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, May 29, 2011

Orange-in-a-Blender Cake

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, along comes a recipe with a difference.  When my friend Jo told me about this recipe, I thought she was a bit mad.  Put a WHOLE orange in a blender – skin, pips, everything?  Surely not!  But of course I had to give it a try, and wow.  This cake is so good.  It’s super moist with just the right amount of citrus zing. 

And talk about thrifty!  No need to zest or juice your orange and toss away the skin.  If you are feeling super thrifty (or if, like me, you run out of baking paper at a crucial cake moment) you can even use the paper bag that the flour comes in to line your cake tin.

Now I have to confess that I over-estimated the grunt of my blender for this recipe, and ended up with a blender full of ingredients that were not moving, let alone blending.  So people, I urge you, cut up your orange into little tiny pieces and blend them on their own before adding all of the other ingredients.    

I also had a little trouble getting the mixture out of the blender, because of all the grooved sides on it.  But persevere with a spatula (or, your hands) and you’ll get there in the end.  

Now I am a bit lazy when it comes to icing.  As in, I can never be bothered with much more than a sprinkling of icing sugar. Don’t hold it against me.


1 orange - skin, pips, the whole bit
1.5 cups self-raising flour
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
180g melted butter


Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Grease and line a regular sized cake tin.

Cut your orange, skin and all, into small pieces.  Place in the blender and whiz together.  Add all of the other ingredients and blend until just combined. 

Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 40-45 mins, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Dust with icing sugar and serve as is, still warm, or with a spoonful of cream, ice cream or natural yoghurt.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Roast Everything Soup

When the weather starts to cool down there’s nothing like a steaming bowl of deliciousness for dinner.  So why not try to get your 2&5 a day (well, OK just the 5) with a hearty wintery soup.  

This week I was sashaying around Coles trying to fill in time before a meeting (does anyone else window shop at the supermarket?) when I saw whole butternut pumpkins for 88c a kilo.  I grabbed one of those and a whole bulb of garlic and, knowing I had onions at home, decided to make soup for dinner.

You can use any vegetables for this recipe, but the beauty of it lies in the simple cooking process.  Chop everything up, slather in oil and seasonings, roast for an hour, smoosh it up, add some stock, and you’re good to go.  Soup is also a great option for a packed lunch, or for freezing for a night when you don’t feel like cooking.   Try anything that you enjoy roasted – roast parsnip is the next soup in my sights, as well as red capsicum & tomato.


1 whole medium pumpkin, any variety, skin on, seeds removed
2 onions
1 bulb garlic
Olive oil, for roasting
1L chicken stock
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground sage
Salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 180°C and line two trays with baking paper.

Chop the pumpkin as you would for a roast, in medium size pieces, and place across two roasting trays.  Peel the onions and chop into quarters, add to the trays.  Remove some of the excess skin from the garlic, divide into individual cloves and spread over the two trays.     

Cover liberally with olive oil, and sprinkle over the spices and seasoning.  If you don’t have any of the spices don’t worry, it will taste great even just with salt and pepper.  Move the vegetables around the trays so that they are covered with oil on both sides.

Place in the oven and roast, turning half way through, for around an hour.  You will know when the vegetables are ready as they will be golden, and soft when poked with a fork. 
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly until you can handle the garlic.  Squeeze out the sweet centres of the garlic and discard the garlic skins. 

Place the vegetables into a large pot, squash everything with a wooden spoon, and add your stock.   Use a stick mixer or a regular blender to puree the soup – yes including the softened pumpkin skin (it’s good for you, and delicious, I promise).  You may need to add more stock depending on the consistency that you like.

Bring to the boil on the stove and then turn down the heat – you just want to bring it up to the right temperature for eating.  Keep stirring it as you need to be wary of air bubbles forming.  I found this out from experience when one after the other exploded onto my face, my hair, the walls, the floor, my jumper and even my back as I tried to flee the scene.  But don’t worry, even if this happens there will still be plenty left in the pot.

Place into bowls or mugs to serve.  If you’re feeling a little indulgent you could add a splash of cream, sour cream or natural yoghurt.  I enjoyed it straight up, and I’m sure you will too.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Deliciously Easy Baked Apples

When I recently found my fruit bowl overflowing with pink lady apples, and 6 people coming for dinner, I dove into my favourite old cook books to see what they could recommend. Baked apples grabbed my attention right away – I had everything in my cupboard already. 

I was really surprised by how tasty they were – “like an apple pie without the pastry” according to one of my guests.  These are so comforting, dripping hot with sweet syrup and plumped up dried fruit bursting with flavour in your mouth.  The apple becomes so soft it just falls apart as you cut through with your spoon. 

This recipe is 100% adaptable depending on your tastes.  Use any sort of apple, but Pink Lady or Granny Smith tend to hold their shape best.  You can use any dried fruit you like – sour cherries are great, as are apricots, dates, sultanas, figs.  The liquid is also up for interpretation – anything like port, brandy, scotch, apple juice, cranberry juice, even water would work.

As for the sauce, you guessed it, anything goes.  Custard, cream, ice cream, yoghurt, caramel sauce – whatever you fancy.  And while they are not the most attractive-looking dessert, rest assured the taste will not disappoint you.

Ingredients (serves 6)

6 whole apples
50g butter, melted
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup (or maple syrup, or honey)
½ cup dried fruit, chopped up small
2 tbsp port or any liquid you choose
2 tbsp walnuts (or any nuts you prefer such as almonds)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
Ice cream, to serve


Place your dried fruit in a small bowl with the liquid and allow it to soak while you prepare everything else.

Preheat your oven to 180°C and have a baking dish ready which is large enough to hold the apples without them touching.

Using a sharp knife, cut around the waist of the apple – this prevents it bursting as it begins to cook

Core the apples with an apple corer, or if you don’t have one just use a sharp knife to cut a square around the stem on top of the apple.  Push the knife all the way through to the bottom so that you have a matching cut square down there.  When it is cut all the way through you can push the centre out the bottom of the apple, which is weirdly very satisfying.  Place your apples in the baking dish.

Add the melted butter, brown sugar, golden syrup, walnuts, cinnamon and mixed spice to your fruit mix.  Stir until well combined.  Smell it, it’s amazing.

Place a spoonful of the mixture into the apple, pushing it down to the bottom with your finger.  Fill each of the apples until you have used all of your mixture.  If you need to, add another sprinkle of walnuts so that the apples are full to the brim.

Place in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until completely soft when tested with a skewer.   Plate up and serve with a generous scoop of ice cream.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Most Amazing Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Loaf

Wow.  Wow wow wow.  I’ve just made and eaten the most delicious thing.  In the words of my husband “this may be the best thing you have ever made”.  It’s bready, it’s cinnamony, it’s buttery, it’s to die for.  It’s a cinnamon sugar pull-apart loaf.  And believe me, you want to make this.

Now they say that good things come to those who wait, and never has that been truer than with this recipe.  There is a LOT of waiting.  So much waiting that a person (OK, this person) could find themselves eating peanut butter straight out of the jar.  Don’t let the time put you off, it is well worth it.  There’s mixing, then allowing to rise, then slicing, and allowing to rise again, then cooking (oh! the aroma!), then allowing to rest for TWENTY AGONISING MINUTES. 

But then, finally, it IS ready and you can tuck in and everything is right with the world.  Some more quotes: “this is outrageously good” (from my husband) and “oh golly oh golly” (from me).  Do yourself a favour and put this on your to-do list.   

Yes, there is a lot of butter and sugar – I’m not pretending this is a health food at all.  I would recommend you have some friends over when this is ready, or like us you will end up eating it all yourself.


2 ¾ cup plain flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 x 7g pack dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon salt
50g butter
1/3 cup milk (I used light)
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the amazing topping:
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
30g butter unsalted butter, melted
Sift the flour, sugar, salt and yeast into a large mixing bowl.
Melt the butter and milk in the microwave, then add the water and vanilla.  Pour into the dry ingredients and mix well with a spatula. 
Whisk your eggs and add to the mix.  When this is combined, add the ¾ cup plain flour and keep mixing.  Even though it looks sticky, this is all fine.   Grease your bowl with vegetable or olive oil and place the dough back in.  Cover with cling film and place somewhere warm to rise for an hour.  Interestingly today I found the warmest place in the house was on top of my Foxtel box.  Is that a sign that I watch too much TV?  Probably. 
About 5 minutes before the dough finishes rising, mix together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a little bowl and set aside.  Melt the butter in the microwave and set that aside.  Grease and flour a small loaf pan.  
Punch down your risen dough and knead in 2 tablespoons of flour.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface, to around 30cm x 50cm or so.  Using a pastry brush, spread the melted butter across all of the dough.  Sprinkle over the sugar and cinnamon mixture.  It seems like way too much sugar – it is, but just do it.
Slice your dough into 5-6 even vertical strips.  Stack them on top of each other and slice again into 6 equal pieces. Lay the pieces vertically into the loaf pan, packing them in quite tight.  Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise again for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
Heat your oven to 180°C and bake for 35 minutes.  You want the top to be really brown and golden, as this will ensure that the centre is cooked too.  Allow to rest in the pan for 20 minutes, before loosening the edges and flipping out onto a wire rack.  Devour immediately with a big cup of tea.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

These are a few of my favourite things…

It’s funny how you can get a bit attached to inanimate objects over the years.  But I bet most of you have a few bits and pieces that you kind of love but can’t always explain exactly why.  I was drying up today and started thinking about the things that I just couldn’t do without in the kitchen.  But also things that I just kind of love for no particular reason.  Here are my favourites.

1.    Pyrex glass measuring jug – unlike other measuring jugs the numbers never fade, and I love how it feels quite heavy in your hand.  I have to admit though, that lately this jug has had to play second fiddle to a new (well, old) jug.  At Vinnies a few weeks ago I bought a really old-fashioned glass jug, the kind where the measurements (including pints!) are actually moulded onto the glass.  I paid $4 for it and saw the exact same one in an antiques shop yesterday for $48.  Go to second hand shops – you find the best stuff there. 

2.    Electronic scales – before I got into baking I was never too bothered about being exact with my measurements.  But when you are cooking cakes or biscuits (anything sweet really) it really helps to have your quantities right.  With these little babies I can be really specific and then only have myself to blame if things goes wrong.  My lovely friend Suse bought these for me and I just love love love them.  And the tare feature – wow.  I didn’t know what that was until I got these.  You can put a bowl on the scales and press tare and it takes the display back to 0g.  Then add your 100g of flour, press tare again, and you’re back to 0g so that you can add your butter.  Magic.

3.    Huge roasting pan – this is a super heavy lidded pan for the oven that you can also use on the stove top to brown the meat before hand.  Another gift from the lovely Suse!

4.    Slow cooker – I could dedicate a whole other blog to my love of my slow cooker.   If you don’t have one, do yourself a favour and head to Target today, I think they’re around $40.  You can pop everything in there, leave it for 6-9 hours while you go about your business, and when you come home you may (like me) forget that you put it on and think that someone has broken into your house to cook you dinner.  Think shanks, chicken thighs, hearty soups, legs of lamb, gooey desserts, and even overnight porridge.   

5.    Stove top coffee maker – my gorgeous sister in law Daisy bought my husband and I a coffee maker for our wedding in October 2008.  We have easily used it at least 5 times per week since.  It is Un Real.  I used to spend around $20-30 per week on coffee from the cafes near home and work.  But I actually really like this home made coffee better.  For the cost of one coffee from a cafĂ© we can buy our packet of coffee from the supermarket and this lasts a week. You place water in the bottom, your coffee in the middle, and by some amazing feat of science it pushes the coffee liquid into the top, ready to pour. It produces a strong yet sweet coffee that really makes you feel awake, alive, alert and enthusiastic.

6.    Big heavy wooden chopping board – this was purchased only recently from Glebe markets.  It’s one of those gorgeous looking and lovely smelling big thick boards made from local wood.  According to the label it’s perfect for cutting (really??), or serving bread and cheese.  The first time I used it to chop carrots I made a little scratch in it, and a little cry escaped my lips.  Luckily my husband was there to assure me that it IS for cutting (did I not read the label?) and that everything would be OK.

7.    Old fashioned champagne glasses – at our wedding they served the champagne in those awesome shallow champagne glasses with the wide tops and I just fell in love.  I bought a set of 6 from eBay that have a gold rim and etchings of palm trees on them.  They make everything taste better.

8.    Jars, jars and more jars – I have perfected my technique now so that when I go into a second hand shop it takes me but a moment to hone in on any awesome jars that they have.  I look for the clip top ones, or ones with the strong rubber seal.  If they look good, have some sort of pattern or are an interesting shape, I’m sold.  Recently I managed to sort out my whole pantry and place everything (yep, even Gravox) into jars.  I even borrowed my office label maker and made labels for everything.  Super anal, yes, but now I don’t have overflowing bags of flour or dried up icing sugar in my cupboards anymore.  My current favourite is a teeny tiny clip top jar that my mum found at Vinnies in Dubbo.  That’s another thing – always check out second hand shops in the country, they’re a gold mine.

9.    Old-fashioned cook books – I love nothing more than flicking through an old recipe book like the Farmhouse Kitchen which I bought in England for a pound.  It makes me smile to look at recipes for Somerset Apple Cake, Rhubarb Stirabout or Gooseberry Fool.  I learn so much from these books, for instance that it’s really quite easy to make your own mayonnaise or meringues from scratch (and, according to this book, they should be made on the same day as one uses the yolks and the other uses the whites).  I love the little comments about impressing your friends with Baked Alaska or how a husband should always come home to a warm tea-cake.

I’d really love to hear about your favourite things and why they are special for you.