Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Day in My Life

At the end of yesterday I was reflecting on the day I'd had and it occurred to me that, although it was pretty normal for me, it might be quite interesting from an onlooker's point of view to get a glimpse into my outback life.

I nearly always start the day with watering; putting sprinklers on, starting the veggie garden trickle, watering pot plants and, every 3 or 4 days depending on the weather, watering the orchard. The peaches are almost ready by the way.

While on my rounds I came across a pretty big brown mulga snake....he slid off into the jungle of date palms. I'm pretty sure it was the same one that almost gave me a heart attack a couple of days earlier when we scared the daylights out of each other. I didn't see him on my pathway between garden beds until he 'jumped' in fright and took off in the opposite direction.

The day before yesterday I'd made two loaves of spelt sourdough in the afternoon/evening which I shaped and put in the proving  baskets before covering and putting in the fridge overnight, ready to bake the next day. After letting the dough warm up at room temperature for an hour or so I baked them, just in time to have fresh bread with Vegemite for morning smoko!

After finishing the morning chores I sat down to do a final edit of the Isolated Children's Parents' Association (a volunteer organisation that lobbies for access to appropriate education for rural students) newsletter that I put together and emailed it off to the printers. Big sigh of relief!

During that I had an hour long phone call with a fellow shire councillor -solving the problems of the world. Actually, I think the problems of the world just got a whole lot bigger with the election of Mr Trump but we won't go there!

With a tummy full on a scrumptious lunch of grilled asparagus on fresh sourdough drizzled with olive oil, I started writing an article for another ICPA magazine about a fundraising garden day that my branch put on a few weeks ago.

My husband Rossco, who is away contracting for a few days, rang and we exchanged sweet nothings and important messages. I helped Julia (son Tom's partner) load and unload a few big concrete plant pots that she's planning to plant in at the cottage and then headed off in the ute with the dogs on the back to check on some windmills and clean the troughs.

Unfortunately I hit an emu that ran straight in front of me while I was driving along the Rabbit Proof Fence and had to stop and put it out of its misery. I saw lots of happy sheep drinking at the waters and was pleased not to see any wild dog tracks along the way.

As I pulled up to a gate I spotted a  roo which I shot, skinned and took home for dog food. On the way home I saw a daddy emu on one side of a fence and about 8 chicks on the other, all trying to squeeze through the gaps. I stopped and waited while they all got through then continued on to home, letting the dogs run for the last 2 kilometres.

As I went to tie the dogs up at their kennels for the night I spotted a tiny, bald finch chick on the ground immediately below the nest he'd fallen out of. I carefully popped him in my shirt pocket and walked back to the house to get a ladder in order to reach the nest. After a little pep talk to myself (I'm not too good at heights) I climbed up and poked the chick in through the little hole of the nest, while the parent finch was going mental nearby.

As dark approached I picked some lovely silverbeet and baby beetroot from the garden for my dinner...which was pretty simple with no blokes here...silverbeet sautéed with garlic and sprinkled with parmesan and steamed beetroot!

And that, dear readers, was my day on November 10th 2016.

PS- You can now follow me on Instagram as well as Facebook. Just search 'Outback Larder'

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Quondong Jelly

After steady and frequent winter rains the country here looks magnificent. Although faded now, the carpets of wildflowers were spectacular in July and August. It's such a privilege to watch the desert bloom at close quarters, and it's years like this that help us get through the droughts.

White pom pom everlastings
The whitish bits are carpets of flowers which were
prolific along the Greenough River plains

Pink daisies growing in the the wash country

The flowers may have finished blooming but there is still plenty to admire in the bush, including the vibrant fruit of the quandong trees. The tree pictured below was laden and I decided to pick some fruit and experiment with making jelly from it.


To play a little on the safe side I combined the quondong fruit with a few apples, thinking that they would bulk out the quongdongs and hopefully give a better chance of the jelly setting, as well as adding a nice flavour. 

I'm happy to report that the jelly turned out beautifully; deeply pink and delicious....although it's hard to describe the flavour! Suffice to say that its very pleasant, not particularly strong or perfumey. I think it will be equally yummy on scones with cream or as an accompaniment to lamb roast. I will definitely have to go and pick some more quondongs to make some unique Christmas presents!

I know hardly anyone will make it (probably no-one!) but here's the recipe just in case:

Quondong Jelly

1 hatful of fresh quondongs (or an ice-cream container if you must!)
3 crisp apples
A few sprigs of thyme (optional)

Peel the fruit from the quondong nut and wash well to remove traces of insect activity  (reserve the nut for snacking on, although you will need a heavy duty nut cracker to extract them!)
Roughly chop the fruit and place in medium sized saucepan. Chop apples, including skin, pips and core, and place in pot with quondong fruit. Add thyme if using. Just cover fruit with water. Place on stove and boil until the fruit is very mushy - approx 40mins.
Sit a colander over a bowl and line with muslin, cheesecloth or an old cotton tea towel. Pour fruit pulp into the colander and leave to sit on the kitchen bench for 8 hrs or overnight to drain. Don't press the fruit or you will have cloudy jelly.  
Measure the liquid collected in the bowl. Place into a saucepan and bring to boil. When boiling add an equal measure of sugar to the pan. e.g. 400ml of juice = 400ml of sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved then leave to boil quite rapidly until the jelly reaches setting point. (mine was ready when it reached 104.5 deg celsius) Skim any whitish residue off the surface. Pour into clean, sterilised jars. Pop a little sprig of fresh thyme in the top of the jelly and put the lids on while hot. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Quince Jelly

Since my last post our hot summer has been and almost gone, although by the look of the forecast we still have some temps in the high thirties ahead of us yet. 
Over the summer we have completed a very exciting project; piping 'good' water to the homestead. 

By good I mean less salty. In fact the new water has half the salt content of the old and that is a significant development for my garden and for the homestead itself. I am hopeful that next summer, with the aid of shade cloth and the good water,  I will be able to grow a variety of vegetables in spite of the heat. 

I have started planting the winter vegetable garden using both seeds and seedlings. I will have to nurse them along (water twice a day) for a few more weeks of hot weather but its great to get a bit of a head start before winter sets in.

Yesterday morning I picked this year's whole crop of quinces- a grand total of 7 fruit. With such a small number I had to decide if I'd cook them to eat now or preserve and enjoy all year. I opted for year round enjoyment and set about making that gorgeously deep pink, delicious accompaniment to roast lamb and pork; quince and rosemary jelly. 

Jellies are not difficult to make but they do take a bit of time. A few  things you need to know to be successful are:
1. Use very fresh fruit-for a good 'set' 
2. Don't try to get extra juice by squeezing the cloth- as this will result in a cloudy jelly. 
3. Put all the peel and pips in with the fruit as they contain high levels of pectin which is the setting agent.

It also helps to have a pot big enough that evaporation happens relatively quickly or you you may end up with very little jelly before it actually sets. 

Quince (or Apple) and Rosemary Jelly

Rinse and roughly chop a minimum of 1kg of fruit (apples or quinces) and place in a large non- reactive saucepan. 
Add a couple of sprigs of rosemary. 
Cover with water and  bring to boil. Simmer until the fruit is very soft. 

Line a colander with muslin and pop over a large bowl. Strain the fruit through the muslin, collecting all the liquid. You can usually green a bit of extra liquid by hanging the bag over the bowl, as per my 'setup' in the photo on the right. Leave fruit to drain at least 6 hours or overnight.

Measure the liquid into a large saucepan and for every cup of liquid add 3/4 cup of sugar. Stir just until sugar dissolves.
Bring to boil and keep boiling fairly quickly until the jelly is deep pink or red and sets when tested on a cold plate. (This can be hard to judge if you haven't done it before (and even when you have!) It is better to under cook than over cook because you can always tip the jelly out of the jars and re-boil if not set but you can't undo toffee! 

Pour into clean sterilised jars into which you have placed a sprig of clean rosemary. Seal when cool. 

You may remember that a looong time ago I promised you a photo of a caper flower? Well this morning I finally remembered to do it. The bushes are looking really pretty at the moment because I've got enough capers to last a year and I've had enough of picking them!  I read just this morning that not only can you eat the buds and berries but also the leaves once pickled. Sounds interesting, I might have to give them a go. 
As you can see the flowers are very delicate and beautiful and, I think, quite orchid like. They have a lovely scent also. Unfortunately they don't last more than a couple of hours once picked. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Amazing Feet

Some friends recently delivered to our door (about 120km from their home) a lovely gift of six young Australorp roosters! Australorps are an Australian bred dual purpose egg and meat chook. Our friends breed them for showing and had a surplus of male birds. Luckily for us they are not familiar with the whole killing and dressing bit, hence the gift. In the spirit of fairness I'm thinking that next time I might have to make the trip to their place and teach them how to do it.

The cones for containing and draining
poultry after decapitation
I wouldn't normally be crowing (sorry) about a gift of roosters but in this case we didn't have even one early morning/middle of the night wake-up call because, at about 5 months old, the roosters were ready to eat and we wasted no time in preparing them for the freezer.

Killing and dressing chooks is actually a fairly quick process. We have metal cones set up near the chopping block in which we put the birds to drain of blood once the the deed is done. This also prevents the headless chook from running around the yard and getting bruised.

Three of the six roosters dressed
and ready for the pot

Once bled we scald them in very hot water (about 65˚C) for a few seconds. This contracts the skin and allows the feathers to be plucked out very easily. It is then a matter of making a couple of incisions at the back end of the bird and gently pulling out the innards, removing the crop at the front then washing and  refrigerating it. With Rossco plucking and me gutting, the whole process takes about 10-15 minutes per bird.

We try not to waste much. I make pate with the livers, and stock using the hearts, gizzards (when cooked the gizzard is similar to sheep's tongue in both texture and flavour) and feet. Before they can be cooked the feet must be dipped in hot water and the outer skin and nails removed. This renders them very clean.

Crispy chicken feet
I sometimes braise chicken feet in a Chinese flavoured marinade but this time I thought I'd try something different. After removing carefully from the stock to prevent them falling apart, I laid the twelve feet on a tray lined with baking paper, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with  garlic salt and popped them into a hot oven for about 10 minutes. The result was scrumptious! The best way I can describe the taste is as crispy chicken and chips. You can actually eat some of the small bones as they become quite soft with the long cooking process. The 'pad' of the foot is meltingly gelatinous and the rest is finger lickin' crispy and crunchy.

After the last post on pigs' heads you probably think I'm on a crusade to get everyone eating all the bits of animals usually wasted. Although it would be great if we wasted less of the animals we kill this isn't my intention at all. I just thought it might be interesting for people to know that you can eat these things and that they are actually delicious when properly prepared.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pig's Head Parcels

Usually when we kill a pig we discard the head, along with the guts, and I always feel guilty about it.
This time I decided to keep the head and discard the guilt instead! There is actually quite a bit of meat on the head and, when cooked well it is meltingly tender and succulent.

After pressure cleaning the dirt and blood off at the rubber mat (normally reserved as the spot for washing vehicles and machines) I tried to de-hair the head but was spectacularly unsuccessful so I just placed it whole in a big pot of brine overnight. I'm not really sure why I did this, it just seemed the right thing to do for some reason! The next day I drained the brine off and refilled the pot with fresh water- adding parsley, garlic, onion, carrot, bay leaves, cloves, salt, peppercorns and vinegar. I then boiled the head gently for about 4 hours, until the meat was falling off the bone. At this point the skin (with attached hair) was very easy to remove and I fed it to the chooks.
I picked the rest of the meat off the bone, removed the tongue (which was also tender) and collected it in a bowl. As you can see, the skull was stripped clean! To the meat, including the chopped up tongue, I added salt and white pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, fresh thyme leaves, a splash of brandy and a bit of cream before covering and popping in the fridge to cool completely.

Meanwhile, onto the pasta. I love fresh pasta but tend not to make it very often as, in spite of what Jamie Oliver says, it is a bit of a palaver in my opinion. But hey, it's not everyday you have a pig's head to play with!
You can tell by the colour of the pasta that it is made with egg yolks - home grown, of course :) This, by the way, is Jamie's pasta recipe as published in the May 2015 edition of delicious. magazine.


400g '00' flour
75 g fine semolina, plus extra to dust
12 egg yolks
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Place the flour and semolina in your mixing bowl and mix together. Add the egg yolks, oil and 80ml of cold water. Mix with the dough hook until the dough comes together (this can be done by hand if you don't have a mixer) It will be very stiff at this stage but take it out of the bowl, knead it for a couple of minutes and then wrap in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest for half and hour. Some kind of magic will happen while it rests and when you bring it out it will be soft and pliable and ready to roll!

Divide the pasta into 6 equal pieces. Take one and cover the rest in cling film and set aside.
Start on the thickest setting of your pasta machine and run the dough through at least six times, folding into thirds each time so that you hopefully get a nice rectangular piece with neat edges. Keep rolling through the settings, reducing the thickness each time, until about 2mm thick. Once finished put aside and cover with a tea towel while you roll the remaining pieces.

When making a filled pasta there is a fine line between having it thin enough that it's not stodgy and robust enough that is doesn't tear. I went to the second last setting on my pasta machine.
After rolling out strips of dough I took one and piled about one and a half tablespoons of the pork mixture at about 6cm intervals along the length of it then brushed the edges and the middle bit with water. I placed another sheet gently on top of this and pressed the two strips together between the mounds of meat before cutting the dough into sections and gently pressing all the way around the meat, being careful not to leave any pockets of air in the parcels. This is quite tricky and takes a bit of time….well it does for me but I'm sure a practiced Italian nonna would do it with her eyes closed in no time at all!

Once finished I boiled the ravioli in salted water for a couple of minutes to cook the pasta then tossed it in a frying pan with brown butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. After plating I garnished with crispy fried sage leaves and a little more of the brown butter.

Yes, it was a lot of work but gee it was delicious, and it went down very well with a glass of virtue for not wasting the delicious meat from the pig's head - oh, and a drop a red.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Boozy Fruit

It is so nice to have time to sit and write for my blog again. Since the last post I have been looking after a road works crew which has involved a lot of cooking and, not quite so enjoyable, cleaning. And just to keep things interesting we've had average January maximum temps of 41.7 degrees C. 

As you might imagine, there is not much happening in the vegetable garden. What was alive was wiped out in a pretty fierce hail storm about two weeks ago. Sadly the fruit trees copped a beating and my lovely crop of guavas is all but destroyed- the fruit is badly damaged and I think it will all fall off without ripening. Tom had watermelons growing well but the vines were so damaged that most of them couldn't feed the fruit attached and several big melons rotted. I noticed this morning that all the white trunked gum trees look like they are suffering from measles- a latent result of being peppered with hail stones. (left)

On the upside, over a period of about a week we had 80 wonderful millimetres of rain. The river flowed nicely and the country around the homestead has turned a lovely emerald green. I won't talk about the mozzies!  Before the rain there were very few insects at all (not even flies) but the air is now swarming with them and the shrill from cicadas is almost deafening. Unfortunately the caterpillars are having a field day on the new growth and my lovely water spinach, which survived the hail and was just getting big enough for a feed, is now a mass of leafless stalks!

So, I haven't got much to talk about in terms of cooking from the garden and instead thought I'd share some secrets from the pantry; namely, boozy dried fruit. Prunes in port and raisins in rum to be precise. Both of these are exceptionally easy to make and yet add a real wow factor to desserts, particularly good for time poor cooks wanting to impress visitors. They also make great Christmas presents-especially for older male members of the family who, in my experience, are tricky to buy for.

The rummy raisins could not be easier- you simply fill a glass jar with raisins (or even sultanas), top it up with dark rum and let them mature for a week or so before using. I mainly use mine in one of my favourite recipes, Apple, Rum and Raisin Cake, and in that Aussie male favourite ice-cream, rum and raisin. I have also added them to a bread and butter pudding for a decadent adult twist on an old fashioned favourite. 

Apple, Rum and Raisin Cake

1 cup peeled, cored and chopped apple

3/4 cup caster sugar
125g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup rummy raisins, drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C. Line a 20cm springform tin with baking paper. If you double the recipe use a 30cm tin and increase the baking time about 15 minutes.
Put chopped apple into a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar. Stir and leave to stand while you get on with the dry ingredients. 
Melt butter.
Sift flour, bicarb, salt and spices together. 
Blend melted butter and egg into the apple.
Add the dry ingredients, stirring until just mixed. Add the raisins and nuts and just combine.
Bake at 180 deg C for about 50 mins. 
Cool 10 mins before turning out and cooling completely. Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve. 

The prunes are slightly more complex but still very simple. They are scrumptious over vanilla ice-cream or a bowl of thick Greek yoghurt, can replace the raisins in the apple cake above or added to any chocolate cake or pudding mixture, and are wonderful dotted in my favourite quick dessert, chocolate brownie. My thanks to my sister in law Pam for this recipe. 

Chocolate brownie with prunes, before baking
Prunes in Port

750g pitted prunes
3 cups port
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
rind of one lemon and one orange.

Heat all ingredients together until boiling. Let cool and then pack prunes into jars and pour over the liquid. Allow to mature for a week or so before using. They will keep for ages in the cupboard but I've never left them long enough to find out exactly how long!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Hot Weather Heroes

Happy New Year Everyone! May it bring plenty of rain and bountiful gardens to all! After a relatively cool start to the summer the very hot weather is well and truly upon us. We attended a New Year's Eve party 160km up the road and on our arrival the car thermometer read 39 degrees C at 6.30pm! Today it is 44 degrees. Hopefully some of the festive season excess will melt off me….

Some plants in the garden amaze me with how well they cope in the heat while others, which I expect will cope, sizzle and die.  The little coffee tree, which is planted in semi shade and gets heaps of water, is horribly sunburnt and threatening to cark it while the blueberry seems to be coping splendidly.

Speaking of the blueberry I must tell you that, in spite of bearing copious flowers, it set just a single little fruit which I stupidly picked too early for fear that a bird would eat it before I could….I really should have waited as it was green inside and tasted quite sour. On the upside I now know fruit set is possible and if the plant survives the rest of summer I will purchase another with the aim of increasing pollination this  year.

The rhubarb is also still alive under shade cloth, although I am watering it every day in order for it to remain so. If I can just keep it going through the summer it should reward us with stems to harvest during the cooler months.

The kale is surviving in the veggie garden but the silver beet  seems to be dying of heat exhaustion one by one. I am still picking the odd zucchini and the Lebanese eggplants  produced well but have slowed right down now. The Tommy Toe tomatoes are coping well where they are protected and burning where they are not.

I am pretty excited to be picking the first pumpkins I have grown here, and although very small they are otherwise fine and taste great. Last night we went for a picnic at a pool on the river and I took this home-grown roast pumpkin, green bean and cherry tomato salad to go with our fire barbecued lamb chops.

Roast Pumpkin, Green Bean and Tomato Salad

  • 600g Butternut pumpkin chunks- oiled, salted and roasted in a  single layer at 200 deg C for about 35mins until slightly caramelised. Turn pumpkin over after about 20mins.
  • 400g Green beans- blanched for 3-4 mins and then plunged into iced water to cool quickly. Drain well and cut in half.
  • 250g Cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
  • crumbled feta or goats cheese to taste - I used about 60g
  • 2-3 pinches roasted, ground cumin seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, grated

Place all of the above ingredients in a large bowl and gently mix together with your hands. 

Dress with:
  • a good squeeze of lemon juice
  • a generous drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper

Just waiting for the chops!