Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Book Review: The Kitchen God's Wife

Title: The Kitchen God's Wife
Author: Amy Tan
Published By: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1991

This is the second book written by Amy Tan that I've read, the other being "The Hundred Secret Senses".
I read both this week and chose to review this one simply because I enjoyed it more. Some may know her from her first piece of work, "The Joy Luck Club".

This book starts now, in the present, and we're introduced to the main characters from the point of view of the daughter to the heroine, then learn more about her mothers life. Her mother and aunt have known each other since "the war" (WW2), and have kept each other secrets for most of their lives, from when they first met in China at the start of the war. We explore Winnie's (the mother) life, her relationships, hardships, and the story of her life during the war, marriage, jail, and finally happiness in America. I really don't know how to review this book without giving too much away. I'm curious how much regarding China and Chinese culture is true, and yet I lack the motivation to go and find out, probably because I want to live with the fiction.

In short, I thought it was a great book, I really like Amy Tan's writing style, and again I hated having to put the book down (to the point where I'd be reading during my lunch break and lose track of time).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Place Review: Panini Bar

Who: Panini Bar
Where: 150 Exhibition Street, Melbourne

A place that Melissa and I have been to a couple of times now is Panini Bar at 150 Exhibition Street in the City. Both times the quality of the food has been high, with the first bites of our respective choices being greeted with enthusiastic nods and "mm-mm" sounds. For something like $6.80 per panini it's pretty good value, as the fillings we've had have been lovely, and definitely filled the hole in the stomach. The next aim for me is to remember to try the place out for breakfast. They apparently also do catering as well, although how well they do this I haven't checked out yet.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Best Butter Cake (with something extra)

Cake [keyk]:Macquarie dictionary defines cake as a "sweet baked food in loaf or layer form, usually made from flour, butter, sugar, eggs, etc.

Question: what do you do when you feel like baking, but don't have anything all that special in the house?
Answer: make a butter cake!

The picture really doesn't do it justice.... I could maybe have sprinkled icing sugar on it.... but we've all seen my attempts at "sprinkling" that stuff!

I want to share with you the best all-purpose butter cake recipe I've ever used. It came in a book my mum gave me (thanks mum!) when I was... quick look at the note... just a wee young thing for my 17th birthday. The darned book is HUGE, it's got almost any recipe you might want, and anything it DOESN'T have will be picked up in the book mum gave me for my 18th! As you can see, I've been interested in food for a loooooong time.

This recipe, although a little fiddly, is really very basic, and also works as a good base for adding things. I've added cocoa to make it chocolate (and a little more milk for that one), mashed up banana, and today I tried something new! I had about a handful of dried apple left that I hadn't scarfed, and some cinnamon in the cupboard... there's possibly not enough apple, but it tastes good anyway!

Easy Butter Cake
125g unsalted butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 180C. Prepare a 20cm round cake tin... I don't know about anyone else, but I spray the tin with canola spray then lay baking paper on the bottom - never had a cake stick doing this! Beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy, then gradually add the eggs , beating really well the whole time. Add the vanilla essence and beat until combined. If it's not already, transfer the mix into a large bowl.
Using a metal spoon, fold in the sifted flour alternately with the milk - a bit of one, then a bit of the other, until they're all in. This is also where I add anything extra, like today with the dried apple (chopped up pretty small) and cinnamon. Next time I'll add about two handfuls of apple and about the same amount of cinnamon... I just gave the bottle a shake so not sure of the amount, maybe half a teaspoon? I'm not a cinnamon fan, so others might like more! If all else fails... taste test :) Stir it all until it's just combined and the mix is almost smooth. Spoon it into the cake tin and smooth the top (it looks nicer). Bake for abour 45 minutes or until the cake is cooked (ie. the top springs back when you touch it, or a skewer to the centre comes out clean). Leave the cake in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning it out onto a cooling rack.

If you made this cake often you'd built up some great arm muscles with all that folding, and that's the fiddly part, but it is SO worth it. And I'm quite happy with the way it turned out, quite edible. With a dusting of icing sugar and a dollop of thickened cream.... oooooooh, that'd be nice!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Melting Moments

I dug out this recipe for Lisa, and then decided to try my hand at them. I mentioned to her the other day that I liked cooking, and she asked if I'd found a recipe for Melting Moments that was pretty simple. It rang a bell, so I went looking. This is so simple I think kids could do it (if you could stop them from eating the batter and 'cream' all the time). Hm, I should consider taking the pictures during the day time, they turn out much better!

I substituted a tiny dribble of vanilla essence as I couldn't get my hands on any passionfruit and the review from my dad was "mmmmm, mmmmm" or something, so I guess it's a success!

Melting Moments and Passionfruit
185b butter, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
1/2 cup cornflour, sifted
1 1/4 cup plain flour, sifted
Passionfruit filling:
40g butter, softened
1/4 cup icing sugar
2 tsp passionfruit pulp
icing sugar for dusting

Place butter and icing sugar in a bowl and beat until pale and creamy. Add the flours and mix until combined. Wrap the shortbread dough in cling-wrap and place it in the fridge for half an hour. Preheat the oven to 160C then roll 2-teaspoons-full of mixture into balls and place on a lined baking tray. Flatten the top with the back of a fork and repeat until all the dough is used. Bake for 15 minutes or until the biscuits are only just lightly coloured, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
To make the passionfruit filling beat the butter and sugar together until pale, then stir in the passion fruit pulp and sandwich two biscuits together with the filling, then dust with icing sugar.

The recipe says it makes 15 biscuits... I came close to this, but also I wasn't measuring out the dough!

Look out work, I'm bringing in the leftovers tomorrow!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Easy Biscuits

Well, this is my first attempt at baking something then presenting it. Surely it's not bad for my first attempt! I admit, I'm no whiz in the kitchen at all, but I'm hoping to show that anyone can do this! I'm very much a "pinch of this and a splash of that" kind of cook, so who knows how this is going to turn out!

I got this recipe quite a while ago off a friend and found it again (on a post-it note, of all things) when I was cleaning my room this week and getting ready to move. It really is a pathetically simple recipe, which is a good thing since all I had were the ingredients, no method! It also works well as a sweet pastry. When you use it to make biscuits it's quite a crisp, bland mix, so either sprinkling it with icing sugar or putting some jam between two biscuits and sprinkling with icing sugar, both of which I've done here, really do make it nice.

Easy Biscuits
125 g butter
115g caster sugar
60ml milk
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup custard powder

Cream the butter and caster sugar. While continuing to mix, add the milk, then sifted flour and custard powder. Keep mixing until all the ingredients are combined, then turn the dough out onto a piece of cling-wrap. Securely wrap the dough and refrigerate for about half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Remove the dough from the cling wrap and turn out onto a lightly floured board (or in my case, the benchtop). Roll the dough out into a thin sheet, maybe 5mm thick, but it's up to you. Cut biscuits from the dough however you wish - as you can see, I used a cookie-cutter, then took to one biscuit with a knife to make the hole in it. This was an act of desperation after I ransacked the kitchen for a small round "thingy" with which to make the hole and failed to find anything suitable. Place the biscuits on a piece of grease-proof paper on a baking tray and bake until golden brown. Alas, I didn't keep an eye on the time, but I figure it couldn't have been any more than 10 minutes, tops. When they're cooked remove them from the tray onto a wire cooling rack.

I prefer to NOT decorate them until they're ready to be presented. As I don't have a sprinkle-thingy I had to just pinch icing sugar of these to serve, so they could look better, but they still tasted the same!

I also happened along something positively DIVINE: I had a small amount of dough left over so I rolled it out pretty thin in a vaguely rectangular shape, then smeared jam in it and rolled it up. Oooohhhh... the outside went nice and crispy, and inside was this fantastic soft jammy goodness that was just... just... wow, wish I'd made more of them now!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Book Review: A Girl Named Disaster

Title: A Girl Named Disaster
Author: Nancy Farmer
Published By: Phoenix House, 1997

The story follows the journey of Nhamo (her name means "Disaster") as she runs from her village in Mozambique and forced marriage (or slavery) to the brother of the man killed by her father before she was born.

On the urging of her grandmother Nhamo flees from the village the night before she is to be delivered to her future husband and travels to Zimbabwe. We follow her through the hardships she faces on this long journey as she struggles to come to terms with leaving everything she knows, and learning to survive on her own.

I found it interesting and was usually disappointed when it was time for me to close the book and get off the train. It's not the genre I usually read, however I enjoyed it very much. There were interesting little facts scattered throughout the book, and the last 12 or so pages are dedicated to a glossary of terms, a brief summary of the history and peoples of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and the belief system of the Shona (Nhamo's people).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Introducing..... Me!

Hi All,

Welcome to, well, here! I realised that I had had a webpage since I was 17, and that particular webpage was very, very, very, uh, yes, well, um. It hadn't changed much in the last 10 years. Oh wow, 10 years...

Anyway, I decided to have a blog that wasn't just all about me and whatever was going on in my head at the time, but somewhere for me to share the things I really love in life: food, books, and beautiful scenery. I have a number of friends who have various different types of blogs (check out Melissa's Food Blog for some LOVELY food, or Mike and Rosemary's Blog to see what an old schoolfriend and her soon-to-be-husband are up to... eventually I'll list 'em all!), so I decided to ditch the old silly website and start something a little more... mature :-)

BUT, my plans for here... Any new recipes I find, any books I read, if I happen to scrape some money together and go out for dinner (cos hey, Melbourne has some FANTASTIC food), any nice pictures I take... they'll all end up here, hopefully unsullied by any negative incluences.

Wish me luck!