School holidays are here (in Queensland at least), which means I try to fill up our time with lots of playdates. My aim is to minimise long stretches of time at home and maximise both tiring activities for the children and adult company for me. Both visits to other homes and receiving guests means a need for morning or afternoon tea. Having been in a mothers group for five years (a lovely group of people who are the very best of what other parents can be – non judgmental) I have found there is such a thing as cake overload. However, you still need to cater for the varying states of parenthood:
1. Pregnant. Eating cake is mostly guilt free (making exceptions for those with gestational diabetes, where you just have to say ‘I realise there is hardly anything here you can eat and I am really sorry for that. Have a cracker.’). When you are pregnant these days it is often necessary to feel guilty eating almost anything but cake once you have been handed that listeria pamphlet by your well meaning doctor. Any food prepared by others, especially your healthy choices of salads and sandwiches, are possibly harbouring this horrifying bacteria. And under no circumstances eat chicken, deli meats, soft cheeses or anything else that might allow you an enjoyable life.
2. Breastfeeding. Need cake even more than pregnant. Operating on very little sleep, possibly forgetting meals in the constant fog of calculating times between feeds for the wee one and requiring a larger calorie intake than usual due to having all nutrients sucked out every two to four hours.
3. Trying to lose weight. Once breastfeeding stops that larger calorie intake needs to be curtailed quicksmart or the continued lack of sleep and irregular meals seems to start working against your body and weight gain happens while you are worrying if the house is child proofed enough for the junior Houdini who recently emerged from babyhood. Which means cake playdates can be very hard to do.
4. Maintaining sanity. The rest of the parenting experience. Sleep is either still being caught up or just a new level of deprived. Children’s needs continue to outweigh parents’ needs by everything to none. Cake is appreciated but when playdates are more than once a week it is useful to have another choice.
Which brings us to muffins. Sure, they are cake like. But I find a bit more room to move in the healthier options department. And nutritional value. For example, you can stick either fruit or vegetables in there and children won’t necessarily run from them. Also, because muffins are supposed to be only barely mixed together they are very quick to make.
I have loosely followed a recipe from a blog I googled while looking for a way to make use of an excess of bananas – Cat Can Cook. It seemed to be a fairly robust, simple recipe that could be adjusted easily to fit in whatever you have in the fruit bowl or in the vegetable drawer. Firstly I did banana and sultana muffins.
Peel 3 or 4 bananas and break them into pieces as you put them in the Thermomix bowl. Add half a cup of sugar (I used rapadura sugar for these as I had it and am finding it gives a lovely caramelly flavour to things), a teaspoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of baking powder, a teaspoon of bicarb soda (while you have the teaspoon out), 1 egg, a pinch of salt, 60-70 grams melted butter (or oil – depending on your tastes and what is in your stocks) and 220 grams (or one and a half cups) of plain flour. Mix on Speed 5 for 10 seconds. Check on it, maybe spatula the sides and if need be mix for another 5 seconds. Add a handful or so of sultanas and mix again, but on Reverse this time, for 5 seconds. Decant to muffin tray with patty pans if you can’t be bothered greasing the little indents. Bake in oven on 180 degrees for about 20 minutes. Everyone’s ovens are different so keep an eye on them and don’t do what I did and forget until they are quite brown on top and you can smell them through the house. Or do if that is how you appreciate time.
I have also tried apple and blueberry muffins, where you make an apple sauce first (there is one in the Everyday Cookbook – add some cinnamon if you wish) then follow as above, substituting blueberries for sultanas. Adjust sweetness depending on the fruit by tasting the batter. If it tastes as if you could keep eating it without bothering with the oven you should have it about right.
As for savoury, I have found if you substitute, say, grated zuchinni and/or carrot (blitzed from roughly chopped to itty bitty pieces prior in Thermomix) for the fruit and grated cheese for the sugar the flavour is about right. You may need to add some salt depending on the saltiness of your cheese. Depending on your child’s tastes you could throw in some spring onion during the grating process to add a zing to the flavour.
And there you have your basic muffin. Breakfast substitute for the perpetually foggy minded. Nutrition for the kidlets. Close enough for the cake deprived.
There is a new Thermomix YouTube video featuring WA chef Matt Stone making almond milk and then making a rice pudding with it. I was tempted to make almond milk because it sounded like a challenge and I tasted a lovely version at a Thermomix consultant gluten free cooking class. So away I went.
I ended up following the recipe given by Quirky Cooking for rice and almond milk. I soaked 50g brown rice and 40g whole almonds plus 4 or 5 pitted dates in 1 litre of water overnight then blended them in the Thermomix on Speed 9 for 2 minutes. Add a tablespoon of either flavourless or complementing flavour oil (eg, macadamia, grapeseed, coconut) to give a creamier texture to the milk. Cook for 6 minutes at 60 degrees, Speed 4. Puree on Speed 9 for 1 minute. Let it cool for a bit. Strain into a vessel through muslin if you have some handy, or a nut bag if you are even handier or through a fine sieve if you are me and new to the requirement for fine straining of nut milks. Keep the resulting sludge and either put it in some kind of cake batter if you are baking straight away or dry out in a low oven for a bit to make it less sludgy and more like an almond/rice/date meal to use later. Or you can look at the video mentioned above and do it his way.
Rice pudding I have not had much patience for. My mother was very good at making it, therefore I have a nostalgic hankering for it now and then. Until Thermomix, however, I have only attempted it once or twice before. Like custard it just takes too long on the stovetop and is too fraught with burning opportunities or an unpleasant outcome that makes me want to throw the saucepan in the bin contents and all and storm off to bed. Now I had made almond milk no problems and I really wanted to see if it would taste nice in a rice pudding as Mr Matt so confidently assured us it would.
The recipe given was a bit large for the two of us, so I halved it. I didn’t bother with the poached rhubarb bit, not having any on me and because I was wanting to use that plum sauce again. I found it interesting that the recipe calls for half almond milk, half pure cream. So if you are non dairy I am guessing all almond milk should work okay, just maybe end up with a bit thinner result. I put in 240g almond milk, 240g cream, a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste I made a few weeks ago (you could use half a vanilla bean split and scraped, or even vanilla essence) and cooked for 8 minutes on 90 degrees on Speed 2. I then added 100g arborio rice (as I am unaware of Rainfed rice as specified in the recipe, something I am sure will be corrected next time I see some of my extremely knowledgeable Thermomix colleagues) and cooked 20 minutes at 90 degrees on Reverse, Speed 2. Matt Stone didn’t say to put on Reverse but I was a little scared not to, not wanting to make rice paste for dessert.
On tasting, the rice was cooked but it needed a little more sugar, so I sprinkled some cinnamon sugar in and poured some plum sauce in then mixed on Speed 1 for 5 seconds (again worrying about turning it into a paste). It made a good amount for two. Sploshing some more plum sauce on top made it look prettier and gave it a great flavour. The almond milk didn’t make itself strongly known, but I did notice that after finishing I didn’t feel like I had a brick in my tummy as I did the last time I ate rice pudding. I think I shall make this again.
I meant to make plum jam. I am new to jam. Quince paste worked a treat, so I thought why not try my hand at jam? The school fete is a couple of months away, time to start sending in boxes of the stuff to do my part. There is a plum jam recipe in the Everyday Cookbook, easy peasey. And now I have plum sauce.
Possibly not enough pectin, possibly played a bit fast and loose with the recipe. I found a tip for easy removal of the plum stones by cooking them whole first in the Thermomix. It worked, but then you have to hunt through the resulting mush for plum stones and can only really be sure they are all out if you mix it all up on Speed 3 or 4 and hear the stone knocking around the bowl. I think it might be easier to just cut the plums in half and remove the stones before you start.
Follow the plum jam recipe in the Everyday Cookbook and if it turns into jam or ends up a bit more saucey you can put both to good use. Because of the cloves and cinnamon in the recipe its a nice winter pudding sauce (see next post), but also pairs nicely with duck. And if you don’t like duck? Well, I think Basil Fawlty has an answer for you.
Make some mashed potato and pumpkin in the Thermomix according to the mashed potato recipe in the Everyday Cookbook. Add extra parmesan before mashing for an extra cheesy mash. This was a hit with the children who have previously turned their nose up at mashed potato and any kind of pumpkin. I never know what they are going to love or hate. Sometimes it can be both reactions to the same thing on a different night. They keep me on my toes. Of course I would never be crazy enough to try them with duck for dinner. They are still underwhelmed by any meat that hasn’t been minced or shaped into a different form. So crunchy fish to match their cheesy mash tonight.
Back to the grownups, score the skin of two duck breasts, rub in a good amount of salt and fry skin side down in a hot pan to render and crisp the fat. Season meat side, then, once the skin is a dark golden all over, turn over to sear the meat for 2 minutes. Transfer duck to an oven pan, spoon some plum sauce over the crisp skin and place in a medium oven for 5-10 minutes depending on how pink you like your duck. Once cooked rest the meat in the oven pan for a few minutes outside the oven. Meanwhile add a couple of whole peeled cloves of garlic to the pan with rendered duck fat, perhaps add a little butter to make it all the more French. Throw in some sliced mushrooms. Add some greens halfway through cooking the mushrooms (I did asparagus, wilted spinach would do very nicely also). Spoon the mash on a plate, place the duck breast on top and scatter mushrooms and greens around in a pattern that most pleases you. Prepare to do the yumskidoodle march.
Ooh Aah 1 and cousin QPat’s Ooh Aah admiring how warm the Thermoserver keeps pancakes
While in Sydney there was a request from host niece for buckwheat pancakes for breakfast. Buckwheat has a pronounced savoury flavour, so I found her request refreshing. She has previously been known to be a little particular with food and wary of trying new things. The fact that she prefers buckwheat over regular white flour pancakes as well as a love of lemon tarts (no chocolate or meringue please Aunty!) might just mean she is of a discerning palate rather than just a fussy eater. I have found this with several fussy eaters. It often ends up being a textural or flavour preference as they grow out of the food/control resistance they might put up as toddlers.
Anyhoo, my sister and I set to work to make breakfast for the various children tumbling about in the next room. We were after a more crepey result than the American style fat stodgy pancakes that look more impressive but make you regret eating them halfway through the second one. How anyone eats a stack of them I don’t know.
I toyed with a couple of recipes, the one in the Everyday Cookbook and one on Forum Thermomix. I doubled the latter recipe and added some plain flour to take away a little of the strong buckwheaty flavour. So with a bit more tweaking I came to the following recipe.
First take 100g of your wholegrain buckwheat, grind to a flour as the Thermomix so satisfyingly does for 30 seconds at Speed 9. Now add 100g of plain flour (or if you are preferring a gluten free option, use 100g gluten free cornflour), 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 tablespoon of sugar (or not, especially if you are going to drown them in honey or maple syrup), 2 eggs, 40g oil or butter and 500g milk. Mix for 10 seconds on Speed 5, scrape down sides, fire up crepe pan with a smudge of butter melting in the middle. Or just your regular frying pan if you aren’t Niles from Frasier.
Pour straight from the Thermomix jug into appropriate sized circles on the heated pan and wait for bubbles. When bubbly on top and not too runny flip over for not very much time. Check underside has browned a little then toss into Thermoserver to keep warm. All pancake making means first one is a bit weird, which usually means the chef gets to eat it. This recipe makes around 15 mid sized thin pancakes which was enough to feed our 5 tiny people and a couple of wandering husbands snacking on them while our backs were turned.
Serve with maple syrup, honey, lemon and sugar, blueberries, strawberries, banana, basically whatever is at hand and will get eaten by the little munchkins. You can always get fancy and puree some blueberries and add to the pancake mix. Just add a little more flour to make up for the extra liquid. Blue pancakes are usually received quite well. I did read a recipe that suggested pureed beetroot. I’m sure they tasted lovely but they looked like congealed blood clots in the accompanying photo. Maybe one to save for Halloween.
I visited Sydney over the weekend which reinforced that soup weather feeling. It was COOOOLLLLDDD!! We have been accused of turning into Queenslanders by our Sydney family. Requesting electric blankets for the bed may have encouraged this kind of statist labeling.
A delightful roast chicken on our first night made chicken soup making irresistible. Chicken noodle soup has held a place in my heart since Kirralyn Rayworth gave me a sample of what was in her Mickey Mouse thermos in primary school. So warm on a cold, rainy day in the playground. So flavoursome with the added bonus of slippery soft little strips of noodle. It could have been from a packet mix or a can for all I knew, I just knew it was really good and I wanted a Mickey Mouse thermos.
To the soup making then. Strip the remaining meat off the cold chicken carcass for adding later to the soup. I also cut the carcass in half so it fits into the Thermomix basket. Next throw a peeled, quartered onion and some peeled garlic cloves into the Thermomix bowl. Match amount of garlic cloves to amount of sneezing and coughing in your house. Chop em up for a couple of seconds on Speed 7. Spatula the sides to put it all back in the bottom. Add 20g olive oil then saute for 2 minutes on 100 degrees, Speed 1. Meanwhile roughly chop some carrot, leek, celery, whatever you have looking soup worthy in the vegetable drawer. Put them in the basket with the chicken carcass and a handful of any herbs you have at hand. Perhaps pop in a bay leaf. I have never been convinced that bay leaves contribute anything at all, but they are always in recipes so I figure what the hey. One day I plan to grow some bay leaves so I have them fresh and can really tell what flavour they are. Some whole peppercorns on top. A sprinkling of salt. If you are going for a slightly Asian flavour a hunk of fresh ginger. The Everyday Cookbook often suggests adding Kombu (seaweed) to stocks. I think it adds nutritional value. Probably should look that up. I have never sought it out, but plan to one day. Chuck a small piece of that in if it does live in your pantry. Set temperature at 100 degrees, speed 2 or 3 for 35-45 minutes. Go see what the kids are up to. Or make yourself a beverage. Or catch up on shows taking up space on your TV hard drive. Don’t bother hanging out the washing because if it isn’t currently raining it will be soon.
Once the time is finished what you have is chicken stock. At this stage you gingerly remove the basket with the spatula and dump contents (maybe cool it down in the sink for a bit so it doesn’t melt your garbage bag). Taste the remaining liquid to check for seasoning. If it needs a flavour boost you can always add a tablespoon of vegetable stock concentrate (the one you made when your lovely consultant delivered your Thermomix). To make soup add some thin slices of carrot or mushroom or both, the shredded chicken pieces you reserved earlier and a couple of handfuls of dried noodles to the liquid in the bowl. I picked up some perfect soup noodles from our local butcher who sells an amazing variety of things in quite a small shop. These noodles appear to be German in origin and are just the right texture for soups. Set temperature to 100 degrees and cook for 3-4 minutes on Reverse, Speed Soft. Timing depends on your noodle, so check on these after a couple of minutes to see how much longer they need. The carrot, mushroom and chicken pieces don’t really need cooking, just a little softening and warming through. I like the carrot to retain a little crunch so cook for longer if you want them softer. To add a bit of heat and fresh flavour sprinkle the finished soup with some fresh parsley, chopped spring onion and chopped long red chilli. Match with Tsing Tao beer to take you back to the days you spent taking in an early dinner at Happy Chef in Sydney’s Chinatown on a lazy Sunday evening, before walking all that liquid off on the way back home.