Friday, December 30, 2011

Money well spent

It is fair to say I have a lot of cookbooks, food magazines and recipe clippings.  It is also fair to say that most of them are in pristine condition - or at least read but not used.  However there is one that is comes off the shelf constantly or at least once a month.  This is a book that I picked up as I was about to leave a second hand book shop years ago and I think it is the best $8 I have ever spent (closely matched by the USD9 spent on my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook from Walmart).  This is the Julie Stafford's Muffin Book.  Julie Stafford wrote a very popular series of books called "A Taste of Life" that contained healthy recipes that she developed as a result of her husband being diagnosed with cancer in 1980.  The muffin book contains a huge variety of sweet and savoury muffins; the savoury ones don't appeal to me but the sweet variety are great, with most containing fruit.  The common theme in all the recipes is the use of apple juice concentrate in place of sugar and grape seed oil instead of butter.  All the sweet muffins include eggs, but there is an option to use either whites or whole eggs.  The Lemon and Blueberry recipe, pictured above, is one of my favourites.  They freeze well, are tasty and quick to make as well as being relatively healthy.  Win win I say.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Day

The first Christmas Day lunch at the new STLT HQ was fairly quiet with some lucky family members spending time in Hawaii.  So it was just Stos and myself,  L & D, Mum and Dad and three dogs.  Lunch was non traditional starting with Buffalo Wings, followed by Stos's perfect pork cooked on the BBQ accompanied by scalloped potatoes, roasted baby carrots, roasted pumpkin salad with spinach, walnuts and feta and baked tomato, onion, zucchini and beans.  Following on for dessert was pavlova with berries and Christmas pudding with custard.  After that came almond bread, shortbread and Christmas cake - whew!  We always like to have an after lunch activity on Christmas Day - watch a movie, take dogs for a walk or simply have a snooze - but this year was a bit different; we gave the dogs a bath.  Evil Eve was in desperate need for a bath and it was easier to wash her in our outdoor laundry sink.  And while Stos was at it, he decided that P & K could have a bath as well - much to their disgust.  Dog washing complete, we then spoke to cousins in Sydney, a sister in Hawaii and a brother in Savannah, the latter interrupted by the noise from the hailstorm that hit Melbourne during the afternoon.  The noise in a tin house with a tin roof was so loud that we couldn't hear ourselves think.  But there was no damage, just a mini river across the backyard from the ensuing downpour.  But by tomorrow the temperature will start to head north, with 36C predicted for New Year's Day.  The vagaries of Melbourne weather!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The extent of my Christmas baking

A lot of people go quite crazy at Christmas with baking - American blogs/podcasts talk about making all sorts of Christmas cookies and my sister-in-law goes into a biscuit baking frenzy at this time of the year.  In the case of the latter, that's OK as we usually end up with a lovely tin of assorted biscuits, including a Tassie specialty called Kiss Biscuits (but not this year and we are not happy!).  As for me, I don't feel an overwhelming urge to bake for weeks in advance and turnout vast quantities of anything, but I do make a few lots of almond bread.  This started over 20 years ago when our neighbour in Footscray gave us some almond bread for Christmas.  I loved it so much that I had to have a go at making it myself.  I originally used a recipe from the Women's Weekly cookery card series but over time I have adapted it somewhat.  I like to give it to people bagged in cellophane and ribbon as a Christmas gift, but always have to keep plenty for my family, who get cranky if they don't have some on Christmas day.  The best thing about almond bread is that it looks impressive, is almost universally loved (allergy sufferers excluded), yet it is so easy to make.  This is the recipe I use, based on the Australian Women's Weekly Recipe:

3 egg whites
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup plain flour - sifted
1/2 cup self raising flour - sifted
125g whole almonds with skin on or use half almonds with the other half made up of pistachios or roasted hazelnuts.  The pistachios give a lovely pale green outline but use whatever makes you happy.  If you really like glace fruit, use a half quantity in place of half of the nuts - the result looks pretty but I don't like glace fruit enough to bother.

Heat oven to 180C/350F.  Beat egg whites until stiff and beat in the castor sugar until dissolved.  Gradually add the flour and stir in the nuts.  Transfer into a greased bar tin (I use a tin 8.5cm wide and long and cook for approximately 40 minutes.  Allow to go completely cold and leave over night.  Slice into very thin slices (I get Stos to do this with a serrated knife) then lay out on baking sheets and dry out in a slow oven (150C/300F).  I find that about half an hour does it in my oven and the thinner bits dry out more quickly.  The slices should be dry, but still pale in colour.  Well that's the theory - I always find I have a few brown bits but they still taste good.  Once cold, serve with coffee and stand back and accept the compliments, or package as gifts.  The recipients will think you are a genius - if only they knew!

This recipe doubles quite well although the froth of 6 egg whites starts climbing up the beaters in the first stage of the recipe.  And if you hate waste like I do, the left over 6 egg yokes are the perfect quantity for the base of home made ice-cream.  Or use for proper egg custard for the Christmas pudding.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's cooking?

I think I have said before that MasterChef is not my thing.  While it's not nasty like other reality television shows, I hate the exaggerated suspense of the elimination and judging and the staginess of the whole process.  After living with the Landlady last year, who was a bit of a fan, Stos got hooked on it and will frequently call me in to look at a dish he thinks I will like and I have to make sure that I don't get sucked into the culinary vortex.  So when he bought home a copy of Julie Goodwin's cookbook "Our Family Table", I wasn't all that interested.  But having had a flick through, it has a curious appeal, not unlike a CWA cookbook.  There's nothing scary in there and I love the way she has written the book as tribute to her family and friends by sharing their recipes and associated stories.  The chapter on baking is probably my favourite; packed with tasty biscuits and cakes, including one entitled "Never Fail" cake.  If that's not a Nanna recipe, I'll be damned!  What really caught my eye was the passionfruit shortbread - a combination of two of my favourite things in life.  The urge to make it finally overcame me and last night I baked the disc of golden shortbread (well, a bit brown around the edges) and made the passionfruit butter that will sandwich wedges of it together.  It's looks good but one change that I would make is to flatten the shortbread into a larger tin than the recommended 20cm springform pan.  For a lovely big piece of plain shortbread, the thickness is fine but when sliced and wedged together with filling, well even I would have to say it's a bit much.  However passionfruit butter looked amazing, so I really wanted to use it.

My solution was to cut the biscuit into wedges, then cut in half again across the width and fill.  Verdict - the right size; not the best shortbread I have made but tasty enough and the passionfruit buttercream was heavenly.  Put it this way, I took some in to the Day Job to share and my colleagues  didn't complain!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Unashamed advertising

I'm not a great one for entering competitions.  But this one was worth creating a Facebook identity (avoided to date)  in order to "Like" the two businesses sponsoring the giveaway, writing a specific blog post covering the competition and putting a banner up in order to win a Naughty Shorts frock and a pair of clogs from  Lotta from Stockholm.  Since reading about Bec from Naughty Shorts in Frankie Magazine earlier this year, I have bought two of her dresses and I love, love, love them.  Her size 8 fits me perfectly and her vintage fabric range is just divine.  So there is not much I wouldn't do to get two extra entries in her giveaway.

This is a picture of my latest purchase which is going to be my favourite frock this summer:

Our Creative Space

The Wonky Star throw is finally coming together.  Despite the fact that hand quilting is a very slow process for me (probably because I am not using the right technique), I am really happy with the effect on the reverse side:

It's quite tricky getting the stitches even and I do spend a lot of time pulling stitches out and looking at the reverse side as that is where the real effect of the hand quilting is supposed to be seen.  Maybe if I used the "rocking" technique it would make my life easier.  Perhaps there is something to be said for machine quilting.

For more creative stuff, head over here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oh Beehave

izaLayout of the Small Plates quilt by AndreaAMM
Layout of the Small Plates quilt, a photo by AndreaAMM on Flickr.
I have been a bit slack with the blocks that some of the lovely lades from the Melbourne Modern Quilt Guild made for our "Oh Beehave" quilting bee. I asked them to make me blocks to construct Elizabeth Harman's Small Plates quilt from her gorgeous book "The Practical Guide to Patchwork". However I gave out mainly print borders and squares so when I was asked to take a picture of the project as part of the wrap up, I had to whip up some of the white bordered squares to alternate with the print blocks but still don't have enough to put together one of the two quilts I am making. So while this layout is a bit rough and not the right size as yet, I am thrilled with the combination of  happy colours from a very eclectic mix of fabrics. But before doing any more work on this, I must get back to work on the Wonky Stars throw; currently on hold due to a nasty cold.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Twinkle, twinkle

Basting the Wonky Star throw by AndreaAMM

As pleased as I am with my revsible Wonky Stars throw, it turned out to be a beast to baste.  I knew it would be challenging to line up an identically sized top and back but I did not think it would be that hard.  I spent a good three hours trying to get it right at the Melbourne Modern Quilt Guild Sit and Sew Evening (in my case Stand and Baste) but all I did was pin it together and undo it four times. On the Sunday I decided I  needed to anchor four seam joins and go from there rather than try to line up the edges (yes Rachel, I should have taken your advice the first time around!).  So it is done now and the red outline  quilting is under way, but it's a slow process and there is no way it will be finished for the birthday next weekend.  But then again, it's no fun getting all your presents at once, is it?