Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Many years ago, this pie recipe featured in an article written in The Sunday Times by Jan Oldham that reviewed a lunch bar called Kitchen Express that served wonderful home made pies, including this vegetarian one. The newspaper cutting has survived being tucked in various books and recipe files, being dribbled on and nearly set fire to. This week it has starred on Face book after I took it to a friends house for dinner so I thought it was time to pass it on. Perfectly timed for pumpkin season!

Kitchen Express Pumpkin Pie
about 2kg  Butternut pumpkin
1 uncooked 9 inch pastry shell
2 eggs
1½ cup Cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup spring onions, chopped
2 Tbsp mixed fresh herbs
2 pinches nutmeg
½ tsp each,salt and pepper
½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
8 Black olives, pitted
Preheat oven to 180C.

Deseed pumpkin. Cut into chunks and bake on an oiled oven tray till soft then peel and mash flesh.

If the skin is soft, you can mash the pieces in the food processor and retain all the nutrition that sits just below the skin. You should have about 4-6 cups of mashed pumpkin but the amount is not critical.

Bake pastry blind for a few minutes as per the instructions on the packet.

Mix pumpkin flesh with eggs, herbs, spring onions, nutmeg, salt and pepper and half the cheese.

Spoon filling into pastry and top with the remaining cheese. When making as individual pies, heap the pumpkin up like a little mountain before sprinkling with the pepitas.

Sprinkle with pepitas and arrange olives on top.

Bake for one hour in middle of oven for a large pie, 35-40 minutes for individual ones.

Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes before cutting a large pie so it can firm up.

TIP: Don't be shy with the fresh herbs, they are the secret to the success of this recipe. You can use basil, chives, sage, rosemary, parsley, celery leaf, marjoram, in any combination or your choice but do choose at least three different ones.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Autumn Harvest

A lovely workshop last weekend. Everyone worked really hard, cooked, cleaned, laughed a lot and ate well. I had my rangehood and a nasty kitchen cupboard cleaned by the girls trying out the cleaning properties of lemon...maybe they would do windows this week, or is that pushing my luck?

This weekend we are into a bit more hubble bubble for the second half. An all girls group this time, we will be heating the cauldrons to create hand cream and other treats. There will be more food too.

Here’s a recipe that everyone loved:

Five Minute Lemonade

1 Lemons or 2 limes
50g Sugar

Chop the whole lemon into 1 cm cubes and place in a heatproof jug.
To each lemon add 50g of sugar / rice syrup or honey, adjusting to suit your taste.
Add boiling water to cover, put a plate on top of the jug and leave for 5 minutes.
Process with a blender.
Add  500ml cold water.
Strain through a sieve into a jug half full of ice.
Drink immediately.
 In winter, make this with honey and add hot water and drink while hot.

There is rarely time to take a rest in the garden. In the gap between the workshops the quinces have been thumping to the ground. Massive things that would brain one of the chickens that so generously fertilises it all year, demanding to be rescued from the parrots. Four crates ready for sale and three basketfuls for us...and the figs are coming on too.

Better get back to the kitchen!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tie up your tights

My father banned me from wearing stockings when I was a teenager. The poor man had seen far too many lumpy white legs bulging in his time, thought the idea of his young daughter in a suspender belt was far too much for him. Thank goodness that in the late sixties we saw the first stay up stockings, then came the revolution of panty hose.
Once we used to darn our stockings and glue them to our legs with nail polish when they laddered, now tights are so cheap to buy (and so much easier to wear) they have almost become a throw away item. It can get cold here and the extra warmth a pair of tights can give is often necessary.  At the beginning of each winter, I am thrilled when it turns out my drawer has pairs of cobwebbed with snags, sags, holes and runs.

It's exciting as a retired pair of tights is a great resource that can stretch to a long list of uses!

Classic use is to create ‘grass heads’ for children to grow.
To do this, cut the foot plus about 10 cm from the leg of the tights.
Place 1 tablespoon off grass seed in the toe and cover with cup of potting mix or sand.
Tie the open end into a knot that sits up tight to the filling.
Roll in your hands until round or oval in shape.
Add stick on or embroidered eyes at this stage if you like.
Fill a cup or glass with water and sit the head in it, so it rests on the rim while the tail hangs in the water.
Keep moist and watch grow.
I have experimented with filling these completely with wheat. In the hope I could hang them in the chicken pen for green feed. It didn’t work...the tights are too fine for the hearty wheat shoots and they get very congested.  Worth trying again with smaller seeds though.
Toe bags are useful to protect individual fruits from bird attack
They will simply slide over the larger fruits and their elasticity will hold them in place.To protect smaller fruit tie gently above the stem to secure.
You can also tie paper bags with thin ties. After all, you only get two feet per pair!

My fave!
Begin by cutting the legs off the pant. Leave enough leg attached to tie a knot in.
Cut across the legs in 2 cm strips create a collection of useful rubber band type thingies that you can use to tie up your hair.
Cutting them into strips makes the most excellent garden ties. They will stretch for miles and are very gentle on the stems of plants. They are strong and durable and will survive a whole summer of intense heat before they lose their elasticity. Best of all, thgey stay put if you tie them in a bow so you can remove them easily!
If you need longer and wider strips for heavier jobs, cut each leg down the sides into two pieces.

Tie a knot at each leg hole.
Stretch the waistband over the sides of the basket. Pin in place with pegs while filling with potting mix, remove after adding your plants.
Again, tie off the leg holes.
Slip the tights over a plank that is cut to the size of the backing board you require that has a predrilled hole in it for hanging.
Pull the pants up from the bottom over the timber.
While flat fill firmly with damp peat moss or sphagnum moss.
Tuck the fern pup into the waist line, leaving the shoots free, and tie with a long leg tie to secure if needed.
I also have a very nice clump of Spanish Moss (tillandsia usneoides) that has been growing nicely tucked into one of these ‘bags’ for two or three years.

Absolutely essential for making scarecrows
The pant tops make great heads if you don’t want to use tights for the can leave the legs on and create pony tails or twist them up into little topknots.
Take three pairs of tights.
Cut the legs from one pair and tie off the pant legs to make a sack.
Stuff with straw and insert a broom handle or long stake.
Tie off the excess to secure tightly to the stick or wind around with gaffer tape. 
Body: Take the other two pairs.
Stuff fairly firmly with straw, including the legs.
One pair will be top of body and arms, the other will be hips and legs.
Tie knots at the ends of the ‘arms’ to shorten. You can knot again if you wish to create hands as well, remember to push some straw down so they are not ‘empty.’
Lay your body pieces on the ground and tuck one into the other to form the waist.
With a sacking needle and string or a bodkin with wool, sew together around the middle, rolling him over as you go. 
Dress your scarecrow .
Fix a crossbeam just below the head to support the arms then secure your scarecrow to his support.
If you would like him or her to pose on a chair or perch in a tree, cut the centre pole to the length of the body before dressing.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Books, babies and blow ups

The Perth Writer's Festival this year was a smorgasbord of rich and rewarding events,  On Sunday the majestic trees of the tropical garden hosted  the children's program and the previously sedate atmosphere of the University of WA came alive with colour and voices as the children explored writing, bookmaking, printing and sewn stories, played with  baby animals and magnetic letters and enjoyed storytelling and circus skills. 

The big red ball had appeared overnight, wedged under the library walkway - a big squishy ball to bounce off. Perhaps the most excitement was generated by the the inflatable lotus in the reflection pool, designed by renowned Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa, here for the Festival of Perth, which magically opened and closed as you watched.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Five Minute Lasagne

We have only had baby tomatoes ripen so far this year but we have millions of them. So when I spotted a bargain box of BIG juicy ripe tomatoes on a visit to the Sunday markets, I couldn’t resist.  A week later, I have fused my trusty food dryer, made  barbecue sauce, hands off chutney, raw tomato sauce, ratatouille and ratatouille flan, smoked and dried tomatoes and there are still some of them  awaiting my attention.

There is nothing like a glut to bring out some creative cooking. I have a very strong memory of the first time my Italian friend Luana, cooked lasagne for me many years. I have never asked her for the recipe - we always have so much else to talk about – but here is my version of what I remember.

It will take you less than five minutes to assemble and about forty minutes to cook. There are no amounts for ingredients, decide what size dish you want to make and keep on layering.
Deceptively simple, this is a light, fresh, elegant way to serve lasagne. The juices in the bottom had me sucking at the baking dish (á la Nigella!) before I did the dishes... Luscious!

Lasagne sheets
Large fresh tomatoes, sliced thickly
Fresh basil, whole leaves or torn
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
White wine

Begin by putting a very thin layer of white wine into the bottom of a dish.
Add lasagne sheets to cover.

Layer by covering with fresh tomato slices sprinkled with basil, drizzled with a little olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Only use a couple of leaves for each layer or the taste will be overpowering.

Continue for at least three layers of pasta, more of you like, ending with a layer of tomatoes.

Cover with foil, making sure that the foil does not touch the tomatoes as it will dissolve the aluminium. (Yuk!)

Bake 180C for 40 minutes. Remove foil and check pasta for doneness by piercing with a skewer. Allow to rest for ten minutes before cutting.

If desired, grill for a couple of minutes to brown the top.
Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Three months since the fires...

The yellow wind blew fear a hundred miles and more

In search of the balm of an answer, only an error message on the screen

A panic then - seeking numbers, pressing options

Yesterday’s bland recorded voice     declares a smoke alert

I return to work without reassurance.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where was I?

My return to the garden in November, after many months with a painful frozen shoulder was made in spectacular fashion, never one to do things by halves, I agreed to host some local permies as part of an open edible garden scheme. The garden had been ignored all winter, so there was plenty to do to get things 'up to scratch' for visitors. The weekend was inspiring, exploring other peoples gardens as well as sharing my own, meeting like minded people along the way.

Hot on the heels of this, the town was invaded by a thousand Harley Davidson riders who held their international meet here over the week. They had just left town when two devastating bush fires destroyed many homes and shook us all badly. 

The new year started very quietly, the erratic  hot and windy weather helped another bush fire, thankfully less dramatic. 

Now that school has gone back after the summer holidays, town is quiet, subdued in a business downturn.

With the Chinese new year, I feel the energy is changing. The white grape harvest has started and we have our free concerts in the park and outdoor movies at Cape Mentelle to entertain us. The summer vegetables are abundant and have me back busy in the kitchen. 

Bring on the year of the dragon!