Thursday, February 24, 2011

Children of the corn

Firstly, carrying on from the last post, some sown seeds have already sprung.  After finding spinach seeds shooting, I went inside to get the camera for a pic and found it was out of charge.  I returned later in the day, camera in hand, and I found broccoli shooting too, which was exciting for me...
Harvesting from the garden this week:
The corn smells amazingly sweet, so much so we have eaten it fresh, mixed with tomato, avocado, coriander and a dash of malt vinegar, olive oil and tomato paste, served on toast.

For my son who remains highly suspicious of any vegetable, I made corn pancakes - similar to the link below, but I chucked in all the ingredients at once and blitzed them with the handheld mixer, to hide any evidence of the pesky vegetables - the result was a pleasantly sweet pancake that was gobbled down without issue by the young lion...

More Tomatoes (harvesting around 1/2kg a day at the moment)
Tomato sauce is cooking as I type - following a recipe along the lines of:
But I've added in the tomatoes roasted in oil from the other day - they became like sun dried tomatoes and will hopefully add to the richness of the sauce, and also added some balsamic vinegar for taste.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to share a pasta recipe that results in a great dinner for less effort than expected, in honour of my sister in law Jaclyn who recently asked for some cooking tips...  

Most of my cooking focuses on a good result for minimal effort and this is a great example. Compared to potato gnoochi, this is quick and just as yummy and is an excellent comfort food, not very summery but I'd serve it with the sauce discussed above.

Ricotta Gnoochi:
500g ricotta (I use low fat)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
4-6 tablespoons plain flour
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together to create a dough, kneeding it with floured hands.
The dough should have some spring in it - if too wet, add more flour, it should be doughy, light and soft to the touch... 
Roll it into a thin sausage and cut these into 1.5cm pieces.
These can be kept for a day, keeping the pieces separate.
Cook in boiling salted water for around 2mins (in small batches)

We have a few tiny strawberries that haven't been taken by the birds.
As with the last recipe, I thought I'd add in this recipe in response to Jaclyn's query - it is a simple dessert with great results:
Purse of strawberries - Dessert
(This is a variation on a recipe from Masterchef's Gary recent book with George - 'Your place or Mine'...)

Per serve:
Take a square of baking paper
Toss in 6 or 7 strawberries, all cut in half
Sprinkle with some icing sugar, cinnamon and drizzle with a touch of vanilla essence
(Depending on taste you could add cardamon or mixed spice instead of cinnamon or almond essence or rose instead of vanilla, or whatever else you feel like.)
Fold the paper up and tie it with some kitchen string, like a purse.
This can be done ahead of time, so no effort is required between dinner and dessert.
Toss the bag(s) in the oven or a hot bbq (under the hood) for about 10 mins (can be done as the oven or bbq is cooling down after the main meal has been cooked).

The strawberries will collapse and be flavoured with the sugar and spice and all things nice.
Serve in the bag with some ice cream... (Everyone likes opening a little present at the table)

For ice cream:
Shop bought is fine but for something extra special, I've mentioned before:
1 tin condensed milk plus 600mls cream whipped together, and flavoured with vanilla essence to taste, or any other flavour you like (Baileys, Kalhua, whatever is at hand.)

I made a large batch of this ice cream for my daughter's recent Christening, flavoured it with rose syrup for a turkish delight type flavour and set it in two different sized cake tins lined with foil to make a two tiered icecream cake - fancy looking but easily done. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Seeds of Change

While we have been watching our summer veggie plants slowly start to fade away, we have been developing a new plan for our front garden, replacing 2 large beds with 3 or 4 smaller ones, intending to no longer grow messy forests, but a more sedate, sensible patches, set on a 4 year rotation plan.

With corn, pumpkin, tomatoes, etc still growing, we aren't in a position yet to put these plans into action, but have started some of the plant preparation by planting seeds.

Last year, I saw an interview by Jane Edmanson (who I love) with a Melbourne suburban gardener on ABC Gardening Australia.  This gardener suggested planting vegetable seeds in empty toilet rolls, with the holder and all being planted into the ground to avoid damaging the seedling roots when removing it from a plastic seedling container, with the holder dissintergrating into the soil as the plant grows.  I was worried that the soil would fall out with using the toilet roll holders as they are, and so looked for a way to use the toilet roll holders, but enclose the bottom end and came upon this method:

Take 1 toilet roll
Flatten out:
Flatten again, to give four creases equally spaces around the cylinder:
This gives you a squarish shaped roll:
Make small cuts on each of the four edges:
This leaves you with 4 flaps.
Fold these into the cylinder:
Then fold out to be left with the planter.

It may seem like a lot of effort, especially to make enough to make a difference to a small garden but I made them watching tv or when the internet was running slowly and got through heaps in no time.

I've marked some of these with a B, and planted them out with broccoliMr Fothergill's Broccoli Red Arrow Sprouting - we had great success with these plants a few years ago - it is more like a purple reddish brocollini and made prolific crops, giving us brocollini for most meals for a few months.  The strange colour was helpful given where possible we try to follow the 'Daniel Diet' philosophy of eating 5 different coloured veggies with dinner (to increase the different nutrients being consumed).  I also planted leek, as it the basis for my favourite soups, and some pots of spinach, as well as some flowers (stock and nigella) for the back garden.

This weeks harvest has included:
- Asparagus - steamed lightly and used for dipping in runny boiled eggs, in the manner I've read about in - very french, very easy and very yummy.
-  Mini pumpkins.  These grow quickly and take up less room than standard pumpkins and I think we'll opt for these as the only pumpkins we grow next summer.
I used some of the small pumpkins to make the following soup:

Dash of olive oil
1 small leek
2 mini pumpkins chopped, seeds removed
4 carrots chopped (added because I didn't have enough pumpkin to make the amount of soup required for dinner..)
1 cup chickpeas
dollop of tomato paste
Chicken Stock to cover veggies in pot

Fry up leek in oil, 
Add carrots, chickpeas and pumkpin and lightly fry
Then add stock and tomato paste and boil until the veggies soften, then wizz up using a handheld mixer.

This week, to make the soup, I used the chickpeas left over from making these brownies:

1.5 cups chocolate
2 cups chickpeas (1.25 tins -I have used dried chickpeas rehydrated for this recipe but these did not work as well as tinned -might need to add extra water)
4 eggs
1 cup sugar (brown sugar if you want a caramelly flavour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Melt chocolate (~2mins in microwave)
Whizz up chickpeas and eggs in food processor until very smooth
Add sugar, chocolate, baking powder and mix thoroughly
Pour into pan (8 inch cake tin)
Cook for 45 mins at 180 degrees

This is very easy and is gluten-free - and has the added benefit of including lentils in a dessert so it isn't all naughty...

This week, I found that accidentally leaving out the eggs in this recipe results in very rich fudge slice that my husband recommends highly.


Anyway, fingers crossed the seeds will take - will keep you posted on their progress.  
If the toilet roll containers are a flushing success, or at least remain intact, I'll have some plants share.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mr Tomato and Miss Craboppel

After immigrating to Australia from Sicily, around WW2, my great uncle Alf and Aunt Rose lived near Mildura, bringing their veggie gardening and cooking practices with them, including sundrying tomatoes on large white table clothes in the sun.  I remember seeing this done when I was a kid - lots of tomatoes, still a vibrant red, wrinking in the sun.

So vibrant and incredible the colours were against the crisp white tablecloths that my relatives' neighbours believed them to be sending messages via a secret tomato code to enemy planes flying overhead and advised the local police regarding the matter.  When queried regarding as to whether they'd seen any actual enemy planes, the neighbours said no and that these planes must be flying very high indeed.

An embarrassed policeman visited and asked that my aunt and uncle place the tables where the neighbours couldn't see them to avoid any further discussion...

I thought about trying to dry my ever growing pile of tomatoes outside, but decided against it with more rain forecasted and my will being ever diminished by the growing bug attack on the fruit still on the vine.  Imagine them rubbing their little pincers together with glee, if the bugs looked around the back of the house and found a smorgasbord laid on.  


The Age this week had a blog regarding daggy but delicious food :
And at their suggestion, we have eaten a lot of plain tomato sandwiches, which have been yummy, despite not being able to find any pumpernickel bread.  We have eaten ours with some boccincini, yummo.

But to get through the volume of tomatoes being produced I tried roasting them in oil, with salt, thyme and oregano at 180 degrees for about an hour.  The smell was amazing.

I was overzealous with the oil I put on the tray and in so doing, made a nice tomato flavoured oil to use later too...

Also, as per the blog from the Age, we've been making granola each week for the last month or so to avoid spending $8 a week on Carmen's museli.  It only takes a few minutes to mix up a weeks worth of cereal and is great with yoghurt or as a snack during the day:
3 cups oats
2 cups various seeds/nuts (whatever is in pantry - I use flax and sunflower seeds, almonds, coconut, and this week I'm adding passionfruit pulp for something new)
1 teaspoon vanilla (or more to taste)
Big shake of cinnamon or mix spice to taste
6 tablespoons of honey (maple syrup or jam..)
2 tablespoons of oil (whatever is on hand)
Mix it up and press onto a baking paper lined tray - pop it in the oven at 150 degrees for ~half hour.
It only gets crunchy after it cools down, then break it up and store for the week.

With a lazy Sunday becoming a kitchen work out, I decided to also get the crabapples off the tree and make some jam. 
I attempted to follow a Martha Stewart recipe (because I'd like to be her when I grow up, complete with the numerous country houses and servants to do my bidding, but without the yappy dogs, prison time or incessant crafting...) but I added sugar too early so it is more like the jams I've seen Jamie Oliver make on the tv - will have to see what happens...  There is a bubbling pink cauldron on the stove as I write...
~2kg of crabapples (peeled and cored)
4 cups of sugar (one more than Martha suggested, but I'm sure in her world, everything would be sweeter)
A few sprigs of rosemary to flavour it.
Water to cover
Simmer until boiled down, sieve...

Will have to use this jam in this weeks granola.

Monday, February 7, 2011

First Post

Hello - this is the first post from a front garden vegie patch.

We live in a small house in suburban Melbourne, with a courtyard-ish backyard, reserved for handstand and soccer practise and a flat, grassy front garden converted into a few vegie patches.
Given curiosity from passers-by and knowing that this garden is a source of fun, fresh food and positive feelings for our family, I thought that I would share what we do and what we get out of it.

Mid summer finds:
- Messy pumpkin vines spiralling out of control, baby pumpkins on the way.
- A battle with bugs and birds to harvest a variety of tomatoes, resulting in a kitchen window stacked with ripening fruit.
- A few enormous zucchinis and attempts to ward of mildew from recent heavy rains attacking our plants.

This week we celebrated our second wedding anniversary - and I had planned a special dinner including:
Salmon Celebration
Small leeks are quartered and then lightly fried in butter and oil, the leeks covering the base of the pan. Champagne is added, and using this to steam salmon pieces lightly on the top of the leeks, then removing the salmon when cooked and adding cream, reducing this to make rich, wonderful sauce.
Chocolate Mousse
2 egg yolks are added melted 60g chocolate, then left over whipped egg whites folded in and left to set in the fridge for a decadent dessert..

But with a young daughter and little sleep, I could not be bothered facing the shops, so I looked in the garden, pantry and fridge and worked something out, creating a tasting plate type dinner including:
- Zucchini flowers stuffed with mint and ricotta, grilled in a low heat
- Bruchetta of onion, basil and a variety of tomatoes, with a sprinkling of fetta over the top - the different colours made a nice effect.
- Left over almond and zucchini tart from earlier in the week
   Almond crust:
~ 150 g roast almonds
~ 150 g flour
- 1 egg
~ 100 g butter, diced or equivalent oil
- 3 small zucchinis
- 2 eggs
~ 1/2 cup ricotta
   For dough:
Chop nuts, not too fine
Mix in butter/oil, eggs and flour.
Knead and roll into a ball, cover with glad wrap and leave it in the fridge for 1 hr
After the hour, press it into a pie mould and bake at 180 degrees for ~10mins
   For filling:
Mix ricotta and eggs and smooth this over baked crust
Place chopped vegie sticks over the top

Cook for ~15mins or until filling sets.
Can spray with olive oil and put in griller to brown the top.

For dessert, we had ice cream, left over from our daughter's christening the week prior - halva and rose flavours... yummy
 - 400 ml sweetened condensed milk 
 - 600ml cream 
Whip together until firm and flavour (big slurp of rose syrup to taste for rose or ~100g halva)
I double to mix because we eat a lot of icecream... though this is a heavy, rich ice cream, and small serves are more than sufficient.
Any flavour works with this as a base - imagination is the only limit.

I think the dinner was well appreciated and I didn't have to set foot in the shops, nor plan ahead, which suits me down to the ground.

Garden tasks for this week:
- Trying to keep mildew on the zucchini plants in check.
- Sowing new spinach, with old plants lost under the out of control pumpkins...  I miss the leafy greens.
- Continuing tomato harvest daily to beat the birds/bugs to any good ones...