Topping up

The snow peas I planted a month or so back have not done well. A combination of starting late, old seeds and neglect, I suspect. This weekend I topped up the bed with some indoor-sprouted seeds:

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They took a few days to germinate on the kitchen windowsill.

For either inspiration or demoralization, my dad’s snow peas look like this:

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Wine glass for scale and sustenance.

Happy winter solstice 2014

Happy solstice to all for tomorrow, and warm thoughts to everyone south of the equator. Tomorrow marks the shortest day of the year for us. Each day will bring us more hours of daylight thereafter: trickling slowly at first and then with increasing speed. This torrent of extra daylight will slow down again in autumn, stopping at summer solstice.

Tomorrow in Canberra it will be 9 hours 46 minutes between sunrise and sunset. By contrast that figure will be 14 hours 32 minutes in 6 months time.

Keep warm all: see you again on a longer day.

Winter garden 2014, part 1

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The beginnings of snow peas. Also on the left is Urtica dioica, the stinging nettle. Our soil was too dense, dry and low in nutrients to sustain then before, so I take their arrival as a good sign. If they grow well, I might try a nettle soup this year. To the right is a self seeded fennel plant. Getting a bank of edible plant seeds in the soil is a step towards a self-sustaining edible garden for us.

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These are broccoli and silver beet, chard, etc. The garden they’re in doesn’t get quite enough sun, so we’ll see how they do.

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Here’s the bodge greenhouse. It’s two discarded windows over a raised bed. The bed isn’t quite full of soil, so there’s a comfortable gap between glass and seedlings. It’s rocket and kale in here, which don’t really need coddling like this but I had the windows so why not?

Curing in 2014 part 2

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Curing progress: this is the progress on my second batch. A pork neck, in two pieces, which is now under the house, and a beef skirt, which is now in red wine. The cuts were two weeks in cure in the fridge.

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Hanging from a beam under the house. Looks a bit sinister, but in 6-8 weeks it will be porcine bliss. The beef will join them in about 4 days.

Mushrooms again

Today’s catch was a single saffron milk cap, Lactarius deliciosus. Most of the milk caps in the forest were very much past their best:

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The prettiest mushrooms by far were the poisonous ones:

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That one was admired but not picked.

One milk cap was in very good condition:

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I’m still eating as a way of confirming my identification, so I only ate two slices. However, so far so good.

The main event was actually harvesting pine cones for the kids to decorate for winter solstice, which will be upon us before we know it! Mission accomplished:

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Chicken in pastry

Here’s the pastry dish that I mentioned  in “kids and meat“. It’s good because you can buy or make the ingredients in any combination. Ours was all from bought ingredients except the home made bacon. I prefer the butter puff pastry, which is pretty easy to find in a big supermarket.

ingredients (per person)
1 chicken breast (for a mix of adults and kids, you can trim a little off an adult server to make a kid sized portion)
1 sheet puff pastry (ditto re kids)
A small slice of camembert or brie
Slice of bacon

Method:
Wrap the chicken, bacon and cheese in the pastry. Bake for 40 minutes or until cooked. Serve with hollandaise and asparagus.

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Pork and fennel stew

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This is the pork and fennel stew I mentioned recently. I cook it in a slow cooker of 5 litres or thereabouts.

Pork neck sounds like a gruesome cut, but only the way I’ve found it for sale is as a fat, short cylinder of lean meat. No tubes, bones or other gruesomeness. Looking at it in a vacuum bag you’d expect it to make fantastic pork steaks. However, rather than one long muscle (like fillet) it has a bunch of different muscles going every which way.

Ingredients:
A pork neck (approx 1.5 kg), diced
A couple of hocks or trotters
Oil and butter for frying
1-2 fennel bulbs
1 tbsp carroway seeds

Optional:
2-4 carrots
1-2 onions
Cider

Method:
Brown the trotters or hocks in a pan in a little oil. Place them in a slow cooker. Brown the diced neck in batches and add to the slow cooker. Sprinkle the carroway seeds over. Deglaze the pan (I used water but you could use a little cider) and add the juices to the slow cooker.

If you’re doing onions and carrots, brown them in some butter and add them to the slow cooker at this point.

Brown the sliced fennel in butter until you get dark spots and delicious burned butter and caramelised fennel smells. Add a little water (depends on the size of your cooker, but I used about 1/3 cup). Pour the lot on top of the pork, then pop a layer of baking or greaseproof paper on top.

Cook it like this–layered–for a couple of hours, then stir gently, re-cover, and cook a couple of hours more. Before serving, disassemble the hocks or trotters, discarding any skin and bone. Chop up any meat and add it back in.

Serve with fresh sage cut over the top, with dumplings, mash, rice or whatever you’re in to.

This stew is very simple, and really showcases two cheap cuts. I get neck for around $10 per kilo, and hocks for $6 a kilo. It works with these cuts because the neck is a little too lean and not quite tendon-y enough on its own. The addition of hocks or trotters makes it rich and velvety. You can grow your own fennel, but I bought mine. It’s cheap at the moment because it’s in season (southern hemisphere, cool temperate).

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