Saturday, 20 April 2019

Happy Easter to all my Friends and Family Far and Near



Happy Easter everyone, wishing you peace, love and happiness.

Life seems to have been pretty busy in our neck of the woods. How about you?

The bees continue to thrive and Mr. HRK is feeding them their sugar and water syrup every few days to keep their energy levels in top gear. It is heart warming and reassuring to see them flying around and feeding from the flowers and bushes in our  garden, but they are also flying off early each morning in search of the local flowering native trees. That's where the real magic happens.

We were invited to a beautiful 40th birthday party lunch, on Thursday at the Ocean International Hotel in Mackay and this was the birthday cheesecake and dessert. I thought it looked amazing, but it tasted even better. The fresh mint was a nice touch. Local tropical bougainvillea in flower just set off the visual effect perfectly.



Mr. HRK, whilst a guest,  was also part of the entertainment for the birthday party, and here he is second from left, next to Bill, our host and the Harmonica player, strumming his guitar. Everyone enjoyed a good old fashioned sing song, song sheets with the words were provided.


We have been conducting an experiment over the last week with two of our home grown vanilla beans. The yellow one was ready to harvest, but was the only one, so I also picked a green one from the vine to see if I could also ripen it by the sun and sweating method, although most of the articles I have read about it suggest that they can't be ripened effectively unless they are turning slightly yellow at the tips or on the bean when picked. The difficulty being that with a small crop of vanilla beans they aren't all going to ripen at the same time, are they?


Below is a photo 7 days later, of the beans after being left out in the sun for four hours a day, and brought inside to sweat overnight in an esky.The lower one is ready I think and just needs to be aired now for a couple of weeks. It possibly had a little bit too much sun. The top one seems to be browning so perhaps it will be ok as well, however it doesn't have the full vanilla aroma that the darker one has. If anyone has any experience with curing vanilla beans I would love to hear from you, but I have learned a lot just with this simple experiment.


We have been spending sometime in the garden over the Easter break, there are always enjoyable things to do. It rained this morning and that is perfectly timed as we have just planted some radish seedlings and alyssum seeds. The next one on the list are silver beet seedlings. Other areas of the garden were looking a bit dry, so there is no need to water now.

I have also been enjoying doing some reading, and planning some sewing and doing some decluttering.

There is a large pot of homemade chicken soup on the stove, I made the stock yesterday,  so that will be a delicious, easy and nutritious meal for our dinner. I hope you have enjoyed a relaxing time over the break.

Happy Easter and thanks for dropping by.


Pauline

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

My Mum's Coffee Walnut Cake, or is it a Slice?




The flavours of coffee and walnuts are meant for each other, and I have always loved this cake. I found the recipe the other day when I was searching through my Mum's hand written recipe books, and it made me quite nostalgic. Perhaps with Easter just around the corner, it is time to be a touch sentimental and remember  some precious moments in our lives. Whenever I was visiting my Mum on a work trip, or with my family after I married, she had a cooking repertoire of recipes that she knew we enjoyed and this cake was always the main cake on offer because she knew that I loved it, however the biscuit tins were always full and the refrigerator stacked with food as well. There was probably also a fruit cake hiding in a nearby cake tin, just in case. This original recipe is from pre-metric days, with the ingredient measures all being written in Imperial. Some of you will remember that. I have converted these for you and they can be rounded off, but in the true spirit of the recipe when I am cooking it now, I set my scales to Imperial and off I go.



This recipe is a cinch to make, uncomplicated with simple ingredients,  and although it has the consistency and texture of a cake, it is served as a slice, having been cooked in a lamington baking tin. A little preparation the night before helps but isn't essential, which only involves taking the butter and eggs out of the refrigerator so that the eggs are at room temperature and the butter softened, and the walnuts can be chopped as well. I keep my walnuts in a container in the freezer now, as it is one of those nuts which can taste stale if left at room temperature in a glass jar for too long, and that spoils the finished product. All the ingredients are then beaten together in the electric mixer for 3 minutes, placed in the greased and lined lamington tin and cooked for 25 minutes and voila it is ready. Sometimes I think we just need to be able to bake a simple and delicious cake without too much fuss.

Another reason I chose to bake this easy cake is that I have a foot injury. I sprained my little toe last Friday in the kitchen, caught it on the edge of the cupboard early in the morning when it was still dark, and if you have ever had this happen to you my friends  you will know how much it hurts. Ouch doesn't even begin to describe the pain involved.  So it is slowly healing, and I have a loose fitting sandal on today for the first time since it happened. Thankfully the weather is very balmy at present, not needing closed in shoes. It is also my turn to host our Mahjong "tournament"today and an easy cake like this one will be perfect, as I am still hobbling around.





I love to ice it with a coffee flavoured icing, the old fashioned way using dissolved instant Nescafe coffee, and decorated with chopped nuts. It's difficult to give you an exact recipe for the icing I use, as I make this icing as I go really. However I start with about 4 cups of finely sifted pure icing sugar, add a small dab of softened butter, two teaspoons of warm milk, and then add dessertspoonfuls of a coffee solution made by dissolving 3 teaspoons of instant coffee powder in a teacup of boiling water. Keep  mixing the icing until all of  liquid is integrated and then add more liquid to get the right consistency. You may need to add more sifted icing sugar as well if the icing is too moist. I'm sure Mr. HRK would be very happy to give me some of our homemade espresso coffee if I didn't have any of the instant stuff on hand. Using the instant takes me down memory lane, as it tastes just like Mum used to make.

Ingredients:

Turn on your oven to a moderate setting, 350 deg. F. (175 deg. C)

6 oz  (175 g) S.R. Flour
2 eggs
4 ozs (114 g) soft butter
5 ozs (142 g) sugar
1 tablsp. powdered coffee
3 tablsp. milk
1/2 teasp. Baking Powder
1/2 teasp salt
2 oz (60 g)walnuts (chopped)

Let's cook:
  1. Sift the flour
  2. Put all ingredients in the bowl and bet until well mixed, on speed 8 for 3 minutes
  3. Put into well greased lamington bar tin and cook at 350 deg. F or 175 deg. C for 25 minutes.

Ice with coffee icing and top with crushed walnuts or crushed mixed nuts

Thanks for dropping by.

Best wishes,

Pauline



An original recipe with Pauline McNee

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Sweet and Salty Cheesecake with Cherries and a Nut Crumble




I have a new and recently published recipe book on my bookshelf, Ottolenghi Simple, thanks to a recent birthday gift from wonderful friends, and this recipe literally jumped out at me from it's pages. I am very happy to review it and give it 10 out of 10. It is delicious. There are 3 stages and layers to this dessert, something like a parfait really, all very achievable and quite simple to prepare, the attraction being that they can be made well in advance of when they will be served, if you are organised enough that is. I now have the time to be well organised in advance although I realise not everyone has. So that's what I did. The Cheesecake keeps for 3 days in the frig, the compote keeps for 5 days (although this is risky as you will be dying to eat it with absolutely everything), and the nut crumble which keeps for a week or so can be kept on the kitchen bench in a covered container, just don't tell anyone or it will disappear as well. As Yotem Ottolenghi says the compote and crumble are also lovely for breakfast, served with Greek yoghurt, if you have any leftovers that is, and I doubt you will. The crumble will also take any fruit crumble to greater heights.

The cheesecake component of this dessert is not the kind of food that I would suggest we eat every day of the week. Most people I know are practising calorific restraint on an almost daily basis, however as I love to cook and enjoy beautiful food I allow myself the occasional indulgence, such as this dessert.  It is lovely to share delicious food with friends. Wanting to cook and eat  spectacular recipes that I come across is one of the realities of being a food blogger, however I am not just a food blogger but also a healthy lifestyle advocate so I try to find a balance with what I cook and add to the blog. It is also a trap to be influenced by the fads of celebrity chefs and to be totally guided by their choices, and I suppose Otam Ottelenghi falls into this category. However I like his emphasis on mostly healthy ingredients, such as vegetables and spices, and simple preparation, and it is our choice after all as to what we choose to cook. We owe it to ourselves to stay healthy and that is what is guiding a lot of my cooking choices now, on a daily basis.

Speaking of ingredients, here they are. Whilst it might seem like a lot of ingredients, the only ones I needed to go out and buy were the frozen Cherries, hazelnuts and cream cheeses.






INGREDIENTS:

Serves six to eight:

CHEESECAKE

100g feta
300g full-fat cream cheese
40g caster sugar
1 small lemon: finely grate the zest to get 1 tsp
130 ml thickened cream
2 tbsp olive oil, to serve

CRUMBLE

100g blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped (I blanched these myself but buy them if you are short of time) There are good websites available on how to blanch them with bicarb soda and boiling water.
30g unsalted butter, fridge-cold and cut into 2cm dice (I used salted butter)
80g ground almonds
25g caster sugar
1 tbsp black sesame seeds (or white)
1/8 tsp salt

CHERRY COMPOTE

600g frozen pitted cherries, defrosted
90g caster sugar
4 whole star anise
1 orange: skin finely shaved to get 4 strips

Method:

To make the Cheesecake

Use a spatula, and break down the feta in a large bowl until it is as smooth as you can get it. Add the cream cheese, sugar and lemon zest and whisk by hand to combine. I used a fork during this process as well to break it down. This needs to be done by hand.
Pour in the cream and gently whisk together until the mixture has thickened enough to hold its shape, This happens quickly. Leave to set in the fridge in a covered container until ready to use. You can leave this for 3 days in the fridge.


To make the Crumble
Preheat the oven to 180 deg. fan forced
Place the hazelnuts, butter, ground almonds and sugar in a separate bowl.
Use the tips of your fingers to rub the butter into the dry mixture until the consistency of breadcrumbs is achieved.
Stir in the sesame seeds and salt, then spread out onto a baking tray.
Cook in the oven for about 12 minutes, until golden brown.
Allow to cool, then store in a covered container on the kitchen bench until ready to use, or use straight away, when the compote is made.


To make the Cherry Compote (use with any berries)
(I love this part)
Put the cherries, sugar, star anise and orange skin into a medium saucepan and place on a medium high heat. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the sauce has thickened (but it will continue to thicken as it cools down). Set aside to come to room temperature. The star anise and orange peel should be discarded.

When ready to serve, spoon a large scoop of the cheesecake into each bowl and top with half the crumble. Spoon the compote on top and finish with the remaining crumble. Drizzle over the olive oil, yes really, and serve.

I really hope you enjoy this dish if you decide to make it this weekend. Have a great weekend everyone, and do something that you love doing.

Best wishes

Pauline













Sunday, 7 April 2019

Our Backyard Honey Beehive Swarm moves into it's New Hive

One of our bees in our garden on the Salvia flowers
At last, we have moved our bees from their adopted Bird Box into their new hive, with the assistance of Keith Lang, who with his wife Denise own a local Mackay company, Pure'n Natural Honey. This has been a work in progress for a couple of months. Since I last wrote about our Bees (see previous story here), which had swarmed into the Bird Box located on our backyard Palm tree last Christmas, Neil (Mr. HRK)  has moved the Bird Box hive three times.  Down the tree, a metre at a time, at fortnightly intervals; then a metre across on trestles, toward the future location of the permanent hive; and then to a spot directly adjacent to the new hive. With minimal calming required from the smoker for each move, the bees coped remarkably well with each transition, and found the hive easily again after a day's foraging. I don't think we lost many at all.

The New Hive






Our original Bee swarm in the Bird Box on the Palm Tree

Neil has been building the boxes  and the internal frames with foundation wax, for two new bee hives, over the last couple of months, all from scratch, and all from recycled materials. The hives have been constructed from old waterbed timbers, including the bedhead and the frames that he was given. The honey extractor (centrifuge) is also built from scratch, from recycled pieces of metal and bicycle parts, except for the food grade bin. A couple of the metal components needed to be purchased online. All of that activity kept him well occupied. It is great to think this whole project has been very environmentally sustainable.

Home made State of the Art Honey Extractor (centrifuge)

The big day arrived last Sunday when the Bird Box beehive was to be relocated to the new Beehive, which is set above the ground on a concrete slab amongst the rain forest area of our garden. Keith arrived early and equipped to help us move the hive. There is a lot to it, and Keith has years of experience and knowledge with bees. In fact what he doesn't know about bees, hives and honey probably isn't worth knowing. The hive was smoked carefully and the process began. This needs to be a very gentle and slow activity, so that the bees don't get stirred up and start attacking. Keith and Mr. HRK donned their bee suits and started dissecting and analysing the combs  in the bird box. I was also wearing mine as a precaution, as I was the brave photographer.

The inside of the very full Bird Box Hive


It is important to check for disease with a hive like this one. Thankfully overall it is a healthy hive. Keith found only a few small hive beetles which he thought was pretty good and placed a bait in the hive for them. There was also a little chalk brood in there which apparently is because of the moisture which could enter the bird box, but otherwise it was all looking good.










Below are Neil and Keith checking one of the brood combs from the original hive,





The search was on for the Queen Bee and any signs of problems in the hive. Just in case he couldn't find the Queen, Keith had brought a new Queen with him. Most of the combs had been moved and the bees dropped carefully into the new hive when Neil spotted the Queen Bee, right at the bottom of the bird box. The clever girl had been evading discovery up until now.

There she is, where he is pointing.

K


A rather fuzzy closeup of the Queen Bee
Keith, who I must add has been gloveless throughout this operation and miraculously only suffered one bee sting, carefully picked her up near the head and separated her into a small box for relocation later. She was then given a dab of pink paint for easy recognition later in the hive by us.

The bees had built beautifully consistent rows inside the Bird Box which Keith attached to the frames with rubber bands and carefully placed into the new hive. All the wooden frames were constructed by hand by Neil.



















Below, the brood box is successfully completed with the Queen Bee excluder in place. The second box in this picture was used to keep all the bees together and with a little smoke they retreated in to the brood box.





It's all going well and getting ready to take the extra box away.




Feeding the Bees

There was little food in the hive for them,  because of the difficult weather conditions that bees have been coping with lately.  They need some of their own honey to feast on. However Keith brought a new frame from one of his hives laden with honey that the bees can enjoy. So they will be ok.
We also made up a sugar and water syrup solution for them to eat and to help with the readjustment.

Sugar and water bee syrup  recipe: (There had to be a recipe somewhere in this story.)

Boil the kettle and measure one cup of water or use one cup of distilled water. Add one cup of sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. When cool, add this solution to a plastic sandwich bag, and press the edge closed. Remove the lid, and place it on the top rack in the beehive and gently cut two small slots into the top plastic surface. Press the surface very gently so that a little of the solution seeps through, and watch the bees crawl toward it and start feeding. This should keep them fed for three days in addition to what they forage out in the garden. Smoke the hive, and check the sugar bags in three days, and replace until there is enough food in the hive for them to live on. We used two smaller bags as we didn't have any normal sized sandwich bags.

The metal Queen excluder which the Queen can't fit through but the honey bees can, was placed above the brood box in the hive.  The brood box contains all of the brood comb that was  inside the Bird Box.

Close up of the sugar syrup bags and the bees and the black hive beetle bait box in the background. On the left is all the comb with honey that was attached to the top of the bird box hive.






Neil cutting small slits in the bags
Shortly after the move and closure of the hive, the bees were exploring their new home. We left a small portion of the Bird box hive comb outside the entrance slit which is at the base of the box, as the bees will be attracted to it's scent and find their way home much more easily. The top goes on with the honey comb, sugar syrup and bait inside.



Neil has replaced the repaired bird box back onto the palm tree in the hope that we may attract another swarm. Keith suggested we add a couple of drops of lemon grass oil to the box as an incentive for another swarm of bees to settle there. Our bees had also built a comb outside the bird box so they were possibly looking at expanding or swarming again.

Neil and I still have a lot to learn about beekeeping, but we have also come a long way since Christmas. I hope all of the experienced beekeepers and Apiarists who read this will be kind with their thoughts about some of my beekeeping terminology. By blogging this, I hope we will also receive some interesting comments or emails from you, dear reader, and that we will continue to learn and enjoy our bees.



A Bee Friendly Garden

We are aiming for a Bee and Butterfly friendly garden, and are particularly conscious now of growing plants that will attract and feed our bees. They are loving the New Guinea bottlebrush at present, and if you look carefully you should be able to see the bee in the middle flower in this photo.


They also love the purple Salvia flowers (photo at top of page) we have growing in a few spots, and we recently purchased a few  Coleus plants. Remember that old fashioned hardy plant with a variegated leaf which our Aunts and Grandmothers always had in their gardens? It's making a comeback and the bees just love the blue/mauve flower spikes it produces. Ours is yet to flower but it shouldn't be long. Wandering Jew is another old fashioned plant that sends bees crazy with desire, however it also goes crazy in the garden and will take over so it needs to be planted in a sunny spot where it can be the boss. We are gradually adding to our garden of bee attracting plants and I'll write another story about this at a later date.

The biggest benefit for us with having bees besides the honey they will produce, is their pollination of surrounding  fruit trees, flowers,  and vegetable gardens, and for the neighbours as well. On an optimistic note, we are hoping to harvest some of our own honey by next October, for our own use and a few gifts.

Speaking of honey.......


 I am very happy to be able to promote a wonderful, local honey product, produced by Pure'n Natural Honey. This is a family owned Mackay business. Their beehives are placed in carefully selected pristine bushlands, and also move their hives to local farms growing macadamias and citrus to assist them with their pollination. The honey is 100% natural and raw and tastes delicious with well known health benefits. Also thank you to Kylie for providing me with the Pure'n Natural honey photo.

Products can be purchased by clicking on this link, or visit the Wednesday morning Farmers Market at Bluewater Quay in Mackay. The product is also sold at various Airlie Beach outlets, and is used by numerous restaurants and cafes in the region. You can also keep up to date with what is happening by subscribing to their Blog here.

We are very fortunate that Keith from Pure'n Natural Honey has provided a lot of his support and knowledge with our backyard bee hive, and as part of their business initiative, assisted us with successfully moving our hive.

Mr. HRK and I  would love to hear from you with any advice, comments etc, which you can provide either through the email box on the side bar of this post or in the Comments Section at the end of this post. Click on the title link at the top for the Comments page.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best wishes

Pauline