Something borrowed

As its been fairly quiet in the garden of late I’ve been trying some new and very simple recipes.

The recipe for Leek and Pear Soup comes from Carol and Phillip, who may be familiar to you as they sell fresh veggies at their regular stall in Civic on Thursdays and Fridays. Phillip once asked one of their customers why they bought two leeks and two pears every week. The reply was this elegant and very easy recipe.

Leek and Pear Soup
2 leeks
2 pears
2 medium potatoes
1 medium onion
4 cups of chicken stock
50gms of butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup of cream (optional)
and cream and chives to garnish

Remove the outer leaves from your leeks and wash them carefully to remove any dirt from between the leaves. Slice finely. Cut your onion up. Melt the butter in your large saucepan and saute the leek and onion until soft.


While your leeks are softening, cut up your pears and potatoes into small pieces


Then add these, along with your stock into the saucepan with the leeks and onions. Cook about 20 minutes until the potato is cooked.


Once the potato is cooked puree the soup in your blender and serve. The cooked pear adds a pleasant fruity note to the soup.



Cold Start

You know it really is a minus 8 degrees morning when you have to defrost your watering can to get some water onto your plants. Don’t even think about using the hose – I snapped one in half some years back on a similarly cold morning.

My Purple Sprouting Broccoli and peas had a good frost cover but are happy enough once the sun melts the frost off.
If you haven’t seen this story already you might like to follow this link and see how some of our wild life is coping.

A warming of crock pots

The sight of six crockpots/slow cookers in our work kitchen yesterday has convinced me that slow cooking is really making a comeback.


We were having a fundraising soup lunch for our social club and everyone was lining up for some home-made deliciousness. There were plenty of old favourites on offer including minestrone, pea and ham, pumpkin (with a pinch of cloves), vegetable, chicken and sweet corn along with a very welcome a newcomer Indian Spiced Red Lentil soup. The recipe for this last soup can be found here. defintely a soup for our very frosty days!
The nicest thing was that someone actually bought along a still functioning “crock pot”.


BTW what is the collective noun for a group of slow cookers? Here are some that we came up with:

a stew of slow cookers
a casserole of slow cookers
a warming of crockpots
a social club of crock pots
a bing lee of crock pots
a sloth of slow cookers
a consomme/chowder of comestibles
a winter warming wonder
a soup squad
a squadron of slow crocks
a pod of pots
a crock of podders/plodders/potters
slow crocks united
a swarm of slow cookers


Slow movement

At the moment everything appears to be at a halt in the garden. Most of our plants are coping well with the extended number of heavy frosts we are having this year. I know that while there doesn’t appear to be much activity above ground our plants are establishing themselves now for a quick take off in spring. Here are two plants you can get in the ground now to get a good result come spring

My broad beans were planted in late April and as you can see they are growing away quite happily. You can still plant broad bean seedlings now and while they will not produce pods as quickly as those planted earlier you can expect a good crop in a few month’s time.


Hard to believe that in a few months time they should be over a metre tall!

Another good crop to plant now is garlic. Just buy a healthy head of garlic, preferably from the Farmers Market, split the cloves up and stick them straight into the ground. TB stuck a few scabby old cloves in one of the beds a few weeks ago. He didn’t even bother to split them up and as you can see they have come up quite well already.


As the garlic bulbs grow and put out a few more leaves you can do some gentle harvesting (of the leaves that is) and add them into some scrambled eggs for a mild garlicky flavour.

In for the long haul

There has been a bit of a discussion in the work kitchen lately about “what can I plant at this time of the year?” That’s the nice thing about gardening there is always something you can be planting or getting on with. Winter is a great time for putting in some classic perennial plants, that is, plants that grow from year to year without you having to do much with them. Perennial plants will form the backbone of your veggie garden for years to come

In July, that ever reliable saint of Australian gardening, the blessed Peter Cundall recommends suggests planting asparagus, rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes (and yes the latter, are neither from Jerusalem nor are indeed artichokes). These plants are grown from crowns (asparagus and rhubarb) and tubers (Jerusalem artichokes). They are currently available from good nurseries and have even been spotted in a certain large hardware chain store. If you are lucky, you may get some from friends as now is the time for over-large rhubarb and asparagus crowns to be divided and the JA’s to be lifted.

Please think about where you are going to put these plants because they really need to be left undisturbed to get on with growing. I previously stuck my perennial vegs in a back corner of the yard, but I’m now not so sure that this is such a good plan. Its easy to forget these plants while tending to your annual crops. I’ve lost several rhubarb crowns over the years through lack of water and the possums might just get to your asparagus before you do.

We have just re-made our perennial bed, having decided to move it much closer to the front of the garden so we can keep a better eye on it. In addition to housing our asparagus and rhubarb, we have also transplanted our saffron bulbs there. At present I’m also growiing two teepees of purple podded peas at either end as they should be able to grow away before they interfere with the other plants – plus they will add some nitrogen to the soil.

Here are some of my thoughts about growing these plants:

aspraragus: get them into your garden as soon as you can because you really need to leave them to grow for 3 years before you can start regularly harvesting them. The plants need to develop a strong system of roots to produce a good supply of fat spears. I know this is very hard to do as TB has sprung me several times trying out the odd spear in the early years of growing. Thankfully we passed the 3 year stage last spring so we can now eat as much as we can grow.

rhubarb: not to everyone’s taste so don’t grow it if you don’t like it – it is truly scary the number of people who grow veggies they don’t actually eat because they are easy to grow! Biggest hint to new players –  rhubarb stems do not change colour as they grow up! they come in red or green versions that taste the same but are definitely not equal in the looks department. Look carefully at the plant label and check the stem colour of the crowns you are buying. These are not hydrangeas and you do not want to embarasse yourself by asking how do I get my green rhubarb stems to go red? Rhubarb plants are also gross feeders, (how I love that term!), in other words give them lots of manure during the growing season and keep up the water to them in hot weather.

Jerusalem artichokes: a very tasty tuber with a legendary capacity to produce ‘wind’ in the human digestive tract. I love them anyway. Also a bit of a garden thug, prone to taking over large areas of garden if they aren’t contained. We are growing ours in a tub this year, other options are to put them in a bed with very good edging – the tubers will multiply! The extra bonus is that the JA is a member of the sunfower family so  you can expect some lovely flowers in your garden later on in the season.


Gourmet Delights

Well its good news all around for those fans of the Gourmet Farmer who have been waiting for another series of this show. The second series will start on Thursday 25 August at 7.30pm. If you can’t wait there is a sneak preview on the seasons’ episodes available on the SBS website.

 Following the first TV series Matthew and his friends Nick and Ross have been working on a number of ventures including their A Common Ground dinners. Their latest activity is a new shop, called A Common Ground, in Hobart’s Salamanca Arts centre. Thank heavens I’ll be heading to Tassie for a holiday later this year so I can check it out first hand.

Brioche with a bang! and a whimper

I didn’t really expect the bang and bright flash as I tried to get the dough hook down into my brioche mix. I know, I should have checked to see whether there was a problem before I forced the top half of the mixer down, right through the power cord which had become caught between the base and top section of the stand! TB came to my rescue, whisking the mixer off to the shed to replace the cord while I reverted to person power to mix the 300gms of butter into the mix. I did manage to do this and about half an hour later the mixer was back in action.

I became a fan of brioche while travelling in Japan a few years ago. Unlikely as it may seem, one of the things that the Japanese do really well is French-inspired pastries and bread. French culture and cuisine is very popular in Japan and patisseries abound. We were stocking up on food prior to a weekend away in a thatch-roofed farmhouse in the mountains. A loaf of brioche seemed a good choice for breakfast.


Here it is looking plain but tasty, topped it with cream cheese from what must be the camp-est cheese brand in the world.


… Quite worrying really.

But back to the brioche, things did not proceed as planned. My dough just wouldn’t rise even in the warmest room of the house. 


I can think of many possible causes for this lack of action including the gap between my hand kneading and the final beating in the machine, the room was just not warm enough, tea towel too wet etc etc. After two hours it was stubbornly refusing to do anything. The plan had been to take the brioche to a friend’s house, but this baby wasn’t going anywhere. Plan B was to shape the brioche into a plait as per the recipe and see whether that would rise while we were out. We returned home fully expecting to cook the brioche while settling in for the first mountain stage of the Tour de France, but no. It was still as flat as when we left it. Thank heavens Cadel Evans was doing better than we were.

Alright, we decided to let it rise overnight. The question was would it rise in an unheated room? Then I remembered we have that heater pad we use to get our seedlings started. Doh! the next morning we woke to a risen batch of brioche swimming in a pool of butter,


not including the large amount of butter that was absorbed into the covering tea towel.


It’s OK that really is an image of the late Jennifer Patterson (one of the Two Fat Ladies) swimming up through the butter, but it is printed on the tea towel – I’m sure Jennifer would at least approve of the use of butter.

We decided to go for broke and cooked the brioche as it was. It smelled divine and did, well, OK. The cooked brioche turned out more like a biscotti, definitely not how it was supposed to work out.


On the other hand it still tastes great, proving that any combination of excessive amounts of butter and sugar can’t be all bad!



From the sublime to the ridiculously easy

I know it was just two posts back but we were so impressed by A’s No-knead bread at winter solstice that we just had to try it for ourselves. I’m speaking here in the “royal” we as it is TB who has been doing all the actual work (well I did at least print out the recipe!).

The secret, such as it is, is to leave the bread to rise for a long period of time, 18 hours to be roughly exact. It is interesting that this long rise is one of the key techniques employed by Jean Luc Poujauran (as seen in the second episode of French Food Safari). However, unlike Jean Luc, we do not have a 74 year old sourdough starter so we just had to stick to the rest of the recipe as written.

The basic bread components, yeast, flour and water, are pretty much thrown together in the bowl and just left, so even a novice bread maker shouldn’t be intimidated by this recipe. TB started his loaf Thursday evening before going to bed. Somehow I don’t think leaving it sitting in the unheated kitchen overnight when the outside temperature dropped to – 5 degrees was quite what was anticipated, however I moved it into the loungeroom when I got up and it did quite well in the warmer room.


What you are looking for is lots of big bubbles in the surface of the dough.


Again the next stage of taking it out and folding the dough over on itself twice, is very easy (particularly compared to the old knock back and knead technique).


After folding the dough is placed in a floured tea towel and left for its second rise, just two hours this time.


Next the bread is placed in a heavy casserole dish which has been pre-heated in the oven. It is through cooking the loaf in an enclosed container that the development of the fantastic crust on this loaf takes place.


After the initial cooking period of 30 minutes the lid is removed and the bread is baked for a further 15-30 minutes.


Et voila!  Our first loaf of no-knead bread.


What to do with it? Further inspiration from Maeve and Guillaume, using our own homemade bacon and cheddar cheese.


We couldn’t resist a second try with a mix of 80% white flour and 20% wholemeal flour.


If you still have a serious passion for Jean Luc’s bread you might like to visit the Fresh Loaf where someone who has tasted the real thing has their own go at recreating it. Be warned this is real serious foodie stuff!