Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Mint overload

My mum gave her mint plants a radical haircut, and presented me with half a black garbage bag of mint stems!  Waste not, want not, so I have made (or am in the process of making):

Mint syrup (part 1), mint jelly  (9 jars)
 Dried mint (10 trays worth!) and about a litre of mint sauce

I guess it is lucky there is plenty of lamb in the freezer!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

They grow up so quickly

October 20th - hatched within 48 hrs

October 30th - first day out of the nest, still in the same tree

November 2nd - out and about with mum and dad

Monday, 13 October 2014

Fishy or fruity...or both?

Nigel Slater's mackrel with rhubarb and sherry vinegar. In a nutshell: pan fried mackerel served with oven baked rhubarb. The sherry vinegar comes into it at the end when you are rewarming the rhubarb in the pan before serving. Mine was a bit mushier than Nigel's, and didn't look pretty, but the taste combination was surprisingly good.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Chicken and corn soup

Lizzie's chicken and corn soup - love it. Her recipe calls for fresh corn, but it also works with frozen corn, albeit with a much shorter cooking time. This is my go-to lunch when I have leftover roast or poached chicken.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Orchard update - sometimes things just don't work out

In July 2009 (can't believe it was so long ago!) ago we created a mini-orchard that we planned to espalier. We had 2 plum trees, 2 cherries, 2 apricots, 2 peaches, a nectarine, 2 apples, a pear and a nashi. A friend with a digger came over and drilled some nice big holes for the trees, we put in posts, strung wire, planted and looked forward to many home grown fruity adventures.
Five years (!!) down the track, the orchard experiment has been a failure. With the exception of the two plum trees, which have given us buckets of delicious plums, all the trees have failed to thrive. In fact, most still look almost as spindly as when they were planted. One of the apricots grew quite well, but gave almost no fruit. We can't say for sure why this has happened across so many of the trees - poor soil, wrong location, not enough feeding/watering (or both). However, given the peach tree in the veg patch we planted in 2008 before now has a trunk thicker than my leg (and gives the most amazing peaches), it became more and more obvious that there wasn't going to be a miraculous growth spurt.

At the same time we have been thinking about a new chicken coop up closer to the garden, so we can make better use of the new chickens in the garden (when we get some). Locating it near the berry cage (in the current orchard area) and including a gate would allow us to have the chickens roam this area in the non-fruit season to manage grass and pests. It would also put the coop closer to the house, and right nest to a tap for convenient water top-ups.

So... we made the decision to remove all of the trees, apart from the two plums. One apricot is still in the ground, as it was too big to easily remove with large pruners (yes, the trees were THAT spindly), but it will go. The posts and wires are still up, but they will be removed in the next few weeks, and I will start training the plums to be "all round" trees, rather than fan trained. We live in an orchard area so we have access to cheap, local fruit so we will just continue to support our local economy by buying what we want when it is in season, and preserving our favorites to enjoy at other times.
 On the bright side, however, the rhubarb seems to be quite happy!

You win some, you lose some.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Breakfast babies

No need to panic, we haven't turned cannibal! The babies I'm referring to are Dutch babies (aka dutch baby pancake, Dutch puff, German pancake or puffed pancake - but I think they are an American invention). This is another tasty discovery from Gina's blog, and has become a firm favourite at our house. Dutch babies will never win any glamour awards - although they rise spectacularly (and unevenly in my case!) they collapse as soon as they are out of the oven. To me they are a cross between a pancake and a yorkshire pudding.
They are quick and easy to make - I've managed to whip one up on a weekday morning to enjoy before heading to work. We tend to have ours with golden syrup, but berries and sugar, apples or other fruit would be a good healthy alternative as well. The added bonus is it is quite filling, and will keep you going until lunch. You can reheat leftovers in the microwave the next day, and they are almost as good.

Here are a couple of recipes to get you started - why not try one this weekend?

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Time to get planting!

I was strangely excited to start planting seeds again after a years hiatus. On the heated propagating mat inside I have peppers, tomato, eggplant and basil. I've being quite restrained this year on the tomato front - only 5 different varieties (cherry rainbow, and mortgage lifter for eating, and oxheart, principe borghese and san marzano for bottling), although I confess to going a bit OTT on eggplant varieties (little finger, snnowy and greek). My excuse is....well, other than the seed was only $3 a packet there is no excuse :-)

On the direct sowing front I have also planted out snow pea, sugar snap, beetroot, swede, lettuce mix and carrot. For the lettuce and carrot I trialed a nifty UK seed sewing device (seedsava) muma and papa Jerry gave me. I confess I have had it for a while, but really haven't put it to good use until now. However, on small seeds like carrot and lettuce it is brilliant. There are 4 different seed holders, each with a different size seed hole. Orange is the second smallest, and good for lettuce and carrot. You put the sizy you want into the base, and click so it is shut (seed holes covered so they can't fall out). Seeds go in the spoon part, then you shake them along the device until each hole is filled with seed. Then you place it on the bed where you want to sew, and simple slide the coloured section along, which opens the hole and lets some seed drop in. You do get a few seeds in each hole, but they are sewn at intervals making it easier to thin. It was easy, and I suspect there there was less wastage compared to broadcasting the seed.

I'll update you on progress as the seeds come up.

7 days later and here's the update - I hit save not publish and just realised :-). The basil and most of the tomatoes are looking good - the cherry rainbow is the forlorn punnet in blue. These seeds were just about at the end of their use by date so I'm not entirely surprised germination is almost non existent. The eggplants, chilli and capsicum are taking longer, but the first eggplants are just pushing up.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Recipe roundup - Nigel Slater's pork cheeks

Would you believe we still have pork from our piggies? They were the gift that just keeps on giving! Apart from some chops and roast, I found the pork cheeks in the freezer, and have made nigel slater's recipe several times now -it is delicious. Our porkers were quite large, so one cheek actually gave us two meals.

You would probably need to order cheeks from your butcher, but this simple tasty recipe is worth that extra effort. I have made this in both the oven and in my slow cooker, with the same delicious results.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

New adventures in sourdough

The sourdough starter I, erm, started a few months ago is going really well, and I have spent the last few months working on improving my sourdough bread. I haven't perfected it yet, but I am getting better, with more good outcomes than failures. I use my kenwood to do most of the kneading, which saves some time and elbow grease :-)

Here is my starter bubbling away on baking day.

I have become a big fan of the soft sourdough bread from Gina's blog - in fact it is the bread I make most often at the moment. I love the flavour - not just the sourdough part but also the honey. The honey flavour and aroma really comes through in this bread, so it is interesting to experiment with different types of local honey.

As a soft loaf it is also good for sandwiches (and of course makes great toast). Granted you don't get that artisinal chewy crust, but I have found the recipe to be really reliable, resulting in a tasty bread with a good texture. The version with added oatmeal is also delicious. However it is an all-day exercise due to the long rising periods required (no commercial yeast is used). Here is a recent loaf, and some rolls I made using the same recipe.

I've blogged before about Matron's sourdough english muffins, and I've made them a few times as well - they do freeze well (assuming there are any left!)
Have you tried baking with sourdough? Do you have a favourite recipe?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

This year, there WILL be a garden

If Jerry's brother and sister-in-law can resuscitate their allotment after a flood, I can dig mine out from the weeds and couch grass and get planting!

In the last month or so I have been progressively digging over the beds that have been basically ignored since before we went away for 10 weeks last winter. Let me tell you folks, it has been ugly! One a day has really been all I (and my back) could manage. In fact a couple of them took 2 days.

This picture gives you a good idea about the state of the garden - but multiply that by 14 beds...
And that same patch of garden now (from the reverse angle). All the beds have been dug over, and had a dose of manure. These beds were done about 4 weeks ago, and when I scraped back the mulch yesterday the worms were going mad. When I originally dug over the beds and added the manure there were almost no worms. These beds should be ready to plant out for the main spring/summer planting starting next month.
The beds that I want to plant first I have used purchased compost and mushroom compost, so I can plant almost straight away, but the others will have 4-8 weeks for the worms to work on the manure and other bits of home made compost.
As the new garden season has really only just started here, there isn't much to show apart from some self seeded spinach and mustard leaf, and some rocked that is going to seed for the year. However the garlic is coming along nicely.

The same can not be said for the fruit cage, which looks a mess! However, we have plans to redo this area, remove the beds on either side of the fence, and extend, so motivation is low for serious weeding at this stage.

Friday, 30 May 2014

DIY sultanas

Last month we harvested almost 15kg of grapes. Far too many to eat, too many to just turn into jelly, and we don't drink much grape juice (unless it is the alcoholic variety!). What to do? I decided to get out the dehydrator and try making sultanas.

I craqzed the grapes briefly (dip in very hot water) to crack the skins to assist in the dehydrating process, then left them in the dehydrator for about 24 hours (some a bit longer - probably didn't craze as well). We ended up with three decent sized jars of rather tasty home made sultanas. Slightly tarter than the shop bought variety, although th egreen grapes were sweeter than the red ones. Perfect for the winter porridge season!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Getting back to home made

It is well past time for me to get back into making more and buying less. I got out of the habit when overwhelmed with work+work+uni, but as the weather gets cooler and I have time before next semester I need to re-establish some good habits.

Step 1: Bread. I have a new sourdough starter fermenting which should be ready to start baking with it next week. In the meantime I will get back to making bread rather than buying it.

Step 2: I will start making yoghurt using the cultures I bought. I made a batch 2 days ago, and converted about 3/4 into labna (yoghurt cheese). My next experiment will be to infuse the milk with vanilla bean before making the yoghurt to see if I can come close to the flavour of 5am's very delicious (but expensive) vanilla bean yoghurt. I'll let you know how that goes.
Step 3: Get back into make some hard cheese. I think I'll start with caerphilly as it has a short maturing time, and we enjoyed it last time.

Step 4: Eat through the food we have in the pantry. We have loads of dried beans and I still have some ham bones and a hock or two so this excellent soup will be getting a few runs in the next couple of weeks. The presence of dozens of jars of fruit suggests that there will be a lot of crumble made and consumed in winter :-)

Friday, 11 April 2014

Garden Update

I've taken a semester off uni (again) - I have a lot or work on, and it was all getting a bit much. However this has meant I have had the luxury of time to get out into the garden and remember why I hate weeding, and I really hate couch grass!

However, I've cleared 3.5 beds, and have even planted some winter veg, so I am making progress. We signed up to the local CSA scheme again this year so our veg is still (very) local, but at a minimum I'm determined to have some Kale and garlic in the ground over winter. I haven't had to buy garlic for years now and I don't want to start now. It will be hard enough to go back to buying tinned tomatoes at some point in a few months when I run out of my preserved ones.

Here's how things are looking.

These will be garlic beds - one "resting" after a mammoth dig-over, the other a work in progress.

Beds I dug over last week - now planted with 3 kinds of kale and silverbeet, cauli, cabbage, spring onions, turnip, swede, sugar snap peas, rocket, lettuce and a few radish varieties (mixed, podding and daikon)
The "wild garden" beds - all a bit haphazard, but at least there are a few peppers (L) and chillies (R- jalapenos) still to pick, as well as cherry toms. 

 And this will give you an idea of what I still have to do.......
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