Monthly Archives: May 2011

Definitely soup weather!

Last night was so cold that an extra blanket and two cats on the bed weren’t enough – despite having a traditionally exothermic husband who is meant to solve any too-frozen-to-sleep problems, we had to admit defeat in the wee hours and scramble over to the clothes drawers and pull on random extra items. Which explains why I woke up wearing two long-sleeved T-shirts, tracky daks, hiking socks and legwarmers leftover from my dancing days. Not a fashion high point, but toasty!

Tonight we’ll be having soup again in a bid to feel warm within the house – traditional Sydney semi built to shed heat rapidly through summer, and, alas, through winter as well! And I think I might break out the rowing machine to keep the blood flowing while I watch Downton Abbey on Sunday night, too. Anything to avoid a situation where anyone might see me in legwarmers! Well, that is, anyone who is not legally obliged to ignore my daggiest moments.

If you’re feeling the chill, the Winter 2011 issue of family circle  is filled with delicious hot meals. The soups and stews story has nine pots of scrumptiousness, plus a guide to different types of stocks and rescues for common problems like over-seasoning. We had to leave out a few of our faves, so here are two special extra recipes for you. The first is super-healthy and will fit with a vegetarian or vegan diet while being full of rich garlicky flavours. If your local grocer doesn’t stock baby veg, grab the grown-up variety and just chop them into 2cm chunks.

The second soup needs a bit of prep time, but you can cheat with a roast chook from the shops – take all the flesh off and chop it into small pieces if you don’t want people playing with bones over dinner. I plan ahead for this one and do an extra chook while the Sunday roast is on, then throw in the curry-powdered pumpkin pieces to roast while the oven is still hot after the roast out. Stick them in the fridge overnight and you’re down to about 15 minutes of work remaining for Monday night dinner. And I have to confess, I leave out the dried apricots and just add more chickpeas. I also only process two thirds of the soup, as I think it looks nicer and is more fun to eat if you leave a few chunky bits. Let us know if you come up with variations that work well for you!

And for anyone not following us on Facebook or Twitter, we still have a few left in our Spatula Giveaway. For your choice of a stylish pink or blue silicone spatula, just email with your name and address details and your favourite Christmas food.

Baby root-vegetable soup with baked garlic toast

* Preparation time: 15 mins
* Cooking time: 1 hour
* Serves 4

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, peeled, diced
1 large leek, trimmed, halved, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
800g assorted baby root vegetables, like beetroot, turnip, carrots and fennel, washed and halved
1 litre (4 cups) vegetable stock
1 Tbsp fresh dill sprigs, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Sea-salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper to season

For Baked garlic toast
1 whole garlic bulb, unpeeled
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 mini French bread sticks, sliced in half and toasted
Sea-salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper to season

1 Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion, leek, garlic and baby root vegetables for about 5 minutes or until they start to colour.
2 Add stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, then simmer for 40 minutes, skimming surface frequently.
3 Stir dill and parsley into the soup, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Ladle into warm serving bowls and serve with garlic toast on the side.
4 To make garlic toast: Place the garlic bulb on a sheet of foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap it tightly to secure, place on a tray and roast in preheated oven at 180°C fan-forced (200°C conventional) for 20 minutes or until golden and tender.  Remove foil, cut garlic in half and squeeze the soft garlic out onto a board. Mash with a fork, then spread the garlic onto slices of toasted French bread. Season with salt and pepper to serve.

Roasted pumpkin and chicken soup

* Preparation time: 30 mins
* Cooking time: 45 mins
* Serves 6

1kg butternut pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp curry powder
2 Tbsp olive oil
1.25-1.5 litres (5-6 cups) chicken stock
125g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¹⁄3 cup finely chopped dried apricots
¹⁄3 cup walnuts
Extra 1 tsp olive oil
¹⁄4 tsp freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1 roasted chicken, cut into pieces
Fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

1 Preheat oven to 180°C fan-forced (200°C conventional). Place pumpkin and onion in a shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle over curry powder then drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until tender. Reduce temperature to 160°C fan-forced (180°C conventional).
2 Combine vegetables, stock, chickpeas and apricots in a large saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Blend or process soup in batches until smooth.
3 Meanwhile, toss walnuts, extra oil and nutmeg in a small bowl, then evenly spread onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Add chicken and roast for 6-8 minutes or until walnuts are toasted and chicken pieces warmed through.
4 Serve soup topped with walnuts, chicken and fresh coriander leaves.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Puddings PS

You can tell that it’s miserable across most of Australia today, because everyone is talking puddings. The Sydney Morning Herald has listed their fave three places to buy a chocolate fondant pudding in Sydney, but no recipes for making your own at home. Criminal! And cruel!

The easiest version I’ve tried is a Bill Granger (at least, I think it was him) one that was in an old mag and worked like a dream. Alas, I have it at home in a box of recipes to be sorted after our last move, it may never be seen again. But five minutes on the internet turned up these ones that are all well-reviewed and very similar to fondant puddings I have had success with in the past.

The two tricks to a good fondant pud are first to decide in advance how puddingy you want your solid pudding part to be — recipes with more than 100g or so of wheat flour or ground nuts like almonds will give a chewier texture, while ones with only a little flour, or rice flour will be more souffle-like.  Secondly, you want to cook it only just long enough to cook the outer and warm the inner through. It’s worth trialling any fondant recipe before serving it up in front of anyone you want to amaze. There are a handful of minutes between perfect and a bit over-done, so try the recipe at the lower end of cooking times the first time you make it. If it’s right, the top will be set but the pudding itself will jiggle a little as you shake the tray or rack. If the top is still quite soft, give it another minute or two. A lot of recipes call for the pudding mix to be refrigerated or even frozen in its ramekins before baking, to give a better guarantee of a really liquid centre. It’s a good technique, but it adds hours to the recipe time, so look for one without this step if you’re rushed – although remember, it means you can make them ahead if you are planning a dinner party, and then just stick them in the oven at the right time.

Most recipes call for dark or bitter chocolate, which gives a decadently rich finish. You can try them with milk choc instead, but it will be a lot sweeter. Do buy the best chocolate you can afford as it makes a difference. And if you want to dust the buttered ramekins with cocoa for a nice finish, feel free. You can even use a little caster sugar if you have a sweet tooth.

One final hint is that a fan-forced oven can dry out the top too much in some of the more delicate recipes. If you’ve found sponge and souffle-type cakes tend to be a bit dry in your oven, turn the fan off.

Waitrose’s version is elegantly simple (magazine-speak for almost impossible to screw up); just melt, mix, pour and bake. It’s very similar to the Granger one I use, and looks scrummy.

Antony Worral Thompson has a slightly posher version that needs two hours of fridging, but is easy to actually do and looks as though it will be fantastically rich and gooey.

Gavin Hughes has a version with almond meal here at ABC North Coast that looks fab. It freezes the gooey centre beforehand, so it liquifies as the outer cake bakes.

This version is more at the souffle end, but is still very easy and includes a few handy cheats. Note that 450°F is 230°C.

And for a gluten-free version, you can try one of the above with gluten-free flour, or else use this very similar chocolate fudge pudding recipe that is naturally gluten-free. It is a little less molten than the fondants, but still delicious!

Leave a comment

Filed under Food

Puddings extras

One of my fave features in this issue of the mag is our big puddings special. We managed to fit nine recipes in, but due to lack of space, we had to leave two out. Thanks to the beauty of the (metaphorically) limitless internet, here they are for you. Remember, your body needs carbs in winter to keep your core tempertaure up and your mood cheerful. It’s practically a health priority. And you can work the calories off later, doing proper cold weather things, like chopping firewood, or taking the dog for a walk!

These two recipes are pretty foolproof. You can swap the jam flavour in the first one — be sure to use a good quality high-fruit jam like Bonne Maman or St Dalfour, or Annathoth if you’re in New Zealand. Any berry jam will do the same job, while you can also experiment with peach and rhubarb conserves or similar. And it’s just as good with cream or ice-cream as with custard.

For the mocha fondant puddings, the roasting pan full of water in the bottom of the oven underneath the rack with the pudding bowls creates a steamy oven that helps the puddings to cook perfectly. You may need to top it up when you put the tray of puddings in — use near-boiling water from the kettle, rather than cold.

As with all steamed puddings, be super-careful with the hot water! I like to tie string ‘handles’ to the top of each pudding ramekin before I add them to a water bath like the one in the upside down puddings method. That way I can pull the rack a little way out of the oven and scoop the ramekins from the water bath with tongs, then leave the water bath itself in the switched-off oven until it cools and I don’t need to worry about carrying pans of boiling water around. Whichever way you prefer to do things, thick gloves, closed shoes and an apron will give you peace of mind.

Upside down strawberry jam puddings
* Preparation time: 30 mins
* Cooking time: 50 mins
* Standing time: 10 mins
* Serves 4

Melted butter, for greasing
8 Tbsp strawberry jam
100g butter, softened
½ cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg, lightly whisked
1 cup plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ cup milk
Warm shop-bought vanilla custard, to serve

1 Lightly grease four 1-cup heatproof pudding bowls or ramekins with melted butter. Spoon 2 tablespoons of jam into the base of each dish.
2 Using electric beaters, beat butter, caster sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. Add egg and beat until well combined. Sift flour and baking powder into batter and combine. Stir in milk. Evenly divide the batter between the dishes. Smooth the surface and press a round of non-stick baking paper over the top of each pudding. Cover with foil and secure with kitchen string.
3 Place dishes in a large, deep pot. Pour enough boiling water into the pot to reach halfway up the side of the dishes. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, then boil gently over a medium heat for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the puddings (lift the covering first) comes out clean.
4 Remove dishes from pot and set aside for 10 minutes to rest. Carefully remove foil and baking paper from each bowl, then run a flat-bladed knife around the inside edges and turn out onto serving plates. Serve puddings warm with custard.

Mocha fondant puddings
* Preparation time: 15 mins
* Cooking time: 25 mins
* Serves 4

Melted butter, for greasing
¼ cup milk
2 Tbsp instant coffee powder
100g good-quality dark chocolate
100g butter
½ cup caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
¼ cup plain flour
50g good-quality dark chocolate, chopped

1 Preheat oven to 160°C fan-forced (180°C conventional). Grease four 200ml pudding bowls, then place on an oven tray. Fill a deep roasting pan with water to a depth of 1cm and put on the lowest shelf of the oven.
2 Put milk and coffee in a medium, heatproof bowl. Add chocolate and butter and place over a medium saucepan of simmering water (don’t let base of bowl touch the water). Cook mixture, stirring occasionally with a metal spoon, for 5 minutes or until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Cool for 5 minutes, then stir in sugar, egg yolks, flour and chocolate.
3 Using electric beaters, whisk eggwhites to form soft peaks, then fold into chocolate mixture. Divide evenly between pudding bowls, then bake on oven rack in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the surface is cooked but puddings are soft in the centre. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 5 minutes. Turn out onto serving plates and serve.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food

Craft books we wish we had written, 1

Every now and then a book comes along that revolutionises the way we think about craft. These 5 volumes are a wee bit less serious than those revolutionary books, but we love them all passionately nonetheless.

Knitted Pirates, Princesses, Witches, Wizards and Fairies

The title says it all – there are patterns for five basic dolls, and then variations in costume for each. So you can make a classic witch in black with a wart on her nose, or her hipper young cousin in red with a good skincare regimen. The levels of detail are amazing – a knitted sword for the pirate, slippers and lacy underwear for the princess. There’s a fair amount of work in each of these dolls, and a little bit of fiddly seaming, but nothing is actually hard and the step-by-steps are incredibly easy to follow with lots of helpful tips along the way. The dolls are 45cm high, and there are instructions for customising to your own designs included. As long as you have basic knitting skills and can follow instructions, you’ll be able to build any or all of these. And the designer (Annette Hefford, a Brit now settled  in WA) has used generic wool weights in all the creations so you don’t need to shell out for specialist designer yarns.

The Star Wars Craft Book

Whether you’ve always longed for a Chewbacca sockpuppet, or secretly desire an AT-AT herb garden, even harbour an urge to snuggle up to a Jabba the Hutt body pillow, you’ll find the perfect project in this book. From the sublime Cuddly Bantha, to the ridiculously easy Han Solo in Soaponite, there’s something for every level of crafter. If a part of your heart still swells at the sounds of John Williams and the words A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, Bonnie Burton has a project for you!

Knit Your Own Royal Wedding

For all of us who missed out on an invite to the Royal Wedding, Fiona Goble has designed one we can make at home, complete with the Archibishop of Canterbury and corgies. Relive the happiness of the day and re-enact famous moments like the balcony kiss, the vows, and Prince Harry encouraging the kids to be naughty in the second carriage. In retrospect, a few of the colour choices could do with changing, and if you’re handy with the lace, you might want to have a go at refashioning Kate’s gown, but Charles and Harry are pretty much spot-on. Fiona’s reported as saying Harry was easy. We couldn’t possibly comment.

World of Geekcraft

The thing about sons and nephews is, they like robots and computer games, space and cool things. And that’s it. After years of trying to convince some of the little men in our lives that they really and truly might like a nice Aran jumper, we’ve given up and plan to work through this book instead. From Super Mario cross stitch to D&D 20-sided dice jewellery, via a PacMan Wii-Mote holster and belt, it’s a world of geeky heaven. And yep, there’s even Buffy. If you’re as inspired as we were, you can follow the World of Geekcraft Blog at WordPress.

Best in Show

best in show: knit your own dog cover

Finally you can have the dog of your dreams! As long as you don’t mind them very small and quiet – but still soft and cuddly! There are 25 breeds listed in the book, with full patterns and instructions, including terriers, Jack Russells, Afghan hounds, bulldogs and dachshunds. As you’d expect from Muir and Osborne, two of the UK’s best knitting designers (and genuinely lovely people), there are updates and further tips available on their blog, they’ve even found the tiny number of typos in the book and listed corrections. There are only three stitches used – knit, purl and loop – and even a slow TV-watching knitter like me can finish a dog in three evenings of semi-focused work. And they actually do make the perfect gift, whether for kids or adult dog owners (if you can fiddle the colours to make the knitted model resemble a real pet, expect overstated claims as to your genius from the owner). The knitted cat book is on its way, due in October this year.

Leave a comment

Filed under Craft

Oh, for infinite kitchen space …

Welcome to family circle Australia’s new blog!

You’ll find recipes, craft projects, tips and hints for living an easier and better life, plus the occasional bit of natter that may not always be entirely serious. It being a cold Tuesday in these parts, we thought we’d start with a post of the last type.

Here in the office we’re celebrating our Winter 2011 issue. We hope that you’re enjoying all of the amazing food and gorgeous craft as much as we did. There’s just one little thing we’ve noticed looking through the pages. It’s not outside the realms of possibility that we’re the teeniest, tiniest bit obsessed with pasta.

The scrummy 12-page pasta feature should have been a giveaway, or the Mediterranean health story that went with it. But to be honest, we were so focused on packing in as many great healthy tips and cooking secrets as could fit that we didn’t even notice our creep towards becoming family circle Italia. But when we signed off on the last pages and I started to dig down towards the surface of my desk (editing breeds paper!), I found a few extra pasta-related files. And a few more. All up, about 10cm-worth!

Most of those notes can be safely ignored for now, but I have to share our top 5 picks of the most peculiar pasta gadgets out there. Teetering in that zone between design genius and madness, I’m afraid we couldn’t take any of these 100 per cent seriously, even though they’re probably really useful.

1. Joseph Joseph Spaghetti Measure

spaghetti measuring device by Joseph Joseph

Never cook too much spaghetti again! Just set the dial to the number of people you will be feeding, fill the remaining gap with spaghetti, and you’re sorted! Also handy for James Bond-style special effects in your home movie credits or pretending you have a teeny tiny Stargate in the kitchen.

2. Perfect Pasta Timer

perfect pasta timer

On the one hand, this is genius. Enter the type of pasta you will be using into the timer’s little computer,  and whether you like it al dente or regular. Then clip the timer onto the side of the pot with its probe inside, and it will tell you when the water reaches the right temperature to add your pasta and then when the pasta itself should be cooked. Brilliant! But on the other hand, is it really that hard to wait until the water boils and then poke around a bit with a fork or throw spaghetti on the wall to see if you’re done? (I asked my husband that question, he wanted to order a timer on the spot. I think we’ve found their market …)

3. Pasta Express

Pasta Express

Another for the it could actually be genius list (though we fear it’s probably not). You put your pasta into the tube, top it up with boiling water from the kettle, wait, pop the lid off and strain the water out through the integrated strainer, then pop the strainer off and pour your pasta onto your plate. And in the grand tradition of Demtel, wait, there’s more! You can also boil eggs, vegetables, even prawns! You and I both know this was invented by someone who loathed doing the washing up, but for all that, there’s a certain coolness in being able to cook with a kettle. Alas, while it sounds great in theory, reviews suggest you just end up with warm sludgy pasta. Turns out you really do need that large pot of boiling salted water after all, though you could well be in luck with the eggs and veg.

4. Automatic Twirling Spaghetti Fork

Automatic twirling spaghetti fork

If you’ve ever worried that twirling spaghetti could cause you an injury, this is the fork for you! Ideal for people with hand injuries, arthritis or RSI, as well as computer gamers who need to maintain their wrist strength for hours of alien or orc slaughter! Simply poke the tines of your fork into place, press ON, wait a second, then press OFF before enjoying your perfectly twirled bite of pasta. One word of caution: no stabbing yourself in the leg with this one during dinners with the in-laws – you could do a serious damage.

5. Pastasaurus Pasta Server

Pastasaurus Pasta Server

Here at family circle, we make it a rule that we will never lie to our readers. I totally want one of these.


Filed under Food