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Meg Reviews Recipes: Cornflake Honey Slice

Source: The Australian Women's Weekly Cakes and Slices Cookbook, ISBN 978-1-74245-497-9, (c) Bauer Media Limited 1987, Special Collectors Edition, reprinted 2014. p116.

This is a very easy slice to make. It consists of six ingredients - four dry ingredients which you measure into a bowl and combine, plus butter and honey. You melt the butter, mix in the honey, then pour the combined butter and honey mixture over the dry ingredients, stir to combine, drop the whole lot into a lamington tray (or other low-sided flat tray) and bake in a 180C oven for twenty minutes. Then leave it to sit for fifteen minutes before chopping it into slice-sized pieces, and letting it cool in the tin.

This is definitely a slice you could get young school-age kids to help cook - most of the work involved is in measuring the ingredients, and the recipe itself is a pretty forgiving one, so a few grams over or under isn't going to destroy anything. You'd have to supervise them with melting the butter, and possibly with stirring in the honey to the melted butter, as well as the business of getting things in and out of the oven, but other than that, you could pretty much get a five or six year old to do most of the work involved in this slice, and they'd have something they could say they cooked at the end of it. Which is always a good way of getting kids started with cooking.

The slice smells gorgeous while cooking (I'm drooling as I write this while it bakes...), and comes out a nice golden-brown. Chopping it up is fairly straightforward, although I think the next time I make this, I'm going to line my lamington tray with a bit of baking paper, since I foresee a slightly difficult time getting some bits away from the edges without breakages (the recipe says to grease the tray; I'm lazy and don't like scrubbing things, so I'll line it next time). The book gives a keeping time of one week, but I suspect this is the minimum keeping time in the Women's Weekly test kitchen, where they're all burned out on baked goods (in a household with small children or people with a bit of a sweet tooth, it probably won't last even that long!).

One thing to be aware of: if you don't line the tray, you're going to have to grease it very generously, or be willing to spend a bit of time levering the finished and cooled slice out of it (I wound up using a dinner knife rather than a spatula to lever things out, and had to re-cut a lot of it). This slice shatters easily, so I suspect even if you do line your tray and lift everything out easily, you're still going to be left with about a cup or so of crispy shattered remains when it comes to cutting things up. Mind you, those could possibly be used as a sort of praline topping on ice-cream or something like that, if you're fanatic about avoiding waste.

The finished product is crisp, crunchy, and sweet. There's a slight taste of honey, but mostly it's just sweetness and toasted cereal/coconut flavours to be had. Very pleasant overall, and as I said, easy to make, with the hardest bit being removing it from the tray at the end of proceedings (something which is probably easy to avoid with a bit of baking paper). I'll probably be making this one again, possibly with a few variants on the honey and the type of sugar (I'm interested to see what a variant made with golden syrup or brown sugar might turn out like).

Difficulty: 0.2 out of 5 - as above, this could largely be mixed up by a six-year-old with minor adult assistance.
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 0.5 out of 5. Very little standing involved - just while the butter is melting; everything else can be done seated at the kitchen table if necessary. The mixture is very easy to mix up - all the ingredients are very light-weight, so arm and shoulder strength issues would only be of significance if you're having trouble with 200g - 500g weights. Some standing and arm strength issues might come into play with chopping up the slice, but I suspect those could mostly be overcome by cutting up the slice after giving it a shorter cooling time, and as mentioned above, lining the pan first.
Overall: 5 out of 5, mostly for ease of preparation and satisfactory final result.
Considerations: Contains butter and honey, so vegans won't be particularly keen on it (although if you substitute in a vegetable margarine and golden syrup, you'd have something vegans can consume). Main ingredients are cornflakes and rolled oats, which may or may not be suitable for people with gluten sensitivities depending on the brands you purchase; other major ingredients are coconut and sugar. Do not live solely on a diet of this, your dentist will hate you. Couldn't say how it would work out with regards to kosher or halal considerations, but I think it should be okay for those (if anyone wants to let me know otherwise, please, do feel free! I'm well aware I'm not fully up on the subtleties of either of these).

ETA 07 SEP 2018: I've been informed by the lovely [profile] princesskessie that rolled oats are NOT considered gluten free in Australia (see her comment below). She suggests quinona flakes, sorghum flakes, millet flakes or rice flakes as reasonable substitutes.

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Meg Reviews Recipes: Tandaco One Pan Dinner Tomato Lasagne Meal Base

This one comes as a boxed pack of sauce mix and noodles, and tells you to "just add meat" (500g minced beef to feed 4 people, 750g to feed 6).

It's pretty easy to assemble, and promises to be cooked in twenty minutes (I think they're looking at the microwave times there), so it's excellent for those evenings when you suddenly realise you should have put dinner on about a half an hour ago but got distracted by the Internet (I admit to nothing...). All you need to do is brown the mince (with or without the addition of garlic and onion), add the sauce mix and water - 3 1/2 cups, which seems a lot, but then you're adding pasta as well. Stir everything together until it boils, then throw in the pasta, shove on a lid, and let it simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes. They suggest adding things like sliced or chopped capsicum, sliced mushrooms, or chopped zucchini to the mix in the last ten minutes of cooking time to fancy things up, and if you're trying to feed six people with this mixture, you'd probably be best off doing all of those, I suspect.

Once it's prepared, it's easy enough to serve up and eat with a fork, but it certainly isn't anything to write home about. This is incredibly bland. I added salt, and the only actual flavour I could taste was the salt I added. Even himself, who tends to have slightly more subtle taste-buds than I do, couldn't really notice anything distinctive about it. So if you have a friend who is a hyper-taster, they may actually be able to tolerate this.

Overall, I think I'll leave this one on the shelves at Coles in future. I can do up a more satisfying tomato noodle mince mix myself, and it actually tastes of something when I do.

Skill Level: 1 out of 5
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 1 out of 5. If, like me, you're at the age where reading the phone book bare-eyed is no longer a possibility, you'll need to retrieve your reading glasses to be able to understand the directions. If you have upper body strength issues, you might have a bit of trouble with browning the mince. Standing time is about the length of time required to brown the mince, so maybe about five minutes all up.
Overall: 2 out of 5. It fills you up and warms you up, but that's about it.
Considerations: Contains pasta, hence gluten. The package warns for wheat and milk products, as well as being manufactured on equipment that also processes products containing barley, rye, egg, sesame seeds and soy products. Also contains tomato powder and onion powder. Probably neither kosher nor halal; check with anyone who keeps either of these practices before offering it to them. Not safe for vegans even with protein substitutions due to milk products in mix.

ETA: I had the leftovers of this sprinkled with Cajun seasoning, which actually made it vaguely palatable. So, if you're interested in a bit of spark in these things, throw in a teaspoon or so of Cajun seasoning while you're cooking it, and see how these things go.

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Meg Reviews Recipes: Potato Wedges with Sloppy Joe Topping

Source: Australia Women's Weekly Mince Favourites cookbook, p25; ISBN 186396490-8; (c) ACP Magazines Ltd 2006.

This one is another old favourite which I tend to pull out when I'm bored, when I'm just wanting something easy to cook, and when I'm wanting something sharp and sweet to eat.

The recipe basically tells you to make the wedges from scratch (chop a spud per person into eight wedges, grease with a bit of oil, and bake for about 30 - 40 minutes (or until done). You can cheat and substitute store-bought oven-bake potato wedges (follow the directions on the package), or you can substitute any other kind of carbohydrate substrate you fancy with the mince. I've tried rice on one occasion (with leftovers - worked out quite nice); served it up with garlic bread for my partner; and it would probably work quite nicely with some of the more chunky sorts of pasta, or even just plain old hot bread rolls.

Also, sprinkling a little cajun seasoning mix on the wedges turns out nice, although it did tend to get shouted down by the vinegar of the sloppy joe sauce.

The sauce itself can generally do with about half an hour of simmering time, just to make sure the flavours combine nicely. It's a pretty easy one to have the ingredients handy for - onion, garlic, celery, green capsicum, mince, a cup of tomato sauce (tomato ketchup, for my readers in the Americas), mild American mustard, cider vinegar, and some grated cheese to top it at the end (and that's pretty much optional, too).

If you have to pay attention to standing time, or you have upper arm issues, this recipe does require the fine chopping of the various vegetables (plus crushing of garlic), and it'll require a certain amount of standing and stirring while you're browning the vegetables and the mince. However, once you've added the tomato sauce, mustard and vinegar, and stirred everything together, it can be left to simmer on its own. It is possible to time-shift this recipe, by pre-making the sloppy joe sauce and re-heating it around dinner time, and cooking up the carbohydrate substrate at the point where you're re-heating things.

Difficulty: 1 out of 5
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 1 - 3 out of 5. Really, this depends a lot on whether, like me, you're the type of person who tends to run through all their spoons in the morning, or if you're the type of person who has a bit of energy during the evening. If you're the first, then it's 3 out of 5, if only because it's one of those recipes where you either have to do some pre-cooking in order to have everything ready, or you have to reserve spoons for the evening. Otherwise, probably 1 out of 5, possibly 2 out of 5 if you're needing to consider standing times or chopping times.
Overall: 4 out of 5. This is a bit of a favourite in our household, because it's nice and easy, and it can be eaten with just about anything.
Considerations: Well, definitely don't feed this to a vegan unless you're replacing the beef mince with some other form of vegetable protein (in which case, hold the cheese on top as well). Check the ingredients on your mustard, tomato sauce and cider vinegar if you have allergies (not that you're not already doing this anyway), and choose substrate according to gluten tolerance specifications. Choose mince carefully to comply with Kosher and Halal standards, and for kosher, skip the cheese at the end.

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Meg Reviews Recipes: Mulligatawny Soup

Source: Australian Women's Weekly "Best Recipes from the Weekly" cookbook, p13. ISBN 1 949128 41 4; (c) ACP Publishing Pty Ltd 2000 (9th reprint).

It's winter here, so I've been looking into making soup. I decided to do this one, since I've made it before, and tried making it up in the slow cooker (which requires a small tweak or two to the recipe, but overall doesn't change things much). Mulligatawny is a soup which is basically the result of exasperated Indian cooks trying to deal with the requests of English Memsahibs for a proper English dinner, starting with a soup course, using the local materials - the name is basically a blend of the Tamil words for "pepper" and "water".

I tweaked the recipe slightly - I decided to poach the chicken thighs in some liquid chicken stock I had in the cupboard, and top up with water (I wound up with slightly more liquid than the recipe expects - 2L rather than 1.75L). Basically, this is one of those soup recipes which demands you start with the stock, and you can certainly skip that stage by just substituting pre-made soup stock, and already-cooked chicken. I did most of the work of preparing the recipe and getting everything cooking and simmering until the vegetables were tender on one day, then did the blending and pureeing of the vegetable, stock and lentil mix the next morning, before adding the reserved poached chicken and coconut milk (again, I overdid it here, mainly because the cans of coconut milk I have on hand are the standard size 440mL ones rather than the little 283mL ones).

Overall, it comes out pretty straightforwardly. I served it with crusty bread (Vienna loaf, chopped into slices and heated in the oven for about 20 minutes) and my partner seemed to enjoy it - he'll always sit down for soup and crusty bread as a main meal. The recipe says it serves six, although for more than about four, I'd be supplementing your soup, bread and such with some cold meat, cheese, and sandwich fixings (a regular Saturday or Sunday winter lunch when I was growing up).

Difficulty: About 2 out of 5.
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 2 out of 5 - in this case, there's the whole business of the blending or sieving of the soup to consider - if, like me, you're sensitive to the noise of mechanical motors, you have about three to four minutes of intermittent racket to look forward to and save spoons to deal with; there's also the whole business of having to move the soup from one container to another in order to get the whole process done in batches (and if you're doing this with low arm or grip strength, it may be exhausting/impossible/incredibly difficult at the least). There's a certain amount of standing in the early stages, where you're cooking the onion and spices - maybe about 10 minutes all up.
Overall: 2.5 out of 5. This really doesn't strike me as a stand-out recipe, to be honest. Nice enough, but not really something I make all that often, mainly because the balance of "fuss & bother" vs "actual taste" isn't overwhelming.
Considerations: Not suitable for vegetarians or vegans; contains dairy (butter/ghee), gluten (flour), and whatever happens to be in the brand of either stock or stock cubes you use to make the recipe. Probably neither Kosher nor Halal, but check with an expert if you're not sure.

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Meg Reviews Recipes: Leggos Tuna Bake with Sundried Tomato & Caramelised Onion

Comes in a 500g jar, and I bought this at Coles when it was on special for about $2.50 - $3 per jar (yes, this is a Thing of mine; this is part of how I manage to make a budget of $30 per person per week for food stretch as well as it does).

I decided to try this as a result of basically realising at about quarter to three on a Sunday afternoon that I hadn't even thought about what we were having for dinner that night, and being sick of either leftovers or instant meals as options. So, okay, pasta bake. Now, pasta bakes are about the easiest type of meal out there to assemble - you cook up the pasta, you combine it with the sauce and the protein (tinned tuna, in this case), top with cheese, and bake in the oven until done. If you're baking it right after you've assembled it, it takes about 20 minutes at 200C to melt the cheese and heat things through. If you're like me and you assemble these things hours before you actually need them, and store them in the fridge until it's time to start cooking dinner, then the trick is to heat the whole thing at around 200C for about an hour, as this allows everything in the middle of your casserole dish to heat through as well as all the stuff around the sides.

I fancied this up a little by chopping up a leek and adding that to the tuna, sauce and pasta mix. I do this partially because I feel we need some kind of vegetable content with or in these things, and partially because it stretches things a bit further and makes everything taste a bit better. The leek will pretty much cook in the hour I'm heating things in the oven, so that's a bit of a mercy. The other minor experiment in this case is I'm trying pasta bowties to see how they work in these sorts of dishes (usually I'm using small shells, small spirals, or macaroni).

Because Himself got all organised and managed to stop off at a supermarket on the way home from picking up another computer component (he's involved in trying to get two rather finicky monitors to work properly), we're having garlic bread with this as well. What that means in terms of juggling executive function for these sorts of things (one of my bugbears) is that I have to remember to put the garlic bread into the oven to heat about ten minutes before everything's supposed to be cooked. Which I think I can manage.

And in the end... it turned out pretty good. Main note was, of course, tomato, and there was a bit of onion in there, mostly from the leek, I think. It certainly balances out the rather coarse texture of cheap tuna quite well. I'll probably buy some more the next time it's on special.

Difficulty: 1 out of 5
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 1 out of 5 - the hardest bits about preparing this as directed are going to be opening the jar and the tin of tuna, and possibly the weight of putting the fully laden baking dish into the oven. Can be prepared well ahead of time and put in the fridge for later re-heating and melting of cheese (as per the post), so it's great if you need to time-shift cooking. If it's the only thing you're cooking, you can pretty much set a timer and forget about it, so you don't need to remember dozens of finicky steps along the way.
Overall: 3 out of 5.
Considerations: This one looks to be reasonably vegan-safe, provided you used mushrooms, quorn, or tofu/soy protein instead of tuna for your protein, and skipped the cheese (the only ingredients I can see on the whole thing which aren't obviously plants, plant-based or plant-derived are xanthan gum and yeast extract). If you're allergic to tomatoes, avoid this one. If you're allergic to tuna, dairy or gluten, make substitutions as required.

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Meg Reviews Recipes: Spicy Fruit Loaf

Source: Australian Womens Weekly "Quick Mix Cakes and Deliciously Easy Muffins" Cookbook, p109; ISBN: 1-86396-001-5; (c) ACP Publishing Pty Ltd 1999.

This is a bit of a favourite of mine, although it's a right whatsit to make. The recipe is a "rub in" recipe, where you start by rubbing the butter into the flour, and this one has 125g of butter to be rubbed into 2 cups of flour (plus an extra 2 teaspoons of dry ingredients comprised of bicarb and spices). Let's just say if you have arthritis in your hands, this is probably not a recipe you want to try without one of those special little doovers (looks like a handle with a bunch of wire loops hanging off it - a bit of googling tells me they're called "pastry blenders"[1]) for cutting butter into flour. Failing that, you may want to stop every so often and let your hands stretch out a bit, because they will cramp up unless you make scones and/or pastry on the regular.

Once you've finished giving yourself RSI and improving your grip strength sight out of mind, you add the sugar, the dried fruit (standard mixed dried fruit works fine) and then the liquid ingredients (1 egg and a cup of milk) before pouring the whole lot into a loaf tin and baking it for about 1 1/4 hours. Unlike most of the fruit cakes in this cookbook, you're not cooling this one in the pan - it gets cooled on a rack after the first ten minutes. '

Serve it with butter; this keeps for well over a week without really getting stale or going off. It's very dense, and very dark, particularly if you use dark brown sugar (lighter brown sugar gives a lighter coloured loaf).

Difficulty: 1 out of 5 (it isn't a hard recipe to understand or follow)
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 5 out of 5 (rubbing in the butter takes time, and I inevitably wind up with my hands cramping); it's a very stiff mixture to mix, so if you don't have much arm and hand strength, you're probably better off getting someone else to make this for you.
Overall: 5 out of 5 (this is a favourite I keep making over and over again, despite the crampy hands).
Considerations: Cake. This contains gluten, sugar, butter, milk and eggs. Don't eat a whole one at one sitting (it's a very dense cake; I doubt anyone could do it without making themselves sick anyway) and don't try to serve it to vegans.

[1] Link goes to Amazon because that's the one which came up fastest and most reliably.

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Meg Reviews Recipies: MasterFoods Slow Cook Mild Chicken Curry Sauce

This sauce comes in a 490g jar, and I bought it at the local Coles, probably when it was on special for about $2.50 - $3.

I made this up as a slow-cooked casserole with some cheap beef sausages (if you've ever had to eat cheap Coles beef sausages, you'll understand why they really need some other flavour added to them), a chopped onion, a couple of carrots sliced up, and four chopped up potatoes. Pre-cook the sausages before you start, then chop them into about 1.5cm chunks before putting them into the casserole with the other ingredients. The trick with making a slow-cooked casserole in the oven is this: put everything together in a casserole, cook in the oven for about 1 hour at 200C, pull out and stir, then put back into the oven for the rest of the afternoon at the lowest temperature you can get your oven to run at without extinguishing itself (if you can get your oven down to 100C, that's the best, otherwise, anything under about 150C is good). Let it cook slowly for about 4 hours, and you'll get a very nice casserole. This trick works well with any casserole you'd normally put in the slow cooker[1].

The sauce itself is very thick for a pour-from-the-jar sauce - usually I can pour these sorts of sauces straight from the jar, but this one definitely required the assistance of a spoon to get it out. I also did my standard trick of "swill out the bottle with a small amount of water"[2] in order to get the last of the sauce out. Now, it was probably lucky I did that, because the eventual casserole came out very, very dry (thanks to the potato soaking the liquid up).

As a curry sauce, this is incredibly mild. This is "you could serve it to curry virgins" mild. The main notes in the sauce which identify it as "curry" at all are cumin and turmeric - cumin is the main thing you can smell, turmeric is the main thing you can see (a quick look at the breakdown of ingredients on the label of the jar says "Coriander 1%, Cumin 1%, Turmeric 1%). They mention Chilli on the label, although I strongly suspect the nearest an actual chilli came to this particular sauce was someone very cautiously opened the warehouse door and waved a single chilli in the vague direction of the production line, before closing the door again very quickly. It's very much a "sweet curry" mixture rather than a spicy one - to the point where I joked with Steve that I should have chopped up an apple and added that to the mix, along with a handful of sultanas. (I should note the Look I got for that one was worth it)

Overall, it made a nice meal for two people, served up with rice, and with enough leftovers for another two meals afterwards. There wasn't much sauce (as mentioned, the potato got most of it) so it was a pretty dry curry. I think the next time I make it up, I'll probably put a bit more water in the mix, and a bit less spud (and I may just try the "sweet curry" variation, as a way of playing around with things).

Difficulty: 1 out of 5 (put all the ingredients into the casserole dish, and off you go)
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 1 out of 5 (wasn't expecting the sauce to be as thick as it turned out to be.
Overall: 2 out of 5 (not spectacular, not terrible).
Considerations: Lists Skim milk and milk in ingredient list, and warns it's manufactured on equipment that processes peanuts. Not suitable for vegans.

[1] I wasn't using the slow cooker in this case because it's winter here, and our oven is also the effective space heater for the kitchen area.
[2] For creamy sauces, milk will work instead. You're using about a quarter to a half a cup of liquid in any case; shake the bottle until the whole mixture becomes a single consistency, then add to the dish you're cooking.

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