My Pins

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Caraway Seed In Your Garden

So you grow tomatoes and beans and parsley. now what about throwing some of the other herbs and spices into the garden bed too. Caraway has a lovely rich feathery foliage and grows in full sun...

and pretty much looks after itself given good soil and normal watering conditions. It will throw up long flowering stems upon which lacy umbels of white flowers will grow and from them ensue the caraway seed. When the seed heads are good and ripe and starting to dry I pick the stems and place them upside down in a carefully marked (and misspelt ) brown paper bag and hang it out of the way somewhere dry so they can keep ripening and become brittle.

Many of the seeds will naturally fall into the bottom of the bag and others may need to be gently encouraged by rolling through finger tips. Repeated winnowing (tossing and blowing across the chaff) will result in a modest harvest.

Store them in a labelled glass jar in your store cupboard.
They taste and smell quite exotic and although many describe it akin to anise I think it would be fairer to say the flavour is more like a cousin of anise, very subtle with cumin like notes too. Caraway is part of the Apiaceae family: carrot, parsley, cumin, dill, fennel, Queen Anne's Lace, coriander, anise..thus you can see the relationships of foliage, flowers, smell and taste.
So why bother growing caraway?
Well for one thing, like anything you grow yourself, you know it's chemical free and where it comes from. It is a lot more potent than the aged specimen you buy in the spice shops here and it makes for a good companion plant masking the scent of other crops. It is relatively small in growing habit and very attractive. Bees seem to like it too. Caraway seeds are commonly used in bread baking and cakes and they particularly enliven cabbage dishes and dress carrots and other root vegetables nicely. You won't believe how they transform simple lightly steamed cabbage just by tossing a teas through and the fragrant steam that rises is eyelash flutteringly yum. I think they go particularly well in a Cheese and Caraway Scone, lovely with butter and an afternoon cup of tea.

One of my favourite recipes is this very vanillary/custardy Caraway Seed Cake and I've been making this since I was 13 yrs old from my old school cookery book. I've also converted it to a Thermomix version as well. For both versions, pre-heat oven to 180C and grease and line a loaf tin about 14cm x 21cm.

Caraway Seed Cake

125g butter
1 cup of castor sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups self raising flour
1/4 cup of custard powder
2 tabs caraway seeds (less if they are fresh and home grown!)

Beat butter, sugar, eggs, milk, flour and custard powder with an electric mixer till combined and then beat on medium for 3 mins until the mix is changed in colour. Stir in the caraway seeds and bake in a mod-slow (150-180C) oven for an hour until a skewer comes out cleanly. Stand for 5 mins before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Thermomix Version

Process 250g of sugar to castor sugar by blending for 3sec on speed 9.
Add 120g butter
120g milk
2 eggs
210g self raising flour
40g custard powder
process for 30-40 sec on speed 6.
Add 2 tabs caraway seeds (less if potent and fresh home grown)
and mix on reverse speed 4 for 3 secs to combine.

Bake in a mod to slow oven (150-180C) for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Stand for 5 mins before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Crafty Bits for the Shower/Party

I would not have believed how simple these effective poms are for decorating. We kept the colours in theme and they are very light in weight to hang which is important. Being a garden party there was no shortage of great points to hang from including the underside of the shade umbrellas, gateways and garden arch.
Here is a you tube link that shows pretty concisely how easy it is.

Old silver trays were purchased for a couple of dollars each and coated with blackboard paint. Their beautiful scrolled edges and engravings made lovely signs for the garden and I'm sure they will come in handy again and I may even use them on the market stall. Some were screwed straight to garden stakes to point the way and for hanging signs we drilled a couple of holes in the top and threaded with garden twine.

Leftover hessian/burlap from Christmas was used on the invitations, party favour bags and wrapped around milk bottles of flowers to keep the theme running through. Lots of up-cycling and recycling.
We also placed a couple of tall Fowlers bottles in my gumboots and filled them with cut agapanthas and placed them at a gate but I didn't get a photo but I mention it because it was a very effective idea and simple to do.

There were guests from many walks of Emma's life and we definitely needed name tags so we simply cut carrot shapes from bright orange paper and folded some narrow strips of green tissue and cut it finely but not quite through to the base so that it created a feathery look and then sticky taped them to the back. People either used small safety pins or pegs to attach them.

Disclaimer: only poor quality silver trays of dubious and debilitated surfaces were harmed with blackboard paint in the creation of this production.

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Basic Soap Recipe

I made soap for the return thanks favours.
The soap ideally needs 6 weeks to cure and harden so it will be just right when the baby is born.

Here is my recipe:
I used 2000g beef tallow for moisturising quality and bar hardness
1000g olive oil for creaminess and lather
250g coconut oil to give cleaning but not enough to be too stripping
1235g distilled water
443g lye
48g of blended essential oil (lavender, lime and bergamot).

After removing them from the mould and cutting into bars I stamped them with a set of alphabet cookie "stamps" that I purchased from Avon a while ago. You can stamp with rubber stamps too but these cookie stamps being rigid give a great impression.
We then followed the invitation theme through to the the thank you packaging.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Special Activities For A Baby Shower

"Wishes For Baby"
was a lovely activity that Alana organised for Emma's baby shower. It gave guests the opportunity to pen some words of love and support that were very powerful for Emma to reflect upon later. Alana printed up some sheets with words like
"I hope you learn........"
"I hope you ignore......"
"I hope you never forget......."
allowing guests to fill in the blanks.
I set up a small table and just two chairs down the back of the garden in the cool shade of the apple tree where guests could reflect in quiet time and consider their wishes.
Emma covered a lidded box and created a slot for people to post their completed wishes so that guests had the freedom of complete privacy to write what they really felt and wanted to share with Emma and her baby.
She will draw strength and encouragement from them in the months and years to come and she may even want to scrapbook them as momentos of this time.

Another really special idea Alana came up with was this canvas. She painted the tree trunk and branches with the borders giving people at the shower the opportunity to make a thumb or finger print with green ink and write their name on their unique "leaf"
It is another beautiful touching momento of the shower that we are able to look back on. This tree contains "leaves" from every chapter of Emma's life; family, friends, carers.

 She will remember this day as not just a party but also as a celebration of love and support and embrace from some of the very important people in her life. Just as the leaves of a tree help to nourish, support and breathe for the tree, so too do all these people represented on Emma's special tree. This is a tangible reminder of her support network for times when she may need help and encouragement. I'll be pinning these ideas to use at another opportunity for sure.

We also played some silly fun games too of course.
Don't say "baby" or you lose a peg. The person with the most pegs at the end of the day wins.
Estimate the circumference of Emma's tummy and cut a piece of string, closest size measurement wins.

A blind baby food test - guess what the ingredients are. THAT was very interesting!

We also had ice cubes with babies frozen inside and the first one to melt and their baby to be "born" won a prize.

In theme with our garden setting and style our prizes were decorated cartons of home laid eggs and baskets of home grown vegetables. Also garden trowels and home saved seeds in home made seed packets. I could have sworn I took photos but I must have forgotten in all the excitement.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Peter Rabbit's Food

I'm not going to bore you with the entire menu list but I did think there were a couple tips worth mentioning if you are wanting to theme along these lines.
The fresh crunchy vegetable platters were popular starters. I managed to get a couple of mini cabbages from the girls at the growers market that I go to and this was an ideal size to put the Tzatziki dip in. Alana cut the top third off and then cut and also used a tablespoon to make a cavity big enough. We had a corn relish dip in the capsicum half.

Here she is, the gorgeous Alana, with her mini carrot cakes frosted with a cream cheese and maple syrup frosting. They were divine! But the decorations were so fabulous. She made carrots, mini peas in pods and rabbits from marzipan. They were sooo cute.

We also got the idea for these little cheesecakes from Patches Of Heaven but I worked out a recipe and will include it below because this was soooo easy and I will definitely be doing this again for other crowd catering functions. The little tubes are about 75ml and I got them and the mini spoons from a caterers supplier. This "recipe" could be adapted and changed in so many ways and I love that there is no waiting for things to set and each layer can be made and spooned in. I found using a parfait spoon was the perfect spoon for this job. This recipe uses a number of very Australian ingredients (as in the packaging style and sizing) so if you live overseas you will have to do a bit of research to find your equivalents.

Layered Mini Cheesecakes
makes 30 x 75ml tubes

1 packet of gingernut biscuits (cookies) crushed
place as the base layer in the tube

Whip together 1 packet of Philadelphia cream cheese 
and 1 tin of condensed milk
with the juice of one lemon
place a layer in the tube atop the biscuit

Roughly blend 500g of mixed frozen berries 
with a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar
and a tablespoon of grenadine
so that you have a lumpy sauceish fruity layer
don't process it too finely as it is about texture as well as flavours.

Whip 300ml of cream
Top off the layers and add a berry on top for decoration.

The idea is that the guests can dig spoon through the layers with their mini spoons and get creaminess and tart berry flavours with gooey cheesecake richness and the crunch of biscuit.

My friend Kat has also used a gingernut base with cheesecake flavoured with orange zest, elderflower concentrate and rosewater and a blueberry compote on top. She is a divine master baker but you see what I mean about adapting the recipe. You could even do a tiramisu themed layer or a tropical style with coconut and pineapple....

Lots and lots of good things to eat, most of themed around produce from Mr McGregor's garden; cucumber  sandwiches, asparagus rolls, mini quiches and chicken, celery, walnut rounds and all washed down with icy elderflower punch.
Huge thanks to the girls helping me and to all the people who surprised us with platters too!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mr McGregor's Garden Party

I'm on the home straight to Grandma-hood; seven weeks to go and the baby shower is done and dusted. Boy does Pintrest come into it's own for party planning!
Emma's girlfriends wanted to go with a garden party and chose a Beatrix Potter theme.
We started building ideas on a Pintrest board here

We took some inspiration and sent out the invites. 

And got the garden ready....

for what turned out to be one of the hottest days of summer!

Emma purchased several silver trays from the local op-shop for a couple of dollars each and coated them in blackboard paint providing plenty of signs for us to work with.

Craig schooshed the garden and tidied the rows

I can see Peter Rabbit has been here and Mr McGregor has left his hoe in his hurry to chase him!

Even the lettuces going to seed look enticing.

Thanks also goes to my Mum for lending us her Beatrix Potter critters for various parts of the garden lending a lovely story book feel.

I missed getting a lot of photos in the hustle and bustle of the actual shower event but it really did look lovely with every corner of the garden flowering.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Green Bean Pickle

We also taste tested green bean pickles at our last Living Better meet up - I tell you there is not many meetings when we don't seem to be passing around some preserve, cordial or bread!
This is yet another type of pickle and a great way other than freezing or drying to preserve green beans.
This is Cindy's mother's recipe!

For every kilo of fresh green beans (chopped) use the following
3 cups of vinegar 
4 large onions chopped
3 cups of sugar
1 tabs salt
3 tabs curry powder
1 tabs each of turmeric, cumin and mustard powder
4 tabs cornflour
6 fresh chillies (or to taste) 

Par boil the beans and drain
Mix dry ingredients into a paste with a little of the vinegar
Add sugar to the vinegar and dissolve
In a saucepan mix the paste, vinegar and beans, chillies and onion together.
Bring to a boil and cook for 5mins
Bottle hot into warm sterilised jars.

Green bean pickles recipes can usually be found in every family and are simple to make but boy are they delicious. Excellent with cheese sandwiches and cold meat salads. They never last long in our house.
Next Living Better With Less meeting is the 27th February 2014.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pickling Daikon - 2 Methods

The other night at our Living Better With Less group, we also talked about pickling as another method of vegetable preservation that doesn't rely on the freezer. It does rely on the refrigerator for storage though. If you are harvesting from your yard generally you'll find less supermarket trips ergo more fridge room anyway. The group did some taste test sampling of pickled daikon and there were mixed reactions.

This method is of Asian influence and after reading several recipes I used "Vietnamese Pickled Carrot and Daikon" (without the carrot as ours isn't ready yet). I cut the daikon using a mandolin to shred it finely and it is jarred with sugar, salt and vinegar with some Sichuan pepper in my version. These are stored in the fridge and are ready to eat in three days but last for about three weeks. This produces a very mild palatable pickle and takes a lot of the pungency from the daikon. It would be great with salads, added to rice paper wraps or alongside cold roast meats. I made two tall jars and I'm pretty confident these will be certainly gone in a few weeks.

The other method we taste tested was the natural ferment version. This is made in a very similar way to the pickled cucumbers and pickled beetroot. Once again I reached for my all time favourite book "Preserving" by Oded Schwartz. His version calls for beetroot and radish but again...timing, my beetroot is not in glut enough yet!
Be warned! During the first couple of days I kept trying to find what had died and was causing the foul smell in my kitchen, radish and cabbages too can be a bit like that. After a couple of days as the fermentation got under way it started to "burp" a garlicky smell in the kitchen. After a couple of weeks the crunchy, salty rounds are ready and the jars are lidded and the lids popped on and they are stored in the fridge. These will store for about 3-6 months and will be a great source of nutrient and something different to tempt our palettes in winter. They are much more pungent than the Asian pickled version and I like to snack on them on their own and they would be an interesting addition to a cheese board or ploughman's lunch. 
If you are growing cucumbers and beetroot this summer I definitely urge you to check out the post links above. I could not stop myself eating the pickled beetroot and it didn't last long at all. I am looking forward to making some more again this year.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Living Better in January-Apricots

Our Living Better With Less group met up again last week and it was good to see everyone after our Christmas break. Unfortunately the Workers Club has let us down yet again so we are on the hunt for a new venue. I will post the new details soon.
The Living Better With Less group is a free interest group for people wanting to live a better life with less money, chemicals and "stuff". We focus on gardening, housekeeping, foraging, preserving and net work together for a simpler but richer life. We meet on the last Thursday of every month except December from 7-9pm.

We focus on seasonal activities and right now in Tasmania, apricots are ripening right now.
If you are able to get hold of some nice firm just ripe apricots they are great for bottling using a water bath method but if they have turned the corner and started to become soft then you might like to consider stewing and then freezing or blending to a thick liquid and dehydrating to a fruit leather.
Fruit leathers can be done in your dehydrator on the solid sheets or you can cut baking paper to fit the trays and this works well too. After a few hours when the leather has become a sticky firm sheet it can be rolled in baking paper and stored in a cool cupboard for lunch boxes and snacks.

We also talked about drying apricot halves in a dehydrator. This can take many hours up to one or two days depending on the size of the fruit. I rotate my shelves from bottom to top to try to get even drying and inspect from time to time removing any ready fruit.
It's important to note that home dried fruit in this way is sulphur free and therefore looks different to the commercially prepared ones. Instead of glowing orange orbs, they are more like burnt umber and have some darkened spots where the concentrated fruit sugars have cooked.
After passing around taste tests they were found to be every bit as delicious.

I have become a big fan of dehydrating. It reduces the size of your crop significantly allowing you to fit kilos and kilos into just a couple of jars. You can opt to solar dry but I find the electric one is very quick and draws very little energy and maintains a lot of colour, especially in herbs. It is a great alternative to freezing where space is often at a premium. I believe in spreading food storage over a number of methods; if anything were to happen to your power supply at least you would not lose all your stores.

And of course, having dried apricots on hand is a must for my most asked for recipe
One thing is for sure, there is no time to lose when you get your hands on a case of apricots from the market or a couple of buckets from a friend, apricots will ripen in a matter of a day or two so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get them saved for some treats in the winter months to come.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...