Homemade

Cheats Christmas Fudge

Cheats Christmas Fudge

So you’re down to the wire and need something quick, easy, and Christmas-y to share with colleagues, gift to neighbours, or top up your party spread? Here comes your lifesaver: Cheats Christmas Fudge.

I must confess the only thing Christmas-y about this fudge is the crushed candy canes on top. That’s kind of a blessing though- it means you can whip this up at anytime of the year by swapping out the topping for another of your choice. Nuts are the first thing that come to my mind but I’m sure you have plenty of suggestions. Crushing the candy canes is a job undertaken very enthusiastically by toddlers in my experience. Stick a handful of candy canes in a plastic bag, seal it, hand a rolling pin to any child who needs to release some pent up up energy, remove all breakable objects from the vicinity, and let them at it. Tea towels are a good idea to protect your bench top.

Crushing candy canes

If you exclude the candy canes this recipe only has two ingredients. That’s correct. Two.

Ingredients:

1 can sweetened condensed milk (395g)
3 cups chocolate melts (I used milk chocolate but you could experiment with dark)

Method:

  1. Line a slice tin with aluminium foil
  2. Place a double boiler (or if you’re like me and don’t have one, a bowl over a saucepan will suffice) on the stove and pop the chocolate and sweetened condensed milk in the top
  3. Heat gently until the chocolate has melted, then stir to combine
  4. Quickly pour the melted mix into your lined slice tin, smooth the top, and decorate with toppings of your choice (crushed candy canes in this case) or leave plain
  5. Stick the whole tray into the fridge to set for a couple of hours
  6. Once set cut into squares and package or plate as you see fit!

Melting

You can also experiment with flavours added to the fudge mix itself. This time I added a few drops of peppermint essence but you could also try vanilla, or almond essence would be great with blanched almonds on top! Just be careful when adding to the mix as any water will make the chocolate seize.

Are you a fudge fan? What other flavour combinations can you come up with?

Advertisements

Food glorious food! Salmon Rillettes

Ricotta, honey, and banana toast

One of the things I dislike about pregnancy is the restricted diet. Australian guidelines are very full-on regarding what pregnant women can and cannot eat. Of course my pregnancy hormones appeared to have taken a look at the ‘do not eat’ list and decided to crave everything on it, well and truly putting my willpower to the test!

The very same day I gave birth my darling husband went out and bought me a great big hunk of blue vein cheese. Be still my beating heart.

Coffee time!

I’ve very much enjoyed my coffee (not too much as I’m breastfeeding), soft cheese, and charcuterie post-birth. And smoked salmon! Oh how I love smoked salmon. It can be cost effective if you just use a little in a dish too.

I’ve made this Salmon Rillettes recipe a couple of times since Earle was born. It’s a  great recipe for us as I take the kids for a walk down to the fish markets to pick up the salmon fillets (I use tail as it’s boneless, cheap and gets flaked up anyway) and smoked salmon. It doesn’t involve a lot of cooking or fussing as you can prepare the salmon by pouring boiling water over it and leaving it to poach. Too easy! It’s a wonderful dish for summer as it doesn’t require you to heat up the kitchen.

Salmon Rillettes spread

Salmon Rillettes

Ingredients:
2 x 150g salmon fillets
75g smoked salmon, roughly chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbs capers, finely chopped
2 tbs lemon zest
handful of dill, finely chopped
3 tbs natural yoghurt (you could also use creme fraiche or sour cream but I make my own natural yoghurt so this is cheaper & easier for me)
salt, to season

Process:

  1. Poach the salmon by placing the fillets in a bowl, pour boiling water over the fillets, and leaving the bowl covered with a plate for 15 min
  2. Remove salmon skin (it peels away very easily after poaching) and flake the flesh into a bowl
  3. Add all the other ingredient and mix well
  4. D0ne!

Serve with crusty bread. You can toast any stale bread you have lying around or purchase a French baguette and slice it up into little rounds. It’s great as an hors d’oeuvre for a dinner party, or as part of a larger spread for a casual light dinner (how we usually enjoy it as per the image above). Hope you like it as much as we do!

Scrumptious scrolls

I truly do not intend to focus on food on this blog but meals and the kitchen play such a big part in any family home it’s hard not to! Lately I found myself craving cinnamon scrolls. I’m not a big believer in sugar and refined carbs but sometimes one just has to give in to the cravings! All things in moderation, I say!

This scroll recipe is great because by its very nature you are making a large batch of scrolls. What you don’t eat straight away you can freeze and reheat later. It’s also wonderful because you can tailor it to what’s in the pantry or what you’d like to use the scrolls for. I wanted sweet scrolls for breakfast or morning tea so that’s what I made but if you were looking for something savoury for the kids’ lunch boxes or a picnic you could swap out the sweet ingredients for savoury such as cheese, ham, herbs etc.

I saved myself some time and mess by making the leaven dough in the bread maker (man I love that thing) and the rest of the steps were perfect for my toddler assistant to get involved. We took turns rolling out the dough and sprinkling ingredients etc. She just loves helping.

Ingredients:

Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) warm (not hot!) milk
  • 3 teaspoons dried yeast
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 4 cups (600g) plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked

Flavouring

  • 80g butter, melted/softened (approx, I didn’t measure)
  • half a cup brown sugar (approx, I didn’t measure)
  • ground cinnamon
  • handful of sultanas
  • handful of walnuts, coarsely chopped

Method:

  1. Combine milk, yeast and sugar in a bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes until frothy.
  2. Combine flour and salt in the breadmaker; make a well in the centre. Pour milk mixture and egg into the well; turn it on and let the machine do its thing. (If you don’t have a breadmaker simply mix in a bowl and cover until dough has risen).

  3. When the machine has finished the leaven dough cycle and your dough has doubled in size preheat your oven to 180°C.  Line a tray with baking paper.

  4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

    Dough

  5.  Use a rolling pin to roll to a 30 x 40cm rectangle. Brush/spread with butter, leaving some butter for later. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over dough, again reserving some for later. Fold a short side of dough over two-thirds of filling. Fold remaining 1/3 over the top to enclose filling. Roll dough out to a 30 x 40cm rectangle; repeat filling and folding process. You can do this s couple of times but I only did it once.

    rolling out

    cinnamon and sugar

    folded and rolling

  6. Roll dough to a 30 x 40cm rectangle. Repeat butter, cinnamon, and sugar steps. Sprinkle with sultanas and walnuts.

    more cinnamon

    walnuts

    ingredients done

  7. Roll up dough from a long side to enclose filling. Cut log crossways into portions. Arrange, cut-side up, on tray. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside for 15 minutes to rise.

    rolling up log

    log

    cut pre-rise

    after 15min rise

  8. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Set aside for 30 minutes then turn onto a wire rack. (Your house will smell so good!)

    baked close-up

  9. If you like you can drizzle with a simple icing but they really don’t need it. Only ice those you are going to serve immediately if you choose to do so.

I couldn’t help but eat a couple as soon as they came out of the oven. In fact we could have eaten a lot more if I hadn’t forced myself to freeze half as soon as they cooled down. Each morning this week my husband popped a couple into the oven whilst I was in the shower and it was so good to come downstairs to a hot cinnamon scroll and cup of tea for breakfast! They do have a tendency to dry out when you’re reheating them so feel free to brush with a little milk before sticking them in the oven to ensure they remain nice and soft. I love a recipe that I can make in advance and still feel like I’m having a homemade treat!

Alternative flavourings:

  • cheese and vegemite
  • ham and cheese
  • pizza- tomato paste, herbs, garlic, cheese, ham etc
  • herb and garlic
  • apple and cinnamon
  • salami, sun-dried tomato, spanish onion
  • chocolate and hazelnut
  • apricot and pistachio

Do you make homemade scrolls? Have any other flavour combinations to offer?

*Please note: I have edited this post and adjusted the cooking temperature and time after further experimentation* 

Freezer Prep

As you know I’m pregnant with number two and this hasn’t been an easy pregnancy. I don’t have a day without significant pain and as a result I feel exhausted, grumpy, and guilty. One of the first things to slip when I’m feeling this way is good home-cooked meals. The time and energy it takes to plan, prep, and cook something frugal and healthy just seems too much. The temptation to send my husband out for take-away, order home delivery, or just eat cheese on toast has won out more than I like to admit. Then of course I feel horribly remorseful.

Paddy's MarketsSomething had to change so I started this very simple trick. I would visit the local markets and purchase about a kilo each of onions, carrots, and celery- the basic starter ingredients for so many soups, stews, and casseroles. Then I would come home, prepare these ingredients, and freeze in recipe sized portions. This is really time efficient (I use the food processor as it’s a large enough amount to make the washing up worthwhile) and frugal (no wasted veggies rotting in the crisper). I freeze the packs flat to take up less space and make them easy to organise in the freezer. Once frozen you can even store them upright in the freezer if that makes them easier to access for you.

diced carrots

Celery

Filling the bags

Onion skins

On those evenings when I feel like I can’t face cooking I can pull one of these little ziplock bags out of the freezer and the tedious prep work is done for me. It’s so easy to dump the frozen diced ingredients into a saucepan with a little oil and by adding some stock you have a simple soup which can be bulked up with pasta, noodles, lentils, and whatever meat and veggies you have lying around. If I really can’t raise my expanding bottom from the lounge I can even instruct my patient husband on the dumping, sautéing etc. process knowing that half the work is already done for him. I’ve also used these starter packs in the slowcooker/crockpot- makes getting the meal started in the morning before heading off to work even easier!

Ready to freeze

Into the freezer they go!

It turns out I’m not the only person who has discovered the benefits of preparing and freezing the beginnings of a meal. I like my little starter packs because they are so versatile (who knows what this pregnant belly will crave from one day to the next!) but another way to go is preparing and freezing all the ingredients for a meal. This works well when you want to do all your dinner preparation on say Sunday and simply dump the lot in the slow cooker each morning (you can defrost in the fridge the night before to make it easier to remove from the ziplock bag if necessary). If you don’t mind a bit of repetition in your weekly meals you can buy ingredients in bulk and make multiples of the same meal. If you and your family tend to have curry/bolognese/daal every Tuesday night this is perfect. You can make a month of Tuesday night dinners in one afternoon. If you have close friends and family who enjoy similar food to you there’s even the possibility of exchanging meals. You could each prepare multiple lots of a meal and swap amongst yourselves so you end up with one of each- dinner for the week sorted with variety intact! Simply write the recipe name and instructions (e.g. 7 hours on low, add cream before serving etc) on the ziplock bag and you’re good to go. Would be great if you all had something like exam week coming up.

If you’re stuck for idea Pinterest is a good place to start. Try http://www.pinterest.com/faithbringsjoy/recipes-meal-planning-freezer-food-prep/ and http://www.pinterest.com/ahavey1/freezer-prep-meals/ or simply search for ‘freezer meals’ etc. I actually haven’t found many recipes online that work for me as most require processed ingredients such as sauces that we don’t use in our house (what is this obsession with adding packets of french onion soup to everything?!), but I’m slowly adapting our own well-loved recipes to make them suitable to freeze in advance and slow cook. Do you make use of your freezer to help with meal preparation? Have you ever frozen recipe ingredients in advance before putting in the slow cooker? Care to share a recipe?

Lost skills

When you decide to live a more simple life there are certain things you have to learn how to do. These techniques and skills will depend on where you live and what your priorities are. For example, if you’re in the country and value organic food you might need to learn how to milk your own dairy cow, if you’re in the suburbs and want to avoid purchasing cheap mass produced clothes you may need to get your darning skills up to date. A problem arises when you realise so many of these old skills have been lost. If, like me, you’re of a generation X/Y vintage you might have had parents who both worked out of the home and as a result didn’t have time for knitting or making passata from scratch. Throw in ‘convenience’ foods and products which were cheaper to replace than repair and you can see how easily those skills fell to the wayside.

Something that was lost in the pursuit of convenience was the satisfaction and independence these skills offered. There is a special joy that comes from seeing your darling daughter twirl around in her favourite skirt that you were able to whip up on the sewing machine. The meditative clicking of knitting needles and warmth of an unfurling scarf in your lap can be comforting and cathartic. Want a long dress with pockets? If you can sew you don’t have to wait for a designer to produce an overpriced, poor quality version of what you seek.  Car need its oil changed? What a great feeling to save yourself the service fee and change it yourself.

You are empowered when you can do things for yourself and you get to make things exactly as you’d like them.

So if this upskilling is so empowering why aren’t more people doing it? I believe these skills have an image problem, they are often seen as ‘old and daggy’, because we don’t see our contemporaries practising them. Secondly, we have been told continuously that we don’t have time by advertisers wanting to sell us a quick fix. We are told our status is measured by what we can buy, not by what we can make and do ourselves.

Screen grab from the Work-Shop website

Screen grab from the Work-Shop website

This is why I’m so happy to see places like Work-Shop offer affordable classes where people can go to learn new skills that would be otherwise unattainable. Their classes cover everything from tattoo illustration to beginner harmonica. I was especially excited to see Work-Shop and City of Sydney come together to put on Nanna Knows Best, a series of classes on forgotten Nanna skills! The next class on 15 July is Chinese Knitting with Nanna MeiFen and it’s only $20. A bonus of this series is the opportunity to learn from another generation. I certainly wish my Nanna wasn’t so far away…

So what can you do if you don’t have classes like Nanna Knows Best available near you? I typically turn to YouTube and blogs for instruction. There is no equal to having someone sit by your side and talk you through a practical skill but YouTube especially can be great for picking up new knitting stitches for example. I pause and replay as often as I need, laptop balancing on my knee, needles and wool held directly in front of the screen for comparison. Do you have any video tutorials or classes you would recommend for those looking to upskill?

If you start to ask around you might be surprised at the skills that exist in our local communities, and just how willing people (especially the older generations) are to share and teach them. These skills don’t have to be lost. We can save them, one at a time, and have fun while doing so.

Midweek Meals- Pressure Cooker Risotto

Risotto is a great winter meal. You only need one pot, some arborio rice, stock or broth, and whatever flavourings you like. What makes this dish extra easy is a pressure cooker. Seriously. The first time I made risotto in the pressure cooker I was dumbfounded. Then I got on the phone and called my Mum because I just had to share how amazing this was. It was so easy and so quick! No stirring. No watching like a hawk. Ingredients go in, lid goes on, seven minutes later you have perfectly cooked risotto. That’s right, SEVEN MINUTES! Who knew?!

Ingredients:

1 cup arborio rice
2 cups stock
1 onion diced or 1 leek sliced
Olive oil and a knob of butter
Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Method:

  1. Heat the butter and olive oil in the pressure cooker
  2. Add the onion/leek and cook until translucent
  3. Add the rice and and stir to coat, cooking until the rice changes colour
  4. Add the stock, stirring quickly to deglaze the pan, then put the lid on
  5. Once the cooker has reached the appropriate pressure (high) cook for 7 minutes
  6. Once the time is up remove the lid and stir to allow any excess liquid to evaporate if needed
  7. Grate some parmesan into the pot and add salt & pepper to taste

Variations:

  • Increase/decrease the recipe using the ratio of 1 cup rice : 2 cups stock
  • Replace half a cup of  stock with white wine (use this to deglaze before adding the rest of the liquid)
  • Add protein such as chicken or bacon when you cook the onion/leek
  • Add any veggies you like, such as mushroom, pumpkin, peas etc.

leek

sliced mushrooms

leek, mushrooms, bacon

add the rice

Stock goes in

After 7 minutes

parmesan

give it a stir

Pressure Cooker Risotto

Risotto is a bit like soup in that you can use up whatever veggies and protein you have lying around and you bulk it up with the rice. This makes it very cost effective, which is great for those of us on a budget! Have you noticed most of my recent posts have been about food? Sorry about that. I think it’s the pregnancy- I’m obsessed with food! I’ll get onto something different next post, I promise!

Baking biscuits

Baking with kids is a great way to get them interested in where food comes from, introduce measurements such as weight, volume, and temperature, and keep those little hands busy on rainy days. As the attention span of a toddler isn’t particularly long these River Cottage Ten-minute Chocolate Chip Cookies are perfect for making, baking, and devouring before they lose patience and concentration. The recipe can be found online here or in the River Cottage Everyday and Family cookbooks.

Ten-minute Choc Chip Cookies

Baking

What do you think of my new recipe book stand? We have wanted one for a while now after using the one at my parents’ place but haven’t been able to agree on a design or find one appropriate for our budget. The other day I had to pick up a parcel from the Post Office and when we arrived the queue was out the door! I normally avoid the peak periods by going either side of lunch time during the week but this was a Saturday morning and I wasn’t early enough to beat the crowds. Apparently I was meant to run late that morning because whilst I was standing in that queue my eyes browsed the shelves of envelopes and knick-knacks and what do you think I spied? Why a lovely recipe book stand on the very bottom shelf of course! I picked it up to check the price and I saw the sweetest thing, a big red ‘reduced’ price tag. That’s right, the previously $39.95 recipe book stand was now $6.99. Success!

IMG_8043

There are few pleasures as delicious as licking the bowl and spoon after baking. It’s also a great way to get little ones out of the kitchen for a couple of minutes while you restore some semblance of order! I’ve heard some people wont let their kids lick the bowl for fear of getting sick from raw egg but as long as your eggs are fresh there really isn’t anything to worry about. There are plenty of things we eat that contain raw egg- homemade mayonnaise for example. Let them enjoy this childhood treat, it will surely feature in their memories.

IMG_8047

When this batch came out of the oven the biscuits had spread so much I couldn’t fit them in my biscuit jar and had to resort to using my Great Great Aunt’s beautiful casserole dish. Of course they didn’t last long so airtight storage wasn’t a big concern. These were so good I might just have to bake another batch right now! Do you have a favourite recipe for rainy day baking or keeping the kids entertained?