I’m a great adherent to the belief that life is for learning – and I hope I never, ever stop learning. In fact, if there’s one thing I have picked up in my time on this planet is that the scope of the things I don’t know is endless. In the light of that, I’m always happy to take any opportunity to pick up new skills or broaden the meagre few that I have.
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In theory, it is actually autumn now in Australia, but we all know that March generally has a few searingly hot days up her sleeve – especially here in South Australia. It’s at this time of year that most of us are beginning to look forward to the cooler mornings and evenings. I know many are about to start turning their cookbooks to the comfort foods section, but I’m not quite done with salads yet.
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There are days when even a domestic goddess such as my humble self struggles for the inspiration and motivation to put a meal on the table. I enjoy cooking – no, really, I do – but the mind-crushing tedium of deciding what to cook every, single, bloody, night really burns my biscuits sometimes. The best way around those occasions is to be the type of efficient paragon who sits down on a weekend and works out the week’s menu. No last minute head-scratching, anxiety-racked ravaging through the freezer or panicked eleventh hour shopping visits in those homes. No sir – just happy, shiny faces around the table and a wholesome, home-cooked meal on it. Every. Night.
Probably no teenagers and young adults with fascinating lives and prevaricating plans in those homes either. The number of people expecting to put on a nose-bag at dinner time in my house can vary wildly and with almost no notice. One evening a few weeks back I went from anticipating six for a family roast dinner to buying take-aways for two – all in the space of three hours, as the numbers dwindled in the face of better offers. For reasons like these and because I can be very lazy at times, I like to keep some quick cheats in the pantry. There are the old stand-by’s of tinned beans and fish, but also a locally produced and wittily named range of “Thistle Be Good” products that I adore, made by the delightfully Celtic Jacqui Good.
Originally from Kirkcaldy in Fife, Scotland, Jacqui found herself in Australia in 1999, having indulged a fanciful wanderlust which took her nowhere in particular and everywhere in general. Still wafting on the breeze (yes – a little like thistle down) it took her nine months to make her way to Adelaide where she promptly lost her heart, but found her home. Settling with her Australian partner south of Adelaide, Jacqui was surprised to find how quickly she felt at home. “I feel I belong here more than I ever did in Scotland” she told me. Which is all just as well really, as she has become such an integral part of the South Australian and southern region food scene.
Jacqui took her first steps into the food world while working in the wine industry at a well known McLaren Vale cellar door. Local well-respected food icon Russell Jeavons had taught Jacqui how to make the now popular Egyptian nut and spice blend, dukkah, and she was making it for functions and selling small amounts of it at the cellar door. The passing mention of its possible use as a meat rub by a customer sent Jacqui scurrying off to her books to learn what a meat rub actually was. It wasn’t long before her range was extended to include “The Rub”, followed a few years later by a range of prepackaged risotto and couscous blends and now her quinoa mix.
Jacqui and Thistle Be Good are a wonderful example of the role farmers markets have to play in developing and incubating small business – the Willunga Farmers Market is where Jacqui began to sell her range to the general public. It quickly became clear to Jacqui that she would need acceptable commercial facilities to produce her growing range of products and she was one of the group of local food producers who set about establishing the first council approved community kitchen in her area.
Thistle Be Good now boasts 18 products over five ranges, employs four people, is still produced locally, with the kitchen in the town of Willunga and the office in Aldinga, and is now also available nationally, with distributors in all Australian states. Jacqui is an advocate of “clean” food and always looks to local sources for her ingredients in the first instance so this is one product that I’m very happy to use to make my life easier. I was already a fan of both the couscous mix and the risotto mix, but the quinoa blends have really won my heart – especially the Persian Date and Pistachio mix. I used it the other night as the base for this very healthy, tasty and brilliantly quick Persian chicken salad. I added my divineconfit cherry tomatoes and this recipe is as good a reason as any to make them. The mix is delightful as it comes, but I admit to beefing mine up a bit with some added spice – just because that’s what I do.
- 1 Pkt "Thistle Be Good" Persian Date and Pistachio Quinoa
- 350 gms cooked chicken meat
- 4 spring onions, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, sliced
- 1 cucumber, chopped
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or cherry tomato confit, if you have it)
- 150 gms fetta, cubed
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
- 1 bunch fresh mint, chopped
- 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Prepare quinoa as per the instructions on the packet. Fork lightly through to make it fluffy.
- Combine the quinoa with the rest of the ingredients, drizzle with the olive oil and toss it all lightly together before serving.
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While my lovely northern hemisphere readers are all huddled into their woolly sweaters, enjoying belly-warming soups and casseroles and sipping steaming mugs of hot chocolate we are cooking in an altogether different fashion down here in the wide brown land. This summer started off hot and fiery early in the season and shows no signs of changing it’s colours. There are terrifyingly huge fires burning in many regions of the country at the moment and hundreds of people have already lost their homes. Here in South Australia we have endured some scorching days of late, including one that went up to 45C last week – that’s over 110F in northern hemisphere-speak !
Needless to say, salads have been the only things to come out of my kitchen (once again) over the last week or two. These were initially augmented with the Christmas ham leftovers, cooked free-range chooks from the shop and seared flesh from the barbecue, but in 45C weather it is way too hot to be standing over a flame flicking sausages. However, there is only so many times I can get away with the regular repertoire that the family deems acceptable, so I’m always scratching around looking for something newish.
The hunt took on an added urgency a couple of weeks back when I invited my vegetarian friend Jennifer, from Delicieux, and her family over for a barbecue while they were visiting Adelaide. Now, I’m a resourceful cook and can churn out any number of respectable veggoe dishes, but this meal was going to be heavy on the meat – not least because Jennifer’s husband has two hungry boys! In light of that, I was very keen to find a dish that would be delicious and nutritionally balanced enough to pass the scrutiny of both a gourmet vegetarian and a bunch of blokes! I had a memory lingering in the back of my mind of a particularly good chick pea (garbanzo’s to you chilly northerners) salad that another friend of mine made for a group meal early in December. A quick email, a few tweaks and I was happy!
Using canned chick peas (not the imported ones, folks – pay the extra for the Australian grown) makes this a fabulously quick and simple salad – the spices make it a stand out one! I think this dish is truly embodies what I love about sharing food – a salad developed from a recipe by my friend Liz and made for my friend Jennifer. Perfect!
- 2 400gm cans chick peas (garbanzos) drained, rinsed & strained
- 6 spring onions, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup currants
- 1 preserved lemon, rind only, finely chopped
- Juice of 1 fresh lemon
- 200 ml olive oil
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
- 1 Tbsp ground cumin
- 1 Tbs paprika
- 1 Tbs ground cinnamon
- Baby spinach leaves
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 200-300 gms Greek-style yoghurt
- Pomegranate molasses
- Combine chick peas, onions, garlic, currants, preserved lemon, spices and olive oil, lemon juice and soy sauce in a large bowl. Mix and leave to marinate for several hours. The salad should look rich and red from the paprika.
- To serve, line a shallow dish with baby spinach leaves, pile the chick peas on the leaves, then dollop the yoghurt on top. Drizzle generously with pomegranate molasses (or honey) then sprinkle with parsley.
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Wow – this is looking like it might start to become a habit! Here I am with a post ready to go for Celia’s – Fig Jam and Lime Cordial – regular, monthly segment where we indulge in the more inquisitive side of our natures and have a quick sqizz around each other’s kitchens. This is the second time in a row that I’ve managed to join in!
I’ve been waiting ever so eagerly for the first tomatoes of the season so I could make a delicious rose-water scented Moroccan salad from Paula Wolfert – one of my favourite experts on modern Moroccan cuisine. Obviously, this is the before shot – I was a little to too eager to eat them once they were done – and is a stunningly different way to prepare tomatoes.
My friend Liz has been traveling in the US of late and came home with some genuine Boston Tea Party tea for me – although I’m pretty sure this hasn’t been dredged up out of the harbour! She also bought me these gorgeous coasters woven in the style of Persian rugs, just to add a little bit of style to my cuppa.
I’ve been living vicariously through my friends holidays of late. This beautifully packaged little ceramic box is full of Kampot Pepper and was brought home to me from Cambodia by another friend. It is reputed to be the very best pepper in the world and is famed for it’s delicate and enthralling aroma. I’m quite shallow, so I just love it for the box it came in.
The delightful people at Adelaide’s famous Haighs Chocolates sent me a little surprise in the post, a sample of their newest treat – the very sublime Creme Brulee Truffle. I had to hide these from my loved ones, but it was worth it – I’d love to know how they get that delicate little crunch into this rich, creamy, decadent, indulgence.
The wicked folk at Loving Earth had a special on a while ago and I was powerless in the face of two words close to my heart being used in the same sentence – chocolate and sale. They sell these raw chocolate blocks in packs of 11 – but they’re raw and sweetened with coconut nectar, so that makes them a health food really – right?
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Well folks, I’ve been a little lax on the seasonal secrets front for a while now, but with Jupiter Creek CSA up and running I’m back on deck for a regular weekly posting of inspired ideas for using up that gorgeous, fresh, local produce.
I was very excited to find some wickedly good looking heirloom carrots in my boxes and couldn’t wait to get them into some dishes. The apathetic adolescents roused themselves from their customary torpor long enough to express disquiet about the unexpected colour of some of the carrots and so found themselves on the receiving end of a brief discussion on heirloom varieties, the preservation of biodiversity, vegetable colours and associated nutrient values.
The growing focus on industrial agriculture and it’s reliance on limited varieties of plant strains is resulting in both a dangerous diminishment of biodiversity as the older heirloom varieties vanish from the fields and a concurrent reduction in nutrient levels of food crops. Heirloom fruit and vegetable varieties are a reservoir of genetic diversity and continued production of them will help maintain a larger food crop gene pool and help safeguard against possible future food crises. Add to this the fact that nutritional research has shown that colourful vegetables contain different and essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals – all of which are necessary for optimal health. As a very loose, general guide it is safe to assume that the deeper the colour of the food, the more nutritionally dense it will be, so the deep purple carrots in my box were clearly edible powerhouses.
One of my very favourite ways to prepare root vegetables is to simply slow roast them. I just adore the sweetness that they take on as the sugars caramelise in the oven and I love playing around with fresh herbs and different spices to add a flavour kick. In order to beef up a particularly bland meal the other night (a special request for comfort food – tuna mornay) I bathed chunks of carrot in local olive oil, then sprinkled quite liberally with ground cumin, coriander and Murray River salt, before slow roasting them – heavenly. Tonight I think we’ll be taking advantage of the last of the milder weather and enjoying a carrot salad. I bought myself a nifty julienne slicer and have a big bunch of fresh herbs to use up, too. Carrot salad can be just about anything you like, but this will be our version tonight.
- 1 orange carrot, julienned
- 1 purple carrot, julienned
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced
- ½ cup chopped fresh herbs (I used basil, coriander, parsley)
- 150 gms feta cheese, cubed
- 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
- 2 Tbsp honey
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup raspberry vinegar
- Freshly ground pepper
- Sea salt
- Toss carrots, herbs and feta together.
- Whisk honey, oil and vinegar together, add salt and pepper to taste.
- Toss vegetables in dressing, then sprinkle with sunflower seeds before serving.