Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Food over flames and the camping spirit...

We have a house full of campers at the moment. Three happy campers to be exact. School holidays are in their first week (of two) and two out of the three campers are working towards earning a camp-out badge for cubs (scouts). The requirement is that they have to camp out for 4 days and in that time wash all of their own dishes (which are stored in their own 'dilly bag'), and sleep in a tent. Fortunately, the tent can be inside, which is good news for the little camping people as it absolutely poured down with rain the other night! (The rain gauge said 5 inches although since it had been some time since it was last emptied, it's hard to know how much actually fell that night).

With a tent in the lounge room and camping utensils scattered throughout the kitchen, it's hard not to get into some sort of camping spirit..albeit, a very luxurious camping spirit, what with sleeping in my own comfy bed and having all the conveniences of home. A campfire was in definately in order. For the sole purpose of toasting marshmallows, you see.

But then it morphed into a dinner thing... in which we decided to cook the sausages on the fire as well..oh, and some potatoes wrapped in foil and baked in the ashes...and while we're at it, why not throw on a few corn cobs from the garden as well? ....And you know what would be a really great idea? Baking some bananas in brown sugar and butter and making a cakey-puddingy thing in a 'billy'.

Of course. Why not. It is 'embrace camping spirit day', after all.

There is nothing like a little bit of leftover reo-mesh propped up on some (precariously balanced) bricks for an impromptu barbeque. I like this little set up. It appeals to my (rustic) nature. The firewood is of course free, harvested from fallen branches on our property.

Culinary pleasures still abound when cooking on a primitive set up, such as this one

The meal was a hit. The puddingy-cakey thing turned out surprisingly well - much better than expected. The caramel bananas were good...really good. To be honest, it's just nice to eat outside...around a fire. It's not something we do very often and the little campers were very happy with the afternoon's events.

A shovel-full of coals transferred to one of our fuel heaps by the husband ignited this blaze. The roaring bonfire is made up of the long, thin bark that falls from our gum trees every summer....without fail. It was nice to say goodbye to this pile for another year.

First bonfire of the season

There are three more piles on our property just like this one, awaiting their time to burn.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Roasted tomato soup with cheese & herb scones

We are coming to the end of our tomatoes and while not exactly a glut, we still have an excess amount at our disposal. These tomatoes had been staring at me from their basket in the kitchen for the better part of a week and it was time to use them up.

Firstly, I filled a baking dish with assorted tomatoes and drizzled olive oil over them. One small chilli and 3 garlic cloves were added to the dish.

They were then roasted in a 200c oven for about 30 minutes - until the skins were starting to blister and the juices were running freely.

Then they were transferred to a pot and blended with a stick blender until completely smooth. The garlic was squeezed out from their skins and blended into the mix as well. One tablespoon of tomato paste and one chicken stock cube were added, along with a tablespoon of sugar and some salt and pepper to taste. Water was added until it reached the consistancy I was after. The soup could be sieved now to remove the seeds but I didn't bother. Perhaps I'll do that next time...they were a little annoying.

The soup was then heated until boiling, and served up. Herbs could also be added now, although seeing as we were getting our 'herbage' from the scones, I just left it the way it was.

Homegrown Roasted Tomato Soup with (a good dollop of) Persian Feta

We enjoyed the soup with herb scones which were quick and easy to make:

2 1/2 cups Self-raising flour
75g butter
a generous handfull of fresh garden herbs (eg. thyme, parsley, chives etc), chopped
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup grated tasty cheese
250ml milk

Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the chopped herbs, cheese and salt, stir well. Add the milk and using a flat bladed knife, stir until the dough comes together. Once the mixture is combined, tip it out onto a floured surface and pat down until the dough is about 3-4cm thick. Cut out scones with a 5-6cm scone cutter. Place on a lightly greased oven tray, slightly apart.

Bake in a hot oven (200c) for 15-20 minutes, or until well risen and golden.

Serve warm with lots of butter and homemade soup.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Autumn rearranging time in the garden

It was a busy day in the garden today with lots of rearranging going on. For the last 2 years I have had 3 citrus trees in pots (lemon, orange and kaffir lime), which haven't been going so well lately. They lost a lot of leaves over summer and were quite rootbound. Time to let their roots be released into the earth. There is something about autumn that always inspires me to rip out old plants and shift things around. Today it was this little spot, with a box hedge that served absolutely no purpose at all. A remnant of the previous owner. Yes, today this lone, little box hedge ceased to exist.

In went my very sad looking lemon tree (Lisbon, very thorny, ouch!). Hopefully it will be happy in it's new home. I noticed it has some small lemon buds forming, fingers crossed these will grow well and provide us with some homegrown lemons.

Next to the lemon tree, I snuck in a giant tree tomato to make the most of the northerly aspect .....and the downpipe, which can serve as a support seeing as it could possibly reach 3 meters (highly unlikely, but I'll give it a shot!). The orange tree found it's new home further along, still in the same area. They both had a good dose of mushroom compost, blood and bone and goat-infused straw. The chopped up box hedge was layed to rest in the chook dome, where it will be turned over and composted by my trio of little (yet aging) workers.

I also put in a row of (4) blueberry plants along the edge of our driveway as well as some more tomatoes in several different locations.

They are all getting a wonderful soaking now, as I listen to the rain fall on our (colorbond) roof.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Some vegetable humour for weekend perk-ups

When it gets to 3 o'clock in the afternoon and you realise you haven't started a single thing on your list of things to do, it's time for some vegetable humour, apt being harvest time and all....

Sent by a fellow vegie gardener friend, it made me smile :-)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Homemade yoghurt, two ways - part 2

As promised yesterday, I bring you the busy person's homemade yoghurt. This recipe uses a large thermos ("easiyo"), and again, as in part 1, a 1 litre/1 quart container to hold the yoghurt. If you don't have an easiyo* thermos, the same technique can be used with a wine cooler or esky, anything that is large enough to accomodate the yoghurt container and some hot water. The recipe also calls for milk powder, which may not suit you if you are a purist. For the busy person short on time, milk powder will be your new best friend.

When making yoghurt with milk powder, the reconstituted milk doesn't need to be heated. I'm guessing the proteins in the milk have already been changed through the dehydration process, so it's ready to go! Which is great for us. No heating the milk, no pots to clean and no cooling down time. Just one container, prepared in the time it takes to boil a kettle. Intrigued?

Here's how:

Fill kettle and switch on to boil

Measure out milk powder - 1 1/3 cups. For some strange reason I have been using 1 cup of whole milk powder and 1/3 cup of skim, don't ask me why, it's just the strange quirky way I make it.

Half fill the container with cold water (tap is fine). Add the milk powder and put the lid on. Give it a good shake, holding onto the lid if you are at all worried about it leaking. Shake the mixture until it is all combined and smooth - about 20 seconds.

Pour some of this thick milk mixture into a mug and add 2 tablespoons of natural yoghurt (from a generous friend or bought. Once you have made the first batch, yoghurt from this can be used for the 'starter' for the next batch). Whisk well with a fork to combine.

Pour the 'starter milk' from the mug into the container and fill to the brim with cold water.

Stir well with a fork. Place lid on container. By now the kettle should have boiled. Fill up the easiyo thermos to the top of the white holder inside. If using another type of thermos/holder, place the yoghurt container inside, and fill with boiling water to half way up the sides of the yoghurt container.

Place the yoghurt into the thermos.....

And fit the lid. Leave for the desired amount of incubation time. More time equals more tartness, less time produces a milder yoghurt. I usually leave mine in for around 10 hours (overnight). This suits me as I can put it together just before bed, and it is ready to go into the fridge when I get up.

After 10 hours in the thermos.

Thick, creamy and so good for you.

If you are looking for an even creamier yoghurt, it can be removed from the container and placed into a cloth lined sieve, positioned over a bowl, to allow it to drain for several hours. Store this little set-up in the fridge. The whey that collects in the bowl can be used in baking/cooking or given to the chooks as a treat.

As in version 1, this yoghurt will keep for up to 2 weeks and has a million uses.

For a sweet vanilla yoghurt, add 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract along with the milk powder in the beginning.

* Easiyo thermos' are available from Big W, Coles and IGA's for around $18. No need to buy the pre-flavoured packets. Making the yoghurt with milk powder works out cheaper and flavours to suit personal taste can be added in the form of fruit, jams, honey etc....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Homemade yoghurt, two ways - part 1

In my life pre-kids, I was never much of a yoghurt eater.... yes, I have always liked it, but I never ate it regularly. I would buy those flavoured tubs from the supermarket and sometimes take them to work for my lunch, other times, just devour them over a few days and then consume no more until it occurred to me again to go and buy some more. I never realised how easy it is to make at home, and how many uses it actually has.

These days, I love my yoghurt and feel lost if we go away for an overnighter and I don't have it for my breakfast. I also use it to feed fussy children by stirring through jams (unlimited flavouring options by eating it this way), it has a million uses in baking cakes and other goodies, we stir it through curries and I often make a minty raita for dipping naan breads in. It also makes great smoothies and hair conditioner (yes, seriously!). Making it at home saves you a bundle - it works out to be about a third of the cost of the bought variety, often less - depending on what type of milk is used.

The following method is the way that I had always read about how to make yoghurt, (if you are interested in reading more about making it from scratch - try a google search on "Dahi", [Indian for yoghurt], you will find the information that comes up much more comprehensive than searching for 'yoghurt').

To start off with, you will need:

1 litre (1 quart) of full cream (organic if it pleases you), milk
2 tbs of natural yoghurt (from a previous batch, a generous friend or from a small bought tub
A jar or large container big enough to hold one litre (1 quart) of liquid

To start off, pour the milk into a saucepan and allow it to heat over medium-low heat until it is just about to reach a simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent a skin forming. This heating changes the protein structure in the milk, therefore allowing it to be turned into yoghurt. Allow the milk to cool down (20 minutes or so), until you can hold your pinky finger in it for 10 seconds, comfortably.

Pour a small amount of the warm milk (1/2 cup), into a cup and add the 2 tbs of natural yoghurt. Whisk with a fork to combine and then pour this 'starter' back into the pot of warm milk. The temperature of the milk here is vital, if it is too hot the heat will kill all of those beneficial organisms in the yoghurt, preventing it from setting your new batch. Lukewarm is the key here. Stir the milk well.

Pour the warm milk/yoghurt mixture into a clean, dry glass or plastic container (1 litre/1 quart) capacity. In my case, a cleaned out coffee jar from hubbie's work.

Fit the lid and wrap snugly in a blanket or towel and place somewhere warm and undisturbed for 8- 10 hours. Lucky for us, it was a chilly day and the fire was going!

If you prefer yoghurt that is milder, pull it out as soon as it sets, possibly after 6-8 hours. If more of a 'tang' is your thing, leave it in there for 10-12 hours.

If you forget about if for 24 hours, don't worry it will still be fine, (although I would imagine it would be mouth puckeringly 'tangy'!)

The yoghurt, after 10 hours incubation, and overnight in the fridge.

Healthy, delicious yoghurt made from scratch. Now that's worth not going to the shop for, right?!

We (ok, I), consume a litre of yoghurt in one week, sometimes less. I have heard it can keep for up to 2 weeks, although I couldn't say for sure because ours doesn't last that long.

So..... you like the idea of homemade yoghurt but just can't be bothered with all this heating of the milk business and incubating in a blanket?

Stay tuned for part two - homemade yoghurt for the busy person, (prepared in the time it takes to boil a kettle).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

'Winter Tomato' update

Since re-potting just a few weeks ago, the winter tomatoes have really taken off. From their home on top of the old ironing board frame in the greenhouse, their tops are just starting to touch the roof! Time to be moved. I am still undecided where to put them, as the angle of the sun has now moved and where I previously thought would be a nice sunny north-facing wall, is now covered in shade by a large pine tree for most of the day. The greenhouse is also in shade now for much of the day, so they really need to come out and find a sunny, new home.

The goats have spent a content week now in their new paddock. They no longer scream across the whole hillside when their eyes make contact with me passing by, just a polite goaty greeting that is much easier on the ears. It is so nice to look out of the kitchen window and see them grazing or basking in the sun.

And seeing as it's a post for updates, here is a pic of the quince paste that was made last week. It is sooo good. All that stirring definately was not in vain.

Superb with crackers and a selection of cheeses.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More Autumn preserving...

The Fowlers Vacola food preserver has been beckoning me once more. As it sits on my kitchen bench filled with water over the warmer months, it is a constant reminder that something else could be put into jars and preserved for colder days. At the end of the season (or after my addiction has been sufficiently fed), I will pack it away and it's prime position on the benchtop will be quickly filled with the beer fermenter for some winter homebrewing.

A couple of days ago, a nearby supermarket had pears on sale for 49 cents/kg (!), so I came home with a couple of bags filled to the brim.

Easy to prepare, the pears were peeled, quartered and the cores removed and then packed into the jars with a light sugar syrup (1 cup water to 3 cups sugar - although I doubled these quantities today and had just enough).

They went into the preserver which was then filled up with cold water and the timer set for an hour.

The metal skewer in the water is the probe to my digital thermometer - I wanted to keep an eye on the temperature as the water heated. I am still a little bit suspicious of my pre-loved preserver. The water heated up nicely within the hour, although I left the jars in there for an extra 10 minutes or so, just to be sure.

Pears in sugar syrup

Yield: 4 x no. 31 jars (1 litre) and 1 x pickles jar

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chook dome vegie garden update - March 2010

The onions that were sowed a couple of weeks ago are up and are ready to be planted out. Being the middle of March and six weeks since it had last been moved, the chook dome was due to be moved (and was last week), and the newly cultivated bed is now ready to be planted up with cold loving plants.

Red onion, brown onion and leeks

The bed the chooks have just vacated (bed 6) will hold onions, lettuce, carrots and possibly a few garlic cloves as a little experiment. I am planning on planting some garlic now and some at the beginning of winter to see which time of year produces the largest bulbs.

The following pictures show the chook dome vegie garden at the moment. As you can see, it is obvious that the end of summer has been, with the warm weather vegies all coming to an end and the whole area generally looking really tired and messy....

Bed 2: The last of the broccoli, some unharvested cabbages (savoy), carrots and potatoes

Bed 3: Yellow zucchini (gold rush), green zucchini (black jack), tomatoes x 6, pumpkin (butternut & buttercup) and green squash

Bed 4: More yellow zucchini, green zucchini, tomatoes, corn and pumpkin

Bed 5: Broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage and re-sown carrot seeds as the first lot dried out and failed to germinate. This bed also has some volunteer leeks making an appearance.

To see the growth in the 6 weeks since bed 5 was planted, click here. This year I would like to try some catch crops. There may be times when there are still several weeks before a (harvested) bed is due to have the chooks, and this time could be well spent by growing a fast maturing crop to either feed us, or the chooks or to act as a green manure.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bambino woodfired oven (using recycled materials)

Remember a few days ago, I said that I enjoy finding things at the tip? It's true, I really do! It is just a world of opportunities when I go there. We are lucky to have a really good tip shop that charges next to nothing for it's offerings. There are many things that I have and use and want to show you (and I will!), but the one that gets me most excited is this project. It was made 99% by me, my hands and my thinking. Hubby did help with the flu positioning, but everything else, and I mean everything was all my work. It is made from recycled and scrounged materials. The bricks and sand (for cement) were leftover from our bigger woodfired oven, while the rest of the materials came from the tip.

I had popped in there one day and found a particularly sturdy, bright orange frame with a wheel attached, kind of like a wheelbarrow frame and seeing as I had the trailor that day, decided to bring it home. I had thought of using it for a planter support but then my thinking changed and decided to use it for an oven support instead. Not knowing exactly how strong it was or how heavy the oven was going to be, it was a little bit risky, but with the possibility of a smaller oven tempting me, I was prepared to take that risk. It would really only be my time that would be lost if it didn't work out.

After painting it black, I positioned the frame up on some bluestone blocks to raise the (perished) tyre off the ground. The underside of the frame is bearing all of the weight. I had also picked up a sheet of corrugated iron and placed that onto the frame, securing it with screws. It was then edged with a round of bricks and filled with a very thin layer of vermiculite and brickies sand in the 'corrugations'.

Initial brick edging to hold the floor bricks in postion

The bricks that were to be the oven floor were then placed directly onto this surface and tapped into place with a rubber malet. A thin cement mix (4:1 sand to cement, watered down) was then poured around the gaps at the edges to secure the bricks into position.

The oven floor, choose the smoothest, neatest bricks

The sand dome then needed to be made and the easiest way to do this is to use semi-circles of cardboard, joined at a central intersection. Sand is then packed into the gaps and moulded to follow the curve of the form. This part is really fun!

A cardboard form is used to shape the sand dome (which will then support the oven bricks)

The oven opening bricks are also placed into position now.

Half bricks are then positioned and mortared into place. The bricks can easily be cut in half with a bolster and (steel) mallet. The half bricks follow the curve of the sand dome, with the flat face of the brick alway laying as flush against the sand as is possible.

Half bricks placed on their flat edge form the actual oven dome

A piece of angle iron (from a bed frame at the tip), is hack-sawed to length and used as a support for bricks to pass over the flu opening. Measurements need to be super accurate, down to the millemeter in this case, as there was minimal space to work with, and I wanted to utilise every bit of it. The ideal height of the oven door opening is 60% of the internal dome height. My little bambino oven here has an internal diameter of only 550mm, and an internal oven dome height of 270mm. As you can see, they are tiny dimensions for a woodfired oven!

Birds eye view of the brick layer on oven

Vermiculate layer added and flue taking shape

After the sand is scooped out, the oven entry begins to take shape which includes a decorative arch to match the one that the husband made on the big oven. The flue area is built up, with an opening left to accommodate the actual flue, which was also found at the tip. Two coats of vermiculite (mixed with cement and water) were layered onto the oven brick dome to act as insulation. This is one thing we skipped over on the big oven because we were in such a hurry to finish it, and while it still works great, I think it would work great for longer if it was insulated. The mix is also really hard to work with, kind of like packing on giant chocolate crackle mix that just keeps crumbling and falling away! Vermiculate is available at hydroponic suppliers (don't buy the tiny, overpriced bags from hardware shops).

The flue fixed into position and the final layer of mortar

Finally the flue is positioned and fixed into place with brick off-cuts and mortar. A layer of mortar is used to top off the vermiculite layer, and the oven awaits it curing. Amazingly our dubious frame is still holding up! I had wanted to cover the igloo shaped oven with volcanic rock, to match the big oven, but decided against it. I don't want to push my luck regarding the weight load. To read how the first firing went, click here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Exposing the flip side

If I had to describe myself, I would say that I am a fairly positive person. Not much really gets me down. I don't tend to dwell on things that I can't change, nor do I wallow in dark thoughts all that much (well, ok, sometimes, sure! I am only human, after all!). Generally though, I'm happy with my lot. Maybe that shows through when I post. When I become excited about what's happening in my garden or kitchen, the bad stuff rarely gets a look in. Well, today I'm having a little bad stuff show and tell, care to take a look in?

No matter how hard I try, I always seem to get tomatoes that become diseased. I was going so well this year with thick, beautiful green foliage on the tomato plants until we had 5 inches of rain a couple of weeks ago. Now they are covered in yellow leaves and the slaters seem to be having a race with me to see who can get to the tomatoes quicker.

This corn bed fascinates me. I had thought I was being thrify at planting time by putting all of the older corn seedlings in first and then filling up the bed with the youngster seedlings, saving the remainder of the youngsters for replacements if needed. Take a look at how the older seedlings simply refused to grow. The tall corn that is doing it's sprouting thing are all the young seedlings. Funny-weird, eh!

And then come the leaf eaters. Something has made a very tasty meal of this cabbage and I have found no evidence of cabbage moth caterpillar...hmm, very confusing. This is the worst case of leaf eating in my garden at the moment, but there are many other brassicas, all with some leaf chewing going on, which definately are cabbage moth. I'm sure this plant in the same boat, they must just have too many sneaky hiding places on this cabbage....

There are also the capsicum plants in the greenhouse that have looked so promising all season, but failed to open a single flower bud and therefore form a fruit. Any fruit. Just one. One little capsicum would have been so nice. And let's not forget the pumpkin that was also doing so well, until this week, it suddenly decided to call it quits. It just dropped off it's stem and is now turning all soft and squishy for no apparant reason. Whitefly in the greenhouse, slugs in the strawberries, on and on it goes.

One may wonder, why bother at all? Wouldn't it be a whole lot easier to jump in the car and go and buy big, juicy vegies at the shop for a fraction of the cost (time and money) that I am currently putting in? Well yes, of course it would be easier, a whole lot easier!

But feeding my family healthy vegetables is important to me. I know that there are definately no chemicals whatsoever on the food produced in our garden. It is super fresh and travels only meters from the garden to the table. There is always something to harvest, even if it is just a good big bunch of herbs in the middle of winter. Cost doesn't really come into it, although it is nice to have it on my side (when things go well).

With each failure comes knowledge. And then the knowledge is put to use for future plantings. It is a huge cycle that just keeps going on. The more that goes wrong, the more you research, and therefore change your ways of doing things. There is always another tactic to try, to outwit the bugs, another strategy to try to improve the yield, always something new to learn. And always someone out there who is happy to share their knowledge with you. There is always the hope for bigger and better crops...that's what really keeps me at it.

Calendula and (germinating) peas along a homemade trellis

I really couldn't imagine not giving all this growing business a go.