Thursday, July 28, 2011

Overwhelmed! (and sweet chilli sauce)

Ben (my other half) read a book or article or something on psychology, and how men and women mean different things when they say the same words. It was pretty corny and I can't remember many examples, but one thing stuck with us both: often women are simply overwhelmed and need a hug! Cringe-worthy, but right now, it is exactly how I feel.

Yesterday was moving house day. When the removalists arrived, we were just realising that the rest of our stuff was not going to be just one car more and trailer load, and that we'd have to come back for a second load. When we got back for the second load, the cleaners arrives 3 hours earlier than arranged, and started cleaning around us while we were still packing. (They did do a fantastic job though!). Then there is the fact that the lounge room floor in the new house is still not finished. Oh, and I have a sinus infection.

So half our furniture is still in the garage, most of our other stuff is in the attic or in the garage, we can't use the toilet for the next 24 hours, have no showerscreen, or kitchen splashbacks, and have built in wardrobes with no doors.

But it's home. I love our new king size bed (mostly assembled, at least enough to sleep on) and latex mattress, and new bedlinen. And the gas cooktop is fantastic (at least the 3/5 of the gas rings that are working...). The tiling in the bathroom is beautiful, and I can't wait for it to be warm enough to go out in the garden.

For now, I'm exhausted and ready for bed, so a very token recipe. I've been missing that very fake sweet chilli sauce, you know the bright red one with lots of seeds in, for a while now, and the other day I had a stab at it, and it worked remarkably well.

Sweet Chilli Sauce

750mls apple cider vinegar
500gms honey
3 red capsicums
3 long red chillies

Add vinegar and honey to a large saucepan over a medium heat.

Cut the flesh from the capsicums and chillies and roughly chop. Put them into a food processor and puree.

Add them to the saucepan. If you like the look or texture of seeds in your sweet chilli sauce, add the capsicum seeds to the saucepan as well. (Use the chilli ones if you want it hotter).

Gently simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until the sauce darkens and thickens. Pour into a sterilised bottle.

Keeps in the fridge for at least 3 weeks.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Renovation disasters and internet scams

Okay, so disasters is probably overstating it, but they did all feel like disasters at the time, like when I realised that the bath and the vanity unit we had bought would only allow a 35cm gap to walk through to get to the toilet! (yes, I checked the sizes of the bath and vanity with the renovators before getting them, but apparently they didn't check the plans before confirming the size was okay. And I didn't check the plan either - I'll know better next time).

And then there was the call telling me that the door into the bathroom is not where it is marked on the plan. Not surprising really, plan of what is meant to be there, not what is there now. Surely they could tell that by looking at the plan and seeing one door marked, then looking at the wall and seeing two doors... Apparently they hadn't, and didn't think that moving the door was part of what they had agreed to do, despite agreeing to the plan with the door marked in a different spot. But they did eventually move the door.

And there was the wrong, (very, very blue) feature tiles turning up. At least we caught them before they stuck them on the walls.

Oh, and when we asked when they would need to replacement vanity by, they told us 2 days after they'd previously agreed they'd be finished.

But given all that, we amazingly look set for our planned 27 July move in date! I can't wait to use my new 5 burner gas cook top, extra wide oven, lovely deep bath, and new king size bed.

So, as we had to get a second vanity, I've been trying to sell the first one. I listed it on a couple of classifieds sites. A couple of days went by and I heard nothing. Then some guy emails me asking if it is still for sale. I say yes, and for him to let me know when he wants to come and look at it.

He tells me he is an oceanographer and is at sea at the moment and is buying it for his dad. Could I just send him some photos? So I took some photos, and he replied saying he'd transferred me $700 on paypal. I was asking $450, and the extra $200 was to pay someone to pick it up and $50 for the western union money transfer. Now, this is a vanity with an RRP of $799, and he's paying $750 for a second hand one, that he hasn't even seen. And apparently, I was meant to transfer $200 to someone (in Italy?!) before the paypal payment would be released. And his English is pretty bad... And then there was two fake, but fairly convincing emails, purporting to be from paypal, telling me they were holding money in escrow for me, pending me sending them the western union money transfer receipt number.

At this point, I decided to just ignore it, but he emailed be again tonight, asking why he hadn't heard anything from me. I considered just ignoring it, but then decided to respond that I wouldn't be transferring any money until I had received payment. Very promptly after that, I received another fake paypal email with the subject

***Money Guaranteed**Transfer Funds Immediately***

telling me:

Be aware that you are 100% safe with PayPal and you do not need to worry about anything concerning this transaction as we are currently holding the money and it's pending and ready to be credited into your account therefore you should make proper arrangements with the buyer on how to get the $200.00AUD sent to the address given to you so that we could be able to credit your account after you have sent us a copy of the WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER details given to you at the western union store where you sent the money.

And this was almost immediately followed by another email from the guy, saying he hoped I'd got the email from paypal confirming payment had been made. I'm kind of curious how long they'll persist. I can see that they might have a fairly decent hit rate on the original attempt, but I would have thought that, once they'd been called, they'd give up pretty quickly. Will have to wait and see...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lazy weeknight curries

Towards the end of my 3 weeks free of dairy, eggs, nuts, fruit and honey, I ran out of in season vegetables to add to my diet, so I decided to start of spices. While I've gained a greater appreciation of cooking without herbs and spices, just letting the flavours of the ingredients speak for themselves with the aid of a good chicken stock, I also find I miss foods with a bit more punch. Cumin, coriander, ginger and turmeric were all successfully added, and I'd decided it was just about time to take a baby step in the direction of nuts, so I whipped up a quick batch of coconut milk, and decided to try something vaguely Thai styled.

I've recently started buying my meat from a local butcher, who does fantastic discounts on bulk purchases, and free delivery on orders over $80. He seems to be able to get in just about anything (for example, suet for my fruit mince and Christmas pudding last year, which I hadn't been able to find anywhere), and almost everything is grass fed and free range. Because of this, I've been eating a lot more pork than in the past. It's seems to be fairly easy to find free range chicken and beef, but pork has been much more difficult to get hold of, so I've tended not to eat it much.

So I had some pork mince (minus the little bit for the kitten, who tells me that pork is her favourite food! nom, nom, nom, purr), and could eat some spices and had a batch of coconut milk soaking (I don't use a recipe for this, just chuck dessicated coconut in with some boiling water - at a guess maybe a cup of dessicated coconut to 750mls water). Then is was just a matter of scouring the bottom of the fridge for the remnants of vegetables from last weeks shopping, before the arrival of the groceries for the new week. I found: 2 carrots, an onion, 5-6 mushrooms, 2 zucchini and some green beans.

So more a method than a recipe:

Pork green curry

Dice the vegetables, while preheating a wok or large frying pan, and start some coconut milk. 

Add a heaped teaspoon of cumin, coriander, ground ginger and turmeric (and chilli, if you feel so inclined) to the wok and toast for a few seconds before adding and browning the pork mince (about 600g). 

Once cooked, remove it from the pan, then added the longer cooking time veg
gies (onion, carrot and beans in this case) and cook until they were most of the way done, then added the shorter cooking veggies (here the zucchini and mushrooms).

Add the pork back to the pan together with some coconut milk and chicken stock, enough to make a good sauce for the curry. Add some salt before serving. Serve with fresh coriander, crushed nuts, and/or a wedge of lime.

More recently, I had put all of the ingredients for yummy lemon-thyme lamb shanks (which I'll post another time, I promise) into my slow cooker, but forgotten to turn it on before leaving for work. In arriving home, I noticed the absence of the smell of dinner as I walked in the door. Disappointment!

I had to come up with something, and quick, because I was starving. I remembered there were some little frozen prawns in the freezer, about the only thing there I could easily use from frozen. Next, the fridge turned up some zucchinis, carrots, a leek, a bunch of spinach, and some green beans. Again, you can throw this together with pretty much anything you've got.

Prawn Laksa

Chop your veggies (I sliced the leek in rounds, chopped the beans in half, washed and destemmed the spinach, and julienned the carrots and zucchini with my julienne peeler). In the mean time, preheat a wok or large saucepan, and get some coconut milk happening.

Add a heaped teaspoon of cumin, coriander, ground ginger and turmeric (and chilli, if you feel so inclined) to the wok and toast for a few seconds before adding some oil, and the veggies that need frying (I threw in the leek and beans). At the same time, put the julienne carrots in a steamer.

When the frying veggies are well on the way to being cooked, add a good amount of coconut milk and chicken stock (maybe 1.5 - 2 litres in total). Add the zucchini to the steamer, and the prawns to the wok. Stir through the spinach just before everything else is done. Add some salt before serving.

Serve noodles into deep preheated bowls, and top with the laksa. Serve with crushed nuts, coriander and/or a wedge of lime or lemon.

Enjoy! (Both were even better reheated for lunch the next day)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My life has been sugar (ie sucrose) free for almost 18 months, but more recently, I've also almost completely eliminated anything sweet. No fruit, no honey, the closest thing to dessert I had in 3 weeks was soup made from butternut pumpkin and carrots and seasoned with coconut oil and nutmeg. This was to get the healing from my latest flare into the fast lane. I also eliminated eggs, nuts and dairy, as per Jordan and Steve's four horsemen.

Two interesting observations arose from this experience. After a couple of days, I had no sugar cravings at all. And my sense of what is sweet has totally changed.

After 3 weeks and now feeling really good, I decided to have a play with some very low sugar confectionery  This fits in well with the theme of this months Go Ahead Honey, It's Gluten Free, It All Ends here (a la the final Harry Potter film), hosted by Diane of the Whole Gang.

My aim for my confectionery was to keep the fat content as high as possible (I'm still trying to regain a few more kilos), and the sugar as low as possible (as I'm still aiming to minimise the amounts of inflammatory foods in my diet).

My first port of call was coconut oil - I love the taste of the oil, and it combines well with other flavours. So my starting point was to melt coconut oil, a tiny amount of honey and some lemon oil. I have to say, I thought it was pretty good at the time, but now I realise I was just in a totally sugar deprived state and anything vaguely sweet tasted good. So I had to branch out a bit more for the next attempt. This brought to mind coconut concentrate. For those of you who haven't heard of it, it is basically finely ground coconut meat. It has a very high fat content (around 70% I think), and is also fairly grainy, kind of like coconut flour. It is solid a room temperature, and if you want to melt it, you have to do so on a really low heat, otherwise it burns.

I find it convenient to melt a lot of it at a time (I get in in 1kg bags) and pour it in to ice cube trays to have convenient little portions of it, which I throw into anything in which you might use coconut milk. (I do the same thing with coconut oil (in winter, when it is solid at room temperature) and cocoa butter too).

Anyway, back to the confectionary. I did go through a phase of just eating the ice cubes of coconut concentrate - I find there is something oddly appealing about the grainy thick texture, and the coconut flavour is really strong, and it has something candy-like about it, even though it isn't sweet. So, I figured it's 70% coconut oil, why not dilute it with more coconut oil to keep the coconutty flavour, but minimise the grainy texture (and the fibre content). I've concluded that a ratio of 2:1 oil to concentrate is my preferred ratio, and that it needs minimal honey - maybe a teaspoonful to a cup of coconut mixture. But I think the quantities are very much a matter of personal taste, so here's the method; play around with the ratios as you see fit

Coconut candy
Coconut oil
Coconut concentrate
Flavour oil (optional)

Melt the oil and the honey on a low heat. Remove from the heat and add the coconut concentrate. Cover and leave until it is all melted (if the concentrate does not melt, you can place the whole lot over a very low heat, but watch it carefully). At this stage add the flavouring if you want to. I have done lemon and orange oil, both if which are nice, but possibly a little subtle against the strong coconut flavour. I think mint might be good, but don't have any oil to try it out.

Bearing in mind that you have 3 substances, all with different melting points, the trick is to get everything thoroughly combined and then into moulds before it sets. If you have the time and the patience, I recommend allowing it to cool at room temperature as this give you a lot more time in which the mixture is at a temperature that it will thoroughly combine. If you cool it in the fridge or freezer, you might miss the moment and end up with a triple layer effect with sticky honey on the bottom, and not be able to spoon it into the moulds.

Either way, stir it regularly (more often the colder the temperature) and when it starts to turn into a paste, check whether the honey is settling out at the bottom. If it is, leave to cool a little longer. 

Once the ingredients are able to be thoroughly combined, spoon it into moulds (chocolate moulds, ice cubes, or just spread as a block onto greaseproof paper). Leave until thoroughly set, or refrigerate depending on the ambient temperature.

Serve after dinner with a good black coffee.

Vaguely chocolate like confectionary

(sorry for the long winded name, but I do get annoyed at the SCD thing of saying 'this is just like X' and then making it, and it isn't much like X at all. Particularly when what you've made is tasty in it's own right. So this is somewhat chocolately, but I'm not going to call it chocolate)

Cocoa butter
Ghee (you could probably use unsalted butter, but I'm not eating butter at the moment. If you want to make your own ghee, check out how here.

Again, the quantities are somewhat in your hands. I've found a ratio of 1:1 cocoa butter to ghee gives a fairly smooth buttery consistency. (My previous attempt of 1:2 resulted in something much too reminiscent of whipped butter for eating by itself). The honey ratio need to be a fair bit higher than the coconut one. Maybe a big tablespoonful to a cup of the butter mixture.

Follow the above method. You can certainly flavour it if you like, too, or add chopped dried fruit or nuts. I most recently used a vanilla bean which I split, scooping the seeds into the mixture, and leaving the pod in while I melted the fats too.

The cooling process for this one is even more temperamental than the coconut candy. Be very careful that the honey is not separating out, but don't stir too vigorously or you will end up with whipped butter.

Spoon into moulds, or use to coat other thing, like nuts, or balls made out of energy bars, or spread into a block.

Serve with dessert that would go with something chocolatey (like this), or on its own with after dinner coffee.

And this is where it ends (dinner... and the post)