Jul 29, 2012

Medal Winning Manis. Coooookkkkkiiiiieeeee - Part 2.

Hands up if you were up at 5.30 this morning to watch the first of the swimming finals at the London Olympics?

And wasn't it a proud moment for Australia when the team's first gold medal was won in the pool by Alicia Coutts, Melanie Schlanger, Brittany Elmslie and Cate Campbell?  They completed the women's 4 x 100m freestyle in an Olympic Record time, beating the Netherlands and the USA.  Even Michelle Obama was cheering them on in the audience.

The women's swimming events are my favourite competition of the Olympics.  All the medal winners seem like genuinely nice young women and their youthful excitement and energy is a joy to watch.  I also like that their events are a celebration of what women can do in a swim suit rather than how they look in one.  That their greyhound like physiques come from training and are built for speed and endurance rather than from the imaginations of a master photoshopper somewhere in magazine land.

Though I have to admit, I was fixated on one part of the swimmers' physiques.  Their fingernails.  Or more specifically, their manicures.  The Dutch team all had a strong orange on their nails whilst the Australians went for gold and green.  It was the first thing I noticed as they dived into the pool to begin their swims.  Team USA featured some patriotic nail art, from memory.

As promised, I'm also back with news about what I did with the other 600g of Oreos from the other day.   The good news is that it's a very simple recipe and the even better news is that it's pretty tasty too.  All you need are marshmallows, butter, Oreos and the ability to work quickly with the melted combination of the three.

I found the recipe for No Bake Chewy Cookies and Cream Bars here.  I adapted the amount of each ingredient to what I had on hand - 600g Oreos, 90g butter and 6 1/2 cups of marshmallows.

The first step involves melting the marshmallows and butter together in the microwave.  I used a pyrex bowl (which proved handy when it came to the washing up) and started with 1 1/2 minutes on HIGH before blitzing at 20 second intervals until the marshmallows started to melt.

Besides looking very pretty, the melted marshmallows leave your kitchen smelling very Candyland.

Then I stirred everything through and added the mixture to 600g of food processed Oreos.  I got a good result by using my Kitchenaid to do the mixing but if you've got particularly good upper body strength (possibly from Olympic level swimming), you could mix by hand.  Be warned though, the marshmallow stiffens up quickly, especially in this cold weather.  Once you've got everything well combined, transfer to a lined square cake tin.  It helps to grease over the baking paper and to also leave a lot of extra paper hanging from opposite sides for de-panning later.  The original recipe calls for a 20cm square tin.  With my larger sized mix, I used a 23cm square tin.

To get a smooth and even top to the bars, place a sheet of baking paper over the mixture and press down evenly until you get as flat a finish as you can.  I had one of those a-ha moments and realised that rolling a can of soft drink over the surface does a pretty even job.

As an aside, may I tell you how much I love flat ginger ale these days?  I purposely open a can the night before I want to drink it to let most of the bubbles out.  I particularly like the Canada Dry brand which (you'll be so surprised to know) is available at Costco.  Also, if you're currently on icky tasting powdered supplements for whatever reason, dissolving it in a half / half mix of water and flat ginger ale definitely helps the medicine go down.  I haven't tested this on cod-liver oil though.  Does anyone take that stuff anymore?

Back to the cookie bars.  They set pretty quickly in the fridge.  I left mine for 4 hours and it set to a glossy finish.  The texture is smooth and chewy.  Less creamy than a fudge or truffle.  There's also a bit of a crunch as well.  The bars are easy to cut.  Even I managed to get Donna Hay magazine worthy edges with a normal kitchen knife.  As the bars are pretty rich, I ended up halving my original 3cm square slices into little fingers.

After weeks of watching the series on Lifestyle Food, I finally caved in and bought Jamie's 30 Minute Meals today.  Costco is selling the hardcover version for $19.99 at the moment.  I think the true test for me isn't taking 30 minutes to get the meal on the table, it's going to be whether I can clean the kitchen in less than half an hour afterward!

Have you tried any of Jamie's 30 minute meals?

Jul 28, 2012

The Morning After Magic Mike. The Olympic Opening Ceremony, London 2012.

With so many of the events of the London Olympics starting in the early hours, local time, it's just as well I had the foresight to stock up the SSG Manor tea shelf with enough British teabags to see me through the early starts of the next couple of weeks.  Though technically, the Twinings I have was packed in China or Poland, according to the box.

I was a bit slow off the mark waking up for the 6.30am start of the opening ceremony  on account of being up way past my bed time last night having dinner and watching Magic Mike with some lovely ladies who twitter.

Mr SSG didn't really need that elaborate an explanation about the movie to be honest.  When Friday Night Footy is on the cards, I think he was just relieved he didn't have to go and see it with me. Interestingly there were quite a few men in the audience in a rather full cinema. In case you were wondering, the loudest people in the audience were the older ladies in the back rows.  And they were most vocal during the 'male revue' scenes.  Which weren't as cringe worthy as I thought they would be. I'm one of those people who finds plenty to do in the kitchen at hens' involving men in G-strings but the sequences in Magic Mike were actually quite witty, cleverly choreographed and well... fun to watch.

Magic Mike was good fun.  Aside from seeing the very, very, very toned cast in the previews, I really didn't know what to expect of the film.  In essence, Magic Mike explores the world of male revue and the impact of the easy money / hard partying lifestyle on young men who drift into the job without thinking too hard about the future.  At the centre of the plot are two young and hunky men who enter the industry to get what they can out of it but find themselves falling victim to the drug scene that is as much a part of the lifestyle as alcohol and random sex.

Channing Tatum's character, Mike has ambitions beyond being a stripper for the rest of his life and saves the considerable amount of cash he finds in his G-string at the end of his performances towards starting his own business.  In contrast, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), doesn't have much expectation beyond living for the moment and partying hard with the cash he makes.

Being of a certain vintage myself (a bit younger than the back row ladies), my favourite cast member was Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the manager/boss of the group.  McConaughey was obviously having great fun in his role as he slithered around in leather chaps, gyrated in tight lycra and generally played the antithesis of his rom-com persona in the Kate Hudson movies.  He just nailed the outwardly charming / inwardly cold and calculating persona of Dallas and it was an enjoyable performance to watch.

Washing up in the kitchen the morning after Magic Mike, I found myself craving the kind of greasy fry up breakfast I'm sure Dallas and the crew would also be in need of after a hard night's entertaining - a bacon and egg roll.  Made with orangic eggs and smoked bacon, of course.

Nothing cuts through a cold winter's morning like the smell of frying bacon, the sizzling of eggs or those pops in the pool of oil that invariably accompanies a fry up.

Orange juice is the only thing to drink with a bacon and egg roll, as far as I'm concerned.

Thanks to the wonder that is Foxtel iQ, I had the Opening Ceremony recorded and ready to roll over breakfast.  Danny Boyle did an amazing job of referencing so many disparate elements of British history in his vision for London 2012.  The challenges of trying to appeal to and engage an audience of millions would be overwhelming and I think there will always be parts of the entertainment that appeal more to some and less to others.  But I appreciate that Boyle just didn't focus on the easy and 'fun' themes of music, theatre and popular culture and included segments dedicated to the NHS, the bombings and the industrial revolution.

That being said, my favourite moments were definitely from the cinematic elements of the presentation.

Daniel Craig as James Bond escorting the Queen to her helicopter.

The Royal Corgis trotting in the wake of Craig and the Queen almost stole the show.

And Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean providing some virtuoso keyboard skills as he was accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra.


The Duchess wore a fitted suit to the Opening Ceremony which means I'll be pulling out of my original plan of channelling her for wardrobe inspiration for the time being.  Baby bump SSG doesn't seem to be feeling the fitted waist look at the moment.

I took full advantage of my early start with the television (and the remote) and finally got around to watching Edwina and Patsy's Olympic special.  I think that if even Patsy herself had a near death experience with Spanx type under garments then the rest of us should take heed and not bother wearing them.

Still on the Olympics.  Stephanie Rice is competing early tomorrow morning (5am!?!?!) so I'd best get myself organised now with programming it all on Foxtel iQ.

Bye for now,

Jul 25, 2012

Coooookkkkkiiiiieeeee - Part 1.

There are some Wednesdays when it's not enough to merely leave the house enveloped in a cloud of fragrance from a hot shower with some of Jo Malone's Pomegranate Noir shower gel.

Indeed, to be truly prepared for whatever the day has to offer, you need to go to work armed with a baked good of some description.

Which for me was this Baked Oreo Cheesecake (linking to a very entertaining blog post with the recipe featured) which I made last night.  What could possibly go wrong or more accurately, what can't be made right at work when you know you've got cheesecake to eat for afternoon tea?

Successfully removing my precious cheesecake from its springform tin this morning put a smile on my face and a spring in my accelerator foot as I braced myself for the drive to work.

The whole Oreo obsession started (as all potentially catastrophic food ideas do) at Costco one weekend.  There was a crazy deal on multi packed boxes of Oreos where $7 could buy you 1.2 kg of the cream filled cookies.

It was an offer too good to refuse so naturally, the Oreos found their way into our trolley and into my imagination.


Then I had a 'What Would the Cookie Monster Do' (WWTCMD) moment and decided that I wouldn't just eat my way through my stash, I'd bake with them and drop the 'coooooookkkkkiiiiieeeeeee' word as often as I could in the process - out loud and in the captions for this blog post.  Small things.

As I gathered the ingredients together for the cheesecake, I looked down at my stomach under its layer of blue polar fleece and thought that perhaps it wasn't such a crazy thing to be making like the Cookie Monster since I do kind of look like him at the moment.  Just from the waist down, mind you.

Cooookkkkkiiiieeeees and my cuppa.

Evening baking on a weeknight is always helped along with a cup of tea and working with crushed biscuits goes well with a cup of tea as well.  Because I had such a huge reserve of Oreos, it didn't really matter that one or two (or three) disappeared with that cup of English Breakfast.  The cookies above were hand crushed to be stirred through the cream cheese layer.

Cooookkkkiiiieeeeeees in the Kitchenaid.

Call it a combination of a sugar rush and the kitchen being wall to wall Oreos, but I lost count of exactly how many were meant to go into the food processor to make the base, so I think a whole foil packet of 13 went in.

Crushed cooookkkkkiiiieeeesss and melted butter looking a bit like that fancy dessert gravel all those fancy restaurants are advocating these days.

I mixed the crumbs with 60g of melted butter and placed the mixture into the base of a 23cm round Anolon springform tin.  I greased the sides and placed a layer of baking paper through the base if that makes sense.  To try and keep things as water tight as possible.  To approximate some kind of evenness to the biscuit base, I used a measuring cup to compact the rice as much as I could.

You definitely need at least 900g of cream cheese to do a 23cm cake tin justice.  I ended up using the full 4 packets or 1 kilo of full fat Philly.  It does pay to dice it and blitz on high in your microwave in 10 second blasts so that it's softened and will mix more easily in your stand mixer.  I used half a container of sour cream which is a little more than the recipe calls for.  With regards to the eggs, I followed the advice of the blogger who posted the recipe and used 3 eggs rather than 4.  I don't know which of these factors were responsible for my cheesecake looking 'whiter' than the blogger's but all of the above seemed to work for me and the cake had a wonderful consistency.  I did add 3/4 of a cup of caster sugar rather than the 1/2 cup suggested.  Other than those modifications (and losing count of the Oreos), I didn't change a thing.

It's probably sacrilege using Le Creuset to water bath a cheesecake but when there's coooookkkkiiiieees involved, only the best will do.
If you're a novice baked cheesecake maker like myself, I thoroughly recommend going the extra mile and covering your tin with a couple of layers of alfoil before immersing it in your water bath.  Despite being a little browned on the top, I didn't get any cracks in the top of my cheesecake and it was very moist.  Also, trying to waterproof the cake tin ensured that the biscuit base didn't get soggy.

Well.  The cheesecake was very well received at work today.  The occasion was my colleague's baby shower and if a crowd as varied as 2 pregnant women as well as men and women of all ages thought it was good cheesecake then it was GOOD Cheesecake.  It was all sorts of drama for everyone at work today but at least we got to sit around for a few minutes and silently inhale baked goods before returning to the war zone somewhat galvanised.

I did have to squirrel away this piece for Mr SSG though because he was trying to persuade me to either take it to work minus his slice or else find an odd shaped cake tin 'with a side bit for me' to bake it in.  Mr SSG's mind works in strange ways sometimes but he got his cheesecake in the end.

So that was how a cheesecake saved my day.  I'm off to enjoy my first subscription issue of the AWW. With a bronzed Katie H on the cover and  the latest insights into the highs (KRudd is a grand dad) and the lows (Craig Thomson) of the ALP.  Where would be knowledge of our political landscape be without you, AWW?

Have a good one.

Jul 23, 2012

Nearly the Olympics.

It's less than a week until the London Olympics begin! 

The down side is that with the time difference, the opening ceremony is going to start at around 5.30am  AEST on Saturday July 24. 

While the athletes will have their PBs (personal bests) and the Olympic records firmly in their minds as they march in the ceremony, I will only have one PB on my mind - Kraft Whipped Peanut Butter .  It's made in Canada and does have a different taste as well as texture to Australian made peanut butter.  It seems a little more salty than our locally made version.  It's also easier to spread on toast.  How can I not feel like an Olympic athlete as I munch whipped peanut butter and honey on toast come dawn this Saturday?  Kraft is an official partner of the Australian team.

I'll come clean and confess to you that the main reason I want to watch the opening ceremony is to get an early look at what the Duchess of Cambridge will be wearing.  She's always so well put together and if I can improvise her look on the day around my bump, I'll be giving it a go for sure.

I wonder if she'll be embracing the designer athletic look like Edwina and Patsy?  The Ab Fab Olympics episode is airing on the ABC this Thursday.  I've read that Stella McCartney will be making a guest appearance.

Jacket - Zara, scarf - Liberty London, scarf ring - Mai Tai Collection, necklace - Red Phoenix Emporium.
Or will she be rocking a commemorative Liberty print?  I bought this scarf earlier this year in London.
It's the Big Ben print which was released to commemorate the London Games and has the cities of the Commonwealth who've hosted the Olympics around the border.  I love the edgy colours.  It's the perfect Olympic option for those of us who still have reservations about wearing sports luxe outside of an exercise related context.

I'm limbering up for the start of my bakeathon tomorrow night.

I've got some Coke Zero for energy.

And a lucky packet of Olympic Oreos most of which will hopefully end up in the cheesecake rather than in my mouth!

I know I said last week that never would be the next time that I'd be watching The Shire but the television is calling my name right now....  I need a distraction.

Jul 22, 2012

Incidental Housework on A Whatever Comes Up Weekend.

And before you know it, this weekend has practically gone.

I've been having one of those decadent weekends which has been totally devoid of any concrete plans or commitments.  I just woke up on Saturday with nothing but a whole day of 'whatever comes up' ahead of me.  Then Sunday rolled around and it was more of the same.  Time just seem to fly faster the longer I sat on the sofa.

Ironically, the freedom made me quite productive.  I wasn't in my usual rush to get the housework done so that I could start 'really enjoying' the weekend.  Little things around the house that needed to be done made themselves known to me as I roamed from room to room and it wasn't actually as painful or time consuming to complete them as I thought it would be.  I've even scheduled my iQ to record 'Being Lara Bingle' and found a repeat showing of last week's episode to record as well.

My trusty rotation of work shoes got cleaned, polished and aired in the back room.

And I rummaged through my cake tin library to find the ones I need for my forthcoming baking projects.  It's taken me a few months to reconnect with my inner Domestic Goddess, but the feeling is strong and I have a couple of morning teas I need to bring baked goods to.  Interestingly enough, the key ingredient in both recipes are Oreos.  Lots of Oreos.  I will post about each as I bake them over the next fortnight, so watch this space for my take on baking with Oreos.

All that incidental housework left me in no fit state to cook dinner.  So it was Thai home delivery for us last night.

It was so beautifully presented it was almost like going out for dinner.  The vegetarian curry puffs were presented on a pandan leaf.

And the chicken satays also came with a squares of lightly toasted white bread which made rather good bit sized satay sandwiches.

During the course of my weekend cleaning, I rescued this vintage rice cooker from the top of the storage unit in the ironing room.  It was passed on to us by Mr SSG's parents.  It's at least 20 years old and its box has an airline checked baggage sticker on it.  Which means it's travelled  with the family from Malaysia to Perth and now on to Sydney.  The rice cooker is in immaculate condition and has an impressive capacity of 1.5 litres which will be perfect for tonight's repeat attempt at 'clay pot chicken rice in a rice cooker'.

And that's about all I've been up to this weekend.  Uneventful is the aim these days.  Hope you're having a lovely afternoon and here's to a good week ahead.

Jul 19, 2012

Malory Towers and Marni (H and M).

Sydney is a city that loves reinvention and constant redefinition of the latest and greatest.  Be it food, shops, celebrities or the mansions of the super wealthy - the latest developments with one or all of these will be in the paper on any given day. Thankfully, the counterpoint to this obsession can be found in the streets of suburbs which seem to be actively taking a stand to preserve their history whilst staying connected with the elements of the present that harmonize with the local vibe.

St Andrews, one of the residential colleges of the University of Sydney in Newtown, has recently been refurbished and its rejuvenated facade has recently been revealed to the public.  It looked magnificent in the winter sun this morning.  It just made me happy looking up at soaring tiled roof tops, the lead work framing the window panels and the arches of the connecting outdoor walk ways.  Beneath the arches were cobbled paths leading into the college proper and I was suddenly reminded of Malory Towers....

I was very, very tempted to cross the road and trespass in search of Darrell, Sally and the painful Gwendoline but I didn't.

Nutritionally speaking, back at SSG Manor, calcium is the official element of the month.  I've just discovered that I can now have a cuppa at any time of the day or night and still fall asleep for a good 9 hours without any difficulty at all.  So I've been having cups of tea after dinner, whilst drying my hair, reclining on the sofa with my Kindle (I'm not that bad, I sit up to sip) - anytime at all really.

Between cups of tea with extra millk and regular snacks of Jarlsberg and sea salt dusted tomatoes on Premium crackers, I'm sure Baby SSG is getting more than enough calcium to build those bones.

The official cooking technique of the month has been make ahead.  I found myself fired up by the thought of batch cooking on Sunday and managed to get most of this week's dinners organised on the one day.

Both this bottle of red and my trusty red Le Creuset casserole were instrumental in making a stew with prunes using this recipe from the New York Times.

Come Monday, the stew found itself wrapped in a sheet of butter puff pastry and doused with chopped parsley.

To become this beef pie.

Cottage pie is a no brainer for a make ahead dinner.  I used this recipe from The Good Food Channel.  It requires a glass or so of white wine and the result is a mince that has a thinner gravy than the Australian recipes I've been using.

Tonight, I'm harnessing the energy of the ziplock bag as a vessel for marinading and letting it do all the work for me.

Cardigan and neck party - Marni for H and M, dress - Isabella Oliver, bump - 17w1d, background mess - my yoga props.  I've actually been doing yoga for a change recently and it seems to have miraculously cured me of an assortment of twinges and aches I seem to have collected in the last few weeks.
While I post this photo of what I wore today.  An ensemble of Marni for H&M with a bit of Isabella Oliver thrown in for bump constraints.  I swear my obstetrician deserves an Academy Award for not shielding his eyes whenever I front up to his rooms for an appointment.  It was pretty crowded in the waiting room today and as I looked around I realised that I was the only person wearing both a tactile Neck Party / Installation and a Confronting Print.  I think the last time I was there I was a vision of psychedelic mid section courtesy of a Missoni poncho.

Back to the ziplock bag.  It contained some chicken tenders for an  improvised chicken souvlaki (I modified the recipe to what I had on hand) with tzaztiki on Turkish bread.

As you can see, no skewers or flat bread were featured in the final product but gee it tasted good all the same.

Hold on your hats, readers, it's Friday tomorrow!!!!!


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