Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Roses galore

Is it just me or have everyone's roses been spectacular this year?    They must love an early dry spring.  I picked these from a rose bush in garden of a cottage on the farm that has no tenants, so it has received absolutely no attention for probably three years.   Quite amazing.  
The iris have been looking incredible too:
I had another group to visit the garden last week. It was a fundraiser for the Friends of the Warrnambool Botanical Gardens, the landscape designer of which, Charles Scoborio, also designed our garden.   I had to cook lunch for fifty.  Fifty!  Of course I left if all to the last minute but it went well and they could not have been nicer.  I made slow cooked lamb with the salad of the summer and a lovely green salad with lettuce from the garden, rocket, pear, parmesan and toasted hazelnuts.  I did mini lemon curd tarts for pud, but didn't have time to photograph them.
Home made lemon cordial
It ended up being quite hot so most people sat inside in the cool, but I set a little table up under the oak tree for the overflow:
I had a little stall as a fundraiser for the Gardens too
It is something of a challenge to have the garden looking ship-shape as well as the house in good order and full of flowers...just as well I can raid the farm cottage gardens.  I have to confess that I did get some extra help with mowing, weeding and whipper snipping while I was busy in the kitchen.
I felt that a little restorative G & T at the end of the day was well and truly justified...

How about those sweet peas?  They are even sneaking up amongst the broad beans...
I put in a late crop of leeks this year..
because I love them and because you need to know how good they are with roast chicken.  Honestly, if you haven't roasted a chicken on top of some leeks, you haven't lived.  Now obviously you don't need a lesson in roasting chicken, but here is my two cents worth anyway...

I always slide some butter and a few herbs (sage and thyme work well) under the skin of the breast and season both sides with lots of salt and pepper. Squeeze over some lemon juice if you like and put the skin in the cavity.  I put the leeks in the pan
and put the chicken breast side down onto the leeks.  Cook for about 30 minutes in a hot oven (200c).  I do this in the roasting oven of the Aga, which is about 210c.
Flip it over and give it a good baste.  Return the to the oven and cook until the juices run clear when pierced with a skewer, about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken.  Baste again, and rest for 10 minutes before carving.   The pan juices are usually enough for gravy, and put the soft, meltingly tender leeks on top...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Raspberry and Rhubarb Jam

Well this is a bonus.  Normally you don't hear from me for weeks but here I am again.   I had a couple of requests for the raspberry and rhubarb jam from last time so I thought I'd get onto it straight away.  You know how I said the iris weren't out yet??  Well, a couple of sunny days later and they have popped up everywhere.  So nice to see them again, after last year's disappointment (too cool and wet).
Anyway, back to the jam.
This is easy and a great way to use rhubarb, but you do need a sugar thermometer (they are cheap).  You can't really even taste the rhubarb...the kids, who don't like rhubarb, didn't even bat an eyelid.

RASPBERRY AND RHUBARB JAM    Makes about six jars

4 cups of rhubarb, washed and chopped into 5cm chunks
4 cups of raspberries (I use frozen)
6 cups sugar

Place the rhubarb in a heavy saucepan with about 1/4 cup water.  Cook gently for five minutes until the rhubarb starts to soften, tossing occasionally.  Add the raspberries and cook for about 15 minutes until the rhubarb is completely cooked.
Add the sugar and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Insert the sugar thermometer and continue to simmer until the jam reaches 100c, stirring occasionally to make sure it's not sticking.
Remove from the heat and skim the surface.  Pour into sterilised jars.  Keep it in the fridge.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spring fever

The garden is looking lovely at the moment.  Spring is the time when this garden really looks its best; the lawns are green, flowers are budding, the trees exploding into life, and the paddocks beyond are lush and green as well.  It is busy, but it will not be long before the it all dries off for the summer.
There is nothing like garden tour groups to initiate a call to action.  Weeds have been pulled, hedges cut back, lawns mown, paths raked.  The beehive on the verandah was removed (by a professional), gutters that were growing small bushes were cleaned and beds were mulched.  Fallen branches were picked up and overgrown fence lines were whippersnipped.  I just love getting these jobs done.
I did afternoon tea on the verandah, which included these sticky buns.  They are always a hit.
The roses and irises aren't quite out yet but are so close.  

I've got another group coming next month so I have been whipping up a few jars of jam and marmalade to sell as a fundraiser.  These are raspberry and rhubarb:
The spinach has been going mad in the vegetable garden...
so I have been throwing it into every dish I can think of.  A while ago a couple of friends and I had breakfast at the charming Rouge cafe in Armadale in Melbourne: scrambled eggs with creamed spinach which was the perfect antidote for the maybe one or two drinks that we'd had the night before....ahem.  Needless to say I went straight home to work out the best way to do this with my beautiful home grown spinach.
A little googling revealed that the traditional way to do creamed spinach is by making a bechamel sauce.  Frankly I thought that sounded a bit heavy and too much hassle so I thought I'd try a quicker and easier method.

There is no recipe here, as it really depends on how much spinach you end up with after it is cooked.  My spinach seems to go much further than say the baby spinach leaves you might buy from a shop.  Remember, it cooks down to almost nothing so you need lots.

Take any thick stalks off and roughly chop the spinach.  Wash but there is no need to dry it.
Heat a frying pan with a swirl of olive oil and add the spinach.  Stir around until it shrinks a bit then put on a lid and steam until cooked.  If you don't have a lid it doesn't matter, it just makes it a bit quicker.  Set aside and keep warm.

Put a couple of tablespoons of verjuice or lemon juice in the pan and sizzle for a minute.  Add 1/4-1/3 cup of cream and bring to the boil.  I usually grate some lemon zest into the mix at this point.  You could gently fry a finely chopped shallot or some garlic in a lick of olive oil before the verjuice goes in if you like.
Allow the cream to reduce slightly and add back the spinach.   Simmer until there is not much liquid left in the pan.
Season with salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg and get your daily dose of iron.
I made this slice for emergency back up for the garden day.  Since we didn't use it I thought I'd put it in the freezer and I need to be sneaky so that anyone on the hunt for a sweet treat can't find them..
That should do the trick....

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A new Australian product..

I love these random rows of bulbs that pop up in the garden at this time of year.   I often wonder who planted them and how long ago......  
That row of snow drops is in a really odd place, certainly not part of what I thought was the original garden.  For all I know there was once a cottage or driveway there a long time ago.  Just shows you what great survivors bulbs can be.  The elms are starting to flower...
Since the arrival of spring it has been full bore in the garden.  I finally got around to pruning the Albertine rose (bit late, but better than never) and there seems to be a constant round of weeding, mowing and whipper snipping.
Many years ago I had the extreme good fortune to be given a set of three wonderful cast iron frying pans by my friend Tom:
His mother had died, and when cleaning out her house he found two sets of these and generously gave one set to me.  They have been hands down the best frying pans I have ever used and have endured years of hard work, being used on electric, gas and now an Aga stove.  Recently the largest one, which gets the most use, has started to lose some of its top layer..
I'm not sure if I can re-season it to restore it so I have been looking about for a replacement and was delighted to come across an interesting Australian project.  Mark Henry, the engineer behind Furi knives, has come up with a totally Australian made cast iron frying pan with an ergonomic handle that won't break your arm when you lift it from stove to bench:
Mark is launching the Tough Love pan using kickstarter, a crowd funding campaign to support the company into its next step of development.  Read more about it here:  solidteknics and support it if you can.  Incidently, I have nothing to do with this company, I just think it looks like a great product.
Pretty spring flowers

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

An early Spring and lime marmalade

I can't believe how stunning the weather has been in the last couple of weeks.  We have jumped from deep mid winter to a glorious spring in a matter of days:  blue, blue skies and not a breath of wind (rare in our part of the world, which was, once upon a time, referred to as Pleurisy Plains).  We had an early autumn break and now an early spring,  but I suspect that winter may not quite have finished yet.  The crisp mornings have been particularly stunning and I love taking the dogs for a walk in the early light.
A couple of backpackers have arrived to help us with lamb marking so I had to do my least favourite farmer's wife job of cleaning up the spare cottage so they could move in.  Many farms have a spare cottage that was once the home of a farm employee but is no longer permanently occupied as the cost of wages is so high and it is often more economic to hire contractors.  Whilst the contractors often stay in this cottage, it never ceases to amaze me how a house can deteriorate when it is empty: the mice and the possums move in, there are cobwebs everywhere and the garden rages out of control in no time.  I had a delightful surprise though, out the back I found a beautiful Japonica or flowering quince that I didn't know was there.  It just shows you they are as tough as old boots because it is putting on the most magnificent display of red blossoms having had no attention whatsoever for several years.  I love them because they flower at the end of winter when there's not much else and they are ridiculously easy to arrange in a vase, which is good for people like me who lack any talent for floral display.
My friend Evie kindly gave me some beautiful limes from her garden:
 This is my lime tree...
Not a spectacular specimen.  My kids would say "Epic Fail, Mum" (as they so often do...).

I decided to make lime marmalade which I love on brown toast as a weekend treat.

Makes about 6-7 jars

1 kg limes
2 litres water
1.6kg castor sugar

Roll each lime a couple of times on a chopping board to help release the juice.
Halve the limes then juice them.  Put the juice in the fridge.
Trim the ends off the lime skins and put them in a bowl.  Cover with water and soak for six hours or overnight.
Trim the pith from most of the skins.  To do this I flattened the lime on the board and used a sharp knife to cut off the pith.  It is a bit tedious but you don't need to do the whole lot.
Slice the skin into thin strips, again using as much as you think you'd like in your marmalade.  I prefer them to be thinly sliced and don't like the marmalade to have too much peel.  
Put about a handful of pith and any pips into a square of muslin or chux and tie with string. Put this into a large saucepan with the lime juice, strips of skin and water.
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 45 minutes until the rind is tender.  I did this in the baking oven of the Aga.

Add the sugar and stir gently until the sugar dissolves.  Increase the heat and boil for approx 45 minutes until the marmalade reaches setting point.
Pour into sterilized jars.  Probably best to keep it in the fridge once opened.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Winter warm-ups

It is the time of year that Aga owners feel particularly smug about their ridiculously extravagant purchase and are basking in the warm hue of their cosy kitchens.
 It has been a wickedly cold winter so  it is a relief to have one warm room in the house and not have to set the kitchen fire every morning.    We have lambs galore frolicking about the wet and muddy paddocks....they are doing really well this year, despite the cold, after the good start we had in the autumn.
Daffodils in the morning light
We have been on a steady diet of warming winter soups...
and burnt-bottomed brussels:
I even came across a recipe for parmesan broth and had to try it.  I read about this on Food 52, via the Huffington Post here and since I had a cupful of parmesan rinds in the fridge I gave it a go.  NEVER throw out your parmesan rinds.  They have so much flavour and can be added to soups and stews or keep them in a plastic bag in the fridge until you have enough for a broth.  It is great in minestrone or any soup really, and can be used instead of stock for risotto.   It also freezes well.
And because there is a lot of rocket in the garden I made rocket pesto:
I don't think there is any need for a specific recipe, but I toasted some cashews (say 1/3 cup), and threw them in the food processor with a couple of good handfuls of rocket (about 100g) and whizzed it up with olive oil, a splash of lemon juice, salt and pepper until it was the right consistency the flavour was balanced.  Parmesan is optional.  I have been adding it to soup, putting it on grainy bread under an egg or some avocado or smoked salmon and also made this delicious chicken:
This makes a quick and easy midweek meal and again is so simple it really doesn't need a recipe.
Just get some chicken pieces (I usually buy marylands and cut the drumsticks off) and gently push the pesto under the skin as far as you can.   Place on a baking dish and season with salt and pepper.  
Cut a lemon in half and add to the pan with a couple of unpeeled cloves of garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil and bake in a hot oven for approximately 30 minutes, turning half way, until nicely browned.
It was good with some celeriac mash and spinach from the garden.
This clematis is like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  I thought I had killed it last summer and now, in the middle of winter, it has raced up the pole and popped out a flower when I least expected it.  So pretty.