In My Kitchen, April 2014

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Asian themes are the inspiration for ‘In My Kitchen’ this month. It forms part of the monthly round-up of inspiring kitchens from around the world, hosted by Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

Indonesia is our nearest Northern Neighbour and is only a short flight away from Australia. Last January, we found this Uleg in a little market in Cipanas, West Java.  Barnadi and I obtained one each: not the easiest hand luggage to cart back. It resides permanently on my bench and has had a serious workout in my kitchen since then, and has turned a little yellow from the fresh tumeric root I have been using.  The Uleg below.

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It has some other friends, the big Thai mortar and pestle, good for pesto and curry pastes, and the little one, great for smashing together a few garlic cloves and ginger for curries, or a herbal butters. I rarely use my food processor these days. Mortar and Pestles are therapeutic and fast.

ImageChopsticks in a teapot. My young visitors like to learn to use them. And on occasion I do a good impersonation of Mr Miyagi from Karate Kid ( the original one of course!) and pretend to catch flies!!ImageThis season, dragon fruit have been appearing in the markets. I fell in love with dragon fruit smoothies in Indonesia and have attempted to replicate them.  Along with the magenta coloured dragon fruit, I mix in shaved ice, banana, and any other fruits that need whizzing up.

ImageThese yellow eggplants are an Asian variety. I purchased the seedlings from Vittorio, thinking that they were the long purple variety. I am not sure that I like these ones much, but they are very decorative.ImageIn a corner of one kitchen cupboard reside an assortment of Asian Crockery. All purchased from Savers  ( one huge recycling store) very cheaply. I should mention that most things in my home come from Savers!

ImageSome calligraphy done by my friend Brian; I am not sure what it says but it brings good luck to my kitchen.ImageAnd last but not least is a jar of Jimmy’s Sate sauce, purchased recently after Celia wrote about this last year. I am about to try her recipe which you can find here.Image

Travel Theme: Statues

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I am always drawn to Buddhist temples when travelling in Asia.The busy temples along the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, or the quiet Lanna style temples in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The colourful temples, with attached monastery schools for young boys, in Luang Prabang, Laos and the small Buddhist temples dotted throughout the Islamic towns of Java. I attempt to visit them all .

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These Statues of Buddha are a few from my Buddha files. They were all taken in Myanmar ( Burma), where the Buddhist Pagodas outdo all others in scale and opulence.

Ailsa’s ‘Where’s My Backpack‘ hosts a weekly travel themed blog every Friday. Check out some of the others.

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Around My Edible Garden, March.

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I have been recording my vegetable garden activities in a hard covered journal for the last four years. It documents the sequence of planting in our 14 garden beds, as well as recording garden fantasies, drawings of fabulous arches, borrowed designs from garden visits. But there are no photos of each month’s results. Let’s face it, written journals are portable, flexible in style and very ‘Victorian’ when it comes to gardening but blog journals allow one to creep on all fours amongst the plants with camera on Macro, capturing the flowering, fruits, beetles, and worms.

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Yesterday the perfect weather, with the promise of rain in the next few days, took me back to the garden to plant seed for the next round of crops. My poor veggie patch has been neglected for months, mainly due to the heat and drought conditions in and around Melbourne, Victoria for the last three months. I plant seed only when

  • the soil is the right temperature ( not too hot/cold)
  • there is no wind ( which dries out the beds)
  • when there is a possible rain event, or even better, an electrical storm
  • when the day time temperature isn’t too hot/cold. If it heats up too much, I throw on my ‘dog beds’ for protection. ImageImage

These perfect conditions usually occur in Autumn and Spring, the busiest time in my garden.

My other garden laws are as follows:

  • Crop rotation ( hence the need for a written journal, with numbered beds). Crops such as silverbeet (chard), lettuce and parsley drop seeds in the same bed year after year, depleting the soil of essential minerals. I now move them along as they pop up. I attempt to rotate tomatoes throughout the beds, never planting them in the same spot for two years.  I have also removed potatoes from the beds completely, growing them in containers as they tend to leave small potato seed behind, which have a detrimental effect on other crops, especially tomatoes.
  • Leaving beds fallow for a season is also advisable. Like us, they need a rest too.
  • Companion planting is great for bug reduction. Certain plants like each other, for example, tomato and basil, but this includes growing nasturtiums and french marigold.
  • I let curly endive and radicchio go to flower each spring: their blue colour attracts bees and assists in fertilising the summer crops. The best specimen of any plant is left to go to seed for collecting. I rarely buy seeds. I have one lettuce variety that has been collected from my gardens for 25 years.
  • Mulching is essential to keep the plant roots moist in summer and warm in winter. I use pea straw. I used to use Lucerne, which is dynamic  but it tends to drop too much weed seed.
  • Composting in layers- one part green, one part brown, one part manure- helps to keep the pile active and sweet, whether in a closed or open bin. Newspaper is collected and shredded by hand- the ink dyes are vegetable based. Leaves are collected too. Manure comes from our three cows and assorted chooks (hens). The kitchen provides the rest. In spring grass clippings are added, as well as an occasional sprinkling of ash from the open fires. There is always plenty of material about.
  • Rain records are kept

Documenting the crop each season is also important. This March ( 2014)  is the year of the eggplant. Last year, capsicums ( peppers), the year before, tomatoes. We do plant all these crops, but each season, one crop ‘stars’ due to the weather conditions. Of course zucchini will always do their thing! This season’s garlic bulbs were huge in size due to abundant Spring rain: last year’s lot were much smaller due to a dry Spring.

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Do you have a vegetable garden? How big is it and what system works for you? Do you rotate crops or grow herbs in pots? Are our summers getting hotter? Do you grow your veggies in separate beds or in amongst the flowers?  What are the main pests or problems? Do you share the abundance or make preserves? Do you have an orchard and what is your best crop? Please leave a comment and if you like, add a link to your vegetable garden round-up for March in the comments below, with stories or pictures or both.  Also refer to my blog in your garden story so that it can be included.  This will become a monthly event for me, and I hope you can join too, to document our success and failures in the garden.

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This is such a great response from Davide, I am moving it from comments to this spot.

                                              Stealing Kisses

I have 3 beds that I have been using now going into my second winter. I dedicate this space to my “ major” veggies, so eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli and beans. My “minor” veggies get relegated to other parts of my garden. For example, rocket and leafy greens. My main problem is the location of the beds, which receive filtered sun during summer and typical issues like aphids ect. Trying to be “organic” and avoiding spraying with nasties is a time consuming process. Having the TIME to dedicate to my veggie patch since the birth of my son is a “ problem “ too 😦
I often feel like I have to steal “ kisses” from my veggie patch 😦
Despite all this, we have surprisingly great crops and, especially in my first summer, was able to hand out to relatives and friends. (I think the best part of growing your own veggies)
We preserved our basil and made homemade pesto, which was incredible! And pickled loads of veggies “ Italian style” …mum helped me out with that and we are still eating to this day. I forget the Italian name for that.
This summer eggplants, cucumbers and capsicum were my big winners. They are still in the ground. The cherry tomatoes grown over an arch did well, but not as well as last summer. I grew 2 on our fence and they did very well. My son loves eating them straight off the vine 🙂 I tried being more sophisticated with my tomatoes plants by pinching out the new growth and having just a main vine, however they struggled again. Lack of mulch, inconsistent watering and no fertilizing cost me I think. (due to a lack of time)
I will give them one more go, before I pack it in and only grow the cherry tomatoes.

I will be purchasing a couple apple creates in the next couple of weeks to build on what I already have, so would like to use them for my leafy greens! I love your idea with the dog beds to protect the seeds. I have loads of problems with falling leaves ect with my seeds.

I love your blog. Thanks Davide

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Also check out this delightful edible garden from Deborah ( My Kitchen Witch)  in Sheffield, UK.  Romantic stone walls, Morello cherries, herbs and bay trees, gooseberries look so romantically English and historic.

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Fresh Fruit Charlotte, Lorenza de’ Medici’s Special Cake.

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Throughout the nineties, which seems like yesterday, I was in love with Lorenza de’ Medici. It wasn’t so much her recipes that inspired me: I wanted to live in her house! I acquired all of her cookbooks at great expense and learnt Italian, a necessary step if I were to become the new proprietress of Badia a Coltibuono. It was a wonderful fantasy. One of the desserts I made during that era came from her glossy coffee table book ‘The Renaissance of Italian Cooking’. I had completely forgotten about this sweet until I recently found the book again at a second-hand store. ( all my cookbooks were lost in 2009 ). The original  price was  $49.00 but this week’s price was $3.99.  I love people who discard their cookbooks, I have re-filled my shelves with cheap treasure.  I made my special dessert again this Sunday and relived all my Italian fantasies. It is back on the top of my favourite dolce list.Image

Charlotta Di Frutta

For the Short pastry.

  • 350 g plain flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 125 g sugar
  • 225 g butter
  • pinch of  salt

For the filling

  • 1 orange
  • 300 g blood plums
  • 1 kg apples
  • 225 g sugar
  • grated peel of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp Marsala
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 vanilla pod ( optional)Image

Method

  1. Prepare the short crust pastry. Place the dry ingredients in the food processor, add the butter, process, then the egg yolks, until mixed and formed into a ball. ( you can do this by hand if you prefer). Roll or press into a flat slab, wrap in cling wrap and let rest in the fridge for an hour or so.
  2. Meanwhile, make the filling. Grate the orange peel and reserve. Peel the orange, removing any pith, and divide into segments. Peel the plums and apples and cut into pieces. Cook the fruit together with the sugar, lemon and orange peel, Marsala, cloves and vanilla pod for 20 minutes, uncovered, over low heat.
  3. Butter and flour a 25 cm springform pan. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry to line the base and sides of the pan. Fill with the cooled cooked fruit and cover with the remaining pastry, rolled out thinly. Cook in a preheated oven at 180 degrees c /350 f for 45 minutes. Let cool before removing from the pan. Dust with icing sugar,and serve at room temperature with cream Serves 8-10.

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Note: this pastry is VERY short, requiring some patching do be done here and there. Despite this frustration, it is worth the effort and will still taste and look lovely.

This post is for Marcel, the boy who appreciates good food!

Travel Theme: Pink

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Trawling through my digital shoebox, I tried to ignore subjects and focus on the colour pink.  It’s an interesting exercise to sub- categorise by colour and one I would highly recommend.  After exporting my pink images to their own file, Mr Tranquillo was consulted about pinkness. He saw red where I saw pink – the maroon of  the monks’ robes. He saw brown where I saw pink-  the terracotta temples of Bagan, Myanmar (Burma). The eye sees colour in so many different ways. Tints, hues and complexions of pink fade into beige,mauve and orange. Here are my pink offerings for Ailsa’s Where’s My Back Pack weekly theme.  Taken in Myanmar ( Burma), a country that is usually associated with gold.

A pink terracotta building in Bagan, Myanmar. Built between 11th and 13th centuries,  2,200 brick temples like this one remain. It takes days to tour this area.

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Temples of Bagan at sunset.Image

The pink lit rooves of the monasteries surrounding the Shwesandaw Pagoda in Paya. Paya, around nine hours by car from Yangon, is a small town on the Ayeyarwady river.Image

A pink umbrella on a rainy day at the golden Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon.

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Young monks leaving the temple grounds.

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The Mad Tabouleh Lady

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You may have heard of Kevin McCloud‘s drinking game. There are a few versions but a simplified version goes like this.  Whenever Kevin mentions the following words in his programme, Grand Designs,  bespoke, artisan, the build, integrity, take a big sip. Extra drinking points are acquired if he says it in French or Italian. In the world of food, I propose a board game: the rules are similar, you score a drink when you read or hear the following: artisan, (the Italian artigianale deserves two drinks), quinoa, kale, ancient grains, and gluten-free. There are probably more buzz words out there and I hope someone will let me know so my bored, no board game can expand.  I have nothing against these foods per se, but I am tiring of their takeover. Normal, sensible eating is now dominated by these faddish foods. Why has barley become an ancient grain? Or brown rice? Farro has been used in Northern Italy forever. As for quinoa, it’s overrated and tasteless and has an unpleasant texture.  Kale? A common enough plant in my veggie garden which enhances a good minestrone or risotto. But kale chips, kale smoothies? Kale and eggs for breakfast? National Kale Day? Gluten- free products are important for celiacs, but now every normal non gluten free product carries this selling tag: gluten-free jam, gluten-free eggs, gluten- free tomatoes – the marketing departments are having a field day with labelling for the naive and gullible.

Nothing like a good rant after cleaning out the pantry – an onerous and tedious job, involving small flying creatures and much waste.  Whilst there, I found a packet of unopened “Ancient Grains” bought on a whim at some stage  The packet is labelled, in capitals, ‘gluten- free rice plus‘ and contains a ‘powerful blend of rice, nutritional ancient grains and seeds which includes brown rice long grain, white basmati, red basmati, buckwheat, white quinoa, and millet, and black sesame seeds. Putting aside my cynical self, I whipped up a tasty tabouleh, adapting the recipe from the back of the packet. I served it with a little side of chopped boiled eggs with Dukkah. All Gluten-free, and not like chook food at all!!

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Powerful Tabouleh

  • Cook one cup grains with two cups of vegetable stock ( or water) using the absorption method. ( 15 minutes) ( I used a good home-made stock as these grains need help with flavour)
  • 6 chopped spring onions, including lots of the green part
  • 1 cup or more of Italian parsley, chopped
  • a handful of mint, chopped
  • a handful of currants
  • some small tomatoes, chopped, preferably ‘heirloom’ ( whoops, another buzz word ).
  • 2 -4 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbls lemon juice
  • 1/2 teas Dijon mustard
  • salt/pepper.

When the rice blend has cooled, add the other ingredients to the bowl, and let them sit for a bit to absorb the dressing.

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The original recipe called for far too much parsley and used dried cranberries, which I find too sweet.

Serves two as a big lunch or a side salad for four or more.

Verdict? I liked it more than a regular Tabouleh and was pleasantly surprised.

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Baked Pears with Prunes, Chocolate and Almonds

Autumn just gets better and better, with new season’s pears appearing and a few quinces making their debut in the markets. My few garden pears are maturing on the tree- protected from cockatoos and parrots by bird netting. All this bountiful plenty makes me think of how wonderful pear desserts can be.Image

Leah, of the Cookbook Guru, has chosen Karen Martini’s ‘Cooking at Home’ this month. Its a great chance to cook from a recipe book that you might own, or just borrow one, as I did.  It is also a chance to be honest and appraise the pros and cons of a recipe. A few pear recipes caught my eye but I decided to make something with a touch of drama, a little trick that I might keep up my sleeve for when  friends come over for dinner.

       Baked Pears stuffed with prunes, chocolate and almonds. (serves 6)

  • 350 g castor sugar
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 800 ml water
  • 400 ml white wine
  • 6 beurre bosc pears, peeled, cored, but with stems left intact
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
  • pure icing sugar for dusting
  • good quality ice cream for serving

    Stuffing

  • 4 Tablespoons sherry ( or other spirit)
  • 6 prunes
  • 2 Tablespoons currants
  • 100 good quality dark chocolate, melted
  • 10 g toasted flaked almonds
  • 4 pieces glace` ginger, chopped
  1. Combine the sugar, lemon, water and white wine in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to the boil. add the pears, reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Remove pears and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220c. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  3. Make the stuffing. Heat the sherry in a small saucepan. When hot, add the prunes and currants. Stir, remove from the heat and set aside for 15- 20 minutes. Strain ( if you need to). Combine the melted chocolate, almonds and ginger and prune mixture, then set aside to cool.
  4. Cut the pear shapes from the pastry sheets, with an extra 3 cm all around. Spread 1 tablespoon of stuffing onto the pastry and sit pears on top. Transfer to the baking tray and bake for 14 minutes.  Dust with icing sugar and serve with icecream.Image

Pros.

  • The pears can be made up to a week ahead. I made one third of the recipe for the actual composed dessert, but ate the other pears for breakfast.
  • The stuffing can also be made ahead, leaving the shaping and baking till the last minute.
  • It looks dramatic.

Cons.

  • The lovely sounding stuffing tasted only of fruit chocolate. The subtlety of the other ingredients didn’t shine through ( except for the ginger).
  • The pastry I used was commercial sheet pastry which was hanging around in my freezer. It wasn’t fabulous. I would suggest a really good quality puff pastry in order to get the benefit of puff and crunch that this dessert probably deserves.
  • Mr Tranquillo said he preferred my other pear desserts and was underwhelmed. His opinion was proffered only when pushed!

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Swordfish with Tomato, Chilli and Caper sauce.

I am calling this Pesce Spada alla Putanesca as it reminds me of Sicily.

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It was with some reluctance that I decided to throw my recipe into the ring of the Cookbook Guru this month. Firstly, I don’t own a Karen Martini book and I was never tempted to make any of her recipes when they were syndicated weekly in the Sunday Magazine some time back. They just didn’t appeal.  But on a recent trip to the library with Mr Tranquillo, haunter of libraries and frequent borrower, I came across a copy of Karen Martini’s “Cooking at Home.”  After reading the book cover to cover, I was pleasantly surprised and I have already made two dishes from this book, this dish and a pear dessert ( coming soon).

A recent rule I have inflicted on myself is to use up what’s on hand when choosing or inventing a recipe.  As I had already purchased a nice slab of Pesce Spada or Sword Fish from the Preston Market, and had all the other ingredients in my pantry, Karen’s Sword Fish with Tomato, Chilli and Caper sauce ticked all the boxes. I have given the dish the Italian title above as the sauce is very reminiscent of a classic Putanesca sauce. ( it only lacked the anchovies).  And just like the putana, or prostitute of the original, I too had all the ingredients on hand to throw into the sauce. This dish is very piccante, assertive, gustoso.  Any sustainable fish could be substituted, bearing in mind that a delicate fish would be swamped by the flavour. The beauty of this dish is that the sauce can be made ahead: indeed it develops more flavour and thickens, but leave out the basil until reheating.  Snapper or Barramundi could work well too. A nice Pinot Noir or Sangiovese pairs well with this dish.

Serves 4

  • 200 mls extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 7 caperberries, drained and sliced or 2 Tbles of capers
  • 4  Tbles black olives, pitted, (halved)
  • 1 teas dried chilli flakes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 200 mls white wine ( dry for example Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay)
  • 3 cups chunky tomato pasta sauce (passata)
  • 2 handfuls basil leaves ( oregano would be a good substitute)
  • 4 swordfish, ( about 120 grs each) cut in half lengthways ( remove gristly bits)

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes or until just golden, then add the caperberries, olives, chilli flakes, and salt to taste. Stir. Then pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Add the tomato sauce (sugo or passata), and simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes or until thickened. Check seasoning and stir in most of the basil.

Brush the swordfish with olive oil and season. Heat a large non stick frying pan over high heat and sear the fish for about two minutes on each side or until just cooked ( and golden).

Spoon the sauce onto four plates or a large platter and top with the fish. Scatter with extra basil and serve with a salad and crusty bread.

I followed the recipe for once! Anything above in brackets are my small notes. The saucing is generous so do include some good bread, or serve with some soft polenta.

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A little note re the tomato passata. As I was not able to make tomato sauce this year due to the humble, no pathetic, quantity from my garden, I found this great sauce at BAS foods in Brunswick. It tastes just like one Nonna would make.

Sunday Stills, the next challenge: the Colour Brown

I have decided to have a go at a few photography challenges lately, including the Sunday Stills Photography Challenge. These challenges drive me to look at, and sort, the back log of photos in my files. It is also a way of distracting me from food blogging, which can get obsessive at times. I never go anywhere now without my camera, but when it comes to sorting, labelling and discarding, I’m hopeless. Here is my ‘brown’ offering for this weeks challenge.

                     Brown boxes arranged in a doorway in a suburb of Tokyo.

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Travel Theme: Gardens

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It is always a pleasure to visit a garden when travelling overseas. Some delight, others offer peace and sanctuary, a place to picnic, or to stroll in natural surroundings. Central Park in New York and the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome both provide a chance to retreat from frenetic crowds and busy street life.

But becoming a traveller when at home is also on my agenda. The gardens of Victoria, Australia never cease to amaze, excite and challenge me. I was fortunate to visit a few local gardens last Spring with my dear friend Dianne, enchantress and gardener extraordinaire. “I’ll just pop this seed in my pocket!” “Could we ask for a small cutting of that plant?”

As part of this weeks travel theme on WheresMyBackpack.com, I am taking a stroll in the gardens of Alowyn Gardens , one hour from Melbourne, Australia. At each fork in the path, new and exciting choices need to be made. The garden provides such enormous variety: perrenial borders, a Parterre garden, an edible garden followed by a forest garden, a dry bed garden and the truely amazing Wisteria archway, just to name a few.ImageImageImageImageImageImage