Coconut Choc-chip Cookies

I realised something fairly recently, something which some people might find rather weird, even shocking. I have a confession to make. You ready? Really ready?? In all my years of baking – with my grandma and mum as a kid, then going solo – I have never made choc-chip cookies before. Gasps of shock and horror! No really, I don’t know why, I guess my family were always more cake people: you make cakes, you buy biscuits/cookies. End of story. I told a friend this recently and she gave me a look of confusion mixed with horror and disgust before proceeding to question the morality of my parents who provided me with a choc-chip cookie-less childhood.

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Anyway so I decided to experiment with a recipe I found in my Great British Bake Off book (I am totally addicted to this show, to the point that when I watch it I usually have recurring dreams about making strangely flavoured breads shaped like plaits and sailor’s knots). The coconut came in when I realised that I lacked vanilla and so replaced it with coconut essence, and decided to throw a handful of shredded coconut in there as well. (Note: NOT desiccated coconut. Ew. Shredded coconut is larger and generally much fresher and coconuty tasting.) They turned out pretty awesome: I binge ate half the batch by myself in about two days! The rest I kind of marred when I splashed it with soapy water after I decided (on my friend’s suggestion) that I clean my blender by filling it with boiling soapy water and turning it on. Needless to say it exploded scalding foam all over the kitchen bringing new meaning to the phrase Epic Fail. This is why I can’t have nice things.

Coconut Choc-chip Cookies
Adapted from the Great British Bake Off book 2011

125g unsalted butter, softened
50g caster sugar
50g brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp coconut essence150g plain flour
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder (I used bicarb soda)
100g chocolate chips/chunks
a handful shredded coconut (about 2/3 cup)

Preheat oven to 190C. Put soft butter in a bowl and beat until creamy. Add sugars and beat until it looks fluffy, then lightly beat in egg with coconut essence. Sift flour, salt and baking powder into the bowl and combine with a wooden spoon/spatula. When thoroughly combined add chocolate and coconut and mix to combine. Use a teaspoon to spoon the dough onto lined baking trays, fairly far apart because they spread. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges look browned (the cookies will still be fairly soft but they’ll harden as they cool). Cool on the tray for a couple of minutes before transfering to a wire rack. Pile them all on a plate and EAT THEM! They last for about 4 days in an airtight container if you’re weird and don’t want to eat them all at once.

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It’s Easy Being Green Soup

Since completing Live Below the Line I have been eating all the food! Well, all the food except spaghetti and stock cubes. I fully expected me to be completely sick of everything I ate that week, however all it really did was reignite my love of soup! I always long for soup as soon as it starts getting cold enough to think about taking my coat out of the cupboard. I get addicted to it in winter, and although it seems time-consuming and fiddly (at least to me) it is actually ridiculously easy to make. (I’ve tried telling this to my housemate but I think he’s going to ask to be buried with a packet of Laksa Cup o’Soups!)

This soup was a bit of an experiment from a mix of vegetables I had to cook up before I started Live Below the Line – I had no idea what to do with them and my house is freezing so I decided on soup. My friend’s mum gave me a heap of rosemary recently so I decided to chuck some of that in there as well and WOW! Totally made it! And it adds to the soup’s green-ness which makes it look like something Ron cooked up in Potions which I find rather satisfying! 🙂

It’s Easy Being Green Soup

Because I made up this soup with stuff in my fridge I would go ahead and play with the quantities/ingredients as you see fit. You can use one leek and more mushrooms for example would be fine. I want to try it with peas as well…

1 clove garlic
knob of butter/splash of olive oil
2 leeks, sliced finely and washed
3 mushrooms, sliced finely
1 zucchini, sliced finely
250mL vegetable stock
1/2 handful of rosemary leaves

Fry the garlic in butter over a medium heat for a minute or two. Put in the sliced veggies and fry until soft. At this point, because I was using pre-cooked veggies I pureed them in a blender with the rosemary leaves and the vegetable stock before reheating them. If you prefer your soup chunky then skip that step and add the vegetable stock and rosemary straight to the pot. Let it bubble for about 5 minutes so the flavours meld together and eat straight-away with some buttery, crusty bread! Yum!

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I’m going on an adventure…

It’s been a really long time since I’ve actually even thought about writing anything. Christmas, new year, a crazy work schedule and another few scoops of nuttiness have kept me at bay! My bad, guys. However this leads me to more exciting news…

Taking up a lot of my time has been planning my imminent two month trip to Southeast Asia. I’m going to Thailand for a month to do a CELTA course (Cambridge English Language Teaching for Adults) which will qualify me to teach English pretty much anywhere in the world. I’ve never really considered teaching as a possible career – I remember too well how horribly most of the girls in my school treated our high school teachers, why on earth would I want to put myself through that?! But i really really want to live overseas for a while and teaching English is an absolutely brilliant way of opening that door.

Even if it doesn’t, it’s an excellent excuse to love a little while in Chiang Mai, which is undoubtedly one if my favourite places in the world! Why? It’s just awesome, I can’t really describe it better than a place where backpackers plan to spend a couple of days and end up staying six months. It’s cheap, the people are lovely, the food is amazing, the night market is vibrant and the atmosphere totally chilled.

So here I am running around getting visas, booking flights and reading horror stories of Laos and Cambodia’s bus system! I’ve spent whole days researching the best ways to get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang without spending three days on a boat ‘observing hill tribes’. Seriously ethically questionable. Anyway, come Monday I’ll have packed my tiny backpack and I’ll be on my way!

I’m going to chronicle my adventures as best as possible. Don’t hesitate to tell me of anything weird and wonderful I should definitely try! 🙂

My Top 5 Best Gelati in Melbourne

Summer is coming everyone. Finally, after weeks and weeks of waiting, the sun has decided to join the party. And with summer comes my daily craving for gelati. Gelati, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Though art more lovely and more temperate. Particularly in Melbourne, where we are notorious for having four seasons in one day, but since gelati is basically sunshine in a cup (or cone) it really makes everything ok.

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Being a gung ho gelati groupie I have of course made it my mission to sniff out the best scoops in town, and these, in my humble opinion, are my top five. I’m sure there are plenty more amazing gelaterias I have yet to discover, and I would of course love for you to share them with me! But these not-so-simple scoops of perfection are pretty close to heavenly…

5. Lygon Street, Carlton

Of course the most obvious place to find gelati is Melbourne’s own Little Italy, Lygon Street! Of course there are more than a few gelaterias up and down the high street, but you can’t go past Gelatissimo, with its huge piles of gelati and sorbet which is further piled with the fruits and chocolates, etc. used as flavours. Sure it is an international chain, but it is still pretty damn good. And there are many gluten and dairy free options.

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4. Igloo Zoo, Glenferrie Road Malvern and Chadstone Shopping Centre
http://www.igloozoo.com/

I know, I know, this is frozen yoghurt not gelati. But as far as frozen yoghurt goes this is pretty much top of the crop. Their yoghurt is pro-biotic, it uses natural flavours (unlike many other chains which use artifical flavours thus negating the goodness of the yoghurt) and the flavours they have are excellent. Green tea, pomegranate and coconut are all delicious choices and none of them are too sweet, which means when you are craving for ice-cream but have already had a whole cake earlier that day, you can feel a little less guilty!


3. Vulcano Gelato, Moonee Ponds

https://www.facebook.com/VulcanoGelatoMooneePonds

I first had their gelati at the Gelati Festival on Lygon street earlier this year. It was some sort of choc-hazelnut concoction with crunchy stuff in it and OH. MY. GOD. This gelati blew my mind. Like seriously. I would like to be buried in a vat of this stuff so I can eat my way out of it and then die very, very happy. Moonee Ponds is not the easiest place to get to, but if you can, you will not be disappointed.


2. Gelato Massimo, Smith Street, Fitzroy

http://www.gelatomessina.com/

A Sydney based company with over ten years of experience, this place has exploded with popularity as their prestige was made official when they were chosen as the Good Food Guide’s Best Icecream in Australia. This means there is almost always a queue out the door. But this gelato is worth the wait! A huge range of flavours, with the standard chocolate and fruity combinations mixed with flavours like Pear and Rhubarb, Dulce de Leche and (my favourite) Pandan and Coconut sorbet, as well as a daily list of weird and wacky specials. I have even seen avocado flavour before, which they garnished with corn chips. All the great sorbets are also dairy-free.

1. Spring Street Grocer, Melbourne CBD
http://www.springstreetgrocer.com.au/

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Nestled in the cool, foodie theatre district around Parliament, Spring Street Grocer is an Italian gourmet grocer out the back (hence the name) and out the front a purveyor of quick treats including excellent coffee, sandwiches, soups and, of course, gelati. Massimo Bidin has spent years studying and practicing the craft in Italy, the home of gelati. He specialises in the use of spices and unique flavour combinations to create taste explosions of icey ecstacy; from Salted Caramel and Chili to Tumeric, Cardamom and Pistachio. The sorbets certainly deserve a metion as well, try the delicious Watermelon and Mint or the Coconut and Ginger. They have a rotating menu so there is always some new flavour to discover, which always feature a few dairy-free/vegan options. AND they stay open until midnight everyday, perfect for a late night hit of sweetness! AND they let you taste before you buy. It’s little wonder this place is my favourite!

Stay cool this summer, and stuff your face with gelati!

Dad’s Pavlova

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I know, I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything in ages! Working in retail over Christmas is inevitably taking up all my time at the moment. But finally I have a moment to share with you one of my favourite foods growing up: pavlova! I can’t imagine there is anyone who hasn’t come across pavlova somewhere, but incase there is, pavlova is an Australian/Kiwi dessert which basically consists of meringue and fruit. Its origin is shrouded in mystery, but it was definitely named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Whenever there was a party or get-together at my Grandma’s house, there was always pavlova. I don’t think we could have had a Christmas dinner or a birthday party without one! Grandma went with the traditional style mile-high meringue, the top covered in cream with fruit arranged in geometic patterns, usually strawberries and kiwi fruit laced around the obligatory pool of passionfruit pulp in the middle. My dad’s version is a little different though. His meringue is shallower, and has more of that almost chewy, marshmallowy taste where the sugar has begun to caramelise a bit, with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a mountain of fruit salad on top! Seriously, the fruit is always at least triple the size of the meringue, which makes everyone feel a lot better about the fact that they’re basically eating a sugar cloud.

This recipe is from one of Delia Smith’s many books, and the best thing is you can make it the night before, leaving the meringue to cool in the oven over night. Which means on the day all you have to do is slap it on a plate and pile it high with fruit. Perfect! Even better, this dessert is multi-talented! Pavlova is the fancy big sister of Eton Mess, just break up the rest of the meringue into chunks and tip it and any remaining fruit and cream/mascarpone in a serving dish (add some more if you like), squeeze an orange over it and then cover it in Pimms (or rum and Cointreau, or a mixture of both!)

Meringue
3 egg whites
175g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 150C. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks – you should be able to turn the bowl upside down over your head and not end up wearing your meringue as a hat. Then whisk in sugar in six batches – make sure all the sugar is incorporated before adding the next batch. (It is very important to do this step gradually and not just bung all the sugar in at once – as tedious as it is, take the time to do it properly and the end result will be the reward!) Use a tablespoon to spoon the meringue into a circle on a lined baking tray. You can then use a skewer to gently swirl the meringue and make it pretty. Put it into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 140C. Bake for an hour then leave in the oven to cool completely, with the door ajar if you want it to cool quicker. (You can leave it in there overnight if you wish). Serve it on a big plate with mascarpone cheese or whipped cream and lots of fruit: berries, kiwi, mango, passionfruit and stone fruits work best.

 

Degustation diary: Oysters

Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday, so my brother and I treated him to a fancy birthday dinner at Cumulus Inc in Melbourne. Dad loves seafood, so we feasted on mussels and flounder and clam chowder, and oysters. I had never had oysters before; they had always intrigued but I had always been too scared or too poor to try them! But finally, under Dad’s coercion and with the help of white wine, I decided to try them! Oysters taste like the sea. Or the beach more specifically. I was expecting them to be salty, but to me oysters are like going to the seaside in your mouth – the sea breeze, the smell of salt on the sand, that taste you get in the back of your mouth after you’ve been dunked by a wave.

Anyone have a thought on oysters or great recipes to share? Leave a comment!

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Chili con Carne

It’s just been one if those weeks. I managed to slice my finger open on an industrial dishwasher (who knew that could even happen?!?!) and my brother Will has come to the end of a particularly frustrating week of work. We were exhausted, grumpy and feeling very unimaginative, but we are also too poor to get takeaway. And then it came to us: Chilli con Carne. The easiest, I-really-can’t-be-bothered dish in the world! Or at least with what we have in our empty fridge. This is based on a recipe I got long ago from a friend-of-a-friend’s boyfriend. A friend of mine held a Mexican party, where it was obligatory for everyone to wear moustaches, and we ended up all tipsy on champagne, shovelling huge bowls of Max’s chilli in our faces trying desperately to keep our felt moustaches attached to our upper lips! This recipe is with a few alterations – most notably I’ve replaced the pre-packaged Chilli con Carne seasoning with actual spices, for obvious reasons!

Chilli con Carne (a la Max)
Serves 4 (or 2 if you’re really really hungry!)

2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 small onion, chopped (this is much harder when you can only use four fingers!)
500g beef mince
1-2 tsp chilli powder (adjust according to taste)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried marjoram/thyme
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can kidney/cannellini beans, drained
1 glass red wine/stock
1/2 red capsicum/bell pepper, deseeded and sliced (optional)

Fry garlic and onion in a large saucepan with vegetable oil until onion is translucent. Add mince and cook until browned, stirringly regularly. Add spices and herbs and stir in, then the tomatoes, beans, wine and capsicum, stir to combine. Put on the lid and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with corn chips and cheese, in a taco or wrap, or simply with rice!

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Best picnic chicken sandwiches

Yesterday me and a few friends went to spring races in Yarra Glen – a winery region just outside of Melbourne. We’re not really betting people, but it was a great excuse to sit outside surrounded by beautiful scenery, wearing fancy clothes and have a picnic! There’s something really satisfying about watching horses round around a track while you drunk champagne and stuff your face with delicious food!
As soon as I heard the word picnic I immediately thought of these chicken sandwiches. They’re based on a sandwich on the menu of one of my favourite bars, Madame Brussels. It was the favourite snack of a few friends of mine who never seemed to have time to eat before meeting up for Pimms – and trust me, this is the perfect accompaniment to a large jug of summery cocktail!! The Tabasco is what makes this sandwich incredible – the spicy vinegary-ness cuts through the creamy mayonnaise perfectly. Gherkins are a nice side as well. If you like a bit of crunch to your sandwich, add some mixed leaves like spinach and arugula after you’ve toasted the bread.
I’ve written exact quantities for this but really I just do it by eye, so they’re a guide only – feel free to alter depending on your taste.

Best Chicken Sandwiches

a roast chicken (you can find them in supermarkets near the deli or at your local chicken shop)
1/3 cup good-quality mayonnaise
a handful of chives (thyme would work well too)
white bread (good quality)
Tabasco to serve

Start by stripping the chicken of its flesh, discarding the skin. Try and get as much as the meat off as possible, in bite-sized chunks. Put in a large bowl with the mayonnaise and chopped chives and stir gently so that the mayonnaise just coats the chicken. Spoon onto slices of bread and, if you can, toast in a sandwich toaster or grill until the bread is toasted (for a more golden colour spread the outside of the bread with a little butter). Add a few dashes of Tabasco and eat warm!

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Scones

Scone

My family have been making scones for afternoon tea for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those recipes that we completely forget about until one quiet day my mum says suddenly, ‘You know what I feel like? A scone!’ and suddenly a boring afternoon turns into a brilliant, messy hour of baking! Scones are the best; so simple yet so very satisfying, and with jam, cream and a nice cup of tea it’s little wonder why they are the iconic afternoon indulgence! My mum got this recipe from her mum, who, of course, got it from one of her many Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks – something which no true-blue Aussie home is ever without! It doesn’t use anything which you wouldn’t always have in your cupboard, which means that you literally can whip them up whenever you like! Don’t like jam and cream? Golden syrup or honey is amazing, Nutella goes with everything, or even just plain butter is great. (Just a side note, you WILL get messy making these! Flour everywhere and doughy fingers are key to good scones!)

Scones
Makes about 10

Ingredients

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons sugar
15g butter, at room temperature
1 cup milk

Sift the flour and sugar into a medium bowl, then rub butter in with your fingertips. Make a well in the centre of the ingredients and pour almost all the milk in. (This is important! Do NOT pour all the milk in, you or will get an overly sticky dough. I’d suggest pouring a bit over 3/4 of a cup in first then adding little by little until you get the right consistency.) Using a butter knife, cut the milk through the flour until it makes a soft sticky dough, adding milk only if needed for correct consistency (see note above!). Turn dough out onto clean, floured surface and knead lightly until smooth. Press dough out gently and evenly to approximately 2cm thickness and cut with a floured cutter or glass and cut into rounds, reshaping the dough when necessary and placing them on a lined tray. (or if you’re like me, who has just moved out and have nothing in the kitchen, pull chunks off the main hunk of dough and roll them into small balls between your palms, pressing them to flatten the surface as you place them on the tray.) Bake in a very hot oven (250C) for 15 mins or until golden brown on top. Best eaten straight away!!

Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake (and Welcome!)

Hello! Welcome to the vanilla cake! I’m so happy to (metaphorically) see you! For a while now I’ve been looking for a place to share tales of my travelling adventures and my various shenanigans in and around the oven. Inspired by various friendly blogger-types and creative bodies I finally decided to create this! And what better way to open than to share some devilish deliciousness in the form of a Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake from the fantastic brain of Nigella Lawson – self-proclaimed domestic goddess and fellow Nutella worshipper! I love Nutella. Soooooo much! When I discovered they come in 5kg jars in European crepe shops I have never been so excited. When I was on exchange and I was too poor/lazy to buy bread it quickly dawned upon me to skip the middle man, which is really a dull carbohydrate vehicle, and go straight for a spoon! Ten minutes later 3/4 of the jar was gone, along with most of my dignity. I figure putting Nutella in a cake is a slightly classier (and even more delicious!) way of devouring an entire jar! The recipe can be found here on Nigella’s website. Enjoy!Image

Just a note I baked it for more than the recommended time because my oven isn’t fanforced, but the centre was still pretty wobbly when I took it out. This is ok! Like a lot of brownie recipes, this cake is very fudgy so it won’t necessarily be completely solid when you take it out, but it will solidify as it cools – as long as the edges are starting to shrink away from the side of the tin then you know it’s done. 🙂