What does the last of the housewives do?

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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.


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.

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.


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.


Green Apple Muffins

I’m guessing that the Moose and the Horror are growing, all they seem to do is eat, sleep and hit each other with various objects, ranging from nerf bullets to a set of keys and, of course, a rubber chicken.  I’m having difficulty keeping the pantry stocked, which means that it’s time to make some muffins.

In my wondrous collection of cookbooks is a comb bound number in faux handwriting font given to me by a friend who was very grateful for my Anzac biscuit recipe (see my collected works for the same recipe).  It’s a whole lot of muffin recipes and they range, to use a phrase you’ll hear regularly from me, from the sublime to the ridiculous. They are all apparently family recipes, so my kids are devoutly thankful not to belong to the family that regularly gets served up Sandy’s Seafood Muffins.  I have adapted Lorna’s Apple Muffins, because you know what I’m like, I can’t leave it alone.

Beat together one quarter of a cup of olive oil, one quarter of a cup of caster sugar, one half a cup of brown sugar and an egg.  Mix in a teaspoon of vanilla essence, a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of mixed spice.  Mix in a cup of plain flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of bicarb and a generous tablespoon of sour cream.  I found this mix to be a bit dry today, so I added a couple of tablespoons of milk.  Mix in two chopped green apples, skin on.  Today I tried chopping the apples very finely to fool the Horror, who is my main Doesn’t Like Bits In It offender.  I find that this makes eleven muffin cups if you’re going for ones that don’t overflow the paper case, and eight if you like them with a Muffin Top.  You can mix these babies in the time between your hairdresser sticking a clip in your freshly dyed hair and calling you back to the sink.  What do you mean you don’t get a hairdresser coming to your house?  How do you get anything DONE?


Jewellery as Restitution

My sister says that most people who blog have some kind of mental illness. Do you think social awkwardness counts? We have a situation that is causing me much discomfort, and I’m trying to assuage that discomfort by making a necklace, but I guess it all depends on your perspective.

We’re going up the coast next week, and my husband knows a lady who quit finance to live by this particular beach and run a Malaysian restaurant with her husband. My husband asked her for a motel recommendation in her town, and she responded by saying that her family was popping back to Malaysia for a bit and we were welcome to use her house and car. That’s very nice and everything, but it turns out that she is actually leaving her husband behind to run the restaurant, and he is included with the house. He has also been instructed to pick us up from the airport, and she’s not taking no for an answer. Doesn’t that sound like a situation? I’m of shy and retiring disposition, I three fairly loud children, and I’m going to be staying in a house with a restaurant running man who’s English isn’t terribly fluent and the few times I’ve met him he has been enthusiastically engaged with a karaoke machine.

The very least I can do is to make the lady of the house a necklace. That’s what I do in times of stress. I know I should actually be making something for the husband, as he’s the one having to put up with us, but that’s not where my talents lie and where would I even start? I should have begun this weeks ago.

It’s a herringbone spiral rope made with size eleven seed beads, stitched one at a time. That length is how much I’ve managed to do today, in between doing the choir banking, taking the piccolo for a grease and oil change, treating the dog’s ears for a fungal infection, buying milk, picking up the kids from school, and starting another necklace for my daughter to wear to a wedding we’ll be attending. I’m sure I can finish it by Sunday night.

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.

Last of the Housewives

Since we’re becoming an endangered species, and because I’ve been reading a fair bit of Victoriana daily life minutae stuff, I thought it’s time to get down what I do during the day to dispel the vicious rumour that housewives spend their days painting their toenails and playing tennis.  Have you seen my toenails?  I may treat you to a picture in a post in the future.

Suffering from a surfeit of strawberries, I googled a recipe for a strawberry muffin.  The strawberry muffin I usually make is a pound cake recipe with cooked strawberries mixed through it and a touch heavy for the daily kids’ lunchbox.  The top entry on is a terribly worthy looking thing utilising low fat yoghurt (I feel that I should spell it as “yoghourt” in this context) and Splenda corblimey, what is wrong with people these days.  However, I happen to have low fat yoghourt and I’m certainly not stooping to Splenda, white sugar should do nicely, and it’s in the oven right now.  Because I like to believe I’m living in a cooking show, I shall now make some chicken stock.  Muffin picture and kid review to follow.