Saturday, January 30, 2010

Farm-Fresh Fridays - Piss Easy Cheese and Herb Muffins

Okay so my husband can't spell so I'm transcribing everything he's told me. His words? "So easy a boilermaker can do it!" Now remember, this man, while having grown UP on a farm, lived off generic brand frozen lasagne before meeting me. He's learning. Slowly, but hey, he's a man, what can I expect?

So my husband says that this recipe is perfect. Exactly 6 muffins and exactly 20 minutes. Says at 19 minutes it's too soft. Hm. Maybe if he wasn't checking it every minute it'd only take 18! Haha.3 cups flour
30g butter
1 tsp oregano and basil
1 tbsp fresh parsley
1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 cup mozzerella
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 200c.
Place flour and butter in bowl and combine until like coarse sand. Add herbs and cheese. Stir. Combine eggs and milk in bowl then add to flour mix. Mix with fork until combined - do not overstir! Drop heaped spoonfuls into well oiled muffin trays.
Bake 20 minutes.

Served at a lovely homemade picnic with fresh butter on a Friday morning and made by a man, so you know it's easy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tight-Arse Tuesday: Buy In Bulk!

I've just come back from our local food co-op, where we loaded up on all of our staples, about two weeks' worth, for $50. That's the great thing about buying in bulk!

You've probably seen bulk candy at the grocery store, but a lot of stores are beginning to realize that the goods are cheaper for them, as well as for the consumer, when they dispense with all the packaging. And it's better for the planet too! We use various recycled jars and bins to store our bulk goods - everything from flour to beans, even dish soap and oatmeal, even olive oil and honey.

We really see the savings in spices; instead of paying $7 for a little jar of garam masala (most of which would go stale before we used it), we can pay a quarter or so for only the amount we need for a particular recipe. Things we use more of, like cinnamon and paprika, wind up costing us a dollar or two for a big jar that lasts for two or three weeks. And it's fresher, not like that sawdust at the supermarket!

Canning jars make great containers and look pretty on the shelf when full of beans, peas, steel-cut oats, pasta, nutritional yeast, and other staples. You can also typically find bigger containers at the dollar store. See if there's a co-op in your area, or check if your supermarket is one of the many now starting to offer bulk sections. It will save you more money than you can imagine!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

*hic* Happy Australia Day!

In honour of Australia Day, a day celebrating my new country, I have decided to prepare some Peach Wine! Granted, I should have prepared this at least two months ago, you can never be too late with the wine.
Nothin' says bare-naked lovin' like some boozin' and cruisin' with your honey. After a few months (preferably years) you'll have even your apron off, gamboling in life's little pleasures.

I am lazy. And by lazy, I mean I am slowly adapting to Australia.

  • 2 pounds peaches
  • 4 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrients
  • 1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon tannin
  • 1 campden tablet
  • 12 cups water, boiling
  • 1 package wine yeast

I kidnapped this recipe off the internet and then changed it completely. I filled that jug up there entirely with water (after I steralized it with, well, hot water) and poured it in a pan with a pound of sugar. I boiled this and let it cool as I sliced peaches and chucked them into the jug. The original recipe asks you to put it in a muslin bag and mash it with your hands - forget it. Unnecessary. You can simply strain it later.

Pour water in jugs with peaches.

1 teaspoon yeast nutrients (which can be Vegemite, I found out after I spent a whole two dollars on the packet of yeast nutrients), 1 teaspoon pectic enzyme, 1 teaspoon tannin (or a cup of the leftover tea at the bottom of the kettle), and one camden tablet were thrown into the jug.

A day later I added some lemon juice and the wine yeast. I used a regular lid, not tightened properly. The gasses emitted from the jar should be fine to keep it sterilized, but tomorrow (when I'm less drunk) I will be grabbing an air lock for the container, which should let the gasses out and keep the nasties from coming in.

Test every two weeks. The longer you wait the dryer and more alcoholic it'll be. After the initial two weeks, strain and bottle. Wait more.

Voila, peach wine!

Next on the menu - making my man some beer. Want to really get into a man's heart? Go through his beer belly!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Farm-Fresh Friday: Homemade Butter

I used to "make butter" for gifts and it always went over well. It was simple; I'd just soften storebought butter (a good brand, like Tillamook) and then mix in honey and cinnamon, or lemon juice and dill, or garlic and parsley, or any other combination I liked. Flavored butter is a great way to dress up a meal, and by adding edible flowers you can make it a beautiful addition to the table, too!

So with that experience under my belt, I read with interest the current issue of "Organic Gardening" magazine, which included a little article on how to actually make butter from cream. We all know the typical way they teach little kids - put cream in a jar and shake shake shake until your arms fall off - but it gets so much easier than that with the use of a little modern technology.

Meanwhile, this week my husband and I scored a great deal on some nice fresh raw milk and I wanted to put away some of it before it spoiled. I made some cheese (and a lovely soup with the leftover whey), and I made creme fraiche (about which more in a bit), and I made butter. It was a snap!

All I had to do was skim the cream off the milk (feel free to use storebought cream for this) and pour it into a bowl. Then I took an electric mixer to it and beat it up - first into whipped cream, and then it got grainy, and then after about 10 minutes of beating, the solid butterfat separated from the liquid buttermilk. I poured off the buttermilk, working the butterfat in a fine mesh strainer with a spoon to get all the liquid out, then added ice water to the bowl of butter and washed it. This sounds more complex than it is - you just press the butter up the sides of the bowl with a spoon, spreading it thin, then dumping the milky water and repeating with fresh ice water until the water stays clear. Then scoop the butter into a nice little dish and enjoy fresh raw probiotic vitamin-rich butter! Herbs and spices can be added at this point if desired.

To make creme fraiche, just stir a tablespoon of the leftover raw buttermilk into a little raw cream and let it sit out on the counter for a day or two. It cultures itself and thickens up all on its own! Ain't nature great?

The rest of the buttermilk can go to work making you the most rich, creamy biscuits you've ever had. This buttermilk tastes nothing like the thick buttermilk you get in a carton; it's light and sweet with a delicious tang. It's actually worth making butter just so you can have the buttermilk afterward!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Nothing like a dish you can make without really having to pay attention to anything going on for the better part of an hour. Perfect for a lazy dinner that is still full of flavour and inspired from a Masterchef recipe, it's a winner in my house every time I cook it. I try to make it last until lunch the next day, but it never does.

Make dinner. Insert face.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine w/ Saffron Lemon CousCous
Olive oil
1 kg lamb steaks
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tspn ground coriander
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn ground turmeric
¼ tspn ground ginger
¼ tspn cayenne pepper
1 tspn ground cinnamon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 cup vegetable stock
½ cup roasted blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 threads saffron

Preheat oven to 160C. Brown lamb steaks in olive oil until medium. Most recipes call for diced cubes, but I wanted steaks this time, because I just felt like a change. Place steaks in bottom of tagine.
Fry onions until soft and clear. Add spices and cook until so fragrant, you want to lick the pan or about one minute. Add orange juice and vegetable stock. Stir for three minutes, scraping up delicious goo from bottom of pan. Place liquid in tagine, sprinkle with almonds, salt and pepper to taste, cover and bake for 45 minutes.
After 40 minutes, boil some water and place lemon juice and saffron threads into the liquid. Take off fire and place cous cous into spiced water, covering and waiting 3 minutes. Afterwards, place either a tablespoon of butter or oil in the cous cous and put back on hob. Stir for a few minutes and take off heat.
Serve with orange zest and coriander if desired.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tight-Arse Tuesdays - Mexican Bruschetta

I was lazy in the kitchen this week when I came up with this little gem that I love so very much now. I bet if I had used fresh barlotti beans instead of tinned, it would've been even better (and cheaper!). As it was, like I said, I was lazy.

I got a kilo of chicken thighs the other day for around nine dollars. I was telling my fiancee that I read a blog ealier that day that suggested halving the meat in a recipe and adding a filler instead to save money. I said I was going to try this. He looked wounded.

I browned two chicken thigh fillets, diced as small as possible, in the pan before adding one can of barlotti beans, 1/4 cup salsa, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp garlic powder, and 1/4 tsp dried chillies plus a dash of paprika. I set it aside.

I like to dry-grill my bread. Oil works fine, but doesn't seem to do a nice crunchy brown that I love the outside to be. So I started up my grill pan and had my man slice up the bread at an angle. I toasted it nicely on both sides, setting off my fire alarm in the process. Luckily, this happens often, so the man was standing underneath it waiting to push the button. Sensitive thing!

The bread I got for a dollar on sale from the day old section of the grocers, which works perfectly with this recipe. The can of beans was a dollar and the chicken was about $2. Topped with a dash of olive oil, chopped fresh tomatoes ($1) and some coriander from the garden, this meal feeds three for five bucks.

Oh, and it's freakin' delicious and hubby didn't notice the lack of a lot of meat!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Five-Minute Face

So you're a busy woman. I know. I am too, believe me!

These days everyone's running around on the go. It always amazes me, though, when I go out to run errands and there are so many women who look like they don't have a mirror at home. I remember when I was in college just over a decade ago, and so many of my classmates would come to class in their pajamas! PAJAMAS! With ratty, unbrushed hair swooped back in a scrunchie and last night's mascara raccooned under their eyes.

"But I don't have TIME to get fixed up before I go out," I'd hear.

Bullpockey. Of course you do.

It only takes five minutes to make yourself presentable, and you may be amazed at how much better you feel. Even if you're just running out to the grocery store or the post office, it's worth taking five minutes to look in a mirror and give yourself a little once-over. And before you accuse me of sexism - guys, this wouldn't hurt you either. It takes you even less time to splash a little water on your face and comb your hair. (And to the twentysomething boys I see strolling around so often these days: For the love of G-d, please change into a clean shirt! You might not complain about not getting women if the women could stand to be within five feet of your clothing!)

Anyway, ladies, this is a little routine I call the Five-Minute Face. Start with whatever you just rolled out of bed with, and splash it clean with only water. Dry with a towel. If you have old makeup under your eyes (I almost always do!), apply a little baby oil gel with your fingertip and wipe it off with a cotton ball or a clean rag. Follow this up with moisturizer - a really good one. I swear by Lush's Dream Cream. It's pricey, but the tub lasts forever.

The five-minute clock pauses here while you brush your teeth and hair and get dressed. Go on, I'll wait.

Hi! Welcome back. Now dab on just a little bit of a good foundation - I'm a big fan of Almay Smart Shade, which adjusts itself to your skin tone and goes on smoothly without a caked-on makeup look. Top that off with a light dusting of powder. Then smile and suck in your cheekbones at the same time, dab on a little bit of blush in the shade your skin turns when you're drunk or embarrassed, and then use a soft fluffy brush to dab a bit of bronzer in the hollows of your sucked-in cheeks. Hello! Did you even know you had those lovely high cheekbones, glamour-lady?

Now give your eyes a quick line with a soft pencil - shade can vary, but brown looks good on almost everyone, especially the blue-eyed, and it's subtle - and a coat of mascara on the top lashes only. A quick coat of a tinted lip gloss, and you're done - unless, like me, you have blonde scraggy eyebrows. In this case you need to take an extra thirty seconds and go over those brows with a soft, light pencil. I know, nobody pencils their eyebrows anymore. But just try it once and see what a difference it makes to your whole face.

There! All pretty and in only five minutes. I doubt you had to wake up earlier to do this, but if you did, isn't it worth it? I always find myself so much more productive and in a much better mood when I feel like I look nice. Pretty does as pretty is - isn't that how it goes? (Oh well, close enough.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Farm-Fresh Friday: Peach Cobbler!

Homemade Peach Cobbler served with Homemade Mango Icecream - using mangos from the family farm!
(recipe for Mango Ice Cream to come at later date!)

It's summer in Australia, which means even though I used an America recipe (holy cow you guys like your sugar!) you're going to have to wait 6 more whole months before you can make this, unless you're lucky enough to live on the Southern Hemisphere like me.

Backstory: I was once a housewife in America, for a short period of my life. My mother in law, who hated me like usual, would always make me peach cobbler when I came by. Her version was this terrible concoction of canned peaches poured into a baking tin, covered in cake mix, with slices of cold butter thrown on top and then thrown into the oven, as is.

As I've grown on in years, I've come to discover that peach cobbler from scratch is really not much harder at all. Melt the butter, some flour, some sugar. Stir it all up and bake some peaches on top, really. So I dedicate this to my ex-mother-in-law who liked to pretend she lived in a farm but really just had several acres of land she did nothing to.

4oz of butter (see, American!) or 1 stick or 100~110 grams butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2tsps baking powder
one grind of salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract*
4 ripe white peaches (though I used red and white, I found the white tastier, sturdier and fresher for this recipe, so I'd omit the red and just use all white - learn from my "mistakes")
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180/350/Gas Mark 4.

I love this recipe because I don't TECHNICALLY have to measure anything or remember much. Equal parts all main ingredients (even 4 ripe peaches is about a cup of peaches). Except butter, which is half a cup about. Normally I work with weight, so this is a fun experiment for me.

Put melted butter in bottom of baking dish. Put all dry ingredients in mixing bowl and combine. I just use my hand for this. No point in dirtying a spoon or anything until you get the milk and vanilla extract in here.

There's a tiny star by the vanilla extract. Why is this? Oh yes, because I don't use vanilla extract, technically. I use this:What is this? Well, it's a bottle of vodka. With vanilla beans in it. The vodka is considered a nice brand locally, but I have done this with both expensive and cheap brands of vodka and the results have pretty much been the same. I was just testing the more expensive vodka and while the tang is a bit less, it has roughly the same flavour. It is very similar to vanilla extract, but incredibly cheaper. This bottle, while expensive at $40, holds 700mL of vodka. The beans were $3 each and this is now their THIRD bottle of vanilla extract, so let's say they were $1 a piece (also, I wouldn't go past 3 uses with these beans. As you can see, my extract is not as dark as normal). $42 for 700mL of extract... or $6 for 60mL of extract at the grocery store? See my point? That's about $25 difference using expensive vodka! Use cheaper vodka (which is even CHEAPER in America!) at $20 a bottle, and you're saving TONS on vanilla extract. Plus you have vanilla vodka on hand for any delicious occasion!

Now back to the recipe. Pour the batter over the butter and then slice the peaches on top. Sprinkle cinnamon over entire thing and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Now eat with a large glass of vanilla vodka to wash it down!

Friday, January 15, 2010

You've never had eggs before.

In light of Liz's rant of yesterday, I want to express my full endorsement and take it a step farther with backyard chickens.

The backyard chicken movement is huge and getting bigger every day. I have four, my next-door neighbors have three, the people across the street have some of their own, and every so often I hear more when I go walking in the neighborhood. (One of my neighbors even has an illegal rooster! But I'm not telling.)

There are a lot of myths about chickens and eggs. Like...

Myth: Hens won't lay eggs unless there's a rooster around.
Truth: You ovulate whether there's a man around or not, don't you? Same thing with hens. Personally, I prefer to keep my hens with no rooster so that I know all the eggs in my fridge are unfertilized.

Myth: Chickens are messy and expensive.
Truth: Chickens require less cleanup and maintenance time than indoor cats. As for the expense, I built my coop out of scrap wood and castoff hardware, obtained five chickens (we lost one to a hawk) for a total of $45, and I pay about $15 a month for feed. In return, my kitchen scraps get recycled into an average of two dozen eggs per week - which would cost me about $30 per month if I bought inferior "free-range" eggs at the supermarket. As an added bonus, I get pest control services (they eat all the bugs they find, including fly larvae) and excellent garden fertilizer for free.

Myth: Eggs are eggs, right? Why not just buy them at the store?
Truth: Backyard eggs are a heart-healthy protein packed with calcium, beta-carotene, omega 3's and other nutrients that grocery-store eggs (even the "free range" ones) just don't have. Backyard eggs are also lower in the bad cholesterol, higher in the good cholesterol, better for baking, and FAR superior in taste. Personally, I never liked eggs much until I got my chickens. The yolks tasted like farts from all the sulfur compounds. My hens' eggs have a sweet, rich flavor and whenever older people try them I always get the same response: "Wow, this is what eggs used to taste like when I was a kid!"

Garbage in, garbage out - not just for us, but for any animal. If a chicken is not getting proper nutrition in the first place, then not much nutrition is going into the egg. You can boost the nutritional value of any meal with homegrown eggs.

Besides, chickens are fun, plucky animals with tons of personality.

There are plenty of resources out there for building and maintaining chicken coops, so I won't get into that here; we haven't the space. But as Liz and I have each lost a chicken due to predator attacks, safety's worth a word. Chicken wire is not sufficient to deter most predators. Dogs, raccoons, and even rats have no problem getting through it. You can line your coop with chicken wire underneath (to deter burrowing) and overhead (to deter hawks), but the sides should be made of hardware cloth, which is a strong, small metal mesh. Make sure your hens are locked up secure at night, but let them out for at least a few minutes in the day so they can eat up your grass and trim your lawn for you.

"Well, that's cute," you may say, "but there's no way chickens are legal in my area." You might be right, but you're probably wrong. More localities allow chickens than you think, and I myself live on a normal city lot in a metropolitan area. Research American chicken laws here. And when in doubt... well, I say it's better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Health Regulations AKA Why I Don't DO Supermarkets

When I found out the FDA, an American company, considered Vagina Dye a healthy consumerable product, which, by the way, doesn't seem to include their ingredients list on their website, I had to start a bit of a my usual ranting.

These are the people Americans trust with their food. They think dyeing your labia colours to please men is a good idea. And hey, while I'm all up for women actually paying attention to their own vaginas, I'm not only miffed that it seems to be a good idea to change the colour of my vagina for a man, but that the FDA seems to think this is a perfectly safe and healthy practice. If dying my vagina the shade of Audrey Hepburn is healthy, what the fuck are your people passing as decent food?

I live in Australia, where the standards of foods are stricter but still nowhere near perfect. I am all for people eating whatever they want, it's when they lie about it that I feel I need to say something about it. It's not even lies anymore, really, they've caught onto that. It's lying by omission.

99% fat free! your yogurt will claim. What they DON'T tell you is that 1, fat doesn't make you fat. In fact, fat is good for you. It gives you great nails and skin. You know how you have fat free food and then decide Tonalin CLA is a good supplement? CLA is FAT. Congratulations, you've taken it out and then put it the fuck back in. Obviously, too much fat is a problem, but we're not talking about that. We're talking about the stuff that replaces fat. Sugars, chemicals, poisons - things that break down your body and make it so your body has a HARDER time ingesting nutrients. All this so you don't eat something that makes your hair glow? What on Earth? Here, take this magic pill and you'll have glowing hair. That, or just have some fucking fat in your food!

Unless you get liposuction or are involved in some horrific accident, you will ALWAYS have the same amount of fat cells. Fat cells do not duplicate, they expand. Fat cells store glucose, which is what happens when your food breaks down into it's most basic form, and expand depending on how much glucose they're holding vs. how much glucose you're using. Sugar is pretty much straight glucose, depending on where it's from. Congratulations, that (considering you're expelling as many calories as you're taking in) is what's making you fat. Not fat. So all those things replacing your fat? Are making you fat. Does the FDA tell you this? No, it writes in big black bold letters how fat is bad (and yes, some of it is, but I'll elaborate on that another time) and then offers you a 'magic pill' to fix all the stuff it took out to begin with.

So not only are you taking fat out just to replace it, you're also adding unnecessary chemicals from the fat replacements you're just going to put back anyway! Let's not even get started on chemicals covering your foods, the fact that pesticides used to kill swarms of bugs is simply lying on your salad like a zingy dressing and that's FDA approved or the fact the FDA has passed some pretty poor examples of food off as being healthy. Case in point: cereal.

So let's get to the part of this rant that helps. Shall we? Did you know you can grow your own herbs and salads and vegetables and fruit? That it doesn't take up NEARLY as much space as you think it does? Of course you believe it takes acres upon acres to grow your own food. It doesn't.

Blueberries, pomegranates, blackberries, hell - even lemon trees, can all grow in pots. Also, they can grow in pots indoors. I know, right? Nobody told you this! Did you know pomegranates have the prettiest little pink flowers all over a bush? Most of the year they don't even look like food! They look like pretty flowery bushes. How on earth can that look bad in a tiny flat?

At my old place, which was a small no-garden flat, I managed to have herbs growing on my entry-way. Spinach is a must-have for me as it beats out strawberries as the most pesticide ridden food on the market. Strawberries, of course, being second, which also can grow in a tiny pot. Chives, basil, habeneros, dill and thyme all possess the little planter I took with me to my new house when I got engaged. The pot is a food wide, two and a half feet long and about two feet deep - it can fit anywhere, really. And there we go, organic nutritious foods that I know exactly what's in it and what's gone in it since birth.

So here's what I have to say to the FDA. Go ahead and hand out packaged overpriced cardboard as food, I don't care. But, for the love of G-d, label it 'cardboard' and not 'now with more fibre!'. I'd rather eat the damn box.

Yeah, every night it takes me about 10 more minutes to make a meal than those instant-lovers. But you know what I have? Supreme happiness, fitness, health, great hair, great shiny eyes, great polished nails, a rapid healing time, energy and the need for only 6 hours sleep a night (where when I was eating like that, I needed 10!).

So fuck the FDA and it's overpriced fibre filled cardboard. I'm going to have me a zinc and potassium loaded salad with all the trimmings for FREE.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tight-Arse Tuesday: Egg Foo Yung

Ever open your fridge and see a little of this, a little of that, all cold leftovers starting to droop, and think, "There is no way on earth I can bring myself to eat that"? Me too. This is why I have such well-fed chickens.

You can't give it ALL to your chickens though, and if you don't have chickens, something's got to be done so you're not wasting all those leftovers. Enter egg foo yung. No, my way of making it is probably not authentically Chinese. That's okay; neither am I. It's still cheap, tasty, and super-easy (and so am... um, *cough* nevermind).

(serves 2, doubles or triples easily)

Pretty much anything is good in this - leftover meat of any kind (mixing up different kinds will make this even better), tofu (it goes bad so quickly once you open it, so use it up here), veggies of almost every variety. If you're starting without leftovers you can chop up some turkey bacon or whatever else is handy, some onions and veggies, and give them a quick stir-fry with some pepper, soy sauce, and sriracha.

You'll want about two or three cups' worth of cooked meat and veg to go in this. In a large bowl, beat up six to eight eggs, depending on how much meat and veg you have and how eggy you want this to be. Sprinkle some garlic powder, salt, and pepper into the eggs, and add just a pinch of ground ginger. Whisk it all up and then stir in the meat and veg.

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy skillet and make sure it coats the bottom evenly. Pour half the eggy mixture into the skillet and cook on medium heat until the eggs start to set. If they spread out too much, just push them back toward the middle with a spatula. Once the bottom and sides are starting to set, flip it. Cook another minute or two until the whole thing is a cooked little egg cake. Remove from the pan and repeat the process with the remaining mixture and there you have egg foo yung for two.

Serve with bottled hoisin sauce, or whisk together:
1/4 cup hot water with a boullion cube or broth powder
(or 1/4 cup broth)
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar or lime juice
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp corn starch, potato starch, or arrowroot
Pinch ground ginger
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring to a boil in a small saucepan or zap it in the microwave until hot and thick. Spoon over egg foo yung and enjoy.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Farm-Fresh Friday: Biscuits & Gravy

They say good food is the way to a man's heart. Speaking as a woman, it's a good way to get into a woman's heart too. The next time you wake up with someone, if it's someone you want to keep around for awhile, fix him or her some good scratch biscuits and gravy. This comforting breakfast plays a big part in my happy marriage - I make this whenever my husband comes home from one of his frequent work trips - and I can personally attest to its impact on overnight guests.

And the best part?

It's easy as a preacher's daughter and goes from nothing to the table in under an hour!

Kimberly's Butter Biscuits
¾ cup warm water
1 heaping tsp yeast
1 ½ tsp sugar
2 cups white flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp frozen butter, divided

Preheat oven to 450° F (225° C).

Pour the warm water into a small bowl and whisk in the yeast and sugar with a fork. Set in a warm place, such as on top of the preheating stove, and leave it alone while you put everything else together.

If you have a food processor, throw in all the dry ingredients and whiz them up to mix. Cut 3 Tbsp frozen butter into small cubes and drop them in, running the food processor until the butter is cut finely into the flour mixture. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

If you don't have a food processor, then combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and use a cheese grater to grate in 3 Tbsp frozen butter. Work the grated butter into the flour mixture with your fingers or a fork until it resembles a coarse meal.

By now the sugar-yeast water should have a thick bubbly covering over the water. Pour that into the flour-butter mix and stir it quickly with a fork; as the dough starts to come together, begin to knead it with your hands. It will flake off and not look like it's going to hold together, but trust me, it will. Knead it only until all the ingredients hold together in a big doughball, and then stop kneading it.

Transfer to a floured countertop and roll it out, about 1" thick. Use a drinking glass to cut rounds and lay each one on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Continue to roll out the trimmings and cut rounds; when you can't roll out anymore, you can shape that dough into a little biscuit with your hands.

Put the biscuits in that warm spot and let them rise for about 20-30 minutes, then bake them for 10-12 minutes or until they're golden. Just before serving, melt the remaining 1 Tbsp butter and brush that over the biscuit tops. Serve hot with honey or gravy.

...Gravy? Did I say gravy? Oh, yes I did.

Gravy has fallen out of style in America's supposedly health-conscious culture. However, I would like to point out that low-fat packaged foods have done nothing to combat the rise in obesity and diet-related health problems; besides, you only live once, and the occasional hearty breakfast is better for your quality of life.

This gravy I'm about to share with you is my adaptation on the Vegetarian Chicken Gravy on page 70 of Ann Jackson's fantastic cookbook, Cookin' Southern Vegetarian Style. Even though it's vegetarian (unless you start with meat drippings, about which more in a minute), it does taste exactly like chicken gravy. People who don't like gravy love this one, so give it a go!

Ultimate Biscuit Gravy

If you're serving meat with this breakfast, such as sausage or bacon or ham, cook that first. We don't do pork in our house but I do occasionally cook up some chicken sausages or turkey bacon. Do this in your cast-iron skillet, if you have one, and start the meat while the biscuits are rising. By the time the meat is done and draining, the biscuits will be ready to go into the oven, and you can whip up the gravy while the biscuits bake.

So start the gravy either with a deep dry skillet, or with the fat and drippings leftover from cooking the meat. Turn the heat on very low, and throw in a huge handful of flour - Ms. Jackson is right, the best is a combination of white flour and chickpea flour, but I've used whole wheat and barley and rye and just about every other combination you can think of. They all work. Toast the flour slowly on low heat, stirring, until it starts to turn a little bit golden, and then add in about ¼ cup nutritional yeast.

Keep toasting for another minute or two, and then drop in 1 Tbsp butter and a splash of toasted sesame oil or olive oil. Stir that into the flour until you have a thick paste. Whisk in 1 or 2 cups of liquid - most of this should be milk or soymilk, but you can also add any combination of broth, coffee, cream, or whatever strikes your fancy; I've made gravy with the leftover liquid I drained out of a butternut squash. When I just use milk, I like to stir in a big spoonful of this vegetarian chicken broth powder I get at the produce shop, but it's not technically necessary.

So anyway, whisk in the liquid and turn up the heat. Let the gravy cook up, stirring often, while you add salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. As it cooks for a few minutes it will thicken, and by then the biscuits should be ready. Split the biscuits and spoon gravy over the two halves, and serve with sliced apples or other fruit, your optional breakfast meat, and good quality coffee.

Friday, January 8, 2010

8 Simple Tips to Using Less Energy in the Kitchen

1. Use the residual heat from a finished oven project to dry something overnight such as flowers,
home-made beef jerky (recipe coming later), or pieces of sliced banana for snacks. Check the oven the next morning and you'll have perfectly dried fruit and veg for no extra well-earned money.

2. To be honest, electric ovens use a considerable amount less energy than gas (65%!). If choosing a home based on effeciency, choose electric. A real woman doesn't pass gas, though. And by that, I mean a real woman doesn't pass on a gas oven when she sees one! Sorry, this tip is true, but I refuse to follow it. Gas allegience!

3. Use a crockpot instead of baking a casserole or stewing for long periods of time. Not only will crockpots prevent burning for the majority of the day (what do you mean you know I left it on for two days once?) but you'll have a hot meal whenever you want AND save money on your electric slash gas. Yippee!

4. Steam your foods. It uses less water, thus saving on the water bill. It also uses less energy o heat up less water, which saves on your energy bills. And then, get this, your food tastes better!! And has more nutrients. Where's the negative in this?! Oh yeah, you actually have to eat your vegetables. Looking at you, husbands!

5. Check your oven seal. Is it cracked, broken or in good condition? Who cares. Break it and drink a cuppa as the sexy handyman down the road repairs it for you. Oh yeah, baby, bend over.

6. Put a lid on it!! Your pans, that is. So much unused energy escapes from the pan that could be used to have your food on the table quicker and cheaper!

7. Boiling hurts food AND pocket books. Try to simmer your stews. Not only does it taste better, your wallet (my wallet's name is Glynn) will thank you for it.

8. Clean your freaking stove, people! The dirt can get trapped into the little holes the gas escapes through, so you need to take the whole thing apart now and then and clean it up so your precious money-hole can be powered more effeciently and thus cost less money. Electric is the same idea... can't cook your food evenly if there's burnt crud on the coils. Don't worry, advice for super quick organic oven cleaning is coming soon, too!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Safe, Frugal Cleaning

Confession time: I'm one of those crunchy organic types.

I won't do chemicals at all if I can help it; I garden organically and get most of my food from farmers' markets and other sources where I can trust it to be all-natural. I'd been doing this for years when suddenly it dawned on me, "Why am I still spraying my kitchen counter with Windex?"

So I began investigating less poisonous ways to clean. Surprise, surprise - it's actually much CHEAPER, not to mention better for your health, to clean with common kitchen ingredients! These ingredients I use do a much better job and I don't have to worry about poisonous residues, plus I have more money left over to spend on food and wine. Win all around! Here's what I use...

Baking Soda
You can use ordinary baking soda in place of abrasive cleaners like Comet or Ajax. It works on toilets, bathtubs, sinks, what-have-you. With a common scrub brush, it will even get most stains out of a porcelain sink.

It will soak up greasy spills and absorb odors - we always add a sprinkling of baking soda to the litterbox when we clean it out. You can also sprinkle it around the carpets before you vaccuum, and add it to stinky trashcans, ashtrays, and laundry hampers.

Baking soda can also make a silver polish for your finer occasions. Just mix up 3 parts soda to 1 part water and use that paste for cleaning. Oh happy day, no nasty silver-polish smell!

Plain White Vinegar
To replace the common spray cleaner, go to the dollar store and get yourself an empty spray bottle. Wash it out, and then fill it with a solution made of equal parts water, vinegar, and rubbing alcohol. This will clean your mirrors, windows, and other glass surfaces with no streaking or residue.

I also clean the kitchen counters with this same solution after cooking, and I use it for cleaning out the refrigerator, cleaning the tabletops, etc. Basically anything you'd use a spray cleaner on, this solution is for it.

A cheap, easy solution for mopping the floors: 1 cup vinegar to 1 gallon hot water. However, this will leave a bit of a vinegary smell for a few hours - not bothersome in the long run, but I have a new answer to mopping which I will get into in a minute.

A quick spritz of vinegar will prevent mildew in the shower and on the shower curtain.

Steam Wand
Okay, it's not a chemical. But my mom sent me one of these for a holiday gift and I'm in love with it. You load it with water - that's it, just water - and it steams your floors beautifully clean and shiny! It works on carpet (or so I hear), but in our house we have a combination of tile, hardwood, and wood-style laminate. This wand worked on all surfaces, even the laminate, which usually just looks spotty and gross after a go with the regular mop because it doesn't dry evenly. These things are definitely worth the investment.

A final tip: Baking soda and vinegar are even cheaper if you buy them in bulk. Look for a co-op, or a bulk store that sells huge multigallon jugs of vinegar and baking soda by the pound. This is one of those happy times when you can save a lot of money by going eco-friendly!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tight-Arse Tuesdays - Moroccan Beef and Lentil Stew

Saving for a wedding is quite difficult and, as foodies, can be devastating to find out the only place you can cut back on your spending is food. For us, food is a major part of our lives. I don't even make a point to buy many snacks.
For a couple weeks the most snacks in my cupboard were a packet of Poptarts that said "Do Not Eat" in Post-its and two packets of chips, which my flatmate ate anyway. So obviously it's not prepackaged food I'm buying too much of.
Simply put, it's the meat I eat, the sauces I like and the fresh fruit and vegetables I buy by the kilo a week. That being said, I still need to figure out meals I can make that are both thrifty and filling.
Lentils are an amazingly cheap resource. Probably cheaper than where I get them, as well, which is the local grocery store. As it is, I think this entire meal cost me no more than Twenty Dollars including two loaves of bread and pre-made hummus and it feeds roughly 8 servings. So.. four hungry people. Or two full-grown men who have built a house.

Moroccan Beef and Lentil Stew
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, diced
500g chuck steak
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon cumin, ground
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon, smoked paprika (honestly I put a tablespoon of this in), and turmeric
1 tsp chilli flakes
pinch saffron
2 carrots, diced
400g fresh diced tomatoes
2 cups lentils (I used green)
8 cups water
S&P to taste

Honestly, there's a million directions in this recipe and I didn't care. Not only did I not have pumpkin which it asked for, I hate celery in soup, so I didn't use it (and thus didn't include it in the ingredients). The original recipe didn't have meat and used tinned tomatoes. As I was preparing the dish, I discovered my fiancee had used ALL the tinned tomatoes in last night's disaster of a pasta dish he called spaghetti.

80% of recipes will tell you to brown meat before throwing it in a crockpot. Ever tried it? Ever tried not doing it? Newsflash: IT TASTES, FEELS AND LOOKS EXACTLY THE SAME. No need to ever bother with it.

So what do I say? Throw EVERYTHING in the crockpot, as is. Just dump everything in. Takes less time than dumping a body, I promise. Set to high for four to six hours. DONE! Then hide the crockpot, tell your husband you spent all day slaving over it and get him to give you a foot massage!

Served with hummus, Aussie Outback dukkah in olive oil, garlic white bread and whole grain seed bread, lightly toasted.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Welcome to Our Kitchen!

If you're a reguar you may have noticed some changes around here. If you're new you may have noticed we have a real kick-ass logo and that's about it. So let me fill you in on the happenings of Nothing But An Apron.

Nothing But An Apron is owned and operated by myself, and that surprises me just as much as it does you. I am a sarcastic, tell-it-like-it-is, good-food-and-hyphen-obsessed cheeky little thing. I believe in good, real, local food making, ethical and thought-out choices about the things we consume on a daily basis and butter.

This website is a daily blog moreso than a company website. That way you can know exactly what the team is up to, get recipes, learn more about local produce and how it's grown and just in general keep up with, well, me. I prefer to keep a one on one relationship with my customers and develop lasting friendships so we can all work as a community to preserve our dying food community. That, and I can talk a lot.

However, I make sure our labels are clear and concise. You will never be surprised by an ingredient nor will you have to worry about where it came from - every last fruit and vegetable is sourced from as close to home as phsyically possible. Some of it comes from our very own vegetable patch!

I lied: one of these is technically a flower. Two are technically weeds.

Our menus change depending entirely on what is in season but you can guarantee it is the freshest possible. For the foodies that care about taste, quality and locality - you can't beat our products. Made with love, each dish is painstakingly sourced so your dining experience is not only the most ethical but tastiest it can possibly be!

We also deliver lunches to worksites and offices for special and even all occasions. Some worksites have us coming by to deliver their growing men a fantastic and healthy alternative to steak pies (which we also serve!) for their daily lunches.

Steak Pies.

We want to work around your desires so there is never a set menu. You tell us roughly what you're in the mood for and we tell you how we can accomodate those desires. Do you want something from your childhood? Do you want a twist on an old favourite? Or do you just want a few jars of local jams and pickles to be in your fridge when the fancy takes you to indulge yourself? We cater to all these needs!

We don't believe in covering up the facts - we tell it like it is. If that means saying a big 'up yours' to big commercial chains, so be it. You won't be surprised by anything in our products, which contain nothing artificial; no funny preservatives, no mysterious colourings.

Can I get away with my hair being a natural colour? Didn't think so.

We're cheeky, we're fun, we're the no-bullshit company dedicated to making your food source our #1 priority.

Call to Book your next event, dinner party or for some treats:

Elizabeth Costello
0421 9 APRON