Warm it up, ’cause that’s what I was born to do: Mulled Wine

My last post was a month ago, to the day. At that time it was warm enough that you could still (just) get away with wearing a tshirt and shorts. Now winter has set upon Melbourne with a vengeance, and so a few days ago I decided it was time to fulfill a long-held winter resolution.

For years I’ve been saying I would make mulled wine, last year I added mulled cider to the ‘must make this some day in the future’ list. Now I feel like a fool because when I finally got around to making it, mulled wine was SO easy. And not only easy but super tasty, great to share with friends and a guaranteed way to impress people (even when they find out all you did was mix a few ingredients together).

Mulled wine
1 orange, peeled and juiced
1 lemon, peeled and juiced
6 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod, sliced in half
3 whole star anise
pinch of nutmeg
110g brown sugar
3 cardamom pods
1/2 inch fresh ginger, sliced
1 litre red wine (I used cask wine)

Add all ingredients apart from the wine to a large pot and heat on medium-high until it boils and becomes syrupy, stirring occasionally (if there is not enough liquid to cover the other ingredients, add a splash of wine)

Add the rest of the wine and heat until warm

Don’t add all the wine at the start, you won’t get as strong a flavour from the spices and you’ll burn off all the alcohol, and nobody wants that.

Best served warm alongside a high-quality board game or movie.

And AGAIN I forgot to take photo of the mulled wine, so here is one of the view I enjoyed while drinking it

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Reuben two pennies together: Reuben sandwich Melbourne style

The thing about not having a job is as a general rule you have a lot of time but not a lot of money. The thing about not having a house is as a general rule you realise you have a lot of stuff. But not a lot of money.

While if I was working to my normal spending money on food guidelines (which basically go like: ‘don’t, ever’) this would be fine, however I just moved into what I like to call a ‘triple-threat neighbourhood’. The only thing really scary at all about this neighbourhood is how easy it is to spend money. This is because it has
1) really good cafes and breakfast places
2) cheap but amazing ‘ethnic’ (everything except for Fish n’ Chips) restaurants
3) amazing and well stocked delis and specialty beer stores

So after caving within the first few hours of moving in and buying an incredible Reuben sandwich from a local cafe, I decided to balance it out the next day by making my own.

Reuben sandwich
4 pieces of rye bread
4 slices swiss cheese
5 or 6 slices silverside/corned beef (or a small handful if shaved)
2 Tbsp sauerkraut
fruit chutney/relish
as many pickles as you want

Layer half the swiss cheese, silverside and sauerkraut onto a piece of bread
Spread the relish as thick as you like on the other piece of bread
Sandwich together and toast/fry (I used a frying pan) until the cheese is melted and bread is toasted, serve with the pickles
Repeat with the other ingredients!

While a cheapskate at heart, I recommend not buying the cheapest ingredients you can get your hands on as this sandwich works a LOT better if you splash out a bit and use good quality ingredients.

I know relish is not a common Reuben ingredient but I had no mayo at the time to make Thousand Island Dressing and you’d be surprised how delicious it was with relish. Speaking of time, I also added some fresh thyme to one of the sandwiches just to see and it was goooooood. As always, don’t be afraid to experiment (potato chips/crisps also work really well as a side serving).

I ate the sandwich too fast to get a photo so here’s a photo of the dogs that are the reason I’m living in this food-trap of a suburb.
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Cold as ice: Any-weather iceblocks

This post has been a long time in the making.

I started it on a warm weekend that included my first time driving on a proper highway, falling asleep on a sunny stoop with a book in my hand, unexpected encounters with friends and stroopwafels for breakfast.

Now I’m finishing it on a week day in which I’m drinking soup, wrapped in a blanket, and wearing woollen socks (which aren’t helping, I think my feet may fall off).

There is no good excuse, I was just too lazy to finish writing it up. Another thing there is no good excuse for is not making iceblocks. The moulds cost about $2, they are super quick and easy and, despite what people say, there is no inappropriate weather for an iceblock.

Freeze time: at least 5 hours. Don’t, like me, wake up late on a day when you’ve told people to come round for iceblocks at 3pm then think you can just ‘whip some up’. Unless, like me, the freezer angel is looking out for you and you are prepared to work like a maniac to churn out 4 batches of different flavoured iceblocks in an hour.

Avocado and Lime iceblocks
1 avocado
1 lime
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
pepper to taste

Bring sugar and water to the boil until sugar is dissolved then allow to cool
Scoop out the avocado and blend in a food processor (or I mashed it by hand, still works great) along with lime juice, pepper and sugar syrup to taste
Scoop (pour is not an appropriate word in this case) into iceblock moulds and freeze

Watermelon, mint and gin iceblocks
1/2 watermelon, chopped into pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 lime
1/4 lemon
2 Tbsp chopped mint
Gin (not too much or they won’t freeze very well)

Bring sugar and water to the boil until sugar is dissolved then allow to cool
Mash/blend watermelon along with sugar syrup, lemon, lime, gin and mint (again add all ingredients to taste)
Pour into moulds and freeze

Mango, passionfruit and strawberry lassi iceblocks
1/2 mango
1 passionfruit
6 strawberries, chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup yoghurt
pinch of cinammon

Mash mango with coconut milk and yoghurt, mix in strawberries, passionfruit pulp and cinammon (you know the drill, to taste, including if you think you need to add any sugar syrup)
Pour into moulds and freeze

Spiced hot chocolate iceblocks
2 cups milk
2 squares dark chocolate
1 Tbsp cocoa
1 Tbsp sugar
pinch nutmeg
pinch cinnamon
pinch salt
chili flakes

Heat milk and spices over a low heat until warm
Add chocolate (if you don’t have any just add more cocoa), cocoa, sugar and salt and heat till hot but not boiling, whisking continuously
Allow to cool
Pour into moulds and freeze
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Summer love affair: Chicken honey mustard pasta salad

The steamy, sultry late afternoon sun was peeking in through the window. The temperature was still rising, it was much hotter in this part of the world than the cooler climes she had been vacationing in a few hours ago. Still, it was good to have unpacked and settled in to her room again. She tried to keep her mind on her book but found herself driven to distraction, in fact unable to think of nothing else, with building anticipation Rebecca lay back on her bed, picked up her laptop and…looked up a dinner recipe.

I have toyed with many loose themes to my posts, including recipes inspired by music and recipes inspired by locations. Another naturally developing trend seems to be recipes inspired by books. Every time I read, whether intentional or not, the book in my hands seems to influence what I feel like eating. I recently read Life of Pi and craved fish; read a book about America in the 20s, had to get my hands on corn on the cob and black eyed beans, The Hobbit makes me want to eat stew.

I just finished reading one of the classic love stories, truly an unaging fiction that will go down in history for its engaging, thoughtful prose and challenging approach to traditional gender roles – A Surgical Affair by Shirley Summerskill. You may Google this title and judge me for reading a Mills & Boon novel from the 60s but in response I would say
a) it was $1 from the Cooks Beach Gala 2013 (which raised at least $80,000 for Whenuakite School, a whole $12 of which came directly from me)
b) where else will you find romantic, melt-your-heart lines like
           Mark was looking keenly at her. “You’re fatter!” he grinned.
“I’m not!” She protested, but knew in her heart that he was right.

If anything makes you feel like a summer pasta salad for dinner it is 158 pages jam-packed with talk of cotton frocks, bathing costumes and flaking sunburned nose skin falling inside people during surgical procedures (if this book doesn’t skyrocket to fame at the same time this blog does then I’ll have to conclude that people just don’t know a good read when it is recommended to them), so the following recipe is dedicated to A Surgical Affair’s protagonist and heroine

Dr. Diana Field’s chicken honey mustard Summer pasta (adapted from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/7027/honeymustard-chicken-pasta)
3 Tbsp mayo
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp honey
300g chicken, cut into chunks
400g pasta
2 spring onion, finely chopped
large handful spinach, chopped roughly
handful spinach, chopped roughly
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered

Mix the mayo, mustard and honey together (I find it easiest to shake it up in a jar)
Fry the chicken on medium-low heat till tender and cooked through
Boil pasta till cooked al dente, then strain and run through with cold water
Mix pasta, chicken, veges and sauce together and serve

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For extra points, channel your inner Mills & Boon heroine by cooking this up for your significant other and staring lovingly at them while they eat it, feeling extremely nervous they won’t like it but thankful to know that no matter what you will have them in your life forever now that you have tamed their wild bachelor ways

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Somebody changed the lock: Vegetarian gumbo

A few weeks ago Australia stood still and watched horses race. And the majority of people of a legal drinking age put on their glad rags and went to lay down their bets. I took a different approach to my 4 day weekend, staying up far too late most nights and knocking back a few beers, but avoiding TABs, TVs and fascinators altogether. Instead of ‘The race that stops a nation’ I attended ‘The race that stops a street’; an annual billycart event on a dodgy back street in Northcote where the first words you hear are “We obviously don’t have insurance” and the action gives a whole new meaning to the word derby.The day before this it was hot. Really hot, at least 28 degrees. Well, hot for a South Islander. However, the phrase ‘If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen’ was lost on me and I instead took this opportunity to cook up a proper meal for the first time in quite a while. I found the best way to counteract the heat was to wear the least clothes possible (sorry neighbours). Thankfully my flatmate was out for the day so this involved logging some serious kitchen hours barefoot in a bra and short shorts. Don’t worry this is not about to become an x rated blog, and will probably never be held up as a model of health and safety compliance, however you do what you gotta do and the results were well worth it

Vegetarian gumbo (adapted from http://www.recipesource.com/main-dishes/seafood/gumbo1.html)
2 litres beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp chilli flakes
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup plain flour
2 cups okra, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 large green pepper, minced
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 400g can of whole tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1 Tbsp chili sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 kumara, chopped into smallish chunks
rice, enough for however many people you are feeding

-Bring the stock, bay leaves, chilli flakes and salt to the boil in the largest pot you can find. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for one hour (don’t get complacent, this will just give you time to prep for everything else)
-Make the roux: heat butter in a separate pan over a medium-low heat until melted, add and stir in the flour until absorbed. Reduce heat to low and stir constantly until the roux is dark brown and smells nutty, this should be about 25 minutes
-Heat 3 Tbsp vegetable oil in another large pan and saute okra, celery, carrot, onions, green pepper and garlic for 10 minutes until just tender. Add the canned tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes
-Add the roux and vegetables to the stock along with the salt, tomato sauce, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce and thyme. Reduce heat to the lowest it will go, cover and simmer for 1 hour
-Add kumara and cook for however long it takes for it to become tender, probably about 15 mins depending on how small the chunks are, if you think it will take longer, add in earlier while the gumbo is simmering
-Cook the rice and serve with the gumbo

A few notes
Find okra if you can. I’ve never had gumbo before and even though it sounds strange, I can’t believe it would be even half as good without the unusual texture that this notoriously slimy vegetable brings.

Gumbo is usually crammed with chicken, shrimp and sausage but I felt like a vegetarian meal and had a kumara on hand and I have to say it worked out pretty well so don’t be afraid to experiment.

One last note on experimenting, I have never made or eaten gumbo before so cannot be trusted as an authority on what is good or bad gumbo but this tasted pretty awesome and I improvised a lot of ingredients and steps so once again this is definitely something I would recommend if you feel confident doing so!

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Snuggling under a blanket alone: Lavender hot chocolate

Tonight was the first night I have come straight home from work by myself and spent the night hanging out with myself in close to two months. I quite like to be alone once in a while, and two months is a long time so I celebrated by stealing lavender from my neighbours and working it into a tried and true recipe.

Lavender hot chocolate
1 mug of milk (use the one you’re drinking out of to measure)
1 Tbsp cocoa (try to use decent stuff) or to taste
1/2 Tbsp brown sugar (or if you like it sweeter match one for one)
2 sprigs lavender

heat the milk and lavender over a low heat
once warm add the cocoa and sugar
whisk till hot, but don’t let it boil

I don’t like floral tasting things very much but this was good, too good to stop and take a photo of. It has also been a great night, I suggest you take yourself on a date more often if this is something you don’t do enough.

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Truffle shuffle: goonie eat me a lot of chocolate

You know those ads that are like “DO YOU WANT TO LOSE 12KGS IN THREE MINUTES?” “THIS MAN GREW BACK HIS HAIR AFTER GOING COMPLETELY BALD!” “DO YOU WANT TO MAKE LOVE FOR LONGER?” I don’t know if it is just me but those monstrosities send an instant message to my brain that says “Everything here is a lie. Get out while you can.” In saying that I want to tell you that the complete opposite is true when it comes to the below message:

I have a recipe for you that will take 10 mins to make, cost less than $15 and will make people like you. If this people already like you, they will like you more than they did before.

I approve this message. In fact, I wrote this message so of course I approve it. It is a common misbelief that making tasty food takes ages, is difficult and is expensive. You can be the cheapest, most time-poor and inexperienced cook for miles around and make great food. This blog is here to tell you to not believe the myth. If this particular post doesn’t convince you that anyone can cook, and cook well, then I have truly failed in that mission.

Without much further ado…

Mexican truffles (adapted from http://www.channel5.com/shows/mexican-food-made-simple/recipes/chilli-chocolate-truffles)
500g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
200g chocolate (at least 40% cocoa solids if you can find it, but I used 30% and it was fine)
1 pinch of ground cinnamon
2 allspice berries
10 cloves
½ teaspoon chilli flakes
425ml double cream/thickened cream
30g butter
50g cocoa powder (for dusting)

Grease a baking tin (approx. 30cm by 12cm) with vegetable oil and line with glad wrap
Break the chocolate into small chunks to make it easier to melt
Grind the spices and chillies with a pestle and mortar and heat with the double cream in a heavy-bottomed pan
Once very warm but not boiling, add to the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and stir till combined
Stir in the butter
Pour the mixture into the tin, ensuring it is flat and has filled the corners, and freeze for 1 hour
Turn the frozen chocolate out onto a chopping board and cut into cubes, tossing them in cocoa powder as you go so they don’t stick together

These store for ages in the fridge or freezer and make great presents

If you melt the chocolate with cream that is too hot, the chocolate will split. If this happens you might be able to save it by stirring a few tablespoons of cold cream into the melted chocolate. If the chocolate does not melt straight away (which is more often my problem), suspend the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water until it melts enough to combine.

 

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Hot soup: Summer in the city

As a person living in a large, wealthy city who is in good health and gets paid enough to live comfortably, problems can be difficult to come by. That is why you’ve got to jump on things and complain abut them as much as possible when they do come along. Why is public transport so slow? Why is it raining the weekend I decide to sleep in a tent and go tramping? WHY WILL THAT BIT OF HAIR NOT STOP STICKING UP? Most importantly, why do I have to cook dinner every night and make lunch every day when I am too lazy and hungry to come home and do so? I hate to admit it, but this truly is the biggest and most pressing problem in my life right now. In an attempt to partially counteract it, I spent 2 entire days making giant batches of soup and freezing them for those days where I need lunch but am too lazy to make it the night before (ie almost every day). This is one of those soups

Tomato and Basil soup (taken from http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com.au/2007/02/get-well-quickly-tomato-soup.html)
800g canned, crushed tomatoes
1 head of garlic, roasted
1 decent handful of fresh basil, chopped/torn
1/4 of an onion diced
One celery stick, diced
One carrot, diced
2 pieces of cooked bacon (optional)
1 tablespoon of butter
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of cream
3 tablespoons of hard cheese such as Parmigiana, Romano or Asiago, grated

Separate garlic into cloves, don’t peel but rub off papery bits. Place cloves on piece of foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap and place in oven at 150 degrees celcius for an hour
Sweat onions (heat on low with the lid on), celery, carrot and one piece of bacon I (if using, I didn’t) in butter for 15 minutes
Add tomatoes, sugar and basil and other piece of bacon to pot
Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for half an hour
Take roasted garlic out of oven, and add to tomato mixture as many cloves as you like
Stir in cheese
Simmer, covered for another half hour
Turn off heat and let cool
Puree tomato mixture until smooth
Stir in cream (you can use more than two cups for a thinner soup)
Serve with crusty bread (and if you don’t feel well, you can spread more roasted garlic on the bread).

Lately I’ve been getting a bit better at improvising and tweaking recipes a bit but as this is from the Homesick Texan I took the recipe as gospel and didn’t change it much at all. Because that would be like walking up to Jamie Oliver and trying to lecture him on olive oil.

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Exciting times ahead

Hello all!

Today I spent all day cooking and baking. It feels like it slipped by very quickly, hopefully it was worth it. I made:

Kumara and Chipotle soup
Tomato and Basil soup
Black bean soup
Ginger scones
Boysenberry brownie

I realise that it seems like I’ve forgotten that we’re currently heading out of – not into – winter, but soup is an easily frozen meal and when you work in an office the temperature is pretty consistent year-round. However, I’m sure there will be no complaints when I post the recipes and you go off and make them (which I know you all do religiously), because they are delicious

Here’s a little teaser…

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Pink lemonade: But my finger hurts!

Moving cities is hard. Especially when you move from a small city in a small country to a large city in a large country. I was reminiscing the other day on how I used to be so anxious every time I got on the train or tram or even walked somewhere. What if I got off at the wrong stop? Got lost? That doesn’t happen anymore, and I feel a lot more comfortable in Melbourne now. But I miss home, I always miss home. Not because I am a small city dweller at heart (even though this is true), mostly I miss the people that make a city somewhere I can call home. I don’t just miss sitting and watching ships shuffle around Lyttelton Harbour, or looking down from the top floor of the library at the people walking below. Most of all I miss the people that would sit or walk beside me while I did these things.

Although nothing can or will ever replace those places and people that make me call Christchurch home, this weekend was a reminder of how the experiences I love most about living in a small city can still translate to big city life. Saturday started with my neighbours bringing over a loaf of bread they bought for me from a bakery over an hour out of town because they know it is my favourite. This was followed by a visit to the local library, then my favourite lunch place, where even though they know how much of a cheapskate I am they put up with me anyway and gave me a free milkshake. The walk home saw a detour via my favourite produce shop, the owner of which who I not-so-secretly love despite his produce being terrible, him not really speaking much English and an age gap of at least 35 years. After this fantastic start, the only way was up with the weekend also including writing postcards on the roof in the sun until it got dark and cold, pulled pork tacos at a great pub in the company of a great friend, Con Air (were Nicolas Cage and John Cusack always so hot?!), and a Sunday rummage sale followed by lawn bowls.

So where is this rambling, diary-like blog entry going? Even I’m not sure but I think the point is that no matter how homesick you are, if you are spending your weekend in good company, relaxed and having a good time you are doing something right, especially if you are barefoot and drinking a beer at 1pm. And what better way to make or keep friends than with the below recipe (terrible segway but just go with it people)!

Cheats Pink lemonade
3 lemons, cut in half and juiced
1.5 litres lemonade
2 blood oranges, cut into quarters/slices
1 lime, cut into wedges
a handful of mint
1 large jug

Mix the lemon juice and lemonade in the jug
Add the mint, lime wedges and orange wedges, squeeze a few of the wedges to make the lemonade good and pink

As you can see, not the most difficult of drinks to make especially as no extra sugar is required with store-bought lemonade being so sweet anyway. But guaranteed to look impressive and taste great. Plus if it is a day where it feels like the sky is desperately cupping its hands to keep the sun from running through them at the end of a pretty chilly week, lemonade is guaranteed to remind you that summer is on its way.

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Pink lemonade party mix
The Lonely Goatherd – Sound of Music soundtrack
Sitting Inside My Head – Supergroove
Spoonful – Canned Heat
All I Have Is Love – Gregory Isaacs

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