Sunday 29 November 2020

Stuffed cheese and spinach jumbo pasta shells

Sylvia has been trying a few foods with spinach and cheese filling lately.  So I thought if I did some really simple spinach and cheese stuffed pasta shells she would like them.  I did a really simple tomato sauce and that was a vegetable too far.  So she ate plain pasta shells while I really enjoyed the stuffed ones.  I had a little of the filling leftover to put in some pastry for her that was a hit!

I bought the ingredients before looking up the recipe.  As I stood at the deli at the supermarket, when I was asked what I wanted, I guessed I would need soft ricotta and Dodoni feta .  They are not cheeses I eat a lot so I thought I would be able to buy smaller amounts in the deli.  It turned out to be close enough for jazz.

The pasta shells were easy to work with and tasted delicious with the filling and a nice plain tomato sauce.  I added a lot of garlic and lemon juice to the Kraft recipe because it was a bit creamy for my tastes.  Once cooked they were still quite garlicky but that was fine once in the mix.  I was sad Sylvia would not eat them with the tomato sauce but I happily ate her portions and they lasted a few nights. 

I really loved this recipe that I made on a low energy day back in October when we were still in lockdown and diagnoses each day were in double figures.  At that time it seemed impossible that we might reach a month of no diagnoses or deaths.  Now that we are in a better place, diagnoses-wise I am dreaming of perhaps having dinner parties one day.  This would be a suitably easy and impressive dish to serve up to guests.  But it works just as well to eat quietly in lockdown as comfort food.

More baked pasta recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Baked gnocchi with radicchio, gorgonzola and walnuts

Fennel and lentil lasagne (v)
Leftovers pasta bake
Neofolk Buckwheat Pasta Bake (gf)
Pumpkin and tofu ricotta cannelloni (v)
Simple vegetarian lasagne
Red capsicum and mozzarella pasta bake
Spaghetti pie (v)

Stuffed cheese and spinach jumbo pasta shells
Adapted from Kraft
Serves 3-4

15 jumbo pasta shells  

250g frozen chopped spinach
175g ricotta
150g feta, crumbled
1 tbsp lemon juice (half a smallish lemon)
2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
black pepper

Tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
400g tin of tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp Italian herbs
drizzle of balsamic vinegar
good pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper

Cook pasta shells until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

While pasta cooks, make the cheese and spinach filling.  First microwave the frozen spinach for 2-3 minutes until defrosted.  Once defrosted, place in a sieve and use a spoon to squeeze as much liquid out as possible.  (I had my sieve over a small bowl and used this water in the tomato sauce.)  Mix with ricotta, about 125g of feta, lemon juice, crushed garlic, and black pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Make tomato sauce.  Fry onion in olive oil until soft and translucent.  Add garlic and fry another couple of minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in herbs and then pour in tinned tomatoes and about half the tin of water (including water from the spinach if you set it aside for this sauce).  Add tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Bring to the boil and simmer about 5-10 minutes until sauce slightly thickens.  Puree with a blender.

To assemble: Tip about two thirds of the sauce into a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.  The shells should have cooled by now.  Stuff each shell with a generous dessertspoon of stuffing.  Place on the tomato sauce.  Drizzle remaining tomato sauce over the shells and crumble the last 25g of feta over the sauce.

Bake in a 220 C oven for 20-30 minutes.  (I did 30.)  They will be warmed through and I like my sauce bubbly and thickened.

On the Stereo:
Super Trouper: ABBA

Sunday 22 November 2020

Red velvet cupcakes with eyeballs, and musings!

Every now and then this year, the craziness seems to settle but the calm never lasts long.  Last week Victoria was into its third week of double doughnuts (no cases and no deaths each day) and everyone got used to Biden moving on as Trump refuses to concede the presidency  Then my brother wass finally confident enough to book to come from South Australia to Victoria for Christmas.  Days later, the state of South Australia had its first outbreak of community cases since April.  SA went into lockdown, borders closed but this all eased when it was found that someone had lied to contact tracers!  And we all sighed and wondered if this virus would ever go away.

Meanwhile closer to home over the past few weeks, I have had a mouth ulcer, a tooth extracted in two parts (3/4 one day by the dentist and then the final 1/4 the next day by a specialist), plus my doctor has told me I have low iron and vitamin D.  The only good news was that my good cholesterol had gone up since the last test.  No doubt that is due to my peanut butter comfort food eating during lockdown.  And the cat has had fleas.  Thank goodness it was 34 degrees when I did three loads of washing and changed all the bed linen.  Given that it is warming up, I am very glad that this morning the Victorian Premier has announced that we will no longer have to wear masks outside from midnight today!  There are also more freedom next week about how many people can gather indoors and outdoors.

All of this is not at all relevant to these red velvet cupcakes that Sylvia and I made for the lunch we had to remember the birth and death of our stillborn sons.  Halloween is more relevant but that seems so long ago, given how much has been happening lately.  Sylvia is now into Christmas and has festive decorations all over her bedroom, though I am holding out in the rest of the house.

The recipe was a really good one but it did call for a lot of red food dye.  One tablespoon of red food dye is a big hit of red.  I discussed it with Sylvia who had made a red velvet cake in a mug a few times and she told me to start with half a teaspoon of food due.  As you can see above, that gave a very bright rosy red colour.  I did keep wondering how it would have looked if I had followed the instructions to put in a tablespoon. 

Otherwise, it was a great recipe with lovely domed cupcakes.  The order of mixing in ingredients was unusual but worth following as it resulted in a mixture like mousse and, when baked, a light fluffy crumb that still tasted good a few days later.  In fact it was so good I have considered tweaking it to make other flavoured cupcakes.  I made 12 muffin sized cupcakes and about 10 mini muffins. 

Decorating the cupakes was pretty easy.  We were inspired to try these cupcakes because Sylvia was sent red food gel from Scotland last Christmas.  When we used it, we decided it would be perfect for these cupcakes.  At first it was hard to pipe and then I cut more off the tip off the tube and it came out quite thick.  For some cupcakes I used a toothpick to stretch some of the jags in the jagged lines.  Sylvia also had a Halloween cupcake decorating kit so she did a few with sprinkles and cupcake toppers.

I took this photo of the ghost wearing a mask as well as cupcake eyeballs because lockdown had made it hard to plan the lunch.  My parents usually come to this lunch but were kept out by the "ring of steel" separating Melbourne and regional Victoria.  It was not until about a week before that we knew we could have any visitors.  We had a friend of mine and her daughter who is good friends with Sylvia.  As well as the cupcakes, we did a (mostly) savoury platter of crackers, chips, dip, vegies, berries and cheese.  It was so good to have friends in the house and just sit and chat and nibble and try the sugar free drinks that Kerin brought along.  

Since then I have been a pub, cafes, bookstores, department stores and ridden escalators.  Sylvia has had playdates and sleepovers.  Last weekend we went to my parents' home in Geelong.  I was so excited to go to the beach at Torquay.  So was everyone else, based on the all the traffic.  It was impossible to get a park and finally we parked where another car was just leaving but as it was on the grass we got a parking ticket.  I would be more annoyed if I had seen any other free parking spots.  And I guess the council was catching up on all the fines it hadn't been able to collect in lockdown.  Every first out of lockdown still seems new and exciting, even parking tickets!

More fun cupcakes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Cat cupcakes
Ghost cupcakes with marshmallow frosting
Minion cupcakes 
Owl cupcakes
Shamrock cupcakes
Sloth cupcakes  
Spiderweb cupcakes (v)
We Bare Bear cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Eyeballs
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
Makes 18-24 cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes:

165 millilitres soy milk
3 teaspoon cider vinegar
100 grams soft unsalted butter (I used Nuttalex) margarine)
175 grams caster sugar
1/2 heaped teaspoon postbox-red paste food colouring, or as required
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (sifted)
250 grams plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 170 C and line 2 x 12 cup muffin tins with muffin liners.

Mix milk and vinegar and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale and creamy.  (I did this by hand.)  Mix in food dye to make a bright red mixture.  Add more food dye if required to make it glary.

Add cocoa and then mix in one egg.  Mix in a spoonful of the flour and another egg.  Now mix in the remaining flour with baking powder and bicarb.  The other ingredients will take the glare off the colour of the mixture but it should still be quite reddish.

Spoon mixture into prepared muffin papers.  Bake for 20 minutes or until round and domed and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

Eyeball Decoration:

Cream cheese frosting
Round black liquorice
Green food dye
Red food gel or frosting

When cupcakes are cooled to room temperature, spread with cream cheese frosting.  Cut the liquorice into rounds about 0.5cm thick.  Place a liquorice round in the middle of the cream cheese frosting on a cupcake.  Colour a small amount of cream cheese frosting with green food dye (about 1/2 to 1 cup).  Pipe a thick line (about 0.5cm) green frosting around the black liquorice.  Use a gel icing pen or red frosting to pipe thin jagged lines coming out from the green frosting to the edge of the cupcake to look like veins.  Repeat with other cupcakes.

On the stereo:
Back to Basics: Billy Bragg

Friday 13 November 2020

Aboriginal Street Art in Melbourne (3) for NAIDOC Week

Our Aboriginal communities, like the rest of us, have had an odd year.  With corona virus preying upon vulnerable groups in the population, there was fear that if it got into the Aboriginal community who have a much worse health than their non-Aboriginal counterparts, would take it badly.  The community rallied and made sure the elderly and sick were protected.  Then in AFL football there was the bad news that the Aboriginal flag could not be used in the Indigenous round because the rights had recently passed to a company who seemed to value money over community.  There are moves to change this but nothing is happening quickly.  Lastly NAIDOC week which is a week of celebration by and for Aboriginal communities, was moved from its usual time of July to 8-15 November 2020.

 So today, to celebrate our Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, I bring you some photos of street art I have taken (mainly) around Melbourne.  Above is an Aboriginal "Spoonville" resident.

VACCHO (Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation) in Sackville Street, Collingwood.

A banner that was outside Coburg Library last year.

Paintings at CERES, Brunswick.

This stunning mural is on the side of Charcoal Lane (restaurant celebrating indigenous culture and training Indigenous youth).  You can read more about the mural here.

Details of the Charcoal Lane mural.  Handprints are a traditional way to say "we were here".

More details of the mural - I love the Aboriginal designs on the red flowers.

Hosier Lane in the CBD.

Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) on Bell Street, Preston.

A moment in Aboriginal history on the VAHS building.

Above and Below: Artwork on the wall of Waurn Ponds Leisurelink Aquatic and Recreation Centre (ie the pool and gym).  Not quite Melbourne but worth sharing!

Love the blue - I think this artwork is meant to signify coming together in water!

There might be arguement on copyright of the Aboriginal flag but you wont stop it appearing all over town.  This hand crafted flag was seen by the Upfield Line.

Happy NAIDOC Week!

More posts on Aboriginal people on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Aboriginal flag cake for NAIDOC Week
Aboriignal Street Art in Melbourne (2) for NAIDOC Week

Choc almond slice and Koorioberee 
Porridgies, children's books, racism and recognition
Reconciliation damper, snags and dead horse
Street Art in Melbourne #6 Aboriginal art for Sorry Day
Walnut hedgehog and a museum visit (including Bunjillaka) 

Sunday 8 November 2020

Covid19 lockdown reflections and signs 2.0

Back in June after our first lockdown, I wrote a post reflecting on lockdown called Covid19 lockdown reflections and signs.  Today I bring you some signs from lockdown 2.0.  The first lockdown was shorter, less severe and easier than the second.  I am still feeling burnt out by the second.  But I have taken photos and now that we have had 8 double doughnut days (ie no new diagnoses or deaths) in a row, it is time to share before we all get to Covid Normal or - please noooooo - a third lockdown! 

Little acts of kindness were really appreciated in the second lockdown.  I love this sign above saying "everything will be ok".  Maybe it will and maybe it wont but a little bit of optimism does not go astray in dark times.  Little signs while out walking lifted the spirits.

Another sign that I really liked.  Stop the second wave, 'kay.  If only it was as easy as a road sign!

And one more sign that I found cheering.  (For those who are unfamiliar with our slang "ISO" = isolation.)

Then there were many Spoonvilles among us.  Little gatherings of people crafted from wooden spoons that would pop up on the nature strip.  Craft for us to do at home and share in public!

One of the big differences between lockdowns 1.0 and 2.0 is that in 2.0 we could not go more than 5km from home, we had a curfew of 8pm and masks became mandatory in public.  Signs about masks sprung up on many shops - if they were considered essential enough to open.


As well as signs about masks, there was lots of discussion about the best way to wear masks and why they were effective.


Most people wore masks because there were fines if you didn't.  But a lot of people wore their masks slipped down from their nose or on their chin.  (I saw someone talking about chin diapers and the chindiaperatti recently.)  This is a public transport sign above but use of public transport was way down on pre-pandemic.  Not only were many people working from home but the trust in the safety from Covid on public transport was not great.

Some signs had a sense of humour.  Like this sign at a Barbers.  I love the section that reads "It's OK to be a bit OCD: Before all this started, some might have raised an eyebrow at someone who regularly used hand sanitiser.  Now you'll see us dosing it out like candy at Halloween.  Please accept if offered."  And I also like the last line reminding people if you are unwell, the haircut can wait.  I assume this sign was put up before lockdown as it did not have anything about masks but also because many people could not wait for hairdressers to open after lockdown.  (Me, I could cope with home hair cuts but I was excited when outdoor pools opened after lockdown.)

Yes, it seems that it was a matter of life and death to some people whether or not we could have a haircut!

There was less consensus about lockdown this time.  We weren't all in this together.  It rankled that in Victoria, we were the only Australian state or territory in lockdown.  And then Melbournians had a tougher and longer lockdown than regional Victoria.  There were all sorts of complaints about our premier, Dan Andrews.  There was a royal commission into the hotel quarantine system where the virus had come from in this second wave.  And while we had it tougher than other Aussies, you have to commend him for 120 days straight of press conferences and getting us to a run of double doughnut days!

There were fines for defying lockdown.  Not everyone was happy about that.  Though one of the daily amusements was reading about the silly things people did who were fined.  Like the guy who drove a few hours into country Victoria for a burger!

Quite a few shops were only selling by ordering online and having items posted or "click and collect".  We only did click and collect twice.  Once we rode our bikes and queued at the store, which was fine.  Another time we drove to the store and found it a very frustrating experience trying to work out what was happening.

We didn't need the vet during lockdown but I saw this sign on a local vet practice.

This sign gave me a laugh.  "Keep your distance - where you can".  Social distancing remains an odd thing.  We are still seeing a lot of people on tv sitting far apart in a way that looks unnatural, seeing people bunch up to take selfies now seems odd, and crowds were so forbidden that most of the AFL football season was played interstate including the Grand Final.

I liked this sign in Aldi.  Patience was in short supply and needed in buckets.  (Sounds like the American elections which seem so drawn out this year, especially as we are not getting out and about much yet so there just aren't enough distractions.)

And I will end with one more Spoonville with its hopeful rainbow.  We are still living under many restrictions.  The "ring of steel" around Melbourne still is keeping us out of regional Victoria.  Many borders to other states are closed.  We still must wear masks and can only go 25km from home.  Indoor gatherings at home and in public are still very limited (2 visitors to a home, 20 people in a cafe or pub.)  We are waiting to hear from our Premier tomorrow and hope to have more restrictions lifted.  It is a slow process out of lockdown but one that makes me feel lighter and more hopeful.  I send best wishes to those in other countries who are just going into lockdown and still experiencing high daily tallies of diagnoses and deaths. 

Thursday 5 November 2020

In My Kitchen - November 2020

Wow it is November and the year is still weird as anything.  I'd be excited about almost being at the end of 2020 if I could be convinced next year will settle!  In Melbourne it is the weirdness of being out of lockdown after months, of an AFL grand final in Queensland, and today I had 3/4 of a tooth removed.  (Stay tuned on that story....)  And then there are the USA elections which are feeling just about as odd as we expected.  Wow I got through that without saying unprecedented!

There hasn't been much cooking but I have managed some.  Above is a very pleasing dish of gnocchi cooked in tomato sauce which has fried eggplant in it.  Really good and easy.  Sadly, though I love my cast iron frypan, I am still learning about its maintenance.  I have been washing it in soapy water.  Perhaps this is why it seems a bit dull.  I have oiled it and left it on my stovetop while I think about seasoning it.

was the Farmers Market.  It was too rare but on the above occasion I was delighted with all the good food I took home.  Fat in-season asparagus!  Savoury pastries!  Great sourdough plain bread and fruit bread!  An apple and custard tart!  Cheesecake!  That cheesecake was luckily the last and smallest slice so I paid less but I still found it so rich a couple of mouthfuls at once was enough.

I thought lockdown was a good time to get into kombucha.  Sadly my kombucha experiments are what many people found with sourdough.  A good idea for a couple of batches and then it got ignored. While ignored sourdough starter goes really smelly and grey, ignored kombucha just grows layer upon layer upon layer.  I still have hopes I might get into the rhythm of kombucha one day.

There has been too much comfort food in lockdown.  These Birthday Cake flavoured Gaytime ice creams were a fun idea but the original was better.

When we went to Aldi to browse the middle aisles, I was fascinated by their Gaytime rip off.  The original ice creams are better.  Sometimes I don't know why I have to try all the new variations when I know the original is better.

More comfort food.  I was fascinated by these Asian-spiced Jackfruit parcels at the supermarket. They were much better than I expected.  I think the salty sweet sour flavour combination went well with the jackfruit.  I would buy this again because it is not just the same old vegetarian cheese and spinach sort of flavour combo.  And everything tastes better in fried pastry. 

One of the joys of lockdown was getting out for a bike ride.  Not only did it mean I could explore my neighbourhood streets, but I could do it without wearing a mask.  I have really loved fresh air when riding my bike.  Another joy of lockdown is how quiet the roads have been.  Another joy is when the bike found its way to O'Hea's Bakery.  I was pretty happy with my shopping there: pesto, chocolate covered raspberry jubes, honeycomb chocolate, chocolate covered wafers, alphabet pasta and jumbo pasta shells.  And those sharp white cheddar crisps were the best I have had for ages.

One of the reasons we went to Aldi was because Sylvia is quite smitten with the mini gnocchi.  It is pretty cute.

[Updated] Sylvia got back into the classroom in October after months of remote schooling.  She makes her lunches for school and they look very impressive.  This is a photo she took for me of a school lunch box.  Some summer fruit is making an appearance in our kitchen - mangos and nectarines!  We are waiting for the grapes in the supermarket to come from Australia rather than the USA.

It was pretty exciting to be able to go to Heaven Pizza and be given a choice of whether we ate in or had takeaway.  We had potato pizza, margherita pizza and a delicious rocket salad with parmesan, haloumi, caramelised walnuts and a lovely dressing.

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 and visit more kitchens.

Sunday 1 November 2020

Remembering Alex and Ian 13

It is 13 years since our twin sons Alex and Ian were stillborn.  If they were alive they would have been celebrating their entry into their teens today.  What sort of teenagers would they have been?  I wish I knew.  I do know that their brief time with us changed us as much as lockdown has changed Melbournians.

As I have been doing each anniversary since the stillbirth, today I share some articles about stillbirth that have interested me over the last year.  It seems that each year the media has more and more understanding of stillbirth:

"How Chrissy Teigen sharing this loss of her baby validates the 'silent pain and suffering of so many families'" - ABC, 3 October 2020

"Why Parents Take Remembrance Photos After Pregnancy Loss And Stillbirth", Hufffington Post, 6 October 2020.

"‘Walking into that cemetery holding that tiny coffin’: Women recount the trauma of stillbirth", The Independent, 11 October 2020

"Country music star Amber Lawrence details the 'horrific' pain of losing son Edward who was stillborn halfway through her pregnancy" Daily Mail Australia, 17 August 2020

"Sharp jump in stillbirths during COVID lockdown", NewsWise, 12 August 2020.

"Little life, big loss: Miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death in NZ", Otago Daily Times, 24 May 2020.

"How Hospitals Changed Their Approach to Stillbirth: Grieving patients are encouraged to see and hold their stillborn infants—and in some cases even bring them home." The Atlantic, 12 February 2020

"Going back to work after a pregnancy loss", Harvard Business Review, 5 December 2019.