Recipe Repertoire 4/52...

27 February, 2014

I am already lagging behind. In my attempt for 2014 to expand my culinary consciousness I am lamentably behind the eight ball. It is week seven of the year, and I have only managed four recipe repertoires this year. I need to up my game. 

However, with cooler weather I have been more interested in cooking. Feeling the need for savoury munchies, I perused my cookbook collection to a recipe suiting said cravings.

This looked suitable.

I mean, a recipe with equal quantities of butter and flour. What could possibly be wrong with this?

Now I am not really an anchovy fan, but I do love them used in the bases of risottos or pasta sauce, where they are added to the sauteed oniony/garlicy base and melt in giving a lovely savoury, salty edge. So I was prepared to give them a try.

This recipe comes from the book Tamasin's Kitchen Classics, by Tamasin Day-Lewis.

(Yes, sister of Daniel Day-Lewis, actor extraordinaire).

I wouldn't say this is the most fabulous book ever, but I do like her style of cooking. Very homey, country style cooking, which certainly has its place. I actually first liked her work when I came across the book 'Tarts With Tops On', which was all about pies. Oh, how hilarious.

This recipe is really easy. Preheat oven. Get out food processor. Whiz chilli, anchovies, parmesan, add butter and flour and blend. Roll. Slice. Put on tray in oven. Remove when golden brown. Eat.

I added an extra level by rolling the raw dough in nigella seeds, which this year I have again harvested for baking.

Mine didn't have quite the red and brown flecks of the original, but they were still pretty.

I loved the texture of these: crispy, buttery and oh-so-moreish. In fact, I had to bake them in batches of no more than a few at a time because I ate them all immediately. The good news is you can keep the dough in the fridge for weeks, ready to slice up and bake at a moments notice if cheesy biscuit cravings occur.

The only thing was I didn't really love the anchovy. I would leave that out next time.

Overall though, a lovely recipe to have up the sleeve. Another one for the recipe repertoire.

The amateur guide to bud grafting...

25 February, 2014

...written by a complete amateur!

I never intended to get into grafting. It all seemed too hard, too technical, to much expert knowledge required. And while I am a massive plant nerd, I'm nerdy about varieties of tomatoes, non-chemical ways to foil the plans of local cabbage moths from eating ALL your brassica seedlings and heritage apple varieties.

Not so much horticulture in general.

People who know I like gardening ask me what is wrong with their azaleas. I have no idea. If I can't eat it, I don't care about it. I might be able to help you with your lemon tree that isn't fruiting, or the dark patchy stuff on your tomatoes that is making them die, but that's about it. Send all other enquiries to your friendly neighbourhood nursery staff.

But that all changed when I attended a grafting workshop at the Werribee Park Heritage Orchard. Run by Craig Castree the workshop included plant sales, where you could pick the variety you wanted (they had a range of plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines with maybe 100 varieties all up) for only $3 (yes, $3!!!) for each scion (piece of branch) and then $15 for the rootstock. Then you could take the scion and your rootstock and Craig would graft it for you, showing you how to do it.

It was awesome.

A whole other world of opportunity opened up for me at that moment. I have currently 3 plum trees, 2 peaches and a nectarine. If I grafted new varieties onto those existing trees, which Craig assures me can be done, I could maybe extend that to 2-4 varieties on each tree, and maybe have a total of 12 varieties of plum and 8 peaches, all in the same space as the original 5. Don't get me started on my apples.

How exciting!

I bought scions of apricot and peach. The apricot (variety Moorpark as I'm told this is a good all rounder for my climate, which I want purely for drying as I don't really like fresh apricots but I love dried apricots) I got Craig to graft for me onto a bought rootstock, but the two peach scions (variety Fragar and Blackburn Elberta) came home ungrafted as I wanted to try grafting myself.

I took the scions home in a plastic zip lock bag with a little water in it. I was told they would last and be fine for grafting for up to 2 weeks if kept in the fridge. Into the fridge they went. I then got onto Forestry Tools which Craig recommended for grafting knives and the budding tape he used. I soon had both knife and tape headed to me in the mail. (In fact I received it the day after ordering - excellent service!) I also headed to the big green shed for Clonex, which is a hormone liquid which helps the bud and graft site to become friends.

So having all my bud grafting equipment, I headed into the garden to give it a go.

Firstly, make a horizontal cut in a piece of bark (try to choose one year old wood for this, apparently) about 0.5-1 cm long. Use enough pressure so you can feel resistance (i.e. the central hard woody part).

Then cut vertically down from the middle of your horizontal cut.

About 2 cms should do it.

Then use the reverse side of the blade (yay for specially designed grafting knives) to gently pick up the top layer of bark and reach the cambium layer , where all the growth stuffs happens (I am so obviously not a technical expert on this!) and where you want your graft bud to go.

Do this on both sides of your T shaped cut.

Et voila. Ready for your bud.

Don't forget to sterilise your knife between cuts with metho.

Now get out your scion. This should be new growth about half a centimetre thick with nice buds on it. Make an angled cut under your chosen bud about 1.5cms down from the bud. Use the blade to cut under the bud along the stem. This is hard and takes more pressure than you'd think. Be very careful as the budding knife is very sharp.

I made sure to cut away from me, and always ended up cutting way up the stem. Then cut just above the bud.

There is your bud for the graft.

Dip it in the clonex.

Then insert it into your graft cut.

Make sure it sits nicely into the cut.

Now you need your grafting tape. Now you can use any old tape that will hold the bud firmly in the graft site and keep out water and bacteria etc. But if you use a general impermeable tape, at some point you will need to make an incision to allow the bud (hopefully) to grow out. I didn't feel comfortable with this, so I bought a thing called buddy tape. This is much more expensive than general budding tape, but it has the added advantage of being both a firm hold tape and impermeable to all the things it needs to be impermeable to, as well as allowing the bud to directly grow out. I don't know how. But this sounded like exactly what I needed.

Take your tape of choice and hold it over the bud graft.

Wrap tightly around (stretching as you go with the buddy tape) to secure the bud in place and ensure good contact with the cambium layer.


I wasn't feeling confident, so I did a few grafts of each type.

Now I just need to wait and see if my grafts take. 

Then it will be game on. No fruit tree will be safe.

Why bother with take-away?...

23 February, 2014

Feeling a bit peckish on a Saturday night?

Feel like carby, cheesy, tomatoey goodness?

This is all you need to do.

Whack the oven on its hottest setting and put a sturdy metal tray on the top shelf. (Or one of those pizza stones if you happen to have one.)

Have a quick wander around the yard and pick whatever looks good. Don't forget lots of basil.

Spend two minutes chopping the tomato and zucchini. Roll out your pizza bases from pre-made dough, or some you froze as leftovers from the last time you made bread, or some bought pizza bases. Whatever rocks your world. Make sure they are on sheets of baking paper.

Top with homemade passata, then a grating of parmesan, then your zucchini, LOTS of basil, blobs of buffalo mozarella and more parmesan.

Gently slide your baking paper/pizza sheet onto your pre-heated tray and put into the oven.

While that's cooking, get to work on the next one using the above formula, but substituting zucchini for tomato. (My rolling skills weren't quite as good this time.)

Pull the cooked pizza out, put the uncooked pizza in.

Wait impatiently intermittently opening the oven door (only a tiny bit) to see if the pizza is done yet. Mutter "come on" about twenty thousand times. When the pizza is golden brown around the edges and you simply cannot wait any longer, remove pizza from oven.

Cut into slices.

Eat while sitting on the couch with a cider. Well, perry for me this time, but anyhoo.


How to thin peaches...

16 February, 2014

This may seem a bit late, given I've already harvested all my peaches.

But as some of you may recall, my parents have a fabulous very late cling-stone yellow peach which I have pilfered for preserving.

Traditionally my dad and I have fierce discussions over how this tree should be both pruned, and the relative merits of thinning fruit-lets.

My dad is of the opinion that 'pruning' means lopping off any branches that break because they become overloaded with peaches. Other than that, nothing.

I disagree. I feel that 'pruning' should be done yearly in summer, and involves cutting back last year's growth by about two-thirds, to at least a half centimeter thick branch, and an outward pointing bud.

My dad believes that thinning fruit is a waste of time.

I disagree. (I know, who would have thunk it?) I think thinning fruit is essential to ensure branches don't break under the sheer weigh of peaches (oh what a lovely thought when I have young trees which barely produce anything) and also helps to direct the trees fruiting energies into producing bigger and more luscious peaches.

Yesterday, while I was over at their place for lunch, I had the luck to convince my dad to let me experiment, in the name of blogging, with thinning the fruit on some branches and not others, to see which method produces better peaches.

The pruning argument will have to remain unanswered. For now.

This is the peach tree.

It sits in a corner of the veg patch, and has been there for at least 15 years. I think it is in good need of re-shaping, as its a bit awkward to get to the top and rear branches. What is the point of a peach if you can't pick it? An age old philosophical argument.

Yet again the peach has set numerous fruit. They are developing well, and appear right on target for ripeness in late March-April.

You can see just how bent over this branch is by the multitude of peaches. I expect without any intervention this branch would split and break long before the peaches ripen.

So thin I did.

I thin to around a 10 cm space between peaches. Obviously I try to keep the best looking and biggest peaches, and thin the damaged, small and those growing in spaces which when ripe will be rubbing on branches or are otherwise not ideal.

Before thinning:

After thinning:

At least a hand span between fruits is a good idea.

Overall this meant a lot of fruit which will not be making it to full grown peach-hood.

There were maybe 100 peaches in there. They all went in the compost, as I don't think there is anything that can be usefully done with peaches that under-ripe.

It seems a pity and a waste, but it will be better in the end.

Et voila. The thinned (and lightly pruned, but don't tell my dad) tree.

The un-thinned branches are the ones right in the top rear (that I couldn't reach) and you can't really see in the photo.

But in a few months we should see if the hour or so's work was worth it.

Then the thinning argument can be put to rest. Until next year.

Sow brassica seeds - tick...

12 February, 2014

I have finally sown my brassica seeds.

Witness the evidence of my industry / eventual succumbings of my gardening conscience which has been telling me to sow my brassicas for at least a month.

Last year I had the best success I've had with brassicas, most notably cauliflower, and I put it mostly down to early sowing. This year I have been meaning to follow suit, but from one reason or another I kept putting off sowing my brassica seeds.

No more.

I've sown cauliflower (Snowball), cabbage (Savoy), broccoli (Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Italian, Ironman and Legacy) and kale (Tuscan and Red Russian).

I also distributed some crushed seedheads of brassicas gone to seed randomly around the front yard in an experiment. I have no idea if I will get anything worthwhile.

Yay. Another task ticked off the garden to-do list.

Recipe Repertoire 3/52...

09 February, 2014

In the midst of the summer heat (yet another 40+ C degree day yesterday - enough already!) I have barely felt like cooking. The idea of turning on the oven or cooktop and actually adding to the insane heat is just unthinkable.

Luckily for me the tomatoes are FINALLY coming in, and so I've been eating a few of my absolute favourite salad in the world: tomato, basil, buffalo mozarella, olive oil, balsalmic vinegar and just a smigeon of salt. It never stales.

But yesterday, even amidst the heat, I felt like doing a little kitchen concocting. But using no heating elements. What was I to do?

Why, add to my recipe repertoire of course!

So I flicked through my recipe books until I came across a recipe that suited my requirements.

Tomato jelly. Genius!

This recipe came courtesy of the excellent book Week In, Week Out by Simon Hopkinson.

This was another gifted book (thanks Rhonda and Graham!). It is the kind of cookbook I would not have looked twice at in a bookshop, let alone picked up off the shelf to peruse. Which would be a mistake. It is a gem! The book is a collection of articles written for a newspaper column, and yet has a lovely flow and has introductions to each recipe/theme that are delightful.

The one for my chosen recipe talks about him having a similar meal, but with a celery cream. This got me thinking.

But first, the jelly.

I went out and collected a basket full of the most sun damaged tomatoes and some basil.

I figure I may as well use the ugly tomatoes in this recipe, as how they look now will have no impact on the end result. I'd say I had about 600-700 grams of tomato and a big handful of basil.

The tomatoes then got chopped and added to a saucepan with one small red chilli (bought) and two small cloves of garlic (homegrown), both sliced finely.

This is where I slightly broke my 'no heat application rule' in that I put this (lid on) on a low heat for 30 minutes, until everything softened. I then smushed it with a potato masher and chucked in the basil, then put the lid back on and turned the heat off. I then left it until it had cooled down.

This then got strained through a doubled over cheesecloth.

They do say you shouldn't prod or squeeze the bag, lest you get an unclear jelly.

I did both.

Obviously, the left bowl is the squeezed out additional juice, with the right bowl the unadulterated tomato juices.

I didn't care all that much, so I added them together.

I then soaked one gold gelatine leaf in a little water, while I heated about 1/4 cup of the tomato juices in the microwave. Soaked gelatine went into the hot tomato juice until it was disolved, then added to the rest of the tomato juice mixture and poured into bowls.

Into the fridge to set they went.

I then made both a tomato cream as per the recipe, and a celery cream for experimentation.

The tomato cream uses the remaining tomato/basil/chilli/garlic pulp, whizzed in a food processor/thermomix until smooth (mine wasn't all that smooth, so I pressed it through a sieve), flavoured with salt and tobasco (I also added a few drops of smoked hickory and a little balsamic vinegar) and then added to cream whipped to soft peaks.

The celery cream I made by whizzing the inner stalks (warning: outer stalks will be slightly bitter) with lemon in the thermomix until completely pureed. Then I squeezed this through a cheesecloth to get celery juice. (The lemon stops it from going all oxidised and brown - very unappealing - and keeps it a gorgeous kermit green colour). This, plus some celery salt (celery seeds + salt crushed in a mortar and pestle = delicious), gently folded into the softly whipped cream, was amazing!

So much so that I disregarded the tomato cream and only used the celery cream.

Then I got a little fancy with garnishes (basil, celery leaves, a little celery salt and some olive oil) cos it just looked so perty.

OMG! It was exactly what I was after. Cooling, refreshing, delicate and delicous!

That's definitely another one to add to my repertoire. I shall be cooking this one again for sure!

What are you cooking this week?

Very early apples...

06 February, 2014

I have been eating fresh apples.

Yes; fresh off the tree.

In summer.

Now before I got into this whole fruit and veg growing malarky, I thought (much like 99% of the population) that fresh apples were available all year round, and that there existed maybe 5 or 6 varieties of apples.

Not so, my friends, not so.

While you can eat apples for most of the year, they will not be fresh. They will have been stored for anywhere up to 18 months after picking before they hit your friendly neighbourhood duopoly supermarket. Mostly they taste like they've been stored for 18 months. Bland, floury and boring.

Maybe that's also partly because they are the same old varieties. When there are thousands (yes, thousands) of named varieties. Who'd want to eat boring old Golden Delicious (which is usually not delicious) when there are varieties out there like Esopus Spritzenburg, Brabant Bellefleur, Hubbardson's Nonesuch and Staymans Winesap.

Not me.

And they can fruit anywhere from January to July. Yes, fresh eating apples for 7 months of the year.

That's why I have 57 apple trees. Yes, you heard right. 57. In my suburban backyard.

(Well, also the nature strip, but that's only two, so its not really cheating.)

This is how. They are mostly grown on dwarfing rootstocks, in a cordon espalier. Thus I fit apple trees which will eventually bear up to 30kg of of fruit, in about a 50cm square space. Not bad at all.

But anyways, back to the apples.

Most of the apple trees are in the area I call my "Orchard". It is an awkward corner of the yard that is partly shaded in summer by the very large trees on the nature strip. There are 6 apple beds in this area, where my apples are espaliered. The trees are laid out in order from earliest to latest fruiting, with the one's closest to the fence (and getting the most shade) are the later apples, which will get the sun in winter when the nature strip trees drop their leaves, allowing the later fruit to ripen. 

Some of these trees I've had since 2011, some from 2012, and some were only planted last year. The above layout shows the 'older' trees listed under the bed diagram, and the 'newer' trees above. 

Today I'm focussing on the very early apples.

The only trees to set fruit this year was the Early Victoria (only plated in 2013, so go tree!) and the White Transparent.

The Early Victoria lived up to its name, with fruit ripening from the second week of Jan.

Early Victoria

This is the tree.

I have to admit, it wasn't the tastiest apple I've ever eaten, being very acid and not very sweet. Kinda like a not very tasty Granny Smith. And generally the very early apples are not known as the most flavoursome. Nor do they keep well, with the very late apples generally being the best apples for storing. But it was a welcome change and quite novel for me, and a very good effort from a very young tree.

Ripening next was the White Transparent.

White Transparent

This one has been around for a few years longer, being planted in its present position in 2011.

You can see it is better developed, with more lateral branches which generally have the fruiting buds.

Fruiting bud, after the fruit has been picked, with new growth coming along.

Now because I was busy eating the Early Victoria's, I didn't quite pick these as early as I could have. This is what they looked like in early Jan.

This is how the last one looked just before I ate it a few minutes ago.

It was a good move to wait. The later picked apples had much more flavour. I thought they had a slightly tropical flavour, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what. Too bad I'll have to wait until next year to try it again.

So that's my early apple wrap up. The next apples that set fruit are due to ripen in February-March. I can't wait to see what these ones are like.