Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Finger Food!

Yesterday I made a statement that I was skipping Halloween this year, but I confess now, that's not entirely true. It's not that I don't like Halloween, I just only seem to care about it if I've had a brilliant costume idea, and this year I didn't have that, or the energy to try. Combine that with having felt somewhat under the weather on Friday and going out for a big drinking session on Saturday didn't appeal too much. I made plans to exchange the typical post-Halloween hang over today for some time spent baking.

After being sent this recipe for Spooky Witches' Fingers by my regular daily email from, I was inspired! I'd been thinking of making a tasty Halloween treat to take in to my workmates on Monday anyway, and with no rolling out of dough required, this one seemed to fit the bill!

I modified the recipe by adding green food colouring (witches always have green skin, right?) and a little extra sugar, and got to sculpting fingers. Turns out it was more work than I thought, and I'd have been just as well off rolling out dough anyway. Oh well! I tried dipping the ends in strawberry jam and red sprinkles to look like blood, but with a little trial and error discovered that that was better done after they came out of the oven. (Why didn't I know this before? I've decorated tons of cookies in the past!) I stuck the "fingernails" on with more strawberry jam, and presto! Severed Monsters' Fingers! (Cookies grow when they bake, and I couldn't seem to get them thin and spindly enough to be witches fingers without just falling apart) So here they are.....hope all you RMITers enjoy these tomorrow!

And enjoy the photo now, as they're quite fragile and I'm not sure they'll survive the xe om ride to work intact!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Some of you who know me might be aware that I have a big thing for Mexican food. And when I say Mexican, I mean my version of something like Mexican, or Tex-Mex, or similar, because really I've never lived anywhere close enough to Mexico to know what "real" Mexican food is! (Perhaps I should though...) In fact I think my slight obsession might stem from having lived very very far away from Mexico for several years and thus the availablity of such deliciousness was often quite limited. It's the whole "you want what you can't have" idea....with food! As a result I crave Mexican food on a regular basis. The phenomenon has extended well past Mexican food though, forcing me to buy sour cream at any opportunity, no matter how much I already have or how readily available it might be, and making my heart race just at the sight of the baking goods and spice aisle in a supermarket!

Anyway, in Hanoi where eating out is usually pretty cheap and just about any food you want can be delivered, there are still only a handful of places that make "Mexican" food. Having tried a couple of them, I still find that I prefer my own version of whatever Mexican food might really be! Tonight's dinner was inspired by a few things: a random craving I had the other day for tacos in the middle of class, a recipe I saw on, tomatoes and green pepper about to go past their best, and chicken breast and tortillas taking up valuable space in my fridge and freezer.

This recipe I saw suggested charring the tomatoes in a hot, dry pan, which was something that had never occurred to me so why not try it? I heated a pan and put two tomatoes in, and turned them when they became brown. Simple! They came out soft, easy to peel, and with a bit of a smoky flavour that was yummy! I cooked up the chicken breast chunks, added chili powder and a bit of cumin and salt, onion, garlic, one bird's eye chili, and green pepper. When it was mostly cooked I doused it with lime juice and added the chopped tomatoes. Serve on a flour tortilla with cheese, top with sour cream, cilantro, and a few green onions and YUM!

After two of these delicious tacos I wasn't quite full, and the tacos were just spicy enough to remind me of a friend who always said that after eating something spicy, ice cream is the best thing! (She's right!) Luckily I happened to have a few of these homemade fudgsicles in the freezer:

Mexican AND chocolate. That just might be my perfect meal! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time for something a bit healthier....

This blog is not supposed to be just about sweet stuff so I thought I'd share my current favourite salad. Again, it's a dish I saw made on Masterchef, but I've made it so many times now that I don't use a recipe anymore! And it's perfect for me right now, because I can get all of the ingredients really easily and it's quick to make. Anyway here's the recipe I started with:

Bruised salad
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbs roasted peanuts
1 tbs dried shrimp, soaked, drained
2 bird's eye chillies
2 lime cheeks
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
6 snake beans, cut into 4cm lengths
2 Lebanese cucumbers, peeled, cut into matchsticks
1 tsp sesame oil

2 tbs very finely chopped gula melaka (Malaysian palm sugar)
Juice of 2 limes
2-3 tbs fish sauce

Place the garlic, peanuts and dried shrimp in a mortar and pestle and pound to a coarse paste. Add the chillies and bruise gently - the amount of heat you want from this salad depends on how hard you bruise the chillies. Add the lime cheeks and bruise to release some juice. Add the cherry tomatoes, beans and cucumber and mix through gently with a spoon.

For the dressing, place the palm sugar and lime juice in a bowl and whisk to dissolve the sugar. Add fish sauce to taste and whisk to combine.

To serve, add enough dressing to coat the salad and then taste - it should be a good balance of sweet, salty and sour. Add sesame oil and mix to combine. Pile the salad onto a plate and drizzle with sesame oil.

Note: I've made a few modifications to this. I only use one garlic clove (and watch out if you don't mash it up well enough, a big chunk of garlic in the mouth isn't so tasty), I use more peanuts because I like them, I've never soaked the shrimp, one chilli is plenty for me and sometimes I even leave that out, I don't bother with lime cheeks since there's lime juice in the dressing anyway, I use whatever tomatoes I have, regular green beans work fine (but I do like the snake beans better), and after looking at this again I realized I haven't used sesame oil since the first time I made it! (I'll have to try that again, it'll probably make it even better) If you can't get palm sugar, regular brown sugar works ok but you might want to reduce the amount because it's sweeter. I also use less fish sauce. Just taste it and change it until it's good! Obviously it's a pretty versatile salad, and you can just change whatever you don't like. And in case you're worried, you can't taste the shrimp at all when it's all been mashed together.

Here's what the finished product looks like:


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Because who doesn't LOVE bacon?

Today I made a dark chocolate and bacon cake. Yeah, you read that right! I stumbled upon this recipe a couple of weeks ago, and after reading the rave reviews of it I needed to taste it for myself. Bacon goes with everything, right?

The first step, of course, was to cook the bacon! I made sure it was nice and crispy, then blotted as much grease off as I could with a paper towel. At this point it was getting close to dinner time so I was getting hungry and it took all my willpower not to just devour all the bacon! However, I managed to restrain myself and so it went into a small grinder attachment that came with my blender, until I had this:

The next part was a simple cake batter, except that it wanted a cup of strong coffee. This created a problem for me because, first of all, I don't like coffee or anything coffee flavoured so why on earth would I want to put it in my cake? And then because of that of course I don't actually have any here! I considered just using water but one of the reviews had commented on the coffee just adding a depth of flavour, which I really didn't want to miss out on, so instead I found some cinnamon and ginger "tea" in my cupboard (which, after I bought it, I realized wasn't tea at all but just sugar/flavour crystals that you mix into water) so I used that instead.

So, cake batter done, I mixed the bacon in and into the oven it went. The recipe originally was for cupcakes, but I plan on taking it to work to share with my co-workers (you didn't think I was going to eat it all myself, did you?), and there just wouldn't be enough cupcakes. A whole cake is easier to divide into enough pieces.

It baked up just like a regular old chocolate cake, and I put a lovely Swiss Meringue Buttercream on top, which I hadn't made before either. It wasn't too hard to make, except that I actually made it a few days ago for another project that didn't turn out, but I hadn't put any flavouring of any kind in it, and it had been sitting in my fridge since then. I took it out, whipped it up again, and added some cocoa, and put it on the cake. It looked awful, separated and lumpy. Then I remembered that on the recipe I'd used the helpful blogger ( had actually said that that might happen, and you just need to keep whipping. Thank god, because I scraped it back off the cake into the bowl and sure enough, after a couple more minutes with the beater it looked smooth and creamy! And it was delicious! Success!

I could hardly wait to cut myself a slice of this and give it a try! I luckily found one tiny last bit of vanilla ice cream hanging out in my freezer so I added that to my plate to finish it off. And here it is!

Ok, I know my photography and food styling skills are a little lacking, but you get the idea. It was just as moist as it looks, and that Swiss Meringue Buttercream was great. As for the cake, well, the bacon was only really detectable as small crunchy bits that just seemed a bit odd, and it added an extra saltiness, but not so much that it ruined it. There was clearly another flavour, but I think if you didn't know what it was, you wouldn't necessarily identify it as bacon.

So the final verdict? Well, I ate that whole piece, but I think the vanilla ice cream helped cut through the richness of it (but that's true for any chocolate cake!) I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't already been quite full from dinner. I don't think I'll be making it again, but it was a fun experiment!*

*I'm editing this to say that I tried it again the next morning, and it was DELICIOUS! Couldn't taste the bacon at all, the icing was creamy and soft, and the cake was wonderfully moist. Maybe I will make it again!

Here's the recipe from, if any of you are curious! (I halved this, just to try it, but put in 1/2 cup cocoa powder because one reviewer said it was better that way!)

Dark Chocolate Bacon Cupcakes


  • 12 slices bacon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup cold, strong, brewed coffee
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, 3/4 cup cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the eggs, coffee, buttermilk and oil. Stir just until blended. Mix in 3/4 of the bacon, reserving the rest for garnish. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, dividing evenly.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan set over a wire rack. When cool, arrange the cupcakes on a serving platter. Frost with your favorite chocolate frosting and sprinkle reserved bacon crumbles on top. Dust with additional cocoa powder.
And the Swiss Meringue Buttercream from (I made a quarter of this and it was plenty for my little cake, left out the vanilla and added an undefinable amount of cocoa powder instead)

16 large egg whites (30g each–total 450g, or 2 cups)
4 cups granulated sugar (800g)
5 cups (2.5 lbs, 10 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened but cool, cut into cubes
30 ml (2 tablespoons) pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk attachment, small bowl, and whisk with paper towel and lemon juice (or vinegar), to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar,  and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140 degrees F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot (you can feel a drop in between your fingers to ensure no granules.).
Take off of stove, and place bowl back on electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, begin to whip until the mixture is thick, glossy, and neutral (you can feel outside of the bowl to test temperature). Switch over to paddle attachment and, while mixing on low speed continously, add butter one cube at a time until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth).  Add vanilla and salt, mix well. You can also add a wide variety of flavourings, extracts, and more. If buttercream is too runny, the butter was possibly too soft–place into the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, then beat again. If still too runny, add a few more cubes of butter and keep beating until it reaches Use immediately, or refrigerate/freeze.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Sometime last year one of the cable TV channels I get here in Hanoi started showing Junior Masterchef Australia. I had seen the American version and although I was a regular watcher, I really didn't like how mean they are to each other (both judges and contestants)! Why is that necessary? On the Aussie version, and especially the kids' one, they are ultra friendly, helpful, and supportive of each other. The contestants (well, the adults) all live in a house together, cook all the time, and teach each other about all kinds of ingredients, dishes, and cooking techniques. That's more like it! To me, food and cooking is more fun when you share it with other people. It's about spreading the love! I'm hooked!

One of the dishes that has been featured on this show is soufflé. Having watched a few episodes where they were made, and they went on and on about how hard they are to get right, I wanted to try it myself! I found the perfect opportunity when I was shopping one day and found a very small and ridiculously expensive punnet of fresh raspberries (not something that is readily available in Vietnam!). I couldn't resist. And since one of the best combination in the world is chocolate and raspberries, that's what it had to be!

I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures. I made this before I even had the idea of creating a blog, so only took a photo of the final product! I'm also quite angry at myself because it seems that I didn't write down what recipe I used! (This is very unlike me) I have several bookmarked, but I think maybe it was this one from

Dark Chocolate Soufflé
  • 1 ounce heavy cream
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 large eggs (separated into whites and yolks)
  • 1 dash cream of tartar 
  • 1/4 cup sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Prepare two 6 oz. ramekins with cold butter pour some granulated sugar mixed with cocoa into the ramekin and shake and roll the ramekin to coat the bottom and sides with sugar.
  3. Melt the butter, cream, and chocolate in the double boiler. Stir to help the melting. Once the chocolate has melted, turn off the heat.
  4. Whisk the two egg yolks into the chocolate.
  5. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until the egg whites reach soft peaks. The whipped egg white tip of the peak should droop for the soft peaks.
  6. Add the sugar to the egg whites and continue to beat until you reach stiff peaks. Adding the whites a little at a time, fold them into the chocolate mixture.
  7. Without over mixing, fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.
  8. Pour the batter into the two prepared ramekins. Fill them at least 3/4 of the way up. Place a piece of chocolate or berries on each and gentle push into batter.
  9. Place the ramekins on a baking pan and place the pan in the oven on a rack set in the middle position. Bake the soufflés for 15 minutes at 375°F After fifteen minutes, the soufflé will have risen up out of the ramekin.
I then took a few of my raspberries and made a coulis by stewing them with a bit of water and sugar, then passing it through a sieve to make a smooth sauce.

The recipe made enough for about 3 soufflés, but being by myself that night I only cooked one, and put the rest of the batter in the fridge. Maybe I don't need to say this, but when I cooked the rest they didn't quite rise up the same way! Anyway, here is the end result:

Look at the height on that! I confess, until this moment I had never even eaten a soufflé! I have to say that after everyone on Masterchef going on about how difficult they are, I was mighty proud of myself! It was just as they said it should be, crispy on the top and soft and gooey inside. Yum!

The beautiful thing about soufflés is that they can be made in so many different flavours - the possibilities are endless! I'll be trying again with a different flavour soon! And time I'll write down the recipe.