A Balancing Act

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Equibbleibrium – the ongoing debate about where a level of balance is achieved

If I hold bowl of fruit in one hand, and a plate of chocolate cake in the other, do I reach equilibrium? Perhaps if I stand on one leg, lean hard to the left, have a five kilogram apple and a delicate morsel of cake, there’s a chance. But that would just look utterly silly*, and not be terribly much fun, either.

fruit and chocolate cake - the perfect balanced diet?
Picture from The Kitchn

It’s all a question of balance, really... Which gets me thinking about the concept of “work/life balance”, a term I particularly despise. It suggests all the other aspects of existence can be lumped haphazardly into one jumbled bucket (you don’t hear much about work/sleep/baking/studying/dancing/rabbitting-on-the-phone/gallivanting-round-Paris balance. Much as it might be far more realistic, and sound a bit more fun too). It suggests that work isn’t life which, for lots of people, is inaccurate and even just plain presumptuous. It’s almost always a euphemism for work/family, with a presumption that people that don’t have family responsibilities don’t do anything else besides work. Insert indignant and slightly self-righteous Harrumph! Right here beside the soap box, thanks.

So is it the apple or the chocolate cake that represents work? One makes you feel better for eating it, but, while satisfying, isn’t always what you crave. The other can be the stuff of daydreams, but might not live up to expectation and can leave you feeling lethargic after too much at once. It could go either way**. Perhaps that’s why it’s so important to have your cake and eat your apple, too...

* And is making me come over all Monty Python and think about standing on one leg and singing Jerusalem. What on earth do flamingos get up to, given they spend almost all their time on one leg? Perhaps they joke about acting funny when they’re on both legs...
** It feels a little like the food version of a Rorschach test. Now, what do you think of when you look at this brioche?


'Nuff Said

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's Friday. The day of grand plans and big ideas. A whole untouched weekend stretching ahead like a blank canvas, ready to fill with anything. Whether that's seven impossible things before (or for) breakfast* or just retiring to a quiet corner with a good book (which can be even more of a challenge than those seven impossible things, especially for people who need to be Doing Something Productive All The Time).

Sometimes you can surprise yourself with how much it's possible to achieve. And other times, you can be astonished by how good it feels to do, well, nothing terrible much...

I Ought To Do Something But I Am Already In My Pajamas poster
Print from Upper Case Magazine (via Timothy Buck Walter)

Whether or not being in pajamas pyjamas precludes doing things is another matter and best saved for another day. Here's to a weekend of distracting typography and as few ought to-s as possible...

* I would very much like to try an impossible thing for breakfast. Provided it was in an appealingly whimsical way, and not a Man Vs Wild sort of impossible way, that is.


Bringing Lego To Life - Bright Sweetness

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's a little bit like Lego brought to life, and a little bit like a complicated layered confection that defies the laws of gravity. Now there's an idea for Adriano Zumbo, and I'd love to see (a) how it stayed up and (b) what the blue flavour would be. I'm thinking about buttered popcorn, espresso and tomato (and whether such a combination could possibly work. Although surely if burnt toast macarons can, that could. I just can't decide on the blue layer...).

But really, it's a lamp...

PXL table lamp from Scandinavian Design Center
PXL table lamp from Scandianvian Design Center

And then I discovered this cake, and had one of those moments when things just make sense...

Primary coloured layer cake from Martha Stewart
Primary coloured striped layer cake from Martha Stewart

Funny how randomness and eyecatching colour can perk up a day. And stripes. Stripes are always a plus, too*.

* Although one little horizontal stripe by itself is really a minus. It really is all about randomness, sometimes. And bright colours. And thinking quiet little stripy thoughts...


On The Run From Breakfast

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

People can be very particular about when they eat breakfast. It might have to be before getting ready, or not until after a good hot shower. Some like to exercise beforehand, others need at least one cup of coffee. A few (and a good many more on weekends, I reckon) don’t even like it to be in the morning. For me, weekday breakfast only ever happens once I get to work. It’s never as late as mid-morning, but I much prefer to be at least almost (and preferably completely) awake before greeting food for the day.

This cupcake looks like the perfect iced excuse...

Cupcake from Abbie Tabbie (I know, it's becoming an obsession, but they're just brilliant!)

“Of course I had cereal for breakfast!”. The fact that I also ate the crockery, the tablecloth and a decent quantity of icing and fluffy vanilla sponge is entirely irrelevant. I wonder if there’s a version with that bowl of cornflakes sitting beside a computer monitor and an unruly pile of papers (overseen by an equally unruly penguin, perhaps!).

It seems* that there are far more specifics and quirks about breakfast than any other meal. Are you a picky breakfaster too? What are your morning munching rituals?

* On the highly unscientific straw polls on which I base blog-related inquiries (other than baking, where as many hungry folks willing to exchange opinions for sticky treats are welcomed wholeheartedly!).


Let Them What?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It doesn’t have the imperious and flippant ring to it of Let them eat cake!*. It’s perhaps more of a friendly exhortation, or an answer to what to serve at a relaxed dinner with friends while there are still long evenings left to enjoy. And maybe that’s what appeals about this little card**...

Let Them Eat Pav greeting card from Katydid Paper Designs
Print by Katydid Paper Goods (available on Etsy or from her very cute online emporium)

That, and it didn’t say Keep calm and have a pav! Which might have prompted an onset of the colliewobbles. As opposed to keeping calm and carrying a pavlova, which just can’t happen owing the the worry about it collapsing, or dropping it, or the cream slithering off in the humidity, or some other such catastrophe.

Although letting them eat pavlova isn’t necessarily the issue – stopping them eating pavlova might be more of a challenge. It’s the cold, quiet hours when it lurks unattended in the fridge when danger is most likely...

* Even if that wasn’t really what Marie Antoinette said in the first place, which is pretty much beside the point by now...
** I wonder, though, what the appropriate occasion is for such a greeting? Or if it's for gluttonous typophiles (moi?!) to pin on their noticeboards.


Good Things Come In Small Pastry Packages - Sticky Penguin’s Portable Pies

Monday, March 14, 2011

It’s finally autumn, which means long hazy days are replaced with a bit more frantic activity and a sense of where on earth is the year going already? It also means the return of the football season*. And that means pies! Don’t you love the way a train of thought, however circuitous, always leads back to food?

Sticky Penguin's Portable Pies
This is what we’re here for – please bear with me while I finish waffling, because they’re quite delicious!

Pies can be messy. Serving slices of a large pie often means at least one slice that looks like it was dropped from a great height into a disorderly and not-very-appetising heap onto the plate. And eating a smaller pie can be a gravy-spattered reminder of the point when there ceases to be enough crunch pie crust to contain all that squishy filling and... splat! There should be some obscure geometric ratio about the maximum area of a pie that can successfuly be contained by its circumference. Preferably with dodgy pi-related puns.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold**. This is what we’re trying to fix...

The original pie - tasty but messy

Pies can also be difficult to photograph***. Which is my flimsy excuse for only sharing now the idea that I came up with prompted by the Culinary Smackdown hosted by I'm A Pretend Chef back in February. Ah, the sound of deadlines as they whoosh past!

The combination of a recent encounter with a recalcitrant and messy pie, and all those cake pops I keep seeing all over the interwebs, made me think about.. pie balls****. No collapsing slices. Small enough to avoid escaping filling. And with just the right amount of pastry to meat in every bite. They’re a bit like the carnivorous version of a doughnut hole (without the deep frying, though!).

Sticky Penguin's Portable Pies

I could imagine buying paper bags of steaming portable pies from carts at the football, within a little tub of tomato sauce for dipping (because a meat pie without sauce is just wrong). More realistically, you could serve them in large bowls for easy-but-interesting casual party snacks. Or take them for packed lunches or picnics. And their handy size would make them great for little penguins, too (something unexpected and not too unfamiliar in the lunchbox could go down well).

Sticky Penguin's Portable Pies

If you’re keen to try out some portable pies, here’s how they’re made...

Sticky Penguin's Portable Pies
What you need
400 g / 14 oz plain flour (it's actually 396.9 grams, but this isn't a recipe that calls for astonishing accuracy at any stage, so I went with rounding it. Just for anybody out there who does imperial/metric conversions in their head and thought it sounded off)
200 g / 7 oz butter (or butter blend / margarine works fine as well. Home-made shortcrust pastry is always preferable to bought, but I'm not going to start being all pastry-purist about things!)
Cold water (around 2-4 tbsp, preferably straight from the fridge)
Pie filling*****
1 onion, finely chopped
500 g lean minced beef
1 cup beef stock (note: as this is adapted from an Australian recipe, cup measurements are metric. But, as the measurements are more a guide than an exact science, using US cups, or just sploshing things in till they look and taste about right, is just as good)
¼ cup tomato sauce / ketchup
2 tsp Worcester sauce
pepper to taste
½ tsp dried oregano
Pinch nutmeg
3 tbsp plain flour
¼ cup water
beaten egg for glazing
What to do
First, make the pastry – it can rest in the fridge while you cook the pie filling (Or, if you prefer not to rest your pastry, it might be quickest to start with the filling, and make the pastry while the meat bubbles away. Or I could just stop trying to tell you how to be efficient in the kitchen, which is probably just a wafflly nuisance!)
1. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs (it's ok to have a few tiny blobs of butter left, so don't worry about it being perfectly even). Or pulse the flour and butter in a food processor until this texture is reached (which is generally quicker than I expect, so be wary of overdoing it!).
2. Add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the pastry can be shaped roughly into a ball. The dough shouldn't be too wet or sticky, so opt for the least amount of water that enables the pastry to come together.
3. Turn the dough out onto a large expanse of kitchen wrap / cling film, flatten the rough ball into a disc (around 2-3 cm / 1-1½ inches high), wrap the disc with the cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Then, make the filling
4. Cook the onion in a large pan until translucent. Add the mince and jab with a wooden spoon to break up the meat so no large lumps remain. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned.
5. Add the stock, tomato sauce, Worcester sauce, oregano, nutmeg and season to taste. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for around 15 minutes. Give it a stir every 5 minutes or so to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Taste and adjust the sauces or seasonings if required.
6. Whisk the flour and water until smooth, add to the bubbling stew and stir in quickly and thoroughly with the wooden spoon, so no floury bits remain. Simmer for another 5 minutes, during which the mixture will thicken and reduce to a dollop-y consistency. Give it a bit longer if needed to get to that consistency. The mixture will firm a little more as it cools, but the gravy should be thick and rich rather than runny, to avoid squidgy pies.
7. Remove from the heat and allow to cool (at least to a temperature that you can comfortably poke a finger into) before assembling the pies. If you leave it to cool for longer, or make the filling in advance and refrigerate it, give it a good stir when you're ready to use it if it seems too thick.
To make the pies
8. Preheat oven to 200°C / 392°F.
9. Roll out the pastry to about 2 mm thick (it should be thick enough that the filling doesn’t burst out, but thin enough to not overwhelm the small size of the pies). I find rolling the pastry out on a sheet of greaseproof paper, with a lightly floured rolling pin, avoids minimises both overly floury pastry and total chaos in the kitchen.
10. Cut circles from the pastry with a biscuit or scone cutter, or a glass lightly floured round the rim. I used a 6½ cm (2½ inch) cutter. I also found that "fluting" the edges of the circles with my fingers, so that it thinned out a little, made it easier to form the pie ball and avoid a lumpy join when bringing the edges together.
11. Add a dollop of pie filling to the centre of each circle. I used a small coffee scoop, around 1 rounded tablespoon in size, to get consistent amounts. Its shape also helped keep the pies roughly spherical. I also filled and assembled each pie ball as I went (rather than filling all of them, then assembling all of them) so that the moistness of the filling didn't make the pastry more fragile when handled.
12. Bring the edges of the circle together and crimp with your fingers to join firmly. Smooth the join as much as possible, then roll the pie ball lightly between the palms of your hands to re-shape it if it's flattened out a bit.
13. Place the pie balls, join side down, on a baking tray lined with a sheet of greaseproof paper. Brush the pies lightly with beaten egg.
14. Bake the pie balls for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180°C / 356°F and bake until golden brown and crunchy (they take around 20-25 minutes in total). Allow to cool to avoid any mishaps with boiling pie filling - these have a habit of disappearing from the baking tray!

I was really pleased with how the pie balls turned out - they had a good ratio of pastry to filling, and were less messy (and much cuter!) than big pies. They reheated well, too. Now I'm thinking about what other recipes could do with a portable version...

Sticky Penguin's Portable Pies

* For some of us, that means AFL. For almost everybody else in the world, it probably means something else entirely!
** One of those quotes of uncertain provenance that seems to have been around forever. Apparently it comes from a Yeats poem, The Second Coming. And not originally from a sci-fi series much better avoided. Now I’m feeling half like Pioneer Woman for hunting down obscure references (I wonder if that’s what prompted her quizzes?), and half like an poorly-read and under-educated penguin. The ability of final year English classes at school to put me off poetry for fear of overanalysis and the need to discern murky layers of meaning in the manner of peeling an onion knows no bounds...
*** So can brownies. Why don’t I ever want to cook things that look pretty?
**** Not piebald. That’s for ponies. And it would just be wrong on so many levels to eat one of those.
***** The original recipe for this pie filling was from an Australian Women's Weekly recipe for Aussie Meat Pie. It's been adapted, first by the trifle-eating cat's mum, and then by me, to the version above.


Having Your Cake And Talking About It Too

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The henna-style piped icing detail on this trio of peacock cakes is just beautiful...

Henna-style peacock cake trio from Rora Does Cake
Cakes from Rora Does Cake*

I love the subtle neutral colouring – it’s a bit of a change from the sea of whites, brights and pastels out there**. The chocolate and caramel shades are such an effective combination of elegant and appetising. And the slightly different designs on each cake are much more interesting than an identical approach, or the formality of stacking them into tiers (and keeping them separate gives more surface area for icing – both to decorate and to enjoy).

It would be a good way to do a combination of complementary flavours, too, perhaps chocolate, espresso and hazelnut. Maybe with some praline buttercream filling. Or salted caramel... Now I’m just starting to get carried away!

But I don’t know that I’d want to try saying “perfect piped peacock cakes” five times very quickly with a mouthful of cake... Not with such a sophisticated cake, anyway.

* Who, if you check her out on Flickr, has one or two more explicit iced designs. Just something to watch out for in case you're cake spotting while at work!
** Which sounds a bit too much like an escaped soundbite from a laundry detergent advertisement...


When I Am An Old Woman I Will Eat Purple

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My mum and I used to joke about becoming an ascerbic old woman who said whatever she pleased and prodded recalcitrant young whippersnappers with a silved-topped cane*. It sounded quite fun (although not as much fun as hooning about on a quad bike!). I like the thought that the (hoped-for) wisdom of years frees us to be more eccentric, rather than growing fusty and conservative.

Then I came across a poem by Jenny Joseph, called Warning (but better known as When I am an Old Woman). It was in a little book sitting on the counter (where much of the whimsical, distracting and just plain silly reading material tends to be), and when I flicked through it, I didn’t realise just how much of a following the poem already had. If you’d like to read more of it, there’s an online version of it here.

When I Am An Old Woman cupcake from Abbie Tabbie
When I am an Old Woman cupcake from Abbie Tabbie

I already wear copious quantities of purple althought very much doubt that (old or otherwise) hats (red or otherwise) will form a regular (or anything but reluctant) part of my sartorial repertoire. But eating purple? That could be an interesting thing to consider...

Lavender macarons with honey dark chocolate ganache from The Ginger Cook 

Purple sweet potato pie with easy oats crust from Foodiva
Purple sweet potato pie with easy oats crust from Foodiva

Meyer lemon and blueberry curd from Sunday Hotpants
Meyer lemon and blueberry curd from Sunday Hotpants

Purple pizza from The Cooking Photographer
Purple pizza from The Cooking Photographer

Plum ice cream from Pink Parsley Catering
Plum ice cream from Pink Parsley

Deep fried sweet potato dango from The Sugar Bar
Beni Imo Dango (deep fried sweet potato dango) from The Sugar Bar

Festive devilled eggs from Eating Out Loud

Ube mochi cake from Une-Deux Senses
Ube mochi cake from Une-Deux Senses

Blueberry cardamom cheesecake from G Living 
Blueberry cardamom cheesecake from G Living

Whether it comes from okinawa potatoes, berries, beets, violets or ube, there's a lot of purple potential out there!

Matching purple with brownies is my kind of combination...

Brownies from A La Carte Kitchen
 Baker's one-bowl brownies from A La Carté Kitchen, photo by Joe Longo Photography

But I think I would like to wear more purple right now, just as the poem suggests. Eccentricity is wasted on the old!

* Preferably adorned with an obscure animal, and even more preferably carried only for show and not necessity.



Friday, March 11, 2011

Whichever way you slice it, Spam just exudes dodginess. More than a canapé hedgehog of cheese and cabanossi impaled on cocktail sticks and arranged in half an orange (glacé cherries for eyes optional). More than blancmange, or even than junket (insert quivering shudder here). Definitely more than fondue (some things never go out of style! Especially with cheese...).

Canape hedgehog from A Table For Two
Canapé hedgehog (with antipasto - yum!) from A Table For Two 

Attempts to update, disguise or just make Spam more palatable seem a bit like putting lipstick redcurrant jus on a (fake) pig. But this Spam musubi is surprisingly eye-catching – I like how it works with the shape (although it might need a lot of wasabi!)...

Spam musubi from Jun-Blog
Spam musubi from Jun-Blog

Wasabit: the merest smear of wasabi able to be enjoyed by a chilli wuss

And, in case that’s not enough daftness, let me leave you with Steamy Kitchen’s ode to spam, and the immortal Monty Python sketch. That’s one bit of spam I don’t mind in my inbox.


How Long Is A Piece Of String?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Baking tends to need a bit more accuracy than just plonking what looks about the right amount of something in a mixing bowl and hoping for the best. Even recipes with a margin for error need a pretty good eye for ingredients, or some actual measurement, let alone the complex creations. But there’s more than one way to measure ingredients – which one do you prefer?

I’ve always preferred to use kitchen scales (even more now there are digital ones which you can re-zero as you add each ingredient – it saves so much time and washing up!), measuring in grams or (for recipes from my mum or, more recently, US websites and cookbooks) ounces. Measuring cups feel like more of a fidget, with levelling off and scooping out and washing up in between if you have equal quantities of sticky substances. And then there’s the question of how much settling or packing ingredients in gets done (even if you do it consistently, there’s no guarantee that the person supplying the recipe for today’s baking experiment does it the same way as you). But worst of all is the dreaded cup conversion. Thankfully, I now have a set of US measuring cups, which make life much easier. But it can take a bit of thought to figure out which cups an unknown recipe is using (I generally assume that if their temperatures are in degrees farenheit, then the cups are US cups).

Measurement apron from Suck UK via Steamy Kitchen
Measurement apron from Suck UK via Steamy Kitchen

A new upside-down apron comes in very handy when you get stuck and don’t want to have to start doing sums with a scrap of paper.

While my oven thermometer means I don’t have to convert between temperature scales any more, this print still struck a chord with me...

Conversion print
Picture from bb-blog

Because baking can be so warm* and fuzzy, it’s refreshing to come across something that sends up everybody pretty much equally!

* Or, more accurately, hot. About 220°C (or 428°F)...


Wednesday Wonderings

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It’s the middle of the week. Which is as good a time as any to distract yourself by thinking about pandas (never something I need much encouragement to do). So. To get right on with it...

Do pandas play the euphonium...? Is this how pandemonium starts?

A chair. Made of plush pandas. It may or may not be a good thing, but it’s definitely different...

Plush panda chair from Moss Online via Lushlee
Panda chair from Moss Online via Lushlee

Alternatively, there is pandammonia, which is what pandas apply to their wash when they start to need a little brightening up to remove nasty stains from their cute t-shirts...

Panda singlet from The Petit Chouette
Panda singlet from The Petit Chouette on Etsy (such a great name!). She has very cute animal sleeve Ts as well

After a walk through Hyde Park, I’d recommend those pandas might share some with the resident ibises, which look positively grubby (can you look positively something, when the something isn’t very pleasant? It feels like a contradiction in terms). Perhaps that’s what we need – pandas in Hyde Park. Now, that is a random idea for a Wednesday...


Making Time To Be Stylish. And Eat Biscuits.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Do you have time to be creative?* This combination could help provide the answer and the motivation, and were that sort of serendipitously unexpected match that is so hard to plan for, and so enjoyable to randomly trip over...

Paint palette sugar cookies from Sweetapolita
Paint palette cookies from Sweetapolita

Minimalist spotted watch from Mr Jones at Watchismo
Watch from Mr Jones at Watchismo via Yukkie

I can barely believe those really are sugar cookies - they just look almost too perfect. I love that the colours on the palette don't just go with the bright, primary colours you might expect. And they go so beautifully with the watch face, which manages to be minimal without being boring - more great design with a sense of humour!

Time for some baking, I think...

* Some (very wise) people might ask whether you have time not to be creative... Hmmm...


A Trial Run

Monday, March 7, 2011

The difference between a layer cake perfectly clad in a fluffy robe of icing and a lumpen brick daubed with gloop is practice. Practice in cutting the layers evenly. Practice in getting icing to the right consistency. Practice in applying the icing to the cake without getting crumbs all over the place. Just practice, and lots of it. Such a small word, and yet such a big deal. And so many carefully baked (and delicious) cakes sacrificed in the name of beauty. If only there was an easier way!

Chocolate cookie layer
Chocolate cookie layer “cakes” from The Decorated Cookie. And they have pink icing, too!

These layer cookies look like a great way to practice – they scale it all down to a manageable size but, perhaps more significantly, cookies are typically quicker to make than cakes, and a bit more resilient. Although it would be important to use flat-ish cookies to produce a tidy stack; this might not be the place for a Momofuku-style compost cookies with all their indulgent lumps and bumps! Rolled or sliced cookies would be perfect...

Sables from He-Eats
Sables from He-Eats

I’ve also thought about practicing with bought cakes, perhaps using cookie cutters to scale them back to a more manageable size (and to avoid being deluged in cake for the sake of some experimentation).

Mini tiered chocolate cakes from Kitsch in the Kitchen
Mini tiered chocolate cakes by Kitsch In The Kitchen on Live Journal via Pinterest

Have you tried making mini versions of something tricky to get better at certain baking techniques? What else works for you? I’d love to hear about it...


A Gluggy Day In Sydney Town - Getting Keener On Quinoa

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Grocery shopping on a Sunday night is not a relaxing way to finish the weekend, even if it makes Monday mornings look better just by comparison. Despite all of our better intentions, our (and everybody else's) plans get derailed and so there are even more wayward trolley-pushers, squawking toddlers, middle-of-aisle ponderers and an assorted cast of irritating extras cluttering and chattering at every turn. And yet, while everybody seems to be there right now, they all seem to have visited earlier, too. How else to explain the gaping, well, gaps where stock ought to be, the lack of any meat that isn't mince, the oddments stuffed on shelves when a better deal came along further round and the apparent dearth of any fruit or vegetable which isn't limp or squashed. It's bad when you just need to dash in for some milk and eggs and blueberries. It's so much worse when you're trying to be organised (but not quite organised enough to have got in before the ravenous hordes) and get all your shopping done for the week ahead. And when you're trying a stack of new recipes to kick-start a cleaner diet.

So a litany of excuses, circumstances, could-haves and ought-to-next-times precede this admission. I never knew there was more than one type of quinoa. Never mind the red and black varieties - I'm talking about the common, garden sort. Which, until a couple of days ago, I never realised came in flakes as well as in grains. I looked at the shelves where the quinoa should be. I debated getting something else to make for breakfast. But by then, I had a bee in my bonnet about quinoa porridge, and I was grimly determined. Several boxes on the top shelf finally got my notice. Quinoa flakes. Hmmm.... they don't look quite like the picture accompanying the recipe. Perhaps they puff up when you cook them. Half an hour later, while stirring a bubbling pot of runny gruel, I realised there would be no puffing. Copious amounts of cinnamon and a shake of ginger were added to liven up the flavour in the hope of detracting from the texture. The porridge eventually thickened to a pasty consistency which, while not pretty and perhaps better suited to sticking posters on billboards, tasted much better than it looked. I wouldn't go out of my way to order it in a cafe, but it was perfectly inoffensive and the cranberries, raisins and walnuts provided some much-needed bite. This was what it looked like...

All pictures in this post by the Sticky Penguin, who  was attempting to gussy up the general grey un-photogenic-ness of porridge by taking its picture with Hipstamatic... 

But I still had a hankering to start the morning with perky, fluffy quinoa rather than gloopy, sleepy porridge. In the hope of a corresponding boost to energy levels and alertness, perhaps? And so, armed with a list of all the things the supermarket didn't have on a Sunday night and the virtuous determination to walk home from work on Monday evening, I dropped into the more gourmet supermarket half-way between my office and the apartment. Apparently Sydney has decided to get in shape - quinoa porridge is one of the first recipes featured in Michelle Bridges' new book, Losing the Last 5 Kilos, and quinoa is in short supply.

Armed with two bags of royal quinoa, I set to porridge-stirring with renewed vigour. And it certainly looked more appetising, with the quinoa seeds interspersed with plump fruit. But, oddly, the earlier, runnier porridge seemed to be sweeter and more satisfying than the "proper" version. While the new recipe with whole grains certainly had more texture, it didn't extend quite as far as fluffiness, and even after rinsing the quinoa before cooking, a hint of bitterness lingered.

This was the second version (also eaten at my desk, although this time without the slothfulness of consuming it straight from the tupperware!)
Even more surprisingly, though, was that the taste and texture of quinoa in both its guises crept up on me, urging me to try it again. Just what was that taste that I couldn't quite pin down? Each morning, it grew on me a little more - perhaps it's an acquired taste like coffee or laksa? Although it wasn't enough to keep me completely away from my scone toast!

Still eating at my desk... penguins are creatures of habit!

The answer, it appears, has been to use a mix of quinoa flakes (¼ cup) and quinoa seeds (½ cup), for the perfect combination...

Just like Goldilocks - the third time's a charm!

Are you a porridge person? I grew up on porridge and honey on chilly mornings and find it cosy without being stodgy, while the Other Penguin regards it with the sort of suspicion typically reserved for telephone surveys. "It just looks gluggy", he says, edging almost imperceptibly down the couch. Despite having said the same of risotto many moons ago, he remains entirely unconvinced and unwilling to go near it, much as I do about his milkshakes! There's still plenty more experimenting ahead with the quinoa, both to improve the balance in the porridge, and to try out other ways of using it. If you have any recipes you love with quinoa that you'd like to share, I'd be very interested to hear about them...


The Sixth Food Group

Saturday, March 5, 2011

This illustration by Natalie Dee confirms what I've long suspected - cake really is good for you...

That, or she makes her cakes out of some very odd ingredients indeed. Maybe a little like this all-in-one roast dinner layer cake...

Thanksgiving turkey cake from Chow

Maybe this version gets extra brownie points for having more layers, and being adorned with sprouts, although I'm not sure it looks as deceptively cakelike as the first one...

Christmas dinner cake by Vincent Graff on The Daily Mail, photographed by Grant Triplow

It's a rather drastic way to get a litte of everything in each bite!


Getting Square

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fruit salad tends to be a bright and juicy jumble piled into a bowl. Varying its presentation beyond tiny morsels in verrines, an elegantly dishevelled island in a pool of syrup or the starchy buffet-table offering of a fruit platter can be tricky. Anything too fussy often detracts from the natural appeal of the fruit so, trying not to fix what isn’t broken, into the bowl it goes. It’s less about the lipstick-on-a-pig attempt to make a stew or a bowl of porridge look pretty, and more about trying not to pile an inch of make-up on a supermodel! Ah, the perils of food styling...

So this Rubik's cube-inspired fruit salad is great - it's eye-catching and unusual, but still highlights the colour and texture of the fruit.

Fruit salad cube from PicFor.Me via Pinterest

Much as I love the look of it, I'm not completely sold on the idea of fetta in a fruit salad (although the combination of fetta and watermelon in salads seems to be in vogue at the moment). What do you think about the look of this fruit salad - is it good to see something a little unusual, or better to stick with the jumbled bowl?


Lighter Than Air

Thursday, March 3, 2011

If you could make sweets out of willo-the-wisps, I think they'd look a bit like this...

Beautiful pastel chocolate found via All Reset / Rise Rise

I'm not sure quite what it is - whether it's astonishingly coloured chocolate, or some sort of fudge or marshmallow*. I wouldn't mind finding out, though...

* It really doesn't look the texture for marshmallow, but the swirls and pastels would be perfect for that. Perhaps there's some weekend experimenting ahead with swirled, multi-flavoured marshmallows.


Sticky Fingers

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Do recipes turn out better when they're made by hand? Is the flakiest pastry made by hand, or is it indistinguishable from the batch made using a food processor? Are hand-mixed meat balls better combined and plumper than ones stirred and scooped with a spoon? Sticky questions, indeed...

Perhaps I'm old-school in preferring things made by hand - both to appreciate the technique and satisfaction of "making it from scratch" and to have a closer feel for how a dish is coming together, which I think helps with the quality of the end product. There are notable exceptions - what can be mixed in a stand mixer almost inevitably is mixed in a stand mixer, for instance. And I always think it's better to use a bit of gadgetry along they way rather than not to make it at all.

One of the pitfalls of the do-it-by-hand approach can be getting very sticky delving into the mixing bowl. It's not a part I especially enjoy. But I do like the fun of these meringue rings (meringues?) which aren't as gooey as they look...

Meringue rings from Charles & Marie via Design for Mankind


Getting Your Scone On

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Does too much deliciousness lead to bootyliciousness? A few years ago, everything was something-licious and, while it's not gone away, it's subsided to a dull roar (I still want to read Matt Preston's Cravatalicious, though!). Now, it's all about getting your something on. I don't remember it before Missy Elliott, although it's probably been around far longer. Everybody's suddenly getting their game, their glam, their geek (or Gleek), and even their crochet on. Whether that last one indicates the cachet of crochet or is more a mark of jumping the shark, though...

In a food context, it just doesn't work quite so well - getting your pudding on sounds like it would be swiftly followed by getting your washing on! And in the morning, I for one lack the verve and certainly the requisite coolness to get my breakfast on. Getting on with breakfast is generally about as good as it gets.

Finding new ways to get on with breakfast (and get by until lunch) is something I'm always keen to try, although when combined with the allure of the shiny, pre-packaged and unknown it can have mixed results. A recent visit to the supermarket uncovered Scone Toast, a chunky but fluffy loaf that could be broadly put alongside banana bread and raisin toast.

If you're looking for something simple, homely and sustaining that doesn't leave you hungry half an hour later, it's definitely worth a look. Although, if you really feel like an actual scone, it doesn't come quite close enough, being more chewy and less crumbly. Especially as scones are so quick and easy to make. For some reason, scones (even without jam, cream and whatnot) feel a little too indulgent to eat for breakfast, while scone toast is just that significant smidge more breakfast-y to get away with! And it gives a warmingly cosy feeling to breakfast (even on the run or at the desk) when accompanied with a cup of Lady Grey tea (get your kettle on!).

It could also be a convenient reason to have second breakfast. Excuse me, I have to go and get my hobbit on...


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