A Food & Travel Blog

Tea time – Moroccan Mint Tea

30/06/2010 | By

One of the more, er, interesting aspects of life in the country is the wildlife. Now I’m not talking about the wonderful bird life that we enjoy, or the koalas that fight at night or even our beautiful black cattle. The kind of wildlife that has been preoccupying me of late is small, grey and furry – mice! At the end of every spring, as the weather gets colder and (hopefully) wetter these cursed little rodents start to try and find somewhere warm and cosy to spend their winter – and inside the house looks pretty good to them. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of something tiny and grey scuttling past me in the pantry or we hear small scuffling sounds in the cupboard, but often we don’t see them, just the signs of where they have been. It seems to be impossible to keep them out and I have yet to have any success with trapping them, so discrete little boxes of something tasty are tucked away in corners for them to find.

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Australian garlic vs imported garlic – what’s the difference?

16/06/2010 | By

When you toddle off to the shops to pick up your produce do you ever wonder where it comes from? If you are anything at all like me, then you are probably trying to make the shopping as fast and as painless as possible, as you slot it in between the other multitude of tasks on your agenda on any given day. It is generally easy – and necessary – to just whizz through the shop, grab what you need and get on to the next thing and grocery shopping really shouldn’t take up too much head space – or should it? If we are to have any control at all over what we are putting in our family’s mouths we need to be as informed as possible because even the simplest of purchases can become an ethical dilemma these days.

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Amore and Amaretti – Love and cheesecake – Italian style

09/06/2010 | By

Besides chocolate, nothing makes me happier than a good read so I was tickled to bits when, recently, I was given a copy of a new book to review. Published by Adelaide’s own Wakefield Press, it is by an Australian writer called Victoria Cosford whom I coincidently met up with while in Canberra for the Slow Food weekend. This is her first book and was quite some time in the making but, I think, worth it – I enjoyed it immensely! It will be officially released at the Byron Bay Writers festival in August, but is available in the shops now and if you like food, men or Italy you won’t be disappointed. I particularly loved the gorgeously seductive cover photo, which Victoria told me was a photo she took herself while wandering through the Boboli Gardens in Florence. If it is as cold and windy wherever you are, as it is on our hill today, then you could do far worse that to curl up with a copy of this book!

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Pumpkin and Leek Risotto – Slow food

02/06/2010 | By

If you follow me on Twitter  then you will know that I have just returned home from the Slow Food national congress and annual general meeting in Canberra. The Slow Food movement was formed in Italy by Carlo Petrini in 1986 in response to plans to open a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Since it’s beginnings, Slow Food has expanded and now boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries, organized in groups called “convivia”. These groups are not just a bunch of people getting together for a nice long lunch, as some seem to think, but are people whose aim is to advocate for “good, clean and fair” food. In promoting this the movement cooperates with the development of seed banks, preserving local culinary traditions, preserving and promoting local food products, educating the public about the risks of monoculture, fast food, industrialized food production and agriculture and lobbies for and supports organic food production.

There were various speakers gathered for the congress, including Stephanie Alexander who spoke about her wonderful Kitchen Garden project, but the one I found to be most inspiring was the Slow Food International Secretary General, Paolo Di Croce, who had come to Australia specifically for the meeting.

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Chocolate 101 – Molten Chocolate Puddings

06/05/2010 | By

Looking back over my previous posts, since the very beginning of this blog, I feel I have been admirably restrained. While alluding to my fondness – ahem, passion – for chocolate I have resisted the urge to include a mention of this fine foodstuff in every post. There are no rambling paragraphs about the sensual texture and seductive mouth-feel of great chocolate, the soothing psychological effects it has, the medical benefits of the anti-oxidants in good dark chocolate or the many and varied ways in which chocolate can be prepared and presented.

As I said – admirably restrained!

Chocolate is a product of the cacao bean, which originated in South America. The earliest indications of it being included in human diets go back as far as 1100 B.C. Cacao beans were used as currency throughout Meso-america and the consumption of chocolate was limited to the elite in Mayan and then Aztec culture. The Spanish discovered it during their aggressive romp through South America and took it home to Europe in the 16th century, where it became the fashionable drink of those upper classes. Cacao was laborious and time consuming to process into chocolate, thus it remained the almost exclusive pleasure of the wealthy until the industrial revolution brought about the development of mechanical grinders and processors. As a consequence of this, chocolate production became economically viable and soon it was available to just about anyone who wanted it!

Cacao production is now one of the world’s most important cash crops, with beans currently selling for well over $3,000 (USD) per tonne. Of course, cacao beans vary in quality and the exclusive chocolatiers of Europe and America guard their sources of prime beans jealously, using only the very best to produce chocolate of complex flavour and exquisite texture. Makers of mass-produced chocolate merchandise source cheaper beans grown largely on the Ivory Coast of Africa, but these beans come with a hidden cost. In order to keep their production costs down and maintain their position in a very competitive market, these growers will frequently use child labour on their farms. These, sometimes very young, children are often stolen from their families or sold into what is basically a form of slavery by extended family members. They are expected to work for long hours performing dangerous tasks and are given no access to education. Organisations have been set up to try to prevent the use of children in this way, but unscrupulous growers and buyers frequently find ways to circumvent the rules set in place.

So, the next time you are out shopping and decide to buy chocolate, I would suggest that you think about these hidden costs before you make a purchase based solely on the cost of the item. Higher quality chocolate has virtually no additives to make it more “chocolatey”, contains more anti-oxidants so is better for you, is more satisfying meaning that you are likely to eat less of it and tastes infinitely better. Worth paying a little more for, surely!!

The following recipe is one that has become a great favourite in our house. Watching the television one evening, I saw Nigella make these. They were so seductively lovely and easy to make that I scribbled down the recipe and raced into the kitchen. Brilliant for a dinner party, they can be prepared in five minutes and put aside until you are ready to pop them into the oven – equally, the kids can knock them up for a quick, indulgent dessert. The original recipe made four puddings, but I often eke it out to make five with no-one feeling short changed. I use Lindt 70% chocolate to make these and serve with a dollop of very thick cream.

 

Molten chocolate Puddings
 
Author: Amanda McInerney of www.lambsearsandhoney.com
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
My version of a delicious recipe I saw on a tv show.
Ingredients
  • 125 gm butter
  • 125 gm dark chocolate
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
Instructions
  1. Grease 4 or 5 ramekins. Preheat oven to 210C.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter carefully together in microwave. I usually put it in at about 80% for 1 minute which melts the butter, then stir until all the chocolate is melted.
  3. Beat eggs and sugar together well, add the flour and whisk it in.
  4. Add chocolate and butter and stir to blend well.
  5. Pour into prepared ramekins, put in oven and cook for 10-11 minutes.
 

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Crostata for the Italian tarts

28/04/2010 | By

I seem to be slipping into an “Italian” phase at the moment.

This happens to me periodically and has several different triggers.  Sometimes it is  the result of a book that I have read, especially a new Italian cookbook, or a particularly beguiling movie I have recently seen.  It was at it’s worst when I returned home from a trip to Italy and Paris that I took with the Cupcake Queen 18 months ago.  I was totally seduced by Italy and, once I had recovered from the jet-lag and was able to drive without forgetting where I was going, headed straight for a wonderful Italian grocery store in the north-eastern suburbs of Adelaide.  I left laden down with smallgoods, cheese, pasta, mustard fruits and all sorts of bits and pieces in jars, that I had previously only seen in the markets of Florence, and our meals had a distinctly Italian flavour about them for weeks!

We are fortunate to have here in Adelaide some wonderful chefs who come from an Italian tradition and, after I have attended their cooking demonstrations, their influence stays with me, informing my food for days or weeks – depending on how vocal the thankless teenagers become in their requests for “plain” food!  The trigger for this present bout of  what I call “ethnicity envy”  are the current editions of a couple of well known food magazines, who have both published their annual “Italian” issues, prompting in me and the Cupcake Queen  a wave of nostalgia for that memorable trip.   The CQ has had especially wistful memories of a small bakery in Rome where she developed a deep and abiding fondness for their jam crostata – with good reason.  Their pastry was perfectly tender with just a hint of lemon, covered with dark berry jam – brilliant!

Now, I’m about to digress a bit here, but hang with me – you’ll see where I’m going very soon.

If you have read my “About Me” page, you will know I feel that my upbringing was marred by cooking that left quite a bit to be desired.  It seems that this remark stirred up some defensive feelings in one or two of my (much older – memories failing?) cousins who insist that I am mistaken.  They pointed out that my Grandmother was quite elderly when we went to live with her and past her culinary prime.  I mentioned this to my mother the other day who raised her eyebrows and agreed with me totally.  Her parents were publicans all their lives and Grandma never cooked unless she absolutely had to – fortunately for her (and her hotel guests) she generally had a cook in her employ, thus averting the need for her to extend herself in the kitchen.   I have some fond memories of some of her food, but the jam tart that so impressed me as a child was made with a commercial pastry mix (Just Add Water!!), not to be compared with the delightful almond and lemon scented pastry of that Roman bakery.

This recipe for Crostata uses the Italian short pastry  – pasta frolla – flavoured with lemon rind, although vanilla can be substituted for the lemon or added to it.  As a beginning point for the pastry I used a recipe from a magazine, tweaking it very minimally.  I used some beautiful OO flour that I had waiting for just the right recipe – and this is it!  We were both very happy with the result – all we needed was Rome to make it perfect.

Jam Crostata
 
Author: Amanda McInerney of www.lambsearsandhoney.com
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
My take on an Italian classic, using the food processor to make life easier.
Ingredients
  • 180 gms OO flour
  • 60 gms icing sugar
  • 60 gms almond meal
  • Rind of 1 lemon, finely grated
  • 100 gms unsalted butter
  • 1 egg, plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten
  • 200 gms best quality jam
Instructions
  1. Grease 24 cm tart pan. Preheat oven to 170C.
  2. Place all pastry ingredients in processor and pulse until JUST coming together. Do not over-work the pastry.
  3. Lightly pat into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  4. Roll pastry out to fit the base of tart pan, approx 5mm thick and cut pastry off cuts into strips.
  5. Cover pastry base with an even layer of jam, right to the edges. Arrange strips on top in a lattice. Brush strips with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.
  6. Bake at 170C for about 30-35 minutes.
 

 

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