Tuesday, 14 January 2014

10k, Resolutions, Beautiful Brown Butter Blondies

10k? Who knew?! No, I haven't started the year with a 10K race; my knees can't handle that. Since I started writing this blog almost 1 year ago, I have had over 10k page views, 10,252 as of this evening. Wow! I was surprised by this number when I looked at my Google Blogger stats for the year. After working for Google on and off for 7 years, I shouldn't t have been surprised by all the detailed data they collect - thanks Google! The 3 most popular posts for 2013 were:

Jetlag and Marilynne's Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore
Playing for a Sheep Station & Matt Preston's Delicious Lamb Dish
Oodles of Dogs and Snickerdoodles

One third of the readers are from Australia while the other one third are from the US; it is almost evenly split. The other third comes from the Netherlands, UK, Germany, Russia, France, China and Spain. I find this all very interesting and THANK YOU for reading. This blog is a hobby, a journal for me. I enjoy examining Australian culture and life as an ex-pat and sharing easy, everyday recipes that your average home cook, like myself, can make.

January 2014 - can it really be 2014?! I remember as a kid bopping around to Princes' hit, "1999" and thinking that 1999 was light years away. Damn Gina, I am getting old! Is January like any other month for you? Are you like one of the many people who make resolutions? Do you keep any of those resolutions or are they cut-n-pasted again to next year? About 45% of Americans usually make New Year's resolutions and 50% of Australians do. According to Statistic Brain website (great name, heh?), the top 5 resolutions are:

RankTop 10 New Years resolutions for 2014
Lose Weight
Getting Organized
Spend Less, Save More
Enjoy Life to the Fullest
Staying Fit and Healthy

I had to wonder how and where they get these stats from but then again, I would expect they are similar resolutions every year. There is a high failure rate with New Years resolutions as old habits do die hard. According to Psychology Todayresolutions are an effort to reinvent oneself. People make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves. However, people aren't ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate. Another reason is that people set unrealistic goals and expectations in their resolutions. Men tend to be more successful with their resolutions if they make them specific, eg 'I'll lose 10 pounds by March 1'. Women tend to be more successful with their resolutions if they verbalise them to their social circle, which makes them more accountable.
Peter Dazelel /Getty Images

FUNNY!  www.graboneblog.co.nz
 I make resolutions every new year. They are mostly obtainable items and perhaps just reminders to stay on course - Yell less, hug more/Declutter the house as if we're about to move/Just say Yes/Be less critical/Think more positively/Grow my business/See more of Australia/Pick up the phone instead of texting/Read some classic literature/Play the guitar again and many more. I will also set a few outlandish, pie-in-the-sky ones because well, why not? I write this bucket list down so that it is in view and not forgotten by March. It is helpful when I am feeling lost or overwhelmed.

While my resolutions vary from year to year there is always one which is cut-and-pasted from year to year, like above - to be healthier. These are the basics that are so basic that I often overlook them - getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, exercising often and eating better. I am trying to focus on being healthier as I've fallen behind on all these basics over the holiday period. I've concocted a diet over the years that seems to work for me - no alcohol on weekdays, drink more water, add a piece of fruit or veg to every meal, have some sort of protein with every meal, do some form of exercise at least 5 days per week, eat more gluten free foods. IF I can follow my plan, I look better, feel better, stay trimmer and have more energy. Sounds like a no brainer, heh? However...

Trying to be healthier, can be quite (very) boring. I have a big sweet tooth, love to bake and my afternoon cup of coffee is always accompanied by something sweet. Even when I'm watching what I eat, I still have my sweets. Perhaps some 70% dark chocolate or something I've baked. This blog's recipe is Beautiful Brown Butter Blondies. In Australia, this recipe might be called a Chocolate Chip Slice and in the US, some places may call them Chocolate Chip Bars. I don't hear the word 'bar' being used a lot at cafes or at bakeries down under. 'Slice' seems to be the proper terminology. Another subtle food terminology difference between the US and Australia is the way food is described. I found it strange when we moved here and I was told that the food was beautiful - "The steak is beautiful....the quiche is so beautiful and tasty...have you tried this cake? It's beautiful." According to dictionary.com, 'beautiful' when used as an adjective has the definition of: having beauty, possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about,etc.; delighting the senses or mind: a beautiful dress; a beautiful speech. The way I use beautiful is to describe a person, place or thing but not food. Then again, according to the definition, it can be something that delights the senses. Taste is after all a sense. I am use to hearing it now and it is quite a compliment if you've cooked something and it is described as beautiful, however, I still find it strange. Here it goes....

I LOVE these Beautiful Brown Butter Blondies! I almost call them 'Best Blondies' but I hate when cooks use that term as the 'best' sounds arrogant and taste varies from person to person. They are the best Blondies in my household as they get eaten up in less than 24 hours. This is my go to recipe and I have been making it since Cook's Illustrated published it in July 2005. The recipe is easy to make, it yields a a lot of Blondies, and best of all, tastes beautifully delicious. These Blondies are very similar in taste to a chocolate chip cookie but much quicker to make as you cook them all at once and don't have to take cookie sheets in and out of the oven. They are also versatile as you can use white chocolate, dark chocolate, and nuts alone or in any combination.

I have added a twist to the original recipe by browning the butter. Please do not be scared off by brown butter. It is easy to make and I'll show you how below. The browned butter adds an extra 15 minutes to making the Blondies but it is well worth it because it imparts a rich, caramel like flavour. Plus, the incredible smell that it fills your kitchen with is worth it on its own. Please note, these Blondies still taste good without browning the butter if you can't be bothered.

Beautiful Brown Butter Blondies
adapted from Cook's Illustrated recipe

175 grams or 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned and cooled

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips - dark, milk, white or any combination
1 cup nuts (walnuts or pecans), chopped

1) Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350F/175C degrees, conventional oven.

2) Brown Butter -*Please note, this is optional. Plain, melted butter can also be used.* Cut butter into chunks and add to saucepan over low to medium heat. Do not leave stove.

 Start whisking butter as it melts.
Butter will continue to cook and bubble. Keep whisking it or "swirl" the pan over the stove.It'll become even more yellow in colour.
After the butter bubbles, it'll become foamy. Patience, you're almost there.
Everything is OK. In fact, your kitchen will be starting to smell lovely. Keep whisking and swirling. Once the foam dissipates, you will see brown bits in the butter. Looking good.

 Take the pan off the heat, stop stirring and let the butter cool. It may be become a bit browner. This is fine. As long it is off the heat and cooling, it'll not burn and smell wonderful. I put this smell up there with other wonderful kitchen smells - fresh coffee, bacon, popcorn, etc. Another simple culinary pleasure.

WHETHER YOU USE PLAIN BUTTER OR BROWN BUTTER, LET IT COOL FOR 30+ MINUTES. If the butter is too warm, it'll melt the other ingredients (Brown sugar, chocolate chips) and change the texture of the bars which ruins the recipe.

2) Take out 2 bowls. In 1 bowl, mix together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) and in the other bowl, mix together the wet ingredients (cooled butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract)
3) Chop nuts if using and measure out chocolate chips
4) Mix wet ingredients together and add to dry ingredients, stirring by hand with a spoon until just mixed through. Add nuts and chocolate chips and just stir through. Do not over mix.

5) Turn batter onto a well greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan/33 x 23 x 5 cm, spooning over top with rubber spatula.  
6) Bake until top is shiny, cracked, and golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes; do not over bake. Cool on wire rack to room temperature.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and Don't be Crabby Quiche

Happy New Year! Did 2013 fly by for you as fast as it did for me?! I am behind on my blogging; it has been about one month since I have written anything. The past month can best be described by the famous Charles Dickens' line, 'it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' I think most ex-pats would agree that the holiday season is the worst time of the year for homesickness, loneliness and feeling isolated. For me, it is a time of mixed emotions. It is the best of times because I love the holiday season - festive events, holiday parties, shopping for gifts and seeing Christmas through my daughters' eyes. It is also the end of the school year here and my daughters will be home for the next 7 weeks which means a more relaxed schedule and more time at the beach. It is the worst of times because we are so far away from our US families, Christmas traditions are a bit different here and the weather can be pretty stinking hot since it is summer. Growing up and having spent most of my life in the northern hemisphere, Christmas meant cold weather and sometimes even snow and a white Christmas. Heat, humidity and swimming in the ocean are very different than the nostalgic memories I have of Christmas. While waiting in the long line to buy our seafood for our Christmas dinner, I heard Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby crooning away their holiday songs about being home for Christmas, chestnuts roasting on a fire, etc. I was about to get teary but then laughed out loud in the seafood shop. I looked around and felt like I was in a mirage -  90 humid degrees outside, a crowded smelly seafood shop, people dressed in summer clothing and a busy beach down the street. There was no snow, snowmen, nor chestnuts roasting (does anyone really eat chestnuts?), and my extended family was no where to be seen. They were in the US, a very expensive 20-hr flight away. It was one of those moments that made me snap back into reality and remember that when you are in Rome, be a Roman. The decorations are still up in our house but I am glad Christmas is now over and a new year has begun.

The day after Christmas, December 26, is Boxing Day, a public holiday here in Australia and most Commonwealth countries. It is also the start of the Sydney to Hobart sailing race, one of the world's most watched and most difficult sailing events. In terms of sporting events, it is as big and popular as the Melbourne Cup horse race, the Australian Open tennis and the cricket tests between Australia and England. The race starts in Sydney and finishes in Hobart, Tasmania. The course covers a distance of 628 nautical miles from Sydney Harbour, down the east coast of Australia, across the Bass Strait, along the east coast of Tasmania and finishes up in Hobart, Tasmania. It is considered a difficult event due to the high winds and rough seas of the Bass Strait. In 1998, there was a huge storm in which 5 boats sank and 6 people died. Of the 115 boats that started the race that year, only 44 completed it.

The Sydney to Hobart race has been going since 1945 and this year, 94 boats from all over the world competed. It's an egalitarian event, with sailboats as small as 30 feet and as big as 98-feet. The sailboat crews also range from weekend hobby sailors to professionals from the America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race circuits. For most sailors who live in Sydney, it's a dream that they may some day be on one of the boats for this race. My husband is one of them and he hopes he'll get that golden opportunity one day. As with any race, the focus is generally on which yacht crosses the finish line first. Surprisingly, this boat is often not the overall winner. It is a handicap race where a sailboat's finish time is adjusted based on several factors set down in the prevailing rules. So, the fastest boat may not be the overall winner. There are several awards based on finishing times and handicaps. For 2013, Wild Oats XI was the line winner and Victorie was the overall winner. All but 10 boats finished the race.

I'd heard of this race while living in the US because my husband loves to sail. It's a big event in Sydney on Boxing Day with local residents rushing to the many coastline vistas to watch the start of the race and watch as the boats leave Sydney Harbour. News helicopters are on hand and all types of boats wait in a what appears to be an orchestrated aisle in the harbour to see the boats race out to sea. My neighbourhood park is a popular venue with people arriving at the park early in the morning to get a good view for when the race starts at 1pm. I arrived at 12:45 but still had a decent view. Yes, all those "dots" on the water are boats.

In line with the ocean, the summer and sailing, this blog's recipe is Crab Quiche. I love dairy products so it is no surprise that I like a quiche since it combines eggs, cheese and cream into a savoury custard pie. I've found the dairy products here to be excellent. The eggs have a bright yellow/orange yolk, the milk tastes much creamier and I use 1/2 the amount of sour cream I use when I bake because the sour cream is very rich.

Quiche is popular at the cafes and restaurants here. It's very versatile - you can eat quiche alone or make a lunch or dinner out of it with fruit or salad. For dinner, it is nice with a salad, crusty bread and a glass of white wine. It also can be made with many meat and/or vegetable combinations. I have not seen crab quiche since I moved here so I thought I'd share this recipe.

adapted from Gourmet magazine recipe

*please see cooking notes at bottom of blog*

1 Pie Crust (frozen or fresh, see easy pie crust recipe from  last blog)

1 small White Onion, chopped fine

1 clove Garlic, chopped fine

3 tbsp Dry Sherry (optional)

4 large Eggs

1 cup Heavy Cream

1 1/4 cups Swiss Cheese, grated

1/2 tsp each, Salt and Paprika

1/4 tsp each, Black Pepper, Dry Mustard, and Nutmeg

1 cup of lump Crab meat, packed

1) Preheat oven to 190 C/ 375 F. Poke pie crust bottom with the fork several times and put in the oven for 15 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, brown onions in a skillet until translucent. Then add garlic and sherry (if using) and stir for 1-2 minutes more. (Be careful; garlic burns easily.) Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

3) Remove pie crust from oven. While cooling, grate cheese.

4) In a medium bowl, mix eggs, cream, cheese, seasonings/spices and onion mixtures together well.

5) Add crab meat and stir thorough.The mixture will be very thick.

6) Pour into cooled pie crust.

7) Cook for 45-60 minutes. Quiche should be set and not "jiggly" in the middle.


  • CRAB - if you like crab, you'll love this quiche! The synergy of the crab, cheese and spices is delicious. This recipe is very thick with crab. If you'd like smoother texture and less crab, I'd use only 1/2-3/4 cup crab and add 1 additional egg. I also could not find canned crab meat in my local store and had to buy crab meat from my seafood shop. It was $ but delicious.
  • SEASONINGS - it is important to use seasonings for this quiche as Crab and Swiss cheese can be bland. I did not have Old Bay nor Seafood Seasoning on hand but was happy with the spices I did use. The sherry adds a nice touch if you already have it.
  • OPTIONS - you can add some julienned sun dried tomatoes and/or red capsicum/pepper to the quiche. Just cook them with onions and remove any excess liquid. You can also add herbs - a little chopped parsley, some basil/coriander, a squirt of lemon juice. It can also be spiced up with red chili flakes or a little minced red chili (jar)

Photo and information credits from this blog- wikipedia.org, rolexsydneyhobart.com, theduncanadventures.blogspot.com, silver-mg.com, sailingtrivia.com, henrythorton.com

Special design for SuzyQ Under Down by GeCe