Sunday, July 23, 2017

Latest addiction

Glorious Wintersweet
How is your winter going?   Cold, wet, miserable?  Well I have something that may help you endure those long winter nights. I have recently emerged from a dangerous Netflix rabbit hole.  After rocketing through the second series of Outlander (sigh) I was looking for another diversion and something to load onto the ipad for a trip overseas and came across Gran Hotel.  To say I became hopelessly addicted is an understatement.
Set in a luxurious hotel in Spain in the early1900s, in Spanish and subtitiled (don't let that put you off) it is three seasons of implausible plots with ill-conceived execution, the logic of which vanishes into the ether but it all sort of comes together at the end.  There's a serial killer, murders, rapes, a lot of face slapping, cavorting between up and down stairs, swapping of babies, deceptive maids, cruel villains with unscrupulous morals and high drama that sometimes verges on farce.  There is some great acting and some awful overacting.  And yet.  I couldn't put it down.

In the end it's a love story with a very satisfying dose of URST, which there is just not enough of these days.  An impossibly handsome hero whose perfect torso is regularly displayed and a beautiful heroine with very pretty dresses who is in an unresolvable situation.....have I got you in yet??

You have to understand that I don't commit to these things flippantly, but a cross between Downton Abbey without the boring, self-righteous characters (except for Granny) and Pride and Prejudice with way more passion was a guilty pleasure that was too irresistible.

It became a bit of a joke with my family.  "What's Mum doing?".   Rolled eyes and "Spanish hotel drama..."
All I can say is sorry and don't say I didn't warn you.

And a couple of interesting podcasts:
S town - from the makers of Serial, another fascinating American story
Trace - I've only just started this but apparently it's great....the true story of an unsolved crime set in Melbourne

Winter sky at Robe

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The stirrings of Autumn

February for me is normally least favourite month.  Hot, dusty and dry, dry, dry.   But this year the weather gods have delivered a remarkably mild Feb and included some rain, which has really taken the pressure off the watering circuit.  One thing I do love though are the stirrings of autumn, the subtle changes in the garden that mark the change of season.  The hawthorn berries are ripening:
as are the crab apples:
The sedums are starting to flower 
 the deciduous leaves are starting to turn
and the first belladonna has popped up
Did anyone see the disturbing story on 4 Corners last night about plastics in the ocean?  I know this is a bit out of the blue and off topic but I've been reading about the problems associated with plastic and was shocked to learn that basically it never actually biodegrades and every bit of plastic ever made is still on the earth, breaking down into tiny pieces in the ocean and being swallowed by fish or sitting in landfill.  Sarah Wilson goes into more detail here.  Those handy little Nespresso coffee pods take 500 years to break down!  The sheer volume of the problems seems insurmountable but here are a couple of things we must do to help save the planet.
  • Plastic bags.  These have been banned in South Australia and believe me you only get caught out once.  It's high time Victoria followed suit.  Have reusable bags and keep them in the car or right by the door so you can grab them on the way out.
  • Take away coffee cups.  Same deal, even if they look biodegradable, they are not, because the lining that stops you from burning your hand is pure plastic (as are the lids).  Millions get chucked out every year and you can't put them in the recycling.
Use one of these instead (this came from House) and I have another one from the supermarket.  I like that it's china, it keeps the coffee hotter.
  • Coffee pods.  Don't chuck them in the rubbish or your own recycling (they are too small for the processors to handle and end up in the rubbish anyway).  You can take them back to the Nespresso shop and put them in the recycling bin there.  It's a bit of a pain for country people to remember to take them but in Melbourne there's a shop in the city and one at Chaddy.

  • Use pyrex glass containers instead of plastic for food storage.  These are obviously more expensive than plastic but will last longer.   Buy them on special or at Aldi or Ikea.

  • Other shockers are plastic water bottles, plastic straws and plastic cutlery.  Most of us use our own water bottle, but since I seem to be forever on the road, I'm thinking I should put a fork and a spoon in the glove box as well.  
Have a look at this Clean Up the World plastics recycling fact sheet for more responsible and do your bit!!

Anyway enough ranting for today...just something for you to think about.

I've had hardly any tomatoes yet (maybe this week of warm weather might get them going), but the basil has been amazing.  I've been making lots of pesto and heard a great tip on the weekend which came from Jamie Oliver.  When you've made your pesto, roll it into a log, wrap in glad bake (if trying not to use plastic) and put in the freezer.  When you need some just slice off a piece.
I posted a few pics on Instagram about how I've been using up the nectarines off the tree and had a few requests for this tart:
You can also do this in a round tin

1 quantity sour cream pastry, rested in the fridge
50g mixed nuts (or just almonds will do if that's all you've got)
35g castor sugar
50g butter at room temp
1 small egg
1 teasp plain flour
1 tblsp honey or golden syrup
juice of half a lemon

Heat oven 180c
Roll out the pastry on a floured board and line the tin.  Prick all over with a fork.  Put it in the fridge while you make the frangipane.

Whizz nuts in food processor to chop finely.  Add sugar, butter, egg and flour and whizz until well mixed.  Spread over the base of the pastry case.

Chop nectarines (you could also us apples or pears) and arrange over the frangipane.

Bake the tart in the oven for 15 mins.  Melt 2 tblsp honey/golden syrup and add the lemon juice. After 15 minutes take out tart and brush over the mix then return to oven for approx 30 mins until tart is golden
Loved this article in The New Yorker about bake sales.  Anyone with primary school kids will appreciate this.

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....