Well folks we are really coming to the pointy end of the year now, with only ten sleeps left until the fat man shows up. It’s a ridiculously busy time of the year for us all as we race to finish important jobs off at work, catch up with everybody we haven’t had time for all during the year, shop furiously for our nearest and dearest and desperately plan the execution of one of our most significant meals of the year. Christmas food comes in many different cultural shapes here in Australia and we are often a lot more casual about our big dinner than in the colder climates. While many of us enjoy sitting down to the formal hot baked dinner with all the trimmings, many others are happy with a cold seafood meal, a slap-up barbecue or a picnic at the beach. As for me, well I love to do my best to keep the meal as local as possible, but I’m also a bit lazy and am very happy to find shortcuts wherever I can.
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It’s been pretty hysterical in this house for the last couple of weeks as those of you who follow my Facebook page may be aware. The 21st birthday is all done and dusted, my youngest eventually made it to Vancouver and the last of the year 12 examinations was held this morning (I’m not expecting to see my son for the next day or two). Admittedly, the hysteria surrounding all of this activity was mostly on my part as looming over all of the above-mentioned I was looking at the prospect of some quite unpleasant dental surgery. (Hmm, possible oxymoron – is there any pleasant dental surgery?) Ten days ago they strapped me down in the chair, filled me full of happiness-inducing medication and spent two and a half hours doing unspeakable things to teeth and jawbones. Unfortunately the happiness induced by the magic medication only lasts as long as the surgery – after that I was on my own with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics and what they termed a soft-soft diet. Shudder.
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I guess most people who read this blog are in agreement with me that to eat as locally as possible is a good thing. The reduction in the use of fossil fuels needed to move food across long distances is good for the planet, the injection of funds to regional growers and producers is good for the local economy and food that is consumed as close as possible to it’s source of production is fresher, with less deterioration in the available nutrients, making it more beneficial and healthy to eat. So – it’s all good! However, trying to eat an exclusively local diet, depending upon what climatic region you live in, will probably lead to tears of boredom before bedtime. Here in South Australia there are a wealth of foods that we grow, and grow very well, but there are plenty that, for economic or prevailing local weather condition reasons, we don’t. I love good food and am not really prepared to go without a lot of the goodies that I can’t source locally, so when I’m choosing what food my family are to eat I look at local produce first and then fill in the gaps with the next nearest available source.
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The link to the Adelaide Food Connect page with the box contents for this week is here.
Spring is just beginning to sprung up here in the Adelaide Hills – and I know this for sure because we had our first brown snake sighting of the season last weekend! This is always a slightly interesting time as, when they first wake up after their winter sleep, snakes are hungry, looking for a mate and generally pretty tetchy – not really morning people at all! Add this to the fact that brown snakes can be pretty belligerent at the best of times and it puts quite a spring into your step when the grass is a bit high.
Early spring is an interesting time for producers, too, as the cold weather crops are finishing off just before the spring ones are ready, but our fresh, organic boxes of produce are still looking pretty good.
There are more peas in the boxes this week and they are sweet, plump and lovely. I’m still eating them raw and put together a very quick spring salad last night with my cos lettuce torn up, grated fresh carrot, paper thin slices of raw zucchini sliced with a potato peeler, chopped spring onion and fresh peas. I dressed the lot with a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a good slurp of extra virgin olive oil and served it with slices of fried halloumi cheese (a big favourite in this house). Another delicious idea is to quickly blanch florets of broccoli and some fresh peas and toss them together with bacon that has been chopped and fried until crisp.
It is still pretty chilly in the evenings so soups shouldn’t drop off the menu just yet and I concocted a pea soup that I have served both hot or chilled with equally good results. This recipe is for those lucky enough to own a Thermomix, but can be adapted very easily and pureed in a normal processor.
Chilled Pea and Mint Soup
6 spring onions
20ml olive oil
900ml stock (stock concentrate and water)
500gm fresh or frozen peas
generous handful of fresh chopped mint
Cut spring onions into 2 or 3 pieces and chop in Thermomix for 5 seconds on speed 6.
Add olive oil and cook for 2 minutes, 100 degrees at speed 1.
Add stock and peas, cook 6 minutes, 100 degrees, speed 1.
Add mint, cook 2.3 minutes, 100 degrees, speed 1.
Puree by slowly bringing speed up to 10 for 1 minute.
Chill for 4 hours.
Serve with a swirl of plain yoghurt or sour cream and sprinkle with extra mint.
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Maggie Alderson, who writes a regular column in the Good Weekend magazine on Saturdays in “The Age” newspaper, spoke last weekend of how she feels she has deluded herself into believing home-made cakes and baked goods, cheese, butter and home-made smallgoods are actually health foods. She writes that it is delusional and deranged thinking, but she is really not so far off the truth!
One very useful tip that can be taken from Michael Pollan is to never eat anything your great Grandmother doesn’t recognize as food and nothing will drive that point home faster than a quick read of the ingredients list of a packaged, store-bought cake! Depending on the product, these baked goods can have anything up to 20-25 different ingredients in them, including things with very long names that look as though they have come straight out of the science lab – certainly not out of any kitchen my great Grandmother would recognize.. Chemicals are used to tweak texture, flavour, colour and shelf life, often in an effort to imitate the home made product, we then blithely feed these to our families without much thought.
However, a basic, homemade cake has only four or five natural ingredients in it – flour, sugar, eggs, butter and/or milk. These cakes are not meant to last for weeks on the shelf. They are meant to be, and in this house usually are, consumed/devoured within a day or two and are made with pure, familiar, whole foods. Of course,excessive consumption of any foods, including homemade, whole food goodies, does not contribute to a healthy diet, but there can be room for treats in a nutritious, well-balanced diet.
One of the justifications often used for the purchase of artificially coloured, flavoured and preserved snacks is a lack of time to bake, but in reality baking can take as little or as much time as you like. It is a skill that can be taught to kids from a relatively early age and using one of the inexpensive mixers, processors or stick blenders freely available, it is often quicker to mix up a cake and stick it in the oven than it is to drive to the shops. It is certainly more satisfying and the end result is far better tasting than anything out of a plastic wrapper.
The following recipe is for one of my late summer favourites – an upside down plum cake. I look forward to our plums every year so that I can make a couple of these and because of the birds, as mentioned in a previous post, you can imagine my disappointment when I thought I had missed out this year. But, thanks to the folks at Food Connect, I was thrilled to find some beautiful, sweet, juicy blood plums in my last delivery and wasted no time in getting this recipe into the oven.
This is a particularly forgiving recipe and I often substitute, depending what is on hand. Sometimes I use buttermilk, sometimes light sour cream, other times yoghurt – using sour cream (full or low fat) gives a lovely rich cake. If you use sour cream or yoghurt you may need to add a little milk to loosen up the batter. I just love making this with plums, but apples or even bananas would be pretty good too. I serve it with a good dollop of whipped cream, but yoghurt or ice cream would work as well. In fact, when I’m not looking, the husband likes to keep all the options open.
Again, I use the good old Thermomix, but any processor or blender will do.
- 2 Tbsp melted butter
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 4-6 plums, sliced
- 1 cup SR flour
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla paste (or natural vanilla essence)
- 2/3 cup buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 165C. Grease sides of a 20(ish) cm round cake pan.
- Coat bottom of cake pan with the melted butter, sprinkle with the brown sugar and arrange plum slices.
- Place remaining ingredients into processor and blend until well combined – 30-60 seconds. Spoon batter evenly over plums.
- Bake for approx 35 mins, or until skewer comes out clean.
- Leave in pan for 5-10 minutes, then invert onto serving plate. Serve warm or cold – anyway you serve it, it is great!
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For many years I had lusted after an Aga – the stored heat cooker so popular in middle-class English kitchens. Living down on the plain made it impossible to ever contemplate one. It was not really cold enough in the winter to justify having a permanent source of heat quietly throbbing in a corner of the kitchen and my discovery of the astronomical price tag quickly put paid to any thoughts I may have had about beginning a campaign to break down the husband’s steely resolve.
But I wanted one.
Our eventual decision to move up into the chilly reaches of the Onkaparinga Valley, coupled with the discovery that Aga’s could be bought as reconditioned, second-hand units caused new hope to spring in my covetous little heart and I quickly began shopping around. Even second-hand and slightly shabby, the object of my affection was still priced pretty stiffly and my attention was diverted to the Irish brand of slow combustion cooker, the Stanley. For just a few hundred dollars less than the used Aga, I could purchase a new Stanley which was a deal that I decided could work for me! The long-suffering husband was less than thrilled to discover that my new
toy essential cooking appliance would mean major carving up of the cabinetry in the shiny, new kitchen, but eventually he just sighed and signed the cheques.
Stanley is a wood-fired slow combustion cooker and we light him sometime in April every year and he quietly burns until around about October, day and night. He suffuses, not only his corner of the room, but half of the house with a lovely gentle heat that draws people into the kitchen and encourages them to warm their hands, feet or behinds in front of the oven. Stanley has two ovens – a hot one and a cooler one for slow cooking, two hot plates on top for boiling, frying etc and a warming plate which is a perfect place for the kettle to sit ready to be called in to action. Having a permanently preheated oven makes it that much easier to quickly mix up a cake or some bread for lunch boxes or afternoon snacks and casseroles and roasts can be prepared in the morning and left in the slow oven to quietly bubble, ready to serve when everyone comes in cold and tired at the end of the day. Either oven is also a perfect place to dry wet shoes and socks – although putting them in the oven and closing the door has proven to be a mistake in the past!
Life with the wood stove is not completely perfect – there is always wood to be brought in, splinters to be removed from fingers (mostly mine) and a minor degree of soot to keep at bay. And all that baking does tend to settle around one’s middle and hips. But, minor inconveniences aside, we love that Stanley makes those crisp, dark mornings easier to face and all through the freezing winter of the Adelaide Hills our kitchen is a cozy, inviting haven with a truly warm heart.
As my thoughts turn, with the turn of the season, to baking, I like to try to vary my output a little. If the decision was left to my offspring, there would be a non-stop stream of chocolate laced goodies flowing from the ovens – not that there is anything at all wrong with chocolate! But sometimes the occasion calls for something savoury rather than sweet. These delicious little bits of buttery wickedness are perfect with a drink and make a change from packaged snacks. They are an old fashioned treat, probably a bit ’70’s, but I like to add some chopped, fresh herbs to freshen them up. I have used rosemary just because I love it, but thyme or oregano would be just as nice.
I make these in the Thermomix, but any good food processor will whizz them up very quickly. It is important to keep the dough and your hands as cool as possible and not to over-process the dough. I store opened bags of grated cheese in the freezer and a great cheat if you need to whip up a batch in a hurry is to use this as it will make the dough very cold. If you want to try and reduce the fat a little, you could substitute some of the tasty cheese for grated parmesan – but only use the good stuff, not anything out of a shaker!!!
- 100 gms cold butter
- 100 gms plain flour
- 1-2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1/4 tsp cayenne (more if you are braver than me!)
- 100 gms grated tasty cheese
- Whizz together flour, butter, rosemary and cayenne in a food processor until it just comes together in a ball.
- Thermomix Instructions – Combine all, Speed 5, 15-20 seconds until just comes together in ball.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and put into fridge for 1 hour.
- Roll into small balls, space evenly on tray, press down with fork.
- Bake 180C for 15 minutes, until golden.