Sunday, 29 May 2011

Strawberry and Nutella Cupcakes

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Multicultural Inspiration from... the world of baking!

I received a phone call from my dad last week. Doesn't sound very exciting, I know. But it was a very important phone call. Life changing, actually. After 25 years, I finally got to hear the four words that every child so desperately wants to hear from their parents. Those four words that we don't think we ever will hear, because if there's one thing surer than the world turning, it's that kids disappoint their parents. Lots. I'm certainly no exception. From the time I quit ballet to take up taekwondo ("how terrible unladylike"), to the time I brought the Aussie boyfriend home to the Italian family ("can't you just find a nice Italian boy, like your cousin?") to the time they found out about my first  tattoo ("oh my God, you've ruined yor body!"), I've often felt like a bit of a let-down to mum and dad. But then dad called me to tell me he read my food blog, and to tell me "I'm proud of you."

"Really?!" I whisper, in disbelief. "Why?!" I perch myself on my bar stool, absent mindedly swirling the glass of wine I've just poured, and settle in for a good chat with dad. He's proud of me for finally following my dream to write (I wanted to be a writer when I was younger - I also wanted to be an astronaut, a jewellery thief and a finger painter, but the writing dream actually stuck!), even if it's just for fun and there mightn't be too many people reading it initially. Even through all of the disappointments, dad has always believed in me (mum too, but I'll save her for another post!), always had faith that I'd do great things, and always known I'd follow my heart to what I want. I've always been close to my dad; one of my favourite things to do on my rare days off work is to drop into dad's work for lunch (note to self - make more time to have lunch with dad!) or catch a movie and a bucket of popcorn together. I'm very much my father's daughter, a fact which is never more apparent than dessert time.

After that chat with dad, I decided I needed to make him something sweet to thank him for supporting me. Dad is a massive sweet tooth; his love for chocolate is perhaps rivalled only by mine. And despite mum's best efforts to make dessert healthy when we have family dinner by serving lots of fresh fruit, dad and I always manage to get our hands on a jar of Nutella or some melted chocolate to dip it in. With that in mind, I flick through a few of my cupcake books, looking for a strawberry cupcake recipe (we looooove strawberries!). My chosen recipe is for some Strawberry and Cream cupcakes from the Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery cook book (with a few of my own changes). I initially thought of topping them with a Nutella icing, but then determine to try something a little more special - I want to fill the centre of the cupcake with a Nutella filling! 

Time to give it a whirl...
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 210g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 25g cornflour
  • 150g strawberries, hulled and crushed
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature

First up, preheat the oven to 160°C, and line 2 trays of muffin pans with cupcake cases - the recipe claims to make 12 cupcakes, however I found this recipe actually made 24 standard sized ones, and 12 minis! To make this recipe a little more impressive, I decide to finally use the shiney new Kitchen Aid I received from my grandparents last year (another disappointment to dad was the fact that he learnt to use mum's Kitchen Aid to make ice cream before I used mine to make cupcakes - sorry dad!). Yes, I know, disgraceful for letting such a magnificent piece of equipment sit unused for so long, but again, another story for another post!

I throw into the bowl the butter and sugar, and cream until light and fluffy. At this point, the Kitchen Bug realises that without the hand beater, there will be no butter flying out of the bowl, and is terribly unimpressed.

Then, beat in the eggs one by one. At this stage, I also decide to add in a tablespoon of vanilla extract. In goes the rest of the ingredients, beating them together well. The mixture should be beautifully light and fluffy.

Then, carefully spoon some mixture into the cupcake cases - fill them to approximately half-way, then place a teaspoon of Nutella on top of them.

Next, place a little more mixture on top of the Nutella, and pop them in the oven for 15 - 18 minutes, or until cooked through.

Once they're out of the oven, let them sit for 5 minutes before removing them from the pan and eating them. 

Wow... they are sooooo soft and light and fluffy (thankyou, Kitchen Aid!!!), and the flavour of the strawberry and vanilla is intoxicating! Unfortunately, after eating 4 cupcakes to find a "perfect" one to take a picture of, it becomes clear that the gooey Nutella centre hasn't quite gone to plan...

The Nutella has sunk to the bottom of the cupcake... which is actually delicious! Not exactly what I imagined, but darn good all the same! The Kitchen Bug certainly had no complaints.

So, what did dad think? "Wow Jess, they're really good!" Ahhh, success! With dad happily full of cupcakes and my sense of pride slightly inflated, I go back to the cook books to seek out my next culinary venture. 

Oh, and those other disappointments? I won an Australian gold medal in taekwondo, the Aussie boy is Sous-Jeff, my now wonderful husband and partner in crime-and-food of six and a half years, and I now have another four tattoos in my collection (sorry mum and dad!). :)

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Naked For Satan, Shocolate & Books For Cooks

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Multicultural Cuisine of... Spain... and France

Naked For Satan
285 Brunswick St,
(03) 9416 2238

Another day off, another opportunity to food blog :) ahh the good life! After my trip to Smith St yesterday, I'm feeling like heading back for more, as I didn't have enough time to meander yesterday. I'm catching up with an old friend (we've known each other for 20 years now!) for lunch, and we're both fans of Brunswick St, so we decide to meet up there. Once we both finally secure car parks (no easy feat on a Saturday), we decide on Naked For Satan - a place I've been to a couple of times and absolutely loved, and one that Poo had never been too, but was eager to try out, given the large variety of little foods.

For those of you who haven't heard of this venue yet, you must be living under a rock. Naked for Satan is fast becoming a Brunswick St institution, with their range of infused vodkas and pintxos. Pintxos are basically a bigger version of tapas, Spanish in nature, and generally served on bread. 

Now, Naked For Satan is primarily a drinking hole, with little nibbles while you beverage. Once you walk in and grab yourself a seat (no waiters asking if you'd like a table, just stroll on in and make yourself at home), you're welcome to grab a plate and help yourself to the pintxos.

The food is set up buffet-style - you simply grab a plate, help yourself to whatever takes your fancy, and save the toothpick that is stuck in each pintxos. They operate on the honour system: you pay per toothpick at the end of your dining experience, $2.00 per piece (or 80c per piece at lunch times and dinner Mon - Wed).

We take a seat on the higher level/balcony area, on a comfy couch, and have no sooner sat down than are visited by a waitress with a plate of hot pintxos; the ones on display are all cold, and wait staff roam the venue with hot plates fresh out of the kitchen. They do not last long.

Meatballs with parmesan
We're presented with some delicious looking (and smelling) beef meatballs smothered in tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. We haven't grabbed our plates yet, so she brings us one each and we tuck in. Yuuuummmm.

With that done, we jump off the couch, plates in hand, to grab some more.
The pintxos are all set up with a mini black board explaining what they're all about - we grab the tongs and fill our plates! Here's what we devoured...

Rice ball on cream cheese and quince paste.

Carrot puree with beans, red onion, tomato and coriander

Frittata with aioli

Fried eggplant chip with honey on blue cheese

Chicken croquette

Chorizo with apple cider sauce and onion

Plus a couple of cocktails, of course. So, why "Naked For Satan?" Basically, a Russian (Mr Satanovich) distilled some vodka under prohibition, it got warm so he did it in his undies. In return for the vodka, his fans helped him make it. Because it was all quite illegal, the secret code was "getting naked for Satan." Hazaah. We take our cups of toothpicks and head to pay. With the lack of dessert options available, we decide to head across the road for a sugary finisher. All in all, I quite enjoy the food, although the hot pintxos are nicer than the cold ones. Great value for money, great variety, and great vodka!

Would rate it 8 out of 10.

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3/296 Brunswick St,
(03) 9415 6556

Across the road from lunch, we find a small A-frame black board claiming Melbourne's best chocolate macaroons. I decided I must try these macaroons that had allegedly been voted Melbourne's best - I pride myself on being an experienced campaigner in all things chocolate. 

We walk in and are met with a wall of assorted chocolatey delights, and while I'm initially distracted by the various shades of brown, I suddenly see the macaroon window. Wow. There are some bright colours in there. I quickly study the menu - my choices include blood orange, salted caramel and lemongrass. I decide on the "black and white" - the one voted Melbourne's favourites, and a fluro blue vanilla one. 

I tuck into the vanilla macaroon first - the blue shell is perfectly soft, literally crumbling away under my fingers. The vanilla ganache is sweet and soft and smooth, even better than I hoped. I was wondering how the chocolate one was going to live up to this!

Looks nice. Feels soft and fresh. Smells chocolatey. It's a white chocolate macaroon with white chocolate ganache. Wasn't the big, brown, milk chocolate I was hoping for, but hey, I love white chocolate too - I don't discriminate! I bite in... to find...

... a soft, milk chocolatey, ganach centre! Ohhhh my.... ok, I'm starting to understand why this got the vote of Melbourne! It was delicious anyway, but to get the surprise of chocolate in the middle, with the cocoa hit in between the sugary sweetness of the white chocolate, was just divine!

Would rate it 9 out of 10.

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Books For Cooks
233 - 235 Gertrude St,
(03) 8415 1415

Before I head home, a quick stop to possibly my favourite shop in all the world. Books For Cooks. If you haven't been here and you're a foodie, go now. Seriously. Drop what you're doing and go. If you have been here and you're as avid a cook/baker as I am, you'll understand.

Wall to wall, floor to ceiling of cook books, old and new, magazines, books on how to plate up and what makes chocolate so special, how to make beer and how to taste wine, how to cook gluten free and how to make full fat cakes. If it's got food in it, it's there. Best end of the day ever. Before I realise, I've been in there for an hour (and what felt like all of 15 minutes) - time to get going coz my parking is done!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Friday Night Tapas

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Multicultural Inspiration from... Spain

I love Fridays. LOVE them! Why? Coz it's my day off work, which means it's also my "me day." My day to get my creativity on, to draw, write, cook, bake, shop, what ever I want. It's also one of Sous-Jeff's favourite days, because by the time he gets home from work, my creative juices have been in overdrive and I've got something amazing in the works for dinner. Last night was no exception. Recently I've discovered a fascination, bordering on obsession, for tapas. 

Because I'm such a food lover, it really frustrates me having to pick only one dish at a restaurant. Then, a few months ago, I discovered tapas; I could have a bit of everything! Brilliant! Now I understood the big fuss over it all and why everyone was getting involved in the tapas revolution! So, I decided to make last night Friday night tapas night! 

Without going into too much detail, here's what I came up with...

First up, crusty bread - no I didn't make it (didn't have quite enough time for that!), just bought a nice crusty loaf, sliced it up and popped it on the over for 10min to get it a little crispy and ready to dip in the next dishes!

 Chorizo in red wine: slice and cook the chorizo, remove from pan and add half a cup of red wine and a few sprigs of thyme. Simmer to reduce and thicken slightly, then pour over the chorizo.

Ham croquettes: my new favourite! Add 3/4 of a cup of milk, around 30g diced onion and a few sprigs of thyme in a pan, and bring to almost boiling point. Strain mixture into a bowl and let sit for a few minutes. In the meantime, add around 10g of butter (sorry the measures aren't exact - I was just cooking by feel this time!) and melt, then add a tablespoon and a half of flour. Mix constantly until it browns, then add the milk mixture, stirring constantly so lumps don't form. Cook for another few minutes until it thickens, then add in around 60g of diced, fried up ham or bacon. Pop it all in a bowl and refridgerate over night. The next day, take it out and form into croquettes. Dip in bread crumbs, then a whisked egg, then re-dip in bread crumbs and refridgerate until ready to cook (fry with oil and a bit of butter on a fry pan, for 3 - 5 minutes or until golden). In a word: amazing.

Eggplant fritters: Super easy and yummy. Slice up an eggplant cross ways, and slice up some cheddar cheese at the same thickness. Put a toothpick through to keep them together. Then dip in flour seasoned with some salf and pepper, then dip into a whisked egg, then back into the flour. Heat a fry pan with oil, and fry for a few minutes on each side, and rest on paper towel until ready to eat.

Patatas Bravas: Well, my version anyway! I cut up the potatoes in bite sized pieces and par-boiled them. Then, I heat up some oil and a bit of butter in a pan, and cooked up the potatoes with a few whole cloves of garlic until they were crispy and golden.

Spinach with pine nuts and garlic: Super easy - just heated a little bit of oil in a pan and added the pine nuts, browning for a few minutes. Then, added some finely chopped fresh garlic for 30 seconds, then threw in the spinach, until wilted. Season with a little salt and pepper, and off you go!

 Last up are the meatballs in sauce: Combine some beef mince, finely chopped onion and garlic, grated parmesan cheese, salt and thyme in a bowl and roll into little tablespoon sized meatballs. Cook up in a fry pan with a little oil. Once cooked, transfer to a medium saucepan and add in your favourite pasta sauce (I use my nonna's home made passata coz it's the best!), and some more finely diced garlic, salt and pepper, and simmer for 15 minutes, so the sauce reduces a little and the meatballs become soft and tender.

Serve it all up, get the bread ready to start dipping, and enjoy :) Special thanks to Tapas: Delicious Little Dishes Spain for the inspiration!

Oh yeah, and I made a jug of sangria too... went down so well we forgot to get photos of that! Woops!

What are your favourite little nibbles to make?!

Wabi Sabi Salon

This blog has moved to

Multicultural Cuisine of... Japan

Wabi Sabi Salon
94 Smith St,
(03) 9417 6119
Visit Website 

Today, for the first time in quite some time, the planets aligned; myself, my mum, and my two siblings (Stinky and Princess, we'll call them - childhood nicknames die hard!) were all available, at the same day, and time, to have lunch together! That doesn't often happen, with us all leading such crazy busy lives - work, uni, sport, arts, parties, and other obligations. And even more extraordinary, we've all agreed on a cuisine that we'll all enjoy - even the gluten intolerant! With that in mind, it's off the Smith St.

This end of town is a particular favourite of mine, as I went to university not far from there (at ACU, on Victoria Pde) and spent a lot of time along Brunswick St, Gertrude St, Smith St and surrounds. I feel oddly at home there; I think because it's home to such a diverse mix of individuals. There's no pressure to look a certain way here, or to fit a certain image. You can just be yourself :) It's also become a favourite place for my sisters and I to spend a day off together, trawling the vintage shops and checking out the little cafes. This time, we decide to take mum out too; having lived out of home for over three years now, we don't all get to hang out a lot together unless it's a family event, so we take advantage of this girl time. 

We arrive at Wabi Sabi on Smith St, to find it tucked in between Monsieur Truffe (a favourite of mine, thanks to their chocolate croissants), and Josie Bones (which I'm eager to try, although slightly put off by some of the menu choices - anyone for crumbed pigs ears or rolled pigs head?!). We walked in to a small, cosy venue and are greeted by a kindly Japanese lady. We take our seats, menus already on the table, and have a look around - the lunch crowd is slowly starting to trickle in (we arrived only half an hour after opening); the standard Brunswick kinds - artsy, cool, laidback, indie types. I'm feeling instantly at home and at ease.

The walls are covered in Japanese artwork and a few random pieces like this manga, which my sisters instantly whip their iPhones and HTCs out to photograph.

The lovely Japanese lady returns with a little blackboard to explain the bento options, and points out the menu written on another blackboard directly across from our table, over the sushi window. Ahhh decisions... with four ladies on the table, it takes a while to sort through our options.

After having been looking at the sushi window for the last 10 minutes while the girls pour over their menus, I decide to order a sushi handroll to get started (I've developed a recent obsession with sushi, and these just look soooo fresh, I can't resist!). We're informed that the sushi is made fresh daily, just before opening, and once it sells out, it sells out. 15 minutes later, when the window is two thirds empty, I believe it. 

Cooked tuna roll, $2.50

My cooked tuna roll comes out with a bowl of soy sauce, and it's everything I was hoping for - super fresh, soft fluffy rice, and lots of tuna.

Pork dumplings, $8.00 for 6

Next up, mum and I decide on the pork dumplings to share around the table. They come out quite quickly, and again, are perfectly fresh and soft. The casing itself is crisp, and the filling of pork, cabbage and herbs is delicious. But the hero of this dish, and possibly of the day, is the dipping sauce. Oh my goodness, it was spectacular!! I asked the waitress what it was, and once she understood me (minor language barrier), she explained it was a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar. The saltiness of the soy and the hit of the vinegar was beautifully married with the simple flavours of the dumplings.

Miso soup (as part of the bento box)

Mum's miso comes out next, as part of her bento box. It's steaming hot and smells great. Once it cools down enough for me to try some, I note that it's not as salty as some other miso's I've had in the past - it also has a slight mushroom flavour to it. With that tasted by all four of us and polished off, it's time for our mains. 

Chicken Bento Box, $16.00
Mum has ordered the Chicken Bento Box. Clockwise from bottom left: baked sweet potatoes and not sure what else, rice with Japanese basil, "pickled something" (mum's words), mixed salad with peanut oil, and chicken meatballs in broth. The chicken meatballs were soft and fresh, and the broth was a tasty combination of mushroom and ginger. The other highlight was the rice with the Japanese basil - you can't really tell from the photo unfortunately, but it was a bright purple colour, with a very salty, slightly sweet taste.

Tuna Sashimi Salad, $19.00
Princess has ordered the Tuna Sashimi Salad, a mix of fresh salad leaves, carrot, sesame seeds, seaweed, tomato, and of course, tuna. When she tells me the tuna is "melt-in-your-mouth-soft," I'm automatically doubtful. I've heard that claim more than once, and been disappointed just as many times. But, upon tasting it, I stand corrected; melt-in-your-mouth was an understatement! Perfection.

Teriyaki Chicken Donburi, $16.00
Stinky has the Teriyaki Chicken Doburi (upon researching this salon before lunch, I found out that donburi basically means "served on rice." Good to know!). The rice is topped with green beans, broccoli, carrots, and of course chicken. The teriyaki sauce is mouthwatering, and upon all having a taste, we all agree that Stinky's meal is a winner.

Wagyu Beef Meatball Miso Glazed Donburi, $20.00
Lastly, I ordered the Wagyu Beef Meatball Donburi. My rice is topped with broccoli, meatballs, seaweed and shredded onion. The meatballs were, again, melt-in-your-mouth soft, literally falling apart and almost impossible to hold onto with my chopsticks (made even harder by the fact that I'm completely incompetent with chopsticks anyway), and the miso glaze covered in sesame seeds is really different than anything I've tried, yet it's already giving me ideas of miso-marinated chicken next week for dinner...

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch - couldn't argue the quality or freshness of the food, the service was very good without being intrusive, and I'm already looking forward to heading back to try a few of the other items on the menu (crumble chicken katsu donburi, I'm talking to you!).

Would rate it 8 out of 10.

How about everyone else? When was the last time you tried something new at an old favourite neighbourhood?

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