Thursday, 28 July 2011

Mid week quick dessert - Strawberry Mille Feuille

strawberry mille feuille

I whipped this up quickly one night the other week to use up a sheet of puff pastry that was lurking in the freezer. This is so easy that it's probably a good thing I don't have any more puff pastry, because I think we'd be eating a lot of them.

Strawberry Mille Feuille
serves 2

1 sheet puff pastry
about 6 large strawberries, thinly sliced
whipped cream (I used the canned one)
about 2 tbsp strawberry jam

Pre heat oven to 210ÂșC (410°F).

Trim the edges from the thawed puff pastry sheet and then cut in half. Cut the 2 pieces into thirds making six rectangles. Put onto a baking tray and cook in the oven for 10 - 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on tray.

To assemble the Mille Feuille, place a pastry rectangle onto a plate and then spread a bit of jam on top. Make a layer of strawberry slices on top of the jam. Spread/spray some whipped cream on top. Layer more strawberry slices on top. Put another piece of puff pastry on top and then repeat the jam, strawberries, cream and strawberries. Top with a third pastry rectangle. Repeat to make a second one. Dust with icing sugar and enjoy!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Black Pepper and Vanilla Ice Cream

Black Pepper and Vanilla ice cream

Now that we have a second freezer, I finally have the space to keep the bowl from my ice-cream maker chilled and at the ready.

I have had my eye on this recipe since I first spotted it in David Lebovitz's 'The Perfect Scoop' and finally got the chance to make it.

I added the vanilla bean just because I had a few lying around, and I love the result. The pepper gives this ice-cream a nice warming quality, making it perfect for winter. Even though it has the pepper, it's definitely not a savoury tasting dish. We ate it with strawberries.

Black Pepper and Vanilla Ice Cream
makes about 1 litre

1 cup milk
130g caster sugar
2 tbsp black peppercorns, cracked in a mortar and pestle
1 vanilla bean
pinch of salt
2 cups thickened cream
6 egg yolks

Add the milk, sugar, peppercorns, salt, and 1 cup of the cream to a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds into the saucepan. Throw the pod in too. Warm over medium heat until you can see steam rising from it, but do not let it boil. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for about an hour.

Rewarm the peppercorn-infused mixture. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl and rest a mesh strainer on top. Set aside. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the mixture back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer, pressing on the peppercorns to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the peppercorns and vanilla bean and stir the custard into the cream. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Black Pepper and Vanilla ice cream

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Custom Sized Fitted Sheets - Tutorial


For some reason, fitted cot sheets do not fit the mattress in Roman's cot. Not the standard ones, not the ones for cot beds, nothing. Luckily for me, they're easy to make.

I had an old queen size flat sheet kicking about, and managed to get 2 cot sheets out of it. Given that I also had the elastic, this was a free project. This is a formula, so that you can use this for any sized mattress you want to make a sheet for. I've also used this method to make a cover for the change mat.

Fitted Sheet

You'll need:
Fabric - ideally pure cotton as it's nice and breathable
6mm wide Elastic
Thread for the sewing machine

How much fabric do you need?
The sheet is a large cross shape, the middle is the size of the mattress, and the wings wrap around the depth of the mattress and make the overhang that is gathered underneath the mattress.

sheet cross

Lenth of Wings = Depth of mattress + amount of overhang you want + about 4cm for seams
I'm using 4cm for the seams as I like to do French seams on the corners and a double fold over to encase the elastic in around the edge*.

Length of fabric = Length of mattress + 2x (Length of Wings)
Width of fabric = Width of mattress + 2x (Length of Wings)

How much elastic do you need?
Length of elastic = 2x (Length of mattress) + 2x (Width of mattress) - 8x (amount of overhang you want)

So for my mattress:
Length of wings = 10cm + 20cm + 4 cm = 34cm
Length of fabric = 140cm + 2x(34cm) = 208cm (2.1m)
Width of fabric = 70cm + 2x(34cm) = 138cm (1.4m)
Length of elastic = 2x(140cm) + 2x(70cm) - 8x(20cm) = 260cm (2.6m)

Gotta love a bit of maths!

When buying fabric, I always buy a bit extra and prewash it in case of any shrinkage. So I would probably get 2.5m of 1.5m wide cotton for this.

Fold the fabric in half lengthwise, then widthwise, so it's a quarter of it's size.

Now, you need to cut the corners out to make the cross shape. You would think that they are the size of the wings, but they're not. You need to take off half of our seam allowance for the corner seams. The 4 outer corners should make up one corner of your folded piece. This is the corner you cut out. You will cut out a square from this corner.

sheet corner

Length of square = Length of wings - 2cm
2cm give you enough to do 5mm French seams and a bit of ease for the sheet

In my case, I get 32cm.
Measure in this distance and mark along both edges from the corner of your fabric (the corner with all the raw edges) Using a ruler, mark a line along one of these points, running parallel to the edge of the fabric. Do the same for the other point. They should meet up to make a square. Cut out this sqare. If you unfold your fabric, you should now have the cross with 4 equal width wings and the middle the size of the mattress.

Now you can finally do some sewing! For French seams  match up the cut edges of one of the squares, WRONG sides together. Sew with a straight stitch 5mm from edge. Trim off half the seam allowance. Fold the seam the other way around, so fabric is RIGHT sides together. Sew with a straight stitch 5mm from edge. This encases your first seam neatly and makes a nice strong seam for your corners. Repeat with the other 3 corners. If you'd like a visual, I have a tutorial for French Seams here.

You should now have a fabric box. Now to hem the edges. Fold the raw edge under 1cm and then again another 1cm to hide the raw edge. Press and sew it down close to the edge, leaving about 2cm unfinished. Put a safety pin into the end of your elastic and use this to feed the elastic through the hem going in and coming out of the 2cm hole you left. Knot the ends of the elastic together and you're done!

I like to leave the 2cm of the hem unstitched, so that if I ever need to pull the elastic out to replace it, I don't need to get my seam ripper out.


*You could make this fitted sheet a bit quicker by not doing the French seams and by sewing the elastic straight onto the edge of the sheet, but I think that by finishing them off a little nicer they look better and last a lot longer.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Mini Savoury Muffins and my rave about Baby-Led Weaning

M is for muffin

We've basically been following the ideas behind baby-led weaning and I'm loving it! Getting Roman to sleep for every nap and every night is a total battle, so it's nice to be able to sit back and let him take the lead with his meals.

The main idea with baby-led weaning is to give your baby a choice of healthy things to eat and let them pick them up, smoosh them around and eventually put them in their mouth and eat them. It skips the purees and spoon feeding and goes straight to finger foods. It's great for their development, their appetite and their desire to do things for themselves and is said to produce children who will eat anything. Another benefit of baby-led weaning is that you don't need to prepare or buy special baby foods, they can just eat a bit of what you're having. While I mainly follow this, every now and then, I do like to make something up specially for Roman, such as these muffins. They are packed with good things for babies - veggies, cheese and healthy fats and are the perfect size for little hands. If you want to make these for grown ups, season to taste with some salt.

Mini Savoury Muffins
makes 24

2 cups plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 cup grated cheese
2 eggs (please make sure your baby is not allergic to eggs first)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup milk (cows milk/breastmilk/formula)
1 - 2 cups veggies*

*Use a mixture of whatever your baby likes, or is lurking in the fridge, such as chopped spinach, grated zucchini, grated carrot, chopped herbs, sundried tomatoes, diced mushrooms or diced capsicum. I know they're not veggies, but you could also add ham, salami or tinned tuna to these if you want to add a bit of meat.

For these muffins, I used grated carrot and zucchini.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly spray a 24 hole mini muffin pan with cooking spray.

Sift flour and baking powder together. Give it a quick stir to make sure the baking powder is evenly distributed. Stir through veggies and cheese.

Pour oil and milk into a jug then crack the eggs into the jug and whisk it all together. Make a well in the centre of the dry mix and pour in the liquid. Mix until just combined, giving you a thick batter.

Spoon batter into muffin tray and bake in the oven for 15 - 20 mins, until the muffins are nice and golden on top. Remove tray from oven, and cool muffins in tray for 5 mins, then turn out onto a rack to cool. 

These can be served warm or cold and freeze really well. I just take a couple out of the freezer the night before I want them and put them into the fridge in a container ready for Roman's lunch the next day.


Monday, 11 July 2011

Practical tips for new Grandmothers

London Snow
(Greg's mother, me and Roman out in the London snow)

Grandmothers are great and the hubby and I would certainly have not survived our first few months with Roman without help from both of our mothers, but sometimes there are some things I wish they could remember from their time as a new parent. With that in mind, I thought I would make a list so I can remember this myself if I am ever in their shoes.

Sign up to a week-by-week pregnancy update
There are lots of things that have changed in the 30 years since my mother had me and probably even more she has forgotten. I have forgotten a lot already and I was pregnant less than a year ago. The email updates are great for letting you know what is happening with the baby each week and also provide up to date info on how things are done these days like what Mums-to-be should/shouldn't be eating.

Sympathy for fed up pregnant ladies
I was 2 weeks overdue when Roman arrived, and was totally over being pregnant! My whole body ached all the time, I couldn't sleep, struggled to walk and didn't feel up to much, so don't be surprised if the mother-to-be is not enthused if you want to drag her shopping for baby goods...or even to the supermarket.

Cooking and Cleaning
Even before the baby has arrived, most new parents wouldn't say no to having their dinner cooked or house cleaned. I found that taking care of my new baby was exciting and fun for me, so having someone else help with the household chores was much appreciated.

If you're a whiz in the kitchen, make up a batch of frozen meals for the new family. My Aunty was kind enough to bring us a frozen homemade lasagna, ready for the oven when we didn't feel like sorting out dinner ourselves. Soups, curries, pasta sauces and casseroles are all great to freeze and are easy to re-heat without too much effort. We froze meals in ziploc bags, laying them flat as they're freezing. That way they're nice and thin, stack easily in the freezer and defrost quickly. Label the bag with what's in them (obviously) and any cooking instructions.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Nanna's Knickers


I love the saucy names they give cocktails, they're so tongue-in-cheek. The name for this cocktail is inspired by people describing the flavour of Musk Sticks as like 'old ladies perfume'.

If you haven't made any Musk Vodka, then it'd still be nice with plain Vodka, but then I guess it needs a different name... Not Your Nana's Knickers?

Nana's Knickers
serves 1

1.5 shots Musk Vodka
2 shots Cranberry Juice
1.5 shots Apricot Nectar

Shake in a cocktail shaker with ice and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a Musk Stick.

I like to use the Musk Stick as a dipper and suck the cocktail off it...yum.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Musk Stick infused Vodka


If you don't know what musk sticks are, the flavour can be hard to explain, it's a bit rosy and quite perfumed, a bit like Turkish Delight, but a bit different. I have a friend who gave them to some Americans on her trip to the States and they were not impressed with the flavour. One commented that they tasted 'like a man's cologne'. If you know what they are and love them, then this is for you.

I've had a fondness for flavoured vodka for quite a long time, and over the years we have experimented with many different fruits, spices and lollies. Being essentially tasteless, vodka easily draws the flavour out of whatever you put in it, allowing some delicious liqueurs to be created. Now, making these can take quite a while, but the reward is definitely worth the effort.

Musk Vodka
Makes 750ml

750ml vodka
200g packet musk sticks (I just use the home brand ones - I like their flavour better than others)

musk vodka

Pour about 1/4 of the vodka out of the bottle into a jug to leave room for the musk sticks. Break the sticks into pieces and drop them into the bottle. If there's some room left, top up with remaining vodka. I never have any trouble sorting out what to do with the leftovers. Put the cap back on tightly and give it a good shake. Keep giving it a shake every other day until the sticks have all dissolved. Let it sit for about a month.

Ours sat in the storage unit like this for a year. It was still great, but the bottle would've required more work to clean it out than I could be bothered with, so I put ours into a decanter.

When ready, filter through a coffee filter into a jug. Clean out the bottle and then pour it back into the bottle, ready to enjoy. It's quite sweet, so if you want to water it down, I'd suggest soda water rather than lemonade, but I just have it over ice.

I invented a cocktail using the Musk Vodka. It's called Nana's Knickers. Recipe here.

I've also made flavoured vodkas in the same way using red skins, skittles separated into their colours and toffees.

musk sticks

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Free Knitting Pattern: Simple Knitted Beanie


I knitted this beanie originally for the hubby, but it's a bit short and doesn't cover his ears. With the edge folded over, it fits Roman perfectly. It's nice and stretchy and will fit for many years to come.

The beanie was a quick knit and I whipped it up on a 4hr car trip. It's pretty much one size fits all, as long as you use a nice stretchy yarn.

You'll need:

About 150m worsted weight yarn

Needles: Set of circular or double pointed needles. US size 8, or size to obtain gauge.

Gauge: 20 stitches = 10cm using 2k, 2p rib, unstretched
Cast on a multiple of 4 stitches (I used 72 stitches) place marker and join into a loop, taking care not to twist stitches.

Work k2, p2 rib in rounds for 18 to 23cm (depending on whether the hat is for a child or adult)

Decrease: Round 1: (k2, p2tog) around
Round 2 and 3: (k2, p1) around
Round 4: (k2tog, p1) around
Round 5 and 6: (k1, p1) around
Round 7: K2tog around
Round 8: K around
Round 9: (k2 tog) around

Cut yarn leaving a 30cm tail.  Thread tail through remaining stitches, pull nice and tight. Knot on inside of hat. Weave in all ends.
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