Thursday, March 5, 2015

A holiday

We have just had the extreme good fortune of enjoying a two week holiday of skiing in America.   It was a bit of a last minute thing, we only booked at Christmas because we were really not sure if we could get away.  But getting away for a proper break is what everyone really must do.  There is never a good time to leave the farm, especially for us in the heat of February, but  sometimes you've just got to see the gap and bite the bullet.
We had a week in Telluride and a week in Vail with some friends and just had a ball.  We had sun, we had snow, we skied and we ate,  and there was even time for a few spoiling massages.      
They start skiing early in the States and most of the lifts start to close at 3.30pm so there is a lovely little lull in the afternoon when there is time for a nap or some shopping, or a spa and a sauna before it is time for drinks and dinner.  A proper holiday.
  
So here's some observations:  
What America is good at:
  • Water.  A glass of iced water is placed on the table before the menus are handed over and are filled up constantly.  This is a good thing because you need it if you are going to tackle the...
  • Cocktails.  It's a real American thing, they love their cocktails and we sampled a variety, some could seriously blow your head off.  Which leads on to..
  • Bloody Marys.  One of our travelling companions is a bit of a BM aficionado.  A couple we tried were not up to standard, but the best one was in the United domestic terminal at the LA airport.  Who would have thought?
  • Politeness.  They are unfailingly polite, especially in lift queues, where orderly alternating is a unimpeachable code.  Although I do have to remind myself that tips are earned by providing good service and I'm fairly sure they don't necessarily care if you "have a nice day".
  • Purpose-built ski resorts.  They are well planned and organised and pretty in a kind of faux Austrian way and include..
  • Heated streets and footpaths.   No stomping through snow drifts over there.  And they often have a charming ice skating rink
  • And a ski valet,..what's not to love about that?
  • Service:  it's generally excellent.  One freezing day there was a lovely man handing out tissues as we walked into a restaurant.
  • Food, sometimes.  We had some very delicious food. mostly at higher end restaurants. 
  • Truffle salted french fries.  They were everywhere and are pretty bloody good.
  • Sunday papers.  Loved the book section of the New York Times.
Charming ice skating rink

What America is not good at:
  • Coffee.  If you have a serious coffee addiction go there.  You will be cured in a matter of days.  We were unable to find decent coffee anywhere.  
  • Cheese...why is it that weird yellow colour? And for that matter,
  • Butter...why is it so white?
  • Bread. 
  • Portion control:  the servings are ginormous
  • Hot chocolate, which is an essential part of the skiing experience:   it's watery and they squirt cream from a can into it.  Yuk.
  • Healthy eating.  It is perfectly acceptable to order a hamburger for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I saw a child having the following breakfast:  fruit loops, waffle and maple syrup and a hot chocolate (topped with plastic cream).
  • Paying their staff properly.   Tipping is just a minefield and Australians hate it.
  • Television.  I was a bit off colour one day and watched a bit of telly.  Every ad, and there were many, were for junk food....all the big names, blatantly targeting children in a much less subtle way than here.  It made me feel even sicker.
  • Coffee.  Did I mention the coffee?
It's lovely to be home though, and it was a relief to find that we'd had an inch of rain while we were away.  The garden was not dead as I had been dreading and autumn seems to be beginning, which is my favourite time of year.  Happiest of all to see this though:
Sorry no recipe today, there hasn't been much time for cooking but with autumn underway, there will be plenty of activity in the coming weeks:




Thursday, February 12, 2015

Summer

We are in the midst of what can only be described as a very odd summer.  January was cool and very windy, which makes for good farming and working weather....not so good for beaching and holidays.  Now that the kids are back at school it hot and still and beautiful, which is typical.  I really miss them, but I do like being able to choose my own radio station in the car....
There has been lots of fun and frivolity over the holidays and I did have a not insignificant birthday in the midst of it all.  It was duly celebrated in many locations thanks to wonderful friends who, it has to be said, do love a party.   Needless to say, there is now a pressing need for some Alcohol Free Days so some quiet home time is very welcome.  

The garden is looking so dry at the moment, even though we had 40mls of rain in the middle of January.  It greened up for a while but now it seems we are back to where we started.

 I harvested my garlic and now it is drying out:
There are apples and pears ripening:
There are berries on the hawthorns, always a sign that autumn is around the corner..
Over the holidays we have had three backpackers here to work on the farm.  They are staying with us rather than in the cottage because one of them is the son of an old friend.  Fortunately they are hard working and very helpful around the house, but eat!  They go through an alarming amount of food so I have been cooking and cooking and making great inroads on all the meat in the deep freeze.  Also fortunately it has been relatively cool, so I can get away with casseroles and lasagne, spag bol and roasts.  I pulled out yet another bag of forequarter chops and thought that I really needed to do something a bit different.   I spotted a recipe for "Tasmanian Apple Casserole" in a Weekly Times cookbook and here is my version.

LAMB AND APPLE CASSEROLE  Serves 4

1 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp flour
4 forequarter lamb chops , trimmed.  
1 onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 green apple, diced
1 1/2 cups unsweetened apple juice (stay with me)
1 tblsp worcestershire sauce
1 sprig rosemary

Preheat the oven to 150c.
Dust the chops with flour and season with salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil in a large casserole and brown the chops over a medium heat.  Remove and set aside.
Put a slosh more olive oil in the pan and add the onion and cook gently for five minutes.  Add the celery, garlic and apple.  Cook for a further five minutes until softened.
Put the lamb back in the pan and pour over the apple juice, add the worcester sauce and the rosemary, cover and cook for 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until the lamb is very tender.  Taste and season accordingly, and sprinkle with parsley.
Delicious with mashed potatoes and the first of the beans....

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Merry Christmas, the abridged version

I had a lovely Christmas post planned for you but it has all caught up with me.  It's now New Year's Eve so Christmas greetings have passed me by.  I hope your Christmas was calm, peaceful and happy.  Our tree is still up but we took the decorations off last night.  I'll have to wait for some help to get it out.  We always try to get a tree from the side of  the road, and this year, it seems, there was no holding back...it's a whopper.

In the spirit of the season, I really wanted to show you the first small crop of cherries I picked off our tree..they were beautiful.  Connorville raspberries behind....just divine.
My fruit trees have been subject to lots of pests this year, not sure why.  The crab apple has a shocking infestation wooly aphids and the pears. quinces and cherries have been hit by some awful black slug so are not looking their best.  Fruit trees can be a bit of a labour of love, but I always forgive them in the spring when their blossom looks so pretty.  Look how dry it is:
So dry in fact that the day before  Christmas Eve we ran out of rainwater.  Admittedly there had been people to stay and we have two English backpackers living in the house for the summer so the dishwasher and washing machine have not stopped, but still hard to believe.  Same thing happened only two years ago.  So a local water carrier came and filled it up with bore water which is okay, but not so good for drinking.  Imagine if it had happened on Christmas Eve.....no water for two days, possibly four....
It's very busy in our region at the moment, Christmas is a mere blip in the radar of harvest, shearing, lamb selling, hay carting etc.  We spent last Saturday weighing lambs:
In between long days there has been plenty of fun and lots of cooking.  We took our visitors yabbying:
and I spent the day in the kitchen with an old friend who loves cooking as much as I do.  She and Sophie made this beautiful pannetone bread and butter pudding for our Christmas work party:
I have also been making bread to feed the four starving teenagers:
Sorry, no recipe today as our internet is sporadically dropping out, but I'd like to wish you all a Happy New Year and may 2015 be happy and healthy for you all.  


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Rain

I am delighted to announce that it rained yesterday.  Not torrential, but just nice, gentle rain.  It has been so dry and the garden is loving it.
More gratuitous rose shots
You can water all you like but nothing beats the nitrogen-rich real thing.  Plus it stops my lawn from looking like a badly formed Venn Diagram as I try to get my sprinklers to overlap and cover the whole area but fail miserably.  I am also quite pleased as it has been non-stop in the garden this Spring with several groups coming to visit.  It's been very pleasant to have a break from watering/raking/mowing/weeding and spend the day pottering around in the kitchen, which really is my favourite thing.

I've picked most of the broad beans, shelled them, blanched them and frozen them in bags.  I haven't done this before but am hoping that they can be re-blanched and podded.  Even the chooks might be relieved that the broad beans have finished...
The lemon scented gums went pink in the rain...must have been the shock.
I have a new culinary fixation that I need to share with you. I expect that as usual I am slow off the mark and you are all completely familiar with za'atar, but  I have only just realised that it is very easy to make.  I had heard of this zesty Middle Eastern spice and herb mix, mostly by reading my Ottolenghi cookbooks but never really tried it.   Then I had lots of thyme that was about to flower and needed to find something to do with it.  Well.  Nothing is safe from a sprinkling of za'atar this summer.  It is perfect on an egg...
and completely brings your avocado on toast to life.  You could use it as a rub on any meat and sprinkle it over a soup.   The four simple ingredients and dried thyme, toasted sesame seeds, sumac (available in good food stores) and salt.  I picked the thyme, put it on a baking tray and gave it half an hour in the simmer oven of the Aga.....in a normal oven 15 minutes at 150c should do it.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn't get burnt.
Strip the leaves off the stalks and using your thyme pile as a guide, toast the same amount of sesame seeds (I do this in the oven....don't forget about them though!)
Mix it up and add some salt (about a teaspoon went into the above brew)
Put it in a jar
and sprinkle to your heart's content.





Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Roses galore

Is it just me or have everyone's roses been spectacular this year?    They must love an early dry spring.  I picked these from a rose bush in garden of a cottage on the farm that has no tenants, so it has received absolutely no attention for probably three years.   Quite amazing.  
The iris have been looking incredible too:
I had another group to visit the garden last week. It was a fundraiser for the Friends of the Warrnambool Botanical Gardens, the landscape designer of which, Charles Scoborio, also designed our garden.   I had to cook lunch for fifty.  Fifty!  Of course I left if all to the last minute but it went well and they could not have been nicer.  I made slow cooked lamb with the salad of the summer and a lovely green salad with lettuce from the garden, rocket, pear, parmesan and toasted hazelnuts.  I did mini lemon curd tarts for pud, but didn't have time to photograph them.
Home made lemon cordial
It ended up being quite hot so most people sat inside in the cool, but I set a little table up under the oak tree for the overflow:
I had a little stall as a fundraiser for the Gardens too
It is something of a challenge to have the garden looking ship-shape as well as the house in good order and full of flowers...just as well I can raid the farm cottage gardens.  I have to confess that I did get some extra help with mowing, weeding and whipper snipping while I was busy in the kitchen.
I felt that a little restorative G & T at the end of the day was well and truly justified...


How about those sweet peas?  They are even sneaking up amongst the broad beans...
I put in a late crop of leeks this year..
because I love them and because you need to know how good they are with roast chicken.  Honestly, if you haven't roasted a chicken on top of some leeks, you haven't lived.  Now obviously you don't need a lesson in roasting chicken, but here is my two cents worth anyway...

I always slide some butter and a few herbs (sage and thyme work well) under the skin of the breast and season both sides with lots of salt and pepper. Squeeze over some lemon juice if you like and put the skin in the cavity.  I put the leeks in the pan
and put the chicken breast side down onto the leeks.  Cook for about 30 minutes in a hot oven (200c).  I do this in the roasting oven of the Aga, which is about 210c.
Flip it over and give it a good baste.  Return the to the oven and cook until the juices run clear when pierced with a skewer, about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken.  Baste again, and rest for 10 minutes before carving.   The pan juices are usually enough for gravy, and put the soft, meltingly tender leeks on top...



Thursday, October 30, 2014

Raspberry and Rhubarb Jam

Well this is a bonus.  Normally you don't hear from me for weeks but here I am again.   I had a couple of requests for the raspberry and rhubarb jam from last time so I thought I'd get onto it straight away.  You know how I said the iris weren't out yet??  Well, a couple of sunny days later and they have popped up everywhere.  So nice to see them again, after last year's disappointment (too cool and wet).
Anyway, back to the jam.
This is easy and a great way to use rhubarb, but you do need a sugar thermometer (they are cheap).  You can't really even taste the rhubarb...the kids, who don't like rhubarb, didn't even bat an eyelid.

RASPBERRY AND RHUBARB JAM    Makes about six jars

4 cups of rhubarb, washed and chopped into 5cm chunks
4 cups of raspberries (I use frozen)
6 cups sugar

Place the rhubarb in a heavy saucepan with about 1/4 cup water.  Cook gently for five minutes until the rhubarb starts to soften, tossing occasionally.  Add the raspberries and cook for about 15 minutes until the rhubarb is completely cooked.
Add the sugar and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Insert the sugar thermometer and continue to simmer until the jam reaches 100c, stirring occasionally to make sure it's not sticking.
Remove from the heat and skim the surface.  Pour into sterilised jars.  Keep it in the fridge.