The Spring Garden 2015

It’s been ages since I sat down to write on my blog….far too long! But I am here now…so much to talk about….this is the second year I’ve grown the tomatoes from seed (last years’s crop). 4 different varieties – 40 plants and we’ll let some of the self sown ones grow too, so if all goes well we’ll have another freezer full of tomato puree for next year.

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The purple peach tree that I grew from seed last year is about 50cm tall with 4 main branches, it’s growing so fast you can almost see it growing. Over winter we planted a red currant, some raspberries (have fruit on them!), 2 blueberries and replenished our strawberry crop. I wish we had room to plant more berries but I’m hoping we’ll get enough to eat and may be freeze some too? How cool would that be? A Cox’s Orange Pippen, a Snowapple and a Villa Franca lemon also found there way into our garden over winter.

I bought a pair of kiwi fruit at the supermarket a while ago (going cheap – $6 for both!); they looked a bit sad but hey you can’t go wrong for $6. We potted them up, fed them and off they went like a rocket; we needed a structure to grow them on – they can be a very vigorous plant and need lots of support and space – Neil used the old trampoline frame to build a structure and one day the kiwi fruits (and a grape vine) will create another feature in the garden.  I’ve seen photos of kiwi vines growing over trellises – beautiful foliage, golden fruit hanging down, that’s what I want to see here!

Winter was a busy time in the garden, we decided to move the rose bed (14 old roses) to a more suitable part of the garden – they were in a prime vegetable growing position. To do this Neil built 2 new raised garden beds – one for the roses and a new vegetable garden. Moving the roses was not fun, we certainly hacked into them but you know what, we didn’t lose a single plant! Just how tough are roses? Very tough! We replenished our paths with a thick layer of mulch – local wood chips from the crew who trim the street trees – this really brightened up the garden.

The summer garden is still a way off, the next peak above ground planting period (growing by the moon) comes up around the 13th Novemeber; so it will be all hands on deck to plant zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, fennel, lettuce, silver-beet, spinach, capsicums, beans, cucumbers, pumpkin and probably heaps more! I’m going to try some new crops this summer – okra, spaghetti squash (pumpkin) and snake beans, it’s always nice to have some unusual plants growing; okra plants look really interesting and I would love to eat a truly fresh one for once. I hadn’t even seen a spaghetti squash until last summer and was blown away by them! They are not cheap to buy so why not try and grow them – it’s just a pumpkin after all – 4 of the 6 seeds I planted have taken and I gave the rest away…. lots of spaghetti squash this year!

Our young avocado tree produced 2 wonderful fruits earlier this year and has been absolutely covered in flowers, thousands of them; we were wondering how many flowers would produce fruit, well we are delighted to announce some babies are forming…

We planted another lot of root crops last weekend – beets, celeriac, carrots and parsnips; the last month’s root crops are up but the cat decided to have a bit of a dig and damaged some of them, so we’ve put a net over the bed to stop all manner of pests.

Had to pull up the shallot crop a bit early I think, but they were going to seed and had to be lifted, hope they are OK, they’re drying on the deck and will be ready to hang in a week or so. The garlic crop is looking good; we planted a smaller crop than usual so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that they are robust plants.

I’m loving my herbs – got some beauties – tarragon, fennel, parsley, coriander, various mints, sage, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, basil, lemon grass, lavender and chives (the garlic chives are awesome). Phoebe makes the most beautiful omelettes with next door’s free range eggs, lots of fresh herbs and cheese – simple and delicious. Is horseradish a herb? This crop will yield more horseradish than we will ever use….I make horseradish sauce and use it fresh but…

Anyway enough rambling on for one blog…till next time….

 

 

Spicy pumpkin soup and romanesco broccoli

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The perfect antidote for this wintery weather is staying indoors cooking – soup was on the menu today (spicy pumpkin and a ham hock and vegetable soup). I had a lovely time singing along to some rather loud music (Ben Harper) cooking to my hearts content. If you decide to try my spicy pumpkin soup recipe I strongly recommend you put on some of your favourite sing along music too.

Spicy pumpkin soup
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Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Australian
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Serves: 10
A spicy vegetable soup to warm you up on a cold winter's day
Ingredients
  • 3 sticks of celery sliced
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 40g lemon grass stalks
  • 100g red bull pepper or capsicum (optional) chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 25g ginger chopped
  • 4 red hot chillies chopped (optional)
  • 4 carrots chopped into slices
  • 50g peanut butter or peanuts chopped
  • 600g pumpkin cut up into chunks
  • ½ swede chopped
  • 300g potatoes or sweet potatoes chopped
  • 2 dessertspoons curry powder
  • 2 tsp massel vegetable stock powder or cubes
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves
  • salt/pepper
  • ¼ cream
  • 1 tablespoon of saharan spice mix (from Wildings in St Leonards)
Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan place all the ingredients except the cream and spice mix
  2. Saute gently for at least 10 minutes before adding enough water to cover the vegetables and a bit more (I like thin soup rather thick)
  3. Cook on moderate heat until the vegetables are soft
  4. Remove the kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass and curry leaves
  5. Cool for a while and then puree with a stick blender, in a food processor or in a blender
  6. Place back on the stove and add the cream, spice mix and season to taste
  7. Cool and store in the refrigerator or freezer

We dug up the horseradish patch today and replanted some in a new sunny position, I now have some lovely horseradish roots to freeze, use fresh and maybe put some in oil. Pasta man cooked a beef rib roast in the Webber and I experienced freshly grated horseradish on my steak for the first time ever (it was a lovely accompaniment).

I picked the first of our romanesco broccoli plants today and Pasta man thinned out some baby carrots and golden beets- what a lovely combination to have with the beef  for dinner.

horseradish root

horseradish root

 

Grilled vegetable & chestnut salad

Some chestnut growers were spruiking and cooking up their produce at the East Geelong fruit shop the other day, the chestnuts were so delicious I decided to buy some to add to the grilled vegetable salad I planned on making for Sunday lunch (feeding my vegetarian son). It feels a bit strange to be buying fruit and vegetables again after living on our own produce for months, that being said I just love shopping for fruit and vegetables, they are so inspiring – much more than meat. I also purchased some lovely looking asparagus and fennel (my latest favourite vegetable) and the idea for this recipe started to take shape…

 

Grilled vegetable & chestnut salad
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Recipe type: salad
Cuisine: Australian
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Serves: 4
You could use this as a side dish or a complete meal on its own. Don't forget to put a cut into each side of the chestnut before cooking or they will explode
Ingredients
  • 2 bunches of asparagus (trimmed)
  • 1 bulb of fennel (cut into 0.5cm thick slices)
  • 2 prepared artichokes (in oil) with stalks attached and cut into quarters lengthways
  • 15 prepared chestnuts (roasted and peeled)
  • verjuice
  • olive oil
  • pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar
  • pepper and salt for seasoning
  • spice mix of your choice
  • salad greens (I used spinach, rocket and herbs)
  • goat cheese
  • beetroot chutney (recipe on my blog)
Instructions
  1. Lightly oil the fennel and asparagus and grill on a grill plate or on a barbecue until just cooked
  2. At the same time fry or grill the chestnuts in a little oil until starting to change colour (add some spice mix to the chestnuts for additional flavour)
  3. Place all ingredients together and add a splash of verjuice and pomegranate molasses, cook for another minute or two
  4. Place the prepared greens on a plate and arrange vegetables and chestnuts on top
  5. Break up some goat cheese into small pieces and distribute over the salad
  6. Add some beetroot chutney and season with salt, pepper, olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar
  7. Eat immediately with warm crusty bread

 

Beautiful beetroot (beetroot chutney recipe)

I think I’m having a love affair with beetroot, the colour is spectacular and when I eat either the root or the greens I feel that the nutrients are going straight into my veins (silver beet, spinach and kale do the same thing to me). Luckily we have enough beets to use as juice, as a vegetable, a dip, or to make chutney or relish. They are easy to grow and  can be grown all year around here, our last couple of crops have grown beautifully, large and juicy and without any of those stringy bits that happen when they get too old. I have already given you the relish recipe and promised to share the chutney recipe, it’s a little more expensive to make and a bit more mucking about but it makes a lovely condiment to have with just about anything (we even have it with salad).


Beetroot chutney
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Recipe type: preserve
Cuisine: Australian
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Serves: 5 jars
A delicious sweet chutney that matches many food types and adds colour and texture to a meal
Ingredients
  • 1.5kg beetroots (roasted in foil for 1 hour @ 200*C)
  • 3 brown onions finely chopped
  • 3 granny smith apples (peeled, cored, quartered and chopped into small pieces)
  • 500ml (2 cups) balsamic vinegar
  • 80ml fresh orange juice (or lemon)
  • 550gm raw sugar (2.5 cups)
  • ½tsp ground cloves (or other spice such a cumin)
  • 2 large sprigs of rosemary
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
Instructions
  1. Peel and chop the cooked beets when cool enough to handle
  2. Place the beets into a large saucepan with all the other ingredients and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or until the mixture thickens
  4. Remove the rosemary and spoon into hot prepared jars
  5. When cool, store in cupboard for 1 month before using (if you can)

Don’t forget to cook up the beet’s leaves, they are just like silver beet and so versatile, I added the cooked leaves (pictured) to a spaghetti sauce and put some in an omelette. If you want to make the beetroot dip, roast the beets in foil, then grate them or blend in a processor. I added roasted pumpkin pieces and a roasted bull pepper to my last batch but usually I just add some natural greek yoghurt or creme fraiche with some cumin for a simple, delicious, nutritious and colourful dip. Happy cooking and have a happy easter….

Experimenting with Asian flavours (spiced beans recipe)

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I’ve been having fun researching the flavours of Asia over the last few weeks with the help of Charmaine Solomon’s The Complete Asian Cookbook (1976) and her Asian Favourites (2001) and the Women’s Weekly Indian Style Cookery (1997). I’ve made a vindaloo curry (the meat was marinated in vinegar o’night with loads of spices, ginger, shallots, chilli and garlic); I used the front leg of goat for this recipe (the butcher says it is better suited to slow cooking than the back leg) the meat was tender and full of flavour after cooking for a couple of hours. A spiced bean dish was next, our fresh beans were cooked in coconut milk, various spices and fresh coriander, this was absolutely lovely. We had masala chicken drumsticks for dinner one night, the drumsticks were massaged with a dry spice mix before being grilled, they were really tender and juicy, not sure if it was because they had been marinating for 24 hours or because they were cooked in the Webber or both perhaps? A Punjabi style lamb shank curry followed, this one used spinach and tomatoes in the gravy, it was delicious too, full of flavour and the meat fell off the bone. This weekend I made Kitchri (spiced rice and lentils), a dish of garden vegetables cooked in spices and coconut milk, some raita and onion sambal and another goat curry, this time a Burmese style curry that used 1 cup of ginger, 20 cloves of garlic, loads of onions and not many spices at all. The meat and the aromatics were cooked separately for 1.5 hours, then they were put together, and that is when the magic happened (I had my doubts about the dish until then). Tonight we had left over rice/lentils and coconut vegetables with a  boned stuffed chicken from our local butcher, I think my stomach needs a rest from the large volume of onions, garlic, ginger and chilli it’s had to deal with lately. So far the Burmese curry has been my favourite of the meat dishes (Pasta man liked the vindaloo better) but the vegetables, rice dish and the raita were by far my champions. I don’t really think I am a massive fan of slow cooked meat, it’s OK occasionally and it’s fun to cook but other ways of cooking proteins suit my constitution and palate better. I’ve included the recipe for the Tamil (southern India) bean dish, it is quite fast to prepare and a lovely way to cook beans or other vegetables.

Spiced beans
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Recipe type: vegetarian
Cuisine: Tamil (southern India)
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Serves: 5
An easy vegetable dish that tastes fabulous
Ingredients
  • 2 tbs ghee or oil (not olive)
  • 1 tbs finely grated ginger
  • 2 small red chillies finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 500 grams of beans
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbs fresh chopped coriander leaves
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil or ghee in a wok and cook ginger, chillies, garlic and seeds, stirring for 2 minutes
  2. Add the beans and cook (stirring often) for about 5 minutes or until they are tender
  3. Add the coconut milk and continue to cook, stirring often for about 5 minutes and until most of the milk has evaporated
  4. Just before serving add the coriander leaves
Notes
Any type of vegetables could be used for this dish

our lovely just picked beans, yum

our lovely just picked beans, yum

 

 

 

 

What’s happening in the garden?

It’s not a very good day in the garden today, too much wind and boy do we cop it here, at least we have nice views to make up for the wind. There’s barely a spare bit of earth in the garden, there’s vegetables, fruits, herbs and a green manure crop along with all the ornamentals. We’ve had trouble getting the bush beans to grow this year, hopefully the latest planting will work. The seven year and purple king beans are getting going at last – we didn’t even eat the seven year beans the first year as they looked tough but boy was I wrong, they are lovely fleshy beans and very tender, you just have to plant them along a support (ours is on the fence) and apart from water, weed  and feed do absolutely nothing to them but eat them every summer. I really need to use up the kale and purple cabbages as their season is nearly over and we need to plant a green manure crop in the bed to help it along before planting the next crop. Oh I found the first baby chillies today, it’s exciting in a weird kind of way when you find and pick the first fruit of a crop, well it only happens once a year for most plants so it is special. Some years the corn is the stand out crop and the following years the crop may struggle or get attacked by pests, another part of the wonder of growing things. I made a garden coleslaw to go with some nice local bream and ham and vegetable soup for a hearty lunch. I’ll add the soup recipe on another blog because this program only allows one recipe per blog, bummer I was hoping to put both recipes up but never mind….

Garden Coleslaw
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Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: Australian
Author:
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Serves: 6
A colourful salad made from whatever is at hand
Ingredients
  • ¼ purple cabbage
  • 2 medium sized carrots
  • 2 sticks celery
  • ½ small red capsicum
  • bunch italian parsley
  • handful dried cranberries
  • 10 brazil nuts (macadamia nice too)
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 spring onions or bunch chives
  • 1 lime
  • pinch sumac
  • salt / pepper
Instructions
  1. I use my Magimix food processor to finely slice the cabbage and finely grate the carrot.
  2. The nuts, cranberries and parsley leaves are then chopped up roughly using the pulser button (reserve some for dressing the salad).
  3. Chop the celery finely and slice the capsicum to your own taste.
  4. Combine all these ingredients and gently toss with your hands.
  5. Mix the mayonnaise with the mustard (horseradish relish would be good too) and lime juice.
  6. Pour over salad & dress with the parsley, cranberry & nut mix and sprinkle with sumac (optional but nice).
Notes
Of course you could make the salad with any variety of vegetables and fruits- finely sliced fennel, coriander, asian salad dressing, apples, pears, noodles, grains and more. If you don't dress the salad it will keep fresh in the fridge for a day (apple may go brown though). I used to add grated cheese to my coleslaw which was nice if you wanted a richer tasting salad.

Eggplant and Zucchini Parmagiana

layering vegetables, tomato sauce & cheese/basil

layering vegetables, tomato sauce & cheese/basil

Today we picked a lot of lovely young zucchinis and I had to decide what to do with them, they are so good when fresh like this, a real treat. I decided to make an eggplant and zucchini parmigiana from the cooking class I did in Positano but with a few changes, instead of deep frying the eggplant I grilled it instead (zucchini too), oh and I added chillies too!

The dish (two different dishes in one really) worked really well, the eggplant was soft and fluffy which contrasted the firm zucchini, the refreshing tomato sauce contrasting well with the cheeses.

Zucchini & Eggplant Parmagiana

Zucchini & Eggplant Parmagiana

Eggplant and Zucchini Parmagiana
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Recipe type: Main course
Cuisine: Italian
Author:
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Serves: 4
This dish delivers lots of textures and flavours- the sweet melty fresh mozzarella, basil, soft smokey eggplant & crunchy zucchini combine well with the tomato sauce.
Ingredients
  • 3 firm eggplants or 6 small zucchini
  • 240g mozzarella sliced & cubed (fresh if possible & dried out a bit)
  • 10 - 20 basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic (clove crushed slightly)
  • 6 tablespoons parmesan cheese grated (more if desired)
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 400g ripe tomatoes
  • salt & pepper
  • chillies to taste
Instructions
  1. Peel & cut the eggplants into thick slices. Place the eggplants into a colander and sprinkle with salt, let stand for at least 30 min to 1 hour. Wash salt off and dry eggplants with paper towel (get as dry as possible). Using a pastry brush lightly coat eggplants with oil and season. Slice zucchinis into thick slices (lengthways), dress with olive oil and season. Grill the vegetables on a barbeque or grill plate until the eggplant is cooked and the zucchini still crisp.
  2. Add the garlic clove to the oil on low heat and cook until browned slightly. Add tomatoes and chili (if using) and simmer for at least 30 minutes stirring frequently. Pass cooked sauce through a sieve to remove seeds and skins and add a pinch of salt.
  3. Cut the mozzarella into small blocks and leave to dry out a bit (stops the dish becoming watery). Grate the parmesan cheese.
  4. Oil a baking dish and place a layer of eggplant or zucchini (I did half of each) then a layer of tomato sauce, then torn basil leaves followed by the layer of cheeses. Repeat layers finishing with the tomato sauce and sprinkle liberally with parmesan cheese.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180*C and bake for about 30 to 40 min, or until bubbling and golden.
  6. The dish is good served hot or at room temperature (antipasto).
Notes
This dish is adapted from a recipe I learned in a cooking class at the Ristorante Buca di Bacco in Positano, Italy.