Miz Lizzie Adventures: Lovely Lavish Loot!

As promised, then, here are the acquisitions of the past two days.

Firstly, the chocolate. I think we’ve been quite modest, really, when you consider that two of those packages are for the kind neighbours who are keeping an eye on the house and taking in our mail.

From top left to bottom right, we have milk chocolate coated coffee beans, latte flavoured milk chocolate, dark chocolate gingers, more milk chocolate coated coffee beans, dark chocolate cranberry & pistacho bar, milk chocolate salted caramel bar, and milk chocolate cranberry & pistachio bar.

Here is a current portrait of Miz Lizzie.

And here is her Mini-Me, a totally gorgeous clock with extremely funky hands and a swinging pendulum. It now hangs on the locker door above the sink, and ticks very quietly, not loud enough to be annoying while we’re trying to sleep. We saw it in the Coffee Works gift shop, where (despite the fairly substantial price ticket) buying it was a no-brainer. It’s made by a US company called Allen Designs, and they make a fair range of clock designs, something to suit everyone, I’d say.

To the point, in fact, that the Husband has ordered me a second one.

Well, no prizes for guessing where it’ll hang when it arrives. (They’re not paying me anything for this link, I’m telling you about them because you’ve got to share a good thing. Go ahead and browse. I’ll be here when you get back in an hour or two…)

And finally, I got my toes titivated. The previous pedi was getting a bit weatherbeaten, and I like to do the Husband credit when we’re prancing eagerly into a shop to Buy Stuff. I don’t normally indulge, and my toenails are habitually bare, but in holiday season you have to make a bit of an effort, don’t you?

I’ve told the Husband that in return for the clock loveliness, a holiday present for him is called for.

He initially pretended he wanted for nothing, but his eyes lit up like anything when, working on information previously received as they say in the detective stories, I suggested a rattle-gun (aka a cordless torque wrench) might be acceptable.

So there’ll be a trip to the DIY store soon. That’s a promise.


Miz Lizzie adventures: Chocolate, steak and the lords of the air

Another beautiful dawn, another lovely day.

When I woke just before first light today, the sky was still black velvet and scattered with huge, brilliant stars, the air was cool and fresh and slightly damp after a light rain, and the birds were starting their tune-up for the coming dawn’s full chorus. I could get to like these dawn starts, but perhaps they’d be a bit less enjoyable at home, when they herald not fun, but the start of another busy day…

Today, we’ve revisited Coffee Works, a boutique coffee blender, roaster and coffee shop, selling both the beans and brewed coffee. They also, and even more importantly, have a chocolaterie! Dark, milk and white chocolates, crusted with coffee beans, flavoured with coffee, peppermint, chilli, lemon myrtle or liqueur, studded with macadamias, fresh coconut, or chunks of crystallised ginger. Giant slabs of rocky road featuring dried cranberries and pistachio, or turkish delight and slivered almonds, or dark chocolate blobbed with orange-flavoured white chocolate… well, you get the idea. There’s nothing Willy Wonka-ish about all this; it’s a  serious operation, the flavours are grown up and sophisticated and the vast majority of ingredients are sources locally, making everything fresh, delicious and very low on the food miles. They employ nearly 20 locals in the shop and roastery alone. The operation also has an unbelievable fairy-grotto of a gift shop featuring every kind of coffee and tea-brewing equipment, beautiful mugs and teapots, as well as quite a few jugs, clocks, mirrors and candle-holders I’d happily give house room to. We managed to make it out of there only a little poorer than before, and with a fair bit of loot of the choccy variety.

Having avoided cake overload on our previous stop, it was time for lunch. We revisited a favourite, the Gateway Hotel in Mareeba, where the steaks are superlative, being local, delicious and tender. A small rest was needed before we could waddle out of the restaurant… (did I mention we also had dessert?). They’ve restored a fairly basic country pub/hotel and turned it into something lovely. I’ve posted about this place before, but I don’t think I’ve shown you the gardens before:

We started to meander slowly home to Miz Lizzie, until I spotted these. Now, I know that opinion on windmills is sharply divided. Some people loathe them, regarding them as a blot on the landscape, dangerous to those who live nearby and not worth the considerable investment they require. Others find them interesting and entirely in the spirit of making use of natural resources.

(I’ll say straight away that I’m not going to enter into any discussions on the subject and reserve the right to express my own opinions on this blog, although I know that many may disagree with them.) Personally, I find them superb, architectural and a fascinating contrast between the rugged, rocky, scrubby terrain in which they sit, and the dragonfly elegance of the blades and tower. I don’t know where the phrase ‘the lords of the air’ comes from, but to me, it exactly describes these structures. The place where these particular windmills have been sited is unsuited to any form of agriculture, is remote from habitation and is subject to almost constant strong wind, being on the western edge of the plateau.There are going to be 53 of them in due course; the towers are up and they are currently in the process of commissioning the heads and blades. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, and I am, here’s an article about the construction.

So that’s been today’s adventure. Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow, but there’s plenty of choice!


Miz Lizzie Adventures: Townsville to Cairns and the Tablelands

I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting you.

But I have been having such a lovely time. It has been a tad too hot, at 34°C/93°F and about 70% humidity, but that’s what air conditioning in cars and caravans was invented for!

The journey north from Rollingstone was uneventful and we made good time, to the extent that we took a 40km detour to look at Mourilyan Harbour, where sugar is loaded onto ships, but chiefly of interest to us as a place where the Husband did military exercises in small aluminium dinghies with outboards (universally known in Australia as ‘tinnies’). He has not-so-fond memories of constantly grounding the tinny on sand bars and having to get out and push it off. Which doesn’t sound so bad, until you read the signs…

We passed Queensland’s two highest peaks on our way north, which to be honest isn’t saying a lot: the tallest, Mt Bartle Frere, is only 1622m/ 5,321ft high, and the second highest, Mt Bellenden Ker, is only 1593m/ 5,226ft high. Not hugely impressive by European or US standards, but they are thickly coated with very lush tropical rainforest. The area is volcanic, so on the tablelands you see a lot of volcanic plugs, but the climate does tend to erode anything high quite quickly.

We are staying at the Crystal Cascades caravan park in the north of Cairns, in a valley between rainforest-covered hillsides. It’s ‘off-season’ as far as they’re concerned, which means we can enjoy the facilities virtually undisturbed apart from a few people who are also looking for peace and quiet in beautiful surroundings. In the early morning, the tops of the hills are still draped in cloud, while the sun lights up the lower slopes. It’s an amazing sight to see such contrast.  Imagine that sight, with the sound of birdsong and the smell of frangipani and jasmine to round the experience off!

The one downside of coming here in February is that it’s the month when many of the foodie places on our gastronomic trail seem to be taking their own holiday! Nerada Tea Plantation, the Tolga Woodworks gallery and Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy (which I’ve written about before) and Jaques Coffee Plantation (which was new to us), are all closed. It’s a well earned rest, but we were a bit surprised, as there was nothing on any of their websites. Still, it’s made us slow down a little, which is no bad thing… On the upside, we went to Coffee Works in Mareeba yesterday, which was lovely! They grow, harvest, roast and sell their own coffee as well as blends and beans from all over the world. The smell is heavenly! They also have a gift shop which is a twinkly wonderland of coffee and tea cups, pots, chimes, candleholders, vases, etc, and best of all, an almost cold chocolate shop, where they make their own in all shades from white to 85% cacao, in flavours like lime and pepper, lemon myrtle, ginger and jaffa. Well yes, we did buy rather a lot of chocolate, and yes, we’ve sampled a fair bit of it already, but who could resist…?

We’ve also been back to Gallo’s, a working farm where they milk 200 Friesians every day. Rather than add their milk to the general supply, they have decided to add value and create a niche market and an interesting addition to the tourist offering on the Tablelands. They make their own cheeses and chocolates. The chocolates we bought are long gone, but I can remember the flavours: salted caramel, peppermint truffle, crystallised ginger, chilli, cherry ripe, berry bliss, almond truffle, hazelnut caramel and mandarin creme. And that was just a tiny selection from the huge display case of options. Besides, it was a hot day, and they might have melted… But the cheeses are still with us, and will be featuring on today’s menu, together with linseed, raisin and pumpkin seed crackers and some rather tasty grapes.

Last night it was time to visit our favourite Indian restaurant in Cairns, Tandoori Nights in Sheridan Street. We go there at least once and often twice when we’re staying here, and the food is simple, but great. The Husband had goat curry, plain steamed rice, garlic naan and a share of my subzi makhani, a creamy vegetable curry. I also had chicken korma and plain naan. Not adventurous, but what we both craved, and we left with contented smiles on our faces 🙂 By the time we’d though of taking photos of the food, it was much, much too late!

On previous visits, we haven’t had time to visit the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum out at Caravonica, so this time, with a couple of hours to spare, we turned in. It’s probably chiefly of interest to a couple where the husband is a Reservist of 20 years’ experience and the wife’s father was in the Normandy landings in WWII, landing on Sword Beach on D-Day 2 in his tank as a very, very young 2nd Lieut… We spent well over an hour exploring the vast display of tanks, armoured cars, mine clearers, mobile gun platforms, howitzers, field guns, etc. They had exhibits from Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, the Czech Republic and Russia, they had small arms, uniforms, badges… Well, you get the idea. It’s impressive, fascinating and vast, and worth a visit if you’re interested in that stuff. I’d only add that it’s an open-sided building and isn’t air conditioned, so I’d recommend visiting in the cooler months (May – October) if you’re not used to the heat.

We’re giving ourselves a lazy day today. It’s Saturday, and there are more visitors at the caravan park, the ‘sights’ will be busier and the city will be bustling. Time to lie back, enjoy the blue skies over the rainforested mountains, do a bit of handwork, and eat some of that cheese! We might tootle out and visit the Crystal Cascades after which this holiday park is named… or not.

But if anything interesting happens, I’ll be sure to let you know!

The Comfort of Caramel

My morale has always been boosted by caramel in all its glorious forms.

I know, I know, the dieticians would have a fit. You know the drill: “food is not a crutch, you shouldn’t eat for comfort”. To which I rudely reply Nuts To That. It’s quicker, cheaper and easier than therapy, drugs or support groups, and you can keep it conveniently in the cupboard in case of emergencies! I don’t think my caramel habit is too dangerous just yet…

So anyway, it’s been a trying couple of days and I wanted a nice slab of something, well, comforting. So I made some. This therapeutic creation is Chocolate Caramel Shortbread. It’s also, but not for any reason of virtue, gluten free. But not by any stretch of the imagination dairy free, so be warned.

You’ve seen it everywhere, but probably never made it. And it’s easy. Want to try some?  If there’s anyone out there who said No, would you please leave quietly, shutting the door behind you, while the rest of us make pigs of ourselves and have lots of spoon-licking moments.

It breaks down into three ingredient groups: A, B and C

A) Shortbread
1 cup flour, whatever you have
1/2 cup almond meal
3/4 cup caster sugar
125g/4oz melted butter

B) Caramel
1/3 cup golden syrup. This is heavy dark syrup with the consistency of cold honey, not pancake syrup, which is too thin and runny.
125g/4oz melted butter
2 x 395g/14oz cans sweetened condensed milk

C) Choc topping
200g/7oz dark chocolate (eating or couverture)
2 tblsp light vegetable oil

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The baked shortbread

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Butter, condensed milk and syrup, some of my favourite food groups….

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Pouring the thickened caramel onto the shortbread

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Baked caramel with little volcanic crunchy bits

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No prizes for guessing where that spoon went afterwards…

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Another pouring shot. This time it’s chocolatey

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The whole wonderful taste explosion: shortbread base, thick caramel layer and velvety chocky top

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Well, of COURSE I licked the knife afterwards….

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF.

Grease and line a square brownie pan with baking paper. Greasing it will help you remove any spilled caramel in the pan that would otherwise set like concrete.

Mix all (A) ingredients together and press the resulting dough into the base of the brownie pan. Make sure you get right into the corners and have a level edge. Bake for 15 minutes and cool for 30 minutes.

Mix all (B) ingredients together in a heavy bottom pan over a low to moderate heat. Stir continuously for about 10-15 minutes, while the ingredients blend and thicken. Once it starts clotting and bubbling, and has thickened a bit, pour it over the shortbread base and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown and bubbled on the top. When it is no longer hot, refrigerate for at least half an hour and preferably a bit longer till the caramel is very firm.

Put the (C) ingredients in a microwaveable bowl and heat on high for 30-60 seconds till the chocolate is just melted. Blend thoroughly with a spoon till smooth and glossy. Lick the spoon (oops, did I say that out loud…?). Pour quickly over the chilled caramel layer, tilting the pan to get it into the corners. Tap the base of the pan gently on the counter to level the surface, and return to the fridge to set.

This is incredibly rich, incredibly yummy and dangerously moreish. Ensure you are forced to share it with family or dear friends who can be relied on to heroically save you from yourself by eating their fair share.

Otherwise you will end up sticky, dishevelled …and seriously sugar loaded.

Oh, and by the way:  I owe my minor obsession with pouring shots to Conor at One Man’s Meat, who is a genius in the kitchen and with a camera. Get over there and start salivating at the pictures and enjoying the prose, which is wonderful.

International Chocolate Week

Prompted by the lovely Kirsten at The Pink Rose Bakery, I’m posting this recipe for Jaffa Cake in response to International Chocolate Week, which starts today. I first posted about this cake nearly a year ago, and since then, I’ve made a few slight modifications to both the recipe and the process, but it’s still moist, intensely chocolatey, intensely orangey and altogether delicious. It’s also fairly simple, having only seven quite ordinary ingredients; it’s easy to make, and as a bonus, it’s gluten free.

'Jaffa' cake, lightly dusted with Dutch cocoa and served with a puddle of thick cream. Yum!

It looks like just another brown cake, but your tastebuds will be doing the fandango and begging for more.

You’ll need:
2 navel oranges (they need to be thin skinned, not too much white pith)
200g/7oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) broken in small pieces
100g/4oz unsalted butter, chopped
8 large eggs (Yes, it’s a lot. Yes, you need them all)
300g/10oz caster/fine sugar
375g/13oz almond meal/ground almonds
2 tbsp cocoa (not drinking chocolate, the good stuff – I like the Dutch kind, which is more intense.)

The night before, put the oranges in a deep pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.  Throw out the water, cool the oranges and refrigerate overnight. They’ll be soft and squishy. Remove the little green stem thingy at the top as this will not contribute to the flavour.

Next day, take the eggs, butter and cooked oranges out of the fridge an hour before you bake, to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180C/325F/Gas 4. Grease and line the base of a 24cm/9″ springform or loose bottom cake pan with baking parchment.

Cut up the 2 oranges, put in a blender or food processor and blitz till puréed. You don’t want to see any chunks of peel.

Using a stand mixer – or electric hand mixer – with paddle attachment, beat the caster sugar and eggs together on high for 5 minutes until thick and pale and the mixture ‘ribbons’. (This is when a trail is left when you dribble a bit of the mixture across the surface).

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Be very careful not to allow any water into the chocolate mixture or it will seize.  Alternatively, (and this is how I do it) melt them in the microwave in three lots of 30 seconds on full power. When melted, mix together thoroughly so there’s no visible butter left, and set aside to cool a little.

Add the chocolate and butter, almond meal and cocoa to the egg mixture, and mix on low speed till combined. Fold in the orange purée with a spoon or spatula – do not beat or you’ll knock the air out of it.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 45-60 minutes, or till a knife or skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean (it’s going to depend on how hot your oven is). If the top starts to brown too soon, put a layer of foil over it. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove from pan and cool completely.

Dust the top with a little more cocoa.  Serve with lots of whatever artery clogging dairy product takes your fancy. If you’re feeling exceptionally naughty, you could add a couple of tablespoonfuls of Cointreau to the batter before baking, but it’s quite gorgeous enough without.

If you hop over to The Pink Rose Bakery, you’ll see Kirsten’s repertoire of lovely nosh, which is all gluten free.

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