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God is in the detail.

I’ve been keen to plant veg for ages but a holiday in New Zealand for a week delayed the onset of seeding the vegie patch.  Apparently you need to water your seeds for at least 5 days in a row to make them germinate.  The things you learn, eh?

So after returning from NZ, the seeds were planted on Sunday, 8 April 2010. Adventurebiscuit had done a great job before we left, building up the soil with compost, poo and gypsum, so it was more than ready for seeding by the time we returned.

In the photo above – from left – I’ve planted a row each of carrots, beetroot, parsnip, silver beet, spinach, and spring onions.  The peas and broad beans have half a row each beneath the trellis.

And look!

Look what has happened.  Today is Day 6 – the day of magic.

A carrot!

Baby beetroot!

Spinach!

None of these shoots were there yesterday because I’ve been keeping a very close – some would say, obsessive – eye on them.  I’d even dug around in the carrot row yesterday to see if there was anything going on.  There wasn’t, which means that carrots are very crafty.

I have leeks and cauliflowers yet to plant.  According to the packet, I have to seed them first in a box or punnet and then transplant them when they have grown a bit. Ah, little seeds.

And the herb patch has a new addition.  You’ve probably heard of catnip.  This is, er, catnap.

Putting down roots.

First the herbs …

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme ... and heaps of other stuff too!

Well, the planting of the herb and vegie garden has begun.  I’ve started with herbs because I like herbs and I use them a lot in cooking.  It’s a bit of a cliche but fresh is best.  Having used rosemary and parsley straight from their respective bushes, I can only agree.  There is so much more flavour when a herb that has just been picked is added to a dish.

In the above photo, there are 8 or 9 parsley bushes along the left hand side set of bricks while 6 or so coriander plants populate the top right hand corner

And the vegies are are on their way … hopefully.  We won’t put them in until we get back from NZ but these are all the seed packets I bought yesterday.

Ambitious?

Growing vegies

Vegie nirvana.

Having just moved into a house with a disused vegie plot in the backyard, I’ve become all inspired to start my growing my own vegies and herbs.

I’d like to say that the sumptuous basket of goodies above was the immediate fruit and veg of my minimal labour but that would be a big fat fib.  This glorious harvest belongs to Old Spice, who has been growing vegies for years, and who is currently undertaking the role of Mentor/Consultant/Inspiron to me and adventurebiscuit as we wrestle with things such as what to plant and when will it be ready to eat?

We are seeking guidance from some great gardening books that Ye Olde Spice sent on to us and while we haven’t yet come up with anything definitive, we’re enjoying the possibility of growing everything, including the highly-sought-after borage and every cook’s friend, the mustard seed!

Carrots and parsnips growing in the sun.

Old Spice also has some great tips for growing root vegetables such as parsnips and carrots.  Parsnips are hard to grow, apparently, so Old Spice reckons you grow them in broccoli boxes, like the ones above, which you get from the greengrocer.  Mmm, home-grown roasted parsnips.  Can’t wait!  I’m gunner scoff the lot.

Will keep you posted as things grow and develop.

Choc chip cookies

In the 1970s and 1980s, Nabisco made a choc chip cookie that I thought was the Ants Pants, the Bees Knees, Scoffs for Toffs.  The voiceover on the television ad crowed in a cod-American accent — ‘Chips Ahoy with more chocolate chips from Nabisco’.

It was a consistently crunchy biscuit that was the right width (not too thin, not too thick) and contained the perfect amount of choc chip bits along with minimal nuts.  I thought these biscuits disappeared in the mid- to late- 90s but according to kraft.com.au, these biscuits are still being sold.  Perhaps it was my youth that vanished, along with my eyesight.

Anyway … recent cravings of mine for choc chip biscuits have seen me heading to the kitchen to make my own rather than scouring the supermarket aisles for a product that I’m clearly blind to.

My first attempt was a couple of months ago, based on a recipe from the Woman’s Weekly book, Sweet Old-Fashioned Favourites.  I don’t have a picture of my attempt but they didn’t cut the mustard, measure up, meet their key performance indicators.  They were too hard, too thick and they didn’t have enough choc chips.

My next, most recent and more successful attempt was based on a Nestle recipe that I cut out of a weekly magazine.  I didn’t hold that much hope for it because my experience of cooking from a magazine or tin labels comes via my grandmother and the 1970s where essential ingredients were chicken noodle soup or milk arrowroot biscuits.  Neither were particularly palatable, either in the mix or out of it (although I wouldn’t say no to a plate of beef mince chow mein right now, which contained the chicken noodle soup).

But this Nestle recipe had a lot going for it – namely, a whole tin of condensed milk and 250g of choc bits.  I wasn’t too worried if my biscuits didn’t work.  The mixture would have to be edible in some way.  I’d eat it raw if I had too.  (And this is in fact what happened only because it tasted so damn good.  I am now rather pudgy.)

To cut to the chase, here they are: golden, crunchy on the outside, slightly chewy in the middle, with chocolate buds bursting throughout.

Afternoon perfection!

And here’s the recipe itself.  I can recommend it for the ease in which the mixture comes together and its flexibility in being able to cope with substitute ingredients such as margarine made from canola oil (less greasy than butter) and normal choc chips instead of white ones.

I made 45 bics in total which were scoffed by mainly one person in a week.

Bon biscuit!

Choc Chip Cookies by Nestle

150g butter (or margarine made of canola oil)
1/3 cup caster sugar
395g can nestle sweetened condensed milk
2 cups of SR flour
125g Nestle Dark Choc Bits
125g Nestle White Choc Bits (or Nestle Normal Choc Bits)

Preheat oven to 180C.  Line 2 oven trays with baking paper.  Beat butter and sugar until creamy.  Beat in Nestle Sweetened Condensed Milk.  Stir in flour, then Nestle Dark and White Choc Bits, mix well.  Roll heaped tablespoonfuls of mixture into balls.  Place on prepared oven trays and press gently with a fork.  Bake 15 minutes until golden.

Stuffed Cabbage

 
и вуаля!

During one of the most humid spells I can remember in recent times, I decided to make Stuffed Cabbage  from the Sassy Radish blog. I am not sure why I did this, other than to make something new and a bit different- read Russian.

The recipe I followed was a little vague, so I steamed the cabbage leaves from the cabbage one by one – effective method. But then I realised the leaves were still not pliable enough to wrap the stuffing, so I had to do a little last-minute blanching.

Stacked leaves ready for blanching

The rolling of the stuffing in the leaves was pretty easy, then I just jammed them in the leaf lined pot and covered the lot with the tomato and cabbage water mix. Onto the stove for at least an hour.

Stuffed in the pot

There is no time given in the recipe as to how long it will take to pull together, I think it took me at least an hour(and a half!). And after 30mins on the stove, cumin4ya decided the oven was a better option at 130 celsius. The jury is still out on stove versus oven, as we cooked them 40mins past the original hour in the oven! 

I think this was more to do with the blanching – the cabbages leaves need a bloody good blanch and did not get enough.

Meat mix

All in all  a hearty outcome, albeit a little bland. But, that is to be expected when the stuffing comprises of mince, rice, onion, garlic, celery and dill – as above.

Would I make it again? Yes. In winter, when I reckon I would насмехаться!

Insalata Caprese

Warm summer nights means SALADS!

The above was my take on the Italian dish, Insalata Caprese: cherry tomatoes, baby bocconcini, fresh basil, olive oil and balsamic glaze.  The basil adds so much flavour.

And then, from the book Fresh by Michele Cranston, there was hot-smoked salmon on potatoes roasted in lemon zest, with spinach and a dill dressing.  The smokiness of the salmon offset by the gooeyness of the potatoes, cut through by the freshness of the spinach and the tang of the dressing – too good.

Everything was bought from a fruit and veg shop or the supermarket, which made me very happy.

And my god, did we scoff the lot.

Hot-smoked salmon with potatoes and spinach. Yum!

"Beauty is only the promise of happiness." - Stendahl

It’s possible that I have a gluten intolerance — possible because nothing’s been proven yet and because I’m hopeful that it’s just a phase I’m going through (you know, like adolescence or the ‘flu, which you either grow out of in a few weeks or help pass with the assistance of a lot of codeine).

Because after cooking gluten-free blueberry muffins last night, it’s becoming clear to me that, quite frankly, gluten-free baking sux.

It all looked so promising: self-raising gluten-free flour that ‘bakes like regular flour’, eggs, oil, milk, sugar, blueberries and an endorsement by the Country Women’s Association of NSW.  What could go wrong?

The flour.

The flour.

The flour.

Did I mention the flour?

Gluten-free flour has a very different texture to normal wheat flour.  It’s very fine and light and has a slightly slimy chalky feel to it.  It flies everywhere as you tip it out of the packet and best not to lick your fingers to be rid of it because it tastes like a chemical.  It doesn’t mix particularly well with liquid and licking the bowl after the mixture has been poured into muffin tins is not an option because you will probably vomit.

Looking good enough to eat - if only that were true.

All of this would be forgiveable if the muffins had tasted any good.  They looked fantastic as they rose in the oven, as they were placed on a cooling tray and as we broke them open for viewing.  But put one in your mouth and begin to chew and hooley dooley, what a weird taste.

My first response was that they needed more sugar.  My second response was to wonder whether blueberries are chosen for their colour rather than flavour and are they a gelatinous fruit?  My third response was to do what adventurebiscuit was doing which was to slather them in butter and lashings of apricot jam and exclaim how awful the muffins were and how fantastic the jam was.

This solved the problem for a while but it left me with the longer term problem of how to cook decent cakes with gluten-free flour.

Who wants it?

In retrospect, the flour’s promise of baking like regular flour was in fact true — the muffins rose well and looked good.  What it didn’t account for was the myriad manifestations of hope that I attached to this claim — that the muffins would taste good, that they would taste the same as those cooked with wheat flour, and that my search for a decent gluten-free flour would have ended.

So the quest continues.  I’ll bake these muffins again but vary the recipe to include triple the amount of sugar and frozen raspberries instead of blueberries.  We’ll see how they go.

As of right now, though, I’m off to find the codeine!