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!

Birthdays are FUN

Tomorrow is Zachie’s 5th birthday so we had a party for him on the weekend and it was a rip roaring success. He was in heaven seeing all his friends in the one place, declared they’re all his BEST FRIENDS! I went the traditional route of pass the parcel and hide and seek but for the most part the kids just played and had fun.

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On the menu there were funfetti cup cakes  which I have made before and my helpers do love to put the 100’s & 1000’s on them. A fruit platter with Truck watermelon, Little Sausages in pita bread, and slow roasted lamb souvlaki with Baba ganoush and Tzatziki. Jelly Oranges & a Prime Mover Road Train birthday cake!

Truck Watermelon

Just like my Mummy used to make :)

Just like my Mummy used to make 🙂

I wanted to be able to prepare almost everything but I thought it would be fun for the kids to be able to make their own little souvlaki. So I roasted two mini lamb legs and served them with some roasted potatoes and all the bits that go with them.

Needless to say I got a mouthful, hubby reported it was all fantastic! 😀

Slow Roasted Lamb

You will need

2 mini lamb roasts (or 1 big one)

2 large cloves of garlic, sliced

50 g butter

handful of fresh oregano, chopped

Juice of 2 lemons

Olive oil

Salt & Pepper

250 mls of water

4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into medium chunks.

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Make a couple of incisions in the lamb and slot in some of the garlic, put the lamb into your roasting pan and season, sprinkle over the oregano, remaining garlic and pour over the lemon juice, olive oil and add the water to the bottom of the pan. Put the butter in knobs over the lamb and roast for 15 mins on each side.

Then turn the oven down to 160 degrees Celsius, add the potatoes to the pan and toss in the juices and cover and bake for at least 2 & 1/2 hours or until done. You want the lamb to literally fall off the bone and be able to break it up with a fork.

Baba Ganoush

This is really too easy for words, once you’ve made it a couple of times I think you can play around with the quantities and be guided by your tastes. I used 3 medium size eggplants to make enough for 20 people.

You will need:

3 medium eggplants

1 large clove of garlic

1/2 cup tahini

400 mls natural yoghurt

Juice of 1 lemon

Olive oil

smokey paprika

Place the eggplants over the gas burner on your stove and allow them to “Cook” for 10 mins on each side or until they start to collapse in on themselves. It’s important to keep an eye on them though. Once they’re charred all over remove from the heat and place in a plastic bag and allow to sweat for 10 mins.

Then carefully remove the skin from the eggplant, you need to make sure that none of the charred skin remains otherwise your dip will taste burnt rather than smokey. Set the eggplant aside.

In a mortar and pestle crush your garlic with 2 tsp of salt, then add some of the eggplant (this depends on the size of your mortar) you can fork it as well, but you want it chunky and not completely smooth. Transfer the mix to a large bowl and add the tahini, yoghurt, any remaining eggplant and lemon juice.

Mix well and pour into your serving dish/bowl. Make a little well in the centre and pour over some olive oil and sprinkle with a small amount of paprika.

Prime Mover Birthday Cake

Apple & Blackberry Crumble

Thanks to Peppa Pig the kids are having this tonight for dessert. Zachie requested by asking Mummy do we have any apples? Do we have any Blackberries? Yes, yes Zachie we do… why? Can you please make apple and blackberry crumble?

Apple and Blackberry CrumbleI made a small one probably enough to serve 2-3 or 4 for kids. It’s a very easy dish to make and takes no time at all!

You will need

Apples

Blackberries

Sugar

Water

Butter

Plain Flour

I worked on equal parts of apples to blackberries, for this one it was 2 Royal Gala apples to about a cup of blackberries. (If you’re using frozen make sure they’re Australian Grown and packaged to avoid any nasty chemicals, or better yet use fresh ones.

Simply stew the fruit in about 1/2 a cup of water. When the fruit is soft but still holding it’s shape add sugar to taste and reduce the liquid. Pour the fruit and syrup into an oven proof dish. Heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. While the fruit is cooking rub butter into the sugar and flour so that you have the consistency of wet sand. I used approx 1 cup of flour to 1/3 cup of sugar and 100g of butter, you want the crumble mix to hold together if you crush it in your hand.

Sprinkle over the fruit and bake for approx 20 mins or until golden brown.

Serve with either ice cream or cream.

 

Helping hands

I often see posts on Facebook about how people can get their kids to eat vegies, fruit or anything at all, or anything other than crap – I always wonder how they get the said crap, but that’s not why I am writing this post. I am thinking and it’s just my personal thoughts and speaking from experience with two young children who have gone through moments of eating everything in sight to nothing at all.

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There are two things that stick out, one is baby lead weaning or BLW and the other is participation – in the growing, shopping, packing away and cooking of food and meals. I think for me this combination has been a winner and meant that our kids eat anything and everything, except for pork.

That statement also has to be prefaced by as long as they’re hungry they’ll eat anything.

Zachie had his first preserved lemon at 9mths of age, when I was dishing him up some of the tajine that we were having for dinner and I thought it was potato, I still remember the look on his little face, all squished up, but he ate it and hasn’t really looked back since. He has his moments of only eating bananas or weetbix/porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

One thing I found beneficial was to bring dinner forward so that he wasn’t too tired to eat. That and letting go of my food hang ups about having to eat everything on the plate (even a Dad sized serving as a child) and remembering that they won’t starve themselves so there is no need to offer up any number of dishes, just what we’re having and if they’re hungry they’ll eat.

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It’s always a good idea to look at the eating pattern your child may have and look at it over a few days rather than meal by meal, you might actually find that he or she eats a decent amount. Sophia has hardly any breakfast, picks at lunch and inhales dinner, she has always been like that. Sometimes she’ll even have two dinners, hers and some of ours.

Baby led weaning has many forms the purists will say that babies aren’t offered anything pureed, but I tend to think that’s a bit extreme. Once I’d established that neither of our kids were allergic to anything and they could sit up, I offered anything and everything from risotto to tajines to fish, you name it they eat it and I always sat/sit with them to eat. As babies that was for Zachie peaches, mangoes, berries etc as he reached that age in summer, Soph was  a bit harder as it was autumn fruits for her, pears, steamed pieces of apple etc. I also waited until they watched every mouthful we had, again this is different for every child, but it’s a good indicator that they’re ready to start trying solids that’s for sure.

Anyway I just went from there, I did leave out salt (added later for us) and finely diced chicken, meat etc but otherwise there were very few adjustments I had to make to our diet in order to accommodate their taste buds.

I have always taken them to the market and got them to smell the cantaloupe, berries etc and look at the fish and I take the time to explain different foods to them as well, as much as we’re a Middle Eastern/Italian food house, if they’ve asked for Asian style noodles I have attempted to make them as I don’t want to discourage their love of all food just because Dad’s a fussy bum and only likes Moroccan food!

They have both also from a very young age either been in the kitchen watching me cook or helping (All you pearl clutches out there can speak with hubby about the photo of Zachie stirring the tomato sugo we made on the weekend) Helping has been in the form of putting the fruit away, scraping the fork down a cucumber, squishing the mince and making it into meat balls & cooking them. Zachie has even had a crack at making a cake, with a bit of help from me and the kitchen aid.

Zachie's first attempt at Joyce's Lemon Cake

Zachie’s first attempt at Joyce’s Lemon Cake

The other thing it does too is keep them out from under your feet while you’re trying to cook dinner as was the case today, Sophia squishing the feta into our salad. Zachie cutting X in the tomatoes in preparation for blanching them. It all leads to fun times, enjoyment of food and I hope wonderful memories of days making things together. Next adventure will be more berry picking this time with Soph in tow.