28 Apr 2013

autumn is here, but blowing away

Isn't this beautiful? My cut-leaf birch trees, aglow, in the early morning sun:

This weekend's ferocious winds are blowing too many of the leaves off the young slender branches - my yard is scattered with the golden confetti of the leaves. Autumn leaves are such a fleeting wonder.

27 Apr 2013

orange ricotta cakes

Zesty orange cakes are, I think, made for the cooler months of the year. They are a burst of golden summer sunshine in your mouth - and your nostrils, it has to be said, because they should smell just divine. These ones do, and they also have a rich, moist, fluffy crumb, thanks to the generous bucketload of ricotta and three fat eggs (thanks, chookies). They're spot-on for morning tea; enjoy one ... or two ... with a robust mug of earl grey tea for perfect pick-me-up.

Orange ricotta cakes
My recipe says 'adapted from Cake keeper cakes' - say that ten times fast - which would have been a library book. This made 14 cupcakes.
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep a muffin tin with papers.
  • Cream 160 gms softened butter with 1 and 1/2 cups sugar.
  • Add 350 gms ricotta and beat til combined (I would say 'til smooth' but mine looked rather like cottage cheese at this point).
  • Add 3 eggs, 1 and 1/2 tspn vanilla, the zest of 2 oranges and 1/4 cup orange juice (including all the pulpy bits - there's flavour and colour there!).
  • Now fold thru 2 cups plus 1 tbspn plain flour, 1 and 1/2 tspn baking powder, and 1/2 tspn baking/bicarb soda.
  • Spoon into your muffin tin and bake for 25-30 minutes or until done.
  • I would say these are nicest eaten warm, so re-heat gently if necessary.

21 Apr 2013

banana oat bread

Banana cake is a cosy old-fashioned favourite, yet it's been a long time since I baked one. Such a long time that it has been re-branded as banana 'bread'. Or is banana bread truly distinct from banana cake? I'm always skeptical, but I have to say, this dense loaf is more bread-like than cake-like, and a thick slice suits a good smear of butter.

Mum first made this, and I loved its chewiness so much I got the recipe from her. I go quite soft at the idea that this is a Merle-from-the-CWA endorsed recipe. So it may be this new-fangled banana bread thing, but it's sort of blessed with a heart-warming and reassuring familiarity.
I love how the spotted bananas match this old Doulton pattern

Banana oat bread
Adapted from An Uncle Toby's ad which features a pic of Merle-from-the-CWA. This recipe is for my friend B and her family. 
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep a 14cm by 22cm loaf tin.
  • In your food processor, whiz up 3 very ripe bananas.
  • Then add a 185ml tin of light evaporated milk (I used Carnation brand's 'light and creamy'; I have no idea if there are other brands), 3/4 cup light brown sugar and 2 large eggs. Whiz til smooth.
  • Transfer to a large mixing bowl, then fold thru 2 cups of SR flour and 1/2 cup rolled oats.
  • Pour into your loaf tin and bake for about 55 minutes or until done. You may need to cover with foil towards the end to avoid excessive browning.
  • Enjoy warm with butter and a mug of tea; it's also a treat with a big dollop of natural yoghurt and a drizzle of golden syrup on top.

18 Apr 2013

roast beetroot pasta sauce

Pretty folkloric napkin made with cloth from Frangipani Fabrics

Until I moved to Tasmania, I'd only eaten tinned beetroot: cold, floppy, and tasting of vinegar; really only showing up in salads, hamburgers or sandwiches. I'm sure you too can conjure up childhood memories of white bread, soggy and stained that wonderful pinky-purple colour.

So when I tasted my first real beetroot - cooked and served hot with sour cream, earthy and iron-y tasting - it was a revelation. I saw it in a new light, as a beautiful, rich vegetable, not as a ... cold vinegary thing. Where had it been all my life?

Beetroot is now one of my favourite buys from the local farmers market. They come as small and perfectly clean orbs, the odd one sporting a little tail. They are obviously young and tender, as I have never once thought about removing the skins from them when they are cooked, as recipes often suggest. I am happy to simply cut them into wedges and roast them in a foil parcel, with butter, wine and garlic. My approach to most vegies is to treat them simply and enjoy their flavours honestly, and this works especially well with beetroots; roasting brings out their true character.

But this weekend I got more adventurous and made this pasta sauce. Not a tomato in sight, just the beetroot, producing the most glorious magenta colour and a surprisingly sweet flavour. I served it with a crumbling of walnuts, which a quick glance thru my 'River Cottage Veg Every Day' book confirmed have a wonderful afffinity with beetroot.

This pasta sauce seems magnificently decadent, I think because of the fabulous colour. It obliterates any memories one might have of vinegary tinned beetroot.

Roast beetroot pasta sauce
Adapted from the April 2013 Women's Health magazine. Made two substantial serves where the sauce is the star of the meal. Like a lot of sauce recipes, you don't really need precise quantities - once you've made it once or twice you'll freewheel with the ingredients and flavours; a bit of this here, a bit of that there - but this is how I made it the first time.
  • Preheat your oven to 200.
  • Take 400 gms beetroot. Top and tail if necessary, otherwise cut into small dice (a small size ensures a quicker cooking time).
  • Line a brownie tin (or any cake tin with a lip to hold any leaks) with a big sheet of aluminium foil, then put the beetroot dice in there. Add three cloves of peeled garlic and a little water; just enough to form a small puddle.
  • Wrap/fold the foil into a parcel so the beetroot is completely enclosed. Pop into the oven and bake until a knife slips easily into the beetroot; this will probably take at least 45 minutes.
  • Once cooked, scoop out the beetroot and garlic and whizz it up in your food processor until it is as smooth as possible. To help this, add 1 tbspn of white wine.
  • Now saute a finely chopped small red onion with olive oil over a medium heat until soft and translucent.
  • Add the beetroot to the pan. Add 1 tbspn of white wine, then a small slosh of water to help loosen the sauce.
  • Fold thru 2 or 3 tbspns natural yoghurt, again just enough to loosen the sauce to a smooth texture; it also brightens the colour.
  • When you serve this on pasta, I recommend folding the cooked pasta thru the sauce while it is still in the pan and then dishing it up. Garnish with a more natural yoghurt if you wish, a generous handful of chopped bright green parsley (the colour contrast is wonderful), a good squeeze of lemon juice, a grinding of black pepper, and a crumbling of walnuts (fresh or toasted).

14 Apr 2013

garden ramble: new kale and tatsoi

Tatsoi on the left, kale on the right

So I said the vegie garden would be dormant - fallow - over the winter, but I could not resist.

I wanted some new curly kale, which grows well in the winter and is a good leafy green to cook and eat. I also bought a couple of tatsoi plants to try - the man I bought my beautiful seedlings from, at the Bellerive farmers market, said I could pick the leaves young and small and enjoy them as a salad green (though I'm not sure how many salads I'll enjoy during a Hobart winter) or let them get bigger and cook with them. So here's to new experiences in the vegie garden and kitchen.

What cold-weather crops are you growing? And have you ever grown or cooked tatsoi?

The kale, planted. The plastic grid things (I don't know what they are - mum gave them to me) are an attempt to keep the scruffing blackbirds at bay. I have since positioned two pots of pyrethrum nearby to ward off the white cabbage moth

early autumn garden (rat) ramble

A fairly empty vegie garden

The smell of autumn. Currently, that smell is of sheep poo and chook manure. Yes, to borrow a phrase from Jo, I have been putting the vegie garden ‘to bed for the winter’.

Over Easter I picked up where I left off with my end-of-summer clean-up. I bought many bags of ‘vegie mix’, full of composted organic matter, manure and soil-essential nutrients (according to the bag). It was dark and fine and just beautiful to work with, and smelt rich and sort of mushroomy – a lovely compost smell. Dad gave me a few bags of sheep poo, so I generously spread that about, too. I then scattered great handfuls (well, old ice cream containers-full) of pelletised chook manure. I’m tempted to buy some mushroom compost too; when I do this kind of thing, I want to pack in as much of the good stuff as possible.

Dad advised raking back the sugar cane mulch to let the sun and rain directly into soil. I think he is being rather optimistic about that rain stuff, and the soil and all that lovely new dark vegie mix may dry out, but I bowed to his experience and wisdom.

Of course, what to do with the raked-back sugar cane mulch presents a problem of the rattus rattus variety. I’m sure you can work that one out. For the past few autumns, I’ve had rats – not just in the garden, but up in the roof of my house. Looking for warm safe places to breed more disease-carrying, disgusting horrible rats. I should take out shares with the amount of Talon and Ratsak I have about the place - I simply loathe rats.

Mum and dad were up the other day, and we were out in the garden, talking while dad worked on near my garage and I raked up the sugar cane mulch. I disturbed a small pile that had accumulated around the base of a nectarine tree when a fat mouse jumped out. I of course squealed and called out for my father. Strangely, the very large mouse just sat there. Dad hurrumphed at my female helplessness and increasingly high-pitched calls to ‘kill it - kill it!’. I think just to shut me up, he came over and very calmly said, ‘that’s not a mouse…’ (very shades of Crocodile Dundee, don’t you think? ‘That’s not a knife…’). No, dear readers, it was not a mouse. It was a young rat.

Well, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. Calm but decisive, dad reached over, killed the rat with his bare hands (I know!), then tossed it on the garden bed where it twitched in its death throes. I then carried on a bit more and made him bury it – we all logically agreed it would be ‘blood and bone’ and good for the garden, but I made him bury it in a spot where I was unlikely to unearth it in the near future.
There's a dead rat under there

Since then, I have bought more all-weather rat baits; disturbingly, some of it has gone missing. I have visions of the rats eating this stuff like candy and growing into some super breed of rattus rattus that merely laughs at our futile human attempts to wipe out its superior species, mwah ha ha! Okay I’m getting a bit carried away, but missing bait (and no dead bodies to count) freaks me out.

After this, the garden is just about ‘put to bed’. I have some lingering green beans that may produce another meal or two, but once they’re finished, they’ll be pulled out and dug in, their trellises put to one side and their patch boosted with all that lovely smelly stuff, too.

Then the garden – apart from some parsley and silverbeet - will hibernate over the winter months, and I too will have a rest from watering and digging and pulling and picking.

11 Apr 2013

tuna pasta bake

My favourite red fabric from Frangipani Fabrics

Autumn has arrived - my favourite time of the year. Why? Because I grew up in a part of NSW where there was no autumn; no colour-changing landscape or falling leaves. Because the crisp mornings that require a napthalene-scented scarf and jumper make way to gloriously bright and sunny days where you can bare your limbs. Sunblock be damned; at this time of year, we're taking all the UV and vitamin D we can before they too (like us) hibernate for the winter! And of course, once the sun goes down at the end of the day (earlier and earlier), you need to don those aromatic layers again to ward off the chill.

There are still flavours of summer around - namely, zucchini. There does get a point where most people go 'ugh, not another zucchini', but I have not reached that point. I get mine from dad's garden, and I've finally convinced mum to let me have then when they are not even an inch in diameter - more green, less white, means more flavour!

So at this lovely time of the year, you're not yet ready for stodgy winter fare but a little comfort food never goes astray. I think this pasta bake fits the bill nicely - deliciously! Lemon zest - the flavour of summer - enlivens the green vegies and tuna chunks hidden beneath a crunchy crust. It smells wonderful, and it tastes even better the next day when the uppermost rigatoni go a little hard and chewy.

Tuna pasta bake
Adapted from the latest Coles magazine. I halved the original recipe, and baked it in two smallish baking dishes instead of one large one, but you could easily make it in one pot and double the recipe, too (ie follow the original recipe).
  • Preheat your oven to 200 and butter your choice of baking dishes.
  • Cook 200 gms short pasta (such as penne or rigatoni), and drain when done.
  • Meanwhile, steam 1 zucchini that you've chopped into rounds (mine was about 180 gms) and a small head of broccoli that you've chopped into small florets (about 200 gms). Don't over-cook.
  • Meanwhile, tip 300 mls thickened cream into a small saucepan with 3 crushed cloves of garlic. Gently bring to the boil, stirring to ensure the cream doesn't stick, then remove from heat.
  • Once the pasta, vegies and cream are ready, combine them into one large bowl (or the now-empty pasta saucepan, to save washing up).
  • Drain a 185 gm tin of good-quality tuna, then break the fish into biggish chunks into the other ingredients.
  • Add a generous grinding of black pepper, and the zest of one lemon.
  • Spoon into your baking dishes, then top with grated parmesan, breadcrumbs and panko crumbs. I won't give quantities here - you'll know how generous you want to be with the topping.
  • Pop in the oven and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the topping looks nicely brown and crunchy.
  • Serve with something light and fresh like a simple salad of lettuce and tomato chunks.

9 Apr 2013

choc walnut slice

I hope you had a lovely Easter.

Mine was busy and productive - just the way I like it when I have time off. I spent a few days at my parents' place, helping weed and water the vegie garden, feed the chooks, plant some new trees for wind-breaks, and generally tidy up around the property; dad's rabbit-proof fences have finally been replaced, and there was a bit of work cleaning up around the perimeter line. There was one day where drizzly on/off rain forced us inside, but mostly we were outside in the fresh autumnal air and sunshine.

I also ate lots of fish. Not caught by dad, which I usually enjoy whenever I visit, but from a neighbour whose horses were agisted on my parents' property in the weeks after the January fires (as their fences and paddocks were burnt out).

Mum and I also baked this lovely slice together, the flavour and texture and even the name of which was much analysed over the weekend (and, of course, eaten).

I don't often cook with mum - there's usually freshly-baked slice and cake and biscuits when I arrrive. So it was lovely being in the kitchen together, even if I did do most of the mixing and measuring and cooking.

Choc walnut slice
Adapted from Rhubarb and Radishes.
  • Preheat your oven to 190 and prep a brownie tin.
  • Cream 180 gms of softened butter with 1/2 cup dark brown sugar.
  • Add 1 tbspn of brewed up strong black coffee, 1 large egg and 1 tspn vanilla.
  • Fold thru 1 and 1/2 cups plain flour, 1/4 tspn salt and 1 tspn baking powder.
  • Now fold thru 1/2 cup of walnuts broken into rough chunks, and 100 gms of dark cooking chocolate chopped into rough chunks.
  • Spoon mixture into tin and bake for about 35 minutes or until done. If you can, leave to cool before removing from tin. Otherwise, eat it while warm and soft and delicious.

2 Apr 2013

apple pear sauce

My apologies: This was originally published back in April but for some bloggy reason it has decided to make a reappearance. Who knows...

Tis the season for apples and pears, and this year, dad's beurre bosc tree is literally weighed down with its dull-skinned fruit. The branches are lying on the ground - admittedly it is not a very tall tree, but each of those branches is abundant with heavy pears.

On my last visit, I came home with a big bag of pears, and last week dad dropped in another big bag. So what to so with these strangely elegant things, with their long curved stems and khaki-coloured skin that makes them look like they are carved from wood?

When I cut into the fruit, it is dryish and grainy - more akin to a raw quince than the usual juicy soft pears I'm used to. Are beurre boscs always like this, or are these unripe fruit?

You see, I've never eaten this variety before. I know! I love their elegant appearance on my kitchen counter, but I'm not yet sure about the fruit for eating. As I said, they remind me of quinces, and you don't eat quinces straight from the tree.

Instead, I have put them to good use in this sauce, which is usually just an apple sauce, but the apple pear combination has worked well for me. The hard beurre boscs cooked down beautifully and became soft and tender.

Now, what to do with this apple pear sauce? You could serve it with a roast. I've been enjoying a generous dollop on my breakfast oats, and in a glass layered with muesli and natural yoghurt and almond flakes. The warmth and roundness from the brandy and spices are gentle, and seem rather fitting for autumn (your kitchen will smell marvellous as the sauce cooks).

And I have been freezing it in one-cup batches, ready for baking - I've got a cake recipe filed away somewhere that uses apple sauce to add sweetness and moistness to the final product (I guess it adds some healthy fibre too). So i'm ready for that option.

Apple pear sauce
From a handwritten recipe of mum's. The first time I cooked it, with more apples than pears, it made just over 2 cups of sauce; the second time, with more pears than apples, it made just over 3 cups. I don't understand either.
  • Take 1 kilo of apples and pears. Peel, core and cut into chunks.
  • Add the fruit to a heavy pot (I used my cast iron Le Creuset), then add 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 3/4 cup water, 1/4 cup brandy, 1 tbspn lemon juice, the zest of 1 lemon, 2 cinnamon sticks, and 1/4 tspn mixed spice.
  • Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer and partially cover. Cook until softened - mine took about 45 minutes, but my pears were very hard.
  • Once nicely softened, remove from heat and remove the cinnamon sticks and any splinters. Using a food processor or stick blender, whizz it up until smooth.
  • Spoon into air-tight container and refrigerate, or freeze one-cup portions for later use.