Sweet Sunday

It's been a while since I baked. After suffering some small baking disasters (weird thyme muffins, exploding scones, raw brownies) I was somewhat reluctant to get back into it. Leave the baking to Ellen, I thought, and I meanwhile will cook every variant of lentil and barley stew known to man.

But, I have a new kitchen to christen, new co-workers to meet, and honestly: I just couldn't go past these peanut butter cookies.

Gosh, they're good. At the risk of being kicked out of Australia, I'm going to confess that I don't really like ANZAC biscuits. They're so often dry and hard and disappointing. Which I suppose makes sense - war-time food is not famous for flavour.

These biscuits would make an ANZAC weep. They're rich and buttery and lovely. They're crunchy on the edges and soft in the middle, and just the right amount of chewy.

And they go quite well with my (tiny) new kitchen:

As does this bottle opener. Probably my favourite (and certainly most used) kitchen item.

I'd be lying if I said the ducks on the curtains didn't help me pick this place.

My baby coriander. This attempt at growing herbs is going oh-so-much better than the last time. It turns out neglect is not a substitute for water and sunlight.

Having said that, I have managed to forget what these are. Sorry baby mystery herbs. I'm sure you'll grow up to be delicious no matter what you turn into.

But back to those cookies.

Here's how you do it:

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C.
Combine 2 cups rolled oats with 2 cups sifted plain flour in a large bowl.
Add 2 tsp baking powder and 1(ish) tsp salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, mix 3/4 cup vegetable oil with 3/4 cup natural peanut butter. I used crunchy. Add 2 cups of brown sugar, 1/2 cup oat milk and 2 tsp vanilla extract.
Mix the wet and dry, and then use a dessert spoon to spoon out the dough onto baking paper lined trays. Space them out, they'll spread in the oven.
Bake for 14 - 18 minutes, or until they start smelling divine and browning at the edges.

Take them into work. Or eat them all by yourself. I won't judge.

Oh, Brisbane!

News flash: Queensland is bad for your health. Seriously. I just spent a weekend in lovely sunny Brisbane and I'm pretty sure I've jumped a dress size.

Egg wrap with rocket and onion jam - Press Café

Eggs Florentine & Potato Hash - The Gunshop Café, West End

I haven't visited Queensland since I was fifteen years old, and Brisbane has certainly undergone a transformation since I was last there! The city is darling, the weather is amazing, and the food... oh gosh I ate so much of it. Surrealist art, pop-up cafes, fancy wine and lovely river walks. Brisbane is basically Melbourne, but without the sleet and howling wind.

Brisbane loves Mexican

I highly recommend you pay a visit if your wallet and your waistline permit it. The GOMA is fantastic; their standing exhibition of video art is excellent, as is the Surrealism exhibition currently on loan from the Centre Pompidou. Wander through halls filled with modern masterpieces, then sit outside in the sun and sip champagne. Stroll The Valley on a Saturday afternoon, then look out over the river as the sun goes down, beer in hand. Go outside in winter without a jacket!

'Coral' by Dora Maar - One of my favourite pieces at the GOMA

What a lovely little tart!

Brisbane, you charmed me. I can't wait to come back.

Mon Petit Macaron

Strawberry macarons with white chocolate ganache

Do you like incredibly complex cooking? Baking to create a mess? Do you enjoy the feeling of failure? If so, then the following recipe is for you! Macarons are the most frustrating, finicky and difficult of all baked goods. They fail almost as often as they succeed, and sometimes for the most inexplicable reasons. One day the below method can produce beautiful macarons, crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle. The next day this recipe may well produce a flat, sickly smelling mess, or a fluffy goop that expands in your oven like The Blob. Macarons can fail due to factors like humidity, air temperature, how quickly you open your oven door, or how loudly you had Kanye West blaring when you turned the blender on. Friends and family wonder why I bother with the things at all.

So why bother? Well... essentially macarons are show-stoppers. They elevate you from "that girl in the office who made that nice fruit loaf that one time" to "that miracle worker over by the printer who we should promote." I will remember my first successful macarons as fondly as I remember my first kiss. When they fail, they fail hard, but when you get macarons right I guarantee you will feel like a wizard. They're beautiful to look at, and you can really experiment with flavour too. A chocolate cake is always going to taste like chocolate, but once you get the hang of macarons you can come up with all sorts of exotic and peculiar flavours. White chocolate with green tea ganache, lavendar and rosemary with dark chocolate ganache. Raspberry with lemon creamy filling. Macarons make for creative baking, and if you can face the inevitable failures they really are an awful lot of fun.

Lemon macarons with cream cheese filling

My lovely friend Natalia very obligingly shared the following macaron recipe with me, and even had me around to her place for a day long tutorial (and several glasses of her Dad's home made grappa. Grappa helps with macaronning, as it turns out!) It's definitely the most straightforward, low fuss recipe I've encountered. Plus I've benefited from Natalia's trial and error here, she tweaked this recipe herself. You can definitely expermient when it comes to flavouring macarons, although I am yet to succeed in flavouring my macarons with anything liquid. As such I'd suggest starting with dry flavouring. Dehydrated fruit works a treat, as do nuts, dried herbs,even chilli or pepper. This recipe makes 24 macarons. You may want to halve the recipe for your first few attempts. Less goes in the bin that way!

What you will need:

2/3 cup almond meal
1 1/3 cups powdered icing sugar
3 egg whites
6 tbsp granulated sugar
Gel food dye in whatever colour you choose
Granulated nuts, dehydrated fruit, green tea powder or whatever else you fancy for flavouring
Baking paper stencils for piping. Use a thick black pen to trace circles (roughly 3cm in diameter) onto baking paper. Lay a second blank sheet of baking paper over the top of the inked one before piping. 24 macarons, so that's 48 black circles. Ugh.

What you will need to do:

- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celcius. You can heat the oven with the fan force on, however i'd suggest turning the fan force off once your macarons go in.
- Using an electric blender, pulse the almond meal and powdered icing sugar together for a few minutes. If you are flavouring your macarons blend in any nuts, dehydrated fruit or powdered flavouring etc. at this stage too. If I flavour my macarons with nuts I add them in place of some of the almond meal. If i'm flavouring with something like a green tea powder, lavender flowers (my favourite) or dehydrated strawberries I add these in place of a few tablespoons of the powdered sugar. Once your mixture is very fine, sieve it twice and set aside.
- In a stainless steel bowl beat the egg whites, slowly incorporating the granulated sugar, until the egg mixture stiffens. If you are using food dye, add a few drops of it at this stage too. Do not use oil or water based dyes as these will lead to macaron ruination. Good gel dyes are available at places like DJ's or specialty cake decorating stores.
- Using a rubber spatula, gently fold half of the almond meal mixture into the beaten egg whites until just combined. Add the remaining almond meal mixture and fold this in too.
- Once the almond meal mix and egg whites are more or less stuck together you need to “macaronnage” your mixture: Spread your macaron mixture along the side of a stainless steel bowl as if you are spreading butter on toast, take up your rubber spatula and run it along the underside of your mix, then fold the mixture over itself and spread it out again. Repeat this step once a minute for ten minutes, or until the mixture turns glossy and drips slowly from your spatula in a ribbon.
- Now its time to pipe your macarons! Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and carefully pipe your shells. Hold the tip of your piping bag as close to the baking paper as you can and allow your macaron mixture to sort of mushroom out as you pipe. Once all your macarons are piped, bang your baking trays firmly on your benchtop once or twice, this helps push out any air bubbles that are likely to ruin your macarons. Now set them aside somewhere and allow them to dry out. Natalia suggested drying my macarons for fifteen minutes on a hot day, half an hour on a cool day. Her recommendation seems to work so I'm stickin' by it!

Piped macaron mix. Your mix should look flat and glossy.

- Finally, bake your macarons for around ten to fifteen minutes, depending on the heat of your oven. They should rise and form "feet" - once my macarons have feet I often open the oven (very slowly) and cover them with foil, just to prevent them from browning or discolouring.

Macaron shells with "feet"

- Allow your shells to cool, then fill them with ganache, jelly, cream cheese or whatever else you care to try and gently sandwich them together. I've taken to spraying mine with an edible shimmer spray too, just for a little extra shine.

Different recipes tell you vastly different things about macarons, but Natalia's recipe works well for me (most of the time...) Practice makes perfect folks, and macaroning takes lots of practice! Oh and fun fact! Most people associate macarons with Marie Antoinette, however their origin is a source of much debate. Read an interesting history of macarons here. Happy Baking! Or not.

Cupcake, deconstructed.

by Sarah Wilson and Allen Hemberger

Read more about this beautiful thing here.

The Hampering

Happy New Year, readers! I hope you've celebrated in style. Ladies of taste and distinction that we are, Tara and I ushered in the new year with fascinators, passion pop and a lot of rather terrible dancing. I drank, I ate, I took my shoes off and ran around outdoors, and now that those last few fateful swigs of cheap champagne are leaving my system I'm finally feeling capable of blogging again.

So, Christmas hey? Well that's done and dusted for another year. My Christmas was the usual exhausting, lovely, talk-politely-to-that-distant-relative-you-hate kind of affair. My sister, my man and I combined our vegetarian super powers to make Jamie Oliver's delicious nut roast (otherwise known as "the best stuffing my Pop has ever tasted" *sigh*) and of course we had pudding, salads, daggy christmas hats and wine. So. Much. Wine.

What else happened this Christmas? Well... I totally made hampers you guys! I gave them to people, and they were well received, and people ate and drank and were merry. You have no idea how relieved I am that the hampers were well received. Baking, jamming, truffling, macaroning, turkish delighting... I held my breath when people first tasted what I'd made, and I swear to Dawkins had someone looked unimpressed, I would've staged an almighty Christmas meltdown. I'm not saying homicide, but I have a feeling the fallout would've attracted the attention of the local media... the words "crazed" and "rampage" come to mind.

So above is a photo of my completed hamper. Chris, my tolerant and talented partner (fiancee, boyfriend, guy I like to kiss on the mouth) did all of the design work, I did all of the cooking, and together we hot-glued and folded and tied bows until what you see above was finished. Rather naively I had assumed that preparing eight odd Christmas hampers would be relatively straightforward. Hah. Flash forward a month and I was stuck in my kitchen at 2am on a wednesday night, microwaving vegan gelatine alternative and scraping almond meal from the walls. Nonetheless... I'll do it all again next year. I'm just proud as punch at how everything turned out:

Lime Jelly from here. I didn't modify this recipe at all, except to leave the lime pulp in (but not the peel).

Chocolate Truffles from here. I prepared half with the milk chocolate and sea salt, and rolled the other half in a combination of cocoa powder and cayenne pepper. The salted truffles tasted a little like caramel, and the chilli chocolate ones were warm, rich and slightly spicy.

Turkish Delight from here. I substituted gelatine for agar-agar, a nifty vegan seaweed derivative that works just like gelatine but without all of the snouts and trotters and beef skin. I'm pretty sure Turkish Delight is one of those inherently difficult to enjoy sweets. It's sickly, it smells like grandma's potpourri, and the powdered sugar it's rolled in is a choking hazard. But I got it in my head that I needed to make a Turkish Delight with the White Witch quote from Narnia printed on it. So: Turkish Delight for all!

Pfeffernüsse. I made these using this basic recipe, but I doubled the spice quantities. Apparently these babies develop their flavour over time, but given that I was baking them a day or two before Christmas I thought it best to flavour them heavily to start with.

Oh, and I made Macarons. Boy did I make macarons. I made three failed batches of Macarons, two average batches, I made a great batch really early on and then promptly ate the lot, and I made the macarons seen above in the few days before Christmas. I'll blog about the delicate art of macaroning some time soon. I'll need an entire post to dedicate to my macaron saga...

So, hampers! Burns and spills and hot glue everywhere but hampers got done, bitch. Please let me know what you think of our lovely goods! New year, new goals... I'm toying with the idea of attempting a market stall this easter.

Realistic New Year's Resolutions

Happy new year, guys! I hope you're recovering from your hangovers better than I am. In the spirit of said hangover, I've decided to start the new year by setting the bar achievably low. The best part of new year's resolutions is achieving them, right? But how often does that happen?

Not often. If you're, you know, me. That whole going to the gym thing? Hmmm. Maintaining multiple blogs? Ooops. Not falling down the stairs of the Sydney Opera House and flashing the special guests of a graphic novel conference? Dang.

So this year I've decided to set some more realistic resolutions.

1. Go to Japan in April.
Flights are already booked, bitches. Soon it'll be me being carried around by robots!

2. Eat a delicious breakfast of mushrooms cooked in butter and rosemary, with pesto and avocado on sourdough toast.
WTF, I did that this morning! I'm pretty good at this.

3. Stop watching that Oprah special about Justin Beiber.
That was pretty easy.

4. Paint galaxies on my nails like this awesome chick.
I might be overreaching here...

5. Evolve my bulbasaur.
I promise not to press b.

6. Write a blog post about New Year's Resolutions
Guys, I am killing this.

I am feeling pretty good about 2011. Anyone else setting some delightfully achievable goals?

AWAAM's Godless Christmas: a How To

The Christmas Tree Cluster
We decorated my parents’ house and their Christmas tree yesterday. And it was while I was twining tinsel around every object in the house that I realised something: I really like Christmas. Not just the tinsel, but everything else. The lights and the shopping and the wrapping of presents. The food, the family, the fights. The deep breath before the start of a new year.
For an atheist, it was a small revelation. Ever since I was a child, and I lost my belief in Santa and God in rapid succession, I’ve always enjoyed the time off, the presents and the togetherness, but never the trappings. I’ve merely tolerated the festive season. This year, however, something changed.
I’ve decided that Christmas – or the summer solstice, or the winter solstice, or what have you – is, as the religious believe, a fantastic opportunity to celebrate and be thankful. To enjoy tradition and ritual, and to honour something larger than ourselves. So this year, I’m celebrating something pretty special: the birth of the universe.
And I’m doing it the traditional AWAAM way: with food and music.
Stars are already a symbol of Christmas - why not co-opt them in the same way that Christianity did from the pagans? It was, after all, in the furnace of the earliest, dying stars that the heavy elements of the universe were forged, from which all life eventuated. We are all star stuff. Celebrate that by busting out these delicious looking Star Cookies, found at the ever wonderful Souvlaki for the Soul.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wonderful and hilarious ode to a godless universe. This gorgeous cake is a recreation of one of my favourite scenes from the series. Nothing says ‘let’s celebrate our brief existence’ like a whale and a bowl of petunias, recently come into being and plummeting towards the earth. You can find detailed instructions on Geek Mom.

My recommended listening this Christmas is something a bit different. Gather your family, find yourself a radio, and tune into a dead station. Listen to the static. Most of it is caused by random electromagnetic interference, but about 1 or 2 percent of it is 13 billion year old radiation left over from the Big Bang, expressed in microwaves that can be picked up by your radio. What you are hearing is the birth of our universe.
And if you’re still in any doubt that the universe and our place in it is worth honouring, watch this extraordinary video.

Happy Christmas everyone.