homemaking · recipes

Jars


The calendar flipped over today, and in doing so, I caught a glimpse of Easter on the horizon. The cooler nights and even chillier mornings have also been hinting of its arrival, so I now have the official go ahead to arrange a festive display in the hallway with some treats on offer. This year we have a small wooden tree with pastel coloured eggs dangling from its branches, a bunny bowl filled with chocolate eggs and a favourite jug filled with lemon balm and pink blooms. Of course the next thing thoughts turn to is Easter baking, as there is something quite complementary about cooler weather and warm ovens.

A quick glance in our refrigerator at any time of the year will reveal several opened jars of jam each with various quantities depending on popularity. One of the best ways I know to consolidate this situation is to bake Jam Drops. These are buttery little biscuits with a well made in the centre of the dough to be filled with jam before they are baked. This week the wells were filled with raspberry and plum jam, but at other times apricot and fig jam have been equally delicious. These baking sessions are very rewarding because not only do I end up with a generous batch of biscuits for the week but also some lovely new jars to fill with spices and other dry pantry items.

Clean glass jars look appealing filled with dry goods. I prefer them to plastic containers as their individual sizes mean I always have the right storage capacity available. Using larger jars allows you to buy your food staples in bulk, which is economical and reduces continuous throw away small packaging. Jars are easy to clean, seal well and the contents are clearly visible. I have almost replaced all of my tiny spice jars with larger versions which are so much easier to dispense from. Labeling is important though, as a teaspoon of mixed spice rather than a teaspoon of cumin, makes quite a difference in a recipe!

So if you have butter, sugar, flour and an egg in your kitchen and a refrigerator that needs some space freed up then you have the makings of a wonderful batch of biscuits to kick off your Easter season.

jam drops

125g butter, softened
½  cup sugar
1 egg
1 ½ cups SR flour, sifted
Jam

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celcius
  2. Line baking trays with baking paper
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
  4. Beat the egg in to the mix thoroughly
  5. Fold the flour through the mix with a metal spoon – it will be quite stiff and will form into dough by the time the flour is mixed through
  6. Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and place on the baking tray, leaving room for the biscuits to spread
  7. Using your thumb, press a well into the centre of each biscuit fall and fill with a small amount of jam. Don’t over fill or the jam will overflow onto the baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 10-15 minute or until nicely browned.

Makes 24 approximately

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homemaking · recipes

New Season


It’s challenging to change gear and move into autumnal activity right now whilst we are experiencing this balmy Indian Summer. With fully blown hot sunny days and balmy evenings, thoughts of pumpkins, tonal leaf shades and pine cones are difficult to muster. The chickens are experiencing this too. By mid-morning they are impatient for release from their parched, browned-off pen, eager to wander the wider garden to peck at their whim, insects and fresh growth sprouting near a leaky tap or within a spray of the irrigation system. I know this because their early morning amiable banter escalates to irritable clucking and crowing. When I finally give way to this vocal pressure and wander out to their enclosure, they bustle to the gateway with incredible urgency and push past me like peak hour commuters on a city train station.

I am pressing on with my autumnal plans regardless, because winter vegetable seeds will not sow themselves and new season’s apples will not be so new in six weeks’ time. As such, the weekend just past, focused significantly on both.

With a plan to sourcing more of our family’s food locally, some recent Googling led me to the discovery of Staples Apples a local grower on the Mornington Peninsula. It will be another month before their shed sales begin, and in anticipation, I have sourced a recipe for an apple slice that I having been wanting to try for some time. As a child, when given the choice in a bakery, I would always seek out an apple slice. Arranged on wire racks behind the glass counter, I would spy these luscious sugary topped squares and no amount of cream or chocolate coating could sway me. Handed across in a brown paper bag with the top corners twisted for added security, the apple slice was indeed a memorable childhood treat.

When I’m inspired to create in the kitchen, a month might as well be an eternity, so the apples sourced from our local IGA clearance basket languishing in the second drawer of the crisper were going to have to stand in. Once the apples were diced and combined with the remaining ingredients, the nice thick appley dough came together to be pressed into the tray and baked until golden. After drawing it from the oven, I could have sprinkled the top with sugar and left it at that, but my baking vision was more of a dense fruity slice smothered in thick vanilla icing. So summoning patience, I let the golden beauty cool off in it’s baking tin and then whipped up a white glossy topping. Once set, the tray bake was scored, sliced and met with overwhelming approval.

iced apple slice

3 apples peeled, cored and diced
2 cups SR flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
125 g melted butter
1 egg

Icing
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
boiling water

  1. Pre heat oven to 170 degrees, grease and line a 20 x 30 cm slice tray. Allow the lining paper to extend over the sides to make the baked slice easy to remove.
  2. Combine apples, flour, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.
  3. Beat egg into cooled melted butter.
  4. Stir butter mixture into apple mixture.
  5. Press this firm mixture into the base of the lined tray.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes or until nicely browned.
  7. Cool in the tray and then ice.
  8. Make icing by mixing icing sugar, vanilla extract and enough water to make a thick icing.
  9. Spread over slice and when icing has set, turn slice out of tray and cut into squares.

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homemaking · recipes

Stash

chocolate cherry nut refrigerator cake

At any time you care to name, there can be at least five of these chocolate biscuit slab cakes under our roof. As odd as that sounds, it is the plain truth, and if you would like this to be your reality, read further.

Once upon a time we had a dishwasher. Alas, on one dark and stormy night, to my horror it leaked everywhere and was certified beyond repair. My greatest fear was that we would never survive the interval of time that would elapse whilst a replacement was sourced and installed. It may be, that we would have to (gulp) wash dishes. In the kitchen sink. By hand.

As today’s therapists will purport, exposure therapy is the most effective treatment for eradicating irrational fear. Accordingly, we exposed ourselves to dirty crockery, soapy liquid and hot water and within a week I realised that not only did we survive without a dishwasher, life had become less complicated. Suddenly there was nothing to unpack, load or maintain. Our dishes were always ready to use, not backed-up waiting for a ”full load” and plunging hands into warm water whilst gazing into the garden through the kitchen window, was indeed pleasant. So the decision was made, family life would continue on without a dishwasher.

A simple enough solution but now, what to do about the gaping underbench void left by the departed.

Well this is what I did – I created a stockpile storage solution or as the children affectionately term it, the ”Doomsday Preppers Cupboard”. I simply fit out the space with an Ikea storage drawer system and concealed it with a pull across curtain. These drawers are filled with wonderful supermarket buys. Multiple purchases of nuts, canned food, pasta, dried fruit, cereals, and other assorted weekly staples, when the prices are really low. Having a healthy supply of all of the essentials without the pantry clutter is an effective way to operate in the kitchen.A stockpile to draw upon not only saves a considerable amount of money spent on the yearly grocery bill but enables you to pull together a Chocolate Biscuit Refrigerator cake at a moment’s notice. All of the ingredients for this recipe can be plucked from the stockpile, with the exception of eggs and butter, which are basics I always have on hand.

chocolate refrigerator cake 150g butter
100g golden syrup
200g dark chocolate ,chopped
1 beaten egg 350g plain sweet biscuits (Marie, Milk Coffee, Digestives etc), broken into chunks
60g walnuts
60g sultanas
100g glacé cherries
75g pecan nuts

  1. Line a square or rectangle baking tin with baking paper.
  2. Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  3. Add the chocolate, reduce the heat to its lowest setting and stir until the chocolate has melted.
  4. Gradually add the beaten egg and continue to stir until the mixture has thickened a little.
  5. Remove from the heat.
  6. Combine biscuits, walnuts, sultanas and half the glacé cherries in a bowl. Pour the hot chocolate mix over this dry blend and mix together.
  7. Spoon  the mixture into the prepared tin, pressing it down firmly.
  8. Put the pecan nuts in the bowl that contained the chocolate mixture and stir them around to coat them in the chocolate.
  9. Scatter the pecans and the remaining glace cherries over the cake,
  10. Refrigerate for three hours or until set, then cut into slices of the desired length,

Wash up your dishes – by hand.

a piece of chocolate refrigerator cakePostscript: Not only will your stockpile hold the constituents of a Chocolate Biscuit Refrigerator cake, but also the foundations of most week night family meals.

homemaking

Dripping

Dripping pot

I am on a crusade. For many, what you are about to read will be the most nutritionally politically incorrect information you have come across in some years. In fact, I would say at least 40 years. I am about to extol the virtues of the rendered fat from roasted protein – dripping. Purists please turn away.

Recent generations have been severely lectured to about the dangers of diets weighing high in saturated fats. Nutritionally sound advice, I would agree. However, the tsk tsking  and finger-pointing my grandmother and her compatriots have been subject to for the use of dripping in their family cooking, from subsequent nutritionally ‘informed’ generations has been quite intense. Yet considering her apparent lack of dietary insight, she and her cronies were lean little birds who lived into ripe old ages – meanwhile, the current dripping-free population is fattening and dying. Hmmm.

From my observation, it seems that dripping has become the baby thrown out with the nutritional bath water. It has been demonised – unfairly I believe – to the point where our current generation no longer recognises it, let alone its culinary worth.

Inside the dripping pot

This sweet little vintage pot bears testament to this. Many would be puzzled by its design. It is a dripping pot and it works quite simply. The roasting juices are poured through the strainer, which catches the meat and pan remnants, allowing the rendered fat to flow through. This little pot then takes residence on the refrigerator shelf. After chilling, the fat solidifies and separates from the meat juices.

This jar contains the pourings from my roast chicken pan.

chicken dripping

Now, when I need some fat to brown off vegetables and meats for curries or stews, this flavoursome, natural product is the go to. You can have several little pots of power on the go by saving the drippings from pork and beef roasts as well. This is a wonderful old skill to relearn and reinstate into future kitchens.

Processed foods don’t tend to end up on our table very often, so therefore room has been made for some flavoursome animal fat in our meals. These small amounts, used in moderation, deliver so much oomph to the dishes you make, and chances are, if you are using them then meals from fresh vegetables and meat are under construction. Not an autolyzed yeast extract or modified cornstarch to be had.

Roast beef

Postscript: and just as the purists are picking themselves up off the floor, I have one more arrow to sling – roasted potatoes in dripping.

family · health and wellbeing · homemaking

Bread

Homemade bread

Man does not live by bread alone. Not a truer word was spake. For a simple gastronomic experience it is a must that it be accompanied by jam, cream, butter or any permutation or combination thereof. And once generously layered with these preserves and toppings it guarantees to satisfy growling bellies whom it has lured by its aromatic welcome at the front door.

As food trends have arrived and departed over the decades (and dare I say centuries) bread in its purest form – flour, yeast, salt and liquid – has stood by unwaveringly witnessing these passages. So basically, the loaves we break today, were broken many times over by our ancestors – with equal pleasure.

To be frank, I don’t grind my millet and bake over coals, but instead harness our kitchen horse – the breadmaker. As pleasing and as therapeutic as it is to knead and prove, I am equally energised by the fact that in the four hours the machine is at work, I can have shopped, cooked, stroked a cat and still have a lovely golden loaf to slice for the afternoon onslaught.

We each have our ‘desert island’ appliances, and the bread machine, although bulky, would be one I would have balanced on the luggage. To be able to have home-baked bread, is truly a pleasure. A loaf of olive bread with pasta, a grainy variety for breakfast toast or a fluffy Vienna with jam and cream in the afternoon are all examples of how our breadmaker adds value to the day.

Before you invest, look around you. Are there family or friends with idle machines that you could press into service? (that was how I was lucky enough to receive mine) The classifieds are another source of pre-loved bakers. However you source your breadmaker, regard it not as a new gadget, but rather a modern tool shoring up the links with your bread-breaking forbears.

Homemade bread, jam and cream

Postscript: and with an ever-expanding supply of jams, marmalades and chutneys on our shelves, what better vehicle is a thick slice of warm bread to transport them?

gardening · homemaking

Float

camelia bowl

Bursting onto the scene in their usual prolific manner are our winter camellias. Green glossy leaves and copious flowering heads, they brighten our chilly gardens and offer a bounty of cut specimens.

The trick is to outwit the rain. Sudden downpours bruise delicate petals, so cut before the clouds gather overhead. Should you miss the opportunity, do not despair, as camellias bud abundantly so new blooms unfold almost daily. The insect community loves them as we do, so before bringing them indoors, gently brush off to release any outdoor residents. Don’t be hesitant to harvest, as like all shrubs, camellias love a good cutting.

Once indoors, arrange them as you please in vases and jars alike. Way back in the 1930s and 1940s, homemakers loved to display their cut specimens by floating them in round shallow bowl/vases made for the purpose. This 2013 homemaker likes this method as well.

Floating camelias

For your floating centrepiece of beauty, hunt out your widest bowl and fill with water. No wide bowls? I can tell you that thrift shops are bursting at the seams with them, your only dilemma will be whether to go with glass, porcelain or three of each. Trim the stems close to the bloom and save a few leaves to balance the display. If you have access to a number of varieties a mixed bowl looks lavish.

Collect them now, as before long the display season will have come and gone and your dense green leafy shrub will take its place in the general garden scene once again.

cut camelias

Postscript: and hopefully the comments you will receive from your fellow occupants will be less like “How come we always have flowers all over the house!”…..

craft · homemaking

Jars

Painted jar vases

The prospect of painting a kitchen is a daunting one.

With seemingly endless cupboard doors, handles, nooks and crannies to sand, coat and recoat, the mother lode of mental discipline is required to remain on task without flinging the brush in the air and dialling a tradesman.

Fortunately, mammoth tasks have inbuilt motivators. As small sections take shape, like giant jigsaws, the puzzler is gradually fed clues to the total picture. That urge to see the completed vista mobilizes a further sift through the box – and another lick of paint. While my current internal mantra is to ‘eat this mammoth one bite at a time’, some instant gratification is required. Spying empty glass jars near the drooling paint can, meant today, some new vases were born.

painted passata jar vase

And being that it is daffodil season here right now, there is no better time to create something simple and understated for them to sing in.

The beauty of jars is that they come in all shapes, so choose yours with its resident in mind. A short squat vessel is perfect for herbs, while a tall slim bottle will display your single bloom with elegance. Don’t buy paint, I’m sure you have an old tin lurking from a long distant refurbishment. Give it a shake and prize off the lid. Away you go and coat as many little receptacles as you wish. Mine needed two good coats with plenty of drying time in between.

So scrape out that last bit of marmalade and retrieve that passata bottle from the recycling box, and before the day is through you may not have consumed your entire elephant, but you sure will have something pretty to look at while you contemplate the next bite.

cosy space

Postscript: and at the end of a paint splattered day, how lovely it was to retire to a cosy corner and be cheered by daffodils and hellebores in their new homes.

homemaking

Picture

autumn village painting

To be able to take in an image on countless occasions and still to see it as though for the first time, to come away each time feeling settled and content, and for all of this to occur bearing no relationship whatsoever to cost, I’d say then, what you have before you is truly a work of art.

Secured some years ago in a local charity shop and now firmly mounted on our entrance hall wall, this amateur painting is possibly the first and last thing those that pass through our home will set eyes on. For some, it may not warrant a second glance, but for me that pathway is so inviting and I’m sure there are some welcoming kitchens and fire sides in those bright little cottages. My first task would be to pick a handful of those wildflowers for the table and then later in the afternoon as the autumn chill drifts down, take a brisk walk toward those mountains. Five minutes spent with this picture is a simple reminder of what is good.

Find your own piece of framed friendliness and park it where it is likely to intersect your line of vision, so no matter how demanding your day has been, your soul is not forgotten.

autumnal virginia creeper

Postscript: If you subtract the vista of rolling background hills, the bovine grazing and the picket fence, I guess the picture framed by our front window does similarly good things for the spirits.

gardening · homemaking

Floppy

 pink hydrangea

We know Summer is in her prime when large frilly heads, collectives of miniature florets, billow about. With deep green glossy foliage giving us welcome visual relief during searing spells, it is no wonder we have such a fondness for these grand old dames of the floral realm – the hydrangea.

060When the temperature climbs, I liken a generous vase of hydrangeas placed in the kitchen to putting on a cotton summer dress. Suddenly everything is lighter, fresher and cooler and all is as it should be to manage a summer’s day. Shedding minimal debris and with incredible staying power, they excel as cut flowers. Even as they slowly dry, hydrangeas take on a charming antique appearance – another dimension of their beauty.

Mass plantings under the eves of weatherboard homes, is a strong visual memory from a suburban Melbournian childhood that I hold dear.  To generate your own mass plantings without having to invest a fortune, take cuttings from your (or a kind aunt’s) shrub. They strike in a pot of moist soil very quickly in a shaded spot, and if nurtured over winter, your wall of hydrangeas will be ready to plant out next spring. Providing you keep the water up to them during the heat and they dwell in semi-shade, these are not a difficult species to cultivate – and your vases will be filled for summer.

059Postscript: rumour has it, that beautiful chocolate replica leaves for cake garnishes can be had by smearing the fresh leaves with melted chocolate, leaving to set and then peeling away…hmmm