Pickled Gherkins

Summer is preserving time, from making chutney & passata to pickled cucumbers and making jam. I have thankfully been given some jars, so I am back on track to get bottling. When I saw Quekes (baby cucumbers) on special I knew I had to make some more Pickles.

My dear friend Niina sent me Moomins Cookbook: An Introduction to Finnish Cuisine available here and I have made a couple of things from it, one of the best by far is their recipe for pickled gherkins.

Our kids love gherkins, as do we, they make a lovely addition to a Ploughman’s lunch, a quick easy pre dinner nibbles, or as an addition to lunch boxes. We can get them very cheaply here in Australia from tiny baby cucumbers the size of your kids fingers to the large Polish ones. However if I make them myself I know exactly what’s gone into them and there is nothing quite like home made in my opinion.

For this batch it almost seemed to take longer to get the sticky goo off my jars than it did to make the actual pickles. Then you just let time take it’s course and in about a month or two we’ll be enjoying our very own pickled cucumbers.

I think you’d be able to use this recipe as a base for other pickled vegies like carrots, cauliflower and onions as well as bread and butter cucumbers.For the amount pictured I double the recipe and had exactly the right amount of liquid. I leave out the horseradish, black current leaves (as I don’t have any) and the dill because it makes my nose itch to the point where I would gladly remove it from my face. You can make it to suit your tastes as well.

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You will need:

Some large glass preserving jars or smaller ones if you’re planning on slicing the cucumbers or gherkins.

Firstly wash your jars in hot soapy water and allow to soak to remove the labels and any goo from the labels. Once they’re clean, rinse well and place on a tray in the oven and heat for 10 mins at about 180 degrees Celsius.

1 kg of Gherkins or baby cucumbers

For the stock:

300ml of water

200ml of wine or apple cider vinegar

160g of sugar

1 1/2 tbsp salt

Seasonings:

1 tbsp allspice berries

1 tbsp mustard seeds

1 tbsp whole cloves

1 tbsp sliced garlic – optional

1 tbsp freshly grated horseradish – optional

For the jar:

2 dill flowers

2 black current leaves

Wash the gherkins well and cut them into slices.

Layer the slices in large sterilised jars together with the seasonings. If you like mild gherkins leave out the garlic and horseradish (as I mentioned above I only leave out the horseradish and they’re delicious, not to spicy at all).

Simmer the ingredients for the stock. Allow to cool, then pour enough stock into the jars to cover the gherkins. Close the lid tightly and store in a cool cellar or pantry (dark cupboard).

I doubled the quantity of stock based on how many cucumbers I had, I also poured hot stock over the cucumbers and microwaved each jar for 30 seconds in order to get the stock hot enough to create a vacuum when you put the lid on. Some people say you don’t need to worry, but I prefer to ensure the jars are sealed properly. Plus I like hearing that little click that happens when the suction forms. Yes you can call me crazy :D.

I hope you love these as much as we do. It’s a little taste of Finland, Thanks to Niina and the Moomins!

Homemade Beef, Onion & Mushroom Pies

I think it was a couple of Master Chef seasons ago, Zachie and I were watching Gary make pies. They looked amazing, great for winter and who really doesn’t love a pie? Pies for us were our “we’re home late and the kids need to eat now” meal and I was buying nibble pies aka party pies from Aldi which were great. But in the back of my mind were a couple of things. Firstly they’re not the most nutritious thing ever and heaven only knows exactly what they’re made of. So I thought I am going to have a go at making Gary Mehigan’s pies. You can find his recipe here.

Too yummy to wait

Too yummy to wait

Now me being me, it’s very rare that I will follow a recipe to the T unless I am baking in which case you have to as it’s a bit of a science experiment in getting everything to do it’s thing (another story there). Anyway I went to the butcher but he only had Osso Bucco which apparently is chuck steak with the bone. Which will give loads more flavour so I was in. Then today I am about to get everything ready and realise we only have 1 onion and the recipe says 4… argh! Kids aren’t massive fans of onions, had a bunch of spring onions voila, problem solved. I also left out the Guinness and used extra water instead.

This recipe took the better part of a day to make, but bear in mind, that includes wrangling 2 rascals, hanging out washing, a bit of procrastinating and realising I added too much water at the start. The results though were amazing and I would say if you’re a confident cook then add the extra water, used osso bucco and let it all cook away, especially for those of you in winter as it’ll warm your house too. We ended up with a delicious sticky stew, where the meat melted away and was rich in flavours. Zachie was taste tester and he said it’s perfect Mummy, Mr Maker, Giggle and Hoot tastic! Which in my book equals winner!

Beef, Mushroon & Onion Stew

You will need:

For the pies. 100ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing

1 large red onion, diced

1 bunch of spring onions washed and sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

4 sprigs thyme

3 bay leaves

2 tablespoons plain flour

5 large pieces of Osso Bucco  Approx 1.5kg

Salt flakes and freshly ground pepper

4 medium sized carrots, sliced

3 large field mushrooms, diced

1.5 Litres water (1500 mls or 6 cups)

2 tsp Massel beef stock powder

Maggie Beer’s Sour-Cream Pastry

400g butter, softened

500g plain flour

1 cup sour cream

Method.

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan-forced (200°C conventional).

For the pies, add 40ml olive oil to an enamelled cast-iron casserole, then add the onion, garlic and thyme and cook over low heat (use a simmer mat, if necessary) for 40 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat to medium-high, add bay leaves, carrots & mushrooms and cook until the onion is dark and caramelised. Add the flour & powdered stock and cook stirring often for 3-4 minutes.
Season the osso bucco generously with salt flakes and ground pepper. Heat remaining 60ml of the olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat, then cook the osso bucco in 2 batches until browned on all sides. Place the osso bucco into the onions and use 2 cups of water to deglaze the beef pan, scraping all the brown bits from the bottom, add to the onions.

Pour enough water to cover the beef and vegetables and bring to the boil. Cover with a tight fitting lid, then transfer to the oven and cook for 2-2.5 hours or until tender.  Now I forgot that the amount of water required to cover osso bucco is more than what you would need to cover chuck steak so after 2 hours there was still heaps of water so I took the lid off and let it cook for another hour and that resulted in the most lovely stew, the meat was off the bone and lovely and sticky. Damn near perfect. Leave to cool to room temperature. Remove the bones and any visible fat and break up the meat with a fork, squash any large pieces of carrot. Refrigerate until cold.

Meanwhile, to make the sour cream pastry, place the butter and flour and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle or food processor, then blend until the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs. Gradually add the sour cream, mixing until the pastry just comes together. Shape into a disc, then wrap in plastic wrap then chill for at least 30 minutes.
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Now at this stage you need to decide what size pies you want, I wanted nibble pie size so I used a muffin tin. I also sprayed it with one of those baking sprays as I am not about to wrestle with the pies to get them out of the tray. The pastry was quite sticky and as I don’t have a cutter to fit them to the size of the tin I did the next best thing. I rolled the pastry out to about 5-10 mm and cut it to fit and then rolled them slightly to make sure they were big enough to sit up over the sides of the tin. Place a spoonful of the meat into the mould and seal, making sure you crimp the edges together. In the end the pastry sat up enough that I was able to fold it over and use that as the lids with little holes in the corners. This will allow the steam to escape.

Just before bakingFinished

Brush the pastry tops with egg wash. Bake for 25 minutes or until pastry is golden. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Turn out and serve with tomato sauce, if desired.

If like me you’re going to freeze the pies you can cook them until they’re just golden and then remove from the oven.

Beef, Mushroom and Onion Pies

Zachie wasn’t a fan of the pastry, a bit too rich so if you can’t be bothered making your own pastry you can also quite easily use a good puff pastry, which is what I reverted to. I just cut each sheet into 4 squares and waited til they were soft and pliable and folded the corners in over the filling.

This recipe made us 30 small pies. I doubled the quantity for the pastry from the original and if you were using bought puff pastry then you’ll need at least 8 sheets. Also if allergies are a concern you can also leave out the egg and just use milk to brush the pastry before placing it in the oven.

I hope you enjoy!

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas and New Year celebrating with those nearest and dearest. I will over the coming days post some pictures and recipes from our Christmas Lunch. For now though, I wanted to share a quicker than quick, tasty and warming snack, lunch or dinner.

Wonderful if you’re feeling slightly seedy from a larger than life New Years celebration. Particularly wonderful if you’ve had a lazy day and really can’t be bothered cooking much. I fall into the latter category. We had a wonderful evening celebrating New Years with very dear family who I consider friends as well. The kids adore each other, there isn’t a moment of fighting which is so rare for young children, conversation flowed as did laughter, joy and happiness!

Quick and easy

Quick and easy

So Cheese on toast anyone?

You will need:

Some yummy bread – I used Taylors Grainy bread which is wholemeal with bits, but you can use what ever you like.

Tasty Cheese, a good quality vintage cheddar or Mersey valley if you want to go up market.

Leftovers, Ham, chicken, capsicums, spring onions aka scallions or a Spanish (Red) onion, olives finely chopped, normal or cherry tomatoes.

You can really use anything you like. For the kids I just toasted the bread first and then placed the cheese on the toast in slices and put it under the grill until it was melted and golden.

For us I used up the wilting spring onions, some black olives and yellow cherry tomatoes, all sliced. I put a bit of everything on the toast topped with cheese and then under the grill for about 5 mins or so.

Delicious!

Butterfly Salad – using up your leftovers

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Christmas has come and gone as too has New Years Eve and we’ve had lots of left overs in the fridge. Our kids are spending almost every day in the pool and that will definitely be the case for the next week as we head into a week of between 30 & 40 degrees Celsius. I decided yesterday the best way to ensure they eat dinner was to feed them by the pool so I made up a salad of diced cucumber, tomatoes, feta & lettuce dressed with a little balsamic vinegar, sliced some yellow & red capsicums (bell peppers) and cooked up some of the leftover veggies in the fridge like asparagus, add to that some BBQ sausages & lamb chops from the night before and voila you have a salad which was demolished quick smart! Although the asparagus was fed to Daddy :D all round though a colourful tasty combination.

Dinosaur Salad

We were watching Peppa Pig the other day, Sophia loves her and every time she says Peppa Pig she snorts like a pig which is hilarious – to me anyway :) – So Peppa’s brother George wouldn’t eat his salad which Grandpa Pig had grown in his own garden, so Grandpa Pig tore up the pieces of lettuce and made a dinosaur with it and cucumber & tomatoes.

Soph & Zachie thought it was great and tonight we had a go at it as well. I have found that a sure fire way to get the kids to eat is to get them involved in making the food. Tonight was no different. Zachie had grazed all day so wolfed down this salad followed by a bowl of weetbix, another great alternative to dinner when you know if they don’t eat something they’ll be up through the night!

Now I do have to confess that I have no issue at all with getting either of our kids to eat salad, they love it and would quite possibly eat only salad, some nights it’s a fight for who gets the most.

My dear friend gave me her wonderful garden salad recipe and it’s a staple in our house even through winter, I love salad in preference to vegies any day as does Hubby, which is probably where the kids get it from as well.

If you struggle to get your kids to eat salads or vegetables or just want to make it a bit more fun, this could be the way… stay tuned for a Semi Trailer styled salad soon.

Dee’s delicious Salad

You will need for 2 adults & 2 kids

1 tomato diced

1 decent sized Lebanese cucumber peeled, forked & quartered

4-6 coz lettuce leaves, rinsed and chopped

100gms of danish fetta, crumbled

dash of balsamic vinegar

Combine the ingredients in a salad bowl, mix well and serve. We do also add avocado &/or olives on occasion too.

Toasted Sandwiches

Winter is definitely coming our way here in Melbourne and hubby brought home enough bread to feed an army the other day from his friend who runs a bread shop. In an effort to use some of it up I figured it was cold enough to bring out the Sandwich Press, vintage I know, all I would need is a tin of Braised Steak and we’d be living in the 70′s!

Instead the kids had an old favourite – cheese & tomato – we added some of these to some Mersey Valley tasty with some olives and voila pizza in a sandwich! Delicious if I say so myself!!

Obviously there are all sorts of things you can put into a toasted sandwich, salami, straz, bacon, chicken, all the different cheeses, tomatoes, capsicums, olives, eggplant, onions to name a few. Foccacia, tortillas, ciabatta, any bread & muffins could be toasted, you could even make pancakes on your sandwich press as well, maybe even pizza?

I did a bit of a google search and there are a number of suppliers of these wonderful pickles in Australia & I would think that they’d be available around the world – I highly recommend them, you know how sometimes when you buy chargrilled eggplant it’s not actually cooked enough and is really chewy – well these are wonderful, gorgeous & silky the way eggplant (aubergines) should be.