Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Smoked Salmon and Dill Pikelets



Smoked salmon, fresh dill, and a delicious sour cream mixture served on small, bite size pikelets, this was maximum impact for minimum effort. I cheated and bought the mini pikelets from Coles, but of course with more time you can easily make them yourself, but honestly for $3.00 a packet why would you bother. These were a real hit as a Christmas entree. However, they would serve up beautifully and hold their own at any dinner or cocktail party.

My apologies there is no photo of these little beauties as they disappeared  before my eyes, as did the second batch. When life settles down after Christmas/New Year I will make some more and add a photo.

Ingredients:

300g (1 1/4 cups) sour cream (reduced fat if you prefer)
1 tbs Wholegrain Mustard
2 tbs finely chopped chives
1 tbs finely chopped dill
2 tsp lemon juice
2 x 140g pkts Coles Golden Pikelet Bites
200g smoked salmon
Dill sprigs, to serve


  1. Combine the sour cream, mustard, dill, chives, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. 
  2. Spoon a little of the sour cream mixture onto each pikelet and top with some of the smoked salmon and a sprig of dill. Season with freshly ground black pepper and arrange on a serving platter embellished with extra Dill sprigs.





Sunday, 28 December 2014

Seafood sauces and dressings

Golden Cassia fistula trees flowering in Cairns late December.
Common name: Cascara, Golden shower, Indian Laburnum



My early morning walk along the golden path in Freshwater, Cairns, Far North Queensland

This year Christmas was in warm tropical Cairns in Far North Queensland, so a departure from the traditional style Christmas lunch was inevitable. Fresh seafood which is so plentiful and locally caught was the obvious choice. Whilst I took some shortcuts with food preparation this year, I prepared a delicious Seafood sauce and an Avocado and lime dressing to accompany our seafood. With Smoked Salmon and Dill Pikelets as an entree, fresh salads and fruit, and chilled bubbly and white wine, we really enjoyed our delicious tropical, seafood Christmas lunch. This was followed of course by traditional Christmas Plum Pudding for dessert.

Seafood Sauce:

1 cup (300g) whole-egg mayonnaise
2 tbs tomato sauce
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp ground paprika

1. Combine the mayonnaise, tomato sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and paprika in a small bowl or decorative mug.

2. Cover  with plastic wrap and place in the frig to chill.

This recipe will keep for a couple of weeks.

Avocado and Lime dressing:

1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled and stone removed
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 cup (60ml) lime juice
2 tbs olive oil
  1. Toast cumin in a saucepan over low heat for 1 minute or until aromatic.
  2. Process in a food processor with avocado, garlic, lime juice and olive oil until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve this sauce and dressing with a delicious seafood platter to serve 8.

Seafood platter:

2 cooked lobsters or 4 Moreton Bay bugs
2 kg prawns
500g smoked salmon slices
Crushed ice, to serve
Lime wedges, to serve.




Sunday, 7 December 2014

Christmas fruit cakes



Christmas fruit cakes
(Makes 3 large muffin size cakes and two 11x16cm rectangular cakes)

8 oz butter                                            
3 oz slivered or chopped almonds
8 oz light brown sugar   
1 lb. raisins                                   
5 eggs                                                             
1 kg good quality mixed fruit
1 doz. dates
100g cherries
(Or replace fruit in above three items with 3 pkts.Quality Mixed fruit)
2 ozs S.R. flour                                               
1 level teaspoon salt
9 oz plain flour                                                
¼ teaspoon each cinnamon, grated nutmeg, and mixed spice     

Fruit and nuts preparation:
1.      Prepare the fruit and nuts at least three days before cooking.
2.      Warm the Rum and following ingredients together in a small saucepan until nicely blended.
3.      Allow to cool completely.                   
4.      Pour this mixture over the prepared fruit and nuts. Cover and macerate or soak for three days or at least overnight. Give the mixture a stir or a shake each day if possible.

½ cup of Bundaberg Rum or brandy or sherry
 ½ teaspoon each of vanilla paste, and almond essence
1 level dessertspoon of golden syrup                                                      
1 level dessertspoon each of lemon juice and orange juice
1 level dessertspoon of Bushells sweetened coffee & chicory essence
1 level dessertspoon of Fig or dark jam   

Day of cooking:
Preheat the oven to 140 ⁰ or 120⁰ fan forced.
Method: 
1.      Cream butter and sugar until light and soft. Test each egg separately in a cup and beat them into the butter, cream one at a time, and add a little of your measured flour between the last 2nd or 3rd egg to prevent any risk of curdling.
2.      Have ready the flours sifted together with salt and spices. Add these and blend smoothly and well. Last of all add the macerated fruits and mix evenly and thoroughly.
3.      Let the mixture stand in the bowl for 10 minutes before placing in the prepared tins. Place your wooden spoon upright in the centreof the mixture. It should not move if correct consistency.
4.      Line the base and sides of your cooking tins with 2 layers of brown paper and a layer of Baking paper. Using brown paper lunch bags when lining small tins makes the job a lot easier. If using muffin tins, the Multix CafĂ© collection muffin wraps (baking paper) work very well placed inside the brown paper liners.
5.      Spread mixture evenly into prepared pans. Decorate tops with blanched almonds and glacĂ© cherries.
6.      Bake cakes at 140⁰  for 15 minutes and reduce to 130⁰ fan forced for about 1 hour 45 minutes or until cooked when tested. Brush hot cakes with extra rum or sherry. Cover cakes tightly with foil. Cool in the pans.
7.      Decorate cakes with ribbon if preparing for gifts.

The cakes will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 months.
Suitable to freeze.

Enjoy!



Sunday, 30 November 2014

Basil Pesto with Semi Sundried Tomatoes



With the festive season upon us, Christmas drinks accompanied by fine cheeses and other accompaniments will be more popular than ever. A tasty and healthy pesto adds variety to the standard cheese platter and is so easy and economical to make, especially if you grow your own herbs.  Pesto requires a substantial amount of basil, so prevent your basil from going to seed in the heat of summer, prune it well, and use the surplus to make pesto. Or shop at  your local Farmer's Market and buy it in bunches. Leftover pesto can then be added to pasta dishes and vegetable soups, the options are endless really.

The following recipe is for a fairly standard pesto, however sometimes I love to make it more interesting by adding 1/2 cup of semi sundried tomatoes to the food processor with the basil, nuts and garlic, and by using some of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the tomatoes with the EVOO during the final processing.

If you make your own semi sundried tomatoes and basil pesto as I do, then with cheese, you have a wonderful selection of nibblies on hand to offer your guests.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups firmly-packed basil leaves, Italian or sweet basil is fine
1/2 cup good quality pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil e.g. Maggie Beer
60g parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup semi sundried tomatoes in Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)



Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 180⁰C. Spread the pine nuts over a baking tray. Bake in oven for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted. Remove from oven and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
  2. Place the cooled pine nuts, basil, and garlic in the bowl of the food processor and process until finely chopped. Whilst the food processor motor is running, gradually add the EVOO in a thin steady stream until well combined and oozy.
  3. Transfer the pesto to a bowl. Stir in the grated parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to your taste and stir until well combined.
Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Pesto can also be frozen in a covered plastic or glass container by topping the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil. This prevents the top layer of pesto from darkening.

Variations:
  • For parsley and basil pesto, reduce basil to 1 cup and add 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley. 
  • For basil and almond pesto, replace pine nuts with toasted slivered almonds.
  • Add pesto to vegetable soup.
  • Add pesto to pasta.
Related links for additions to your cheese platter:

1. Make your own Mozzarella cheese:



Sunday, 16 November 2014

Lemon Crispies



This Lemon Crispy biscuit slice is a family favourite. When our children were still living at home,
we would always love travelling to visit my Mum in Rockhampton, knowing that there would be home baked cakes, biscuits and slices waiting for us on arrival. She was a great sweets cook. She used to cook this Lemon Crispy slice much earlier on and then for some reason it dropped off her repertoire. Neil and the children would continue to request it, however as she aged, her favourite few slices and cakes, which were all very nice, would reappear. Perhaps she lost the recipe or perhaps her arthritic hands found it difficult to cut crisp slices in baking tins. Unfortunately, I never thought to ask Mum why she no longer baked it, because I didn't really know what it was called, except that I knew it was lemony, and contained corn flakes, which I think is the secret ingredient.

I found Mum's recipe recently when I was perusing her old recipe books, which are amongst some of my most treasured possessions, and went out and bought corn flakes specifically so that I could make this slice. The corn flakes give the biscuit base a crispness and slightly nutty flavour, complimented beautifully by the slightly tart lemon icing. It turned out perfectly, and Neil has given it the seal of approval.

Mum's original recipe


Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups lightly crushed cornflakes
185g. butter, melted
1 1/2 cup SR flour
3/4 cup coconut
2 tablespoons coconut, extra

Lemon icing:
2 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice (approx.)
15 g. butter, softened

To make the icing:
Combine sifted icing sugar with softened butter and enough lemon juice to mix to a thick spreading consistency. Keep beating the icing until very smooth and spreadable. It will spread beautifully over the hot biscuit base when cooked.

Let's cook:
1. Combine sugar, sifted flour, lightly crushed cornflakes and coconut in a bowl, and stir in the butter.
2. Press evenly with your hands or a small bottle into a greased Swiss roll tin (25cmx30cm).
3. Bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
4. When still hot, spread with Lemon Icing, sprinkle with extra coconut.
5. Cool in tin, and cut into desired sized squares when still slightly warm as it is easier to cut..

Cut into small dainty pieces, this would also be perfect served as part of a High Tea.

I wonder if everyone has family favourites like this slice that fond memories are associated with. I hope so.






Thursday, 13 November 2014

Easy Baked Chicken Casserole

Chicken casserole lends itself to easy, healthy, weeknight meals, created in one dish. This one is baked in an open dish, and can then be placed in a casserole dish to serve and be kept warm. I am realising more and more however, how important it is to buy good quality organic, free range chicken fillet, as the chicken is definitely more tender and tasty after being cooked. It isn't as risky cooking with thigh fillet which tends to be more tender,  however we are all becoming more conscious about the fat within and are opting for the more health conscious chicken fillet. This is a recipe which can be adapted according to your individual taste. I have kept it as nutritious and fat free as possible for this recipe.




Preheat the oven to 180 deg. C (350deg.F Gas 4)
Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 free range chicken fillets halved lengthwise or 6 chicken thighs, fat removed
3 carrots, chopped
1 red capsicum, finely diced
4 shallots, or 1 red onion chopped
3 cloves garlic crushed (optional)
3 stalks celery chopped

Sauce:
400g tin chopped tomatoes or homemade tomato sauce
4 tablespoons white vinegar or white wine (of course I prefer wine)
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar or good quality honey
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus extra to serve
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons salt-reduced soy sauce

Let's cook:

Place the chicken in a baking dish which has been sprayed lightly with olive oil and scatter the fresh colorful vegetables over the top to cover the chicken. In a large jug, combine the remaining sauce ingredients and carefully pour over the chicken.

Bake in a moderate oven, uncovered for 1 1/4 hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are soft. Serve garnished with extra parsley, ground black pepper,  roasted slivered cashews or almonds, a green salad,  and brown rice.

Enjoy and feel guilt free!!





Thursday, 6 November 2014

Low Fat Coconut Butter Chicken


SERVES 4

1 large onion, diced
25g coconut oil (Use instead of ghee or butter)
2-3cm knob of ginger, grated or chopped or use 1 tsp. ground ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cardamon (opt.)
1 tsp. ground coriander (opt.)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp garam masala
1 fresh chilli, chopped
1 tomato, diced
3 tbsp. reduced salt tomato paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
700g chicken breast (preferable to chicken thighs for low fat content although thighs have more flavour)
400 ml light evaporated milk (or coconut flavoured evaporated milk) )use instead of coconut cream
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves  to serve

Method:

1. In a frying pan over medium heat, cook onion in coconut oil until translucent, stirring regularly (about 15 minutes).
2. Turn heat down to low and stir in the garlic and spices (ginger, turmeric, and the garam masala). Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add chilli and tomato, cook until pulpy (about 10 minutes).
3. Add tomato paste and chicken. Coat chicken and fry, stirring for about 10 minutes.
 84. Add evaporated milk, lemon juice and stir, turn down heat and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes until chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened
5. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Take mixture off heat and garnish with coriander.

Be adventurous with your vegetables and try okra, eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, pumpkin, sweet potato or Asian water spinach.



Healthy Macaroni Cheese


Macaroni Cheese is a favourite dish of most people, and the ultimate form of comfort food. Unfortunately, eating too much of the traditional recipe which includes bacon and cream isn't really a healthy option.

The following recipe substitutes ham for bacon and light evaporated milk for cream, and is still tasty. You won't really notice any difference.

This is also very easy to cook when you are travelling.

Serves 6.

200g lean good quality ham (replacing 8 rashers bacon)
1 onion, diced
450g macaroni
1/2 cup reduced fat cheese, grated (replacing parmesan cheese)
300ml light evaporated milk (replacing cream)
Black pepper
Spray oil (instead of 2 tbsp. oil)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard (optional)

Method:

1. Chop the ham into chunks.  Fry ham in pan over medium heat with the onion until crispy, remove and then drain on a paper towel.
2. Boil a large pot of water and cook the macaroni for 9-10 minutes or until al dente. Drain the macaroni in a colander and return to the pot to keep warm adding a small amount of the drained liquid to keep the pasta moist.
3. Mix the cheese and evaporated milk in a bowl, add the mustard, then add the ham and onion. Pour over the pasta in the pot and toss gently with tongs.
4. Return the pan to a very low heat and cook approximately for 2 minutes, or until sightly thickened. Season with black pepper.

If you are feeling a little indulgent, add a small serve of grated parmesan over the dish for extra flavour, not that the dish needs it.





Thursday, 25 September 2014

Chicken Miso Soup




After having visitors with us for a few days, a low calorie day is necessary today. Need I say anymore. However, a low calorie day for me still needs to be tasty, nutritious and not leaving me wanting for more. I have been hearing a lot of chatter recently about the success of the 5:2 diet, regarding weight loss. That is, eat what you want within the healthy range for 5 days, and fast on only 500 calories per day for 2 days, 500 calories for women, and 600 calories for men, and not on consecutive days.

So that we don't feel deprived, and so that if I decide to start taking counting calories seriously, I have modified 3 meals from the 5:2 diet goodtoknow website, so that the calorie count legitimately sits within the 500/600 calories range today.

Breakfast was a Spinach Omelette Roll (94 cals) , followed by half a grapefruit. Lunch was Chicken Miso Soup (132 cals), and dinner will be Moroccan Root Tagine with Couscous (238 cals). No cappuccinos today, or white tea, only  hot black beverages, and definitely no cake or sugar, and all things considered we are faring pretty well.

I am pleasantly surprised at how simple to prepare and how delicious this Japanese soup is. It will also be on my list for easy to prepare meals when we start travelling, given that the miso paste, mushrooms, and soy sauce are prepackaged and easy to carry, and the other ingredients can be obtained from a good Farmer's Market wherever we are based.

Chicken Miso Soup:
  • Serves 2
  • Calories: 132
  • Preparation time: 15 mins
  • Cooking time: 10 mins
Ingredients:

30g Japanese miso paste  (or 2 x 15 g sachets)
1 chicken breast, skinned and finely sliced
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed
8 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Splash of soy sauce
1/2 bunch of fresh spinach, or 1/4 savoy cabbage, or whatever green vegetable is available to you
Substitute chicken with tofu if preferred

Method:
  1. Pour 600ml boiling water into a wide solid-based pan and whisk in the miso paste
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the spinach, and simmer for 10 minutes
  3. Stir in the spinach, cook for 3 minutes and serve.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Roasted parsnip, puy lentil, and watercress salad




The watercress which is growing rampantly in my garden has inspired this recipe. I never thought I would be able to grow watercress in the tropics, however the garden is semi-shaded and well mulched, and as I was gifted a couple of small plants there was no loss if they didn't survive, although I would have been disappointed. Perhaps as the imminent tropical heat sets in it will die back, I hope not, so I am  making the most of their lush green foliage and peppery flavour. I found this recipe in the River Cottage Veg everyday book, and whilst a couple of the ingredients need slight modification the dish is healthy and delicious.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to the authentic Lentilles du Puy, "puy" lentils, then use them for this recipe, although only those grown in the volcanic soils of the Auvergne region of France can legitimately be called puy lentils. A similar story to champagne.The lentils are tiny, and slate green in colour with delicate bluish marbling. However, a French style lentil is now grown in Australia, and packaged by McKenzies as premium French style lentils, and is available from our supermarkets and the Asian supermarket. This is what I used in this recipe for puy lentils.

Rapeseed oil is grown abundantly in beautiful golden fields throughout Europe, and can be found growing occasionally in Australia, however over here it is still marketed as Canola oil. Perhaps in the larger Australian cities cold pressed Rapeseed Oil can be sought out.

This recipe serves 4 as individual servings.

INGREDIENTS:

5 medium parsnips or use sweet potato instead
2 tablespoons canola or rapeseed oil
125g McKenzies French style or Puy Lentils
1 bay leaf
1/2 onion, unchopped
A few parsley stalks
A large bunch of watercress, tough stalks removed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

DRESSING:

1 garlic clove, crushed with a little coarse sea salt in a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon English mustard
2 teaspoons clear good quality honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons canola or rapeseed oil

Preheat the oven to 190 deg. C. Peel the parsnips and halve them length ways.Cut the wider top parts in half again so that you end up with chunky sections about the same size. Put the parsnips into a roasting tin, scatter with some sea salt and pepper and toss with the oil. Roast them for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through to avoid sticking, until tender or starting to caramelise. TIP: Cook some extra as when they come out of the over they look and taste delicious, and everyone wants to eat some straight away.

Put the lentils in a wide based pan, add plenty of water and bring them to the boil. This won't take long. Simmer for a minute only, then drain. Return the lentils to the pan and pour on just enough water to cover them. Add the bay leaf, onion and parsley stalks. Bring back to a very low simmer and cook slowly for about half an hour until tender but not mushy.

To make the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together thoroughly with some salt and pepper or shake vigorously in a small glass jar with lid on.

Drain the lentils and pick out the bay leaf, parley stalks and onion.While still hot, toss the lentils with the dressing. Taste and check the seasoning. Add more if necessary.

Add the warm lentils, roasted parsnip chunks and watercress sprigs onto serving plates or a large salad dish, and finish with a few cheese shavings if desired. Add shavings of Parmesan, hard goat's cheese or another well-flavoured hard cheese.

Serve warm.




Saturday, 20 September 2014

Orchids in Paradise at the Orchid Extravaganza, Queen's Park, Mackay, Q'ld








Lou Battersby admiring the Orchid display

The highlight of the Orchid Extravaganza at Queen's Park in Mackay, Central Queensland, being held this weekend, would have to be the tropical Orchid House. A magnificent display of spring flowering orchid species blooms, bromeliads, and luscious ferns were captivating everyone when I was there this morning with Lou.  Even for those people who don't grow orchids or even confess to being gardeners, it is an inspiring morning out at an orchid extravaganza that is possibly unrivalled anywhere else in Australia. Perhaps the recent Garden Flower Festival in Singapore might be considered a rival, I say with tongue in cheek. However, Sue and her team of eager volunteers including Anne my neighbour, and our friend Tess,  should  be congratulated on the various decorative and professional effects they designed, created and donated to enhance the presentation of the plants in the Orchid House for the pleasure of Mackay residents and visitors.
Tess Brickhill



It is no wonder that Mackay has been selected to host Orchids in Paradise in 2015, the 20th Australian Orchid Council Conference and Show, from Friday 18th-Wednesday 23rd September, 2015.
Click here for more information about the conference. It is already in my calendar of events not to be missed.


In the grounds outside the Orchid House, at Queen's Park, passionate orchid enthusiasts whilst selling hundreds of orchids, natives and other species, are also very generous in providing experienced information to existing and potential orchid enthusiasts, including me.


It was really nice to meet up again with friends including Anne Douglass, Judith Wake and Isobel Gillman, who were flying the flag in  support of growing Australian Native plants at  the The Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) stand.



A wonderful event for Mackay residents and visitors with free entry except for the cost of a gold coin donation to enter the Orchid House. Beware though, take some extra cash with you as the exquisite and reasonably priced orchids and native plants on sale will try to entice you to take them home, like this one did to me.





Wednesday, 3 September 2014

STRAWBERRY JAM FLAVOURED WITH ROSE GERANIUM



Strawberry Jam is part of my  childhood memories and a bottle was always to be found somewhere in the kitchen to be eaten on fresh bread and butter, pikelets, scones and fresh cream for special occasions or with sponge cake.When we drove out to the strawberry farm at Cameron's Pocket near Mackay last weekend to do some strawberry picking with Paul and Jenny, and came home laden with strawberries both for eating and jam making, Neil suggested we try and do something different this time with the jam.

That is enough strawberry picking for now, let's have morning tea.

Neil and Paul picking strawberries.

 After all, strawberry jam has been around forever and it is time we became a little bit more creative with its flavour. Luckily, I have also been looking for another culinary use for my rose scented geraniums, besides enhancing chocolate cake, and Neil agreed that the rose geranium  would be a nice, subtle, flavour enhancer to the strawberry jam.



The daily fragrance of the Rose Scented geranium when I water the garden also takes me back to my time living at home when my Mum and I  used to visit the old-fashioned St. Aubin's herb farm in Rockhampton near the airport, now a village nursery, and where the mesmerising smell of the rose scented geraniums always wafted above the other herbal aromas to greet us and say goodbye. Perhaps I have tried to recreate the essence of that memory in my own garden. Enough reminiscing, let's make jam.Spring is in the air.

Ingredients:

2 kg small ripe strawberries
1.7 kg sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
1 50g sachet of Fowlers Jamsetta with Pectin
8 average sized jam bottles
A handful of rose scented geranium leaves (optional)
A square of muslin
Kitchen string

  1. Hull the strawberries and discard any spoiled fruit.Set aside about 10 of the smallest berries, and then mash the rest up into a rough pulp. Put them into a wide, thick-bottomed pan, add the the sugar, and the lemon juice and leave for 30 minutes to soften the sugar and bring the strawberries to room temperature. 
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your bottles and lids for sterilising in the oven or the dishwasher. Place 2 saucers in the freezer for testing the setting point later.. This quantity makes about 8 average size bottles of jam. Prepare your geranium leaves by tying them up in a square of muslin, as you would with Bouquet Garni, and secure with string. Or if you would prefer a little bit of extra texture in your jam, chop them very finely and add to your mixture as you bring it to the boil. I might try this next time.
  3. Add the Fowler's Jamsetta Pectin Powder, and geranium bag to the mixture and bring the pot to the boil on a high heat. Boil the jam for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly, and checking the setting point every minute or so during the last 5 minutes. Do this by placing a teaspoon of jam on the cold saucer from the freezer,  and put it back in the freezer to cool a minute. Take it out and if it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, then it is done.It should be ready after five minutes of testing if not before. However, don't be tempted to overcook the jam, as it can move past its setting capacity.
  4. Strawberry jam is unlikely to set very solid like marmalade, and is difficult to tell if it is set from the mixture in the pot. If you think it is setting on the saucer, have faith that it will set in the bottles when it cools. 
  5. Take the pot off the heat and skim off the pink scum. Pour into warm sterilised jars through a wide funnel, and cover with  sterilised lids, or Fowlers Vacola Kleerview transparent preserve covers and rubber bands, if you are out of lids. 
When the jam has cooled and set, pat yourself on the back because strawberries are one of the most difficult fruit to make jam from.

Having said all of the above, would you believe that I am an amateur at jam making, and this is my first batch of strawberry jam, and it worked. So you can do it too.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Lentil and Bulgur Salad




Bulgur, also known as burghul and bulgar, is commonly found in Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Mediterranean dishes and  is perhaps more commonly known as a significant ingredient in the preparation of tabbouleh. However, with the addition of lentils, and the other herbs, and nuts, olives and vegetables, it reaches new heights in this dish. It is also a fibre and protein filled healthy alternative to other grains, such as rice and couscous.

Whilst it is commonly found in Health Food stores, I bought mine at a Middle Eastern shop in Townsville, North Queensland, called Sweet N Sour Middle Eastern Flavour, owned by a very helpful Palestinian gentleman, and worthy of a visit if you are passing through Townsville. Everything in the shop is so reasonably priced, with the Bulgar only $3.80 for 1 kg, and the Helva and Turkish Delight is as authentic and delicious as it gets. The very modest looking shop in Illuka Street, Townsville, makes a visit very worthville.

Ingredients:

200g (1 cup) brown lentils, rinsed and drained
160g (1 cup) fine Bulgur (cracked wheat)
60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
60ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped dill
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 small green capsicum, finely chopped
1/2 small red capsicum, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
25g (1/4 cup) walnuts, toasted, and chopped
40 g (1/4 cup) pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
100g feta, crumbled
1 tomato chopped

Method:

  1. Cover lentils with 500ml water and bring to a simmer in a partially covered saucepan. Cook for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain them well and place to the side in a large bowl.
  2. Place bulgur in a separate bowl, cover with 500ml of boiling water and set aside for 20 minutes. Whilst it is soaking, start preparing the other ingredients. Drain well and add to lentils and mix through.
  3. Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook gently for 1 minute until fragrant.
  4. Add garlic, and remaining ingredients to the lentil mixture. Season with salt and pepper, mix to combine and serve.

Tell me dear Reader, do you enjoy visiting more out of the way shops so that you can purchase ingredients such as Bulgur in an authentic setting, and enjoy a very different shopping experience?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

AUSSIE BANANA CAKE WITH MAPLE SYRUP AND OATS


This banana cake with it's rustic finish of a rolled oats topping and it's unique Maple syrup flavour is a refreshing change to the usual banana cake with icing, and a lot healthier. I still have over a litre of whey in my frig following my mozarella cheese making, so I decided to substitute whey for the usual yoghurt in this recipe. It has produced a lightness of texture and the cake rose beautifully. Whey is becoming an essential addition to my baking and I am on a quest to find a multitude of uses for this humble byproduct of cheese making.

Ingredients:

2 cups (300g) self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
150g butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2/3 cup (150g) castor sugar
2 eggs
3 medium overripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup whey, or natural yoghurt (95g)
2 tablespoons traditional rolled oats
1/4 cup (60ml) maple syrup

Let's cook:
  1. Preheat oven to 200deg C., (180deg. C fan-forced).
  2. Grease a 16cm x 20cm, or 20cm x 20cm ovenproof baking dish; line the base with baking paper, and extend the paper by 5 cm over the sides.
  3. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl.
  4. Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla paste in a bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time before adding the mashed banana. Fold in the flour mixture and yoghurt in two batches. Spread the batter into the prepared pan, then sprinkle with the rolled oats.
  5. Bake cake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and brush the maple syrup over the top of the cake, then return to the oven for a further 10 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan.
Suitable to freeze. Serves 12.


So dear reader, have you discovered any other uses for whey in your cooking or household activities?

The original recipe for this cake comes from the AWW.

Best wishes

Pauline

Friday, 22 August 2014

Mozzarella cheese, how to make your own in 30 minutes


Click here for how to make your own mozarella cheese

Make Mozzarella cheese in your own kitchen, it is easier than you think it would be. Shannon and I were fortunate to attend a cheese making course at Green Living Australia in Brisbane, thanks to a birthday gift from Matthew and Myrtille, and what fun it was. Based on the excellent instruction given by Angie, and the recipe and guidance from the GLA Cheesemaking Kit, two months later my first attempt at making mozzarella is successful. My recipe instructions will cover a couple of tips I discovered along the way which I incorporated into my second mozzarella cheese making session the following day.

Click here for how to make your own mozzarella cheese



I highly recommend the course, as Angie's scientific knowledge and emphasis on cleanliness applied to cheese making is delivered in an entertaining and inspiring style, and aimed at the amateur, which I was. However, if you can't attend the course, the kit, the cold pack and the instructions can be purchased directly from GLA. If I can do it, so can you.The very approachable staff at Green Living Australia are only a phone call away to answer those little questions that arise when you start on the lifelong adventure of cheese making. We made Ricotta, Feta and Mozzarella cheese and ate our accomplishments at the end of the day, great fun.


Angie, our lovely teacher, and I are at the GLA Cheese making course.

Angie in the impressive GLA kitchen, talking on cheese making. http://www.greenlivingaustralia.com.au/



Sunday, 17 August 2014

Passionfruit Butter or Passionfruit Curd



Passionfruit  are in season, and it is wonderful to have the time now to convert the surplus into preserves and special treats.  The bittersweet flavour and fragrance of the common purple passionfruit is without peer.

Ingredients:

10 large passionfruit
3 eggs
200g castor sugar
30 g unsalted butter
1/3 cup (80ml) lemon juice



Cut the passionfruit in half with a sharp, serrated knife and take out the pulp.
Beat the eggs well.Tip the eggs into a stainless steel saucepan, and add the passionfruit pulp, sugar, chopped butter and lemon juice.



Stir ingredients over a low heat until mixture comes to the boil, then keep at a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to ensure it doesn't burn or reduce down too much.

The  mixture will thicken by the end of this cooking time, but will set properly and reach the required consistency when it cools.

Ladle the hot passionfruit butter into into clean, warm sterilised jars and seal.

When opened, store the jars in the refrigerator.



Thursday, 14 August 2014

CHICKEN TAGINE WITH DATES AND HONEY

Couscous, Chicken Tagine and Sweet Carrot Dip
A Tagine is a Middle Eastern or Moroccan cooking pot mainly used to slow-cook savoury stews, meats and vegetable dishes. If you have just purchased a tagine, ensure that you have seasoned it before using it or it may crack.

The dates, honey and nuts when added to the slow cooked organic chicken stew  become a magical Middle Eastern culinary experience. It is important to use organic chicken if possible for the best flavour and texture.This dish can also be cooked in a large casserole dish in the oven.

Ingredients:

1 kg or (9) organic chicken thigh fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium (300g) onions,  finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) homemade chicken stock
1 cup (250ml) water
1/2 cup (85g) seedless dates, halved
1/4 cup (60ml) honey
1/2 cup (80g) blanched almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander leaves
  1. Cut chicken into 3cm strips. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in pan, add chicken in batches, cook, stirring, until browned; drain on absorbent paper.
  2. Heat remaining oil in same pan, add onions, garlic and spices, cook, stirring, until onions are soft.
  3. Return chicken to pan with stock and water. Transfer to tagine and simmer on a low heat in oven or over a flame, covered, for 1 hour.
  4. Remove the lid, simmer about 30 minutes or until mixture is thickened slightly and chicken is tender.
  5. Stir in dates, honey and nuts; sprinkle with fresh coriander
Served 4-6.

Chicken tagine can be made 3 hours ahead and stored in the  refrigerator.

It can be frozen without the nuts and coriander.







Wednesday, 13 August 2014

French Pear Cake




Pears are in season and lend themselves to so many wonderful cake and dessert varieties. Thank you to the AWW for the original version of this recipe. It is perfect for afternoon tea served just on its own, or serve with fresh thickened cream or ice cream for dessert. Serves 10.
Cooking time: 1 hour 25 minutes



Ingredients:

40g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (60g) ground almonds or ground hazelnuts
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups (385g) Castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (125ml) milk
2 cups (300g) self-raising flour, sifted
4 (800g) slightly under ripe pears, cored, sliced thickly
2 tablespoons coffee sugar crystals or demarara sugar
20g unsalted butter,  chopped, extra required

Method:


  1. Preheat oven to 180 deg. C (160 deg.C fan-forced). Generously grease a 23cm spring form cake pan with the softened butter.Sprinkle in half of the ground almonds, shake them around the pan so they coat the sides and base. Place pan on a baking paper or alfoil lined oven tray.
  2. Combine the eggs  and sugar in a food processor; process until combined. Add the vanilla, milk and flour, and process until it forms a thick smooth batter.
  3. Transfer the cake mixture to a large mixing bowl; stir in the sliced pears; pour the mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle top with remaining ground almonds and sugar crystals. Dot with the extra butter.




  1. Bake cake for 1 hour 15 minutes or until golden brown and cooked when tested.Cover with foil if it starts to over-brown during baking. Cool in pan for 10 minutes.
Serve the cake warm with double cream or ice cream.

Best wishes

Pauline






Monday, 11 August 2014

Vintage Tomato Soup


Mr. DIY, often talks fondly about his Mum's homemade tomato soup he used to enjoy as a child on cold Winter's nights in Toowoomba. We were given some beautiful Roma tomatoes from Bowen on the weekend, by our Frequent Traveller and good friend Paul, and I found this recipe for tomato soup in my Maggie Beer's Harvest book., one of my favourites. Apparently the Toowoomba version had milk added, which I couldn't quite come at this time, and had more tomato chunks throughout, however the flavour with the addition of white pepper is apparently just like his Mother Jessie used to make. What a success and such comfort food on a cold night with sourdough toast!

Ingredients:

6 medium tomatoes, very ripe yet firm (Bowen Roma tomatoes work very well)
1 kg onions, thinly sliced (preferably brown onions)
1/3 cup (80ml) extra virgin oil, plus extra to serve
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
sea salt flakes
white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional), or to taste
1/2 cup (125ml) Maggie Beer verjuice or dry white wine
1 litre boiling water
4 slices  good bread, slightly stale

Process: 

Cut the core out of the tomatoes. This soup is meant to be on the rustic side so there is no need to peel or seed them.Cut each tomato into halves, quarters then eighths.Cook the onions over a low heat in a heavy-based saucepan for about 10 minutes using a wooden spoon until they are nice and golden and very soft. Add the garlic and salt to the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the sugar, which will enhance the flavour of the tomatoes and give a boost if they are not in perfect condition.

Cook for 10 minutes and then add the verjuice and water. I only added half the water so that it would be nice and thick, and the water can be eliminated  completely for a superior soup which won't go as far. This can then also be used as a pasta topping.

Add plenty of white pepper to taste. (This is the secret ingredient.) Simmer, covered for 45 minutes before serving. Drizzle a little olive oil over each slice of bread and place a slice in each serving bowl. (This is optional depending on the occasion.)

Ladle the soup over the bread and enjoy. Add fresh herbs if you would like them, however the soup is delicious without them.



Sunday, 10 August 2014

Semi sundried tomatoes infused with rosemary





In March I wrote a post about growing Amish Paste tomatoes. I was expecting to harvest from our bushes within 80 days, and only about a month later than expected,  the harvest has started. Because of their low moisture content, lack of seeds, meaty like flesh, and extraordinary flavour, semi dried tomatoes are the first "cooked" product I am attempting with these. I know that sun-dried tomatoes were thrown into every conceivable dish during the early 1990's, however I think that semi dried tomatoes are still a force to be reckoned with because of their unique flavour.

 The Amish Paste tomato bushes have never been spectacular to look at and had a very understated start as young plants. Like the Amish who first grew them on a large scale, the species isn't about external appearances, it is about the bountiful yield and the end product as the tomatoes are plentiful, perfectly formed, and  larger than the roma or egg  tomato.

I have cooked two batches of the Amish semi dried tomatoes, and Mr. DIY, my Man of the House, was so taken with the flavour of the first batch cooked slowly in the kitchen oven, that he decided to help and factor in some improvements with the cooking process of the second batch. These were cooked slowly in the BBQ which must have a hood, and which I thought was probably a good idea as it frees up the kitchen oven for other projects and takes the heat out of the kitchen in the summer months. However, still a little bit nervous about venturing out of my kitchen on such an important mission, the preparation began.

I experimented with the first batch, cooking one tray with the addition of fresh herbs and one without to see if this makes any difference to the quality of their preservation. I will  store some in the frig, some in my dark pantry cupboard, and some in the freezer for quality control as I also live in a hot, humid part of the world in summer. Maggie Beer says they will last in the frig for weeks. I am hoping that the couple of bottles stored in my pantry will last longer. Dipping them in Maggie Beer's Verjuice or Red Cider Vinegar before bottling increases the acidification process slightly and will increase their shelf life. However, tomatoes are very acidic anyway.


Ingredients:
2 kilos Amish Paste or Roma ripened tomatoes (these must be good quality without blemishes)
Fresh rosemary stalks or fresh thyme
Verjuice or Red Cider Vinegar (Verjuice isn't as strong in flavour as Red Cider Vinegar)
Salt
Sterilised bottles
Extra Virgin Oil
Lots of time whilst they cook (2 hours at least)

Method:
1.Wash tomatoes, dry, and cut in halves.

2.Scrape out the seeds and discard if you wish. (However, I have dried the seeds between sheets of recycled serviettes in a warm area of the house, which can then be used for future planting as they are such good tomatoes, and it saves buying seedlings next time.)

3.Salt the cut tomatoes, with only as much salt as you would normally use for eating, and press them for 30 minutes between layers of  absorbent kitchen wrap, with a  heavy layer of books and pans on top to squeeze out excess moisture. My second batch of tomatoes destined for the BBQ were pressed by Mr. DYI between large pieces of board and kitchen wrap clamped together, in his shed, with quality cleanliness controls in place of course. Much more moisture was removed this way. His inventions are priceless.

4.Sprinkle the tomatoes lightly with chopped rosemary or thyme. The second batch cooked in the BBQ oven was sprinkled with chopped rosemary and the rosemary stalks placed on the trays to further infuse the tomatoes with the smell of rosemary.

5.Place the pressed tomatoes in the oven or in the BBQ on racks so that the air can circulate freely around them and cook slowly at 150 deg. C for 2 hours or until all of the moisture has disappeared, the tomatoes are reduced in size, and the edges are firm and wrinkled. Some tomatoes will cook faster than others, so after an hour keep an eye on them. It helps to open the door slightly in the kitchen oven for the last hour to allow the moisture to escape. If you would like to eat the tomatoes straight away or within the next few days cooking them at 180 deg. C for a shorter time will caramelise them beautifully.

The smell of the tomatoes cooking in the BBQ, combined with the heady aroma of the rosemary was sensational reminding me of cold wintry nights spent in log cabins with the wood fires burning. That was a bonus. The subtle smell of rosemary is still perceptible in the house a day later.



Halved tomatoes cooking at 150 deg. in the outdoor BBQ infusing with rosemary.


Semi dried tomatoes straight out of the BBQ oven

Remove the tomatoes from the oven, leave on racks to cool and dry, before bottling.

Dip the semi dried tomatoes quickly in Verjuice or Red Cider Vinegar to increase the acidification process, and bottle in clean sterilised jars, covered in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Pack the tomatoes down tightly, and ensure the top layer of tomatoes is completely covered with oil and that the oil doesn't touch the lid of the bottle.

Enjoy with fresh goats cheese and some good crusty homemade bread or bruschetta.

If you have had success with cooking semi dried tomatoes I would love to hear from you and have you tried any interesting variations with cooking them?



Monday, 4 August 2014

Lantaka and Caring for your Moroccan Tagine


 This is where I have just bought my first tagine, at Lantaka,  a specialty shop in Cairns, Far North Queensland, stocking an exotic variety of useful and decorative Moroccan tagines, rugs, homewares, and leather goods, sourced personally by the owners in Morocco and imported directly to the shop. It is an Aladdin's Cave full of surprises for those that venture off the footpaths of Stratford Parade through it's front doors, being lured in by the impressive and colourful window displays.






 A tagine is a Moroccan cooking pot mainly used to slow-cook savoury stews, meats and vegetable dishes. Traditionally they are made entirely from heavy clay, which may be painted or glazed. Tagine dishes are cooked slowly at low temperatures, resulting in tender fall-off-the-bone meats and aromatic vegetables and sauces.





My spice journey began when we visited Istanbul in Turkey a few years ago, and recently I started cooking more Middle Eastern and Moroccan dishes, a favourite being Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e-morgh).  However, now that I have my first earthenware tagine,  I am eager to use it and experience the tastes of slow-cooked Moroccan spicy dishes, tagine style,  prepared in my own kitchen. However, at Lantaka the owner stressed that  it must be seasoned before use to prevent cracking and deterioration.

To season your tagine, soak it in water for 24 hours, allow it to air dry, wipe it with a thin layer of olive oil when it is dry, and then put it in the oven on a low heat for 1 hour. It requires only hot water and a scourer to clean  after soaking.

Your tagine must then be used within 2 months, or the whole curing process needs to be repeated. For cooking, cook over a low flame on a gas stove or in the electric or gas oven on a low to medium heat. 150 deg. C. is suitable.

To clean after cooking, you will need to hand wash with a mild detergent, very simple. It is not dishwasher proof. 



My first experience of cooking a Lamb tagine in my new pot has been successful. I would love to hear from anyone who has had an interesting experience or an amazing meal using their own tagine.

www.lantaka.com.au