Saturday, December 28, 2013

Post Christmas sales

We found a good use for half off Christmas decorations - fairy mobiles. We found sticks at the park and the children chose decorations. If you are an adult and focused it will take five minutes to make. We managed to fill in nearly thirty minutes doing this with children aged three-nine.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Candy cane meringues, mince pies and Christmas craft.

Chocolate mint truffles rolled in pistachio crumbs.
I recently looked back on my blog to last year to try and find which recipes I'd used for steam pudding and Christmas mince - and had some attractive photos but no actual clues as to what recipes I'd used.  This year I used Hugh Fearnly-Whittingsall's recipe.  I had no ginger cordial like the recipe specified but did have some gingerbread spiced syrup from Starbucks which substituted rather nicely.  I then used my trusty Edmond's Cookbook to create the steamed puddings.  Steam pudding always seems like a really stupid idea for a summer Christmas when you boil the damn things for four hours (note, that is the FIRST boil, you boil it again on the day).  This year I'm going to put some of the Christmas mince in some vanilla ice-cream - terrine style.  Perhaps add some orange zest to the ice cream......

Delicious mince pies, pastry recipe from an old tea towel of all things.

Our advent calendar last year was full of little chocolates.  This year I really wanted the children to get a bit more out of the Christmas countdown so I've put in little activities, including a few to try and get them to learn about more about helping others.  Those ones haven't gone down so well, but I'm hoping if I repeat them every year they will start to look forward to them as part of the Christmas build up.  Today we are off to pick a book at the Children's Bookshop that Altrusa will distribute to needy families.  Yesterday we got out all the paints and stamps and made metres of wrapping paper.  One rainy Sunday two years ago I bought a box of brown wrapping paper from Warehouse Stationary and it is still going strong!!

Gift wrapping paper

I think that these are my favourite home made Christmas present this year - they are so cute, and so easy.  I often find it hard to believe that something as delicious as meringues is made from eggs and caster sugar.  Nothing else.  You can add vanilla for flavour or a pinch of tartaric acid to help with the beating (and make them appear slightly whiter) but they are not necessary.  For Christmas presents though, food colouring made an appearance.

I painted stripes all the way around the piping bag I used.  The first few meringues had no colour, but after that they were all perfect - they remind me of candy canes.  If you like it then a drop or two of peppermint essence would really Christmas-ify them!

Paint stripes on your piping bag to get the candy cane effect.

I'm not cooking Christmas dinner this year - my Mum is.  It is hard for me to let go of being in charge of such arrangements as I love the hunt for great recipes.  But, a small part of me is very happy not to need to do all that cooking and planning.  As a result, the presents are all purchased/ made and I have more time for crafting and gardening.  Score.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The hard work pays off.

All of a sudden we can eat from the garden every day.  And sometimes all of our veges for a particular meal are from the garden.  It feels amazing.
White carrot, courgette, calendula, lettuce, strawberries. 

Our rather large raspberry bushes turned out not to be raspberries.  But boysenberries are equally welcome!!!

It has long been a dream of mine to harvest enough garlic to create a garlic plait.  On harvesting the garlic, which was an unnamed variety from Commonsense Organics I learnt that it is Pearl Garlic.  I think I'll search out a different variety next year as I will get through the Pearl Garlic quickly (it is just one large bulb).

The garden does requite a fair amount of attention at the moment, but it is worth it.  The deep freezer is full of frozen herb pestos, homemade cordials and soon it should be full of frozen beans and courgette as well.  So sweet. Each year I garden it becomes more cost-effective (particularly with the berries and fruit trees).

I'm off to create a lovely picnic dinner of garden salad, white carrot, calendula, cucumber (I bought this but should have my own in a fortnight) and parsley pesto roast chicken.  I'm really enjoying this year's Christmas parties!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hamburgers from scratch.

I'm starting to get better so cooking a lot more. Having a lot of thinking time allows for elaborate meal planning. I'm slowly starting to incorporate stuff from the garden, but, apart from herbs and spring onions there isn't much ready yet.

The other day I decided to make hamburgers from scratch. I figured it would be a project that would easily last the day. 

I was super pleased with the result.

The hamburger buns were beautiful. I proved them under the heat pump and they rose superbly. I made two little ones for younger eaters.

I found the lid of my Easiyo yoghurt maker the perfect mould for the hamburger patties, and a jam jar lid was great for small kiddy patties. The mince patties included sage, spring onion and parsley from the garden.  

We had potato wedges sprinkled with stock powder to accompany. The girls liked the meal a lot, although my youngest objected to the poppy seeds on the top of the buns - she was worried they would grow in her tummy!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The first moments of the school holidays.

School pickup yesterday was fun. The children and most of the parents seemed happy and I'm sure the teachers were thrilled. My six year old wanted to do every planned holiday activity STRAIGHT AWAY. I conceded with an art activity.

I can't remember where I saw this idea, it is hardly novel. I collected river stones, bought test pots and used sharpie pens to write on the stones.

It was great fun. As usual, I had to recognise that my daughter had her own decoration ideas and she started off with elaborate, multi colour stones that were for 'decoration, not labelling.' She neatly wrote some plant names, adding love hearts or 'polish' (gold paint) here and there.

We also made some decoy strawberries. I read in an article somewhere that a family used decoy rock berries to misdirect birds or to hide amongst real ones to give birds a fright if they try to nibble on them. They are cute regardless and fun to make!

Again, we used a sharpie pen for detail.  The stones were then sprayed with clear varnish to protect the writing. Be careful about spraying, too close and the pen may run. Spraying from 30 cm is good.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Third Annual Chocolate Festival

This year I was very pleased to be invited once again to attend the opening of Wellington's annual chocolate festival.  Last year I was quite overwhelmed to attend, as the festival was also the start of the New Zealand Food Blogger's conference and also the first time I'd spent time away from my youngest.  Given I've spent a lot of this year sick, and have only regained the ability to eat chocolate quite recently the invitation was gratefully received.

The festival opened with a toast - with chocolate ganache pots, instead of champagne. The festival was noticeably bigger than last year - a lot more small chocolate makers.  It also seemed better attended - it was very busy by the time I left. I wonder if last year the festival was swallowed up by Wellington On a Plate, held at the same time? This year there was just enough time to feel sad that Wellington On a Plate had ended when it came time for the festival. A special thing about this year's festival is an emphasis on fair trade chocolate and detailed package labelling of bean type and country of origin.

The festival has lots of fun elements - I regret not staying long enough for chocolate bingo (using chocolate bingo pieces and receiving chocolate as a prize).  I made sure that I left the perennial chocolate fountain to the end - last year delicious warm chocolate landed on my dress, leaving me with a distinctive stain for the rest of the day.  For a further $10 festival attendees could make four little ganache pots (as above) and take them home in a small clear box.  Mayor Ceila Wade-Brown was the first to have a go and very kindly shared out her creations.  Food and hospitality students volunteered to assist the public with making the ganache pots - and I was surprised to learn that some of these students were from Auckland, having made their own way to the conference.

The bit that I loved the most had to be all the new flavour combinations - La Petite Chocolat had matcha flavoured bars and some amazing ginger and mandarin chocolate.  My favourite flavour, salted caramel appeared in a couple of stalls, including local producer BohemeinBig Bad Wolf had a very appealing sausage with a mole (chocolate) sauce.

Chocolate is an amazing food.  While reading the packaging notes of White Rabbit Cacao's Venezuela Mantuano Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao bar I noted that you could taste 'complex berry fruits and stone fruit.'  The chocolate did have a strong raspberry taste to me.  During the Food Blogger's conference last year we had a chocolate masterclass where we learnt the elements of chocolate tasting.  Great chocolate hints at other tastes (unlike most commercial chocolates which often taste strongly of sugar).  Of the chocolate I have tasted so far the White Rabbit Cacao is my favourite - shiny, with a good snap and the delicious berry flavours.  It actually seems mean to write about it without sharing the chocolate with readers!  I'll stop writing!

The most special part of the day was catching up with other food bloggers.  Long ago conversations were remembered and memories of last years conference were discussed amongst sampling from the trade stalls. I've spent a lot of time thinking about food blogging today.  There are a lot of food bloggers from last year who no longer blog.  Lives change, focus changes.  There are also a lot of new food bloggers.  I love blogs.  I love reading what people find interesting.  Blogging is a great way to share passions, to inform, to keep a record of special times.  I have no idea how long I'll keep blogging at Make-Do Mum, but I suspect as long as there are fun food events and food experiments to conduct, I'll be writing for a while to come.

Disclaimer: I was an invited guest to the festival and received a gift bag containing products or vouchers from most of the businesses I mentioned above.  I've done my best to be honest and mention only those stands and products that I was most interested in.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Garden: the best laid plans and rehab gardening

Earlier this year I became a tad garden crazed.  It helped having a single tomato plant produce 666 individual cherry tomatoes.  I kept a tally of everything I harvested and the long warm autumn encouraged the mass planting of seeds.  I was determined to produce a lot of winter vegetables.

I got sick so at the end of May I planted the biggest seedlings in the garden and left the rest to die.  I planted the garlic very early and figured a few extra weeks couldn't hurt. Three months passed.  The first thing I checked when I got home from the hospital was the state of the garden.  The big storm in June was not kind to many of my plants in the front garden.  There was growth, but it was very small.  As I write most of the stuff that went in my garden in May is only getting close to producing anything now.  The exceptions were bok choi and Chinese cabbage - two vegetables I was specifically told not to eat on discharge!  Ironic.

I've been a bit bored recuperating.  I want to do stuff, but don't have the energy.  I do though have the energy for elaborate garden planning.  I'm on my third draft.  I've also been planting a few seeds.  By a few I mean:
  • Sweetcorn
  • Black popcorn
  • Heritage large tomatoes
  • Heritage cherry tomatoes
  • Big Red tomatoes
  • Sun cherry tomatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Jersey Bennie Potatoes
  • Courgette
  • Apple Cucumber
  • Watermelon - Ice Cream and Sun, Moon and Stars.
  • Rainbow carrots
  • Broccoli Romanesco
  • Rockmelon
  • Lettuce
  • Dwarf Beans
  • Red Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Capsicums
  • Magenta Spreen
  • Zinnias, Larkspurs, pansies, calendula, marigolds
  • Coriander and Basil
And since it is too cold outside for most of these seeds I am gardening inside.  My bathroom (very warm room) and the spare room have become a nursery. 
The top of the cupboard is perfect for growing corn.

The bathroom sink is, fortunately, wide.  The left side.
We go through a lot of eggs in this house and I'm finding the containers useful

I'm sure that there will be space for everything (finger's crossed).

I am determined not to plant things out too late this year - a fatal error in previous years.  When I feel sure that we have passed the stage where frosts will come then I will be cheerfully filling in the garden.  My aim is to have one whole week this summer where I do not have to buy any veges or fruit.  The plum tree that I bought for $5 earlier this year is covered in blossom and my blackberry and raspberry canes are looking promising.  We have a huge amount of strawberry plants and this should be the year when we finally get some feijoas. I think a week without buying fruit or vegetables is a real possibility.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pink flower sushi for six year olds.

Isn't this pretty?  Well, pretty to a six year old at least. My oldest loves eating sushi, and her favourite is salmon nigiri.  But making fresh salmon nigiri everyday for her lunch is unlikely to happen, mainly because no one else wants to eat quite as much salmon as she does.  This sushi flower though has ingredients that we do generally have: ham and egg.

I had colouring dramas.  I wanted to use beetroot as my colouring agent but didn't want boiled beetroot flavoured rice.  I was not getting a bright enough pink with the beetroot juice I'd made so added a small amount of ordinary red food colouring.  No matter how much I mixed it I could not get uniform coloured rice.  Next time I would add the colouring the sushi vinegar, or use more highly concentrated beetroot juice.  The beetroot juice was at least evenly colouring the rice, just not deeply colouring it.

Very coincidentally, a Japanese friend and his family popped over to visit while I was making these 'flowers.'  I was worried about adding too much liquid to the finished rice as I didn't want it to be too gluggy. He said that it was typical to use a little less liquid when making Japanese rice for sushi to allow for the sushi vinegar that you put in at the end.  I'll remember this tip for next time.

Pink sushi flowers:

(this recipe assumes that you know how to roll sushi - you should watch a tutorial on You tube if you are unsure).

Prepared Japanese sushi rice
Sushi vinegar
Concentrated beetroot juice or red food colouring
Two eggs
Soy sauce
Thin slices of ham
Sheets of nori
Pickled ginger (if desired)

Mix up two eggs with a teaspoon of soy sauce and spread thinly over a frying pan.  When cooked through, remove from heat and cool on a tablecloth. Take a sheet of nori and place on a sushi mat.  Place the omelette in the centre.  You can either cover the omelette with thin slices of ham (as I did) or tear ham into small pieces and place randomly over the omelette (this gives a slightly different effect when rolling).  If you want to use pickled ginger as well as or in place of the omelette you can add it here.  Tightly roll this mixture and place to one side.

Add the sushi vinegar (with the food colouring) to prepared rice (look at the back of the sushi vinegar bottle to determine how much is needed for your amount of rice).  Stir through thoroughly. Spread evenly over the sheet of nori.  Place the egg and ham nori roll on top and roll together.  Use a sharp knife to cut into slices.

Variation ideas:
  • I think adding black sesame seeds to the pink rice would also look good, I might try this next time.
  • I'd be tempted to try using baby spinach, and might in fact omit using a separate sheet of nori for the egg and ham in favour of baby spinach.
  • Japanese food stores apparently have a fish based food colouring you can use as well.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reviews and pineapple flower cupcakes

Take a look at these beautiful pineapple flowers.  I've never eaten dried pineapple before but, wow, it is delicious.  This recipe, for pineapple,coconut and lime cupcakes caught my eye while I was reviewing  'Alice in Bakingland' by Alice Arndell.  It is a beautiful book to just look through, and these pineapple flowers grabbed my attention.  This batch was a trial for my husband's workplace.  During my recent illness they were very kind, giving my husband heaps of time off, and sending home a lot of meals for the freezer.  Unfortunately, the batch didn't quite make it there! Visitors and time passing meant that they were gratefully received at home!  I'll make another batch, I swear!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Absent for a lame reason and my very dull recent food experiences.

A few months ago this blog abruptly stopped.  Turns out that my family history of bowel cancer became a personal history of bowel cancer.  There was little time to reflect - the two weeks after my colonoscopy were filled with further investigations and serious medical conversations (if you are being evaluated for cancer ALWAYS take a support person to appointments) and then the verdict.  It was the very earliest of stages, and due to a condition called serrated polyposis syndrome I would need my large bowel and rectum removed.  Straight away.  Testing during surgery would determine if oncology treatment was required.  From the verdict to the surgery we had four weeks to arrange a nanny, extra childcare, freeze meals (we bought a chest freezer) and organise everything. It was a manic time, quite horrid and so busy I barely gave the consequences of the surgery much thought.

The surgery was meant to take place in two parts.  The first would remove the large bowel and rectum, then use the small bowel to create a pouch (the new rectum) and also create a temporary stoma to allow everything to heal. The second, eight weeks later, would remove the stoma, reconnect everything and be the end of my treatment.

The first operation went well, but the small bowel didn't quite stretch enough for an easy stoma.  The doctors felt that I wouldn't be able to manage this stoma myself, so the operation was bought forward two weeks.  I managed to get a post op infection, probably from the central line in my neck so stayed in hospital for two weeks. The stoma failed right around two weeks, and became infected as poo leaked into the area.  It was very unglamorous.  The second operation went well, and I was glad that I had no more operations in my future.  Except, the wound was quite infected, and I spent a further three and half weeks in hospital with some funky temperatures, four more trips to theatre to clean the wound and mostly unable to eat due to a very unhappy bowel.

My hospital food experiences included: not eating at all (for days at a time), eating the 'low residue' (no fibre) diet and for a few days receiving nutrition through a PICC line into my arm.

I've been at home for three weeks and am very weak.  I'm not cooking and have no food experiments planned!  The monotony of the low residue diet continues (there is ONE green vegetable in my OK to eat list) and I could cheerfully never eat cauliflower again.  My bowel will take around six months to adjust to the new set up.  Fingers crossed, because I spend a fair amount of time in the bathroom at the moment.

As I get better, I'm sure I will be up to blogging again.  I love the people I've met through blogging, the experiences I've had (including reviewing cookbooks) and keeping track of my family's day to day life. As it is, I am currently feeling tortured whenever a new issue of Cuisine magazine arrives and we are working our way through dozens of donated frozen meals!  We have been excellently supported, and I'm grateful things were caught at an early stage.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stormtrooper Easter Eggs

My Mum used to make Easter Eggs for my sister and I each year.  While we were allowed to come along on the chocolate purchasing trip, my Mum made the eggs secretly, and hid them until Easter Monday.  We loved getting the eggs, and my favourite was the 'big one' - a rabbit pulling a basket.  When we were both a bit older Mum taught us how to make them ourselves and taught us many of the techniques.

I've got some friends intrigued by these little beauties:

I used an edible ink pen to add the black detailing.
so I thought I'd add some chocolate making tips.

Making your own Easter Eggs:

  • You need chocolate candy melts (available from craft stores/ Spotlight) or very high quality chocolate (such as you would buy from a speciality chocolate shop.  If you use chocolate from the supermarket it is unlikely to result in glossy chocolate shapes, and gets that greyish 'bloom' that comes from old, poor quality chocolate.  If you buy from the store melt blocks of eating chocolate rather than chocolate buttons.
  • You need moulds to make shapes.  If you are making these with children consider your shapes carefully: shallow moulds use less chocolate (these storm trooper heads probably use about 5 Tbsp of chocolate - quite a bit really.  You also want shapes that are less likely to break (I made some cute Lego men shapes - but they are very delicate and break easily).  I prefer the hard clear plastic moulds that I used growing up - I find the silicone ones a little tricky for removing the chocolates and because they are bendy they are more difficult to manoeuvre into the freezer. You also can't see if there are any air bubbles in the silicone moulds.
  • You need a double boiler arrangement.  Be incredibly careful doing this, heat the water on a medium heat then place a bowl with the chocolate inside.  There must be no possibility of water splashing into the bowl - the smallest drop will turn your chocolate gritty and hard.  Additionally, once it has melted you need to remove it from the boiler - if overheated it can go very gritty, or get the 'bloom' very easily once set.
  • If you have children then letting them help will be messy.  I made a couple of batches of eggs first, then let the children go for it.  They tend to accidentally spill the chocolate while transferring to the moulds, then use their fingers to clean up the mess.  Dried chocolate is painful to clean up - I used a pastry knife to chip it off the bench.
  • After filling the moulds tap them gently a few times to remove air bubbles.  If you have clear moulds you can check underneath to see if there are any visible air bubble.s
  • Place the filled moulds in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to set the chocolate.  When the chocolate is ready it will come out of the mould very easily.  Do not forget about it in the freezer - it will develop wet condensation which will effect the quality of the chocolate.
  • You can buy egg moulds and can either make them hollow (swirl the chocolate around the mould and tip out the extra) or fill them.  You can join them to another matching egg mould either while making them (I used to fill one side of the mould with chocolate, join to the matching side, clip pegs around the edges and then shake) or 'glue' them together with chocolate when both sides are made.
  • You can buy flavourings and colouring for chocolate.  Do not use normal food colouring in chocolate as it has the same effect as adding water to the chocolate - not good.  Buy powder colouring.  You can buy flavours and fillings - I scooped a dollop of salted caramel butter inside an egg I made - awesome!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Christmas BBQ for lovely old friends: post-marinated rump steak, bacon wraps and macerated fruit salad

*****I've spent the last few weeks struck down by cryptosporidium - so not up to eating, and trying to avoid cooking.  This is a post I've had waiting to finish for awhile, and I'm making the pear, haloumi, sage and bacon wraps tonight.*****

My husband and I have lots of lovely friends and last Christmas we were particularly excited to see two friends back from three years overseas.  There was challenging conversation, great news, gossip, laughs and yummy food.

I have one long standing BBQ favourite - a Nigella Lawson recipe. Basically you marinate the meat AFTER cooking - and the flavour is amazing.  The best thing is that it uses beef rump steak, which isn't that expensive, but the way in which you cook it means that you have tender, garlicky/ lemony beef that goes nicely over rice or a salad.

I researched Christmas recipes intensively last year - I like to make old favourites each year (which is why we did the Nigella turkey brine and had new potatoes) but I figure I'll never learn anything making the same recipes.  So I got together all the Christmas magazines and researched recipes. My new favourite Christmas BBQ dish (and one we have eaten at least fortnightly all summer is)  pear, haloumi and sage streaky bacon wraps.  I saw this in the December Women's Weekly.  It is a Jo Seager recipe, you can probably guess the process from the description! The pear goes all deliciously soft and the haloumi heats beautifully.  I will post about making haloumi later on - it is my new favourite cheese, and very easy to make.

A few years ago I came across a recipe for Macerated Fruit Salad.  I made it one rainy Christmas with fruit my in-laws brought with them from up North. This was the first year though that summer has been hot enough where I live to pull off this dessert at Christmas time.  I like this because it tastes like very, very fresh fruit salad - familiar, but special.

Macerated fruit salad

One punnet of strawberries, hulled and quartered
One punnet of strawberries, hulled.
Four nectarines, stoned and thinly sliced
One cup red grapes, halved
Juice of two oranges
Two TBSP caster sugar
One TBSP vanilla syrup

Mix together and chill for a couple of hours before serving.

Pear Upside Down Cake

I posted this recipe accidentally prior to editing so it was very rough looking!

I've been doing a crazy amount of preserving lately and, after finding a few local pear trees, ended up with a lot of pears.  I'm kind of a nervous preserver - I think all the warnings about sterility and botulism are kind of off-putting.  So I've decided to use the jars of pears as quickly as possible.  You could use fresh pears in this recipe, but I think preserved pears are really delicious.  

I made this recipe the first time when I was sick and needed to fill in the time with my two year old. I figured it had enough ingredients to keep her busy for awhile.  I didn't though feel much like eating, so took out a sliver.  It was a delicious, moist cake with just the perfect amount of ginger.  It feels like an 'adult' cake for me - made for a special morning tea perhaps.

This recipe is also made mainly in a food processor.  If you don't have one you could just use a stick blender.

Pear Upside Down Cake


40g melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 TBSP Golden Syrup
3 firm ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced into eighths (I used pears that I had preserved)

Cake mix

2 cups self raising flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup natural yoghurt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup golden syrup
1/2 cup plain oil
2 tsp ground ginger

Pre-heat oven to 170C.  Line a 23cm cake tin with baking paper.  For the topping combine the butter, sugar and syrup.  Spread over the base of the cake tin.  Arrange pear slices over top of the mixture.

In a food processor combine all cake mix ingredients.  When smooth (it may take a couple of minutes) pour over the pears and bake for 45-50 mins or until puffed and golden.  It is important to test the mixture with a skewer as I found appearances were quite deceptive with this recipe.  Rest for ten minutes in the cake tin before inverting onto a serving plate.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Using up the blackberry products

I don't often pull out all the stops for dinner, weekday dinners usually being rather stressful.  There is something about trying to pull together dinner when children are demanding attention, you have to persuade them to eat (because they are tired) and you get comments like 'that's not my favourite' or 'yuck.'

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I enjoy cooking (for adults).  I figured that it was the end of a long week and we deserved a yummy meal.  It makes a nice replacement for going out on Valentine's Day.

All the work I've done in the garden this summer is starting to pay off.  This meal really demonstrates it - lots of herbs, garlic herb butter (home-made butter from teaching the children about food science and garlic from one of my two successful bulbs), blackberry vinegar, cherry tomato sauce and blackberry cordial.  I've been so happy with the amount of food we have preserved this year - either in jars, as products like vinegar or cordial or just frozen waiting to be used.

The cherry tomato sauce is a funny story.  I accidentally 'invented' tomato sauce (ketchup)!  While it is not an original invention, I did wonder if this is how tomato sauce was originally invented. It doesn't seem to be, but I did learn that the phrase 'tomato sauce' is limited to Commonwealth countries - in other parts of the world tomato sauce is what we tend to call pasta sauce .  I'd hoped to lightly cook the cherry tomatoes with some blackberry vinegar to have as a side dish.  It was initially too tart, so I added a little sugar and cooked at a high heat.  Unsurprisingly tomato, vinegar, sugar and seasoning is tomato sauce! Delicious!

Yummy meal.  The beer bread with garlic butter was delicious.

Horribly out of focus picture, but I really wanted to show the colour of the dressing.
This photo looked better on my phone!  I mixed blackberry vinegar, olive oil, poppy seeds and seasoning to make a nice dressing for these baby cucumbers.

The cherry tomato side dish that turned into tomato sauce!  Since the tomatoes were very ripe and full of pectin the addition of heat and sugar made them kind of 'jammy' - delicious.

Valentine's mocktail: blackberry cordial mixed with sparkling grape juice

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Garden harvest 2013 (January)

Somewhere along the way I've become a gardening nerd.  In the seven years that I have lived in this house I have indifferently gardened.  While we were still renters we did very little and then four years ago I started adding a bag of compost and mulch to the garden each year.  I've focused on growing vegetables but my desire to get a lot of variety means that I would grow too little of one thing.

This year I was organised.  I ordered the King's seed catalogue and planned in advance.  I even drew a little plan on the back of an envelope.  When the trees were harvested at the rear of our property it revealed new sunlight opportunities - we can now grow vegetables and fruit that require extra sunlight hours.  I dug two new gardens at the front of our house.  I read a lot, mostly anything by Linda Hallinan.

On holiday earlier this month I managed to get through about eighteen months worth of NZ Gardener magazines.  I'm ready!

I've planted the basics: lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries and carrots but also heritage varieties of peas, Picton Sno and Capucijners.  I learned how to get the best out of the indifferent berry bushes we have - and produced two raspberries and have about thirty blackberries ripening.  On the recommendation of a neighbour I planted courgettes and enjoy getting a new courgette to eat every three or four days.  I'm starting to get results from my rhubarb.  I've planted complimentary flowers to attract bees and have even started seed saving. I tend to take twice daily looks at the garden (this is how I know that I am obsessive).  I love ripping laterals from tomato plants.  I love that I know what laterals are.  And I love that tomato laterals will just sprout roots if you stick them in the ground.

Tomatoes ready for dehydrating and eventual freezing.

My children are starting to enjoy the garden.  Digging for jersey bennie potatoes with the children was a lot of fun - they enjoyed the treasure hunt and the youngest loved washing them in a bucket of water.  I produced a lot of strawberries - but the youngest loves them, as well as my three year old neighbour so they became experts at looking for and eating warm, ripe berries.  I barely rescued enough for a pot of jam. This evening they helped me to pull up carrots.  We brought them inside and rinsed them, then sliced them thinly for eating.  My oldest had hers on a cruskit cracker of all things. 

I'm loving making meals of the food from the garden.  Tonight we had the last of the jersey bennies and a salad including lettuce and carrots from the garden with our meal.  In the next couple of months I should be harvesting cucumbers for pickling, miniature red cabbages, bok choi and a lot of tomatoes.  A serious amount.

In a previous post I mentioned a concern about garden costs.  I'm keeping a running total of expenditure and I'll try and see how that balances out at the end of the year.


  • Courgettes = 7
  • Strawberries = 6
  • Tomaccio tomatoes = 17
  • Lettuce = harvested leaves three times
  • Blackberries = scrumped 30 cups worth
  • Carrots = 20
  • Rhubarb = 3 cups worth, stewed
  • Garlic Bulb = 1 (not an awesome amount but 100% better than previous year)
  • Herbs = I've harvested parsley and thyme three times.
Tomaccio - it is hard to see but there are about 185 tomatoes on here!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Good/ best: School night desperate dinners

I really thought that I would have more time to concentrate on cooking once I had kids.  In some ways I have, I have more headspace to THINK about cooking, but not a lot of actual time to do it.  My first daughter had afternoon naps right up to starting school, my youngest has all but stopped at the age of two and half.  So I don't really have uninterrupted time to cook during the day.  This means that dinner mostly needs to be prepared at dinner time.  My husband has long working hours so is never home for dinner during the week.  It is just me, and two worn out, attention needing girls.

If I have a lot of cooking energy to get out I might make a separate meal for my husband and I, but usually we all have the same meal. At least half the time it will be some kind of stir fry - this suits the cultural needs of our family, but also speed needs!

Some nights are just toxic though: when you are late home from swimming or playgroup, when the kids need a bath, your daughter has reading to do and you have nothing prepared.  This blog post, and the rest in the series are my attempts to address that.  I'm going to do post a recipe for the fastest, technically adequate version, then put in variations that make it yummier or healthier.  I'll call these ones 'Desperate Dinners.'

Vegetables, noodles and meat: OK version

One packet of two minute noodles (baked version)
Handful of tiny vegetables (chop/ grate thinly - I use broccoli, grated courgette and mushroom)
Shredded leftover meat/ shelf stable tofu

Boil water in a pot for the two minute noodles - put in vegetables for a couple of minutes with the 'soup powder' then add the noodles.  When the noodles have been cooking for a couple of minutes add the shredded meat.  Done.

You can have this as a soup, or strain and have as noodles.

Vegetables, noodles and meat: Best version

One packet of udon or quick cook hokkien noodles
Selection of tiny vegetables, including a diced spring onion for garnish
Shredded leftover meat/ pre-marinated chicken/ frozen shrimp/ fresh firm tofu
Fresh stock: homemade, from the fridge in the supermarket or made up using gel stock pots. For a family of four you will need at least one litre.
Soy sauce/ peanut oil/ sesame oil

To have as a soup:
Put the stock on to boil and add the vegetables and meat (if not precooked).  Cook for three or four minutes at high heat, then reduce to a simmer and add the noodles (and tofu/ precooked meat if using). Add a teaspoon of soy sauce and a drop or two of sesame oil to each family member's bowl prior to adding the noodles, meat and stock.  Sprinkle with spring onion. 

To have as a stir fry:
Stir fry the uncooked meat and vegetables in peanut oil for two or three minutes until the meat looks cooked and vegetables start to soften.  Add half a cup of stock and a teaspoon of soy sauce and bring to the boil.  Add the noodles and stir fry rapidly until most of the liquid has disappeared.  Add the pre-cooked meat or tofu if using.  Sprinkle with spring onion.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Delicious blackberry curd and blackberry barbeque sauce

The first batch of blackberry recipes has been quite popular and by the time I wrote it all up I needed to add a couple more recipes. There is no end to blackberrying - and my husband is suggesting doing some more blackberry picking once the girls are in bed tonight!

For the first time today we encountered competition!   My husband spotted a new blackberry patch while out jogging (when your partner takes up exercising there are benefits for the whole family) and we visited there after visiting the beach this afternoon. We took our gumboots, sheet of cardboard and the hockey stick.  The girls helped pick the low berries and my husband and I worked together to get the trickier ones (me lying on the cardboard across a large thorny branch while my husband used the hockey stick to pull a prolific branch closer.  After we had half a smallish bucket we noticed a Mum and her son further along.  A small creek bubbled along and while we were on the bank the mother and son were in the creek.  We were very envious (and look forward to the day we can send our children into creeks to assist with berrying). I asked about their berry recipes (blackberry muffins with fresh blackberries mixed with cream cheese for icing) and we respected our various spots.

Another car drove slowly by.  They pulled in behind our car and I instantly knew what they were considering.  They continued on, I guess noticing that the area was well covered and likely picked bare.  They drove off and I didn't think about them until a couple of minutes later, when I realised that they had gone on to the private driveway above the creek and were picking from there.  As we left, two members of their group circled back to check out the patch we had just covered!  They were not going to find any!


 A friend asked what I do with all the caterpillars on the blackberries I picked and it occurred to me to write a few blackberrying facts:

Blackberries and caterpillars:
  • Just about every blackberry will have a tiny caterpillar on the inside.  I found spreading them on a tray while fresh and picking them off every time I walk by the most effective method of removal.
  • If you soak the berries it can drown the caterpillars.  I suspect though that many caterpillars drown still inside the berry.
  • If you freeze them the caterpillar remains inside the berry.
  • Inadvertently eating tiny caterpillars is an inevitable fact of cooking with blackberries.

Picking blackberries:

  • Keep your eye out for blackberry patches every time you are out driving.  They love creek beds and overgrown bush.  
  • Blackberry bushes are thorny - wear running shoes or gumboots and old clothes.  Expect scratches and thorns stuck in your fingers.  Wearing gloves makes it hard to pull off the berries.
  • Take along a hockey stick - it can help you reach high up branches
  • A bucket looped over your arm makes picking easier.
  • Consider how likely it is that the berries have been sprayed.  You will need to wash them well if they have been sprayed (add a small drop of detergent to the washing water, then rinse with clean water)
  • Children get very bored with picking berries quite quickly and are likely to stop after the first prickle.  We took a lot of snacks to keep them amused.
  • Manage your expectations for the amount of berries you are likely to get.  Altogether we have picked about 40 cups of berries....but probably spent about ten hours altogether doing this over many trips.  Picking berries for up to an hour is fun, picking for much longer a chore.
  • Take a first aid kit with plasters, splinter probes and tweezers.  Insect repellent is also a good idea.  My legs look like I've been subject to a vicious cat attack, interlaced with red shiny mosquito bites.  Attractive.
Storing blackberries:

  • Rinse them straight before using them, not when you get home.  If the berries are kept dry and cool they are much less likely to go mouldy. Even refrigerated, washed berries are likely to get mouldy overnight.
Blackberry curd is a brilliant use of eggs and blackberries.  You can use the curd as you would lemon curd (e.g. to make lemon meringue pie) and to flavour home made ice cream (just add a generous scoop or two of the curd).  Blackberry curd is better than blackberry jam for making ice cream as the jam tends to result in more ice crystals throughout the ice cream. 

Blackberry curd:

500 grams blackberries
300 grams caster sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten.
90 grams butter

Take 500grams of blackberries and quarter a cup of water and heat together in a pot until boiling.  Once boiling reduce to a simmer and cook for about twenty minutes.  Squish the berries while cooking.  Place a sieve over a bowl and press the mixture through using a wooden spoon.  This will take about five-ten minutes - you want to end up with nothing but a dry, seedy mixture left in the sieve.

Most people use a double boiler arrangement to cook sweet curds but I do not have the patience.  You need to know that you will be able to pay full attention to the curd while cooking if you do it in a pan.  Heat the berry juice in the pot on a medium low heat.  Add 300 grams of caster sugar and stir until dissolved.  Beat four room temperature eggs lightly, then temper by adding a spoonful of the berry juice to the eggs and stirring.  Repeat tempering a few times (otherwise you will scramble the eggs when you tip them into the pot).  Slowly add eggs to the pot, stirring constantly.  Add 90 grams of butter and keep stirring.

Bring the heat up slightly to medium, but never enough where the mixture starts bubbling.  When a very thick ribbon forms (this happens quickly) take off the element and pour into sterilised jars.  The mixture should last about two weeks in the fridge.

Recipe inspiration:  From Stephanie Alexander's A Cooks' Companion and Cream Until Fluffy

Blackberry BBQ Sauce

500grams blackberries
4-5 plums
4-5 apricots
1 cup tomato sauce
2 cloves of garlic
Dash of hot sauce (or a finely diced red chili)
Half a cup brown sugar.
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Put the berries and fruit in a pot and simmer for about thirty minutes (I simmered for nearly an hour, but had dashed to the shop and forgot that I left the pot going, thankfully my husband was still here!  Push the sauce through a sieve to remove berry seeds and fruit stones.  Be aggressive with sieving, keep going until the leftover seeds are a dry thick paste.  Add garlic, tomato sauce, hot sauce and sugar.  Season. Simmer for about twenty minutes for taste.  I found the original mixture too heavy on the vinegar so I added 2 TBSP of the blackberry cordial I made earlier.  You can just add extra sugar if too acidic.  If too sweet you can add more sugar.  Use a stick blender to make sure the garlic is incorporated and then pour into sterilised bottles.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Preserving madness: Blackberries

I've been working very hard on making my vegetable garden productive over the last few months and have been rewarded this summer with lots of courgettes, heritage peas, lettuce, jersey bennie potatoes and tomatoes.  It is very satisfying sitting down for a meal that you grew.

But, getting something for nothing is also satisfying.

I received three kilogrammes of plums which kicked off the preserving.  We ate a few, then I rapidly made plum jam (I think plum jam is my all-time favourite jam) and then plum sauce using the Edmond's recipe.  Two large jars of jam, three bottles of sauce.  All good.

Then it occurred to me that it was probably blackberry time.  My husband enjoyed fruit picking as a child and so I suggested that we go and try for some blackberries. Our first expedition, to a local river, involved my youngest throwing stones in the river while we collected berries.  It took quite awhile, and produced two small jars of jam.  We returned without the toddler and had better success....but felt that it was a lot of work for little reward.  Then we lucked upon a roadside batch.  I yelled 'bezzies' (not that mature but that it what the youngest calls berries and it has caught on) and we stopped.  Since we have young children we always have lunchboxes of snacks with us and we rapidly filled the lunchboxes.  Blackberry and Apple jelly was the result (four medium sized jars).

Representatives of all the varieties of household blackberry products.

We then got serious.  More trips, more berries.  The last two nights my husband and I have taken turns going out for some light 'bezzying.' I estimate that we have picked about thirty-five cups worth of berries from a variety of locations (I am good at finding random patches of berries while out driving).  Blackberry vinegar, Blackberry relish, Blackberry ice-cream and a lot more jam came next.  We have about four cups of frozen berries for general dessert use later in the year.

There is a critical oversupply of preserves in our household.  I feel strongly though that since they now live in our storage shed (three shelves being seen to be an indecent amount of preserve storage in the lounge) that it counts towards our emergency food supplies.  I'll also be giving some away as gifts.

Blackberry season will soon be over and attention will return to my garden.  I'm keeping track of expenditure and production this year because I don't want to discover that I've produced a  $64 tomato.

All the blackberry recipes in one place!

Blackberry vinegar.

In a clean jar put clean washed blackberries and our over vinegar to just cover.  After three days strain the mixture through a muslin into a sterilised bottle.  You can save the vinegared berries for the relish below.

Blackberry relish.

I followed the River Cottage recipe with a couple of changes.  I didn't use powdered mace because mace is hard to find (I do know that you can find it at Moore Wilson's).  Also after cooking I didn't strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds.  It is impossible to sieve for seeds when the mixture contains onions and apples.  If you don't want the seeds you can can cook the berries first until pulpy then sieve and cook with the other ingredients.  You may wish to retain the apple peel and cores for Apple and Blackberry jelly.

Blackberry jam.

Blackberry jam is quick and easy to make. Cook your blackberries on a low heat with a very small amount of water until the berries begin to bleed juice.  Once there is a lot of juice coming out increase the heat until the berries are boiling.  You can choose to squish the berries with a potato masher at this point if you wish.  You may also choose at this point to let the berries cool and push the mixture through a sieve to get rid of the seeds.  I don't bother.  Once the berries have boiled for a couple of minutes add some kind of acid.  For a large amount of berries (more than four cups) I'll add one teaspoon of citric acid.  For a small amount I'll add half a teaspoon.  The exact amount isn't too important and doesn't impact on taste.  Add the sugar.  I used one cup of sugar for each cup of boiled berry slush.  Boil together for about four or five minutes.  Bottle in sterilised jars.  This jam sets a little more over time so if I doesn't look well set straight away it should look a lot better the next day.

Blackberry and Apple jelly.

Grab some sour/ tart apples (like Granny Smiths) and roughly chop.  Put all parts of the apple (including pips) into a pot with a little water.  Simmer the apples until they start looking soft.  Add the berries and cook further until the berries are pulpy.  Give the mix a good squish with the potato masher and cook a little bit longer. Allow to cool slightly then drain through a jelly bag.  Measure the mixture and for every cup of juice allow 3/4 cup of caster sugar.  Bring juice and sugar to the boil.  Boil for 10-15mins or until setting point is reached.  Bottle in sterilised jars.

The cool thing about this recipe is that you don't exact amounts of berries or apples - the measuring comes once you have the juice.  If I have hardly any berries then I will be extra generous with the apples.  If I have heaps of berries then I will dial back the apples.  The two most recent batches I made highlight this beautifully:  one jar of crimson clear jelly, the other the colour of red wine.

Blackberry cordial 1

Blackberry cordial is straightforward to make:  the first batch I made is perfect as a hot drink in the evenings.  Without the spices it would make a refreshing summer drink on a hot day.  Your choice!  My version is adapted from this one:

Grab as many berries as you can get your hands on and put them in a pot with enough water to nearly cover them.  Add a cinnamon stick. Warm to a simmer.  Let the berries get very pulpy and soft (approx 20 mins). You want to squish all the juice out of the berries so squish them down with a potato masher.

Remove from the heat and strain through a jelly bag. While still warm, for every four cups of liquid add a cup of brown sugar and stir until dissolved.  Bottle in a sterilised bottle or jar.

If you are making the drink for refreshing cordial (instead of a hot winter drink) I'd omit the cinnamon.

Blackberry cordial 2

My first batch of cordial wasn't sweet enough for the rest of the family and they mostly didn't like the cinnamon I added above.  I had another go at making cordial.  I'm not really sure that it is a classic cordial recipe, but it works for us!  I've made this cordial mostly without any kind of measurement, so play around with it a little and see what you like!

Three cups of blackberries
Three cups of sugar syrup (sugar syrup is one cup of sugar to a cup of water, with the mixture heated until the sugar dissolves).

While the sugar syrup is still warm (but not boiling) add the berries.  Leave to infuse for a few hours, or overnight.  Pour the mixture through a sieve, squishing the berries through.  Using a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, strain into a sterilised bottle. 

This is really refreshing diluted 1:4.  The used berries can be either discarded or eaten with ice cream or yoghurt.

Monday, January 21, 2013

'Life Hacks'

 Wow!  A whole month without posting.  I guess I took a much needed holiday!  I had a lot of blog posts planned and drafted but have lost them with the very sad loss of my much beloved iPhone.  You will soon see posts on my first sausage making attempts, more cheese making (halloumi is my new favourite) and a very Star Wars Easter.

A friend posted this link on Facebook and I had to share it....I am for anything easier.  The link leads to a lot of small tricks to make your life a little easier.  I for one will be using a pants clothes hanger to hold my recipe books open (swinging from my over head cupboards) and will be making a few cold packs by using soaking old sponges in water, containing them in a zip lock bag and keeping them in the freezer.  Great ideas.