25 February 2012

Competition & jamming around with preserves

For me there's something therapeutic about cooking seasonal goodies and preserving them in jars. I revel in the process of selecting the tastiest looking fruit or vegetables and then knowing I get to spend several hours in my kitchen concentrating purely on sterilising, chopping, stirring, testing, stirring some more and finally bottling.

Wonderful fresh produce from Brisbane CBD Jan Power's
Farmers Markets. Olives kindly supplied from Liz's Olives
and the meat from my friends at Rangeland Quality Meats.

In our busy, fast paced world I find preserving food is a rare treat in down time. And, of course, it's an awesome skill to have. I'm not the only one who thinks it's a fantastic skill. I've recently come across an incredible project called Dirty Girl Kitchen. The founder, Rebecca Sullivan, is ensuring all those fabulous skills our grandparents had in preserving everything, is not lost.

Another reason I love making jars of goodness, is that they make brilliant presents. These jams pictured my beloved and I gave as gifts at our wedding last year.

Portuguese pumpkin jam

Each guest received either Portuguese pumpkin jam (it's not as scary as it sounds), pear chutney or spiced apple jelly.

You can see the little gifts of preserves on the
wedding tables.

It would be unfair to talk about all this gift giving if I didn't have a couple of scrummy jars of jam and chutney from my recent bottling session aside for a lucky reader. All you need to do is leave a comment below or email me at theselfraisingkitchen@gmail.com and tell me what your favourite childhood treat was; mine was my Nana's baked cheesecake, YUM! I'll pick the winner next Friday, 2 March and you will receive a bottle each of peach jam and pear chutney. 

Peach Jam
by Maggie Beer  

Maggie Beer's peach jam
1 1/2 kg peaches
750g sugar
Peel of one lemon
Juice of two lemons
2 tbsp Amaretto (I used Frangellico)

Chopped up peaches

Cut peaches into chunks, leaving skins on (this adds colour) and take out the stones. Use really ripe fruit for the flavour, but also some less ripe ones as these have a higher level of pectin (which you need to set the jam). Don’t keep the peaches in the fridge, as this also will reduce the pectin levels.

Put the cut peaches into a pot and simmer at a very low heat, adding lemon peel to add the tart taste and also to increase the levels of pectin.

Tie some of the stones in to a clean chux and add the bundle to the peaches continuing to simmer and stir every now and then to prevent burning the bottom of the saucepan. (SRKitchen tip - I just placed some stones directly in with the peaches.)

Once the fruit seems cooked take the stones out -- SRKitchen tip: I used a hand blender at this point so there weren't chunks of skin in the jam -- and stir in the sugar, adding lemon juice to check the flavour.

Cook until the jam begins to thicken. To see if it is ready test by taking a spoonful and put onto a saucer to see if it sets in the fridge. (SRKitchen tip - I place a saucer in the freezer while still cooking the jam. I then test the jam by putting a small amount on the cold saucer and leaving it for a few minutes. When you push the jam with your finger, if you get wrinkles in the jam it is ready for bottling.)

Just before pouring into the jars add Amaretto/Frangellico. Maggie doesn’t sterilise the jars, but you must use clean jars, fill them to the top and then invert them so that the hot jam sits on the lid and so all sides of the jar are ‘sterilised’ by the hot jam. (SRKitchen tip - I do still sterilise them in the oven. Simply place your clean jars and lids in a cold oven, heat it to 120 degrees celsius and leave for about 30 minutes.)

Once you have opened the jar, refrigerate the jam until the pot is finished.

Pear Chutney
by Jenny Disney from the Country Women's Association

Pear chutney bottled

2kg firm pears
2 large brown onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small, fresh hot chilli, chopped, seeds as well
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp salt
5 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into strips (I grated the ginger)
1 cup sultanas
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
3.5 cups cider vinegar
4 cups brown sugar

Pear chutney ingredients just starting to cook

Peel the pears and chop into small pieces about the size of a sultana and put in saucepan with all the remaining ingredients except the sugar. Heat slowly and stir gently until the pears have begun to soften.

Add sugar to the pan, stir until it has dissolved and continue cooking until chutney is dark, glossy brown and thick (20 - 35 minutes).

Sugar's been added, almost ready for bottling

Put chutney into hot sterilised jars and seal.

Wait at least 3 weeks before using so the flavours can mature.

Store in a cool, dark cupboard. keeps for at least 12 months.

SRKitchen Tip
To get your jam or chutney into the bottles, chop the bottom off a funnel so chunks can get through.

My very cheap, chopped up funnel
for preserve making

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16 February 2012

SRKitchen school: The never fail omelette

The year was 2005. I'd decided to leave my big country town of Brisbane and take up residence in the metropolis of London; where the closest person I knew at the time was living in Windsor (a few hours away on a train). 

So, it was just me, my backpack and 20 million Londoners. Scared? Hell yeah!

Within five days of landing at Heathrow, however I met my other half, Asha. She was (is) also an Australian and had also just arrived in London from Brisbane. The irony! She was effervescent, friendly and just made you want to love life. We became inseparable.

We both went through so many challenges and adventures living there. Some things like homesickness, joblessness, banklessness and shelterlessness was all part of the adventure of living in the UK. Other challenges, like the 2005 London bombs and having an operation to remove a gallbladder, were not quite what we had signed up for. 

But together – along with lots of wine, laughter, tears and hugs – we got through everything that was thrown our way. I can honestly say that I would not have been able to get through what I did there without Asha always by my side and ready to give me a hug and a smile…even if she could/can talk under water with a mouth full of marbles…hehehe (which I can too).

Now Asha has been wanting to improve her cooking skills for a while and asked if I would help her out. How could I refuse. The other day we were heading off to an orchestra concert and Asha had spent the day down the Gold Coast at her friends amazing festival, Bleach* (it's going until Feb 26 so check it out). We therefore needed a quick and easy dinner option. So the omelette - the perfect quick, healthy and yummy option - was the go.

The omelette - bacon, mushroom and cheese

There are so many different ways to make an omelette. This is a never fail way my dad taught me. Feel free to change the ingredients with whatever is in your fridge. That's the best part about omelettes, as long as you have the eggs, the rest you can have fun with. However, if you're a bit nervous, I'll give you some guidelines, but you don't need to be exact, if you like more bacon, put more bacon in it. You can't stuff this up, I promise.  You will NEVER have a scrambled looking omelette again.

Bacon, mushroom and cheese omelette
made by Asha
4 free range eggs (the rule is to allocate 2 eggs per person. You can always add 1 extra for good luck)
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/2 brown onion, chopped
200g bacon, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup grated cheese (we used mozzarella)
1/4 cup milk
knob of butter
*you need to use a non-stick fry pan for this omelette and a grill.

Heat some oil in a pan and start frying the chopped onions. After about 1 minute add your bacon and mushrooms. Fry until mushrooms have wilted and cooked. Set aside.

Asha chopping the parsley

In a bowl crack the eggs. Add the milk and chopped parsley (or herb of your choice) and whisk gently. Add in the cheese, bacon, onion and mushrooms and give it a quick mix.

Whisking eggs with milk and herbs

Heat up your fry pan again and add the knob of butter. Turn your grill on. Once the pan is hot add your omelette mixture to the pan. You may need to move the ingredients around the pan to make it an even looking omelette. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes on a medium heat, you don't want that bottom burning.

Adding the mixture to the fry pan

Now this is how you make a never fail omelette. Place the half cooked omelette under your pre-heated grill (with your handle sticking out if it is plastic, like mine). No flipping, no fuss. I normally grill it on high but keep an eye on it. I assure you, the moment you walk away and forget about it…it will burn. Trust me! To test if the omelette is cooked, pull the pan out and tip it to one side. You should not see any movement from the mixture.

The never fail omelette

With this size pan I always cut the omelette in half for two people. Asha and I had ours with a very basic rocket, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar salad.

Asha's omelette with a rocket salad

I think you will all agree Asha did a sensational job. And it was delicious, too.

The next morning I made a smoked salmon, feta and spring onion omelette for friends. This one is even easier as you can miss out the first step and just add all the ingredients straight into the egg mixture and cook away. Easy!

Smoked salmon, feta and spring onion
omelette with toasted turkish bread.

What ingredients do you like in your omelette?

08 February 2012

Easy meals - Rump steak with balsamic & tomato salad

I like nothing better than going to farmers markets. I love slowly walking around, observing, smelling and focusing on nothing but the food and what I can make with it.

However, I have one little tiny problem with many farmers markets, and that is getting up early on a weekend to go to them. Well actually I have a problem getting up early anytime, let alone on a weekend, which is sacred. But lucky for me the wonderful Jan Power's Farmers Markets are on in Brisbane CBD every Wednesday…ALL day. Perfect!

Fresh produce from the Jan Power's Farmers Markets,
Brisbane CBD

Today at the markets I found a great little stall selling beautiful looking red and yellow grape tomatoes along with a variety I've never seen before, plum tomatoes.

The larger tomatoes are plum tomatoes.
They have a very subtle but sweet taste.

When you have beautiful tomatoes like these, they must become a feature of the meal. And what goes better with tomatoes than basil. I managed to buy this bunch for $2.

My $2 bunch of fresh basil

I was also very happy to support some of our local farmers and picked up this delicious looking rump steak from Rangeland Quality Meats who have farms in southern and central Queensland.

Rump steak from Rangeland Quality Meats
after a good bit of seasoning

With all this fresh produce a quick and easy meal can be made.

This meal would be great if you had mid-week guests, or you just want to enjoy a healthy, scrumptious meal with your roomy.

Rump steak with balsamic & tomato salad 
by The Self-Raising Kitchen

Rump Steak with balsamic & tomato salad

2 x 200g rump steaks
1 handful of snow peas
2 cups mixed tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup basil leaves, torn
4 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp heaped, wholegrain mustard
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

Generously season your steak.

Blanch snow peas: bring a small saucepan of salted water to the boil. While waiting prepare a bowl of water with ice. Once water has boiled place snow peas in saucepan and cook for 1 minute. Pull snow peas out and place directly into iced water for another 1 minute. Drain.

Halve tomatoes and place in a bowl with torn basil leaves. Add extra virgin olive oil and season to taste. Mix with your hands (washed, of course).

Heat oil in a pan. Cook steak to your liking. Try to limit the turning of your steak as all you will do is ensure the outside is cooked and not allow the heat to go far inside; which is fine if you prefer your steak rare. Once cooked, remove from heat and let the meat rest. This will relax your meat and make it juicy and tender.

While your meat is resting, place snow peas and tomato salad on a plate.

Mix together the wholegrain mustard and balsamic vinegar.

Slice your steak and place on the plate with your snow peas and tomato salad. Drizzle the balsamic and mustard dressing over the steak.

Rump Steak with balsamic & tomato salad

05 February 2012

cont...SRKitchen on tour - Marinated prawn salad with grated coconut

(photo by SRKitchen)

By popular demand to last week's Self-Raising Kitchen On Tour, I'm including the recipe for the marinated prawn salad with grated coconut.

This salad would be the perfect accompaniment to a summer barbecue or to cleanse the palate while partaking in a rich curry. Due to its fresh, vibrant flavours from the lemongrass, mint, coriander, chilli and lime, and the cooling crunchiness of the coconut, this salad promises to be a hit at your next dinner party.

Now, you do need to use a fresh coconut for this dish. Do not be persuaded to use desiccated coconut as it will not provide you with the same moist freshness that a whole one will give you. What I suggest is you find a sucker...I mean a wonderful helper, who will crack the coconut, pull the flesh out and then very patiently grate it. My beloved did this for me before he disappeared from the kitchen, and from yelling distance, so he didn't get roped in to do any more 'special' jobs.

Putting the final touches on the salad.

Marinated prawn salad with grated coconut 
by David Thompson

15 small green prawns, peeled and cleaned
large pinch of palm sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 cup grated coconut
4 red shallots, sliced
2 stalks lemongrass, finely sliced
handful of mixed mint and coriander leaves
3 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
1 tbsp julienned long red chilli

1 garlic clove, peeled
large pinch of salt
2-5 bird's eye chillies
4 tbsp kaffir lime juice, or regular lime juice with a touch of mandarin juice

To make the marinade, pound together the garlic, salt and chillies using a mortar and pestle until you have a fine paste. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the lime juice. Add prawns and knead vigorously for several minutes. Leave for a further few minutes until the prawns have cured.

SRKitchen tip - I didn't have particularly small prawns so I cut up what I had into small pieces. As my host was not a fan of raw seafood, I left the pieces of prawns in the marinade for several hours. Remember the lime juice will actually cook the prawns, so you have no need to introduce any heat to this dish…well at least not from a flame, anyway.

Once you are happy with how 'cooked' the prawns are add palm sugar and fish sauce; the marinade should now taste sour, salty, hot and sweet (the four essential elements to Thai food). Work in the coconut. Add remaining ingredients, reserving a little shredded lime leaf and red chilli to garnish (or mint leaves and chilli).

-recipe end-

Give this salad a go, I promise you will love it as much as I do.