Monday, 20 December 2021

Creamy Baked Brie and Fig Jam Puff Pastry Bites

 

 At this time of year leading up to Christmas, a predinner canape or starter which partners beautifully with a cold glass of bubbly, is just what we need. The silly season is underway. These bites can be prepared and cooked in the cool of the morning and stored in the refrigerator, and then just reheated and crisped up for 5 minutes in a hot oven before the party. In the Northern Hemisphere, avoiding the heat at this time of year isn't a consideration is it? Cook these just before the party and watch them disappear before your eyes. I can't buy reasonably priced figs so I buy my fig jam, a little indulgence, but well worth it. We have a fig tree growing, but when it decides to produce some figs, I doubt there will be enough for jam, we will be eating them fresh. I've made a few batches of these puff pastry bites, and each time the shapes are slightly inconsistent when cooked, which is the nature of puff pastry, but that doesn't matter. They do such a disappearing act, that nobody notices anyway. Who doesn't love puff pastry with a delicious filling?

I first saw this recipe on Sammie@the Annoyed Thyroid's blog, and after a few little changes, they have been a favourite of mine to bake ever since.

Makes 24

Ingredients:

2 sheets butter puff pastry, defrosted

24 teaspoons fig jam

200 g brie, chopped into 2 cm pieces with rind left on

Method:

Preheat oven to 190 deg. C

Grease two, 12 hole mini muffin trays, the easiest way is with spray on olive oil

Cut each pastry sheet into 12 rectangles. 

Then very carefully, using two fingers (second and third) gently press the pastry rectangles into the muffin holes. Be careful your nails don't pierce the pastry, it is quite soft.The pastry needs to cover the sides of the muffin hole.

Then prick the base a few times with a fork, so that the pastry doesn't puff up when it cooks. We want the sides to puff up, but not the base.

 Bake for 12 minutes in your hot oven.

Carefully take the hot muffin trays from the oven, and lightly press down the base of the pastry. It will have  risen slightly.

Start filling the pastries with the cheese bits. Press the cheese down lightly into the centre to fill the recess. Top with enough of a teaspoon of fig jam, so that the jam is encased in the pastry, not running over the edge.

Place the trays back in the oven, and bake for another 5 minutes, still at 190 deg. C., until the pastry is golden, and the cheese has melted. They will look and taste delicious.

Carefully remove the pastries from the muffin tins with a knife, and place on a nice serving plate, or allow to cool and store covered in the refrigerator.

 Cook's Tip:

  • These little beauties will keep in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 5 days, however they never last in our home for that long. They can be kept in the refrigerator, and then you are always ready for impromptu get togethers with family and friends, with minimal effort.
  • I recommend you buy the best puff pastry you can, preferably made with butter.
  • Serve with finely chopped chives sprinkled over the plate, for a little extra colour and subtle flavour.

In this lead up to Christmas there can be a lot of hustle and bustle and pressure to get everything done in time. I'm staying away from the shops as much as possible, mask wearing is now mandatory here again, which is a wake up call that Covid is back in our community. So I think throughout all of this, it is important to be kind to ourselves, and to our family and friends, and to think simply. 

This will be my last post until after Christmas. Thank you to my friends who regularly read my blog, and inspire me with your comments,  it is always a pleasure to hear from you and to read your posts as well. I hope you all enjoy a festive and meaningful Christmas, with those you love, and that the New Year will bring health, happiness and good news. 


Warmest wishes,

Pauline



















Thursday, 16 December 2021

Christmas Rum Balls and Chocolate Rum Truffles

 

Fragrant and sweet, Rum Balls are a Christmas tradition in our family, and I can't imagine Christmas without a batch of these in the refrigerator to enjoy on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However it's never too early to eat them. Rum balls are the quintessential Christmas treat. They can be served as a dessert, for afternoon tea, or as an edible gift.

 Weet-bix made by the Sanitarium Health Food Company, and incidentally 97 % whole grain and low in sugar, are often a standard cereal packet to be found in most Australian household pantries. The slogan on the packet reads, "Aussie kids are Weet-bix kids".  At the bottom of every large weet-bix box or packet in the pantry, you will find some crushed biscuits and crumbs which have fallen to the bottom. These are great to use for rum balls. 3 crushed weet-bix are the equivalent to 1 cup of crushed biscuits if you want to use some of those for your rum balls.  By the way this post isn't an ad for Weet-bix, but it is a very versatile and healthy cereal.

I've increased the amount of rum in this recipe this year, no surprise there say my friends. I've almost doubled it in fact.  J & D called in for a cuppa a couple of weeks ago and I had just made my first batch of Christmas Rum Balls. After a taste test, Mr. HRK and J & D thought they were delicious, but all agreed that more rum was needed. So I've taken note, and this batch has the spirit of Christmas in each delectable mouthful. Just halve the amount of rum if you wish though, they will still be delicious, and this goes without saying of course if they are being eaten by children as well. We only drink and cook with Bundy rum in our part of the world, a Queensland spirit which has its origins in the sugar cane fields grown around Bundaberg, since 1869. The Bundaberg Rum Distillery and museum are still open, offering tours to the public almost daily. This is on our list of things to do when we start travelling south again.

Roll these little balls  in coconut or chocolate sprinkles, I like to do a batch of both. We are just home after a small holiday up North, and so now it's time for some traditional Christmas cooking.

Ingredients for Christmas Rum Balls:

10 Weet-Bix Cereal biscuits
1 packet glace cherries, finely chopped
395 g can sweetened condensed milk
6 tablespoons Queensland Bundaberg Rum
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup raisins (chop them up if you wish, I don't anymore)
1 cup desiccated coconut 

Method:

Makes 40

Crush weet-bix with your hands for a bit of crunch, or crush finely in your food processor. 
.Finely chop cherries. Mix together all ingredients except coconut. 

Place mixture in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or even overnight to allow the flavours to infuse the fruit. If you have the time, the rum can be poured over just the fruit in a covered bowl, to macerate overnight, before adding to the rest of the mixture. 

Place coconut in a separate bowl when you are ready to assemble the rum balls.


Remove weet-bix mixture from the refrigerator, and using a small biscuit scoop, remove scoops of mixture and roll into balls with wet hands.


Roll rum balls in coconut or chocolate sprinkles one by one, and store in the refrigerator in a covered container until ready to eat. Some coconut may infiltrate into the rum ball mixture, and that's okay.

They will keep refrigerated for a month in advance.These also freeze well..



The photo below is from a Christmas post, where I added more cocoa and used biscuits as the base. Still delicious. However my family still prefer traditional Rum Balls made with Weet-bix, they love the family traditions of Christmas.





Warmest wishes,

Pauline








Friday, 26 November 2021

Edamame Bean and Tuna Salad

 

Edamame beans are a delicious addition to any salad. Full of fibre, and protein, they bring green freshness, crunch and are filling to eat. Edamame are young soybeans, harvested before they turn brown. I've made this salad a few times, always with a slight variation, however this is the basic recipe I use. It's so handy having a packet of these beans in the freezer, just waiting to be part of a delicious crunchy salad. The tuna brings a nice change of flavour, complimenting the bean perfectly, however you could substitute chicken if you wish.This is such an easy salad to bring together, and I promise you it is absolutely delicious. I'm hooked on these edamame beans now and they are a standard item in my shopping trolley. They can be purchased frozen still in the pods, as mine were, but the pods aren't meant to be eaten. The beans just pop out of the pods very easily after being soaked in very hot water. Edamame is a Japanese word, meaning "beans on branches" and have been eaten as a snack food in many Asian countries for thousands of years, just like seaweed is in Japan.

Ingredients:

Serves 2, only 408 calories per serve

Ingredients:

200 g frozen Edamame beans

2 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 x 110 g can tuna, in olive oil or springwater

15 g fresh coriander, flat-leaf parsley, leaves roughly chopped. 

1 1/2 tablespoons live apple cider vinegar 

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 large handfuls of mixed salad leaves

Cooked ancient grains of your choice (optional)

Method:

Tip the edamame beans into a heatproof bowl, and pour some water from a just boiled kettle over them. Stir them and leave for 1 minute and the beans will thaw very quickly. Drain them in a colander and rinse under cold water. There's no need to cook them at all. The beans will pop out of the pods easily and are ready to use.

Break the tuna into flakes, and add to a bowl with the beans, spring onions, and fresh herbs.

Whisk the vinegar and olive oil dressing together until emulsified, drizzle over the salad, and season with sea salt and ground black pepper.

Toss well together.

Just before serving, fold in the leaves.

Cook's tips:

Mr. HRK likes a little bit of heat in his food, so sometimes I sprinkle over a pinch of crushed dried chill flakes for a bit more bite.

Save the roots of the coriander, store them in a bag in the frig, and chop and saute them for use in other dishes.

Add a square of dried Nori seaweed, cut into little pieces, for some extra flavour and omega-3. (Thanks Michael Mosley for this tip.)

Tuna packed in olive oil doesn't always need to be drained for the salad, you just need 110 g of tuna meat.

Keep some cooked whole grains, such as quinoa and burghul wheat in covered containers in the refrigerator, and add a few tablespoons to this salad for each person. Or grains can be purchased in packets, precooked at the supermarket. Without the grains, this salad is only 408 calories.

Hoping you have a happy and healthy weekend,

Best wishes,

 Pauline




Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Turkey Pie, Cherry and Apple Crumble, and Takarakka Bush Resort at Carnarvon Gorge

 

We camped at Takarakka Bush Resort for two nights last week. Takarakka is used as the base for those wanting to experience the Great Walk through the spectacular Carnarvon Gorge located in the rugged highlands of Central Queensland. The Gorge is about 35 km long, created mostly by very significant water erosion, where many natural features exist such as the dripping Moss Gardens and the cavernous Amphitheatre. There are many examples of impressive red ochre rock art painted by the local Aboriginal tribes, thousands of years ago, which are still in remarkable condition in the "Art Gallery". Local Aboriginal peoples such as the Garingbal, Gayiri, Gungabulla, Nguri, Wasjigu and Yiman  have all believed through time that the Rainbow Serpent, Mungagudda, began its movement through the landscape here and formed the waterways including the sandstone gorge itself. 

Most people access Carnarvon Gorge via Rolleston to the North or Injune to the South. This is a rough terrain walk, best attempted during the dry Winter months, however we gave it a go in November, it was quite the challenge for me. Walking poles were my saviour, that's for sure, and I've never used them before, but keen bush walkers swear by them.There are about 13 creek crossings across strategically placed rocks to the top of the walk, I think I crossed about 7, and emerged with dry feet. A real test of balance was that little exercise.


The wildlife in the Takarakka Bush Resort are quite comfortable with having people nearby. Mr. HRK and I were taking a rest in the afternoon in the shade of the large Mango Tree as you do, and these kangaroos thought they would join us. I've never seen such tame Kangaroos.


We took a walk around the perimeter of the Takarakka grounds where Mr. HRK was on the lookout for native birds, like this beautiful and very elegant brolga.



This big guy is the chief, so we gave him plenty of room.





Birdwatching


A small echnida posing for a photograph


We're having a bit of fun here, so we can send this photo to our wonderful grandchildren.


We stood very quietly by the Platypus Pool late one afternoon for nearly an hour, but unfortunately those little mammals weren't interested in gracing us with their presence that afternoon. A kookaburra in a tree nearby was laughing at us.



Glamping in these huts is also available, if tenting or caravanning isn't your thing.


The Carnarvon Fan Palm below is the only Palm found in the park, one of the last places in Central Queensland where they grow. A grove of them is quite spectacular.

The Carnarvon Gorge Great Walk begins at this sign, which is about 10 minutes drive from Takarakka.


This is the first of the creek crossings on the Great Walk and was the easiest to cross. Things got serious and uphill after that.



Photo below taken up at the beautiful, cool and serene Moss Gardens.

We left Takarakka and drove from Carnarvon National Park to Rockhampton to visit family, along the Capricorn Highway for most of the drive, past the Blackwater Coal Mine, which brings millions of dollars to the region. This drive which surprisingly we have never done before, was quite a revelation about the two main industries which make Central Queensland a very lucrative region for Australia. Beef cattle and coal mining. We followed cattle trucks, all transporting beef cattle to the Lakes Creek meat works in Rockhampton. Seeing so many cattle trucks never used to affect me, but when I could see a couple of the Brahmans looking soulfully at me out of the back of the truck, well, let's just say I couldn't face a steak for lunch. The distinct aroma  of cow manure which hovers around these cattle trucks is very memorable. However it is one of the best fertilisers for home gardens when diluted.

Photo of a cattle truck on the Capricorn Highway taken from our car.

Coal trains run back and forth along the railway tracks beside the highway transporting coal from the Bowen Basin to Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay terminals near Mackay, for export.

Coal carriages neatly loaded with coal
A cattle truck ahead of us in the distance, and a coal train on the track beside us. That's Central Queensland, busy busy.

Empty coal train carriages below on their way back to be refilled.

Now for some cooking, thank you for your patience. Our Irish Brother in Law, Jim, lives in Rockhampton and when we called him we discovered that Mr. HRK's cousin and his wife were there for dinner, and Jim said I'm making Fowl Pie, come and join us. Lynette, who is another lovely cousin, also arrived. Jim is an amazing person, and is completely blind, and has been for many years. His sense of  humour has inspired our family through many difficult situations. He lives independently, and loves to cook. His Fowl Pie was the Turkey pie that we ate for dinner. So the night we arrived he had two sous chefs at his disposal, Annette and I, and he cooked up a storm. I was so inspired by his cooking expertise, and I hope you will be too.  He obviously has these two recipes down to a tee, cooked from scratch though, knows where everything is in his kitchen, but he also makes the family gluten free Christmas Cake each year, and loves to have people for dinner. He's a writer, enters short story competitions, has published a book of poems and is a qualified social worker. He has also been a very active campaigner in Rockhampton for people with disabilities.

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the Turkey (Fowl) Pie. I was too busy cooking and laughing with Jim and Annette while Mr. HRK and his cousin Ross, caught up on old times. I thought I could make the pie again so I could post some photos, and I might still do that but not in the next few days. I really want to post this now, so please try and imagine a long pyrex baking dish with a filling of delicious cooked turkey mince, and a topping of creamy potato with a golden grated parmesan cheese topping. I know you can imagine such a pie very well.

Turkey Pie with creamy Potato topping

Ingredients:

500 g Turkey mince

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs

3 large carrots, finely chopped

3 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 cup hot water

2 teaspoons Gravox thickener

8 large potatoes, peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup milk

Grated parmesan cheese to cover the potato

Method:

Lightly saute the onion in oil, add the carrot, celery and garlic and saute until slightly softened. Add the turkey mince to the saucepan, then the herbs, and cook until the mince and vegetables are cooked. Add the gravox to the hot water to dissolve, and add this liquid to the mince mixture.

Cook until slightly thickened. This is the easiest way for Jim to thicken the mince mixture.

Add a good teaspoon of salt to a large saucepan of boiling water, and boil the potatoes until soft but not falling apart, and ready to be mashed. Drain the potatoes, and add some butter and the milk and mash the potatoes until smooth.

Grease a large baking dish with butter, add the turkey mixture, cover evenly with the mashed potato.

Rough up the surface of the potato with a fork. Jim was very specific about how this should be done.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top of the potato, and place the baking dish in a preheated moderate oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden on top. (Then we had a well deserved glass of red wine.)

When I make this pie again I am going to add fresh herbs instead of dried mixed herbs, such as finely chopped parsley and thyme, and a tablespoon of finely chopped tarragon. The fresh herbs will take the turkey to a whole new tasty level.

Now for dessert. Annette and I had peeled and cored the apples for which Jim was very thankful, and he located the bottled cherries in his pantry.

Cherry and Apple Crumble

Ingredients:

8 Granny Smith cooking apples

2 x 680 g jars of Pitted cherries

1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

1/3 cup water

Let's cook the apples

  1.  Peel and core apples and slice thinly.
  2. Place in a saucepan with water (not too much), add sugar, and simmer gently until they are soft but slices still retain their shape.
  3. Allow to cool then pour into a pie dish.
  4. Add the cherries

For the Crumble:

1 cup plain flour (wholemeal is preferable)
3 tablespoons butter 
3 tablespoons brown or demerara sugar
3 tablespoons coconut
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon Rolled oats optional (use a little bit less flour)

Method:
  1. Place flour in a bowl then rub in butter with the fingertips.
  2. Add sugar, coconut, rolled oats and cinnamon and mix well until a good crumbly consistency.
  3. Sprinkle lightly on top of apples.
  4. Bake in a moderate oven until lightly browned on top.
  5. Serve hot or cold with boiled custard.

(Jim used a variation of this crumble recipe which was delicious.  He used Honey and Nut Granola cereal for crunch, add this after the flour, butter and demerara sugar are rubbed together into a crumbly consistency).

Serving up the Cherry and Apple Crumble

Serve the Cherry and Apple Crumble with homemade custard. Jim made custard by hand on his stove top using Uncle Toby's custard powder. He just knew which ingredients to measure out, how long to stir it and it was a perfect consistency. If he can do it, well so can anyone.

It was a great family night, and Jim's love of food and cooking shone through. 

Happy thanksgiving holiday to my readers in the United States. I expect you will be very busy in the kitchen today. I had my Turkey dinner with family a week early.

Thanks for dropping by and take care.

Warm wishes,

Pauline


Saturday, 13 November 2021

in My Kitchen - November 2021

When I looked through all of my photos for the past month, and all the food I have created out of my kitchen, I realised it has been a busy month, it certainly feels like it, and this past week for example has gone so quickly. Christmas is just around the corner, so the next projects will be Plum puddings, Christmas cakes, and Mango Chutney. Could we just extend November though please? I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event.  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to visit more kitchens

A recent dinner party for 12 people, and I brought out the Big Guns in my cooking repertoire when catering for a crowd. Curried Beef Lasagne, Moroccan Chickpea salad, and Chocolate Mousse. All can be prepared well in advance which I love, and were delicious. I also made a big green salad, just because we need our greens my friends.




A Moroccan Chickpea salad is the perfect partner for this Lasagne.

And then for sweets there was Chocolate Mousse based on Nigella Lawson's recipe. I worked on this recipe for a couple of days as I found it too rich to start with.


Stovetop cooking certainly improved for me when we installed our new stovetop this month.  It has made me realise just how fast and very hot two of my stove elements were, and now I need to be patient to achieve that level of heat if I need it. Here's a photo of Mr. HRK preparing to remove the old stovetop, with screwdriver in place of course. It became a major operation though, when we lost power, which was caused by a green faulty fuse box located two doors up the road, which our power runs from. Who knew our fuse box was there, not us? The fuse box  hadn't been maintained for 30 years apparently, because of a huge and very happy plant growing in front of it. Of course nobody admitted to planting the plant. The electrician arrived, our Power Company, Ergon, was called in, a convoy of vehicles lined the road, the plant was removed using a winch, and all was well by dinner time that night. Phew, what a drama. However because of the issues we had encountered, we had to wait for a specialist electrician to call the following day to install the stovetop, much to the chagrin of Mr. HRK, who had planned to do the job himself.


There's been an exciting development at our family. We've have invested in another Beehive, during this last month, Italian bees, not native bees although we have plenty of the latter in our garden all of the time. Farming bees is a real learning curve and a wonderful interest, and our friend and bee mentor whom we bought this hive from, told us that beekeepers who have had problems in the past become the best beekeepers. Well thanks Keith, here's hoping. We lost our hive last year when some Robber Bees infested it with a killer American virus, called American Foul Brood, which is eventually fatal to a hive. It was a big year for viruses in 2020. So we had to destroy the hive and every piece of equipment associated with it, which was so tough, and then wait until we felt strong enough to take on another hive. 

Here's a photo of Mr. HRK and Dylan, a young friend who lives nearby, preparing to smoke the hive to pacify the bees so they can check on their progress. By all accounts the bees are going well, and we should be able to add a "half super" box soon which is where they start making the delicious honey that we hope to harvest in the future. The weather here at the moment is hot and windy, and we saw a few of our bees on the bird bath yesterday trying to cool off. We have high hopes for this hive. The Queen bee came from Duaringa in Central Queensland so she has travelled quite a distance to be with us and her new hive. Beehave Lady Queen Bee,  we need you and some homemade honey.

Adding bark to the smoker

Lighting the smoker

Checking our hive. I didn't get close to take photos of the inside, but the bees seem to be very calm

Here's a lovely little bouquet of flowers in my kitchen that a friend gave me for cooking her dinner. The frangipanni perfume is quite intoxicating, and is one of my favourite flowers and contrasts beautifully with the blue flowers.


Halloween brought us a scary but lovely surprise this year. Generally we don't have any trick or treaters knock on our door, but this year we did. These two dear little girls have recently moved into the neighbourhood, we know their family well and it was lot of fun when they called to trick or treat with their Mum. Thankfully I had some chocolate on hand in the refrigerator so they were happy.


This morning, for a camping trip we are planning, I made a version of my Beef, Mango Chutney and Sauerkraut Goulash, however I seared the flour coated meat in a hot pan, and then added red wine and stock and simmered that down to capture all of the delicious beef scrapings. This is a step I sometimes omit if I am pushed for time, but I want this stew to be full of flavour, some of which might end up in pies.







I made a delicious Vietnamese chicken salad recently, which was perfect as the temperatures rose. Here's the link to the recipe if you missed it.


One of the highlights of my cooking adventures this month has been this Beef Brisket with prunes and vegetables. You can find the recipe at this link. Such a great recipe from Monday Morning Cooking Club, so tender and full of rich flavours.



Last month, 4 weeks ago in fact, when we said goodbye to our beautiful Border Collie, Locky. Our dining room table overflowed with beautiful flowers sent by our family.






There's a very funny story attached to the table runner that you can see on our family dining room table, well we can laugh about it now. We purchased it in Istanbul during a trip to Turkey about 6 years ago, during which of course we embarked on a compulsory carpet buying spree. We were targeted by a supposedly well meaning tourist guide, and taken to a questionable Government Carpet wholesaler. Mr. HRK and I still think we were lucky to escape with our lives in tact, slightly inebriated and well fed though, but we still don't believe this is the actual carpet we purchased.  However it was shipped home to us very quickly, and we weren't in a position  to take the matter any further, despite our doubts. All of the Lonely Planet guides and Turkish tourist books can't prepare you for what really happens during a carpet buying adventure in Istanbul. Older and wiser they say. This Magic Carpet is the curve ball of my story.

Best wishes,
Pauline