Tag Archives: homemade

Christmas doesn’t have to end yet- Chocolate bark

So I couldn’t fit this post in before Christmas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy chocolate any time of year (amiright?). Obviously. I made these for colleagues for Christmas- my boss can only enjoy Gluten Free goodies and it’s easier to make something that’s gluten free for everybody. Last year I made fudge.

This was surprisingly easy to make. I got a bit nervous about working with chocolate, but it was not difficult at all. I found that a glass bowl helped (I bought one for the occasion but have been meaning to for years). If you want this to be GOOD, use the best possible chocolate you can afford. I used some cheaper white and dark chocolate, and thought it shows. The milk chocolate was divine and make the almond bark great.

It really is simple: Melt chocolate, spread into a pan lined with baking/grease proof paper (no oil or spraying needed). Press goodies on of your choice into the chocolate (I had one with almonds and the other with candy canes) and let set in the fridge. When firm (doesn’t take long at all) melt a second (different) chocolate and spread this over the top. Put back in the fridge. When set, break into large chunks.

Naturally, if you use vegan chocolate, it will be vegan and if you check your candy canes or other mix-ins are gluten free, then your bark will be gluten free.

I made a dark chocolate, almond and milk chocolate bark (definitely the best- the quality of the milk chocolate shone through) and a dark chocolate, candy cane and blogs of white chocolate “snow” one. I also made one serious “block” of chocolate, broke it in half and gave it to good friends at work. I gave these in little noodle boxes wrapped with curling ribbon. I would also try some different mix-ins. You could add mini marshmallows, coconut and glace cherries/turkish delight and make rocky road style bark, or lolly bananas and peanuts (yum!), or dried fruit if you want to be Christmas festive. Don’t you just think you could throw a chunk or two of this into hot milk?! Maybe when it’s colder!

I was hoping to make this for family as well as colleagues, but here’s the thing: it’s too bloody hot to make chocolate gifts in Australia if you’re not sure about refrigeration! Baking something is much easier.

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, luckily it’s still nice and cold and this will keep out of the fridge if you wish.

Enjoy!

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Homespun gifts

So I love thinking of gifts! I try not to let the birthday ball drop just because Christmas is all over the place. I’m sure that you’ve been caught out buying someone a present because you just had to get them something and the “what” you got them took second place. I know I have. So for a friend’s birthday recently who loves natural skin care (we have actually covered our faces in green clay in the name of fun and skincare even though I came out in a rash) I wanted to get her something she would like:

  • A bamboo scrubber mitt
  • Coconut and brown sugar scrub
  • Oatmeal and honey soap
  • Rosewater spray

She assures me the coconut scrub left her face baby smooth. It’s so nice discovering your friends have yet another thing in common with you- reminds you why you’re destined to help each other bury bodies together one day. This isn’t really homemade but it’s homespun. Is that close enough?

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In a noodle box to look extra cute! (And maybe because all my wrapping paper has Christmas pictures on it).

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DIY Lavender Eye Pillows. Anyone could make them!

So I love making gifts.

If only my lavender plant still looked like this. Brown thumb!

If only my lavender plant still looked like this. Brown thumb!

I made several lavender eye pillows because I had lot of birthdays and found good quality loose lavender from Handmade Naturals on Gladstone Road in Highgate Hill.

I started by figuring out how big I wanted the pillows by using my own eye pillow (the purple one) to measure the size. You might recognise the fabric from my maxi skirt post.

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I made the first one by hand until Ben took pity on my and used the sewing machine to help me. I married the right man.

It’s as simple as it looks: folded the wrong way, sew two sides. Turn the right way out, fill with lavender, then fold edges in and sew last side (or hand sew using backstitch, which I did for the one you see above).

About five eye pillows (one super big one is not shown here) for less than half an hour's work. The blue ones have a plain blue fabric on the other side.

About five eye pillows (one super big one is not shown here) for less than half an hour’s work. The blue ones have a plain blue fabric on the other side.

One of the great things about this gift is that you can use up pretty fabric scraps you have, as you can see I did here. The black and white fabric was used for a skirt, the Morrocan white and blue is destined to be a table cloth.

I tied these up with a spray bottle of rosewater with a piece of raffia (and when I had run out, brown string) but of course these could be part of a much larger gift, or a simple “just because” gift. Ben has also made much larger versions of these using old denim and beans/rice as heat packs. These were the coziest things in winter (and lived inside our clothes and blankets!).

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Cute and easy. A great last-minute Christmas gift.

Do you make any gifts at Christmas? What sorts?

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Work It

So I made a maxi skirt the other day and discussed how I would wear it. But if I want to corporate it up, I would wear it like this. And I did.

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DIY Maxi Skirt- fun with prints

So I caught the DIY maxi skirt craze.

I really wanted some long, modest skirts I could wear to work (I don’t have to dress corporate) that didn’t cost the earth.

I found some beautiful fabric at Spotlight and looked at a million Pinterest pages and then decided on following this method from Lady Melbourne.

It’s basically folding down the top of the fabric twice to make a space for elastic, folding it over and stitching the side seam, adding the elastic and sewing it in and finally, hemming to the length you like.

The problem with my fabric is that the pattern was facing the wrong way! I had to make a very slim cut skirt with only one seam (down the back) and, because I like walking, I made a slit in the back. This was done by unpicking (ugh. Won’t make that mistake next skirt) the side seam up to my knee, then folding over the edges of the fabric and hemming, followed by stitching the top of the slit a lot so it wouldn’t accidentally open as I traipse up stairs at work.

Ok, and when I say “I”, I mean “Ben” because I don’t know how to use a sewing machine, but my awesome seamster husband does. So I designed, cut and pinned it and Ben sews it like the awesome tailor he is. You can barely see where the fabric lines up. Wife-husband team win.

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There are two more skirts to come. One of the other pieces of fabric (chevron print) also will be quite slim as a skirt and might need to be a pencil skirt, but the floral one should be all swooshy and lovely. I’ll post pictures as they are born.

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This skirt looks good with a black top and brown or red belt, but also works with my grey singlet with leopard print skull. A big pair of sunnies, a top knot and a pair of boots and that’s all the attitude you need during an Aussie summer.

Why not make one (or dozens) for people for Christmas? Or just yourself.

Yeah, just yourself.

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Vego Dinner Party for Non-Vegos

So I had some work people over for a dinner party. None of them were vego or ever ate much vego food, so I wanted to impress. No pressure.

I think cooking for non-vegos is an interesting challenge. I want them to be full, but I don’t want to simply replace a steak with a mock-meat and most importantly, I want it to be delicious.

After thinking about my guests, I decided to compromise on the mock-meat rule and serve vego sausages.

The other great thing about my choice is that most of it can be taken care of in advance and all you need to do is cook the polenta and serve up the icecream at the end.

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The main course was a recipe I found in the newspaper years ago. It’s a Matt Preston recipe I adapted for vegos by swapping the sausage for vego sausage. I forgot to add on my menu that it would be served with a fennel salad with a tomato mustard dressing and a rocket salad. The first time I made this, I used regular mushrooms instead of porcini and it still turned out brilliantly. As you can see, the page is a bit worn and splattered from use.

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I’m pretty organised in the kitchen. I didn’t spend all day on this and I didn’t go any prep the day before, which I’ll also try to do if there are lots of steps.

I didn’t start shopping until after midday.

I went to the Swiss Deli Cafe on Boundary Street and bought porcini mushrooms and a nice piece of Australian pecorino.

At Coles, I bought the rest of the ingredients.

At home, I broke the prep into stages: Chopping and veg prep, making the dressing, making the sauce, preparing everything for later.

Chopping and veg prep:

From left to right: Onion waiting to go into the sausage sauce, bowl ready for tomato prepping, fennel all cut and ready to store until the night, scraps bin. I used my food processor to get the fennel sliced finely. Chunky fennel is a bit intense. In the other photo are porcini mushrooms soaking. When drained, you reserve the liquid for the sauce and chop the mushrooms finely. They smell amazing! Regular mushrooms are fine too.

Making the dressing:

The dressing a combination of the tomato gel sacks discarded from the sauce (from about 4 good sized tomatoes), a squeeze of lemon, 1/2 tsp of mustard and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. You strain the dressing to remove the tomato seeds and press the gel through the sieve to get the most flavours.

Making the sauce:

Very easy. Brown two onions in olive oil and a little butter, add the sausage and brown, add the porcini, add the tomatoes, cook whilst stirring for a few minutes, add the porcini soaking water and simmer (I reserved half of the liquid for reheating).

Preparing everything for later:

Firstly I lined up my extra porcini water, measured out my polenta, grated my parmesan for the polenta, shaved my pecorino for serving, chopped and crumbled my dutch gingerbread biscuits, did the dishes, and left the kitchen. The fun part is preparing the table.

I didn’t start any prep until 3, but had from 5-6.30 to get ready and relax in time for our guests to turn up at 7. After cheeses and entrees (which my guests brought along with a bottle of Mumm champagne!), I cooked the polenta (which takes 20-30 minutes but as our kitchen and dining are the same room, remains social and easy to do).

I didn’t take a photo, but to serve, I grabbed a big board and tipped polenta down the middle, making a well. The sauce got pored over the top and then the pecorino goes on top. As it’s plonked down on the table, it got many “oohs” and “ahhs”, which is pretty much crack to a home cook. Eight people were invited, six turned up, but there was enough for about 10 reasonable eaters (or 6-8 starving people). We couldn’t finish nearly all over it and I sent people home with leftovers.

Sweets were chopped gingerbread biscuits with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream and gingerbread crumbles over the top, with a shot of black coffee poured over, affogato style. It’s super easy, requires no baking or fuss and was delicious. The coffee (a triple shot long black bought earlier in the day at a local cafe) runs over the ice cream into the biscuit below and makes it all gooey. Heaven.

As I clear plates, I rinse and stack them. When guests are gone we take out the rubbish, tidy everything away and wipe down benches and tables. It was too late to do dishes without disturbing the neighbours, but they are neatly stacked and ready to go the next day. This is the cooking equivalent of taking your makeup off before bed- it saves you a lot of heart ache, even if it’s a pain sometimes.

This is really a fancy, maximum impact dinner for little work.

Leave out the dairy in the polenta and sausage sauce topping and choose vegan cheeses and ice cream and it’s a vegan meal, too!

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Yoghurt for the culture vulture.

So is that the most terrible title ever or what? Suggestions for edits welcome.

A while back, I posted the process for yoghurt making. I didn’t add photos, because I didn’t have any at the time. So, to accompany the instructions, here are my pics.

Don’t be nervous about making your own yoghurt. It’s easy, yummy and has saved us a LOT of money over the last two months as it’s basically served as our only other protein source besides beans. We have figured that it costs between $1-2 per litre of yoghurt since we started using dairy milk again. For soy, probably $2-3. It’s common knowledge these days that eating cultured food is beneficial for our health. It can easily be vegan if you don’t mind a thinner yoghurt, as milk powder serves as the thickener. We’ve also found that if you just use milk powder milk, you don’t need to heat your milk and let it cool, you just make the milk, heat to 45 degrees and add your culture (leftover yoghurt from last batch). This also makes the thickest yoghurt.

When I started yoghurt making, one of the things that worried me was keeping everything at the right temperature. This isn’t hard in summer- we just put it on the balcony- but in winter it was challenging. At our new place our hot water system is in a cupboard in the kitchen. There’s just enough space in there to put the jaffle iron… or our yoghurt. The temperature is between 40 and 45 degrees. Perfection.

If my outstanding photography doesn’t convince you, perhaps the picture of the final product served with almonds and a blob of my mum’s quince jelly will convince you.

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Let me know if you plan to have a go or if you have and questions.

 

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Welcome Wagon!

So I love making homemade gifts. It’s a shame that not everyone appreciates them. I love getting a gift that I know someone has spent time on.

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For my birthday, I had one lovely friend make me snickerdoodles (cinnamon biscuits/cookies) that were to die for and presented in a repurposed tin! She had even made half crunchy and half chewy because she didn’t know how I like my biscuits (Chewy, in case anyone ever wants to make me more. Not that I didn’t eat the crunchy ones!). Delicious, frugal and eco.

I love receiving any sort of gift. Whether someone has spent time at a shop, online, in the kitchen or sitting on the living room floor covered in glue, they have spent time thinking about you and that’s awesome.

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I had a housewarming challenge recently, where some family members had bought their first house together. I was on a budget, I had a tight time frame and one of the couple has a gluten allergy. I wanted to buy a couple of new items for their new place, but, frankly, people remember a homemade gift more (for better or worse) and I wanted care factor, because they are important family to use (as opposed to all those unimportant family members running around…).

I wanted to make gluten free noms, because it must suck having to think about baked goods before you tuck in. Above are the peanut butter cookies and banana choc oat cookies that resulted.

And you know what? I lost BOTH recipes, so all that exists of my knowledge of the recipes are the pretty (obviously homemade) labels. Here’s the banana choc oat label, if you want to have a go reconstructing them:

IMAG1935And the finished cookies were put into glass jars I already had, tied off with my dorky labels and nestles into a baking dish with some jam and tea towels. Total cost: Less than $30 (sorry if said family members read this) but very pretty, in my humble opinion.

IMAG1939Yes, that’s my car. Like I said, tight time frame 🙂

Have you ever made someone a (edible or inedible) present? I’d love to know what it was- share the love!

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Poverty In Paradise

With a blue sky and a camera, everything seems like an adventure.

So it doesn’t matter if you have less than $70 to last two people the next fortnight (after rent and that huge bloody bill, damn you car insurance), you can still have fun in Brisbane. I can still have fun in Brisbane. Or any city. For free.

Yesterday was gloomy weather so I got a lot of cooking and laundry done, but today dawned bright and early. I was supposed to do some research and writing, but after my computer died (really truly, I was given the blue screen of death) I decided it was too good a day to mope about lost time. Whether you have a Ben or not, there are lots of indoors and outdoors things you can do  without spending a cent.

Watch Ben make, then help him eat sourdough bread with a poached egg for breakfast. Ben made the bread only, not the egg.

Watch Ben make, then help him eat sourdough bread with a poached egg for breakfast. Ben made the bread only, not the egg.

Organise those thousands of jars I collect for jams, sauces and drinks.

Organise those thousands of jars I collect for jams, sauces and drinks.

Admire my free flower from Coles (they were giving them away because it was "market day").

Admire my free flower from Coles (they were giving them away because it was “market day”).

Water my spring onions, which have been growing in a vase (my best and only) for about 4 weeks, are going strong and provide a little bit of green inside.

Water my spring onions, which have been growing in a vase (my best and only) for about 4 weeks, are going strong and provide a little bit of green inside.

Do laundry. Hey, it's not glamorous, but it's a good free thing to do on a sunny day. I've never had such happy, pretty laundry.

Do laundry. Hey, it’s not glamorous, but it’s a good free thing to do on a sunny day. I’ve never had such happy, pretty laundry.

Play I-spy on our walk. I love this renovated church (which is now a house) with solar panels. One day I'll find where it is at street level and have a good look.

Play I-spy on our walk. I love this renovated church (which is now a house) with solar panels. One day I’ll find where it is at street level and have a good look.

Enjoy the roof of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church (ok, roof admiring is not everyone's hobby but this is MY blog and I'll admire if I want to).

Enjoy the roof of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church (ok, roof admiring is not everyone’s hobby but this is MY blog and I’ll admire if I want to).

Wonder at the beauty that is Brisbane city. The green and the built.

Wonder at the beauty that is Brisbane city. The green and the built.

Check out the Regional Flavours food festival at Southbank. Also, check out those crazy bean bag seats. Bad asses of ass comfort.

Check out the Regional Flavours food festival at Southbank. Also, check out those crazy bean bag seats. Bad asses of ass comfort.

For more info on the Regional Flavours festival, click here.

More Regional Flavours at the Courier Mail Piazza. So pretty.

More Regional Flavours at the Courier Mail Piazza. So pretty.

Eat a beautiful lunch of rosemary polenta chips with chipotle mayo.

Eat a beautiful lunch of rosemary polenta chips with chipotle mayo.

I’ve blogged about how I make polenta. The chipotle mayo was cheater’s version: mayonnaise mixed with chipotle salsa. I have, however, made a scrumptious aioli that goes beautifully with polenta as well, which is in the same post as above. To make rosemary polenta, stir through a small handful of cleaned, de-stemmed rosemary leaves at the end of cooking. I also add a teaspoon or dried oregano for oomph.

Best Sunday morning, and the price was right!

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Enjoy your Sunday! Share your frugal adventure ideas below.

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