Sunday, 2 September 2018

Semolina Citrus and Cardamom Cake

The continuing month long journey using my Red Belly Citrus blood oranges took a cakey turn, when a post for a beautiful cardamom and citrus cake turned up in my Facebook feed, thanks to CSR Sugar. I follow CSR Sugar on Facebook and see all manner of delicious creations from them, however this cake peaked my interest mainly from the use of cardamom (yum!) and semolina. I’ve eaten cakes with semolina, just not made one. Here is the recipe as found on the CSR website, with my little tweaks noted.


For the cake:
220g butter, softened
200g CSR Raw Caster Sugar
1 lemon and 1 orange, finely grated rind and juice of each
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
200g find semolina
150g almond meal
2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch fine salt
125ml natural full-fat yoghurt
3 tsps ground cardamom

For the crunch lemon syrup topping:
2 tbsps CSR Raw Caster Sugar (I added in a little cardamom pistachio sugar as well)
3 tbsps CSR Demerara Sugar plus extra to scatter

To decorate: (optional)
1 lemon, very finely sliced (I only used blood oranges candied slices, having made them the day before)
1 orange, very finely sliced
4 tbsps CSR Caster Sugar
¼ cup water

To serve:
300g mascarpone
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla extract, of vanilla pods and their scraped seeds  steeped in vodka)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees C

2. Butter and line a 22cm fixed bottom cake pan (I actually used a spring-form pan).

3. Using an electric mixer, beat the softened butter, sugar, lemon and orange rind together until smooth, lightly coloured and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time beating well between each addition to ensure they are fully combined. Scrape down the bowl.

5. Add the baking powder, semolina, almond meal, salt, yoghurt, half the lemon and orange juice and continue beating until just combined to form a smooth light and fluffy batter. Scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is mixed through.

6. Transfer to the cake pan and bake for 25-40 minutes or until golden and set in the centre when tested with a skewer. Remove from the oven.

7. Stir the remaining lemon and orange juice (I used only blood orange juice, which gave it a wonderful crimson colour), together with 2 tablespoons of raw caster sugar and 3 tablespoons of Demerara sugar. While the cake is still warm, pierce the cake all over with a skewer and slowly pour the syrup with undissolved Demerara sugar crystals all over the cake. This will form a textural crunchy citrus layer on top of the cake as it cools.

8. If you’re using the lemon and orange slices (I used only blood orange slices) to decorate the cake, add the caster sugar and water to a small pan. Bring it to the boil, and working in batches, add the sliced fruit. Boil each batch for about 2 minutes and transfer to a baking paper lined baking tray and allow to cool.

9. When ready to serve, mix the mascarpone and vanilla together. Spoon on top of the cake and decorate with sugared citrus slices, if you’re using them, then scatter with Demerara sugar for extra crunch. (I served the mascarpone separate, and used some candied slices I made the previous day, some of which were half dipped in dark chocolate).


This recipe made for a very lovely and moist cake, and the flavour of cardamom worked in very well with the citrus. The mascarpone and vanilla was delicious, and made every mouthful of cake just that little bit more decadent.

My husband took the majority of the cake to work the next day to share with his colleagues, who agreed it was a very delicious cake. They’d definitely look forward to it again!! hint hint! 

Read about my recent adventures with blood oranges:

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Baked Doughnuts with a Blood Orange Glaze

The continuation of my blood orange journey saw the making of candied blood orange slices…. and doughnuts with blood orange glazes.

Firstly, the slices:
The candied slices were very easy to make, with the longest part of the process being their time drying out. 

Cut off the ends of two blood oranges, then thinly slice the remainder. In a saucepan, combine ¾ of a cup of caster sugar with 2 cups of cold water. Bring the sugar and water to the boil, then reduce the heat to a low just-bubbling summer. Carefully place the orange slices into the water, and let them simmer for about 50 minutes.

Every now and then, I would shift the slices from the bottom of the pile in the saucepan to the top, just to ensure they all cooked evenly through. After 50 minutes, carefully remove them using tongs, and lay on top of a wire cookie cooling rack with a metal tray underneath to catch any drips. Be careful moving them, as they are quite soft by this stage. Let them air dry for about 24 hours.


As for the leftover sugar/water mix, you will find that this has gone a beautiful shade of deep red from the juices. Keep this to use as a simple syrup for making cocktails, or use it as a sauce to pour over pancakes, ice cream, or a chia pudding. Red Belly Citrus themselves suggested to me over Instagram to keep on cooking the sauce down to make a stretchy blood orange taffy…. or cook it for longer to turn it into toffee. They accidentally reduced some of this sugar/water mixture down a few years ago and discovered the wonderful properties that result from the added cooking time. They cut up their toffee pieces and stir it through ice cream to make a wonderful cassata. Yum!!!!

After the candied blood orange slices are dry enough, dip half of each slice into melted chocolate and devour with glee!! As they have cooked for 50 minutes, the skin is really soft and easy to eat, just like citrus rind is in marmalade. Plus the added bonus of chocolate + orange equals JAFFA! One of my most favourite flavours.


The doughnuts:
Firstly, do you spell it donuts or doughnuts? I think donuts is the more Americanised version (think Homer Simpson and "Mmmmmm... donuts"), and doughnuts is the more English/Australian version. Do you agree?

I bought two doughnut pans several years ago because I wanted to make baked versions, instead of investing in a deep fryer. Don’t get me wrong, I love to munch on a deep fried doughnut at the first chance, I just didn’t want to own a fryer and deal with the oil, and the clean up, and the oil, and well, all that oil really. Plus it would be too tempting to whip up anything (read Tim Tams in batter… banana wrapped in bacon… that sort of thing). Just think, I’m missing out on some kind of wonderful experimental deep fry up party! Alas my waistline is not sorry…. So back to the doughnut pans….

They are super easy to use, and you can spoon the mixture right into the pans, so no need for messy piping bags. I made these with cinnamon, and loosely followed Ina Garten’s recipe which is found on the Food Network website. I say loosely as I tweaked the sugar levels much lower than what the recipe called for, and did not follow the end dipping ritual of butter, cinnamon and sugar, as I wanted to glaze them instead.


So the recipe I used goes as follows…

In a large bowl, add 2 cups of plain flour, 75g caster sugar, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ½ teaspoon of nutmeg, and a scattering of salt. In a separate bowl, melt 30g of butter, then whisk in 1 egg, 1.25 cups of milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and use a spatula to make sure everything mixes together. Carefully spoon the mixture into the (sprayed) doughnut pans, and make sure to only fill them about half way, or else they lose their doughnutty definition and look more like muffins! Bake in a 350 degree oven (lower heat by 20 degrees for a fan forced oven) for 15-17 minutes, until they are light golden brown in colour and appear to come away from the sides easily. After removing from the oven, leave in their trays for about 5 minutes, before turning them out onto a cooling rack.

When they are cold, they are ready to glaze. I mixed up two types of glazes. The first was 1 cup of sifted icing sugar with about ¼ cup of blood orange juice. Add in the juice slowly until you reach the desired glaze thickness. I kept mine nice and thick.  For the other glaze, I used 1 cup of sifted icing sugar and a little milk. Again add in the liquid slowly until you get the thickness you like. I also added in a little grated blood orange zest.  Dip in the tops of the doughnuts to the glaze and set on cooling racks to harden, or dribble over the glaze the doughnuts in pretty patterns. I even scattered on a few coloured sprinkles, because… well, sprinkles. Have fun with them. You could even turn them into a Birthday Cake of sorts, by making a huge pile of them! 

They made about 23 doughnuts in total, and trust me, they don't last long!  



What is your favourite flavour of doughnuts? 

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Panna Cotta with Blood Oranges

I was fortunate to recently be gifted an entire box of blood oranges from Red Belly Citrus. Owner Len is indeed very generous in offering entire boxes to foodie types, and I am thoroughly enjoying myself working through the box, making delicious dishes using this wonderful fresh Australian produce. Follow my upcoming blog posts to see what marvelous creations I create using this superb fruit.


My delicious box of fresh Blood Oranges arrived via a Fastway courier in the early afternoon. I got chatting with the delivery driver, and discovered he had not had his lunch yet. I reached into the box of blood oranges he just dropped off to me and handed him a couple of oranges. I asked “Have you had blood oranges before?” to which he then told me about his previous jobs in hospitality and catering, and being allowed to take home leftover fruit platters. That’s when he and his family shared in having blood oranges.  He thanked me for the fruit, and was on his way.

Now… what to make with all these blood oranges?

I have always wanted to try my hand at making panna cotta, so I headed down to the local shops to buy some cream, and few other ingredients to use with these oranges over the next few days.

I have always thought that making panna cotta was hard. Don’t ask me why, I guess because I’ve always had perfectly set, unmoulded, creamy panna cotta when out at restaurants, I assumed it would be a tricky dessert to master. How wrong was I!!  I found this really easy recipe on the Australian Woolworths website (note: this is not a sponsored post). I pretty much followed the recipe, minus the plum syrup, and simply poured the mixture into small glass dishes so there was no unmoulding required. See? Easy peasy.

The recipe that I used goes as follows:

Whisk 3 teaspoons of powdered gelatine with 2 tablespoons of hot water in a medium sized bowl. Use a bowl that allows you plenty of room to run the whisk around.

Next, combine 300ml pure cream, 200ml milk and 45 grams of caster sugar in a saucepan, and heat until it’s just about to boil, but do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat, and spoon a couple of spoonfuls of the cream mixture into the gelatine. Whisk that in. Then pour the gelatine mixture back into the cream mixture and thoroughly combine it through.

Strain this combined mix through a fine sieve to remove any lumps, into a Pyrex measuring jug. I used this jug has it has a pouring spout. Next, pour equally into 4 small glass dishes. You end up with just over 500ml of liquid, so that makes for a dessert serving of about 125ml each which is an ideal size. Pop these into the fridge to set. They take around 3 hours to be set enough to eat, but are still perfectly fine the next day.

When serving, I chopped up the flesh of a blood orange into small pieces, removing any pips. Pop this flesh into a small dish and put into the microwave – covered with paper towel – for about 40 seconds to heat it through. Spoon the orange pieces over the panna cotta, and scatter over crushed pieces of pistachio nuts.

Voila! An easy dessert that is destined to impress any dinner party guest, or to just have as a fancy dessert at the end of the day.


Notes:
1. I used light milk, as it was the only milk I had on hand, and I noticed that my panna cotta set into two very distinct layers. Both layers were equally set, so the gelatine worked, but I think the density of the pure cream rose to the top, and the lighter milk settled near the bottom. Next time I might use a higher fat milk so this doesn’t happen again. It still tasted perfectly fine.

2. Alternatively you could cook the orange pieces in a small saucepan to give them a more stewed texture, but the microwave does a similar job, in a fraction of the time.
1
I also gifted six oranges to our new neighbours. They are a Defence family who have moved here from the Northern Territory. Their young boys have only ever known NT weather, so they have been quite shocked by the cold Canberra winter weather. The first weekend they were here, there was snow visible on the Brindabella mountains. Eeek! Let’s hope Spring hurries up for their sake and we get some warmer temperatures. I hope they enjoyed fresh oranges! 

Stay tuned for more delicious blood orange posts! 

Sunday, 29 July 2018

All Things Citrus on ABC Radio Canberra

You know those old sayings… ‘when life gives you lemons’ and ‘when life throws you a curveball’?  Well combine the two, and last week life threw a virtual grapefruit my way! Laura Dawes from ABC Canberra Radio contacted me on the Wednesday, asking if I was available to take part on air in the Fridge Fossick segment with Anna Vidot the next day on the Thursday afternoon. Eeeeeeeeek! Say what??? “Um, yes sure, I’d love to… what’s the topic?” I asked. “Citrus”, she replied. Now I’m no expert on the topic but I thought I knew enough a-peeling things about citrus, I curd talk my way through a 30 minute (orange) segment. Oh, did I mention that Anna is a lover of food puns? I thought, this should be fun. Scary and out of my comfort zone, but fun.

So with less than a day’s notice I set to work jotting down a few citrus related ideas, recipes, stories and tid bits, not quite knowing what questions would come my way, or what direction the talk would go.


Thursday afternoon I arrived at the ABC studios on Wakefield Avenue and parked in their exclusive Visitor Only car park right outside the front door. I felt very cool walking up the stairs and into the foyer. Chit-chatting with the security guard, he said I was a little early for my appointment, and said I could wait on the nearby chairs. No way was I going to be late for a radio timeslot, so I sat down to gather my thoughts, and catch up with the now very active thread on Twitter started that afternoon by Anna, with listeners posting their ideas about citrus, and their funny food puns. I made a note to mention some in my on-air talk.

I was greeted by the lovely Laura, who took me through to the Green Room, which was confusing as it had white walls, grey carpet and red furniture!!!! (I know, green room is the common term). All the while the nearby radio was playing Anna’s Afternoon show. I looked through the large glass window into the next studio to see Anna, who had just finished talking to her previous guest. It suddenly dawned on me…. eek, I’m up next! Then Lish Fejer, another ABC presenter, arrived and said she would be joining Anna and I for our segment. You see Lish is an avid foodie, and an even greater lover of puns. She said she wouldn’t miss this segment for the world. I’m glad she joined us as she is a vibrant spirit, full of interesting food ideas and food puns, and she’s a riot to talk to.


So into the studio I went, sat next to Lish, with Anna on the opposite side in control of all the dials. In front of me was a ginormous microphone that I had be really close to in order for my voice to be picked up. It was a little nerve racking when the segment began, but once we all started chatting time just evaporated, and it was a lot of fun. Several listeners texted and emailed in their ideas and suggestions for using citrus, including one fellow foodie Nick Brightman (aka Canberra Foodie Chef) who suggested making Limoncello from a glut of lemons. Great idea Nick!


This link will take you to the entire Thursday Afternoons episode, and our segment comes in at 1 hour 31 minutes. Enjoy!

Here are just a few really interesting citrus facts that I came across, but didn’t have time to mention on air, as the 30 minute show seemed to go very fast. For your vitamin C induced enjoyment:

- Key Lime Pie is a staple Florida dessert found widely on USA menus, but did you know that it actually uses a type of lime called a Key Lime?

- Pink grapefruits came about from radiation being used to trigger mutations in the fruit to achieve the pinky/crimson flesh colour.

- Whats the difference between a Cara Cara orange, and a Blood Orange? Cara Cara’s get their colour from lycopene, which is what gives tomatoes and watermelon their red colour, they are seedless, and originate from Venezuela. Blood Oranges however have a darker coloured flesh derived from anthocyanins which are rare for citrus fruits to have, as generally these compounds are found in berries and red wine. Blood oranges originate from Spain and Italy.

- The world’s heaviest pomelo weighed in at 4.8kg and was grown in Japan.

- Lemons make a great natural cleaner. Sprinkle your sink with baking soda (bi-carb) and rub a lemon over it. Rinse down for a sparkly finish. Or slice up a lemon, pop it into a glass bowl with some water, and microwave it for a minute or two. Wipe down the inside of your microwave straight after for a clean finish.

With thanks again to ABC Radio Canberra, Laura Dawes, Anna Vidot and Lish Fejer for having me as a guest presenter. It was a lot of fun.


So reader, what are your go-to tips for using up a glut of citrus fruits? What are your favourite recipes? And have you ever been on the radio? 

Monday, 25 June 2018

Being Mindful about Eating

There is so much opposing information these days about diet and nutrition, it’s no wonder we end up being confused about what are the right foods to nourish our bodies. Nutritional guidelines have constantly changed over the decades, and advice seems to flip-flop about what foods are “good foods” and what foods are “bad foods”. We are constantly bombarded with this advice from magazines, television, the internet, the food manufacturers, the latest cookbooks… it seems everyone has something to say about food.


Yet today, with all our knowledge, technology and food abundance, we are becoming fatter. Almost 2 in 3 Australian adults (63%) were overweight or obese in 2014-15. One quarter (26%) of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2014-15.(https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-statistics/behaviours-risk-factors/overweight-obesity/overview). 

This is due to a number of factors, but a big one is not restricting ourselves to sensible portion sizes, and as a result, overeating. The main reason for growing fatter can sometimes be as simple as having too many calories than what our bodies need to function. This excess gets stored, and if its not converted into energy, our fat stores increase. Go to any supermarket and look at a product packaging. Have you noticed how many recommended serves there are on the packet? Too often we eat more than what is advised. Now go to a cafĂ©, or a restaurant. Is the meal based on an average serving size? Often its not, but we have a tendency to want to finish the plate, or eat the entire sandwich. We don’t like to see food wasted, and often taking food home is not allowed by many eateries. So what do we do?

Enter Michele Walton, aka the “Food Lovers Dietitian”. Michele is an accredited practising dietician, as well as a food and travel blogger, and has devised a program that educates participants with sensible eating advice, plus allows all the foods that you already love and enjoy to eat. Most often diet programs and weight loss strategies see the introduction of new and sometimes strange foods (as well as shakes and powders) which are often expensive to buy, hard to stomach, and as a result difficult to continue with long term. Michele recognises this and offers a program that allows you to still enjoy all the foods you really truly love, but also offers advice, hints, tips and tweaks to incorporate these foods along with a healthy eating regime.

Michele’s website (https://foodloversdietitian.com/) already offers a plethora of good advice like tips on achieving a healthy weight, tips when eating out, and meal planning. She wraps all of this good advice into the three month (90 day) program called The Food Lovers Dietitian Coaching Program which extends with:

- Daily emails
- Weekly one-on-one communication
- A dedicated Facebook group for participants
- Menu inspiration ideas and recipes
- Meal planning guide and checklist; and
- Constant reinforcement and motivation.

She first starts with a firm grounding in basic nutrition which covers all the food groups – carbohydrates / proteins / fats / dairy / vegetables and fruits, so nothing is excluded. Vegetarians and vegans are catered for as well. Appropriate portion sizing and energy statistics are provided, to better understand how much energy is in everyday foods. Some food can seem small in volume (think cheese) but packs a wallop in the calorie department.

She then moves onto mindset, and understanding hunger. It is quite eye opening to stop for minute and actually listen to your body and what it’s trying to tell you. So often we confuse signals from our tummy for hunger, when in fact it might be thirst. Or are we really truly hungry… or just bored? or stressed? or think we should eat because the clock tells us to?


The program then moves onto hints, tips and tweaks to make better food choices, especially when dining away from home. Next time you are dining out, consider asking for calorie dense dressings on the side (or skip them entirely), or choose two smaller entrees for your meal instead of a one larger one. If dining with friends, consider sharing a meal, or splitting a dessert so you can both enjoy the flavours. Remember… the first bite will taste EXACTLY the same as the last bite, so choose how much of something you really want to have, especially if its gooey and sweet!

The main lessons that I have learnt on this Program are
- That no food is off limits
- I am more conscious of the food decisions that I make
- I decide if it is ‘calorie worthy’, and
- I am now equipped with a toolbox full of ideas and advice for healthy eating and weight loss strategies.


Don’t get me wrong, I will still indulge in a burger and beer now and then, plus I will have that slice of cheesecake (usually shared) but I am having more salads and lighter meals, eating more vegetables, and cutting down my portion sizes to more appropriate ones. Weight loss takes time, and I feel that I am now better equipped than ever before after participating in Michele’s Coaching Program. So far on the program, I have lost nearly 7 kilos, and have kept it off which is a major plus. The lessons I have learnt on this Program are easy to stick with, and incorporate into everyday life. 
Thank you Michele! 

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Snagged A Croc

While perusing the meat aisle of Coles supermarket at Tuggeranong recently, I discovered they sell Crocodile!  


They only had it in two forms, either raw pieces of tail meat, or in sausage form.  For $10, I decided to give the sausages a go, and will try the tail another time. 



So who has had Crocodile before?  

While the sausages were a nice introduction, they were flavoured with herbs and spices so I could not get to taste "true" crocodile flavour. I'll try that next time with the tail meat. 

The sausages were very pale in colour, which made it a little hard to gauge when they were cooked, but being small they cooked up fairly quickly. Every time I turned them over in the pan I had the song "Never smile at a Crocodile" going around and around in my head!!! 


They tasted very nice and had a slight peppery edge from the spices used. We had them as a quick breakfast with toast and tomato sauce.  


Would I have them again? Probably, but I might baulk at paying $10 for a package of 8 chipolata sized snags. 

Nutritionally they were high in protein for a 100g serve (about 3 sausages) , low in saturated fat, and pretty low in sodium. Not an everyday food, but a good one to experiment with for trying something new. 

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Sriracha Story

Sriracha is a spicy yet flavoursome hot sauce, consisting of ripe Jalapeno peppers (over 84%), sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar, preservatives and a thickener.


In Thai, the word Sriracha is commonly said with three distinct syllables “See-rah-cha”, whereas the western adoption is more like “Sur-archer”.

It is claimed that the sauce was first made in the small Thai town of Si Racha. Origins are mixed, in that one claims Burmese sawmill workers first made the sauce up themselves, using ingredients from a shop run by a local grandmother, then the grandmother began making the sauce herself and bottling it for sale. Another origin claim is that in the 1930’s, a local housewife named Thanom Chakkapak began making the sauce herself.

However, familiar to most in Australia would be the iconic clear bottle with the green top, made by Huy Fong Foods in the United States. The story behind this brand is pretty amazing, and starts with the company founder, David Tran. 

David Tran, photo courtesy of http://srirachamovie.com
David lived in Vietnam where he made his own chilli sauce called Pepper Sa-te. He bottled it in recycled baby food jars and rode around on his bicycle delivering it to customers. David, who was a major in the South Vietnamese Army, left Vietnam in 1979, along with many of his fellow refugees, after the Vietnam War had ended a few years earlier. He missed the spicy tang of his hot sauce and went about creating hot sauces again in his new home of America. He founded the company Huy Fong Foods in 1980, which today produces three sauces, including his now famous Sriracha sauce. The company operates out of a 650,000 square foot manufacturing premises in Irwindale, California.

The main ingredient – Jalapeno chillies – used to be sourced from the Underwood Family Farms since 1988, however a contractual dispute with them in 2016 put an end to that arrangement. Jalapeno’s are still used, just from a different supplier.

Did you know…..
- Huy Fong Foods was named after the freighter that David boarded when leaving Vietnam to come to America. It was called the “Huey Fong”.

- Their iconic Sriracha bottle has a green top so the whole thing looks like a giant ripe Jalapeno pepper.

- It has a Rooster on the bottle because the Chinese zodiac sign of founder David Tran is the Rooster.


I love Sriracha especially on eggs, as it brings out a subtle heat that goes well with the softness of the egg.



What do you use Sriracha on? 

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Urban Foraging

It seems everybody is talking about foraging in Canberra at the moment.

Sarah Aylott, a garden educator at the National Botanic Gardens, recently spoke with Lish Fejer on ABC Radio Canberra about learning to forage for weeds safely. She advises to start in your own backyard first, and read up on which weeds are safe to ingest and which to avoid. Some weeds are in fact highly nutritious.

The Canberra Environment Centre recently held workshops in February about foraging and preserving wild food, hosted by well renowned Canberra forager and blogger Susan Hutchinson.

Local frugalista and forager Serina Bird recently wrote an article on blackberry foraging for the Riotact. 


While foraging weeds isn’t my thing, my husband and I opted for the sweeter option and went foraging for blackberries just after day break early on Saturday morning. We went at this time to firstly to beat the heat of the morning sun, and secondly hoping to get a nice haul to cook with during the weekend. We opted for a spot that was easy to drive to and not off the beaten track, so we chose a spot between the Tuggeranong Parkway, and Lady Denman Drive, just down from the  National Zoo & Aquarium.

Hubby took the opportunity to adorn himself with his new bright blue overalls, whereas I opted for sturdy denim, a thick collared shirt and a handy set of secateurs. We each took a large container so we could divide and conquer. The patch was very large and rambling, and it was easy to see the trampled grass paths that previous foragers have forged in order to get to the edges of the patch. The patch was quite dense with very good fruit right in the middle but way out of reach… unless you had a tractor, or a small crane. We were still able to pick enough ripe and juicy fruit that was full of flavour. We only got a couple of scratches as we both took our time to reach in and around the thorny canes. All up, we picked just over a kilo of fruit, which would have cost us around $30 in the shops. Not bad!


A lot of friends have asked me if the government spray the blackberries. Well, yes they do spray some areas as blackberries are a noxious weed, however they sign the areas well. The patch we picked from was not signed, and the fruit and plants were quite healthy which is a tell-tale sign they haven’t been sprayed.

After washing the berries, so far I have used them to make:

A blackberry mousse, from a recipe by Serina. I can attest that this mousse is very easy to whip up, full of strong blackberry flavour and has the most stunning colour. It would certainly make for a showstopper dessert at a dinner party.


The leftover pulp (mash and pips) from the mousse recipe went into fluffy blackberry pancakes which we had for Sunday breakfast. I reserved a little of the pulp, added some whole berries, and made a quick microwaved ‘sauce’ rather than a true compote. The pancake recipe can be found on Rachel’s blog I Love My Disorganized Life. The recipe made 14 pancakes, so the remainder are now tucked away in the freezer for a speedy breakfast option.


I placed the remainder of the blackberries on a metal tray lined with baking paper and popped it into the freezer. This allows the berries to freeze individually, and then makes it easy to pop them into a zip lock bag. Otherwise they tend to freeze as a clump if bagged first. They are destined to be turned into smoothies, muffins and maybe a blackberry and chocolate cake. 

Have you ever foraged in your town? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear about it.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Tracking Your Expenditure

Hands up if you set yourself a budget and track your expenditure?  Great!

If you had asked me that question a month ago I would have said a resounding “no”, but circumstances of late (that’s a story for a whole other post!) have required me to take firm control of my finances, set myself a budget and track where my money is going.


Once I got into it, it was pretty easy to set up. A little trial and error with choosing the categories, but I’m happy with the layout for now. The trick is to then USE it frequently by updating your expenditure, and adjusting your budget figures when required.

I have used Microsoft Excel as my tracking tool. Yes it is pretty basic and there are probably heaps of programs out there (Quicken, Reckon, Pocketbook etc) not to mention apps which you can run on mobile devices, but as this is my first real foray into tracking my expenditure, Excel suits me just fine.

So step one. Deciding on the categories of expenditure.
I grouped mine first by high level categories, then drilled down into the types of actual items. For example:

Primary residence
  • Foxtel
  • Broadband
  • Internet Provider
  • Insurance
  • Rates
  • Water ... 


I actually have two spreadsheet lines per item, eg Foxtel / Foxtel actual.  The first line shows the budget amount each month, and the second line shows the actual spend each month. For something like Foxtel that’s easy as it’s a set amount and does not change. This method really comes in handy for food and groceries which can easily blow out if you are not watching costs.

Step two is deciding how long a period to cover
I have started with a 12 month period, starting with November 2017 and finishing in October 2018. No need to wait until January to start this endeavour, start now!

Step three is to then estimate how much for each item you spend per month.
Good sources of tracking down this information are:
  • Credit card statements especially good for recurring payments
  • Online banking history, tracking expenditure from savings accounts, and
  • Receipts and invoices


Step four is the really scary part… entering in all those estimates as your budget figures.
I also tallied up each of the budget figures per month, the actual figures per month, and tallied those over an annual period each. Aye carumba! This is both an eye opener and a sobering revelation as it really shows you how much it costs you to live.  Mind you, for now I have not counted in holidays, major health operations, household emergencies, or any other of life’s little challenges that can eat into your finances in a big way. For that, I have always had a buffer, or if you like a contingency fund, to handle situations like these.  My budget/expenditure tracker is for my more everyday expenses.

For expenses relating to household items, my husband and I share the costs so I have calculated my share of those expenses. We each buy our own clothing, pay for our own cars, and hobbies. We’ve always done it that way. Some (most?) couples have a joint account, we tried it but it was too much of an overhead. Its easier to keep our accounts separate, and pool in for the shared items. It works for us.

Step five is the tracking part
Once you have entered in all of your budget amounts, it is now time to track your expenditure and record it. I tend to enter what I’ve spent every couple of days, especially if I’ve paid in cash as it can be easy to forget. I check my bank account and credit card statements once a week and enter in transactions from them. By entering every few days or weekly, you can really gauge how you are going against your budget amount for the month. It could make you realise that dinners have to be a little frugal for a week or so to stay under target, or takeaway coffee’s or lunches might be better substituted with homemade lunches to keep costs down. At least it gives you an indication of how you are going, and you can make adjustments if required.

Please comment below if you would like a copy of my tracking spreadsheet. I have created a template version using generic items. You can update the categories and items to suit your own circumstances. 

Please tell me readers, have you found these tips useful for tracking your expenditure? Comment below, as I’d love to hear what works for you.

                

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Cleaning Tips Using Vinegar

I was thrilled to recently join Ms Frugal Ears on her Frugal Dare to Millionaire Facebook Group in doing a joint video post waxing all things lyrical about vinegar. Vinegar you ask? Well yes, this marvellous product is a very frugal and a very effective cleaner. Rather than reaching for a commercial chemical cleaning solution, have you considered using vinegar?

Vinegar (in particular, white vinegar as opposed to malt or other vinegars) is great at cutting through grease and grime, acts as a deodorizer and has disinfectant properties. A little sure goes a long way.


I recently had to replenish my vinegar stash and headed to Costco to check out their pricing. I was pleasantly surprised (well, a little shocked!) to spend just $2.79 for a 5 litre container. Five whole litres for under $3.00 is pretty amazing. At a mere $0.55 cents per litre, it's a great deal.

I use vinegar for the following household cleaning chores:

Cleaning windows – Spray windows with a mix of approx. 25% vinegar with 75% water from a spray bottle. I used paper towels to clean the windows, but Serina mentions that she uses newspapers. Both give a good result, but newspapers have the bonus of being recyclable.  (I have to ponder though, are used paper towels recyclable in the ACT?)

Deodorizing the fridge – using the same ratio of vinegar solution as the window cleaner, spray onto fridge shelves, door pockets and inside crispers.  My go-to fridge cleaner used to be Mclintocks Vanilla Fridge Spray, but I wonder if I add vanilla essence to my vinegar solution if I would achieve similar results?

Floor cleaner – I have Blackbutt wood flooring which has been sanded and sealed. I make up a slightly weaker solution than the above ratio for cleaning the floors, as I don’t want to harm the surface, and so far its given me great results. It especially works hard in the kitchen where spots from cooking and the sink sometimes end up on the floor.

Unclogging sinks – Partner vinegar with bi-carbonate of soda and you have two powerhouse cleaning products. Sprinkle a little bi-carb into the clogged sink drain, then pour in a good splash of vinegar. The two will bubble on contact which is where the magic happens. Let this settle for a few minutes, before pouring in hot (not boiling!) water and voila! The sink is unclogged.

Serina uses vinegar around the house, kitchen and in her beauty regime:

In the dishwasher – if you run out of dishwasher tablets, pop some dishwashing liquid into the tablet dispenser and some vinegar into the rinse aid dispenser.

Dishwasher rinse aid – Pop some in the rinse aid holder in the dishwasher instead of using brand name rinse aid.  It provides a great way to make glassware sparkle.

Washing dishes – When dishwashing liquid runs out, or to stretch it a little further, add some vinegar. Especially good for cleaning pots and pans, as it cuts through grease with ease.

Cleaning your hair – Mix vinegar and water and use as a rinse over your hair. This is really good at descaling, or cutting through shampoo and product build up, leaving your hair shiny and clean. Serina also adds a bay leaf to the solution to cut through any vinegary smell. 

Cleaning whites in the laundry – used as an alternative to bleach, add vinegar to the wash when doing white clothing, or when wanting to brighten any yellowing or dull material like sheets and linens.

Cleaning your microwave – In a glass bowl use ¼ cup of vinegar to 1 cup water and let this heat in the microwave for about 3 minutes. Leave the door closed afterwards for around 5 minutes to help the steam/vinegar mix soften and loosen any baked on food inside the microwave. After 5 minutes, open the door and gently wipe down the interior of the microware. For any really stubborn areas, dip a cloth into the vinegar/water solution and give it a good scrub.


So reader, do you use vinegar for cleaning? What are you tips?