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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Banana Pancakes with extra happiness

For six languid days we shared a house in Ubud with our friends, Lozzie and John. The house was perched precariously on a steep slope above a rivulet that was so far down we couldn’t see it. The surrounding gardens clung to the slope and and were full of the soothing ribbiting of frogs and birds and geckos. Once I’d grown accustomed to the worrying amount of steep stairs and my (completely rational) fear that the house would slide off the slope if it rained, it was wonderful. I gave up wondering how on earth they had built any of it in the heat and settled in.

This was the part of our holiday where we forgot what day it was.

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There was a cooked breakfast every morning served by our hostess, Ketut. Hotels that we later stayed in, tended to serve a blander, rolled version of bananas pancakes. But Ketut’s were the ones that Lozzie and I raved about. They were deliciously lacy, served flat and topped with freshly grated coconut mixed with a little salt. Even Glenn, who doesn’t care much for pancakes for breakfast, succumbed to their buttery banana goodness.

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Ingredients (makes 8 pancakes)
For the batter:
2 large eggs
1  1/4 cups plain flour
3/4 milk
1 pinch salt
1 tbsp melted butter

To serve:
2 bananas thinly sliced
1/2 cup of fresh grated coconut mixed with half a pinch of salt
Honey (for drizzling)

Method
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the rest of the batter ingredients and mix til smooth. Cover and rest for at least 30 minutes.

To cook, have your banana slices ready. Stir up the rested batter. If it seems too thick, add some more milk. It needs to be thin enough to spread in the pan when poured. Use a non-stick frying pan over a moderate heat. Add 1/2 tsp of butter. When the butter foams, use a serving spoon to pour mixture into the pan. Let it spread a little, then place 6 – 8 slices of banana evenly across the pancake. When you can see that the mixture is just about cooked through, use a large spatula to flip the pancake over. Let the banana side sizzle for a minute and then remove.

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Serve banana side down, topped with the grated coconut and drizzled with runny honey.

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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.

Sausage rolls for superstars

Glenn and I now have one proper honest-to-God birthday party under our parental belt. The kind where you invite the whole kindergarten class because you can (and so you do). The kind where you get overly ambitious about how much goddamn fun they will have thrust upon them and enlist your visiting in-laws to  help you cut out large cardboard glider planes, for each little guest. A back breaking and seemingly endless task that possibly made them wish their son had married someone a little less  bossy enthusiastic.

Almost everyone in G’s class RSVP’d a big fat yes, which thrilled us. Except that when I did the maths we realised that with at least 16 kiddies, multiplied by parents and younger siblings, plus our family and friends– we were looking at somewhere about sixty people or more. Whoa. We had hired a local playgroup hall for the event. But food was still going to be an issue. If only the gazillion cardboard glider planes had been edible we would have been set.

When this happens to you, don’t panic. Just make an absolute shitload of these pork and apple sausage rolls. This is a modified version of Glenn’s recipe. I have to mention this otherwise someone will call copycat.

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You will need:

1 packet of puff pastry (4 sheets)

4 Granny Smith or Pink Lady apples (peeled and chopped)

400g pork mince

400g of sausage meat (you can either buy a tube or use the filling from good sausages)

1 bunch fresh sage

1 bunch thyme

2 grated carrots

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg

3/4 cup bread crumbs

4 tablespoons sesame seeds (for garnish)

To cook:

Chop the herbs and put everything in a large bowl. Wash your hands and get in there and mix it up. I won’t lie, this is not at all enjoyable. It’s cold and sticky but over quickly and you don’t have to haul out the heavy mixer.

Tip: pre fill the sink with warm soapy water so that you don't have to muck around with taps with your manky hands afterwards.
Tip: pre fill the sink with warm soapy water so that you don’t have to muck around with taps with your manky hands afterwards.

Right, you’re ready to roll. Cut one square of defrosted puff pastry in half. Spoon a good strip of mixture length ways across the pastry. Fold pastry over. Roll and seal gently. Roll again so that the sealed edge is underneath. At this point you can cling wrap and freeze if you like. Otherwise cut into 6 – 8 even pieces.

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Place on a baking tray on a sheet/baking paper, daub with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 35-40 minutes or until golden.

Pop them out on the party table with some relish and say goodbye!

Makes about 60 sausage rolls. Triple the recipe for outrageously large birthday parties.

 

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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…

 

 

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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A backyard birthday carnival

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Birthday_03My Bubby has just turned four. That’s four years of this amazing little girl being in our lives and well, four years of being her parents is definitely worth celebrating. And so a party we had.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I love party themes – it helps inspire me with cake, food and decorating ideas. Last year when I asked Bubby what kind of party and cake she’d like, the most I could get from her was ‘a pink one’. Not very helpful on her part, but she got her pink(ish) party. This time around, knowing her answer would still be the same, I couldn’t bring myself to ask her. I’m sorry Bubby, but pink was so last year.

A visiting circus was in town, and after a bit of Pinterest stalking, a carnival theme quickly became a great idea. I’m still not ready to completely let loose on bright colours so compromised with myself on ‘Vintage Carnival’. With gorgeous costumes, decorations and spread of activities, we had a fun-filled day of Carnival chaos!

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Despite several years of hard work, our backyard is still very much a work in progress but with the help of the trusty family marquee and a few decorations, this landscaper’s delight was transformed into a magical Carnival. Dave came through with the goods on a carnival stand and ring toss game constructed using part of our back fence, his stash of homebrew bottles and some rope. And we’ll just pretend the overgrown grass and dandelions was part of the ‘field’ look…

Bobbing for apples quickly became lets throw the apples in and see them splash!

This classic Clown Pinata was developed from my  How to: make a Rose Pinata using felt, white tissue and crepe papers, a clown nose and paper hat with felt balls.

Popcorn for sale at the Carnival stand.

Party hat making with all the trims.

Bringing back our 80’s childhood hoola-hooping expertise!

Balloon making by Lex and Glenn

Party bags – a tassel wand, gold dusted seal biscuit, animal pencil and a clown nose

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A Carnival Cake – based on Sweetapolita’s birthday medley, the cake was constructed with raspberry jam between layers of blue funfetti stars, pink amarena cherry and rich chocolate. Fondant icing was decorated with hand painted green, blue and gold and finished with handmade flowers and elephant cake topper.

My favourite Nigella biscuits finished two ways – Elephants and stars dipped in coloured melted chocolate sprinkled with pearlescent drops and seals in gold dusting.

Freshly cut watermelon stars and blueberries

Strawberry jelly with blue chocolate shooting stars

Mini hot dogs with mustard

Sausage rolls with homemade tomato sauce

Medley of candied and buttered popcorn

Photo credit and a huge thank you to Oliver Bain Photography for capturing the day.