What is Operation Jam Jar?

Operation Jam Jar is all about getting back to basics in the kitchen.

Check out my efforts at cooking from scratch - cakes, soups, biscuits

Learn how to make things that you would normally buy at the supermarket - wraps, ice cream, pizza bases

Try to live a more 'country' lifestyle in the city - making your own jams or relish

Get the skills to enjoy cooking in a thrifty way, and have a bit of fun while you do it

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Top 11

It’s funny how food can stir up so many memories.  For me, one sniff of my mum’s lamb roast has me feeling like a 10 year old again.  Food plays a huge role in our lives when it comes to celebrating, commiserating, relieving boredom, entertaining and just for general enjoyment.  I had a think about the most memorable dishes and what they mean to me.  I would love to hear yours!

1.    Pancakes – this was one of the first things I ever cooked and once I got the hang of it, it became a Saturday morning tradition.  Butter, lemon and sugar was my topping of choice.  I always made myself busy before I had to wash up the pans though
2.    Mum’s Lamb Roast – I always agreed with the ad where Naomi Watts said she couldn’t go out with Tom Cruise cause ‘Mum’s doing a lamb roast’.  No one can make a roast like your mum can.  I asked my mum why my roast never tastes as nice as hers, and she said that maybe when I’ve been cooking it for 40 years it might taste pretty good too.  Mum always gets the lamb leg with garlic and rosemary on it which gives it such amazing flavour
3.    Dad’s BBQ Steaks – to this day I only like my steaks well done.  I think it’s because growing up that was the only option if you wanted to eat one.  Dad would always be on the BBQ, Mum would be making a green salad & some boiled potatoes.  We would sit outside and get eaten by mosquitoes and it was great.
4.    Spag Bol – this was a family favourite growing up.  Mum would cook it in the crock pot all afternoon and the house would smell amazing as I came in from school.  Unlike now where I like everything with chilli and extra chilli, mum’s bolognese was always spice-free.  Since my Dad is a meat & veg kind of man, it was ‘a bit foreign’ for him.  He didn’t even eat the pasta (that was just too strange) – he would just eat the bolognese on toast.  For me, it was such a treat to eat spaghetti I would devour it all in no time.  And sometimes even sneak in and eat some extra plain spaghetti.  Dad and I would eat leftovers on toast for breakfast.  Unreal.    
5.    Chip Sandwiches – on a Saturday afternoon my Dad and I would go up to the chip shop and buy $2 worth of chips with chicken salt.  We would then butter up some super fresh white bread and load it up with chips & tomato sauce.  To people that have never enjoyed the deliciousness of chip sandwiches, I urge you to go out this weekend and try it out.  You will NOT be disappointed.  As I got older I found that this is also one of the best hangover cures ever.   Wow I could really eat one of these right now…
6.    Grace Brothers Donuts – back in the days before Donut King existed, the only place to get donuts was from the Grace Brothers cafeteria.  In Dubbo, the ladies working in there (with their old lady aprons and sensible shoes) made the donuts crispy and with loads of sugar.  If I had ‘been good’ while shopping with Mum, we would go and grab a load of donuts to take home for afternoon tea.  If I had a day off sick from school Mum would go and get these and they always seemed to make me feel better
7.    Red Chops – these are the most delicious marinated lamb chops that my mum made.  Not sure of the recipe (I will have to hunt it down from mum) but whenever I was asked what I felt like, it always had to be red chops with mash & peas.  Mmm mmmm.
8.    Will’s Lasagne – my husband is a great cook, and unlike me he is really good at cooking without a recipe.   He makes the lasagne with beef or pork mince, and adds a tin of tomatoes, a tin of kidney beans, onions, capsicum, herbs, garlic, chilli, wine and whatever else he can find in the cupboard.  He lets it cook on a low heat for about an hour, and then he makes his own white sauce before layering it all up and adding loads of cheese on top.  Heaven.  The first time I tried it, I knew he was a keeper
9.    Chicken Chilli Basil with Flat Rice Noodles (from Chopsticks) – this was my favourite Thai restaurant in Randwick for about 5 years.  Any time we were going out for dinner everybody knew where I wanted to go.  All of the food was UN REAL.  It was always less than $20 a head and it was BYO.  What more could you want?  After years of love and affection you can imagine my heartache when we arrived one night with a bottle of red in hand and it was….closed.  Gone.  No sign.  Nothing.  It later reopened with new owners and a new name, and it was a bit rubbish.   Will I ever find anything like it again?  So far…no.  But I soldier on. 
10.Dip for Dinner  - isn’t it wonderful when you suggest something that you think is a little bit risqué, and the one you love says ‘I was just thinking the same thing!’.  For me, it was suggesting that we have dip, cheese, olives and Turkish bread for dinner one night.  I always used to think about it as a kid as I stuffed my face near the buffet (‘Why can’t corn relish dip be a meal?’) and I am so lucky to have married someone who feels the same way.  We do this about once a month.  We are WILD. 
11.Chicken Burritos – this is a Friday night favourite at our place, and one of the few things that Will & I usually cook together.  Cook up some chicken, onion and red capsicum with a load of garlic, chilli, cumin, and any old spices you like.   Load up some wraps with the hot stuff, then add avocado, cheese, lettuce, tomato, grated carrot and tzatziki.  Yum!

Why is it a top 11 instead of a top 10?  It was too hard to cut anything from the list once I got started!

What meals hold a special place in your heart?  I would love to hear from you

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Food to eat in your PJ’s

Bread and butter pudding is truly the thriftiest of thrifty recipes.  It actually calls for stale bread – how good is that?  This pudding feels like a snuggle under the doona on a rainy day while watching an old movie.  Maybe Titanic. 

Its beauty is in its simplicity; there isn’t a specific recipe so much, just some general directions to follow.  The bread becomes sort of cakey as it’s smothered in a hot custardy sauce. Enough ranting, here’s how to do it.

Will’s Bread & Butter Pudding

In a big bowl, whisk together 1½ cups of milk, 3 eggs, a teaspoon each of nutmeg & cinnamon, ½ teaspoon of vanilla essence, and 1/3 cup sugar.   

Grab a loaf of sliced stale bread (it works best if the bread isn’t too fresh, but not a big deal either way). Butter one side of the bread and place it butter side down in a baking dish. 

Keep doing this until you have one flat layer of bread.  Squeeze over some golden syrup so each piece of bread gets some.  Then sprinkle over some sultanas.  Then pour some of the eggy mixture over the bread so that each piece soaks some of it up. 

Keep layering the bread in this way until you’ve used up the loaf or the dish is almost full.  For the final layer, leave off the sultanas as they tend to burn. 

Now comes the fun part – with your hands, smoosh down the whole mixture so that it pushes together and is all covered in the egg mix. 

Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 30-40 mins.  Timing really depends on your oven – you want the crusts of the bread on top to be a bit crispy so just keep an eye on it. 

Serve with cream, ice cream or custard.   This re-heats well for the next few days and tastes especially good in the middle of the night in your PJ’s.  Mmmmmm.

Coming soon....how to make your own crumpets  

* Disclaimer: I put the pic at the bottom today because this really tastes better than it looks.  It's a good dessert to serve up in the kitchen and bring it out ready to eat.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mmmm…smell the history

I love love love old recipe books.  I love the smell of them, the crazy hand drawn pictures, the mental names of the dishes.  It all adds up to inspiration for me when planning our meals for the week. So often when I look through my books I find the recipes in modern books are a bit too complicated for a weeknight meal.  The older books often use the most basic of ingredients, many of which you might already have in your pantry.  I have found the best tasting & easiest recipes in these books & I want to share the love.  

The best places to find these books for me have been charity shops. You can normally grab something for a few dollars and you will like at least a few of the recipes.  I also find that often you can take off the tatty paper cover (with a picture of a casserole garnished with a kilo of parsley) and uncover a lovely old hardcover book that looks quite snazzy on the shelf next to your Jamie Oliver selection.  The other option is to raid the houses of your friends and family - my mother in law’s house was a gold mine on our last trip to England – thanks Julia!

Here are my top 5 favourite crazy names for meals within my latest find, the Farmhouse Kitchen.  This book was first published in England in 1975 and purchased by me for one pound at Oxfam in Brighton:

1 Jugged Hare: bacon, celery, hare, herbs and butter.  Oh yes, don’t forget the blood of the hare too
2 Cullen Skink Soup: a soup made with smoked haddock, mashed potato, onion, milk, & butter
3 Lardy Cake: I think the name refers more to the person who eats too many of them
4 Turban of Cod: baked cod with egg sauce.  Mmmmm
5 Love in Disguise: vermicelli, bacon, egg, parsley and…sheep’s hearts.  That’s love alright. 

Now for a recipe that you might actually want to cook:

Lamb Curry – for all these years I thought you needed curry paste to make a curry.  Nope! I usually make this on a Sunday night and then we have for dinner a few days later, still tastes great. 

500g diced lamb (beef would be nice too)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely sliced
1 tbsp minced ginger (or fresh if you have it)
1 tbsp chilli
1 tbsp lemon juice (I use lemon squeeze if I don’t have a fresh one)
2 tsp garam masala (this is a mixed spice you can get in the spice jar section)
400g tin of tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato sauce
1 cup of beef stock

1.    Heat the oil in a large frypan and soften the onion for a few minutes. 

2.    Add the lamb, garam masala, ginger and a squeeze of lemon. 

3.    When the lamb is browned, add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, chilli and stock. 

4.    Simmer uncovered for 90 mins until the sauce has thickened up. 

5.    Serve with fresh rice, and add a dollop of natural yoghurt on top.  Yum!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Souped Up

When you’re planning your meals for the week it’s always good to include a healthy soup option.  By using seasonal vegetables you can make something that tastes good but is also easy on your wallet, as they tend to be more affordable.  You can dress them up with a swirl of cream or yoghurt when serving, or add some crusty bread to the table.  They’re also great on a wet weekend for lunch. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve made a couple of stand out soups either from things I already had in the kitchen or from affordable seasonal veg from the market.  You will see there is no meat in any of these, so if your partner or family need some you could always add bacon to any of these recipes.  The great thing about soup is that you could make some on a Sunday afternoon and keep it in the fridge for another night when you don’t feel like cooking, or take it to work for lunch

Here are my top three for you to try out:

1.    Minty Pea Soup (pictured) 
2.    Cauliflower Soup
3.    Roast Veg & Lentil Soup

Minty Pea Soup – this is my new favourite soup.  It looks like something from outer space but tastes so so good and is super quick.  Finely chop 2 onions and brown them for a minute in a saucepan with some oil and a teaspoon of minced garlic.  Add 700ml chicken stock and when it starts boiling, add 500g frozen minty peas.  Boil for about 6 minutes or until peas are tender.  Add a handful of mint leaves if you have them, or a big glug of mint sauce.  Season, then whiz it all up with a handheld blender and serve immediately. 

Cauliflower Soup – this soup somehow manages to come out quite creamy despite the fact there is no milk or cream involved.  Cut a medium cauliflower into small pieces, and then grate an onion, a carrot, and a potato.  Heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in a big saucepan and soften the veg for a few minutes.  Add a teaspoon of chicken stock powder and half a teaspoon of curry powder.  Add enough water so that you only just cover the veg, and bring to the boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until all the veg are tender.  Season, then whiz up with a handheld blender and simmer for a further 20 mins before serving.  

Roast Veg & Lentil Soup – chunkily chop up a roasting tray of vegetables (you can use anything but I used a smallish pumpkin, a carrot, 2 brown onions and some fresh garlic), coat in some olive oil and season with salt & pepper, chilli (if you like it), cumin, ground coriander and some paprika.  Cover the tray in foil and roast for about 90 mins on 180°C.  Whiz up the veg in a food processor with a tin of tomatoes and about 500mL chicken stock (you need 1.5L chicken stock in total).  Bring it all back to the boil; add remaining stock and the tin of lentils.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Lovely with a dollop of yoghurt when serving. 

What are some of your favourite soups?