Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Vegan sweet potato, feta and sauerkraut muffins

I mentioned in my last post (about more savoury muffins) that I was struggling to find time to make these muffins.  Finally it seemed a crime to let my roasted sweet potato and tofu feta go rancid rather than star in these muffins.  So I made them between dinner and Sylvia's bed time.   And ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day.  If only there has been some leftover for supper!

It wasn't easy fitting them in.  I was busy with Sylvia, outside playing with her hula hoops, chatting to neighbours, and inspecting her scars from a fall at school.  Luckily they weren't too difficult to mix up and pop in the oven.  I just needed to take a couple of breaks from reading The Midnight Gang by David Walliams with Sylvia.  And then they were out in the oven wafting their tempting aromas through the kitchen.

The muffins were everything I had hoped.  Well almost.  They are not the bonniest muffins.  I discovered the hard way that the shape when they are spooned into muffins tins is the shape they keep.  (Would a little more liquid help smooth them out or make them soggy?)  But they were slightly crisp outside and soft inside.  I loved the pairing of sweet potato and sauerkraut.  The tofu feta added nice flavour and texture (more chewy than creamy).  I am really delighted to discover how good the sauerkraut is in the muffins.  It adds a certain umami.

They were easy to eat.  A great portable snack and lovely with stew and rice for dinner.  The only challenge left was photographing them.  I arrived home, after riding into a headwind, and took some hasty photos before E arrived home with Sylvia from after school care.  I had to be content to put the camera away as we rushed about to serve dinner.  And decide how to divvy up the last few muffins. 

I am sending these muffins to the No Waste Food Challenge at Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.

More sweet potato recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Smoky lime peanut baked sweet potatoes (gf)
Sweet potato and cheeze scones (v)
Sweet potato and red lentil soup (gf, v)
Sweet potato soda bread
Sweet potato, zucchini and olive quesadillas (v) 
Vegan pate with sweet potato (gf, v)

Vegan sweet potato, feta and sauerkraut muffins
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe
Makes 12 muffins

Dry ingredients:
1 cup wholemeal plain flour
2/3 cup white plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:
1 cup roasted cubed sweet potato*
3/4 cup tofu feta*
1/4 cup sauerkraut
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
3/4 cup cold water
1/3 cup olive oil 

Mix dry ingredients in a medium large mixing bowl. Toss through the sweet potato, feta, sauerkraut and parsley.  Gently stir in the water and oil.  Spoon into a greased 12 hole muffin pan and bake at 200 C for 25-30 minutes or until when you insert a skewer it comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Notes:
I chopped 1 largish sweet potato into small cubes and roasted with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of oil until soft.  My tofu feta was a crumbly mixture in a marinade so I squeezed out as much liquid as possible. It was quite like this tofu feta recipe.

On the Stereo
Scott Walker sings Jacques Brel

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Vegan muffins with tofu feta, olive and sun-dried tomato

I was delighted with a batch of savoury muffins I made last week.  I had hoped to make some more tonight but time got the better of me.  Yet I mustn't grumble.  It has been a productive weekend.  I have rediscovered my delicious bookmarking account, I have painted the back door frame and planted some seedlings in my pots.  I have even made a stew for tomorrow's dinner.  I just didn't have time to make another batch of muffins with tofu feta.

As I have mentioned before, I have been trying out recipes from Kristy Turner's But I Could Never Go Vegan, cookbook.  I made some tofu feta.  It was ok but I wasn't keen on the texture of the uncooked tofu.  (I preferred the almond feta I posted about yesterday.)

I had a yen for savoury muffins.  So I decided to search for muffin recipes using tofu feta.  If you ask Google, it seems they are pretty thin on the ground.  Finally I decided to adapt a vegan muffin recipe using sun-dried tomatoes and olives.

My mum was visiting while I was making these muffins.  She was gone by the time they came out of the oven.  It had been raining so hard when she left that she had needed to roll up her trousers and take off her shoes to wade to the car.  As soon as she reached the car the rain stopped.  I think one of these muffins might have been just the thing for such a moment.  Instead, E and I enjoyed some for lunch and more for dinner with soup.  I was lucky to snaffle a muffin for the following day to take to work.

I really loved these muffins, as did E.  It was all we could do not to just inhale the whole batch the moment it came out of the oven.  They were very soft and almost quiche-like.  I assume this is due to the tofu in the feta.  You could try this with almond feta but I suspect the texture would change.  Though it would probably work.  They had plenty of flavour and a nice texture.  I also really liked how the stuffed olives on the top made the muffins look like one eyed aliens.

I was so pleased with these muffins and happy to share them.  I wish there were more savoury muffins in the world.  Sweet muffins are great but they are treats.  Savoury muffins can be part of a meal.  They are great for lunch snacks, picnics and even breakfast.  I also love to serve them with soup or as dinner on the run.  I just wish I had the energy to make them more.

I am sending these muffins to Kimmy and Mary Ellen for Healthy Vegan Fridays.

More savoury vegan baking on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Beetroot, apple and walnut scones (v)
Chickpea crackers (gf, v)
Kale scones (v)
Pumpkin miso muffins (v)
Pumpkin, pecan and poppyseed scones (v) 
Tofu and pesto crackers (v)

Vegan feta, olive and sun dried tomato muffins
Adapted from Sandra Vungi Vegan
Makes 12 muffins

Dry mix:
1 cup white plain flour
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Wet mix:
1 cup cold water
1/2 cup tofu feta
1/3 cup olive oil

Add-ins:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely sliced
3 heaped tbsp chopped green olives
2 heaped tbsp chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 tbsp pesto

For topping:
12 green pitted olives

Grease a 12 hole muffin pan and preheat oven to 200 C.

Make the add-ins.  Cook onion in oil until starting to crisp up around the edges.  This can be done while chopping tomatoes and olives.  Once the onion is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the tomatoes, olives tofu and pesto.  Set aside to cool while making the muffin batter.

To make the muffin batter, mix together the dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in another.  Pour wet into dry and mix gently until combined.  Stir in add-ins.

Spoon evenly into the 12 muffin holes.  Push an olive into the middle of each muffin so it is still visible at the top.  Bake for 20-30 minutes.  Rest 5 minutes and then turn onto a wire rack to cool.  Eat warm or room temperature.  Keeps for a day or two in an airtight container.

*NOTES: My tofu feta was a crumbly mixture in a marinade so I squeezed out as much liquid as possible. It was quite like this tofu feta recipe.  I used oil-free semi dried tomatoes.  I used green olives marinated in lemon and garlic oil for in the muffins.  However they had stones in them so I used pitted olives stuffed with pimentos on the top.  If you want vegan muffins, make sure you use a vegan pesto.  I used this pesto recipe.

On the Stereo:
Donkeys 92-97: a collection of singles, rarities and unreleased recordings: Tindersticks

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Vegan almond feta with some feta recipes

Feta is not a favourite cheese of mine but it does give some recipes a boost.  I have experimented with a few vegan feta recipes and it is hard to replace.  Some I have tried making have been too dry or the wrong texture.  Last year I made vegan feta with raw almonds.  I almost didn't post it because it didn't work in the salad I made it for.  But it was very good as a spread and in sausage rolls. 

I was reminded of this almond feta when I tried a tofu feta recently and wished it was as good as this one.  It is quite a soft spread.  I think I preferred it to the baked almond feta, which was good, especially for crumbling, but could be a bit dry.  This one was lovely on crackers and sandwiches but was a bit soft for mixing into a salad.

One of the advantages of this recipe was that it is really simple.  Just blend the ingredients.  No faffing about with baking or resting or straining.  It is the sort of recipe to make when you need feta now!

I had grand visions of using the feta in this Quinoa, cashew and honeyed carrot salad.  I had lots of lovely photos of the vegies from the farmers market.  It didn't quite work so I have listed a few more recipes below that I would like to try the feta in, which I think might be more successful.

The almond feta looks pretty on top of the salad.  But when mixed through, the salad was just too clumpy.  I have had a few almond feta dishes in cafes where the feta is served in a lot of oil.  Maybe this would make a difference?  More of the feta was enjoyed on crackers.  But there was a lot of it.

I then used the last two thirds of it in some sausage rolls for my dad's birthday lunch.  I could have used a cup of it in the recipe but as I just used what I had.  It replaced the cottage cheese which is quite creamy.  I then used 9 tbsp aquafaba and reduced the soy sauce to 2 tbsp because the feta was salty.  They worked really well, if I remember rightly (though in my recipe notes I write more about the difficulty of listening to Missy Higgins talking about depression while chopping onions than about how the sausage rolls tasted.)

Meanwhile, I have had a bit more time for cooking this week but need more time to write up some of the dishes I made.  And it is Harmony Week and I had just remembered we are meant to make something for afternoon tea tomorrow at school.  I have made mashed potato at an unholy hour to use in making potato scones tomorrow morning!

I am sending this to Kimmy and Mary Ellen for Healthy Vegan Fridays

Recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe to try vegan feta:
Baked carrot and feta risotto (gf)
Carrot, feta and cashew dip (gf)
Feta cheese and pepper crackers
Pea, quinoa and feta fritters (gf)
Red onion, feta and olive tart
Sausage rolls 

Vegan feta
From Eating Vibrantly

1 1/3 cup raw almonds (about 200g)
1/3 cup lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves
1 1/4 tsp salt flakes
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp water

Blend and scrape down a couple of time until smooth.

On the Stereo:
Music from "The Singing Detective": Various Artists

Monday, 20 March 2017

Roasted broccoli and apple salad


I have had some busy weeks.  This week will be my first for a few weeks not to be juggling a new job and an old job.  Time in the kitchen has been limited and I have felt the need for some better meals.  More vegies.  Less carbs.  I have been working my way through Kristy Turner's But I Could Never Go Vegan cookbook.  The recipes are great and I will write more about the book one day.  Today I wanted to share my version of a salad from the book.


Salad so often get a bad rap.  I wish there were more salads like this one in the world.  We had it on the weekend and it was such a delight.  So much crunch and colour.  So sharp and sweet and savoury.  All wrapped up in a creamy dressing.  The tang of the dressing worked well with the noochy cheesiness of the broccoli.  I also loved that this salad used up some bits and pieces that were in my kitchen.  Best of all, it was so satisfying that I didn't need anything with it or after it.  If only it was enough to give me all the energy I need right now!

I am sending this salad to Lisa and Jac's No Croutons Required, to Meat Free Mondays and to Kimmy and Mary-Ellen for Healthy Vegan Fridays.

More substantial salads at Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Caesar salad (v)  
Leon superfood salad (gf)
Mock tuna (chickpea) salad (gf, v)
Quinoa, cashew and honeyed carrot salad (gf)
Smoky potato, bean and corn salad (gf, v)
Taco salad with creamy dressing (gf)

Roasted Broccoli and Apple Salad
Adapted from But I Could Never Go Vegan by Kristy Turner, reproduced on The Full Helping
Serves 2

Roasted Broccoli:

1 large stalk of broccoli
1 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 tablespoon maple syrup

Dressing:

3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
A couple dashes of garlic powder

Salad:

1 handful chopped cos lettuce (or baby spinach)
1 handful finely chopped purple cabbage
1/2 red apple, cored and thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup roughly chopped roasted almonds
1-2 handfuls of sunflower sausage crumbles or tempeh bacon or tofu bacon

To roast broccoli: Cut broccoli into small florets and thinly slice the stems.  Toss with tamari, maple syrup and nutritional yeast flakes.  Roast until softened and starting to crisp around the edges.  I microwaved my florets for 1 minute and then roasted at 220 C for 30 minutes.  The original recipe suggested 20 minutes at 200 C.  Set aside to cool.

Make dressing by placing all ingredients in a small bowl and whisking or mixing with a fork until smooth and creamy.

Make the salad by layering in the lettuce, cabbage, apple, celery, broccoli, cramberries and almonds.  Drizzle with about half the dressing and toss.  Serve topped with sausage crumbles and extra dressing on the side.

On the Stereo:
The Bestiality of Bonzo Dog Band

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Sourdough Basics 102.1: Maintaining a starter - an update

I created my starter back in mid 2014.   It was my first foray into sourdough and I was very nervous.  I wrote a post about maintaining the starter back then.  A few years on I am happy to report that it is still alive and producing lovely bread.  Now I am more relaxed and am writing an update on starter maintenance from this perspective.

For those who are not familiar with maintaining a sourdough starter, one of the biggest challenges is using it regularly as it needs regular feeding to stay healthy and hence continues to grow.  If you don't use it regularly you either have an unhealthy starter or need to throw some of it out.  

Feeding the starter
It was a scary prospect once I had made my starter and had to keep it alive.  (Others also get a starter from a friend or buy it online.)  However I have kept up the feeding it usually every week with some longer periods when I am busy.  It usually lives in the fridge but will sit out at least 30 minutes after feeding.

Unlike in my earlier post on starter maintenance, I now feed it based on need rather than a set amount but the weight of water always equals the weight of the flour.  If I use 300g of starter for bread, I feed 150g each of flour and water.  If there is not much starter left, I feed it generously.  And if I didn't use much starter, I don't feed it much.  I still used water that has been boiled and cooled.

I still follow the basic rules from my first post.  If the starter is warm, it needs more feeding, if the starter is cold it needs less feeding and if the starter smells unpleasantly sour it needs more feeding.  I have got to know how it should smell and how it shouldn't, how it looks when healthy and when not so good. 

Here are my three stages of feeding the sourdough starter (pictured above):
  • Just fed - when I feed the starter it is quite thick.  I don't worry if it is a little lumpy.  This can give the little wild yeasts more work to munch through the flour.
  • Ready to use - the starter is best to use when it is thick and stretchy with lots of large bubbles.  After a week in the fridge it is usually like this.  You can also leave it on the bench overnight, depending on the weather, to get this texture.
  • Hungry - when the starter gets thin and has clusters of tiny bubbles or is just a bir grey and watery on top.  This is usually after it has been in the fridge for over a week and a half.  The starter is hungry and desperate for a feed.
When starters need help
When the starter has been neglected too long, I usually just stir in any water on top and feed it.  The smell of the starter is a great way to check the health of the starter.  If it is ripe and yeasty then it is doing well.  If starts to smell over-ripe and/or reminds you of nail polish remover, it needs some TLC.

When I first made my starter I was so worried about killing it off.  Yet it has been quite resilient.  I have read that if your starter is poorly, it helps to reduce the starter to just a few tablespoons and feed it up.  This seems to work fine.  If it is not so great, my bread doesn't rise as well (see below photos of overnight sourdough bread dough) and the bread can taste a bit more sour but it still does us fine.  So now I worry less when it gets out of shape.  I know it doesn't take too much to help it back to good health.

Overnight sourdough bread dough using a neglected starter
Where to keep the starter
I keep my starter in the same plastic tub that I have had ever since I made it.  The tub fits in my fridge door nicely and has a lid that is not too tight (important as the gases will build up in the tub).  As you can see in the above photo, it gets pretty crusty around the top.  Sometimes the crustiness builds up in the lid, making it hard to close it, so I need to dig out or break off crustiness.  I sometimes wonder what this build up is like in the sourdoughs I hear of which are hundreds of years old.

Easy recipes help me use my starter more regularly
Having kept my starter alive for so long, especially during some busy periods, has only been possible by finding recipes that are quick to make and that we love to eat.  So many sourdough recipes online are complex with lots of steps. I have found recipes for bread, flatbreads and pizza dough that are straightforward and delicious.  I talk about them below.

Overnight sourdough bread dough using a healthy starter
Firstly I yet again am grateful to Celia for all her sourdough inspiration but particularly for her overnight sourdough bread recipe.  This is my regular bread recipe now.  It only requires a little planning and a little time the night before and then a bit of shaping and baking in the morning, given you have time to hang about while it rises and bakes for about 90-120 minutes.  It is a great recipe that has kept me baking sourdough bread regular, even when busy.

I have shared the two pictures of this bread dough to illustrate that the condition of the starter really does make a difference to the bread.  Both pictures are of the dough after sitting overnight.  I am lazy sometimes and just take the starter cold from the fridge.  It works much better when brought out of the fridge to sit at room temperature and get nicely bubbly.

Overnight sourdough bread
I have passed some starter to a few friends and my mum.  Of these, only my mum still uses hers.  She bakes bread every day or two.  I wish I could say I bake so regularly but I don't have energy to do it.  We still buy bread elsewhere as well.  However I don't spend lots of money on fancy sourdoughs.  I wish I could say I bake bread every week but that doesn't happen.  I usually use sourdough every week or so.  I use it enough that I don't need to just put some of the starter in the bin so I can feed it up.

Two of my favourite quick recipes that make an easy dinner and mean almost instant sourdough products are flatbreads and pizza.  I wrote about the flatbreads in my earlier starter maintenance post.  They are pretty quick and taste delicious warm off the frypan.  I have dabbled in sourdough tortillas but usually make these thicker flatbreads.  I have had a couple of goes at baking a pizza on one of these flabreads.  It worked well one one occasion but not on the other.

My very favourite pizza base is my fast track sourdough pizza.  While playing around with sourdough recipes, I found some that combine sourdough and commercial yeast.  This is great for getting the flavour of sourdough and the speed of packaged yeast.  I have adapted a pizza recipe to use my sourdough and it is on regular rotation in my house.  I don't need to plans ahead for hours to make pizza for dinner.

Pesto and cheese pizza for St Patrick's Day yesterday
As well having hit upon some great easy sourdough recipes, I continue to experiment when I have the time and energy.  Most of my breads are variations on the overnight sourdough bread.  Occasionally I throw the sourdough starter into another recipe such as scones, batter for dipping tofu nuggets, and cakes.  The more I do this, the more confident I become.

So in summary, I buy a lot more flour these days because I bake bread far more with sourdough than I would without the prompt of the starter.  The key to maintaining the starter is to feed it regularly and if you don't feed it as regularly as you would like, not to worry so much, but find some good easy recipes you can make with your starter.

Sourdough recipes
I leave you with some a list of recipes in which I have found sourdough works well.  I would love to hear if you have a favourite way of using up sourdough starter.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Detective spy party, magnifying glass biscuits and birthday celebrations

This year Sylvia had a hard time settling on a theme for her 8th birthday party.  It seems parties have to have themes or be an outing these days.  She finally chose Hedgehog Detective.  Perfect for a girl who loves hedgehogs and enjoys spying on the neighbours with her friends.  We had lots of fun planning "detective" (and spy) activities.

Invitations:
We made invitations to let Sylvia's school friends know that their mission was to undertake top secret training  should they choose to accept it.  I am aware of how grown up they are getting that they all read the invitations themselves.  With a big smile.

Magnifying glass biscuits:
While trawling the web for party ideas, we found these magnifying glass cookies.  Sylvia insisted we make them.  I baked the biscuits using this recipe.  However baking late at night can lead to mistakes.  Like putting in 5 times as much milk.  (It said 1/4 cup milk, not 1 and 1/4 cup milk.)  I just took a part of the mixture and added flour until it was a smooth dough.  They weren't as thin as I had hoped but were sturdy enough.

We iced them with buttercream icing.  It wasn't too difficult.  I used a ziplock bag snipped at the end.  At the last moment, I realised I did not have any black food colouring.  Sylvia found some black chocolate colouring.  In the bowl it looked dark grey but on the bikkies it looked black enough.  The main problem was that we only did them on the morning of the party.  Sylvia packaged them up for her friends in a cellophane bag with a ribbon.  But the icing was still a bit soft and some got smudgy.  Making them the day before would have helped.  Though I am not sure if the buttercream icing is the best for setting hard.

Party bags:
Our next challenge was the party bags (see top photo).  Sylvia loves a party bag full of lollies but this year we kept the party bag sweet food to a minimum.  Instead we agonised over when to hand it out.  Finally we decided it was best to give one to each guest as they arrived.  Partly because they could then wear their ID card for the whole party.

I spent one afternoon scouring the $2 shops for fun stuff to put in the bags.  I was pleased to find small magnifying glasses.  We also gave each kid an ID card, a fake mustache, a torch, a pen and notepad, a detective codebook, Fads and French Fries to eat, a balloon and a hedgehog thank you note from Sylvia.  I felt a little politically incorrect giving out Fads (called Fags in my day because they look like a little box of cigarettes) but it seemed to fit the theme perfectly.  As did the French Fries crisps.

ID cards and spy names:
Making the ID cards was fun but not easy.  We used blank cards from this spy party printables.  The hardest part was finding photos of each kid looking directly at the camera and not making a silly face.  It should not be that hard but it was.  I even ended up asking one parent to help me find a photo.  Next we had to work out how to allocate spy names.  I didn't want them choosing ones that would cause friction or too much hard work for the kid.  (You picked my name, I don't like this name, I can't think of one etc etc)  Finally we decided to name them after their month of their birthday and a colour.  Such as Blue February and Red March.

Arriving at the party:
When the kids arrived, Sylvia had some hedgehog colouring-in pictures but it was really the party bags that took their attention.  They had fun going through them together.  I was amused at how much they loved the mustaches.  Most of the kids wore them for a lot of the party. Having the codebook in the party bag gave them something to read and muse over.  We included some rules for fun:

Detective Rules:
  • Always carry your ID card.
  • Note down anything suspicious.
  • Be prepared for danger at all times.
  • Do not use your Agent name. Only use your Code name.
  • Do not share your codes with anyone.
  • Do not get caught.
  • Be kind to hedgehogs.
  • Have fun.

Detective/Spy Training:
Once they had all arrived and had fun with the party bags, we took them outside for hedgehog training.  I had planned to hold all activities out on the grassy lawn.  However it was quite hot on the day (28 C) so we had some activities under the carport.  We still set up the red wall which was wrapped around a tree and tied to the side of a fence for the laser challenge.  The kids had to climb through the lasers.  I had originally intended on buying red elastic but it was not easy to source and I had the ball of red wool which worked fine.

I also loved the idea of the kids crawling under balloons hanging off a table. Perhaps it appealed because Sylvia loves balloons.  And it was a silly kids version of spy training.  You can just imagine Maxwell Smart doing this.  I was quite inspired by this Spy Training post.

Then we had planned some activities.  Sylvia and I had a lot of discussion about them.  The main thing we agreed on were hoops.  I had thought kids would jump or hop through.  On the evening before I wrote up some training notes such as "5 high tuck jumps in case you need to look over a fence".  However as there were 5 kids and 5 hoops they mostly played with their hoops but did a bit of the planned jumps.  Then I had planned to present the kids with certificates.  My mum ended up doing this while I supervised the hiding of the clues for crack the code.

Crack the Code Treasure Hunt:
The crack the code clue game was a group effort.  I had put them into a code book.  Then E had written up the codes while I was baking.  We had decided to give each kid their own three clues to crack.  This meant everyone got a turn but it also meant 15 clues in 3 different ciphers.  Here are the places were hid the clues

Caesar cipher

1. Teddy Bear’s Tail page twenty three
2. Under pillow on Sylvia’s bed
3. Behind cushion on purple couch
4. Beneath a cushion at kitchen table
5. Behind the nurse doll on blue sofa

Wingdings cipher

6. Behind thistle sign on verandah
7. Front garden letterbox
8. In Sylvia’s bike basket
9. Back garden beneath fairy village
10. Back garden behind lemon tree

Pigpen cipher

11. Sylvia’s room giraffe bag
12. Kitchen in dolls house
13. Inside microwave
14. Inside oven
15. Kitchen bench tartan tin

My nieces Quin and Maddy were assisting us with setting up the party (and very helpful) so they were given the task of hiding the clues with E.  I had waited til the kids were outside so they didn't accidentally find a clue when inside.  However hiding clues in code was extra challenging and had to be done 3 times before they got it right.  Meanwhile we plied the party girls with water, grapes and the French fries crisps from their party bags.

The kids had fun looking for the clues and we only had a couple of clues mixed up.  It was quite interesting seeing how each child approached it.  I helped explain the ciphers, which was challenging but they seemed to enjoy it.  In fact, once the kids left Sylvia suggested I do her more codes.  Sadly, I was too busy collapsing to oblige.  Everyone also loved their magnifying glass bikkie that we wrapped in cellophane and hid in the final spot of the clues game as the treasure.

The Cake:
Then suddenly we were racing to get the kids to do the hedgehog birthday cake (which I wrote about separately) - singing, cutting, eating - before their parents arrived.  I had meant to put out the surplus magnifying glass bikkies but forgot.  I don't think they were that hungry by then.  We also had some of my mum's delicious hedgehog slice (given that the official theme was Detective Hedgehog).  Sylvia told me it was the best party.  I was pleased that we weren't focusing on food this time (after parties with cupcake decorating and a pinata) and we managed to avoid pass the parcel.

More birthday activities:
There was plenty of sugar in other birthday celebrations.  On Sylvia's birthday she had pizza and chocolate pudding while we watched a video.  The oven went out while baking the chocolate pudding so it took ages.  On the weekend after her birthday for a treat Sylvia had some nutella stuffed pancakes with ice cream and sprinkles.

Meanwhile she took cupcakes to school for her birthday. I baked the chocolate cupcakes and she decorated them, making sure there were enough for each kid in her class and her friends who aren't in her class.  It seems they went down well.

Finally we also had a celebration down in Geelong with her cousins.  The main activity was playing at the local pool with its children's water activity area.  Then we went back to my parents' house where my mum had been baking.  We had pavlova, cupcakes, a chocolate cake.  I took along some more of the biscuits I had made - this time sandwiched together with nutella - and vegan sausage rolls.  In true birthday fashion, my mum forgot she had also made yo yo biscuits so some came home with us.  Sylvia helped decorate the cupcakes with her younger cousins.

Finally:
After all that, I am glad Sylvia's birthday season is over.  It is lots of fun but quite tiring.  I am a little sad and a little relieved that these children's parties wont last forever.  It is interesting to see Sylvia having her own thoughts on decorating cupcakes and party activities.  I expect she will be organising her own parties soon. 

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Hedgehog cake (with chocolate fingers spikes)

Sylvia decided her party this year would be a Detective Hedgehog party.  It is a minimally easier theme than her earlier suggestion of a Gothic Diary party.  I spent an afternoon with a friend looking at every shop in a shopping centre for hedgehog products and there were none.  So I just held a party with detective activities and hedgehog cake.

The cake was not too hard to make.  I worried it would not come out of the pyrex bowl I used but it was fine.  Sylvia was adamant that she wanted a vanilla sponge cake and chocolate fingers spikes.  So I did as requested.  I should have bought proper Cadbury's chocolate fingers.  The supermarket only had the supermarket's own brand and they weren't as nice.  But I didn't have time to scour the supermarkets nearby.

I found a recipe using chocolate fingers and when it come to looking at this site while making the cake, the domain name registration had expired.  Anyway how hard could sticking a few sticks in a cake be!  Well as I stuck the last one in the backside, the two halves of the cake split.  Oops.  I did a quick patch up job with icing and the fork.

It actually was harder  to stick in chocolate fingers than I expected.  Firstly they melted if held too long and the hide of the cake was tougher than I expected.  Probably because I had to bake it for almost twice as long in the mixing bowl as the original recipe in the cake tin.  I found it easiest to stick two sticks in from each side to have enough balance to avoid one pushing the cake off the board.  I still think pretzels would be better spikes (and easier to be vegan).

The kids loved the cake.  Though as my mum commented, they would have been just as happy with a cardboard box covered in icing and chocolate fingers.  I was most surprised at how much they loved the green icing grass around it.  I only did this because I had some green icing that I had had for a few weeks and was sick of it being in the fridge.

I am sending this cake to Tin and Thyme for We Should Cocoa.  You can read more about the detective hedgehog games and food.

More animal cakes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Blues Clues dog cake
Butterfly cake
Monkey cake
Octopus cake
Owl cake
Sparkles the rabbit cake
Viking cat cake

How to make a Hedgehog Cake

Double batch of 20cm sponge cake batter (such as this one)
Chocolate buttercream icing (such as this one)
One and a half 200g packets of chocolate fingers
Raspberry jam, optional

To bake the sponge cake batter, grease and flour a largish round pyrex bowl.  Set aside a little mixture to bake two or three muffins.  Bake until cake is cooked.  The muffins took about 30 minutes and the large cake took a lot longer than flatter cakes but I didn't note the time (perhaps 1.5 hours).  I covered it with foil once it was golden brown so it didn't get too dark.  Once a skewer inserted comes out clean, remove from oven and sit for about 5-10 minutes.  Use a knife to loosen from the sides and turn out to cool.

When ready to shape the hedgehog, trim the flat bottom of the cake if it is not really flat.  Cut cake in half from top to bottom.  Place each piece cut side down.  Push the two flat bottom sides of the cake together to make a higher dome than you originally had.  (See photo collage above for guidance.)  This is the time to put it on a cake board.  You can use jam or some icing to sandwich together the halves.  Put a muffin at one end and shape the muffin into a snout.  Trim to make sure muffin sits flush against the dome.  You might also need to shape (trim) the front of the dome so it slopes towards the muffin snout.

Now spread the buttercream all over the cake, using the buttercream to help shape the snout.  Take a fork and, leaving a little semi circle at the front where the face will be, rake through the buttercream to make it bristly.  To make the face we trimmed a piece of discarded muffin into a round nose and cut two of the chocolate sticks really short and arranged these as eyes and a nose.

Poke the chocolate fingers into the cake in a circle across the front where the fork marks bristles mark the end of the face.  Keep make rows of chocolate finger spikes until you reach the back.  This was slightly tricky as I had to work fast so the chocolate did not melt at my touch.  The cake baked so long that the outer cake was quite tough to poke a chocolate finger through.  I made a few holes with a little knife - wonder if a chopstick would help.  The other problem was that I had to push so hard that it threatened to push the cake off the board so I found that if I did two at a time, one chocolate stick from each side, it had the resistance I needed.  I also had to avoid the join between the two halves of the cake which would split the cake in half.

NB I am sure other spicks such as pretzels or chocolate sticks would work instead of chocolate fingers.

If you wish, you can spread some green icing and little flowers around the hedgehog for the woodland look.  If so, it is best to do this before the chocolate fingers go in.

On the Stereo:
Molly Do Yourself a Favour: The soundtrack to the TV mini series and Molly’s life: Various Artists