My Cook Club: Easter Chocolate Loaf

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It’s almost Easter, and I have to confess this recipe was one of the trickier ones I’ve put together for Cook Club! After being inspired by an extremely delish photo I found online, I set about making my own version (of what looked like a really simple recipe) to share with you guys. Alas, I need to remember things on the internet can be deceiving! But never fear, Cook Clubbers, after three trials, we now have a simple, pretty much fail-safe Easter Loaf so full of chocolatey goodness it might just send us all into a diabetic coma.

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Easter Chocolate Loaf


WHAT YOU NEED:

Mixed chocolate bars. I used Cherry Ripe, Peppermint Crisp, Crunchie, Kit Kats, Wonka’s Cookie and Cream and mixed mini Easter eggs (but nothing too creamy – I made that mistake in attempts one and two). Look for bars that have colourful insides.

400g dark chocolate, chopped

50g butter, cubed

1 tin of condensed milk

A loaf tin

Grease proof paper (or similar, to line your tin)

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Ingredients


HOW IT’S DONE:

Prepare your chocolates by unwrapping them all, maybe cutting some in half. You’ll need to work fast so have everything handy. Line your loaf tin with cooking paper.

In a medium saucepan set to a low heat, melt butter and condensed milk together, stirring constantly. Once they’re combined, add the chopped chocolate all at once and stir like crazy. It will come together thick and fast, so use your muscles.

Once your fudge base is combined, layer it in the tin with your prepared bars and Easter eggs, giving the tin a light tap between layers to get rid of any air bubbles. Continue layering bars, fudge, bars until you fill the tin to the top. Refrigerate for 24 hours, or at least overnight. When set, turn out of tin – you might need to give it a good tap on the bottom – and slice.

**Confession – my loaf tin is quite deep, so I ended up doubling the fudge mixture. Next time, I think I’ll add more bars and less fudge.

** Don’t be afraid to experiment! I think using milk chocolate in the fudge mix would work well – dark choc made this recipe very, very rich…though my family aren’t complaining! I’d love to see what variations you guys come up with.

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Yum!

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The inspiration!

My Cook Club: White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Cookies

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Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, white chocolate and macadamias. What more you could ask for in a cookie?

This is a huge recipe – not in time or effort, but certainly in the amount of cookies you’ll have left to devour once it’s done. My family of boys can manage a double batch without a problem, you (and Bel) might decide to half the amounts I’ve given here.
WHAT YOU NEED:

1 cup of softened butter. No, not margarine. Butter.

1 cup of white sugar.

¾ cup of brown sugar, packed.

2 tsp of vanilla extract.

1 tsp of salt.

2 large eggs.

3 cups of plain flour.

1 ½ tsp baking soda.

150g chopped macadamia nuts.

150g white chocolate chips.

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HOW IT’S DONE:

Pre heat your oven to a low 140 c. In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugars and vanilla extract until it turns fluffy and takes on a lighter colour. An electric mixer will make your life easier, but it’s not essential for this recipe. Then add eggs one at a time. The mixture might appear to curdle at first, but it will come together.

In a second bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually add this mix to the butter and egg mixture until all combined. It’s seriously easy to end up in a big mess with flour flying everywhere if you don’t take your time with this bit. Go on…ask me how I know! Or, maybe don’t. Add the chocolate chips and macadamia nuts at this point. You might want to get your hands in there to mix until pretty much even.

Line a baking tray or three with baking paper (my favourite thing in the kitchen, saves on washing up). Spoon one tablespoon of mix into balls in your hands, then place on tray. Don’t place too close together, as they WILL spread. Cooking time is only about ten to eleven minutes – you won’t think they’re ready yet, but look for the slight golden brown change in colour around the edge of your cookies. They’ll still be quite soft. Allow to cool for a minute or two, then slide off with a spatula. Overcook and you’ll lose that lovely chewy consistency. Of course, if you prefer your cookies with that bit more crunch, then by all means bake for a little longer.

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My Cook Club: Triple Layered Chocolate Pavlova

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For Cook Club this month, I decided to make one of my favourite desserts – spectacular and far simpler to make than you’d think, but it’s a bit too full-on for everyday. Here in Australia, where we celebrate Christmas in summer and our delicious berries are in season, well, a triple-layered Pavlova has to be the perfect Christmas Day dessert ~ Mandy

What You Need:

  • 200ml of egg whites. I find it easier to measure egg whites this way, because at my place the eggs come in all shapes and sizes from our backyard chickens.
  • 1 ½ cups of caster (super fine) sugar.
  • 200g of dark chocolate.
  • 400 ml of cream: 200ml for whipping, plus another 200ml for mixing with the chocolate.
  • Mixed berries. I used strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.
  • 2 ½ teaspoons of white vinegar.
  • 3 tablespoons of cornflour.

????????????????????????????????How it’s Done:

Preheat oven to 130 degrees C. Line three baking trays – I use pizza trays – with baking paper, and mark a circle on each, aprox 20cm in diameter and set aside.

Very carefully separate your egg whites from the yolks. I use a groovy little kitchen gadget that I think came via Tuppaware years ago, but on the days when that gets lost in my junk drawer, just cupping your (clean) hand and letting the whites slide through your fingers does a pretty good job.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites on their own until they turn white with foamy peaks. Add the caster sugar little bit by little bit on medium-high. Be patient! Make sure each sugar edition has dissolved before adding the next lot. An easy way to check this is by rubbing a little mixture between your fingers. If you can still feel grit from the sugar, beat a little longer. Once complete, your mixture should be white, stiff and very glossy. At this point, add the vinegar and cornflour to stabilise the mix (Confession – I forgot to add the vinegar and cornflour, but it still worked.)

Divide mix into three, and spoon onto your baking trays. Using your circles as a guide, smooth out mixture as much as possible, and keeping the sides tidy. Add to the oven, turn heat down to 120 C. Bake for 1 hour, 10 mins (Confession – mine were ready at one hour exactly, so do keep an eye on them), then turn off the oven, open the door and allow the meringues to cool completely.

While your meringues are cooling in the oven, melt the chocolate over a double boiler with 200ml of cream. A double boiler is basically a saucepan with a little bit of water in it and low heat, and another large bowl placed directly over it. Don’t allow steam or water to come into contact with your chocolate. Stir constantly, and eventually it will come together in a chocolate sauce. Allow to cool.

Prepare berries, and whip remaining 200ml of cream. I always add a dash of vanilla extract. On a serving dish, very carefully place one of your cooled meringues. Using about a third of your chocolate ganache mixture, smooth on top of the meringue, followed by a third of the whipped cream and berries. Place your second meringue on top and repeat the process, then the final meringue, chocolate, cream and berries.

For serving on Christmas Day, you could add more berries to the plate, tinsel or baubles to decorate.

Good luck Cook Clubbers, I’m looking forward to seeing what Bel comes up with!

My USA Foodie Adventure #5

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NEW YORK & HAWAII

Well, we’ve been back home in Australia for a couple of weeks now, and it’s taken me that long to find my blogging feet again. All up, we spent four weeks in America, stayed in seven cities, caught ten flights (including the teeny-tiny plane to the Grand Canyon), too many buses, cabs and shuttles to count. It was, without doubt, the most incredible trip of a lifetime. Our kids are now pretty seasoned travellers, and already asking where the next holiday will be to!

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Our last stop in mainland USA was New York – a very long way from sunny California! Two of my foodie ambitions was to check out a fair-dinkum NYC hot dog, and of course the pizza. Believe me, we had plenty if both! There are, of course, hot dog stands on every corner, but this one struck me as typical New York City; about a block from the Twin Towers Memorial site, on our way to walk along the Hudson River and wave to the Statue of Liberty. I got to have my New York Hot Dog, served with the lot. It was delish! (Until I grubbed ketchup all the way down the front of me…)

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On our walk back to our hotel, we stopped into a pretty grubby-looking cafe on the edge of a construction zone for our kids to use the restroom. Being the polite kind of people we are, we decided to stay for hot chips and a milkshake. It was only once we were seated that we noticed the temporary wooden sign spray painted with the words ‘Medi Centre’, and the photographs and hand-written RIP messages pinned to the walls showing the horror and chaos of September 11, when that very cafe we were sitting in was turned into an emergency medical facility. A very emotional experience for all of us.

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On a lighter note – PIZZA! My all time favourite food! We ate A LOT of it in New York. A lot. A few doors down from our hotel was a take-away pizza shop selling slices for 99 cents each, or $10 for a whole ‘pie’. Now I’m not talking average sized slices, either. These were the massive-one-slice-will-fill-you kind. We could easily feed our whole family of five for $10, with leftovers for the fridge. Win! We went back more than once.

On our way home to Australia, we stopped over in Hawaii for three nights. Bliss, bliss and more bliss! What a contrast to the crazy-busy city of New York. We stayed at the simply amazing Hilton on Waikiki Beach, and it was there that I finally got what I’d been craving for weeks – fruit. Check out my seasonal breakfast platter, served with a gluten-free ‘bread’ (more like a sweet cupcake, but hey, I wasn’t complaining!) Banana, melon, star fruit, berries, pineapple and dragon fruit. I ordered the same thing every morning, with a side of bacon. Because protein. And really, no one does bacon like Americans. Or pizza, or hot dogs, or cheeseburgers, or waffles, pancakes, clam chowder or super-sized buffets…yeah, you get the picture.

Thanks, USA. We had a blast!

My USA foodie adventure #4

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San Francisco is famous for many things. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Gay Pride, the Painted Ladies, Lombard street – the twistiest street in the world…the list goes on and on. And then – there’s the clam chowder.

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One of my foodie ambitions was to try the famous San Franciscian chowder in a sourdough bread bowl while we were in town, and I wasn’t disappointed. Different versions are available from every second street vendor, but we got lucky on our very first purchase.

We stayed right on Fisherman’s Wharf, almost directly across the road from the world-renowned Boudin’s Sourdough Bakery – also the oldest bakery in the city. After a long day bus-touring around town, my beloved popped out to grab takeaway for the kids, and returned with this to our hotel: The original clam chowder in a bowl. You can see below how excited I was:

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It was so omg delicious that we returned the next day for more, this time eating in at the downstairs cafe-style outdoor dining room. By the way, chowder goes to down really well with beer….

And finally, on our last night in San Francisco, we returned again to Boudin’s with our entire party of 16. This time we ate upstairs, which is more of a fine-dining experience. While I skipped the chowder this time around (for lobster), my 10yr old ordered it from the kid’s menu. Check out the turtle bread that it was served in!

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So clam chowder achievement was unlocked. And it lived up to all expectations!

My USA foodie adventure #3

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With a lack of wifi in some of our hotels, I haven’t quite been able to keep the pace with our most excellent adventure. As I write this, we’re about to head into our last full day in San Francisco, having already done Anaheim (Disneyland), Carlsbad near San Diego (Legoland), Hollywood and Las Vegas. Tomorrow we’re jumping on an early plane for the wilds of the one and only Big Apple – New York.

While we’ve enjoyed numerous fine dining experiences (more on that later), it’s also been great to check out the street food in various locations. My 2nd favourite so far was at Venice Beach, about an hour’s bus trip from Hollywood central.

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My two older sons are mad keen skaters, so getting to the Venice skate park was a big must for this trip. I have to admit, even for me it was pretty awesome to be on the home turf of the legendary Z-Boys – surfers turned skaters, who, back in the 70′s, changed the sport of skateboarding to the high-flying extreme sport we know today. Venice Beach has this kind of magical vibe about it – street stalls, artists, rubbish, homeless folks (not so magical), musicians, and dancers, palm readers and loads of hand-made wares. But best of all was the food.

While there are lots of cafes and restaurants, we were in a bit of a hurry to get the boys to into the Venice Bowl, so we stopped at ‘Big Daddy and sons’ for pizza and burgers, where we were greeted by lovely Liz out the front, who was a great help with the questions we had for the menu (that might have had something to do with her fascination for my youngest son, who has been a HUGE hit in America.

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Something to do with the blonde hair and glasses and a bit of an attitude, I think!) Big Daddy’s is basically a few holes in the wall – you order and pay at one, walk around the corner to another window and wait for your name to be called. Pizza is sold by the slice – at $2.99 we were expecting small pieces, so oldest son ordered three – but no, these things are the size of an entire small pizza back in Australia! Check out the pic below of Mr 6 taking on his slice of Margarita!  The pizza and burgers were all fab – not oily at all, and the accompanying fries were crisp and delish. And cheap. Cheap. Did I mention cheap? All five of us ate for around $40.

Not so cheap was the street food at the theme parks. Yeah, we expected that. And most of it tasted pretty much as you’d expect too. We did four days at Disneyland / California Adventure Park, a day at Legoland  and another at Universal Studios. While I stuck mostly to the trusty pizza slice and occasional hot dog, Lovely Husband discovered these: Smoked Turkey Legs. Hmmm. Not quite my thing, and at about $10 each, they aren’t the cheapest snack, but Simon loved them – especially with a beer in the scorching California sun.

Next up – San Fran chowder. Oh, my….

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My USA foodie adventure #2

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On our last night at Disneyland, we all (as in, all 16 of us) headed out to dinner at Napa Rose. Napa Rose is a (very) fine dining experience, located within The Disney Grand Californian Hotel, where we stayed.

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Both the food and service were exquisite. Five big fat stars from me. After a couple of days of fast or mass-produced food, it was so good to sit down to fresh produce prepared with plenty of care. While I might be handing out big fat stars, that’s the last thing the meal made you feel. Sure, we left feeling full and satisfied, but it was a nice change to eat two courses (plus bread) without feeling bloated and greasy.

For starters, I – along with a few others on our table – chose the Pan Roasted Diver Scallops on a Sauce of Lobster and accented with Vanilla. Seriously, *I die*. This has to be one of the most amazing dishes I’ve ever eaten. So delicate, so delicious. The balance of textures and flavours was just divine.

For main course I had the Smiling Tiger Salad with Fried Lobster, Spicy Beef, Asian Greens and a Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette. Oh. My. Now, I’m not much of a drinker these days, especially when it comes to wine, but I did share a bottle or two of Moscato with my sisters-in-law, Tamzine and Kerrie. The sweet wine was a great balance to the spice of the Smiling Tiger Beef.

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What a way to say good-bye to Disneyland! While Napa Rose might not be the cheapest dining option, it really was a special evening. The staff were efficient and full of personality, and treated the children of our group with just as much care as the adults

None of us could fault The Grand Californian Hotel either (except maybe to say that it is MASSIVE and the hallways are reeeeally long and it’s easy to get lost. But err, maybe that was just me…) If you’re ever fortunate enough to get the opportunity to stay there – DO. With exclusive park access to both Disneyland and California Adventure Park, and also to Downtown Disney – there’s not a location more convenient. And, no other location has Napa Rose.