When the Going Gets Tough – Make Soup!

With only a few days left until winter officially starts, it’s been a super busy week for me. I had the home stretch to traverse with a particularly difficult university assignment, lots of jobs building up around the house and loads to do in the garden. Okay, I’ll admit like any gardener, there’s ALWAYS loads to do in the garden and housework has never been my strongest suit. Cue the moment I come down with the latest virus that’s doing the rounds *sigh*

So I did all the right things, went straight for the Elderberry Syrup, did my best to do a little each day on my essay, slept as much as I was able, ignored a lot of things (mostly housework), kept my germs to myself for the first part of the week – and made soup.

Soup is my go-to comfort food almost year round, closely followed by any sort of salad from my garden. This time I went for the big guns and made a batch of rich and warming Slow Onion Soup. As the name implies, this is a long, slow cooking process and makes a very intensely flavoured, savoury soup. Be aware that I break it down with water and I recommend playing around with what suits you and your family. Any kind of stock is fine for the base (including vegetable for vegetarian friends), but I had pork stock on hand. Please note this takes two days to make so start this the day before you want to serve it. Here’s the recipe.

Slow Onion Soup (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course)

3 or 4 brown onions

1 head of garlic

Dried celery leaves (or 1 stick of fresh celery)

1 carrot

A sprig each of lemon thyme, sage and rosemary

2 bay leaves

2-3 cups stock

Approximately 1 cup white wine

Approximately 2 cups water

2 tabs Marsala or Dry Sherry (optional)

To serve:

Cream or plain yogurt (optional)

Parsley and croutons for garnish (optional)

Method:

Top and tail the onions and put them whole in a slow cooker with the carrot, sprigs of fresh herbs, bay leaves and celery stick. (I dry celery leaves when I have it growing and use a few instead in soups and stews). Break the head of garlic into cloves (I don’t bother peeling them) and put them in too. Pour over about half a cup of stock and half a cup of white wine – just enough to ensure it doesn’t burn – and cook on low for as long as possible. I did this batch for about 8 hours and switched the cooker off.

The next day when everything’s cold, use a slotted spoon and put the onions in a food processor or blender jar with the carrot and celery. The garlic will pop out of its skins very easily now and have a beautiful, nutty flavour. Take out the bay leaves and sprigs of herbs (I put mine in the compost). Strain the liquid in the bottom of the slow cooker and put that in the processor/blender too. Wash out the slow cooker – we’ll be needing it again!

Pulse the onions to start with and then blend until the mix is smooth. Feel free to add some more water if it’s too thick at this stage. Pour the mix back into the slow cooker and add the rest of the stock, white wine, Marsala and 1 cup of the water. Cook on low for at least 2 hours and check the flavour. I opted to add another cup of water to bring it to the consistency and calm down the intensity of flavour.

Serve with croutons, a tablespoon of cream or plain yogurt and a sprig of parsley. Some fresh crusty bread and a green salad are also great accompaniments to this comforting bowl of goodness.

I think just making this made me feel better – the whole house smelt like roasting onions for a couple of days – and I’m happy to say I managed to get my uni essay finished and submitted on time, (only five units left now!) and made a start on the many jobs in the garden this glorious weekend. The housework? I’m sure it’ll still be there next week 🙂

 

An Ode To The Humble Plum

Well, it’s been another incredibly busy week! The weather – always a mixed blessing in Tasmania – has gone from the height of summer to feeling like an early autumn in a few short days. Mind you, I’m not complaining too much about the rain. Although I’m on the usual suburban mains system in the house, I only water the garden area from tanks and a small pump, with an extra line I put in to gravity feed down to the greenhouse. With a lot of mulch, it’s a pretty efficient system, but usually by mid-February, the levels are getting very low. This year, tanks are full again!

On the other hand, the accompanying wind has played havoc with some of the fruit trees, with lots one of my dwarf apples toppled in its tub Thursday. I’ve anchored it firmly back and staked it, so hopefully it will survive.

This week has also been full of plums, with most of the tree picked, dried and (for the first time) even sold and traded on. When I first came here eight years ago, there were some extremely neglected fruit trees that were mostly in a pretty woeful state. There was a lot of brush cutter damage to trunks, effectively ring barking some, brown rot in many and everything literally overrun with weeds. Some I couldn’t save but right down in the back corner, furthest from the house, was a very old plum tree, strangled by blackberries, English ivy and yet, in spite of everything, covered in small unripe fruit. The main trunk was split, it had been very poorly pruned, allowing some rot to set in but I realised it was a very old European prune plum and therefore, most definitely worth saving!

What it was – the jungle plum!

After several years of regular weeding, careful hand removal of blackberry suckers and some judicious pruning (initially with a chain saw) this tree has come back into its own. A couple of years ago we laid lots of cardboard, sand and finally pine bark to suppress weeds and it’s been a very successful makeover.

What it became – well cared for!

So much so, that I always have way too many plums for my household. They’re not the most wonderful plum to eat fresh, but I love making things with them. Some years I make a few jars of jam or sauce and one year I made a quite delicious perry from the yellow fleshed fruit – but always there’s lots of dried fruit – prunes to chop up for muesli, add to apple cobbler or even savoury dishes like Moroccan lamb stews. Best of all, as I walk past my pantry shelf on the way to the laundry and the back door, I pop a few in my pocket to have as a sweet snack on those cold winter mornings, a little memory of summer that was, and the promise of summer to come ❤

 

Chickpea Curry – Day 29 NaBloPoMo 2017

I love beans and pulses and use them a lot. They’re great in everything from salads to stews and I also use them to fill out otherwise meat based curries. Rather than buy tinned beans, which often contain a lot of salt, I like to buy mine dried and cook them gently in the slow cooker. Once they’re cool, I drain and bag them into meal size portions and freeze them for later use.

Today I cooked 500g (1.1 lb) of dried Australian chickpeas with just water and a bay leaf, and decided to make a curry for dinner.

This is a filling and healthy vegan dish, but if you want more protein and feel inclined, add a chopped hard-boiled egg. This slow cooking with the tomatoes first, reduces the liquid and makes the onion, garlic and ginger cook slowly, infusing the tomatoes with their flavour without risk of burning. The result is a more dry-style curry, which is lovely to eat with flatbread. As I often find with curry, the flavours improve and deepen overnight and after my generous bowl tonight, there’s still enough left for lunch tomorrow 🙂

Chickpea Curry (Serves 2)

Curry Base:

1 tab oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teas ginger, grated or minced

400g tomatoes (bottled or tinned), drained

1 teas honey

2 cups chickpeas, cooked & drained

1-2 hard-boiled egg, chopped (optional)

2 cups shredded green leafy vegetables (silverbeet, spinach, mustard greens, kale or collards)

Spice Mix:

½ cinnamon quill

1 tab cumin seed

1 teas coriander seed

1 teas cardamom seeds

1-2 dried chillies

¼ teas dried turmeric, grated

Method:

In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the drained tomatoes, onion, garlic and ginger. Stir until the mixture is simmering and add the honey. Stir this through and reduce the heat.

In a spice grinder or pestle and mortar put all the dried spices and grind to a powder. Stir this into the simmering tomato base. Add the drained cooked chickpeas, cover and continue to simmer very slowly for about 10-20 minutes.

If you’re using it, add the chopped hard-boiled egg and stir it through. Just before serving stir through the shredded leafy greens.

Garnish with chopped Coriander leaves and serve with plain rice or flatbread (paratha, chapatti, roti, naan are all good). I used homemade sourdough flatbread, the same recipe as earlier in the week.

I chose to go without the egg, and with my own bottled tomatoes and dried chillies from last summer, fresh silverbeet from the garden and fresh made sourdough flatbread, this dish was rich, very filling and incredibly satisfying ❤

Tuesday Treasures – Day 28 NaBloPoMo 2017

I was absolutely thrilled today – because I had to go to work 🙂

It’s a wonderful thing to look forward so much to something that too many people consider a chore – but the crew I work with are fantastic, and this time of year is pretty awesome. We’ve got the Oak Food Garden up to a point where we’re starting to harvest a lot of food!

Today, we harvested the rest of the broad beans and they’re going to be (mostly) blanched and frozen for use by the Wednesday Cooking crew in the next few months. We also pulled our experimental garlic crop, one of the first things planted back in February and they’re now hanging inside to cure. This was grown from a head I provided – the same garlic that more or less failed for me this year. It’s given me some clues as to why mine didn’t do well this season, my soil is just that much heavier and holds a lot more moisture.

Beautiful huge heads of garlic – note the $1 coin for size reference!

Although they’re a bit late to be going in, we planted a lot of tomatoes today, that we hope we’ll make into Passata come autumn. The Wednesday Cooking group are making healthier lunch options and have been making pizza and salads. We harvested a lot of salad greens for them today, Cos lettuce, endive, tiny white celery flowers (absolutely delicious in salad!), silverbeet and red orach.

This is the first pick of the orach, which we planted fairly thickly from seedlings I raised only a couple of months ago. While we were picking, I discovered a volunteer tomato, looking very happy. I thought it might have come from someone’s lunch tomato that could’ve ended up in the bed (we’ve only reclaimed the area in recent months), but further along the row, I discovered more healthy tomatoes! Every one up against an orach plant!

Red Orach and sneaky Volunteer Tomato

Then the penny dropped.

Two years ago, my friend Sara gave me some Roma tomato seedlings she had no room for. I had a great crop and dried most of them, the seeds ending up in the worm farm. The following winter, I must have used that tray of compost in one of my wicking barrel dwarf apples – and got a bonus crop of tomatoes last summer!

I dried some of those too and would’ve put the seeds in the worm farm – I hate wasting anything. And of course, I used some worm compost in my potting mix when I grew on the orach seedlings a month or so ago. So, the interlopers will be cossetted and cared for, eventually overwhelming the orach, and I hope they crop as well as they have for me the last two years 🙂

 

 

Friday Night Chicken – Day 24 NaBloPoMo 2017

Before I left for work this morning, we decided on chicken breast for tonight’s dinner. We really weren’t sure what to do with it but we wanted it to be easy – it’s been a busy week and the weather’s still very warm!

I’d been to our local deli on the way home and picked up bacon (among other goodies) so we thought we’d stuff the breasts, wrap them in bacon and bake them. But what to use as a stuffing?

Well, when I was a kid, things wrapped in bacon and grilled were a bit of a fad. Angels on Horseback and Devils on Horseback (oysters and prunes respectively) were really popular as hors d’oeuvres – and I still have a jar of prunes from last year’s plum crop 🙂 As I mentioned last week, the early garlic harvest has been less than wonderful but it tastes wonderful and even though it isn’t properly cured yet, we decided to start using it.

It was really very easy and the results were delicious! Here’s the recipe:

Garlic & Prune Stuffed Chicken Breast (Serves 2)

 

2 skinless chicken breast, butterflied

4 dried prune halves

1/4 cup Marsala or dry sherry

2 full rashers of bacon

4 cloves garlic, chopped fairly finely

2 tabs butter, softened

Herbs/spices for topping (we used a Moroccan-style mix with some chilli – but use what you prefer)

Method: 

In a small bowl, soak the prunes in Marsala for at least a couple of hours – the longer the better. Once the prunes are plump, drain and chop them roughly. Put them back in the bowl and add the garlic and softened (room temperature) butter.

Open the butterflied chicken breasts and spoon the prune/garlic butter mixture down the center. Close them and press down lightly to seal the edges. Sprinkle with herbs and spices of your choice. (If you like to add salt, this would be the time for a sprinkle)

On an oven tray, lay 2 rashers of bacon diagonally and lay the chicken breasts across them. The tails of the bacon should wrap across the top of each breast.

Bake in a moderate oven until the chicken is cooked through (20-25 minutes).

I made a very quick couscous with vegetables as a side.

It was absolutely delicious and a lovely quick dinner to make together at the end of another frantic week. The chicken was succulent, fragrant with garlic and the bacon was lightly crisped on top. The Marsala soaked prunes pieces added some sweetness without overwhelming the dish. Couscous was the perfect companion to this – light, fluffy and full of garden herbs and vegetables.

 

We’ll be making this again for sure ❤

Tomorrow The Superstars are performing at an Oak luncheon. Hopefully, there’ll be some photos too 🙂

Shortcuts & Syrups – Day 23 NaBloPoMo 2017

I resolved to have an indoor day today, trying to survive this Tassie heatwave, and decided to get some kitchen jobs done.

Realising I was all but out of yogurt early this morning (enough to change my breakfast plans) I decided to do what I call a shortcut jar, and it couldn’t be easier. I have an ancient EasiYo passive yogurt maker I bought new about 20 years ago. It’s probably one of the best purchases I’ve ever made as my family go through a lot of yogurt! Although EasiYo sell sachets of starter, I generally use a dollop of the last batch and refresh it with new starter culture every few months. My preferred starter is plain Greek style.

To save having to go to the shop for extra fresh milk, I took a favourite shortcut, and used powdered full cream milk. It’s a great thing to have in the pantry cupboard in case I run out of real milk, and I also use it to enrich sauces, puddings – and yogurt! For my 1 litre tub, I use 1 1/4 cups of milk power mixed thoroughly with about 500 ml cold water. Filtered or rain water is best for this, as tap water additives can inhibit the culture.

Once the milk powder is well incorporated, I add a generous half cup of yogurt from the last batch

Mix thoroughly and top up with cold water if necessary.

Then it’s just a matter of filling the maker with boiling water, making sure the trivet is the right way up, and putting in the yogurt jar and screwing on the lid. Leave it for 8-12 hours, depending on how sharp you like your finished yogurt. I generally leave mine 9 hours but a little longer if I’m making cheese from it.

The finished product is really lovely, creamy and tangy. Perfect with fruit, making smoothies and using for dips and dressings.

Once the yogurt was out of the way, I juiced a bag of oranges that were past their best but still good, and about 10 grapefruit I was given by friends a few weeks ago. I used the same standard recipe I have for lemon syrup and it made about two litres.

Finally, I bottled my stash of spring grapevine leaves (close to 50), destined for dolmades later in summer. After cleaning them all and removing the stems, I blanched them in a strong boiling brine, plunged them in a pot of icy water and (once they were cool enough to handle) rolled them up in bundles of 10. I put them in a small preserving jar and covered them with boiling brine and 1 teaspoon of Citric Acid. Then I processed them along with the bottles of syrup for 15 minutes.

It was hot work, but totally worth the bother. The syrup is sharp and sweet, perfect in iced water as a refreshing drink – even better with plain soda and a dash of vodka for the adults – and makes a very interesting ice cream topping.

The vine leaves always lose their bright green hue but are wonderful. They apparently keep very well in this acidulated brine – but they never last longer than a few months here! Now the grapevine is starting to take off, I feel better about doing more jars through the season 🙂

So, now I’m sitting happily watching the cricket, (the Ashes series has started!) and I’m waiting for it to cool down enough to feed the animals, water and pick salad for a late dinner. I might have to make a yogurt dressing 🙂

See you all tomorrow, and Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends ❤

The Annual Egg Glut Games – Day 11 NaBloPoMo 2017

 

Despite being mostly older ladies, my six lovely chickens are laying for all they’re worth at the moment. So, as we do every year, I’m giving away eggs to family and friends and making a lot of egg-based dishes. We’ve had custards and cakes, hard boiled eggs in salads and whole egg mayonnaise.

At the moment, I’m also suffering from a spring glut of salad greens – life is tough (not)! So, I picked a bunch of vegetables this morning and made a rich and luscious pastry-free quiche for lunch. It’s a very easy recipe and I often make it as a vegetarian meal as eggs are a great source of protein. But today, I added a couple of rashers of diced bacon, fried with garlic. It also works really well with cooked and shredded chicken, pork or cooked white haricot beans or chickpeas. I’d also recommend adding chopped fresh Italian parsley or chives, it’s really dependent on what you have on hand.

 

Deb’s Vegetable & Bacon Quiche (Serves 4)

 

6-8 free range eggs

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 thick bacon rashers

2 small leeks, washed and chopped (can be substituted with shallots or spring onions)

4-5 cups shredded green vegetables (spinach, silverbeet, kale, collards, rocket, pak choy, mustard greens)

1/2 cup milk (can be substituted with 1/4 cup cream)

1/4 cup plain (all purpose) flour

2 cups of grated Colby cheese (Cheddar would be fine)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

a little grated nutmeg

Method: 

Preheat an oven to 160 C (320 F). Dice the bacon and fry gently. Add the minced garlic towards the end, taking care not to burn it. Take off the heat and allow to cool. Whisk the eggs until frothy, grate in nutmeg, mix in the milk (or cream) and flour.

Using a fork or mixing spoon, gradually add the chopped vegetables and grated cheeses. Stir through the cooled cooked bacon, making sure everything is well incorporated and coated in the egg mixture.

Pour into a greased 20 cm (8 inch) souffle dish and bake for 45-55 minutes. This makes a soft-set quiche, but if you want it firmer, I recommend covering with foil and baking a further 10 minutes.

Serve alone as a light lunch or with a salad for dinner.

Let me know if you try this and what you used in your mix – I love your feedback!

Take care and I’ll see you tomorrow ❤

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