Thursday, 29 November 2012

Junk food: Australian style ... aka my personal convenience store

One of the things I miss the most about Oz is my junk food. Sure they have it here too but its just not the same, particularly when it comes to chocolate. I'm so partial to chocolate but for some reason the Cadbury here just doesn't stack up. I did wonder whether we were just being neurotic when we first noticed this, but a blind tasting resulted in definitely being able to tell the difference.

Imagine my joy when Mr T came back with a whole suitcase full of all my favourite junk food, my old cupcake carrier and some new  vege peelers (I became such good friends with the ones I had from kmart I just had to have more....)

This is totally my version of being Charlie in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, check out my table full of awesomeness!

(By the way, can you tell what the food outlier is? There's only one variety of non-Australian food in the picture. Check out my post here which talks all about it!)



Tim Tams - Perhaps one of the best known Oz favourites, every single expat I know puts packets of these in their suitcases each time they go home. I like the plain old no frills milk chocolate ones. When I was little my mum used to buy them only if they were on special at Woolies or Coles for $2. Now you're lucky if they're on special at 2 for $5! and they reduced the number of biscuits in each pack. A few years ago they came out with mint flavour, cherry, caramel ... but personally I think these were a bit try hard. I will mention Mint Slice which is my other favourite. Its a chocolate biscuit with mint cream on top and the whole thing is then dipped in chocolate, and there's nothing like it here (if you know something similar, give me a shout!)


Other confectionary - Minties, Fantales and Freddo Frogs, I am so sorry I ever took you for granted and from this day forth, I promise to never ever walk past a charity box selling $1 Freddo Frogs without buying one. Or two. Or three. And I also promise to savour every single bite. Violet Crumble, you are my favourite shade of purple and it is truly the way it shatters that matters. Cherry ripe, so coconutty and lovely, you make my whole day brighter.


Flavoured tuna - This sounds weird, but I was reliably informed by Mr M that this is an Aussie thing - he found flavoured tuna on the Australian shelves of the World Food section of the supermarket... in San Francisco. To further support this, I have one English friend whose mother in law in Brisbane posts flavoured tuna to him (true story!). Chilli is definitely my all time favourite.


Savouries - Nacho Cheese Shapes are actually a Mrs A favourite and not mine, so these are mostly for her. Annoyingly, this particular flavour of Shapes does not tend to be sold in the inner city supermarkets besides the IGA in Pyrmont so one has to drive out to the suburbs (think Castle Hill Coles or North Parramatta Coles) to get them. Personally I don't think you can beat the big burger taste of Burger Rings though, and my life has tended to be pretty straight with Twisties. I did once see chicken twisties for sale at the Oriental Costcutter in Bayswater (I think they were made in Malaysia) but I've never seen the cheese ones for sale anywhere here.


Now this is just a sampling of all the wonderful junk food from home - Mr T could easily have brought back several suitcases, and there's also stuff that can't be carried back like golden gaytimes ... Other things that spring to mind (in no particular order) are chicken salt, BBQ sauce, Smith's chips, Pavlova Magic - the Aussie Food Shop I think has a lot of it covered. Yes I could just buy all my supplies from there but a) I'd be the size of a house from eating all the junk b) I'd also be broke since everything there is obviously imported. So for now, when my lovely expat friends ask if I want anything from home, I'll be picking one or two select items and savouring those for a long long while. For now, back to eating and dreaming.... till next time!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Photo blog: Venice

Venice is not a place that requires any introduction - despite the hoards of tourists (us included), it is still a pretty special place and I was super excited to see it. We went there back in October for my birthday and spent 3 days there, a good amount of time to absorb the things we wanted to see without too much rush. It was a nice time of year to go, though probably a little on the chilly side, but fortunate as well since San Marco was flooded literally the week after we were there. Looks like November got even worse so it was lucky we didn't hold off until Mr T's birthday to go! Check out these flooding photos from National Geographic photos here. Oh, and as a starter here's a some photo fun - a miniature, and some people gawking at a photo shoot next to the Doge's palace.

The motivation for going to Venice was two fold - i) There's no place like Venice - canals, gondalas, architecture, Murano glass... ii) Assassin's Creed 2 - a big big chunk of this game was set in Venice and I feel like I know it already. I was obsessed with this game in 2011, and managed to complete 97% of it. I couldn't get the last 3% because the downloadable content (from Australia) was not compatible with the game disc that Mr T had bought (from Hong Kong) due to some region issue. Needless to say we had to buy a new version of the game and I'm still slowly replaying though with a little less enthusiasm than the first time round.

Being such a popular city, there are an abundance of things to do in Venice, but I thought Jessica summed it up quite nicely. Here is my list of top memories and things worth doing:

Things that take time to do

1) Campanile

This was so worth it for the views, and no one tried to stop us from going round each side again and again, despite being a small space.

2) Doge's Palace

Highly recommend doing this as a sole activity for the day (if you can afford the time), else half a day (and a lunchtime break to recover) to get the most out of the palace. The audio tour was really helpful as well.

3) Murano

Take a ferry to Murano and watch a glass blowing demonstration. The one we went to was arranged by the hotel so we got ferried privately to the workshop of their choice (a bit touristy, but on the upside there was nothing for us to arrange). We watched the glass master a number of items (vases etc.) and at the end he made a green horse statue, After we'd done a load of gift shopping, we were offered a free horse in blue, red or yellow. Mr T was on the ball and asked for a green horse, and the lady went off to the workshop to pick up a green one for us. It was still warm and so it looks like we got the one we watched being made! (or so we like to think anyway).

4) Burano 

Famous for the lace museum, the coloured houses, and one cannot fail to notice the leaning church tower. As we were staying in Lido, I was trying to get to San Marco (a 10min ride away) but somehow ended on a ferry going the other direction and half an hour later it was apparent we were going elsewhere... so we hopped off the ferry at the next stop and there was a sign to Burano, so we went there instead.  It had been on my to-do list (but not the must do list) but I was pleasantly surprised that this became one of my favourite parts of the trip. It was super chilled compared to the rest of Venice and there were a load of great photo ops.

Other things to see


Basilica - I know this will be on a lot of people's lists, but having seen so many cathedrals and castles this year I wasn't feeling particularly enthusiastic about an extensive tour (yes, I really just said that). No photo as it was under reconstruction and the degree of scaffolding spoiled the view.

Rialto Bridge - I had to go just because of the Assassin's Creed reference. Screenshot to come once I get that far in the game again on my PC....I was so sad that there was graffiti all over it *shakes fist at graffiti* and banners hanging from it.
Bridge of Sighs - you'll get to walk across this if you do the Doge's palace tour and check out the people on one of the outside bridges all leaning to take a photo of the bridge.

San Marco Square - Europe's finest drawing room according to Napoleon. Its huge, its crowded, its awesome. Check out the bride near the Silvian Heach sign!

Finally, my quick tips for visiting Venice:

  • Accommodation location: If your reaction to crowds is like mine (i.e. not pretty), try staying in one of the islands off Venice. We stayed in Lido which is a 10 min ferry ride to San Marco (Cantonese speaking friends, Mr T thought it was hilarious to spend 3 days saying "we are staying at Lido" (as opposed to "gor-do")) .

  • Food: Try eating at places that are off the tourist strip. We noticed that the same meal in Lido was 20 euros cheaper (and tastier) than around San Marco. The restaurants were smaller, less busy, and the food was better than the one meal we had in San Marco (which had rated well on tripadvisor). And yes, the gelato is better in Italy!

  • Carry a camera: I might be a little photo nuts (around 500 in 3 days), but there is ALWAYS something to take a photo of. Seriously, every time you turn around there's something.

  • Souvenirs: From a glass perspective, there are a load of imitations sold at shops near San Marco - you just don't know what you're getting for a dirt cheap price. I got slightly more peace of mind knowing we purchased stuff from the actual factory rather than a retail outlet.

Thanks for my birthday trip Mr T, been looking forward to it for 18 months and it was everything I hoped it would be!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Pumpkin, fetta and parsley muffins

I've been waiting for an opportunity to make these ever since I read Helen's Baketober post on them. The recipe has everything I love about simple baking - minimal ingredients, minimal time investment, minimal fuss when mixing the ingredients, and of course looks wonderfully yummy.So the time was this weekend, when I finally got to a bigger supermarket which actually sold pumpkin (or butternut squash in this country) and fetta cheese (coming from Oz, I'd expect fetta cheese and ricotta cheese to be sold like cheddar cheese, i.e. everywhere, but sadly this is not the case). They were pretty delicious in the end and I don't feel bad about scoffing them down since they are pretty healthy compared to all the cakey goodness I generally like to make (no sugar, only oil this time!)

I don't think Helen's recipe needs any editing whatsoever, its so simple and satisfying. The only thing I did differently was my usual approximation of ingredients since I seem incapable of following a recipe, so I think I used a bit more pumpkin and a bit more cheese than the recipe called for since that was what was in the fridge. Of course you can use whatever cheese and herbs you like (I think ricotta might be really nice since it has a lighter flavour and there would be less chance of overpowering the pumpkin), however the key thing to this recipe I think is the pumpkin.


  1. 500g butternut pumpkin

  2. 2 cups self-raising flour

  3. 150g fetta cheese, chopped into mini cubes

  4. 1/4 cup fresh parsley (or basil etc)

  5. 3/4 cup milk

  6. 1/2 cup olive oil

  7. 1 egg

  8. Salt and pepper to flavour


  1. Preheat oven: to 180 degrees celcius

  2. Line: a muffin tin or two. I ended up making 18 of these.

  3. Chop: pumpkin / butternut squash into cubes, add a splash of water to the bowl and microwave for 9 minutes.

  4. Mix: Cheese, flour, and parsley in one bowl

  5. Mix: Combine the milk, olive oil and egg in another bowl. Add the pumpkin when cooked.

  6. Combine: the two bowls

  7. Bake: For about half hour or so.

By the way, do you like my new comedy squid whisk? Part of a package of birthday goodies from my cousin Miss J. I was slightly dubious as to the design and how well it would whisk, but I think as long as a batter is relatively thin (i.e. no thicker than say a hotcakes / pancakes batter) it does fine. Either way, its soooo super cute and I love the pink. 

I think these were a real winner and worthy of remaking, and you can tailor it to however you want - hope you think so too :-) Thanks again for the recipe Helen!


Friday, 23 November 2012

Rose Swirl Vegan Cupcakes

So tonight was a surprise birthday dinner for Miss G, who must have been feeling the "unlove" when Mr T's birthday party has been in discussion for several weeks. Somehow Mr M managed to get her to the meeting point without her finding out, though it did require a flurry of deliberately misleading messages and a pretend phone call.

After cajoling Mr M into being allowed to make cake for the occasion, the request was for a dozen cupcakes, with mixed flavours if we had the time - that would allow Mr M to focus on getting a JLO friendly dessert (egg, dairy and peanut allergy). I thought I'd save him the trouble and decided to try vegan cupcakes in all different flavours, and made a base batter to which I then divided up in 3 parts and added different flavours - lemon / strawberry, coffee, and banana. I also wanted a chocolate one as well and a bit of googling for an egg-free recipe resulted in a number of pages with chocolate avocado cupcake recipes (weird but good!), so I started made these as well. Finally I was super excited to have an opportunity to test my Wilton 2D, and I think the roses came out pretty well.

As if this wasn't enough, I had a sudden panic that all up I only had just enough for 12 cupcakes and 4 mini samples of the banana flavoured one, which meant that I couldn't really go through and taste test the rest of the flavours. I'm usually pretty confident with my regular baking but vegan? The niggling feeling in the back of my mind that it might be a bit too floury, too sugary, not cook properly ... a whole host of potential unexplored issues could come up and I'd be completely stuffed. Solution? Whip up a batch of regular red velvet cupcakes from a tried and tested recipe just in case.

I've made vegan cupcakes a couple of times now but I must admit that a) I don't know much about vegan baking; and b) recipes often call for unconventional ingredients - I can't imagine that I'll be using a whole lot of xantham gum, agave nectar, ener-G egg replacer ... etc. all the time. I think my biggest fear (which I probably should just get over) is not being able to get the cake to rise properly and it being too dense and heavy, and I have found that soy milk also sometimes gives a strange aftertaste. The recipe I ended up using was the most uncomplicated vegan one I could find as a base batter (i.e. vanilla). Here's my adaptation of Lauren's latest recipe (makes 9-12 cupcakes depending on the size of the pan):


  • 1/2 cup butter substitute (I used Pure Sunflower which whips surprisingly well - if you are making cupcakes for someone with a dairy allergy make sure you check the ingredients as olive spread / margarine / i can't believe its not butter often has dairy in it).

  • 3/4 cup caster sugar

  • Spoon of vanilla

  • 1 cup soy milk + 1 teaspoon vinegar (I don't think it matters if you use white / red etc. I only had rice vinegar in the house and that was fine)

  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • Salt


  1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Line a muffin tin with paper liners and set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, cream butter substitute with sugar. Stir in vanilla extract.

  3. Stir soy milk together with vinegar. Set aside to curdle.

  4. In a separate bowl, measure out dry ingredients and stir to incorporate.

  5. Alternate stirring in wet and dry ingredients beginning and ending with dry.

  6. Bake 15-20 minutes or until very lightly browned and toothpick comes out clean.


Mr T always makes the frosting so I'm never entirely sure about the quantities. However, the Pure Sunflower worked as well as regular butter - simply whip this up and when the colour has lightened and its fluffy, add icing sugar and keep beating until its icing consistency. Flavour however you want (I made mocha flavour using cocoa powder and a teaspoon of instant coffee mixed with a tiny bit of water [a spoon or two at most], and lemon flavour by adding lemon juice). If this seems too soft to pipe then there's two troubleshooting options to stiffen it up: 1) put it in the fridge; or 2) beat in a small spoon of cornflour.

There's no secret to piping buttercream roses like this; all you need is the magic Wilton 2D or 1M tip (its the one on the left hand picture) and pipe starting from the middle and move in a circular motion outwards. There's a great tutorial by Bella Cupcakes if you're interested in technique. My Wilton 2D came with my piping tip set (see post here).

I made the mass of star looking things (the mocha frosting) using the Wilton 108 tip. These weren't particularly tidy for my standards; I think I was so tired by then since it was 1am on a school night that I was incapable of controlling my piping bag as well as I would have liked.



We sang Happy Birthday to Miss G and everyone took a cupcake. Mr T tried the lemon vegan cake and it was surprisingly good! Since I had overcatered yet again, our porter was more than happy to relieve us of some cupcakes so I can only assume they looked appetising enough to eat. Think I had better investigate the vegan baking option so I'm less panicked next time round...

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Dover Castle

The Dover Castle visit today was an unexpected surprise. I thought it was time to do something National Trust or English Heritage related, preferably something that was not too far from home, can be done in a day trip, weather looking iffy so something not excessively outdoorsy, somewhere that would actually be open (manor house and garden season won't start up again till March!) ... fussy yes, but fortunately Mr D was happy to oblige. Checking out the wartime tunnels at Dover Castle have been on my list for awhile (I had missed out on them on my previous two trips to Dover) so today seemed as good a day as any other. I did go a little photo crazy, think the count was at 195 but not to worry, I won't bore you here with them all (Mr T - this is one of the most interesting and well presented English Heritage properties I've seen - I promise we will go back!!)

Dover Castle was a fortress long before King Henry II began building the stone castle in 1160s. It is also nicknamed "the key to England" (can't take England without the castle first) and due to its location, it has played a part in more events than one would care to remember. If you'd like the history lesson on the castle, English Heritage tells the story much better than I do, link here.

The grounds at Dover Castle are huge and trying to see everything and absorb it all in a day is exhausting. The main attraction of Dover Castle is the underground tunnels, 3.8 miles long and set over 3 levels. The two guided tours were a real treat, and additionally a lot of effort has gone into creating a cinematic experience (unfortunately no photos were allowed inside the tunnels).

There was the Underground Hospital - tunnels were dug with the intention of becoming a fully fledged hospital. This was later downgraded to a Dressing Station, kind of like an old school A&E. Sadly, the surgeons and nurses would never know what happened to their patients, for if they survived their treatment at the Dressing Station, they would then be moved off for treatment somewhere else with better facilities. I don't think I can imagine what an unpleasant place it would be to work - the lack of light and ventilation, stench of mud, sweat, blood, mixed in with disinfectant.... ick! And to top it all off, back in WWII days around 70% of the population smoked, and smoking was allowed in the mess area ... so you'd have to add that to the mix too.

The other (more exciting) tour was Operation Dynamo - this was where the planning for Dunkirk evacuation took place, led by Admiral Ramsay in May 1940. There were a number of films, photographs and artefacts in this tour and it was just brilliant. As well as being able to walk through the areas where all of this happened, there were reenactment videos of women plotting out the location of enemy aircraft, the telephone operators connecting and disconnecting the phone wires, and the officers barking out orders to those above ground.

An interesting fact the tour guide mentioned is that during WWII one could see the flash of artillery on the other side of the channel on a clear day and expect a shell to explode close by 75 seconds later. For whatever reason, Dover Castle itself never appeared to be targeted, though the town of Dover certainly was. One plausible theory is that the enemy may have thought that once they got to Dover, having a fortress would be really useful.

I've always been a mega fan of the BBC show Foyle's War (stories of a Hastings detective in WWII), and this experience just made it all the more real (I'm also insanely jealous that Mr D commented that one of his friends knows Honeysuckle Weeks, aka Sam Stewart in Foyle's War). I was also pleasantly surprised to find a sign whilst inside the tunnels which said we were only 3m from the cliff face, and sure enough, we exited the tour at the cliff face. Check it out - we're in the middle of white cliffs. So. Awesomely. Cool. 

Here's the statue of Admiral Ramsay - he did not live to see the end of WWII. Story goes that he hopped on a plane to go to a conference and it crashed shortly after take off. He's now buried somewhere in the outskirts of Paris. There was also all sorts of fixed defenses located around the sites; amongst them a catapult looking thing, and quite a large number of cannons. This was my favourite cannon - the mistakenly named Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol. Hard to imagine that a 12 foot gun would have such intricate decorations on it (see the plaque if you are interested in the story). Oh, its also a called "basilisk" (images of Harry Potter are coming to mind again...)

Finally, some snapshots of the castle grounds and the castle itself. Somehow the mental images of WWII officers wandering around a medieval castle doesn't completely work for me - I guess I'm just too accustomed to seeing swords and shields every time I see medieval buildings! e.g. during the Battle of Hastings - see the post about the reenactment here. Though I wouldn't call Dover the most picturesque town, there were some great views from The Great Tower and I love how the green the grass is and how this contrasts with the stone buildings, something you definitely don't get at home (well, you wouldn't get the green or the castle in the first place so there's zero chance of having the two together really). And with that, I'm now going back to watch more Foyle's War, and maybe the King's Speech as well. Till next time!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Recycling rant

I have managed to have 2 recycling conversations in less than a week, one with a non-Aussie and one with true blue Mr D. The thing that struck me was the difference in attitudes - no prizes for guessing who cared more about recycling - and when I found no less than 5 lunch bags I had saved during a desk cleanout today it really prompted me to talk about my recycling gripes.

Growing up in Oz, the idea of recycling and being green is ingrained in your psyche. Besides being constantly told to turn the lights out when you're not there, turn off the power at the wall, turn the tap off because we're in a drought, there's also Clean Up Australia day, school education on the 1-5 ratings on the bottom of plastic containers, that you must sort your paper vs glass/plastic vs green waste ... not to mention documentaries about landfill and how harmful littering is to bird / land animal / ocean species. There's bins everywhere you go, and for the most part they aren't constantly overflowing. Besides, when you live near the coast, the last thing you want to see when you're at the beach is random trash that has been thrown around on the sand and while you're swimming right?! So quite frankly, I can't imagine NOT trying to minimise waste and maximise recycling.

Fast forward many years from childhood, and I move to London. I'll be the first to admit that the food packaging here is ultra convenient, BUT I am actually quite horrified at the fact that my recycling bin needs emptying twice a week instead of once. And that everytime I go to put something in the kitchen bin I always check for things that I can take out and chuck in the recycling bin (yes Miss L, that's because I see you as a recycling work in progress). Until I moved here, I never realised that supermarket fruit & veg could be so packaged ... we have packaging at home of course, but seriously guys - shrink wrapped cucumber portions? pears in cardboard trays with plastic lids? ginger in plastic bags? trimmed beans in plastic packets? Give me a break. Unfortunately, being in full time Monday to Friday employment in a work-through-lunch culture (as well as a Zone 1 resident) I'm not able to gain regular access to food markets during their opening hours. You could argue that I could do a full-on food shop on the weekend, but since Mr T & I never know whether we're going to be home at 5.30pm or 8pm or firing up the computers to do more work at 10pm, there's not a lot value in trying to buy food for the whole week if you don't know if you have time to cook it.

I was slightly worried on my way home that I wouldn't have a picture to post to demonstrate food packaging, but even with minimal food in the house (Mr T being away means the contents of the fridge have shrunk this week), I'm able to show a sample of items that I see as being unecessarily packaged. To make things worse, it is actually uncommon to have the option of buying things that are loose in a supermarket (note - you could also argue that Australian supermarkets are full of rolls of plastic bags in the fruit & veg section... however anyone who has ever shopped with me can vouch for the fact that I will only have one of these bags in my shopping once every 10 trips).

And here are the lunch bags that I've collected over the last week or two. I find it really odd here that every lunch place generally gives you a really good quality paper carry bag, good quality cutlery (its almost like luxury plastic cutlery - unlike the forks you get in packs of 100 from Coles) and a stack of serviettes. And sandwiches all come in neat triangular paper boxes. It is Just. So. Unnecessary. What's wrong with carrying lunch and a drink from shop to office / other eating location when you only have 2 things in your hand? The other thing that gets me is that all these places advertise themselves as making good food for you ... but what about the good for the environment? Granted some places do say the bags are made with recycled paper, but their staff still automatically give me a bag (unless I'm awake enough to stop them before their speedy hands have already put my lunch in a bag).

Rant aside, during my recycling conversation with the non-Australian I was accused of having a defeatist attitude despite getting all worked up about (lack of) recycling culture. So I'm throwing it out there, what can I do about this? Besides training Miss L to adopt my own personal recycling habits, making sure that Mr T adheres to my ridiculous recycling standard, and making donations  to Landcare Australia, what can I do to improve the situation? Even as baby steps?

I will end this on a good note though by recycling my favourite recycling story. Mr D had spotted tourists in Egypt carefully sorting out their rubbish from their recycling at their hotel. No sooner than had they finished, a garbage truck comes along and tips the contents of both the rubbish and recycling into the truck. Yep, it was all a lie. What can I say - who ever knew that enviro friendly would just be set up as a tourist trap?

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Carrot Cupcakes

It was Mr T's birthday last week, and after responding to the first request for banana bread, I ended up making carrot cake with cream cheese frosting as well. After all, no birthday is complete without a cake right? I was running short on time but fortunately carrot cake isn't a complicated one and only required a speed trip to the local Sainsbury express for carrots, walnuts and sultanas. I ended up making cupcakes as they were quicker to bake, and I wouldn't have to divvy them up into slices afterwards. Carrot cake is a funny beast; some people love it, and other people say that vegetables have no place in a cake. What do you think? No need to tell you which bucket Mr T falls into...

The simplest carrot cake recipe I found was in Mr T's trusty Stephanie Alexander book - such a bible for all things food. This recipe featured brown sugar, self raising flour and oil ... whereas Martha Stewart and Hummingbird preferred vegetable oil , buttermilk, white sugar and plain flour. With so many great recipes how does one choose what to use? Solution - I can't. So, I adapted one instead (based on the Hummingbird recipe) and turned the carrot layer cake recipe into a cupcake version, substituting the buttermilk with creme fraiche and regular milk (that was what was in the fridge at the time!) I quartered all the quantities so we wouldn't die from cake overload - the recipe below made about 8 cupcakes, more than enough for 2 people, birthday or not!

Cupcake recipe (adapted from Hummingbird Cake Days)

1. Mix together wet ingredients (I used a stand mixer for this) until well combined:

  • 1 grated carrot

  • Bit of grated ginger

  • 2 eggs

  • Spoon of vanilla

  • 100g caster sugar

  • 80ml vegetable oil

  • 20ml creme fraiche / buttermilk / sour cream / regular milk (whatever you have!)

2. Sift dry ingredients into another bowl:

  • 120g plain flour

  • 1/4 tsp bicarb

  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

  • Couple of shakes from the salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves jars (I'm guessing this equates to 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of each)

3. Add dry ingredients progressively to the wet ingredients and keep mixing until combined.

4. Add in optional extras to the batter (handful of chopped walnuts or pecans, handful of sultanas soaked in alcohol).

5. Bake at 170 degrees for about 10min until golden on top.

Frosting recipe

Beat together around 40-50g softened butter (about a quarter of a standard 250g block), 100g of cream cheese (about half a tub of Philly cream cheese) until smooth and fluffy. Add in icing sugar progressively and keep beating until the desired consistency. I have actually no idea how much icing sugar I end up using. I'm guesstimating its about a cup, but could be more or less depending on the texture. The trick is to do the butter and cream cheese first and make sure this is well beaten before adding in the sugar. Also, if you don't want an excessive amount of icing, a small handheld mixer tends to be more effective than a stand mixer in this case as it seems to "grab" small quantities of butter a bit better.

Here are some snaps of the finished product. Doesn't Charlie look cute examining the cupcakes? He's so fluffy! (yes, this is a Despicable me reference).

Happy Birthday Mr T and I hope you enjoyed your carrot cake


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Pumpkin Spice Latte

It feels like forever since I've posted something and I've really missed it! In between the mayhem that's been the last 3 weeks and not having internet I've completely missed the boat on a Halloween theme post, and I really really wanted to talk about Pumpkin Spice Latte (or PSL for short). I'm so late that PSL season is over at Starbucks and they've moved on to Christmas themed coffee! Its not even winter yet guys! Halloween is such a big thing here it really novel for me.

Miss B introduced me to PSL a few weeks ago, describing it as Autumn in a cup. Though I was initially dubious I really really liked the couple of sips I had of hers. Sadly, every PSL I tried to buy at Starbucks after that wasn't quite as pumpkin-y, and I was even more disappointed to discover that the only thing that makes it a PSL is pumpkin spice syrup, there's not actually any pumpkin in it. However, a quick google search revealed a different story and I was quite delighted to find that people actually put real pumpkin in their PSLs. Yep, real mashed pumpkin or pumpkin from a tin. I was so excited that I *had* to make my own as well. Pumpkin from a tin is not available here (not that I could find anyway) but I did manage to find these super cute mini pumpkins that yielded just the right of pumpkin once mashed.

After reading a bunch of recipes online, here's what I ended up doing

1. Make pumpkin pie spice (all ground stuff from a jar): 2 parts cinnamon, 1 part ground cloves, 1 part all spice, 1 part nutmeg, 1 part ginger.

2. Get mashed pumpkin: I chopped up one of my mini pumpkins, boiled it and mashed up the flesh. There ended up being about 2 tablespoons or thereabouts of mashed pumpkin. I'd recommend putting it through a sieve unless you want fibrous stringy bits in your coffee.

3. Heat up milk: with a spoon or two of pumpkin pie spice (adjust to taste) and a spoon or two of sugar. If you want froth but don't have a coffee machine, an alternative is to put the heated milk in a coffee plunger and agitate the milk (i.e. move the plunger up and down really quickly and repeatedly until you get foam).

4. Mix together: the milk, mashed pumpkin with your espresso or instant coffee.

Pretty simple right? and tastes just as good as Starbucks - if not better, since its just the way you want it. Here's Patch Bear (still surrounded by pumpkins) enjoying his cup of PSL

And for kicks, Mr T carved the bigger pumpkin that I found. Rather successful don't you think?