Tuesday 21 July 2015

Little Blue Girl

I'm not going to lie, it's taken me ages to finish this project. Now that it's done it looks so cute I wish I had just cracked on and finished it earlier. The colour combination was part inspired by the beautiful and colourful Swedish knitwear designers Millamia, and part stash busting some of my 'didn't quite get round to it' smaller projects. You know the ones: a few balls to make a cardigan for a four year old, but opps they've grown so big now!   

The two shades of blue are Naturally Alpaca DK - 90% alpaca and 10% merino wool - a New Zealand made yarn. The mottled pink is a Twilleys of Stanford yarn called Freedom Spirit that's made in England. I usually always buys New Zealand made yarn, but couldn't resist it sitting in the sale bin at Knit World.  

I used the cardigan pattern from this Patons book. I've made this pattern very successfully a number of times. Because our Little Miss is a long bean, I always increase the length of the body by 5cm and the length of the sleeve by about 3cm. 

The strip sequence I used is: 
5 rows sky blue, 
1 row pink, 
2 rows navy, 
1 row pink, 
5 rows sky blue, 
1 row navy, 
4 rows pink, 
1 row navy, 
and repeat!

The overall pattern really works well because the mottled pink yarn breaks up the stripe so it doesn't look so arbitrary or obvious. 

I let our Little Miss choose the cardigan colours from my stash. She has got so opinionated about her clothes these day that it's not worth the risk of having her tell me that she's 'not that keen on that one' once I've spend all that time knitting. I really hate to think what teenage years are going to be like! 

Happy knitting xx

Thursday 16 July 2015

What we've been eating this week....2

Thanks mostly to the holidays, things have been going well in our household. The man of the house is doing very well on his crutches, and the holidays have given me the time to cook all sorts of things. At times I've felt like a '50s housewife: all cooking, cleaning and washing. But with a few mod cons: like a dishwasher, fan bake, Annabel Langbein, a clothes drier and the internet.  

This is one of my favourite Annabel Langbein recipes. The caramelised onions are great, and the pastry is super easy and useful for all sorts of pies.  I served ours with a pickled radish and celery salad and some tasty bread. 

Caramelised Onion and Goats Cheese Tart

Flaky Pastry
2 cups high grade flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
220g cold butter
quarter of a cup cold water

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Grate the butter and shake through the flour. 
Add the water, mixing just until the dough forms. Wrap in plastic food wrap and chill until required. 
Caramelised Red Onion
3 large red onions - thinly sliced
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablepoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 170 deg. C. 
Mix the onion with the oil, sugar, vinegar and seasoning. 
Spread in a roasting dish and bake for 45 minutes. The caramelised onions will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks. 
To make the tart:
Cut the pastry in half and roll out one of the half into a rough circle. Re-wrap the unused half and return to the fridge for later use. Spread the onions onto the pastry leaving a border around the edge. 
Sprinkle with about 100g of crumbled goat or sheep feta. Fold the edges over and bake at 180deg. C for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden and crispy.   

Having not had chicken for a little while, a special on boned chicken thighs led me to this delicious chicken casserole. I made plenty and used the left over pastry half to make a pie later in the week. 

Easy Chicken Casserole
serves 4 hungry people with accompaniments, or 2 to 3 people with enough left over for a pie

6 boned, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
half a leek - white part only, finely sliced
2 to 3 small sticks of celery including the leaves - finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic - finely sliced
6 small sprigs of fresh thyme
about 3 cups of chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons corn flour mixed with 4 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 200deg. C fan bake.
In a heavy based, oven-proof fry pan heat half the oil and soften the celery, leek and garlic. 

Put the vegetables aside and without cleaning the pan, add the second half of the oil and brown the chicken in batches. 

Add the vegetables back into the pan and enough chicken stock to cover the meat. Bring to the boil on the stove top, then place in the oven and cook for an hour. 

Take from the oven and immediately add the cornflour and water mixture, stirring constantly. Return to the oven or heat on the stove top until the mixture boils in order to cook out the cornflour. Test the seasoning and add more salt if required. 

We served ours with roasted pumpkin and parsnips, and baked potatoes with butter and sour cream. 

Here is the pie I made using the left over chicken casserole and the unused half of Annabel Langbein's pastry. Just roll out the pastry, cover half with the left over chicken mixture, fold the pastry over and press the edges shut with a folk. Bake at 200deg. C until golden brown and crispy. 

Our Little Miss made the flower decoration for the top of the pie. Use a little water to brush the top and stick the decoration down. 

Since the weather has been thoroughly cold I decided to stick to the comfort food theme with this Braised Beef dish. It is also super simple to make and requires no looking after while it is cooking. 

Braised Beef with onions
serves 4 hungry people with accompaniments or enough for 2 and another meal later!

800g beef shin fillets or similar stewing cut of beef
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic - finely sliced
about 3 cups of beef stock - either liquid or made with stock powder (we had run out of the real stuff, so settled for the powdered Maggi product made and water, which was surprisingly ok!)

Preheat the oven to 200deg. C fan bake. 
In a heavy based, oven proof fry pan, heat the oil and brown the beef. I left the pieces whole, but you can cut them smaller if you wish. Set the beef aside, then fry the onions and garlic until they start to colour. Add the beef back into the pan and pour in enough stock to cover the meat. Bring to the boil on the stove top, then cover the dish with cooking foil and cook in the oven for 2 hours. At this point take from the oven, check the moisture levels; there should still be plenty of liquid; then remove the foil cover and return to the oven for an additional hour of cooking. At the end of the extra hour the meat should be very tender and falling apart. 
Check the seasoning and add more if required. If you have used a stock powder or seasoned liquid stock it is unlikely the braise will require any additional salt. 

I served our braise with roasted pumpkin, baked potatoes and sauteed kale and bacon.

I hope these dishes have given you some good winter meal ideas and wherever you are, you are warm, dry and in the company of your loved ones. Happy cooking xx

Thursday 9 July 2015

What we've been eating this week...

It's been two weeks since we jumped down the rabbit hole that is the man of the house having hip replacement surgery. Its been quite a journey, and it's amazing how quickly the body recovers from such major surgery. In the beginning our Little Miss found it very distressing; especially when late surgery meant we weren't able to visit until the next day. This was followed by my general sense of panic that she was going to over exuberantly launch herself at Daddy first chance she got. Then came the mad few days of hospital visits and solo parenting. Followed by being chief nurse maid. Thank goodness it's now the school holidays and we are all safely home and well.

Needless to say I have been on full time cooking duties ever since; cooking is a task I almost reluctantly admit is not my routine job in our house. I love cooking, but our usual division of labour results in the man of the house making most of the weekday meals while I deal with homework, housework and other exciting domestic dues. 
Here are my 'week in a day' efforts: a few dishes where all the hard work is done on Sunday so they can be quickly finished during the week. 

Slow Cooked Pork Belly - Yes this is as delicious as it looks!
Preheat the oven to 160degrees C. Start with a couple of 400g pieces of raw, boneless pork belly and a tightly fitting, high sided oven dish. Mix 5 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons ground allspice and 3 star anise. Place in the oven dish, add the pork belly pieces and turn them over to evenly coat. Add half a cup of boiling water to the dish and cover in cooking foil. Bake for 4 hours, checking every hour or so to see it has not dried out. Add more water if required. 
Once cooked set aside to cool before placing in a covered container and refrigerating until required. Reheat for 20 minutes in an oven set to 180deg. C. 

We had two meals from this: Pork belly with roast yams, and Shredded Pork belly Tortillas (pictured below). 

Next I made a multi purpose mince recipe. From this we had two pasta dishes (pictured below)

For this one I sauteed sliced carrots and celery before adding and reheating the mince in the pan and serving it with home made spaghetti. 

Since all the other dishes were quite meaty, I made a quick and easy Pumpkin curry. 

Pumpkin Curry
1 small or half a large pumpkin - I used a butternut 'cos it's my favourite!
1 large onion
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons each ground coriander and cumin
1 clove garlic
a 420g can of coconut cream
salt and pepper to taste
a handful of chopped fresh coriander to serve.

Finely slice the onion and saute it in the oil. Add the chopped garlic and cook with out letting the vegetables colour. 

Add the spices and briefly fry before adding the skinned and diced pumpkin. 
Toss around the pan to coat with oil and begin to cook. 

Add the can of coconut cream to the pan with an additional half can of water. 

Bring up to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes until the pumpkin is only just cooked. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as required.

Transfer to a clean bowl and allow to cool before covering and storing in the fridge until required. 
Gently reheat in a pot being careful not to break the pumpkin pieces up to much. Sprinkle with fresh chopped coriander to serve. 

Lastly I quickly blended up some hummus to put into the lunch boxes during the last week of school term. 

Blend one small, drained and rinsed can of chick peas with a clove of garlic, the juice of a lemon, salt and pepper and about half a cup of good olive oil. We don't use tahini in our hummus as we have a sesame allergy sufferer. It tastes fine without it. 

Yes, all this cooking did take up a large part of my Sunday, but getting it all done made the last week of school term so much easier. Nothing worse than getting home late with a small, ravenous child in tow and staring into the fridge wondering what to cook. 

Saturday 4 July 2015

Orange Syrup Cake with Apples and Almond

Here is a great cake I made for a meeting at school. It's ideal for this time of year when the fruit selection is in short supply. In summer I make it with raspberries or blueberries, but apples are equally good at this time of year. 

Orange Syrup Cake with Apples and Almond

For the cake:
250g butter
1 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
1 and a half cups flour
half a cup whole almond meal (the almonds are ground with the skins still on)
2 apples - skinned, cored and evenly chopped into small pieces
grated rind of 2 oranges

For the syrup:
the juice of two oranges
half a cup of sugar

Preheat the oven to 170deg. C. and line a large round baking tin with baking paper. 

Cream the softened butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Lightly beat the eggs with a fork and add them to the butter mixture a bit at a time, beating well in between each addition. 

Stir the orange zest into the mixture. 

Sift the dry ingredients and fold in with the prepared apple pieces. 

Place in the lined baking tin and smooth out the top. 

Bake for 1 hour until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. The top will be browned. 

While the cake bakes prepare the syrup by boiling the orange juice and sugar together for about 5 minutes - until a syrup forms. Set aside until the cake is cooked. 

Once the cake has cooled a little, stab the top repeatedly with a skewer. Slowly spoon the syrup over the cake allowing it to soak in. 

This recipe makes quite a large cake, so there was plenty left over for the family as well. The almond meal and apples help the cake to keep moist, so it's just as good a couple of days after making. 

Happy baking!!