I’ve just ordered a ‘Chicken Tractor’. Most of the locals who seem to know about chooks encouraged me to buy a mobile chook coop – they said it would harbour less pests and diseases and let me ‘free range’ the chooks by regularly moving the coop around my property. The other benefit is that instead of killing an area, I get to fertilise a large part of the property regularly.
With the dogs, I can’t let chooks have the run of the property, but at least they will always have fresh grass and ground to peck at. This tractor holds 6 – 8 chooks however I’m only planning on having 3 or 4 bantams.
A few years ago, the thought of my own chickens and fresh eggs was just a dream. I now can’t wait to add a few more residents to the Convent.
Asparagus is a strange plant. I remember the pretty fronds of Asparagus Ferns which looked so old fashioned when I was young. That’s really what asparagus is. The spears, if not picked when young, develop into ferny fronts. However the spears look so strange sticking out of the soil by themselves – so bare – and you just snap them off at ground level.
I have asparagus growing both in the raised garden bed and in the side extended colorbond fence bed. I’m sure it’s not supposed to have spears now, but I think trimming the old fronds and feeding and watering them has brought them to life. Anyway, it’s most welcome and each day I pick some spears and add them to the collection until I have enough for a food creation. There’s quite a healthy crop at the moment which needs attention most days.
Last night it was Asparagus Crepes – just a white sauce and a little parmesan added to the steamed fresh spears on paper thin crepes. Yum. The asparagus plants are just over a year old which is very young, so I have high hopes for the future. Once established, asparagus is supposed to crop for decades!
The frosts and open fires seemed like an ideal excuse to get old friends together at the Convent for a Winter Christmas in Kandos.
I enjoy the whole traditional spread at Christmas with the glazed ham, turkey, roast pork, pudding with custard and brandy butter – but somehow it always seems a little out of place in an Australian Summer. Not so in Kandos in Winter where the temperatures get low, the frosts are heavy on the ground and the air smells of warm fireplaces. I’ve also missed seeing some of my friends and our old get-togethers so it seemed like the ideal opportunity. Fortunately most agreed and we had a great weekend of food, drink and friendship.
The garden isn’t at its perkiest to show off and produce is limited, but I managed to salvage some root veg for roasting.
The food was most appropriate – the whole Christmas shebang. Roast pork (with crackling), maple glazed ham, turkey breast filled with cranberries, spinach and pistachios (I don’t think I’d now try a whole turkey again – the breast is fantastic- slices well, looks amazing, cooks faster and more reliably and is easier to control to make sure it remains moist. You can still fill it with any type of seasoning or stuffing), all the trimmings of homemade apple sauce and cranberry jelly, mountains of roast veg, including a potato bake. Rich gravy made ahead courtesy of Jamie Oliver. Dessert was a steamed pudding, accompanied by brandy custard and brandy butter, as well as a very Christmassy raspberry semifredo. A Sri Lankan Christmas cake using preserved chow chow (chokes) topped off the celebrations, all washed down with lots of lovely bottles of alcohol. I think we now have Convent Cordial as a staple – Mrs Wigley’s Rose!
Many thanks to my friend G for all her help and contributions and, of course, to my friends for their own contributions, company and good cheer. I hope to see them much more often – either individually or as a group. It’s so important to keep old friends after moving out of Sydney and hopefully I can offer a happy change of pace here at the Convent.
A friendly local (not that all local’s aren’t friendly here) directed me to Mudgee Fine Foods who co-ordinate lots of foodie activities and promote local producers. Last weekend friends and I attended Bread, Sourdough and Pizza-making class in Mudgee.
For a ridiculously small price, an intimate class had two artisan bakers teach us the finer points of bread-making, culminating in us gobbling down delicious pizzas we had contributed to in the class.
It was all highly practical, hands on and we also were given techniques on preparing the starter for our own sourdough. We left the class with pizza dough to use at home (which I didn’t do justice to) and starter for our sourdough. Whilst I have a bread maker, I can see lots of bread kneading in my future.
Mudgee Fine Foods have great events, including Farm Walks where you get to see local producers close up. I’ll be keeping an eye on their website in future.
The veg patch is a bit quiet at the moment as the Summer veg has finished and I replenish the beds for Winter. That being said, there are a few gems that are worthy of extended use.
The chillies are abundant at the moment, particularly the orange Siam, the tiny bird’s eye Thai and the Jalapeño, so some bottled chilli stuff seems like a good idea. I already have chilli oil in bottles so am trying Chilli Jam for the first time. Some Sweet Chilli Sauce is also going into the pantry.
The tarragon has gone into white wine vinegar for future cooking escapades and the basil is contributing to pesto.
Last year my friend and I attended introductory cheese making classes at High Valley Wine and Cheese at Mudgee run by The Cheesemaking Workshop and had a wonderful time making soft cheeses, including camembert, fetta, ricotta, quark, marscapone and yogurt. Over the weekend we ventured into advanced cheese making with hard cheese such as cheddar, havarti, haloumi as well as mozzarella and blue vein.
Lots of fun and lots to learn. It’s continually surprising to see the different varieties you can produce with the same base ingredients but different temperatures, techniques, timing and, of course, bugs. Anyway, at a fast pace we worked on five cheeses in teams of five and had the opportunity to mix, cut, turn, heat, wash and drain whey to come home with multiple cheeses to mature before eating. Some of the cheeses such as haloumi and mozzarella can be made and eaten the same day.
I already usually have yogurt and ricotta in the fridge and churn any spare cream into butter rather than throw it out, but now plan to expand the efforts considerably. The mozzarella an haloumi will be great additions for the fridge.
I’d encourage anyone to give it a go. Whilst it’s much easier after attending classes and buying a kit, it’s also something that can be picked up after a bit of research and practice.
A good friend came up for the weekend, providing an opportunity to prepare some rustic meals. Being on my own means I’m sometimes a little lazy cooking for myself and look forward to taking an extra step when I have visitors. I should entertain more here and also be a little more adventurous with my meals.
Anyway, it’s just starting to chill a little here in the mornings and nights so warming food is welcome. Pumpkin soup and homemade bread always goes down well and is easy to get on the table with minimum fuss. Making a big batch means I can have my own portions from the freezer any night (especially if I’m out in the garden until dark falls).
I haven’t made apple pie for ages so this was a good chance. Maybe next time I’ll scale down the pie dish from enormous size to something more practical for two.
I like to have yoghurt and homemade bread here for guests and this time I also extended to ricotta, all of which are super easy. The ricotta turned itself into baked ricotta after adding eggs, parmesan, semidried tomatoes (homemade, of course), olives and fresh garden basil. A salad of garden veg rounded off the meal.
We finished with more apple pie and ice-cream, topped with homemade strawberry syrup (again using Convent strawberries).
All in all, a satisfying culinary weekend. I’m keen to extend my cheese repertoire in practice for our next cheese making class.
It’s that time of the year when tomatoes start to ripen and take over the garden. Some months ago I mentioned I had planted lots of varieties of cherry tomatoes – they seem hardier than the larger varieties and suit me as I can pick a handful of mixed tomatoes for a meal. The hail in November stripped the plants back to bare stems but they have come back with a vengeance and set the challenge to keep up with them as they ripen.
Semidried tomatoes seem to work well with the cherry variety, so I’m drying and bottling as fast as I can. They look so pretty with the range of colours working well together. My approach is pretty simple.
Firstly I line some baking trays with baking paper (just saves on the mess and makes it easier to pick up any tomatoes that drop through the rack.
I then set racks on the baking trays. The tomatoes can be pretty small and will be much smaller as they dry, so if possible, use two racks crossed over to minimise gaps.
Preheat oven at a low heat – 120/140 degrees.
Wash and thoroughly dry tomatoes. Cut in half and place in a bowl.
Add salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper.
Add heaps of chopped fresh herbs – I use oregano.
Add a few sloshes of olive oil and make sure all ingredients are well combined.
Spread out on racks, trying to keep a single layer to help the drying process.
Put on low shelf in oven and allow to dry out – this may take 3 – 5 hours.
Remove from oven and place tomatoes in sterilised jars. Top with olive oil. It may help to use a sharp knife of instrument to remove air bubbles from the stacked tomatoes.
Seal and enjoy.
These smaller tomatoes are great tossed in salads, pastas and casseroles and provide a rich small explosion of taste.
A humble dessert befitting the Convent. This recipe is particularly handy as I like baking bread but homemade bread doesn’t last as long as commercial types, given it has no preservatives. I make breadcrumbs and freeze them but dishes that use the bread also are very handy. A Bread and Butter Pudding is hard to pass up and so easy to make. A great comfort food in hot or cold weather.
I partly use this blog as an easy reference point for me for my more frequent recipes but hope others enjoy them as well. I prefer recipes where I am likely to have the ingredients on hand (and that they are readily available – this isn’t inner-City Sydney for shopping).
half a dozen slices of day-old bread
500 ml milk
1/4 cup of sugar
vanilla extract or essence
Preheat oven to 160 degree C
Butter baking dish
Butter bread, cut into triangles and place in dish
Mix eggs in mixer and gradually add milk, then sugar and vanilla extract
Pour over bread in baking dish
Grate nutmeg over the top and, if you prefer, sprinkle with more sugar (brown or demerara is extra good).
Bake for 60 – 90 minutes until cooked (test custard is set by inserting knife and it comes out clean)
Allow to sit for 10 minutes (or you can serve cold).
You can add sultanas or dried fruit such as chopped dried apricots
You can also spread your choice of jam on the bread along with the butter
I was fortunate to spend this weekend with friends visiting the Convent. A real Australian weekend, with the Kandos Hot Rod and Street Machine Show providing a background soundtrack, a couple of barbies, a trip to Dunn’s Swamp and cricket on the telly.
It was satisfying that the Convent provided well, with all salads coming from the garden, as well as beetroot and zucchini supplementing the barbecue. Homemade bread made a few appearances and berry sorbet made use of the berry patch.
Eggplant chutney was made, taking advantage of the gorgeous little lebanese eggplants. An initial picking yielded half a dozen jars. I’m now adapting to making use of garden produce and planning meals better. I also no longer rely on star ingredients I could so easily purchase in Sydney for entertaining. It’s very rewarding to put forward courses that celebrate the garden and the seasons and visitors can help pick and prepare. I’m also making good use of quality appliances that have been so under-utilised such as my Kitchenaid mixer and ice-cream maker as well as the bread maker.
In the meantime, my friends will be willing guinea pigs as I attempt to establish Convent staple and signature dishes.