Gourmet Cat

Anyone who has been owned by a cat will know that there are gourmet tendencies lurking just below their furry surfaces. This was brought into sharp focus while I was trawling through a back isue of Gourmet Traveller magazine (February 2011).

There in front of me was a photo using the same type of plate that our cat has been served her dinner on for years! The trusty ‘Duraling’ Hotelware plate, made in England.


The recipe in question was rather appropriately, a smoked trout salad, but I fear my moggie prefers her fish raw.

My only other question is has our cat been freelancing with food stylist Alice Storey?

Water Chestnuts and Currawongs

I was brave and put on my rubber gloves and spent a very damp hour and a half on Sunday finishing the water chestnut harvest. At least I got a good haul, over a kilo’s worth. Combined with TB’s early harvest we’ve got over 2 1/2 kilos this year. This is about the same amount we harvested in 2010, last year’s crop was just over 1kilo.


The good thing about water chestnuts is that they are pretty easy to store. Put them in a container, cover them with water and leave them in the fridge until needed. You can also, once it’s warmer, take a few of them out of the water and start growing your next season’s crop.

Of course water chestnuts are great for stir fries and salads, but my sister-in-law tells me that she used some in pasties she made recently and they made a really tasty (and cruchy) addition.


I thought I’d just throw in this photo to show one of our common Canberra winter visitors, the Pied Currawong. He/she is helping themselves to a drink from a plate on our garden table.

In times past these birds were winter migrants to Canberra moving down from the mountains to our ‘relatively’ warmer climes and then returning to the mountains to nest in spring. There is now so much readily available food in the city in the form of fruiting plants, scraps and pet food that currawongs now commonly live here year round. For the past few years we’ve seen some ding dong battles between the currawongs and ravens for a favoured nest site in our neighbours blue gum.

Winter garden

 In the cold foggy light of a winter’s morning the back garden certainly seems rather forlorn and bedraggled.


The beds have been cleared and the pile of dirt in the background is where we have been harvesting our water chestnuts, a very unpleasant wet and cold task which has yet to be fully completed. A few fennel bulbs survive in the bed where the beans were growing in late summer. Our two best clumps of asparagus (foreground) have been cut back to stumps.


However just nearby is our herb bed (the semicircle in front) with some lettuces growing away and just behind that a sea of you garlic in protective milk carton collars. Behind the garlic are some rows of baby bok choy which came from our friend M. Further back is our still productive carrot bed. To the left again are some snow peas that are still producing the odd pod.


In front of the snow peas are some Mini White Turnips, which certainly don’t seem to mind the cold.

Out the front the legumes are leading the way.


The Purple Podded Peas I planted in the last days of April are now coming up well and hopefully will produce a great spring crop. The Welsh Bunching onions, behind them, are from last summer and are starting to run to flower. They are great in that rather than pulling them out completely, you can cut them off at the base and they will re-shoot.


The broad beans I planted at the same time as the peas are also up and growing, in front of them is very reluctant crop of mini cabbages which I don’t think will go anywhere. The red plants are chicory and more Mini White Turnips are planted next to them.

Enough computer work. I’m off to don some woolly socks and head out to deal with the remaining water chestnuts!

Pig Out!

This week TB finally bought home a pig. Well almost all of one, minus the head and front trotters, and yes it had already gone to the great paddock in the sky. This was a relatively small, about 50kg free range female porker, which TB ordered through Jordo’s Chop Shop at Waniassa.


A trolley full of pig

It’s long been TB’s goal to break down and prepare a whole pig for a range of pork products and winter is the best time to do so. Traditionally you killed your pig so you didn’t have to feed the it through the harshest season of the year. Winter was also the perfect time for making cured products where you had the cold dry air to help preserve your meat.

There is a large upfront cost to buy the pig, although at just over $8 per kilo it is quite cost effective when you consider what you would pay in-store for the finished products. The next biggest input is your labour. The other ingredients used for curing, such as salt and sugar are quite cheap.

The pig came cut up into the two back legs, the belly cut into two loins and two streaky’s and the forequarters cut into the hand (that is the front leg) and the shoulder and some sundry bones. All the bones were ‘in’ so one of the first jobs was to trim and take the top bone out of the leg to make a prosciutto.


Having taken most of the bone out, the meat was salted inside the cavity, then placed in a box surrounded by salt and then weighed down. The meat will be left to cure in the salt for approximately 18 days. After this the salt will be washed off and the leg will be hung to air dry.

Next up came the loins which were variously cut for roasts and chops.


The chops on the right ended up very tastily on our dinner plate that night, along with our homegrown potatoes, carrots and garlic.


I was very impressed by the tender, succulent meat which had been lightly brined before cooking.

Of course there was still plenty of pig to process. Quite a few pieces made it into a wet brine. Some of these will become hams. Most of the ‘sundry bones’ ended up in the brine, but were subsequently hot smoked in the BBQ kettle.


These will be used primarily for soup stocks. However we did sneak a piece of pork belly in the mix so we would have some tasty bacon in the not too distant future.

A loin fillet was placed in brine for only 20 minutes and was pan-fried along with mushrooms and homegrown pumpkin and potato for dinner the next night.


In all it took TB two days to do the basic cutting up of the pig. There is still plenty of work to be done. Sausage and salami making awaits.!


We’ve been patiently waiting for our chickens to mature so that marvellous first egg will appear. And so it has!


The question is whose egg is it? We have two candidates as both Leghorns and Anconas produced white eggs (our Australorp should produce brown eggs).

We are laying odds (sorry couldn’t resist that one), that the perpetrator is our Ancona chicken Artemisia. She definitely looks the most mature of the three birds, having a full comb and wattles already. although some of her other behaviour is rather odd. You see Arte likes to roost in unusual places. Our other two chooks are happy to put themselves to bed in the chook house, but not Arte. After a long search for our ‘missing’ chook last week we found her literally hanging out in the window of the chook house.


Our friend who was minding our chooks while we were away overnight was somewhat startled to find that she’d given up on the window and was now roosting on the crossbeam of the chicken pen!


Of well, if she continues to lay eggs we shall forgive her her foibles.


Anyway, we did need to do something with this egg, small as it was (47gms, OK we are the proud chooky grandperents). TB decided on a souffle, just enough to share between two. We used our kale and Welsh bunching onions for the flavouring.


Another small step along the road to home-based food production.

Italian Style

The latest addition to the chook pen has really raised raised the style stakes. We went to the Royal Canberra National Poultry Show auction and came home with a Red Ancona pullet. Ancona’s are known as Marchegiana in Italy where the breed originates. They are good layers so we are hoping for good egg production once she starts laying.


Of course introductions can be a bit fraught for a new chook in the pen so our latest has been in a seperate pen while the others get used to her. Although we suspect that given the below zero temperatures that the extra warm body will be welcome in the henhouse at night.

Visiting Venus

I’ve spent a fair bit of today (Wednesday 6 June) glued to the interweb watching the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun, via NASA’s live web feed from Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Well that is except when we were watching the same via our binoculars projecting an image onto a sheet of cardboard in our own garden.


Here is a selection of the photos we took in the afternoon, once TB had worked out how to project a larger image than we were getting in the morning.


Our neighbours must have been wondering what we were doing as the last stage of the transit had to be viewed from the footpath so we could get a clear view of the sun.


Yes it’s rather Heath Robinson, but at least it worked!

I thought one of the best discussions I’ve heard on the subject was on the Science Show last weekend. It’s well worth listening to the podcast to get a good background of both the scientific and historical aspects of the event.

Thinking of England!

Even the most ardent republican can hardly have missed that it is HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this week. While poking aound looking at Simon Hopkinson’s TV show recipes on the BBC I was captured by the glory of the Union Jack Battenburg Cake.This is part of the set of recipes the BBC has developed for the Diamond Jubilee street parties expected to be held around the UK in the coming days.


For those of us more domestically challenged there is also a less demanding Jubilee Bunting Cake.

It is interesting to see that there is, amidst the tradional English spread, Coronation Chicken and Eccles Cakes (nothing to do with the Goons) etc, other broader food elements are creeping in. The Carribean is represented by Sticky Jerk Wings with Sugared Oranges (recipe by the wonderfully named Levi Roots), Cheese and Spinach Samosas, recipe by Hafsa Akkas and that now English classic (and also in Australia) Chicken Tikka wraps, recipe by Anjum Anand.

Anyway here’s to HM, I’m sure she’s going to enjoy the knees up. There’s nothing like a bit of bread and circusses to distract the populace in a time of economic doom and gloom!

The good cook

There are a plethora of cooking shows these days and there is just as much variety in their quality as there are chefs lining up for their 15 minutes of fame. One chefs on offer late last year was Simon Hopkinson, who while he may not be well known in Australia does have a lifetime of experience in the UK food scene.

I was pleasantly surprised to see his show because I’d picked up a marginally damaged copy of Hopkinson’s Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, an absolute bargain at $5 just the week before the show came aired.

This book focusses on recipes of his favourite ingredients, including rhubarb, which we seem to have a lot of at present. So a quick flick through the book and I was ready to make Suzanne Bourke’s Rhubarb Pie.

This barely qualifies as a recipe. All you need to do is take two sheets of commercial puff pastry  (OK you could make your own) and drape one over your baking tin, save the second for the lid. Hopkinson says to roll the pastry out thinner, but I couldn’t be bothered and it doessn’t seem to make any difference to the outcome that I can see.

Cut up 700gms of rhubarb then mix the rhubarb with 160gms of castor sugar and 1 teaspoon of cornflour together in a large bowl. Then dump the lot into your pastry-lined tin.


Pretty easy so far. Brush around the edges of the pastry with some milk and put you second sheet on top. Press around the edges with the tines of a fork to seal and make a nice pattern – just like I remember my Grandma doing. Trim excess pastry if you are so inclined.


Bake in the oven set at 200º C and cook for 20 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 150º C and cook for another 40 minutes or until golden brown.


I completely agree when Simon says “Eat with the best cream you can find …” (although I think we had this helping with home made icecream instead).