Monday, March 31, 2014

Autumn harvest dinner: spinach roulade recipe

Wow what a week for tackling culinary fears! First I cooked artichokes and they were divine.

Now I have conquered the savoury roulade.
I have always wanted to make one, but they sound so complicated. I not only managed to turn out a restaurant quality meal, I did it almost completely from my garden produce. My chickens are moulting and off the lay, and I don't have a cow for cheese or cream but everything else I grew and harvested. This was such a wonderful celebration of home grown produce!

Last week I was rummaging around in a thrift shop or two. I bought a couple of pillow cases and an old recipe book. Apologies to all celebrity chefs of great fame: I prefer old cook books. My family and colleagues at work are well aware of how much I love my 1977 Women's Weekly Biscuit and Slice cookbook. The recipes never fail and are always wonderful.  This time, I found the 1986, Rose Elliot "The new vegetarian cookbook". With a mushroom filled spinach roulade recipe.

I trusted the recipe to work out and yes the instructions were spot on. I improvised a little on ingredients, the actual how to worked superbly.

Here is the recipe paraphrased and with my own version of the ingredients based on what I had in my garden today.

And yes they are enormous oyster mushrooms I grew!

Ingredients for roulade
fresh greens: spinach, silverbeet, kale
salt and pepper
4 eggs, separated
grated Parmesan

Ingredients for filling
mushrooms, diced
celery, sliced
sage, sliced
artichoke heart, chopped
300 ml sour cream
salt, pepper and nutmeg

Instructions for Roulade
Prepare a Swiss roll tin with baking paper. Sprinkle with Parmesan.
Preheat oven to 200 C.
Wash, trim and chop greens. Dry cook in a saucepan, stirring occasionally until tender, about 10 minutes. Take greens off heat, add a dollop of butter, egg yokes and seasoning. Stir well, be careful not to cook the egg.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold into the greens.
Pour the mix into the pan and bake for 10-15 mins.

Instructions for filling
Heat butter in a pan and toss in the chopped mushrooms and herbs.  Cook until they release their juices and brown a little. Add sour cream and seasonings. Heat gently to warm through. Take off the heat and allow to thicken.

Putting it all together
Turn the oven down to low.
Place a fresh piece of baking paper on the bench and sprinkle a little more Parmesan across it.
Take the roulade from the oven and gently slide it off the tray onto the prepared paper. Lightly press down into the Parmesan.
Spread the filling evenly across the roll, leaving a gap of about 5cm from the far edge.
Roll the roulade up a little way at the filled edge and squeeze to ensure tight. Keep rolling slowly and firmly pulling the paper away as you go.  Stop and tuck in any filling squeezing out until you get to the end. Cover with paper and gently squeeze the roulade to make sure it has rolled well and is firm. Take away the top piece of paper. Replace on the tray and put back into the oven for a little while to make sure it is warmed through.

That's it!

Slice and serve warm with a fresh salad, baby potatoes or whatever you have growing.

What's next? I feel absolutely ready to tackle anything with the produce I've grown!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sunday chores in the garden

After weeks of rain we had sunshine for most of the day. The fog has rolled back in now and the drizzle is watering my plants. I was able to use some of the sunshine to catch up on some gardening chores.

It is early Autumn so I have planted cauliflowers, broccoli and brussel sprouts.  I put in leek, spinach, bok choy and pea seeds. The vegie garden is weeded and mulched, the compost turned and capped off with a thick layer of damp used straw.

Th chickens have had a wet old time of the past week too.  Now their coop is clean and filled with dry shredded paper and straw. They have fresh green pick and lemon balm strewn through their egg box.  I dug up a couple of wheelbarrow loads of old muddy straw from their yard, which is being recycled through the vegie garden, and gave them clean dry straw to scratch around in.

I have been gradually creating a fernery in one shady side of the garden. So today I did some work on that too. I put in two purple fountain grasses and five small ferns.  I estimate about 6 more plants, a huge amount of mulch and its all done. Its been a big project as we naively let the chickens in and they destroyed many, many plants. Its all coming back now and looking good.  I will feel a lovely sense of accomplishment when I have finish that area. Don't worry there are plenty of other projects to move on to.

Comfrey in flower

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Baking artichokes from my garden autumn harvest, overcoming fear of artichokes

This summer I planted artichokes for the first time. I was surprised at how quickly they grew and produced flowers.  Here are my photos from a couple of weeks ago.

We have had torrential rain since then. All the empty dams are re-filled and our sloping driveway and garden path have washed away. Everything is soggy underfoot and the water dripping from the trees drenches as I venture out when the rain stops.

I have lost a few crops. My silverbeet is ok just some of the leaves have rotted. My peppers look ghastly, completely ruined.

The biggest victim though was my artichokes.  They are completely laid waste on the ground.

I quickly snipped off the three heads I could find so growing them would yield some harvest.

Now as I said in my last post on the subject, I've never been confident about how to deal with artichokes.  So I found some information on the web and tackled the chokes with my laptop handy.

First I soaked them in a bowl of water with lemon juice. I took one out of the bowl and sliced a bit off the top. I cut down into the centre with a sharp knife to dig out the choke, the fibrous stuff you can't eat. This was like coring an apple only try not to cut right through to the bottom. My knife needs sharpening before I do this again, it was harder work than it needed to be.

Then I cut the bottom. Under the hard outside shell there's the delicate heart.  Carefully cut from the outside towards the centre shaving off that outer shell. Keep working around the bottom artichoke till the heart is exposed. Put it back in the lemon water while you prepare the other in the same way.

Place the artichokes in a pot of boiling salted water. Boil for 10-15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 180c and spray a baking dish with oil.

I made stuffing for the artichokes. Here's my recipe:
   Finely chopped walnuts
   Chopped garlic
   Diced cherry tomatoes
   Sliced shallots
   Fresh parsley
   Blue vein cheese, diced.
Mix all ingredients together.

I took the artichokes out of the boiling water and cut them lengthways. Place them cut side up in the baking dish and spoon your stuffing into them.  Bake until them smell divine, about 10-15 minutes.

I wasn't really sure whether the artichokes were under or over ripe and struggled to find clear information on this.  The purply coloured one in the photo above was quite coarse so in future I'd pick them earlier. Don't worry though as through baking them any leaves that were super coarse fell away and exposed the tender middle anyway.

I am very happy with my first try with artichokes.  Dig in, give it a go. It will work out and we'll all get better at it as we practice. I will re-use this stuffing recipe it was delicious.

The recipes and instructions I found helpful can be found on my pinterest cooking page.

By the way, I bought two new artichoke plants as they are a must have in my garden now. Oh drat raining again.                                                                                       

Monday, March 24, 2014

Soup weather: potato and kale from the garden

Suddenly its cold and wet. We have had torrential rain since yesterday.  It is a great night to hole up inside with a lovely bowl of soup.

Recipe for potato and kale soup

Garlic, peeled and chopped
Parsley and rosemary, chopped
Olive oil
Potatoes, washed peeled and chopped
Kale, trimmed and chopped
Celery, sliced
Greek yoghurt
Parmesan to serve

Place garlic in a large saucepan with olive oil.  Heat until garlic starts to brown, then toss in herbs and celery and keep heating.  Toss in potatoes and kale and stir in the oil and herbs for a minute or two before adding just enough water to cover.

Cook on the stove top until potatoes are soft.

Puree in batches. Add milk and yoghurt until the soup is a lovely creamy consistency.
Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan and a crunchy bread roll.
All the ingredients in the soup apart from the dairy and olive oil came from my garden.  I ducked down during a brief break in the rain and harvested celery, spuds, kale and herbs.  The garlic I have in abundance from this summer.

I made bread rolls as well to make it a really great meal.  I used my bread machine to make the dough. I don't mind kneading dough but like to use my machine and there are a couple of reasons why. Firstly its quite cold here so it can be hard work to get the dough to rise.  But the main reason is that it saves so much time. While the dough was mixing and rising I cooked pasta, lentil curry, basil pesto, and the soup. I did about 4 loads of washing too, but sadly it all had to go through the drier due to the rain. Even my wide verandah is awash. 

To make rolls I set the machine to dough. When ready I turned it out on to the floured bench.  I cut the dough into 10 pieces and rolled them out. I spread olive tapenade on one half of the rounds and basil pesto on the other. I rolled each up, and placed into a baking tray lined with paper then left them on top of the stove to rise again while the oven warmed up, then baked them until sounding hollow when tapped. 

I highly recommend these kinds of rolls, you can use so many types of filling from herbs to cheese or pumpkin and ricotta.  And make them all different sizes, lunch or dinner roll sized or batards.  
Give them a go.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Penfriends are great

Last year I signed up for a pen friend through a promotion being run by the craft revival blog. I was paired with a lovely American girl called Jacquie.

We have been writing back and forth since May getting to know one another chatting about the different words we use to describe the same things.

This weekend I got a huge parcel from Jacquie and I wanted to show you all the lovely things she sent me.

Jacquie hand embroidered this dapper bird for me - he's going on my desk at work. The mug is going there too. Can't have too many giant smiles at work.  I haven't tried any of the candy yet - that's all a bit exciting. How cute is that cookie cutter - to be honest I'm not great at rolling out dough but I'll have to perfect it now. A sparkly pen to write more letters with.  The Jacob journal is fantastic.  They have kept some of the original story pages and added in plain un-ruled acid free paper in between. Its so awesome I have gone online and ordered some more as gifts, for myself and others.  This one I am using to keep Jacquie's letters.

Do you have a pen friend? Happy to hear your pen friend adventures here. And tips for rolling out cookie dough appreciated too.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

New home for my vintage plant stand

My new vintage plant stand has found a new home on my front verandah with pots of ferns and pansies.  Such a cute homespun look.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How to use tea bags: to think I used to just throw these in the compost

I found this great post on Rhonda Hetzel's Down to earth forum:

Top tips I think I will try at home:

  1. The antibacterial contents of tea bags will help neutralize the odor in your litter box, as well. Just sprinkle the dried out contents of a brewed tea bag into the kitty litter.
  2. If you have a bruise, sunburn, bee sting, mosquito bite, or cold sore put a cool, damp tea bag on the affected area and use like a compress. The tea will bring comforting relief, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.
  3. Did your dishwasher fail to clean that big, greasy dish of stuck-on lasagna? Just soak the dish overnight with hot water and a few brewed teabags and the tannins from the tea with break down the grease by morning.
  4. Deodorize stuffy rooms by pouring one quart twice-brewed tea and four tablespoons lemon juice or your favorite essential oil in a spray bottle.
  5. Make your mirrors sparkle and shine by using cooled, twice-brewed tea as a cleaner. Just dip a soft cloth in the tea and use it to wipe away dirt and grime, and then buff dry.
  6. Tear open a brewed tea bag and work the contents into the dirt of acid-loving plants like ferns and roses. The tannic acid and other nutrients will be released when you water the plants, spurring their growth. If these plants are ailing, watering them with cooled, twice-brewed tea will set them on the path to recovery!
  7. Speed the decomposition process and enrich your compost pile by pouring a few cups of strong, twice-brewed tea into the heap. The liquid tea will hasten decomposition and draw acid-producing bacteria that will create acid-rich compost. 
Which are you going to try?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Artichokes: a new addition to my vegetable garden

I like the odd artichoke. I'm not good at preparing them and have never learnt how to eat them peasant style. They are a perennial vegetable though so I thought I would plant some in my garden.

So earlier this summer I bought and planted two small artichoke plants, planning a crop for next year.
I never imagined they could produce fruit the same season. I have noticed how big they were growing but still got a shock today when I saw all the fruit on them.

Now tell me though what is the correct term here? I'm thinking fruit because I'm going to eat them, but perhaps flower is more correct.  They're a thistle so I do think its a flower, an edible flower. Intriguing, if you know, please comment and help me out.

Anyway here they are.  I have counted 5 across the two plants, one of which is taller than me (not terribly hard, I'm short, but I don't expect to be outgrown in the vegie patch).

I wonder when they'll be ready?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Happy chooks in a clean coop today

Today I have cleaned out the chicken coop. Its been raining over the last few weeks. When its wet they tend to get basic care. Neither of us want to spend a minute more than necessary in the rain and muddy chicken yard.  And the chickens have started to moult so there were feathers everywhere.

There is still plenty of rain lurking around but it has not actually been raining today so I took the opportunity to give the coop a good clean out.  Firstly the nesting boxes and perches have been cleaned out. I sprayed everything down with eucalyptus oil.  Kate and Scully have clean, dry paper and scattered herbs to keep away lice. Today's selection is lemon balm, rosemary, common mint and lavender.

The rest of the coop has been cleaned out and covered in dry sawdust.  I even scrubbed their water bottle, it gets a bit green after a while.

I have hung up a selection of green pick for the girls. Today its silverbeet, comfrey and sage. Aren't they lucky girls?
And I made them a special dinner. I have not done this often enough lately.  I have given them plain yoghurt, layer mash, pureed garlic and seaweed powder.

I stirred in some scratch mix also.  This will keep them busy for quite some time.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Zucchini flowers deep fried in tempura batter

Its zucchini season, when zucchinis must be picked daily before they become unpalatable marrows.
Zucchini is Italian for little marrows giving a strong indication of how they should be eaten: small and fresh. You can't get smaller and fresher then eating the tiny zucchinis before the flower falls off.

Zucchini plants produce both male and female flowers. The male are essential for pollination but do not produce fruit. That comes from the female flowers.  They are easy to tell apart. The male flowers grow on the end of an ordinary stem

whilst the female flowers gradually move away from the bush on the end of a dark green zucchini.

To cook zucchini flowers you will need tempura batter and ricotta. Tempura is easy to make from scratch so you don't need to buy the packet mix.  And you will need a deep fryer with vegetable oil.

Tempura batter mix
1 egg
3/4 cup plain flour
pinch bi-carb/baking soda
1 cup icy cold water

Beat egg and water together. Add flour and bi-carb/baking soda.  Mix quickly.  This makes a thin, runny batter.

Prepare the zucchini flowers by gently reaching into the centre of the flower and pinching out the stamens. If you forget and leave them in they won't hurt you, but they don't taste good!  Handle the flowers gently as they tear easily.  Place a teaspoon of ricotta in the centre of the flower and close the flower over it.

Dip the whole zucchini into the batter until completely covered.  Place on a plate and chill in the fridge for an hour before cooking.  This helps the batter to stick.

Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer.  Place the zucchinis in the basket when the oil is hot and fry until crispy and golden.

Serve with a salad and tangy dressing.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Re-carpeting a cat scratching post

Restoring our cat scratching post has made Lily and Riley very happy.

We've had a few scratching posts over the years and this is the first one that hasn't fallen apart. The cats managed to rip the carpet off it but the structure is fine so we decided to fix it. It was a simple job. Pull off the old and replace with a fresh piece. I looked around for off cuts but settled for a carpet mat from the hardware. There is enough for us to re-cover it at least twice more.

Howard used really strong u-shaped nails to hold the carpet in place.  We resisted the temptation to glue it in place realising it would be almost impossible to remove.

The cat's are loving it. And they're leaving the door frames alone. 

Exploring the Southern Highlands Mushroom tunnel with Foodpath Tours

I've heard stories about the mushroom farm in the highlands for years, ever since I moved to Mittagong in 2000.  "Watch out when the wind is blowing the wrong way," people warned. "Oh no, you don't want to live in Mittagong."  Yet I never noticed any bad smells, never saw any evidence for good or bad of this elusive mushroom industry. But so much of the good things in life are hidden away until you find a guide.

This week I joined a Foodpath tour and started to unravel some of the mystery.  Many mushrooms were indeed growing not far from my home but deep under Mt Gibraltar or The Gib as people around here call it.  I have driven over and past the old railway tunnel many times without ever knowing it was there.

On Tuesday morning a group of about 24 milled around the Tourism Centre in Mittagong before setting off for an unknown locale somewhere between Bowral and Mittagong. Our little bus slipped through a padlocked gate and along the edge of the Sydney-Canberra rail line, depositing us outside a tunnel built almost 150 years ago, carved out of the shale when rail travel was noisy and dirty but also terribly romantic.  Becoming redundant in 1919 when a new two line track was built in the open air, the tunnel has lived a few lives and no doubt has a few stories to impart: this is but one. Cool and wet inside and filled with hundreds of mushroom growing bags and jars, the brick tunnel was a surreal sort of place. The large exhaust fans and the hillside itself cut off all sound from outside. If you spent too much time closed inside you could lose all sense of time and place.

Despite, or perhaps in response to, Australia having few edible wild mushrooms Australians have become high consumers of commercially grown mushrooms. So many Australians hale from countries with strong traditions of mushroom eating, especially in south-east Asia and Western Europe, but for those of us from Anglo heritage mushrooms have been something to fear. Although button mushrooms are a staple the demand for more exotic varieties is growing and commercial supply is removing that fear: if they come packaged and labelled we are ok to give them a try. Our host, Noel Arrold, microbiologist behind the li-sun exotic mushroom tunnel we were visiting, noted the growing demand for mushrooms to stock supermarket shelves not just restaurant kitchens.

This old tunnel is the fruiting room for several varieties of oyster mushrooms and the much prized shiitake. Li-sun grow other mushrooms but some like enoki need specific conditions not met by the tunnel. Workers arrive each morning to harvest the mushrooms, then package and dispatch them. Mushrooms do not keep long so I imagine this process must have a sense of urgency about it. Like growing and selling delicate flowers.
On the way into the tunnel we saw piles and piles of black plastic bags discarded but with astonishing pink oyster mushrooms growing out of them like rare coral.  The reality of mushroom growing is that the bags must be discarded as the flushes reduce, to make space for fresher culture and a higher yield. If you are lucky enough to have access to bags of fresh mushroom compost you may be able to pick your own mushrooms for a few weeks. 
Pink oyster mushrooms

We were well looked after by our host Noel, our tour guide Jill Dyson and our bus driver too of course. Noel was generous in the information he shared about the process of growing mushrooms and patiently answered questions.
Noel Arrold held everyone's attention.

We walked the whole length of the 650m tunnel and back admiring the wonder of mushrooms at every stage of growing.
Baby oyster mushrooms

I was excited to discover how much of the process I understood thanks to my training in mushroom cultivation from Milkwood Permaculture. But background knowledge was certainly not needed. For me it was an inspiring tour, helpful in my own adventures in mushroom growing. And Noel was kind enough to share a few pointers and encourage me. I guess for most it was a great foodie moment, me included.  Its wonderful so many people want to know where their food comes from.  We all came away with a recipe booklet and a punnet of mixed exotic mushrooms.

At least a few of my pink oysters are going into a petri dish along with a few pieces from the King Brown so I can grow my own.  The rest we'll eat sauteed in butter and garlic, topped on pizza, in risotto .... Dinner time: what are you eating tonight?

I have already decided what my next foodpath tour will be, but I am reluctant to tell you until I have booked. I don't want to lose out on a seat on the tour now do I. So you'll have to check it out for yourself or stay posted here...

Jill with a massive bunch of pearl oysters. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Growing oyster mushrooms in a bucket

My adventures in mushroom growing are about to produce a yield of delicate, gourmet oyster mushrooms.  I have successfully grown fungi tissue in petri dishes, then jars of grain. In fact I am ready to start the process over again. Just need time to order more petri dishes. I promise myself it will be this week. Its been too busy at work to make the call which of course must be done in business hours.

The last step in the process is to transfer the grain jars full of mycelium into buckets of straw. I did this in January. I have waited to get a yield from these first two buckets before setting up the next lot so I would know I had pasteurised it correctly and didn't just end up wasting a whole lot of time, straw and mycelium.

It would seem I waited a little too long. Nick from Milkwood showed us a two bucket system. The straw/fungi mix goes into buckets with holes drilled in them. A second bucket, without holes, goes on top, and a lid tops it all off.  The fungi grows in the low oxygen environment. When the outer bucket is taken off the mushrooms will grow out the holes.

The buckets are full of fluffy white mycelium. This is good

But I couldn't get the outer buckets off. We pulled and pushed and prised to no avail.  Eventually we had to drill holes int the outer bucket in order to break the seal and prise it off. Still wasn't easy but eventually they came free.

Now I can see what went wrong. I left the buckets too long and mushrooms began to sprout through the holes and in between the two buckets.  I got a real giggle out of this.

In a few days my buckets should sprout properly formed mushrooms and we'll have a feast.

The first day of autumn and a big wet arrive the same day in the Southern Highlands of NSW


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