Wednesday 28 August 2013

Jam tutorial

Ever had runny jam from your Thermomix? Or what about too sweet? (Though my husband calls me the sugar Nazi, I believe I am in good company when it comes to enjoying less saccharin sweet jam). I love REAL jam. Lumps of fruity goodness whispering to me that not long ago this was bursting with flavour in the Australian sun. And I love that the Thermomix is actually a secret weapon for getting really fresh lovely jam.

It's all about getting the amount of pectin and sugar right, and not overcooking, (thank you Thermie).

What has helped me enormously is this tutorial by a forum user. If you are reading this...rear your fabulous head and claim your recognition.

Here is the tutorial:

I absolutely adore preserve making, and use my thermomix 90% of the time, but there is a knack to getting low pectin fruit to gel, and so I am finally getting off my butt and posting in the hope that this will be helpful.

I don't use the recipes in the TMX cookbooks as I find they don't work as well as I'd like.

I don't use a lot of sugar in my jams, as I find 1:1 way too sweet for most fruits. 
I can go down to 400g sugar:1kg fruit and still have it set and keep for over 12 months just fine.

I do add lemon juice to most of my jams as I love the balance of flavour it gives, and it also adds pectin.

Jam sets, when the acid, sugar and pectin levels are 'right' and when the jam has reached high enough temp.  You can't normally reach that temp at 100C in the tmx, you need to go to varoma.  

But want to macerate the fruit.  This means the fruit has 'taken up' the sugar, and release some of its water content.  Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to tell the difference, but until then, keep a relatively close eye on the mixture - if it looks like chunks of fruit floating in liquid (kind of like fruit in a punch bowl), it's not ready.  If it looks like it is stewed/softened/mushy and it is more incorporated into the liquid, it's probably done. 

So... Chop up your fruit (if you chop in the tmx, it will be harder to tell if the fruit is macerated) - I usually just do halves for apricots n figs 'cos I like it chunky! Liz here - I use 400g sugar to 700g fruit

Add in sugar n lemon juice (10g juice:100g sugar is a good ratio), then macerate the fruit by mixing on REVERSE, speed 2, 100C.  I normally find 20 mins is enough time. 

Taste the mix, if not sweet enough, add more sugar - it will only take about another 5 mins to dissolve.

Then... turn up the heat to Varoma, and put the steamer basket on top.  The mix will expand, depending on how dense the fruit is, but about 700g of fruit will be the max you can use before it is oozing all over your TMX.  Berries are the worst!  And I can only do 500g at a time.  

The amount of time at Varoma you need will vary with acid/sugar/pectin contents. 

For most fruit, I find 15 mins is enough, but you can experiment by putting a small plate in the freezer and dropping a blob on the plate.  If it gels, it's ready, if not, keep going. 

Remember also that jam will set over about 24hrs.  I made some apricot jam recently that I thought was too runny but by the next morning it was perfectly soft set and oozy, just the way I like it.  

Remember, the longer you cook jam, the darker it goes, so you want to cook it for the least time and the lowest temp in order to get a beautiful colour. 

That's why you don't just cook it at Varoma the whole time.

So Liz here. Today I did a strawberry jam and this was the recipe:

1 very large tart green apple
700g strawberries ($4 a kilo this week - WOW)
400g raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon citric acid

Method: Chopped the green apple (skin seeds and all) for 4 seconds speed 7. Then scraped down and added the strawberries and sugar. Macerated for 30 minutes, 100 degrees, reverse speed 2 with simmering basket on top.

Cooked for 19 minutes Varoma temperature, reverse speed 2 with Simmering Basket on top. (I checked it at 15 minutes and gave it 4 minutes more). You just put a saucer in the freezer, add a teaspoon of jam, put it back in the freezer and check after 2 minutes if it wrinkles when you tip it sideways.

The time will always vary depending on the natural pectin content of the fruit.

Hope this helps!

Chocolate muffins with hidden goodness

This recipe is just a variation on my 'lightening fast' carrot muffins. Let's face it...when you are on a tuckshop bake roster you want something that is healthy and yummy but super quick to make. a bonus there is the icing recipe. Real strawberry icing. And because this was a byproduct of making strawberry jelly you have a bonus jelly recipe! Yummy!

The story begins with the usual steps - Oven to 190degrees Celcius, cupcake papers in place. Then it's time to pull out a few ingredients:

40g buckwheat or oats if no one likes the earthiness of buckwheat
40g cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
130g SR Flour (wholemeal spelt is great!)
1 tsp spices like mixed spice or ginger if desired
210g raw sugar or brown sugar or rapadura
2 large zucchini's cut into 5 pieces
2 eggs
110g oil you like to cook with

Mill your buckwheat or oats with the cocoa on speed 9 for 30 seconds.
Add the baking powder, self raising flour, optional spices and sugar. Mix for 6 seconds speed 6 to aerate and combine.
Add the zucchini into the flour and chop for 2 seconds speed 5. Check the mix, if there are any big chunks you can give it one more second.
Pull the mix away from the sides, and add the eggs on the edge, then weigh in the oil around the edge.
Mix for 15 seconds speed 3 (or on reverse if you want to keep some zucchini texture like a muffin).
Check that all ingredients are incorporated and mix a further 8 seconds on speed 3 if they are not.

3/4 fill your muffin or cupcake papers with the mix and bake for approximately 18 minutes - but check to see that they lightly spring back when you touch them with your finger. they bake you can get the icing started.

This is just a variation on the Thermomix Wilton's Buttercream just click the link for the recipe.

My variation:
After creaming the copha or crisco and the butter, add 200g strawberry puree along with the vanilla and first 100g of icing sugar and follow the remaining directions - adding strawberry liquid instead of milk.

What I love, is that the strawberry puree is actually the waste from making real strawberry jelly.

Combine 250g hulled strawberries and 350g water in your TM bowl. (I like to add a teeny wedge of beetroot for extra colour). Cook for 5 minutes, 90 degrees speed 2.

Strain out the liquid. Now that wonderful red liquid is for jelly or cordial.

For Strawberry Jelly:
Weigh the 300g of liquid back into the TM bowl and add 200g sugar. Add 1/2 tsp of citric acid or a tablespoon of lemon juice. Set to 3 minutes, 90 degrees speed 2 - but turn it up to speed 3 for the first 10 seconds to incorporate any sugar granules that have snuck up the side of the bowl.

Meanwhile, combine 15g of gelatine with 80-100ml water, until well combined.

Add this to the liquid mix and cook a further 1.5 minutes, 90 degrees speed 1 (again, start on speed 3 for 10 seconds to help incorporation).

Pour into a pyrex or heatproof dish and leave to set at room temperature for 6 hours or more.

About 10g more gelatine and I could have cut this into really firm shapes. As it is, this is the perfect balance of flavour for eating on it's own, or in a jelly slice, or served with fresh berries and cream. Imagine a trifle with REAL jelly. *yum*

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Food Intolerances, Wild behaviour and the Dance of Hope

I purposely titled this the Dance of Hope, not healing. I have noticed how often the word 'healing' is in recipes and food websites of those seeking health. There are many attractive phrases that slice to my deepest emotive being and draw me into a journey of belief in food that is beyond it's capabilities. Not that I think our systems can't improve, or that troubling behaviours cannot be successfully managed, or that some foods are not damaging to our bodies while others have profound benefit - but I am learning the hard way how individual our complex systems are, and how unhelpful it is to be myopic about diet.

Parents of food intolerant children earn their nutritional 'degree' from the University of Google, become proficient in trendy food lingo, 'wholefood' phrases and even neurochemical terms in our pursuit of a better life for our loved ones. At least that's my wry summary of the thousands of hours spent trawling through books, web pages, articles and blogs. Not to mention the hours in the kitchen!

Other's gains dangle both hope and fear. Give insight, and also red herrings.  We learn tips and tricks from one another, a seeming 'breakthrough' only to discover first hand it does not apply to particular our child. Absolutes do not exist in this world! Never, ever is the phrase more cutting 'your child doesn't come with a book' than when tearing your hair out to discover the individual matrix of your food sensitive child.

The journey starts with reaching a point of desperation. When the physical and behavioural symptoms of your child dictate action must be taken. No matter how hard the action, staying the same is finally harder. There are many parents out there who like me, look back on early years and months and wonder how we survived the extreme symptoms and behaviours. For us, there were some physical symptoms for our son, but they were not the desperation triggers, it was the behaviour. The uncontrollable anger and violence. Having three elder siblings that we were able to 'figure out how they ticked', we were quietly confident that it wasn't from a lack of consistency and boundaries. In the static haze of coping through the years of his screaming and the injuries we were aware that we needed to go beyond coping and find the right help.

Help was found after GP, allergist and friends seemed to be pointing in the 'RPAH Elimination diet' direction. The history of it's development is linked here. So helpful has this diet been, that a transformed family have campaigned heavily for awareness under the banner of the Food Intolerance Network, dubbing the diet 'FAILSAFE" (Free of Additives, Low in Salicylates, Amines and Flavour Enhancers). After 10 excruciating days of withdrawals, our son became calm and able to sit through a meal for the first time in his life. I cried all day in sympathy for how much distress he must have been in for all these years. What had he been coping with? The poor little man. And HURRAH for a new child....done deal?

But alas no. Because it's not that simple. Whether it is the fluctuations from testing foods, or other challenges to the system, you quickly re enter the roller coaster of fluctuations and realise that there is going to need to be more of a solution than just eliminating lots and lots of foods. Plus, there is not enormous love for the foods on the 'tolerated list'. The old adage 'a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down' certainly applies to helping the brussel sprouts and swedes go down...and that is just the problem, processed foods and sugar are better tolerated but not very satisfactory.

This is where the journey is tricky. Where the solutions of others are not necessarily helpful for you or your child and where expensive, alternative therapies abound and a serious lack of solid answers exist. Whether it's combining the 'Failsafe' diet with another (FODMAPs, GAPs etc) or other treatments, all offer a lot of hope and some therapies can be very expensive. It's hard to know what is worthwhile to pursue, because many undeniably benefit.

Within this tangled web I have been very grateful for some essential ingredients that have provided sanity and improvement.

The first ingredient is love. Love from family (despite their misgivings at our dietary approach), love from friends who have been through the hard battle before, love from my husband who holds my head above water, and love from God through the prayers of others. In the early days I was just sobbing on the phone to my loving friend who comforted me and prayed for me over the phone. She reminded me of the light at the end of the tunnel. If you are struggling through this journey alone please reach out to the support groups and find others who understand!

The second ingredient is a dietitian with her head screwed on. It's also helpful that she has had her own personal journey with extreme food sensitivities and has borne the brunt of being a guinea pig to make it easier for all her patients.

Our dietitian was careful from the beginning to help us not to create 'hypersensitivity' in a child who was very sensitive. She also helped us to see the bigger picture of what can flare behaviours in a sensitive child so that we could modify other factors rather than having a more and more restricted diet.

My 'rough' guide to seeing the bigger picture our dietitian has described is below. Over time, and riding the fluctuations of behaviours and triggers, we have been able to see what are the most powerful triggers in our son's pie. We can even get a bit predictive and realise that if we have a big threat coming up, we need to increase the more effective 'treat-ers'. This is our Dance of Hope.

We can also start to see where the unexplored areas are. One of the areas least utilised for us has been medications, because so far most things tried have had the reverse effect and made him a lunatic. I am starting to really appreciate how long it takes his system to process these challenges. But there are more options available, and our dietitian and allergist are helping us to explore these. With guidance, high doses of B vitamins and Zinc has been very helpful, plus there are particular properties of certain foods that have been effective for improving his sensitivities, (chamomile and sage have been good for our little man - but not a guarantee for everyone!).

Another area is the 'restedness' and finding all the ingredients that build this up. Our stress levels, the type of physical activity we do with our son and finding the exercise that produces a relaxation state are all crucial for helping him to cope with the demands on his system. In recent times I have discovered that one of his settling strategies to process school days is something that I previously saw as an attack on his system. His climbing through grasses and gnawing on roots drove me wild with the 'potential salicylate count', but I have come to realise that it is one of his key ways of processing the stimulus of social environments and by responding in a relaxed way we both win.

This pie has enabled us to help our son have a stronger system so that he can cope with the challenge of more foods, and chew on his oxalis in peace. More importantly, it has kept us from getting even more restrictive with his diet and creating a hypersensitive system. There have been times of great temptation to cut out almost everything, but Marie gently encouraged us to see the weather season and it's influence, and we were able to ride out the weeks of aggravation without needing to get super strict. (But I must laugh here, because to our nearest and dearest our son's diet looks crazily strict, they don't realise that many end up even stricter!)

Our dietitian has also helped us to gradually focus on the tolerated foods that are more nutritionally dense. They are lower GI, they have properties that are helpful for settling tummies or nerve endings. Incorporating these ingredients into most dishes has been beneficial for my son, but also for my sanity.

However, this doesn't mean we aren't still in the 'fluctuations' stage. At the moment, starting school and winter (colds = upper respiratory problems = not good restedness until summer for our boy) are enough of a challenge to his system that he cannot cope with more foods. We have taken two steps back. It's the hard dance steps...the ones where some one has stepped on your toes. And that used to frustrate me.

But I am getting used to the ups and downs and learning that each time we are climbing a little higher. There is room over time, to try many approaches of others to help my son's system, but the key things are very basic. And MY restedness is also a crucial key. I am learning how much I need to make smart choices, and to be kinder to myself.

There is one more thing I would like to comment upon and that is the dance floor beneath us in this crazy tune. It is one of thanksgiving. For surely we learn the hard way that it is sacrifice for another that drives true love. How much we love these little ones who have drawn us beyond ourselves and are thankful for their lives entrusted to us.

Happy dancing my friends...hope you are wearing steel caps if you are dancing near me!!!

Postscript - The Seven Deadly Accusations
(Actually, other people address this issue much better - here is a great infographic for allergy myths)

1. You just need to discipline your child better
Actually, that was the clue for us that something truly weird was going on, that it wasn't just boisterous boy-ness. You know that over-tired, hungry irrationalism that toddlers get if you feed them too late? How ineffective it is to discipline at that time? That's what our son was like all the time. A beautiful woman told me of her family banning her from visiting because her poorly disciplined child would set a bad example. How crushing.

2. There's no such thing as food intolerances, it's just decades of poor diet
Wow. That one is actually being taught in seminars. Hilarious. My mother made everything from scratch and as a health professional interested in diet I had a very healthy diet for our family. Of course, there were hidden additives present in oils and crackers that I was unaware of which has improved - but my son comes from generations of home made food. My mother's home is synonymous with something made from the garden. The answers are still partially hidden, but food intolerances are very real, and sometimes, you were feeding your family very good foods that were aggravating their system.

3. You are harming your child by having them on such a restrictive diet. It's unhealthy
In the one sense, I agree. There is a lot of research to support a highly varied diet rich in vegetables nuts and seeds. However, you must treat problems. I do not tell my patients to run on their freshly rolled ankle despite running being proven by research to have many short and long term health benefits. You can't apply general rules to a compromised system. Same for food!

4. You could have prevented this
Actually, the medical fraternity is stumped (but still working on the best answers). They have tried mothers avoiding all allergens during pregnancy and numerous variations...allergies are still rising. Their helpful brochure with current recommendations is here

5. You are making your family have an unhealthy diet.
Hmm, it's hard for that one not to sting. Sugar is easy to use because it is well tolerated, you can quickly slide into a fried potato induced depression - but there are actually many healthy choices (as I mentioned above). This is the Food Intolerance Network's fact sheet on healthier choices.

6. You are turning your child into a social freak that is paranoid about food.
Fact is, there are large social consequences for restrictive diets, and that's why you need support and a good dietitian to make sure you make the best choices. On the flip side, you are also preventing them from becoming a delinquent/medical basket case with far worse social consequences. Don't be discouraged by how slow things are. Improving your body takes time and persistence.

7. You can't do it.
Yep, that's right. I can't. It's taken grace and help and support. And help is there - even if just online for starters, like this list of email support groups.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Yummy Scrummy Banana, Coconut Spelt Loaf

Hello I am Sophia and I haven't blogged for a while but here is one of my latest cooking adventures

Are you tired of having complaining children wanting yummy food?
Well here's the answer and it's very simple.
Picture this; one morning by the surf on a family holiday, four children complain they were hungry. So, they went for a swim and then when they came back they cooked a pavlova and a scrumptious banana and coconut bread. They cooked the pavlova first, then the little sister made the loaf; it was easy and quick. She put it in the oven then they all watched a movie while it was cooking.....When the movie was finished, the girls went to the gym while the boys gobbled up the bread!!! When the girls came back they had a few pieces as well and they all declared it was delicious. The next morning, they had it toasted for breakfast.
That was the end of the bread! But they all wanted to make it again.
If you want to make this loaf, then you can find the recipe at Alyce Alexandra (mum says you have to subscribe to get the free recipes)

Goodbye until I tell you about the Pavlova!!

Monday 19 August 2013

That Orange, date and cardamom loaf

okay - so I'm a leeetle bit slow with birthdays, cards and blogging. This is only a few months late. Next, have to tackle the tax!!!

I love this flavour combination; orange dates and cardamom started flirting with each other centuries ago and the sparks are still flying. This is perfect for a festive occasion, and I can imagine a beautiful orange cream cheese spread with this one.

I hope you enjoy the bread plaiting tutorial. Keep me posted on how you go.


80gram unhulled buckwheat (or toasted buckwheat). The unhulled buckwheat gives a lovely speckled finish to the bread
30gram millet
20g yoghurt whey, buttermilk or yoghurt
280gram water
2tsp yeast
tbsp brown sugar or honey
420g bakers flour
11/2 tsp salt
30gram oil or butter


Handful of walnuts
1/4 tsp cardamom
Zest of 1 orange
1tbsp brown sugar
Handful of dates
60 gram water
Pinch of bicarbonate
80g butter


Mill buckwheat and millet for 30 secs speed 9
Add yogurt and water, yeast and honey and mix for 1 min, 37 degrees, speed soft. Let it sit and prove while you get the other ingredients.
Add remaining ingredients; flour, salt and oil and combine for 10 seconds speed 6
Knead for 2 minutes on interval speed and allow to prove in a breadmat or oiled bowl covered with oiled cling film, in a warm draught free spot, for 1 hour.

Lightly chop the handful of walnuts for 5 seconds, reverse speed 5, check the nuts and repeat for 2 more seconds if needed. Set aside

During the last 10 minutes of dough proving, zest your orange with the sugar and cardamom for 30 seconds speed 9, or if you used an orange zester, just add all those ingredients straight into the bowl.

Add the large handful of dates and bicarbonate and water.
Cook 3 minutes, 100 degrees speed 2.

Meanwhile roll your dough on your oiled baking mat or paper, it will need to be 30cm wide at least and as long as your baking tray.If you roll it out on your Mat like I did, or roll it out on your bench, you are going to have one hell of a tricky time transferring it to your baking tray!!! (Not that I would ever be sooooo silly) ;)

Mark the dough just wider than a third so you have a middle section about 15cm wide or more, by running your spatula lightly down the length of the dough as if you were about to roll it into thirds.

The dates will probably have finished cooking by now, so put 50g of the butter into the bowl and melt it by mixing 1minute speed 2.

Meanwhile, Cut fringes about 2-3 cm wide on each side using your lines as a guide. These will be the fingers you plait.

Scrape the date mix onto the centre of your dough. (The picture above is a different FAILSAFE mix of choko, carob etc - will post one day)

Add the remaining butter to the emptied TM bowl and cook for 1 minute, 100 degrees speed 3.

Meanwhile spread the date mix out with your spatula, covering a little of your fringes and all of the centre portion. Sprinkle over your walnuts.

Start at your smallest end, by lifting a fringe and drawing it towards the centre on the slightest diagonal angle. Lift up the opposing fringe and cross over the first piece. Keep repeating like a fishbone plait.

Slide the dough on it's paper onto your baking tray and glaze with the butter mix from the bowl.

Prove a further 20 minutes, Set your oven to 190C and bake 20-25 minutes, 190 degrees. Check it after 20 minutes of cooking.

and VOILA! Gotta love a daggy name tag :)