Friday, June 20, 2014

Queen's Birthday weekend

The Queen's Birthday weekend in June is one of my favourite weekends of the year.  We have friends to stay, the kids come home, we eat, we drink, we walk.  We have a big dinner party on Saturday night, go to a friend's paddock picnic on Sunday and curl up by the fire on Sunday night, eat more, drink more and watch Masterchef with some commentary from Matt.  I like the tradition of it.  Do you think that if we ever became a Republic that they would abolish it??  I bloody hope not.

We lit a massive bonfire..
Sadly I didn't photograph much of the food I cooked for the weekend, it was just too busy.  Matt did make his best brew yet of mulled wine, but I'm not sure that I can reveal the secret ingredient.  I made a great pudding though, for Saturday night, which was a croissant bread and butter pudding with blueberry sauce and baked pears.  I will give you the recipe for the pudding another day, but here are the baked pears:
 We recently had a visit from a Scottish friend who had been in Tasmania and bought me a jar of the most beautiful honey I think I have ever tasted..
The honey is from the Leatherwood tree which is common in Tasmania, and the trees generally don't start flowering until they are 75 years old.  It has a delicate floral flavour which is the Australian bush in a jar, and I thought would work well with the pears.

BAKED PEARS   Serves 6

6 pears, peeled, cored and halved.  Keep the stems on
1/4 cup castor sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
1/4 cup honey, Tasmanian leatherwood if you can get it
Juice of a lemon
50g butter

Preheat the oven to 180c.
Put the pears into a baking dish.
Measure the sugar and mix in  the seeds from the vanilla bean then sprinkle over the pears.
Drizzle over the honey (soften in the microwave to make it more runny) and lemon juice.  Put the lemon halves in the pan too.  Dot the butter over the top.
Add 1/4 cup water and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Cook for 30 minutes, then turn them over and give them a baste, and return to the oven for approximately 30 more minutes until the pears are tender and slightly translucent.
Very easy.  These pears would make a lovely pudding on their own with some fresh cream or ice cream or alongside a lemon cake, they would even be wonderful on porridge. 

I know that a Republic for Australia is inevitable and probably necessary.  But in the meantime, long live the Queen and her birthday!
Getty images

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bringing home the bacon

It's been a long time between drinks, sorry about that.  There's been lots of action in the kitchen though so it's definitely time for an update.  We have sailed through the most beautiful autumn, which was almost like an Indian Summer:  long, calm (often very warm) days, soft rainfall which came at the right time, mild nights and day after day of sunshine.  For farmers this is GOOD.  The mild weather means that crops germinate well and pasture feed is jumping out of the ground.  Needless to say it was far to nice to be sitting inside looking at a screen.
Autumn is a season of such abundance in the garden that it keeps me very busy; not only with produce, but cutting back and raking, raking, raking.  The leaves just keep on coming...
 Now that winter is upon us there is a chance to catch up inside and enjoy the shorter days, roaring fires, woollen jumpers and slipping into the old uggies.  I have been making stock,
and marmalade,
and turned this brace and a half of wild duck into a sensational pie (I'll give you the recipe one day if you're good)..
But the real highlight of the last month is that I have been home-curing my own bacon....yes, BACON.  It was an experiment which may need a little tweaking, but I think it was a worthwhile exercise.  You might well be thinking, why would you bother?  Well, two things really.  The bacon that you buy in the supermarkets in Australia is very ordinary.  It is pumped up with water, cured all sorts of chemicals and is only pink because it has so many nitrates added to it.  Secondly it tasted about a zillion times better when you cure your own.

After some judicious googling I learnt that without nitrates the cured pork would go grey, which will not affect the flavour, but would not look like bacon should.  I also learned that celery juice contains naturally occurring nitrates and can be used to help hold the colour.  I bought a free range Otway Pork belly from the butcher.  He boned it except for one bone that he said would hold it all together and which I then removed at the end.
I then made the cure.  
Juice the celery...
I opted for a dry cure so I didn't add much celery juice.  Next time I might try a wet cure so I can use more juice.  I used the following mix:
1/2 cup celery juice
1/2 cup salt (I used David's Kosher Salt)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tblsp juniper berries
1 tblsp black peppercorns
1 teasp mustard seeds
4 cloves garlic
several sprigs of thyme and lemon thyme, picked
Whizz all this with a hand mixer (the juniper berries kept popping out of the pestle and mortar)
then apply a thick coating to both sides of the pork:
Refrigerate for seven days, after which time it will look like this.
Rinse off the salt, pat dry with kitchen paper and cook in a 100c oven for two hours.  At this point you can smoke it if you are that way inclined.  Cool, trim any bone out then place in the fridge to firm up before slicing:
You can freeze it too, but it may lose a little colour. So give it a go, you won't look back.   Here is a little morsel..
The excellent news is that I fed it to everyone last weekend and so far no-one has died of botulism.
I am also busy working on an new version of my blog.  Will keep you posted.