27 Jul 2014

honey oat biscuits

Fabric from Frangipani Fabrics

Sorry, can’t stop, can’t talk now; I’ve got to finish a library book before it’s overdue, Hillary Clinton’s new memoir ‘Hard Choices’. I’ve had three weeks to plough thru — gasp! — 600 pages of small print. I can’t recall the last time I read such a hefty tome. Did I mention it’s small print?

Before starting her book, I had no real idea about Hillary Clinton’s politics, but the fact that as Secretary of State she became such a powerful woman — and perhaps in 2016, will be even more so — fascinates me. Plus it’s been a real crash course in world politics (though Israel and Palestine still confuse me), even knowing it is through the filter of Clinton’s perspective and potential presidential ambitions.

So if I am to avoid an overdue library fine, I need quick recipes. Like these honey oat biscuits, a sweeter variation on Anzacs, from a book by another woman writing about power. The power, that is, of homemade biscuits, cakes and muffins. Perhaps not in the same league as Hillary’s diplomacy moves on the world stage, but in ‘Bake Eat Love’, Anneka Manning believes that anything is possible — in the kitchen — if you have the right ingredients, utensils, skills, knowledge and confidence.

‘Bake Eat Love’ (which I won from Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things; thank you Liz!) is an engaging book for someone like me who is (mostly) a competent cake baker, but loves learning why foil-wrapped butter is better, which array of cake tins is essential, and what variety of sugars a well-stocked kitchen should have (and then comparing the list to my own inventory). All those front-of-book sections about pantry essentials and kitchen equipment fascinate me, so ‘Bake Eat Love’ is fabulous.

But if you had little experience or confidence in the kitchen, Anneka is the perfect guide for you. Her book graduates thru lessons in techniques for you to practice and master. I’m sure I’ll improve my cooking techniques by the end of the book.

So let’s start with her honey oat biscuits, with some macadamia nuts thrown in for good measure. Quick to mix together and get in the oven, and not long in there, either. Just long enough to make a cup of tea (peppermint works well with the sweet honey flavours here) and get back to those 600 pages.
Honey oat biscuits
Adapted from Anneka Manning's 'Bake Eat Love'.
  • Preheat oven to 180 and prep a couple of baking trays.
  • In a large bowl, combine 1 cup plain flour, 1/1/2 cups rolled oats, 1 cup shredded coconut, 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts (I also used slivered almonds as I was a little short), and 3/4 cups sugar.
  • In a small saucepan, gently melt 150 gms butter with 1/3 cup honey and 1 tbspn water.
  • Once combined, remove from heat and stir in 1 tspn bicarb soda. It will foam up a little.
  • Add this to the dry ingredients, stir till combined.
  • Then roll walnut size balls and place on tray, flattening slightly and leaving a little space around to spread. 
  • Bake for 15 minutes or until nicely golden.
  • Enjoy with a good book.

18 Jul 2014

On grey winter days

Dark when I go to work
Dark when I go home

Relentlessly grey skies
bleak; no sight of the sun
it’s like this til December

Electric blankets, hot water bottle
laundry draped all around the house
I’m dreading the electricity bill

To find the silver lining in the seemingly permanent grey clouds that are dominating these winter skies (sunny days can be counted on one hand), I’m composing haiku to myself. Not proper haiku, I’m sure — I only remember it has three lines — but it’s something to pass the time as I drive home through the mist that hasn’t even got the guts to be Proper Rain. Proper Rain I could handle — ‘it’s good for the garden, we need the rain!’ we would all cheer — but this is just damp grey stuff that gets on your glasses and brings out the snails. Nuisance stuff, miserable stuff.

Everyone — everyone — here says ‘we don’t mind the cold, as long as it’s sunny. It’s when there’s no sun…’. That statement, so commonly offered up, is probably Hobart’s first law of winter. Or a truth universally acknowledged. Hobart’s second law of winter? If it is sunny, it’s probably Monday, when you’re back at work, stuck inside (third law: it cruelly disappears the minute you step outside at lunchtime).

Have you heard of seasonal affective disorder? SAD? We have it in Hobart, by the bucketload. The skies are dreary; you are dreary. It’s hard to muster the enthusiasm for any more demanding than a hot chocolate (that someone else makes for you). The clever/rich people escape to Bali or Queensland to escape it. But chances are, take your tropical trip in August or September, and you’ll come home to a snowy October.

I like extremes in winter weather — an expansive white frost, silent and pretty; noisy, heavy downpours that fill the tanks; snowy icing sugar dusted all over the Mountain. But these grey days, they are no winter wonderland. They are an endurance test. They are a misery.

13 Jul 2014

hugh's onion and silverbeet tart

I find it hard to pick my favourite vegetable, but jostling at the top of a very verdant list (alongside green beans, peas and broccoli) is silverbeet. If only for its determined reliability; it’s pretty much always in the garden. And right now, it’s pretty much the only thing in my garden! So I wanted a special way of cooking it.

Making anything into a pie, tart or quiche — essentially, pairing any produce with pastry — lifts it out of the ordinary. So I could think of no better way of treating those dark crinkly leaves than this tart.

I first made this after watching Hugh Fearnley–W whip it out in about 30 seconds on his River Cottage vegetable series (allow me to digress a moment: I love River Cottage shows, just for the scenery. Sometimes I don’t care for the food, or Hugh. I want to live in that bucolic valley. I want a farmhouse, an Aga, a vegie plot and a rambling country lane just like that. Is it ever unpleasant in that lush, abundant part of the world?).

Of course in real life a tart takes longer than a TV segment to prepare, but making pastry, slowly cooking onions, then assembling layers are pleasurable tasks you don’t mind spending time over.

This tart is also very easy to make; my only hardship has been rolling out pastry in a cold winter kitchen. I resorted to thumping the dough out with my marble rolling pin, using its heft to my advantage. I was worried that such aggression would make for a tough end product (and that my kitchen benchtop might collapse) but this pastry is morishly short no matter what you do to it (including, surprisingly, reheating it in the microwave, which usually spells a floppy death for pastry).

Finally, the flavours are simple. There are times when you want spicy, cheesy, garlicky meals. There are times when you want ‘the lot’. Then there are times when you want merely silky golden ribbons of onion cooked gently with lemon thyme, the iron-y darkness of silverbeet, all coddled in an unassuming eggy custard, and held in a fine pastry. It’s not bland, it’s soothing and homely, and focusses our tastebuds on those few precious ingredients.

Hugh’s onion and silverbeet tart
Adapted from the beet top/chard and ricotta tart in ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day!’. The original recipe specified a 24 cm springform tin, and a baking time of 35 minutes.
First the prep, which you can do ahead of time.
  • First make the pastry: in a food processor, whizz up 125 gms plain white flour, 125 gms plain wholemeal flour, a pinch of salt, 125 gms chilled butter (you can also rub it together with your fingers). With the processor running, dribble in about 75 mls cold milk, more or less, until the dough comes together. Remove from the food processor, knead to bring together again, then wrap in cling film and chill for about 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, finely slice two medium onions and chop or crush a couple of garlic cloves. Take your time to cook these down gently in olive oil; you want a lovely golden translucent colour without any crispness. Towards the end, squeeze in the juice from half a lemon and stir thru some fresh lemon thyme.
  • While the onion is cooking, prepare your silverbeet (we can do lots of things at once!). Chop 300 gms of silverbeet, stalks and all, and steam until just done. Remove from heat and squeeze as much moisture out as possible (I have left it draining in a fine sieve overnight).
Now for the assembly.
  • Preheat your oven to 180.
  • Roll out the pastry to a size that will fit a 20 cm springform tin, with the pastry about 4 mm thick.
  • Line the tin with the pastry, leaving any messy or overhanging bits for now. Line with foil and baking weights, and blind bake for 15 minutes.
  • Remove foil and weights, prick base of pastry with a fork, then return to oven and bake for 10–15 minutes, to get a gentle golden colour (you may need to put foil around the edges to protect them from burning).
  • Meanwhile, whisk together 3 large eggs, 150 mls thick cream and 150 mls milk. Have your onion and silverbeet to hand, as well as 100 gms of ricotta.
  • Once the pastry shell is ready, remove from oven and sit on a small baking tray (this makes it easier to put back in the oven once filled). Place the onion on the base, then layer with the silverbeet, blob or crumble in the ricotta, then carefully pour over the egg mixture. You can also trim any messy or overhanging pastry edges at this point if you are so inclined (as you can see, I'm not).
  • Put your tart back in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Then get impatient, crank up the heat to 200, protect the pastry edges with foil, and bake for another 30 minutes or until the eggy custard is cooked and golden.
  • Remove from oven, allow to stand for a few minutes before unclipping your springform tin and serving.

6 Jul 2014

garden share collective: july

That is the sound of a vegetable garden sleeping. Of not much happening. Because it is winter in Hobart; the days are dark and cold, as is the soil. At this time of the year, I only see my garden on the weekends; after work is out of the question unless I’m carrying a torch! And honestly, I’d rather be inside with the heater and my colourful woolly socks on.
Actively growing in my garden right now are three established silverbeet plants, and the row of ten I planted last month, now about a ‘hand’ high (see pic at very bottom). The newer plants need to be watered about twice a week, because we are not getting much rain on my side of the river; nor have there been heavy dews (STOP PRESS: I drafted this during the week, and while it generally holds true, last night we had a massive 35 mls of heavy rain, and it continues on and off today. Bliss! Tanks, buckets, bird baths and puddles are full and everything washed clean). So out comes my pink watering can (and mid-week, the torch) if I want my little forest of kale to flourish:
The garlic in the growbags continues nicely. I’m taking the healthy condition of the elegantly tapered greenery as a sign of good things happening below the soil.
The most significant recent work has been to dig over the beds. I know there are arguments against digging — damaging soil structure the main one — but I like to do it just once a year, to loosen the ground that has been compacted after the summer growing season and to dig in nutritious goodies. And oh what goodies! Dad provided bags of humid, pinkish mushroom compost; dry and finely pulverised chook manure that somehow smelt sweet and chocolately; ash from their recent burn off; and some sheep manure obviously procured straight from the shearing sheds, as evidenced by the occasional tuft of wool. Surely digging these riches right into the soil is beneficial? Especially when we get so little rain, not enough to drive the nutrients down.
My friend J came over for a couple of hours one Sunday, bringing with him his mattock, various spades and shovels — and most importantly, his all-male muscles. It took him a mere hour to lift the grass from an area about two metres square and turn over the soil. That would have taken me all day! He also made light work of loosening the existing beds as I distributed the manures and compost. J, thank you so much for doing the heavy work (despite the cold air, dear readers, he worked up a sweat) and bringing my new garden bed dreams a step closer to reality! Summer tomatoes and corn, here we come (J has been promised the first tomatoes).
What J uncovered in the new bed — or rather, didn’t uncover — has also cheered me immensely. I was expecting to find a web of roots left from the bay tree we removed recently. I mean, look at what’s in another adjacent bed:


I will be lifting this stuff out for months. How could anything else grow in such a tangle? It certainly explains why some of my peas failed miserably last summer.
In other areas reclaimed from the lawn, I’ve battled with old building fill — loose rubble, large concrete lumps and other rubbish that is not uncommon beneath suburban lawns (according to J, who shocked me with horror tales from other jobs he’s done). But he hit only one large concrete slab, right near the edge of the new plot. Quite manageable! So I’m off to a promising start, and will probably be able to use this bed this summer rather than spend a season rehabilitating it.
Now I just need dad to frame up the new bed and install some raised gangplanks or duckboards between the rows (as dreamt about in a previous Garden Share post), and I’ll be set for spring planting!
But until then, the garden will be a quiet. I’m looking forward to being made envious by the other gardeners in our Garden Share Collective this month — all in much warmer, sunnier, more northern, greener, more productive and colourful places! So join me by clicking on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs.