Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Candle, candle burning bright

I adore candles, and have them strategically placed around our home - in the kitchen, in the bathroom, and even in the bedroom. Not only do they look lovely, but if you get the scented ones, they smell amazing.

Have you ever noticed that memories can be tied very strongly to a sense of smell? For example, whenever I smell the ocean, I'm immediately taken back to my childhood when the beach was a short walk away and I practically had a mermaid tail I was in the water so often! The smell of fire reminds me of camping and huddling around the fire after dark eating sugary treats and hot chocolates. When I was studying, I made it a point to wear the same scent to exams that I used when I was revising content, hoping to trigger an association so that I would remember things!

So, I think it's pretty clear that I love yummy scents. I have candles burning in the kitchen when I'm home during the day to make the house smell delicious. If I need to unwind and have a bath (on the rare occasions I can use the bathroom on my own) I love to turn off the lights and just use candles. And while technically not a candle, I have an oil burner in the bedroom where I use essential oils depending on my mood - usually it's just a lavender to relax and help me sleep, but peppermint helps when I have a headache or need a little energy boost.
Also, look, let's be frank here, kids and dogs smell. Especially coming into winter when they refuse to go outside to play much and the house just starts to smell more, how shall I put it... lived in. That's when scented candles definitely come in super handy!!

One of the frequent candle varieties in my home at the moment is Airwick. It's available where I do my grocery shopping, which, for this time poor mama, is a big plus. They've really got some nice scents such as French Vanilla, and Mandarin Glow, and funky decorative candles that are made with natural essential oils. A favourite at the moment are the silhouette ones that change colour as they burn - fancy!
Airwick also have reed diffusers, automatic sprays and car diffusers available, so you can make sure that you have lovely scents around all the time.

Do you burn candles? What's the smell associated with your favourite memory?

Disclaimer: I received samples of Airwick products to use. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Recipe: Zucchini fritters

I love a meal where I can just make the one thing, and serve it to everyone regardless of age. By that, I mean I can put it in front of everyone without having to puree it, chop it into tiny pieces, or mess around with it too much. These fritters definitely tick all those boxes for me. It's certainly an advantage of baby led weaning - as soon as Jimmy showed an interest in food, he was given suitable samplings from my plate. Something that he could manage to gum, and hold himself. No more having to steam organic vegetables and then puree them to the appropriate consistency as I did for Ellie! I have to say, for a baby who doesn't yet have any teeth, he does manage to consume a fair variety of food (although to my chagrin, he has yet to drop any of his beloved milk feeds in favour of solids).

I digress. These fritters are a lovely light meal - I served them for dinner with a side salad, but I've also been known to whip them up for lunch or an afternoon tea. They're also very flexible - you can use something other than zucchini, just as long as you make sure to remove as much moisture from it as possible. Corn, potato and sweet potato are all variations that I've successfully made. You can play around with the seasonings to suit the vegetable used.

Vegan Zucchini Fritters
printable link

Ingredients:
  • 1 large or 2 small zucchini, grated
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup plain flour (I used wholemeal)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil, for frying

Method:
  1. Sprinkle salt over the grated zucchini and allow it to sit at least 30 minutes. Squeeze out all the excess water (no one like a soggy fritter!!). Put in a large bowl.
  2. To the zucchini, add garlic, onion, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, flour and baking powder. Mix well.
  3. Form into balls, and flatten slightly. I found this a much easier task with slightly wet hands.
  4. Add olive oil to a pan and fry over medium heat until a lovely golden colour. Flip them over and cook until the other side is brown as well.
Notes:
  • I got 7 medium sized fritters out of the recipe, which was enough for myself, the toddler and the baby to eat 
  • I served them alongside a simple tomato salsa
  • I used a plan wholemeal flour, but I think a chickpea flour would also be a good alternative
  • I added coriander seeds only because I had a whole bunch of them which I'd saved when my plant went to seed. Season to your own tastes

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recipe: Passionfruit Jam

Well, that big bowl of passionfruit that I had sitting on the window sill started to ripen at various rates. I couldn't really keep up with the eating of them, and while some were delicious, some were a bit bitter, probably because they were not really ready to be off the vine yet.

I thought about what I could make, and decided that passionfruit jam sounded amazing. It would be sweet enough to cover any bitterness, and would be like a little jar of bottled summer for use in desserts, baking or over my winter porridge. Winner!

I'd never made jam before, so I needed something that would be fairly easy, relatively foolproof and not require any fancy materials. I had a search around for some recipes, then combined all the parts I liked to come up with the below.
Passionfruit Jam
printable link

Ingredients:
  • 25 passionfruit
  • sugar (about 1kg for that amount of fruit)
  • juice from one lemon
  • water
Method:
  1. Wash all the passionfruit well and scoop the seeds into a container
  2. Take half of the skins, put them in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes, until the skins are soft and the white insides are puffing up and starting to separate from the skins
  3. Drain the skins, and reserve a cup of the liquid. Scrape the inside white pulpy bits from the skin. You can throw the skins away now (or compost them)
  4. Take the white pulp and process it until it is a smooth puree with the reserved liquid
  5. Measure the pulp/liquid puree. You want to match however much you have of that, with sugar. So, I had 4 cups of puree, which equals about 4 cups of sugar
  6. In a large saucepan, put the puree, the seeds, the lemon juice, and sugar. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring it to a boil, then simmer for an additional 15 minutes with minimal stirring (you can use a wooden spoon to make sure the sugar isn't sticking at the bottom
  7. Turn off the heat, and remove the scum on the top of the pan with a spoon
  8. Allow to cool, then decant into clean, appropriately sterilised jars
  9. Close the lids and leave the jars upside down for 15 minutes. The jam will thicken further on cooling
Notes:

  • Store jam in the fridge.
  • The recipe is scalable for different amounts of fruit - you boil half the skins and measure the appropriate amount of sugar out. No need to adjust the lemon.
  • Do not add cold food to hot jars or hot food to cold jars as they will shatter.
  • Sterilised jars are essential for preserving food without spoilage. An easy method I use when I don't have too many jars is to wash the jar, and leave it wet. Put it in the microwave without the lid for one minute.
  • Boiling the skins and using the pulp is necessary because passionfruit don't have a lot of pectin and will not set with lemon juice alone.
Do you make your own jam? What's your favourite type?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Apple Flower Tarts

This morning, I asked Ellie what she would like to take to her playdate. We usually bake something together on Friday mornings and then bring that to share... because if I have too much cake in the house, I will eat it. Haha.
She'd seen me looking at the apple flower tarts at Not Quite Nigella earlier in the week and they must have stuck in her mind because she wanted them. They'd stuck in my mind too, and I was pleased that they were chosen as the monthly Cook With Me recipe so I had an extra excuse to make them.

It seemed a simple recipe, and I had the ingredients on hand, so make them we did.

I was going to take progress shots, but really Lorraine goes into so much detail on her blog I can't add anything to it!
Instead, I'll just leave these delicious looking pictures up here, and a couple of notes about the recipe.

Notes:

  • I don't have a mandolin so I just sliced and cored the apples by hand. I don't think it made a difference
  • I used strawberry jam when making my tarts because it was what I had. I think next time I might up the jam to water ratio
  • I had apples left over after making my tarts (the recipe calls for two apples). I don't think one apple would have been enough, but I will use the leftovers to serve atop porridge now the mornings are colder. I used a Royal Gala and a Pink Lady... they were both delicious
  • I served them simply sprinkled with some icing sugar and cinnamon
  • Be sure to use vegan puff pastry if you want a vegan version (I like Borgs)!
  • I want to say that although these look super fancy they were really dead easy... so easy that my 2.5 year old toddler had no problems helping me out (and eating them too!)
I'm pretty sure it's not just toddlers who would enjoy this cute recipe. They may well make an appearance at my next dinner party!

Do you have a favourite recipe that looks amazing but is really simple to make?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to use bento egg moulds

I talked about how I've been upping the interest for Ellie's food previously. The bento shapes and moulds have been a bit of a hit actually! I've been getting a fair few questions about it, so I thought I should write up a how-to for using the bento egg moulds.
They're cute little things, and if it means that Ellie will eat more during this picky eating phase, I'm all for it. They are quite time consuming, so I wouldn't do them every day, but they're quite fun and a bit of a hit if I take them to a picnic or party.

These are the egg moulds I have (the pink and orange ones) - they're a clamshell type, with a closing fastener. There are other sorts, but they should have the clamshell and the fastener so that you get the proper shape and function when you're using them. I picked mine up from eBay.

Materials

  • Small saucepan
  • Eggs
  • Spoon
  • Bowl of cold water
  • Egg moulds

Egg size and type

Make sure you choose the right sized eggs upfront. I find that large, or extra large work best. You may need to experiment a bit to find which ones fit best. 
I like to use eggs which are a little bit older as well, as I've found that fresh eggs are harder to peel and don't come off with a nice smooth exterior. About a week or so is ideal, and if you're buying from a supermarket, that's probably what you'll get anyway.

Boiling and preparing the eggs

Boil the eggs by putting them in cold water and bringing it slowly to the boil. Once the water is boiling, remove the pan from the heat, put on the lid and leave them to sit for about 9 minutes.
Note, that you want to make sure that they egg yolk ends up in the middle of the egg instead of on one side. For that reason, you need to roll the eggs around while the water is on the way to boiling. I use a spoon and just move the eggs around, rotating them as I stir.

After the eggs are ready, I use my stirring spoon to transfer them to a bowl of cold water, reserving the saucepan water. Then to peel them nicely, crack the shell and peel carefully.

Note, that egg moulds require you to have a hot egg, which is more pliable than a cold one but I'm pretty slow at peeling and I don't have teflon hands, so I need to let them cool down a little for handling. To get around this, I transfer my peeled eggs back into the pan of hot water I used to boil them in before using the moulds. Thrifty huh!

Using the egg moulds


You'll need a bowl of cold water. I just refresh the water in bowl that I used when peeling the eggs as it usually has warmed up by then. Open a mould and dunk it in the water to help make sure your egg doesn't stick.
  
Put in your hot egg. The egg mould shape will let you know how to place the egg - for example, the bunny is thinner toward the ears, so put the egg in with the wider end down.
Close the mould firmly. Don't be shy or start to worry if some of the egg white squishes out at the sides or bottom. Close the fastener until it clicks. Put the whole mould back into your bowl of cold water and let it sit there for at least 10 minutes. At this stage, you can put them in the fridge and leave overnight if you want to.
That's it! When you're ready, just crack open your moulds.

I knew the bunny was going to be a bit messy when I closed it off. It's not too bad - definitely fixable. I just use a sharp knife to cut off all the messy bits.
The bear also came out pretty well, but you can see that I broke a little of the white when peeling so he has a little pock on his face, and the egg was slightly too small for the mould so the ears didn't form as they should. Still perfectly serviceable though.

The end result!

Do you like to eat cute things? How do you make food appealing for the small people or picky eaters in your life?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What's in my kitchen... May 2015

May! How is it May already? I feel like I only just wrote my April post! Maybe the month went quickly because we have been a bit under the weather lately. (Thank you daycare for your germy hot pot situation!). Ellie bought home a bug, which she gave to Jimmy, who shared it with me. Mr Fork was also stricken, but he claims he had it so much worse than everyone (I call man flu....). Anyway, so there was lots of hot drinks, soup and resting happening at our house. Those citrus from last month certainly came in handy!

In my kitchen is...

Passionfruit. Brisbane was recently struck by severe storms which saw five people lose their lives after their cars were swept away by flood waters. We are so very lucky to have avoided any damage, and being situated high on a hill means that our home was relatively safe from flooding, although with many roads being closed or underwater, getting anywhere took much longer than usual for a few days. While I am sure that the garden enjoyed the drenching, one thing which didn't fare so well was my neighbours passionfruit vine. It's a great producer (nothing like my vine) and was loaded with fruit and flowers pre-storm. Post-storm, well, now I have a bowl of large, mostly still-green passionfruit. I'm hoping that they will ripen gradually if I allow them to sit on the windowsill, but if not, I'll turn them into something that needs lots of sugar, possibly a jam or a cordial.
In my kitchen is...

A set of Global knives. Mr Fork and I were given a set of Global knives when we were married some years ago now. However, it is part of Chinese culture that it is bad luck to give knives or cutting implements to people, as it is symbolic of cutting off the relationship. So when I say we were given the knives, technically we were, but in return, we gave the generous giver a card with a coin in it, effectively 'buying' the knives from them.

These knives are fantastic, and are just as good now as the day that we got them. This vegetable knife is my favourite one. I use it for most tasks - yes I know there are such specialised ones as fruit knives, bread knives, fish knives etc... and we have all of those too, but this one fits my hand nicely, is balanced, big (and small) enough for most things and does the job for me nicely.

Also shown is my current favourite chopping board. Made from camphor laurel timber, I like it because the wood has naturally occurring anti-bacterial properties, and because of the wood's grain, only retains surface knife marks and doesn't take the edge off the good knifes. I got this board on one of my trips to the Noosa Edmundi markets, from Nature's Cutting Boards. I love supporting local businesses where possible.

In my kitchen is...

Lots of Hello Kitty kinder surprise insides. I'd always intended to be one of those mothers who is not about the merchandise. Quite a few people though, disagree with me, and although I don't purchase them for her, Ellie has quite the collection of Peppa Pig and Hello Kitty things - toys, bed linen, clothes and the like. One of my relatives has recently discovered that kinder surprise make a special Hello Kitty egg, and so, bought Ellie a carton of them. For those who don't know, these eggs have a thin chocolate shell, and a little toy enclosed.

I managed to stash them away before she was aware of them existing, and I've been stingy about letting her have any - some were released for Easter, and when she is especially good and deserving of a reward, I'll occasionally allow her another. (Mr Fork is not so strict, but that's another story). Anyway, we now have quite a collection of small Hello Kitty habitats, which Ellie insists on displaying prominently in the kitchen, and then arranging endlessly. They are rather cute, but also in my mind... dust collectors. Also, I'm not big on giving food as a reward either.


In my kitchen is...
Chopsticks. We have many sets of chopsticks in our house. Cheap bamboo plain ones. Painted bamboo. Plastic. The cheap ones I use for cooking - stirring and lifting spaghetti and noodles, mixing up stir fries and the like. I used to use the plastic ones to hold up Ellie's bottles to dry. As Jimmy refuses to take a bottle still, I no longer need to have an assortment of chopsticks arranged on my dish drainer. I also have my 'nice' sets of chopsticks which come out occasions for eating. This is my favourite set. I got it in Hong Kong, back before children when I used to travel more often! I don't recall what they're made of, but they're a lovely hardy black material with dimpled silver caps on the ends. The holders are the same black with a simple silver square inlaid.

Speaking of chopsticks, and not technically in my kitchen, but here is a picture of Ellie at yumcha over the weekend. Mr Fork and I have not pushed it and have always gotten her a fork, but for the first time, she attempted to use chopsticks, and I had to get a picture! She is trying to pick up pieces of a bbq pork bun (cha siu bau) which she absolutely adores! 
Although we don't always use chopsticks to eat, I suppose now it is time to start teaching her some of the chopstick etiquette that our families follow:
  • How to hold her rice bowl and scoop rice directly into her mouth with chopsticks
  • To rest chopsticks on the side of the bowl or on the individual stand to indicate you are still eating and just paused for the moment
  • Resting chopsticks at the top of the bowl to show you are finished
  • Never to stand chopsticks vertically in your rice bowl because this resembles the burning of incense and 'feeding' the dead (or death in general)
  • Transferring choice morsels of food from your plate to someone else is a sign of caring (however annoying it may be when my grandmother refuses to believe I am finished and keeps doing it!)
I am sending this post to Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial's monthly In My Kitchen event. Go have a peek through other kitchens around the globe!

What's in your kitchen this month?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Chocolate Room - Bean Scene #2


Wandering around Westfield Garden City with a sleeping Jimmy wrapped on me, I was loathe to go home and therefore have to unwrap him, put him in the car and wake him up. How fortuitous then, that I came across The Chocolate Room just as I was thinking about food (that happens often, the food thoughts).

Located at shop 1370, within Garden City on the corner of Logan and Kessels Roads in Upper Mount Gravatt, I couldn't go past a place that so blatantly screamed out 'chocolate indulgence'! Especially when I saw that they had a special deal for a coffee and cake at $6.50. Just take my money already!!!

The server was lovely enough to let me change the coffee to a hot chocolate, because if I'd had another coffee, Jimmy would certainly have been up all night as payback. I was even more chuffed when I realised that they have over 20 flavours of hot chocolate drinks!! I'll say it again for emphasis. TWENTY FLAVOURS!!! They even had no problems with me changing to soy milk (an extra $0.50).

Much deliberation saw me choosing a coconut hot chocolate, with a side of apple and raspberry crumble. The things I do for Jimmy!! My hot chocolate came out in one of those nifty little mugs which unfortunately remind me of a bedpan. Not that I'd let that stop me from enjoying this frothy cup of deliciousness! The coconut flavour was mixed into the drink, and there were also some little pieces of desiccated coconut on top. It was delicious and definitely not overwhelmingly chocolate/coconutty at all. Jimmy is too little for marshmallows, and I don't eat them so I definitely appreciated that they were left on the side instead of added into the drink.
The crumble came out presented as a piece of art in itself. There was a big dollop of cream (again, I don't eat it but it's very generous) a swirl of chocolate sauce and a sprinkling of more chocolate, and the crumble, which was more like a little tartlet was heated just enough so that it was warm but not so hot to burn the roof of your mouth off. It was also delicious, which is important as no amount of presentation can make up for bad food in my books!
The staff were lovely, and were obviously dedicated and devoted chocolate lovers themselves. Service was fairly prompt, but even if you have to wait awhile, there is plenty of chocolate deliciousness to appreciate  and tempt you in the display cabinets and on the walls.
With such a delicious range of chocolate and sweets, I didn't look at the savoury menu in detail, but I know that there are some lunch and sandwich options available. Since there are 20 flavours of hot chocolate alone, I'm fairly certain I will be making this one of my regular cafes when I need a chocolate hit!
Do you have a favourite local cafe?

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