Friday, May 29, 2020 top four tips for faultless celebrations and entertaining...

I have a few go-tos when it comes to entertaining and celebrations.
Alas I am currently deprived of opportunities for pretty table settings, as home renovations continue here, but I do love the cooking.
When I was younger, I relished scouring my cookbooks to try something new.
These days, anything 'new' is usually out of my own imagination!
A case in point is this Prawn and Chorizo tray bake I came up with a while back during the early days of Covid-19 isolation.
How much easier can it get? Frozen prawns gently poached in salted water. Don't boil them. Just bring to a simmer in salted water, then switch off and put the lid on. Let them steam until pink and curled. Spread them on a tray with mouthwatering slivers of chorizo, and whatever veges you have on hand. Roast  in a moderate oven till it smells lush (the prawns are already cooked, remember). Serve with greens, or over pasta, or rice.
My favourite cake recipe is here. It's an absolute winner, and so versatile. You can omit the cocoa and add other flavours too. These are mini cupcakes with a secret filling of tinned caramel, dusted with icing sugar, and sprinkled with edible rose petals. Utterly delish, and presentation +++.

The simplest things can look fancy with a strawberry on top. This is a home made custard pot, upended into a ramekin, doused in maple syrup, and decorated prettily. House version of Crème Caramel anyone?
You can make custard with cornflour.
Here's the recipe in four sentences:
Whisk two heaped tablespoons of sugar into 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) of milk, and heat on the stove or in the microwave till steaming. Mix 4 tablespoons of cornflour to a paste with a little cold milk, and add to the hot milk, whisking to combine. Heat, stirring often, till thickened. Add vanilla extract and a little yellow food colouring.
You can vary the consistency by increasing or decreasing the amount of cornflour you use. After a few batches, you'll get to know what consistency you prefer. We like them firm like little puddings.
Fruit and/or Nut clusters....gotta be happy when melting some chocolate or chocolate buttons, mixing in some dried fruit and nuts (or M&Ms or chopped jelly beans or freeze dried berries), and dropping spoonsful onto a sheet of baking paper to set, results in oohs and aahs. Decorate with cake decorating pretties if desired. Perfect as a gift or treat with coffee. And they look so appealing!
If you've got vegetables, a saucepan, and a stick mixer, you've got soup. You don't need a recipe. This one was made from the odds and ends in the refrigerator and the tops of the celery stalks, leaves and all. Just simmer everything together with some stock cubes and onion. Remove some of the liquid before blitzing with the stick mixer. You can always add it back in, but the aim is to have a nice thick soup, not a watery one. Add seasoning to taste, and swirl a bit of cream through when you serve it. Can't go wrong.

Pies are always a hit of course. Pastry was my nemesis for a long, long time. Especially once we decided to be gluten-free in support of our daughter. Then I discovered Lard and a pastry blender.
Whilst Lard is not something we'd eat every day, it makes the lightest, crispest pastry EVER. And anyway, 120gms (4 ozs) of Lard spread over 6 pies, is no worse than some of the stuff people buy and eat every day....hello McDonalds?

And this thing....this Pastry Blender, is sort of used like a potato masher to mix the shortening with the flour. The bit where you have to rub it in with your fingertips always annoyed me. Not good with repetitive tasks here. I made pastry in literally 90 seconds with it yesterday!
Here's Nannas pastry recipe in four sentences...with or without Pastry Blender!
My top tips for successful entertaining or special occasion meals.
1. Stick with what you know, served beautifully.
2. You can't go wrong with:
* a soup
* a tray bake or pies served with fresh seasonal vegetables or salad
* a favourite cake or custard based dessert.
3. Chocolate is always a winner with coffee and tea after a good meal.
4. You don't need lots of fancy equipment to make sensational food.
What are your entertaining or celebration meal go-tos?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Motherly Advice...are you prepared for the unexpected?

I think we've all learned recently, is that we are not always prepared for unexpected events in life. I am all kinds of 'prepared' in general day to day terms, but who could have prepared us for Covid-19?
A friend of mine was hospitalised recently. NOT with Covid-19 thankfully.
She's home now, but you wouldn't believe what a pressure this unexpected confinement introduced into their lives. Apart from the very obvious worry for her and her family, it transpired that she had no sleepwear suitable for public viewing being a trackpants and tshirts for pyjamas kind of girl, and no toiletries that were not currently in use by the family.
Her husband was entrusted with the task of remedying the situation, and whilst you might imagine that husbands would be good at buying their wives sleepwear, judging by how that's marketed for Mothers Day, under duress, it's not that easy. And certainly not with current restrictions on shopping with many retailers being closed!
What size, what sort of fabric, what colour, would she wear pants and tops or nightgowns, what size slippers...these were all the kinds of decisions he had to make, without the relevant information at hand.
He also had to buy toiletries of all kinds, likewise without knowing what he was doing many husbands really know our preferred toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, deodorant and so on. And of course, when you're unwell, the familiar becomes so important.
He managed, but his wallet was several hundred dollars lighter for the experience, which did not help anyones state of mind at the time.
This got me thinking that first of all, my husband would not have a clue if this were to happen to us. I have very particular taste in sleepwear, toiletries and general items of comfort, and the poor man would not know where to begin.
And secondly, with a very difficult Mothers Day coming up, given isolation and social distancing measures, could I use this idea to generate some gifts for the Mums in my life?
That list might include a handtowel in a favourite colour, with a pretty soap and body wash , like these...
Some pretty nightgowns would be absolutely essential, and I have a collection of patterns, both my own vintage ones and ones I've found on eBay or in thrift stores. Sleepwear styles do not change much from one decade to the next, and these styles remain comfortable and attractive even given their 30+ age...

Even a style like this one below, is surprisingly easy to construct, and when you're ill, it can be empowering to have a pretty nightgown...
Pharmacies always have little miniatures of toiletries available, and even samples can be a handy thing, and are given away routinely upon request in some pharmacies and department stores.
Imagine a gift that included a pretty nightgown (or two), some face washers or a handtowel, and a favourite soap, a dry shampoo and hair care items, toothbrush and toothpaste, lip balm, hand cream, light makeup items, and all presented in a drawstring bag in a sweet print.
Pretty, useful, and welcome for anyone of any age.
I ended up assembling a kit each for my two sisters for Mothers Day. Now daughter has requested one...hopefully not in case of hospitalisation! Then I'll try to assemble one for myself.
What would you add to your emergency self-care kit?

Friday, May 22, 2020

Insourcing...a good week and my 6 kitchen essentials (they're not what you think)...

Social media has a lot to answer for in exhorting us to buy stuff sometimes.
There are groups with thousands, I mean tens of thousands of people on social media, sharing recipes for new ways to use their pie-maker, jaffle-maker, sandwich press, breadmaker, rice cooker, coffee bean grinder, Kitchen Aid, coffee machine, slow cooker, electric frypan, air fryer, benchtop grill or oven, egg boiler, pasta machine, and so on.
Me? I look at that list and think 'sooooo many appliances', and 'soooo much clutter', as well as 'sooo much storage space need'.
I nearly succumbed when an online friend shared pics of her delish looking cakes, frittatas and other assorted goodies, all cooked in her piemaker. Nearly.
But I realistically looked at the way I cook and what we eat, and decided against it.

Instead, here is what I cooked this week and last week, with nary a KMart appliance in sight.
1. First of all, this simple enamelware oblong pie dish is perfect for any baked meal or dessert. It's the right size for our family of three, and accommodates a small roast, a baked custard, a frittata or quiche, a meat or fruit pie, a meatloaf, a lasagne, baked rice pudding, bread and butter pudding, apple sponge, apple roly poly, fruit crumbles or clafoutis, and a dozen other dishes with ease. It cleans up like a dream, and takes up almost no space in my cupboard.
2. My Dutch Oven, purchased at Aldi for about a fifth of the price of a 'name' brand, easily fits four lamb shanks, a large roast, a huge gluten free brioche or cobb loaf, a mammoth casserole, a family sized potato bake, an enormous chicken, a small turkey, a ham hock or two for soup, and doubles as my slow cooker. I seared these lamb shanks at 6:30am, and threw in a quartered onion, some bay leaves, and some baby potatoes, and that's been happily simmering away in my oven on 100C (about 220F), for dinner tonight.

The same Dutch Oven cooked my end-of-week green soup for lunches earlier in the week....
No slow cooker required.

3. My Texas sized muffin pans are used for muffins, cakes, frittatas, quiches, meatballs, mini lasagnas, mini meatloaves, meringues, individual pies, baked bacon and egg, and stuffed tomatoes or potatoes. Cupcake liners keep them pristine, and make transfer from pan to fridge (or pan to mouth!), easy-peasy. Really don't need a pie maker, however much I may wish for one.

4. For big mixing tasks, I have a Sunbeam Mixmaster. No Kitchen Aid here. This works for everything I cook. It lives on my bench with it's two bowls. The beater and whisk attachments live in a drawer.
5. Individual plastic containers, allow me to portion control many things, from homemade custard and yoghurt, to snacks and desserts for work, saving money in a dozen ways.

6. Ziplock bags give me great storage options for my prepped vegetables and fruit, and anything that requires portioning and freezing. A sheet or two of paper towel inserted into them, helps absorb moisture and keeps leafy veg and soft fruit, fresher for longer. These store flat for use in my kitchen drawer. No cumbersome 'specialty' containers necessary. I'd struggle to fit a cabbage, a kilo of broccoli, a bunch of celery, a kilo of beans, and six zucchini in my refrigerator crisper. But not if I cut them up, pop them into a ziplock bag in ready-to-use portions, and put them to bed sleeping upright in the crisper drawer as seen above. Another tip here, is to always use the leafy or 'soft' veg and fruit early in the week...such as spinach, zucchini, beans, and Asian veg, and the 'hard' stuff in the latter half of the week, such as broccoli, pumpkin, celery, snow peas, beets, and carrots. Planning meals accordingly, really helps.

This week, I used all of those items, to fill my refrigerator with meals and snacks for the week ahead. I love pre-preparing this way. It saves us time, money, energy and storage space.

Everyone is different though.

What are your top kitchen essentials?


Monday, May 18, 2020

Looking after yourself in challenging times...

I made Sarah Brittons Life Changing Bread again recently.
This photo is my version. Sarah's photo and fab recipe are here....
I love it. It's gluten free, super healthy and I adore it with Macadamia Paste, which is like Peanut Butter only a zillion times better.
Strangely, this bread really does change my life every time I make it.
I love it and it's earthy flavours and texture so much, that I always feel motivated to extend the healthy living to other areas of my life.
It's heading towards Winter here, so some lifestyle compromises are necessary to avoid a scary situation after several months of hiding beneath Winter woollies.
Skin needs regular de-flaking due to the hazards of in home heating, and out of home winds, facial products need a review, and mind, body and soul are in need of maintenance due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Time for self-maintenance for a minute.
I started a week ago, first signing up for the free 7 day trial of My Fitness Pal. I'm finding it a great tool, and have happily paid for a 12 month premium subscription.
The first feature and the one I find most motivating, is the one where, once your daily food and exercise diary entry is completed, you get a prediction of what you would weigh in one month if 'every day was like today'. So a bad day yields either zero progress or a weight gain (heaven forbid!), and a good day, gives a realistic prediction for your weight loss. This really keeps me on track.
The second and a real eye-opener, was that it told me I wasn't eating enough. Yes, true. I was eating less, forcing my metabolism to slow down. Eating more (of the right things), has helped me shift some of this stubborn mid-life weight!
The third, and a really useful time saver, is that you can copy and paste the URL of any recipe on the web, into the app, and it automatically logs the meal, including kilojoules and nutritional value, into your diary.
No, My Fitness Pal are not paying me. I've just used a few of these apps, and this is the one I've personally found most useful.
So, with healthy habits and a long life expectancy as my ongoing goal,  here is my morning, 6 days a week. I give myself Sundays off:
Get up when the alarm goes off at 6am. Do not grumble..much. Have a quick shower, and dress as I normally do, in a pretty dress and cardigan. I don't see the point of 'active wear'. It depresses me. I don't sweat when I walk, so why dress in something as unflattering as active wear? Nearly give up the whole idea because I hate exercising before breakfast. Resolve to keep going now that I'm up. Drink a large glass of water. Eye off the teapot lasciviously. Eat my customary single slice of Life Changing Bread with Macadamia spread. Squint at the sun as I exit the front door. Walk briskly, swinging my arms. Stop that after ten minutes because it makes my dodgy shoulder hurt. Continue walking at a leisurely pace for 50 minutes, always surprised when I reach the front gate, because I've been off in La-La land the whole time, planning a trip to Iceland in my head. Check my phone for step counts. Note that I've only done 4,756. Walk up the hill near home and back to generate my current step goal of 5,000.
Now the bit I really like.
Once  a week, usually on the weekend, I indulge myself a little further in a DIY Korean bathing experience. This results in the silkiest, smoothest skin ever.
Get started by putting the plug in the bathtub, but don't turn the shower on, or get wet just yet.
Stand in the tub and scrub all over with DIY glycerine and raw sugar scrub, scented with Sandalwood. Glycerine and sugar make the best ever spa style body scrub. It actually sticks to you, instead of just falling off like the oil-sugar combination.You can find Glycerine in little bottles in the Medicinal aisle of your supermarket and it's under $5. I scent mine with different essential oils depending on how I feel. West Indian Lime and Sandalwood are favourites as is Jasmine Absolute or Frangipani Absolute. The 'abolutes' are a little more expensive, but totally worth it and still less expensive than a trip to a Day Spa.
To make sugar scrub, just put a few tablespoons of raw sugar in a jar or bowl, and add enough Glycerine to make it moist enough to clump together like soil. 
Turn on the shower now, and allow the tub to start filling (assuming you have one, if not, ignore this bit). Wash hair with moisturising shampoo. Condition hair with moisturising conditioner. Next shopping trip, I'm trying that Clairol Herbal Essences Coconut one just because I love the scent of it. Sit in the tub with the conditioner in hair. The tub should have a couple of inches worth of water in it by now, so soak feet and toes, and use the last of the body scrub to give self a mini pedicure. Rub the very last crumbs of the scrub into hands and nails, pushing cuticles back as you go. Cuticles will be really soft and easy to groom, due to all the lovely oil and warm water.
Cleanse your face with home made Goats Milk soap for more sublime moisturising, or use your favourite cleanser. At this point, on alternate weekends, slather face in a treatment mask, whether it be a bought one, or a pantry one of Oatmeal and yoghurt, or White Clay and Vanilla Soy Milk, and just soak for a little while. Stand up in the tub again, and use a Korean Scrubbing mitt, to exfoliate a second time. Don't be tame. Really give the skin a good going over. By this time, the mask has worked it's magic, so rinse that off, and rinse the conditioner from nicely scented hair.
Get out of shower/tub, towel off, slather yourself in moisturiser, and get dressed. Smooth hair with smoothing balm, and allow it to dry naturally.
Brush teeth to the count of 120 with Colgate Optic White toothpaste. This is one of the few commercial products I've bought that really lives up to it's reputation. Awesome stuff. Yes, I could add Hydrogen Peroxide to Baking Soda and brush with that, but come on. The penny pinching has to stop somewhere.
Enjoy a breakfast as recommended by My Fitness Pal, of another slice of Life Changing Bread, a boiled egg, a piece of fruit, 5 almonds, and a tea or coffee.
Do it all again next week.
You can buy the Korean Scrubbing Mitts inexpensively on eBay, or you can buy Korean Scrubby yarn and knit or crochet one yourself. As a bonus, you can also use this to knit pot Truth!
A truly invigorating experience, guaranteed to leave you bright eyed and bushy-tailed.