Carrot cake: the cake of carrots (that isn’t gross)

Whilst the fundamental concept of carrot cake is, well, a little weird, it’s actually a delicious cake. And a home made one even more so. It doesn’t taste like carrots. You can’t even see the carrots. It’s not a carrot surprise (thanks for that one, Dad). It’s just nutmeggy, sort of sweet, non-dry and altogether delicious.

For one super fantastic cake (I made mine in a loaf tin, but I think you could get around 12 muffins out of this, too) you will need:
– 1/2 cup of butter, softened
– 2 eggs
– 1 cup-worth of finely shredded carrot (I used 2 big-ish carrots)
– 1/2 cup walnuts (toasted in a dry pan) (optional!)
– 1/2 cup sultanas (optional!)
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1 cup self-raising flour
– 1/2 teaspoon bi-carb
– pinch of salt
– nutmeg
– cinnamon

For the super epic cream cheese frosting, you will need:
– 180g cream cheese
– 4 tablespoons icing sugar
– about 1 tablespoon of butter, softened
– 2-3 of tablespoons of lemon juice

Step 1 – it’s cake time: heat your oven up to 180 degrees celsius. In a bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and airy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. At this point, add your other cake-related ingredients. I’m quite bullish on nutmeg and cinnamon so I literally added about 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and half a fresh nutmeg; add less if you’re less of a fan (and therefore less awesome). Pour into a greased pan and bake for about 40-50 mins (if it’s in a cake tin), prob about half that time if they are muffins.

Step 2 – filla: mix together all of the frosting ingredients in a beating-fashion. When the cake is cool, cut it in half and spread the frosting in between the two halves. Bloody good.

Carrot cake. A cake of carrots.

Carrot cake. A cake of carrots.

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An elegant taste test of frozen dumplings aka I go dumpling crazy

It was a need that had been brewing in my mind. I had been thinking about it for a while. A problem that had to be solved; that wouldn’t just go away. A fundamental problem? Perhaps. But one that I could manage? Not alone. It was, scary, it was ever present…and it had to be managed swiftly.

I needed dumplings.

Fundamental indeed. This problem in mind, a brave dining friend and I ventured far into the night (Burwood) and into Sydney Dumpling King. Looking at the extensive array of dumplings, I briefly felt we had bitten off more than we could chew (and then realised that there were essentially about 5 ingredients on high rotation to make up the 28 varieties of dumpling on offer). We chose a half-half dish of boiled dumplings – fish and coriander / prawn with eggs, chives and wood-ear mushrooms, as well as a half-half dish of fried dumplings, pot-sticker style – beef with celery and pork with zucchini (feeling experimental). Each had 15 dumplings and were reasonably priced – $14 for the seafood; $11-ish ($9-ish plus a $2 frying fee) for the beef/pork versions.

The two ladies hand-making all of those dumplings were the fastest-working people I have ever seen in my life. Who rolls out and fills dough that quickly? Anyway, they were mainly delicious. The pork and zucchini was, somewhat expectedly, kind of bland. Both seafood versions were great and the beef and celery was surprisingly tasty. I did prefer the texture of the fried, but that’s just me. And it was reassuring to see those ladies and know that it was not mystery meat in the dumpling.

I'm pretty much dumpling royalty

Various seafood dumplings

Nicely fried beef/pork dumplings

Nicely fried beef/pork dumplings

Like some slow rolling dumpling train on the verge of picking up even more dumplings I felt the undying urge to perpetuate this dumpling-foolery. I proceeded to the closest Asian grocery and stocked up. Yum Cha weekend bonanza!

The cheong fun was pretty sad. Three dried out prawns in each of the thick, dried out pastry. Skip this one and hold out for yum cha.

Cheong fun or cheong sum? I can never remember

Cheong fun or cheong sum? I can never remember

The har gau was more like spinach gau, sadly! The pastry was similarly fairly thick – a common theme in the world of frozen dumplings. Again, one to hold out for yum cha.

Spinach gau?

Spinach gau?

The surprise winners of the day were the shanghai-style dumplings. I bought pork and vegetable, pork and coriander and then some form of mystery meat “juicy buns” aka everyone’s favourite xiao long bau. Again, the common theme of fairly thick pastry continued but the dumplings contained a nice soupiness (and also can be steamed from frozen in 12 minutes or less). Winning. Oh and for c.$4 per packet, who is complaining?

Dumpling mania

Dumpling mania

I also bought a few mystery sauces…

XLB

XLB

I also bought a pack of frozen green onion pancakes. Now, I’m not sure if this is testament to the quality of the product…or a reflection of the (sub par) green onion pancakes of meals past. But these were one of the best I’ve ever had. Check this flakiness (ignore the kind of burnt bits):

So flaky

So flaky

Anyway, this weekend has been a total yum cha bonanza. I’m pretty sure my nutrient levels are 100% depleted, but it sure has been a delicious couple of days…

 

 

 

Y’all come get some grub: the story of American food night

So a coupla friends, a boyfriend and I are heading over to the good old US of A in a handful of months time to get some snow action on. I take this as a 6 month training opportunity. In food, that is. Epic.

And what better way to spend a Saturday night than having a bunch of friends ’round, tucking in to great food, great drinks and fun times.

For our “taste of America” (yes, I realise this is about as cliche as it gets!) we went for a one-two beef / pork ribs combo, beef brisket sliders (on home made buttermilk rolls), hot wings with blue cheese sauce, a rocket pear blue cheese and balsamic salad (you need to eat your greens!) and the tried and true mac’n’cheese.

I have to admit – it did take a good whole day worth of food shopping and cooking. Though I have to say, with a glass of wine, it was strangely therapeutic. Thanks Sara! Here are some pictures of the feast:

1) Ribs: before and after

Marinated over night in a mixture of a dry rub (sugar, smoky paprika, sweet paprika, garlic, pepper, a little rosemary) and, wait for it, a bottle of coke. Seriously. It works. Roast low and slow and finish off under the grill, baste regularly with epic home made BBQ sauce.

Humungous beef ribs

Humungous beef ribs

Ready for demolishing - thanks Dave and Linda!

Ready for demolishing – thanks Dave and Linda!

2) Beef brisket sliders with home made buttermilk sliders and my ad hoc rendition of chunky bbq sauce

Brisket turns out to be one of the easiest meats to cook. Whack in an oven bag (if you don’t already use them, get on that) – again, low and slow, for about 4 hours. We deiced to mix our brisket in with a chunky BBQ sauce to serve with the sliders. Chop roughly, mix and serve.

The sliders are equally simple, with the lengthy prep time really only attributable to rising time. For these great rolls, you need:
– 5gm instant yeast
– 290gm baker’s flour (I use Laucke; it comes with a sachet of yeast)
– 190mL buttermilk, warmed slightly
– 1.5 tbsp caster sugar
– 1/4 tsp baking powder
– 1/4 cup canola oil
– egg wash / sesame seeds for baking

In a bowl, whack in everything but the egg wash and sesame seeds. Mix and then knead for a few minutes or until the dough is nice and elastic. In a bowl, in a warm and non-draughty area for about 2 hours or until it has doubled in size. Knock back. Form into little balls (say, 2 inches across) and lay on a tray lined with baking paper, about an inch or so apart. Let rise for another hour or until doubled. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle a few sesame seeds – more to convince everyone it’s an actual hamburger than anything else – and bake at 205 degrees C for about 15 mins (or til nice and golden!)

BBQ sauce is basically just a mix of an onion, a teaspoon of smoky paprika, 2 cloves of garlic and a chilli, fried in a few tablespoons of butter – then pureed in a blender til nice and smooth. Return to the saucepan, add 1 tbsp each of dark brown sugar and treacle, then a can of diced tomatoes and a few tablespoons of tomato puree. Along with this, add 3 tbsp white wine vinegar, a good few swigs of worcestershire and a little hot sauce. Turn the heat looowwwww and stir regularly (I learned this the hard way when the bottom burned)

Buttermilk sliders

Buttermilk sliders

Holy slider!

Holy slider!

3) Mac n cheese (complete with weirdly foggy camera lense)

Made by boiling macaroni to just before al dente. Make a roux by melting 6 tbsp unsalted butter until bubbling and adding to that 1/2 a cup of plain flour, stirring for a minute or so. Add 3 or so cups of milk gradually until the whole lot thickens. To that, add a good few cups of cheese – I used a mix of mostly cheddar and a bit of parmesan. Whack in a couple of pinches of nutmeg, pepper, salt and cayenne as well. I also added an optional extra few rashers of bacon fried with a couple of cloves of garlic. Mix the roux and the bacon with the macaroni and top with a little more grated cheese. Bake til browned at about 190 degrees C.

It's a macaromance

It’s a macaromance

4) Hot wiiiingsss and blue cheese sauce (just in case you thought your heart was going to get off lightly)

For the wings, make a mixture to suit your taste of melted butter, salt, garlic and hot sauce. We ended up adding some random ingredients including hot paprika, balsamic, honey…whatever. The point is, make it nice and hot with those core ingredients to suit your taste. Marinate for as long as you’ve got, and grill a good 5 inches from the grill til done!

The blue cheese sauce is made by combining 1/2 cup of sour cream, 1/4 cup mayo, 1/2 a lemon juiced, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp shallots, 1 clove of garlic and a good few tablespoons of crumbled blue cheese. Stir vigorously.

Fly me away

Fly me away

And there you have it. Our “American feast”. Great food, great company, great times.

Baja Cantina, Glebe

I love a cheeky little Mexican on a Friday night. Their food is pretty good too. Ba-dum-chhhhh! Ok, well that was an obvious joke, but not bad for a Sunday night, right?

My dining friend and I recently went to visit an old favourite, Baja Cantina on the perpetually bustling Glebe Point Road. Bookings are relatively necessary or so it would seem, with the restaurant full by about 7pm (there are two sittings, 6/6:30 and 8:30) and sorry punters being turned away. I’d always been impressed during previous visits so expectations remained high this time around.

Baja Cantina - decked out as any tex mex restaurant should be

Baja Cantina – decked out as any tex mex restaurant should be

We started with a (very) standard entree – chips and guac. I liked how their chips were made on site and fried fresh. The guac was decent. Well flavoured, various little chunks of onion here and there. A solid serve for $9 (large, $14). I have to say I would otherwise have gone for the queso fundido – even the name is screams enjoyment. A TEDs – boooringgg ( a very reasonable $4.50) and a Dos Equis Amber ($7) were also ordered, although buyers remorse briefly overcame me as I saw a brightly coloured jug of sangria arrive at our neighbouring table ($16).

Can't go wrong

Can’t go wrong

Immediately entering the town of Regretsville, I could feel fullness rearing its ugly head even before the mains arrived. What started off as mild fullness courtesy of a delicious pork belly for a team work lunch was only perpetuated by my lack of control over abovementioned corn chips.

It actually worked well that we had to wait really quite a long time for our mains – as in, a good half hour / 40 mins notwithstanding said busy-ness of the restaurant.

My dining friend’s steak fajitas ($25.90) arrived theatrically. An army-sized plate of black beans, cheese, tomato, rice, guac, sour cream and lettuce arrived, together with an hilariously small and unbalanced serve of three tortillas, as well as a bowl of salsa. Mere moments later a great sizzling behemoth of a plate of steak, capsicums and onions arrived. So apart from the obvious tortilla to filling debacle, I have to say that the steak was pretty tough, though the capsicum/onion combo was pretty tasty. It wasn’t really cut across the grain and it was a little fatty. The quantity was enormous – but actually just made me think of the unfortunate wastage of the situation. A human of epic sized proportion still could not have finished this dish.

fa-jeetas, mate

fa-jeetas, mate

My enchirito with shredded beef ($22.90) was similarly man-mountain sized. Tragically, it had clearly been sitting around for a good 10 minutes or so, I estimate! It was cool and juices had visibly run out, mixing with the enchilada sauce. Though the waitress speedily whisked the enchirito away to be reheated at my request, it was mildly frustrating that a dish had been let out of the kitchen, cold. It came back steaming hot and on a new plate, which was appreciated. The filling was pretty rice-y, which I don’t remember having been the case last time (I’m pretty on point with the rice to meat ratio). A sad experience, indeed.

Entrada, enchirito

Entrada, enchirito

Overall, Baja Cantina offered a fairly glum experience! So different from the experiences of Mexican dinners past. Weirdly, the food portions appear to be growing – in stark contrast to food portion sizes of many restaurants out there. I still want to try the Baja fish tacos…but it might take a few more dinners to forget this experience 😦

Baja Cantina
43-45 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

Food? 5/10. Credit given for past visits; deductions for cold food and tough steak
Drinks? 9/10. Put it this way, 1 page of their 2-page menu is dedicated to drinks. Various beers, cocktails, wines and a whole lotta tequila
Atmosphere? 8/10. Lively and decked out like any tex-mex restaurant should be. We were unfortunately seated right next to the entrance, which meant a constantly opening and non-closing door, but that was more just circumstance – every restaurant needs a door! The waiters were ever present and friendly and the restaurant boisterous and bustling.

Baja Cantina on Urbanspoon

Death by chocolate (tart)

It wouldn’t be the worst way I could think of, to go by chocolate tart; being engulfed so thoroughly by this thick, dark, oozing, slightly bitter lava. If they found me, my face covered with dark remnants, the odd pastry crumb, a fork clawing helplessly at the…last…bite. They’d know I’d bit off more than I could chew…

I’m partial to a sliver of chocolate tart, as you can tell. It has to be dark, it cannot be sweet – well, not too sweet anyway. The sort of richness that makes you feel like you really could not eat anymore at all. That sort of tart is the one I love.

I came across a number of recipes, whilst perusing many sources for this tart. My conclusions: you need chocolate, cream and butter. In really any quantities. Beyond that, it’s pretty hard to stuff up. I made a couple of little tarts and a couple of chocolate pots with mine, but this would yield enough for a 23cm tart shell.

You will need:
– 300g chocolate. I would say get dark aka semi sweet chocolate. I couldn’t find any. I used a mix of 70% and milk, half a half. Though a 70% tart would have been pretty good too. The mix was sufficiently dark that it wasn’t too sweet, but still reminded everyone it was a delicious dessert-y chocolate tart.
– 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg (use the egg whites for a bomb alaska! see picture at end)
– 300mL thickened cream
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 tart shell. I used the standard shortcrust from my pecan pie a few blogs ago – I like the ever so slightly salty contrasting shell to my filling. Otherwise you could go for a sweeter tart shell, perhaps a chocolate version

Step 1 – shellshock: make your tart shell as per the pecan pie recipe. Blind bake with rice, and then bake for a further 10 mins or so without the rice. Cool.

Step 2 – get tarted up: to make your filling, break your chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl along with the butter. Bring the cream to the boil and then pour over the chocolate. Let it hang out for a few minutes and then stir to combine. Yes, the chocolate will melt. Pour this mixture into your cooled tart shell/s. Bake at 160 degrees for around about 25 minutes, or until you can just see the centre of the tart slightly wobbling. If you want to make it look ever so slightly fancy, either sieve some cocoa powder over the top, or alternatively combine a little melted chocolate with cream to a liquidy consistency and spread over the top. Simples.

You old tart

You old tart

 

Oh – bonus shot. Bombe alaska!

The nice sort of bomb(e)

The nice sort of bomb(e)