In My Kitchen this month I am listening to the music of Jiang Yang Zhuo Ma. I can’t start the day without her deep voiced Tibetan ballads stirring my spirit. With a cup of tea in hand, the first of many, I drift away and travel back through Szechuan Province in China. Then the kitchen business day begins.
In keeping with the Chinese theme, we have some very good Chinese tea, gifts from our dear friends in Chengdu. It tastes of Spring and flowers. The tea shops in China are surprisingly beautiful. Some teas cost a fortune.
On our road trip through the north of Szechuan Province, we visited a Szechuan pepper oil factory. Back in Melbourne, I immediately sourced a bottle ( sadly not from the same factory). Used like sesame oil, it provides a deep, peppery finish to MaPo Dofu or drizzled over stir fried wongbok cabbage, for example.
I have a slight obsession with these vintage floral tin plates from China. Produced during the period of the Cultural revolution ( 1970s), they have become quite rare. I use them as prep plates, or as trays to cart things outside, or to collect, then wash, greens from the garden.
I also have a big pile of these Chinese fish patterned bowls as I am sure many others do. They are economical and handy for one bowl meals.
I found this Chinese thermos in Labuan Bajo, Flores, Indonesia in the hardware store for $6.00. I had to buy it, even though it meant lugging it back to Sanur, Bali, before heading home to Australia. I fill it up in the morning and drink tea the Chinese way, topping up the same leaves.
Mr Tranquillo likes a beer after work and this is his current drop of choice, Tsingtao of course.
I always keep a kitchen Buddha nearby to help with the day. My Chinese kitchen sits very comfortably within my Australian kitchen, alongside the Italian cuisine, when I’m not cooking Turkish. Thanks to Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting the ‘In My Kitchen’ monthly, thus allowing me to expose my love of China. Visit Celia’s site and open the many links to worldwide kitchens.
This month my garden news is not good. I am recording a few disasters.
Heavy frosts have continued to damage the citrus trees, especially the limes. The top leaves are badly burnt. It is too soon to prune these back as more frosts could be on the way.
The next cause of damage is the white cockatoo. This bird is the most annoying visitor to my garden. Cockies are vandals, hoodlums from the sky, descending on the garden in mobs, swooping down and causing havoc.
They don’t eat the vegetables, they cut them in half- just for fun! This particularly applies to tall-growing vegetables such as garlic, cavolo nero, and silverbeet. In the front garden, they took a particular dislike to the succulents this year, pulling them all out, leaf by leaf, as if to say ‘ we don’t like you, wrong colour, odd shape’.
The next annoyance- the rabbits. Its seems we have a few gaps in our fencing and so these little devils have heavily pruned my parsley and radicchio. They breed in the nearby gullies and are a continual problem.
Harvest. Cavolo nero ( black kale) is now picked from one side of the plant (cockies stripped the other side) to make my favourite pasta dish. Silverbeet, coriander, and herbs are abundant. The broad beans are coming along nicely.
On the bright side, these two calves, Dougie and O’Dannyboy were born in the last fortnight, adding a touch of Spring joy to our paddocks. They, and their mothers, provide our garden with manure.
To do list:
I think the time has come to build a netted cage over the whole veggie patch. Out damn cockies, out.
Build some shelters or breaks to protect citrus before next winter.
Sow plots of lettuce, spring onion, rugola.
Prepare and enrich other beds for the big planting which will take place in early October.
Behold the edge! A trip down the Great Ocean Road is a rewarding experience with glorious views of the edge of Victoria, Australia, all the way from Lorne to Port Campbell. It is a roller coaster ride and the best road trip to do if you are visiting this state.
The edge of Victoria looks gnawed by the sea at the 12 Apostles, near Port Campbell. These stacks, arches, caves and stumps look dramatic at any time of the year and slowly change over time. One day an arch, the next day two stumps. Visit Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Edge this week at Where’s My Backpack.
Recently I found a Romertopf baking dish at an op shop (thrift store) for the princely sum of $4.00. These turn up frequently in second-hand stores. They have become obsolete in many households due to the popularity of electric slow cookers. But not for the bread maker. Snap them up!
Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, inspired me to purchase one. The Romertopf baker enables a high rise, moist loaf, to be made with a fairly hydrated sourdough mix. Don’t ask me about the level of hydration here- I am not that technical, yet.
Starter, 300g , bubbly and ripe, (read Celia’s starter notes)
bakers white flour 500g
wholemeal flour 200g
rye flour 100g
water 610 g
Total flour weight 800g
Place the starter in a large mixing bowl, add the other dry ingredients, then add the water bit by bit, mixing by hand until there is a sticky dough and all the dry has been incorporated into the wet. You could also use a wooden spoon.
Let this sticky dough rest in a large bowl for 30 minutes or so.
Attempt to lift, stretch and fold the dough in the bowl. As it was fairly wet and this was a bit tricky, I tipped the lot into a stand mixer and gave it a slow knead with the dough hook for 3 minutes. The dough was wet but silky.
It then proved in a large oiled bowl, initially for 4 hours ( winter evening). As it wasn’t ready for late evening baking, I put it in the fridge overnight to slowly prove (7 more hours).
The dough was ready at 6 Am. I then shaped the loaf on a floured board for a final prove, around 1 hour.
As it was growing sideways, and looking ridiculous, I tipped the lot into a Romertopf earthenware baking dish. This had been pre- soaked in warm water, then lined with baking paper. The top was slashed, the lid went on.
The loaf started in a cold oven turned to 220c , for 25 minutes, then 20 minutes with the lid off, then 10 minutes at 175c. The fan was on throughout.
Result. One huge family style loaf, good for sandwiches and general purpose eating. Everyone loves it- it’s disappearing quickly. The Romertopf method gives the crust a golden glow.
very moist loaf, open crumb, golden crust, not as sour as I would like it, though sour notes improved on second day. Will do this again, and increase the rye, or introduce spelt.
A great family loaf, huge in size and a good keeper. Next time, I won’t use the mixer. In summer, I might attempt the whole rise in the fridge over a longer period.
In a discussion with a gifted baker, Craig, I seem to recall his comments about slow proving and that modern bread may be causing digestion problems due to over yeasting and fast proving. I must explore slow proving further.
Grazie Mille to Celia for introducing me to the Romertopf method.
Melbourne has been named the world’s most liveable city for the fourth year in a row. See the Economist. As a local, I enjoy a day out as a tourist in my own city. I love walking through the pedestrian lane ways, admiring the Victorian architecture and street cafes, the famous graffiti lane and the river promenades, observing the small changes that take place in cultural life. Melbourne looks different in winter, the low light alters the colour of familiar landmarks.
St Paul’s Cathedral, below, displays a warm welcome to refugees, with an orange sign on its ancient facade. If only the current Australian government shared these sentiments.
Spring is just around the corner and the birds are warbling cheerfully in the garden. Another Dexter calf was born early this morning, still without name but many are in the running. What a glorious day, makes me want to talk like Robbie Burns, oh deary laddie oh.
These simple little morning tea cakes are not overly sweet and include a small amount of almond meal helping to keep things moist. They have a sweet/bitter heart, just like mine, provided by a daub of orange marmalade. Best of all, they can be thrown together in minutes.
Orange, Almond and Marmalade Cakes.
125 g unsalted butter
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 large orange, rind zested then juiced
2 large eggs
1 cup SR flour
3/4 cup almond meal
Cream the butter, sugar and orange rind until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Then add the flour, the almond meal and the juice. Spoon into a greased 12 hole muffin tin, regular sized , and if you prefer, encase them in muffin papers or parchment. Make a small indent into the batter and add a half teaspoon of marmalade to each. Smooth batter over the top.
Bake in a preheated (180 c oven for 15-20 minutes). Cool on a rack. Dust with icing sugar.
Help name the Dexter calf. The name must start with D and be male-ish. Irish/Celtic names preferred but not essential. Leave a D name in the comments below. His name will be chosen by Sunday, August 24th.
Bread has played a central role in the history of La Cucina Italiana and everyday life.: this is reflected in the endless array of expressions concerning Pane (bread). Consider just a few of these,
Senza il pane tutto diventa orfano– without bread, everyone becomes an orphan.
Uscire di pane duro– to leave behind hard bread or to have a change for the better.
Essere pan e cacio- to be like bread and cheese, ie thick as thieves.
churigo come il pane, medico come il vino. Look for a surgeon who is like bread ( ie young) and a doctor like wine ( ie old).
E’ buono come un pezzo di pane. He’ s like bread, He’s a good person.
L’ho comprato per un tozzo di pane. I bought it for a piece of bread, (a bargain)
pane al pane e vino al vino , to call a spade a spade.
But wait there’s more. I’ll spare you the rest.
My most recent loaf, a wholesome, nutty Pane Integrale con Miele ( wholemeal with honey) reminds me of a crusty loaf I bought years ago in a small Umbrian hill town. The crust is crunchy and dark, but not too much so, and the open textured bread is easy to digest, which is surprising for a loaf made of 100% wholemeal flour. I’ll admit that when it first emerged from the oven, I was a little concerned. Nothing worse than pane duro, hard bread.
The secret is the long slow rising ‘biga’ or starter, made especially for this loaf, and the addition of honey. The recipe comes from my favourite cookbook, The Italian Baker, by Carol Field, and I offer this bread recipe to Leah, of the Cookbook Guru as further proof of this book’s worth.
Pane Integrale con Miele– Wholemeal Bread with honey. ( Ingredients are listed in grams, ounces, cups )
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
160g/5.6 oz/2/3 cup warm water
200 g/7 oz/1 1/2 cups minus 1 Tb unbleached white flour
Stir the yeast into the water in a mixing bowl and leave for 10 minutes. Stir in the flour with 100 strokes of a wooden spoon. Let rise, covered, for 6 to 24 hours. Measure 1.4 cup of this starter and throw away the rest. ( NB. I used the rest in another recipe!)
Stir the yeast and honey into the water in a mixer bow: let stand for about 10 minutes. Break up the starter and add to the bowl. Stir with the paddle until the stater is in shreds. Add the flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Change to a dough hook and knead for 2 minutes at low speed and 2 minutes at medium speed. The dough should be fairly smooth and have lost most of its stickiness. Finish kneading by hand on a floured board.
First Rise. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise for about 2 hours or until doubled.
Shaping and second rise. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and shape into a round loaf without punching the dough down. Place the loaf on a slightly oiled baking sheet or a peel sprinkled with cornmeal . Cover with waxed paper or a towel and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, around 45 minutes to one hour.
Baking. Preheat oven to 230 c/450 F. Bake for 10 minutes, spraying the oven three times with water. Reduce the temperature to 200c/400F and bake 25 minutes longer. Cool completely on rack.
My notes. My dough spread quite widely and looked like a cartwheel loaf one buys in Italy. I slashed the top of mine in a tic-tac-toe pattern, causing some deflation before it entered the oven: next time, no slashing to see what happens. I used course semolina on the trays. No need to waste the left over biga – use it in another loaf while the oven is hot. The book also gives instructions for making the loaf by hand or with a food processor. I have listed the method by kitchen stand mixer only.
I love that old 80s song, “I wanna be a cowboy” but it does remind me how much I loathe the term ‘wanna’ which seems to be creeping into our language and is promoted by many a famous blog. ‘Wanna’ is up there with ‘kinda’ and ‘gonna’ as commonplace contractions in spoken English, but when these ‘common’ contractions occur in considered writing, my rant radar goes off, along with the misuse of ‘like’, ‘awesome’ and ‘guys’, the latter lazily thrown about as if a non-gendered form of address.
Resist the destruction of written English! Or just sing,
Yippy yippy yi, yippy yippy yi yo yo
Oh, yippy yippy yo yo!
Have you also noticed this ‘wanna’,’kinda’ language appearing too often for your liking?
There is one cookbook that keeps finding its way back to the kitchen bench, the big table, and the couch. Sometimes it likes to come to bed too. The Italian Baker by Carol Field is definitely my favourite cookbook, or perhaps I should say, book! It is a bible and just a joy to read. I am suggesting to Leah that this inspirational book should become her Book of the Month for the Cookbook Guru.
Why do I love this book so much? Let me recount the ways.
It is well researched. Field spent more than two years travelling throughout Italy to capture regional and local specialties.
The opening chapters discuss bread making in Italy, ingredients, equipment and techniques. The discussion on flour is very informative.
The recipes include traditional breads, festive breads, torte and dolci ( biscuits and cakes) as well as chapters on modern varieties.
Instructions are clear and easy to follow. Measurements are given in metric, imperial and cups. Separate instructions are noted for mixing by hand, mixer and processor.
I love that she employs traditional ‘biga’ starters. Less yeast and slower to make means easier to digest!
The photos are few; there is no celebrity chef talk.
The Italian proverbs and sayings regarding bread would appeal to any Italophile.
Before each recipe is a wonderful short prologue.
Here is a shortened excerpt from the prologue for Pane Toscano.
“Tuscans have been making this saltless bread for many centuries. Dante even referred to it in the Divine Comedy. Anticipating the difficulties of his exile from Florence, he speaks of them figuratively, “you shall learn how salty is the taste of another’s bread’. P 84.
All rather wonderful. Time to read Dante’s Inferno. In the meantime, I plan to cook every recipe from this book, a rather ambitious idea, given that I don’t eat many sweets and only a little bread each day. In the meantime, I propose this book to the cookbook club, and to all readers in search of an inspirational baking book.
These photos show a few things that I have made in the last few weeks. I plan to post a ‘new’ recipe from this book before the month is over.