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 Kitchen, a Very Fishy Post. November 15

There have been lots of fishy things happening in my kitchen this month, or should I say, in cabin kitchens along the East Coast of Victoria and New South Wales. I love the challenge of cabin kitchens: they are all so idiosyncratic and designed for the user of microwaves or non cooks. Challenges include how to drain pasta without a colander, chopping on thin plastic boards that have warped into canoes, looking for a non-existent grater and salad bowl and dealing with an oven that doesn’t cook.  But I’m jumping ahead.

Let me introduce you to the first kitchen I popped into on my coastal road trip. I met up with Maree, from Around the Mulberry Tree, in her kitchen in Trafalgar. She was having a garden open day and I just happened to be passing by. Her garden was looking magnificent with its well designed chook house and wicking beds, but I was keen to see the progress on her kitchen renovation and her ‘toy oven’, in which she makes beautiful sourdough loaves! I can report that it is all true, and it just goes to show that with a bit of imagination, a good loaf can be made in a tiny little pie warmer of an oven! Neither of us are too keen on having our photos on our posts: I think this one sums it all up.

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In Maree’s kitchen, the blues sisters.

The first night in our Lake Tyers kitchen we feasted on a seafood paella or Paella de Marisco. The seafood co-op at Lakes Entrance provided the goodies for this- fresh squid, prawns ( from South Australia) and a few scallops. I used the prawn heads and shells to make a quick prawn bisque for the stock. I love the first stage of making paella when the smoky pimenton is added to the stock. bbb

Travelling with me always are these ingredients, as well as a good pan with fitting lid, a decent knife, a pasta pot, and fresh herbs and spices from home.

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, Calasparra rice, saffron and smoky pimento – the key items for a good paella.

The kitchen in Lake Tyers was pretty good as far as cabin kitchens go except for the dodgy oven which only worked on the grill function. This was the setting for our scallop feast.

1-2015-10-25 19.51.13_resizedThe kids were happy to eat their way through piles of flathead tails, also readily available from the local seafood co-op.  A large bag of panko crumbs from Costco and eggs from home are also part of my travelling kit.

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Flathead tails, with panko crumbs. Hands up who wants more!

Eden was the next stop for seafood along this route, with blue mussels available near the jetty and a local smokehouse. Kyle bought a bag of smoked mussels: I like his cooking style. Pour the smoked mussels out of the bag and into a bowl, and compete to see who gets to eat the most. No photo for this treat as they disappeared in a flash.

The lakes of Pambula provided the next briny piatto del giorno. Two dozen oysters, freshly shucked, only required a picnic table, a lemon, and a loaf of ciabatta. Needing lemons?  Head to the country op-shops for cheap home-grown bags full.

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Sydney Rock oysters from Pambula Lakes.

Heading back down south, and passing my favourite Co-op again, these pretty creatures were available for $13.50 a kilo. Packed on ice, they are now in my home kitchen and will give us at least three more meals. Calamari and squid are the most sustainable seafood species you can find in Australia.

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shiny calamari ready to be cleaned.
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calamari, stir fried chard, garlic, chill, kecap manis, lemon, sesame oil.

Thanks Celia once again for hosting this marvellous monthly series. You may find more like-minded souls at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, Living well in the Urban Village.

Winter Zucchini and Calamari Mescolanza

There were a few surprises hiding in the vegetable garden when we returned from our long sojourn in Indonesia: a crop of zucchini, some small ruby radicchio, herbs, pumpkin, chilli, and a bundle of borlotti beans. I hung on to the last zucchini of the season until the first day of winter. Now we will be zucchini free until next November. Some may say that’s a blessing! Six months of fecundity and benevolence and six months of none. Ci vediamo in primavera.

To celebrate slicing into the last one, I constructed a dish made from my favourite ingredients: fresh calamari, radicchio, garlic, chilli, good olive oil, wine and squid ink pasta. This isn’t a pasta dish as such: the black tangle of pasta gives a little more body to the dish but doesn’t dominate. The following recipe is an attempt to quantify a spontaneous dish. And, given the absence of winter light, my photos are hazy and dull.

Winter Zucchini and Calamari Mescolanza
Winter Zucchini and Calamari Mescolanza

Zucchini e Calamari Mescolanza  (serves two)

  • two tablespoons EV olive oil
  • half a medium zucchini, very finely sliced
  • 2 fresh calamari, cleaned then sliced thinly *
  • radicchio leaves to taste, shredded roughly
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • one fresh hot chilli, chopped finely
  • one handful of black squid ink pasta (about 60 gr)
  • white wine
  • salt, black pepper

Method

  • Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Drain, retaining a little cooking water.
  • Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan. You need a lively heat as this is a fast dish.
  • Add the zucchini slices and toss well till lightly coloured and very soft.
  • Add the garlic and chilli, toss well.
  • Add the finely sliced calamari, cook for around two minutes only, tossing as you go.
  • then add the shredded radicchio leaves and toss for a one minute.
  • add a good slurp of wine, reduce a little, then add the pasta to the pan, add a little cooking water, reduce, then season.
  • Serve in wide, heated bowls.*

Notes

* A good fish monger should clean the calamari for you. Don’t bother using the rubber tubes from the supermarket. They will spoil a good dish. Fresh squid is a good substitute and more economical. Don’t throw out the wings. Freeze them and add to another dish later, such as a pasta or risotto marinara. Read the following recipe from  Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe for an economical approach to using seafood scraps.

* Why wide heated bowls? I never used to heat plates and bowls when I was working full-time and coming home to cook for five or more. Since then, I have adopted bowl heating as a matter of course, particularly for pasta, soup and risotto. Imagine making a lovely hot dish and then plonking it into a freezing bowl? The temperature of the food cools almost immediately, whereas a hot bowl acts as a food warmer for the duration of the meal.

For my son Andrew, who recently commented about the heating of bowls, thinking that his mother had finally turned totally anal and lost the plot. He may be right! 

Slow Braised Squid, Peas and Tomatoes.

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Every day I rise at dawn and follow the same morning rituals. I wish I could say that this included yoga or stretching or a brisk walk around the oval!  One day, maybe next week, if it’s not raining.  After grabbing the first cup of tea, I turn on the computer, check a few emails, then look at the Bureau of Meteorology ( BOM for short)  for rain, wind, and temperature predictions. This morning a nice big dark rain pattern is above me: I can hear it pounding loudly on the tin roof as I watch the colourful radar pictures on my screen. I shiver with delight.  After grabbing a coffee, and perhaps a toast, my next ritual is to plan the food for the day. I usually make a rough plan, leaving a little room for spontaneity. Before heading to the kitchen to make stock or soak beans, I check the newspapers, the Age, The Guardian and La Repubblica, the latter to check on the demise of Berlusconi. Berlusconi Vai Via.

This slow braised squid recipe hits the spot on rainy days. The fish is locally caught and sustainable and the ingredients are few. Squid is the poor cousin of Calamari. In Melbourne, squid may cost around $5-6 a kilo whereas calamari costs around $20.00 a kilo. Squid comes into its own when it it is cooked slowly for a long time.  It is cheap and slippery, just like Berlusconi.

Seppie con Piselli e Pomodori  – Squid with peas and Tomatoes.

  • 60 ml Olive Oil
  • 1 onion, finley chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 kilo fresh squid, cleaned, peeled, sliced in thin lengths, includung tentacles.
  • 1 cup red wine
  • pinch or dried chilli flakes or 1 chopped fresh chilli
  • 200 g peas ( frozen are fine)
  • 400g g peeled tomatoes or 1 can of tomatoes with juice.
  • 1 small bunch of flat leafed parsley, finely chopped.
  1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy based enamel casserole. Cook the onion and garlic until soft.
  2. Add the squid and stir around a little, then add the chilli, wine, salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes.
  3. Cover, then cook on lowest heat for 30 minutes, then add the peas, then cook a further 10 minutes.
  4. Add parsley before serving.

Serve with either polenta or mashed potatoes in wide bowls.

What morning rituals do you follow? Do you need tea or coffee before the brain fires up?

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