Perfectionistic, hungry caterpillars

Are you a perfectionist? It has been pointed out to me by a few people that I have some perfectionistic tendencies. More specifically, I have been accused of being like the character Monica from the TV series ‘Friends’ (showing my age here).  In particular, there is a scene when Monica is hosting a party, and although she asks her friend to help her put out some food, she directs her on how exactly she should do it. Yep. That’s me.  I do, however (when accused of being a perfectionist), proclaim that I do not strive to be perfect or flawless! I just have expectations about how something should be, which – according to those in the know – is what perfectionists say…

My recent experience with some cake decorating has kind of reinforced that perhaps I am a little perfectionistic… I’ve come to realise that I tend to be a little ambitious about my creations – such that I find myself in a pickle each time as I start early enough to actually do it properly (an all-nighter is often a result) and I always finish with thoughts of ‘it could be better’ or ‘if only I’d started earlier then x, y and z would have worked’, etc. Perhaps my psychologically minded friends might actually be correct…

HungryCaterpillarThe first cake I made this year comes from one of my favourite childhood books: ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar‘. For those who have not had the pleasure of reading it, the protagonist is a caterpillar that eats, and eats, and eats until it becomes a pupa and eventually emerges as a butterfly. The first thing the caterpillar eats is an apple, followed by two pears, three plums, and then four strawberries. [As I write this I am wondering whether this may have influenced my current approach to food... It is somewhat misleading as I am still waiting for my butterfly moment, however I doubt eating everything in sight will result in this.]

When my friend asked me to make a cake for a Hungry Caterpillar themed party I got pretty excited. I knew I wanted it to be a 3-D cake (not a flat caterpillar – that would just be too disturbing), but I had major concerns about how to transport the cake without the caterpillar collapsing on me enrolee – so after much thinking, I decided to use the apple for structural support… and here we have it:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake

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I used a double batch of the Martha Stewart cupcake recipe and icing recipe. To create these shapes, I used one of those giant cupcake tins and a 8-inch round cake tin. You will also need a rectangular cake board and Wilton’s (or similar) gel icing colours in red, yellow, green, blue and purple. Also some soft black liquorice sticks.

1. Make the cakes two days before the party (one giant cupcake – top and bottom – and a round/circle cake) . Once cooled refrigerate cling-wrapped cakes overnight (it’s easier to cut and trim cakes when they have been chilled).

2. The day before the party make the icing as per recipe. Separate into parts for the different colours. You will need a lot of red. Very little yellow and white. For the green bits of the caterpillar its up to you how many shades of green you want to make – either through using different Wilton colours or by mixing your green with blue and yellow in different proportions. If you also want to make the extra fruit you will also need some purple icing for the plums.

3. Cut cakes to create an apple and the bits of the caterpillar. Keep all the cut-offs as you use them to make the other ‘fruit’.
To make the caterpillar, cut off the domed top of the round cake (to make it flat on the top and bottom). Then cut the ‘flattened’ part as below:

caterpillar cutout

To make the apple: Take the top part of the giant cupcake (this will become the base of the apple) and trim the top so that it is flat. ‘Stick’ the smallest part down on the cake tray,  using icing as glue. Next stick the base of the giant cupcake onto the piece you have just placed. Then use the bit you cut from the top of the circle/round cake above as the top of the apple. Use 3 skewers, that you push through all the layers, to keep them in place. Trim the cake to shape it into an apple. On opposite sides of the ‘apple’ cut out a groove (on each side) – this is where the caterpillar will emerge from. Also cut a groove out of the top of the apple, where the stem will be.

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 4. Cover the apple with a thin layer of red icing (except for the section where the caterpillar will emerge, instead use white/ uncoloured icing here). Put in the fridge to cool/ set.

5. Using the liquorice, cut legs, the nose, antennae, and spikes. Also make a stem (not pictured) by whittling one end of a piece of liquorice.

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6. Take you the apple out of the fridge, and put a second coat of read icing (white for the caterpillar exit/ entry points).

7. Using the parts of the circle cake, shape the parts of the caterpillar and stick to the apple. For this bit I did a lot of trimming (as required) to get the correct shape. I also rounded the pieces to make the caterpillar round in shape.

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8. Using a small palate knife and the different green icings you made earlier, paint the stripes of green onto the body of the caterpillar. [As you can see, I didn't do a crumb layer - i.e. base layer of icing - in retrospect it would have been a good idea to do so].

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9. Use red icing for the head. Use yellow and green icing for the eyes. Stick on the liquorice nose.

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10. Using green icing, pipe on a leaf, shape with the palate knife. Place your stem into the apple.

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11. Add the legs to the front and back of the caterpillar. Add antennae.

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12. Finally, add the spines the whole way down the body (both sides of the apple).

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13. To make the extra fruit - I used the cake pop technique – i.e. crumble all the leftover cake and mix with icing until sticky. Shape into the fruits. Cover with icing/ decorate to look like the fruit.

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14. Refrigerate until needed.

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No time? Well, whip up a quick and easy Cherry Ripe Tart


Hi everyone, I hope you had a wonderfully festive holiday?

Mine was certainly busy… August heralds the start of what is always a crazy time of year where time becomes exceedingly precious.  This craziness seems to continue all the way through to the new year. It becomes a bit of a vicious loop really, with lots of gatherings filling the calendar paired with the struggle to find (from the rapidly diminishing resource that is) time to make a requested dessert… The more gatherings the less time to bake!

So by the time January arrives I am exhausted and completely over cooking… (did I really just write that?!?)

I gets to a point in which I loudly lament (cue woeful music): ‘<Sigh> What can I make that is easy, quick but still impressive?’  So, since things are still crazy-busy, I don’t have a long diatribe for you today just a quick and easy recipe…

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Cherry Ripe Tart

Pre-prepared or store-bought shortcrust pastry (enough for the base of a pie tin – I used about 1.5 sheets)

Ganache filling and salted chocolate ‘lid’ (the ‘lid’ is also optional):
600g chocolate (I mixed 400g dark chocolate with 200g milk chocolate), broken into pieces
300ml thickened cream
Fresh cherries (enough to mostly cover the tart)
flesh of one (fresh) coconut, sliced into short rectangular shaped pieces (you could substitute with shredded coconut or coconut chips).
sea salt

Cherry Jelly (optional):
200ml morello cherry juice (I used the juice from a jar of morello cherries, other cherry juice can be used or you could just ditch the jelly layer altogether).
2 sheets gelatin (or 1/2 tbsp gelatin)

1. Grease a fluted pie tin, and line the base of the tin with the shortcrust pastry. Blind bake in oven until cooked through. Put aside (or even in the fridge) to cool.

2. Melt about 40g of the chocolate (I do this in the microwave. I start by zapping the chocolate in an uncovered mug (always ensure it is not covered) for 30 secs. Stir. Then put it in for another 10-20 secs (depending on how close to melted it is) and repeat until completely melted. Spread on baking paper (you want a rough circle about 10cm across). Sprinkle with salt. Place in fridge to harden.

2. To make the chocolate ganache filling: Boil the cream in a saucepan, or by microwave in 30 second bursts until boiling. Pour over the remaining chocolate and stir until melted and combined. Add the leftover melted chocolate. Stir until silky and smooth. Pour/ spoon into the tart shell you made in step 1 above. Place in the fridge to solidify.

3. To make the cherry jelly: Soften the gelatin sheets in tepid water. Bring the cherry juice to the boil in a small saucepan. Take the softened gelatin sheet out of the tepid water and place in the boiling juice. Stir until dissolved. Lower the temperature and simmer for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

4. While the tart /jelly is cooling, pit the cherries. Try the keep the end of the cherries smooth and uncut.

Cherry tart

5. Starting from the centre, place the cherries (open side on the ganache) in concentric circles. Use the coconut to fill the remaining space to the edge of the tart. If the jelly is cool (but still liquid), spoon over cherries. Place tart in the fridge to set.

6. Place the salted chocolate on top (centre of tart) and serve.

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Celebrating life and being thankful… with three bean salad with a tangy mustard dressing

I was saddened by the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing today.  Although, the world was in many ways awaiting the news considering is recent poor health (he had reached his 95th year after all), but none-the-less the passing of such a significant human does evoke a certain melancholy.

I, like many others, only know of the man what has been presented in the media and in his biography “Long Walk to Freedom”.  So, ok, I read the book in a rather cliched situation… while touring Africa… it seemed appropriate! It is a tome, and I will admit to returning home having only read half of it and the book was added to the pile of started but not finished books that will someday (that ever elusive future point) be finished. But that is not the point I want to make. The book, or at the very least the part I have read, provided some very interesting insights into this well respected guru. The politics were’t really my thing, but his retelling of his youth was fascinating - his world was so different from my own, and probably yours too. There was one particular event that stuck with me. He writes about being a young boy in the village and playing with his friends. They were taking turns riding a donkey, when it was young Nelson’s turn, the donkey bolted into a thorn bush and unseated him. A scratched child emerged form the bushes to face embarrassment and a sense of loss of dignity in front of his friends. He says in the book: “…I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate.” From that day, he “… defeated my opponents without dishonouring them.”

This reaction, I think, was very telling of the person he would become as it is not unusual (in my observations at least) that children can be quite mean – they tease and bully, often not really understanding the implications of what they are doing – so for little Madiba’s understanding of that moment says much about his perception of the world from a very early age… A great role model even then!

It has been a sad week all around. Aside from the other media ‘worthy’ death of American actor Paul Walker (Miss Prettier-than-Julia-Roberts definitely mourned him),  on a more personal note I learnt that a former school-mate had died in an accident and that a dear family friend also passed from motor neurone disease. All of this in the wake (pun not intended) of that very important American event: Thanksgiving. Now you may think that it’s odd to bunch together death and thanks – but I think that death reminds us to be thankful. Thankful for the people in our lives, for the inspiration we get from others, for our health etc.

I had the privilege (another thing to be thankful for) of being invited to a Thanksgiving feast thrown by the Divine Miss B. It was full on: turkey with all the fixin’s and amazing cornbread.

Now, not being an American (though I have claimed honorary status for this one day each year) it has baffled me why they/we have such a feast so close Christmas and that Thanksgiving seems to be a bigger deal with family more likely to come together in November than December. The Divine Miss B explained it very simply.

“Everyone can celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s not a religious holiday, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist, it’s a holiday for everyone.”

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Now, I like that!

At Thanksgiving, after gorging ourselves silly, we went around the table and had to say what we were thankful for. What I am thankful for everyday is that I wake up not fearing for my life, my health, my right to free speech (even though apparently we don’t actually have this right in Australia), that I have a comfortable bed to sleep in, that I have food to eat, that I have great friends, that my friends and family are in the same predicament of good health etc… It turns out I have a lot to be thankful for…

What are you thankful for?

Anyway, onto the important stuff – food.  Apparently a staple thanksgiving dinner is beans. Of course, not content with boiled or steamed, I decided to make a tangy three bean salad – very tasty. I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to make it again for Christmas. Now I didn’t measure anything because it hadn’t planned to blog about it, but I was asked for the recipe so here it is. I’ve guessed at the measurement so  to put the usual caveat out – add as much or as little of anything you like, trust your taste buds to tell you when enough is enough.

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Thankfully tangy three bean salad 

1 large handful each of 3 types of vegetable – I used french green beans, yellow butter beans, and snow peas (you could use any crunchy vegetable really)
1 tin of chestnuts (I couldn’t find fresh ones)

Dressing
6 spring onions
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup light olive oil
a generous splash of malt vinegar
juice of one orange
1 very heaped teaspoon dijon mustard
caster sugar (actually add as much as you need to get the balance of tartness and sweetness, I think maybe 1 heaped teaspoon?)
sea salt and white pepper to taste

Method
1. Drain the chestnuts, place on a baking tray and bake at 180 degrees Celsius until dried out a bit. Allow to cool and then slice/ crumble.
2. Boil the vegetables so that they are cooked but still firm (for the beans this was somewhere between 3-5 minutes), remove from heat, drain and rinse in cold water.
3. Blend all dressing ingredients together.

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4. Mix together beans, chestnuts and dressing. Serve cold.

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Delicious coconut cupcakes using different approach for the same outcome (using up egg yolks)


As some of you are aware, I have gone back to study (mainly in response to the monthly career crisis that I have where I bemoan that there is no research funding and that the pressure to get it and living under the ‘publish or perish’ paradigm is getting to me). As interested as i’m sure you all are about my study plans, this is not why I brought it up.

What has amazed me is how different the undergraduate university experience is from when I attended my first lecture over a decade ago… I walked into the lecture theatre and instantly felt old – the room full of what appeared to be 12 year olds each facing an illuminated screen of some description (laptop or electronic tablet)… my pen and paper approach was clearly obsolete. I immediately felt disadvantaged. It seems that this experience is not only going to be a steep learning curve in terms of subject matter but also in how the kids do it now-a-days…

Fortunately, I had my favourite new toy (an iPad) in my bag – so it was, somewhat smugly, whipped out… but then I realised that I didn’t know what to do next… I surveyed the room confused (I must have looked like one of the clown heads in that amusement park game which move from left to right, mouth agape). I turned to the student next to me and whispered:

“Hi, sorry to bother you but where did you get the slides from?”
“Oh, I just downloaded them from the blackboard”

Huh?

I looked around confused for a moment or two – firstly there was no blackboard that I could see and secondly I could not fathom how a presentation could go from a blackboard to a tablet… The confusion must have been clearly imprinted on my face as my new friend kindly said:

“On myUni”

Oh, that at least I knew about – the student online portal. It turns out lecturers load the slides just prior to the lecture, you can then use the uni’s wifi to download it to your electronic device and add comments to it directly… Awesome! No more madly trying to copy down the slides before the lecturer moves onto the next one AND trying to listen and understand what is going on. A different approach to reach the same outcome.

In terms of doing things differently, today’s recipe is a chiffon cake but instead of using egg whites you use egg yolks (a good way to use up the yolks left over from all those macaron-a-thons). These were so delicious that Miss Prettier-than-Julia-Roberts refused to share!

coconut cupcakes

Coconut cream cupcakes

Daffodil (Chiffon) Cupcakes

Adapted from: http://www.cooks.com/recipe/4o2h33hm/marians-daffodil-cake-chiffon.html
12 egg yolks
1½ cups caster sugar
½ cups boiling water
1½ cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon essence

Beat egg yolks until very thick and lemon coloured. Add sugar in small amounts and keep beating. Add boiling water and beat 30 seconds, add sifted dry ingredients gradually, then add flavourings, beat all well (about 5 mins). Spoon into patty case lined cupcake tins (fill 2/3 – ¾). Bake in preheated 180 degree Celsius oven until top becomes golden and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Coconut cream icing

Adapted from: http://praneesthaikitchen.com/2012/01/12/dreamy-coconut-frosting-recipe/
125g unsalted butter
2 cups icing sugar
1/3 cup coconut cream (the thick top layer from a can or carton of coconut milk)
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon coconut essence
1½ cups desiccated coconut
1 cup shredded coconut

With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed until creamy. Fold in sugar and coconut cream; beat until creamy, about 3 minutes. Fold in coconut essence and desiccated coconut. Spread the icing to cover the cupcakes then roll in the shredded coconut.

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Remember the time… a flashback to the 80’s with black forest cake

Every so often I receive an email titled something like: “you know you grew up in the 80’s if…” and inevitably it results in a little chuckle as I reminisce over the:

  • Fashion: scrunchies, jelly sandals, balloon skirts, hypercolour t-shirt, side ponytails, slap bracelets, friendship bracelets… (all of which apparently have become fashion faux pas)
  • Toys: Strawberry Shortcake, Barbie (and the Rockers), Cabbage Patch Kids, JEM…
  • TV: Fraggle Rock, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “wax on, wax off”, He-Man and She-Ra, Doogie Howser, Alf, The Mysterious Cities of Gold (boy did that have a great theme song)…
  • Music: Kylie, Madonna, The Bangles, Paula Abdul, The Eurythmics…

Did I miss anything?

A recent trip to Melbourne to visit the Egyptian Queen (EQ) and the Style Goddess (SG) – both of whom are fellow children of the 80’s – resulted in an eighties themed dinner party – after a quick Google search it became quite apparent that the dessert of choice in the 80’s was Black Forest… To be honest, I have never been a massive fan of Black Forest Cake, but even I have to admit to throughly enjoying this one.

I started with the Masterchef recipe and tweaked it a fair bit to make it easier and to serve four (we really didn’t need a whole cake, really). Though there are a few elements to prepare it really isn’t too much effort and it is fun to put together.

The end product did not look much like the traditional black forest cake – which then prompted some discussion around what is it that we call our current decade: we had the 80’s, 90’s and naughties… what comes next?

Blackforest

Black forest for the… whatever decade we are now…

For the chocolate sponge
2 eggs
4 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

For the cherry compote/ syrup
2 tbsp caster sugar
400g pitted fresh cherries (it was too much work to keep them whole so I halved them to remove the seed)
2 tbsp brandy

For the mascarpone cream
125g mascarpone
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs icing sugar

For the chocolate macadamia mousse
1/4 cup macadamia (or other nut), crushed with a back of a knife
100g chopped dark chocolate
200 ml thickened cream
dash of olive oil

For the dark chocolate ganache
60ml cream
50g chopped dark chocolate

Shaved chocolate to garnish

For the chocolate sponge
1. Preheat oven to 160°C fan forced, in a cupcake tin prepare (line) 4 cupcake ‘holes’.
2. Add eggs and sugar to a heatproof bowl, and set over a saucepan of simmering water over very low heat. Whisk the mixture until 37°C. Remove the bowl from the heat and beat with an electric mixer on a medium-low speed for 5-8 minutes or until the mixture has cooled and thickened to a mousse-like consistency. Mix flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together. Using a large metal spoon, fold the dry mixture into the egg mixture until combined, adding the vanilla extract with the first dry batch.
3. Split the mixture into the 4 lined patty cases and smooth surface. Bake until sponge springs back when lightly touched (sorry I have no idea how long this took). Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto wire racks. Allow to cool completely

For the cherry compote
Add the sugar, cherries and brandy to a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar begins to dissolve add the cherries and cook until they start to release their juices. Cook until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Put aside.

For the mascarpone cream
Beat the mascarpone, vanilla and sugar in a bowl until smooth and slightly thicker in volume. Store in the fridge until use.

For the chocolate macadamia mousse (this is to be made just prior to assembling and serving)
Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over simmering water, remove from heat. While waiting for the chocolate to cool, beat the cream in a separate bowl until thickened (can hold it’s shape). Whisk in a dash of olive oil into the chocolate – keep whisking to cool the mixture – you want to be sure that the chocolate cools to a point where it won’t melt the cream. Fold chocolate into the whipped cream (to be honest I whisked it in…). Fold in the macadamias.

For the chocolate ganache
Bring the cream to just below boiling point in a small saucepan. Pour over chocolate and stir to mix completely.

To assemble
Cut each cupcake into thirds. Place the base on a serving plate, brush with the cherry syrup (from the compote), spread with a layer of mascarpone cream, layer with some cherries, add a layer of mousse, top with the next cake layer and repeat. On the top layer of cake, pour on the ganache, sprinkle with shaved chocolate and top with a cherry (either fresh or from the compote). I also poured the remaining syrup and cherries into the bowl to eat with the cake because they tasted so good!

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What happens on the other side of the television screen? (plus Swedish meatballs)

A couple of weeks ago I received an unexpected call from a friend asking me if I could make it to a certain place by 4pm. She had a couple of spare tickets to watch the live show ‘The Voice’. [As an aside/ for the uninitiated, 'The Voice' is a televised singing competition where contestants are picked by a coach who mentors them. Each week contestants are booted off, either by the coaches or the public, and the one left standing becomes 'The Voice'.] As an avid viewer (I love singing competitions, perhaps even more than cooking competitions), I eagerly agreed to meet her, not realising that I was about to embark on a true test of patience…

The show airs at 8 pm and screens for one hour. So, if you do the math, the entire endeavour takes 5-6 hours. In many ways I should not complain as I did not have to go through this arduous queuing process to get these tickets (my friend had previously queued up until 1 am – yes, after midnight – which entitled her to this priority seats). When I arrived at the studio I saw the line that snaked its way around the tents of eager fans hoping to get in (many would not) or get tickets similar to ours for the next show. My appreciation for not having to join the end of that line was short-lived, however, as once past the ticketing bench we waited for two-and-a-half hours before being let into the studio, where there was more waiting (at least we had seats) until the live show aired. To further add to the frustration, no access to food or drink (they handed out a bottle of water and a Cherry Ripe (a type of candy bar)). It was a long and hungry/ thirsty wait.

Now that the whinging is done, lets talk about the behind-the-scenes experience.

What is fascinating about watching a show being filmed is the discordance between what we see on the television screen and the actual production behind it – things really aren’t as streamlined or spontaneous as they appear… Some time ago I attended the filming of ‘The Gruen Transfer’ (a fascinating television show that looks at how advertisements work). The first thing that I did not realise (just to confirm my naiveté to those who didn’t already know) is that a one hour pre-recorded show actually takes a couple of hours to film. Why? Well, if things do not go as expected, for example the joke just wasn’t that funny, then they ‘take 2′. The roaring cheers, belly laughs, and thunderous applause from the audience that you hear from your television speakers are actually somewhat contrived as there is a person who stands there telling the audience when and how loud to cheer. ‘The Voice’ was no different.

The whole show is very ‘produced’. For example, the performance by ‘The Wanted’ was filmed – twice (I presume to make sure there were no mistakes) – prior to airing, and was inserted into the ‘live’ show. Another slight of hand is when you see the coaches appear on your screens and affectionately greet each other as if they haven’t seen each other in ages… well sorry to break it to you, but they actually saw each other and did exactly the same thing 30 mins earlier… I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy the filming, far from it, I found it fascinating… And to be fair, the performances by the contestants was live and people were working very hard to ensure that everything went smoothly so for the home-viewer everything appears natural and seamless.

This makes me wonder what happens behind the scenes of a reality TV show that follows the lives of people… I mean, how much of it is scripted and directed?

What was also very interesting was that in every ad break, the coaches had their makeup touched up – not just Delta Goodrem (the only female coach), but all four of them. The take home message: to achieve superstar beautiful I need a make-up artist touching up my look every couple of minutes. Also in the breaks, the coaches spent a lot of time on their phones  (much like everyone in the audience, I certainly was facebooking about it).

I did feel some sympathy for the coaches, as it was Ricky Martin’s name on everyone’s lips and who received the loudest applause (it must be a blow to the self-esteem). On the other hand, it must also be very annoying to constantly have people calling out your name  - you could develop whiplash from turning to the voices… Hmm, lets give it a go – altogether now: ‘Michelle, Michelle, Michelle…’

Aside form being a very good looking man, Ricky was very sweet. There was a woman in the audience who had brought him flowers, for which he gave her a hug. He also spoke to fans who were closest to him. Joel Madden was also fairly engaging, signing autographs and talking with some of the viewers who sat behind him. Seal sort-of ignored everyone (he really should rethink that strategy) and Delta engaged a little but I can understand that in her heels perhaps if was impractical to do more… Delta is was surprisingly tall, Joel is surprisingly short, Ricky is gorgeous and Seal is aloof…

Today’s recipe has been inspired by another singing competition – Eurovision.  This year Sweden hosted and thus we have Swedish meatballs. I will not vouch for the authenticity of these as it is a culmination of a number of different recipes that I Googled but bottom line is that these taste good. I served these with lettuce leaves in a sort of sang Choy Bau sort of fare – I do, after all, have Asian roots…

swedish meatbaslls

Swedish meatballs

500g turkey mince
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon pepper seasoning
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon onion flakes
2 tbs chicken stock powder

Mix together, roll into meatballs (you can choose the size). Spray a frypan with oil an place on a medium heat. Add meatballs to the pan and cook. Turn the meatballs over once browned on one side. Once cooked through they are ready to serve.

Mustard Sauce

2tbsp mayonnaise
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk together the mayonnaise, mustards, horseradish, sour cream, and salt in a small bowl. Serve with the meatballs.

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Doppelgänger

Have you ever been mistaken for someone else?

People have always said that my sister and I look very similar and we have often contended with people asking, to my sister’s mortification and my delight, if we were twins (I’m much older) ;) Once, a good friend was quite confused when she was met at the door by what appeared to be me in miniature and at my 21st birthday party a family friend wished my sister happy birthday. Despite the frequency of these sorts of incidents, if you ask anyone in my family, they will tell you we look nothing alike. As we come from the same genetic pool, it perhaps is not that surprising that we look similar, more interesting, however, is when two people from different genetic backgrounds can look so similar – I mean from all the genetic variation out there, what are the chances (perhaps a statistician out there could answer that one for me?) that two people could look so similar as to be mistaken for the same person?

Doppelgänger’s are rife in popular culture. In ‘How I Met Your Mother’ (HIMYM) each of the characters have someone who looks like them. The doppelgänger is a key plot line in the ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and virtually any other supernatural type show… ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (here I am showing my age) dealt with ones from other dimensions. Usually these ‘impostors’ are used as a device to trick and manipulate or are used as a way to address the sliding doors question (what if my life had taken a different path). In soap operas there always seems to be some sort of plot line with an evil twin or surgically created look alike who is there to cause trouble. According to Wikipedia, a doppelgänger (German: “double walker” or look alike) ‘is a paranormal double of a living person’ often perceived as sinister (a portent or omen), but in modern times it is often used to describe any look-alike (supernatural incident not required).

teabag2

A doppelgänger Lady Grey tea bag…

Obviously, on the big and small screen, these doppelgängers are portrayed by the same actors, but what about real life? Unless you are part of an identical twin it is unlikely that there is someone out there that looks just like you. However, it seems that there can be enough similarities between two people to trigger those neural pathways that connect certain features to how that person perceives you.

It seems that this is more common than I would have thought. A couple of years back, my mother and I came across a brochure which the face on the cover could have been my brother except that the man was Caucasian (we are Eurasian) – the resemblance was uncanny – and this is coming from two people who (I would say) were very familiar with the way my bother looked and thus unlike to mistake him for someone else. My brother, of course, could not see the similarity. On one hand, I told him to take it as a complement as he looked like a model, on the other had I had to tell him that despite the obvious look alike, for some reason he just wasn’t as attractive as the model (though to be fair to him, I don’t know that anyone could find their sibling attractive… It’s a biological thing – besides siblings are there to keep it real!)

My doppelgänger experience began several years ago with an Australian TV show called ‘Packed to the Rafters’ – a couple of friends commented that I looked like one of the minor characters. I promptly forgot all about it until a few years later when ‘ Winners and Losers’ aired. ‘My character’, as the Heterochromic Lion likes to say, was one of the four main roles in the show, which has meant that I get a lot more strange stares. At first I thought I was being paranoid, but now I’m stating to realise that people probably see me, think that I look familiar and are trying lot place where from… I know I’m guilty of doing similar things with others (once we were sitting a table away from Jimmy Barnes and were doing the ‘is it him?’ surreptitious looking… (In case you were wondering, it was him).

My first instance of pseudo-fame was a couple of years ago. While waiting to meet someone for dinner I was shopping (as you do) when the assistant asked me:
“Are you famous?”.
My response was an emphatic ‘are you crazy?’ imbued “No!”. To which I got:
“You’re not lying, you know, so that people don’t hassle you, are you?”

At this point there were three ways the conversation could go:
1. Yes, yes I am – Brad is in the bathroom and the kids are at home and we are having a date night and don’t want to be recognised… (This probably wouldn’t have gone down too well and beside I do not look at all like Angelina Jolie).
2. Yes, please don’t tell anyone… By the way do I get a discount? ( to be honest I wasn’t quick enough in my feet to think of this once at the time)
3. Nope, just an ordinary person… But thank you for thinking I might be fabulous.

I went for option three.

Since then, things have only escalated. I get a lot of, ‘do you know you look like…’ Last year, on a flight to Brisbane, the hostess stopped her meal service to talk to me about my character on the show (she didn’t mistake me for being famous but kept saying that I looked so much like the actress), and recently when trying to surreptitiously sneak into an workshop to which I was running late the presenter stopped what she was saying to ask the room whether they watched the show? So much for an inconspicuous entry! She kept commenting on how uncanny the similarity was… And then, only this past weekend, a friend was asked whether I was on TV… That said, if you ask my family – they will tell you that they cannot see the resemblance and neither can I – however I’m definitely taking this as a complement because I would be quite happy to look like Melanie Vallejo.

What do you think?  I'm on the left.

What do you think?
I’m on the left (and before you make any comments about the hat and ‘roll in the hay’ straw, I was dressed for a cowboy/ cowgirl costume party).

I wonder if it would be weird to actually meet her ?

Back to the point about genetic differences though, Melanie is of Filipino, Spanish and Ukrainian descent and I am of Chinese and English descent yet despite being culturally different there is enough there that we look alike – much like my brother and the eye wear model or Javier Bardem and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. It would be very interesting to see whether the level of perceived similarity relates to your own cultural background (my inner researcher is shouting loudly). We know that someone of mixed culture (like myself) usually finds it easier to distinguish differences in appearance in those from those cultures (Chinese and English) than a person who is only from one (i.e. the Chinese are best at identifying the Chinese and English are best at identifying the English). My question would someone who is English think I look more like Melanie than someone who is Chinese or vice versa? What about those who are mixed, would they see any similarity at all? Would it make a difference if it were a Spaniard, Filipino or Ukrainian?

However, I digress… The silver lining in all of this is that should anyone wish to throw a doppelgänger themed party, I’m set – how much fun would that be! The dinner club ladies have already started figuring out who they would come as: we have a Poppy Montgomery, Rose Burne, Angela Bassett and Nicholle Tom. Who would you go as?

The reason for all this talk of doppelgänger’s is the dish below – the Lady Grey tea experience. The ladies who brunch had another Iron Chef lunch party with the letter ‘T’ as inspiration – since this is technically not a ‘secret ingredient’, I decided to take the secret ingredient to be ‘tea’. What I wanted was to create a dish with the flavours of Lady Grey tea – a combination of black tea, bergamot and lavender. It was a double interpretation. Using tea flavours in the dessert to create a tea flavour. In essence, the black tea panacotta, bergamot jelly and lavender sabayon combo came to the party as a Lady Grey Tea bag…

Oh, and if the producers or casting director of the show happen to read this – I’m available to play long lost sister / evil twin / other dimension Sophie ;)

Lady Grey Tea

The Lady Grey tea bag…

Bottom layer: Black Tea Panna Cotta

2 tbsp water
1 tbsp gelatine
2 cups double cream
1 cup milk
½ cup sugar
4 tbsp black tea leaves

Put water in a small saucepan and sprinkle gelatine on top. Let stand for a minute, then heat slowly until dissolved. Put aside.
In another saucepan, heat cream, milk, sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Bring just to the boil, then immediately take off the heat. Add the tea leaves and let steep for 5 minutes.
Strain through a fine sieve/cheesecloth and mix in gelatin mixture. Pour into a contained and chill until gelatinous.  [If you are putting these in ramekins, pour directly into the container (3/4 full) you will serve it in.]

Layer 2: Bergamot jelly


2 cups water
(1 cup boiling, 1 cup cold)
4.5 tsp gelatine
2 drops bergamot oil
2 tbsp honey

Dissolve gelatine, honey and bergamot in the boiling water. Add the cold water. Pour into a flat-bottomed container to set (around 4 millimetres thick) in the fridge. [If you are making this in ramekins, allow the mixture to cool in the fridge. Pour the cool mixture over the set panna cotta. Chill and set in the fridge.]

Top layer: Lavender sabayon


2 tsp lavender
1 drop lavender oil
¼ cup boiling water
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp corn flour

Steep lavender and oil in 1/4 cup boiling water for 5 minutes. Set aside.
In a large heatproof bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar. Beat/ whisk quickly until pale in color. Whisk in the lavender tea. Set the bowl over simmering water, keep whisking until the mixture thickens. Remove the bowl from the heat, add sifted corn flour and continue whisking until incorporated. Chill in the fridge. [This gets poured over the top of the ramekins…]

The Tea Bag

Rice paper sheets (the sort you use on Nougat), cut in half
Gelatine sheets (I has titanium grade)
Glucose syrup
Thin string
Cardboard/ tea labels

Cut and fold the rice paper sheets like this:

tea bag 1a

Soak 2 titanium grade gelatine for about 5 minutes in tap water. Remove the sheets from the water and place them in a small bowl. Added 1 teaspoon of glucose syrup.  Heat the bowl in the microwave  in 20 second bursts until melted. Using a pastry brush, ‘paint’ one side of the rice paper with the gelatine (the red section below). Allow to dry.

tea bag 1b

Once the gelatin is dry to the touch (but not yet hard), ‘paint’ the sections below with the gelatine mix. You may need to make more of the gelatine mix. Then stick the tabs together to make the ‘tea bag’. Allow to set.

tea abg2

Once set, pour in the almost set panna cotta, a piece of the bergamot jelly (cut to size) and top with the sabayon. Using the gelatine mix, sick the top flap down to seal the tea bag – this is where you also stick the string and label on the tea bag. Keep in the fridge until serving.

teacup5

 

The alternative in a ramekin:

panna cotta

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Putting up with the P****’s – reality TV at it’s best!

My sister and I will often joke about our family being the subject matter for a TV show – there are all the key features – drama, strong opinions (often mine) which can result in volatile arguments, “Chinese whispers” within the family about what is going on with who (why would you bother asking people directly if you can gossip about it ;p), family politics, and, of course, at the end of the day we all make nice because we love each other. TV gold I tell you! Not to mention the family attempts at match-making (you’ve heard that story before) and the cyclonic impact of on-and-off again romances and the changing seasons of friendships (my sister informs me that her life alone should be subject matter for TV). Who needs a soap opera if you’ve got all this?

Family life aside, there are moments in life that seem to mimic on-screen drama. Picture the scene – it’s late, the world is heading if to bed, and the young (let me have this) woman is pulling out the Kitchen Aid and piping bags as she embarks on another macaron-athon after a long and exhausting day at work. She bakes through the night to fulfil her dream of one day owning her own patisserie. [Disclaimer: I was not the one to draw this parallel - the credit has to go to Ms TT.]

Okay, so I do not bake every night, nor is it my goal to own a patisserie, but I do have a tendency to bake late at night – as was the case last week.  I was baking for a friend’s baby shower (that’s why the macarons are all pink).

Rose

Since I’ve blogged about macarons a thousand times before you can get the recipe here. The difference this time is in the Asian themed fillings: wasabi, soy, mayonnaise and red bean. Don’t be put off by the strangeness of these flavours – my friend was giving her young daughter the wasabi ones to eat so that should tell you that it didn’t have much kick to it :) If you love salty-sweet food, then soya sauce macarons (Ms TT’s choice) will be right down your alley, as for the mayonnaise – even I was surprised that this actually worked – Ms “Prettier than Julia Roberts” (PJR) claimed these as her favourite. For the red bean macarons I used my Grandmother’s red bean paste which unfortunately I do not have permission to divulge.

It is always a good idea to make the ganache the day before if you can to give it time to cool and solidify.

Wasabi and white chocolate ganache

180g white chocolate
90g double cream
Wasabi to taste (I used 1.5 tsp)

Combine white chocolate and double cream in a medium bowl. Microwave uncovered at 50% for 1 minute. Whisk into a smooth paste (if this is still lumpy put it in the microwave for a little longer). Add wasabi to taste, whisk until mixed through. Chill overnight to allow mixture to firm up.

wasabi

Soya sauce and white chocolate ganache

180g white chocolate
90g double cream
Soya sauce (get the light coloured one) to taste (I used 2 tbsp)

Combine white chocolate and double cream in a medium bowl. Microwave uncovered at 50% for 1 minute. Whisk into a smooth paste (if this is still lumpy put it in the microwave for a little longer). Add soya sauce to taste, whisk until mixed through. Chill overnight to allow mixture to firm up.

soy2

Mayonnaise ganache

180g white chocolate
90g double cream
Japanese kuipi mayonnaise to taste (I used 1 tbsp)

Combine white chocolate and double cream in a medium bowl. Microwave uncovered at 50% for 1 minute. Whisk into a smooth paste (if this is still lumpy put it in the microwave for a little longer). Add Japanese Kuipi mayonnaise to taste, whisk until mixed through. Chill overnight to allow mixture to firm up.

red bean

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Parting is such sweet sorrow… Saying thank you with lavender shortbreads

It wasn’t a farewell between two lovers in the likes of Romeo and Juliet, but leaving my job was bittersweet. There is something strange about having spent so much time with the same people and then all of a sudden there is a work colleague shaped hole in your life. Sure, there are a special few that I (hopefully) will manage to keep in contact with but, in my experience, most of these friendships will drift apart… Admittedly, this is likely the result of a combination of hectic-ness and laziness - so if you guys are reading please do not forget me! My radio silence is unintentional :).

The things I miss most… Well, of course the obvious things such as my coffee companions (my new work colleagues do not seem to share my caffeine addiction) and my fabulous lunch buddies with whom I could dissect each and every lived moment. There are the  conversations with my ‘roomie’ – who only rolled his eyes once each time I started with ‘I have a theory…’ (this did happen a lot).  I miss the staff at the coffee shop with whom our daily chats were a bright point in my day…  The weekly Friday morning teas (for the company more than the food ;P)… When you think about your workplace, is there something in particular that you would miss?

To say thank you, I made the Victoria Room’s lavender shortbread (with the addition of lemon because I thought that they would be a match in heaven). Lavender is my new favourite ingredient and you will be seeing a lot more of it… The biscuits were lovely – the texture was perfect – not to buttery but still nice and short! My only suggestion would be to add more lemon next time as you could barely taste it.

lavender shortbread2

Lavender Shortbreads

Adapted from the “High Tea at the Victoria Room” cookbook

260g unsalted cold butter, diced
125g caster sugar
250g plain flour
2 drops lavender oil
2 tsp lemon juice
125g rice flour

Topping
40g caster sugar
2 dried lavender flowers

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line (3-4) trays with baking paper.
  2. To make the shortbread: cream together butter, sugar, lavender oil and lemon juice until light and fluffy. Work in the mixed fours.
  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and roll dough in between 2 sheets of baking paper (the recipe suggests 1 cm thick, I wanted them to be thinner so I make them about 0.6 cm thick).  Cut into preferred shaped, prick with a fork and put in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden.
  5. While baking, process the sugar and lavender flowers until very fine.
  6. Once the hot biscuits are removed from the oven, sprinkle with the sugar and lavender flower mixture. Allow to cool.

Lavender shortbread1

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On the path to collecting 27 dresses…

This year is going to be a busy one with an impending walk (or two) down the aisle. Now, before your imagination runs away with you, I am still patiently waiting for my knight in shining armour to come knocking on my door, so the bridal march I am talking about is in the role of bridesmaid. These two take my tally up to five times down the aisle, and if we add my flower girl duties to this number the number goes up to seven. Though not quite the 27 in the Katherine Heigl movie, I feel like it is getting up there!

No, I am not a bridesmaid for hire, and all five brides are very dear friends – but I must say that I find myself in a very interesting situation… Though there is no Mr Right on the horizon, being involved in numerous wedding related events means that weddings are on the brain and have me contemplating (and discussing with others) things like: If I were to get married who would I ask? When you have been asked numerous times it is not a matter of  asking ‘whoever has asked you’ (though in the movie ’27 Dresses’  Katherine Heigl’s character did just that – which is an interesting idea but somewhat impractical). Of course, asking those who have asked you does not even take into account cultural expectations. For instance, I once had an aunt talk to me about how her daughter was of course going to be my bridesmaid by virtue of being my cousin. So, five plus three (cousins) takes me to eight. Then there is my sister (nine) and my BFF (ten)… as you can see it is clearly getting out of hand… I also wouldn’t want to offend anyone… My dear readers, what do you think? Luckily, it’s not something I need to worry about right now :)

Let’s get back to the role of bridesmaid for a moment. At my third offer, my mother did (lovingly) suggest I turn down the role, quoting ‘three times a bridesmaid, never a bride’.  But I put to you, how many people would say no? Would you?  At the end of the day, it is truly an honour to be asked, and I am very appreciative of having so many wonderful friends who place such great value our friendship. [As an aside, it does make me think of Samantha Brick's controversial article that includes the comment 'most poignantly of all, not one girlfriend has ever asked me to be her bridesmaid'  to be an indicator that women hate her because she is beautiful... hmm what does that say about me if I am continually being asked to be one?] Anyhow, though I am not particularly superstitious I am now hoping this 3-times rule works in multiples (i.e. I need to avoid six, nine, twelve etc.).

Agreeing to be a bridesmaid comes with many obligations and it’s has been quite interesting to straddle the cultural differences in wedding traditions. My mother’s side of the family is very close, and most of the weddings I went to/ was involved in as a child were organised in line with Asian traditions where as my friends either align with Australian traditions or make their own. One main point of difference that affects me is the bridesmaid attire. In the Asian culture (well at least in my family), the bride pays for the dresses whereas in the Australian culture it is common for the bridesmaids to pay for their own clothes.  Paying for your own attire is full of potential issues.  A recent exploration into this area indicates that one might pay up to $700 for a dress, so if you are paying for your own clothes how much say should you have is what it looks like?  Sure, if the bride pays for the ‘costume’ I figure you just wear what you are told, on the other hand, if you are forking out around $1000 for the entire ensemble (including shoes etc), surely you have voting rights? My friends have been fairly reasonable about this, as I’m sure most brides are, but let’s not kid ourselves, you probably will not ‘wear the dress again’ so the dress you are buying is only for one event. I certainly have not worn any of my previous bridesmaid dresses a second time – I will, however, admit that they are still hanging in my closet many, many years after the event. Though lovely dresses, my theory is that these dresses have been chosen, like a uniform, to suit the lowest common denominator and so are not what I would necessarily have picked for myself. I guess the bottom line is that it is wise to embark on the bridesmaid process knowing that it will be costly and the choices may not be yours. I hope I’m not sounding super-negative here, that is certainly not my intent, and I know that this is part-and-parcel of acceptance of the role.

Bridesmaid dresses

Ok, so I’m not Katherine Heigl and really can’t pull off a hessian sack but this is my collection so far – it’s interesting to look back at these old photos and to see how they have captured my ‘weight loss journey’… Oh, and the picture of the thongs (flip flops) relate to my hints and tips below.

In the two weddings of 2013 Ms TT is the other bridesmaid! So as you can imagine, with both of us investing a lot of time and having many a discussion we have formed A LOT of opinions about what weddings should (or not) have – regardless of tradition! More on that later. Today though, I will leave you with a few bridesmaid specific hints and tips:

  1. Be prepared for everything to cost more than you think and take more time than you would expect.
  2. Weddings can be a big deal for the bride – so your role is to be supportive and validating not opinionated and disagreeable.
  3. Bridesmaids, have a ‘care kit’ on hand for the big day – tissues (for tears or sweat), tailors chalk (to cover any marks that may appear on the dress), sewing kit, safety pins, band aids, aspirin, fashion tape…
  4. Have a spare pair of shoes with a different heel height (it makes a difference!) – for one wedding we (the bridesmaids) had matching Havaianas (flip flops) to change into when our feet hurt.
  5. Learn to let go (for both bridesmaids and brides alike)- seriously, at the end of the day enjoy the experience do not let it drive you up the wall.

Anyway, as promised – Igglepiggle cake pops below. For instructions for basic cake pops go to http://faodt.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/reindeer-cakepop/

In terms of decorating supplies you will need:
Candy melts or white chocolate with blue colouring powder – I have been warned NOT to use liquid colouring as it can make the chocolate seize
Flavourless oil to dilute if necessary
Popsticks
White confetti candy (for eyes)
Edible black pen
Black and red fondant

Igglepiggle

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