In My Kitchen, July 2017

In my kitchen, there are signs of packing frenzy. The kitchen table has become a convenient sorting ground for the paraphernalia one now requires for a long overseas trip: regional power plugs, battery chargers for cameras, phones, computers, Kindle and tablet, mini speaker, extra SD cards for cameras, car chargers for phones, different lenses for cameras, plastic sleeved folders for itineraries and bookings, medical supplies. Have I forgotten something? On and on it goes with this weird tangle of stuff, the clothes and shoes almost an afterthought. As you may gather, I’m getting organised for 4½ months of global roaming: the kitchen is the best place to sort, iron, and edit, repack, write more lists and dream.

Laguiole set, lucky find.  Reconstructed chopping boards from one large flexi poly board.

One kitchen-esque packing item that I am enjoying putting together is the picnic set, although picnic friendly verges and green public spaces are not so easy to come by in France and Italy. I found a Laguiole set of 8 at my favourite second-hand shop. They are new, probably a discarded gift. Those little bees are now heading back to France. I’ve cut down a flexible poly chopping mat into 3 pieces to fit the picnic box. Of course there’s a Swiss army knife and a bottle opener, two wine glasses, two large table napkins which double as tea towels, a little cheese box, a few lengths of wax paper for wrapping cheese, some rubber bands and a few zip lock plastic bags. The box now weighs 1.167 kilo. Anal packarama. I am being restrained: what I really want is a picnic set like Marlena de Blasi’s. ( See extract at the end of this post).

Picnic box packed. Laguiole set of cutlery, found at my favourite second-hand shop . A corkscrew, a Swiss army knife, two napkins and two wine glasses, some re-constructed chopping boards and other odds and ends complete the set.

I have cut three ½ metre sheets from this roll of waxed paper, ready to wrap some lovely cheeses that we will find en route. I purchased this paper online a year ago and it goes a long way. It keeps cheese very well.

All natural waxed paper.

I am now counting the sleeps and imagining the farmers’ markets in small villages and the new kitchens that will inspire, or perhaps frustrate, my kitchen creativity along the way. Initially, the escape from daily cooking will be very welcome, but after a while I know that restaurant food will begin to jade the palate. And so we are renting small apartments and houses over the next four months, little places with kitchens, a small garden or a terrace, a place to call home for a few weeks at a time and to enjoy some home cooking. I’m also looking forward to the French and Italian bakeries for our daily bread. I recently purchased this strong fabric bag at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Van Gogh exhibition. Note the long length. Perfect for a baguette or two in France.

Carry bag from Van Gogh’s seasons, NGV, Melbourne.

My future posts for the rest of 2017 will be written en route, assuming that WiFi is free and fast, something that I take for granted anywhere in Asia but not necessarily in Europe. I hope to attend a cooking school in Chiang Mai, visit some Hong Kong kitchens, write from an old stone bothy house in Skye, and cook in the houses we have rented in France and Italy. My posts will include a walk around some French and Italian markets. I couldn’t imagine travelling to these countries without purchasing some lovely local produce to take ‘home’ and cook. I’m dreaming of some freshly shucked belon oysters in Brittany, miniature fresh and aged goat’s cheeses hand shaped by a grand-mère in the Dordogne, perhaps washed down with a Bergerac red. And some autumnal produce from the stalls of a medieval bastide market town in Languedoc. The anticipation is enormous. I hope you will join me, at least vicariously, in my travels.

Today’s bread. Celia’s High Hydration, with ears.

In the meantime, I have made our final loaves to see us through the last week, as well as dehydrating some sourdough starter to tuck away for our return.

Batons of the Finnish seeded loaf.

I am also enjoying this little corner of the kitchen since the new plaster board was installed last week, covering the dated 80s pine boards. I attached the monkey face calligraphy to the end of the dresser, a gift from Brian.

Colonial kitchen dresser with new wall.
Another little calligraphy corner , gift from Brian, on the end of my dresser.

Thanks to Sherry for hosting of this ongoing series. You can check out other kitchen posts on Sherry’s Pickings.

Marlene de Blasi’s picnic basket.

‘Always ready in the boot is a basket fitted with wine glasses, two of our most beautiful ones, plus two tiny bohemian cut-crystal glasses, napkins made from the unstained parts of a favourite tablecloth, a box full of odd silver, a wine screw, a good bottle of red wine- always replaced immediately after consumption- a flask of grappa, a Spanish bone handled folding knife, a pouch of sea salt, a small blue and white ceramic pepper grinder, plates of various size… ‘ Tuscan Secrets, A bittersweet adventure.

 

 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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?

In My Kitchen. June 2016

Winter is a tough and demanding task master, dishing out all sorts of cruelty to the unsuspecting: nasty viruses, frost and zero temperatures, months spent wood gathering, chopping and storing. Forget about all those scarves and nostalgic notions- it’s just mean and nasty.  But on occasion, along comes that other Winter, like a quiet and tender Scottish grandmother, offering peace and more repose, scope to explore indoor interests, an excuse to indulge in deeply nourishing foods, and a break from all the mad socialising, swilling and swimming of silly Summer. Cruel and kind. Strong but gentle. In the centre of Winter is my kitchen. Let’s take a look.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There’s a Dobro in my Kitchen!

Mr T keeps a guitar in each room, just in case he finds the inclination to play. He has a few too many,  but he assures me, they all have special sounds and different attributes. Sing me a country song on this still day.

New old books from Savers, source of all my hard copy fantasy.
A swag of new second-hand books from Savers, source of all my hard copy food fantasy. I am really enjoying Plenty, Digressions on Food, Gay Bilson, 2004

It is so quiet outside, only sun has come to visit. As it drops low in the northern sky, it warms our front rooms and I curl up like a cat on a couch with a book, the kindle e-reader or a magazine, a wood fire to keep me company. Time for a cup of tea and a slice of that quince cake. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Love this New Zealand magazine, Dish. It isn’t so dominated by advertising. Wishing it wasn’t so expensive!

The pumpkins were harvested last week to make more room for more broad beans and garlic in the garden. They sit on the verandah in the cold, an arm’s throw away from the kitchen. They are a long-lasting source of winter comfort food.

Zucca
Zucca

My zucca  repertoire includes:

  • baking small pieces to throw into a pumpkin risotto, or combining them with caramelised onion and pasta,
  • making pumpkin soup with plenty of fresh ginger,
  • baked and tossed in a salad with spinach and pine nuts,
  • baked in thin slices, with Tamari sauce and sesame seeds
  • I am building up to making some pumpkin and ricotta stuffed ravioli. Time to crank the pasta maker and use up the eggs. And also look forward to some pumpkin gnocchi with burnt butter sage leaves.
Pumpkin and Cavolo Nero Risotto
Pumpkin and Cavolo Nero Risotto

Lentils also star in winter. I often make a lentil version of a shepherd’s pie, spiked with mushrooms, herbs, tomato paste and the key old-fashioned ingredient, Worcestershire sauce, covered in buttery potato and kumara mash. Red lentils go into soups, especially my version of Turkish Bride soup, a meal in itself, as well as dhal,  dhal with curried silverbeet, or homemade paneer, or chopped hard-boiled eggs and curry leaves in ghee. Cheap as chips and so satisfying.

Lentil ans anything
Lentil as anything
Lentil and mushroom sherperd's pie, kumara mash. tomato kausundi
Lentil and mushroom shepherd’s pie, kumara mash. tomato kausundi

The garden is in transition, but still provides the odd little surprise for the kitchen: the chilli are hanging on, one last zucchini, a handful of limes and a gorgeous radicchio growing in a path. I love the way radicchio hardens up in winter, providing that bitter contrast to rich winter foods.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Picked this morning on the first day of winter is this pile of green tomatoes that happily grew in April and May. The seasons are so strange now. Looks like it’s time to make chutney – again.

June 1, 2016. Green tomato crop.
June 1, 2016. Green tomato crop.

A trip to Basfoods is my idea of heaven. A Melbourne institution for super fresh nuts, spices, dried fruits, pulses, dried beans, bulk flour or anything Turkish. Below we have a bag of Manildra Bakers flour for bread making (12.5 kilo for $14.99). Bags of linseed/flax, an Omega 3 wonder food, to add to bread and porridge, or smoothies in summer (500 g for $3.99), plus almond meal, rye flour, almond flakes, and more. All essential winter ingredients.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Goods from Basfoods, Brunswick

Thanks Maureen for the link up this month. Maureen is the host of In My Kitchen. http://www.orgasmicchef.com/ Any one can contribute to this series or pop in there, via the link, for a look around world kitchens.

A Tale of Two Kitchens, IMK April 2016

This is a tale of three kitchens plus two BBQs in a camping ground by the sea, but as I only have photos of two kitchens, and the title has a more Dickensian ring to it, two kitchens it will be.

A Rpyal corner in Maxine's camp kitchen
A royal corner in Maxine’s camp kitchen. I’m told that the queen falls over when they go to bed, leaning as she does, on their canvas wall.

Each year we set up a huge family camp over four sites which directly face Port Phillip Bay in Victoria. Our camping season begins on Australia Day in January and ends some time in late April. Most of the workers in our group travel to the beach camp each weekend but their presence has been continual and strong this year, with Easter and the school holidays falling so early. The kitchens and BBQs pump out food all day, any time and on demand, but often the evening meals are late when we become distracted by the brilliant sunsets and each other’s company.  OK, and also the sunset drinks.

Drinks as the sun goes down
Drinks as the sun goes down

Each season, our kitchens take on rather odd themes, based on the junk we find around the local charity shops or discarded items sitting by the side of the road.

Found sitting next to the rubbish station. A perfectly funtional Sunbeam Pizza Bake and Grill in working order.
Found sitting next to the rubbish station. A perfectly functional Sunbeam Pizza Bake and Grill in working order.

My beach kitchen has always tended towards a mid-century Chinese look, but this year we have added a few touches of ‘ Greek fishing village’, along with some vintage Australiana, sourced from the fabulous Rotary Warehouse where an outlay of $2 goes a long way.

My Greek Fishing village kitchen seems to get a lot of attention from passers by.
My Greek Fishing village kitchen seems to get a lot of attention from passers by.

My son Jack found a Sunbeam Pizza Bake and Grill oven sitting next to the rubbish bin, and I know what can be baked in these ‘Toy Ovens’, thanks to Maree at Around the Mulberry Tree. When our old friend Denis came to dinner recently, we used the oven to bake potatoes and eggplant parmigiana and some Spanish styled garlic prawns in terracotta pots. I am yet to see how it handles a real home-made pizza.

My Chinese Corner with Camping Buddha
My Chinese Corner with Camping Buddha

Then various members of my family began to score freebies every week. We became the Steptoes by the Bay. Jack found and restored a discarded BBQ, followed by a clean three-man canvas tent in very good order. I found a cast iron table and matching chairs sitting on a nature strip. It’s amazing what can be shoved into the back of my tiny hatchback car. Then my daughter Rachael found a brand new stainless steel kettle. Andrew found a large square of rubber matting in good nick- the list goes on and on. People who camp by the beach for a weekend or a week often throw away new things at the end of their stay. Consumerism gone mad or no storage at home?

Antique Jaffle irons with Bits and pieces from China
Antique Australian Jaffle irons with bits and pieces from China

Maxine, my daughter in law, set up her kitchen this year in my old canvas camper trailer. Maxine should really be a stylist: she can turn the most humble of finds into marvellous decor.

In Maxine's Kitchen
In Maxine’s camping kitchen

Her area took on a nautical theme including a coffee corner complete with two old captain’s chairs, along with found odds and ends, while my son Andrew set up an array of LED strip lighting which he bought from Alibaba on-line, his favourite shop, along with an LED chandelier called Sputnik. Andrew has become the Mr MacGyver by the sea- he fiddles with our 12 volt lighting, often powered by old computer parts, and devises gadgets to make our camping life easier.

Coffee corner in Maxine's camp/glamp.
Coffee corner in Maxine’s camp/glamp.
Must have camping item- an LED Sputnik
Must have camping kitchen item- an LED Sputnik chandelier.

Food is usually simple. Jaffles filled with cheese, tomato, egg, onion, avocado or anything else are popular. Sometimes we fill them with left over bolognese sauce and call them pies. A Jaffle is an old-fashioned toastie, the name stemming from the brand name stamped on these old circular irons. Jaffles taste far better than toasties, as they acquire a golden hue on the outside as they slowly cook over a naked flame, along with a crispy seal and slightly charred edge, providing the bonus of tasty free radicals.

Daisy loves Jaffles
Daisy loves Jaffles

Another choice breakfast offering is Shakshuka, a one pan delight. The tomatoes and eggs come weekly from my home in St Andrews.

As shakshouka style breakfast
As shakshuka style breakfast

Thanks Maureen, of Orgasmic Chef, for hosting the In My Kitchen platform. I can’t seem to ever let this series go.

In My Kitchen, Simply Red, February 2016

My Kitchen has turned intensely red this month as the tomatoes and plums continue to march through the kitchen, looking for someone to love them. Two varieties of plums peaked today- both red fleshed Japanese varieties, Satsuma and Formosa. Some will be stashed in the freezer for winter clafoutis and crostata.

Japanese plums
Japanese plums

The tomatoes slowed down a little last week, thanks to the abundant rainfall and cooler weather. Signs of more flushing on the way. We have had one round of passata making and another is due today.

Sorting tomatoes
Sorting tomatoes

Half a jar of passata, reduced with fish stock, along with saffron and smoked pimenton, went into this fish and mussel soup.

Summer fish soup.
Summer fish soup.

The rest was poured over grilled eggplant layered with parmigiano cheese in a Melanzane Parmigiana, an old stand by.

Eggplant parmigiana
Eggplant parmigiana

Others are eaten as is, with their colourful friends, in my favourite little salad bowl from Mission Beach market.

Simple salad
Simple salad

The miniature tomatoes are frozen whole on a metal tray; once they turn into little hard bullets, they are stored in the freezer in zip lock bags for winter.

A lovely Christmas gift from my sister, this griddle pan has grill lines on the heavy lid which sits neatly inside the pan :once both the pan and lid are heated, panini, bread for bruschetta or anything else can be grilled on both sides simultaneously. Can’t wait to use it.

The garden pick today included the first eggplant and red chillies. The zucchini and cucumber continue to impress, the basil is slow this season, and the ducks have discovered some treasure at low levels while the occasional Houdini rabbit comes in for a soft leaf raid. We have an abundant garden as well as plenty of pests!

Today's pick

Thanks Maureen for hosting the In My Kitchen series. Please take a look at other inspiring kitchens through Maureen’s link.

In My Baking Kitchen, October 2015

A duck full of sugar
A duck full of sugar

School holidays bring a flurry of baking as the young folk flock to the kitchen for pancakes, chocolate chip biscuits and cake making. This, along with my renewed passion for sourdough bread making, makes the kitchen the centre for flour, sticky bowls and general mayhem.

I asked him not to pose!
I asked him not to pose!

This batch of buttery biscuits was devoured in less than two hours. The kids pick out the biggest ones to eat first then claim to know exactly which biscuits they personally made. At times ‘there’s a fraction too much friction”, there are monsters in my kitchen.

Concentrating on shapes.
Concentrating on shapes.

I invested in some bread making paraphernalia. This whisk is designed to stir wet dough at the initial mixing stage. Impressed by the man on the Breadtopia site, I ordered one and then added a few other items to make the postage from USA worthwhile! Included was a silicon mat which I hope will encourage better pastry making. I used the whisk this evening and soon dumped it for my hands! Maybe more practice is required before I whisk like the man from Breadtopia.

Bread dough whsk
Bread dough whisk

Other bread making gear was purchased in my favourite shop of all time, Costante Imports in Preston, Victoria. Costante is a shrine to self-sufficiency. The shop has expanded over the years and the place is always abuzz. They sell equipment for wine making, small frantoi for pressing olives, sausage making gear, pizza ovens, cheese and bread making equipment, copper pots and brass rustic hanging lights. The surrounding conversation is Italian as young chefs gather to buy authentic pots and pans, and suburban grandmothers come for corks and bottle tops. It is a land of temptation and a source of inspiration. http://www.costanteimports.com.au/

bannetons for bread rising.
Bannetons for bread proving from Costante.

My flour collection has taken up residence in the laundry, which is slowly morphing into a larder. The flours include one huge supply of white bakers flour, this one in a 12.5 kilogram bag for $12.00 and milled in Yackandandah, Victoria. I also keep a softer white flour for pastry, biscuit and cake making as well as a self raising flour. Then there’s a Tipo ’00’ from Italy.( It is sometimes impossible to find the ‘best by’ or packed on date on Italian produce, which is a concern for bread making where fresh flour is important). Then comes the finely stone ground semolina, Atta, Australian wholemeal and spelt, rye, and buckwheat! This is ridiculous I know, but it will get used.

My new starter, Sorella, is bouncy and reliable: thanks Celia for the emergency back up. I make two types of bread when not experimenting: a plain white and a 75% white with 25% spelt. Both are equally popular.

Sour dough white, Celia's recipe.
Sour dough white, Celia’s recipe.

I preheat the oven to 250c, add metal trays at that point, then dust a pizza paddle with fine semolina, turn the proved bread onto the paddle, slash ‘with panache’, then slide it off onto the hot tray. I give the bread and oven a quick spritz with water then quickly close the door and reduce the temperature to 220c. Performing this action with two loaves at once is proving tricky while trying to maintain oven heat, like a clumsy kitchen ballet performed by a strega. The ‘spring’ on my latest loaves is much better, the texture much lighter, but retaining the sour dough taste, so the performance is worth it.

Soudough with spelt
Sourdough loaves with spelt

Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial hosts this monthly kitchen event. Check out some of the other posts. Celia is also responsible for spreading the love of bread making throughout her global community, which always feels local and close.

In My Kitchen, Winter. June 2015

On the first day of every month Celia, from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, hosts a blogging event, In My Kitchen. This is a remarkable event for many reasons.  In My Kitchen has provided a platform for many like-minded folk to connect. Through Celia, I have acquired my first sourdough starter, as have so many others, and learnt more about frugality, common sense and urban connectivity.  I have also found some very dear friends. Are they virtual friends? I think not. Thanks Celia.

Winter view from front window.
Winter view from front window.

As I consider this month’s winter post, the rain continues to alternately pour or drizzle and all I can think of are Cornish Pasties. My theme for this month is not yet self-evident, especially as the kitchen is in a shambles, the light is too low and a little photo shoot may involve searching for props and lights. Rather than start the clean up, I ponder a suitable pastry for said pasties through the posts of Sandra, the best cook in Melbourne and Debi of Sheffield, Britain, who is passionate about pastry, when she’s not researching antiquity or intriguing books.These little deviations into the land of procrastination are far much more pleasurable than reading the online bad news

But back to my kitchen. The disarray in the kitchen usually results from too many ambitious projects occurring simultaneously. Yesterday I made some wonderful dark rich stock as I was yearning for a bowl of Soupe L’oignon.  As I don’t eat meat, a suitable vegetable stock required the pre- roasting of vegetables, mushrooms and some other tricks. It worked well.

Fish is cheap and plentiful in the fresh markets at present. King George Whiting is a sustainable species. Here they are baked whole in Cartoccio, small parcels using baking paper, with fennel, lemon peel, tomato, garlic, fresh oregano, and olive oil.  After 15 to 20 minutes in a moderate oven, they are ready. No waste, no frying. This year the quince tree started out with masses of baby fruit. Despite netting a few branches, the birds removed most of them, knocking them off the branches, then pecking their hard skins and discarding them. These two survived.

My only two quince.
My only two quince.

As quinces are now abundant in the market and are extremely cheap, my two decorative quince joined some other less attractive specimens in a slow poach. I then stored the pieces under their ruby sweet poaching liquid in a covered box in the fridge. They make guest appearances in different sweets over the winter months and the poaching liquid becomes a glaze or a sauce for many other desserts.

poached quinces
poached quince

For example, this little baked thing, a cross between a Far Breton Pruneax and a Clafoutis is a moody dark dessert to eat in front of the fire while watching Top of the LakeRecipe coming!

Far Breton with Quince
Far Breton with Quince

In my kitchen are a few constant reminders of the cooking tasks ahead. Mr Tranquillo will eat all the oranges and mandarins before I think of a way to use them. The lemons from my mother’s tree will be transformed into lemon curd, lemon delicious pudding and some cordial. Each time I visit, I return with another large bag.

Citrus Season in Melbourne
Citrus Season in Melbourne

The pumpkins from the garden are loitering on the verandah table, a source of winter comfort food ranging from soups to Risotto alla Zucca. And what’s a winter kitchen without a few crazy kids? It was so lovely to return home from Indonesia and have a monster family dinner. How did we turn into 14? Here are two of them!

Kids in the Kitchen
Kids in the Kitchen

In My Kitchen. January 2015

Another year ticks over, resolutions have been made, private reflections and observations about the things that are important. After those meditations on the first of January, the year brings on a mad rush of adrenalin as I attack the kitchen like some crazed Befana on a broom, sorting through the pantry, the larder, the fridges and cupboards, trying to restore some order after the Christmas mayhem. Out they go, all the old chutneys and jams, some of them smelling so delicious even though they are three or more years old. The chickens are in for a jammy feast, with old dried foods from the pantry thrown into the mix, hot water stirred through, fire burn and cauldron bubble. When the hurlyburly’s done, I’ll sit down to a chilled white wine and contemplate this summer post. There is no photo of me here -you, my reader, must imagine a wild unkempt hairdo and an unflattering old Bali Dress used for these jobs.

In the remaining clear space on the bench, there are some rather handsome Christmas gifts gracing my kitchen. The first is a heavy-duty blender from my eldest son. Its powerful motor works like a dream. So far we have had mango, ice, banana and orange juice smoothies, brain numbingly cold and healthy, reminding me of the fruity concoctions made in Chiang Rai, Thailand. This now lives in the industrial zone in my kitchen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This gorgeous cake tin was a KK gift from my sister-in-law. Jo. It has a perfect seal. I seem to be making more cakes these days. How did she know?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Loads of zucchini are landing on the shelf and ending up in summer soups. My diet has turned basic and simple this month. You can’t clean like a mad witch and cook too!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I now make my own yoghurt weekly.  It is another routine, along with the sourdough bread, that has slipped into my life. It is so simple, especially if you have a nice big thermos. Boiled milk, cooled to warm, with a tablespoon or two from your last batch of yoghurt is whisked through, then into the thermos it goes for six or more hours. Too easy. Using this large vintage Japanese thermos, I can now make two litres at a time, enough yoghurt to go with curries, to make tzaziki and other dips, Greek cakes and so on. There is nothing better than a breakfast of home-made yoghurt and a compote of fruit, especially poached cherries.

yoghurt and special Japanese thermos
yoghurt made in my Vintage Japanese thermos

The things you find in the pantry!! I seem to have cornered the market in Indian dhal and bulgar. These, combined with fresh garden produce, will form the basis of my $1.00 meals. I’m on a mission to eat the contents of the pantry and to shop less – one of those New Year reflections about simplicity, waste and healthy eating.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having finally mastered the pressure cooker, which has been hiding in a kitchen cupboard for a few months, the lentils, beans and chickpeas are having a work out.

Prior to Christmas, I found a monster 3 kilo bag full of Tagliatelle nests at Psarakos in Thornbury. Once opened, they are now stored in one of my big bread bins. These nidi only take 5 -6 minutes cooking and, with the tomato and basil glut on the horizon, will form the basis of more cheap eats.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My Mother’s apricot tree goes on and on, with five kilo picked daily. She poaches and stores them in little boxes in the freezer for winter desserts. Not bad at 92 years old, but I think it’s time I made her jam. Jars in the dishwasher, jars on the bench, nothing like making jam on a 40 degrees celsius (104 F) day. When the blackberries are ready and the temperature even higher, this jam making strega will be working at dawn, or possibly leaving home early to live elsewhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Happy New Year to all, and, raise your glasses, a big Salute to Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, our wonderful host of this monthly series.

In My Kitchen, July 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my kitchen is an Australian colonial kauri pine dresser and in the top drawer is my collection of antique cutlery.

This drawer full of treasure threatens to disgorge its heavy contents whenever I yank it open.  Despite the disorder, this drawer makes me feel simultaneously happy and nostalgic. I think of my grandmothers, old fashioned soups, puddings and Sunday family gatherings. My modern cutlery, by contrast, is simply functional, quotidian and dishwasherable. It evokes little!

Although still on the road in Asia, I couldn’t miss the chance for a simple little post on Celia’s monthly round of IMK. See Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for more world kitchens, cookbook recomendations and gadgets.