monsters in the house

July 26, 2009

If you ever come to my place… be aware. Sometimes there are monsters in my house.

I’ve seen them. They look like giant larvae. There is a purple one and a bottle green one. Usually they slink along the floor the way larvae can. But sometimes they stand vertically and move by wiggling their tail end side to side. This is a much clumsier motion than slinking. They’re not very good at walking vertically. Sometimes they fall over. When they go down stairs they slide, bumpety bump. They usually don’t make much noise. Only the occasional giggling sound. But you can hear them coming because of the sound they make slinking or scraping on the floor.

The last time I found them in my house, they made it down to the kitchen. That’s where I discovered them. Guess what they were doing there…?

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Cooking custard!

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A Day of Baking

April 10, 2009

We are at home over Easter for the first time. Whilst Kat is in hospital we want to stay near by. I’ve cancelled my trip to San Diego. Instead of presenting at the conference, a digital version of me (filmed yesterday at the last minute) is on its way to San Diego with colleagues as I write.

Having been caught out by Good Friday (no shops open), and having not planned ahead to have bought hot cross buns from a bakery, I decided to make them myself. I had never made them before and found a recipe in my outdated Good Housekeeping cook book. I had to make do with the ingredients in the pantry. This occasioned some omissions (nutmeg and currants) and substitions. Instead of mixed spice I used garam masala. But I did have yeast! 

The mixture took ages to rise.  What better excuse to curl up on the couch with a book (currently reading Autograph Man by Zadie Smith). Gentle rain fell outside. Emma helped me roll out the shortcrust pastry for the crosses. 

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We set them to rise again before baking. A gentle aroma of spice filled the air. They were ready to eat by three in the afternoon. Delicious!

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Action in the kitchen

March 15, 2009

My daughter Sally, who is nine, has a terrific little cookbook that has been inspiring her in the kitchen.

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Lately she’s been flicking through this book and ‘independently’ making stuff. On Friday after school I found her sitting at the bench with her apron on. “I’m going to make garlic bread!” she announced.

“Great, we have half a baguette left from yesterday. How much butter do you need?”

“One hundred grams”. Sally took the butter out of the fridge and placed it on the cutting board. She took a paring knife out of the drawer. 

“Do you know how much one hunderd grams is?”

“Yes. This much”. She indicated her estimate with the knife and tried to cut the firm block of butter”.

“Perhaps only make half the recipe”, I suggested, “we only have half a baguette”.

“Yeah, great idea”.

“So fifty would be there. Would you like me to cut it?”

She moved back and allowed me to cut the butter for her. She expressed her relief. It was quite solid just out of the fridge. 

With the precarious job of cutting over, I decided to let her work independently. I knew she’d call me if she needed me. I flicked the oven onto preheat and went back to my study.

A little while later, she called out to me from the kitchen. “What colour is garlic?”

I keep the garlic together with onions and shallots in a wooden bowl in a drawer. We had red onions. The shallots are red.

“The garlic is in the drawer with the onions”, I replied.

“Yeah I know, but what colour is it?”

“White”. 

This was all the information she needed and things became quiet in the kitchen. After a few minutes I decided to go in to help her with the garlic press. I found her microwaving the butter. She was reading the instructions aloud. “On high for forty seconds”. She was engrossed and busy. I picked up the clove of garlic and while I sliced off the excess skin asked her if she’d like me to show her how to use the crusher. She looked confused. 

“Oh, I didn’t know you had to use that part of the garlic”, she said.  I suddenly noticed little flecks of white garlic skin in a bowl that she’d carefully peeled off the bulb and desiccated. “Ah Sally, this is the skin!”. I demonstrated to her which piece of the garlic is of interest and placed the skin in the compost. I showed her how the press worked and demonstrated the removal of the skin from the inside of the press. She watched me with a serious expression on her face but said nothing.

“Well, you learn something new everyday!” I said, jollying her with the cliched expression. She replied with a half-smile,”No, I don’t! Not everyday”.

She watched me crush the garlic into her melted butter, then she stirred the mixture vigorously. I hung around because the next step was to slice the bread. 

“Don’t slice it all the way through”, I advised.

“I know that. It says so in the book!”.

I watched her use the bread knife. 

“Just use a butter knife to spread on the mixture”, I suggested. 

With the butter knife in her hand she hesitated over the runny mixture. I suggested that she spread it on both sides and demonstrated it quickly. I went to leave, but she said “I just need that paper stuff to wrap the garlic bread in. Where’s it kept?”.

“Don’t you mean foil?” I corrected as I opened the drawer.

“No! Its a microwave cookbook mum. I need waxed paper because you can’t put foil in the microwave. That’s the point of the book! Its all microwave! Kids can do it all by themselves! All the recipes are safe! No hot oven!”. 

“Oh”, I said, standing corrected. I handed her the roll of waxed paper and turned off the preheating oven. 

She finished it off by herself and called me and her sister into the kitchen when it was ready. She had placed it on the table and put out three plates. It was actually delicious. I was most impressed and so was her sister. Sally puffed up with pride.

I’m pleased because we often have day-old baguette that ends up in the compost. Now we have a handy solution to prevent waste and a willing little cook.

That was Friday. On Saturday her sister made Brownies. On Sunday Sally was back in the kitchen again. She had begun making marmalade from her microwave book before I was aware of any action in the kitchen. She called me in to help when she needed to use the blender. She was in her apron and she’d already peeled and sliced carrots, chopped oranges and a lemon.

I showed her how to operate it safely and prepared to give her a demonstration, but the blades seemed to get stuck over the slices of carrot and in the skin of the citrus. It was with much frustrated effort that we worked out that it wasn’t the size of the pieces she’d cut that was making the blades stick, but that the motor in the blender was broken. 

My plans for the morning were forgotten as I took out my cooks knife and resolved to be her “blender”. I have a wonderful new knife (from the Japanese range ‘Global’). The work of chopping was strangely satisfying. I ran the knife quickly over and back through small portions of fruit and veg she’d already cut into small pieces. These I scraped into her mixing bowl in increments making room on the cutting board for the next small portion. As I worked Sally watched, half mesmerized. 

Halfway through the process the door bell rang and her grandfather (my father) entered the kitchen. He’d been on a cycling tour in country Victoria. His impromptu visit was on his way home from our local station. He sat at the bench in his cycling gear and had a cuppa and spoke of his trip whilst I chopped. Sally supervised the growing mound of chopped stuff in her bowl with satisfaction. Her grandfather took an interest in what she was making and asked if she had enough jars. She’d found one she told him. He offered to drop a couple off for her, which he did an hour later.

I watched her as she added the sugar to the chopped ingredients and followed the cooking instructions, which included stirring after an initial blast in the microwave on high. Finally the mixture had to cook for thirty minutes on medium. “When its cooked, Sally, don’t take it out without supervision, will you? It’s going to be very hot”.

I’m pleased to report that it was another cooking success. She scooped the marmalade into the jars after it had cooled. I tasted some on bread and it was delicious. I told her so and had a second piece. “Try some”, I offered, holding out my piece of toast for her to bite.

“No. I hate marmalade”, she admitted.

“Why did you make it if you hate it?”, I enquired, laughing.

“It was the only thing in the book without butter”, she said matter-of-factly. (We’d run out because her sister had made the brownies with the block that was left).

Sally was proud of her work. She made labels, set one of the jars aside for her grandfather and informed him by phone.

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So far the summer is whizzing by in a whir of socializing with house guests and relatives visiting from far and further away. My favorite cousin from Brissy and his family of five left today after three weeks here. We’ve also had the hub’s brother and his family of five here from the UK. We’re on to our fourth set of house guests, with a change-over happening on Friday. At various pinch points we’ve needed to put up tents to cope with the numbers – in total five tents and one camper van!

People have been asking me how I cope with all the visitors and house guests so well, and ask whether I’m getting tired of catering for the hoards. My answer is the same each time. It’s not really much effort at all. For a start, we have been cooking combined barbecues. I’ve been placing orders at the local fresh sea food supplier. There is no effort in placing and picking up an order, putting out freshly shucked oysters and wrapping a fresh barramundi or salmon fillet (big enough to serve 10) in foil with lemon and a bit of butter and whacking it on the barbie for others to supervise while throwing together a couple of salads. There was one time that the two kilos of prawns I ordered needed peeling before marinating and barbecuing, but my friend, Cath (one of our house guests for New Years Eve) did it with me and made it fun. The result was worth it by the way. Prior to barbecuing them, we marinated the prawns in garlic, lemon juice, sambal oelek and half of the bunch of coriander that Cath had brought with her for her fried noodle salad. 

And further, I have not been cleaning the house from top to bottom every time new friends or relatives arrive. I’m on holidays and the house is as they find it (even down to them bringing their own towels and linen). I do occasionally ask the girls to tidy the upstairs bathroom. With four daughters the bench in there is so out of control with products for every thing you could imagine that it almost warrants a photograph. For example, how many pump packs of Impulse, and how many bottles of Listerine could girls of nine, twelve, fourteen and sixteen actually need to have in their shared bathroom? On last count there were three of each. I’m not even beginning to count the number of hair products, moisturizers, body glow and makeup products.

I do check to see that the guests have all they need, and do make sure they feel entirely at home to put the kettle on or take over the kitchen any time they feel the urge. All in all, they muck in and the result is shared labor. Every body’s happy!

Catering for sixty

January 3, 2009

I have another cooking challenge. Last year I cooked an entree for fifty for the yacht club progressive dinner. This year for the same event, I am down to cook the main course. 

I hadn’t given it much thought. I’ve hosted christmas dinner for twenty and a new years eve barbeque for thirty two. The progressive dinner is my next challenge and its next Saturday. There is something about being under pressure that kicks me into gear. I’ve decided to make beef wellington. The yacht club has a terrific industrial kitchen and very large oven. I’ll be able to prepare the beef wellingtons beforehand and place them in the oven when the time comes. Whilst they are cooking I’ll be able to eat my entree and prepare the accompaniments. 

The problem is I’ve never cooked beef wellington before. I’ll have to finalize a recipe and try it at home. The trial run will also help with the costing. Two friends have told me their beef wellington recipes. They are slightly different. Both require eye fillet steak, puff pastry and a combination of onion and mushroom sauteed in butter. The difference is one uses chicken liver pate spread onto the puff pastry and the other uses blue cheese, crumbled into the cooled sauteed vegetables and spread onto the pastry prior to rolling it around the meat:

1. Mushrooms and Blue Cheese

Saute chopped onions, mushrooms in butter. Add red wine, favorite herbs and reduce. Cool. Crumble through blue cheese during assembly.

2.  Traditional

Saute onions, mushrooms in butter. Cool. Spread chicken liver pate on puff pastry during assembly.

Time pressure dictates that I make up my mind and do a trial run tomorrow night. I’ll need to cost and order the ingredients early in the week. But which recipe should I choose and what should I serve with it?

We have the technology!

October 30, 2007

Here at my place, dancing in the kitchen has never been easier.

I was inspired whilst staying with friends in Tuscany earlier in the year to set aside time to download my music collection onto my ipod. In our Tuscan villa, we selected music to dine, cook or relax by from our friend’s entire music collection, at the convenient touch-twirl of a dial and click of a button. With a little set of travel speakers, he was able to provide good quality music for us anywhere in our villa.

Last week I accomplished the transfer and was amazed to see just how little of the coloured-in ‘capacity sausage’ my entire music collection took up. Upon completion only a few milimetres of the sausage were coloured in!

I set my ipod up in the little travel speakers I got for my birthday in the kitchen and I’m very pleased with the result. This little technological gadget has revolutionized singing and dancing in the kitchen here. I have discovered the ‘play all songs’ option and have begun playing my entire collection alphabetically. Today whilst preparing chicken shaslicks I was up to C and got half way through D when dinner was ready to be served. How strange it was to listen to songs from my music collection out of sync with their usual albums! For example in C, we had ‘Chain of Fools’ by Aretha Franklin followed by ‘Chunky, Chunky Air Guitar’ by The Whitlams, ‘Close to Me’ (INXS) and ‘Come Fly With Me’, Frank Sinatra!

 

Yogurt Oatmeal Muffins

May 18, 2007

Here is my favorite muffin recipe, upon Charlotte’s request.

This recipe is very flexible. I like to make them either with just a mashed banana, or banana and choc chips, but you can really chuck in your own favorite combo of flavours and be guaranteed of success.

1. mix 1 cup unsweetened plain or vanilla yogurt and 1 cup rolled oats together and leave to soak in the fridge for half an hour.

2. after half an hour stir the following things in, making sure you fold the flour in last to avoid over beating: 1 egg, 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use extra virgin olive oil, but it works ok with canola oil or whatever you prefer), 1/2 cup sugar, your own favorite combinations of fruit, nuts, chocolate, spices, 1 1/4 cup self raising flour (or plain flour plus one teaspoon baking powder).

3. the mixture makes 12 large muffins (1 tray) or 24 little muffins (2 trays – these are very cute). Grease your tray and spoon the mixture in. Cook for about 15 minutes in a fairly hot oven, 220 Celsius. You might need 20 minutes for the large muffins, but its worth checking them at the 15 minute mark and giving them the extra time until they are golden brown on top, and no longer squishy – they should spring back to the touch.

Eat them when they cool or even before they cool down. Delicious!

They last quite well for two or three days without going dry – good for school lunch boxes.