Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Eating For Less - The $21 Challenge and the worst meal ever

This is something I have been thinking about for a while and so after borrowing the book from the library the time had come.
Rather than re-invent the wheel I will just use the information on the website to tell you what the challenge is all about, in case you have not heard about it.

It is also worth checking out the rest of the website for all of the other great info they have on saving money.

What exactly IS the $21 Challenge?

In a nutshell, it is a one-week grocery slashing marathon where you can save a big pile of money, de-clutter your pantry and learn new skills all at the same time!

How does it work?

Simple! For one week you try as hard as you possibly can to stay out of the shops.  Instead of going out and doing your usual supermarket shop you have to stretch the food you already have in your cupboard, pantry, garden and freezer to stay within your $21 budget.

It is a fun way to save $300 in one week!

You see, the average household of four people spends $320 per week on food. By completing the $21 Challenge for just one week you will have an extra $300 in hand. This means if you do a $21 Challenge once a month in your household, you can save yourself $3600 in one year.
Inside the pantry, and yes that is a window on the back.  This used to be the stove alcove and the window now looks into the laundry as the back of the house was enclosed.
 Now I have to admit that I knew that we would not have to make much of an adjustment to complete this challenge as we have a well stocked pantry and freezer, a vegetable garden, and a flock of chickens.
I have always been a careful shopper and when I see a product that I know we will use, has a long shelf life and is on sale I will buy a bulk amount.  The most recent examples of this are:
$4.99kg for chicken breasts but you had to buy 5kg min - This was divided into 11 lots and each lot will feed the 2 of us for 2 meals.
$1.99kg for Pitted Australian Dates - I purchased 2kg
.39c 400gm Baked Beans - Hubby takes these to work a few days a week so we purchased 36 cans.

First thing you have to decide is if your $21 is for all meals or just one or two meals, we decided all meals.
Then you do a stock take of what is in your freezer, pantry, fridge and garden. 
This was easy as I had just cleaned out the fridge, my freezer has a list on the outside of what is in there (it is a chest freezer and things get lost if you don't know whats in there) and I knew what was in the pantry.
The freezer list (note all the Pea and Ham Soup)
Then you do a menu plan based on what you already have with the idea of just adding a few extra things to make up the meals. 

So what did I plan for the week and what did I buy?


Sat - Pea & Ham soup (Not really soup season but it needed using)
Sunday - Home made Pizza
Monday - Thai beef salad with vermicelli
Tuesday - Zucchini slice
Wednesday - Penne Putanesca
Thursday - Chicken Stir Fry
Friday - Bacon and Eggs


Rump steak
Spring Onions

Total Spent $19.45

So how did it go?

It was a great feeling to walk into the supermarket with only 1 bag know everything would fit.  It was a challenge though not to buy anything else when you weren't literally only able to afford $21.

Would I recommend it?  Very much so.  In fact I intend to do it at least once a month so that I can use us things that I have surplus of or are getting close to their expiry date.  I really liked the challenge and it really makes you think about waste.  Waste of time when you are not organised, waste of money buying things you don't need, waste of money if you have to throw things out because they were past their used by date.

And what of the worst meal ever????

That would be the pea and ham soup.  It was awful!!!
Even my hubby who will pretty much eat anything said it was bad, and that means it was really really bad. 
I have no idea what went wrong and I am actually a pretty good cook.  But I can tell you that even though I am against wasting food I will be throwing out the other 2 lots of frozen soup in the freezer.  Thankfully it was cheap to make with a left over ham bone and the peas.  We ended up having toast for dinner it was so bad.

Oh well you live and learn, and at least that will free up some more space in the freezer.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Curry of the Week - Turmeric Chicken with Potatos and Peas

This Curry requires you to make your own curry paste but if you have all the ingredients it is not difficult.  You will need a mortar and pestle and, depending on if you cook Thai food very often or not, the only slightly uncommon ingredients are fresh Turmeric and Shrimp Paste.
Before giving you the recipe I would like to give you some quick information on the fresh Turmeric and the Shrimp past in case you have never used these before.

Fresh Tumeric is a small knobbly root like ginger but usually much smaller.  It stains like mad so when you prepare it consider your workspace carefully as it is extremely difficult to get out of clothes and bench tops.  Tumeric is reported to have a number of significant health benefits including its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and cutting the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in half.

Shrimp Paste is basically what it says it is.  You can buy it in small quantities at Asian grocers and some supermarkets.  It smells awful but once it is roasted it much more mellow.  Once you buy it it needs to be kept in the fridge in it's container inside another very airtight container.  When you roast it you add the required amount to al foil and wrap it up to seal it then roast it in the oven till it is a crumbly texture, usually about 5- 10 mins at 180 degrees.

Curry Paste

8 Large Dried Chillies (available at an Asian grocer)
2tsp Fresh Tumeric, peeled and chopped roughly
2tsp Coriander seeds
2tsp Cumin seeds
2tsp Shrimp paste, roasted


5 Tbsp Vegetable oil
8 Chicken Thighs
2Tbsp Garlic, roughly chopped
400ml Coconut Cream
500ml Chicken Stock
8Tbsp Fish Sauce
4Tbsp palm Sugar (raw sugar can be used in it's place)
500gm Waxy potato's, cut into chunks
1 cup of peas
1 large Green and 1 large Red Chili, halved de-seeded and sliced
1 Lime
Coriander to garnish

Making the Curry Paste

Soak your large dried chilli's in boiling water for 10 minutes.  While these are soaking you need to roast you shrimp paste (as above) and dry roast your cumin and coriander seeds.  To do this just put the seeds in a small dry saucepan and heat on the stove on a medium setting until you can smell the spices releasing their oils.  As soon as you can smell them tip them into your mortar and pestle so they do not burn.  Add the salt, fresh turmeric soaked chilli's and roasted shrimp paste.  Pound to a smooth paste.

Making the Curry

Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the chicken pieces in batches.  Remove the chicken and reduce the heat add the curry paste and garlic to the pan and fry until fragrant.
Add the coconut cream, chicken stock, fish sauce and sugar, stir till the sugar has been dissolved then add the chicken pieces and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 mins.
Add the potato's followed by the peas 5 minutes later and and cook until tender.  Stir through the sliced fresh chili.
Serve with a wedge of lime and some chopped coriander.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Horror Week

I have been absent from my blog this week due to an awful incident that happened on Sunday night.
I won't go into details but I was basically attacked on a personal level by a member of the community at a group meeting.  The attack was, as confirmed by those who were there to witness it, unjustified and inappropriate.
It has however been extremely upsetting none the less so I am giving myself permission to take some me time and will see you all in a few days.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Curry of the week - Pork and Lime Curry with Spinach

With the hot weather upon us there is no better time to be eating spicy foods.  Contrary to what you might think eating spicy foods actually helps your body cool down, or so I am lead to believe.  Regardless of this we love spicy food in our house and both Thai and Indian form part of our regular diet.

This is such an easy curry to throw together and you can use any kind of leafy green such as silverbeet, spinach, Malabar spinach or Asian greens.  It is a sour Thai curry but not so sour that it makes your mouth pucker and it is not overly hot.  Well by our standards (and really that is a how long is a piece of string thing isn't it. My hot may not be yours.)

My top tips for this would be to prepare your sauces and sugar in a bowl you can set to the side and have each of your ingredients measured out ready to go.  Use fresh garlic and not the jarred stuff as the flavour is far better, and it is the tamarind that makes it sour so if this is too sour or not sour enough you can adjust the amount of tamarind accordingly.

3Tbsp Vegetable Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic crushed
2Tbsp Red Curry Paste
250 ml Coconut Milk
500 gm Diced Pork
3Tbsp each of Fish Sauce, Tamarind Water or Paste, Soy Sauce
1 Heaped Tbsp Palm Sugar (or raw sugar if you do not have palm sugar)
250 ml Chicken Stock
10 Kaffir Lime leaves
200 gm of leafy green ( I never weigh it I just work to what I think would be 4 portions when cooked)
1 Lime

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan and fry off the curry paste until fragrant and starting to separate.  Add the garlic and fry briefly but do not let the garlic brown.
Add the coconut milk and bring to the boil while stirring. 
Add the diced pork and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Add your fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind, sugar, kaffir lime leaves and chicken stock.
If you used pork fillet cook just long enough for the pork to cook through.  If you used a cheaper cut of pork you can put a lid on you pot and cook for 45min - 1hr so that the pork becomes tender.
Once the pork is cooked added your leafy greens and cook till wilted.
Serve over rice with a Lime wedge to squeeze over the top.

Do you have a favorite Curry you want to share?  Feel free to link back to here.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Baking Bonanza

Well  I must admit I got a stack done in the kitchen yesterday.

I made....

A quiche with some rainbow silverbeet from the garden.  It will be too hot for it soon, and will get fed to the chooks, so I will try and get just a few more meals from it.  I also used the last few leeks from the garden instead of onions and one of my fresh garlic bulbs from my recent harvest, and boy do they pack a punch.

Self Crusting Quiche

The last of the leeks
Some scones to use up the 1/ carton of cream in the fridge

A banana cake made with some very brown bananas that have been in the freezer for ages.  The cake itself has gone back in the freezer for another time when I haven't baked.  And some beetroot and chocolate muffins that have lasted all of one day.

Beetroot and Chocolate Muffins and Banana Cake
Finally a couple of loaves of sourdough baked before dinner and then a Pork Curry for dinner, sorry no photos of that, but I will post the recipes for the Muffins and curry tomorrow.  I cannot provide the quiche recipe as I just make it up as I go along, one day I might weigh things as I go.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Weekend Beats

Over the weekend I came across some beetroot that I had not checked on for a while.  Check out the size of the monster beetroot.
Beetroot from the garden, scissors left in the photo for scale.
The were washed, peeled, diced and roasted for salad.  I will add chopped walnuts, feta, chopped parsley and a balsamic dressing.
 Then the chooks enjoyed the tops for dinner

Friday, 11 November 2011

On My mind is my Lime Tree

Linking up with Rhonda today.

Lime tree lime tree where for art thou lime tree?

Apparently the cherry tomato seeds were still quite viable in the compost we used to plant out the lime tree a few months ago.  Oh well may as well wait for the tomato's now.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Great Garlic Harvest

Way back in May I posted about the garlic I had planted, and being a virgin garlic grower I'm not really sure if I have been successful in producing a good crop as I have nothing to compare to.

An organised gardener would have counted exactly how many cloves of each variety was planted, what the "mother" bulb weighed and what date they were planted out.    Had I done this I would be able to report accurately my yield and plan for my next crop accordingly.

But I didn't, so this will be an inaccurate report where all descriptive terms such as large, small, lots, heavy, and other such words have no true measure or control group and should be taken with a grain of salt.  Next time I will take a leaf out of Hazel's book and do it properly.

I really did not know if the garlic was ready but someone somewhere in blogland recently mentioned the had harvested their garlic so I figured it was something I needed to consider.  All the information about harvesting advised that the tops of the garlic should be turning brown and there should be 3-4 layers of covering around the bulb.  To test this you need to dig one up and cut across the top.
I dug up the Oriental Purple first and most of the bulbs had grown, multiplied and fattened up and for all intensive purposes seemed to be big enough to harvest.

As I dug them up I laid them out on a piece of cardboard.  Once I had them all out I used a brush to remove as much of the dirt from the roots as a I could.  After the Purple Oriental came the Australian Cream, I dug a couple of the Australian White but they were not quite ready so will stay in the garden for another week or so.
All laid out, still a bit dirty. Australian Cream at the top of the photo,
Purple Oriental at the bottom and the couple of Australian White on the right.
Some of the bulbs were as big as commercial ones
They ranged from pink...

To purple...

The Australian White leaves had not browned off as much as the others so when I see them get to the same stage as the other ones I will dig up another bulb and see if they are ready.
The last of the garlic looking a little lonely in the garden.
To give the garlic a chance to dry out I have made use of some coat racks that we have out the back in the laundry area near the back door.  I tied each of the bulbs around the rack and have left them to dry out a bit more before I try and brush off any more of the dirt.  You will see that one of the varieties, Australian Cream yielded a lot more garlic but this is because I had two bulbs of it to start with and only one of each of the others. 
Coat racks given over to garlic
Hung out to dry
Once they have all dried out I will weigh them so I know how much I started with and be able to measure how long they last.  I am not sure heading into summer how the garlic will keep here in Queensland with our humidity.  Does any one have any tips for storing garlic?

There were a few really small bulbs some that had not multiplied so I decided we would eat those straight away.  We had a couple in a stir fry last night and they were quite pungent.

Small garlic bulbs, I included the peg for some scale.

 Well I can tell you one thing about harvesting garlic, once you hang it to dry you will have no worries about vampires.  I am glad I have these hanging out the back because even with the skins on there is the scent of garlic in the air.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Pomegranate Dreaming

Like rubies glinting in the sun, with a sweet yet tart flavour, little jewels that burst and pop in your mouth, such is the allure of the pomegranate.

I have 2 pomegranate bushes, one that was planted 12 months ago is located in the chicken pen with a wire fence around it to keep the scratching at a safe distance and one that was planted 4 months ago out in the main orchard.
The 12 month old bush, don't mind the weeds
The 4 month old bush, must do something
about that grass
 The other day when I was out feeding the chickens I noticed the most exciting thing, a flower.

The petals were soft like crepe paper
Now the flower has dropped off and there is a bud, or is it another flower yet to open?
The bud

Ohhhhh  how I hope it's a fruit.

But I have my doubts about the strength of the branch's to hold a developing fruit, let alone a rosy, fully ripened, bursting with luscious juiciness mature fruit. 
The branches are mere twigs, but perhaps since the bush is so small the fruit could sit on the ground while it ripened? 
But that would mean bugs and pests and would therefore thwart my plans for homegrown pomegranate in my salads, or in cocktails, or juiced over ice this summer.
Maybe I will have to build a stool for my little fruit to sit on...

Perhaps I am over thinking things at this stage, maybe I should hold off before making any rash decisions about supporting and eating my pomegranate until it grows a little more.  At this stage it is probably just as likely to drop off after undesirable weather conditions.

Grow little pomegranate grow, a few more flowers please.  I have some many plans for you, and yes my expectations may be high but I am sure you will want to live up to them.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Braving the Elements

Over the weekend Hubby, Jessie the puppy and I headed an hour west of Kilcoy to the Bernakin State Forrest for two nights of camping.  We planned to relax, read, swim in the creek, play some majong and enjoy the wildlife on offer.

We do quite a bit of camping and have all of our things packed into plastic storage tubs so we just throw the tubs on the trailer and away we go. 
We own two tents, one that is only a few years old, very sturdy and sleeps 8 but takes a bit of time to put up, and the second that is over 30 year old sleeps just the two of us and was a hand me down from Hubby's parents. 
The old tent is so quick to put up that we decided that since it was only two nights we would just use it.  But it seems that some pesky rodents had taken a liking to our tent as a possible nesting material and chewed some holes in the sides and floor. 
Not to worry, a bit of the old gaffa tape to the rescue on the hole in the wall and an extra ground sheet under the tent  instead of taping up the floor and we were good to go. (I do wonder what other campers must have thought seeing our patched up tent).
We spent the first two days teaching Jessie to swim, relaxing and enjoying the scenery.  There were King Parrots, Pale Headed Rosellas as well as Lorrikeets and Galahs.  We even had a Koala sleeping in the tree above us and Bandicoots raiding the campsite at night.
Learning to swim
Pale Headed Rosella

Mr King Parrot and just on the right is Mrs King Parrot hiding behind the twigs
Can you see her?

Because of all the bandicoots during the night Jessie kept barking at them (we don't have them at home) and after trying to get her to calm down I gave up and brought her in the tent with us. 
Once inside she was fine and lay down on the floor beside me to sleep.  But apparently she was not ready to sleep and wanted to wrestle her lead instead. 
After being kicked in the side a few times as she rolled about on the floor fighting her lead I finally got her to calm down.  So with Hubby sound asleep beside me, oblivious to the goings on, I am finally nodding off to sleep.   Then I head this twanging noise and feel movement beside me again.  So on comes the torch (by this stage I don't care if I wake Hubby up) and here is Jessie with a cord from the tent between her teeth using her paw to pick at the cord causing it to make the twanging noise. Ahhrrrr.
After doing an investigation into what else she might be able to get he puppy paws on we finally settled down for some sleep.
Thankfully I was able to catch up on a few hours with an afternoon nap the next day.

"I like camping"
The next day was filled with more swimming and general relaxing.  As we headed off to bed that night we noticed some lightening to the west so we secured the big tarp that covered the tent and gave us an undercover area, made sure all the plastic tubs had their lids on tight and headed for bed. 
But then it started to rain, and not just a little but a lot.  And in rolled the thunder and lightning just a little at first but I could tell it was building.  So since I knew Jessie was frightened of storms, and could bolt for miles if she got off her leash there was nothing for it but to bring her in the tent with us.  Oh dear not a repeat of last night.
Thankfully no not a repeat of the night before, but this time I had a trembling puppy snuggled up next to me while the rain pounded down on the tent and the thunder and lightning crashed around us.  It was raining pretty hard and I could feel the water running under the tent, and I could hear it pouring off the tarp in a a waterfall.  The wind was blowing a mist of rain under the tarp and the sides of the tent were billowing in and out, but as long as we were dry it didn't matter too much.  The storm would pass and we could dry everything out in the morning.
The next morning we woke to the sound of the early morning bird chorus just as it was getting light.  The storm had passed in the night and the tent was still standing but I still had this feeling of being a bit damp and figure it was time for a cuppa. 
It was when I sat up and looked at the bed that I realised the was a pool of water at the foot of the bed and the cotton blanket on the bed was acting like a wick soaking the water off the floor and drawing up towards us.  That hole that the rodents had chewed in the floor (yes the one we did not tape up) had channeled the water into the tent, under the bed and had then become trapped inside by the (none holey part of the) waterproof floor. 
Oh well too late now, may as well have my cuppa then worry about it.  In the end it was not as bad as it had looked, and since the blanket was already wet I just used it to soak up the puddle of water and would worry about it when we got home.  Sadly though with lots of water comes lots of dirt splatter so all the plastic tubs and eskies had dirt splattered up the side of them.

The morning after
Needless to say I have spent the last few days washing and drying all of our camping gear, thank goodness we have had great weather.  It is not the first, not will it be the last, time that we have come home a bit soggy but that does not put us off.  

However I think we will patch those holes in the floor after all.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Sourdough Sucess

Houston we have lift off!!!!

Following the trials and problems with Sourdough (read about it here) I reached out for help and advice.
A big thank you to all those who offered advice, feedback and put in their two cents worth.

In the end though it came down to one thing. The starter.  Mine was not strong enough apparently, but a kind a generous soul out there heard my cries for help and offered to send me some of their starter.  A huge thank you to you.

So how did my first loaf turn out?
I can sum it up in one simple word, delicious! 
It was light and fluffy, with a thin chewy crust and a some what sweet flavour (that would be the Tbs golden syrup I added) and sour but not too sour.

Ok so I couldn't sum it up in one word after all.

We are not huge bread eaters, but we go through stages where we eat more that at other times and when we do eat it it is usually at breakfast.  So once I think I have got the basic white loaf sorted and perfected I will be trying my luck with wholegrain breads.

So where to from here? Well as they say "the only way is up".  And this definitely applies to bread.