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And we have an egg!

23 Feb

Came home from work this afternoon and sent P out with some scraps for the chickens. He came back with this:

We had one very excited little girl, and one excited Mummy here too I must say!

The chooks were 20 weeks old yesterday, so it’s on the early side for laying, but we do have 2 cross-breeds that can apparently lay from 18 weeks onwards. The thing that really surprised me was just how big the egg was – 56 grams, which is extremely large for a first egg.

I have a bit of a confession here – when I was in uni I collected eggs from cage hens as a weekend job. So I had a fairly firm idea of what to expect from first eggs – 40 grams or so, sporadic. 56 grams rivals a fully-developed hen. One of my girls is quite an egg-laying machine!

Now it will be interesting to see how regularly she lays from this point onwards. It will be difficult to tell if I have one regular layer or a few laying sporadically. Might have to stalk them over the weekend to see if I can catch one in the act.

P is now below 80 kilos, so less than 2 kilos to go. Tonight for dinner we had:

Cajun Chicken with Chunky Salsa

From Low Carb, Low Fat by Pamela Clark

Chicken

  • 4 chicken breast fillet (halves)
  • 1 tsp cracked back pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped finely
  • 2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp olive oil

Salsa

  • 2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, diced roughly
  • 1 medium green capsicum, chopped roughly
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lime juice

Put the chicken in a bowl with the other ingredients, mix well to coat and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Make the salsa by combining the ingredients in a bowl and tossing well.

Fry the chicken in a lightly-oiled frying pan until cooked through.

Serve.

Pretty simple, huh?

Harvest Monday – 20th February 2012

20 Feb

Not the largest of harvests this week. There is still quite a lot sitting in the garden but I just haven’t picked it yet. Should make next week fairly impressive.

20 (or 10) large slicing tomatoes

This week the tomato harvest really would have taken off if not for a complete infestation of fruit fly. I harvested more than 20 large slicing tomatoes, but probably less than 10 will make it to the point of consumption. I’ve been harvesting them as soon as they start to blush in a vain attempt to avoid the dreaded fly, but it seems it is too late. Once they start to ripen on the kitchen bench they start oosing brown juice, and sure enough they are infested when I cut them open. What can I do? I’m even willing to try non-organic controls at this point!

A Mulberry

It’s a bit cheeky to count a single mulberry I know, but it was delicious, and I have a small Autumn (repeat) crop coming on.

200g Dwarf Green Beans

I’ve just been popping out every couple of days for a handful of beans to throw into dinner. I love these things – possibly my favourite green vegetable.

Lots more Basil

I’ve been using handfuls and handfuls of basil this week. It just keeps coming. It’s been a great season for it.

3 Cucumbers

1 lebanese and 2 double yield cucumbers. Used in last night’s dinner

1 Bird’s Eye Chilli

Also used last night in dinner.

4 Bay leaves

Used in stock and casseroles

Large Sprig of Rosemary

Used in a soup during the week

2 small bunches of Celery + a few larger individual stalks

Used in a massive batch of beef stock I am preparing and the casserole on Wednesday.

700g carrots

Also in the stock, plus the casserole and tonight’s dinner (below)

For more harvests from around the world, visit Daphne’s blog.

This week I’ve also been publishing the recipes for my weight-loss meal plan. Tonight’s dinner was:

Pork, Lime and Peanut Salad

Adapted from Low Carb, Low Fat by Pamela Clark

  • 450 grams pork fillet, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 4cm piece fresh ginger,  grated
  • 500g Choy Sum, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
  • 100g green beans, trimmed and halved
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1 cup coriander leaves
  • 4 green onions (shallots), thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup toasted peanuts, chopped.

Dressing

  • 1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Sweet Chilli Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Lime Juice
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped

I’ve reduced the amount of meat from the original recipe, because I think the quantity was excessive (800g) for 4 servings. I added green beans to increase the bulk, although it didn’t need it. This recipe serves 4 adults easily.

Mix the juice and ginger in a bowl. Thinly slice the pork and add it to the bowl, turning to coat. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours

Mix the dressing ingredients together

Stir-fry the pork first, then set aside. Then stir-fry the choy sum, white parts of the green onions and the green beans briefly until the choy sum is just wilted.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Serve with peanuts sprinkled over the top.

This recipe was a hit with P, but I struggled due to a dislike of raw carrot, and I also thought it was a bit heavy on the coriander. I’m still learning to like coriander and prefer it in smaller doses.

Tomorrow night I’m doing Tuesday Night Vego – it’s Mixed Mushrooms with garlic and chives.

Pesto for storage

12 Feb

The basil took a while to get started this year but we’re definitely in the swing of it now. Today I had to trim my plants because they had gone mental, so it was time to make some pesto for storing into winter.

Pesto stores for a little while in the fridge if you cover it in olive oil, but this isn’t going to get you through to next summer. The jars you buy in the supermarket are pressure-preserved, so the pesto has had the life cooked out of it before you even open the jar. It isn’t suitable for water-bath bottling because it isn’t a high-acid food.

So freezing it is!

There is much debate over whether pesto should be frozen with or without the parmesan cheese, or even whether it should be frozen at all. Undoubtably, pesto that you have made fresh before serving is going to be superior to anything defrosted, but if the choice is between home-made and frozen, store-bought or no pesto at all, I know what I’ll be choosing.

As I’m constantly nattering on about, Little D has a milk allergy so this solved the cheese debate for me. I made the pesto without the parmesan, and I’ll add it upon defrosting. I can make his portion with soy-based parmesan substitute, and it also gives me the flexibility to use it in other dishes, like a coconut-milk based pesto ‘curry’ that the kids really enjoy.

My basil offcuts amounted to 8 firmly packed cups of washed, trimmed basil leaves. I started with Linda’s recipe, but found that I didn’t have quite enough pine nuts, so I just cut that back. It seemed to work. I omitted the parmesan cheese:

  • 260 grams of lightly toasted pine nuts
  • a cup, packed of basil
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • salt to taste
  • Olive oil to blend

I found that I had to toast the pine nuts in batches because 260 grams of organic pine nuts are really expensive. I know it’s easy to burn pine nuts when you are toasting them, and I didn’t want to send $30 of pine nuts literally up in smoke!

All the ingredients went into the blender (I really need a food processor!) until smooth and combined.

I packed one jar with the pesto and covered with a layer of olive oil. I put that in the fridge for use over the next 2 weeks.  The remainder I froze in ice cube trays covered in plastic wrap. Once frozen, I’ll pop them out into a zip lock bag and vacuum seal. It’s really easy to defrost 1 or 2 cubes at a time and add the freshly-grated parmesan cheese.

My 8 cups of leaves made 1 (sacla-sized 190gram jar) of pesto for the fridge and 2 1/2 ice cube trays for the freezer. It will stretch further than normal because it gets bulked up with the cheese.

I may have to make another batch in the autumn, but I think this will get us a good way through the year.

Tuesday Night Vego – Quiche with a rice crust

7 Feb

Today I thought I’d share a vego meal that I cooked for a friend last week. We’ll be eating vegetarian again tonight, but I thought I’d post this one earlier in the day so it might be more useful for people.

Quiche is a simple standby meal, particularly if you have your own chickens and a ready supply of eggs. The main drawback is the high fat content, which is concerning for us at the moment given that my husband P is trying to lose weight.

A great alternative is to make a rice crust for your quiche instead of using pastry.

I’m hopeless at estimating quantities, so I often have rice left over from a previous meal. Sometimes I’ll freeze it, but most of the time I leave it in the fridge for use over the next couple of days.

In this particular case I had a mix of basmati and wild rice left over from some Mexican chilli beef.

Tomato, mushroom and feta quiche with a rice crust

1- 2 cups cooked rice. Brown rice works especially well.

1  to 2 egg whites

1 tomato, sliced

Handful of mushrooms, roughly diced

Handful of basil leaves, torn.

125 grams feta cheese, crumbled

2 whole eggs, beaten lightly.

3/4 cup milk (approx)

1 tablespoon sour cream (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees

Grease the quiche dish. Spray oil works well for this.

Mix rice with egg white.

Most of the time 1 egg white is plenty for a single rice crust. You want to moisten the rice, but it should not be ‘wet’. Press the rice into the dish, forming a nice crust shape.

Put the crust in the oven to bake until brown. Mine could have done with more baking than shown in this photo. It is ideal if the base of the quiche is browned too.

While the crust is baking, chop the mushrooms, slice the tomato, crumble the feta.

Pull the crust out when done and sprinkle the mushrooms over the base. Place the sliced tomato over the top, then sprinkle with the basil and feta.  Mix the eggs with the milk and sour cream (optional). If I was following the Tuesday night vego rules properly I would leave out the sour cream. Season with pepper. Salt shouldn’t be necessary because of the feta.

Pour the egg mix over the quiche filling and place back into the oven until set and browned on top.

Head over to Linda’s blog to more simple vegetarian meal ideas.

Cottee’s ain’t good enough for me

5 Feb

After hearing about how Australian citrus growers are doing it tough, I thought I’d buy a bag of Australian-grown organic oranges for juicing. Sometime during the week it occurred to me that I could make this fruit stretch further by making cordial from the juice instead.

Orange Cordial

3kg bag of oranges (juiced) This made 1.75 litres of juice.

1.75 kilos sugar (equivalent weight to juice)

1.75 litres of water (equivalent to juice)

finely grated zest of 2 oranges

1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid (not needed if you keep the cordial in the fridge)

I started by juicing the oranges, which came to 1.75 litres of juice. I then put the same quantities of sugar and water into a saucepan and heated until the sugar dissolved. You can now add the juice and zest, or if your kids are like mine and don’t like the pulp, you can strain the juice at this point before you add it to the pan. Add the citric acid, mix well and pour into glass bottles.

The cordial can now be kept safely in the fridge for up to a month.

I wanted to store the cordial in the cupboard and I wanted the shelf life to be greater, so I water-bath processed the bottles. Do this by putting them into a large stockpot or preserving unit (needs to be very deep to accommodate bottles) and covering with water. Latest safety guidelines say that the water should cover the tops by at least an inch, but the water only reached the shoulder of my largest bottle. I’m sure it will still be fine, but I don’t want to recommend that method to anyone.

Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for an additional 20 minutes. You can then remove from the water and let them cool. Make sure that all bottles vacuum-seal correctly once cool (the pop-top on the lid will pop down). If they have sealed correctly, they should store for a reasonable length of time in the cupboard.

The cordial can then be made up with water according to your preferences for strength.

Using organic oranges and sugar bought from a small independant grocer meant that the product costs quite a bit more than Cottee’s cordial ($11 for the oranges and approx $5 for the sugar  for just under 4 litres of concentrate) but there are definietly no artificial colours or flavours, and I’m comfortable with citric acid as a preservative.

If you bought conventionally-grown oranges and sugar from Aldi, you could whip this up for cheap as chips.

Baba Ganoush a la blowtorch

1 Feb

I have a lot of eggplant at the moment. I wouldn’t say I’m much of an eggplant eater, but I actually don’t mind having a bit of a glut of these because they look so pretty hanging on the plants.

Looking through various recipes that use eggplant, Baba Ganoush kept jumping out because firstly it uses large quantities of eggplant, but also because it is easy to make dairy-free and therefore edible for Little D.

Baba Ganoush a la blowtorch

15 lebanese eggplant. You could definitely use normal eggplant – might even be better

3 cloves of garlic

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

3 tablespoons of tahini

1 tablespoon olive oil

Good pinch of salt and pepper

Pinch of cumin

Image courtesy of J. Thanks kid for cutting off my head and focussing on my pregnant middle section 🙂

Having never made baba ganoush, I did a quick skim of the various recipes out there on the interwebs and concluded that burning the skin is the key to getting that essential smoky flavour. I’m not always chef material, but burning stuff I can do!

I spread the eggplants out on an oven tray, pricked their skin all over with a fork and set to work blowtorching the skins thoroughly. This takes a bit of time to ensure that the skins are blackened all over.

After I was happy with the level of charring, I put the eggplants onto the oven on ‘fan grill’ in my oven at 230 degrees celcius. Alternatively you could either put it on the top shelf at the highest heat your oven will go or put them under the grill, turning frequently.

You want them to be both charred on the surface and really soft and squishy inside.

Once they come out of the oven, let them cool a little while you get the rest of the ingredients prepared.

Coarsely chop the garlic. The quantity is personal preference depending on your personal preference and whether you need to go into the office tomorrow. Add with the other ingredients into the blender. If you don’t have one, then you could mash it all with a fork but you would need to crush the garlic instead.

Spend some time opening up the eggplants and putting the insides into the blender. If you are using full sized eggplants then you could avoid the seeds, but with lebanese eggplants they are small and I quite like their texture anyway. The key with this step is to get the as much of the flesh into the blender as possible without any skin.

Process the lot together until you are happy with the texture. You can add extra olive oil or water if you need to thin it out. Taste and adjust seasonings.

The above quantities made about 1 1/2 cups of  babaganoush. I served it as part of a meal of grilled lamb cutlets, tabouli and flat bread. I took the leftovers to a a meeting I had after dinner.

I think using the lebanese eggplant for this recipe really adds to the smoky flavour of the dip because the smoke penetrates the flesh more. It does make it more fiddly though.

Tuesday Night Vego – Veg and 3 Veg

31 Jan

Joining Linda again in her Tuesday Night Vego Challenge. This week I’m cheating. I have a vegetarian friend coming round tomorrow night, so I thought I’d serve some meat tonight. I’m posting a photo of last night’s dinner instead – hopefully the lamest excuse for a vegetarian meal I’ll come up with all year.

I call it Veg and 3 Veg. Its redeeming features are only that it is entirely home-grown and anything with brown onion gravy has to be allright in my books.

I’m sure everyone can steam some veggies and mash some potato, but I love a good brown onion gravy, so here’s the recipe for that:

Vegetarian brown onion gravy

Finely slice 2 brown onions, and fry in a heavy based frying pan on medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons oil (I used a combination of olive and grapeseed). I would have used butter, but my son is allergic to cow’s milk protein. Butter would be vastly superior.

Fry until onions start to soften but before they start to burn, then reduce the heat to low. This is where my induction cooktop is fabulous – you need a low heat level such that the onions continue to colour but do not burn. Cover and leave to cook for 2 minutes of so, checking and stirring occasionally so the colour is even. Most of the sweetness and flavour of onion gravy comes from this caramelisation process, so take care with it.

De-glaze the pan with water or stock. If you are steaming vegetables at the same time, use the veggie water. I also used some vegeta stock powder, but that’s mostly for colour and salt. If not using, add a bit of salt or vegemite. I actually added some vegemite too. I’m a bit of a salt addict, and hey, this is vegetarian, brown onion gravy normally gets some of it’s flavour from meat juices, so I needed to cheat.

Keep tasting and adjusting the flavour – reducing the gravy if the flavour needs concentrating or adding more stock if it’s too strong. Just before serving, add some cornflour or tapioca starch (my preference) mixed with a little water (make sure it isn’t lumpy), then stir in to thicken. Be careful you don’t add too much or you’ll be forced to water down the gravy’s flavour to thin out the consistency.

Does anyone else have any tips for getting more flavour into vegetarian gravies? I’ve heard about home-made stock concentrates from thermomix-people and I’m tempted to give that a go in a lower-tech way.

Tomorrow I’ll post what we actually had for dinner tonight. It involves a lot of eggplant.

This has the potential to get very dangerous…

25 Jan

I’ve been on a bit of a preserving run of late. After bottling the tomatoes the other day and feeling pretty pleased with myself, I’ve been reading,  and thinking of other possibilities. Our family eats a lot of jam (hence P’s diet), and so that really is the natural progression.

We are off for the long weekend to a farmstay, and I ordered too many nectarines for the week. They will be past their best by the time we get back, so I thought I’d make some jam out of them. I’d been reading Rhonda’s blog and it really didn’t seem too hard, so tonight I thought I’d give it a go.

I cut up the nectarines, some white, some yellow (about 2.4 kilos) and put them into a large stockpot with about half their weight in sugar. That seemed like an awful lot to me, but looking at various recipes it seems that that is actually a low-sugar jam!

I also added half a large lemon – I squeezed the juice into the pan then added the skin to the pot too.

I added a little bit of water to allow the sugar to start to dissolve, then put it on medium heat, stirring regularly.

The mix eventually came to the boil and I used a potato masher to break down the chunks of fruit to a reasonable consistency. I didn’t want to puree it, but I didn’t want it to be awfully lumpy either. Tasting the mix I decided it needed another sqeeze of lemon juice, and I also added a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste (with the lovely little seeds).

As I cooked the mix down it became thicker and the colour darkened. I chose not to use pectin in this batch because apparently nectarines are naturally high in pectin, especially under-ripe nectarines, and a few of the fruit were a bit under ripe.

Once I was happy with the consistency of the jam once it had cooled on the spoon, I took it off the boil and started ladling it into clean jars. This is where my inexperience really showed. Jam makers have these really cool funnels for the purpose, but I was trying to co-ordinate a ladle, jars of varying sizes and scaling hot fruit and sugar!

It filled at least twice the number of jars as I expected, so had to move onto a few less than ideal jars with labels still attached. I cleaned the stockpot and filled it with the jars and water (covering the jars). I brought it to the boil and held it there for 15 minutes or so, ensuring that they’d seal properly and be safe to store.

I may just need a few more jars for future jams – I can tell that this is going to be addictive. Heelloo Diabetes!

Tuesday Night Vego – Pumpkin and wild rice pilaf

17 Jan

P is on a diet. His weight tends to drift up over the year, so come January I put him on a crazy-strict diet and he loses it all in a month.  This year might be a bit more difficult because he needs to lose about 15 kilos. Luckily he’s well on his way, and 6 kilos down after a week.

So Linda’s tuesday night vegetarian challenge really couldn’t come at a better time. In reality we’ve been eating vegetarian most nights of the week just to get through all the garden produce, and it’s great to have vego ideas coming from many directions.

Tonight (like every night) pumpkin was a mandatory ingredient. I’ve also been craving wild rice, so I invented this little concoction for dinner:

Pumpkin and Wild Rice Pilaf

  • 1 Golden Nugget pumpkin (or 400g equivalent)
  • 50 grams Wild Rice
  • 200 grams Basmati Rice, rinsed in cold water and set aside to dry
  • 1 onion
  • Handful toasted almonds, chopped roughly
  • Large handful of sultanas/raisins
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade (or other chutney or fruit jam)
  • 1 cup stock
  • 1 tablespoon madras curry paste (or equivalent powdered)
  • A dash of ground allspice (optional)
  • Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, then put the wild rice into some cold water and bring to the boil. The wild rice will take about 30 minutes to cook, so get it on early.

Peel, de-seed and roughly diced the pumpkin. Add a drizzle of olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic and a pinch of salt, then spread on an oven tray and place in the oven.

Finely diced the onion, then add to a large frying pan with the second clove of garlic, crushed and a small amount of oil.

Soften the onion and garlic on medium heat, then add the curry paste and allspice and cook for another minute or so until fragrant.

Add the rinsed basmati rice, and fry on medium heat for one minute before adding the bay leaves, cloves and stock.

Mix the rice and stock, then add the marmalade and sultanas, stirring to mix thoroughly. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer and put on the lid.

Simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat without opening the lid. The rice will continue to steam until the wild rice and pumpkin are ready.

Once the wild rice is ready, the pumpkin should be soft and starting to brown at the edges.

Open the pan, fluff up the rice with a fork, then add the (strained) wild rice and roasted pumpkin.

Remove the bay leaves and the cloves (if you can find them).

Serve in bowls and top with chopped almonds.

Tuesday Night Vego – pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi with pesto

10 Jan

I’m joining Linda today (and as often as a I can manage this year) to make simple vegetarian meals for dinner on Tuesdays. Today Linda posted a recipe for potato gnocchi with zucchini and pesto, but I thought I’d mix it up a bit and make pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi so I could use some of my multitude of golden nugget pumpkins and a tub of ricotta cheese that has been languishing in the fridge, use by tomorrow.

Golden Nugget is supposed to be a bush pumpkin, growing in a similar way to zucchini. Unfortunately no-one told this to my golden nuggets, and they have started traversing my front lawn. Productive doesn’t really cover these pumpkins – they have been prolific. I have 2 other plants like the one above, and I am up to pumpkin #30 (actually I’ve lost exact count, but that’s about right), with no signs of the end of the season.

Pumpkin and Ricotta Gnocchi 

Makes 3 family-sized servings (I froze 2/3 of the batch)

4 Golden Nugget pumpkins, peeled, quartered and deseeded (approx 400g each).

500g ricotta cheese

40g parmesan cheese, grated

3 eggs, lightly beaten

600g plain flour

4 golden nuggets, average 400grams each

Peel, quarter and de-seed the pumpkins. Roast at 180 degrees until tender.

Pumpkin and ricotta mash - delicious on its own.

Mash the pumpkin with the ricotta cheese.

Add the parmesan and eggs to the pumpkin mash, then work in the flour to form a very soft dough.

Turn out onto a floured bench and form into long thin sausages, then cut the dough into 2cm lengths, flattening with a fork to make a gnocchi shape. The stickier the mix, the better the final texture, but sticky is a pain to work with.

Leave the formed gnocchi to dry on a floured tray for up to a few hours before cooking in plenty of rapidly boiling water.

The texture of my gnocchi was a little dense. This was because I really added too much flour during the shaping process. In my experience, the best finished gnocchi comes from a mixture that’s a bit of a sticky mess, but that’s no fun to work with.

I froze the remaining gnocchi on oven trays, then bagged and vacuum sealed them once they were frozen. If you try it any other way they will stick together. To cook at a later date, simply put the frozen gnocchi onto boiling water, the same as fresh.

I served my gnocchi with basil pesto, make from Linda’s recipe, which is delicious. The batch filled an old Sacla pesto jar that I had saved, but tasted a bazillion times better than heat-canned stuff that was originally in there. I’ll keep the remaining pesto in the fridge under olive oil for use over the next few weeks.