In My Kitchen, April 2017.

What I love most about writing these monthly posts for the series In My Kitchen is the opportunity it provides to photograph the busiest and most dynamic area of the house, the engine room of family life. In the past, I’ve approached IMK with far more discipline, usually with a theme in mind. This time three years ago, Asia inspired my kitchen roundup. My first ever IMK post was inspired by the colour green. Lately, I’ve become more random, letting my camera land on new objects that have drifted into my kitchen: some items linger, while others are just passing through. I also like to show a few daily meals that aren’t over styled or fussy, those needing further refinement or testing for future posts. Beautiful homegrown vegetables and fruit from my vegetable garden and orchard land on the bench or table daily. It’s often hard keeping up with nature’s bounty.

Vietnamese shopping bag

I love this shopping bag. I bought it last year in Ho Chi Minh City for around $4. It is made from a recycled fish food bag, covered in thick plastic, and lined on the inside with a small zipped pocket. It is wipeable inside and out and is much stronger than the ‘green bags’ which seem to multiply in the boot of my car.

I bought these little hand made dishes in the Dong Ba market in Hue, Vietnam. They are used to make Banh Beo.  Another $2 splurge, they came home and have hung around on the mantelpiece ever since. I haven’t even removed the pink plastic ties, which adds to the charm. They may find a use one day. I’m not really concerned about functionality if I like something.

Victorian skink, perfectly petrified.

One dead and perfectly preserved lizard turned up when I was cleaning somewhere or other. It is shiny, with a beautiful silver underbelly. It complements my feather collection on the old Australian kitchen dresser. The kids love it.

Give back the key to my heart.

Odd keys hang near the kitchen. This little collection consists of two small, useful keys which lock the cupboard doors of the colonial dresser. I found the other two large keys in the antique market in Arezzo, Italy, in 2011. They were the only things I could afford and the only things I could fit into my luggage.

You can’t have too many gratin dishes.

I must confess to another collecting obsession: gratin dishes. This lovely set by T. G. Green, unused and unfashionably maroon in colour, turned up at Savers for $6.99 the set. Note that everything I buy at this recycle store always ends in 99 cents. They don’t round-up by one cent and so I won’t either. The set is still in mint condition and I am having trouble christening it, so to speak.

Wild greens.

I like to stick to a meal budget and usually have a fair idea about the cost per dish. I absorbed this approach to meal planning from my mother. Although she never taught me how to cook, I was always conscious of her mental budgeting. As a young wife in the 1950s, she learnt this approach from her much older next door neighbour, Ferga, who instructed Mum that meals per person should not exceed a certain amount. One shilling it may have been at the time. Maybe Ferga learnt her kitchen budgeting skills from Mrs Beeton, whose Book of Household Management makes an interesting read, especially the very particular budgeting records. Most of our main meals at Castella Morgana come in at around $2 per person, unless I buy fish or am ‘entertaining’, something I rarely do these days. What a ridiculous word- entertaining!! Now before you accuse me of cheating, I will admit that this is only possible due to our productive vegetable patch, orchard and eggs from the hens. Our home-grown food is labour intensive, and so in one sense, it isn’t exactly free. And I’m not factoring in the cost of our Australian olive oil.

seppie fritte con rucola selvatica e balsamico

This dish of deep-fried squid, with wild rocket and a dressing of good balsamic, cost around $2.50 to make, with more than enough for two. Southern squid is the cheapest and most sustainable seafood product in Victoria, Australia, so long as you are ready to do your own cleaning and gutting. Fresh squid is soft and tender, unlike the defrosted rubber tubes in the supermarket that taste like condoms. Rocket, rugola selvatica, true to its name, grows wild around my vegetable patch. The batter was a quick mix of rice flour, ground chilli, salt and a beaten egg white. The most costly thing in this dish was the frying oil!

Fig clafoutis in my favourite old gratin dish.

When I make a family dessert, it tends to go down a well-worn path. Clafoutis or Far Breton or some sort of custard pudding with fruit. Fig Clafoutis makes good use of the egg and fig glut. It was tasty, but I’m still refining this dish, at least while more figs linger and slowly ripen on the trees.

 Tegame full of beans, storm clouds build on the horizon.

We do eat a lot of beans, an important protein for non- meat eaters. Last week my terracotta tegame came into the kitchen for a bean festival. I have mentioned this pot before. It slow cooks cannellini beans to perfection.

Pot of white beans and wild greens. I can live on this for tuppence. Just add good oil.

More beans below, this time a Greek gigantes dish, made from Lima beans, tomato, paprika, silver beet and a little fennel which turned into breakfast with an egg poached in the lovely rich sauce. My Greek neighbour often reminds me to put a big branch of wild anise or fennel into the pot when cooking beans. I have saved some of her sporos or seed and now have the stuff growing in my garden. I must watch that it doesn’t take over. I remember it growing wild along the verges of railway tracks as a child and the Italian and Greek women would wander along the edges and harvest it. I always wondered why and now I know. These days, I am enjoying gathering wild greens for our meals too- endive, cicoria, bitter green radicchio, rocket, cima di rape, fennel and other odd things found in the garden, some planted and others wild.

Gigantes with poached egg.

In the comfort of my kitchen, my heart goes out to the people of Queensland whose lives have been affected by the disastrous Cyclone Debbie. A reminder to all that donations do have an enormous positive impact on peoples lives: in Australia, the funds are used well. I can recommend the Salvation Army as one charity offering direct and immediate help to people affected by this disaster. You can donate by SMS text and the amount will appear on your mobile bill. How easy is that?

Hard to resist these colourful bowls.

I would also like to thank Liz, at Good Things, our gracious and efficient host, for continuing the In My Kitchen series over the past year. She is now handing the batten over to Sherry, another regular contributor to this series. Now seven years old, IMK seems to have a life of its own and I do hope it continues.

In My Indian Kitchen. December 2016

Curries, dhals, chutneys and spices are often present in my kitchen. Inspired by a new cookbook, Spice Kitchen, by Ragini Dey, I’ve been making a few onion Bhajees and curries of late. I borrowed this book from the library two months ago, and as I found it difficult to return, I realised I needed my own copy. Libraries can be dangerous like that. Unlike many of my other Indian cookbooks, this one doesn’t list too many ingredients. It also has that Indian- Australian modern touch.

Spice Kitchen
Spice Kitchen by Rajini Dey. Published 2013, Hardie Grant Books.

Every time Mr Tranquillo opened the spice drawer, millions of little packets of seeds and spices threatened to tumble out, assaulting his senses on the way. He called it the Dark Arts drawer, so I was forced to sort it out. Below is my orderly spice drawer: now all the spices are fresh and some even have labels. The freshest spices in Melbourne come from BAS Foods, Brunswick, where they pack spices weekly in their warehouse next door.

Dark arts drawer.
The Dark Arts drawer.

An old Tibetan Bell with Dorje lives near the kitchen. I was so devoted to my first Dorje bell, bought in India in 1978-9, that I called my youngest son Jack Dorje, a name that really suits him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tibetan Bell reminds me of India and my son Jack

I found some good quality green prawns yesterday so the Bhajee recipe was given another trial, this time with prawns. I added some cumin seeds and chopped spring onion to the batter. I’ve always had a stand-by pakora batter recipe but this version is sensational. The key is the addition of white vinegar to the batter mix. (recipe below). Served with a mango chutney for dipping and a crisp wine, we watched the sunset highlighting the ridges along the horizon, our own Von Guerard view, a reminder that life is good.

Prawn pakora or Bhaji.
Prawn pakora/ bhaji.

Two days ago I made the Rajma Curry from my new book. Such a simple version and so easy to whip up. Have you noticed that curry tastes better when left for a day or two? The Rajma ( red bean) curry turned into this morning’s baked beans and poached egg breakfast. A breakfast fit for an Indian Queen, especially with a cup of Chai.

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Rajma ( red bean) curry with poached egg and yoghurt.

This year I am attempting a Christmas free December, but I couldn’t resist this little Indian ornament from Ishka. I love the half price sales at Ishka. Going there allows me to openly embrace my inner hippy. Although that’s not too difficult.

Ishka bells, Ishka bells....
Ishka bells, Ishka bells….blah blah all the way. Oh no, those songs are back.

And now for Spice Kitchen‘s recipe for Onion Bhajees. ( photo for these are on the header at the top of this post ). Pop on an evening Raga or a famous Bollywood playback singer to get into the mood. Eat them with the setting sun.

Ingredients

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 55 gr besan ( chick pea ) flour
  • pinch of chilli powder
  • pinch of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • vegetable or canola oil for deep-frying.

Mix together the onion, besan, chilli powder, turmeric, vinegar and salt in a bowl.

Add 1/4- 1/2 cup of water to the mixture gradually, and mix together until the besan coast the onion. There should be just enough besan mixture to hold the onion slices together. The amount of water required to achieve this consistency will depend on the type of besan you use as some besan flours retain more liquid that others.

Heat the oil in a wok to 180c. Deep fry a few Bhajees at a time for about 6-8 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels and serve hot.

My Notes.

I prefer to mix the batter first then add the onion rings to the batter. Mix the batter to a custard like consistency for onion Bhajees or thicker for pakora coating. The batter must be thick enough to hold the onion rings to it.

I don’t use a kitchen thermometer. I test the oil by immersing a chop stick and if the oil bubbles around the stick, it’s ready.

Make the batter a little thicker to coat prawns. I doubled the amount of batter for 14 large tiger prawns.

I add other things to Indian frying batters, such as cumin seeds or nigella seeds, just for fun and flavour.

My onion bhajees cooked much faster than the time suggested in the original recipe above. They really don’t take more than a minute or two. Many are eaten by kitchen hoverers and never make it to the plate.

prawn pakora
prawn pakora with mango chutney.

Thanks Liz, once again, for hosting this amazing series. While IMK may seem to have a life of its own, it flounders without someone organised like Liz, from Good Things at the helm. By opening the link, you can discover other kitchens from around the globe. Why not write one yourself?

Soupe au Pistou in Languedoc- Roussillon, France

A window in the village of St Michelle D'Euzet, Languedoc
A window in the village of St Michel D’Euzet, Languedoc

It was a hot September, more than 30 years ago, in that little village in Languedoc- Roussillon in southern France, where I first made this soup. We had rented a 17th century stone house in the centre St Michel d’Euzet, a tiny rural commune surrounded by acres of vineyards. The town consisted of around 500 residents, a basic épicerie, one bar, a boulangerie, the source of our daily baguette supplies, and a wine co- operative. It was the season of the vendanges or wine harvest: little beaten up orange and red coloured apé trucks would arrive all day at the co-op, loaded with red grapes, ready to be machine crushed into the local cheap wine, the vin de pays that kept the locals ( and us) very happy. The narrow streets were stained magenta as lazy wasps buzzed about in the heat and the heady smell of diesel mixed with grape juice filled the air.

Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michelle D'Euzet. It became the party house.
Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michel D’Euzet. It became the party house for travelling Australians.

The old stone house included a generous cave, a mezzanine level with a small kitchen, living room and main bedroom, and an upper level with two tiny bedrooms and a small balcony. Along with our family of five, we squeezed in many other travelling Australians during our month there. They slept in the cave, or ground floor cellar/ bike storage area on a mattress on the floor, or in one of the little rooms on the top story.

San Micheelle in Lan
San Michel in Languedoc

The house faced the place de ville and was opposite the town bar, a meeting place for young and old and popular with the local teenagers. Our kids would spend the late afternoon hours there playing football jeu de machine, with the French kids, on a noisy metal soccer machine table. Sometimes, later in the evening, we would hear young French romeos calling out to Rachael from below, ‘Come down Rachael, I lerv you’ as young lads with heavily accented English would practice their courting skills on our 14-year-old daughter.

Soupe au Pistou
Soupe au Pistou

Cooking for nine or more during that idyllic Autumn was based on fresh supplies gathered twice weekly from the nearby markets at Pont Saint Esprit or Bagnols Sur Ceze. At those markets, the elderly farm women taught me about the Coco Rouge ( fresh borlotti beans) and the Coco Blanc ( fresh white haricot beans), often sold a little rotten as the beans were really ripe and faster to cook. Another local village woman sold me mountains of basil each week. I think we lived on Soupe Au Pistou for a month, along with baguette, jam and brie.

 Soupe Au Pistou, Provençal vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto ( Serves 4)

  • EV Olive oil
  • 2 leeks, washed well, and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced.
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

Heat some oil in a heavy based soup pot, then sauté these vegetables until tender, then add,

  • fresh borlotti beans (coco rouge), already shelled and cooked till soft
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • chopped autumn tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, or a can of diced tomatoes, drained.
  • a hand full of green beans, sliced or fresh white beans, coco blanc, if you can get them.
  • 2 litres of home-made vegetable stock.
  • some small pasta, a couple of small handfuls, of shapes such as digitali ( small macaroni) or broken pasta.

Cook until the pasta is al dente, or around 10 minutes.

Season the soup, then add a tablespoon or so of home-made pesto, and stir it through. Serve soup with a dollop of pesto on top and some shaved parmesan cheese.

soupe
Soupe au pistou
Today's garden pick, April, 18, 2016
Today’s garden pick, April, 18, 2016, inspired this soup. Late tomatoes, leeks, zucchini and basil.

The house photos were taken in 2011 when we returned to San Michel d’Euzet. It hadn’t changed at all.

For Andrew, Rachael, Jack, Sunshine, and Poppy- the kids who had a wild time on bikes exploring the Gard region in 1985.

Minestra di Verdure Estive/ Summer Vegetable Soup

I like to eat soups in the height of summer, not necessarily cold soups, but light minestre of vegetables in season. They are thrown together and take around 20 minutes to cook, using whatever is abundant in the garden.

Summertime soup
Summertime soup. Keeping photos real with lots of red slurp.

This vegetable soup is similar to the French Soupe au Pistou in many ways, but I am waiting on the garden’s fresh borlotti, i fagioli scritti, and green beans, before I go down that Provençal path.

Ingredients.

  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic, finely chopped,
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 4-5 chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium zucchini, finely sliced
  • 1 can of drained and well rinsed chick peas or white cannellini beans
  • ¼ jar of home-made or purchased tomato passata
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • small broken pieces of Mafaldine (flat ribbon) pasta or other dried pasta on hand
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly made pesto from a handful of basil leaves, two cloves garlic, salt, olive oil and pecorino, bashed to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. (Leave the nuts out when serving with soup.)
  • grilled bruschetta to go with the soup.

In a large heavy pot, add a generous slurp of olive oil and gently cook a sliced onion and a chopped garlic until soft but not coloured. Then add the vegetables as listed, stirring each new addition for a minute or so as you go. When they are almost cooked, after around 15 -20 minutes. add the some broken pieces of Mafladine and cook until the pasta is al dente. Season well. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of freshly made basil pesto.

Paranzo All'aperto.
Pranzo all’aperto. Minestra di verdure estive.

The pasta Mafaldine was named in honour of Princess Mafaldine of Savoy, daughter of King Vittorio Emmanuele 111, and is also known as reginette or “little queens”.