Monthly Archives: September 2010

Broad beans and blood oranges

blood orange

Image by sweetbeetandgreenbean via Flickr

Yum yum, spring has sprung and we’ve taken full advantage of the delicious seasonal goodies of blood oranges & broad beans: we splashed out on a bottle of Campari to have with freshly squeezed blood orange juice at our regular long Sunday lunch with the delicious Kerry & Rod last week & followed drinks with broad bean & pecorino bruschetta and Spanish jamon…

Campari used to be my drink of choice a few moons ago, when I lived and drank in Melbourne as a young single thing – and when I had the energy to demand the proper measure (45mls) of the various bars if poured incorrectly – and drinking it the other day after ten years’ absence brought back many late night Negroni memories. Aaah, misspent youth!

Also, I found a lovely recipe for broad beans from Stephanie Alexander, so I set up my able sous chef Ava to podding:

We steamed the beans for 3 minutes, then re-podded to get the smaller, softer beans inside and smashed them straight away with the mortar & pestle. Then added a little salt & pepper, some grated pecorino and a glug of olive oil, stirred again and then served in a bowl to spread on yummy BBQ’d Brasserie Bread’s quinoa & soy sourdough, with a little garlic rubbed on. Just so delicious draped with a slither of jamon, am hungry just thinking about it now…

Pity Ava didn’t get in to the final product… those sneaky green vegetables!

PS. Soundtrack to this week’s cooking:
Smiley Culture – Shan-a-Shan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oC-yMtPDsAw
Jurassic 5 -Hey (instrumental) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjNjZq7_TAU
The Headhunters – If You’ve Got It, You’ll Get It http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0JedCdsWSo
Mayer Hawthorne – Maybe So Maybe No http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpfcydeSGeo (still…!)

Categories: Family, Food, Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Heirloom Tomatoes

Olly graced me with a second sleep today of two hours, which allowed me to dig the composted cow manure & lovely rich new soil into the cleared garden bed, and plant my new heirloom tomato seedlings. I’m so excited that I managed to achieve it as I usually would procrastinate & not get around to it, and leave the pots out until the little plants fried in the hot spring sun… When I worked at Sean’s Panaroma in the summer they used to make a very simple tomato salad, but the tomatoes were so delicious that you couldn’t believe the flavour in your mouth… I’m going to attempt to grow some of the same crazy ones I saw there: Black Russian, Green Zebra, Black Krim and Lemon Drop as well as Grosse Lisse and Principe Borghese. I hope to have some fabulous looking photos up here by Christmas!

It’s  a lovely feeling, to be making use of the vegetable beds, as I remember when we moved in almost two years ago and I felt such worry to be taking on another person’s established organic garden, with lots of vegetables I couldn’t identify. And I can fully understand how gardening is reccomended to people suffering from depression as it really does uplift the soul – especially when you see your seeds show their little green heads for the first time, and your seedlings flourish.

So, in anticipation  of a bumper crop of huge tomatoes in a few months’ time, here is my recipe for a wonderful and sneaky tomato/veggie sauce – perfect for pasta & rice, for kids big and small…

Sneaky Tomato Sauce
6-8 ripe tomatoes
a stick of celery
a carrot
a zucchini/some broccoli/whatever else!
half an onion
a clove of garlic
a few basil leaves
olive oil & salt
2 saucepans & a hand-held blender

Start by filling up one of the saucepans with water & setting over high heat to boil. In the meantime, chop up the onion and start to fry it off in the other saucepan with quite a good glug of the olive oil. After a minute or so add the chopped up carrot & celery and fry them off on high for a few minutes too. Then drop the heat to simmer, sprinkle a little salt over the top and sweat with the lid on while you do the next stage.

With the 1st pan of water boiling, drop the tomatoes in for 3 or 4 minutes. In the meantime chop up the zucchini or other veggies & add to the onion, carrot & celery. The tomatoes by this time should be ready to be pulled out to cool slightly – the skins now should be easy to peel off, if not put the tomatoes back in for another minute. Once all are peeled chop them up roughly and add to the veggies, with the crushed garlic & half a cup of water. Now bring up to the boil and then immediately turn down to simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring every so often.

If I’m in the middle of a hundred things, I leave the pot with the lid on, to rest until I’ve got time to add the basil & whizz it all up to a smooth sauce, and then pour it all into containers to freeze or chill or eat.

Que aproveche!

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Strawberry Jam for Christmas!

 

I’ve taken full advantage of all the lovely cheap strawberries available in the shops at the moment and bought some to bottle as jam for us and for Christmas presents… just near our house a grocer was selling 15 punnets for $10! I find it’s so worth the few hours of mess & attention to get beautiful and luscious home-made jam free from all the rubbish that one buys in the supermarket. So in the spirit of thrift & yummy food, here is my suggestion for a pressie for family and friends:

Mel’s Strawberry Jam Recipe
2kg and an extra punnet of strawberries
2kg white sugar
the juice of 2 lemons
a small amount of brandy
jars, kitchen towel, baking tray, large stock pot

I think it’s really important to wash your strawberries, especially if like me you can’t always afford organic ones… normal strawberries are coated in all sorts of pesticides & preservative sprays as they’re so soft and damageable, so it’s best to give them a quick soak in water with a few drops of vinegar added. The strawberries need to be as dry as possible so best to do this with enough time to lay them out to air dry before you need them for the recipe.

I save all my old jars (and now even my Granny saves them for me too!) – metal lidded ones, no plastic lids alas – and wash & drain them throughly. I warm the oven to 150 degrees C and while my jam is resting, I pop the jars onto a baking tray right side up and heat them in  the oven to sterilise. The lids I dry by hand & don’t include in the oven with the jars .

Chop off the stalks of the strawberries and  cut into quarters (I don’t like too many big bits in my jam, leave bigger if you do) and then measure up to give 2kg hulled weight, drop into a clean stock pot and gently heat so that all the berries are hot and starting to liquidise before adding all the sugar.

Gently heat the sugar & strawberry mixture for at least 20 minutes until all the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally – you can check if the granules are visible on the back of a wooden spoon. Once you are happy all is dissolved, add the lemon juice & crank the heat up to boil for around 15 minutes. You will need to stand close by to regulate the temperature as the jam can happy boil over if not watched! Also stir the bottom of the pot regularly so that the sugar doesn’t burn.

All the recipe books tell you to put some saucers into the freezer & then check the ‘set’ of the jam by dragging your finger over the tiop and seeing if it has formed a skin… I’ve never been able to do that and instead go by the general feeling of the jam when stirring it. You may well need to do another 10 minutes to get the best consistency… and then once happy, leave the pot to rest for another 10 minutes while you sort out your jars.

I recently bought a jam funnel which has revolutionised my jam-making escapades… at least for the large jars anyway as the funnel is huge, and doesn’t fit the small mustard-type ones, resulting in sloppy and sticky drips… hmmm, I must find an alternative!

Anyway I carefully bring the jars up out of the oven & use my ladle to drop the jam into them one by one, right to the top & take care to waste as little as possible… once they’re all done I cut up some little squares of kitchen towel, soak a piece at a time in a saucer of brandy & lay them over the top of the jars, & then close as tightly as possible, wiping them down with a damp cloth. Once the jars are cool, I check the lids are tight again and give them a proper wipe down.

When the jars are completely cold I make up labels for them and – hey presto! all done. And whatever I don’t use as pressies, we eat on buttery toast or cream-laden scones. Yum yum.

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Safe bath stuff for all the family?

Continuing on in my quest for good & sane products for my children and us, available here in Australia…  (see previous posts on sunscreen and chemicals)

I’ve been reading so much about the potential ill effects of fragrance, phthalates, petrochemical byproducts, SLS etc and cannot believe that some of the most trusted companies (Johnson & Johnson, Pantene, Nivea, l’Oreal et al – actually pretty much everything on a supermarket shelf) include these potentially carcinogenic or hormone/endocrine-altering chemicals. Unfortunately due to our arcane labelling laws, just because a product might be freely available here doesn’t mean that it is totally safe! It is time to start deciphering labels, however painful that may be. Luckily, you have me for that.

With this info utmost, I’ve come across some lovely stuff from the billie goat soap company. Listed on the bottles is this:

“Our products do not contain: Sulphates, Parabens, Propylene Glycol, Silicones, Phthalates, Mineral Oils, DEA, Ethoxylates, Petrochemical cleansers.”

What they do use is mainly fresh goats’ milk & essential oils, with a few other skin-friendly ingredients. I’ve already used quite a few of their products: 

Billie Baby Milk Baby Body Wash (great for Olly’s sensitive skin)
Billie Goat Soap Moisturiser (rubs on white but soaks in quickly, very light and leaves little residue) Billie Goat Soap Hand & Body Wash (very gentle: my hands are really dry from all the constant cleaning and wiping and washing up – it’s helping to prevent them looking like lizardskin) 
Plain Goats’ Milk Body Bar (a natural soap that lathers rich & creamy but beware! you need to keep it dry between washes or it mushes).

Hooray! I love them… they don’t use colour or synthetic fragrance. Do yourselves a favour and check them out. Available from Healthylife stores across Australia.

www.billygoatsoap.com.au
www.healthylife.net.au

ps I’ve just read that they were recently on national telly – is that a good thing or bad?!

Categories: Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Burning Hot – Peven Everett

Peven Everett – Burning Hot (Timmy Regisford remix) Am love love loving this latest Peven Everett tune… sounds like summer: I can’t wait for the long warm nights, the smell of bbq and the speakers blaring! And reminds of me of my carefree youth… Check it out xx

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More wine under $15

La Vielle Ferme 2009 Côtes du Ventoux Rosé 
From the prestigious Perrin family at Chateau de Beaucastel in France’s Rhône Valley comes this fab little rosé, perfect for spring Sunday lunches… A lovely vibrant pink, nose of strawberries & cherries, and juicy fruit on the palate balanced by good acidity and a little fruit tannin: finishing dry. Alcohol not super-evident like a lot of rosés available here (13.5% labelled) and my guess is that it’s predominantly grenache, so quite gluggable! Around $13 at Dan Murphy’s

Pikes ‘The Red Mullet’ 2008 Clare Valley Shiraz Tempranillo Grenache Mourvedre 
A cheeky blend from the wonderful Neil Pike, perfect for a Saturday night infront of the AFL on telly… ripe black & red berries framed by soft acidity, lovely finish without too much cerebral exertion…! About $13 as well, Dan’s

Chapoutier 2008 Coteaux-du-Tricastin
This has always been a great bargain, again predominantly grenache but red this time, and quite different from Aussie grenache in that the wine has elegant fruit weight and classic Rhône cedar characters – and is better suited to drinking with food than not. Chapoutier is another of the great names of the Rhône and has many levels of wine expense; this bottom-level is certainly worth checking out if you’re on a budget too… again, between $12-13 at Dan’s & VC

Categories: Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wine:best buys under $15?!

We’ve been trying to have three Alcohol Free Days every week lately: Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursdays (it was supposed to be more but Mondays are just too bleak to exist without at least a cheeky glass to end the day, and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are out for all the obvious reasons), mainly due to health and budget concerns… aaah budget concerns! The ole’ budget has honed my bargain-hunting skills as far as wine is concerned, and whilst I dream of Chassagne-Montrachet and Barolo, and even NZ Pinot, my purse says, ‘keep it around a tenner, love’.

Funny that my past life of work and play involved restaurants and their wine lists – as  a Sommelier in Melbourne and Sydney I sourced exclusive wines from smaller producers, niche product, classic and rare wines… but now that I’m at home as a mum in the suburbs the wine stores closest to my house are owned by the big guys, and my choices are defined by these: Woolies Liquor & Dan Murphy’s. Fitting then that my tastes (and purchases) are now in line with the bargain seeking majority!

In my time I’ve had a number of wine assessment roles:  managing winelists;  sitting on wine tasting panels for industry magazines and national press; wine show judge; committee member of the Australian Sommeliers’ Association etc and what I’ve seen is whilst there is an awful lot of wine out there, not all of it is great – and one can’t judge a bottle by how much one is paying for it! And from vintage to vintage things may not be the same either. Of course much of wine appreciation is subjective – my partner is quite happy to polish off an oxidised or corked bottle of wine, happily oblivious – but for those out there who are interested, here are my thoughts on a few goodies.

Wines we love at home right now:
Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2008
A fantastic ripper of a white from the company that put this Rhone varietal on the map in Australia. Fresh and floral, apricots and vanilla on the nose with a luscious, juicy mouthfeel and beautifully balanced acidity. A wine with the body of chardonnay but with more aromatics – this is always in the fridge come the weekend! Under $9 at Dan’s, slightly more at Woolies

Jacob’s Creek Grenache Shiraz 2008
I was a big wine company snob for a long time, until I sat in a riesling tasting a few years ago and was blown away by this company’s riesling and reserve riesling. I have found these unwooded whites very good from bigger producers such as this and avoided the reds as the oak handling in the reds has been too heavy handed (and in the case of the cheaper wines mainly due to oak chips) – this red wine is unwooded (unusual for a red) – fermented in stainless steel – and I love what it delivers for the price. Lovely cherry and red plum notes with a silky palate, and good balance between soft fruit tannins and gentle acidity. 9.99 at Woolies

Will update this as I much as I can – in the meantime, cheers!

Categories: Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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