What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: March, 2013

Lime Shortbread

The Moose must have been bitten by a Boy Scout because last week, on his way to tennis, he helped an elderly man load some boxes into his car. His reward was some tiny limes from the tree in the man’s front yard and he was very excited to show me the fruits of his virtue. And you know that I always love unconventionally acquired food.

It had to be something with lime zest. Fresh limes straight from the tree, no wax and looked like no juice also. I thought about cola, but the Moose isn’t that keen on it. I am though, so was tempted to go ahead anyway, but while doing some bedtime reading of Tish Boyle’s The Good Cookie, a constant source of inspiration, I came across a recipe for lime shortbread. Winner.

I would strongly recommend hauling out the wallet and getting some Pepe Saya butter for this one. I’ve done a fair bit of testing now and if you’re rationing yourself then you should save this butter for pastry and shortbread. For those perusing from a different country, Pepe Saya is a cultured butter made from the milk of contented cows and is a very fine thing indeed.

OK, recipe. Place in a bowl two cups of flour, three quarters of a cup of icing sugar, a quarter of a teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of ground ginger and a tablespoon of fresh lime zest and mix them all up. Scatter over the top one hundred and seventy grams of cold butter chopped into chunks (I actually did the conversion this time). Cut it into the flour mixture until the butter pieces are quite small. The KitchenAid did a perfectly adequate job of this. Stop the KitchenAid and pour in two tablespoons of lime juice and a teaspoon of vanilla essence. I had to get the lime juice from conventionally acquired limes, those tiny ones were solid with green seeds inside. Mix very slowly until the dough just starts coming together. Squish it about a bit with your hands to make it smooth, then divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a log shape and wrap in plastic wrap. Stick it in the fridge until it’s good and solid again. You may want to go and process some concert subscriptions and work out how to convert a sheet into a toga for when your youngest son goes to the Literature Festival as Zeus. No, I didn’t think Zeus was a literary figure either, but he got it past the librarian.

Take the plastic wrap off and slice the logs into biscuits about four millilitres thick. They don’t spread very much, so you can place them quite close together on your lined baking sheet. Bake them at 160 degrees fan forced (180 degrees not) until they’re just starting to go golden around the edges, it will take about fifteen minutes and keep an eye on them. Don’t let them brown.

Those aren’t the limes, they’re just for illustrative purposes. I warned the kids that the green flecks in the biscuits weren’t mould, they were lime zest. That could be an issue with their visual appeal, but goodness they taste good. Not as soft as shortbread often is, almost crunchy and a very definitely limey. You can’t really taste the ginger, but I think it adds a bit of complexity to the flavour. Like I said, winner.

Spelt bread

Soon I’ll be having soy in my coffee. Yes, I made spelt bread. But I have a good excuse. I have a tetchy tummy and it has been suggested to me that I may benefit from the low FODMAPS diet put out by Monash University specifically for those of uncertain digestion. I had a look, and it certainly had quite a few foods on its naughty side that I have a lot of problems with. Specifically stone fruit, dairy products and lentils and pulses. You hear a lot of people carrying on about dairy being the root of all evil, but when a dietitian tells you to lay off the lentils I pay attention. Those things are lethal.

It didn’t fit my sensitivities exactly, there’s no way I could eat grapes, beef, mandarins, porridge or bananas without suffering the consequences, but it did suggest substituting spelt bread for wheat bread. I’ve always had a niggly feeling that gluten might be a bit of an issue for me, but it’s such a bandwagon! I’d feel so silly giving up gluten. As it turns out, spelt isn’t gluten free but it’s a different type of gluten that may be tolerated better by guts such as mine. Worth a shot, I thought.

I found a relatively simple recipe on You dissolve fifteen grams of fresh yeast (or a seven gram sachet) in a cup and a half of water. Add a cup and a half of white spelt flour and a cup and a half of whole meal spelt flour. Also a tablespoon of olive oil, a couple of grinds of salt and a tablespoon of sugar. Knead, but not nearly as much as you would a wheat loaf. I found this combination to be way too wet, so added perhaps a quarter of a cup more of the white flour. It was still quite wet, but I thought it would do. I washed and oiled the bowl and shovelled the mix back in. I covered it with a damp tea towel and took it out for a lie in the sunshine on the trampoline. I wonder why our trampoline has a burn hole in it? After about forty five minutes it had almost doubled in size, so I punched it about and massaged it into a lined loaf tin and left it in the kitchen while I went to Drummoyne.

Drummoyne took a bit longer than I thought it would. I’m planning a new bathroom and got into quite a technical chat with the proprietor of the bathroom shop. Did you know you can get floor tiles that look exactly like wood? And it’s very difficult to get a toilet that is any colour other than white these days, not that I’m terribly attached to our current peach coloured model. So by the time I got back with a sheaf of brochures the loaf had over risen a bit, so I got it straight into the oven. The rising times seem to be less than for wheat. I baked it on 220 degrees for fifteen minutes, then 180 degrees for another twenty and left it in the turned off oven while I went to pick up the Horror from Outer Space from his institution. The crust looks very good, and the thin slice that I’ve tried with a bit of butter was more than acceptable. I thought that because it hasn’t risen as much as a wheat loaf it may be a little dense, but it isn’t.

I think I can comfortably fool myself that this is bread and not some kind of hippie rabbit food. I plan on not telling the man of the house, he’s fairly unused to whole meal bread so will probably not notice. The recipe actually suggests messing about with adding linseed and decorating with flakes of oatmeal, but I didn’t bother with that. I don’t mind a linseed in whole meal bread, but I don’t have any. Maybe next time.

Very Strawberry Cupcakes

I thought that in Year Seven you didn’t have to bring in birthday baked goods for your daughter when she turned twelve. That is strictly true. What they didn’t tell me that the girls would form a pact and pair up so that each mum got to prepare birthday treats for someone else’s daughter altogether.

“I asked Janie whether she liked vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, and she likes strawberry. So can you make a strawberry cake with cream like you do for our birthdays? Tomorrow?” Hold on a minute. For a start I’m sure the teachers won’t want to mess about with a cake. I’ll do it as cupcakes. And you can’t have cream and fresh strawberries, they need to be put on when you serve it, that will be way too fiddly. How many will you need? “Um, there’s fourteen girls in my home room, so, ummm….” I start to wonder if she’s fallen into a coma. “Thirty four!” she finally says brightly, then skips off to bring havoc to someone else’s life,

I make strawberry cake by mixing strawberries into a basic butter cake. First, you need some strawberries. Two punnets. Being a little short on time I got these from the local IGA and they really weren’t that good. Expensive, simultaneous underripe and about to go mouldy. Chop off the green bits and hurl them into a small saucepan. Cook them over medium heat, stirring with whatever implement comes to hand. You have to play it by ear a bit. This lot let out a lot of water and were very sour. I added a quarter of a cup of sugar and let them reduce down a bit, til I was in danger of starting to make jam. You want about a cup of pulp. Set that aside to cool.

Make the butter cake mix. Cream together 120 grams of butter (that’s four ounces for those of you who don’t speak SI, and yes I know it should be kilograms, but close enough) with half a cup of caster sugar. Gently beat in two eggs. Mix in two cups of plain flour and four teaspoons of baking powder. Fold in three quarters of a cup of strawberry pulp. The mix will be a disturbing flesh colour. Set out forty mini patty pan cups on a baking tray. Use a teaspoon to distribute the mix among them. Bake at 180 degrees for only about fifteen minutes, these cakes are little.

So far, so successful. If I was serving these as butterfly cakes, I’d slice a wedge out of the top, slide some strawberry jam into the cavity, slap some King Island cream on top, put the wedge back on and slather a bit of strawberry icing on and there you go. I did the jam bit.

I made some icing, by mixing the leftover strawberry pulp with thirty grams of sweet butter and three cups of icing sugar. You can just mix it up with a spatula, you don’t need heavy machinery.

I do happen to have a piece of machinery for applying the icing, a giant syringe. I just can’t get the hang of piping bags, I always feel the need for an extra hand and I end up dropping the bag on the cake. Surely a syringe would be easier.

Icing cakes is a lot harder than it looks. I tried two different nozzles. The first was pretty, but put out too much icing, and is going to need much practise.

The second put out the right amount of icing, but the result looked like brains.

Apparently they were delicious and instantly devoured. But I have much work to do on my presentation.

Sydney Stitches and Craft Show

I love to go to a craft show, because I’m always delighted, surprised, inspired, amused, bewildered and ultimately creeped out by them, at which point I go home, exhausted. And so it was with the Sydney Stitches and Craft Show, held at Rosehill Gardens Racecourse at Rosehill, not Randwick, stupid Google Maps. I’d been there before, so I wasn’t fooled.

The tone was set by an elderly gentleman outside the entrance, shaded by a large black umbrella who was playing, to the accompaniment of a boom box, panpipes. He would put them down occasionally to attempt to flog a CD to anyone that got too close, but most of the time it was continuous panpipes at a pretty high volume. Carefully avoiding him I waded through a sea of excited pensioners all filling in the form for the lucky door prize to get at the treasures within.

For those who haven’t been to the Stitches and Craft Show before, its bread and butter is this kind of thing.

These are fat quarters, and are used in quilting. Apparently you cut them into shapes and sew them to other bits that you’ve cut into other shapes until eventually you get something big enough to either give to your loudly protesting nieces and nephews at Christmas, or to hang on the wall. They’re not much use as bed coverings now that everyone has doonas. Needless to say, I have no interest in quilting and do not wish even to know why they are fat or what they are a quarter of.

You’ve also got your scrapbook and paper craft shops, a couple that are threads and wool, including one that was selling this:

Pre-felt! The possibilities!
Also shops specifically for your nanna to buy supplies to make nanna rugs,

Shops where Professor Umbrage bought her cross stitch kitten,

And sadly only a few bead shops, and even more sadly they were only selling cheap Chinese stuff. The one that was selling Swarovski and brand name stringing materials was doing so at a vastly higher price than I could get them at Fusion, so I didn’t bother. If I wanted cheap Chinese stuff, and it definitely has its place, I would go to I Love You Beads on Parramatta Road, then I could get cheap organza bags too.

I’m putting this one in to make my sister laugh.

Possibly they should have had the arrow up the other way, but that’s all I’ll say about that.

There was even a stall flogging needlework cruises. Needlework cruises. Surely they couldn’t get a whole boat load of embroiderers? I didn’t stop to ask.

I did love some of the cutesy stall names, like KimoYes ( selling kimono fabric), Punch with Judy, Picklemouse Corner, the Status Thimble, Crafty Frou Frou and Miss Rose, Sister Violet. Actually, those last two were the only ones I bought anything from. Some black and white stuff from the former,

And some outrageous trimming for the dream handbag I started making for myself about this time last year from the latter,

But eventually the crowd takes its toll on me. The mob that makes up the crowds at this kind of show is principally senior ladies with a good handful of teenage girl school groups. Neither group has any respect for personal space and after a couple of hours I have been jostled more than my system can tolerate and I must away for an hour or two of peace before picking up my little darlings from school. Now all I need is a few free days to get some serious crafting done. I might have to ignore my committee duties for a bit.

Chicken and barley stew

Yes I am planning to blog about what we had for dinner. You don’t really want to hear about mail merges, do you? Or my visit to the ankle doctor? Or my long and ultimately fruitless quest for malt syrup? I didn’t think so.

The family are all excited today. It’s the first soccer training of the year. The man of the house gets his team of Jedis back AND the field is miraculously open, the Horror gets to see his friends from his old school and wear his new lairy purple boots, the Muffet gets to go along and earn ten dollars as assistant coach and boss around little boys and the Moose gets out of it because he has tennis. And I get an extra couple of hours peace to construct a dinner that the kids really won’t like, because they get sushi for dinner on soccer training nights due to the logistical difficulties of the afternoon.

It’s a bits and pieces one pot dinner, but I’m extremely pleased with how it’s turned out. I’ll do the basics first. Finely dice thee or four rashers of bacon and an onion. Cook them over low heat in a medium sized pot, I didn’t add any fat because the bacon had enough. When that’s starting to smell rather good add in a chopped carrot and a chopped stick of celery. Also a smashed clove of garlic and a couple of chillies you’ve picked from the plant you bought from Frank a few months ago with some kind of thoughts of making sweet chilli sauce.

When that’s looking like it might burn, add two cups of chicken stock. You know that stuff you made a few months ago and have in half cup ziplock bags?

Then add half a cup of pearl barley and stir it in.

You let that simmer, covered, for an hour or so, until all the liquid is absorbed. You turn it off until about twenty minutes before the hordes are due home from soccer training, then you add the optional stuff. This will be any dag ends you find in the fridge. In my case, an aged tomato, some leftover cooked chicken, and no Meriadoc, I won’t be dropping any,

and some fresh corn.

I think some fresh herbs would also be nice, but the only one I have is mint, and I really don’t think so. Mushrooms would also be lovely. And whatever soft vegetables you want to use up, curses, I should have put in cauliflower. Stir it over heat until the soft vegies are just cooked. This made enough for two and enough leftover for me to have for lunch tomorrow. It had a full and satisfying flavour and it probably could have stood another chilli. Bacon makes everything good.

Raspberry Linzer Thingo

There are still many recipes in Tish Boyle’s The Good Cookie that I want to try and I’ve had my eye on this one for a while. I’ll tell you at the outset that it tastes fantastic, but it’s no good at all. Have a go at it after I’ve gone through a few iterations. It’s a texture thing.

I’m going to give you the recipe anyway. Grind together half a cup of slivered almonds, half a cup of hazelnuts and half a cup of caster sugar. If you have a terrific almost brand new blender, this will take seconds. If your almost brand new blender is taking a holiday in Western Australia you’ll need to do this in four batches in your twenty year old coffee grinder. I’m not bitter. Much.

In your far more reliable KitchenAid, mix 270 grams of butter with a third of a cup of brown sugar. I think this may be my problem. The recipe specifies 9 tablespoons of butter, and I’m using a conversion of thirty grams to the tablespoon. What kind of measurement is a tablespoon? Crazy Americans. Anyway, it’s clearly too much. Next time I make this, and I will, I’ll be using significantly less butter. Maybe just 200 grams. We’ll see. Beat in an egg. Beat in the ground nuts and sugar mixture, also half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a quarter of a teaspoon of almond essence. Don’t mess with the flavours, they’re just right. Add one and a half cups of plain flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, one quarter of a teaspoon of ground cloves (you want them very finely ground, they’re very strong), and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt. Mix it up until it just comes together.

The second problem is that this is a very large amount of dough. The recipe suggests pressing two thirds of it into a lined square cake tin, spreading it with raspberry jam, then messing about with cutting the rest into strips and doing a fancy lattice arrangement on top with them. Because the dough was so soft with all the butter, the strips just blobbed in to each other. That’s another reason I think the butter measurement was wrong. I think next time I’d spread the dough out into a larger slice pan and possibly still do the lattice thing with the firmer dough. You’d need more than half a cup of raspberry jam, so buy more than one jar. Bake it at 160 degrees for about thirty five minutes.

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You can see that it’s very soft, but the taste is sensational. It’s definitely going in my morning tea repertoire. Once I get it right.

Edited to note that a friend has very kindly pointed out, restraining herself from all forms of mockery, that a tablespoon is only fifteen grams. Doesn’t that explain a lot? In my very poor defence, I was clearly thinking of an oz. What better illustration could there be for the adoption of SI units?

Shaun the Bee Man

I don’t get out much. There’s quite a lot of kid driving, food shopping, food preparation, washing and spreadsheet wrangling for my various committees in my life. So an invitation to lunch in the city with my busy husband was a very bright spot in the diary. I put on a frock, some lipstick, shoes that weren’t thongs and even some product in my hair so I didn’t bear as much resemblance to a poodle attacked with a scourer as I usually do. And caught the train into the City of Sydney.

Now we did have delightful time, but that’s not what I’m going to tell you about. On our way to lunch we saw a swarm of bees making themselves at home under the glass eaves of the Dior shop right near Pitt Street Mall.

I wanted to pause for a while to watch the startled reactions of passersby who, intent on their phones, suddenly found their eyebrows full of bees, but we didn’t have all day. On our way back we saw that someone had thoughtfully barricaded off the footpath under the swarm zone. I had to know more.

So after delivering my husband safely back to his skyscraper I hurried back to the action and was delighted to find that Shaun the Bee Man had arrived and was taking control of the situation.

He had a partner who looked far more prepared for the job than Shaun, but he turned out to be a mere offsider, almost superfluous to the operation despite his impressive suit.

He made it look so simple. He merely puffed some smoke at the bees, ascended a ladder and scraped them into a bee box WITH HIS BARE HANDS.


His only audience that stayed for the whole show were me and a couple of English backpackers, who agreed with me that it was the most amazing thing we’d see all week. Come on, week, prove me wrong.

KitchenAid Thoughts

I was going to bellyache about the weather today and count up how many times I’ve got wet. Especially that bit where I had to chop off a giant seed pod that was a good six metres up an Alexander palm in the back yard, if you leave those things they go everywhere. As it was, it nearly crushed the dog, my aim is shocking.

But I have friends doing Coastrek today, walking 50 kilometres to raise money for the Fred Hollows foundation, and they were probably so wet that they may as well have done the trek in the sea, so I really don’t have anything to complain about.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about my KitchenAid. For most of my baking life I’ve been happy to use a fork for all my beating, creaming and mixing needs. A fork has a multitude of other uses and creaming butter with one builds up the forearms, because you need to swap arms every so often when you cramp up. But last Christmas a friend was looking for a new home for her old KitchenAid because the bowl had started to come loose when making bread. I’m perfectly happy to knead my bread by hand, so offered to love and care for it until the end of its life, hopefully many years hence, and she got a new one for Christmas.

I approached it warily. I found it a spot on the bench where it wouldn’t get in the way, it was far too heavy to be lugging it out of a cupboard every time I wanted to use it. At first I only used it to cream butter, a job it does quickly and efficiently. But the butter creaming brought a small problem, and that is because I’m finally using properly creamed butter, it has affected the texture of the biscuits I use it in. With a bit of trial and error I’ve found that I should reduce the amount of butter by about five grams. Sometimes a bit more, but that seems about right.

Finding that it did that job in a workman like manner, I started letting it mix in flour, beat eggs and soon it was doing the lot. The paddle and bowl go in the dishwasher, there are a good range of paddle speeds and there’s something hypnotic about watching it cream cold butter. Which is another plus, a dough made with cold butter seems to be easier to work with.

It has meant that if there is only an hour to go before school pickup I’m much more likely to make biscuits or muffins for afternoon tea, it is really great to be able to just chuck in the ingredients. I’m also more likely to make more technical recipes, it does all the hard work and I just prepare the ingredients. But now I want a second bowl, wouldn’t that be great for making sponge fingers? Yes, I know they’re only three dollars fifty for a packet at the IGA, but I want to see how much better homemade ones are, and anyway we shouldn’t be eating food that’s had to come half way around the world. Apart from Harmonie butter. I’m looking at some on Amazon, they’re a hundred bucks if you buy them here.

I don’t think I would have bought one for myself, they are eight hundred dollars. Having said that, I am using it nearly every day, so it would only be because I didn’t know what I was missing out on.

Isn’t it beautiful? I thought about making something special with it for the previous owner of this machine, but she’s a fabulous cook, so instead I’ll get over and sponsor her on Coastrek and hope she doesn’t dissolve completely during her ordeal.