Thursday, December 29, 2011

My happy place/ Boysenberry jam.

When someone offers you 2kg of freshly picked boysenberries in exchange for an airport pick up you throw the kids in the car with a sandwich and a toy each and drive.  My kitchen smells amazing, and the dark purple jars on my windowsill are showing off my spoils to the neighbourhood.

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Eta: changed blackberries to boysenberries!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Favourite food from Christmas

It can be quite hard to pinpoint one favourite from Christmas, so I offer a selection:

 Impromptu Christmas lunch when friends from out of town turned up (thank goodness I'd been trying to perfect blackberry meringues)!
 A very op shop Christmas - the 'family silver' was a great find a couple of months ago.  The napkin rings I found a fortnight ago.  A white linen tablecloth, and lovely 'eco' crackers (I was greenwashed, there is nothing eco friendly about Christmas crackers) that contained my daughter's new favourite joke.  The centrepiece is a collection of china plates glued together with small jars in between - it comes out for high tea, royal weddings and Christmas!
Two years ago my husband learnt how to carve a turkey beautifully - these are the turkey breasts.  We brined Nigella style per usual.

Other favourites:
  • Strawberry and rhubarb fruit cobbler with Nosh brand vanilla custard
  • My friend's gift of homemade mincemeat - little pies are in my future!
  • Tiny little pecan pies (instead of mince).  So yummy - must snag that recipe!
  • Bags of hot chocolate for two from L' Affaire au Chocolat in Berhamphore, Wellington.  Each bag of top quality dark chocolate is flavoured with freshly prepared spices such as chili or cardamon.  Sooooooo good!
  • Candy cane biscotti - it seemed like a good way to use up the broken bag of candy canes I came across.  Very sticky but great for Christmas morning teas.
  • Another gift of homemade tea!  So nice.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas drinks/ Virgin Mojito

It is hard to completely prep for the Christmas meal when my planned menu calls for mainly fresh food but I loathe supermarket shopping, overpriced lettuce and strawberries and the low stock that typifies the days prior to Christmas.

Our menu is fairly typical: brined turkey, new potatoes and salad. Dessert is a little crazy as I let the four year old make the selection! Marshmallows and ice cream should compliment brandy snaps and macerated fruit salad nicely!

Merry Christmas! I've been without a computer for a couple of weeks and hope to pick one up in the sales!

The other day I bought some herbs and decided to prep for the drinks I'll be serving around Christmas. I figure I can make the most of some of the fresh things I'd hoped to use for drinks.

Virgin Mojito

1 cup sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and water boiled together then cooled - I used Equal sugar replacement when I made it)
About ten large mint leaves
2 limes, zest and juice one of them, thinly slice the second*

Mix everything together then freeze in a small container (but one that will fit in a jug.) If you are freezing this mixture just use the zest and juice - freezing slices makes the mixture sour over time)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Job interview jam

I had a job interview the other day. I was so nervous (normally I'm not for interviews) and so was surprised when my blog came up! I'd mentioned food blogging as a hobby on my CV and was asked for the address! One of the interviewers looked it up on his phone. It was the first time that I'd ever heard the word 'turducken' in an interview!

Afterwards I burned off the nervous energy by walking and shopping. I found these tiny jams in Kirks. I have plenty of homemade jam in stock, I'm slightly more keen on the refill possibilities!

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Most delicious cake recipe ever: Fresh Pineapple Viennese Cake

My husband and I have been taking advantage of Wellington Library's free magazine Thursdays.  We have, on average, taken out 10 magazines a week and been feeling very well informed on current events.  In reading an old edition of the listener I came across this recipe.  I really wanted an excuse to make it, and it came in the form of an impromptu 'stich 'n' bitch' session at my house the other night. 

If you are after a cake recipe that looks and tastes amazing then this is just delicious.  I think it would also be lovely with ripe fresh peaches or nectarines.  My tips for the recipe are to cook it for five or ten minutes longer than the stated cooking time (mine was undercooked in the centre and you cannot tell until you have taken the cake out of the tins) and to make sure that you really push in the sliced almonds - otherwise many will fall off when you are assembling the cake.  The cake mixture is very sticky and hard to work with - but is much easier to work with after it has been refrigerated. 

Eaten on the day it is lovely and light; eaten the next day the meringue is chewier and like toffy - so still very delicious!

I was so happy - the cake looks just like the picture in the magazine!!

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas tree

The tree is up and it is a chaotic mess of colour!  I personally have never been into the coordinated Christmas trees, but then I'm probably not organised enough to pull off the look.  I like colour and homemade decorations and over the last  few years I've really enjoyed watching little hands constantly redecorate the tree by moving the decorations around.  Our tree is groaning with decorations.

Made by Rae is one of my favourite blogs at the moment and a few weeks ago she suggested sewing felt shapes together to make a festive garland.  I made a few with felt butterflies, and I also made Christmas shaped ones by using my biscuit cutters as the guide shapes!  I've also made some with crowns, hearts and circles for the Sweetheart's room and another one with kiwis, hearts and triangles for the Poppet's room.  I've perhaps gone a little crazy sewing felt shapes together - it is just a satisfying and easy project!

Last year I went to Handmade, a craft conference held at Te Papa (there will be another one next year).  I took a class in repurposing pillowcases held by Heleen from Ruby in the Dust.  I really enjoyed her workshop, and I now have a new hobby of rummaging through op shops for funky old pillowcases.  She was selling felt heart kits at Craft 2.0 and I thought that they would look perfect on the Christmas tree.

Butterfly garlands.  So very cheerful.

My attempt at using up some spare buttons - I cut out some Christmas tree shapes with my biscuit cutters, stuffed them with cotton wool and sewed together with embroidery thread.

The tree is currently protected by a square baby safety gate (we call it the baby jail).   This has not stopped both girls from playing with the decorations - and yesterday the Poppet nearly pulled over the entire tree.    Lets hope it survives another twenty days.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Right now in the backyard: the seahorse and the bumblebee.

The weather this week has been amazing. My five year old comes home hot and bothered each day so today I set up the little ball pit in the shade and put in a couple of buckets of water.

The bumblebee escaped to pick daisies on the lawn and the seahorse dominated the ball pit quite cheerfully.

The seahorse asked if she could eat dinner in the pool.  I've had to decline - I can't imagine trying to keep track of the active little bumblebee on the lawn long enough for her to eat anything!

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turducken. Yes, we actually made one. And it was good.

I was thinking about Christmas traditions today.  My husband and I have a date tomorrow night to plan the Christmas menu.  Anyhow, I posted this on Facebook last year.  The majority of comments suggested that we may, in fact, be somewhat mad.  This is the kind of Christmas spirit I'm after - the kind that leads to mad food experiments, photos and a high-spirited dinner party with good friends.  This one will be hard to top though...

The photos have proved a bit of a challenge - I can't resize them, and it feels like way to much work to go and add each photo again.   I promise not to make a habit of it!

 (Originally posted on Facebook 2 January 2011).

Every now and then my husband and I come up with some kind of mad cooking adventure.  At uni, we used to cook elaborate Chinese meals in our poky kitchen for our chums still in hostels. There were the pavlova wars, finally won by me and the electric mixer (over DH's chopsticks). The annual duck adventures (blow drying with a hairdryer to get crispy skin) were great - we couldn't get duck in Dunedin and so memorably I once bought one back from a work trip in my carry on luggage. Add in a long running Iron Chef addiction, and way too much Food TV and we do mad cooking things occasionally.  We are not in any way showing off great cooking skills or anything, the rest of the time our cooking is pretty average.

An annual tradition is buying a discounted turkey after Christmas, brining it and cooking up a bit of a feast.  This year when I got the turkey (half off) DH rather madly suggested turduken.

Turducken rather intrigues us for a couple of reasons.  One, it is stupid crazy in terms of meat.  Two, there is a technical challenge in deboning and butterflying the three birds that make up turducken.  Three birds.  Our turkey will be stuffed with a duck, which in turn will be stuffed by a chicken.  Each bird will have a layer of stuffing (each different).  Cooking estimates seem to settle around the eight hour mark, with one hour of resting time.

So today, when I went to hire a carpet cleaner from Woolworths I sought out a duck and a chicken.  There will be a traditional bread stuffing (with cranberries and pinenuts - stolen idea from my Mum), a couscous stuffing and finally a sausage and cranberry stuffing.  The cranberries are currently soaking in a cinnamon/ five spice essence I made.  It is now 10.54pm the night before, we are sitting in a house reeking of carpet cleaner and DH is finishing up deboning of his first chicken.  I have deferred on the deboning to him, as his classical medical school training included dissection room time (with actual dissection).  I spent an hour in the dissection room once, to help acquaint myself with it prior to doing a bioethics tutorial on death.  It took a number of showers and the consumption of corrosive soft drinks to get the taste of that distinctive smell out of my mouth.

Will the bird be in the oven by 10am?  Lets see.


11.46pm update.  The chicken is deboned - DH was masterful.  The sausage, fennel and cranberry stuffing is made.  The bones are in the crockpot to make stock.  We are still cleaning the carpet as well!
The carcass!
Beautifully jointed and deboned


10.38am update.  Well the turkey and duck were not so defrosted when DH got them out this morning so there has been a lot of rapid defrosting.  After some more early morning carpet cleaning (why do we always make these things more stressful than they need to be) and returning of the carpet cleaner it was stuffing time.

As I type the chicken is stuffed with the sausage meat stuffing and the duck surrounds the chicken tightly, with a nice couscous barrier.  DH is frantically deboning the turkey and we have stock from all these bones in the crock pot, and in a large stockpot on the stove.  We are also rendering the duck fat.  There are a surprising number of dishes, and my love for the dishwasher continues.
The turkey gets it!


3.10 update.

Well the turducken has been in the oven since 11.15.  We just took it out and basted it - it smells amazing.  Four more hours of cooking to go and we have decided that we cannot be bothered cooking anything to go with it!  We have nearly four litres of stock and a cup of duck fat.  Feeling slightly over it.   We also realised that we were so busy concentrating on cleaning the carpet and preparing the jolly thing that we hadn't invited anyone!  DH remedied this while I napped.  Off to buy baby presents for a friend!


11pm update.

I checked the turducken at 6.30pm with a meat thermometer and it was done.  The most fragrant smelling juices had leached out during cooking, which meant that the turducken was half poached/ half cooked.  We rested it for an hour and half as we had planned to eat at 8pm.

At this time we also had the plumber make an emergency trip over as there was a leak from the beloved dishwasher.  He promptly fixed it, which was very appreciated.

The bird was delicious.   I can't describe it better than that.  We were all so excited when DH carved the beast and we were rewarded with beautiful layers of meat.  We feasted.  We all claimed fullness, but then had delicious rhubarb fool and a box of dark chocolates for dessert.  We were all then genuinely full, and sat around to enjoy great conversation.

Twenty four hours very well spent.
The skeleton coming out of the turkey
The chicken and duck all stuffed and ready for insertion!
Stitching up the stuffed turkey. DH's experience with surgical stitches came in handy.
All trussed and ready to roast.
The complete turducken
Six layers

There were six of us eating on the night, and we sent one serve home for leftovers.  My husband and I then had leftovers the next day, and the next day.  We admit defeat and have thrown out the last of the leftovers.  There was probably enough for at least four- five more servings!

Boysenberry meringues

I've been rather busy lately trying to adapt to the new routine of the Sweetheart's school run.  It feels as though she has been at school for ages; it will be three weeks tomorrow.  So I have been rehashing all the family standard meals and put food experiments to one side.

But then yesterday I decided to try Ray McVinnie's beef and asparagus salad recipe (published this Sunday past).  It involved a dressing that contained two egg yolks, leaving two lonely egg whites.  Ten minutes later these meringues were in the oven.

Take your standard meringue recipe and once whipped add some freeze-dried berry powder (I used the 'Fresh As' brand (purchased from Moore Wilsons).  This berry powder is awesome for icing, macarons and smoothies.  Sometimes I add it to cakes when baking.  Since it is just pure berries it is a nice way of adding a little something different.

I think that the best colour with this powder comes if it is dissolved in liquid first.  When I put it in the meringue mix it left beautiful pale purple streaks - on breaking the cooked meringues open they were a pale lavender colour on the inside.

It was the perfect day for boysenberry meringues with cream here in Wellington - so hot.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bad berries = yummy jam

Like most people I really look forward to summer.  Berries are the best and just when they start fading away you get summer stonefruit.  Can't lose really. I tried waiting when the strawberries appeared at the supermarket, I really did.  But last week my husband and I both gave in and purchased strawberries.  They looked good, but did not deliver.  Picked too early.  Poo.

But there is generally an upside and the upside is strawberry jam.  I can't quite work out why homemade strawberry jam is so much better than shop jam.   Surely it is just berries, sugar and maybe a dash of lemon?  Strawberry jam made at home tastes like summer, goodness, deliciousness and the promise of happy days.  It really does. 

The Mad Millie people have extended into preserving goods.  I don't need a lot but when I saw that their preserving kit had a wide mouth tunnel and preserving tongs I couldn't resist.  I really like chunky strawberry jam and it will not go through my standard funnel.  So I try and scoop it into the jar, creating a big sticky mess down the side.  So I was ridiculously pleased with the wide mouth tunnel. 

The jam will turn into strawberry ice cream later this evening.

Preserving tongs (in my head I refer to them as forceps) make getting a good grip on the jar easier than with metallic tongs (although I have a huge Chinese metallic food strainer that I tend to use).  I also thought that the magnetic on a stick that comes with the set (there are five items in the kit) was brilliant -when properly preserving food with metal and rubber seals they are very hard to place on top of jars in a sterile fashion.  I suspect that the simplicity of this little device will pay off when my cranberry tree fruits in the New Year.

I do lust after their preserving pan.  The picture online makes it look thick and sturdy and I can imagine it hanging in my dream kitchen.  At the moment though I have a functional kitchen and my stock pot is sufficient.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Grapefruit curd ice cream, rhubarb jelly and good intentions

Rhubarb jelly - is there a more beautiful colour?

Grapefruit curd vanilla ice-cream

Are you from Wellington? Was it HOT where you live yesterday? It was hot here. So hot. We went to the supermarket after the school run yesterday to cool down my overheated and super cranky five year old. She now knows the joy of cooling yourself in the freezer section. While there we decided to make cheeseburgers for dinner.  I'd made Nigella's rhubarb jelly and prepped the ice cream maker* so we also got some ingredients to make ice-cream.

The ice cream took a long time to make.  It wasn't completely solid at the end, but I just called it soft serve and gave it to my daughter to try while I went to give the baby her last feed of the day.  A couple of minutes later there was a worried call from the Sweetheart.  Turned out she wanted more.  Sadly for her I'd added a couple of dollops of grapefruit curd and made the single best batch of ice cream ever. It may be the flavour that I have waited my whole life for.  The Sweetheart didn't like it, what a shame.

And the good intentions?  I got a migraine and went to lie down for twenty minutes around 7.30pm.  Next thing I knew it was 3.45am and the baby was crying.  I hate falling asleep in my contacts!  My husband arrived home and was left to fend for dinner himself (lucky I hadn't tidied up so the sauce on the bench and the bag of open hamburger buns was a good clue) and he didn't find the ice cream.  So tonight, on a much cooler night we will finally have our jelly and ice-cream.

*We got a cheapy ice cream maker from K-Mart.  I wasn't sure that I wanted to commit to a major purchase, and for $22 and a one year warranty I thought that it should be OK.  The more expensive machines may not require this, but the ice cream maker bowl needs to be put in the freezer for twenty four hours prior, and the mixture needs to have been refrigerated for a couple of hours before churning.  It is not something that you make on the spur of the moment.

Postscript:  I also used our bunny rabbit mould.  Sadly, a few moments after removing the mould the rabbit's head rather freakily decapitated itself.  It just pulled off.  I hid it away rather quickly, least any children get nightmares!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It is over, she is five.

The party was a success.  Four and five year olds do not need much to keep them entertained, and two hours was definitely long enough!  I was running late to set up as the sushi people were very late with our order.  I had twenty minutes instead of forty and so it was rather a rush job.  A birthday banner was rapidly blu-tacked to the wall, along with a collage of photos of the Sweetheart aged 0-5.  I finalised the party food boxes by adding a heart shaped piece of fairy bread (using Olivani spread for the girl allergic to dairy).  The boxes were a great idea as they were so easy to prepare (bag of bagel chips, lollipop, fairy bread, and butterfly snack of popcorn with edible glitter).  I also gave the children a chocolate dipped apple each.  They either loved them or hated them (at 72% dark chocolate it may have been a little bitter).  I made jam sandwiches for the younger children, along with a pack of raisins and bagel chips.

I  put out a whole bunch of food for the adults and pretty much forgot about it after letting the pregnant people and vegetarians know about food suitability.  The Guinness Chocolate Cake was very well liked, and the icing was amazing.  I made the cream cheese using my Mad Millie kit, but otherwise this is the world's best ever party cake: great taste, easy to make and serves a crowd.

I can't remember who pointed this out, but the bonus of having an ice cream cake is that the children will eat it! I found some cheerful ice cream cups with wooden spoons from Moore Wilsons, this made serving up very quick.  We also had some raspberry sorbet for the girl with the dairy allergy, and adults who didn't feel like ice cream with sparkly cachous!  My Mum and I made a similar cake for my niece's fifth birthday a couple of years ago.  If you can snap the legs off the doll easily, and have heaps of sprinkles then this is a very simple cake.  It took about ten minutes to line a bowl with glad wrap and squish in the ice cream, then my mum decorated the ice cream with cachous while the children ate.

I want to remember more from the day.  It was chaotic and loud; there were some tears and tense moments, but also there were a lot of children having a lot of fun.  My husband was in charge of pass the parcel.  I warned him that having a lot of layers on the parcel would be confusing, but he liked the idea of randomness and building up to excitement.  As usual it was very stressful with myself and the other mums advising which child was next.  I made the mistake of trying to keep the children's attention by claiming that it was the last round (it wasn't: there were two more to go). This resulted in one incredibly clever child just holding on to the parcel and staring at my husband.  I laughed so very hard, seemed logical to me!  Finally it was over.  We decided not to do the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game, I think it might have killed us.

I managed to start winding things down by yelling out 'party bags, party bags' a few times.  I got the Sweetheart to pass them out and thank each child for coming to her party.  I really wanted to get her to think of the other children and remember her manners.   She then opened her presents, thanking each child/ their parents after opening them.  I don't really know the etiquette around present opening at parties.  I thought it was a good way to end the party, and show appreciation for presents that were very well thought out and just perfect for the Sweetheart.

The rain came as the party ended and it was off for a very quiet afternoon.  I had a nap for a couple of hours - I was shattered.   When I woke up the house was quiet, the cake had been finished off (too slow!) and it was off for dinner with the immediate family.  As you can see below, she had her first ever soda/extreme flavouring drink.  She loved taking a sip of each layer, but couldn't even get through half of it.

The next day was a rush of departing families, returning equipment and tidying up.  Actually, it has taken a couple of days to tidy up everything.  I've been prepping for the party for so long there was a dedicated location for all the stuff in the corner of my bedroom.  Looks very empty now.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Joanna pattern

My mother and the ladies at her work used to have a large knitting circle.  They ran out of babies to knit for locally (my children are very well stocked in knitted items) and my mother got everyone to start knitting for the Wellington NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and Wellington Hospital Trust.  The pattern and drive to help the hospital came from loss: the hospital is where Joanna was born and died and the work gave Mum a practical way to 'give back' to the hospital.

One thing she did was create the pattern below.  It makes a small blanket: about the size of bassinette or to cover an infant in a baby car seat.  You can easily make two or four and join together if you would like a large blanket.  I still use the single blanket on my daughter's bed.  It goes across the top of her other blankets - more for decoration than anything else.  It is the absolute perfect size for a prem/ sick baby.  If you want a cot blanket or pram blanket then I suggest making it wider or knitting two and joining them together in panels.

The Joanna pattern

Cast on 80 stitches in double knit.

Knit four rows
K5P2(K8P2 x7) P2K5
K7(P8K2 x7) K7
Repeat the above two rows five times.  Then start over from the beginning.

Make it as long as you want it!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cute baby/ she- who-must-not-be-named

I'm walking around my neighborhood. Trying to get this little one to sleep at night has been horrid this last week. Good thing she is cute during the day.

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Location:Mansfield St,Wellington,New Zealand

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Party time

I'm trying to minimise the stress of kid's parties.  When the Poppet turned one I was so horribly sick with asthma and had barely slept in days.  It was horrid, and I barely remember the party.  I had great plans to make everything - I do enjoy a good excuse for party baking but in the end made a few token efforts and the rest turned up courtesy of online grocery shopping!  This time round I'm after as much impact for as little effort.  I keep reminding myself that children are easily charmed at birthday parties, they don't need a lot of fuss.  For me, I enjoy all the food prep but often feel worn out by the time the party starts.  I've focused on stuff that can be made ahead of time, or comes premade.

I've done a fair amount of brainstorming for this party as there are a number of food allergies/ requirements amongst the guests.  I hate the idea of kids missing out due to food allergies.  I went to a party a few months back where the most amazing birthday cake was brought out - and then a tiny undecorated allergy -friendly one.  It felt ungracious, and I felt sorry for the girl.  However, I find myself in a similar position - the Sweetheart picked her birthday cake a long time ago - an ice cream cake and one of her friends is allergic to dairy.  I discussed with the mum pulling a swifty with rice milk ice cream (I hadn't known such a product existed) but her daughter isn't so keen on the stuff so I've got a lovely raspberry sorbet instead.  It matches the colour of the ice cream cake and the children can choose to have the cake ice-cream or the sorbet.

Recycling bins make for handy storage!  My daughter was inspired by watching the Disney channel and wanted a pinata for her birthday.  I consider myself lucky I found one in the local dollar store.  It is filled with mainly plastic crap I'm afraid.  I thought that I did well on the party bags avoiding plastic junk but a pinata lends itself so well to junk!  There are little rings, 'gold doubloons,' some little plastic magnifying glasses and we will throw all the leftover lollipops in there.

A Kete (Maori word for bag for my handful of overseas readers) of party Kete!  I saw these cheerful paper bags months ago in Daiso, Auckland.  For some reason I thought that they might be cheerful vomit bags (I vividly remember my stash of aeroplane sick bags carted around during pregnancy) but they are just paper lunch bags.  I got some to stash away as gift bags.  At Moore Wilsons I found the usual party bag items, and incredibly competitively priced.  Mini play dough, a large stick of chalk, a windmill, noisemaker, mini notebook and a few stickers should keep most children happy.

Food boxes are waiting to go.  I saw this idea at a friend's party not so long ago and I think it is just perfect.  The children have their own food in their own box.  It allows for portion control (I seem to remember my daughter only eating potato chips at one party because they were yummy and she didn't see the point of eating anything else) and can be useful if you have guests of different ages (we have a bunch of one year olds at this party so their parents are unlikely to want them eating say lollipops) or who have food allergies and need slightly different food.  At the end of the party the child can take the box home with any uneaten food - so a lot less waste.  I got these food boxes from Moore Wilsons.  They came in bags of fifty.  I'll use around 20 for food boxes and various party things.  The rest I will use for presents and for keeping the Sweethearts glue/painted craft projects safely enclosed!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

The birthday menu: A five year old.

The big party is at the weekend and the food prep is well underway.  But what is it that a five year old wants for her birthday dinner?

Garlic bread
Sashimi and seaweed bento box from Japanese kitchen

She is absolutely, truly the product of her parents.

The night before the big day!

A long time ago I saw a really cool idea to celebrate a child's birthday.  I think it was on Grosgrain.  You prepare a whole bunch of helium balloons the night before and put them in the child's room while they sleep.  When I saw a do-it-yourself helium balloon set at The Warehouse a couple of months back I decided that this would be a fun way to celebrate turning five!

I inflated about 15 balloons - but I think that more is more when it comes to balloons and I think if it hadn't been so late I would have done all of them.  It was too dark to show the balloons in her room, and she wakes up so early so we didn't catch her initial reaction.
Here are the few left in her room this morning when I went in to pull the curtains.  The rest were in either our room or the hallway.  Two had already sunk.  I saw the sunken ones at 3.36am, the third time I'd gotten up to the baby overnight.  I don't know what was up with her last night, but I've had about four hours sleep.  Anyway, If I was a more Type-A personality I might have quickly done a couple more balloons at that point, but I'm a self-declared Make-do Mum, with a very high priority on my sleep!

The balloons are now everywhere.  To avoid them escaping the Sweetheart tied them down in numerous locations.  As I type, the helium has worn off all of them, and there are some rather forlorn looking balloons with silvery tails trailing along the floor.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Christmas craft

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was doing felt shape bunting as Christmas/ birthday presents. If you happen on a bag of cheap felt shapes then this is a simple project. It took 15 minutes for the small flowers and five minutes for the butterflies.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Guinness chocolate cake, Guinness Beer Braid and Beef and Guinness Pie

This is probably three blog posts but, as I've written them over a week they have been amalgamated.  I don't really drink alcohol so I'm often behind in discovering the impact of different alcoholic beverages on cooking/ baking.   I have a new favourite beer!  It is Guinness.  I've never actually drunk any, but it is a damn good cooking liquid.

My favorite blog Lovely Wee Days tests recipes and shares the results. It is the first place I search now when I want a good cake recipe. They have reviewed and baked quite a few, and it is a good location to find a special occasion cake.

I'm often disappointed by chocolate cakes - particular dry cakes that look chocolate-y but do not taste great.
For this reason I was intrigued by their post mentioning Guinness Chocolate Cake.  It is a Nigella Lawson recipe and quite possibly one of the simplest cake recipes that I have come across.  Yum Yum Yum.  The cake has a depth of taste that ordinary chocolate cake lacks.  It is not overly sweet, and it is very moist.

I didn't feel like properly lining a cake tin as I was rushing to get this cake in the oven before the creche pick up.  So I used two single use cake rings from my beloved Daiso store in Auckland.  It is the first time that a product from the store hasn't lived up to expectations!  Both rings burst and luckily the oven tray below caught most of it!  The slightly less depleted one will go to work with my husband tomorrow.  Health professionals of course advocate healthy, well balanced lifestyles.  But a decent chocolate cake left in the break room will be gone by lunchtime I'm sure!

Nigella suggests a cream cheese icing in her recipe - as an homage to a glass of Guinness with a foamy white head.  Lovely Wee Days went with a fudge icing.  What do you think?  I'm torn.

Also, I don't really drink so I'm curious as to why there appears to be a solid plastic ball in the can of Guinness.  Funky manufacturing defect, standard can of beer inclusion or unique to Guinness?  I'm sure a few seconds of internet research would clarify things, but I prefer to ponder over the options.

This rather blurry photo was taken late in the afternoon on my iPhone.  I'm quite intrigued by how it has come out.

I only needed 250ml of my 440ml can of Guinness so decided to use the last of my fresh yeast and beer to make beer bread.  You can use any basic bread recipe, substituting beer for water.  Lagers make a light bread, darker beers lead to darker breads. ETA: if you are using a bread maker to knead the dough as well as using fresh yeast then let the yeast froth up with the sugar/ honey and water first.  Then throw in the other ingrediants.  This way you will know if your fresh yeast has worked.

This was delicious.  The beer and fresh yeast were an amazing combination.  Sooooo good.

Now I only had three cans of Guinness left so decided to make Beef and Guinness Pie.  I added two teaspoons of tomato puree, and about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.  My husband went nuts for this meal.  Pies are quite the special treat and he was very happy to take a leftover pie to work the next day.  These pies can even be frozen with the uncooked pastry lids for later baking, but since I used store bought pastry we just microwaved the leftover pies then reheated them in the oven to crisp the pastry.  If only the girls liked casserole mix! 

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Elderflower cordial and Elderflower champagne

Three years ago there was a lovely feature story in the Dom Post one Saturday regarding elderflower trees.  The author wrote beautifully about her childhood, then gave recipes for elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne.  I wish I'd clipped the whole article rather than just writing down the recipes.

Elderflower cordial is one of the most refreshing drinks you can have in summertime.  It tastes like a beautiful, carefree summer day you are experiencing while wearing a floaty dress and straw hat.  It is just lovely.  It is great with soda water, lemonade or vodka.  Once you have made the cordial you can also use the cordial as an essence, flavouring sorbet or panacotta.

Making this is so satisfying.  It looks pretty while it is being made.  I've got a bit of a production line going as I'm making small bottles to give as gifts to all of the Sweetheart's creche teachers next week.  I didn't have enough stored bottles (they are all full of grapefruit cordial and in various households in the region) so I bought some from New Zealand's premier bottle/ jar/ closure supplier!  They are in the street opposite where I live.  If you want to buy one bottle or a thousand they will do it.  I could have purchased dozens - particularly of the gorgeous jam jars!

Elderflower champagne, the second recipe, is also very charming.  Elderflower heads can sometimes (and sometimes not) be filled with a natural yeast.  For this reason it is quite delightful for making brewed drinks.

To those of you reading this who know where I live: the elderflower tree is open for business!!!  First in, first served.

Elderflower cordial

20 Elderflower heads
4 cups caster sugar
1.5L boiling water
2 lemons (juiced and sliced)
1 orange (sliced or chopped)
50g citric acid (this is quite a bit - about quarter of a packet).

Wash the flowers to remove dirt, bugs and spiderwebs!  There are the smallest black bugs on these, particularly later in the season.  Elderflower are best picked after there has been sunlight on them for a couple of hours - and the cordial best made within an hour of picking the flowers.

Put the sugar in a heatproof large bowl and pour over the boiling water.  Stir and leave to cool.  Add the fruit, citric acid and flowers.  Leave for 24hrs in a cool spot.  Stir occasionally.  Strain through a muslin and bottle.  Refrigerate.

To serve: one part cordial to four parts water/ vodka.

Elderflower champagne

4 or more large heads of elderflower
2 lemons
1kg of sugar or honey
10L cold water
4 TBSP white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dried yeast (optional)

Wash and juice the lemons.  Peel off rind thinly.  Put flowers, lemon juice and rind in a large clean container.  Slowly add sugar and vinegar, do not crush flowers.  Pour in water and gently stir.  Cover and stand for 24hrs, stirring every six hours.  If no signs of fermentation, add yeast and stand another day.  Strain and bottle (old soft drink bottles).  It is ready in two weeks.  Store in a cool place.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Waxing the cheese

I couldn't wait, I had to do it tonight!

My first hard cheese, getting waxed. Waxing was actually a lot trickier than I thought it would be. There are two ways you can preserve your hard cheese, EVA (a thin coat of liquid plastic that you paint on the cheese) or waxing.

The wax that came with my kit is in a steel container. You create a double boiler arrangement then dip the cheese into the wax. I found it fiddly; inexplicably there is only one handle on the container. It is hard to remove from the boiler arrangement. The other tricky thing is that the wax bowl is not deep enough for cheeses made with the large mould that comes with the new Mad Millie cheese press.

As you can see, once I'd dipped each side there was still a lot needing cover. I tried dipping using a metal spoon, but the wax come off where the spoon held. I very gingerly held the edges and dipped it; the cheese fell in the wax.  This melted previous layers while I fished it out.  I'm not sure what else to do to make this work better, I'll be checking out you tube clips for some inspiration and techniques to get a nice smooth finish!  The best thing about the wax container is that it comes with a lid, so once it has cooled down you can store it for next time.

My suggestions if using the Mad Millie kits:
1) find a deeper container to hold the wax
2) place a trivet on the bottom saucepan of your double boiler.  This can stop the wax container moving around
3) wipe the cheese with salt water before waxing and air dry well. You don't want any moisture between the cheese and wax
4) Have another person nearby - an extra set of hands can be useful
5) Make sure the wax is fully melted before dipping (stir with a disposable stick).  I was impatient and only the surface had melted on my first couple of tries!
6) Lay down towels or some kind of protection for the stovetop against wax drips!

This all sounds like I was unhappy with the kit.  However, I was so, so pleased with myself.  I've wanted to wax a hard cheese for the longest time, and even though there was wax everywhere once finished I was very, very happy!  If you get the opportunity to make a hard cheese, you should complete the process and wax the cheese!

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Not generally keen on celebrating Halloween myself.  I still see it as a British and American celebration with little relevance for most New Zealanders.  I'm also very sceptical of the increase in Halloween activities in New Zealand - as many of them seem to me to be an excuse to create a market where one is not required. 

It took quite a lot of explaining to the Sweetheart that our family doesn't celebrate Halloween, but that other families do.  Actually, it was kind of a neat opportunity to talk about the things that make our family unique.  The Sweetheart was invited to her first Halloween party - and this provided a further learning opportunity: that some families do celebrate Halloween, and that you can share in their celebrations. 

If you know my daughter personally you will not be surprised to learn that she is a Halloween fairy.  Her costume includes fairy wings and a witch hat from the $2 shop.  She screamed 'Happy Halloween' at the top of her lungs this morning and asked where the jack 'o' lantern was. 

The Halloween party we are going to is a pot luck BBQ.  I've marinated some chicken nibbles to take along, but couldn't resist making something a wee bit more 'celebratory.'  These are chocolate 'toffee' apples rolled in orange sprinkles.  Turns out if you pay enough for dark chocolate, you can find dairy and soy free dark chocolate! We will be having fairy versions of these at the Sweetheart's birthday party next week.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Craft 2.0

Today Craft 2.0 is on. I dragged the girls down to have a look and was instantly charmed. Money was spent (too much) and my head was left full of ideas.

Go there. Take cash or buy 'craft cash' for use on the day. It is on today only.

Reasons I like smaller craft fairs like this?  They celebrate diversity (and I don't just mean ethnicity, but rather the right to wear a panda hat with steampunk jewellery) and they are filled with Mums, many of whom have started a new career in crafting after having children.  I love the ideas and fabric.  I love that the crafters use the fabric made by local fabric designers.  I got to meet some of my favourite designers, Dustys&Lulu, creators of awesome print designs and Sweet William, who have designed their own children's colouring book (full of awesome designs rather than the typical animal pictures).  I also got to catch up with Heleen from Ruby in the Dust.  I did her pillowcase transformation workshop last year - and have since gone a little pillowcase mad!  I have a stack of pillowcases from the op shop waiting to be transformed into aprons, dresses, bags and pants.  I also encountered a neighbour who produces the most amazing steampunk jewellery.

An awesome morning, would have been a little more awesome if it didn't involve dragging a protesting four year old behind me!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It is coming....

The big day approaches.  In two months my four year old will be a new entrant at the local primary school.  It absolutely blows my mind the idea that I could have a five year old.  At school, even.  I'm going to be crying all over the place - starting school comes after leaving creche - The Sweetheart's home away from home these last two years.   Well, I'm getting weepy thinking about leaving creche so I'll save that for another post and get on with the party planning!

Kid's birthday parties today seem very different from parties when I was young.  The food given is I think, healthier than it used to be and there are a lot more food allergies to cater for.  When trying to think of friends with food allergies from my childhood I cannot think of a single one - the only special food arrangement was for my friend's diabetes.

This party has a theme of fairy princess (original, I know) and food requirements of interesting, party-like, dairy, nut, soy, meat and egg free.  When faced with a different list of allergies last year I completely freaked out about what to make (as you can no doubt tell, I'm a baker - everything has flour, egg and dairy) until calmer friends pointed out all the obvious food choices.  I'm ashamed to say I was almost annoyed with the need to avoid certain foods as I really felt as though I was cheated out of making the things I really wanted to have.  But the party isn't about me, it is about my daughter.  I want her to be a good host, that means that I need to be one too.  Now I see it as an opportunity for food creativity and fun.  I doubt the kid's even notice that the food omits certain items - particularly as long as there is at least a lollipop involved!!

Best low-allergy birthday party food ideas (check packaging very, very carefully)

  • Rice crackers
  • Plain potato chips (flavoured ones tend to have milk powder)
  • Plain popcorn and candy corn (icing sugar and food colouring)
  • Lollipops
  • Marshmallows *some brands still contain gluten
  • Corn chips
  • Bagel chips
  • Fruit kebabs
  • Salsa
  • Carrot and celery sticks
  • Some sausages (bit tricky to find those without soy or dairy) or use ham
  • Berries
If you have a birthday cake there are a lot of really delicious gluten free recipes (although my fav gluten free recipes tend to contain nuts) and baking without egg just requires a little science - use egg replacement or applesauce instead.  Egg replacement powder is actually a brilliant thing to have in your cupboard for when you have run out of eggs.  I've had good results with it and a pack of 50 'eggs' costs about $7.

I think if you have a child with an anaphylactic allergy then it is just good manners to avoid any of that food item (particularly with younger children who tend to take whatever food they can get/ smear food all over the place) at the party.  For food intolerance, or older children better able to manage food then it is quite common to have allergy free foods for the children and perhaps an 'adults' food table with some other foods.

For one birthday party a Mum brought along a piece of egg/gluten/dairy/soy free cake that I quickly decorated to look identical; this upcoming party we are having an ice cream cake with a rice milk ice cream option. 

It is complicated, but it can be quite invigorating working out a nice, safe menu - for me a different kind of food challenge.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cheddar cheese

I couldn't resist and had to try out my new Mad Millie Hard Chess Press over the long weekend.  I decided to try the cheddar recipe.  It felt very satisfying - very proper cheesemaking.  My only problem with the instructions given for the recipe were that there are very few explanations for why you had to follow certain processes.  For example, once at the curd stage you have to heat the water slowly over thirty minutes to reach a certain temperature.  I would have found it useful to learn that the reason you do it slowly is that if you do it too quickly you can overheat the curds.  I did, but I think it was OK.  I'll see in a couple of months!

Unlike soft cheeses you really need to be at home most of a day, or at least all afternoon and evening to make this as there are lots of little steps that need to happen every 45mins or so.

 It takes four litres of silver top to make a cheese about the size of a small bread plate.  I can't work out why it is cheaper to buy four small bottles than two large ones.  But so far I've learnt that it always saves twenty cents.  I am though running out of things to do with the plastic containers!
 Draining the curds.
 The curds after being crumbled up and salted.
The cheese press in action.  It took a little while to work it out (the instructions seem to be designed for someone who is familiar with cheese presses - I needed more of an idiot's guide)!  There is an internal scale to let you know how much pressure you are placing on the cheese.  Once I worked it out it was straightforward and rather fun.  The press did sometimes 'unwind' a touch and had to be readjusted to the correct pressure.  I can't work out if this is a common problem, a problem specific to this brand of press or this particular one.  I still had an awesome time using it.  My four year old also thought it was fun turning the mechanism to the correct pressure.
The cheese once pressing was finished the following morning.  As I type it is two days later and I am waiting for the natural rind to develop before I can wax it.  I am so, so looking forward to waxing it and then storing it in the cheese cellar (garage) for a couple of months!