|Blackberry Mania! | Jam|
I’ve discovered blackberries! They’re these saucy little berries that grow in abundance by the roadside this time of year. If like me you’re drawn toward the idea of relatively cheap and delicious food, and you’ve found yourself with a bucket load of blackberries then this recipe is for you!
Wild Blackberry + Elderberry Jam
600g granulated sugar
Old and squishy berries contain less pectin, which is the compound that reacts with sugar and heat to create jelly. Young berries contain heaps of pectin, but they can be hard and too tart to eat. Your best bet is to use berries that are just ripe. You can add extra pectin (easily bought from your local supermarket) if you’re not sure, or half a cup of fresh lemon juice will also help set a nice firm jam. The elderberries in this jam are optional. I added them for a bit of variety and because I had heaps left over from my last foray in the hedgerows.
Begin by sterilising your jars and lids. Make sure they are spotless and then let them sit in an oven at 70 degrees Celsius for about half an hour. Take them out just before you bottle your jam. You can also sterilise your jars by boiling them in a pan of hot water, microwaving them, or sticking them in the dishwasher on the steam cycle.
After picking your berries and cleaning them thoroughly in cold water, add them to a large non reactive pot (i.e. one that isn’t aluminium, copper or cast iron). A gas stovetop works well for this so you can quickly control the heat if it looks like things may bubble over. Bring the berries to boil. If you like, use a potato masher to crush the berries so your finished product isn’t so chunky. Personally, I like chunky jam :)
After boiling for ten minutes, lower the heat and add all of the sugar. Stir until dissolved.
Once the sugar is dissolved, turn up the heat and boil rapidly for ten minutes. DO NOT stir mixture at all at this point. If it looks like the mixture may bubble over, gently turn down the heat and wait for the bubbles to subside before returning to the boil.
After ten minutes, test the jam to see if it is ready by spooning a small amount onto a cold plate. After about a minute or so a skin will form, letting you know that your jam has set. If not, keep boiling and test again every two minutes. Once set, turn off the heat and let the jam rest for fifteen minutes or so.
Decant the warm jam into sterilised jars using a sterilised ladle or a funnel. Cap straight away. The expansion and contraction of heat inside the jars will reactivate the safety seal on recycled jars. This recipe was enough to fill four 200ml jars with a bit left over.
Add nifty labels to your jars. There are heaps of label templates out there, but I prefer to doodle my own. Be sure to include the ingredients and the date it was made.
Give a few jars to friends and keep a few for yourself. A lovely reminder of sunny Autumn afternoons. Cheap too, these four jars cost me 60 pence in sugar and nothing else!
|New Years Eve Feast|
I thought I’d post some of the photos from the rest of our NYE feast!
We started with mini tarts containing caramelised onion and heirloom baby tomatoes. The lovley Elle gave me the hint about using puff pastry with caramelised onions. These cute lil’ tarts went down a treat. (I’ve always wanted to say that!!)
The first course was battered zucchini florets. I stuffed these suckers with roast pumpkin and ricotta. Mmm.
Mr K decided to have lamb and bacon-wrapped tomatoes and mashed potato. He’s a big fan of roast meat of some kind with bacon-wrapped tomatoes and mashed potato. Especially if there’s gravy involved. The boccolini is just a garnish…
I opted to have potato gnocchi in sage butter. Sage leaves fried crispy in butter is the most amazing thing you will ever put in your mouth. I promise. I mashed up some roast pumpkin and added flour till it was workable. But these dumplings ended up being way to chewy. Gnocchi definitely needs potato to work. The sage was lovely though.
Dessert is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. Vegetarians don’t get to have jelly very often and so I thought I’d have a go at making the vegetarian-friendly kind. But it needed to be adult jelly. Not that cheap-tasting raspberry stuff. I mixed a bottle of sparkling white wine with half a cup of sugar, 80ml of Saint Germain, a quarter of a cup of raspberries and one large tablespoon of agar agar powder. The jelly was served chilled with lychees, raspberries and a Saint Germain, vanilla and ginger syrup. Oh yes.
What could be a better finish to our meal than a whisky tasting flight out of Mr K’s quaich? I was giddy by the time midnight rocked around. I wouldn’t spend my New Years Eve any other way!
|Cocktail Hour | Hendrick’s Gin Martini Amuse-Bouche|
We celebrated New Years with a fancy dinner party for two. I knew that I wanted to serve an Amuse-Bouche that had something to do with cucumber and thought that cute cucumber cups (like the ones made by Monika at Vegetarian Surprises) would do the job. But what would I fill them with? I made a simple chilled cucumber and dill soup that I thought I could serve in the cups. Maybe I could add some honeydew melon somewhere? But then we went to the bottle shop and I saw the miniature bottles of Hendrick’s Gin. I was more excited than any person has a right to be in public. A light bulb went off in my head. Why didn’t I see it before?!
Hendrick’s Martinis in Cucumber Cups
1 Lebanese cucumber
50ml Hendrick’s Gin
Honeydew melon to garnish
Cut the cucumber into 4cm rounds. Peel skin and scoop out flesh leaving a 1cm layer at the bottom. These keep in the refrigerator for a few hours if you want to make them ahead of time. If you’re using the 50ml Hendrick’s botttles, chill them in the fridge or freezer beforehand. Otherwise, shake or stir the Hendrick’s Gin with ice and pour into the cucumber cups. Add any aromatics, such as cocktail bitters or a dash of rosewater. To garnish, use a melon baller (I used a tiny measuring spoon) to scoop out little globes of honeydew melon and style on a toothpick, like you would with a martini olive. Enjoy!
They ended up being delicious! I served the chilled cucumber soup alongside the martinis. It made for a refreshing start to the meal.
Chilled Cucumber Soup
1 Lebanese cucumber
8 springs of dill
1 cup vegetable stock
Place everything in a food processor and blend till smooth. Strain through a muslin and serve chilled. Also makes a great base for savoury cocktails!
|Blend Your Own Masala Chai|
Mmm. Chai tea. What’s not to love? On cold rainy days I get the urge to brew a big pot of chai tea and wear fluffy socks. Ya know? There are some amazing chai blends out there, but making your own can be really fun. It’s also easy, and you probably have one or two of the spices in your cupboard right now.
Traditionally, masala chai is made with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, pepper and black tea blended with milk and honey. I like to add a bit more spice with nutmeg, star anise and sweeten it all with a touch of vanilla. It’s also traditionally brewed over a stove, but this blend is just perfect for a tea pot or press.
There isn’t any hard or fast rule when it comes to the proportion in which you use your spices, or even which ones you choose to use. If you’re not a big fan of cardamom, leave it out. I will say that with spices, the fresher, the better. But if you can’t find cinnamon quills or fresh ginger, use cinnamon powder or dried ginger powder. Add dried apple, orange peel or cranberries to make Christmas tea. Mmmm.
Masala Chai Blend
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons black tea
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
the tiniest amount of star anise possible!
Mix it all up and add to a pot of freshy boiled water. Let steep for three to four minutes. Serve with warm milk and honey. You can scale up this recipe and keep it in an airtight jar, away form direct sunlight. If your willpower is strong enough, it should last for several months.
I like to start by breaking up a couple of cinnamon quills. You could use a mortar and pestle for this, but I’m tough and macho and like splitting them open with my fingers.
Add ginger. I’m making this masala mix to use later, so I decided to opt for dried ginger chips. You can use fresh ginger, or the powdered kind. Or, you know, whatever.
Cardamom smells lovely. You can use the whole pods, or the tiny black seeds inside. Grocery stores will sometimes sell both kinds. I like the pods because they’re a pretty shade of pistachio green.
Cloves can be overpowering, so beware of using too much.
Like cloves, star anise can be really overpowering. Break off bits of the star a piece at a time. A little goes a long way!
Grate your nutmeg using a microplane, or just use the powdered kind. It has such a spicy sweet smell.
I used a black tea that had bits of vanilla through it. Then I mixed up a big bowl and scooped it into cute paper bags to give away as gifts. Now my friends can have something warm to drink the next time it’s cold and rainy!
Are you a fan of masala chai?
|Cocktail Hour | The Bellini|
Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice, invented the Bellini roughly sixty years ago. Cipriani was inspired by the beautiful glow that seemed to emanate from the paintings by Giovanni Bellini and decided to name his latest drink after the artist. The original cocktail was made with white peaches macerted in white wine and then puréed. It’s a delightful drink in summer and works best with firm ripe white-flesh peaches and chilled prosecco.
Remove the stones from three ripe peaches. Chop roughly and add to a blender with 30ml of peach liqueur or for a floral touch, 30ml of Saint Germain elderflower liqueur. Purée till smooth and velvety. Your peach nectar can be kept refrigerated for up to four days.
Pour 50ml of the nectar into a champagne flute. Add more peach liqueur or Saint Germain if you’re feeling saucy.
Top with chilled prosecco and enjoy immediately!
For a lovely non-alcoholic version, substitute the prosecco for soda water and the liqueur for elderflower cordial. It’s sublime at the end of a hot day.
Can you believe I made it to the ripe old age of twenty three without knowing how to make popcorn!?
When I was little we had a machine that did all the work. But this last year I’ve discovered that making popcorn the old fashioned way is easy. It’s also lots of fun if you have a saucepan with a glass lid. I could stand there and watch corn pop all day.
1 tablespoon light vegetable oil
1/3 cup popping corn
Flavour of your choice
Put the oil in a heavy saucepan over a medium heat. Add three or four kernels of corn while the oil heats up. When all of your test kernels have popped it’s time to throw in the rest of of the corn and put on the lid. Once the corn starts popping, give the saucepan a gentle shake. You know it’s done when you can only here one or two pops per second. Take the saucepan off the heat and let it rest for half a minute or so. Pour out into a bowl and add your favourite flavour. Enjoy!
- My personal favourite, sea salt flakes and tuffle oil
- Try finely grated parmesan and powdered paprika
- Drizzle your popcorn with sweet stuff: honey, maple syrup, salted caramel
- You know those chai latte sachets? That’s right. Makes an awesome popcorn flavour
- Sprinkle with vinegar and salt
- Use a microplane to zest a lime and add chilli flakes
- Shave 85% coco chocolate and nutmeg over the top
- Mix up some wasabi and sesame oil
- Dust with vanilla sugar
- Sprinkle with cinnamon and soft brown sugar and the tiniest bit of butter
- Use crushed dried sage and cracked black pepper
- Mix in pumkin seeds and pine nuts
|Cocktail Hour | The Negroni|
“The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
My absolute favourite cocktail is the Negroni. It’s a hella-sexy mix of bitter and sweet, and is perfect all year round. Recipes on the internet vary, but in its most simple form, the Negroni is a mix of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and bitter citrus. For the gin, I like to use whatever is handy, but I can recommend Hendricks Gin for a delicate hint of cucumber and rose. For the vermouth, I use Martini Rosso, but after reading about the different types of sweet vermouth, I’m thinking about experimenting. Unfortunately, Martini Rosso, is just about all my local bottle shop is willing to stock, so this will have to do for now. For the bitter citrus I like to use Aperol or Campari, really the difference between the two is alcohol percentage. I probably don’t need to say this, but when using orange peel, make sure you have washed the orange beforehand. Now, onto the fun part!
1 part Gin
1 part Sweet Vermouth
1 part Campari
1 dash Orange Bitters
Fill a glass with ice. And when I say fill it with ice, girl, I mean fill it with ice. This drink thrives with lots of ice. Pour in the liquids and give it a really good stir. To finish the drink, take a small piece of orange peel and flambé over the glass. Rub the peel over the rim and then stir it into the drink. At first I found flambéing the orange a little tricky (if not dangerous and daunting!) so have included a quick little video showing you this step.
And that’s it! Enjoy!
|Bella Blithely’s Guide To The Perfect Boiled Egg|
I love boiled eggs. I like mine soft, when they’re only just beginning to set. I must enjoy them so much because of the nostalgia that a boiled egg and soldiers invokes.
It can be difficult to boil an egg: a minute too soon and it’s still clear and runny, a minute too long and it will be hard. An easy and foolproof way to boil an egg perfectly is to put it in the oven at 63 degrees Celsius for an hour or more. For this method to work, you only have to ensure is that the temperature is between 60 and 65 degrees Celsius and that it is in the oven for longer than an hour. Apparently, you can leave it in the oven for several hours without anything going awry, but I’m too impatient and an hour is about as long as I’m willing to wait!
If you don’t have the time, boil a litre of water in the kettle and then transfer to a saucepan on the stove. Carefully place a 50 gram egg, straight from the fridge, into the water. Keep the water hot, but not boiling for four and a half minutes. Five minutes if you like your yolks set just a little bit. Remove and refresh under cold water. Congratulations! You’ve boiled an egg successfully!
Serve in cute vintage egg cups with soldier toast, salt and pepper.
For extra credit:
Brush your toast with truffle oil
Add a bit of aged balsamic vinegar
Use fresh and chewy artisanal bread like rye or spelt
Add a pinch of fresh chopped chives, sage and/or thyme
|Book Review | The Espresso Quest|
The lovely folks at BeanScene Magazine were nice enough to send me a copy of Instaurator’s book The Espresso Quest. Instaurator describes this book as a “record and explanation of my quest to discover the pure joy found in a cup of espresso coffee,” or as he later describes it, “God in the espresso cup.” There is no denying that at first glance, this is a beautiful book. The glossy shallow-depth-of-field shots remind me why Australian’s love cafés’ so much and the macro photography of fresh pulled shots is too sexy for words.
Touching on the autobiographical, the book is divided into four sections. The Taste recounts the author’s foray into the world of coffee. Here, Instaurator develops his definition of God in the espresso cup. I found myself reading about his first caffeine-related epiphany and nodding my head enthusiastically. There are shots out there, that I have tasted, or will taste someday that quietly approach perfection. As Insaurator says, these bijoux can turn up in the most unlikely of places, as if by miracle.
In the next chapter, entitled The Grower, we treated to a breif overview of the growing process, and the many variables in coffee-farming that can effect the end result, namely flavour. Instaurator shares a few anecdotes and casually discusses that process of farming coffee.
Later, we are treated to a basic description of coffee roasting. A few techniques are explored as are one or two gadgets but this chapter lacks the meaty stuff I was hoping for. The final chapter, The Barista is an exploration of the mysterious craft that nowadays keeps so many university students employed. Instead, Instaurator focuses on those truly passionate about creating great coffee, and it’s heartening to read about people willing to experiment and push the boundaries in an effort to create a better tasting beverage.
The Espresso Quest is a light read, full of personal anecdotes written in a friendly and casual style. Instaurator busts a few of the more widely held myths and superstitious of the coffee world, but these are things that any seasoned coffee professional will already know. The pages that do deal with technique are vague so if you are looking for a guidebook or instruction manual, look elsewhere. This is after all, a coffee-themed biography. Instaurator also has the annoying tendency to name-drop certain companies. The book is littered with ® and TM symbols, and I’m cynical enough to suspect that perhaps these names sponsored the publication of the book.
The beautiful photos, stunning presentation and simple text make The Espresso Quest an ideal gift for the co-worker who has a lascivious relationship with their Breville Cafe Roma, or the aunt who still serves up instant coffee loaded with sugar. It’s an inspirational read and will leave you wanting to discover your own “God in the espresso cup.”
The Espresso Quest is $58.95 in hardcover, or $48.95 in electronic format.