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!

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!

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.

Sweet Corn

Corn, we love the stuff – you know it’s in so many things in many different forms, but we like corn au naturale or popped as in popcorn. Autumn in Melbourne is gorgeous – no doubt about it, the mornings are cool & crisp and days for the most part a glorious sunshine, although having said that undoubtedly the weather will change in the next 10 mins and then change again as most Melburnians know. Autumn is also bring us a change in what’s available and in season at the market, corn is on that list! Yay!! For a list of seasonal fruit & vegetables click here.

Fresh corn is one of those things that you can use in a lot of other things like fried rice, corn jacks, on the barbeque, in salads, the possibilities are almost endless, we as I said like ours plain and simple.

I usually cut our cobs in half and everyone gets a half each as I’d usually serve it with other things as well, but tonight Sophia kept opening the fridge and pointing to the corn with a bit of an err err (she’s still on one to two words at 1 & 1/2 years of age) she’s definitely able to get across to us what she wants.

So corn on it’s own is what they had for dinner. Husk your corn and remove as much of the silk as you can, place them in a pot that is large enough to fit them in, cover with water and bring to the boil, boil for about 5-8 mins. Don’t add any salt to the water as this causes the corn kernels to go tough, you can add it later if you like.

That’s it.. simple, quick and easy and for kids it’s really a meal in its self. You can of course add butter, salt & pepper, even Lime juice which comes highly recommended.(thanks Liesel) pretty much anything else you fancy.

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.

Stuffed Eggplants

Yummy hey? Now this is a little fiddly, but oh my goodness they’re delicious and worth it. I am deliriously happy as this was my second attempt at these tasty little morsels, this time with meat & hubby loved them! They’re great because you can make them and then stick it in the fridge and leave it there for a day or so, or even freeze them and then take them out in the morning and stick in the oven when you get home from work etc.

You will need:

8 Lebanese eggplants (they’re the long skinny ones)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

500g lamb mince

2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed.

1 Litre of tomato passata or 3 tins of crushed tomatoes

1 heaped tsp smokey paprika + 1/2 tsp extra

1 heaped tsp ground cumin  + 1/2 tsp extra

small handful of finely chopped parsley

200g danish feta

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 brown onion diced.

Cut the eggplants in half & scoop out the flesh leaving the skins intact. Set the flesh aside. Place the skins in a large pot of boiling salted water and ensure that they remain submerged under the water. (a smaller saucepan lid on top of them works)

Dice the remaining eggplant flesh and pan fry in extra virgin olive oil with the garlic & onion until golden and tender, add the mince and ensure that you break up any lumps, continue to saute until golden brown. Add the spices & salt & pepper, then 500ml of the tomato passata and stir to combine.

Drain the eggplant skins and set aside to cool slightly.

In another saucepan add some garlic, olive oil 1/2 tsp paprika & cumin with salt & pepper to taste, and the remaining tomato passata, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 mins, check taste for seasoning.

Take a large oven proof dish and pour the tomato sauce onto the base of the dish, fill the skins with the stuffing and place in the tomato sauce – nestle in close together but don’t over fill them too much. Once they’re all done, sprinkle with any remaining meat sauce, parsley and top with crumbled feta.

Cook in the oven for 30 -40 mins at 180 degrees celsius or 350 farenheit. Serve with crusty bread & a green salad.

You can easily omit the mince meat if you’re vegetarian and add some finely diced celery & or mushrooms at the same time as you pan fry the eggplant.

Simple Sushi

Well this is definitely one to get your kids onto. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make sushi or california rolls as the larger ones are known here. Zachie & I went to the supermarket and bought Sushi rice, one of those bamboo mats you use to roll up the sushi, some nori paper and the vinegar that you use to flavour the rice.

We already had tuna, cucumber, carrots, avocado etc to use as fillings so we were all set to have a go – now the first attempt I have to say was very impressive. I did undercook the rice slightly, but it was okay, there is certainly a reason they call it sticky rice.

So I simply followed the recipe on the packet of rice, which pretty much says to cook a cup of rice in 375 mls of water, you have to rinse the rice first, bring it to the boil and simmer for 10 mins then let it sit for 10 mins.

Then transfer it to a plate and add about 3 tbsp of sushi vinegar, stir it around & fan it so it cools down as quickly as possible. Once it’s cold/cool then you’re good to go ahead and use it.

I mixed a tin of plain tuna with some mayonnaise, julienne some cucumbers & carrots, you could also add capsicum & sliced up some avocado.

Just spread the rice over the nori paper to within 2 cms of one edge and right to all the other edges, put your toppings on and roll up. It really is that simple, Zachie had a great time making it & eating it as well!

Definitely something to add to your repertoire if you & your family love sushi!

Chelsea Buns

So as you know we’ve been making things of late that would be good for the kidlets in their lunch boxes or for an afternoon snack, it definitely depends on how old your children are, but if they have afterschool activities you may be running short of ideas, which was how this little project came about. My main concern was that whatever you offer them it has to be healthy, tasty, and easy to pack and more than likely taste good cold.

I have had a week of experimentation and this is what I’ve come up with. Definitely tasty & good cold, relatively easy to make, you can get the children involved in the making of & not too sweet, I figure if you’re making these yourself you know what’s gone into them and therefore every now and again something sweet is ok.

This recipe originally comes from The Essential Baking cookbook. But you might have gathered by now that it’s very hard for me not to play around with recipes. I usually buy yeast in a large container which I keep in the fridge, ours has been there for a while now so I have been using a bit more than the recipe indicates, I also made my own mixed fruit with sultanas, apricots and some candied peel I made when oranges & lemons were in bountiful supply.

If you have a dough hook on your mix master then use this and make the yeast mix in your mix master bowl so you’re just using the one bowl.

Chelsea Buns

You will need:

2 tsp dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

2 ½ cups plain flour, sifted

½ cup warm milk

185g softened butter

1Tbsp sugar, extra

2 Tbsp mixed or candied peel, finely diced

1 tsp mixed spice

1 egg

¼ cup soft brown sugar

1 cup mixed dried fruit (you could use anything along the lines of dried apples, sultanas, apricots, peaches etc)

1 Tbsp milk, extra for glazing

2 Tbsp Sugar, extra for glazing

Glace icing

½ cup icing sugar

1-2 Tbsp milk

What to do:

Combine the yeast, sugar & a couple of tablespoons of the flour in a large bowl, add the milk and mix well. Set aside in a warm place until it’s frothy and thick. This should take about 10 minutes.  While you’re waiting for the yeast to activate sift the remaining flour into another bowl and rub in 125gms of the softened butter with your fingertips until it resembles coarse sand or breadcrumbs. Stir in the extra sugar, mixed peel & ½ the mixed spice. Add this to the yeast mixture with the egg and mix well using the dough hook on your mix master. Work the dough until it comes together to form a smooth ball.

Lightly oil your mixing bowl put the dough in and cover with cling film and place in a warm place to allow to prove for an hour or until it’s at least doubled in size.

Pre heat your oven to 210°C 415°F or gas 6-7. Ensure your mixed fruit is finely chopped if you’re making your own. Beat the remaining butter with the brown sugar & mixed spice until it’s light & creamy. When your dough is ready, knock it back and roll out to approx 40 x 25cm (16 x 10 inches) rectangle, Spread the butter mixture all over the dough to within 2cm of the edge of one of the longer sides, sprinkle the fruit all over the dough.

Roll the dough from the long side, firmly and evenly to enclose the fruit. Using a sharp knife cut the roll into evenly sized pieces about 2 ½ cm thick. Arrange the slices onto a well greased oven tray with the seams facing inwards. Flatten slightly, cover with cling film and set aside to rise for 30 mins or until they’re well risen again. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown & cooked. When they’re almost ready stir the milk & sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved, brush this mix over the hot buns. Cool & mix the icing sugar, drizzle over the buns. You should get about 12 – 15 smallish buns.

Cheesymite buns, pizza buns, savory buns

So these are the variations on the Chelsea Bun mix, it definitely works equally as well & they taste delicious cold. I’d love to hear if anyone has a go at making these and how they go down with the kids/family. Obviously most of the things we’re recommending for kids would work for lunches to take to work as well.

Savory Buns:

You will need:

2 tsp dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

2 ½ cups plain flour, sifted

½ cup warm milk

185g softened butter

1 egg

2 cups grated cheese – tasty & parmesan depending on the flavours you like

½ a Spanish onion, finely diced

20 green olives, diced

4 Tbsp Tomato paste or Chunky Sweet chili dip

What to do:

Combine the yeast, sugar & a couple of tablespoons of the flour in a large bowl, add the milk and mix well. Set aside in a warm place until it’s frothy and thick. This should take about 10 minutes.  While you’re waiting for the yeast to activate sift the remaining flour into another bowl and rub in 125gms of the softened butter with your fingertips until it resembles coarse sand or breadcrumbs. Stir in the extra sugar, mixed peel & ½ the mixed spice. Add this to the yeast mixture with the egg and mix well using the dough hook on your mix master. Work the dough until it comes together to form a smooth ball.

Lightly oil your mixing bowl put the dough in and cover with cling film and place in a warm place to allow to prove for an hour or until it’s at least doubled in size.

Pre heat your oven to 210°C 415°F or gas 6-7.  When your dough is ready, knock it back and roll out to approx 40 x 25cm (16 x 10 inches) rectangle, mix the remaining butter with either the tomato paste or dip and spread  all over the dough to within 2cm of the edge of one of the longer sides, Scatter the cheese, onions & olives over the dough.

Roll the dough from the long side, firmly and evenly to enclose the toppings. Using a sharp knife cut the roll into evenly sized pieces about 2 ½ cm thick. Arrange the slices onto a well greased oven tray with the seams facing inwards. Flatten slightly, cover with cling film and set aside to rise for 30 mins or until they’re well risen again. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown & cooked. You should get about 12 – 15 smallish buns.

Variations:

I did half & half with cheese & vegemite and the above recipe.

You could also substitute the tomato paste for pesto and the onions & olives for semi sun dried tomatoes.

Black Olive tapenade, crumbled feta & diced pumpkin which have been pan fried until golden. Reduce the grated cheese to 1 cup.

Tomato paste, salami sliced into strips, diced kalamata olives.

Freshly chopped herbs like oregano, parsley, sage & thyme. Even cheese & garlic.

Pizza Perfection!

So Friday night came around very quickly last week and I was in the mood to make some pizza, it became a slightly drawn out affair, but that went well for the dough which rose to the occasion perfectly.

I had picked up some bocconcini at the wholesalers and thought…Yep on pizza that will be lovely. We had some left over eggplant from dinner a few nights before, add some freshly sliced mushrooms & olives, home made tomato sauce, cheese and voila dinner is served.

You will need:

For the dough – this amount will make enough for 3 good sized pizzas

25gm fresh yeast or 1 Tbsp of dried yeast

1 tsp runny honey

500g plain flour (if you have it you can use Tipo 00 flour which is great for pizza bases but it’s not essential.

1Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 tsp sea salt

375ml lukewarm water

Crumble the yeast into a bowl with the honey and water, mix well and set aside in a warm place. Sift the flour and when you can smell the yeast and see bubbles or foam on the top it’s ready to add the flour to along with the salt & olive oil. Mix well until it forms a smooth ball (if you have a dough hook on your mixer you are in luck). You may need to add a little extra water or flour, if the dough is too sticky or dry, you want the dough to be soft & slightly stick, but not dry. Cover & leave the dough to prove for at least 10 minutes or until it’s doubled in size.

If you like your pizza bases thin, knock back the dough and divide into 3 pieces, roll out, place on greased trays that have been sprinkled with a little semolina and proceed with your toppings.

If you like a thicker pizza base, knock back the dough and divide into 3 pieces, roll out, place on greased trays that have been sprinkled with a little semolina and set aside to rise for at least an hour in a warm place. Then proceed to top your pizza’s.

For the toppings:

Really it’s up to your imagination & taste buds, I made a mushroom & olive pizza & eggplant & bocconcini. I had made my own tomato sauce with onions & garlic (I had made a lot for a party we had on) but you can quite easily use tomato paste, an italian herb mix or fresh herbs.

Capsicum, Proscuitto, Cheese, olives, artichokes, salami etc, all the standard toppings work, but generally for a traditional italian pizza limit your toppings to no more than 4 not including cheese & tomatoes.

For something a bit different & very special try Buffalo mozzarella & freshly chopped parsley, basil, oregano & thyme with lemon zest & garlic, mix it all together and sprinkle over the cheese.

You want your oven to be as hot as you can get it to start with and then when you put in the pizzas turn it back to about 220 degrees celsius. Cook them until golden and enjoy!

Tips: Don’t forget to season your pizzas with Salt & Pepper, unless you’re using extra salty things like feta & anchovies. Put the cheese on the bottom and for an extra hit of flavour mix tasty, mozzarella & parmesan or pecorino together. If you have a pizza stone use it or buy a couple of terracotta tiles (as per Gary from Masterchef) and use semolina as your base as this really does help to prevent your pizza’s from sticking to the trays, alternatively if you’re making quite a few you can have them waiting to go into the oven on baking paper which makes it much easier to move around and onto the trays.

Oh and did I mention my Dad is building a wood fired oven! :D