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There is a small miracle in the number of things that grow well together, taste good together, and are good for you together.  Corn and beans, tomatoes and basil,  broccoli and cheese, turmeric and pepper…

Spinach and lemon juice join the list.  I first had very lemony mushrooms and spinach at The Gun Shop Cafe in Brisbane many years ago, and it was one of those simple but sensational dishes that brilliant chefs make.  It’s not co-incidental that they are in season together – simple dishes depend on fresh, perfect, in season ingredients.  Neither is it co-incidental that they are so good for you in combination – our ancestors who liked the taste of things that kept them healthy got to live to be our ancestors! It all makes sense, but it still feels like such a nice little miracle .

The hollandaise sauce looks so decadent, but it truly takes just 2 minutes to make and has just a teaspoon of butter per serve.  It’s a very tasty way to add a bit of protein to the breakfast.  I’m harvesting the first of the season’s spinach now, rich in antioxidant beta carotene, iron and folic acid, and the lemon in the recipe makes the iron available. Mushrooms are loaded with dietary fiber and a good source of potassium, copper, selenium, and B vitamins. Put it on homemade sourdough and you’re set.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes based on in-season ingredients, that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” . The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

The Recipe:

This recipe makes two good serves.

Put some good wholegrain sourdough on to toast.

Then start with the hollandaise.

Melt a dessertspoon of butter in a small pot. Take care not to brown it.

Use a blender, stick blender or a whisk to blend together 1 egg, three dessertspoons of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

With the blender going, pour the hot butter very slowly into the egg and lemon mix.  It should go thick and creamy.  If it isn’t thick enough, pour back into the small pot and heat, stirring, for just a few seconds.  It will turn almost instantly.

Now on to the mushrooms and spinach.

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy pan till it is quite hot.  Then add 300 grams of sliced mushrooms (about 10 medium mushrooms).  You can add a clove of crushed garlic if you like.

Cook for a minute till the mushrooms start to brown then add two cups of baby spinach leaves, or larger spinach leaves roughly chopped, along with a little squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Cook for just a minute more until the spinach wilts.

Pile the mushrooms and spinach on the toast and top with a good dollop of hollandaise.

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A container of cooked Madagascar beans.  I cooked them today in the slow cooker while there was heaps of solar power.  We’ll probably have them for breakfast tomorrow as Cheesy Beans or  Chili Beans, or just beans with eggs.

In my fridge is a little packet of goat’s feta.  I don’t have any specific plans for it, but goat’s feta (or even ordinary feta) goes so well with the sweet little cherry tomatoes, basil, red onions, and rocket I have in the garden right now that I add some to the shopping regularly.

In my fridge is a jar of preserved limes.  They make the best cold drink, just a slice added to soda water with some ice.

In my fridge are half a dozen duck eggs. Our ducks – Simone and Daphne  – only lay for a few months but they are worth feeding all year for those few months of duck egg pasta.

In my fridge is a very small container of left-over slow cooked goat shoulder, ethically harvested and slow cooked with preserved lemon, garlic, rosemary, thyme and oregano till it was falling off the bone.  With a tray of roasted beetroots, carrots and red onions and a Greek salad, it was a great dinner party. Thus the very small container of leftovers.

In my fridge is a container of yoghurt.  Necessary for curries, fruit salad, smoothies, and mixing with cucumber and mint or coriander and mint as a dipping sauce.  And for making labne which is what I mostly use instead of cottage cheese or ricotta.

In my fridge is a litre of local, permeate free real milk.

In my fridge is my container of sourdough starter. It seems strange to say but I haven’t once bought bread at home since Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial introduced me to sourdough nearly six years ago. It’s just become a routine part of my life and I cannot imagine going back to fake bread.

In my fridge are a dozen bars of dark chocolate.  What?  It was on special!

And that’s about all.  I’m a big fan of small fridges.

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winter garden

The green doesn’t look real does it?  But it is, late winter in my garden and skies that look too blue to be real and garden greens that look too green to be real.

There was a lean patch there for a bit, where I didn’t reap what I didn’t sow a few months ago.  But it’s back. This is such a productive time in my part of the world.  Spring here is often harsh – windy and dry and unexpectedly hot.  It means seedlings need shadehouse raising and coddling, and I am always a bit stingy with watering as I wait to see what the fire season will bring.  Summers lull you into a false sense of great expectations, with rainstorms often enough to keep things going so long as they are well established and there is plenty of mulch, but then comes a frizzle day – a single day with temperatures in the 40’s and a hot dry north-westerly wind and you can’t stay home all day to rig up shade and mist and it’s all gone in one fell swoop.  Then the late summer-early autumn floods when you find out if your drainage really is good enough.

And then comes this, late winter in my frost-free garden, with a season of just-enough rain and lots of clear, bright winter days and bandicoots kept (mostly) out of the garden beds and wallabies kept (mostly) out of the perimeter fence and bush turkeys kept (mostly) from doing too much damage and I think the resident possum has met up with the resident carpet snake so we are between possums.

Spinach is the glut crop.  Real spinach grown in the ground in season is a different thing to the little packets of hydroponic baby spinach you get in the supermarket, and now is about the only time of year you will find it at farmer’s markets and in gardens.  Spinach  triangles and gozlemes and frittata and gnocchi and pie and piroshki and polenta and pikelets and pakora  and soup and saag (both with and without meat) and under a poached egg or mushrooms for breakfast most mornings.  And today little spinach and bocconcini rolls that I’ll post a recipe for sometime soon.

Lettuce is the other glut crop, with some kind of winter salad most days. There’s any amount of the leafy annual herbs – rocket and parsley and coriander and dill and  spring onions too.

We’ve started harvesting asparagus, too early but there you go.   Broccoli and snow peas and cauliflower  and  celery are coming on nicely, and carrots and leeks and and beets. My  broad beans are flowering. It’s really too warm for them here but I have hope of at least a little crop.  I have a nice stash of macadamias, hopefully enough to last through till the pecan season in autumn. The last of the limes to go with avocados.  The last of the  mandarins to last through till the strawberries (now flowering) start

A late winter garden in sub-tropical climate is a lovely thing!

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Chanh Muoi

I’ve caused conniptions in Chinese, Lebanese, Laotian, Greek, Albanian, Mexican and probably several other grandmothers.  It’s time for some Vietnamese ones.

No doubt this recipe is not authentic, and I would love anyone who has a real Vietnamese grandmother to share the authentic version.  But one of the nice things about multicultural Australia is the cross fertilization of ideas, in food as in everything else.

I discovered this by looking at limes falling off the tree and a shelf full of lime pickles and lime cordial, and wondering how limes would go salted and preserved the same way I preserve lemons – which is a recipe of North African or Middle Eastern provenance I think.  Preserved lemons are a kitchen staple for me, finely chopped and added to couscous as a side dish, or to broad beans or tagines or pasta sauce or  fish stew or mushrooms on toast or any number of dishes that need that little salty sweet sour note.  Preserved limes are more limited in cooking – if I have preserved lemons I usually prefer them.

Except for this.

A little bit of salted lime in a glass, topped up with water or ideally soda water.  I like it unsweetened, but you can add a little sugar if you like. After a session of mowing, it’s the best drink.

My limes are just coming into season which is handy, because this one is the last of last year’s jars.

The Recipe

Sterilize your jars (and their lids) by boiling for ten minutes or pressure cooking for five.  This recipe will make about 4 medium jars.

Measure out 250 grams of  salt.

Chop 16 limes into quarters. Put them in a big bowl, sprinkling them as you go with the salt.  Massage in.

Pack the lime pieces into your jars, pressing down to really pack them in

Pour the juice left in the bowl evenly into the jars.  You will be left with some undisolved salt in the bottom of the bowl.  Juice 2 or 3 more limes and try to dissolve the salt in the juice.  Top up the jars so they are quite full and the limes are covered.  Discard any salt that is left.

Wipe the neck of the jar with a clean cloth dipped in boiled water and seal with a sterilized lid.  Store in a cool spot for at least a month before using, better two months.  They will last for years on the shelf, becoming salt candied and jelly-like.  Once a jar is opened it is better kept in the fridge.

To serve, finely slice or just squash a segment of lime and put it in a glass.  Top up with water or soda water and ice and add sugar (or not) to taste.

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turmeric dusted whiting

Turmeric likes my subtropical climate, which is very lucky because fresh turmeric is one of my all-time favourite spices and hugely healthy.  I have a patch of it that takes absolutely no attention.  All I do with it is dig up a rhizome when I want it for curries or stir fries or to add a touch of spiciness to just about anything.  .

This time of year, I also dry a bit for recipes like this one.  It’s very easy – just peel and slice very thin, leave in the sun for a few hours on a hot day, then blend to a powder.

Whiting are still listed as sustainable, and there are very few ways to improve on just frying fresh whiting fillets.  But this turmeric dusting adds a crispy, mildly spicy coating that is very addictive.

You want about one part in ten turmeric powder to plain flour for dusting for this recipe.  So for 500 grams of whiting fillets, I use one teaspoon of turmeric powder and ten teaspoons (or three good dessertspoons) of flour.  Plus a pinch of salt.  An easy way to do it is to put the turmeric, flour and salt in a container with a lid and shake together, then add the whiting fillets and shake again to coat.

Then just heat a heavy frypan with a little olive oil till it is very hot but not smoking.  Fry the dusted fish quickly, just a minute or so each side, till they are golden.  Serve with a crisp green salad, or lightly steamed beans or broccolini or snow peas, and a wedge of lemon. Or just put them on a platter to share, and eat them in your fingers on the verandah of a summer evening.

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mini chico rolls

It being the party season and all.

Though I have to confess, this was our lunch yesterday.  In our defense, the filling meets healthy – and is possibly even a decent way to get lots of vegetables into a children’s party plate.

mini chico roll filling

The Recipe:

This recipe fills two dozen wonton wrappers – what we get in a packet of wrappers from the supermarket.  Using bought ones makes the recipe really really fast and easy, but making your own isn’t hard especially if you use a pasta machine, so I’ll include the wrapper recipe too.

Part 1: Wonton Wrappers

You can buy wonton wrappers in the fridge at any supermarket these days, but if you make your own, you can use real egg.  In a food processor, blitz until the dough just comes together (just a few seconds)

  • ½ cup of flour (I use the same Laucke Wallaby Unbleached Bakers Flour that I use for my sourdough, but any high gluten flour will work)
  • 1  large egg
  • a couple of teaspoons of  any light flavoured oil
  • pinch salt

Flour the workbench well and knead very briefly, kneading in enough more flour to make a smooth, non-sticky, soft dough. Then leave it to rest for a few minutes while you make the filling.

Part 2: The Filling

For 24  ( a packet of skins) you need about two cups of filling when it is all raw.  The inspiration for these actually came from harvesting the very last of the season’s cabbages out of the garden.  I used cabbage, snake beans, carrots, and spring onions, all finely chopped and shredded.  You can use a food processor to coarsely grate if you are in a real hurry.

Add a half thumb of ginger, finely grated, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, a little chili to taste, a handful of herbs finely chopped (lemon basil, Thai basil, coriander, mint or a mixture) and a couple of teaspoons of light soy sauce.

Add a little oil to a wide pan or a wok, get it hot, and cook the filling, stirring, for just a couple of minutes.  You are trying more to dry it all than to cook it, and best to leave undercooked rather than over.

Mix a spoonful of cornflour (corn starch) with water (or ordinary plain flour if you don’t have cornflour in the pantry).  Take the vegetables off the stove and add a little of it to the hot vegetable mix, just enough to make it all sticky.  Keep the rest for sealing the rolls.

Let the filling cool a little while you roll out the wrappers.

Part 3: Assembling and frying

If you are using home-made wrappers, use a pasta machine, or a rolling pin and a well floured benchtop, to roll out the dough till it is translucent thin.  You will be cutting it into 10cm squares, so aim for a 10 cm wide pasta strip.

Put a teaspoonful of filling  on each wrapper.  Roll diagonally, folding the corners in. Use a finger dipped in the flour and water mix on the last corner to seal.

Wipe out your wok or pan and heat up a couple of centimetres of frying oil until it is quite hot.  I usually use light olive oil for frying like this because it has mostly monounsaturated fats, it  has  a high smoke point and it’s fairly neutral flavoured.

Fry in two or three batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan, use tongs to turn them and fry for just a couple of minutes till they are brown and crispy.

You can keep them warm in an oven if you have to, but they are best eaten freshly cooked and hot with a soy and sweet chili dipping sauce.

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This picture is from an “In Season” post from four years ago.  Oddly, considering how neglected my garden is at the moment, I’m harvesting pretty well the same lot.  This time of year is a season of the first of things and the last of things in my garden, as the winter plantings finally end and the first of the spring plantings start to bear. Today I stripped out all the remaining broad beans and the last of the peas for shelling, so I can feel some broad bean, pea, mint and lemon puree coming on.  There is lots of celery but it is starting to flower so not for much longer now.  The later rounds of broccoli are bearing main heads and the earlier rounds side shoots, but I’m expecting cabbage and web moths to arrive soonish.  They’ll finish off the chinese cabbages too.  The cavallo nero kale has been prolific all winter but it’s starting to get aphids now.

I still have bulk silver beet but all the earlier plantings are now running to seed.  All my parsley has run to seed, and I am now harvesting seed from coriander and dill too.  Rocket has run to seed, but the nasturtiums are rocketing along and providing that peppery-ness in salads.  Though I still have lots of lettuce, the number of varieties is going down.

I’ll have some Eureka lemons most of the year, but the bush lemons are finished and I’m picking the very last of the late season mandarins and grapefruits. The grape vines are laden and though the grapes will be a month or so yet, I’m using the leaves regularly.

I’ve stopped cutting asparagus for the year but just as the asparagus finish, I start cutting artichokes.  The new zucchini are getting to a good size to pick young fruit as well as flowers.  I picked the very first of the Corno de Toro capsicum today, a bit green still but there are lots more coming on.  The first of the season’s new potatoes – such a treat – along with baby cucumbers and the first of the squash.

I am also picking the first of the season’s fresh garlic – early, but then I planted early too.  Fresh, juicy garlic is a totally different thing to the dried up imports from China.  If you don’t grow your own, look out for fresh local garlic at Farmers Markets from now on.  It’s an experience!

With fruit, this is berry season – strawberries, blueberries, white and purple mulberries.  It doesn’t last long so I’m making the most of it.  Paw paws are still in bulk, and the white mulberries are laden this year.

So that’s what I’ll be basing my cooking around this month.

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guava_jelly

I seem to have dozens of half written posts and  not so great photos banked up, shoved into random folders to get back to after Bentley.  There’s a late pick of turtle beans being slow cooked and turned into a kind of ful medames.  There’s the new induction hotplate so we can fast cook using solar electricity.  There’s the first harvest of red claw from the dam and a fairly spectacular red claw pasta.  There’s the first flush of the citrus glut and kumquat marmalaide.  There’s the new drake named Bentley because he arrived the day of the (provisional) victory.

But I’m going to start with this one because the time for it is right now. Guavas are in glut right now and I keep seeing unharvested trees everywhere. Guava jelly, which can be made as jam to spread on toast (just by using half the quantity of sugar) but is spectacular as a firm jelly to eat with cheese on crackers is the only really good thing I know to do with a glut of guavas, but it’s a really good thing to do with it.  I don’t make a lot of jams or jellies – in general I find  fresh fruit better than the version cooked down with lots of sugar for just about every kind of fruit.  But the flying foxes and birds love our guavas and strawberry guavas so much that even the uneaten fruit risks little bite marks and I don’t fancy sharing saliva with a bat.  And though I love the aroma of guavas I’m not so keen on the texture.   This took me literally minutes to make and was worth depriving the bats.

Guava Jelly

I used a mixture of guavas and strawberry guavas, the big ones roughly chopped and the small ones just left whole. Add a bit of water to start them off, then cook enough to make a soft mash, that you can strain through a chessecloth to get the juice.  I did this stage in a pressure cooker, which meant I only needed to add a little water – about a third of a cup for each cup of guavas – and pressure cook for just a few minutes. If you cook in a pot you will need to add a bit more water and cook for maybe 10 or 15 minutes.

I lined my big colander with cheesecloth and sat it over a pot, poured in the guava mash, let it strain for 5 minutes, then twisted the cheesecloth to make a little bundle and weighed it down with my heavy mortar and pestle to squeeze out all the juice. This is important even if you have so many guavas you can just waste them because the seeds have the pectin in them, so that last squeeze of juice is the one that makes it set.

Put a saucer in the freezer.

Grease a plate with a lip with butter (or two or three if you are making a large batch).

Measure the guava juice back into a pot, and for each cup of juice add a cup of sugar and the juice of quarter of a lemon.  I used raw sugar because that’s what I had, but if you want the clear  jewel like jellies, refined white sugar would be better.

Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes till it starts to thicken, then test it every couple of minutes by putting a teaspoonful on the cold saucer till it turns to jelly.

Working quickly (or it will set in the pot) pour the jelly out onto the greased plate and tilt to spread it into a thin layer.  It will set in a couple of minutes and you can use a sharp knife to cut it into squares.

If you are not serving straight away, chill the jellies in a single layer before you put them all in a container in the fridge, or they’ll stick together.

With camembert or brie or white castello cheese and crackers, it’s a gourmet feast.

PS.

My daughter made this with jaboticabas. She sent me the pic.  “It is so good mum. Same recipe as your guava jelly on witcheskitchen.com.au but with cinnamon and nutmeg and star anise. So simple for such an extravagant treat.”

jaboticaba jelly

 

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snake bean and tomato salad

My favourite variety of beans at the moment – brown seeded snake beans.  So long as I can keep water up to them, they don’t mind how hot it gets, and they bear really prolifically over a month or more.   They make a great salad,  blanched then dressed with a balsamic olive oil garlic dressing while they are still warm.  Or, like this, lightly sauteed with lots of garlic, then cherry tomatoes and lemon basil thrown in at the last minute, pan turned off, mixed to warm through so the flavours blend.   They’re also a key ingredient in Thai fish cakes,  and with cucumber and Thai basil and all the other ingredients in season now too, Thai fish cakes are a really easy, healthy, fast, and very delicious meal. My local supermarket has frozen Whiting at $6 a kilo, and a kilo makes about 60 little fish cakes. Whiting is listed as sustainable and it’s a decent (if not exceptional) source of omega 3s.

snake beans

 

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