Friday, July 31, 2009

eating local

We almost came to blows over grapefruit once.

Not that I’d describe my relationship with the Significant Eater as violent. A little heated at times but nothing approaching physical harm.

But grapefruit. He has to have grapefruit and orange freshly juiced every morning. It’s a ritual that can’t be broken. While I was trying to get my head around eating local last year this became a sticking point. He didn’t take to seasonality in quite the same way as I did.

I thought of this recently while doing my weekly shop at Vic Market. Cherries! Cherries in the middle of winter, it just wasn’t right. But Aussie cherries – now that was even more extraordinary. Then I read the fine print and laughed.

“taste them! Aussie Cherries grown in upstate Washington Bing Cherries $15 kg”

Somehow I don’t think this inventive marketing strategy quite comes under the auspices of the “Put Victoria on your table” campaign. It was lovely to see some of their logos on fruit and vegetables on my shopping trip this week.

What I find confusing about many of the guides to seasonal food, is that while it lists fresh produce that is on offer in your local stores, it doesn’t take into account where the food comes from.

Melbourne farmers markets usually feature growers from around the state and provide a good guide to what is seasonal and local in Victoria. According to the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association the following goodies are in season:

cumquats, grapefruit, lemons, limes, mandarins, nashi, oranges, rhubarb, tamarillo, tangelos.


Asian greens, beetroot, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, carrots, celery, celeriac, fennel, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, kohlrabi (green), kohlrabi (red), leek, olives, onions, parsnips, pumpkins, silver beet, spinach, spring onions, swedes, turnips.

The SE will be pleased – grapefruit is in season!

Reasons I like to eat local:

• Fresher produce
• Less energy used/pollution created in transportation
• Supports the local community
• Anticipation, waiting for a food to come back into season, makes it taste all the sweeter!

How do you feel about eating in season?

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

ginger muffins

With my barely clean hand I manage to push the open laptop further across the table, just in the nick of time as a sprinkling of flour covers the surface with snow-like drifts.

The entire room looks apocalyptic with abandoned pots dripping with butter and shiny silver bowls smeared with wet and dried ingredients.

It’s a sure sign I’ve been baking!

I got an urge to make a cake. In particular, my mother's ginger cake – dark, dense, moist and spicy. Somewhere along the way this became muffins, still flavoured with ginger but quite a deviation from my starting point. In between I had consulted another lovely cake recipe in The Cook’s Companion and added an extra spice to my list of ingredients.

The muffins are a work in progress, I had intended to have another play with the recipe before posting but life has got in the way. I’m thinking of trying different flours next time (a touch of buckwheat perhaps as the flavours are robust enough, maybe add another egg to compensate for any heaviness?) and keep adjusting the spices.

Recipe notes:

Fresh, rather than dried or crystallised ginger, is a major modification to the recipe. Having found no powdered ginger in the house I decided to microplane fresh root to get the juice and just a little of the finely grated flesh. I used to have a Japanese ginger grater that is perfect for the job but the fine grater over a small bowl worked just fine. Use the youngest, plump ginger root you can find otherwise juicing it will be akin to getting blood out of a stone! Taste the wet ingredients while adding the juice to get the right level of ginger for your palate.

The white pepper was courtesy of one of Stephanie Alexander’s recipes. I crushed the whole spices and also the walnuts in a mortar and pestle.

The muffin recipe template is another adaptation of Catherine’s recipe that I first explored in my post on cherry, banana, walnut and nutmeg muffins

Ginger muffins

Heat oven to 175 c.

Wet ingredients

30 gm melted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup (more if you are a sweet tooth)
3 ripe bananas, mashed
Juice of approx 3 cm of fresh ginger finely grated (to taste)
1 egg, beaten

Allow the butter to cool before combining the ingredients.

Dry ingredients

2-3 white peppercorns, ground
4 cloves, ground
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
2/3 cup of walnuts (measured before crushing), crushed
1.5 cups of flour 1 level tsp bicarb soda/baking soda
1 level tsp baking powder
Scant 1/2 tsp sea salt

Combine the dry ingredients.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir, just a little, don’t over work it.

Spoon into greased muffin tins.

Cook for 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

These muffins taste even better the next day but it is very hard to leave them that long!

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Monday, July 20, 2009

a nettle delight that you won't find on masterchef

Masterchef is over and hopefully we won’t have to hear the word “journey” (unless it’s in conjunction with some mode of transport) for a very long time.

I neither loved nor loathed the series, was not so secretly pleased that the finale was duked out between two grown up women (rather than an over confident bloke or a darling young 20 year old) but was saddened to hear that it really hasn’t inspired a generation of children to cook. According to a tweet by Stephanie Alexander, a formidable authority on all things to do with healthy food and young people, kids were more inspired to cook by the ads than the show itself.

@GrowCookEat: Masterchef claim that kids turned onto real food. From a class of 22, 8 told me they cooked chocolate cupcakes inspired by Betty Crocker ad.

I would have liked to see more cutting edge cookery, especially in the last week. So I present for you the key ingredient I would have selected for a mystery box challenge – nettles! And lets add a twist; the dish needs to be vegan as well. Come on, it’s the final week lets up the ante a bit more – lets make sure its is gluten-free to boot.

This is my humble offering, harvesting my only current backyard crop of abundance. Having earmarked small footprint family’s intriguing nettle pate, I had a flashback to another herb and avocado spread that I had earlier concocted. What I whipped up is a hybrid of the pate and my detox parsley pesto.

Nettle, nut and avocado dip

5 cups (approx) fresh, or 2 cups steamed, nettles
1/2 cup pistachio nuts (soaked and dried if you want to release extra goodness)
1/2 cup walnuts (optionally soaked as above)
1 large avocado
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/2-1 tsp coriander (cilantro) seeds, roasted and ground
1/2-1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and ground
pinch of salt
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon young (shiro) miso

Carefully harvest your nettles, choosing the young tops if you can. Wash well and shake dry. Place in a large pot on low heat with no extra water. Keep lid on and shake every few minutes. It should take about 10 minutes to steam the nettles in this manner. Once cooked drain off any excess water.

Roast and grind the cumin and coriander seeds with a pinch of salt.

Pulse nuts in a food processor til semi crushed. If you go to far they will become nut butter. Add the garlic, ground spices, avocado, and lemon juice process some more. Now throw in the drained nettles and miso paste. Blend to the desired consistency, I like my nuts to still have some texture but its up to you. Season with additional salt and lemon juice, to taste if needed.

The dip goes well with crudités or rice crackers. There is a hint of the green grassy taste of nettles but be assured there is no sting.

Who knows, maybe next year nettles rather than tonka beans will be the must have herb of the season.

If you have no nettles consider using some steamed spinach, radiccio, rocket a bunch of your favourite fresh green herbs.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

links, herbs and more stinging nettles

I’ve been a bit slow to catch Cheryls WHB round up, so it was a lovely surprise to see the goodies on offer. Anh’s sesame and tofu biscuits have really got my brain firing. I can’t wait til she experiments with savoury, seaweed crackers.

I love the simplicity of quinoa and Cheryl’s lemony mint version looks delicious. Then I noticed her chickpea crackers and marvelled at them too. The more gluten-free goodness the better!

And before we leave gorgeous grains, Lucy’s millet post is a timely reminding to excavate my pantry to make a millet pilaf.

I’ve not jumped on the agave bandwagon, wanting to find out more about the product first. It appears some of my suspicions are well founded. Dawn at Small Footprint Family has put her qualifications in holistic nutrition to good use to put together a well researched post on agave.

Our winter vegetable patch is much neglected. We are still harvesting fiery red chillies (and to be honest I’ve rather had enough of having my mouth and nether regions assaulted by the stuff) and the parsley has finely decided to grow to a decent size. But best of all, self-seeded nettles have taken over the remaining ground. They are young and tender and just crying out to be cooked. There will definitely be more nettle tortillas , possibly a soup with potatoes and using it as a substitute for spinach. Anyone got any more ideas?

Update: Just found this recipe for nettle pate at Small Footprint Family - excited as it is vegan and gluten-free.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

don't try this at home

It's one thing to have a menu fail but the world of molecular gastronomy opens the door to a world of fails of all kinds.

An experimental German cook accidentally blew off both his hands attempting to concoct a "molecular gastronomy" dish with liquid nitrogen, a newspaper report said on Monday.
The Age

It got me thinking. I'm not saying that all chefs-to-be dropped out of high school at an early age with little by the way of education but I'm guessing university physics and chemistry are unlikely to be in many of their CV's.

So what would make the ideal higher school curriculum for someone wanting a career in cooking? Here are some of my thoughts:

Horticulture - if you want to wildcraft rare herbs, it is a good idea to identify them
Latin - really helps with the botany
French - so you don't confuse your cordon bleu with your gordon blue
English - while we are on languages, those menu fails are getting a bit embarrassing
Science - goes without saying, other than things going bang, cooking is alchemy
Domestic science aka Home Economics - Is this subject still taught in schools? Those Home Ec Mistresses sure knew how to turn out a decent scone.

Forget media studies and all those fancy schmansy things, it's time to get back to basics.


Friday, July 10, 2009

taking tea

As if a lightening bolt had cleaved my head, in a Covent Garden's tea shop I had an epiphany. I’d always known I didn’t like the taste of tea but it wasn’t until the moment that I inhaled some fragrant blend that I understood my distaste for the drink went deeper than whimsy. As soon as those volatile oils hit my olfactory senses a searing pain went through my temple. I realised black tea and me could never be friends.

Having a similarly dislike for patchouli I could never be a hippy but developed a fondness from herbal teas in my teens. Around the time I discovered tofu - rosehips, hibiscus and lemongrass also came into my life. As a student in New Zealand living in draughty dank shared houses through endless winters, large pots of herbal tea got me through the darkest months.

Fortunately in London I lived in a house with vast jars of wholefoods in the cupboards, beancurd in the fridge and array of herbal teas. My pregnant housemate drunk buckets of raspberry leaf but there was almost every other herb under the sun on hand. But once out of the house there was a problem. I soon discovered that in the land of tea drinkers saying no to a cup of tea was just not on. A cup of the awful swill was an invitation to share a person’s company and refusal was tantamount to a slap in the face. It took a London friend to spell out this strange social ritual and come up with a solution that perhaps only a wacky Antipodean could get away with, for the next year I carried a supply of herbal tea bags with me so I could whip one out whenever the offer of tea arose.

British coffee, at home or in cafes, was so awful in the ‘80s that I gave it up. I had to go to France to get a decent cup!

These days most the herbs I drink are fresh from the garden. A handful of peppermint or lemon balm can be refreshingly cooling on a summer’s day. But in winter a rich, warm blend born in those chilly student houses comforts me to my core.

Hibiscus flowers dry to a deep crimson and are often used as a natural colour booster in tea blends and punches. They taste quite astringent with a citrusy edge. After infusing for a while the tea turns the deepest of reds, with an intense flavour. Like many red plant foods, scientists are turning to hibiscus as a possible source of antioxidants. The herb is a favourite in Egypt and most hibiscus tea on the market still originates from that country.

I’ve been asked to share my winter tea recipe and must admit that I'd never considered posting something so simple before. Quantities are to taste as each palate is different. The longer it infuses the deeper the flavour and it becomes quite a different drink. To see if you like it, make a decent sized pot of the blend and pour a small cup to sample every five minutes til you find the perfect drawing time for your desires.

As with all teas, quality is paramount. By organic herbs if possible but freshness is paramount. Always store dried herbs in an airtight jar and keep in a cool dark place. Heat and light are the enemies of flavour and old or poorly stored herbs can taste dull and dusty.

As for tea bags, keep them for emergencies only or when visiting Britain.

Winter warming tea

The combination of the acidity of the hibiscus and acridness of the ginger is mellowed by the natural sweetness of liquorice. The longer it is brewed the more tangy heat the ginger imparts.

2 parts dried hibiscus flower

1 part dried liquorice root

1 part fresh ginger root, finely sliced (of a pinch dried)

Warm your favourite teapot, add the herbs and cover generously with boiling water. Let it brew for at least 5 minutes.

What is your favourite herbal tea combination?

This post is part of Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Cheryl at Gluten Free Goodness. Incidentally my winter tea is gluten-free, sugar free and lactose free, unlike the black chewy confectionary also known as liquorice!

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Menu fail

More creative menu's from Melbourne's CBD lane ways.

Degraves Street, 9.7.09

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

quickie - real food

Not AWOL just busy. Fingers required to type words, lots of them. I have been cooking. Simple things. Delightful things. Here’s part of the week or two that was, in food.

1. Soup under Lucy’s guidance. How nice when a friend says “I can’t come for dinner tonight but I can help you cook instead”. The SE and I have been having this informal winter thing. Friends that are in the neighbourhood on certain chilly evenings have been assured a glass of wine or some warming chai, dips, nibbles and a hearty bowl of soup. If they stay long enough the SE mother’s solstice cake comes out. Friends, wine and food. A random assortment each time. What could be better?

Lucy’s soup involved onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, little green (puy) lentils, and ribbons of cavolo nero. Finished of with fresh coriander and a squeeze of lemon – it was a winner.

2. Baked vegetables. Not rocket science, just comforting, especially when they go all crispy. Potatoes are mandatory; I like them cut quite small so there is maximum crunchiness. Depending on what is in the house there has been some sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts – all roasted after a toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. A little fresh rosemary if its not raining (because as nice as the herb is, even a short dash to the garden in the cold and wet is no fun).

3. Pasta of the month (or two) is onion, garlic and masses of cavolo nero, we just can’t get enough of this wintry green. Often with tuna, sometimes preserved lemon and olives. Stirred through gluten-free pasta and we’ve happy campers indeed.

4. More marinated tofu and salad (yes the SE been eating meat again).

5. Vegetable tagine/tajine in the real thing – the vessel itself soaked for 24 hours, dried for another hour, oiled then in a very slow oven. A slow bake. Onion, leek, fennel and Japanese eggplants are my favourite base, flavoured with lashings of homemade harissa. Pumpkin and chickpeas replaced the fish from my earlier endeavours. The drizzle of tahini when serving makes all the difference.

6. Brown rice. With tagines and curries. The latter made from Sri Lankan spice powder, added garam marsala, extra chillies and garlic. Lots of tamarind water for tang. Vegetables – something green and leafy, potato and chickpeas.

No photos, no recipes, just food. Hope this inspires a vegetarian twist in your menu this week.

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