Monday, December 26, 2011


This was meant to be my Christmas Eve post, but time got away.  Our staff Christmas drinks was more festive than expected, leaving us all feeling a bit dusty on Friday.  I am thrilled to report that the tree was finally done, not as huge as last year's, but the man with his chainsaw could only give us 15 minutes of his time...
We relocated to the beach for Christmas.  I made gravlax for the first time and can I say it was really easy and delicious.  We were so not doing the turkey and plum pud this year.  I have just realised that I left my camera cord at home so I will publish the photos next week.

Oh, and we had an inch of rain last Sunday.  It is a simple equation: rain = happy husband.

 I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and here's to a happy and healthy 2012.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas goodies

Still praying for rain.  It is so dry here.  Apparently some is coming tonight.  The Chinese Star Jasmine doesn't seem to mind.

I love these garlic plants coming into flower, it is like they have their own little hat..
I have been busy cooking up Christmas goodies to give as presents this week.  I have made lemon cordial and summer berry jam as well as preserved lemons and apricot jam,

 which I always make in December.   In a mad rush of blood to the head I was going to make a Christmas cake but decided to make a Bara Brith, which, according to our English jackaroo, is a popular Welsh fruit cake.  It is infinitely easier to make than a Christmas cake and although not necessarily a Christmas treat, I thought I should make it for him, he being so far away from home 'n all, and besides, his mother is Welsh.
After a bit of googling I discovered it is translated as 'speckled bread' and many recipes have yeast, but as luck would have it in a trawl through my recipe folder I found a clipping with an easier recipe, which I think came from Matthew Evans:


500g mixed dried fruit (just sultanas, raisins & currants)
85g sugar
300ml hot tea, best made in a pot
500g SR flour
2 tblsp marmalade
2 teasp mixed spice
1 egg, beaten
warmed honey to glaze

Start the day before.  Mix the fruit and sugar in a large bowl and pour over the hot tea.  Leave overnight.

Preheat the oven to 170c.  Grease and line a large loaf tin (or two smaller ones, it freezes well).
Give the fruit a stir and add the flour, marmalade, mixed spice and egg.  Mix well.
Put the mix into the loaf tin and bake for about an hour or until a skewer comes out clean.  Brush the top with warm honey when it comes out of the oven.  Cool in the tin for about five minutes before turning out on a cake rack.   Good with butter and a cup of tea.  This has been going out with the packed lunches to the sheep yards all week.

Monday, December 12, 2011


The Christmas Lillies are out a bit early.
Good grief...we are not only already in December, we are well into December.. where has the time gone? Christmas is looming and I am deeply ashamed to report that our tree is not yet up.  I need a man and a chainsaw with half an hour spare and that seems to be an impossibility at the moment.
The thing is, we are shearing and weighing and trucking lambs and it is all a bit manic because it has not rained here for ages.  This puts us into panic mode because we need the rain to freshen up the feed to keep the weight in the lambs.  The rain seems to be all going to the north, or to Melbourne and missing us altogether.  There are of course other farmers who are doing hay or harvesting who don't want it to rain...fussy bunch, aren't we?

Otherwise there have been races and school plays, a wedding in Perth, the kitchen garden at school, many trips to Melbourne and a couple to SA and loads to do in the garden.  I harvested my garlic the other day..
and now its hanging in the shed drying out.  I was, according to Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden  book, supposed to leave it until the summer solstice, but I was worried that it was rotting.  It is so nice to have your own garlic, as the imported stuff is sprayed with some nasty chemicals to preserve it.

There has been lots going on in the kitchen, just no time to blog about it.  I have made the bread that I saw on A Wee Bit of Cooking a couple of weeks ago, it is dangerously delicious, especially with strawberry jam...
We have had a great crop of broad beans this year.  I always blanch them and slip off the outer skin before using.  

Mostly I simply dress them in olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice and scatter with some chopped mint leaves...
or add some crispy pancetta and some shavings of parmesan, or even some marinated goat's cheese.

We have had quite a few double yolker eggs this spring....look how big they are compared to a normal egg.
The other thing I have been experimenting with is resting marinades for meat.  I found a recipe for a lamb resting marinade in Maggie Beer's Cooking with Verjuice book and have been trying it out with lamb.  It is easiest with a boned out leg, but can be used with one on the bone as I have done here:
So if you have time you marinate the lamb in olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt & pepper for a few hours before cooking it as usual.  Then as it comes out of the oven you pour the resting marinade over the lamb, cover and rest in a warm place for 15-20 minutes, turning it over a couple of times.  

Resting Marinade (loosely based on Maggie's version)
1/4 cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons verjuice, a couple of sliced shallots, roughly chopped parsley &  oregano,  s & p.    Mix together.  Maggie had preserved lemon in hers too, which adds a great flavour.

It occurred to me that you could do this with smaller cuts of meat, like steaks or lamb loins and just alter your marinade to suit your taste.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rhubarb, rhubarb

The rhubarb that I moved from our old vegetable garden to the new one seems overwhelmingly happy with its new location..
to the point that I'm not really sure what to do with it all.  I give a bunch to everyone who walks in the door (along with some eggs).  There is only so much rhubarb crumble and its variations that the family is prepared to eat (even though we have an eighteen year old English jackaroo in residence, who is, by his own admission, always hungry), and I have never found a rhubarb jam or chutney recipe that really took my fancy.

The world of Google is however, a wonderful place.  I found a recipe for roasted rhubarb and buttermilk ice cream here.
Buttermilk was originally the liquid left behind after cream is churned into butter.  Now it is basically skim milk with culture added to it, which results in a  lovely acidic flavour, not unlike yoghurt.  So good news, it is low in fat.  It is wonderful for baking and in pancakes.

The ice cream is so easy.  Roast the rhubarb till soft, mix in buttermilk and vanilla, then churn in an ice cream maker.  The flavour of the ice cream is good, but when it freezes it is so rock solid it takes an hour to thaw out and would be best on the day you make it.  I think it needs cream in the mixture.  So when I've perfected the recipe, I'll pass it on.  I roasted the rhubarb in a hot oven so it was browned on the edges and beautifully caramelised, reminding me of Maggie Beer's Burnt Fig and Honeycomb ice cream.

I had some buttermilk left over so I thought I should make a cake.  I ended up with a cross between a tarte tatin and an upside down cake, all cooked in the same pan, and yes, we do anything to save on dishes.  This came from Rachel Allen.


50g butter
150g brown sugar
400g rhubarb, cut into 2cm pieces
200g plain flour
1 teasp baking powder
pinch salt
2 eggs
200ml buttermilk
70ml vegetable oil
1 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)

Preheat oven to 180c.

Melt the butter in an ovenproof frying pan (mine is 26cm in diameter).  Add half the sugar and stir to dissolve.  Add the rhubarb and mix gently.  Set aside.

Put the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk lightly.  In a separate bowl or jug whisk the eggs, add rest of sugar, buttermilk and oil.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix well.  Pour over the rhubarb and place in the oven.  Cook for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool for 5 - 10 minutes then turn it out.  I put a large plate face down over the pan and flipped it over.  Lovely with cream.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The sugar thing

Have I mentioned how beautiful the roses have been this Spring?

I have been reading with interest Sarah Wilson's e-book I quit sugar.  Sugar, it seems, is evil, and this book explains why and how to kick your sugar habit.  I thoroughly recommend it.

This is probably not the ideal time of year to attempt the 8 week challenge, and I am not even sure that I could completely go without sugar, but it certainly has sharpened my awareness of the dangers of over-doing it.  What I have learned that fat tells you when you're full, sugar doesn't.

Fruit must go if you want to completely eliminate sugar.  Tough one. No fruit is a big call, and before you give it up forever or take fruit out of your kid's lunch boxes, read this article about the benefits of eating fruit.

The hardest thing for me to give up would be all the jams, marmalades, relishes, jellies, sauces and pickles that I put so much energy into making, often after having grown the fruit or vegetables myself.  They are, I have to admit, full of sugar.

I have never been a big sugar junkie, but I do eat fruit, and I do have a square or two of dark chocolate after dinner, make cakes and biscuits for the lunch boxes and I always make a pudding if we have guests.  So I think it would be good for me and my family to be aware of how much we are eating and slowly wean ourselves off it.  Be conscious, read labels. Who would have thought balsamic vinegar had so much sugar?  Make the sugar substitute snacks that Sarah recommends.

Read it and learn.  The good news is that you can have wine!
Sweet peas are still going mad
In an effort to do the right thing I have made mayonnaise as I'm sure commercial varieties have sugar in them.
If you have stick blender this literally takes 20 seconds.  You can do it in a food processor (mix the ingredients then drizzle the oil in slowly) or you can do it by hand which I always think requires some dexterity and a strong arm.


1 egg (room temp)
1 teaspoon mustard (you can use dried or dijon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
a sprinkle of paprika, to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cups peanut oil

Place all ingredients into a jug or tall container and using the blade with holes in it whizz for 20 seconds.  Done.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


The garden is looking so pretty this spring....
the irises are having their finest moment and there are lots of foxgloves...

even the chives are looking lovely..
There is, though, not much on offer in the veggie garden.  Rhubarb, some lovely spinach, herbs and rainbow chard (sliverbeet) just about sums it up.  It is full of promise (broad beans, potatoes, celery, strawberries, raspberries) and lots of goodies that are just sprouting seedlings (sweetcorn, peas, beans, beetroot, zucchini).  I have been using up the leeks to make way for the tomatoes.
I LOVE leeks.  One of my favourite vegetables.  And like any other vegetable that enters the kitchen lately I have been roasting them, on their own cut up into pieces with a lick of olive oil  or alongside chicken, and with the cooler weather this week I even made some soup:
I just chopped up a few leeks, sauteed them in butter and added a couple of rashers of chopped bacon, cooked for five minutes before adding a chopped potato and enough chicken stock to cover.  Simmer for 15 minutes and puree with a stick blender.  Finish with some chives.

I made some wholemeal pikelets on the Aga.  You don't even need a frying pan, you just cook them directly on the hotplate using a special silicon mat.

125g wholemeal flour
2 teasp baking powder
1 tblsp castor sugar
1 egg
170ml milk or buttermilk

Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl, add sugar.  Stir in egg and milk and blend until smooth.
Heat a non-stick frying pan and add a teaspoon of butter.  Swirl it around and spoon tablespoons of the mixture onto the pan.
Cook until bubbles appear, then flip them over and give them 30 seconds more.
A great after school snack.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Last week

The wind blew and we had a few showers of rain but our school fete was a success.  My team of plant stallers made over $3,000, which is not bad for a little country school of 90 kids.  The school made over $16,000 for the day.
The white lilac looks so pretty next to the echiums.  It is such a straggly bush for most of the year, I always threaten to pull it out but then forgive it when it is in flower.  My kitchen helper has been busy making and decorating gingerbread.....
We've got a broody hen.  She is so grumpy.....
I bundled up lovely bunches of rhubarb to sell at the fete.  There is still plenty in the garden so I made these rhubarb muffins:

Preheat oven to 180c.
2 cups rhubarb, finely chopped
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup toasted walnuts (optional)
2 1/2 cups SR flour
1/4 cup neutral oil (canola, grapeseed)
1 egg
1 teasp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
zest and juice of 1 orange
Topping:  2 tblsp brown sugar, 2 teasp cinnamon

Combine rhubarb with dry ingredients, mix well.
Whisk oil, egg, vanilla, buttermilk, orange juice and rind.
Add wet ingredients to dry and mix gently (don't overbeat) till combined.
Pour into muffin trays (I usually spray them with olive oil spray to stop them sticking) and sprinkle with the brown sugar and cinnamon mixed together.
Bake for approx 20 minutes (15 in the baking oven of the Aga) until a skewer inserted into the centre of the biggest muffin comes out clean.

I usually put some in a tin and the rest in a plastic bag in the freezer for the lunch boxes.

Friday, October 14, 2011

At last - the Fete

Our School Fete is on this Sunday, 16th October.  Here are some of the plants I potted up for the garden stall...
and here are the plants we set up today...there are more to come.

If you are in the area don't miss it...there are some bargains to be had.  There are loads of $1 and $2 pots, roses, heritage apples, berries, herbs, perennials, succulents, you name it.
WOOLSTHORPE PRIMARY SCHOOL, Woolsthorpe, Victoria from 10am.  15 minutes north of Warrnambool.

Enough of the plug.  Look at my lovely rainbow chard (or silverbeet)...

If there is one vegetable you should grow, this is it.  It is almost impossible to kill and lasts for ages.  I usually just pan fry it with some olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, maybe with a splash of sherry vinegar or vinocotto.  I cut the stalks off and put them in first then add the chopped leaves and bung on the lid until it has wilted nicely. 
Pile it in, it shrinks down to nothing
 Finish with a grating of parmesan.