Have you ever eaten something wonderful at a restaurant, determined to replicate the same dish at home? After enjoying the two course lunch special at Cecconi’s cellar bar earlier this week, I inquired about the dessert of the day, hoping that it would be something wintry and old-fashioned. Oh happy day, the dolce del giorno was a wedge of apple, walnut and cinnamon cake, comforting and grandmotherly, jazzed up with modern restaurant toppings, including cinnamon ice cream, tiny cubes of apple jelly and something crunchy, perhaps a disc of meringue. No photo was taken: greed intervened long before any thoughts of pics entered my mind. It was good.
My version is close enough to Cecconi’s torta, without the flash toppings. A little dusting of icing sugar is enough but a dollop of Frangelico infused mascarpone goes well too. The cake morphs into a simple dessert when warmed and served with custard or ice cream. Hideous winter begone with a little warm pudding.
Torta di Mele, Noce e Cannella. Apple, Walnut and Cinnamon cake.
200 gr butter
250 gr caster sugar
300 gr plain flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
100 gr chopped walnuts
500 gr apples, peeled, cored, finely diced
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 20 cm square tin. Dust with flour or line with parchment if you prefer.
Cream butter and sugar well then add eggs, one at a time, and beat until creamy.
Mix together the flour, cinnamon and baking powder then add to the batter.
Fold in the walnuts and apples. Place in the prepared baking tin, ( it will be a stiff batter), smoothing the top, then bake for 60 minutes. Rest before turning onto a wire rack.
In my kitchen and its surrounding leisure zone, we are keeping warm as today’s temperature hovers between 2°C to 14°C. It will get colder. Spending more time indoors, mostly hanging around the old Huon pine table, means efficient heating becomes imperative. One early improvement we made to the kitchen and dining area was the installation of double glazing. This, more than any other home improvement, has been worth the cost. In this much lived in area, the windows face north with narrow overhanging eaves. The house, designed in the 1980s, incorporates some aspects of passive solar principles, whereby the low angle of the winter sun warms the room, with the reverse occurring in the height of summer.
Our new wood heater adds another layer of warmth and an appealing glow. Nectre heaters are Australian made and have a great reputation. This bakers oven heats a 10 square space very efficiently. Cooking stock on the top of the heater saves on gas. I look forward to mastering the use of the little oven.
In this warm space, little vignettes of domesticity capture my attention, especially when a few strong shafts of light stream in. I find myself grabbing the camera more often, trying to capture that heavenly baroque light. That, or curling up on a sun bathed couch with a good book. Note that the new interloper, the clothes airer, has been edited out, along with the oversized kitchen table, now cluttered with a deluge of pastimes, paperwork and pencils.
Drying out mandarin and orange peels on or near the wood stove fills the kitchen area with citrus fragrance. The dried peels make great firelighters.
A large express postal bag arrived last week. Peter, who lives in Far North Queensland, sent me an assortment of tropical fruit he picked that morning. The slightly squashed papaya, the rambutan and mangosteen brought the heady perfumes of tropical rainforest to my kitchen. Peter also sent a swag of ginger, galangal and turmeric which grow in plague proportions in his yard. I’ve frozen most of these gems to make an authentic Indonesian curry in the future.
Today I picked all the remaining borlotti beans from the garden. The first frosts of the year will arrive this week: all the green tomatoes need to be gathered and the lemongrass divided and potted up for winter. The borlotti beans prefer Autumn weather. They were sown in late February and matured slowly. I am very pleased with this year’s haul.
There’s a stack of recently acquired cookbooks in my kitchen. To be truthful, there are little stacks of books everywhere in my house. Not mess, I’ll have you know. Decor and Inspiration! Some of these books were found at my favourite second-hand shop: My China by Kylie Kwong cost less than a copy of a weekend newspaper, as did Beverley Sutherland Smith’s The Seasonal Kitchen. Made in Italy by Silvia Colocca was a birthday gift from my sister. I bought Bourke Street Bakery online and am not finding it so useful, and Leanne Kitchen’s Turkey and The Baker also turned up somewhere very cheaply. Now I have to address the lack of bookshelf space.
Some baby Roma tomatoes, the last of the season, ripen on the northern windowsill.
A couple of second-hand items, a matching spotted jug and sugar bowl, found in that same second-hand store now hang out with the white stuff, shells, feathers and dead lizard on my kitchen dresser. As my friend Di would say, ‘Well spotted’.
Thanks Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this monthly series. Your new system is working smoothly.
Autumn is many seasons rolled into one. Gone now are the Keatsian days of early Autumn, that abundant time when the garden finally comes good with the fully blown fruits of an earlier season’s hard work. Then my mornings were filled with preserving: now I sweep and rake fallen leaves and gather ‘morning wood’, dry sticks and kindling to store for lighting fires. I often think of Lao Tzu when sweeping. An old black and white ink print on rice paper rises again to haunt me, flashbacks of Nepal, Swayambhunath and Francis, friend and Nepalese expat who helped revive the lost art of Tibetan ink printing during the 70s. Daoist, peaceful, impressionistic, the memory of this print and the act of sweeping helps clear the brain.
Autumn’s cold snap, a preparation for things to come, is followed by days of sunshine and warm weeks, a glorious Indian summer, confusing some plants and encouraging others to linger. Chillies have re-flowered, fruit tree buds are swelling: all in vain I’m afraid.
Just as I begin to indulge in the melancholy that comes with late Autumn, along come the Borlotti beans in their splendid pink scribbled coats and plump promise. I’ve been watching them and feeling them for weeks. One of their alternate names in Italian is Fagioli Scritti, a more vivid and appropriate title for this colourful and useful bean. I grow the tall variety and usually plant them late in the season. They are adapting to our microclimate as the same seeds are picked late and saved from year to year.
The cheery colour of pink tinged lettuce is also a mood changer. All the lettuces are better in the cold: cos and romaine, curly endive, bitter escarole, the butterheads and the soft oakleaf varieties, rugola, each one delicious on its own but more so when mixed. Large pink radishes and the ‘heart of darkness’ radicchio are now in their prime. Beautiful colours painted by cold.
This version of Autumn Leaves seems to suit this season. It makes sense of nostalgia, missing and parting more than the crooning versions of the 50s, although the original French version, LesFeuilles Mortes, written in 1945, is also rather charming.
When the first suggestion of Winter arrives, right in the middle of Autumn, it’s a reminder to gather wood for the fires and adjust the wardrobe and mental outlook for the oncoming cold season. Many Melburnians still have their head in the sand, believing that Australia is a hot place. For six months of the year, it’s cold and inhospitable, with dreary grey skies dominating the landscape, and black dressing de rigeur. Out come the Michelin man garments, those unflattering and un-environmental puffer jackets and vests that work rather well, along with fingerless gloves, berets and warm leggings, umbrellas and wind jackets. I’m not a fan of Winter but in theory, it does have a certain romantic appeal.
And that appeal centres around soup. Late Autumn soups become thick and creamy, a French purée or perhaps an Italian crema. Lunchtime zuppa del giorno loaded with beans or pulses, is eaten as a piatta unica withcrusty bread. Vegetarian shepherds pie makes a comeback, Autumn’s new eggplants feature in rich Turkish fare dressed with Pekmez, and the day might culminate with a sharp cheddar cheese served with whisky laced fig jam, a salty, sweet and peaty treat beside the fire. Served with a single malt of course.
One of my favourite creamed soups, Cullen Skink, features smoked fish. Cullen is a small fishing village on the east coast of Scotland and is well worth a visit, while Skink ( no, not a small lizard) may be derived from soups made with shins or ham bones. There are as many versions of Cullen Skink as there are Scots. Some like it chunky: others, like me, prefer it pureed. The main thing that each recipe has in common is simplicity: potatoes, smoked fish, onions and milk. Once you begin adding fresh fish, or bacon or any other bits and pieces, the soup becomes a chowder.
Cullen Skink, for four servings or two greedy sized servings.
I tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large stick celery, finely chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
300 ml water
250 g smoked haddock, or mackerel, skin on.
1 bay leaf
250 ml milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives
In a large heavy based saucepan, sauté the onion and celery till soft. Add the potatoes and cover barely with water. Bring to the boil, lower to medium heat and cook until the potatoes are soft.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, add the milk, smoked fish and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 8 minutes or so while the potatoes are cooking.
Remove the fish from the milk. Skin the fish, carefully remove the flesh, discard all the bones and skin, then strain the milk back into the pot containing the potato. Add the flaked fish. Bring back to high heat. Then puree using a hand-held stick blender. Add more milk or cream to thin a little if you prefer. Reheat,
Add finely chopped parsley or chives to serve, with crusty bread.
* The choice of smoked fish is important. Look for small, dark whole fish, not the supermarket, chemically dyed yellow cod, or smoked salmon or trout, the latter being too mild in flavour. New Zealand readers will have more options as more varieties of smoked fish are readily available in NZ supermarkets and fishmongers.
An interesting Guardian article about the ins and outs of Cullen Skink can be found here.
Which season do you prefer? What are your thoughts on Puffer Jackets? Do you like smoked foods?
Winter time and the living is – expensive. Electricity prices have increased at nearly four times the rate of inflation over the last 5 years and will probably continue to do so. One solution to the soaring power bills stemming from heating, lighting and the immoderate use of the oven, is to run away to a warmer place, preferably somewhere in Asia, where the living is cheaper and the climate is tropical. Another is to stay cocooned in a doona all day, watching addictive Icelandic Noir drama series that makes the Australian winter look tropical. Then, like many others, you could traipse around a heated shopping centre all day, drinking coffee and playing with your smart phone. Or you could make a conscious effort to adopt some energy saving routines, at least when it comes to routines in the kitchen. This post is a reminder to myself about energy use.
After baking, use the residual heat of the oven to make other basic things for the week.
Boiling water is a huge energy waster. Fill up a Chinese thermos with green tea.
Always cook too many beans. Finding a stash of pre-cooked cannellini and borlotti beans or chick peas in a zip lock bag in the freezer is like finding a golden nugget. Soup making becomes a breeze. Two of my winter favourite bean based soups can be found here and here.
Add barley to root vegetable soups. What is it about Barley Soup that warms us up, both physically and emotionally?
If you have just split open a large pumpkin and are baking chunks for a recipe, double the quantity and store the leftovers in a covered bowl in the fridge. Stuff the pieces, along with fetta and herbs, into filo pastry triangles, add them to a risotto, use them with cooked lentils in a pastie, or toss them through barley to make a winter salad with spinach and nuts. Or head to Ottolenghi land and make this or this.
Always double the pizza dough, whatever quantity you decide to make. Most weeks I make a 500g batch of yeasted pizza dough using this recipe. If the hungry hordes don’t visit, I stretch and shape half the risen dough to make one 35 cm pizza, more than enough for two hungry people, then stash the other half in a zip lock bag in the freezer. Then it’s simply a matter of defrosting the dough, bringing it back to room temperature, and shaping it into a slice baking tin, allowing for another short rise, before dimpling the top with oil, salt and herbs or other leftovers.
Pumpkin, Red Onion and Sage Foccaccia
risen dough, made from 250 gr baker’s white flour
EV olive oil
one red onion finely sliced
1 cup pre- roasted diced pumpkin
coarsely ground sea salt
Preheat oven 200 c FF. Oil a small slab tin ( 26 cm X 17 cm) and stretch the dough to roughly fit. Leave for 30 minutes or more, covered with a tea towel. Push the dough into the corners of the tin and using your fingers, make small indentations in the dough to carry the oil and salt. Brush on a generous amount of olive oil, letting it pool a little in the indentations. Spread on the finely cut onions, then the pumpkin, then some sage leaves, then plenty of coarsely ground salt. Bake for around 15 minutes, check on the colour of top and bottom, and cook a further 5 minutes if needed.
This month, Maureen is taking a break from hosting In My Kitchen, but the series still goes on. Below you can find an informal link up to some other IMK posts for this month:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cooking has taken a serious nosedive around this casa of late. It’s always the same after returning from a trip. The reality of cleaning, cooking, planting garlic, raking Autumn leaves, making compost, pruning, just to name a few tasks on the never ending list, makes me want to run away. Combine this cooking reluctance with Melbourne’s cold weather, a house full of bronchitis, a dodgy shoulder, and a very inviting wood fire and a stack of novels, and there you have it: ‘let them eat cake’, she said.
This little cake was fast to make, didn’t involve too much mess for someone else to clean up, and goes very well with cups of tea, books and lethargy.
125 g butter, cut into pieces
2 tsp lime zest
2 tsp lemon zest
250 g caster sugar
3 large eggs
200 g self-raising flour
1 heaped tablespoon of poppy seeds
100 ml plain yoghurt
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter and line a 30 cm loaf tin with baking paper, then butter again.
Place the butter and zest in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and creamy. Add the sugar gradually and beat well after each addition. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Fold in the flour, poppy seeds and yoghurt, alternating between wet and dry. Spoon into the prepared tin. Bake in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave for 5 minutes then turn onto a wire rack.
To make the syrup, place the juices and sugar in a pan, simmer gently and stir continually until the sugar dissolves. Make holes in the cake with a skewer and pour the hot syrup over the hot cake, aiming at the holes and centre.
The cake will last for three days, but ours didn’t.
Adapted from The New Cranks Recipe Book, Nadine Abensur 1996.
They assure me that Spring has arrived. The nectarine tree is in full blossom, and there are signs of new energy in the vegetable garden. But I’m not so sure, it still feels quite wintery to me. The fires are going, a big pot of barley soup bubbles on the stove, made just for Noah.
This jam filled oat slice is a sweet winter warmer and made in memory of Selma. It was going to be a loaf of bread, in line with the many sourdough tributes baked in loving memory of Selma, but then I noticed this easy jammy slice, posted last May on her blog. If you didn’t make it back then, I can recommend this slice for ease of preparation, taste, and for the excellent and very clear instructions.
My adaptations included substituting blackberry jam for the sour cherry jam, and desiccated coconut for shredded. You could use any jam that needs using up. I can’t wait for the littlies to walk in the door and see how they go.
Winter is a great time to check the vegetable garden’s infrastructure before being overwhelmed by the tasks of Spring. Five years ago when we moved into this property, we installed a tall fence around the perimeter of the garden. The base of the fence was then boarded, allowing mowing and brushcutting up to the edge, but the fencing wire was not buried. We should have known that the rabbits would keep finding weak points and enter by digging under the boards. Task number one is to rectify this problem. Time to call a working bee.
Last summer we installed hoops over half the garden beds, enabling us to attach shade cloth over the summer crops during the hot summer months. The hoops are made from ‘found’ reo ( metal reinforcing rods) which are cut into 1½ metre lengths then inserted into flexible poly piping. More hoops are required this season, to cover the remaining beds with stretchy cheap bird netting as a deterrent to the winter vandals, namely the cockatoos. These large birds love a winter raid. The guard cocky sits in the tallest tree, alerting his friends of our imminent arrival, though all our loud shooing and yelling has little effect. Down they swoop in large gangs, bombing any plant that they consider too tall, ugly or in the way. Last week the slow-growing broccoli plants became winter’s first victims. Some were sliced in half, others were pulled out of the ground. Just for fun! The 300 garlic plants are getting some height and look like the next target.
Keeping accurate rainfall records is an ingrained habit: we have records from this area dating back to the 8os. Winter rain tallies are important for many reasons. Melbourne can often be cold and dry in June and July, so watering becomes essential. This July we have received 104 mm, with a cumulative total of 491 mm for the year, comparing favourably with the figures from the July aggregate totals from recent years. (July’14- 340 mm, July ’13-300, July’12- 457, July ’11-537, July’10- 483). Let’s hope that the rain keeps up in Spring.
Our vegetable garden relies on dam water. The house is supplied by rainwater collected in tanks and is reserved for home use, topping up the swimming pool and emergencies, such as bushfire. We extended the dam, making it deeper and wider, soon after we arrived in our new abode. It filled quickly during a Spring downpour: we watched in awe as it went from empty to full in one afternoon, like a giant cappuccino in the making. During the dry months, water is pumped from the dam up to a 5000 litre holding tank on the ridge. The water is then gravity fed down to the garden, via underground pipes, as the vegetable garden is sited well below the tanks. Sometimes the lines get blocked or are slowed down and need the filters changed. This is another winter task.
Our beautiful Dexter cows, Delilah (the bitch) Sad Aunty Derry, Skinny Duffy and the boys, Dougie and Oh Danny Boy (the rogue), give us a bountiful supply of manure as do the chooks. The manure is layered into large bins, along with dry leaves (carbon), and green matter (kitchen waste and green clippings): the resulting ‘lasagne’ puffs away for three months until ready for use with each new season. We have around five bins in various stages of maturation. Well made compost is the answer to successful organic growing, along with adequate water, mulching, and siting the garden away from shade or large rooted trees. East and north sun are key factors, along with protection from the South West, the main source of our destructive winds.
Winter lettuces come in all colours and flavours. They are picked every few days, washed then spun and bagged. Unlike the supermarket packets of uniform ‘baby’ leaves, gassed and given a mandatory wash in bleach, home-grown lettuces are delightfully irregular, and often come with stems attached. The current mix includes Cos, butterhead, red oakleaf, red butterhead, rocket and baby radicchio.
Looking for more garden inspiration? Check out this month’s vegetable garden posts on Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective from Monday, August 3.
We live on top of a ridge. The night, which now descends in the afternoon, fills the valley with blackness. The winds spring up, the loud turbulence filling the black void with a sea of sound. Below and around us, a black restless sea. The house bones creak as it braces itself for a rough night. It isn’t an old house but it likes to complain. The TV commentaries sound hollow, it’s all bad news anyway, and the white wine tastes too thin. On nights like this, I can barely hear myself cook.
Minestra di Ceci e Zucca
Chickpea and Pumpkin soup. A meal in a bowl. For 4
2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
one onion, finely sliced
two cloves garlic, finely chopped
one stick celery, finely chopped
sea salt, ground
rosemary branch, around 10 cm long, stripped and finely chopped
2 cups small diced pumpkin, such as Kent or Butternut
2 cup cooked chickpeas and some of the cooking liquid
home-made vegetable stock ( or chicken if you prefer)
a drizzle of good oil to serve
I always start with a little soffrito. Heat the olive oil and gently cook the onion slices until very soft but not brown, then add the garlic, rosemary a few grindings of salt, and the celery. Continue cooking until soft, then add the diced pumpkin, stir about, then the cooked chick peas. Cover with stock and a little of the chick pea water. (if you have used canned chickpeas, rinse well and discard the canning liquid as it tastes quite foul, I’m not sure why).
Cook for 30 minutes on low heat. Add a small handful of broken pasta if you wish. I used left over broken pizzocheri or buckwheat pasta. Raise the heat towards the end of cooking. As the pumpkin has been diced, most of it will disintegrate and thicken the soup.
As this is a sweet soup, add more salt at table to counteract this. Dress with a drizzle of good oil. A very sustaining one bowl meal for a dark windy night.