Sunday, October 23, 2016

No rest for busy people

Labour Weekend, the day we celebrate a 40hour working week.  Freedom for everyone, in the evenings, and on the weekends, to get involved in fun activities with their family and friends.

In our case, planting the new berm by the pool.  (Hopefully minimising both wind misadventure and gaining a little privacy from visitors).


Our latest Wwoofer, Anne, a lovely German girl, mowed the lawn and said it was the best day of her life!  She really enjoyed riding our mower, practicing her driving skills and she made a lovely job of the property.  

Anne has been working hard in the Vegetable garden, inspiring me to get our strawberries and asparagus sorted out.  I was super excited to find tiny little fluffy feathers of bright green, which I identified as baby asparagus plants, self seeded. I hear tell that asparagus doesn't grow very well from seed, but I will give these a go and see what happens.

Anne mowing the lawn
Self seeded Asparagus

I'm now off to plaster some more of our pool...maybe I'll rest later on in the week.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Cook for a Fortnight in one afternoon

We have had a very busy couple of terms at school, with my youngest child doing an activity every afternoon.  He has ballet, piano, cubs, singing lessons, Glee club, drama, band practice and goodness knows what else.  I can hardly keep up.  It has created a lot of tension in our family as the year has played out.  Part of that is the eternal question...what's for dinner?  Feeling tense after running in the door this is the last thing I want to be asked. So, to alleviate that stress, I spent several hours cooking and made dinner for a fortnight!

Here's what I did.  The recipes may not suit your family, but you can easily adjust them.  As you read through the process, you'll see that by making some basic bases, it is easy to adjust them for different effect.

If you follow this, here's what you will be freezing:
2 x Sausage Casserole
1 x Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)
1 x Vege and Bacon Gratin
1 x Macaroni Cheese
1 x Potato Gratin
1 x Meatballs
1 x Chicken in Italian Tomato Sauce
1 x Chicken in Cream Sauce with Asparagus
1 x Pork Pie with Apples

The idea is that you can pull one of these out of the freezer in the morning, and heat it up when you get home, or you could add Wedges/Potato Mash/Veges/Salad etc and possibly eke it out over two nights.

My man is a hefty meat eater, so these recipes are mostly meat orientated, you can easily change that if you want.  Most of the veges (asparagus, spinach etc) are from our garden, but are easily bought. We have mushrooms in our garden at the moment, and I added some of them to both the Pork Pie and the Meatballs.  I have left them out of the recipe, but feel free to add them if you wish.  I just thought they are an expensive addition if you have to buy them.

We also have a lot of dairy in our house, because of our cow.  So we have access to infinite amounts of milk, cream, etc.  Our chickens provide the eggs.

I haven't costed this out, but pretty cheap I think, even if you have to buy everything.

Buy or scrounge 10 large tinfoil containers, place 8 of them out on your kitchen bench.  I did it in two rows, so that I could see easily.  Put out two large bowls, one for the meatballs, one for the spanakopita

INGREDIENTS Purchase/pick/swap/scrounge the following:
10 x large Onions
100g butter for the onions
4 x cans Tomatoes chopped with Basil
1 can Black Olives
1 x 500g Pasta of your choice
2 x Oxo Meat cubes
2 x potatoes
4 x carrots
4 x leeks
2 x apples
2kg potatoes
1 bunch Asparagus
Several large bunches of Spinach
4T butter for white sauce
1c Flour
2litres Milk
4 slices of Bread
Chicken thighs - enough to feed your family twice, in our case this was 10 chicken thighs
1kg Bacon Ends (I got these from Rangiora Fruit and Veg shop for $5)
3c Grated Cheese
5 Eggs
1kg Mince
1kg diced pork
2kg Sausages
1 can pineapple pieces - if liked
5 sheets frozen Flaky Pastry
Bunch Sage
Bunch Thyme
3 x 300ml cream
1 tub Sour Cream - to finish the Chicken in Asparagus when cooked
1 250g carton of cottage cheese
1t nutmeg
2 cloves garlic


Defrost Flaky Pastry sheets.

Chop all the onions - I did this in the food processor, Saute them in a large pan on the stove, in butter till soft.  I like to use butter, firstly because I make it free from our cow, and secondly I prefer the flavour, but you could use oil if you want here.

In another large pot bring salted water to the boil.  When boiling cook the 500g Pasta and drain.

Divide the onions evenly between 8 of the containers and the two large bowls.

Into the first two containers put the number of chicken thighs you need for your family.  You now have the basis for the two Chicken dishes.

Finish first chicken dish: Pour over 2 cans of canned tomatoes/basil. Throw olives over.

Put cooked pasta into another container.

Chop sausages into pieces and place into two other containers. Dissolve oxo cubes in water, add 2T flour, and mix in (this will thicken it on cooking), and pour over the sausages.  Add fresh thyme.  Peel and chop 2 potatoes into cubes, sprinkle over.

Grate the carrots.  Divide - some onto sausages, some into one bowl for meatballs, one into a new container (for Vege Gratin)

Peel and slice leeks, place in Vege Gratin dish.

Cut Asparagus and divide between Vege Gratin and remaining Chicken dish

Wilt Spinach in the pot you boiled the macaroni in (no need to wash!).  Divide between Vege Gratin and Spanakopita bowl.

In the same pot make a cheese sauce, with 4T butter, 1/2c flour and about 2 litres milk. Add salt and Pepper generously.  Pour half of this over the Vege Gratin .  Add 1c grated cheese and then pour the remainder the Macaroni Cheese.

Into the Spanakopita bowl break 4 eggs, add 1 carton cottage cheese.

Grate all the cheese and add some to the Spanakopita bowl.  Sprinkle the remainder over the Vege Gratin.

On the stove fry all the bacon bits, till browned.  Add some to the Pork Pie container, some to the Vege Gratin and some to the Sausage Casseroles and a little to the Macaroni Cheese.

Finish Macaroni Cheese.

Peel and thinly slice the 2kg of Potatoes.  Put them into your large pot, cover with 1 x 300ml cream, and enough milk to just cover the slices. Add 2 cloves of garlic, crushed. Add salt and pepper. Simmer till thick.

Finish Sausage Casseroles - once bacon is in, they are done

Finish Vege Gratin shred four slices of bread, sprinkle two over the Gratin.  Add the other two to the meatballs bowl.

Finish Chicken with Asparagus pour over 1/2c cream.  (When defrosted and cooked, stir in 1 tub sour cream)

Finish Spanakopita stir all ingredients together, add salt and pepper, add 1t nutmeg.  Put into one of the spare containers.  When cool - top with 2 sheets of flaky pastry.  Stick pastry with a fork to let air in when cooking.

Add 1 egg to the meatball bowl, using y our hands mix well.  Roll into balls, put onto a lined oven tray and bake at 180C for about 20 mins till browned.  Put into the  other spare container.

Finish Meatballs pour over 2 cans tomatoes in basil

Slice pork, add to the last container (this should have onions in already).  Add 2 chopped apples and can of pineapple pieces.  Add chopped sage.

Finish Pork Pie - Dissolve 1 oxo cube in 1 cup water, stir in 2T flour (to thicken when cooking).  Pour over.  Top with 2 sheets flaky pastry.  Use the last sheet of pastry to cut leaves and flowers.  Decorate Pork Pie and Spanakopita.  Stick with a fork to let out air when cooking.

Mix one egg with 1/2c cream. Brush the top of both the Pork Pie and the Spanakopita.

Your potatoes will now be mostly cooked, and the cream/milk thick.  Pour into the last remaining container.

Finish Potato Gratin

Sprinkle all with salt and pepper as necessary.

Cover the tops with tinfoil, label and date.  Let cool, then freeze.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Constantly Surprising

As a gardener, I follow the rhythms of the seasons, expecting blooming in the Spring, abundance in the Summer, brassicas, harvest in the Autumn and hard digging work in the Winter.  I look forward to the specialness of each season, waiting for their own sweet special moments.

Mushrooms in Autumn in one thing I look forward to with particular eagerness.  If you have read my blog for a while you will know that I always get excited about mushrooms.  Their appearance puts me into a frenzy of "mushroom spotting" whenever I am out.

Well, this week, the first week of Spring, we have had wild weather.  Cold, fast winds, snow and sleet all conspired to keep us mostly inside, in front of the fire.  I ventured out to milk the cow and pick early daffodils but that was about it.

Until today.  My special "mushroom spotting eyeballs" noticed a white "something" growing in my flower bed out the kitchen window.  Sure enough, in the wrong weather, at the wrong time of year, beautiful, meaty, fragrant mushrooms are emerging!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Candied/Sugared Violets

Who can resist a sweet treat? this little Victorian number conjures up afternoons of cucumber sandwiches and scones with cream.  Sugared Violets are a labour intensive flower decoration.

If you are lucky enough, like me, to have swathes of violets rampaging through your garden, then this is a winter activity for anyone with Martha Stewart or OCD tendencies.

- Pick your violets, leaving them on a long stem.
- Wash if necessary (I skipped this step) and leave to dry thoroughly
- Whip the white of one egg to stiff peaks
- Using a child's paintbrush (never used in paint) brush the egg white onto all parts of the flower, front and back
- Dust with castor sugar, leave no area undusted.  Paint extra egg white if necessary.
- leave to dry for 24 hrs
- pack into an airtight container, should last for a month

Imagine cupcakes with these little beauties on top.  Or a vanilla cake with cream cheese icing, mmmm

There is a trick to painting the flowers, check that out here:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Preparing for cold weather

I have had a few afternoons getting the garden organised for cold weather.  Unfortunately I left it too late for the poor cauliflowers.  I had to throw half of them over the fence to the pet sheep because they are damaged by the frost.  This makes them go icky and brown on top.

The other half will be OK because I have tied the larger outer leaves over them, protecting them from further frosting, or indeed SNOW (predicted for the next few days).

The Raspberries got a decent thin-out and prune.  The trick with them is to take out all the dead wood, (those canes that fruited last year) and to trim down the new canes which grew over the season and will produce fruit last year.  Our freezer still has kilos of fruit to be used up.  We get more raspberries than we know what to do with.  Raspberry is a common flavour here for cheesecakes, milkshakes, and berry smoothies.  The pruning took about 4hrs.  You can see in this photo how many canes I have removed, and that is just one third of the work done.  In the picture the canes on the right of the wee boardwalk have been thinned and trimmed, the ones on the left in the picture are still everywhere.

I set to the Blackcurrants also, thinning out, and making a nice fan shape so that the sunshine can get in for ripening, and hands can get in for picking.

Sooner or later I will have to tackle the Strawberries, which need all their dead growth picked or cut off.  Oh, well, another time soon...when the snow has gone away!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Teaching my son to cook - Week Six

Hi Hamish, this week it's Salmon and Roasted Veges with Burnt Butter....

You will need:
Frypan, Roasting Dish

One large, thick piece of Salmon, not the tail end, enough for yourself
2T butter, at least
3 Large Carrots
1 Potato
1 Onion
Other root veges of your choice
A green vege of choice, like Cabbage or Broccoli, in small pieces
Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic
Some Balsamic Vinegar

First prepare the veges.  Slice the carrots lengthways into 2 or 3 pieces.  Peel and cube the potatoes.  Peel and slice the onions.  Pour a couple of tablespoons of the oil into the roasting dish.  Throw in these veges and your other root veges.  Crush over the garlic.  Sprinkle salt and pepper.  Bake about 40 mins till everything is tender and browned.

Once the root veg is ready, heat the frypan till quite hot.  Add the butter, and swirl.  Immediately add the Salmon piece, skin side down.  Fry briskly till the skin is crunchy and brown.  You will see the salmon sides start to change to cooked white.

Now put the green vege in with the root veges, still in the oven.  Toss to coat in oil.

Turn the salmon with tongs.  It will take another 5 or 10 mins to cook through.  To check, gently part the flesh of the salmon and look inside.

Take the vege out, and toss about 1T balsamic vinegar over.  Arrange on a plate.  Top with the salmon.   Pour the butter from the pan over as a sauce.  If there is not enough butter melt some more and vigourously heat to brown it quickly.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

On Cows, and Joy

Finally, after months of waiting, and watching our cow Willow get fatter and fatter, in fact till she could no longer get down the race...A Calf!  it's a boy, who we have named Sherlock.

Here are Mum and Son, minutes after he was born.  Sherlock has not stood up yet, but Willow is licking him and he stood soon after this photo

Having a calf means having milk.  For the first few days we let them be, then on about day 4 I started to milk Willow.  Those first pails I just let down onto the ground, it was still colostrum.  But after that we have had milk.

She and I have come to an understanding viz I won't tie her to the fence and she won't walk about too much.

We have had a few troubles, she doesn't like me sitting on a bucket for a stool - it makes too many rattling sounds and freaks her out.  I also bring her a bucket of cow muesli as a treat.

While she's eating the cow muesli she stands nice and still in the paddock, and I milk her two rear udders.  Despite what my father said, about cows kicking etc, this is the easiest way to reach them. The two rear teats are quite small and if I milk from underneath it's a slow job.  She hasn't ever kicked.  In fact, she doesn't do anything in a hurry and even if she wants to take a step or two forward I can see she is thinking about it a good minute before she does it.  She's a ditherer, so it takes her a while to make up her mind to take a step.

Once the muesli is finished I have to take the bucket off her or she starts to bang it about, so I take it off her and hang it on the fence or sit on it.

Then I sit at her side and reach her two inside teats and milk them.  The right inside is the calf's favourite and sometimes there isn't much milk there.  But the left inside is the most prolific.  I generally end up with just one hand going on that at the end.

We started getting about 2 litres of milk a day, and now we are up to 4 litres.  Keeping in mind that her calf is on her always, I don't take him off for the night, I'm pretty pleased with that.

Now we have milk, cream and butter!  yumm
Fresh butter!  The fat content of Jersey cream is so high that from a litre of cream most turns into butter, I might get about 200ml of buttermilk only.
So far the weather has co-operated with the paddock milking.  But the idea is that Mark will build me a Cow Bail, so I can milk under shelter when it's raining.  Training Willow to go up the race and into the bail will be my next task!

It's very soothing and meditative milking out in the paddock, while the cow eats or licks her calf, and I lean on her warm sides.  I love it!