Friday, April 30, 2010

Thomas the Tank Inspired Birthday Cake

My son is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine. What started off as a small track with a few characters, soon became a more complex rail system.

As seen below, Thomas got an upgrade with his own table. We have since added more to this collection. I'm sure some people think we are mad. But seriously, when you become a parent and these toys keep your child entertained for more than 20mins it's an absolute god send. Trust me, it's worth the investment!

Last year when Keane turned 2 my husband made him a Thomas bed (because we couldn't afford or would be willing to pay over $1000 for the real one). Also this was a form of bribary to get him out of his cot and into his own room too (it wasn't him with the separation was me....yes I admit it).

A year on and he's still infatuated with Thomas and Friends so of course we had to make him a Thomas cake. I did look around to see roughly how much they would cost to purchase one and I found this one from Planet Cake, here. I almost choked on my lunch. Yes it looks perfect, but at $313?!? No offense Planet Cake. I love your cakes and I would love love love to do one of your courses but I wasn't prepared to pay $313 for a Thomas cake. Sigh.....I had to make my own.

How? My best friend Prem bought me Childrens Character Cakes by Debbie Brown. She is amazing! I didn't do the 3D cake as instructed by her in the book because that is out of this world. But I used her face instructions with some alterations on my part and see below.
Having made the cakes (2 because one didn't seem like enough) in advance and while they were cooling down, I prepared the fondant. Next, cut out your fondant into the shape and size of the top of your cake. Put a blob in the middle of the circle for the nose and shape it.

Outline the eyes and the mouth making a hole on the side of the mouth (you will be adding more grey fondant later to "puff" up his cheeks)

Nice white smile

Cheeks are now plump and now for the eyes

Most of the way through and this is the mess

Dyed blue butter cream

Using liquorice for the eyebrows and his pupils
(yet to add the lips)

With lips

Keane wanted to make his own mini version

Baby Thomas and Big Thomas

On the day, I added a liquorice funnel and he was all set.
It seems Thomas aged overnight. He has crows feet and wrinkles on his chin and forehead.....

Sliced up

I cannot take all the credit for making this cake because my husband actually did most of the moulding. And even with the joint effort it took us over 2 hours to complete it (excluding cooking time for the buttercake).
More respect to Planet Cake after trying to make our own! But I still would not fork out that amount of money. The slightly odd, wrinkly, old, imitation Thomas would do nicely!
Happy 3rd birthday to my precious boy! Maybe next year I'll attempt the 3D one....

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Charcoal Chicken

This is my new favourite way to cook and eat a whole chicken (if the weather permits). Forget roasting in the oven, charcoal chicken is the best!

My husband was inspired to make his own bbq because he borrowed one off his friend. He got a couple of mates together to help him weld the pieces and voila....they made a bbq. He finished it off by installing an electric rotisserie to it and we've been using it each weekend ever since (ok so it's only been 2 weekends, but another one planned for this weekend, rolled pork loin.....stay tuned for that one). Our first attempt was chicken because that seemed the easiest, second weekend we did a chook and a lamb leg. I don't think I can go back to roasting meats anymore.

Getting the coals started

Experimenting with 2 chooks

Midway through the cooking process

We decided to wrap potatoes and sweet potatoes in foil as well and bung them on

Looks burnt but it was actually spot on
Tearing the meat off the bone
Ta da! Dinner is served!

Ok, so it's not that easy to rig up a rotisserie but now that we have, we are most certainly going to make the most of it. What other meats or food do you think we could make? I'm up for experimenting since the chicken and lamb turned out so well. Both were surprisingly very juicy when I expected it to dry out.
We did marinate the chicken and left it overnight which would add to the flavour. I do not have excact measurements sorry, but something along the lines of:
Whole chicken, shallots (or green onions), sugar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, honey, salt (very little as the soy sauce is already salty), pepper, oil and while the chicken was being cooked we squeezed lemon juice over it periodically. The chickens took about 2 hours to cook right through.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dad's 71st birthday dinner (China Grand Restaurant)

It's been a very very long time since I last had a Chinese banquet meal. And when I say banquet meal I don't mean the regular $25 per head banquets you can order at the local Chinese restaurant, I'm talking about the proper full banquet like the ones you have at weddings. Most of my asian friends getting married now are having western style weddings (don't get me wrong, I love them too) but I've been longing for a full 8 course+ wedding banquet meal for such a long time. And the perfect opportunity arose when us kids had to organise our dad's 71st birthday celebration. I think dad enjoyed himself : )

1st dish - Suckling Pork with Jellyfish.
This dish is all about the CRUNCH of the pork crackle and it did not disappoint. I was really pleased with it and the jellyfish was nice and springy and crunchie too. Never overpowered the pork which is the way it should be. Plus I liked that it wasn't too vinegary or spicy. Just perfect.

2nd dish - Prawn Balls
I've never had these like this before. I think it's rolled in julienned tofu skin and then deep fried. I prefer the typical deep fried crab claws more, but that's because I'm not a fan of prawn. Everyone else enjoyed them though.

3rd dish - Braised Asparagus with Crabmeat and Eggwhite Sauce
This was a first for me again (not quite the usual Chinese banquet I had first envisaged with these slight alterations). But I do have to say, I really liked this. I don't normally like asparagus but somehow with the sauce it was really very nice. And the crabmeat didn't taste cheap and nasty. I was worried when I first saw the menu because it said crabmeat I thought it might be those disgusting crabsticks, but no, they did indeed use real edible crabmeat (Thank goodness! That would have ruined the whole dinner and any decent respectable Chinese restaurant should never ever serve that pathetic imitation crab - ahhh yes, I kind of have this thing against crabsticks)

4th dish - Shark Fin Soup
I'm in two minds about eating this soup, a bit of an ethical debate on whether I should really eat it or not. It's a lovely soup and every banquet meal has it on the menu and I've grown up eating shark fin and it being the norm, BUT it's shark. Then you could also argue why I eat any meat at all.......
Anyway, I did eat it though.....and it was good too.......

5th dish - Braised Lobster in Garlic and Ginger Sauce
Nice juicy sweet succulent meat. No complaints here!

6th dish - Steamed Rock Cod
Perfectly cooked

7th dish - Abalone, Mushrooms and Snowpeas
I don't like abalone so I wasn't a fan of this dish, but I know it's a delicacy and another must on the menu. The mushrooms and snowpeas were lovely though : )

8th dish - Crispy Skin Chicken
We are full at this stage so it's hard to really appreciate the crispness of the skin and the juiciness of the flesh
And to finish off we had:
Fried Rice (wrapped in lotus leaf)

Stir Fried Egg Noodles (to symbolise longevity)

Seasonal Fruit Platter

Steamed Lotus Buns
These were a major hit. I absolutely adored them!
Papaya and Snow Fungus Sweet Soup
Blech! Sorry I didn't like this. I much prefer the sweet red bean soup but mum said this was more decadent
Gosh, reading back on the post it didn't seem like I enjoyed it all that much, trust me though, I really do love Chinese Wedding Banquets haha! I'm just very particular about which part of it I enjoy.

Happy 71st birthday, Dad! For once we got to spoil you with food rather than the other way around. Hope you had a wonderful night with all your nearest and dearest.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hong Kong Frankfurt Buns

I love all types of HK buns. And when I saw this particular recipe on Christine's website, I had to make them. It's a little fiddly because there are 2 parts to it. You have to make the tangzhong paste the night before and let it set overnight and then finish off the dough the next day. Apparently the tangzhong paste is the secret to that fluffy bouncy bread you can find in the Chinese/Japanese bakeries. Mine didn't turn out as fluffy as I'd hoped but I know it's to do with the colder temperature I was working with that day.

The tangzhong mix
50g bread flour
250ml water

Once the tangzhong mix thickens it's ready

Cover and place in the fridge overnight
You don't need me to talk you through kneeding the dough or showing you pictures of that process. Although I think I need heaps more practice. And next time I'll cheat and use the dough hook. Besides, Christine has the photos up on her blog with a really clever way to know when the dough is ready.
Dough done and coiled around the frankfurt.
Ready for baking

I will definitely try these again (and also try the other Asian buns she has posted up). The kids loved it so that's a bonus already.