Happy Australia Day!

To mark the occasion, I thought I’d share one of my favorite Australian desserts with you to enjoy, a chocolate pavlova. I have been baking pavlova for years every holiday season at home, even before moving to Australia. This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson (as seen here) with a little tweak to make a smaller serving portion (my recipe makes 3 small meringues).

I used Haigh’s dark chocolate here – another much-loved Australian brand that creates premium quality chocolates. It’s an Adelaide icon that I discovered when I was visiting in 2016, and I really wish they’ll open a store in Brisbane soon.

The truth is – they require some serious patience, something that I have very little of when it comes to baking. The prepping process itself isn’t difficult, but the key to the magic is all in the wait time for the meringue to bake and cool down in the oven (an hour an a half, to be exact). It’s worth the crisp and chewy chocolate meringue base, which I wouldn’t have had any other way.

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For the meringue you need:

3 large egg whites
150 grams caster sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (sieved)
50 grams dark chocolate (finely chopped)

For the topping you need:

300 milliliters double cream
Mixed berries (I used raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries)
3 tablespoons dark chocolate (coarsely grated)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4/350ºF and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
  2. Beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle with the cocoa and vinegar, and the chopped chocolate. Then gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in.
  3. Mound on to a baking sheet in a fat circle (you can do it as small or as big as you want), smoothing the sides and top.
  4. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 150°C/gas mark 2/300ºF and cook for about one to one and a quarter hours. When it’s ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but when you prod the center you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, and let the chocolate meringue disc cool completely.
  5. When you’re ready to serve, invert on to a big, flat-bottomed plate. Whisk the cream till thick but still soft and pile it on top of the meringue, then scatter over the raspberries. Coarsely grate the chocolate so that you get curls rather than rubble, as you don’t want the raspberries’ luscious color and form to be obscured, and sprinkle haphazardly over the top, letting some fall, as it will, on the plate’s rim.

 

I hope you try this recipe and have a lovely long weekend from the Down Under! X

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Beach Hopping in Byron Bay

You know those awkward days between Christmas and New Years when you’re just kinda lost and don’t know what to do? I knew better than to fool myself into thinking that I was going to be productive – we all know it was going to be spent binge watching some trashy TVs and eating junk. So a couple of friends and I decided to might as well get out of town, and here’s documenting our visit to the small cosy coastal town of Byron Bay, New South Wales.

DAY 1

If there are two things I love doing when traveling, is going on a roadtrip, and going to the waters. Both of which I got to do during this 3-day roadtrip I will take you through. We rented a car from Brisbane and slowly made our way to Byron Bay and made it to our first stop at the Famous Yatala Pies just in time for breakfast. I treated myself to their classic steak&mushroom pie and apple turnover, and just thinking about those pies got me low-key drooling right now, so let’s get a move on.

Our second stop along the way (about 100km south of Brisbane) was Springbrook National Park, located just before the border of New South Wales. After seeing tons of pictures of the park’s Natural Bridge from Google, you would expect the view to be no less than perfect. And after about a half an hour hike through a beautiful subtropical rainforest (it was even better after the rain), it’s safe to say that no pictures could do the place justice. Definitely one of the waterfalls to see when you visit Queensland, hands down.

After about an hour drive across the border, we checked into our accommodation, Two Birds & The Aviary. While far from the usual Airbnb gig I’d normally go for (a tent with a sleeping bag, a shared bathroom, and communal kitchen), I’m proud to say that I survived my first legit camping experience! I’m also really happy about the fact that the camping ground had direct access to Tallows Beach and is an easy roll in to town.

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DAY 2

We started the day with an attempt to catch sunrise at Cape Byron (only to be greeted by rain), which is the most easterly point of mainland Australia and home to the iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse. Nestled in under the Lighthouse is the Wategos Beach, surrounded by stunning cliffs and crashing waves.

After breakfast, we were headed to Whites Beach, one of Byron’s hidden gems. Take note though, it was quite a struggle for us to get there. We had to travel down a dirt road that winds through the rainforest, our car broke down (God bless the people who stopped by to help jump start our car in the middle of nowhere), almost an hour spent on waiting due to limited parking spots, and trekked along a narrow path down to the beach.

But trust me, it’s worth sweat and sunburn. From white sands, crystal clear water and secluded rock pools, I’m so happy we didn’t give up when we had a million reasons to. We continued with lunch by the beach, a little stroll around town and ended the day in Main Beach, surrounded by live music, sunset, and my loved ones.

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DAY 3

Not being much of an early riser, I’d make exception for a sunrise by the beach, because all the lack of sleep always pays off when Mother Nature puts on her finest show. The track from my camp to Tallow Beach itself is literally a path to paradise taken right out of Nicholas Sparks’ novel. While no sunrise will ever be the same, this one will forever remain one of my favorites.

We ended our trip with a short visit to The Farm, and if you know me, I’ve always had a soft spot for places like this one. From the sunflower plots, cattle-dotted fields, to their restaurant, produce store, bakery, and a florist, I couldn’t stop roaming around this rustic-themed oasis like a kid in a candy store. After grabbing some quick drinks and fish&chips, we drove back to Brisbane and shamelessly stopped at Yatala to bring some frozen pies home, again (it’s that good!).

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Teas I Love

I’m always more of a tea person than a coffee one, and this post will be dedicated for my recent love of the beverage. I don’t really know how to describe it but I feel like tea is “lighter” than coffee and a gentler way to start the day.  I used to only drank a few cups every now and then, but now at least a cup of tea in the morning has become my daily norm and I’ve started to incorporate it into my evenings as well. I find it really relaxing to enjoy a hot cup of tea after work, especially in bed with a good book, while shuffling through my many Spotify playlists.

On another note, it seems that I get more cold and scratchy throats in spring than any other time of year. Maybe it’s the seasonal weather changes, but it is no fun when it hurts to swallow, and drinking tea simply tops my list of natural soothers. Seriously, what isn’t tea good for? It’s a great way to warm up, change things up from regular water, and get some extra antioxidants in.

While I’m all about ordering fruity-flavored iced teas in restaurants, I mostly gravitate towards the classic English Breakfast and Chamomile for hot teas at home. However, I’ve recently discovered some interesting flavors and tea blends that I totally got hooked on! Here I wanted to share my favorite tea varieties that I’ve been rotating in my daily takes along with the benefits of each and what I like about them. Straight up!

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Calming Blend – English Tea Shop

Besides the cutest packaging (which obviously drew my attention on the first sight), I love how this one is naturally caffein free, since most teas tend to still have a subtle taste of coffee. It’s a heady, calming blend of natural ingredients – smooth licorices, sweet peppermints, aromatic cinnamon, and intoxicating lavender. The scent of this tea smells just like cinnamon with a hint of mint and I love that it’s very light and mild. I bought this in a gourmet store in Perth and definitely looking forward to re-purchase it when I’m back in Australia.

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The Rose (Rose Tea) – Mlesna Singapore Specialty Gourmet Tea

This one is the loose leaf kind and although it takes few extra steps and tools before enjoying, using loose leaf tea creates a much more delicious and flavorful tea than pre-packaged tea bags. I bought this in Singapore Botanic Gardens on my last visit when they happened to be giving free tea samples at the shop that time, and I fell in love on the first sip. This is a light and gently flavored tea that will treat you to the sweet aroma of the rose garden.

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Peppermint – Tea Drop

This has to be my favorite since it tastes very light with just the perfect hint of mint and so easy to make. This one comes with these little peppermint-infused cubes and all you have to do is unwrap one of these babies and pop it right into a cup of hot water. This is a delicious green tea that is perfectly minty without being too overpowering. It gives me that nice, cool sensation in my throat and has none of the bitterness that traditional green tea has. I love how much this tastes like sucking on a peppermint candy!

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Lastly, this mug was such a sweet find that I picked up at Kikki K a few months back in Singapore. They’re perfect for drinking tea or coffee and I just love the rustic look and how the cute quote reminds me that every day is a new chance to get things right.

Coffee Cupcakes with Espresso-Infused Buttercream

I’ve never been a really big coffee drinker. I certainly don’t tolerate plain espresso shots, and call me lame, but I still like my coffee with cream and sugar. I only drink them occasionally when I’m pulling an all-nighter or just whenever Starbucks is throwing a membership discount and I feel like sipping a light caramel macchiato or whatever they were advertising in my email subscription list.

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But there was always something about the smell of coffee that just wakes me up without even taking a sip. One of the reasons I love making these cupcakes (besides the fact that they are irresistibly delicious)  is because it leaves my whole kitchen smelling like a coffee shop even hours after we were done.

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If your coffee preference is anywhere near mine (Not the really strong kind and just with a hint of sweetness), then I’m pretty sure you will be obsessed with these cupcakes because they came out exactly like my perfect cup of coffee, with a subtle chocolate flavor, and the right amount of espresso-infused buttercream on top. This is a really great recipe to experiment with different types of coffee (I am currently using Excelso’s premium roast ground Java Arabica), but I do recommend using the darker roasts or any kind with the stronger flavor to really bring out that coffee taste. It’s been a new favorite in my workplace and I want you to be able to make them too. The results are a moist, melt-in-your-mouth coffee cupcake experience.

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Mocha Cupcakes With Espresso Buttercream
Yield: 16 cupcakes

Ingredients

For the Cupcakes:
½ cup brewed coffee, at room temperature
1½ teaspoons espresso powder
½ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature

For the Espresso Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2½ cups powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons espresso powder

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard-size muffin tin with paper liners.

2. Make the Cupcakes: In a measuring cup, whisk the espresso powder into the brewed coffee until completely dissolved. Add the milk and vanilla extract; set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions of the coffee mixture, mixing each until just combined. Using a rubber spatula, give the batter a final stir to ensure everything is incorporated.

5. Fill each muffin cup about two-thirds full with batter. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting the cupcakes.

6. Make the Frosting: In a small bowl, whisk the espresso powder into the vanilla until dissolved; set aside.

7. Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, stopping once to scrape the sides of the bowl. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the powdered sugar a little at a time, waiting until it is mostly incorporated before adding more. Once all of the powdered sugar has been added, scrape the sides of the bowl and increase the speed to medium-high and whip until fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the espresso and vanilla mixture and continue to mix at medium-high speed until it is completely incorporated, scraping the sides as necessary. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker and My Baking Addiction

Turon: Filipino-Style Spring Rolls

For those of you who haven’t been through my last post, I posted a bucket-list of 3 easy snack recipes I look forward to making for the coming weeks and this ultimate Filipino dish was one of them. Turon is basically a Filipino-style spring rolls with variance of fillings, most commonly sweet bananas. These are bomb. Or “Malinamnam” as they say it in The Philippines.

I had a late night yesterday and I’m allowing myself to live in the rest of the weekend in my pajamas and never getting out of them. My grandmother came over earlier today and we had a good time making a few dozen(s) of these. Make sure you have some lumpia wrappers ready in the pantry beforehand.

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The dish is originally served with a sweet, creamy coconut caramel sauce for dipping but sad to say we didn’t get to make them since we ran out of coconut milk. But the Turon alone is the perfect combination of something sweet and soft wrapped in super light thinner-than-paper layers of golden brown crispiness. Possibly my new favorite snack and they are perfect for any occasions, including lazy Sundays spent watching YouTube all day.

Turon (Banana-filled spring rolls) with Coconut Caramel Sauce
Recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum
Makes 10 servings

Ingredients
10 small bananas
20 fresh lumpia wrappers
1-2 cups oil for frying
1 cup coconut milk
¾ cup brown sugar
water
Instructions
  1. Pour the coconut milk into a medium saucepan over low heat. Heat until bubbling slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the brown sugar and stir until smooth. Thicken the sauce to your desired consistency by keeping it at a low boil and stirring very frequently. I kept mine on the heat for almost 30 minutes. It thickens slightly as it cools, but you should be able to see it thickening in the pan as well.
  2. Steam the lumpia wrappers for a few minutes to soften them and make them easier to pull apart. I just held mine over the top of the steaming sauce pan for a few minutes.
  3. Peel the bananas and cut them in half lengthwise. Place the banana on the lumpia wrapper. If they are still too long to fit inside your lumpia wrappers, cut the ends off or cut them in half again. Dip your fingers in water and run them along the edge of the lumpia wrapper to make them easier to fold. Fold the top and bottom over the banana, and then roll it sideways, sealing the banana inside and using a little more water to make the wrapper stick together.
  4. Heat the oil in a large skillet or frying pan over low heat. When water sizzles across the top, add the lumpia, a few at a time, and fry for 3-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Serve with the dipping sauce.

 

Back From Hiatus

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged thanks to an epic flu I had just recovered from and I’ve been craving to be back at my keyboard and typing my thoughts away. I just got back from a short trip to Surabaya to attend one of my relative’s restaurant opening and it was nice to just get away from school works and all the stress for a few days. Unfortunately, I’ve got to stop procrastinating and catch up with all my deadlines for the upcoming week. Midterm exam is in 2 weeks and I am the least excited.

On a brighter note, spring is here and it’s meant to be refreshing and a feast of blossoms. Here’s some Spring-snack recipes I’ve been excited about tackling as the season unfolds.

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Joy The Baker: Banana Milk Chocolate Weekend Pancakes

Joy said in her blog post and I quote, “welcome to the weekend where there’s time enough for pancakes and reason enough for chocolate inside of them.” I hope you allow yourself at least one lazy day this weekend where you wear you pajamas so long into the day it doesn’t make sense to change out of them.  Add homemade pancakes and that’s real, deep luxury.

carrot-cake-cinnamon-rolls-I-howsweeteats.com-2-2.jpgHow Sweet It Is: Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls With Mascarpone Icing

There is breakfast. Thus, there is a breakfast dessert. Craving for something sweet with just a healthy hint of veggies and vitamins so you won’t feel as guilty after eating it for the rest of the day? Carrot cake cinnamon rolls to the rescue. I guess. I’ll let you know if this one works out.

49f7082697a3d7105b5aa848985971b1.jpgPinch of Yum: Turon (banana lumpia) with caramel sauce

Born being a half-bred Filipino, yet it took me 18 years to visit the Philippines. Early last year I went to visit this beautiful country and fell in love with the local cuisine, except for Balut (don’t even ask. Google for yourself). One thing I couldn’t stop eating was Turon. What is it? It’s a deep fried Filipino–style spring rolls with sweet banana fillings. It’s more or less a pisang goreng (a similar Indonesian snack) but smaller in size and usually comes with caramel sauce for dipping. If you’re ever in The Philippines or happen to have a pantry full of sweet bananas, it’s only a must to give this Pinoy dish a try. I’ve been intensely craving for it and looking forward to making a few dozen(s) with my grandma this weekend.

Pan-Seared Salmon with Lemon-Herb Butter Sauce

Did you know that I have an unhealthy obsession with salmon? If you didn’t, then it’s about time that you all know. Serve it raw as a sashimi, or stacked on rice as a sushi, you name it, I’ll have it. Just last week I went out for dinner with my mom at this Japanese place nearby and decided to get a take-out for my sister at home. I ordered her this grilled salmon dish, because unlike me, she hates eating raw fish.

To my surprise, she loved it so much that she wanted to have the same thing for lunch the next day, the day after, and the day after that. Being a raw salmon lover, I wondered how good could this grilled salmon be. So just yesterday, I decided to order one for myself, which I happened to like so much that I couldn’t wait to recreate the dish as soon as I finish my last bite. Turns out there’s nothing like a piece of perfectly cooked salmon with a crispy, crunchy skin, perfectly complemented with the restaurant’s version of honey-soy sauce. Thus the recipe-hunting begun.

This recipe below was adapted from Betty Crocker’s recipe: Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Butter Sauce. I opted for pan-searing because I simply didn’t want to go through all the grilling fuss, and it turned out just as good. I also wanted to have a light creamy sauce to go with the salmon, and this recipe just has it all. My plan was to add some portobello mushrooms and turn it into a creamy mushroom sauce. But I didn’t have any and I simply didn’t feel like rushing back to the supermarket and wait in line just to buy mushrooms, so that’s for next time. The dish was perfect either way.

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This makes such a great dish for a weeknight meal, doesn’t take long to prepare, and definitely worth pulling your pan-fry out of that kitchen drawer.

Pan-Seared Salmon with Lemon-Herb Butter Sauce
Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker 
Makes 3 – 4 servings

Sauce

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons COLD butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Melt butter in a saute pan over low heat. Add finely chopped shallots. Season with salt and pepper. If you were going for mushroom sauce, add the mushrooms, cook for about 5 minutes until slightly softened. Pour in white wine and lemon juice, heating slowly. When the sauce has reached a velvety smooth consistency, sprinkle in the herbs, then remove from stove.

Salmon

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 lb. salmon fillets, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

  1. Heat the pan-fry with some olive oil. In small saucepan, combine shallots, wine and 3 tablespoons lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium; cook 5 to 7 minutes or until mixture is reduced to about 2 to 3 tablespoons, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from heat. Stir in cold butter 1 tablespoon at a time until each is well blended. Stir in dill, chives and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cover to keep warm.
  3. In small bowl, combine oil and 1 tablespoon lemon juice; mix well. Brush over salmon fillets. Sprinkle with salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
  4. When pan is heated, place salmon, skin side up, over medium heat. Cook 8 to 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork, turning once and brushing occasionally with any remaining oil mixture. If necessary, reheat butter sauce over very low heat, stirring constantly. Serve salmon with the lemon butter sauce.

 

x, Amanda.