I made strawberry jam this morning from some of the bargain strawberries I mentioned in my last letter.
The whole process made me feel like a proper Nanna – the sort who smells of vanilla and wears face powder and big knickers and has a brooch pinned to her frock.
I’ll bring a jar of my strawberry jam when we come to see you at Christmas and we can stuff ourselves with it before everyone else wakes up.
It’s likely I won’t have time to write another blog post before then because it’s odds on I’ll either be busy with work and last-minute shopping or too full of booze and food to be of any real use.
Before I go I’d like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very happy and safe Christmas.
It’s been wonderful this past year to get emails from people from all over the world.
I know the Internet has its downsides but you lot certainly aren’t one of them.
May Santa bring you everything you wished for.
This recipe is off the back of the JamSetta packet and can be used for any berry fruits
¼ cup water
4 tbsp lemon juice
1.5kg granulated sugar, warmed
50g packet JamSetta
Preheat the oven to 150C.
Put three saucers or small plates in the freezer for jam-testing later.
Wash drain and hull the strawberries and cut them into halves or quarters if they’re huge.
Put them in a really big pan (I used a pasta pan) with the water and lemon juice and cook gently, uncovered, until the strawberries are soft.
While that’s happening, look at the huge mountain of sugar you’re about to use, think about how it will desecrate the temple that is your body, then put the sugar in a big bowl and warm it in the oven for 6 minutes.
Wash five or six jam jars and their lids in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, drain well and put them on a baking sheet ready to put in the oven.
Don’t touch the inside of the jars and lids when you do this or you may die later.
Add the warmed sugar and JamSetta to the strawberries in the pan and heat gently until dissolved, stirring constantly.
Bring to the boil and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Quite a bit of pink scum (frothy stuff) will rise to the top of the jam while it’s boiling. Remove it with a slotted spoon and dump it in a bowl.
While the jam is boiling, put your tray of jam jars and lids in the oven to complete the sterilisation process.
Test if the jam has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of jam onto one of the cold plates and leaving it for 30 seconds.
It’s ready when you run your finger through it and the jam crinkles.
If this doesn’t happen keep boiling and testing until it does or until you think, ‘I really don’t give a shit anymore,’ which is what happened to me.
Remove the jam from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes.
Ladle it into the hot jars with a ladle that was washed and rinsed along with the jam jars.
Fill the jars right to the top and put the lids on straight away.
You’ll probably have a little bit of jam left in the bottom of the pan that won’t fit into your jars.
Eat it all with a spoon.
Lie down and wish you hadn’t.
I was going to talk to you today about making strawberry jam but I haven’t made it yet so I can’t.
There are five kilos of strawberries in that box in the picture.
Your Great Uncle Gerard was down for a visit last week and asked us if we’d like him to go out to the local strawberry farm and buy them.
What possessed me to say “yes” is anybody’s guess. I must’ve been on drugs without knowing it.
The main reason is that they were only $10 (yes, $10 for 5 kilos) and who could go past a bargain like that, EVEN THOUGH I WASN’T PAYING FOR THEM?
Not your Nanna, that’s for sure (my Mum, aka your Great Grandma, reckons this is because once you’ve been hit with the Kmart stick, it’s a lifelong thing – cheap, cheap, cheap all the way).
These strawberries are seconds. If you look closely you’ll see that some of them have been pre-nibbled by lizards and bugs, others are covered in dirt, and a few (surprisingly few, actually) are turning into alien life forms.
It only took me about 12 hours to wash them, hull them and chop out the dodgy bits.
Then I had to go to Woolies and buy some JamSetta and the equivalent of Alec Baldwin’s body weight in sugar.
The idea is that I will chuck everything into a big saucepan, boil the shit out of it and end up with jars of jam that people will exclaim over at Christmas even though what they really want is a giant Toblerone.
Speaking of Christmas, here are some pictures of our fibre-optic tree, which I love with every fibre of my being.
Your Grandpa and I sit in front of its twinkly-ness every night, grateful that we no longer have to pretend we prefer the real thing and won’t still be vacuuming up pine needles on Australia Day.
The following pictures are of my spice drawers, which I bought at Ikea years ago and painted with some red paving paint I found in the shed at our old house.
The names are written on the front with white coloured pencil, which is easy to wash off if you want to re-arrange your drawers (so to speak).
We love eating spicy food, your Grandpa and I, and this is a good way to store spices because it keeps them in the dark.
“Where are you going with this, Nanna?” you are probably asking right now.
Well, I’m trying to segue into a recipe for Satay Pork, which is what we had for dinner last night.
This is one of our favourite meals – perfectly spiced and great to eat with fried rice.
It also freezes and reheats really well.
It’s from a book I got off eBay called Best-kept Secrets of the Women’s Institute: Home Cooking, by Jill Brand and Carrie O’Regan.
I don’t have a picture of the finished dish because it’s one of those brown jobbies that doesn’t photograph well.
Here’s a picture of the spices instead.
700g pork fillet
1-2 tbsp oil for frying
For the marinade:
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
For the peanut sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup (60 ml) smooth peanut butter
½ – 1 tsp chilli powder (depending how hot you like it – I like ½ tsp)
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl.
Remove the silvery bits from the pork fillet and slice the meat across the grain into 1cm slices.
Put the pork into the bowl with the marinade and mix well.
Cover with Gladwrap and marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours.
To make the sauce, heat the oil in a small saucepan over low-ish heat then gently cook the onion and garlic until soft and lightly coloured.
Add the peanut butter, chilli powder, brown sugar and lemon juice and cook for two minutes.
The sauce can be made ahead of time if you like. Keep it, covered, in the fridge.
To make the satay, heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok over high heat.
Fry the pork until cooked through (you’ll have to do this in two batches, removing the first batch to a bowl).
Return all pork to the wok, stir in the peanut sauce and heat through for a couple of minutes.
Serve with rice.
Here in the town that time forgot we’ve been partying like it was 1989 except without Roxette and the B-52s.
Last Saturday night we went to the annual Christmas pageant and it was brilliant – 6,000 people lining the main street, 27 floats, lots of stuff happening, including my friend Kerry nearly having her eye taken out by a lollipop that was thrown into the crowd by a passing elf.
Nanna was standing next to a bogan gentleman who was holding the ugliest baby she’s seen in a long time.
It made her realise how lucky she is to have the model of beauty and perfection that is you.
Your Grandpa was the official photographer for the night so we didn’t see much of him.
Here’s a (very bad) picture of him that I took with my phone.
He’s photographing two of the girls from the winning float who were wearing amazing costumes made from dozens of balloons.
It’s hard to believe that Christmas is just a couple of weeks away.
I’ve been looking through all my Christmas cookbooks wondering how I can channel Elvis this year but nothing’s really jumped out and smacked me in the face yet.
Speaking of Elvis, this is one of my favourite pictures in Brenda Arlene Butler’s cookbook “Are You Hungry Tonight?”.
It’s alongside the recipe for his famous Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich. You’ll notice that the girl is wearing a banana costume. Spooky or what?
In Christmases past I’ve always managed to come up with something suitably kitsch and tacky on the food front.
One year it was an incredibly complicated Nigella recipe that came about because I thought, “Should I find a cure for cancer or should I make Nigella’s Christmas Puddini Bonbons?”
It’s interesting to note that the Women’s Weekly came up with the idea for these bonbons first and simply called them Little Chocolate Christmas Puddings.
You’ll find the Women’s Weekly recipe here and Nigella’s recipe here.
Be warned: the cutting-up of the glace cherries for the “holly” decoration takes FOREVER.
Another warning: for us, Nigella’s version turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. They were so rich we all ended up with diarrhoea.
What I will probably do this year is re-visit the Rudolph Cupcakes that I made for the first Christmas we had in Albany in 2007.
I got the recipe from The West Australian’s food lift-out. I think it was by Tracey Cotterell.
Bake 12 chocolate cupcakes in a 12-hole muffin tin, using your favourite recipe or a packet mix.
Let them cool completely before decorating.
150g unsalted butter
120g sifted icing sugar
30g good-quality cocoa powder
Beat all ingredients together for 6-8 minutes until light and fluffy.
Spread the icing over the tops of the cupcakes.
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
24 white chocolate buttons
12 red glace cherries
I won’t lie – this isn’t a walk in the park.
You’ll end up with melted chocolate from arsehole to breakfast, but the end result is worth it because even really miserable people smile when they see these cupcakes and everyone tells you what a clever person you are.
First, line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper, then snip one of the corners off a clean and sturdy plastic bag to make a piping bag.
You only want a very small hole in the piping bag, so snip carefully.
Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave or in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.
Pour the melted chocolate into the piping bag until it’s half full.
Refill the bag as needed but don’t fill more than halfway or it will squirt out backwards up your arm (this is how I found out that you really can’t lick your elbows).
Pipe 24 three-pronged antler shapes onto the baking paper.
Like mine, yours may look more like stubby little trees than antlers, but after the 10th one you’ll stop caring.
Put the trays in the fridge so the chocolate antlers set.
You’ll really want to have a beer and a lie down after this but you can’t because your melted chocolate will go hard.
What you have to do next is grab a wooden satay stick or toothpick and dip it in the melted chocolate so you can put dark chocolate dots in the middle of the white chocolate buttons.
These are the eyes and they have to go in the fridge to set too.
To assemble the 12 Rudolphs, put the glace cherries just off-centre on each cupcake then stick on the eyes and antlers.
Store the cakes in the fridge until they’re eaten, which will happen in two minutes flat.
PS: there are two things in life your Mum really hates – the B-52s song Love Shack and the word “moist”. Your Uncle Paul torments her with both of them regularly. One day I will explain.
Sometimes real life – as in, work – gets in the way of blogging, which is a bugger because I’d be quite happy to sit here all day, every day, writing nonsense and posting recipes.
Work has gone ballistic in the last couple of weeks, which is why I haven’t had the time to sit here and write things like, “I was stunned by the woody freshness of the avocado” or, “This method of cooking steak was taught to me by my French friend Nathalie” or, “With a little care, a simple snack can make a delectable mini-feast”.
Luckily for me, all this stuff has already been written by Carina Cooper, who is the author of the Notting Hill Cookbook.
Since buying this cookbook I’ve been asking myself do I dislike Carina because she’s a wanker?
Or do I like dislike her because she’s thin, blonde, good-looking, lives in one of the most desirable suburbs on Earth, has directed documentaries for the BBC and appears to be filthy rich?
The answer is yes to all of the above.
To add insult to injury, Carina has an “inspiring husband” called Franc and four daughters called Ithaka, Flynn, Sidonie and Zazou.
Here is more of what Carina has written in her Notting Hill Cookbook.
“From the age of about four my children cooked their own supper on a Sunday evening. Oeuf en cocotte was Flynn’s favourite.”
And, in the introduction to a recipe for Prawns Margarita: “We were sitting on a beach in Mexico with our friends Goffredo and Alix.”
As someone who would only be able to write, “From the age of 10, my children were able to microwave their own baked beans,” and “We were sitting on a beach in Safety Bay with Ron and Maureen,” I’ll make no bones about the fact that I dislike Carina with every fibre of my being.
So the question is, why did I buy her cookbook?
Well, because it was $2, hardback, hardly a mark on it, at the Salvos Community Store in Chester Pass Rd.
Your Uncle Paul is on leave at the moment and came down for a visit, and because we’re both book fiends we did the usual trawling of the op shops.
Here’s the big tip: Notting Hill may have fabulous bars, flower shops, cafes, restaurants, delis, bakeries, fishmongers, butchers and markets, but Albany has the best-value second-hand shops in the Universe.
The Salvos! My God, you haven’t lived until you’ve trawled through their bookshelves.
And unlike the Red Cross shop, which has gone all upmarket retro and is selling books for upwards of $4 (the cheek!), the Salvos are sticking to two bucks a pop, no matter what the original price.
Here’s what I bought for $8 on Friday.
You’ll see that the book by Masterchef Australia judges Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris was originally $49.95.
And it was one of two that was on the shelf (the other one is probably still there, so if you live in Albany you should stop reading this right now and get on your bike).
I was going to give you a Carina Cooper recipe because, despite the pretensions and gag factor of the book, some of the recipes don’t look half bad.
But I haven’t cooked anything from the book yet so I’m going instead with something from The Best, the TV series that was on Foxtel ages ago.
There are some great recipes in the book that accompanied the series, so grab it if you see it in an op shop near you. It’ll be the best $2 you’ve ever spent.
I made this Oriental Noodle Salad because I’d bought some sesame seeds for a prawn recipe that failed miserably and needed to use them up.
It’s very different, light and healthy and good to eat on a hot day.
ORIENTAL NOODLE SALAD (recipe by Silvana Franco)
100g rice vermicelli noodles
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp caster sugar
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 Lebanese cucumber
1 red chilli, finely chopped
100g smoked salmon, torn into shreds
handful fresh coriander leaves
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Soak the noodles for about five minutes in boiling water to cover.
While they’re soaking, grab a big bowl and mix together the vinegar, salt and sugar.
Add the sliced red onion and mix to combine.
Peel the cucumber, halve it lengthways, scoop out the seeds with a spoon and chuck them out.
Slice the cumber thinly and put it in the bowl with the chopped chilli, smoked salmon and coriander, stirring to combine.
Drain the noodles in a colander and run them under cold water until cool.
Put them in the bowl and toss everything together.
Toast the sesame seeds in a small non-stick frying pan and sprinkle them over the top of the salad before serving.