Thursday, 28 March 2013

Hot cross bun truffles

Ah, Easter. Nowhere to rush to, no list of presents to buy, no work ... and plenty of time for baking. It really is my favourite holiday of the year and I am counting down the minutes to 3 o'clock! Being a huge hot cross bun fan, I realised today that I haven't bought a single store-baked hot cross bun this year but instead have baked several batches of my own. Woo hoo!

Wandering through The Pantry at Kirk's recently, pieces of hot cross bun fudge on display caught my eye. I got to thinking about how I could make these myself. The base recipe is the one I've use to make cookie dough truffles from the fabulous Baking Makes Things Better blog. The truffles were a huge hit when I last made them, so I wondered how they'd turn out moulded into squarish shapes with piped white chocolate crosses on them. Very well, it seems!

The truffles last about one week in the fridge in an airtight container. A double batch has seen me through today's office shout, with some left over for a family Easter dinner and the occasional snack during the week.

Hot cross bun truffles

  • 100 grams butter, softened
  • 80 g white sugar
  • 140 g brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 50 ml cream 
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1¼ cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup chocolate drops or chunks (milk and/or dark)
  • white chocolate buttons, melted
  1. Beat the butter and sugars with the paddle attachment of your mixer until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Mix in cream and vanilla essence.
  2. Sift in four and salt. Mix on a low speed until combined.
  3. Stir in chocolate chunks.
  4. Mould teaspoonsful of dough into squarish (or round, if you prefer) shapes. Place on a tray lined with baking paper and freeze for at least 30 minutes or put in the fridge for a few hours.
  5. Pipe melted white chocolate over truffles to form a cross. Makes 30.
Hot cross bun truffles
Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Olivo olive oil tasting

It would be fair to say that, for me, cooking oil is a means to an end. Sure, it's a staple ingredient in my pantry and I usually have extra virgin olive oil, canola oil and vegetable oil on hand for various purposes. I have also given flavoured Prenzel rice bran oils to some foodie friends as birthday gifts. But I do find myself easily 'olive oiled out' at The Food Shows and other food-based events. I guess I just need to find move novel ways to use flavoured oils other than drizzling them on salads.

Today, I found a small olive oil tasting at The Pantry. Olivo is based in sunny Martinborough and there were four oils available to try. The extra virgin olive oil had a pleasantly mild flavour and would make a good base for most things requiring oil.

Then there were three infused varieties: cumin, fennel and orange. The fennel infused oil won't be to everyone's liking, but I grew up eating finocchio bulbs as a treat so it had a very nostalgic flavour for me. My favourite was definitely the orange infused oil, delicate yet distinctly orange, especially when used to make chocolate mousse. Now we're talking!

I'm glad I have 'discovered' what is a new product for me and am keen to try making chocolate mousse with the orange infused oil, especially as it uses Whittaker's Dark Ghana chocolate as its base. Mmmmm.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The stranger

I was introduced today to someone I've been acquainted with by sight and sound for many years but had never actually known what his name is. A colleague was explaining that this person was at a meeting he'd recently attended. Although he was also at a loss to this person's name, it became immediately apparently once they opened their mouth ... and refused to shut it. His name? Richard Cranium. He is a stranger no more!

I realise now that Richard Cranium and I go way back. I mostly see him in a loud, low car that weaves intermittently between lanes before cutting me off on the motorway. Sometimes he runs amber or red lights right in front of me. He talks during movies and orders coffee while ranting on his mobile phone, using questionable gestures to let the barista know what he wants. He arrives late to meetings and expects everybody to fill him in on what he's missed, even though you were all there on time. He has a very short attention span and interrupts while others are talking to ask questions that were answered just a few minutes ago. He's been known to walk up to you to ask a question, then walk away mid-conversation and expect you to follow him. I should also point out that sometimes he is a she! Yes, we all know Richard Craniums and they lurk all around us.

As I said to my colleague in an email this morning, "May Richard Cranium be missing in action for us all today". So far, so good!

How has your day been? Any sign of Richard at your place?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

High tech birds

A giggle for a rainy Tuesday morning.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Irish soda bread

I have been enjoying baking bread at home lately. Being St Patrick's Day, I thought it was appropriate to try making Irish soda bread today. The reaction that occurs between the buttermilk and baking soda means that you do not need to proof this recipe like yeast-based bread, so it takes much less time to prepare. The bread is a lovely, hearty texture that would go well with ... pretty much anything!

This video tutorial of the recipe was really helpful to watch.

Irish soda bread

  • 500 g high grade flour
  • 50 g sugar
  • 5 g baking soda
  • 10 g baking powder
  • 3 g salt
  • 115 g butter, softened
  • 235 ml buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 55 g butter, melted
  • 60 ml buttermilk (additional)
  1. Preheat oven to 190°C. Lightly grease a large baking tray or cover with baking paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and butter. Stir in 1 cup of buttermilk and egg.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly. Form dough into a round shape and place on prepared baking tray.
  4. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with additional buttermilk. Brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an 'X' into the top of the loaf.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Continue to brush the loaf with the butter mixture while it bakes.
Irish soda bread

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Memories are made of this

Ever walked from one room to another to get something, then returned to your starting point empty handed and with no idea why you moved in the first place? I can see you nodding ... or maybe you got to the next room and looked around, wondering what you could have been looking for? Ever lost your car in a car park? No, it's not funny at all.

A colleague insists that we only have a set amount of storage space in our brain and that once it is full, there is no room left for anything else. If you learn something new, then something you already know has to fall out. Now, we won't let medical science spoil a good theory, but she might have a point.

I actually think I know what my problem is and an article this morning confirmed what I already suspected: Lack of sleep affects memory. I'd go even further to say that lack of sleep affects so much more than just memory, but this is a good start.

I used to be able to survive on so much less (and lesser quality) sleep but find that my average of 6.5 hours each night just isn't enough for me any more. Sure, I can do it for a while but it's not a good long-term pattern. Despite my best efforts to be in bed my 11 pm each night, it often doesn't happen for another hour or so and 6.30 am comes around all too quickly.

I'm not entirely convinced that banking sleep or 'sleep extension' actually works but it sounds good in theory. Some researchers say it can't be done. Perhaps I'll use the shorter days during the winter months to live more like the bird - wake when the sun comes up and head off to bed at sunset. Or maybe hibernation is a better all-round option? Zzzzz ...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A fifth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?

We have some great in-depth discussions in the office. Sometimes it involves edumacating younger members of our staff in British techno music history. At other times, we have lively and robust conversations about beer. This morning, there was a full swing debate that I couldn't help myself from jumping into.

According to a misguided colleague, there are actually five Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He insists that the original gang of four (Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo) were not joined by their female companion, Venus, but instead gained another hero in a half-shell named Eduardo. The details about what Eduardo's special features include are shaky at best, but apparently it's the truth. Really.

Ahem. Eduardo? Firstly, whoever heard of an Italian Renaissance artist called Eduardo? (It's possible there may be one - I haven't fully checked, but that's not the point.) And what did he do? How come no-one else has heard of him? Madness, I say! And so agreed everyone else in the office.

I popped out to grab a coffee and returned 10 minutes later to find that debate was still vigorously going. Not only that, but I had somehow inherited this gaudy A3 poster featuring five coloured turtles, one with a green bandanna and bearing the name Eduardo. I've searched for its source and came up blank. It must have been doctored!
Spot the imposter!
But still he insisted that "everyone knows there are five turtles", even though it is clear that no-one knows about Eduardo. Am I right or am I right? Can you spot him in the opening theme song (or anywhere else apart from the doctored poster above)? I think not. Go on ... prove me wrong.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Enjoying autumn

Didn't we have an amazing summer, Wellington? It's the stuff that childhood memories are made of: hot, sunny days, long evenings and an eerie absence of wind and rain. Seriously, this has been a dream run.

But now, suddenly, it's different. There's an autumnal feeling in the air. (I love that word: autumnal.) It's like someone flicked a giant switch on 1 March decided it would be autumn from now on. Sure, we see reminders of our glorious summer here and there. It's beautiful in the sun but the heat no longer follows me around the corner and into the shade. I now need to turn on the kitchen lights in the morning as I get ready for work. I know that once daylight saving finishes in a few weeks' time that dusk will be gradually trimming away more and more of my evening, making me yearn for hibernation. There are other signs, too. The extra layer of clothing each morning, the dewy coat on the grass, the fogged up car windows ...

Autumn is less romantic in Wellington than in other parts of the world. Trudging through crunchy carpets of fallen leaves is not an everyday occurrence, although they do exist in pockets of this region. But autumn brings with it a feeling of cosiness while still enjoying some of the kickbacks from summer. The light looks warm but the air is crisp. The barbeque has given way to the slow cooker. Vegetable soup and roast dinners beckon. My favourite holiday of the year is almost upon us. Autumn is a wonderfully snug way to ease into the long winter months ahead.

Even the cat has noticed. During the summer months, we'd barely see her from dawn to dusk. Now she is back inside at a reasonable hour, demanding more attention than ever, going to bed before us and waking me up in the morning with purrs and nuzzles.

Now, where's my hot chocolate?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Ferrymead Heritage Park

A couple of weeks ago, I spent two gloriously sunny days based at the picturesque Ferrymead Heritage Park in Christchurch. It's like stepping back in time into this colonial style village, with old fashioned shops, cottages and charming little buildings to explore up and down the main street. I would have loved to look around the big shed full of restored vehicles and farming equipment but had to make do peering in through the big windows ... and then along came a beautifully restored train to take us on a little tour of the village and surrounding area. How delightful!

I'll let the pictures doing the talking.
Check out the movie times
An old classroom. What's changed?
You can buy anything at the general store.
All aboard!
The sign says you can only pull the bell ONCE.
Time for a tune.
High tea and treats.
Not in my kitchen!