Liebster Awards. Two in a row!

Yay! My first blogging awards..the Liebster. Two in a row! On one side, I was even not familiar with award and goodness me, they came in a pair (Did I tell you that my life revolves around pairs..so I am truely madly deeply in love with the number 2).
For the first one I was nominated by Dhanish from My Sri Lankan Recipes and within a few hours the second one by Gloria from Simply Gloria. It has been 6 weeks only since I stepped into the blog-o-sphere and hence I am overwhelmed at receiving any kind of recognition.My sincere thank you to Dhanish and Gloria for being so thoughtful in passing it onto me. I am absolutely delighted. Recognition…fame..awards can come to you any stage in life but the ‘first’-s are etched in your memory forever.

A little bit about the awesome twosome:

Dhanish is a great cook and My Sri Lankan Recipes is filled with mouthwatering recipes and pictures. From classic Sri Lankan dishes to quick and easy meals, her blog has variety in the true sense of the word. Not to mention the little step by step tutorials. It cannot get easier than this. My personal favourite- her Simple Chocolate Cake (appearance wise by no means it looks simple…it is gorgeous)

Gloria is the Supermum! Crafts and cooking and everything in between. Need to give your furniture a makeover..head over to Simply Gloria. She also happens to be my ‘sugar twin’ and there are heaps of yummy desserts in her blog. Please do not forget to check out her Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad (I prefer to call it Rainbow salad). Seriously, if there was an award for the best looking Pasta salad I’d give it to her.

About the award
The Liebster award is given to encourage up and coming blogs, less than 200 followers to continue blogging. Liebster is a Deutsche word meaning ‘dear’ or ‘beloved’. So basically here, it means your favourite blog award.
Rules of the award

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger
  2. Write 11 random facts about yourself
  3. Answer the 11 questions posed to you by the nominating blogger
  4. List down 11 bloggers (with 200 or less followers) who you feel deserve to be recognised (you cannot nominate the person who nominated you).
  5. Post 11 new questions for the bloggers you nominate
  6. Inform all the bloggers you nominated that they have been nominated.

Random facts about me

  • I am known to be extremely talkative. I can have a conversation with myself and lately I am mastering the art of having a monologue with an imaginative audience. So much for blogging..huh!
  • I can read and write in Deutsche. Even though the award is new to me, the name is all too familiar.
  • I do not give up..whatever the situation. So when the chocolate fondant/lava cake does not ooze out  ‘lava’, I prefer to call it the ‘Soft centred chocolate pudding’!
  • I have a thing for colours. And then there are seasons. Right now its ‘purple season’ for me- from dinnerware to ear rings (eggplants too).
  • I often go shopping to buy ‘that one important thing’ and come back with several more (7 years of Banking has had no impact on me)
  • Rains make me happy. Rainbows happier!
  • I still enjoy reading Enid Blyton books. The ‘Wishing Chair’ is my favourite.
  • I am a cleanliness fanatic. (And the lone woman in a house of 4…how does that sound?)
  • I am super tech savvy (how I wish I could say that!!). Its the other way round…codes, software and such things freak me out.
  • I love love love deep fried food. (And desserts…what a combo!)
  • I am through and through a Libran. All that is written about balance and harmony is true…I can vouch for that!

Answers to Dhanish’s questions

What made you start blogging?
I started the blog as a place to share my combined love for baking/cooking, photography and writing. It was on my mind for a couple of years but I decided to wait till my boys were ready to go to preschool so I could have some spare time. My family and friends were ‘waiting’ for the blog to go live.

What is your favourite movie of all time?
I have so many but if I had to pick one it would be Million Dollar Baby.

Who is your role model?
I think a Mother plays the most important role in shaping up an individual’s personality. I have realised it more so since I became one. My role model could only be my mother. Even today, I fall back on her for everything under the sun.

If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be?
If I was granted 3 wishes right at this time, I would want to see my family in India, eat biriyani and make Summer come back (Its Autumn in Sydney and I am not enjoying the shorter days)

What is the favourite thing to do in your spare time?
Honestly, since the last 3 years, I do not remember having spare time. But yes, when I can make some time for myself I love to experiment with desserts..muti-elemental ones with many layers or elements and fancy garnishes. It is a sort of therapy for me.

What excites you the most?
Nothing like great food accompanied by great conversation.

What is the first item on your wish list?
A trip to Paris! I could spend a day or two at some of the famous Patisserie’s in Paris.

What is something you regret?
I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. Therefore, no regrets so far!

What is your favourite dessert?
That one is really difficult. I eat, sleep and breathe desserts so picking up one is impossible. But I am more inclined towards cold and custard based ones- like Mousse..Creme Brulees..Ice creams.

Three favourite ingredients?
Butter, garlic and herbs. (Sugar is not even considered an ingredient..its my life)

What is your favourite cookbook?
Again, so many favourites but I would go with Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets. I look for cookbooks with stories and backgrounds..not just recipes.


Answers to Gloria’s questions

Why did you start blogging?
Answered above.

If your blog was a soundtrack what would your title song be?
Sugar et al in many ways is my dream come true and I so so love this little blog of mine. So the title song would be ‘Reaching for Heaven’ from Ice Princess.

Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from everything I see around me…nature…food…people..books and so on.

How would you describe yourself in one word?
Determined

Who would you like to play in the movie of your life?
Superman maybe. I could do with some super powers at the moment.

What are you most passionate about?
In general I am passionate about everything I do but if I have to pick one it would be cooking/baking!

What is the one thing you want to accomplish in your lifetime?
When I was working a couple of years back, I had the opportunity of being engaged with a bit of Community Service. One among them involved the recruitment and hand holding of the visually impaired. It included tremendous hard work, patience, endless approvals and numerous challenges. In a multinational banking scenario where customer data is at the top of everything, the risk is significant. I had to undergo training myself.There are times when I would break down but then the courage and strength of the people involved kept me going. Finally they came aboard and completed their first assignment. I couldn’t stop the tears flowing from my eyes…that was the proudest moment of my life. They set an example to the world. Till today I admire their determination and talent. And that has left a deep desire in me to go out there and do something for the differently abled. I am too too tied up at the moment but someday I hope to accomplish this. At least for the time being, I would love to write a post on the time I spent with them.

What is your biggest pet peeve?
People texting on their mobile phones while having a conversation with me.

What is the farthest you have ever travelled?
From Bangalore (India) to Sydney. In miles and in essence, the biggest move of my life!

What is your favourite hobby?
Cooking/baking and photography.

What is your proudest moment?
I have mentioned that above

My 11 questions to the nominated bloggers

  1. What do you enjoy the most about blogging?
  2. Sweet or Savory?
  3. Your favourite kitchen tool?
  4. Your most prized possesion?
  5. Your biggest ‘purchase’ regret?
  6. Your favourite memory?
  7. If you were told that you could live for one more day only, what would you like to do?
  8. Your dream holiday spot?
  9. If you were a season, which one best describes you?
  10. Something you carry with you all the time?
  11. Your ideal 3 course menu?

And the esteemed Liebster award goes to (I honestly have no idea how many followers each of them have or if they have received it before…I am nominating them because I like visiting their blogs and would love to pass it on to them (Sorry if i made a mistake!)
I highly recommend that you visit these blogs!

Pavithra from Potpourri
Sona from Quick Picks
Bhawna from Simply Delicious
Li from Words & Cake
Rashida from Inherited Recipes
T2M from techie2mom (sorry, I do not have your name. Nevertheless I love your blog)

Thats my list for now. Congratulations guys!
Please do link back to me when you post. Cant wait to read your answers!

I also take this opportunity to thank all my readers and supporters. I couldn’t be more grateful. See you soon!

 


 

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White chocolate and Macadamia Caramel Cookies.

Among the many things that I baked during the Easter weekend, cookies were a surplus in my house. There were people around to eat and there was more time in my hands than I normally have. Cookie baking I always find is the most convenient. The ingredients are mostly there at home, shelf life is not a major concern, everything is mixed together in a single bowl and therefore less washing up and once you get a hang of things, results are more or less consistent.

I made these cookies before Easter and photographed them along with the Melting Moments. More than half the job was done. But along came a few more desserts and I almost forgot about these. I realise as I write that I have a huge backlog of posts.

Fridays are mostly ‘cookie days’ for me. I love to bake two or three varieties all at once. On weekends, I enjoy bringing a platter on the table with tea or coffee. That way everybody has a choice and it’s exciting. Who doesn’t like options?

These cookies have 3 of my favourite things in the world- caramel, white chocolate and macadamia nuts. Almost sounds like dessert! They taste fancy too. There is no egg in the recipe and therefore a rich buttery base. But that doesn’t stop me from indulging because these are too too good. Even if you do not make them often its worth making it for special occasions or as a little gift for someone. I have made quite a few flavour variations over time of this recipe. Do check out the variations at the end of the post.

When speaking about cookies, I cannot help but mention this to you. If you are familiar with ‘Sesame Street’, I have not one but two little ‘cookie monster’-s at home.

‘Me want cookies!’ ‘Me eat cookies’

‘C is for cookie and cookie is for me’- Cookie Monster

Now, that is some reason to bake!! What say…?

 
White Chocolate Macadamia Caramel Cookies
 
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (about 100g) brown sugar
1 tbsp treacle or golden syrup (I used treacle)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk (more if the mixture is too dry to bring it together)
2 cups (300g) self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup macadamia nuts (or any nut of your choice), coarsely chopped. (This time I had blitzed the macadamia nuts in the food processor in a hurry..resulted in finer crumbs and more crunchy cookies. Both ways it works fine.)
 
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Using an electric mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Add the treacle, vanilla and milk and beat until combined.
Add the flour and bicarbonate of soda and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.. Add the white chocolate chips and macadamias and stir to combine.
Roll a heaped tablespoon of mixture into a ball and place on a lined tray. Use the palm of your hands to gently press the mixture. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven, swapping trays halfway through cooking for 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven. Allow cookie to cool on the trays.
 
Variations
You can experiment with any nut of your choice. I have tried hazelnuts, cashew nuts, almonds and peanuts.
Dark chocolate or milk chocolate chips work equally well.
Add 1/2 tsp orange zest for a tangy orange flavour.

Autumn! And a Persimmon Creme Brulee.

Of dry leaf piles, of cracklings underfoot, of receding daylight, of longer nights, of cooler winds, of Fall, of harvest, of mellowness, of Shelly, of Keats, of red, of gold, of maple, of figs, of chestnuts, of pumkins, of sparseness, of loss, of change, of seasons, of bright endings to make for new beginnings.

Does that remind you…Of Autumn?

 
 
 

I almost thought I could write poetry when I recently connected with Mother Nature. In fact, the more I explore in and around Sydney, the deeper I fall in love with the place. I often think if its time I should have a travel blog to record my experiences. But then everything I see inspires me to create with food…somehow its all related. Isn’t it? Beauty inspires art and art inspires beauty!

Our visit to Mount Wilson and Mount Irvine during the Easter weekend was one which I will always remember. The 3 hour drive from Sydney was so scenic with rapidly changing landscapes and beautiful views that at one point I wondered if we would be able to make it to our destination, for the number of times we pulled over to take pictures. The trees were a riot of colors, a spectrum of shades. Crimson,fiery reds,browns, yellows, gold. And the ground was covered with the fallen leaves as if setting the road ablaze. Occasionally a puffing wind came by and made them dance around and fall back to the ground.

We stopped at the Cathedral of Ferns, a large picnic spot which we was crowded as expected considering the season and the long weekend. We had lunch (prepacked) on a rustic wooden table under a bright red tree. I could eat there all my life.

After an hour or so when I thought I had enough pictures to record every little detail of the journey we drove on to the next intended spot …the Kookootonga Nut farms. This my friends, I shall write about in my next post. There’s too much to share . And then when you bring back ‘PYO’ , you make something out of it which deserves a post by itself.

Persimmons were unfamiliar to me until recently. But now I can never have enough of them. I generally add them to salad or eat them by themselves but this time the temptation to add them to dessert was too all too powerful.

Mousse was the first thought that came to my mind. And then my eyes fell on my favourite little gadget sitting in one corner of the kitchen -the blowtorch. So, Creme Brule it is! I have to admit however, things didn’t go how I planned the first time around. The pureed version of the fruit resulted in a curdled custard. For a person who has made creme brulee over a hundred times, this was the first of such a disaster. I made a second batch and this time I placed small pieces of fruit in the ramekins instead of adding Persimmon puree to the custard. The second time it was great!

 
Persimmon Creme Brulee
Serves 4

13/4 cups heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 3 tsp castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
pinch of salt
1 Persimmon chopped into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C.
Divide the chopped Persimmons between 4 ramekins/oven proof serving bowls and place them on the base of the ramekin.
Pour the cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over low-medium heat. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, lightly whisk egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar and salt. Pour 2 tsps of the cream into the egg yolk mixture to temper the yolks and then the remaining cream, whisking gently but constantly (do not whisk too hard or it will result in a frothy texture). Add the vanilla extract and stir.
Strain the egg-cream mixture equally into the ramekins and place them on a rimmed baking tray.
Pour boiling water carefully in the tray so that it comes up to 2/3rd the level of the custard in the ramekin. Transfer the tray into the centre of the oven.
Bake till the edges of the custard are set but the centre is still jiggly. This could take anywhere between 30-45 mins depending on the bakeware. To check for doneness, insert a pair of tongs into the oven and give the ramekins a genle shake. (The custard should not brown or rise).
Once done, carefully remove the tray from the oven and take out the ramekins using a slotted spoon. Let them cool to room temparature on a wire rack and then refrigerate to cool completely. (They can be stored upto 3 days in the refrigerator)
Just before serving, sprinkle with the remaining castor sugar and caramelise the top with a blowtorch, moving it back and forth till a crust forms ( more the sugar, thicker will be the crust). Allow the sugar to cool and harden. Serve immediately.

 

Wordless Wednesday. Twin-ny Moments at the Harbourside.

I promised to share with you my adventures over the Easter weekend. So here comes one!

I am not doing the talking today (for a change). You see its ‘Wordless’ Wednesday, so you get lots of pictures. This is a special one on our day trip to Newcastle at the harbourside. It was a pretty relaxed outing, just lazying on the waterfront, taking plenty of pictures and of course, great food. All of us appeared to be on a ‘reflective’ mode, which is great because that is what I longed for…to slow down a bit!

And what I saw through my lens almost choked me with affection.

A bond unfolding between brothers, oblivious to everything but each other. I can only thank God for this special gift.

Linking up with the amazing Trish from My Little Drummer Boys for some Wednesday fun.

 

My Little Drummer Boys

Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon, Passion Fruit and Saffron Buttercream.

I hope you all had a fun Easter weekend. Mine has been one long eventful holiday. I have only been home to catch my beauty sleep and spent the rest of the time exploring a few gorgeous places around Sydney. Before I begin to tell you all about my adventures (in the next few posts), I wanted to give you a little peek into a some Easter baking I did for a friend. What better gift than something that you make at home! What better than a box of cupcakes with pretty pastel shades of frosting!

Sometimes the most unusual things inspire me to create my desserts. The other day I saw a little girl playing at the park wearing a pretty frock with frills and ruffles in shades of yellow. I exchanged a smile with her mother who caught me staring at the outfit. Little would she have imagined that pretty dresses could sometimes turn into a major baking inspiration.

I decided to play with white-yellow shades and almost instantly the buttercream flavours were there in my head. Lemon, Passion fruit and Saffron. And vanilla is always safe on the cupcake. When I think yellow I cannot help but think of Saffron. In India where I have grown up, saffron is a part of most desserts. It adds its special flavour, smell and colour to anything it is added to. It was however the first time I added it to buttercream.

 Luckily I had a tin of Passion fruit puree at home so that one was pretty easy too. Though I would prefer fresh fruits anytime over canned ones, my cupboards are well stocked with tins and cans for situations like this one when dessert ideas strike. And that is without a doubt…often!

For the lemon flavour I used an essence instead of zest to reduce work. Soon I was standing with 3 bowls of buttercream in front of me. I carefully added a few drops of yellow food colouring to two of the bowls depending on the desired shade. The food colouring was necessary though saffron and passion fruit had tinted the buttercream slightly.

 

I bought this flowery purple box to carry the cupcakes. And I thought they looked very pretty..don’t they?

So what is your food inspiration?

Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon, Passion fruit and Saffron Buttercream
Yields 12

Vanilla Cupcakes
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
11/2 cups all purpose flour
11/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 177 degrees C and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
In the bowl of your electric mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk in three additions. scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 15-20 mins or just until set and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. (Do not over bake or the cupcakes will be dry). Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost with icing.

Lemon, Passion Fruit and Saffron Buttercream

2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp lemon essence
2 tsp passion fruit puree, strained
a pinch of saffron dissolved in 1 tsp warm milk

In an electric mixer or with a hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth and well blended. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Divide the frosting between 3 bowls. In the first one add the lemon essence and beat on high speed till frosting is light and fluffy. If it is too stiff, add a tsp of milk. Fill up a piping bag with the frosting and pipe swirls on 1/3 of the total number of cupcakes. Decorate with sprinkles.
In the second bowl, add the strained passion fruit puree and beat till light and fluffy. Add milk or sugar depending on the consistency of the frosting. Add a few drops of yellow food colouring to achieve the desired shade of yellow.(I wanted a light yellow shade and added about 4 drops of colour). Fill up a piping bag with the frosting and pipe swirls of Passion fruit frosting on 1/3 of the cupcakes. Decorate with sprinkles.
For the third bowl, strain the saffron milk into the frosting. While straining bruise the saffron with a small spoon so as to extract maximum colour and flavour. Beat the frosting on high speed till light and fluffy. Adjust food colour as desired. Fill up a piping bag with the saffron frosting and pipe swirls onto the remaining cupcakes. Decorate with sprinkles.