Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Merry Christmas, the abridged version

I had a lovely Christmas post planned for you but it has all caught up with me.  It's now New Year's Eve so Christmas greetings have passed me by.  I hope your Christmas was calm, peaceful and happy.  Our tree is still up but we took the decorations off last night.  I'll have to wait for some help to get it out.  We always try to get a tree from the side of  the road, and this year, it seems, there was no holding's a whopper.

In the spirit of the season, I really wanted to show you the first small crop of cherries I picked off our tree..they were beautiful.  Connorville raspberries behind....just divine.
My fruit trees have been subject to lots of pests this year, not sure why.  The crab apple has a shocking infestation wooly aphids and the pears. quinces and cherries have been hit by some awful black slug so are not looking their best.  Fruit trees can be a bit of a labour of love, but I always forgive them in the spring when their blossom looks so pretty.  Look how dry it is:
So dry in fact that the day before  Christmas Eve we ran out of rainwater.  Admittedly there had been people to stay and we have two English backpackers living in the house for the summer so the dishwasher and washing machine have not stopped, but still hard to believe.  Same thing happened only two years ago.  So a local water carrier came and filled it up with bore water which is okay, but not so good for drinking.  Imagine if it had happened on Christmas water for two days, possibly four....
It's very busy in our region at the moment, Christmas is a mere blip in the radar of harvest, shearing, lamb selling, hay carting etc.  We spent last Saturday weighing lambs:
In between long days there has been plenty of fun and lots of cooking.  We took our visitors yabbying:
and I spent the day in the kitchen with an old friend who loves cooking as much as I do.  She and Sophie made this beautiful pannetone bread and butter pudding for our Christmas work party:
I have also been making bread to feed the four starving teenagers:
Sorry, no recipe today as our internet is sporadically dropping out, but I'd like to wish you all a Happy New Year and may 2015 be happy and healthy for you all.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014


I am delighted to announce that it rained yesterday.  Not torrential, but just nice, gentle rain.  It has been so dry and the garden is loving it.
More gratuitous rose shots
You can water all you like but nothing beats the nitrogen-rich real thing.  Plus it stops my lawn from looking like a badly formed Venn Diagram as I try to get my sprinklers to overlap and cover the whole area but fail miserably.  I am also quite pleased as it has been non-stop in the garden this Spring with several groups coming to visit.  It's been very pleasant to have a break from watering/raking/mowing/weeding and spend the day pottering around in the kitchen, which really is my favourite thing.

I've picked most of the broad beans, shelled them, blanched them and frozen them in bags.  I haven't done this before but am hoping that they can be re-blanched and podded.  Even the chooks might be relieved that the broad beans have finished...
The lemon scented gums went pink in the rain...must have been the shock.
I have a new culinary fixation that I need to share with you. I expect that as usual I am slow off the mark and you are all completely familiar with za'atar, but  I have only just realised that it is very easy to make.  I had heard of this zesty Middle Eastern spice and herb mix, mostly by reading my Ottolenghi cookbooks but never really tried it.   Then I had lots of thyme that was about to flower and needed to find something to do with it.  Well.  Nothing is safe from a sprinkling of za'atar this summer.  It is perfect on an egg...
and completely brings your avocado on toast to life.  You could use it as a rub on any meat and sprinkle it over a soup.   The four simple ingredients and dried thyme, toasted sesame seeds, sumac (available in good food stores) and salt.  I picked the thyme, put it on a baking tray and gave it half an hour in the simmer oven of the a normal oven 15 minutes at 150c should do it.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn't get burnt.
Strip the leaves off the stalks and using your thyme pile as a guide, toast the same amount of sesame seeds (I do this in the oven....don't forget about them though!)
Mix it up and add some salt (about a teaspoon went into the above brew)
Put it in a jar
and sprinkle to your heart's content.

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