Sunday, November 29, 2009

Me, a knitter?

For the last week, knitting has really been a salvation. Each day, after doing the ordinary stuff like making coffee and putting the dog out, I get to settle down in front of a DVD and pick up the needles. I really look forward to that time now. In fact, such are my days at the moment that starting a new colour has become a highlight worth calling Tim at work to boast about. He's thrilled. And very interested.

If you can't tell from the photo, I'm knitting a baby's blanket. I have several friends with babies and several friends due in anywhere from a few days to a few months, so it seemed like the thing to do. I've got enough wool to blanket the whole house, and a range of colours because I keep changing my mind and obliging siblings have driven me to the wool shop a couple of times to buy more. It's an outing.

I'm not sure how to describe the technical side of things. You'd think I'd know by now, being an avid reader of Bellsknits. Helen very kindly supplied me with a pattern and the kind of useful advice you won't get from just anyone. Now I know about all sorts of stuff I would never have considered, such as circular needles - brilliant. I know about easy-care wool - fantastic if you're knitting for a baby and something I would never have thought to look for. I know about matching dye lots - actually I picked that up from a man at the wool shop, but good to know nonetheless. It's a whole new world and one that I'm thoroughly enjoying in the absence of being able to cook.

Now I'm operating in the belief that whatever I create will be good enough to impose upon my friends and their newborn offspring, for whom they want only the best. I don't think my current effort is looking too bad for someone who can only knit in straight rows, but then I am on a lot of pain medication. I'm also assuming that my friends are too polite not to praise my efforts and thank me profusely. Sorry unsuspecting friends who read this. Finally, I'm assuming that my recouperation activities are interesting to anyone other than me. Humour me - I'm on a lot of pain medication...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hospital Food

I spent last week in hospital. I put it in the category of 'one of those things' that sometimes crops up in life, unexpectedly and seemingly without reason.

The whole thing happened quite quickly. In the space of a few weeks, I had minor surgery, lots of tests and a lovely trip to Bowral (with it's brilliant cafes and kitchen shop it was such a difficult day) to see a specialist. I found myself scheduled for major surgery in Sydney almost immediately. While it didn't go entirely to plan, I feel fortunate to have had such an experienced specialist in charge, and be treated in an excellent facility without having to wait for months.

I also feel incredibly blessed to have received (and still be receiving) so much support from family, friends and colleagues. My mum and godmother came to Sydney with me, stayed 600 meters away and visited twice a day, bringing trashy magazines and decent coffee. Both necessities when one is confined to a hospital bed.

Since I've been back in Canberra, I haven't spent a single night alone. With Tim away some nights, there's always been someone here just in case. Last night it was my brother, the night before, my sister. My dog has been fed and walked, milk has been purchased, and one brilliant friend even sat patiently with me for several hours at the ER the other night. So thank you everyone for the calls, messages, cards, visits, etc. It has made this whole thing as un-depressing and as easy to deal with as could ever have been possible.

Now, surgery and pain aside, hospital wasn't too bad. I had my own, very nice room with a view of the water (well I could see the boats anyway), cable TV, aircon, pain relief at the push of a button and staff who couldn't do enough for me. This included the catering staff who made a point of letting me know what flavour jelly was available before doling it out. This was very kind of them, since jelly was on the menu each day, at every meal.

For the first couple of days I was allowed only clear fluids, and I couldn't manage much of that anyway. Then things picked up. For one lunch I had smoked salmon. On another occasion, I had the chef's salad which, despite my shabby photo, was really nice and fresh. One night they even brought me white wine, although I couldn't touch it at the time and am still off alcohol.

Since I can't cook at the moment and am living on pre-prepared meals and toast, I have taken up another activity for the duration. Knitting. Yes, seriously. Not only can I do it while lounging about, but I'm finding it so therapeutic and I love the instant gratification factor of seeing something form in front of me, even if I am slow and not very good.

Thanks to Helen at Bellsknits for the help with getting me started. It was a lot of fun going and choosing wool and I've revised my colour scheme twice already. I probably shouldn't be so precious with a first effort, but I can't bear the thought of undoing all that knitting and starting again because I no longer think my original colours work. Anyway, I'll take some photos of my efforts and post something later this week. Just be kind - remember, I cook!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another tart

Yes, I am slightly obsessed with savoury tarts at the moment. Should I call them quiches? Does it really matter?

I've had an over-abundance of fresh, free-range eggs lately, as well as lots of other good stuff that goes really well with baked egg. (Well that's what it is, when all's said and done.) Today's effort involved asparagus, wilted baby spinach leaves and little tomatoes.

Once again, follow my basic recipe for the egg and pastry. Fry up some onion and bacon, toss in the asparagus for about two minutes and the leaves for about one minute. You want to just take the edge off and slightly wilt them, not kill them. Season to taste and spoon it into the tart case, trying to spread it around as evenly as possible. Pour the egg over, dot with little tomatoes and bake. Could it be simpler?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Frangipane jam drops

Another winner from my little freebie recipe book - Frangipane Jam Drops. Is the frangipane thing about the almond meal and butter? I should check my Larousse, but it's pretty late and I just can't do it. Whatever the case, I really, really liked the cookie dough this time around. I just can't go past almond meal. It makes for such a rich, textured mix and goes beautifully with butter. So that's the first good thing about this.

The second thing is it's a really easy recipe. Those good folks at Woman's Weekly have the easy, 'anyone can do it' recipe down pat. And, these cookies are lovely. Very old fashioned, to be enjoyed with a good cup of tea. Tim calls them 'jam spots'.

The one thing I didn't rate was making a hole with a wooden spoon handle. The dough was too sticky for that, so I just sort of pressed the jam in with a teaspoon. It worked fine and didn't stop my cookie thief who didn't think I noticed the mound slowly diminishing...

125g butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
1 cup (120g) almond meal
1 egg
2/3 cup (100g) plain flour
2 tbsp raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 180º C/ 160ºC fan forced. Grease oven trays; line with baking paper.

Beat butter, extract, sugar and almond meal in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg, beating until just combined; stir in sifted flour.

Drop level tablespoons of mixture on trays 5cm apart. Use handle of a wooden spoon to make small hole (about 1cm deep) in top of each biscuit; fill each hole with 1/4 tsp jam. Bake about 15 minutes; cool jam drops on trays.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pretty patty cakes

Yet another weekend has passed, but what a productive one! We've seen just about everyone we know, the house is sparkling clean and I now have a freezer full of dinners, including a dozen doggie dinners. Good stuff! In the middle of all of this, I thought some pretty little patty cakes might be the go. Tim didn't disagree.

Now I'm not a regular reader of Woman's Day, but the other day I was in line at the supermarket (trapped, you might say) and this week's copy caught my eye. No, not because Simone's taken Shane back again, but because of the neat little cook book glued to the front as a freebie - The Women's Weekly "Baking Favourites." I couldn't resist. It turns out to have been a an excellent purchase and one that made buying the magazine worthwhile. I've already made two things out of it this weekend and I'm pretty happy with both. I'm also up to date with all the celebrity gossip.

The first is Patty Cakes with Glace' Icing. This is quite a traditional cake mix, and I just added a little more vanilla. You could also add some lemon zest for a bit of zing. They cakes came out light and fresh and fragrant.

I used some cute little papers I found in a fantastic kitchen store in Bowral a week ago. There's pastel blue, pink, yellow and white in the one packet. I topped them with glace' icing and sweet little sugar flowers I found in the same store. These cost about eight bucks for 20 pieces, and they're very fragile, but so cute and perfect for a special occasion! They made it back to Canberra with only about two broken. Then of course I dropped one and broke off a petal. But I still had enough.

About the glace' icing, I found this looks good but you have to work quickly because it dries very fast. I kept it over the hot water but occasionally added a few more drops of water when it became too thick. You could just use a water and icing sugar mix though.

125g butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 (165g) cup caster sugar
3 eggs
2 cups (300g) self-raising flour
1/4 cup (60ml) milk

Glace' icing:
2 cups (320g) icing sugar
20g butter, melted
2 tbsp hot water (approx)

Preheat oven to 180º C/ 160ºC fan forced. Line 12 hole muffin pan with paper cases.

Place ingredients in a medium bowl; beat with electric mixer on low speed until ingredients are combined. Increase speed to medium; beat about 3 minutes or until mixture is smooth and paler in colour.

Divide mixture among cases. Bake about 25 minutes. Stand cakes in pan 5 minutes before turning, top side up onto wire racks to cool.

Meanwhile, make icing: sift icing sugar into small heatproof bowl; stir in butter and enough of the water to make a firm paste. Place bowl over small saucepan of simmering water; stir until icing is spreadable. (I actually just threw everything in a bowl and stirred over the simmering water)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Super energy slice

I don't have a lot to say about this one. Tim rides a bicycle. A lot. So do his mates. They are constantly hungry, especially before, during and after big rides. Where most of us would be worried about fat and sugar content, these guys insist on cramming in as much of both as physically possible without throwing up. Anyway, apparently my last effort wasn't nearly energy-dense enough. Specific feedback included that it needed chocolate. So here I go again.

This is the new and improved version, dubbed iSnack2.0 by Tim, who incidentally thinks it could have been sweeter. Sigh...

1 cup coconut
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup fresh apple juice
1/2 cup craisins
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
1/2 cup rice puffs
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 egg
100g melted butter
1 tbsp cinnamon

It's simple - mix everything together really well. Press into a greased or lined tin and bake at 180º until golden brown, but don't let it go hard. This should take about 20-30 minutes.

Melt 375g white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Add a half a cup of chopped craisins and stir. Spread over the cooled slice. Allow the chocolate to set and then cut into slabs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A stylish tart

I'm really enjoying savoury tarts at the moment. Don't ask me why. I certainly didn't grow up in a quiche making family. My father baulked at the idea of eggs that didn't come out looking like eggs, so my mother never made quiche. I've never gotten into making them before, except for the mini-party kind. Just now and then. Recently, it's been a lot more now than then. Nobody's complaining.

One of the appeals for me is that they're super-easy to make and very hard to mess up. They freeze, slice and travel well, and keep for several days in the fridge without a drama. Also, you can stick whatever you want in them which is handy. On more than one occasion, I've scoured the fridge for vegetables, any member of the onion family I could lay my hands on and anything resembling ham and/or cheese.

As if this wasn't enough, a savoury tart can look fabulous, like you've spent hours cooking when really you threw it together in ten minutes flat! Just choose a nice tin and put some effort into arranging some tomato, asparagus, salmon, herbs, or whatever you've got, on the top. Serve with some nice salad and interesting chutney to round out the meal.

This week's effort involved the same basic recipe as the broad bean and bacon tart, but instead of broad beans I used spinach in the egg mix and cherry tomatoes to garnish. The result was tasty, healthy and looked beautiful.

[Don't worry - I have a sweet recipe for you next!]