Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Making bacon part 2


It is pretty good.  Actually, it is delicious!

I find packaging up homemade food so satisfying!  It looks so good. I got four packs of bacon slices, one pack of bacon 'bits' (due to my somewhat amateur cutting) a bag of bacon bones and a slab of bacon fat (which I wouldn't normally keep, but I have a recipe I'm curious to try that requires this so kept it).

Economics wise this bacon is a pretty good deal.  The pork shoulder was on discount - half off.  It cost $13.  The bacon wet cure cost $10 for the bag - and I used a quarter of it.  It took two days of sitting in the fridge to be ready, and then took about 25 minutes to cut up.  Not bad.  I don't have any paper thin slices (partially as a result of my cutting skills - and the fact that I don't have a slicing machine) but in terms of throwing some bacon in a dish or making a delicious BLT we are set for a long time.

I'm cooking up the first batch now in a Coq au Vin.  The house smells awesome.  And in a related fun fact, if you have put all of your matches in emergency storage bins out in the shed, by the time that you get them out to light the brandy the alcohol has given up and died!

Making bacon

I must be getting better because I decided that last night was the perfect time to try making bacon.

Bacon has been riling me up over the last few months. Bacon, when at its best, should not require any more thought than an immediate analysis of how delicious the piece in your mouth tastes.  But trying to get good quality and ethically produced bacon regularly is sometimes vexing.  It took me a long time to realise that the reason my bacon was so watery and insipid was because the producers inject the bacon with water to increase the sale weight!  It almost seems to dodgy that armies of policy analysts should be working on regulations to prevent such dodgy practices.  But no, it is the norm, so most of the producers do it.  If you want crispy bacon from most supermarket bacon packets, you are best to bake/ grill on a rack in the oven to try and drain all the liquid while cooking.

The other problem with pork is the way that it is farmed.  Many farming practices don't bother me, and some are not as bad, or as good, as you think.  For example, I've seen battery hens, 'barn' hens and free range hens.  The free range hens bothered me the most at the time: it was a summery South Canterbury day, they had no shelter and they were dying/ dead of heatstroke.  Had they been inside they wouldn't have had heatstroke (but I accept that they may have died of other things related to their living conditions). 

The press coverage over the last year regarding the living conditions of pigs has bothered me a lot, so my pork/ bacon purchasing has mostly changed to ensure that I'm buying NZ pork that is farmed about as nicely as you are going to get.

In a follow up to the 'Charcuterie' series I decided to have a go at bacon.  All that was required was a good piece of pork - in this case shoulder pork.  I created a brine from a pack from the 'Preserved' people and it sits in the fridge for one day per kilo of pork.  The brine liquid is partially apple cider, as I had some sitting in the cupboard for awhile, and thought that it might make a nice flavour!

 My Mad Millie cheese making container was the perfect size to hold the pork and wet cure.

The curing pork.  The little dipping sauce container is helping to keep the pork completely immersed.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kransky in pastry: a short recipe

One thing that I meant to make for the Poppet's birthday was kransky rolls.  I make these at home occassionally, and they are very popular.

As an experiement I decided to use two different kinds of pasty: one butter, one fat reduced (basically using margarine).  The colour of the pastry and flakiness are rather amazing to contrast - and I know that I will prefer the butter pastry for cooking meals where the pastry is the star of the dish.

Kransky rolls

Cheese kransky sausages (if they are really fat I cut in half lengthways)
Pre-rolled pastry (I used the packets that come in squares - I got four squares from each sheet)
Tomato sauce
Black sesame seeds.

Preheat the oven to 220 - use fan bake if you have it - it is best for pastry. Gently fry the kransky sausages then leave to cool slightly.  Cut each pastry sheet into four and spread one side with a smear of tomato sauce.  Put the sausage on top and roll the pastry around the sausage on a jaunty angle.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Put on a lightly oiled tray - otherwise the pastry will stick.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes.

Butter pastry in the middle!


I went to the After Hours last weekend, the second time in a week (and what ended up being three times in one week overall).  This time it was for me, as my asthma tends to tank when I have a bad cold.  I also had a tiny cut, but on a rusty nail so thought that I should get a tetanus shot (so pro immunisation I'm now seeking them out)!

Those of you who are parents, and particularly mothers, will appreciate that I got to go BY MYSELF.  The idea of being stuck for ages by myself reading magazines filled me with joy.

It was packed.

I was seen rather quickly by the triage nurse who was, perhaps without realising it, really rude.  Now, having worked in the field of healthcare, with a very strong consumer focus, I find rudeness by medical staff quite compelling to watch (like a 'how not to' video) and in this case I found it hilarious.  She kept cutting me off, so I made her work for it, history wise.  I told her that I would like a tetanus shot and she was all 'where is your ACC* form?'  It hadn't occurred to me that I would need one for a scratch, (the asthma meant I'd had 16 hours in three days so perhaps the old brain wasn't quite working).  I told her calmly that I was quite happy to go back to reception and get one.  She then had quite a conniption that I was drinking a cup of water. 
'Stop drinking that!'  She then nicely turned her back on me, and mumbled to the computer, 'I need to take your temperature.'  I interpreted this as "Please refrain from drinking any more of that ice cold water, as it may interfere with the results provided by a thermometer, and I would like to take your temperature."  (This is when I nearly started giggling).  She capped it off by standing in front of me, grabbing her watch and saying "Now I need to check your resps."  If you know about taking resps, you'll be laughing at this point; nobody gives a proper resp rate when someone stands over them for twenty seconds watching and counting your breaths.  I of course became hyper aware of my breathing, and I'm sure that my actual resps had nothing on the performance I gave over the next few seconds.

After about 90 minutes I got to see the doctor.  It was almost a pity because I was systematically going through the magazines in the office and taking photos of all the good recipes with my iphone.  My iphone is awesome.  Quick chat, listen to the wheezy lungs and the typical asthma med prescribed.  I then said, "Oh, I think I need a tetanus shot."

That is when the visit got very, very serious.

My wound was examined. Very closely (At this point I would like to point out that the diameter of the wound is probably the same as a drinking straw).   I was told that I would need the wee flap of skin chopped off, the wound cleaned out and topical antibacterial lotion.  It was the first time that I was actually taken aback on this visit.  I expect to encounter lengthy delays and the odd rude staff member but frankly I thought that the plaster I'd put on it was quite sufficient.  Now the typical steroid prescribed for asthma can interfere with healing but I was pretty impressed with the attention to my wound (should I write wound in capitals form here on?)!  During the visit with the doctor it came out that my husband was also a doctor.

This changed things as well.

I was handed back to my favourite nurse.  She was a lot friendlier.  It may have had something to do with the doctor telling her that my husband is a doctor (couldn't work out why that was important to handover but there you go).  Or it might be that instead of checking more obs of another patient (honestly the waiting room was full of people with the same respiratory viral infection - every second person was walking out holding asthma paraphernalia) she got to do something exciting.  She went and got a wound kit.  A sterile wound kit opened carefully to avoid touching any of the contents with her bare hands.  Sterile scissors were obtained, and the flap cut off.  The cut was washed out with saline, then a fairly elaborate bandaging took place.  This was covered with an ordinary plaster to hold things in place (and helps to I think perfectly highlight the smallness of the wound).  I was seriously told to keep the wound dry for two days, and to change the dressing in a couple of days.  I was given the rest of the dressing to take home for this purpose.  I then hopefully inquired as to whether this meant the shot wasn't necessary but no.  My arm was jabbed and then she carefully placed a plaster two centimetres below the injection site (I was just dying by this point - If my husband had been there I would have been having trouble holding it together).  I then promised to wait around for twenty minutes in case of anaphylactic reaction, and then forgot pretty much instantly and went to the chemist for my medication.

So for me a funny morning.  I'm not complaining about the service, the waiting room was packed, people were sitting on the floor and standing while waiting.  There seemed to be only two nurses on duty, and three doctors.  The nurses triaged

I've been thinking about patient complaints recently, and at the route of most complaints was either communication or lack of compassion.  Communication is pretty obvious on the face of things, but effective interpersonal communication is a skill I think you could spend a lifetime working on and still have trouble getting your message across.  Compassion is a tricky one, like communication you could work on this for ever.  Both are dependent on the people involved in the encounter and the stage in the overall process.  If you are not welcomed on arrival, treated rudely or briskly in triage and then have a doctor who doesn't seem to get why you are even there - it is quite likely that your response to these people will deteriorate during your visit as the cascading effect of a poor welcome takes over.   But imagine if you are welcomed and perhaps asked your name.  You are then invited by name to fill in the appropriate forms and oriented to the reception environment with a smile (eg 'please sit down werever you like.  The toilets are over there and the triage nurse will be speaking to you shortly to get some more information before you see the doctor.  Please return to see me if you have any questions or problems.')  The nurse then welcomes you and checks to see how you like to be addressed.  He or she sits or stands making eye contact and asking what brought you in today.  Observations are taken and then they ask permission to turn their back on you for a moment while they type this information into the computer. The nurse prepares you for the next stage of the process - either a wait back in reception, or to remain in the triage area.  The nurse gives you an idea of timeframes.  Perhaps mentions the names of the doctors on and gives you confidence that they will help you with your problem "Now there is a wait this morning, it will probably be thirty minutes before you see Dr X.  Dr X is just great - you will be in good hands.' 

Imagine feeling as though you and your reason for being there were important (instead of feeling as though you are using up time better allocated to sicker people).  Imagine feeling as though the staff worked as a team and were confident in each other's abilities (instead of being told to remind the doctor of X as he/ she 'always forgets.'

Just a thought for now.

The wound is healing well by the way!

* for the overseas readers we have a no-fault personal insurance scheme in NZ.  If you get injured, you do not sue.  The Government covers the cost of your treatment and rehab, as well as percentage of your lost income.  This is for as serious as a broken neck, and as minor as a tiny cut.  As you can well guess, I didn't need time off work for this injury!

The first birthday

The first birthday is quite an achievement.  The whole family has made it through a very busy and amazing year.  For us, we would never have made it without the support of family and friends.  So for us the first birthday is our opportunity to celebrate, as well as say thank you.  It still seems as though the Poppet is a tiny baby:  she was a bit early, so we had a nice surprise.  Sweetheart (the four year old) and the Poppet have been great sisters - I really hope that they will be good friends too.  I'm really looking forward to seeing more of the Poppet's personality develop in the coming year.

Between the girls and I there has been a near constant run of illness for nearly a month.  In the last ten days I've been very sick with asthma and the birthday girl has been on a bit of a nursing strike.  Offers of help have been made and received,  I never knew how difficult it could be to look after two children while being sick yourself.  The birthday was therefore put together with as much as convenience as possible.  I'm personally convinced that online grocery shopping is the world's greatest gift.  My husband got roped into making cheese rolls last night, and my mum came up with baking for the party, as well as helping the Sweetheart make fairy bread.

We held the party at the Plunket Kilbirnie rooms (an awesome party venue).  Unfortunately we couldn't use the park due to the heaviest rainfall Wellington has experienced in some time.  All of the Poppet's wee baby friends were sick (with different illnesses - the usual baby array of teething/ bowel/ colds) but Sweetheart's friends definitely made it up by volume (sound that is - four year olds are noisy)!

The birthday girl:

I had left this gorgeous bonnet in a spare clothes box so retrieved it from the ceiling during the week.  I knitted this and my mum put it together in the days after my daughter's birth.  Let me know if anyone wants to borrow the pattern.

 Yummy sandwiches.  While sick last week I managed to read heaps of magazines at the After Hour's clinic and got some cool sandwich ideas.  Satay chicken on rye and cucumber, cream cheese and spring onion.  Satay chicken got a lot of compliments - my secret is buying the satay sauce from Khmer Satay on Cuba Mall - I buy a big pot and freeze it in small containers.
 The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a favourite of my older daughter, and I'm sure will be a favourite of the birthday girls as well!  It was also very straightforward to make, this being a key success factor after being sick for over a week.
 I love that brief moment before parties when everything is all set out and lovely.  The butterfly fairy bread was a big hit!  Mum brought up from the South Island the fudge she used to make for our special occasions when growing up. But the party favourite was cheese rolls (not pictured).  An entire tray load was consumed!  The birthday girl managed to get through most of one by herself!
 The big sister had a great time running around!  These pirate plastic rolls were quite cool - they are latex free and inflate very quickly.  I think I got them from The Baby's Room in the Old Bank Arcade.

Scoffing a cheese roll

Sweetheart and her besty took off with handfuls of food and hid it in the playhouse.  They were very, very pleased with themselves.  It was not fun to clean.

The picture below is of some cool gifts:  elderflower champagne and homemade cola (actual homemade cola syrup - not just soda stream)!  We have such clever friends! The Poppet received many generous gifts - many handmade and or very thoughtfully chosen.  Thank you all.  Every year that passes we realise how lucky we are with all our amazing family and friends.  I feel really blessed that there are so many people we wanted to share the day with that we needed to book out a bigger place!  We have received a lot of love and support over the last year as we have found our way to being a family of four.  I look forward to future birthdays and opportunities to look back with gratitude.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comparing and contrasting

It is so, so hard not to compare children.  After all, parenting is easier the second time around because you know what you are doing.  You picked up that experience with your first child, so it is natural to take what you have learned and apply it to the second.

When that knowledge doesn't work you wonder what the difference is?

I have two girls and the similiarity ends there.  Two very different pregnancies ended with two very different babies.  The first a week late, nice and round and we had a horrid time learning to feed.  The second, just over three weeks early, small and lean and took to feeding straight away.  My second is about to turn a year old.  She has just started saying 'mummum' today, is not crawling and eats a huge amount everyday.  Her older sister was close to walking at this point, not talking and a good although increasingly fussy eater.

I don't go in much for quizzes but was taken by the 'Baby Whisperer' quiz designed to help you understand your baby's individual personality.  My four year old was an angel baby (the kind most parents probably want, especially in the first year).  They are no trouble, go to sleep when you want them to and wake up happy. On doing the quiz for my nearly one year old she comes out as 'spirited.'  Spirited babies tend to wake up cranky/ crying, can get off track pretty quickly and are pretty good at making their needs known!

I did the quiz because I wondered if the approaches that I used with my oldest daughter were just not working with my second.  My eldest daughter would be put down for a sleep, and just go to sleep.  My youngest will end up sitting (then can't get back down) or end up stuck in a corner.  To do this she bucks her body to get out of her safety sleep and then uses the bars to pull herself along the cot.  I wish I had a closed circuit camera as it must be awesome to watch.

My oldest daughter would eat what she was given quite happily and passively by spoon feeding.  My youngest likes to feed herself (but can't normally feed herself enough so needs a bit extra off the spoon).

Now I don't necessarily think that a quiz and a single approach will suit all children, but have found it a good reminder that some things that I thought were prettty universal with children (sleeping, eating) can need different approaches depending on the baby's personality.

I realise that what I have written isn't new or particularly revolutionary, but am interested to hear about other people and their experiences!

Cherry Blossom moshi

This post is mainly written to act as a thank you for a very cool tutorial I came across on a blog I subscribe to, Indietutes.  It is pretty cool.

My four year old will only wear dresses at the moment and it is kind of annoying and practical.  But she is cute and has wild hair and she pulls it off!

In one mad weekend I made three of these peasant dresses using the Indietutes tutorial as the basis.  I later made really cool denim versions using awesome fabric from Stitchbird on the arms.

Anyway this is the 'Cherry Blossom Moshi' dress as it has been christened.  The more I try to understand what a moshi is, the more I fail.  But it means something to four year olds!  The fabric is really lovely.  My husband purchased it as lining for a shirt he had custom-made.  I think it is quite sweet that they match!

Winter illness

What do you do?

There is a nasty cold bug going round at the moment.  In babies it seems to imitate croup - the babies are having trouble breathing at times, and have a barking cough.   In older children there is a lot of coughing and a fair amount of phlegm.  As an adult I have sore ears, a sore throat, a nasty cough and feel tired and moany.  I haven't been conducting a population survey of symptoms - this is just my family and one person or another has been sick all week.  With the girls' previous colds, there has been illness in the family nearly continuously for a month.

I'm over it.


My husband took time off work this afternoon so that I could take a turn being sick.  Except by the time that he finished and got home it was three o'clock.  I was incandescent with rage.  It felt so unfair - I just wanted one afternoon to be sick and it hadn't worked out.  By the time I'd calmed down enough to sleep it was 4pm, then my husband had to be back at work at 6pm.

Now I'm quite aware that this paints me in a very selfish light, but how is it that mothers recharge when ill?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bento madness

A great friend challenged herself to make one amazing bento-style lunch for her daughter each week Maire's blog and the pictures show lunches of some beauty.

We love Japanese food in this family, and our favourite family takeaway is to get bento boxes from Japanese Kitchen.  My daughter can eat her own weight in sashimi and edamame, so it is definitely a great child pleaser.  After looking at Maire's Blog, then a couple of bento sites I decided on a bento style dinner.  As many of my rather crazy ideas go, it started simply, then got a bit crazy.  But it was a nice change, and a top quality family dinner!

I made shrimp on kebab sticks, sticky rice, potato korroke, soba and edamame.  The rice, shrimp, soba and edamame were easy.  There was a failed attempt at home-pickling chinese cabbage (don't try to make up this process).

The potato korokke were interesting, and not at all something I will be cooking again when I am the only parent at home.  Korokke (potato croquettes) are a common bento box item, and one of my favourite fried vegetarian snacks.  However, I learned that the truth was that korokke have a secret ingredient: mince.  Explains the deliciousness, and provides a nice texture to the korokke.

This is the recipe: Potato Korokke   You can shape however you like.  I made both logs and squashed balls.  Because the filling is already cooked, you do not need to cook for very long.  I shallow fried, as I don't have a deep fryer and just can't quite bring myself to use that much oil in one go.  The recipe made heaps by the way.  We all had a couple, and they formed part of our lunches for the next couple of days.  The house has only just lost that 'fried' smell.

The next day my four year old took a 'bento' to school.  She has a lunchbox with a lot of segments and so she had: grapes, soba with soy sauce, edamame, rice and shrimp on a kebab stick, potato korokke and a biscuit (the kiwi element).  According to the teachers she had a great time explaining all the different items to her friends.

Charcuterie 3

The pancetta is finished and it is beautiful!

I have been in love with pancetta since October 1997.  That was the first time my husband and I went on a date to what became 'our restaurant.'  The 'number twelve' is our favourite dish: Spaghetti Amatriciana Bianca.  For those of you familiar with Dunedin, I am talking about Etrusco.  We got engaged in this restaurant, and really enjoyed taking our daughter there last year when a friend's wedding took us back down south. Etrusco is a simply beautiful restaurant, and I really miss it.  I don't think that I have a favourite quite like this where I currently live. 

Back in the 1990's in Dunedin you could not buy pancetta easily, so it was a few years before we were able to try and make this dish ourselves.  We have in fact, never quite replicated it, but may try again with our own pancetta.  Of course I may then need to search for the perfect Italian sausage, but that is a hunt for another day!

I had a really, really good time making this, mainly because there was just about no work for a rather spectacular effort.  When I think how much pancetta costs to buy (and therefore how rarely we have it) I am so pleased with learning this curing technique.

In my previous charcuterie posts I've listed the ingredients and method for making pancetta.  I cured it for five days, mainly because I felt that that the meat could use a little longer.  The recipe states four-seven days, and notes that it can get very salty.  My pancetta is quite salty, but I will use it in meals and make sure not to add any salt whatsoever.  Depending on the recipe I may even boil it a little to soak off some of the salt.

The most difficult thing about this recipe/ method was cutting up the pancetta afterwards.  I have one of those beautifully sharp ceramic knives, but I really had to strain to cut this up.  I went for thick chunks (lardons) rather than lots of thin slices as it was just a bit easier.

 This is the finished slab of Pancetta.  What I like is to see how the meat and fat have all shrunken in together and provide a nice marbled effect.

 A rather awesome  anniversary present from my husband a couple of years ago was a plastic food sealer machine.  I tell you what, I have never felt greater satisfaction that making my pancetta look this fancy!

And just to put everything completely out of order - this is what the belly pork looked like after the first 24 hours of curing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Destructor/ brown sugar meringues

Had a very destructive day on Friday.  I was going nuts trying to get the girls organised to go and have lunch with my husband when I couldn't find my phone to text him.  I employed my standard trick: calling it.  It went straight to voicemail.  As I had charged it the previous day I knew that it wasn't flat.  And that is when I just knew.  What could destroy a phone?  The washing machine.  I find it interesting that my nemesis (laundry) met my disliked phone and together created both new life (well clean washing) and most certainly the death of my phone.   We didn't make the park.

Later I decided to try and make brown sugar meringues.  I think I've posted before about what a cheap trick meringues can be - easy to make dozens quickly, they look great coloured and flavoured and are super popular with children.  I've had brown sugar meringues a couple of times recently and the 'science' behind it interested me.  I've always been taught successful meringue/ pavlovas are made by keeping the bowl free of contaminants (particularly oils) and I wondered how sticky brown sugar could actually make a successful meringue (or even trickier, a pavlova).

Anyway, while making the meringues I discovered that the baby absolutely hates the sound of the mixer.  So I picked her up.  I was using a spoon to pop the little bubbles of brown sugar in the meringue and got distracted by the wiggly baby.  The spoon went horizontally through the beaters.  The engine of the mixer made what can only be described as a death rattle.  And another much loved wedding present went down the gurgler.

Coincidentally it is my birthday tomorrow so my husband didn't even need to come up with birthday ideas!  He handed over his Visa card to order a new phone online, and with the other Visa card, and after cashing in a lot of Fly Buys points a lovely Kenwood mixer is mine!  I'm going to use it tomorrow for the first time to make myself a scrumptious birthday cake. I'm thinking the Ray McVinnie Smug Carrot Cake that I posted earlier - I've got some cream cheese that I started making this morning that will be perfect for the icing.

Brown sugar meringues/ pavlova:  (inspiration from Chocolate Frog Cafe)

NB: This will make a largish pavlova, or about 30-40 smallish meringues.

Four egg whites
240 grams brown sugar (you may prefer to use a 50:50 mix of brown and caster sugar if you don't want the meringue to taste too much like rich toffee.  I would definitely recommend dialling it down)
1tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice

Using an immpecibly clean bowl and beaters beat the egg whites until you get soft peaks.  For best results use a glass or stainless steel bowl (not plastic).  Gradually add in the sugar, a tablespoon at a time.  Try to break up the brown sugar to avoid too many lumps.  If you are making this as a pavlova, the slow addition of sugar (it can take up ten minutes to get it all in) will be a key success factor.  Once the sugar has 'cooked' into the egg, and you can no longer see any granules, stop beating.  Fold through the cornflour and vinegar.

If making into meringues you can plop the mixture into small dabs on to a tray, or pipe using an attractive-shaped tip.  I made big sloppy meringues.  If making pavlova pile into a circle in the middle of the tray and heap the mixture on top.  Bake at 120 for about an hour and a half (for pavlova) or 45 mins for medium/ large meringues.  Turn off the heat and leave to crisp in the oven.

When I made these a dark rich toffee tasting liquid seeped out of the bottom of each meringue.  Delicious.  It also took a long time to fully crisp up - the oven had been cold for some time before they were truly crisp.  If you take them out of the oven before fully crisp they will be very, very chewy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Charcuterie 2

The cure kit arrived from the Pig in a Day/ Preserved people.  It was quite a delightful package.  My local courier normally just bangs on the backdoor and runs, but this time he hammered on the door until I opened it "They forgot to write your name on it."  I checked the sender very carefully and told him it was my bacon kit.  We have a nice local courier.

Inside there were recipes, the two different cures and a $10 note!!  It was a really nice surprise.  I emailed the owners to let them know in case it was a mistake (as a parent I've learnt that all kinds of things can end up in the most improbable places) but they responded it was a discount due to the delay in receiving it.  The earthquakes and ash clouds have not been kind to domestic freight, so I'd had rather low expectations as to the arrival date anyway.

Fortunatly I had to go to the supermarket so grabbed a pork belly and brought it home, eager to start preserving.  The recipe enclosed in the packet credits Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall's recipe as the inspiration.  I've made one mistake - the piece of pork belly that I purchased was not the meatiest, but otherwise I'm on the third day of what is a four - ten day process.  It is very, very simple. 

I'll post pictures and a taste report once complete.  I'm keen to try to make the bacon.  They have pretty good pork suppliers at the weekend market here in Wellington - I might see what they have on offer tomorrow morning.