Bitter Chocolate Mexican Zucchini Torte

Zucchini cake 1

I deliberately planted minimal zucchinis this year – initially just one of the light green Mexican (Cucurbita pepo) heirloom plants.  Since then I’ve put another two in for late season crops of another variety called Cocozelle – which produces stunningly striped fruit.

Interestingly the Mexican zucchinis are supposed to be heat tolerant and this summer’s heat wave with the mercury hitting 46 degrees on one day certainly showed it to be resilient.  The only issue stopping me growing this variety again is the small super fine spikes which are nettle thin and even made it through my garden hardy fingers.  Gloves are a good idea until they’re inside and you can scrub the spines off with a scourer in water.

Being a big fan of baking with beetroot, I’ve been looking at another way of stuffing some fibre into sweet dishes to slow down the sugar hitting our systems…yes basically any excuse to continue eating chocolate cake.

This recipe has a few differences due to ingredients I had on hand, namely the addition of Tasmanian wholemeal spelt flour which I used for half of the flour requirement.  I’ve also used a tad less sugar than similar recipes so if you’re baking for really sweet tastes you may wish to substitute the 70% cocoa chocolate with higher sugar varieties i.e. normal cooking chocolate (milk or dark)

Zucchini cake 4

Ingredients

2 cups of grated zucchini

2 eggs

1/2 cup of milk

125g grass fed butter (at room temp)

1 1/4 cups of Plain flour

1 1/4 cups of wholemeal spelt flour (I used Callington Mill’s organic stoneground wholegrain spelt from Tasmania)

Salt – pinch

1/2 tsp dutch cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 vanilla bean (or tsp of extract)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup 70% cocoa chocolate chopped

Method

Usual cake stuff applies; sift your dry ingredients into a bowl and mix together.

Cream butter with the sugar in a large bowl add the eggs and beat.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the lovely insides with a sharp knife and add.  Mix in the milk and then add the dry ingredients.

Zucchini cake 2

Finally add the two cups of zucchini and grated chocolate.

Zucchini cake 3

I used a spring form 26cm round tin (torte in Italy is ‘torta’ which means a round cake so how could I use a square tin!?)

Zucchini cake 5

Cook at 165 degrees C (fan forced) for 40-50 mins until springy and a knife comes out clean when carefully stabbed!

I finished it with a ganache of dark chocolate melted into cream.

Best served with Creme Fraiche

Zucchini cake 6

Going Organic

You may be surprised to hear that the agency responsible for testing the presence of these residual toxins – the United States Department of Agriculture – doesn’t actually suggest you stop eating this food, as it asserts that single doses of these chemicals are not dangerous.  Hmm…what about the combination of toxins from my non-organic three fruit and five veg, build up of mercury in my canned tuna, diesel particles in the surrounding air and the off-gassing from my Chinese-made Swedish furniture?  This so called chemical cocktail effect is something I suppose we all have to be mindful of and limits the usefulness of ‘reductionist’ or blinkered science.

So it’s simple right – only eat organic as it’s automatically better for you?  Well…it just isn’t that clear cut.  For every study saying organic food is better for you, there seems to be another that suggests it’s of no advantage.  The same can be said of blind taste testing.  In a recent episode of the long running River Cottage series, our host Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall sets up a chook challenge – his home grown organic birds vs store a bought.  The results where neck and neck…well a poor choice of words I’ll grant you, but I was certainly surprised to see people preferring the blander white meat.  Hugh’s look of shock said it all “maybe we’ve actually forgotten what chicken was supposed to taste like?”  It’s all a bit depressing.

So what do we KNOW about organic food and farming that does make it an attractive option?  Well we know that organic farmers have to set aside a certain amount (at least 5%) of their property for ‘nature’ or biodiversity conservation.  We know that the soil organic matter in organic systems is much higher and therefore more carbon and indeed water can be stored in the soil.  We know plants need lots of biology/life in the soil to access the nutrients.  We know organic food is produced with less/or no fossil fuel based chemicals and that it employs more people per-hectare than non-organic agriculture (a large reason why organic costs more).   We also know that something dramatic is going on with chronic health issues in Western and increasingly Eastern diets.  I’m not saying there’s a direct causal link between industrial farming and degenerative disease rates (many do) but when we consider more people under 30 are being diagnosed with cancer every decade since the ‘green revolution’ perhaps something’s going on?

But perhaps the most compelling case for organics is that mainstream agriculture is slowly taking up organic strategies and methods.  No-till farming, rotational grazing, cell grazing, increased use of perennial pasture and using tree shelter belts are all topics now seen on Landline that used to only appear in Permaculture magazine!    The Camperdown Compost Company are working with non-organic dairies in the western district to increase soil biology and to radically decrease the amount of artificial fertiliser required.  Last week I attended a presentation by Precision Agriculture where the accuracy of GPS guided farm vehicles means pesticides can be targeted only at the weeds, with less going onto the produce you and I eat.

 

What’s the difference between organic and biodynamic?

Here’s a passage from marketfresh.com.au that describes this well I reckon:

While organic farming is known for its avoidance of synthetic chemicals, biodynamic farming is even more stringent. Biodynamic farming aims to achieve “self sufficiency” by generating fertilisers for crops and food for animals through natural processes that regenerate the farm system.  Biodynamics grew out of a series of lectures by Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1924. “Biodynamic agricultural principles emphasise living soil, the farm as a wholistic organism, and note both the visible and invisible forces that create a healthy eco-system”.

Other references relating to the development and principles of the biodynamic movement may be obtained at www.demeter.org.au

Biodynamic farmers use ‘preparations’ such as ‘500’ as well as less conventional strategies such as burying cow horns filled with manure.  Sounds weird?  Who cares – just check out the soil a biodynamic farm compared to the chemical equivalent and you’ll be amazed.

I suppose the thing that separates both organic and biodynamic farmers from the rest is that they’re not just operating for a profit.  Often they’ve had to withstand lower yields and much higher operating costs than their chemical-using counterparts whilst getting established, and they’re generally motiviated by underlying belief that they’re producing healthier food from healthier farms.

 

 

Chicken basics!

Seriously though if you have health concerns about eggs and cholesterol it’s probably worth looking at the work of Chris Masterjohn who is currently pursuing a PhD in Nutritional Sciences with a focus on Biochemical and Molecular nutrition.  He has an interesting story of his own which rattles some of our mainstream understandings about saturated fats, cholesterol and their link with heart disease.  He’s published several peer reviewed articles, is widely read and a great researcher, which is great because cholesterol is such a complex area – just look at its molecular structure!

Cholesterol Structure

Another positive is the manure by-product which chickens leave behind.  When composted with straw or wood shavings this becomes a highly fertile addition to your soil.

Chickens are also a great garbage disposal units.  While they can’t thrive on kitchen leftovers alone, it does help to keep their diet varied and things we don’t eat such as outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage will highly valued by your new feathered friends.

Pets! Yes chickens can be great companions in the garden.  It’s not always recognised but animals that have evolved to provide for humans (chickens are descendants of guinea fowl) have a need for human interaction.  My chooks have a whining cluck when they’re being ignored but spend a little more time with them and they set about scratching and dust bathing very happily.  I’m not sure whether it’s the security of having humans around but chooks love busy backyards and will get into less mischief when involved with their two legged companions.  Here’s an example of hens that decided that life outside their enclosure was more interesting…

chooks escape web

 

Negatives?  Well you’ll have a food bill.  Of course this can be offset by getting your own eggs, and manure.

Chooks need to be looked after, so if you regularly go away for more than a few days at a time then you’ll need a chook-sitter.  Fortunately they’re pretty low maintenance so often the appeal of free eggs and friendly feathered faces is enough to get them looked after.

Housing chickens will also cost more than say a dog kennel and if you live in an area where foxes frequent you’ll need to make sure it’s fully enclosed with an additional barrier buried around the base of your yard as foxes are capable excavators.

What to feed them

You can buy a complete ‘layer’ type pellet but I tend to go for mixed grains and dilute it with some wheat from a local farm.  The mix grains I buy come with ‘shell grit’ which ensures your eggs will have solid shells.  Unfortunately having all that premium grain available in an open feeder attracts all the local birds so think about using a foot operated feeder.  You will also notice your birds craving green feed such as grass or leafy vegetables – this is important as it helps to develop those desirable fatty acids I mentioned earlier.  Below you’ll see I’ve grown some green feed, even chooks like takeaway!

chooks-green-feed-web

Avoid giving them eggshells and raw chicken.

Chooks also need fresh, cool water available all the time – especially in hot weather where it may need to be refreshed a few times a day.

Breeds

Too big a subject for this post, but I’d encourage you to get in contact with local breeders rather than buying cheap ex-free range layers such as Isa Browns.  While Isa Browns are good layers they tend to live shorter lives and are prone to complications as they really are egg producing machines, the poor girls. Poultry breeders operate for the love of chooks and will help you to pick a breed suitable for your tastes (poor choice of words) and needs.  This girl is a Hy-Line Brown, but she thinks she’s the Lone (free) Ranger.

the-lone-free-ranger-web

Council Regulations

When talking to people around the traps they’re often surprised to hear that the City of Greater Geelong allows you to have up to 12 hens and 1 rooster in a backyard.  Surf Coast Shire allow for 10 birds in total while the Borough of Queenscliffe is a little more involved – best you call the council direct.  The main issue councils worry about is annoyed neighbours, so maybe give the rooster a miss until you’ve won next door over with a few dozen eggs.  Your local municipality may also have specific requirements around types of houses and flooring – I’m a big fan of ‘deep litter’ systems where around 30cm of wood shavings or straw is used and replaced when necessary.

Point of lay birds are usually available around Spring, so now is the time for planning and constructing your very own chicken run!

content-chooks