Thursday, March 17, 2011

Under the rainbow

Straight from the Digger's Catalogue

There are many ways to celebrate St Patrick's Day but for this lady gardener, it's never been about drinking copious amounts of green beer. I like to speak to my grandmother as it's her birthday and then follow up with a sweet pea planting extravaganza. For some reason, St Patrick's Day is the traditional day to plant peas in the Southern Hemisphere, though apparently you have until Anzac Day to get your seeds in place. I've tried to find out why St Pat's is the day but to no avail. I wonder if it might be as simple as tying the reminder to an actual 'day' is a good way to get it into people's consciousness. However, today is a drizzly delight and not so conducive to planting with my 3 and a half year old helper in tow plus the seeds I've ordered ('Painted Lady' and 'Matcuana' from the Digger's Club catalogue) haven't arrived yet. This is no fault of the Digger's, my deliberations took an overly long time. I'll use the seeds I saved from this summer's flowers as well but I'd like to introduce more reds and pinks this time round and start moving away from quite so much purple.

With a quiet day planned, only so much lego can be built and fairy snap played so I needed to come up with an alternate St Pat's Day plan fast. I've been meaning to make a batch of green tomato chutney for weeks now and today proved to be perfect. Serendipity at its finest! I collected a good 2 kilos of green tomatoes while Miss E was sleeping and Miss C was busy with Play School. Half an hour later, we were in business. The beauty of of this chutney is two-fold; by removing some of the green fruit, it frees up the plant's energy to ripen up the remainder. This is specially helpful if your summer hasn't been consistently hot and let's you utilise fruit that may have spilt due to too much rain following intense heat. This year, the mountains seem to have had every possible permutation. The second advantage is that green tomato chutney is quite simply and totally delicious, well worth stock piling. I find it really hard to get the keep/give away ratio right and by the time I've run out, I'm cursing my largess. If only there wasa reliable way to estimate how much chutney I'll need to last through to next year...

The littlest sous chef in action - love that motion blur!

The recipe I use is very simple and based onthe one in the Australian Women's Weekly's 'Book of Perserves.' I'm not sure if this treasure is still in print but it's a fabulous resource so snap it up if you come across it on ebay or at a garage sale. AWW say to use dry mustard powder but I prefer to use freshly roasted mustard seeds, ground in a mortar and pestle.

You'll need:

1 kilo of green tomatoes, washed and roughly chopped
- feel free to throw in some ripe ones if you can't quite make up the full kilo
1 large onion, red or brown, whatever's in the pantry
1 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup raw sugar
2 tsp freshly ground mustard seeds
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp tumeric
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp cornflour

Throw all the ingredients, except for the last tbsp of vinegar and cornflour.
Bring to the boil and then simmer covered for 40 mins until the mixture is pulpy.
Then ass the remaining vinegar and cornflour and stir until the mixture boils again and thickens.

Quite the tub ring in this shot...

While the mixture is still hot, pour into hot sterilised jars and then seal once cold. For more infomation on sterilisation, check Google. I cheat and use the baby's steriliser in the microwave.

All that's missing from this picture are the gingham lids tied with apron strings of love!

Whilst this chutney doesn't look the prettiest, it is super tasty and loves to served with any type of pork product, a sharp cheddar or the vegetable and lentil pie from Hominy bakery in Katoomba.

Please note: I am the queen of not necessarily following recipes to the letter. this batch, I forgot to 'cover and simmer for 40 mins' and instead I just let it simmer for hours on end. As the pot I used was extremely heavy, this took hours. If dancing you're own steps here like moi, take to keep stirring as you don't want the mix to burn and catch on the bottom. This recipe should make approx. 3 cups but I did a double batch and that's why there are so many more jars in the final shot above. Such a bounty, I'm well pleased with myself.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I'll be with you in cherry blossom time...

Early last spring, Husbando and I found ourselves off to Young, NSW. Australia's cherry capital is still an old fashioned country town, the main drag is wide and quickly leads to the industrial end of town. There's only the slightest whiff of gentrification, with a combo deli-cafe on Boowora St and the local interior designer's HQ in the block behind. Good design is needed everywhere, I guess. As blossoms had begun to pop mountainside, I was anticipating a fervent show from the local fruit trees but I was to be disappointed with the exception of the geranium below.

And this is where I must make a confession...on occasion, I am inclined to theft. Never anything with an actual price tag, almost only ever snatches of geranium and pelagoriums. However, this instance is a sobering one as I quite willfully and in broad daylight, snapped off three pieces of this geranium...which was found outside the church where the funeral we'd attended had been held. As my hand reached out, I remember thinking that this could risk the wrath of god* but the garish colour held sway and I plucked away, quickly jamming the pieces into my handbag. At home, I popped them in some water and waited for them to grow roots before planting them out.

Of course, it is far nicer practise to approach the owner of the plant you'd like to pilfer and ask if they'd mind if you took a cutting. Most gardeners enjoy the complement and are more than happy to oblige, particularly if you whip out your own secateurs, rather than just breaking plants willy-nilly. Alas, my manners where somewhere else that day and I didn't find the priest who officiated to ask if he felt his God would mind. Obviously he did as a couple of weeks later, I got to my front door where I'd recently planted out some salmon coloured geranium cuttings and they'd disappeared. Spooky! I think I have really pissed off a god that I'm not even sure I believe in...I kid you not!

*nb: small g is intentional in a multi-denominational world, in encouragement of a more pluralistic sense of spirituality. I'm not sure how I can really justify my behaviour that day except to say that when the two surviving cuttings are really flourishing, I intend to give one to the person whose father we farewelled that day. But what to say?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tart for a tart

It is my pleasure to present to you, the last of this summer's leeks. It's quite hard to take a shot of your bounty in the left arm with the camera in the right, very hard to titivate and I feel the angle doesn't really do justice to just how many leeks make up an armful. I guess this difficulty really presses the case for an old fashioned trug. This lady gardener does love the romance of wandering through the garden's gloaming, trug in one hand, secateurs in the other, plucking produce and blossom hither and thither.* I like to imagine that this is what the woman from the old Flake ad is upto when she's not busily devouring chocolate under that tree. She is wearing the perfect hat.

This trug above is not so old fashioned but indeed fashioned from something old. Very impressive recycling! I must speak to Husbando about sourcing some old tyres from work...perhaps I can also find the how-to for tyre swans. Many thanks to Kathreen of Whip Up for the image above. Check out her fantastic site with the link below and whip up your own tyre trug!

And so this what become of my lovely leeks. Not the most marvellous shot as I am not any kind of food stylist and what's more, I just really wanted to get eating. Between myself and my fellow diners, Husbando and his Mum, the verdict was unanimous - divine! I use Jamie Oliver's Greek Rustic Tart as a base and simply swapped out the spinach for sauteed leeks, the fetta and haloumi for gruyere and goat's cheese and threw in some bacon. Go easy on the goat's cheese as it is very rich and a little goes a long way. Plus, it's kinda expensive so nice to keep some in reserve for other treats. Goat's cheese, spanish onion and rocket bruschetta, anyone? I like to use Meredith Dairy Goat's Cheese as it's marinated in olive oil which is delicious long after the cheese has left the building. Stephanie Alexander was helpful as always with tips on leek prep, though I chose not to slice my leeks lengthwise and left them as more aesthetically pleasing rounds. However, I did pay the price for this headstrong approach (who am I to question Stephanie, really?) and burnt my fingers pushing the lovely soft concentric circles through.

Jamie Oliver's Rustic Greek Tart -

450gr packet of frozen spinach, thawed; squeeze out excess liquid
1 sheet of Ready Rolled shortcrust pastry
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
150gr haloumi, grated
120gr danish fetta, crumbled
1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme to sprinkle (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
2 eggs
small container of pouring cream

~ please note, Ii am very liberal when making these and tend to use the whole packet of haloumi, fetta and spinach. The above quantities make about 12 individual pies or one large one.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C

If making individual pies, grease a cupcake pan, divide up pastry accordingly and press into pan - I find it easiest to cut sheet into squares and trim excess later, if you are feeling less than rustic! If you don't trim, keep an eye when baking as the edges are more likely to burn. Use alfoil to protect, especially if you plan to reheat later.

Spread spinach and garlic over the pastry, then haloumi, fetta and herbs.

Lightly beat 2 eggs into about 2/3 of the cream and season w salt and pepper.
Pour gently into each pie. If it seems too eggy, disperse with a little more cream.

Bake for 15 - 20 mins for individual pies or 30 - 40 for one large slab.
Pastry should be golden brown and the filling set.

Serve with lemon wedges and a fresh green salad and enjoy with friends!

*not to mention getting overly lyrical with her language.