Comfort food

A warming bowl of cauliflower soup for dinner. Sage leaves (from our garden) fried in butter and a drizzle of olive oil top it off.

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Housework II

On Sunday morning we awoke to steady rain that persisted throughout the day. We decided to head off to the Southside Farmers Market which was absolutely jumping. Clearly the rain wasn’t stopping anyone from getting their new season cherries and stone fruit. It’s great to see the market’s popularity increasing so much. Apart from selecting some delicious Danish pastries from the folks at 210 Degrees Patisserie & Bakery (their regular shop can be found at the Hughes shops) and a kilo of new-season macadamias, we picked up a Saw-leaf mustard plant and an Orange Thyme plant for the garden. The flavour of oranges is very strong in the leaves of the thyme – I’m not sure what we will use it for but I’m sure something will come to mind.

Back at Chez Fork it only seemed natural to settle in for a day of cooking and food processing to the background hum of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Spring DVD.

Firstly the I tackled the parsnips. If you need a lesson in what happens to the seedlings of rootcrops if you try to transplant them just look at the parsnips on the right-hand side of the photo.

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As the plants had started to put out a flowering stalk I knew that they would be too tough to eat directly. However, I wasn’t keen to throw away all the time, effort, not to mention soil and compost that had gone into their production. The answer was to clean them, cut them up into chunks and throw them in the freezer to be included in a soup stock (one that your strain the stock veggies out of before you make the soup.) This could also be done with similarly past-their-best carrots and beetroots.

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Next up was the re-found cauliflower, along with two others that were also reaching their use-by date.

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Not a pretty sight I’ll grant you but blanched (see below) and put in the freezer to be reincarnated as cauliflower cheese or curried cauliflower, the optics will be irrelevant. Also don’t forget to peel the stems and chop them up to be eaten along with the florets.

Finally the broad beans. I was passing my broad bean dip recipe along to a co-worker last week when I was asked about how to prepare the beans for eating. Now you may be one of the myriad of people whose lives have been blighted by only partially or poorly prepared broad beans. Indeed I’ve also encountered some thinking that these beans can only be eaten dried – not true. Believe me they are really yummy when properly prepared. If you are a broad bean virgin read on, the rest of you can skip the next few sentences.

First take the beans out of the pods. Chuck the pods into the compost heap and keep the beans. Bring about half a saucepan of water to the boil,  (choose a saucepan big enough to fit your beans with some space left over). Once the water has reached boiling point put your beans in and let them boil for 2-3 minutes. This process is called blanching and is the standard way of preparing most veggies for freezing. Drain the beans and let them cool down a bit before you start to peel them (stick them in some cold water if you are in a rush). Now this is where some people stop processing the beans and if you are unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end you will be served a bean with a thick grey, rubbery coat, not nice. Getting rid of the coat is as easy (or fiddly) as peeling them a second time. Some beans may come out of the boiling process with a split in their skins, if so a slight squeeze should see the inner bean pop out. If not take a small sharp knife and make a small slit in the outer coating and squeeze to remove the inner bean. Any bean less than a centimetre in length will be soft enough to be eaten with the skin on. Your reward will be a plate of bright green beans. 

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What you see here are the blanched beans, just out of the saucepan, on the right-hand side and the final peeled beans on the left-hand side. You can now use the twice peeled beans by frying with some butter or sage leaves or turn them into a paste for use as a dip (if you leave it thick) or a pasta sauce (if you thin the paste out with some oil or some of the cooking water from your pasta or as a spead on your sandwiches.

Broad Bean paste (for dips or sauces)

Put your broad beans into a food processor, or mash by hand if you want a more rustic look, or you can’t be bothered with the machine. Add two tablespoons of your choice of oil to get started (Olive oil would be fairly traditional), add some grated parmesan, an anchovy or two (less is more here), however much garlic you like and a good grinding of black pepper. Now depending on how thick you want your finished paste you will probably need to add some more oil along the way. Buono appetito!

PS if I want to freeze my broad beans I just pop the blanched beans into a bag and stick them in the freezer. I deal with the second peeling once the beans are de-frosted. I think the outer skin helps protect the inner bean from possible freezer damage.

Housework I

It was Joan Rivers who said “I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.” Apart from the fact I love gardening, the time has definitely rolled around again for re-making the beds (I agree about the housework).

On Saturday we pulled out the remaining parsnips in pipes and purple sprouting broccoli (we’ve been eating them since mid-September), with a view to planting our tomatoes in the bed. We have kept one purple sprouting broccoli plant for the seeds (front right of the picture along with a large weed which has since been removed) and I have plans for the parsnips.

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Before anyone gets overly excited I will say that our idea of crop rotation is just don’t plant the same thing in the same place twice in a row. I can never find the rotation chart when I want to and here at Chez Fork we are rarely able to bring ourselves to rip out plants that are still producing. The other thing about pulling out the old stuff was that we found all this other stuff we didn’t even know we had. In my case three potatoes, three onions and a long forgotton cauliflower – well one brassica looks pretty much like another when you aren’t paying attention.

It was quite instructive to see that half the bed, where two or three crops have been grown over the last year and have therefore been manured and mulched had a vastly improved soil structure to the other end of the bed. In poorer part of the bed we’d grown carrots last year and then the purple sprouting broccoli this winter. Clearly with less mulch and regular addition of compost it was no where near as ‘good’ a soil as the other end. I was able to get some of our rotted compost onto the garden bed – the compost was full of worms so I only lightly forked it in so they could get on with their work.

Meanwhile on the other side of the garden TB was rennovating our second most venerable concrete block bed with a view to making our second wicking bed. Out came a very scraggy spinach and enough broad beans pods to yield 500 gms of beans. Like me TB also found some lost things – in his case a very welcome self-sown warrigal greens seedling. Unfortunately we are still looking for the good pair of secateurs and they could be anywhere!

Our first bed wicking bed is going great guns and we have not watered it since I built it at the beginning of October (er yes, it has rained a bit since then).

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As you can see the peas and silver beet are growing well. And my Purple Podded Peas are podding!

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Apart from not having to water so often the other good reason for a second wicking bed here is to stop the roots of the wattle tree from stealing all the moisture from the plants. Like me TB also found some lost things – in his case a very welcome self-sown warrigal greens seedling. Unfortunately we are still looking for the good pair of secateurs and they could be anywhere!

After calling it quits for the day we awoke the next morning to see that the “rain had interrupted play”.

A bit of a harvest

The problem with winter is that I just don’t get out in the garden as much as I should and combined with a major amnesia attack of what I’d planted earlier in the season I nearly missed out on harvesting my first cauliflowers. You see I thought they were cabbages. It was only when I went to check out why they seemed to be so slow in forming hearts that I realised my mistake. The other problem is that I got my timing wrong. Flowering, which is what they are doing, at this time of the year with all of the frosts we are having, is not a good idea. You can see the damage in the picture.

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I  was able to use two of them with some judicious cutting out of the damaged bits. I used a recipe of Madhur Jaffrey’s, from Eastern Vegetarian Cooking, rather un-excitingly called Eggs, Potato and Cauliflower. It’s base is a flavourful combination of ginger, garlic, fenugreek seeds, chilli, onions, tumeric and curry leaves so it tasted really good. I’m afraid that my photo lacks somewhat of the ‘stylist’s’ touch and so you may not be at all inspired by the dish. However, we enjoyed it and were glad that we had enough for some leftovers!

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I also took the opportunity of our fine weather on Sunday to get out and do some plant feeding, as suggested on Gardening Australia. Chook pellets for the onions and garlic; blood and bone on the brassicas; and dolomite lime on the peas and broad beans. The only one I didn’t do, for lack of the product was spray fish emulsion on the leafy greens such as lettuces. I also intend to do some watering of all our crops, using our various compost teas, to help the plants retain vigour in the frosty weather and help get them ready for spring.

TB also completed our first big spring preparation task – espalier-ing (is there such a word?) our apple trees. As you can see the trees are young and have some way to grow. Hopefully our good winter rains will set them up well for this year’s growing season.

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