Saturday, 27 August 2011

Kentucky Tofu Nuggets

Ok, I know. These aren't particularly healthy. And I didn't grow any of it myself. And I didn't make the seasoning from scratch. And it is a little funny that the seasoning is for use on "any poultry" but on the back is listed as vegan so that I actually chuckled out loud in the supermarket. And the fact they are remarkably like (as I remember them) KFC nuggets they don't particularly help the vegetarian cause. BUT - after gving these to my omnivore sister Rachel last weekend who poo pooed them and then demanded to know if I was making another batch - I think you'll find these scrum-diddly-umptious!

1 large block of hard tofu ( I used a 600g block)
1/2 cup Nice N' Tasty Kentucky Style Chicken Seasoning
1 cup water
oil for deep frying

Mix seasoning and water into a bowl and whisk into a batter. stand aside for a few minutes to thicken.
Turn on your deep fryer. If you don't have one, a small saucepan 2/3 filled with oil is fine ( and I think less messy). To test the the temperature drop a small amount of batter into the ol to see if it bubbles up to the top.
Cut the tofu into bite sized cubes (about 3cm). Coat in the batter, and then gently drop the battered cubes into the oil. Don't overcrowd the pan - cook in batches of about five.
When golden remove with a metal slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
you can double batter tehm by allowing to cool after the first cook, redipping, and then cooking until a deep brown - they'll be nice and crunchy!
Serve with your favourite dipping sauce.

Spring Planting: Potatoes

Spring is almost here! I can smell it in the air, the jonquils and daffodils are bursting into flower and their delicate perfume is wafting over various parts of our garden. So it's time to plant some spuds. Well, more spuds, because I was a bit sneaky and jumped the gun a bit two weeks ago and planted the first lot under a blanket of frost netting to get an early start. I'll be bandicooting potatoes by Christmas, and my mouth is watering at the thought of baby new potatoes with fresh herbs from the garden smothered in butter and salt and pepper...mmmm. they are easy to grow and produce prolifically - I got about 5kg of spuds from each seed potato last year, and there are lots of varieties to choose from. We have just run out of the ones I stored over winter,so from early harvesting in December through to the end of August we didn't have to buy a potato- saved a few $$ there! So how do you go about planting them?

Well drained rich soil is a must. If the soil is too wet, the potatoes will rot and /or develop diseases which give ghastly skin or rotten cores. A raised bed, or large container is the best idea, as drainage is not an issue and you can easily build up the soil. I've seen potatoes grown in old tyres, tried it myself in chicken wire and newspaper towers (as below), and even straw bales. The trick is to keep building up the soil level as the plant grows, and make sure that the developing tubers are well covered, or they will go green. Green potatoes are toxic and should not be eaten. So wherever you plant them, make sure you have enough room to biuld up, and the plants have room to spread out as the tubers develop. Think containers like half wine barrels, old bathtubs etc...

If you are planting into the ground ,the first step is to make sure the soil is loose and friable. Use a hoe and get rid of any weeds - I'm lucky because my chookies have been digging over my potato bed for the last month and have eradicated weeds completely. If you're like me and sensibly ordered them weeks ago, they should have arrived by now, and they should have greened up and begun to sprout if you have left them in a well lit area ( Don't put in direct sunlight or the tubers will 'burn.' You don't need them sprouted as much as the ones pictured below, but at least 1cm is good.

Dig a trench and place tubers with the "eyes" up approximately 30-40cm apart as pictured below. I plant mine at least 10 cm deep. As the plant grows you will hill up more soil around the main stem of the plant which will in turn produce more tubers. you will then end up with trenches between the hilled up plants, which assist with drainage. 

By October my plants will look something like this, but being in the mountains I will still need to cover them at night for frost until early November. (You shouldn't get cats sprouting from yours by the way lol). In Spring the plants put a lot of effort into growth, and need good soil, well rotted manure, and compost. When Murray mows the lawn I throw the clippings over the top to help hill up around the plants, and also water with Seasol once a fortnight until December. When summer comes, don't let the soil dry out. A good mulch will help keep the soil moist, and once the potatoes have bushed out water loss will be minimal as they cover the ground really well. If you push your finger into the soil, the soil particles should stick together, but still be a bit crumbly.

By December the plants will be well established and look like this. You will then be able to gently dig down and "bandicoot" that is, steal early spuds for Christmas lunch. The others left behind will have more room to grow and thus you will get bigger tubers for storing later on. So go and get started!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Rugelach - Crescent Cookies

These adorable little morsels of sweet goodness (which mean crescent in Yiddish) are all thanks to Jewish mummas. Traditionally these are not vegan, but I have made them so and was pleased with the result. Perfect for a bite sized sugar fix with a cup of tea, although I believe the Americans would consider this sacrilege if it were not served with coffee. Anyhoo, whatever the beverage I'm sure you'll love making them!


2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
250g vegan margarine (I used nuttelex)
250g vegan cream cheese ( I used tofutti)

1/2 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup hazelnut meal
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon

In a mixing bowl cream margarine and cream cheese together.
Add lemon juice, sugar, and salt.
Add flour and rub through margarine mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Press together to form the dough. ( Pulsing in a food processor makes this a quick job)
Wrap in plastic and put in fridge for about half an hour.
Preheat oven to 150C
In another bowl combine filling ingredients.
Divide dough into four balls.
On greaseproof paper, press ball down and roll out until approx 3mm thick
Sprinkle filling all over rolled dough and press lightly
Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry into wedges as shown ( I found it easiest to cut in strokes straight across)
Gently peel a wedge from the greaseproof.
Starting at the widest edge, roll towards the point to crease a crescent. Place cookie seam side down on a lined baking tray. Repeat with remaining dough until tray is full.
Bake in oven for approximately 20 -25 minutes .

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Blood Orange, Ginger & Star Anise Cocktail Syrup

Blood oranges are in season, and they are absolutely delicious! These oranges have lovely flecks of red on their outer skin, and streaks of crimson through their flesh. Their taste is different to that of regular oranges, some can be quite sweet while others have a more tart taste. I got my hands on some beautiful sweet ones to make this syrup. Try it in non alcoholic drinks with soda water, or add some Bacardi for a bit more punch.

juice of 3 blood oranges
water to make up 300ml liquid
few zest slivers from one blood orange
thumb size piece of fresh ginger cut into sticks
1 star anise
300g sugar

It is important to have a 1:1 ratio for fluid to sugar for this syrup, so whatever juice you get make up with the right amount of water to reach 300ml. Put all ingredients into a saucepan, and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer for approx 15 minutes, and then stand aside to cool. Leave covered overnight to steep. Strain into a bottle, and keep in the fridge for up to six weeks (if it lasts that long!)

The ginger and star anise go really well with the blood orange, a perfect warming end of winter pick me up!

Bottoms up!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Spring Is Just Around The Corner!

Yep, like many gardeners out there I'm getting excited for Spring! So, with my garden plan done, and seeds arrived, I'm beginning to sow indoors in trays for an early start. First off the list is tomatoes, which need a bit of extra help in my mountain climate to get going early enough to fruit and ripen before autumn ends next year. I'm beginning to salivate just thinking about fat juicy sun kissed tomatoes straight from the garden and into a salad - not those horrible hard things that barley pass for a flavour in the shops. If you haven't ever had a home grown tomato you MUST try them! This may turn you into a tomato snob, but who cares?! They are easy to grow,  and at $7.00kg+ for decent truss tomatoes or more for organic, it is insane not to grow them if you have a bit of space or a big pot. I'm having two plots dedicated to the love apple this year, with plans to bottle and preserve excess for winter use....but I'm jumping the gun a bit here.
Volunteer tomato plants pop up everywhere in my garden, as I'm sure happens in lots of gardens. But since different varieties cross pollinate so readily, it is best to grow from seed if you want true to type. I'm dedicated to four varieties this year, Black Krim, Yellow Perfection, Roma, and Green Zebra. The best way to start tomatoes is by sprinkling them in trays of damp seed raising mix (as above) in a warm place, and when they are big enough about a week after germination, prick the best ones out into groups of two or three into bigger pots. It's time consuming to fiddle with tiny seed in small pots - much easier to put in strong seedlings. The only danger is, don't leave too long before pricking out as the seedlings will become too long and straggly as they fight for light, and they will be useless and fail to thrive, and don't over water as they will rot and kill the thin stems. I have a heating unit specifically designed for propagating trays, and this is the quickest way for me to start my seedlings.

The best piece of advice I have ever heard about raising your own tomatoes is from gardening guru Peter Cundall. He recommends "starving" young tomato plants by putting them into smaller containers, where the young plant quickly depletes the nutrients and becomes a bit pot bound. This causes the plants to react as if they will die, which means they put all their energy into producing flowers much earlier, and less foliage. By the time you have planted them out and they have room to spread out in rich soil it is impossible to reverse early  flowering! Neat huh?! And it works. I'll put more posts on tomatoes as my plants progress, but in the meantime, happy sowing!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Spade to Spoon:Warm Brussel Sprout and Kale Salad

This week we happen to have an abundance of kale in the garden, as well as the brussel sprouts that survived various taste testings by Miss Penny and her feathery friends. I've seen small bunches of tuscan kale in the shops at the moment for about $3.00 a bunch! You've got to be joking, we grow lots of it for less than that! Kale is a sturdy, hardy plant that tolerates cold weather and frost. It's flavour I think is a cross between cabbage and spinach, and I use it in everything from pesto to pasta to fritatta. Tossed with brussel sprouts, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and lemon, it is really tasty! (And the lemon and garlic were home grown too by the way).

1 Bunch of kale
1 cup brussel sprouts
1 Tablespoon pine nuts
1 clove garlic
olive oil
Lemon for serving

Slice brussel sprouts and kale and set aside
Chop garlic finely
In a frying pan on medium heat ( I used my indispensable wok) saute garlic and pine nuts in a little olive oil until fragrant.
Put in sprouts and kale, and toss through for  minute. Add a tablespoon of water and let "steam through" until hot but not overcooked. The vegetables should still be bright green and have a crunch when you bite into them.
Turn onto a plate and drizzle with olive oil and lemon.

Happy cooking!