In My Kitchen, a Winter Post. July, 2018

On cold winter mornings, routines are simple and meditative. Kindling, or morning wood, is gathered to start the wood stove. Small twigs are arranged like a Lilliputian teepee, while dry leaves and balls of crunched newspaper are tucked into the gaps. The moment of truth- a match is struck and the fire roars. An old whistling kettle waits on top of the stove, hot water for that second cup of tea. If the morning is frosty and old Jack has painted the paddocks white, I often recall my father’s early morning footprints crunched into the grass of our suburban backyard, a memory so old and yet so fresh. Long before breakfast, when we were still tucked up in bed, Dad would take a bucket of left over kitchen scraps, mixed with pollard and hot water, down to the chookhouse at the rear of the yard, always singing the same song, ‘Oh what a beautiful morning.‘ His optimism enabled him to travel through life with grace. Somehow this pastoral Rogers and Hammerstein song, frost and chooks, will always be connected in my mind. As we all tend to begin our day in the kitchen, it is a fitting place to practice optimism. Turn off the news.

Morning wood.

On fortuitous mornings, left over cooked vegetables await on the bench, ready to be mixed with an egg to make an old-fashioned breakfast of Bubble and Squeak, although there’s rarely much squeak (cabbage) in my kitchen. Or perhaps a slow cooked pot of oat porridge, always with a pinch of salt, I hear my ancestors say, soul food that sticks to the ribs for longer. The stock pot goes onto the wood stove, while some Barley or Farro is soaked. Sourdough Bread, having undergone a secondary overnight ferment in the fridge, is ready to bake. And so another winter’s¬† day begins. While it’s not my favourite season, winter does offer some compensation- soup, wood fires, comfort food, along with the chance to don¬†berets and scarves.

Risotto, red wine, rosemary and taleggio.

There’s often a good winter risotto in my kitchen. I nearly swore off risotto for life after my time in Lombardy last year where I ate risotto every second day- risotto con¬†zucca, risotto milanese, risotto con funghi porcini, and this one below, the star of them all, risotto con vino rosso, rosemarino e taleggio. ( risotto with red wine, rosemary and taleggio). It doesn’t matter how many photos I take of risotto, summer or winter, it always looks totally unappealing, a bit like a dog’s dinner. And yet these photos belie the reality.

Winter is also the time for pasties and it’s always good to have a stash in the freezer for an easy lunch. I used commercial puff pastry for this lot. These were filled with cooked Puy lentils flavoured with saut√©ed onion, Worcestershire sauce and herbs, then mixed with mashed roasted pumpkin and peas. The¬†plum sauce¬†is from last summer.

Of course there’s always soup in my winter kitchen. Since being too busy is my new normal, I¬† make soup often- some to take to my mother, some for our hungry renovating builders, some for the visiting kids, and sometimes I get some too. This one, Ginger and Carrot soup, is a cure for head colds and sore throats.¬† Served with a sprinkle of chilli and yoghurt, it’s a real pick me up.

Another beautiful loaf.

I’ve been experimenting with sourdough recipes lately and have been amazed at how different sourdough starters behave. The bread above was based on a recipe by Maurizio from the Perfect Loaf.¬† The fermentation is so rapid: the wholemeal levain is a wild beast of a thing. Sourdough bread making is not just about the recipe- each day in the kitchen, the weather, the heating or lack of it, the temperature of the water, the humidity, and the patience of the artisan, create a unique environment and these wild yeasts love to dance to their own rhythm.

Morning marmalade

I’m waiting for this loaf to cool so I can indulge in my other favourite winter breakfast- toast with marmalade. My mother’s grapefruit tree is heavily laden and many, I fear, will go to waste. I made one batch, or 8 jars, of grapefruit marmalade, but how much marmalade can you eat in one year?

There are always lots of books in my kitchen-dining area; with the cold weather, they are beginning to proliferate on small tables. The blue journal on the right now lives permanently near the kitchen bench. New breads that pass the taste and method test get added to this journal. There’s something special about handwriting a recipe. It becomes a part of my personal repertoire, and is ingrained in my memory, standing distinctly apart from the tsunami of recipes that come my way, either from books or the internet. Notes get added with each bake: ingredients are adjusted. I have another handwritten book dedicated to cakes and biscuits. The book on the left, Community, offers some intriguing salads, which will be more useful in Spring and Summer.

Trusty apron

I never thought I would become an apron wearer but then, I never thought I would need to look for my glasses all day, or carry around an oven timer. I bought this colourful apron in Chiang Mai, Thailand¬† a few years ago: it is short and bohemian, a bit like me really. If I wear it, I’ll have a more organised day.

Once again, I’m linking this post to the monthly series, In My Kitchen, now hosted by Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings.¬†¬†¬†Thanks Sherry, it’s forced me to look for my writing mojo, which has been in hiding for a while.

It’s Not Easy Being a Carrot.

It seems that carrots receive a lot of bad press. The most common expression featuring the humble carrot involves reward and punishment, ‘the carrot and the stick”, an enduring approach to behaviour modification and a recurring political weapon. Any one for tax cuts? A quick search¬†through my cookbooks, especially those with listings by ingredient, revealed very short chapters devoted to carrots. Italian cookbooks ignore them as a principal ingredient: Asian books only make passing reference to them. I do use them but they rarely star. Like Italian nonne, I finely chop¬†carrots to form part of the trio in a¬†soffritto, that little tasty stir fry of tiny chopped ingredients that is the foundation of a good soup. I throw chunks ¬†of carrot into a slowly cooked root stew and I grate them into a cake. And then…not much else. My carrot repertoire is small. I don’t fancy them in fritters, nor as sticks ( a case of neither carrot nor stick changing my wicked ways ) when other candidates do a better job.

New carrots, vincotto, pine nuts, currants, chevre
New carrots, vincotto, pine nuts, currants, chevre

Maybe we have forgotten the taste of freshly pulled carrots? The trend, here in Australia, is to pack carrots, devoid of their fine greenery, into plastic bags where they probably linger for months in a chilled warehouse before reaching the consumer. They taste like mould. Some go into the soup, the rest end up in the compost heap.

Freshly pulled carrots, either home-grown or bought at a farmer’s market, need to be dealt with quickly before they wilt and lose their vibrancy. Since purchasing carrots from the Peninsula market gardens, I have been keen to trial recipes where carrots star. My favourite to date is a ginger and carrot pureed soup with coriander pesto. It went down so quickly with the troupes at the beach. No time for a photo.

Carrots star when just picked
Carrots star when just picked

This recipe from¬†Maggie’s Kitchen makes a colourful side dish to go with a baked fish or a roasted chicken. Where Maggie uses verjuice in her recipe, I substituted Vincotto.¬†The saucing is wonderful in this dish.¬†You could easily leave out the currants and pine nuts for a simpler version.

Carrots in Verjuice with Goat’s Cheese and Pine Nuts.

  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1/3 cup verjuice
  • 1 bunch baby ( Dutch) carrots, green tops trimmed to about 2 cm, scrubbed
  • sea salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 100 g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup marinated goats cheese, or fresh goats cheese, or¬†chevre

Place currants and verjuice in a small bowl and leave to plump.

Cook carrots in a saucepan of boiling water until almost cooked. Leave carrots to cool a little then use a clean towel to rub skins off while still warm. Set peeled carrots aside to cool, then halve lengthways.

Drain currants, reserve verjuice.

Toast pine nuts in a frying pan over low heat until light brown. Transfer to a bowl, then add butter to the same pan and melt over medium heat to high, then cook for 2-3 minutes or until butter turns nut brown. Add reserved verjuice and cook until reduced and syrupy. Add currants, pine nuts and parsley, then transfer to a serving dish. Top with chevre or spoon over goat’s curd and serve at once.

Magggie Beer, Maggies Kitchen, Penguin Lantern, 2008

An update on the supermarket warehousing of carrots from the Guardian.  This explains that mouldy taste.

Carrot

Typical storage time 1 to 9 months

Immediate washing and cooling are essential to maintain the carrots’ crispness. Often, they are cooled in chlorinated water before packing.

Storage just above 0C inhibits sprouting and decay, while raised humidity prevents desiccation.

In these conditions, mature topped carrots will last 7-9 months, though 5-6 months is more typical.