Chocolate “Paddle Pops”

Chocolate "Paddle Pops"

Yes. I know it’s been a while, but there’s been stuff and it’s been hot and things have been going on and, and…

Never mind.

Some of the stuff that’s been happening.

2016-02-10 18.05.21

Some of the stuff that’s been happening.

Ahem.

Today’s post is in honour of all those mums out there with overheated youngsters and very little disposable income. School is back and the heat seems unrelenting right now with some parts of Australia having 4-5 consecutive days of 40º C plus heat. Which sucks.

So, it’d be quite nice to be able to give the kidlings an icy-cold, almost-good-for-you treat when they flood in the door.

This is one such treat.

Paddle Pops are a part of summer in this neck of the world, but they can get pricey quite quickly. Make your own and save some money while also controlling portion sizes and the amount of sugar that goes into your little ones (or your big ones in this household!)

They use very few ingredients and take about 5 mins to make and 2 hours or so to freeze solid. The kids can even help with making them.

Icy pole moulds

Icy pole moulds

I use icy pole moulds that I bought from Tupperware some time ago – mostly because my mother had the exact same ones when I was a kid, so I had to have them – you understand, don’t you? However, you don’t have to get the same ones. Kmart and other discount stores have icy pole moulds for sale at very low prices, failing that (small) disposable cups will work just as well. Use what you have.

The recipe calls for FOUR (4) ingredients: milk, sugar, cornflour and cocoa.

Start with 500 ml of milk. Any kind of milk: full cream, skim, reconstituted powdered milk, half and half, soy, almond, goat, whatever. Place it in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium heat. You want to give yourself time to get the other ingredients ready…

Heat the milk

Heat the milk

Then, into a smallish bowl, sift together the sugar, cocoa and cornflour.

Sift the dry ingredients together.

Sift the dry ingredients together.

I confess to not using cocoa in these pictures. We have a largish tin of a dark hot chocolate mix that was given to me and has been kicking around our pantry for some time now. It doesn’t contain milk powder, so I’ve started using it as a cocoa substitute where possible. Take my lead here, you can substitute the cocoa with Milo, Ovaltine, or Nesquick if that is what you have.

Now, get yourself a whisk. I have a little sauce whisk that I bought for a few dollars at Ikea the last time I was there, and I prefer to use it for this task as it works well to stop things from sticking to the bottom of the pot. A regular balloon whisk will do the job though, so don’t fret.

Sauce whisk

Sauce whisk

So, bring your milk to a low boil and remove from heat. Add your dry ingredients to the wet and whisk well. I actually prefer to add some of the milk to the bowl they are in and blend them there before adding back to the rest of the milk. It’s much the same as the method I use for thickening sauces.

Add some hot milk to dry ingredients...

Add some hot milk to dry ingredients…

...and whisk to dissolve.

…and whisk to dissolve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you do this too, then return the chocolate mix to the milk in the saucepan and return the liquid to the heat.

Yes. Yes, it does look like chocolate milk.

Yes. Yes, it does look like chocolate milk.

This bit will require your attention. Heat the milk, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken to a custard-like consistency. Use your whisk to scrape the bottom of the saucepan which is where the heavier cornflour and cocoa will sink to and – if you are unlucky – catch and burn. Don’t stop stirring!

The thickened mixture through a steam soft focus.

The thickened mixture through a steam soft focus.

Remove it from the heat and, if you are as much of a klutz as I am, transfer it to a jug with a good pouring lip. Work quickly or a skin will form on your liquid.

Pour into your icy pole moulds, add sticks and freeze.

Fill 'em up.

Fill ’em up.

When frozen solid, munch away.

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

Chocolate 'Paddle Pops'

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

500 mls milk

2 tbsps sugar

1 tbsp cocoa (or other milk flavouring)

1 tbsp cornflour

Method

Place milk into a 1 litre saucepan.

Sift together sugar, cocoa and cornflour.

Heat milk until just boiling and remove from heat.

Add half the milk to the dry ingredients and whisk well to remove all lumps.

Add contents of bowl back into saucepan and return to medium heat.

Whisk liquid constantly, making sure to scrape the bottom of the saucepan regularly, until it thickens and becomes custard-like.

Pour the custard into icy pole moulds, add sticks and freeze until set. The time this takes will depend on how wide your moulds are – the thinner they are, the faster they will freeze through.

Variation: Use chocolate milk flavouring powder like Milo, or strawberry milk Nesquik for a change of flavour.

A cool treat for kids of all ages.

A cool treat for kids of all ages.

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Jelly Whip (2 ingredient dessert)

And doesn't that look good?

I know, it’s been a while. Never mind.

I’m back now.

I’ve been unwell and it’s been hot – these two things are related.

However, I figure most of my Southern Hemisphere readership has also been feeling a tad warm, so here’s a quick and easy dessert recipe to (a) cool you down and (b) entertain the kidlets as you get toward the end of the School holidays.

This recipe uses exactly two (2) ingredients: evaporated milk and instant jelly (jello).

You’ll also need an electric mixer or be an absolute virtuoso at hand whisking.

This dessert resembles mousse and takes nothing more than a good sense of timing, really.

Basically, you chill a tin of evaporated milk. Then you make up a sachet of flavoured jelly, using only half the water and pop it into the fridge. Then, when the jelly is only just set, you whip up the milk until it triples in volume and mix in the jelly.

Spoon into parfait dishes (or, you know, whatever) chill for another hour and eat.

Easy as, bru.

The timing comes into the whole “only just set” bit. You’ll wait and wait and wait (and the kids will nag and nag and nag…) and then suddenly it will be completely firm, because of course. If this happens, then nil desperandum, pop the jelly into the microwave for 10 seconds and it will no longer be perfectly set.

So!  From the beginning then…

Pop a tin of evaporated milk into the refrigerator for a few hours, or make it easier on yourself and just keep one in there.

Then make up a packet of jelly – or as the Americans call it, Jello – but only use half the water needed.

A packet of Strawberry Jelly crystals.

A packet of Strawberry Jelly crystals.

I prefer not to use “diet” jellies for this, the artificial sweeteners don’t really help the flavour profile of what is actually a very rich dish. I always find it has a rather metallic taint to it, however you may not so go with what you have.

This packet called for 2 cups or 500 ml of water to be added, so I added only 1 cup – half boiling and half chilled.

jelly Crystals. Pretty, aren't they?

Jelly Crystals. Pretty, aren’t they?

I have trouble dissolving it all properly in such a small amount of water, so I use a tiny whisk I got in a Christmas gift of Hot Chocolate a few years ago. It’s okay though, you may use a spoon.

Isn't it precious? (The hot chocolate mix it came with was awful!)

Isn’t it precious? (The hot chocolate mix it came with was awful!)

Put your jelly liquid in the fridge and wait until it has just begun to set – you don’t want a liquid and you don’t want a sliceable texture either. Give it 2 to 3 hours, tops.

When it gets there, remove your evaporated milk into the basin of a mixer and prepare to be amazed. It will start out looking like this.

Evap milk: Exhibit A

Evap milk: Exhibit A

Beat it on full speed for several minutes. It will start to thicken and will eventually form stiff peaks.

Really.

You might think it’s not going to work and then it will. Like this.

Evap milk: Exhibit B.

Evap milk: Exhibit B.

Now spoon in your jelly and mix gently until incorporated.

Can you see the strawberry tint to it? Can you? Can you?

Can you see the strawberry tint to it? Can you? Can you?

It will smell delicious.

Now, scrape down the sides of your bowl with a spatula and give it a final stir by hand, making sure to incorporate any heavier bits of jelly that have dropped to the bottom of the mixing bowl.

Spoon into parfait dishes and return to the refrigerator for one hour. Do NOT do what I did and pile it up in the bowl, it won’t hold its own weight and will spill over the sides of the dish.  You have been warned.

And doesn't that look good?

And doesn’t that look good?

I would suggest using milkshake glasses if you have them, just quietly.

This will serve four generously. If there are not that many of you and you wish to keep some for later (!) then be sure to cover with plastic wrap or a lid of some kind. The jelly will do what jelly does and form a skin. This is by no means inedible – just ask me – but it isn’t particularly attractive.

So, there you go. A cool, rich dessert for a hot summer night.

Even the kids could make it. Heavens, they could even wash up the mixing bowl and clean the kitchen while you wait for it to set.

Just a thought.

Man oh man!

Man oh man!

Jelly Whip

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: super easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1 400g tin evaporated milk (a little larger or smaller won’t matter)

1 packet flavoured jelly crystals

Method

Chill the evaporated milk in its tin for a few hours or overnight.

Make up the jelly crystals using only half the water called for in the packet instructions.

(Most packets call for 2 cups or 500 ml of water, so use ½ a cup of boiling water to dissolve the crystals thoroughly and then add ½ a cup of cool water to complete.)

Place in the refrigerator to chill until only just set. It should be neither liquid nor solid.

This will take about 3 hours. If you do misjudge the window – or forget- and it sets hard, simply microwave for 10 secs and then return to the refrigerator if necessary.

When the jelly is set sufficiently, empty the evaporated milk into a large bowl and beat on high speed with an electric mixer until thickened and doubled in volume – about 4 minutes.

Add the jelly and mix gently until incorporated.

Spoon into serving dishes and return to the refrigerator for a further hour before serving.

Cover any leftovers to prevent a ‘skin’ from forming.

You may wish to garnish with fruit to match the flavour of the jelly…

Boozy Beef (slow cooker)

Boozy beef - a pot full of yum.

Ladies and Gents I present to you a simple recipe that does NOT contain turkey!

 Yayyyyy!

This recipe started its life as Boeuf à la Flamande or Flemish beef, known in this particular household as Beef in Beer.

I got the recipe from a book called The Rustic Table and I adapted it for use in my trusty slow cooker – because why not? It does use a frying pan at the very beginning, but not for long and you can skip that step if you really want.

It’s incredibly simple and my meal of choice for small dinner parties, especially during winter.  A good dollop of this, served on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, makes it much easier to brave the cold.

It’s just as good in the Australian summer – because beer.

Now beer is not a staple in this household, but The Boy went to great lengths to find just the right one for this dish. I actually can’t tell you which one he ended up getting, but it worked…

That’s not particularly helpful is it? Go with something dark, but not black, maybe – and this is a stab in the dark – something Belgian, and you should be fine. Having said that though, I have made this with apple cider and it was delicious, so don’t stress.

You’ll also want to get a few other ingredients, like beef and stuff.

Sorry. I’ll behave.

Ahem.

This is a recipe that can quite easily be made gluten-free for any coeliacs on your guest list. Simply use cornflour or cornstarch in place of the plain flour and you’ll be golden.

[edit: I’ve been reminded that beer is not gluten-free. I’m an idiot. Please ensure you use a brew that doesn’t contain malts or other anti-coeliac nasties. Cider should be fine.]

You’ll need one and a half kilos of boneless chuck steak that has been trimmed of its fat and cut into 2 cm cubes. If you don’t like handling meat simply ask the butcher to do this for you. Then place a good cup or so of your flour of choice into a large plastic bag and season it well with salt and pepper. This mix is used to coat your beef cubes. The flour will help to thicken your sauce once the liquid is added, so don’t skip the coating stage.

Basically, take a few of your cubes, add them to the bag of flour, pinch the top closed and shake it until they are covered in flour.

Coat your beef in seasoned flour.

Coat your beef in seasoned flour.

Or you could do the whole lot at once if you are short of time or patience. Like I did. (see above)

The end result.

The end result.

In your frying pan, melt a little butter and add some oil – the oil is there to stop the butter from burning. Now you want to gently fry your cubes of beef just long enough to brown them all over, but not cook them through.

This part can be skipped, but the caramelization that happens here will add a depth of flavour to your stew that makes it well worth doing.

Shake off each piece of beef as you remove it from the bag and place it gently into the pan. Only brown off a few cubes at a time as this will help to keep the temperature of the pan stable and help the meat to brown rather than steam.

Brown your meat.

Brown your meat.

When they are suitably tanned, remove them to a piece of paper towel to drain and continue the process until all of the beef is done.

The browned beef, resting.

The browned beef, resting.

I admit to putting the drained beef into the slow cooker pretty much as each batch is done, but I’m an experienced cook who knows what they’re about. Once I’ve got an assembly line happening, it’s all systems go. You may need to take it slower. Nevertheless, when your beef is all seared and sealed, dump it into your slow cooker. Mine was a 5 litre or 4 quart size. Turn the slow cooker to LOW and put the lid on while you do the next steps.

Make sure your frying pan is off the heat, but keep it handy. You’ll be using it again soon.

The next step is cutting up quite a few onions; 5 to be precise. You’ll want nice medium-sized ones – something you can hold easily in the palm of your hand. Peel them and cut in half, then slice into wedges so that they look like crescent moons.

Wear sun glasses or swimming goggles if your eyes are sensitive.

Wear sun glasses or swimming goggles if your eyes are sensitive. Not joking.

Get your pan back on the heat and, when it is warm enough, add your onions, stirring gently for five minutes or so. You want them to be just starting to soften and browning on the edges.

These are just starting to brown on the cut surfaces.

These are just starting to brown on the cut surfaces.

Using a slotted spoon remove them to the slow cooker too, leaving the juices in the pan. Place the lid back on the slow cooker and the pan back on the heat.

Add the herbs to the frying pan, along with some brown sugar, a touch of red wine vinegar and about 2 cups of beer. Stir, scraping the bottom of the frying pan to deglaze it.

You want to get all the crispy bits left from the browning process as they will add even more flavour to your stew.

Bring the liquid to a simmer.

It will smell amazing.

It will smell amazing.

Turn off the heat. Remove the lid from your slow cooker and pour the entire contents of the pan into it.

Your work here is done.

Your work here is done.

Place the lid back on and turn the dial to HIGH and cook for 3-4 hours, or leave it on LOW and cook for 4-6 hours. Do all your washing up and walk away until you need to prepare your side dishes.

The sauce will thicken as it cooks.

Boozy beef - a pot full of yum.

Boozy beef – a pot full of yum.

Remove the Bay leaves and serve over mashed potatoes or with a creamy polenta. Some steamed asparagus spears or Bok Choy will provide an ideal splash of green.

This will keep quite nicely in the refrigerator for up to 5 days once cooked.

Boozy Beef (slow cooker)

  • Servings: 6 -8
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

1.5 kg boneless chuck or shoulder roast, well-trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch cubes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Plain flour (or corn flour if gluten intolerant)

¼ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup olive oil

5 medium onions, cut into thick wedges

3 garlic cloves, sliced (or 3 teaspoons garlic from a jar)

2 bay leaves

¼ tsp dried thyme

2 tbsps brown sugar

2 tbsps red wine vinegar

2 cups Belgian ale or dark beer (or coeliac friendly cider)

Method

Place the flour into a large plastic bag and season well with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the flour a few cubes at a time and toss to coat well.  Remove from the bag, shaking off the excess flour.

In a heavy-based, fairly deep frying-pan, heat the oil and melt the butter over medium-heat.

Brown the beef cubes a few at a time to avoid crowding, turning to colour them on all sides. Each batch will take about 5 mins. Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon to drain off excess fat on paper towel.

Remove the pan from the heat and place the beef into a large (3-5 litre) slow cooker set to LOW.

Place the pan back on the heat and add the onions, tossing until they are beginning to soften and brown on the edges. This will take around 5 minutes, add more butter or oil if necessary.

Add the onions to the beef in the slow cooker.

To the frying pan add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, brown sugar, beer and vinegar. Bring to a simmer while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze it.

Once it has started to simmer, remove from the heat and pour it over the onions and beef in the slow cooker.

Replace the lid and cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours, or leave it on LOW and cook for 4-6 hours.

Sauce will thicken in the pot.

Remove bay leaves just prior to serving. Spoon over mashed potatoes or polenta for a simple, filling meal.

Keep in an air tight container in the refrigerator for 5 days once cooked.

 

 

 

 

Don’t be a health bully. That’s bad.

If only I ate a plant-based, whole-foods diet.

I have been wanting to write a post for the last week or so. I have oodles (actual measurement) of photos to be used and squintillions (again, actual measurement) of easy, affordable and healthy recipes to share.

I haven’t been able to. Sorry.

Physically, I’ve been better. Mentally, I’ve been much worse. However, when these two averages combine they lead to something pretty bloody ordinary.

The ever-magnificent Miss Bella

The ever-magnificent Miss Bella

I have spent the last week counting my bruises and discovering new ones – as well as some superficial cuts and scratches – been provoked to great anger and fallen into deep despair. I have helped friends climb a little further out of their respective pits and spent hours at a time thinking about my death.

I’m not suicidal, don’t worry. It’s just that at those times when it all gets too damn difficult, when you start the day by going apex over base as you step into the shower or when you are so tired and in so much pain that you can’t get your words into the right order, or both, to be dead would seem to be easier. It involves no effort on your part or those around you. It means an end. Endings matter.

When I was still working I had an A4 piece of paper printed with “This too shall pass” pinned above my desk. My colleagues took it as a commentary on our Branch Head’s micromanagement, not knowing that I was experiencing neuropathic pain almost beyond bearing in my hands and fingers…and typing with it, all day, every day.

It didn’t pass, but I learned to live with it.

I have lived with chronic illness of one type or another most of my life. I was infected with Rubella on my first day in this world and it has been all downhill from there. I chose my parents badly and ended up with predispositions to autoimmune diseases on both sides of my family tree. Lucky me.

Most autoimmune diseases are what is known as epigenetic. You are born with the genes for a particular disease but they may not be switched “on” it takes something in your environment to trigger them. We know this through studies on identical twins, one may become ill and the other won’t – the difference is usually a viral illness. In Multiple Sclerosis that virus appears to be Epstein-Barr virus, also known as glandular fever or mononucleosis. Exposure in susceptible people during the winter months in their late teenage years seems to do the trick. The virus – a member of the herpes family – gets into a certain variety of the T-calls and reprograms them to attack myelin.

Bingo.

Along the same lines, it is believed that Type-1 diabetes is triggered by respiratory infections and there is a large longitudinal study on this being carried out in Western Australia as I type.

The Accidental Cat

The Accidental Cat

I mention all of this for one reason: Auto-immune disease is not the fault of the person blessed with defective genes.

I have been told that I am ill because I have sinned (!), I have had others attempt faith healings on me without consent (also known as assault), I should have done more of this and less of that, that I should eat three serves of fruit while standing on my head in the light of the full moon…naked.

...and this looks like Christmas morning...

My favourite market stall.

Don’t do this to people folks. Don’t presume to know what they are going through, don’t assume that they haven’t already explored everything they could, don’t decide that they actually just enjoy being sick and have therefore thrown their hands in the air before deciding to sit on them forever, and don’t even dare to think that they need your 5 cents worth. Just don’t.

There is a woman in my social circle who has verbally attacked me on no less than five occasions now. She tells me repeatedly that, if I only ate a ‘plant-based, wholefoods diet’ I would be well. She assumes that I’m not willing to give it a go, she has clearly never read this blog and has absolutely no idea what I eat daily. It is more than evident that she does not see the things that cause so many of you lovely peeps out there to write to me about all those simple, quick, nutritious meals I’ve shown them how to prepare for themselves and their families.

My first ever canning!

She waits until I am by myself and then pounces on me, berating me and not listening to what I have to say at all.

Like all bullying, it comes from a place of fear. I get that. Like her I am well-educated, well-informed and literate about these things – and I am ill. I mustn’t be doing it right, because if I am sick then that means that she could get ill too.

Indeed she may, I don’t know what she drew in her genetic lottery.

I am struggling at the moment. I have an appointment with a new specialist next weekend and I am terrified out of my tiny little mind. I know this to be irrational, because a diagnosis does not give you the condition, but even so…

These instances of blaming the health victim for their non-preventable illness are, to quote The Boy, Bullshit.  (The Boy here: it was substantially more colourful than ‘bullshit’.)

They have led me to an even darker place than the one I had already reached. I will find my way out again, I usually do, but I write this to you dear readers so that you don’t do the same to someone less resilient than I.

If you know someone with a health concern, physical or mental, don’t even think about imposing your will on them. Listen, observe, hug – and then do it all again, and again and again. Then and only then, ask if they would like a suggestion and, if they say ‘no,’ then for the love of all you hold dear, respect that.

If they agree, then speak your piece then – and this is important – shut the hell up.

You do not have their permission to impose your will onto them. They have enough to cope with without you demanding they follow your wishes. Leave them be.

Be one of the good guys, be a safe harbour in treacherous seas.

Please.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Simple lemon air freshener (and an update)

This is a lemon.

Hello All,

I have had another brush with bad health and that is why I deserted you momentarily. One part of this latest episode involved an abscess, a Golden Staph infection and an associated inability to use my dominant arm, the other part involved having the office of a Rheumatologist calling me to make an appointment before I even knew my pathology results were back…

Oh dear.

I have made some yummy things in the interim and one post is coming soon. However, I thought I should share something quick and easy with you for now. A lemon air freshener.

I can’t tell you where this came from. It appeared as a meme in my Facebook feed a few months ago but wasn’t attributed to anyone.

We now have THREE cats. The Accidental Cat, Sara, seems to have issues with entering the litter tray properly. This means that her rear end is often not occupying the designated air space.

Ahem.

When shall we three meet again?

Cats. Sara is the grey one.

Consequently, there is a fair bit of unaccustomed cleaning activity being carried out in the Budget Bounty household. This is often accompanied by much giving of thanks that there will be no carpets anywhere in the New House – once it is built. Also a certain ‘pungency’ of the atmosphere tends to occur alongside such events.

This little air freshener is coming in handy. It’s also doing the job without setting off any allergies, exacerbating hayfever or triggering asthma like a lot of commercial air fresheners can do. Just saying.

This is a lemon.

This is a lemon.

Firstly, get thou a spray bottle of some kind. It will need a capacity of at least 500 ml, which is 2 cups or half a litre. If you are American, a pint will do.

Then find a nice, juicy lemon. If you want it even juicier, then roll it on a hard surface to break up some of the internal structure and release more juice.

Squeeze it into a small jug.

This citrus squeezer is one of my favourite gadgets.

This citrus squeezer is one of my favourite gadgets.

Add 2 level tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and wait for the fizz!  Stir well.

Chemistry in action.

Chemistry in action.

Once it has settled and you can be sure there are no undissolved lumps, add 2 cups of tepid water. Stir well.

All mixed up.

All mixed up.

Now, even the best juicers can let seeds and bits of pulp through into the resulting liquid. You don’t want those in your spray bottle or the works will get clogged up. Strain it. I placed a teeny tea strainer in the mouth of my funnel and strained it as I filled my bottle.

I am a multi-tasker. (Hear me moan as I finally get to sit down…)

Bits get strained out - which is good.

Bits get strained out – which is good.

Place the nozzle on your spray bottle and give it a small shake before each spray.

The finished article.

The finished article.

You’re welcome.

Simple

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1 lemon

2 tbsp bicarb or baking soda

2 cups water

Method

Juice the lemon into a bowl or jug.

Add the bicarb. The mixture will fizz up a little, this is not something to worry about. Stir well.

Add 2 cups or 500 ml of tap water. Mix well.

Strain to remove any stray lemon seeds or fruit pulp.

Use to fill a small spray bottle or atomiser.

Shake before using.

This mixture will impart a slight lemon fragrance to the air and the bicarbonate of soda will help to absorb any bad smells that may already be there.

The Accidental Cat explores a favourite bird hide of her clowder mates.

The Accidental Cat.

Cheesy Spinach Parcels

I simply adore toasted pine nuts.

I think I mentioned a little while ago that the Budget Bounty household now has a plot at the local Community Garden.

This has been an adventure over the last few months as we have managed to grow things quite well, without actually growing anything to harvest, viz our Brussels Sprouts were overwhelmingly Brussels with nary a sprout in sight. *sigh*

We have, however, cracked the Silverbeet growing thing. You might call it Chard, or Spinach or some such, but I grew up calling this particular leaf Silverbeet. It’s thick, it’s squeaky (!) and we have oodles of it – although I think it may be about to go to seed.

I also don’t like it very much. Don’t tell The Boy, please.

He does like it. Very much. So, having returned from our last visit to our patch with several armfuls of the stuff, I had to find something to do with it all! There was no way it was all going to fit into the refrigerator and the weather we are currently experiencing would see it wilt to inedible in no time. So I cooked it.

I washed it, shook it dry, tore the leaves off the stems and crammed them all into my largest pot, with the lid on and over the lowest heat – and just let it all wilt. I ended up with this.

Cooked Spinach

Cooked Spinach

Looks attractive, dunnit?

I now had a large glass container full of spinach to contend with, but there was no rush to do it. A breather had been orchestrated. Yay.

I wanted to make a Spanakopita that I had made before from www.Food.com (way back when it was still Recipezaar) but I just don’t have the energy right now to give it the attention it deserves. So I searched the Interwebz and my recipe books for things-that-look-like-a-thing-but-aren’t-quite and got overwhelmed by it all.

I bought Feta cheese, I bought Ricotta cheese, I thought about buying Filo/Phyllo pastry and then mentally backhanded myself for even considering it, so I bought puff pastry instead… and I still didn’t know what I was going to do.

This is Not. Like. Me.

So I took bits from everywhere and basically made something up. The something I made up was a hit with The Boy, who took one mouthful and exclaimed, “You have to post this!”

This is me, doing as I was told.

Let me start by saying you could use Filo pastry for this if you wished. I just don’t have the co-ordination to deal with it at the moment. I used a 1 kg packet of puff pastry sheets that I had thawed in the refrigerator, and they did the trick beautifully. If you want to make your own, then all power to you.

Store bought Puff Pastry. Sue me.

Store bought Puff Pastry. Sue me.

Then I got out my food processor, because knives and I are not a good combination right now.

Into the processor bowl went various things, starting with 100 g of the cooked spinach – weighed after I had squeezed most of the water out of it.

Cooked, squeezed spinach in a bowl I later managed to break.

Cooked, squeezed spinach in a bowl I later managed to break.

Then I added a drained can of chickpeas. These were some I had canned myself with the addition of a touch of Cashew Za’atar, but a normal store-bought tin will do just fine. I put these in because I wanted to add a depth of flavour and texture. I was worried that, if I just made it with cheese, spinach and puff pastry, it would be a little insipid and watery. This would make it more filling and ground it a little (I hoped).

Add some chickpeas

Add some chickpeas

Then I added 100 g each of Feta and drained Ricotta.

Prepare to be blended.

Prepare to be blended.

And whizzed it all up to a nice puree.

Gotta love technology.

Gotta love technology.

Then I decided that I didn’t want it to be all bland mushiness inside and toasted up a spoonful or so of pine nuts to stir through.

Stir them through, don't whaz them!

Stir them through, don’t whaz them!

About this time, I turned the oven on and retrieved the pastry from the fridge. Which is when I had to figure out how to attack this. The pastry sheets look kind of uninspiring. But I got one out, keeping it on the dividing sheet of plastic – which later came in quite handy.

Blank canvas.

Blank canvas.

I figured that one sheet would make two good sized pastries or hand pies. So I got out a sharp knife and scored it down the centre.

Let’s just skip over the fact that I then dropped the knife and it plunged, tip-first, a good centimetre into the hardwood floor right beside my foot…  Ahem.

The pastry and said knife.

The pastry and said knife.

I meditated for a bit, then filled a coffee mug with some cold tap water. I dipped two fingers into this and ran them around the outermost edges of the pastry sheet and on either side of the score line, rewetting as necessary.

Then I very precisely dolloped some of the puree into the middle of the top of the pastry strips. Like so.

Behold! The dollop!

Behold! The dollop!

For those who want to know the precise volume of the dollops – I dunno. Try about ¼ – ½ a cup’s worth.

You’re welcome.

Then I folded it in half, bottom to top, still leaving the plastic attached. Once the corners were matched, I pressed down quite firmly with my fingertips, going all around the outside and down both sides of the middle score line. Then I peeled the plastic back.

Look what I did!

Look what I did!

I wanted them to brown up a bit while they cooked, so I broke an egg into a small jug and beat it a little with a fork for an egg wash. First though, I grabbed another fork and pressed quite firmly around all the edges with it. Then I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper and transferred the parcels onto it.

I don’t have photos of this, but I slid an egg flip under them and turned them bare-side down onto my other palm. This let me remove the rest of the plastic. Then I placed them with that side down onto the baking sheet.

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

I could only fit two on to the sheet as I didn’t wish to crowd them. Using a pastry brush, I glazed them with the egg wash and popped them in the oven for 15 minutes.

It worked.

I'm quite pleased with that, really...

I’m quite pleased with that, really…

Then I immediately plated one up and served it to The Boy. History was made.

This is a bread and butter plate, so they are quite large.

This is a bread and butter plate, so they are quite large.

I baked another four to have as lunches throughout the week. The rest I flash froze after glazing. Then, when they were chilled sufficiently, transferred to a large bag for longer term storage. I’m not quite sure how long they would take to cook from the freezer, but I’m going with 30 minutes until proven wrong.

Cheesy Spinach Parcels

Cheesy Spinach Parcels

Enjoy.

Cheesy Spinach Parcels

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

1 kg packet puff pastry sheets (you want 6), defrosted.

100 g of cooked spinach, squeezed as dry as you can (you can use frozen spinach from the supermarket, defrosted)

400 g tin chickpeas, drained

100 g feta cheese

100 g ricotta cheese, drained a little

1 tsp dried dill (optional)

¼ cup pine nuts (optional)

Cup of luke warm water for sealing

1 egg, beaten slightly

Method

Note: Keep the packet of puff pastry in the fridge. Remove one sheet at a time and replace the rest of the packet in the fridge while you are working with that one. This will keep the pastry relatively firm and make it easier to work with.

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/450°F.

Line one or two baking sheets with baking paper.

In a food processor bowl, combine spinach, chickpeas, feta and ricotta cheeses.

Add dried dill, if liked. Other spices or herbs may be used according to your preference.

Process until the chickpeas are fully incorporated.

Remove to a small bowl.

In a small frying pan, toast the pine nuts over a low heat until lightly browned and fragrant. Approx. 3-4 minutes. Watch them carefully to avoid scorching.

Add pine nuts to contents of bowl and stir through.

Take one sheet of puff pastry. Using a sharp knife score down the middle, dividing it into two rectangular strips of equal size.

Using the cupful of warm water, dampen your index and middle fingertips and run them around the outer edges of the pastry surface as well as down both sides of the centre score line. This will help the pastry joins to seal and avoid the filling leaking out during baking.

In the middle of the top half of each strip place several large spoonfuls of spinach and cheese mixture. The exact amount will depend on the size of the pastry sheet you are using.  It should be around ¼ – ½ a cup of the mixture.

Then fold the bottom of the pastry sheet (including the plastic lining) over the filling, matching the corners and pressing firmly. Using your fingertips, press each edge together including the one with the fold. You should have two nicely sealed pockets of pastry.

Peel back the plastic.

If you wish, you can now use a fork to crimp the edges you just pressed together with your fingertips. This is optional, but may give you a much better seal.

(And it looks pretty 😉 )

Transfer the pastry packets to a lined oven tray with the crimped edge upwards. You may only be able to fit two to a tray.

Take a pastry brush and paint the top of each parcel with the beaten egg. It doesn’t need to be done thickly.

This will help to get a golden finish on the pastry as it bakes.

Bake in oven for 15 minutes and eat immediately or remove to a rack to cool.

Prepare the next lot of parcels as the previous batch bakes.

To store: cool thoroughly on a rack before placing in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Eat within 3-4 days.

To freeze: prepare up to the egg wash stage. Place on a flat surface in the freezer and leave for 30 minutes. Once frozen, transfer to a sealed container or freezer bag.

To reheat from frozen: place in a 220°C/450°F oven for 30 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

To serve: May be eaten on its own as a light meal or lunch or served with a salad for a main course.

The ever-magnificent Miss Bella

Hello my lovelies,

As I mentioned in my last note, I have been quite unwell. The change of seasons is always fraught for anyone with an autoimmune disease or two (or, in my case, six :/). The fluctuations in temperature from the daytime to the night seem to set one’s immune system on high alert and it goes off looking for things to kill.

Which means that the autoimmune diseases all get particularly active.

I have been fatigued beyond belief, in enough pain to fell a horse and swollen beyond recognition in parts. I have been spastic – a word which probably doesn’t mean what you think it means, look it up – unco-ordinated, as well as imaged, prodded and phlebotomised.

Ladies and Gents, I am a walking study in autoimmunity. Which means that I am also an expert in frustration, disbelief, stubbornness and – on occasion – swearing. In fact, I can swear fluently in three different languages and have been doing so at length.

I get rather fed up with it all.

There has been some cooking and pictures were indeed took, but I have been incapable of typing anything or using a mouse.

So I have been away from keyboard (afk).

Hopefully, things will improve from hereonin.

I am attempting to write things up, but the going will be slow as my fingers are one of those things that are puffed up.

Bear with me … I’m worth it.

In the interim, some happy cats.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Chocolate Peanut-butter Cheesecake (gluten free)

A thing of beauty

At the start of this year, a friend requested that I make a cheesecake for her birthday in July. A chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake, to be precise.

I didn’t want to be making something from purchased Reese’s products, so I started searching for a recipe.

Let me say that there are A LOT of recipes for peanut butter and chocolate cheesecakes out there, and most of them have a Reese’s requirement.

Then – at practically the last moment – I thought of Nigella.

She saved me.

I found this recipe here. It was everything I wanted and I was even able to adapt it for the coeliacs amongst the diners.

It didn’t use a water bath either, which made it much less fuss to make. As Nigella explains in her notes, a water bath would give it a silky texture, however baking it without one gives a texture that brings to mind the peanut butter itself.

Seconds were requested.

Seconds were requested.

I replaced the digestive biscuits in the crust with the same weight of almond meal, but did pretty much everything else according to her recipe.

I broke out my trusty food processor for this one, but it could be done with just electric beaters or by hand. Make sure that the cream cheese is at room temperature or you could hurt something.

First line the base of a 23 cm/9 inch springform tin. I give detailed instructions on how to do that here.

Then place the almond meal, some salted peanuts, soft unsalted butter and dark chocolate chips into the food processor bowl. I measure mine into a separate bowl first.

These will form the crust

These will form the crust.

Then process them until well-combined.

Almost there.

Almost there.

If you don’t have a food processor, use chopped nuts and melt the butter and chocolate together before mixing thoroughly.

You want it to come together into a clump. Once you’ve got a satisfying-looking blob, turn it into the base of the springform tin and press it into the bottom and up the sides.

Press the mix across the base and up the sides of the cake tin.

Press the mix across the base and up the sides of the cake tin.

This will form a nice crust once baked. However, you need it to be cool to hold together long enough once in the oven. So put it in the fridge while you make the filling.

Rinse out your food processor bowl and turn on the oven. Use the metal blade and fill the processor bowl with the softened cream cheese, eggs and egg yolks, caster sugar, some sour cream and – of course ! – smooth peanut butter.

Cut the cream cheese into smaller blocks first...

Cut the cream cheese into smaller blocks first…

I broke this into steps, mixing together the cheese and the eggs before adding the other ingredients. I have actually burned out a food processor motor on too-hard cream cheese in the past and nowadays I’m nervous…

Yes, you can lick the spoon when you add the PB.

Yes, you can lick the spoon when you add the PB.

Whiz it until it becomes smooth and inviting… then pour and scrape it into the crust you prepared earlier.

That wasn't too difficult, was it?

That wasn’t too difficult, was it?

Do yourself a favour at this stage and place the springform tin on an oven tray. This will make it much easier when moving the cake to and from the oven.

Smooth out the filling.

Just do your best, it's not going to be perfectly smooth.

Just do your best, it’s not going to be perfectly smooth.

Now you can bake it for 50 mins or so.

After 50 mins.

After 50 mins.

Wash up while it cooks, but take it out of the oven once the top only is set and feels dry, because there’s more chocolate to go on.

Natch.

In a small saucepan, melt together more sour cream, MOAR chocolate chips and some brown sugar.

The topping begins here.

The topping begins here.

You’ll make a wonderful ganache, which you will then lovingly spoon and very gently spread over the top of the cake. Of course, the spoon and the remnants in the saucepan then become the Cook’s Treat.

Because this is a Nigella recipe. Dur.

Add some chocolate to your peanut butter and cheese.

Add some chocolate to your peanut butter and cheese.

As you can see, I didn’t quite get the chocolate all melted. Oh well. Bake for another 10 mins, remove from the oven and let it cool in its tin.  Cover with cling film and put it in the fridge overnight.

Again you are wanting the butter in the crust to firm up and the cheese to also set. If you chill it overnight it will be much easier to get it out of the tin. Trust me.

When you do release it from its tin and slice it, be prepared for everyone asking you how you managed “to get the layer of chocolate to stay on top of the cake mix?”

Aren't you clever?

Aren’t you clever?

Then they’ll taste it and look as happy as this guy. I promise.

Happy kitten.

Happy kitten.

The birthday girl was pretty chuffed too…

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Ingredients

for the base

200 g almond meal

50 g salted peanuts

100 g dark chocolate chips

50 g softened unsalted butter

for the filling

500 g cream cheese (room temperature!)

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

200 g caster sugar

125 ml sour cream

250 g smooth peanut butter

for the topping

250 ml sour cream

100 g milk chocolate chips

30 g soft light brown sugar

Method

Remove your cream cheese from the refrigerator and place somewhere warm.

Line the base of a 23 cm/ 9 inch springform cake tin. Place aside.

In a food processor, blend together the ingredients for the base. Once it has come together to form a clump, turn it into the prepared springform tin and press it firmly into the base and up the sides to form a crust. There’s no need to be delicate.

Place the tin into the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Rinse out the food processor bowl and preheat the oven to 170°C/ 325 °F.

Using the ingredients for the filling, cut the blocks of (warmed and soft!) cream cheese into chunks and place into the food processor bowl.

Add the whole eggs and egg yolks, sugar, sour cream and smooth peanut butter and pulse a few times before processing to a smooth, silky mixture.

Retrieve your cake tin and crust from the refrigerator and pour and scrape the filling into it. A silicon spatula will make this job go much more smoothly if you have one. Smooth out the top and bang the tin once or twice to knock out any air bubbles in the mixture.

Place the tin on a baking tray for ease of handling and put into the oven.

Bake for 1 hour – but set your kitchen timer for 50 mins and check the cake then. The top – and only the top – should feel set and dry.

Take the cheesecake out of the oven, temporarily, and place on a cooler rack while you prepare the topping.

In a small saucepan, and over a low heat, combine the ingredients for the topping. Stir to ensure the chocolate becomes properly blended in as it melts. Remove from the heat.

Spoon and spread the topping very gently over the surface of the cake. Try not to break that firm upper crust as this will ensure you have distinctly separate layers on your finished dessert.

(If you do break it and end up with marbling, say you liked the aesthetic.)

Put it back in the oven for a further 10 minutes.

Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool in the tin. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Keep refrigerated until about 10-15 minutes before serving, if possible. If it gets too warm it may become too gluggy to cut cleanly. If this happens, try dipping your knife into warm water and wiping clean between slices.

Don’t expect leftovers.

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How to make evenly-sized cookies – easily.

 

This post uses some of the content from this one.

Anyone who has ever had to deal with judicially minded offspring or youngsters – you know the ones, “Muuuuum, it’s not fair! Her cookie is bigger than mine!” needs to be able to say “they’re all the same size”; and mean it.

Also, it’s sometimes a useful thing in the adult world to know that everything has the same amount of calories kilojoules bad stuff diet disasters  the portions are all the same size for planning purposes.

So, when I make cookies, I use a metal ice cream scoop with a 1 inch diameter to measure them out onto a paper-lined baking sheet.

A one inch ice cream scoop will save you trouble later...

A one inch ice cream scoop will save you trouble later…

This method means that they are all around the same size which helps with both portion control and arbitrating amongst the youngsters.

We’ve all been there.

It also helps if the kidlings are assisting you with your baking…

Aren't they cute?

Aren’t they cute?

 

It won’t ensure that each child’s portion has the same amount of choc chips if they’re included in your cookie, but the rebuttal to that is that, if they are counting instead of eating, then they aren’t hungry enough for more cookies.

I bought my ice cream scoop on eBay. It was in a set of three, with the largest 2 inches across. They cost me something like $3 including postage from China, so the fact that I really only ever regularly use the one doesn’t bother me as a waste of money.

However, I do use the larger ones for scoops of mashed potato and pumpkin if I want to prettify a dinner serving or use them to top a cottage pie.

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