Friday, October 29, 2010

Praise indeed

I had some very kind words pointed in my direction last Tuesday in Matt Preston's column in the Herald Sun:
Matt and I have been kitchen sparring partners since we shared a house together in Melbourne years ago when we were both courting our respective spouses.  Known for being a food critic and Masterchef judge he is an outstanding cook in his own right who is full of clever food ideas.  He always makes a huge mess and uses every pan in the kitchen when cooking but the results are always extraordinary.  And yes, he has been well-trained enough to wash up after himself.

Matt was the one who talked me into buying and ice cream machine many moons ago, and I am so glad he did.  I bought a very cheap one and it has never let me down.  Shop-bought ice cream contains a lot of weird ingredients that are not eggs, sugar, milk, cream plus flavouring and specialist ice creams are quite expensive.  I have tried many recipes with varying degrees of success but I could never quite get simple chocolate ice cream right.  There always seemed to be annoying bits of chocolate at the bottom that didn't quite melt and it was never really smooth.  But now (trumpet fanfare)  I think I have nailed it.

It was a classic case of a fluky experiment that worked (surely how most recipes are invented).  I had some leftover chocolate and cream mixture that I used for icing some cupcakes and for some reason mixing the cream with the chocolate helps to stop the chocolate from freezing up in little bits (be aware that I am no scientist...).  This is what I did:


100g milk chocolate, broken into bits (you can use dark, or a mix of both, my kids prefer milk)
1/4 cup cream
2 eggs plus one yolk
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups cream extra

Melt the chocolate and cream in a small saucepan, stirring until melted and smooth.  Set aside.
Put the milk in a saucepan and bring nearly to the boil. (Keep an eye on it as it boils over quickly)
Using and electric mixer mix the eggs and yolk with the sugar until white and creamy (this will take a couple of minutes, scrape down the side as you go).
Slowly pour the milk into the mixer with the beaters on low to mix in.
Return the mix to the pan and heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Do not let it boil.
Add the chocolate and the extra cream and pour into a container.   At this stage Matt would say add a pinch of salt to bring out the chocolate flavour.  Put it in the fridge until cool.
Churn in ice cream machine according to instructions.

Then invite Matt over for a tasting, he has a most discerning palate....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Open garden season

Two of western Victoria's most spectacular gardens were open last weekend and we visited both of them.  We went to Mawallok at Beaufort to help set up, man the stalls and hopefully be of use. 

Is that not one of the best views you will see in Victoria?  Almost Capability Brown in its scale.  It is a reminder of the fortunes that were made from wool production last century and thank goodness it is now owned by a family who is prepared to maintain it in its full glory.

The kids got to do some apple bobbing:

The other garden, Woolongoon at Mortlake, is similarly beautiful, with stunning trees and historic buildings and again a custodian prepared to keep it in meticulous order.  I didn't take a photo there but here is a couple from the publicity:

I took a few bits and pieces to sell at Mawollok on Saturday and this one was a bit of a winner.  I can't take the credit for it though, the recipe for this was cut out of a magazine quite a few years ago, probably Gourmet Traveller or Vogue Entertaining & Travel, so apologies to its author, not sure who you are.


100g soft unsalted butter
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup SR flour
1 cup plain flour
150g raspberry jam (good way to use the jam I made the other day)
75g soft unsalted butter
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teasp bicarb soda
1/2 cup SR flour 
1/2 cup ground almonds
200g raspberries (can be frozen, take them out 15 minutes before)
50g flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 180C
Beat butter and sugar until light then add egg and mix until well combined.  Line a 20 x30cm lamington tin with baking paper.  Spread the batter evenly over the base in a very thin layer.  This is quite tricky and I find it easiest to wet my fingers and just squash it in gently.  Bake for 20 mins until lightly golden and cool (doesn't need to be completely cool).  Spread the raspberry jam evenly over the base.

For the topping, beat butter and sugar until light, add egg and mix well.  Add buttermilk, combined sifted bicarb soda and flour and the ground almonds and stir until smooth.  Spoon batter over jam mixture.  Dot the raspberries evenly over the batter then scatter with flaked almonds.  Bake at 180C until golden and firm to touch.  Cool in pan.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Time to stock up on lemon cordial.  It is so easy, once you have made it, you will never buy cordial again.

1.5kg castor sugar
1 litre water
30g tartaric acid
30g citric acid
Strained juice of 7 lemons

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan over a low heat and stir to dissolve sugar.  Add tartaric and citric acids and stir to completely dissolve.  Mix in juice and pour into bottles.   You can add more juice to taste.  

I find that clear wine bottles make great cordial bottles.

 I also saw some frozen raspberries on sale at the supermarket so made a few jars of jam:

4-5 cups raspberries, washed
3 cups sugar

Put the raspberries in a heavy saucepan and cook gently for 15 minutes, squashing down with a potato masher.  Add sugar and bring to the boil.  Simmer gently then put in a sugar thermometer.  Continue to cook until it reaches 100 degrees, stirring regularly.  Remove from the heat and put into sterilised jars.  Keep it in the fridge.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


There have been a few sad looking sandwiches coming home in the lunch boxes lately.  I buy the best ham, nice cheese, salad and, here's the clincher, healthy grainy or wholemeal bread.  The kids just don't seem to like them.  I'm sure if I used plastic white bread they would eat them but I believe I have a moral responsibility to make an effort.  So I decided to ditch the sandwiches and try a few other things.  Leftover chicken pieces seem to be hit and same with quiche.

People panic about pastry.  It can be tricky but there a a few simple rules to observe and a whole world of opportunity is opened to you.  A simple quiche makes a perfect lunch dish, and if you can knock up a fruit tart it is practically an instant pudding.

There are millions of pastry recipes out there but you don't really need them.  Simple basic shortcrust pastry (for lining a tart dish or putting at the bottom of a pie) is literally half fat to flour with cold water to bind it.  When I say fat I really mean butter (I buy the salt reduced Tassie butter in foil....apparently the paper wrapped butter is affected by the lights of the dairy cabinets which makes it go rancid).  So you judge the amounts on the size of your quiche tin.  I usually use 150g butter to 300g flour for a 28 cm dish, you may have a bit left over. (Make a few jam tarts for the kids, or some mini lemon curd tarts..).

I always mix the dough in the food processor.   The butter should come straight out of the fridge.  Pastry, unlike bread dough, really does not like to be handled and is best made in a cool environment, whatever you do, don't knead it.  Whizz in the processor until it resembles breadcrumbs:

You then need to add sufficient cold water from the fridge to form a ball.  This will be 2-3 tablespoons for 300g flour.  Add some of the water and whizz.  If it's  not coming together, add a bit more then let it form a ball:

If you put too much water in you can add a little more flour.  Tip the ball onto a square of baking paper and without too much delay fold it up and refrigerate for 30 minutes (longer if you need to, it just might be a bit harder when you go to roll it out).

Now for the fun part, rolling out.  I have a marble slab on my bench for this purpose, but anywhere will do.  Sprinkle a bit of flour on the board and roll out, turning the pastry a quarter turn every few rolls to make sure it's even and not sticking until you have a nice round shape that is bigger than your tin.

Place your rolling pin on the end closest to you and roll the pastry over the pin to lift it up and slide the tin underneath.  Press it into the tin and trim the edges.

Prick a few holes in the pastry with a fork and place the piece of baking paper on top.  Put it in the fridge while the oven is heating up to 180c.  When the oven is warm enough fill the pastry with beans of choice (either special cooking ones or at the moment I have red kidney beans.  I have been known to use small stones).  Cook in the oven for 15 minutes.  Take it out and remove the paper and the beans, and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.  

While that is cooking I usually prepare the filling.  The options of course are endless but for a simple egg and bacon here's what you do:
This will do a 24cm dish.

Fry 2-3 rashers of chopped bacon in a frying pan till nicely cooked, not too crispy.  If you are adding a leek, do so at the end of the bacon cooking and cook until softened.  Set aside, leave in the pan.

In a bowl whisk 4 eggs and a cup of cream.  Grate about 1/2 cup of tasty cheese.  I did not ever say that this was health food.

If you are using a metal quiche dish with a removable base it is advisable to put it on a baking sheet.
Scatter the cheese on first, then the bacon, making sure you scrape all the bits out of the pan.  
Pour over the egg mixture, a bit more grated cheese, then season with salt & pepper and a dusting of nutmeg.  

Place in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes until puffed and golden.

The other pastry I use all the time is Maggie Beer's Sour Cream Pastry.  More on that at a later date.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Unseasonal surprise

So far it has been a fairly text-book spring, everything in the garden seems to be coming out on time and the paddocks look incredibly lush and green after all that winter rain.  I was most surprised, then, to see these when I was mowing the other day:

Is climate change confusing even the mushrooms, which I would expect to see in autumn?  I couldn't just mow over them and although I am the only mushroom lover in the house I just had to pick them.   I often just pan fry them in lots of butter, garlic, parsley and s & p, but this time I thought I would bake them in the oven:


The measurements for this are a bit loose as it depends on how many mushrooms you have been able to find.  It is also good with bought mushrooms.
Preheat the oven to 180.
Chop the mushrooms and place in an ovenproof dish. Pile them up as they shrink down a lot.
Drizzle with olive oil and dot with a few pieces of butter.
Peel and finely chop 1-2 cloves garlic and scatter over the mushrooms.
Slosh over some white wine and the juice of half a lemon, and season well with s & p.
Strip a few sprigs of thyme and scatter over.
If you are feeling devilish pour over about a tablespoon of cream (or yoghurt if you're behaving), not really necessary, but makes the mushrooms a bit more velvety (? that a word???)
Bake for 20 minutes.

As you can see I have dotted this with my old favourite (Meredith Dairy Goat's Cheese).  It was yum.
We have had another 24mm of rain (nearly an inch) over the last 24 hours so there may be more spring mushrooms tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


This is one of my all time favourite lunch dishes.  It looks a bit lonely on the plate there, but I usually have it with a green/rocket salad on the side.  I originally encountered the recipe in a Delia Smith book and it was all the rage in the 80s.  It also makes a great starter with some crusty bread.

ROASTED STUFFED PEPPERS - Serves 2 (or one for lunch over two days)

1 large red capsicum
6-8 cherry tomatoes
2 anchovy fillets (it's good with white anchovies too)
1 clove garlic
1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
Optional extras:  basil leaves, Meredith Dairy goat's cheese (to which I am hopelessly addicted), or fetta

Preheat oven to 180.
Cut the pepper in half and remove all the seeds but don't cut off the stalks.
Put the halves on a baking tray.
Chop the cherry tomatoes in half and divide between each pepper.
Chop anchovy fillets and add to tomatoes.
Peel garlic cloves, slice thinly place in peppers.
Drizzle with the olive oil, season with a little salt and some pepper and bake for 50 minutes - 1 hour.
Put the cheese and basil on before serving.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dinner party

I am so behind with my posts and have lots to catch up on.  First things first.  Our friends Anna & Tom came to stay about a month ago so we organised a dinner party.  Anna and I spent a lovely afternoon in the kitchen chatting, cooking, drinking cups of tea, setting the table.  Anna took lots of photos, she is a very experienced photographer and made any of my attempts at food photography look hopelessly inadequate.   I would so love to have that eye for capturing an image.

She did ask me afterwards how I had managed to get it all together and onto the table so that it was still (reasonably) hot when we sat down.  Firstly, you must have hot plates. My secret weapon in the dining room is an ancient Magic Maid, which I inherited from my grandmother.  I could not live without this masterpiece of engineering and although it is lacking in style there it will remain until it dies.

So I heat the plates in the MM and the rest of the dinner can sit quite happily in there too.  I did something easy and ahead of time (lamb shanks) that I could reheat in the oven, along with the pearl barley and red wine (more on that in another post..) and even the green veg won't go grey if you don't put a lid on them (and a pinch on bicarb soda in  the cooking water helps to keep their colour).
Also it is easy to serve up (or plate up as they would say on Masterchef)  and I don't need a carver so he can get on with the wine.  It is always better to have everyone sitting down before you start serving too.  This is NOT EASY if everyone is busy talking but you must be firm..

Obviously not everyone has a MM, but it is possible to warm the plates in the oven with a menu like this if you have the room.  I have also been known to warm them by the fire and wrap a towel around them.

Dinner parties are always an effort, but if you get the right mix of people and don't burst your boiler with the food (keep it simple, no fancy tricks for any number more than six), they really are great fun.

Monday, October 4, 2010


When the bluebells and irises start to come out, I know that Spring is here. This year the garden is going mad, the weeds in particular are growing spectacularly well.  We have recently sprayed the garden with a liquid fertilizer called Calsap ( for more information) and that with the recent rains have made everything explode.

The garden and paddocks are starting to dry out and not every outdoor expedition requires gumboots.  We have had a couple of spoiling trips away in the last couple months, one to the snow and one to the sun (or more specifically, rain with patches of sun) so now it's time to get back into the busiest time of the year in the garden.  

We have recently built a new vegetable garden and because it has been so wet we have been unable to do all the earthworks to finish it, so the sun shines but I am not madly planting as I should.  It is really big and I am quite terrified about being able to maintain it:

I  said three would do but as usual my husband, who is big picture man and fancies himself as a talented garden designer (step aside Paul Bangay) said I never plant enough vegies for more than a feed and we need a berry cage, an asparagus bed, herbs and rhubarb which are all perennials plus a cutting bed and lots of potatoes.  He was most insistent that it be big enough but I can tell you now he will never set foot in it.

I made a beautiful summery salad on the weekend for some friends.  The picture looks like a bit of a dog's breakfast as this was the leftovers, the original looked much better!


250g day old bread (I used a french stick, but any loaf of white bread will do, except processed sliced bread), crusts removed and torn into pieces
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
8-10 tomatoes cut into wedges (again, any will do, romas are good)
2 red capsicums, seeded and cut into pieces
3 red onions, cut into wedges
1 zucchini, sliced
300g bocconcini, sliced
150g rocket or mixed salad leaves
Balsamic vinegar to taste (or vinocotto would be good too)

Preheat oven to 200.  Toss bread in enough olive oil to lightly coat and add garlic and oregano, mix up well.  Place in a roasting pan and cook for 20 minutes until crisp and golden.
Place tomatoes, capsicum, zucchini and onion into another large roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, season well and cook for 20-30 minutes until softened and lightly browned.
Put veg into a large bowl and mix in the bread.  Leave for 10-15 minutes to absorb the juices.
Add bocconcini and toss well with the salad leaves and drizzle with balsamic vinegar to taste.
Serves 6-8
Great with a barbeque