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 180ºC.

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

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 2: Mock goose and fried Spam


Ration book cookery seems to have involved a lot of 'mock' stuff. Mock goose. Mock beef rissoles. Mock crab. Mock clotted cream. And so on. Not very appetising propects on the whole. Tonight's dinner involved mock goose, but I can categorically state that it neither looked, nor tasted, nor in any other way resembled any breed of goose known to mankind, even in the slightest. Whichever clever clogs down at the Ministry of Food invented and named this dish, must have thought the British public were either complete dolts or very easily fooled. I bet they weren't.

It was even difficult to photograph because it's not very attractive. I was dreading serving it up, imagining having to throw the whole lot out and make us toast instead. But here's the surprising bit. It actually wasn't bad.

In the most basic terms, mock goose is a bit of stuffing made of bread crumbs combined with onion that has been sauteed in stock, and pressed between two layers of boiled lentils. Then the whole thing is baked for a short time. I agree, it does not sound that good and if someone said they were making this for dinner and would I like to join them, I'd find some reason not to go.

Now I wouldn't want to have to eat this every day or even every week, but as a meal I can value its merits. It's filling, contains no fat at all, costs practically nothing to make, and with the right amount of seasoning, it's quite tasty.

Verdict: This is another quick and easy dish to make, although I had serious doubts about how well it would work. I'm glad that once again my doubts were unfounded. The whole thing binds together pretty well and can be sliced to serve. I added the tiniest bit of grated cheese on the top, mainly for photographic purposes, but you don't need it. I had one small piece and along with two slices of Spam and some iceberg lettuce, I felt full without feeling heavy. Satisfying is probably the right word.

Tim says: It was salty, yummy goodness. I would be happy with that every night. I even ate my lettuce, although I could do without that. I LOVED the fried Spam. 

150g split red dried lentils
275ml water
15ml lemon juice
salt and pepper

For the stuffing:
1 large onion, chopped
50g wholemeal fresh breadcrumbs
15ml fresh sage, chopped

Cook the lentils in the water until all the water has been absorbed. Add lemon juice and season.

Then make the stuffing: saute the onion in a little water or vegetable stock for 10 minutes. (I used stock and cooked until the onion was soft and the stock evaporated. Probably closer to 15 minutes). Drain, then add the breadcrumbs. Mix in the chopped sage.

Put half the lentil mixture into a non-stick ovenproof dish, spread the stuffing on top, then top off with the remaining lentils. Put in a moderate oven until the top is crisp and golden.

NB. I lined a small tin with aluminium foil to avoid any sticking as there is no fat in this one. This took about 20 minutes to cook at 180ºC.

Ration Book Cookery, Gill Corbishley, 2004, p24

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 1: Lord Woolton Pie

Yesterday, as I tootled around the local supermarket, I was really looking forward to this week's ration cooking challenge. Groceries were basic - carrots, beetroot, parsnip, potatoes, etc. Nothing processed, except the Spam. From two supermarkets, I managed to get everything I needed, except an egg substitute. I'll look for a health food store tomorrow and if I can't find it, I'll pretend we live in the country and have chooks.

After porridge for breakfast and an Oslo meal for lunch, it was time to tackle the first dinner recipe for the week. Tonight we had Lord Woolton pie. This dish was named after the Minister of Food from 1940 and apparently it wasn't altogether well received at the time. I can see why that might be if you had to eat it regularly. It's sort of like a thick, winter vegetable soup, baked in a dish under a crust of wholemeal pastry or potato. While it might not sound all that appetising, I found it warming and wholesome and it felt healthy.

The recipe advises to serve with gravy. You need the gravy to give it some extra body and to make it feel more like a meal. For gravy, I used a chicken gravy that Tim (yes, Tim!!!) made for dinner last night. It was delicious and added just that little bit of extra flavour. I chose a crust of sliced potato because I didn't feel like making pastry from scratch and it was fine. Possibly I should have mashed the potato first, but the recipe didn't stipulate. Other versions say to top with some cheese, but I didn't do that either. Next time I will.

I also said I wasn't going to alter the recipes this week as far as possible. I didn't, except that I will be using stock cubes instead of 'vegetable extract.' Having done some research, I think this is about as close as I'll get. Oh, and one last thing - I halved the proportions below, because 1.8 kilograms is a lot of vegetables for two people for one dinner!

Verdict: This is such an easy recipe to make and it's actually very tasty but you do need to season it well. The gravy helps with this. It's also fairly filling, although you will need something else with it unless you eat a whole lot of it. We had leftover roast chicken. Would I make it again? Yes, in some form. I'd probably make the pastry or top it with mashed potatoes and cheese to make it a little more robust.

Tim says: It was yummy. Full of flavour, filling and good comfort food. I would eat this one more often. I was a little bit hungry afterwards, but I didn't have much to start with. I'll be happy if the food is this good all week.

450g each of diced potatoes, cauliflower, swedes and carrots
3-4 spring onions
1tsp vegetable extract
1tsp oatmeal
a little chopped parsley
225g cooked, sliced potatoes or wholemeal pastry for topping

Place the diced vegetables, spring onions, vegetable extract and oatmeal into a saucepan, add just enough water to cover, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool.  Put the mixture into a pie dish and sprinkle with parsley. Cover with a crust of potatoes or pastry. Bake in a moderate oven until the topping is nicely brown and serve hot with gravy.

Recipe from: Ration Book Cookery by Gill Corbishley, 2004, p19.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Ration Book Cooking Project

When we were in England a few years ago, Tim and I wound up at the Imperial War Museum's Duxford air field on WWII day. We had planned to go because we both love aeroplanes, but it was a total accident we were there on that particular day. It was meant to be.

Not only were there many people there in full WWII attire, complete with gas mask boxes, hairstyles and uniforms, but we had the pleasure of seeing many wonderful examples of historical flying machinery, some still in working order. We wandered through the ill-fated Concord and saw a cool black spy plane. We rode on 1940s bicycles which was thrilling, so much so that when we got back, I spent months trying (in vain) to find a pair to buy. In one tent there was a lady who was an expert in ration book cooking. She'd made a few things that we tried, including a chocolate truffle made of potato, cocoa and sugar. Nothing more. It wasn't half bad either.

Since then, I have bought a few WWII cook books that I love pouring over. I have a couple of authentic volumes from the period, from both the UK and the US. It certainly seems as though there was a big difference between the food situation in each country. In fact, the second edition of 'Wartime Recipes' that was published by the Omaha World-Herald is funny for the lack of rationing. It contains recipes such as 'chocolate jelly roll', 'enriched french toast' (with real eggs!) and 'baked squash with sausage links.'

I also have a more recent and very helpful book called "Ration Book Cookery" by Gill Corbishley. It's a British book and has a nice range of easy recipes and a lot of interesting information. I've often meant to cook from it and over the next week, I'll get my chance.

I've had in mind a project for a while where I cook ration meals for one week. Tim asked me why. Basically because I'm interested to know how well these recipes work and what they taste like. It's pure curiosity, although I would also like to have some appreciation of what people were eating then.

The plan is that for the next seven days, I'll cook a ration meal each night. I'm not going to follow ration quantities in the sense of how much we're allowed to eat. It's simply an exercise in cooking and eating, although I won't take my usual liberties with the recipes and I will follow them as exactly as today's ingredients allow. Tim's agreed to get into the spirit and eat ration meals all week, including breakfast and lunch, so there will be a lot of porridge, Spam and Oslo meals happening. He's also agreed to provide feedback each day on the blog.

Now just so we're clear, this is not a weight loss exercise or a social commentary. It's just something that I thought would be fun and interesting to try. I read somewhere that during ration times in Britain, the British people as a whole ate better and were healthier than at any other time, so hopefully it won't be too difficult to enjoy the food either. Having said that, Tim's Godmother Al told me yesterday that she remembers rationing as a child and said it was horrible. I guess we're about to find out!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day Cupcakes

We're making the trek to Canberra this weekend for Mother's Day. (Also I need to see my beautician and hair dresser and one or two other extremely important people...)

This year we're taking the easy option of going out instead of cooking, and will be going out for yum cha on Sunday morning with our mothers, our Godmother and various siblings in tow. When invited, our Godmother quickly flagged champagne drinking as a staple of Mother's Day (even at 10.45am!), noting that she couldn't possibly drink green tea. My mother went one step further and suggested that the champagne drinking should start the day before. (Notice a theme here...)

So to sop up all the champagne, I have a few treats in mind. First, I'll be making the chocolate chestnut cake I tried earlier this week. It's so good that any excuse will do to make it again, including pre-Mother's Day festivities. Second, I thought a batch of old-school cupcakes might do the trick.

This is a recipe very like the one my mother taught me as a kid so it's apt that I make it this weekend. It's a basic vanilla cake recipe; it's quick, easy and works every time. It's not too sweet, as Tim pointed out, and it doesn't have that plastic sort of taste to it that you can get with over-engineered or shop bought cake. It turns out quite robust and makes a substantial snack, although it's not quite a muffin.

2 cups self raising flour, sifted twice
1/2 cup caster sugar
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 180ºC

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each. Add the vanilla and yogurt and mix well. Add the flour and milk and mix on high speed for two minutes.

Spoon into patty pans. Bake for 20 minutes, or until risen and golden.

This makes 12 large cupcakes.

Happy Mother's Day Mum xxoo

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gluten free chocolate chestnut cake

In the past, Tim's seemingly constant twittering used to drive me so nuts that on one occasion I physically removed his iPhone from him and threw it away. (He couldn't understand why I objected so vehemently to him tweeting people he didn't even know while we were out to dinner, in bed, or on our wedding day.) He doesn't have time for it as much these days which is excellent, and there have been far fewer phone related incidents in our home as a result.

I actually do have a twitter account. It's a fairly recent thing and I joined up initially to see what all the fuss was about. My personal experience is that it's something to do to take a break from other tasks or when I'm procrastinating from study. You can steal a moment on Twitter and read about the second-to-second happenings of people you don't know, or post your own. For example: 'Kitchenmade is bored and needs another coffee.' Thrilling stuff.

All of that aside, if you can get past the inanities, tantrums, spruiking of products and people who tweet every five seconds, there is some good stuff to be found via Twitter. It turns out that there are a lot of like-minded people out there who just love food and cooking and sharing their recipes and knowledge. For me, it's been a good way of keeping up with what's going on in the foodisphere.

The point of all of this is that a few days ago, I was on Twitter and I saw a post that caught my eye with two key words: 'chocolate' and 'chestnut'. Following the link, I found a recipe that I just couldn't go past for a gluten free chocolate and chestnut cake. I've been wanting to do something like this for ages and this looked simple and delicious. It got extra ticks because it's gluten free and because chestnut is the best nut you can eat due to it's zero fat content. In fact, as far as chocolate cakes go, this is about the healthiest I've ever seen without compromising on taste. The result is a smooth, moist texture, and just enough sweetness to make it rich without being sickly. I honestly cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a cake so much.

Now as always, I deviated slightly from the original recipe. First, I added rum. Second, I didn't have a spring-form square tin so I lined a small tray with baking paper and it worked just fine. However, I'm making this again for a dinner party on the weekend and it will be in regular round tin form. I also used a slightly different method which I've described, below. Finally, I glazed it with a dark chocolate-butter-coffee combo, but I wouldn't do that again because you just don't need it.

425g chestnut puree (I used a full 439g tin)
250g 70% cocoa chocolate (I couldn't get it so used 63% which was fine)
125g butter (I used unsalted)
6 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp rum
60g caster sugar
25g brown sugar

Preheat oven to 180ºC

In a food processor combine chestnut puree, butter, egg yolks and vanilla.

Melt the chocolate and let it cool slightly. Add it to the chestnut mixture, making sure it's well combined. You might need to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. When done, place the mixture into a large bowl.

Whisk the egg whites until doubled in volume and fluffy. Add the caster sugar bit by bit and continue to whisk until you get a glossy, stiff mixture. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top and stir through gently. I just turned the electric mixer down low for this bit.

Add the meringue mixture to the chestnut mixture a little at a time and fold through gently. I used a hand whisk. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes.

When it's cool, remove from the tin and dust with cocoa, icing sugar or glaze if you really want to.

See the recipe in its original form at:

[Oh, and if you're wondering why the photo quality is so different this time, it's because I only had the compact camera on hand]

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pear & ginger tart

It's Monday morning and a beautiful one at that. No rushing off to the office to deal with unhappy people. No struggling into pantyhose and tottering around on heels. No stress because there are no car parks left at 7.30am. Yes, I'm still loving the country life.

This weekend past has been notable for a few things. First, we ate an excellent birthday dinner in Melbourne on Friday night for my good friend Jane. It was at a place called Gypsy's. Gypsy's takes you by surprise because it's on a suburban street in Beaumaris, wedged between two regular houses. The only thing that gives it away as a restaurant is the big sign splashed across the house. The menu isn't large and consists of five main dishes. I remember them all - slow cooked pork in cabbage, beef and pinot noir stew, roast pork, risotto and harpuki. All were served piping hot and in generous proportions. There are a few other things, including a vegetarian minestrone and a number of dessert options. Trust me, once you have a main, you don't need dessert. Oh, and the bathroom was gorgeous!

Yesterday we drove to Maffra for the markets. It's a pretty drive through Gippsland to get to Maffra and there are some stunning old homesteads to see along the way. I love that old Australian architecture, complete with long, oak-lined driveways that lead you to the main attraction. If it wasn't for the sealed roads and occasional reminder that we're in 2010, you could be driving through pre-WWII Australia. Unfortunately, the markets were not what we were expecting and one truly terrible coffee later, we left. Actually, it's the first time I've thrown a coffee out after one sip. I wanted to go get a refund, but Tim baulked at the idea and reminded me that we really should have known better. I won't explain why.

But the main thing about this weekend just gone is that Ladybug earned her keep by catching a mouse and dispatching of it so quickly and cleanly that we almost didn't realise what had happened. She'd been on guard since Friday night when we got home around midnight and one had run in from the laundry and under the fridge. Tim poked around with a broom handle for a while and it ran, over him (yuck), and took up residence behind the dish washer. The Bug has kept watch ever since and at about 2.30 this morning, she got her reward. It's a downside of living in the country - there are all sorts of creepy crawlies all over the place and it's not a question of keeping a clean house. They're everywhere!

Otherwise, I did a lot of baking with mixed results. One thing that did work well was the pear tart. I'm loving pears at the moment and they're my new snack of choice. Get them while they're just going ripe, but not too mushy, and they are beautifully sweet with a delicate texture and I find them very satisfying. Mmmmm...

Natural progression means a pear tart. This is pretty simple and can be simpler if you just use bought pastry. I made spelt pastry but won't bore you with the details.

150g almond meal
150g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, soft but not melted
2 large, free-range eggs
40g plain flour
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla

3 pears, cored, peeled and halved
50g caster sugar
2 pieces of ginger, about 3-4cm long each
1 stick of cinnamon
1 large piece of lemon zest
1/2 tsp rose water (optional)

1-2 pieces of short crust pastry.

Grease a flan tin (about 20cm) and line it with the pastry. Dock and set aside. Preheat oven to 180ºC.

Place the pears in the pan with the sugar, ginger, cinnamon, zest and rose water. Just cover with water. Bring to a steady simmer and turn the heat down so it's only just simmering for 10 minutes. Remove, drain and cool.

For the filling, place the sugar and butter in a bowl and with an electric mixer, beat until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one and then slowly add the almond meal. Finally, mix in the flour, zest and vanilla. You should have a fluffy, sweet sort of mix.

Spoon the filling into the tin and even it out a bit. Place the pears in a circular arrangement on top of the filling and slightly press in. Bake until it's turning a golden brown. Serve hot or cold.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Peanut butter cookies

Lately I've been baking tasty treats a couple of times a week. I have the time and I've always enjoyed baking. It's my down time and I love experimenting and creating. Tim's not complaining because he's living the dream with slices and cookies almost every day in his lunch box. In fact, I have a freezer full of goodies that should last a couple of weeks if I stopped baking today...unless Tim discovers my stash.

Recently I picked up the free Coles magazine. I've rifled through previous editions in the past for ideas, noting that the food looks accessible and family-friendly. I think that the benefit of a magazine put out by a supermarket is that it contains recipes for the average person that are generally straight forward, quick to make, good value and contain easily obtainable ingredients.

Anyway, in this year's Autumn edition, I found a recipe for peanut butter cookies. For a change I stuck to the recipe, word for word, except I forgot to chop the scorched peanuts. It didn't matter. They worked out well although I thought they were a little dry. This could be because I used light peanut butter, but if I make them again I'll probably use a little more butter or slightly less plain flour. In any case, Tim loved them, they're quick to throw together and could be a fun one for the kids to try.

200g butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 cup self-raising flour
200g scorched peanuts, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 160ºC or 140ºC fan forced. Line two large baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

Using electric beaters, beat butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl until light and creamy. Beat in peanut butter. Sift flours over the butter mixture and use a non-serated knife to mix to a dough. (I used an electric mixer on low). Add the scorched peanuts and m ix through with a knife.

Roll heaped tablespoons of dough into balls and place onto prepared trays. Flatten to about 1.5cm. Bake for 15 minutes, until lightly golden underneath. They will still be soft.Leave on trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chocolate Anzac slice

Over the past few days Tim and I have talked about whether to go to any of the local dawn services, memorials, parades or other events planned for today. We've both done all of that before and while both of us are fully aware of the significance of Anzac Day and respectful of those it serves to memorialise, we really wanted, and needed, a day at home.

This morning Tim and I awoke to the carry-ons of Ladybug. We leapt out of bed and went running to see what was wrong. Nothing was wrong, but the farmer had moved his cows into the paddock that runs alongside our driveway. The Bug was just letting us know. Then we remembered it was Anzac Day and we could still go to the local memorial service if we wanted to. We decided against it.

I personally find Anzac Day services moving and emotional and something that's worth going to at least once in your lifetime. I had an uncle go to Vietnam. My mother says he was never the same after that. Tim had two great uncles die in Japanese POW camps during WWII. His grandfather served in Borneo and was much affected, although people didn't tend to talk much about it then.

We're now living in a very small town with streets named for families that lived here for generations. I imagine that people still remember the names of men on the local cenotaph. I always find it sad that all over Australia, the smallest towns gave the largest percentages of their young men to wars fought almost a century ago.

To change tracks slightly, I think it's great that we have an every day reminder of something so important, albeit in the form of the Anzac cookie. These tasty morsals are something every Aussie kid has grown up with and thankfully people keep on baking and sharing them. This year, inspired by a recipe my friend Dimi shared with me, I made something slightly different - chocolate Anzac slice. It's every bit as easy as making cookies, and perfect for your lunch box.

2 cups self raising flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup coconut
1 cup sugar
250g butter
4 tbsp golden syrup
4 tbsp hot water
4 tbsp cocoa
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp bicarb soda
melted chocolate - optional

Preheat oven to 160ºC. Line a flat baking tin or lamington pan with baking paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, rolled oats, coconut, sugar an cocoa.

In a medium sized pan, melt the butter with the golden syrup. Add the vanilla. In a cup, mix the bicarb with the water and add to the completely melted butter mix. It will froth up. Add this to the dry ingredients and combine well.

Press the mixture into the tin and bake for 15-20 minutes. When cool drizzle melted chocolate across, cut into squares and keep in an airtight container. Oh, and enjoy!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Passion fruit pavlova roll

My love affair with passion fruit continued over the weekend. I've now used all the passion fruit curd I made last week, but I still have plenty of little gems clinging to the vine and ripening daily. I suspect they won't last much longer but I will enjoy them while they're here.

On the weekend I decided to attempt a pavlova roll. I must confess that meringue isn't my best thing. Whether I follow a recipe or not, I find it a bit of a hit and miss affair. That being said, I've been dying to make pavlova for ages and since I had loads of passion fruit curd left, I thought I'd give it a go. I've seen pavlova rolls in books and magazines over the years and think they look really pretty. I also figured they'd be a little different to serving great big slabs of pavlova, especially since Tim is not a pav fan.

After doing some research, I decided I should keep things simple. Just egg white, sugar and a little vanilla. No messing about with cream of tartar, vinegar or corn flour. I wound up with a lovely thick, glossy meringue mix. I spread it on the paper hoping for the best and slid it into the oven. Then I waited and watched. I worried about how unevenly it rose in the oven, but once I took it out and it cooled, it evened out. I was quite pleased with how the whole thing came together, and enjoyed the sliver I tried when I cut the ends off so it would fit on the plate. Then I gave it away.

Why on earth would I do that, you say? Partly because there's no point going to the gym and then coming home and stuffing yourself on sugar and cream. But mainly because we have stumbled into the kind of neighbourhood one can only dream of. It's a place where people actually care about their neighbours (not in a weird, Desperate Housewives sort of way) and make an effort to get along. For example: whoever is out first brings in the next door neighbour's rubbish bins. If one guy is edging his lawn, he edges the lawns on either side of his house. People share home grown veg, kids ride bikes in the street with the knowledge that they're safe, and on the rare occasion that Ladybug wanders, I'm immediately allerted by calls of 'Ladybug's wandering down the street!' so that I can quickly retrieve her. Go the country life!

4 egg whites
1/2 cup caster sugar plus 2 tbsp extra
1 tsp vanilla essence
pulp from two large passion fruit
1 cup passion fruit curd

Preheat oven to 200ºC.

In a perfectly clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add the vanilla and then the sugar gradually, in about four goes, whisking constantly so it disolves completely. The mixture should look glossy and feel very thick when it's ready.

On a lamington pan lined with baking paper, spread the egg mixture out as evenly as you can. Cook for ten minutes, or until it's very lightly golden.

While it's cooking, tear off a piece of baking paper that's longer than the tray, place it on a flat surface where you have some room to move, and sprinkle with about two tablespoons of caster sugar.

Take the meringue out (don't worry if it's risen unevenly) and turn it upside down onto the prepared paper. Pull the paper off the back of it and let it cool for a few minutes.

Mix about 2/3 of the whipped cream with about 2/3 of the passion fruit pulp. It doesn't have to be completely combined, just sort of mixed in toghether. Spread the mix onto the meringue before it cools right down. [If you want to, you can just put 2/3 of the whipped cream and top with fruit of your choice, such as strawberry or mango].

Roll the meringue from one of the long sides. Take your time and try not to panic. The paper should fall away as you roll. Place it on a long plate and top with the leftover cream mix and drizzle with passion fruit pulp, or alternatively, decorate with more fruit. Refridgerate until you serve it.

NB: To test whether the sugar has dissolved properly, rub a little between your fingers. If it feels gritty, you need to keep whisking.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Isabel has arrived!!!

Congratulations Fleur and David and welcome Isabel!!!

Babies only arrive in the wee small hours and Isabel was no exception. Mum spent the evening in hospital and finally had Issie at 5am this morning. Dad went home to sleep it off. Aunt Lizzie texted me at 5.40am, but I'm not complaining. The best sort of news is worth the early wake-up call. Now I just can't wait to meet the little one.

Cookies and knitting will be in the post in the next few days.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Passionfruit in season

I am lucky enough to have a passion fruit vine in my new back yard. At the moment the fruit is in season and I'm enjoying them with a passion (very bad pun intended). I never used to get in to these little gems of the fruit world, except for special recipes. Now that I have a vine, I'm out there checking every day for ripe fruit. I love the combination of sweet and sour, the colour of sunshine when you open them up, and the crunch of the seeds.

This week I've gotten totally addicted to passion fruit curd. It's a bit of a problem since I'm spending more time at the gymthan I have in years. I don't want all the crunches, lunges and squats to be in vain. But passion fruit curd is so divine, it's hard to keep away from it. It's also so simple and quick to make, and really versatile in its uses. For example, use it as a cake or tart filling, on English muffins or toast, or spooned lavishly over ice cream or meringue.

Today it took me literally under half an hour to make some small, short crust tart shells, filled them with passion fruit curd and topped them with meringue. I placed these under the grill for a few minutes until they started to brown then let them cool. They're perfect to eat alone as a treat or with a dollop of rich, thick cream.

But enough drooling! Here's my recipe for passion fruit curd. I've used 170g of passion fruit pulp because if you're not lucky enough to have a vine, that's the size of tin it comes in.

4 eggs
3 egg yolks
170g passion fruit pulp
3/4 cup caster sugar
150g cold butter
2 tbsp lemon juice
finely grated zest of 1 lemon

In a bowl over simmering water, vigorously whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until the mixture starts to froth and thicken. Don't stop mixing because you don't want to wind up with scrambled eggs. This could take 10 minutes or so but it's worth it. You'll know when it's ready because it becomes pale and frothy. Add the butter and keep whisking while it melts and combines.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the passion fruit pulp, lemon juice and zest. Let it cool down and then refrigerate.

I don't bottle mine as I use it within a few days usually, but this can be properly sealed and preserved if you want to.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gippsland's working out (and so am I)

It's Monday morning in Gippsland. It's cold, wet and windy and has been for most of the weekend. The sun pops out from time to time but it's only for show. I've dug out my sexy tartan dressing gown that drives Tim wild with desire (not) and I don't plan on changing until after at least my first coffee. Speaking of which, the jug is boiling and in a few minutes I'll go plunge some coffee and decide on toast or breakfast muffin. Toast would be sensible. Muffin would be delicious. I made some yesterday and topped them with a dollop of strong coffee icing. Mmmm...

The dog is refusing to even acknowledge me and is buried deep in her basket under a blanket. She's not stupid! She knows its cold and windy and once she's up, she'll be put outside to do whatever she needs to do. Since I'm now attempting to 'get in shape' over the next three months, I'm also tired and stiff this morning, thanks to yesterday's trip to the gym. I know, it gets better.

It's just Monday mornings because on the whole, I'm enjoying the country life style. We live in a tiny town of just a few hundred people. It's close to several bigger towns that have everything one needs, including a kitchen store and a knitting store, right across the road from each other. I have a lemon tree and a passionfruit vine and from our front door we look out across dairy pasture and up to the hills. The neighbours are nice and the Bug is settling in and I'm getting used to not being in the office. Truth be told, I'm loving not being in the office and I'm loving being a student again.

As Tim says, I'll never get this sort of opportunity again so I should make the most of it. He's right. I don't want this time to pass and to feel like I've achieved nothing at the end. On the weekend I decided I needed a plan set down in black and white, for all to see. Right after my second coffee, I'll get to work on it.

Anyway, following Tim's man cold, I got back into the groove of cooking. In the last week I've cooked so much and we've taken a whole lot of photos. I will start posting regularly again. But first, coffee. And toast. Or muffin.

NB. The photo is of sunrise from my front door one day last week.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Meal for a Man-Cold

Tim has a man-cold. He's really, really, really, really sick. Really. He keeps telling me at regular intervals just how sick he really is. Really. He reckons I made him sick except I wasn't as sick as him because I'm not a man so I wouldn't understand how sick he feels.

He searched the internet for treatment for a man-cold. It turns out that it's my job to offer an unending supply of tea, sympathy and tasty treats until he gets better. He is exceptionally hungry. I pointed out that this means he can't be too sick, but I was informed, with conviction, that he gets super hungry when he is especially sick. So I cooked.

It turns out that Tim's man-cold is responsible for booting me back into the kitchen in any serious way. Yesterday I rolled up my sleeves and dusted off my KitchenAid after a considerable absence. It's not that I haven't wanted to cook or that I haven't been cooking. It's just that a I've had a whole lot going on. Moving to a new state, from city to country, adjustment to a new environment, not to mention new kitchen. And then there have been the treks back to Canberra, the study and the fact that it took weeks to get the internet and telephone up and running. It all takes time and effort. At 11pm on Saturday night, after a seven hour drive, I found myself toasting ham and cheese and throwing together tom yum soup out of a packet.

In essence, I'd resorted to just doing the necessary stuff -dinners, lunches, cookies for Tim to take to work to impress his colleagues with. That sort of thing. The man-cold single-handedly drove me to be creative again and to think about what anything I cooked would like in a photograph.

Needless to say, I did my best to fill every gastronomic need my terribly ill husband might have had in order to restore his health. I preserved lemons. (Obviously these didn't do him any good yesterday, but taking photos temporarily distracted him from how sick he is.) I baked a French-ish pear tart and some scorched peanut cookies. Then I turned my mind to dinner. I thought of all the things a man-cold might respond favourablt to and threw them all in: ginger, garlic, onion, chilli, citrus, chicken and lots of wine.

Now you might think it's odd to combine red wine with chicken, but this works. The red wine combined with the sweetness of the fruit, the cinamon and the citrus add body and depth to the chicken that you wouldn't get with white wine. It's sort of a mulled wine flavour with a chilli kick at the end. Perfect for a cool evening or a man-cold.

Verdict? I enjoyed it. It was warming, packed with flavour, healthy and helped clear the sinuses. Tim said it had a lovely texture but he couldn't actually taste a thing. Perhaps he is sick...

500g chicken thighs
50g butter
2tbsp olive oil
4 shallots, finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
1/2 brown onion, finely sliced
5cm piece ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 green chilli, finely sliced
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup saltanas
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup muscat (or other sweet wine or fresh orange juice)
2 cups red wine
1 cinamon stick
Salt to taste
Finely chopped continental parsley, slivered almonds and chilli to garnish.

Place the apricots and sultanas in a small bowl. Pour the muscat over, cover with cling film and set aside for at least 15 minutes.

Place the butter and oil together in a heavy sautee pan or saucepan. Brown the thighs on each side, but don't cook through. Remove and set aside.

Add the onion, shallots and garlic and brown slightly. Add the ginger, lemon zest and carrots and stir. Add the apricots, sultanas and cinamon stick. Place the chicken thighs on top of the other ingredients, pour over the red wine and cover.

Cook this very slowly for an hour or until the chicken is full of flavour and falling apart. You can stir occasionally but do so gently so you don't break the ingredients apart. If it's looking too dry, add some more red wine. When the chicken is cooked, pull it apart and stir it through. Add salt to taste.

Serve with rice or couscous. Top with slivered almonds, parsley and more fresh chilli.

NB. You can use chicken drum sticks if you can't get thigh fillets. Just pull the meat off the bone at the end.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dim sims and removalists

The move is just about complete. "What move?" I hear you ask. The move that is taking me away from my lovely new kitchen, that's what move!

I've decided that moving is a particular brand of hell that should be reserved for use as a form of cruel and unusual punishment, and little else. It really is painful. First of all there's the lead-up in which you have to sort everything out. This wasn't too bad and I got rid of all sorts of things we thought we needed but never really used. Then the pack up. This was interesting. I booked a removalist and all seemed to be going alright, except I seemed to have trouble confirming our address. As it turns out, they had decided they were going to move us to a town that we'd never heard of somewhere in NSW. I found out about this the day before the scheduled pack up. My confidence in them shattered, I promptly cancelled the deal. Later that day I got an email, asking very politely and with apparently genuine curiosity, why I had decided to cancel. Seriously.

A week later a group of people from a different company turned up to pack, on time, in good spirits and with the correct address. Of course they packed everything in their wake, which I suppose is the idea. But I really mean everything, including stuff I'd put to one side to throw out. Such items included Tim's dirty painting gear, the linen off the bed I was sleeping in, a bottle of out of date OJ and the cat. Well not really the cat, but if we'd had a cat and it had been sitting still at the time, it would have got packed! These guys were very efficient!

At the other end, I've managed to unpack most of the main stuff we need to live and that includes the kitchen. It's amazing what you find when you're unpacking and deciding where to put it in a kitchen that isn't yours. Tim says I'll have to make it mine. And so I will.

Not having all my usual cooking resources sorted yet, I went out foraging for easy meals. I wasn't disappointed. The dim sims pictured come from a deli I found in the Gippsland town of Traralgon. It's one of the best delis I've ever been in and for around $30 I managed to buy Tim and I lunch, dinner, dessert and a loaf of artisan bread. Not bad. These were pork and beef dim sims and they were huge, very filling and very delicious. I did nothing fancy to serve either - just steamed and served with soy sauce. I've attempted making dumpling type stuff myself in the past, but I need lessons because it doesn't come naturally to me.

Coming up this week, I have some exciting cooking ahead, including catering for a 60th birthday party. I'm going to do a test run of the cake today so crossed fingers. I've also been given some fantastic kids recipes that I'll be testing as well. I figured Tim's just a boy in a man's body so it all works out.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Better late...

I think it's fair to say that 2009 was a full, rich year. I feel like I barely had time to take a breath and already it's mid-January 2010. To recap, aside from the cooking and photography, we spent the first three months of 2009 planning a wedding and getting married. Over the next few months, we had heaps of overseas visitors come to stay, there was a new job, birthdays, some major home improvements and then without warning, I found myself in hospital. Twice. The second time resulted in a week-long trip to Sydney for my mother and God-mother Ali, who, when they weren't being wonderful and supportive and bringing me proper coffee and drooling over my surgeon, wandered around Sydney shopping and marinating. So it wasn't time wasted.

By December I was ready for some fun and so was Tim, having done so much travel since October that the dog was starting to have abandonment issues (wait until I go back to work!). I felt it was time for a Christmas party, and I was right.

I couldn't stand for hours in the kitchen, so I kept things as simple as possible and made a lot of stuff in advance. My mother and Ali helped and if I do say so myself, we put on an excellent spread. I think particular triumphs for the evening were the stuffed mushrooms, Ali's mini sausage rolls, and the roast vegetable frittata cut into bite sized pieces and served with tomato mustard, fresh basil and fetta on top.

Unfortunately, I picked the hottest night in December and we don't have aircon. I remember feeling the temperature suddenly and steeply rise with the influx of people and not helped by the bottle-neck of revellers who insisted on collecting just inside the kitchen doorway. I just couldn't shift them. About half the crowd eventually spilled out into to the backyard which was excellent. Anyway, nobody seemed too worried, champagne continued to be drunk, food got eaten and we were lucky to get a refreshing breeze fairly early on in the piece. I was exhausted for about three days afterwards, but I needed it and thoroughly enjoyed it and would do it again. Next Christmas.

The purpose of the gingerbread house? I haven't made one in years, I wanted a Christmassy centrepiece for the party, and I could make this mostly sitting down which was absolutely essential in December. It took me a few days to do as I worked in fits and bursts. I had my brother Sam help me build trusses and assemble and eventually taste. There were gingerbread men standing around it but Tim apparently tripped and as he fell, his open mouth was broken by the fall of the gingerbread men. Several times. He tried to blame it on two and a half year old Henry, but I watch enough crime TV to know to match up the bite mark on the gingerbread torso that I did find, with the man. It was way too big for little Henry. At least Tim didn't hurt himself.

What next? Well so far 2010 has involved decisions about moves and jobs and health and studies and I can see it's gearing up to be another huge year involving a lot of choice and complications. Will I take the promotion? Will we get Ladybug a little brother or sister? Will Tim take my name? Will I continue to cook and blog? I know the answer to the last one will be yes, starting with me getting organised over the next few weeks.

Thanks to everyone who read this last year. Please be patient - I will be getting back into the swing of things as soon as I'm removed and resettled.