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A friend once said to me “you’re always adding up what everything costs”. She was right too, and I don’t seem to be able to stop.

I think it started in our thirties when we went through a bad cash crunch for a couple of years. Pete was retrenched at the same time that Small Man was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

Worrying about paying the bills would wake me up in the middle of the night. I kept endless spreadsheets, constantly trying to figure out how to trim our budget. And in hindsight, we learnt some amazing life lessons as a result. Never waste money, but make it a goal to be free from the burdens it imposes. Be smart enough to be content. Don’t incur debt recklessly. Don’t fall into the trap of measuring your life against other people‘s. Importantly, be prepared, because the universe can pull the rug out from under your feet at any time.

Even now, more than 20 years later, I’m still counting. Not out of fear any longer though. These days the habit (and it really IS a habit now) is fueled by a desire to waste as little as possible, and the personal power that comes from knowing we’re living – thriving – within our means.

So please indulge my excitement at last night’s ridiculously delicious dinner of chicken stew with dumplings, made from the carcasses I wrote about last week.

The entire pot, easily enough to feed four, cost us under $5 in total. It was incredibly good, not just for a frugal meal, but rather serve-at-a-dinner-party good. It was also a doddle to make – the stock and pulled meat were in the freezer, the dumplings were just self-raising flour and butter, and the vegetables were in the fridge and pantry. The recipe came from Save With Jamie and it’s available online here. We left out the bacon and fried the veg in chicken fat instead, and substituted a tin of corn kernels for the button mushrooms. It was a wonderful way to start the week! ♥

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Today was Stock Making Sunday!

Every few months, I’ll purchase three bags of chicken carcasses from nearby Marrickville Metro (nine carcasses for $5 total), stash a few in the freezer and turn the remainder into stock and schmaltz. I wrote about this last year, but we’ve added a new step to the process, so I thought it warranted a revisit. I also thought it was worth adding a little more detail on how Pete renders down the chicken fat, so here’s a step-by-step rundown.

Step 1: we trimmed the fat off five carcasses then roasted them in a 175C fan oven (unseasoned) until golden.

Step 2: the carcasses then went into our large stockpot with a knob of peeled ginger, a sliced onion, a tablespoon (four teaspoons) of flossy sea salt and five litres of water. It was brought to a boil covered, then simmered covered for 30 minutes. The heat was then turned off, and the pot allowed to sit covered for a further 30 minutes.

A side note: this is now my preferred method of making chicken stock. I don’t boil it for hours or use a pressure cooker any more, although I’ve done both in the past. I’ve found that roasting the bones first and simmering covered for just half an hour produces a lovely, full-flavoured stock and plenty of it – I ended up with a full five litres (possibly a bit more) for the freezer. The shorter cooking time is more energy efficient as well.

Step 3: we cut the trimmed fat into small pieces with kitchen scissors, then put them into a saucepan just large enough to fit them all in a single layer. Water was added to just cover the fat and brought to a  gentle boil with the lid on. We then uncovered the pan and let it simmer very gently until all the water was gone and the remaining liquid (fat) was quite clear, the bubbles had mostly subsided (we had to watch it carefully near the end to make sure it didn’t darken and burn), and the solids had turned crispy and brown (these are Pete’s instructions, he’s in charge of fat rendering).


Step 4: we removed the carcasses from the stock and picked the tender meat off the bones, leaving the bits that were too dry.

Step 5: (and this is where it gets exciting) after picking the meat off the bones, we broke them up and roasted them in a hot oven (200C – 220C with fan). They took about 30 minutes to dry out completely but Pete kept a close eye on them – they needed to be very dry to the point where they were just starting to burn around the edges (see photo below)…


Step 6: once the bones had cooled a little, we blitzed them in Henry the Hot Mix (Pete says any robust blender with a glass or metal bowl or jug should work, but probably not a food processor. He also warns not to use anything with a plastic bowl as it would probably scratch it very badly).


Step 7: we then mixed the resultant bonemeal with wood ash saved from Rosie the Smoker, in a proportion that has at least 50% bonemeal (we use about 2/3 bonemeal, 1/3 ash). We also added dried and ground up egg shells. Pete says that the ash is to help dry out the bonemeal but it needs be added judiciously – not all gardens can take a lot of ash (apparently it depends on the soil pH).

Voila! Homemade blood and bone…


So to sum up: our $2.78 worth of chicken carcasses (five of the nine we bought for $5) produced:

  • 8 boxes (5 litres) of roasted chicken stock for the freezer
  • 1 box of picked chicken meat (which we’ll use in soups and risottos)
  • 1 jar of chicken fat (schmaltz), and
  • 3 cups (approximately) of homemade blood and bone

There’s something incredibly satisfying about starting with what was already a waste byproduct (chicken carcasses) and being able to turn them into so much goodness for the kitchen and garden. Best of all, we were able to use up every bit of the carcasses – not a single scrap ended up in the rubbish. It felt like a big win! ♥

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You might recall that a few years ago, we started baking crumb cakes. If not, the recipe is here, and it’s a winner.

Since that time, we’ve always kept a plain cake base in the fridge, cut into quarters, specifically to use for crumb topping. We’re not a fan of traditional oat and nut mixes, so the cake is our go-to for any desserts that call for a crumble topping. Let me cut and paste the original recipe for you – it comes together in minutes in the food processor:

Basic Vanilla Tea Cake Batter

  • 250g unsalted butter, soft but not melted
  • 200g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 4 large free range eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used homemade)
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 150g almond meal

Note: this recipe can also be made in a stand mixer, instructions are here.

1. In the large bowl of the food processor, blitz together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and pulse until combined, adding in a spoonful of the flour if required to stop the batter from splitting (but don’t worry too much if it does). Scrape down the sides as needed. Add the vanilla and pulse again.

2. Stir or sift the flour and almond meal together, then add to the food processor and pulse until just combined.

3. Scrape the batter into a baking pan lined with parchment paper (I used a rectangular 30cm x 23cm /12″x9″ pan enamel baking pan) and bake in a preheated 175C (or 160C with fan) oven for 35-40 minutes until a fine skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. This recipe makes enough to top four crumb cakes.

4. Allow the cake to cool, then cut it into quarters. Store well wrapped in the freezer until needed.

Making the crumb topping:

In a medium bowl, crumble defrosted cake (or leftover cake) into small pieces (not too fine), then stir in dark brown sugar and melted butter. Allow 50g each of sugar and butter to 250g cake. Mix well to combine.

I took this piece out of the freezer to make these muffins!

. . . . .

We use this for crumb cakes and also for Small Man’s berry crumble, but today I found it also works well on blueberry muffins. I only needed 125g vanilla tea cake, and 25g each of butter and brown sugar for this batch…

Blueberry Muffins with Cake Crumb Topping

  • 410g plain (AP) flour
  • 165g white sugar
  • 150g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 large free range eggs
  • 185g unsalted butter, melted
  • 185g buttermilk
  • 3 tsps vanilla extract (I used homemade)
  • 125g fresh blueberries
  • 125g vanilla tea cake, defrosted if frozen (or other leftover plain cake)
  • 25g unsalted butter, melted, for topping
  • 25g brown sugar, for topping

Step 1: Preheat oven to 170C with fan. Line one or two 12-hole muffin pans with paper liners. Depending on the size of your pans, you’ll get between 12 and 18 muffins.

Step 2: whisk together the flour, white and brown sugars, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Step 3: in a large pyrex jug (or another bowl), whisk together the buttermilk, extract and eggs. Pour this, along with the melted butter, into the dry ingredients and fold in gently until just combined. I think you’re meant to use a butter knife, but I use a silicone spatula. Once the dry ingredients are just incorporated, carefully fold in the blueberries.

Step 4: divide the batter between the lined muffin cups, filling each one about ¾ full.

Step 5: make the topping: crumble the cake into a bowl, then stir in the extra butter and brown sugar. Spoon a heaped teaspoon of the crumble mix onto the top of each muffin, pressing in gently with your fingers…

Step 6: bake for 20 – 25 minutes, rotating halfway through if using more than one tray. Allow the finished muffins to rest in the pan for ten minutes, before removing and cooling on a wire rack…

These were a huge hit with Pete and Small Man, and even though I’m not a huge muffin fan, I enjoyed them too. I think the crumble topping makes the difference! ♥

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Cheat’s Apple Turnover

When the pandemic hit, I stocked up on frozen roti.

Have you ever tried these? They’re wickedly good. They fry up in a dry pan to make the perfect accompaniment to Indian and Malaysian curries. Of course, they have a squillion calories each, although an Indian friend once told me that they’re much better if you fry them in ghee (I’ve never been game to try it). Our local takeaway turns them into wraps – filling a cooked roti with curry and salad – and it’s a completely delicious and brilliant way to eat them.

They’re also very reasonably priced – this pack of 30 cost me $10 at Costco…

A few days ago, I wanted to make apple pie for dessert, but didn’t have the energy to make dough from scratch. I don’t keep frozen puff pastry, but my friend Graeme had suggested this roti dough as a substitute in the past, so I thought I’d try it out.

I let the sheets defrost a little, then filled them with chopped apple that had been tossed in a little sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon…

It was easy to use the plastic sheet the dough came on to fold it in half and squish the edges together…

We baked the turnovers (I guess they weren’t really pies) in the oven at 200C – 220C with fan until golden. I forgot to time it (sorry), but we just kept checking it until it was ready and the juices were bubbling a little. It took longer than we thought, which gave the raw apples time to cook perfectly. We rotated the tray halfway through, but the pastries didn’t need flipping over, as the dough browned evenly top and bottom…

The finished turnovers were dusted in icing sugar. They were a huge hit with both Pete and Small Man!

As the roti dough is a little salty, it’s worth adding a bit of extra sugar to the filling. And while we all prefer a more traditional shortcrust pastry apple pie, it was hard to beat this for sheer mid-week simplicity. I hope you’ll give it a go! ♥

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Chocolate Babka

Have you ever tried a chocolate babka? They’re great fun to eat, and possibly even more fun to make!

Our latest batch came about when I uncovered a half empty jar of Nutella in the pantry. Coupled with Jane’s lovely eggs, Pete and I turned out six loaves to share with the neighbours recently. We used a modified version of our butter-enriched hot cross bun dough

  • 1kg bread flour
  • 20g instant yeast
  • 16g fine sea salt
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 180g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 large free range eggs, plus an extra one for the egg wash
  • 500g full cream milk, heated gently and then cooled to blood temperature, or UHT milk, unrefrigerated
  • Nutella
  • chocolate chips
  • caster sugar and water for the glaze

1. Whisk together the dried yeast and bread flour in a large, wide mixing bowl.  Add the salt and sugar and whisk in well.

2. Add 3 eggs, cooled melted butter, and milk, then mix together with a spatula or a clean hand until it forms a shaggy dough.  Cover with a tea towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

3. Uncover the bowl and give the dough a brief knead. I usually fold the dough onto itself a few times using a scraper.

4. Cover the bowl and allow to rise until doubled in size. Sweet dough can take longer than most, so don’t rush it.

5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and using your dough scraper, give it a couple of gentle folds. Divide the dough into three equal portions.

6. Flatten out each portion into a rectangle and smear over Nutella and sprinkle on chocolate chips. Them roll it up to form a long sausage…

7. Cut the sausage in half, and then weave it, cut sides facing up, over and under itself. Photos explain this better than words…

8. Now squish the ends together and pop the loaf, cut sides up, into a loaf pan that’s been lined with a greased paper liner (I usually spray it with a bit of oil). Repeat with the other two portions of dough. Cover and allow to prove until doubled in size…

9. Preheat your oven to 200C with fan. Once risen, brush the loaves with an egg wash (beat the extra egg with a little water) and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until very dark brown but not burnt. You’ll need to keep an eye on it, as the sugar makes this dough brown up very quickly. Turn the heat down a bit if you need to, and rotate the loaves halfway through to ensure even baking.

10. While the dough is baking, prepare a sugar and water glaze by boiling together equal portions of caster sugar and water until thick. I ask Pete to do it as I usually end up burning myself on the hot syrup. You want the glaze to be thick enough to stick. Any leftover works well in cocktails!

11. Take the baked babkas out of the oven and give them a couple of coats of sugar glaze…

These were a huge hit on our street! I made two raspberry jam filled ones as well – one for our neighbour Faye who is nut allergic, and one for Pete who isn’t a fan of Nutella. They were equally as delicious…

Best of all, that night we discovered the perfect way to eat chocolate babka – sliced very thinly and sandwiched around a sheet of crispy feuilletine-filled dark milk chocolate. Definitely worth making these again, if for that reason alone! ♥

 

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