Sunday, April 21, 2013

Miss Kitty Bakes: The best ever chocolate brownies

In my book there is nothing better or more comforting than a home baked chocolate brownie. If it's done well, it's sweet, rich and unctuously sticky. Perfect comfort food.

I came across this recipe on HomeMade Heart. The lovely Mummy is one of the best bakers I know and if she said it was the best brownie ever then I had no doubts. I trust her judgement completely.

The first time I made it, it was absolutely unbelievable. A few small modifications and I believe I have truly found brownie perfection. There seems to be a trick in the timing though - you want to have a set centre but not bake the sides too chewy. I think I have managed that by dropping the temperature at the 25 minute mark. I also add raspberries (because we have raspberry canes in out backyard and I often have bags in the freezer) and take out the walnuts. But sometimes I make it with walnuts and it's equally as delicious. Personal preference really!

If you try this recipe I'd be interested in your thoughts as to how it compares. It's not for the feint of heart. It's expensive (requiring 4 blocks of Lindt or Green and Blacks chocolate) and makes a vast amount of brownie - perfect for when you have visitors or for a dinner party dessert - and it does freeze well. If you are so inclined!

Miss Kitty's best ever chocolate brownies
(Recipe courtesy of HomeMade Heart via Nigella Lawson).

375g unsalted butter
375g high quality dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70 per cent this time and in the past have used Green and Blacks 70%. Callebaut or Belcolade would also work. You need something dark and bitter)
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
500g caster sugar
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon of salt
350g chopped walnutsOR
2 cups of raspberries, frozen or fresh
A good handful chocolate chips - your choice

Line the base and sides of a 23cm x 33cm tin with baking paper.

Melt the butter and the chocolate together over low heat in a large heavy-based saucepan.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs together well with the sugar and vanilla.

Measure the flour and salt into another bowl.

When the chocolate mixture has smoothly melted, set aside to cool for a bit, then pour it into the eggs and sugar mixture, beat well, then tip in the flour and then the nuts (if you are using) and chocolate chips.  Beat well with a wooden spoon to combine, then fold in the raspberries gently (if using) and then scrape the lot into the prepared pan.

Nigella says to bake at 180 degrees for around 25 minutes, however  even with The Mummy's super-powerful oven, she needed nearly 40 minutes. I bake for 25 minutes at 180 then drop the temperature to 150 degrees and check every 5-10 minutes until the centre is set.

When the brownies are done, the top should be set, turned into a pale, smooth and glossy thin crust, while the middle will still be dense and goey - a cake tester should come out clean-ish around the edges, but still somewhat goopy in the middle (they will continue to cook and set as they cool down).

Allow the brownies to cool completely in the tin on top of a cooling rack.  If you lined the tin well with baking paper, you should be able to use it to carefully lift the entire slab of brownie out at once, then cut into squares on a board with a large knife. Serve with a restorative cup of tea, or - if you are feeling decadent, some good quality vanilla ice-cream for a delicious desert.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Miss Kitty Shops: Luxe vs Less

It's no secret I am a fan of Alexander McQueen. Huge. I find the pieces classic, yet edgy and cool.  Well, cool for me. But they are unfortunately completely out of my price range at the moment. I have been lusting after a particular dress for a couple of months - it's a beautiful black and white jacquard print knit dress. Classic, yet edgy and cool. It's also frightfully expensive.

While I was out shopping this afternoon, I noticed David Lawrence have launched a new collection called DL Atellier - designer dresses, coats and pieces at a lower price than true designer wear. The quality looks great and the pieces are lovely. There is one dress I was sorely tempted by.

Now, it's not an exact replica, but it is what I would call "inspired by". The fact it has sleeves is the most obvious difference, but the subtle lace inspired pattern is a reasonable facsimile.The fit is nice and it looks lovely. I was sorely tempted. And for $299 it's about a quarter of the cost of the Alexander McQueen original. So if you are after the look without the price tag, this dress might just be for you.

Unfortunately it wasn't for me. The sleeves were just not quite right on me and if I am going to own a dress like this, it's going to have to be perfect or it's not worth it.

Close but not quite this time.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Miss Kitty Shops: New winter boots


It's starting to get a bit cooler here in Sydney. The days are still warm and sunny but the evenings bring with them a chill and the promise of winter. Mornings are frosty and dark. The winter doona has gone onto the bed and for the first time this season night I used my electric blanket to heat the sheets before I crawled between them.

As much as I like the stunning summers here in Sydney, there is something lovely about the mild winters we have. They are cool enough to require nice winter clothes and indulge in braises and mash, but not so cold that your nose starts to run as you nip down the driveway to collect the mail.

One of the things I love most about winter (other than braises and mash, which everyone loves) is winter fashion: knits and cashmere and tights and pretty warm dresses. And boots.

I didn't bother with buying boots last year. We were spending quite a bit of winter overseas in the Northern summer and I thought I would survive without them. I missed them terribly for the time we were here and none of my existing boots seemed to fit with my new Mummy lifestyle (i.e. they all have impractical heels. Perfect for chasing toddlers around in the park. And walking with a pram).

So once I started to feel the chill in the air I knew it was time to start my boot search. It didn't take very long. It started and finished at one site - the trusty, wonderful Duo.

I have bought and worn many pairs of Duo boots and shoes over the years. I really struggle to find well made, comfortable boots that fit both my large (size 41) feet and my curvaceous calves.The best thing about Duo is that the boots are fit both to your shoe size and your calf width, delivering a perfect fit. For an even better result, I always read the reviews of the boots to see what other purchasers have said about them.

I wanted something with a great comfy sole, rounded toe, flat (little or no heel) and black. For me they were more a casual boot, as my lifestyle doesn't really call for much else at the moment. Those were my criteria. I found my perfect boot in the Malmo. By all reports they are ridiculously comfortable which is exactly what I am after right now. And they are simple and classic enough I can team them with a pair of jeans or dress them up with a fab scarf and jersey dress for a more formal or dressy look.

Another wonderful advantage of Duo is the Free International Courier Shipping. What? I hear you all exclaim! FREE?? You can't ship something to the next suburb here in Australia without it costing a fortune, let alone a pair of boots. PLUS if you ship them out of the EU (which you do if they are coming to Australia) you get your VAT back as well. So the Malmos cost me the sum total of $165 delivered. Such good value for all leather boots. That actually fit.

I was very tempted to snag a pair of Blayes as well, but given the mildness of the winters we have here, can I really justify the cost? It's only 95 pounds... Plus delivery (as delivery is 15 pounds on sale boots and shoes), minus VAT. Hmmm... Maybe I will... Maybe.

In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting the delivery of my new boots. And the promise of a busy winter filled with lots of walking and running around the playground.

For - as Ned Stark reminds us - Winter is Coming.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Miss Kitty Bakes: easy peasy peanut butter chocolate fudge cookies

It's been a busy week over here at Kitty HQ. Poor Georgie was sick which required a trip to the doctor, then we had a visit from Mama Kitty and then Mr K came down with Bronchitis... Nothing better than having a house full of invalids to keep you on your toes!

So when I got the craving to bake something soothing and comforting last night, it also needed to be quick and easy. I felt the need for chocolate but couldn't be bothered melting it and creaming butter and separating eggs... I didn't want to wait the hour and a half it takes to bake brownies... Seeking inspiration I turned to Pinterest.

I have had mixed results with Pinterest. I'm sure most people have seen the wonderful Pintester blog which seriously leaves me rolling on the floor - sometimes she is not far off the mark with her culinary disasters. But when I saw these cookies, I knew I was onto something great.

Unfortunately I only had 2/3 of a cup of nutella in the house (the travesty!!) and a trip to the supermarket wasn't on the cards at 7pm on a Sunday evening, so I made an executive decision and thus the peanut butter chocolate fudge cookie was born.

These cookies have many things going for them: salty and sweet, quick and easy... And very very addictive. You have been warned!

Miss Kitty's easy peasy peanut butter chocolate fudge cookies
(adapted from The Ambitious Kitchen)

2/3 cup nutella
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
1 egg
Sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Combine nutella, peanut butter, plain flour, sugar and egg in the bowl with an electric mixer and beat until combined. Place dough into the freezer for 10 minutes or the fridge for an hour.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Sprinkle generously with sea salt and bake in the oven for 8 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the tray then remove to a rack to cool. Best eaten while warm.

Well, straight from the tray. 

Makes 18 smallish cookies.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Miss Kitty Bakes: Our own bread

There are few smells that truly kill me: fresh roses, the garden after rain, vanilla, coconut and the smell of fresh bread baking. I could never work in a bakery - other than the 3am starts (which we have established really do not work for me with recent teething shenanigans), I would eat far too much bread. Certainly far more than is good for me.

One of the advantages of being a stay at home mum is that you can do a lot more baking from scratch. Well, in this case, baking bread from a box. I will not lie, my fear of yeast has meant I started slowly with bread mixes but I am gradually working my way up to starting my own sourdough starter. Maybe next week...

The advantage of baking your own bread is that you know exactly what goes into it. No preservatives, no nasties. Better for kids. Better for you. It's a couple of minutes of activity interspersed with some solid waiting, during which time you get on with other stuff, like the hundreds of loads of washing I seem to always have piled up... And at the end of it all, you have this amazing thing, scenting your kitchen with wholesome yeasty goodness. All for the sum total of $2 for the ingredients, if you are lazy like me and buy the mix. Even less if you make it properly from scratch. Around here, an artisinal loaf sets you back $8 on a good day. So not only is it better for you and gives you a sense of achievement and accomplishment, you are actually being thrifty at the same time. Winner winner!

It really isn't hard, you just follow the instructions on the box. They are fairly precise and if I can make decent bread in my awful old oven then I reckon anyone could do it. Certainly worth a shot. And imagine how your kitchen would smell with that wonderful scent emanating from it...

Have I convinced you to start baking your own bread yet?


PS: Before anyone asks, I have been using Laucke mixes. You can get them pretty much everywhere. Our favourite is the Soy and Linseed pictured above.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Holy Grail: Jo Malone body moisturisers

Keeping the theme of moisture running (and what a theme - here in Sydney it's been bucketing!)...

I'm a sucker for a good body moisturiser. Something emollient and fragrant always works for me. I used to be a big fan of Philosophy body creams but recently they seem to have become somewhat... thin... Or maybe my body needs a thicker cream to combat Australia's drying environment?

If I am out and about outside I will often use Kiehls Creme de Corps Lightweight Body Lotion with SPF 30+ (which they have recently discontinued, much to my chagrin - they still make the lotion, just not with sunscreen). It has a wonderfully natural coconut smell which is really the essence of summer in a bottle. But now that it's getting colder and I don't need the SPF under the layers of cardigans and scarves I seem to be wearing, I revert to my all time favourite moisturiser: Jo Malone.

There are two different types of body creams produced by this estimable perfumery: Body Creme and hand and body lotion. To use a cooking analogy, the Creme is thicker and more emollient, like double cream. The lotion is more like single cream: a great hydrator and good for everyday.

Both have their place in my bathroom, but I find as the days get colder and I need that little bit of extra comfort, I reach more and more for the Creme.

The good news is that both options have great longevity when it comes to scent. You can also layer your favourite Jo Malone perfume over the moisturiser to either give it more staying power or create a new different aroma.I often wear the Lime, Basil and Mandarin Body Creme with the Grapefruit perfume (although I have to say all that yummy citrus does have the downside of making me a tad hungry).

Unfortunately the price of these wonderful creams is the downside. The Creme is $130 for 175ml and the lotion is $105 for 250ml. But, as a treat, they are worth the splurge. And if you can get them on your travels overseas where it is cheaper, all the better!

Do you have a favourite body cream?


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Holy Grail: Malin + Goetz's lip moisturiser

One of the disadvantages of being a, well, slightly more mature woman, is that you end up having to pay a little more attention to your skin care routine. It's just not as easy as the old days of my 20s where I could fall into bed, make up still on and be fine the next morning (albeit somewhat panda-eyed). My skin care regime is planned with the precision of a military tactical assault nowadays. Cleanse, moisturise, tone, buff, scrub, hydrate!

Case in point: I had coffee the other day with a few friends and a topic of national importance came up. The application of red lipstick (see? we cover all the big topics at our coffee dates). Some people swear by lip liners, others foundation their lips first, some apply, then powder, then apply again... But most of the women still encountered feathering. Or bleeding. Ew.

Not me. And I will share with you the reason why.

I have always been a huge fan of keeping my lips moisturised. Particularly as we move into winter and the cold weather means chapping and a dry cracked pucker. I always have something on them: for years I used Kiehl's Cranberry lip balm - which is indeed a great product - but I was recently introduced to Malin + Goetz's Lip Moisturiser. What a difference. It's a gel formulation and contains absorbent fatty acids, which unlike traditional oils, waxes and silicones that are often licked off or wiped away, nourish immediately upon impact while offering a continual layer of hydrating protection throughout the day and night.  It's also fragrance, flavor, paraben and color free and leave your lips beautifully shiny (which, as a busy mum is a bonus because you can feel polished without having to slap on the lippy).

When I wake up in the morning, it's still on my lips. One application lasts almost all day as well, whereas I would often find myself reapplying lip balm again and again.And it has made a dramatic difference to those little feathery lines around my mouth too, making red lipstick application an absolute breeze. And the best thing? You can use it over a lipstick or a stain to give a glossy polished look while still moisturising and hydrating. Double duty product!!

You can buy Malin + Goetz products at Mecca Cosmetica. I think at $18 this is a real bargain and a great addition to anyone's cosmetic kit.

You can all thank me later.