Summer 2010/11

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Apricots the taste of summer

Uncle Chris picking apricotsHello people.  This is Uncle Chris writing to give you the best info on buying right and eating well!  You’ll be hearing from me four times a year, at the start of each season.

Apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines … these are a few of my favourite things.

I could almost break into song!  We are indeed blessed to have the best stone fruit in the world growing right here – in the orchards of Tasmania.

Every summer along our roadsides are stalls selling the freshest fruit … and at the best price. The Coal Valley, especially, has an abundance of fruit on offer right through summer.

Apricots are my favourite.  They are great when eaten fresh just minutes after being plucked from the trees.  But there are so many wonderful ways to use them in cooking.  They can be added to curries and chicken dishes.  They are also great when sliced finely in salads.  And they can be baked in the oven, with a little brown sugar and butter in the middle, for a scrumptious brekky.  Apricot crumble is another favourite of mine.

Inside you’ll read my recipe for apricot flan, a great alternative dessert to the traditional Christmas plum pudding. On this page I’ve given you an easy recipe for delicious apricot chutney. It goes well with cold meats and cheese, or try it alongside a curry.

Our apricot season runs from just before Christmas to early February and there are

10 varieties grown here.  They’re all great!

The best apricots are picked ripe – this way they have the best flavour.  Fruit that is picked unripe stays just that – unripe. You’ll know they are ripe by their fragrance and they are slightly soft to the touch.

You can of course buy them in the supermarkets, but the freshest and cheapest will be sold at nearby roadside stalls, especially in the Coal Valley. They will be selling from $1.50 to $3.50 a kilo, depending on quality.

One problem with apricots is that they don’t store well.  Eat them or use them in cooking as soon as you can.  If you have to store them, do so in a paper bag in the fridge, but just for a few days at most. Don’t put them in plastic bags.

And if you’re eating them fresh off the tree, don’t forget to wipe your chin!


A feast for your family and friends

Christmas-dinnerHave I got a Christmas dinner for you!  In fact, it’s a great three-course meal for any special occasion. It’s easy to prepare and it’s easy on the budget. Dress up the table with a candle or two and a bunch of local cherries or some summer flowers

Apricot chutney

800 g ripe apricots
1 large onion chopped
50 g sultanas
150 g white or brown sugar
100 ml white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 cloves

Halve or quarter apricots and discard blemishes and kernels.

Blend all ingredients, place in a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Cook on low heat without lid on, stirring occasionally to avoid burning, for about 20 minutes until the mixture is soft.

While the chutney is still hot, spoon it into sterilised jars. Put on the sterilised lids, and leave jars upside down on a table until they are cold.  Store the jars in a dark place, such as pantry or cupboard. Your home-made chutney will keep up to 6 months.

When a jar is opened, it can be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks.

How to sterilise glass jars and lids: Wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and drain upside down. Place in oven set at 120˚C for 15 minutes remove from oven when cool enough to handle.

Lids should be cleaned, then gently boiled in water for

5 minutes and left to dry upside-down on a clean towel.

Recipes

Tomato tartlets

500 g puff pastry
7 slices of ham
3-4 large fleshy tomatoes
olive oil

Topping
150 g mascarpone or philly
1 clove garlic crushed
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
½ bunch chopped parsley
a touch of ground fresh pepper

Cut puff pastry into 14 equal squares and prick closely with a fork.

Cover a large baking tray with baking paper and place the squares on it.

Cut slices of ham in half and place a slice on each pastry square, leaving an edge of about 2 cm.

Mix the topping ingredients together and spread on the ham.

Cut tomatoes in ½ cm slices and put one on each square.

Bake for 20 minutes in lower half of preheated oven at 180˚C

Season with a little salt and pepper, drizzle a little olive oil over squares, garnish with some fresh oregano leaves and serve warm.

 

Rosemary chicken

1.2 – 1.4 kg chicken
4 small sprigs rosemary
4 cloves garlic cut in half

Put garlic and rosemary inside the chicken

4 small sprigs rosemary are tied on top of the chicken with kitchen string (twine)

marinade

4 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary leaves
4 crushed cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
pinch white pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the marinade ingredients and brush the chicken.  Rest for 30 minutes.

Put in roasting pan with a whole garlic (cut across the cloves in half).

Preheat oven to 250˚C, roast for 15 minutes in top half of oven.

Reduce heat to 180˚C, roast for another 45 minutes in the middle of the oven.

Remove pan from oven, put chicken

on a platter and keep warm in the switched off oven.

 

Rosemary sauce

1 chicken stock cube, (dissolved in 100 ml water)
250 ml dry white wine
1 sprig rosemary

Place these in the roasting pan along with the residue from baking and reduce liquid by half on top of the stove.

75 g butter is slowly blended into the reduced liquid.

Pour sauce through a sieve and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve the chicken and sauce with new potatoes and a green salad.

 

Potato salad

600 g boiled potatoes (pink eyes or dutch cream)
Peel while still hot and cut in to 4 mm thick slices
150 ml of bouillon, beef or chicken cube dissolved in hot water and add
5 tablespoons wine vinegar.

Mix the two liquids and pour over hot potatoes

dressing for potato salad

1 tablespoon mustard
2 tablespoons Greek-style yoghurt
2 tablespoons of your favourite mayonnaise
Season with salt and pepper
Mix well and add chopped parsley or chives
Add to the seasoned potatoes,
stir and serve

Apricot flan

shortcrust pastry
150 g plain flour
¼ teaspoon salt
50 g cold butter
75 ml water

In a bowl mix salt and flour, cut the cold butter into small cubes and rub the mixture between your hands until it looks like breadcrumbs. Slowly add water as needed and mix. Don’t work dough too hard – that will make the dough tough.

Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap and rest it in the fridge for at least

30 minutes.

Thinly spread flour on the preparation bench to prevent pastry from sticking. Roll out the pastry into a shape to fit

your 28-30 cm tray.

Put tray in the fridge again to rest, while you prepare the apricots.

800 g fresh apricots cut in half and kernels removed [other seasonal fruit could be used].

Arrange with the cut side up on your prepared tray, now make the custard filling.

custard

200 ml pouring cream
1 egg
1 teaspoon corn flour
4 tablespoons castor sugar

Mix well with a whisk, pour over the apricots, sprinkle some extra sugar extra over the flan and bake in the bottom half of a pre-warmed oven at 220˚C for 35-45 minutes or until brown.

Take the flan out of the oven and put on a wire rack to cool.

While still warm, remove the flan from the tray and let it cool down on the wire rack.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

You can substitute apricots with other fruit, depending on the season.  Remember, buy fruit when it’s fresh and plentiful.

Xmas cookies

 350 g butter
150 g castor or icing sugar
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla essence

Whisk butter until soft, then add sugar, salt and vanilla essence and whisk.

500 g plain flour is then added and mixed in to make a dough.

Form dough into a roll 4 cm diameter, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and cool in fridge.

When rested and firm, cut into 4 mm thick pieces and put on

a baking tray covered with baking paper.

Bake in a preheated oven in

the middle at 200˚C for 10-15 minutes or till golden.

icing:

150 g icing sugar
1½ tablespoons lemon juice

Mix well and dip the cookies, while still warm, on one side and cool on a rack.

Herbs old favourites for better flavours

As a general rule, fresh herbs taste better in food than dried herbs that are sold in jars or little packs.

Herbs are best when used soon after they are picked. If buying from a supermarket, make sure they have a good ‘use by’ date and that they have not been crushed or badly stored. Read more...

Grow your own

Want to slash your greengrocer bills?
Of course, we all do.

tomato-bunchStart your own backyard vegie patch and you will, and you’ll have fun
doing it.

Follow a few simple guidelines and you will be growing fresh, healthy vegies in just weeks.

Most vegetables require four things – good drainage, well fertilised soil, plenty of sun and regular watering.

Start by finding a spot that gets maximum sun. Ideally it will be somewhere protected from strong winds and not in a low part where water might collect.

If you don’t have an obvious spot, start growing vegies in pots or polystyrene vegie boxes. You’ll be amazed just how much you can grow.

If you do have space, mark out a bed with string and pegs (4m long by 1m wide would be ideal) and start digging.

Aim to create a bed of crumbly soil to a depth of about 1½ times the length of the blade of the spade.

Next, dig in some compost. This adds goodness to the soil and improves its ability to grow things. If you can lay your hands on some well rotted cow or sheep manure you’re in luck – or you might need to buy a bag of compost from your local nursery.

Once you get going you can start producing your own free compost from grass clippings and kitchen scraps (we’ll talk about that in the next mailout).

watering-the-vegie-patchMost vegie gardens also benefit from the addition of lime (calcium oxide) to “sweeten” the soil. It’s a white powder and you can buy it quite cheaply at a garden centre.

Sprinkle it over the soil surface (about a handful to a square metre). It will wash into the soil so don’t worry about digging it in.

You can grow from seedlings, but you will save money by buying packets of seeds.

If growing in pots, old containers, buckets or even large tin cans will do. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom (most plants don’t like wet feet) and use potting mix, not ordinary soil.

Different crops grow at different times of the year. Check with your nursery to see what you can grow now. Or look at the sowing times printed on the back of the seed packets.

You can team up with a neighbour and each grow different vegies so you can swap some of yours for ones you don’t grow, and vice versa.

For some more ideas, visit the vegetable garden at Hobart’s Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens – it will get you inspired.

Action plan

• Don’t be too fussy. It is far better to have a few blemishes on your vegies than to have perfect-looking crops that have been subjected to possibly harmful chemicals.

• Mulching helps prevent soils from drying out. Lucerne hay is a good mulch and you can often get a bale or two cheaply. Layer it 6-10cm over your vegie patch, then dig it in after your crops have finished (it will improve the soil). And check round your neighbourhood for free mulches. Good mulches include pea straw, decayed autumn leaves, shredded newspaper (not too thickly), woodchips (add some ferttiliser because the chips will rob nitrogen from the soil) and old pinebark.

• Rotate the position in which you grow particular crops from year to year. This prevents disease setting in and helps avoid stunted crops.

• Weed regularly. A little weeding often will keep things under control. Weeds in a vegetable garden mean crops must share nutrients.

• Stagger plantings. The aim is to grow crops on a continuous basis, not to have a glut.

Prune unhealthy growth and destroy.

• Never water when temperatures are high.

• Avoid vegetable seeds or seedlings coming into direct contact with fresh manure as burning can occur.

• Don’t spray vast quantities of liquid fertiliser on your plants. It is expensive and what the plants don’t use will quickly leach from your vegie patch.

Shovel