29 Aug 2013

garden share collective: september

Just enjoying the views in my garden... 
Dad and I have been very busy...
I wish!

I'm on my lunchbreak and I have driven across the bridge to visit the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (it takes less than ten minutes to get here). Coming over here mid-week is wonderful, because I have the place almost to myself; just me, the gardeners, and a mere handful of frost-hardy tourists braving the cold. Oh, and the birds; all the warbling birds. I'm writing this near the main water pond (above), and the solitude is enhanced by the different bird calls and the wind groaning through the towering conifers around the garden's boundary. I can identify (if I can't see) ducks, blackbirds, blue wrens, new holland honey eaters, and little red-faced parrots.

All the camellias are in their full winter glory: fat, decadent blossoms; stark white and pale fairy pink and deep sultry red; and splattered varigated pink ones in between. When I visit the gardens and see these camellias, I try to pick a replacement for the old one near my front door, but I am defeated by the beauty of each different flower. Choice is impossible.

It is reassuring to see that, apart from the camellias and the equally vibrant rhododendrens, there is not much else happening in the gardens. I get a little depressed when I see my ornamental garden in the winter (and it is still winter here in Hobart), bare and hunkered down against the cold; so to see the gardens here equally dormant - well, it happens to the best of us!

So while it is still cold, the last couple of weeks of August have been promising - if only because my early morning walk is no longer a dark one! I can see the first glimmers of light on the horizon as I head home to get ready for work. The sunlight at the other end of the day is invigorating, too. It is, as I said, still cold - there has been frost and snow-on-the-mountain and rain (the tanks are still full!) - and spring doesn't really start here until October or more likely November. But the lighter days are truly inspiring.

So I've been buying seeds:

And sowing some, too: sweet peas for flowers to hide an ugly fence; marigolds to edge the garden for colour and companion planting; and broad beans, my first time ever. This way I'll be able to eat them small and tender like a little green pea, not tough and large and greyish as my dad prefers them. I have sown them around a central stake; the lady at the garden centre told me an old Greek gentleman told her this was the best way to do it, so you could then wrap string around and around to gather them up. Who are we to argue with old Greek gentlemen?

I've also been reading lots of library books, and by reading, I mean looking at the pretty pictures and noting down names. I received a Diggers Club annual recently, so this has also created a lot of desire too. I've decided to introduce more flowering plants around the vegie patch that will attract good insects, such as the tagetes, california poppies, yarrow, bergamot, coneflowers. They are on the list, anyway. If I only get additional colour in the yard, that would be lovely.

To do this coming month:
  • Put my pea and bean trellises in place so I can sow these. I love growing (and eating) peas and beans. Dad has had peas in for months!
  • Fill some grow bags and plant beetroot. Like the garlic, I'm trying my subterranean things in bags, to prevent rot and enable them to grow unimpeded by any obstacles in the soil.
  • Plant the rosemary sprigs (taken last month) that have sprouted little roots.
  • Have bought the passionfruit vine! Panama Red, apparently good for Tasmania's cooler/frostier conditions. Just need to plant it now, with some frost protection.
  • Keep waiting patiently for the warmer weather.
Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share Collective. Click on the logo in the column at the right to find more green thumbs.

One last view of my dream garden...

24 Aug 2013

enough fruit and veg

This week the local newspaper knocked the election off the front page with the headline that 86% of Tasmanians didn’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. Then a magazine proclaimed that only 6% of Australians ate enough F&V. By ‘enough’ I assume it’s the recommended daily two serves of fruit and five serves of veg. Once I got over these horror numbers, I then thought: if there’s a box for eating ‘too much’ F&V – well, I’ll tick that one.

Not eating any fruit, and especially veg, every day is unfathomable to me. I know I have my parents to thank for that. It might have been simple ‘meat and three veg’ most days, but when I was growing up, we ate healthy, balanced meals every day. And I’m sure you heard this one too: if you’re hungry, have an apple; if you didn’t want an apple, you weren’t hungry enough. Apart from a temporary face-pulling phase at cauliflowers, I ate my veg; and for this I’m very thankful because now it’s just normal for me. The thought that only 6% of the population agrees with me is too freaky and sad for words.

Let’s fast forward to me putting dinner on the table. Choosing the veg is where the pleasure begins – if I’m buying my veg, I’m often wildly seduced by the shiny colours and textures of a beautiful display, be it at a farmers market or a good F&V shop. Sometimes I have a specific recipe I want to try, but usually I buy bags full of the stuff then work out what to do with it (and where to put it) when I get it home.

Lately I’ve had the baked risotto on repeat for my work-day lunches, varying what vegies I top it with. I’m also having a bit of a crush on pumpkins, of any variety. This love has manifested itself in gratins or bakes, topped with crunchy panko crumbs, walnut pieces, and lots of parsley and lemon zest, oh and black pepper, too. Sometimes I add ricotta or sour cream, but if you get a good pumpkin they have built-in creaminess. Just look at it : perfection.

After abandoning them for years, I’ve returned to stir fries: usually with lots of broccoli, cauliflower and red capsicum (another current crush). I’m not the best stir fryer (probably why I gave up on them) and sometimes things stay a bit crunchy (it gives my jaw a work out, I suppose) or sometimes they go a tad too soft. But it’s all good.

Sometimes I haven't got the time of energy to be creative, so I'm happy to steam the veg and plonk it on a bed of rice, or quinoa, or some pasta. A generous spoonful of rich home-made pasta sauce (more veg) or simply a zippy squeeze of lemon and some parsley and I'm done  - because when the veg are this gorgeous, simplicity is all you need, don't you agree?

That’s why I can’t understand those scary stats. Fresh produce, especially when it’s in season, is not expensive. Frozen peas aren’t expensive. But even if they are, a bag of broccoli and hand of bananas is cheaper than a visit to the doctors, as mum says. And honestly, I am flummoxed when I read people say vegies are hard to prepare. A bombe Alaska is hard to make. Stir fried broccoli is not.

So if you were surveyed, how would you respond? Do you get ‘enough’ F&V?


15 Aug 2013

cooking for one

I live alone, so mostly cook for one, but that does not mean I am good at it. At getting the servings right, I mean (though sometimes I’m not good at the cooking bit, either).
Mostly I cut up the veg, measure out the pasta or rice or quinoa, and am happy to see if the end result fills one plate or two. I’m happy to do a big roast or casserole or risotto on the weekend, with the promise of multiple serves, because it saves time over the next few days, and if it’s really good, I don’t mind eating it again and again; in fact, I look forward to it.
Oddly, last week I aimed at making enough to eat over two nights, but I ended up being bang-on the right amount for one perfect bowlful. I quickly noted down the quantities so I could get it right next time (one very small onion, one small tin of tuna, about a third of a cup of frozen peas, a handful of tatsoi leaves, about 60 gms frilly pasta. And lots of lemon juice and zest and parsley and garlic).
While I mostly cook pour moi seulement, I do have people visit; hence I have four of each bowl and plate (one only would be horridly sad). Mostly it’s my parents. But then I get thrown, and don’t know how to cook for the extra two people. I’d rather over-cook and have generous servings, or leftovers. But, unglamourously, most of our lunches together are toasted sandwiches because they’re quick to throw together during a working-bee-in-the-garden kind of day. And then it’s two sandwiches for dad and one each for me and mum.
On a different tangent, why is ‘cooking for one’ overlaid with such withering tones of pity? As if it is a fate no one would wish upon – I have to say it – oneself? Why do people declare that cooking for great gatherings of family and friends is an act of ‘cooking with love’ - yet to feed oneself only is not worth any effort or care beyond a scrappy piece of toast or a repeat of breakfast’s muesli?
Don’t get me wrong, as the single occupant of my dwelling, I’ve had toast or porridge or a slice of cake or a bowl of ice cream for dinner. But that’s because I want to, because I choose to, because I can. I have no one to please or feed but myself, so occasionally that means a mug of green tea and Connoisseur CafĂ© Grande ice cream straight from the tub. But mostly, to steal from pop culture, ‘I’m worth it’. So I cook something colourful, delicious, and horrifically healthy; I use my good china and nice glasses; I use my pretty napkins and resist sitting on the couch in front of the TV, meal balanced on a tray, even if the tray is a funky new Ikea number. I cook for one, I end up with leftovers, and I enjoy every mouthful of it.

11 Aug 2013

golden syrup dumplings

Without ice cream

There are some recipes that I share with you here because I fervently believe they have changed my life for the better - and, equally fervently, I want you to try them so your time in the kitchen is transformed too. The baked risotto was the most recent example. 'This is so good - you must try it yourself!' I don't see myself as a recipe writer - more a sharer. So when I make something so delicious or easy or comforting (or all three), I just want you to all know about it (and make it too).

But there are some recipes that I don't care if you never make them. In fact, I don't want you to make them.


Take this golden syrup dumpling recipe. It's good; it's my go-to recipe for GSDs.

But really, don't take it. Instead, write yourself a post-it note: 'find mum's GSD recipe'. Then ring your mum - or perhaps your nanna or sister - and get your family's favourite version, the one you grew up with. Or dig out your trusty Nigella or Womens' Weekly or Belinda Jeffery recipe. Heck, even go to taste.com.au and see what its offerings are.

The point is, you don't have to make my recipe; this time, I'm just giving you a little nudge to remember golden syrup dumplings. Go on. It's the right season for them. Make some GSDs - anyone's - soon.

With ice cream. And lovely yellow napkin made from Frangipani Fabrics

Golden syrup dumplings
Adapted from an undated Gourmet Traveller recipe. The only thing I wish is that there was more sauce; the dumplings seem to suck it all up too quickly. Maybe I'll double that bit next time (I always forget). And if anyone knows the trick for preventing the dumplings merging into one mega-dumpling, please let me know.
  • In a food processor, whizz up 45 gms butter, 1 1/2 cups SR flour, 1/2 tspn cinnamon, 1/2 tspn mixed spice and a pinch of salt til it is blended.
  • In a small jug, whisk together 125 mls milk, 1 egg and 1 egg yolk.
  • With your food processor running, add the wet ingredients to the dry til the dough comes together.
  • Now prep the sauce. In a large (deep rather than wide) saucepan, gently melt 30 gms butter, 1/3 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 cup golden syrup, 150 ml sherry and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves.
  • Now for the dumplings. This is a stiff but sticky dough so have everything ready and plenty of paper towels for cleaning your hands up if necessary! Take a spoonful of dough (I find it quite impossible to roll and form dumplings with my hands with this dough) and drop it into the sauce; keep making dumplings til you've used up all the dough. Try to keep the dumplings as separate as possible, turning them to coat in the sauce.
  • Keep sauce at a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes or until dumplings are cooked thru. Serve immediately with cream or ice cream.

7 Aug 2013

baked risotto with roast vegies

Do you ever get excited - yes, excited - when you try a new recipe that from the very first mouthful you know has changed your life? Let's step it back a bit - not just the first mouthful, but as you are stirring it, making it?

You know you'll make it again (and again) because it tastes yum, is fuss-free to cook, and is almost like a template, readily adaptable to whatever produce is seasonally available - or just plain whatever is available in your pantry or fridge crisper when you come to ponder that night's dinner.

So we're talking dinner here; old faithfuls you can reliably turn to and turn out.

I have a paltry two standbys: my tuna pasta bake and my mojo spaghetti - which this week, I found works well with cooked quinoa. Sauteeing the quinoa makes it crispy around the edges, which is a surprisingly good texture for it.

Now I have a third recipe to get excited about and to add to my old faithful list. Okay, I have only made this twice, but I already know: it's good.

It's a baked risotto. It's delicious, warming, a bit stodgy - which is okay by me with this current cold weather where the days barely reach the double figures - and amazingly, eye-openingly easy. I'd been talking baked risottos with some friends recently and was about to try the recipe S emailed around when I found this one. As soon as I read it had smoky paprika and sherry in it - well, I was a goner.

And making it - start it on the stovetop, pop it in the oven, stir it once then pull it out in mere minutes - minutes! - and the arborio rice is cooked to starchy, creamy perfection. As in, oh my wow perfection. As in, so perfect I instantly rang my mother to tell her she had to make this. And then tell her again when I saw her in person.

So yes, I'm getting excited over baked rice.

Such is my life.

What recipes excite you? What are your reliable old faithfuls?

Baked risotto with roast vegies
Based on a recipe from Valli Little's '5 nights a week' which was a birthday present from my friend C. I mentioned this recipe is like a template; see notes at end for possible variations.
  • Preheat oven to 180.
  • First roast your vegies. Prep a couple of baking trays and fill with vegies cut to small-bite size pieces. I have used combinations of butternut, sweet potato, yellow and red capsicum, a punnet of cherry tomatoes, and asparagus. Whatever you choose, drizzle with olive oil and top with S&P.
  • Pop into oven (even while it is pre-heating) and bake until cooked, keeping an eye on any soft veg and removing them early if necessary.
  • Now start your risotto. Use a casserole pot that you can use on the stove top and then transfer to the oven; otherwise, you will need to transfer the mix from, say, a saucepan into a oven dish (does that make sense?).
  • In your pot, gently saute one chopped onion and a few roughly chunked cloves of garlic (depending on your garlic tastes and the size of the cloves) in some olive oil. Cook until soft and translucent.
  • Add 1 cup arborio and stir for a few minutes till well coated with the oil.
  • Add 3/4 tspn smoky paprika and stir.
  • Add 150 ml sherry and bring to simmer and cook til evaporated.
  • Now add some hot liquids: 1 cup vegie stock and 1 cup water.
  • Add a few soft springs of thyme.
  • Bring to boil then cover and pop into the oven.
  • My recipe said to cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring once, but I have a confession to make: both times I've made this, I've turned away to wash the dishes and tidy the kitchen and put the vegie scraps in the compost - and forgotten to put the timer on. But I reckon I was busy for only 15 minutes, in which time it was cooked perfectly.
  • To serve, dish up the rice then top with the roasted vegies.
  • Use spices, herbs and flavours with your roasted veg like fresh or dried chili, rosemary, sage and so on.
  • Use whatever veg you like to roast. I'm trying parsnips next time.
  • Use spices like fresh or dried chili instead of (or with) the smoky paprika.
  • Use white wine or vermouth instead of sherry.
  • Use chicken stock, all stock or all water.
  • Stir in more boiled water towards the end if you like a 'soupier' risotto.
  • Throw in some frozen peas just before you pop the lot into the oven, to cook in the rice (this works well!)
  • Serve with lots of parsley for extra greenery.