Monday, July 28, 2014

The joys of a quiet weekend

I've had to re-do this post, which started its life being about the holidays, which have now been and gone and seem like too long ago.  In brief we had a lovely but busy few weeks that included some home time..
Curious cattle watching on
No power one morning, breakfast by candlelight..
and some away time.  We went over to Perth and Margaret River for a few days, which was great fun but we could have done with a couple more days of being immersed in the best wine region in Australia (big call but we had some seriously amazing wine).  Highly recommended....
Gratuitous Aga shot
We came back to Victoria to some rather chillier weather:
At long last we are having a proper winter.  Snow has been falling on the mountains, we've had rain and storms and, on Wednesday morning, our first frost: 
This past weekend has been blissfully not busy.  A yoga class, lots of gardening, planting trees, cooking and a few glasses of red by the fire.  I have finally pruned all the roses
which is a good job to have out of the way.  I have refilled the veggie beds with some lovely mushroom compost,
and dug up these potatoes that I didn't know were there:
I planted out some oaks that I had grown from acorns (bit like sending your first child off to school....)

and knocked up some yoyos for Tim to give to a family friend whose wife died recently...
I made a hearty lamb chop casserole
and picked this beautiful cabbage
which I pan fried with bacon and onion:
The rhubarb is flourishing at the moment so I made a little pudding:
This is so easy and I think better than traditional crumble as it has more crunch.  You can make the very simple crumble ahead and it keeps for ages in the freezer, then when you have some poached or roasted fruit you can sprinkle it over the top.    


1 bunch rhubarb (about 5 stems), trimmed and cut into 5 cm pieces
50g butter
2 tblsp brown sugar
1/2 cup verjuice
a vanilla bean

Crumble mix:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teasp nutmeg
1/2 teasp cinnamon
3/4 cup flour
125g butter

For the crumble mix:
Preheat oven to 180c.
Put all the ingredients into the food processor and pulse to chunky breadcrumbs.
Spread onto a large lined baking tray and cook for approximately 10 minutes until it begins to colour around the edges.  Take it out and give it a good mix around, then put it back for another 10 or so minutes.  Keep an eye on it as you don't want it to burn.  Do this until it has coloured evenly.  Mix it so it forms to crumble, cool on the tray and store in a container in the fridge or freezer.

For the rhubarb:.
Preheat the oven to 180c
In a frying pan that can go in the oven melt the butter and add the sugar and verjuice.  Mix well.  Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and add to the pan, adding the bean as well.
Add the rhubarb and stir well.
Cover with foil or a lid and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the cover and cook for  a further 15-20 minutes until the rhubarb is soft and the sauce has caramelised.
Serve the rhubarb with the crumble sprinkled over the top and cream or custard on the side.
This would also work well with pears.  And probably apples or quinces.

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??