One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns! 

It’s Easter weekend here in Australia. I’m not religious but I am culturally Christian and to me Easter means spending time with family and friends, eating chocolate and enjoying the autumn weather.

Traditional Easter food in Australia almost always includes lamb, maybe some fish. Chocolate Easter eggs, bunnies and chickens are a favorite with the kids and everyone has their preference, be it a Cadbury cream egg, a Lindt bunny or artisan chocolate in flavours like salted caramel.

But one thing that almost all Aussies love is the hot cross bun. Traditionally these are spicy and filled with currants and mixed candied fruit peel. In the last few years though, chocolate hot cross buns have become really popular. They appear in the supermarkets in early January and by the time it’s Lent all the bakeries have them too.

This year I have been baking sourdough bread using a starter from Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. I’ll post about my bread making adventures one of these days soon, but for now I’ll talk about making hot cross buns. Celia has an easy recipe for sourdough buns that became my starting point. But because  my kids far prefer the chocolate hot cross buns I tinkered with the recipe, adding dried cranberries instead as well as a good handful of chocolate chips.

With sourdough, the proving takes a lot longer, so I got the starter going the day before and let it rise overnight. Luckily they don’t take long at all to cook. And even less time to eat, especially with three hungry kids and a husband hovering around the kitchen looking hopeful.



Sourdough hot cross buns with cranberries and chocolate 

Makes 12 buns

200g sourdough starter (at 166% hydration i.e. fed at ratio of 1c flour to 1c water)

160ml milk at room temp (I used light milk as that’s what I had)

500g bakers flour

8-10g fine sea salt

60g brown sugar

0.5 tsp ground cinnamon

60g butter, melted and cooled

2 large free range eggs

100g dried cranberries

Zest from one orange

50g choc chips or chopped chocolate

Cross: 2tb self raising flour mixed with 2tb water

Glaze: 2tb milk and 2tb sugar, plus a dash of vanilla paste
Combine all of the dough ingredients except the chocolate in a large bowl. Use hands to squelch it all together until a rough dough forms — it’s quite a stiff dough. Cover with plastic wrap and sit for about 30 minutes. Then knead dough for 1-2 minutes in the bowl, cover again and leave overnight.

Preheat oven to 240c. Tear off a piece of baking paper big enough to line a metal rectangular baking dish (about 23 X 20cm) — no need to cut it to shape, just fold in the corners loosely.

Turn dough out onto floured bench. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. Fold the outside thirds over the middle and repeat several times to knead the dough and mix the chips in. Cut into 12 pieces, roll each into a ball and place into baking dish in 4 rows of 3. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rest in a warm place.

Allow buns to rise for 30-60 mins, then pipe the cross paste across each bun. Spritz the buns with water and put into oven, immediately turning temperature down to 220C (with fan). Bake for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 200C and bake for another 10 minutes.

While the buns are baking, combine the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Brush the glaze generously over buns while hot, wait a couple of minutes and brush a second coat over. Cool on a rack.

Eat with lashings of butter!

Notes:
1. Feed your starter a couple of times to get it ready. With my starter I feed 1/2 cup with 1/4 cup each of bakers flour and filtered water at about lunchtime. In the late afternoon I feed again with 1/2 cup each of flour and water. I set the dough up mid evening, when the starter is very bubbly.

2. If you don’t have a starter, you can make the buns with yeast instead. I haven’t done that though, so you’ll need to find a recipe yourself!

3. When you roll the buns into a ball, try to keep most of the fruit and chocolate inside the bun as they burn easily.

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Plum-rosemary jam

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It’s the time of the year when our damson plum tree is laden with tiny tart plums that suddenly ripen over a few hot days. Last week, or was it the week before (!), I picked around 6kg of plums to make jam. The plum-ginger-lime jam is always a favourite with my family, the kids love it on their toast, so half of the plums went into making a new batch of that one.

With the other half, though, I wanted to try something new. I came across a recipe on the blog Eat the Love for a strawberry-plum-rosemary jam which sounded intriguing, and that sent me on a Google-Pinterest hunt for more plum-rosemary jam recipes. In the end I grabbed a little of this and that, and came up with my own version, using fresh rosemary from my garden and a lemon from a friend’s lemon tree.

I was mindful that rosemary can be quite overpowering so I took it out after the initial cooking of the plums. It’s given the jam a wonderfully subtle herbal note, a hint of rosemary that complements the tart sweetness of the plums. I wonder how it would go on scones with a bit of crème fraiche instead of double cream?

Out of 6kg of plums, I now have around 20 jars of jam, in various sizes and two flavours. Half of them are for the school fete, the rest are for us. And I’ve still got a kilo of plums to play with, might be time for a batch of plum ice cream!

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Plum-Rosemary Jam
2 kg damson plums, washed, stems removed
1 large lemon, juice and zest
2-3 sprigs of rosemary
2 cups water
1.75 kg sugar

Put whole plums, lemon zest and juice, whole rosemary sprigs and water into large non-reactive pot.

Bring to boil over medium-high heat and reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the plum skins have split and the flesh is soft.

Remove from heat and mash plum mixture with a potato masher. After 10-15 minutes more, remove the rosemary and discard. Allow to cool and then remove plum stones (see notes below).

Bring plum mush back to the boil over medium-high heat. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.

Allow to boil vigorously, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes, until jam “jells” (see notes below). Skim off any scum that forms and remove any plum stones that come to the surface. When it is ready, take off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes or so while the jars are set up.

Pour jam into hot sterilised jars and seal (see notes below). Recipe makes about 3-3.5 L of jam.

Notes

1. I have found the best way to remove plum stones is to use a slotted spoon to scoop up plum mixture and a smaller spoon (or clean fingers) to pull out stones. It’s a tedious job, but stones that are missed can usually be pulled out when the jam mixture is boiling—they seem to get tossed up to the surface by the rolling boil. If necessary, the stewed fruit can be refrigerated overnight until ready to perform the next step.

2. I use two methods to determine when my jam has jelled. First of all, put a couple of saucers in the freezer before starting to make the jam. Then, I regularly scoop up a bit of jam onto the wooden spoon and then slowly tip the spoon sideways to see if the droplets run together to form a “sheet” of jam. When that happens I grab a saucer from the freezer and drop a little bit of jam onto it. Back into the freezer for a couple of minutes and then push your finger into the jam—when it wrinkles up it has jelled. Better to underdo it slightly and have slightly runnier jam than overcook it.

3. I sterilise my jars and lids by washing in very hot soapy water. The jars are then placed upright on a baking paper-lined tray and popped into the oven, which has been set to 120ºC or thereabouts. I remove the jars just before I pour the jam into them, then screw the lids on tight and turn them upside down to cool down.

The Great Olive Experiment Part 1

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My Mum arrived at my house last week with an enormous box of olives from my aunt and uncle’s garden. I’d nearly forgotten that they were going to give me some, so it took me a bit by surprise, and more so when I saw just how many there were. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of the box, but there were quite a few kilograms of them, ranging from green to deep dark purply-black.

Now, the last time I tried curing olives it involved soaking them in water and changing it every other day or so for weeks and weeks. Needless to say it wasn’t the success I’d hoped for, too many of the olives went bad and the texture of the rest wasn’t great. I think they were way too ripe (they came from a neighbour’s tree—I’d rescued them from being thrown out). So this time, I immediately hopped online to figure out the best way to cure them. Most recipes advocated soaking them in brine—essentially very salty water—for weeks. I also found some recipes for dry-curing or as it is sometimes called, “oil-curing”, which doesn’t actually involve oil, instead you pack the olives in salt. Armed with a lovely blogpost describing both methods, I gathered my ingredients and equipment, girded my loins and waded in.

Sadly, a lot of the olives were a little the worse for wear, bruised and dented. So I sorted through to pick out the least damaged ones and divided them into a batch of green to purple olives and a batch of purply-black olives. Don’t worry, there were still plenty of olives in each batch. According to all of the information I read online, the green ones have more of the bitter glucosides than the black ones, and hence need more soaking, so I decided to do the green-purple batch in brine and the purple-black ones in salt.

There really isn’t much to either method, so I’m not going to write a recipe, just list the steps.

  1. Wash the olives and then use a sharp knife to slit them so that the bitter compounds can escape more easily.
  2. For the brined olives, pack them into a large jar, then cover with brine (warm up water in a saucepan, then dissolve enough salt into it so that an egg—raw and still in its shell—floats, then let it cool.). Use a ziplock bag containing water to press the olives down into the solution if you need to.
  3. For the dry-cured olives, layer olives and salt in a jar so that all of the olives are completely covered in the salt.
  4. Put both batches in the cupboard and give them a good shake every week or so.
  5. Start tasting the brined batch after a few weeks, keep tasting regularly until they start to taste like salty olives, not bitter ones.
  6. Start tasting the salt-packed olives after about three weeks, again, taste regularly until you like the taste.
  7. Rinse off the brine/salt, and repackage in more brine, or vinegar or olive oil. I’ll let you know what I do here when I get to that point.
  8. Eat!

In case you’re wondering, I used pure salt (no added iodine) from the supermarket. Nothing fancy, because I used around 3.5 kg of it, close to 3 kg in the salt-packed batch and another 0.5kg in the brine. I have two 2L jars of the salt-packed olives and a 3L jar that is about two-thirds full for the brined batch.

I’ll keep you updated as the curing progresses. Wish me luck!!

 

Looking forward and looking back

I cannot believe 2013 is over and 2014 has begun! What a whirlwind 2013 was—between my family, a very part-time job and the beads (oh the beads!)—I feel like I barely stopped for breath!

Some of the jewellery-making highlights of 2013 include

  • the multitude of blog hops I took part in—they stretched my wings and challenged my muse
  • selling my jewellery at The Handmade Show, a lovely, and local to me, show with a real focus on handmade products
  • starting a Facebook page, which has introduced me to many new people, and of course
  • getting my Etsy shop up and running!

Here are a few of my favourite designs from the last 12 months:

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Sand and sea necklace collage DS

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AJE blue orchid necklace Collage boho owl necklace

Luna Park collage

Dark Heart Necklace collage IMG_6654

turquoise heart collage

I’m going to spend the next few weeks entertaining my kids during our summer holidays, so I don’t think too much jewellery-making is going to happen. But I have a few things to get photographed and uploaded on Etsy, and I want to take some time to play. This is one of my Christmas presents …

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… a set of uppercase, lowercase and numerical stamps, some fun design stamps, a stamping hammer and small metal block! I also got a handful of stamping blanks in brass and copper to play with.

Another project for 2014 is bead making. Mum and I are going to work together on some ceramic beads and pendants. She’s got a new (old) smaller kiln which will allow us to play a bit more easily. I’d also like to play with polymer clay a little bit more, maybe take another class or two. And I’ve taken a few metalwork classes over the last year or so, so I’m looking forward to combining the techniques I’ve learnt, and perhaps add some new ones.

On the business end, I need to work out what markets I would like to do in 2014. It’s probably not going to be as many as I did in the last few months as I am not finding them to be particularly profitable for me. I’ll be doing my best to keep my Etsy shop well stocked too. I’ll make sure to keep everyone up to date with my activities via my Facebook page.

Finally, I’ve got a few blog hops lined up already, starting with the December Art Jewelry Elements Component of the Month, which I will be posting tomorrow. I’m also signed up for several of Lisa Lodge‘s blog hops, starting with the Into the Forest blog hop on 11 January. It’s more than likely that I’ll take part in more than one of Erin Prais-Hintz‘s blog hops as well as Lori Anderson‘s Bead Soup Blog Party. I’ll do as many of the Art Bead Scene monthly challenges as I can. And I’ll keep taking part in swaps over at Bead Swap-USA. So there’ll be plenty to blog about!

Foodwise, I’ll keep posting recipes I come across that I think are worth a mention. It might be once or twice a month, it may be less often. But I did get a lovely stack of cookbooks for Christmas so I’m hoping to find a few keepers!

I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures with you in 2014! In the mean time, Happy New Year!

The ham and the jam

One of the first recipes I posted on this blog almost two years ago was a spicy plum jam, redolent with cinnamon, cloves and anise. At the time I made it I mentioned that it would probably make a great addition to a glaze for the baked Christmas ham. Well I can report back that indeed it does! In fact, I used it on both last year’s and this year’s hams to great effect.

My starting point for the glaze was a recipe I had in an old copy of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine. The original recipe was for a Burnt Honey, Orange and Clove Ham, but in the magazine article, a number of alternative glaze ideas were provided including the apricot and cardamom version I chose to base my spicy plum glaze on. It’s a quick and easy glaze to prepare and the cooking of the ham itself is a doddle. I prefer to cook it earlier in the day, or even the day before Christmas as it’s not necessary to have a warm ham for Australia’s summer Christmas, but in any case it only takes an hour.

The resulting ham has a deliciously sweet and spicy glaze, and looks a treat as well, with caramelised edges.

Christmas Ham Collage

Spicy plum glazed ham

Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller (December 2006, p 39)

Serves 10+

250ml jar of spicy plum jam
1 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 c water
ham leg (on the bone)
 

Combine the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat. Strain through a sieve and cool.

Preheat oven to 180C. Remove skin from ham and discard. Score fat in a diamond pattern and place ham on a rack in a large roasting tray, half-filled with water .

Brush the glaze generously over the ham and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Baste frequently during the roasting process to get a good rich glaze.

Serve the ham hot or cold.

Notes:

1. Depending on how spicy your jam is, you may want to add more or less cardamom to taste.

2. The amount of glaze will be enough for a full ham leg, although I usually only cook a half leg.

3. The ham will keep refrigerated for quite a few days if you wrap it in a ham bag, tea towels or old pillowcases soaked in cold water and white vinegar. Change the wraps every couple of days. Alternative, freeze chunks of it to bring out as required.

4. If you like, you can stud the scored ham with cloves in the centre of each diamond before baking.

Christmas Eve Smoked Chicken and Mango Salad

This year, Christmas Eve in my house was a busy day of running around sandwiched between two family celebrations. Amid what seemed like countless trips to the supermarkets, an emergency dash to my folks’ house to rescue an esky (cooler) full of perishable food left behind by my sister, and of course, wrapping presents, I was relieved that dinner was already sorted.

About 15 years ago, my parents moved back to Australia after a stint living in the US. Along with all their other stuff, they brought a smoker with them, which gets dragged out at least once every year to smoke chickens, fish and sometimes other goods for Christmas feasts. My sister and I both requested a chicken this year and this is what I had in mind for Christmas Eve.

In addition to the chicken, I had a few ripe mangoes left over from a box I received a couple of weeks ago and some lovely fresh greens purchased at the South Melbourne Market on Monday morning. So I dug out a recipe for a smoked chicken salad that I first discovered a few years ago on the taste.com.au website (a great starting point for almost any kind of recipe you could imagine) and adapted it to suit the ingredients I had.

This is a recipe that is open to a lot of variation—you could add whatever greens you prefer (the original uses iceberg lettuce), choose different smoked meats (duck? salmon? trout?) or even swap out the smoked meat for fresh prawns. It looks great served on a platter, or divided among plates or bowls, and would be just as suitable as an entrée salad as a light main course.

As for this version? It made for a perfectly delicious family dinner on Christmas Eve.

Smoked chicken and mango salad

Smoked Chicken and Mango Salad

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 4-6

1 smoked chicken
2 ripe mangoes
mixed greens
1/2 bunch of fresh mint, leaves torn
1 Lebanese cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 red capsicum/pepper, thinly sliced
 
Dressing:
200ml natural pot set yoghurt
2-3 tbs chopped coriander
2 tbs lime juice
1 tbs sweet chili sauce
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
 

Shred the chicken from the carcass. Cut the cheeks off the mango and slice the flesh thinly. Toss salad ingredients together in a large bowl.

Finely chop coriander and mix with yoghurt, lime juice and sweet chili sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer salad to a platter and drizzle with some of the dressing. Serve the remaining dressing on the side.

Notes:

1. I’m not a huge fan of raw onions, but spring onions (green onions) or thinly sliced red onions would be a great addition to the salad.

2. Use a combination of different greens—I started with a mixture of lettuces, then added baby spinach, rocket/arugula, a little radicchio and snow pea shoots.

3. To make the dressing in a flash, chop the coriander in a mini-food processor, add the other ingredients and whiz until combined.

One hundred posts, a design update and a giveaway!

I recently reached a couple of blogging milestones—I’ve now got around 110 followers of my blog according to WordPress (this number includes those of you who receive an email from me every time I post a new update and those of you who follow through the WordPress Reader), and this is my 100th post!

So to celebrate, I’ve updated my blog theme (actually, if you’re a regular visitor, you’ll know I updated it a few weeks ago now) and added some new elements to it, to make it easier to navigate.

You’ll now be able to find links to all of my recipes on the Recipes page, which can also be accessed via the tab at the top. And I’m in the process of putting a link to all of the blog hops and challenges I’ve done on another page, which I hope to have up and running soon. This should make it a bit easier to find posts.

Now for the giveaway! Here’s a necklace featuring a gorgeous bead by Aussie ceramic bead-maker Natalie Fletcher of Peruzi, which I’ve used as a focal for a long necklace. The bead is glazed in olive green with subtle hints of blue and a bronze-y brown, and has a lovely embossed bird of paradise pattern. I’ve paired it with Czech glass beads and antique brass. It’s quite a long necklace, but could easily be shortened.

giveaway necklace collage

To win it, follow my blog—you can follow by email, through WordPress’s own reader if you are a WordPress user, or via an aggregator (there’s a button for Bloglovin’ in the side bar to the right)—and leave me a comment telling me how you follow my blog. I’ll randomly pick a winner from the comments I get!

Make sure you leave me a way to get hold of you. International entries are most welcome! I’ll close entries on Monday evening at 11pm Australian Eastern Time, which I believe is early Monday morning in the USA and Monday afternoon in Europe! (Can you believe I forgot to add a closing date and had to come back to edit this post? Doh!)

And come back this weekend for the reveal of the Summer Color Surprise Blog Hop, hosted by Lisa Lodge.