Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Making Chicken Saddles

Our rooster likes to play favourites with our hens and about a year ago he injured one our hens quite badly which I posted about here.
After a bit of TLC and some time in a fancy outfit, aka a chicken saddle, her feathers grew back and she was good as new.

But recently a couple of our other chickens have been the objects of his affection.  So this time I thought I would make my own chicken saddles (I brought the last one and the domes were not holing any more and it was starting to fall apart),

For the fabric I used the bottom of the leg from a pair of Op shop jeans I had brought for Hubby that didn't actually fit.

I cut the shape based on the previous one and instead of using domes I used elastic which means they do not come undone like the domes do as they wear out.

I used the whole thickness of the pant leg so I had a double thickness of denim and only had to sew the edges I cut.

You don't really need to sew up the edges but it stops the dirt getting trapped between the layers.

This is Speckles and as you can see she is not bothererd by her coat. If you look carefully in the first phot you can see a lot of pink skin peeking out the bottom and the last photo shows her tail feathers are all missing.  She was comp-letly bald across her back but she has now regrown half her feathers and I am hoping the others grow back soon.  The other day when it rained a lot her coat got wet so I took it off over night to let it dry (the denim held onto a lot of water and I did not want her getting cold) then put it back on in the morning.

Have you had to make any interesting outfits for the animals at your place?

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Rendering Beef Fat and Soap Making

The other day I posted nose to tail eating, and making the most of all the different cuts of meat that come from an animal. 

One of the thinks I asked the butcher to do was to save all of the fat and mince it for me.  He wanted to know what I was going to do with it as no one has ever asked him to do that before.  I told him I planned to use some for soap making and also for cooking.  
Mum said that she didn't think she could be bothered to render the fat for use and to make soap but it really wasn't that much effort at all.  Plus we were paying for it and we already had the other ingredients for making soap so it will save us money by not having to buy soap in the long term.

These days most people buy vegetable oils for cooking but historically animal fats were commonly used for cooking.  And when I say historically I am not talking even 50 years ago.  As a child (I am in my 30's) I grew up on a farm and I remember my mum pouring the fat off the roast each week into an enamel mug which lived in the fridge.  This fat was later used to cook other dishes.  The fat carried forward the flavours of each dish into the next.

All of the fat from our cow was minced and bagged up and it spent a few days in the freezer before we had time to process it.

Bags of frozen minced fat

The process of rendering is really very simple when you have a slow cooker.
You just fill your slow cooker to the top with the solid fat, set it on low and wait. I have seen instructions to add water but I don't bother.

Frozen fat into the slow cooker

As the fat renders the volume will drop so you can keep adding more fat as there is more space.

The fat is beginning to render

As the fat melts all of the meat bits will get cooked as well.  You are going to need to strain all the meat bits out at the end so if you can skim some off the top as you go this will speed up the process.

Meaty bits floating to the top

After straining all of the meat bits out of the fat I was left with a clear yellow oil which I divided into plastic containers. 
And what to do with all those meaty bits?  We didn't want to waste them so fed them to the chickens and they loved them.

The rendered fat ready for chilling

Once the fat cooled and set it changed to a pale cream colour.  Well made tallow can be stored at room temperature without spoiling but in our hot Queensland summer I was not willing to take the risk so I have been storing them in the freezer.  It doesn't freeze but it is easier to have it in there so we can use the fridge for fresh food.

With so much tallow the plan had always been to use most of it for making soap but I wanted to see how tallow one batch of soap would actually use up.

The ratios I used are:

1.5kg Beef Tallow
198g Caustic Soda
450ml Water
Essentail Oil 
Processed at 55 degrees centigrade with the essential oil added once trace was achieved.

I will not give any instructions about the process of making soap here as there are other blogs and websites that explain the process in enough detail to make it safe.  
I like to pour my soap into silicone molds as it is so easy to get them out.  You just peel the molds away, cut the larger block into portions and leave the soap to cure.

I ended up with 24 bars of soap and these are now curing.  They smell divine and I might have over done it with the essential oil but the last batch I made had no fragrance that was noticeable to this time I was a bit more generous.
I used a blended fragrance called Romance blend which I have had sitting around for years and it really need to be used up.  It is a blend of Cinnamon, Clary Sage, Patchouli, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang.

Once it has cured and I have given it a bit of a test I will be giving some away so stay tuned.

What kind of soap do you make?

Monday, 23 February 2015

A Wet Weekend

Like many people on Queensland we have just had a few very very wet days.

Over Friday and Saturday we had 280mm of rain due to Cyclone Marcia.  We went to bed on Friday night and woke up to find one of the trees in our paddock had fallen over.  It had been leaning for a while and at some stage in the past some one had lit a fire at the base of it, so it was never in the best of health, but it was still sad to see it go.

There was a poor snake living in the base of the tree and he did not escape in time when it fell over.

Thankfully it will be no work at all for Hubby who is an arborist and in 12 months or so it will be providing the new owners of this house with a supply of firewood (assuming we have sold by then of course).

We were flooded in most of Saturday which did not really matter since we had planned to have a day at home doing some bits and pieces in preparation for putting our house on the market.
One of the projects was to re hang all of the pictures on our walls.  But there were 2 walls where we really needed large pieces of art to fill and balance the space.  I did not want to spend lots of money on art and had originally planned to do a painting for one wall but I was not feeling inspired so I opted for a quick and simple fix.  Covering canvases in fabric.
Because I already had a canvas I just needed to buy one more and some fabric.  Then it was just a simple matter of using my staple gun to attache the fabric to the canvas wrapping it around tightly and stapling on the back.

I chose 1 fabric printed with birds and the second with words.  In total I spent just over $30 for these two large pieces of art and when I am done I can either change the fabric and use it for something else and use the canvas to paint on when inspiration finally hits.

Here are the finished products:

How did you spend your weekend?

Thursday, 19 February 2015

How Do You Want Your Cow Cut Up?

How Do You Want Your Cow Cut Up?

That is what your butcher will need you to work out when you have a whole animal to be processed.  Our butcher provided a form to fill in that outlined all of the different cuts of meat and we had to select what we wanted from each side of the carcass and what thickness we wanted it cut - Thing, Medium or Thick.  
There is also a section where you can nominate if you prefer mince or sausages or happy with a 50/50 mix.

We really wanted to pay respect to Freezer 2 by using as much of her as possible.  So this means that we asked for things that many customers may not request including:

All the fat that would normally be trimmed off and discarded - Minced.
All of the bones  - split into: meaty bones for stock, marrow bones for extracting the bone marrow and all the other bones cut into hand sized pieces for our dog.
The Beef Cheeks - my favourite cut of meat on the animal for slow cooking.
Liver, Kidneys, Heart, Tail and Tongue.

Then it is a matter of deciding on the cuts of meat you want, keeping in mind that if you choose one cut you may not be able to have another as they both use the same parts.  
A good example of this is the T-Bone, the Sirloin (Porterhouse) and the Eye Fillet.  If you want to have Sirloins then you can't have T-Bones as they both use the same part of the animal. If you want the whole Eye Fillet then you are also dealing with the same are of the body and will have to forgo the T-Bone.
Of course when you are dealing with a whole animal you can opt for T-Bones from Side 1 and Sirloin and Eye Fillet from Side 2.  We always choose Sirloins and Eye Fillet as we love these cuts and find T- Bones just too big.

So what did we choose?
We asked for packs for 2 people which means the different types of steaks had 2 steaks (all medium thickness) per pack, mince was packed in 1 Kg packs and sausages in packs of 8.
Where we requested roasts and corned beef these were also between 1- 2kg.

Well here is what we went with and the number of packs (not weight specific) of each that we ended up with.  

Sirloin Steaks - 19 Packs
Eye Fillet - 4 Packs
Rumps - 1 Left Whole and given to friends as payment for helping us with a job
           - 7 Packs and 1 Roast
Round Steak - 22 Packs
Topside - 4 Roasts
            - 5 Packs of Steak
            - One left whole to make beef Jerky
Silverside - 15 Packs Corned
Gravy Beef - 9 Packs
Osso Bucco - 8 Packs Bone In
Blade - 8 Roasts
Oyster Blade Steak - 11 Packs
Chuck - 7 Packs of Steak
          - 36 packs of Mince
Ribs - 3 Rib Roasts
       - 6 Packs of Spare Ribs
Rib - 10 Packs Rib Fillet Steak
      - 8 packs of OP Rib (Rib on the bone) steak
Brisket - 3 Roasts
           - Sausages
Off Cuts - Sausages - We ended up with 70 Packs of thick and 70 Packs of Thin sausages
Cheeks - 1 Pack
Marrow Bones
Stock Bones
Ox Tail - 1 Pack
Heart - 4 Packs
Liver - 8 packs
Kidney - 2 Packs
Tongue - 1 Pack
Dog Bones
Minced Fat - 8 packs

We are not fans of offal and so the liver will all go to our dog Jessie as will the heart.  The kidneys I am not sure yet and I would like to try the tongue but Hubby is dead set against it.  I might cook it and not tell him and see if I get away with it.
One of the things I decided was to get all of the Blade cut into roasts.  Later on if I am out of stewing cuts of steak I can dice this up, or if I run out of mince I can mince it.  
I also asked for the OP Rib (Rib on the bone) to be cut in thick slices as I have a plan to try something different with them and since we have so much meat I can afford to experiment.         

Have I listed any cuts of meat that you have never cooked with?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Home Made Re-fried Beans

This is such a tasty recipe and can be served as part of a meal as a side, replace the meat portion of the meal, work as a dip or a sandwich spread and even goes well on baked potatoes.

But best of all it is incredibly easy and costs next to nothing if you use dried beans.

Re-Fried Beans

4 Tbs Oil/Lard/Tallow
1 Cup Dried Kidney Beans 
2 Brown Onions
2 Cloves of Garlic
1 Red Capsicum
1/2 Tsp Ground Chilli
2 Tsp Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Ground Coriander
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/2 Tsp Sugar

Soak you beans and then cook until soft enough to mash.  Drain and set aside.
In a large saucepan place the fat/oil of your choice and add you finely diced onion and cook over a low heat until the onion is translucent and not browned.  Once the onions are cooked add the crushed garlic and finely diced capsicum and mix well continuing to cook over a low heat with the lid on the pot.  Once the vegetable are soft increase the heat to 3/4 add the spices and cook for 2 mins stirring constantly then add the sugar, salt and cooked beans.
Mix through then use a potato masher to break down the beans a bit and cook for a further 5 minutes stirring constantly (you may need to add a little water if the mix gets too dry) then remove for the heat and serve immediately or set aside for later use.  I like to garnish mine with chopped coriander.

You can make this in much larger quantities if you want and feel free to adjust the seasoning to your taste.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Home Grown Beef - Nose To Tail Eating

At the end of 2014 Freezer 2 finally went in the Freezer.  After all of the problems we had which you can read about here and here and finally coming up with a solution and sending her off back in October.  She has been processed and packed tightly into our freezers (and Hubby's parents freezer where we have stored some sausages and mince).

One of our freezers packed with beef.

All of the meat was vacuum packed and labeled for us with the cut of meat and the weight.  Some had a price on it (what the butcher would normally charge) but most didn't as we were paying a set price of $1.75 per kilo regardless of cut.

Now before you faint in disbelief at the price let me qualify that $1.75 per kilo is the cost we paid the butcher to process and pack the meat.  We paid $0.50 per kilo to the abattoir and $30 for having her picked up.  Then there is the cost of purchasing her in the first place and the cost of the hay and mineral supplements that she has consumed.  Once we totaled up all of the costs we worked out that our actual costs were just over $4.00 per kilo.

This is still very very cheap for grass fed beef where prime cuts like Eye Fillet retail for approx AUS $40 per kilo and cheaper cuts like good quality mince and chuck steak retail for approx AUS $8 per kilo.

In total Freezer 2 weighed in at 380 kg carcass weight which means the whole animal as it would hang in the butcher (no head, skin, intestines, feet etc).  This means you pay for all the weight of the bones, the organ meats (tounge, heart, liver, kidney,) and I also asked for all of the fat since I was paying for it.

We were really happy with the meat quality and it has been amazing eating so far.  The meat has really good marbling (the inter-muscular fat) and is tender and very tasty.

All the veins of fat in the beef  (marbling) means that when it cooks the fat slowly melts
out keeping the meat tender and juicy.  Plus you know that the fat is where the flavour is.

Because the meat is all vacuum packed we have been able to sell some of the meat to family and friends but when ever we ask them what cuts they would like they all reply "Some rump steak, mince and sausages".  
The mince and sausages are easy to offer up as there is plenty of them since they are made from off cuts and a mix of other cuts, but a cow has only 2 rumps (in terms of cuts of meat) and we paid a friend who helped us renovate with one of them.
This means we are having to educate people on the other cuts of beef they are not so familiar with and how to use them.

So What Do You Do With 380 Kilos Of Beef and Beef products?  

Well that is is too big of a question to answer here so I am going to do a series of posts to cover off how we like to use the different cuts and to encourage you to try cuts that are not only great value for money but extremely tasty too.

I am also going to share with you how we plan to use some of the other bits and pieces.

So what are the cuts of meat you are not sure what to do with?  Are there any cuts you love or avoid?

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Weekend Kitchen And Preparing For Selling

It has been another busy weekend at our place with lots going on both inside and out.

I made a batch of BBQ Sauce which I use as a marinade and as a sauce during the year.  Because it is a little labour intensive I make a big batch and then preserve most of it in my Fowlers Preserving Jars which means I can get away with making it only once  a year and store it in the pantry until it is needed.  It makes divine spare ribs and chicken drumsticks and has been really well received when given as a gift which can be bottled up at the drop of a hat since it is already made.

A while a go I picked up 4 x 500 g packets of kidney beans for just $1 each and I have been meaning to make a batch of refried beans for ages.  
Refried beans make a great substitute for the usual meat based sauce for nachos, can form part of a range of toppings for Mexican foods, is great served with salad and on sandwhiches and makes a great dip for corn chips.
Tonight we enjoyed it along with guacamole, salsa and corn chips.

Out side we tackled two fairly big jobs, water blasting the house and cleaning out the farm shed.

We try and water blast the outside of our house twice a year as being a timber weather board home the spiders like to spin their webs in all the little corners. The front veranda also provides the perfect home for spiders and other assorted bugs.

The other big job was to clean out the farm shed. When we first moved in this is where the tractor lived but it was barely running so we sold it.  Since then the shed has housed all the bits and pieces that we have used for farm projects (fence wire, post, roofing iron, pipes, ag pipe, garden stakes, paint and painting supplies) as well as bales of hay, sugar cane mulch and other bits and pieces.

The were lots of things that we had held onto in case we needed them in future farm projects but now that we are putting the house on the market and getting ready to move there will be no more farm projects.  So it was time to get rid of all the stuff that we were not going to need.  It feels strange to get rid of things that might be useful in the future but it will not be useful to us so we had to let it go.

We gave away some of the fence wire to a neighbour and all of the roofing iron went to the dump for recycling, which is where most of it came from originally (we took heaps from the dump when building our woodshed as we were not sure how much we would need) and we also had a great big throw out of other things.  
In total it cost us $10 for a full trailer at the dump and I am glad we have got this done as it it is another big de-cluttering job done and we will not be worried about it when it finally comes time to move.

All Tidy after the big throw out.  The timber is going to a friends place in a few weeks.

The next big job is clearing out the garage which is another place things are stored that we "might" need one day.  All going well we will tackle that next weekend.

Do you have a whole lot of stuff you are keeping for a possible future project?

Friday, 13 February 2015

Chorizo, Pea and Mushroom Pasta

This is a quick and easy dinner and since we have plenty of home made pasta I figured we better start eating it a bit more often.  We very rarely eat creamy style pasta, normally opting for tomato and vegetable sauces, so this one is a real treat for us.

Chorizo, Pea and Mushroom Pasta

400g Pasta (Shells or Fettuccine work well)
2 Tbs Olive Oil
25 gm Butter
1 Brown Onion finely diced
1 Chorizo Sausage diced
1 Cup Peas
6 Button Mushrooms diced
1/2 Cup of Cream

Get your water on for you pasta. The sauce takes about 15 minutes so cook your pasta to be ready at the same timeHeat the oil and butter in a large fry pan and add the finely diced onion and fry until soft and golden. Add the diced chorizo and fry until starting to colour then add the mushrooms  an cook for a minute before adding the peas.  Once the peas are cooked add the cream and salt and pepper to taste cooking for another minute to allow the flavours to blend.

Add your drained pasta to the sauce and mix to combine.  Serve topped with grated pecorino cheese if available.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Heirloom Vegetables A Guide To Their History And Varieties - A book Review

I have just finished reading this book by Simon Rickard and I found it to be far more entertaining and interesting than the average book about vegetables.

Rather that present an A-Z of different vegetables and their related information Simon has grouped different vegetables in their plant families, including information about flowering plants that also fit in the family, with additional chapters on Heirlooms in general and growing your own.

The chapters cover the following plant families:
 - The Pea Family
 - The Gourd Family
 - The Grass Family
 - The Carrot Family
 - The Cabbage Family
 - The Nightshade Family
 - The Amaranth Family
 - The Daisy Family
 - The Amarylis Family
 - Odds and Ends

Each chapter highlights the plants you expect to find in the group as well as some less know family members,  For example did you know that the humble petunia and the goji berry are both part of the nightshade family along with tomatoes (including our native bush tomatoes) eggplant, capsicum, tobacco and potatoes, and dainty little Alyssm (Sweet Alice) is related to the humble cabbage.

Simon tells a great story and there is good humor throughout.  I really did find this book far more entertaining than I expected, and while it is far from being a dry reference book it still contains plenty of information that is easy to understand and presented in a manner that keeps you engaged.

If you see this book at your local library I highly reccomend it and if they do not have it maybe suggest they order it for thier collection

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Sweet Taste Of Summer

Now you might be wondering why there are pictures of caterpillars following that post title, but lets just say that these little guys are sure loving the taste of my gardenia.

I have not seen these before and they change colour as they grow and they are really quite pretty to look at.

My poor chewed gardenia is trying to re-shoot

I was hoping that they would turn into some beautiful spectacular butterfly, but no such luck.

They are actually a moth, a pretty moth but still a moth called a Gardenia Bee Hawk and I believe that are out and about during the day but I have never seen one even though they are obviously here.

We on the other had are blessed to be eating our way through 4 boxes of mangos gifted to us by friends.  Some of them are the R2E2 variety which weigh up to 1.5kg each.  Hubby is determined to eat them all fresh but I think I will have to use some green in salad and cook with others.  I might even have a go at making some fruit leather in the dehydrator.

We also picked up a kilo of lychees for $4 from a roadside stall on the way home from visiting our friends.  I love lychees but because they have such a short season I really look forward to them every year and make the most of eating as many as I can.

What kind of sweet summer treats are you enjoying?

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Thai Beef Salad

There are some nights when we just want some thing quick and easy to eat, but we still want it to be healthy, fresh and really tasty.

This recipe ticks all these boxes.  I generally adapt the recipe depending on the herbs I have in the garden but I will share my favourite version below.  These quantities are based of dinner for the 2 of us but just increase each ingredient for more people, you can't really go wrong.

Thai Beef Salad

1 Lean Beef Steak  (Runp, Topside or Sirloin)
1 Handful of Coriander Leaves
1 Handful of Mint Leaves
1 Long Red Chilli
1/2 Small Red Onion
1 Handful of Roasted Peanuts
1 Lebanese Cucumber
1 Tomato
2 Kaffir Lime Leaves
Fried Shallots (you can get these in the asian section of your grocery store)


2 Tbs Lime Juice
2 Tbs Fish Sauce
1 1/2 Tbs Palm Sugar (or Brown Sugar)
1 Tsp Sesame Oil

Thinly slice the red onion and red chilli and place in your salad bowl.  Mix your dressing and pour over the onion and chilli and set the bowl aside.  Cut the center rib out of the kaffir lime leaves and try and slice as finely as you can, try and aim for 1 mm or less, and add it to your salad bowl.
Chop your cucumber and tomato into bit sized pieces and add to the salad bowl along with your peanuts.  Then roughly chop your herbs and add as well but do not mix your salad.

Season your steak on a plate with salt and pepper and drizzel over some vegetable oil on both sides,then get a pan screaming hot.
Fry your steak for 1 minute on each side and then repeat twice more so that each side has had 3 minutes in total.  Take your steak out of the pan and set it aside on a plate for 3 minutes.  Once it has rested for 3 minutes slice it into strips.
Toss your salad and pile on your plate then top with the sliced steak and the fried shallots.

Obviously if you like your steak cooked more than this it is up to you. but please allow the steak to rest so it will be really juicy and tender.

What do you like to cook up when you want it to be quick, tasty and healthy?

Monday, 9 February 2015

Preparing To Sell Our Home - The De-Cluttering Begins

Just over 2 years ago we purchased 5.5 acres of bare land in New Zealand with the intention of moving there, closer to my family, to live.  I have been mentioning this upcoming move here and there for the past 2 years and some of you (like some of our family) might be wondering if we will ever actually make the move.  Rest assured we will be moving, and this stay in Australia after purchasing the property was always part of the plan.  Since then we have been renovating our home here and tidying things up both inside and out.

The renovations are now finished and the plan is to put our home on the market and if sold before August we will move back to Brisbane into rental accommodation.  We are then hoping to take a few months off to go on a bit of a road trip around the country to see friends and family before heading back to Brisbane and biding our fond farewells.

Even though we have been slowly but surely de-cluttering over the past few months it is now time for the last big push and get rid of everything we know 100% will not be going to New Zealand and to get the house 'dressed' for sale.  Over the Weekend I tackled a few areas of the house to get this started.

I started in the kitchen here I removed all of the magnets, photos, kids paintings (from my nieces), menu plan white board and other bits and pieces from the fridge, then I gave it a good clean.
The only thing that has been returned to the fridge is the menu planning board which can be removed at the drop of a hat for inspections.
I then removed the 13 salad bowls, pie dishes and casserole dishes from the shelf above the pantry and after giving everything a good clean, returned only 5 bowls to the shelf.  Two of the other salad bowls have been set aside to find a new home and the rest were put away in the cupboard above the fridge.

A nice clean and tidy top shelf

Excess bowls and dishes set aside

My next area to tackle was part (yes this is just part) of my cookbook collection.  I keep the ones I use  lot on the kitchen bench stacked up wedged between the wall and my kombucha.

Just some of my cookbook collection

In an effort to clear some of the clutter I have cleared off the two shelves just above, of their normal bits and pieces, and selected just a few cook books to dress the shelves. 

A few books selected to dress the shelves.

The remainder of the cookbooks made their way to join the rest of the collection (after a de-clutter where a few were packed in the Op Shop Box) in the bottom draw.

I have not started de-cluttering the rest of the kitchen but it feels good to have this part done.

A little tidier at this end of the bench

Then it was on the the book shelf.  Sorry no 'before' photos here.  But there used to be a second row of books on 3 of the shelves as well as many other books stacked horizontally on top of those.
I have gotten rid of at least 40 books (to be sent to the Op Shop), packed 2 other boxes to be stored away and removed all the remaining books and given the bookcase a good clean.

A nice tidy bookcase with only a single layer of books

After the big bookcase was done I decided that while I was there I may as well tackle the small bookcase filled with magazines.

The before shot

All the magazines were sorted and some added to the Op Shop pile.  The book shelf was cleaned and the remaining magazines stacked neatly.

The after shot

Then it was on to out side.  One of the things that we cannot take to New Zealand due to quarantine rules is garden pots.  So they all need to find a new home.  I have already donated all of the tubestock pots to our local Landcare group and now I have about 2 dozen of terracotta pots and a heap of plastic pots.

I have washed all of the pots to get rid of the spiders, ants and dirt and all the plastic post have been sorted to size.  Now I just need to find them a new home.

So that is a few small jobs taken care of and while there is a lot left to do I am glad we started de-cluttering a few months ago.  We have a lot less 'stuff' to deal with now and the plan is to get the rest of the rooms ready over the next few weekends, for the agent (not yet chosen) to come and take photos and hold inspections.

Have you got any tips for getting your home ready for sale?