Sunday, March 27, 2011

Afternoon Tea

Today has been a great day, spent with family and friends. My nephew was christened at lunch time at our Parish Church, and we went back to mum and dad's for afternoon tea. My contribution to the food was the Fig Cake I made yesterday, and a pavlova that I whipped up this morning. I love making pavlovas and have actually taken on the "official pav maker" title in my family. I have also inherited my mum's Pavlova Plate to cook the pav.

Loving the 70's feel of the plate.

Here is that photo of the Fig Cake I promised. It looks as delicious as it tasted.

By the end of the day there was only a piece or two left of the cake. Everyone who had some complimented me on it, so I count it a success! Also, one of my mum's best friends is a Home Ec teacher at a high school and I gave her a jar of my Fig Paste. She sampled it on the spot and was very impressed. So Yay! for that too. :)

Speaking of successes, sometimes I just can't get things right. Take my pavlova this morning. I have made this dessert a half dozen times now with no problems, but of course, as soon as I am on a tight schedule, I make mistakes. I was up and in the kitchen bright and early this morning, with my two girls along as helpers. Everything was going fine until I was about half way through the process and my youngest asked if she could lick the beaters. When I looked at the recipe I saw that the next step required folding the cornflour through the mixture, and I thought "oh yeah, I can use a spatula for that", so I gave her a beater and mixed the rest by hand. Normally I would use my electric beaters for the entire process. Today I realised why! What happened was that the cornflour didn't mix through properly and when I added the vanilla I ended up with little brown lumps of vanilla cornflour throughout the meringue mixture. Yuck!

There was no way that I could save the mixture, so the lot was tipped, with the plan being to start again and make another one. Only trouble was, I was out of caster sugar. My super husband dashed out to the shops for me and bought some more, and pav take-two was on it's way. The moral of this story is... don't mix the pav by hand! Anyway, pav take-two was perfect, and apparently delicious. My dad loved it, and said he would have gone back for seconds if it didn't make him look like a guts. That is praise enough for me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Three Little Figs

Phew! Well today has been all about the cooking and baking in our house. I started early, and by 9.30 I had a huge saucepan filled with stock and pumpkin boiling away on the stove. This was lunch, pumpkin soup with crunchy toast. While that was doing it's thing, I started working on the figs that I had received a couple of days ago. When I put them into the sink to rinse, I realised that all the websites I had been reading were right. Figs really do not last very long once they have been picked. This explains why they are so extraordinarily expensive in the stores, once you pick them, you need to use them!

Luckily only four of the figs had fermented, the rest of them were ready for me to use. Yesterday I had researched some more recipes online, but as with the fig paste, most called for dried figs. I found one recipe for a fig slice (or bar) that sounded good, but not really anything else. So I decided to experiment! I am really stretching outside my comfort zone with all this "straying from the beaten path" in my cooking. Basically, I decided to make a cake with mashed figs, similar to the type of cake you would make if you used bananas.

First job was the fig slice which was a lengthy process, I have put the recipe in the other page. When it came out of the tray at the end of the process, it was a real mess. Didn't cut into pieces at all well, due to the top being more of a crumble than a solid layer. The slice is delicious (I took some in to the neighbours, and the reports back are glowing), so we are going to have it for dessert. I am a little disappointed with it (not from a taste perspective) as I understood the recipe to be more of a "bar" or slice that you could pack for a lunch. It will make a great dessert, but that's not what I was shooting for.

The cake was a better success, although my first attempt was a flop, literally. I didn't allow for the denseness of the cake batter, and my cooking time was far too short, resulting in a hollow, sunken cake. I have adjusted the cooking time, and managed a further two cakes that look to have turned out perfectly. If I was to cook this again, I would definitely use the ring tin as I did second time around, instead of the loaf tin that I would usually use for a banana cake. It came out really well. I have iced it, and we will take it to my nephew's christening tomorrow for afternoon tea. The other cake was delivered next door. Funnily enough, we are supposed to be watching our weight in this house, and I keep baking! Better share it around, so I don't eat it all myself.

The photo doesn't really do it justice, but it has a beautiful golden crust with a vanilla cream icing on the top. I had another photo, but the uploader has failed me, it didn't want to work. I will take a photo of the cut cake tomorrow so you can see what the inside looks like.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Something for Lucy

Every Friday I work two shifts at the gym, with a three hour break for lunch. I find that by the time I get home I have zero desire to cook, so I have been cooking dinner during lunch. This works really well for me, and it means that we aren't eating rubbish when I am too tired to cook. During Lent this has proved a bit trickier for me as we are eating fish or vegetarian on the Fridays and I don't like pre-cooking fish.

Today I decided to make a Roasted Pumpkin and Zucchini Quiche for dinner. Surprisingly easy, and a great recipe to improvise, I just choose fillings to replace the pumpkin and zucchini, with another family favourite being chicken and mushroom. Yum!

Well, being the obsessed Facebooker that I am, I updated my status today to talk about the quiche that I had cooking in the oven. It must have sounded as delicious online as it smelled in my kitchen because Lucy (one of my online friends) requested the recipe. So for Lucy... I have updated the recipes page to include this new one. I hope you enjoy it as much as we will. :)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Folk Art

Lynette (my sister) and I started doing Folk Art painting classes when I was just pregnant with my eldest daughter. Looking back, that is over 12 years ago, where did the time go? Anyway, I had 6 months of classes before I had to stop as I couldn't fit behind the table any more, lol. Lynette continued with the classes for a while longer, and we began painting at my home once a week. This is something that we have continued on and off over the last 12 years when time permitted. I love to paint, but until this year I haven't really felt confident coming up with my own designs. We usually source our designs and plans from one of the many books on Folk Art that we have acquired over the years.

The paints we use are Jo Sonya Artists Colours, which are always reliable, and produce a brilliant range of colours for us to work with. Luckily for us, there are a great range of conversion charts we can use, because Folk Art is a predominantly American or European craft, and most of the paints aren't available here. Using the charts we are able to mix up our own versions of them and off we go.

In the early days we used to sell our painted items as a way to finance our next project. I would like to get back to doing that again, but first I have a really fun project that I am working on. One of my friends on Facebook posted about a project called "Pay it Forward 2011", and I have decided to take part in it. The idea of the project is that I will hand-make something for 5 of my online friends during the year 2011, on the proviso that they will do the same for 5 of their friends and so on and so on. My friends very eagerly took me up on the offer, and even more exciting, two of them are from the US! I would love to say that this is the first time my craft will travel to foreign shores, but years ago I painted a photo frame for my great aunt in Holland. Anyway, I am very excited about this project, and have actually created my own designs for some of the pieces.

I am not going to post pictures of this project until I have finished all the pieces as I don't want to give anything away until they have all been posted out. I have created a page here called Artwork that I invite you to look at. This page contains a few photos (taken on old film cameras a long time ago, so please pardon the quality) of different pieces I have painted over the years. I hope you like them! :)

Suggestions and Support

Thanks everyone for giving me such great feedback on my first post. I am relieved that it didn't suck! Anyway, I have taken on board the feedback from Jessica and made a new addition to the blog. If you look across the top of the blog, you will see that I have added a page called "Recipes". This is where you will find a more formal version of the recipes that I feature here, for those times that you would like to try them out yourselves. Oh, and I hope some of you do try them out as the only recipes I will post are ones that are truly delicious and have been a huge success for me. That's it for this post, but I am going to talk about my painting in my next post and will be adding a page with some pictures of things that I have painted, both recently and over the many years that I have been doing folk art.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Here goes nothing!

Hey and welcome to my blog! This is going to be a place for me to share recipes that I love and craft projects I am working on. I have been annoying my family and friends for too long on Facebook with photos of my latest cooking exploits or craft projects. So I figured that this might be a better place for me. Hopefully there will be something here to interest you.

So to get the ball rolling...

About a month ago I was at a friend's house for coffee, and I asked her about a large tree that was in her back yard. It was enormous and had oodles of fruit on it; turns out it was a fig tree. I had never tried figs, but seen a couple of recipes that I thought I wouldn't mind trying, so I asked her if she could spare me some. She told me that while they weren't ripe then, she would get me a bag when they were. So anyway, yesterday morning she left a message for me on Facebook telling me that she had a bag of figs for me if I wanted them still. A couple of quick messages later and I had arranged to meet her to pick them up.

Between talking about the figs a month ago and picking them up yesterday, I have been looking for recipes to make Fig Paste. I am a huge fan of Quince Paste, especially when served with Brie on crackers and thought I might like to try making my own. Only trouble is, no amount of searching the web resulted in a recipe I could use. My problem? All the recipes I could find used dried figs and I was going to use fresh figs. So long story short (yeah yeah... too late for that), I decided to improvise.

If you know me, which given this is my first post and is probably only being read by my family, you would know that in the most part I am not an instinctive cook. This is what I call my mum. She can cook the most amazing things and never uses recipes. I know that I can cook well, but follow recipes meticulously. Improvisation with recipes scares the pants off me!

Having said that, here is what I did with the figs:

1kg roughly chopped figs (just remove the stems, leave the skin on)
1/2 cup water
juice of 1 large lemon

I placed this all in a saucepan and brought it to the boil, cooking until the figs were soft and could be mashed. I pureed the figs with my stick blender until they were finely processed. The next step in the jam making process is measuring the amount of fruit I had and matching it cup for cup with sugar. I found that this quantity gave me 3 mugs of fruit (I couldn't find two 1-cup measures the same size, they must have been in the wash. More improvising!) so I needed to use 3 mugs of sugar. After adding the sugar to the fruit, I proceeded to stir it until dissolved and then brought it all to the boil again. I have to say I was pretty impressed with the colour, it changed from a pureed apple green, to a glossy golden brown.

I kept cooking until the mixture was the consistency of thick cream (this took about an hour) and then spooned it into the jars that I had sterilised. (Here are the specifics about sterilising your jars)

I really wasn't sure that this was long enough to create a paste when it set, but didn't want to risk over cooking it. When it had cooled enough to taste test I was pleased with the results. The Fig Paste is very sweet, so when I make another batch I might try adding balsamic vinegar or port to the recipe. I have seen these variations available commercially, so I guess they must work. Thanks to my neighbours I know that I am not the only one who likes the Fig Paste. I took some in for them to try and their verdict is "scrumptious"! (that is a direct quote! lol)

Here is the finished product (beautifully arrayed in my high tech spill proofing device - the roasting dish).

I will endeavour to take better photos of my creations now that I have decided to blog about them! Oh, and I should probably use my camera and not my iPhone. I guess this is all a learning experience for me.