Preparations are in progress for the feast. I am so pleased the venue for the family gathering rotates and will be held at my sister’s house this year. Best wishes to all, but especially to the those who cook for the day!
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree
The hunt is on to find a pine tree to chop down for Christmas. Pine trees ( Pinus Radiata) are considered weeds in Australia: they invade bush areas and starve indigenous vegetation of moisture, nutrients and light. They also increase soil acidity and spread easily. Unlike our other invasive weed, the blackberry, pine trees are difficult to remove when large. We recently spent $4,000 removing an ancient specimen from our land. It was the mother of all Christmas trees.
Each Christmas we search for a sensible looking pine tree in the bush. This annual ritual has become a family joke. Mr Tranquillo and sons head off into the bush with axes while I hum the tune I’m a lumberjack and I’m Ok , a memorable tune and one worth glancing at when needing youtube procrastination time.
It’s always the same old story. They return grinning sheepishly, dragging a ridiculously large specimen, while I run around like some mad strega on steroids, dodging the branches that invade the whole living room, threatening to buy a Kmart plastic tree or go without if another dainty one is not found.
“Are we there yet?” That’s me in the passenger seat, in between texting everyone I know.
A trip to Lakes Entrance from Melbourne seems to take forever. There are a few unscheduled stops along on the way, a quick $15.oo meal of flathead tails at the Trafalgar Hotel, a visit to an Op Shop or two on route, a stop at the Thorpdale Potato Shed for some fresh Nicola or Dutch Cream potatoes. And what about that Turkish Magic shop in Stratford for an exotic ottoman? No wonder the trip to the Lakes seems to take forever. Mr Tranquillo is a patient driver: I justify the stops in the interest of leg stretching.
Each year this seaside town holds a Seafarers Festival, which occurs on the Saturday following December 6, the feast day of St Nicholas of the Seas. The festival commences with a march through the main street, the green statue of St Nic leading the way. He is then carried to the sea and watches silently while a group of pastors conduct the Blessing of the Fleet, a simple Christian event, preceded by an Aboriginal tribute.This year’s Aboriginal welcome to country included a remarkable didgeridoo performance, the melancholic sound silencing the gathered crowd. Today both Lakes Entrance and LakeTyers retain a strong Aboriginal community and presence.
Three large marquees were set up for the day’s entertainment. The first cooking demonstration was conducted by Mark Olive, or the black olive, as he calls himself. Mark is really funny and engaging: he introduces us to indigenous foods as we taste a huge variety of peppers and herbs from the Australian bush. He is a great advocate for local produce, and sees the day when our herbs and animal meats become mainstream.Although St Nicholas was known for his abstinence, this doesn’t deter us from indulging in a full wine tasting. This year only one wine company tempted us with their goods: in previous years, the Gippsland wine industry was better represented.
With a glass in hand, we moved on to the next event, conducted by Mark Norvoyle and his handsome apprentice Samuel Smith. Within 40 minutes Mark and Sam deftly pin boned a side of fresh salmon, making one simple gravlax, some salmon and eggplant spring rolls, salmon confit, and a sashimi and tofu salmon. They made it look all too simple.Salivating from the food demonstartions, we headed off in search of tucker, finding a wondrous Paella stall. The serves came in small buckets, with a generous supply of calamari, scallops and mussels for $8.00. We scoffed these down as we watched a troupe of Greek dancers spinning around in the big marquee.
Off to another cooking demo by Matt and Mike, from My Kitchen Rules fame. These two were hilarious. Not cooks, these entertainers gave us an insight into the world of MKR.
A quick rest, then off to the Lakes Entrance Bowling club for an Italian Buffet night, with all you can eat pasta and pizza. The food was so- so, and that’s being kind, but the main attraction was the band, I Viaggiatori. Kavisha Mazzella and her troupe, performed beautiful Italian folk songs and ballads from the album, ‘Suitcase Secrets’.Included was the Australianised version of Mamma Mia Dammi Cento Lire, one of my favourites, and Canzone della Lega, the radical womens song from the rice growing area of the Po Valley. Kavisha is a Melbourne legend, having initiated and led Le goie delle donne, an Italo- Australian womens choir, in the 90s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jse5tqHTIdc
And then on Sunday we rested and ate more fish.
Every so often, a new product leaps from the shelf and says, “PICK ME, PICK ME.” This was the case recently when I was strolling along the vast aisles of the Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick. This magic emporium of Italian gastronomy ( with a bit of Spanish thrown in ) is disturbingly tempting and I seem to come back with things that were NOT on the list.
This was the case with this box of grain by Gallo. 3 Ceriali- Riso, Farro e Orzo. The instructions are in Italian but are simple enough. Non Mettere a Bagno – don’t soak, and Tempo di cottura– cooking time- 12 minutes. Obviously, the grains are par-boiled. This small detail on the box led to moments of internal struggle. The purist traditional wholefoody lady was bowled over by the 12 minute promise; the pragmatist furtively smuggled the box into her basket.
As I opened the box, my mind wandered to the hearty soups of Lucca, the farro of the Garfagnana mountains, the trattorie of Urbino. But it’s summer here, and these cereals, simply boiled, could make a wondrous salad base. Or stuffing for peppers and eggplants. Or a filling for silver beet leaves, a big involtino of goodness. Or taken on camping trips. Or, or…. a Pilaf.
Note- my recipes are flexible and are based on the ‘handful of this, a bit of that’ approach to cooking.
Recipe for a simple pilaf style side dish
- 1 cup of 3 cereal (Gallo brand)
- 4 onions, sliced finely
- a big glug of EV olive oil
- two garlic cloves, chopped finely
- fresh herbs of choice, example oregano
- a big handful of broad beans
- salt, pepper
- Cook the grains in a large pot of boiling water for around 18-20 minuutes or to taste. (no salt)
- Meanwhile, caramelise the onions in a pan with some good olive oil for 10 minues, adding the chopped garlic towards the end.
- Then shell and cook the broadbeans in boiling water for two minutes, drop into cold water, drain and peel off outer shells.
- Add the cooked grains to the onions, add herbs to taste, then add the cooked broad beans.
- Serve as a side dish.
Note: as a part of Australian law that require bloggers to disclose any kickbacks they receive, I must add that I am not receiving any gratuity from the meditterranean wholesalers, or any one else for that matter. I just happen to like the place. If only our radio shock jocks were as transparent.
The waves pound the coastline, often breaking like thunder, along the Ninety Mile Beach in Eastern Victoria . It’s a rugged and isolated stretch with few settlements along the way. Lake Tyers is one of those magic spots, a small town facing the gentle lakes which protect it via a sand spit, from the wild seas of Bass Straight. The town consists of beach houses, a few camping grounds, one milk bar/general store and delightful pub set right on the lake,the Waterwheel Tavern.
It’s the place I choose to visit out of season, usually in early December, and sometimes in winter, away from shopping malls, job lists and the internet, which is generally unreliable. We are here to ponder the view, read, walk and eat fish.
On clear nights, the horizon sparkles with fishing boats and trawlers, night’s glittering promise of tomorrow’s fresh fish. The catch is landed at Lakes Entrance, a major commercial fishing port which is a short 10 km drive away. Two outlets stock local fish and a few imports from interstate. The Fishermens Own Omega 3 fish shop. (which is basically the fish Co-Op ) and Ferry Seafoods, which is a little fish shop underneath a restaurant of the same name. It’s a fishy surprise each day!
On rough nights I ponder the lives of these commercial fishermen who love and respect the sea and I think of my ancestors who earned their living fishing off the coast in the nearby town of Port Albert, many of whom met ‘their watery graves’.
The following day the ‘fishermens’ own shop’ had some beautiful slippery grey mauve calamari, a steal at $13.95 a kilo. We dusted them with flour, gave them a quick minute fry, then dressed them with chilli flakes, salt, spring onions and lemon. Say no more!
On the third day, the wonderful folk at the same shop had filleted a ton of school sand whiting. I would not normally buy these little fellas as they are so boney, but when filleted, bring them on! I bought a huge pile for $9.00- so delicate and transparent and silvery. These were popped into a Thai green curry, loaded with ginger, garlic, chilli, red onion, kaffir lime leaves, basil, lime juice, fish sauce and coconut milk. I added a few beans and zucchini, to avoid growing fins! The fish were stirred through at the end and cooked in a minute.
The Fish gods were still smiling on us. On the fourth day some wild caught scallops turned up for a song. In the evening, these little gems were stirred through a simple spaghetti dish with lots of garlic, extra virgin olive oil,basil and a hint of chilli. The halved scallops cooked in the heat of the pasta.
Accommodation is available in camping grounds or in apartments and beach houses. These are usually cheaper out of season, which is anytime outside of the Christmas holidays and Easter.
This post is dedicated to my sister Kerrie, who has inherited the same fish gene from Port Albert, and to Bruce, who is always so good natured.
It’s that time of year again. Things are speeding up, the dance card looks full. Shops pump out annoying Christmas Carols making shopping unpleasant, police breathalizers are on the road even in the morning. Fast food is the now the go. No, not the stuff one grabs from the place with the golden arches (or one of its ugly cousins). However we do reserve the right to visit a Maccas in Paris when in need of a toilet!
The following little feast makes dinner for two. Measurements are flexible, things are thrown together. Ordered Chaos.
8 fresh sardine fillets ( already butterflied)
grated parmigiana cheese- 1/2 cup
dry breadcrumbs – around 1 cup.
1 -2 eggs
- Mix the parmigiana with the crumbs in one bowl, beat the egg/s in another.
- Dunk the fillets in the egg first, the coat generously with the crumbs.
- Rest them while making the salad.
A big chunk of watermelon
a handful of mint leaves, torn
fetta cheese, such as Dodoni
a handful of pine nuts, toasted
lemon or lime juice
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Cut the watermelon into big chunks. Cut the fetta into small cubes. Add these to the serving bowl.
- tear in a generous amount of mint leaves ( destalked) some toasted pinenuts ( or other nuts on hand- toasted).
- Add juice of one lemon or lime and a drizzle of oil.
I found this recipe some years ago: it lives in my special hand written cake book- the one that is devoted to cakes that really work. It is my favourite cake recipe and gets adapted according to the season.
The best part is that it doesn’t have a pastry base and so is really quick to prepare. The original recipe calls for pears, but I am substituting apricots. Ripe peaches and nectarines work quite well too. I am yet to try it with cherries. The apricots are in season, and I must be quick before Mr Tranquillo and the visiting humanoid fruit bats eat the lot!
Torta di Mandorla, Albicocca e Amaretto
Italian Almond and Apricot Cake with Amaretto.
- 125 g softened unsalted butter
- 150 g castor sugar
- 4 eggs
- 50 g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 375 g almond meal
- 2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
- 7 or more apricots large, ripe, enough to fill the tart
- 25 g flaked almonds
- Preheat oven to 180c /160c FF. Grease and line a 25 cm loose bottom tin.
- Place butter and sugar and eggs in a stand mixing bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale.
- Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto. Pour into the prepared tin.
- Arrange halved apricot over the top and lightly press down so they are submerged. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds.
- Bake for 45- 50 mins. Cool in tin.
Cool, dust with icing sugar. Serve with a small glass of Amaretto.
This keeps well in the fridge for a few days. Re- warm slices briefly in microwave.
Some people think I am really anal when it comes to my passion for green accessories in the kitchen. And I’m not even a Virgo. This month, it’s all very green in the vegetable garden (next month the reds will arrive). Rather than display these crops, I thought I might dust off some of my green kitchen babies as part of an IMK post ( my first).
I was walking down Sydney Road, Brunswick yesterday and found these lovely green colanders for a song. The large one- $3.00, the baby – $1.50. It was hard to resist all the other mad colours but I stuck with the green ones.
Bargain Depot Supermarket Clearance and Party Supplies – 775 Sydney Rd, Brunswick VIC 3056
I love that bargain shop so much! I always grab a few more little milk jars ( $1.00) to add to my collection. Good for herbs, flavoured oils, the odd flower, table place settings, irresistable.
This roll of string was bought at great expense from ebay. It lives on my kitchen shelf with its green friends and is largely used for tying up gifts wrapped in brown paper or newspaper, tying up tussy mussies or hanging oregano to dry.
I love my colllection of retro Hong Kong thermoses. The little green army came down from a high kitchen shelf today for a dust. I have used one for yoghurt making, but on the whole, they are decor items. I am searching for one which has the TWO GOATS gold label, then my collection will be complete.
I can’t live without a jar of Furikake. I have to resist eating it out of the jar. Nice sprinkled on poached eggs or fresh poached salmon salad, or steamed rice.
Finally we have my beautiful Fowler bowls in apple green, a retro Propert anodised sifter and a selection of green jugs.
These little green things enjoyed their moment in the limelight for an In My Kitchen post.
In My Kitchen is hosted by Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. http://figjamandlimecordial.com. What a lovely idea. Thanks Celia.
Have you noticed that the Christmas Panettone are marching into our shops, like a colourful Italian brigade, their tall boxes full of sweet promise. Originally from Milano, they are popular at Christmas and New Year all over Italy and throughout the Italian diaspora. It is often served with a frizzante wine, such as Moscato d’Asti or a liquor such as Amaretto or coffee.
But I can’t resist the beautiful boxes and if I buy one before Christmas, I display it as decor. Then, after New Year, when the prices come down,I buy a few more- usually the plain, fruit studded varieties – to stash in the freezer to make Panettone bread and butter pudding.
As the weather in the southern hemisphere is too hot to consider making this yummy treat, I am considering the summer options. After all, once that big castle shaped bread is cracked open, something needs to be done. Toasted, spread with marscarpone, drizzled with Amaretto? Layered as part of a Tiramisu?
Further summer ideas from readers would be most welcome.
Two years ago, my favourite little Italian restaurant closed. Joe and his wife ran “Cafe Mingo”, located in Sydney Road, Brunswick. Their pasta dishes were so satisfying and cheap. Each night they would chalk up a new pasta dish or two. I remember having this vegetarian pasta one evening and I have played with it ever since. If you asked Joe where his recipes came from, he would just shrug and say “from the back of a Barilla packet!!” At the end of a meal, Joe would surreptitiously slide a bottle of home-made grappa across the table, along with a plate of wafer biscuits. It was like visiting their family home. How dare they retire!
This following is my vegetarian version of a Bolognese sauce, in the style of Cafe Mingo. The Bolognese would be horrified! What, no meat?The soffritto Three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil one onion, finely chopped one celery stick finely chopped 1 carrot finely chopped 2 cloves garlic finely chopped salt. The sauce 100 grams of Puy lentils 100 g of portobello or swiss brown mushrooms 10 grs of dried porcini mushrooms 2 Tablespoons tomato paste one large tomato, seeded and finely chopped oregano salt and pepper The pasta 100 g per person Casareccia or any other pasta that holds the sauce grated parmesan, reggiano or grana padano, to serve
- Cook the lentils in a heavy based saucepan with plenty of water and a bay leaf. Do not add salt as this toughens lentils. Cook for around 20 minutes, so that the lentils still hold their shape and aren’t mushy. Drain.
- Soak the porcini mushrooms in boiling water, around 3/4 cup, to soften for 20 minutes. Remove the re-hydrated mushrooms, chop roughly and reserve liquid.
- In a large heavy based saucepan or deep sided frying pan, heat the olive oil, then add the soffritto ingredients, adding the garlic last. Stir well and cook over medium heat for five minutes until softened. Adding a pinch of salt helps the onions sweat. Do not let the onion colour.
- Then add the finely chopped portobello mushrooms, cook for 5 minutes, lowering the heat, then add the chopped porcini mushrooms and stir for a further 3 minutes.
- Add the drained lentils, stir, then the mushroom soaking liquid, leaving behind any sand or grit, and continue to cook on low.
- Bring a large pot of pasta to the boil, add salt, then add casareccia or other pasta and cook as directed on the packet.
- As the pasta is cooking, add two tablespoons of tomato paste, and a finely chopped tomato (optional) to the lentil mixture.
- Season well, add herbs, such as dried oregano, and check that the sauce is ‘wet’ enough.
- When the pasta is ready, scoop out a cup of cooking water before draining. ( I always retain a cup of the cooking water in case the sauce needs it- a good habit to get into.) Add a little to the sauce to loosen the sauce.
- Serve the Bolognese through the pasta, with grated parmigiana.