Welcome to My Kitchen

My personal blog and an account of my adventures in the kitchen. I am a stay at home mum of my two youngest kids, both teenagers. I have four adult children and four grandchildren with one on the way. We live in country NSW, Australia and we love our country life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Welcome Archer Robert

Yesterday my second born, Amanda gave birth to her third child, and second son, Archer Robert.  Her daughter Charlie is exactly 18 months older, so they will certainly have their hands full, and with part time care of her older boy Jake as well.  I hope I can get to see him soon.

Life has been both quiet and busy.  School is out for a couple of weeks and the kids are keeping late nights and sleeping the days away but that is teenagers for you.  Emily has a nasty case of conjunctivitus, which she gets from time to time, the useless doctor who we pay a fortune to see, gave her a script for something we could have got over the counter from our excellent chemist.  It seemed to make it worse so today we went and saw our lovely optometrist who gave us some different drops and made an appointment for her to have a full eye exam.  I don't get it, if conjunctivitus is allegedly so contageous why haven't the rest of us ever had it?

I am loving my new fast/slow cooker.  I have made sloppy joe meat in the slow cooker function to test it out and it was excellent.  Also did corned beef which was also very good and so fast.  Tonight we had lamb shanks and were amazed at how tender and fall off the bone they were after just 35 minutes.  I think my slow cooker is getting jealous, it hasn't been used for quite a while. 

I had our monthly Meals on Wheels outing on Monday, and as usual they all just had the nicest day and let us know how much they appreciated it.  That alone makes it all worthwhile for all of us.  Then yesterday I had my first roster with my new permanent mate, Kay, who seems very nice.  We got hopelessly lost but managed to laugh about it and get all the meals delivered while still hot. 

Phill has had a lot of days off which is nice in a way, but he has a very busy work schedule in the next couple of weeks which means I can get in and do some work around the house that I've been putting off, including that pesky pantry which is well overdue for a clean and tidy.  We've been here two years next month which is a long time for us, usually all of that sort of cleaning happens when we move out! 

I'm tired tonight as it's been a hectic few days, and these meds are giving me weird and involved dreams which leave me waking up exhausted.  Soon I will start posting more recipes here as I get a bit more organised.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Breville Fast Slow Cooker

I've been in love with slow cooking for about seven years now since I bought my first slow cooker, a cheapie ceramic one which cooked unevenly but still managed to produce some pretty good meals.  After some research I bought my second SC, the wonderful Breville Flavour Maker.
This little beauty has a removable non stick bowl that can be put on the stove to brown meat and vegies, and can even be used in a conventional oven.  I've had it for four years or so and it's the most used appliance in my kitchen, I use it several times a week, more during the Winter months when it's produced curries, soups, stews, and our favourite pulled beef for Mexican fiestas.  It is starting to show signs of wear and knowing it won't last forever I've been thinking about getting another slow cooker.  I've had my eye on the Breville Fast/Slow Cooker for a while now, but finances had put that idea on the back burner.  Browsing my local Buy, Swap and Sell page on Facebook on Saturday I saw a second hand one on offer for just $50.  It's a slow cooker/pressure cooker, steamer and saute pan all in one.  In spite of our lack of funds right now we quickly came up with the $$ with some fancy juggling footwork and went around and picked it up.  I have never used a pressure cooker and have always been a bit scared of them, with memories of my mother's 60's version which used to explode for no apparent reason.  But intrigued with the idea of having the equivalent of a slow cooked meal in a fraction of the normal time we decided to try it out yesterday.  We got a cheap (marked down) piece of blade from IGA and made the pot roast recipe out of the instruction book.  It took us a while to figure out the workings of the PC, but soon it was pressuring away.  While that was happening, I heated up some duck fat in the oven, and put in some little potatoes, some sweet potato, baby beets and the little purple eggplants from the garden with a whole head of garlic.  We cooked a huge bunch of silverbeet, also from the garden and 45 minutes later we were eating lunch.  The meat was amazing, it fell apart as if it had been slow cooking for eight hours, and the sauce was wonderful.  Tonight we are going to do a whole chicken, which according to the recipe will only take 30 minutes once it has been browned.  The beauty of this machine is that meat can be browned in the bowl without having to put it on the stove, and stays at an even temperature on the saute setting, browning the meat and veg perfectly.  It also has a stay warm setting which my slow cooker doesn't, and a steamer basket.
As usual, it's turned suddenly cool now Autumn has arrived and I can see lots of soups and stews in our near future.  I am also going to try making stock with the pressure cooker as my research has told me that it gives an intensity of flavour that simmering on the stove can't produce.  Also it would be nice to just whack it all in there and let it do its thing without having it on the stove for hours and having to top up the liquid all the time.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Another Summer Ends

The first part of the year always rushes by, with the aftermath of Christmas, and New Year, then getting the kids settled into school, then Emily's birthday which was yesterday.  She wanted money to go shopping. Initially she wanted a PS4 but someone kindly sent her an X Box 1.  So she and I went into Wagga on our own, did her shopping and had lunch at Hogs Breath which was lovely.  I was pleased to find out you can order smaller meals, most restaurants put way too much food on the plate and the sight of it usually evaporates my appetite.  Yesterday I had a "light" rib steak with a baked potato and a small salad and it was perfect.  Em had garlic prawns which she raved about and we both had "mocktails" which were very good.  Then we decided she could have her nails done at a salon, something which either of us have ever done.  They look really pretty and she is very pleased with them.  We came home and I iced the white chocolate mud cupcakes, and later on Peter came over and we ordered pizza.

  I was so tired, I just can't shop like I used to, I was very glad to get home and had an early night and actually had a lovely dream for a change.  One of the side effects of the meds I am on are having odd, vivid dreams.

Phill is away till Thursday or Friday which is good, it's nice to relax and have things the way I want them in the house for a little while.

This afternoon I am having my hair cut quite short and am going to put blonde in it again, I am also having my second ear piercing re done.  I had it done years ago but kept getting recurring infections in them even though I never had with my first piercing so I let them grow over.  But I want to get some pretty studs, perhaps my birthstone pink tourmaline.  Should be ready to wear them in time for Mothers Day.

So today I am just going to potter, get the washing caught up, water the gardens.  It's time to pull out all the Summer plants, the tomato bush and the squash and watermelon and think about Winter crops.  And this week I have to make some more stock as soup weather approaches.  I actually used it all through Summer in various dishes so it isn't just a Winter thing.  I am right out of chicken and only have one or two lots of beef left.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Busy Busy

Which is how I like it.  The kids are settling into the school year.  Emily has surprised us with her enthusiasm and determination to do well.  She is ahead with all her assignments and the teachers are very impressed.  As are we, and so proud.  The hardest part of seeing what she has gone through in recent years is knowing the potential she had.  I always believed in her, and even though it was so hard at times, knew she would come good eventually.  And she has.  A happy side benefit is sticking it to the people who had written her off, ie my side of the family, who I am not in contact with at present and may never be again.  I am making it a point to avoid judgemental and negative people.  If Emily and I had a physical illness there would be care and love and sympathy and support but it seems that if one has a mental illness, which is something we can't help, we are written off as "crazy".  Well we aren't, and we have helped ourselves and are doing really well, both of us.

I am really enjoying my Meals on Wheels work, I did my first proper run last week, my permanent offsider, who I haven't met, got her dates mixed up so I had to rope Phill in again to drive me around while I delivered the meals on my own, and managed quite well.  We had our monthly outing on Monday, to a lovely restaurant at Murrumburrah.  The clients had a lovely day, one of them was celebrating her 90th birthday and we had a cake and a gift and card for her, which she insisted on everyone signing.  I love the clients, volunteering with MOW is the best thing I have ever done.  I missed out on getting into my aged care course, but then I found out it's going to cost me $1440 so it's just as well.  We have to get the car registered which, with third party insurance, is so expensive these days, and then we have Em's 19th birthday in a couple of weeks, and the present she wants isn't cheap but I am determined to get it for her.

I am also loving the garden this year.  The zucchinis have finished, although I still have plenty in the crisper, and we are now harvesting button squash and jalapeno chillis and lots of beautiful red juicy tomatoes.  I have pickled the chillis, and had a go at making some chilli and garlic oil so as not to waste the heels and stems.  I just poured some extra virgin olive oil over the chillis and some garlic cloves and put it into the pantry to steep.  I am also going to make some tomato relish.  We have planted baby beets and a rockmelon plant and still have , strawberries and lots of herbs growing.

We bought a sushi maker.  We love sushi, it's something all four of us enjoy and it's so healthy but I avoid making it because it's messy.  This thing works really well.  We had a "Japanese" night, I make teriyaki chicken, and sushi of course with sesame and ginger noodles.  I even bought some sake.  I have had it at Japanese restaurants and liked it, but we had it chilled as suggested by the Australian company who makes it and it wasn't very good.  I'm going to try it warm, as they serve it in restaurants.  I even managed to find a couple of little ceramic pots at the Op shop to serve it in.  So tonight the kids and I will have sushi again and I will look for another chicken recipe.

I have to drive Josh up to Young to see his counsellor today.  They keep making appointments for him during school hours and that is just not on this year.  The kids have Wednesdays off so it's worth the drive up there to avoid missing school.

The council is holding a pet day tomorrow in a local park.  They are doing free microchipping so we will take Scout and Sox over there.  Should be interesting getting them into the cat carrier.  They are also offering a discount desexing voucher which will be perfect for Sox as he's getting towards that age now.  Luckily Phill will be home to help me, as the kids will be at school. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Summer Holidays Come to an End and Bread and Butter Cucumbers

 We have a lot of cucumbers, which isn't as difficult as the zucchini glut as we love to eat cucumbers as is, on sandwiches and in salads.  I also decided to pickle some into "bread and butter" cucumbers which are great on sandwiches, and burgers.  I just slice up 3 or 4 cucumbers and layer them in a dish, sprinkling salt over each layer.  Cover and put in the fridge overnight.  Then drain them and rinse them well and leave to drain some more.

Put 1 1/2 cups white vinegar, 3/4 cup of sugar and a cup of water into a saucepan.  Add 2 tsp of mustard seeds or pickling spice.  Put on the heat and stir until the sugar dissolves, then simmer uncovered for about five minutes.  Add cucumber slices, bring to the boil then remove from heat and pack into sterilised jars.  I just run jars through the dishwasher to sterilise them.  They will keep in the fridge for a while, if they last that long.  I made a batch last week and today I am making a second lot.
I have had to put word verification on the comment process here, I know nobody likes it but I am getting ridiculous anonymous spam comments, several a day.
Emily has decided to go back to school and try to do years 11 and 12 again.  I am cautiously optimistic but feel she has grown up a lot in the past few years and now she is on the medication she is much better and ready to prepare for her future again.  Josh has decided to repeat year 11, which I am not opposed to, as he didn't do as well as he could have last year, and a lot of that was probably due to me being unwell and not giving him the stability and support he needed.  I really don't believe he would have been mature enough for university next year either.  Josh's friend Peter, who he's known since primary school is also repeating.  He got a job late last year and had decided to leave school but hated the job.  He had missed a lot of assignments due to working and figured he'd make the choice to repeat before the school made it for him.  We are going to the school tomorrow to see what they think of all this.  This Em's second attempt to start year 11, I just hope it works out for her this time.
I have volunteered to work at the soup kitchen this year, it's a wonderful service provided at one of the churches here, everyone is welcome, not just the poor and the lonely and I will be proud to be a part of it.
These are the pickles I made today, I used white wine vinegar this time and pickling spice (last batch I used mustard seeds).  They smelled more like the commercially made ones due to the dill seeds in the spice mix.  And we cut them a bit thicker this time as well.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Make Your Own Stock - It's Easier Than you Think!

I find it really satisfying to make my own stock, for soups in the Winter, but also for casseroles, gravies, risotto and any other recipe that requires stock.  I know that using home made chicken stock made all the difference to my Mexican rice.  I bought a bag of beef bones and a chicken frame from the local supermarkets.
For the beef, I cut up onions, celery carrots and bunged in some zucchini for good measure (we have LOTS of zucchini)and put it into a baking dish .  Topped it with the beef bones and drizzled with olive oil then roasted in the oven at about 180C (fan forced) for a couple of hours, watching carefully to make sure it didn't char too much, turning the bones over once or twice.  Then I took it all out and put it into a pot, before adding a little water to the baking dish and deglazing, tipping that into the pot as well.  I added some thyme, parsley, bay leaves and pepper corns and simmered for hours.  Three will do it, and I topped it up with more water as it simmered.

 For the chicken stock I just put the chicken frame into a pot with onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, parsley, thyme and peppercorns and simmered as with the beef.  Once it was done I strained the liquid into bowls and refrigerated overnight to let the fat settle.  The beef had hardly any fat, but the chicken forms a nice layer on top that is easy to skim off.  Then I packaged it into containers in varying amounts and labelled and into the freezer they went. 

I added only a little salt.  Commercially prepared stocks have way too much sodium content and God only knows what else.  Making your own guarantees that you know exactly what you are eating and tastes so much better.  I just thaw it out in the microwave when I need to use it.  The beef bones cost me about six dollars, the chicken frame about $3.50 and everything else I had in the house or the garden.  I got about 3 litres of stock from each.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mexican Rice and Chicken

I was in the mood for a little experimenting in the kitchen, it was just the kids and me last night so it had to be something feral friendly.  I decided not to go out at all, it was a rainy day and good for just staying in and pottering.  Also as the morning got later I realised I wouldn't have been home in time for my date with a cowboy in the afternoon.  So dinner needed to be made from what I had in the house.  I had some chicken thigh fillets in the fridge waiting to be frozen so I cut some of those up and put them in a bowl with some Greek yoghurt, two chipotle peppers chopped up, seeds and all, some lime juice, grated garlic and some finely chopped coriander.  Left it to marinate for an hour or so.

Wasn't sure what to serve with it, the kids aren't big potato fans so I got the idea to try my hand at a Mexican style rice dish.

I cut up one of the eschallots from the garden and grated some garlic then sauteed them in butter.  I rinsed about a cup and a half, maybe a bit more, of basmati rice and drained it well then left to dry a bit before adding to the onion and garlic and stir fried it till it was darkening in colour, probably about ten minutes.  While it was cooking I sprinkled over about two teaspoons of cumin, and 1/2 a teaspoon of chilli powder.  I chopped up a green chilli, one of the last ones in the freezer from last Summer, and cut the kernels off a corn cob (also from the garden), chopped up some capsicum (yep grew that too) then added a tin of crushed tomatoes and 500ml of home made chicken stock, also my last out of the freezer from last Winter's soup extravaganza.  I let it simmer uncovered for a while, then covered the pot and turned the heat down low while the liquid was absorbed into the rice.

Once it was cooked I fluffed it up with a fork, added the juice of half a lime and some torn coriander on top.  It was delicious, even the kids loved it.  Emily went back for seconds.

For the chicken, I heated up my grill pan till it was quite hot then whacked the fillets on it and charred them on either side, turning a couple of times.  They weren't quite cooked though so next time I will finish them off in the oven.  The flavour was good, but when I do them again I will add more chipotle and more lime and garlic.

I made a little salad with baby spinach, rocket, tomato, cucumber (home grown!), olives, red onion and corn and dressed it with lemon juice mixed with evoo and a little chilli powder.
I can't wait till my spices get here so I can do some more experimenting with flavours and ingredients.

It's another rainy day here, so I will have to dry the washing inside, but I really have to go out today.  Tonight it's just the kids and I again and I have a big packet of beef mince so I'm going to cook and puree some broccoli and cauliflower to mix into the beef along with grated carrot and zucchini (we have a LOT of zucchini), some lemon myrtle, ketchup, a beaten egg, garlic and lots of black pepper and make a batch of burgers to have tonight and to freeze for easy quick dinners.  I have a nifty little Tupperware hamburger press which makes them all uniform and neat.  I will make hamburger buns using the bread maker.  It's also how I make my pizza dough, it does all the work and I just have to remove the dough and for pizza just roll it and toss it, and with the buns, form into rolls, put on a baking paper lined tray let them rise before brushing with milk and sprinkling with sesame seeds and baking.  I will post the pizza dough recipe, it's very easy and very simple.

The mental health people came knocking yesterday checking up on Emily, but she was asleep (of course) and I told them she is greatly improved since beginning the medication.  One of them, a very experienced nurse asked if her thyroid had ever been checked and I said I was pretty sure it hadn't and asked them if that could cause behaviour problems and they both said "Yes!" in unison.  The nurse said her eyes looked a bit bulgy and her skin dry the day they spoke to her after the incident.  Nobody has ever suggested this before and it had never occurred to me either.  So it's off to the GP next week for more blood tests.  We have had behaviour problems with Em since she was little, which got worse as she headed into her teens.  But she is truly a wonderful girl when she is well, she is smart, kind, loving and screamingly funny.  She is my biggest supporter and I don't know what I would do without her.  It's just so sad that she has these other issues that are hindering her.

The medication she is on, and that I am also taking now, has made a huge difference to us both.  I am going to do a post on mental health and the stigma and difficulties that come with having a mental illness.  But that is for another day.