Saturday, 31 July 2010

Botannix Studio Café, Botany

Botany and its surrounding suburbs is a growing area in south-eastern Sydney, with more and more people attracted to its green surroundings and more relaxed pace. And where there are people, there are places to eat. Cafés, restaurants and bakeries are growing in number in the area. Some have been around for a while, such as Brasserie Bread in Banksmeadow. Last Sunday I headed to Botany to Botannix Studio Café with my friend *Ranger Stacey* (my new nickname for her - she's good with animals!) for a leisurely breakfast after a big night with the girls the day before.

Much needed morning caffeine
Botannix is different kind of café because it isn't only a café - it also has an adjoining yoga studio, sun-drenched courtyard and its very own organic vegetable garden.
Street front

Antique bottles
The menu is quite extensive, with lots of options, including vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Meals are around the $15 mark, and coffees are of a standard price.

The food and coffee was ok, but my favourite aspect of this café was the ambiance and decor. It reminded me and Ranger Stacey so much of Byron Bay. Everything from the yoga studio at the back, to the veggie garden, to the beautiful photographs  adorning the walls, homely wooden furnishings and thoughtful finishing touches.

The service was friendly and attentive and I would definitely like to head back to Botannix to try some of their baked goods including fresh muffins, breads and slices. They all looked good but unfortunately I was a little full to sample them after my hearty breakfast!

25 Swinbourne St, Botany
Ph: (02) 9666 7315

Botannix on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Pistachio and Orange Blossom Macarons

For me, orange blossom water and pistachios evoke the exotic colours, scents and flavours of Middle Eastern cuisine. But what is orange blossom water? It is the distilled water that contains the essential oils of the orange blossom. It is used in savoury and sweet dishes alike, and a little goes a long way. You can pick orange blossom water at middle eastern grocery stores, as well as gourmet food stores. I picked mine up at a health food store here in Sydney.

Here is a simple, beautiful recipe to make these macarons with a slight middle eastern twist :) I have adapted this recipe from The AWW: Macaroons & Biscuits book.

1/3 c unsalted roasted pistachios
3 aged eggwhites (I left mine out in a bowl covered with clingfilm overnight)
1/4 c (55g) caster sugar
green food colouring
1 1/4 (200g) icing sugar
3/4 c (90g) ground almonds
1 tbsp icing sugar, extra
1/4 c pouring (pure) cream
150g white chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp orange blossom water*

* The original recipe calls for 4 tsp, however I used 2 tsp and felt the flavour was still slightly too floral. Next time I will half it to 1 tsp for a more subtle flavour. You could always add a little more if you wanted the orange blossom flavour to be stronger.

1. Lightly grease heavy oven trays and line with baking paper. Combine the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse briefly, then sieve twice and set aside in a bowl.
2. Process pistachios until finely ground. Sift and discard any remaining course bits, then set aside.
3. Beat eggwhites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add caster sugar a teaspoon at a time along with a few drops of the colouring. Beat until the sugar dissolves and the eggwhites are thick and glossy.
4. Fold in 1/4 c of the ground pistachios and then the icing sugar and ground almonds in 2 batches. The mixture should 'flow like magma', which means it should slide slowly down the side of the bowl when you tip it.
5. Spoon mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm plain nozzle. Pipe 4cm rounds about 2cm apart onto trays. Tap trays on bench so macarons spread lightly.
6. Dust macarons with extra sifted icing sugar and sprinkle with a little of the remaining grounds pistachios (as much or as little as you like). Stand 30 minutes, or until you can touch them lightly without any batter sticking to your finger. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 150 degrees celsius.

7. Bake around 12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on the macarons and remove them before they start developing any golden colour on the edges. Cool on trays.
8. To make the filling heat the cream in a small saucepan, removing it from the heat just before it reaches boiling point. Pour the cream over the white chocolate in a small, heatproof bowl. Sit for about a minute and then stir until smooth. Sit until the ganache thickens to spreadble butter-like consistency then stir in the orange blossom water.
9. Sandwich the macarons with the filling, and enjoy!

So there you have it - a little bit of luxury mid-week! :)

Ladybird x

Monday, 26 July 2010

Red Velvet Cupcakes

The red velvet cake was said to be a signature dish at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York during the 1920s. According to urban legend, a woman once visitng the hotel asked for the recipe in the 1960s and upon request for bill realised she had been charged a hefty fee for the recipe! Her revenge? Spreading the recipe across the country in a chain letter. Nice.

Who knows whether or not the story is true, but it remains clear that it is a very popular cake flavour in the US. It is characterised by its red-brown colour. Where does the colour come from? Well, the key ingredients in a red velvet cake are: buttermilk, cocoa and (some say) traditionally, beetroot. Nowadays, however, red food colouring is usually used to enhance the colour.
Red velvet cake is not a common flavour in Australia, and so I wanted to try its *supposed* original form with the beetroot. The result was a light and moist cake, much like carrot cake but the beetroot was hardly distinguishable. If you wanted to intensify the red colour you could add a couple of drops of red food colouring to the batter.
Red Velvet Cupcakes (from '200 Cupcakes' by Hamlyn)
Makes 12 small cupcakes
150g self raising flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100ml buttermilk
1 tsp vingear
50g lightly salted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 egg
50g raw betroot, peeled and finely grated
200g cream cheese (Philadelphia)
2 tsp vanilla extract
300g icing sugar
12 fresh cherries (to decorate)
1. Prehet the oven to 180 degrees celsuis. Line a muffin tray with paper cases. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate soda in a bowl and set aside. Mix together the buttermilk and vinegar in a jug.
2. Beat together the butter and caster sugar in a separate bowl until pale and creamy, then beat in the egg and the beetroot.

3. Add half the flour mixture and mix gently with a large metal spoon. Stir in half the buttermilk mixture. Combine the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining liquid.
4. Divide the mixture between the paper cases and bake for around 20 minutes or until risen and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
5. To make the icing, beat the cream cheese, vanilla extract and sifted icing sugar until smooth and creamy.
6. Swirl the icing over the cooled cupcakes and top with a cherry on each.

Ladybird x

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Homemade Yoghurt & 'Shrikhand'

I was never a big fan of yoghurt until I first tried homemade yoghurt in India at Mr Ladybird's grandparents' home. Since that fateful day, I haven't looked back. Homemade yoghurt is referred to as curd or 'dahi' in India, and most households make their own. It is wonderfully creamy like greek yoghurt and is not as sour as the supermarket-bought varieties. There is also a special satisfaction in making something like this at home... you know exactly what's going into it, it's better for your, and it is so economical!

After much research, tips from in-laws, trial and error, and let's not forget the tears and frustration... at last I can make my own yoghurt! I must also give a shout-out to a certain blogger's post on homemade yoghurt that helped me along the way :) Thanks, Christine!

The first part of this post is about how to make your own yoghurt, and the second is using is to create a beautiful Indian dessert called 'Shrikhand'. This is a sweetened yoghurt infused with spices. In this case, I've used saffron and cardamom for a traditional version of the sweet.

Part 1 - Making the yoghurt
Making your own yoghurt is a bit like riding a bike.. It might take you alittle while to get the hand of it, but once you do, you'll be set for life! Hopefully the recipe and instructions I have set out below will see you on your way to making your own yoghurt and you'll never need to buy it again!

1L full cream, UHT milk*
2 tbsp natural yoghurt **
* You can use fresh milk - I just seem to have more success with UHT milk.
** Once you have made your first batch of yoghurt, you'll be able to reserve some of it to use as a starter for your next batch.

1. In a heavy based medium size saucepan, heat the milk until it's just about to boil. Then switch off the heat, and allow the milk to cool down to luke warm temperature. Once you can dip your pinky finger in the middle of the saucepan comfortably for 10 seconds, you're ready to go. This is the most important part - if it's too hot, the heat will kill the bacteria (don't worry, it's good bacteria!) that forms the yoghurt.
2. Scoop out about half a cup of the luke warm milk into a mug, and mix in the 2 tablespoons of yoghurt with a fork. Then return the milk and yoghurt mixture back to the saucepan and stir gently to combine.
3. Transfer the liquid to a clean dry, 1 litre capacity jar or container with a snug-fitting lid. I used a large coffee jar as suggested and used by Christine in her post.
4. Now for the incubation... The yoghurt needs to be cosy, warm and undisturbed so that it can ferment. I wrapped my jar in a beanie and a hand towel, and placed it next to my heater overnight for 8 hours. You can leave it for longer, but as a general rule - the longer you leave it, the tangier it will become.
5. After the yoghurt has incubated it should be set.  Transfer to the fridge to cease the incubation process and to chill.

Part 2 - Making the 'Shrikhand'
Shrikhand is a popular dessert in Gujarat, which is a state in west India. A common misconception about Indian food in western countries such as Australia is that indian food is pretty much what you find in Indian restaurants. Typically, the food one comes across in indian restaurants is quite Punjabi in style (North Indian). However, in reality, there is huge variety in Indian cuisine. North and south indian cuisine are vastly different, let alone the differences in food from state to state.

1. The first step to this dessert (after making the yoghurt of course) is to 'hang the curd' as is often said in India. Essentially, this means straining the yoghurt to drain off excess fluid so that you're left with thick, creamy yoghurt. This is traditionally done by pouring the yoghurt into muslin cloth, tying it up and suspending it. However, I didn't have any muslin cloth on hand so I improvised with a sieve over a bowl, and I lined the bowl with two squares of kitchen paper towel. Then I carefully poured in the yoghurt.

Then I covered the bowl and left it in the fridge overnight (about 10 hours) to drain.

The drained fluid can be discarded and you're left with lovely, thickened yoghurt. How much? About 500 ml.

Now it's time for the fun part - flavouring the yoghurt! Here's how...

a scant 1/2 tsp saffron threads
1/4 tsp cardamom seeds, powdered with a mortar and pestle
a dash of full cream milk
approx. 4-5 tbsp pure icing sugar, sifted
chopped nuts (I used pistachios) to decorate

1. Heat the milk in a small saucepan/pan or in the microwave, then transfer 2 teaspoons of the milk into a small bowl. Crumble in the saffron and, using the back of a teaspoon, crush the saffron into the milk a little. Set aside for about 10 minutes to infuse.
2. Add the saffron and milk mixture and cardamom to the strained yoghurt, then add the icing sugar and mix through. Add more sugar to taste if you want it sweeter.
3. At this point the shrikhand is ready but I like to refrigerate it overnight if I have time to allow the flavours and colour to develop. Serve in small bowls sprinkled with nuts.

*** No saffron was harmed during this photo shoot. Trust me - every last strand was carefully returned to its box and placed back in the frige! ***

Ladybird x

Friday, 23 July 2010

The First Drop Café, Redfern

Do you spot a happy punter in this photograph? :P

Recently I had the pleasure of trying this popular little cafe located on a lovely, leafy street in Surry Hills/Redfern. I had driven past on several occasions in the weeks leading up to my visit and had often thought to myself "Hrmmm... I must try that cafe one day!"

On this particular Sunday, Mr Ladybird and I were heading for breakfast at one of our regular Surry Hills spots, Cafe Zoe on Bourke St. However, after parking opposite the cafe and seeing its closed doors we realised - D'oh! Cafe Zoe is closed on Sundays! Without delay, we thought there was no better time to try a new cafe and so we headed straight for The First Drop Café.

It was very crowded but fortunately we only had to wait about 5 minutes for a table. We were quite glad to sit outside as it was a bit loud and crowded inside. It was a lovely, crisp and sunny winter's day outside, so sitting outside with our jackets on was very pleasant - a nice way to ease into the day. Shortly after seating a friendly waiter took our coffee order and we started perusing the menu.

I was impressed by the variety of breakfast dishes, with lots of options to take diners' fancy..everything from light and healthy options to hearty breakfasts to fix the worst of Sunday morning hangovers - not me though ;) The menu was huge. Being a typical Libran, I needed extra time to decide on what I wanted... Decisions! Decisions!

Our coffees arrived and they were niiiceee.. I am by no means a coffee expert, but they were smooth, creamy and not bitter at all.

Mr Ladybird enjoyed a vegetarian omlette with pesto and a poached egg nestled on top.

Oozing yolk...

I had the Breakfast bruschetta with mushroom, fetta and tomato with a side of scrambled eggs.

For two breakfasts and coffees, our meal came to around $30 -great value for the quality and service we experienced on the day. Yup - a great place for a nice weekend breakfast!

The First Drop Café
69 Baptist St, Redfern
(02) 9690 1611

First Drop on Urbanspoon

Ladybird x

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Fondant fun: Hot chocolate cupcakes

Now that's a cupcake.. get it? get it?! Cup!Cake! Bahahaha... Ok, ok, I'm sorry.. that was lame :P

Recently I entered a made these little hot chocolate look-a-like cupcakes.. it was one of those Sunday afternoons when I got the creative itch, but it had to be something different. I really enjoyed making my Little Macs (Cheeseburger Macarons) last month, and I thought another look-a-like baking activity would be fun.

To give you an idea of the actual size, here is the cupcake pictured next to a regular size teacup.

Unfortunately I don't have step-by-step photos for these.. Sticky hands, much valued camera.. you get the picture. So hopefully these instruction will give you an idea of how I created these cupakes.

1, To make these cupcakes I first made a batch of vanilla cupcakes. Then, once cooled, I peeled off the cupcake papers.
2. I then smoothed white chocolate ganache over the sides, leaving the base and top uncovered.
3. Once the ganache had set (about 30 minutes), I attached a measured strip of white RTR fondant. The strip was wide enough to match the height of the cupcake and to give room to hold the cupcake icing to follow.
4. To attach the cup handle I lay the cupcake on their sides and attached a small strip of fondant with a little water.
5. Next I made the italian meringue icing (see below), which I coloured brown with brown food colouring.
6. I then carefully spooned the icing into the 'cups' and smoothed gently then topped with miniature marshmallows.

Italian Meringue Icing (AWW recipe)
A beautiful and versatile icing, italian meringue is creamy, soft and volumous.

1 c (200g) caster sugar
1/3 c water (80 ml) water
2 egg whites

1. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan, and stir over heat without boiling until the sugar is dissolved.
2. Boil uncovered without stirring until the syrup reaches 116 degrees on a candy thermometer. The syrup should be thick but not coloured. Remove from heat and allow the bubbles to subside.
3. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer to soft peaks. With the motor running, add the hot syrup in a thin, stead stream.
4. Beat on high speed for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and glossy.

In this picture, you can see how lovely and shiny this icing is...

So there you have it, a little bit of fondant fun. I don't think I'll ever get bored of playing with ready to roll (RTR) fondant - it makes me feel like a kid again!

Happy baking, dear readers :)

Ladybird x

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Wentworth High Tea at Sofitel Sydney

A couple of Saturdays ago I had the pleasure of heading to Sydney city for a lovely high tea with some girls... High tea is pretty expensive wherever you go, so it's a rare treat for me. Needless to say, when an occasion such as this rolls around, I get pretty excited about it!

Upon arrival at the hotel, I was blown away by the decadent interior of the foyer... Very glamorous and inviting. Then, once seated in the Sofitel Lounge we ordered our tea. There was a good range of black, herbal and white teas on offer.

I also remarked that on the bowl of sugar cubes on the table - brown and white sugar cubes! (forgive my excitement, but it was the first time I've seen brown sugar cubes in Australia...)

Once we had settled in and started on our tea the afternoon tea stands arrived... 3 levels of cakes, tarts and savouries... Macarons, scones, finger sanwiches, mini baguettes, eclairs, cheesecake and more!

I was very tempted to start with the top plate of sweets - they looked too good to resist...

However, being the good girl that I am, I did the right thing and had savoury first. My absolute favourite savoury item was the profiterole filled with goat's cheese and mushroom - it was so delicious :)

Now we all know that the litmus test in measuring the quality of an afternoon tea is the scones. I can confirm that they were very good - warm, soft and fluffy.. And they weren't covered in flour either, which was a relief for me. My pet hate is when you're wearing lip gloss and you bite into a floury scone.. all the flour gets stuck on your lips and it looks (and feels) awful!  Anyway, I do digress... I must mention the jam! We couldn't get enough of the strawberry jam... it was so good. Quite possibly the best strawberry jam I've ever had (a big call, I know!)

At this point we were all in need of a glass of water, and hence my only real criticism of the high tea at Sofitel was the service.. The staff were pleasant when we dealt with them, but I felt the lounge was quite understaffed on the day as it was very difficult to get their attention. My table asked multiple times for water before we actually received it.. I consider myself quite a patient patron but at one point I was so parched I contemplated going and getting my own from the bar!

For me there were two fantastic sweet items. First, the Peach Meringue Tart - tarlets filled with white peach curd and topped with scroched meringue.

However, for me the clear winner was the Raspberry Opera Slice- a layered sponge with raspberries and dark chocolate... We all swooned a little when we tried this little cake.. Doesn't it look beautiful?

Oh what a sweet ending to a lovely afternoon tea with the ladies... I can taste the opera slice now... Oh how dreamy!

I recommend giving the Wentworth Afternoon Tea a try if you're visiting Sydney some time. It's vegetarian friendly and there is also a gluten-free menu available. Check out their website for more details on the full afternoon tea menu.

Wentworth Afternoon Tea
Sofitel Sydney
61-101 Phillip St
Sydney NSW 2000
2 to 5 pm daily, including weekends
$49 per person, $59 per person with a glass of champagne

Sofitel Wentworth on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Bastille Day Cookies

Alas this post is a day late (sigh)... I seem a bit out of sorts with my food blogging at the moment.. Leaving my camera at home when I go out, laptop out of action, kitchen disasters... mon dieu! It's been a funny week, but at last I bring you my Bastille Day cookies!

Cookies for such an important day in the French calendar would not be suitable unless they themselves were a little French. I had been hanging onto a french butter biscuit recipe for months, scribbled down on a post-it note floating around my handbag.. crying out for some love and attention! Regrettably, I do not have the source for this recipe, so do forgive me. Oh, and a brief disclaimer.. if you are the French baking police I do not purport to be an expert on anything French, let alone French baking :)

These butter cookies are known as Sables. 'Sables' is French for 'sand' and refers to the sandy texture of this delicate, shortbread like cookie. Sables are said to originate from Normandy, France.

Like many sweet French recipes, the quality of your final result depends on the quality of your ingredients. So it seemed only appropriate to use two of my absolute favourite ingredients for baking... Lurpak unsalted butter and vanilla bean paste.

Here is the recipe to this simple (but a bit 'ooh la la') cookie recipe.

140g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
260g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
scant 1/4 tsp salt

1. With an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add egg and combine well.
2. In a separate bowl combined the dry ingredients and whisk together briefly to remove lumps.
3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just incorporated. Take care not to overbeat.
4. Divide the dough in half and wrap in cling film and refrigerate until firm. A couple of hours is best.
5. On a lightly floured surface, bring the dough together and roll out to around a half centimetre thickness.
6. Cut out desired shapes and transfer onto baking trays lined with baking paper.

7. Place the baking tray in the fridge for about 20 minutes to chill and firm up the dough and preheat the oven to 175 degrees celsius (350 degrees F).
8. Bake for about 12 minutes or until golden at the edges. Cool briefly on trays before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cool I rolled out thin strips of blue, white and red fondant. To stick the fondant to the cookies, I dabbed a tiny amount of water here and there on the reverse side of the fondant. And voila - miniature, edible French flags!

Viva la France!

Ladybird x

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Carrot Kheer

"Carrots and milk? Anna, that sounds gross..." Mr Ladybird warned - and so I threw down the gauntlet (in this case, an oven mitt)  and declared, "Game on!" Mr Ladybird is always rather frank is his opinions on food... so I do enjoy the challenge at times. At other times it can be a bit, well, pesky! But I could understand Mr Ladybird's hesitation. He has become somewhat of a kheer snob. There, I said it! Since I started making chaval kheer (a creamy indian rice pudding), he shuns others' versions (which is really rather sweet in a stubborn kind of way).

This recipe comes from British-Indian chef and author, Anjum Anand. I have had mixed success with her recipes in the past, but I was convinced the flavour combination would work a bit like carrot cake - sounds odd yet, somehow, it works.

Carrot Kheer
1L full cream milk
250g carrots, grated
1/2 tsp green cardamom seeds, finely ground
pinch saffron
3 - 4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp chopped pistachios to garnish
2 tbsp flaked almonds (optional)

1. Heat the milk in a wide, heavy-based saucepan, stirring and scraping the base with the spoon frequently to make sure the milk does not catch and burn. Keep cooking until it reduces by about one third - this takes about 25 minutes.
2. Add the carrots and continue cooking for another 15-25 minutes or until they are soft and the milk is as thick as you like it. (I like it at a just drinkable consistency) It will also thicken up slightly once chilled.
3. Stir in the sugar, saffron and cardamom powder, cook for another 2 minutes and taste for sweetness. Bear in mind chilling dulls the sweetness of food, so add a little more than you think you will need.
4. Cool and then place in the fridge for several hours, covered with clingfilm as milk absorbs flavours from other food in the fridge. Overnight is best to allow the flavours to infuse. When ready to eat, serve in bowls sprinkled with the nuts.

The result? Delicious, slightly carroty and beautifully scented kheer without the starchiness of its rice equivalent.

Oh.. and you'll never guess who came back for seconds ;)

Ladybird x
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