Monday 24 June 2013

Tutorial: A Project for Daddy

The vast majority of my crafty projects ... in case you haven't noticed .... are for my munchkins.  Well, who can resist whipping up some cute clothing or accessories or something for them .... little girl stuff is just too adorable, always super-quick and I love how thankful and excited they are every time I make something ... Bethany has even called me "amazing" a few times .... that girl definitely knows the way straight to her Mummy's heart!  

Anyway, with the weather feeling very much like winter now, and with the fact that Daddy leaves at some unearthly hour in the absolute freezing cold each morning to catch the bus to work, I thought it was time to craft up a little gem for him.  I thought he'd like a warm winter scarf, and have been thinking for a few months that I would just search the net for a nice masculine-style scarf pattern to crochet up while watching TV.  However, when I did do some searching I didn't really find exactly what I was after.  I really wanted a pattern that went across the rows horizontally (ie the short way), and so many of the patterns I liked went long ways.  The thought of trying to keep my stitches even over such a great distance (I think they generally start with chaining about 300 stitches) just didn't appeal to me.  I like a quick, easy pattern that I can do whilst watching TV or chatting with Daddy in the evenings.

Anyway, so I just decided I'd have a bit of a play around and come up with my own idea.  Now I've never designed a crochet pattern before, so I was so excited when my idea actually worked, and even more excited when Daddy really genuinely said he loves it.  He hasn't really been a scarf-wearer before now, but he seemed keen to give it a try.  He's worn it around the house in the cold of these past few days, and is in awe at how much warmer it makes him ... yay for a Mummy win on this one!!

So, in case anyone else is looking for a super-simple, quick, no-thinking-required scarf pattern for a man in their life, I thought I'd try my hand at writing the pattern down ... yikes.  Please be understanding with me if I've made any silly mistakes, 'cause I've never attempted anything like this before.  I am very happy to accept corrections if anyone finds a mistake! 

Oh, and before you turn away, if you were looking for a women's / kids scarf option, I think this would totally work for that too ... maybe in a different colour, or if you're super keen you could use 2 or three different colours and create a stripe pattern.... 
Well, here goes:

You need:
- 2 balls of 8 ply acrylic yarn (I used Carnival Soft 8ply in Mid Grey)
- 6mm crochet hook (I think that's a size J)

Skill level:  Easy - would suit a beginner

Stitches: (Please note: OK, so I'm an Aussie and Aussie's generally use the UK stitch names, but most of the crochet patterns I've used are American, so I have used American terminology here as it sits better in my brain ... if you're confused about which stitch I mean, I have found this conversion chart  helpful).  Google and Youtube are also a great help if you want some pics / videos of how to make each stitch!

For this scarf I've only used 2 basic stitches ...
- sc - single crochet
- hdc - half double crochet

- Chain 26 (this is the width of the scarf, so you can play with this to make it wider or narrower depending on your preference)

- Row 1 - 1 sc in each ch, turn

- Row 2 - ch 1, 1 hdc in first sc, then 1 hdc in each sc across the row, turn

- Row 3 - ch 1, 1 sc in first hdc, then 1 sc in each hdc across the row, turn

- Remaining rows - Repeat rows 2 and 3 in order until the scarf reaches desired length.  I completed a total of 185 rows).  Finish on a Row 2 (sc).

Edging - I found the edges were looking a little ratty and uneven at this point, so to finish it off nicely, I completed a simple edging in the round along all 4 sides of the scarf.
- From the last stitch, complete a further 2 sc in same stitch for the corner, then turn the corner to the long side, and complete 1 sc in each 1 ch space.  In the last 1 ch space complete 3 sc to help the corner sit square, then continue 1 sc in each starting chain stitch along the top short edge.  At last starting chain, make 3 sc for the corner, then continue down the other long side making 1 sc in each ch 1 space to the end.  Complete 3 sc in last ch space for the corner, then continue along the final short side, completing 1 sc in each sc across.  

- Fasten off, and weave in ends.
And there you have it ... a comfy, warm and super-satisfying hand-made beauty for Daddy.  Now the only person in our house who hasn't benefited from Mummy's crocheting hobby is Mummy!  Off to find a pattern for me I think!

Saturday 15 June 2013

School Night Dinners Series - Recipe 4 - Quick and Tasty Pasty-Pies

Can't really decide if these are a Pasty, or a Pie, but this recipe has been a favourite of ours for a good few years, usually as a weekend meal.  But since school has started we've discovered that this is a great way to get a complete dinner into our girls quickly, and it's even better because by cutting the pasties up a bit, it's an ideal finger food for Hannah.  This translates to great multi-tasking time for Mummy ... supervising dinner while washing up, or sorting out the school bag, or laying out tomorrow's school clothes or .... you know how it is ... the list is endless!  Another bonus is that both girls LOVE these pasties, so there's never any dinner-time fussiness to deal with ... Mummy and Daddy like them too!

Anyway, here's how you make it: Makes enough for 2 dinners for 4 people (based on 1 Pasty per person) - they freeze really well!
- 4 store-bought frozen puff pastry sheets
- 500 grams mince meat (Beef, Veal, Pork, Chicken or Turkey all work well)
- 1 salt reduced stock cube (Beef Stock if using beef, veal or pork mince, Chicken Stock if using chicken or turkey mince)
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 zucchini
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 tsp cornflour
- 2 Tablespoons tomato sauce / ketchup (plus extra for serving)
- 2 tablespoons of milk
- Pepper
- Water

1. Take your pastry out of the freezer, and carefully separate the sheets, then place on the countertop (still with the plastic backing on) to thaw while you prepare the filling.

2. Dice onion, carrot and zucchini into similar-sized pieces.

3. Sauté onion lightly on high heat in a large frying pan - use a teaspoon of oil if you like, or even just a small splash of water works well, but don't go over-board as the mince will generally let out some juices too.

4. Add the mince and mix well whilst it browns, ensuring the mince breaks up nicely.

5. Add the carrot, zucchini and peas, and mix well.

6. Dissolve the stock cube in 1 cup of hot water and add to the pan, along with 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce / ketchup.  Once it comes to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer for about 5-10 minutes, or until the carrots are tender...keep an eye on it at this point, as you might need to add a little water to stop it drying out too much.  You want to have some liquid left once the vegies have cooked.

7.  In a small bowl or teacup mix the cornflour and 2 tablespoons of cold water.  Pour cornflour/water mixture into the pan and mix continually until the "gravy" is thickened.  If it thickens too much, just add a little more water until you like the consistency.  If it's too runny, turn the heat up and simmer until the liquid is absorbed / evaporated.

8.  Have a taste at this point, and add pepper to taste.  Take the frypan off the heat and allow to cool slightly while you prepare the pastry.

9.  Cut each pastry sheet in half across the diagonal as so ...

10.  Place on a lightly oiled tray (a cookie sheet or pizza tray works great), with sufficient space around them to allow for a little bit of "growing" while they cook.

11.  Spoon the filling onto one end of each pastry triangle.  Be careful not to over-fill, or they will split open while they're cooking.  About 3/4 cup of filling is probably sufficient.  (Oh, if you have left-over filling, it's great for a quick toasted-sandwich for lunch the next day, or even mixed through some pasta or rice for a take-to-work hot lunch).

12. Fold the other side of the triangle over, and use a fork to press each of the open side closed.  Use the fork to prick a couple of small holes in the top (which allows the steam to escape).  Brush a little milk over the top.  Then, if you like (and we usually do) sprinkle some poppy seeds or sesame seeds over the top. The milk should help them stick.

13.  Pop the tray in the oven at 180C (350F) for approximately 15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.

14.  Serve with some extra tomato sauce / ketchup and voila!

Hope you enjoy this one!  Oh, and these freeze really well - just allow them to cool fully, wrap in plastic wrap and stack in the freezer for those busier-than-most evenings.  To reheat, just remove them from the freezer, and take off the plastic wrap, place them on an oven tray and put them back in the oven at 180C (350F) for approximately 15-20 minutes.  Check them after 15 minutes by sticking a skewer or knife into the middle, then carefully touching the skewer or knife.  If it's hot, they're ready to go!  Tasty little crunchy parcels of Yum!

So, there's one more recipe to come in this series, and it's definitely the favourite!!  Stay tuned!  To see the other recipes in this series just click here, here, and here.

Sunday 9 June 2013

School Night Dinner recipe Series - Recipe 3 - Chicken Rice

So, this recipe really is for those nights you have absolutely no time.  It's nutritious, filling, tasty, prepped in about 2 minutes, and can be eaten by Mummy and Daddy too as it is, or it can be tweaked a little once the munchkin's are in bed for a bit more specialness.

It's chicken rice .... well at least that's what we call it, and it has nothing to do with the Malaysian Chicken-Rice dish ... and it doesn't have to be done with chicken.  In fact, it can be done with pretty much any protein.  I've put this recipe directly following the slow-cooker chicken recipe in my School Night Dinner Series, because it's a great use for the leftovers from that dish.

I use my electric rice-cooker for this dish, but you could totally do this in a pot on the stove ... just need to keep an eye on it so you catch it once the liquid has all absorbed, but before it's burnt!  The beauty of an electric rice cooker is that it automatically switches off once it's done.

- 1 1/2 cups short grain (eg arborio) rice
- 3 cups cold water
- 1 chicken breast (or equivalent of another protein), either pre-cooked or uncooked work well. The cooking time is enough to cook the raw protein, provided you dice it nice and small.  We've also used left-over corned silverside, leftover beef steak, and it also works with tuna or salmon (canned or fresh).
- 3-4 different vegetables (in this case I used 1/2 cup frozen peas, 1 carrot, 1 yellow zucchini, 1 small sweet potato - pretty much any vegie works)
- 1/2 salt reduced chicken stock cube.

1. Dice Chicken and vegetables into 1/2 inch cubes.

2.  Place rice and water into rice-cooker or pot.  Mix in vegetables and chicken, then break up the half stock-cube and mix in.
 3.  Cook until the slow-cooker switches off ... no need to check it during cooking.  However, if you're using a pot, cover and place on high heat.  Check it after 10 minutes and give it a little stir, then put the lid back on.  Check it every couple of minutes after that.  It's done when all the liquid is gone.  Cooking time in rice-cooker or on the stove will be about 15 - 20 minutes.

DONE!  Yep, it really is that simple.  Once again my girls LOVE this one, and Hannah even eats the visible veggies too ... GASP!

If you want to special-it-up a little for Mummy and Daddy, tip the cooked Chicken Rice into a pot.  Add an extra 1/2 cup water and cook stirring until this is absorbed.  Add 1-2 Tablespoons of butter (as per you preference) and a generous handful of grated cheese (we generally use tasty cheese), and some salt and pepper to taste.  Stir until it's combined, then serve with some diced shallots on top .... it's a cheat risotto-ey kind of thing, and is super yum!

Hope you enjoy this one!  Oh, and I'd love to know if anyone has tried any of the recipes yet.  The last two are here and here.  Did you make it?  Did it work?  Did you like it?  More importantly, did the kids eat it?

Saturday 1 June 2013

School Night Dinner Series - Recipe 2 - Slow Cooker Chicken with Shallot and Ginger Dipping Sauce

This is my second recipe in the School Night Dinners Series, where I'm sharing our top 5 favourite quick, nutritious, no fuss and tasty week-night meals.  See the first recipe here!

This is one of those recipes that's super quick in terms of the hands-on prep time, and is especially quick to get on the plate at dinner time, but it does require some fore-thought to give enough time for it to actually cook (about 4 hours).  In other words, if you've just walked in the door, have been out all day, and have not given any thought to what will be on the menu tonight, this is probably not the best option.  Maybe try this one for those days!

Having said that the prep time for this meal is almost nil.  I often make this one on the days I know we're going to be in a real hurry at dinner time. I prep it all at lunch time, whack the slow cooker on, and at dinner time it's all done!

This recipe uses an electric slow-cooker.  If you don't have one, I would really recommend it.  We bought a very cheap one ($19 I think it was in Big W), just so that we could give it a try.  I figured that if it died, and I felt I couldn't do without it, I'd replace it with a better one at that point.  Anything to avoid another unused, space-taking, expensive appliance in this house ... anyone else identify with that!?!  Anyway, our cheapo one is still going strong a few years down the track.  The best part about it is that the ceramic pot-part can go in the dishwasher ... Amen to that!!

Ingredients: (This serves the 4 of us easily, usually with some leftover chicken)
- 1 whole chicken (I love when the free-range ones are on special.  I stock up on them when they are, so I generally always have one of these beauties in the freezer)
- 1 salt-reduced chicken stock-cube (optional)
- Water
- 4 potatoes
- Other veggies (as desired)
For the dipping sauce:
- 4 shallots (that's what we call them here in Sydney ... they're also known as Spring Onions and Scallions in other parts of the world)
- 1 knob of ginger (about 2 inches by 1 inch)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce


1. Place your chicken in the slow-cooker, and break/cut the stock cube up and drop it in the bottom of the pot around the chicken.  Add 1 cup water to the pot, and put the lid on.  Note - I have done this with a fully frozen chicken (as evidenced in this pic below) and it has still worked perfectly ... many times, so if you don't have the time to thaw it, don't bother!!

2.  Turn the slow cooker on.  Now, mine has a "low" or a "high" setting.  If using the low setting, cooking will take about 8 hours (great if you're putting this on to cook before you head off to work in the morning).  If using the high setting, cooking will take about 4 hours.

3. So, after 4 hours (on high) or 8 hours (on low) the house will smell amazing, and you'll realise it's almost school pick-up time, so you'd better dash.  When you get back, peel and chop the potatoes into 1-2 inch square bits (remember ... the smaller they are, the quicker they'll cook!)  Place the potatoes in the pot around the edges of the chicken, and put the lid back on.  Now's the time to bath those kiddos, and by the time that's done (about 20 minutes), your potatoes will be cooked.  And by cooked ... I mean divine.  Those potatoes are so full of flavour from cooking in the juices of the chicken and stock ... mouth-wateringly yum!

That's it ... chicken done!  Can't get much easier than that!!  The chicken will literally just fall off the bone, and the mean is so tender.

Now for the dipping sauce ... Bethany and Hannah don't really like this as they're not fans of ginger, but this just "adultifies" (yep making up words again) this dish a little for Mummy and Daddy!

1.  Slice your shallots finely, then chop and chop until they're really finely diced ... almost minced.

2.  Finely grate your ginger.

3. Heat the canola oil in a small fry pan over high heat for approximately 2 minutes or until very hot.  Meanwhile mix the shallots and ginger in a small HEAT-PROOF bowl.

4. When the oil is heated, pour very carefully over the ginger and shallot mixture.  Stir gently to mix it through.  The oil should sizzle beautifully as you mix it in, and this cooks the ginger and shallots as you mix it through.

5.  Once mixed through, pour the mixture back into the hot fry pan, and mix gently (off the heat) for another 30 seconds to let it cook just a little more.

5.  Stir through the soy sauce, and then serve.  You can either serve it in a little sauce dish for dipping or spread it over the chicken like I did here!  The perfect accompaniment to this chicken I reckon!

Now all you need is some other steamed veg of your choice, and dinner's on the table!  

It's the kind of dish that looks like you've slaved for hours ... when really it's only been about 10-15 mins of prep altogether (including adding the potatoes and making the dipping sauce), and the slow-cooker has done the rest!

Now if, like us, you have some chicken left over, and it doesn't get used up on sandwiches or in salads the next day, stay tuned!  Got a great left-over-chicken recipe coming up next!!