In My Kitchen, February 2017

Strangely enough, February is the busiest month of the year in my kitchen. It’s also the hottest month in Melbourne, although this year we have been spared ( touch wood) those soaring temperatures of over 40ºC. The kitchen frenzy comes with the flushing of major annual crops such as zucchini, tomato, cucumber, chilli and now plums. It’s a bumper year for plums. I have another 5 kilo waiting for me in the fridge. Our annual beach camp is interspersed with busy times back at home preserving and freezing crops for the cooler months, as well as watering the garden and clearing away the fire hazardous leaves and fallen branches. The Sagra delle Prugne is around the corner.

Vietnamese tomato and dill soup with fish.
Vietnamese tomato and dill soup with fish.

Meanwhile, we eat simply and cheaply. When not eating zucchini fritters or Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup, I turn to Vietnam for inspiration. Cá nấu cà chua, fish, tomato and dill soup, is perfect for a hot day. I found this recipe last year while in Saigon and now that summer has arrived, I am delighted to make it with my own produce. The fish market at Preston provided the economical red snapper for this dish. Light and sustaining, it tastes like a wet version of cha ca la vong.

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Chopsticks and Vietnamese fish, tomato and dill soup. Summer time in Melbourne.

While at the market, I purchased a big pile of local Southern Squid for $5 a kilo. Yes, there’s an hour’s work gutting and preparing these for the freezer but my little ones love fried squid after a swim in the pool. The best day to buy squid is on the day the market opens for the week. In the case of our nearest fish market, that’s Wednesday morning. Squid needs to be super fresh to compete with is pricey relative, the calamari. How can you tell squid from calamari? Australian southern squid, the most sustainable seafood in Australia, has an arrow shaped tail, whereas the calamari has side wings.

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Hello Southern Squid. Five fresh squid for $7. Now to prepare them for the freezer. More summer jobs.
Arrow head on a Southern squid. I usually discard this bit. Not so the wings of a calamari.
Arrow head on a Southern Squid. I usually discard this bit. Not so the wings of a calamari.

At the same fish monger, I bought some fresh river shrimp from the Clarence river in NSW. These are tiny and eaten whole. They make an excellent beer snack with a little lime aoili. A tempura batter, made with iced water, baking powder and cornflour, protects them as they fry. A pre-prepared salt of interest is also a good accompaniment. I used Herbes De Provence with salt, a batch I made before Christmas. I love special salts and am about to make a celery seed salt and one from our chilli flush. These salts make cheating easy.

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Shrimp tempura with lime aioli and a provincial salt.

To mop up the big soups and fried things, one needs a large cloth napkin. These lovely cotton towels, seconds, turned up in a linen shop in Brunswick for $2 a set. I bought them all. They soften and improve with washing.

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Japanese tea towels turned into napkins

Last week I celebrated the summer zucchini plague on Almost Italian. This zucchini slice is handy and well known. I added almond meal to the mix for a lighter version. It comes with grated carrot, zucchini, chopped capsicum and herbs.

Succhini slice, enhanced with extras.
Zucchini slice, enhanced with extras.

This hungry lad has finally learnt to make a good tuna pasta in my kitchen. It is an easy dish for a 12 year old to learn. Practice makes perfect Noah.

Kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen

And what would be an IMK post without my little Cheffa, Daisy, who always drags her stool to the bench to help with anything I am making.

hungry days by the pool.
hungry days by the pool.

Good food does come at a price around here, not so much in monetary terms but certainly in labour. Thank you kindly Liz, at Good Things, for your gracious hosting of this monthly link up.

47 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, February 2017”

  1. How I miss southern squid, the local waters here seem to have no equivalent. So glad you’ve been spared those scorching days with strong northerly winds, long may it stay that way? Great to see the Grandkids enjoying both eating and cooking. Enjoy your sojourn by the bay…

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    1. I don’t work so hard down at the bay- love it. Everything tastes so wonderful by the sea. The little frozen squid packs will go down there with me as the supplies on the Mornington Peninsula are not good ( except for veggies from the farms in Boneo)

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  2. I wish I lived at your house. I’d not only eat well, but I would have learned kitchen skills at a young age. Everything looks delicious and it’s so interesting to see the wholesome ingredients you have to work with down under.

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  3. The grandbabies are getting big, Fra! So if you discard the head of the squid, does that just leave you with the tentacles? I’ve always bought calamari, so I must look out for squid next time. And deep fried school prawns like that are a fave, although I’ve never cooked them. We very occasionally get them live here. Love the napkins, what a great idea as the Japanese tea towels at Daiso are often very cheap. Not sure I’d like the ironing though.. 😉 xxx

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    1. Noah began high school yesterday and looked so smart in his uniform. My eldest grandchild, Mischa, is about to turn 20. She is in Thailand working in an elephant camp for the second year running and is doing a teaching degree. I was so pleased that she paid her own way this year, having saved well from her five part time jobs. The others are still little though, so I get lots of bear hugs from them. The pointy wings of the arrow head are too tough to use. You are left with a big body and the tentacles. I usually cut the body open and give the inside another scrape, then chop it up into long strips, rather than keep rings. I get out the little frozen bags- they take no time to thaw- and add these to the first stage of Paella cooking. The squid seem perfect for this dish, whereas calamari is softer and more delicate and tends to disappear. Fresh squid is indistinguishable from calamari, but $4.99 versus $29.99- I can no longer afford cala.
      I was wasting time ironing my old white linen napkins. These cloths, if hung out on a windy day, just get folded well and tucked away, as the cotton is soft.

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    1. Australian blogs are so full of beautiful summer fruit and veg that we won’t see for 6 months until the earth tips us towards the sun again. But you also show your beautiful produce of the sea — fish, calamari, shrimp… that we in the middle of a huge continent actually don’t see at all. Thanks for the fun!

      best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  4. At the WA Abrolhos Islands we caught squid from the jetty. An Italian long-termer taught me to prepare the squid as you’ve done. However, he also taught me to marinate the rings or strips in milk in the fridge for half a day. Once rinsed, coated with salt and pepper crumbs and very lightly cooked, they were so very tender. Mario said that this method stemmed from the time that the Abrolhos had no power, only ice boxes and helped with the preservation of varying seafoods for the evening meal. Consequently this has enabled me to also purchase cheap Qld squid resulting in very yummy treats. Thanks for the beautiful blog Francesca – so inspiring.

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    1. Milk marinating- must keep this in mind Peter. Squid is cheap, sustainable and so tasty. I wish I knew how to catch it- the old Greeks manage to do pretty well catching it from the Rosebud Jetty. we are down there now, so sometimes I have data and often, not.

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  5. What an interesting post, I did not know the difference between squid and calamari. In fact I never knew there were two types. I always assumed calamari was the name for squid once cooked. We thing we only get calamari here and it comes in two sizes, the larger one can be cooked as steaks. The zucchini slice looks delicious.

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    1. We get squid and calamari in many sizes, then there is cuttle fish, in the same family. Each one has slightly different flesh. Calamari flesh is more delicate and is used for some dishes. Generally, Vietnamese salt and pepper calamari is in fact squid. People use the names interchangeably here too, but the price difference is enormous.

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  6. Squid for $5 a kilo? That is a bargain in anyone’s language. I don’t mind cleaning them and if you’re going to clean them, may as well do a big batch! The prawns look wonderful too. I often think about your summer camp in quieter moments. Since you wrote about the wonderful find you have used to stock and decorate the camp, I was hooked. I always look forward to the camp posts and love to read them when they appear.

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  7. Great post: living 120km from the wondrous Sydney Fish Market and loving both calamari and squid I am just scrolling back and forth! Also absolutely love your chopsticks: I have been a total oddbod for the past three decades ’cause eat with them about 80-90 % of the time when alone . . .well, when you mostly cook Asian it’s easy and so comfortable. And for once even envy you your weather: here the Highlands will see the 14th and 15th day over 40C this summer next week . . . and that does not take the 35-39C days into account . . .

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  8. I really love your frugality! And, it is quite amazing that you manage to produce such luscious food for so little. Having a garden really helps. More people should grow their own food, even if it is a few herbs in pots. It tastes so much better. Thanks for the explanation of squid v.s. calamari – never knew the difference.

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    1. Frugality has it’s contrasts, in travel and wine consumption! The squid is always so cheap at our markets. So much so, that fishmongers will not do the gutting etc for you. I rather enjoy this process though- being in touch with the food we eat.

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  9. Ah, the Preston Market, god the hours I’ve spent there in my mispent youth! Happy for you getting such great harvests, ours are extremely slow to non-existent. Love the soups, the linen and those chopsticks, don’t think I’ve ever tried tuna pasta, got any tips! Hope you have had some of the rain, we are still waiting.

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    1. We got a wonderful downpour- 41 mls, so that will bump up the average for the month, and it filled the dam and tanks. Our crops are not as plentiful as usual: I am picking about 1 kilo of tomatoes every second day. Chillies are early, and the cucumbers are a bit slow. The tuina pasta recipe is so basic, but all the kids live on it.

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  10. You continue to inspire me to eat well, locally and economically ♡ I look for bargains at the local seafood co-op and find they are usually better eating than the more expensive stuff… baby flake-shark mmm mmm, and small local prawns are so much tastier than the ubiqutous kingies.
    Zucchini slice with almond meal sounds like a good Tafe br/lunch to me… and maybe the G.O. would eat it if was in the fridge on a plate ready to go…

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  11. yum yum to zucchini slice. and those japanese tea towels cum napkins are so lovely. all those plums! my word all this produce must keep you very busy. good on you! i wish i could grow anything without bugs and turkeys getting it.

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    1. We have rabbits and so have the whole patch fenced and netted. Thanks Sherry. ( I often can’t comment on your site due to the ins and outs of signing. It never works for me- apologies)

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