Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Greenhouse Growing

A few months ago I built a greenhouse out of an old crate frame, some lengths of timber, a plastic liner and I laid down a floor using old pavers I had laying around.

You can see the Facebook post here

We are halfway through Autumn here in New Zealand and I am still getting plenty of produce from a selection of plants that have been in my greenhouse all summer. After harvesting loads of chillies the plant is still putting out blossoms and a chillies are ripening, my eggplant is doing the same.

This evening I picked these beauties, Tsakoniki Eggplant.  I'm thinking we'll have baked eggplant with a vegetable risotto for dinner - with other veges and herbs from the garden.

I love having a good sized garden and look forward to getting my winter crops in now that we have cleared out all of the old summer plants.  We did a massive clean up at the weekend and a few of my feathered friends have been finishing up during the week.

Before - weeds, vegetables gone to seed and dying tomato plants

You may notice weird green stalks behind my chicken wire climbing frame, they are kale stalks.  All of my kale plants have been overrun with whitefly.  Over time I have snapped off the infected leafy tops for my chickens to feast on and new leaves are starting to form.  I hoping the established roots and stalks will give us a plentiful supply over winter.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Black Beans and Rice

I love having beans tucked away in the freezer - tasty, satisfying and very economical.  I buy and cook bulk loads then freeze them, I find about 3 cups of cooked beans (equivalent to 2 tins of beans) does a double meal for our family of 4.
To give you an idea, I buy 1kg of beans for $5.00, this makes on average 11 meals at 45 cents each - a tin of beans from the supermarket is $2.00 - a big saving if you eat vegetarian regularly like we do.

To prepare my beans (chickpea, black, white, red, cannellini etc) I soak overnight, rinse well and cover with water in a large pot.  Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top.  Reduce to simmer and cook for 25 to 40 minutes, topping up the water level occasionally, until beans are tender - nut mushy!  Freeze in lots that suit your family, with a little cooking liquid.  I don't add salt to mine but if you like, this can be added near the end of cooking.

Here's how we enjoyed our beans this evening

Black Bean and Rice Recipe
Serves 4

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Crushed
1 Medium Onion, Diced
1 Teaspoon Cumin Powder
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1 Cup Short Grain Rice
2 Cups Stock
1.5 Cups Black Beans
2 Cups Vege (I used broccoli, snow peas and peas)

In a large pot heat olive oil over medium heat.  Gently cook garlic and onion till soft.  Add in spices and cook until fragrant.  Stir in rice and cook for another minute or so to allow rice to be coated in spices and absorb some of the oil.  Add in stock and bring to the boil.  Cover the pot and reduce to low (as low as dial will go) and cook for 20 - 25 minutes.  Half way through quickly add vege on top of rice to steam and put the lid back on  - don't stir.  Serve with grated cheese or parsley to make completely vegan.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I hate waste : Time to Reorganise

This morning I opened my crisper drawer to find some forgotten and slightly slimy lettuce, brussel sprouts and half a cauliflower - dang it!! I hate waste.

After a ponder while I walked the kids to school this morning I set to work reorganising my fridge.  Instead of the veges all being where I never look (crisper) I have cut, rinsed and boxed them, and put them right where I can see them.  All I need to do is chuck them in a stir-fry or in the steamer and half of dinner is done.

The carrots and apples are also just the right height for the kids to help themselves if they're hungry too.

I'm also trying a wee experiment, I have seen some fridge storage boxes lately with a very hefty price tag.  To me they just looked like normal containers with a fancy hole in the top.  So I have put a couple of small holes in the top of 2 of my storage containers to see if I can replicate those boxes with something I have sitting around the house.  I'll let you know how it works out.

Lets hope I start looks at healthy as my fridge does from now on!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dinner with Friends : Pita Bread

Every month or so our family and wonderful friends have an International themed feast.  This evening we had Mediterranean so I made some pita bread to go with the lamb, couscous and dips (which was amazing thank you Helen x).

I have successfully made pita bread before without a pizza stone but the results are much better if you have one, the hot stone helps the steam to develop inside the bread and make it inflate. I've included instructions below on cooking both with and without a stone.

I love making breads like this, they puff up like magic.  Just watching my toddlers face as they blew up like balloons was worth the effort.

Pita Bread Recipe
Makes 10 to 12 portions

500g High Grade Bread Flour (I used 350g white and 150g wholemeal)
1 t Salt
375ml Warm Water
10g Active Yeast
1 t Sugar
1 T Olive Oil
Extra flour for dusting

Measure dry ingredients into a large bowl (or bread machine tin).  In another bowl combine yeast, sugar and warm water and leave for 10 minutes to activate (the yeast will start to float and turn foamy).

For a bread maker add yeast mixture and olive oil into the bread tin and set to Dough cycle.

And for the good old fashioned way, add yeast mixture and olive oil to the dry ingredients.  Mix till dough starts to combine and then tip out onto your work surface and knead for 10 minutes.  The dough will be very wet to start, don't add more flour, just keep working the dough, scraping your hands and beach down every now and then.  The dough will transform from sticky mess into a smooth dough.  Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and cover.  Set aside to a warm place for 40 minutes or until doubled in size.

Once dough cycle has finished or dough has doubled in size tip dough out onto well floured board.  Punch out any air bubbles and divide dough in to portions (10 to 12 is ideal).  To get nice even pita breads weigh out the portions.  Roll each portion into a ball and place onto a well floured surface, leaving an inch or two between each of them.  When all the portions are rolled sprinkle generously with flour and cover loosely with a clean tea towel.  Leave to relax for 20 minutes (30 minutes if the room is cold).  While dough rests preheat oven, and stone, to 250C.  Fan bake if you have a stone, and just regular bake if you don't.  You must have heat radiating from the bottom of the oven if you don't have a stone.

Once dough has rested gently roll out 2 balls to a 5mm thickness on a floured board (my stone is very large so I could do 4 at a time).

If using a oven stone, lay a disc of dough on the palm of your hand and flip onto the stone.  Flip a second disc onto the stone and shut the door.  The pitas should puff up and be cooked in 3 to 4 minutes.

If you don't have a stone carefully transfer the 2 discs to a cake rack.  Slide the rack onto the very bottom of the oven or bottom rack of the oven and cook for 4 to 5 minutes.  You may need to flip 2 minutes though cooking to get them to cook evenly.

While the first batch cook roll out the next 2 balls.  Transfer cooked pitas to a rack or wrap in a tea towel to keep warm.  Put next 2 in the oven and continue until they are all done.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

From Bones to Soap : Homemade soap experiment and 'Clean' Cleaning

I have been making my own soap for nearly 2 years now, I don't think I'll ever go back to the store brought stuff.  The main reason is that I know exactly what goes into my soaps; fats and oils, lye, water and some fragrant essential oils.  No nasty perfumes, numbered ingredients, parabens, sodium laural sulfates, all things I try to avoid.

Did you know our skin can absorb 80% of what you apply to it?

Think about that next time you slather creams, soaps and makeup on the largest organ of your body.  99% of what I use as ingredients for my soaps and moisturizers is edible.  My body, and my families', are a lot better off for it.

To give you an example; I stopped using commercial deodorants 2 years ago.  I suffered a few smelly weeks while my body purged all the gunk out of my pores - years of aluminum and goodness know what else had built up.  Now using mostly coconut oil and baking soda I still had a half a roll-on floating around in my handbag for an emergency.
I traveled to Auckland one weekend and forgot my homemade deodorant (the biggest annoyance of my coconut deodorant is that it needs to be in the fridge in summer) so I pulled out my Dove deodorant knocking around in my bag.  Just by the smell I should of know better.  The perfume smacked me round the face, chemical laden, fake smelling, disgusting.

All seemed fine that day, but fast forward to the next morning and boy oh boy did I feel disgusting.  My body felt poisoned, hung over, drained, dirty.  After using my homemade clean products for so long just one application of commercial deodorant was like I'd taken a small dose of poison.  It's amazing how everyday we apply layers of, well, crap to our skin.  Not realizing how we are slowly poisoning ourselves, oblivious to how good you can feel (and smell) without the junk they sell you for a small fortune on the supermarket shelves.

Making my tallow and soap

Straining the stock fat through a paper towel
 Anyway, moving on from my 'clean' rant - here is what brought about my latest post; being cheap!  I have become quite thrifty over the years, something I have become very proud of in fact.  So after making copious amounts of beef stock a couple of weeks back I decided that instead of binning the huge amount of fat that the bones produce, that I would give homemade tallow a go in my homemade soaps, instead of buying it.

First of all I gently melted down the fat that I skimmed off of the chilled stock and strained it though a paper towel.  To clean the fat further I boiled it with equal amounts of water for 15 minutes and left to set in the fridge.  I was left with wonderfully clean layer of tallow, that I dried and stored away in the fridge while I rode out a nasty flu virus.

Tallow after boiling, setting and drying

Now today, I have an empty house, we are all well so the kids are at school and my husband at work.  The fridge needs a clear out so I can across my tallow - soap making time.

I am very pleased with the results, so far, that fat did not smell too 'beefy' as I melted it and, for the soap makers, I achieved 'trace' during the saponification process with no trouble at all.

I love my essential oils - they smell so good

Safety first - homemade soap is not worth loosing my sight or a layer of skin
 I used my tallow, cocoa butter, lye, water, spearmint oil, pink grapefruit oil and teatree oil.

Tomorrow I will cut my soap and store it away to cure for 6 weeks - I look forward to trying it and letting you know the results!

All done, it just needs to set for 24 hours before cutting and curing for 6 weeks
Usually a 1kg batch of soap costs $16 to $20 dollars to make, which lasts me 4 to 6 months, depending on how much I give away.  This batch costs about $9 and it will make liquid soap for beside the sink, bars of soap for the shower and bath and laundry liquid.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Make ahead pudding : Apple Pie

With friends and family visiting I needed something easy to make ahead for dessert.
This apple pie went down a treat, the crust is more 'crackery', not sweet, letting the apple and spices shine.

Apple Pie Recipe
Serves 8

250g Plain Flour - plus a little extra for dusting
1t Salt
90g Butter, Cubed and Cold
90-100ml of Cold Water
 Egg, for brushing

4-8 Apples, peeled and diced (depends on size of your pie dish, mine is shallow so I use 5)
50g Brown Sugar
50g White Sugar
1 t Cinnamon
Pinch Salt
Pinch Nutmeg (Fresh Grated is best)
3 T Plain Flour

For the crust combine flour, salt and butter by pulsing in a food processor till it resembles crumbs.  Set processor to slow speed and slowly pour in water till dough comes together in loose ball.  Tip onto floured surface and push into a ball, gently kneading together 4 - 5 times.  Wrap in film and refridgerate for at least 1 hour.

When chilled and rested, turn oven to 200C and roll out dough on floured board to fit your pie dish (mine is 25cm across, 4cm deep).  Gently transfer dough to dish and trim to fit.  Put pie dish in the fridge while you make filling.

For filling combine all ingredients, stir to coat apples and allow to rest for 10 minutes (while you roll our remaining pastry for decoration on the top of the pie).  Fill pie case with apple filling and press down gently.  Lay over decorative pastry left overs and brush pastry with beaten egg.

Bake at 200C for minutes at reduce to 180C and bake for a further 40 minutes.  Allow to cool for atleast 20 minutes before serving.