Archive | January, 2012

Tuesday Night Vego – Veg and 3 Veg

31 Jan

Joining Linda again in her Tuesday Night Vego Challenge. This week I’m cheating. I have a vegetarian friend coming round tomorrow night, so I thought I’d serve some meat tonight. I’m posting a photo of last night’s dinner instead – hopefully the lamest excuse for a vegetarian meal I’ll come up with all year.

I call it Veg and 3 Veg. Its redeeming features are only that it is entirely home-grown and anything with brown onion gravy has to be allright in my books.

I’m sure everyone can steam some veggies and mash some potato, but I love a good brown onion gravy, so here’s the recipe for that:

Vegetarian brown onion gravy

Finely slice 2 brown onions, and fry in a heavy based frying pan on medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons oil (I used a combination of olive and grapeseed). I would have used butter, but my son is allergic to cow’s milk protein. Butter would be vastly superior.

Fry until onions start to soften but before they start to burn, then reduce the heat to low. This is where my induction cooktop is fabulous – you need a low heat level such that the onions continue to colour but do not burn. Cover and leave to cook for 2 minutes of so, checking and stirring occasionally so the colour is even. Most of the sweetness and flavour of onion gravy comes from this caramelisation process, so take care with it.

De-glaze the pan with water or stock. If you are steaming vegetables at the same time, use the veggie water. I also used some vegeta stock powder, but that’s mostly for colour and salt. If not using, add a bit of salt or vegemite. I actually added some vegemite too. I’m a bit of a salt addict, and hey, this is vegetarian, brown onion gravy normally gets some of it’s flavour from meat juices, so I needed to cheat.

Keep tasting and adjusting the flavour – reducing the gravy if the flavour needs concentrating or adding more stock if it’s too strong. Just before serving, add some cornflour or tapioca starch (my preference) mixed with a little water (make sure it isn’t lumpy), then stir in to thicken. Be careful you don’t add too much or you’ll be forced to water down the gravy’s flavour to thin out the consistency.

Does anyone else have any tips for getting more flavour into vegetarian gravies? I’ve heard about home-made stock concentrates from thermomix-people and I’m tempted to give that a go in a lower-tech way.

Tomorrow I’ll post what we actually had for dinner tonight. It involves a lot of eggplant.

Harvest Monday – 30th January 2012

30 Jan

The summer crops are really coming along now.

5 Golden Nugget Pumpkins

The pumpkin harvest continued this week, although the plants are suffering with untreated powdery mildew. I picked 5, and chose a lucky one to be my seed donor for next year’s crop. I didn’t specifically hand pollinate this one, but I’m willing to trust the bees this time. I hope they chose a good ‘daddy’ pumpkin and not one of the zucchinis or rockmelon.

20 Lebanese Eggplant

These are producing a bumper harvest. I could have picked another 10 or so today, but I’ve held off for later in the week.

1 lettuce + extra leaves

400g Green Dwarf Beans

The beans are still producing, but slowing down a little I think. I’d like to get enough from them to make a few jars of dilly beans shortly.

2 Cucumbers ‘double yield’

Still not producing with the vigour I hoped, but another 2 fruit nonetheless.

3 carrots

I always have a supply of carrots in the garden. I store them in the ground and just pull them as needed. We are blessed with a climate that allows year-round production and very few pests. I’m eternally grateful that we don’t suffer the horrible carrot fly that many of you in the northern hemisphere seem to struggle with.

1 onion

I found an onion hiding under the beetroot that I have let go to seed. Not big, but I’m sure it will be tasty.

3 tomatoes

The tomatoes are finally getting there, although the frequent (sometimes torrential) rain neccessitates picking the fruit under-ripe. It is so disheartening to have near perfect fruit split just before harvest because of a sudden downpour.

2 cobs of corn

The corn is finally here! The kids and I picked 2 cobs this afternoon for dinner tonight. It was totally delicious and visually close to perfect in a way that home-grown corn rarely is (for me, anyway).

As soon as we brought the corn in from the garden Little D started begging me for it. More corn please Mummy! More corn, please!!I eventually gave in and gave him his half-cob before dinner, but that spelled disaster once everyone else started eating. I tried to salvage the situation by giving him a small can of corn kernels from the pantry, and that just made it even clearer how superior freshly-picked corn is to the canned variety.

Other happenings

On inspecting the garden this afternoon I noticed that the apple tree I just harvested from (Dwarf Tropical Anna) is in full flower again!

Its pollinating partner (Dwarf Golden Dorset) doesn’t have a single flower so if it sets any fruit it will be lucky, but it just shows how strange our cold summer has been. I’ve been disappointed that the Granny Smith / Pink Lady (multigraft) tree hasn’t flowered for me this year, so I guess my faithful Anna is trying to make up for it.

Happy harvests everyone! Head on over to Daphne’s Dandelions to see what other people are harvesting across the world.

This has the potential to get very dangerous…

25 Jan

I’ve been on a bit of a preserving run of late. After bottling the tomatoes the other day and feeling pretty pleased with myself, I’ve been reading,  and thinking of other possibilities. Our family eats a lot of jam (hence P’s diet), and so that really is the natural progression.

We are off for the long weekend to a farmstay, and I ordered too many nectarines for the week. They will be past their best by the time we get back, so I thought I’d make some jam out of them. I’d been reading Rhonda’s blog and it really didn’t seem too hard, so tonight I thought I’d give it a go.

I cut up the nectarines, some white, some yellow (about 2.4 kilos) and put them into a large stockpot with about half their weight in sugar. That seemed like an awful lot to me, but looking at various recipes it seems that that is actually a low-sugar jam!

I also added half a large lemon – I squeezed the juice into the pan then added the skin to the pot too.

I added a little bit of water to allow the sugar to start to dissolve, then put it on medium heat, stirring regularly.

The mix eventually came to the boil and I used a potato masher to break down the chunks of fruit to a reasonable consistency. I didn’t want to puree it, but I didn’t want it to be awfully lumpy either. Tasting the mix I decided it needed another sqeeze of lemon juice, and I also added a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste (with the lovely little seeds).

As I cooked the mix down it became thicker and the colour darkened. I chose not to use pectin in this batch because apparently nectarines are naturally high in pectin, especially under-ripe nectarines, and a few of the fruit were a bit under ripe.

Once I was happy with the consistency of the jam once it had cooled on the spoon, I took it off the boil and started ladling it into clean jars. This is where my inexperience really showed. Jam makers have these really cool funnels for the purpose, but I was trying to co-ordinate a ladle, jars of varying sizes and scaling hot fruit and sugar!

It filled at least twice the number of jars as I expected, so had to move onto a few less than ideal jars with labels still attached. I cleaned the stockpot and filled it with the jars and water (covering the jars). I brought it to the boil and held it there for 15 minutes or so, ensuring that they’d seal properly and be safe to store.

I may just need a few more jars for future jams – I can tell that this is going to be addictive. Heelloo Diabetes!

Tuesday Night Vego – Eggplant Masala

24 Jan

Like most Tuesday nights this year I’m joining Linda in the Tuesday night vegetarian challenge. To cook seasonal produce (preferably home-grown) to make simple vegetarian meals. Today I harvested 13 lebanese eggplants, without the foggiest idea what to do with them. I looked to Liz’s blog and found her recipe for Eggplant Masala.

I’m not going to reproduce her recipe  – it’s hers – check out her blog- but I’ll describe the process.

Firstly I pricked the skin of the eggplants and roasted in the oven at 210 degrees until the skin collapsed. I think I need to cook them a bit longer, because they held together more that I was expecting later on. If you try out the recipe, perhaps give them longer than you initially think.

I then pureed onion, garlic (home-grown) and ginger in the food processor and fried them off in a pan with oil and turmeric until golden. It started more vibrant and yellow, then changed to a deeper golden colour. I recently bought a new batch of turmeric, and I’ve really noticed the improvement in pungency over the old batch.

Next I added chopped tomatoes, coriander and chilli. I used a bit less chilli and coriander than Liz specifies, because my Mother in Law was here for dinner, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t like either.

Next I added the eggplant to the pan. It was then that I realised that it really wasn’t cooked enough, so I added water and increased the heat. Unfortunately this gave only limited success, and eventually I had to pluck the eggplant out of the pan and put it through the food processor before adding it back in.

After I was happy with the texture I added garam masala and lemon juice before serving.

Now I’m not going to diminish the value of the recipe by posting my picture of the finished product. You can see it on Liz’s blog, and you can probably imagine that it doesn’t photograph well in artificial light, particularly after dinner and packaged into lunch containers 🙂

Suffice to say I will make it again. The balance of flavours was really good, and despite the kids’ resistance (I made the rookie error of telling them it contained eggplant) I think they actually didn’t mind it. I made naan bread to go with it, which helped.

Head on over to Linda’s blog to see what she and others are cooking (vegetarian of course) on this Tuesday night. Looks like it was Zucchini macaroni cheese – oh how I wish I didn’t have a dairy allergy in the house!

Harvest Monday – 23rd January 2012

23 Jan

I was a bit lazy with my harvesting this week. Some things are overdue but still sitting on the vine, bush etc.

1 Lebanese Eggplant

First up are the Lebanese eggplant.  I have loads of these on my 9 plants. I only harvested one this week, which I used in a warm vegetable pasta. The remaining truckful are getting bigger, and I’m not completely sure what the best size is for harvesting.

10 Golden Nugget Pumpkins

My golden nugget pumpkins are slowing but still productive. I harvested 10 this week, but let them get slightly larger.

2 Crystal Apple Cucumbers

I think I’ve neglected the cucumbers. Instead of training them up the trellice I’ve let them sprawl out along the ground. I think they have succumbed to some mildew and are looking a bit shabby. I picked 2 large crystal apple cucumbers this week, but I’m not enjoying their bitterness.

500 grams Dwarf Bush Beans

The dwarf bush beans are powering along. I’ve harvested approximately 500 grams this week, with no signs of slowing. Tonight they featured in a chicken and coconut curry, and I ate another serving (on their own) during the week when I was cooking only for myself. Steamed green beans are pretty much all I need for dinner when it’s only me to please.

A couple of tomatoes

The tomatoes are coming along. I’ve only harvested a couple this week, but I can see that the plants in the front bed are setting loads of fruit and the potted tomatoes are showing more promise. Here are some friends of mine, checking out the low-hanging fruit this afternoon.

First cob of corn

The corn is teasing me. I’ve planted several blocks and the main block is huge – much taller than I am, but the cobs aren’t so big. The silk is definitely starting to die off and I take it that that is a sign, but I harvested one cob during the week and it was still white like young corn. The kernels are definitely developing, so I don’t think it’s a pollination issue, but I guess they just need more time. The cob I harvested was delicious, despite its immaturity.

This one is more of a potential harvest, or a ‘should have’ harvested. This is the first of the okra – I blinked and it was huge. I think next year I need to grow a few more plants, because I’m not harvesting enough at once to make anything worthwhile.  Maybe I should keep this one for seeds 🙂

Tomato Canning

Today a few friends came around to preserve a box of tomatoes that I bought from a roadside stall yesterday. I’ve love to say I grew them myself, but alas, I think it’ll be April before I have an excess.

Here is a jar just before I put it into the Fowlers Vacola preserving unit.

We started off canning the tomatoes whole, then discovered that it was hard to pack them tight enough that way. In the end I was mostly quartering them.

My box of tomatoes filled 15 600ml jars (Fowlers #20 and #200 jars). Only 14 fit into the preserving unit, so I think I’ll be using the remaining jar shortly so I don’t need to can it properly.

After the water bath they are considerably less vibrant, but hopefully more sterile.

This post links up to Daphne’s Dandelions. Head on over there to see what else people are harvesting across the world.

A Rooster Return

22 Jan

I wrote recently about our suspicion that one of our chickens was a rooster. Unfortunately he started sprouting tail feathers, making rooster noises and ‘mounting’ the hens, so our fears were confirmed. Off we went today to return the poor fella to the farm.

P cut some window holes in a box so the rooster could see out and we bundled him into the back of the car.

Not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow we found ourselves hurtling down the M4 with our rooster in the back playing the chicken dance song to the kids – I can’t help but laugh looking back on it 🙂

The kids with the new chickens

We arrived at the farm and as we were getting out I mused to P – 5 chickens is such an odd number, don’t you think? He groaned at me, rolled his eyes, and out we got. He knew what was coming.

The lady at the farm took one look at him and declared immediately that it was beyond doubt. Not sure if she was trying to make us feel better, but she said she was sure that someone else would take him for breeding – he really was a lovely looking specimen and he was pure-bred after all.

She produced two potential ‘replacements’ the same age, and I declared it a sign – we were meant to have 6 chickens!

The lady mentioned that some of the other birds the same age are already laying, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for lovely eggs soon.

The kids had just as much fun as they did last time, patting the chicks and running around. Little D stubbornly refused to leave, so we had tears bundling him back into his car seat – “more pat!, more pat!”.

For anyone in Sydney looking for chickens I highly recommend Barter and Sons Hatchery in Luddenham. Their chickens are healthy, and I now know (from experience) that they honour their sexing guarantee cheerfully.

Bringing the girls home, I was actually glad we bought two because they seemed a bit ostracised from the flock. They didn’t seem to know what to do or even where to sleep this evening, but I’m sure they’ll get the hang of things shortly.

On our way home we stopped in at one of the lovely roadside stalls you find in rural areas. A local farmer was selling boxes of tomatoes really cheap, so I bought a box for canning. I have a bunch of girlfriends coming round tomorrow to help process them. We have no idea what we’re doing, so wish us luck!

Why you shouldn’t blog while your children are awake

18 Jan

Or at least you shouldn’t leave the dairy-free cream on the dining table after eating the scones. He’s using the mini jam jar as a scoop because the spoon wasn’t big enough.

My friend Sarah has been experimenting with dairy-free recipes for Little D. He’s allergic to cow’s milk protein but adores everything creamy, cheesy or milky. Both the scones and cream are dairy-free. She’s refinining the recipe, and I’ll link to it when she’s happy with it.

Tuesday Night Vego – Pumpkin and wild rice pilaf

17 Jan

P is on a diet. His weight tends to drift up over the year, so come January I put him on a crazy-strict diet and he loses it all in a month.  This year might be a bit more difficult because he needs to lose about 15 kilos. Luckily he’s well on his way, and 6 kilos down after a week.

So Linda’s tuesday night vegetarian challenge really couldn’t come at a better time. In reality we’ve been eating vegetarian most nights of the week just to get through all the garden produce, and it’s great to have vego ideas coming from many directions.

Tonight (like every night) pumpkin was a mandatory ingredient. I’ve also been craving wild rice, so I invented this little concoction for dinner:

Pumpkin and Wild Rice Pilaf

  • 1 Golden Nugget pumpkin (or 400g equivalent)
  • 50 grams Wild Rice
  • 200 grams Basmati Rice, rinsed in cold water and set aside to dry
  • 1 onion
  • Handful toasted almonds, chopped roughly
  • Large handful of sultanas/raisins
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade (or other chutney or fruit jam)
  • 1 cup stock
  • 1 tablespoon madras curry paste (or equivalent powdered)
  • A dash of ground allspice (optional)
  • Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, then put the wild rice into some cold water and bring to the boil. The wild rice will take about 30 minutes to cook, so get it on early.

Peel, de-seed and roughly diced the pumpkin. Add a drizzle of olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic and a pinch of salt, then spread on an oven tray and place in the oven.

Finely diced the onion, then add to a large frying pan with the second clove of garlic, crushed and a small amount of oil.

Soften the onion and garlic on medium heat, then add the curry paste and allspice and cook for another minute or so until fragrant.

Add the rinsed basmati rice, and fry on medium heat for one minute before adding the bay leaves, cloves and stock.

Mix the rice and stock, then add the marmalade and sultanas, stirring to mix thoroughly. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer and put on the lid.

Simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat without opening the lid. The rice will continue to steam until the wild rice and pumpkin are ready.

Once the wild rice is ready, the pumpkin should be soft and starting to brown at the edges.

Open the pan, fluff up the rice with a fork, then add the (strained) wild rice and roasted pumpkin.

Remove the bay leaves and the cloves (if you can find them).

Serve in bowls and top with chopped almonds.

Harvest Monday – 16th January 2012

16 Jan

I have poured a lot of money into establishing the garden over the past year. This is mostly establishment costs such as fruit trees and seeds, but fertilizer, mulch and ongoing maintenance is significant too. I’m hoping that this will slow down a little with the chooks on the scene, but I’ve decided that I need to keep a better track of the harvest I’m getting for all my money, time and effort.

So I’ve decided to join Liz and others keeping track of of their weekly harvest in a blogging tradition started by Daphne at Daphne’s Dandelions. This will force me to take a record of what I’m picking, whether it is consumed by us or gifted away.

So this week we have:

20 Golden Nugget pumpkins (approximately 400g each)

Some of these were used in gnocchi and dhal, but most were given away. My friend Sarah turned them (along with some of my monster zucchini from the last few weeks) into chutney, and gave some back to me 🙂

'Crystal Apple' cucumbers, carrots, Golden Nuggets and 'Double Yield' cucumbers

5 Crystal Apple cucumbers
I grew these on the request of my sister in law, and they have been wildly successful. I’ve lost count of the number of them, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we had 100 before the season is over. I’m still not sure what to do with them apart from tzatziki, raita and refrigerator pickles, but they have been working just fine for those.
3 ‘Double Yield’ cucumber
These haven’t been as prolific as the Digger’s Club claims. I had terrible trouble getting them to germinate, and they have struggled a bit. I think they are coming along now though, and I’ll get more this week.
850g dwarf green beans
I need to plant more of these, because I adore them and they yield amazingly. If I don’t sow another crop I’m going to have a big gap in supply.
Large bowl of silverbeet (hen-pecked because the chooks get out occasionally)

And also:

  • 4 bird’s eye chillis – I used these in the kimchi
  • 4 yellow button squash
  • 2 zucchini
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 black cherry tomatoes
  • a bowl of lettuce leaves
  • a small bowl of wild arugula
  • a large bowl of basil leaves – for a batch of pesto, which is already all gone
  • The occasional pick of mixed herbs – oregano, thyme etc
  • An unknowable number of strawberries (You’ll have to ask Little D about that one)

Have a look at what other people are harvesting – head on over to Daphne’s blog.

Flowers but no fruit – too cold for passionfruit?

15 Jan

I won’t whine about the weather… I won’t whine about the weather…

We had a few days of sunshine and we’re winning the cricket. Life is grand.

My passionfruit vines are a year old now. I planted grafted Nellie Kelly black and panama gold vines next to each other and I finally have flowers.

Flowers, but no fruit.

After searching (fruitlessly, hehe) for a solution, I’ve concluded that whoever cracks this nut will be the hero of thousands of backyard passionfruit growers everywhere. Forum upon forum, hundreds of people have the same problem.

Flowers but no fruit.

I am normally appreciative of the good folk at Gardening Australia, but on this one they have failed to come up with the goods. In fact their patronising responses mock me.


I have plenty of bees, ants, and beetles. Heck, a few of my chickens flew past before they had their wings clipped – I have pollinators galore. I’ve even hand pollinated a few flowers just to prove my point, but the flowers still drop.

I’ve fertilised with dynamic lifter, with potash. The rootstock hasn’t suckered – the graftline is clear and healthy.

I’ve run out of ideas. I think I will just blame the weather. I think it’s just too cold and wet.

Any ideas would be gratefully received.