My 30 before 30 list

I’m not gonna lie people. Turning 30 scares me. THANKFULLY I have a full year to deal with this impending doom as I am only about to turn 29.

I’m not sure why 30 scares me. I think I had ideas that my life would be ‘sorted’ by then. That I would be a grown up, have my crap together and life would be good. But I think we all know life doesn’t work like that.

Life for me is good. I have a lovely partner, we own a house together, I am at the top of my career and there is travel in the future. So I have decided to celebrate my last year in my 20s by doing a 30 before 30 challenge. 30 things that I want to do before the big day, focussed on fun, wellbeing and experiences.

My 30 before 30 list

  1. Take a dancing class
  2. Run a 5k or walk a 10k
  3. Visit a city I have never been to before
  4. Learn to cook fresh pasta
  5. Read 15 new books
  6. Go vegetarian for a week (sorry Ben!)
  7. Plan a girls weekend
  8. Go rock climbing – and go right to the top
  9. Take a curling lesson
  10. Go to a museum
  11. Volunteer some time with a charity
  12. Eat at a fancy restaurant
  13. Start a veggie garden
  14. Bake ‘just because’ treats for work at least twice
  15. Organise the junk drawers at home
  16. See a financial planner
  17. Go see a musical
  18. Bet on a winning horse
  19. Bake homemade bread once a month
  20. Plan a surprise date for Benjamin
  21. Treat myself to a day spa experience
  22. Go wine tasting
  23. See a psychic or do reiki
  24. Join a professional organisation, or subscribe to a business magazine
  25. Host a dinner party for my family
  26. Donate blood
  27. Finish decorating at least one of the rooms!
  28. Finally complete the 1000 steps (without dying)
  29. Go out for a luscious duck dinner with friends
  30. Go to a roller derby, Whip It style

If anyone wants to help me out with the above, feel free to get in touch!

I’ll update you guys as I go along with any completed challenges and share the fun!

Red velvet cupcakes and a birthday party

Recently it was my little sisters 26th Birthday, so to celebrate I offered to throw her an afternoon tea. My sister is a lover of all things retro, so I thought I would give it a bit of a Mad Men theme.

On the menu were cucumber sandwiches (and ham and cheese, although that’s not so retro!)

Devilled eggs – these were creamy and quite yummy, although not the prettiest as I am not a patient person!

We also had some sausage rolls made by my sister, some mini spinach quiches and this lovely lemon tart, again made by my sister.

I also made red velvet cupcakes to finish the afternoon tea off. Again, not sure how retro they are, but I associate them with America and to me they are quite a traditional cupcake. That being said, I had never cooked them before and would rarely order them if I saw them on a cupcake menu. Having made them though, I am not sure why that is!

They are really moist, and nice and subtley flavoured. I’m normally  not the biggest cream cheese frosting fan, but being able to control the sugar content in it meant that I could get the balance just right.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Via Martha Stewart 

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self- rising), sifted
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon red gel-paste food color
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
  • Cream Cheese Frosting

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cake flour, cocoa, and salt.
  2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in food color and vanilla.
  3. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix on medium speed 10 seconds.
  4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
  5. To finish, use a small offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting.

Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 pound (4 cups) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, and then vanilla; mix until smooth.

Chicken tequilla burgers

This isn’t the prettiest photo. But that’s OK. Because this burger was very yummy. I don’t really drink alcohol on a school night. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to. But for me, a glass of wine on a weeknight seems to be crossing an invisible line I have made for myself.

So that is why an alcoholic burger on a weeknight felt particularly delicious and sinful. You can taste the alcohol, but not to the point of it being overpowering. It also makes for a juicy pattie, but it still holds together really well. It is also really simple to make.

I got the recipe from Annie’s Eats and I think we will definately be making this one again!

Chicken Tequila Burgers
via Annies Eats

Ingredients:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½-1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 chicken breasts (about 1 lb. total)
3-4 tbsp. cilantro
Zest of ½ a lime
1 oz. tequila
Dash of soy sauce
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
½ cup panko bread crumbs

For serving:
Burger buns
Sautéed bell pepper and onion
Lettuce

Directions:
Preheat the broiler.  Line a baking sheet with foil and brush lightly with olive oil.  Combine the garlic, jalapeno, chicken breasts, cilantro and lime zest in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse several times until the chicken is uniformly ground.  Mix in the tequila, soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste, and panko.  Pulse a few more times until the ingredients are well blended.

Form the mixture into 4-5 patties and place them on the prepared baking sheet.  Broil the burgers for about 12-15 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking to brown both sides.  Check for doneness before serving.  Serve on buns with sautéed bell pepper and onion, and lettuce as desired.

Source: adapted from Cara’s Cravings

Captain America’s Hamburger Heaven

We were going to go out for breakfast on Sunday. But the boy’s only request was that he wanted ‘a really big strawberry milkshake, the kind served in a metal cup.’

This led to a disagreement about the best breakfast place for this, and so the suggestion was made to nix breakfast and head to lunch instead. At Captain America’s Hamburger Heaven.

Conveniently located not so far from our house, this outer Eastern suburbs burger joint is looking a little worse for wear, and the closed door even has you questioning if they are open!

But despite its rough appearance, they offer extremely friendly service and good, classic burgers.

We started with onion rings, because the rule is that if they are on the menu, they must be ordered! It was a good effort, nice and crunchy, although the slices of onion were a tad too thick for me.

Moving to the mains, I had the mushroom burger on a gluten free bun. My only complaint is that the bun was a little large for the burger patty, but aside from that, a good burger with just enough mushroom to not overpower the flavour.

The boy ordered the Mexicana Burger, a beef burger with lettuce, tomato, sour cream, chilli and cheese, served with chips, corn chips and guacamole. He enjoyed it very much, and made the big declaration that this place is better than Mistys Diner!

Also, he rather enjoyed his strawberry milkshake :)

A good place if you are wanting to eat many calories and gorge!

Captain America’s Hamburger Heaven
38 Forest Rd, Ferntree Gully, Victoria
Phone Bookings (03) 9758 0711

Chilli con carne with coriander and chilli corn bread

Confession time. I am not a huge chilli fan. I always like my meals filled with veggies so that I can feel like I am being a little bit healthy, even if the rest of the meal is laden with carbs.

There is no kidding yourself with chilli though. It is red meat and spice. It also happens to be one of the boys FAVOURITE meals so of course I trot it out every now and then.

I decided to slow cooker the meat… pretty much because I can now! It meant the meat was all juicy and falling apart, which is never a bad thing.

I also baked them with an American style corn bread, which although nice, I don’t think I would bother with again as it was a bit too thick to soak up the juices.

Chilli con carne with coriander and chilli corn bread

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • 200g (1 cup) dried red kidney beans
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 800g beef casserole steak
  • 2 red onions, halved, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red capsicum, halved, deseeded, coarsely chopped
  • 1 green capsicum, halved, deseeded, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbs ground cumin
  • 1 tbs ground coriander
  • 1 tbs sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp ground oregano
  • 2 x 400g cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp drained sliced jalapeno chillies, finely chopped
  • 500ml (2 cups) water
  • Sour cream, to serve
  • Fresh coriander leaves, to serve

Coriander & chilli corn bread

  • Melted butter, to grease
  • 225g (1 1/2 cups) self-raising flour
  • 260g (1 1/2 cups) polenta (cornmeal)
  • 80g (1 cup) coarsely grated cheddar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 x 270g can corn kernels, rinsed, drained
  • 1 long fresh red chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 250ml (1 cup) milk
  • 50g butter, melted

 Method

  1. Place the beans in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Set aside for 1 hour to soak. Drain.
  2. Preheat oven to 160°C. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add the beef and cook for 2-3 minutes each side or until browned. Transfer to a large ovenproof dish.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in the same pan over high heat. Add the onion and combined capsicum and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add garlic, cumin, ground coriander, paprika and oregano and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until aromatic. Add the tomato, chilli and water and bring to the boil. Remove from heat. Add the beans and tomato mixture to the beef.
  4. Bake the beef mixture, covered, in oven for 2 hours or until the beef and beans are tender. If using a slow cooker, place the mixture into a slow cooker, and cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly. Use tongs to transfer the beef to a clean work surface. Use 2 forks to shred the beef with the grain. Return the beef to the tomato and bean mixture and stir to combine.
  5. Meanwhile, to make the coriander & chilli corn breads, preheat oven to 200°C. Brush eight 185ml (3/4-cup) capacity Texas muffin pans with butter to lightly grease. Combine the flour, polenta, cheddar, coriander, corn and chilli in a large bowl. Whisk together the egg, milk and butter in a jug. Add to the flour mixture and use a metal spoon to stir until just combined. Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted in the centres of the breads comes out clean.
  6. Spoon the chilli con carne among serving bowls. Top with a dollop of sour cream and fresh coriander leaves, if desired. Serve immediately with coriander & chilli corn bread.

 

Ravioli Soup

Operation ‘Eat Red Meat’ is well underway and I am constantly looking for ways to boost my red meat, without needing to eat a steak! This recipe I found on Annies Eats as Tortellini Soup, but it is also a recipe my Dad used to make all the time in winter, although he puts lentils and beans in his.

Given my dairy allergy, it wasn’t possible for me to just go pick up a packet of Leggos Ravioli, so we had to make a special journey to Thomas Dux for a packet of Passion Pasta Beef Ravioli.

That said, this is super quick to whip up mid week and with spinach included, it gave a good iron hit for me :)

Tortellini Soup
Via Annies Eats

Ingredients:
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. dried oregano
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes, with juices
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
9 oz. tortellini, any variety (fresh or frozen)
3 cups fresh baby spinach, loosely packed
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan, for serving

Directions:
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions to the pan and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, just until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Mix in the oregano and diced tomatoes.  Add the broth to the pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Add the tortellini to the pot and cook according to the package directions.  One minute before the tortellini is fully cooked, stir in the spinach.  Remove from the heat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm with grated Parmesan as desired.

Lamb shank and pasta soup

Lately this blog has been alive with my whining about stress from work, how tired I am, wahhhh wahhh wahh! I’ve been struggling. It came to a head about a month ago when I just about passed out at the gym and spent a half hour just not being able to move. I knew I hadnt felt well for some time, but I figured it was work causing it. But that incident told me it was not.

So off I went to the doctors, where I was promptly tested for everything under the sun. And the results? Low iron. Like incredibly low iron. Where there isnt enough iron in my blood to help carry the oxygen around, hence why I practically passed out.

So the doctor has ordered me me onto some iron supplements, and insisted I increase my red meat intake.

The thing is though, I dont like red meat. I barely like meat! The thought of choking down a steak once a week was not that appealing. So I did what any foodie would do. I convinced the boy that I NEEDED a slow cooker and then told him all about the tender meats I would be cooking him.

Slow cooker procured, I have spent the last 2 weeks cooking up a storm and falling a little more in love with that appliance each time.

The key, I have learnt, is to sear the meat well before hand. If you dont do this it just wont have the same flavour.

I finally got around to making lamb shanks last week and OMG this was the most delicious meal ever. It was packed full of flavour and the meat melted off the bone.

So I humbly suggest you make this. If you don’t have a slow cooker, I have included the regular pot recipe below. Just make it!

Lamb shank and pasta soup

  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 2 lean lamb shanks, trimmed
  • 1 brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 400g can diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups salt-reduced beef stock
  • 3/4 cup small shell pasta (I used risoni)
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, finely shredded
  • 4 crusty wholegrain bread rolls, to serve
 Method
  1. Lightly spray a large saucepan with oil. Heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add lamb shanks and cook, turning, for 5 minutes or until browned. Transfer to a plate. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Increase heat to medium-high. Return lamb to pan. Add tomatoes, stock and 2 cups cold water. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover. Cook for 1 hour 30 minutes or until lamb is tender. Remove lamb shanks to a board. Shred meat.
  3. For slow cooker, after step 1 transer all ingredients to your slow cooker. Add tomatoes, stock and 2 cups cold water and cook on low for 8 hours. (Or on high for 4)
  4. Return soup to the boil over high heat. Stir in pasta. Cover and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until pasta is tender. Add shredded lamb and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into shallow bowls. Serve with crusty bread rolls.
  5. For slow cooker, I cooked the pasta separately and added to the slow cooker with the basil right at the end.

Pulled pork

I recently got myself a slow cooker. The idea of being able to leave something on while you are at work and come home to a delicious meal all cooked for you was very very tempting!

So I convinced the boy that I NEEDED one and told him all about the tender meats we will soon be eating and the slow cooker was all mine!

Having seen a lot of talk around the blogosphere lately about pulled pork, I had been VERY tempted to try it, so there was no better dish for my first slow cooker meal than pulled pork!

The recipe I used was from Blithely Unaware, and although not specifically for a slow cooker, it was easily adaptable. The only change I would make in the future is to cut down on the  amount of liquid used as I had quite a lot leftover.

The end result was absolutely beautiful! We both could not stop eating and went back for seconds! I will be making this again at some stage as it was highly addictive.

Pulled Pork

1 Diced Onion
Butter
Cayenne Pepper
Paprika
Dried Oregano
Seeded Mustard
Caster Sugar
White Vinegar
Soy Sauce
Worcestershire Sauce
1 X tinned tomato
Salt and Pepper
 
Shoulder of pork – butterflied, sans the fat. Ask your butcher to do this!!!
 
Marinade:
Sweat 1 diced onion in 50g butter for 5 mins on lowest heat
Add 1 tbsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tbsp dried oregano and 1 tsp seeded mustard.
Cook for a further 2 minutes
Add 4 tbsp caster sugar, cook for a further 2 mins
Add 100ml white vinegar
Turn heat to full
When boiling add 1 tin diced tomato, 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce, 30 mls Soy Sauce and season with salt and pepper.
Cook until combined and thick, (about 5 minutes)
Pour your marinade while hot over a butterflied pork shoulder and leave to marinate for 15 minutes.

Cook butterflied pork shoulder on hot A bbq until the outside begins to caramelize then remove from heat.

Place pork in pot with remaining marinade and 5lt vegetable/chicken stock.
Simmer covered on lowest possible heat for at least 5-6 hours,
check occasionally to ensure bottom does not stick.
After 5-6 hours, remove lid and cook on a medium heat, stirring frequently until meat is broken up and combined into a thick chunky sauce.
Serve with mash or in a soft bread roll with tasty cheese and wholegrain mustard.

Chocolate pistachio cupcakes

There hasnt been a lot of room in my life for baking lately. Particularly ‘just because’ baking. This weekend was the first in a long while where I didn’t have to do anything or be anywhere. Battling exhaustion from some really long working weeks, I knew I just wanted to take some time for myself.

With the boys football team playing Saturday night, I had the house to myself. I dropped him off in Richmond at 4 then headed home for some baking and much needed couch time.

Of all the things I could make, I am not sure why I decided on pistachio cupcakes. But I am so glad that I did. The batter on these was so delicious that I am only mildly ashamed to admit that I practically licked the bowl clean.

They cooked a little too quickly on the tops for my liking though, so future batches may have a little more moisture added to the batter.

That said, I really enjoyed these and that lovely pistachio flavour! The best part of just because baking? Eating all of these myself!!

I found this recipe on Annies Eats but I prefer a buttercream with my cupcakes, so I modified these a touch.

Pistachio Cupcakes
Yield:16-18 cupcakes

Ingredients:
For the cupcakes:
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp. shelled pistachios, divided
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
85g cream cheese, at room temperature (I used Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese)
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking soda (I added this as I decided not to use ganache and wanted a fuller cupcake)

For the ganache:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

Additional pistachios, for garnish

Directions:
To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 325˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

Place ½ cup of the pistachios in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until finely ground.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, cream cheese and ground pistachios.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Gradually mix in the sugar on medium-low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low, add the flour and salt, and mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.  Coarsely chop the remaining pistachios and evenly fold into the batter with a spatula.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared liners, filling each about three quarters full.  Bake, rotating halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Let cool in the pan a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.  Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Pour the warm cream over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes.  Whisk in small circular motions until the chocolate is completely melted and the ganache is smooth and glossy.  Whisk in the butter until completely incorporated.

Dip the top of each cooled cupcake into the ganache to create a thin, even layer.  (I like to let the ganache cool and thicken just slightly before dipping the cupcakes.)  Sprinkle with additional chopped pistachios, if desired.

Alternative frosting:

Chocolate buttercream
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature.
2 tbsp cocoa powder (I used half this amount for a not too overpowering chocolate taste)
4 oz semisweet chocolate (I used half this amount for a not too overpowering chocolate taste)

 In a large, clean heatproof bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over (but not touching) simmering water in a saucepan and heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is very warm to the touch (about 160F on an instant read thermometer), about 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg white mixture until it is fluffy, cooled to room temperature and holds stiff peaks, about 6 minutes.

 With  the mixture on medium-low speed, add the salt and butter a few pieces at a time, beating well after each addition. If the frosting appears to separate or is very liquid after the butter is added, continue to beat on high speed until it is smooth and creamy.

 Melt the chocolate and whisk the cocoa powder in. Cool slightly, before adding the flavouring into the frosting mixture and beat until combined.

where you been, what you been cooking?

So I haven’t been blogging. We have established this. But what I have I been up to? Well late last year I was offered a promotion that was a huge step up for me. I was excited but very nervous, because it meant becoming part of the executive team where I work and managing staff for the first time. I am 28, so this is a huge show of faith by my employers and there has definately been an adjustment period.

I took on the job in probably the worst possible circumstances. The outgoing manager walked out. In the long run, it was for the best (because she was a cow.) But it coincided with my other staff member falling very ill from stress and needing a lot of time off.

I’m not going to lie. November and December was one of the worst few months of my life. I worked 12+ hour days and weekends. I had to learn to manage staff. I had to learn how to do a new job, whilst conducting my old one as well. I had to hire staff for the first time and I had to (unfortunately) stamp my authority as a manager because people sometimes love nothing more than to try to cut others down.

I had to do a presentation to 200+ people (my biggest fear!) and I had to completely change the way my staff were working to be more efficient.

It hasn’t been smooth. It hasn’t been fun. It certainly hasn’t been easy. But it will be very rewarding for me long-term. I am learning a lot and being so busy has led me to really evaluate what is important in life and what I want for the future.

There are exciting times ahead.

Throughout all of this I have not lost my passion for cooking. Sure there have been (more than I would care to admit!) nights where I just couldn’t face the kitchen through exhaustion. But I haven’t stopped thinking about what I want to make next, what challenges I want to conquer. And I have been cooking, baking, roasting, planning all along and photographing that journey.

But I decided that rather than ‘catch up’ on past cooking adventures, I would just present a big overall picture of some of the yummy things I have made.

There have been delicious chicken sausage rolls, copious amounts of homemade icecream, cupcakes, many failed macaron attempts, risottos, breads, delicious slices and the reintroduction of pork into our diets which left me with nasty chilli burns on my fingers. No seriously – it hurt so bad!

So this is me moving to the next stage of this blog’s life, whatever form that make take. I want this to be my happy space, where I can leave the negativity and stress of work behind and focus on what I love to do most: cook!