December 30, 2009

At last, Christmas treats!...

At last indeed!

Yes, my friends, the time has finally come to divulge what went on in the kitchens of Team Pretty Bake this merry festive season. I am ever so sorry to have kept you waiting, and so to spare any further endurance of anticipation, and in the interests of exhaustion on my behalf, I will simply present what may or may not be in your TPB Christmas hamper this year, should you be so lucky…
Apricot jam, sweet cherry jam, or green mango chutney (sexy hot!)

(In either Ottolenghi or Traveler’s iterations)

(A Spanish classic featuring Mr Peter’s gorgeous aniseeds and D & B’s punchy and thoroughly awesome olive oil. And yes, behold the wafer mountain, I am indeed the biscuit queen.)

(French olive biscuits made with Coriole’s extraordinary salt-cured olives in a crazy mix of savoury-sweet.)

Peppermint bark (woof!)

(Special thanks to A for a sugary rescue; and my thoughts are with the young lass who haplessly incurred the wrath of Miss Rose. I can fully appreciate that having to ask what kind of candy store doesn’t have candy canes at Christmas time will prompt a certain little lady to crack it in the shops like a crazy woman – I just wish I’d been there to see it!)

…and for a select baking few, our most precious and highly prized vanilla extract (October 2008 vintage)

All packaged up in a cute little box and gifted with love. Why we don’t market these…

Despite the late nights and bouts of lucidity brought on by continued sleep deprivation (no, wait, hang on, that’s not me going crazy, I am being serenaded with the Gummi bears theme song… oh dear!), we did indeed have ‘magic times’ (thanks mum!) and were really happy with both our products and their presentation. I just hope you were too…
And with that I think all that is left is to say thank you, and to belatedly wish you the merriest of Christmases, and the happiest of New Year’s,
With all our love,
x Miss Emily & Miss Rose

December 25, 2009

A festive feast...

Seasons greetings and a merry Christmas to you all, dear friends, wherever you may be.
While I do so hate to disappoint, I'm afraid that if you were hoping to see what was in our little Christmas hampers this year you’ll have to wait just a little bit longer as I still have a number of gifts outstanding. I can however share with you our contributions to the annual day of overindulgence.
First up, Christmas Eve, and I was on call for desserts for the Rogerson family dinner. Since working to the dot wasn’t going to permit the luxury of a leisurely preparation I needed to work on the ‘something I prepared earlier’ principle, and so opted for a few little bits and pieces that were happy to chill and travel without much ado. Naturally, though, timely restraints didn’t mean a substandard offering. After all, if you ask me to do dessert, I do dessert.

Flaky sable pastry cases filled with luscious raspberry Diplomat cream mousse atop TPB raspberry jam and sprinkled with chopped pistachios (and my own confessions of mispronunciation).
Mango and vanilla bean panna cotta
Creamy deliciousness, in mango puree topped with vanilla-infused buttermilk panna cotta.

A light yet decadent chocolate mousse with hints of cinnamon and allspice finished with hazelnut toffee.
And then, for what constituted a proper TPB baking occasion, there was the Christmas dinner we enjoyed with Family Small.
After the fuss and ado that was pre-Christmas cookery, we opted for simple fare whereby mixed pea, mint and feta; peach, prosciutto and mozzarella; and Miss Rose’s infamous potato salads accompanied the traditional leg of ham, which had been glazed with whiskey and Seville orange marmalade. Naturally everything was sublimely delicious, but I must say, dear friends, that while the peach won out on photogenic qualities, Miss Rose's potato salad truly is something else…
Baked ham with whiskey Seville orange marmalade glaze

Mixed pea, mint & feta salad

Miss Rose’s potato salad

Peach, prosciutto & mozzarella salad

Now, when it came to dessert we realised rather fortuitously that our plan for sweet-time delights coincidentally addressed a proposition made to us many months ago. During the early days of Team Pretty Bake, Miss Rose made the acquaintance of the delightful Mr Peter, who is not only the purveyor of divine spices, but has been most supportive and encouraging of our adventures and baking directions. Shamefully I am yet to meet Mr Peter, and have so far failed to pursue his offer for TPB exposure. Perhaps this is something I will aim to remedy in the New Year…
But I digress, and that is simply not acceptable when dessert is concerned. So, yes, amid correspondences concerning baking traditions, it was put to us that we should consider developing a modern take on the humble Christmas pudding that was accessible to those with aversions to fruit of the dried, brandy-soaked variety. We did not intend to accept the challenge this year as we were preoccupied with dinosaurs, but I believe the following qualifies for submission. (You must excuse the photographic quality here, but it was at this point that my thus-far trusty camera began having conniptions. Whether it was the impending glycaemic rush I don't know, but by the time things were remedied the presentation was suffering and the lighting particularly poor.) I would still like to design something more luxurious and elegant, so do not finalise your judgment just yet, but considering the tasters on the day were two boys under the age of six, I think you’ll appreciate our ingredient selection.
What exactly constitutes the TPB festive pud you ask? Well, there’s the vanilla ice cream laced with peppermint crisp, mint aero bars, lolly raspberries and spearmint leaves; which is surrounded by a layer of chocolate ding dong cake and then smothered with hot fudge sauce before serving.

I believe the correct term is boo-yah!

December 21, 2009

Toys... and delusions of grandeur...

Friends, we come once again to that time of year where we throw sanity to the wind and burn many a late night candle in the pursuit of perfect gifts. You will be pleased to learn that Christmas baking has been completed on schedule and we’re very happy with the fare produced this festive season. In the interests of absolute exhaustion and the keeping of surprises however, for as to what these gifts might be, I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait. I do however have a couple of tantalising titbits to tide you over to the Christmas-post proper; and we will begin with girls and their toys…

This year, in the haze that is pre-Christmas, we both bought ourselves little somethings that made us giddy with excitement and brought unadulterated joy in to the kitchens of Team Pretty Bake. I suspect in each instance we will be accused of geeking out somewhat, but when they’re this exciting, quite frankly I don’t care. First up I would like you to meet Miss Rose’s Venus:

Hot and gloriously old school, when it comes to TPB Christmas hampers, this little heat sealer has been an absolute godsend.

As for the new love of my life, let me introduce Otto:

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Mr Hiron, Otto’s creator, and some like-minded coffee geeks learning all about this little chap. Otto is one of the most beautiful pieces of engineering I have seen in a long time, both inside and out, and can produce a stovetop coffee so like an espresso it’s astounding. While my little man will be staying wrapped up until my relocation is complete, needless to say, once I’m settle in to my new abode I will introduce you properly. As a consequence of an irresistible offer, he may also have a little doserless friend by the name of Rocky you‘ll wish to meet…

As for Christmas baking, attempts to scale back were predictably thwarted by ambition, and a number of sessions spent baking in to the wee hours of the morning have left us teetering on the verge of absolute exhaustion. While you will have to wait for a full run down of the things we’ve created, what I have for you now is the item that nearly brought about our undoing. You see, we don’t like to mess about; we take our baking seriously and do not settle for the simple and everyday. I mean, why do something basic when you can do something that will (hopefully) impress the pants off someone? Well, the honest answer would be because it is incredibly difficult, infuriating, and will almost break you; but Miss Rose had a spectacular plan, and who were we to let the laws of physics and a little honesty get in the way of the potential for being dubbed gods amongst men?

The subject of discussion involves the archetypal Christmas standard (sorry, couldn’t resist!), gingerbread, and our attempts to create something a little more spectacular than your typical Hansel and Gretel abode. The expectation that executing the plan would be a bit of a challenge was spectacularly miscalculated, but rather than spoil the surprise by discussing the lead up, I will first blow your mind, and worry about the details later.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present one of the coolest Christmas gingerbreads ever created. I give you…


Cool, huh?

Now that you’ve recovered from the stupefying awe that is the creative genius of Team Pretty Bake, let me take a moment to explain the near-soul-destroying nature of this beast. I don’t even want to think about how many pieces we re-baked, but once we accepted that of course that bit would break because it’s one of the few fundamentally vital to the construction; and pursued a self-directed crash course in structural engineering, we at least made it through with our sanity intact, just.

(and do note the scale... that little puppy is over 80 cm in length... yup, huge!)

Those of you who have ever attempted constructing one of Mister Saurus’s plywood brothers for either yourself or your children will appreciate the frustration involved, but trust me, doing it with gingerbread adds a whole new level of complexity. Fortunately, our scientific rearing has rendered both myself and Miss Rose rather handy with a scalpel, and so the reshaping of joins was deftly executed without too much ado. Our Achilles was actually the spine (ahem!), but after some intense troubleshooting regarding the textural integrity of the load-bearing components, we managed to pull it all together in what was not bad for a first attempt. I’m not sure that we qualify for world domination just yet (apologies, PinkNantucket, Canada will have to wait), but I will still be sufficiently bold to claim that we have most certainly raised the bar when it comes to gingerbread construction.

So with but a few days left until Christmas is fully upon us, I will simply leave you to ponder… what’s in the box?

December 5, 2009

To market, to market...

With the silly season well and truly upon us it is indeed time for Christmas baking, and with many great plans afoot, I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer you this week, just a couple of updates and some social observations which I can fully appreciate are contextually amusing, coming from one of the more anti-social among us. After all, it is Saturday night and I am home… alone… decalcifying my coffee machine and writing a blog (ooh yeah, the lady knows how to paar-tay!)…
So the first item is something I wasn’t going to mention, but what with Christmas on the horizon and all, I thought it would be best to save on some potentially awkward celebratory junctures. Due to circumstances outside of our control, our little garden plot will sadly not be progressing in to the future. Thanks to the generosity of a certain gentleman (muchas gracias Senor Small), we have been able to relocate and downsize in no respective order, so fortunately all is not lost. We have also decided to distantly maintain what we started until the season’s end, with the hope that we reach harvest before the wrath of summer fries everything to a crisp.
Burgeoning bounty – our lone carrot, flowering corn, first tomato, first bean, snow peas and some dwarf broads…

The relocation of operations has seen Miss Rose take on a larger share of the gardening responsibilities, allowing me more time to search for a new abode. This is never a fun time, and given the current climate, turning up with fifty others to inspect what is ultimately a rather expensive shoebox is understandably disappointing. Going by my experiences so far, apparently single people don’t cook, as they have no need for kitchen benches, and will happily have an old and completely useless electric stovetop as part of the d├ęcor. Seriously people! Seriously…
To try and counter these rental market frustrations of mine, my idea is to couple each property inspection with the frequentation of a new caffeinated establishment – and this is where my social observation comes in. Those of you residing in Melbourne will no doubt be familiar with the North-South divide. In my experience there is nothing inherently malicious in this, it is simply that people with similar interests have clustered together, and it just happens that there is not a great deal of overlap. It can also be quite a trek across the river, and as there has never been anything especially tempting down South (yes, I am a Northie), this has never really bothered me… until now. In the last few months a number of very exciting coffee ventures have opened up, and ALL of them are South-side. So there was nothing for it, it just had to be done. So I burned some wicked tunes for the slow crawl down Punt road and ventured into the unknown.
Now, despite limited visitation, Prahran market is still one of my favourites. It is prettier, more chillaxed, and seemingly more specialised than its larger cousins, and now, they have Market Lane. Exquisitely beautiful and featuring in-house roasting, Synesso espresso, pour overs and a Clover, this is my kind of space, and I would probably live there if they let me. Their coffee is delicious; I now have a pour over of my very own to play with, and cannot wait for my own abode so I can make use of their home delivery.

Market Lane Coffee
So after such a delightful afternoon, it seemed only fitting to round out the day with chocolate cherry tart.
I love baking with cherries. While they are sublimely delicious and fall gloriously into the most visually satisfying end of the colourific spectrum, I think it’s the appearance of a heinous massacre Manga-style post pipping that I find particularly pleasurable. Nothing like a little maniacal evil to help warm the cockles…

Chocolate cherry tart

And on that note…

November 22, 2009

Times are changing...

Today I find myself with a bit of time, so I thought (perhaps unwisely) that I might get this year’s introspective out of the way before the enormity of the festive season and what it means to those of us who have lost so much actually hits. I will try not to keep you long (there is food at the end)…
One thing I have learnt over the past year is that the psychology of grief is a curious thing. That certain experiences can dominate your mind so powerfully they can destroy you physically still amazes me, and no matter how much you focus on what you know you should do, it often seems near impossible to break out of the darkness. And then you feel guilty because you promised you’d try to live life and be happy, and of course you want that too, you just never imagined that it would be this difficult…
For me, the two biggest things to try and accept have been that firstly, my life also ended that day, and secondly, that despite being surrounded by the most supportive and wonderful people, I have been left very much alone, and I need to be ok with that. I have learnt that I need to ask for help, and have become better at allowing people to do this for me. Having cared for someone for so long it has felt ludicrously selfish, but I am beginning to realise that it's just people doing for me what I so enjoy doing for others. I still give little of myself away, but I am now more comfortable with asking for what I need, and am more confident in saying what I think and choosing how and to whom I devote my time.
Tied up in all of this came the realisation that I was ready to start searching for some semblance of happiness. That you have to fight with every fibre of your being just to find something that will make you feel happy is crap. No one should ever have to fight for something like that, but that’s the way it is, and I’ve found that if you acknowledge and accept these things as part of “the process”, it becomes something you can work at, another “goal” to get you from point to point.
So that is what I’ve been doing, trying to find a little bit of happy. Much of it comes dressed backhanded; as you re-live the things you so desperately miss and pursue new adventures that would be so much more fun to share. But Team Pretty Bake has given me a passion, I have done lots of new things, and I am learning to find the balance between stubbornly doing things on my own and asking for company, and am so lucky to have such wonderful and obliging friends who do this for me.
When something catches you out it’s usually a little thing, although that’s probably just me. I’m not one for the pomp and glamour of a frenetic life; I prefer simpler things and would quite happily lose myself in an epic Valdes solo and good cup of coffee. So it perhaps shouldn’t have been that surprising when I was somewhat floored this week by a simple request. You see, due to the nature of circumstance, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy cooking for people – not for special occasions or planned dinners, just cooking – and so I’ve recently been enjoying a little solo time at the helm of TPB to do exactly this. What I found that I apparently missed even more than this was being asked to cook something in particular. It sounds silly now, so I won’t bother trying to explain what I mean, only to say that it was nice, and it made me happy.
Baked chicken meatballs
Asparagus, courgette and haloumi salad
Cauliflower and cumin fritters with lime yoghurt sauce
Berry mascarpone tart
So it seems there will always be a balance. On the positive side, I have found that pushing yourself physically can do wonders for the mind, and there is a certain satisfaction in tilting that emotional-physical seesaw towards the more constructive end. Less positively, the sensation that I may be managing this new life of mine better has been coupled with a profound sadness and realisation that amid all the turmoil of the last year and a half, I had almost forgotten how much I miss dad - and that’s a little heartbreaking. But while struggling to maintain a sense of balance, I have also managed to achieve a lot. Maybe not big things, and certainly not to the usual level of personal expectation, but enough to know I’m ready to take control of my life again and start finding my own way (rental property gods willing). Who knows how it will go, but I’m ready to find out, and at worst, at least I’ll be able to make myself a mean lunch…

November 16, 2009

Posting without light...

It appears that time has got away from us somewhat, so my apologies for any feelings of neglect. I can assure you we have not been idle, just a little preoccupied with other matters in life. So I’m afraid all eye-candy-gastronomique will be lacking this week; instead just the briefest of notes to update on our exploits and hopefully to convey that we have not forgotten you.
After the whirlwind visitation of Family Yow and all manner of class-mastery with the divine Mother we were left wanting, and so mango puddings were recapitulated, poste-haste. With their sublime air, simplicity and deliciousness, I can certainly see them becoming a significant presence over the coming summer months…
Next, a quick-fire Sunday session was hastily planned to test-run a few ideas and indulge certain desires, which we shared with good friends on a particularly warm and stifling spring evening. For dinner, fresh cod was served with the Ottolenghi-inspired, Pomonal-grown mangetouts with hazelnut and orange, and our ever-favourite broad beans with bacon. Dessert took the form of coconut jellies, made with our very own coconut milk. Every good cook needs a hammer in their armamentarium, and I can certainly vouch that watching the petite Miss Rose lay into a couple of stubborn coconuts is a sight worth seeing (and a good demonstration of why one should never incur her wrath!). There is surely some quip in there to be made about large hairy balls, which I am trying to resist, but being nigh-on impossible I will instead just infer it (and with the faintest of smirks also leave the children among you ponder the milk joke currently in favour). Depending on your facilities, milk production may take some time, but fresh coconut milk is something else, and thoroughly worth the effort. And if you go the extra step and make these luscious jellies, with some fresh mango and strawberries, I guarantee you will spend any warm summer night in a happy stupor (pleasant company willing). I also managed to try out an idea that the glorious Ottolenghi meringues would work a treat flecked with vanilla seeds and topped with powdered sugared violets. And? They most certainly did. Elegant bordering on ridiculously girly, they were lovely and would suit any high tea snobbery indulged by wanting lovely ladies and charming chaps.
Our second quasi-Sunday session was a simple (if somewhat overindulgent) barbeque and salad affair trialling a number of new recipes that have been waiting in the wings for some time. Ok, so maybe not all new – it is very difficult to go past our beloved roasted pumpkin with chilli lime vinaigrette. But the French bean salad was crisp and refreshing, the Catalan chickpeas with tomatoes and almonds a nice variation on a theme, and the punchy eggplant stewed with honey and spices sufficiently killer to even get a reserved nod of approval from one not fond of aubergine.
And that, I believe, is about where we stand. In other news I have recently completed a screen printing course – so watch out for the Team Pretty Bake designer autumn collection (ha!) – and I indulged in the delightful company of the de-lovely Miss Rose and Herr Will who joined me on a barista course with the wonderful gents at The Brunswick East Project. That I need a little practice is an understatement most spectacular, but it was a fabulously fun evening and something I should like to do again. And again…
So again my apologies for such a text-heavy post; I was in need of a rest, and also apparently have no concept of keeping things brief. I only hope by now you appreciate that we don’t do things by halves, and will thus respectfully indulge my ramblings. I cannot guarantee that any forthcoming items will be better structured as we are hurtling towards the end of the year with astonishing speed, and you all know what that means…
…Christmas baking…

November 1, 2009

Guest appearances...

Ok, first things first… Happy Halloween!
All right, so I know we don’t really do this here - being in the opposite season and all - but the other day Marky Marc got in some delightful looking pumpkins, I happened to comment on their appropriateness as rather grand Jack o' lanterns, and apparently these days that’s enough to sign you up for the gig. So…

I was perhaps disproportionally excited about my first attempt at gourd carving, but this paled into insignificance in the face of the absolute giddiness being reserved for our latest baking occasion. You see, this all Hallows’ eve we were hosting a guest master baker, and our culinary caller was none other than the infamous Mother Yow.

Spending a day with Family Yow is indeed an experience for a small family girl like myself, but when one of the first things you hear is “well essentially it’s just caramelised pork…” you know it’s going to be a good day.
We spent the day bidding Mothers’ wishes, performing all manner of kitchen handy tasks and picking up many a snippet of information. I had an exceptionally splendid time and am genuinely in awe of Mother Yow’s gastronomic talents. Attempts to explain how divine dinner was would quite frankly not do her justice, and if you thought we over-did things… well… Admittedly some additional guests were unable to eventuate, but the amount of food generated by that little lady in such a small kitchen on a sweatingly hot day was simply phenomenal. For the record, there were:
Pork and prawn dumplings

Pork hock with steamed buns and pickled carrots and cucumber

Beef rendang with steamed rice

Vegetable rice noodles with egg and Chinese sausage

Pork and radish with bean curd

And I was so thoroughly overwhelmed by the whole experience that I didn’t even manage to get photos of the sticky pork ribs or delicious steamed greens.

For dessert were the utterly delectable mango puddings

And as if that weren’t enough, we also managed our spectacular French lemon cream tart with Italian meringue. We have been working through various adaptations of this extraordinary tart (going Swiss with this iteration's meringue), as it is my contention that, when perfect, it will have the power to woo any human being to your bidding, and even perpetuate attaining world domination. Evidently I am yet to succeed on either front, but I did manage to score highly on the critical scoresheet of Mr Yow, missing an 11/10 opportunity for taking over the world by a whisker of refrigerator congestion.

But it is only fair that the power of the tart was not fully executed on this occasion, as the day truly belonged to Mother Yow and her unparalleled kitchen talents. Quite simply, she is amazing, and should you ever have the opportunity to share in one of her spectacular feasts, take it in a heartbeat. You will not regret it.
Thank you ever so much, Mother Yow. It was an honour, a privilege, and an absolute pleasure.