Baking: Choc-Mint Slice

I have a confession‚Äč to make: I messed up. I got my dates all mixed up. I’ve gone and done something that’s almost criminal. 

I let July 21 pass without the moment of reverence it deserved.

I missed National Lamington Day. I know. It is with an unopened pack of dessicated coconut against my heart that I say ‘Lamington proponents of the day, I acknowledge your right to get the pitchforks out’.

Early last week (I lie: coming on two now) I was up late researching Lamington recipes of all types‚ÄĒtraditional, filled, flavoured, banana bread Lamingtons even. I feel like that last one might fail the bona fide Lamington test if there were such a thing. An unAustralian Lamington or a very Australian Lamington? I wonder what Captain Cook would have thought. Would he have shipped the banana bread Lamington pairing? I have a feeling he might just have flagged both as delicious.

Lamingtons had, by all accounts, been in mind. I had sorted through all the must-know tips for sorting National‚Äč Lamington Day (I was amazed: there are articles on this). I had the date set in my mind. During the week, I had done a Woolies shop for Lamington supplies, and had even remembered to bring my reusable Woolworths Macro Jute bag like a good little Woolies customer. I had bought my two types of coconut for the pantry: shredded and dessicated. Yes, they are different, and no, that wasn’t impressed upon my mind until said research into Lamingtons. I had got a new half-kilo butter block for the fridge. I had stocktaked my chocolate stash to ensure the adequacy of supplies: two full tins of dutch cocoa powder, one of Nestl√©’s cooking cocoa, and three blocks of chocolate. Ostensibly satisfactory to most minds, but I always get a niggling feeling that more I could do with.

Then things got in the way. Enthusiasm waned. Lost in a sea of distractions, the arbitrary passing of time, somewhere between four sunrises and sunsets, Lamington Day dropped off my radar. 

Four days later I instead did up a choc-mint slice.

Because I felt like mint. 

I’ve resolved to postpone Lamingtons until such time that I can do them justice. Lamington Day Atonement Day is in the pipeline. Lamingtons on hold…

Here’s the recipe for the choc-mint slice

Ingredients:
150g butter
1 egg
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup SR flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup desiccated coconut, plus extra

Mix butter and sugar. Mix through egg. Add extracts, cocoa powder and stir through flours. Bake in a lined slice tin at 150¬įC for 20-30min until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool while preparing icing.

Icing:
2 cups icing sugar 
50 g butter
2 tbps water
1-2 tsp peppermint extract
1 drop green food colouring

Cream butter and sugar. Add water and extract. Add colour. Mix well.

Spread on top of cooled slice. I didn’t let mine cool, they were just out of the oven and onto the board‚ÄĒdefinitely made it fiddly to ice and cut. 

Ever since discovering Nestl√©’s Peppermint Crisps this year, I’ve been digging minty flavours. It’s like it flicked on a switch allowing me to appreciate mint-flavoured things rather than have them remind me of toothpaste. 

These mint slices are light as, and very easy to eat your way through. They won’t do your wallet in. 

For an absolutely mint version of these, I’d add:
‚ÄĘ to the topping, a sprinkling of crushed Nestl√© Peppermint Crisps and chopped up Nestl√© Mint Patties. Replace the icing with melted dark chocolate. Add a tablespoon or two of peppermint schnapps to keep things cool as a cucumber.
‚ÄĘ to the base, a good chunk of a block of melted Lindt Dark Intense Mint from their Excellence range. This stuff is velvety and simply mint.

I am going to have to do the decadent version of these. I’ll add it to the list of things I’ve mint to do but haven’t.

Sicilian Toastie and Margherita Pizza, The Italian Corner, William Street

I spend way too much on lunch.

Every day I consider going on a diet of Vegemite sangers and Robert Timm’s instant coffee. I also promptly tergiversate on the idea when faced with lunch break and ever-present possibility of happiness being just around the corner.

I also spend way too much on coffees.

I once had a particularly bad streak of buying coffee each morning. I then decided, pledging to make better decisions, that I should probably put a stop to the daylight robberies. 

The first day without my morning coffee, I gained a full appreciation of this quote, commonly but mistakenly attributed to Michael‚Äč Jordan: ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’ It was 100% a difficult morning. Sans magical concoction, the withdrawal symptoms began. Said symptoms were notoriously mild, in the scheme of things and given the substance in question: I ate a Cherry Ripe‚ÄĒan unwise choice of appetite suppressant that at best satisfied the wrong craving‚ÄĒfollowing which, I made up a sachet of Moccona’s Peppermint Choc Bliss‚ÄĒwhich, admittedly, proved to be a substitute relative in deliciousness and enjoyment.

Taking things out of context, the sporting origin of this quote has me wondering about the existence of possible deeper meanings behind it. Dope, just unintended double-entendre. 

Here’s what I had for lunch on Thursday and Friday this week. I decided I’d frequent the new, well fairly new, place The Italian Corner.

I went for the Sicilian Toastie, ‘prosciutto, fresh tomato, bocconcini’, $7.50 and the Margherita Pizza ‘mozarella, semi-mature cheese, fresh basil’, also $7.50. How good do they look?

The toastie had a lot going for it. 

It had melty, stringy cheesiness, which I ate all the while mindful of the ease with which I might grow a cheese beard. It had saltiness from the prosciutto and freshness from the self-described ‘fresh’ tomato. It had sufficient crustiness and grillege, an imaginary word which here seems proper and conducive to communicating the requisite grilledness this toasty exhibited. As my one-thirty pm late lunch, it was a well-primed and served lunchbox of happiness.

The pizza, too, was a satisfactory option. The pizza featured a non-floury base of mid-range thickness, with a profusely gooey cheese sitting amidst a moderate backing of tomato sauce that had the slightest detection of onion. It was a stroll through the park on a day with the sun shining and the smell of spring in the air. The limited topping of spinach acted as a garnish on the already-satisactory pizza. I enjoyed it.

Which reigns supreme: the toastie or the pizza? I conclude the result of this cheesy conundrum a confused ‘currently inconclusive’. A determination will demand further visitations.

As an observation, pizzas, coffees and ice-cream earn you a punch on the loyalty card. No love for the toastie.

Taste verdict Classic lunchtime fare. I’m a great fan of cheesy things.

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Trio of Cheeses at Toastface Grillah, Wellington St

To be honest before I ended up making a visit to this place for lunch, it was a ‘skip over’ place in my head. 

**

Hear me out. Toastface is in an alleyway. With bins‚ÄĒskip bins at that and from that I take that they should be skipped‚Äč over, if you’ll pardon the pun. With graffiti on the walls. 

Thoughts of the most pleasant things aren’t exactly what come to mind. 

As a twenty-something female living in a first world country, in one of the safest cities, who’s fortunate to never have met with the nefarious or had an encounter with the untoward, I can’t explain it. Feelings are irrational. Logic and reasoning often don’t factor in‚ÄĒand when they do, no amount of explaining makes it better.

Alleyways are a subset of the fear basket the subconscious flags as ‘avoid’. Alleys together with unlit passageways, confronting-looking faces, creepy things, and things that emanate a vibe that something’s off, get thrown into this pile. 

Because the possibility of a threat is something to  avoid. Heck, people devote their lives to becoming experts on risk avoidance and risk management. It is pretty much the work of unoptimistic psychics: they predict what could happen in the future and then they put life plans in place to avoid possible unfavorable darkness.

There are plenty of examples. Release of convicted criminals into the community may depend on the outcomes of an assessment of risk, recidivism, and their ability to meet tightly controlled conditions of release. Scissors are banned from being carried in hand luggage. The content of scary movies is ninety percent foreshadowing, suspense-building, and false alarms, and avoidance of the threat‚ÄĒand ten percent actual interactions with the threat, if that. It’s a win for movie-goers and -makers. The idea that a blue steak might have unkilled bacteria has a great deal of people avoiding anything under a medium. Perceived and possible threats can be as impactful as actual threats.

My point is that alleyways are an example of how the feeling of safety can be impinged upon by things that aren’t obvious. It is like a rug: one that doesn’t have the weight of furniture to stop it slipping, a rug that can be pulled out from under at any moment. Everything can be fine then something‚ÄĒa thought, a thing that becomes noticed‚ÄĒcan threaten the sense of safety in a space. It need not be of the severity of a bomb threat. It may just be in a need-to-be-extra-vigilant kind of way. Both are impacts; both somewhere on the spectrum.

Safety and fear I would suggest are highly individual feelings. We live in a world that is analogous to a great, big videogame. Although perhaps that’s too self-referential to work as an analogy, more like the other way around‚ÄĒvideogamesmitate life. We are each brought to life endowed with certain attibutes‚ÄĒstrength, dexterity, health, wisdom, personality, conscientiousness, and so forth. The list of pre-determined characteristics and  predispositions goes on.

We each experience life as ‘player one’ in the game. Uniqueness of the individual journey is true in every sense: no two lives are exactly the same, and we react and respond to our immediate environment. And in my case, that includes sometimes bypassing places like this for no other reason than because they’re sorted into some basket, as autonomously as the whites, and the greys and blues, go into different laundry baskets. 

I guess all that came to mind when I had this toasty. Huh.

**

Anyhoo, on to Toastface. 

Like any good joint the venue is greasy; the type of greasiness that comes with the greasy smell that gets absorbed into clothing. Beware sitting for extended periods right outside the grill window.

The toasties clearly keep it simple and the one I had was great. 

I watched the dude go about the making of the toasty. I will now reveal the secrets of achieving the toasty: 

  1. Generously butter both sides of normal, supermarket white bread. By generously, I mean go crazy with the butter. No wonder it tasted so good.
  2. From the relevant box of Tupperware, grab a big dollop of whatever filling is ordered. 
  3. Spread on insides of the bread.
  4. Put together the slices and whack it on the grill. 
  5. Grill until it’s a proper brown.

Ta da! There was one other thing. I’m not sure which step it comes under. It has to do with the rosemary-ness, herbiness of the outerside of the bread. They must either use a herby butter or roll the buttered bread in a herb mix. Either way, it gives the bread this unique flavour. Yum.

Taste verdict This was great tasting stuff. It is seriously artery-clogging material.

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Baking: Hot Cross Buns

I love a good hot cross bun.

It’s sad though. Hot cross buns only go on sale between the period just after Christmas ’til Easter-time. Then they seem to go on a break from the shelves for a good couple of months before they gradually reappear at the beginning of each year. It’s like an unspoken rule that deems January-April socially acceptable but decries May-December deplorable.

I don’t agree. Hot cross buns are delicious any time of the year, and any time of the day. They should be enjoyed all year ’round. They’re a fruit bun. A delicious fruit bun. Best had all toasty and firm on the outside, steamy on the inside and generously buttered up. I think there’d be a market for it; maybe the same market that buy them when they’re available? Those who like fruit buns? Who doesn’t like tucking into glorious, soft fruity flesh? 

Flavour always trumps any cultural and social meanings ascribed to food. The composition of a dish‚ÄĒor of anything for that matter‚ÄĒdoesn’t change simply because one is aware or knowledgeable of its history or significance. Knowledge influences perceptions, opinions, and ideas; it impacts on the hot cross bun as a construct. Indeed, the humble hot cross bun is a complex symbol: a quilt interwoven with narrative and history that is richly underpinned by beliefs, religion, followers, and devotees. 

At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I ask the following, for argument’s sake‚ÄĒand in honesty, because I revel in contemplating the ridiculous and in entertaining nugatory musings. 

Does knowing the story of the hot cross bun affect its taste? Does not knowing the story affect its taste? Deliciousness doesn’t need a story for us to decide what to feel about it. Deliciousness speaks for itself. 

Should the values and attitudes attached to the humble hot cross bun have any bearing on the bun as a source of nutrition, and enjoyment? Should there be the separation of church and food when it comes to decisions on the timing of hot cross bun sales and availability? What impact do culture and religion actually have on hot cross bun sales? Is this considered in some PhD’s thesis? 

It is arguable that the absence of year-round sales of hot cross buns virtually everywhere is responsive to the section of the community that would feel offended‚Äč at the idea. Divorcing knowledge and surrounding significance, with positivity, the ‘what is’ composition of the hot cross might be seen as too big an encroachment on established beliefs and values. The perception would probably stand even if they were sold under the guise of ‘fruit buns’‚ÄĒwhich does hold a lick of irony. It’s‚Äč not really a guise if the name is the exact descript of the bun in question. 

Maybe going against the current of the the status quo, like many things, is just not worth the trouble. Fighting perceptions is a task in itself. No one’s been deprived of anything but enjoyment  potential, which for obvious reasons would never hold water. It’s like kids and Disneyland. Enjoyment potential would be at all time levels of high as a kid. If you don’t get to go‚ÄĒputting aside the holes in this nonsensical analogy, like the fact that the vast majority don’t go and that you’d be diagnosed with the disorder known as entitlement syndrome‚ÄĒcould you reasonably complain about being deprived of all that potential enjoyment you might have had? The opportunity to convert potential enjoyment to enjoyment? I’d say so, if you’re one of Michael Jackson’s kids. Most people are lucky if they have bread and butter. Wanting hot cross buns, all year? Why that’s next level.

Needless to say, it’s an incredibly, astoundingly trivial matter: there are bigger fish to fry. There always are. 

With that in mind, baking inspiration struck and I decided to bake a batch. 

I had to find my sultanas first. They weren’t lost-lost; they were lost somewhere in the kitchen sultanas and had somehow moved cupboard. Much joy there was in finding my sultanas. It made a reality of my dream of having hot cross buns tonight, past the shops being open, by the light of my beloved steam oven.

Here’s the base recipe I followed:  https://olivesandfeta.blog/2018/03/11/classic-hot-cross-buns/

It’s a keeper!

Adjustments:
– Lemon zest used instead
– A heapful more sultanas, 1 1/2 cups
– Went cray-cray with the spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, mixed spice).
– Steambaked at 160¬įC for roughly 35 minutes.

And the super end result. That shine.

img_20180620_233516405195006619346766.jpgimg_20180620_2339146547365555435111584.jpg

For a first foray into the delightful world of home-made hot cross buns, I am pretty chuffed. Lovely smell throughout the house and eating them delicious and hot has justified all the kneading it needed.

One ingredient I like but am impatient when using is yeast. It gives flour that wonderful bread texture – with time. When I do get around to baking, I like to be doing something while I’m in the kitchen. For the yeast to work its magic, takes half an hour at least. EoFY deals helped to pass time. That I was in the kitchen baking, prevented a few potential impulse purchases: a Miele C3 All Rounder vacuum that was, albiet expensive, very well priced (we’re on the hunt for a vacuum, this could’ve it); and a bargain on a Peppermint Grove reed diffuser that I’d been eyeing for a while – because nice smelling things are addictive. Sniffing out a bargain is always fun.

The best thing about the buns were the top glaze and firmness of the outside bread ‘skin’ almost. The lemon will be a must-add for any future hot cross buns I make. It just goes so well with the sultanas and adds that lovely citrus-y note to the buns themselves. The texture was okay but could’ve been more stretchy and pliable. I need to rest the dough longer. I was also thinking about making chocolate centred hot cross buns. Something for next time.

All in all, these hot cross buns certainly hit the spot.

Making hot cross buns out of season, I definitely will be!

Why are vendors so hot and cold about hot cross buns?

Chairman Mao’s Stew, Sweet & Sour Pork, Peanut Noodles at Chilli Panda, Northbridge

I’ve alluded to it before, but name-dropping where food is concerned gets me every time. It’s appeal through association‚ÄĒand assocation holds great power. 

When associations are established, implications of the associations‚Äč become catalysts for decisions and reasons to be persuaded. 

Marketeers cash in on human behaviours like this everyday. Chemistwarehouse informs us of David Beckham’s ventures into perfumery through the weekly junkmail. Coles has Curtis Stone incessantly confirming the freshness of its fruit and veg. Swisse vitamins has a growing number of telly presenters tell us how they ‘feel better’ on vitamins during ad-breaks. Endorsements work.

In a broader context, history has chronicled the immense value of associations in decision-making. Associations have forged friendships, delineated allies and enemies, determined battles fought or forgone, lead to the promulgation of war or peace. Lives have been lived and lost off the back of associations. The company one keeps and one’s affiliations are the oft relied on, default‚Äč and unquestioned ‘best’, judge of character and trustworthiness. 

Given this, it’s easy to see how association, its offshoots, and the premise of connectedness impact upon everyday decisions. As creatures of curiosity, we primative humans live to find connections and meaning: we spend our lives searching for it. We feel unfulfilled and disenchanted when we don’t find the connections we seek. Our sense of being is significantly predicated on the quality of the connections we make‚ÄĒpersonally, socially, physically, mentally, financially, spiritually‚ÄĒand the nature and meaning of these connections. We wonder about possibilities and the what ifs. We read into things, whether wrongly or rightly. We get through each day making thousands of connections on autopilot.

Presented with innumerable choices, day-in day-out we look for qualities, features and traits of interest to aid in our decisions. We base decisions on aspects that may be entirely unrelated to the choices‚Äč at hand, but which succeed at holding our attention and eliciting in us a response. There are elements of randomness and absurdity to the way we convince ourselves of the pathways we want to travel and the routes we want to take. What is like a magnet for one person does nothing for the next. Preference is driven by consciousness, sub-conciousness, and factors and forces beyond our control. Externalities and extraneous sources of persuasion fill the gaps, expediting and shaping decision-making, leading us to open doors we wouldn’t have thought we would. An endorsement, or the suggestion of one, might lead us to conclude on the existence of characteristics we know probably aren’t there, but that we conclude nonetheless.

But, as usual, I digress.

Name-dropping certainly helped with my selection of ‘Chairman Mao’s Stew’ at Chilli Panda. 

When I saw the dish on the menu, I couldn’t go past it. An internal narrative ensued: ‘Confidence to name the dish after the iconic Mao? It must be at least a decent dish. It must be a nod to quality. At $14.80, it’s a have to try. If it goes belly up, I’ll be left stewing on an unimpressive dish…’ 

The dish arrived steaming and looking fabulously shiny. The thick, sweet and salty, sauce paired well with the tender pork belly that spoke of well-absorbed flavours. Chinese five-spice,  mushroom, soy filled the passageways with each bite. It was highly pleasing to the palate.

Deciding to play it safe on a ‘can’t stuff it up dish’ we ordered the Chinese restaurant staple: sweet and sour pork, $24.80. It looked great, but was average by all accounts. Pieces of pork were coated in a basic flour mix, deep-fried, and a sweet red sauce spooned over. Nothing about it, the portion or the taste which was bland and boring, justified the exorbitant price. Far better could be had at the local Chinese for half the cost. 

We topped up with noodles in peanut sauce. I was impressed with the‚Äč noodles used: thinner than a Hokkien noodle, textually similar, with a less carb-heavy feel to it. The actual peanut sauce was a mix of peanut butter and crushed peanuts in satay sauce. Stirred through the noodles, it made the noodles quite wet and cloying, which was contrary to its description as a ‘dry’ noodle. It was an acceptable dish, but not one I’d personally go for again. 

For drinks, I ordered a pot of hot tea. The Chinese tea variant must have been a green tea type; it had a seaweed aftertaste. 

We spotted a steaming hotpot on a portable gas burner at an adjacent table. Those diners knew what to order: it looked good. I’d give Chilli Panda another go in future and get one of these. 

An honourable mention goes to the place actually printing an itemised receipt, something of a rarity at Chinese restaurants! Good on ’em.

Taste verdict The Chairmans stew is awesome. 

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