Quince

I feel I little like the queen, never see or hear from her for a year and then the Christmas message appears. Well this is my Easter message and it all about quince, not corona, not isolation, not bread (well maybe a Hot Cross Bun), just quince.

When we first purchased this property, I had plans to fill the lane way with all sorts of fruit trees, herbs and other plants that could be shared within the community. I have sadly only managed to plant a quince tree and some geraniums that I relocated from other spots. The few apple trees I planted just didn’t make it. The quince tree did not perform at all well the first few years and I now think I have been pruning it too hard, as all of this fruit was on branches I probably would have have trimmed off in previous years. So these combined with a few my daughter had on her young tree are being converted into quince jelly and quince paste.

I follow the same method up to a point and then use the ‘mash’ left to make the quince paste and the liquid for the jelly.

Start by washing all the fuzzy down from the quince, cut out any dodgy bits cop the rest into chunks and put in a pot with plenty of water covering them and simmer until really soft. This can take an hour or more.

Once the fruit is soft it needs to be strained to separate the liquid from the solid. It is VITAL that this isn’t rushed or forced as you will end up with cloudy jelly. I use some calico tied to an upturned stool or chair, dump the mash into it and have a bucket underneath as a catcher.

I left this overnight to let it do it’s drip, drip, drip, ever so slowly into the bucket. The next day I measured the liquid into a pot, added equal parts sugar, a squeeze of lemon and let it slowly come to setting point. As this happens, the most magical transformation to a beautiful pink is taking place. Once setting point is reached it can be bottled as you would with any jam.

For the quince paste it is a matter of converting the leftover mash after straining. This is what was left from the juice straining. Looks a bit like vomit doesn’t it!

I don’t like a really gritty paste, so I do one separation using a larger gauge mesh to remove all of the chunky bits, seeds and core fibers, then run the remaining fruit pulp through a finer gauge mesh. This leaves a lovely fine pulp. The bits removed will be chook fodder and they love it.

Now at this point, for anyone who has ever attempted quince paste, you will undoubtedly recall the amount of mess making this can create. Well, not with this baby. The magic weapon is to use your slow cooker. The paste can simmer away there for hours until it hits the desired consistency without a spatter on anything. This is the fruit pulp with ~3/4 cup of sugar to each cup of pulp mixed in and ready to simmer away.

I turned it off overnight as I am not really a thrill seeker and just turned it back on the next morning. Once it reached a thickening stage I placed a t/towel over it between the paste and the lid and left the lid slightly off so moisture wouldn’t fall back into the paste. I let this simmer until I was happy with the consistency. It looks very dark but it is no way overcooked.

The paste was then poured into some jars, some suitable to remove slabs from for serving with platters etc.

And that is how simple and easy it is to convert some ridiculously weird fruit into something delicious.

Seeing as it is Easter, I’ll wish you all a safe and not too lonely time. I hate not being able to get together but hope we will see our new grand-daughter at her 21st. Cheers witha sourdough Hot Cross Bun and a glass of pink sauvignon blanc to match the pink quince jelly.

 

 

 

 

Farewell to My Sunbeam Toy Oven-Pizza Bake N Grill Winner!

When we moved into this “new old house” in January 2013, it meant we didn’t have a real kitchen and had no idea it would take almost 4 years before we would  For all this time I have managed to create some pretty amazing dishes thanks to the little 19 litre capacity $80 or so Sunbeam Pizza Bank N Grill Oven which I affectionately have referred to in my posts as my ‘Toy Oven’.Sunbeam pizza bake and grill ovenI decided to buy this just in case it took a little longer than anticipated to do our renovations, I would have been burnt at the stake as a witch in mediaeval times, it took so much longer than anticipated. This little oven along with 2 butane gas camping stoves, our hooded BBQ  (Sunbeam as well as it turns out), a larger gas ring for big jobs like preserving and tomato passata, 2 slow cookers and we haven’t missed out on anything, even making our own sourdough bread very week.

New gas cookerWell, now that I have my beautiful new Falcon double oven with 5 gas burners, I can bid my ‘Toy Oven’ a fond farewell. I haven’t yet decided whether or not to keep it to take when we go camping (if there is power supply) or to piff it but that seems wasteful when it still works (and oh so well!). Unfortunately the poor thing is in such a preloved state that it isn’t up to scratch to offer to someone or donate to charity. It may even become the mud pie oven for when kids are in the back yard.

I cannot believe how well this little oven has performed over these few years, my only negative comment is that I could only make a couple of things at a time, so large quantities when required of biscuits, muffins, party foods like sausage rolls and mini quiche had to be made at my daughters place or at work. Luckily those times were few and far apart so not too much of an issue.

Thought I’d honour this little ‘Toy Oven’ recapping and revisiting some of the food it has churned out for us over the last few years.

My first bake in the oven was spinach and ricotta muffins, tick.Spinach ricotta muffinsSome mini pavlovas served with brandy snaps and fruit. See, only 6 at a time can be cooked.Mini pavlova Mini Pavs in tin

Many small roasts and meals where the meat was cooked in the slow cooker and the veggies roasted in the little oven have been made. This was Dorper lamb we bought in South Australia cooked in the slow cooker and veg in the ‘toy oven’.Roast Dorper Lamb I even sterilised some jars prior to preserving food. These were used for bottling some Christmas Puddings, very successful!Sunbeam Pizza Bake N GrillMany batches of potato, kale and feta rolls.Kale, Potato and Feta rollsThe most amazing slow cooked quince I have ever tasted, this was delicious!Slow Roasted Quince Quince RecipeSometimes fitting cookware in was a challenge. This slice tin was made to fit with the aid of a spanner or such.Making tin fitand you couldn’t quite fit the Dutch Oven in with the lid on.Dutch Oven in Toy OvenSometimes I had to split cooking methods, like here where the meat was done in the ‘Toy oven’ and the veg in the BBQ.Roast lamb Jamie OliverSome more meringues but I was getting better at fitting in more than 6 in a muffin tray. I got  7 in by using the pizza tray.Nigel Slater cinnamon meringueI still managed to bake the pieces that I use to assemble my Christmas gingerbread house in.Gingerbread house 2014 Gingerbread house piecesMany different varieties of foccacia.Peter Reinhart foccaciaTarts, this is a blood plum tart.Blood Plum Tartand my all time favourite, lemon tart. alice-medrich-lemon-tartPies or in this case, piesties.Piestiesand of course my passion, sourdough bread.Barbecue breadEven with only having had this little ‘toy oven’ I managed to turn out 2-3 loaves, sometimes more, of sourdough bread every week. I would not have believed this unit was capable of being such a great unit until I tried it. There has been white, wholemeal, rye, fruit, grainy, pumpernickel, hot cross buns, baguette, pizzas, bread sticks, flat breads and more. The only way I could bake in this toy oven was to use a Dutch Oven, this reduced the exposure of the dough to the heating elements thus reducing the likelihood of it becoming toast before it was even cooked. I also faced the challenge that the lid didn’t fit in because the handle/knob just made the unit too large for the baking chamber. I remedied this by removing the knob and filling the hole with some bread dough. Every now and again I would replace the dough and it worked extremely well.

Dough plug Dutch OvenThere are so many more great things that have been churned out by this little oven and I have really enjoyed revisiting the relevant posts. I am so appreciative of the beautiful space and equipment I have now, it is hard to understand how I managed to create anything really.

There were a few times when I was taking bread to a party or we were entertaining here that I needed to resort to using the Sunbeam barbecue for baking bread. I got the method pretty well down pat after a few attempts and would happily bake this way again if necessary. I will admit though, it has knocked the poor old barbecue hot plates and grill around. I might end up keeping this unit just for bread. We’ll see.Sunbeam BBQ Bread Sunbeam BBQ BreadWell, the poor little old ‘toy oven’ is nowhere near as pretty as she was a few years ago but by goodness, what a run she has had! I don’t think these units were designed to get quite the workout that this one has had. I think the price is now up around the $120.00 mark but if you need a unit that is versatile, reliable and fun to use I can’t recommend this highly enough. Thanks, my little ‘toy oven’, it been fun.

sunbeam-pizza-bake-n-grill

Catch up post. Kombucha among other things.

Well it was time to do the taste test! My first batch of kombucha had been bottled for a second fermentation which I had read creates better carbonation, 2 bottles with some ginger added and 1 plain.

KombuchaI had read that kombucha can be pretty explosive on opening, so I decided to do this outside. Good decision!img_9281This is the trail of exploded KB over the side path. Haven’t seen something like that since the kids were home and had partied hard! I probably should have taken heed of the people who recommend refrigerating the bottles before opening. I’ll take that on board for the next batch.kombuchaThis what remained in the bottle after the explosive opening.Ginger kombuchaI can say though, I loved the flavour. The slight ginger overtones were wonderful and it was bubbly and refreshing.

For a wander through the patch.

It feels like an eon since I’ve played in my veggie patch, probably because it is. We are opening again for the food gardens section of Gardivalia this year so I had better pull my finger out and get things in order.

AsparagusThere are signs of life coming from the asparagus bed,Crimson broad beansthe crimson broad beans my brother-in-law gave me look so pretty,Broad beansand the normal ones are in flower too.coriander growingWhen I was sorting out moving stuff from the temporary kitchen to the new kitchen I threw some old coriander seed into this bed and hopefully it will keep growing. I don’t have much luck with coriander so fingers crossed.De la mal maison roseThe souvenir de la mal maison climbing rose I planted last year near the green house is in bud. I can’t wait to see these bloom, one of my favourites.leaf mold compostI spread one of the  leaf mold towers we had breaking down for the last 12 months over this bed, I now need to choose a spot for the next one to be placed. So easy just removing the wire and spreading the lush conditioner over the bed.

BREAD

I’m finally getting a handle on how the new oven operates and made some oat porridge bread. Here is the oats cooking (on a real stove top!) waiting to cool to add to the dough.Oat porridge breadThis one of the 3 loaves I made. I used the recipe from the delightful Maurizio’s site and although once again, it’s not as pretty as his. I’m quite happy with the result. Oat Porridge sourdough breadCrumb shot! Not as fine as Maurizio’s but I didn’t mind.Crumb shot oat porridge sourdough.With spring in the air and me officially finishing work I hope to be able to get a bit more in control and do some finishing off of all our half started jobs.

Putting things together.

We are very close to the finishing stages of our kitchen and exteno project. IMG_8852I’m in the process of moving everything from the temporary kitchen, the old dentist room, the shed and the spare bedroom into our new kitchen. So far all the bits are fitting in beautifully and I will have oodles of space to store everything. I’m being ruthless and items not thought about, used in 12 months or damaged are going straight to the op shop pile or tossed.  We still haven’t got water and gas connected in the kitchen but we do have it in the laundry so we have been able to clear the plastic table and babies bath out from the bathroom and can wash dishes in the laundry. This has been the greatest challenge I’ve faced with this whole experience. I really didn’t like having a loo in the dishwashing area!IMG_8848We can now work on plans for renovating this bathroom. The part with insulation is where we have extended the wall out from the existing room. Love the drapes? 2 shower curtains that do the job well enough. We still have to do a few jobs but it is certainly well on the way to completion and the space is working extremely well.IMG_8887 IMG_8859I’m still using the 2 butane gas camping stoves and hope this box of butane cans is the last I will need to buy for home use. They are an excellent product and you can cook everything on these cookers, I suspect there may even be times when I take one outside to the verandah to cook with.  IMG_8904We had friends around for tea last night and I felt like doing something ‘Asian’ so went to the gorgeous Dumpling Sisters website for some inspiration. My first exposure to the Dumpling Sisters was when Celia posted about their fantastic home made dumplings and I made the wrappers from scratch. Their dumplings are great and the wrappers are oh so easy! Anyway, for this meal I made their Mapo Tofu, well, it was improvised based around what I had and what I couldn’t get locally. I didn’t have chilli bean sauce so I used black bean sauce and added some chilli sauce and some of my home made chilli paste. I couldn’t get soft tofu, so I used hard but fried it off first to give it a nicer texture. I used veal instead of beef as I had taken some out of the freezer earlier to make  dumplings with. I added fresh beans, omitted the black beans and served with chopped red capsicum and spring onions. It was delicious!IMG_8863Next  up was their ‘One Pot Cauli Satay’. I’m not a huge fan of satay but I love cauliflower and really enjoyed this meal. I added a chicken thigh fillet, halved the curry powder (Keens) and also added peas. This was great! Glad I cut back on the curry as I was concerned that it would be too hot, but with using half it turned out to be just right.IMG_8864For desert (very unusual for us) I made lychee and orange sorbet. This was absolutely delicious, served with our freshly picked oranges that had been segmented and sitting in their own juice for a couple of hours. I only made half the recipe and it was more than enough for the four of us. We still have some in the freezer for when I need a hit. This would have to be one of the easiest and lightest of deserts I have ever made. It was perfect for finishing off the chinese style  dishes and cleansing the pallette.IMG_8870Today I bottled my Kombucha, I added ginger to 2 bottles and left one plain. I believe this will now do a 2nd fermentation in the bottle resulting in a bubbly beverage. Fingers crossed. I made a fresh batch with the scoby and a fresh batch of sweet black tea. Like the reflection on the bottles!IMG_8898I love my soda stream,  I have had one since they were first released and came with small glass bottles. I love the concept and my main reason for using one is to avoid all the plastic bottles soda water comes in. We usually use fresh fruit or lime cordial that you can buy in glass bottles for flavouring. I wasn’t really happy when I read this on the side of one of their new style bottles. Why on earth would these have such a short shelf life? Some research is called for here, but I suspect I might be going back to an old fashioned soda syphon that come with metal gas bombs and a steel carbonation chamber. IMG_8892I’m working on getting better results with baking bread in my new oven but I must say, the Sunbeam Pizza Bake N Grill is hard to match! Still a way to go but it does taste great.IMG_8874My capacola is doing what it should be doing. Not smelly, no blowflies, no mould and it actually smells wonderful. I’ll watch the conditions carefully and if it starts to warm up I’ll take it our daughters house which has a very cool and humid underfloor area.IMG_8856We’ve been picking oranges and amazingly Rene has been laying eggs. She is over 4 years old and we thought she’d lost it but it appears we were wrong. This equates to pretty much one a day. IMG_8851I’m impressed!

Corn, Kombucha, Crochet, Capicola and Cactus back. Part 1

So what’s been happening?

Kombucha

As part of my commitment to trying to live as sustainably and waste free as possible, I’d explored and seen a lot of discussion around the traps about something called Kombucha, or fermented sweet tea. I was a little negative and hesitant as my only experience with fermented products (apart from beer and bread) was kaffir and I hated it. I read a post from Tammy at Gippsland Unwrapped about making Kombucha for everyday drinking and also for fermenting for a longer time to create vinegar for home use (cleaning etc) and I was hooked. I had to give this Kombucha thing a go! Tammy very graciously offered me a SCOBY to use as a starter for creating my fermented tea, and the lovely people at String & Salt in Warragul were gracious enough to act as our exchange point. I really love it when like minded people and businesses can work together and create a hub of support so we can share and learn new things.

So this is what a SCOBY looks like.

Kombucha SCOBY

It’s weird. I’m not going to go into explaining all about it, you can get that detail by visiting Tammy’s site at Gippsland Unwrapped , you may even pick up some great tips about living without waste while you are there.

I did some extra googling to try and get my head around the steps involved in turning this weird beast into a usable product and I was amazed at how easy it seems to be.

First up I made a batch of sweet black tea,

Kombucha black tea

Black tea for KombuchaLet it cool, then added the SCOBY,

Adding SCOBY to the teacovered the concoction and while I’m still quite unprepared for what the outcome will be, set it in a dark spot to do its’s thing. Milton the Monster anyone?

Kombucha fermentationIt appears to be behaving, I dipped my finger in and I am quite excited about the end result. In a couple of days I’ll decide if I do a second fermentation or not. Interesting indeed.

Corn

Last seasons corn harvest was stored differently than previous years. Rather than remove husks, de-silk, blanche, cool, wrap, I simply removed the silks, wrapped the husks back around the cobs, wrapped them well in foil and bunged them into the freezer.

IMG_8780IMG_8783  Always the sceptic, I cooked some the other night expecting to be disappointed. I certainly won’t waste my time doing the blanching process again. The corn was great, almost as good as freshly picked. Olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper, mmmmm….

Capicola

For my first attempt at processing some charcuterie, I decided on Capicola. I apologise in advance for those who disagree with my spelling, but there as many versions of spelling this meat as there are of how to process it, so I’m sticking to Capicola. A cured meat product made from the pork neck. I stupidly (so the store told me) selected in store pick up rather than posting of the collagen skin (even though I’d paid postage) so the neck was sitting in the salt brine longer than I had anticipated. Let’s just put that down to experience.

Capicola in brine After salting the pork was rinsed with in red wine while I prepared the other ‘bits’.Capicola rinseI made a rub of cracked black pepper, chilli, sweet paprika, fennel, salt and I’m sure something else….. and rubbed it over the pork.

IMG_8838Emergency situation at hand as far as the wraps went so I improvised by buying some fake salami skins, soaked them, cut them open into a flat piece and used them to wrap the pork. Not real happy about having to do that but we will see what develops.

IMG_8831I wrapped the pork in the skins then put it into elastic net ready to hang and hopefully cure into a delicious cut. CapicolaIt is a little late in the season to be doing this but I’m game.

Well, seeing as it taken me 3 hours with internet and photo issues to get this far, I’m breaking this post into 2 parts. Hopefully tomorrow night will be more successful.

Converting Tomatoes.

In between having a lovely (although short), overnight Easter camping get together, I have been converting tomatoes into pickles and soup and making stock from scraps from the soup and what I had saved in the freezer.  I was delighted last week to find when I got home, a large box of Periform Abruzzo tomatoes sitting on my verandah. Two years ago, I gave George from Tarra Valley Foods  some of this variety and he saved some seed and has had wonderful success saying the yield has been great. How lovely of him to pass on some of his harvest back to me. If ever you are heading east on the Princes Highway and go through Rosedale, call in and sample (and buy) some of George and Jenny’s beautiful preserves. They also enjoy a chat and would make you feel most welcome.

So these tomatoes were converted into:

Tomato Pickles.

This Tomato Pickles Recipe was given to me a couple of years ago and it has turned into a family favourite. I rarely make tomato sauce anymore as this pickle can be used in so many ways we prefer it and you can knock some up pretty easily. Tomatoes and onions chopped and brined overnight (this is a double batch).IMG_6722 Hopefully this will be the last season I’ll need to resort to this method for cooking. Actually I can guarantee it will be the last, coz if I don’t have the new kitchen next year I won’t be making anything! Brown vinegar, sugar and spices cooked with tomatoes and onions. When cooked for about 40 mins I added a couple of tablespoons of cornflour (real, not wheat) to maintain its gluten free title.

Gas burner verandahThe pickle is then bottled. I did cut back the sugar content by about a third and we find it still quite sweet but not too much so.Tomato Pickles

Tomato Soup

I read on Francesca’s blog a couple of weeks ago about her ‘Moulin Rouge retro Tomato Soup’ and it really appealed to me so on went a batch of that. Francesca used a Mouli to press (puree) the cooked ingredients but I used my tomato passata processor and it worked well. Happy, mine isn’t as pretty as Francesca’s but it tastes lovely and we now have quite a decent stash of ready to go meals in the freezer.

Here are the veggies cooking and the last of my home-made stock going in to the pot.

IMG_6738I ran all the cooked goodies through the tomato mill a couple of times to get the maximum flavour possible extracted.IMG_6748Then into freezer containers (reclaimed take away meal boxes) for a rainy day. When I cook/reheat this I will add some fresh basil and white pepper before serving.

IMG_6749As I said, not as pretty but I was very happy with the taste. We added a dollop of greek yogurt and it was a nice balance.Tomato Soup

Stock

With the end bits of what went into the soup, a few of the onion skins and tops and tails from the pickles plus having used up the last of my stock in the soup, it was time to make up some more stock. This is so satisfying and I haven’t bought stock for years now. It is so easy. As you prepare dishes any trimmings or bones etc just get tossed into a bag or container in the freezer and you add to it every time you have some. when the bag is full, pop the whole lot into the slow cooker (not the bag!) with some peppercorns (I don’t add salt) and let it simmer away overnight.

Slow cooker stockI notice this bag also had a chicken carcass in it from a roast chicken.

IMG_6737I now have about 5 litres of beautiful stock that I know what is in. The chook has had a great feed of pickings and the remainder of the cooked matter will go into the compost. Win, win all round!

Dehydrating

Years ago my friend bought a dryer and I have used it most seasons since to dry something or another. I usually do tomatoes then store them in Spanish olive oil with garlic and chilli and we eat them as a snack. This year though I am making tomato powder. I did this years ago and it was quite good. You dry the tomatoes really well then blitz in a processor and store the powder in a good air tight container and use it for seasoning as needed.

Drying tomatoesThe tomatoes after 6 hours in the dryer.

IMG_6755I love doing this with bananas. Buy them when cheap, slice and dip in lemon juice, dry and munch, munch, munch!

Last but not least-Seed saving

I put all of the dodgy bits of tomatoes and rough tops and bottoms into a bowl. There were loads of seed in some of them so I filled the bowl with water and will let them ferment for a few days then I will separate the seed from the pulp and dry and store the seed. Once the seed is removed the rest will go into the compost and the whole cycle begins again.

IMG_6760Next week or so will be passata time! Now that’s a fun thing to do in a limited kitchen. What are some of your best tomato saving tips?

 

In My Kitchen – January 2016.

Welcome to 2016 where a very busy year is staring us straight in the smacker. To start the year, we have a grand baby due to arrive (literally any tick of the clock), a wedding in February, hopefully a working kitchen soon after that and a holiday to Greece and Turkey in May. I’m also hoping to hold some sourdough bread workshops once we have a kitchen, so I’m trying to wrap my head around the best way to present information that is most useful to participants. Thanks to Maureen over at Orgasmic Chef who has kindly taken over the co-ordinating of In My Kitchen while Celia has some ‘being gentle to herself’ time.

I’ve had a peek at a few other IMK postings and I can definitely say I’m not going to wow you with delightful Christmas goodies and gifts. In My Kitchen this month is very down to earth and some may even say “boring”. Never mind, here’s what’s In My Kitchen this month regardless.

Harvests:

Cucumbers, chillies, tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, beetroot, capsicum and in a couple of days there will be corn. We are chook sitting for our son, so I think I will have to turn some eggs into pasta over the next couple of days.

Egg Cucumber HarvestI love pickled cucumbers so I made some bread and butter cucumbers (not sure what the difference between the two is). I have been using this recipe that I found over at Liz’s Suburban Tomato Blog  and it’s a winner. Bread & Butter CucumbersPickled beet and cucumbersI also pickled some beetroot using this blend of pickling vinegar. This was enough for 500g of beets.

    • 750ml malt vinegar (can blend types to suit)
    • 400g caster sugar
    • 2 star anise
    • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns

Boil all together, let cool then strain and pour over cooked beets that you have sliced or cut to desired shape and size and packed into sterilised jars, seal. Let mature for a couple of weeks before using. I really like the flavour of star anise with beetroot. Served with some feta or add greek yogurt, blitz it and you have a delicious dip in a matter of seconds.

Garlic.

I’ve followed a tip from Francesca at ‘Almost Italian‘ and this year not plaited my garlic harvest but just bundled the heads together and hung them. This was so much easier than plaiting and I think they look pretty good! I have not bought garlic for years now and I just love having it on hand knowing it’s been grown with no chemicals, no bleaching agents or sterilising agents to reduce the chance of it sprouting on the shelf. Nearly 100% of supermarket garlic is imported and the growing conditions are very questionable.

Garlic harvestAs well as this stash (it should last 12 months) I have kept enough aside for planting. I usually plant in March. This is much earlier than many recommend, but I have had great success since doing so.

Garlic for plantingWe have been picking tomatoes since mid November. Most have been from the greenhouse but they are now coming in from the wicking beds as well. We have to pick as soon as they get a slight blush because the birds are onto them like a flash if we don’t.

TomatoesI have about 15 compost buckets on my kitchen table. I take responsibility for collecting the compost bin from the staffroom at work  (sadly, I don’t have to compete with anyone for the privilege of doing this). I bring the bin home, add the goodies to the compost then usually forget to put the bin/bucket back in my car to take back to work. I’ve given them all a good scrub and airing and they are ready to be returned for the new year. I really wish I could create a swell of enthusiasm among others on staff to be more involved in sustainability and waste management, but there just isn’t any interest or sense of purpose  for doing so at all.

Compost binsClean out the fridge soup! There were many bits and pieces that were getting close to needing to be used or piffed (compost only, not rubbish bin) and as the weather was nice and cool today I made soup. This meant I could use up some celery, pumpkin, sweet potato, stock, and turkey that were sitting in the fridge. I added a stubby of passata,  some potato, my favourite zing szechuan (sichuan) pepper  and served the soup with some sliced chorizo I had grilled, flat leaf parsley and some of my ‘Maurizio’ sourdough

IMG_3585that had been grilled, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and rubbed with garlic.

Clean out fridge soupHappy New Year to all fellow IMK’rs out there and to any new participants. I am really looking forward to see what 2016 will bring to everyone.

Garden Heat Stress and Christmas Planning

Last Saturday night we were sitting in front of the open fire warming ourselves from the chilly return to winter we were experiencing. This week has been a complete turn around with temperatures for the last three days going between high 30’s c to low 40’s c, this level of heat combined with the most horrendous winds has caused stress on every living thing.  It is at times like this we all tense up in fear of what bushfires will hit where and hope against all the odds that no one, or their property will become a victim of fire. I can only imagine how it must feel for those who have lost loved ones and property in previous bushfires when these appalling conditions present.

Garden Stress

Despite deep soak watering, wicking beds being filled and shade protection put up, there have ben some casualties already from this very early heat and wind attack. Two seasons ago I lost the complete corn crop at pollination stage when temperatures soared to 45 degrees and we were away. I planted early this season and think we will get a reasonable crop but there are cautionary signs showing. I have increased the covering of shade cloth so it also acts as a windbreak as well as protecting the crop from harsh sun.

Heat stressed corn

The rhubarb is scorched and the comfrey looks as if Autumn is nearly over, causing it to die down.

IMG_3418

Heat stress comfrey

 

 

 

 

The raspberries and tomatoes are on the droop

Heat stress raspberries

heat stress tomatoes

We have made sure the bird baths, water feature and some extra buckets have plenty of fresh water for any birds, bees and any other hot and thirsty creatures that may like a pit stop to escape the heat.  Mr ATMT refilled one of the pots and by the time he walked to the tap to turn it off a magpie appeared. He managed to snap a pic of it on his phone.

IMG_0623 We are concerned about the chooks. For a couple of weeks we have been worried about Hilda, the oldest one and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she (despite all the frozen treats) just finds it too much and falls off the perch. We are doing everything we can to minimise the impact of the heat on them so with luck they will be ok. There is only so much we can do and taking them to the pictures where it is air conditioned isn’t part of that plan.

Christmas Preparations

These days, Christmas tends to be a very low key affair. With shift workers, kids having to share time between families and a very conscious decision not to get bogged down by consumerism and hype, we focus on making sure we spend time with those we love, enjoy good food, relax and laugh a lot. Gift giving has almost disappeared apart from a few little bits and pieces that I make which are usually for thank-yous and to offer as a token if we visit people. I haven’t even made a pudding this year as I still had one from last  year in the fridge. It will be fine!

I’ve got a bit of a reputation for making some pretty good pickled onions and I usually make a batch about now. I posted about these quite a while ago, the recipe is here Grandma’s Pickled Onions recipe – Best Recipes. I also add some ginger and mustard seed to the spice blend.

IMG_3444 Pickled Onions

I am also having a go at making some finishing salt or flavoured salt. I have heard that this is great for a whole range of uses, in particular putting on barbecue meats before cooking and adding to salads.

The flavour base I am trying on this first one is red wine, lemon zest and thyme. The bottle of red wine is simmered until reduced to just about nothing, added with other flavourings to the salt (I’m using sea salt) and then allowed to dry. You can zap the blend to the required fineness but I’m leaving mine pretty much normal size and letting the recipient zap it to whatever they need to use it for.

IMG_3446 Flavoured salt.

Once the salt blend is dry I will bottle it into pretty little jars, label and tag. I hope it works well as it’s lovely finding easy to make food gifts that are easy to do with my limited kitchen facilities.

We have some respite from the heat tonight and tomorrow, so I’ll make the most of it and do as much prepatory work as I can for the Christmas Eve gathering we are having here. I love making food for that night as everyone is always in fine fettle indeed. Just the way we like Christmas, good people, good food and good cheer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In My Kitchen- Oh dear another month gone by!

Not too much happening here at the moment – just seem to have lost my mojo! Thanks to Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting this forum. Never cases to amaze me how some people churn out the most wonderful dishes and have stocked in their cupboards some lovely little gems!

This month the Autumn season was in full swing and consequently there are changes in what is available to use in the kitchen. I was lucky enough to have some beautiful quince dropped off to me by George & Jenny who own and operate Tarra Valley Foods in Rosedale Victoria. They make and sell a huge range of preserves, all of which I have tasted are wonderful. If you are ever heading down the Princes Hwy towards the NSW border, make a point to seek them out! They also have a great range of preserving history displayed. These little beauties are headed to become quince jelly and I’ll also do some oven slow poached quince. Lightly spiced with some lemon, star anise and cinnamon it makes a lovely desert.

Quince

We spent the Easter break camping at Castlemaine, an historical town in the area where gold fever was prominent in the formative years of Australia. This region is full of lovely old architecture and there are also some great markets to be visited.  I really like the Wesley Hill Market as it has a great range of fruit & veg, preserves and also a great eclectic assortment of crafts, preloved goods and it generally has a nice buzz to it. I picked up these,

Wesley Hill Farmers Market

The Splitters Creek olive oil I bought last time we were there was beautiful, didn’t even taste test this time, hope it’s still up to the mark! Tried to find a link but sadly they don’t seem to have any web presence.

The two other bottles are a Persian style pickle and some garlic which has been pickled using date vinegar. No idea what will I will do with them but it seemed like a good idea at the time!

Before we left I had made dumplings from scratch. Had never made the wrappers before and they were a great success. Won’t stress over that again, just takes a bit of time to roll the dough out.

Dumpling wrappers

The left over dumpling filling of pork, ginger, zucchini, spring onion and sesame oil made nice little meatballs to go with our always favoured camping breakfasts. This breaky was sourdough toast (Celia’s starter of course!), poached egg, dumpling stuffing meatballs and grilled tomato served with tomato pickles and a really strong brew of tea.

Camping breakfast

Now to make a cuppa and take a peek at what’s in everyone else’s kitchen this month!

 

Hangin’ in the hammock. Spelt, flowering gums & books.

What an absolute cracker of a weekend  it’s been weather wise! Autumn is my favourite season, but  I especially love it when the weather has been as lovely as the last couple of weeks. We’ve had cool, almost balmy nights, sunny days ranging from 18-30 degrees with just a slight breeze, promises of cooler nights advancing by the dew that’s on the grass and cars in the morning and the golden tinge of colour change in the leaves of the trees. Perfect camping weather, hope it holds for a few weeks.

I was not going to miss the opportunity to enjoy this weather while I could, so in between all the weekend chores and jobs I took time to retreat to my beloved hammock and have some ‘smell the roses’ time.

If I was asked to make a short list of my favourite things to do, reading, camping and hanging in my hammock would be top of the list. If I can do all at the same time I’m in heaven!

I recently borrowed a book from the local Mobile Library and although a very different genre to my beloved crime mystery I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book was ‘The Briny Cafe’ by Susan Duncan and it is a nice story based around some Aussies who live off shore from the mainland and have a strong community  that they cherish and we get to share their lifestyle. I loved the tone of Susan’s writing and have since read the sequel, Gone Fishing which I found just as delightful. So, on to reading her ‘memoirs’, Salvation Creek which I have also enjoyed immensely. Close to my heart, we all are or have friends in the same places she has been and I felt it a very honest and light-hearted approach to disclosing her unbelievingly difficult experiences. Close to the end of the book, I was in between stretch and folds of my bread dough, stirring of the tomato and plum sauces so I treated myself to a stretch in the hammock with a ‘coldie’ (aka chilled beer), my book and a relaxed attitude. Heaven!

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Coming back in between tasks, I picked a few things to go in our dinner that I hadn’t planned. Lemons, lemongrass, capsicum, zucchini and some potatoes. Found some chicken in the freezer  so we had a chicken, lemon, lemongrass, capsicum, zucchini, thyme and potato bake. Threw in some small tomatoes to add sweetness and served on rice cooked with lemongrass and some star anise. Wasn’t a dribble maker, but it was fresh, tasty and hearty.

IMG_0407 IMG_0411My sourdough bread bake this weekend was a 50% spelt flour mix, in a 68% hydration dough. We bought this flour at Callington Mill in Tasmania last September, its best by date has passed but it looked ok, smelled ok and performed well in the loaves.

IMG_0449While lying in my hammock I was positioned so I could keep peeking at this beautiful flowering gum. We had to remove a large flowering gum tree when we moved in and I hated doing it. This one is a smaller grafted variety and the shape of the leaves, buds, flowers and I presume  the resulting gum nuts are so beautiful. Not usually a pink kind of girl! First time its flowered, beautiful.

IMG_0427As I’m putting this post together there is a leg of lamb in the slow cooker laced with 2 heads of garlic, lots of rosemary, a cup or so of balsamic vinegar and a bit of brown sugar and stock. Smells beautiful! Will let you know how it goes.

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Ahhh, love Autumn.