Friday, 26 April 2013

School Holidays, Archibald Prize and Gwyneth Paltrow

David Griggs, "TV Moore"
Del Kathryn Barton, 'Hugo" - WINNER

We are currently on school holidays in my state of New South Wales for 2 weeks. The Australian school system calendar is very different from the US. It is based on the calendar year, with school beginning in late January and ending mid-December. School is divided into 4 terms with 10 weeks of school then 2 weeks off between terms and then a shorter 6 week summer. Life is easier at the moment as there are no early morning alarms going off, no lunches to be made, most after school activities have ceased, no homework, later bedtimes, etc. It is nice to break the daily family grind and have a brief hiatus from our busy lives.

I decided to take the girls into downtown Sydney so they could have a change from our beach lifestyle and enjoy some culture. I had lofty goals to do some shopping at big name flagship stores, have a nice sit down lunch and then head to the art gallery. As a parent, I always have these lofty goals that seem perfect in my head but then in reality they are quite different as I hear comments like- "that outfit is for a 5 year old, Mom!...I hate sushi; can I have toast instead?..Do we really have to go to an art museum? That's boring" Luckily, after only a little negativity, our day was ideal. We found some shops we liked, a restaurant we all could agree upon and saw the best art exhibition I've seen in a long time - The Archibald Prize.

The Archibald Prize is regarded as the most important portraiture art prize in Australia. The annual contest started almost 100 years ago and is overseen and shown at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. The $75,000 award is for the best portrait of a man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics. The artist must be a resident in Australia during the prior 12 months. I was very impressed with the various types of portraits and mediums used. I found it especially interesting that each portrait had detailed information on the person in the portrait. 1.5 hours was the time we needed to see the exhibition and the perfect amount of time for my girls to stay at the museum. A good day had by all :).

With the school holidays, I have more time to cook and try new recipes. While looking at a
rag magazine, I came across a spread on Gwyneth Paltrow ("GP") and her new cookbook. I was intrigued and cynical and thought she’s beautiful, talented, has a great blog, an Oscar, married to a rock star, and seems to be a good Mom and down to earth person despite being, she has a cookbook?! Seriously...doesn't she have a personal chef? This cookbook can't be good or can it? I had to find out....

I decided to make her Risotto with Peas & Greens recipe. I use to cook various types of risotto years ago but stopped when we discovered a diary intolerance in the household. Her recipe has no dairy and Gwyneth claimed it was still rich and creamy yet healthy. Really,'re on! Despite my cynicism, the risotto was wonderful. I have altered her recipe as I found hers too lemony, added more garlic, deleted the thyme and prefer all spinach. Next time, I will use red onion instead to make it sweeter.

Risotto with Peas and Spinach
altered from Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook,
"It's All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great"

950ml or 4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 lemon
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ onion, finely diced....about 3/4 cup
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thoroughly washed and finely diced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cups baby spinach 
1 cup small frozen peas
1/4 cup roughly chopped or hand ripped fresh basil/coriander
Freshly ground black pepper
1) Warm the vegetable stock in a small saucepan and set it on the back burner over low heat.

2) Cut the lemon in half, juice it, and set the juice aside.

3) Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan set over high heat. Add the onion and leek, turn the heat down to medium, and cook until the vegetables just begin to soften, about five minutes. Add the garlic along with a big pinch of salt and cook another two minutes.

4) Turn the heat to high, add the rice and the reserved lemon juice, and stir to combine all the ingredients. Cook until the lemon juice is just evaporated and then stir in a ladle full of the warm stock. Continue to stir the risotto until the stock is absorbed, then stir in another ladle full of stock. Continue in this manner until the rice is cooked through and you have used all your stock, about 20 minutes.

5) Stir in the greens and peas (these will cook with the risotto’s residual heat), the basil/coriander, and a few healthy grinds of pepper. Serve immediately.

Risotto can taste wonderful as long as you cook it properly. You will need to stand at the stove to slowly add the stock and stir it for the 20 minutes cooking time. I suggest you pour yourself a glass of wine and listen to some music during this process.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Sydney Royal Easter Show & Coca-Cola Cake


It worked! After 3+ years of begging, the girls finally wore me down. We made it to the Show at last. The Sydney Royal Easter Show, also known as the Royal Easter Show or simply The Show, is an annual event held in Sydney over two weeks around Easter. It is run by the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales and has been around since 1823. The Show has agricultural shows, an amusement park, a fair, events judging livestock, produce, arts, crafts, photography, cooking. There is shopping, restaurants, commercial stands, exhibits, a horticultural display, dog shows and cat shows. The Show attracts 1 million people per year and contributes $500 million to the NSW state economy. (source: Wikipedia). I have grew up going to the Dutchess County Fair in New York. Because Australia has a much smaller population than the US, I expected the Show to be similar to the Fair. I was very wrong - this Show was on steroids! The amount of rides, food, people, animal displays, competitions, etc. was overwhelming, a sensory overload, a real extravaganza!

I had been warned by other parents about the Royal Easter Show - 'it's crowded, it's expensive, it's exhausting.' However, no one told me how much fun it would be. Many people don't know how much I like animals, watching competitions and watching people in general. In fact the my highlight of any big event or crowded place is people watching. With the long lines for rides and the fact that I can't ride rides anymore without becoming sick and dizzy (think Phil on 'Modern Family' at Disney Land), gave me a lot of time to people watch. My ADD stream-of-consciousness at an event like this usually goes along the lines of - "Wow, check out the tatoos on that guys! There must be 6 female names - hmmm, wives or kids?...why are the Australian girls so tall and slim?! No fair....Nice rat tail - oh and wait, there's a mullet - bonus.....check out her haircut - cute....what did he say? that's a new slang word for me....what is she doing with him? wake up, girlfriend.....5 kids? God bless you....cute that my neighbour?" These events are both enjoyable and exhausting for me.

Go boys! Chop, chop chop! 

nice matching
what conditioner do you use, dear?
You the man!
Showbag madness....most crowded hall at the Show

Me at the end of the day
We managed to see some of the competitive events at the Show. While looking for a restroom, I came across the Competitive Woodchop which even had its own pavilion. While this event is new to me, it has been at the show since 1899. Yes, there are teams from around the world that compete at axe throwing, power sawing, tree topping, speed climbing, log rolling and chopper setting. It is all about wood and bizarre to see. Who knew? Watch out, curling! We also watched some of the dog show. As a dog owner and big fan of the movie, "Best in Show" I enjoying seeing the different types of dogs, viewing unique breeds and comparing how many of the owners and dogs look similar.

My girls were keen to get their show bags. Show bags started out as a way for companies to introduce new products and give out free samples. Over the years, it has become a candy mecca for kids. Various confectionery brands put bags together full of sweets and candy, ranging in price from $5-$20. This hall was by far the busiest when we entered; a claustrophobic nightmare. The girls were smart, efficient shoppers and both selected the same show bag as it had a lot of candy for the price. I even picked up a nice housewife tote bag full of a handful of magazines, cleaning samples, soaps, tea and much more.

In line with the Show, I thought my Coca-Cola Sheet Cake would be a great recipe for this blog. I have altered the original recipe from the Coca-Cola Company  to my liking, essentially adding more cocoa, less sugar and the choice of adding or omitting marshmallows. My frosting is more of a glaze and significantly different from the original. While marshmallows sound like a strange item to add to a cake, they melt in and make the cake very moist. The cake tastes wonderful with or without the frosting. Because it is a large sheet cake, it'll last the week (maybe) at home and can easily be served at a group event or BBQ.

Coca-Cola Sheet Cake
adapted from the Coca-Cola Company original recipe
Cola cake

2 cups sugar - *see notes*
2 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups *white* mini marshmallows - *see notes*
1/2 cup/115 grams, butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup Coca-Cola®
1 teaspoon/5 ml baking soda or bicarbonate soda
1/2 cup buttermilk - *see notes*
2 eggs
1 teaspoon/5 ml vanilla extract

1/4 cup/55 grams, butter
1/4 cup cocoa
6 tablespoons/100 ml, Coca-Cola
2.5 cups icing/powdered sugar
1 teaspoon/5ml vanilla extract
1 cup/4 oz chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees.
1.In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients - sugar and flour and marshmallows.

2.In a saucepan, mix the butter, oil, cocoa and Coca-Cola. Bring to a boil and pour over dry ingredients, blend well. If using marshmallows, mix until marshmallows are almost completely melted.

3.Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk just before adding to batter along with eggs and vanilla extract, mixing well.

4.Pour into a well-greased 9- by-13-inch pan and bake 35 to 45 minutes.

5.To make frosting, combine butter, cocoa and Coca-Cola in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add confectioners' sugar and vanilla and stir until smooth.


6. Spread over hot cake and sprinkle chopped nuts if using (I love pecans or walnuts). Let frosting set and cool for 1 hr. Cut into squares and serve.

- I have alternated between US and metric measurements as most cooking stores in OZ sell measuring cups and I mainly see cup measurements used in recipes here.

- If you use marshmallows, reduce the sugar to 1 cup.

- If baking cake with marshmallows - Aussies readers - DO NOT USE PASCALL, IGA or WOOLWORTH's marshmallows. They are very sweet and very artificial; they will affect the taste of the cake. Use the more natural ones from Harris Farms, the Green grocer here locally, even Coles generic best buy ones. Use white marshmallows only as the pink ones will add an artificial taste to cake.

- There is no need to buy buttermilk. You can make it by using either adding 1 teaspoon white vinegar OR 1 teaspoon lemon juice to 1 cup of milk. 

 - If you make frosting, do not make it ahead of time as you need to pour it over the cake shortly after baking


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