Thursday, 27 December 2012

Five Good Things With Gooseberries

Dieter & Sandra's gooseberry bush with boutique hen house in the background
Friends Sandra and Dieter have generously offered me their gooseberries.    Harvesting gooseberries is usually a prickly chore but their property on the flank of Harbour Cone on the Otago Peninsula is a magic place to visit and I love this short season tart fruit.

To reach the gooseberries I feel a little like a kiwi Gretel walking through a charming pathway through manuka woods to arrive in a clearing where fruit trees and two lucky hens live in the cutest hen house.

These lucky hens have a sheltered spot with a wonderful view over to the back bays of the Peninsula.   I couldn't believe one gooseberry bush could have so much fruit.   I got to work accompanied by the cluck of hens and the buzz from a nearby beehive.   What is even better - the gooseberry bush is on a slope so I could easily pick from underneath and avoid those mean prickles.

After gathering a large shopping bag of gooseberries, then its the mundane task of topping and tailing.   Alternatively you can just throw the gooseberries into a bag in the freezer as they freeze free flow and top and tail as you use them throughout the year.   The gooseberries have to be picked green for cooking purposes and for eating leave them to ripen (if the birds don't beat you).   You can also buy red skinned varieties and these I think are the nicest ones to eat raw.
Gooseberries top and tailed

In my September posting I showed you my sister Kerry's espaliered gooseberry with the fruits just forming.   Here is a follow up shot of them after one harvest.   This makes picking even easier and the branches were absolutely laden.   I think this is a great way to deal with the prickly gooseberry bush.

Kerry's espalier gooseberry bush makes picking easy

The Versatile Gooseberry

Here are just some of the things you can make with your harvest:

1.    The Gooseberry Shortcake - this combines the sweetness of the shortcake with the tart bite of the gooseberry.   My Mum used to bribe us into harvesting the prickly gooseberries with the promise of Gooseberry Shortcake.   Mum's secret tip for a perfect gooseberry cake is to avoid putting any sugar on the gooseberries.   The sugar makes a syrup and the cake goes all soggy. You can find this recipe on my posting September 2012 "Gooseberry Shortcake and Sweet Cicely"

Note:   I converted the imperial measurements Mum used to metric.  When I recently followed the metric recipe I found it did need a little extra flour.   Put in the measurement and then add enough flour to make the dough workable on a floured surface.  It should be a very soft dough but it can't be that sticky that you find it difficult to gently roll out with the help of a sprinkling of flour.

Gooseberry Shortcake - a real Mackay family favourite
2. Gooseberries cooked with Elder flowers - Elder flower is the perfect partner to gooseberries, giving the gooseberries a subtle muscat flavour.  Gooseberries make a lot of juice when cooked, so use very little water and to give a creamy flavour cook in a knob of butter and no water.   Remember you can reduce the amount of sugar with the addition of the herb Sweet Cicely. To make this into a sweet sauce excellent for going over pancakes - just puree in either a food processor or that wonderful invention the stick mixer. 

Gooseberries cooked with Elder flower blossoms and Sweet Cicely to aid the sweetening

Gooseberries after cooking
3.  Gooseberry Chutney-   I have never used gooseberries as a chutney before so I searched the blogosphere for the best sounding recipe.   I found two that I decided to try.   One included vinegar and spices connected to Christmas, the other was an Indian chutney with no vinegar and Bengali spices.
Spiced Gooseberry Chutney by Chef Heidi Fink

Peter's preferred chutney was the one with Bengali spices 
Gooseberry chutney with Bengali Spice by the Hungry Tigress

This chutney doesn't have vinegar and not that much sugar so once open it will probably only last a week or two in the refrigerator.   To keep good until opened, I followed instructions and finished the jars off in the oven making sure there was a good seal.   The Gooseberry Chutney with Bengali Spice was the one chosen by my pickle connoisseur husband Peter as the better of the two.

Both these blogs have excellent ideas so I have supplied the links to the recipes to give you the opportunity to go exploring these blogs over the Christmas holidays.

4.  Gooseberry & Orange Jam - I shared some of my gooseberry bounty with my neighbour Rob and next thing he turns up at my door with a jar of Gooseberry and Orange jam.  He found the recipe in "The Times Cookery Book" by Katie Stewart, published forty years ago in 1972.
Rob's Gooseberry & Orange Jam with The Times Cookery Book 

 Gooseberry and Orange Jam
Makes 2 kg 700g and takes 1 hour.

1 kg 350g green gooseberries
430 ml water
rind and juice of 2 oranges (Rob used tangelos which gives the jam more tang)
1 kg 600 g granulated sugar

Rinse the gooseberries, and top and tail them.   Place in a large saucepan or preserving pan, and add the water, finely grated orange rind and juice.   Bring slowly to boiling point and simmer gently, squashing the fruit occasionally with a wooden spoon.   When the fruit is quite tender (about 30 minutes) add the sugar.  Stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved.  Bring up to the boil and boil briskly for a set (takes about 10 minutes).   Draw off the heat, skim and then spoon into six clean warm jars.   Cover and seal while hot.

5. Gooseberry & Elder Flower Fool - This is a simple and most delicious way of enjoying the flavours of Gooseberry.    It can be made in a moment if you have already prepared the fruit.   You don't want it to be too watery.   If you don't have elder flowers to hand you can simply add some elder flower cordial.
I presented the Gooseberry Fool in a Temuka coffee cup with my New Zealand shortbread
and a sprig of elder flower
You can make a fool with all cream, or a mix of cream and thick yogurt, or with a mix of custard and cream.  Play around with the combination you like the best.   I used two-third cream and one-third yogurt because the fruit is quite tart.  If the fruit was sweeter I would have gone 50/50.
Simply beat up the cream until thick and doesn't drop off the beater.   Next fold in the yogurt or custard and then the fruit puree.  You can use any fruit for this but tart fruit is best.  Blackcurrant or rhubarb fool is also good.  You need to allow it to chill well before serving.   It's a lovely dessert to have on a hot summer's evening.

Glossy, sweet Strawberries from Dieter's Glasshouse
It's now towards the end of the gooseberry season here.   The gooseberry is stepping aside for delicious strawberries, currants and raspberries.   Dieter has his strawberries growing in large black pots.   I think this is something I might try because many of my strawberries get eaten or rot if the ground is too wet.   Picking the strawberries hanging over the edge of the pot make for easy and perfect pickings....just like Kerry's espaliered gooseberries. 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Southland Watermelon and Bottled Central Otago Apricots

It's time for me to announce that this Southern cook and gardener is heading North. Peter and I are embarking on a new adventure in Auckland for at least a year. I am looking forward to having easy access to citrus, avocados, tamarillos, kiwifruit, and to grow tomatoes and basil outdoors!

There will be Southern fruit and vegetables that I will miss like Oamaru new potatoes, gooseberries, black and red currants, and Central Otago stone fruit, particularly apricots and cherries.

But there is one southern vegetable that is often overlooked or even disliked....the swede.  Much to Peter's embarrassment, I have been known to pick up a swede from the trailer selling them at the airport to take up north as a gift.

I like swede and even though it's not seasonal, I am going to feature it because I will miss it next winter and was reminded of it recently in a jewellery gallery.

Southern Watermelon, aka the Swede

Swede by David McLeod from 5+ a day series (Copper & Silver)
The swede, originally called the Swedish Turnip, and Rutabaga in the US, is actually a cross between a turnip and cabbage and is on the list of aphrodisiac foods (who would have believed that?)  

We down here jokingly call it "Southland watermelon". You could never compare a supermarket swede to a watermelon.   But imagine it's a winter morning in Southland, one of those mornings when you can see your breath.   A swede is plucked from the frost chilled soil, and deftly peeled by a farmer  skinning the swede of its earth and roots. You are handed a slice and may well be surprised by it's sweet melon like quality.  If you ever have the opportunity, go on, give it a try.

The swede, if fresh, is lovely grated raw into a salad.  Make sure it's late enough in the season to have had at least one good frost to concentrate the sugars. The swede stores well and if you manage to obtain some that haven't had all their roots trimmed, you can pop them back into the garden soil to keep even longer in nature's fridge.

David McLeod from Quadrant Gallery - Jewellery,
Glassware and Ceramics, Moray Place, Dunedin
I have a great Friday job working at Quadrant Gallery in Moray Place, Dunedin, with owner and jeweller David McLeod. Dave loves gardening. I bet there are not many jobs where your boss brings you lunch, and better still it's substantially made from his garden produce. He has even made jewellery inspired by vegetables.

I have asked Dave to be a guest recipe blogger with a Swede recipe from his sister.  You can store it away until next winter.

Broccoli Tree from David McLeod's Five+ a day series
Nana's Big Tomato - by David McLeod from his Five+ a Day series - silver and garnet
(this piece was based on a drawing his daughter Islay did when she was 5)

Allannah's Grated Swede

Framed Swede  - Five+ a Day series- Sterling silver
and Copper
Peel and cut into pieces that can easily be grated.
Finely chop an onion.
Melt a knob of butter in a pan, and saute the onion until golden.
Add 1 tsp of turmeric and caraway seeds (to taste -perhaps 1/2 tsp)
Then add the grated swede and cook until soft.

Dave suggests this is a great dish to serve with lamb and a salad.

I haven't been able to try this recipe out yet but I like the idea of using turmeric and caraway to give a hint of the exotic to the humble swede.   I would also be tempted to try a little chili as well.
Grating the swede is inspired because it can take quite a while to cook in pieces.

Bottled Central Otago Apricots  

Gus's preserved Sundrop organic apricots 
One thing I will definitely miss will be preserved apricots made by our son Gus. They taste like bottled Central Otago sunshine.

Gus put his preserving prowess to the test when he entered his apricots into the bottled fruits section of the Wanaka A&P Show this year.  He won first prize. Unfortunately they don't run to ribbons these days and the $5 prize money isn't quite the same thrill.    

The key to Gus's success, as with most good food, is sourcing the best fruit he can. He has found an organic grower who grows the apricot    varieties Sundrop and Vulcan.

He produces around 100 jars of apricots each summer using the familiar Agee jars that my mother would have used (1 litre capacity).   All the apricots are processed in a commercial kitchen and he is set to do his 2013 bottling batch late January.

Gus is selling the 20 bottles he has left from his 2012 bottling.

If you would like to buy these prize winning apricots or make an order for the 2013 season you can contact Gus by email:  They cost $22 each ($20 if you can offer a replacement Agee Utility jar.)

Apricots are an excellent source of vitamin A that doesn't get destroyed through cooking. 

Perhaps I can convince Gus to do another guest blog featuring his preserving method late January.
Watch out for my next posting on the different things you can do with another of my favourite southern fruits, the gooseberry.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Aubergine/Eggplant - the king of vegetables

My friend Gill just can't pass an aubergine in the supermarket .  Who could blame her?

That alluring smooth roundness with a rich chocolate-purple skin would tempt most of us to reach out and add one or two to our shopping trolley.   Gill's first inclination is to make ratatouille but wants some new inspiration for aubergine or eggplant dishes.
Gus bakes fresh bread each day for the Whitehouse Restaurant

I knew just who to ask about aubergines.  My son Gus works as a chef at the Whitehouse Cafe in Wanaka and he uses aubergines a lot.   I am proud to introduce Gus as my first guest blogger.

 Gus's Aubergine

Cut down the middle, score in a criss-cross pattern and salt - a good pinch per half.

Tap flesh side down on a bench to get out moisture, then pat dry with paper towel.

Brush halves with herb oil (Rosemary or thyme) that has had garlic blended with the oil.   Rub with sweet patrika and bake flesh down.   Make sure there is plenty of oil or they will stick and burn. Cook at 180-200 for 20-30 minutes until they don't bounce back when poked with your finger (same test as for cooking a fish fillet).

Now top with whatever you like.   At the Whitehouse we use braised lamb and soft Peccareno cheese Return to the oven to heat through and melt cheese.

Thank you Gus.

Gus Hayden can be found cooking at the Whitehouse Cafe and Bar in Wanaka most evenings.  He was first introduced to cooking to finance his other passion, snowboarding.  Gus says he is lucky to be able to live and work in Wanaka.  He loves preserving like his grandmother did using the old Agee jars (and is becoming known in the Otago second hand shops as 'the jar man').  He produces beautiful bottled Central Otago apricots, cordials, curds, quince paste, chilli sauces and various pickles.  We are the lucky ones who get supplies each time he comes home to Dunedin.

Whitehouse Cafe & Bar, 33 Dunmore Street, opp
the Domain, Wanaka, Ph 03 4439595

So if you are travelling to Wanaka this summer call in and say hi to our Gus.

Aubergine has a taste and texture that is unique.   I have discovered that it not only looks good, but it is good for you.   It assists in getting rid of harmful cholesterol and provides antioxidants that help prevent cancer cells forming.    Some research has even pointed to Aubergine assisting you in losing weight (until you add that olive oil I guess!).  You can find out more nutritional information on this site:
Whole Foods - aubergine health properties

Aubergine is a sponge for flavours, so works very well in a curry with all those spices.  It's also appropriate as the plant originated in the Indian sub-continent and is known in Asia as Bagan Brinjal.

I discovered a curry recipe from  My Darling Sweet Lemon Thyme.   This blog is written by Emma Galloway, formerly of Raglan now living in Perth.   Emma is a young mum who cooks gluten and dairy free food for her family with food allergies.  She has worked professionally in a kitchen and I must say her site is inspiring.

Eggplant Curry - a simple quick dish that even improves for the next day

Eggplant Curry from My Darling Lemon Thyme Blog  (Click here to get the Curry recipe)

The only alteration I made to this recipe was to finely cut up the garlic rather than crushing, doubled the tumeric because it's a spice that's so good for you, and used a can of tomatoes and half a can of water.   Emma was right it did taste even better the next day.
Eggplant curry served on rice, topped with onion and chopped coriander

How to Choose Your Aubergine

When picking your aubergine make sure it has a glossy skin with no spots or marks, the green top looks  fresh and if possible still has a stem.   To test if it is ripe push the flesh and if it bounces back it is ripe.  If the indent stays - its not yet ready for eating.   If it comes wrapped in plastic take that off as soon as possible.  They are so decorative that I usually don't put them away in the fridge but that does keep them for longer.

To Salt or Not to Salt.....

Botanically Aubergine is actually a berry and the brown spots
are its seeds
The new varieties of aubergine doesnt tend to be as bitter as those in the past and won't need "degorging" (salting, rinsing and patting dry).  If your aubergine has a lot of the dark seeds it will have a bitterness that comes from the nicotinoid alkaloids found in the brown seeds.   Yes there is nictotine in eggplant but you would have to eat 9 kg of eggplant to equal the nictotine of one cigarette. 

Salting will however soften the fruit and will lessen the amount of oil you will need to use to cook it.  

River Cottage veg everyday!

 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's latest book Veg Everyday matches his recent series tv series when he gave up eating meat to explore the possibilities of vegetables.      We too have recently decided to make more meals vegetarian and this book has enticing vegetarian recipes.   It's not that I am  against meat it's just that the more I learn about the benefits of vegetables the more I want to use them.  I love the way Hugh lays out and describes the methods of cooking and gives suggested variations to a recipe.  I looked up aubergine and there were three recipes that I would like to try.  So one more 'Hugh' book has found a place on my recipe bookshelves.

A page out of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's - River Cottage veg everyday!

This is one of the recipes I would like to try from Veg Everyday.   It's simple - just roast 2 cubed aubergines with potatoes in hot oil, adding chopped garlic in the final 10 minutes and just before serving add lemon juice, sweet paprika (like Gus did) and chopped herbs.   Hugh also suggests adding another eggplant and replacing the potatoes with chickpeas in the final ten minutes of cooking.
Looks delicious and I will definitely try this the next time I get an eggplant or aubergine.

Aubergine is also called Eggplant as the cultivars introduced to Britain were yellow or white and the size of a goose egg.  "Jew's Apple" was another name in the 18th century, because of its great popularity amongst Jews who may have introduced it to Britain.   
Thank you Gill for encouraging me to look for fresh ideas for Aubergines/Eggplants.   The regal purple aubergine certainly deserves the title King of the Vegetables

I have had some feedback from friends who want to add a comment but cannot unless they are on gmail.   If you would like to add a comment just send me an email (until I get this problem sorted).

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Salad Series I - the salad can be the star!

I always want to give a salad the opportunity of being the "star" or at least the "co-star" on the table rather than an "extra" to the main course.

On Sunday I made a salad for the Fortune Theatre BBQ and get together for cast and crew of "Calendar Girls".   It was a great evening that took place in a unique storybook house set high above Carey's Bay.  As we live on the other side of the Otago Harbour, I knew my salad wouldn't travel well, so I decided to take all the pre-washed ingredients and dressing in a chili bin and made the salad up just before we ate.   Everyone loved the freshness and flavours.
Three of the wonderful "Calendar Girls" Donogh Rees, Donna Akersten and Hilary Halba with my Calendar Girls Salad

Calendar Girls Salad

The salad consists of two varieties of cos lettuce riped into bite size pieces, rocket also ripped if larger leaves, some red orach ripped and 3 sorrel leaves cut into strips for that lemony zing.  
Then I add the herbs. I cut up parsley, pulled apart chervil, cut the strap-like garlic chives with scissors, a few sprigs of coriander ripped and a sprig of sweet Cicely stripped to add a touch of sweetness. 
Now I dress the greens and herbs in the bowl using a convenient spray vinaigrette "Damson Vinaigrette" from The Damson Collection.  Its a real favourite of mine.  Then a sprinkling of flaked sea salt and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Toss the greens. Its time for the decorative and tasty topping.  I use chive flowers plucked for a spicy heat, blue borage flowers gently separated from their hairy bases, the delicate white coriander flowers and the bold as brass peppery yellow and orange nasturtium flowers.   Luckily I have an abundance of wild small strawberries in the greenhouse which I add for sweetness.  Final touch a sprinkling of pickled nasturtium seeds made last summer.   The red, orange, yellow and blue on top of the green drew an appreciative audience to my Calendar Girls salad. 

Of course not everyone will have each of these ingredients on hand but you can use the principle of this salad to make your own colourful salad combinations.
- first pick, wash and spin dry your salad greens or simply a lettuce
- next add a selection or just one of the soft herbs such as fennel, parsley, mint, coriander, chervil, chives, basil and tarragon
- dress your green salad in the bowl and toss.  If you dress it once you have all the flowers and fruit the colour will disappear - this way you can have the enticing colour on top
- add fruit or sweeter vegetables like tomatoes, beetroot, carrot or bulb fennel
- final touch are some edible flowers for colour, texture and flavour punches
- you need to experiment with flavours and combinations of flavours - taste them in your garden and think what would contrast well with that flavour

Here are some of the chosen ingredients starring in my Calendar Girls Salad: 

Red Orach - a young seedling

 Red Orach (also aptly called Purple Passion Spinach) is something I was first introduced to in a friend's garden.   I took some seeds and carefully grew some plants in the greenhouse.   Now all I have to do is to wait for them to pop up somewhere in the garden.  If it does settle somewhere I usually let it stay.   I love its velvety purple-red colour and spinach like texture with a hint of salt.    This photo is of  a baby seedling - eventually the plant will grow to around 60cm tall.   The leaves can also be added to sauted greens although be warned the purple colour bleeds.

Wild Strawberry - the size of your thumbnail
Wild or Alpine Strawberries are called Fraises des bois (fruit of the woods) in France.  As the name suggests these little strawberry fruits can grow in any part your woodland garden.  Quite often gardeners think of them just in oramental terms.   The fruits are sweet and fragrant but do not keep well - you have to use them the day you pick them.  In France they are used in fruit tarts but I have never managed to pick enough at one time to do that.   They are perfect little flavour capsules to add to a salad and look so pretty.  The plants readily self seed so once you find the best edible variety you will always have a sweet harvest from early summer until autumn.  Every 2 years I take out the old plants and replace with young seedlings - after all that fruiting they just get worn out.    I grow mine as an edging in my greenhouse so that I can pick a strawberry at any time while gardening.
I haven't used these pom pom flowers of the chive in my salads until now.   I thought I would try them to see what they tasted like.  They are delicious - quite hot and onion like, as the chive is from the leek and onion family.   It would be too much to eat in one bite so I simply plucked the florets.


Here's a site that quickly tells you of some other flowers you can use in your salads
Flowers you can eat

Bowls by Peter Henderson - Quadrant Gallery, Dunedin
The bowl the salad is presented in is also important if you want to make a big impression.        These fabulous bowls are made by Broad Bay potter Peter Henderson.  Could be a great gift for the salad maker in your family this Christmas.  I love his use of colour and drawings and you can find them at the Quadrant Gallery in Moray Place, Dunedin.    They are also practical - not too wide.   While salads look wonderful in large round bowls they do take up a lot of table space. 

Bowl of Peter Henderson - Quadrant Gallery, Dunedin
Dave McLeod has many New Zealand jewellery, ceramic and glass artists work for sale in Quadrant Gallery
Fortune's Artistic Director Lara Macgregor  is also a talented baker
producing  themed buns (not cupcakes in Yorkshire)  for the Calendar Girls
on Sunday
This salad was more of a production than you would normally have time to do for dinner each night but for a special meal why not give it a try.

I have been experimenting with salads for years and have so many ideas to share with you all that I have decided to run a series on salads so we can cover all seasons and various types of salads.

The Fortune Theatre 2012 season is closing with a deservedly popular show. If you live in Dunedin you may still be able to get tickets for the two extra matinees they are putting on due to popular demand.

You Tube of Calendar Girls Trailer

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ken the Caterpillar and Fun Food for Kids

I am on "Nana Jean" duty in Auckland with 2 year old Beau while our daughter Tansy is acting in a play.   As we live at the other end of the country, it has taken time for Beau to get used to me, but I think I have cracked it - he likes interesting food!

On my first day Beau proudly showed me three Monarch pupae looking like pieces of jewellery with their glittering rings of gold.

I was curious.  What was the purpose of the gold?  Who better to ask than our Bugman friend, Ruud Kleinpaste.
"Simple ornamentation.  They want to look good.  Just like you and I.  They are chemically protected so don't need camouflage", txt Ruud.
Ah that's why the caterpillar chose a red sack barrow to hang out on rather than a plant.

Tansy has given Beau a very good introduction to science by simply planting swan plants in a pot and encouraging him to observe.    The Monarch butterfly did the rest by laying eggs the size of sesame seeds on the swan plant.

Two of the three pupae don't have names, but one does.   A week ago one caterpillar caught Beau's eye when it left the swan plant for the next stage of its life.   Tansy recorded the moment on her phone.

(As this is the first time I have tried attaching a video I am a little uncertain whether it will work.   If nothing happens when you click on the arrow or if there is no audio then just click on the following link.)    Beau and Ken the Caterpillar  or copy the following address into You Tube

Beau checks up on Ken every day.   One day soon we hope to witness the magic moment when  Ken transforms into a beautiful Monarch butterfly.

(If this video is not available when you click the arrow then just click on the following link) Life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly or enter the folllowing address on You Tube:

You might like to see the whole process in this excellent time lapse video made by Duncan Scott for the Chicago Nature Museum.   It's only four minutes long and shows the complete life cycle of the Monarch.

The Hungry Caterpillar Salad
I was inspired to create a salad for Beau that night with a caterpillar theme.   My only mistake was calling it "Ken the Caterpillar salad"... at first he wouldn't eat Ken.  It's a good way of making a green salad come to life for kids and perhaps may convince young non-salad eaters to give it a try.
Caterpillar Salad: green salad with cucumber and tomato caterpillar
heading towards the purple cauliflower trees

I first slice an iceberg lettuce, then add some chopped parsley and chives. 
I dress the green salad with a little lemon juice (or if you prefer vinegar), a little salt and more olive oil than vinegar, so that the greens have a slight shine but not sloppy.  
Next the fun part - to create the caterpillar using thin slices of cucumber, a tomato slice and for eyes a couple of raisins. For the legs green beans.  Alternatively you could use slices of coloured peppers or cut small pieces of dried seaweed for the legs.
The final touch, a bunch of purple cauliflower.   I used the cauliflower raw as it was so fresh, crunchy and sweet.  This is just a guide and what was on hand for me to use.

Cracker Man

Cracker Man a savoury alternative to a Gingerbread Man

I discovered a recipe for Snake Crackers that would involve Beau in the making but the mix ended up  too crumbly to roll into snakes. I had to quickly think what to do to keep his interest.  I decided to roll it out and let Beau use his gingerbread man cutter and called them Cracker Men. The cracker recipe is easily made and really tasty with the addition of  cumin seeds. Beau loves them.   

Cumin Crackers
1 cup of white flour
1 cup of wholemeal
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 egg
1/2 cup olive oil (I used 50/50 extra virgin olive oil with bran oil so that the flavour wouldn't be too strong for Beau)

Mix all the dry ingredients except sugar.  In a separate bowl whip up egg, sugar and oil.   Add to the dry ingredients and an additional couple of tablespoons of hot water to mix into a dough that can be rolled.
To make it easier to handle, sit the dough for half an hour in a cool place before rolling.   If you haven't the time just roll out immediately.  Cut into shapes of your choice. Place on baking paper, or a greased tray in a preheated oven at 180C for 20-25 minutes or until light brown and crisp.

Cracker Man and his tractor salad for Beau
These biscuits need not be an adult free zone.   Cut into squares or rounds to eat on their own or be topped with a topping of your choice. The crackers have the consistency of shortbread and are similar to oatcakes but hold together more easily.You could replace the cumin with finely chopped rosemaruy or thyme and add fennel seeds instead of cumin.

I got the recipe from the blog  Little Food Junction where there are lots of ideas for making exciting snack food for kids.  Unlike many other blogs about kids food, the ideas don't tend to be loaded with sugar.  If you click on this link you will be taken to a post I thought most fitting -"The Hungry Caterpillar".

Last week I was asked a question from a reader whether or not  kumara or sweet potatoes could be used instead of parsnips.  I cannot see a reason why not as both have a good level of starch. When Tansy requested that I make them the parsnip crusted pie I decided to test out the Kumara option. 

The colour with kumara is an inviting golden yellow (we used golden kumara).   It proved to be a good choice as it worked out just as well as the parsnip.   I also think pumpkin would be another good choice.   
For the recipe for the pie go to my posting "An Unusual Vegetable Pie Turns Carnivore"

The very best thing about this pastry is that it has less butter and consuming a small amount of vegetable without really knowing it. Again a winner for kids who try to avoid vegetables.

I have also tried this pastry using a gluten free option.   I used spelt flour.  Spelt can be a little dry in texture but with the mashed vegetables this wasn't such a problem.

I have been here for a week and there is no sign of Ken emerging.   I really hope he will give us a great performance this weekend.  Perhaps like me he is waiting for the sun before we both take flight.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Hawthorn - an emblem of hope that summer is coming

"Ne'er cast a cloot til Mey's oot" 

This old Scottish saying warns not to shed any cloots (clothes) before the may flowers (hawthorn blossoms) are in full bloom.   The Hawthorn tree (also known as May Tree, Mayflower, May-thorn, Quick-thorn, Mother-die, and Fairy-thorn) is in full bloom on the Otago Peninsula, smothered in white flowers with hints of pink.    The tree may be broadcasting that summer is coming but in Dunedin we are not able to shed our layers of clothing yet.    

The Hawthorn in New Zealand does not enjoy the favour it has in its English homeland.  It's standing accused of being an invasive weed.    True it propagates all too easily here, but  I wish to speak up for the Hawthorn.   It's truly a very useful tree.   It's an important plant for traditional herbal medicine, a hot burning low smoke wood for fires, an effective hedging tree that will not only keep stock in but will keep them healthy, and an important habitat for insects and birds especially moths and butterflies.  And for my friends with horses, Hawthorn is reputed to help horses with arthritis.   Horses-with-arthritis

I have known the secret of delicious Hawthorn and Apple jelly made from the fruits called "haws" in autumn.   The spicy bite of the haws with the sweetness of the apples, with a rich purple-red colour  makes it a real winner.   I am happy to share this recipe if you are keen to try it in autumn.  

I first took the photo on one of my walks and decided to find out if I could eat the flowers or leaves.  I discovered that in days gone by in England it was called the bread and cheese tree.    Children were given Hawthorn leaf sandwiches because it was one of the earliest nutritional green in the hungry part of the year.   

I tried the leaves but it was a little late now that the flowers are out.  They were a little tough to chew but next year when the leaves first appear they will be a welcome addition to an early spring salad.  

The flowers are pretty and looking at them you can see why they belong to the rose family.  Some say the flowers impart an aroma of cherries but I couldn't detect that.  

Hawthorn & Borage Flower Salad

Hawthorn and Borage flowers with a mixed green salad

Gather green salad leaves and herbs.   I used a mix of lettuce, miners lettuce, rocket, NZ spinach, parsley and coriander.   Dress the greens with your favourite dressing and then add the flowers. Pretty, different and nutritious.

Eating the flowers and leaves of Hawthorn is a good source of antioxidants but avoid collecting them from the roadside.
The flowers and leaves of Hawthorn are used in herbal teas and tinctures as a heart tonic, to improve circulation and to maintain a healthy blood pressure.  For more information on the properties of Hawthorn visit: US National Institute of Health - Alternative Medicines
Artemis produces a  Healthy Heart Tea and Hawthorn is one of the key ingredients. Artemis - Healthy Heart Tea
 Hawthorn is mentioned in the folklore of many countries and cultures; Celts believed it could heal a broken heart, ancient Greeks carried its branches in wedding processions, the Serbians and Croatians believed it to be deadly to vampires and was used for the stakes needed for vampire slaying, the Gaelic Scottish and Irish believed it marked the entrance to the other world and the fairies.  Its bad luck to cut its branches unless its in full flower and the flowers are still used today as a decoration for May Day celebrations.

Haw-Sin Sauce

I found this most intriguing recipe from Sarah Head of the UK Herb Society and is adapted from a Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall River Cottage Autumn recipe.
The haws are not nice to eat raw, similar in texture to rosehips. Its best to pick the haws after an early frost to intensify the sugars in the fruit...but you have to beat the birds.  375 g haws  
200 g honey
250g water
250 g cider vinegar
Salt and Pepper
Wash haws in cold water and remove stalks.   Cook with vinegar and water for 45 minutes until soft.   Sieve, pushing through as much of the softened material as possible.   Measure liquid - to every 100ml of liquid add 100 g of honey.  Put back in cleaned pot and season.      Cook 5-10 minutes to produce the consistency you want.    Pour into sterilised bottles and seal.  You could add other spices if you liked but I will try it first with these simple ingredients.

 Hedgerow to Kitchen - Hawthorn.   This link to the UK Herb Society will introduce you to other Hawthorn recipes including making your own Hawthorn flower tincture with vodka. 

I am in Auckland visiting my daughter Tansy and grandson Beau.  Lucky Beau has a daily pick of strawberries growing in the garden.  
Tansy's strawberries on a bed of pine needles to keep the fruit dry.
In Dunedin my strawberries are just forming fruits
 As the Hawthorn is considered to be an emblem of hope I am hoping that the blooming Hawthorn will be announcing the start of summer in the South and my strawberries will ripen.