Best plants for Brisbane’s weather

strawberry-watercolour

I attended a seminar on vegetable gardens presented by Tim Auld. He encouraged the group to brainstrorm the best plants for each of the seasons in Brisbane.

He explained that the traditional seasonal climates (spring, summer, autumn and winter) are mostly applicable to southern states of Australia. Queensland has a more temperate climate (sub-tropic) and further north have a tropical wet season (Dec – March).

Here’s the list of plants the group came up with:

Plants for the wet season (December to March):

  • ceylon spinach, choko, kang kong, melons, squash,  snake beans, sweet potato, taro and yams

Plants for a Cool temperate summer (April to August):

  • broccoli, carrot, garlic, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, silverbeet, spinach, and tomatoes

Plants for a Mediterranean summer (September to November):

  •  basil, beans, beetroot, capsicum, chilli, corn, melons, silverbeet, and squash

Top Chocolatiers of the World

chocolate

Here’s a list of some of the most famous producers of the world’s finest chocolate. MC means that they have been given the title master chocolatier.

My favourite chocolate is Camille Bloch. We had little squares of the Swiss chocolate as favours at our wedding.

Who is your favourite chocolate producer?

Austria

Belgium

Canada

France

Germany

Italy

Luxembourg

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

United Kingdom

United States of America

How to grow tasty tomatoes

Guest post by The Diggers Club

tomato tasting

About the Taste Test

The Diggers Club conducted a tomato taste test to see whether heirloom tomatoes could beat the supermarket hybrids. The taste test was held in February 2013 at the Adelaide Botanic Garden, with South Australian garden experts, and cooks and gardeners invited.

Supermarket hybrids are usually dwarf bushy varieties which are easier to machine harvest and are bred for long-distance shipping. Being dwarf varieties they are invariably low in flavour with short harvest periods. The tasty long-harvest period heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate, with lateral branches that continue to grow and therefore need support.

The seeds from these heirloom tomatoes bred in back yards over hundreds of years hold a continuous unbroken link to our history.

The Results

The top ten Diggers Club Tomato Taste Test results were all heirlooms:

Rank Variety Colour Size
=1 Hungarian Heart Pink Oxheart
=1 Jaune Flamme Orange Apricot
2 Tommy Toe Red Apricot
3 Black Cherry Purple-Black Cherry
4 Wild Sweetie Red Pea
5 Wapsipinicon Peach Opaque Apricot
6 Lemon Drop Lemon Grape
7 Ananas Noir Yellow/Black Beefsteak
8 Black Russian Black Apricot
9 Periforme / Granny’s Throwing Red Large pear
10 Purple Smudge Orange Beefsteak

We had three Italian Chef/food experts who rated Italian red heirloom Periforme the best, in preference to highly coloured heirlooms.

tomatoes in basket

Growing tomatoes

Tomatoes are easy to grow with 6 hours of sunshine per day in friable, well drained soil.

  • Sow seed into Jiffy or Peat Pots 6 weeks before transplanting to minimise transplant root disturbance. All but dwarf varieties need support.
  • Being frost sensitive they need minimum 15 degrees C soil temperature for up to 21 growing weeks. Plant out at 1 metre spacing.
  • Heirlooms will fruit from January for 3-4 months in cool climates and all year around in hot climates, hence the ubiquitous supermarket ‘winter’ tomato!

Summary

The first eighteen varieties preferred were all heirlooms from Hungry, France, Italy, Russia and America, and seven of the bottom eight were red commercial varieties from the South Australian market. Since the 1993 taste test which was won by Tommy Toe, fourteen varieties were regarded as better than the garden standard Grosse Lisse.

Would you pay four hundred times the price of heirlooms to an overseas corporation when you can save your seeds and replant for nothing?

Guest post by The Diggers Club

Best recipe: Panna cotta

pannacotta

Panna cotta is a traditional Italian dessert meaning “cooked cream”. I have attempted to make it before, but as I was trying to invent my own recipe with coconut cream – it didn’t turn out very well. I can reassure you that the below recipe does work and it’s dead easy. Vanilla panna cotta may be too bland for some people so think of it as a starting point and add other flavours or a berry sauce.

I didn’t have a vanilla bean, so instead I used vanilla concentrated extract and vanilla bean sugar from Herbie’s Spices. The sugar has black flecks which are the vanilla bean seeds. If you have vanilla essence use 2 tsp to 1 tsp of concentrated extract (or twice as much).

Vanilla panna cotta

2 Tbsp water
2 tsps gelatine powder
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped OR
1 tsp vanilla concentrated extract and 1 Tbsp vanilla bean sugar
1/3 cup icing sugar, sifted
500ml single (pouring) cream

  1. Place the water in a cup and sprinkle over the gelatine. Allow the water to be absorbed, which may take about 5 minutes.
  2. Place the cream, icing sugar, vanilla bean and seeds (or vanilla concentrated extract and vanilla bean sugar) in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the gelatine and cook stiring for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the gelatine is dissolved.
  4. If used, pick out the vanilla bean pod.
  5. Pour the mixture into 4 x 1/2 cup capacity (125ml) lightly greased moulds.
  6. Refridgerate for 4 to 6 hours, or until firm.
  7. Remove the panna cotta from the fridge 5 minutes before serving. Remove from the moulds.

Serves 4

Cooked for the 100 recipes to cook in your lifetime challenge. 

Best recipe: Minestrone

minestrone

We both thought that this recipe was delicious and that we’d cook it again. We used kale which came straight from our garden. Some minestrone recipes contain potato and pasta, but this one contains neither. It’s a winter version so it contains vegetables you’d harvest from your garden at this time of year. It’s quite a chunky dense soup, so you may like to add more stock or water at the end to give you the right consistency. I liked it chunky and dense.

Winter minestrone soup recipe
Adapted from River Cafe’s winter minestrone soup recipe. 

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
2 storks of celery, coarsely chopped
1/2 head of garlic cloves, peeled
250g kale, chard or cavolo nero, coarsey chopped
a handful of parsely, finely chopped
400g can peeled cherry tomatoes, drained of most of their juices
425g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
500ml homemade chicken or vegetable stock
sprig of thyme or sage, chopped
freshly grated Parmesan
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and slowly fry the carrots, onion and celery until soft and dark. This will take approximately 20 minutes.
  2. Then add the garlic and the parsley. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for a further 10 minutes or until reduced. 
  3. Add half of the kale leaves (or chard or cavolo nero), beans and the boiling stock. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Add the remaining kale leaves (or chard or cavolo nero) and blanch briefly so they remain green and crisp.
  5. Stir in the thyme or sage and serve hot with Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 2.

Cooked for the 100 recipes to cook in your lifetime challenge. 

Best recipe: Trifle

Trifle

Trifle is one of the dishes on my 100 foods to cook in your lifetime challenge but because it’s part the way through the week, I’m not going to cook every element from scratch.  I’m also wanted to make something British to celebrate the arrival of the Royal baby boy. I’ve tried to make it as traditionally as possible, but there is some debate about whether to add jelly or not to a trifle. I like the strawberry wobble, so it’s staying.

The British touches I have used are reminiscent of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. My British mother-in-law sets the fruit in the jelly, so you could try that but leave a few strawberries aside to decorate the top of the trifle.This trifle is a celebration of all things British and seasonal for their summer time.

I’ve used mini Jam Swiss rolls for the cool effect it gives to the side of the glass bowl, but you could also use Madeira cake or Victoria sponge.

Congratulations Kate and William on your new baby boy. I wonder what he will be called? We have our fingers crossed for George.

British Trifle

1 packet of strawberry flavoured jelly
150ml Madeira or sherry
250g Jam mini rolls, or Madeira cake or Victoria sponge
600ml pouring custard
1 punnet of strawberries, halved
300ml pure double cream
50g milk chocolate, grated (Green & Blacks)

  1. Make up the jelly following the instructions on the packet. Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to set.
  2. Cut the cake into small chunks and soak in the Madeira or sherry.
  3. Assemble the trifle, by layering the cake around the base of the bowl.
  4. Then add a layer of jelly, strawberries, and then custard. Repeat with the cake again and the other layers until finished.
  5. Whip the double cream with an electric hand whisk until it is firm but still floppy. Use cream for the final layer and decorate with some strawberries, and grated chocolate.

Cooked for the 100 recipes to cook in your lifetime challenge. 

Best recipe: Sirloin steak with Cafe de Paris sauce

sirloin steak

Cafe de Paris butter sauce was originally created way back in 1941 by Freddy Dumont for the restaurant of the same name, in Geneva. The original recipe remains a secret, so this is rumoured to be a close version. If you don’t have all the exact 25 ingredients, don’t worry just use what you have and the result will still be delicious. Although it is better to make the butter in large quantities, this recipe is cut down as much as possible. Use the butter on steak, baked potatoes, or under the skin of roast chicken.

The butter sauce will keep for about a week in the refrigerator or for several months in the freezer (wrapped in plastic).

Sirloin steak with Cafe de Paris sauce

250g unsalted butter
3/4 Tbsp tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp capers, well rinsed
30 g shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tbsp of parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp of chives, chopped
3/4 tsp dried marjoram
3/4 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3 fresh tarragon leaves
a pinch of ground dried rosemary
1/2 to 1 small clove of garlic
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed
1 tsp good brandy
1 tsp Madeira
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
a pinch of sweet paprika
a pinch of curry powder
a pinch of cayenne pepper
The zest of 1/8 a lemon
The zest of 1/8 orange
The juice of 1/4 lemon
Season with salt
1 sirloin steak per person 

  1. Leave the butter out so that it is at room temperature.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl, pressing them together with the back of a fork or beat on low with an electric mixer. 
  3. Transfer the butter to a sheet of grease proof paper and roll into a sausage shape.
  4. Refrigerate and cut into discs as required.
  5. Preheat a frying pan or grill to high.
  6. Season steaks with salt and pepper. Spray with oil.
  7. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes each side for medium-rare or until cooked to your liking.
  8. Transfer to a serving plate. Cover with foil and set aside for 2 minutes to rest.
  9. Slice butter and place a disc on top of each steak.

Many serves.

Cooked for the 100 recipes to cook in your lifetime challenge. 

Best recipe: Scrambled eggs

scrambled-eggs

 

When I say that this is an easy recipe, I really mean it. The trick to cooking moist scrambled eggs is to restrain yourself and let the eggs cook as long as the recipe says, which I found difficult as I don’t particularly like runny eggs. I secretly wonder if Bill Granger uses more cream than the recipe calls for in his restaurant. This recipe is very indulgent and I don’t expect you’d use cream every weekend.

An old boyfriend taught me his secret to scrambled eggs. He used the lowest heat possible and combined half a glass of milk to each egg and then cooking them for at least half an hour. Yawn. I much prefer this quick recipe!

Chef Bill Granger says, always use a non-stick pan with a wooden spoon for best results and easy cleaning. Don’t over-stir – think of these as folded eggs rather than scrambled. The eggs should have the texture of soft curds. It’s best not to cook more than three portions in one go as you will overcrowd the pan and the eggs won’t cook as well. For larger numbers, cook in two pans rather than one.
Perfect scrambled eggs – BBC GoodFood

Scrambled Eggs
Adapted from Perfect scrambled eggs by Bill Granger

2 eggs, organic
1/3 cup pouring cream
10g butter, organic
pinch of salt

  1. Add the eggs and cream to a bowl and mix together with a whisk. 
  2. Heat a non-stick pan to high and melt the butter.
  3. Pour in the egg mixture. Allow the egg to cook and fold them in with a wooden spoon when they have set on the outside edge.
  4. Repeat this until the egg mixture has just set, and just moist. They will continue to cook slightly when they have been turned out.
  5. Season with salt and serve with some hot buttered toast.

Serves 1.

Cooked for the 100 recipes to cook in your lifetime challenge. 

Best recipe: ANZAC biscuits

ANZAC biscuits

The original ANZAC biscuit recipe is easy to find online, but I decided to go with a moist and chewy ANZAC biscuit recipe as that’s how I prefer them. The original ones were hard though, as they had to last the journey across the sea to the men fighting in Europe. Most recipes share the same ingredients and just vary the amounts. Curtis Stone in his latest cookbook, “What’s for Dinner?” calls them “Oatmeal Coconut Butter Cookies”!

I guess I could have waited until ANZAC day to make these, but I thought they’d be simple to make and something good to start learning to cook with.

My first problem was that I don’t own any baking trays, so I had to use a roasting tray. Then it took about 20 times to start the gas powered oven – I hope it’s not on its way out!

I mixed together all the dry ingredients, but the brown sugar left lumps, so it took about five minutes to squish them against the side of the mixing bowl. Then I moved on to the wet ingredients. It was taking a long time to pour the CSR golden syrup from the squeeze bottle into the measuring spoon.

Matt said “You know you can take the lid off of that.”

“Now you tell me” I replied. “I’m nearly finished!”

“Well, you need to work on your muscles.”

I combined the dry and wet ingredients and them popped the biscuits in the oven. In the meantime, I decided to do the washing up. I hate washing tongs, wooden spoons and plastic containers, and this load had all three! The stupid timer stopped with four minutes to go. Fortunately I noticed.

The first batch was a little under done and one of the biscuits crumbled apart as I slid them onto the wire cooling rack. I reread the instructions and saw that I was supposed to let them “Stand on trays for 5 minutes” but I missed that step. The second batch have a distinctive home-made look about them, but they are still not brown enough! The third and final batch were just what I was looking for in an ANZAC biscuit.

ANZAC biscuit recipe
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour*
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda*
125g butter, organic
2 tablespoons golden syrup

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Prepare baking trays by lining three of them with baking paper.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients – oats, flour, sugar, coconut, and bicarbonate of soda – in a bowl.
  3. Place butter, syrup and 2 tablespoons cold water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir for 2 minutes or until butter has melted.
  4. Combine the dry and wet ingredients by stirring the butter mixture into oat mixture.
  5. Roll level tablespoons of mixture into balls. Place on baking trays about 5cm apart. Flatten slightly with the back of the spoon.
  6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden. Stand on trays for 5 minutes.
  7. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Variations

I made my biscuits wheat-free by swapping the 1 cup of flour and bicarbonate of soda, for one cup of Melinda’s Gluten-Free Goodies Self Raising Flour. To make them gluten-free swap the oats for quinoa flakes.

Cooked for the 100 recipes to cook in your lifetime challenge. 

Best recipe: French onion soup

french onion soup

I got a little worried at the first reading of the Onion soup Les Halles recipe, as I don’t own either ovenproof soup crocks, nor a propane torch. The recipe I’ve chosen comes Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. I’ve never tried authentic French onion soup in a restaurant, mainly because I love to have snails or frog’s legs as a starter, so I’m not sure how to judge a good onion soup.

My first challenge was researching to find out what a bouquet garni is made up of.  For this dish, I decided to use celery, basil leaf and thyme. My second challenge was converting the recipe to metric and halving the amount. I used the very handy The Cookbook People’s Kitchen Conversion Cheat Sheet.

My eyes started to get teary cutting the first onion, so I precariously tried to chop it at arms length. I was worried I’d cut myself because I could hardly see through the tears. Fortunately, I washed the board and knife, wiped away my tears on my t-shirt sleeve, and then other next three onions were tearless. I have heard the rumour that a blunt knife makes cutting onions harder.

There is some debate about how long it takes to caramalise the onions* – most recipes have 30 minutes, and some suggest at least an hour. Felicity Cloak’s recipe suggests “This will probably take between 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your nerve.”

Flour is often added to thicken the soup, but I didn’t add it. Emmenthal works as well as Gruyere on the toast. Some people prefer to serve the cheesy toast on the side. Apparently the soup improves the day after cooking, but I didn’t notice any difference.

French onion soup is ideal as a winter dish. You could easily make a vegetarian version by changing the stock, and I’m sure this dish has many restorative powers.

French onion soup recipe

Adapted from Onion soup Les Halles recipe from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook.

For the broth:

100g butter
4 brown onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsps port wine
2 Tbsps balsamic vinegar
4 cups of homemade chicken stock or beef stock (or vegetable)
100 g bacon, cut into cubes
bouquet garni

For the croutons and cheese:

8 baguette croutons
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese 

 For the broth: 

  1. In a large pot, heat the butter over medium heat until it has melted and begins to brown. Add the onions and cook over medium heat. Keep an eye on the onions so they don’t burn and stir occasionally, until they are soft and browned (for at least 30 minutes)*.
  2. Increase the heat to medium high and add the port wine and the vinegar. Don’t forget to stir in all that brown goodness from the bottom of the pot into the liquid. Add the chicken, beef or vegetable stock.
  3. Add the bacon and the bouquet garni and bring to a boil.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove the bouquet garni before serving.

For the croutons and cheese:

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place croutons on a baking tray.
  2. Toast croutons on one side in the an oven for about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the croutons from the oven and turn them over, and sprinkle on the grated cheese.
  4. Return the croutons to the oven, and toast until the cheese has melted.

Add the croutons to the soup and serve immediately.

Serves 4 people.

Cooked for the 100 recipes to cook in your lifetime challenge.