recipes

Sundae

chocolate fudge sundae

Washing flapping in the breeze, windows thrown open, lush green grass, blue skies and sunshine – time to move the heavy pudding basins to the rear and bring forward the delicate glassware. Lavishly topped ice-cream – a visual as well as a culinary feast. How could anyone spy an ice-cream sundae and not be transported to jubilant times? Springtime, term break and ice-cream – the holy trinity in our household.

The simplicity of a sundae – when these were made I couldn’t help but wonder why we don’t make them more often. Within ten minutes, everyone is digging furiously into lava topped vanilla mountains, enjoying shards of toasted nuts and sticky cherries in the process. Not only this, but with the lure of a sundae, all manner of promised household chores are miraculously completed.

For the maker, the ultimate comfort comes from the security of owning a shiny jar full of fudgy sauce, that at a moment’s notice can be warmed and poured.

chocolate fudge sauce

If you seek similar reassurance, this glossy rich chocolate sauce is easily blended and not only makes winning ice-cream sundaes but is perfect to dig a spoon into after everyone has gone to bed.

1 cup cream
3/4 cup condensed milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa, sifted
180g dark chocolate, chopped
50g butter
vanilla ice-cream
crushed nuts (toasted if you have the time and inclination)
maraschino cherries (or tinned, bottled or fresh)

  1. Combine cream, condensed milk, sugar and cocoa in a medium saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is smooth.
  2. Increase heat to medium so that mixture is simmering and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring.
  3. Remove from heat and add chocolate and butter, stirring until melted and smooth.
  4. Scoop ice-cream into individual dishes, pour over sauce and top with crushed nuts and cherries.

This lovely rich fudgy sauce goes a long way, so store in a glass jar in the refrigerator, and warm gently in the microwave when required.

fudge sundaes

Postscript: sundae dishes, relics of simpler times, are a dime a dozen in thrift shops. Pick up a matching set, or make up a mis-matched crazy collection. Should you tire of sundaes (unlikely) these dishes make great tapas, taco or antipasto accoutrement.

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gardening · health and wellbeing

Sowing

Little Red Hen

It’s usually when I’m knee-deep in dirt that my most profound thoughts occur, and to follow suit as I recently pushed the pitch fork into the neglected vegetable patch, this came to me: you reap what you sow. Obviously not an original light bulb, but one that spurred me to dig deeper as weeds resisted and motivation waned. To keep turning that soil and uprooting a winter’s worth of tangled roots, the mental picture of what would be thriving in a few months fuelled the progress.

So as fork struck earth, as it so often does my mind took that thought on quite an expedition, concluding at the realisation that all we reap from life does in fact come from all the effort of our sowing.

This row of infant beans will be fed, watered and watched over. Should environmental factors threaten, they will be protected, mended and secured once more to their trellis. My hopes for these beans are that they grow tall and are healthy, producing a bounty for our table.

Row of new beans

Like these beans we nurture our children, nourishing, shielding and guiding with hopes of healthy, robust individuals emerging. And it is through these sowing and cultivating years that can be so challenging we know to persevere, as the ripening of resilient people is the greatest reward.

And our friends, the cheerful petal-faced people, that brighten our days as their horticultural counterparts do from their vases, flourish with our attention. Considered time and effort is a necessity to keep flowers blooming – and so it is with our companions. Both to be treasured.

flower seeds

All of the delicious meals, fascinating stories and masterful accomplishments in the workplace began with cognitive seeds, given time to develop. Pause and reflect on the satisfying fruits of your recent labour and know that it was your careful sowing that resulted in their fruition.

scarecrow

Postscript: Mind you, there are times when no matter how carefully you sow and how expertly you guard, the crows of life can intervene ….

recipes

Preserve

Of Course I Can!

Putting up, canning, preserving, bottling – four ways to describe a process from which a sense of deep inner satisfaction is a by-product. Beginning with a pile of beautiful produce and ending with a shelf groaning under the weight of gleaming jars is a very meaningful way to spend an afternoon. Although we are not subject to food shortages, we are prone to seasonal fluctuation, and to be able to capture a crop at its finest with the ability to enjoy it year round, is a wonderful thing.

Occasionally ‘windfalls’ of produce can land in your lap. A neighbour with a productive fig tree, a market bargain or a roadside opportunity, are likely examples. To be able to bottle these fortuities to savour at a later date makes sense, economically and nutritionally. Windfalls aside, if you would like to dip your toe into the process, start with a generous selection of good eating apples. Applesauce is delicious and versatile (immediately apple pie, roast pork, danishes and custardy desserts spring to mind).

spiced applesauce ingredients

After you have peeled and chopped approximately 2 1/2 kilos, put them into a large pan over a medium heat with 1/2 cup of apple juice (or cider), three whole star anise and three cloves. Put a lid on the pot and cook the apples for about 20 minutes, or until well broken down. Stir the pot regularly to make sure the apples are not sticking. Remove the cloves and stars. Now, with a hand masher, stick blender or blender, process until smooth. At this point, add sugar (up to 1 cup). I use about 1/2 cup, but some like their sauce sweeter. Stir well. You will notice the dark colour of my applesauce and this is because I also add a teaspoon of nutmeg and a tablespoon of cinnamon with the sugar. You can do this, or for traditional applesauce, leave these out. Your applesauce is now ready to preserve.

IMG_3168

I use a Ball Preserver but all you need is a large stockpot with a lid and a selection of sturdy jars with metal lids. Pop your jars in the stockpot and fill with water until jars are covered. (To keep the jars from coming in contact with the base of the pot, place an upturned dish on the bottom for them to rest on). Bring pot to the boil. This will sterilise the jars for you. Boil the jar lids in a small saucepan separately. Using tongs remove the jars and fill with the applesauce. Seal jars with lids, not overly tightly. Place jars back in stockpot and cover. Boil for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and leave jars to stand in water for about 5 minutes before removing. Stand on a chopping board covered with a teatowel. As the jars cool, you will hear the lids pop, meaning a seal has formed.

Admire your efforts.

apple, peach and custard dessert

Postscript: this quantity of apples will make approximately four 500ml jars of sauce and of course there will be a little over. This is the bit you pop in a bowl with some peaches and pouring custard to enjoy while the jars are sealing themselves.

personal style

New-fashioned

Thrifted red boots $5

Nothing injects more energy into the morning routine, than having a new piece to wear about. And if that piece left your finances relatively unchanged, then all the more satisfying it is to parade. It’s thrift shopping I’m referring to and thankfully, this mode of fashion retail is gaining momentum. The current rapid turnover of ‘disposable’ fashion means our thrift shops have never had such an interesting array of wares on offer. Loads of barely worn garments and accessories are there for the taking – or for just a few gold coins.

Wool jacket $6
Wool jacket $6

The difficulty can lie in choice, or where exactly to begin. I tend to hunt for items that need topping up in my wardrobe or for pieces that when replaced at full retail cost are hefty. Hence, this tailored wool jacket. If you’re lucky enough to find a classic cut in a colour you love – grab it. Another strategy is to scan the racks’ fabrics and colours – if something catches your eye, pull it out. If it caught your eye then, it is likely that it will always appeal to you. And then of course, strategies and sensibilities aside, there is always serendipity….

Boho Boots $5
Boho Boots $5

Yes these serendipitous cowboy boots just popped up. These are the kind of thrifty opportunities you just have to be open to!

The true value of thrifted fashion however, lies in its longevity. If you pay the riches of Solomon for a new item, you can be sure that before its first day out has come to an end, you will either have stained or torn it. Thrifted stuff does not attract spills, never rips and never needs dry cleaning.

Rust jacket $3
Rust jacket $3

I guess the essential elements to thrift shopping are time (I noticed a fellow thrifter recently, Ipod attached, casually browsing the racks), a mind that is open to possibility and an understanding that your clothing does not always have to be new, but simply new to you.

Coconut ice cardi $3
Coconut ice cardi $3

Postscript: so for just over $20, I’m trotting out new boots, jackets and a spring cardi – I’m ok with that.

recipes

Tim Tam

Tim Tam Brownie

It is better to give than to receive. I know this because I had the opportunity to watch a friend blissfully devour umpteen pieces of brownie I baked her for her birthday. A work colleague actually,  from a neighbouring shore who has developed a passion for Tim Tams – what better birthday gift than to present her with a packet, hidden in a brownie?

There aren’t too many than can pass up a Tim Tam or a chunk of brownie either. Such a perfect match the two have made. Soft chewy brownie with crisp chunks of chocolate biscuit – a devilish treat. Combine this with the recipient’s pleasure and you’ve created yourself one happy day.

tray of Tim Tam brownie

Do you feel like indulging? Thought so. Here is how they are done. Start with the basic brownie recipe I use, and leave out the honeycomb. Once the batter is made, dab about four heaped spoonfuls onto the base of the lined tin and smooth over to form a bed for your Tim Tams. Lay out an entire packet of the biscuits over the base. Now top with the remaining batter and smooth over so the Tim Tams are hidden inside. Bake for 30-35 minutes, and when the brownie has cooled, slice into blocks. Dust with cocoa powder.

brownie mix

Postscript: and then it occurred to me that there are a host of other chocolate biscuits on the shelves ……

recipes

Pound

Cream cheese pound cake

Pound cake. Just how did this traditional bake come to be named so? Here are my four theories:

  1. From the increment of weight gained per slice consumed.
  2. Where your dog winds up when you are too busy scoffing a slice to remember to close the front gate.
  3. The sum your British mates will offer you for a piece.
  4. The manner in which the neighbourhood children will strike your front door when the freshly baked aroma escapes the kitchen window.

Surprisingly, none of my suggestions come even close. The name originates from the fact that early American pound cakes contained one pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. Simple to remember, straightforward to prepare and superb to eat. I guess what typifies a pound cake is its density. With no rising agents such as bicarbonate of soda or baking powder added, the resulting crumb is butter rich and firm – so satisfying when you just want to eat a decent whack of cake, nothing ‘fly-away’ about it.

Here in the sunburnt country, our version is known as madeira cake. Not quite as hefty, but certainly as well-loved. I grew-up knowing it to be ‘plain cake’. A slice wrapped in waxed paper tucked in my lunch-box was such a treat, while across in Germany, the school children were unwrapping Eischwerkuchen, and the French, quatre-quarts. So you see, we were all eating an interpretation of the same recipe – just happy kids eating cake.

Today, a serious pound cake was on the agenda, so it was the American region that I turned to – Cream Cheese Pound Cake. So generous in quantity, this recipe allows you to make two. Wrap your second in clingwrap, and that’s the baking done for next week as well. Strawberries are ripening beautifully in our northern states right now, so a punnet was economically converted into sauce to spoon across each slice.

To sum up, a pound cake represents stability. A pound cake made with cream cheese represents moisture-rich stability. A cream cheese pound cake bathed in strawberry sauce represents gluttony.

Pound cake with strawberry sauce

250g butter, softened
250g cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Grease and line two loaf tins.
  2. Beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar, beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
  4. Add flour and salt in two batches, beating until just combined.
  5. Pour batter evenly into both tins. Tap tins on bench to release air bubbles. Bake for approximately 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  6. Cool in tins for 5-10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack.
  7. Slice and serve with strawberry sauce or just as it is!

For the strawberry sauce, hull and slice a punnet of strawberries and place in a small saucepan with two tablespoons of sugar on a low heat. Let them simmer away slowly, keeping a close eye, and shortly you will have softened fruit in a thick juice. Add a splash of water if you need to and maybe whizz with a stick blender if you like your coulis smooth. Serve warm over thick slices of poundy.

a slice of pound cake

Postscript: So robust is this cake, It could easily be dubbed ‘Slab Cake’ and marketed to our tradies…..

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?

recipes

Trash

Good Housekeeping Magazine

There has been the odd day where I’ve felt the need to herald from a high vantage point, ”OK, stick a fork in me, I’m done!” Well done. Done washing, done grocery shopping, done bed making, done basin scrubbing, done path sweeping. On these occasions, the only way to self-tenderise, is to make like the meat does after a big roasting – and rest. And what better way to get some juice flowing back into the soul, than a bit of quiet trashy mag time.

As much as I love some thought-provoking non-fiction or a masterful piece of literary excellence, at certain times of the week, the developments of a Kardashian relationship or a royal outing are about all I have the head space to absorb. In fact, I consider time spent with a glossy and a coffee, to be time well spent. Apart from the celebrity trials and trysts, I really enjoy the convenience of leafing through the snapshots of up-and-coming fashion peeks, the latest beauty product and ways to scatter my cushions, without having to leave the kitchen. By the time I have read the entire mag (usually 30 minutes), I have been recharged with a posse of new ideas and feel abreast of emerging trends.

Personal development aside, I love the humour these magazines elicit. Articles on weight-loss programs followed by pages of pudding recipes, never fail to make me smile. The outrageous claims made by ”close sources” of the famous are also worth a chuckle. And of course there are also the latest research snippets: people who eat less and exercise more are inclined to live longer….

Of course the food coverage always takes my eye – and the growing pile of tear sheets next to my recipe books bears evidence of this. There would be very few weekly publications that I would reach the end of without at least one recipe snaring my attention. This week was no different. When I flipped the page to this Chicken, artichoke and lemon dish and saw that I had most of the ingredients on hand and they could all cook together in one dish, an instant ripping of paper broke the sunny afternoon silence.

Chicken Artichoke and Lemon

1/4 cup olive oil
8 chicken drumsticks
500g potatoes, cut into wedges (skin left on)
1 onion, cut into wedges
1 lemon, sliced into rings
4 thyme sprigs
1/2 cup white wine
170g jar artichokes, drained
1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
  2. In an ovenproof pan, heat half of the oil and brown off the drumsticks until golden.
  3. Add potatoes and onion with the rest of the oil and mix around. Top with lemon slices and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place pan in the oven and bake for 35 minutes.
  5. Pour over wine, and stir in artichokes and tomatoes.
  6. Bake for a further 10-15 minutes, ensuring chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender.
    (Even though this dish contains potatoes, I served it over steamed rice because the sauce is delicious when absorbed into the rice.)

Postscript: and after reading of the births, remarriages and body makeovers it’s heartening to realise your own life is not that exhausting after all.

recipes

Fortified

Brandy Orange Marmalade

Madeira, port and sherry – all delightfully robust examples of wine fortified by matured, beautifully structured brandy. Small pours are all that is required to enjoy such aperitifs or digestifs, who resoundingly boast bold and explosive flavours – all the while supported silently by the strength and complexity of their custodian – brandy.

We each have our own internal fortitude (hopefully yours is not reliant on brandy). Unlike the liqueurs, often the things that give us our internal strength are entirely external to us – family, friends or the patterns of nature. To wake and see the sun lifting the chill from the garden, a sleepy rosy-cheeked child rising from his bed or even a genial wave from a neighbour, has a core-settling effect – the day is motion. And when all is as such, there is every reason to place your foot forward, roll up your sleeves and grasp hold of another new day unlike any other that was.

I’m not sure that marmalade has the good fortune we share. So to be sure that this batch was able to embrace it’s personal journey, I slipped some brandy into the pan at the final stage.

1.5kg oranges (blood or Seville if you can get them, otherwise any)
1.5 kg sugar
4 tbsp brandy
1 pkt Jamsetta (optional)

  1. Put the oranges and 2.25 litres of water in a large preserving pan, cover and simmer for 50-60 minutes until the fruit is very soft.
  2. Remove from heat, lift out the fruit, and cool.
  3. Measure the liquid and if required add extra water until you have 1.7 litres. Stir in the sugar.
  4. Halve the oranges, scoop out the flesh and pips. Tie these in some muslin cloth or similar.
  5. Chop the peel coarsely. Add to the pan with the muslin bag.
  6. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and cook at a full rolling boil for 10 minutes or until the marmalade has reached setting point. (If you are having any issues with setting, now is the time to stir through the Jamsetta).
  7. Cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the brandy.
  8. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

marmalade toast

Postscript: The brandy worked wonders on the marmalade’s character and on toast in the morning, it has certainly strengthened mine.

book reviews · recipes

Fika

Fika Ikea Baking Book

As formalities continue to be shed in an effort to live in a more simplified fashion, so too our food has begun to follow suit. More frequently we are encouraged to eat our meals in a ‘deconstructed’ form. Jamie now scatters his communal dinners across a chopping board, cheesecakes are commonly served up in drinking vessels and salads regularly layered in kilner jars (maybe this is my cue to toss a scoop of Vegemite, a few cheese shavings and some bread in the lunch box for some deconstructed school sandwiches). But I digress. The Scandinavians, or more specifically, Ikea, have had the jump on this mode for years. Their latest contribution to our pared-down existence is their new baking book, Fika, illustrating each recipe as a collection of deconstructed ingredients. Intrigued? So was I.

Fika is the Swedish term for a coffee break, generally shared with others. This book offers a host of recipes perfect for such events. Based on your level of experience and time affordable, you can dip in and out of this baking collection and come up with some delicious treats. The Rustic Biscuits caught my eye, basically because in my ‘deconstructed pantry’ all the elements were present and equally because the bakes could be made in two stages (dough needs to be chilled a while) allowing me to fit swimming lessons in between. And what lovely, crispy little gems they turned out to be:

Rustic Biscuits

Even on a day when baking is not within your reach, this book is a lovely browse, as rarely have I seen a collection of recipes photographed in such a simplistic form. For novice cooks to be able to see baked items broken down this way, leaves very little hiding space for uncertainty or self-doubt to settle. Dismantling kitchen fear and apprehension my friends, can only be a good thing.

100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp. golden syrup
35g blanched almonds, chopped
225g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tbsp milk (optional)

  1. Cream butter, sugar and syrup.
  2. Combine almonds, flour and bicarb of soda and then add this mix to the creamed mix.
  3. Work into a dough (at this point, you may or may not need to add the milk, depending on how dry your dough is).
  4. Roll the dough into a long sausage, about 3 cm thick and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate for up to an hour or freeze.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Remove cling film and cut slices of dough about 1 cm thick. Lay these out on trays lined with baking paper.
  6. Bake for 6-8 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

You will need to be forgiving with some of the text in Fika, as we are crossing a fairly challenging language barrier here. The odd ingredient may be foreign, and occasionally ml is used in place of gram, but remember, we are working on our flexibility.

Rustic biscuits and coffee

Postscript: By the way, Fika is a marvellous word to have in your vocabulary when you burn your hand on the oven tray whilst young family members are present.