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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Oh dear..

Okay, okay, I know.  Not a squeak or a whimper from here for nearly THREE MONTHS.  Slack, you say, slack.  And really there are no excuses.  I could reel off a million reasons why I've been too busy, blah blah blah, but we are all busy to the point that we even make ourselves busy even if we don't need to be.  First world problem.  Still there have been many distractions lately, not least the beauty of basking in my favourite season, autumn.  Victoria is ablaze with colour at the moment and I love it.  How could I possibly be inside with the amazing weather we've been having?
The winter brassicas are coming along well.  Amazingly I am still picking raspberries, just a few..
but I am beginning to think I may have to give up on the tomatoes.  They never really got going this year....
I got a good haul of jerusalem artichokes:
they make a good mash, that would go well with the lamb ragu I made last week...
That yellow thing in there is a parmesan rind.  It adds a real depth of flavour to soups and casseroles.  
This sunflower just popped up in the horse yard
With the shorter days and the cooler weather my breakfast thoughts always turn to porridge.  I love porridge, but let's face it, on its own it's a bit dull and usually needs something on it to lift it beyond the ordinary.  I used to throw a few frozen blueberries at the end of cooking, or add stewed fruit (rhubarb, pears, apples) and have it with yoghurt.  And that was fine, but I have come up with an even tastier and altogether more interesting version using my home made muesli.  This will get you out of that warm bed on these cool winter mornings...
"MUESLIGE" Serves 2

1/2 cup good quality untoasted muesli (my muesli has no added sugar, except for a handful of goji berries.  This would be even more delicious, but less healthy, if your muesli has sultanas or dates in it).
1/2 cup traditional oats or even better steel cut oats (from health food shops).  Please don't use instant oats, it will end up being gluggy.
1/4 cup milk (more milk will make it creamier)
1/2 - 3/4 cup water
tiny pinch salt
Blueberries (frozen is fine), yoghurt, roasted chopped mixed nuts, toasted flaked coconut to finish

Put the muesli and the oats in a sturdy saucepan and add the milk and water.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently, stirring from time to time for about 3-4 minutes.  As the porridge cooks it will absorb liquid so add more if you need to, and cook to the consistency you desire, some like it creamy, others like it thicker.  Add the salt.

Serve in bowls with whichever add ons you prefer, if you are being indulgent, nothing beats brown sugar and cream...
What's not to love about autumn??

Thursday, February 27, 2014


February, I have to say, is my least favourite month.  It's hot.  The kids are back at school.  Summer holiday fun is over.  People are fasting from various vices (not me of course).  Fire is still a risk.  I am always picking grass seeds out of my socks.  The garden looks woeful (although the 10 mills we had last week made a difference).  I've cut back all the roses.  There's a snake in the veggie garden and I'm spending my life moving sprinklers.  
But we are slowly edging towards Autumn.  The days are shorter and the nights cooler.  Fingers crossed we won't have the hot start to March like we did last year.
There have been a couple of highlights of the dry summer garden.  The oleanders have not stopped flowering, and I have noticed some stunning pink ones in Melbourne.  They must love a wet spring.  The sedums are starting to flower
and Pierre de Ronsard never lets me down.  It gets no attention whatsoever...
I am beginning to think my tomatoes will never ripen, it was just too cool in December for them to get going:
One surprise performer in the veggie garden this summer has been the kale, which I had always considered to be a winter vegetable.
I cut it off and in a matter of days it is sprouting again.  In the winter you can add kale to soups and use as a vegetable.  It is tough so needs long cooking.  In the summer though I make it into kale chips.  Don't think yuk and stop reading.   They are crunchy, crispy and very moreish.  And kale is very good for you, especially your skin.

You can get curly varieties as well, and they are probably better for these chips.  There are loads of recipes for these; you can even just toss them in a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt if you wish.  Some recipes recommend that you cook them for a shorter time at a higher temperature, but I think a slower oven for a longer time is the go.


One bunch kale
2 tblsp olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 teasp maple syrup (optional, adds a nice chewy sweetness)
2 teasp tamari
1 teasp tahini (again, optional, but adds a kick of nuttiness)
2 tblsp sesame seeds

Heat the oven to 100c.  Wash and dry the kale.  Shred the leaves away from the stem and tear into chip sized strips.
In a bowl mix the rest of the ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Add the kale to the bowl and toss gently to coat all the leaves.
Spread on a baking tray and bake in the oven  until nice and crispy, about an hour, but check them regularly.  Cool on a rack.  I do these in the simmer oven of the Aga.
 Kale chips are probably not a food group that my friend Matt Preston would relish, and I have to admit that Tim is not a fan.  He would call them chick food.  But I have to mention Matt as he said the nicest thing about me and my fish pie in the Herald Sun on Tuesday.  But you, my three lucky readers, already have the recipe.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Salad of the Summer

We have seen a few sunrises here lately.  There's been some early starts, especially with the recent hot weather.  It really is the best part of the day.
Since my last post, which seems like eternity ago, there has been plenty of activity.  
On a trip to the outback we learnt how to open a wine bottle with a boot:
and how not to...
We kayaked down the Lachlan
and sat around the campfire.
The kids came home from school and the horses came in to be worked, so this is what the back door looks like at lunch time..
We've been shearing and selling lambs, getting loads of cattle in on agistment, droving sheep up the road and trying to squeeze in Christmas and a bit of beach time.

According to the kids, December and January have been less of a holiday and more of and enforced boot camp.  But do not despair, there has been fun too.  We got a new puppy....Holly, because she arrived just before Christmas:

 There was some beach time 
And some lake time..
The two lovely German girls who are looking after the horses taught us how to make German Christmas biscuits:
I picked these beautiful apricots...
and made jam:
The strawberries have been wonderful...
But the best thing of all has been the salad of the summer.  I seem to do this every year, have a staple salad that I can't get enough of.  Usually it involves tomatoes, basil or zucchini due to an over abundance from the vegetable garden, but my tomatoes seem to be taking forever and the zucchinis have only just started.  This year I take my inspiration from Matt Preston's book Fast, Fresh and Unbelievably Delicious and a salad that he made for Marco Pierre White when he was out here last year.  I LOVED it and it it went so well with the cumin scented slow cooked lamb, couscous and roasted carrot salad that Matt served with it, so I was delighted to see it in the book.  I've made a couple of slight changes.

THE SALAD OF THE SUMMER Thanks to Matt.  Serves 6-8

2 long English cucumbers, peeled and seeded and diced
4 sticks of celery, diced
12 pitted dates, diced
24 green olives (black olives will work too), pitted and chopped into quarters
1 pomegranate (Matt says this is optional but it really makes the salad)
1 bunch coriander (to taste)
1 bunch  mint (also to taste, I like plenty)
1 cup shelled pistachios
Approx 1/3 cup olive oil
1 dessp pomegranate molasses 
salt and pepper

Combine the cucumbers, celery, dates and olives in a bowl.  Chop the coriander and mint and add to taste.  Cut the pomegranate in half and hold the flat side on the flat of your hand over a bowl and bash the outside with a wooden spoon to get out the seeds.  Pick out any pith and keep any juice left over to add to the dressing. Add seeds to the salad.  Roughly chop pistachios and add them too.

Combine dressing ingredients and any pomegranate juice and adjust to suit your taste.  Mix it all together and serve on a platter or in a nice salad bowl.

I have made this countless times this summer as it is so forgiving.  You can chop everything up and stick it in the fridge for a few hours and add the dressing at the end.  It can handle being shoved in an esky and taken to a picnic (though you do need forks or spoons to eat it).  It is even better the next day, which tells me you can dress it ahead of time without doing too much damage.