Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Meaningful gifting...

If we've learned nothing else from 2020, surely we can say we've learned to NOT rely on mass produced, overpriced, imported gifts. Surely that. I've said for many long years, that developing skills that we can gift, or skills that allow us to create gifts, are not to be scorned. Even if you doubted this prior to this long, strange year, perhaps it now makes sense.

This Christmas, we'll be gifting Snowman Cupcakes as seen above. These truly could not be more simple. Any flavour cupcake, vanilla frosting, white and dark chocolate choc chips.

Grab yourself a palette knife (around $15AUD) from an art supply store and cultivate a skill for the new craze in cake decorating. So easy, a child could do it. Literally. This one was my first attempt!

Have sewing machine, will sew. Gingham hearts. Fill them with lavender, cinnamon sticks, or rice instead of polyfibre fill to make them more pleasing to the senses. Use them as decorations, or get out the sidewalk chalk and draw up a board for hopscotch or tic-tac-toe-toss, and use them as markers to teach your kids or grandkids those good old fashioned games.
I shared how to paint this Scandinavian inspired artwork here. Go on. Try it. Everyone has an artist inside begging to be let out...

Cinnamon sugar...just superfine sugar (we call it Caster Sugar here) and as much Cinnamon as you want. Mix it, decant it, gift it. Yum on toast, cakes, and pancakes.

Pick up an ugly statuette or figurine at your local op-shop (thrift store), and paint it a vibrant colour. Add tassels for a true Art Deco effect. Gift with pride to your stylish friends.

Get crafty with teeny tiny fabric scraps and tassel tops added to earring hook, to make these stunning earrings.

Coconut Ice does not have to be pink. Nor does Turkish Delight. Tint your home made confectionery fabulous colours, wrap in swathes of ribbon, add candy rosettes, and make a statement!

More gifts....doll panel dolls, home made cards with lavish georgette and tulle side bows, dollar store water bottles embellished with personalised labels and filled with candy balls, home made brownie wrapped in festive foil, hand blended essential oils in mini sprays, and home made lush lotion bars.

These are all ideas I've sourced or adapted from similar ones on Pinterest. If I can do it, so can you.

There's still time!

Happy Festive Planning!


Monday, November 2, 2020

The time has come....

Sit back and let me tell you a story.... Once upon a time, there was a lady who wanted to help people. She got a job helping people. It was hard work, because she couldn't possibly help everyone who needed to be helped. The lady had sleepless nights, worrying about all the people who she couldn't help, or even ones she thought she hadn't helped enough. Then one day, she read a quote. It said 'Not every burden is yours to carry'. It was like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. All of those burdens, those worries about people she didn't know...not really, fell away. Suddenly, she realised that her greatest burden, was the one of sacrificing too much of self. One cannot give from an empty vessel. She knew that. She took stock. She thought long and hard. She realised that she had done enough helping. She was desirous of a return to home and hearth. She welcomed it. As did her loved ones. And she lived on in the hearts of those she had helped. At least for a while. She slept. She dreamed. She found new ways to nurture and care for those who needed it most. She rose from the ashes of her fatigue and marched on... Stay tuned.....

Friday, July 3, 2020

Motherly Advice...a tumultuous world...

We are living in the strangest of times, aren't we? I've certainly never seen the likes of it and I happily entered my seventh decade earlier this year. Things are topsy-turvy in ways not seen before in my lifetime.

Husband and I have had some very serious discussions over the last two nights.

You see, three nights ago, our Prime Minister announced an increase in Defence spending. In making this announcement, he indicated that 'the world is now a much more dangerous place', and that we may, at some point in the future, be called upon to defend our borders. An alarming thought, right?

Now, my Maternal Grandparents were European, and lived through two World Wars, and the Great Depression. They immigrated here post-War with my Mother who was just 7 years old at the time. Mum spoke of this often, talking about the challenges they faced, and used her skills to raise seven children alone. Certainly I absorbed many of my homemaking skills from Mum and Nanna, as they just 'knew' this stuff. They hadn't chosen to take sewing, or embroidery or knitting or baking or mending up as a hobby. These were necessary day to day life skills.

I have shared through my blog here for many years, that I try to learn a new skill each year. Over the last decade, I have taught myself preserving, sewing, embroidery (which can also be used for mending and patching), soap making, dehydrating foods, using unusual ingredients such as dried legumes or plants indigenous to our area, or areas near us, making our own pasta, growing food, learning about easy to grow vegetables, and saving seeds, and foraging, including using what we see as 'weeds', like dandelion and nettle.

Husband is an able carpenter and builder, and is adept at solving all kinds of fix-it handyman type problems.

Mostly, then, we are okay in that department.

Our discussions mostly revolved around what we would do if we ever had to evacuate our home for an extended period. We live quite close to a military base, which you'd think should be a source of comfort, but it's really not. Maybe that's not the safest place to be? We talked this through pragmatically and calmly, and we now have The Plan. IF things really did go horribly pear-shaped in our part of the world, we know what we would do. We also know what skills we need to refine and hone, and what new skills we need to add to our toolbox. We will discuss this with family, so that they know ahead of time, what The Plan is, and how they need to enact it. We may even ask them to add some new skills to their own toolboxes.

How would you live in a world where suddenly you could only eat what you could catch or grow yourself? Where essentials were scarce or non-existent? Where you had to be self-reliant for medical care of all kinds? Where the only tools at your disposal were the type that don't need electricity or fuels of other kinds to power them? We're not just talking about camping skills. We're talking survival skills.

This thinking may seem over-the-top, but we decided we'd rather have The Plan, and the skills to act upon it, than not. It does no harm to know these things, and gives us the peace of mind and security, to know we could keep ourselves and our loved ones safe for an extended period, should the need arise.

What do you think? Could you go into Survival Mode and cope for a long time? Months? Years?

It's an interesting thought in the abstract, isn't it?

Don't wait until it's no longer an abstract thought, to act.

That's my advice....


Thursday, July 2, 2020

Meals from nothing #5...Week long salads

Salads figure largely in our household menu pretty much year round. A bit of crunch adds greatly to our enjoyment of most meals here. We grew tired of slimy greens some years ago, and came up with this solution instead. I have to give some credit to an online friend, Claire, who gave me the basic idea. Thanks Claire! Still going strong a decade later!
Here's how to NOT have a crisper full of slimy greens and still eat well all week.
Week Long Salad

Basic Mixture Salad No. 1 :

 1 whole cabbage (any type), shredded ...a mandolin slicer is brilliant for this.
 6 peeled and grated carrots.

Store in an airtight container. Remove enough each night for that meal only, and add additional ingredients.
DO NOT add the extra ingredients to the salad base in the storage container.

Day 1: Remove a portion and add halved cherry tomatoes and dress with balsamic vinegar.

Day 2: Remove a portion and add one tin rinsed beans such as cannellini or four bean mix. Fry 2 rashers of diced bacon, and chop some herbs. Toss well with a dressing of one third each balsamic, olive oil and wholegrain mustard.

Day 3: Add grated cheese and finely sliced shallots. No dressing.

Day 4: Add zest and flesh of two oranges. No dressing.

Day 5: Add 1 cup cooked macaroni, Italian herbs and Italian dressing.

Day 6: Toss with cooked 2 minute noodles and dress with sesame oil and Sushi vinegar.
Day 7: Throw the rest into a soup or stir-fry to finish off the week.

 Salad no. 2...

Purchase 2 different 'trendy' which I mean not iceberg. So Romaine, Butter, Frilled, Radicchio, and so on.

Cut off the bottoms to separate the leaves. Wash well.

Stack the leaves on top of one another and slice into three sections lengthwise, then into halves or thirds crosswise.

This is important....invest in a salad spinner.

Put leaves into the salad spinner and spin thoroughly. You'll be amazed at how much moisture is collected and it's moisture that makes the lettuce yucky after a couple of days.

Tip into a large salad bowl.

Put a clean paper towel over the lettuce and cover with cling wrap.

Change the paper towel every couple of days to keep it dry.

Voila...perfect salad greens for the whole week....add ingredients as listed above or add your own variations!

No more dead salads in your crisper!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Meals from nothing #4...Beans and Pulses...Dahl with rice and yogurt

When making a meal from nothing, it really helps to have some pantry staples on hand. I'd never be without the following:

Pulses including dried lentils, split peas and a variety of beans
Fresh herbs in the garden
Citrus trees

Both citrus and herbs, also grow beautifully in pots in a sunny spot on a balcony, so 'most' of us, can manage a few things.

With just these ingredients and some judicious preparation and planning, I think I could feed my family for weeks.

Some menu items might be refried beans, vegetarian chilli, hommus, soups, lentil lasagne or bolognaise, vegetarian tacos, moussaka with beans or lentils instead of the mince, vegetarian pies or sausage rolls, lentil burgers, red bean kievs, falafel and one of our favourites, the Dahl I prepared for lunch today.

There was some steamed rice in the fridge but not much else this morning, as it's my prepping day for the week.

A rummage in the cupboard yielded some red lentils. A quick go around in the microwave with some vege stock and other simple ingredients, and I had yummy red lentil dhal with steamed rice ready in a flash. An old and truly mouth watering favourite.

A visit to the herb garden gives me some coriander (cilantro) for garnish, and the Easiyo container holds the greek yoghurt with which to top it. If you wanted to make this vegan, you'd just replace the yoghurt with a coconut or soy yoghurt, or an earthy hommus.

Absolutely delicious, and $17.95 for the same thing, at a trendy local cafe.
Microwave Dahl

1 cup red lentils
1 tin diced tomatoes
1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon each cumin, ground coriander and ground or minced ginger
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
Bottled or fresh lime juice
Fresh coriander
Natural yoghurt, about 2 tablespoons per person
Steamed rice (Jasmine rice is particularly lovely for this dish)
Chappatis, Roti, Tortillas (home made are nice) or Lebanese bread, warmed in the microwave or in foil in the oven.

Steam the rice, using my no fail cooking method.

Put the lentils, tomatoes, herbs, chilli, and stock into a large microwave safe dish. Microwave in 5 minutes bursts on 'high', stirring after each burst, until smooth and tender. This takes about 15 minutes in my microwave.

Stir in about a tablespoon of the lime juice.

Meanwhile, chop some of the coriander, and stir it through the yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper if you wish.

Put steamed rice into individual bowls.
Top with a large scoop of dahl, a spoonful of the yoghurt, and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.
Centre on a dinner plate with the warmed bread to one side.
Serve immediately.

This is aromatic, tangy, spicy and fresh all at the same time, and tempting for any carnivore, due to it's satisfaction rating with all those flavoursome herbs and spices.
Try it and let me know whether it's worthy of being the new favourite at your house!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Meals from nothing #3...delicious toppings, treats and garnishes....

A plain meal is always 'less plain' when it's served beautifully, smells aromatic, and teases the tastebuds with something piquant or different.
I've served many a penny pinching meal to family and guests alike using this strategy.
Some of my favourites are toasted sesame seeds, maple syrup walnuts, onion confit, and a good relish.
I use the sesame seeds and maple syrup walnuts in salads, stir fries, and on roasted or steamed vegetables.
The to start...with scrambled eggs or omelettes, with savoury crepes, on rolls, on sandwiches, in burger patties, in sausage rolls and savoury pies, on a cheese platter or antipasto platter, with roast meat, with sausages and steaks, with chicken, with pulled get the idea.
Tomato relish and Corn relish are the weapons of choice when it comes to elevating a good old fashioned ham sandwich, but they're also trotted out for embellishing the Celebratory ham leg, mixed with sour cream or natural yoghurt to make a dip, with Indian style curries, and on a Ploughmans platter.
Here are the recipes:
Onion Confit

 You need 4 decent sized washed and sterilized jars for this amount.

1 kg onions (different onions give a different result. Try red, eschallots, pickling onions or brown ones)
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup sugar
 1 cup vinegar (different vinegars will also give a slightly different result in colour and flavour, so try balsamic, white, apple cider, sherry or even red or white wine or sparkling wine)
3 tablespoons honey, maple syrup, treacle, or golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Peel and slice the onions thinly.

Heat a large frypan over a medium heat and slow cook the onion until it's limp, about 5 minutes.

Add the other ingredients and mix well.

Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, stirring regularly to prevent sticking for one hour.

Cover the pan and continue to cook over a very low heat for a minimum of 45 minutes but up to several hours depending upon the depth of flavour and the consistency you're after, stirring regularly. I have simmered mine virtually all day on a very very low heat, and after 10-12 hours, they are divine.

The confit is ready when there is no liquid, and the onion has been reduced to a chunky paste.

Spoon into sterilised jars and refrigerate. Keeps for several months.
Corn Relish
This makes 2 large jars worth.
1 tin corn kernels, drained
1 red capsicum, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
3/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon each turmeric and ground ginger
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons cornflour
Add the corn, capsicum, onion, vinegar, sugar and spices to a small saucepan. Make sure there is enough liquid to cover your vegetables as this will be the sauce that binds your relish. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes to soften the vegetables. Mix the water and cornflour and add to the relish mixture, and stir till thickened. Check the consistency and add more water or more cornflour slurry to thin or thicken to your liking.
Spoon into sterilised jars and refrigerate. Keeps for several months.
Tomato Relish
Makes 8 large jars worth
2 large onions, chopped
2½ kg (about 6lbs) ripe tomatoes, diced (you can also use an equivalent amount of tinned or home canned tomatoes)
1/2 cup sultanas
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
2 tablespoons grated ginger
3 teaspoons ground allspice
3 teaspoons Garam Masala
3 teaspoons salt
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups Sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (extra)

 Place diced tomatoes and onions in a large saucepan.  Add all other ingredients, except for cornflour and extra vinegar. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Boil, stirring occasionally, for 1-1½ hours or until starting to thicken.

 Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until very thick. Stir often to stop mixture sticking to base of pan.
Combine cornflour with extra apple cider vinegar. Add to tomato mixture and simmer, stirring for 2 minutes .Turn off heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then spoon into clean warm jars and seal. Turn the jars upside down for 2 minutes, then invert and leave to cool. When you turn them right way up, the little vacuum button should automatically pop 'in' giving a vacuum seal.
Refrigerate and use within 6 months.
Maple Syrup Walnuts
Put any quantity of shelled walnut halves into a shallow pan. Pour over a few glugs of Maple Syrup. Place over a medium heat, and stir constantly until the syrup has coated the walnuts and there is no liquid visible. Keep in an airtight jar. This makes a brilliant gift too.
Toasted Sesame Seeds
Pour a quantity of Sesame Seeds into a shallow pan, and set over a low heat. Stir constantly until they are golden and toasted. This takes no more than a minute. Store in an airtight container.
What do you think? Is this a strategy that appeals to you? What are your favourite ways of dressing up the ordinary meals in your families week?

Monday, June 8, 2020

Meals from Nothing...Hints and Tips #2...meals from tomatoes that aren't pasta...

We're having Tomatoes Provencale for dinner tonight.

So healthy, inexpensive and YUMMY!
I think our first instinct when we have a glut of tomatoes, or they're super inexpensive at the supermarket, is to make Passata (Italian tomato sauce), or a relish.
Whilst I love a good relish as much as anyone, and Passata remains a firm staple here, I do sometimes think it's a waste of an opportunity to enjoy tomatoes as something more robust.
Tomatoes Provencale is a fancy name for Stuffed Tomatoes, and hollowing out, and refilling any suitable vege, is a great way to turn a glut into gourmet.
Potatoes, Eggplant (Aubergine), Zucchini (Courgette), Sweet Potato (Kumera), and even whole cabbages, lend themselves really well to being hollowed out, the innards mixed with other delicious things, refi

For a generous serve for each person you need:

- 1 tomato, cut in half and hollowed out..larger for hungrier folk, smaller for the littlies. Retain the pulp, chopping it up for the filling.
-  1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half to expose the juicy inner edges.
-  1 slice of bread, rubbed lightly with the cut garlic clove, then cubed.
 - A jig of olive oil.
- Something to liven it up if you wish, such as sliced olives, pulses like lentils or chick peas, quinoa, risotto, small pasta, diced bacon, or chopped hard boiled egg.
-  Preheat your oven to 200C (375F).
 - Line a tray with baking paper.
 - Place the halved tomatoes on your tray. Season with a tiny bit of salt and pepper, and rub the insides with the used garlic clove halves. This imparts the lightest of garlic flavours, without it overpowering everything.
 - Mix the bread cubes, chopped tomato pulp, olive oil, and any other ingredients you would like to add.
- Pile into the tomato halves.
-  Bake until the crumbs are crisp and golden.

We love these served with noodles or gnocchi, tossed with herbs and a little extra virgin olive oil, and a piece of proscuitto or bacon, crisped in the oven with the tomatoes, and crumbled over the noodles.

But you could equally serve them as is, with a light salad garnish and not much else, for a lunch.

Another great way to use up tomatoes, is to roast them, (slice them lengthwise or halve them for larger tomatoes) sprinkling them first with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and a generous grind of good salt and pepper.

This caramelises them, making them mouthwateringly sweet and salty, and they are divine folded through cooked spiral pasta, topping a risotto, garnishing cream cheese on toast or crackers, in omelettes or scrambled eggs or tofu, for delectable bruschetta, as a topping or flavour boost for pizza, meatloaf or terrine, or added to fritters or a frittata.

More ideas to come...but meanwhile, what's your favourite vegetable based meal when you have an abundance?


Friday, June 5, 2020

Insourcing....Winter is here!

Some people hate Winter. Not me!
Winter means gorgeous sunsets and stormy skies with rainbows.
Winter means the slow cooker comes out.
 It means I can bake to my hearts content and it warms the house.
It means brisk walks in scarves and gloves, and dressing up, and wearing boots.
It means quilts on the armchairs, and the fire blazing...yes even in the Sub-Tropics we have a few weeks of chilly weather and winds whipping our hair...truth!
This week I made sausage rolls, warming the house while I was at it. Always a hit. Sesame seeds are my version of 'gourmet'.

I scoured Pinterest to find the table I want Husband to build for the dining room now that the poor man is finished hanging real crystals on chandeliers. Got to keep the man busy, right?
I'm rather favouring this look, but longer. We currently have 16 family members, so that's one heckuva table for celebrations. Note, this is not our table (yet!). It's one I found on aforementioned Pinterest.

  I have 28 chairs picked up here and there for a song. Some I only paid $5 for. I'll unify them by painting them black as seen below, and I'll cover their inset cushions in Coffee Sacks...likewise collected here and there for a song...or for free sometimes!
Then my French Empire Chandeliers and sconces will go up in their permanent positions, and wheeeeeee….!!!
 My green soup is an absolute winner for lunches here. It's literally just the end of the celery that has all the leaves on it, a couple of diced potatoes, onions and whatever other limp greens are left in the crisper. A few cups of stock, some spices, whizz it all once cooked. This feeds me for lunch for the entire week AND gives me a good dose of my 5 veg.
Have you seen the price of soup???? That's got to be around $50 worth for pretty much free when you consider most folk toss the celery leaves in the bin!

Veg doesn't just go into soup here. Vege patties for burgers are a regular too. Cook 'em, mash 'em, add lentils or beans, spring onions and spices, pat 'em into egg rings and refrigerate to firm them up. Pan fry, pop on a burger bun....yum!
Vegetarian burgers from the trendy burger bar near us are $21. EACH. I made 8 burgers over the course of the week.

Burger mince isn't just for burgers by the way.
I whacked our burger mince (pork and veal) into a bowl with eggs, breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, pistachios and cranberries. I smooshed it altogether and lined a loaf dish with bacon.

I smooshed the mixture into the loaf tin on top of the bacon.

See? Then I topped that with more bacon....

I popped that into a water bath, and baked it long and slow in a moderate oven, covered with foil, for about 90 minutes.

Once cooked, I chilled it, weighted it down overnight with full cans of beans, then flipped it out and it looked like this above, uncut, and below, cut..
Yum, right?
I'm not kidding when I tell you that I saw a terrine just like this at a posh deli, for $7.50 per 100 grams. That's $75 per kilo or $35 per pound! Mine cost $16 and weighs nearly 3 kilos (6 1/2 lbs). Sounds good to me.
How was your week?
What did you Insource?

Monday, June 1, 2020

Meals from nothing...Hints and Tips # 1...

What do you do, when, like Mother Hubbard, the cupboard is bare?
First of all, can I say, that with a little forethought, and very little money, your cupboard never needs to be completely bare. At a minimum, even in my most cash strapped days, I had pasta, rice, herbs and eggs in my cupboard. Alas, Covid-19 has shown us all, that when everyone's cupboard is bare, even those things are hard to find!
Dried beans and pulses, as well as the tinned ones, tinned vegetables, tinned fruit, preserved fruits, dried fruit and vegetables, pickles, tinned fish like salmon and tuna...all the things we usually imagine will be our fallback position in tough times, also suddenly were unavailable.
Lesson learned, right?
The month of June 2020, will be all about meals from nothing. Hopefully, we can discuss how to stock our pantries well, and even pleasurably, even when things really do go pear-shaped. Because, who knows what our real 'normal' is going to look like in the future.
Please chip in with your own favourites as we go along.
Hint No. 1 - herbs and spices
I try to always have some unusual herbs and spices, and a few little 'luxury' items on hand, even in the toughest of times.
Kombucha is a new 'luxury' here, and whilst I don't brew my own (yet!), I do have an obliging friend who provides hers in exchange for fresh herbs.
The addition of exotic spices, too, can make the plainest of ingredients into something delicious.
Last night I made my quick version of Dhal Makhani...a super lush and creamy lentil and red bean soup/stew. I have a few ways of making this according to what I have around. Here's the first one.
Dhal Makhani in four sentences

Saute a pinch of fenugreek and cardamom seeds, then added a chopped onion. To that, add a tin of drained red kidney beans, and a tin of drained and rinsed lentils. Add a teaspoon of minced ginger and garlic, ground cumin and turmeric, and a half a teaspoon of chilli powder. Toss in the equivalent of about half a kilo (1 lb) of tinned tomatoes, tomato passata, tomato juice, chopped fresh tomatoes or even condensed tomato soup.

Simmer for a while, stir through a couple of spoonsful of cream, sour cream, Greek yogurt, cream cheese or coconut cream, and serve with gluten free naan bread and a glass of Kombucha.


Apologies to the purists who would have me hung, drawn and quartered for not making this dish in the authentic manner.
Hint no. 2 - work with what you have and be creative

We had a very thrown together meal another night, as the fridge was looking a bit empty. I'm trying to stretch my shopping days by one each week, so I will shop Tuesday for example, when normally I'd shop on Monday.

We had a smallish tin of red salmon which I buy at Aldi, and which is so inexpensive for the quality, it's ridiculous. We had some limp rocket (arugula), a quarter of a small pumpkin, and another tin of Aldi lentils...also so inexpensive, even if it's just for the convenience of having the tins on hand for this situation.
I mixed the salmon with two eggs, two slices of bread cubed minutely, the limp rocket (arugula), and some seasoning, and moulded them into patties.
I cubed the pumpkin and roasted it, then mixed it with the drained and rinsed lentils, and a smidge of juice from a Lemon and Cayenne Pepper juice I bought at Woolworths (single serve) and which was so tangy I couldn't finish it as a drink! It worked magnifico as a salad dressing though.

I found a few stray pistachios hiding up the back of the pantry, and shelled and chopped them.

Then I dusted the salmon patties in potato flour, which gives everything the most fantastic crisp coating ever, and pan fried them.

Well, the meal got the biggest thumbs up from the troops and once again shows what you can do with what appears to be very little, by maintaining your stockpile of tinned pantry staples and a few unusual flavours.
Hint no. 3 - think laterally
Thinking laterally can really help sometimes.
Many cuisines are born out of sheer necessity and availability of produce (or lack thereof), so don't be afraid to substitute.
Cream in savoury dishes, you can substitute with milk, cream cheese, coconut or other nut milk, yoghurt, powdered milk, evaporated milk (NOT condensed milk), potato flakes, cornflour or arrowroot mixed with a little water, butter or margarine, or even mashed potato to add richness.
Now that we eat gluten free, we realise that lots of bread and pasta products can be replaced with gluten free crepes, dumplings, pancakes (hotcakes) and scones (biscuits), puffed tofu (Inari), Asian rice noodles, and even very thin omelettes if it's to be used as a wrap for other things.
Vegetables can often be substituted and interchanged at will, and can also replace bread and pasta in many dishes. We have toasted slices of Sweet Potato (Kumera) to have spread with avocado for breakfast for example. And Moussaka is much like Lasagne, but with Eggplant (aubergine) used instead of pasta between the layers. I've also made lasagne using crepes, zucchini ribbons, thinly sliced pumpkin (butternut squash), and thinly sliced potato. Not to mention, spaghetti or other pasta instead of the lasagne sheets. A layer is a layer is a layer, right?
I'll continue to share more ideas this month, but please, tell me your favourites too.

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?