Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Recipe: Zucchini Bake and 'Bubble and Squeak'

Before I give you the recipe I just thought I would draw your attention to this upcoming afternoon at our Community Garden.  What Jerry is going to talk about really leads on from the previous post about the wild weather we have been experiencing, how we deal with our changing climate and how we prepare for the future - especially in regard to food security.  He is a wonderfully passionate and knowledgeable speaker and his talk Corner Stone Plants of the Future is very timely, and a must if you are in Mullumbimby this Saturday.
Zucchini tromboncino

Which brings me nicely to the trombocini* (which is what everyone calls it around here).  Related to the zucchini, it has cropped up (pardon the pun) around here for the first time this year - I have never seen it before. ( I think you can work out how it got it's name - the very large ones really do look like a trombone).  And how they have cropped up - abundance can certainly be aptly applied to this plant.  So what does this tell me? Well, it does very well in our climate - unlike a lot of other zucchini, cucumber and squash member of the cucurbit family which get badly affected by fungal diseases and, it's an extremely valuable source of fresh vegetable nutrients when others just won't tolerate the wet.

What's more - it tastes good!  Like a zucchini, but more dense, less seedy and watery - with a nutty, sweet flavour.  And there's more - it stores very well in the fridge, and you can eat the skin - it is not bitter.

*It's listed on Digger's Seeds site as zucchini tromboncino (Cucurbita moschata) and being a fan of consistency and less confusion in the naming of plant names, that is what it will have to be.

It needs a trellis/pergola or support to grow over as the vine is extremely vigorous.  The fruit can grow to 1m but is best picked at about 25cm. - and you will have lots and lots of them - so best to learn a way to cook with them?

'Tromboncino' Zucchini Bake

I have been cooking this recipe for some years now - it's very, very good.  Great for lunch or dinner and children love it - a good one for school lunches - and you can use any kind of grated zucchini.

 Zucchini Bake

2 large zucchini grated (2 cups)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 cup grated strong cheddar
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk (can be substituted with milk)
half cup chopped spring onions/or leeks/or chives
1 and half cups SR wholemeal flour
salt and pepper
grated nutmeg
paprika or cayenne
1 or 2 sliced tomatoes for decoration

Mix all together and place in oiled, shallow dish.
Decorate with thin slices of fresh tomato (optional)
Sprinkle with paprika.
Bake in oven on 180-200 for about 25 minutes or until firm and golden.  It’s yummy hot or cold.
Dave, my supplier - blowing his own trumpet!

P.S. Yesterday my husband reminded me that it was the anniversary of our arrival in Australia, 27th February 1975 - 38 years ago and, as it was still raining we had a celebratory dinner at home.  Bangers with beans and bubble and squeak. A dinner that is guaranteed to put a smile on his face and another use for my 'trombones'; Hayter's Hill veal and pork sausages from the farmers' market, home made baked beans and good old Pommie comfort food - bubble and squeak. (Let me tell you girls, the way to a man's heart is definitely through his stomach!).

Bubble and Squeak - a great way to use up leftover vegetables and a staple dish for me when I was growing up.  We usually had it on a Monday with leftover vegetables from the Sunday roast lunch.  The Irish have a version called Colcannon and I'm sure that every potato eating country has a recipe like this all of their own.  I would love readers to add a comment with their recipe from their own culture.

Leftover potato/sweet potato/pumpkin/swede, lightly mashed - they should still be a bit lumpy - I used potato and pumpkin.  Originally just with potato.
1 onion, chopped and fried
1 cup grated zucchini (tromboncino)
1 cup precooked greens - kale/cabbage/mustard greens/spinach/chard - I used kale
salt and white pepper
Parsley - if you have it or chives/fresh tarragon (great with potatoes)

Combine together (you can add a beaten egg if you want to).
Cook flattened spoonfuls on a hot plate or in a large frying pan until golden.

NOTE:  I had to answer my husband's phone the other day, and noticed that the screen saver was a photo of the table laid for dinner!! I rest my case.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February in Mullumbimby - The Big Wet

The end of our road after tropical cyclone Oswald - behind the fence is usually a paddock with cows in it.  This was three weeks ago.  Our local rivers have had 14 flood warnings since the start of 2013.

I was in Sydney when Oswald paid us a visit, but today we had another tremendous storm - one of the most ferocious I have ever experienced.  The winds have abated now but it is still raining.  I have just seen my son-in-law off, after having dinner here, with the three grandchildren wondering if they will get home OK - my daughter has gone to Melbourne with her girlfriends for the weekend ( they have bushfires down there with very dry hot winds!).  He already had to try three different ways to get here through flash floods and fallen trees across the roads.

Why risk it, you might ask? Well, once again they have no power at home - which means no water (they need a pump from the tank) and great difficulty getting dinner.  There are beds here if they can't get home, but they are also worried about their chickens and guinea pigs.
My daughter's place after the cyclone.  They lost a large Tallowood tree which left a drenched koala stranded on one branch - it eventually recovered and moved on - with another huge eucalypt down over their concrete water tank, fortunately not cracking it.  My husband tried to get up there to check on things, in vain as it turned out - water was over the road in several places -  he just ended up helping people clear fallen trees from the road and directing a carful of terrified Japanese tourists? (Less than perfect GPS again?)

This destructive weather causes so many problems for everyone around here.  The local community of Upper Repentance Creek, with about 40 families, are still isolated after four weeks because of a road slip - they have supplies flown in three times a week.

Many other families were without power or telephone for up to 10 days.  Imagine life for most people without their iPhones, television, refrigeration and internet connection for one day, let alone over a week?  As my friend Don says, who lives way up at Huonbrook and is one of the folk always affected by wild weather, it's good practice for the future.

You become resourceful - you have to; bucket showers, candlelit dinners, eating from the larder, lots of board games (I reckon the Byron Shire residents must be the Scrabble champions of the world by now) and community co-operation - we couldn't exist without it - I also think the maternity unit at the local hospital might also be very busy in nine months time?  My daughter, and her family, were away on holiday during the cyclone and couldn't get home because the highway was flooded.  Their neighbours rescued the guinea pigs and chickens, checked the house for any damage (thankfully none), saved their food out of the freezer and had chain-sawed up most of the fallen trees by the time they got home.

And on Friday, the day of the latest storm, we had another intense low pressure system off the coast with onshore wind gusts of up to 100km per hour with a massive dumping of rain - 127mm in 12 hours.  At midday it was falling at 720mm per hour - sheets and sheets of water.  I sat inside as the lights flickered watching my garden being lashed and shredded to pieces.  I woke up this morning to the sound of chain saws as folk begin the big mop up with trees down everywhere though, when I stepped out onto the lawn, water came up over the top of my boots - the ground is so sodden it is just not draining away.  It'll ruin the lawn if we start walking on it now.
I did venture down to Brunswick Beach for a walk and this is what I found - no beach!  The very high winds and mountainous seas had simply swept it away.
What it normally looks like!

My vegie garden is a disaster with bean plants uprooted and splattered against the chicken wire, eggplant and okra blown out of the ground and just about everything else wilted and waterlogged.  My datura, which was flowering beautifully, now looks like a tree of shredded hankies and a large frangipani in a pot was blown over, cracking the pot a making an amputated mess of the plant.  Fortunately, my son is an arborist and I have a huge pile of mulch out the front just waiting for it to dry up a bit - he dumped that there after the cyclone.  If you want some tips on fixing your soil after the rain - go to this link

I'm sure he will have lots more.  If you need any you can contact Nick Hart on 0427 347 380.

Storm rubbish on the beach - always disquieting is to see so much plastic, large, medium and minute pieces of plastic.  Friends and I went down after the cyclone and picked up bags and bags of plastic waste - straws, bottle tops, plastic bags, fishing tackle and lots and lots of polystyrene - the stuff that is causing a large area of the Pacific to become a toxic soup.  Looks like we will be busy again!

Interestingly, the little grey stony pieces always appear washed up on our east coast beaches after seismic activity in the Pacific - it's debris from a volcano - pummice.  The beach was recently strewn with this, and coconuts, after an earthquake and tsunami in the Solomon Islands.  Wild weather indeed.
"This island continent lies in the water hemisphere.  On the eastern coast, the neighbouring nation is Chile, though it is far, far east, Valparaiso being more than six thousand miles away in a straight line: her northern neighbours are those of the Timor Sea, The Yellow Sea; to the south is that cold, stormy sea full of earth-wide rollers, which stretches from there without land, south to the Pole".   For Love Alone, Christina Stead, 1945

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Recipe: Coconut and Lime Syrup Cake

I love coconut in all it's forms - fresh coconut milk; succulent fresh white flesh; shredded and toasted on Balinese pancakes with lime and, of course, chocolate Bounty bars!.  A Swedish nutritionalist once told me that it was something to do with my blood type. This theory was confirmed for her by the fact that I also have blonde hair and I also love eggs and lemons/limes?.  (I hope this means that I can, without guilt, eat two or three pieces of this deliciously moist and tangy cake?)

But, in truth, it has now been raining for over a week, and I mean lashing rain - Mullumimby style, and I needed the smell of coconut cake cooking in the house rather than moulds growing!

I also had my first beautiful crop of limes from a tree I planted a couple of years ago. (I do find that citrus need a couple of years to settle in before they start bearing fruit).

I have been trying out variations on this recipe for a couple of years and this if by far the best.  The cake also came out evenly cooked with no cracks in it!! (Well, one small one)

Coconut and Lime Syrup Cake

Melted butter (optional), for greasing
250g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
220g (1 cup) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 large eggs, at room temperature
250g (1 2/3 cups) plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
135g (1 1/2 cups) desiccated coconut
Extra coconut to serve

The family got to it before I could take a photo!.  Delicious with Greek yoghurt or cream
lime syrup
4 limes
165g (3/4 cup) caster sugar
185mls (3/4 cup) water

Step 1
Preheat oven to 170°C. Brush a 25cm springform pan with melted butter and line the bottom with non-stick baking paper.

Step 2
Beat butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer or hand beaters on high until smooth. Add caster sugar and vanilla essence and beat, scraping down sides of bowl, until very pale (almost white) and creamy.

Step 3
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently until light and well combined. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Gently fold the flour mixture and coconut into the butter mixture until combined.

Step 4
Spoon cake mixture into the cake pan and smooth surface. Bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes or until cooked through and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Step 5
Meanwhile, to make lime syrup, peel rind from 2 limes with a vegetable peeler. Remove white pith from rind with a small, sharp knife (otherwise the syrup will be bitter) and then cut rind into very thin strips. Juice all 4 limes. Combine lime rind, 80mls (1/3 cup) of lime juice, sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Step 6
When cake is cooked, remove from oven and stand in pan for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack. Place rack over a large plate or tray to catch any drips and pour hot syrup slowly and evenly over cake. Cool. Serve decorated with reserved lime rind strips and sprinkled with extra coconut, if desired.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Recipe: Baked Mushrooms with Ricotta

Sydney Harbour Bridge - trying to catch the setting sun

I've just been in Sydney for a couple of weeks - for a 'grease and oil change' and to see my little grandson who is now one.

I love walking around the city and hopping about on public transport (non-existent in our small country town - bring back the train that used to link Sydney with Brisbane and get the trucks off the road!!).  One of the benefits to getting older and being entitled to a Senior's Card, is being able to travel around all day on public transport for $2.50 - that's buses, trains and ferries - it's fantastic.

Street-scaping in Martin Place, Sydney CBD
Something that struck me this time, as I wandered around the city, is how much greener it is than it used to be - so much more 'street-scaping' with planter boxes, hanging baskets and fairly large 'green installations' - it just had the look of a more sophisticated place than it used to - more grown-up (the men were dressed far better than they used to be; stylish shoes, better cut suits, classier glasses and better haircuts - for a minute there I thought I was in Paris - or maybe it was because I was observing this waiting for a bus outside a French bank?!)

The hospital pig, Il Porcellino, a bronze copy of the famous Florentine statue

A visit to the Art Gallery of NSW is always on the cards.  It starts with an amble through Martin Place (the pedestrian centre of the CBD), a stroll along Macquarie Street (with the preserved sandstone heritage buildings of Parliament House, The State Library, The Mint and Barracks and through Sydney Hospital and out into the Domain Parklands that surround the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney.)  Just before you enter the hospital grounds don't forget to stroke the snout of the imposing bronze boar - said to bring good luck - I can't help giving him a pat every time I pass this way.

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

The Gallery is perched on the harbour with wonderful views from inside and outside this lovely golden sandstone building.  After the galleries of Europe, with their associated crowds, this is just such an accessible place to enjoy art.  Its' light filled rooms hold a fine collections of Asian, Australian, Impressionist and Aboriginal Art and I'm always finding something new - like this painting of the Tweed Valley where I live now.  It was painted nearly 100 years ago by Elioth Gruner and I suppose the stark thing that struck me, in both senses of the word, is that it shows such a desolate landscape - through indiscriminate burning and tree clearing -so different to the verdant lushness of today.  It gives me hope that there are maybe some things we are getting right.
Tweed Valley, northern NSW 2012
I was wandering around the gallery starving - waiting for a two hour session at the dentist to wear off.  Finally, I made my way to the lovely cafe, overlooking the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf - where many migrants, arriving after a long sea voyage caught their first glimpse of Sydney, - to try and find something soft on the menu!

This dish was so simple in it's conception, and so absolutely delicious that I sought out the chef to find out the recipe.  It is very simple and no tricks to it at all.

Baked Mushrooms with Ricotta - this serves 2

2 large field mushrooms
250g ricotta
1 tbs finely chopped parsley or chives
A few fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 tbs freshly grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil and balsamic vinegar to brush on the mushrooms

Turn oven on to 200o.  Remove stalks from mushrooms
TIP:  Never wash mushrooms - it ruins the texture - simply brush off any loose dirt.
Brush mushrooms with oil, balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place on a tray in the oven for 8 minutes.
Mix ricotta together with herbs, parmesan and salt and pepper.
Remove mushrooms from oven and pile ricotta mixture on top, bringing it to the edges.
Place back in the oven for a further 10 minutes until ricotta has golden tinges.

Serve with a wild rocket, pear and walnut salad with a balsamic dressing - the sweet, sharpness of the balsamic brings out the flavour of the mushrooms and ricotta.

I had to make it when I got back home as I had simply wolfed down the one at the Gallery before I thought about taking a photo - notice, I couldn't eat my crusts.
What better way to have your hunger sated - by visual beauty and baked mushrooms with ricotta?

Not everyone finds the Art Gallery as stimulating as I do!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Recipe: Hummingbird Cake with Passionfruit Frosting

"Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch!"  Lovely, creamy Cavendish bananas with two-thirds of this bunch already harvested.  

NOTE:  I'm not sure why this is called Hummingbird Cake as it definitely does not contain hummingbirds!

Whenever I make a cake for our Garden Club I always try to make it with something from the garden - a challenge sometimes.  Today was our first meeting of the year and we had an excursion to the Mullumbimby Community Garden.  Luckily I had some lovely ripe bananas, pineapple and passionfruit to make this tried and true Hummingbird Cake - a very easy recipe with very little preparation time - about 15 minutes.  Of course, everything you need to make this cake can also be bought from a shop.

NOTE: Pineapple is in the bromeliad family and make a wonderful border in the tropical garden.  They require very little care and attention and fruit after a couple of years or so.  To grow them you simply plant the green top off the fruit - it's that easy! 

You need:
1 cup plain flour (I use wholemeal)
1/2 cup self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bi-carb. soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
2 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil (or extra light olive oil)
1 cup mashed banana 
450g can crushed pineapple in syrup, drained - or the equivalent fresh pulsed with the banana in a food processor

100g cream cheese (I use Philadelphia brand because it is dense and doesn't make the icing sloppy)
100g softened butter
1 cup icing sugar mixture
1 tablespoon passionfruit pulp

Preheat oven to moderate....(I use 170C F/F gas oven).
Grease a deep, 19cm square (or round) cake tin and line base with baking paper. 
Sift flour, soda and spices into a large bowl and stir in sugar and coconut.
Combine lightly beaten eggs and vegetable oil and add to dry ingredients.
Then add mashed banana and drained pineapple.
When well combined, spread mixture into cake tin and bake in moderate oven for about 1 hour.
Let cake stand for a few minutes before turning out onto rack to cool.
When cold, top with the yummy passionfruit frosting and dust with desiccated coconut.

Volunteers day at the Mullumbimby Community Gardens - making lunch from some of their bountiful produce.
"As you sow, so shall you reap" 
Galatians VI