Sunday, 14 April 2013

I want a pony! (when I'm retired)

I've been obsessing over horses for the past few months. Whilst I have horse ridden previously on several occasions and was totally disappointed I didn't get any equestrian tickets at the Olympics last year, it wasn't until I found an equestrian course on Groupon which covered stable management as well as the riding aspect that it suddenly opened my eyes up to a wonderful of horsey goodness. Accessibility is a bit deal - there are stables scattered around seemingly at every corner of Greater London, many of which you can get to by tube (that being said they are all a pain to get to when you live in zone 1), whereas in Sydney there are only the a small cluster in Centennial Park and that's about it ... unless you want to fight traffic for >1hr up to somewhere like Dural.

I've gone to a few riding lessons whilst in Toronto just to keep it up and since here everything is BYO, I bought a helmet and boots / chaps. Then Jeaneva (who shares the arena with us during my riding class) told me that Greenhawks is near our house so I went for a looksie and bought my first pair of jodhpurs! Unfortunately unlike learning music you can't really practise at home, so lessons it is ... here's a picture of Billy who was assigned to me. He was definitely an excitable jumpy fellow rather than a leisurely school horse that didn't want to move...

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Toronto food adventures

So I've been in Toronto for almost 3 weeks. Fortunately, Toronto is pretty friendly to someone who is on a cash saving mission (plus I live at home when I'm here) as there's not much to do ... so eating and horse riding (mutually exclusive events) have been the highlights of my trip. Here are some of my favourite foodie experiences so far.

1. Shiso Tree Cafe

Japanese cafe that sells pasta, regular style and J-style. I mean, seaweed and tartare sauce on your fries? Genius. Plus, they have a salad / pasta / garlic bread combo at lunchtime. Here's some of the weird and wonderful stuff we ate

shisochips shisoeel shisovongole shisosalmon

2. Ten Ren tea house

Bubble tea plus taiwanese food, great for cheap snacking or lunching. Bring on the tapioca and brick toast with condensed milk!!!

tenrentoast tenrentea

3. Asian Legend

I love asian food shop names eh, but this one is actually pretty legendary as far as their siu long bao goes (I have no idea what this is in English, soup-filled pork dumplings?) And they had a crispy rice with seafood thing ... was almost like eating deep fried rice crispies. Sounds weird, but it was awesome.

crispyrice siulongbao pocketbread&pork

4. Yoghurtys

Froyo is in abundance here and we're fortunate enough that we have one round the corner (ok its 10min walk but by Toronto standards its around the corner). I love the marketing, love the flavours, love love love just generally. Miss B and I went on a froyo walk on more than one occasion and this was definitely the winner for me. Who can resist flavours like caramel corn, tiramisu, passionfruit, green apple, peanut butter and pistachio? Plus about 50 different toppings?


5. McDonalds.

Yep, its as good as Sydney here. Mr T and I go and eat Maccas everywhere we go just for comparative purposes and Toronto is pretty high on the list. There's also a Maccas at either end of our street (no kidding and its a recipe for disaster!) Can you believe the strawberry sundae actually had chunks of strawberry in it ... sooooo exciting!!! and they even asked if you wanted peanuts! (we ended up giving these to dad who ate them as part of afternoon tea) There was also a mysterious McChicken sauce, who on earth knows what kind sauce it actually is ...

maccas2 maccas1

6. Assortment of random yummy food

I love food here, its almost like being back in Sydney. Even the lettuce tastes good. Below is a mixture of family food at home and some more yummy stuff outside ... oh and I gotta finish off with the orange juice. Extra pulp orange juice! Unheard of! (don't worry I know you're shaking your head at this already so I won't bother with a picture .... though I did take one). I also made a couple of cakes whilst here, but more on that next time.

tenrennoodles gelato soup

Till next time, Happy Eating guys!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Victoria Sponge

I'm back! After celebrating my temporary retirement with a blog reading session, Marlene inspired me with her "healthier take on victoria sponge" (thanks Marlene!) Whilst I admire her healthier treats, I would personally prefer to go all out with fat and sugar content and attempt to eat less of it or go to the gym more (note the use of the word attempt). Don't get me wrong, my mother also used to try and reduce sugar content in cake and I followed suit for years  - until, one day my meringue batches collapsed as there wasn't enough sugar in it.

Since that day, I'm back to full sugar and full fat. I never realised the Victoria Sponge was such a "thing" here until I started noticing them in shops and Marlene / wiki confirmed it was a British thing - seriously I thought it was just a regular sponge cake that my mum made out of the Australian Women's Weekly, and that Mrs J had a real knack for sponge cake. I've been burnt by sponge cake in the past, and my biggest failure in memory is making my own birthday cake as a tweenie. After loads of hand held beating, the batter went flat because I made the rookie error of beating in the melted butter instead of folding. To top it all off, not knowing how to make buttercream properly I later doused the cake in a runny glaze ... you can imagine the results right? Never again. In any case I'd like to think I have improved over time :-)


So I need to make another confession - having tried several Victoria Sponges, and read a number of recipes, I'm not a mega fan of the British way of making the sponge. Its just not fluffy enough for me and in these situations I prefer to go back to my favourite Aussies - Maggie and Simon, Stephanie Alexander, and Mrs J. Yesterday Stephanie Alexander won on the sponge cake base, with a delightfully simple recipe called "Jackie's mum's Genoese sponge cake" which I must say has never failed me or been temperamental, despite huge swings in oven temperature using my unreliable oven.

What you need

Cake: 5 eggs, 3/4c sugar, 150g flour, 60g butter

Filling: Berry jam (usually strawberry or raspberry I think, but can really be whatever you want), whippable cream, vanilla, icing sugar.

Note: the process will be a lot easier if you have a stand mixer.

How to for a 9" round cake tin.

1. Preheat oven to 180 deg and line a cake tin with paper

2. Put 5 whole eggs and 3/4 cup caster sugar into the stand mixer bowl and beat at medium speed for 10min until the texture becomes mousselike.

batter1 battertexture

3. While the stand mixer is doing its work, melt 60g butter in the microwave and cool, and also measure out 150g plain flour.

4. Then gently fold in the flour into the batter.

5. Trickle the butter in the side of the bowl, and fold in as well (make sure it's cool and that you fold in gently - mine is never very thoroughly folded after my tweenie disaster, but it doesn't seem to make much difference).

6. Cook for about 15-20 min until golden on top and skewer comes out clean. Do not open the oven door until at least 15min is up. 


7. Once the cake has cooled, slice in half and fill with whipped cream, jam and strawberries (I like to put icing sugar and vanilla in my whipped cream , if you overwhip do not fear, just add milk and mix it in to soften to a spreadable consistency).


8. Dust the top with icing sugar.

cake2By the way, the Victoria Sponge tastes even better today - think its because the wonderful fruity flavours have sunk into the cake, but the cake hasn't become dense.  The cake has definitely worked its way back into one of my favourites!  Less than 24hrs and its half gone already....

Till next time, happy caking!



Saturday, 9 March 2013

Crufts - the world's largest dog show

I was really happy to discover last year that Miss G is as into dogs as much as I am - today we spent almost our entire train trip discussing Astro (her lab) and Radley (our mini schnauzer). Not surprisingly, this was brought on by our trip to Birmingham to Crufts, which I've been looking forward to since November when we went to the Discover Dogs day to pet our favourite breeds.


I love that people in the UK (except for Londoners it seems) are so into their dogs, cats, horses and animals in general and that there are so many animal charities - of which the RSPCA is but one. The size of the dog show today was incredible - several different halls, a main arena, and more dogs in one place than you could ever expect to see in your life. There was also Discover Dogs section showcasing the breeds - me and Mr T made a beeline for the mini schnauzers and beagles (no surprises there).


Show-wise, my favourite events to watch are flyball and agility; wish Radley was smart enough to do all of those things! I think it did definitely highlight the differences in what we perceive to be intelligence between the breeds - flyball and agility champs all tended to be collies in the large dog class, while the small dogs tended to be poodles and jack russells - there wasn't a beagle or a mini schnauzer in sight for these events!


There was also a gun dog display  which made Miss G particularly happy since there were labs everywhere. It was really interesting to see how the dogs were so well trained that they each did what they were individually told and didn't run off all at once, despite being sat in a group together. Take note of Secret the small black puppy; she did her best to keep up with the other dogs and was super cute.


The guide dog display certainly gave the heartstrings a bit of a tug; if I had the capacity I'd be a puppy walker in a flash (one of those people who raises the puppy until around 14 months before formal training). I was surprised to hear that they receive no government funding despite the work they do which has such tangible and obvious benefits to society - but I suppose this is the case with many charities.


Finally, this was the wonderfully impressive agility display, with the really good dogs were clocking times under 38 seconds. I looked up border collies later but alas they aren't really suitable as a house pet unless they have a lot of mental stimulation as well as exercise, and aren't bred to cope well with noise or change --> I think I'll be sticking with Radley and mini schnauzers (though Mr T is partial to West Highland Terriers and moodles as well....)


All in all, a wonderful day for any animal lover and I think I just fell in love with dogs all over again; can't wait till the day I see my beloved Radley (date unknown at this stage).

Till next time,




Sunday, 24 February 2013

Pasta snack on the run

I love pasta. Mac and cheese (or Lobster Mac and Cheese if you go to Goodmans), pasta bake, spag bol, lasagne, ravioli, you name it, I'm there! But more often than not I seem to end up labouring over my pasta since, since whilst making the sauce I keep thinking "maybe I should add .... "  stuff like bacon, mushrooms, grated zucchini, peas, more garlic, leeks, etc. etc. then I end up making 3x as much as I wanted, and it takes 3x as long.

I've never really tried to make a super simple pasta but on the day that I did (with some help from Nigella recipes, yet again) I was pleasantly surprised. This is a snack rather than meal since the only substantial ingredient is the pasta and there's no real protein to beef it up a bit (pun not intended). Its rather like spaghetti vongole but without the clams - no need for such fancy things when making a snack. However, if you did have something like crab meat in the fridge, or if you're like me and love flavoured tinned tuna (yes, really) you could dress it up pretty easily.


What's in it

The basic ingredients are simple and might often be found lurking in your fridge and pantry:

  • Pasta - I think this is the most delightful with spaghetti - don't ask me why, I just like it (of course you can use whatever you want)

  • Stale bread (food process this into breadcrumbs), or ready made breadcrumbs

  • Olive oil

  • Lemon zest (more an optional than a must - good if you have a real lemon handy)

  • Lemon juice (from the real lemon if you have one, else from the bottle does just as well)

  • Garlic (mine is minced and from the jar, but if you have the time you might want to crush your own)

  • Chilli flakes (or powder, or fresh chilli, or whatever). Of course this is optional

  • Chopped parsley (to balance out the garlic)

That's it! Tastes awesome when you're hungry and takes 15min to make and 2min to eat.

How to make

  1. Cook spaghetti: put paste in a pan of salted boiling water (will take too long to cook if not boiling plus it'll all stick together). Check on the packet how long to cook for - usually 8-10min minutes, but keep checking until its just the texture you like it.

  2. Make sauce: while the pasta is boiling, heat up a frying pan to medium heat and put in a glug of olive oil.

    • Add the garlic and fry till fragrant (maybe a minute  or two).

    • Add the breadcrumbs and lemon zest and cook until breadcrumbs are golden, should take a minute at best. Note - watch the heat on the frying pan, don't have hit too hot or everything will burn. Keep everything moving with your spatula. 

    • Add chilli flakes (optional).

  3. Combine:

    • Scoop out a cup or two of pasta water from the pot (save this), then tip the pasta into a colander to drain it.

    • Put pasta back into the pot and throw in contents of the frying pan, the chopped parsley, and a couple of splashes of lemon juice.

    • Toss it all together. If its looking & feeling a bit too dry, add some lemon juice or the pasta water to loosen it up a bit.

    • Season generously with salt and pepper before eating

That's it really and I promise it'll satisfy any carb / pasta cravings you might have! Do you have any super quick cooked snacks you love to eat? I'm all ears if you do.

Till next time, happy eating!


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Chocolate hazelnut cheesecake

I've not been very good at caking lately (shock horror) but I think I've been re-inspired now - yesterday one of our grads came to work and he had brought hummingbird cupcakes to give out for his birthday. Because I make cake so much I rarely eat more than a small slice, but yesterday I devoured the whole cupcake in about 2 minutes after missing it so much. As an aside, I do think its particularly weird here that if its your birthday you bring the cake - especially as I practically became the resident cake baker at my old workplace that made half the department's birthday cake. Even if I didn't make it, it was always someone else who arranged the cake for you on your birthday, shop or otherwise. I think the first time this really struck me as odd was when it was someone's 50th and he brought around trays of sparkling wine in plastic cups like a waiter and served half the floor. Whatever next, will you have to buy presents to distribute on your birthday too?!

After eating the chocolate hummingbird cupcake yesterday (in the words of our grad, "no explanation of flavours required then Kate") I think I've rediscovered my love of cake. Just as well, since I'm heading off to test the Mad Hatter afternoon tea tomorrow! But for now, here is a chocolate hazelnut cheesecake (no baking required but you will need fridge time) courtesy of Nigella Lawson. It has been extensively Ka-te-fied and you can do whatever you want; this is just my adaptation of Nigella ideas. Super simple, super quick to make (but you do need chilling time), and super delicious.

pecans on cake

Apologies for the photo quality in this post, for some reason my white balance was playing havoc with me!


  • This is a regular cheesecake base, but substituting hazelnut meal for almond meal to make it extra hazelnutty.

  • Of course you can use plain biscuits and just add melted butter, but its a pet hate of mine. I can just taste the biscuit and I know its not right. Call me pedantic but to me its like putting soy sauce in your spaghetti.

  • Because nutella also = hazelnut, feel free to put in a spoon or two into the base as well!

Complete ingredients & process

  1. Mix a cup or so of hazelnut meal with around half a cup of icing sugar (don't get hung up on measuring please. Its just a base, it doesn't need to rise, just hold together)

  2. Add a couple of spoons of plain flour (you could use all hazelnut meal but it gets a bit expensive; the flour is just a bulking agent really)

  3. Add in a chunk of melted butter (no need to cool), I usually use about a quarter of a block (I think its around 50g or just dig in 2 big spoons into the tub of butter

  4. (optional) Add in nutella, about half the amount of butter that you used

  5. Too wet? Add flour. Too dry? Add butter.

  6. Press into lined cake tin (springform please else you'll be struggling to get it out) then bake at 180 / 200 / 220 deg for around 10min or until golden - watch it doesn't burn.

cake base


  • I used a stand mixer for this but hand mixer or elbow grease will do just as well

  • There is no need to line the sides of your cake tin (but please do line the bottom). As long as you give the cake enough fridge time, it will be stiff enough that you can just lift the ring portion of the cake tin off and it'll still hold its shape.

  • Soften your cream cheese ahead of time, if you remember (if you are using a stand mixer this won't make much difference, but it means your machine will work less hard)

Word of warning: This is seriously unhealthy but because its so good you'll be eating it for days and staring at it in the fridge. I'd suggest inviting friends over or investing in a flatmate / siblings like mine. Read on if you dare...

cake mix

Complete ingredients & process

  1. Two packets of cream cheese into a large bowl (I use one full fat packet and one low fat packet - I can never decide which one!!)

  2. Add in most of a jar of nutella (maybe about 3/4 jar - can always add more if there's not enough but you can't really remove it)

  3. Add in around half a cup of icing sugar, maybe some vanilla as well

  4. Mix and adjust to taste. Texture should be fairly light and creamy like a really thick version of a whipped cream that's whipped to soft peak stage.


Once the base has cooled, put the mix on top of the base and put in fridge, overnight is best. Can sprinkle nuts or other decorations on top if you choose, I used pecans since I couldn't find any hazelnuts in the shop.

cake in tin

Till next time, happy caking!



Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Snow in London

I'm so so over the cold here and the grey skies. I used to think that the whole London overcast grey and rain was completely overrated, until I actually lived here. Unless its April it actually doesn't rain all that much, but it seems to be constantly cloudy, to the point where sunscreen is no longer a staple in my make up bag (bad, bad, bad habit to break, but I figure there's not much point when I'm outdoors for 1min between home and the train station, 10min at lunch to go get lunch, and its dark by the time I leave the office). Let me repeat, cloud and grey = depression and I totally understand why people leave here after a few years and say they can't take another winter.

While we're still in winter though with temperatures hanging around the 0 mark, a few weeks ago it snowed on the weekend so Mr T and I went for a wander and remembered to bring a camera. Needless to say, the tube wasn't working that day. Here's some snow outside our building:

DSC_2604 outsidebuilding

This is the square near our house.


I think we counted 3 snowmen in the square already, so Mr T decide to make a snowbear instead just to be different. I think his features give him a lot of character, eh? A bit cartoonish even. I'm hopeful that he lasted at least 2 days (I didn't go back to check for fear of being too sad if he wasn't there anymore).


It ended up taking us 2hrs to go to the supermarket after the snow detour, but it was a bit of weekend fun.

And because this blog has a lot about food in it, we made spring rolls for lunch and finished it off with Teh Tarik and double choc tim tams for dessert (no, I didn't need dinner but I ate more spring rolls anyway). More on the actual making another day!

spring rolls tea&timtams

Till next time, bring on Spring!!!


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Afternoon tea at the Landmark Hotel (Marylebone)

If you have known me for a long time you will know that I love tea, and particularly the concept of afternoon tea. My favourite place for afternoon tea is Gunners Barracks in Mosman - on the verandah on a sunny afternoon you can check out the water, be away from people and surrounded by trees and grass all at the same time.

Unusually, in my 3 previous visits to London plus and having lived here for more than a year I still have not been to afternoon tea. One reason is the formality of it all here (whilst Gunners Barracks isn't exactly a shorts and thongs kind of place, I never felt the need to fully dress up); and the other reason is that the amount of scones and tea I've eaten here (especially at National Trust cafes) means I've never felt the need to expand this to a full on a meal like afternoon tea which always seems to be the case these days. Anyway it was time to break the afternoon tea drought and on this occasion Mr T and I paid a vist to the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone. Of all the places we could have gone, why this particular one?

  1. I wanted a swanky hotel just to see what it was like, but I didn't want anything that was in a stuffy and opulent but ugly room (yes I'm fussy!) The Landmark has an atrium type thing (photo below courtesy of Here is the City) which looked pretty light and airy so that was a tick for me.

  1. There was a chocolate afternoon tea menu which I was busting to try. We were able to order one chocolate afternoon tea and one regular afternoon tea, and there was waaaaay too much food (even if we had planned to eat this for lunch!) Looking around we were the only two people with a stand each which was slightly embarrassing, but then the waitstaff told us that if we wanted anything else (more pastries, more sandwiches) just to let them know and they would bring out. Also the afternoon tea is priced per person so its basically all you can eat afternoon tea (not that you'd want to).

General comment on high end food - is it just me or does high end food (whether it be afternoon tea or dinner or lunch) typically seem to involve a lot of oval shaped mousses made from complicated ingredients?

regular afternoon tea choc arvo tea

The sandwiches 

This was a fairly standard selection with a choice of: egg, mayo and cress; chicken with tarragon crème fraîche; and smoked Scottish salmon; cucumber.

Mr T commented that they were really really tasty - probably due to the lashings of butter which we would never put on sandwiches at home :-) I do really like cucumber in a sandwich though; I think my fave was when Mrs P fed me cucumber, cream cheese and dill sandwiches for afternoon tea once. They were completely and utterly delish!!!

The pastries and sweets

We only ordered one chocolate afternoon tea for fear of being all too chocolate-d out. There is just too much chocolate, even for someone like me who likes nothing better than to sample a bunch of different flavoured and textured things to make and eat (and dream about). I think our strategy of alternating sandwiches and sweets was as effective as could be expected - even so Mr T claimed to be all sugared out by the time he finished his third pastry! I got a little further but probably only because I only sampled each sample size pastry before deciding if I liked it (and therefore went back for more). All of them were so rich it would have been impossible to eat all of them!! Here are some of the eating highlights.

Manjari chocolate mousse brownie; and Chocolate ganache with milk chocolate Chantilly and coconut nougatine

Both like eating mouthfuls of dark chocolate and I couldn't really detect much coconut                       

brownie ganache

White chocolate mint shot; Star anise and milk chocolate panna cotta; and classic fruit cake with rum and Caraibe chocolate glaze

Really enjoyed the white chocolate mint shot; not such a big fan of the panna cotta. Interestingly though, there was marshmallowy texture in both the top layers, whereas they looked a little more foam like. Mr T was a fan of the fruit cake, despite it being fairly chocolatey.

mousse     choc fruit cake

Flourless pistachio sponge, fig jam and pistachio mascarpone;  Lime cheesecake with vodka cranberry truffle.

The highlight of this for me was the pink vodka cranberry truffle, despite being a non-alco fan. The cheesecake was pretty easy to eat; by the end of it I was on the lookout for sweet treats that were a bit more airy or liquidy in texture.

pistachio sponge


Coco mango: coconut macaroon with mango bavarois;  Chocolate and passion cream “financier”

I thought this is a great idea for a macaron. Macarons are so sweet the zing of the mango cut through nicely. Not sure what a mango bavarois is (besides another moussey thing) but Mr T thought it was a little like the mango pudding you get in chinese restaurants at yum cha... The green triangle on top is just a piece of white chocolate.

mango macaron financier


Miss M's mum taught me to make scones and I remember Miss M laughing at me for the delicate way that I rubbed butter and flour at the time (I didn't want to get knee deep in the stuff so I just used fingertips ... now I cheat and use a food processor though it doesn't come out quite as nicely as by hand). Needless to say we have moved on since then and after many years of scone making, I have pretty high expectations of scones. Mr T took the first bite and said "yours are better" - although this did give me a sinking feeling I did beam happily that Mr T prefers my scones, so it is a bit of a twisted win I guess!. The scones were a little too floury and dense and they just didn't taste fresh. I did like the strawberry conserve though which had big chunks of strawberry in them.


There were a few more things but I was too full to try them so I gave up at this point and we decided to have a rest for 10min, after which we were no better and decided it was home time.

Till next time, happy eating guys!