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Less Partridges, More Pears – Yet Another Holiday Jam

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We’re moving up the ranks of interesting to the second of my four Christmas jams today (if you didn’t catch my strawberry jam run down you can find it here). What is this mystery slightly-more-interesting jam? Pear and Vanilla of course!

Pear and vanilla is J’s favourite fruit and spice combo as you all know, and it resonates very much with the holiday season for us, since it was the flavour of the cake I made for our first Christmas together. This jam riffs pretty directly off of that recipe and thus as far as interesting goes this is not a super unfamiliar combo, but it’s still a step away from the traditional standard berry combinations you find in jams at the supermarket.

I think it’s pretty important to develop and keep food traditions. When you think about it, so many of our food associations and memories come from repetition: tea when times get tough, chocolate pudding at a gathering, creamy rice on a cold winter’s night, flummery (a.k.a. in my family ‘amamfa’) on a hot summer’s day. I sometimes feel guilty just repeating the same recipes and combinations over and over, like I should be exploring and discovering and broadening and all those other things, but then I remember just how much I like those recipes and combinations. And each time they’re repeated they just get more and more meaning and feeling.

A summer time jam in a summer time garden

In the US they’d call this a jelly rather than a jam, since it’s made using only the juice of the fruit rather than the whole thing. I’ve based this off of a recipe for apple jelly from here, with a few alterations.

So anyway, first thing’s first, assemble your ingredients:

1.75-2kg of pears

5 cups of water

2.5 cups of sugar

1 lemon’s worth of juice

1 vanilla bean

Some pectin (I used some Jamsetta, about 1 tbsp or a little less)

As for your method:

Wash your pears and chop them up into chunks, removing the stalks.

Boil them up with the water for about 45 minutes at least, until they’re quite soft.

Then you need to strain all the juice out of them. I improvised a set up using a bowl, a sieve, a colander, a clean tea towel, a plate, and a bottle of water. Give it at least 3 hours.

I ended up with about 3 cups of juice. Whack that back in your pot with the lemon and vanilla bean (split down the middle) and bring it up to the boil.

Pop a little plate in the freezer about now.

Mix the sugar with your pectin then stir it in nice and quickly, making sure you haven’t got any lumps of pectin.

Cook that until you can put a little bit of it on your frozen plate and it sets to form a loose jam consistency.

Now put that jam in your jars and you’ll want to waterbath process them so you can store them out of the fridge.

Yay for new nostalgia!


Home-made Strawberry Jam for Christmas

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Home-made Strawberry Jam for Christmas

So, in the lead-up to Christmas I decided to try and make some of my own gifts. I feel terribly virtuous saving on all sorts of things, money, packaging, you name it.  And of course food makes some of the best gifts (in short – it’s fun then it’s gone).  I did some easy things like vanilla sugar and vanilla essence (did I mention I obtained a heap of vanilla beans?). But then, the silly fool I am, I had to do something more challenging – jam.

An assortment of jams

I’ve made four types of jam now, all ready to be prettied up as gifts for Christmas. And although I’m sure you’re all keen to hear about the more adventurous ones, I’m gonna start with a classic.

Strawberry Jam

My little strawberry patch has been mentioned before around here, and this year it’s producing better than ever. And what better thing to make home-made strawberry jam with than home-made strawberries? It’s double domestic!

The recipe I used is a bog standard one, I’m not sure exactly where it originally came from, but I’ve found pretty much exactly the same one at a tonne of different sites.

So you start out with three cups or so of strawberries. A lot of recipes out there for strawberry jam will ask you to sit the washed and cut strawberries with however much sugar you’re using overnight. This is called macerating them, and its basic function is to break down the cell walls of the strawberries so that all the juice comes out. I didn’t do this though because I’ve been just harvesting a handful of strawberries a day, washing and chopping them, and popping them in the freezer ’til I had enough. Freezing the strawberries also breaks down their cell walls as ice crystals form inside them, so macerating them isn’t necessary any more.

At this point you’ll want to pop a little plate into the freezer so it can get nice and cold. Well use that later. It’s now too that I put my jars in a pot to boil away and get all nice and sterile.

Now put your thawed/macerated strawberries in a wide pan with a cup of sugar and the juice of half a lemon.

Cook cook cook on medium-almost-high heat for ten minutes, and if any scum forms skim it off with a spoon. It’s not dangerous or bad or anything, it just doesn’t look very pretty.

After ten minutes get out your little plate from the freezer and put a little blob of your jam on it. Give it thirty seconds then run your finger through it. If it’s the texture of (thinnish) jam, hurray, you’re done! If it’s not really congealing at all and just seems like a syrup – that’s what it is. Pop the plate back in the freezer and keep cooking for five more minutes then try again.

Now’s the time to put the super hot jam into jars. Try not to splash little drops on your fiancé’s face – they don’t like that. Also try not to put more in a jar than there is space in said jar – not recommended.

Overflowing strawberry jam

Alright, alright. Your jam is in your jars, you’ve wiped any spills off the rims and put the lids on. Now what do you do? You’ve got two options. The safer, more widely preferred and recommended thing to do is to water bath process your jam (instructions and info here). The lazier, more risky, way is to pour the jam in when it’s still really super hot, screw on the lid nice and tight and then quickly flipping the jar upside down for five minutes. This is the one I chose. I’ve got my reasons, but you probably shouldn’t do it this way.

And voila! Jam!

Short Version:


3 cups of washed, hulled and very roughly chopped strawberries

1 cup sugar

Juice of half a lemon


Put a small plate in the freezer and sterilise your jars.

Put everything in a wide pan.

Cook on medium-almost-high heat for 10 minutes, skimming any scum that forms.

Put a small blob of your mixture onto your little plate to check the consistency. If it’s still runny, cook for 5 more minutes then try again. If it seems like the consistency of a loose jam you’re done cooking.

Pour your jam into your jars and process.

Murphy’s Law and Honey on my Face

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Murphy’s Law and Honey on my Face

We all know Murphy’s Law, and I of course am as susceptible as anyone to its vicious justice. So when I announced a fortnight ago (oh the hubris) that I was going to be good and punctual and bloggy from then on, well old Murphy, like a gleeful leprechaun, was only too happy to intervene. Thankfully I finally gave the little blighter the kicking he deserved and I’m back – back in time to tell that I’m taking the Crunchy Betty Challenge! (And the blog post I promised for last weekend will be up here tomorrow)

What is this challenge of which I speak?



Well everyone has this vague idea that honey is pretty good for you. There are plenty of things going for it. And apparently lots of those things are good for your skin. So the challenge is to wash your face with honey once a day for two weeks. I’ve started a few days late so I’ll do a midway post about how things are going as well as a wrap up in a fortnight.

Some things I’ve observed so far:

Raw honey is not labelled super well. It’s important to get raw or unpasteurized honey I’m told, since the heating when it’s processed destroys a whole lot of goodness. I couldn’t see any jars labeled ‘Raw Honey’ so I had to look a bit closer – eventually I came across a jar of Bee Products Active’s manuka honey, which in small print on the side says it’s ‘pure, raw, New Zealand’ honey.



Manuka honey smells weird. As per the label – “Manuka Honey is world renowned for its distinctive rich flavour, unique aroma and special properties.” I can’t say it’d be the best flavour for baking, but it’s growing on me.

My skin seems to be a little dry immediately after I wash it, but since I usually just use warm water it might just take a few days to adapt. Also it’s quite cold and windy at the moment so it could be that.

It’s pretty fun putting honey on my face – I feel a bit like I’m little and playing with my food.


Last of all, I was pretty charmed by this video Crunchy Betty herself made demonstrating the process – it may have been a large part of my decision to join the challenge:

Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

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The devilishly-handsome J had a birthday the other day. And since his new favourite cake flavour is pear and vanilla I thought this was a good enough time as any to give you the recipe I promised quite a while ago now. But the flavour of a prospective cake is only the first question to be answered, because as I’m sure you’ve all experienced, the appearance of a cake can influence the mood and emotions of a day just as much, if not more than the actual taste of said cake.

An artist's rendition of J. Note: not actually a baby

I had narrowed it down to two choices: a simple, elegant round cake dusted with icing sugar that was sure to give the day a feeling of special luxury and romance; or some super fun cupcakes decorated with characters from one of his most common evening pass-times – a rousing game of Super Street Fighter 4 (inspired by a photo I saw here) that would no doubt imbue the day with a sense of playfulness and excitement. But which to choose? I wanted this to be just right.

And then – an epiphany.

Romantic and fun aren’t mutually exclusive, and if you put a standard cake and cupcakes in a room together frosting-related violence is not inevitable.

So it was that I decided to have it both ways.

 Why choose just one??

Now to the cooking!

Ingredients – makes one round cake approx. 10cm radius, and 17-ish cupcakes.

(all quantities are approximate)

5 regular sized eggs (each around 50g)

250g butter + a little extra for greasing

250g caster sugar + a little extra for greasing (trust me)

250g plain flour

1 ½ t baking powder (alternatively, use self-raising flour)



When you’re making something that has poached pears in it, often the first step is to poach the pears. When I originally made this recipe I poached my pears in a little water with a vanilla bean, but this time I decided to try out this paste I found (one vanilla bean costs like a bajillion dollars).

So you peel and chop your pears and pop them in a little simmaring water with a vanilla bean split down the middle or a teaspoon of this paste. The let them simmer away until they’re tender.

Scoop them out with a slotten spoon, chop them into chunks and set them aside to cool.

Now don’t get rid of your poaching liquid. There’s a lot of wonderful flavour in there. Instead, add about a tablespoon of sugar and keep it simmering away (remove the vanilla bean if you used one, but save it, we’ll use it again). As it reduces, this liquid will become a glorious golden pear and vanilla flavoured syrup.

Next, preheat your oven to 180oC if you haven’t already. I’m truly awful at remembering to preheat my oven – unless I’m reading a recipe which explicitly states “preheat your oven”, I’m liable to completely forget. So preheat your oven, everyone!

Then we’ll make what is essentially a basic vanilla pound cake. Cream the butter and sugar, then add in the eggs and either everything you can scrape out of the inside of your vanilla bean, or another teaspoon of paste (or, I suppose, a teaspoon and a half of vanilla essence). Mix it all up, then in goes the flour and baking powder, and there’s your batter!

Now gently fold in your cool pear bits. It doesn’t matter if they’re still a little warm, your batter will change texture a little but it won’t affect the finished cake.

All we have left is to grease the tins, cook, and ice. Grease everything with butter as you would normally, but then may I suggest a little something special for your cake tin? Take that bit of extra caster sugar and swish it around the tin until the buttered sides are completely covered. It’ll make a little bit of a crisp sweet crust around the outside.

Now plop the mix in the tins and bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn everything out to cool, then ice as you see fit.

For my simple sophisticated cake I just dusted it with icing sugar, and provided some of the poaching liquid syrup for drizzling.

And as for the cupcakes, since J doesn’t like the taste of fondant (crazy, I know), I topped them with smooth white frosting then essentially painted on designs with food colourings.

SSF4 cupcakes

And the lesson learnt? As an adult, J can handle a complicated message and a few different emotions at once, as can I. In fact, invoking a few complimentary feelings with your food can make an experience all the deeper. So I must remember not to be afraid of complicated things, and situations where more than one thing is happening at once.

An ‘Auberge Espagnole’ – The Lowdown

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“What is an auberge espagnole?” is a question you may ask. “What do Spanish hostels have to do with food?” is a question you may ask if you’re handy with Google translate. Well never fear, I’m here to answer at least one of those questions for you!

Let me tell you

A quick look on a search engine will get you to a 2002 film called ‘L’auberge espagnole’ where, to quote IMDb, “A strait-laced French student moves into an apartment in Barcelona with a cast of six other characters from all over Europe.” I’m not sure if this movie came before or after the way I’ve seen the term used here in France, but it seems to fit fairly closely with the concept as I know it.

Essentially, when you see one of these advertised, what you’re really seeing is a chance to eat your own weight in food. It’s on the occasion of a gathering where people from a variety of countries are expected. Each person is asked to bring a dish from their own country. The food is all spread out buffet-style, and everyone digs in!


You have to be quick, or you’ll miss out!

Empty dishes

In my opinion, this style of party is super effective. Everyone has fun putting together their dish…

Making dumplings

…everyone gets the excitement of trying something knew, all the while with the safety net there of knowing that there’s at least one dish they like…

Mini pizzas with potatoes as the base! Yum!

… no one person has the responsibility of providing all of the food…


…and everyone gets to bond and be brought together in that warm glow that you get from a full tummy!

All together now!

So if you get the chance to go to an auberge espagnole style party next time you’re in France (or anywhere else for that matter), I advise you to totally go for it. All you need to make is one dish and in exchange you get a fantastic night with happy people and a very full belly.

Dressing up The Basics To Make Something Special – Pinwheel Biscuits

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It doesn’t always take a world of effort or money to make Something Special. All you really need are the basics, and a little bit of an eye for the possibilities.

I’m sure that at least ninety-five percent of the people reading this blog have their own favourite basic vanilla biscuit recipe (if not, you could try this one, or this one, or this one or even this one) and so I won’t add my own – especially since it’s not really mine, it’s one I stole off of J.

But, you say, I don’t want some plain, single-flavoured biscuits, boring old round biscuits. First of all, I would reply, who doesn’t want biscuits? Even normal, round, single-flavoured biscuits? And secondly, you’re not seeing the possibilities!

It was a girl’s birthday a couple of days ago here in the University residence, and to contribute a little something my colocataire (that’s roommate to you Anglophones) and I decided to make biscuits. And not just any biscuits, super-uber-special biscuits-of-awesomeness! Sadly we don’t really have the budget to go down the luxury ingredients route, but that can’t stop us. Instead we made super cool pinwheel biscuits with the very basic ingredients we had on hand.

The first step was to start making a basic biscuit mix. However, before adding the flour, we divided the wet mixture in two. To one half we added some hot chocolate powder, and to the other, some of the honey we have on our breakfast.

Makeshift rolling pin

The flour went into each one, and then we rolled both mixtures out nice and flat.

Placing one sheet of biscuit dough on top of the other, we rolled them up like a cigar, and using a sharp knife cut it into approximately one centimetre thick rounds.

Our pinwheel biscuits were ready to bake, and they bake just as easily as any normal basic biscuit.

They went down a treat, everyone loved them, and it just goes to show you that you can make something special and unique without lots of money or fancy-pants utensils and ingredients. The special comes from you!

Food table at the party

The empty plate is where our biscuits used to be

I’m sorry I didn’t post on Monday everyone. To tell the truth, I was feeling a little down, and my blog post, among other things, just didn’t get done. I feel suitably contrite though, and I do still love you all, my faceless internet companions, I promise I do!

A Simple Mushroom Pasta and some Homesickness

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It’s autumn in Europe, and that means mushrooms. Mushrooms that you just don’t see the likes of in Australia*. As I wandered around the markets this Saturday I just couldn’t help myself but buy some meaty cèpes and delightful trompettes. I wasn’t precisely sure what I was going to do with them, but I was buying them, gosh darn it!

I’ve discovered that often, when I’ve been afflicted with that kind of insidious homesickness that makes you see everything through a veil of memories of home that are just not quite the same, the best thing I’ve been able to do is abandon anything well known and just find something so different that it forcibly yanks me into the here and now. And so, today, when I found myself suffering quite terribly from this particular affliction, I knew it was time to bust out my mushies.

I wanted a recipe that would showcase the flavour of the mushrooms, and so I decided to go for a very simple pasta with very simple (but tasty) elements.

First I chopped up a little bacon (totally optional) and fried it off with some garlic in some oil.

Then in went my beauties, all de-dirted and chopped up, to cook down nicely with a little bit of dried thyme as well.

Meanwhile I cooked some nice long pasta in salted water (please don’t add oil to your pasta water; it’s just not necessary).

When the pasta was cooked and the mushrooms fully tender, I mixed them all together, grated (if scraping with a knife since I have no grater can be called grating) over some parmesan, and then came the eating**~.

I like eating.

And for the moment it worked. Trying to find hugs as good as home, or a normal muffin or proper sliced bread or a real beach is futile and it just makes me sadder. But there’s no way I can think to myself, “fresh cèpes taste so much better in Australia.”.


*So far as I can tell, there are loads of wonderful Australian mushrooms, but they’re not very well known at all, certainly not to me. One of the things on my list of things to do when I do go home is to try and find some information about the mushrooms of my area there.

**Things you could add to this pasta: cream, dates, raisins, pine nuts, nuts in general, white wine, balsamic vinegar, meats, other vegetables, other types of mushrooms.

~ Things you could not add to this pasta: elephants (‘cos they’re too big), magic (‘cos it’s already magic).