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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Silver Beet Paneer: Curry for a Cold Snap

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been forced back indoors. Today, at the height of Spring, a cold front blew in¬†and the temperature plummeted to 8.5 celsius. That’s Melbourne for you.

Yesterday afternoon was a different story. I felt like Mortisha in my Melbourne black: the hot sun beat down on my layered clothing, making the post- prandial walk quite uncomfortable. For those readers who live anywhere in the world but Melbourne, I should mention that Melbournians favour black dressing.

We had lunched at the Woodlands Hotel, a quirky hotel with an unusual menu, in Sydney Road, Coburg. We were merrily celebrating a birthday and enjoying a post- Bali get together when I noticed Madame Rosalie’s curry, a play on that Indian classic,¬†Muttar Paneer, only substituting silverbeet and broad beans for the peas. What a brilliant idea! These seasonal vegetables have reached plague proportions in my garden. Today I’m making a silver beet¬†Paneer curry, then next week, the Muttar Paneer, substituting broad beans for regular peas, using the same curry base as below.

Silverbeet Paneer

Ingredients.

  • A big bunch of young silver beet
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely¬†chopped
  • 2cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 120 ml thickened cream, (or whey from paneer¬†or yoghurt¬†making, as well as some cream)
  • 200gr paneer, cut into 2cm square cubes, either purchased or homemade.

Method.

Strip leaves from silver beet and add to a large pan, and add a little water. (Use stalks for another recipe). Cook quickly until the leaves are wilted but still vibrant looking. Drain, and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile in a heavy based pot, heat oil or ghee, then add onion, garlic and ginger and cook until the onion has softened. Add the chopped tomato, and spices (except garam masala) . Stir for 30 seconds, then add a little whey or cream to loosen. Add the silver beet leaves, salt and sugar, and the rest of the cream.  Cook on low heat for a few minutes, stirring. When cooler, use an immersion blender and puree the mixture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReturn to the stove, heat gently, then add the chopped paneer and the garam masala. Swirl through a little more cream when serving.

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This dish is ample for four, with rice, assuming that there is another dish, such as dhal or another curry, and raita.

Just like the cucina povera of Italy, Indian food costs little to make. The ingredients came from the garden or the pantry. ¬†The blow out was the purchased paneer. ¬†Next time, I’ll make my own.

Footnote: this tastes even better the next day!