I can’t say that it has been all doom and gloom these past few months spent in “isolation”. We’ve had lots of movie nights and discovered the wonder that is Disney +. We’ve gone for walks in the sunshine and, excitedly, welcomed a furry friend into our household.
There has also been lot of cooking, and baking, with all three girls being all too eager to assist in the kitchen. The only downside being that even my ‘comfy’ jeans are now ‘snug’, and that’s putting it nicely.
But I’m sure things will even out as we start to get back to normal. I hope so, at least. Until then, you will generally find some form of baked good adorning our countertop, making for a nice morning tea treat (and afternoon tea treat, and after-dinner treat…you get the drift)
We created this apricot slice a little while ago, and I must say, it didn’t last long. Even my food sceptical daughter was happy to give it a try – although I think she enjoyed licking the white chocolate bowl more.
It is a no-bake slice, although there was some heating of the butter and sugar involved. Overall, though, it was relatively kid-friendly to pull together.
The apricot layer consisted of biscuits, chopped dried apricots, sweetened condensed milk and butter / sugar. Pressed into a lined pan, and then placed in the fridge for a few hours to firm up.
As for the chocolate layer, well this looks fancy but was really very simple. Just melted white chocolate with drops of orange colouring swirled through for a marbled effect.
I placed the slice back in the fridge overnight, and by the next morning, it was ready to be cut into slices. And to reduce our sugar-consumption (a little bit at least) we shared the slice “love” and delivered some to our neighbours.
I suspect that it is going to be quite some time until our next overseas holiday. In recent years we’ve been to Fiji, and to Japan, and we had hoped to travel to Vietnam this year. But sadly that is looking highly unlikely.
So while we cannot travel to indulge in authentic international dishes, we can attempt a little international fare at home. With that in mind, we created our very own Japanese-themed dinner on the weekend which was rather fun. The girls helped make sushi, and we decorated the table with paper cranes that we learned to make from an origami book.
For main course we made a chicken curry in the slow-cooker, which we served with rice and a cabbage-style salad. To start – we had our homemade sushi (a post for another day) as well as a mini version of one of my favourite Japanese dishes – okonomiyaki!
This version was slightly different to the original in that we added zucchini along with the usual cabbage. Pulled together with egg and flour, and pan-fried to perfection.
We actually made these in advance, so when it was time to serve we reheated them in the oven before topping with okonomiyaki sauce and kewpie mayonnaise. Finished with a sprinkle of coriander (or you can use spring onions) and togarashi seasoning.
These mini versions worked beautifully as a starter – akin to a fritter. In fact, we loved them so much that we made another batch the next day for lunch!
Now where in the world to take the MCP kitchen next??
Place the grated zucchini, onion and a sprinkle of salt in a bowl, and set aside for 20 minutes.
Squeeze as much of the liquid out of the zucchini mix as possible.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the egg and a few tablespoons of cold water to make a batter (not too thick).
Add the cabbage and the zucchini mixture, and stir to combine.
Heat some olive oil in a large frypan. Drop spoonfuls of the batter in and shape into a circle. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes each side, or until golden brown. Remove and place on some paper towel. Repeat until all the batter has been used.
To serve, drizzle the sauce and mayonnaise over the top of the fritters, and sprinke with spring onions and togarashi seasoning.
Life is certainly a little topsy turvy right now. Truthfully, most days, I don’t know whether I am coming or going. We, like many, are navigating all things pandemic as we settle into our new “normal” of working from home and trying to homeschool at the same time.
Yes 2020 has not been all that wonderful for our little family, thus far. First we had the fires, then the dust storms. Then it was the hail storm that saw the end of our beloved car, and some other truly sad events for our family happened not long after.
So yes, topsy turvy is certainly how we are all feeling at the moment. To put it politely.
But in some respects, life – as chaotic and uncertain as it is right now – has also slowed . No more running from activity to activity after school, and no more weekend sport. Just leisurely walks up to daycare each afternoon to collect the littlest one, and family hikes together on the weekend when Miss M inevitably says “mountain?” as soon as she wakes.
We’ve built forts, done puzzles, watched movies and lots of arts and crafts. We’ve eaten our weight in chocolate too (not good), but also caught up on a few things around the house when the motivation strikes (good).
And now that the weather is starting to turn, slow cooking is inevitably going to make an appearance. Filling our tummies with comforting food (that is not chocolate) and making the house smell amazing. Little effort, generally, but offering a tasty reward at the end of the day.
Take this roasted tomato soup, for instance, that we created a little while ago when a craving for soup struck. Fortunately I had an abundance of tomatoes on hand, and could think of nothing better than to roast them low and slow in the oven.
Halved and drizzled with garlic-infused olive oil, and seasoned, then roasted for 40 minutes.
When the tomatoes were done, we simmered them in a mixture of vegetable stock, basil and Italian herbs. Then pureed until smooth, and topped with a little extra basil.
The result? A fragrant soup that was so very rich in flavour. I think a drizzle of cream would have taken it to even greater heights – although we didn’t have any on hand on this particular occasion.
We even had leftovers, which was perfect for a speedy soup the following day. Eaten at home, of course.
The start to 2020 has been…well…not as we had expected it to be.
There were the fires, the loss of the family farm and our camper-trailer, and the lingering smoke haze. Then there was the freak hail storm that left my car looking like a golf ball, caterers that pulled out the day before my husband’s birthday party and a mobile cool room who’s compressor decided to blow – meaning it was more of a “hot box” than a cool room.
But here we are. More than half way through February and things are starting to look up. My car was finally assessed as a ‘write off’ (no surprises there) , and I found a replacement car with low kms that I’m hoping pick up next week. The insurance claim for the camper is also in its final stages, and I’m pleased to report that my husband’s birthday went off without any more hitches and a great time was had by all!
So its’s time to get back in the kitchen and get a little creative. Making dishes that I wouldn’t normally make, and trying some new flavours and ingredients. For it’s no secret that the kitchen has always been my happy place.
When I looked back at my photos, I was reminded of one such afternoon in the kitchen – baking. On the menu were these lovely little mushroom tartlets, that we served as an appetiser when we had guests over for dinner.
Mushrooms, cooked in a creamy sauce that was laden with sherry, and served in crispy puff pastry. They were actually quite simple to prepare, from memory, and were a nice alternative to the cheese plate or charcuterie board that we normally serve as a starter.
I think they’d be lovely for lunch too, served with a green salad. I could probably even sneak them into the kids’ lunchboxes, although I’d probably omit the sherry.
So here’s to a 2020 that is filled more with baking and creating, than dealing with insurance companies!
Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.
Cut puff pastry into 10cm rounds and press into the prepared tin. Prick the bases with a fork. Place some baking paper in each and fill with pastry weights. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove weights and baking paper and continue to bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
To make the filling - heat butter in a large frypan and sauté until golden. Add the sherry and allow to evaporate. Add the cream and lemon juice and simmer until the mixture had reduced slightly. Remove from heat and stir through egg yolks. Season to taste.
Spoon the warm filling into the pastry cases, and bake for a further 5 minutes. Serve.
Having been a child in the 80s/90s, there are so many things that I look back on with fondness.
I remember watching the Goonies or the Never Ending Story when we caught up with our family friends. Having ridden to their house on our bikes – with our stack-hats on, of course, and with our bikes decorated with spokey dokes.
Weekends we’d be up early to watch Rage, watched while we simultaneously ate our breakfast and read the cereal box. After morning sport, my brother and I would ride to the local milk bar to buy a Bubble O’Bill or a packet of skittles (a ruse, I later realised, for it was my Mum’s way of getting us out of the house so she could catch up on housework without children underfoot).
I remember making mixed tapes for long car trips – where the Bangles and Boys 2 Men featured heavily. Countless books were read – the Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew and Choose your own Adventures being my favourites. Our birthday parties were held at McDonalds – with their famous icecream cakes – while “special” family dinners saw us indulge at the all-you-can eat Buffet at Sizzler – where I always made the mistake of filling up on their cheesy toast first.
As for food – I perhaps look back on this era more with nostalgia, than fondness. French onion dip was in strong supply, as was the cabana / cubed cheese combination skewered onto toothpicks and served in an orange. We had Kraft macaroni cheese probably too often, and a Vienetta for dessert was always a welcomed treat.
And then there was the ol’ chocolate ripple cake that my Mum would create on special occasions. Biscuits sandwiched with whipped cream, topped with a crushed up flake or some fresh strawberries.
So perhaps I was feeling a little nostalgic when I decided to create my own version of the ripple cake for last year’s Father’s Day lunch. Jazzed up with cherry liqueur and topped with cherries, strawberries and mint, this version had all the hallmarks of black forest cake with minimal fuss.
I flavoured whipped cream with a little cherry liqueur, along with some cocoa powder. I dipped chocolate ripple biscuits in the liqueur too, before sandwiching them together with the flavoured cream to create a log. I then covered the cake with more cream, and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before decorating.
Maraschino cherries, sliced strawberries and fresh mint completed the cake, along with a drizzle of melted chocolate and some crushed flake. Then it was back into the fridge until it was time to serve.
The cream softened the biscuits beautifully, turning them from crunchy biscuits into a no-bake cake. Resulting in a dessert that was most certainly fuss-free to pull together, but still rather impressive.
And what a delicious trip down memory lane indeed! Now, where’s the cabana….
The trolls movie is continuing to be a big hit in our household. So when I asked Josie what sort of party she would like for her 5th (!!) birthday, well I was not surprised when she immediately requested a Trolls Party. And what a fun theme it was. The smoky days in Canberra in January meant we also had a lot of time indoors to get out the glue gun and craft supplies, and create an abundance of troll-tastic decorations – including singing flowers, troll headbands and our very own Cloud guy!
With the help of Pinterest, we served lots of Troll-inspired food for the occasion. I opted to go with things I could make in advance (mainly because we were celebrating my husband’s birthday and catering for over 80 guests the day before). So there were definitely little ‘cheats’ here and there, but we were so pleased with the final spread. Rainbow jelly, lollies, fairy bread, cookies, fruit, muffins, chips and homemade sausage rolls.
With the help of some store-bought mudcakes and wafers the birthday cake also came together in no time at all. I topped the cake with some green buttercream, icing flowers and a gorgeous rainbow topper that I picked up from Etsy(?). A little Poppy toy sat atop the cake and the birthday girl was so pleased with the final result!
We had around 20 kids at the party – so I was sure to get some help when it came to the entertainment. “Poppy” from Glitterbomb Parties was an amazing host – and spent a few hours playing games and dancing – and even had time for some face painting!
You know I cam never resist putting together some party bags to thank the guests for coming and celebrating with us. The girls loved helping pack the little handbags we found – with a Trolls cup, rainbow seeds and other goodies.
Overall, the birthday girl (and her sisters for that matter!) had a blast – and was one tired little Troll by the end.
But just like in previous years, I’m at a loss to explain just where the last year went!
If you are anything like me, you may have indulged a little too much over the Christmas period. Actually, it was more than just the Christmas period in my case, with celebrations and other festivities kicking off in November and running all the way through to the New Year. The food was abundant, the drinks were flowing and my morning walks, whilst regular, were probably not enough to balance out the indulgence.
So I guess it ought to have been no surprise when my clothes felt a little tighter than usual when I returned to work last week. Slouchy summer shorts and dresses can be far more forgiving than a tailored suit, it seems.
With a view to getting things ‘back into balance’ we tend to keep carbs at dinner time light. We don’t cut them out altogether (I could not think of anything worse!) but we’ll make substitutions where we can. Cauliflower rice instead of regular rice, zucchini noodles instead of pasta…you get the idea.
When I had a craving for potato salad recently (but not wanting to get the ‘carb load’ that comes with my usual version) I decided to try a cauliflower version instead. Still laden with all things that make a potato salad yummy, of course.
I started by steaming some cauliflower florets until they were just tender. While warm, I added them to a mixture of mayonnaise, sour cream, celery, pickles, Dijon mustard and my favourited ingredient, dill. I then covered the salad and placed it in the fridge, allowing the flavours to develop overnight.
And, I must say, I’m rather taken with this lovely little salad. So much so that I’ve made it a few time since. Sometimes omitting the sour cream and replacing it with natural yoghurt, other times adding spring onions, celery salt or a few chopped boiled eggs. It may be low in carbs but its definitely packed with flavour!
In some ways, Christmas feels like it was months ago – a sentiment that is likely shared by many. Not to mention that for some, Christmas was not celebrated all, as people fought for their homes amidst the bushfires raging across the country.
We were one of the lucky ones – who were fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas not once, but twice – first with my in-laws in Canberra, and then with my family in Melbourne. And as the events unfolded on New Years Eve, we were very grateful that we decided to stay in Canberra after we returned from Melbourne, and not head to the coast for our camping trip as planned. Sadly my father in-law’s farm house was lost in the fire at Mogo (he was home in Canberra at the time, thank goodness), as was our camper trailer that was set up alongside. But we are all safe, and insured, and I’m feeling so relieved that our kids didn’t witness the events first hand (as many had to). The whole situation is heartbreaking – I’ve no other words to describe it.
Whilst now somewhat of a distant memory, December was, by all accounts, rather the opposite to our January thus far. For we are currently cooped up inside to avoid, as best we can, the thick smoke that has rolled in outside. A far cry from December, when we were barely home due to a calendar laden with social events – everything from school concerts and daycare parties to work dinners and general catch ups with friends. Work was rather hectic too, so there were not too many moments of downtime. But overall, it was a fun month, and the girls were particularly taken with a surprise guest who arrived just after we put up the Christmas tree!
As I mentioned earlier, we celebrated Christmas not once, but twice. Prompted by my niece’s return from Vietnam, we hosted an early Christmas lunch with my in-laws at our house in mid December. Presents were opened, cocktails were sipped and thanks to everyone “bringing a plate”, a rather indulgent lunch was enjoyed by all – with the effort shared. There was a glazed ham, turkey with homemade stuffing and roast pork with delicious crispy crackling. We contributed duck fat roast potatoes and a few varieties of salad, along with a pavlova wreath for dessert.
On the 20th of December, we headed down the Hume to spend Christmas with my family. The cousins had an absolute blast playing together – loving the fact that they were all staying under one roof. Carols were sung, impromptu kitchen dance parties were held, Christmas cookies were made, cocktails were drunk and a great time was generally had by all. And that was all before the big day!
Waking up together on Christmas Day was extra special, and I loved seeing the kids’ little eyes light up with delight when they came across their presents (and discovered what the reindeer had done to their carrots!). Alll while rocking our matching PJs, of course.
After getting everyone showered and into their finest, we headed to my sister-in-law’s parents for lunch. More presents were opened, champagne was popped, and we indulged in the most delicious Christmas lunch. Prawns, pork, ham, turkey and lots of salad – they had it all! And as an added bonus, we spent the afternoon swimming in their pool, which turns out was the perfect way to work up an appetite for pavlova and trifle for a late dessert.
We headed back to Canberra the day after boxing day, our hearts (and bellies) full and our car jam packed. The weather was hot, and the air a tad smoky, but we certainly had no idea of what was to come a few days later. But beautiful Christmas memories were made nonetheless.
I wish you all a wonderful 2020, from my little family to yours. May it bring peace, happiness and RAIN!!
If you have been following this blog for a while now, it would be quite obvious that I lean towards dishes that are easy and quick to prepare. It wasn’t always that way, however, particularly in the now quite distant “BK (Before Kids) Era” when I most certainly had more time on my hands.
Not that I realised it at the time.
But every now and then I get an itch to try something new in the kitchen. Be it a dish I haven’t made before, or to use an ingredient that I haven’t yet tried. When we decided on a German theme for our (not so) recent Fathers Day Linner, memories of walking the streets of Munich with a soft pretzel in hand came flooding back. Another BK Era experience, but one I knew I had to re-create (the pretzel part, at least ) even knowing that it would require a good amount of time.
I found this recipe – which was perfect inspiration and just what I was hoping to create. I started by making a dough, and after leaving it to prove for an hour, divided the dough into 8 portions. Each portion was then rolled into a log, and twisted into the all too familiar pretzel shape.
After resting for another 30 minutes, I simmered the pretzels in water / brown sugar / bicarb soda, until they had started to puff.
After a quick drain, it was time to bake! Before popping the pretzels into the oven, I brushed the tops with a little egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. After 12 minutes in a hot oven, they had turned a gorgeous golden brown.
As for the roasted garlic and mustard butter, well this was definitely the simplest part. I roasted the unpeeled garlic cloves (drizzled with a little oil and enclosed in foil for 20 minutes. Then, when cool enough to handle, I squeezed the garlic from the skin, and added it to softened butter with a good amount of seeded mustard.
When it was time to serve, it was just a matter of plating the pretzels with a bowl of the butter alongside for our family to help themselves. I was thrilled with the finished product – the pretzels were light and fluffy, and worked beautifully with the garlic mustard butter. They were a nice alternative to the usual bread or bread roll side (and not to mention a fantastic trip down memory lane!)
It’s been a while since I’ve featured a ‘Cocktail Hour’ on My Capital Plate, but that’s not to say we haven’t been enjoying the occasional cocktail when the mood strikes. And, with (hopefully) the warmer weather arriving soon, I can see many occasions on which we get a little creative with our weekend tipple.
We served this cocktail a while back at our Father’s Day Linner. Easy to prepare, and even easier to drink, it was made with a lovely blend of gin, elderflower cordial, lime and prosecco.
Elderflower cordial is one of those ingredients I’ve heard of but never actually used. I was delighted to find out that it added the most beautiful aroma to the cocktail – which in itself was very refreshing – and I’ve now used it on many occasions since mixed simply with soda water.