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I have been soooo busy lately, my garden and in season pages are way out of date!! An end to the crazy busy is in sight, and I’m dreaming of a time when I can get a bit more inspired and creative with my blog.  But meanwhile, just so’s the last In Season post is a late winter one, I thought I’d recycle last year’s, with some updates.

We’re eating broccoli and snow peas at just about every meal now, and started harvesting cauliflowers.  We have silver beet and kale coming out our ears. I didn’t plant cabbage this year, as I had so much self-seeded chinese cabbage.  This is the time of year to appreciate all the brassica family.  Not too much longer now and keeping the cabbage moths off them will be too much of an effort. It’s also the time of year to make the most of spinach and silver beet.  Those big green leaves need a lot of water!

The raddicchio are hearting. I realise I haven’t posted any recipes for them – something I’ll have to rectify! The peas and the broad beans are flowering and it won’t be long before I can start picking brussels sprouts.  This is the peak of the season for leafy greens here, so there’s lettuces of several kinds, beautiful crisp green celery,  lots of rocket, and as much of the leafy annual herbs – parsleycorianderdill as we like. Asparagus is just about to start.

Parsnips are fantastic this time of year, and carrots and leeks and spring onions and beets are all still in season.

The citrus season is getting near the end, and the berry season not too far off.  But we still have lots of lemons, the last of the mandarinsnavel oranges,tangelosgrapefruit and the very last of the limes.  Avocados are at the peak of their season round here, with several varieties all harvesting at once. Custard apples are in season, and the strawberries are flowering. We managed to salvage some bananas from the bush turkeys, but it’s probably just cruel to mention them!

Our macadamia nuts have finished but they are still picking them locally so I’m making the most of the last of the season.

So that’s the ingredients I’m basing my cooking around at the moment, and it’s giving me lots of options!
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Second of the cauliflower season Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes. It’s an oldie but a goodie.  This is a fairly low fat, low GI version of the ultimate cold winter night comfort food. I like cauliflower cheese soup kept very simple, and I find adding potato tends to make it gluggy, so this version has no potato and low fat cottage cheese.

The Recipe:

For two adult dinner serves.

Gently sauté an onion in a little olive oil in a large, heavy pot with a tight fitting lid, or a pressure cooker.

As it softens, add

  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped,
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon dill seeds
  • grating of black pepper

As soon as the seeds start popping, add ½ cauliflower, stems and all, chopped into flowerettes, along with 2 cups of vegetable stock. If your stock is homemade, you may like to add a pinch of salt too, depending on how salty you make your stock.

Simmer for around 15 minutes or pressure cook for 5, until the cauliflower is quite soft, then add

  •  ½ cup of low fat milk.
  •  ½ cup of low fat cottage cheese
  •  ½ cup of grated tasty cheese 

Blend until it is very smooth.  I find my stick blender the best tool for this, but you could use a food processor or even pass it through a mouli or sieve.  I like cauliflower soup very smooth.

Put it back on the heat and bring it back up to temperature, stirring all the time and not boiling. If you boil it at this stage it will curdle, and if you don’t stir, it will stick.  It just needs to be brought back up to eating temperature. Taste and add salt if needed.

Serve with a sprinkle of chopped dill as garnish and some good wholegrain toast for dipping.

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Does it seem odd eating just one vegetable for dinner?  We do it quite often. Variety is the key in nutrition, but it doesn’t all have to be in the one meal.  I also love platter meals, where dinner is served on one platter for everyone to help themselves from, rather than individual plates. It’s a nice sociable way to eat. This recipe is great for a fast, easy, informal platter meal.

Cauliflowers are just coming into season fully now, so if you are going to have meals based just on caulis, now is the time of year to do it. (At least in the southern hemisphere). Even if they are not home grown or labelled “organic” cauliflower this time of year are much less likely to be carrying a load of insecticides. And if you have kids who are a bit suss on crucifers, this is a conversion recipe.

The Recipe:

Break a cauliflower into little flowerets and put them in a big pot with water, a good pinch of salt, and a lemon cut into quarters (skin and all). Bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes or less, till the cauli is tender but not soft.

While the cauli is cooking, make up an assembly line for crumbing.

The first bowl has the wet mix. You have a couple of choices:  You can use just eggs and milk (2 eggs beaten with ½ cup of milk), or, if you have sourdough, it works really well with ½ cup of  sourdough starter with an egg and a little milk beaten into it.  Whichever you use, add a little salt and a grinding of pepper.

The second bowl has the dry mix: half and half breadcrumbs and finely grated parmesan cheese.  You need about half a cup of each for a medium sized cauli, but exact quantities will depend on the size of your cauli and the size you cut it up.  Good breadcrumbs make the dish. I make my own – whenever I have the end of a loaf of heavy, wholegrain bread left over when the new one comes out of the oven, I put it in a very slow oven as it cools down.  I blend the dried, lightly browned bread in the food processor and store in a glass jar. It will last like that practically forever.

Put a heavy frypan on to heat up to medium hot (not smoking hot) with about 1½cm of olive oil.

Drain the cauliflower and cool under cold running water for a minute.

Dip the flowerets into the egg mix, then into the breadcrumb mix, then shallow fry for just a couple of minutes, turning with tongs, until brown and crunchy. Drain on paper as they come out.

Serve on a platter to share, with a dipping sauce.  Although it’s totally not traditional, my favourite is a mix of homemade mayonnaise, chili jam and soy sauce.

(Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes are fast, easy, healthy, in season, from scratch.  I am trying to post one a week every week this year,  and collecting your links and ideas in the comments.)

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Saag just isn’t photogenic. Unfortunately, because it is very delicious, and I have bucketloads of silverbeet (chard if you are not in Australia)  in the garden at the moment and saag is one of the very best recipes I know to use bucketloads of it (and still want to come back for more tomorrow).

Saag is a northern Indian spiced puree of spinach (or silver beet).  This far north I never have spinach in those kind of quantities, but I do have silver beet – it’s a garden no-fail this time of year, and it’s a superfood for a whole heap of reasons.  It has lots of  antioxidant beta carotene, good for protecting against aging inside and out due to cell damage.  And it’s  a  good source of folic acid, which is good for the immune and nervous systems and with the number of colds and flu’s going round right now, that’s a good thing. And it has heaps of calcium and magnesium and vitamin K which are all important for bones.

The Recipe:

Serves two generously.

Into a cup, put:

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel or dill seeds
  • the seeds from 5 cardamom pods

(It’s better if you use whole seeds for this)

Chop and have ready to add:

  • 2 finely diced chilis (more or less, depending on how strong your chilis are and how spicy you like your food.  Saag is best mildly spiced though).
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a heaped teaspoon of grated or finely diced fresh ginger
  • a heaped teaspoon of grated or finely diced fresh turmeric (or substitute a scant teaspoon of turmeric powder)

Heat quite a decent swig of oil in a big pot or pressure cooker.  Traditionally it would have been ghee, but I don’t like to use quite that much butter.  Olive oil is a bit strong flavoured though. I use macadamia oil, but any sweet or mild flavoured oil would work.

Add the seeds and cook, stirring till they start to pop.  (Don’t let them burn). Then add the chili/ginger/turmeric/garlic mix. Cook stirring for another minute or two, then add

  • a cup of vegetable stock, with some salt in it
  • the shredded leaves from a BIG bunch of silverbeet.  Just the leaf stripped from the stem, chopped reasonably fine.  Lots – at least two packed cupfuls.  I often add a few mustard leaves too.
  • bay leaves
  • 3 cm of cinnamon stick

Pressure cook for 5 minutes, or simmer for 15, then reduce until there is just a little bit of liquid left. Take it off the heat and blend in 3 or 4 heaped dessertspoons of cottage cheese (low fat works fine).  I use a stick blender for this, but you could use a blender, food processor, or even a mouli.

Serve with naan bread for scooping.

Do you have a favourite Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipe for this time of year?  Links are welcome in the comments.
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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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This recipe is a riff on Mollie Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest, or at least it owes some heritage to that inspired combination of broccoli, lemon, eggs and cheese – which you wouldn’t think would work but it so does.

I’m still picking lots of broccoli side shoots every day and using every broccoli recipe in the repertoire to get through them. Luckily broccoli is a super food and you can’t eat too much of it –  huge amounts of calcium, folate, antioxidants (including one that’s good for protecting against macular degeneration), and  cancer preventative phytochemicals.

I remember when I first started gardening being amazed how productive broccoli is.  The supermarkets only ever sell the first big head, but that’s just a fraction of the harvest. The broccoli is the unopened flowers, and the plant is trying to get them open and fertilised by the bees, so it can set seed. Once the first head is cut, the plant has another go at flowering with side shoots.  So long as I can keep cutting, they will keep trying.  The buds get smaller and smaller, but you can keep them going for ages. The small buds are perfect for recipes like this.

The Recipe:

Two big serves.

To do this weekday morning fast…

  • Chop two cups of broccoli into flowerettes.
  • Put a medium sized heavy frypan on to heat up with a little olive oil.
  • Chop the white part of two spring onions and add to the pan.
  • Stir for a minute, then add the broccoli, then most of the spring onion greens.
  • Squeeze in
    • the juice of quarter of a lemon
    • a good grinding of black pepper.
    • and add just a dessertspoon of water
  • Put the lid on the pan and let the broccoli cook in its own steam for about 3 minutes, till it has just lost it’s crunch.
  • Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, blend
    • 3 eggs,
    • 3 big dessertspoons of low fat cottage cheese,
    • and just a dessertspoon of milk.
  • Give the broccoli a stir, then pour the egg mix evenly over it.  Turn the heat down low and put the lid back on. Cook for about 3 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, put some toast on to cook, turn the griller on to heat up, and grate a little sharp cheddar cheese.
  • Sprinkle the cheese over the top and put the pan under the griller.  Grill until the cheese is melted and golden.

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

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It’s not fair.

My partner went to the doctor for a minor thing, and because he is a male of a certain age who almost never goes to the doctor, and because she is good and thorough, he came away with a blood test.

Which gave him a clean bill of health and very good cholesterol levels.

This week I had a blood test but (and he’s still gloating about it) mine came back with high cholesterol.  The good news is that it was high for both kinds, good and bad, and higher for the good than the bad.  But still, coming from a family with a history of heart disease, I’d rather it was lower.  Here’s hoping our kids inherited his cholesterol genes.

So I have a newfound enthusiasm for oats for breakfast.

Oats are a super food, full of a soluble fibre that lowers bad cholesterol and keeps blood sugar stable. They also have lots of  B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. I use oats in bread and baking, but I’ve only had one porridge recipe in the Breakfast Challenge series because I find porridge a bit bland without lots of sweetener which undoes some of the benefits.

I actually like my oats better savory than sweet, and in a pressure cooker, steel cut oats will cook quickly enough to be a good option. Steel cut oats are whole oats just chopped a bit.  They look like this.  They are available in supermarkets and health food shops. This recipe looks more complicated than it is.  It comes together within about 15 multitasking minutes.

The Recipe:

(For a single serve – multipy by the number of people)

  • In a pressure cooker or saucepan, sauté half an onion, finely diced, in a little olive oil.
  • Add a bit of diced carrot and keep sautéing.
  • Use a garlic crusher or a grater to crush in a clove of garlic, a little knob of ginger and a little knob of fresh turmeric (or a pinch of turmeric powder).
  • Add a third of a cup of steel cut oats and two cups of water.
  • Put the lid on the pressure cooker. bring to pressure and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Or put a lid on the saucepan and simmer for around 30 minutes.
  • While it is cooking, dice about two thirds of a cup of other vegetables.  I used peas, snow peas, and broccoli.
  • Release the pressure, stir, add the vegetables and a little dash of soy sauce, tamari or miso. Put the lid back on and cook for just a minute or so longer.
  • Serve into a bowl and add more soy to taste.

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I’m loving the selection of greens in my garden this time of year.  There’s such an abundance, I pick some for us and some for the chook bucket every day.  It gives us eggs with glorious deep yellow yolks and lots of Vitamin A.

The lengthening days are starting to show in all the early rounds, after hanging in there bearing and bearing for months, now going to seed. Luckily this year I kept up the successional planting through winter fairly well, so I have young ones coming on to keep the supply up. They won’t last as long but I’ll get a few weeks of bearing from them to extend the season.  Which means I can appreciate the beauty of the flowers both in the garden and in salads, without regretting the loss of crops.

Very soon now I will need the space to plant out the advanced seedlings in the shadehouse, but if I can manage to eke out another couple of weeks, I will harvest the gone-to-seed greens as chook food.  I shall pull up the whole plant and throw it to the chooks, a couple of plants a day. The seeds are a great high protein feed for them, and they enjoy the challenge of getting them out of the pods.  And they round out the meal with the green leaves left on the plant too.  Along with household scraps and the occasional box of outer leaves and trimmings I collect from the local supermarket, it means that I am only feeding them a couple of handfuls of bought food occasionally and my eggs are costing virtually nothing.  And, though I found the snake sunning herself right near the chooks today, so far the new roost design has kept them safe and I’ve avoided feeding them to the wildlife. I’m beginning to believe I can count my chickens…

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I love mulberries. If you were following my Muesli Bar Challenge recipes this time last year, you’ll know why. Besides being a super-food, they’re one of the few berry fruits that grow well this far north and fill that berry-fruit spot in the seasonal fruit calendar.

Sadly for me, everything else around here likes mulberries too. I’ve been meaning for years now to try taking enough cuttings in spring to create a veritable forest of mulberries, to try beating the wildlife by growing more than they can eat. (This is not a strategy that has ever worked for me, but I’m ever the optimist!)

This year all the conditions have come together. The mulberry tree is just starting to bud up, it is cool and overcast and a roots and perennials planting day, we passed a willow tree on the way home and I gathered some willow cuttings for rooting hormones, and I have a nice batch of potting mix that is mostly creek sand ready to pot them in. Couldn’t get better conditions.

I’ve taken lots of finger thick cuttings, using a very sharp knife to cut at an angle just below a bud. I’ve dipped the bottom of the cuttings in a bucket in which I’ve been steeping the willow cuttings – willow is a rich source of rooting hormones. I’ve filled pots with a potting mix that is mostly creek sand with a bit of mowed old cow pats to hold moisture, poked holes with a stick (not the mulberry cuttings) and planted them with a couple of buds below ground.

With a bit of luck, I will hopefully have dozens of mulberry trees to plant out in a few months, and in a year or two maybe enough mulberries for us and the birds.  I can dream!

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