What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: October, 2012


Sometimes the day just gets away from you and you find yourself in the car with a couple of starving boys demanding to know what delectable treat you’ve whipped up for afternoon tea. What you do is hold them off for twenty minutes with yesterday’s strawberry sorbet while you mix up some cornbread.

I was given this recipe by a Korean colleague of my husband’s, but really only started making it after we got back from the US last year. Over there it’s a thing you serve as a meal’s carbohydrate, like mashed potatoes, which I still can’t bring myself to do. I do like to make this recipe and put it into mini muffin cups, that way it will get taken in lunch boxes by my crumb averse children. Makes about sixteen mini muffins.

What you’re supposed to do is mix together one cup of flour, one cup of yellow cornmeal or polenta, four teaspoons of baking powder, a third of a cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. Then you’re supposed to beat in an egg and add up to a half a cup of milk, enough to make a stiff batter. Then you stir in a quarter of a cup of oil. But because I was being nagged fairly thoroughly I just dumped everything in the bowl and mixed it up and scooped it into mini muffin cups. Done after about fifteen minutes at 180 degrees.

You can also scrape it into a baking paper lined lamington tin and bake it for a bit longer for your more traditional shape. I’m sorely tempted to skip the sugar next time and substitute grated Parmesan cheese. Let me know if you try it before I do. It may interest you to know that while Parmesan cheese can be grated effortlessly in a Thermomix, it just makes a stick mixer make whiny noises. I can’t be bothered trying it in a blender. In case you were wondering.


Blender Strawberry Sorbet

I may have to do a section on Anything Thermomix Can Do I Can do Almost As Well And A Little Bit Slower.  Those of you who are paying attention know that I attended a Thermomix demo yesterday.  One of the dishes prepared was a strawberry sorbet, and it struck me that this is the kind of thing you could do in a blender.  So this morning I got me a punnet of strawberries and gave it a whack.

The first thing to note is that the Thermomix (or TM as they refer to it in their cookbooks, makes it sound more jolly) jug is two litres, while a random blender you’ve dug out of the corner cupboard has a capacity of about six hundred millilitres.  To make strawberry sorbet in a TM you chuck in a hundred grams of icing sugar (which you can actually make in the TM), a punnet of strawberries, the white of an egg and about a litre of ice.  The blender has the power of twelve jumbo jets, or a classroom of five year olds or something, and turns your ingredients into sorbet in seconds.  I did find it a little dilute, but you needed that amount of ice to make the sorbet instant.

So into my blender went a hundred grams of icing sugar, the white of an egg and a punnet of strawberries.  That kept it occupied for about a minute, but it all blended up in the end and I poured half the result out into another bowl. I added about three hundred millilitres of crushed ice and switched it on.  I can’t believe how much I’ve used the ice function of the fridge I bought as part of my new kitchen last year, I was a determined pooh-pooher from a long way back and just got it to humour the kids.  Anyway, while making some fairly disturbing noises the blender quite suddenly transformed the stuff into a slushy sorbet after about two minutes of hard work.  I poured that out, and, fancying myself as a scientist, put the ice in first this time followed by the strawberry mix to see how that would work out.  It was better the first way, or else I lost patience, but we got there in the end.  You wouldn’t serve this up as is, but it would make an excellent cocktail base.

A couple of hours in the freezer  made it a lot more presentable.  I think the flavour is better with less ice and next time I’ll use less ice again.  The texture is certainly more grainy than that made with a TM, but not unacceptably so.  I’m going to be so popular when the kids get home.  Can’t wait for mangoes to get cheap!

The Thermomix Review

I shall now save you the trouble and expense of either hosting or attending a Thermomix party.

We’ve only heard about these miraculous additions to the busy housewife’s arsenal in recent years.  They are a German designed, French produced machine that was initially sneaked into Australia by a Perth housewife and engineer.  It has only recently worked its way across the country and into our notice.  They’re a fairly expensive bit of kit and require a fair bit of rubbing of the beard before you decide to invest in one.  You also need a comprehensive demonstration, which is why they’re only selling them through the housewife’s favourite – the party plan.

What they are is essentially a turbo charged blender on a heating element.  A description like that isn’t going to make you lay down a couple of thousand smackers, so you need to see it in action.  It has ten different blade speeds which will take you from pulverise to slightly chopped.  This function in itself can make icing sugar, almond meal, fruit juice, pesto, coleslaw, strawberry sorbet, hummus, the last three of which were demonstrated.  I have actually been making almond meal and icing sugar in the little one cup attachment to my stick mixer, also bread crumbs, so that’s not selling me.  It has made me determined to dust off the blender we got as an engagement present some decades ago and see if I can replicate the strawberry sorbet with that.

Then you get to the cooking bit.  You know that bit in dinner prep where you chop the veggies, then saute them, then add stuff and cook it for a bit.  Well, this gizmo does all that for you.  What I don’t get is that the recipe times seem to be a lot shorter than stovetop times, and yet the machine only goes up to 100 degrees Celsius and isn’t under pressure.  Perhaps because the blade (which has a sharp edge and a stirring edge) is stirring the stuff constantly.  It also has a device that sits on top that can utilise the steam escaping to cook your green veggies and couscous.  Or wontons, if that’s your preference.  This requires a special demonstration and a whole ‘nother party and has been given a special name which isn’t Valrhona, because that’s a chocolate brand, but something like it.

It all looks very sturdy, easy to clean and well designed and would definitely take the place of a food processor, blender, stick mixer, rice cooker and maybe even KitchenAid if you weren’t a heavy user.  You could really clean out your appliance cupboard if you were getting one of these babies.  I won’t be getting one, as you could probably guess, because I like chopping things up by hand, it gets rid of some of the latent aggression I build up by bottling things inside.  I also have a lot of time to cook.  My family don’t like their food mixed up, so the curries, soups, stews and casseroles that this dooverlackie specialises in aren’t of any use to me.

In summary, as the Moose would say because he’s studying for an English exam, you need a Thermomix if you have gainful employment or some other reason not to have a lot of time to cook, want to get rid of most of your appliances, and cook a lot of one pot meals.  It’s an impressive thingo.  I don’t need one.


My parents-in-law are taking the Horror from Outer Space for the weekend, and to express my extreme gratitude I’m making them gingernuts.  Old fashioned ones that’ll crack your dentures unless you dip them in tea.  Not that they wear dentures.  Poppa loves gingernuts, Nanna still suffers from vestiges of a harsh Protestant upbringing that causes her to regard food as fuel and not something to be enjoyed, but she does like the idea of home cooking and for everyone to be happy, so that’s good enough for me.

My recipe is based on the one in 1970 edition of the Women’s Weekly cookbook that I’m sure every Australian household still has.

In a saucepan melt 100 grams of butter with a tablespoon of golden syrup.  I sometimes wonder if I should look for a fancy pants alternative to the CSR version I use, since that’s the direction I seem to be heading in, but it has a distinctive taste.  Lyle’s golden syrup is completely different.  I’m sure you could use it, but it’s a lot more effeminate tasting.

In a bowl mix together one cup of caster sugar (don’t go messing with brown sugar in this recipe, they won’t be as crunchy), three teaspoons of ground ginger, one teaspoon of mixed spice and an egg.  By this time the butter should have melted, so toss into it a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and stir it up to make it fizz.  I don’t think this is an essential instruction, but I like it.  Tip the butter mixture into the sugar mixture and mix it all up.  Add two cups of flour and work it in.  It’s a pretty stiff dough.

Pinch walnut sized bits (in their shell, not out) of dough and press them round in the palm of your hand.  You can put them fairly close together on your lined biscuit tray, they don’t spread a lot.  Bake at a hundred and eighty degrees until they’re really quite brown.  I was going to time them today, I can tell you that I put them in the oven at exactly 11.56am, but then I started looking at Facebook, and there was a Melbourne Cup lunch going, and you know, some time later my nose said to me I think they’re done now. It may have been twenty five minutes.  Anyway, you don’t want to burn them, but for that brick like consistency you need them pretty brown.


So I think these should go some way to expressing my thanks, and take their mind off the fact that the Horror is going through their house like a swarm of ants eating everything he can find with sugar in it.

Two types of Chocolate Muffins

I value audience participation, so I asked the Horror from Outer Space if he were given the choice between chocolate peppermint muffins and chocolate coconut muffins, what would it be? “Bacon muffins” he said.

I think if you’re going to make chocolate muffins, you may as well go all out and make chocolate with chocolate chips. I went looking for recipes, and loosely based my first version on that of an American woman who was making these as a healthy treat for her son who was going off to college. Should I even comment on that? Perhaps not. They were OK, and have been eaten, but required work. The recipe I provide here is more satisfying.

Take a metal bowl and melt about sixty grams of butter in it by sticking it in the oven which you’ve turned on to preheat. I do like avoiding washing up. Once it has melted, you’ll want to leave it to cool for a bit so you don’t cook the egg too early. My original version used oil at this step, but the butter makes it richer. Add a half a cup of milk and an egg and beat it all together. If you’re going down the chocolate peppermint route, add half a teaspoon of peppermint essence to the mixture now, no more, that stuff is strong. Now the dry ingredients. Add a cup of flour, one quarter of a cup of cocoa, one third of a cup of sugar, one quarter of a cup of chocolate chips, two teaspoons of baking powder, one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. If you’re going down the coconut route, add a quarter of a cup of desiccated coconut here. You don’t have to do coconut or peppermint, but I wouldn’t advise doing both. Mix thoroughly, and spoon into those little pattycake cases, I don’t want my kids eating large sized ones of these. It makes twelve if you fill the cases up, then you’ll get those nice muffin tops, rather than the ones resulting from eating too many muffins. I would normally then top with about three chocolate chips per muffin for an even more exciting top, but I got to the bottom of the packet and am resisting opening the big packet I got from Chef’s Warehouse. Bake at 180 degrees for about twenty minutes. When you’re testing for doneness with a skewer, make sure you haven’t stabbed one of the chocolate chips, because that will give you the wrong idea.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return to basting my batting.

REAL sewing

When my son’s school had a school play they told us to send him along in a white tshirt with a tea towel to put on his head.  I’m paying now through the girls’ school, with an extreme crash course in sewing.

I have actually sewn something from a pattern once before, but that was in a white hot fit of indignation that a size 6 ice skating dress could cost one hundred and fifty smackers.  I am lacking the adrenalin this time, and I’ve also gone into something yet again with out checking out what it involves.  Having read the pattern about forty three times now, I’m pretty sure the teacher who gave it to me didn’t either.  That, or she’s particularly sadistic.

I popped up to Spotlight this morning to supplement the bag of polyester I was given with stuff that the pattern actually specifies.  I possibly should have looked up what soutache actually was before hunting through haberdashery and aisles and aisles of craft supplies for it.  If you think I should have asked a staff member, you really haven’t been paying attention to my various personality disorders.  I didn’t find it.  I did find some red ribbon, sparkly felt, and wide gold stuff that should serve as buttons and studs when given the right treatment with scissors and a hot glue gun.  Also batting, which seems ridiculously expensive for what it is, which is compressed fluff.  I think this should get me through The Difficult Bit which is a rather fancy armoured vest.

The pattern said Apply Batting to Wrong Side of Front.  I’m OK with wrong side.  How do you apply batting?  Dr Google tells me you can use spray glue, double sided tape, or basting.  Pushing aside thoughts of pork crackling and lesbian pregnancy, I went with basting.  I got very confused with right sides and wrong sides of fronts and backs and lining and mirror images, but regained confidence with ironing seams.  I discovered why my mother used to curse so freely while sewing costumes as my daughter breathed down my neck while chewing expansively on a Mentos and wondering out loud what on earth I was doing.  Then the Horror asked if there was such a thing as an anti-sewing machine as I held up the vest to realise that the capped sleeve was on back to front.  I resisted showing him the stitch ripper up close.  It was starting to look a lot like a cheap puffa vest, but then I got the Muffet to model it…


and it actually doesn’t look too bad.  Except that I’ve put the OTHER sleeve on back to front as well.  Actually, now that I look at it, possibly the sleeve is completely upside down.  It’ll look a lot better with red ribbon and gold buttons on it.  Heigh ho, only five more to go.

Digging out the old sewing machine

The end of the year for any parent is a frenzy of concerts, award nights, end of year dinners, and sometimes, a school play.  “Anyone’s mum or grandma can sew?” went out the call.  “Oh yes, my mum’s great at sewing” said the Muffet.  Or as I put it when I went to collect my material and instructions from a very frazzled looking sixth grade teacher, “I’m really good at sewing in straight lines”.  “Any help at all is just wonderful” said the teacher.  “I could kiss you!”.  I took a step back, I need written notice for that kind of thing.

This morning I got out the pattern.  I’m making six soldier’s costumes.  They appear to consist of a tunic, a breastplate, and a very fancy combination of belt and skirt.  I look at the back of the pattern packet for materials list.  Something light for the tunic, imitation leather for the breastplate, gold buttons, metal studs, grosgrain ribbon, soutache, metallic braid, felt and batting.  I look in the bag.  Acres of polyester and a bulldog clip.  I take a deep breath and decide to go to the gym.

Back home again I start reading the sewing instructions, always a good idea BEFORE starting, I’ve learned from experience.  Blah blah blah selvedge blah batting blah blah turn yoke right side out, press, turn in raw edges on back edge and slip stitch closed.  I check my email.  There’s one from the Horror’s teacher complaining that he’s sitting in a corner with his shirt over his head refusing to talk to anyone.  I send a sympathetic reply.  Back to the instructions.  Actually, the tunic doesn’t look too hard, even with a neck facing.  I’m not going to bother with fusible interface, this thing is only going to be worn twice and is unlikely to get its own room at the Museum of Modern Art.

After a strong coffee, I got to it, and like many things, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought



It only took a bit over an hour, and that included wiping mildew off the sewing machine.  Only five more to go.  Then we start on the tricky bits, and I’m going to resist the urge to draw the details of the breastplate on with marker pen. I shall go to Spotlight to get the missing bits.  Not today, though.

Fruit Soda

You know, a lot of the things I make from scratch I’m not doing to be an annoying show off, although that aspect certainly appeals.  Or to boast about how much time those of us not in gainful employment have on our hands to go about pretending that we live on a farm in the nineteenth century.  It’s because when I first started doing these things, particularly the subject of this post, I couldn’t believe how easy it was.  Why have we been suckered into buying soft drinks all these years when it’s the work of minutes to make your own?

This is it.  Seriously.  Dissolve two cups of sugar in one cup of water (you will need heat).  Add one cup of fruit juice.  That’s your soda syrup.  Pour a bit into a glass and add soda water.  See?  You couldn’t even get to the corner shop and back in that time.

Of course there are niceties, which trial and error have taught me.  Once you’ve tried it you can’t go back, so you’ll have to haul yourself up to Kmart to buy a Sodastream.  You want a fairly acid fruit juice, so I’ll usually include a lemon if I’m doing an orange or a grapefruit soda.  I’ll also add up to a teaspoon of citric acid (it’s next to the baking powder at the supermarket) to the mix to give it zing and to act as a preservative (not sure if that’s true, but I read it on the Internet, so it must be).  I’ve found that you want to stick to just one or two kinds of fruit and so far one of them has been citrus. I’ve made strawberry lemonade and orange and passionfruit soda.  That leads to the next tip, to use a pulpy fruit just chop it up and add it to the saucepan you’re boiling your water and sugar in.  Put a lid on, you’re not trying to reduce it.  Cook it for about five minutes, or until the fruit can be squished with a fork.  Have the cup of citrus juice in a bowl with a sieve over it and tip the syrup into it, squashing all the flavour out of the pulp with a fork so it will drip through the sieve.

Last night we had an impromptu barbeque, so I scouted around the kitchen for soda ingredients.  I had half a bag of oranges, some lemons, and three small, soft, slightly wrinkled white nectarines that the kids had turned up their noses at.  I chopped up the nectarines and put them in the sugar syrup, and boiled that for about ten minutes.  My cup of citrus juice was half a lime I had left over from Saturday’s gin and tonic, an elderly lemon, and four oranges.  I wasn’t sure how much flavour the nectarines would have, but they added a gorgeous fragrance to the mix and gave a lovely pink hue to the syrup.  I should calculate how much soda a jug of syrup makes up, but I can tell you it’s lots and lots.  The kids gave it a resounding thumbs up, so this one is staying in the repertoire.


Shopping with the girls

Shopping is always better with girlfriends, especially if they’re taking you somewhere you’ve never been before and it’s not a shop you’d find on your own. Now I’m as fond of shoe and handbag shopping as the next girl, but this was a special experience. We went to Chef’s Warehouse.

The are many reasons I’d have never gone there by myself. It’s among the vomit splattered streets of Surry Hills and I’m allergic to driving in the Eastern Suburbs. It has a small and self effacing entrance that I’d probably miss. It says “trade only” on the door, and I always take these things very literally and slink away without making enquiries. Apparently it’s to stop locals from wandering in to buy the overproof rum they sell for Christmas cakes. So I was very pleased to be escorted.

It was a small and perfectly formed wonderland. I tried not to look at KitchenAids, I’m really not ready to go there yet. Every size of chopping board, serving dish, mixing bowl, baking tin, sieve and knives were there. Callebaut chocolate chips in flour sack sized bags. I didn’t even know they made cocoa powder. Proper recipe books, I was very tempted to buy some to even out the ratio of joke cookbooks to useful ones in my collection. I wondered why there was such a thing as a Chef’s saw, surely they’d get a butcher to deal with any bone issues? Then I thought, some of those chefs you see on TV get very cross, perhaps it’s to process recalcitrant kitchen hands into the goulash without anyone knowing. Here’s a picture of my purchases.

The baking tins are two small square ones and a longer loaf one, and my burst of mental arithmetic tells me that their volume added together will equal my square cake tin. So next time I make a fruit cake I can make three gift sized ones to chase people down the street with. I had to get the chocolate and the cocoa powder, and a peppermint essence because it’s difficult to find. As are recipes that use it, as it turns out. I’m going to have to get inventive. The little bat thing is a gnocchi paddle, every kitchen should have one. Come on, I didn’t get the tomato corer. And check out the tomato sauce bottle. I am going to be so popular when the kids get home. They may insist on sausage sandwiches for dinner. I did get a raised eyebrow from one of the gang for buying it, but they had clearly never seen Bunfight at the OK Tearooms and are therefore Missing Out.

Bulgarian Rock

When you’re the parent you sometimes get to the point of ultimatums at ten paces.  The Muffet has declared that she would rather starve to death than apologise profusely for behaving like a toddler at dinner last night.  I’m hoping that some Bulgarian Rock will change her mind.

I’ve been meaning to make this ever since Darrell Lea went kaput.  We traditionally buy it for my father-in-law at Christmas, so time has been running out for a practise run.  I found a recipe at that had the basics, but was a little light on detail.  I’ll try to fill you in.

This one is time consuming, plan it for a day you’ve got some pottering about to do.  Place in a large saucepan 450 grams of liquid glucose (you can get it at the supermarket where you get the vanilla essence and baking powder and so forth), three and a half cups of sugar and one and a quarter cups of water.  Bring it to the boil while stirring with a wooden spoon to make sure everything dissolves properly.  When it’s boiling, reduce the temperature a bit, you want it more than simmering, but less that boiling its head off.  Now comes the bit that people seem to find challenging about confectionery making, boil it until it is at the hard crack stage.  This will take AGES.  For me, today, nearly two hours.  It doesn’t need much attention until right at the end, just wander past every so often and give it a stir.  When it’s starting to look a little thicker, start testing it.  You drop some from your wooden spoon into a cup of water.  It’s at the hard crack stage when it forms a crunchy ball in the water.  Before that point, take a bowl and drop an egg white into it with half a teaspoon of vanilla essence and half a teaspoon of almond essence.  Beat it with electric beaters until soft peaks form.  Now go back to concentrating on your sugar.  It will start to go yellow and quite thick.  I usually panic and take it off too soon because I don’t want a pan of burnt sugar, and I think that’s what I’ve done this time.  Anyway, take it off the heat before you burn it and start beating it with the electric beaters.  It will start going white quite quickly as you incorporate air into it.  Tip in the egg white mix and keep beating.  The instructions on say beat it until it is thick, but it’s pretty thick to start with.  So I only beat it for a minute or two.  Fold in three quarters of a cup of UNsalted almonds and pour the lot into a roasting pan lined with baking paper.  Before it is cool you can lift it out of the pan and start chopping it up with a large knife.

Mine has cooled down now, and because I didn’t wait until the sugar was at the hard crack stage, merely at the really chewy stage, I appear to have made Bulgarian Fudge.  However, it tastes right.  I might try putting it in the fridge.