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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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celeriac laktes

There’s usually a reason why popular vegetables are popular, and ones nobody has ever heard of are ones nobody has ever heard of.

If you were starving celeriac wouldn’t make it into the garden – five months to harvest a root the size of a beet from a plant that takes five times as much room. If you were broke celeriac wouldn’t make it into the garden – an ugly knobbly hairy root that can’t be cleaned up for sale without the cut surfaces oxidising.  If you were on subsistence rations celeriac wouldn’t make it into the garden – even though it’s loaded with good fibre and minerals,  it is only about a third of the kJ of potatoes.  But hey, I have enough time and space, I’ve learned not to judge a vegetable by its cover, and I’m not in any great need of calories!

I plant celeriac same time as celery, from early autumn till mid-winter.  They both have a long slow start, the plants staying small and very vulnerable to drying out for a couple of months.  So it is  May before the first of them get out of the shadehouse and into the garden and August before the first harvest.  Those late winter harvests go wonderfully well as mash with stews and caseroles – a mild creamy sweet flavour perfect for soaking up rich sauces.

celeriac

These ones were the last of the harvest, cleared out of a bed that the chooks will be going into this week.  This time of year they are either julienned into slaw with cabbage and carrot and roasted pecans and homemade mayonnaise.  Or made into latkes like this.

The Recipe:

This makes eight latkes.

Celeriac oxidises (like potatoes) once it is cut, so you can’t do any of this ahead of time.

  • Finely chop a good handful of parsley (or you could substitute dill or fennel).
  • Finely dice a small onion or a spring onion (greens and all)
  • Put them in a bowl and add salt, pepper, two eggs and a small handful of plain wholemeal flour (or you could substitute besan or polenta or semolina).
  • Peel and grate two celeriacs and add to the bowl.  Use your hands to squish it all together.
  • Heat up a pan with a couple of centimetres of oil till quite hot, then drop in balls of the celeriac mix and flatten them with the back of a spatula.
  • Fry until golden both sides.

The flavour of celeriac is delicate and creamy and sweet, so to my taste they are best just on their own with a side salad, but a yoghurt or sour cream based sauce is ok too.

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It’s glut season for pumpkins, and though the brush turkeys have made a serious dent in them, we have more than I want to try to store.  By the time the season ends we’ll be over pumpkin.

But for now it’s a treat. This is a very fast, healthy, easy, seasonal, meal in a bowl. It will generously serve two on its own, or four as a main side dish. The key ingredient, besides the pumpkin, is a Moroccan spice mix. You can use a ready bought mix but I have fresh turmeric, ginger, and chili in the garden, and besides turning very ordinary ingredients into something special, they also fend off the viruses that change of season can bring.

For this recipe, I use a mortar and pestle to crush together a nut sized knob of fresh turmeric and one of ginger, a fresh chilli and a handful of fresh coriander with teaspoon of mixed dry cumin and cinnamon, a pinch of cardamom and nutmeg and just a whisker of cloves.

Put half a cup of couscous in your serving bowl and cover it with boiling water. Let it absorb the water, topping up as needed until it is a good texture.

Meanwhile, heat a swig of olive oil in a heavy pan. Peel and chop pumpkin into bite sized pieces. This recipe uses about 2 – 3 cups of chopped pumpkin, but as always you can vary. Saute the pumpkin along with a roughly chopped onion, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, and your spices. If you use dried spice mix, use about two good teaspoons.

When the pumpkin is nearly there, add a handful of sultanas, ½ a capsicum cut into thick strips, and about 2/3 cup of cooked chick peas (garbanzos). Salt to taste.

While all this is happening, roughly chop some parsley, halve some cherry tomatoes and tear up some rocket. Toss the lot together with the juice of half a lemon and serve into bowls.

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Now how do you do justice to a tomato like this? You can stuff up beautiful produce by overelaborating. It’s hard to go past just a slice of sourdough toast, a drizzle of olive oil, and a beautiful, vine ripened Brandywine tomato in thick slices with salt and pepper.  Tomato on toast for dinner – if you have real bread and a real tomato, you could elaborate a great deal without improving either the flavour or the nutrition.

I think a Margerita pizza is about as far as you can go without going backwards.

The Recipe:

The Crust:

To do this in half an hour relies on you having sourdough or bread dough ready to go.  I am in a rhythm of making sourdough every second or third day, usually my Oat and Linseed Sourdough. But although I will usually go for heavy wholegrain every time, I have to admit, for Margherita, I like plain, white pizza dough.  So I just reserve a bit of starter in the morning, mix it with unbleached baker’s flour and a bit of salt to make a dough, stretch it out by hand to cover my pizza tray quite thinly (given that it will rise by at least double), and leave it covered with a clean tea towel on the kitchen bench for the day.

If you don’t do sourdough, you could use a yeast based dough – I’ve got a recipe in my Pumpkin, Feta and Caramelized Onion Pizza  post, or you could just go with a plain, bought pizza base.

The Topping

  • A little olive oil, easiest spread with fingers, covering the whole base out to the edges, to give you a nice crisp crust
  • A couple of cloves of garlic, crushed
  • A little real mozzarella (the white kind) or bocconcini, torn, scattered over the base
  • A real tomato or two, sliced and scattered over the base – not too much or it will go soggy, not too little because the tomato is the star
  • Salt and pepper – this is important
  • A little sweet basil, roughly torn and scattered
  • A little drizzle of olive oil over the top
Bake in a very hot oven for around 10 minutes.
Did you do the   Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week? Links are welcome.
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I’ve been mulling over a 2012 Challenge. I’ve enjoyed the challenges. The first one –  2010’s Muesli Bar Challenge – was a version of me yelling at the TV originally.  I got so irate about the LCM ads, so indignant about the blatant hypocrisy of an advertising campaign that tried to claim that a cheap concoction of starch and sugar was actually coveted by kids, let alone healthy, that I set out to  bake a low sugar, low fat, lunch box treat every week that my school age reviewers actually preferred. And to make it based on fresh in season ingredients, at a fraction of the price of supermarket “muesli bars”. And to make it fast and easy enough that it was a real preferable option for busy working parents.  The reviewers were recruited from local kids aged 5 to 15, and they were told they could write whatever they thought. You can find the complete series – a year’s worth of recipes, filed under the Recipes tab, and I won every Challenge.

Then the 2011 the Breakfast Cereal Challenge – a year’s worth of weekly  healthy and low GI recipes, based on fresh in season ingredients,  fast and easy enough to make for breakfast, as a way to delete the big mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “breakfast cereal” from the shopping list.

I think food is important, for the quality of my own and my family’s lives, but also for life in general. For most of its millions of years of history, every single thing, every atom, every molecule on this planet was food for something, some plant or animal or fungus or bacteria. Food was the way the finite resources of this planet got constantly reassembled, like a kaleidoscope, into an infinite variety of ever more complex and beautiful patterns. So I’m keen to do another fake food challenge.

I’ve had a few ideas for 2012. There’s a heap of “groceries” I’d like to take on – things like tea bags and mayonnaise. I’d like to push myself to be a bit more diligent and inventive about taking packed lunches.  I’m really enjoying sourdough. But in the end, I think I’ve decided the 2012 Challenge will be “Tuesday night Vego”.

We eat vegetarian meals quite a lot, but still, if I’m tired and uninspired, my first impulse is to pick up some meat or fish on the way home from work and just do a salad or steamed veg with it.  The meat is most usually kangaroo – if I’m going to eat red meat, I like it to be free range, organic, and have a low environmental and carbon footprint. And I take more and more care these days to choose fish that is sustainable.   But still, I have a garden full of vegetables and even if I didn’t, shopping at a farmer’s market is so much cheaper and more fun than that depressing  barrage of manipulation in a supermarket.

The temptation comes from the idea that vegetarian meals take more preparation, and that’s the idea that I want to take on. So the Challenge is a year’s worth of weekly recipes for vegetarian mid-week meals.  The rules:

  • The have to be based on ingredients that are all locally in season together. I think it is fine for spices to travel half way round the world, and grains, legumes and seeds to travel interstate.  But  asparagus air freighted from California will just be a very expensive, very jet lagged, mummified version of the real thing.
  • They have to be healthy, as in, low fat, low sugar, whole grain. Cream based carbonara sauces are fine for a special occasion, but if you eat them as a regular mid-week dinner, you better be very active!
  • They have to use, or at least be able to substitute, equipment that you can probably find in an op shop.
  • They have to take less than half an hour to make, mostly from scratch.
I’m hoping others will join in this year, so the Tuesday Vego Challenge posts will become a storehouse of links to favourite, real food recipes.
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I love stone fruit season.  We’re too far north for the best of it  – I’ve learned that it is futile trying to get decent apricots or cherries this far north. But we get good local peaches and plums from within my “100 mile diet” range, with most of the 100 miles vertical, up onto the Northern Tablelands where there is enough chill factor and less fruit flies.

We do have several very early plum varieties that we can pick early enough to beat the fruit flies.  And we have several seedling peach trees that bear beautifully fragrant peaches with a thickish skin, that protects about half of them from fruit fly.  Trouble is, you don’t know which half until you bite into them.

I’ve tried baiting and bagging and netting with some success, but it’s a lot of work. I remember reading a report years ago where someone was bagging out organic gardening by calculating that a tomato cost something like $10 in resources and labour, and I thought, well you’re just growing the wrong type at the wrong time.  My basic garden philosophy is that if you want a garden that yields quality as well as quantity with a viable amount of time spent overall,  you have to go with your climate and environment. For me, that means virtually effortless mangoes, but peaches that are half for me, half for the chooks.

But, the end result of all that is that, this time of year, I have lots of really nice peaches that need to be cut, and I don’t want to make jam because then I’d just eat it and I really don’t need that much sugar. This is our favourite way to use them.

The Recipe:

Cut the peaches in half and stone them.

Put them, skin side down, on an oven tray. If you have a real sweet tooth you can sprinkle with sugar, but I don’t.

Bake in a very low oven for an hour or two until they are semi-dried, like semi-dried tomatoes.  I put them on the bottom shelf of my (not fan forced) oven while it warms up for bread baking, take them out for half an hour while the oven is hot, then put them back in with the oven turned down very low while it cools down.

Blend the semi-dried peaches in a blender or food processor, adding a (very) little butter, oil, or just or water if needed to get a smooth spread.

It will keep for a few days in the fridge, and I imagine would freeze well, but we eat it fresh, spread thickly on toast.

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stuffed zucchini flowers

For years I have wondered whether zucchini flowers were the new mushroom, as in the famous 70s feminist adage ‘Life is too short to stuff a mushroom’.  Now I know. The flowers themselves have very little taste; in fact there’s very little of anything to them. But there’s a textural phenomenon – a little bite of creamy herby filling barely warmed, inside a crispy tempura case. The zucchini flower is so barely there all it really does is separate them. But that’s enough.

You need organic flowers.  It would be all too hard, for me anyhow, if I had to wash and then try to dry them.  They are a bit fiddly – it took me about half an hour to make a couple of dozen of them –  but if you have lots of male zucchini (or tromboncino, or pumpkin, or squash) flowers in the garden, they’re a delicacy worth the fiddling.  I left a few males for the bees to do their thing, but there’s lots of bees, and pretty soon there’s going to be more zucchini than we know what to do with anyhow.

The Recipe:

This recipe is enough for around 24 small, male zucchini flowers – a good amount for four people with salad for lunch.  Three parts: the batter, the filling, and the cooking. You can make the batter and the filling in advance, but the cooking needs to be done right before eating.

The Batter:

Separate two eggs. (We use the yolks in the filling). Beat the egg whites with an egg beater until they form soft peaks.

Sift two-thirds of a cup of plain flour with a pinch of salt.  If you use wholemeal flour, discard the coarser bran you sift out.

Mix the sifted flour with two-thirds of a cup of milk to make a batter that’s just a little bit runny.

Let it sit while you make the filling, then, just before you are ready to cook, fold the batter into the beaten egg whites.

The Filling:

I use the food processor to blend together

  • the two egg yolks
  • 80 grams of low fat feta cheese
  • 4 dessertspoons of low fat cottage cheese
  • 1 spring onion
  • a cup (packed) of  herbs – I used lemon basil, mint and dill.

Assembling and Cooking

Strip any green sepels from the bottom of 24 zucchini, squash, pumpkin, or tromboncino flowers (or a mixture).  Don’t wash them – you want them dry.

Put a teaspoon of filling inside each one and twist the tops to seal them.  Don’t worry if they tear a little – just try to get all the filling covered with flower.  Fill them all before you start cooking because the next bit involves batter-y fingers.

Heat a heavy frypan with olive oil.  Dip each flower in the batter to cover it, then shallow fry in the hot oil, turning, till golden all over.  The oil should be hot enough that they fry quite quickly so don’t crowd the pan too much.  Drain on absorbent paper till they are all done.  Sprinkle with salt and serve.

They make a great light lunch with salad or finger food with drinks.

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It looks like dessert rather than breakfast doesn’t it?

My daughter came home from a sleepover at a friend’s house when she was little, with a very exciting story to tell.  They had apple pie and custard, for dinner, first! And apparently they did it often in her friend’s house and why couldn’t we have just dessert for dinner?

Once I established the details, I thought, why not?  It was home-made real apple pie with wholemeal crust, with real egg custard.  A perfectly balanced nutritious dinner.

We don’t often have dessert for dinner, but I quite like dessert for breakfast.  Real egg custard is sooooo easy, I really don’t get custard powder. Eggs are also a superfood, high in protein, B12 and choline, which is brain food.

The Recipe:

There are lots of methods for custard.  This is my super simple, working morning fast method.

For one – multipy by the number of serves.

  • Put ¾ cup of milk  in a pot with one teaspoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of (real) vanilla essence.  Low fat milk works fine, as does soy milk or oat milk, and I like to substitute treacle for sugar, though it does make the custard a dark colour.
  • Heat till it is very hot, just before it starts to rise.
  • While it is heating, blend together one medium egg and a good teaspoon of cornflour (or corn starch in USA).  I use a stick blender, but you can use a blender, food processor, or an egg beater (though the latter means you need a helper for the next bit).
  • With the blender going, pour the hot milk into the egg.
  • Tip the mixture back into the pot and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for literally one minute until it thickens.
That’s it.  Now why on earth would you use custard powder?
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(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.)
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I saw outside the local fruit and veg shop yesterday buckets of fresh, local, organic silverbeet at $1.50 a bunch.  (Chard if you are not in Australia). Someone else obviously has silverbeet going nuts – hardly surprising.  It is the time of year for it.  My Italian silverbeet has all gone to seed now, but all the Fordhook Giant is still going strong and looking gorgeous, and I have young Perpetual coming on.

A few months ago, I remember being amazed that anyone was buying the bunches of sad old silverbeet in the supermarket for nearly $6 a bunch.  I hate to think what was on it. Even in my garden with long established populations of pest predators – birds and lizards and frogs, insectivorous bats and predatory insects like mantises –  the little grasshoppers make a mess of it in summer.  From spring onwards I don’t bother planting it.

At the moment I am giving away armloads to visitors and using every silverbeet recipe in the repertoire, but any day now I expect the grasshoppers to arrive and the urge to bolt to seed to win out and the bounty will be over.  Seasonal eating. Make the best of it while it lasts, then leave it off the menu till next winter.

The Recipe:

Serves two generously.

You need bread dough.  You can make a bit specially for it, but where this recipe shines is in how easy it is if you are already making bread.  When you punch down your bread dough ready to put it in the baking tin, reserve a couple of pieces the size of a small fist for this.  I use my wholemeal sourdough, but you could use any bread dough.

In a frypan, saute a  finely chopped onion, then, when it is translucent, add a couple of cloves of crushed garlic.

Then add

  • A bunch (8 or so) silverbeet leaves, stripped from their midribs and roughly chopped
  • 2 dessertspoons of pine nuts (or substitute chopped cashews or macadamias)
  • 2 dessertspoons of sultanas
  • 2 dessertspoons of chopped mint

Cook for just a minute or two longer until the silver beet is wilted.

Meanwhile, break the sourdough into four pieces the size of large eggs.

On a lightly floured bench, roll them out with a rolling pin until they are a bit more than half a centimetre thick.

Spread half the filling over one sheet and cover with another.

Press the edges together to seal, then roll lightly with the rolling pin to press the layers together. Repeat for the other two pieces of dough, with the other half of the filling.

Allow to rest for 30 minutes or so. The sourdough should “prove” a bit and the gozlemes look a bit plumper.

Lightly oil 2 pans and put them on a low heat.

Cook the gozlemes on one side for about 10 minutes, then flip it and cook the other side.

Serve warm sliced into quarters with a slice of lemon.

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