Sunday, 26 June 2011

Pink Grapefruit Jelly with Mint Granita

This refreshing little jelly is completely vegan with the help of agar agar. God bless the Japanese! Don't bother buying agar from a health food shop, it is ridiculously overpriced. Head to your nearest Asian grocer, they will have it much cheaper!

For the Jelly
300 ml pink grapefruit juice
100 ml water
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon powdered agar

Put all ingredients into a blender and mix for 30 seconds. Pour into a small saucepan on medium heat and stir until hot, you will feel it thicken a little when the agar has melted. Let cool slightly, then pour into shot glasses (or in my case, sherry glasses from my Nan, aren't they cute?) Put into fridge to set. You get about four serves this small.

For the Granita
I must admit I cheated a little here. I had some pina colada slushy mix made up in the freezer, so I just added some mint to a few spoonfuls of that. You can make your own "instant" granita by mixing
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 cups vodka
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
chopped mint leaves

Blend to dissolve, then our into container and freeze overnight. The alcohol prevents it from becoming a block, and if you scrape it with a fork it creates an "instant" granita without having to take am mixture in and out of the freezer over several hours.

When ready to serve, top jellies with granita and garnish with tiny mint leaves.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Winter Solstice Garden - Onions

I look forward to the Winter Solstice every year, not just because the days will start getting longer again or the Winter Magic Festival, but because I can start planting more things in the garden. One of these things is onions. But hang on a minute, I can hear you saying, onions should have been sown or planted already right? That's what it says on the back of my seed packet! Well, yes and no! It depends on the type of onion, and its use, as well as your climate zone. Directions on the back of seed packets should only ever be a rough guide. You will need to consider the climate of your local area, as well as the microclimate created in your own garden (more on that at a later date). If like myself, you are in a cool or temperate climate growing onions for the bulb, and plan on storing them, you need an onion that will store well. I had such a good crop from last years planting, I haven't had to buy onions since January! Onions are day length sensitive plants. If you sow in late summer or autumn, although they will certainly sprout, and you will get bulbs, they will not grow as large or store as well. This is because basically, the plant gets confused. It starts to grow, and then as the days get shorter it thinks it has hit the dormant period and slows down. Then as the days get longer again it starts to put more effort into the shoots (the tops) than the bulbs, resulting in smaller onions. If you are growing onions for the green part, by all means plant anytime you like, or if you are growing them for early small spring onions this is of no concern. But for storing onions, plant after the solstice and you will be rewarded with bigger, long storing onions.

To prepare an area for growing onions, carefully rake over and remove as many weeds as possible. It will be difficult to weed until the onions seedlings are high enough to easily recognise.The area should be well draining, and not heavily fertilised, as the bulbs will not cure properly if over fed.  Create shallow furrows approximately 25cm apart. To sow onion seeds, mix a packet in with clean river sand. This makes it easier to sow and space out the seeds, as well as being easier to see where you have sown! 

You can then either gently pour out of the container you mixed in, or put into a brown paper bag and snip off a bit of corner (think of it like piping icing), letting it trickle out of the hole. Using the back of the rake, gently pull across the top of the furrows, which will cover the seeds, and water in, even if the soil is damp.

Onion seeds are slow to germinate, it may take two or more weeks for them to sprout, and they take about 6 months to grow to maturity. Before the days of iPhone calendars and applications that told you everything (I wonder if there is an application for sowing?), people used to sow seed on the shortest day of the year, and traditionally harvest on the longest! You will need to thin when the seedlings are about 5-10 cm high so that each seedling is approximately 10cm apart. I prepare a second bed for onions when I am going to heavily thin out, and transplant the stronger ones. These transplants will mature at least a couple of weeks later than those left in the original location, but you will waste far less seed! I'll post at a later date on harvest and storage, but for now, get those onions in!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Fennel & Pomegranate Salad with Lime and Ginger Dressing

Yes, I know it's a salad...  and it's winter. But I love pomegranates, and now is the time you will find Aussie ones in the greengrocer, for although I have planted a pomegranate tree alas I will have to wait a while before picking my own. So before you get stuck into all the winter stodge, why not try this lovely seasonal salad. Or make it as  a starter or side salad to the main meal like a vegie casserole, or a risotto? This ingredients are currently in season, and I promise you won't miss the half ripe winter tomato or the boring lettuce.

1 fennel bulb
1 pomegranate ( half to juice, half to scoop out)
1 cup baby spinach
1 carrot
1 teaspoon crushed fresh ginger
2 limes juiced
1 Tablespoon flaxseed oil

Using a vegetable peeler, slice the fennel into thin slivers. Cut the pomegranate in half and scoop out all those jewel like seeds. Juice the other half. Julienne the carrot. Toss fennel, pomegranate, carrot, and spinach in a bowl.

In a small container put the lime juice, pomegranate juice, ginger, and flaxseed oil. Shake vigorously to combine, and then toss through salad just before serving. It should just coat, not swim in dressing! If you make the dressing ahead, the flavour is more intense. Enjoy!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Raw Vegan Green Smoothies

I have to admit, I've fallen off the wagon a bit with these smoothies the last couple of weeks. Probably because it's been so darn cold in the mountains and I'd rather a bowl of a oats or some toast. But there is currently a tide of the dreaded man flu sweeping the office at work, so I'm ramping up the smoothies again to try and ward it off. They might not look like the best thing in the world to drink, but trust me, all you taste is the sweetness of the fruit. I love taking these with me to the gym in the mornings as a speedy breakfast after a workout, it nourishes and rehydrates, and with all that fibre it keeps me full through the morning. When I first started having these, I had heard that your tastebuds change and you start to crave more greens. I didn't quite believe it, but it is true. If you have kids, why not try getting them to eat some greens this way? Tell them Dr Seuss left it out of the Green Eggs and Ham book...okay, so that might be stretching it, but I don't have munchkins.

Sometimes I will have these as meals, so I'll make a blender full (mine is a 2L) and have some for breakfast, and then the rest at lunch and snack on some nuts, or some hummus and crackers or carrot sticks. This gets me through to dinnertime no problem.  I feel really good when I've been having a lot of green smoothies, and if you don't believe me, see what Anand and Runi at Raw Power have to say and join their Green Smoothie Challenge 

The Beloved bought me a high speed blender, but any one will do, it just won't be as smooth. If you get into these, I recommend getting a really good blender, it does make a difference.

In summer, I was making these smoothies with mostly bananas, with some peaches or mango thrown in. But with bananas being so expensive due to cyclones and floods, I've had to come up with some different combos. Feel free to change the leafy greens, spinach seems to be a good option for starting off, but you can also put in dark lettuce varieties, kale, comfrey... adding some fruit high in vitamin c in my opinion, would proably also help absorb the iron from the greens. While I certainly don't have a medical degree, it surely can't hurt!

Pineapple and Lime Green Smoothie
500ml water
1 fresh pineapple, peeled and cored, chopped into chunks
2 peeled limes
1 apple, cored, not peeled cut into wedges
1/2 cup of mint leaves
3-4 handfuls of baby spinach, or other leafy greens ( I like a mix of kale and spinach)

Put fruit and water in blender and whizz for about 30 seconds. Add the greens and blend for another 30 seconds. Enjoy!

Or why not try...

Orange and Cranberry Green Smoothie
2 oranges
1 cup frozen Cranberries
500 ml water
3-4 handfuls of leafy greens

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Vegan Spiced Chocolate Brownies

While the Beloved and I were at the Winter Magic Festival in Katoomba yesterday, we treated ourselves to some vegan brownies. They were soooo good, I was inspired to make my own, but spice it up a bit. And voila! Sunday afternoon tea...
2 cups of plain flour
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup broken hazelnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Grease and slice tray with baking paper.

In a large bowl sift all the dry ingredients together twice.

Add oil, water and soymilk, and mix thoroughly to a thick batter.

Fold in hazelnuts.

Pour into the greased and lined tray, and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. If you don't want the brownies to be as gooey, leave them in for another ten minutes. Allow to cool for approximately ten minutes, and then cut into squares.

Fertilising the Garden in Winter...and Broad Beans

With all the rain we've had the last few weeks, the chook shed really needed mucking out.

This wasn't a bad thing in my view, because now is the time I fertilise my fallow vegetable beds in readiness for Spring plantings. If you aren't planting anything in your vegie beds over the next couple of months, it's perfectly okay to put fresh manure straight into the soil. If you do this too close to planting however, the manure will not have composted and you will "burn" the roots of your seedlings and they will die. Over winter the worms will do their stuff and compost it for you. If you aren't lucky enough to have your own supply from chooks, cows, or horses...buying manure from the garden centre is perfectly okay too, and it is already composted for you, so you could plant much sooner. Either way, now is a good time to do it. I reweeded the beds, and then forked over the litter from the chook shed lightly. It's a mixture of their droppings, straw, grass clippings and sawdust.
You don't need to dig over soil too deeply, as most vegetable plants have most of their root systems in the top 20cm of soil, and fertilising deeper than this would be a bit pointless. In another month I will fork it over again as it will have broken down a bit more, and again at the beginning of September. The beds will then be ready for hungry feeders like tomatoes, cucumbers, and spinach.
If you don't want to buy in manure, why not try a green manure? Buy a packet of seeds such as mustard and cress (these guys will still sprout in cold weather), sow all over the area and water in. When they are about 10-15cm high, fork them straight back into the soil, and let them decompose. A word of warning about feeding your soil however- beds that will grow things like carrots, parsnips, or onions should not be fertilised this way. It is much better to grow them in a bed that has grown a heavy feeder in the previous season. Too much fertiliser and carrots and parnsips will grow forked roots, and onions will not keep well. Spring onions or shallots that will not be grown for their bulb would be okay.

What to put in the garden at the moment...
If you haven't planted broad beans (and you aren't in a cool mountain climate like myself and can still sow until September) you can still buy the seedlings and plant out. Broad beans need the cooler months to mature, and will flower in Spring. They will also leave a bed more fertile, as like all legumes, they fix their own nitrogen into the soil. By cutting at the base and digging the roots back into the soil when finished in Summer, you will be able to sow something like cabbage or kale that mature through the cooler's all about planning really!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Vegan Milk Jam

A little while ago a friend was getting married, and as we cooked up a storm for her wedding, she introduced me to "milk jam" which is basically a kind of caramel. Thing is, dairy and I do not agree very well, and I started to think about how I could veganise it. So I started off with soy...disaster! It basically tasted like soap. But with sugar. Ick. I toyed with the idea of almond milk but it's expensive, and I didn't really want to make almond milk from scratch and then make the jam, especially if it didn't work out. What to do...? Searching through the cupboards, I happened upon a tin of coconut cream. And so a fantastic little vegan caramel was born...

Vegan Milk Jam
equal parts brown sugar and coconut cream

Put in heavy bottom saucepan sugar and coconut cream. It's really important to use brown sugar in this one, the high fat content of the cream prevents deep caramelisation of the sugar if yuo use white. Bring to a simmer stirring all the time. Once it reaches simmer, immediately put to lowest heat setting, and leave for an hour, stirring occasionally. You'll know it is ready when you see it has thickened and become like a thick sauce - it will thicken more once cool. Put it into a jar, and use as a spread, tart filling, dollop on ice cream.... I used them in some gluten free tart shells I made as you can see above - and they were YUMMY!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Creamy Corn and Leek Pies

This may not be the best time of year to start a blog, especially one that involves gardening...but actually, it probably is, because there are always a hundred things to do in my garden, and winter is the best time to prepare for planting. On the food side, winter is a time for indulgence, when a cosy slow combustion fire warms the body, and a decadent treat cheers the soul. So unable to share much in the way of the spade with you while this rain holds out, I'll stick to the spoon.

This June long weekend was just wet wet wet. Having a touch of cabin fever to get outside, I had to keep myself occupied looking for inspiration in cookbooks and I baked. Still having plenty of home grown leeks left in the freezer, I decided on a simple vegan leek and corn pie in a creamy sauce, perfect for a winter day. It went down a treat with the Beloved, and I got to try out my new pie tins!

Creamy Leek and Corn Pies

90g nuttelex or other dairy free margarine
1 1/4 cups of plain flour
pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon cold water

Sift the flour and salt, and rub in the margarine until it resembles breadcrumbs (or use the food processor if you are impatient like me) add the water and draw together. You may need to add a bit more flour or water depending on the temperature and humidity of the day, you can't use a food processor for this bit! the pastry should hold together without being crumbly, or too sticky. Cover and rest in the fridge for at least 1/2 an hour.

1 cup chopped leek
1 clove garlic
1 cup corn kernals
1 cup soymilk
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 tablepoons nuttelex
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon savoury yeast flakes
ground white pepper

In a small saucepan melt margarine, then add flour and stir quickly to make a roux. Slowly add the soymilk and whisk a bit at a time so as not to get lumps, until you have a thick white sauce. Add the mustard and yeast flakes, and pepper to taste, turn on low and make sure the flour is cooked out properly, about 10 minutes, adding more milk if necessary.

Saute leeks in a separate pan, with garlic until softened. Add corn kernals. Mix into white sauce, and pour into a shallow dish to cool in the fridge.

Turn on oven to 180 C

Roll out pastry to 3mm thick and put into greased pie tins. Fill pie cases with cold filling (note, filling must be cold or pastry will sog, not crisp!) and top with pastry, pinching around the edges to seal. Brush tops with soymilk, and cut a couple of slits in the top to prevent the filling erupting all over your oven!

Bake for approximately 25 minutes until pastry is lightly golden.