Finding a Cleaner

Some years ago my cleaner had major surgery and had to stop cleaning. I put an ad in the local paper looking for a replacement and got four responses.

First on the list was a nineteen year old girl who wanted the money but didn’t have a clue about cleaning. As I walked past the bathroom she was holding the toilet brush gingerly between thumb and forefinger, nose screwed up, poking madly into the bowl while flushing at the same time. When I suggested she might need a cloth to do the rest she said “Oh, do you have to clean the outside as well?” She had to go.

Next was a Polish lady who said “It’s a very nice house, apart from ze dog who lives inside.” Our golden retriever was petrified of her and she only lasted two weeks. It wasn’t a good match.

Next on the list was a young Vietnamese girl. I showed her around and explained what needed doing. Everything seemed fine. On the appointed day she arrived with her father and left him to do the job. He obviously had no experience and communication was a disaster as he spoke no English.

We had friends coming for dinner that night and Mr Nguyen was making painfully slow progress. “Friends are coming for dinner tonight so I want everything to look nice,” I said in a desperate attempt to speed him up. With that he smiled, stood to attention, saluted and went out to do the gardening. He had to go.

Last on the list was a lady from Pakistan who could only come on Saturdays. She sang Gospel songs at the top of her voice while she worked. Her favourite job was scrubbing the bathroom, which took her at least an hour. The Hallelujas echoed around the house.

Matthew was trying to read the weekend newspaper and said he couldn’t cope with the singing. She had to go. Seeing my frustration he suggested we do the cleaning ourselves. So that’s what we did for several years.

We’ve now found a lovely girl from Colombia who does a great job and everyone is happy. The dog and the cat both love her and I get to practice my Spanish.

This is a favourite fish recipe I was given by my cleaning lady in Israel, many moons ago.

Japanese Soboro Donburi

Looking for something quick to make with half a kilo of minced beef? Try this Japanese rice bowl recipe.

Donburi in Japanese means rice bowl dish and there are lots of different variations using chicken, pork, eggs and so on.

This combination of minced beef, ginger and frozen peas, served with steamed rice, isn’t a sophisticated dish, but it can be whipped up in no time flat. The perfect mid-week dinner to serve when everyone is asking “What time’s dinner Mum?” and you haven’t got time to make that packet of mince into spag bol or lasagne.

Cut down on the ginger if the kids aren’t mad about it. Some people aren’t fans of rice cookers, but I love mine. Switch it on when you start to prepare the mince and the whole dish will be ready to serve in around 15 minutes. Feel free to add some chilli or

500g lean minced beef
1/3 cup sake or dry sherry
¼ cup soy sauce (or substitute oyster sauce)
¼ cup water
1½ Tbs sugar
1-2 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1 cup frozen peas
To serve:
Steamed rice
Japanese pickled ginger*
Thinly sliced spring onions (scallions) (optional)

In a large heavy saucepan, place the beef, sake or sherry, soy sauce, water and sugar. Cook over medium to high heat, stirring often to break up any lumps, for about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and peas and continue to cook for 4 minutes or so, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated but the mixture is still moist. Check for seasoning and add a little salt if necessary.

Divide rice between 4 or 5 bowls, top with the beef mixture and garnish with the pickled ginger and spring onions if using. I didn’t have any for the photo.

Serves 4-5

*available in jars in the Asian section of your supermarket

Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding

Someone gave my daughter Catherine a Panettone for Christmas.  As they don’t like Panettone very much, she gave it to me.  I have to admit I’m not mad about the Italian answer to Christmas cake either, but my “war mentality” doesn’t allow me to throw good food away.  So I stuck it in the freezer.  Catherine laughed when she saw me do this and admitted she had inherited my “waste not want not” approach to food and if she hadn’t been travelling she would have frozen it too.

This weekend I used just over half the Panettone to make a delicious chocolate bread and butter pudding, adapted from a recipe by Delia Smith.  She uses ordinary white bread with the crusts cut off.  You could use bread, panettone, croissants, brioche – anything which needs using up – which is how this traditional British dessert was first invented – to use up stale bread.

9 slices of day old white bread – or the equivalent in panettone, brioche or croissants
150g dark chocolate (I used more like 175g to make it really chocolatey)
75g butter
425ml cream
4 Tbs dark rum (optional)
pinch ground cinnamon
4 Tbs caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
To serve:
Icing sugar
Thick pouring cream

Butter a rectangular lasagne-type dish.  In a large bowl place chocolate, broken into squares, butter, cream, sugar, cinnamon and rum, if using.  Microwave until melted which will take a couple of minutes. Stop every 30 seconds or so to stir the mixture and stop as soon as it’s melted.  Delia does hers the traditional way over simmering water which is safer.  Using the microwave is quicker, but you need to keep an eye on it.  Whisk in the eggs with a hand whisk, until well-combined.

Pour about 2cm of the chocolate cream over the base of the dish, then arrange about half the panettone slices or bread slices, overlapping if necessary to cover the base of the dish.  Panettone slices are large so you need to cut them into about three and use them like a jigsaw puzzle.  Pour in half the remaining chocolate cream and push all over with the back of a fork so the panettone soaks it up.  Arrange the rest of the panettone or bread over the top, pour in the remaining chocolate cream, push with a fork so there are no dry bits left.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap, leave for a couple of hours at room temperature then refrigerate for 24-48 hours.

Remove cling film and bake at 180°C for 35 minutes or until the top is brown and crunchy and the bottom is cooked but still soft.  Remove from the oven, allow to stand for a few minutes then serve dusted with icing sugar.  Pass a jug of thick pouring cream separately.

Serves 6-8

Spicy Korean Beef in the Slow Cooker

If you have a slow cooker and are time poor then this recipe, adapted from one by Nigella Lawson, is for you.

Nigella uses brown rice. I used pearl barley and added some toppings. We love pearl barley, which you can use as a substitute in most recipes which call for brown rice.

500g minced beef
1 can chopped tomatoes and 1 can water
1¼ cups pearl barley (or brown rice)
¼ cup Sriracha chilli sauce (or another chilli sauce/paste)
¼ cup soy sauce
1 packet 250g beansprouts
To serve: 
Sour Cream
Grated cheese (I used cheddar)
Chopped fresh coriander

Place minced beef, tomatoes, water, pearl barley or brown rice, chilli sauce and soy sauce in a slow cooker. Stir to combine, then cook on low for four hours, stirring a couple of times. When the pearl barley is tender it’s ready. Place beansprouts in a bowl. Cover with boiling water, stand for one minute then mix into the meat mixture. Allow to heat through for 15 minutes.

Serve as it is or topped with sour cream, grated cheese and coriander. Can be served in wraps or taco shells or on top of corn chips.

Additions: if liked, add a drained can of corn or a couple of cups of frozen peas about half an hour before serving. I also added a splosh of dry sherry. Why not?

Beef Casserole with Spring Onion Mash

A good beef casserole accompanied by mashed potatoes to mop up the gravy is the sort of comfort food we all enjoy as the weather gets cooler. These old-fashioned dishes take us back to our childhood and Mum’s cooking.

This casserole doesn’t contain any tomatoes or herbs, allowing the flavour from the mushrooms and the sherry to shine through. It can be made in the oven or in a slow cooker.

Beef Casserole with Spring Onion Mash

2 Tbs oil
1 kg lean stewing beef such as chuck steak
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g speck or bacon cut into chunky pieces (lardons)
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
250g mushrooms, wiped and thickly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups water (only 1 cup for Slow Cooker)
1 beef stock cube
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
½ cup dry sherry or red wine
Spring Onion Mash:
1 kg potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized pieces
25g butter
¼ cup milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 spring onions, thinly sliced (optional)
To serve:

Chopped fresh parsley

Trim beef and cut into 3cm cubes. Season. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a large frying pan and brown half the meat all over until nicely caramelised. Put beef into a heavy Le Creuset-type casserole with a lid or into a Slow Cooker. Repeat with remaining oil and beef. Add the lardons to the pan and cook, stirring until light brown. Add onions and cook for 3-4 mins stirring regularly, until starting to soften. Add carrots, mushrooms, garlic and a touch more oil if necessary and continue to cook for 3-4 mins. Tip vegetables into the casserole with the beef.

Add water, stock cube, Worcestershire sauce and sherry or wine. If using a casserole dish cover and cook at 150°C for two hours or until meat is tender and sauce has thickened up. If using a Slow Cooker use only one cup of water, cover and cook for 3-4 hours on High or until meat is tender and sauce has thickened.

Casserole will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days or you can eat half and freeze the rest. Reheat, check seasoning and serve garnished with chopped parsley and accompanied by Spring Onion Mash to mop up all the gravy.

Spring Onion Mash: cook potatoes in boiling salted water for 20 mins or until tender. Drain thoroughly then mash with a potato masher, adding the butter and milk. When smooth and creamy season with salt and pepper and fold in the spring onions if liked.

Serves 4-6

Spinach and Feta Pastries

This recipe for Spinach and Feta pastries was one of my most popular posts, so here it is again. I’m travelling in Europe so there will be a few repeat posts while I’m away.

These are a great addition to lunch boxes, picnics and buffet lunches. They are also great to serve with drinks. Most kids love them and it’s a good way to get them to eat more green veggies.

Once cooked and cooled, if not serving immediately, you can keep them in the fridge for a few days or freeze them. They will just need a few minutes in a hot oven or an air fryer to heat up.

1-2 sheets bought puff pastry
Filling:
About 225g frozen chopped spinach, thawed (I used half a 450g pkt of spinach nuggets)
100g feta cheese, crumbled
¾ cup thinly sliced spring onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 egg
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra:
1 beaten egg to brush

Preheat oven to 200°C. Squeeze any liquid from the spinach then mix it with remaining filling ingredients. Cut out 12 squares of puff pastry, approximately 8cm or 3 inches square. I got nine from one sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry.

Lightly but thoroughly (mine got a bit stuck) oil a 12 hole muffin pan and place a pastry square in each. Place a rounded tablespoonful of filling in each, then go back and use the rest to top them up. If you have too much you could use another muffin pan and make a couple more but I found the mixture made exactly 12.

Pull the four pastry points over the top of the filling and pinch lightly together. Brush with beaten egg, then bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days and reheated for a few minutes in a hot oven or frozen.

Makes 12

Anzac Biscuits

On the 25th of April Australians and New Zealanders remember those who have lost their lives in military conflict. The date of Anzac day marks the anniversary of the landing in Gallipoli (Turkey) during the First World War, when many lives were lost. The acronym Anzac stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Dawn services are held on this day in many countries, including France and Turkey.

Anzac biscuits were apparently sent by wives to soldiers abroad because they kept well during naval transportation. Nowadays they are made commercially, but many people make their own. There are some variations in the recipes so here is mine.

photo

1 cup porridge oats
½ cup plain flour
½ cup self raising flour
1 cup sugar
¾ cup desiccated coconut
125g butter
2 Tbs golden syrup (see note below)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 Tbs boiling water

Preheat oven to 170°C. In a large bowl mix oats, flour, sugar and coconut. Place butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan and stir over gentle heat until melted. Mix soda with boiling water and add to the butter mixture, then mix into the dry ingredients.

Using your hands, place balls of about one tablespoonful of mixture on lightly greased oven trays, or trays lined with non-stick baking paper – 12 per sheet, not too close together as they will spread. Flatten them out slightly with a fork. Bake for 12-20 minutes, or until a nice honey-brown colour. Ovens vary. If you prefer them more chewy and less crunchy, remove from the oven a bit earlier. If on tins without paper, loosen while still warm, then cool on the trays. Store in an airtight tin.

Makes about 20

Note: unless you live in Australia, New Zealand or the UK you may have difficulty finding golden syrup. There are some online sites which sell British ingredients. I have tried substituting honey but it’s not the same.

Tea Cake

The proper name for this old Welsh recipe is Barra Brith.  In our house it’s always called Tea Cake, because it’s made with cold tea.  In the good company of the Date and Walnut Loaf, this cake is simple, quick to make and it keeps for a week in an airtight tin.  I used to use half a cup of sugar, but I cut it down as the dry fruit provides quite a lot of sweetness. Try leaving the sugar out altogether – there’s plenty of sweetness from the dried fruit.

2½ cups mixed dried fruit (raisins, chopped dates, currants,) and nuts if you like (walnuts, pecans)
1 cup cold tea, including leaves
¼ cup brown sugar (optional)
2 cups self-raising flour
1 large egg
1 tsp cinnamon or mixed spice
3 Tbs oil

Soak fruit (and nuts if using) in tea overnight. Preheat oven to 160°C. Mix in remaining ingredients. If the mixture is rather dry add one or two tablespoons of milk. Scrape into a loaf tin approximately 12 x 25 cm, greased and bottom-lined with baking paper. Or use a silicone pan which doesn’t need greasing or lining – you can see mine in the photo. Smooth over the top with a knife. Bake for about an hour or until well-risen and browned and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Don’t overcook or cake will be dry. Leave in tin 5 minutes then turn out and cool on a rack. Keep at least a day before using. Serve sliced, either plain or buttered. Keeps for about a week in an airtight tin.

Baked Potatoes in the Air Fryer

As kids we all loved baked potatoes and our kids loved them too. Try this quick and easy  “new take” on a retro recipe by cooking them in an air fryer. Vegetarians can leave out the bacon.

4 medium to large baking potatoes (Russets are a good choice)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g butter
½ cup milk or cream or sour cream
1-2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 rashers bacon, finely diced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
To serve:
Sour cream (optional)

Wash and dry the potatoes, prick them all over with a fork, then rub them all over with a little olive oil and salt. Place in air fryer and cook for 35-40 minutes at 200°C, turning halfway through, or until tender.

When potatoes are cool enough to handle – but still hot – cut them in half lengthwise and scrape out the middle into a bowl, leaving a 1cm thick shell. Mash the potato with the butter and milk or cream. Mix in half the cheese and half the spring onion slices and season to taste.

Divide the filling between the 8 potato halves and place them in the air fryer. Cook at 200°C for 6 minutes, then top with the remaining grated cheese and cook for another few minutes, until golden brown on top. Meanwhile fry the bacon dices in a non-stick pan until crispy.

Serve the potatoes garnished with the remaining spring onion and the bacon. If liked serve with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Makes 8 portions

Ratatouille

The end of summer is a good time to make ratatouille. The tomatoes are full of flavour and you may even have some in your garden. We also have zucchini, so I only had to buy the eggplants, onions and peppers. While you can use green peppers, I prefer red or yellow as they’re sweeter. Once made, ratatouille can be frozen for several months. Ifyou have a glut of veggies, this is a good way to use them.

Ratatouille is a delicious Mediterranean side dish to serve at a BBQ or buffet. Serve some with a couple of fried eggs on top and some crusty bread for a satisfying lunch.

500g onions, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
olive oil
500g-600g ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 Tbs tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
3 large capsicums (peppers) green, red or yellow, cut into strips
500g-600g eggplants, (aubergines) cut into 2cm cubes
500g-600g zucchini (courgettes) unpeeled and cut into fat sticks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley to serve

Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions and garlic over gentle heat, stirring often until soft and slightly golden. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, thyme, bay leaves and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, for 5-10 minutes. Place in a large heavy-based saucepan.

Wipe out the frying pan, heat a little more olive oil and then fry first the peppers, then the eggplant, then the zucchini, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. As each vegetable is ready, add it to the casserole.

If you have an air fryer you might find it easier to “fry” each vegetable in there rather than in a frying pan, which is what I did. Just place the chopped vegetable in a bowl and mix with a drizzle of olive oil, then tip it into the air fryer and cook on high for about 10 minutes, stopping and shaking every few minutes. When they look sufficiently fried, tip them in with the tomatoes and onions. Using an air fryer allows you to use less oil.

Simmer on low for about an hour, stirring from time to time. If it starts to stick add a little water.

Check seasonings, remove bay leaves and serve at room temp, garnished with parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.