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My glut crop at the moment is lemons. It’s not quite the glut it was last year.  Last year at this time, this was what the bush lemon tree looked like, and we have four lemon trees of different varieties.

lemon tree

But at the end of the season last year, we pruned the tree fairly heavily – it was getting too tall and thorny to harvest effectively – and fed it with manure and mulch.  So this year we only have three trees bearing too many lemons.

These little lemon cheesecake tarts are a great party food – easy and cheap to make in bulk this time of year when lemons are in season, and they travel and keep well.   They cook so fast, you can make them in batches which means you don’t need industrial quantities of baking gear – just a couple of muffin trays and a couple of biscuit trays.  They are wonderful warm in a bowl with a little cream, but just as good cold eaten straight from the hand, which makes them perfect for parties and no washing up. I brought these out at the end of a Halloween celebration (southern hemisphere Halloween, early May) and they were a big hit.

The Recipe:

The Pastry

Turn the oven on to heat up.  You want a medium hot oven.

I use my Braun food processor to blend:

  • 4 cups of wholemeal plain flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 250 grams (1 cup, or two sticks) butter

till it resembles breadcrumbs.  It takes literally seconds in the food processor.  If your food processor won’t do it, you can rub the butter in with your fingertips the old fashioned way.  Don’t overprocess it – little flakes of butter are fine.  The key to making good pastry is not overworking it.

Then add cool water, little bit by little, till the dough holds together in a ball.  It will take about a third of a cup. Again, don’t overwork it.

Roll the pastry out on a floured benchtop till it is ½cm or so thick, then cut rounds with a small bowl.

Lightly grease muffin tins with butter and line them with the pastry.  It will flute a little since the pastry is flat and the muffin tins cups, but that gives a nice shape to the finished tarts.  Prick the bottom of each with a fork, just lightly.  The holes should close up as the cases bake, and it helps stop them rising.

Bake the pastry cases for around 10 minutes till they are firm.  Try to catch them just before they start colouring.  I don’t bother with beans or rice or anything to bake blind.  The pricking helps them not to rise, but if they do, it doesn’t matter. You should be able to tip the cases out and line them up on biscuit trays for filling.

The Filling:

While the cases are baking, you can make the filling. Using the trusty food processor again, blend together:

  • 1½ cups of lemon juice
  • 3 teaspoons of finely grated lemon zest
  • 1½ cups of raw sugar (not brown sugar this time, or it makes the filling a caramel colour).
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 6 eggs
  • 250 grams (1 cup) Danish feta, or some other smooth, creamy, salty white cheese like goat’s cheese. (Australian feta doesn’t give you the same smooth texture.)

Baking:

Fill the pastry cases immediately before you put them back into the oven to bake.   If you fill too early, they soak in and the pastry is soggy. You will probably need to do it in a couple of batches, so halve the filling so you can fill the first and second batch of cases evenly. A jug makes filling easy, and you need a cloth to catch drips.  Don’t overfill – they do rise a little and if they overflow or drip, the filling sticks and burns.

Bake in a medium hot oven for 15 minutes or so, till the pastry is just starting to brown and the filling is nearly set.  Take them out of the oven and dust with icing sugar, using a sifter or sieve to get a nice fine even dusting.  Put back into the oven for a final five minutes.

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zucchini, carrot and sunflower seed slice

Today is just the second day in the last two months that it hasn’t rained, a gorgeous sky blue day but my garden is still too wet to plant.  The zucchinis have struggled in the wet, but the tromboncinos have done really well right through all this rain.  (And the Suyo Long cucumbers – very impressed with their mildew resistance).

So my glut crop is tromboncinos rather than zucchini, but this recipe works equally well with both.

Zucchini, Carrot and Sunflower Seed Slice

Turn the oven on to heat up.

Grate 1½ cups of carrot, 1½ cups of zucchini, and one onion.

Put them all in a heavy pan with a good swig of olive oil and fry, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes.  The idea is just to heat the vegetables through, soften them, and evaporate a bit of moisture.

While they are cooking, blend together:

  • ½ cup of  cottage cheese 
  • 3 eggs
  • a good handful of flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 big tablespoon of wholemeal plain flour
  • salt and pepper

Grease an ovenproof dish well.  I have a square, pyrex dish 20 cm square that is perfect for it.  You may like to line the base with greaseproof paper – it does come out without it but it makes a little less risk of sticking.

Mix the egg, cottage cheese and parsley mix with the vegetable mix.  Add 1/3 cup sunflower seeds and mix well. Tip into the oven dish and smooth out the top.  Sprinkle the top with grated cheese.

Bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes until golden on top.

Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then tip it out and slice into little squares or fingers.

Serve on a platter to share, with chili jam or chutney or homemade tomato sauce, or cold in a lunch box or picnic basket.

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A couple of others in my circle have posted recipes lately for Spanish Tortilla – Cityhippyfarmgirls’s Frugal Friday Tortilla de Patatas, and Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’s Dinners at Home tortilla with beetroot, kale and potato.  It must be the moment in the year when eggs and potatoes both peak together to create the perfect seasonal food moment, which is exactly what you want for a recipe that meets the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules of fast, healthy, in season, from scratch.

I get eggs all year round, even from my small clutch of chooks of motley ages and breeds.  They have a relatively high protein diet compared to chooks fed mostly pellets.  They are moved regularly to a new garden bed where they have access to greens and grubs and snails and grasshoppers and any worms that are too slow. They get the household scraps including meat and fish bones. I try to give them a some mulch with grass and weed seeds, or  waterweeds with snails and insects and crustaceans, or cow pats with the odd dung beetle, to scratch through every week.  And they get a handful of mixed grain every day, scattered over the top to encourage them to scratch.  They also get a scattering of shell grit from the beach occasionally. With a nice balanced diet and enough exercise to stay healthy, they tend to keep laying for years if a predator doesn’t get them. I’ve had a chook once, of motley mixed breed, that lived to over 10 years old.  But the peak of egg season is in spring when even the geriatrics lay most days.

Up here in northern NSW, I have two spud seasons a year.  The spring ones are planted in early August, as soon as we are over the crest of winter, and are harvested October November. The autumn ones are planted in February, as soon as we are over the crest of summer, and harvested May.  But it’s only the spring one where potatoes meet eggs, and Spanish tortilla is the obvious conclusion.  This is my version;

The Recipe:

For 4 serves.

You need a heavy plan that can go under the grill.

Chop an onion in half, peel, and slice finely into half moons.

Finely slice some potato into thin half moons too.  You need about twice as much potato as onion.

Put a good slug of olive oil in a heavy frypan and gently sauté the potato and onion together till they are soft and just starting to colour.

While they are cooking, use a fork to mix four eggs, a good dessertspoon of cottage cheese, and a good pinch of salt and pepper.  You want to just break the egg yolks and mix – don’t overbeat.

Finely chop a good handful of parsley and stir in.

Stir the potatoes and onions, pour the egg mix over them, and turn the heat down.  Cook without stirring for a few minutes then put the whole pan under the grill to brown off the top. (If you don’t have a grill, you can put a lid on and cook very slowly till the eggs set, but I like the browned top).

Cut into quarters and serve. It’s perfect with the acid sweetness of cherry tomatoes, just dressed with a little parsley, olive oil, and salt, on the side.

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I think Yorkshire puddings are the same as popovers in USA, or almost the same.  They are crisp on the outside, almost hollow on the inside little pastries made with a very simple mix of equal parts milk, eggs, and plain flour.  These were baked in regular sized muffin tins and took 25 minutes to cook. They could probably have been a little browner, but my oven is slow to heat up and they are insanely fast and easy to mix, so they would just fit into the half hour of the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules for most people with a non-antique oven.

I use wholemeal plain flour and they work fine. Real wholemeal flour from the wholefoods shop, not “wholemeal style” flour from the supermarket, which is another of those marketing deceptions that drive me nuts. If you read the fine print, wholemeal style flour is white flour with bran added back in. The problem is that wheat germ goes off. So wholegrain four with the wheat germ in it has a shorter shelf life, too short for supermarket stocking.  Lots of real down-to-earthers advocate grinding your own flour because of this. I’m just not dedicated enough to do this, but I do buy wholemeal flour in smaller quantities, regularly, from the wholefoods shop rather than the supermarket.

The other major ingredient is silverbeet, which is in season and in bulk in my garden right now, and is a superfood for a whole heap of reasons –  antioxidant beta carotene (good for protecting against aging inside and out due to cell damage), folic acid (good for immune and nervous systems), iron (good for energy),  and calcium and magnesium and vitamin K (good for bones).

The Recipe:

I’ll write the recipe out for a one person serve of two yorkshire puddings, as in the pic. The recipe scales fine – I actually made it for two this time. You just multiply by the number of people.

Put a teaspoon of olive oil in each cup in a regular sized muffin pan, and put it in the oven. Turn the oven on to heat up. You want a fairly hot oven, and a hot pan with hot oil.

Put three glasses on your bench. Break one egg per person into one glass.  Fill the second glass with milk (semi skim is fine) up to the same level and the third glass with plain wholemeal flour up to the same level.

Tip all three into the blender, or into a bowl, add a pinch of salt, and whisk or blend to mix.

When your oven and muffin tray are hot, pour the batter into the muffin tins, filling them about two-thirds full.

Put it in the oven and bake, preferably without opening the oven, for around 20 minutes till they are risen and golden brown.

While the puddings are baking, make the filling.

Strip the leaf from the stalks of 4 big silverbeet leaves per person.  Blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain well, pushing down with a potato masher to get all the water out.

Blend the blanched silverbeet with a good dessertspoon per person of cottage cheese, and 40 grams of feta (low fat is fine) per person.  I like to add a touch of wasabi or grated horseradish too, but that’s a matter of taste.  You might prefer a little spring onion, or sauteed onion, or just as it is.

As soon as the yorkshire puddings are ready, tip them out, cut in half, and fill with the filling.  They’re best served straight away while hot.

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The Spring egg glut situation is still going on.  The goose eggs have started hatching (three babies today and another egg or two to go)  and the ducks have slowed down laying.  But the chooks are still laying four or five eggs a day (even though some of them are well into chook middle age).  So I made an egg curry on the weekend for a curry night feast for about twenty people, and it turned out so well that I made it again for just us.  It’s fast and easy and healthy enough to qualify as a  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipe but glamorous enough to make a good curry night feast dish too.

The Recipe

Serves 4 as a main dish.  This is a mediumly spicy curry but if you keep the  the chili, mustard, ginger and turmeric on the low side,  kids are likely to find it not too spicy. Like most curries from scratch it looks like a lot of ingredients, but they are all common spices and it is actually very quick and easy to make.

In a heavy pan, sauté 2 onions (chopped) in some olive oil until they just start to soften.  Then add:

  • 2 scant teaspoons of coriander seeds
  • 2 scant teaspoons of cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • seeds from one or two cardamom pods

Cook for a minute or two until the seeds start popping, then add

  • a small amount of chili or chili powder (depending on how spicy you like your food and how hot your chilis are, but it doesn’t need much. I used a scant half a teaspoon of my homemade chili powder)
  • one or two cloves of garlic,
  • two teaspoons of grated fresh ginger
  • two teaspoons of grated fresh turmeric (or one teaspoon dried)
  • pinch of  cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • little pinch of cloves
  • good pinch of salt
  • grating of black pepper

Cook for a minute or two, then add a jar of crushed tomatoes, a couple of bay leaves, and enough water to make a thick sauce.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, just to let all the spices mingle.

While it is simmering, hardboil and peel 8 eggs and chop them in half.  You will find this much easier if you use slightly older eggs.  People tell me that putting the eggs in ice water helps if the eggs are too fresh to peel easily.

Take the sauce off the heat and add a good handful of finely chopped fresh coriander and stir through.  Then add the eggs and stir gently to cover them in sauce.

Serve with rice and/or naan bread.

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Love Cos lettuce this time of year.  We’ve had a little bit of rain and a cool start to spring and the greens are very happy.  With Cos and eggs in abundance, my thoughts for the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week turned to Caesar salad. There’s a reason that Caesar is a classic salad.  Bitterness of lettuce, creaminess of eggs, sourness in the dressing,  crunch of the croutons, the saltiness – beautiful fresh ingredients beautifully balanced. Traditionally the saltiness comes from anchovies, and if you are going for a meal without meat rather than vego, you can use anchovies. But pepitas sautéed in soy sauce work really well in a lot of recipes that want that little intense salty crunch.

There’s a nutritional balance in there too.  It’s not the lowest calorie of salads, but if you have really nice lettuce that makes up the bulk of it, you can afford croutons.

The Recipe:

This is a matter of preparing all the parts, then just putting them together. Makes two big dinner sized bowls.

The Croutons:

Turn the oven on to heat up to hot.

Use a mortar and pestle to crush one or two cloves of garlic in a pinch of salt.

Add a couple of dessertspoons of good olive oil and blend in the salty garlic.

Cut three or four slices of bread into little ½ inch (15 mm) cubes – enough to make a good cup full of croutons.  I use my heavy wholegrain bread and it works fine.  Toss the croutons in the garlic oil and spread on a baking tray.

Bake in a hot oven for about 10 minutes, tossing every so often, till they are brown and crunchy.

The Eggs:

Boil 3 eggs till they are just hard, drain, peel and chop into quarters.  If you start with cold water, they will take between 4 and 5 minutes from boiling, depending on the size of the eggs.  Eggs that are very fresh will be impossible to peel so choose your oldest eggs.

The Pepitas:

Mix two handfuls of pepitas with two teaspoons of soy sauce.  Dry roast them in a hot pan for just a few minutes, stirring all the time, till they just start to pop.

The Dressing:

Blend together

  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 2 dessertpoons olive oil
Pour into a small saucepan and cook for just a minute or so, stirring all the while, till it thickens.

To Assemble:

Tear a whole lot of Cos lettuce into bite sized pieces.  Add the dressing and use your hands to toss through.  Add the pepitas and croutons and toss again.  Then add the eggs and very gently toss them through too.
Serve into bowls.
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Which is a two part dish, consisting of an Asian style omelette in a mildly ginger laced vegetable stock sauce.  It’s surprisingly addictive! I used duck eggs for this one, just because we have them, but chook eggs work just as well.

We are just a few days away now from the Spring equinox, one of the two points in the year when the days and the nights are equal length.  Once upon a time in ancient Europe people used to gather to celebrate the spring equinox. The hibernating animals emerged from their winter burrows to breed, along with a certain mythical rabbit. The flush of spring laying provided eggs in such abundance they could be blown and painted just for the fun and beauty of it.  People marked the balance point between the lengthening days and the shortening nights, and celebrated the eternal cycle of winter death and spring resurrection.

We have “enough” eggs year round – just a few weeks when the chooks are moulting when they are actually scarce, which ironically is around the autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere.  But in spring even the geriatrics lay for a while and we have so many eggs that it is very easy to see how painted eggs became a spring equinox tradition.  Our son visited on the weekend and we fed him and his friends eggs for breakfast and sent him home with a dozen duck eggs.  My partner has the kind of liver that doesn’t produce cholesterol, so he’s eating a couple of poached eggs for breakfast every day. And any respectable  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge has to include eggs.

 The Recipe:

Get everything chopped and ready before you start, because it goes together fast.

The Omelette:

  • Beat 3 duck eggs or 4 large chook eggs with an eggbeater or fork until they are frothy.
  • Add a teaspoon of grated ginger, a pinch of salt, and a dessertspoon of wine vinegar, saké or sherry.
  • Cook in an oiled frypan over a low heat, lid on, till set.  Loosen the edges and turn the omelette over for just a minute, then tip it out onto a board.
  • Slice into strips, ready to add to the sauce.

The Sauce

Prepare all the vegetables before you start cooking.

  • Grate another teaspoon of ginger.
  • Julienne an onion (chop it in half, then finely lengthways) and a carrot.
  • Dice another couple of cupfuls of vegetables – celery, snow peas, peas, mushrooms, kale, silver beet, broccolini, asparagus, chinese cabbage – you want those kind of Asian stir-fry vegetables, but there are lots of choices possible.
  • Mix 1½ cups of stock with 2 dessertspoons of soy sauce, a teaspoon of honey and another dessertspoon of vinegar, saké or sherry.
  • Mix 3 teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch in USA) in a little water.

When they are all ready, heat up a wok or a large pan with a little oil till it is hot.  Add the onions first, stir for a minute, add the carrots, stir for another minute, then add the ginger and the other vegetables and stir fry for two or three minutes.

Then add the stock and braise the vegetables in it for just a couple of minutes.  You want the vegetables to be tender but still have some crunch to them.

Add the cornflour and stir through.  The sauce should thicken immediately.

Take it off the heat, add the strips of omelette, and gently ladle into bowls.  Serve with extra soy sauce on the side for salt lovers.
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We’re still in the Spring egg glut situation, so for a little while yet, expect Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes to feature eggs.  And though we don’t have cows or goats, people who do will know that milk is also a Spring glut produce.  Both are good protein foods, and eggs are also a good source of lots of vitamins including the hard to get B12, and they are rich in choline, which is important for memory.  And low fat ricotta is a great way to get enough calcium without too much saturated fat.

And baked ricotta is so good! Something in the process transforms it.  This recipe makes it into the half hour of the rules by the skin of its teeth and only if your oven heats up fairly nicely and evenly.  But most of the time is just waiting for it to bake.

The Recipe:

Makes 6 Texas muffin sized baked ricottas.  Leftovers are good cold for lunch.

Turn your oven on to heat up to medium.

Steam a packed cup of herbs and leafy greens very briefly, just to wilt them.  I used a mixture of flat leaf parsley, spring onion, dill, thyme, and spinach.

In a food processor or blender, blend together

  • 500 grams low fat ricotta
  • 3 medium sized eggs
  • 50 grams grated parmesan
  • a heaped teaspoon of grated lemon rind
  • salt and pepper

When they are well blended, add the wilted greens and pulse just to chop them in.  You want them finely chopped, (rather than turning the whole mix pale green).
Oil a 6 cup Texan muffin tin well and put a little circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each cup.  (This is important – they tend to stick otherwise). Spoon the ricotta mix in and smooth out the top.

Bake for around 25 minutes till they are puffed up and softly set.  They will  be cooked before the tops brown, so be careful not to burn them. Loosen around each ricotta with a knife then tip them out and peel off the paper.

Steamed or grilled asparagus goes really really well with the creamy lemony-ness of the baked ricotta.

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This is a bit of a  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules cheat.  Now the days have started really lengthening, even the geriatric chooks are laying so handmade pasta with real eggs was in my mind. And then I was looking for a cake tin deep in the back of the shelf and came across a fluted flan tin that I forgot I had.  And in a moment of inspiration realised it would work to cut pasta.  So I decided to try hand making farfalle.

The next decision was primavera with the lovely sweet baby spring vegetables, or carbonara which would use up another egg, so I compromised by combining both. The whole meal didn’t take much over the half hour of the rules, and it was quite simple and easy, but if I were making it for more than two and trying to get it done in the half hour, I think I’d go for a simpler pasta shape.

The Recipe:

Makes two adult sized serves.

The Pasta

In a food processor, blend for just a minute till it comes together into a dough:

  • ½ cup baker’s flour  (I use the same Laucke Wallaby Unbleached Bakers Flour that I use for my sourdough, but any high gluten flour will work)
  • a large egg,
  • a spoonful of olive oil,
  • a good pinch of salt.

Flour the workbench and knead very briefly, kneading in enough more flour to make a smooth, non-sticky dough. It will look like quite a small dough ball, but a little bit goes a long way.

With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out very thin.  (If you flip it several times while rolling, you’ll find you can easily get it very thin without sticking. The thinner the better.)

I put it onto a chopping board to cut, but that will depend on your bench hardiness. You can then cut it into any shape you like. To make farfalle, I used the fluted edge of the flan tin to cut the pasta into strips about 2.5 cm thick, then into 5 cm lengths.  You can fold and stack the pasta and cut 5 or 6 layers at once to make it a bit faster.  I then just squeezed the centre of each little piece of pasta to make the bow shape.  This is the bit that takes time. Kids may enjoy helping.

Put a pot of water on to boil and leave the pasta spread out to dry a little while you make the sauces.

The Carbonara:

You don’t need to wash the food processor.

Blend together:

  • egg
  • 80 grams of low fat feta
  • 2 big dessertspoons of low fat cottage cheese

The Primavera:

They are all fresh vegetables that take no time to cook, so this will come together in 5 minutes;

In a heavy frypan, with a little olive oil, add (in more or less this order, giving it a stir with each addition)

  • a small leek, finely chopped
  • a handful of  single shelled broad beans
  • 4 or 5 leaves of kale or silver beet, or a couple of each (just the greens, not the stems)
  • a big handful of shelled fresh peas
  • a big handful of snow peas, chopped into bites
  • a dozen or so olives, roughly chopped
  • half a dozen spears of fresh asparagus, any woody bits removed and roughly chopped
  • juice of half a lemon
  • a heaped dessertspoon of chopped fresh mint. (The fresh mint really changes it – it’s not essential  but really worth adding)
Take the pan off the heat and put a lid on it to conserve the heat.

Assembling:

  • Cook the pasta in the pot of boiling water until it rises to the surface, which will be in about 2 minutes.
  • Reserve a little of the cooking water and drain the pasta, then return it to the hot pot.
  • Blend a little of the cooking water in with the carbonara sauce to make a cream consistency, then gently toss it through the pasta in the hot pot. Put the lid on and leave for a minute for the egg to just coddle a little and thicken the sauce.
  • Add the vegetables, toss through and serve, with a grating of parmesan and black pepper on top.

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