Friday, October 21, 2016

A rainy Spring day

It is raining today.  Again.  Properly raining, can't really go outside raining.  Last night the wind blew and blew, ripping branches off trees and then the rain began.  The wanton weather gods have thrown us some challenges lately but I have really had enough of just tidying up the mess made by the winds, and not being able to mow the lawns because it is just too wet.  
Here is a photo from my walk yesterday:
One extreme to the other.  It all looks lovely and spring-like and bucolic but don't be deceived.  Even though there is no longer surface water lying around, the paddocks are sodden; boggy and wet to the point of saturation.  No outdoor expedition can be undertaken without gumboots, which is weird when it it 22 degrees.  But I don't want to complain.  After so many dry years it is a relief to finally have a wet spring....hard to believe but I was watering the garden this time last year (actually I started in September).  And the trees are loving it, the growth has been extraordinary.  This little chestnut tree that my friend Soph gave me was a pathetic stick that had been chewed by a possum last summer has taken off:
The lilacs have been magical
And the broad beans are taking on Jack and the Beanstalk proportions:
Speaking of which, I have discovered on my meanderings around the internet that you can eat the tender top leaves of broad beans and they are really quite delicious.  You can eat them raw, or add them to a hot dish and let them wilt or flash-fry them:
  The nights are still cold and every time I think that it's the last kindling collection or filling of the wood box another cold snap hits and we are lighting the fires again.  Which means you still have time to try these Asian Beef Cheeks, that are just so easy and very economical.  Which then leads me to my beef about is very expensive at the moment, up to $40 a kilo.  So expensive in fact that a couple of catering friends have said that they have to put a surcharge on it if someone wants it for a wedding.  There has been a lack of supply, but according to the husband who knows such things, there should soon be a correction, as lots of beef that would normally be exported is about to come onto the domestic market because it can't be sold overseas (too expensive).  The question is, will the drop in price be passed on to the consumer or will the wholesalers and meat processors just make more of a killing...literally?

But back to the beef cheeks.  I have made these a lot this winter for visiting groups, it is very easy and can be done ahead of time.


1.5 kgs beef cheeks (you can get them at the Meat Barn, local people)
2 large spring onions (5-6 small ones).  Mine are huge...not sure how or why they grow so me this is not a leek:
4 cm knob of ginger, grated
2 red chillies, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
300g mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup chinese rice wine
1 tblsp oyster sauce
2 tblsp soy sauce
1 cup beef stock
Sliced red chilli and coriander to garnish

Trim the fat from the beef cheeks...sometimes there is a thick, tough layer, try to get this off if you can.  Put them in a heavy casserole dish.

Preheat the oven to 130c.  
Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan.  Chop the spring onions and put the white part into the pan.  Add the ginger, chilli, garlic and cook gently for a couple of minutes until softened.
Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes.  

Increase the heat and add the chinese rice wine, let it bubble for a minute or so.  Add the oyster sauce and soy sauce and stir.  Have a taste and if you are happy with it add it to the beef.  
Pour over the beef stock, cover and put into the oven.  Cook for 6-8 hours until the beef is very tender.

When it is cooked, I usually take the meat out and reduce the sauce by boiling it rapidly, or adding a tablespoon of cornflour mixed with a little water ( make sure the sauce is boiling and you stir it in well).  Taste and add more chilli or oyster or soy sauce if you wish.  Garnish with chilli, coriander and the green ends of the spring onions.  I often serve this with an asian slaw:
Here's a pic of the Asian Slaw I did for a group a while ago:

A few amusing things to watch:
And if you like a podcast, try My Open Kitchen, all about the food and country life.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Winter....what's not to like?

Some people say they don't like winter, but I just love it, and so far it's been a cracker.  There's been frosts and snowfalls on the nearby hills and rain, hail and sleet in our neck of the woods.  
The creek has done a banker and the paddocks are wet and muddy.
For all the days of bad weather though, there are as many magical winter's days that are sunny and still, with a quiet chill in the air.
The evenings in particular are beautiful and I love the garden when it's stripped back to its bare bones
and I'm always happy when the roses have been pruned.
It has been light the fires, put on the uggies and hunker-down weather (apart from last week when there were a couple of days that were alarmingly spring-like).
So why do I love winter?   Let me count the ways....
roaring fires, baked porridge,
soup and more soup..

ugg boots, red wine and lots of cards:
Oh, and my favourite winter tipple..sherry...(don't tell anyone).
I have discovered the most delicious Dark Baltic Rye bread  from the Dunkeld Bakery,
and found that it is wonderful with homemade lime marmalade:
There are still some vegetables coming out of the garden,
although it seems to be most productive in the weed department.
And I have become totally obsessed with Ottolenghi's Cauliflower, Grape and Cheddar Salad (from Plenty More):
The only thing I don't like is a) the wind and b) the mounting pile of end of financial year accounts that leered menacingly at me throughout the school holidays and has finally been bought under control....well vaguely under control.

Pesto is an odd thing to be thinking about in the middle of winter but I do love it and have come across a couple of recipes that might be of interest.  There are literally millions of different ways to make pesto, many very far from the original basil pesto that originated in Genoa, but I do like the idea of extending this wonderful sauce beyond the basil season in summer.

The first one is actually less of a pesto and more of a corrupted guacamole.  I had it at a cafe in Melbourne with some really dark sourdough bread and it was a bit of an Oh My God moment.  I'm not entirely sure what they put in it but here is my attempt at replicating it.
The measurements for this are not precise, you can adjust the flavour as you go along.
A handful of cashews, toasted to golden brown in the oven
A couple of sprigs of parsley
The juice of half a lemon
Red chilli. diced (as much or as little as you like)
A slosh of olive oil
1/2 an avocado
salt and pepper

Whizz the cashews and parsley in a food processor (or use a bamix) to roughly chop.  Add the lemon juice and chilli and whizz again.  Add the olive oil, avocado and season with salt and pepper.  Whizz until combined, I think it's better if it's not too smooth.  Add more lemon/olive oil/ salt and pepper to taste.  A sprinkle of paprika would not go astray either.
Pile this onto some good quality bread with some rocket and there is a perfect lunch. (The cafe served it with pickled radish and kale which was good too).
The other pesto is more traditional, but with a couple of substitutes.  There is no basil this time of year but there is plenty of nettles (and I mean plenty) and they give you a very vibrant green pesto, which is great on toast, added to a soup, or pasta, or drizzled over lamb chops or chicken.   I'm sure if you don't like the idea of nettles you could do this with spinach or rocket.

NETTLE PESTO  makes about a cup.

Approx 2 cups of nettles (make sure you pick them and strip the leaves off with gloves on and don't touch the leaves until you have cooked them)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 cup parsley
2/3 cup pumpkin seeds (lightly toasted in the only takes about 5 minutes)
1 teaspoon capers
juice of half a lemon
2-3 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Get a saucepan big enough to fit the nettles and half fill it with water.  Add the garlic clove and bring to the boil.  Add the nettles and cook for about 1-2 minutes until wilted.  Pour into a seive and rinse under cold water.  Allow to cool a bit then squeeze the water out with your hands.

Put the nettles and garlic with the other ingredients in a food processor or blender and whizz until well combined.  If it's a bit thick add a little water.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

I didn't add parmesan to this so it is a lower fat version, but I'm sure it would be even better if I had.

So stay warm and snuggle up and enjoy the other good thing about winter...we've had some beautiful sunrises:
PS:  What did you think about Brexit??  I loved this photo:
  And while you're at it have we reached peak kale??  My old school buddy Sam Gowing thinks so....

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Fully blown Just of my favourites
I am pleased to announce that we have finally had some rain.  Nearly two inches and as far as I'm concerned it can just keep coming.  I dug a hole today to plant a tree and there is still very little sub soil moisture...the whole region just needs a good soaking.  But the lawns are now green and because it hasn't been too cold plants are still growing before they shut down for winter.  The only drawback is that the dormant weeds are running rampant, so I have been busy weeding and mulching the beds.
Tim has been on a program to lose some more weight (he lost 20kgs last year) so I decided to go out in sympathy and join him.  For the last three weeks have been aiming to have 500 calories a day (in conjunction with a supplement called HCG).  500 a's not much and I did on several occasions exceed my quota but have managed to shed 4 kilos or thereabouts, kilos which were frankly just hanging around after the excesses of summer and in no hurry to move.  I can confess that I was often bloody starving but have become better at distracting myself and am rather proud that I haven't had any bread the whole time (toast is a weakness).  I failed on the wine front and had a few glasses and gosh the weekends are hard....
especially when a very special Christening wine is bought out of the cellar
It's very simple.  We were allowed to have 200g protein a day, not at the same time, lots of veg and a bit of fruit.  Egg for breakfast, soup for lunch, that kind of thing.  I have become very enamoured with Vietnamese pho (no noodles).  For dinner, meat and a cup or so of veg which can be a bit bland and boring but  I got better at making it more interesting.  I was not supposed to use oil (challenging) but a splash here and there did sneak into a few dishes.  You are supposed to cook onion or leeks in water, but really, that is just a bridge too far for me.


The chicken:
2 chicken thigh fillets (about 100g each)
1 tblsp worcestershire sauce
1 teasp dijon mustard
a few chilli flakes
thyme leaves
1/2 leek (or the white end of a couple of spring onions)
splash of olive oil
splash (about 2 tblsp) verjuice or white wine

The veg:
1 spring onion, chopped
chopped red chilli to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 red capsicum, sliced
1/2 - 1 zucchini, spiralized (I bought one for $10...not fancy but does the job)
chopped parsley, squeeze of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180c.
Mix the worcestershire, dijon, chilli and thyme leaves in a bowl and add the chicken to marinate.
Heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan and add the sliced leek.  Cook gently until soft then put on a baking tray.  Cook the chicken in the frying pan until nicely browned and place it on top of the leeks.  (You know how I love to cook chicken and leeks).
Turn up the heat and add the verjuice or wine and sizzle for a minute or two then tip that over the chicken and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes until it's cooked through.

For the vegetables, cook the spring onion in the frying pan with a splash of oil or water and add the chilli, garlic and capsicum and cook gently until the capsicum is soft.  Add the zucchini and stir fry until it is cooked through.

Arrange the veg on the plates and put the chicken on top.  Sprinkle with parsley and squeeze over some lemon juice (sorry for lack of styling)..
Irritatingly the weight falls off Tim much faster than it does for me and while there is often little joy, there is much satisfaction.  And some improved lifestyle habits that I hope to be ongoing definitely make it all worthwhile.  

Some observations:

We all eat too much
I really need olive oil.  And butter.
Life is too short to live without wine
I really missed proper cooking
I will not die if I have to have two days of 500 calories a week
You really need protein to stop you being hungry
I'm obsessed with roasted cauliflower
You can make pesto out of cashew nuts or pumpkin kernels if you don't want to use parmesan or nuts (more on that at a later date)
Spiralized zucchini makes an adequate substitute for pasta or noodles (after all, asking a pre-menstrual woman to give up pasta or noodles is like asking her to cut off her right arm).

So in the next little while I will give you some of the recipes I used in quest for a more slender version of ourselves.

Some reading for you:  I loved this article by Jonathon Franzen about his trip to Antarctica.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Autumn Activities

Well the last few weeks have been a whirl of activity, with a weirdly early Easter, followed by school holidays and it has taken me a while to get back into the groove.  Autumn has given us some beautiful days and a few drops of rain but not enough to constitute a proper break.
It has been a bit of an Indian summer.  I am still watering the garden (seven months now with no decent rain) and my patience is waning.   I saw a snake over near the shed a few days ago and there was a severe fire warning for the south east of SA yesterday.  
Still, its's not all doom and gloom, it's good living weather as they say, and at least my tomatoes will all ripen this year.  And there have been sundowners to be had
yabbies to be caught
puppies to be cuddled
mountains to be climbed
long walks to be taken
and candles to be blown out.
There is always an abundance of riches in autumn and this year is no exception.  The garden has been giving and giving...tomatoes, zucchini, capsicum, eggplants, potatoes, basil, quinces, apples. I was lucky to have been given some beautiful figs from a friend's garden.  They were perfect as they were
and heaven with cheese
but I couldn't resist taking them a bit further.  First thing I tried was this:
Irrewarra fruit toast, homemade ricotta, Mary's figs, a drizzle of my own honey and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts.  Utterly delicious and perfect for brunch (or lunch.  Or dinner.  Afternoon smoko. Anytime really).  It was an idea I poached from a friend, who did it with ricotta, bacon and figs.

Then I delved into an Ottolenghi book and the remaining figs became this:

ROASTED FIGS Serves 4  (From Plenty More)

about 8 ripe figs ( I had more but they were small)
3 tblsp pomegranate molasses
1 tblsp lemon juice 
2 tblsp dark brown sugar
3 cardamom pods crushed and seeds removed
4 spigs thyme (2 whole and 2 with leaves picked)
1 orange, half the zest peeled, half finely grated and juiced

Put pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, 1 tblsp brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 2 thyme sprigs, 1/4 cup water, orange rind strips, orange juice and a pinch of salt in a bowl.  Cut the figs in half and add to the bowl.  Set aside to marinate (half an hour will do).

Heat the oven to 200c, or alternately you can use your griller if you have one.
Remove figs (keep the marinade) and arrange them cut side up in a shallow ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle with remaining sugar and place in oven or under grill.  Cook for 15 minutes (or grill for 10).

Put the marinade in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer 2-4 minutes until reduced by half.

Serve the figs on a platter with the syrup drizzled over and top with the thyme leaves.
I was also fortunate last week to be given some fresh tuna and albacore, caught out on  the continental shelf off Port Fairy.  Such a treat, but such a dilemma because Tim was away and I didn't want to freeze it, which seemed such a waste for such beautiful fresh fish.
So I took the fresh tuna to some friends and it was devoured in seconds, needing nothing more than being thinly sliced and served with wasabi and soy sauce...really there is no better way:
I cooked a bit of albacore to try it and decided that it might be better to preserve it.  After some earnest googling I came up with this, which was a combination of several different methods and a bit of guess work.

Put some bay leaves on the bottom of a heavy ovenproof pot.
Cut the fish into chunks and put it on the bay leaves
Now you need to cover it with salty water.  Some recipes recommend 80-120 grams of salt per litre of water which just seemed way too much, another said 35g, which didn't seem like enough.  So I compromised and added 65g salt per litre.  Pour this over the fish
I put some more bay leaves on for good measure.
Bring to the boil and cook for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces.  I did this in the simmer oven of the Aga for three hours, which is a very gentle heat.  Take off the heat and allow to cool.
When it's cool enough to handle flake off chunks of the fish and put into sterilized jars along with a bay leaf and some black peppercorns (and chilli if you like).  I did a bit of an experiment and filled one jar with straight olive oil, one with a mixture of olive and safflower oil and one with water.
The jars then need to be sterilized again so they will be preserved.
Put the jars in a saucepan and fill with boiling water to just below the lids.  Boil for 30 minutes and let them cool in the water.  Make sure the jars cool completely and keep them in the fridge and wonder why you would ever buy tinned tuna again..
Now if you will excuse me I need to get back to Natasha and Andrei  (BBC adaptation of War and loving).