Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Apple and Pecan Danish with Egg Custard

This Apple and Pecan danish seemed like a good way to feed my army of hungry veggie group women last week and going by the empty plates on the table, I think it did the job. Serve it warm, straight from the oven with homemade egg custard for a real winter comfort food.

The recipe is actually a variation on Nigella's Apple and Blackberry Kuchen from Nigella Bites. As I just love to change quantities and ingredients, I did just that, and the following are what I ended up using...

For the base: (serves 12)
525g bread or plain flour
3/4 tsp salt
75g sugar
5g instant yeast
3 free range eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
finely grated zest of half a lemon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
190ml warm milk
75g butter, softened

To make the dough I placed everything into the breadmaker and set it to 'dough' setting. Of course, if you had more time than I did up your sleeve, it could be kneaded by hand. Add extra flour if a little on the sticky side, but not too much, just enough to hold it together in a ball. As I wanted to be organised, the dough was pulled out of the breadmaker once it had finished kneading and placed into a sealed, oiled bowl in the fridge to slowly rise overnight. The next morning I simply pulled the bowl out of the fridge, and allowed the dough to come to room temperature for one hour. It was then rolled out into a large rectangle and placed onto a baking paper lined tray (27cm x 42cm),allowed to rise again,  topped and then baked, see below.

1 egg beaten with 1 tbs of cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon
2 x #27 'Fowlers' jars of apples  (or use 1 x 800g tin pie apple), drained and chopped
a generous handful of pecans, chopped (food processor makes light work of this)

Crumble: (makes enough for this dish, plus leftovers for a second crumble another day)
200g approx self-raising flour
50g almond meal
1/2 - 1 tsp cinnamon
100g butter, cubed
4 tbs brown sugar
50g flaked almonds
Rub butter and almond meal in to butter until combined, adding more flour if needed. Add sugar, and flaked almonds, mixing well. Crumble may be stored in airtight container in freezer for 3 months, until needed.

Brush the egg mixture over the rolled out dough, then top with apples and pecans. Lastly sprinkle the crumble mix over evenly (there will be plenty left over mix for another crumble). Bake in a 200c oven for 20 -30 minutes, or until slice is golden brown around edges and crumble is crisping up. Remove from oven and serve warm with homemade egg custard.

Egg custard:
2 cups milk
2 tbs sugar
1 free range egg, beaten
2 tbs cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a cup, add a small amount of the milk and the cornflour, stirring to make a paste, set aside. Place remaining milk and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Once milk is at a simmer, remove from heat and stir in egg, then cornflour and milk paste, stirring well to prevent lumps forming. Return to heat and stir well with a wooden spoon until custard thickens. Remove from heat and add vanilla, mixing well. Run through a sieve and serve while still warm. Custard may also be cooled for later use.  If cooling, place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of custard to prevent a skin from forming and store in the fridge for 2-3 days. Reheat gently on the stove, stirring well, until just warm.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Handsome, Handsome Mr Green

Oh yes, you read right. There is another male in my life. His name is Mr Green and he is very handsome. I am absolutely smitten with him. He is sharing and kind, handsome (did I mention that?), and he can also be quite vocal!

Meet ...............




             MR GREEN!

Handsome Mr Green
Mr Green is the son of a Pekin rooster and an Isa Brown or Australorp hen (not 100% sure). Hatched on Mother's Day this year, he was given to us by one of the lovely ladies from my Friday veggie group to help bring some order to our sometime 'pecky' flock. Still an adolescent, he has been amusing us with his antics as he settles in and becomes a little, ahh, more closely acquainted with his lady friends (of which he attempts with much enthusiasm!).........

Mr Green loves a good forage...

....and is always willing to share. He makes a special noise to call his girls over to share his tasty delights!

....although he always remembers to take enough for himself. Here he is going in for one such tasty morsel...

...he also likes to sunbathe, relishing the rare winter sun........

Mr Green, not being fully grown, is still finding his 'crow'. He bows his head in an unusual fashion and then takes a deep breath and lets out a shriek/wail. It is a particularly unusual sound, one I mistook the other day for a hen being attacked by dogs. What a relief it was to find that it was just him!  I'm sure he'll find his voice soon enough......

What a gentleman!
Most of all Mr Green is just happy hanging out, watching over his girls. And if you hadn't already noticed, we (I) just LOVE calling him Mr Green! (name chosen by the 6 year old, because of the green tinge in his tail feathers that catch the sunlight,).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yo-Yo's with Citrus Filling

Who doesn't love a yo-yo? Or are they a melting moment? I can never tell the difference, although someone once told me that for a yo-yo to be a true yo-yo, it needs to have custard powder in the cookie dough. Really? This dough doesn't have custard powder, but I still like calling them yo-yo's, and so do all the people I know who end up eating them!

Are they yo-yos or melting moments? It doesn't matter, they're delicious whatever their name!
Ingredients (makes 22-24)
360g butter
4 tbs icing sugar (pure), sifted
1 1/2 - 2 tsp vanilla extract
450g plain flour
4 tbs cornflour

Preheat oven to 160c. Line 2 large baking trays with baking paper. Sift the flours together into a bowl. In a medium/large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together with an electric beater until creamy. Add the combined, sifted flours and cut through the dough with two knives to mix in (like a 'hand' food processor!).
Shape tablespoon size portions of the dough into balls and place onto trays, leaving a few centimeters between each ball. Flatten slightly with a fork (dipped in flour to prevent sticking) and bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly golden around the edges. Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before filling.

50g butter, softened
1 tbs combined grated zest and juice of a lemon
1 tbs combined grated zest and juice of an orange
320g icing sugar (pure), sifted

Place all filling ingredients into a small bowl of an electric mixer and mix well, slowly at first, then increasing speed to fluff up mixture. Add a couple of extra drops of juice if you think the mix is too dry. Spread generous amounts of filling onto cooled cookies and sandwich together to form 'yo-yo's'. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Banana Bread - the real deal

Have you ever noticed how banana bread recipes are usually cake-like? I have nothing against this, I'm actually very fond of a good banana 'bread', but it can prove frustrating for those times when I am looking for something a little more on the bread side rather than moist, cake-like crumbs (as good as they may be). Lately, I have been after something with yeast. A bread...WITH banana!

This is why I was delighted last week when my friend Kirsty made a loaf of actual Banana Bread, not the deceptive cakey loaf that is so common, at our Friday morning veggie group.  Deliciousness in a bite. Of course it was toasted, with lashings of butter and cinnamon sugar. Very good chat food. And so easy to pull out when people are over -just slice it up and pop it in the toaster! One could even have a loaf stored away in the freezer for those times when a cuppa and quick snack on the go are calling.....

The following is my twist on Kirsty's recipe:

Hot from the toaster with butter and cinnamon sugar
Real Banana Bread:
1 cup water
1/3 cup milk
2 tbs oil
1 free range egg, lightly beaten
180g very ripe bananas, mashed (3/4cup or 2 medium)
680-700g bread flour (4 1/4 - 4 1/2 cups, approx)
2 tbs soft brown sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
60g (1/2 cup) chopped pecans or walnuts

Dough can be mixed by hand or machine. As it can be quite sticky, I choose to mix in the bread machine.  Bake according to your preferred method, as for bread. Today I let the machine do the baking, as I was in and out of the house a lot (sweet setting on machine). Cool well on a wire rack before slicing. If freezing, slice before storing, not after (have you ever tried to slice frozen bread? Very challenging!).

To serve, toast and top with your favourite spread. Very good with honey, or butter and cinnamon sugar.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What can I say...?

It's the middle of winter and it's still raining. Lately, each day, I wonder if there's going to be snow. It hasn't snowed  so far this  year in our area, hopefully soon. The rain is sleety and drives in on the strong winds. There's nothing much going on outside in the gardening arena, so here are a few pics of what's been filling my days, besides trying to keep warm inside by the fire of course....

The ducks are always happy whatever the weather... they dabble in puddles and search for slugs in the wet garden, and swim in the dam in the pouring rain and howling winds! The black swamp hen is the bane of my gardening existence - over winter it, along with it's groupies, reduces my succulent pea seedlings to stubble and devours every new seedling that appears, either voluntarily or planted by me. Of course, I always forget to net the garden until it's too late.....

A little bit of sewing...

...with patterns from another era. So much fun!

A little practice on The Ancient One.....

Plenty of homegrown calendula flowers drying, for use in  homemade soap later in the year....

..and my companion on the couch has the right idea on how to pass the time. She knows where the warm spots are!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Homemade Ricotta

After making some homemade pasta with raviolamp  and using ricotta for a filling, I was suddenly intrigued as to how to go about making my own ricotta at home. It is a simple exercise with no specialty equipment needed.  According to my Food Lover's Companion, ricotta means "re-cooked". Traditionally it is made with whey left over from making another cooked cheese, hence it's name.

The good news is for us at home, a perfectly satisfactory version of ricotta can be made with whole/full cream milk and acid - ie. vinegar or lemon juice. You will also need a pot, wooden spoon, sieve, bowl and a square of muslin (available at fabric stores for a few $'s - one meter will give you several squares of muslin for kitchen use).

Fresh homemade ricotta

Homemade Ricotta (to make between 350-500g)
Time required - 20-30 minutes
2 litres full cream milk (the creamier the milk, the more ricotta that will result)
1/2 cup cream, optional
3 tbs white vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt, optional

To start, rinse out the pot with water - this prevents scorching. Add the milk, (cream and salt if using), to a  large pot and heat over medium heat, stirring well to prevent a skin forming. Once it is nearly at a boil (steam is rising and foam is accumilating, with the odd bubble surfacing), add the acid (lemon juice or vinegar) and heat for an additional 10-20 seconds or so, stirring, to ensure the milk curdles. Try not to overcook the mixture, as the curds will be 'rubbery'.

Curdled milk, once the acid has been added
Remove from heat and set aside for a few moments while you get the draining set up ready. Dampen a square of muslin in water, squeeze out excess and use to line a sieve set over a large bowl or jug. Gently pour the curdled milk mixture into the lined sieve, capturing the whey underneath in the bowl.

Draining the curds
Depending on the texture you wish your finished ricotta to be, drain accordingly, ie. longer for a firmer cheese, less for a creamier, wetter cheese. Five to 10 minutes should be plenty of time for even a thick ricotta.  For a firm ricotta, any excess whey may be squeezed out by hand, before transferring it to a sealable container.

If desired, excess whey can be squeezed out by hand
Depending on how creamy the milk is, two litres will produce between 350-500g ricotta and around 1500mls of whey to be used in cooking or baking.

Leftover whey for cooking or baking
The good news is that milk powder also makes a perfectly usable ricotta, although the finished cheese has a milk powdery taste, so unless you're caught short and really desperate, choose fresh. The flavour of the milk really shines through in the ricotta, this is why it's good to use the best milk you can find.

Finished homemade ricotta, ready for use
The ricotta will keep for up to 7 days in a sealed container in the fridge, although it is best used fresh and as soon as possible. Beautiful for stuffing into ravioli or canneloni, as a filling in lasagne and also wonderful in desserts.

Do you like to use ricotta? What are your favourite uses for it?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Not your average Potato and Leek soup...

I don't post many soup recipes here, as I think they are just so straightforward to make, that calling them a 'recipe' is going a bit overboard. Basically, I sweat onions and  garlic, add vegies (pumpkin, cauliflower, sweet potato etc), stock, seasonings and simmer until tender, then whizz. Easy!

This Potato and Leek soup started off no different, but ended up as a taste-bud explosion! The reason? A secret ingredient that no one in my family will ever guess. ...unless they hop on over here and take a look, that is.

Not your average Potato and Leek soup

6 med-lge potatoes, peeled and diced
2 large (fruit shop mama size) or 4 garden size leeks, slice in half lengthwise, rinsed and sliced
1/2 large onion, diced
1500mls whey
3 cups milk approx
1/2 cup cream
a good handful of fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Saute the onions and leeks in a tablespoon or so of butter until tender. Add potatoes and whey, increase heat and simmer until cooked. Add milk and cream, whizz with a stick blender, add salt and pepper to taste and chopped parsely. Bring back to a simmer and serve with crusty bread.

Can you spot the secret ingredient?

You got it - whey! Whey to go! I knew you would spot it.

This whey was leftover from a kitchen experiment (yes, another one!), and who ever would've thought that the addition of this to a pot of soup would make such a difference? The family lapped it up and the husband kept saying how tasty it was. It's nice to have a secret ingredient up your sleeve from time to time, especially one that is so nutritious....

If no whey is around in your home, there is no reason why you can't enjoy this soup made with stock - or poor man's stock - water. The taste just won't be as explosive.....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rainy, rainy days....

We have a river running through our property. A gushing, fast flowing river. 88mls of rain falling in two days tends to cause this.

We love the rain, although most of it bypasses our property (and therefore dam), and flows into the next door neighbour's dam. Lucky ducks. Really! Their dam is full of them.

Note white goat top right corner
Our ducks are pretty happy too, though. They dabble in puddles to their hearts content. The 'river' isn't much fun for wading through on my way to and from the woodpile with the wonky wheelbarrow. Today I pulled out the gumboots...it's a rare day I wear gumboots but today they were definitely needed.

On the up side, the weather is conducive to attending to creative outlets. Specifically, feeding my newest adddiction; vintage dress patterns. I love them! I come across them in opp/thrift shops for as little as 30cents each and have quite a stack forming.  Perhaps I'll sew with them, perhaps not. It's just fun collecting them, holding them and soaking up their visual goodness.

Vintage loveliness
Also on the creative outlet front, the hex blanky is taking shape.

 Slowly, slowly....

I hope you're keeping warm and dry wherever you may be.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Garden happenings Aug '10

Running a little behind schedule this month, I finally got organised and moved the chook dome over the weekend. Since I have been moving it every six weeks, it was due to be repositioned on August 1. I figure in the grand scheme of things, a few extra days either side won't matter at all.

The garden employees, now on bed four.
After the previous bed had been exposed, I couldn't resist examining my soil. The chooks have been travelling over these beds for two years now, and I can say without a doubt, it's the best thing we could've done. The soil is rich, moist, chock full of organic matter and spongy. Is it possible to fall in love with soil?

It must be because I think I am falling hard....

Beautiful soil for growing vegetables in
Taking a bit of a risk, I decided to plant those potatoes that have been chitting away for weeks. Only a few were soft..verging on squishy, which were discarded. The rest were planted in bed 3 and I have my fingers crossed they'll shoot up.

Saved chitted potatoes from summer's harvest: Nicola and Pontiacs
If they fail to emerge, I won't be devastated. I have grown potatoes bought from the fruit shop successfully in the past. This will be my plan B if plan A fails.

Planting this early in my area, I don't need to worry about the frosts until they start to poke their green leafy shoots out of the soil. Then it is just a simple matter of placing a sheet over them on frosty nights until they subside, usually around late October.

Colourful garden visitors
And when nothing seems to be growing much due to the cold, it's always nice to be greeted by some colourful visitors dropping by to say hello.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A permaculture garden excursion

Over winter,  our local sustainability group offers members and guests the opportunity to visit gardens of interest, in place of the usual food swaps  held once a month over the warmer months. Today I was lucky enough to have a walk through a local permaculture garden that I have been fascinated with for some time. You may recognise the garden from it's appearances in Earth Garden magazine #149 (Spring 2009) and #138 (Summer 06-07).

The system starts off with a cylindrical chook pen, that is reminiscent of an aircraft's fusilege. Cleverly put together with sections of galvanised corrugated water tanks, spaced with heavy duty chicken wire, the pen contains the chooks who's task it is to turn over the compost. All raw matter enters the top of the pen and due to the slope of the land, it gradually makes it way down hill being turned and manured along the way by the hens, until being scooped out at the bottom and placed into large apple bins to complete the composting cycle.

The compost workers enjoying a bowl of warm soy porridge.
The food section of the garden is entirely netted and comprises three sections: a mandala vegetable garden that utilises chooks in the preparation of garden beds, a second mandala area containing fruit trees and berries, and finally a free range chook area, that also is home to more fruit trees. Below is a look at the mandala vegetable garden...

Six circles surround a central pond area that is a habitat for local frogs. A large water tank cut down in height is used for portable chook housing, and spends two weeks with chooks in it on each bed, for cultivating and fertilizing. The chooks are then returned to the main 'fuselege' pen and new birds are selected for the next rotation. The center pond  boasts a fascinating crane set up, that moves the circular chook house when it's time comes for moving to the next bed. This section of the garden uses solar power for both the pond pump and lights at night for attracting insects for the frogs....

Central mandala pond and crane, the boom of which also serves as an irrigation arm
A little further along, is the second mandala area, with berries forming the edges of the circles and blueberries used for central plantings. This area includes: autumn raspberries, summer raspberries, red currants, thornless blackberry, table grapes and black currants.

The last section is home to the free range ducks and Araukana hens.

There are so many clever systems and features in this garden, it is difficult to try and name them all, but one that really strikes a chord with me is the use of 'manure bags'. Old feed bags are filled with animal manure and allowed to soak in a barrel of water. After soaking, the bag is 'innoculated' with worms and the bags are placed around the bases of the fruit trees. As it rains, the nutritious worm 'juice' runs out through the bag and into the root zone of the tree, thus fertlizing it in the most natural way. The soaking water from the bags becomes a manure tea and is used for feeding and watering the trees as well. To top it off, when the bag of manure and worms is flipped over from time to time, an enormous feast of additional worms and bugs are exposed for the chooks and ducks to feed on!

Manure & worm bags - a chooks delight!
Another clever idea that I hope to introduce into my garden soon, (on a much smaller scale, mind you), is this fodder bed for the hens. Again, a section of water tank is put to use to act as a cage to grow greens for the chooks to feed on. The mesh top allows picking/pecking access but prevents the birds from scratching up the roots and destroying the plants. Every now and then this bed can be moved and a new 'green bed' started elsewhere while the chooks go to town cleaning up the exposed greenery....

chook fodder bed enclosure
The hens in this area all roost in a selection of raised houses that feature fox proof ladders:

The view of the entire netted garden, from the top of the vegetable mandala, looking down hill to the orchard and beyond, the free range poultry area (facing north).

This is just a brief look at what is a fascintating, cleverly designed garden. And being the middle of winter  and feeling flat on the garden front, I've come away with some great ideas and plenty of inspiration to kick start me back into gear for the spring growing season, which is just around the corner!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Crafting, thrift style....

On my opp. shop (thrift shop) travels last week, I couldn't believe my luck when I came across two bundles of stretchy jersey fabric in purple and blue, several meters of each. It has been quite a while since I've sewn any clothes for my girls but I just couldn't walk past this fabric! The purple (fuschia?), made a simple A-line pullover dress with no zips or fasteners (my kind of sewing), for our youngest. She likes to wear summer dresses over her clothes in the middle of winter, so I thought this might be more comfy for her and her layers upon layers of clothes...

Simplicity 7150, from my pattern stash, which was in need of a good dusting off.
The dress has a small crochet four leaf clover on the front. My daughter chose this from our big Reader's Digest book of Needlecraft which I fumbled my way through making. It's no hexagon, I'll say that!

On a separate opp. shop excursion, I came across this beautiful cream yarn that is just so lovely and smooth to work with. It must be wool...with something else? It was crocheted into a beret style hat from this pattern on ravelry.

Bonita Hat
And some time ago, I found a thick, knitted cotton jumper at another opp shop. Eyeing it off for potential repurposing, I brought it home, washed it...

....and once it had dried, started pulling it apart. One sleeve weighed 180g and formed a sizeable ball! Just a small amount of yarn from one sleeve created this hat.....

...crocheted with this pattern. The cotton finishes off a lot stiffer than wool or acrylic and I am pondering over what to use the rest of the jumper for. But NO MORE hats!! Please, if you see me making another hat, shoo me away, I have hexagons to make! And LOTS of them, too!!

Crochet Four Leaf Clover
Ch 5 and join in a ring with sl st.
Rnd 1: 14 dc in ring
Rnd 2: 2dc, 1 leaf [ch4, (yrh twice, insert hook in next st, draw up a loop, yrh, draw through 2 loops, yrh, draw through 2 loops) 3 times in same st, yrh, draw through 4 loops, ch 3], 1dc in each of next 2 sts, 3 more leaves as above, make stem [ch6, work back along these 6 ch with 1dc in each ch (or with 1 sl st in each ch if yarn is thick)], 1 sl st in 1st dc to close, fasten off.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Slow Cooker Butter Chicken with Naan Breads

Our slow cooker is worth it's weight in gold over winter. I love the way everything can be tossed in around lunchtime, or sometimes even earlier and left to simmer until dinner time. It's great for those nights when the kids have activities and we are out of the house from 4-6pm. There is something so nice about walking in the door after we've been out and smelling delicious smells wafting from the kitchen...

I originally posted this recipe over on the Taste forums a couple of years ago. Since then, I have tweaked it slightly and it really is a family favourite. The quantities listed have been fine for us up until this point, although I think I will start doubling it from now on, as it's getting to be a leeetle bit too tight a stretch, even for my standards!

Slow Cooker Butter Chicken
500g free range chicken thigh fillets, cut into thirds
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbs butter
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp finely chopped ginger (or ½ tsp ground)
¼ tsp chilli powder or fresh chopped chilli, if available
1 cinnamon stick (or 1 tsp ground)
6 cardamom pods, bruised (or 1-2 tsp seeds or ground)
2 tbs tomato paste
400g tin tomatoes
1 tbs sugar
Salt and pepper
½ cup cream
Coriander for garnishing

If using whole spices, contain them in a piece of muslin tied up with string. Heat a little ghee or oil in a large frypan and brown chicken. Transfer to preheating slow cooker. Add the onion and garlic to pan, saute gently until the onion is softened. Add butter and spices, and continue sauteeing gently until spices are fragrant.

Add tomato paste, tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper and increase heat to med - med/high. Simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat and pour into slow cooker, stirring to distribute the sauce evenly. Replace lid and slow cook for ½ hour on high, then about 3-5 hours on low, stirring occasionally. If your slow cooker is like mine and tends to 'run hot', you may want to add a little water during the cooking time to thin the sauce down.

Before serving, remove spice bag (if using), turn off slow cooker and add cream, stirring well. Stir through plenty of freshly chopped coriander from the garden and serve with steamed basmati rice, naan breads and homemade yoghurt if it's too spicy for any little ones.

Naan Bread
2 cups white or wholemeal flour - or a mixture of both (plain, not self-raising)
1 tsp instant yeast
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar
2 tablespoons yoghurt

Combine the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add the yoghurt and slowly add water to make a dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes. Set aside in a covered, oiled bowl for 1 hour.

To cook, preheat a large pan over medium heat. Divide dough into 8 equal portions and roll out thinly. Add a little ghee or oil to the pan and cook the naans for a few minutes each side until puffy and browned. Serve warm.