Sunday, November 25, 2018

Curried Beef Lasagne

When I was given this recipe by my lovely friend Julia from Tropigal, I was really interested by it, as it is a fusion of Italian and Indian cooking and I was intrigued as to how the Butter chicken flavours would marry with the Lasagne, cheese and sour cream flavours. You are my valued cooking and reading friends and will know by now, that I generally don't cook with prepackaged sauces etc.,well not if I can help it.  I had told Julia during a recent conversation that sometimes when I am cooking for a large number of people it can be challenging, and not all recipes hold up well to cooking for over 12 people, which can also be quite expensive. 

A member of Julia's family cooks this recipe regularly, and as she is a good judge of what works with food I cooked it. It is so tasty and easy, and basically infallible I think. Quantities could easily be doubled. I think that more economical Butter chicken sauces could be used, with the use of dried herbs, however when in a rush this is so easy to throw together. I think this was originally a Coles recipe but I haven't seen it published.

Another reason I resorted to this recipe last week is that at the moment we are in forecast heat wave conditions here in Mackay and right up the East coast apparently, with much higher that normal temperatures expected to last for the next few days. 38 degrees tomorrow which is unbelievable. It seems inevitable that the air conditioning will need to be turned on for the first time this year. So last week I did all of the Traditional Christmas cooking before the heat strikes this week, which meant looking for easy options for cooked meals. This was one of them.

So my essential Christmas cooking each year includes my Christmas Fruit Cake, the Plum Pudding, and yesterday Mr. HRK and I made a large batch of Mango Chutney from very green common local mangoes. It was so much faster with two people peeling and cutting up the green mangoes, and processing the dates, garlic, raisins and crystallised ginger. After yesterday, I think he could make a batch on his own. I wonder if that will happen one year. It turned out very well so there will be a few bottles for gifts and the rest for family to enjoy, even with this Curried Beef Lasagne, which I have a portion of in the freezer for later on (RON). The bottles just need to be labelled and they will be relegated to the pantry.

Mango chutney starting to simmer on the outside burner

2018 batch of Mango chutney

Serves 6
Cooking time: 30 - 40 minutes
Preheat oven to 180 deg. C.


1 tbs vegetable oil
500 g Beef mince
2 x 300 g pkts The Spice Tailor Classic Butter Chicken
160 ml (2/3 cup) beef stock
1 spring onion, thinly sliced (white part only)
1 thinly sliced zucchini (or small lebanese eggplant if you prefer)
A handful of frozen peas
1 1/4 cups (300 g) sour cream
1 tsp cornflour
1 tablespoon water
8 fresh lasagne sheets
1 1/4 cups (100 g) finely grated parmesan
Flat leaf parsley to serve
(The zucchini, peas or eggplant are optional, but I like to include some vegetable in most dishes I cook.)


Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Cook the mince, stirring, for 5 minutes or until mince changes colour and is cooked through.

Stir in the spices and sauce sachets from the butter chicken packets. If you don't like chillies or like it hot, take them out.

Add the stock, zucchini and peas. Bring the mince to a simmer, and then reduce to a low heat.

Simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens, vegetables are cooked and the mince is tender.

Stir in the spring onion.
Preheat the oven to 180 deg. C.

Easy Bechamel Sauce

Combine the sour cream, cornflour and 1 tbs. water in a bowl.

Grease a 1.5 Litre or 6 cup rectangular baking dish. Layer the mince mixture in the dish with lasagne sheets, sour cream mixture and parmesan cheese until the top is reached. Cut the lasagne sheets to fit the dish.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until heated through and golden.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with some salad.

Very warm wishes,


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Make Your Own Environmentally Friendly Garden Spray

We have just visited a Mackay Plant Nursery called Country Garden's Mackay, which is new to us but has been there for over 20 years. This visit may just have changed our gardening lives. Frank the owner, is a mine of information, and could hold his own against any of the gardening gurus, including Jerry, the Brisbane gardener on Gardening Australia and maybe even Tom Wyatt from Central Queensland. We came away with  Frank's hand written recipe for an environmentally friendly and very economical garden spray, which Frank says will work on any of our plants to solve most of the pest problems we are experiencing.  There is a nasty little white fly, (not sure of the exact name  I'm sorry) which has been stinging our Pomegranate fruit, our first season, and leaving black spots all over them, stinging our cucumbers and capsicums, and will also cause a myriad of other problems if not quickly discouraged to visit our garden.

This pomegranate flower above has already been stung evidenced by the black spots. Hopefully the pomegranate fruit below will evade the little monsters.

Frank has lots of local knowledge, and knew straight away that this  flying insect is the pest which needs to be eradicated, but in a way which doesn't harm all of the other beneficial insects and the environment.

This super spray prevents mildew, rust, black spot, aphids, white flies, scale, caterpillars and grass hoppers in the nicest possible way.  Use 15 Litres of water as a basis, or  break it down to what you require.

We just halved the quantities to suit the volume of our spray.

Remember this is for your plants, and not to be consumed by humans

Franks's Garden Spray Ingredients:

15 Litres water
2 cups Full Cream milk made up (use powdered milk to be more economical)
75 ml Canola Oil
75ml Dishwashing liquid detergent
4 tablespoons Bicarbonate Soda
A dash of seaweed solution to colour it


Emulsify the Canola Oil and the Dishwashing liquid by shaking together in a large jar
Dissolve the Bicarbonate of Soda separately in warm water
Add the other ingredients to the large jar of Oil and Dishwashing Liquid and add the Bicarb of Soda to the 15 Litres of water.

Spray you garden once a week with this and you should see results and hopefully no pests or little grasshoppers eating your herbs.

Mr. HRK made up this mixture straight  away and he will always approach something like this in a different way to how I would. Whereas I would have made up the milk carefully, he just added the  powdered milk undiluted, about 1/2 cup, to the Detergent and the Oil, after it had emulsified, added the other ingredients and shook it all up. Then he added that mixture to the water. It probably doesn't matter how it's done as there is a large water base anyway. The great thing about these type of recipes is you don't need to be absolutely exact, however be careful not to overdo the Bicarbonate of Soda.

Mr. HRK and I have had a couple of unfortunate experiences with some Bunnings plant purchases lately. Generally I propagate basil from seeds in my seed bank, but knowing that would take a while and I have been running late this year, I bought a few plants from Bunnings. They have looked a bit sick from the start and have never really produced the nice fleshy leaves which is characteristic of the Sweet Basil plant. I have never had trouble growing Sweet Basil before. Despite the fact that it is probably getting a bit hot for them now, Frank said that basil plants have been carrying a fungus this year, and this is probably being transmitted all over the state with imported Southern Basil plants. Next year the Basil should be ok again. I also purchased a miniature Mulberry tree from Bunnings for Mr. HRK for his birthday present, as he loves mulberries. The leaves burnt straight away when we planted it out, and it didn't look at all well, and has only just started recovering with lots of TLC. We have also just  transplanted it back into a pot when we realised that it will only remain a miniature in a pot. They can grow very big.

We came away from  Country Garden's Mackay  realising the advantages of buying plants which are propagated or struck locally in our area, at a local nursery, and where they have already adapted to Mackay growing conditions.This will reduce the amount of stress suffered when they are replanted into our garden conditions. Australia has quite a harsh Summer, and giving plants this advantage will be much better for them. I try to propagate when I can from seeds that I have collected from our own garden, and each generation will then adapt even better to our local conditions.

Does your windowsill look like this one? My laundry windowsill faces north so is very well lit and quite warm. At the moment I am finishing the drying of coriander seeds which I picked this morning, drying chilli seeds from home grown chillis, and I am growing a celery plant in water from the base of a store bought head of celery. When the celery head has sent out a good sized shoot and has sufficient roots, I'll transplant this into the garden. I've done this a few times and as long as they are well watered they will do well.

On a more positive note, we have had success this year with our two vanilla bean orchid vines. Thankfully the pesty flies don't seem interested in them, but the black ants are. Each morning we are getting two to three new flowers on the vines, the flowers only last 24 hours, and must be pollinated in the early morning before they whither in the heat. These need to be pollinated by hand everywhere that they grow except perhaps Mexico, as the pollinating bee has unfortunately become extinct. We use a toothpick to do this and there are plenty of videos on the web on how to do it, but basically it just means pulling away the blossom petals, separating the piece of plant tissue called the rostellum, and then transferring the pollen from the male anthers to the female stigma.  You know this process  has worked when the pale creamy flower starts to whither, and a green vanilla bean can be seen growing from the flower as in the photos below.

I planted this Vanilla Orchid straight into the ground and it's climbing up the mesh covering the raised vegetable garden. It is quite a vigorous plant.

This one is an older plant and is growing on the Golden Penda tree. I bought this at a market in Bowen. There are still plenty of flower buds on this one.

Orchids are such great value. This one has been flowering for a couple of months.

Now for a food recipe. I am still preferring to eat softer foods, as my mouth is quite tender after the bone graft surgery. I'm not chewing any steak as yet. So these little quiches were delicious for brunch this weekend.  I baked them in teflon muffin trays, and this is my standard quiche recipe which cooks up well into mini quiches as well as a large quiche.

Vegetable Quiche recipe served with spicy tomato relish
Spicy tomato relish recipe
Thanks for stopping by.
Hoping you all have a nice week ahead.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Tropical Pavlovas and Pretty Golden Dancing Ladies

My Dancing Ladies are making a lovely golden show this year, with three of them flowering at the moment. They are from the Oncidium Orchid family, and when not flowering don't attract a passing glance at all, like most orchids probably. However when they decide to send out a long spike or two, I get quite excited knowing that in about a month a mass of golden blooms will emerge. These are all originally my Mum's orchids, and have been broken up, repotted and I've learned a lot as I went along.

Keep reading for my Tropical Pavlova recipe below.

I never water the Dancing Ladies at night, as the roots are quite fragile and like the sun to dry them off during the day. I've also learned that they like to grow either in hanging baskets, or in plastic pots with holes drilled around the perimeter of the pot so that the roots can find their way out of the pot to breathe. Despite those little tips, the photo below is of one in a terra cotta pot and it has flowered, although it didn't produce a long spike, but is a very pretty golden shade. Orchids can happily defy all established conventions when left to their own devices.

This one is a darker yellow growing in a hanging basket which needs repotting when it stops flowering.

Below is my Dove orchid, growing on our Golden Penda tree.  It began to break out into delicate white fragrant blooms on Thursday, and by Sunday it was raining. They are the most reliable weather forecaster around. A profusion of these white blooms is a wonderful sight, with the promise of showers to come. Their fragrance is delicate and intoxicating. However, along with the Bureau of Meteorology, they have been known to occasionally get it wrong, just saying, but not very often. If you have a Dove orchid, have you found this as well?

It's Pavlova time.

Everyone loves a good pav don't they, especially for dessert during the Aussie Summer. Pavlovas aren't difficult to make and the wonderful thing is that if by some chance it doesn't work out and has too many cracks in it and collapses, it can easily be converted into Eton Mess, one of my most favourite desserts. Or you can just buy meringues and make Eton Mess from them. This is my
 Eton Mess recipe. Easy peasy. A delicious and easy Summer dessert and ingredients are exactly the same. I believe the original idea came from Eton College in England, when a pavlova didn't work out and was reconstructed to become Eton Mess. I like the story anyway.

I think everyone in Australia and New Zealand for that matter, given the controversy about where it originates from, has their own Pavlova recipe in their cooking repertoire. I've certainly tried a few over the years, however these days my no fuss easy Pav  recipe to go for is this one my friends, straight off the back of the White Wings Cornflour packet. And it's great to know that if I have gluten free guests coming for dinner, cornflour is gluten free. Need to check the vinegar though. It's also nice to know that White Wings is still an Australian company, even though I notice that the ingredients in the packet are packed in Australia from imported ingredients. How does that happen?

I generally keep a container of 6-7 egg whites in my freezer. There is always something I have cooked which only needed egg yolks. Egg whites thaw beautifully for reuse.This recipe makes a marshmallow pavlova, crisp on the outside with a firm marshmallow filling. Yum.

A warning though, don't attempt to make a pavlova if there are rain showers hanging around, unless your air conditioning is on constantly, removing all of the humidity from the air. Pavlovas start to weep after cooking if their is too much moisture in the air, and then you will weep as well. If you intend to eat it straight away it should be ok.

Pavlova Ingredients

6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
6 tsps Cornflour
1 tsp White vinegar
To serve:
300ml thickened cream, whipped
Fresh fruit to decorate, hopefully including a couple of sweet fragrant passion fruit. I used strawberries, kiwi fruit, and blueberries. 

In an ideal world I would have had some beautiful passionfruit to add to the topping


Preheat your oven to 120 deg. C. conventional or 100 deg. C. fan forced. Draw a 20 cm circle in pencil on a sheet of baking paper. I use a 20 cm cake pan as a guide for this. Place the paper, with the pencil circle side down, onto a greased oven tray. Just a biscuit tray will be fine.

Have your Mix Master, Kitchen Aid or whatever you own ready to go with a whisk attached. I don't think a hand held mixer is really the go for the mixing of a pavlova.

Put the egg whites and sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat with your electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and beat for 15 minutes or until the mixture is thick and glossy. Then add the cornflour and the vinegar and beat on low speed  for 1 minute longer.

Spoon the thick eggy mixture onto the prepared and lined tray, spreading carefully out to a 20cm circle to fit your pencilled shape.

Tricky part is over.

Bake in your preheated oven for 2 hours or until crisp. Don't worry if you see a couple of fine cracks in the crust. Turn your oven off. Then cool the cooked pavlova in the oven with the door left ajar for 1-2 hours.

Hold your breath, (just joking) and transfer the pavlova carefully to a serving plate. A miracle has occurred, it will be delicious.

Cover with whipped cream and decorate and enjoy.

Warm wishes, keep smiling and I hope you enjoy your Monday.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Spiced Prune Compote

We used to simply call this dish Stewed Prunes, and whilst this recipe cuts back on the sugar and adds more heavenly scented spices, essentially it is a homely blend of stewed prunes, great for the constitution and promoting regularity, if you know what I mean. Cook this very easy combination of ingredients, and you will have a week's worth of delicious dessert at your fingertips, which just keep improving in flavour. It is also delicious served on your morning porridge, especially for those now experiencing cooler weather in the Northern Hemisphere.

As I cook this, I just love the beautifully rich and spicy aromas in the kitchen reminding me of baking Christmas cakes and Plum Puddings. Which reminds me, Christmas is just around the corner, so Christmas cakes should be next week's job.


500g prunes, pitted or unpitted
1 vanilla bean, sliced in half lengthwise or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 strips of lemon zest
1 tablespoon Port (optional)
2 teaspoons Date Syrup (or substitute Maple Syrup or a mild honey)


Add the prunes to a large saucepan and cover well with water. Combine all the other ingredients and add to the saucepan.  Simmer for 30-35 minutes, ensuring that a gentle simmer is maintained so that the prunes don't boil dry. The prunes should be plump and luscious when they are cooked. I think they plump up more when they are unpitted. With that though comes a warning to everyone to remove the seeds as they eat them, and of course they should be removed before being given to children.

The flavours of this dish will develop even more over the next few days, if left in a covered container in the refrigerator. Extra honey or maple syrup can be added if you like it sweeter.

Serve with boiled custard, yoghurt, ice cream or whatever you fancy.

Bye for now,

Warm wishes


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Spring Cleaning Bookshelves and "The Book Thief"

I've been spring cleaning our bookshelves, this is a job that had to be done, no more procrastinating. I've worked in a lot of libraries over the years, and cleaned, tidied and weeded a lot of bookshelves, back in the days when libraries still had a lot of books, but when it comes to my own books, weeding them i.e. tossing them out, is never an easy thing, especially recipe books. So last week this was at the top of my job list. There's gentle weeding and there's serious weeding.

Building the discard pile. The first step is removing all of the books from the shelves, and sorting them into piles according to genre, on the kitchen bench. Or you could have piles of books stacked on the floor. Our house is open plan, with the kitchen next to the lounge and bookshelves, so it is easier to just stack them on our large kitchen island. As I sorted them into piles, I also made some decisions about what to keep and what to toss out, or rather pass on to the thrift shop. So there was a discard pile, growing by the minute. This is always a bit of a slow process though, as the book covers also need to be wiped down to remove dust, the pages all need to be flicked through, to remove any random $100.00 bills that might have been left in there for safe keeping or by a mysterious donor, and read and possibly remove those written notes that I have made and stuck in the recipe books. I am a note taker, so some books had notes in them.

I initially sorted the books into one pile of definite discards, which I left for a couple of hours so that Mr. HRK could also go through them. He wanted to keep a couple of his old trade books on metalwork and woodwork, other wise thankfully we totally agreed. So out they went in my reusable supermarket bags to the boot of the car. I have made that sound easier than it was. I found myself mulling over some of my recipe books, and of course I found a couple of good recipes in a few of them, but the date of them and the fact that I hadn't looked at them for years convinced me to toss them out. It used to be much easier to discard books in a work setting than from my personal collection, so out they went straight away into piles according to rough genres.  I don't get too serious at this point about sorting them, as I know this will take me the whole day. Hopefully the discard pile would gradually grow as I was intent on reducing my book collection by at least half.

Other things to check are the Publication date, although this isn't really relevant for some history books or even recipe books which could now be vintage or retro. Travel books  become out of date quickly so I had some Lonely Planets that were a quite a few years old. Out they went.

The condition of the book can be a factor. For a book to be valuable, it needs to be in very good condition. Friends over the years have kept old books thinking they would be valuable one day, however to be really valuable they need to be  kept in acid free archival paper, humidity free conditions, must in very good condition and ideally First Editions. I have some rare history books related to Mr. HRK's Genealogy research, wrapped in archival paper and stored in archival boxes.  However these aren't on the bookshelf and still they are not that valuable, only to us.

The Source of the book or where did it come from, and is there an inscription inside. Am I sentimental about this book?  Beware the Nostalgic Collection, however I allowed myself a couple of indulgences. This can be a trip down memory lane if done thoroughly, and can take a while but family book collections contain a lot of memories. This criteria was difficult to work around and I found some surprises.

I always knew that I had an old copy of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" , with an introduction by St. John Ervine, dated June 1923 sitting on our bookshelves. I had forgotten about the inscription inside the front cover which was to my Great Grandmother.  "To Mrs. De Landelles, With all good wishes from A. Bell and Jock." This one should be wrapped in archival paper and stored, as the pages are in pretty good condition although the cover is slightly damaged. This is a family treasure.

One of my favourite books to read was Jane Eyre. I read it several times during my teenage years. This treasured book of mine was a  school prize for 1st place in Grade 8 at my High School. That didn't happen again for a while ha, ha.

Then there are the Sunday School prizes with inscriptions from when I was a child; a copy of Cooking with Herbs and Spices by Rosemary Hemphill, dated 1977, which was a gift from my boss at State Library of Queensland when I left there to move North to Townsville after Mr. HRK and I were married. I still refer to that at times and it is quite special to me. Then there are some of our children's school award prizes, which should go to them now to sit on their bookshelves. It will be difficult parting with them though.

And there is a wine rack waiting to be filled.

Cleaning the bookshelves:

The books are removed and the shelves are all empty. I have the step ladder in place and then up I go to the top step,  so I can reach the top shelf, only three steps, and that's high enough for me. I clean the shelves first with a brush and pan and then wipe them down with with a cloth and a bowl of soapy water. Empty beautifully clean shelves is a sight to behold.

So the books were sorted, 8 bags of books to be discarded are in the boot of the car, and shelves are clean. A pretty good effort. I'm not looking at those bags of books again, and just to make sure, we took them straight away to the Incredible Tip Shop where they sell books and were very welcome.

The books to be kept were placed back on the clean shelves, with the middle priority shelves now filled with my recipe books, which after all are the ones I refer to most frequently. A few favourite photos and ornaments were scattered throughout the shelves decoratively, and the job is done.

It is often the size of the book and not the Country of Origin or genre which in the end determines where they sit on the bookshelf. In libraries, shelves are movable to accommodate books of different sizes, however at home they often aren't flexible,  so the larger and heavier books should sit on the lower shelves for our safety.

I placed the numerous copies of Australian Women's Weekly recipe books in a storage box on the bottom shelf and I think they will probably be weeded over time. I couldn't quite deal with that for now, there are still lots of great recipes in those.

My friends I could probably wax lyrical about this for much longer, but I know you are pleased that I''m not. I have promised myself that I will do this job each year to keep the shelves clean and the collection under control. In retrospect I had fun doing it, a lot of memories resurfaced,  I made a lot of decisions and drank lots of cups of tea during the process.

Job done! I'm pleased with the result although I'm sure an Interior Designer could work their magic with the decorating side of things, but then it wouldn't be my design, would it?

We haven't had a Book Thief in the house, thank goodness, I've been reading the Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, an Australian author. I feel I may have started this book years ago and the timing probably wasn't right so I never ventured very far with it. It's a Block buster movie now, however which is great for Markus.  I was inspired to read his book again after watching a TV interview with him, on One Plus One, an Australian ABC program where Jane Hutcheon interviews personalities and story tellers, mostly from Australia I think. He is quite unaffected by the success of the Book Thief and remains humble and philosophical about his success, and yet so enthusiastic and joyous about life and about writing. I found it a captivating interview. The Book Thief is essentially pitched at Adolescent Readers, however his storyline and writing style is captivating for old and young alike.  I'm looking forward to reading his next book, "Bridge of Clay" which should also be an entertaining read.

I might be a little quiet for a while now, my friends. No recipes today I'm sorry,  just recipe books. I had some dental surgery yesterday which will keep me quiet and on soft foods for a little while I suspect, however the freezer is full of soups and it will take a lot to keep me out of the kitchen for very long. I have a recipe for ice cream to try, so that could be the next thing..... And if you haven't been to the dentist for a while, I suggest you go for a checkup. Teeth are a precious commodity.

Bye for now,

Warm wishes