Fennel, Orange & Salmon Bake

06/06/2014 | By

I know one shouldn’t do this, but I frequently experiment with my new recipes on unsuspecting dinner guests. This may or may not put you off if I invite you for a meal but, in my defense, I’ve never had to throw the dinner out and order pizza. Neither have I had any gastric disasters that I’m aware of, although my friends may just be too polite to say.

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Moroccan Sweet Potato & Chick Pea Soup

23/05/2014 | By

Well – so much for autumn in the Adelaide Hills. We’ve been enduring unimaginable weather torments here for the last week or two, with day after day of warm sunshine and endlessly mild and balmy evenings.

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Turkish Red Lentil Soup

08/11/2013 | By

The Blue Mosque

My recent holiday in Istanbul was nothing short of gastronomic heaven. As a result of it’s unique geographic location, straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey’s cuisine is a blissful combination of Central Asian, European and Middle Eastern cuisines all brought together and cultivated in 400 years of Ottoman kitchens. Their culinary tradition is rich in the use of lamb, beef, chicken, fish, vegetables of all kinds, pulses and the generous use of herbs and spices, in particular some of my favourites – cumin, mint, oregano, parsley and paprika. During the week I spent there I dined at street food stalls, traditional Turkish lunch houses and restaurants run by the new breed of modern, young, Turkish chefs and I did not have one dud meal. Not one. As you can imagine, that made me a very happy girl.

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Bulgarian Fresh Food – With Produce like This, No Wonder They Love Salads!

04/11/2013 | By

DON’T MISS OUT! WIN A $300 DOUBLE PASS TO GORGEOUS FESTIVAL HERE!

The mountains behind Sofia

Bulgaria is a very beautiful country, full of rolling mountains, glistening lakes and alpine valleys, with a culinary tradition influenced by 500 years of occupation and a strong agricultural tradition. Before World War II, agriculture was the chief sector of the Bulgarian economy, but the face of this changed substantially after the war with the collectivisation of over 90% of agricultural land. Private, domestic vegetable plots have always been maintained on some level, contributing quite substantially to alleviating food shortages at some stages of Bulgarian history and probably going some way to explaining the passion in that country for the range of fabulous, fresh salads available everywhere.

Fresh berries at Sofia's Women's Market

Since 2007, Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union and agriculture is once again a thriving part of the economy. The countryside is a cornucopia of orchards and fields of vegetable crops, and almost every home in every village that we drove through had extensive and well tended vegetable gardens. Most of the produce from these gardens is organic as few can afford costly fertilisers or pesticides.

figs! Sofia night markets

market  vendor at the Womens Market, Sofia

Those who live in the cities and towns source their fresh produce from a range of outdoor markets of varying sizes and at the random roadside stalls that pop up spontaneously in side lanes and street corners. I visited the largest of these, The Women’s Market, which is extensive, with a wide range of seasonal produce supplied and sold by small-holders from near-by outlying regions. The food here is truly magnificent, although it would be unrealistic to expect to find your new best friend here – the traders are a somber lot. This may have something to do with the prices which are eye-poppingly cheap – great for the consumer, but not such a happy circumstance for the grower.

red capsicums, The Women's Market, Sofia

the Women's Market, Sofia

I also paid a visit to the night markets on Graf Ignatiev Street in central Sofia. This is a popular shopping street, with trams running down the centre of the road. If retail therapy is what floats your boat, I’d suggest having a wander through the many small boutiques and stores around there but, once again, I just couldn’t take my eyes off the amazing fresh foods. One stall was selling hot, ready-cooked pumpkin which was available in whole slabs or prepackaged with a spoon, ready to eat while you wander around window-shopping.

Cooked pumpkin, night markets, Sofia.

pomegranates, Sofia Night Markets

 grapes, the size of small plums - Women's Market, Sofia

My visit was in the early days of the northern autumn, so wonderful food was still readily available – I’d imagine the selection would become much more limited later in the year, although I suspect the Christmas markets would be pretty special. With such abundance around me, I enjoyed fresh berries and fruit with my morning yoghurt (another of their specialties), but the one thing that truly blew me away was the flavour quality of the tomatoes. I ate the local specialty, Shopska Salad, every day and was never once disappointed in the colour, flavour or texture of the tomatoes. No wonder they’re so keen on their salads in Bulgaria – they’d be mighty disappointed if their tomato selection was limited to the poor examples we tolerate here.

Bulgarian tomatoes

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Spring and a Tomato and Three Cheese Tart

06/10/2013 | By

Tomatoes

Like everyone else in this world, I’ve gushed about spring in the past and droned on rapturously about the sunshine, flowers, birdies, bees, blah, blah, blah. That’s all lovely, of course, but there is another side to spring that has slightly fewer charms. I’m talking about the swallows which insist on annually nesting on my outdoor blinds, pooping all over said blinds and the table and chairs below. Or how about the changeable weather with it’s sunshine, gentle breezes, howling gales and pouring rains – often all in the course of just a few hours, meaning I am continuously underdressed or overdressed. Last week the evening temperature up here plummeted to 5C – just when we’d run out of fire wood. Then there’s the skyrocketing pollen counts and the subsequent cost of boxes of tissues and giant economy-sized packets of anti-histamines. And, most exciting of all, the sudden appearance of hungry and aggressively bad-tempered brown snakes who, combined with the triffid like growth of the grass/plants/weeds around our property, make my trips to the hen house to collect the eggs an anxiety-ridden scuttle, complete with long rubber boots and a machete. I’m telling you, it’s not all beer and skittles up here in springtime in the hills.

My first spring roses

Spring flowers, Columbine

There – I’m glad I’ve got that little moan off my chest.

Spring lavender & bee

Spring flowers, Banksia Rose

One thing I always welcome at this time of the year, though, is the reappearance of the first of the seasonal tomatoes. Tomatoes in general are mostly a disappointment these days, with even the pricey, vine-ripened ones failing to deliver much in the way of flavour, and my complete and utter inability to grow them up here means that I’m reliant on those I buy at the farmers markets. However, I recently made a slightly happy discovery with the purchase of a punnet of the mini Roma tomatoes from my local Foodland store. They seem to have a little more flavour than other commercially available tomatoes and really come into their own when slow roasted.

Tomato & 3 Cheese Tart

This recipe uses the tomatoes after they’ve been slow-roasted and, with frozen puff pastry and lots of fresh herbs from my garden, is another of my lazy-girl cheats dishes. I made it for my dear friend Liz for lunch the other day, along with a big plate of brownies for dessert and we were both pretty happy with the meal. Just one tip, watch the baking of this tart like a hawk. I didn’t and let it go just a little too long – it tasted great, but didn’t photograph so well.

Tomato and Three Cheese Tart
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 300 gms mini Roma tomatoes, halved
  • 50 mls olive oil
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh oregano
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • ½ cup of grated cheese (either mozzarella or cheddar, you decide)
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan
  • 100 gms goats chevre or feta
  • 1 egg, beaten
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 150C (300F).
  2. Toss halved tomatoes, ½ the bunch of thyme leaves, ½ the bunch of oregano leaves, salt, pepper and olive oil in a bowl, then place the tomatoes on a lined baking tray, cut side up. Place in oven and roast for 1 hour. Leave to cool slightly.
  3. Raise oven temperature to 200C (400F).
  4. Place thawed pastry on a sheet of oven-proof paper, cover with another sheet and roll out gently to a rectangular shape.
  5. Leaving the pastry on the bottom sheet of paper, place it on a baking tray and using a sharp knife score a line 2 cms around the four sides of the inside of the pastry, making a 2 cm frame around the edge of the pastry.
  6. Sprinkle the interior rectangle with the cheddar cheese and the parmesan cheese and dot with the slightly cooled, roasted tomatoes.
  7. Sprinkle with the remaining thyme leaves and brush the pastry edge with egg wash.
  8. Bake in oven for 15-17 minutes - no longer or cheese will overcook.
  9. Scatter the tart with crumbled goats chevre or feta, then sprinkle with the remaining oregano leaves.

 

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Chicken, Leek, Fig and Fennel Ragout – a Winter Solstice Celebration

24/06/2013 | By

Winter solstice garden

Winter has been nipping at our heels in the Adelaide Hills of late, with a notable sartorial focus being placed by the locals on fleecy track pants, flannelette pyjamas, fluffy slippers or uggies and woolly hats.  This is a time of the year when comfort takes precedence over elegance (for anyone over the age of 25, that is) and some among us begin to wonder just exactly what time is considered too early to slip into the aforementioned cosy night attire.  Please be warned – anyone knocking on our door after about seven in the evening will not find us in a fit state to formally receive guests unless forewarned.  This is also the time of year when winter is at it’s deepest, but this weekend saw the passing of the winter solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year – thus the summer light begins to glow ever so faintly at the end of the tunnel.

Winter solstice 2013

The winter solstice has much more significance in the icy northern hemisphere winters where it gets a good deal colder than here.  In ancient times, winter was a hazardous and uncertain season with no guarantee that the subsistence rural communities of the colder climates were going to make it through to the end intact.  Much depended upon careful planning during the harvest months and even more careful use of resources during the winter and the solstice celebrated the success of surviving the worst of it.   Some communities observed it before the worst of the deep winter, making it the last of the feasting celebrations, using the fresh meat afforded by the killing off of cattle to avoid having to feed them through the winter.

Winter solstice mists

The rituals associated with the winter solstice vary depending upon the cultural background of the tradition.  Many pagan rituals include the use of fire to signify warmth, cleansing for the coming new season and the renewal of light .  The ancient Romans kicked up their heels with feasting, gift-giving and days of Bacchanalian partying.  While we complain of the cold here in the southern hemisphere, we really don’t generally do it all that tough so I stop short of celebrating with days of decadence and debauchery, but did invite some friends over for dinner.

I had some irresistibly soft and sticky Willabrand dried figs  that I’d bought at Adelaide Showgrounds Farmers Market and wanted to combine them with some of the beautifully fat fennel bulbs that are in season.  I surfed around on the interwebz for a bit searching for inspiration and eventually developed this chicken, leek, fig and fennel dish.  It’s not the loveliest and most photogenic dish in the world, but it’s right up there for flavour and boasts something of the “wow” factor.  If you can’t find fig syrup or vincotto, use honey instead, but do try to find the fennel pollen.  It won’t overpower the dish with a fennel flavour, but adds a final burst of freshness that will surprise you.   Add that to the fact that it is another of my simple one-dish-wonders and it’s ticked all my boxes.  I hope you like it.

Winter solstice chicken, fig and fennel ragout

Winter Solstice Chicken, Leek, Fig & Fennel Ragout
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A warming one-dish comfort meal that will excite the taste buds on a chilly winters night.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 kilo chicken chops (chicken thighs on the bone, with or without skin - you decide)
  • 1 large (or 2 small) fennel bulb, sliced into wedges with base attached to hold together
  • 2 large leeks, sliced thinly
  • 4 large carrots, chopped in chunks
  • 250 gms soft, dried figs, roughly sliced
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 100 mls olive oil for frying
  • salt
  • pepper
  • fig syrup (or vincotto)
  • fennel pollen (available in gourmet stores)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 180C.
  2. Heat olive oil in shallow fry pan, season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and brown all over, in small batches. Set aside.
  3. Add more oil if needed, then add sliced leeks and sweat down until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Spread out in a large baking dish.
  4. Check oil again, then add the fennel wedges, browning on each side, but taking care not to break them up when turning. Distribute them in baking dish.
  5. Add browned chicken pieces to the baking dish, nestling them in on top of the leeks, among the fennel.
  6. Add the carrots and chopped figs.
  7. Pour over the hot stock and the wine.
  8. Cover with foil, place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes, until thighs are cooked through.
  9. Remove thighs and set aside in a warm place.
  10. Stir vegetables gently then, leaving baking dish uncovered, return to oven and cook vegetables for further 5-10 minutes until the liquid is reduced and thickened.
  11. Return chicken to the dish, stir gently to coat with vegetables and sauce.
  12. Drizzle with fig syrup, sprinkle with fennel pollen and serve.

All of the photos used in this post were taken on my Iphone and, if you think they look familiar, were previously shared on my Instagram account.  For these, and more, follow me on Instagram here.

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