Thursday, February 27, 2014

February

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.

KALE CHIPS

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

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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
Dressing:
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.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Beautiful spring

We are having the most magical spring in our region.  It has rained and rained and the pastures are green and lush, such a change from the last couple of years.  Everything is late around the district: farmers can't finish their hay, crops aren't ripening and shearing is being held up.  These are good things in the long run as a good spring sets us up well for the summer.  The stock are mud fat and it is nice not to have to water the garden.
The hawthorns by the creek have been loaded with blossom, and the garden is looking glorious....
There hasn't been much sun, so the tomatoes have been slow to get going..
I have been picking lots of things from the vegetable garden:
Look at those beautiful new potatoes which came from last year's crop.
Everyone at the moment seems to have loads of lemons and loads of eggs.   It is my belief that if you have a patch of dirt in the country it is your duty to have chooks and you must have a lemon tree.   We are all inundated and I can't give them away.  So I thought, dum de dum, what shall I do with them all??  I decided on a cake and I wanted to satisfy my curiosity.  Would the old classic whole orange cake work with lemons?  Matt Preston published my version of Claudia Roden's orange cake in his last book 100 Best Recipes so I based this on that recipe.  My lemons are very sweet but not as sweet as oranges so I added a bit more sugar.  If you have very sharp lemons you may consider adding a bit more again.

JEN'S LEMON CAKE

2 lemons (find a friend with a tree if you don't have one yourself)
100g slivered almonds
150g almond meal
250g castor sugar (a bit over a cup, to taste)
5 eggs
1 teasp baking powder
Syrup:
1 lemon, extra
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup water

Place the lemons in a plastic bag and microwave on high for 12 minutes.  I suggest that you put them on a plate and leave the bag open for steam to escape.  They need to be really soft.  Cool, then cut in half to remove pips.
While that is going on, preheat the oven to 150c.  Grease a 22cm round tin and line with baking paper (make sure you do the sides as well as the base).

Put the almonds in the food processor and pulse a few times.  Don't overdo it as they give the cake some texture.  

Add the whole lemons and whizz.  Then add the almond meal, castor sugar, eggs and baking powder and whizz for a few seconds, scrape down the sides and whizz again until smooth.  Pour the mixture into the tin.  Bake for approximately 45 minutes to one hour until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Leave to cool in tin, then turn out onto a wire rack.

For the syrup:
Zest and juice the lemon and place in a small saucepan with the sugar and water.  Stir until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool.
You can dust the cake with icing sugar or pour over some of the syrup.  
Matt has a new book out and it is a ripper.  Full of recipes you will cook all the time.  It would make a great Christmas present....
Look out for my Chocolate Afghan recipe.






Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Catching up

WHERE has the time gone??  We have had a frantic couple of months, for reasons I won't go into for fear of boring you to tears.  Suffice to say very little time has been spent inside as the garden is absolutely humming  and bursting with the fullness of spring so keeping up with the lawns and weeding is a constant battle.
I haven't even had time to report on my wonderful trip to the Agrarian Kitchen back in August, which I promise to do very soon, maybe if we get more rainy days.  Yes, this spring is throwing everything at us:  it was 26 degrees on Saturday, pouring with rain and 12 degrees today.  When I was driving back from Robe last week it was hailing so hard it looked like there was snow on the road and I had to pull over:
No wonder there are so many people suffering from nasty colds and flu, including the poor 'usband who can expect divorce proceedings if he doesn't get rid of the shocking cough/chest infection that has been plaguing him for the last couple of months.  My sympathy is waning and let's face it, men are not always the best at looking after their health.  Despite several courses of antibiotics he has coughed his heart out for ages (often all night) and is only just getting better.  It is quite possibly genetic.  My poor mother in law is enduring a nasty bout of bronchial pneumonia and has required some nurturing.  When you are feeling rotten and can't face cooking the thing you really need is nourishment in a bowl.

RESTORATIVE CHICKEN SOUP - makes a big batch, you can use some and freeze some

Chicken soup is the perfect remedy:  loads of vegetables and a hit of protein that has not had the life cooked out of it, steaming hot and life affirming.  

1 nice free range chicken
1 onion, don't bother peeling, cut into eight wedges
1 tblsp olive oil
2 celery stalks with leaves (use one and the leaves for the stock, one for the finished dish)
2 big carrots (again, one for the stock, one for the finish)
1 bay leaf
1 teasp black peppercorns
good handful of parsley, stalks and leaves
Noodles optional, any will do but try Wiechs, from the Barossa Valley in SA....hands down the best for the job.

Preheat the oven to 200c.
Place the onion on a roasting tray.  Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towel.
Place the chicken on the onion and roast in the oven for 30 minutes until it is nicely brown on the top.  This will help the stock to be a beautiful golden colour.

While the chicken is cooking prepare the stock.
Into a stockpot put one chopped stalk of celery and its leaves, the carrot, bay leaf, peppercorns and the parsley, leaving a bit for garnish at the end.  Fill the pot about half full of water.

Take the chicken out of the oven and gently place it in the water.  Scrape the onions and any pan juices into the pot too.  Fill the pot with water until the chicken is covered.  Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 45 minutes (you can do this in the Simmer oven of the Aga, it may take a little longer).
While that is cooking neatly chop up the remaining celery and carrot.
Check the chicken after 45 minutes, you want it to be just cooked.  Take out the chicken and put it on a plate to cool.  Strain the stock and return it to the cleaned out stockpot.
Bring it to the boil and add the chopped vegetables and a good few handfuls of noodles (dried ones will take as long as the veg to cook, fresh ones can be put in at the last minute).  Give the soup a bit of a skim and keep doing this as it cooks.
Take all the meat off the chicken and remove the skin. Shred it and add to the soup just before serving.
Check for seasoning and scatter over some chopped parsley.
And give it to someone you love.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spring

Spring is well underway here; last week we had some very warm days but because it is western Victoria, today it is 10 degrees and raining in a brief return to winter.  I have been frantically busy in the garden trying to keep the weeding, mulching and mowing under control but today it was really time for some inside jobs, which get somewhat neglected at this time of year.  I knocked up a couple of quiches for the weekend:
as well as some flatbread from Smitten Kitchen and a light eggplant dip to go with it.  

Sometimes baba ganoush can be a bit sharp from the raw garlic but this version is smooth and really delicious.  We had it alongside some lamb a few nights ago too.

EGGPLANT DIP

2 eggplants
olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tblsp tahini
1 teasp cumin
juice of a lemon
1 tblsp honey
salt and pepper
herbs of choice to scatter over the top (parsley, mint)

Preheat the oven to 190c.
Halve the eggplants, cut diamond slits into the flesh and drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  
You can either put them on a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or put face down onto the barbeque and cook with the lid down for 30 minutes, which will give you a more charred flavour (just make sure they are not burning).  I turned them over and put them on the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga and they browned nicely...
Sorry this is blurry, I just wanted to show you the lovely colour
Meanwhile wrap the garlic in a bit of foil, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until soft.

Scrape out the flesh of the eggplants and put them in a food processor (or you can us the bamix or even just mash them with a potato masher or fork) with the squeezed out garlic.
Add the tahini, cumin, lemon juice,  honey and salt and pepper and whizz the mix.  At this point you can add more tahini, cumin, lemon juice and seasoning to taste.

Here is a pic of the flatbread, which would go well with any dip...
I made some nettle soup last week.  It is incredibly green:
I picked some cumquats the other day..
and made some marmalade:
There has been so much going on lately that I think I will save up for the next instalment.  It is hard to be inside at the computer when there is so much to do in the garden at this time of year, so fingers crossed for another rainy day.