CHANNELING ELVIS: RUDOLPH CUPCAKES

The B-52s, who weren't at the Albany Christmas pageant.

The B-52s, who weren’t at the Albany Christmas pageant.

Dear Amelia,
Here in the town that time forgot we’ve been partying like it was 1989 except without Roxette and the B-52s.
Last Saturday night we went to the annual Christmas pageant and it was brilliant – 6,000 people lining the main street, 27 floats, lots of stuff happening, including my friend Kerry nearly having her eye taken out by a lollipop that was thrown into the crowd by a passing elf.
Nanna was standing next to a bogan gentleman who was holding the ugliest baby she’s seen in a long time.
It made her realise how lucky she is to have the model of beauty and perfection that is you.
Your Grandpa was the official photographer for the night so we didn’t see much of him.
Here’s a (very bad) picture of him that I took with my phone.
He’s photographing two of the girls from the winning float who were wearing amazing costumes made from dozens of balloons.

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Here are some more (very bad) pictures taken with my phone.

Three-for-one offer: the three wise men.

Three-for-one offer: the three wise men.

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It’s hard to believe that Christmas is just a couple of weeks away.
I’ve been looking through all my Christmas cookbooks wondering how I can channel Elvis this year but nothing’s really jumped out and smacked me in the face yet.
Speaking of Elvis, this is one of my favourite pictures in Brenda Arlene Butler’s cookbook “Are You Hungry Tonight?”.
It’s alongside the recipe for his famous Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich. You’ll notice that the girl is wearing a banana costume. Spooky or what?

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In Christmases past I’ve always managed to come up with something suitably kitsch and tacky on the food front.
One year it was an incredibly complicated Nigella recipe that came about because I thought, “Should I find a cure for cancer or should I make Nigella’s Christmas Puddini  Bonbons?”

White chocolate slippage: the curse of the Christmas Puddini Bonbon.

White chocolate slippage: the curse of the Christmas Puddini Bonbon.

It’s interesting to note that the Women’s Weekly came up with the idea for these bonbons first and simply called them Little Chocolate Christmas Puddings.
You’ll find the Women’s Weekly recipe here and Nigella’s recipe here.
Be warned: the cutting-up of the glace cherries for the “holly” decoration takes FOREVER.
Another warning: for us, Nigella’s version turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. They were so rich we all ended up with diarrhoea.
What I will probably do this year is re-visit the Rudolph Cupcakes that I made for the first Christmas we had in Albany in 2007.
I got the recipe from The West Australian’s food lift-out. I think it was by Tracey Cotterell.

Stylist's note: I was a bit pissed when I took this photo, hence the blurriness, used serviettes and bowl of peanuts.

Stylist’s note: I was a bit pissed when I took this photo, hence the blurriness, used serviettes and bowl of peanuts.

RUDOLPH CUPCAKES

Makes 12

Bake 12 chocolate cupcakes in a 12-hole muffin tin, using your favourite recipe or a packet mix.
Let them cool completely before decorating.

ICING
150g unsalted butter
120g sifted icing sugar
30g good-quality cocoa powder

Beat all ingredients together for 6-8 minutes until light and fluffy.
Spread the icing over the tops of the cupcakes.

TO DECORATE
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
24 white chocolate buttons
12 red glace cherries

I won’t lie – this isn’t a walk in the park.
You’ll end up with melted chocolate from arsehole to breakfast, but the end result is worth it because even really miserable people smile when they see these cupcakes and everyone tells you what a clever person you are.
First, line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper, then snip one of the corners off a clean and sturdy plastic bag to make a piping bag.
You only want a very small hole in the piping bag, so snip carefully.
Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave or in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.
Pour the melted chocolate into the piping bag until it’s half full.
Refill the bag as needed but don’t fill more than halfway or it will squirt out backwards up your arm (this is how I found out that you really can’t lick your elbows).
Pipe 24 three-pronged antler shapes onto the baking paper.
Like mine, yours may look more like stubby little trees than antlers, but after the 10th one you’ll stop caring.
Put the trays in the fridge so the chocolate antlers set.
You’ll really want to have a beer and a lie down after this but you can’t because your melted chocolate will go hard.
What you have to do next is grab a wooden satay stick or toothpick and dip it in the melted chocolate so you can put dark chocolate dots in the middle of the white chocolate buttons.
These are the eyes and they have to go in the fridge to set too.
To assemble the 12 Rudolphs, put the glace cherries just off-centre on each cupcake then stick on the eyes and antlers.
Store the cakes in the fridge until they’re eaten, which will happen in two minutes flat.

love shack
PS: there are two things in life your Mum really hates – the B-52s song Love Shack and the word “moist”. Your Uncle Paul torments her with both of them regularly. One day I will explain.


NOTTING HILL, NOODLES AND THE SALVOS

This has got nothing to do with anything. I just like putting daisies in a  golden syrup tin.

This has got nothing to do with anything. I just like putting daisies in a golden syrup tin.

Dear Amelia,
Sometimes real life – as in, work – gets in the way of blogging, which is a bugger because I’d be quite happy to sit here all day, every day, writing nonsense and posting recipes.
Work has gone ballistic in the last couple of weeks, which is why I haven’t had the time to sit here and write things like, “I was stunned by the woody freshness of the avocado” or, “This method of cooking steak was taught to me by my French friend Nathalie” or, “With a little care, a simple snack can make a delectable mini-feast”.
Luckily for me, all this stuff has already been written by Carina Cooper, who is the author of the Notting Hill Cookbook.

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Since buying this cookbook I’ve been asking myself do I dislike Carina because she’s a wanker?
Or do I like dislike her because she’s thin, blonde, good-looking, lives in one of the most desirable suburbs on Earth, has directed documentaries for the BBC and appears to be filthy rich?
The answer is yes to all of the above.
To add insult to injury, Carina has an “inspiring husband” called Franc and four daughters called Ithaka, Flynn, Sidonie and Zazou.
Here is more of what Carina has written in her Notting Hill Cookbook.
“From the age of about four my children cooked their own supper on a Sunday evening. Oeuf en cocotte was Flynn’s favourite.”
And, in the introduction to a recipe for Prawns Margarita: “We were sitting on a beach in Mexico with our friends Goffredo and Alix.”
As someone who would only be able to write, “From the age of 10, my children were able to microwave their own baked beans,” and “We were sitting on a beach in Safety Bay with Ron and Maureen,” I’ll make no bones about the fact that I dislike Carina with every fibre of my being.
So the question is, why did I buy her cookbook?
Well, because it was $2, hardback, hardly a mark on it, at the Salvos Community Store in Chester Pass Rd.
Your Uncle Paul is on leave at the moment and came down for a visit, and because we’re both book fiends we did the usual trawling of the op shops.
Here’s the big tip: Notting Hill may have fabulous bars, flower shops, cafes, restaurants, delis, bakeries, fishmongers, butchers and markets, but Albany has the best-value second-hand shops in the Universe.
The Salvos! My God, you haven’t lived until you’ve trawled through their bookshelves.
And unlike the Red Cross shop, which has gone all upmarket retro and is selling books for upwards of $4 (the cheek!), the Salvos are sticking to two bucks a pop, no matter what the original price.
Here’s what I bought for $8 on Friday.

I bought this one for your Grandpa.

I bought this one for your Grandpa.

 

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You’ll see that the book by Masterchef Australia judges Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris was originally $49.95.
And it was one of two that was on the shelf (the other one is probably still there, so if you live in Albany you should stop reading this right now and get on your bike).
I was going to give you a Carina Cooper recipe because, despite the pretensions and gag factor of the book, some of the recipes don’t look half bad.
But I haven’t cooked anything from the book yet so I’m going instead with something from The Best, the TV series that was on Foxtel ages ago.

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There are some great recipes in the book that accompanied the series, so grab it if you see it in an op shop near you. It’ll be the best $2 you’ve ever spent.
I made this Oriental Noodle Salad because I’d bought some sesame seeds for a prawn recipe that failed miserably and needed to use them up.
It’s very different, light and healthy and good to eat on a hot day.

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ORIENTAL NOODLE SALAD (recipe by Silvana Franco)

Serves 2

100g rice vermicelli noodles
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp caster sugar
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 Lebanese cucumber
1 red chilli, finely chopped
100g smoked salmon, torn into shreds
handful fresh coriander leaves
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Soak the noodles for about five minutes in boiling water to cover.
While they’re soaking, grab a big bowl and mix together the vinegar, salt and sugar.
Add the sliced red onion and mix to combine.
Peel the cucumber, halve it lengthways, scoop out the seeds with a spoon and chuck them out.
Slice the cumber thinly and put it in the bowl with the chopped chilli, smoked salmon and coriander, stirring to combine.
Drain the noodles in a colander and run them under cold water until cool.
Put them in the bowl and toss everything together.
Toast the sesame seeds in a small non-stick frying pan and sprinkle them over the top of the salad before serving.


GOOD KING WENCESLAS GOES CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

Dear Amelia,
The photos at the top of this blog are of the first two Christmas stamps ever released in Britain.
I’ve got both of them in my trusty Pelham Junior Stamp Album, which was given to me by my Nanna when I was 11.

My trusty Pelham Junior Stamp Album, looking a bit worn round the edges after 48 years.

One of the stamps (guess which one) depicts Good King Wenceslas and was drawn by a six-year-old called Tasveer Shemza.
It’s up there because I’ve had a few emails (OK, two) asking if I can re-print the Good King Wenceslas column I wrote back in 2008 for the West Weekend magazine.
I wrote this column after I’d been Christmas shopping at Myer in late November.
I’d been trapped on the escalator between two little kids (one covered in snot, the other playing with his willy), their Mum and Dad (who were carrying several hundred shopping bags) and three teenage boys (who were almost catatonic from looking up the bum of a girl in very short shorts who was further up the escalator).
When I got home I said to your Grandpa, “I bet good old King Wenceslas never had to go through this sort of thing.”
Then I thought, well maybe he did.
The column’s reprinted with the permission of The West Australian newspaper.
If you’d like to hear the original Christmas carol, click here.

Good King Wenceslas Goes Christmas Shopping

Good King Wenceslas went out, buying gifts for Stephen.
Five clicks past the roundabout, through the traffic weavin’.
Brightly shone the moon that night, on a trail bike dealer,
When a salesman came in sight, pushing a two whee-ee-ler.

Hither, salesman, stand by me, wrap that bike up quick smart.
On my way I soon must be, there’s a sale at K-mart.
Ten per cent off DVDs, half-price socks and sandals,
Random specials on CDs, books and scented ca-an-dles.

Through the mall the King set out, wrestling with his trolley.
Mums and Dads were all about, none of them looked jolly.
Perry Como filled the air, singing songs of snowmen.
Hyped-up kids were everywhere, never a good o-o-men.

First a turkey, plump and good, went in Wence’s trolley,
Followed by a Christmas pud, and some plastic holly.
Wrapping paper, Toblerone, gift tags shaped like Santa,
Serviettes in neutral tones, Pringles, nuts and Fa-an-ta.

Bring me Bundy, bring me wine, bring Bacardi Breezer.
Bring me lager from the Rhine, put it all on Visa.
Bring Jim Beam for Uncle Stan, that should stop him whingeing.
Plus lite beer for young Leanne, we don’t want her bi-inge-ing.
 
Good King Wenceslas went home, absolutely knackered.
In his castle’s stately dome, he was Christmas crackered.
So, folks, don’t yourselves delude, make sure you remember.
Next time you buy gifts and food, do it in Sep-te-em-ber.

I like to think that when Good King Wenceslas finally got home, Good Queen Wenceslas was waiting with a nice glass of whiskey and some shortbread biscuits in the shape of Christmas trees.
I make these every year in all sorts of Christmassy shapes and everyone loves them.
It’s the same recipe I used for the Bum Biscuits I blogged about back in March.
Click here and you’ll find it.

 

 


EMU POINT REVISITED

Dear Amelia,
Someone has just emailed me and asked where Emu Point is.
So here are some details (pay attention, there will be a quiz later).
Emu Point is a few kilometres north-east of the Albany town centre and about a 10-minute drive from where your Grandpa and I live.
I had some very happy holidays there as a kid, staying at the Rose Gardens Caravan Park with my Mum and Dad and sister.
I’ve never seen any emus at Emu Point, only pelicans and fishermen and lots of locals and tourists who use the beach.
It’s very pretty and also the place where you can buy Albany Rock Oysters from a bloke called Ray Kilpatrick (no kidding) for $14 a dozen.
We’ve got a dozen sitting in the fridge right now, freshly shucked, bought this morning, ready for dinner tonight.
Here are some beautiful photos of Emu Point taken by your Grandpa.

All photos by Leith Phillips. Isn’t this one a corker?


A PELICAN, A DOG AND AN APPLE CAKE

 

Your Grandpa took this photo. I bet he’ll never take one from this angle again.

Dear Amelia,
Ella took a direct hit this morning from a pelican sitting on a lamp post.
Your Grandpa was walking her down at Emu Point and before he could say holy birdshit, it was all over red rover (or in this case, all over golden retriever).
This is what a woman would have done if she’d been there.
She would have grabbed the dog rug off the back seat of the car, soaked it in the sea, rubbed the crap (literally) out of the dog’s hindquarters, chucked the rug in a bin and come home.
This is what your Grandpa did: brought her home still covered in the stuff and cleaned her with a Chux Superwipe and some washing-up liquid.
So now we have a dog that smells of pelican shit with overtones of Palmolive Gentle Care.
And so does the house.


Unfortunately, we can’t put Ella outside for the day because she’s 500 years old and she’s always been an inside dog and she’d whine and pant and scratch at the back door until she went into cardiac arrest and died a sad lonely death thinking we didn’t love her anymore.
And then we’d have to explain to the vet, who LOVES golden retrievers and has two of his own, why we had a dead one that stank of pelican shit (and believe me, it STINKS).
So to mask the smell I baked an apple cake, not something I do very often at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning.
Luckily, I also have a spray bottle of Nilodor and it’s warm enough today to have all the windows open.
On the downside, the little kid over the road is performing her usual Saturday morning routine of running round the house, whining and shrieking and shouting, “No! I don’t want to!” in that piercing way that makes you wish you had a gun.
Her cries are drifting through the open window as I type.
If she were mine, I’d dig a hole and bury her.
I found the recipe for this apple cake at Best Recipes here and I reckon you’d be hard pushed to find a cake that’s easier to make.
We had some friends over for dinner last weekend and I made an apple and mulberry crumble for dessert.
Two peeled and quartered Granny Smiths were left over so I put them in a plastic bag in the fridge.
They were a bit brown round the edges but otherwise fine, so that’s what went into this cake.
If you look at the original recipe, it doesn’t specify cake-tin size.
I used a 20cm round tin and lined the base with greased baking paper.
I also used only half a cup of sultanas, because that’s all I had, and didn’t add the mixed spice because I don’t have any.
The cake was still delicious, very moist and tender, although next time I’d use less sugar.
We’ve just had a slice for morning tea while holding our noses.

EASY APPLE CAKE

Makes one 20cm cake

2 apples, peeled and chopped, or grated (I chopped them in a mini processor)
1 cup sugar
1 cup sultanas
1½ cups self-raising flour
125g butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp mixed spice

Preheat oven to 180C.
Mix all ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
Bake for about 40 mins, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Spread with butter while hot and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar (I didn’t do this either – it was sweet and buttery enough without it).

Note
Here are some suggestions left by people on the Best Recipes site:
Use craisins instead of sultanas.
If you don’t have enough apple, add some blueberries or frozen raspberries.
You can cook it in a square tin or a loaf tin.
Use less sugar (½ cup) and/or substitute brown sugar.
Leave out mixed spice and add a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg.


CHANNELING MOSES: STRAWBERRY SANTA HATS

Dear Amelia,
You know that Christmas is just around the corner when the Innovations catalogue arrives in your mailbox.
I love the Innovations catalogue.
So much crap, so little time, so many alternatives.
If you don’t want to fork out $12.95 for Frosty the Snowman with his compelling serial-killer eyes…


…you can always buy the Nativity Music Box with its twinkling fibre optic lights.
(Seeing as we’re going biblical, here’s a confession: I’d gladly pay an extra 50 bucks if, instead of playing Silent Night, Mary was shouting, “For God’s sake can someone turn off those lights. You’ll wake the baby.”)


A bush that glows in the dark. C’mon kids, let’s channel Moses.


Another confession: even though your Mum and Uncle Paul are in their 30s, I still buy them advent calendars.


I also get them for you and your Dad now, but when I went into Woolies to buy some today, all they had was this.
Which is a travesty if you ask me. Bring back robins and holly and snow and other Australian-type stuff I say.


Thank God we can celebrate Christmas with meaningful things like Strawberry Santa Hats.
You won’t remember this because you were only 15 months old at the time, but last Boxing Day you and I got up before anyone else was awake and ate five Strawberry Santa Hats each for breakfast.
This was no biggie for an old girl like me but for a one-year-old it was pretty bloody impressive.

STRAWBERRY SANTA HATS

Makes 24

24 strawberries
12 white mini marshmallows
¼ cup desiccated coconut, frozen (this helps the chocolate to set)
100g white chocolate
1 tsp oil

Cut the leaves (the stem end) from the strawberries with a sharp knife, leaving a nice flat base.
Set aside.
Cut the mini marshmallows in half and set aside.
Put the coconut into a small bowl.
Break the white chocolate into pieces and put it into a small microwave-safe bowl.
Microwave at 50 per cent for 1 minute, stir with a spoon, microwave at 50 per cent for another minute then stir again.
Stir in the oil and combine thoroughly.
Line a tray with baking paper.
Dip the bases of the strawberries into the melted white chocolate, then into the coconut.
Put the strawberries onto the tray as you go.
Dollop a tiny bit of melted white chocolate onto the tip of each strawberry with a teaspoon and press the cut marshmallows into the chocolate.
Store in the fridge until ready to serve.
These keep well overnight. They’d probably keep longer but they were eaten so quickly we didn’t find out.
To get you into the Christmas spirit, here are some pictures of you taken last Christmas wearing the Christmas tree outfit your Mum and I found at Big W.
I know. What can I say other than we meant well?


HENRY VIII, BEER AND THAI CRAB CAKES

Dear Amelia,
Here at party central there’s been quite a bit of Henry VIII “nastalgia” going on.
That’s because, while Foxtel can’t spell, it HAS been good enough to re-run the entire four seasons of The Tudors and it’s the absolute, hands-down best.
We missed it the first time it aired and now can’t wait for the repeats on Thursday nights. We’re like addicts waiting for a hit.
I’m especially hanging out for the next episode because I’m hoping it’s the one where Katherine Howard (the Queen) and Thomas Culpepper (Henry VIII’s manservant) get their heads chopped off.
I don’t often wish painful deaths on people because, as the owner of a cervix that has twice stretched to I’m-dying capacity (hi Paul, hi Kate), I’m well aware that when you mix extreme fear with extreme pain it’s not very nice.
But these two are so irritating I’d jump inside the telly and swing the axe myself if the opportunity presented itself.
Here’s a picture of the two of them getting ready to cuckold the King (as in, do the deed).


I know.
Are they insane? They’re cheating on a man who eats swans and beheads people at the drop of a hat.
Someone should have slapped them at this point and told them to pull their heads in, not to mention other bits.
I’m surprised they even had the energy for all this sex considering what they were shovelling down their throats on a daily basis.
Basically, truckloads of food.
I know this because I found a fascinating website called Historic Royal Palaces and it’s got all sorts of information on the kitchens Henry VIII built at Hampton Court Palace in 1529.
They were designed to feed the 600 or so members of his court twice a day and consisted of 55 (yes, 55) rooms.
Here’s how much Henry’s courtiers chewed their way through each year: 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 1,870 pigs, 1,240 oxen, 760 calves and 53 wild boar.
These animals were then washed down with 600,000 gallons of beer (that’s 2,728,000 litres, or 95,719 middies), so I should imagine there was more than a bit of the old “pull my finger” thing going on around the palace and adjoining gardens.
I’ll now show you what a middy of beer looks like in case it’s extinct by the time you grow up.
You can see from the picture that when taken on a State-by-State basis, the beer situation in Australia is quite confusing.
Hopefully it will be sorted out by the time you grow up.


After visiting the Hampton Court Palace page, I was tempted to tackle an authentic Tudor dish but realised in the nick of time that spit-roasted boar just might be Nanna’s kryptonite.
I was nearly sucked in, however, by this recipe for something called Buknade:
Take veel, keed, or hen, and boyle hem in faire water or ells in good fress brot, and smyte hem in peces, and pike hem clene; And drawe the same brot thorg a streynor, And cast there-to parcelly, Isoppe, Sauge, Maces and clowes, And lete boyle til the fless be ynog; and then set hit fro the fire, and aley hit vp with rawe yolkes of eyren, and caste thereto poder ginger, and vergeous, & a litel saffron and salte, and ceson hit vppe and serue it fort.
I mean, given half the chance, who wouldn’t want to lete boyle til the fless be ynog?
In the end I decided to forego Tudor and go with Thai instead.
This recipe is for Thai Crab Cakes, which are more like fritters than cakes but are delicious all the same.
I’ve been making them for years and have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love them.
They’re from a book called The Night Before by Australian caterer-to-the-stars Victoria Lewis.
It’s now out of print but if you can find a copy online, grab it.
Victoria says of these Thai Crab Cakes, “Of all my recipes, this is probably the most sought after.”
Try them and you’ll know why.

THAI CRAB CAKES WITH SWEET CHILLI SAUCE

Makes 30-40
(I’ve never actually counted because they get eaten too quickly)

1 bunch coriander
90g self-raising flour
225ml milk
1 egg
250g seafood extender (from the freezer section of supermarkets – also called seafood salad mix, seafood highlighter and crab flakes)
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp ground cumin
125ml vegetable oil
extra sweet chilli sauce for dipping

Chop half the bunch of coriander and put it in a food processor.
Add the flour, milk, egg, seafood extender, 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce and cumin and process until you have a smooth batter.
You’ll need to cook these in batches, so heat half the oil over a medium to high heat in a big frying pan.
Place teaspoons of the batter a reasonable distance apart in the frying pan.
When the crab cakes are lightly golden underneath (the top of them will have little bubbles), turn them and cook on the other side.
You’re looking at 2-3 minutes per side.
When they’re cooked, remove the crab cakes to a big plate covered with kitchen paper.
Add the reserved oil to the frying pan as it’s needed.
You can serve these immediately on top of a platter covered with lettuce leaves.
Scatter over the remaining coriander and serve with lime wedges and a bowl of sweet chilli sauce for dipping.
You can also keep them in the fridge for up to 48 hours, or freeze them for up to 1 month.
To reheat, preheat the oven to 200C.
Place the crab cakes on a baking tray and reheat for 5 minutes (longer if frozen).