Monday, January 31, 2011

Challenge recipe 2: Chilli, lime and chicken salad

It was stinking hot yesterday, it was even worse today, hitting 38 degrees in the 'berra. The trend is to continue for basically the whole week, with an increasing degree of humidity. Awesome... So I figured it was time to break out one of the salads that I'd flagged for my cookbook challenge. This is a crunchy, tangy salad that's a hell of a lot more exciting - not to mention healthier! - than my usual chicken salad. I made a couple of little changes to the recipe - I replaced watercress with lettuce, left out the two spring onions because I can't stand them raw, and made a little change to the dressing - but apart from that, this is as it appears in the book.

Speaking of which, this is the book:

It's one of the AWW's tiny cookbooks, and I think I got it at the newsagent for $5.00. Score!

Here's what you'll need for the salad:

Start by putting 1 cup of chicken stock and 1 cup of water into a saucepan. Bring it to the boil (and pay attention to it, or you'll find it erupting all over the stove like I did...), then reduce to a simmer and add 340g of trimmed chicken breast.

Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Cool for five minutes, and then dice.

While the chicken is cooking, julienne the carrot:

And slice the capsicum thinly:

Then slice up the Chinese cabbage (also known as wombok)...

...and the iceberg lettuce (or, if you want to do it by the actual recipe, use 100g trimmed watercress):

Then dump all the veggies into a large salad bowl that you gave your housemate for Christmas and are now taking advantage of, and add 1/2 cup of chopped coriander...

...along with 3/4 cup of bean sprouts:

Toss the whole lot together, and start on the dressing. Here's what you'll need:

I forgot to take photos of making the dressing, because I was trying to work out if the chicken was cooked at the same time, but I'm sure you can work out how to make dressing. Take 1/4 cup of lime juice (limes are easier to juice if you stick them in the microwave for 10 seconds first!), add 2 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce (technically, the recipe calls for oyster sauce. But it makes me gag, so I switched it out...), 1 clove of crushed garlic, and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil.

Add the chicken to the top of the salad, and drizzle on the dressing:

Serve and enjoy! (Oh, it serves 4, btw)

The verdict? This was delicious. I was somewhat sceptical, given that in my mind "poached chicken = what you give Domino when he's sick and won't eat his dry food". Plus, I wasn't sure about the raw Chinese cabbage part of it. But it's just crunchy and fresh, with the tang of lime and the sweetness of honey from the chilli sauce. To be honest, if I made it again, I'd probably marinate the chicken in lime juice, and grill it with a little bit of spray oil rather than poaching it. But other than that (and the other few changes that I made...), it's all good.

And given that it contains less than 200 calories per serve, I think I can deal with adding an extra few calories to the recipe in the future. It's surprisingly filling too. At least, it is when you follow it up with a serving of homemade chocolate mousse... But that's challenge recipe number 3!

Give this a try in stupidly hot weather - you'll be glad you did!!

K xx

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A traumatic film and 'Validation'

Today was kind of a suckfest (but don't worry if you think this is going to be another misery rant - there's a cheerful note at the end!). I had seriously bizarre dreams and woke up confused. Plus, my BFF Sara left Australia this morning to head home to the UK via six weeks in Asia. She texted me as she was boarding the plane to say that she'd hidden a present in my bedroom when she was in Canberra a couple of weeks ago, and that promptly turned me into an emotional wreck.

Then at lunchtime, I headed into the city to do a spot of shopping and get Bridesmaid's Dress Number 1 altered. I got as far as the bus stop before realising that I'd forgotten a) my bus pass, and b) something I bought a couple of weeks ago that I went to put away recently only to find that it still had the security tag on it. Great... And then I got stabbed with a pin while BD #1 was being fitted *sigh*

I thought the afternoon would pick up when I went to see Black Swan, which I'd been looking forward to since I heard about it last year. But dear GOD, was it traumatic. I'd read that it was a thriller, rather than a straight out ballet film, so it's not that I wasn't expecting it. And don't get me wrong, Natalie Portman was absolutely brilliant as the tortured prima ballerina struggling to find her dark side for a role. But it was possibly THE most disturbing film I've ever seen. In terms of disturbing characters, Portman's Nina is pretty much on a par with Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction... O.o I won't give anything specific away in case people haven't seen it.

My overall verdict? It was really good, and it deserves to win any awards that it receives. And I would definitely recommend it, as long as you know what you're in for. But I don't think it'll be going on my list of things to buy on DVD...

Aaaaaanyway, I came home feeling quite uneasy and more than a little weirded out. But then something suddenly made it all better. Someone had posted this video on Facebook and, seeing as it starred TJ Thyne, who I love (even though he's four feet tall... Okay, fine. He's 5'7". It's still pretty short...), I sat through all sixteen minutes of it. And I'm so glad I did - it was very VERY worth it.

So, if you've seen Black Swan recently and are still weirded out, watch this. It'll make things better. And if you've not seen a traumatic movie recently, watch this anyway. At the very least, it'll make you smile!


K xx

Friday, January 28, 2011

Challenge recipe 1: Roast capsicum and feta muffins

Okay, let's get this cooking challenge on the road! First of all, here's the book:

I've actually made quite a few recipes from this one - triple chocolate brownies, pizza dough, Portuguese custard tarts, and apple pie, among others. But I'd never made anything out of the muffin chapter, because I've always used the recipes from my mum's copy of the Canadian classic, Muffin Mania (which I've just discovered through Google in now in print again - how excitement!). So I figured now was as good a time as any!

Anyway, here's what you'll need:

Start by quartering the capsicums (one red and one yellow) and getting rid of all the junk in the middle:

Then put them under the grill, skin side up, until the skin begins to blacken and bubble. This was after about six minutes:

When the skin is suitably bubbly/black, chuck the capsicum pieces into a Ziploc bag for about five minutes:

Once it's had time to sit and think about what it's done, take the pieces out of the bag and peel off the skin:

Then chop it all up...

...along with 100g of feta. For once, I actually used the full fat stuff! Scandal...

Then take 90g of melted butter...

...an egg...

...1 cup of milk...

...a tablespoon of fresh rosemary, chopped (I cheated and used scissors, cos I'm craptacular at chopping herbs!)...

...1/2 cup of parmesan cheese...

...and 2.5 cups of sifted self raising flour.

Dump everything into the bowl with the flour, and stir until just combined. I had to add a little bit of extra milk to make up for the fact that I couldn't get the right size of eggs.

Then spoon the batter into a muffin pan that you've greased the lazy way - spray oil!

Then scatter some sesame seeds over the top (and pretend there's a photo of doing so here. I totally forgot until after I'd put them in the oven...).

 The recipe says to bake them for 25 minutes at 200 degrees. But it also says to use a Texas muffin pan. I don't have a Texas muffin pan, so used a standard one. Obviously, given the picture above! So I dropped the cooking time to about 18 minutes. To be honest, they probably didn't need much more than 15 minutes.

I tried this one straight out of the oven (Muffin Mania insists that muffins must ALWAYS be served warm!) with a little bit of margarine:

The verdict? It was pretty good - filled with little chunks of salty feta and the deliciousness of roasted capsicum. But to be perfectly honest, I think they're missing something. I don't quite know what - salt and pepper perhaps. Or maybe a pinch of cayenne pepper. Or maybe just some extra parmesan cheese. The rosemary flavour was lovely, it was just a little bit too subtle for my liking. So I think if I make them again, I'll be playing around with the herbs and adding in something that will give the end result a little more spark!

One down, twenty seven to go...

K xx

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A challenge to myself

I got a $100 Borders voucher for Christmas. And I've been in there a couple of times this month looking to spend it. But the only things I can seem to find that I'd want are cookbooks. And I already have a whopping number of cookbooks that I don't use.

See? (In contrast, my housemate owns one cookbook. ONE. And it's only about 50 pages thick...)

So today, while I was hiding from the 37 degree heat of Australia Day, I came up with a little challenge for myself. Before I'm allowed to buy any more cookbooks, I have to use the ones I already have. The next few months at work are going to be pretty stressful through until the gallery opening in June, so it'll be good to have a nice distraction to focus on at home.

So here are the rules I came up with for my little challenge:
1. I have to make at least two recipes from each book.
2. At least one of the two recipes must be savoury - I already consume far too much sugar. And it's way too easy to come up with baking recipes!
3. They must be recipes I haven't made before. (Or, in the case of my binder filled with handwritten recipes, things I haven't made in over a year and haven't posted on here before)

I have 14 cookbooks all up, so that's 28 recipes. I'm not setting a time frame at this stage, because I've got hen's weekends and weddings and God knows what else in the next couple of months, so I'd probably end up running really far behind my planned schedule and having to make about 15 recipes in the final weekend!

I've picked out a good mixture of recipes, and I'm excited to get started! So watch this space - there'll be quite a few cooking posts coming up. Hopefully they're not all disasters! :S

K xx

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ugh. Also, 'Axe Cop' is awesome.

So I know it's only Tuesday, so it's a little early to say this. But this week? It kinda sucks. Yesterday, my sunburn started peeling, and now I look like a leper. I also got the new gym timetable for 2011. And they've gotten rid of Body Combat and replaced it with Zumba. Okay, so I like Zumba - it doesn't feel like exercise. But it's not the same as Combat. No Combat means not getting rid of my frustrations by pretending to punch all the people that happen to be pissing me off at present. To be fair, some of these are historical figures like John Batman or George Arthur. But still, Combat is a good stress release. And somehow I don't think Zumba is quite going to cut it in terms of stress release...

And then today I made the mistake of wearing what I'm now going to call my Misery Dress. It's just a black shirt dress with white trim. And I've only worn it a handful of times. But every time I have, either bad things happen, or I end up crying. Today was no exception (although it was a bad thing rather than the crying this time!), with some annoying stuff going on at work. If the dress hadn't cost me $120, I'd totally put it in the cupboard and never wear it again...

Just when I thought today couldn't possibly be redeemed, my brother sent me the link to Axe Cop. It's a comic written by a six year old and drawn by his 30 year old brother. And it's hi-freaking-larious. Not to mention appropriate, because a year ago today, the Axe Cop website went live.

Anyway, I'm incredibly thankful that it's Australia Day tomorrow - a day off is pretty much exactly what I need right now. Here's hoping that the rest of the week is an improvement on yesterday and today...

K xx

PS. I know I've been kind of a misery guts recently. I'll try and be more cheerful from now on...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Where the hell did these come from?

We had a rental inspection today. So I spent yesterday cleaning the house. I hate cleaning the house with a fiery passion, so obviously I was on the lookout for a way of procrastinating. I struck on the idea of moving my bookshelf to where my DVD stands were, and moving my DVD stands to where the bookshelf was so that I had more space for my DVDs. But then I realised that even if I put them where the bookshelf is, there still wouldn't be space to put all the TV shows in with the movies. (Yes, I had them separated. I'm slightly OCD like that)

So I decided to move them into the living room, because we have plenty of space in there, and it makes more sense to have them next to the TV than to trek down the hall to my bedroom every time I want to watch a movie. So I moved the stands and the movies out to the living room, and then all the boxes and bags filled with TV shows.

Course, we're talking about me here, so my DVDs have to be in alphabetical order. And when you're talking about over 300, alphabetising from a giant pile on the floor isn't really an option. Which is how I wound up with this covering the living room floor:

Yes, that's one pile for each letter. (Except for Q, Y and Z. Apparently I don't own anything starting with Q, Y or Z...) And that massive pile on the left? Yeah, that's courtesy of five seasons of Bones and seven seasons of Buffy. I was slightly worried that it was going to collapse, and result in a domino effect causing alphabetical chaos.

But with the exception of me forgetting about the letter W and having to pull a whole lot of stuff out and start again, there were no alphabetical catastrophes. And now the pile of crap on the floor has been converted to this:

Much better, don't you think? Course, the part you can't see is that I tried to straighten up the drunken tilt of the left hand DVD stand about five minutes after I took this, and that made the right hand DVD stand fall over into the coffee table and everything in between fall over. *sigh* So now the bottom row of stuff in the middle looks even more drunk than before. Awesome...............

I have to say, I had something of a Carrie Bradshaw moment when I had the piles of DVDs all over the floor. I'm not a huge fan of Sex and the City, but I do recall an episode where Carrie is pondering where all her money has gone, and then realises that she's got $40,000 worth of ugly shoes. I don't think I've got anywhere near $40,000 worth of DVDs (mostly because of my "if it's more than $10 per disc, don't buy it" policy), but that is a CRAPLOAD of DVDs...

Having said that, I've got a decent chunk of space to fill at the top. Hmmmm............ ;)

K xx

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fieldwork lessons 2

I've been in Portland for the last few days on another photography expedition. We also had to collect some rocks that are going to be used in the gallery. And once again, fieldwork has taught me a couple of things:

1. Tiny planes have really low roofs. Ow.
2. The security checks at tiny airports consist of "Do you have any sharp objects? No? Great!"
3. Co-pilots with pimples and bum fluff on their chins? Not reassuring in the slightest.
4. If a tiny plane is scheduled to take an hour and a half to get somewhere that takes four hours to drive, it's not because the tiny plane goes really slowly. It's because it goes via Hamilton, something that isn't on the itinerary.
5. Don't watch Fox 8 first thing in the morning. You'll get sucked into a Futurama/Family Guy/Simpsons session and end up running horribly late.
6. Don't wear Converse on fieldwork. You'll end up having to trek through a partially flooded cow paddock and stand on something that SEEMS like solid-ish mud, but is actually a crust of mud with squelchy, watery grossness underneath. Which leads to this:

7. I love my shiny new 55-300mm lens (okay, I knew that one already. Whatever):

8. ALWAYS wear sunscreen. Sure, I should have known this one. But for some reason it didn't occur to me, and now I'm a delightful shade of beetroot.
9. Half of Portland is named after the Hentys. Not surprising, considering the Hentys founded Portland, and therefore probably named half of it after themselves in the first place...
10. A 50m roll of bubble wrap is rather large. Also? It's perforated. Awesome...
11. Posting a 5kg rock from Portland to Canberra will set you back $15.
12. If I lived in a country town, I would a) go insane, and b) be the size of a house from eating nothing but doughnuts from the local bakery.
13. The Mexican schnitzel with chips and salad at the Bridgewater Bay Beach Cafe is delicious. The view ain't too shabby either!

14. Watch out for small dogs when packing six large rocks in bubble wrap and plastic boxes. They may run up and pee on the stack of boxes just when you've finished putting the last of the lids on...
15. Week old bull terrier puppies are *seriously* fugly. I mean, bull terriers are fugly at the best of times. But when they're a week old and haven't opened their eyes yet? They just roll in their own shit and bear a striking resemblance to rats... *shudder*
16. A pub crawl in Portland isn't nearly as impressive as it sounds. Cos there's only about three pubs in town!
17. Waking up at 6.45am with the 'See My Vest' song from the Simpsons stuck in your head on a Saturday morning is incredibly irritating, despite how catchy it is...

K xx

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Going back to my roots

So this week? It sucked. A lot. Work seemed to drag on for about a month (which everyone I've spoken to seems to agree on), and I could relate to one of my favourite Scouting for Girls songs more than usual:

The weather was miserable, I got drenched several times due to horizontal rain, and my hair bore a more than striking resemblance to Hermione Granger's. Again... But mostly it sucked because I had to say goodbye to my BFF Sara - her visa's up at the end of the month, and she's spending a couple of weeks traipsing around the country in a camper van before heading home to England. There were tears on both sides, and then I had to go and sit through a whole day of work feeling generally miserable and distracted.

And then yesterday, I took bridesmaid's dress number 1 into the city to be altered, only to have them to tell me that they wouldn't alter it unless I was wearing the bra I plan to wear on the day. Which I wasn't. So I had to cart bridesmaid's dress number 1 home again. And managed to cut my shoulder TWICE on the coat hanger. Seriously. I have no idea how. There was blood and everything. See?

Aaaaaaaanyway, when Sara was in Sydney a week or so ago, she went to the terracotta warriors exhibition, and bought me this:

So yesterday when I got home from the bridesmaid's dress saga, I decided it was time to go back to my archaeological roots for some excavation.

Here's what you get in the kit:

All the essentials for archaeological work! Or not... Archaeology would have been MUCH more fun if you'd been guaranteed of finding an intact object in a lump of dirt that small...

Being a freak who didn't want to get covered in plaster conscientious museum professional, I broke out the latex gloves and some baking paper to simplify clean up and got to work:

Archaeology is much more fun when you don't have to use a trowel and worry about giant spiders crawling out of the dirt to attack you! I hacked away the plaster at one end until the top of the warrior's hair was revealed, then set to work with the brush:

I got as far as his entire head, and then realised that it would be too hard to keep going that way, because I'd have to keep turning it over to hack bits off the other side.

So I went with destroying the plaster on the front, which led to a Han Solo trapped in carbonite effect:


Gotta love anything that lets you make Star Wars references! Shame his hands aren't right for it to be Han Solo... Hacking the plaster off the back was a lot less time consuming than the front.

Once the plaster on the back was removed, you have to brush the whole thing down thoroughly (which really needs to be done in a well ventilated place, unless you like the taste of plaster dust...)

And then dab it with a damp cloth. That part was kind of a pain, but the rest was good fun. If archaeology had been anything like that, I might have considered staying an archaeologist!

He's going to have pride of place on top of my TV with the Jack Skellington my brother got me in Asia a couple of years ago, and the Ron Weasley figurine Sara got me for Christmas!

K xx

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Raspberry yo-yos

On Sunday, I decided to make some yo-yos. Not quite sure why I decided on yo-yos, but that's what I went with! Anyway, on with the fun - here's what you'll need for the biscuits:

Start with 185g softened and chopped butter:

Then add 1/3 cup of icing sugar:

And cream them together:

Then sift in 1/3 cup of custard powder:

And 1.5 cups of plain flour:

Then hit it with the electric mixer again until it forms little balls of dough. Technically the recipe just says 'mix well', so in theory you could do it with a spoon. But I tried for about 20 seconds, deemed it too much like hard work, and got the mixer out again!:

Then tip it out of the bowl and form into a ball of dough. I used baking paper to save on the clean up:

Use a teaspoon to get roughly uniform chunks of dough, then roll them into balls and place them on a baking tray:

Press a fork into the balls of dough to flatten them:

Ain't they purdy? I guess you could flatten them with something other than a fork, but they wouldn't be yo-yos without those ridgelines!

Bake them for about 15 minues in a 170-180 degree oven. You want them to be juuuuuuust starting to brown.

It made 40 individual biscuits, so 20 yo-yos. Allow them to cool completely before you start making the icing. Speaking of the icing, here's what you'll need for it:

Take 3/4 cup of icing sugar, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 30g of softened butter, and mix them together in a small bowl. I kind of forgot to take photos of this part. But hell, icing is icing - it's not particularly difficult! I think you can probably handle it without photos ;)

When you've mixed the icing, squish up between 4 and 6 raspberries with the back of a spoon, and mix them through the icing (I just used the electric mixer again). Before you do anything with it, taste the icing. Mine was a little too tart, and I had to add a little extra icing sugar:

When the icing is ready, take one biscuit and dump a blob of icing on the top:

Then take another biscuit, and plop it on the top:

Repeat nineteen times, and you're finished! They're pretty good, even if I do say so myself. Although I must say, they improve with age - if I were to make them again, I'd probably drop the flour content a little and up the sugar content. But with age, the biscuits lose a bit of their dry quality and turn softer, absorbing moisture from the icing.

You can also divide the icing in half and add 2-3 raspberries, and make half the yo-yos lemony. I prefer raspberry to lemon, so I didn't bother with that. Or you can leave the flavourings out altogether and replace the lemon juice with milk, and have plain icing, the way Granny used to make! (Well, the way my Granny used to make yo-yos required enough sugar to sink a battleship or instantly cause diabetes, but that's not the point...)

Enjoy!!

K xx
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