Quark, birthday parties, bread and broken arms. Oh, and burned chicken stock!

What I have been doing lately, while I haven’t been updating this blog…

Making birthday party invitations and party bags with my big five-year-old daughter Mikaela:

Making bread rolls with slightly old yeast and no where near enough time for them to rise (they were still yummy, but a bit dense!):

Making quark (this is an experiment that is not yet complete – it’s been draining for about 4 hours at this point, and I’ve just opened it up to take the photo):

yoghurt draining through cheese cloth into a bowl

Waiting for hours in hospital for various people to look at, X-ray and operate on that same daughter’s arm, only then she was still four. She broke it and needed pins put in. Ouch. But the cast is awesome, and waterproof!!

Hot pink cast from wrist to shoulder (almost)

Oh and making my house smell vile for days on end, despite leaving many windows wide open everytime we left the house (it was too cold to have them open when we were here), by leaving chicken stock on the stove overnight (not even on low) an burning it to a cinder. Oops. I didn’t take a photo of that one!

This is all well and good, but what I am doing tomorrow, is finally getting solar panels put on my roof! Very exciting.

Vegetarian Dishes: Liam’s Incan Bean Stew

A tortilla in a bowl filled with a pumpkin, tomato and nave bean stewLast week Liam* and I went hunting for some haricot beans to cook a bean stew recipe from a book on the Incas that my mother gave him for Christmas. It took us a while, but eventually we discovered that haricot beans are what we call navy beans, which are also the beans in baked beans.

Anyway, we made the stew and Liam made himself a bowl inside his bowl out of a tortilla, and heaped the stew inside. And, he declared the whole meal delicious. He’s not always terribly keen on new food, but whether it was having chosen itnd cooked it himself out of his own book, or the novelty of serving it in a tortilla bowl, he loved this meal. Or, you know, maybe it just was delicious! Because actually, everyone except my four-year-old daughter enjoyed it. And she didn’t actually try it!

Of course, the recipe as written was a little too spicey so we modified it to suit our tastes. This is how we made it:

Ingredients
250g dried haricot (navy) beans
4 tomatoes
500g pumpkin (after removing skin and seeds)
2 tsp Paprika (the original recipe called for 2tbs, which seemed to spicy for us, but play with it to get the level you like)
mixed herbs
salt
black pepper
100g sweetcorn

Instructions
1. Wash the beans thoroughly in cold water, then put them in a large bowl and cover them with more cold water. Leave them to soak 3-4 hours.

2. Drain the beans and place them in a large saucepan. Cover with yet more cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for two hours or until tender.

3. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes finely, peel the pumpkin and chop it into 2cm cubes.

4. Heat 100ml of water in a medium saucepan. Stir in the paprika and bring to the boil. Add the tomatoes along with a good sprinkling of mixed herbs, plus salt and pepper to taste. You may need to add a little more of these later when you have added everything else, just do a taste test to see. Simmer for 15 minutes or until thick and well blended.

5. Drain the beans then return them to the large saucepan. Add the pumpkin and the tomato mixture and stir well. Simmer for another 15 minutes.

6. Add the sweet corn and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the pumpkin has almost distintegrated and the stew is quite thick.

7. Do a taste test – see if you need to add more salt or pepper. Sun gods and sacrifices, the lost world of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans

8. Serve in bowls. We served it with rice and tortillas. The book also suggested corn bread as an accompaniment.

Simple but delicious.

The book is called Sun gods and sacrifices, the lost world of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans by Fiona McDonald & Philip Steele. It also has other craft activities, from making feather fans to mozaic masks to a full size felt Inca tunic! Liam hasn’t actually done any of the other craft activities (most probably need some level of parent involvement), but he has been enjoying reading the book. The next thing he wants to do is try the recipe for making our own tortillas.
__________
*Have I been cagey about the kid’s names? I just can’t do it anymore – Liam is my nine year old.

This post is linked to Delectable Tuesday and Meatless (Vegan) Mondays and Real Food Wednesday .

Super Easy Tomato Basil Soup

The other night I served a winner for dinner- at least as far as Master Eight & Mr Sustainable Suburbia were concerned. Ms Just-Turned-One didn’t like it and Ms Four wouldn’t try it, but hey, three out of five (I include myself) is about the best I can hope for – and it’s especially gratifying that everyone who did eat it had seconds.

So, here’s the recipe. Now, I just made this up as I went along out of ingredients I had on hand, and I didn’t measure anything, but it’s pretty straight forward.

Ingredients

1 medium sweet potato, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled
1 parsnip, peeled
3 bunches baby bok choy, washed thoroughly (I used the leaves and stems)
About a cup of chopped fresh basil, loosely packed
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can puréed tomatoes
1 375ml jar summer tomato & basil pasta sauce (the brand was Bertolli’s Five Brothers)
2 tbsp tomato paste
About 1-1.5 litres of water
About 0.5-0.75 tsp salt
About 1.5 tsp sugar

Chop the veggies – you’re going to purée them, so how small you chop them will depend on how long you have to cook them. I put them on at about 2pm and puréed them about 5.30, so Iwas able to cut them fairly big.

Chuck them in a large saucepan (at least five litres) with the water and canned and jarred goods. Add the tomato purée and the roughly chopped basil.

Simmer until everything is soft, ideally at least an hour to give the flavours time to mix. Two is probably better. Blend (I used a stick blender) until relatively smooth (or until you get the texture you want really), then add salt and sugar (which removes some of the tartness of the tomato) to taste.

Cook for a bit longer, then serve with grated cheese and your favourite bread. We had Turkish bread with it, which was yum. Even those who turned their noses up at the soup enjoyed the bread!

Australian bush food rules!

Via Permaculture Pathways, I just discovered this great research into the nutritional benefits of Australian native fruits and herbs.  The research was funded by the Australian Government Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation to support industry, and basically found that a lot of native foods trump exotic foods hands down. For instance, all but two of the foods studies are higher in antioxidents than the ‘blueberry standard’, and all contained Vitamin E, some comparable with the ‘avocado benchmark’.

I’m inspired to find out which ones grow well in Canberra now and plant some. I’m guessing, for instance, that Kakadu Plums don’t, but I think Quandongs might….

The booklet is downloadable for free, or you can order a printed copy for $25.

Yoghurt, Custard… it’s all dairy here!

Two nights ago I made my second batch of made from scratch yoghurt. The first batch worked perfectly, but getting my son (Kid Number One) to eat natural yoghurt is, well, nigh impossible. When I sweetened it with honey and pureed fruit he still didn’t like it.

So, next I made a batch sweetened with xylitol (a sugar alcohol with a low GI and which inhibits tooth decay – I use it haphazardly and could as well have used sugar) and with vanilla essence added. I forgot to add the milk powder, so it wasn’t as thick as the previous batch  but it was pronounced delicious by the childers. Second helpings were had. No higher praise and all that. I stupidly didn’t measure the additions, so will have to try to reproduce and then write them down. I can say the milk tasted awfully sweet to me before I added the starter, but once it was yoghurt it was perfect   not as sweet as store bought, but sweet enough to satisfy the family!

The family are all out right now (except me and Babe Number Three), so tonight I am making Tunisian Vegetable Couscous and Inner Pickle’s friend Estelle’s mother’s custard. Except I’m using skim milk powder instead of full cream because that’s all I had (and we’re out of milk altogether, honestly the amount of milk this family goes through in a day is ridiculous!), so I’ve added an extra half a cup of it. Will report back on the results.

The family is about to arrive home, so better get on with it…

Edited to add photos and reports:

Bowl of custardClearly I am not a food photographer, but here is a bowl of the custard. I have to say, I wasn’t sold on it. I liked it, I ate my bowl full, but the powdered milk flavour was strong. Kid Number One declared it as good as anything I usually make, but then changed his mind after two spoonfuls and didn’t finish it. Kid Number Two said she didn’t like it. To put that in perspective #1 only eats straight custard power custard. He doesn’t like egg custard at all. Kid #2 does though.

And the couscous – well, I loved it. The husband liked it but didn’t have seconds. Not a high recommendation then, but he did point out that he was very tired. Kid#1 tried it but said he didn’t really like the taste. Kid#2 said she didn’t like it without dishing any into her bowl, much less trying it. Sigh. They both ate the very basic salad (two colours of capsicum plus cucumber) and drank milk.

Also, the recipe made enough to feed an army (or at least eight – and that’s eight people who eat too, my kids not included), so there’s masses left over. Not sure how couscous goes on reheat, but I think it will be okay to eat cold tomorrow. Wouldn’t be surprised if kid#2 decides to try it that way if I have it for lunch. Anyway, I can always hope.

Bowl of Tunisian vegetable couscous

A vegetarian frittata recipe (or, Failing at my vegetarian dishes challenge)

Well, apparently challenging myself to cook two new vegetarian dishes a week was optomistic. One new dish (of any sort) per week seems to be about my limit. However, thinking about it has at least meant that we are eating more vegetarian in general.

Last night, for instance, we had burritos. Often we’ve been having them with beef and beans, but last night I just made the beans.

Tonight we’re having a vegetarian fritata (recipe below) and a salad. I’m conscious that Kid Number One doesn’t like fritata, so I’m putting lots of feta in the salad as well as shelled, steamed and peeled broad beans (from my Mum’s garden).  Not entirely sure if he’ll like the beans either, but he’s enjoyed helping to shell and peel them anyway. And I know he likes feta.

Sweet Potato and Feta Frittata

Serves 4-8 (or 2!) depending what else you have with it

Ingredients

  • 1 small or 1/2 a large sweet potato
  • about 5 large silverbeet (Swiss chard) leaves, or equivalent
  • two smallish tomatoes
  • a few sprigs of parsley
  • about 100g feta cheese – in Australia I use Southcape Marinated Fetta made from cows milk which is really yummy, but probably any good feta would do.
  • 8 eggs, taken out of the fridge earlier so they are at room temperature (ideally)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • a pinch of salt

You will also need

  • 1x26cm saute pan with a heavy base, with lid
  • A medium mixing bowl
  • A whisk (or just a fork really)

Instructions

  1. Slice the sweet potato up into 1 cm thick slices. You can leave it like that or chop it into smaller chunks as you prefer.
  2. Pre-cook the sweet potato however you like, I put it in a ceramic bowl in the microwave, with plate over the top, for about 3-4 minutes and then check it.
  3. Meanwhile, chop your silverbeet and parsley as finely as you like, I do the silverbeet in about 1-2 cm strips, and cut those up further if I’m using large leaves, and steam it for about a minute (or microwave for a few seconds – maybe 15?) – just to soften it a bit. If you want to include the silverbeet stem, I’d steam it for a little longer. Alternatively use baby spinach leaves and don’t bother pre-cooking at all. (Sometimes I don’t even both with the silverbeet).
  4. If you have an electric stove it should be heating up by now. You want it heated to a medium temperature.
  5. Put the saute pan on the stove to heat through.
  6. Slice the tomatoes into about 1/2 cm thick slices
  7. If you are using the marinated feta, fish about 100g out of the jar now so most of the oil can drain off it.
  8. Beat the eggs, water and salt together in a medium bowl.
  9. Pour a little bit of oil from your marinated feta to lightly grease your pan.
  10. Tip the sweet potato into the pan, pour the egg mixture over the sweet potato and quickly add the greens and the feta. You are aiming to keep adding stuff until you can’t get anymore under the egg. You want to do this quickly before the egg cooks too much while you can still stir it around to get it all spread evenly.
  11. Lastly add the tomato slices – spread evenly over the top and push them in just under the egg if you can (it doesn’t matter if they don’t go all the way under though).
  12. Now, put the lid on and turn the stove down to low. Cook until almost set, about 15-25 minutes (check after 15 and see how set it is). Now you can finish it off under the grill, with the lid off, but you can also leave it for longer on the stove if you have the patience.
  13. Serve with a large garden salad.

Edited to add: Kid Number One did eat the frittata after all, but picked out the sweet potato, but Kid Number Two pretty much only ate the sweet potato so between them they did okay! I forgot to put the feta in the salad and no-one really liked the beans much  (me included) 🙁 , but the oil from the marinated feta made a great addition to the salad dressing. Yum. Oh, and I also forgot to take a photo of the frittata. Next time…

Making yoghurt tonight!


Well, it turns out all I needed to do in my quest to find out how to make yoghurt from scratch using an easiyo maker was to follow the first link in my last post – namely to the Easiyo on Amazon – and look at the comments. The very first one has the instructions.

So now I will

  1. Heat 1 litre of light, organic milk almost (but not quite) to boiling.
  2. Cool it in the fridge until completely cold
  3. Mix it with a tbsp of yoghurt and 1/2 cup powered milk by shaking it up in the Easiyo container the same way you do with the sachets (ie half fill with milk, add yoghurt and powered milk, shake, fill with the rest of the milk, shake again).
  4. Fill the Easiyo maker with boiling water as per it’s usual instructions
  5. Pop the container of milk and yoghurt in there and leave for about 10 hours.
  6. Take it out and see if it’s set, if so put in fridge, if not, try, try again!

And now I must rush off, because soon the milk will get to the right temperature, and if I’m not there to take it off the heat it will boil, which I guess means it doesn’t work?

Will report back tomorrow. Wish me luck!

(PS for more detailed instructions just follow the link above and read the first comment, by “New in Florida”)

Updated to add: This worked like a charm. Notes:

  • I did not use a thermometer, just heated the milk until it was not quite boiling (starting to get frothy on top, but not yet frothing up properly), and I let the milk cool in the fridge overnight.
  • When I shook it in the Easiyo it frothed up so much there was barely room for the other 500ml milk. To settle I gently tapped the container on the bench, but I also had to scoop out a lot of froth! The second go around I didn’t shake so much and it was okay.

Edited again to add: I have now put together all my making yoghurt experience into one article on the main Sustainable Suburbia site: How to Make Yoghurt From Scratch in an Easiyo Yogurt Maker.

Making Yoghurt from Scratch in an Easiyo (without the packet mixes)


A few weeks ago a friend lent me her Easiyo yoghurt maker. It’s something I’ve been thinking of trying out for about five years, but each time I consider it I end up deciding that:

a) we really don’t need another kitchen tool cluttering up our space
b) it’s not clear to me that it’s all that much better than buying yoghurt in tubs, since you still have to buy packets every time (though I’m sure that’s a little better), nor much cheaper, and
c) it’s surely not that hard to make yoghurt properly from scratch and I should probably do that instead.

However, now that we have it I’ve been using it, and I must say, I do like it quite a bit. It is at least a little better than buying disposable plastic tubs by the dozen, it’s great to be able to keep the sachets in the cupboard and make the yoghurt overnight, you can vary how tangy the yoghurt is by how long you leave it for (so far ten hours is the most popular, but I’m going to try nine next for comparison), and you don’t even need to have milk in the fridge. That part was a surprise to me, and very convenient.

On the other hand, I still think it shouldn’t be all that hard to make yoghurt from scratch, and then I’d have real control over what I put in it. Though admittedly then we would up our daily milk use even more, and we already go through  two to three litres a day in this house!

So, while the kettle was heating up to make tonight’s batch of yoghurt, I did a quick google, and here’s what I found:

Fellow Australian Inner Pickle is making yoghurt from scratch in a Breville yoghurt maker, which I think just holds it at the right temperature (it’s electric). Following her link I went off for a look at Soul Mama who makes it from scratch and doesn’t use any fancy yoghurt maker, but does use a heating pad on her bench. Now, both these techniques sound fine, but they don’t really help with my plans to reduce our household energy use. But if the Easiyo holds the packet mix stuff at temperature, it should also be fine for real from-scratch yoghurt surely?

A bit more Googling turned up this forum post at Green Living Australia, in which people seem to be saying they’ve used the Easiyo to keep from-scatch yoghurt at the right temperature, and the second post gives instructions for making yoghurt using a thermos but also says yoghurt makers can be used this way. And it has another recipe, and, it describes doing it without the mention of precise tempertures or milk thermometers! Since that’s something I’ve never managed to acquire, this is the recipe I am going to try first.

I’ll report back when I have a result. 🙂

Edited to add: linking to report and instructions on how to make yoghurt from scratch using an Easiyo.

Edited some more to add: I have now put together all my making yoghurt experience into one article on the main Sustainable Suburbia site: How to Make Yoghurt From Scratch in an Easiyo Yogurt Maker.

Easy vegetarian dishes, post number 3: tofu burger

I am falling behind on my pledge to cook two new vegetarian dishes each week. Last week I only managed one. Unless you count the rhubarb pie, which I really don’t, because after all, how many desserts have meat in them anyway?

However, tonight I cooked the tofu burger listed in my original post. It was very easy and, I thought, quite yummy. I used 600g of tofu instead of 550g, and half way through remembered that US tbsp are bigger than metric tbsp, so I had also put in extra of all the sauces, so then of course I had to add extra oats and breadcrumbs to reduce the wetness… so all in all I probably just put in a bit extra of everything.

I’m not sure how many people it was supposed to serve, but I think we ended up with about 14 patties, which was waaay more than we needed for our little family, especially because neither of the big kids were particularly impressed (read: both picked the patty out after a few bites and just ate the bread rolls  with salad and tomato sauce (ie ketchup) – I think it was the texture they found odd, not the taste.  Might add more breadcrumbs for a firmer texture next time).  And that was despite the fact that I made them bigger than the recipe said, since they seemed too small when I followed it properly.

I have cooked and and frozen the rest, so I’ll try to remember to update this post when we defrost them to report how that goes.

Overall, I think it was a pretty good recipe, simple and tasty. Hope I’ll be able to bring the kids around to it eventually. Maybe we’ll BBQ them next time…

How to cook rhubarb pie – delicious and so easy!

(Skip to Rhubarb Pie recipe)

Cutting into the perfect rhubarb pieToday I made the best rhubarb pie ever.

As always, instead of sticking with the recipe I found as written, I’ve mixed up a few different recipes and then tweaked a little. Hence a whole new post instead of just a link from my last how to cook rhubarb post.

The first time I cooked it (earlier this week) I didn’t have time to make pastry, so I used what I had in the freezer, which was reduced fat puff pastry. Now, it was certainly delicious, but hard to eat with a spoon. Also, I found the first pie a bit sweet (and I have a massive sweet tooth).

So today I tried again. For the second attempt I kept the sugar the same, but chopped the rhubarb up a bit finer so it would fill all the nooks and crannies, and added an extra roughly 200g – nearly half as much again. So without further ado, here is:

How to cook Rhubarb Pie

Ingredients:

Filling:

  • 670g fresh rhubarb, chopped finely (1/2 to 1 cm widths) (this is about 5 or 6 cups, but it’s hard to be exact since it depends how you cut it.)
  • 260g (1&1/3 cups US) white sugar
  • 45g plain flour (6 US tbsp)

Pastry:

  • 280g  plain flour (this is about 2 & 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup light olive oil (120ml) (any vegetable oil would do really)
  • 90ml milk
  • Optional: an egg and some sugar for the top of the pie.

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 230C (450F). Lightly grease a 9 inch (approx 23 cm) pie dish.

Assuming you’ve already chopped the rhubarb, we’ll start with the pastry:

  1. Dry: Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.
  2. Wet: Measure the olive oil separately and then add the milk, but don’t mix it together.
  3. Pour wet ingredients into dry and gently mix (I used a fork) until you have an even dough.
  4. Divide the mixture into roughly 1/3 : 2/3.
  5. Place the larger ball onto a large piece of wax paper, and place another piece of paper over the top, then roll it out.
  6. Peel off the top sheet and flip pastry over into 9 inch pie dish.
  7. Peel off the bottom sheet and press pastry into the dish. If there are bits hanging over the edge either use them to fill in any holes in the side or add them to the other ball. Later you will repeat this process to make the top of the pie.
uncooked rhubarb pie without the top pastry. Photo SustainableSuburbia.net

Note that Ms 6 cup up the rhubarb in this case so some of it isn’t as small as I’d like, but it was still just fine.

Now the filling:

  1. Mix together the flour and sugar. Sprinkle roughly half of this into the bottom of the pie, making sure to cover the whole of the pastry (this soaks up the juices and makes sure you end up with a yummy crisp pastry, not a soggy one. Don’t worry, the sugar managers to sweeten the rhubarb plenty without being directly mixed with it.)
  2. Fill the pie with your chopped rhubarb.
  3. Sprinkle the remaining flour-sugar mixture over the top of the rhubarb.
  4. Roll out and flip the top piece of pastry the same way you did the bottom one. Seal it around the edges, and slice three or four holes in the top to let the steam escape.
  5. Optionally beat an egg and use a pastry brush to brush the top of the pie with it, then sprinkle some sugar over the top. This creates a lovely attractive finish to your pie.

Baking: Cover the pie lightly with some aluminium foil to prevent the pastry burning and bake at 230C for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 175C (350F) and remove the foil, and bake for another 40-45 minutes. Serve hot or cold. (or warm). Absolutely divine when left to cool a little and then  served with a scoop vanilla ice cream and/or some pouring cream. Yummy.

Kid Number One (who has never liked rhubarb before) said the first version of the pie was the best pie he’d ever tasted, so I was prepared for him to turn his nose up at this slightly tarter version, but he devoured his slice in record time.  The husband and I both found this one much better.

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