I really should have done this earlier, I wish I had thought about doing it when I first moved up to Central Coast seven years ago. However, it is better late than never, I am actually very glad that I did it and absolutely loving it. And, what I am referring to, is my humble little veggie garden.
I think a lot of people are intimidated by the words “veggie garden”, so did I. First thing that came to mind was – I will need a big space in the backyard to set one up; and since our house has no backyard but only maybe 3 metres wide of useless grassy area between the walls and the fences; so to have a veggie garden was never a priority in our to-do list. The Pom even bought me a raised garden bed frame for my birthday many years ago and it just sat outside in the garden, looked more like an abandoned coffin, as you can see below…
However, in November last year, we started to turn things around and make it happen. We picked up the shovels and ordered a few tonnes of soil, gravels and lots of chicken poo; the veggie garden finally taking shape and within weeks, we had a few sprouts poking their heads out of the soil. Few months on, I didn’t really look after it that often but only with the occasional organic pesticide oil sprays and fertilised it with seasol, and just let the mother nature did its job and now I have a thriving veggie garden that I couldn’t be any happier. So far, I’ve picked zucchini flowers, carrots, chillies, basils (lots of basils!), rainbow chards from my veggie garden.
I really have developed a whole new appreciation in gardening from my tiny veggie garden and been trying to grow more edible plants around the house, and not only just inside the raised garden bed. Now I also have two citrus trees at the front yard amongst all the agave plants, one is orange tree and another one is Meyer lemon. They are still tiny trees (maybe about 1 meter) but they seem to be doing well and fruiting regularly. I only just put a netting over them recently as the cheeky possum or mouse always beat me to the ripen fruit and ate half of it before I can get to them. I was so glad and proud to see the lemons slowly turning from green to golden yellow, and finally able to taste the sweet reward after so many months of growing them.
As cliche as it may sound, but home grown lemons do taste sweeter. I particular like Meyer lemon for its vibrant yellow almost golden skin, the lemon itself also not as sour with a refreshing sweet note to it. Also the smooth skin is not waxy, which I found grating the zest was almost effortless. But most importantly, I save heaps from paying high price for those lemons in the supermarket.
Have to say lemon is possibly one of my favourite fruit, they are super versatile in cooking. I only needed three Meyer lemons to churn out this batch of mini lemon meringue tarts for a friend’s 40th birthday. They were super juicy, it caused quite a mess in the kitchen as it squirted everywhere when I tried to squeeze them. Even though the recipe says only need 1 cup of lemon juice, I think the 3 lemons gave me a little bit more than that. So don’t worry if there is more juice than needed, as I do prefer the lemon curd to be a bit more tangy, so it balances nicely with the meringue which is already sweet enough.
And then I have also learned new trick, who’d have thought that over whipped Italian meringue is actually salvageable? I am using a KitchenAid mixer, so medium speed for me is usually on setting-6, but somehow is still too fast to make the Italian meringue. The meringue was shiny and glossy, but lumpy because it whipped too much air into it. You usually can tell straight away because it will be very difficult to pipe, the meringue usually doesn’t adhere to anything you pipe on, and also with an ugly crater like surface. I was a little upset at first and thought I just ruined a whole batch of the meringue, but I sure wasn’t going to throw all the meringue out and start all over again, so I just squeezed all the meringue back out from the piping bag and back into the mixing bowl, and gave it a slower stir at setting-2. The gentle stir seems to work and knocking the air out, the meringue instantly collapsed in volume and became a lot smoother and silkier in appearance. When I piped the meringue on top of the lemon curd, it gave me a nice satin smooth texture and a lovely pointy tip as I pulled the pipe up.
I’m just glad these tarts went down like a treat at the birthday party. Another mishap baking story, success!
Mini Lemon Meringue Tarts
sweet pastry (makes 20-24 mini tarts)
125g chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
30g caster sugar
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons chilled water
zest of 2 lemons
1 cup lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup caster sugar
3 egg whites
150g caster sugar
1. To make the tart cases, put all the ingredients, except the water, into a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs. Then slowly pour water in a steady stream while still pulsing, until it comes together and forms a rough dough. Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and gently gather all loose crumbs together to form a smooth firm dough. Flatten the dough into an inch thick , wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
2. To make the lemon curd, add lemon zest, juice and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium high heat to the boiling point and sugar has dissolved, then remove from best. Whisk yolk together in a mixing bowl, then slowly pour the hot mixture in a stream into the yolk while keep whisking until combined. Add the heavy cream to the mixture, stir and then pour it back into the saucepan. Place saucepan over medium heat, keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens, it will take about 15 minutes. Test it by coating the back of the wooden spoon with the curd, and draw a line with your finger, if the line stays clean then the curd is thick enough and is ready. Pour the curd into a bowl and let it cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator until ready to be used.
3. Have a 24 mini muffin tin ready. Roll the chilled pastry on a floured surface to about 2mm thick. Use a 3-inch ring cutter, cut dough into small round discs then line the tin, press down firmly with fingers. Place the tin in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. In the mean time, pre heat oven to 200C. Blind bake the tart cases for 15-20 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, remove tart cases from the tin and let it rest on a wire rack.
4. Fill a piping bag with lemon curd, then pipe into each tart case and let it set in the refrigerator.
5. To make lemon meringue, add sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the sugar syrup and have the egg white inside the bowl of an electric stand mixer on standby.
6. Once the temperature of the sugar syrup reaches 115C, start whisking the egg whites on medium speed until soft peak. When the sugar syrup reaches 121C, remove from heat and let the boiling bubbles settle a little bit, then gently and slowly pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg white. Make sure the sugar syrup doesn’t catch on the whisk and crystallised. Keep whisking the meringue until the bowl is cool to touch and the meringue is now smooth, satiny and glossy. Fill a piping bag with the meringue.
8. Pipe the meringue onto the top of the lemon curd until it is completely covered. Use a kitchen blowtorch to light scorch the meringue all over.