Thursday 26 April 2012

Rhubarb, Vanilla and Almond Semi-Freddo

Another instalment as part of my Cookbook of the Month feature! This time it's a semi-freddo recipe by Kate Bracks. Semi-freddo is Italian for 'half cold' and is a great alternative to ice cream if you don't own an ice cream machine or, if you're like me and you do own one, but you simply have no room in your freezer to pre-freeze the bowl! It has a lovely texture, much like a frozen mousse I'd say.The other good thing about this recipe, quite obviously, is that rhubarb is the star ingredient! I am so happy to see rhubarb available once again! Rhubarb haters and nay-sayers like Mr Ladybird won't getting very excited about a dish like this, but then again, more for the rest of us! This keeps in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Although you don't need an ice cream machine for this, I would recommend use of electric hand beaters as per Kate's recipe. I don't own electric hand beaters so used a whisk, and I just about whisked my arm off in the process!

Rhubarb, Vanilla and Almond Semi-Freddo
Recipe from 'The Sweet Life' by Kate Bracks (with some notes from me in italics).

300g rhubarb, washed
100ml orange juice
1 tbsp caster sugar
4 egg yolks
75g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped*
300ml pouring cream
70g (1/2 cup) silvered almonds, lightly toasted
* I replaced with with half a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

1. Spray a 22cm x 8cm (base measurement) loaf tin with oil spray and line with baking paper, extending over the two long sides. Place into the freezer.

2. Trim the rhubarb and chop into 2cm pieces. Combine with the orange juice and 1 tablespoon caster sugar in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 8-10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has collapsed and the liquid has become slightly syrupy. At this point I recommend tasting the rhubarb mixture. If you find it too tart add caster sugar to taste. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely.

3. Combine the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla seeds in a heatproof bowl that fits snugly over a saucepan of gently simmering water (ensure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl). Use electric hand beaters to whisk until the mixture is thick and pale, and has reached about 85 degrees celcius on a sugar thermometer (if you don't have a sugar thermometer, it should be too hot to leave your finger in there!).

4. Tip the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on slow speed until it has returned to room temperature.

5. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks.

6. Fold together the cooled egg mixture and cream until combined thoroughly. Stir in the cooled rhubarb and toasted almonds.

7. Tip the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for a minimum of 5 hours, but preferably overnight, until firm.

8. Allow the semi-freddo to soften slightly before scooping into serving bowls (I simply sliced mine like a terrine instead).

Ladybird x

Friday 20 April 2012

Classic Banana Bread

Good afternoon!

Here is the third recipe I am sharing from this month's Cookbook of the Month, 'The Sweet Life' by Kate Bracks. Yes, this is another basic recipe, but that is what I am loving about this book. Each chapter of the book is divided into two sections: The basics; and, Beyond the basics. Sometimes something simple is all you want, and it's recipes like these that I feel are the litmus test to a cookbook.

Ahhh the simple things.. a good banana bread would definitely be among them, but here are my top ten favourite simple things (in no particular order) :

1. A hot shower
2. A good cup of coffee
3. A warm hug
4. Clean bed sheets
5. My pillow
6. A good night's sleep
7. The smell that fills the house when something is baking
8. My baby's smile
9. Putting my feet up at the end of a long day
10. A nice glass of wine

Out of everything on this list, the one thing that eludes me most is a good night's sleep. We're pretty sure The Emperor is teething now as we can feel a sharp little gnasher starting to poke through his lower gums, so the poor guy is obviously in quite a bit of discomfort. This means frequent night waking and not much sleep for Mummy dearest... Who knows when the day will come that I get a full night's rest again, I have almost forgotten what it feels like it's been so long. But when it does come, it will be so utterly, utterly delicious!

American Banana Bread with Walnuts
Recipe from 'The Sweet Life' by Kate Bracks


100g regular (i.e salted) butter, at room temperature, chopped
220g (1 cup) caster sugar
2 eggs
2 very ripe large bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g (2 cups) self-raising flour
60ml (1/4 cup) buttermilk (or milk with a squeeze of lemon juice)
50g (1/2 cup) walnuts, chopped*
*Simply omit if you're not a fan of walnuts in your banana bread


1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees celcius. Grease a 21cm x 10cm (base measurement) loaf tin and line the base with baking paper, extending over the two long sides.

2. Use electric beaters to cream the butter and sugar until pale. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the mashed banana and vanilla extract. Sift the flour into the mixture. Add the buttermilk, and fold through until thoroughly combined. Stir through the walnuts.

3. Spoon into the loaf tin, and bake for 55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

This is a great classic banana bread recipe. So after testing three of her basic recipes I'm happy to give all three the thumbs up, and I look forward to trying out some of the 'Beyond the basics' recipes soon. Stay tuned!

Ladybird xxx

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Lovely lentils for baby

My cute-asaurus is now eating food! And what an exciting (and sometimes challenging) foray it has been into the world of solids in recent weeks... At the age of around 5 months I introduced Roman to rice cereal and some basic fruit and vegetable purees and we have now worked our way up to more meal-like purees. Nowadays most babies don't start on solids until 6 months. However, we decided to move this forward after much consideration and advice from our GP as Roman was becoming very unsettled in between feeds and it had become apparent that milk wasn't quite enough anymore.

'Lovely Lentils' is a definite favourite of the Emperor's at the moment. I introduced lentils to him about two weeks ago once he was taking around 5-6 tablespoons of vegetable puree at lunchtime as sometimes proteins can be a little tough on little digestive systems if they're not quite ready. As a vegetarian baby, lentils will be  very important part of his diet, so I'm much relieved that he enjoys eating them already! As a general guide, this recipe is suitable for babies 6-9 months of age, but (as always), use your own discretion and seek professional advice if unsure.

I can hardly describe how delighted I am to now be posting about baby food and hope to do so on a regular basis for all my mama readers out there! So here we go... Oh, and if you're making this you might notice the amount I make in my photos looks a lot more than the recipe makes.. this is because I doubled this recipe on this occasion.

Lovely Lentils
An adapted recipe from 'Top 100 Baby Purees' by Annabel Karmel


30g unsalted butter
125g (4oz) leeks, finely sliced
30g (1oz) celery, chopped
30g (1oz) red pepper, cored, de-seeded and chopped
60g (2oz) red lentils, picked through and rinsed
100g (4oz) 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
250g sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
15 fl oz (approximately 900ml) vegetable stock* or water

* Preferably homemade and salt-free. I just use water at the moment. ALSO, the actual amount of stock/water you will need depends on your saucepan size. As a rule of thumb, add enough to cover the veggies and lentils... you can always add more during cooking if required :)


1. Melt the butter in a saucepan and sauté the leeks for 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Add the celery, red pepper and carrot and sauté for 5 minutes.

3. Add the lentils, saute for one minute, then add the sweet potato and bay leaf and pour over the stock.

4. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables and lentils are tender. Remove the bay leaf and blend to a puree. Make it as smooth or chunky as your baby prefers. If it is too thick, add a little boiled water/stock.

Once the mixture has cooled you can transfer it to ice cube trays to freeze and then transfer to labelled and dated freezer bags as I have done below. I don't know about you, but between one thing and another I simply do not have time to cook my baby food from scratch three times a day!

To serve simply defrost and heat... and offer to your little one with a big helping of love and patience <3

Ladybird x

Monday 16 April 2012

Cookies fit for a domestic god

The Roman Emperor has been a bit unsettled over the past week or so meaning that nights are somewhat restless and sleep is often hard to come by. I'm not quite sure if it's Roman teething, or simply doing his best newborn baby impression, but it's been rough. It's during tough times like these that I find myself counting my blessings as Mr L picks up the pieces as I carry on as best I can in my zombie-like state. He helps cook meals, he washes clothes, he walks and feeds the dog... he tells me my hair could do with a wash because it smells like apple puree... ;) He's an all-round domestic god!

I whipped him up a quick batch of these fabulous cookies while the emperor slept today as a little thank you for all his help recently. Mr L has a complete weakness for choc-chip cookies. He will be annoyed for me saying so, but it really is rather sweet watching a full-grown man enjoying cookies and milk in his pyjamas... hahaha.

This recipe comes from my cookbook of the month for April - The Sweet Life by 2012 MasterChef Australia winner, Kate Bracks. The more I read and cook, the more I am convinced that my cookbook collection is far closer to being complete thanks to this book.

Choc-Chunk Cookies (makes about 30)


125g (regular, i.e. salted) butter
110g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
110g (1/2 cup) brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
260g (1 & 3/4 cups) self-raising flour
180g dark chocolate


1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees celcius. Grease 2 large baking trays and line with baking paper.

2. Combine the butter, both sugars and the vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale. Add the egg and beat until well combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Sift the flour into the bowl and mix until just combined.

3. Cut the chocolate into 1 cm wide lengths diagonally across the block. It will naturally shatter a little. Then cut in the same way in the opposite direction. This way you get random-sized chunks of chocolate. Tip the whole lot in and mix through.

4. Gather the dough together and roll level tablespoons of mixture into balls. Place onto the prepared trays, leaving space between them for spreading.

5. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden (12 minutes will make them slightly softer, 15 minutes will give you crispier cookies. Leave on the trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Without doubt, this is now my absolute go-to choc-chip (or choc-'chunk' in this case) cookie recipe... I previously posted, and raved about a Nigella Lawson recipe for perfect choc-chip cookies. They don't have a patch on these bad boys.. Sorry, Nigella, and thank you, Kate!

Til next time readers... Happy cooking, and (am hoping rather indulgently for myself), sweet dreams!

Ladybird xxx

Sunday 8 April 2012

Cookbook of the Month - April 2012

Happy Easter, everyone! I hope you're enjoying some quality time with your loved ones over the Easter break.

Today I am delighted to let you all know that the Cookbook of the Month feature is back on Diary of a Ladybird! This month's featured cookbook comes from the 2011 winner of MasterChef Australia, Kate Bracks. Her newly released book 'The Sweet Life' is a sweet book indeed, a compilation of mouth-watering dessert recipes. Some will ring a bell to the MasterChef fans out there with recipes such as Kate's apple pie, coffee cake and her date and hazelnut torte. But there are plenty of fantastic looking, fresh and innovative  recipes too and and I'm so excited to share some of them with you all as I taste-test my way through the book.

Here is the first recipe I've tried so far - a great basic chocolate cake. This one is great for getting little ones involved in the kitchen, and I think the result is one that would please kids and adults alike. A great texture and not too sweet.. am definitely going to make this one again!

The Australian colloquialism 'bung' essentially means to quickly throw together, so this is the type of cake recipe where you throw it all in a bowl, stir it together, and you're done! :)

Bung-In Chocolate Cake
From 'The Sweet Life' by Kate Bracks

300g (2 cups) self-raising flour
350g (1.5 cups) caster sugar
35g (1/3 cup) cocoa powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
350ml (1 1/3 cups) milk
150g butter, melted*
* Kate notes in her introduction that, in all her recipes, she recommends the use of regular (i.e. salted) butter rather than unsalted butter.

200g (1 1/4 cups) icing sugar mixture
2 tbsp cocoa powder
30g butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Grease a 23cm (base measurement) square tin and line the base with baking paper.

2. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre and add the wet ingredients. Whisk gently, gradually taking in the dry ingredients from the side of the bowl. Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth.

3. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then run a knife around the edge to separate the cake from the tin. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

4. To make the icing, sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a bowl. Add the melted butter and vanilla extract, and enough milk to get it to a paste consistency, stirring vigorously until smooth. You may not need all the milk. If it is too thick, add more milk. If it is too runny, add more icing mixture.

5. Once the cake has cooled, smother the top with chocolate icing.

Nom nom nom... stay tuned for more from 'The Sweet Life'!

Ladybird xxx

Saturday 7 April 2012

Breakfast at Pieno, Surry Hills

Hello, dear readers! I hope your Easter long weekend is off to a wonderful start. Yesterday in Sydney we enjoyed absolutely glorious weather, and it looks set to continue by the looks of things this morning! Beautiful blue skies and plenty of sunshine. To mark Easter I wanted to share something Easter themed with you all and so set about making Hot Cross Cookies - a Donna Hay recipe featured in last weekend's edition of the Daily Telegraph.. well, I'm sad to say they were an epic fail (sorry Donna, I've got to be honest here) and I saw little point sharing a recipe with you all that I myself will certainly not be repeating. Yes, hot cross cookies is a cute concept, but the aftertaste of the baking powder was very unpleasant. If I get time in the next few days I might attempt tweaking the recipe and will share with you all if I have any success.

Anyway, instead of Hot Cross Cookies here is a quick post on a place we went to breakfast yesterday. It's called Pieno, and is located on Crown Street in Surry Hills. If there's one thing this funky cafe has bucketloads of, it's atmosphere. It's cool, it's modern, and for a cafe in Surry Hills, there's certainly more than your average amount of seating. I love the splashes of red in the decor too with the chairs and the water bottles - a great vibrant touch.

We started off with coffees ($3.50 each) and they are delicioussss -seriously the best coffee I have had in a long time!

For breakfast, Mr L had the Vegie Breakfast ($16.50) with poached eggs, roast tomatoes, rosti, mushrooms and spinach with toast. The eggs were poached to perfection, but unfortunately the rosti were more or less deep-fried balls of mash.

And for me, I ordered the Breakfast bruschetta with mushrooms and garlic oil ($11). I can usually find something positive to say about a dish, even if I'm not that keen on it, but this was a very disappointing dish. The mushrooms were watery and rubbery.. so I end up eating the toast with a little rocket. In such situations, I am always a little embarrassed to complain about my dish... what do you do when faced with culinary disappointment while eating out..?

Such a shame Pieno, such a shame! I so very much wanted to rave about this place .. especially in light of all the positive reviews online on sites like Eatability. Perhaps I just got very unlucky (?) I love the atmosphere, the service is fantastic, and the coffee ***amazeballs***, but the food really fell short of the mark. A bit of a pity, but I would definitely return if I was looking for somewhere for a good coffee in the area.

285A Crown St
Surry Hills, NSW
(02) 8354 1303

Pieno on Urbanspoon
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