Kidstuff

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?

TV-free Tuesdays

My sister and her husband have started something they call TV-free Tuesdays. Like so many of us they found themselves starting to slip into the habit of switching on the idiot box after dinner each night. Now I’m going to admit something so few people do: I love TV. Love it. It’s true. I love big fantasy dramas like Game of Thrones, reality shows like 24 hours in Emergency and One Born Every Minute, Aussie comedic dramas like Offspring, documentaries, the list goes on. The problem with loving TV and switching the TV on each night out of habit is you usually end up watching more than just the show you had planned. The hours pass and before you know it you’ve wasted the whole evening sitting in a stupor on the lounge, often in close proximity to your partner without actually engaging them in meaningful conversation. Now that ain’t good.

So what’s the alternative? Leave the TV off and do something instead. Read a book, do some knitting, bonus points if you do something together such as a jigsaw puzzle or card game. The main thing is to break that mind numbing habit and reconnect with yourself and or your partner and family. Get away from the constant screens at which we seem to endlessly stare (computers, TVs, phones, tablets etc) and engage in something fun and active.

Games and puzzles

Matisse jigsaw puzzle

I often keep my eyes open for jigsaw puzzles at op shops. I’ve picked up some great ones including the Matisse pictured. I love puzzles that are artworks. The hardest I’ve completed so far is Blue Poles– it took ages! I also picked up this wonderful Book of Games which is full of every type of card, dice, gambling, and table game. It’s great for inspiration and also as a rule book to which players can refer- especially important when you’re playing with family!

Book of Games

Dix Mille

One of our favourite games is Farkle. It’s a dice game also known as Dix Mille, 10,000, 6 Dice and so on. All you need to play are six dice and pen and paper to keep score. The aim of the game is to be the first to reach 10,000 and points are scored by adding up the dice as you take turns. It’s a great game as no particular skill is needed and it can be played anywhere (we often take our dice to the park and lie in the sun playing for hours) and with any number of players. You can even play in teams if you want. It’s also a good way to get kids to practise their math (addition and multiplication) and probability calculations.

Do you find yourselves slipping into bad screen habits (please tell me we’re not the only ones!)? Have you tried TV-free nights or a family games night? If so, what are your favourite things to do? I love the idea of this becoming a little family ritual.

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* 

The Obliging Op Shop

One of the most expensive aspects of parenthood is clothing constantly growing children. Purchasing (or making) good quality clothing ensures it will last for more than one season and child but the costs can still be extravagant. At the beginning of each season I visit a couple of op shops (opportunity shops, also known as thrift shops overseas) to put together a wardrobe for my daughter. The op shops usually oblige with sturdy items that have been outgrown before they were worn out. I have an aversion to the sickly pink that tends to smother the girls section but beautiful and quirky items always turn up. Many still have the original tags attached- unwanted gifts or thoughtless purchases that were never needed. Plain basics such as leggings and singlets are often harder to come by, perhaps because they are worn out completely, and these I source from the usual channels.

Today I popped into a local St Vincent De Paul shop for a quick browse of their kids’ section. Although I only do two big shops a year I find a quick browse when I pass by an op shop often turns up great pieces one would otherwise miss. Today was just such a day.

Opshop

The haul:
Woollen cardigan with country scene (including sheep- my daughter loves sheep!) $8
Denim overall/pinafore dress $5
Floral corduroy dress $3
White kaftan-style top with blue embroidery (never been worn, new with tags) $4
Pink bangle with strawberries $3

I also picked up a lovely peach bangle for myself for $4. It matches a pair of earrings I already own perfectly.

A pretty good bag of bargains if I do say so myself! I’m hoping the new bangle will mean my darling daughter will stop “borrowing” mine and the new additions to her wardrobe will certainly extend its wear. Apart from the cardigan the other pieces are rather trans-seasonal. They can be warmed up with long sleeved tops and leggings/stockings in winter and in warmer weather worn on their own, or with short sleeved tops, and bare legs/shorts.

The other wonderful aspect of op shopping is the environmental benefit. It is so much better to reuse what is already out there before purchasing something new. It saves resources and energy and challenges our preoccupation with having the newest and best.

Do you frequent your local op shops? What are the best bargains you have discovered?

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!

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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.

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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?

Midweek Meals- Spring roll samosas!

Tuesday nights always seem to throw me. Especially if I’ve been lax with the meal planning. Wednesday night is bin night, it’s also the day I do my shopping at the fruit & veg market, so Tuesday often sees me staring into the fridge poking at limp and unexciting leftovers  trying to create a meal that will use up insipid veggies before I’m forced to clean out the fridge the next day. It’s like my own weekly stocktake sale.

This week I was faced with a baby cabbage and multiple carrots of varying freshness. My first thought was coleslaw but I didn’t have anything else to serve it with (we had been enduring pouring rain for days and I wasn’t going anywhere) so I had to figure out a way to bulk these ingredients up to make a meal. I turned to the pantry to see what I could rustle up there and came across half a packet of rice paper circles. My husband has been bugging me to get rid of them as our toddler loves to pull them out of the packet one by one and break them into little shards all over the kitchen floor. Most annoying.  I previously used them to make cold rice paper rolls but little Willa Rose doesn’t like them so I haven’t made them for ages. It was time to use those suckers up.

I remembered seeing Sarah B of My New Roots use rice paper to make baked samosas so a quick google later and I had her recipe on the screen for guidance and away I went! Obviously I didn’t have exactly the same ingredients as her but it worked well all the same. I was lucky enough to have all the spices so the flavour was there and I just swapped out ingredients according to what I had on hand; slivered almonds and pine nuts instead of cashews, cabbage instead of green peas and spinach etc. I served them with homemade mango chutney as I still have a couple of jars on the shelf from last summer and mango season is quickly approaching again, something else I need to use up!

The actual process of making the rolls is quite nice and repetitive, good for slowing down and great for putting a restless toddler to good use (did I mention the rain and resulting cabin fever?). Willa loved dipping the rice paper in the bowl of warm water- that kid loves anything to do with water- and passing them to me when they were soft. I had already cooked and cooled the filling so the production line was very simple. I rolled the samosas into spring roll shapes as it was more straightforward and meant Willa could pick them up to eat easily. A sprinkling of sesame seeds and coconut and they were ready for the oven!

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Whilst this recipe was very easy it was time consuming. I started preparing and cooking at 4pm and dinner was ready at 6pm. That time would be shorter if I didn’t have a toddler assisting me at every stage along the way, from pressing the buttons on the food processor to shred the cabbage and grate the carrot, to sprinkling sesame seeds indiscriminately over the baking tray. It means the process takes a hell of a lot longer but Willa loves it and I think it’s a great way for her to learn about food and keep her busy! Do you have a favourite meal to make with kids? Or a reliable leftover recipe? Please share below!

Family Visit & Citrus

I have been very busy of late, so busy in fact I’ve had little time to contribute to this blog. A (temporary) full-time job and a toddler has left me worn out and craving an escape. So escape we did!

For my recent birthday weekend my husband, daughter, and I piled into our old vehicle and drove up the coast to stay at my parent’s house for the weekend. It was so nice to get out of Sydney, like they say, a change is a good as a holiday and a change of scenery for 24 hours was just what we needed.

Snow drop

The highlight for me was just walking around the garden with my daughter. She carried a little basket and collected things. We stopped and smelled every flower, looked at every bird, chased each other, and just generally enjoyed the peace and fresh air.

Willa and basket

Willa, Wazza, and Uncle

Being Winter my parent’s garden was full of citrus fruit and before we left we picked a bag each of tangelos, naval oranges, blood oranges, lemons, limes, and a little basketful of cumquats. The task took rather longer than expected as each piece of fruit was picked, handed to little Willa Rose, who then placed it carefully in the bag or basket. The extra time was worth it to see her pride in a job well done, and laugh at her feigned exhaustion if she was asked to carry more than one piece of fruit at a time.

Over the next few posts I’ll share what I did with our massive citrus haul. How do you deal with a citrus glut?