Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Easter Holidays

Holidays are something that I really cherish, they give Hubby and I a real chance to have some quality time.
We both work full time and Hubby can work anywhere up to between 60 & 70 hours a week (far to much in my opinion)
So for us holidays mean time out for just us and involve a trip once a year to see my parents in NZ and the rest are generally camping holidays over long weekends during the year.
This Easter Hubby and I are off to the Bunya Mountains for a break, some bush walking and some board games.  Possibly topped of with some wine and long afternoon siestas.
Most of our camping is done in National Parks and this makes having a few long weekends away during the year affordable as National Park Camping here in Queensland costs $5.15 per adult per night.

What do you do for a cheap holiday or affordable holiday fun?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Hot Cross Buns - The Great Debate

Traditional, Extra Fruit, No Fruit, No Peel, Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip, Mocha...

These days there are more options that I know what to do with.  But is doesn't really matter as I am a purist and love the good old traditional one full of fruit and peel.

What does matter though is the cost. 
How is it that you now pay as much as $5.00 for 6 little air filled buns that probably cost about 1/5 of that to make.  I am not sure Hot Cross Buns have ever cost that much, What is the highest price you have seen them for?
Did you know that these tasty little buns have been around for a very long time, possibly as far back as the time of Christ.
In many historically Christian countries, the buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the crucifixion.
At one time the buns were seen by Protestant English monarchs as a dangerous hold over of Catholic belief in England.  Protestant England attempted to ban the sale of the buns by bakers but they were too popular, and instead Elizabeth I passed a law permitting bakeries to sell them, but only at Easter and Christmas.

We thank goodness they were not banned as I love them and have been baking some this weekend to take away with us camping over Easter.

A few of the Un-Crossed Buns

This recipe makes quite a few buns (1 - 2 doz depending on the size of you buns) and are best eaten fresh.  It is not a difficult recipe and although I do not have kids I think this is something they would enjoy.  And if you do not like fruit or peel then you can always leave them out.  I leave the crosses off mine unless making them for others.

Hot Cross Buns

1 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Hot water
2TBSP Sugar
4 tsp Dried Yeast
2 Cups Bread Flour
100gm soft Butter
1/2 Cup Brown sugar
1 Egg
1tsp Salt
1tsp each of Mixed Spice, Ground Cloves, Cinnamon and Vanilla Ess
1 Cup of mixed dried Fruit
2-3 Cups of Bread Flour
For Crosses
60 gm cold butter
1Cup Flour
2TBSP Golden Syrup
1TBSP Hot Water

Put Milk, Hot Water and Sugar into a bowl making sure it is at body temperature.  Add the yeast and whisk well.  Then mix in the first measure of flour, cover and leave to double in size.
In another large bowl cream Butter and sugar.  Beat in the egg, spices, vanilla and fruit.
Once the yeast mix has doubled in size tip it into the creamed mix along with 2 cups of the second measure of flour.  Mix well then stir in enough flour to make a dough firm enough to turn out on to a board and knead.  Knead adding extra flour until the dough is satiny, does not stick to the board and springs back .
Cut into quarters and then into either 4 or 6 again.  Shape each piece into a ball the stretch the top and tuck underneath to produce a ball with a smooth surface.
Arrange the balls in a greased cake tin or roasting pan leaving an un-risen bun width between each one.
Cover with Cling wrap or seal in a plastic bag and leave somewhere warm to rise.
While the buns are rising make the mix for the crosses.
Rub the cold butter into the flour and add enough water to make a stiff dough.  Roll out thinly on a floured board and cut into strips to make the crosses.  When the bus have finished rising carefully brush with milk and lay the strips for the crosses on the buns.
Bake uncovered on 225 degrees C for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.
While baking the buns warm the golden syrup and water together and brush over the buns as soon as they are removed from the oven.
Turn the buns out after 3-5 minutes and serve warm.
They are best eaten within 2 days.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Just call me Queen of the Show Pavilion

Well I really was being quite cheeky when I suggested that I might win for my egg and Rosella entries at the local show.
But apparently my entries were worthy of a 1st and 2nd for Rosella's (yes you can enter as many times as you like) and a 1st for eggs.
I don't really think I should get all the credit though, if any. 
I sure didn't lay the eggs but I did pick the best ones and pack them in a carton, and as for the Rosella's, well they were the result of 5 seed in the ground, 4 that grew into bushes and produced fruit which I deftly picked weighed and packed for my 2 x 500 gm entries.

So what about my winnings?  $10 in total as well as little certificates that I can stick to the wall in the garden shed.  Not bad for my $3 entry fees.
I am planning more entries for next year so look out all you Gardner's in the district, I might have found my calling.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Off to the Show

This weekend is the annual country show for the town near where I live.
It is not a big show but if last year (the first year I attended as a spectator) was anything to go by, there are some keen gardeners and cooks in the area.
Last year I went only as a spectator but this year I am going to enter a couple of categories, Eggs and Rosella's since they are what I have.
This year I got hold of a show schedule for the pavilion section but not until it was way too late to think about entering most if not all of the categories. 
But it does give me a heads up for next year and allow me to plan my baking, preserving, planting and craft in time for next years show. 
If I plan things correctly and the weather favours me in the garden I will know as "Queen of the Show Pavilion" with my multiple and wonderful entries.
Am I taking this too seriously? (Keeping in mind that entry to each class is $1.00 and first prize is $4.00)
Well for now it is off to the show to drop in my entries for this year.  I will be going back on the weekend to check out the competition and to no doubt collect my winnings.  Over-confident?  Never.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Cooking with Rosellas

Last week I began harvesting my Rosella's.  Until now I had never grown them before let alone cooked with them and needless to say I have learnt a few things along the way.

First of all Rosella's do not store well regardless of if they are left whole or the calyx's picked off.  I wanted to test their life span out so I put a bowl of unpeeled ones and the flesh of some peeled ones in the fridge to see what happened over a few days.
The short answer is they went limp.
Now I was quite surprised at this because the information I found advised that you stored the Rosella's in the fridge while you waited to harvest more over the coming days/week before making your jam etc.
And then I thought well maybe it doesn't matter if they went limp when you were just going to cook them up anyway.
So that is what I did.
I stewed up the limp little Rosella's that had already been peeled and peeled some of the ones I hadn't.  Into a pot they went with a bit of water and some lemon juice.  Once they were stewed up I added some sugar as all the recipes I had found advised that the sugar should be added to the cooked pulp eg for jam it is 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of pulp.
Now if you have never eaten Rosella's I would describe them as being not that different to Rhubarb.  Not in flavour but in the astringent taste they have and the amount of sugar taken to tone it down.  So I figured that because stewed Rhubarb went nicely on breakfast then so would Rosella's.
And I was right.

Stewed Rosella's and Wheatbix
P.S That was far to much stewed fruit on my poor little wheaties
 Now the photo does not do the stewed Rosella's any justice.  Once stewed they were an intense crimson colour and de-lish.  It would make a fab ice cream topping and I might try mixing some into muffin mix to see if I get pink Rosella flavoured muffins.
I am looking forward to experimenting with my Rosella's to see if they work in other things that I would normally us Rhubarb for like Apple and Rosella crumble.  I am also going to invite some of the older local ladies I know to come and pick some if they want as I expect we will have far too many for just the 2 of us, neither of whom have a sweet tooth.
So if anyone has some great recipes they think I should try let me know.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

1st Soup of the Season

Mmmmmm Soup.  Tasty, nourishing, 1000's of variations, every cuisine has some, can be made in bulk, gets better with age and generally a lost cost meal.
Yesterday I made the first soup of the Season.  The cool season that is.  Here in the Subtropics we only have two real seasons, 1 hot the other cool.
So what made it off the blocks this weekend?  Vegetable soup with Bacon Bones and Macaroni.
Bacon Bone and Vegetable Soup

This soup evokes memories of my childhood as this is something my mother made and probably still makes.  I have no idea if it is the same as the way she does it but it tastes good and I think it is pretty close.

 So here is the recipe. I know it says saute the onions, carrot and celery and in reality you could just throw it all in together and add water, but I believe the sauteing of the vegetables makes all the difference.

2 TBS Oil
1TBS Butter
2 Brown Onions Diced
4 Carrots Diced
1 Bunch Celery
1/4 Cabbage (Any Variety other than Red)
Bacon Bones
1Cup Macaroni

Dice onions, carrots and celery and saute in a stockpot with Butter and oil until softened.  Add the Cabbage and bacon bones and cover with water (about 3-4 Litres).  Bring to the boil and after 1/2 an hour add 1 cup of dried macaroni.  Cook until the macaroni is soft.  Add pepper and serve with Crusty Bread.

  • The volume of water will some what depend on your bacon bones.  The ones I had were quite salty and I had to increase the water content.
  • In the past I have also used split peas and soup mix and when we were kids mum used alphabeties (pasta in the shape of letters)

Monday, 11 April 2011

Madening Mint

Mint. One of the easiest things to grow.  Grows like a weed for most people taking over and growing prolifically.
Not for me.  I have my mint growing in a couple of containers and it is currently re-shooting after being mowed off by a swarm of hungry grass hoppers.
It is growing in a shady spot and gets plenty of water and worm tea.  Most mint I see growing in gardens seems to thrive on neglect, maybe mine is getting to much love.

I love mint and use it in lots of cooking.  It really gives the humble salad a lift and it turns the most average drink into something a little bit special, and is like a breath of fresh air to so many other foods.
It is something I really resent buying when it should be oh so easy to grow.

I think I am going to find it a new home, probably in a bigger pot, maybe in the ground if I can find a spot it won't matter if it takes over.
I want an entire bed of mint, a carpet in fact.  I want to be able to harvest it by the handful and never run out.
Perhaps I could use that little garden bed that Jessie helped me prepare that I was going to use for my snow peas?
No I think that is overkill, so I'll just have to get my thinking cap on for just the right place.

My sad little Mint Pots

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Banana Babies

Bananas, beautiful lush tropical trees, can I call them that?  Apparently not.  They are actually the worlds largest herb.  The banana plant is the largest perennial plant on earth without a wooden stem. Its trunk (called pseudo stem) comprises a series of tightly overlapping leaf sheaths and is comprised of about 90% water.  Enough with the data and on with the story.
I love them as a plant but not as a food.  Every year or so I am determined it will be different.  This year I will enjoy eating a banana.  Wrong!
I like the look of bananas, the texture doesn't worry me and I know that they are packed with nutrients and very good for me. 
But get that bite of banana in my mouth and yuck.  Nope sorry can't do it. 
Although I can eat banana cake.  Just call me complicated.
Luckily Hubby is a banana fan because there are only the 2 of us (one who doesn't eat bananas) as I have 4 plants in the garden that should fruit in the next few months, then it is wait and see how soon they ripen.  In addition to the big banana plants each of these has produced suckers and 2 of these suckers are at the stage that I could remove them and plant elsewhere.
As I don't know when the big bananas will fruit I don't know weather to remove the suckers.
I am told I should remove them to stop them taking all the nutrients from the yet to be fruiting plants, but I also know I need to leave some suckers as these will replace the big banana plans after they have fruited and get cut down.
To cut or not to cut, that is the question.
Maybe I should cut the first ones from each big plant, plant them somewhere else and wait for another sucker to grow and be left as the replacement.
Does anyone have any ideas on this matter?

Banana shoots coming up around the parent plants apparently they should be transplanted at this stage while the leaves are sword shaped

Friday, 8 April 2011

A day in the Garden and worrying about Bee's

Today I spent some time in the garden preparing vegetable beds for the next round of planting.  Autumn is my favourite season and I love being outside in the garden at this time of year.
Along with my little helper Jessie who loves to help dig in the garden I turned over a 1m x 2m garden bed that has been sitting vacant since January.  It used to contain my Rhubarb, but with all the rain we got at the start of the year the Rhubarb drowned.  Since then I have tried to break up the somewhat heavy soil with Gypsum in preparation for the next planting.
Jessie helping turn the soil
The drainage has improved quite a lot so now I am debating what I will plant in this bed.  At the moment I am thinking Snow Peas with some lettuce around the edges.  Because the bed backs onto our shade house it gets a bit of wind protection, it also gets plenty of sun as it faces north.
I will do a PH test first as our soil tends to be very acid and if it is acidic I will need to Lime the bed first as peas like a neutral to alkaline soil.
You can see our passion fruit  growing across the back of the shed where I am trying to train it.  The plant is actually planted about 2m inside the shade house and used to cover the entire shade house roof.  Last August with the help of my parents we replaced all of the rotten and white ant eaten wooden roof beams with steel framework (thanks Dad for your welding skills) and mum and I stitched up new shade cloth to cover the 4m x 10 m shade house.  The passion fruit got a very heavy prune in this process and yielded about 7kg of pulp from all the fruit we collected but this year even though we are starting to get fruit I suspect that it will be a lighter crop.  However this is not too much of a concern as I still have a lot of pulp in the freezer.

Not long after we moved into the house Hubby built be 2 raised garden beds out of old roofing iron that we scavenged at the dump.  The beds are about 1.5m wide, 50cm high and 5m long.
While in the garden today I also turned over half of 1 of the beds, dug in a heap of composted manure an covered it in a thick layer of sugar cane mulch.  The other end of the garden bed is still full of cherry tomato's that just self seed everywhere. 

Ready to plant on this side, ready for a haircut on the other
The far garden bed has a climbing frame at the far end currently occupied by Malabar Red Climbing spinach which tastes very much like silverbeet and is very tolerant of the hot weather we get here in Queensland. The rest of the garden is now taken up with overgrown basil that has gone to flower. 
There are 2 types of Basil in the bed, that common sweet basil and a perennial Basil that my father in law grew for me from cuttings.
It all needs to go but I have been reluctant to prune/pull it out as every day it is just covered in bees feasting (do bees feast?) on the flowers. 
At this time of the year there are fewer things flowering so it feels very mean to take away these sources of bee food. 
Maybe I will stagger the removal of the basil so that I have some other things (probably more basil grown from cuttings) for the bees to eat by the time the last of the basil is gone.

These little guys are pretty hard to get a photo of, they just flit about so quickly

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Great Rosella Harvest

Before starting let me clarify that I am harvesting fruit not birds so do not fret my feathered friends.

I grew up in New Zealand so Rosella bushes are not something I have any experience with.  I became acquainted with the lovely thing that is Rosella jam at my mother in laws, so when I spied a packet of seeds at my local hardware store last year I decided to have a go at growing Rosella's.
I had no idea what to expect from a Rosella plant other that the brief description on the back of the seed packet.  So I planted 5 seeds out at the back of the pumpkin patch and waited to see what would happen.  Well low and behold they grew, and grew well.  Some branches eventually reaching a height of up to 1.8m and are laden with fruit.  Not bad for the out lay of 1 packet of seeds of which I only used 5.

Rosella Bushes at the back of the Pumpkin Patch
So what are Rosella's some of you may ask.

Rosella's are a type of Hibiscus (Hibiscus Sabdariffa) and if you have ever seen something like herbal tea labeled as including Wild Hibiscus then what it actually contains is Rosella.
Rosella's like to be grown in the Subtropics to tropics in areas with high rainfall.  After the wet start to the year we have had here in South East Queensland this is probably why mine have done so well.
The 5 fleshy outside petal like part of the fruit called a calyx is used for making jams, preserves and cordials amongst other things but is not eaten as a fruit due to the sharp taste.  I have sampled raw Rosella's and I liken it to the same sort of taste you get from Rhubarb, another plant you only eat cooked.
Rosella's produce a bud that looks similar to the fruit, it produces a lovely Hibiscus type flower which is then followed by the fruit.
Rosella Fruit
So back to my Rosella's. 
I have grown them apparently quite successfully, I have found recipes on how to use them, yum yum can't wait. 
But do you think I can find anywhere that tells me when and how to harvest them. No.

So I trawl the net hoping for an answer, nope more recipes and growing techniques. 
I hunt through old gardening and cook books hoping for the answer still nothing. 
So I call my mother in law hoping she may have grown them or know someone who does.  Nope she has never grown them either.
But then she comes up with the goods.
In one of her garden books "The Australian Gardening Encyclopedia" the answer is found.

"The heads can be harvested about 3 weeks after flowering.  Once harvesting has begun collect the heads every week so that the fruit is not fully mature and woody."

Hooray the Great Rosella Harvest can begin.
So out to the garden I go, kitchen scissors in had and begin to harvest the Rosella's I guess to be about 3 weeks after flowering.  This really is a guess but when I peel the Calyx's (beware they stain you fingers and although it came off I had only peeled 1/2 a doz) I know I am correct in my timing.  Before finding the information about harvesting 3 weeks after flowering the only information I could find was to pick while the seed pod was still green.
These are some of the Rosella's before and after peeling
So far I have picked a bowl full of Rosella's and I will peel all of these to see how much usable fruit I come up with.  Once I see how much fruit I have I will look at what I can make.  
Let the peeling begin
I have already found recipes for jam, chutney and cordial and have attached some links below, but I plan to see what else is out there.  I suspect there will be many more Rosella's to come as when I was snipping of some of the ripe Rosella's there were little baby ones forming next to them.
This should work out well for me as in a few weeks it is the local country show and there is a pavilion category for Rosella's which I just might enter.
But for now it is back to peeling Rosella's.


Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Flock

I am quite taken with our flock of chickens as you may well have noticed from the recent distress caused by out naughty puppy, and you can often find me leaning on the gate to their run or hanging out inside just watching the goings on. So since I am likely to write about them in the future I thought I would introduce them.

Big Red
 We have our main man and rooster extraordinaire "Big Red" who does a wonderful job of protecting his girls, finding them food and alerting them to any dangers.  He is a proud bird with beautiful plumage when in full glory.  Most of our chickens have just been through a moult so Big Red is yet to grow back his beautiful tail feathers.
Little Red - Trying to work out if the camera is edible

Then there is "Little Red" the matriarch and top chicken.  She often looks a little battered and a lot older than her 18 months of age but she is very inquisitive and our best layer.  I would guess that she has laid 360 eggs in the last 365 days and it is easy to tell if she has laid as her eggs are different in colour to the others.

B1 - Gradually getting her feathers back after her moult

 B1 (stands for Bantam 1) she used to have a partner in crime, B2, however sadly B2 went to chicken heaven at the hands, or should I say mouth, of a neighbours dog.  B1 is my favourite, she is a Cochin Bantam and the only one of the flock who can be handled with ease, not that she really likes it.  She is 2IC despite being a bantam and keeps the young chickens in line.  When she runs she looks like an old time lady hitching up her skirts and running it is so very cute to watch. 
Bubble - Doing her thing

 Then there is Bubble who was B2's replacement.  She is permanently clucky.  To the point that we have given up trying to isolate her in an uncomfortable cage to break the cluckiness.  She stops being clucky for about 3 days when she comes out of the cage then is right back to it.  So now we just pick her up of the nest every time we are in there and put her outside.  She is then inclined to stay out there for a while eating and dust bathing before going back to her broody ways.  The other chickens have her worked out too, they just squeeze in the nest box beside, her push her out, lay their egg then let her back in again.

Sooty and Sweep

Sooty and Sweep are a pair of Australorps who like to stick together, I wouldn't say they have no personality but they certainly have no interest in making friends with us human folk.

The Up and Comers - Ginger and the other 2 that are yet to be named
Lastly there is a group of up and comers who will be coming into lay just as the other start to drop off over winter. 
We let Bubble sit on an egg, yep just 1, and that gave us Ginger.  Then after she raised Ginger we gave her another 2 eggs to sit on (hoping to get another hen) and low and behold we got 2 more hens, these 2 are yet to be named.

So for a household of 2 that gives us quite a flock, 1 rooster crowing, 6 hens are laying, 2 bantams brooding and puppy in the chook pen (or something like that).