GROW FOOD slow food Have your garden and eat it too. A practical guide to organic gardening in the sub-tropics with step-by-step instructions and delicious seasonal recipes. Come with me too on some of my travels in Australia, Europe, Asia and beyond.

Cauliflower rice – try something different

Cauliflowers are fresh, plentiful and cheap at the moment – only $2.50 at our Farmer’s Market last Friday.  There’s just one problem – you have to cook them the right way or they can be pretty uninspiring AND most children just turn their nose up at them.  How I like them best is in Indian cooking – they lend themselves to being spiced up, and the French found a away by covering them in cheese sauce, but none of that was going to work with what I was making for my daughter’s birthday dinner – a Moroccan lamb tagine.

This simple dish was inspired by the latest trend in serving cauliflower blitzed to crumbs in a food processor, usually as a carbohydrate substitute, such as rice or quinoa, and often served raw – that wasn’t going to work for me, but it got me thinking. I liked the idea of it chopped really finely but  I wanted to turn it into a cooked vegetable accompaniment to my lamb dish with couscous – and something the children MIGHT like.

Well, it worked.  Everyone loved it and two out of three of the children asked for seconds – now I call that a winner.  Most of the family didn’t even realise that it was cauliflower that they were eating and enjoying so much.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

  • 1 cauliflower
  • half cup flaked almonds
  • half cup chopped fresh parsley

METHOD

1. Break the cauliflower up into pieces and blitz in a food processor until it resembles large breadcrumbs.  Don’t continue past that point otherwise you will end up with a pulp – not what you want.

2. Heat up a wok and, without adding any oil, toss in the flaked almonds and stir around for one minute, or so, until they look toasted – be careful not to let them burn.

3. Remove the almonds and set asidenow add the blitzed cauliflower to the wok and stir around for one minute until the crumbed cauliflower softens a little and bits start to turn golden.  IT’S COOKED.  Now add the toasted almonds, chopped parsley, freshly ground pepper and salt and serve – that’s all you do.

A five minute dish that is cheap and healthy.

WHY IS CAULIFLOWER GOOD FOR YOU?

  • Cauliflower is an excellent source of Vitamin C – that’s why just lightly cooking it like this is a good idea – the Vitamin C is not destroyed.  Boiling it is not such a good idea.
  • It is also high in Vitamin K, Vitamin A,  B6, Iron, Calcium and other phytonutrients.  
  • Like all vegetables it is good for your gut and is high in fibre and is a powerful antioxidant.

 

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Italian Spiced Apple and Nut Cake

Stanthorpe apples and pears

Our recent trip out to Stanthorpe, three hours north-west from where we live, took us into the heart of a cool climate wine and orchard growing area – and, at this time of year, laden apple and pear trees that are dripping with ripe fruit.  In fact, right now our local Mullumbimby Farmers Market is full of this luscious autumn harvest where I picked up a load of baby pears for baking, some delicious eating and cooking apples and a bag of freshly picked pecans – then I thought of this cake.

With a busy family, I am often wearing my grandma hat to my seven little darlings and picking them after school, which means the first thing they are going to ask me when they walk in the door is “what is there to eat”. A vegemite sandwich is good, but homemade cake puts a real smile on their little faces.  This cake may seem a little strange (coconut??), but go with me – it’s really good.  I’ve made it a few times now and refined the recipe so its easy to make and doesn’t involve three processes and as many bowls – not the kind of recipe for me!  It was also an opportunity to get out my favourite teapot.

Recipe Italian Spiced Apple and Nut Cake

  • 2 cooking apples, peeled and cut into small chunks and tossed in a bowl with juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup sultanas
  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp grated nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 150 g best butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbs amaretto liqueur (or substitute with 1tsp vanilla or almond essence)
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Method

  1. Set oven to 180oC
  2. Grease 23cm (9″) round cake tin and line with non-stick baking paper (what did we do without this stuff?)
  3. Peel and cut apples into small chunks.  Add to lemon juice and set aside in LARGE mixing bowl.
  4. Add sultanas to the apple mix.
  5. Toast pecans in oven for 5 minutes.  At the last minute, add the coconut and toast with the pecans FOR ONE MINUTE ONLY – otherwise it will burn.
  6. Tip pecans, coconut and 1 tbs of brown sugar into mortar and pestle and lightly crush. The smell, at this stage, is divine!
  7. Add to the apple mixture and stir well and set aside
  8. In a food processor, cream together the butter and 1 cup brown sugar until light fluffy.
  9. Add eggs, one at time and process until creamy
  10. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg and process until thoroughly combined
  11. Tip this mixture into bowl with apple mix.  Add Amaretto and fold all together.  Add pinch of salt.
  12. Turn the mixture into prepared cake tin.
  13. Bake in centre of oven on 180oC for about 45 minutes or until cake is firm to touch and skewer comes out clean.
  14. Sprinkle with icing sugar when cooled
  15. Serve with thick yoghurt or whipped cream

NOTE:  I recently read an interesting memoir by Italian/Aussie, Zoe Boccabella, called Mezza Italiana whose grandfather migrated to Australia as a 14 year old and became an apple orchardist in Stanthorpe  Well worth a read – has family recipes in it too and this cake was evocative of her story.

 

 

 

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Tamarilloes – how to cook and grow them


ABOUT:  Tamarillo (Solanum betaceum) is a native to southern Brazil in the tomato Solanacea family and easy to grow in tropical and sub-tropical gardens. It is a fruit I was not familiar with until I came to Australia, but love it’s fresh clean taste and versatility in cooking.   I have four plants in my suburban garden and they hardly take up any room at all, being an open and shrubby small tree that responds well to pruning after fruiting – so the fruit are easy to pick season to season – they will get to 4m if you let them.

This fruit typifies what sustainable living and cooking with abundance is all  about.  We may have to re-jig our taste buds and learn some new recipes but you surely this is better than buying out of season, tasteless, plastic boxed strawberries from a supermarket that started their journey hundred of miles away? 

I have found that tamarilloes are happy to be ignored (I just feed them a couple of times a year) as long as you don’t let them dry out or get completely waterlogged – mulch, mulch and more mulch.  They need sun for at least part of the day, but will take some semi-shade.

Because they are quite shallow rooted they are a fantastic plant to incorporate in a food hedge as they don’t over compete with the plants around them for water and nutrients – just remember the mulching.

In late summer they produce a crop of ovoid fruit, either orange, purple or a yellowy colour.  The skin is never eaten as it is very bitter, and flesh scooped out to be eaten fresh or cooked.  Grazing children love to just bite the top off and squeeze the tangy, tart flesh straight into the mouth.  Oh – did I mention their amazing nutritional properties – here goes?:

  • TAMARILLO and NUTRITION: The tree tomato is an excellent source of antioxidants because it contains a type of flavonoid known as anthocyanins. Furthermore, and more importantly it contains the carotenoids lycopene and beta carotene (vitamin A).
  • Lycopene’s principle health benefit is to neutralize or inhibit oxygen derived free radicals. Free radicals are implicated in causing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Lycopene, along with the other carotenoids, beta-corotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, help protect and repair cells against DNA damage, thereby helping to prevent premature aging. However, of the four carotenoids, lycopene has by far the most antioxidant activity.
  • The group of flavonoids called anthocyanins are found in red or purple plant color pigments, known as phytochemicals.  These flavonoids are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and they help neutralize free radicals. They can also provide health benefits against diabetes, nuerological diseases, cancer and aging.
  • Tamarillo is also a good source of vitamin C, as well as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium and magnesium.

USES IN COOKING:
Poached:  I first had them this way at La Luciola Restaurant in Bali – ahhh!

1. Score the pointy end of the fruit with a cross so that when they are cooked it peels back like a flower.  
2. Simmer a couple of tablespoons of honey in some water and either star anise or a scraped vanilla pod. 
3. Add the washed and scored fruit and poach for about 5 minutes. 
TOP TIP – leave the stalks on.
4. Let them cool and peel the skin back – very pretty! I have served them like this many times since, often with a sweet baked ricotta or vanilla yoghurt.  They are also good stewed with other fruits and berries – just scoop them out of their skin  first.

Jam:  They make a fabulous jam – either by itself or with other fruit – that sets really well because they are so high in pectin.  I made some the other day with mango, guavas and peaches – really yum!

Chutneys:  I have come across various recipes for this.  As soon as all the crop is in (and we stop eating them!) I will try some and post up the recipe.

NOTE:  Click here for the link to a scrum my Tamarillo Yeast Cake recipe – an extremely versatile tea cake that I make all the time.  Somebody liked it!

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Octopus Salad

Octopus Salad,
 Mitsos Taverna, Corfu, Greece – cooked by Agatha, caught by Spiros
 
Octopus, and the rest of the family of squid, calamari and cuttlefish are sea creatures I would never have eaten as a child in London – I had to wait for the delights of savouring these for travels in Europe – Spain, Italy and then Greece.
 
These days I know that my holiday has started when we arrive in Athens, settle into our favourite hotel, and then wander up the street to Strofi – a restaurant with a rooftop garden where you can sit, sipping a glass of wine, and watch the sun going down behind the Acropolis.  The first thing we order is their octopus salad – a revelation of tender, meaty, lobstery tasting delight – perfection.  The shoulders relax, travel fatigue drops away and I begin to enjoy my holiday knowing that there’s plenty more of this where that came from.

 

It’s a shame that most people I know would never dream of attempting a dish like this because they think that the cleaning is going to be complicated and messy, and the cooking difficult – all not true.  Apart from being good for you, as well as delicious to eat – it is cheap.  When you look at most seafood around the $25-$35 mark and compare it to squid and octopus at $5-$12 – there’s nothing not to love.


IS OCTOPUS SUSTAINABLE?  This question is of increasing concern to most of us as fishing stocks are depleted by unsustainable fishing practices.  My advice – buy local.  I get mine from a large seafood shop in Ballina that sells everything that is caught when the trawlers go out but is not valued as much by the fishermen – by-catch.  This is generally the seafood I favour; squid, sardines, octopus and red mullet and other small fish.  If it turns out to be not that good for eating I make stock out of it.


WHY OCTOPUS IS GOOD FOR YOU:  


These days we are repeatedly being told that seafood is good for you and we should be eating it at least three times a week and avoiding meat.  Apart from being low in calories and saturated fats and high in protein, seafood is increasingly being shown to be helpful is fighting autoimmune diseases – like multiple sclerosis.  So what are the nutritional facts about octopus – bearing in mind that I actually eat it because it tastes damn good!


1.  Octopus, like nearly all seafood is lean and low in calories and saturated fats.  It is however quite high in cholesterol but, like all things, eaten in moderation it won’t do you any harm.  It’s a staple food for coastal Greek people who have the famous benefits from eating the so called ‘Mediterranean Diet’ that includes all kinds of seafood, including octopus – with lower rates of stroke and heart disease.


2.  Iron.  One serve has all the daily requirements for men and half for women – add a handful of parsley girls and your done for the day!


3.  B12.  Octopus exceeds your daily requirements of this important vitamin that is essential in the production of new red blood cells and supporting everyday brain function.


4. Selenium. One serve of octopus provides more than you daily requirements.  An important trace mineral that plays a role in protein metabolism during digestion.



A NOTE ABOUT ROCK BASHING!  You may have seen or heard stories about octopus fishermen bashing their catch on rocks to tenderise it,with tentacles and froth flying.  This is certainly true if the octopus is going to be flash fried or barbecued – otherwise it is like chewing rubber.  However, there is absolutely no need to do this for a dish like this where it is simmered first in water – it honestly renders it delectably tender.

 
Now, don’t be scared – trust me!
 
 
What to Buy
For this dish you need the octopus to be large with thick tentacles – the opposite for when you are buying them for chargrilling on the barbecue – then you need small ones.
 
Fresh octopus should smell sweet with no trace of ammonia.  Use it as soon as possible after purchase, certainly within 36 hours, and do not store with the guts intact – the same goes for squid, calamari and cuttlefish.  
 
How to Clean
Simply cut the head off whole – this way you will not disturb the ink sac, and discard it.  Cut the octopus in half and pop out the black ‘beak’ from the middle and discard.  Cut the tips off the tentacles and discard.  That’s it!

Cleaned octopus ready for cooking 
 
How to Cook
1. Place the cleaned octopus in a saucepan and cover with cold water. 
 
2. Add to this one dessertspoon vinegar, a bay leaf and one clove of garlic sliced.
 
3. Bring to boil and simmer for 20-40 minutes.
 
4. Us a small sharp knife to check when it is cooked – it should have lost its rubberyness but be firm and tender.
 
5. Don’t over cook or it will turn to mush.
 
6. Drain straight away
 
7. As soon as the octopus cools a little rub off the dark skin – the is best done wearing disposable gloves.  This is a very simple and quick task.  There is no need to remove the suckers.
 
Cooked octopus – just need to get the rest of the skin off
 
Preparing the salad
 
1. Slice the cooled octopus into bite size pieces and place in a serving dish.
2. Cover with olive oil, sliced fresh garlic and sprinkle with dried oregano and thyme.  It may need a little salt at this stage.
3. Serve with wedges of lemon, fresh black pepper, sprinkle of parsley and crusty bread.
4. If the octopus is fully submerged in the oil it will keep for a week or so in the fridge.
 
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War the author Henry Miller went, for the first time, to Greece to visit his friend Lawrence Durrell and stayed for nine months traveling from Athens, around the Peloponnese, Corfu and to Crete.  His experiences are recorded in one of the best travel books you will ever read, The Colossus of Maroussi.  
 
Maybe it just has a real resonance for me because I too went to Greece and fell in love – with the varied landscapes, the romance of being on the edge of Europe and the beginning of the East, the history, the marvelous island journeys, the best swimming in the world, THE FOOD and, most of all the Greeks.  I agree with Miller when he says in the book “I like a good Greek meal better than a good French meal, even though it be heresy to admit it”
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Carrot and Sultana Cake with Banana Icing

One of the weirdest cake recipes I have ever seen was in a collection called 100 Years of Australian Country Cooking (1988) that I picked up in a garage sale with the kind of recipes that raise your eyebrows but, nevertheless, I find fascinating for their novelty value. Tempting dishes like Surprise Parsnip Pie and Mock Wild Duck Casserole (that contains beef and lambs kidney, but no duck) One particular recipe that caught my eye was for a beetroot cake with peanut butter icing – this was before the days of beetroot being trendy in everything, and I thought it very odd indeed.

Well, when I recently saw this carrot cake recipe I was immediately reminded me of the beetroot/peanut butter thingummy – must be the carrot with peanut butter in the cake and spicy banana icing on top. But, do you know what – it works!

This is a very versatile recipe, that I have tweaked to my taste, that can either be made into an iced afternoon teacake or into a slice that is great for children’s lunch boxes.  It’s a real hit with our growing brood of grandchildren – 7 and counting! (Leila, 10, said the icing tasted like banana milkshake!)

I’ll give you the two versions and see what you think?

Carrot and Sultana Cake with Spiced Banana Icing


150 g crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup of sunflower or other vegetable oil
250 g dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
350 g freshly grated carrot
275 g sultanas
150 g glace ginger (optional)
100 g plain wholemeal flour (you can substitute this with almond meal)
150 g wholemeal self-raising flour
(for gluten free you can substitute with a third each of buckwheat/brown rice flour and fine polenta)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1. Preheat oven to 180oC.  Line a 23cm round cake tin or loaf tin with non-stick paper.
2. Grate the carrots (I do this with the grater blade of the food processor – because I can!) then put them to one side.
3. In the good old food processor – that you don’t need to wash after grating the carrots, beat the peanut butter, oil, sugar, ground ginger and milk until smooth then beat in the eggs.
4. Stir in the grated carrots, glace ginger, flour and bicarb until mixed.
5. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out cleanly.  Leave to cool before icing.
Spiced Banana Icing
 
100 g butter
1 large ripe banana
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp hulled tahini
75 g cream cheese
125 g icing sugar
1.  In the trusty food processor beat together the butter, spices, banana, cream cheese and tahini until smooth and creamy.  Add the icing sugar and mix until smooth.
2.  Spread over the cooled cake and chill before serving.
Carrot and Sultana Slice
(as in the photo at the top of the page)
 
1. Make the same recipe for the cake just omitting the ginger – usually not the favourite of children, and adding 1/2 cup of pecans instead, and have another half a cup for decorating the top.
2. You can ice this too – you just have to omit the pecans on top.
2. Bake for 30 minutes on 180oC or until skewer comes out clean.

 

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Hummus – best ever recipe!

I can never really understand why people buy shop bought hummus when it is so easy and cheap to make at home, AND I have never had one of those from a plastic thingummy tub that tastes anywhere near as good as this. All you need is a food processor and a few basic ingredients – just throw it all in and bingo!  IT IS NOT HARD TO MAKE.

This is my go to dish for taking to a party – it’s often requested and gets lots of compliments, so is definitely one of those dishes where the making of perfect has been in the practice.

Apart from being so quick, easy and cheap to make, it is incredibly good for you – this is the real deal as far as super foods are concerned.

  • Hummus is high in iron and vitamin C and also has significant amounts of folate and vitamin B6.
  • The chickpeas are a good source of protein, dietary fibre, calcium and potassium.
  • Tahini consists mostly of sesame seeds, which are an excellent source of the amino acid methionine, complementing the proteins in the chickpeas – and the sesame is where the high source of iron comes from as well as being a good source of calcium, potassium and phosphorus.
  • Fresh lemon juice is high in vitamin C.
  • Garlic, a natural antibiotic.
  • Olive oil – the good oil

It’s a great vegetarian food and like other combinations of grains and pulses, it serves as a complete protein when eaten with bread.

No meal in the Middle East would be complete without a freshly made plate of hummus and passions run high over its origin and ‘the authentic recipe’.  In fact, the ‘hummus wars’ have been going on for some time between Lebanon (who want to patent the recipe) and Israel (who exports the largest quantities around the world).

This is the recipe I have tweaked over the years to be to my taste and I make it at least once a week and, there’s an added bonus – the grandchildren love it.

 

  1. 1x 400g can of organic chick peas (gives you 250g of chickpeas after draining)
  2. Juice of 1 small lemon
  3. 2 tbs tahini hulled (sesame seed paste) – important to use the pale variety otherwise it can be bitter.
  4. 1 small clove of crushed garlic
  5. 1 small tsp ground cumin
  6. sea salt to taste
  7. 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil (approximate – depends on how much oil your tahini has)
  • Strain the chick peas of all their canned liquid.
  • Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a smooth consistency.
  • If, at this stage, the hummus is very thick you may want to add a small amount of water to thin it.
  • Serve on a plate with the hummus fluffed up around the edge – easy to do with the back of a spoon.
  • Drizzle with olive oil and paprika or finely chopped parsley or mint.  This is making me hungry!
TOP TIP:  This recipe is to my taste.  You may think it needs more; salt, lemon juice, tahini or garlic so it’s important to taste it, once you have processed it, and adjust accordingly.
ALSO – hummus is supposed to be light and fluffy – not thick and gluggy – that’s where adding a little water (filtered) helps.  Try it and see for yourself.
Graffiti from a wall in inner Sydney in the late 70’s.
“God hates homos”. Written underneath – “But does he like tabouli”? 
I can never eat hummus without thinking of this and smiling

 

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