What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: September, 2012

Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

I was absurdly pleased this weekend to be the recipient of a small but perfectly formed pumpkin.  I did ask the giver why she was donating this pumpkin to me and she replied that it was because she had two.  That seemed perfectly reasonable to me.  

I could, and have, baked bits of it.  I can’t blog about that, a child could bake pumpkin, not that they would because then they’d have to eat it.  What I’m going to do tonight is make it into a sauce to go on top of the fresh pasta I’ve just bought from Peppe’s. Here’s a picture of the ingredients.



I’ve made this one before, this is how it goes.

Chop the pancetta (I’ve got 100g, and you could use bacon if you don’t live in an Italian neighbourhood). Start frying it in a medium saucepan while you chop the celery and onion.  It doesn’t matter what kind of onion, I’m using French shallots because they’re quite mild and sweet.  I have used green onions and been scolded thoroughly by my sister who says they’re an Asian onion and you can’t go mixing cuisines like that.  She may have neglected to notice that we live in Australia and that’s exactly what we do, so don’t listen to her.

Pop the celery and onion in with the pancetta.  If you think it’s a bit dry, slug in some olive oil.  I also put in garlic at this point.  A local nonna told me that Italians don’t put chopped garlic in, they slice a clove in half and put it in, then remove it before serving, so give that a go.  When it’s all starting to smell rather tasty, throw in quite a lot of chopped pumpkin and a cup of chicken stock.  Yes, I do make my own, why, does that annoy you?  Have you seen the price of decent chicken stock?  Making your own takes very little time and is practically free, and I’ll be going into that another day.

Place a lid on the saucepan and go help your children with their homework and get the washing in.  Also, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil, so that when you want to cook your pasta you don’t have to wait.  I don’t bother with salt or oil.  After about half an hour you should be able to poke a knife through your pumpkin pieces pretty easily.  That’s when you should start cooking the pasta.  Fresh pasta only takes a few minutes to cook, but you do need to stab at it with a fork to stop it sticking together.  Back to the sauce.  You could either squash up the sauce with a wooden spoon, which is what I do because I like it chunky.  Or zip it with the stick mixer, which is one of the few electrical gadgets I have in the kitchen.  If it’s too runny, let it boil uncovered for a few minutes longer while stirring it (unless you like scrubbing burnt pumpkin off pots).  At the very last moment, stir through a good handful of chopped parsley, it tends to lose its oomph if cooked too long.  If you’re not concerned about your schoolgirl figure, you could also stir in some sour cream, but I really don’t think it needs it.  A sprinkling of parmesan is all I put on it after serving it up.

Tonight I’m going to bribe the children to try some.  Wish me luck.

Excellent Earrings

I may have found the perfect earrings. Not in a shop of course, you can only get cheap plastic or vastly overpriced earrings in shops. I started out beading by making my own earrings, it’s very very very easy. These ones aren’t very easy, but I have been beading for some years now.

I must pay more attention to my backgrounds when I take a photo.

These are dangly, very neat looking and light. You can go nuts with the colours, because there are six in each dangle. I’ve been averaging a pair a day, and still want to make some in pink, in purple, in green, maybe a gold and cream. What I should actually be doing is some pendants I’ve been asked to make by a choir member and teacher’s end of year gifts, procrastination is my favourite way of doing things. If you want to make them yourself, have a look in the August/September edition of Beadwork magazine and look for the necklace that looks like a harlequin’s ruff. Why they did that to these terrific components, I don’t understand, they’re much better upside down as earrings.

My daughter tells me that she needs a pair of these for her teacher’s birthday. I don’t remember birthday present for teachers being part of the school arrangements, and besides, the ones she’s chosen (the red and orange ones) go perfectly with a crazy top my sister made me buy from French Connection. With a roll of the eyes and a yoink, they’re gone. Of course I can always make another pair. I’ll start on the pendants tomorrow.

Choc Chip Banana Cake

I don’t think two posts counts as a recurring theme, but I need to use up some bananas. My husband alleges that he eats bananas all the time, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it. I sometimes give one to the Muffet on her way to school when she’s been too busy in the hour since she woke up to eat breakfast. Lying on the floor singing, losing your shoes and bothering your brothers takes up a lot of time.

As it turns out, it appears that you can slap together any old combination of bananas, sugar, butter, eggs and flour and you’ll end up with some kind of cake. I pick a recipe from a school fundraiser cookbook that I have and give it a whirl. Remind me to take you on a tour of my cookbooks some time, sublime to the ridiculous just about covers it.

I never have butter at room temperature, although not for any good reason – my Nanna used to keep butter in a covered ceramic butter dish on the kitchen bench and it was always fine. Especially if you go through scads of it, like I do. However.

What you do is put your 125 grams of butter in a metal mixing dish and put it in the oven at 50 degrees while you go and hang out the washing. When you come back, add to it half a cup of caster sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla and beat with a fork until creamy. Or stick it in your Kitchen Aid if you’re a fancy pants with a giant marble clad kitchen. Beat in two eggs, one at a time. Squash in two overripe bananas and mash them in until there aren’t any bits for your fussy nine year old to complain about. Gently fold in 2 cups of plain flour and 4 teaspoons of baking powder. Or 2 cups of self raising flour if you haven’t been listening. Stir in half a cup of milk. Actually, I stirred in a quarter of a cup of sour cream and quarter of a cup of milk, and I’ll bet a half a cup of buttermilk would be pretty good too. Stir in 125 chocolate chips – nice ones, don’t even think of using supermarket ones you cheapskate.

Scrape mixture into a loaf tin lined with baking paper. Baking paper revolutionized my life, I go through metres of it. Bake for about thirty five minutes at 160 degrees, and make sure you test it with a skewer, because banana fudge is not a thing.

I’m definitely adding this one to the repertoire. It wouldn’t quite be sweet enough without the chocolate chips, it’s light and moist with a crunchy crust and I’d seriously consider adding about a third of a cup of coconut flakes next time if it wasn’t for fear of audience backlash. You may not have such an exacting customer base.


There must be the perfect strawberry muffin recipe somewhere

Strawberries are sucking me in. They’re red and shiny and cheap. I keep buying them. Yet they’re often a little disappointing, and the kids are over them anyway like the fickle butterflies that they are. It’s very sad watching a punned of strawberries grow little beards and gently disintegrate on the kitchen bench top. One solution would be to stop buying the wretched things, but my peasant genes keep shouting Fruit! Cheap! Buy it!.

There’s a plethora of lemon recipes out there, but very few for strawberries that aren’t just chop them up and place them decoratively on top of something that doesn’t actually contain strawberries. I have made a strawberry lemonade, which I may share with you one day when I’ve run out of other housewifery things to blog about. I really want to make them into muffins, and as you’ve been following me like a bloodhound, you’ll know I’ve had a stab at a recipe that was fairly unsuccessful. They were quite nice, light and tangy, but the kids object to bits in their baked goods.

This means cooking the strawberries first. Take a punnet of strawberries, chop them up, bung them in a saucepan over low heat, put the lid on and leave them. My pots are fancy non stick ones, so if you’re worried about sticking, you could whack a small amount of butter in there too. After about half an hour you should be able to mash them up with a wooden spoon. I got about a cup of cooked strawberry mush.

Next I need a muffin recipe that has a wet component in it. For their own inexplicable reasons, Americans regard the pumpkin as a fruit you should shove into all kinds of baked goods. Sounds gross to me, but it does mean there are a few pumpkin muffin recipes out there. I found a likely one, and changed it completely. Here’s what I did.

Beat together 2 eggs, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup of brown sugar because I think it tastes more interesting than white, and 1/3 cup of wheat germ because I’d like to pretend this is a healthy recipe. Also, I like wheat germ. Add the strawberry mush. If you can’t be bothered waiting for it to cool down, the stuff will start cooking, so work fast with the rest of it. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of plain flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Mix until smooth, but don’t beat it because you just don’t do that with muffins, they don’t like it.

Spoon the mixture into a greased twelve unit muffin tray. Actually, I put them in paper muffin cups, because I hate washing up muffin trays. Bake at 180 degrees for about fifteen minutes. They came out pretty well, kids were initially concerned about the brown colour, but that was from the brown sugar. They haven’t all been eaten yet, and are still pretty good after three days. I think next time I’ll put in a teaspoon of vanilla, and possibly a touch more sugar.


Ode to the Bo Peep

I’m unashamed of my relationship with sugar. I just love it. You’re not going to get me giving it up, not for a detox, not for Lent, no way. I have fond memories of finding my Nanna’s many stashes of Pascal’s Columbines behind lounge cushions and inside dressing gown pockets, so it’s one of those hereditary things you just can’t argue with. I’ve handed it on to my youngest, the Horror From Outer Space as he’s formally known, who is forever discovering where I’ve hidden the the cooking chocolate and leaving sweet wrappers in his pockets.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat a lot of it. As you may have gathered from this blog, I don’t use much processed food, and despite the enormous amount of baked goods I turn out I rarely eat any of it. For breakfast I have a bowl of chaff with plain yoghurt, lunch and dinner are also fairly simple and I bow to the combined wisdom of the health pundits in my snacks. Because I like my sugar fairly concentrated, I don’t go diluting jam with bread, I eat it from the spoon. I like to buy the pure icing sugar rather than the smooth pour mix ostensibly because I don’t want additives, but actually because the pure stuff forms lumps that are easy to consume standing in the pantry.

So it is with my preferred sweets. I don’t want to go mucking around with bits of wafer or nuts or any such fillers. I like them as close to pure sugar as possible. So I’m very wistfully consuming my last bottle of Bo Peep sweets bought from a Darrell Lea shop. We used to get them in our Christmas stockings, back when they came in glass bottles. You can’t really hoard them for very long after you’ve opened the bottle, they get stuck together after a few days and you have to get in there with the end of a spoon, which smashes up their inviting pillow shapes. On the rare occasions I buy them for myself I look for a bottle in which the reds and purples dominate, rather than the less desirable orange and the completely give them to the husband black. There’s not a great deal else I’m that fond of at Darrell Lea. I’ve never understood the appeal of soft centred chocolate, the toasted marshmallows aren’t as nice as they used to be, and liquorice is anathema. I’m not sure what we’ll do without the Bulgarian Rock as the ideal gift for my father in law, though. Perhaps I’d better get up there one last time and lay in ten year’s supply.


Wonton Wrappers

The problem with going shopping when you’re hungry is that many many things on the shelves of the supermarket look like a good idea. Not Coles, everything there looks appalling and I hate them, but that’s a whole other rant. I’m talking about Harris Farm. Wonton wrappers are amazingly cheap and come in a neat little cube, and I have a thing for the square form. So I’ve had a packet of wonton wrappers sitting in my fridge now for nearly a month and it’s time to either use them or write off that two dollars seventy.

First I tried baking them as tart cases, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them used like that in the a gourmet Traveller magazines I read at the physio. I have a pan from my Nanna’s kitchen that I think you’d use for jam tarts. Twelve depressions, smaller than muffin size, with a rounded bottom. I spray the pan with oil, line the depressions with wrappers, then spray again. After fifteen minutes in the oven they’ve all puffed up in the middle. I think if you sprinkled them with salt or brushed them with teriyaki sauce first they’d make a rather tasty snack. Still, there’s enough that are vaguely tart shaped that I can later fill them with the bacon and egg that the Horror has requested.

Next I chop up chicken, celery, leek and mushrooms and stir fry it with chopped ginger, chili paste, teriyaki sauce and a chunk of palm sugar. Then I have to pick up the boys from their various afternoon activities, and that kind of neglect does make a wonton wrapper dry out a little. I salvage enough to line the pan again with another twelve wrappers and drop spoonfuls of the chicken mixture in the middle. It’s very easy to pinch the wrappers together at the top with wet fingers and they look rather delectable. I spray them with oil, then bake them for twenty minutes. You just need to crisp them up, they’re cooked on the inside.

The next lot I’m going to line the tart tray and fill with left over BBQ chicken. I’ll bake that for fifteen minutes then top it with chopped lettuce and capsicum, because that’s what the Moose and the Muffet have requested. I’d better get cracking because I have a committee meeting to get to. I can go with my head held high, because I did manage to get that Treasurer’s report written after all.


Not procrastinating, beading

I have a Treasurer’s report to write for a committee meeting tomorrow, so I decide to spend the day beading. Come on, my Bead and Button subscription arrived yesterday and it’s actually warm enough to move around the house.

I really liked the look of the Autumnal Spheres project, I do love a beaded bead. After reading through the project, I realise that even though the instructions call them angular spheres, they’re actually cubes. That means you should really do them in delicas, they make a much nicer square. However, if you don’t read the instructions properly and additionally put the headpin through two corners that don’t turn out to be opposite one another, you get a lopsided mess. I wouldn’t recommend using three millimetre Swaros at the corners if you’re using delicas, they’re to big for the gaps. You could leave them out altogether if you wanted to emphasize the cubeyness.

And it’s a tiny bead, about thumbnail sized. I’m filing that one away for possibly redoing in bigger delicas, or maybe in square stitch. Then a bigger face could be supported.

What I was aiming for was a pair of earrings to wear tonight out to dinner with my mates. Still scratching the beaded bead itch, I dug out the components I made for the Galaxy bead featured in an early 2010 Bead and Button magazine. I just couldn’t get it looking right, but couldn’t bear to chop up the components. I had a crack at sewing four together for a pyramid beaded bead to hang upside down off an earring. I suppose you could call the result organic. You could also call it crap, but that would be rude.

I was being too elaborate. So I just took one of the components and did a picot around the edge and hung a tourmaline Swaro off the bottom. I’m pretty sure you can’t get them any more, so I’m careful where I use them. Bingo. Now I just need to to make the other one and find an outfit that goes with them. No, that is not the wrong way around.


Ginger Spice Syrup

I’ve been fighting off a cold for about a week now, and woke up to realise that I’d lost. I’m aware that there is no cure for this insidious virus, so I entertained myself for half an hour on the internet looking up home remedies. My goodness there’s some nonsense out there. One site actually listed a whole lot of studies that showed that echinacea was no better than a placebo for the cold, then went into preparation and dosages of the stuff. The Mayo Clinic suggest plenty of fluids, a saline rinse of the sinuses, and a nice garlicky chicken soup are the only things actually shown to reduce symptoms. I’m the only one in the house capable of producing the latter, but I may have mentioned that I have a cold. Also am lacking in chicken bones at the moment. The middle option sounds rather disgusting, and I’m not that clogged up yet. I’m going with the first. I’m a little bored by water and notice that some of the wackier sites suggest various forms of tea, so that’s what I’m going with.

I like ginger tea, and there are an infinite number of recipes for it. I’ve been making syrups for soft drink for a while, you’ll have to wait for another blog for that, and have done a ginger syrup. But I want it for tea, not for soda, so it won’t need to be as sweet. I also find that the ginger syrup I make gives you a soft drink that tastes exactly like Saxby’s ginger beer, a result I find strangely unsatisying. I’m going to make it a little more spicy.

I chopped up a cup of ginger. Small dice, you want a large surface area, but not so small that you need to mess around with muslin when you strain it. One cinnamon stick. One superannuated vanilla pod that has spent the last year of its life inside a now extinct bottle of homemade vanilla essence. Three cups of water. Put the lot in a saucepan with the lid on and brought it to a low boil. Then I checked my emails, scratched the dogs, put on a wash, had a shower, then came into a kitchen that smelled really quite delightful. I think I got the spice mix right first time. If you’re making a syrup that has chunks that need to be sieved out, I like to put the sugar in a bowl and sieve the hot liquid over it, then stir like mad to dissolve it before it cools down. If you have the sugar in the saucepan, you risk turning the syrup into toffee if you lose concentration, and everything gets a lot stickier. I’m averse to sticky.

The sugar you use in a syrup makes a difference too. For soda syrups I generally go with caster sugar. For this one I used half a cup of brown sugar and a third of a cup of honey. That’s all I had left, and it was rock solid. The Moose gave up eating honey when I told him he had to unsticky everything after he spread it on his toast, and no one else eats it. That wasn’t enough sugar for a soda syrup, not for a kid friendly one, anyway, but great for tea.

Quarter of a cup of syrup in my large Elmo coffee cup, top with boiling water and I really like it a lot. It’s a very unappealing looking syrup, resembling the Murrumbidgee River more than anything else, but hopefully that will stop the kids drinking it.


Custard Tarts

Cast your mind back to the lemon slice blog. Remember how I said I’d worked on it a lot? By the way, three whole eggs will make the curd set better than five egg yolks, but that will muck you up if you’re making friands. Here’s a recipe that is in the early stages of working out. I’ll show you the picture, they really don’t look that bad…

But they just didn’t work. I normally make a large custard tart, and I’ve never been really happy with that either. Never quite got the pastry right. Also a pain to lever out of the dish, and you have to have it on a plate, blah blah blah. Tartlets seem like an easier way to eat them. I got some Bakers Delight tartlet cases from Peter’s of Kensington, and that shop is a whole ‘nother blog in itself. They have a little disc in the bottom that allows you to push the tartlet out of its case, and they worked very well, they can stay in the recipe.

I was also happy with the pastry. I went back to the 1970 Women’s Weekly cookbook, an essential guide for any housewife, and they suggested using a Biscuit Pastry. And how right they were. Here’s the recipe for that.

90 grams butter (obviously they said 3 oz, but I’m translating)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder (they actually specified 1 1/4 cup plain flour and 1/4 cup self raising flour, but I’ve never seen the point of self raising flour, just add baking powder, how hard could it be?)

Beat butter until creamy, add sugar and beat until just combined. Apparently overbeating at this stage will make pastry difficult to handle, like a housewife without her Bex. Work in flour and baking powder. Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and knead lightly until smooth. Refrigerate 30 minutes before using. I thought I’d need one and half times the recipe for 12 tartlets, and I was about right. Yes, I know you can’t get one and a half eggs, I just used a really big one, OK?

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I roll out cold pastry, it breaks up and looks a lot more like a Norwegian coastline than the smooth circle in the book, but I charge at it. You want it fairly thin for tartlets, I think mine was a bit too thick at about 4mm. I upend the cases on the pastry and draw a circle around them with a knife about one cm away from the circumference, and this also appears to be about right. Nearly half need to be cobbled together from bits of coastline, perhaps next time I should squash them up and roll them out again.

At this point I foolishly deviated from the recipe and baked the tartlet cases. Here’s the custard recipe
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pint milk
You beat the eggs, vanilla and sugar together while multitasking by heat the milk in a saucepan. Gradually stir the warm milk into the egg mixture. Then, you’ll need to decant it into a jug so you can get it into the tartlet cases without tipping it all over the Caesarstone. It was probably about twice as much custard as I needed, so I put the overflow into two ramekins and baked it too.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 15 minutes, then slide them out and grate a bit of nutmeg of each one. Slide them back in for another 15 minutes while you apply aloe vera to your burnt knuckles. Watch in despair as the custard seeps into the pastry, and in some cases, through the holes in the pastry and onto the baking tray holding them up.

The kids ate them anyway, but I am filled with a quiet determination that these shall not conquer me. Perhaps next time I might follow the recipe. Or maybe an egg wash over the cases? Maybe a thicker custard………