My USA foodie adventure #1

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Hello! We arrived safe and sound at LAX very early on Saturday morning after leaving Melbourne, Australia early Saturday morning. Isn’t time travel awesome? We flew with Qantas, and though the food was typically airline standard, it could have been worse. Like when, 6 hours into a fifteen hour flight, my ten year old became awfully air-sick. All over my lap. Yep.

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Day One passed by in a blur of exhaustion, but we did manage to get into Disneyland for a few hours. We stayed at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, and just…WOW. So highly recommended, in every way. Seriously, just wow. We’re travelling with the extended Wrangles family – my parents in law, their three sons (one of whom is my husband), three daughters in law and eight grandchildren, so just getting a table together in a restaurant is a bit of a mission.

For lunch on that first day, we ate at The Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney, which was just outside our hotel. I had the Green Goddess Salad with shrimp – which tasted a whole lot better than it looked – and Simon (significant other) had the Cheesesteak Po-Boy. Both, apparently, dishes typical of New Orleans. Honestly, we were both so tired and hungry we would have eaten anything, but it was a very tasty welcome to American food.

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Day Two was a BIG day at Disneyland, which meant hot dogs and sugary soft drinks all day. California is in the midst of a record breaking heat wave (Aussies, I’m talking 38 – 40 c each day. And dry), so again, I was happy to go with a salad for dinner.

We all ate at the La Brea Bakery in Downtown Disney (so convenient!) I had a Wedge Salad, which was delivered as a full quarter of iceberg lettuce with bacon, beetroot, chicken breast and a blue cheese dressing. Holy Moly, it was amazing! My sister in law, Tam, had a BLT with a side of yam chips – again, delicious.

After dinner, we headed back into Disneyland itself for more exploring and the fireworks over the Disney castle – one of my highlights so far. Just beautiful, and very sentimental for this big sook!

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Mandy Reviews: Guardian by Jo Anderton

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anderton_Guardian-coverI was thrilled to learn FableCroft Publishing had picked up Book Three in Jo Anderton’s Veiled World Trilogy – Guardian.

I’d already read and loved books one and two– Debris and Suitedand was really looking forward to finding out how Anderton would manage to tie up such a complex storyline. But before I begin, a little disclaimer–I’m intentionally vague with this review. Being the last in the series, it’s all too easy to drop spoiler-bombs for the first two books, and these stories are far too good for that.

The Veiled World trilogy is big. I don’t necessarily mean in page numbers (though they’re all decent sized books, just not door-stops), I mean in the sheer scope of story. I’ve mentioned before that Anderton is a master world-builder, and she well and truly proves it here in the final instalment when protagonist Tanyana begins to slide across the veils–or through the doors–to even more worlds: worlds that are still connected to the one she shares in Movac-under-Keeper with Kichlan and her Debris collection team–Tanyana’s home.

As with Suited, Jo Anderton kicks this novel off with a deft recap of the last book. Rather than a “Previously…in The Veiled Worlds” type of summary, she manages to give the reader swift and unique catch-up by means of a report from a character whose thoughts we don’t usually get much of. Not only is this a clever tool to jog the reader’s memory, but it places the story smack into what we once believed was nothing more than the mythology of the Veiled Worlds.

In my review of Suited, I wrote about the fantastic character development from book one to two. So many novels with complex world building drop the ball when it comes to giving the reader characters they can really care about. Anderton has again pushed further than I expected. I felt comfortable with both Tanyana and her supporting cast–maybe too comfortable–and loved the way I was propelled forward alongside the characters as they were forced to keep moving, keep fighting, with little more than hope to keep them going. The Veiled World trilogy is written at a frantic pace, and the character development keeps up with the plot. These are people who can’t be unchanged for what they have seen and endured, both mentally and physically (oh, the physical!) Even after a long break between reading books two and three, I slipped straight back into an emotional investment in Tanyana and…and I’m so not going to say who else (I did say no spoilers).

Tanyana herself undergoes the biggest changes, and it is her strength and growth of character that impressed me most. Over the course of three books, she has grown from a talented and privileged member of society (though maybe a little too privileged?), to scraping the bottom of that same culture, to becoming the strong and deserving champion.

I felt Guardian was more science fiction than fantasy, and definitely more cyber than anything else. This is a little change from the first two books, though the mythological elements still hold this story together at the end of the day. Jo Anderton slips the reader information like jellybeans (or Lindt chocolate–whichever is your poison), only the smallest morsel at a time, which makes it hard for the type of reader who likes to problem solve ahead of time. I found the author to have great control over what she wanted us to know and when we could know it.

My single frustration with Guardian was with the evil Puppet Men. As antagonists, I found them to be a little too nebulous–though that could well have been Anderton’s intention, as I’m sure Tanyana felt the same.

There’s tragedy, relief, and still plenty of ‘a-ha!’ moments. I’ll give fair warning…there will be tears, so have the tissues handy. After three books, it’s impossible not to lose it a little when a story like this comes to an end. For this reason, even though Guardian could possibly be read as a stand-alone novel, to get the most from it, I recommend reading Debris and Suited first if you haven’t already done so.

 

Guardian

Book Three of the Veiled Worlds Trilogy

By Jo Anderton

Fablecroft Publishing 2014

ISBN – Print: 9780992284442 (RRP: $16.99)

ISBN – ebook: 9780992284459 (RRP: $7.99)

 

Raspberry Fudge Cake

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Okay, we all know the deal – you need a spectacular dessert, and no time to bake from scratch. If you’re anything like me and have a reasonably well-stocked pantry, you might even manage this one without a trip to the supermarket (I did!). I baked this one for my sister-in-law Kerrie, for her recent birthday.

rasberry fudge cake

Rasberry fudge cake

 

What You Need:

2 packs of Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix

1 tub of ready-made chocolate frosting

2 tubs of ready-made vanilla frosting

2 cups of dark chocolate melting buds

1 cup of frozen raspberries (you can use fresh, but frozen razzies are just as yummy and far more convenient)

1 pack of raspberry M&M’s

Baking paper

20cm round cake tin (even better if you have 2 of these!)

rasberry fudge cake_layers

Layering the cake

 

How it’s Done:

Prepare cake mixes according to the directions on the packet. I baked them in two 20cm round pans. Allow to cool, and then slice each cake horizontally in half – use a bread knife to do this – it makes life easy. Also trim the top of each cake so they are nice and flat.

 

While your cakes are baking, defrost your raspberries, then mix and mash them into the ready-made vanilla frosting. Pop the raspberry mixture into the fridge to help it firm up a little while your cakes are cooling.

 

Melt the chocolate buds using your preferred method – I use the microwave for small amounts like this – in two batches. On a long piece of baking paper laid flat on the bench, spread the chocolate as smoothly as you can. Allow chocolate to set for around ten minutes at room temperature, but not until it’s completely hard. With a sharp knife, score vertical lines right through the chocolate, to leave you with pieces about 5cm wide. I did mine on a slight angle for added effect. Allow the chocolate to set totally, then put aside for decorating.

rasberry fudge cake segment

On the inside!

 

Spread approximately one third of the chilled raspberry and frosting mix over one of your cake halves. Layer another half cake and repeat with the frosting – and repeat again until you add the very top cake half. (Yes, I know that would technically make them cake quarters, but hey…) Spread the chocolate frosting over this top half, keeping some frosting in reserve. Use this frosting to ‘glue’ the chocolate pieces around the outside of your cake. You can use perfectly measured pieces that all match, but I liked the idea of it being a little more rustic. The chocolate slabs should stay put with the frosting, but I also added a tulle bow because – pretty! Then, cover the top of your cake with the M&M’s. I added a few left-over pieces of chocolate too, because I knew the recipient of this particular cake happens to be a chocoholic!

 

There are a zillion variations you could use for a simple cake like this one. Instead of sticking with pinks, what about the bright multicolours of a traditional M&M pack? Blueberries instead of raspberries? Cookies and cream? Mint chocolate? Caramel, white chocolate? Hmm, white chocolate and caramel…might try that one soon actually. Anyone have a birthday coming up?

rasberry fudge cake_slice

Take a slice

 

 

Alice’s Wonderland Marshmallow

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 Recently, my niece turned one. Miss Alice is the only girl-child of her generation in our family (I have 3 boys, my only sister has a son as well as Alice), so this pink stuff is a big novelty for us. I have to admit I was ridiculously excited at the thought of helping out with some goodies for her Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party. My sister Nicole was expecting a fairly large number of people at her home, so I went with a couple of recipes that while simple, looked really effective.

 

Pineapple, raspberry and blueberry marshmallow - with edible butterflies!

Pineapple, raspberry and blueberry marshmallow – with edible butterflies!

To start with, I went with home-made marshmallow. It’s fluffier than the commercial stuff, while at the same time silky smooth. You can flavour it however you like and it’s easy, easy, easy.

 

What You Need:

2 tablespoons of gelatine. Use the powdered stuff rather than leaves.

1 ½ cups of boiling water.

3 cups of sugar.

Food colouring. I used yellow, pink and blue.

Flavourings. I used pineapple, raspberry and blueberry.

Spray oil.

½ cup icing sugar.

½ cup of corn flour.

Edible corn starch butterflies, to serve.

 

Pineapple, raspberry and blueberry marshmallow - with edible butterflies!

Pineapple, raspberry and blueberry marshmallow – with edible butterflies!

How it’s Done:

Unless you have arms to rival Wonder Woman’s, I’d definitely recommend using an electric mixer for this recipe. I made three separate batches of this – one for each flavour / colour.

 

Grease a large roasting pan with spray oil. In a small bowl, add the gelatine to the boiling water. Stir until combined, using the back of a spoon to help squish out any lumps. Then, place the sugar into a large bowl and add the gelatine mix. Mix with your electric beaters until light and fluffy. This will take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. For this batch, I actually mixed for 20 minutes, because I wanted to make an extra fluffy mixture. Just before you finish mixing, add colour and plenty of flavouring. I went with fruity flavours – they not only tasted amazing, but the smell was to die for. Spoon mixture into pan and smooth the top. You need to work pretty quickly at this point because the marshmallow stiffens fast. Pop into the fridge for at least 20 minutes. Remove from fridge and using a sharp knife, cut to size. You could also use cookie cutters for interesting shapes. Combine cornflour and icing sugar in a shallow dish, and toss marshmallow shapes.

 

Can be stored in air tight container for 4 to 5 days.

 

*As you can see, I made 3 batches. I found it easier to do it that way, rather than dividing the mix into thirds. The butterflies were purchased from my local cake decorating store, and while they weren’t very tasty, they looked pretty cute!

Alice’s Wonderland Cake Pops

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It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the humble cake pop. My recipe is a no-bake-no-brainer, and I’ve blogged it a couple of times before. At my niece Alice’s, recent first birthday party, I made a trio of flavoured marshmallows – raspberry, blueberry and pineapple flavoured. To go with them, I made matching cake pops, patterned with pink, blue and yellow. They were the simplest I’ve made yet.

 

Write or make patterns with Candy Writers

Write or make patterns with Candy Writers

What You Need:

*3 packets of Arnott’s Tim Tam biscuits (for those of you not in Australia and unable to get your hands on the mostamazingbiscuitintheworld, you can replace them with Oreos. Apparently.

*240 grams of Cream Cheese – this works out to 80g per pack of Tim Tams if you need to expand or decrease these amounts.

*Cake pop / lollypop sticks, available from cake decorating shops or online.

*2 packets of dark chocolate buds for melting.

*Candy Writers (actually chocolate in a tube) in various colours.

 

Cake Pops

Cake Pops

How it’s Done:

Add the Tim Tams and Cream Cheese to a blender and blitz until well combined. Using a heaped teaspoon for measurement, roll balls of mixture and place on a tray lined with baking paper. Refrigerate for half an hour.

Melt a small amount of chocolate in a cup (I use the microwave). Dip the end of a cake pop stick into the chocolate, and push into a Tim Tam ball. Allow to set in the fridge for another 20 minutes.

Melt more chocolate in a small but deep container. Dip each cake pop into the chocolate, submerging it completely. Place upside down on the tray lined with baking paper again, forming a flat side on the pops. Once the chocolate is set, decorate with the Candy Writers. Now, these aren’t candy as we know it in Australia. They’re coloured white chocolate with a few extras added in, but perfect for this type of thing. In a cup or mug, add really hot (but not boiling) water. Add the tube of ‘candy’, and wait 5 minutes for it to begin to melt. Massage and roll the tube in your hands before adding it back to the hot water for a few minutes. This enables to chocolate to melt evenly. Snip the top of the tube, and add any sort of pattern you like to the flat top of your cake pops. I found spirals and zig-zags were a quick and effective way to go.

As I’ve done before, I served the finished cake pops bunched in a simple glass tumbler. Totally irresistible!

Rocky Road for Big Kids

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So, a couple of weeks ago, I made and blogged the recipe for ‘Not-So Rocky Road’ – a twist on the old favourite with gummy bears and popping candy. Now it seems lots of you liked that one – I think a lot of that had to do with how deceptively simple it is to make. I’ve since had a couple of requests for more Rocky Road ideas, and thought I’d start with this one. More for grown-ups than kidlets, this one is super-rich and rather decadent…

rocky road for big kids

Rocky road for big kids

What You Need:

For the Chocolate fudge:

  • 400g of dark chocolate. Use the best quality (with the highest cocoa percentage) that you can, chopped finely. I used a mix of 100g of Lindt and 300g of Nestle Plaistowe.
  • 50g butter, cubed (don’t use margarine *shudder*)
  • 1 x 385ml can of condensed milk. I used the skim version this time, only because that’s all I had in the pantry (also, ‘skim’ is not skim when it comes to condensed milk. The calorie count is still obscene. May as well use the real stuff!)
rocky road for big kids 2

Ingrdients

 

For the rocky in the road:

  • 1 cup of marshmallows
  • ½ cup of shelled walnuts
  • ½ cup of salted pistachios, shelled
  • ½ cup of glace cherries
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The mixture!

 

Grease and line a slice tin – aprox 18cm x 18cm – and randomly place around half of your nuts, marshmallows and cherries. Then, to make fudge, in a medium saucepan over a very low heat, melt butter into the condensed milk. Stir continuously as it can stick to the bottom. Once the butter has melted, add all the chocolate at once, stirring vigorously. It gets thick very quickly, so use your muscles! Add fudge to the slice tin, as well as remaining nuts, cherries and marshmallows. Use the back of a dessert spoon or a knife to smooth as much as possible. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then using a super-sharp knife, cut into pieces. Because this one is so rich, I cut it into smaller pieces than I normally would.

 

Not So Rocky Road

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This one is a kid-special, though I’m pretty sure grown-ups will like it too – especially those in need of a sugar-hit. Seriously smooth chocolate fudge filled with marshmallows, gummy bears and sprinkled with popping-candy to top it off. Perfect for children’s parties, or, just because.

RR3

A kid favourite!

What You Need:

Fudge:

400g milk chocolate, chopped

50g butter, cubed

385ml can of condensed milk

RR1

Ingredients

 

Filling:

Popping candy

Gummy Bears

Marshmallows – I chopped mine into about four pieces each

RR2

Too easy to mix!

 

How it’s Done:

Start by preparing a slice tin by greasing and lining with greaseproof paper. My tin is about 18cm square. Place about a cup (or handful) of Gummy Bears and chopped marshmallows into the bottom of the tin randomly. Now, it’s fudge time.

 

I’ve blogged about this fudge recipe a couple of times before. It’s ridiculously simple. Just add your butter and condensed milk to a small saucepan, and stir constantly over a medium heat until the butter has melted completely. Add chocolate and continue to stir vigorously until it all comes together. Working quickly, add the fudge mixture to your prepared tin, directly over the top of the Gummy Bears and marshmallow. Add a few extra Gummy Bears on top, then sprinkle with Popping Candy. Place the slice tin into the fridge for about an hour.

 

And that’s it! Told you it was too easy.