Monday, July 28

Seven more sleeps!

Only one week till the new FROST BITE book is available!  Woohoo!

Don't forget to check back on Monday 4 August so you can grab a copy for yourself.

The new book contains 40 savoury recipes, all with colour photographs and detailed instructions on how to make each recipe in advance.  It will be available as a printable e-book so you can read it on any device or print a copy to keep in the kitchen.

And as there will be no paper (and no warehousing, no shipping, no stock control etc) it's nice and affordable for all.  The download will cost US$3.99, so you might like to buy a copy for your sister/friend/daughter too. Cookbooks for everyone!

There's also a free 18-page book extract so you can have a good snoop before forking out four bucks for the whole book.

I'm really excited about the latest FROST BITE, I'm sure you will love it!

Susan x

Monday, July 21

Eliminate Mayhem at Mealtime

I've been a busy beaver and am thrilled to say my new collection of FROST BITE recipes is almost ready for publication.  Let me introduce you to:

FROST BITE: Make-ahead Recipes to Eliminate Mayhem at Mealtime

Here's a sneak peak...

Looking good on my mini-iPad

There are 40 fabulous recipes for meal times and snacks, as well as tons of tips and tricks so you can make food in advance and maintain your sanity at dinner time.

It will be available as a printable e-book so you can print it, read it on your tablet, store it on the computer or keep it on your phone.  Use it anyway you like.

More details coming soon!

Susan x

Friday, July 11

Weekend away

Do you make and freeze a meal or two when going away?  We're off to the Blue Mountains with friends so tonight we're eating lasagne.

If you ask me it makes perfect sense to bring a few frozen meals.  Most holiday houses (beach shack, farm house, ski lodge, wherever) don't have many ingredients and you don't want to bring lots of bits and bobs with you.  If you make and freeze a meal then you don't need to worry about all those little ingredients.

Tonight I'll pop these babies in the oven, whip up a salad and pour myself a glass of red.  And C.H.I.L.L.

Susan x

Sunday, April 27

Cooking Group

Have you ever thought of joining or forming a Cooking Group?

I have a bunch of friends who are mums from our local school who get together every 1-2 months to cook together.  The group was formed when I started full-time work two years ago so I couldn't commit to the group, so I was on the substitute list for when someone was away.  I have been 'called up' a few times but invariably I was busy on the set date, but finally I was able to join the group a few weeks ago.

What a fun day!  It was a little crazy, there was food everywhere, tons of washing up, but lots of great cooking smells and plenty of chattering with good friends.

Here's some of the output from our three hours together in the kitchen:

If you are interested in starting a group, here are some pointers:

  • Four, five or six members is a good number.  Any more and it will be chaos.
  • Agree on a day and time (eg, Saturday at 1-4pm) and frequency (monthly, bi-monthly etc)
  • Take turns hosting the Cooking Group.  
  • Make sure everyone knows if there are any allergies or foods that can't be eaten for religious reasons
  • Everyone agrees to cook enough servings of their chosen recipe so that everyone gets one serving of each meal
  • Ask each member to advise what they will be cooking so that there will be a good variety of recipes.  Each member should also state if they need the oven or a hotplate (first in, first served) and what containers everyone should bring to the group so they can take the food home with them
  • Tell the group if you have a electrical frypans/wok or a mobile hotplate.  The stove area can be a little crazy during Cooking Group so it's good to have a few cooking zones.
  • Recipes should be freezer-friendly so everyone can eat the meals when it suits them.  If the food can't be frozen you need to advise the group so that everyone knows they must eat that meal within a few days of Cooking Group
  • Set a recommended dollar limit on how much each person should spend on ingredients
  • Each person must bring all equipment, knives, chopping boards, a few teatowels etc with them on the day
  • Most people do some preparation before going to Cooking Group.  You may like to chop some ingredients, grate cheese, roast capsciums, toast nuts etc before arriving.  This will make it a little easier during the Cooking Group time as most people underestimate how long it takes to prepare 4-6 servings of a recipe.
  • If anyone finishes preparing their food they normally help the others who are still cooking.  Many hands make light work!
  • Don't get competitive with each other by producing gourmet or wildly creative meals.  The recipes should be tasty, Monday-to-Friday dinners, not dinner party fare.

And above all, have fun and a few laughs.  A glass of wine is optional!

Susan x

Friday, April 18

Party time

I love it when readers send me photos of their cooking, especially when they're FROST BITE recipes.  I'm also tickled pink when I know they have been frozen and made their life that little bit easier.

(Don't forget you don't need to freeze the FROST BITE recipes.  They're regular recipes that just happen to be freezable).

Many thanks to Kirsten G. for sending me these cheery pics from her son's birthday party:

Mars Bar and Marshmallow slice - recipe here

Meringues.  Yes, they can be frozen!  You can eat them straight from the freezer, they're deliciously cool and crunchy.

Kirsten - I hope your son had a fantastic day, and you could relax and enjoy the festivities too!

Susan x

Tuesday, April 15

Exciting news!

I've been keeping a big secret for a while now but I'm finally ready to share it with you.  I've been working on a new FROST BITE book!  Here's a snippet to prove it.

Workshopping the recipe order on the carpet.  I wonder if Nigella does it this way, too.

Can't wait to share more details with you soon.

Susan x

Monday, April 14

Back to basics: storing food for the freezer

Following on from my earlier post about How to Freeze, here's part two of my Freezing Fundamentals blog posts...

How to store food for the freezer

Many people ask me how I store food in the freezer - do I use aluminium trays?   Lots of plastic containers?  Well, here are my tips on how to wrap/package/store food in the deep freeze.

  • Most foods can be stored in plastic containers but I don't own an enormous collection of containers so I prefer to use ziplock bags.  I buy good quality bags for wet foods such as soups and casseroles as the cheaper bags sometimes leak.  I have only found one Glad ziplock bag has leaked in the past 10 years (no, I'm not on their payroll)

  • For food such as cooked rice, cookie dough balls etc I use cheaper ziplock bags from Aldi or other supermarkets.  Ziplock bags come in various sizes from small to extra large.  I keep a variety of sizes on hand as they all come in handy.
  • Don't forget that ziplock bags are fine for freezing but you should never reheat food in the ziplock bag.  To defrost: place the ziplock bag of frozen food on the kitchen bench or in the fridge till defrosted (or partially defrosted) then move the food to a suitable dish/saucepan for reheating or cooking.  
  • Some foods are better stored in plastic containers - you can buy these from discount stores and supermarkets, or you can recycle containers from takeaway meals.  If I am preparing a meal for a friend I will normally give it to them in a takeaway container rather than a ziplock bag.
  • Always write a description of the food and the preparation date on the packaging as all food will look identical when it is frozen!  I love using Ziplock bags as they have a white strip to write on, but if using plastic containers I recommend using a piece of masking tape and write on the tape.  
  • Some meals such as lasagne or pies must be stored in a casserole (ceramic or glass) or pie dish (ceramic or metal).  Make sure you use casserole dishes that are suitable for the oven and freezer.  If you don't have too many dishes you might like to use aluminium disposable trays.  They are perfect for meals that you are giving to someone as they don't need to be returned.
  • Delicate foods such as tarts are best stored in their tart tin (and wrapped in cling wrap) otherwise they may be damaged in the freezer.  Make sure you place these items at the top of your freezer, not under several heavy containers of frozen food.  You may need to buy an extra tart tin in your favourite size if you find that one is regularly in the freezer.
  • Cakes do not need to be stored in a container in the freezer.  I normally wrap them in a double layer of cling wrap or foil before placing in the freezer.

  • When wrapping food in foil, bear in mind that it might not be airtight so I recommend using two layers of foil or wrap in foil then wrap again in cling wrap.
  • When storing liquidy foods such as soups and casseroles, don't forget that liquids expand upon freezing so make sure you don’t fill your containers to the brim.
  • Sometimes I'll freeze snacks for my daughters' lunchboxes (homemade or from the supermarket).  I prefer to wrap them individually before freezing as it makes life a little easier during the morning rush. The girls just grab a few items and pop them in the lunchbox then we're out the door.  Now that my girls are older I enlist their help - I give them a packet of little plastic bags (little cheapie bags like these ones from Woolworths), a packet of mini lamingtons or pikelets from the supermarket, or some homemade muffins, and a roll of sticky tape.  They put a single portion in each bag, twist the top of the bag and stick it down with sticky tape.  Then all the little parcels go into the top draw of our freezer, ready for school time.
  • Items such as hamburgers or schnitzels should have a sheet of non-stick baking paper between the layers of food, otherwise they will stick together in one almighty clump.

  • I have a large freezer so I normally cook double or triple quantities of most recipes.  That means I have dinner tonight and another meal in the freezer for when I don't feel like cooking.  Win win! 

That wraps it up (no pun intended) for my tips on preparing food for the freezer.  If you have any questions or would like to leave a comment, feel free to drop me a line below.

Susan x

Coming up .... the third and final instalment in this series: How to defrost

Tuesday, February 25

Freezer to the rescue: Meals Cooked with Love

My eldest daughter started high school this year and they asked parents to volunteer their time for various duties throughout the year.

One of the options was to join a meal roster called Meals Cooked with Love.  That suited me to a tee!  If anyone in the school community is going through a tough time the other families would provide meals and assistance.  So a few weeks ago I received an email asking me to prepare a meal for a family of five.

Here's the Chicken cacciatore I delivered to school yesterday.  And I threw in a container of frozen cookie dough for good measure.

Lots of schools and churches do this - I encourage everyone to sign up!

Eat well.  Be well.
Susan x

Monday, February 17

Back to basics: how to freeze

I thought it would be good to get back to basics, the ground rules so to speak.  So this week we'll cover everything there is to know about how to freeze.

The basic rule of thumb with freezing food is

freeze quickly and defrost slowly

This gives your food the best chance of being unaffected by the freezing process.  It has something to do with the ice crystals that form in the food but I don't want to get technical here.  I just want your food to taste great, I want your food to taste like it had never stepped foot in the freezer.

So here are my top tips for freezing food (brace yourself, it's quite a list):

  • Make sure your freezer is working well and operating at -18°C (0°F) or below.  You can check the temperature with a freezer thermometer, available from good kitchenware shops. 
  • If you're not sure how long to store food in the freezer: check the inside of the freezer door. There's normally a table or diagram that shows how long you can freeze different kinds of food.  Or check out this link.
  • When cooking, make sure your food cools to room-temperature or refrigerator-temperature before placing it in the freezer.  If you place hot food in the freezer you may cause the surrounding food to defrost (and icecream to melt) and you will slow down the performance of your freezer.
  • Try not to freeze enormous quantities of food at one time, the recommended amount to freeze is 1kg of food for every 25 litres of freezer capacity.  
  • If you have a large freezer it's a good idea to allow plenty of air to circulate around the food to help it freeze quickly.  Once frozen you can pack the food tightly.
  • I will write a separate post about how to store foods (in ceramic dishes, in aluminium trays etc) but the main thing to remember is to store your food as thinly as possible so they can freeze quickly and defrost easily.  For example, pack hamburger patties in a single layer rather than in a large bundle, or store your casseroles and curries in zip-lock bags so they will form flat “pillows” of food, rather than in large, boxy containers.
Source.  Check out those soups!
This photo is a tad unrealistic, but you get the idea
  • Make sure you freeze your food in usable portions.  It is impossible to cut a single portion of soup or casserole from a frozen hunk.  Invest some time up front and create portions that suit you and your household: 1-person size, 2-person size, kid-size, family-size etc.  You'll be glad you did!

  • Dehydration is the enemy of frozen food.  Always store food in air-tight containers or cover well with cling wrap before freezing.  Some websites/books recommend using double layers of cling wrap, but I normally use one layer and it's fine. If I wrap food in aluminium foil I often re-wrap it in cling wrap as the foil isn't airtight.  Any food that is exposed to the cold air in the freezer will eventually become dry on the surface (often called “freezer burn”) and may even taste different.  
  • In my books I refer to "flash freezing".   I recommend this for cookie dough in particular because if you place the balls of dough in a bag or container they will stick together in one large clump when they are frozen.  To flash freeze: line a tray with non-stick paper, place food on the tray so that they're not touching, then freeze.  Once frozen, transfer the food to a zip-lock bag or plastic container and return to the freezer.

  • There are some foods that don’t freeze well so you won't find them in my recipes:  strawberries, salad ingredients (lettuce, carrot, cucumber, tomato etc), boiled eggs, strawberries, mayonnaise, gelatin, custard etc.  Here's a handy A-Z list of what freezes well and what to avoid.
  • Bear in mind that foods that contain salt and fats can become rancid more quickly.  Any recipe containing bacon or ham should be eaten sooner rather than later.
  • Strong flavours such as garlic or chilli can intensify after storage in the freezer.  Keep this in mind when adding chilli to spicy recipes!
  • Full-fat cheeses freeze better than low-fat cheeses.  This is good to know if you like to freeze sandwiches that contain cheese, or if you put cheese in the freezer before it goes off.
  • Many people ask me if it's OK to re-freeze meat.  The answer is yes and no: If you have frozen  raw meat you can defrost the meat and cook it in a recipe then refreeze it, as long as you cook the meat completely.  Eg, you may have minced (ground) beef in the freezer.  You can defrost it, prepare bolognaise using the beef, then you can freeze the cooked bolognaise.  Do not defrost raw meat, prepare it without cooking (eg placing it in a marinade) then refreeze it.
  • When preparing a seafood recipe for the freezer, make make sure you buy fresh seafood.  Most fishmongers will display a sign saying "defrosted for your convenience" or something similar so you'll know that it has already been frozen. Just ask your fishmonger if you're not sure.
  • Cakes freeze well, but there's a few things to know about icing and decorating cakes for the freezer. Check out this blog post I wrote about cakes.  And while we're on the subject of baked goods: here are my handy hints for freezing quiches.
  • If you have food that has been lurking in the freezer for a REALLY long time, don't automatically think you need to throw it out.  According to Food Science Australia (a joint venture between the Victorian government and CSIRO) “frozen foods do not become unsafe to eat even when held for years at -18°C. The changes affect the sensory and nutritional properties of the food rather than its safety.”   This is great news!  Your frozen foods are safe to eat but they might suffer a little in other ways (colour, texture, nutrition etc).  

In the next few weeks I'll cover how to store food for the freezer, and how to defrost. Riviting stuff ... not.  But it's good to get these things squared away so you know the fundamentals.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to drop me a line.

Eat well.  Be well.
Susan x

Friday, February 14

Long time no see


Hello.  It's been a while.  As you probably noticed my blog posts have been few and far between over the past year or so.

I returned to the regular workforce in early 2012, jumping in head first: a full-time job in the city.   I love working in the city and don't mind commuting each day, but the long hours and the late evening calls ("Hello Canada, Argentina and France.  It's 11.30pm here in Sydney.  How are you?") made life less than ideal at Chez Austin.  I switched jobs to a part-time role and I now have a good balance of family time and work time with a little bit of me-time squeezed in somewhere.

So I'm back at the blog and hopefully you'll see more of me around these parts.  I have lots of great ideas and am looking forward to an exciting 2014.  Don't forget to check in regularly (better still - sign up for email updates!) because I'll be sharing lots of tips and tricks on the blog, some new recipes, and hopefully an exciting project too!

Eat well.  Be well.

Susan x