Summer seems to be lingering in Adelaide at the moment. Not in a nasty “Oh, my god it’s going to be how hot today?” kind of way, but in a very pleasant warm, sunny “I think we’ll have lunch outside again” kind of way. Never mind that my summer clothes are starting to look just a little tired or that I am unable to get away with the five day stubble on my legs – I might as well enjoy the weather while it lasts. Although, if the weather gods are listening, it would be totally perfect if we could have some rain at night. My poor garden is very thirsty.
There are still lots of lovely, ripe tomatoes to be found and I’m happy to eat them while I can, but I haven’t quite finished stocking up on some for the duller days ahead. One beautiful way to save the fresh taste of summer tomatoes is to slow cook them in the oven and store them in oil. I used cherry tomatoes for this. These small, red bombs are gorgeously sweet and intense. Cooking them in this way deepens and compounds the taste, making them little explosions of potent summer flavours in your mouth – evoking the sunnier days gone by. I’m not too sure how long they will keep in your fridge as I’ve never had the opportunity to find out in this house – they are snapped up pretty quickly.
I’ve been known to eat these with a spoon straight out of the jar, but they are also good in salads, tossed through pasta or on foccaccia. For this batch I added fresh thyme and garlic, but rosemary, oregano and/or chilli flakes would be quite wonderful too. The taste of the olive oil will be important here, so try not to skimp on the quality. Make sure that your jars are very clean – wash with hot soapy water and dry in the oven, or run them through a hot cycle in the dishwasher. Like so much of my cooking this recipe is dead simple, but the end result is really, really more than the sum of it’s parts.
Cherry Tomato Confit
- 1 kg ripe cherry tomatoes stalks removed, halved
- 100 mls good olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic peeled and very finely sliced
- Sprigs of fresh herbs of your choice thyme, rosemary or oregano are great
- Sea salt
- ground black pepper
- Extra olive oil for storing
- Preheat oven to 170C.
- Drizzle some of the oil over the base of an oven-proof dish and spread to make a film over base of dish.
- Place tomatoes cut side down in dish.
- Sprinkle with garlic and herbs, then drizzle with remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cook in oven for 40-50 minutes until tomatoes are soft and just collapsing, but not charred.
- Cool, then place in jars and cover with extra olive oil.
- Store in refrigerator.
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When you are reading through this food blog – or any other – don’t be fooled into thinking that we’ve got it all sorted in the kitchen. Behind those gorgeously styled photo’s (well, gorgeously styled on other’s blogs, mostly thrown together on mine) are hours of chopping, slopping, slicing, mixing, spilling, cooking, arranging, cleaning up – and the occasional failure. Such was the case for me (yet again) on the weekend.
While trawling the interwebz (instead of doing the washing/ironing/housework) I happened upon an inspiringly lovely image and recipe for carrot jam. I’ve seen this in Middle Eastern grocery stores and often wondered about the flavours it might hold, but never taken the plunge. Having been away from the kitchen for a week my cooking mojo was sparking and I had already made a batch of plum jam. Not wanting to waste the elderly and now slightly bendy carrots in the optimistically named crisper, and with some clean jars still lying around, I was pretty sure this jam was in my immediate future.
The recipe I had found was spiced with cardamom, which I love but, never one to resist a tweak, I added lots of ginger and a cinnamon stick. I followed the recipe to the letter and stirred diligently for over 40 minutes, but sadly never achieved the glistening, sticky consistency I had been promised. Perhaps it was because I had grated the carrots in my Thermomix, thus slightly pulverising them, rather than using a grater – I just don’t know. However, I was left with a saucepan full of very sweet, very fragrant, still slightly crunchy carrots that I had no intention of wasting.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but there are quite limited uses for sweet carrots. I knew the persnickety teens would probably turn their noses up at a carrot pudding and while the idea of a carrot baklava was very appealing, what I was really looking for was a quick fix. Once again casting my eye around the pantry and fridge for things that needed to be used up I found a tub of walnuts and a packet of cream cheese. Carrot cake always inspires instant filial devotion in this house so there it was – a no brainer.
Most carrot cake recipes are probably basically the same, but this old standby has always pleased my lot. I didn’t need to add sugar (the “jam” had 2 cups of sugar in it) and reduced the amount of oil, but added another spoon of spices – I do like to taste them, after all! This was unreservedly the best carrot cake I have ever made, although I couldn’t recommend my recent path as the most energy or time efficient way to get to the end result – however this simple recipe is also very reliable just as it is.
- 1 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1 rounded tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups caster sugar
- 180 mls vegetable oil
- 3 eggs
- 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 5-6 medium sized carrots grated
- 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
- CREAM CHEESE ICING
- 250 gms cream cheese
- 1/2 cup icing sugar
- juice of half a lemon
- Preheat oven 180C. Grease and line 22cm spring form cake pan.
- Combine all cake ingredients, except carrots and nuts, in a food processor and whizz until well combined.
- Add carrots and nuts and stir through.
- Pour into cake pan, bake 55-60 minutes until done. Test with a skewer.
- Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove and cool on a cake rack.
- Combine icing ingredients in food processor and whizz until smooth.
- Ice cake when cooled.
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Before I tell you all about this fabulous event to celebrate a wonderful fruit and one which is probably a staple in most kitchens, I must come clean. Down on the plains I used to grow lovely tomatoes with almost no effort at all. Each year I’d pop in a few plants, throw some water and fertiliser on them and watch them grow like triffids, eventually harvesting bucket-loads of fragrant, red and flavoursome tomatoes. There would always be too many to eat so I’d cook the extra up into a simple sauce and freeze it ready for the wintry, tomato-free days ahead. I guess you could call those my salad days. 😉
However, since our tree-change into the Adelaide Hills, my tomato mojo has up and left me high and dry. I’ve tried repeatedly, and in many different positions around our house, to grow them here with absolutely no joy whatsoever. In fact, the only constant I can cite in my tomato growing attempts over the last 10 years has been the dreaded tomato wilt which has followed me from garden bed to garden bed. After extensive efforts to combat it last year I have now conceded defeat and won’t try growing tomatoes again. So if my words on the Tomato Festival seem slightly tinged with wistfulness and disappointment I hope you’ll understand. Sigh.
Held at Adelaide Botanic Gardens and following the success of the first Tomato Sauce Challenge in 2012, which received 113 home-made tomato ketchup entries, this event has now grown into the weekend-long Tomato Festival which will be celebrated on 23-24 February, 2013. The South Australian climate is ideally suited for tomato growth (except for the area around my house, apparently) and this ubiquitous fruit is an essential part of the cuisine of many of the cultures which now call Australia home. For many of us, our knowledge of tomatoes is confined to the limited range available in supermarkets. We have little knowledge of the huge number of heirloom tomatoes available but the Tomato Festival will bring together well known cooking and gardening experts, including Maggie Beer, Simon Bryant, Clive Blazey, Jon Lamb, Sophie Thomson, Rosa Matto, Walter Duncan and Jane Doyle, to discuss and share their passion and expertise with a range of activities which will occur throughout Adelaide Botanic Garden, including the Schomburgk Pavilion, Plane Tree Lawn and North Lodge, showcasing different areas of the Garden.
In partnership with Diggers Club (Australia’s most popular gardening club with the largest range of heirloom vegetables, cottage flowers and fruit plants available) and the Botanic Gardens Restaurant, the weekend will feature the Tomato Sauce Challenge, the Best in Show competition, tomato-themed workshops, the Great Tomato Debate, cooking demonstrations, the Tasty Tomato Trail, fun activities for kids, a tomato taste test, special guided walks and a tomato themed luncheon in the award-winning Botanic Gardens Restaurant. As general interest in home food production gathers steam,the aims of this event – to bring together tomato gardeners and home cooks from across South Australia to share the benefits of home-grown produce, promote the diversity of tomato varieties and inspire cooks to embrace the versatile tomato in new ways – couldn’t be more relevant today and the extensive Tomato Festival program promises to have something to interest every one.
If you fancy yourself as a crack tomato sauce maker, the Tomato Sauce Challenge will be judged by an expert panel, including champion tomato sauce maker Walter Duncan, SA Life resident chef Rosa Matto and Gardening Australia’s Sophie Thomson. The registration for this event has now been extended to February 15 2013, so you’ve still got plenty of time to be in the running.
An interest in food security seems to be becoming a more prominent community concern and sharing our food knowledge, skills and cultural history is one very real way to help protect and fortify our collective capacity. One of the primary objectives of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide is to advance knowledge of the plant world through botanical, horticultural and ex-situ conservation programs. Botanic gardens are imperative to our future. Their role in helping us to understand the connection between plants, people and culture is vital in creating sustainable communities for generations to come.
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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!
Moroccan Chick Pea Salad
- 2 400 gm cans chick peas garbanzos drained, rinsed & strained
- 6 spring onions finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 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
- 1/4 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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After yet more mild weather here in Adelaide, autumn has finally landed big time – well, up here in the hills it has – and I write this post sitting next to my gently glowing slow-combustion stove which I’ve lit for the first time this season. As I mentioned to you last week, I’m very fond of the comforts of the cooler weather – warm fires, fluffy slippers, red wine and the seasonal foods that are around at this time of year. Pumpkin always features pretty strongly around now and it is one of my favourite vegetables.
Pumpkins are grown all around the world as commercial food crops, for animal feed and for ornamental reasons. In fact, of all the seven continents only one – Antarctica – is unable to produce them, with the biggest producer-nations being the United States, Canada, India and China. They are a versatile and adaptable vegetable and the variety of dishes which can be prepared are not just limited to the flesh of the plant. Pumpkin seeds are a popular and highly nutritious snack food when roasted and also yield an oil which contains essential fatty acids, and is considered a delicacy in parts of Europe.
There is a vast variety of pumpkins and squash which can be grown, but you would be forgiven for being unaware of this fact as the range available in supermarkets is limited to only a very few. Once again, here is where farmers markets and CSA’s come into their own as the producers not bound to the limited growing options of the large retailers can experiment with smaller crops and some of the lesser known or forgotten varieties. Jupiter Creek Farm subscribers will have found some lovely, little orange pumpkins called Potimarrons in their boxes of late. These are a French heritage variety whose name derives from “potiron” for pumpkin and “marron” for chestnut, due to their aromatic chestnut flavour when roasted.
I combined mine with some local garlic which I had preserved in olive oil, some cheesey pastry and a jar of sublime marinated feta from Udder Delight’s Divine Dairy range. I made the confit garlic in my Thermomix, but it can be done very simply in a saucepan too – directions to do this are included.
|Cheesey Heirloom Pumpkin & Garlic Tart|
- 200 gms plain flour
- 100 gms butter, cubed & chilled
- 25 gms finely grated parmesan cheese
- 50-60 gms iced water
- 500gms slice, peeled pumpkin
- 2 tbs chopped, fresh sage
- olive oil
- 5-6 cloves confit garlic, mashed
- 200 gms feta (marinated is nice)
- 1 tbs chopped, fresh sage
- 1 tbs toasted sesame seeds
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Place flour, butter and cheese in food processor and whizz until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs.
- With the machine running, slowly add the iced water until the dough just comes together. DO NOT OVER-PROCESS or it will shrink on cooking.
- Turn it out onto benchtop, knead lightly, then wrap in plastic wrap and refridgerate for 1/2 hour.
- Toss pumpkin slices in sage, olive oil, salt and pepper, spread in a shallow baking tray and cook for 15-20 minutes until just soft. Cool.
- Remove pastry from refrigerator and roll out to fit rectangular, loose-bottomed tart flan (or whatever one you have). Place baking paper over the dough and weigh it down with pastry weights or dried beans. Blind bake for 12 minutes.
- Spread the mashed garlic along the base of the flan, crumble 1/2 the feta over this, then layer the cooked pumpkin. Crumble the rest of the feta on top and sprinkle with chopped sage.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden and cheese is melty.
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
The confit garlic is very simple to do and a great way to make the most of locally grown garlic while it is available. I have my friend chef Mel Haynes to thank for this recipe. I first tried some which she had made on the stove-top at her house and went home and adapted it for the Thermomix. She has kindly allowed me to share it with you.
Begin by peeling 4-5 heads of garlic. I use the method suggested by Saveur.com in this video – it’s not perfect, but does work surprisingly well. If you have a Thermomix simply add the peeled garlic to about 500 mls of really good olive oil, set the temperature to 80C, reverse stir setting and let it go for 2-3 hours. Start checking after 2 hours. You do not want the garlic to change colour, but it will become soft when done. If doing the garlic in a saucepan, keep the heat just under a simmer for the same amount of time and, once again, keep an eye on it. If it changes colour the taste will alter. If you have a cooking thermometer you might like to use that.
Store the finished garlic in the oil in a sealed jar. Keep refrigerated and use the extra oil for whatever takes your fancy – it’s delicious!
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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.
|Rainbow Carrot salad|
- 1 orange carrot, julienned
- 1 purple carrot, julienned
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used basil, coriander, parsley)
- 150 gms feta cheese, cubed
- 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 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.