Category Archives: Bits & Pieces that Don’t Fit Anywhere Else

A Library of Recipes

Taking up space on my kitchen bench top is a growing pile of books, bits of paper and magazines. This is my ‘working pile’ – a list of things to make for the markets coming up, recently cut out recipes and food articles sourced from newspapers and magazines and the latest edition of food magazines and books with recipes that I’m going to try soon! It doesn’t take too long before this pile becomes very unwieldy and requires sorting out. It’s quite a time consuming job, not only because of the size of the pile but also because I rediscover what’s in the pile and it takes time rereading  the recipes and articles, sorting into categories and writing lists of what I’m going to make next and the accompanying shopping lists. Continue reading



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Lemon Barley Cordial

Apparently the Greeks were to first to think of boiling grain in water and drinking it. But really it was the British who bought barley water to the world. Robinsons Barley Water is perhaps the best known brand, possibly as it has had a long association with Wimbeldon. Barley water was also thought to be good for invalids as it provided some nutrition and hydration to those who had lost their appetite. There are all sorts of other claims associated with barley water from reducing wrinkles to soothing an inflamed stomach. I can’t substantiate any of these claims – I just drink it because I like it.

Barley water would originally have been intended to be drunk as it was made but making it as a cordial concentrate means that it keeps for much longer and you can dilute it as you go.We don’t drink a lot of soft drink at home. I hate the fizz and so tend to drink cordial instead. Before anyone goes mad about the amount of sugar in cordial we’re not talking about litres a day and not only that but homemade cordial has no colours or artificial additives to make it glaringly bright or to keep it shelf stable for ever and a day. I store the cordial I make in the fridge – the humid Brisbane weather isn’t particularly conducive to leaving cordials and the like on the pantry shelf and the colour isn’t florescent yellow, green or red. A glass or two each day won’t hurt.

Despite the title, the cordial I made todayis actually a lemon and lime one as I had quite a bit of both. I like my citrus things to have a good citrusy flavour and a real tang so if you like it a little mellower you may need to adjust the quantities of zest a bit.

Lemon (and Lime) Barley Cordial

  • 500g pearl barley (I find this in the supermarket down the soup and tinned vegetable aisle)
  • 3 litres water
  • 10 cups sugar (I used a combination of white and raw sugar this time. Raw sugar adds a nice malty flavour but the browner colouring might be a bit off putting)
  • zest and juice of 6-8 lemons (depending on size and your preference for zest. You can also use a combination of other citrus)
  • 75g citric acid (from the baking aisle of the supermarket)

Add the pearl barley and the water to a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for 40 minutes.

Combine the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and citric acid before adding the hot barley water

Put the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Drain the barley retaining the water and pour over the sugar and lemon. Stir and cover and let sit for 24 hours. Strain and bottle. Store in the fridge for several weeks. To serve dilute with water or mineral water to taste.

This makes quite a thick concentrate so you won’t need to use a lot.


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QCWA at the Ekka

Many people are surprised when I tell them that I belong to the Queensland Country Women’s Association. There are lots of perceptions about the QCWA that don’t always match the reality. Most people you speak with think that the association is for old ladies, who live in the country and cook and knit. There are of course some of these but the largest branches are in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, there are lots of younger women who are members and there are no prerequisites for cooking, knitting or any sort of craft. Most of the women I speak to join because they want to make a contribution to their local community and to make new friends.

One of the projects that I have recently been involved in has been the rewriting of the QCWA Cookery Book. The book was originally compiled in 1959. Over the years it has had a number of reprints and before reprinting it this time we decided to review the book to make it more appealing to today’s cooks. The recipes were converted to metric measurements and  in many instances the instructions were rewritten. In the 1959 version it was assumed that cooks making the recipes would know what to do and as a result much of the detail such as tin sizes and oven temperatures was left out. That knowledge doesn’t necessarily exist today so we thought that it was important to make the recipes easy to follow and give cooks a good chance of success.

The original version included information about hostessing which was removed in subsequent versions, but in this most recent reprint has found its way back into the book. These notes and the original advertisements all tell a great story about life in the 1950s and we thought it was important to include them. Some of the recipes are very 1950s – they seem to have a fascination with all things jellied but there are 100s of recipes in there that are still as relevant today as they were then.

More details about purchasing the QCWA Cookery Book can be found on the QCWA website. It is also for sale at the QCWA Tea Rooms at the Brisbane Exhibition. The QCWA has been running a refreshment stand at the Ekka since 1925. State Archivist Norma Lovelace, the Tea Rooms Convenor Mary Martyn and I had a chance yesterday to speak with Neroli Roocke from ABCs Country Hour about the QCWA at the Ekka. If you have a chance you can read and listen to the story here.

The ladies at the tea rooms serve freshly prepared food, you can buy a QCWA Cook book or some homemade jam, so if you have an opportunity visit them under the grandstand.

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Kale Crisps


My attempt at home grown kale – it’s looking pretty good.

Something that has appeared at the markets during Winter over the past couple of years is Kale. I make the most of it while it is around and this year and it has become one of my new favourite winter vegetables. I have even had some success in growing the Tuscan Kale. At the markets you can also buy the Red Russian Kale which looks quite different.  Thinly shredded it is great pan fried with sauteed onions, garlic and hazelnuts, a sprinkle of good sea salt, lots of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil or with some lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Red Russian Kale

It is also a great snack food with the added bonus of being nutritious. To make kale crisps you need a bunch of kale. Remove the central stem and tear the leaves into smaller pieces. Toss the leaves with a tablespoon of olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper and spread them out on a baking tray. A sprinkle of chilli flakes is also a great addition.Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and bake the kale for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool before eating.

Ready for the oven

Try not to over cook the crisps as they tend to go slightly bitter if they are over baked.

Ready for eating


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The Girls…

When we first moved to our current residence almost seven years ago, one of the first things that we did was to get some chickens. We started with a fairly modest arrangement – 4 chickens in a metal semi-circular cage that could be wheeled around the yard to find a fresh spot for them. It wasn’t however, very practical. It was difficult to clean, hard to catch the chickens and there really wasn’t much room for them. So we upgraded to a custom built chicken coop with a fenced yard for them to run around in during the day before being safely locked away again at night. It wasn’t long before the yard underwent an expansion to what it is today – a fairly substantial area with an outdoor shelter and a series of branches which form a covered walkway from the outdoor shelter to the indoor area. This gives the chickens a means of escaping into their covered area should they need to. There have been some modifications – a series of wires strung across the closest trees in order to thwart the resident eagle and a barricade of  sticks and logs to keep the foxes out. Since these changes we haven’t lost any chickens to the local predators.

The rarely used chicken coop behind which is their enclosed yard. The choose not to spend too much time in here preferring to spend their nights roosting out in the elements.

We currently have nine girls – four brown ones and five white ones. I don’t know what variety they are. They are just the ones that are available at the local produce shop and are chosen because they lay well. They make no use whatsoever of their luxurious shelter choosing instead to roost outside on the branches regardless of the weather. A couple of them choose to leave their enclosure during the day – flying over the fence and spending the day wandering around the garden. The others stay put and entertain the local brush turkeys who have come to think that they are also chickens. Surprisingly the chickens seem to tolerate them which is a bit unusual as chickens can be fairly vicious creatures sometimes.

Some of the girls – it’s impossible to take a photo of them all in the same place at the same time.

The Girls are laying well at the moment, we generally get eight eggs a day. There really is nothing like really fresh eggs. You are guaranteed perfectly poached eggs when you know when the egg was laid and while shelling a hard boiled egg might be more difficult when the egg is fresh this is a price I’m prepared to pay.

The culinary history of eggs makes fascinating reading. You local library might have a copy of Harold McGee’s encyclopaedia on ‘Food And Cooking’. Originally published in 1984 the book answers many questions about science and cooking. The most recent version printed in 2004 updates the original text incorporating information about ingredients we now take for granted but were rarely heard about in 1984 (think extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar). He devotes an entire chapter to eggs –  their biology and chemistry, what happens when you cook an egg and why sometimes you need to use a fresh egg and other times an older one is better. It makes for very interesting reading but be warned ‘McGee on Food and Cooking’ isn’t a light book and you’re in danger of substantial injury if you try and read it in bed.

Perfect home laid eggs

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