Shiso and Cider Vinegar – A Heavenly Match

Over the years I’ve grown quite a lot of that most wonderful annual herb, Perilla, Shiso or Beefsteak Plant. Traditionally, it’s found in Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese dishes, and Shiso is its Japanese name. In particular the green variety (Perilla frutescens) which I prefer, seems to like my greenhouse very much. The unusual aroma and flavour is a welcome addition to summer salads in my household. Flavour-wise, I think it plays a similar role to Basil in Mediterranean dishes, and it is sometimes sold as Japanese Basil. I just wash the leaves thoroughly, put them through the salad spinner and chiffonade them. We also love it as a flavouring for steamed rice and stir fries and the whole leaves for tempura.

Pickling liquid and Shiso leaves in a jar

Pickling liquid and Shiso leaves in a jar

 

This year I’ve had a fabulous crop and I began to wonder what else I could do with it. That got me thinking about other Japanese flavours and what would happen if I started experimenting with a pickle. In Japan, Green Shiso is salted and the whole leaves are layered in jars for use during the cooler months and the Red Shiso is used to make Umeboshi but I found a wonderful cucumber recipe at Food52 that I’ve adapted for my needs. I wanted to have pickled leaves I could use whole as wrappers or shred up as required and this looks like a winner!

I made this yesterday 🙂

Refrigerator Pickled Shiso

15-20 large Shiso leaves           1/4 cup sugar                       1 tablespoon salt

3 tablespoons Mirin                1 cup Apple Cider vinegar       A clean pickle jar and lid (300-400g)

Wash the Shiso leaves carefully to remove any grit, pat dry or put through a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. Lay the leaves on top of each other and very carefully roll them, feeding the entire roll into the jar. In a non-metallic mixing bowl whisk the other ingredients thoroughly until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

Pour this over the Shiso leaves, close firmly and refrigerate. This will be ready to use in a few hours but will benefit from leaving for at least a couple of days. I have no idea how long the leaves will last in the refrigerator but as I use a few and make room, I plan to add some thin slices of the little cucumbers that are starting to fruit.

I confess I took a nibble this morning and it’s as wonderful as I hoped it would be. The big factor for me is the flavour of the pickling liquid, which is very similar to a dipping sauce. Also, I used some of the vinegar I made from a failed cider about three months ago and it’s pretty special just on its own! I will write a post about processing the vinegar with details and photos soon.

I’m also planning to dehydrate some of the crop, grind it and mix with a little shredded nori and toasted sesame seeds to make my own furikake and I’m considering getting a fermenting jar and making Korean Gaennip Kimchee. There’s also an idea brewing in my mind about making Shiso oil, similar to the Basil oil I make relentlessly through summer. I’ll keep you posted on that 🙂

Meanwhile, I’ve finished and submitted my assignment and I’m back to my wonderful people at OAK Tasmania tomorrow – summer holidays are over for me. But the days are still long and luscious for gardening and cooking.

Stay well and happy friends,

Debra ❤

Beautiful Shiso

Beautiful Shiso

The Last Gig of 2015

Hi everyone, it’s been lovely to have a break from blogging but I’m itching to write again – there’s been so much going on!

It’s the busiest time of year for me in the garden – I’m planting out heat-hardy salad vegetables like mad to take advantage of our brief but often vicious summer. There’s been several kilos of fruit off the raspberry canes already and several more to come, basil is being cropped, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchinis and chillies are starting to ripen. On top of all this, I’m making some small wicking boxes this week for the front balcony, which gets all the morning sun and is great for tender salad greens.

A couple of weeks ago, local musician and friend George Begbie won the Rudy Brandsma Award at the ASA national awards in Sydney. Many of us who knew George when he first started performing were thrilled but not really surprised – he’s always been that good!

And my wonderful singing group at Oak Tasmania are playing at the in-house end of year BBQ this Friday. Rehearsals are getting tighter and more intense, we’re all getting excited about showing off some new skills. I hope there’ll be some photos I can share with you all from that too.

But tonight is my last public gig for 2015.

I’m playing a short set at The Homestead in support of my dear friend Matt Sertori. I’ve known Matt for many years and despite his seemingly irreverent lyrics, he is one of the most thoughtful, intense and inspiring performers around.

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There is a misconception that Matt playing solo is just a comedy act but I think it’s important to understand there are two distinct sides to this demanding performer. Listen to his (often scathing) lyrics and look behind the laughter, there are some deep and incredibly serious subjects being dealt with. Here, there is a depth to the writing and an intensity in performance that can be downright confronting.

I am honoured to be playing support tonight for many reasons. Matt is also the man who drew me into the ASA over a decade ago and instigated the supportive, mentoring attitude that prevailed until quite recently. If you’re in or around Hobart I urge you to come and listen to this most fascinating and complex songwriter. And say hello – I love catching up with you all.

Take care wherever you are ❤

A Day of Quiet Bliss – Day 29 NaBloPoMo 2015

It was very overcast and quite humid in Hobart most of today. Although I was supposed to go to an event nearby, I decided to stay home and potter around the garden. The girls were very pleased because this meant lots of extra treats for them and they rewarded me with eggs as usual. Boudica Bunny is also eating enormous amounts at the moment and all the babies are out and starting to get the hang of this eating solid food caper.

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I potted up more basil, chillies and Green Shiso (Perilla fruitescans var. crispa), a wonderful Japanese annual herb, which I primarily use in stir fries and salads. I’ve grown it in the past but never had such a fabulous strike rate as I did with this year’s seed supply. It’s looking wonderful and already has that unmistakable flavour and aroma. I find it likes a rich potting mix and lots of warmth for quick growth, similar to basil.

And then there was the completion of half the “corner of shame”. This is a classic before and after situation.

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Before

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After

Admittedly, we’re only half way there but that’s a lot further than we were a few weeks ago!

After removing the worst of the perennial weeds, I put some dolomite limestone over the area and covered it with several layers of cardboard.  Then we laid some cotton mats, donated by family members, that were old and worn and heading for the rubbish tip. (I think half our garden is recycled!)

A thick layer of coarse sand went over that and it was topped with some well composted native bark mulch, which I’ve found considerably less acidic than pine bark mulch. We did the same thing behind the chicken house and I’ve planted two Australian Tea-Trees (Leptospermum sp.) there to provide some extra wind protection for the ladies who lay.

The weeds will grow back – but not as quickly or as vigorously as they have in the past. I want to plant a couple of English Lavender here in the next few days and I’m planning to put netting or shade cloth above the fence to give a little more height for growing climbers in tubs and privacy both for and from our neighbours. Next spring, this is the likely spot for my beehive, angled in towards the garden.

I also finished the garlic crop, which has been curing inside the last two weeks. It’s now cleaned up, the tails have been clipped and it’s in three plaits, hanging off the laundry/kitchen door. It’s quite a decent amount this season, considering I’ve used and given away at least half a dozen or so heads already – and there’s more in the ground that needs pulling!

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Tomorrow is back to music work and teaching, the beginning of my birthday week, first day of my next university semester and the last day of NaBloPoMo – and I’m picking up my birthday present to myself tomorrow too 😀

 

 

The Joy of Flowers – Day 19 NaBloPoMo

Hi everyone,

I’ve got a really busy day/night ahead (it’s gig night with Cassie O’Keefe tonight) so I’m going to offer you all some photographs from my garden this week. All these gorgeous flowers are edible or the precursors to edible fruit. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do 😀

IMG_20141005_164143I particularly love salad greens and grow a large variety throughout the year. One of the most cold tolerant plants I’ve ever come across is Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta aka Lamb’s Lettuce or Mache) and it grows particularly well here in Tasmania as a winter green. In fact, I think (like Kale) it tastes better for a good frost! It’s one of those plants that’s been in cultivation for hundreds of years that is coming back in fashion again and it really is quite delicious and very mineral and vitamin rich.

As soon as spring comes, it produces lovely, tiny flowers followed by masses of seed! It self-seeds now throughout my garden but it doesn’t transplant well. Fortunately, the chickens love it and I weed out any unwanted plants for them.

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Beautiful and delicious Wasabi Greens

During winter, I bought a random punnet of vegetables to fill a spot in the salad garden. It’s been a real winner in every respect. Wasabi Green (Brassica juncea aka Wasabi-na) is an Asian mustard, bred for its hot, wasabi-like flavour. It spiked up my winter salads and even the flowers were lovely addition to the bowl. An added bonus was they were flowering when the bees first came out at the very end of winter.

I also managed to save seed from it in early spring before the other Brassicas started to bolt, and I’ll certainly be planting more in the autumn.

IMG_20151116_173836Speaking of bees, one of my favourite edible flowers is also a favourite of the bees, Common Sage (Salvia officinalis). Although the flowers are starting to look a little shabby now, I pick stems to brighten up a vase in the kitchen – as well as brightening up salads and marinades.

Recently, we had a roast leg of lamb and I placed a long stem of Rosemary and Sage (both in flower) underneath the joint. Delicious and very pretty when pieces of the flowers appeared in the sauce we made from the pan juices!

Last year I planted Scarlet Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) quite late but still managed to get a quite reasonableIMG_20151116_174026 crop of beans from them. A couple survived our unusually harsh winter and they are already in full flower. Unlike ordinary beans, Scarlet Runners are a perennial vine and are also called Seven Year Beans by some gardeners.

These gorgeous flowers are not only bee attracting but also bring native birds into my garden – absolute bonus! The beans are lovely to eat whole when they’re young but get very fibrous very quickly and are then only good for the beautiful multicoloured beans that I love to dry and use in soups and stews through winter.

And finally there’s the flowers that are the heralds of spring and summer fruit. My family are especially fond of Boysenberries and currently it’s a mass of quite large, white flowers, which the bees also adore!

Boysenberry

Boysenberry

What are your favourite edible flowers? Please leave a comment!

 

 

And Then There’s This – Day 9 NaBloPoMo 2015

Further to yesterday’s post about the advertisement that labelled people who grow their own food as freaks, thank you so much for all your private (and universally positive) responses on social media. It means a tremendous amount to know that people are actually reading what I’m writing – as anyone who’s got a blog will know! I think where and how we source our food is an increasingly important issue – and obviously you folks do too.

I went to Oak Tasmania to play music today and as always, got there early to have lunch with my friends. And this is what I took…….

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Freak Feast

In my lunchbox were two chopped hard boiled eggs, some torn English spinach and wild rocket, shredded baby kale, home grown alfalfa sprouts and a few fresh strawberries, all picked this morning. The only thing I didn’t grow was a half an avocado I cubed and tossed through it. A few drops of sesame oil and a sprinkle of rice wine vinegar made a lunch fit for any gardening freak 😉

And I have to share this with you all. I have the best neighbours ever! Yesterday Karen asked if I had a large square cake tin she could borrow for her daughter Georgia, who at 11 is getting very interested in baking. I found my old big tin at the back of the cupboard and apologised for it being so dusty – I don’t bake much now my son’s living independently.

Last night Karen knocked on the door to return the pan (cleaner than when I gave it to her!) and a plate with two huge slabs of fruit cake on it. Apparently, Georgia’s was given a recipe for fruit cake made with ginger ale and it’s a total winner, full of fruit, moist and not too sweet. I’ll have to see if she’s willing to share the recipe……. 😀

Georgia's Fruit Cake

Georgia’s Fruit Cake

The Joy of Friendship – Day 4 NaBloPoMo 2015

Today I had a proper day off and visited my friend Sara. Like me, she’s a creative soul – a writer, gardener and chicken fancier. I took a couple of bush squash seedlings and she gave me a few Roma tomatoes and a bag of fresh lemons off her heavily laden tree. (With all the eggs I’ve got at the moment, I feel a Lemon Meringue coming on in the next few days!) We catch up every couple of months, last time we did a big seed swap and laughed ourselves silly around her dining table.

My new Roma Tomato plants, potted up and ready for staking

My new Roma Tomato plants, potted up and ready for staking

Her garden is amazing, it’s quite small and she’s made fabulous use of the space, with fruit trees espaliered against a north facing fence, an unwanted bathtub the perfect home for strawberries and blueberries, tight block plantings bordered with container salad vegetables, a very efficient and productive greenhouse and an ingenious enclosed corner for her two chickens that can be wheeled across fallow beds.

Sara is also a nationally renowned psychic and astrologer and has been writing professionally for years, contributing regular columns to some of the best known magazines in Australia. She also has her own business Stargold and does readings for clients both in Australia and worldwide.

Over coffee, we worked out we’ve known each other for just over 30 years. We’ve shared houses, seen each other through numerous loves and break-ups, pregnancies, child-rearing and (more recently) health issues and growing into middle age as stylishly and (dis)gracefully as possible.

I treasure her friendship very, very much for two major reasons. Firstly, even if we haven’t seen each other for years there’s never any uncomfortable silences – we always manage to pick up wherever we left off without reservation. Secondly, despite the years we still have the capacity to make each other genuinely laugh – a truly priceless gift.

A heart-shaped Strawberry discovered in my garden

A heart-shaped Strawberry discovered in my garden

Autumn – Part 1 – Chestnuts

April 23 2014 Chestnuts

There are few times of the year that give me as much satisfaction as autumn. It’s a time of frantic activity, harvesting the bounty of summer while getting winter veg planted before the cold weather hits. Indeed, in the last week I’ve been making Basil Ravioli and picking late tomatoes, beans and even eggplant while planting winter peas, broccoli and endives. And as I type this, my household’s been plagued with change-of-season bugs, and I’m doing my best to recover from tonsillitis. But this week I had a sharp reminder that autumn means chestnuts!

My pet rabbits live in the shade and protection of a mature sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sp.), and a day of strong wind brought nuts tumbling on top of their hutches. While I was feeding them, one landed on my head and although it was pretty painful, fortunately no damage was done. So, I pulled out my strongest pair of winter gardening gloves and got down to the business of shucking.

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestnuts are fiddly things to process. There’s no shortcuts that I know (but any you want to share would be gratefully accepted and acknowledged!), which probably accounts for their high price! They’re not a common nut in Australia, with most tinned or vacuum packed produce coming from overseas. After liberating my nuts from the painfully spiky husks, I scored a couple of dozen at a time with a sharp paring knife and set them to roast in moderate oven (about 180 degrees C) for approximately 20 minutes. The scoring is important, as chestnuts can explode in the oven, making not only a huge mess but a potentially very dangerous kitchen!

Scorching Hot - Fresh From the Oven

Scorching Hot – Fresh From the Oven

It is also impossible – well, I think it is – to shell chestnuts cold. The outer shell is tough and there’s an inner membrane that comes away easily when it’s hot. So, I recommend taking a few out of the oven at a time, wrapping them in a thick tea towel and peeling as fast as possible.

It was very tempting to scoff them all as I was peeling them – there is something so enticing about fresh, hot chestnuts. I can totally understand the northern hemisphere custom of roasting chestnuts over an open fire at christmas time. Fortunately, I remained strong, and sereval scorched fingers and broken nails later, I had quite a nice bowl to show for my efforts.

The Final Product Sans Shell

The Final Product Sans Shell

So, the next and all-important question – what to do with them? Some people use them for baking gluten-free cakes and sweets, but I find them very heavy for that kind of thing and quite unappetising. Chestnuts have a slightly sweet flavour and are starchy in texture, but unlike most nuts, have little fat or protein and lots of carbohydrate. They absorb other flavours well – both sweet and savoury – and are equally lovely tossed hot in butter, ground cinnamon and sugar or coarse ground sea salt, butter and a little fresh chopped sage, rosemary and thyme.

But I decided on a complex flavoured sauce for a simple chicken main course, very easy to prepare and well complimented with boiled potates with garlic butter and steamed seasonal vegetables. Here’s the recipe:

April 24 2014 Chestnut Sauce

Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Chicken:

  • 2 chicken breast or 6 thigh fillets
  • 1 tab olive oil &/or 1/2 tab butter

Sauce:

  • 1 rasher bacon, finely chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion (or one small) sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8-10 roasted chestnuts, chopped
  • dried chilli to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tab stock powder
  • 1 tab fresh lemon thyme
  • ½ teas fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup water

Method:

Heat oven to 180° C and heat the oil and butter in a deep frypan. Sauté chicken over a high heat for a minute each side, then put in an ovenproof dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the deep frypan, turn the heat down and add sliced red onion, bacon, garlic, chilli, smoked paprika and finely chopped lemon thyme. Stirring, add the chopped chestnuts, stock powder and cup of water.

Simmer gently, mashing the chestnuts with the back of a spoon and add the chopped fresh rosemary. When the chicken is cooked, the sauce should be quite reduced. Plate up the chicken and vegetables, spoon the sauce over carefully.

On reflection, one addition I’d make to the sauce that’s in keeping with autumn produce is a few very finely chopped mushrooms.

April 24 2014 Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Bon appetit!

Besides my mandatory butter-tossed chestnuts, I’m planning to experiment with the rest of this year’s crop. I want to do a soup (my favourite comfort food) and a dessert with some of the apples and quinces I’ve recently been given. I’ll let you all know how it goes but please feel free to comment and share, especially if you have more experience than my few seasons struggling with chestnut shucking – I’m keen to learn!

Debra 🙂

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