Less surfing, more planting

I know I have fallen behind on NaBloPoMo to the point that I can barely be said to be trying any more.  But the fact is that since I started this blog I am spending altogether too much time in the house sitting at the computer (okay, reading other blogs more than writing in this one, it has to be said).

So what am I doing now? Well, I have been reading the Down to Earth forum, and just surfing from there, while nursing a sleeping Babe Number 3, and it has inspired me. So right now I am going to change a certain baby’s very full nappy, and then I am going outside (with her) to finally plant out my tomato seedlings, all of whom have been begging me to get them in the ground, for at least a week or two!

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.

Living more sustainably, bit by bit

I’m falling behind in my NaBloPoMo commitment and we’re not even half way through the month yet. Who knew it would be so hard? It’s not for lack of thinking of posts though!

I am happy to say however, that exactly what I’d hoped would happen with starting this blog, is happening, namely that the more I research and write about sustainable living, the more motivated I am to put the concepts into place myself. So, having written a post yesterday about easy ways to save money on electricity, I’ve realised how far we’ve back slid over the past year or two.

Sure, we turn off our monitor when it’s not in use and have changed the light bulbs over for CFLs, but we’re falling down on getting the kids to turn things off when they’re finished – and in doing it ourselves in all honesty. And, we’ve gotten in the habit of leaving the phone charger plugged in when it’s not in use, and because it’s on the same power board as our clock radio, it doesn’t get turned off at the power point. So the first step for us now is to switch out that power board with one with individual switches.

But the big thing I’m going to do next is to involve the children more. We’re going to have a family meeting (which we haven’t had since Babe Number Three was born), and it’s going to be all about energy savings. I’m going to do a simple energy audit, checking our & gas use for a week, and then set some goals with them for how much we can reduce it. Then we’ll look at our power bills and see how much money we can save. That’s not really a big motivation for us, but I think if we actually see how much it is and figure out what we can do with that money, as a family, then it will help motivate the children – and probably us too!

Our longer term goal is to install a solar power system, but at the moment we’re concentrating on reducing our overall energy use. On Sunday this week we’re planning to go visit Canberra’s Sustainable House for more inspiration, and information.

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…

New solar LED garden lights and Solar Powered November

Since I’m doing NoBloPoMo this month, which means posting every day, I’ve decided a theme is in order. Now you might think I’ve already set a food theme with my new vegetarian dishes posts, but no. Since I bought some solar LED garden lights earlier this week (lantern style, but more on that later), and besides have been thinking about other ways to use domestic solar power, I’m declaring it a Solar Powered November. I’m going to research all manner of solar powered home appliances, and related issues like how to save electricity in general.

Now, as to the lights I have bought…

I chose some Gardmans Lattice Lanterns, mostly because I wanted some lanterns style lights and those were the only ones in Bunnings (I’d link, but they’re not on the Bunnings website). They came in a pack of four (and were AU$29.95), which I plan to use three of in our front courtyard, where we like to have BBQs of a summer evening, and one out the front of the courtyard, where our front door light keeps blowing. We just put a new compact fluorescent in there a couple of weeks ago, and it’s blown already!

These lanterns only have one LED each, which seemed to be pretty standard, so I’m not sure how much light they will really give, but the front door light doesn’t give much anyway as it is behind a bottlebrush tree. I will place this one a bit closer to the driveway and hopefully it might have some effect.

Like many solar garden lights, these turn on automatically when it is dark. They also have an ‘off’ setting, but they don’t seem to have a straight ‘on’ setting, and the instructions are to use them without any other light, as that could cause them to flicker. Likewise they are to be placed at least a metre and a half apart, so the light of one doesn’t turn the next one off. So that gives a good indication of how far their light goes I guess.

I haven’t seen them in action yet, and I’m not sure if four will be sufficiently useful, but I’ll write review when I have used them a bit.

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.

Vegetarian risotto recipe with pumpkin, spinach and feta – New vegetarian dish No. 1

In keeping with my pledge to cook more vegetarian dishes, I tried this easy risotto recipe last night. This was a delicious recipe a friend cooked me for lunch earlier in the week, which I modified (of course – I can’t help myself) and served up to my family. The husband and I enjoyed it. Kid number one ate the feta and a little of the risotto (the rice) but no vegies. Kid number two nibbled on some feta and decided she didn’t like it. And babe number three ate a little of the rice and chewed on the broccoli and asparagus.

Here’s the recipe:

steamed pumpkin with greens

Ingredients

1 medium onion, diced
2 cups arborio rice
4½ cups stock (whatever sort you like, but obviously it’s not vegetarian if you use a meat stock)
~1 cup chopped pumpkin
1 bunch asparagus, chopped
~½ cup chopped broccoli
~1 cup baby spinach leaves
pinch salt
350g jar feta cheese marinated in olive oil and herbs (I used a brand called South Cape, but I’m sure there are other options)

Instructions

  1. Heat a large pan (I used a wok shaped pan with a flat bottom) over a medium high heat and add about 2 tbps of oil out of the feta (smells divine as it heats).
  2. Saute the onion until translucent and starting to turn golden.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the 2 cups of arborio rice and stir until it begins to change colour (about 5 minutes).
  4. Add 1/2 cup stock and stir until absorbed (instead of stock, you could use white wine for this step).
  5. Add another 2 cups stock and simmer until absorbed, stirring constantly. Add more liquid as necessary to achieve a nice texture for your rice. This took about 1/2 hour and I reckon I added close to another cup of water. You could use more stock, but my stock was homemade and quite concentrated.
  6. Now, this is the tricky bit. While that’s happening you need to steam the other vegies. I had Kid Number 1 help with the stirring, but if you don’t have someone to help, well you just have to make sure you are organised with the vegetables all chopped beforehand. So – I steamed the vegies one kind at a time, because they take different lengths of time, but just reusing the same water.
    • Pumpkin – I didn’t time it, opps! But I think it was about 10-15 minutes. According to this eHow article on How to Steam a Pumpkin 15 minutes should do it. Unlike this author I just served with the skin left on, but this can depend on what sort of pumpkin you choose (and how lazy you are!).
    • Broccoli – I used frozen and steamed it for about 5 or 6 minutes.
    • Asparagus – I steamed this for about 5 minutes, but 3 would have been fine.
    • Spinach – this I didn’t steam at all!
  7. Once it’s all cooked, drain the excess oil off the feta (but keep it, it’s great for cooking with) and pour the feta in to the rice and mix gently. Do a taste test to see if you need to add some salt. Then add the baby spinach and steamed vegetables. Stir gently until well mixed and the spinach is wilted.
  8. Serve. Yum!

Serves 4 adults. Probably took me about an hour all up.

Note:  The vegetables are all optional really. My friend just used baby spinach, and she used 2 leaks instead of an onion. The marinated feta is really the defining characteristic of this risotto. The pumpkin was a really good addition though, as was the asparagus.

Full disclosure: I actually used chicken stock, so it wasn’t a strictly vegetarian dish, but only because I had some on hand after cooking a roast chicken on the weekend, so it wasn’t as though I went out and bought it (which I would have had to do to produce a vegetable stock today).

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