Friday, 30 April 2010

Vintage Menu Ideas

For the past week I have been trawling vintage cookbooks from the 1920s to 1950s trying to compile a vintage menu plan. In the end I decided less on a plan than a guide.

Women in early to mid-twentieth century Australia often seem to follow certain principles; for example, roast on Sunday, leftovers on Monday, perhaps a grill one night and often fish on Fridays. Many women would have had set nights for certain meals, although my mother told me that she learnt during her dietitian's training in the late 1950s that it is poor form to do this.

A standard weekly menu might have looked something like this:


fish cakes made from leftover cooked fish mixed with mashed potato, then crumbed and fried


a pie made from roast leftovers or maybe cold meat and salad in hot weather

rissoles made from leftover meat

soup using stock made from the bones from Sunday's roast

grilled chops

The most common accompaniments to meals would have been potatoes and boiled vegetables. Desserts would have been things like stewed fruit, rice pudding, baked custard, junkets and blancmange.

I think there is much we can learn from this kind of cooking, even if we choose to forego the dripping, overcooked vegetables and general monotony. For example, planning for leftovers and having as little waste as possible both make a lot of sense. Also, spending the bulk of one's grocery money on fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy rather than processed items makes excellent financial and budgetary sense.

My own menu for this week is based on the one above with a few modern twists. Some of this food was already in my freezer, such as the cutlets, chicken breasts and thighs, so didn't have to be bought. I work from 9 until five on Mondays and Tuesdays so I plan the easiest meals for these days, and if I cook a dessert it's usually on the weekend, when I have more time. This is an autumn menu, so uses pumpkin, corn, eggplants, apples, pears and other autumn produce.

Friday (shopping day)
fresh Tasmanian salmon baked in foil with lemon juice and capers
potato gratin
peas and corn
fresh fruit (mandarins, pears, apples, bananas)

crumbed lamb cutlets
crispy sauteed potatoes
grilled eggplant and tomatoes
apple crisp with custard
hot chocolate (for family movie night)

roast beef
roast vegetables (potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, onions)
lemon delicious pudding

cold roast beef
various relishes and pickles
stewed fruit (apples or pears) with cream or custard

macaroni and cheese
fresh fruit (mandarins, pears, apples)

gingery chicken and vegetable stirfry with rice (modern I know but too healthy to forego)
frozen yogurt

chicken and vegetable curry with rice
baked apples

(I often cook a curry the the night before I shop as this is a great way to use up the week's leftover vegetables.)

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Eye Abscess

I'm going to have a few days' break from blogging as I had an eye abscess drained yesterday and don't feel up to spending much time staring at a computer screen.

I'll publish those vintage menu plans I promised when I'm feeling a bit less sore.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Back to Vintage Style Cooking

As you can tell from my blog post about the Grocery Shopping Minefield, I have been thinking a lot about grocery shopping lately.

The thing is, and I am ashamed to admit it, over the last year and a half my grocery costs have got increasingly out of control. I am spending significantly more than I want to each week.

I know it's partly that Australia has the fastest rising food prices anywhere in the developed world. It's also partly that that I have four very hungry growing children, three of whom are boys. And that for most of the past year and a half I was unable to grow my own vegetables because we were renting. While I menu-plan, I do like to try out new recipes regularly which often involves buying new, non-frugal ingredients. Also, I now work four days a week, which cuts into my food preparation time and makes me tired, thus more prone to 'easy' solutions. Sometimes I think, "if only we had grocery coupons in Australia" or, "if only there were more shopping options, such as Aldi, in Adelaide".

However, while all these factors have contributed to my rising grocery bills, they are really just excuses. Ultimately management, or lack thereof, is making the biggest difference to our food budget.

One answer, I believe, is to return to vintage-style cooking, on the principle that people ate very well in the past with few of our processed ingredients. This approach has the added benefits of cutting down on packaging and waste, and enabling me to buy mostly unprocessed locally-grown products. It also has the benefit of giving me an excuse to trawl through some of my vintage cookbooks.

I am going to draft a couple of 'vintage' weekly menu plans over the next few days. I hope you'll come back and tell me what you think of them.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Anzac Biscuits for Anzac Day

In Australia and New Zealand today is Anzac Day. Anzac Day commemorates the disastrous landing of Australian and New Zealand troups at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. Nowadays Anzac Day also commemorates all Australian and New Zealand soldiers who have fought for their countries in the years since 1915.

For Australians, Anzac Day is a day for sadness, respect and for thinking about our nation's past. Cities and towns across the nation hold veterans' marches, and the crowds of onlookers grow larger each year.

On Anzac Day many of us bake Anzac biscuits. Anzacs were first baked during the First World War by women wanting to send a non-perishable treat to their men at the front. Think how far away Europe must have seemed to those women so many years ago.

This year my daughter and a school friend baked our biscuits and they turned out just as they should - golden brown and just a bit chewy in the middle.

ANZAC Biscuits

1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup coconut
1 cup plain flour
1 1/2 tsp bicarb. (baking) soda
2 tbsp boiling water
1 cup sugar
4 oz (125 g) butter
1 tbsp golden syrup

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Melt butter and golden syrup together. Mix soda with boiling water, add to butter mixture (it will foam up), stir into dry ingredients. Spoon dessertspoonfuls of mixture onto a greased tray; allow room for spreading. Bake for 20 minutes in a slow oven (250-300F). Cool on trays. Makes 2-3 dozen depending on size.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Grocery Shopping Minefield

Do you find decision-making difficult when it comes to grocery shopping, or is it just me?

It's not just that there is an incredibly diverse range of items to choose from, it's the ethical decisions that need to be made.

Do I buy whatever I or my family likes eating?

Do I buy based on price alone?

Do I choose organic/wholefoods?

Do I prefer the locally-grown, for example, from my own state, or is it enough to choose food produced in my country from native-grown ingredients?

What about food made in my country from foreign ingredients or made by foreign-owned companies with local factories that provide jobs?

Do I choose food with minimal packaging?

What about products that aren't produced in my country but that I don't want to do without, such as soy sauce, spices, coffee and cocoa?

How do you shop for groceries? Are there any principles that you apply?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

My Favourite Frosting Recipes

After my last post Tammy from Tammy's Recipes left a comment asking for my favourite frosting recipe.

I love all kinds of frosting but today I'm only going to share two recipes: the icing I like best to work with and the one I like best to eat.

The one I like to work with best is vanilla buttercream frosting - or one of its many variations. Most of the piped frostings I prepare are based on this recipe. For chocolate I add a little cocoa and a little extra milk. If I want to change the flavour to, say, orange, I swap the milk for orange juice and maybe add a few drops red and yellow colouring to make orange. Or for peppermint add a few drops peppermint essence and some green colouring.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

125 g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract (not synthetic vanilla)
1 1/2 C icing/confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp milk

Beat butter and extract with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in half sugar, then milk, then remaining sugar. Spread or pipe on cakes.

Note: If you intend to pipe the icing onto the cakes (as I have done) you will need to double this quantity.

However, the icing I like best to eat is cream cheese frosting. This is so yummy I want to go and make some now - except that it's 10.30 at night and there's no cream cheese in the house. It's probably better for my waistline that way!

Cream Cheese Frosting

30 g (1 oz) butter, softened

60 g (2 oz) packaged cream cheese, softened

1 tspn lemon juice

1 1/2 C icing (confectioner's) sugar

Beat butter, cream cheese and juice in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy; gradually beat in sifted sugar.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Cupcake Princess

While I think I may still reign for a little while longer as our family's cupcake queen, my 13 year old daughter is quickly taking on this mantle. Not only does she bake as often as possible, but she has taken to photographing her creations.

Like mother like daughter.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Underplanting With Herbs

A great way to save money in the kitchen is to grow your own herbs. They are so very expensive at the supermarket, yet can be grown easily at home. Many even thrive in poor soils.

This weekend I bought some pots of herbs which I have planted underneath the roses growing near our back door. They will be conveniently close to the kitchen for picking at mealtimes and will also provide ground cover thus reducing weed growth in those garden beds.


So far I have planted sweet basil, thyme, oregano, sage, coriander, mint, rocket (arugula) and Italian parsley. We already have two large rosemary bushes. The basil will die off over winter but the rest should survive, although the coriander will go to seed next spring.

We have very mild winters so most herbs will do well year-round. However, if you live in a climate with harsher winters you may do better growing herbs in pots.

Do you grow herbs? Which are your favourite herbs for growing at home?

sweet basil

Monday, 12 April 2010

Underground Cellar

Next to our bathroom is a little flight of stairs that goes down,

down, down,

to an underground cellar.

Built into the bluestone foundations of the house, the cellar is several degrees cooler than the rest of the house - essential for keeping perishable food cool in the days before refrigeration.

Most people in Adelaide with old houses like this one use their cellars to store wine. I think it would be wonderful for storing preserves, but at the moment it is storing odds and ends that have no other 'home'. Two of my children think the cellar should be a clubhouse for them to play in.

Have you ever had a house with a cellar? What did you use it for?

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Lavender and Rosemary

I was pleased to discover that two of my favourite herbs are adundant in my new garden; lavender and rosemary. (At least, I think lavender is a herb - I know it has medicinal applications and can be used in cooking.)

Although it is autumn, the lavender is still in full bloom. I am planning lavender sachets for under my pillows but so far have done nothing - nothing except enjoy the scent of lavender as I brush past. Which is very lovely on its own.

The rosemary bushes have almost finished flowering but still attracts lots of bees.

I haven't done much in my new garden yet, apart from watch and observe. A garden is like a friend that you have to get to know, rather than rush in gung-ho with changes. But I am developing ideas about things I would like to do: plant a vegetable garden in the spring; underplant some of the roses with herbs; add an extra fruit tree or two. However, at the moment I am happy just to watch and admire from a distance.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Still Our Red House

When I first moved to Adelaide in 2008 I wondered if I should change the name of my blog. I had named it after our home in Melbourne which was built from red clinker bricks, and sadly, that dear house was my home no more.

Funnily enough, we are living in a red house again. Although the front is a mixture of sandstone and painted bricks, the sides and back are all red bricks, as you can see in the image below.

Underneath the paint, the painted bricks on the front of the house are red. I know this because there are several other houses like this in our street, and many in this part of Adelaide. Sandstone-fronted, red-brick sided cottages are typical of the era (our house was built in 1915).

The garage, while a fairly recent addition, also follows this theme. The front is a sandstone veneer...

but the sides are red brick.

Welcome to our (new) red house.

Monday, 5 April 2010

French Toast for Breakfast

My beautiful daughter made French toast for breakfast today and it was delicious. This was not a recipe I taught her. Indeed, I think it is the first time I have ever eaten French toast.

The recipe came from an old Woman's Weekly cookbook and we thoroughly recommend it - especially when drizzled with maple syrup.

French Toast

4 thick slices white bread, crusts removed
1 egg
1 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp sugar
30g butter
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine egg, water and 2 tsp of the sugar and beat with a fork until combined. Melt butter in a medium frying pan on medium heat. Dip bread rounds quickly in egg mixture, one by one, letting extra mixture run off, then carefully place the bread in the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes until lightly browned underneath, then turn and cook on the other side. Remove from pan. Combine remaing sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over both sides of French toast. Serve hot.

What is your favourite breakfast?

If you would like to share your favourite breakfast recipe, or any breakfast recipe that you have previously published on your blog, please use the McLinky below to link from your blog to mine. I can always use some breakfast inspiration!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Egg Hunt

After church today we had an impromptu Easter celebration with friends here at our new house. Fortunately I bought enough food for an army at the supermarket yesterday, so lunch for ten rather than six was a breeze. My dear friend contributed jars of her bottled mulberries and pears and some thick cream, which made a fabulous dessert.

After lunch we had an Easter egg hunt for the six kids. As they ranged in age from 4 to 16 we had to hide some in easy-to-find spots and some that were much trickier to find. The two dads did the hiding while I took photos of some of the hiding spots. I think they were quite ingenious.

You knew that the thorns on roses had a purpose, didn't you?

May you have a blessed and joyful Easter with your loved ones!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Good Friday

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an off'ring far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Isaac Watts

Pancakes and Playdough - in Pyjamas

"Mum, you haven't made play dough since we lived in Melbourne," said my son last night. And it is true.

The tiny kitchen with barely two feet of bench space in our rental home here in Adelaide did not allow for much kitchen creativity, whereas in Melbourne I often cooked on one side of the kitchen bench while one of my (then) little ones played with play dough or a scrap of ordinary dough on the other.

This morning both play dough and pancakes were promised. My daughter made the pancakes and I the no-cook playdough. And joy of joys there was room for both in the kitchen without crowding.

Have I told you how much I love my new house?