Friday, November 28, 2008

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge

Last month Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella announced her Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge! I entered her Banana Bread Bake-off earlier this year (see my entry here), so I thought I'd better put an entry in for this one too. Plus it was a chocolate challenge - how could I resist?

Chocolate cake is not something I make often. I feel it is more of a dessert than a morning or afternoon tea snack, and with only the two of us, we would be eating chocolate cake for dessert for a week! I have chosen this recipe as my entry for multiple reasons:

1) It is one of the easiest cake recipes I know. There is no creaming of butter, and there is only 2 steps - firstly, whisking together all the ingredients except the chocolate chips and secondly, folding through the chocolate - too too easy!

2) It is not so fudgey that it must be eaten with a spoon - making it more of a traditional cake than a dessert


3) It tastes great! A chocolate cake, with the addition of shredded coconut and studded with dark chocolate chunks - what more could a girl want? (ok, maybe a glass of red wine on a Friday night!)

Chocolate Coconut Cake

250g butter, melted
3/4 cup good quality cocoa, sifted
1 1/3 cups caster sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
100 - 150g dark chocolate (I like Lindt 70%), broken into chunks OR 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan forced). Grease and line a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl (except chocolate chunks/chips) and whisk until smooth. Fold through the chocolate. Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for 50mins. Cool in tin for 1omins then turn onto a wire rack.

This cake tastes great both warm or cold and I think it is fantastic with double cream and mixed berries.


No not here! But over here at Thats Graphic - Annette has a great bundle of stuff to giveaway, including some charm squares from the Chez Moi fabric range and some pretty Christmas decorations.

Photo is from Annettes blogLink

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christmas is coming!

I love Christmas and everything about it - yep even the carols that play continuously in the super market! Christmas to me, is about spending time with my family and friends, appreciating all the good things we have in our lives and about reflecting on the past year. Of course, food always plays a big part in our family Christmas celebrations. Over the years we have had every kind of Christmas meal possible - from the traditional English roast turkey and ham, to the more Australian Christmas of roast lamb and prawns to a Lebanese mezze and kebabs! But one thing I always love to eat at Christmas is fruit cake, Christmas pudding and fruit mince pies. I just can't go without them. Often we also fill the freezer with mince pies prior to Christmas so that we can eat them well into the new year too.

mmmm...Christmas cake!!!

For a number of years now, I have toyed with the idea of making a Christmas cake, although every year I have ended up leaving it a little late. This year I finally decided to give it a go. I only made this over the past weekend, however we won't be cutting into it untill January when we return to Sydney after spending a few weeks with our families and friends, so it will have a bit of time to mature. I can't wait until we finally get to try it - I can't believe I have to wait almost 6 weeks to taste it!

Classic Rich Christmas Cake

375g raisins, chopped
375g sultanas
375g currants
430g pitted prunes, chopped
100g mixed glace cherries, chopped
1 cup brandy
melted butter for greasing
250g unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
1/2 cup plum jam
finely grated rind of 1 orange
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup self raising flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
extra 2 tablespoons brandy

Combine raisins, currants, sultanas, prunes and cherries with brandy in a large container - leave soak for at least 2 hours (I left it for 10 days).

Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan forced). Grease a 20cm deep round cake tin with melted butter and line with 2 layers of baking paper on sides and base. Allow the paper on the sides to come up above the top edge of the cake tin.

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until mixture is light and creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add jam and rind and beat until combined.

The butter and fruit mixture

Add the butter mixture to fruit mix and, using a large metal spoon, stir until well combined. Sift the flour and spices over butter/fruit mix and fold in. Add the orange juice and fold until well combined.

Almost ready to go in the oven

Spoon the mixture into prepared tin. Sprinkle the top with a little water and smooth top with the back of a spoon. Tap the cake pan gently on bench to settle the mixture.

Wrap a double thickness of brown paper around the tin and secure it with kitchen string. Bake the cake for 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre. Remove the brown paper and pour the extra 2 tablespoons of brandy over the top of the cake.

Just out of the oven - the smell was divine!

Wrap cake (still in tin), in a clean thick towel and leave overnight to cool

The cake in it's pyjamas!

Remove the cake from the tin and wrap in several layers of cling wrap. The cake can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 months.

Boy did I want to cut into it at this point! But I stayed strong! Do you have a favourite food or treat that you eat at Christmas time?

Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, December 2008 (pg 56)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

bonus sewing time

An unexpected day at home on Sunday meant I could spend lots of time sewing! I had seen many versions of the disappearing 9 patch block around and decided to have a go at it. There is a tutorial here.

This is what I was hoping it would end up like, with 2 orange squares in the centre, but with only 4 colours to work with, one of which being a directional print, it was a little tough to get everything to look balanced. This is what I ended up with instead. I like it! I am going to bind it with the printed material to add a bit more colour around the edges.

I also made up this cute little fabric basket using this wonderful tutorial. It is a great little project that takes almost no time at all. I think it would be great as a little Easter basket, ready for an egg hunt - or made in Christmas fabrics and filled with Christmas treats.

I decided I would buy some of the Red Riding Hood ribbon for this months pin cushion. Now THIS will be my last fabric purchase for the year! (I almost wrote it would be my last craft purchase, but I still have an idea for a Christmas present that I need to buy something for - lucky I caught myself!) If anyone else is looking for some of the red riding hood ribbon, I found some here and here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

an angel and some mail

After I finished my 12 red robins stitchery so quickly by tackling it on the train each day to and from work, I decided to start taking my angel blocks from my An Angels Story quilt. I signed up for this BOM in 2005 (I think!) and I am soooo far from finishing it!! After seeing lots of pictures of completed Angels by the members of Stina's Angel Story Challenge group, I have become motivated to get moving on them again. This girl and her pets were finished on Friday

I also recieved some mail from Sarah - my third pincushion kit. I am a little dissapointed that it didn't come with the gorgeous Red Riding hood tape for the handles that Melly used in her original design, but I am sure it will still look gorgeous with the blue satin ribbon... Or perhaps I will try to find some of the tape myself...

And I also got this pack of gorgeous fabric which I ordered from Retro Mummy. Some of this fabric will be used in Christmas presents for my little cousins.

I think that had better be my last fabric purcase before Christmas! Hopefully in my next post I will actually have some sewing to show you and not just what I have bought recently!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From my personal collection - beans and rice

I recently read this article on favourite meals that you don’t serve to guests. We often have pasta for dinner with a sauce made with any vegetable in the fridge that is on its last legs – usually involving onions, garlic, tomatoes, chilli, capsicum, zucchini, carrot, celery, silverbeet…the list goes on! I don’t like wasting food, plus it always makes a quick, yummy meal on a Friday night. Often we have this pasta sauce by choice too and not just to use up the last of the week's vegies! However, while I love my crazy pasta sauce, it’s not something I would serve to guests – I guess it feels a bit “thrown together”.

So here’s another recipe from my ‘private’ collection! If I told you where I got this recipe from, you would probably laugh and close down the page before reading it, so I won’t (not until later anyway!). This is a dish that I find very comforting – a relatively healthy, quick, weeknight meal for my husband and I – often with leftovers which are good for lunch the next day. And no, I wouldn’t serve it to guests – but that’s just me!

This is the basic recipe I follow - although when I made it last night I also added celery in with the onion and green beans with the capsicum and a big handful of spinach for the last minute or so too.

150-200g chicken breast or thigh, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 jar of hot tomato salsa
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 green capsicum, chopped
1/2 red capsicum, chopped
large pinch of dried thyme
250g red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
200g basmati rice (or any white rice is fine)
2 cups water
tabasco sauce to taste

Heat a medium pan over medium heat. Cook chicken pieces in a small amount of olive oil until cooked through and golden. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add a little more oil to the pan and cook onion and garlic - cook for a few minutes or until onion is translucent. Stir in salsa, tomato, capsicum, thyme, kidney beans and rice - cook, stirring for 30 seconds.

Add water to pan and stir. Cover pan and simmer gently for 10 mins - adding more water if necessary. Stir in cooked chicken pieces and tabasco sauce and simmer for another 5 mins or until rice is cooked

Serve topped with chopped parsley if you like.
Serves 3 people

It’s the addition of the salsa that I was worried about when I first made it – but now I love it!

Recipe adapted from: Weight Watchers Single Servings Cookbook (Did you laugh? So I’m not always the foodie I pretend to be (!), but I think it is the best cookbook published by WW in Australia – lots of family friendly food and the servings are easily multiplied for more than one serving).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

retail therapy

It's been a sad weekend for our family - our beloved dog Amira passed away on Friday. My sister has a lovely tribute here.

My darling husband took me to Spotlight for a little retail therapy on Saturday afternoon and I picked up this gorgeous printed fabric and some others to match.
I am going to use these for a quilt for my new cousin who is due to arrive in early December. I had originally picked up this fabric:
but I love the jungle animals much more!!

On our retail therapy trip I also picked up some other fabrics, but this is all I can show (for now!) of what some of them have become...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

a day of rest...

I had a mid-week break this week. My Mum is currently in Sydney (from Melbourne) and seeing as though she hadn't been to Sydney before, I took Wednesday off work to spend the day with her and my sister.

We started (of course!) at Circular Quay to see The bridge and the Opera House before we took a leisurely stroll through the botanic gardens. The roses were in full glory - their scent sweet and the blooms full.

These stripey ones were my favourites.

We then relaxed at The Tea Room in the QVB for some afternoon tea/lunch.

It was a great place to settle in for a long afternoon. My sister has a full review of the High Tea here.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

talk about generous!

Old Red Barn Co is having a giveaway and the prizes are 3 quilts! Yep, 3 (gorgeous) quilts will be finding new homes! Click here to enter and see the beautiful quilts. I’m off to leave my entry now!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

record time!

Since I decided to take my stitching with me on the train each day, I am dedicating a solid 40 minutes each day to my projects - which means I have been able to finish the stitching of 12 red robins in record time!

The original, stitched by Natalie (with much tinier stitches than mine!), was placed in a white frame, but I think I will back mine and use the same red heart fabric for the binding. I think I should definitely have this one done in time for Christmas!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A busy weekend...

Unfortunately this weekend has been a little busier than anticipated and so I have only managed to sneak in a small amount of sewing. I did however get a lovely surprise on Friday when I checked the mail and there were three envelopes with my name on them (that didn't contain bills!). I got a couple of patterns, some fat quarters and the new issue of Homespun magazine. I did enjoy sitting down for some time yesterday and having a flick through them all, and I can't wait to get started on the patterns - but more about them later.

As I didn't get much done this weekend I thought I would show one of my first quilts (so please ignore the imperfections!). These Sunbonnet Sue blocks were some of the first blocks I ever made. I didn't own a rotary cutter at the time and found it quite difficult to cut my backing squares evenly. The applique was done by machine using a short zigzag stitch with a clear thread. It was an easy and fast method of applique, but I'm not sure I would use it now if I was making the quilt again. However I think it was a good way to get started as I saw results very quickly.

The blocks sat in my sewing basket for quite a while until I found out one of my cousins was expecting her first child. With my fingers crossed that it would be a girl, I put this quilt together for her. Thankfully it was girl and so the quilt was perfect! It now hangs on the wall of her playroom.

I recently put together a quilting journal based on the instructions by Leanne Beasley in her DVD for Homespun magazine. This is one my journal pages for this Sunbonnet Sue quilt. The other side of the foldover page has a photo of the quilt on it.
The cover of my journal is based mainly on Leanne's design, but is a little simpler. I haven't really done any scrapbooking prior to this but I have really enjoyed it.
I have another baby cousin who is due at the beginning of December and I haven't even started on a quilt or present as yet! I think I'd better leave the Christmas presents and get started on this one first!

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend

PS, if anyone is interested, I have a brand new copy of "Quilt Yourself Gorgeous" by Mandy Shaw for sale here on ebay

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

To market, to market... for risotto ingredients

On the first Saturday of every month my husband and I give up our weekend sleep-in to head to the Good Living Growers Market at Pyrmont. Last weekend was no exception. We met my sister at 7:15am and then headed off to find some caffeine and then to the Eumundi Smokehouse stand to load up on bacon and egg rolls.
After brekky we wandered around the stalls. We have our favourites that we always visit and spend most of our money at - Formaggi Ocello for the best cheese, Grimas Farm for our vegies, La Tartine for fruit bread and Consummate bakery for 2nd breakfast!
The week after visiting the market is usually the best eating week in our household. We buy whatever vegies look the best and work out our dinners around them. Often we also consult Stephanie on how to best show off each ingredient. This month, as soon as I saw the stall selling new season garlic, I already had the nights dinner worked out.

This recipe was in the September issue of Delicious magazine. We had made it previously, but with regular garlic as I hadn't been able to find any fresh. The risotto was fantastic the first time we had it, but I figured it would be even better with the addition of the new season garlic that it specified. I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when I realised that the recipe called for 3 whole bulbs of garlic for 4-6 servings! That is a lot of garlic! I only made half the recipe and decided to just use one of the garlic bulbs. The garlic flavour was very mild and rather sweet which I loved, and it mixed extremely well with the fresh broad beans, peas and asparagus. All in all, it was a great spring dish.

Risotto Primavera
Serves 4-6

120g unsalted butter
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 cups (400g) arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
3 new season garlic bulbs, segmented (yep the whole bulbs - but if you can't get any, substitute
with 5 cloves of regular garlic, finely chopped).
1/2 cup fresh peas (or frozen)
1 cup podded fresh broad beans or thawed frozen broad beans (tough outer skins peeled)
2L chicken stock, kept at a simmer
1/2 bunch asparagus, thinly sliced on an angle (keep tips intact)
1 cup (80g) grated parmesan
finely shredded mint to serve

Melt 80g butter in a wide pan over medium heat. Cook the onion and celery for 10 mins or until softened (if you are using regular garlic, add it for the last minute of cooking). Add the rice and stir for a further 1 minute to coat the grains. Add the white wine and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until absorbed.

Add new season garlic and fresh beans and peas (if you are using frozen - add them for the final 3-4 mins cooking time). Add a ladelful of hot stock, stirring until almost all liquid is absorbed. Continue to add a ladelful of stock at a time and ensure that you stir until the liquid is almost absorbed before adding the next. Continue until rice is al dente and the vegies are just tender - approx 25 minutes.

Add one last ladelful of stock and remove the pan from the heat. Stir through the asparagus, parmesan and remaining butter. Cover and stand for 10 mins. This will allow the risotto to develop a creamy texture. Serve the risotto topped with shredded mint (and a dollop of marscapone if you like too).

See those huge pieces of garlic? I ate them all! Dracula's not getting me any time soon!

Recipe from Delicious Magazine, September issue (pg50-51). Recipe by Ben O'Donohue.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

more weekend sewing

In addition to my basting drama, I also managed to get this quilt top finished on the weekend. It was made with a charm pack of Simplicity squares - very easy. I just love this range of fabric, it is so pretty!

I also made a pinwheel star to go on bottom right hand side of the back using more material from the Simplicity range. I managed to get the charm pack and the extra material from the US when the Aussie dollar was almost 1:1 - so this is a very thrifty quilt!
I think I might hand quilt this one with some pale pink pearle thread - use it as a bit of a practice before starting on my Leanne's house quilt.
And seeing as though I keep mentioning it - I thought I'd better show a pic of the top all together. Unfortunately this photo was taken in terrible light so the colours are not all true to life, but you get the idea!

I hope everyone else managed to get in some stitching on the weekend.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A new household rule - never baste a quilt after 4pm!

I really dislike basting quilts with the batting and backing. It's probably why I have numerous completed quilt tops lying about waiting to be finished. Unfortunately, living in a small flat means that I don't have a dining table, nor do I have any table large enough to easily cut longs pieces of fabric on, or baste a quilt. This means that I baste my quilts on my hands and knees on the wooden floor - hence the reason why I dislike doing it. Today I wanted to stitch baste my Leanne's house quilt together. I wanted to stitch it as I am going to hand quilt it and it will probably take me longer than I would like to have safety pins in it.

I started the whole process at the kitchen. It is the only bit of floor space large enough! Sampson was not exactly being helpful. He finds it highly amusing to run at fast speed and slide on fabric... hmmmm....

Then the cheeky thing decided the fabric was his and that I was not allowed to go near it. So I had a cup of tea...
Once I was able to herd Sampson into the back room, I got started... at about 5pm. I didn't realise just how much longer it would take me to sewing the three layers together. I sewed a grid of about 4 inches and allowing moaning and groaning time in between each line, it took me over 2 hours from start to finish! And I hadn't started dinner yet! But it is done now and I am looking forward to starting the quilting, but maybe not for a few days while I wait for my back to recover!

Today I am grateful for a patient husband who allows me to take over the kitchen with my quilting, and who also makes dinner for me when I am otherwise occupied.