Entries Tagged 'Salads and Veg' ↓

‘Mum, you overgrew them!’: Dr Sister Outlaw’s bountiful home harvest

It’s been a lovely summer and autumn of eating in my vege patch. Every day since November I have been harvesting herbs, rambling for raspberries, slurping shockingly sweet strawberries and, when the alliteration got too much, unearthing spuds from mulch, snapping leaves of kale and silver beet and devouring zucchinis. The only disappointment of the season was the tomatoes, which resented the foot of rain we got in one weekend in January and sulked throughout the extended warm dry period we enjoyed until yesterday. I’m not bothered. That wet summer and long autumn made growing everything else easy. I still have strawberries!

strawberries

Easy is good, because I am not diligent in the garden (or many other places, if you really want to know). I am prone to fits and starts and sometimes ignore things. I’m not always cooking so I don’t get to things in time. In the garden, this forgetfulness can have spectacular results.

These Hollow Crown parsnips looked so pretty in the vege patch that I was loth to dig them up, but maybe I shoulda done it sooner, because they got a bit … large (that’s a full size 1940s sink they are sitting on). Notice the rather ladylike limbs on the top one? I did wonder if these were really mandrakes (or ladydrakes), but luckily they did not scream when cooked. Parsnips get a bad rap, as this story about Don Burke ripping Donna Hay a new one for daring to promote them reveals. He is wrong. Parsnips are delicious. Which doesn’t explain why I ignored them so comprehensively they grew legs.

But then my marrows got into a similar state, as you can see with this cucumber, modelled by my lovely assistant Aaron, who adores cucumbers but is not sure about this one.

I’ve blogged about the advantages of overgrown zucchinis before, but I love baby beets and slender parsnips, roasted with brown sugar and balsamic, so there’s really no accounting for letting things go to this extent.

Yet this neglect has had benign – nay, wonderful – results. OK, if you ever saw a parsnip the size and shape of the ones above in a shop, you would never buy it, and neither you should. It would be tough, woody of heart and bitter of taste, because it would have endured long periods in transit and storage. But when taken straight from the earth (with a giant fork and a lot of grunting), even massive parsnips are sweet, juicy and yielding. I casseroled some with a jointed chook, a cup of white wine, preserved lemon and a bit of sage and tarragon and the result was a sauce that looked like I’d added a cup of cream to it. I nearly died of pleasure eating it. I also made them into a vegan soup with vege stock and white wine – they smelled apple sweet. 

Same goes for the beetroot, which were so overgrown they stood up out of the ground but united heaven and earth when cooked into a soup with coriander and served with a dollop of tart yoghurt. But again, you wouldn’t buy beetroot like that in a shop. You’d surmise it would be past its peak of perfection, but you would be wrong.

It’s made me think a lot about how aesthetic notions of shop-ready produce lead to waste. What do the farmers do with the produce that does not meet Coles-Woollies specifications because it is too big, too small or looks like mandrake? I suppose some goes to canneries, but precious little would be returned to the earth via compost.

Growing to order can also afflict home gardeners, to their cost. If we only eat when vegetables reach a defined size, we miss the early tenderness of baby vegetables and shorten the eating season. If you cut the head off a cabbage or silverbeet or lettuce you kill it, but if you harvest outside leaves as you need them it will bear for months and months - over the course of a year a bunch of kale will become a palm tree. Peas and beans produce longer if harvested constantly, so it makes even more sense to pick early and often. If you leave things in the ground there is always something to salvage when you are hungry. And although most gardening books would tell you beetroots and parsnips take a lot of space, the fact is I’ve gotten almost six months of eating from stuffing a couple of dozen plants into a square metre of garden, and have not tired of either food. You see, even the instructions on seed packets guide you to producing shop-ready vegetables.

My slack gardening habits have led me to an epiphany. It’s time to break free from supermarket values. Don’t follow the directions on the seed packet but overplant and eat as you thin – the plants left over will fatten in the extra space and be there when you want them. Eat the leaf the caterpillar has chomped on, grow the artichokes to see their beauty, let the beets and parsnips stay in the ground until you are good and ready for them and save your harvesting energy for turning summer peaches into bellinis or racing the autumn frosts to tuck the tender things into the really deep freeze.

Sister Outlaw on single women’s (good) food

I am very good at cooking for other people, but very bad when I am by myself. Other people get lavish meals like lamb shanks in Middle Eastern spices on preserved lemon couscous with carrot, beetroot and parsnip roasted in brown sugar and olive oil, followed by lemon delicious pudding. But when I am child-free and left to my own devices I eat crap. Some nights I’ll just get chips and gravy for tea, or cook pasta and cheese, or fried eggs on toast (NB: no veges). I also have an unhealthy obsession with dukkah (sesame seeds and nuts and spices like cumin with salt) and have been known to eat half a jar of the stuff, stuck with olive oil to most of a loaf of fluffy white bread (gosh, I’ve been wanting to own up to this for ages, it feels good to get it off my chest). It was delicious, but I did not feel so good the next day.

Recently returned to a single state, I have resolved that I simply have to devote as much attention to cooking nice things for myself as I do when cooking for other people, or I will become lardy and unhealthy. As we know, being lardy and unhealthy is inimical to dating but, more importantly, leads to permanent ill-health and it’s hard enough to meet a bloke in Katoomba without confining yourself to the hospital grounds.

But enough about non-dating in the Blue Mountains. This post is about how virtuous I am for cooking even though I didn’t really feel like it, how I managed to work dukkah into the meal without overdosing on the stuff, and how it’s important to just get going and do stuff for yourself, because the results are really special. And it doesn’t take much effort, or cost much.

This week, I made a VERY yummy celeriac and parsnip soup, which was dead easy. You just take a celeriac – a funny lumpy vegetable that manages to be like celery, potato, cauliflower and ginseng all at once – and chop the tops and bottoms off it. Then you quarter it, eight it, peel off the skin and chuck it in the pot with two quartered onions, two or three cloves of garlic, some water, some dry white wine, two peeled parsnips, a bay leaf and some thyme. Cook it until the veges are soft (about 20 minutes) and then blend it to bejeesus, add some soy milk or stock to get it to the consistency you want and warm it through with some salt, pepper and a vege stock cube if it’s not savoury enough. Serve it with some crumbly parmesan on the top and drink the rest of the wine while you eat.

But the nicest dinner of the week incorporated green veges AND enabled me to eat dukkah. I just love simple pasta dishes like grated zucchini or pumpkin tossed through spaghetti. Tonight, I fried an onion with some small pieces of sweet potato, garlic and a finely sliced piece of preserved lemon (my most specialist secret ingredient). When that was rocking I shredded a small bunch of silverbeet into the frypan, tossing until the colour brightened. I mixed it up with some fetta, a bit of butter, a smidge of cream and a small handful of coriander leaves. Then I mixed it into hot, fairly wet pasta (so the pasta water made a kind of sauce) and sprinkled dukkah over the top.

DSC00894

It came out lemony, with plenty of bite in the silver beet and the salt of the feta and nuttiness of the dukkah hanging perfectly off the sweet potato. I even had enough left overs to ensure that I don’t have to buy lunch tomorrow, which is good in these global financial crisis-ridden times.

I am really interested to hear about other people’s eating vices so invite PDP readers and writers to share their sins against fine dining. However, to ensure we honour the goals of this blog, perhaps it’s best to temper stories of vice with tales of how we have managed to redeem ourselves by cooking clever and artful food, even when we is by ourselves. So, c’mon contributors and commenters, share.

Pantry Challenge

Kathryn Elliot of Limes & Lycopene is running another Pantry Challenge, inviting readers to rustle up something tasty from a list of staple ingredients.

I wasn’t able to participate last time , and was happy to see the launch of round two until I noticed she’d taken vinegar off the list! No vinegar! And no lemon juice! But I decided to do it anyway, and to do it without buying anything for the meal.

A meal from the pantry can be something knocked up in a few minutes, but that’s not the only way to make something quickly. In this case, I prepared a couple of elements in the morning and assembled it all in just a few minutes at night.

Here’s the ingredients list, with the ones I used in bold:

Mograbieh Dinner Salad


1. Olive oil

2. Tinned tomatoes
3. Tinned legumes or beans
4. Soy sauce
5. Frozen vegetables
6. Flour
7. Pasta or rice
8. Tinned fish
9. Eggs
10. Bread
11. Olives
12. Meat from the freezer
13. Fresh onions
14. One spice or spice mix
15. One dried herb or herb mix

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Foraging

Aren’t they pretty? Owy ran in with them on the weekend, having found them growing in the neighbour’s yard after all the rain we’ve been having recently. He has been to a one day truffle growing course, so is a complete fungal expert. But I Doubted.

If you belong to that group of the countless thousands of the no longer young who have bought a ramshackle fixer-upper in an isolated and very beautiful French village, you can pop down to your local pharmacy where they will identify your foraged mushrooms for you. Probably with moustache-twirling and the whole bit, I imagine, but that may be merely the cumulative effect of my recent reading. I’m just about to finish Stephanie’s Seasons (scroll down to the out-of-print titles), which is a kind of a proto-food blog- it’s Stephanie Alexander’s culinary journal for 1992 which includes her month’s holiday in Provence. Also recently, I borrowed Mary Moody’s The Long Table from the library. I recommend The Long Table if, like me, you went to Uni with one of the author’s kids and will be charmed by the many entertaining pictures of her childhood. Otherwise I’d go for Stephanie.

Anyhow, who needs moustache-twirling French pharmacists when you’ve got the internet? (Although I suspect one would come in handy for the discreet supply of amphetamines which is, I’m convinced, the real reason French Women Don’t Get Fat.)

Just tapping in “identify edible mushroom Australia” took me to this very helpful (pdf) guide from the Western Australian Agriculture Department which provided exactly the excuse I wanted not to eat these beautiful looking mushies. I’m happy to eat wild mushrooms gathered by someone knowledgeable – last year for instance, the bloke who runs Li Shen exotic mushrooms very briefly had some foraged saffron milk caps at the Farmer’s market that were fan-bloody-tastic. But we’ve had death caps grow in our yard before and I don’t crave excitement like I used to. (Commenter dylwah, a dear old friend and exalted mushroom identification guru, may testify to my youthful enthusiams.)

I figured that what Owy had found was some Agaricus xanthodermus or “yellow stainers”, because the stem discoloured yellow a little when it was cut. Of course I’m not sure now whether they would have been fine, and after reading the magnificent UK site Wild Mushrooms Online maybe they were – I didn’t notice the distinctive off smell they talk about, but I was ignorant of the test of popping them in a bag to concentrate the aroma that is suggested there.

I have been doing some more prosaic foraging, though. My (as of today, and happy birthday darling!) 6 year old locked us out of the house yesterday, so I did some gardening while we waited for my sister to rescue us. We grow “wild” rocket, which tolerates our cold winters beautifully and has overtaken what was once lawn near the bed where it was first planted. Now that it’s established on it’s own, the hundreds of tiny self seeding plants in the veggie bed need to come out so they don’t crowd out the new things we’ve planted there. This is what they call “micro herbs” up the big end of town, and a couple of hundred of them makes a great salad.

Really, it’s springtime

Spring “officially” starts in Australia on 1 September, apparently because the colonial soldiers were so desperately hot in their woollen jackets they couldn’t bear to wait until the vernal equinox, when it was properly Spring, to be allowed to wear their hot weather uniforms. It’s never really seemed right to me, so I’ve always waited until the equinox on 22 September to begin the new season.

Early Spring’s not that fancy if you pretend it’s three weeks earlier than it actually is. As Cath wrote at the beginning of the month at The Canberra Cook, even the real early spring was still pretty grim pickins if you were growing your own food. Because I mostly shop at Choku Bai Jo, I mostly eat fairly local and fairly seasonal food. I haven’t eaten a tomato (except for some cherry tomatoes) for months and months and months. But we’re inching closer, and now the Spring foods I’ve been missing are starting to appear.

All of a sudden the shops are full of asparagus and strawberries. The early bearing Camarosa strawberries that CBJ has for $3.50 aside, all the strawberries I’ve had have been pretty pale imitations of a ripe strawberry. Not to mention harbingers of the endtimes, which are fast approaching {⇐ Evidence}

We planted some asparagus crowns last year, and looky! Unfortunately that picture shows our entire asparagus crop for this year, thanks to the chickens. But what a spear!

I don’t much like that skinny asparagus that some people fancy, as I find they can be stringy. So when I saw nice big bunches of fat asparagus at 3 for $5 last week, I pounced.
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Helen presents: Jill Dupleix’s smashing, crashing

Jill Dupleix is a smasher, and she certainly seems to like smashing things – she had a recipe in The Age the other day which called for smashed garlic cloves. She published this recipe, also in The Age, as the very prosaic “Roast Boiled potatoes”. Recently, I saw a reference to it by the foodie John Lethlean, under the much more satisfying name of “Jill Dupleix’s Smashed potatoes”.

This recipe is going viral. I found Dupleix’s original recipe here, via this wee Scottish blog (love the header), and another one on a Brazilian blog, the Technicolor Kitchen. In this incarnation it’s called Crash-hot potatoes.

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A Dinner of Righteous Maturity to conclude a three lolly bag weekend

Five Kinds of Fuck-Off Rad

Rachel of Thus Bakes Zarathustra is presently sojourning with a bunch of Yankee pointyheads in pursuit of her PhD. Writing at TBZ’s previous incarnation she said:

The thing is the next day I came home from the library starving and sick of books, and there was a bowl of carrot and avocado salad in the fridge and this cake, and I ate it and I felt a rush of righteous maturity akin to flossing my teeth or getting a pap smear.

We all need that feeling sometimes, don’t we?

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The law of diminishing returns

A few days ago we went to stay with my old friend Tallullah (not her real name). She is a very old and dear friend, but has always been a rotten cook. In fact until recently the only interesting thing she’d ever put on a dining table was her naked self and her moistie of the moment. It was a crap old share house table and of course it broke.

Would you believe they then proceeded, lust undiminished, to the kitchen table and then broke it too? Well, they did. What propelled this concupiscent wreckery to the realms of share house legend was that they had resorted to busting tables only because the entire household – four flatmates and one weekend guest – had scored on the same evening. At a bar called, “The Private Bin”, about which I shall make no further comment. Tallullah, while a resident, had got home too late that night to enjoy the privileges of her own bed. (So you see why I did that with her name, now, huhn?)

That was nearly fifteen years ago, and Tallullah’s cooking has come a million miles from the two minute noodles and sliced up oranges she used to serve for dinner. Last week we had a very tasty lasagne – she told me she’d been working on improving her cheesiness, and the cheesiness level was excellent, intense and creamy but still light. She’d also made a beautiful salad of chunks of avocado, tomato, and cucumber with butter lettuce. Tallullah’s known me for a long time too, so she waggled a bottle of “Fat Free French Dressing” at me and said “You don’t want this, do you?”

No.

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