Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thank you!

I'd just about convinced myself that my last post should be my last post ever. I wasn't quite ready to kill the blog, but I was thinking about it. This morning, listening to the rain pelting down and the dog snoring and feeling warm and comfortable, I realised how good I'm feeling again and what a fantastic day it was to do things at home. It's time to start creating and photographing again! I just thought I should say hello first to anyone who might still be interested!

I suppose some people might ask "where have you been?" Well, unfortunately I had to have more surgery. Major surgery. In the lead-up, I was feeling the effects of some pretty toxic medication and I was extremely anxious about how things might go. Afterwards, I couldn't pick up a frying pan or large knife to save myself. Thankfully, the surgery went well and I'm on the road to a full recovery. I'm moving a little better each day and have even started going for walks with Tim and Bug and cooking again, although our freezer is so full of food that I don't really need to cook for at least another month.

On that note, and at the risk of causing spontaneous gagging from anyone who might still be reading, the the love and support from our family and friends has been uplifting and so greatly appreciated and I feel extremelt fortunate. A few of the wonderful kindnesses shown to me which made all the difference, include my mother and godmother travelling to Sydney, (again), so that they could be there to support me and Tim. They brought me chocolate and bandaids with a picture of Jesus on them to cheer me up. My brother and sisters made the trip up for a single day and spent hours doing their best to make me laugh. I did and had to beg them to stop because I was in danger of rupturing something. Seriously. Thank you, you clowns! Our uncle Dave took care of Ladybug for a week. She supervised his woodwork, he fed her steak and took her for walks. It was a fair exchange. Friends and colleagues from all over the world called Tim daily to check up on things and offer support. And when I got back to Gippsland, old neighbours visited with tasty treats and old friends travelled up from Melbourne to keep me company and fill our freezer with a couple of weeks worth of dinners.

Thank you everyone! I hope you know how much easier you made what's been a very difficult time.

And especially thank you Tim who has been loving, kind, patient and supportive in every way possible during this whole crazy ride. There aren't enough words to describe the way I feel about this man and the way he has helped me get through this. You get it.

Now, stay tuned...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Choc-orange gluten free biscuits

I've eaten a lot of gluten free biscuits in my time and to understate it, most are disappointing. I'm not sure at what point it became acceptable to ditch gluten and flavour from recipes, but somewhere along the line, it apparently did.

Anyway, after a week of privation with ration book cooking, it was definitely time for something decadent. Something that would melt in the mouth and make me feel good and just a bit naughty. Something that photographed well and didn't look just a little like the dog's dinner. It had to involve chocolate and I particularly had a hankering for a good biscuit. Was I hoping for too much?

Let me just say first that I've never been that into biscuits, with a few exceptions. I used to love Oreos, Chocolate Wheatens and those thin, plain coffee biscuits that were so good for dunking. Otherwise, I can take or leave the average biscuit, or even the fancy ones for that matter. For some reason, I suddenly had to have a biscuit I could ravish. Not the bought type either, but the home cooked, rich, delicious kind. And they had to be gluten free.

To add to my list of exacting demands, I decided that nothing less than a gluten free biscuit that didn't taste like a gluten free biscuit would do. I didn't want to take that first bite, filled with anticipation, and find that I'd replicated the gritty, dry and overly sweet taste that so many store bought gluten free biscuits seem to have. Not after a week on ration food!

What I came up with is my new, all-time favourite gluten free chocolate biscuit. They are full of cocoa, moist but not soggy, sweet but not sickly (unless you try eating more than two in a go and then you may need an ambulance) and most importantly, they do not taste gluten free. At least I don't think so. To put it into perspective, Tim, who I agree will eat just about anything I cook, is addicted and has asked me to hide them. Hide properly too - not put them in one of my usual hiding places. The problem is that I'll still know where they are and I have zero self control.

But down to business. For all my hype, these don't take much to make. I found the dough was a bit sticky so it's preferable that you roll it on or between some non-stick parchment or a baking mat. I also used flour to dust the board, top of the dough and the rolling pin, but try not to use too much. You don't want to fundamentally change the dough by adding too much more flour. I also found it easier to halve the dough before rolling, but you might be more skilled than me.

1 1/2 cups gluten free plain flour
3/4 cup good quality cocoa
150g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
fine zest of 1 orange
1 large egg
1 tbsp milk
2 tsp pure vanilla essence
pinch of salt

For the filling:
150g dark chocolate (plus extra)
3/4 cup sour cream
finely grated zest of one orange

Preheat the oven to 180ÂșC.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until it becomes pale and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, milk, zest and salt. Mix together well. Sift the flour and cocoa into the mix and beat slowly until it just combines, and then beat faster until all the ingredients have bound together. Turn out on to a floured board or parchment paper and knead gently with lightly floured hands until it just forms a firm ball.

Halve the dough and roll each piece to about 3-4 mm thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut out shapes. You'll get around three dozen individual biscuits. Place them on a tray lined with baking paper, leaving just a little space between each. They don't spread very much at all. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Melt 150g dark chocolate in a bowl. Remove from the heat and stir in sour cream and zest. Stir until you get a shiny, smooth mixture and then set it aside to cool a little. As it cools it should start to stiffen up. [If it still looks too runny when it cools down, add some more melted chocolate and stir well.]

Top half the biscuits with about a tablespoon of filling in the centre, and place the other biscuit on top, pressing down slightly. Store in an airtight container and hide if necessary!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 7: Crunchies & Rhubarb Bread Pie

We've made it through the week and I sincerely thank God that this caper is finally over. I hope that doesn't make me sound too spoiled, but I really am glad we can go back to regular eating. I love cooking from scratch and even cooking with very basic ingredients, including carrot. I could cook again with almost all of the ingredients I've used in the last week, but I'd use them a little differently. The lard no longer has a place in my fridge.

Tonight's dinner consisted of a plain, but tasty vegetable soup. It was my own creation, but very much in the ration book spirit. My approach was to use any vegetables I bought for this week but didn't use. Into a pot went diced onion, parsnip, swede, potato, carrot (!!!), beans, tomato, celery, peas and some herbs. I can no longer stand the taste of vegetable stock, so I stuck with salt and pepper for seasoning, and a little lemon juice and zest at the end. It worked really well and resulted in a warm, wholesome and satisfying dinner. I diverged slightly from ration book cooking and made some garlic bread (with margarine) to fill it out. Yum.

The two final authentic ration book recipes I have from the past week are for crunchies and rhubarb bread pudding. I made the crunchies at the beginning of the week. I tried one and they're very much like the old fashioned oatmeal biscuits I used to love. Tim certainly had no problem with them and polished off the lot. I will be making them again.

On the other hand, the rhubarb bread pudding wasn't a favourite. It's a version of a bread and butter pudding, except you don't use any butter. Also, you don't sweeten the rhubarb and that does make a difference as rhubarb can be quite tart. Because I used regular bread, I couldn't eat this one either (poor me) but Tim has been trying his best to work his way through it over the last couple of days. Not even the offer of hot, fresh custard has made it go down any easier so it sits in my fridge, unloved and uneaten.

100g margarine, lard or clarified dripping (I used margarine)
50g sugar
50g syrup (I used golden syrup)
100g medium oatmeal
1tsp baking powder
vanilla flavouring

Cream together the fat, sugar and syrup. Add flour, oatmeal, baking powder ad a few drops of vanilla. Knead until the mixture binds. (I then wrapped the dough in plastic and left it in the fridge for a couple of hours). Roll out about 5mm thick, cut into rounds or fingers. Bake in a moderate oven until golden brown for about 20 minutes. These biscuits keep well stored in air-tight tins.

Rhubarb bread pudding
225g stale bread
jam for spreading
6 sticks of rhubarb
150ml water
2tsp custard powder
275ml milk and water

Cut the bread into neat thick slices. Spread each one with jam. Cut the sticks of rhubarb into 25mm pieces and stew these in a pan with a little water until almost tender. Strain the fruit, retaining the liquid, and lay (half) the pieces in the bottom of a pie dish. Cover the fruit with a layer of bread and jam slices, add another layer of fruit, then another layer of bread. Pour the rhubarb liquid (which should still be hot) over the fruit and bread and leave to soak for 1/2 hour. Mix the custard powder smoothly with a little milk and make it up to 275ml with hot milk and water. Pour the uncooked custard into the pie dish and bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Recipes from: Ration Book Cooking; Gill Corbishly; 2004

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 6: The Oslo Meal

Last night's dinner wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. After a bit of a disaster where I couldn't get the car started and therefore couldn't pick Tim up from work, going out anywhere for dinner was off the menu. Instead, I veered slightly off the ration course and had a glass of wine while I waited for both Tim and the RACV man to arrive. They did, almost simultaneously.

With the car situation sorted very quickly, we made a decision to stay in and stick to the program. The wine helped. I couldn't bring myself to eat the battered sardines, but I tried the carrots and rice and they were edible. Tim thought so too, although he says he will be glad when the seven days are over.

Without doubt, our favourite meal this week has been the Oslo meal and although it's meant to be a lunch, it is something I will gladly have for dinner, even on so cold a night. I don't know where the name came from, but the Oslo meal was apparently tried out on children during WWII as a way of providing a nutritious lunch. You can see why it worked so well. All the important bases covered with a simple salad, bread, cheese and milk. I suppose the idea might have been to make sure kids had one decent meal during the day, given the whole ration situation.

Making an Oslo meal is the easiest thing I've done all week and has been the easiest eating too. It consists of lettuce and other salad items, including tomato, cucumber, carrot, etc. Probably any salad vegetable you could find would have done. After day two I avoided adding carrot, for what I hope are obvious reasons. Also included is a small piece of cheese (about 25g) which could be grated over the meal. Next, two slices of wholemeal bread with margarine, and a glass of milk.

Verdict: this is such a fresh, easy and healthy lunch that became the highlight of the day for both of us. Far from being an out of date idea, it's the sort of thing I've taken to work many times in a lunch box. I don't usually drink milk by the glass, but I can see how it helps fill you up in a healthy sort of way. For Tim's lunch, I used cheese slices so that he could have it on bread because he won't eat chunks or grated cheese. So in other words, he had a cheese sandwich, salad and milk.

Tim says: simple and filling. In fact, it's deceptively fulfilling. I loved it best of anything I've had this week. I wouldn't mind if Julia keeps making me Oslo meal lunches.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 5: Sardine fritters, rice bake and more carrots!

Tonight's assault on the palate involved sardines, egg substitute and carrots. Unlike yesterday, I got super-organised and put it all together early so I could photograph in natural light. I was hoping that this would make things look a little more appetising. I was disappointed. Nothing could make this lot look any better.

If you hadn't guessed already, I'm not feeling quite so enthusiastic about ration food on day 5. I tried to make it a little more like a regular dinner tonight by making a few different things. I even made a dessert - rhubarb bread pudding. Notice the absence of 'and butter'. Thank God I can't eat bread. (Sorry Tim).

I thought sardine fritters could be good. First let me say that I have never liked sardines. I hate the look of them - slimy and greasy looking. I hate the smell of them, especially on someone's breath. It doesn't help that I come from a family of sardine eaters. My brother Sam sings the virtue of a good sardine and advised me to make sure I bought good quality. I did and I was willing to give it a try.

This is no Mediterranean delicacy where fresh fillets are lightly tossed in seasoned flour and gently fried in olive oil. This version involves taking chunks of sardine from a tin and dunking them in a stodgy batter before frying.

Next we have curried carrots. They're pretty much like curried sausages without the sausage. For my money, this was the best of the lot as it's fairly tasty and I didn't boil the carrots to death beforehand so they retained some texture. Not sure that's how they were done in Britain during the 1940's but I'll never know.

Last of all, I made egg and rice loaf. This was looking alright, in spite of the egg substitute. It smelled great but didn't work that well. It should have bound in the oven so that it could be turned out of the tin in a loaf. This didn't happen so I had to spoon it out in a pile. Also, it was bland.

Verdict: I have offered Tim the option of going out for dinner. I just don't think I can do it to the poor man, five nights in a row.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 4: Waste not, want not...

It's day four of the ration book cooking challenge and my insides are a little bit sick and tired of carrot and potato based meals. On their own, each dinner so far has not been too bad. But eating like this every single day is starting to get monotonous.

I had grand plans for tonight's dinner that involved sardines and rhubarb - not in the same dish! Two things intervened with my well-laid plans. First, I had to go into Melbourne at short notice. This took most of the day and I wound up with a cracking great headache as a result. I really didn't feel like tackling canned seafood. Second, and possibly more unfortunate, there was a lot of leftover Lord Woolton pie, carrot and mashed potatoes looking back at me every time I opened the fridge.

In true wartime spirit, I decided it was time to get creative with the leftovers. I certainly couldn't make Tim eat them as-was, although I noted that the potato scones were almost all gone. It took about five minutes to throw together a more substantial and tastier pie.

First, I greased and lined a pie dish with some pastry. (Yes, I did use a sheet of frozen stuff - remember the headache.) Next, I made a filling by combining the rest of the original pie, leftover grated, cooked and seasoned carrot and some fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs and chopped parsley. I placed this in the pastry, and topped it off with mashed potato and some salt and pepper. I baked it until it started to brown.

The result was a pretty good pie. It was warm and hearty, it felt closer to a normal meal than previous nights, and it means that nothing has been wasted. I would have grated a little cheese on top, or perhaps even under the potato like I do with cottage pie, but I ran out of cheddar.

Verdict: Waste not, want not! This is a classic example of how bits and pieces can be pulled together to make an enjoyable meal. The carrot and fresh breadcrumbs gave the original pie more body and the parsley freshened it up. With the potato on top, this was like a sort of vegetarian cottage pie and I enjoyedit. I'd definitely make something like this again.

Tim says: Next to fried Spam, this is my favourite dinner so far. It was tasty and filling without being heavy. Much better than potato scones.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 3: Carrot roll and potato scones


Day three and we're hanging in there with the ration book dinners. It's not that there isn't enough food; it's more that it's becoming clear that it's all fairly similar food. There's no doubt that it's low in fat,  healthy and designed to fill people up by making the absolute most of what was available. It's not even particularly stodgy or lacking in taste. It's just that what was available was a lot of carrots and potatoes.

Tonight's dinner was slightly more involved than the last few days' efforts. This is because I had to make mashed potatoes in one pot, and grate and cook carrot in another pot. Then came the challenge of moulding the whole thing together to make it look sort of like a roll. Even more of a challenge was photographing it because like yesterday, it isn't the prettiest dish. Still we persevered and here's what you get when you mould mash potatoes around grated carrots and bake.

We also had potato scones. These aren't like the normal, light and fluffy scones you may know and love. You can probably tell that from the photo.

By mixing mashed potato and flour together, you get a fairly sticky dough that you roll and cut discs from, before frying them in dripping. First, they really don't cook very well in a frying pan because the dough is quite dense. Leave them in for too long and they burn. Leave them in too little and they're still raw and gluey inside. My solution was to brown them up in the pan and then throw them in the oven in a tin covered with tin foil. It helped because they cooked right through and were much lighter.

Verdict: Tonight's dinner only required slightly more effort than the last two nights but was still pretty quick and easy. I enjoyed the carrot roll and I could happily have this again as a side with with a roast and some tasty gravy, instead of the usual versions of mash. It's quite tasty and light in texture which was a big difference from the scones.

The scones I wouldn't do again. I found them heavy and not at all tasty and they were no substitute for regular scones or bread. (Or nothing!) I think the recipe book may have left out a few instructions, but I used common sense and they seemed to work out as intended.

Tim says: Not as yummy as last night and I really noticed the lack of meat. The same sort of vegetables are starting to get a bit tiring on day three. The scones aren't as good as normal scones. They're very stodgy. This food might be low in fat but it's energy dense food and can still be heavy.

Carrot roll ingredients:
2 large carrots
salt & pepper
1 tsp vegetable extract (I used half a large stock cube)
2 tsp fine oatmeal, toasted
cold cooked mashed potato

Grate the carrots coarsely and cook for ten minutes in a very little water. Season well and add the vegetable extract and toasted oatmeal. Boil for five minutes, stirring to thicken. Cool. At this stage the mixture will be quite stiff. Have some cold mashed potato ready, dust the pastry board with flour and roll out into an oblong shape. Place the carrot filling in the centre, then fold over and shape into a roll. (I just spooned out some potato and flattened it, arranged the carrot on top and folded the edges over, using extra potato to cover any gaps. I did this directly on a lined baking tray). Dot with a few shavings of fat and bake in a moderately hot oven until nicely browned. Serve well seasoned with brown gravy.

Potato scone ingredients:
225g mashed potato
225g flour (I used spelt)
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp dripping (I used lard)

Mix the potato, flour, salt and baking powder together with enough milk to make a stiff paste. Roll out about 5mm thick. (I just patted it into shape on a floured board, then used a cookie cutter to cut discs) Fry the first cake in a little dripping, the others will do without. (I fried in two batches.) Butter and serve hot, in a pile.

Recipes from: Ration Book Cookery, Gill Corbishley, 2004; pp34 & 38