By now the crowd was starting to build, we finished our prep in front of them and I got talking to the audience and began to work it baby.

Then we were counted down by Sammy and had 30 minutes to cook and plate our dish.
Check out my body language here.  I look nervous but I'm holding it together.  I was just thinking, I've done this a million times, I can do this.

I cooked Chinese Pepper Steak and the funny thing is, out of the seven or so times I have cooked it in preparation for the cook off, I've only cooked it beautifully twice.  The first time was the night I decided this was the dish I would go with.  After that I couldn't remember what I'd done to make it so nice.  The night before the cook off I nailed it again, because I put 3 instead of 2 tablespoons of Garden Gourmet Garlic and Ginger into the dish.  Unfortunately the version I cooked at the chopping block was not my best ever.  I'm still trying to work out why, but the sugar was raw instead of white.  And I used Campbells stock without shaking the box so the best bits were at the bottom.  So the sauce seemed a little sweet.

When I am tasting the dish here, I am thinking this could be better, it needs more herbs.  Then I began to wonder whether, in the heat of the moment, had I failed to put in the third tablespoon of ginger?  The judges were talking to me throughout and maybe I'd left it out.  At this point I just had to go with it.  It was nice but not my best ever.  I wanted to get the meat off  the heat so it remained tender.  As I often do in life, I just had to throw caution to the wind, plate up and hope my presentation would get me over the line.

I moulded out the rice and garnished.  So far so good.

Looking good and Bella commented that it looked like a restaurant dish.  I began to feel better.

Then the girls took the dish to the dining table and deliberated the result in Polish, so no one could understand them.

Next up was Rhianna, who cooked some lovely herb encrusted lamb cutlets.  They were beautifully pink and looked delicious.  And as luck would have it, the judges' decision was split.  Further deliberations ensued, in Polish.  After judging my dish, Sammy had continued to eat it and had said.  'This is a really nice dish Carolyn.' So I was hopeful, but Rhianna's lamb sure looked fantastic.

Sammy then announced me as the winner and Bella gave me a kiss, which if not for this shot, I would not have remembered, as it was all a blur now.

I do remember Sammy saying that it came down to the sauce.  As my sauce encompassed the whole dish, the herbs and spices were more evident across the dish.  Phew!!!!!

It just felt so good.  I think Garden Gourmet is to be congratulated for providing bloggers which such a wonderful opportunity to shine.

Mr Beach house was his usual funny self.  I rang him to tell him the result. Ironically, he was munching on left over Chinese Pepper Steak from the night before.  He asked me what my opponent cooked.......he loves lamb cutlets and said he would have had to vote for those. Ha Ha!!!! We went out for dinner that night to celebrate, after having a lovely chat over a bottle of bubbles and guess what her ordered.  That's right....lamb cutlets.  I guess it was only fair.  He's had my dish for lunch, God Love him.

Oh and the lovely Jason from Bertolli, another sponsor of the chopping block was kind enough to ensure me a supply of Olive Oil.  And I learned something, which I thought I'd share.  Light olive oil has a very high burn point at over 200C so is great for cooking stir frys.  Who knew!!!!

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

I Won and I'm going to Queensland for the Final in March

The Big Beach House Brat won't let me near the computer but I couldn't wait to let you lovely people know. I won yesterday's cook off. It was a fantastic experience and I loved every minute of it. Details and pics to follow Monday. There are a few shots on Facebook so why don't you pop over there for a sneak preview. I'd love it if you'd like me while you're there.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
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Friday, June 22, 2012

Garden Gourmet Cook Off Tomorrow and a Fabulously Moist Banana Bread Recipe

Today I'll be in thick of it.  I'll be cooking off on the aptly named chopping block for Garden Gourmet at 12.30pm.  I know a few of you are going to venture down to watch (details below) and I can't wait to see you.  I'll either be swinging from the rafters or licking my wounds after to show. How about a coffee either way????

In the mean time, we managed to squeeze in some much need family time in the late afternoon earlier this week.  I baked a fantastic banana cake, which I mentioned here.  I quickly shot it as we were heading out the door.

We walked through the Warriewood Wetlands to our favourite waterfall.

Where we set up camp and indulged in the simple things.  Not bad for the middle of Winter in Sydney.
Win, loose or draw tomorrow ladies, I am safe in the knowledge that my fan club of 3, will love me anyway!!!!!!  As you can see, marriage is a moveable feast here at the Beach House.

Moist Banana Bread

1.5 cups of sugar
(125g) 1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1.5 cups of plain flour
3 large rip bananas mashed
1/2 cup of walnuts roughly chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 C/375 F
Beat sugar, butter and eggs
Add dry ingredients sifted
Add mashed banana, chopped nuts and vanilla.
Mix well to combine

Pour into a well greased and lined loaf tin.
Cook for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean.  I had to cook it for a further 10 minutes but topped it with baking paper to keep the crust a nice colour.
Sift icing sugar over the cake after removing from the tin after cooking, but whilst still warm.
This cake cuts beautifully when fully cooled.  If you want to eat it still a little warm slice it very carefully.

Garden Gourmet Cook Off Details
Friday 22 June 2012
Stand U20 at the Sydney Good Food and Wine Show at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. Darling Drive Darling Harbour.

Show and Tell Friday
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mixed Berry Clafoutis and a Fabulous Photo Editing Site

Mixed Berry Clafoutis

Hello gorgeous people
Enough about my marriage and thanks to all you sweet things who empathised.  It's mid week and I'm back on track.  On track enough to try another new recipe, to shoot it and try out a new photo editing program, which I think you will like.  My lovely bloggy friend, Deanne put me onto this program at PicMonkey and I am a convert.

It has lots of groovy filters, fabulous fonts for writing on your shots and it's very easy to use.

Almost as easy as this classic French desert Clafoutis.  Now this one is a cheats version.  We like easy don't we girls.   It is traditionally made with whole cherries, pips and all and almond meal.  Neither of which I have used,  But I took delivery of a fabulous French cook book today, which I shall share soon and read that even the French are playing around with this classic these days, which made me feel all the better.

So here's the finished version.  Like most comfort food, it didn't come out of the pie plate as a neat triangle.  No matter I worked a little of my new found food styling magic on it and stuffed a little preserving jar with clafoutis and ice cream and no one at the Beach House was complaining.....believe me!!!

What do you think of my photo edits?  I think PicMonkey gives it the grainy edge I have been looking for and proves you don't need an expensive camera to get a good shot.

This shot got no editing apart from the text.  I liked it as it was and as a contrast to all the edited versions

Mixed Berry Clafoutis
4 eggs
1 cup of thick (double) cream
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup of plain flour
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
oil spray for greasing
400-500g Frozen mixed berries
icing sugar for dusting 
(the more fruit you use in this, the more icing sugar dusting you need to cut through the acidity of the fruit)

Pre heat the oven to 160 C (320F)
Put the eggs, sugar, cream and vanilla in a mixing bowl and whisk until combined and bubbles appear.  Sift in the flour and whisk until smooth.
Place the berries into a well greased large shallow pie dish.
Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for 1 hour or until set and golden brown.
Dust with icing sugar.  Serves 6

The family loved this desert and even though we are only four, it didn't last long!!!!

Today I am linked up here

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Monday, June 18, 2012

I Can Feel a Marriage Post Coming On

It's a long while since I've been very funny on this blog.  I think the last time was when I wrote that post about how the cleaner saves my marriage every week.  But when Mr Beach House announced that he would be sailing on Sunday, a glorious sunny Winters day, after what seemed like a month of rainy weekends, and the consequent development of associated cabin fever, I don't think even Ray the cleaner could have saved my marriage at that point.

A sign of how bad I was feeling about being totally let down in the marriage stakes, was when the kitchen draw was open.  I noticed a letter out of the corner of my eye informing me, that Mr Beach House's life is insured for some $703,000, indexed for inflation.    It worries me that for a nano second that prospect excited me.

Are you laughing yet???? Probably not!!!! OK I'll keep going then.

Now don't worry dear reader I have no plans to hit him over the head with a big shell. As I write this I have decided I like him again a tiny bit. He is very funny and can usually make me smile at something.    I am also completely incapable of killing anything and I am not stupid.  Of course I have motive, we are married afterall. Most of you would agree, that is motive enough.  Not to mention opportunity, so I would be the first on the  list of suspects if anything sinister should happen to him.  The reality is that I would absolutely hate it if he wasn't around.  One must be careful what one wishes for don't you think?   But of course him not being around enough is the whole point of this post.

So here's a recap of how it got this low.  On Saturday evening, Mr Beach House approaches me to announce he has sailing engagements the following day, there is very little discussion and the next morning he makes a clean break, leaving two very disappointed kids bouncing off the walls for yet another Sunday without their father. We got out amongst it as you can see from the photos but the fourth wheel was missing.

My attempt at a leave pass this weekend was not quite so successful.  I had booked Mr Beach House up weeks in advance to look after the Beach House Brats on Saturday afternoon so I could have a long awaited lunch with my dad's old secretary, with whom I became pals. And here's what happened with that arrangement.  The kids both have Saturday sports and unlike me, Mr Beach House is unable  to juggle both activities calling in favours and the like.  Consequently, I had reluctantly agreed to attend to the littlest one's swimming lesson, race with her from there, across town by 1.30pm for a late lunch. But there emerged a late window of opportunity, a slight possibility I could make a break on my own. The biggest Beach House Brat's sport was cancelled due to the poor weather, but there had been soccer photos locked in, so Mr BH had attended those and arrived home 10 minutes before the designated departure time for the littlest one's swimming lesson.  He had brought a single dad  and his kiddo back to eat their sausage sizzles at the Beach House and I suggested he gather up the littlest BHB, take her to swimming and let me escape for an afternoon without kids. 'Too hard' he cried. He was quite happy to look after her, but he couldn't be bothered with the expensive pre paid swimming lesson. He was more interested in settling in with his mate to watch footy than taking over the daddy day care duties at swimming and giving me a much deserved kid free afternoon.  He always puts himself first and believe me I am learning from him.

I stopped doing his washing some years back now.  My reasoning to him when he asked me what was going on was, 'So you get to go sailing all weekend and I get to do your washing'....No deal baby!!!!  All this wet weather is playing havoc with his wardrobe....We don't have a dryer so most of it has been on this line for a week.  He managed to get it in yesterday, shoved his wrist under my nose and announced, 'See it doesn't smell too bad'.  I had to agree the week of rain rinsing had had very little negative effect.

Breakfast out with Mr Beach House's credit card
Anywhoo I made the lunch in time.  The littlest Beach House Brat was charming as usual and all was well.  But my point is this, living with Mr Beach House is like living with a bachelor with a wife and kids........

A gorgeous lunch over looking the city
He comes and goes as he pleases and does pretty much exactly what he wants. I on the other hand am left holding the bag way too often.  I am working on changing that and will let you know the outcome, if I can think of anything.  Meanwhile I hope you have  a great week.

Palm Beach from the Bible Garden
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