Sunday, 27 November 2011

A special introduction

Hello dear readers!

Missed me?! I have most certainly missed you... and I am delighted to be back to make a special introduction to you all.

As you would have probably gathered from my last post 'A pregnant pause', I have recently become a mama! On October 11, Mr Ladybird and I welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world. Here is little Roman, now almost 7 weeks of age...




Motherhood has certainly been an intense experience so far.. Roman and I are taking it day by day as we get used to things. Every day I marvel at the speed at which he grows and his emerging personality. It is that and his complete and utter babyliciousness that gets me through the exhaustion and challenges of being a new mum.


While being a mummy is most definitely my number one priority at the moment, I am keen to carry on doing things that I find enjoyable and fulfilling - continuing Diary of a Ladybird being one of them. So stay tuned, and thank you for your continued readership and kind messages of support during my pregnancy :)


Love to you all!

Ladybird x

Monday, 10 October 2011

A pregnant pause...

Hello dear readers!

As many of you already know from following Diary of a Ladybird, Mr Ladybird and I are currently expecting our first child. It is an exciting time for us, full of anticipation and excitement. We are expecting him/her any day now, so it is time for me to take a pregnant pause from a number of things while I focus on motherhood. In the meantime, I won't be working on my blog. However, I do expect to make a return once I have settled into a bit of a routine as Mama Ladybird. Stay tuned!


Ladybird xoxo

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Afternoon Tea at The Observatory Hotel, The Rocks

I have often been asked by friends and followers of my little blog where I think is the best high tea in Sydney and (humbled to even be asked!) I have always responded with sentences that have usually been prefaced by the phrase "Well it depends.." However, after a recent high tea experience at The Observatory Hotel in Sydney's historic Rocks area, I now feel confident in recommending to others what I believe to be the creme de la creme of Sydney high teas.



It was at The Observatory that I caught with a friend I hadn't seen in many many months - what better way to catch up with a girlfriend than over high tea in such opulent and relaxing surroundings! So where do I start? Well, how about the hotel's grand foyer to set the scene? I think the photos above speak for themselves.. this is one fine establishment!
 
I make my way into the Globe Brasserie & Bar where afternoon tea is held daily - a sweeping room with polished wooden floors and complete with soft lighting, rich drapes and plush armchairs and sofas. Oh, and there's a grand piano thrown in for good measure too...



I join my girlfriend at our table, neat as a pin and adorned with crisp white linen, glistening crockery and silverware. With 20 unique tea blends to choose from we take our time perusing the menu - I opt for a jasmine tea and my friend chooses another one of the lovely herbal blends.


Shortly after our high tea stand arrives - three tiers of afternoon scrumptiousness! It all looks so perfect we sit looking at it for a while, taking it all in and not wanting to spoil the pretty picture. But it looks so good we quickly succumb to our appetites and make a start with the savoury items.


Now when it comes to sandwiches at high teas, I (as a vegetarian) am normally accustomed to one type of sandwich which can be rather tasteless - plain cucumber... It's not ideal, and I certainly don't complain about it - rather, I simply adjust my expectations when going to a high tea. On this occasion, however, I am spoiled for choice with four little sandwiches each with a different and delicious filling, plus a vegetarian tart - hurray!

After our savouries we move onto the gem-like scones - not the monstrous floury types so common elsewhere that can be difficult to finish, but rather, these fresh, ladylike and fluffy scones that you can finish in a couple of mouthfuls. They really were the perfect size and a lovely texture... The strawberry jam served alongside them was superb - quite syrupy in consistency (which I prefer to very jelly-like jam), and most likely house-made which is always a good thing. The cream was like a double cream though, which I found a bit too heavy.



And last but not least we make our way to the impeccably presented plate of miniature sweets, all a good size for a high tea stand - enough to get a taste, but not too much so as to make you feel horrendously full. There's a fruit tartlet, lemon and poppyseed cupcake, cheesecake, chocolate opera slice, crème brûlée and chocolate mousse for each of us... they're all so good, but the crème brûlée and opera slice are my favourites.


And just when we thought we couldn't possibly eat another crumb, an unexpected and complimentary surprise arrives at our table - a congratulatory platter to celebrate my now somewhat big 'bun in the oven'!


All in all, a 5 star experience and a lovely way to catch up with a friend. Tell me, dear readers, where have you had your best high tea experience? I'd love to hear about it!

Ladybird x


The Observatory Hotel
89-113 Kent Street
The Rocks, NSW
Ph: (02) 8248 5252

Classic afternoon tea $49 per person on weekdays, $59 per person on weekends & public holidays
Monday to Friday 2:30 - 5pm
Saturdays 12:30 - 2:30pm, and 3 - 5pm
Sundays & public holidays 1 - 3 and 4 - 6pm

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Café Morso, Pyrmont


With a baby now only weeks away in the Ladybird household, I increasingly find myself contemplating my soon-to-be life as a mother. I find myself thinking about activities and favourite past times that will soon be a little more difficult to fit in whilst juggling life with a newborn bundle of joy.. One of these things would have to be the pleasure found in spontaneously going out for brunch on weekends after a lovely sleep-in. Of course, I am immensely looking forward to the changes my life will soon bring, and I simply cannot wait to meet our little one.. But as my belly grows and my due date comes closer and closer, I am keen to enjoy squeeze in as much of these simple pleasures as I can!


With this in mind, Mr Ladybird recently took me out for a lovely surprise breakfast at Café Morso in Pyrmont. The cafe is located at the beautiful Jones Bay Wharf overlooking the harbour, close by to iconic Sydney restaurants such as The Flying Fish and Doltone House. Cafe Morso also happens to be quite the high achiever, with swagful of awards to its name, including Best Breakfast Restaurant in 2009 and 2010.


And when you see the menu, you start to get an idea of what the fuss is about.. I am tempted by the french toast with pear compote, mascarpone and chocolate ganache, but with baby's nutrition in mind I opt for the sautéed wild mushrooms with truffled scrambled eggs and Sonoma sourdough ($16) and an orange juice ($5).


My Ladybird opts for the beautiful soft scrambled eggs with gruyere cheese, semi dried cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs on Sonoma sourdough  ($16), a side of baked beans with onion jam and relish ($2.50) and a latte ($3.80).






A great spot for breakfast, particularly with the weather warming up. Worth checking out!


Cafe Morso
Lower deck (west side), Jones Bay Wharf
Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont NSW
Ph: (02) 9692 0111
http://www.cafemorso.com.au/

Monday - Friday 7am - 4pm, Saturday & Sunday 8am - 2pm

Cafe Morso on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Nutella Lovers' Cupcakes


A few of you lovely readers requested the recipe for the Nutella cupcakes from my cookbook of the month for August - The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook, and so I am only too happy to oblige!

I made these as part of my selection for RSPCA Cupcake Day recently and there were a popular choice! It's amazing how many people (or particular, women) swoon at the very mention of 'nutella'. There's just something about it I guess. Personally speaking, it's something I avoid keeping in my pantry cupboard as it is just too dangerous. It all starts out innocent with a teaspoonful just to get a taste, then it's a piece of white toast with some of that delicious hazelnut-chocolate spread smeared on top.. and before you know it the whole jar's empty! Irresistibly evil....



This recipe comes from The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook. The great thing about this recipe is that the cupcake itself is quite light, so combined with the rich icing the result is not too over the top Nutella. The recipe and makes between 24 and 30 cupcakes. They will keep for 2 days and freeze for 2 months.

Hazelnut Cakes

2 & 3/4 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g softened unsalted butter
1 & 3/4 cups caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup natural yoghurt
1/2 cup hazelnut meal

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Line two 12-hole muffin trays with cupcake liners of choice.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter for 1-2 minutes. Add the caster sugar a third at a time, beating for 2 minutes after each addition. After the last addition, beat until the mixture if light and fluffy and the sugar has almost dissolved. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition or until mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

4. Add a third of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add half the yoghurt and beat until combined. Repeat this process. Add the remaining third of the flour and beat until thoroughly combined; do not over-beat as this will toughen the mixture. Add the hazelnut meal and beat until combined.

5. Spoon mixture into cupcake papers, filling each about three-quarters full. I like to use a levelled off ice cream scoop to quickly and evenly divide the mixture. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the trays immediately and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before frosting.

Nutella Frosting

1 x 750g jar Nutella
1 tablespoon Frangelico (optional)
1/2 cup whipped cream

1. Spoon the Nutella into a bowl and stir in the Frangelico.
2. Put the whipped cream into a small bowl and fold ina quarter of the Nutella mixture.
3. Then fold the whipped cream mixture into the remaining Nutella.

Note: Above is the original frosting recipe from the book, however, I struggled with this. As it was a cold evening when I was making this, I ended up sitting the nutella jar in hot tapwater before transferring its contents to a bowl. I also had difficulty combining the nutella, frangelico and cream all together and ended up using a stick blender to combine the three ingredients sufficiently to achieve a spreadable consistency. I piped mine onto the cupcakes and topped with crushed hazelnuts. Sooo... you may need to improvise a little with the frosting recipe to make it work for you...  Alternatively - here's an idea I think I'll be using next time: Drizzle a little frangelico over the cupcakes and then frost with straight Nutella! :) Yum!


Tell me, dear readers, does Nutella do it for you?

Ladybird xxx

Monday, 15 August 2011

RSPCA Cupcake Day 2011


Today was my third year of participation in the RSPCA Cupcake Day, and it was a success once again... Thanks to the support of my family, friends and colleagues I raised $360 for the RSPCA! Hurrah, and a big thank you to everyone for their support of this wonderful cause :)

Vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream


This year I decided to keep my cupcakes simple, but no less delicious. I made my usual favourite chocolate cupcakes topped with ganache, as well as something new - a lovely Nutella cupcake which went down a treat with my fellow Nutella-addict friends. The recipe comes from this The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook - if you are keen for me to do a post on this recipe, please let me know!

'Nutella Lovers' cupcake

I also offered vanilla cupcakes with four different butter cream flavours - vanilla, strawberry, lavender and passionfruit. And because I'm not at all a fan of essences (oh don't even get me started!), I used all natural ingredients to create scrummy flavours. My favourite of the four was the strawberry buttercream - Mmmmm!

Vanilla cupcake with lavender buttercream

Vanilla cupcake with passionfruit buttercream

Vanilla cupcake with strawberry buttercream

Here is my recipe for you, my lovely readers...

Ladybird's Strawberry Buttercream (enough to generously top a dozen cupcakes)

an original Diary of a Ladybird recipe

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch of salt
2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g punnet strawberries, washed and hulled
2 tablespoons caster sugar, plus extra to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus extra to taste
pink food colouring (optional)

1. First start on the strawberry syrup that will flavour the buttercream. Blitz the strawberries to a fine puree. Combine in a a small saucepan along with the caster sugar and lemon juice. Stirring occasionally, bring to a simmer over low-medium heat. Reduce to low heat and stir frequently until the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup. Taste as you go, adding more lemon juice / caster sugar as required. Pass the syrup through a fine sieve and set aside in the fridge to cool.

2. Now start on the buttercream. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, vanilla extract and pinch of salt for a minute. Then beat in the icing sugar a third at a time, mixing well and scraping down the bowl after each addition to keep the mixture light and fluffy.

3. Finally, mix in the cooled strawberry syrup until well combined. If the mixture is a little wet for spreading/piping, simply add extra icing sugar. At this point you could also add a little pink food colouring if you wanted to enhance the colour, but I find that the syrup itself gives colours the buttercream nicely.


Till next time, dear readers

Ladybird x

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Cookbook of the Month - August 2011

With RSPCA Cupcake Day fast approaching, my kitchen (and dining room!) have quickly become a crazed cupcake workshop this weekend. As I type this, my laptop is surrounded by trays of freshly baked cupcakes cooling  before they can be iced and adorned ready for sale on Monday. It's a lot of work, but I do love it.. there's just something about cupcakes that I will never tire of, and when it's for a good cause, how can I resist?!


With cupcakes on my mind, I am pleased to announce the cookbook of the month for August - The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook by Jennifer Graham. Published in 2007 this book has been around for a little while, but there is good reason behind its popularity. Written by the famed founder and director of the now closed Crabapple Cupcake Bakery in Victoria, I would have no hesitation in recommending this book to any cupcake lover. I recently received this cookbook as a gift and I am absolutely in love with it. It is filled with delicious and easy to follow recipes, both classic and imaginative.

I am looking forward to trying all the book's recipes, but as a litmus test I have already tried the book's basic vanilla and chocolate cupcake recipes twice now. Both get the big thumbs up from me, but below I have included both recipes so that you can make up your own mind if you like. I feel that both produce a great flavour and texture, as well as that highly sought-after smooth domed top.

Each of the following recipes is supposed to make 24, but I seem to get around 27 out of each recipe when I use a levelled off ice cream scoop to divide the batter among the cupcake papers. They will keep for 2 days and freeze for 2 months. For best results, start with all ingredients at room temperature. And as I always say, choose your eggs wisely! :)

Crabapple Bakery's Vanilla Cupcakes

Ingredients

2 & 3/4 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
200g softened unsalted butter
1 & 3/4 cups caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Method

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees celsius. Line two 12 hole muffin trays with cupcake papers.

2. Sift together the flour and baking powder. In a separate bowl, cream the butter for 1-2 minutes. Add the caster sugar a third at a time, beating for 2 minute after each addition. After the last addition, beat until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar has almost dissolved. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

3. Add a third of the flour to the creamed mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add half of the milk and beat until combined. Repeat this process. Add the remaining third of the flour and beat until thoroughly combined; do not overbeat as this will toughen the mixture.

4. Spoon mixture into cupcake papers, filling each about three-quarters full. Note: I use a levelled off ice-cream scoop to divide the batter quickly and evenly. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the trays immediately and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before frosting.

Crabapple Bakery's Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients

3 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1 cup hot water
1 cup cocoa
1 cup cold water
200g softened unsalted butter
2 & 1/2 cups caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Method

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees celsius. Line two 12 hole muffin trays with cupcake papers.

2. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl whisk together the coffee, hot water and cocoa until you have a smooth paste. Add the cold water and whisk until evenly combined.

3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter for 1-2 minutes. Add the caser sugar a third at a time, beating for 2 minute after each addition. After the last addition, beat until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar has almost dissolved. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

4. Add a quarter of the flour to the creamed mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add a third of the cocoa mixture and beat until combined. Repeat this process twice more. Add the remaining quarter of the flour and beat until thoroughly combined; do not overbeat as this will toughen the mixture.

5. Spoon mixture into cupcake papers, filling each about three-quarters full. Note: I use a levelled off ice-cream scoop to divide the batter quickly and evenly. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the trays immediately and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before frosting


Till next time, dear readers!

Ladybird x

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A Floral Themed High Tea at Patisse


I recently had the pleasure of attending a lovely high tea at Patisse in Sydney.. not just any high tea, but one created by Vincent Gadan and the hardworking team at Patisse in Waterloo. Does the name ring a bell? It may for all those Masterchef fans out there. Vincent Gadan is the talented, French-born pastry chef who faced up to (and won) a roast challenge against Hayden. He also appeared again on the series for a masterclass with some of the contestants. Recognise those score cards in the frame on the table?


When I learnt that Patisse was starting monthly themed high teas I jumped at the chance, and I attended their high tea debut on July 31st. The theme? Floral: Rose, lavender and violet. But no scones and clotted cream in sight here - this was a french take on high tea.

The selection of sweets and savouries for guests was as follows:

Savoury

Wagyu Pie – cocktail size
Spinach and Feta Quiche – Cocktail size
Chicken Sandwich finger
Roast vegetable sandwich finger

Sweet

Lavender Madeline
Pistachio and rose cake
Violet Tropeziennes
Verrine of Lavender

Some pictures of the food for you to drool over. First, our roasted vegetable finger sandwiches...


Spinach and feta quiches fresh out of the oven, the pastry buttery and flaky... mmmm!


The beautiful sweets plate... a bouquet of flavours and textures!


Check out this thing of beauty - the verrine of lavender... I gave this one a miss as I don't eat gelatine, but it was certainly pretty to look at.


And lastly, the sweet highlight from the high tea for me.. the Pistachio and Rose Cake - a beautifully moist cake coated with pistachios and topped with orange blossom yoghurt and rose petals... absolutely lovely.


We also enjoyed a tea tasting as part of the high tea, something I have never experienced before. We sampled beautiful teas by a new Australian company called The Rabbit Hole. Their organic teas were selected to accompany the floral theme of the high tea, and they were beautiful! In fact, you'll actually be hearing more about them on my blog soon.. so stay tuned tea lovers!

Towards the end of the high tea we were all introduced to Vincent who welcomed us and spoke about the menu he created for the day.


All in all an enjoyable high tea, and definitely something a little different from many high tea offerings in Sydney. Check out the Patisse website for information about upcoming high tea events.

Ladybird and guest attended high tea as guests of Patisse

Patisse
Shop G01, PYD Building
197 Young St
Waterloo NSW
Ph: (02) 9690 0665

http://www.patisse.com.au/
Monday to Saturday, 8:30am to 4pm

Coming soon - RSPCA Cupcake Day 2011!



RSPCA Cupcake Day is set to be held again this year on August 15th - that's only a 5 days away! As an animal (and cupcake) lover, this fundraising event is definitely something I look forward to each year - it is such a wonderful cause!

I am so looking forward to this event that I even decided to pen a little poem about it!

Bakers for the RSPCA

Support creatures great and small
Host a morning tea, or set up a stall

All you have to do is register and get baking
Let bakers unite – it’s history in the making!

RSPCA Cupcake Day – it’s an excellent cause
Get involved, and raise your paws!


Tell me, dear readers, will you be cupcaking this RSPCA Cupcake Day?


If you are, that's fantastic!!! Remember to choose your ingredients wisely when baking for this worthy cause.. Using caged eggs really defeats the purpose of supporting the RSPCA's work, so please choose free range eggs :) For more information about how to choose your eggs wisely, please click here.
Not a baker? No problem! Simply support a friend / family member / colleague by buying a cupcake from them on the day, or by sponsoring them through their RSPCA fundraising page. If all else fails, you can sponsor me if you like! To sponsor me, please click here.
So do support RSPCA Cupcake Day 2011 in any way that you can - the animals will love you for it!
Ladybird x

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce and almond praline


How are we all going with Masterchef this season? Or do you watch it at all...? I guess I can only speak for myself and what I've heard from my family and friends... It is great to have Masterchef back on again (and I never quite got into the whole celebrity/children's versions). However, I must say, I'm not enjoying it as much as I did the first season, even the second season.. I am no longer a 'religious' viewer, and nor do my family and friends follow it with the same fervour as they once did. I'm not quite sure what it is, but it seems to me that Masterchef has become a little larger than life, a little over-dramatic perhaps... At any rate, may the best cook win!

Regardless of your sentiments on the show, please allow me to take all you Masterchef fans on a nostalgic journey back to Season 1 in 2009. Do you remember the Sticky date pudding challenge?! How many of you bookmarked the recipe on the website and never got around to making it..? Anyone? Well, I know I did.. cleaning up my bookmarks recently I decided it was high time I got around to it making it!

This is a winter classic -absolutely wonderful :)

Sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce and almond praline
Recipe from Masterchef Australia (Season 1)

Ingredients

180g dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1¼ cups (310ml) water
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ cup (165g) firmly packed brown sugar
60g butter, softened and chopped
2 eggs
1 cup (150g) self-raising flour

Almond praline
½ cup (110g) caster sugar
¼ cup (35g) slivered almonds

Butterscotch sauce
50g butter
1 cup (220g) brown sugar
1 cup (250ml) cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Method
 1. Preheat oven to 180˚C (160˚C fan-forced). Lightly grease eight (½ cup capacity) metal dariole moulds.

2. Place dates and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Remove from the heat. Add bicarbonate of soda, stir until dates start to break down, set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.


3. Beat butter and sugar in a bowl using a hand beater, gradually add eggs one at a time, beat until light and fluffy.


4. Add date mixture, stir to combine. Carefully fold through sifted flour, divide mixture evenly between the eight moulds, until 2/3 full.

5. Place moulds in a baking tray, carefully pour water in tray until it comes up 1/3 of the side of the moulds. Bake in oven for 40 minutes or until golden and skewer comes out clean.

6. Meanwhile, for the almond praline, combine sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a saucepan over medium heat and cook caramel without stirring, swirling pan, until deep golden. Scatter almonds onto a baking paper-lined oven tray, pour over caramel and cool until set. Break praline into pieces.


7. For the butterscotch sauce, combine butter, sugar, cream and vanilla in small saucepan over low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Bring sauce to the boil, reduce heat and cook for 5-6 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly.

8. To serve, invert the hot pudding onto a serving plate, top with butterscotch sauce and shards of praline.


CUPCAKE variation
As I only have 4 dariole moulds, I used the leftover pudding batter to make some delicious cupcakes!


Here's how...

Sticky date cupcakes with butterscotch buttercream and almond praline
makes 10-12 cupcakes

Cupcakes
For the cupcakes, follow the above pudding recipe and divide among a cupcake paper lined muffin tin, filling each three-quarters. Bake at 180 degrees celsius on an upper shelf for 30 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Sit in tin for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool.


Butterscotch buttercream
Cream 125g softened unsalted butter, 1½ cups sifted icing sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Add 4-5 tablespoons cooled butterscotch sauce (recipe provided above) in an electric mixer until the desired consistency is achieved. Pipe or spread over the cooled cupcakes, and finish with a shard of the almond praline (recipe provided above).


So tell me, if you are a viewer, what are your thoughts on the current season of Masterchef Australia?

Ladybird x
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