Onion Jam

Onion Jam (or relish or marmalade or whatever you would like to call it) is a staple in our house. We get a bit panicky when we look in the cupboard to find there’s a only a couple of jars left. It’s slathered on everything from toasties and pizzas to dainty canapes and cheese platters. Onion jam is decidedly ugly but if you can get someone to try it, they never look back. Jars of this sticky brown goodness are given to close friends only. The reason being that the recipe requires slicing an absolute shitload of onions. And I could never do that for someone I only liked a little bit.

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The following is a basic guide to making six jars for your nearest and dearest this Christmas. You can tweak it to your own taste and add extra things like ginger or other spices. Up to you. One hot tip: if you don’t have a wide-mouthed funnel suitable for filling jam jars, then get one. Without it, spooning warm onion jam into glass jars and not making a huge mess, is impossible. You’ve been warned. Maybe ask Santa for one.

Ingredients  (makes 6x 500g jars)

4 kg brown onions (peeled, halved and sliced)
1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups brown sugar
Small bunch fresh thyme (or one tablespoon dried thyme)
4 cloves
10 ground pepper corns
1 teaspoon salt
Wine – red or white – to drink while you stir and also to top up liquid levels if they get a bit low

To make

There’s no getting around this: you have to peel, halve and slice 4 kilos of brown onions. Just do it and get it over with. Listen to some music. It won’t take as long as you think. Keep the slices on the thickish side. Say around 1cm. No need to get too fussy, you just want some of them to retain a little shape when they’re cooked.

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Heat the olive oil on a medium-high heat in a thick bottomed stock pot. Add enough onions to fill a quarter of the pot. Fry the onions for about fifteen minutes or until softened and then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir for another ten minutes and then as the mixture collapses and makes more room in the pot, you can start to add the rest of the onions slices. Stir constantly until all the onions have softened. There should be plenty of liquid at this point. Turn the heat down and simmer for the next 2 hours. Stir every now and then and check that there’s enough liquid. This is where you can add some wine if it looks like it’s getting dry.

After 2 hours the onions should be dark, sticky and jammy.

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Divide into your six sterilised jars (hopefully you’ve been collecting jars for this very reason all year). Tie some tags on them with cute string. And then decide who has been good enough to get one. Merry Christmas.

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Chicken and Prawn Spring Roll Pancakes

One childhood memory that won’t ever leave me is the time a shitty little neighbourhood kid had me utterly convinced that his real parents were aliens. He told me they were due to come back for him at any moment and would probably blow up the earth when they left afterwards in their spaceship. I believed his story. The way a child truly believes in Santa and lucky dips.

Soak your mushies for at least half an hour in hot water. When you chop them - remove the stems
Soak your mushies for at least half an hour in hot water. When you chop them – remove the stems

It was the middle of summer and we were sitting in a cubby which was actually an empty water tank. It was unbearably hot in there but I was terrified that if I moved I’d get zapped by the approaching alien parents. The smartest strategy seemed to be to stay out of their line of vision. Even if it meant not breathing fresh air for an unspecified amount of time.

And then Mum called me inside the house to eat spring roll pancakes and I instantly forgot to be scared and ran off to join my family for dinner. The point being, your favourite foods can distract you from anything – even impending alien attack or the end of the world.

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Spring roll pancakes (warning: some waiting required)

Pancake mixture:

3 cups plain flour
6 eggs
1 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons peanut oil
pinch salt

Combine in a large jug or bowl. Blitz with a hand mixer until smooth. Cover mixture and leave to stand for at least 4 hours. Mix again. Add more water until the mixture is the consistency of thin cream. This is important. The mixture needs to spread easily in the frying pan to create large thin pancakes. Like crepes, only stronger and able to hold a decent amount of filling without breaking.

Cook your thin, crepey pancakes in a non stick pan on one side only. If you have a crepe maker, use that. Set aside.

Crepey pancakes - thin but strong
Crepey pancakes – thin but strong

Pancake filling:

500g chicken thighs (thinly sliced)
250g peeled green prawns
1/2 cup dried Chinese mushrooms soaked in hot water for an hour and then chopped
500g bean sprouts
1 bunch spring onions chopped

Marinade:

4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine
2 teaspoon sesame oil
half teaspoon cinnamon
2 clove minced garlic
pinch white pepper
pinch salt
1 teaspoon raw sugar

Marinate the sliced chicken for at least two hours. Use a large frying pan or wok to fry chicken slices until almost cooked. Add prawns and chopped mushrooms. Stir until prawns cooked then add spring onions and beans sprouts. Keep tossing the sprouts through the mixture for two minutes or until the bean sprouts are cooked but not soggy.

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unnamed (8)Take a thin pancake and place a heaped tablespoonful of filling in the middle. Wrap like a parcel and place folded side down in a pan and shallow fry on both sides in peanut oil. Mum actually used to deep fry them briefly in a wok. Either way is very very good. Don’t be alarmed at the size. The filling is delicately flavoured and the pancakes make them weighty enough to have for dinner.

Serve with oyster sauce, beer

and a tall tale.

The Lunchbox

I have a child who loves her food. So much so, that Bubby has been known to out-eat any other children, and sometimes even adults. Two breakfasts, morning tea and elevenses is not uncommon for this child. Her passion for food is one of many things I love about her.

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The lunchbox

Bubby recently started one day a week at a new little pre-school. It’s a beautiful little school with the loveliest of staff who welcome you at the door in the morning, and escort you and wave as you leave through the garden gate. The educators are all dressed in beautician style uniforms that make them appear as though the children are actually attending a day spa for a relaxing pamper session – not a day filled with messy fun. It makes me wish I was four again.But with this oasis of glorious play, came the reality of having to prepare my own child a ‘lunchbox’. Dave and I have had a pretty easy ride on the whole lunch thing where mostly we rush out the door on a weekday morning with a coffee from home and fork out for a yummy lunch from the local takeaway. The girls are usually sorted by day-care with their nutritionist approved healthy menu and as a result, my lunchbox making skills have rarely been called upon.

I was terrified of not sending Bubby with enough food. Or what if she decided she didn’t like something new I’d put in and was starving because I had misjudged my child’s taste buds for that particular Thursday?

I would be the mother who let her child go hungry.

I held this anxiety for months as the start of the school term came near. In preparation I sussed out the sea of lunch packaging options and settled on a trendy stainless steel two-tiered lunchbox with matching small snack container and some reusable lunch sacks in two sizes. If she went hungry, at least she would be eco-friendly.

Obviously I immediately then felt bad that there wasn’t enough Disney paraphernalia included and picked out a hot pink ‘Frozen’ drink bottle* and matching spoon and fork set. For school only though. Can’t go too crazy on that stuff or I’ll never see the end of it.

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The anatomy of a lunchbox

I pored over articles on inspiring lunchbox ideas full of cut-out faces and freshly made sushi.  ‘I could do that. I’d love to do that’ I’d say. Then I’d look over at the washing that hadn’t been folded for a week and think, ‘Or I could finish my coffee while it’s remotely warm for the first time four years’.

In the excitement of Bubby’s first day, I did pull my finger out and make a batch of mini-pasties with her. Cute mini-cheeses and other essential small snack foods were in the fridge ready to be prepped for the big day. But I was still anxious about the logistics of ‘the lunchbox’. To calm myself down I sketched out how to pack the containers. Yes you heard me. I drew which items were going to be put where in the lunchbox assembly.

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Yoghurt and last seasons frozen blackberries with a side of apple for morning tea
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A warm pastie for lunch (for full disclosure the actual plastic lidded container for sauce just wasn’t pretty enough for this picture)
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And because all of the above still isn’t enough to fill her little belly, an assortment of snacks…

The next morning, thanks to my trusty diagram, the lunchbox was assembled with maximum efficiency and prettiness. I had made my first school lunch with pride. Turns out I put too much curry in her pastie but her smorgasbord of little food had kept her happy and my child had not gone hungry.

I’m a couple terms in now and no longer feel the need to sketch out what my child has for lunch. Unfortunately the ‘Frozen’ drink bottle met a dire end when it slipped out of my hands and split open during a ‘does-this-drink-bottle-leak’ test. Because, despite the ‘leak-proof’ promise on the label, it did leak. Bubby and I are now very happy with her new drink bottle with Robots on it.

Pot Sticker Wontons

I am definitely these two things:  impatient and a little bit clumsy.  I’m also constantly starving for pot sticker dumplings.  If you’re anything like me you probably love dumplings, but wince at the thought of creating those beautifully pleated edges. Solution: Pot sticker wontons. Approximately one billion times easier to wrap and just as delicious. Add some cold beer and some dipping sauces and you’re on the way to true dinner happiness.unnamed (15)

These also freeze beautifully and I can tell you there is nothing like being on the tired bus ride home after work and remembering that you’ve got them tucked away in there, ready for a quick defrost and a frizzle in a hot pan.  Nothing.  It will make you smile to yourself for the rest of the bus ride. Call ahead and get someone to put beer in the fridge. And warm your slippers.

You will need:

1 large non stick pan with a fitted glass lid

1 packet of wonton wrappers (these are the thin yellowish square ones and they’re available in Asian grocers and some good corner stores. Normally frozen)

400g of pork mince

150g peeled green prawn meat

1 small bunch garlic chives

1 good slug of soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 small can water chestnuts

1 bunch spring onions (for garnish only)

1 egg

Peanut oil (for frying)

Warm water in a cup

Your dipping sauce of choice (brown/black vinegar/oyster sauce/soy/chili)

I use the above as a base and then add whatever other variables I have at the time. Dried Chinese mushrooms are nice. As are grated carrot and other veggies. I sometimes add grated ginger also.

Gran's kitchen timer.
Gran’s kitchen timer.

To make:

Put all ingredients ( bar the peanut oil and spring onions) in a food processor to combine. Don’t overwhizz. You still want to see some chunks of water chestnut.

We all have better things to do than make them perfectly neat (this is my story and I'm sticking to it).
We all have better things to do than make them perfectly neat (this is my story and I’m sticking to it).

Scoop a teaspoonful of the mixture into your waiting (defrosted) wonton wrapper. Dip your finger in the warm water and dab each corner of the wrapper lightly. Draw opposite corners together and overlap like a little parcel. Place on a large tray or board covered with grease proof paper. The mixture should get you between 35 -45 wontons depending on how generous you are with the filling.

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Heat a drizzle of peanut oil in large non-stick pan over a medium heat. If it’s too hot the bottom of the wonton will burn before the rest of it cooks properly, so watch your first batch carefully and adjust the heat accordingly. Place about ten of your little parcels folded side down in the hot oil. Then right away add a 1/4 cup of water and put a lid on the pan to seal in the steam. Wait five minutes. After five minutes the bottoms should be golden crisp and the tops should be cooked and wrinkled.

This is what the bottom should look like - crispy and golden.
This is what the bottom should look like – crispy and golden.

Serve immediately with the chopped spring onions and dipping sauces.

Hello my wrinkly friends
Hello my wrinkly friends

A note on dipping sauces – Dave suggests infusing the brown/black vinegar (like Chinkiang) with some of the spring onion, chilli and ginger for a bit beforehand.

Happy face stuffing! x

ps-  I sent this post to my editor (aka Pip) to have a bit of a read and she kindly pointed out that wonton was spelled incorrectly. Startling news, seeing as I have always until now thought that the correct spelling was… wanton! Wonton just looks weird to me now…

 

 

Dave’s Slow Roasted Lamb

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Dave’s slow roasted lamb is so delicious it had party-goers at a recent birthday we went to licking the juice off their fingers instead of politely wiping off with a napkin. That’s our kind of party guest and definitely our kind of meat. I’m probably supposed to put something in here about the weather turning cold and it being the time for warming comfort food. But to be honest, you’d find this at our dinner table at anytime during year so don’t wait for a cold day, just cook it.

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2kg shoulder of lamb on the bone

1 Tbsp cumin seeds

2 Tbsp paprika

½ Tbsp salt

½ Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp fresh oregano finely chopped

1 Tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped 

Olive oil

Roasting pan and rack

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Dry roast the cumin seeds in a small fry pan over a low heat, then mix with paprika, salt, and sugar in a mortar and pestle, crushing the seeds gently. Combine the dry seasoning with the fresh herbs and garlic. Score the fatty side of the lamb and drizzle generously with olive oil. Run in the oil with the seasoning all over the fat and meat. Cover and marinate in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 100°C. Lay the lamb over the rack (in the roasting pan). Put the pan into the oven and roast for 8 hours, basting several times. The meat will shrink, but should pull beautifully away from the bone when ready. Drizzle with the meat juices and wrap neatly with foil before leaving to rest for at least half an hour.

 

At this party it was amongst a mouth-watering smorgasbord of potatoes 3 ways, foraged salads, vegetables, local cheeses, homemade coppa, cultured butter, Pigeon Hole bread and a haunch of home-grown roast pig. Yes. Home grown roasted pig accompanied Dave’s slow roasted lamb. By a bonfire. With a live band. It was a good night.

 

At home we keep it much simpler and like to serve it with creamy mash and seasonal vegetables. For our dinner guests the other night, we swapped mash for cous cous and added a side dish of home-grown red cherry and mini yellow pear-shaped tomatoes that we drizzled with meat juices and popped in the oven to roast with for the last half hour.  If you’re lucky enough to have any, lamb leftovers are perfect for cold lamb and salad sandwiches and when shredded, it makes a great pizza topping.

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Ice cream in a biscuit

Dark chocolate and roasted black sesame seed biscuits with vanilla ice cream
Dark chocolate and roasted black sesame seed biscuits with vanilla ice cream

I’m a first time ice cream maker. Eaten a lot of it. Never made it.  This vanilla ice cream recipe is from a dear friend’s mother. I was assured that not only was it delicious but it’s the old-school sort that does not require an ice cream maker. This was music to my ears as my kitchen is already too jam packed and the thought of adding another toy to it does not appeal. Our bench tops are already riddled with things that have no home.

Just ignore anyone who raises their eyebrows when you say you’re doing it without an ice cream maker. You too can feel the same smugness that I felt when I raced home from work, pulled out the freezer drawer and scraped my greedy finger across the pillowy softness of my very first homemade ice cream.

The ice cream (please note that this recipe is an over nighter)

Ingredients

1 litre of cream

1/2 cup of milk

350g castor sugar

8 egg yolks (beaten)

1 teaspoon vanilla essence OR three vanilla beans

Method 

Whip the cream well and set aside. Use a mix master (or someone with a very strong arm).

Place the milk and sugar in a saucepan. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to the boil very slowly. As soon as the mixture foams take it off the heat and gradually pour into the beaten egg yolks while whisking constantly.

Whisk until thick and creamy
Whisk until thick and creamy

Continue to whisk. At this point add your vanilla (either essence or scrape the pulp from vanilla beans) whisk again and then allow the mixture to cool. It should be thick and creamy.

Fold the cooled egg mixture into the whipped cream. Cover the bowl and put into the fridge for 24 hours.

Fold into the whipped cream(it was hard for me to not eat a lot of this)
Fold into the whipped cream(it was hard for me to not eat a lot of this)

Remove from fridge and beat well for two minutes (I used mix master). Pop into a container with a lid and then finally freeze (about 7 hours is about perfect).

I don't want to keep banging on about this but it really is very very soft.
I don’t want to keep banging on about this but it really is very very soft.

OK now for the biscuits.

Dark chocolate and black sesame seed biscuits 

Lick
Lick

Ingredients

125g butter (softened)

125g chopped dark chocolate

2 tablespoons roasted black sesame seeds (available from Japanese deli)

1 egg

1 3/4 cup self raising flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup raw sugar

Method

Beat the softened butter and sugars.

Slowly add egg while beating.

Add all other ingredients and beat til a moist dough forms.

Form heaped teaspoonfuls of the dough into balls and place on a tray (leave space for spreading). Lightly press each ball with a fork.

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Bake for 10-12 minutes in moderate oven. Leave to cool on a rack.

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A couple of notes on putting the ice cream sandwiches together: Firstly, make sure that the biscuits are very cold. Put them in the freezer for at least half an hour before serving. Same goes for any dishes you want to serve them on. This gives guests a way better chance of eating them before they melt. They’ll (literally) look a lot cooler for a lot longer.

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Gingerbread Men

Nothing screams Christmas like a gingerbread man. They’re a consistently charming and amusing thing to make (and eat) and although I can just about deal with not getting a stocking anymore, I would be heartbroken to have a Christmas without gingerbread.

These ones are not fancy. They’re not even symmetrical. For some reason our family G-man cutter has always had one leg longer than the other and I believe it just adds to their charm.

simple currants and cherry mouth are the cutest
simple currants and cherry mouth are the cutest

We’ve been making this same simple recipe since we were children. Back in the day, decorations were always just glacé cherries and currants. Occasionally some would be hung in the tree and forgotten about but they would still taste good long after Santa had been and gone.

 

If placed into small cellophane bags and sealed tightly with knotted ribbon - these guys will last a couple of weeks at least.
If placed into small cellophane bags and sealed tightly with knotted ribbon – these guys will last a couple of weeks at least.

In more recent years we’ve let our own kids have a go at decorating them which ends up being a bit more… elaborate. They like to add extra eyes and accidental genitals. But for me it will always just be currant eyes, cherry mouth and currant buttons. Simple and sweet. You can pop them into cellophane bags and give them away. Or take a tin of them to work to spread some gingerbread love. They’re charming and they’re easy. I’m not just saying that. They really are.

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Ingredients

1/2 cup chopped butter

2 eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup golden syrup

1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda

1 pinch salt

4 tablespoon cinnamon

4 cups plain flour

4 teaspoon ginger powder

 

Method

Cream the butter and sugar

Beat in the eggs

Add golden syrup and mix well

Add dry ingredients and mix well

Roll into three large discs, wrap in cling film then pop in fridge for half an hour to get cold

Roll each disc out to 1/2 inch thickness and use your cutter to cut out the G -men

Place on a baking tray and decorate with whatever you like (joking – you must use glace cherries and currants!)

Bake in a moderate oven for 10 – 12 minutes

Merry Christmas everyone!

 

Gingerbread creatures made by G.
Gingerbread creatures made by G.

 

 

The spider-faced G-Man. By Bubby. I feel this is excellent.
The spider-faced G-Man. By Bubby. I feel this is excellent.