Sunday, 26 May 2013

Hottest Home Baker Challenge Week 2: Vegan Afghan Biscuits

Vegan Afghan Biscuits

The challenge this week was to bake 3 things in 2 hours that would appeal to children and be suitable to sell at a school gala.  The contestants had to bake their first item in 45 mins.  If you didn't see the show, you can watch it on demand here.

I decided to just make one item in 45 minutes.  To help me decide what to bake, I conducted a some quick market research with my ready-made focus group a.k.a. my class of Year 2 (aged 6-7) children.  I asked them what baking they would buy at a gala.  After quite an animated discussion (lesson for next time - make the topic of discussion edible and all children will be engaged!), the most popular turned out to be cookies with coloured icing and sprinkles or lollies on top.  Cake pops and cupcakes came in a close second, but I didn't think I would be able to make and decorate them in 45 mins.  I considered shortbread or gingerbread men (one girl in my class said she only liked "gingerbread ladies, not gingerbread men"!), but settled on a New Zealand classic - Afghan Biscuits.  Alex needed something to take to work for a morning tea on Monday and I thought I could adapt Afghans to make them appeal to kids as well as adults.

The recipe I used is adapted from the Edmonds cookbook and is below.  It is a quick and easy recipe and makes a lovely rich and chocolatey biscuit.

The only change I made to the adults version was to top them with almonds as I didn't have any walnuts.  The kids versions were topped with raspberry icing (made with icing sugar, raspberry essence and a bit of water - sickly sweet but bright enough to appeal to kids I think) and rainbow sprinkles.

Vegan Afghan Biscuits

Vegan Afghan Biscuits

  Vegan Afghan Biscuits
(Makes 18 biscuits)

175g vegan margarine (I used Olivani)
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 1/4 c white flour
1/2 c cocoa
1 1/2 c cornflakes
Walnut halves to decorate

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C.  Grease an oven tray.  Cream margarine and sugar together until it lightens in colour and is fluffy.  Beat in sifted flour and cocoa to make a stiff dough.  Check the dough holds together by pressing a small handful of crumbs together.  If it is too crumbly, add a tablespoon or two of soy milk to the dough.  Add cornflakes and mix through evenly.  Roll tablespoonsful of mixture into balls and put on greased tray.  Flatten slightly with the back of a fork.  They do not spread during cooking, so you can place them close together.  Bake for 12-15 mins.  Cool on tray for 5 minutes then transfer to cooling racks.  When cold ice with chocolate icing (see recipe below) and press a walnut half into the icing.

Chocolate icing
2 c icing sugar
2 heaped tbsp cocoa
2 tsp vegan margarine
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
1-2 tbsp hot water

Sift icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl.  Put margarine, vanilla and 1tbsp water into a small bowl or mug and stir until margarine is melted (it may help to microwave it for 10 seconds or so).  Pour into the icing sugar and cocoa.  Stir to make a spreadable icing, adding more water (a tsp at a time) to get desired consistency.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Amazing giveaway!

Look at all of the crafty goodness you can win. That fox dress is seriously amazing!  Although I'm not a mama yet, I am an aunty that likes to spoil her niece and nephews, and there is plenty here to help you reach favourite aunty status.  Plus lots of things for aunties to keep for themselves too :)

Get yourself over there now and enter.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

{26 Things I Made}: 5/26 Mr Owl pincushion

A cute owl pincushion for my crafty, owl-loving cousin for her birthday.  Funny story - our birthdays are 2 weeks apart and when we exchanged gifts we discovered that we had both given each other a handmade pincushion and bird-themed jewellery.  Great minds think alike!

Mr Owl pincushion

The pattern is from here, though I modified the construction slightly.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Hottest Home Baker Challenge Week 1: Vegan Empanadas

New Zealand's Hottest Home Baker has just started again on TV.  I don't watch a lot of TV, and hardly any reality TV, but this show really appeals to me (along with Project Runway of course!).  I decided this year that I would play along and try to follow the challenges at home each week, which would give me an excuse to bake more and maybe try some new recipes.

The first episode challenge was to bake a sweet or savoury dish in 90 minutes.  Each contestant randomly chose a sweet or savoury card, but I decided to opt for savoury since I always bake sweet dishes.  I was inspired by one of the contestants to try Empanadas, something I'd never baked before.  After some research, I decided on Roasted Acorn Squash and Black Bean Empanadas from the Veganomicon, transcribed here.

I subbed Crown pumpkin for Acorn Squash, but followed the rest of the recipe pretty closely, except that I cut in the vegetable shortening using my food processor.  They took me longer than 90 minutes, so I failed on the time limit rule.  But my impartial judge (Alex) declared them delicious and devoured them for dinner.  I have to agree that the combination of sweet pumpkin and red onion with black beans and a bit of spicy heat made for a delicious filling.  The pastry was simple to make and I'll definitely try these again and experiment with different fillings.

Pumpkin diced
Diced pumpkin

Mixing the dough
Mixing the dough

Filling the dough
Filling the dough

Ready for the oven
Ready for the oven

Fresh out of the oven
Fresh out of the oven

Yum yum!
Yum, yum!

Monday, 13 May 2013

home again

We arrived back home last weekend after three weeks' holiday on the East Coast of the US.  With the rush of school starting again, and not quite knowing what to say about our trip, this post has taken a while to write.  Alex was running the Boston Marathon and we had decided to take a longer trip during the school holidays and visit Washington D.C. and New York (both are cities that I had been wanting to visit for a long time).  Of course, Boston didn't quite turn out the way we had planned.  Both of us are fine.  Alex had finished the marathon and were back in our hotel room in Cambridge (just across the river from Boston) when the explosions occurred.  We didn't see anything or hear anything, in fact the first we heard of the explosions was via Facebook from my cousin in New Zealand!  However, as you can imagine, it did put a big damper on what was otherwise an amazing day.  The locals really get into supporting the marathon, going out to cheer on the runners, whether they know them or not.  Alex even had strangers winding down car windows to yell "Congratulations!" to him when we were making our way back to the hotel afterwards.   We didn't manage to see as much of Boston as we'd hoped, as much of the city centre was closed off the day after the bombings, but we both really liked what we managed to see before the marathon and would love to go back some day and visit again.  It certainly puts a new perspective on front page world events when you happen to be caught up in the middle of one!  Especially when they are usually happening so far from NZ.  We felt very lucky to have escaped the worst of it and very loved by all the friends and family who got in touch to see how we were.
After all the excitement of Boston, we travelled to Washington D.C. by train and a week later to New York, both of which were amazing.  I really enjoyed Washington, especially the National Mall, a wide 3km-long strip of green space down the middle of the city lined with museums and monuments.  And New York, though as busy, noisy and dirty as I expected, didn't let me down in the wow-factor stakes.  We took about 400 photos (a LOT of them are of yummy vegan food we ate!), so I won't bore you with endless photos of famous monuments and buildings, but thought I'd just share a few of my favourites with you.

Self portrait in the hotel bathroom with my supporters sign - just before I caught the metro out to watch Alex along the marathon course.

 Happy to be finished

 Knitting and reading on the train to Washington D.C.

Self-portrait in front of the U.S. Capitol  We have a tradition of taking selfies in front of famous buildings and have a whole series of them now :)

 Cherry Blossoms in front of the U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C.

 At the Lincoln Memorial.  The steps I'm standing on are where Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I have a dream" speech.  You might also recognise it from Forrest Gump :)

 Gorgeous garden at Mount Vernon, George and Martha Washington's farm

 Statue of Liberty!

 Brooklyn Bridge

 New York skyline from the top of the Rockefeller Center.  In this photo I was trying hard to not look too freaked out by how high up we are! 

 Sneaky photo inside Purl Soho - so much fabric and yarny goodness!

 Gorgeous ceiling painted with constellations inside Grand Central Station, New York

 My favourite New York skyscraper, the Chrysler Building

 Mood Fabrics!  I am a big Project Runway fan and I walked around with a big grin on my face as I recognised parts of the store from the show!  I even met Swatch the Boston Terrier :)