Comfort food, ch 2: Sweet Metric System Casserole Cookies

I love cookies. Or biscuits*, as my British based, adopted homeland calls them. I love pies and desserts, but my most favourite dessert is soft, buttery, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and creamy vanilla ice cream. /droooooool

Continue reading “Comfort food, ch 2: Sweet Metric System Casserole Cookies”

Comfort Food, ch. 1: Bolognese for Days

Comfort eating – my favourite sport. I have a few meals in my rotation for when times get tough, or when I just need that ultimate food hug. Yes, it’s unhealthy to use food as a coping mechanism. But we aren’t here to discuss my unhealthy coping mechanisms – that’s another post all together. We’re here to talk about the food that takes you to a safe space. The meals that give you an island in a sea of bullshit.

My most craved meals are almost all from childhood, and they’re almost all amazingly unhealthy – chicken enchiladas, biscuits ‘n gravy, bbq chicken with yellow rice, brisket sandwiches, french toast, I could go on in a gravy coated, cheese topped dream.

Today, though, I’m all about bolognese. Full disclosure: I love my mom’s spaghetti sauce. It’s pretty damn good and my #1 meal of all time is her baked chilli spaghetti (coming soon!) But this sauce isn’t my mom’s recipe. I happened upon this deliciousness when I was older and living out of state on my own for the first time.

My sister’s God-brother’s wife, Mandy (yes) posted this recipe she got from her friend, and claimed it was life changing. I was an Extra Super Cooking Novice (I have since become a Kinda OK Cooking Novice) and had always thought bolognese was intimidating and too advanced for me. But Mandy made it look easy. I book marked the recipe until the one random night that I was gutsy enough to try it.

Sheeeeeew – it was incredible then, and it’s incredible now. It’s even good when I forget/swapped some ingredients (read: forgot to buy the right ones). It was the first real “adult” or “more than 3 ingredients” meal I attempted, and it was a raving success. And now, it holds a special place in my rapidly clogging arteries. Joel thinks we should have it once a week.

So, here’s the low down, complete with inevitable Audrey Mayhem (see above about forgetting/swapping ingredients) –

The ingredients:

dscf5439
*aud note: I forgot to add 1/2 cup parsley. I have only ever remembered to buy it the first time I made this recipe. (Way to go, Audrey). Don’t worry, it’s not crucial.

dscf5428

dscf5432

dscf5434

dscf5438
cube that shit up – don’t skip the pancetta. It’s next level.
dscf5440
*aud note: once I was out of milk, so I used 1/2 cup of heavy cream with a spoon full of water to thin it out. It was really good
dscf5441
*aud note: I’ve used $30 wine and I’ve used $5 wine to make this – and it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to my gutter pallet.
dscf5451
*aud note: this is a picture of pork/veal mince because it was on special for $5 and I was all “SOLD.” But let’s pretend it’s beef mince, because beef is fattier and doesn’t have that same “I killed a baby cow” taste. Also there’s no need for additional pork, because you have pancetta. Do as I say, not as I post.

 

Step 1: find some good trash TV to cook to. You’ve got some chopping to do.

dscf5429
Judge awaaaay

Step 2: cook the onions in some olive oil for 2 minutes.

dscf5443
*aud note: It’s easiest to make this in a deep sauce pan, like a dutch oven. But I’ve been making this meal for 5 years and I still don’t own a good sauce pot. I most often make it in our wok. Just make sure the pan/pot is deep, because you have a lot of ingredients to add.
dscf5444
For example, you might start browning the onions in your frying pan before you forget that you won’t be able to stir it all up without spilling out the sides so you switch to the wok.

Step 3: Add the celery, carrot, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes

dscf5447

Step 4: Pour yourself a glass of the $5 wine. Hold out hope that this is the one $5 bottle of wine that defies the odds and doesn’t taste like room-temperature, freshman year of college bad decisions.

dscf5446
*aud note: it will taste like room temperature, freshman year of college bad decisions.

Step 5. Add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes

dscf5453
This is the best step. If only this was smell-0-vision.

Step 6: Add the beef and cook until brown

dscf5454

Step 7: Add the remaining ingredients

dscf5455

dscf5456
Joel gets really uncomfortable that there’s milk involved. To be honest, I was too the first time around. But once you go milk, you won’t go… bilk? Yeah.
dscf5458
Yum, slop!
dscf5460
Give it a big, big, stir, and watch the magic happen.

Step 8: THE HARDEST PART – let it simmer for at least 45 mins.

dscf5461
The longest 45 mins ever. I’ve eaten it after 20 mins or so, but it’s better the longer it sits. In fact, it’s even better the next day.
dscf5464
1 hour later… yessssss

Step 9: NOSH

dscf5465

 

dscf5466
We’ve tried it with a variety of pasta, and anything you want is good. I like fusilli, Joel likes linguini – you can see who won this round. We’ve also served it without pasta, open face on toasted garlic bread – choice.

This recipe makes between 5-8 servings, depending on how big your servings are. It’s wonderful, complex, creamy and savoury, and I suggest you try it tonight. Because I’m off the store for more pancetta…

Best Bolognese Ever
From M Cubed

Makes 5-8 servings

Ingredients
– olive oil
– 1 large yellow onion, diced
– 3 stalks celery, diced
– 1 carrot, diced
– 4 cloves garlic, minced
– ¼ pound pancetta, chopped
– 1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
– 1 cup dry white wine
– 1 cup whole milk
– 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
– 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
– ¼ teaspoon red pepper
– 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tablespoon dried
– ½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
– 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
– ¼ teaspoon black pepper
– ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
– ¼ cup grated Parmesan (plus more for sprinklage)


Directions
1. In a Dutch oven (sigh. Or deep sauce pan, or wok, or something stove-top oriented that’s deep), over medium heat, heat the oil.
2. Cook the onion in heated oil for 2 minutes.
3. Add the celery, carrot, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes
5. Add the beef and cook until brown
6. Add the wine and the remaining ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes or until sauce is thick.
7. Serve with fave type of pasta and top with shredded parmesan cheese.
8. For garlic bread with an extra kick – melt butter with some garlic powder and a pinch of paprika. Dip the surface of the bread in the melted butter mix, lay on a pan and toast until the edges are brown. Delish.
*I’ve been told that this sauce freezes and re-heats very well, for all you make a head types.

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving

I’ve wanted to do a Friendsgiving style dinner since maybe before I moved to Sydney. But I’ve just never had the wherewithal or the space to get it together. I mean, my first Thanksgiving here literally snuck up on me the day before, and was thusly celebrated with little fan fare. The second one was better thought out, but as we were in a tiny heat box apartment with only 3 plates and 2 chairs, there wasn’t any space to entertain. But, as luck would have it, at Joel’s exhibition, Hugh (our master chef pal) and I started to loosely plan a big Thanksgiving dinner.

In mid-October we remembered we were planning a dinner (actually, Hugh remembered, because I’m absent minded professor), so we picked a date, set a menu, made a plan, and on Friday night, we made it happen. With Hugh at the ham helm and the grill station, and me with the mayonnaise and bacon salad (America) we fed 17 of our pals and killed many 3 for 1 bottles of wine. It was fan-damn-tastic.

dscf5354

 

When I think of Thanksgiving food, I want cheesy green bean casserole, heaps of mashed potatoes and gravy, piles of turkey, stuffing, etc etc. But when I think of cooking and eating a meal of cream, cheese, starch and gravy in the air conditioner-less heat of an Australian November, it makes me want to curl up and die. So we adapted the traditional meals for something more light and summery — but still paid homage to the fat filled, cheese topped, heavy, heavy style traditional noshes. What we ate:

  • Ham with pineapple/lime/chipotle glaze with a chipotle apple sauce
  • Glazed and grilled carrots, and squash and broccolini (topped with pickled carrots)
  • Green beans tossed with almonds and pickled onions
  • Red Skin potato and bacon salad
  • Corn bread from scratch
  • Homemade pumpkin pie with spiced whipped cream
  • Mixed berry cobbler
  • Honorable mention but didn’t make it to the table – buttermilk rolls and mini bourboun pecan tarts.

The meal didn’t come together without its share of Audrey-style mayhem – I was meant to do a big shop on Wednesday night so my Thursday night would be totally free for baking, but Glued to My Phone Election Night Blues got the better of me.

I went to the store, but it was only to buy bacon for dinner and to cry in the aisles like a basket case. So on Thursday, I did my big shop. 90 minutes and 30lbs of groceries later, I was exhausted. At 8PM Joel took command and made most of the corn bread (ok, he really made all of it but I read the recipe to him and grated the cheese and pointed out that I forgot to add the creamed corn, so I’m taking credit, too). Around 9 PM I started boiling the potatoes and putting the pie together. By 10PM the pie corn bread was done, the pie was baking, and the potatoes were still hard, and I was counting how many hours of sleep I’d need to be up at 6:30AM and not feel like a zombie for work. By 10:45PM the potato salad was done, the pie was burnt to a crisp (fucking *F to *C), the buttermilk rolls were scratched, and I was all “fuck it.” and went to bed.

But, the meal was still a success! Hugh is a genius with food, and it’s a meal I wish I was still eating. Here are some moderately good pics – mostly blurry and mostly forgetting key elements like the green beans and the whipped cream gun, but some pics are better than none:

It really was a fantastic night – friends, wine, great food, laughs, and even some interpretive dancing. Thanksgiving is intended to be a day where you reflect on your good fortunes, and for showing gratitude for those good fortunes. I felt the gratitude. And I felt the love. It was a night to not dwell on the negatives (Trump), and it was a night of reassurance that not everything is dark and terrible. As I looked down the table filled with people and candles and conversation and food being passed around and everything just felt – good. If I were the Grinch, this is where my heart would break the frame.

I am incredibly thankful for my Sydney family, for Joel’s friends who have never treated me like a stranger and who I now consider to be my friends, too. I’m thankful for my life here. I’m even thankful for this year, even though it’s been so hard, it’s been so eye-opening and revelatory to support systems I didn’t realise I had.

I’m thankful for the life I live, and I am thankful for the people around me.

And I’m thankful for that ham. Seriously, it was damn delish.

On the Subject of Pancakes

I hit one of those “I’m a Grownup” goal posts this week that I didn’t know existed and thus took me completely by surprise: my pancakes taste better than restaurant pancakes.

A little back story: last Saturday night, I had a craving for buttery syrup covered pancakes, crispy break like glass in your mouth American style bacon, and extra crispy outside soft on the inside salty hash brown patties. It was one of those “wow if I don’t get this exact meal right now I am going to burn this place to the ground” cravings. However, being that it was 8:30 PM and I had just eaten dinner, 3 cookies, a bowl of cereal, and was working my way through a chai tea made entirely with hot milk, I wasn’t about to walk out to the store to gather ingredients. And by that I mean I couldn’t convince Joel that this was an emergency and he needed to go out and get bacon and hash browns for me. Butthole. So I vowed to wake up on Sunday morning and have my pancake brunch.

I woke up with determination, even though it was raining. I knew where I wanted to go, and I had cash burning in my pocket, and it wasn’t until I was half way out the door that I realised the place I wanted to go to was closed on Sundays. On Sundays! The high holy day of Brunch. The brunchiest of Brunch days. No big loss, I thought, since we live in a super hip gentrified neighbourhood and you basically can’t spit without passing hitting a cafe.

But, spit all I want (which I don’t, that’s gross), I walked around for half an hour and couldn’t find a single place that sold pancakes. Womp womp. So I cut my loss and headed back to the grocery store to buy bacon* and frozen hash browns, and just make the pancakes myself from scratch. I also passed a stand selling brownie-cookie sandwiches and I bought three for Joel and I to sample. Whoooops. I was too stuffed on cookies to make the pancakes that day, but Monday was a pancake dream come true. And with crispy American style bacon and the dream hash browns. It was worth the sodium/diabetic coma I fell into and couldn’t pull myself out of.

DSCF5010.jpg

A few days later, Joel and I met a couple of friends for breakfast, at the afore mentioned inexplicably closed on Sundays cafe. I ordered the pancakes, which came with a side of home made mascarpone. I was really excited to get the professional pancakes, after eating my home made ones for most of the week (it’s been a fat week). And as the plate was put in front of me, they couldn’t have looked more beautiful: perfectly round, golden, full and even, lightly dusted with powered sugar… delish.

IMG_8485.jpg
Hello beautiful.

But as I dove in, something just wasn’t right. They were a bit dry. And the edges weren’t crispy. And I made it 2/3 of the way through the stack and still wasn’t feeling that pancake joy. And it hit me: my pancakes are better. 

I patted myself on the back, because this is honestly the first time I’ve ever felt something I made at home was better than something I ordered in a restaurant. And the next morning, I made pancakes again. They’re rarely perfect circles, or even, but they’re amazing. They’re soft and rich on the inside, crispy on the outside. They’re rich enough to make you feel sick if you eat a giant plate of them, but tantalizing enough to make you never stop eating. And I sat there eating with a smug smile of satisfaction on my face, feeling like I achieved something in this world.

DSCF5017.jpg

Don’t fuck with my pancakes, guys – they’re awesome.

Audrey’s “Better Than Restaurant Pancakes” Pancakes

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp white sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup butter milk (look, you can use 1 1/4 cup of any milk you want, but this combo is perf)
1 egg
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)

In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients.

Make a well in the center of the bowl, and add wet ingredients

Whisk together until the batter is smooth

In a skillet on medium high heat, melt a bit of butter to coat the pan

Once the skillet is hot, scoop the batter out into the pan using a 1/4 cup as a scoop. I like to make small pancakes – tiny pancakes make me feel better about eating 6 at a time. But you can easily make giant ones using a 1 cup scoop.

Fry the pancake until you start to see slight bubbling around the edges or on top of the pancake, taking care not to burn. With small pancakes, this typically takes around 3-4 minutes. Flip to the other side and fry until cooked.

Serve with butter and syrup. Or whatever your heart desires – I’m not here to judge, only to guide.

Excess batter can be stored in an air tight container for like, a week probably. Not that it ever lasts that long.

I want to chop up strawberries into the batter to make strawberry vanilla pancakes and serve it with whipped cream. Or experiment with using cake flour instead of All Purpose. What do you think? Share any pancake thoughts that make you feel smug. THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS YOU GUYS.

xo

 

*I all but stopped craving bacon here because it’s just not the same. But, I found out that if I fry Australian bacon in olive oil, it gets super crispy. It takes me back home in a weird, wonderful, beautifully American way.

 

 

Good Gravy, episode 1

I love my parents – they’re hilarious and adorable and they’re best friends and huge nerds, and they compliment each other in a million different ways. But my favourite yin/yang quality of theirs has to do with my favourite breakfast: biscuits* and gravy.

My mom is the cook in the family. She reads cookbooks for fun, re-creates recipes after eating a dish at a restaurant, and has a vault of self-learnt recipes that impossibly blends complete trash food and gourmet dining. With the exception of something we now call “Corn Loaf”, a corn and cheese side dish that was supposed to be a fluffy Mexican corn dish that somehow went wrong and solidified mass of corn and goo that we could almost cut in slices, I can’t remember a single dish my mom has made that I haven’t liked. No one makes a grilled cheese sandwich or a plate of scrambled eggs like my mom. And I’ve tried for years to replicate my all time famous dish of hers, Baked Chili Spaghetti, to no avail. I’ve been asking for about ever for her to write these recipes for me, but I always get the same answer – “I’m not sure – I just make it. Just take X and X and X and go with it!” She’s a jerk.

My dad, on the other hand, passed his cooking skills down to me. We both need detailed instructions and tools. But we both looooove to eat. So it all balances out.

One of the biggest things I miss about living with my parents is the food. Particularly the big Sunday or holiday breakfasts. “Breakfast Skillets,” which are individual skillets layered with a fried egg, hash browns, sausage gravy, and topped with cheese and crumbled bacon. French toast fried perfectly with crispy edges and a soft center and topped with maple syrup and powdered sugar; Bacon and egg fried rice; but the best of it all is biscuits and sausage gravy.

Mom makes a helluva good gravy. I’ve never actually seen her make it – it just always appeared at the same time as the scrambled eggs did – both hot and ready to eat, with only one pan being used. It’s a mystery to me. For all the cooking talent my mom has, she can’t form a biscuit to save her life. They come out lumpy, malformed, a bit like a gargoyle fist – if that gargoyle fist was slammed in a door a few times. They break when you touch them and they’re pretty dense.

That’s where my dad comes in – his gravy may taste floury or be too watery, but his biscuits are always geometrically perfect with flat golden tops, and have the most perfect smooth and fluffy texture. I remember watching him make the dough, flouring the counter top, rolling the dough with a rolling pin, and using the same cup he always used to stamp out the biscuits. It’s the only cooking ritual I remember my dad having in the kitchen – besides the giant bowl he used to eat cereal.

With my parent’s powers combined, they make one awesome sauce breakfast. And it’s just one of those little anecdotes about their relationship that I think is too adorable.

IMG_8180.JPG

I was looking through our fridge this morning and noticed our bacon was about to go off, and I immediately thought about making gravy with it. Even though I never made bacon before. So I called the Breakfast Masters for a crash course in Gravy 101 – what kind of spices to use, what kind of utensils, and basically the most important aspect of gravy – which is continuous whisking.

Now, this is for bacon gravy, which isn’t as good as sausage gravy – (which I’m attempting next week), so this is an abbreviated method (mostly so I won’t forget when I try again next week)

Step 1: Fry lots of bacon. Sing the bacon some sweet songs to encourage all the grease to collect in the pan (you only have to do this in Australia, where the bacon isn’t NEARLY as greasy as it is the US)

Step 2: Once bacon is at desired doneness (extra crispy for me, please – I want that shit to shatter in melty bacony goodness), remove from pan and wrap in aluminium foil to keep warm.

Step 3: On medium heat, melt some butter (see above note about Bacon not being greasy enough)

Step 4: Sprinkle a couple table spoons of flour over the butter and whisk that up with either a whisk, a wooden spoon, or the bottom of a flat rubber spatula – whatever won’t scratch up the pan

Step 5: Whisking constantly, cook the flour and butter for a few minutes until it’s really clumpy. If you don’t cook it long enough the flour will taste raw.

Step 6: Add milk – I eyeballed it by adding 1/2 cup at at time. And whisk whisk whisk.

Step 7: Season with salt, pepper, whatever else you’d like. I threw in some cajun seasoning.

You can add more milk if it’s too thick, more flour if it’s too watery

I served mine over toast with the fried bacon. And it tasted just as good as my mom’s, which made me feel like a double champ – 1) because I tried something new and it wasn’t a disaster, and 2) because it was delish. It felt like a taste from home.

But I also feel like a world of heart clogging, thigh jiggling, gravy topped food opportunities have opened up for me – and that’s hella exciting.

Tune in next week for episode 2! We’ll see if my biscuit game is on point.

 

*I should clarify for my non-Americans that I mean scones – biscuits in the States are the equivalent of scones in Australia. The first time I mentioned biscuits and gravy at work I was met with some grossed out and confused looks.

“Like… biscuits? Covered in gravy?”
“Yeah, it’s SO good.”
“um, ok.”

 

Thankschicken

So, on Friday, Joel and I celebrated our Thanksgiving, ThanksFriday, Thankschicken. As noted earlier, I was determined to make this year’s dinner a good one, and as close to how we do it back in the States, and we succeeded – grandly! I had the planning under control – menu set and recipes bookmarked on Tuesday; shopping done on Wednesday; pie made on Thursday; on Friday, chicken cooked first, then potatoes when there’s 40 mins left, casserole and pumpkin when there’s 20 mins left. But when I got home on Friday I was hit with a wave of cramps and a PMS cloud (hooray) and everything felt out of control and I honestly felt like throwing in the towel and getting Pizza Hut. Thankfully Joel stepped in got the ball moving.

There was an overestimated guess of oven space which resulted in menu items being scrapped (so long, hasselback potatoes and take n bake bread); OMG CHICKEN WILL BE DONE IN 20 MINUTES AND I HAVEN’T MADE THE SIDES panic; panic when the chicken took an hour and a half longer than planned; a bit too much wine and a bit too much panic led to over-salting my famous green bean casserole and accidentally swapping the cheese and onion layer; a destroyed kitchen; feeling a food and wine coma so hard it felt like death was near. It definitely felt like Thanksgiving. The only things missing were a huge family fight and that one relative who gets drunk and says awkward things before he passes out in front of the football game.

And here’s what it looked like!

Thursday night pie prepping: I was going to make crust from scratch, but I decided to tone down the ambition and just use frozen. My grocery store doesn’t carry pre-made shells, but they do carry “short cut” pastry, which is square. So I just used two shells and melded them together in the corners. I didn’t get that fancy lattice look, but I had crust, so that counts. And Joel suggested we use the leftover crust and pie filling to make pumpkin pie rolls, which was basically the best idea Joel’s ever had.

I did have to run to the store at 9 PM in my pajamas and flip flops to grab eggs… sometimes planning doesn’t go exactly as planned. And sometimes the Woolies employees will look at you like you’re homeless.

DSCF2923
working the crust, basically am Julia Child
DSCF2925
Have you ever wanted to swim in something and just eat your way out?
DSCF2936
Pumpkin Pie rolls: Joel gets the gold star for Thanksgiving
DSCF2937
knife came out clean on the first try – a first

First up on Friday: lemon herb roasted chicken. I’d never roasted a chicken before, so I was incredibly nervous about getting it right, as there’s nothing worse than dry chicken. So I was messaging my parents all morning for tips, when Joel mentioned that he’d basically roasted hundreds of chickens in his time, and is a roast master. So I let him take the chicken helm. #problemsolved

DSCF2943
chicken bum plugs
DSCF2947
It’s kinda pretty, if you don’t think of it as shit stuffed inside a dead bird
DSCF2954
seasoning treatment
DSCF2973
Then we went Paula Deen on that beast #butterbath
DSCF2970
We thanked the chicken and honored it for being our dinner as we massaged the butter into it – anything to prevent it from drying out
DSCF2975
I mostly love this image because I look like a GIANT WO-MAN in a dwarf’s kitchen
DSCF2979
At this point I had to shove the roasting pan in – as I forgot that our roasting pan is just a wee bit bigger than our oven

We set the oven for 90 minutes and went on to other prep! Including whipped cream – last time I tried to make it here, I used thickened cream and icing sugar and whisked it for 15 minutes with nothing happening – except me eating the mixture with a spoon.

DSCF2991
Make sure the extra thickened cream is ice cold, add icing sugar and beat with mixer. #yayaya

 

DSCF3005DSCF3007

Then it was time to drink wine and have some hang times!

DSCF3013
Cheers!

When the timer for the chicken went off, we jumped up to hurriedly get the sides items made. And of course, in the time it took to get them made, put in the oven, and baked, the chicken still wasn’t done. OF COURSE NOT. And that’s when I learned a valuable lesson: roast chicken recipes tell you to tie the legs together not because it looks cool, but because it makes the chicken cook faster.

DSCF3010
I’m used to making double or triple batches of GB casserole – not 1/2. It was scary. And much too salty.
Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 5.22.59 PM
Frying up the macademia nuts before throwing them in with the pumpkin to roast
DSCF2998
Prepping the pumpkin – more #butterbath

DSCF3014

When the chicken was done – almost 3 hours after we put it in – the onions at the base were incinerated, every inch of our apartment smelled of delicious roast chicken, and it was almost 10 PM (no, I didn’t want to have dinner on Saturday when we had more time to cook. I wanted it to be as close to the actual holiday as possible… even if it meant eating super late. haha)

DSCF3017
Master Chicken Carver – also, incinerated onions.
DSCF3024
Effing delicious, basically

DSCF3026

We ate so much between the time I got home and the time we finished dinner that there was no room for pie – something I didn’t think was actually possible.

This morning, I woke up at 4 feeling like I drank the Dead Sea, a blistering red wine headache, and the smell of roast chicken STILL hanging in every room, now making me queasy. It took a fair bit of time to clean up the kitchen (no way in hellll that it was getting done last night), but then it was time for tea and the best part of Thanksgiving: Pie for breakfast.

DSCF3028
Breakfast of champions

and later, the second best part of Thanksgiving: leftovers for days.

IMG_5724

I always spent my Thanksgivings outside of the kitchen, wine glass in hand, hanging around with relatives and snacking. So I’ve always loved it and I never understood why people hate it and get so stressed out – but now I know. If you’re in charge of the cooking, it’s pretty stressful, as I had a couple of moments when I thought “fuck, it’s all ruined” and I had Joel helping me and it was just the two of us so there was no (obvious, company oriented) pressure. I imagine it’s easier if you have two ovens and a dishwasher, but yeah. I have a new found respect for people who host. And I kinda  want to go back in time and help my mom more in the kitchen on the big day.

Maybe next year we’ll just have tacos.

I remain thankful for my supportive and loving family and friends, my new job, the roof over our heads, wi-fi, modern science, tooth brushes, the fact that I have yet to be slaughtered or kidnapped, and Joel, my biggest cheer leader and roast chicken master. I have more blessings than I can count (one being my parents sent me two boxes full of Thanksgiving food prep and two being Joel picked up both boxes from the post office).

I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving! And that everyone survived Black Friday (and didn’t steal anything out of the hands of children)

Thanksgiving – already?

I feel like it isn’t November yet. In fact, I’m still thinking it’s early October and I’m confidently telling Joel I want to plan a big Thanksgiving party this year, knowing I have 8 weeks to get my shit together.

Well, well, Thanksgiving is actually this week, and I didn’t realize it until yesterday morning. I did what I always did and filed “Big T-Day Party” away in the “this will sort itself out” pile and went about my business.

Party or no party – I am bound and determined to have a better holiday this year. Last year, I spent the first three weeks of November fruitlessly going to job interviews and fretting every day about my shrinking savings account, and I finally scored a job in the week before Thanksgiving. Needless to say, planning a big dinner was the furthest thing from my mind. I was also deeply homesick, a bit hungover, Joel was working late and drained from it, and I had no idea where to buy stuff or what to cook. So I settled on a rotisserie chicken, frozen veg, mashed potatoes, packaged gravy and a subpar box of brownies with ice cream. And tap water. Joel got home around 8 and we watched American tv on my laptop because our TV was broken. He was super cheerful and the spirit of Thanksgiving was there, but the food wasn’t.

photo(3) 2
Chicken mash 4eva

This year, though. This year will be different. I’m a bit more savvy in the kitchen, and a bit more savvy about where to shop. I’m still not at the “make an entire Thanksgiving meal by myself” stage, but yesterday morning we thought up an awesome meal that I’m pretty excited about:

  • lemon herb roasted chicken (our oven is way too small for a turkey)
  • spinach salad with feta cheese and roast pumpkin and macadamia nuts
  • my famous green bean casserole
  • sliced & baked potatoes (my own experiment – I’m pretty excited)
  • Garlic Turkish bread with herbed butter (I thought about pull apart rolls with honey butter, but the salad is sweet and garlic Turkish bread is so good)
  • pumpkin pie for dessert

Since it’s not a holiday here, I don’t get a day off, so we’re having Thanksgiving on Friday, so I have more time to cook and hang out. A late dinner on Friday, with wine and cheese and cracker appetizers while the chicken roasts and the other dishes bake. I’m also drawing up a time line of shopping and when to bake what and fantasizing about setting the table. I’m really excited!

Last year, I just let the holidays happen to me. It was my first year doing both Thanksgiving and Christmas without my family (i.e. I didn’t have someone making my plans for me), so between work and finances they both just kinda slipped on by. This year, we’re looking forward to making them count. I love Thanksgiving, and I’m bound and determined to make this an awesome day for us.

ALL THE FINGERS CROSSED that I can stick to this plan, and we don’t end up eating KFC.

5670ffcdf12b06dd300e7327f9e525f7

Caramel Slice of Awesome

Part biscuit. Part caramel chew. Part chocolate bar. 100% life changing. This, my friends, is the tale of the Caramel Slice. Aka Millionaires Shortbread.

DSCF2781

The first time I saw a caramel slice in a cafe fridge, I thought it was a piece of peanut butter pie with chocolate topping. I fantasized about buying one every time I passed the cafe, until Joel told me it was caramel, not peanut butter. That stopped the fantasies right then and there, because I like caramel as much as I like math… which is to say, not in the fucking slightest. So I put it out of my mind. Until one day, when Joel came home with one. And I tried a bit. Soft, crumbly biscuit base, fudgey center that didn’t taste all that much like caramel, and smooth milk chocolate topping. Not bad at all. But still, I wasn’t sold. It was good, but nothing to write home about.

A few weeks later, my boss had a sweet craving, and asked me to pick her up a ‘slice. The cafe near work was selling them two for $5, so I got one for her, and one for Joel. I stashed Joel’s in the fridge, where it haunted me. Soft, Crumbly Cookie. Gooey Fudge. Delicious Chocolate. Yum. The slice barely made it home uneaten. And since that day, I’ve been obsessed. It’s my favourite Aussie treat, ever. And on Sunday, I took a stab at making them!

Which is great, because I needed another reason to gain 15 lbs.

DSCF2689
The most exotic ingredient you’ll need is desiccated coconut. Or golden syrup. Or dark chocolate. I guess it depends on what you think of as ‘exotic.’
DSCF2691
The recipe calls for a parchment paper lined pan, but I used the butter/flour method, and nothing stuck.
DSCF2692
Sunday’s apron brought to you by GOOGLY EYE CAT NATION
DSCF2696
Baking is infinity times better with my birthday scale.
DSCF2697
Mix the brown sugar, coconut, flour and melted butter, and vanilla. 
DSCF2698
yummm
DSCF2700
once combined, press into the bottom of the pan. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of a giant block-o-butter
DSCF2706
I got crazy and decided to double up the base, because it’s the best part (in my opinion). I love carbs.
DSCF2709
yummmmm. Put it in the oven and bake for 10 mins.
DSCF2711
over low heat, mix condensed milk, butter, vanilla and brown sugar. Stir constantly for 10-15 mins and you’ll have your caramel filling!
DSCF2714
stir. Stir forever. Stir until your arms go numb.
DSCF2716
Remember, dont over bake your base, and don’t bake it in an oven 10* higher than the recipe calls for. Both of which I did. So my base is crunchy on the edges, but soft in the middle. Learn from me, folks!
DSCF2717
Pour the caramel over the base, and bake for 10-15 mins more, until caramel starts to bubble on the edges, and turns a slightly darker color.
DSCF2718
mmm, spongey. Now, let it cool COMPLETELY, for 1-2 hours. You can use this time to catch up on housework. Or call loved ones. Or watch Gossip Girl. The choice is yours. 
DSCF2720
Orrrr, you could chop up chocolate! I used two parts dark (70% cocoa) to one part milk. Next time, I’m using two parts milk to one part dark.
Melt butter and chocolate in a heat proof bowl over simmering water. Or, a double boiler. I don't have a heat proof bowl, so I improvised.
Melt butter and chocolate in a heat proof bowl over simmering water. Or, a double boiler. I don’t have a heat proof bowl, so I improvised.
DSCF2721
Voila! Double boiler – so science.
DSCF2732
Melt, baby.
DSCF2747
yeeeeeah
DSCF2749
Spread it over the COMPLETELY COOLED (can’t emphasize this enough) caramel filling, smoothing it out with the back of a spoon.
DSCF2750
Chill for at least an hour in the fridge. Watch some more Gossip Girl.
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 9.54.01 PM
And when the chocolate has set… you have a delicious treat.
DSCF2773
mmmmmMmmmmmm

So go on… treat yo’self. You’ll never think of caramel the same way again.

Caramel Slice (from sbsfoods.com.au)

Base
110 g (¾ cup) plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
30 g (⅓ cup) desiccated coconut
75 g (⅓ cup, firmly packed) brown sugar
80 g butter, melted
1 tsp natural vanilla essence or extract

Caramel filling
395 g tin (14 oz can) sweetened condensed milk
110 g (½ cup, firmly packed) brown sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
40 g (3 tablespoons) butter, cubed

Chocolate topping
200 g (7 oz) good-quality dark eating chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
30 g (2 tablespoons) butter, cubed
75 g (3 oz) good-quality milk eating chocolate

Preheat oven to 180°C (350*F). Grease a 16 cm x 26 cm (long and shallow) shallow slice tin and line the base and sides with one piece of non-stick baking paper, cutting into the corners to fit.

BASE
Combine the flour, baking powder, desiccated coconut and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Add the butter and vanilla and mix well. Crumble evenly over the base of the lined tin and use your hands to press down firmly and cover evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until cooked through and lightly golden. Remove from the oven.

FILLING
Meanwhile, to make the caramel filling, combine the sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, golden syrup and butter in a small saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly (do not boil).

Pour the hot caramel immediately over the base and use the back of a metal spoon to smooth the surface. Return the slice to the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the caramel has darkened slightly and starts to bubble around the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside for 1 hour or until cooled completely.

CHOCOLATE TOPPING
Combine the dark chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t let the water touch the base of the bowl) and stir frequently until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Pour over the cooled slice and use the back of a metal spoon to cover evenly. Place in the fridge for 1 hour or until the chocolate sets (see Baker’s tips).

Cut into 20 pieces to serve.

Eat 7. While wearing sweatpants and watching Gossip Girl.

Catchup.com – Awwwgust Spring

Happy September, everyone!

Well, August just crapped on by didn’t it? It feels like August was like, 2 weeks long.

Let’s see what we’ve been up to…

meal plannin'
meal plannin’

This month, Joel and I started making a big vat of chicken, veggies, and rice stirfry (and peanuts sometimes!) on Sunday night, and packing our lunches for the week. The first three days I was like “seriously? Chicken and rice again?” but now it’s not a big deal. And since we aren’t taking dinner left overs for lunch anymore, our dinners stretch further. Now we’re only making 2 or 3 additional meals, not 5 or 6. It’s cut down on our groceries bill, take out lunches almost never happened (I forgot my lunch once – whoops), and neither of us have had food poisoning (although we’ve started the “new rice after 3rd day” rule). We’ve switched up the stir fry sauces and used hokkien noodles instead of rice a couple times, but overall, it’s the best meal plan step we’ve made. And the cost for a week of lunches = $15.00; $13 if we make our own stir fry sauce. Not too shabby.

Aging
Aging
family photo shootin
family photo shootin

Joel took family photos for our Nye family friends, which meant a day of hanging at the studio with pals and adorable kiddos, and an evening of building legos with the other Henri in my life, and holding 3 month old Amelie. Holding a sweet sweet baby in our apartment while watching Star Wars and hanging with pals? My biological clock maybe went into overdrive by about a gajillion. Let’s not even talk about catching Joel giving Amelie a tiny kiss on the top of her head.

Henri, art directing
Henri, art directing
lego castle building
lego castle building

and seriously, high 5 to Craig who will only let his kids watch the un-retouched version of the trilogy. High 5.

caramel milk drinkin
caramel milk drinkin

Joel took a two week staycation holiday a the beginning of the month, and we might have had a couple days where we didn’t move from the couch. Which was fine by me. It was so good to have him home and happy for so long – even if it did make me incredibly jealous. haha. And if you haven’t had caramel milk, then you should. You don’t know what you’re missing*.

Calamity Caking
Calamity Caking

I woke up from a dream in which I made a cake from scratch. I was low on funds, and we’ve been trying hard not to eat sugary desserts every day, but I really wanted to make a cake. So I looked through my trusty Back in the Day Bakery cookbooks and picked out the Baby Party Cake with Buttercream frosting.  Joel gave me $20 and I ran off to the store to buy flour and butter because I knew I was running low. But it wasn’t until all the butter was measure out, the eggs separated, and flours and powders sifted that I realized I was short on sugar by a whole cup. D’OH. After an emergency google, I substituted with raw sugar.

Then I read that I needed to whip the egg whites into peaks, but I didn’t have a second mixing bowl, or a second mixer, and my beaters were coated with cake batter that looked like cookie dough. I was going to skip the step, but then I remembered that women in the 1800’s made cakes with a whisk and their arm muscles. So I whisked egg whites for 10 [excruciating] minutes and sure enough, peaks formed. And as I folded them into my cookie dough, it almost immediately turned into silky cake batter. hu-fucking-zah.

I've never touched an egg yolk that wasn't runny before. These yolks were squishballs and I could juggle with them. Free range grain fed eggs forever.
I’ve never touched an egg yolk that wasn’t runny before. These yolks were squishballs and I could basically juggle with them. Free range grain and hormone free forever.

Then, my brain deflated. First, I stared at a mixing bowl filled with powdered sugar and cubed butter and thought “this doesn’t seem right. If I mix this, I’ll get a powdered sugar bomb.” And I realized quickly that I forgot to beat the butter and milk first. Whoops. So I fished the butter out, emptied the powdered sugar, and poured in the milk. How much milk? About 3x the amount I needed. So, after using an entire bag of icing sugar and some corn starch, the icing was still runny. Hind sight tells me I should have added more butter and just doubled the recipe so it would have solidified, but I only just now thought of it. And I ended up with green icing.

DSCF2377

DSCF2378

I was really not looking forward to eating the cake. It smelled yum, but the process and the icing made me think it was going to be a dried out mess.

Ohhhhh, was I wrong. It was the best cake I’ve ever had. It was the big cake version of their Old Fashioned Cupcake, which was life changing. So, I dubbed this cake Calamity Cake. It took us a week to eat it (will power was strong), and if I could make another one today, I would. Except I’d make sure I have all the ingredients first.

Calamity Cake eating

taco partying
taco partying
Lettering
Lettering by Joel
More lettering
Lettering by me
Gallery hangin - it's been at least 2 months, and the pictures haven't fallen yet. SCORE.
Gallery hangin – it’s been at least 2 months, and the pictures haven’t fallen yet. SCORE.

Our gallery wall, which we first hung in like, May? Fell within two weeks. Now, to hang photos on our cement walls, we have to use adhesive backed hooks and sticky tack. First, the adhesive has to dry on the hook for 24 hours. Then, it takes a lot of measuring and planning and measuring and planning and then sticking the adhesive hooks and hoping they were in the spot you want them to be in. Then it takes at least 2 weeks for the hooks to cure to the wall before you can hang the frames. Then you have to sticky tack the corners of the frames for extra support. It’s a long process. I just wanted the frames up, and we were tired and just wanted it done, so we skipped the measure/plan/measure/plan step and just fixed the hooks wherever and decided to move the frames around until it looked good. So that’s my long winded explanation about why the frames aren’t evenly spaced and why we don’t have a print in that long brown frame yet. Normally the spacing would drive me crazy. But, a) it’s finally a gallery wall and b) it’s so much better than staring at a white wall.

book readin' (what a sweet surprise gift! I've been reading Shirley Jackson since I was 10. love, love, love her, and the SJ bond I share with my mom)
book readin’

I went to the post office to get what I thought would be the FBI background check for my visa, but I also got a surprise package from my mom. Mom introduced me to Shirley Jackson when I was 9 or 10, and I’ve been in love ever since. I have well worn and well read copies of Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons in my books at home. Most people don’t know that in addition to writing horror stories, she wrote hilarious accounts of her time raising four children and trying to be a house wife. So good.

  • visa finishing – FINALLY. After many theatrics and dollars spent, my finger prints have been submitted. My medical exam is done. NOW all I have to do is wait. Wait, and wait, and wait. And I’m very much looking forward to not having to spend any more money on it.
  • Work – someone here made a big decision about his career, and I couldn’t be more proud or excited for him.
  • It’s officially been a year since I moved from the States. Which means it’s been a year since I’ve driven a car, hugged my family, eaten McDonalds, or lived with air conditioning.

And the views weren’t too shabby

yesssssss
yesssssss
ohhhhh
ohhhhh
mmmhmmm
mmmhmmm

And now it’s September! It’s spring, I’m recovering from stomach flu, I’ve been in Sydney for a year now, and we’re on the track for a good month. Fingers crossed errryone!

*I’m a milk fan, which is great, because people here drink milk like it’s water. And so, there are heaps of flavours to choose from. Yuummmm