Saturday, 26 July 2014

Carrot, orange, and apple muffins

It has been a slightly topsy turvy couple of weeks! Poor Mr Duckie has been working strange hours - New York hours to be precise. New York is 14 hours behind Sydney, which has meant that Mr Duckie had to leave for work in the late afternoon/evening, come home in the early morning, sleep for a bit, wake up to do some more work, have another nap, then head off to work again!

This necessitated more flexible meal and snack plans, in particular, I wanted to give Mr Duckie something healthy and filling to take to work with him whilst he was up at work between "dinner" (now served at afternoon tea time) and "breakfast" (taking place at around morning tea/lunch).

Yes there are two muffins missing at the back - we were too eager to try them!

Luckily, I'd bought some oranges (and neither of us like eating oranges on their own that much), so combined with some other fruits, carrot, chia seeds, and wholemeal flour, I was able to whip up some yummy and goody filled muffins!

To bind the mixture together, I used mashed banana and chia seeds. Grated carrot and apple add some extra moisutre and sweetness (and some extra nutrients!). I also had to add a bit of milk as I felt the mixture was a bit stiff, but of course you could replace this with any non-dairy milk substitute of your choice.

One of the best things about this recipe is that your kitchen will smell great, thanks to all the orange! In fact, when Mr Duckie got home, he immediately said "Have you been cooking? What's in the oven? Something smells lemony!" (haha I suppose lemons and oranges do smell rather similar once cooked!). And then of course he got very excited and hopeful, as he has a nose for baked goods and is always optimistic for sweet treats!

In terms of the taste and texture, the muffins were actually very light and soft. The orange added a real citrus tang to the muffin, and the mixture of the other fruits and carrot helped to add some natural sweetness.

These muffins can be frozen and stored for later when work or school snacks are needed. I think the addition of your choice of dried fruits or nuts would also add an extra taste dimension!

Anyway, luckily the New York hours are over and the both of us are now back on Sydney time! Hooray! Time to sleep it all off and return to normal! :)

Carrot, orange, and apple muffins

Adapted from Coles Recipes & Cooking

Makes 12


1 1/2 cups wholemeal plain flour
1/2 cup cornflour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 large carrot, grated
1 granny smith apple, grated
1 medium banana, mashed
1 orange
1 tbsp chia seeds
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup milk or milk alternative (e.g. soy milk)

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees (180 fan forced). Line 12 1/3 cup capacity muffin pan with paper cases
2. Mix chia seeds with 1/3 cup water in a small bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes until chia seeds swell up and form a thick gel.
3. In a large bowl, sift in wholemeal flour, cornflour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Zest orange rind over the top
4. Remove pith from orange and cut into small pieces. Place orange and any juice that came from cutting up the orange into a small bowl. Add carrot, apple, banana, oil, milk and chia seeds. Stir to combine.
5. Pour wet ingredients into flour mixture and stir gently until just combined.
6. Spoon mixture evenly among prepared muffin pan cases and bake in oven for 20 minutes or until cooked through. Cool in tin for 10 minutes, then remove from tin and enjoy!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Birthday dinner at Quay!

This year for my birthday Mr Duckie planned an amazing surprise dinner!

Normally Mr Duckie is not very good at keeping secrets, especially exciting secrets! Normally, every year for my birthday we go to a restaurant at the Overseas Passenger Terminal called Wildfire - it was one of our traditions! However, sadly they closed this year :(

So, poor Mr Duckie had to find an alternative! Leading up to my birthday, I really wasn't expecting too much - Mr Duckie had been very busy at work and I didn't want to make too much fuss. Mr Duckie had also cleverly been priming me - for weeks, he kept lamenting how he was so disorganised and had no plans. He also kept asking me to run through all the best restaurants in Sydney and saying that we should try some of these restaurants!

On the night of my birthday, Mr Duckie suggested a nice walk around Circular Quay and to go to the OPT to see what happened to Wildfire. As we approached where Wildfire used to be, Mr Duckie kept walking. And as we got to the end of the terminal, Mr Duckie started getting quite excited and a sneaky smile appeared on his face.

When we got to the end of the terminal, we saw the signs for Quay. Mr Duckie led me towards the elevator going up to the restaurant, and said "Let's have a look up here, they won't mind!". At which point I figured out that this had been his plan all along! I was so surprised and amazed! Most of all, I was so impressed at how far in advance Mr Duckie had planned (it takes months to get a Saturday night dinner booking at Quay!) and at how well he had been able to keep it a secret! Also extra brownie points to Mr Duckie as I inadvertently threw a spanner in the works - I only told him at the last minute I had a hen's night to attend that very same night, and he managed to change the booking to accomodate a later start!

The dinner was an amazing experience from the very beginning! When we arrived, we were led to the bar area whilst we waited for our table to be ready. We were met with the stunning view of Sydney Harbour, looking out onto the Opera House and the night-time ferries travelling back and forth in the water.

We started off with a delicious mocktail, which was a mixture of ginger, lime, and apple. It was a genius flavour combination and I was so impressed!

Ginger, apple, and lime mocktail
We were then led to our table, which looked right out onto the harbour!

Beetroot and goats cheese
We started with an appetiser of beetroot, rosehip, and goats cheese. I thought I had misheard the description, as at first I couldn't see how there was any beetroot. Then when we dug in, we saw the beetroot hidden underneath! The sweet, earthy beetroot was complemented perfectly by the salty and creamy cheese. Also the cheese looked like it would come as hard shreds, but was in fact soft and melted in the mouth! Also all the details were great - note the pearl handed spoon!

Then came the first course. I had the mud crab congee. It was the fanciest congee I had ever tasted! The egg yolk emulsion tasted like a steamed egg custard like my grandma used to make, only made much more fancy. It reminded me of traditional Cantonese food but with that special twist! Also I apologise for the captions - I didn't take notes on the night so I may not have complete description of the dish.

Congee of Norther Australian mud crab, fresh palm heart, egg yolk emulsion
Mr Duckie had a dish of finely diced raw smoked wagyu. It was served on a lilypad shaped plate which so pretty!The meat was tender and soft, and had a light smoky flavour. The creamy topping was a perfect complement to the meat.

Raw smoked Blackmore wagyu, dory roe, horseradish, soured cream, milk skin
For the second course, I had the XO Sea five sea textures. Again, it reminded me of traditional Cantonese food but fancied up! The dish was a small bowl with lots of beautiful sweet seafood (I think there was octopus, prawns, clams, squid, and scalllop), topped with a salty and flavoursome XO sauce and some crsipy cured pork.

XO Sea, five sea textures
Mr Duckie's second course was the confit pig cheek. this dish was so delicious as there were multiple layers that complemented each other so well - the tender pork, a very soft layer of melty fat, the sweet and soft scallops, and the crunchy toppings. The best part of this was the crispy cracking, which offset the perfectly meltingly soft pig cheek (and who doesn't love crackling!).

Smoked and confit pig cheek, scallop, kombu, koji, shiitake, sesame
For the main course, I had masterstock goose, with kombu and ice plant. The goose came on a very pretty blue plate. Decorating the plate was a crispy leaf, which was almost translucent yet still retained it's natural flavour. The goose itself was very soft and tender, and had a rich meaty flavour. Underneath the goose was a sorrel puree, which added a surprising citrus flavour. Also alongside the goose was some ice plant, which is a very interesting vegetable - it was crunchy and succulent, and covered in fine crystals that looked like ice crystals! Apart from the texture, it also added a delicate saltiness to the dish.

Roasted masterstock goose with kombu and sorrel puree
Mr Duckie had the Angus beef. The beef was so tender and perfectly cooked, with a delicious meaty flavour. The beef was topped with a mixture of crunchy grains of barley, which added both texture and a slightly smoky, nutty flavour. There was also a mixture of funghi on top which added extra earthiness that went very well with the beef.

Grass fed pure Angus beef, black barley, smoked and raw funghi
Now, onto the best course, dessert! Of course, we had to try the most famous snow egg, which really came to fame during Masterchef. Given how much everyone has raved about the snow egg, I was worried that it wouldn't live up to its' reputation. However, I had nothing to fear! In fact, the snow egg more than lived up to its' reputation, and Mr Duckie and I definitely are now a part of the snow egg fan club!

Snow egg
The snow egg dessert is a perfect sphere of the lightest, fluffiest, melt in the mouth meringue. In the centre of the ball is ice cream (I believe ours was guava flavoured). The meringue sits on top of a crunchy, icy granita, and on the bottom of the glass is a pool of strawberry cream. I was amazed at the technique involved - especially with filling the meringue with ice cream. Altogether, the dessert was a perfect mixture of soft, icy, and creamy textures and delicate, elegant flavours.

Inside the snow egg!
We also ordered the chocolate dessert. The dessert came out looking very artistically coated in curls o chocolate. In fact, these curls were nitrogen-frozen chocolate! The freezing processes gave the chocolate a very crisp and actually crunchy texture, which really crackled in the mouth. Underneath the curls was a base of many delicious components, including muscatels, nougat, salted caramel, and almonds, bound together with chocolate. Overall, this was a very decadent dessert!

Chocolate, almond, muscatel, olorose caramel
To finish we ordered some Earl Grey tea and Darjeeling tea (of course we had to have tea!). The tea was served with some delicious truffles,which came in a very cute pumpkin shaped bowl. I believe there were pistachio, salted caramel, crunchy ball coated, and a dark chocolate truffle.

Truffles in a pumpkin bowl!
One of the things that made this dinner so special was the attention was given to every little detail in the experience. I especially loved the unique cutlery and dinnerware that came with each dish, from the pearl handled spoon that came with our appetiser, to the unique bowls and plates for our meals, to the gorgeous tea service.

Look how cute the sugar tongs are, like angels wings!
The friendliness and attentiveness of the staff also added to the experience. In fact, when one waitress found out that it was my birthday, I was given a small box of truffles, packaged in a special Quay box, to take home as a small gift!

Overall, I had a perfect dinner in one of the most elegant and sophisticated restaurants in Sydney. The grandeur of the backdrop enhanced the luxurious feeling of the whole experience. Each course also flowed smoothly from one to the next, so that I felt perfectly satisfied and content at the end of the meal. I feel so lucky to have had such a special dinner! Thank you Mr Duckie :)

Monday, 14 July 2014

Chocolate and salted caramel cupcakes

Recently Mr Duckie and I celebrated our "dating" anniversary (hehe that sounds so daggy!). We have been together for 8 years now! The years have definitely flown by what with all the busy-ness that life is full of, and I am so glad to have had someone special to share all these experiences with :)

Every year for Mr Duckie's anniversary present, I like to follow the "traditional" anniversary gift ideas (e.g. first year is paper, second year is cotton, and so on). I know these are meant to be wedding anniversary gifts, but it still helps me to come up with some meaningful!

So, a quick check of Wikpedia told me that for the 8th year, the traditional US gift is bronze, and the traditional UK gift is salt. This left me pondering for a while. I wasn't sure that a jar of salt was quite an appropriate present, and I wasn't sure I could do much with bronze either!

And then I thought, of course! I should bake something with a bronze and salt theme! And then I realised - yes, salted caramel! It covers both the salt and bronze components (caramel is kind of a bronze colour, right? At least that's what I told myself). And in any case, salted caramel is so tasty, who would be upset with receiving it as a gift?

Please excuse the messy piping, I am definitely still learning my piping skills!

I decided to use a chocolate cupcake as a base for the caramel, as I wanted something that would be strong enough to stand against the sweetness and richness of the caramel. The cupcakes themselves were quite easy to make and had just the right amount of chocolatey-ness.

However, the caramel part turned out to be quite messy! I somehow managed to dribble lots of sticky caramel all over the kitchen bench, down the side of the kitchen drawers, and onto the floor. I think I flung little droplets of caramel into another part of the kitchen as well. And of course, whilst making the icing I managed to cover all the benches in a fine dusting of icing sugar.

I should also warn you to be careful when mixing the caramel - take care not to splash it on yourself as it will burn! I was rather too vigorous whilst stirring the caramel (I got a little scared when I added the cream to the melted sugar as it started fizzling so much!), so I ended up with a couple of sugar burns on my forearm.

But it was all worth it!

Overall, this was a very rich and sweet cupcake. Mr Duckie was very pleased when he saw the cupcakes, and quickly downed one in a few bites. However, much to his dismay, he couldn't manage a second one! I also had a huge sugar rush after eating one of these cupcakes. So do make sure to have a cup of tea on standby to wash all the sugar down!

I also had lots of caramel sauce left over, so I served it on the side (although as I said, this is a very rich cupcake, so go easy with the extra sauce!). I think it would also go nicely on top of some ice-cream, or perhaps to jazz up some plain cakes with!

This is definitely a special occasion only recipe, but I'm sure that whoever you make these for will appreciate you for it :)

Chocolate and salted caramel cupcakes

Makes 12


Chocolate cupcakes
From "Crave" by Maureen McKeon

185g unsalted butter, at room temperature
235g (1 cup) caster sugar
100g dark chocolate, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
185g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cocoa powder
125-185ml (1/2-3/4 cup) milk

Salted caramel sauce
Adapted from Love Swah

1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup thickened cream
1-2 tsp salt (or to taste)

Salted caramel butter cream
Adapted from Love Swah
110 g butter, softened
3 cups icing sugar mixture
1/2 of the salted caramel sauce

For the cupcakes:

1. Preheat the over to 180 degrees. Line a standard muffin tin with paper cases
2. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the cooled melted chocolate. Add the beaten egg and beat until smooth
3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and cocoa together. Fold the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture in two additions, alternating with the milk. Use 125ml (1/2 cup) of the milk to start with, adding more if necessary to give a light mixture.
4. Divide the mixture among the paper cases, filling each about three-quarters full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until well risen and cooked.
5. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove and transfer to a wire rack.

For the salted caramel sauce:

1. Combine sugar and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan and stir to dissolve. Heat over a medium heat until bubbling.
2. Bubble mixture for 5-10 minutes without stirring, until a deep golden colour is reached. Keep a close eye on the mixture as you do not want to burn the sugar.
3. Take mixture off the heat and carefully stir in cream (I found using a wooden spoon is best). Be careful as the mixture will bubble when the cream is added. Don't worry too much if some sugar lumps form, this happened to me, and I just ended up taking a big lump of hardened sugar mixture out.
4. Stir in the salt to taste. Pour mixture into a bowl and place into fridge to cool.

For the frosting:

1. Beat butter and icing sugar in a large bowl for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy.
2. Add caramel sauce and beat to combine. Taste and add more caramel if necessary.

To finish:
1. Pipe icing onto cooled cupcakes. Drizzle over some of the remaining salted caramel sauce to decorate.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Apple "pie" breakfast apples

Hi there! Again sorry for the much extended break between posts. There indeed has been a lot that has happened since I last posted. I've just finished my exams (yay!) - I can never seem to get myself well organised enough to do much else when I'm studying, so unfortunately there are no pictures of my cooking during that time. Mr Duckie and I also entered the Cooks River Fun Run, which raised money for Bowel Cancer Australia. We entered the 10km run, which I know probably isn't a very challenging run for most fit people, but it certainly was an achievement for Mr Duckie and I! We battled a very chilly and grey morning, and despite being quite out of shape, we managed to finish the run, although we were the last to cross the finish line ;) It was a really lovely community event and a fun family day out (there were some very fast kids competing in the shorter races!), raised money for a good cause, and most of all I am very proud of Mr Duckie for getting out there and getting active!

This recipe is something that I sort of just made up one Saturday morning during this busy period. Mr Duckie's parents had very kindly given us lots of fruit to take home with us. However, by the end of the week, I still had lots of apples left over! The apples we had were Fuji apples - Mr Duckie loves Fuji apples because they are so sweet, but for some reason, I am not such a fan, even though I generally love most other apple varieties. In fact, I have a weird problem with certain fruits, which is that when I eat them raw, they make me feel quite nauseous - the worst culprit is watermelon, and I don't think I've actually eaten any watermelon since high school.

Anyway, I wasn't up to eating a whole lot of Fuji apples, but I did not want them all to go to waste! So I decided to see how they would taste cooked up with lots of spices and some sultanas.

Much to my pleasure, they tasted amazing! The cooked Fuji apples seemed to take on an almost jelly like consistency once cooked. There was a bit of tanginess from the lemon juice, and a delicious fragrance from the cinnamon.

I served the apples with some toasted and buttered baguette (because I also needed to use up the baguettte!). Mr Duckie was very pleased with his breakfast, and decided that the combination of the sweet apples and crunchy bread tasted almost like eating apple pie for breakfast!

I think this would also be a great dessert, replacing the bread with some sweet biscuits and maybe some ice cream ;) And this is a relatively healthy recipe, so you can eat apple pie for breakfast without feeling too guilty about it!

Apple "pie" breakfast apples

Serves 2


4 Fuji apples
Juice of half a small lemon
Sprinkle of cinnamon
3 tbsp raw sugar
Sprinkling of sultanas (I used about 2 tbsp, but add as many or few as you please!)

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Add a splash of water, and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes until apples are soft and cooked.

There's no real recipe for this so you can change the amount of sugar and spice that you add, use your own favourite apple variety, and cook for a shorter time if you prefer your apples a bit more crunchy! Feel free to play around with this recipe to suit your own taste!