28 Jun 2013

garden share collective: july

I was chuffed when Lizzie at Strayed from the Table invited me to be part of the Garden Share Collective – a virtual tour of people’s vegie gardens from the tip of Australia right down to the bottom (ie, me!). Oh, and across the way to New Zealand too. Unfortunately, I missed the last round – the first round, the inaugural round! – but I’m excited to contribute now.

My tatsoi - isn't it pretty?

After I got over the initial ‘wow – me?!’ of Lizzie’s invitation, I then realised what a potentially boring post you would be reading. At this time of the year, there is not much going on in my vegie patch on Hobart’s eastern shore. I’m largely resting my three small garden beds before spring. Around Easter I pulled the last of the summer beans and dug in lots of bags of goodness to feed up the soil. I don’t have the luxury of lots of garden beds that I can rotate plantings in, so I just rest about 80% of it over the winter months.
Silverbeet with bird deterrents that don't appear to be working

Those winter months can be best described as ‘dark’. Before I leave home for work, the sun has barely peeped over the horizon; by the time I get home around 5pm, the sun has gone for the day. It’s dark. This lack of light and my full-time job means that, at this time of the year, I see my vegie and flower gardens only on the weekend; my friend B and I have lamented how disconnected you become from your garden (unlike in the summer months, when we can joyfully garden for a couple of hours after a day stuck inside the office).
Frozen parsley
We had the shortest day - winter solstice - last week, and it is something that every person in Tasmania (or so it seems) anticipates and celebrates, because it’s a promise that the days will slowly creep ‘upwards’ towards summer, light and warmth (even if, in reality, the next few months are the coldest in the calendar).
So this time of the year, I am doing my gardening on Saturday and Sunday only. Even though I’m resting the garden, I do have some hardy leafy greens in: hardy stalwart silverbeet; a pretty row of curly kale (which seems to love the frost we get here); my first attempt at purple sprouting broccoli or ‘PSB’; and another newbie, tatsoi, which is so pretty to look at in the garden and tastes good in a toasted cheese sandwich.
Garlic sprouting thru! Trying a grow bag; hopefully it won't get waterlogged this way
Kale above and PSB below - both with pots of pyrethrum to deter caterpillars (like the bird deterrents, also not appearing to be working)
And... frozen kale!
What's on my to do list for the coming month? Well, if you'd asked me a few weeks ago, it would have been watering. Contrary to popular belief, Tassie is not all wet and rainy; not in my neck of the woods anyway. Hobart's eastern shore is sometimes called the 'sunny side of the river', and the downside of that is I can watch rain clouds swirl around Mt Wellington, but the wet stuff never seems to cross the bridge and come over here. So watering is a regular part of my gardening schedule if I want it to survive, even in the winter months.

Current water tank, collecting from the garage

But I am pleased to tell you that a fortnight ago, we got some decent rain. Not just momentary drizzle, but actual rain that lasted days and made a proper dent in the rain gauge. I took most of these photos on that wet weekend, because everything looked fresh and glistening; it was a pleasure to get soaked while I took these pictures for you.

Ever the optimists (or pragmatists), dad and I are in the process of installing a second tank for the vegie garden. To clarify: dad is installing; I am doing what I am told and making cups of tea and cake. It’s not connected up yet, as you can see, so keep your fingers crossed that by the time we do that, there is still rain about.
New water tank. Not quite installed properly. Below: self portrait in puddle! I couldn't resist
I hope you enjoyed this wintery tour around my Hobart vegie garden. Please check out the other gardeners in the Garden Share Collective!

23 Jun 2013

honey apple cakes

Dear readers,
Let this be a lesson to you:
That's what you call muffin tops.

When the recipe says 'makes eight cakes', it means eight cakes. Not six. Even if you can spoon all the batter easily into six holes of your muffin tin, the recipe says eight, so get out the second tin. Yes, you'll have to wash another tin, but isn't that better than this?:
Of course, this was the day mum and dad were coming over. How wonderful to serve them exploded cakes. But dad is lovely; it has to be pretty ghastly for him to turn his nose up at cake. He even said the depression where the apples sunk down in the middle made a perfect repository for ice cream (which I didn't have). Graciously, mum agreed with me that the thin edges were like chewy biscuits; kind of toffeed from the honey.

You may think I'm crazy giving you the recipe for such an epic fail, but this was operator error! Trust me, the recipe was not at fault this time. This cake was sweet but not cloyingly so (I'm usually not a fan of honeyed cakes). A very straightforward cake too make too, which can be a blessing on busy weekends.

If you were to ask me to describe my baking style, it would be exemplified by these little honey apple cakes: old-fashioned, gently flavoured; moist and fluffy. And a bit prone to freewheeling it; not always with the desired outcomes.

Please do have a go at making these ... correctly.

Honey apple cakes
From one of the supermarket magazines. I'm not snobby about those free monthly mags - I've found some great recipes in them.
  • Prep your muffin tin (eight hole, 3/4 cup capacity) and preheat your oven to 180.
  • First prep a couple of apples for the topping. Halve each apple, then core (I used my melon baller again for a beautifully clean circle), then cut into thin slices; I cut some of the bigger slices in half (see pic below). Set aside (don't worry if they brown a little).
  • Cream 180 gms softened butter with 2/3 cup sugar.
  • Add 3 eggs, beating well after each egg.
  • Add 1/4 cup of honey (do you know the trick of lightly oiling your measuring cup first?).
  • Once well combined, fold thru 1 1/2 cups SR flour.
  • Spoon into the muffin tin, smoothing the tops a little.
  • Now arrange a line of the apple slices on the cakes; as little or as much as you like (hence one or two apples; you can eat any leftovers).
  • If you wish, sprinkle the tops with a little cinnamon or that lovely chunky 'coffee crystal' sugar. Or both!
  • Pop in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until done. Enjoy.

19 Jun 2013

eggplant, bean + sweet potato bake

Ker-plunk! That is the sound of winter falling in Hobart, with (finally) some decent rain. We’ve had a couple of frosts in my area already, and some gloomy grey days, but up until recently it’s been fairly mild and dry. Not anymore. Ten, eleven, twelve degrees. No sun. And wet stuff, glorious wet stuff. All the gardeners are rejoicing, even if it means we’re stuck inside all weekend.

Weather is a guaranteed conversation started down here. We compare rain gauge readings. We play ‘Guess what winter will be’: after a frost, we’re convinced it’s going to be a long cold winter. A few days of sunshine and temperatures  above 15 - it’s going to be a mild winter. But someone heard the man on the radio say it’s going to be a cold winter… Perhaps all you can say is that it’s going to be an ‘up and down’ winter? What you can say with certainty is that it will be a long winter – the season usually stretches on til November, no matter what the weather conditions are.

For this kind of weather, you need something substantial but not stodgy. Something to warm you thru, full of good stuff. Something to keep you going – because, obviously, you’re using lots of energy reading magazines on the couch or boiling the kettle for yet another cup of tea. You need to keep your strength up! This is a lovely dish to make on a wet, slow weekend while you listen to the rain fall.

Eggplant, bean + sweet potato bake
Adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe, found here. I’ve given you quantities but it’s really the kind of easy dish that doesn’t mind too much what you do. Instead of the rosemary you could probably use hotter flavourings like chili or smoky paprika for some winter warmth.
  • Preheat oven to 180.
  • First, take one eggplant (mine weighed about 350 gms) and one sweet potato (mine was about 250 gms) and cut into small pieces about 1.5 cm square. Place on a baking tray. Finely chop some fresh rosemary (enough to get a couple of good pinches’ worth) and scatter over the veg. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with some S&P, then roast for 40 minutes or until just soft.
  • For the next step, if you have a casserole/baking dish that can be used on both the stovetop and in the oven, do use that; otherwise use a large frypan. So, chop an onion or leek and a couple of garlic cloves, and fry gently in a little oil. Don’t allow this to get golden or crispy; cover with a lid if necessary to steam and stay soft.
  • Once softened, add a 400 gm tin of tomatoes and a 400 gm tin of borlotti beans (or other preferred kind) and bring to a simmer. Leave at a gentle simmer until the oven veg are ready.
  • Once the eggplant and sweet potato are done, mix these into your tomato bean mix (keep the oven going). If you need to, transfer the mix to a casserole dish.
  • Scatter with some panko and/or normal breadcrumbs (I used some I’d made from wholegrain bread for lovely colour and texture) and zest a lemon over.
  • Return to oven and bake for 40 minutes or until bubbling away nicely.
Lunch is served. Funky napkin made from Frangipani Fabrics cloth

14 Jun 2013

spring is almost here

(She says optimistically)
Are you a phenologist? Either casually, or formally, meticulously recording your findings?

If you have a garden of any kind, I suspect you are a phenologist. I am (though I did not realise it) and my mother definitely is, though I suspect she was unaware too.

Phenology, I learnt recently, is the science of keeping track of seasonal changes – the first frost, the last of the pink nerines to flower, the first green leafbud to appear on bare deciduous trees.

About a month ago, mum said the first of her jonquils were already appearing. Not just the greenery poking thru, but actual buds and blossoms. Winter had barely begun, but here was one of spring’s perfumed blooms already nodding its ruffled, fragrant buds – and earlier, it seems, than usual.

In fact, on a recent visit to mum and dad's, I saw many pale yellow swathes of jonquils (probably the aptly-named 'erlicheer' variety) blooming across Dunalley and Boomer Bay - pretty reminders of gardens past, the bulbs safely buried beneath the ground, escaping the fires and now gloriously, triumphantly proclaiming their survival.

Meanwhile, my jonquils remained mysteriously hidden. They say a 'watched pot never boils' and perhaps there is a gardening equivalent; a scrutinised bulb never emerges? So I ignored them for a while. And then last weekend, in a most unexpected place - cold, shady - I found my first jonquil bud; fat, green, but promising.

So now - depsite many more months of gloom and cold ahead - I say to myself: Spring is almost here. It's just around the corner.

Have a lovely weekend. 

10 Jun 2013

pear + prune baked custard

It’s so easy to fall in love with this dessert. First it seduces thru the bright aroma of orange zest, then the sweet pear slices and silky custard will have you absolutely swooning in delight.

I have a soft spot for fruit-based puddings, so the tempting combination of buerre bosc pears and plump, rich prunes was irresistible. Buerre boscs are fast becoming one of my favourite fruit, with their good keeping quality, rustic appearance and juicy sweetness – they’re how pears should be. And prunes are always on my favourites list.

I also fell for how easy this clafoutis-like dessert is to pull together. Especially if you forget to follow the recipe! Allow me to explain: a little forward planning was required – soaking the prunes in brandy. If (like my mum) you remember to do this, you’ll get the lovely warm brandy flavour coming through. If (like me) you forget to read the recipe, don’t fret – you’ll still have a wonderful dessert.

In fact, I’ll probably omit the brandy-soaking next time (as much as I love a boozy prune). That way, it’s an effortless, elegant dessert you can pull together in a heartbeat. Slice the pears, scatter the fruit in a flan dish, whisk up the custard and pop in the oven. Done! I really am in love with this one.

Pear and prune baked custard
Adapted from an Annabel Langbein recipe. Talking of love, I have a bit of a girl crush on Annabel. I want her beautiful vegie garden, her heaven-on-earth patch of the world, the basket she collects her flowers and produce in, and the tea cup she measures her flour out with. Sigh.
Speaking of sighs, are you listening to the Classic FM Classic 100 Countdown this weekend? Some very sad music as I type this.

  • First some do-ahead prep: Soak ¾ cup pitted prunes in a generous slosh of brandy (or your favourite liquor) for a few hours. Or not.
  • When you’re ready to start baking, butter a 23 cm ceramic pie dish, and preheat your oven to 180.
  • Take two pears and halve, core (I have recently discovered a melon baller is the perfect size for capturing the seeds and leaving a gorgeous circular silhouette), then cut them into slices about 5mm thick (I left the skin on). Scatter over the pie dish, then scatter over the prunes.
  • Take one orange and zest it over the fruit.
  • To make the custard, whisk together 4 eggs, 3 tbspns vanilla sugar, 2 cups milk and 3 tbspns plain flour, making sure there are no lumps.
  • Pour over the fruit then carefully transfer to your oven. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until set and lightly golden.
  • Serve warm or cold (cold baked custard has its appeal!).

6 Jun 2013

it's leftovers week again

Time once more to eat the fridge and freezer out. A spring clean as winter begins. That lingering rind of parmesan; that small hunk of rubbery mozzarella – really, it should have been eaten in one mouthful rather than returned to the fridge. Frozen soups from mum. Carefully measured out containers of ricotta (for which recipe? Ah – pancakes). A small tub of mum's home-made pesto. Tortillas I bought on a whim and made one lot of toasties out of. A head of cauliflower that is weeks old but still miraculously fresh-looking – what is in cauliflower? Should we be making age-defying face creams from it? (I can’t see Estee Lauder launching a cauliflower moisturiser anytime soon. Not very glamourous).

So it looks like it will be cheese and pesto and cauliflower toasties for supper.

In the sweeties department, there are too many unlabelled cupcakes and chunks of larger cakes that need to be zapped in the microwave and splodged with cream so I can truly have a clean start before the next lot of baking. Some I can only vaguely remember baking; the pretty wrappers, frosted over with little icicles, don’t jog any memories. It will be a lucky dip – a real surprise when I take that first mouthful. ‘Oh, orange ricotta cake!’

And let’s not open the pantry doors. Last week I gave mum a bag of black rice that I thought would be like the skinny wild rice I hazily recall eating many years ago. This stuff, when cooked, turned an unappetising purply-grey colour and had a equally unappealing smoky flavour. I told mum to feed it to the chooks.

There are multiple containers of pasta of many different designs lingering forlornly; I’ve been on a real quinoa kick lately so the other carbs are being neglected (I know quinoa is not strictly a carb, but isn’t that how you think of it, too?). Still, pasta is a good store cupboard necessity and even if it is being momentarily ignored, its hour will come again.

I’m sure a clean slate and a freshly stocked fridge will give me some pep to create delicious new meals. Out with the old, in with the new. A cliché, I know, but there’s truth in those words.

It’s also apparently time to clean the shelves – yikes! Don’t look too closely. That’s one of the problems with this time of the year – it’s so dark I can’t see the muck properly. That’s my excuse (I bet you have some withered up bits of carrot tops and crumbs, too). Please don’t judge me. Proper actual spring cleaning is also on the agenda.

2 Jun 2013

double apple bundt cake

A perfect bundt cake

So, have you made your apple pear sauce yet?

Because you’ll need it for this moist, warmly-spiced old-fashioned cake.

The apple sauce makes this big cake incredibly moist. But so too does the grated apple and juicy sweet pear. There is lots of spice in here: you’ll taste the zestiness of ginger, the warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the roundness of mixed spice that I added, just because it’s my favourite spice (what’s yours?). There are also plump golden sultanas, and just enough crumbled walnuts to add some texture. You might think that's a lot of different things going on – and it is - but they all work together so deliciously.

Did I say this is a big cake? You’ll need your biggest tin; a lovely deep fluted bundt one would be perfect if you have such a beauty. This is a cake for feeding lots of people, or just a few ravenous ones. Which we were. Mum and dad were over; dad is setting up a second rainwater tank for my vegie garden. It was … fun rolling a large plastic cube (about a metre square; a thousand litre capacity) from the back of dad’s truck, over an ivy-covered wall, and down two planks of wood into the backyard. And then again, with the metal supporting cage for the tank to sit in. Which we had to do. Oof! We well and truly worked up an appetite and needed deep mugs of tea and large chunks of this wonderful cake to restore our energy.

What did you do on the weekend to work up an appetite for a big piece of cake?

Cake demolition in progress

Double apple bundt cake
Adapted from a Dorie Greenspan recipe. It’s ‘double’ because of the grated apple and the apple sauce. If you don’t have a deep bundt tin, you could divide the mixture into two smaller loaf tins and adjust the baking time accordingly.
  • Preheat your oven and prep a deep bundt tin by spraying with canola oil and dusting some plain flour around, knocking out the excess.
  • Cream together 150 gms softened butter, 1 cup white sugar and ½ cup dark brown sugar.
  • Add 2 eggs and continue beating for 2 or 3 minutes (a free-standing mixer is a good idea).
  • While that’s happening, grate 2 apples or (as I did this time) 1 apple and 1 pear. Leave the skin on; that’s where all the goodness is!
  • On a slow speed, beat in 1 cup apple sauce (store bought is fine if you haven’t made your own).
  • Now use a wooden spoon to fold thru the grated fruit, then ½ cup raisins and ½ cup walnut pieces.
  • Now fold thru the dry ingredients: 2 cups plain flour, 2 tspns baking powder, ½ tspn baking soda, and a ¼ tspn of each of the following spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and mixed spice (inhale deeply, it smells so good!).
  • Spoon into your cake tin, smooth the surface and bake for 45-55 minutes or until done.
  • Once baked, cool in the tin for a few minutes before crossing your fingers and turning out onto a wire rack, hopefully with all the pleats and details intact. Allow to cool before cutting; because it’s so moist, you risk making a crumbly mess if you cut it while it’s still oven-warm.
  • Enjoy with a cup of tea and family or friends.