Monday, May 30, 2011


I planted a Medlar tree last year.  I had heard that they have lovely autumn foliage and that the branches laden with fruit look good in a vase.  It has grown beautifully thanks to a wet summer that was not too hot.

As I am incapable of letting any food source go to waste I thought I should find some way of cooking them.  A little googling taught me that medlars need to be "bletted" before they are eaten.  I was instructed to sit them on a bed of straw for two weeks to let them soften.

They were used in the Middle Ages as a fruit, in jams and jellies and as a liqueur.  I loved the idea of of a liqueur that could be put in a hip flask and taken shooting, or that would go well with cheese.  I found a recipe for Medlar Liqueur in the wonderful book on preserves A Year in a Bottle by Sally Wise, a very clever lady from Tasmania.  If you ever get the urge to preserve anything, this is the ultimate guide.  She says the liqueur has the "lingering flavour of fruit salad heavily laced with dates and honey".  I can hardly wait.  I will let you know how I get on once the bletting stage is over.

The other thing I have had a go at is Vanilla Essence.  I read about it out in blog world (can't remember where) and it is simply a matter of shoving a few vanilla pods in a bottle and covering with vodka.

You then leave it in a dark place for 6-8 weeks, shaking once a week.  Hunt around for reasonably priced vanilla beans....they can be extortionately expensive.  I found these at Cliffys in Daylesford when passing through the other day.  The guy there said his brother imports them and they were $2 each.  I have seen them for as much as $5.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On a soup roll..

It is soup weather.  The last few days have been dull and grey and it was seven degrees when I went to tennis this morning.  Seven.  At ten a.m.  All we ask for is just a little bit of sunshine.

No wonder the roses look miserable, they are on their last legs.  The damp and often humid summer really knocked them around and the autumn roses have been disappointing.  At least the nerines are looking pretty.

Back to the soup.  Sorry to do soup again but due to the camera breakage I am a bit behind with my photos.  I always make pea and ham soup out of the remains of the Christmas ham.  I usually freeze it in a plastic bag and make it later, because a) it's too hot for soup and b) we are over ham after the Christmas flourish.  You can also buy ham hocks from the butcher for this.
Soak the split peas overnight or for several hours in cold water.


300g green split peas (if you use more you will get a thicker soup)
1 ham bone
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 parsnip, roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tblsp brown sugar

Soak the peas as above.  The next day, combine the ham bone, strained peas, carrot, onion, parsnip, celery, bay leaf and brown sugar in a large pot.
As you can see the jambon is a bit big for the pot.

Cover with water  and simmer gently for about three hours.

Allow to cool enough to handle the ham.  Take it out and chop the ham into small pieces.  Roughly mash the vegetables and refrigerate or freeze.

A bit of chopped parsley and some crusty bread is all it needs.

The other thing I wanted to show you was the roast chicken requested by the boarding school refugee before he went back after the holidays:

We have a Weber rotisserie and it does the most amazing chicken, pork and lamb that you are likely to taste.  It was the last supper, as it were, so he also requested chocolate souffle:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tired for Mother's Day

Last Friday after the May races I was feeling extremely delicate.  How old am I going to be before I realise that gin and tonics are not an adequate substitute for food?  It was a fantastic day as always, and beats any day at Flemington hands down.  I am going to gloss over the "incident" of a horse in the Grand Annual leaping a two metre high fence into a crowd of onlookers who were outside the track.  Enough has been said already.  It was a most unfortunate freak accident (not many horses can jump that high).

Friday, then, was a day for ugg boots, lighting the fire and a bit of cooking.  Every time I walk into the pantry I have to pass three of these:
which the hunter and gatherer husband bought home from a duck shoot over Easter.  Time for action, I thought to myself, and so I made some soup.  I often cook the pumpkin for soup in the oven, which is lovely, but due to my weak condition I decided to throw the onion and garlic in the roasting pan as well.   Worked a treat.

There are no specific measurements to this recipe, just use what you have and just cover with the stock.

Preheat the oven to 180c.  Peel, seed and chop the pumpkin.  I used about half of the above.  Place in a  large roasting tin and add a chopped onion (or a couple of leeks would be good too) and about 5 cloves of garlic, not peeled.
Season with s & p and drizzle with olive oil.  Put in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes.  At this point I went outside to do some gardening and forgot about the pumpkin.  It probably had about an hour and 15 minutes and was a little charred on the edges, but it didn't seem to matter.
Put it all in a large saucepan and squeeze the garlic from its skin.  Cover with chicken stock.  Heat gently so the stock is warm.  Whizz with stick blender or in a food processor.  Season with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg and some cream to finish.  I crumbled over some Meredith Dairy goat's cheese and chives from the garden.
Helped the hangover enormously.  We then went out on Friday and Saturday night so by Sunday I was beyond doing much at all.  I do not expect much on Mother's Day and the Little Princess bought me this charming treasure from the Mother's Day stall at school, (which I paid for).  She also wrote a very sweet card which makes it all worthwhile.

Look how well my cauliflowers and spinach are growing... I only put them in the other day
as well as the garlic and rocket..

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Recovery..for now

We appear to have survived the holiday and Easter onslaught.   It was all great fun,  with lots of people through the house, plenty of activities and way too much delicious wine.  I love the house being full of people, and believe me there were many sheet changes in the spare bedrooms, but it is rather nice when life returns to normal.

The weather was pretty good, so there was lots of  lighting of bonfires and toasting of marshmallows,

long walks,

 paddock picnic with an Easter egg hunt,

shooting and lunches on the verandah.

Then, if that wasn't enough action, we hopped in the car and drove firstly to Nagambie on Friday to stay overnight with friends (and watch the royal nuptials) then onto Jingellic in southern NSW for a friend's wedding.  Left  Buckingham Palace in the shade.  It took 7.5 hours to get home on Sunday, with lots of driver changes.  Am exhausted and require a serious detox, but have to be prepared to saddle up for the Warrnambool May Races on Thursday.  If you love racing make sure you see the Grand Annual once in your life.  It is a wonderful spectacle.

But back to food.  It is my belief that no country bride worth her salt should be without a good chicken pie recipe, and I am going to share mine since we had one over Easter.  I  used to always serve this on  a Friday night when visitors arrived for the weekend until a friend said that he always is given a chicken pie when he arrives in the country, not mentioning any names Showbag, and I thought I had better change the menu around  (to avoid becoming predictable), so we had it on Sunday night after the paddock picnic.  The quantities are fairly adaptable, just make more white sauce if you have more chicken and veg.

CHICKEN PIE - should serve about six, but I have seen it devoured by four hungry travellers many times.

750g chicken thighs
25g butter
3 rashers bacon, chopped
1-2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
a cup or so of mushrooms (not sure of the weight), chopped
Extra 30g butter
30g plain flour
2 cups milk

Pastry: I use Maggie Beer's sour cream pastry
200g unsalted butter, chilled
250g plain flour
125ml sour cream

Make the pastry first by putting the butter and flour in the Magimix and whizzing to breadcrumbs.  Add sour cream and whizz to a ball.  Wrap in baking paper and put in the fridge.

Cover the chicken thighs with water in a saucepan and poach gently until just cooked.  Strain and set aside.

In a heavy pan melt the butter and add the bacon.  Cook until nearly crispy and add the leeks.  Cook until soft then add the mushrooms.

Cook until soft then remove the mix from the pan but do not clean it out.
Melt the extra butter in the bacon pan and add the flour, stirring for a minute or so.  Gradually add the milk stirring until the sauce thickens and boils.  Simmer gently for a couple of minutes.
Mix the chicken and bacon/leek/mushroom into the sauce and season well.  Add a good handful of chopped parsley.  Put into a pie dish.  Roll out the pastry and put over the pie.

Brush with a beaten egg and cook at 180c for  30-40 minutes until nicely browned.  Serve with a green salad.