Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blue is the new black

Apparently A's birthday ushers in the new age of blue and green. In the past -- when she was young -- she liked pink and purple, but now it's blue and green. To farewell the old, and welcome the new, she requested that her butterfly cake includes all 4 colors. Oh dear. Super-mom to the rescue. Creating a entomological masterpiece, plus 24 cupcakes with koala and flower 'lollies' on top. She insisted, however, that Dad make his Famous Spinach Pie for dinner.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Making pies

I make my pie crust in the food processor now. The trick is to whiz the pastry very sparingly, and only in bursts, so it doesn't get tough. I also cool it in the refridgerator after making the pastry and then after rolling and filling the pie plate; this does seem to help prevent shrinkage when you bake. My grandmother gave me the pastry cloth and rolling pin cover.

For the traditional Thanksgiving pies, I have had to adjust a little in Australia. Canned pumpkin is unheard of; instead I steam pumpkin chunks with a little water in the microwave for 10 minutes then mash. For the pecan pie I use golden syrup instead of corn syrup, resulting in a much darker brown surface after baking.
OK I confess: I do actually turn all the pecans the same way up after I pour into the dish, chastising myself the entire time for being so persnickety. But it does look nicer, doesn't it? Or am I losing my grip on reality?

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the first year that I've bought a whole turkey in Australia. I remember when I was poor and in university, I used to buy a turkey because it was so inexpensive and I could eat it for months (from the freezer of course!). But here in Australia, it's more unusual and luxurious to buy turkey, let alone a whole one, because of the cost. This turkey was A$13/kg, which is equivalent to about US$5/lb. Whereas in the US, I recall turkeys being on sale this time of year for 29c/lb !!! Oh well, it was good to have it for the tradition.
This menu has become MY traditional Thanksgiving:
Mashed potatoes
Bread stuffing (baked in oven in a separate dish, like my mother does!)
Sweet potatoes with pineapple (I can't bear to do marshmellows)
Cranberry sauce
Green beans
Pumpkin and pecan pie with ice cream

Cranberry sauce

I make my cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving by grinding 200 g frozen cranberries with 1/2 a whole orange in my KitchenAid mixer. I add some sugar to counterbalance the tartness.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Summer salad

It snowed here last week... but today it was 35oC (90oF)! This week's hot weather reminds me of my favourite summer salads. I almost always have the ingredients for this pasta salad at hand, so it's a good last-minute dinner.
Dressing: 1/3 cup EV olive oil, 2 T lemon juice, 1 teaspoon mustard, garlic
Salad: 300 g pasta, cooked; 425 g tinned tuna; red capsicum; canned beans or chickpeas; red capsicum; spring onions; tomatoes; capers
Served cold with celery sticks and microwaved peas.

Lentil soup

Monday's dinner was in the slow cooker: a lentil soup with pumpkin, carrot, potatoes, green beans, onion, garlic and celery. I think the secret is adding extra virgin olive oil (during the last stage of cooking) which supplies the richness which even a little meat would provide. Served with toast and a salad of red butter lettuce, red capsicum and avocado.

Two fruitcakes in the oven

I finished my Christmas cake on Monday. I used a Family Circle recipe from "the famed agricultural show and Country Women's Association cake judge, Norma Allen". The cake pan needed a lot of fussing: lined with baking paper; wrapped in newspaper tied with string; and baked upon a magazine in the oven. I chose a magazine with a picture of Oprah on the front (as you do). My only concern was that she'd invite Tom Cruise over -- he has a bad habit of jumping on the furniture which might make the cake fall.
The first step for the batter was to mix the soaked dried fruit and some orange marmalade. The cake mix was simple: cream butter and sugar; add flour and spices (I added cinnamon and ginger but not nutmeg); then mix by hand with a spoon. Then decorate with nuts and (ready?) bake for 2-1/2 hours at 150oC. I've never baked a cake for so long, but I guess all the wrapping plus the low temperature is the trick. After you take it out of the oven, you douse it with more alcohol (I chose Cointreau because of the lovely orange flavour) and wrap it tightly for 24 hours to contain the moisture.
Now apparently I keep it tightly wrapped for up to 3 months, adding more alcohol if desired.
Before baking:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

200th post!

Wow, this is my 200th post! So what did I have for dinner to celebrate?

It was a warm and summery day, so I made a fresh Japanese noodle salad which I haven't made since last summer. I've changed it quite a bit from the Australian Women's Weekly Japanese cookbook so I feel I can include the recipe:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
250 g buckwheat noodles, boiled then drained and rinsed with cool water
250 g green beans, cooked with the noodles
2 red capsicum, sliced thinly
~300g pre-packaged marinated tofu (today, the tofu had some chopped vegies in it)
chopped spring onions
pink ginger
sesame seeds
Toss together and serve cold, with more ginger and spring onions for sprinkling on top.

Christmas cake

Americans are usually surprised to learn that Australians actually eat fruitcake (or Christmas cake, as it's known here). Instead of banishing it to be forgotten at the back of a cupboard, Australians enjoy it for dessert on Christmas Day with ice cream, custard (vanilla pudding) or cream -- or even all three!
Today I started my first Christmas cake. It is made well in advance of Christmas, then soaked in alcohol so that it will keep. Today we chopped raisins, sultanas, figs, dates and currants; they will soak overnight in brandy (or rum or whiskey if you wish). In a separate bowl are chopped glace cherries, pineapple and apricots. Tune in tomorrow for the baking of the cake.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Cooking dinner as I write

We're having friends over for dinner tonight. I like making everything in advance so that I don't have to fuss when guests arrive.

Bubbling away in the slow cooker right now is a kid-friendly chicken curry, which has transmogrified from a recipe for tagine, so let's call it a stew. Recipe for a big batch: one layer of potato chunks on bottom of slow cooker. One layer of big carrot chunks. Then toss chicken thighs (~2 kg) in flour and brown in batches in a frypan, then place on top of vegetables in slow cooker. In the frypan, fry 4 onions and 4-6 garlic cloves (amount depends on how comfortable you are sharing garlic breath with your visitors). Then add 2 teaspoons each of cumin, coriander, turmeric; 1 teaspoon cinnamon; a titch of chili; salt; and a couple of cardomon pods if you have them. Add ~3 cups of stock to the onions in the pan (today I also added some shmushed-up leftover pumpkin). Bring to boil, then pour this oniony spicy liquid over everything in the slow cooker. Cook for a while (4-6 hours on low in my large oval slow cooker). If you're feeling fancy, sprinkle with fresh coriander.

I plan to serve the curry/stew/tagine with rice and briefly blanched asparagus and broccoli.

For dessert: apple, blackberry and raspberry crumble (crisp). I used frozen berries; isn't their icy purpleness gorgeous against the Granny smith green?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Our guest blogger cooks kokoda

My friend Kaaron is moving to Fiji and is documenting her adventure in a blog. Today she shared a Fijian dish that she learned how to make from her language teacher. This fish is first 'cooked' by soaking in lemon juice and salt, then you add red and green capsicum, spring onions, grated carrots, and coconut milk. The result tastes exceptionally fresh and clean. I can't wait to visit her and try more Fijian food!

Haloumi and vegies

I love haloumi cheese fried in olive oil until golden and melting. Alas no-one else in the family does, so it's only an occasional treat for me. It is salty and squeaky, and not unlike some of the deep-fried treats rumoured to be sold at Wisconsin state fairs. It tasted delicious with this melange of vegetables: oven-roasted pumpkin, corn on the cob, cherry tomatoes and zucchini. The zucchini was sauteed at a low temperature with 5-6 halved garlic cloves and olive oil. I squeezed fresh lemon over both the cheese and the zucchini, oooooooh yum.

Food for a day

When I was by my lonesome this past Sunday, this is the food I ate. Decidedly virtuous after the previous day's double bacon cheeseburger / brownie indulgence. :)

Breakfast: canned sour cherries with yogurt, muesli and chopped Brazil nuts. This is my favorite breakfast, though usually I have chopped apple instead of cherries. I always feel well-balanced and centred afterwards!

Lunch: salad of leftover chicken, lettuce and grated carrots.

Dinner: lentil soup -- including tomatoes, carrots and lots of extra virgin olive oil -- with fresh bread and lettuce.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chocolate molds

Mrs Beeton

I can't believe it... how similar is this book cover to my ideas for my new blog graphics? The funny thing is that I wasn't aware of copying it! I had seen this book last night at the bookstore and then today I was blissfully thinking my new blog style idea was original. Clearly my subconscious was working overtime.

Mrs Beeton was the original Martha Stewart. Just from reading the back cover, I was struck by her similarity with Sarah Hale. Both women wrote about housekeeping in an era when that was what they were supposed to be doing -- instead of writing about it! So how did they remain credible when they were living quite unusual lives as writers and editors outside the home?

I'd not heard about Sarah Hale until my Mom sent A a book about how she wrote letters to 4 American presidents until finally Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. It is an inspirational book for little girls (or boys!) who like to write.

More ideas

Just thinking online (as opposed to out loud). Color scheme obvious. I thought this would make the colorful food jump out at you, with the labels and headings retreating calmly in the b

Blog design ideas

I'm thinking about redesigning my blog. These are some ideas for images.