25 Jan 2014

what i ate on my summer holidays

Summertime, and the living is easy … which means nothing fancy happened in the kitchen at all. I avoided anything that required a recipe, and instead took my cues from what was literally on my doorstep. Isn’t it lovely being able to wander into the garden and pick a handful of peas and beans for lunch or dinner? Then sit in the garden or at the kitchen bench, something nice and tinkly playing on the radio, a cool drink to hand, podding the broad beans or greenfeast peas in a leisurely manner, then tossing the lot into a steamer basket. I adore being that immediately connected to my garden and my produce — zero air miles; more like only a dozen steps — and it happens best over my summer holidays.

As I said, I didn’t follow any recipes, but cookbooks and meals out inspired me. For example, a late lunch at the Taste with my friend F led to a string of lunches at home featuring soft Turkish breadrolls stuffed with lettuce, mum’s homemade plum chutney, and great slices of salty squeaky chewy fried haloumi. You might not think that’s very flash, but it’s a bit more effort than I usually go to on my weekend lunchtimes!

Another source of inspiration? Here’s a pic I’ve had tucked in my Hugh ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day’ book for forever:

Doesn’t that look so fresh and green and simple? Well, I finally got around to making something like it, using some steamed kipfler potatoes (I’m already achieving my resolutions!), green beans from my garden, some capers and spring onions. And since I have great swathes of parsley that need to be conquered, parsley pesto (though I never follow the recipe anymore, I just cram the ingredients into my food processor and go). Delicious.

That’s mostly how I like to eat in the summertime, mixing cooked veg with salad greens and maybe something substantial like those tender potatoes or cannellini beans, or even some wholemeal penne for a change. A warm weather version of my MONA salad, using zucchini and beans and peas instead of wintery root veg. 

It seems I like my greens a lot.
The fanciest I got was making cauliflower rice. Have you tried it yet? Blitz cauliflower florets in your food processor until it resembles rice or couscous, then cook it and serve it just as you would rice or couscous. You could steam it, but I sautéed mine with a little olive oil, onion and garlic, and white wine – as if you were doing the initial steps for a risotto. Just like roasted cauliflower (which I love), this method brings a nuttiness to the cauli which is divine. Stir thru other veg and drizzle with some walnut oil (my new favourite condiment, and it really matches that toasty flavour of the sautéed cauli) and some lemon juice for zing, and you have a big healthy flavoursome meal.

I’m back at work now but still trying to hang onto the easy way of cooking meals and enjoying the summer produce (and eating outside whenever the weather is lovely). How do you eat and cook during your summer holidays?

15 Jan 2014

culinary resolutions for 2014

I am not one to reflect upon the year that was too deeply; by the time it comes to an end, I'm tired and glad to be rid of it and eager for a fresh start. Yet moving forward is never usually grandly planned out; a weekend to-do list of chores is about as proactive as I get.

However, last year I shared here some culinary resolutions, and it seems a good exercise to repeat. But first, let's review how I fared against 2013's wishes:
  • Yes I cooked eggplant, but was never really taken with it. I decided I liked zucchini better.
  • I cooked fish once - under dad's tutelage - and was so underwhelmed by my own efforts I decided to leave it to the expert. Dad.
  • The resolve to stop copying out recipes was weak; it was actually a massive fail. As was overcoming the fear of making caramel.
Not looking good so far, is it?

But I did make many more biscuits, especially in the last couple of months of the year. Prize for absolute favourite goes to the orange polenta biscuits; hard rounds of sunshine. The best.

In the garden, I did expand my vegie growing repertoire: I successfully grew PSB and loved it; a couple of weeks ago I harvested my garlic, and I can report that the grow bag was a great success for this; and I planted a passionfruit vine, which got hit hard by the late spring frosts and still seems to have no curly new tendrils on it ... but we'll see.

I didn't quite overcome my intense loathing of aphids, but I did resist (largely) drowning them in pyrethrum - and it turned out they disappeared of their own accord. I also noticed many more small birds around my garden - perhaps a coincidence, but an enchanting, melodic one.

So what should I do in 2014?
  • Stop using 'I work full time' and 'Hobart weather is dismal' as excuses for limited vegie gardening. Taking part in the Garden Share Collective has been thoroughly inspiring, and I've already drawn up a wish list of vegies to try this year.
  • Work my away thru my cupcake paper collection.
  • Make more pizza!
  • Make a chocolate caramel slice. Or maybe just the caramel and chocolate bits.
  • Make old fashioned baked custard. Mum makes a silky, creamy, oh-my-wow one ... in the microwave. Every time I have a spoonful I swoon and resolve to make it myself. This year I will! 
  • Eat more potato. I tend to favour pasta, quinoa, brown rice and chickpeas for the carby part of my meals. I have delicious roasties at my parents' place, bring back a bag of spuds, only to forget them and open the bag months later to a tangle of potato-octopus with long pale tendrils. So let's make rich dauphinoise, parmesanny baked spuds and garlicky mash!
  • Learn to make my own asian-style sauce for stir fries. Mostly I eat Italian flavours, but occasionally I crave ginger, garlic and soy, so buy one of those simmer sauce pouches. The last one was delicious, but I thought, surely I can make my own. Especially when I looked at the packet and read it was made in ... Poland.
Which leads me to probably my most serious goal, not just to try once or twice, but to create a proper, permanent change in my kitchen:
  •  Buy local. If not Tasmanian, then Australian. And not just fresh fruit and veg, but pantry goods like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and tinned stuff I eat regularly. The last bag of rice I finished was from Thailand. A box of sultanas I almost bought was from Turkey. It's truly shocking that Australian dried apricots are ridiculously more expensive than imported ones and that I cannot find Australian dried apple at my local health food shop - and I live in a state that produces apricots and apples commercially. Sometimes there may be no quality local option; not only the dried apple, for example, but the plump super-sized capers I adore are from Spain (I guess the Spanish economy needs help too). And I find it impossible to give up the colourful 2.5 kilo tins of unbelievably rich Italian tomatoes; pasta sauce has never been the same since discovering those. But I shall be looking harder at labels this year, and trying to support our own farmers, growers and businesses.
So what about you? I would love to hear what you want to grow or cook or eat this year.