Cooking and Preserving

Out of action for a long while!!!!

October 2014 was my last post!  I’ve thought about writing so many times, but it has always been a question of where to start!!  But I figure if I don’t start, I never will so this post will just be a “where are we now” post!!

The Farm

2015 was a very dry year for Balancing Rock Farm.  We had below average rainfall all year, and spring, in particular, was exceedingly dry, meaning we headed into summer with less stock feed in the paddocks than we normally would.  We did cut quite a bit of hay, so that has been very handy.

Hay cutting

Jessie the dog, watching the hay being cut.

We currently have 500 ewes on the place, 9 rams and 20 head of cattle.  The crop yields weren’t great last year, but not as bad as we were expecting, so that was nice.

The Menagerie

The biggest news from last year was our decision to sell our milking cow Pickles.  She had failed to get in calf after a few attempts, so looking from the practical side, not the emotional side, we decided we needed to look at a new one.  Cam took it the hardest, he was very attached to her after spending many, many mornings with her out in the milking shed.  But it just didn’t make sense to have a milking cow that you couldn’t milk!  So…. Meet Marmalade

Marmalade the jersey

Jasmine and I went and picked her up from Warnambool and brought her home in my car!  She was soon cute as a baby, as you can see from the last photo she has darkened quite a bit.  We have also had the vet remove her horns as they were very sharp!

The other main addition to our menagerie is my horse, Rosco.  With Jaz having her little pony, Marley, I was really keen to get back into riding myself,  and thought it would be wonderful to be able to go riding together.  We looked locally for many months, with no luck finding anything suitable – so finally contacted a friend in QLD who found us a great stock horse very quickly, and even arranged transportation of him down to Victoria.  When he arrived his name was Colin – terrible name.  So Ross was the name of our QLD friend, so the horse became Rosco.  He’s only young, so quickly learnt his new name!

Horses Rosco and Marley

Here’s Rosco greeting Marley for the first time.

 

So we still have our two cats, Emma, the house cat and “Shed Cat”, the ah shed cat!  Two dogs, Clancy and Jackie, two ferrets, Ben and Alfie, and umpteen hens, plus 3 roosters.

 

The Garden

Not a lot has been happening around the garden in the last 12 months, mainly due to the lack of water for watering.  We have no access to mains water where we are, so we totally rely on mother nature.  There are two bores on the farm, which we can use for watering, however it is slightly salty, so I’ve quickly determined which plants are salt tolerant and which ones are not!  The good news is we have built a very large shed on one end of our house, which has an enormous roof, and put a large water tank on the end of it to collect the rain.  So fingers crossed we will be in a better position next summer with regards to stored water.

Tomatoes and eggplants were the only vegies I had growing this year, and they have both done well, so I have bottled lots of tomatoes, so we’ll be right for spaghetti sauce over the winter.

 

Well that’s a quick run down and where we are at at the moment on Balancing Rock Farm.  Lets see how often I can keep this updated now!

 

Categories: Cooking and Preserving, Lifestyle, The Farm, The Menagerie | 1 Comment

Green Tomato Pickles

After my vegie garden update, I had a number of questions regarding my recipe for Green Tomato Pickles, so I thought I would do a post about it today.

I had actually never tried Green Tomato Pickles before, but we always have a jar in the fridge – that I buy – because Cam loves it on sandwiches with cold left over lamb. It always looked a bit off putting to me! Anyway we had all these green tomatoes in the garden , so I thought why not give it a go. The recipe I found is quite an easy one, that uses a bottle of Wilds Ezy Sauce, which is a product made in Australia, that has a nice mix of vinegar and spices, great for adding to sauces.

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So here’s the first lot of ingredients in the big pot….
5.5kg green tomatoes
2kg onions
1/2 cup salt
You mix all this around in the pot and leave to sit overnight. By morning there is a lot of juice in the bottom of the pot. Bring it all to the boil, then add 1.5kg sugar and the bottle of Ezy Sauce.
Simmer this uncovered for 2 hours. The first hour is fine, but by the second hour you really need to watch it and stir frequently as it sticks and burns if you’re not careful.
After 2 hours, I mixed:
1 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp cornflour (corn starch)
2 tsp turmeric
With a small amount of water to make a smooth paste, then added it gradually,stirring it in quickly. Cooked it for a further 10 minutes, then filled hot sterilized jars and sealed them.

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As well as what you can see here, there is another very large jar in the fridge that we are using, and I have given one away already. I’m amazed at how good it is. For lunch one day we had it with cold lamb and fresh hot bread, straight out of the bread machine. Another day I spread it on bread then topped it with cheese and cooked it under the griller. Yummo!

The recipe I used called for sliced tomatoes and onions. Next time I will chop them smaller, as it’s quite lumpy, not ideal for sandwiches. And I’ve since found an alternative mixture, if you can’t get Wilds ezy sauce.
350ml vinegar
Black pepper, cloves, chilli – to your taste.

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Starting the broccoli harvest

I picked the first of our broccoli last night. They are massive heads, and I think I picked them just in time as they will start spreading if I’d left them much longer.

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Obviously this is much more than we are likely to eat in the next week or so, so I cut them up into chunks and froze them. I know some people blanch it first, but I just didn’t have time so into freezer bags and into the freezer. It’s not great just boiled and eaten when I do it this way, although it is fine.  However, it is perfect to grab a handful to add to a casserole or stir fry.  Particularly when I am doing a slow cooker recipe, adding a handful of frozen broccoli helps to soak up some of the extra juices that always seem to be present in slow-cooker casseroles.

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There’s still lots more growing out on the bushes, so we should be well supplied for broccoli for a while.

We’ve had a couple of minor frosts in the last few weeks which has killed off the pumpkin vines, so I need to get out and collect the pumpkins now. That might be tomorrows job, today HAS to be an office day!

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Mushrooming Time!!

Its mushroom time!!  Besides our middle son – Danny, the rest of us LOVE mushrooms.  And we particularly love this time of the year when they are growing wild in the paddocks and we can pick them.  This was yesterday’s collection, just from the paddock around the house where Pickles our dairy cow spends some of her time.

Mushroom photo

It can be a bit of risk collecting and eating wild mushrooms.  We’ve been collecting ours for a few years now, so we are confident that they are safe, and if you are ever in any doubt, you are best to avoid it.  One of the main poisonous mushrooms that are confused with edible ones, is the yellow staining mushroom.  They look very similar in the paddock.  However apparently this yellow staining mushroom will bruise a yellowish colour and if you cut the base of the stem it is quite obviously yellow inside.  As you can see, the mushrooms that grow in our paddocks are white in the stem when they are young, and as the mushroom matures the stem turns a bit pinky brown inside.
05 Mushrooms 02

 

I’ve been doing some playing lately with reversing my lens to get some closeup – macro – shots.  I thought the undersides of the mushrooms would be perfect subject matter…..  What do you think?  I still need practice, as it is very difficult to hold the camera still, while I’m also hand-holding the lens, unattached and reversed, on the front of the camera body.  Its fun though, and can give some really interesting effects. 05 Mushrooms 04

05 Mushrooms

 

Here is a little group of mushrooms that I found this afternoon, as I was going around the sheep.  As you can see they can grow fairly big.  I didn’t pick these, as they looked too big, and they have a very strong taste when they are this large.  Also a couple looked as if a sheep had been nibbling on the side….!

Mushroom photo

That’s my boot in the photo, so you can get an idea of the size of these mushies!

 

 

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Adventures in Sweet Chilli Sauce

 

 

We have a couple of chilli bushes in the herb garden – a Jalapeño, and one of these below, I call it “mystery” variety.  Its very pretty, as the chillies are quite short, and the whole bush is more of a ground cover than a bush.  Danny has been keen to make some of our own Sweet Chilli Sauce, my boys LOVE spicy food –  so he picked a bunch of the reddest chillies and off we went!

Chilli plant photo

 

The recipe we used is one I made a few years ago and the quantities of ingredients depends on the “hotness” of the chillies.  I can’t remember where I got it from originally, but I did a quick web search, before we started and the general recipe is quite similar on lots of different recipe sites.bowl of chillies photo

 

First we topped all the chillies.  If they were a bit bigger I would have scrapped quite a few of the seeds out also, but that would have been a laborious task with our babies.  The chillies and three garlic cloves (because that was all we had, probably would have preferred to add more if we had them) into the food processor with about half a cup of vinegar.Chilli photo

Chilli photo

Once they were chopped finely I scrapped them into the pot and added 4 cups of vinegar and 3 cups of sugar.  Basically all I did next was brought it to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolved, then tasted it.    Ohhhh Boyyyyy! Very hot!  So we added another cup of vinegar and half a cup of sugar.  Dissolved and tasted!   Still veeeerrrrrrry hot.  Another cup of vinegar and half a cup of sugar.

Danny tasted it, he thought it was fine, but for me still a bit too uncomfortable to cover my spaghetti with it.  I remember reading somewhere that lemon or lime juice can act as a means of decreasing the heat in chillies, so I added the juice of one lemon, another cup of vinegar and another 3/4 cup of sugar.  Once it was all dissolved and mixed well, another taste and I was happy.  It still has a good punch, but at least it doesn’t leave you gasping!Chilli sauce photo

 

Once I was happy with the taste I left it simmering for about an hour.  This allows it to reduce and thicken.  Then we poured it into hot sterilised jars and sealed them.Sweet Chilli sauce photoYou would think with all that vinegar we would have had a bucket of sauce, but because it reduces so much, we were left with just under  2  litres.  Still with its level of spiciness we won’t need to use too much.  Also I probably should have only let it simmer for maybe 45 minutes as it is very thick – possibly a bit jam like!

I’d love to know other peoples recipes for Sweet Chilli Sauce…. let me know in the comments if you have a good link.

 

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Bottling Tomatoes

Well finally I’m getting some significant tomato harvest – I was so sure they wouldn’t ripen in time, as the whole vegie garden has been very slow this year.  But I have managed to pick a few good handfuls each day for the last week or so, and they’ve been steadily accumulating.  Besides tomato sauce, the main way our household uses tomatoes is as tinned tomatoes in casseroles, pasta sauces, etc – so I always try to preserve as many as I can to use in this way through out the year.  And considering that I have already made my sauce for this year, from bought tomatoes, any that come in from now on will be preserved in jars.  When doing this I literally just quarter the tomatoes (removing any bad bits), push them into the jars quite tightly, drop a garlic clove or two on top, and fill with water.

Then I process them in a water bath for about an hour.

Bottled tomatoes canned tomatoes

 

I have also made a couple of batches of semi dried tomatoes.

Semi-dried tomatoes photo

 

Balancing Rock Farm Semi-Dried Tomatoes

Quarter tomatoes, removing any bad bits

Put in a bowl, with a bunch of chopped basil and/or oregano, and as much garlic as you like.  Add enough olive oil to coat the tomatoes.

Lay in single file on a baking tray, and place in a cool oven for up to 8 hours.

Once the tomatoes have dried down to your liking (I like mine to still be a bit juicy, but slightly crispy on the outside), pack into a sterilised jar, and cover with olive oil.

Refrigerate for up to 1 month.  Delicious on toast in the mornings, or tossed through freshly cooked pasta.

 

They smell so good they may not make it to the jar!  Enjoy!

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Processing the corn!

Finally harvested the last of the corn yesterday.  Feels good to have it all frozen ready to see us out for winter.  Everyone in the family loves corn so its great to have a good supply throughout the year.

corn cob photo

 

Most of it we picked a couple of weekends ago, and my wonderful parents peeled it, cut it into meal sized portions and froze it for me.  This is huge job, and usually very messy with all the tassels ending up everywhere, so I’m so grateful for that help!

Frozen corn cob photo

Once we have picked all the cobs off the stalks I always pull them out of the ground break them off at ground level (because the ground is too hard to pull them out!!) and feed them to Pickles and BJ.  They LOVE them.  I think they are particularly appealing because there is no other green feed to be seen anywhere at the moment!

Cows eating corn stalks

This is one row of stalks – I have four more to feed out, but I thought one row a day would do them!

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Bottling Sauce

My vegie garden has been a bit disappointing this year.  My tomato bushes are loaded with fruit, but most of it is still quite green.  I love to make tomato sauce, and  was getting quite worried that my tomatoes wouldn’t ripen, before the weather turned cold.  So I lashed out and purchased a 10kg box of Romas.

Everyone has their favourite tomato sauce recipe…. But here’s mine!

9 kg chopped tomatoes – my little scales only take 1 kg of tomatoes before they start rolling out, so I had to repeat 10 times!

Add 1.5 kg chopped onions, and about 100g chopped garlic.

Boil for about 5 hours!

Cooking tomatoes for sauceAs you can see, by now the sauce has reduced quite a bit, and is a deep rich red colour.  Now its time to sieve it, to remove the skins and seeds.  I actually use a muellie(no idea if I am spelling that right??)  with reasonably fine holes.  Its a very messy job, but I really believe it is better that trying to peel all your tomatoes before you cook them!

Seiving tomatoes for sauceAs you can see in the pic above, there’s not a lot left after I’ve turned that handle a few times.  The chooks had fun scratching through all the left over skins.

Then its back on the stove, with the spices, vinegar and sugar.  I add ground cloves, ground ginger, and some chilli to mine, but you can really use what ever takes your fancy – whatever spices appeal to you.   I use about 4 cups of vinegar, and about 1.5 kg of sugar.

Once all the ingredients are in, I slowly bring it up to a simmer, and let it simmer for about an hour, until it has reduced even further, and has darkened up in colour.  I look at the consistency also, is it a good “pouring” consistency??  Then its bottling time!  I have a german brother in-law and when he was staying with us at christmas he discovered that Aldi sold a type of german beer that he loved (Flensburger – it was very good!).  As soon as I saw them I thought they would make great sauce bottles, so fingers crossed they have all sealed okay!  Before I poured the sauce mixture in the bottles I washed them thoroughly in the sink, and then sat them in a hot oven for about 1/2 an hour.  This has always worked for me in the past with regards to sterilisation, but please use whatever method you believe to be best.

Tomato sauce spices

Tomato sauce making

So I have 13 of the Flensburger beer bottles and 4 other 500ml bottles so I have just over 6 litres of tomato sauce.  Hopefully that should last us the year, although I do love giving it to friends and family as gifts or in return for favours.  And the kids have been using it as a dip today too, with dry bikkies so it may not last as long as I hope.

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Strawberry Jam!

For about 10 days in a row, back in November, Danny was out in the veggie garden raiding the strawberry patch.  I didn’t mind at all, because I didn’t have time to pick them.  Whatever he couldn’t eat, he brought inside, washed for me and piled them in bowls in the fridge.  We had plenty of feeds of strawberries with ice cream, but still couldn’t keep up.  So  I decided it was time to make jam.

Its a pretty easy recipe I used.  I always like having little chunks of fruit in my jam so this recipe had me cook the fruit a little bit first, then remove it from the pan and cook up the rest of the ingredients, adding the strawberries back in for the last bit.

Stawberry jam photo

Simple Strawberry Jam Recipe

1.5kg hulled and slightly chopped strawberries (I just chopped them enough so that each piece was about the size of the smallest strawberry)

1.25 kg sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice

Put the strawberries in the pot and cook, covered over a low heat for 5 minutes, until they are just starting to soften and have released some juice.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the strawberries from the pot, leaving the juice.  Add the sugar and lemon juice sand stir over a low heat, without boiling, until the sugar is dissolved.  Bring to the boil, uncovered, and boil gently for 20 minutes.  Return the strawberries to the pot, and simmer, uncovered and without stirring, for about another 25 minutes, or until it meets to setting test (I put a teaspoon in the freezer and at this stage I used it to sample a bit of the syrup.  It would cool very quickly on the cold teaspoon, and when it was cool I would see if it was of “jam-like” consistency).  When happy with the consistency, pour into sterilised jars and seal.

As you can see, now that the jam has cooled, the strawberries have all made their way to the top, but we have started using one already and when I opened it, I gave it a bit of a stir, and that seemed to do the trick, evening up the consistency again.  This recipe actually made 5 jars, but as I said, we have already opened one, and I have given one away already!

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