PYO fruit and vegetable farms

I’ve been planning to visit some PYO fruit & vegetable farms for a while so we finally made the time to go for an exciting day in the Farm Gate Trail of the Hawkesbury region.

PYO (pick your own) fruits and veggies is a great idea to get in touch with nature, pluck your produce straight from the trees and spend some relaxing time talking to some passionate and laid-back farmers in the countryside of NSW.
It is also a fun an educational experience for children, who can see where their food comes from.

So off we went to Hawkesbury, approximately one and a half hours north-west of Sydney. We checked the harvest calendar and knew what was in season and which farms to go to.

I was particularly interested in finding feijoa – a fruit that is originally from the South of Brazil and It is usually very hard to find in Australia.

It was a typical Autumn day: very sunny but cold and the colour of the vegetation had a stunning mixture of green, orange, brown, yellow and red. There was this amazing smell of cinnamon and apple in the air. So it is definitely not too hard to find a good apple pie in the region!

I really enjoyed our PYO stop at Bilpin Springs Orchard:we were guided by a young bloke that gave us a basket and pointed us to the middle of the orchard, where a farmer met us and assisted everyone very patiently on picking the best fruits without damaging the trees.

We were the only two interested on feijoas so we had a guided feijoa tasting with the farmer while filling up our basket.

We were charged $3.50 per kilo of any fruits. Apples, persimmons and feijoa are all in season so we got a bit carried away by the experience and ended up bringing home more food than what we actually needed.

Among numerous rustic roadside sheds selling fresh produces, we had homemade apple pies from The Local Harvest, from where we also stocked up some free-rage eggs and potatoes.

We finished our day trip at Mount Tomah Botanic Garden in the Blue Mountains where we had a late lunch in the terrace, overlooking the cool climate gardens and the endless vista of the foggy and blueish Mountains.

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Manjar Branco – A coconut pudding

Manjar Branco is an old favorite of mine. A coconut pudding very commonly found in other cultures and known as Blancmange, blamesir, coconut flan. You name it.

For some reason mum used to prepare it only for our Christmas festivities so this simple dessert became a traditional dish in my family. In fact, mum has used the same jelly mold for ages to give it that very specific shape.

This coconut pudding is a refreshing dessert, very light in the mouth and it’s texture is almost like a firm custard.

So few days ago I found online that same vintage jelly mold of mum’s, except in a different colour. I ended up buying it and here it is this simple dish that brought me back some memories of my childhood, helping mum to decide which shaped lid we would use for the manjar branco on that Christmas.

Manjar Branco

Ingredients

1 l whole milk
250 ml coconut milk
7 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla paste

Syrup
¼ cup white sugar
1/2 cup water
100 g pitted dry prunes

Method

Prunes Syrup

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and cook it until it becomes a syrup. Add the prunes and give it a stir. Cook it for a few minutes until prunes and moist and soft. Reserve it.

Manjar Branco

In a saucepan, combine milk, cornstarch, coconut milk and vanilla paste. Stir well until completely dissolved.

Place the pan in medium-heat, stir it constantly while simmering it gently for about 15 minutes or until you have a very thick custard.

Slightly glaze the jelly mold with a bit of oil.

Pour the custard it the mold. Let it cool and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until set.

Unmold the manjar on a flat plate. Pour the prunes syrup over the pudding and your manjar branco is ready to be served.

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Moqueca Baiana – A seafood stew

Not sure why took me so long to blog about Moqueca, after all this is one of the most traditional Brazilian dishes.

It is a seafood stew original from the native people of Brazil, slowly cooked on a clay-pot and made with some of the freshest ingredients that our land and sea have to offer.

The dish evolved during the Colonial Brazil times when the Portuguese brought coconuts to the country (and planted the coconut trees along all our coast in replacement for the prime wood that was taken), while the African slaves introduced Palm Oil to our culinary.

The two variations of dish are the Moqueca Baiana (from the northeast State of Bahia) and the Moqueca Capixaba (from the Southeast State of Espirito Santo). The difference between the two is that coconut milk and palm oil are only used in the Baiana recipe.

People from both States claim for the dish invention but I absolutely love both of them and honestly think that they are so different that shouldn’t even be compared.

Although it is a stew, this dish can be enjoyed year-round so whenever you happen to be in Brazil, make sure you find a restaurant that serves a good Moqueca.

Seafood Moqueca Baiana

I’ve been cooking this dish for years and there is no real science behind it: easy to make and you can adapt the measurements accordingly to whatever you have available.

This might sound a bit controversial but I have a Capixaba clay-pot that I actually use to make Moqueca Baiana.

Ingredients

4 cutlets of Blue Eye Cod (or any firm fish with similar texture)
300 g prawns, head removed
300 g calamari, cut in rings
500 ml fish stock
200 ml coconut milk
1 red capsicum, sliced in rings
1 yellow capsicum, sliced in rings
1 green capsicum, sliced in rings
3 tomatoes, sliced in rings
2 small onions, sliced in rings
1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
juice of 1 lime
1 red chilli, chopped
2 tbsp palm oil
chopped parsley for garnishing
black pepper
salt

Method

Place the fish cutlets into a bowl. Season it with lime juice, salt, ground pepper, and garlic. Reserve it for 20 minutes.
In a separate bowl, season prawns and calamari with salt and pepper.
Heat the palm oil in the clay-pot and fry the chopped onion until golden brown. Remove the pot from heat.

Layer half of the raw onions, capsicums, tomatoes in the clay-pot.

Add all the marinated fish pieces over the layered vegetables and drizzle it with any leftover marinade.

Sprinkle it with half of the parsley and red chillies.

Layer the rest of the onions, capsicums and tomatoes on top of the fish cutlets. Sprinkle it with the rest of parsley and red chillies.

Pour coconut milk and fish stock into the clay-pot.

Bring mixture to a boil, simmer it gently covered for 15 minutes.

Remove lid.

Add the calamari rings and prawns. Stir it gently and simmer it for another 15 minutes or until vegetables are well-cooked.

Serve with rice and toasted manioc flour (farofa de dende)

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