Zucchini Tuesday...

26 February, 2013

Really, today should be called Marrow Tuesday given what I have in the garden.

I tried really hard to keep the zucchini under control, but they have gotten away from me.

After reading about Veggiegobbler's zucchini chips I decided it was time to make zucchini noodles. Or as Spring Warren from one of my favourite gardening books, Quarter Acre Farm, likes to call them - Zoodles.

Basically you take zucchini which are long past their best, and chop the outside parts (discarding the spongy, seedy core) into long strips. These could be frozen but I chose to dehydrate them. I do this for two reasons:
1. They can then be stored without taking up in demand space in my freezer, and
2. They don't require energy to store. Obviously the dehydrator required energy to power, but then I can store them pretty much indefinitely without any further energy demands.

The long thin strips of zucchini/marrow were laid out on the dehydrator trays.

It took about 10 hours on a low temperature to become this.

Into an airtight bottle (with saved silicone desiccant packs from bought products to keep them dry) they go.

Like this they should keep for months.

Thanks as always to Louise for starting the Zucchini Tuesday celebration.

And then there were three...

25 February, 2013

Note: This post contains discussion and pictures of dead animals. Please do not read if you feel this may offend.

This weekend just gone I killed an animal for food. Actually more than one. I killed three of my six ducks for meat.

I say the word killed deliberately. I could tone it down and say culled, butchered, slaughtered, whatever. But the reality is that I killed them with my own two hands. And those of my grandmother, who showed me how to do the deed.

This was a difficult process, but I felt ready for it. I expected it to be difficult. If it had been easy I would have been disappointed.

When I first blogged about getting my ducks just a few short weeks ago I wrote about my intentions of raising some of them for meat, so I won't repeat my reasons for doing so here. Obviously I felt this was still something I wanted to do as I've followed through.

So on Saturday I got everything ready before my grandmother came over to my place. I had sharpened my knives, had water on the boil and the designated slaughter area was ready to go out of sight of the ducks pen. Earlier that morning I had captured the ducks I had decided not to keep and separated them from the keepers, so that they would be a little calmer than if I took them straight to slaughter. My grandmother did the first one while I watched. She very matter-of-fact-ly took the duck, held its wings and feet in one hand and then swung it around a couple of times. Apparently this makes the blood rush to  their heads so they are all woozy and disorientated. The she gave it a couple of whacks on the head, then I helped hold it still while she cut its throat. It shuddered and twitched for about 30 seconds and then we got started on plucking. This was a bigger job than I anticipated, but after a while and with a few dunks into the hot water most of the feathers were out. Then she showed me how to pull out the innards, to separate the edible from non-edible and we were done.

It surprised me that some parts of the process were easier than I expected and some parts were harder. Actually catching them in the first place was really hard as it was so final. Cutting their throats was also challenging and slightly gory. But the plucking and gutting was easy. By then it really was just meat to me.

Then we moved on to number two, which went much the same. Number three was the one I did all by myself. And here it is.

All up it took about 3 hours to go from three live animals to three carcasses. My grandmother took the hearts and stomachs to make soup with, whereas I had about 100g of liver, half a stomach (I'll give most things a go) and three whole ducks for which I had many plans. Two were butchered by removing the thighs and breasts and one was whole for roasting. The liver I turned into pate. The thighs and two breasts were made into confit, while the other two breasts are in the freezer. The carcasses plus the feet and necks of the butchered ducks made about 1.5L of duck stock, and afterwards I picked the bones clean and made a rough terrine with the pickings. I truly feel I've used each bird to its utmost, and feel that no part of these animals was wasted.

It was funny (not funny ha ha, but funny interesting) that I did the butchering yesterday just after I had lunch. My lunch included a beef patty (leftover from a recent burger night) and as I was eating it I had no qualms about consuming that animal flesh. Not 30 minutes later, as I was cutting up the ducks which the day before had been running around my backyard, it felt very different. It didn't feel bad, or wrong, just different. It's made me much more aware of using meat to its fullest and never taking it for granted.

I just hoped the birds' taste lived up to all the work. The first opportunity for tasting was the pate. It was delicious! I was very relieved.

The second opportunity for tasting was the whole bird which was roasted when my family came over for dinner. I also roasted a purchased organic duck for comparison.

The much larger duck on the bottom was about 1.8kg. I didn't weigh mine but I suspect it is around 1.2kg. Unfortunately I didn't get a pic after they were done roasting. We were too busy tucking in. And the verdict? The homegrown duck was tastier, but the commercial duck was more tender. On balance though, pretty much everyone preferred the homegrown.

So there it is. Now that I've had time to decompress the whole experience I'm glad I've done it. Some questions I've been asking myself:

Was it worth it? Yes.

Will I still eat meat? Yes.

Would I do it again? Yes, but I wouldn't want to do it every day.

If my remaining ducks have little ducklings I would give it another go. I believe that animals that have been looked after well while they live and slaughtered as humanely as possible are on my table to stay. And if that includes those I've raised myself so much the better.

At least someone likes figs...

23 February, 2013

Zucchini Tuesday...

19 February, 2013

Here is my favourite zucchini recipe.

Stuffed zucchini flowers.

It requires a rare state of perfection for zucchini. I had to wait until just the right time when I had zucchini flowers that had closed, but hadn't gotten too soft and ready to fall off.

I do prefer the female flowers (on the left with baby zucchini behind the flower) but had a bit more stuffing that I originally intended to make so I went outside and picked some male flowers for stuffing too.

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers (adapted from a recipe from the River Cafe Green cookbook)

5-6 zucchini flowers
100g ricotta
1 egg yolk
Grated rind of half a lemon
Salt, pepper
120g flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
Around 2/3 cup water
2 egg whites

Gently pull out the stamen part of the zucchini flower and rinse in cold water. Let dry.

For the stuffing, mix ricotta, egg yolk, lemon, salt and pepper together until well combined. Do your best to stuff the mix into the zucchini flowers. (I find a teaspoon and doing a little at at time works best. More than a teaspoon full and it goes everywhere!)

To make the batter mix the flour, olive oil and enough water to make a thick, smooth paste (not runny, but not claggy, think like double cream). Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then fold into the flour/oil/water paste.

Dip the filled zucchini flowers in the batter and fry in hot oil until golden.

Serve with a salad.

A bit fiddly I grant you, but so worth the effort!

Tomato trial update #3...

18 February, 2013

Yay for tomato season!

The tomatoes seem to be really loving this hot weather we've been having (glad one of us has at least...) and have been cropping like crazy.

So far the highest cropper has been Siberian, closely followed by Lemon Drop, Isis Candy and Rouge de Marmande and Principe Borghese.

Also coming along is Gardeners Delight, Green Zebra, Garden Peach, Tommy Toe, Mortgage Lifter and Black Cherry.

Not yet to produce ripe fruit (and therefore not pictured) are Big White Pink Stripe, Black Krim, Earl of Edgecombe and Ned Kelly. All of these have some fruit, but I'm not entirely sure all will ripen on the bush.

But no matter. There have still been lots of tomato salads with buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and basil which is my absolute favourite thing to eat in summer.

But now I'm starting the hoard for passata making which will happen in the next couple of weeks.

This is today's haul about to be chopped and frozen until I have enough to fill my massive preserving pot.

I'm hoping for at least 10kg to be able to preserve. Fingers crossed.

I hope your tomatoes are coming along too.

A day in the life of a duck...

10 February, 2013

Post-breakfast drinks
More preening
Stretching the wings
Hunting around for a post-breakfast snack
Mid-morning nap
Quick drink
Everyone decides to join in
Relaxing in the shade
Searching for bugs
More swimming
More drinking
Pre-dinner snacks

Thursday's Garden Gobbles...

07 February, 2013

Thanks to Veggiegobbler for initiating this sharing of how gardeners use their produce in the kitchen.

Today I used these:

Can you guess what I made?

Gold star to those who came up with the correct answer, which was Butter Chicken.

Butter Chicken
1 medium (or many very small) onions
about thumb size piece of fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp garam marsala
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
around 500g fresh tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
500g chicken thighs, diced
100ml cream

Chop onion, ginger and garlic very finely or whiz in a food processor.
Saute in a medium hot pan with a little oil until onion is cooked, then add spices a cook a little.
Add chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, then chicken pieces.
Let simmer until sauce is thickened and chicken is cooked through.
Add cream, then taste for seasoning.

I served mine with a little brown rice, some chopped spinach (I'm sure you smart cookies were thinking "But I see no spinach in the ingredients here!") and roti.

The roti recipe I got here and tried it for the first time tonight. It turned out pretty well I think.

I've been craving Butter Chicken for about three weeks now. It really hit the spot.

Zucchini Tuesday... going raw...

05 February, 2013

Much kudos to Louise for beginning the Zucchini Tuesday trend and allowing us closet zucchini fans to proclaim our love of this humble vegetable.

The zukes for me continue to come along at a manageable pace. But today's picking was borderline.

I reckon if left much longer the bottom zucchini (variety Costata) would have been too big and tasteless. I generally prefer my zucchini like the top one (variety Black Jack) - about 2cms thick.

Now while zucchini is mostly cooked and is a fine vegetable when heat is applied, today I wanted to do something a little different. A while back I went to a lovely restaurant where I had a fabulous raw zucchini and olive salad. It was just that; thinly sliced zucchini, halved green olives and a very simple dressing. I've been wanting to make it ever since.

Here is my version.

It was thinly sliced raw zucchini, tomatoes and mozzarella (I think dry pan fried haloumi would have been better, but I didn't have any) with a dressing of olive oil, Riesling vinegar and finely chopped preserved lemons. It was damn fine.

Rechallenge update #3...

04 February, 2013

Things are going slower than expected four months in to my challenge to grow 80% of my fruit and veg.

This month seems to have been really slow in the garden. Yes, tomatoes are starting to crop and the zucchini and cucumbers are finally coming along. Crops are coming through but not thick and fast like I expected. Last year January was one of my peak fruit and veg growing months. This year not so much. Add that to my passion for purchasing summer stone fruit and the still limited pickings from my juvenile fruit trees and it all adds up to a lackluster month in the garden.

And its reflected in the percentage: 73% of my fruit and veg was garden produced.

Now this seems like pretty good going, and it is. Truly I'm grateful for all the fabulous produce that's been coming along. But I feel it could have been better. Earlier plantings will need to be tested next year, and I'm thinking about getting a greenhouse for starting off crops earlier. But this is all planning.

Surprisingly, now that I've just gone back to my records and checked, last years total for January was only 51%. I'm amazed. I really thought it was more than that. Maybe things aren't so unusually slow after all. February through to April were really the killer months for mountains of produce.

When do you find your garden hits it's peak?