Friday, 23 September 2016

Silverbeet with chickpeas and cumin



The silverbeet in our garden needs harvesting, so this inspired me to prepare a healthy dish which can stand alone with just some pita bread and left over roast lamb and a glass of red wine. It has to be an easy meal tonight as it is the Rugby League semi final with the Cowboys playing the Cronulla Sharks in Sydney. If the Cowboys win this match they are in the  Grand Final again so we will be glued to the television. Last year we travelled to Sydney to watch the Cowboys play in the Grand Final which they won.

Silverbeet is a vegetarian's friend, when it comes to iron supplies. If you combine the silverbeet with wholegrains the iron levels will be further increased. Chick peas will add lots of fibre and nutrients so this is a complete meal in itself.

Ingredients:
Serves 2
2 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
1 small onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
Grated zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 red chilli, finely chopped with seeds removed
A bunch of silverbeet or spinach, about 150g, trimmed and washed
400g tin of Italian or plum tomatoes or 4-6 large fresh plum tomatoes or equivalent
400g tin chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
pinch of sugar (optional)
Flatleaf parsley for garnish

Let's Cook:

Heat the oil in a saucepan  over  a medium-low heat.  Add  the  onion  and sweat gently  for  about  8 minutes,  stirring  occasionally,  until  soft  and  golden.  Add the garlic,  chilli,  cumin,  and lemon zest and cook  for  another  1-2 minutes.

If using  fresh tomatoes,  grate their flesh directly  into  the  pan, discarding  the  skins. If using canned tomatoes,  finely  chop the tomatoes,  and add  them  to  the  pan.  Stir  well, bring the  mixture  to a simmer,  and cook  gently  for  a few minutes,  until a nice sauce develops.

Meanwhile  prepare the silverbeet  or spinach.  Wash the  leaves  and remove  any  tough stalks.  Add leaves  to the  pan and stir  over  the  heat  until  wilted.  Add the chickpeas and some salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. 

 Cook for a few minutes, just to heat the chickpeas through, then adjust the seasoning if necessary to suit your taste.

Garnish with some finely chopped flat leaf parsley and serve with warm flatbreads or pita breads or even tortilla strips and a dash of mango chutney.  Whatever you fancy really.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Blueberry and Polenta Muffins and life in the slow lane that they call retirement






Retirement and a satisfying life in the slow lane

Go straight to recipe from here:
My beautiful new cream Dendrobium orchid.

As I sit here typing on my computer, it is occurring to me how many other things I have on the go at the same time, and that my brain is processing in the background. Whilst I suppose that my main focus is typing up this recipe and thinking about how delicious these muffins are and when I can justify having another one, I am thinking about the sour dough bread I need to start preparing which I always try to bake on Mondays. Loads of washing are being hung out as they finish. I am on call to Mr. HRK who is in the final stages of building a breakfast bar for us from some exquisite Mackay Cedar wood he was gifted by the Dad of a very good friend, the Bowen Beauty. I am texting a friend inviting her for coffee, and also thinking about the beef broth I have had cooking in the slow cooker for the last 36 hours and which now needs attention.

 I'm trying not to think about the housework that should be done as well. Monday is generally a stay at home day to attend to all of these things but is this really any different to being out at work, where I was at everyone's beck and call and the day was full of interruptions of various kinds? Even though I was the Manager in my previous job, the big difference is that now I am my own boss here with no real deadlines except mostly those that I impose on myself. Then there is my spy novel by ex CIA agent Jason Matthews that I am reading with only a chapter to go that I will be finishing this afternoon after lunch. I can hardly wait to read those final pages, and then I will feel quite sad for a little while  that I have finished it.

So life certainly isn't dull in the slow lane that they call retirement.

Polenta is an ingredient that I have rarely cooked with, and when I saw this recipe and realised that I have a whole unopened packet in my pantry it was a given. There are so many muffin recipes out there now, particularly blueberry ones, however I think that the addition of polenta to the flour mix improves the texture, flavour and colour, and also makes them a healthier option than just using plain flour. Polenta is high in dietary fibre and low in fat. There are probably finer brands of polenta available from delicatessens, however I bought this Sostanza brand from the supermarket and it worked well. So combined with the beautiful purple and luscious blueberries, these are a winner. Mr. HRK isn't a great fan of muffins, but he really likes these. Some are already in the freezer, in anticipation of those needy moments that we all have.

Ingredients

220g plain flour
100g finely ground polenta
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 free range eggs
1 cup milk
120 g unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries ( I used frozen and they worked beautifully)

Let's cook:

Preheat your oven to 180 deg. C, or 160 deg for a fan forced oven.
Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners.

  1. Mix flour, polenta, baking powder, baking soda, pinch salt, orange zest and brown sugar in a medium sized bowl. Refine any lumps using your fingers.
  2. Whisk eggs, milk and slightly cooled melted butter.
  3. Pour the egg mixture over the flour, mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Stirring the muffin mixture too vigorously will toughen the batter.
  4. Fold the blueberries in gently. 
  5. Spoon the batter into your prepared muffin tins, filling each of your muffin papers about 3/4 full. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick or small skewer inserted in the centre of the muffin comes out clean. If they are nicely browned and bounce back to the touch and have small cracks on the top they are probably cooked.
Makes 12 muffins

Even if you aren't retired yet, do you find that when you are working on a computer project, that your mind is still processing a lot of other things at the same time, or is that the domain of the retiree? To all of the muffin lovers, do you ever put icing on  them, or is that breaking the rules? I would love to hear from my friends who may be reading this.

Recipe borrowed and modified from David Herbert's recipe in the Weekend Australian. Good one Dave.

Friday, 16 September 2016

L.c. Gold Digger "Orchidglade's Mandarin" on show in my kitchen

Photo of L.c. Gold Digger from the orchid collection of "Arne and Bent Larsen".
Photo of my Gold Digger "Orchidglade's Mandarin"

My L.c. Gold Digger "Orchidglade's Mandarin"

I love Spring! My kitchen is certainly a happy one when my beautiful Laeliocattleya orchid, Gold Digger "Orchidglade's Mandarin", commonly called a Cattleya,  blesses me with her annual flowers. Every family needs a gold digger. This orchid first came into our lives in 2005, when my late Mum, named Hope, won a Rockhampton Orchid Society prize with her. This is according to Mum's meticulous Orchid Diary which I inherited, along with this beautiful orchid. What a responsibility. Mum loved her orchids. Mr. HRK and I relocated Gold Digger  to Mackay in 2008 and according to her records which I have kept updated, she has flowered every year since except for 2011 and 2012, which is probably when I repotted her, or perhaps she just needed a holiday as well. So here we are 11 years later and she is still alive and going strong. What a performer and obviously has an impressive lineage. Have I been watching too much of Who Do You Think you Are by any chance and of course I live with a passionate genealogist as well. Some of it has rubbed off.

 Her parents L.c. Red Gold and L.c Warpaint would be so proud of their descendants which are spread far and wide. My Gold Digger has survived a relocation from Rockhampton to Mackay, quite a few absences by her owners but she is very much admired by all who see her.

I haven't joined an Orchid Owners Group yet, but this is a really nice interest and it brings me a lot of happiness when my orchids produce flowers and then I can bring them into my kitchen and enjoy them as I work, and they last a lot longer than a bunch of flowers which is so rewarding.

So Spring is here, and now I wait for my other orchids which are in bud to bloom and see how many flowers they will produce.

Perhaps I need to design a food dish named after my Gold Digger which would live on in her memory, however she shows no sign of retiring or calling it a day. I couldn't imagine life without her now. Suggestions anyone?

If anyone reading this enjoys growing orchids and flowers and brings them inside, I would love to hear from you. If you have anymore information on Gold Digger I would appreciate it if you could share it with me. 

Have a great weekend.



Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Passionfruit, Kiwi fruit and Ginger Trifle




When our friends Julia and Dave came to stay for the weekend, it was an opportunity to cook some dishes which normally I wouldn't prepare just for Mr. HRK and  myself. Julia is an ex library buddy but also a foodie and a blogger and we could discuss various food aspects for hours. Whereas Dave is our computer guru who always has the latest app to show us or will effortlessly fix something that has gone wrong on our very Smart TV. What great friends.

Mr. HRK and I were watching  Nigella Express one late afternoon to fill in some time and Nigella was making her Passionfruit and Ginger freeform trifle. Mr. HRK doesn't normally watch cooking programs, but for Nigella he makes an exception. To be truthful I am not a great trifle lover but Neil is, so when the special request came from him  to make this trifle of course I went as weak as water and that was dessert decided for Julia and Dave as well. I'm not sure if the tantalising Nigella had anything to do with his request or not, however I set myself the challenge and really enjoyed making it after breakfast on the morning of their arrival. I left it in the frig all day for the flavours to develop and  dessert was made with no extra work needed on the night. Whenever there is dessert being made, Neil magically appears to help and provide ideas, his idea this time being that I add jelly to the mix. There was no time for the jelly to set, and I suppose jelly could be added to the layering, but honestly the dish doesn't need it. The wonderful thing is that we had leftovers for a couple of days afterwards and personally I think it tasted even better the next day, but food often does.

For anyone reading this who may have drunk more than necessary of the Green Ginger Wine  in the 70's or 80's, and swore never to touch the stuff again, believe me in this trifle it lives again and you won't be haunted by any unpleasant memories.

I have added kiwi fruit to this recipe plus lots of passionfruit which are delicious at the moment, so it is a very tropical trifle and reminds me of the delicious Eton Mess, made for us in England by Jane, but this recipe is minus the meringue.



Passionfruit, Kiwi fruit and Green Ginger Trifle 

Ingredients:

510 g (18 oz) store-bought sponge cake (the packet I bought at Coles weighed 450g, plenty)
1 ½ cups or 2 liqueur glasses full (4 oz approx) of Stone’s green ginger wine
2 ¼ cups (18 oz)  whipping cream
4 teaspoons icing sugar
8 passionfruit
4 kiwi fruit

Method:

  1. Slice or break the sponge cake into pieces and arrange half of them in a shallow dish or on a raised cake stand, and pour half the ginger wine over them. Mound up the remaining half of the sponge cake on top and pour the remaining ginger wine on top.
  2. Whip the cream with the icing sugar and the 2 passion fruit until it is firm but not stiff, to form soft peaks.
  3.  Mound the cream floppily over the alcohol doused sponge cake.
  4. Scoop out the remaining 6 passionfruit onto the white pile of cream so that it is decorated with the golden pulp and the striking black seeds.

Indulge!




So if you are reading this did you ever over indulge on Stone's Green Ginger Wine. I didn't actually, but a lot of people did back then. I think it is making a comeback, in culinary circles of course.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Spring gardening in the tropics using companion planting and "cut and come again"


It's days like today that I feel so fortunate to be retired and alive and able to do the things that I like to do in no particular order, but just when I feel like doing them. The balmy spring weather in the tropics promises a hint of the summer heat to come, so this morning I have planted the last of the vegetable seedlings for my tropical summer garden. I want to get the greens well  established before the midday sun causes them to bolt and create flower stalks. If that happens the leaves will then also become quite unpleasant to eat.


Summer greens with self sown tomatoes at the back of the garden fighting for space with the rambling nasturtiums which attract the bees. Lebanese eggplant will provide a decorative element as well as a bountiful supply in a few months, and the beautiful lady bugs will crawl all over them.
Herbs in this garden include flowering comfrey on the left, flat leaf parsley, Italian basil and thyme. The butterflies are attracted to the lavendar comfrey flowers. I plan to make some comfrey tea in the next few days whihc will give the herbs and vegetables another nitrogen boost. You can read how to make comfrey tea here.



My hottest vegetable garden contains a myriad of plants, including a fig tree which we have just transplanted so that it has more sun. It's time it performed. A few weeks ago I planted some silverbeet here and this is almost ready to be harvested a few leaves at a time. It is beautiful and glossy and insect free at the moment. Red Mignonette lettuces and silverbeet are very practical and yet extremely healthy greens to grow in Spring in the tropics. They are fast growers. Besides providing some colour contrast in salads, these little red burnished beauties are also more resistant to bugs, and I love the way that  I can just pick and use the leaves as I need them without needing to harvest the whole lettuce. "Cut and come again" with the greens by removing the largest leaves from the outside of the plant with a pair of scissors, which encourages the plant to produce more leaves, and then you can keep removing leaves from the plants every few days as you need them. Mignonettes require little space, and can be planted in very small gardens. It is a good idea to keep planting lettuce seedlings every few weeks so that you have a continuous supply of greens. As the heat intensifies, it helps to grow the leafy greens under shadecloth for protection.

Using just a few leaves at a time, "cut and come again" is also the big advantage with growing your own crop of glossy silverbeet, and is a very economical way to eat salads and vegetables. It is just so satisfying to be able to go down to my vegetable patch and pick the greens I need for our meal knowing that no sprays have been used on them and that they are as fresh as they can be.It also means that my food preparation can be quite impromptu.

If you can build or buy a raised garden for your herbs and vegetables it will really save your back when you are planting and provides excellent drainage as well. Mr. HRK built this for me, and also an aquaculture style set of planting tubes, which contain soil and is also irrigated,  above the raised garden which works really well for mignonettes, spring onions and smaller vegetable species. I have added a white "moth" on a stick to this garden to repel the cabbage moths.Yes, I think it works. It worked last year, as the cabbage moths are very territorial and won't come near a garden where they think a white cabbage moth is already at work. This garden is also partially protected from the hot summer sun by a shadecloth cover which really helps.










I also planted some more spring onion seedlings this morning, and just positioned them amongst the veges wherever there was a space. This is a form of companion planting that I have used for a long time as the shallots also act as a pest repellent for the neighbouring vegetables and herbs, whilst being close to the kitchen and readily available. I use a lot of shallots or spring onions in my cooking but buying all of these fresh ingredients on a daily basis can be a substantial cost.  So we grow what is practical, and try to buy the rest of the fresh produce we need from the local farmer's markets each Saturday.

After planting the seedlings, this afternoon I gave them a dose of Seasol seaweed solution and Thrive, diluted and  mixed together in my large watering can. I am hoping that with the  odd shower of rain around, I can start harvesting some leaves within the next few weeks.

Happy gardening and if anyone reads this I would love to know what you are doing in your garden.