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.


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
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 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.


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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What's up Doc..

Oak tree with daffodils
Since it's been such a doom 'n gloom year in our neck of the woods (failed spring, late break, green drought) it has been nice to see some decent rainfalls over the last week or so.  The upside of a drier than normal winter is that the ewes are not lambing down in flooded paddocks so it is more pleasant for them.  We are in the thick of lambing....
so long walks across the paddocks are out, much to the disappointment of my walking companions.  Although the dogs are much more interested in chasing rabbits, we don't want to mis-mother the lambs.
Can't cross the creek..
I have been picking some ginormous carrots out of the veggie garden.  At last, after many failures, I have worked out that you need to dig a trench and fill it with seed raising mix and plant the seeds into that.
So I have been finding different ways to use them.    Of course, being winter, I had to make soup...
with a touch of ginger and some toasted almonds on top.  I also found a recipe in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden book for an Italian Almond and Carrot Cake:
Now I realise this looks more like a pair of fish fingers, but it really was a good cake, it just didn't rise much, and I did forget to put the pine nuts on the top before it went into the oven.  Dear old carrots, they are never really the star of the show, but they can be so very good in lots of ways:  scorched in a hot oven beside a roast, shredded in a stir fry or in a carrot cake with cream cheese icing.  And I love baby carrots roasted and used as a salad with feta, nuts and herbs. 
At long last my chooks have started to lay again.  The Isa Browns usually keep laying all year but the Australorps and Rhode Island Reds simply refuse to lay when the days are short.   I am loving having a soft boiled egg for breakfast, especially when it is dusted with some truffle infused salt.....amazing.

 I watched Heston Blumenthal on Masterchef the other night and he demonstrated an interesting method for making scrambled eggs.  I have always been of the school that cooks the bacon in the pan then scrambles the eggs in the residual bacon fat (plus a little butter).  Until now.  Heston's method is the BEST and you must try it.
For two people:

Fill a saucepan a third full with water and bring to a gentle simmer.
In a glass bowl (I didn't have one so I used a stainless steel one) put:
4 eggs
1 tblsp milk
1 tblsp cream
small knob butter
a little salt
Place the bowl over the simmering water and using a spatula gently stir the mix until it looks like scrambled eggs. 
 Put on the plate and finish with a little pepper and maybe some chopped chives.  You won't look back.

It goes without saying that this is always going to be better with free range organic eggs, any egg dish is really and caged hens should be outlawed.  Better still, get a couple of chooks and enjoy the pleasure of your own eggs and having somewhere other than the bin for your food scraps.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Winter things

It's properly winter today: frosty morning, a bit of sunshine then the clouds built up and it rained for most of the afternoon.  The jonquils are out..
and the hellebores are starting to flower...
It really is the time of year to light the fires and get thyself in front of some good telly with a bowl of soup.  Is anyone else loving Broadchurch?  No-one can do a murder story like the British.  Well, with the possible exception of the Danes.  I have just finished the marathon that is The Killing.  The Danish really know how to do gritty, dark thrillers that just keep you glued.  They're not bad at  political drama either, I loved Borgen and can't wait for the next series.

My soup of choice last week was Celeriac and Apple.  I am growing celeriac in the veggie garden but it seems to be taking forever..
Yes, it looks impressive but there is not much action down below.  
What I love about soup is that there are really no rules, you just go with what you have.  To make this I softened a chopped onion in butter and added a peeled and chopped celeriac, some chunks of chopped apple and a peeled and chopped potato.  Then I tipped in chicken stock to cover and simmered it gently until the veg was soft.  I used a stick blender to puree the soup and seasoned well with salt and pepper.
To finish I quickly fried some sage leaves in a little olive oil which adds a nice crunch.  So easy, and a beautifully warming soup.
Within this jar is the beginnings of bay leaf liqueur, which I read about in a Sicilian cookbook.  It could be disgusting, but I did think it was worth a try.  I'll let you know how it turns out.
Lots of lemons on the tree

Friday, July 5, 2013

The moon...

How incredible was the full moon last week?  So beautiful.
I just have a few more tidbits from our time in Italy, and then I promise, I'll stop.  Can I just say that if you haven't been to Sicily, then you must try to go.  It has amazing diversity: in its history, landscape, architecture and food.  The layers of history are seen at every turn and tells the story of a strategically placed island in the Mediterranean which has been inhabited and occupied by a long list of conquerers who saw the value of the volcanic soils, good harbours and vast coastline.
The food is essentially Italian Mediterranean, especially on the eastern side of the island that we visited, so it's all about pasta, vegetables, lemons, pizza, olives, olive oil and of course the dolci.  We tasted olive oil and wine, donkey (and various other) salami, eggplant parmigiana, cannoli and gelati.  We were treated to a generous and wonderful Sunday lunch at the family home of Carmel's cousins and were able to watch how the pasta, bread and dolci were prepared...
 watched as various bits and pieces went into the wood fired oven..
and sat down to a remarkable lunch which included a variety of local delicacies..
Scacce and caponata
Finished off with a bit of enthusiastic toasting..
What you've got to love about the Italians is their unabated love for food and family.  Carm's family embraced us with open arms, barely a word of English between them, and showed us real Sicilian culture as it is today.  As for the food!  You see more adults than children tucking into a gelati...
Bus driver with a bus load of waiting passengers having a restorative gelati
everything is full fat, full carbs, full cream, in fact it would be verging on offensive to ask for a skinny latte. There is not a gym or yoga studio to be seen, whereas there is one on every corner here;  women just do not wear lycra.  They are wonderfully rowdy and shouty and it is on for young and old at the "passeggiata" when the entire village is out on the town.
After some lively dancing and a few more, ahem, aperol spritz at the Bar in Scoglitti
Photo - Gina Milicia
out came a round of scacciuni, which is basically a wood-fired pizza with a top and a bottom and is utterly delicious.  I tried to make this with the kids last week, but I think the wood-fired oven is the key.
Utterly delicious too, is gelati.  We sampled LOTS of gelati.  Just so you know, if it is fluffed up like this:
it probably has an additive that gives it the extra volume.  Authentic gelati won't sit up like that.  We went to see gelati being made in Scoglitti (another of Carm's cousins), which is done in a big machine. 
 I also learned that my perennial favourite, coffee, may have been superseded by hazelnut, and that was one of the first things I tried to make when we got back:
That is a bit of hazelnut chocolate on the top
I googled away and found a few recipes to make the hazelnut-infused milk, which you then use to make normal vanilla ice-cream.  You can actually buy hazelnut paste which is what they use in Italy from specialist delicatessens.

2 cups hazelnuts
3 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 180c.  Put the hazelnuts on a tray and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until they start to brown (give them a shake half way through).  Allow to cool a bit, then put onto a clean tea towel and rub off the skins.  When they are completely cool ut them in the food processor and grind coarsely. 

Put the nuts and the milk in a saucepan and gently bring to the boil.  Take off the heat and allow to sit for about 2 hours for the flavours to infuse.

Strain the mixture through a square of muslin or chux over a sieve into a bowl, really squeezing out the milk.

You can then use the milk in a normal vanilla ice cream recipe, such as this one below:

2 eggs and 3 egg yolks
3/4 cup castor sugar
a vanilla bean, cut in half
1 1/2 cups hazelnut milk
2 cups cream

Put the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla bean and bring to the boil.  Remove from heat and allow vanilla to infuse for a few minutes.  Scape out seeds and add to the milk.
Beat the eggs and sugar for a few minutes until pale, then gently pour in the milk whisking.  Return the mix to a clean saucepan and stir continuously until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  Do not allow it to boil.  Cool slightly then refrigerate until cold.
Add the cream and a tablespoon of Frangelico if you fancy, then churn in an ice cream machine.

Sicilian Food Tours was a fabulous experience.  It is not a tour for food snobs, it is a tour for food lovers who want to have FUN.  Just remember...