Mandy Mandy Quite Contrary part #2

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*Collapses, flailing on the couch with relief*

Finally, tomato season is over. I made my final batch of green tomato chutney over the weekend, marking the end of what turned out to be months of weekend sauces, chutneys, relishes and salsas. I’ve pulled most of my tomato plants out – already replacing some with garlic, kale and leek – and this weekend I’ll pull the remaining ten or so. Already, there’s literally hundreds of baby tomato plants popping their heads up after self-seeding. What a shame they won’t last the winter! Along with tomato preserves, I’ve been pickling chilli, gherkins and other veggies, drying herbs and freezing berries. I feel very organised and prepared for any zombie apocalypse.

 

Raspberries!

Raspberries!

Berries

I’m still getting about half a dozen strawberries and maybe three or four ripe raspberries each day. While I did get to make loads of yummy stuff with the strawbs, there was never quite enough razzies in one day to do much with. So towards the end of the season, I’ve been freezing my berries. It’s by far the easiest and most practical way of preserving them for use later in the year. Raspberries, I simply pick and immediately pop into a small snap-lock bag in the freezer. I don’t even bother to wash them – my garden is totally organic, so I know there’s no unwanted chemicals hanging around, and the lack of water means no ice crystals will form on the fruit. I do, however, check the berries over for unwanted critters and hitchhikers! With strawberries, I’ll hull them first, and maybe slice the bigger ones in half. That’s it! Perfect for baking, defrosting to have with breakfast cereal, yogurt or desserts.

 

Strawberries and Raspberries ready for the freezer

Strawberries and Raspberries ready for the freezer

Herbs

Last summer, I turned most of my basil into pesto and froze it. I didn’t find it all that successful, and we struggled to use it all up. This year, along with chives, Italian parsley, oregano and celery leaves (sooo delicious!) I’ve been dehydrating my basil to use dried in the kitchen. It’s time consuming, but so, so simple. You can buy a basic dehydrator like mine for about $40 upwards. I think we paid around $60 five years ago. For herbs, just pick straight from the garden, remove leaves and check for critters. With chives, I hold a bunch in one hand and snip them into smaller pieces with scissors – much easier than cutting with a knife. Arrange leaves flat on the shelves of your dehydrator, and set to a low heat for about six to eight hours. You’ll know when they’re ready because the herbs will be crunchy. Your kitchen will smell AMAZING for days. Commercial dried herbs have nothing on the homemade stuff – you’ll find home dried herbs have a more concentrated flavour and are a great replacement when you can’t get hold of fresh produce.

Basil in the dehydrator

Basil in the dehydrator

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Zucchini and Sweetcorn Relish

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I love the whole process that goes with cooking sauces, chutneys and relishes. From collecting suitable jars and bottles to growing the ingredients myself (you don’t actually have to do that bit…), chopping veggies and adding to the magnificent four gallon enamel pot that once belonged to my Dad. He gave it to me a few years before he died, and using it isn’t just seriously practical – it’s very sentimental. I love the scent of vegetables, vinegar and spices wafting through the house, having something to stir and taste each time I wander into the kitchen, and the fact that it might take a whole day (or even two!) to make a good sauce. It’s worth every minute. If you’ve never attempted making your own sauces or chutneys, don’t freak out! It’s a much easier (and weirdly relaxing) process than you might think.

My Dad's 4 Gallon Pot. Perfect for cooking relish!

My Dad’s 4 Gallon Pot. Perfect for cooking relish!

 

I’m going to write up a few of my chutney recipes over the coming weeks – all made from home grown ingredients. We’ll start with the simplest of them all, Zucchini and Corn.

 

We didn’t just have an abundance of zucchini this year, but also corn and capsicum. The corn in particular was to die for. I almost felt bad using it to make relish, but then…nah. I didn’t. Now, these quantities listed are for a double batch. Feel free to halve them. You can also play around a little bit with spices, garlic and chilli. But *don’t* change the quantities of your sugar, salt and most importantly, vinegar. This has to do with the preserving process, and keeping things safe. This recipe will make about 8 quart-size jars.

Preparation for relish

Preparation for relish

 

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 1500g of zucchini, diced. This works out to be around 8 largish zucchinis.
  • 2 red capsicums, diced.
  • 1 green capsicum, diced.
  • 2 cups of corn kernels (fresh from the cob, if you can). Works out to be around 3 – 4 large cobs of corn.
  • 3 onions, sliced.
  • 3 cups of white vinegar.
  • 2 ½ cups of white sugar (seems a lot, but this is a big batch of relish).
  • 1 medium chilli – this is optional. I did one batch with it this year, once batch without. The spicier version is the family favourite.
  • 8 teaspoons of turmeric.
  • 5 teaspoons of mustard powder.
  • 3 teaspoons of mustard seeds (or whole grain mustard).
  • 1 tablespoon of curry powder.
  • 4 – 5 cloves of garlic, crushed.
  • 3 tablespoons of salt.
  • Cornflour to thicken at the end of cooking.

 

Zucchini. Corn. Capsicum. Onion. That's pretty much it!

Zucchini. Corn. Capsicum. Onion. That’s pretty much it!

HOW IT’S DONE:

After you’ve chopped everything up – throw it all in the pot (except the cornflour). Seriously, that’s it. Just chuck it all in. Bring it to the boil, then turn down the heat to low. Now, I have recipes where they recommend simmering for an hour. I cook it all day – well, for at least five hours anyway. Leave the lid on your pot for the first couple of hours, then remove, which will help to reduce your mixture. Make sure you remember to give it a good stir regularly. Keep tasting it, too, and feel free to add more of your favourite spices (or chilli!)

 

*Do note that I don’t use any oil in my chutneys. There’s good reason for this. Firstly, you don’t need it. With the vinegar and combined vegetables, trust me when I say there’s plenty of fluid in this mix. It won’t burn if you stir it every now and then. Secondly, oil can be a carrier for botulism when you’re working with preserves. So I’d rather stay safe than sorry.

 

To thicken your relish at the end, add a couple of teaspoons of cornflour to a small jug. Add water and mix until it forms a smooth, thin paste. Add to your relish mix in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Best to go a little at a time with this, remembering your relish will also thicken as it cools.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…

 

 

Jarring Up:

Ah, the controversial bit. Depending on which country you live in, and what your food safety laws are, there are different recommendations for the preservation of food. What do I do? Well, I wash all jars – make sure they are the type where the lid will ‘pop’ up and down – on a sterilisation cycle in my dishwasher. Yes, even the brand new ones.Then, I add a couple of jars (and their lids) to a large pot of boiling water for ten minutes. Use a pair of tongs to remove. I make sure I’m wearing thick rubber gloves, too. Fill jars with VERY HOT relish mix, leaving about 1cm at the top. Wipe away any mess around the lip, and fit the lid. Some preserving jars will have a flat lid and a metal ‘skirt’ to fit around them. If your jar has sealed properly, and depending on the heat in the room, within about half an hour, the lid will ‘pop’ down with suction from the cooling relish. I store my sauces and relishes for over a year in the pantry if they’re unopened, in the fridge once they have been opened.

Zucchini and corn relish

Zucchini and corn relish

 

Other methods include water baths and pressure baths. I recommend checking them out for yourself and seeing what you feel most comfortable with, depending on the quality of your water and sanitising conditions. A good website for all things preserving can be found here:

Pick Your Own

 

Zucchini and corn relish is super-delish on ham, corned beef or salami. I’ve been using it as a dip, spooning a couple of tablespoons over cream cheese and serving with crackers and a crumbly tasty cheese. But my favourite use for it has turned out to be as a pizza sauce! Yep, a few spoonfuls on a pizza base, salami and a sprinkling of cheese – AMAZING.

 

Mandy, Mandy Quite Contrary…

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It’s been tricky finding time to blog lately. Ironically, that’s because I’ve been so busy cooking and gardening and writing fiction. March was always going to be a bit of a time-buster for me – it’s tomato season where I live and wow, have I got tomatoes. This weekend alone I turned 9kg of Romas into a delicious salsa my kids won’t leave alone. Nachos are the new vegemite toast right now.

Mandy’s Garden

I’ll post that recipe soon, along with the most incredible zucchini and corn relish that I recently discovered, pickled gherkins a couple of different ways, tomato sauce, chilli sauce, red chutney, and green tomato chutney, among other goodies that have been keeping me busy. But first…the garden.

Zucchini. I’ve never grown it before this year. Why did no one tell me that one family of five probably only needs half a dozen plants at the most? I planted twenty. Yes, we’re totally zucchinied-out. I’ve been grating it raw into green salad, baking zucchini bread, zucchini slice, zucchini and haloumi fritters, zucchini muffins, and zucchini omelettes. I’ve made relish, I’ve blanched, I’ve frozen. And still, the plants keep producing…

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Zucchini, zucchni, zuchini

Beans. Climbing beans were one of the first vegetables I tried growing at home. After an aversion from being fed too many as a child, I quite like them these days. Mostly. This year I chose a different position in the garden, and while they’re growing and producing really well, they’re just not as sweet as previous years. Bummer. My chickens like them though!

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Beans! And some basil, flat leaf parsley and spring onions

Celery. Yeah, I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoys drinking celery juice. So this year, fed up with buying them every single week, I grew them against the advice that they’re kinda difficult to have in the garden. All lies. Don’t believe it. Celery is easy-peasy. I didn’t blanch them (where you try to keep the stems white by growing the plant in troughs, or cover the lower part with pipe or newspaper)—I just stuck them in the ground, watered and fed them, and watched them grow. Very nicely, thank you! Besides juicing, I’ve been drying both celery and celery leaves in my dehydrator.

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Who says celery is hard to grow?

Capsicum. Known, I believe, as peppers in other parts of the world. This is another vegetable we’ve grown before, but never in big numbers. Last year, I made a totally yummo red tomato chutney, and the secret ingredients in that were red capsicums and pickled gherkins. I’m serious! The capsicums are growing well, though not many have made it to the red stage yet as we’ve been picking and eating them green. Sooo sweet! Even Mr 6 Year Old Fussy Pants is stealing them to eat raw.

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Baby capsicum

Gherkins. So, yeah, speaking of needing pickled gherkins for my tomato chutney, I thought it would be a good idea (hahaha) to grow and pickle them myself. The packet of seeds I bought only contained 25 seeds and, because I’d left it really late in the season, I decided to plant them all, guessing only half or less would actually germinate. Yeah. Wrong again, Mandy. I now have twenty-five gherkin plants fighting for space in a very small bed, growing up and out and climbing (ie. strangling) everything they get near. Both the plants and fruit are super-prickly, which makes it hard to get near without gloves. However – my gherkins have been producing so many flowers (and then gherkins) that the bees are flocking. Swarming. Both. This makes my allergic middle child a bit nervous, but the rest of my garden very, very happy. Gherkins need picking every day, so they are a bit time consuming, but the pickling side of things is pretty easy once you’ve done it a couple of times. I have dozens of jars in the pantry, pickling away, but will wait a couple of weeks for the taste-test before posting the recipes.

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A Triffid? Close, but not quite. Gherkins taking over the world

Next up – Sweet corn (and the best ever way to cook it), chilli, cucumbers, raspberries, more strawberries, herbs, and tomatoes. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes…

 

Kale and Quinoa Salad

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It’s stifling hot here in Victoria, Australia right now. Today is the fourth day around the 40 degree C mark (that’s 104 Fahrenheit) and there’s more to come. Even with air conditioning in the living area and a pool out the back, we’re wilting – and that’s just the humans and the dogs. I don’t even want to discuss my poor vegetable garden!

I’ve been using the oven as little as possible (lots of barbequing) so there hasn’t been much baking action going on, but we have been eating loads of salads. I came across this one over Christmas, when my Mother in Law purchased something similar from a local deli, and it was SO good I had to experiment and come up with my own version. It’s crazy healthy, full of ‘super foods’, oil free and delicious. Last week we had fabulous crime writing friends Angela SavageAndrew Nette and Leigh Redhead come and stay for a couple of days from the city, and the Kale & Quinoa Salad was a huge hit with everybody. Hope you enjoy it just as much…

Quinoa and Kale

The Fresh Ingredients

What You Need:

Okay, so this is one of those recipes that will probably vary a little each time you make it – I’m not too fussy with quantities of ingredients and I’m sure you’ll find your own perfect combination.

*Half a ‘bunch’ of kale. I used Red Kale this time around because that’s all I had available. Normally I use the green version, but this was just as good.

* Two full celery stalks, leaves removed.

* One cup of fresh mint, tightly packed.

* Half a cup of fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, tightly packed.

* One cup of cooked and cooled quinoa (a third of a cup raw. See cooking instructions below). I used black quinoa this time, but white or red works just as well.

* Half a cup of dried raisins. This one is optional, and I left them out this time – only because I didn’t have any in the pantry. They weren’t really missed because the dressing is quite sweet.

Quinoa and Kale 2

Mix gently!

DRESSING:

Again, the amounts will vary depending on the size of your salad. It’s not a heavily dressed salad – you only need just enough dressing to coat when stirred through.

* Half a cup of orange juice.

* Two tablespoons of white wine vinegar.

*Two tablespoons of cranberry sauce.

*Salt and Pepper to taste.

How It’s Done:

First, you need to cook up and cool your quinoa. Add a third of a cup of rinsed quinoa to two thirds of a cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and cover with a lid. Allow to simmer for about another 10 minutes, or until the quinoa has absorbed the liquid. Allow to cool in the fridge.

Finely chop your kale, parsley, mint and celery. I use a Mezzaluna (a curved, two handled knife) to do this – makes life much easier and quicker. Add pepitas and cooled quinoa, turn over gently with a large spoon so the kale isn’t bruised.

Quinoa and Kale 3

Super healthy and delicious!

Add the dressing ingredients to a jar or small container with a lid. Shake to mix. Gently spoon just enough over salad to mix and coat.

Delicious served chilled with BBQ meat, chicken or seafood – and so, so good for you!

Oh, and if you get a chance, do go and check out Angela,Andrew and Leigh’s websites and award-winning crime novels. All highly recommended.

Raspberries and Blueberries and Strawberries – oh my!

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Suddenly – it’s that time of year again. All the hard work through the winter months in the garden is starting to pay off. I can pick an almost complete salad from my garden of greens and herbs, the tomatoes are beginning to flower (ready for sauce and chutney around February / March), the chillies and capsicums are blooming, celery is growing taller by the day – as is the sweet corn – the beans and snow peas are curling their way up supports and the zucchini is spreading far and wide. But the real show that summer – and Christmas! – has arrived here in Australia is the berries.

We’ve been growing blueberries, raspberries and strawberries for a few years now. I have three blueberry bushes in pots that are, for some inexplicable reason, suddenly giving us extra fat and juicy fruit this year compared to last season. These are the first ripe ones I’ve picked. Trust me when I say they only ‘just’ lasted long enough to take this pic before my kids devoured them.

Nom nom nom!

Nom nom nom!

The first of the raspberries were picked a few weeks ago. Right now, we’re getting about six a day from what started as three canes. Judging by the amount of flowers and baby berries on the canes – there will soon be a lot more than that!

First raspberries

And finally, the strawbs. During winter, I split our duo of strawberry plants that had begun bursting from their pots, and planted them in a special new strawberry patch. We’ve had to net the patch due to the local bird-life, but also the possums. It seems to be working.

Strawberries!

The Patch

Keeping the wildlife at bay…

I was hoping to have enough berries to make jam this year. I don’t like my chances of that, though. Not with my kids around anyway…

From Mandy’s Garden – Garlic Braids

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photo-3 (10)

Home Grown Garlic

Last weekend I pulled our crop of garlic. I’d grown the odd bulb before, but never in any sort of numbers. Garlic has got to be the easiest thing to grow, ever. Just break up a shop-purchased bulb and pop each piece into the ground, pointy end up. And then forget about them. That’s it. Seriously. And pests don’t find it all that tasty, so it acts as a repellent for your other plants too. So over this recent winter, I dropped heads of garlic in wherever I had a few spare centimetres of space, which meant about 60 bulbs that needed something done with them all at once. But what to do? Well, as an ex-hairdresser the answer was obvious. Braid them, of course!

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Garlic braids 1

I let the garlic dry outside for the week undercover and protected on a table. Then, (and trust me, this next bit is best done outside too) I trimmed the roots from each bulb with scissors and gave them a gentle dust off with a pastry brush. You want to remove as much dirt as possible without damaging the fine, crunchy outer layers of your bulb. A heap of dry debris, dirt and muck ended up in my compost bin instead of the kitchen floor. Next, I sorted the bulbs into two piles – large and small and took them inside. Armed with a pair of scissors, some kitchen twine and muscles, it was time to begin.

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Garlic braids 2

First, gather 3 biggish bulbs and tie together with the dried ‘stalks’ pointing towards you. Using a simple plait technique (right over the middle, left over the middle, right over the middle, left over the middle…you get the drift), add in a new garlic to each middle strand. To fill gaps, I sometimes used two smaller bulbs. Keep the plait as tight as possible, which means working slowly and using those muscles. As your braid grows, it gets tougher to work with and some of the stalks aren’t as pliable as others – but they can be coaxed!

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Vampire Strips!

When I finally ran out of garlic bulbs, I tied the end tightly with more twine, and added a loop at the back to hang in the kitchen. Looks pretty, huh? Apparently, if we keep it away from the steam of the coffee machine, it’ll last for months. Yeah, it stinks a bit. But I guess we don’t have to worry about vampires for a while…