Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cross Stitched Christmas Stocking by Jeanette

Remember Jeanette who made the crocheted chook egg cosy earlier this year? Well look what arrived in the mail yesterday! My cover is blown, you now know my name is not CheeKeeLee!

I was browsing at Spotlight in October and when I saw a Christmas stocking cross stitch kit, I instantly thought of Jeanette. Of course October is not too early for a Christmas present so I sent it to Jeanette straight away. I know she has made several stockings for her great grandchildren and I anticipate that there are always more to come so one can never have too many stocking kits.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the envelope! I was utterly overwhelmed and touched by Jeanette's  generosity, having devoted so many hours making this for me and just in time for Christmas.  I said to Jeanette that I was adopting her as my Granny!

Just look at the fine stitches and colours! I would have struggled with the Christmas tree and dress, but Jeanette did such a amazing job, it's absolutely beautiful.

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Here is a photo of her letter to me ~ just look at the amazing things Jeanette has created! She has made patchwork quilts for the Addis Ababa Fistular Hospital in Ethiopia, as well as gifts for friend, family and fellow members of her village. Such love and generosity in spirit, thank you Jeanette, you are truly an amazing lady! It's an absolutely privilege to know you.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cheats Dry Mee Siam

I think it's funny (to me anyway) that we often use short cuts to create Asian dishes, but usually make things from scratch for Western recipes we like to try ~ unless it calls from pastry in which case we head to the frozen aisle of the local supermarket (seriously, who has time to make pastry from scratch?!)

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We've been craving more "Mee Siam" ever since I bought some takeaway for lunch from Madam Kwong's Kitchen a couple of weeks ago. Mee Siam ("Siamese noodles") is a tangy/spicy flavoured noodle dish. I prefer the dry version but there is a version with a thick gravy. This cheats version of dry Mee Siam can be made in minutes!

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Halve some hard boil eggs and let it cool - we had the eggs under our retro style green mesh food saver
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Defrost the Mee Siam paste which is made of ground onions, chilli, dried shrimps, shrimp paste and seasoning. The shrimps make it a bit pungent but once cooked it has a mild flavour
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Let's begin! Add a little oil to the work and stir fry some shelled, devein prawns
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Toss in match stick sized Chinese chives, and add the Mee Siam paste
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Toss in rice vermicelli noodles and bean shoots and mix until the noodles are covered in the sauce.
To cut the spiciness, add a squeeze of lemon (lime if you have it) and serve with the hard boil eggs. It is also common to add fried firm tofu and fried shallots which we didn't have on hand. It was nevertheless tasty and authentic, and I had two servings!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rainbow Granny Stripe Crochet Blanket

I can't stay away from crochet for long, and I was eager to start a new blanket even before I finished the Murano blanket towards the end of May. Having made six crochet blankets in the past two years, I thought it was time to make a striped design rather than squares. I've long admired Lucy of Attic24 and am in awe of the colours she uses and her generosity of sharing patterns, so I wanted to try making a granny stripe blanket too. Spotlight was having a sale (A$1.99 for 100g ball) on Thorobred acrylics so I bought 10 balls to practice on before I use the beautiful Stylecraft Special DK yarn I bought from Deramores earlier this year.

I chained 240 and had real trouble crocheting the first row as my stitches are quite tight (I'm a rather intense crocheter!). I ended up using a 5cm hook to make the foundation chain, and then used a 4cm hook to crochet the rest of the blanket. Yeah, problem solved! I'm not sure whether I followed Lucy's pattern correctly (probably not), but after I made the chain of 240, I chained 3, * skipped 2 stitches, worked 3 trebles into one stitch and chained 1 and then repeated from *. Thankfully I did start with 240 chain stitches, but the first row looked weird and curled. Despite this, I continued to crochet, changing colour after the third row, and it started to look alright (to me anyway since I can only crochet 2 kinds of stitches). I figured it curled because the foundation chain was too tight, and I solved this by spraying the area with water and having a little stretch and iron, and voila - the blanket is now even!

Yep, I wear pink polka dot slippers!
Do you know what the best thing about making a striped blanket? Minimal ends to sew! I see many granny stripe crochet blankets in the future, and considering buying another lot of Murano yarn as the colour variation would be gorgeous. I crocheted three rounds for the border using navy blue yarn, and the blanket measures 100cm x 140cm. OK, next crochet project...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Creamy Mashed Potatoes using Prep Masha

Back in the 1980s, our take away food of choice was a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (yes I was around during the pre "KFC" days) with a side of coleslaw or bean salad and the obligatory tub of potato and gravy. Being Chinese, we always ate this meal accompanied with rice, so I never felt like a typical Aussie kid. My favourite was the potato and gravy (bliss!), and this Prep Masha electric masher makes perfectly creamy mashed potatoes from actually potatoes (not like the KFC version which is supposedly made of potato flakes).

Just look at how creamy the mash potatoes turn out! It's just plain boiled potatoes, whizzed up in less than a minute with no added milk or butter. We seem to fear carbs these days, but to quote Mr Collins from the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice "And what excellent boiled potatoes. It's been many years since I had such an exemplary vegetable" just says it all. Just embrace the potato goodness.

Oh, and yes... we still eat mashed potato with rice! With the Aussie love of fusion cuisine, I'm waiting for steamed jasmine rice with potato and gravy to appear on the degustation menu of three hatted restaurants in Melbourne. Gee, can recipes be patented?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Guilt of Unfinished Patchwork Quilts

I've recently started sewing a new patchwork quilt...even though I have several unfinished quilts, but the lure of playing with new fabrics and designs are just too great, hence a cupboard full of UFOs (sigh, first world problem). I've given myself a year to finish my current project as it is for my friend C's milestone birthday next year (yep, ahem her 21st?), and since I've already told her about it (so I can't procrastinate), I've been diligently working on it. Here is a sneak peak:

So I have taken the following photos to make myself even guiltier about unfinished projects, and perhaps if I look at them long enough, it might inspire me to complete them...or not!

I don't think I'll ever finish this blue and yellow quilt ~ it was awfully ambitious for a first patchwork but I fell in love with the pattern and didn't even think about the l-o-n-g process of sewing all the pieces by hand (agh, the naivety of youth). All those curves, what was I thinking? I suppose I could quilt it as is, but it would have to be for an extremely thin person!

This pink quilt is made of eight different kinds of quilters quarters I bought from Lincraft when I was at uni. Because of the simple design, I had plans of hand quilting a lotus pattern in each block. I love the look and feel of hand quilting, but one lotus takes quite a few hours to complete! It's not like I can machine quilt the rest of the quilt! Fifteen full blocks to go...yeah! Oh I know, thick polyester wadding! It was what I could afford during my student days, no organic bamboo wadding then.

Oh the Grandmother's Garden quilt which I started in February 2004, I had great enthusiasm for it last year but lost interest (again). I 've only completed the sixth row of ten "flowers", and I had plans for ten rows. I've finished the "flowers", it's just the boring cream hexagons which I'm not excited about. 

With the blue quilt below, I managed to make three quilts from seven lots of half-metre fabrics so this is the third incomplete piece. It's perfect for one person to snuggle on the couch in front of the TV, and I already have a recipient in mind so I have to start thinking about machine quilting. Ah, maybe for Christmas 2014?

What's with the hand sewing? I know, another ambitious piece which were hand appliqued before I discovered pellon and freezer paper. As you can see, I started hand quilting, but I think I should have left larger gaps between the rows. Shall I unpick the quilting and machine quilt instead? I love colours and just day dream about finishing it one day.

I started the snowball quilt in mid 2011 and finished it during the summer of 2012 using three lots of Moda Buttercup charm packs. With more sewing experience, the pieces fitted together so I'm rather proud of this quilt top. So much so, it deserves two photos!

The boarder did cause some frustrations, but I've learned to just leave it and return to the project with a clear head.

So a big sigh with my loss of enthusiasm with these quilts, I hope dear reader that you can boast about how you finish all your projects.

Quilts I have finished ~ the pink is the very first I made for my Mum, the blue Ohio Stars for my Dad and the half triangles for me!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bendigo Woollen Mills' Murano Yarn Crochet Blanket

Back in March, I was super excited to discover Bendigo Woollen Mills' new Murano range. It's an 8 ply, 100% pure wool, single twisted yarn with a slight thick/thin texture and the colours are just scrumptious! I bought six balls of CK21 (the colour was labeled as "2" on the tag) to make a crochet blanket for our friend Janice. Since her birthday is in August, and it takes me an average of six months to complete a blanket, I started working on it straight away.

Using a metallic red 5.5mm crochet hook (part of a set that our neighbour Richard Gilbert gave me ~ "Gilbert" as we called him passed away last year), I crocheted nine rounds of treble stitches following Meet Me at Mike's tutorial. From six 200g ball of yarn, I was able to make thirty squares measuring approximately 19cm x 19cm each. Like the other blankets I've made, the squares were crocheted together, and there was enough yarn left over to make a border of four rounds. The finished blanket measures approximately 100cm x 118cm.

Murano is a lovely yarn to work with, so lovely that I finished this blanket in just three months! Before I'm inundated with requests because I appear to be speed crocheter (I do have a day job!), I'm sure this is just a fluke. Lisa Gentry holds the title of Guinness World Record for Fastest Crocheter (June 2005) as she can crochet 284 shells (3 treble crochet in each shell) plus one treble crochet (a total of 5,113 in total) in 30 minutes. That's equivalent to 170 stitches per minute!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Delia Smith's Madeira Cake

I stayed in doors on Saturday because it was so cold! We had the warmest July day at 23*C which was 10 degrees above the July average last Thursday, but Melbourne was back to its usual weather over the weekend with a top of 11*C! I stayed home and crocheted ~ a sneak peak at my rainbow granny stripe blanket below, and made a Madeira Cake from Delia Smith's Cake cookbook.

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It was a pretty average cake, and I much preferred the passionfruit Madeira cake I made last year. I'm rather dubious of recipes which mixes everything into a bowl, it somehow lacks the refinement of a cake that you have to cream the butter and sugar, adding eggs one at a time, and gently folding in the flour. For the time poor home baker, this cake was really quick and easy to make. Perhaps a nice frosting could have made this cake more interesting.

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I've never baked a cake with so many holes inside, but according to Betty Crocker, this is caused by a number reasons such as not enough liquids, the batter being over beaten, the cake not being baked in the middle rack, the oven being too hot or the cake being baked too long. I'm not sure what happened as I followed the recipe to the T, but the cake was nevertheless eaten despite the holes.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

The Great Australian Bake Off: Satay Pork Sausage Rolls

So here I am, just buying more cook books, and merely looking at the pictures! These are books I bought in June and I've tried ONE recipe! The first world problem I have is that I have too many recipes to choose from and I simply can't decide... sigh!

The Great Australian Bake Off television series started last week, I'm not sure if I'll continue watching the series (because it makes me drool), but the recipes featured in the book appear easy to follow and food I would eat. I'm generally not a fan of reality cooking series ~ it's great that it has inspired people to cook, but the sheer nastiness of some contestants (like those from My Kitchen Rules) are truly vulgar. I know these programs are heavily edited to portray contestants in the least favourable light to garner higher audience ratings, but there is enough negativity and meanness in the world. Such programs should showcase people's cooking talents and creativity rather than insults, mocking and tantrums. I know it's a competition, but couldn't people handle themselves with grace?

Anyway... a recipe that caught my eye from the Bake Off book was the satay pork sausage rolls. I love how creative Aussie cooks are ~ the humble sausage roll with Asian flavours! It contains sambal oeleck which I was going to make from scratch...but it was easier to buy from the supermarket (thank you Yeo's). I've been picturing myself making sambal by hand ~ I even bought a Balinese stone mortar and pestle from Oxfam...which I haven't used yet, but doesn't it make a great looking container for onions and shallots?

I used frozen shortcrust pastry (I know, it's cheating), and put one tablespoon (rather than two as specified in the recipe) of sambal oeleck as Mum thought it would be too spicy for Dad. I would recommend putting the full amount and even some fresh coriander. I couldn't taste the peanut butter, but I find that the Macro organic products to be over priced and bland.

The sausage rolls turned out pretty good and it was very easy and quick to make. Because they are bite sized, I must have eaten at least half a dozen (well, that's when I stopped counting)!

Note to self: remember to season with salt and pepper next time... agh, I always forget to do this!

The garden looks pretty ordinary in winter, but bees were just buzzing around our yellow flower succulents.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Kumquat Jam

My Mum had noticed a house with a huge kumquat tree in the front yard, so she knocked on the door and asked to buy some (if I was a teenager I would be like OMG, how embarrassing. Actually, it's embarrassing at any age)! The lady of the house said Mum was most welcome to the kumquats without charge, so Mum happily plucked four kilograms! She gave a kilogram to our Japanese neighbour who eats it fresh, and saved the rest to make jam.

The kumquats need to be washed and soaked for at least 24 hours.The fun part (not) is removing the pips so Mum and I did just that a few weekend ago. Save the pips, wrap them in muslin and cook it with the jam.

It is essential that you make your jam in a clean pot (our pot is for making jam only). The daughter of one of Mum's friend said their home made jam tasted "Chinese", so it's probably best not to use the same pot as the one you've cooked your five spiced stewed pork in. As with making meringues which requires a clean mixing bowl, cut half a lemon and rub all over the inside of your pot for a thorough clean.

Cook 1 kilogram of kumquat with 1 kilogram of sugar and 3 cups of water. The amount of water is the tricky part because we had initially made the jam with 5 cups of water, and since the kumquat was very juicy, the  result was very runny jam. If your jam turns out watery, don't trow it out, it's great eaten with plain yoghurt.

Cook the jam under low flame, and patiently stir until it thickens. Pour the jam into steralised jars (wash the bottles and the lids and pop them into the oven for about 15 minutes) ~ the rule of thumb is cold jam into cold jars, and hot jam into hot jars (we always do the hot jar method). Screw on the lid, tip the bottle upside down to cool which creates a vacuum seal. I printed out some labels, and topped the lids with paper doilies tied with red and white bakers twine. Mum dropped off a couple of bottles of the jam to the kumquat tree owner last week.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Lemon Tree Project

Meet my new Lisbon lemon tree! One of the members of my film group told us about The Lemon Tree Project, so we headed to City Square to adopt a lemon tree last weekend.

The tree is suppose to be planted in a communal area, and the fruit shared with the community. It's a great initiative, but I just checked my council website and there are strict rules in relation to plantings on public land (not so "public" after all) and fruit trees are definitely not allowed on nature strips. How about I plant my tree in a big pot, and I share the lemons with friends? That's close enough to the specification right? I'm being rather optimistic about my fruit growing skills so fingers crossed!

Taking about things nature, check out the pair of Rainbow Lorikeets that came for a meal recently. After they devoured the seeds, one of them flew near the kitchen window where Mum was, and chirped ~ probably to tell her to buy more seeds!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Delia Smith's Old Fashioned Cherry Cake

May has been a busy cookbook buying month, so Mum picked the first recipe she would like to try. She made Delia Smith's Old Fashioned Cherry Cake early last week, and it was an unfortunate flop! Mum blamed everything from the recipe, ingredients, KitchenAid, oven ... but I deduced that it was probably using the wrong attachment on the mixer. When creaming butter and sugar for cakes, the wire whisk attachment should always be used, not the flat paddle! To prove my point, I made this cake on Saturday and it turned out beautifully! I know, it's ungracious to gloat...

I've always loved cherries (you will note my cross stitched table runner) ~ fresh and glace, and when I was a child "helping" Mum cut up cherries to decorate biscuits, I probably ate half of what I was cutting! I have more restraint these days as it is much more satisfying to eat the cake with chunks of juicy cherries! YUM!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Red Rooster Cross Stitch

I love rummaging discount bins because I love being giddy with anticipation of finding a bargain. A few months ago, my local Spotlight discounted red tea towels with Aida cross stitch cross stitch panels. If you've read my previous posts you will be familiar with my tea towel obsession so I was jumping out of my skin with this find! They were reduced to A$5 but when I got to the register they were further reduced to A$3! I bought all six tea towels that were on sale... of course, who wouldn't?...ok perhaps I was a tad greedy, but you must agree it was a excellent bargain!

It's a good thing I like red huh? I love redwork and have a dozen skeins of DMC 666 (isn't it cheeky of DMC?) in my stash because it's a really popular colour. I remember a few years ago there was a DMC 666 shortage (sigh, a first world problem) and I went to half a dozen haberdashery stores before Christmas looking for it (it is such a vibrant red so it's perfect for holiday crafts).

The rooster (haha, "Red Rooster") pattern is from Traditionell by Rico Design, and since I have five more tea towels, the only issue I have is deciding what to cross stitch next!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Women's Weekly Apricot Pastries

Mum and I tried this recipe on Easter Monday from The Australian Women's Weekly Baking Puffs and Pastries cookbook which didn't turn out looking like it was suppose to!

For the base, you need 2 sheets of butter puff pastry which I managed to cut 20 rather than 18 rounds measuring 7cm in diametre. Using a 5cm cutter, mark a ring on each pastry round without cutting it all the way through. Drain a 1kg can of apricot halves in natural juice and set aside.

I love creme patissiere and can eat it on its own! In a small saucepan, heat 2/3 cup of milk, 1/4 cup castor sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. In a heat proof bowl, whisk 1 tablespoon of cornflour and 2 egg yolks, and slowly add the milk mixture. Return the mixture to the saucepan and whisk until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 2 hours, and resist the temptation to eat it!

Drop 1 teaspoon of creme patissiere in the pastry centre caption
Top with apricot and brush with lightly beaten egg

In a 180*C oven, bake the pastries for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Glaze with 1.5 tablespoons of warmed apricot jam (ours are home made). I was a little disappointed that my pastries didn't look like the picture with the puffed up sides, but they were nonetheless delicious!