Monday, 12 November 2018

Chocolate dipped honeycomb and random moments

The Melbourne Cup holiday this year was a wet affair.  I had slept in because I was so tired and had no energy to get out of the house.  No fascinators and champagne for me.  Instead we sat home watching telly and making chocolate dipped honeycomb as the rain bucketed down outside.

There is something wonderful about spring rain.  (Just listen to the Go Betweens.)  Heavy rains are far more pleasing when the volume of water is so impressive.  Rain pools in every crevice and creates rivulets down windows.  I have happy memories of walking home as a student and being so soaked that there was no point in a brolly.  These days at the end of a dry winter, it is a relief to see a decent rainfall.

Unfortunately it is not great to look at the weather pages online and see the humidity is 85% when making honeycomb.  I found this when I looked at my last attempt to make honeycomb.  Humidity is the enemy when it comes to honeycomb.  Dry conditions means smooth, crisp, shatter.  Moisture means a sticky mess that melts in your hand not in your mouth.

The difference between this time and last, other than that last time I was cooking with a friend in his last days in Melbourne, is that I had a candy thermometer this time and was able to be more accurate about when to remove it from the heat.  This recipe also had liquid glucose unlike last time.  And once I looked at recipe again I am unsure if I added water!

I partly made the honeycomb to use up the liquid glucose, partly to entertain Sylvia, and partly because our Australian version, Violet Crumble is a sentimental favourite.  My dad loved it and we gave it to him for many Christmases as a kid.  I would have loved it even more as a kid if I had had the fun of watching it puff up when the bicarb hit the sugary mixture.  (Though I was a little confused about what it meant by letting the bubbles subside.)

Once the mixture transformed into a hot bubble of honeycomb it seemed a long time to let it cool.  We sat about realising we had forgotten about watching the Melbourne Cup race, took photos of our cat (it is so hard to get a good photo of Shadow because he is black), and tidied and mozied about.

When we cut the honeycomb it shattered nicely but had a few chewy bits.  We melted chocolate and dipped the honeycomb quite easily.  The challenge is to avoid bloom.  The first lot of melted chocolate seemed to set quicker than the second but the first had some bloom marks.  Despite that it tasted fantastic. 

I like the suggestion in Coles Magazine, where we found the recipe, that it would make a great gift but we just snacked on it.  It was perhaps too sticky to keep very long.  I suspect this might be a good gift if made in the cooler climate of the Northern Hemisphere or shortly before giving in Australia's warm climate.

Lastly I want to share a few random moments:

  • When I left the UK in 2002, I had thought I had closed my account with Lloyds Bank.  But they kept sending letters to my parents' address.  After receiving a new Lloyds visa card recently I sent a complaint.  The bank rang to let me know that my account was never closed because 10p of interest had been added after I "closed" my account and they apologised.  What a waste of resources for 10p.  Incidentally I have had to query a disputed transaction on a visa card and spoke to a very nice person then too.  Are bank's service improving or just when they need to apologise!
  • I was sent a parking fine but when I checked the location, I found that it was a street I have never heard of.  Luckily I had a receipt for a payment I made in another part of the city to prove I was not there.  I have appealed and am waiting to hear back.
  • There was the very sad story last week about a car bursting into flames and the driving lunging at people with a knife in Burke Street in Melbourne's CBD.  It was tragic that he killed Sisto Malaspino of Pelligrinis cafe.  A more heartening story was "Trolley Man", a homeless man who has been hailed a hero for pushing a shopping trolley at the killer.  I know it is not always the ideal response but I still would like everyone to have a Trolley Man as a modern day guardian angel at their back.
  • My boss spoke at a conference recently and as he went in to speak, the organisers played the music of Star Wars.  One of my colleagues wanted to check they didn't play the Darth Vader theme!
  • I spoke to an undergrad maths student who told me he did a maths exercise that took 58 pages to work through.  Now that is a maths problem!
  • I recently finished Claire Tomalin's fantastic memoir, a Life of My Own.  I continue to marvel at her literary life.  However the comment she made that keeps coming back to me is that she thought she was making decisions about her life but when she looks back she finds she was just a product of her time.  I keep reflecting on decisions I make and wondering how much agency I have.  Goodness that takes me back to studying Tess of the D'Urbervilles in Year 12 and discussing determinism vs free will.

More chocolate treats that make good gifts on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Chocolate nutella caramel cups (gf) 
Chocolates with peppermint filling (gf, v)
Chocolate salami (gf, v)  
Rocky road (gf, v)
Vegan bacon and seed chocolate bark (gf, v)
Vegemite fudge 2.0  

Chocolate dipped honeycomb
Slightly adapted from Coles Magazine, November 2018

1 1/4 cups castor sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup glucose syrup
2 1/2 bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
250g dark chocolate

Line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.

Stir sugar, water, golden syrup and glucose syrup over low heat in a large saucepan for 5 minutes or until sugar is melted.  (I think this took a lot longer than 5 minutes.)  Turn up heat and bring to the boil.  Cook without stirring 10 minutes or until temperature reaches 145 C (this was a lot less than 10 minutes for us) or hard crack stage (ie drop lump in cold water to see if it is hard). 

Let bubbles subside (I still don't understand this but am adding it - we let it sit a minute or so).  Sift bicarb soda over the mixture.  Gently but quickly mix bicarb into the mixture and scrape into prepared tin.  Let this cool - it will be a couple of hours.

Once honeycomb mixture is cool, chop into chunks.  Melt dark chocolate (we do this in the microwave, making sure there are a few lumps at the end to be stirred in so we don't overheat it).  Dip honeycomb into the chocolate and leave on baking paper to set.

On the Stereo:
Northern Attitude: The Fall

Friday, 9 November 2018

Halloween toilet paper roll and hot glue gun candles

Sylvia and I decided to make candles over Halloween.  I took some photos as we went along and want to share them.  We got the idea for the candles from Make Life Lovely who have lots of great Halloween crafts.

I bought a hot glue gun a few years ago and this has to be the most I have used it.  To start the candles we did lots of drips of hot glue gun glue down toilet paper rolls.  This took some time (days) because we needed to take time to let one lot of drips dry before starting on another set of drips.  We also went through a few packets of hot glue gun sticks and had to go and buy more sticks a couple of times.

Finally we felt we had dripped enough glue.  As we don't use the hot glue gun, it was a good opportunity for me and Sylvia to get more used to the hot glue gun.  One of the challenges was trying not to have wispy bits floating about.  I found it best to glue from the top and when finished to bring the nozzle up and over the candle so if there were wispy bits they would not go any which way but would fall back into the drip.  I also found it hard to get a long even line of glue but I think this was ok for the candles.  Wax isn't that neat!  You might also notice above the old glue and new glue seemed lightly different coloured, which surprised me.  Also we did this with old newspapers below in case there were drips on the table.

Before we began painting I wanted to find a candelabra.  In my student days I loved buying old candelabra cheaply from op shops.  They were great for student parties and dinners.  These days they are mostly up high gathering dust.  I had a look at what I had to find one that suited the purpose. 

One candelabra had a candleholder with a large square shape at the top, another had no rim under the candleholder but the one in the photo above was perfect because it had a small round candleholder to slip the toilet roll over and a rim under it for the toilet roll to stand on.  It is my most gothic candelabra and suited the purpose wonderfully, even with a fifth arm missing.  (It is so long since I bought it I can't remember if it was never there when I bought it or fell off at some stage.)

Then we painted the candles black.  We used kitchen towel to clean off some of the black paint from the glue before the paint dried.  Once it was dry, we painted the glue white with a sponge to make the drippy "wax" stand out.  It looked quite impressive.

The most difficult part was getting the LED plastic candles in (real flames would be a OHS nightmare).  On Make Life Lovely, she glued some material inside the rolls to hold the candles but our plastic candles only just fitted in the toilet rolls from the bottom but not from the top where bits of glue made the opening tighter.  Apart from the tiny candles, we turned on candles before shoving then up the toilet rolls, or used a long stick like a pencil to turn on and off the ones that stuck in the top well.  Sadly it was far easier for the rolls to topple off the candleabra than to turn the candles on and off.

We had some fun doing these Halloween candles.  Sylvia has plans to paint them red for Christmas.  It might work!  She also decided to paint her hands black after painting the candles.  They made the bath so dirty I had to wash the bath water off in the shower!  Kids!  They looked quite impressive on a shelf at our Halloween lunch.  I wonder how long they will last.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Jack o Lantern oranges with fruit salad, and more Halloween photos

At our recent Halloween lunch, we wanted a fun-themed healthy end to the meal.  These fruit salad jack o lantern oranges were just what I needed.  They looked really cute and were full of healthy seasonal fruit.  I am also going to share some of the Halloween stuff in our life over the past month or so.  As I looked at all the photos, I noticed that every one had a jack o lantern somewhere in it. 
Sylvia was really into Halloween this year that a crazy amount of Halloween merchandise made its way into our house.  There is a little cynicism in packaging regular products with Halloween on the outside.  Sylvia love the Tiny Teddies boxes because they had masks on the back.  The Chobani ghost yoghurts were cute but a couple are still in the fridge.  And the best packaging has to go to Heinz for the Hallowbeans and Spookghetti.

You might also notice a couple of little pumpkins we bought with the intention of carving them but never did.  Goodness knows what I do with them as I must prefer our local pumpkins for eating.

 As well as supermarket food products, Sylvia managed to bring quite a bit of Halloween decorations into the house and set up a little Halloween corner of her room.

We went to a local neighbourhood house open day where Sylvia got this fantastic face painting on her arm.  (Arm painting?)  Kudos to Mary Grace who does the best face painting.  She had to be shown a jack o lantern picture to understand what Sylvia was asking for and did this detailed picture from a simple online picture.

Sylvia also took advantage of the craft table at the open day to make some Halloween bunting.  We hung it up in the house but sadly the flags did not sit flat and curled a little.  It looked quite good anyway.

Sylvia and her friend were keen to do trick or treating.  I am not keen on visiting houses but we went to the local shopping centre where they were able to do a little trick or treating, especially in the kids bookstore.

Weeks and weeks before Halloween, Sylvia and I were excited to find Hersheys kisses in the foreign section of the supermarket.  We had never seen them before but we bought them just to try making witches hats that are a staple of Halloween posts on Pinterest.  I like the purple icing Sylvia mixed and she did a great job of piping just enough icing (about the shape of the kisses) and then pushing a kiss into the icing to make the purple rim.  I think the oreo thins we used were a little dark but they still looked pretty good.  Sylvia decided she didn't fancy the taste but most of them went by the end of the lunch.  She also made some monster grubs - ie chocolate balls with some sugar eyes or lips.

We found these Halloween babybels in a packet in the supermarket.  Sylvia bought them for the kids at our lunch yesterday as there were 5 kids expected.  I am not sure what happened with them in all the hustle and bustle but there were only a couple left in the fridge afterwards.

The baby bel characters matched up nicely with the masks and colouring in figures that Sylvia had organised for the kids.  She got the masks from the Tiny Teddies boxes (please don't start counting how many little bags of those little biscuits we have bought - there are still quite a few in the pantry and I hope not to see too many more boxes in the house as I am not so keen on them.)

We made the jack o lantern oranges, the day before.  I suggested Sylvia cut off the top of the orange and use a juicer to empty the orange.  She ended up with lots of splits in the orange.  So then I worked on cutting out a chunk of orange flesh with a sharp knife and then using a spoon to scoop out flesh and juice.  Sylvia carved all the faces.  I also cut the pineapple and watermelon the day before. 

We finished making the fruit salad on the morning of the lunch.  I am not a fan of fruit salad with melon but Sylvia wanted watermelon.  My preference is berries and stone fruit and kiwi fruit.  We agreed to leave out the kiwi fruit but I was excited to find the first local nectarines of the season and added one.  We only filled 5 oranges and had heaps of fruit salad over.  I thought it would last for days.  Then I forgot about the fruit salad in the fridge.  Luckily Sylvia found it.  I was surprised how much of the fruit salad got eaten.  We had finished it by the end of the next day.

I really loved these oranges with fruit salad.  In fact I wonder if they could be served with different patterns or even with cute stickers on them for party food during the rest of the year.  It reminds me just how much I love a good fruit salad.  With summer fruit coming into season, I hope to have more fruit salads.

More fun fruit recipes ideas on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Choc-nut banana and fruit kebabs (gf, v)
Fruit Christmas tree 
Fruity icy poles (gf, v)
Rainbow fruit kebabs (gf, v)
Watermelon monster (gf, v)  

Or find more Halloween food on Green Gourmet Giraffe.  

Jack o Lantern Oranges with Fruit Salad
inspired by Mums Who Think

1/2 pineapple, diced
2-3 cups diced
1 banana, diced
1 apple, diced
125g punnet raspberries
2 x 125g punnets blueberries
125g strawberries, diced
1 nectarine, diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Orange juice
Maple syrup

Cut the top off the oranges.  Scoop out the flesh out of the oranges.  Firstly take a paring knife and cut around the flesh by the edges of orange skin and prise out a chunk of orange flesh.  Then take a spoon and carefully scoop out the flesh and juice.  (I set aside the flesh and juice to strain.)  This can be done the day before.  Just keep the oranges in the fridge.

Now mix all your diced fruit (having it well diced so it fits in the orange) and stuff in the orange.  It can be made the day before but stuff the oranges on the day.  We kept our stuffed oranges in the fridge a few hours before lunch.  Leftover fruit salad was eaten in bowls.

On the stereo:
Talking with the Taxman about Poetry: Billy Bragg

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Spiderweb cupcakes - easy Halloween food

For our recent lunch, we made spiderweb cupcakes.  While talking about ideas for cakes for the lunch, this was the one that stuck.  It was such an easily impressive idea. 

We used our favourite vegan chocolate cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  I made them just before dinner and left them out in the backyard to cool while we ate tea.

We mixed up some buttercream icing with nuttalex, icing sugar, a bit of hot water and some black food colouring.  Then we made a separate batch of white icing with just icing sugar and hot water.  Butter can make icing slightly yellow so I left that out.  I made it quite stiff so it would keep its shape.  Then we piped it in circles on the dark icing.

The fun bit was taking a toothpick (or skewer) and drawing it from middle to outside in lines around the cupcake to make it look like a spiderweb.

It was late by the time we iced them and I was really glad that the icing decoration was easy to do so I could get Sylvia to bed.  These cupcakes were so easy that Sylvia could ice, pipe and toothpick them herself.  We let them sit overnight and they kept well. 

The spiderweb cupcakes went down very well at the lunch though there were some people who did not finish their cakes because they were quite big.  The actual cake in the recipe kept well overnight.  We had a few leftover cupcakes that kept really well and were still fresh 3 days after we made them.  And they looked really cute on Sylvia's ghost tray.

Find more Halloween food on Green Gourmet Giraffe.  

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Halloween lunch and spider cheese ball

Today we held our annual birthday lunch to remember our sons Alex and Ian.  Sylvia thinks it is all about her celebrating Halloween (well, she says she knows what her brothers would like).  We had lots of fun making spooky food to share with a small group of family and friends.  Perhaps the most impressive looking savoury food was a spider cheese ball. 

We spent yesterday tidying the house and making food and some craft candles.  I think I put off making the cheese ball til late because I didn't really know what I was doing.

I had seen a spider cheeseball on Lorraine's Not Quite Nigella blog where she has amazing posts on her annual Halloween party.  By the time I had looked around to get ideas on cheeseballs, I had forgotten to return to her recipe, which in hindsight actually looks wonderfully simple.  She has lots of fantastic Halloween recipes and ideas.

I ended up looking at The Kitchn post on cheeseball's because I liked the way they give lots of ideas as well as step by step information.  Once I had blitzed it in the food processor and wrapped it in a ball it seemed soft and not anything like a ball.  I was not confident.

This morning we continued to make more Halloween food.  Sylvia had quite a few recipes that she decided to either make by herself or with me.  We had bought the pretzel sticks weeks ago because they are never about when we need them.  The string cheese is pretty easy (compared to years ago when I could not find it and used Swiss cheese).  All I did to help her was cut the spring leeks from the garden.

She made "cheese puffs" (layers of puff pastry and grated cheese) and mummy sausages with little help from me.  When I told E I thought there was a lot of cheese on the menu he replied, "Blessed are the cheesemakers".  Sylvia also made witches hats, carved jack o lantern oranges for fruit salad and did lots of hot glue gun work on candles, as well as helping to ice the spider web cupcakes.  (More on these in future posts.)

When I took out the cheese ball this morning, it did not look auspicious.  It was quite a mess.  But at least it was keeping its shape.  A little moulding in my hands made it more round.  And with poppy seeds coating it, it looked pretty good.

 Then I had the fiddly work to get the legs attached.  I connected the two pieces of pretzel stick before putting in each leg but wonder if it would have been easier to attach the pretzel to the body and then stick on the other half of the leg.  Then the eyes and some crackers around it.  Once that was done I then made sure the house was as neat as it could be and chopped some vegies to have with hummus.

By then most of our guests were arriving.  We had the broomsticks with the cauldron of carrot sticks to offer when everyone arrived.  I organised the food on the table around a vase of lovely flowers from Kerin.  I was too busy with everyone to take too many photos after that.

We had prebaked the mummy sausages and cheese puffs earlier.  So when everyone arrived, I put them in the oven to warm up.  We cut the sausages in half so they would go further.  I only did a six pack of sausages but two would have been better.  Luckily my mum also brought one of her lovely cheese and spinach pies but that went quickly too.  By the time my brother arrived late, we could only offer him the spider's bottom and some veg and hummus.  But we did make more mummy sausages for dinner and played with the idea of blobs of sauce for eyes.

I don't think the cheese ball was a complete success.  My dad posed with a carving knife and the spider but it actually took a while for anyone to be brave enough to dig in.  It tasted very strongly of garlic.  I had thought the taste might settle overnight but it did not seem to.  The recipe had called for 1-3 cloves, but my one clove seemed strong.  I wouldn't mind another go at the cheeseball one day.  But for now the rest of my cheeseball might end up in a soup or pie.

The roses were blooming and the sun shining while we enjoyed lunch.  Once we had filled out plates we sat and talked politics and travel and work.  Sylvia had fun with a school friend and her cousin.  My nephew was able to sit and chat with the adults.  My mum gave me some gardening advice that my friends were taking on board too.  Then everyone went home and Sylvia put away her Halloween decorations for another year.  But I will have some more Halloween posts on our lunch soon!

More cheesy entertaining on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Baked brie with cranberry sauce and walnuts (gf)
Cheesey corn dip
Pepper-crusted cashew goat cheese (gf, v)
Smoked cheese spread (gf) 
Veganzola cheeseball (gf, v)

Spider Cheese Ball
Adapted from The Kitchn and Land O'Lakes

250g cream cheese
250g vintage cheddar cheese
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp seeded mustard
dash of pepper

2-4 tbsp poppyseeds, for coating
pretzel sticks, for legs
pimento stuffed olives, for mouth

Leave out cream cheese and cheddar cheese at room temperature about 2 hours.  Blend cream cheese in blender til creamy (30-45 seconds).  Grate cheddar cheese and add to cream cheese.  Mix until incorporated (30-60 seconds).  (Mine was not quite creamy - just a bit grainy but not pieces of grated cheese.)  Add in remaining ingredients and blend until combined.

Scoop 4/5 of the mixture into a pile on a large piece of clingfilm.  Bring corners together and twist to make a ball.  Wrap in foil.  Don't worry if it is not quite a perfect ball.  Repeat with remaining cheese mixture to make a smaller ball.  Refridgerate both balls overnight or up to 6 days.

When you are ready to use, remove balls from fridge an hour or two beforehand.  Unwrap foil and clingfilm.  They will not be quite perfect but you can use your hands to mould into shape.  (Take out a little cheese to set aside for legs.)  Tip some poppyseeds into a shallow bowl (eg a pasta bowl) and roll cheese balls in them to coat.

Arrange on tray next to each other.  Break pretzel sticks to have 8 lots of one short and one longer leg.  Stick shorter piece in the spider body, place little blob of set aside cheese mixture on edge and stick on larger stick to rest on plate.  Repeat so you have 4 each side.  Place olives on face for eyes and a little stick below for a mouth.  Dig in.  Or keep in the fridge up to a week (including the time you have left it in the fridge before starting.

On the Stereo:
Just the Beginning: Grace Vanderwaal

Friday, 2 November 2018

In My Kitchen: November 2018

November finds us feeling quite warm after two days in the early 30s (celcius).  The Halloween section of the supermarket is all but gone and the Christmas section has grown at a scary rate.  I am enjoying the longer nights but less happy that the plants out the back need more watering.

Above is a special edition jar of vegemite.  I really like the Indigenous artwork but wonder why they had to celebrate 95 years.  It is an odd number.  It seems like either they don't think the brand will still be there in 5 years time, or - more likely - that the creatives wont be there in 5 years time.

Over the school holidays at the start of October Sylvia had a friend over.  We made some sushi, packed some carrot sticks, twisties, nuts, caramel popcorn and strawberries and rode to a nearby park for a picnic.

We baked vegan chocolate cupcakes for a school cake stall a couple of weeks ago.  Sylvia did a few cupcakes with fancy swirls and then did not have enough white icing left and did some less fancy swirls.  I took them along anyway and never heard if they sold but I hope they might have pleased a few people with dietary restrictions.  (By the way, this photo was taken after Sylvia started eating the other side of the cupcake but I must have taken the others to the stall by then.)

I  bought these Tyrrell's worcestershire sauce and sundried tomato crisps for E for a little reminder of the Old Dart!

Then I bought these new Vegie Twists cheese max with potato and lentils for myself.  I like the other Vege Chips products.  These were quite tasty and looked cute too.

We can't resist Smalt Salted Caramel Fudge at the Coburg Farmers Market.

Here's another day's purchases from the Coburg Farmers Market.  Gorgeous George's Sparkling Apple Kefir (love it) and hummus, kale for this salad, Sourdough Kitchen's currant buns, purple cauliflower to roast, home made sourdough crumpets to eat with strawberry chia jam made from the punnet of berries.

I recently took Sylvia to DFO in Essendon to buy sandals for the warmer weather but my favourite shop for kids shoes had closed.  I consoled myself with these beautiful paisley bowls.

Last Christmas we saw Gingerbread Lindt balls and I said it was too early to buy it.  We never saw them again and Sylvia pined after them.  So this year when we saw them we pounced on them.  They were nice but once was enough.

It is asparagus season and I have been buying big bunches from the farmers market.  My latest way of using it is to shave it and put on top of a pizza (a bit like this one at Smitten Kitchen).  Tonight I tried it with half cooked broccoli and capers as well as our usual tomato sauce and cheese.  Really good.

A bike basket of purchases from the Coburg Farmers Market.  Asparagus, strawberries, kombucha and we dropped by the seedling stall and bought a raspberry plant and a cherry tomato plant for our pots out the back.  I've repotted them in larger pots, using some dirt from my mum and some dirt from the worm farm.  Here's hoping they might give back.

Last night's dinner was an easy one.  Pasta with stir through sauce, plus lots of vegies and grated cheese.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event, that was started by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial,  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to peek into more kitchens.