April 28, 2011 § 5 Comments
As with many people, NB and I are trying to cut back on spending and put something aside for a rainy day. Fortunately for NB I’ve never felt the desire to spend my Saturdays clothes shopping or my Friday evenings getting facials and acupuncture (but that could be nice!!). Instead, the money I earn generally goes straight to my local grocer. Now I don’t think that this is a bad thing at all, I’m investing in my body, health and soul after all, but perhaps I could stretch the dollar a little further every now and again (I still argue that we needed the 6 bags of vacuum-packed umeboshi…)
Last night was ‘Cheap and Cheerful’, a new once a week section that will feature at the Strawberry Patch. For less than $8 I served up chicken legs that had been baked with lemon, white wine, chicken stock, garlic, chorizo, fennel, thyme and a few dollops of pesto ($5), wilted garlic spinach (50c) and zucchini, corn and fetta fritters ($2). Simple and delicious.
Unfortunately, even though the fritters tasted terrific, they certainly weren’t photogenic like Bills.
Tell me Blushers, does anyone have a secret to making their fritters service sexy??!
Zucchini, Corn and Fetta fritters
(Serves 2 -3)
In a large bowl grate 2 large zucchini (summer squash), shuck 2 cobs corn, and crumble in a good chunk of fetta. Season with pepper and a little paprika. In a separate bowl whisk together 1/4 cup milk, 1/4 cup flour and 3 eggs with a pinch of salt and some fresh parsley. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir to combine. Cook fritters in a frypan over medium heat until cooked through, turning once. Keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining fritters.
April 26, 2011 § 11 Comments
Dawn Service. The air is brisk, perhaps the first frost has fallen. I like to watch as people shuffle their feet, murmuring with Dragon’s Breath flowing from cold lips. Yet when the ceremony begins a revered silence falls across the crowd, only to be broken by the soul-stirring notes of The Last Post
This is the first year that I’ve missed the ANZAC Day parade and it felt a little strange. But then NB messaged me mid-morning with an ANZAC message and I realised that I should be expanding the tribute to North Carolina.
I love love love ANZAC biscuits. They’re the 15 minute biscuit that lasts for weeks (if you can keep your fingers out of the jar!) Originally made to be sent in food parcels to Australian and New Zealand troops stationed in Europe during World War 1, ANZAC biscuits are now a staple on the table at any Australian national celebration. The recipe was created and named for the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, hence the name ANZAC.
Now if I could only find a Two-Up circle…
1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
125 g (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
2 tbs boiling water
Preheat the oven to 180C, 350F. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and stir in the oats, coconut, sugar and a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre.
Place the golden syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until the butter has melted.
Pour the butter mixture into the well in the centre of the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
Drop tablespoons of mixture onto the prepared trays, leaving a 3cm/1.25 inch in between to allow for spreading.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden. Cool on wire racks and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
April 25, 2011 § 5 Comments
First things first, I melted our food processor.
What does this have to do anything? Well, I wanted to make a carrot-bread for Easter morning tea, and I knew that using the processor would make it into a 6 minute job and save the laborious task of grating 8 carrots by hand. Fortunately the processor still works and for future reference it is wise to avoid placing the bowl directly onto a hot cooktop.
Easter is synonymous with many things, and gluttony is certainly one of them. I remember childhood Easters of eating myself sick with chocolate and the day would inevitably end in loud moans and cramping agony. My brother on the other hand was a hoarder. He would hide his loot around the house so I couldn’t raid his bag once I was finished and for the months that followed we would find bunnies and eggs tucked behind peg baskets in the laundry or stuffed in the cracks between the pantry and the fridge.
This year I decided to show some restraint and instead of creating some deliciously naughty chocolate concoction, I decided to bake a healthy loaf in the shape of a carrot. I took a regular carrot cake recipe as my starting point and then fiddled and adapted it until it became gluten-free, dairy-free, no-added sugar, and just really really healthy. When I mentioned my idea to NB he showed no mercy: “That will taste terrible, I thought you invited people over for cake!” I could see the potential for disaster if my crowd showed up for the promised ‘Easter Cake’ to be fed carrot-loaf. I quickly emailed a disclaimer before moving back to the oven – ‘please join NB and I for a HEALTHY Easter treat. Eat at your own risk’.
I tasted the batter as I was mixing and it certainly lacked a cake-like sweetness, but then I remembered the jar of apple-sauce in our cupboard and I was thrilled to be able to use some. I felt so American putting apple sauce in a recipe!
As it turned out the cake was a hit. Admittedly it became MUCH more indulgent when I covered the cream cheese in Reese’s Pieces (Peanut Butter filled chocolate shells (Gluten free, not healthy, very delicious). An alternative could be you wanted to mixing a few tablespoons of natural nut butter into the cream cheese for flavour and decorating the cake with edible flowers.
Tell me Blushers, what did the Bunny bring for you this year?
The Bunny NB delivered an Easter Basket filled with dark chocolate raisins, a mango and real Dutch carrots!
To create the shape I sat one loaf above the other and used a sharp paring knife. Using a hot knife to spread the cream cheese, I decorated the outside with Reese’s Pieces and orange jellybeans. The ‘fronds’ use cream cheese tinted green and sprinkles.
(Makes 2 loaves)
6 dates and 6 dried apricots, soaked in 1/2 cup boiling water for 5 minutes (reserve water)
2/3 cup almonds
2/3 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups grated carrot
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup gluten free flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a food processor, process nuts to a fine meal. Place in a large bowl with flour, baking soda, oats, cinnamon, ginger and salt.
Process dates, apricots and water. Add eggs and vanilla and process to mix. Add wet mix to flour bowl with grated carrot and applesauce. Stir to mix.
Divide evenly into 2 baking paper-lined loaf tins and bake 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cream cheese ‘frosting’
Combine in processor:
2x blocks low fat cream cheese
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 vanilla bean scraped
April 19, 2011 § 11 Comments
In my family birthdays are never single day events. Normally celebrations will begin at home, before moving on to parties with friends and finally sharing a meal with other members of the family. In fact, until I moved to Sydney I don’t remember having a birthday that wasn’t extended for 7 – 10 days. It was just the way we did things.
Yesterday was NB’s birthday (hip hip hooray), and in true Blushing style we started the party on Saturday and won’t wrap it up until after the last slice of cake tonight!
The first part of Saturday welcomed us with torrential rain, so bad that I had expected to see Noah sail past at any given moment, but it was the perfect excuse to stay inside and make a cake.
When I was growing up The Duck would make the most INCREDIBLE cakes. We would always have one for the birthday party and another one to take to school and share with the class. These cakes looked like they had stepped straight out of a Disney set and they tasted like heaven, making me the classroom hero for the next four hours. Over the course of the years I think that my brother and I had every cake in The Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book (editions one and two), and the AWW Party Cakes For All Occasions. When we started getting older things became a little more sophisticated: triple layer mousse cake, profiterole towers, friands decorated with wildflowers…but I’ll always love remembering the look on my brother’s face when ‘Joe Bad’ was brought to the table in all its vibrant hair and safety-pin nose ring glory.
This year I wanted to bring back that fun. So the question came – what to make? Well Blushers, should you ever converse with NB and his friends you should expect to hear something along the following lines:
- Homer: When I held that gun in my hand, I felt a surge of power…like God must feel when he’s holding a gun.
- Ned Flanders: I’ve done everything the Bible says — even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!
- Homer: I’m normally not a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me, Superman.
- Comic Book Guy: Your questions have become more redundant and annoying than the last three “Highlander” movies.
- Homer: You don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You go in every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.
- Chief Wiggum: Uh, no, you got the wrong number. This is 9-1…2.
- Homer: Fame was like a drug. But what was even more like a drug were the drugs
- Sideshow Bob: I’ll be back. You can’t keep the Democrats out of the White House forever, and when they get in, I’m back on the streets, with all my criminal buddies.
- Homer: Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals…except the weasel.
- Milhouse: Remember the time he ate my goldfish? And you lied and said I never had goldfish. Then why did I have the bowl, Bart? *Why did I have the bowl?*
- Homer: Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.
- Lionel Hutz: Well, he’s kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace “accidentally” with “repeatedly” and replace “dog” with “son.”
- Homer: Lisa, vampires are make-believe, like elves, gremlins, and Eskimos.
…And so on!
I’m repeatedly impressed by how two men can carry out a whole conversation in quotes when I can’t even remember the punch line of a joke.
Ironically, after the candles were blown out no-one quoted a thing…should I have known I might have said:
Marge: Aww, look, Homie, our wedding cake!
Homer: You mean there’s been cake in our freezer for eleven years? Why was I not informed?
Homer: Keep looking shocked and move slowly towards the cake.
I used Nigella Lawson’s chocolate cake recipe
The top is iced with a simple carrot cake cream cheese frosting, NB’s favourite, and I used a black gel-icing pen to draw the outline once I had finished the colour.
The center is filled with melted chocolate and mascarpone.
Around the edge is chocolate buttercream. I don’t worry about quantities when I make this, just a good chunk of butter, some icing sugar and melted chocolate…I really don’t think it can go wrong with those three ingredients!
Tell me Blushers, what was your favourite cake when you were growing up?
April 14, 2011 § 6 Comments
Spring weather has officially arrived and I could not be happier! I love spring, mainly because I love seeing people shaking off their winter coats and spending afternoons sipping drinks in a beer garden, or long, lazy Sundays lounging in the park with the picnic basket, a couple of bottles of Proseco and a good book. It is a time of rebirth, renewal, regrowth and reconnection.
I have been bowled over with the beauty, and energy, that spring has brought here in Charlotte. Cherry blossoms and dogwoods were thick with blossom for most of March, and daffodils made blankets of yellow on the lawn of many homes. What I loved most was returning from our weekend in Pennsylvania and seeing that the city had exploded with a thousands shade of green. It was breathtaking and reminded me of growing up in the country, where after ten days away at the beach in September we would return and see that our garden had been coloured in with every green from bright apple to deep eucalyptus. I never experienced the same oomph during the change of seasons in Sydney, so this really was a sight for sore eyes.
NB and I have certainly felt ourselves energised and have taken on many projects to prepare our home for hosting spring parties. Weekends have been spent digging garden beds and planting seeds, trimming hedges and mowing lawns. To be honest I think NB was relieved when my lovely friend @ FoodieFresh came over to help me paint the porch on Sunday, and talk about women power! What a job! I also love that FF paints with the philosophy of a friend’s father – it is necessary to drink beers while painting as a form of time management. When you’ve had a sufficient amount to drink and can no longer climb up the ladder, it is time to call it a day!
The local farmers markets have also started, and we are fortunate enough to have two at the end of our rode, a stones throw away. Warm evenings and fresh produce call for keeping meals as simple as possible. One meal that ticks all the boxes is this Spring Meatball Salad. This meal was actually made by The Duck in my last two weeks in Australia and nearly all the salad ingredients were picked straight from our garden before we set the table. I simply love the nasturtium flowers 🙂
In winter, these meatballs are made and cooked in a tomato sauce made rich and delicious with cream and homemade stock. In the warmer months however they are perfect for a salad, a meatball sub or skewer them and have them as part of a cocktail party with garlic aioli. From the number of taste testings we have done on the recipe, this one is the winner!
The Duck’s Winning Meatballs:
500g or about 1 pound beef mince
2 rashers bacon, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli (ditto!)
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon BBQ sauce
1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs (make your own with day old bread in the food processor and freeze individual cup-portions in ziplock bags)
Any scraps of herbs from the crisper or garden
Any spice flavour that you like: e.g Moroccan, Cajun…
Mix all the ingredients in a big bowl with your hands. Form into small meatballs using the ‘Metro Method’, i.e. toss from hand to hand like a baseball player!
Put on a glad-wrap lined tray (=no washing!) and have a 2nd tray beside it. Once meatballs are all formed, have a pile of flour and lightly roll each one on it before setting on the 2nd tray.
To cook meatballs, heat a splash of olive oil in a large based fry pan over med-high heat. Once browned on one side, turn the meatballs over and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover with foil and cook about 10 minutes until cooked through but still juicy inside (if using the meatballs for pasta, only cook 2/3 of the way through and finish cooking in sauce).
Sit meatballs aside while you toss together a salad (leaves, lebanese cucumber, cherry tomatoes, marinated artichokes, olives, red onion, cannelini beans etc). For dressing, combine some of the juice from the jar of artichokes with Greek yoghurt and garlic aioli.
(note: It is worth taking the extra time to roll the meatballs nice and small so they cook faster and stay juicy. To freeze meatballs, line a baking tray with paper and evenly layer the meatballs, repeat with another layer of paper on top if needed. When frozen you can toss the meatballs into a ziplock bag and freeze. To defrost, shake them back out on to a baking tray so they don’t get squashed, and thaw in the fridge overnight.)
March 30, 2011 § 7 Comments
“We got three big weeks ahead of us. It’s wedding season, kid!”
“You sandbaggin’ son of a bitch!”
-Wedding Crashers (2005)
This is one of those movies that ticks all the boxes: funny boys with soft hearts (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn – tick), pretty girls with bizarre families (Rachel McAdams and Isla Fisher – tick), beautiful scenery and giant houses (tick). But most importantly it’s a love story and, being the hopeless romantic that I am, I need nothing more than a happy ending.
As it turns out, March – June IS wedding season for 2011. This weekend we head north to celebrate with NB’s BFF, the following we’re back in town for a local ceremony and June will bring summer promises of love for the Renovators. Add to this the recent engagement of my own brother and my heart is about to explode with love!
It’s a fun time to be a girl, when those nearest and dearest are getting married, because we get to ooh and ahh over dress designs, flower arrangements and menu plans, get wildly jealous over honeymoon destinations and enjoy all the dressing up for engagement parties, bridal showers, rehearsal dinners etc. I love it.
Last Sunday NB and I were invited to a wedding shower where I knew the bride-to-be loved food as much as I did, hence the delicious Southern barbecue that was served up for guests. The last time this couple came over for dinner I only served up store-bought ice cream for dessert, so I thought something baked and something sweet would go down quite a treat.
Sunday morning was bitterly cold, the perfect weather conditions for making biscuits. Shortbread is a fail-safe option when gifting your baked goods, not everyone likes chocolate and some may be allergic to nuts, but I have never met a pair of lips that would say no to buttery biscuits. I had a lovely bottle of local berry jam that I was eager to try and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends‘ it wasn’t long until the kitchen was filled with the aroma of warm cookies and I was swatting NB’s fingers away from the cooling rack.
Tell me Blushers, what’s your favourite wedding meal?
125g (1/2cup) unsalted butter, softened
115g (1/2cup) caster sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Icing sugar, to dust
Line two baking trays with baking paper. Cream the butter, sugar and lemon in a medium-sized bowl with electric beaters until pale and fluffy. The add the egg, beating until just combined. Sift in the flour and baking powder and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C 350F. Place half the dough between two sheets of baking paper and roll to 3/4 inch thick. Use a 1cm/ 1/2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out 18 circles.
Roll out second batch of dough and cut out circles, cutting out centre hole. Bake all biscuits for 8-10 minutes, then allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Coat base biscuit with jam and top with cut-out circles to close. Dust with icing sugar.
March 28, 2011 § 4 Comments
We’re sitting on the cusp of changing seasons, which is messing with my wardrobe and messing with my menu plans. One day I will be dining on goats cheese salad and felafel on the outside terrace of 300 East with friends, and the next I am snuggled up in trackpants stirring pots of soup on the stove. In times like this you have to be prepared to change dinner plans, incase the morning sun belies a much cooler evening to come.
Last Thursday the temperature dropped from up in the 80s to 49 Fahrenheit, which made the poached egg and watercress salad I had been planning on suddenly seem wildly inappropriate. With a deadline looming for the magazine, dinner had to be thrown together with half a brain.
NB went out for lemons while I fried some chicken legs in a pan with onion, garlic, sundried tomatoes and mushrooms. I’m a fan of any meal that gives the excuse to open a bottle of pinot grigio, which I liberally splashed over the chicken with a few tablespoons of pesto and covered it on a low simmer for 10 minutes.
Served with mashed potatoes and crusty bread, this is cold night cooking at its best.