Tag: cooking

What to do with extra thick cream

My housemate Aoife bought the wrong cream for her cake. She needed whipping cream and had accidentally bought 600 grams of ‘extra thick cream’.

I don’t usually cook with cream of any kind. I wondered if it could somehow be turned into ice cream. So I bought some frozen berries and milk.

It wasn’t until I searched for ‘how to make ice cream’ on the internet did I realise that ice cream is more complicated than I thought. Depending on the recipe, you have to  cook it, whip it, use egg yolks, use milk powder… In the end, my brain couldn’t handle it so I decided to ‘cook with my gut’. (This coming from a girl who feels guilty about varying recipes slightly.)

I put the 600 grams of extra thick cream and the 400 grams of frozen berries into a blender. Then, because I felt like it, I added around 100 mL milk and two tablespoons of sugar.

It blended nicely on the ‘ice cubes’ setting then the ‘milkshake’ setting. On tasting, I found it wasn’t quite sweet enough. So I added two tablespoons of cherry jam.

Blend, blend, blend.

The flavour was perfect. Just like my favourite berry yoghurts but more fatty.

It’s now in the freezer. I stirred it a bit after two hours and found it was getting firm around the edge of the box without going icy.

I am hopeful this will turn out well. The end product may bring to mind frozen yoghurt rather than an ice cream, but maybe that’s because yoghurt is where we usually experience these berry flavours.

Nutritional information (per regular 50 gram scoop): 158kcal, 15g fat, 9.6g saturated fat, 5.3g carbohydrates, 4.5g sugar, 0.9g protein, 14mg sodium

Wow! This is 50% more calorific than normal ice cream.

Improvised berry ice cream
I'm waiting for my improvised berry ice cream to finish in the freezer

Push the button

I started working regularly at another office. After a few visits, I figured out where the microwaves were and decided to bring my usual packed lunch.

The microwaves here were different to those back in my usual office. There was a time when it was obvious how to work a microwave — turn a dial for heat level, turn another dial for time.

New microwaves, though, bristle with buttons and glowing blue displays. With the ones at my usual office, you have to first select the power wattage (I always go for 900) and turn a numberless dial for time.

The ones at this new office were more complicated. They was some kind of microwave/oven combo.

I scratched my head for about 15 seconds, then pushed the blank button in the bottom right corner. The button had once had text on it, but it looked like the text had been rubbed away with use. I figured that it must have been the most popular button so was probably going to do something useful.

Sure enough, 30 seconds of heat appeared on the display and the microwave started whirring. After that, it was simple matter to add another two lots of 30 seconds.

Man Test

Damjan, Joel and I were celebrating Pancake Tuesday. Damjan was at the stove in an apron and after a couple of false starts, was back to his finest pancake-flipping form.

He demonstrated. ‘See? Now that the pan’s warmed up and oiled properly, it’s easy.’

‘How about one-and-a-half flips?’ Joel said.

Damjan raised his eyebrows. ‘ No problem.’ He paused, then flicked the pan a little harder then usual.

Sure enough, the pancake turned gracefully in the air, then another half turn, before landing neatly on the waiting pan.

‘Ha!’ Joel said. ‘Bet you can’t do two-and-a-half flips.’

‘Bet I can,’ Damjan grinned. He knew his tools by now. He paused again, then flicked the pan extra hard.

The pancake flew even higher, crested after two-and-a-half turns, then plopped straight down.

‘AAAAWWW!’ we all cheered.

‘Three-and-a-half!’ Joel urged. ‘Three-and-a-half!!’

‘No way,’ Damjan laughed. ‘Uh-uh.’

‘Come on!’ Joel rejoined. ‘Man Test!’

‘What?’ we said.

‘Man Test!’

Damjan couldn’t refuse a Man Test.

‘Okay, okay…’

‘No!’ I gasped. But it was too late. The Man Test challenge had been made.

Damjan held a look of intense concentration for five seconds. Then he launched a mighty pancake flip… and the pan base flew over his head, along with the pancake, and it all came down with a metallic crash and pancake splatter on the kitchen floor.

Damjan was left shocked, holding just the handle in his right hand.

‘Oops,’ Joel said.

Bake off!

At work, they announced a baking competition. There would be four categories: cakes; biscuits; Christmas; and savoury. Home made baked goodies would be displayed and people would pay for those most enticing. All proceeds to charity, of course.

I am not a competitive person but as soon as I read the announcement email, a fire was lit inside me. BAKE OFF! I must win!

Strategy was important. I quickly decided that I would enter a savoury dish. It would surely be a less crowded category than cakes, biscuits and Christmas.

What to cook?  Damjan, I knew, had a crowd-pleasing recipe. I called him in Melbourne to get tips on baking gibanica.

Gibanica (Cheese Pie, Serbian recipe)

500g  fillo pastry
5  eggs
600mL  cream
~150g  fetta cheese
1  tub of cottage cheese
100-150g  grated cheddar cheese

Mix the eggs, cheeses and cream in a big bowl.  Reserve 4-6 sheets of fillo pastry for the top and bottom layers.  Add the remaining sheets of fillo pastry into the mixture one by one, ensuring that each one is thoroughly covered (wetted) with the mixture.  If your mixture becomes too dry, add some milk and/or water.

You’ll need a large baking tray.  Grease the tray with a little oil or butter.  Place 2-3 sheets of fillo pastry (depending on thickness) on the bottom.  Pour the mixture into the try, on top of the bottom layers of fillo pastry, and spread evently.  Place the remaining 2-3 sheets of fillo pastry on top of the mixture, this is the top layer. Pour and spread a little water over this top layer until it is thoroughly wet — this is very important!  If the top layer of pastry is dry, it will burn in the oven.  Don’t worry if it seems too wet, just make sure every millimetre is wet.

Bake in the oven on high heat (I think this means 190-200 C, I think I always use something around there).  Baking can take up to an hour, but check it regularly to make sure it doesn’t burn.

I made the pie in time for my weekend dinner party guests to try some for entrée. My efforts had not turned out as nicely as Damjan’s pies. The layers were packed too densely and there was distinct pastry taste. Perhaps it was undercooked?

My guests loved it, though. ‘You’re going to win, we know it!’ They were emphatic.

After they left, I put the rest of the pie back in the oven for another 15 minutes. Better safe than sorry.

On the day of judgement, all the closet cooks came out. We were astounded by how many entries there were. Orange cakes, cup cakes, rocky road, Olly’s hangover recovery chocolate slice, mince pies, German cookies, chocolate chip cookies, dark chocolate brownies, white chocolate brownies, truffles, ginger biscuits, Christmas tree cookies… The long bench full of baked goods was beautiful to behold.

In the savoury category, I was up against sausage rolls and steak-and-ale pasties.

In the end, my strategy worked. I was declared the winner of the savouries!

Paul won the Grand Baker of them All. He must have spent all weekend cooking because he arrived on the scene with five dishes, including the most impressive iced cupcakes I have ever seen. A worthy winner!

In the veggie box

I like putting things in boxes and categories. I have mental boxes such as:

  • fruit vs vegetable
  • sweet vs savoury

I feel uncomfortable when things drift between mental boxes. This is why I am considerably concerned about tomato based drinks. To me, drinks are in the ‘sweet’ box, as opposed to soups, which are generally ‘savoury’.

A tomato drink is not hot enough to be a soup and not sweet enough to be a drink, so I find it confusing.

Recently, I had a mental box problem to do with rhubarb. Damjan’s housemate, Niall, went to visit Nick. Nick gave Niall some home-grown rhubarb. Niall re-gifted it to Damjan, as everyone knows that Damjan likes to experiment with cooking the less common veggies.

Damjan and I pored over a number of candidate recipes: rhubarb and orange mousse and rhubarb fool. We finally settled on a monstrous hybrid of both: orange rhubarb fool with ice-cream.

We stewed the rhubarb with brown sugar, adding freshly squeezed orange juice and grated ginger. Then we dollaped it onto vanilla ice cream and served it with fresh ripe and sweet strawberries.

What a dessert! It was very delicious, tart and sweet, soft but textured.

Even as I enjoyed my dessert, I was feeling tense because of a mental box scramble. Rhubarb is a vegetable. I can’t go around eating vegetables for dessert.

The only solution, I have decided, is to reclassify rhubarb into my mental ‘fruit’ box. Such reclassifications are not unprecedented. For my whole life, tomatoes and cucumbers have been happily sitting in the veggie box, despite being fruits.

But this particular mental switch (rhubarb as fruit) has been more difficult than I expected. The problem is that rhubarb looks like celery, and there is nothing more vegetably than celery.

If I keep at it, I am sure I will get around this mental block. I know it is possible because after a short struggle, one of my favourite desserts is now carrot cake. The sheer yumminess of carrot cake has overwhelmed the boundaries of my boxes.

Mini spinach

In making Chinese dumplings recently, I have come across a useful shortcut. I used to chop fresh veggies for the dumpling mix but while I was at the store buying fresh spinach, it suddenly occurred to me that I could use frozen spinach.

Frozen spinach, how fantastic! It’s cheaper and possibly healthier too.

When I got home and cut open the bag of spinach, I was delighted to discover a third benefit. Instead of having a mass of spinach to melt, the spinach was very conveniently shaped into little truncated cones (also called frustrums or frustra). I could pick out only what I needed and store the rest away for later. Isn’t that clever!

Frozen spinach
Frozen spinach


I have been eating ‘spicy eggplant stir fry’ all week. It’s a recipe from bowl food, which my ex-housemate Richard gave me for Christmas.

I had bought all the ingredients on the weekend and was talking to mum on the phone about the recipe.

‘Sounds nice,’ mum said. ‘But if you fry eggplant, it will soak up a lot of oil. It’s not very healthy. Why don’t you bake or steam the eggplant instead?’

Later, Damjan confirmed it. ‘Well, yes, eggplant probably will absorb a lot of oil. That’s what makes it taste nice!’

However, in the interest of health, I decided I would take mum’s advice and steam the eggplant before frying it in the wok. I don’t have a steamer but I do have a rice cooker and a flat bottomed round metal container sized such that it would sit snugly in the rice cooker. The combination is an ideal no mess double steamer.

The experiment was successful, very tasty. You can recreate it yourself.

  • 1.5 tbsp mápó sauce (Sichuan chilli bean sauce, of mápó tofu and ants climbing up trees fame)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 500g eggplant (I used around two medium sized ones), cut into cubes
  • 1 onion, cut into slices
  • 1 red chilli, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander

Mix together mápó sauce, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar.

Steam eggplant until soft (or fry in oil and use paper towels to absorb excess oil).

Then fry the sauce and eggplant together. When finished, mix in the coriander.

The coriander is very good. I think it made the dish taste nice. Serve with rice.

I sent this recipe to my mum and she immediately tried it out. She wrote:

‘Joan, I have just cooked the eggplant stir fry recipe that you gave me. It’s very tasty. For the next party I go to, I will bring this dish. Have a look at this photo. Is it like yours?’

Eggplant stir fry by mum
Eggplant stir fry by mum
Mum, I’m glad you liked the recipe! I cut my eggplant into smaller pieces. I think your eggplant dish is more beautiful because of the dash of fresh green coriander sprinkled on top and it’s in a pretty bowl.

Free range chicken

I am a tender hearted person, really. I blink back tears when reading sad stories, watching advertisements designed to tug at the heartstrings, and go to great lengths to avoid maybe possibly slightly hurting someone’s feelings.

On the phone, my mum was telling me about this show she had been watching. ‘Jamie’s Fowl Dinners‘ had arrived in Australia.

I don’t like watching or hearing about animals suffering on their journeys to become food. You might say that I am wilfully ignorant. But there was no way I could ignore it this time because it was my mum telling me.

She said, ‘Did you know that chickens only grow for 42 days before they’re killed to be eaten? They grow up in cages and there’s not enough room for them to stand up. Because they don’t stand, they never grown bones properly. Their bones can’t even carry their own weight!’

‘EEEE, stop it, waaah!’ Tears were practically flowing down my face as I imagined the poor chickens, too fat and weak to stand up in the crowd.

‘Isn’t that interesting?’ mum marvelled. ‘I never knew!’

‘I wish they could grow chickens without brains,’ I lamented. ‘Just chicken bits that aren’t connected to feelings.’ Perhaps for some people, a chicken-sized brain is small enough to not worry about the chicken’s feelings.

Chicken is my favourite meat but I could no longer plead ignorance. From now on, I will only buy free range chicken. I already buy free range eggs.

Last week, I was proud of myself because to make sauteed chicken breasts with olive and caper sauce, I went straight to the fridge cabinet with the free range chickens. I didn’t even glance at the standard chickens.

I am lucky that I like leg pieces (thigh and drumstick) more than chicken breast. Chicken breast is very, very expensive. The free range variety is around £10 for two pieces. I used to buy chicken around once a month. To manage the extra cost, I will probably continue buying at the same frequency but smaller amounts.

Loitering with cheese

With Damjan back in Melbourne, I have been left to entertain myself on the weekends. There is a little Saturday farmers market near my house, which I had not yet visited during my first nine months of living here. I finally got around to it and was really pleased with all the yummy food stalls.

One of the stalls was selling goat’s cheese. They had around 10 different samples to try. I am a sucker for food samples. I first tried the black pepper goat’s cheese. Then, the chilli goat’s cheese. Then a piece of cheese that looked like chocolate, which turned out to be chocolate, planted there to occupy children while their parents tried the more sophisticated cheese samples.

‘Hmm,’ I murmured. ‘Yum!’ I nodded approvingly.

And then, without realising it, I had gone beyond the ‘acceptable time period one can loiter in front of a food stall without buying something’. So sheepishly (haha), I bought a round of garlic and herb goat’s cheese. I also ended up buying a giant slice of almond orange cake and a round of sourdough.

Although the cheese round wasn’t large, I did not think I could consume it within the two days, as recommended by the stall holder. Luckily, my favourite cook book of 101 one-pot dishes came to the rescue with ‘Chicken with Goat’s Cheese’.

I went to Sainsbury’s to buy chicken, tarragon and vine-ripened tomatoes. I was lucky. Vine-ripened tomatoes were half price.

I was less fortunate with the chicken. A few days before, I had resolved to buy free range chicken only. All my ethical friends did this, and I wanted to be ethical too! Alas, the ‘normal’ battery caged chicken meat was on sale and it was a sixth of the price of the free range meat. I could not bring myself to pay that much extra. It was a lot of money. I felt pained. So I bought the remains of the sad chickens.

(I have since gotten back on the free range chicken bandwagon but that is another story.)

Now that I’ve done ‘Chicken with Goat’s Cheese’, I am now 15% through the 101 recipes.