Saturday, 28 January 2012

Gardening When the Climate's Gone Nuts -or - Get Your Husband to Build a Greenhouse

I will admit it has been a frustrating season for me. No matter how carefully you plan as a gardener, nothing can prepare you when external factors are all wrong. I like to think of this season a bit like Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were- Rabbit. No matter how much you lovingly try to protect your garden, there are some things beyond your control. This includes an enormous were- rabbit tearing through your garden and scoffing your carrots, or in my case - waiting for a Summer that has never arrived.  Since the number of sunny days we have had this summer can be counted with one hand, I'm sure for those of you in the mountains at least will have had a multitude of things go wrong. The trees are so out of it that some of the Japanese maples have already turned orange and red! 

My tomatoes have not grown well at all. Basically, despite well drained soil and plants in raised garden beds, they are waterlogged, and a bit too cold.  The tomatillos on the other hand, have popped up in a warmer corner of the veg patch as volunteers, loving the moist conditions. My first sowing of beans also did not like the cooler summer; but on the other hand I had a multitude of peas, which like cool weather, and a bumper crop of broad beans. The zucchinis have been slow, but are now taking off - I'm keeping my fingers crossed they will not suffer from mildew and if there is a dry day I will be going out to spray with a baking soda solution just in case.

My biggest loss has been the onions I so carefully sowed and tended through winter and spring. The massive amounts of rain has caused them to put all their effort into tops and the bulbs failed to swell. The garlic, which was planted and grown much earlier, was excellent, but then I pulled them up before the rains came. All of these things are through no fault of my own, but if I had known, then I wouldn't have bothered with summer plants at all, and just grown those that like Spring sort of weather. If I had a greenhouse, the poor tomatoes would have had more favourable conditions.

On the plus side, I haven't had to water any of the fruit trees for about 10 weeks. The peaches in particular are going brilliantly, and it looks as though this year may be the year of the olive - there are masses of tiny fruitlets beginning to swell. The raspberries produced masses, and I think there will be a few buckets of blackberries for jam. Even the strawberries were good after I netted them from the pesky birds (we have four cats, and do you think a single one of them lifted a paw to help us on that one? No! So much for cats killing local wildlife!)

And also, lest you think I am ungrateful for the rain, we have not had a fear of bush fires. Normally, this time of year is hot and dry, and in the mountains, the smell of smoke puts us all on edge. So at least our firies have had a less busy season.

So, since the long range forecast is for rain, rain, and more rain for the rest of summer, I've got ahead of the late summer and autumn planting and put in those that will welcome moist conditions. Spring onions, coriander, red Russian kale, thousand leaf kale, perpetual spinach, yellow stem silverbeet, romanesco broccoli, purple sprouting broccoli, turnips, and kohl rabi. I've also ordered some garlic bulbs and broad beans for March planting. Sowings of quick growing lettuce and rocket have also been done to get a last crop before Autumn. My suggestion is to get going on cool veg now, so that you will have something for winter. 

In any case, I suppose what I'm trying to say is, hindsight is a wonderful thing. And if I had a greenhouse I'm sure I would have got a few more tomatoes. Obviously, the Beloved had better get ready to build a greenhouse. Happy gardening!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Australia Day Dinner - Beer Fried Onions and Whatnot

So what does a vego eat for Australia Day? I have been asked this for the past week, because as a nation, lamb roast is a popular notion. Think the ad for lamb in the 90's where a girl (Naomi Watts by the way) wins a date with Tom Cruise, only to reject it because "Mum's making a lamb roast." That would be a tough call for me in any case, although I distinctly think a date with Tom would be the lesser of two evils. I could at least choose a salad right? Anyway, I digress.... chops, sausages (snags), and steak is the usual fare, although anything that can be chucked onto the barbie certainly goes. But we aren't missing out...
Dinner for us was- Veg snags;  jacket spuds; tomato, carrot & beetroot salad with tarragon and grapes; beer fried onions; pineapple skewers. Not a bad spread is it? And i got to use my cute new plates.

The day itself was rather uneventful. The downpours we have been experiencing for the entirety of this so called Summer made me disinclined to make the trip down to the lower mountains for the Australia Day Markets and the Australian Gnome Convention. Yes, we have a convention. And there are men who compete to to be the Gnome of the Year. Perhaps the Beloved should enter next year since he does have a beard... So I baked and cooked and schemed for the day, and  finished off  by watching Shine as a tip of the hat to Geoffrey Rush, who was awarded Australian of the Year (not to mention it's one of Australia's best films). 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Australia Day: Vegan Mango Lamingtons

There are some people that would say that it would be sacrilege to do anything other than chocolate. But those people can bugger off, cos I'm doing it my way. Lamingtons are an Australian invention from around 1901. There are many versions of how it was invented, but in any case, it was named after Lord Lamington, who was a governor of Queensland. Traditionally, it was a way to use up plain sponge cake. Cut into squares, and dipped in chocolate icing, it is then rolled in coconut and left to set. Sometimes it is sandwiched with jam, or jam and cream. There have been some modern twists that seem to be quite popular, including strawberry ones in pink icing, and lemon ones in yellow icing. But mine is going to be mango! I did forget I only had shredded, not desiccated coconut, so they are a bit rougher than traditional lamingtons, but they still look so pretty!

I made a plain vanilla cake in a loaf tin (you can use the cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World). I let it cool, then cut off the crusts and cut into slices for easy rectangles.

To make the icing dip, I melted equal amounts of  melted cacao butter with pure icing sugar, and added a few drops of food colouring. I dipped the squares in, then dipped in shredded coconut (I should have used desiccated). I left it to set on a plate in the fridge - and here's a tip, do it on greaseproof paper so it's easy to peel off. 

I mashed some mango, and dolloped it onto one lamington slice, and sandwiched it with another. You could also add some whipped coconut cream, or whipped tofutti with the mango before you sandwich.

Australia Day: Vegemite Damper Scrolls

G'Day mates, throw another vegie snag on the barbie, it's Aussie Day! (we don't all talk like that you know, except for maybe Paul Bogan  Hogan. Australia Day, for those of you not on our island continent, is our national day celebrated on the 26th January, which marks the arrival of the first fleet at Port Jackson (Sydney Cove) in 1788. It isn't the anniversary (claimed by my friend Josh to an unsuspecting American friend) " of the day in which a young Bushranger by the name of Ned Kelly, implemented his plan of concealing dynamite within the pouch's of Red Kangaroos and sent them hopping into the enemy camp, a plan which ultimately proved to be the decisive tipping point in ending the 6 year Australian-American war." LOL!!! BTW Josh, if you read this, I hope you don't mind me posting it, it was too good not to share!

So in honour of our day, I'm making some twists on traditional Aussie food. There will be a few posts, so keep your eyes peeled.

Damper, for those of you not in the know, is a colonial Australian unleavened bread. Traditionally, it was made with flour, salt, and water, and cooked in the coals of a "dampened" fire in a cooking pot.  Alternatively (and this was my favourite as a kid) it was twisted around a stick and cooked over the fire. We loved to smother ours with golden syrup when it was cooked. It has evolved to include baking soda, butter, and a little sugar, which I much prefer!

So, I've decided to add the other Australian icon, Vegemite - food of the gods! Not that other rubbish, Marmite (New Zealand version has sugar in it! Erk!), or Dick Smith's Aussiemite, or any number of other versions of yeast extract paste. You have to use the real deal (even if an American company owns it ha ha).

2 cups of plain flour 
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar
3 heaped tablespoons dairy free margarine, plus extra to spread
approx 1/2 cup soymilk

Preheat oven to 180C
In a bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and sugar
Rub through margarine until dough resembles breadcrumbs
Add soymilk, and form into a ball, kneading for a couple of minutes until smooth. If it's bit too sticky, just add a dusting of flour.
Roll out into an oblong shape.
Spread with margarine, and lots of Vegemite, covering well. You can also at this point add some shredded dairy free cheese on the top.
Cut into strips about 3cm cm wide, and about 8cm long and roll each one up to form a scroll.
Place scroll cut end up in a greased baking dish (I used my cast iron pot), and continue until pan is full or dough is finished. they should be packed closely together.
Bake for about 15 -20 minutes until top sound hollow when tapped. Eat warm straight out of the oven with some billy tea of course!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Gluten Free Vegan Mock Chicken in Laksa

This post should really be entitled "what I ate Monday night" because I'm not posting a recipe. Rather, I'm sharing with you this odd product I found by accident in the health food shop, and now plan on using it often. Please forgive the unusually crappy photos, largely due to a can't-be-stuffed kind of mood. But I promise you a proper post this week with a recipe...after all, it's Australia Day coming up so I would be very unpatriotic if I didn't do something for that! anyway, this packet was on the shelf below the vegan laksa paste (yeah, I know, how lazy of me not to make my own). It looked kind of like a packet of fortune cookies (I didn't look very hard obviously, but in my defence the window on the pack is kinda opaque rather than clear). Anyway... it's a dehydrated soy product called "Organic Soybean Chicken" made by Explore Asian. I'm not usually a fan of mock meats, but being gluten free and vegan I was willing to give it a shot, and thought it might go rather well with my laksa, even if I already had a packet of puffed tofu in hand. It cooks in boiling water, and then you drain and use it for whatever you like. It's kind of bland on its own, like tofu, but it has an interesting texture, and absorbed the flavours of my soup so well, I think this would be a great product to try slow cooking with. It would also be amazing marinated and used in a stir fry.

It was pretty cheap for mock meat products, $5.45 and I can get four meals out of one pack. I think it's great to be gluten free as well, as so many of those sort of products are based on wheat proteins, which I find to be very heavy to digest, and wheat free vegans miss out. So go get some! Experiment! and tell me what you made!

See you Australia Day!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Beetroot Crust Caramelised Onion & White Carrot Tart

I've been dreaming of this little tart for a few weeks now. I made a carrot pastry for an onion and beetroot tart as part of Christmas festivities, and it got me thinking about other vegetables that would work in a pastry. The colour the beetroot gives to this tart makes me give a little gasp (the photo doesn't do it justice). It's gorgeous, and gives a lovely backdrop for a filling. I made a couple of smaller ones for later use as well because they were just so darned cute. So what to put in this brightly hued case? I have an abundance of white carrots growing at present, and what better way to use some up with some caramelised onion. And no, I'm not confused with parsnips - we have been growing an heirloom variety that dates back to the 1500s called White Belgian. While my favourite carrot is Purple Dragons, the white caramelise beautifully with the onion. I used some eggs laid by our hens, but if you don't eat them, tofu will work just as well. Wilted spinach and almond fetta would go beautifully in this, or some goats cheese and spinach if you eat dairy.

The smell of this cooking in my kitchen was a lovely way to spend the afternoon...although it got somewhat marred by the Beloved who decided it was a good time to use some spray paint in the mudroom and the smell wound its way into the kitchen. Sigh. I had a good wedge of the tart for dinner with some greens,  potatoes, and peas straight from the garden. The crust was crisp, and slightly sweet from the beetroot, so I was right to add a little salt to back it off. I would definitely make this again.


For the Crust
3/4 cup plain flour either white or wholemeal
3/4 rolled oats
1 medium grated beetroot (about 1 loose cup)
200gr margarine
pinch salt and pepper to taste

For the Filling
3 large onions
3 large carrots
fresh dill chopped finely
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 tsp salt 
pepper to taste
If you eat eggs, use 3 beaten with 1/2 cup milk of your choice- if you don't, use the equivalent in egg re placer, or 1 cup firm tofu pureed with a splash of soy milk or almond milk.

Preheat the oven to 180C
You can either use your fingers to rub the margarine through the flour and oats as if making scone dough,  into coarse crumbs, or use a food processor to pulse )I used the latter method because as per usual I was making a few things at the same time). Add the beetroot and gently press together, distributing it evenly. Your pastry should turn a very bright pink!
Grease a quiche or tart tin and press pastry into the tin. You can roll it out, but I have found it easier to press it in as it is quite a rustic dough. Prick the bottom randomly with a skewer or fork.
Par bake with or without weights (it doesn't puff up much) for about 15 minutes, until the crust feels a bit dry.

While the case is baking saute onions and grated carrot in some olive oil with sugar, salt, and pepper until caramelised (takes 20 -30 minutes) and cool  a little. Add the dill, and eggs (or tofu), and pour into the pastry case. Bake for a further 15 -20 minutes or until set.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Rocket, Spinach, and Apple Salad

Yeah, I know, it's just a salad. But I made it today and since I have nothing else to post that is ready at the moment I thought I'd share this. It's pretty easy - rocket, baby spinach, sliced apple, yellow capsicum, and toasted almonds. The dressing was a very fresh mint and white balsamic vinaigrette. It's a sort of variation on the rocket and pear salad - nice and fresh for a Summer day.