Dec 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I have met so many awesome people and had so many great experiences through this blog. I’ve got big plans for next year and can’t wait to share it with you. I hope everyone had a wonderful 2012 and is looking forward to an even better 2013! I know I am.

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Dec 24, 2012

Holiday Travel Woes

This time of year is often stressful for a lot of us, not only does the financial and emotional pressure often take its toll (don’t you love those family fights?), travelling during this period can be a complete nightmare! Fortunately for me I am staying put this year, my family is coming from QLD and as far as Norway to celebrate and I don’t have to brave those terrible airport queues or holiday traffic disasters!

I love a good infographic, and this one by CarInsurance.org sums up our sense of duty during the festive season to visit our loved ones and families – with 91% of us travelling by car (ugh). Stay safe on the roads, try not to scream at Grandma and eat LOTS of ham.

Internships Infographic

Dec 17, 2012

Brownie Cupcakes with Strawberry Santa Hats

This month’s SABH is of course Christmas themed – Sweets for Santa! One of my favourite combinations is strawberry and chocolate (as seen here), and I loved the idea of individual brownie cupcakes decorated with strawberries, cream and white chocolate for the perfect Santa treat.

Brownie Cupcakes with Strawberry Santa Hats
 
Prep time

Cook time

Total time

 

Author:
Serves: 12

Ingredients
Brownies
  • 190g soft butter
  • 190g dark chocolate
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 75g chopped hazelnuts (or nut of your choice)
  • 75g white chocolate chips
Decorations
  • 12 Strawberries
  • 50g white chocolate
  • 200ml pouring cream

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Line 12 muffin tins with cupcake papers.
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan or in short bursts in the microwave.
  3. In a bowl beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla.
  4. Sift the flour into another bowl and add the salt.
  5. Let the chocolate mixture cool a bit before beating in the egg and sugar mixture, and then the nuts, white choc chips and flour.
  6. Fill cupcake liners about ¾ full with mixture and bake for around 20 minutes.
  7. When it’s ready the top should be dried to a pale brown but the middle still dark and slightly gooey.
Decorations
  1. Cut the base off each strawberry so they can sit upright.
  2. Melt the white chocolate and spoon into a plastic zip lock bag. Snip a small corner off one end of the bag and carefully pipe a dot on the tip of each strawberry. Allow to cool and harden.
  3. Pipe a dot about the size of a 10cm coin in the middle of each brownie and press a strawberry down on each cupcake. This acts like a tasty glue!
  4. Beat the cream with electric beaters until firm peaks form. Spoon into a piping bag with a star nozzle attached and pipe little stars around the base of each strawberry.

Tada! Little Santa hats!

Dec 13, 2012

Kitty Couture – Feline fashion for the discerning crazy cat lady

The other day I went for a wander to the shops to find the perfect birthday dress. I wanted something 50s styled, preferably in mint green. Then I passed a cat dress and any sensible dress ideas went out the window. Isn’t it wonderful?! However I do draw the line at a cat wearing a bow tie, fortunately this part is detachable.

A pair of Charlotte Olympia cat shoes has been on my wish-list for a very long time but at over AU$700 a pair I think I need to be content with just admiring.

ASOS has some very pleasant-looking cat sweaters. Left + Right

This is ridiculous. I kind of think I need a cat-ular. Yes, that’s a cat spatular. The fact that it guarantees you a purr-fect breakfast just tops it off.

If you want to embrace the cat look on a more low-key level, then perhaps some cat eye sunglasses are more appropriate.

More cat stuff here!

Dec 6, 2012

Eating in Vietnam Part 2

Here is Part 2 of my eating in Vietnam photo-log. This covers from Hoi An up to Hanoi, via Halong Bay.

I was awoken at 4am in Hoi An to go on a sunrise bike ride. I was initially a bit shakey and nearly rode a woman off a bridge into the river. Oops! I managed to make it to the fish market in one piece, and there is nothing better than starting your day off with the stench of fish :)

My bike riding skillz were rewarded with a delicious Vietnamese coffee – hot and strong espresso with a generous layer of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom. Heaven!

A home cooked breakfast by a local consisting of a spring roll, spicy noodles, sliced pork, peanuts, coriander and a wee quail’s egg.

More bike riding in the heat had me running for cover mid-morning and in need of a refreshing and caffeinated drink. This is iced Vietnamese coffee and I drank it at least once every day in Vietnam. It’s delicious and refreshing and my go-to drink this summer (although I fear having a tube of condensed milk in the fridge will be very dangerous).

This coconut tart from The Cargo Club was so delicious I actually ate it for morning tea everyday I was in Hoi An. Oops!

Bánh xèo, a crispy pancake which is a speciality of Hoi An.

Bánh mì!! I swear I could live on these. This one consisted of crunchy pork, pickled veges, coriander and lots of chili!

A visit to the Central Market in Hoi An was a whirlwind of colour and smell.

Beautiful eggplants

Ummm “green things”. Any ideas??

Fish fish everywhere!

Seafood anybody?

On our overnight junk boat trip on Halong Bay we had the most beautifully presented dishes – I almost felt bad eating each work of art!

Freshly caught crabs

Look at the beautiful border of vegetables on this calamari dish! Gorgeous.

The prawns came out adorning the most beautifully hand carved vegetable centrepiece. We were given a demonstration the next morning and I took step-by-step photos – will post them soon.

The bird was carved from a radish, and the flowers from a chili and cucumber.

This beautiful flower was carved from a carrot.

This fishnet was also carved from a carrot!

A lady selling fruit in Hanoi

Fried dough! This is served everywhere on the streets of Hanoi in a variety of flavours and textures.

And a final meal in Vietnam of caramelised pork and veges – delicious!

I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of what I ate on my Vietnam trip, I’m hungry!

Dec 4, 2012

Eating in Vietnam Part 1

I have slowly started trawling through the 1000+ photos I took in Vietnam and will be sharing more with you soon. Turns out I took so many photos of food in Vietnam I will have to do this post in 2 parts – Vietnam is a foodie paradise after all!

Fresh tropical fruit is in abundance and regularly served after meals. Here is a plate of rambutans I snacked on.

Little bananas being sold from a street cart in Ho Chi Minh

Dragon fruit at a local market in Ho Chi Minh

Meals were simple and small in rural areas. This was my lunch enroute to the Mekong Delta and I was starving within an hour!

I sampled some snake wine in the Mekong. It is produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine and tastes, um, snakey.

Delicious homemade springrolls from my homestay host.

I came across these ladies sorting fruit in a village in the Mekong Delta. They kept giggling and staring at me and my translator informed me they thought I looked like a doll and they liked my nose. Also, would I like to spend my life working with them, sorting fruit? I politely declined.

On a side note, everyone squats here. They must have thighs on steal! I only had to use a squat toilet once and 30 seconds in the position had me whimpering.

I visited a candy factory in the Mekong where they produced all sorts of Vietnamese treats. First they demonstrated splitting the coconut and extracting it’s milk. This would then be used in a coconut caramel.

Rice was cooked over a high heat in what looked like a giant wok until puffed.

The puffed rice was then mixed with a flavouring (coconut caramel or savoury) and pressed out flat onto a board to cut up.

The ladies then wrapped up the puffed rice squares for sale.

Finished treats ready to be sampled. Delicious!

I also watched a lady making rice paper wraps, a fiddly process that she made look effortless.

I ate stir fried Morning Glory with nearly every meal – so fresh and delicious!

You can’t visit Vietnam without many bowls of delicious Pho.

Wandering through local markets in any Vietnamese city is always fascinating. Here we have all the garlic and onions you could ever want.

Dried starfish. I am not sure if they eat these, but can’t help but think they would make a pretty (albeit stinky) Christmas tree ornament.

The markets are often an assault on the senses, particularly when you hate the smell of fish. Let alone dried prawns that have been sitting in the sun all day.

Pufferfish! Another addition to my fishy Christmas tree?

I stumbled upon a delicious looking feast at a temple, perhaps this is laid out for the monks?

At a fishing village near Nha Trang I saw a darling little girl frying quail eggs in a mini pan. Heart melted.

And as we took the boat back to Nha Trang we were presented with a great spread to feast on full of spring rolls, freshly caught seafood and veges.

I hope you enjoyed some of these Vietnamese foodie highlights, stay tuned for part 2 !

Nov 28, 2012

Sydney Food Bloggers Xmas Picnic

I woke up early on Saturday morning with a mixture of excitement and stress. It was the day of the Sydney Food Bloggers Xmas Picnic – hooray for catching up with friends, meeting new people and eating delicious food. But I hadn’t baked anything! After the success of my ginger cupcakes at the last Food Bloggers Picnic I knew I had to create something equally delicious. I settled on my spiced cookies with salted caramel buttercream.

The cookies came out of the oven fragrant and crunchy from their raw sugar coating. It took all my willpower not to devour several whilst I waited for them to cool down!

I sandwiched them together with salted caramel buttercream and they looked delish! But alas as the salted caramel took forever to cool down I was running late…

I must admit I spent far too much time socialising and eating instead of taking photos of all the delicious food, but here is a sample of some of the delicious creations!

First up we have a gorgeous Strawberry Fresh Cream Cake (shaped like a Pig) by Jen Is Hungry

Delicious krokets by Irenes Getting Fat

Cookie Dough Dip with Apple and Biscuits by Cooking Crusade

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies by Spoonfuls of Goodness

Rhubarb Meringue Tarts by Muppy (these were heavenly!)

Homemade Cheese Plate (!!) by Nic Cooks - I didn’t get to try any of Nic’s delicious looking homemade cheeses nooo!! Feel free to make some more?? :)

Thai Chicken Wonton Cups by The Sticky and Sweet. These were absolutely delicious, I must get the recipe!

Vegan Pumpkin Pie with a Quinoa Crust by 84th & 3rd. I am often sceptical of vegan desserts as I feel the more butter and eggs the better, but JJ’s pie was delicious! And she ensured it had no nuts so I could safely devour it hooray!

Donuts! I have no idea who bought these but thankyou. I love donuts :)

Thanksgiving Turkeys by Gucci & Gyoza. So adorable!

A quick glance of my container and half the cookies had promptly disappeared. They were shortly polished off as sun + buttercream are not friends and things got really messy really quickly!!

And of course the obligatory group shot!

Thanks so much to Chocolate Suze and Grab Your Fork for organising yet another successful picnic!

Nov 23, 2012

Things that make me happy

Collecting pastel nail polishes (addicted)

Matching my nail colour to my fruit

♥ Matching my nail colour to my new blog design

♥ Catsitting!

♥ Especially when the cat likes to sit on your toilet

♥ Doing a chocolate making class! (read more about the day here)

♥ Learning how to temper chocolate

♥ Eating naughty food. Hot dogs and chili cheese fries from The Snag Stand

♥ More naughty lunches! Pork belly from Slip Inn. Working in the city is dangerous

♥ Eating healthy homemade food to offset the naughtiness. Lean lamb meatballs with quinoa salad.

♥ DRY ICE! Especially when it’s applied to gelato. Finally made it to N2 Extreme Gelato :D

♥ Going for a run and seeing this beautiful sunset over the park. Makes exercise that bit more bearable.

What is making you happy right now?

Nov 19, 2012

Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Icing

This month’s theme on SABH is Cake & Three Veg. I toyed with the idea of a chocolate-beetroot cake or a chocolate and avocado mousse but after eying off the lonely carrots rattling around the bottom of my fridge I decided to perfect my carrot cake recipe.

The initial plan – a two layered dense and moist carrot cake sandwiched together and covered in coconut cream cheese icing. If you are making a cake, then why is there a photograph of cupcakes Swah? I am sure you are wondering. Well, there was a little disaster.

I find a lot of dessert blogs consistently produce profesional looking, beautifully shot and styled desserts without ever touching on the inevitable situation of a dessert-related-complete-freaking-disaster. I must admit I rarely encounter anything too disastrous in my kitchen. I am organised and meticulous when baking and generally escape unscathed. Not this time.

I followed my tweaked recipe to a T, baked the 2 cakes in the oven and let them cool down over night. I whipped up a batch of my cream cheese icing with coconut essence, it tasted delicious. I put my first layer down onto my pretty cake stand, then spooned over 1/3 of the icing. Wonderful. I then placed my second layer on top. The perfectionist in me noticed it was slightly off-centre and I stupidly trying to gently lift it up and readjust. One of the great things about this carrot cake is how moist it is, however this worked against me when trying to shift things.

“Icing will fix everything!” I thought as worrying cracks started forming in the top layer. I had iced the top of the cake and was working my way around the sides as carefully as possible when slowly but surely, my beautiful cake started collapsing in slow motion. Sob!

But don’t worry this delicious cake didn’t go to waste! The remnants were piled into a tupperware container and promptly devoured.

Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Icing
 
Prep time

Cook time

Total time

 

Author:
Serves: 12

Ingredients
Carrot Cake
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ tsp bicarb soda
  • 2 cups self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups finely grated Carrot (about 4 large carrots)
  • ½ cup pecans, finely chopped
Coconut Cream Cheese Icing
  • 600g sifted icing sugar (4-5 cups)
  • 100g butter at room temperature
  • 250g cream cheese at room temperature
  • 2 tsps coconut essence
  • Shredded coconut to decorate

Instructions
Carrot Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line the bases of 2 x 20 cm cake tins with bake paper and grease the sides with butter.
  2. Beat the brown sugar and oil together until combined. Add the eggs in one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Sift in flour, spices and bicarb, and add grated carrot and pecans. Stir to combine.
  4. Divide the batter evenly amongst the 2 cake tins.
  5. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  6. Allow the cakes to cool slightly in their tins before turning out onto a tray to cool completely.
Coconut Cream Cheese Icing
  1. Cream the butter and icing sugar together until well mixed.
  2. Add the cream cheese in cubes slowly until incorporated.
  3. Add in the coconut essence and continue mixing for 5 minutes until the icing is light and fluffy.
  4. Using an offset spatula, spread ⅓ of the icing on top of the first cake layer.
  5. Place the second cake on top (upside down) and dollop the remaining ⅔ of the icing on top of the cake. Using the offset spatula, begin to smooth the icing out across the top and over the sides of the cake.
  6. Decorate with shredded coconut.

Have you had any complete disasters in the kitchen recently? How did you manage to salvage it?

Nov 16, 2012

How to find a cheap flight

I often get asked by friends and family for my tips on nabbing a cheap fare. Sometimes you get rewarded for planning ahead and careful organisation, other times you just get lucky and manage to grab an awesome fare! Regardless, these ideas will help make securing a cheap deal much easier.

Image source

♥ Book early

Take advantage of earlybird sale fares by booking your flights as far out as possible. By planning ahead and booking early you can make some serious savings, particularly if you are travelling close to Christmas or during school holidays.

♥ Be flexible with your flight dates

Flexibility with your dates of travel is the key to finding cheap flights. The more flexible you are with your travel dates, the more you can take advantage of cheap flights when they go on sale. But don’t worry, you can still get a great deal if your dates are more restrictive – it just takes a little more work!

♥ Fly with lesser known airlines

Consider flying lesser known or emerging airlines such as Etihad, Vietnam Airlines or China Southern. This also gives you a good opportunity to enjoy a stopover in another country along the way.

♥ Sign up to airline newsletters

Airline newsletters are a great way to find out about early-bird specials and the latest sale fares to the most popular international and domestic destinations.

♥ Follow airlines on social media

Like airlines on Facebook and follow them on Twitter – they sometimes offer exclusive sales to fans and followers.

♥ Fly outside of peak travel periods

Research your chosen destinations’ peak and off-peak times and try and plan around major holidays. Ticket prices are set according to demand, so the cheapest tickets can be found on the days with the least demand. Consider flying mid-week to get a cheaper fare.

♥ Consider alternate airports

Expand your search to include secondary airports. Small budget airlines often don’t fly to major airports, but to nearby secondary ones. Those budget airlines are often much cheaper than the bigger ones. Also consider avoiding large international airports such as London and start your Europe trip in Frankfurt or Amsterdam to avoid the high airport taxes.

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