Monday, February 20, 2012

Preserve yourself

Home preserving is thought by many to be out dated craft. Almost something we don’t admit to, lest people think we have nothing better to do with time than brew strange concoctions from weeds and leaves, or we are secret crazy housecoat wearing nana types, who pinch babies cheeks in supermarket queues and iron everything including undies.

Yummy mummies may buy their chutney’s and preserves from trendy farmers markets but this mummy makes own, Yes, I am preserver! And, no, I don’t wear housecoat or curlers.

Preserving isn’t occupation for filling time while husband hunts for missing crochet hook. Home preserving is simply great cheap way to store seasons’ surplus.
A pantry full of pickles for household that never eats cold meat is waste of effort, but shelf of homemade chutney for folk who enjoy curry, picnics, toasted sandwiches, cheese boards and antipasto is treasure.
Kids love preserved fruit, in yogurt, for baby food, on cereal and porridge and in desserts.

1 ½ kilos of fruit or vegetables is sufficient for 3-4 jars of chutney or jam  and 1 kg stone fruit yields approximately one big jar of bottled fruit for sumptuous crumble, tart or breakfast topping in depths of winter.
Much time involved in preserving is cooking time, not hands on time. So chutney cooks while you read, or listen to the spelling words, or catch up on Coro St.

A big saucepan or stock pot is fine for bottling fruits. A preserving pan is useful but not essential

Preserved or Bottled Peaches - Use the same method to preserve apricots, plums, pears or pineapple.

I prefer a light syrup for preserving fruit, so the fruit flavours are not overpowered by the sugar. I use a ratio of 1 cup of sugar to 3 cups of water.
To fill a standard large preserving jar you will need around 1 kg of fruit. Ideally use ripe un blemished fruit. Fruit that is slightly under-ripe will develop good colour and flavour once cooked, so don’t discount the fruit of an old tree that won’t fully ripen, or a bag of fruit picked for sale too soon.

Sterilize the jars you intend to use by placing them in an oven heated to 120° for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile combine the sugar and water in a large pan and bring to a gentle simmer.

Prepare the seals by pouring boiling water over them and letting them become flexible.
Wash the peaches, peel them and either leave whole or cut into halves, quarters or slices– if you leave them whole the stones can be easily picked out when the fruit is served.
Cook the peaches in the syrup until soft when pricked with the point of a knife. They should be just tender,
Using tongs lift a hot clean jar out of the oven and place it in a heatproof dish. Pack the fruit into the hot jar. Real preserving experts make an art of filling the jar in neat layers stacking sliced fruit in a herringbone pattern up the sides of the jar, the rest of us just pile it in.
When the jar is full to the rim, ladle in some very hot syrup then slip a long flexible knife (a filleting knife is ideal) down the insides of the jar to release air bubbles then quickly top up the syrup again and place on a seal so that when you press the seal down, excess syrup flows down the sides of the jar. Keeping pressure on top of the seal so no air gets in, screw the screw band into place.
Set the jar aside to cool. When completely cool, wash all the sticky syrup off the sides of the jar, add a label with the date and store until required.
As the contents cools a vacuum is formed. The seal will contract and become slightly concave and will give a reassuring pop, confirming the contents are fresh when you come to open the jar.

If using:
Apricots - Wash, cut into halves and remove the stone.
Pineapple - Peel and slice removing tough core or cut into chunks.
Plums: Wash and cut into halves, remove the stone or leave whole.
Pears: Peel, cut into halves or quarters and remove core.
Then cook in the syrup as described above.

Trouble shooting
Make sure every utensil is sterilised and that the jar, seal, fruit and syrup are scalding hot. If your seal does not form a vacuum when cool the filling was not hot enough. Remove seal and reheat in boiling water, place the full jar in the microwave and heat till filling is boiling hot. Pour boiling water into the top of the jar until it overflows (yes over the top of the existing fruit and syrup, you are just topping up and ensuring a good seal).
Replace the seal in the manner described above.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Because you're worth it

I’ve heard it said that self control is its own reward – Bosh!
Reward yourself I say. You’ve resisted temptation for weeks and saved loads of cash, so treat yourself and the ones you love to one of these indulgent and inexpensive treats, they’re perfect for Valentines day sharing with workmates, family members or just for YOU, cos like the saying goes " You're worth it".
Chocolate cupcakes with Raspberry swirl frosting
These pretty cup cakes are easy to make and look really special, ideal for sharing on Valentines day.
Makes 30 + mini muffin sized cup cakes or 12-15 regular sized cup cakes
For the cupcakes  
1 ¼ cups self raising flour
½ cup sugar
150 g butter
½ cup cocoa
1/3 cup hot water
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs lightly beaten with a fork

For the Raspberry butter cream frosting

¼ cup Kremelta at room temperature - (Kremelta is vegetable shortening)
¼ cup butter at room temperature
2 cups icing sugar sifted
1 tbsp milk
a few drops Raspberry flavouring
a few drops pink colouring
Sprinkles if desired
Piping bag
large star nozzle
Pre heat the oven to 180°
Line tins with cup cake cases

Mix the cocoa and hot water together to form a paste and set aside to cool.
Place the flour, sugar and butter into the bowl of a processor or mixer, add the cooled cocoa mixture, vanilla and the lightly beaten eggs. Pulse or mix, scraping down the sides until the batter is smooth.
Place heaped teaspoons of batter into the cases, scraping it off the spoon with your finger or the tip of a knife. The cases should be around 2/3 full, resulting in nice plump cakes that don’t over spill.
Bake the cakes for 12 -15 minutes or until risen and springy. Cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting
Beat the Kremelta and butter together until fluffy, don’t skimp at this stage; allow 4 minutes for beating with an electric beater (set the timer if necessary, beating is like listening to a crying baby, it always seems longer than it actually is.)  Add the icing sugar, 1 cup at time, mixing well after each addition, then add the milk and flavouring. I use colourless flavouring and colour the icing separately.
To make the ½ pink ½ white swirls; place ½ the frosting in a separate bowl and add a few drops of colour.
Fit the nozzle into the piping bag then stand the bag in a jar or vase to keep it upright and open. Use a spatula or spoon to place one colour of frosting into one side of the bag and the other colour into the other side. I press the spatula gently against the side of the bag and scrape the frosting off the spatula, to keep it from landing in the middle. Ensure each colour goes all the way down to the nozzle so when you squeeze the bag, both colours intermingle.
To pipe swirls, start in the middle of the cup cake and go around finishing on top of where you started. If your swirls are too big you won’t have enough frosting for the whole batch so try to keep them to once around then pull up to make a point, so you have enough frosting for the whole batch. Add sprinkles or decorations before the frosting begins to harden.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The "Eating out experiment"

Decided take young-uns out to dine. Our “Kids menu” days are thankfully behind us and during adolescent years - none of us prepared to appear in public together so eating out mostly avoided.
Have teens now, and want to introduce them to fine dining before they’ve utterly sold souls to fast food. So will take our snapback hat, skinny jean wearing, bickering while texting, teens to different dining establishment each month this year, to try different cuisines and such like, also interested how smart restaurants respond to teen diners.
 Had thought to play safe, somewhere with familiar offerings first off. Chose Prego as wood fired pizzas and posh looking puds were likely to please both young and old. Was v.wet Saturday night, so Rich turfed self and young-uns out at door before parking in first available space - in small northern town apparently.
Restaurant was packed, but kindly, (also quite attractive) Maitre d, said we could wait. Self was keen, would be approx 1 hr.
Young –uns utterly outraged at suggestion of waiting for table, being accustomed to establishments where meal is free if not prepared and served in under 2 minutes. Tried to explain waiting not actually insult, but was talking to self, as young-uns already on pavement.
 Rich arrived drenched, in time to lead us back to car. Next stop – Cantina in K’rd for repeat performance - kids incandescent with rage when waiting suggested, Rich parked arriving damply, just in time to leave.  
Final try – Elliot Stables, as has plenty of tables, and immediate seating now Priority One.
Described it to kids as food hall with candles and posh-er food. Rich now looking for parking space in outer reaches of civilised world.
Was 7.30ish on Saturday night, three of Elliot Stables eateries already closed and my eye has developed twitch. Boy declares himself faint with hunger. The teenage boy feeds roughly every 15 minutes and may become dangerous when hungry.
BBQ skewers from grill seemed safe option - meat is filling. Our girl wanted “healthy –ish” so chose bruschetta. Rich and I went for French. Soft drinks always eye wateringly pricey, but bit bullet and coughed up for drinks all round.
Boy’s skewers were minuscule, quail perhaps? Bruschetta was deemed OK but not v. exciting. Triumph of evening was bowl of fried chicken from tapas bar, topped with fresh Salsa Verde. Kids hoovered them up. Felt momentary eye twitch picturing noisy scene and accusations of poisoning and child abuse that would have occurred had I served Salsa Verde on chicken at home, reminded self that this is whole point of eating out experiment.
Kids thought evening great success, but then they didn’t have to park, or pay.  My advice if planning to take your young –uns to Elliot stables, is go early to ensure all eateries open, and give each diner cash to pay as we had 5 separate bills.  Next month will think ahead and definitely book somewhere, although eye is starting to twitch at thought.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Get Grilling

Is long weekend this weekend, and cant come soon enough for me – forecast is for fab weather and am solar powered, so will come alive the minute sun comes out and temperature creeps up. Adore hot sticky summer evenings, am addicted to smell of sun block and have no complaints about sand in car cos Summer is my language.

Round our way, long weekend means tidal flow of neighbours all arriving or going away for weekend. Tents appear in gardens, cars are parked on lawns, burglar alarms set and neighbour children coerced into letterbox clearing and cat feeding.

All have one thing in common, simple desire to enjoy a good old kiwi summer break, a picnic at  beach, or BBQ with all the cousins, cricket with pop and the kids, chance to meet  newest member of family curled asleep in baby seat... Its chill out time with friends in the evening, while kids muck about outside, water fights, cool drinks, and much needed change of pace.

At the bach, beach or home, barbecue is only way to go. Cooking around BBQ is communal event, it’s convivial – as can chat and char at same time, multitasking even man can manage.

 Meat is king of barbecue but if you have to watch what you spend it’s still possible to host great BBQ without blowing budget.  Flame cooking requires tender cuts which can be expensive, but for less costly  steaks, rump is good. Marinate and use for kebabs or cut into smaller steaks and include lots of “sides”. If you have meat in freezer and think it may be tough, use steak sneak tenderising technique below.

Make ahead sauces and dressings can travel wherever you do, and a good spice rub enhances days catch or supermarket special. Zingy barbecue sauce will conceal charred remains of most BBQ disasters, protecting  dignity of least experienced cooks so put on your comfy pants and relax.

Burgers and Kofta’s or spicy meatballs, optimise inexpensive mince but are always popular, with loads of salad and some fresh bread or flat breads. The latest issue of mEAT magazine Christmas/Summer has some of my latest BBQ recipes including burgers and Kofta's just click link then scroll past Christmas stuff to BBQ recipes

BBQ tips

Brushing oil on the grill makes nice grill marks on your food and reduces sticking, but does result in  a bit of smoke
Resist the temptation to turn meat more than once – each turn breaks the surface causing juices to leak out toughening the meat
Serve plenty of side dishes so everyone has plenty to eat – fresh air makes you hungry
Cook spicy potatoes or other vegetables on the grill plate while the meat is cooking
Keep sauces warm in a saucepan on the back of the grill
Use separate utensils for turning meat and basting so surplus sauce doesn't become contaminated with juices from meat
Brunch is a great time to BBQ - eggs, french toast, bacon, lots of coffee - fun and less expensive than the night time meat feast
Stone fruits, bananas and bread dough all make delicious additions to the barbecue
Boil sausages briefly before barbecuing, this will render out some of the fat and provide you with a "pre cooked" sausage that will cook more quickly on the grill. Real "made from meat" sausages take longer than you might think to cook through. If it's pink in the middle don't eat it.

BBQ Cooking Times Chart
Use the barbecue cooking times chart below as a guideline only-- cooking times vary from grill to grill.

Boneless Beef Steaks, 1" thick
Rare: 15-20 minutes; Medium: 20-25 minutes; Well: 25+ minutes
Boneless Beef Steaks, 2" thick
Rare: 30-35 minutes; Medium: 35-40 minutes; Well: 40+ minutes
Hamburger Patty, 1/2" thick
Medium: 10-15 minutes; Well: 15+ minutes
Hot Dog
10 minutes
Bratwurst or Other Sausage
15-20 minutes
Pork Chops, 1/2-3/4" thick
15-30 minutes
Boneless Chicken Breast, 120g
20-30 minutes
Boneless Chicken Breast, 120g
20-25 minutes
Bone-in Chicken Breast or Thigh
30-40 minutes
Bone-in Chicken Drumstick
30-35 minutes
Lamb Chops, 1" thick
10-12 minutes
Fish, Small Whole
12-18 minutes, turning once
Fish Steaks, 1" thick
10 minutes, turning once
Fish Fillets
4-6 minutes per 1/2" of thickness
Shrimp, whole
2-3 minutes per side

 Steak sneak technique

No one enjoys tough steak. This technique makes a regular cut like rump tender like fillet. I’ve tested it and it works, just don’t tell anyone!
Coat the steaks on each side with sea salt and leave for 15 minutes to half an hour, then rinse thoroughly to remove all the salt. Pat dry and cook in the normal manner. The tenderising is all due to osmosis and the breakdown of the protein cell structure blah blah blah- I read about it, gave it a try and it works.

Lip smacking baby back ribs or wings with Zim Zam BBQ sauce

Ribs and wings are wonderfully tender, spicy, sticky and fun to eat. Definitely not first date material though! Supply a finger bowl and loads of napkins.
Ribs are very high in fat, simmering the ribs releases much of the fat and reduces flaring on the barbecue.  It also makes sure the meat is thoroughly cooked and meltingly tender.

Serves: 4 or more The sauce makes enough to baste a couple of kilos of pork spare ribs or more if using wings. You will need to allow around 500g ribs per person, but less if you are serving other meats or mains.

 Time to make: 30 minutes plus barbecuing

For the simmering water for ribs
1 tablespoon golden syrup
4 whole cloves
4 peppercorns

For the Lip smacking barbecue sauce
1/3 cup white vinegar
½ cup prepared tomato sauce– I use Heinz
1 tablespoon golden syrup
3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup orange
1 teaspoon mustard powder
¼ cup sweet chilli sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

If using wings skip this step
Place the ribs in a saucepan with enough water to cover them. Add the golden syrup, cloves and peppercorns to the water and simmer the ribs gently for 20 – 30 minutes. Discard the water and reserve the ribs.
While the ribs are simmering combine the barbecue sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes. If using wings, coat in some of the barbecue sauce and marinate for 30 minutes, reserve remaining sauce for basting.
Pre heat the barbecue; use a medium flame.  Brush the ribs all over with sauce and cook, basting with sauce and turning frequently during cooking till dark coloured and starting to blacken in places. for wings, baste and turn ensuring the chicken is thoroughly cooked and no pink juices are evident.