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, October 31, 2010

Easy & Delicious Pasta Sauce

It’s easy to get stuck in a food rut where you are cooking the same meals on a 2 week rotation.  It’s well worth taking the time to experiment with new ideas - even simple ones - and it doesn’t have to take hours as this recipe will demonstrate.

As I’ve been cooking for this blog and trying a lot of new things of late, my husband has not had much of a chance to cook.  He really enjoys cooking (and is very good at it too!) so this is one of his recipes that he cooked up for me on Friday night

Normally for a pasta sauce we would use tinned tomatoes but the depth of flavour that you get from really fresh bright red tomatoes just can’t be beat.  Same with the fresh garlic, it is so much more flavoursome than the type that comes in a jar.

6 Tomatoes really ripe red ones (I used the vine ripened ones)
1 bulb of fresh garlic
2 red onions
2 small red chilis
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp red wine
Crumbled feta to serve
Whole olives to serve
Fresh basil to serve
Spaghetti or pasta to serve

1.    Preheat the oven to 200°C.  Cut the tomatoes and garlic bulb in half and place cut side up on a baking tray with the whole chilis.  Slice the red onions into quarters and add those. Drizzle with olive oil and season well
2.    Place in the oven for around 30 mins or until the tomatoes are looking a bit mushy and the garlic is soft to touch
3.    Cook the spaghetti according to the packet directions
4.    Take the garlic and squeeze all of the flesh out into a bowl, then add the tomato, chili, onion, wine and vinegar.  From here you can either break the mixture up with a fork (for a chunkier sauce) or whiz it in a blender until just combined.  Mix in the whole olives. 
5.    Place the spaghetti into a bowl, top with sauce, feta and basil and serve with a massive glass of red wine

A recipe like this is a great base to use for any pasta dish. You could lose the feta and olives, and maybe add chorizo, bacon, mushrooms, baby spinach - anything you’ve got in the fridge really - to change the flavour each time you make it.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fluffy Baked Eggs

I love going out for breakfast, but a lot of the time I really struggle to get out of my dressing gown and tame my crazy hair for public viewing.  Such an effort. 

I’m also a bit fussy.  There must be at least 30 cafes within walking distance from my house but I only usually frequent a few of them that have the 2 ticks - great coffee and of course, great eggs.

On Saturday I decided to recreate the café experience at home (with my husband still asleep and my seriously comfy slippers on - I wasn’t going anywhere).  I tried my hand at one of my favourite café breakfasts – baked eggs.  I’d never made these before and had no idea what was in them.

I had a quick look through some of my ye olde recipe books and found a recipe that was so simple I kept looking over the page to see if there were more ingredients.  The great thing is you can use the eggs as a base and then add flavours depending on your taste and what’s in the fridge. 

I think that cafes must add cream to theirs but I decided to follow the recipe book for now and see how it went.  'Flippin awesome' is how it went according to the one guest at Cafe Jam Jar. 

The Basic Ingredients
4 eggs, separated
Salt and pepper

Yes, that’s it! I checked out the fridge and saw that I had some feta and baby spinach so decided to go with that for mine. 

1.    Preheat the oven to 200°C.  Whisk the egg whites until fluffy.  This is what will give your eggs the light fluffiness at the end (hence the name).
2.    Place the egg yolks into a small oven proof dish and season well with salt and pepper (I used a 15cm ramekin dish).  This is where you can go crazy and add whatever you like – sliced ham, olives, cream (mmm), cheese, mushrooms, whatever takes your fancy.  I added a handful of baby spinach and some crumbled up feta to the egg yolks and then folded in the egg whites. 
3.    Place on a tray in the oven for around 6-8 mins.  Keep an eye on it as everyone’s oven varies.  It’s ready when the top is slightly browned, and the eggy mix doesn’t jiggle around when you move the dish. 
4.    Spread ¼ of an avocado on a slice of toast, and spoon the eggs on top.  Add some tomato relish to serve (if you have some), as well as a big cup of coffee on the side.  Serves 2.  Big hair welcome.      

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Make your own tortilla wraps

I love it when you discover that you can easily make something that you always buy from the supermarket.  Last weekend I thought I would try my hand at making wraps, and wow! So nice, and pretty easy too.  The other thing is, they're about a quarter of the cost of store bought ones. 

These are great to make into burritos, serve with a curry, or as a simple wrap for lunch stuffed with chicken & salad.  Give them a whirl!

2 cups plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
¾ lukewarm milk (you can use skim or full fat)

Place the flour and baking powder into a large bowl

Add the salt and oil to the lukewarm milk, stir to combine.  Add this mix to the flour and stir until it looks like a sticky dough

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 2 mins.  Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a cloth and allow to rest for 15 mins.

Divide the dough into 8 even size balls, cover and allow to rest again for 20 mins without touching to avoid them sticking together.  The resting gives it it’s elasticity and stops them being too hard.

Place a single ball of dough onto a floured surface and roll out thinly with a rolling pin until about the size of a small side plate.  Try to roll them into a circle but don’t re roll if it is the wrong shape.  You don’t want to overwork the dough or the tortilla will come out tough

Place into a pre heated frying pan and cook for 30 seconds each side.  It may puff up slightly while cooking.  Wrap in a cloth to keep warm and plough through the other 7.  If you get into a groove you can roll out the next tortilla while another one is in the pan.  Better yet, have a kitchen buddy to roll while you cook.

These are best eaten as soon as you make them but they actuallly freeze quite well too.  You just let them thaw on the bench, wrap in foil and heat in a warm oven.  Don’t microwave them as it makes them too chewy. 

Once you’ve got this recipe down you could try adding flavouring next time – such as a teaspoon of dried herbs or maybe garlic salt instead of plain salt.  I’m going to add chilli powder next time.  Let me know how you go with this!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oh Jamie you’ve done it again…yummy brownies

Is there anyone who doesn’t love brownies?  If there are I haven’t met them yet.  And one taste of these delicious little honeys and you will love them even more.  I made them recently for a friend’s birthday BBQ at the beach, stacked up in a pyramid (sort of) like a cake.  They are easy to serve and won’t last too long let me tell you. 

The trouble with these is that you can’t eat just one. So you have two, and you feel a bit queasy.  But it’s worth it!  The trick is to make them for a crowd, otherwise you will eat them ALL in a weekend…

What you need:
250g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
80g cocoa powder, sifted
65g plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
360g caster sugar
4 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 180°C and line a baking tin with baking paper.

In a glass bowl placed over simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate and mix with a spatula until smooth.

In another bowl, place the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and sugar.  Mix this into the chocolate. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring until it looks silky and shiny.

Pour the mix into the tray, and place in the oven for around 25 minutes. Keep an eye on it as you don’t want to overdo it (you don’t want a skewer to come out clean). Let them cool in the tray before moving them onto a board to cut into squares.

Be sure to eat all the crumbly falling off bits yourself before someone else comes along and steals them all (speaking from experience)  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Slow down, you move too fast

Now, where do I start on how much I LOVE my slow cooker?

Will and I received our slow cooker as a wedding gift two years ago.  Since then, this little device has produced many a tender, delicious meal that is full of flavour

Some of the best things for the slow cooker are:

·      Casseroles and stews – the meat becomes super tender and the flavour develops with hours of gentle heat

·      Any kind of soup – load up the veges with a cup or 2 of stock, cook on low for 4 hrs

·      Roast meats – place a whole leg of lamb in with a can of tomatoes, a cup of beef stock, salt and pepper.  Cook on low for 8 hours, at which time you can pull the meat off the bone with a spoon.   

·      Relish and chutneys – these really benefit from the time in the pot.  You’ll find the flavours more intense than a stove top version

If you are converting a slow cooker recipe from an oven version to a slow cooker, remember to use about half as much liquid.  Because of the lid, very little liquid evaporates, even when cooking on high. 

I believe that the best thing about a slow cooker is being able to buy cheaper cuts of meat.  No not freaky things like tongue and liver (though I’m sure there a loads of offally good recipes).  Things like osso bucco, chuck steak and mince can be your new best friends.   

An easy way to test the waters with your slow cooker is a simple recipe like Beef and Guinness.  Not too many ingredients, which keeps it simple – as soon as there is a long list of ingredients in a recipe (especially things I have to go and buy) I tend to tune out and move on.   Don’t get suckered into buying the recipe base sachets – these tend to be full of salt, sugar and preservatives that you just don’t need. 

You just pile everything into the pot and leave it alone – it’s the perfect way to cook when you have better things to do with your time.  Osso bucco is usually a low cost option at the butcher.  It benefits from slow, gentle cooking to produce a tender final product.  You could also use 4 lamb shanks or 500g of chuck steak for this recipe. 

Slow Cooked Beef and Guinness
4 osso bucco (beef shin)
2 onions, sliced thickly
400g mushrooms, sliced thickly
2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
2 tbsp tomato sauce
1 cup of beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large can of Guinness (around 450ml)

1.    Brown the meat in a lightly oiled frying pan on a medium heat.  Set aside.
2.    Cook up the onions and mushroom in the fat from the meat until browned slightly.  Place these, the meat, and the rest of the ingredients into the slow cooker and cook on low for 5-6 hrs. 
3.    When finished cooking, you can whisk in a tablespoon of plain flour to thicken up the sauce
4.    Serve with creamy mashed potato and loads of minty green peas. And some fresh bread on the side to mop up the sauce.  To be sure.