Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Sports candy - or otherwise known as 'fruit and nut balls'

Giggle and Hoot are a hit in our house. The other morning Hoot and Jimmy were talking about 'sports candy' aka bananas. I am not a lover of bananas at the best of times, let alone when snacks are needed in the car or  stroller - way too stinky and messy. But I thought the concept wasn't bad - make healthy things the desirable option!

A few weeks ago we went to North Queensland for a holiday and a number of the cafes stocked these yummy fruity and nutty balls - Bliss Balls. Zara thought they were delicious so yesterday afternoon we experimented! I haven't included any cacao in my version but I am sure some good quality dutch coco powder would add a nice depth to this tasty treat. The quantities below are very rough - simply change it as you want.

Here goes - Hegerty Sports Candy

You can skip the steps to toast the nuts if you want. But I am a firm believer that nuts taste much better once they have been lightly toasted - especially if you think they might not be super fresh.

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pepita
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
2 good handfuls of juicy sultanas
2 good handfuls of dates
2 good handfuls of cranberries
desiccated coconut

  1. Toast the almonds on the stove in a fry pan. You will need to swirl the pan constantly otherwise they will burn. It will only take a few minutes. (Otherwise you could toast in the oven at 180 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes - just watch them as they will cook really quickly).
  2. Toast the pepita and sunflower seeds on the stove in a fry pan. As per step 1.
  3. Once the toasted nuts have cooled put them in a food processor with the dried fruit.
  4. Pulverize the nuts and dried fruit - adjust the consistency as required. It will need to be moist enough to roll. If it is too moist add some desiccated coconut. If it is to dry add more fruit.
  5. Roll mixture into small balls - ideally about the size of a 5 cent piece.  
  6. Roll the small balls in desiccated coconut.
  7. Store in the fridge and enjoy!

The finished product! 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Promised a healthy cake to a 2 year old but our chickens haven't produced any eggs

So I deleted the earlier version of this post by accident... need to learn how to use the Blogger mobile app and my laptop at the same time. Probably didn't help that Hugo was screaming at me... as it turns out I am a blogging idiot.

Zara, Hugo and I on a Friday head to "Paint and Play" - a fabulous free initiative held in parks around Canberra. Zara loves going to "paint and play" and according to her play dough and painting are the "best". And seeing her "friends" is great. Mind due "friends" at this stage just seem to be other small people who look at each other and smile. This week was better than normal because there was a visit from a fire truck. No ordinary fire truck it came - complete with flashing lights, sirens and water. The kids could even climb into the truck and pretend they were firemen... Zara was a little scared of this and was happy just to watch.

To convince Zara to have her afternoon nap (without protest) I promised her that when she woke up there would be cake... after a quick trip to the fridge and then the chicken house I realised this might not be so easy so much for last weeks repair job. We had no eggs - silly mummy don't promise something you might not be able to deliver.

We have three chickens - Nugget, Korma and Tikka who up until recently have reliably laid eggs. Previously when we have had egging issues all instances could be attributed to our four legged friends who like to get into the chicken house and steal eggs. Last weekend after finding a few new holes around the pen it got "fixed".... However it appears the repair job had worked but the girls have just stopped laying.

So after a quick bit of research I found some options for egg substitution... Now this cake could have gone really badly because not only was I experimenting with egg substitutes but we also had a new packet of Natvia - a sugar substitute to try. I have seen a number of recipes on Sugar Free Kids that use this product and thought it was worth a go, if it was healthier and less calories.

Fruit and nut loaf

Fruit and nut loaf

60g margarine
350g dried fruit (sultanas and prunes) roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups boiling water
2 small pears grated
1/2 teaspoon of bicarb
1 cup Natvia Sugar Substitute
1/2 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon white vinegar
2 1/2 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees and prepare a loaf pan (grease and line with baking paper).
  2. Sour milk by adding vinegar to the skim milk.
  3. Put the margarine, dried fruit, pears and boiling water on the stove in a pot. Bring to the boil. Once the fruit is plump and the margarine melted take of the heat.
  4. Stir through the bicarb - it will foam and this is good.
  5. In a mixing bowl put the Natvia, flour, walnuts and spices. Stir in the fruit mix and milk. Combine well.
  6. Put into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes or until it is cooked through.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Sneaky melting moments

Our house has been on a diet for the past 3 months and we are about to enter another round next week so now is my chance to make some sneaky lemon melting moments. We have an informal house rule  - no using the kitchen aid therefore no treats! A major change from the normal 2 to 3 baked goods a week coming from our kitchen.

Michelle Bridges your 12 week challenge rocks and we have been pretty religious following the rules but you need a blow out every now and then... A little bit of the challenge has rubbed of by making these biscuits in mini.

I have been dreaming of making and eating melting moments for weeks and with our lemon tree laden I could not resist any longer. The lemons this year have been hit and miss (some rock hard and others juicy). Probably has something to do with the general neglect our tree has faced - other than the random pee from the boys of our house (scientifically proven to help).

Lemon Melting Moments Recipe
Makes 16 mini biscuits

180g butter
60g icing sugar
60g custard powder (Birds works well)
180g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

100g butter
2 cups icing sugar (may need more)
Juice of 2 lemons

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees and prepare a biscuit trays.
2. Cream butter and icing sugar. Once combined slowly beat in the custard powder.
3. Slowly beat in flour and baking powder.
4. Make small balls (about the size of 10 cent piece) and push down lightly.
5. Bake for 15 mins - until golden brown. Transfer to a wire tray and cool.
6. For the icing - cream the butter and icing sugar, add the lemon juice. Transfer to a piping bag.
7. Once the biscuits have cooled pipe in the icing.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Pumpkin and ricotta ravioli with burnt butter and sage sauce

After weeks of looking at the pumpkins in the wooden box beside my back door I decided it was time to do something. We have had a lot of soup this year and whilst I enjoy soup, I don't love it. We have tried many recipes in our house from roast pumpkin, to Moroccan flavoured to Asian inspired - we have found them all enjoyable but nothing to get excited about.

This year we had 10 kent/jap pumpkins that had sprung out of the compost. Fortunately they were ready before the frosts arrived. Last year the entire crop was a failure, planted too late and the frosts came too early. A tip for young punters out there: to tell if your pumpkins are ready the steam needs to go brown and break easily. Its a real shame when you think they are ready and when you cut through them they are far from a beautiful orange.

I have wanted to make pasta for a long time but always decided against it at the last minute due to a fear of failure. I think my fear was compounded by the likes of MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules, where the judges have at times been harsh and quite critical of the contestants pasta making ability.
Zara with the pumpkin box

A few weeks ago on a MasterChef team challenge they made pumpkin ravioli - I tried to find the recipe on the website but failed miserably, so I have made my own version from reading my faithful bible (the Cooks Companion) and a few internet searches.

The instructions below may appear daunting but never fear - it is super easy and very rewarding. I will definitely make the ravioli again, but wouldn't recommend making it on a week night. A great activity for a lazy long weekend and would be a good thing to do with kids.

Roast Pumpkin and Ricotta Filling:
1 large pumpkin, cut into big wedges with skin left on - 1 used 450g for this recipe and used the rest for salads
fennel seeds
ricotta (equal quantity to pumpkin)

4 eggs
1 egg yolk
400 g of plain flour

Burnt Butter and Sage Sauce
75 g butter
20 sage leaves

Make the pasta: simply throw all the ingredients in the food processor and let it wizz. If you have a dough attachment - use this part. It took about 3 minutes for mine to become combined. It should spring back when it is touched and not be sticky.

Step 2
Knead the dough for about another 3 minutes and wrap in glad wrap and set aside for 1 hour at room temperature.

Step 3
Season the pumpkin wedges with salt, pepper and some fennel seeds. Our oven is not working at the moment so I put them in our BBQ for 45 minutes until they were caramelised and golden. Let them cool until they are able to be handled.

Step 4
Peel the skin from the pumpkin and mash. I think if you were being a real masterchef you probably would "pass" the pumpkin at this stage - but I am a home cook and way too lazy.

Step 5
Mix the pumpkin with ricotta, parmesan and egg. Taste and season if necessary. A number of recipes that I read on the net suggested adding bread crumbs at this stage. We didn't have any so, I just left it as is.

Step 6
Rolling the pasta: follow the instructions for your pasta machine, and make your pasta as thin as possible. This process was pretty entertaining and I am sure if Zara was a few years older this would be a great family activity. After a quick google search I found instructions on how to cut and fill ravioli. My first batch was a fail and they looked more like dumplings than ravioli - but  they tasted a treat. By the end of my third batch I think I could pass them off as restaurant quality.

As I made more of them I learnt to make sure I had dusted them with flour otherwise I found they got stuck to the plate.

Step 7
Cook in boiling water and remove once they float to the surface. It takes less than 1 minutes for them to come to the surface. Its really important that the water is rapidly boiling otherwise they get stuck to the bottom of the pot... had a few initial fails but worked out my mistake quickly.

Step 8
While the pasta is cooking, its time to make the sauce. Melt the butter, add the sage leaves and wait until it turns a "nutty" brown colour. Put the freshly cooked parcels in the sauce and enjoy!!!!

Monday, 14 May 2012

DIY : Press Dried Flowers

Its been a little while since my last post, as the weather is now quite chilly here in Brisbane and we are all in our winter clothes.  There seems to be fewer and fewer hours each day while tending to my baby and toddler.  The juggle between being mum, running a business and doing household chores does not leave alot of time.  I decided to take much fewer event and trade bookings this year so the balance between motherhood and business would be easier, and I am slowly getting more efficient with how I manage my time as we get into a better routine. Our darling baby girl is now 5 months, and older daughter who is almost 4. 

My eldest loves foraging through the garden to collect little blooms to place in her bedroom vase.  She loves finding even the most tinny little blooms, many of which are actually weeds and then arranges them into the most beautiful of arrangements.  We also love to press the flowers in books and then use them on cards or collages on home bound days.  So I thought I would share this every easy activity anyone can do at home.

This is a great little activity for anyone with little ones, or anyone wanting to save memories from a special bouquet given to them by a loved one.  I find that the more colourful the flower, the better the end result.  All the white or yellow flowers I have tried so far look bruised and pretty yucky.  But sweet little Pansies and Viola's are perfect.  You most likely will have everything you need for this little activity already at home, but here is what you will need;

- A handful of blooms (the more delicate the better as they press really easy)
- A phone book
- Acid free paper
- Second weight to place ontop of the phone book - i.e another book

Create your own press dried flowers;

1. Cut the stems of the flowers short to around 10-15cm.   You can even remove the stems for more delicate flowers like Poppies and Pansies, however I like the look of stems once dried so I ususally keep them on.

2. Open your phone book around half way.

3. Fold a piece of acid free paper and place the fold at the middle point of the book.

4. Place the blooms on the paper and gently push down so they become a little flat.  Make sure your hands are clean as we have acids on our fingers which can cause additional bruising to the blooms.

5. Fold over the acid free paper, and close the phone book.

6. Leave blooms for approximately 3 weeks, and do not open before 2 weeks to check their progress.

7. You can then use the blooms in frames or glue onto gift cards or presents.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The "Dogen" has new friends

On the only hot day this summer (a few months ago) we lost one of our chicken - "Nugget". At the time I was worried whether "Zinger" our other chicken would survive on her own - based on a quick Google and many references to chickens being pack animals and that on its own it would get depressed and die. So feeling guilty I and left "Zinger" to do her own thing.

Bert organised Zinger for a photo shoot
We decided to let her roam around the backyard whenever and where ever she wanted ... since we got our chickens years ago we have never had any issues with foxes so I am a bit laissez faire when it comes to putting them away. I think our dogs deter most predators.

She quickly formed a very strong bond with our two Border Collies - Mack and Paddy. Mack and Paddy have never shown much interest hurting the chickens other than stealing the odd egg, taking first dibs on any scraps that were placed in the backyard and rounding them up when they were bored. She even took to sleeping on the chairs on the deck and not her house. Then came the random laying.

If you have a "dogen" finding her eggs can sometimes be a challenge. And when you do find them, ensuring that they are fresh... you need: How to tell if an egg is still good?

Darcy chasing the chickens around the backyard
Last weekend when my niece's and sister were visiting I decided it was time for our "dogen" to have some new friends. So one week down we are now back to a pack of three. They all seem to be getting on - "Zinger" is struggling having to live in the chicken tractor. So I think tomorrow I might let them all out for a while.

The girls in their house

Darcy with Zinger and Macky

Do you have a chicken that is odd or thinks that its a dog?

Me with Zinger

Monday, 26 March 2012

Coffee for your garden...

Did you know coffee beans are just as good (if not better) for your garden than cow or horse manure?  Coffee is high in nitrogen which is an essential component for soil and plants alike.  With the number of cafes throughout the suburbs these days, it’s got me thinking we are throwing out a lot of useful nutrients which could be better used in our garden than landfill sites.

Cafes generally throw out hundreds of kilos (sometimes tones) of coffee each week.  With only a 10year lifespan left for Brisbane’s landfill sites, why not help out your local environment and use coffee beans to boost the nutrients in your garden’s soil? 

Lucky for me Site Café, located at Banyo in Brisbane are more than happy to fill my buckets with their coffee goodness.   I have now been using the ground beans both within our compost pile and also sprinkling on plants throughout the garden. 

For backyard composters and gardeners, coffee grounds provide a convenient and effective nitrogen source without the pathogen concerns of manure handling (National Geographic,  The worms love it, and instead of working with manure, I am now smelling the sweet scent of coffee in the air. 

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott of Washington State University recommends adding no more than 20 percent by volume of grounds in the compost pile, to boost the supply of nitrogen and ensure quick and nutrient rich composting (National Geographic).

If you only have a small garden or balcony garden, the coffee from your own coffee machine may be sufficient as a nitrogen source for your garden.  However if you have a large garden and compost pile, sourcing the coffee beans from a cafe would be better for your requirements. 

I bet most cafes would be more than willing to fill your buckets with their used coffee beans, as this is something they would be throwing in the bin anyway.  So why not next time you are having a coffee, ask the café if they wouldn’t mind filling some buckets for you to use in your garden.  I bought two 20Litre nappy pails for my coffee to go in, but I am sure any sealable bucket would be just as good. 

If you have already been using coffee in your garden, I would love to know how it has gone!

Happy gardening, Roberta