gardening · recipes

Beet

silverbeet

Just the appearance of a bunch of silverbeet radiates clues to its goodness. The squeaky, glossy generous foliage spells out in no uncertain terms, the abundance of goodness it contains. Alive with little packets of chloroplasts, the bunch almost seems to vibrate before your eyes.

Silverbeet is a pleasure to grow in the vegetable patch. Looking lustrous and leafy, the gardener’s horticultural self-esteem is given a hefty boost. Stalks can be sliced off at will, without the need to remove the entire plant leaving an ugly bald spot behind. New leaves will continue to sprout and according to ‘silverbeet experts’ these are the finest for culinary purposes. I let mine over grow for effect.

silverbeet patch

This week, a large bunch was harvested and sent across to a willing neighbour. To my delight, this is what we received in return, still warm.

spanakopita

Spanakopita.

While the crop is plentiful, it’s nice to seek out new ways to incorporate silverbeet into our weekly intake. This year, I happened upon this simple soup, which is light enough for lunch in the warmer weather.

olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 rashers of bacon, diced
bunch of silverbeet, stems removed and greenery shredded
1 litre chicken stock
salt and pepper to season

  1. Heat oil in large pot and gently fry off onion, garlic, ginger and bacon until cooked through.
  2. Add silverbeet and cook down for about 5-10 minutes until wilted.
  3. Pour over chicken stock and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Puree with stick blender.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.

silverbeet soupPostscript: Always happy to learn new ways with these leaves. If you have tips, please share!

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recipes

Chorizo

chorizo and olive pasta

A meal drawn together from store cupboard items, with a few fresh ingredients thrown in, is financially, nutritionally and palatably rewarding.

Think of all of the delicious treats that a deli offers, and you basically have the running sheet for this dish. With a couple of chorizo sausages on hand in the freezer and a healthy patch of parsley in the garden, this is my go to on a busy week night.

The crowing glory of this pasta pull-together is that is tastes even better after a night spent sealed up in the refrigerator. So prepare it the night before, and just as you land in the door on the following evening, right before it’s time to drive away again for the night shuttle service, a sumptuous meal awaits.

300g penne pasta (or whatever is you prefer/have on hand)
olive oil
2 chorizo sausages, sliced
1/2 jar sun-dried tomatoes, sliced into strips
handful pitted black olives, sliced in half
8 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
small block of feta
generous bunch of continental parsley, chopped
sea salt and cracked black pepper

  1. Fill a large pot with salted hot water and bring to the boil. Add pasta and cook according to instructions on pack.
  2. Meanwhile add a dash of olive oil to a large frying pan and brown the chorizo on both sides.
  3. Add all of the remaining ingredients and pan fry for 5-10 minutes, with a liberal dousing of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add contents of frying pan to pasta and mix through. Crumble feta over the top and mix again.
  5. Serve with extra parsley as garnish.

Postscript: You’ll notice that the quantities in this recipe are a bit ‘loose’. This is how I construct it and I’m sure you will give it your own twist.

pasta sauce in the pan

recipes

Peachy

white peach jam

Preparing a batch of jam takes you into a bubbling, aromatic, peaceful world from which you emerge with the satisfaction of having turned the season’s finest into a delicious concoction to be enjoyed throughout the coming year.

Peach season is something we only dream about in the depths of a drizzly winter. To be able to capture some of this summer magic and bottle it for those bleak days, is a wonderful thing. White peaches seem to have a flavour unique to themselves and when they are still slightly tart, they produce beautiful jam.

Having recently discovered jam setting sugar, I am reluctant to return to the plain variety. It takes the guesswork out of the setting process, as the pectin is distributed through the sugar for you. If you only have regular sugar, use it and maybe toss in a couple of sachets of jam setting powder (available in supermarkets).

To sterilise your jars, rinse them and stand them in the oven with the lids off at 100 degrees celsius while you are preparing your jam. They can be filled, straight from the oven (with care).

peach jam

1.6kg white peaches (or yellow if that’s all that is what you have)
1kg jam setting sugar
10g butter

  1. Make two long slits in the skin of each peach with a sharp knife. Pour boiling water over peaches and let stand until the skin begins to peel (about 10 minutes).
  2. Peel off skins, remove stone and chop peaches finely. Weigh chopped mix, you need 1kg.
  3. Add 1kg of chopped peaches to a large pot and add the sugar. Stir over low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  4. Add the butter and increase heat. Bring to the boil without stirring.
  5. Allow to boil for 4 minutes. At this stage the jam should be set – test by spooning a small amount onto a saucer that has been chilled in the freezer. If it stiffens a little it is ready.
  6. Pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal immediately. Makes about 5 standard jars.

Postscript: If you have time, package your jars with some fabric hats and paper labels – with christmas around the corner, they make a lovely gift.

jam labeling

recipes

Upside-down

If you can find a recipe that allows you to switch the ingredients according to what you have, you prefer or is seasonal, then I’d say you have a keeper.

These little upside-down cakes fit that profile perfectly. Blueberries too pricey? Replace with strawberry halves. Don’t like chocolate (what!!!) then use this butter patty cake recipe instead. The bottom line is, you decide which fruit is going to feature and what flavour cake batter will be supporting it.

Apricot halves and peaches make a delicious base and as we have just launched into the stone fruit season, they are right at our fingertips. The tender baked fruit that becomes the topping of your cakes provides the moisture and sweetness that icing would normally account for.

For those who are explorers by nature, I’m sure you will come up with some startling combinations.

Over to you.

30g butter, melted
1 tbsp brown sugar
125g blueberries
125g butter, softened
¾ cup caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
11/4 cups SR flour
1/3 cup cocoa
2/3 cup milk

makes 12

  1. Distribute melted butter evenly between muffin tins. Sprinkle brown sugar over the base of each. Drop approximately seven blueberries into each hole.
  2. Cream the remaining butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. Fold in the sifted flour and cocoa alternately with the milk until combined.
  3. Spoon over the top of the blueberries.
  4. Bake in a moderate oven 160°C for 20 minutes or until cooked when tested. Cool before turning out of tins.

Postscript: Packet cake mix has come a long way in recent times. If you need these babies in a hurry, complete the fruit step and spoon the packet mix over the top.

recipes

Petal

When life gives you roses – make rose petal cakes.

We are seriously in danger of disappearing into a cloud of rose petals here, as for some climatic/random reason this season has been a bumper one for rose blooming. Not complaining.

They are such perfect specimens to observe and there are only so many vases you can place around the home. Cakes seemed the obvious next choice. If you have the time, rose petals can be dipped or painted with egg white and coated in sugar. Left to dry for an afternoon, they will become frosty little treats to plant on your icing before it sets.

If, like me, you are impatient, fresh is fine but best to lay to one side of the plate before plunging in – mouth first.

125g softened butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups SR flour (sifted)
2/3 cup milk

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Place patty cases into muffin or patty cake tins.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar with electric beater until light and creamy.
  3. Add vanilla and eggs and beat well.
  4. Gradually add flour and milk alternately and mix gently until smooth.
  5. Spoon into paper cases and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden on top. Cool on a wire rack.
  6. When completely cold, top with icing and a rose petal. Makes 12

Icing
1 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp softened butter
tiny drop of red food coloring

Sift icing sugar and add butter. Beat until smooth. Add the tiniest drop of food coloring for a really soft pink. If the mix is a little stiff, add a few drops of water for spreading consistency.

recipes

Cookout

Against a backdrop of sizzling choice cuts, glowing coals and the occasional flare up as drips catch alight, channel your medieval ancestor and enjoy food prepared in the rudimentary way of days long past.

Our American cousins call it a cookout, and I think that is a brilliant term for our much-loved barbeque. To me, cookout implies that it’s all happening outside, everyone is involved and essentially, that’s what I love about a barbeque – the joint effort of a social group.

Barbequed food is usually served in its simplest form, relying on basic herbal ingredients and quality oil to carry it through the cooking process. While the fire is settling to its even layer of radiant coals, simple salads of fresh produce are arranged and condiments mixed. As the meat sears and crackles, there is ample time for relaxed conversation as cook and companions cluster at the source, intermittently turning and prodding as anecdotes and observations are exchanged.

Our barbeque bears little resemblance to the sophisticated pieces of engineering that are available in stores today. Basically a coal box on a stand, this wood-fired lady has turned out a plentiful supply of succulent meat her in time. Gathering kindling from the yard and the neighbourhood  to fuel her has been part of the charm – especially for the youngest. If the weather changes its mind, she is carried undercover very easily.

We thread our big metal sticks with marinated meat (in this case, chicken and lamb with crushed coriander, garlic and basil) in dispersed with seasonal small vegetable pieces. This week we opted for our usual salad of cos, olives, tomato and feta (sprinkled liberally with oregano), dressed with oil and lemon juice.

Before enclosing an unthreaded morsel inside a piece of fresh flat bread, a dollop of yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip is doused over the top. All food groups covered, all appetites sated and a meal consumed in a tribal rather than nuclear convention.

recipes

Pud

Ostensibly a batter, it is quite remarkable what the contribution of a tray (or two) of yorkshire puddings will make to a succulent roast of beef – with all of the usual trimmings alongside.

In response to a carnivorously deprived teen, recently returned from a Fijian school trip, having existed largely on noodles and yam for two weeks – roast beef became the order of the day. To accompany it, without question, a mountain of yorkshire puddings.

Of the selection of roasted proteins, beef was my childhood favorite, as I grew up with a mother who would never consider serving it without yorkshire pudding. This culinary custom stemmed even further back to my grandmother, who turned out roast beef from a wood stove – her pudding rising to high peaks from the intense heat at the top of the oven (and I’m sure the eggs laid by the backyard chooks were also a contributing factor). She produced hers in a large oven tray and sliced it into wedges, whereas ours have evolved into puffy puds by pouring the mix into cake pans.

I use my old patty pans (which due to age and overuse are far too unsightly to photograph), but the current ones are fine. Big texas muffin tins will work, but you will need to fill them with extra oil and the batter won’t stretch very far. Look for the old patty tins – raid a relative’s kitchen cupboard – I’m sure thousands are out there waiting for their second life.

1 cup plain flour
pinch salt
2 eggs
1 cup (or so) of milk
olive oil

  1. Pre heat oven to 190 degrees celsius.
  2. Sift flour and salt into mixing bowl.
  3. Make a well in the centre and break in the eggs.
  4. Beat until egg is mixed in (all thick and lumpy).
  5. Gradually add milk, beating with a wooden spoon until lump free and is of pancake batter consistency. You may or may not need all of the milk. Let stand for the afternoon.
  6. Fill patty cake pans with 11/2 tspns olive oil. Place cake pans in the oven so oil is hot (10 minutes).
  7. Ladle batter into heated pans and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until risen and brown.
  8. Serve immediately smothered in gravy. Makes about 12.

recipes

Luscious

If you are ever unsure of the whereabouts of family members, you can guarantee that the wafts of  warm chocolately baking emitting from an oven of brownies will unearth them from locations near and far.

As if by sorcery, individuals within close proximity, who 15 minutes previously, could not hear you when you called for assistance with dish washing, suddenly appear in the kitchen with an interest to assist. Even those, riding bikes, at remote parts of the property, are lured in by the heady aroma of baked chocolate. No one is disappointed.

Taking inspiration from Frugal Feeding, who ingeniously added blueberries to his latest batch, I was prompted to defrost my much-loved raspberries and turn out yet another version of this irresistible treat – raspberry brownies. To ‘rattle out’ your own tray, follow this recipe (which is basically a brownie that I have made many times, with the addition of 150g of raspberries). If you have your own trusty standby, use it and add the same quantity of berries.

200g dark chocolate
150g butter
3 eggs, lightly beaten
175g brown sugar
75g plain flour
150g raspberries (if using frozen, thaw them well)

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Grease and line a 20cm square pan with baking paper or you can use a rectangular pan of similar dimensions.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat until smooth. Cool for 5 minutes.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, sugar and sifted flour. Mix well.
  4. Fold in the chocolate mixture and then stir through the raspberries.
  5. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 mins. Check earlier as all ovens cook at different speeds!
  6. Cool in the pan before cutting into approximately 12 squares. Delicious served just warm.

The more patient individuals in this household were able to enjoy their brownies for dessert, accompanied by vanilla ice-cream – in a bowl. Others gorged themselves straight from the cooling tray…

Postscript: I can’t help thinking, that Darby and Joan would have been much happier by their fireplace if they too could share in a piece of this brownie.