In My Kitchen, March 2015

In my kitchen are some wonderful gifts from my next door neighbour, Anna.  Anna’s bay tree is huge and enjoys a good trim if you can reach its soaring branches. Bunches of bay leaves look lovely in the kitchen but are also good for deterring moths in the pantry. A clean out is overdue and these bay leaves will be taped to the walls and under the shelves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnna, who is Greek and 85 years old, still makes the best spanakopita and loukoumades, Greek doughnuts dipped in honey. Sadly there are no pictures as these get devoured as soon as they arrive. She also bought in a bottle of Ouzo and Sparkling wine, and a full-sized hand-woven rug that she made when she was a young woman in Greece. Beautiful gifts in return for a bit of shrub removal. Anna brings in biscuits most weeks, just because she has made them!  She has two kitchens: the pretty show kitchen that looks like it has never been used and the real kitchen out the back in the laundry, where all the serious cooking occurs. Popping in for a coffee at Anna’s place is not to be taken lightly. She serves wedges of chilled Kasseri or Kefalograviera cheese, warmed tiropitakia, honey biscuits or almond crescents dusted with icing sugar, cut and chilled wedges of fruit, chocolates, ouzo and really bad Nescafe coffee which the Greeks of Melbourne seem to favour. Although she doesn’t speak much English and I have failed to learn Greek, we get by very well and speak the same language- that of friendship and love. One day I’ll get in her back kitchen when she is cooking.

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In my kitchen are the first Clapps Favourite pears. They are an early season variety and the fruit ripens very quickly once picked. The fruit is large and tasty and don’t last long as kitchen art.

clapps favourite pear
clapps favourite pear

In my kitchen there is a fresh supply of lentils, chick peas, bulgar wheat and other dried goods from Bas Foods in Brunswick, one of my favourite shops. These go well in curries and soups and are my main source of protein and iron.

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At least once a week we eat a simple curry based on these goods which are complemented with things from the garden.

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In my kitchen there are still loads of tomatoes. I have made passsata, tomato and chilli jam, gazpacho soup and am now about to borrow a dehydrator to deal with the many baskets of little yellow pear tomatoes, Romas and the funny black blushed ones.

waiting in the kitchen. Dehydrate, kassundi or passata?
Waiting in the kitchen. Dehydrate, kassundi or passata?
Tomato chilli jam
Tomato chilli jam
Gazpacho - using up the cucumber and tomato glut.
Gazpacho – using up the cucumber and tomato glut.

I purchased these bulk tagliatelle egg pasta at Gervasi supermarket in Brunswick. Three kilo of nidi, or nests cost $10.00. They are stored in a large plastic bread bin from the bakery. These are great for 10 minute meals of pasta and garden goodness with oil and anchovy, herbs and Parmigiano. If you want to experience a real Italian vibe, the deli and butcher counters at Gervasi will transport you back to Italy in a flash. More autentico than the Mediterraneo Wholesalers.

bulk tagliatelle
bulk tagliatelle

Speaking of Italy, which I often do, I am enjoying Dominique Rizzo’s My Taste of Sicily very much. Although I have owned it for a couple of years, it has decided to take up residence in my kitchen this month. I love the vibrancy of Sicilian food: food of the sun, it works well in the Australian climate.

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Siciliani love chilli and so do I. Excess chilli dry out on the bench and will be crushed then turned into chilli oil.

chilli drying, waitig to be crushed or turned into chlli oil.
chilli drying, waiting to be crushed or turned into chlli oil.

Finally my secret ingredient for making tasty frangipane cakes. Two tablespoons for the cake and a nip for me. One also for Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who hosts this monthly round up of world kitchens. Follow the link and enjoy them all.

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In My Kitchen, February 2015

Melbourne is experiencing a very cool summer so far. Not that I mind. Usually in February, I sit in the kitchen staring at the computer, monitoring the temperature, the wind and the fire ratings on the CFA site. This year we are blessed with unseasonable cool weather which is perfect for preserving fruits and garden produce AND I don’t feel so anxious.

In my kitchen are too many strawberries: the cool weather, along with proper netting, means a new flush every few days. We have made strawberry jam and coulis, frozen strawberries and strawberry brandy, tucked away for the cooler months.

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And of course there too many tomatoes. This season, the large tasty varieties are a little slow, so these mini tomatoes fill the gap. I am picking a few kilo of mixed heirloom tomatoes each day- they go on pizza, bruschetta, in soups and sauces or straight into the freezer.

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The zucchini continue to provide amusement when their large zeppelin shapes hide under leaves. The big fellas go to the chooks.  The polite ones make zucchini soup, Greek zucchini fritters, grilled zucchini topping for pizza,  zucchini ripieni con ricotta, zucchini pakhoras, zucchini pasta, and all manner of things, along with their fiori, flowers. I also make a swag of Stephanie Alexander’s zucchini pickles to give away. The pickle is lovely with a ploughman’s lunch.

Preparing the pickle in brine.
Preparing the pickle in brine.
Zucchini pickle alla Stephanie Alexander.
Zucchini pickle alla Stephanie Alexander.

In My kitchen are Lombardi. This month, my adopted nephew, Alberto from Pavia, hangs around in my kitchen after working in the kitchen garden. Alberto cultivates Arborio rice near Pavia, in Italia but has become interested in Australia over the last two years. It’s good to have him back. Renato, in the Babbo Natale hat, is from Milano. Renato, an IT specialist, became a top fencer in his many months here. At last our cows are well contained.

My kitchen garden provides much of the food that is prepared in my kitchen and I would like to thank them both for assisting us with their labour and for their graceful and courteous company.

Along with the kitchen thankyous comes a big one to our generous host, Celia, from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial whose infectious energy is inspirational.

In My Kitchen, December 2014

The last few weeks have been rather hectic in my kitchen. I’m taking it easy in December, especially now that I know my niece will host Christmas Day Lunch. Hooray, I’m off the hook. Now I can safely sneak away to my favourite beach and pretend that the festive season is not happening.

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I am picking around 500 grams of berries every day. Raspberries, boysenberries, youngberries and strawberries are having a wonderful season. It’s time to think about using some in an alcoholic concoction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have consumed many berries with small meringue nests which I store away in tins for a week or so. These meringues had the addition of finely zested lemon peel. Limoncello cream filled the cavities, then raspberries. We also had cinnamon meringue with cherry.

Dolmades rolled and laid snugly in a pot.
Dolmades rolled and laid snugly in a pot.

One of the big sultana vines lost a branch when Mt Tranquillo was pruning.  I wasn’t going to waste these lovely fresh vine leaves.  A big batch of dolmades lasted only one week in my kitchen.

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My daughter- in- law has done some ironing for me. It is so nice when all the tablecloths are ready for the season ahead. This is the blue and white stash. Yes, slightly anal, I know.

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I found this old gelataio in an Op shop (thrift shop) in 2009. It was only $15.00 and had just been serviced. It’s little churning wings broke the other day as I was making some berry ice cream. It has served me very well so I might ask Santa for a new one, unless a spare part turns up soon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe beautiful blue plates, a set of 12, seem to be unused and cost $3.00 in total. They were made by Johnson in Australia in the 1950s. Another lucky find in the second hand world of Melbourne. Perfect for a morning tea of mini muffins with white chocolate, amond meal and fresh raspberry.

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Why does everyone always crowd around in the kitchen? Here are a couple of party animals, a reminder to always have fun in the kitchen. Put your finger in the cream, steal a morsel off that platter, help roll out the pizza dough or dance like a crazy spider.

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Thankyou Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, for a wonderful year of IMK.

                                     Season’s Greetings to Celia and to you all. 

 

 

 

In My Kitchen, November 2014

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Kitchens, more than any other room in the house, have stories to tell. My kitchen isn’t very old: it was built in the early 1990s by my good friend Ian, a teacher with whom I worked for 10 years. I don’t know how he did it: he had no previous construction experience and managed to build this house, its kitchen and all the fittings, on weekends, holidays and after work.

We acquired the house in November 5 years ago, after living in temporary accommodation, sheds and house sits for around 10 months. I bought this house because I knew how well it was built: home builders often over build. Being made of mud brick, it reminded me of my old ‘muddy’ house where I lived for 30 years. The stars were aligned. He was selling, I was homeless. A perfect match.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In My Kitchen, which was Ian’s kitchen, the benches are generous and too high for me. He is over 6 feet tall and did much of the cooking: I am ‘vertically challenged’ at 5′ 2, and as a dear friend just reminded me, shrinking!  Lower the benches, raise the floor or wear high heeled sneakers in my kitchen? Despite these benches , I love the kitchen and don’t plan to renovate: it is such a costly business.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Some of the pine board walls may need whitening and I did replace the stove with a new Ilve.  I love the Pizza function and the extraordinary heat for making bread. Most of the other functions are untried as I tend to always use the fan forced setting.


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In my kitchen I make pizza once a week. This one is topped with onion confit, white anchovies, olives and fresh oregano.

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In my kitchen I make bread, thanks to the mentoring of Celia, host of this monthly event at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. I  have finally found the perfect bread for us. It’s an offspring of a few different recipes that came my way.  We call this bread ‘son of Craig’. It contains a mixture of white flour, wholemeal flour, rye flour and linseed meal and remains moist and fresh for days. Some days it is perfect: other days, it over proves when I get distracted. 

Son of Craig
Son of Craig

In my kitchen, the meals are simple. Pasta and soups are made with garden produce and a few pantry staples.  Lentils, chick peas, borlotti beans and pasta are sometimes garnished with a smoked trout or fetta, oil and Parmigiano.

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My Kitchen isn’t ‘House and Garden’: it is often messy and cluttered. It’s warm in winter and cool in summer. And now, after five years, it feels like hearth and home. It works hard for me and I am grateful and satisfied with its flaws and its assets, and I thank the builder and his wife.

A simple middle eastern lunch at casa mia.
A simple middle eastern lunch for the family.

 

In My Kitchen, October 2014

In My Kitchen, I am surrounded by things starting with the letter ‘B’. No, this is not an episode of Playschool or an eye spy game, although there have been a few bambini hanging out in my kitchen lately.  It all happened by chance I promise you. And thanks to Celia, host of this monthly event and bread making enthusiast, I seem to have caught her bread making bug.

The ceiling is beamed, the floor is brick, and there’s a Breville on the bench. Big bowls are often left standing on the bench, waiting for some more bread dough, while my starter, who lives in the fridge, (who is affectionately known as Celia), begs to be fed. The ‘Feed Me’ instructions are left on the fridge door.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABread dough. I’m slowly learning about very wet doughs and hydration. This one looks too wet, but still made a reasonable loaf of bread. Thanks to Celia’s bead making tutorials, help is close at hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABig Bucket. This empty plastic bucket turned up at the Whittlesea Monday market last week. I should have bought more: at $2.00 a piece, they are a steal. Large enough to store all the odd flours. The baker’s white flour has its own big bin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoys Art on the fridge. This arty stage doesn’t last long, so must be embraced. Hiding their iPad helps! Blink, and they’ve turned into teenagers.

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Books, old and new. The four oldies were found in a second-hand store and I once owned three of them. Talk about deja vu. For under $10.00 for four, it cost the same price as a new magazine! Now I am re-visiting my cooking past.

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Three new books:

Book 1, Local breads by Daniel Leader, purchased via the excellent book buying search engine, http://booko.com.au, which sorts books for sale throughout the world, listed by lowest price first, delivered.

Book 2, The Handmade Loaf by  Dan Lepard, bought from the  Book Grocer,  in Brunswick, a shop too hard to pass by.

And book 3, yet another Ottolenghi cookbook bought cheaply at Big W.

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Biscuits. School holidays means baking biscuits with the bambine and the little blokes. The girls made these last week and the simple recipe is here.

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The brandy was bought duty-free. Purely for medicinal purposes. It invariably ends up in all sorts of cakes and custards and so lives in the kitchen, unlike its other friends who have their own hiding place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll the ‘B’ veggies arrive in Spring. Some pickings here include beetroot, broad beans, brocolli and borage. If I include them by their Italian names, the biete ( silver beet) and the barbabietola ( rhubarb) are in abundance too.

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In My Kitchen, September 2014.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn My Kitchen this month I am listening to the music of  Jiang Yang Zhuo Ma.  I can’t start the day without her deep voiced Tibetan ballads stirring my spirit. With a cup of tea in hand, the first of many, I drift away and travel back through Szechuan Province in China. Then the kitchen business day begins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn keeping with the Chinese theme, we have some very good Chinese tea, gifts from our dear friends in Chengdu. It tastes of Spring and flowers. The tea shops in China are surprisingly beautiful. Some teas cost a fortune.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our road trip through the north of Szechuan Province, we visited a Szechuan pepper oil factory.  Back in Melbourne, I immediately sourced a bottle ( sadly not from the same factory). Used like sesame oil, it provides a deep, peppery finish to MaPo Dofu or drizzled over stir fried wongbok cabbage, for example.

Sechuan Pepper oil
Szechuan Pepper oil

I have a slight obsession with these vintage floral tin plates from China. Produced during the period of the Cultural revolution ( 1970s), they have become quite rare. I use them as prep plates, or as trays to cart things outside, or to collect, then wash, greens from the garden.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I also have a big pile of these Chinese fish patterned bowls as I am sure many others do. They are economical and handy for one bowl meals.

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I found this Chinese thermos in Labuan Bajo, Flores, Indonesia in the hardware store for $6.00. I had to buy it, even though it meant lugging it back to Sanur, Bali, before heading home to Australia. I fill it up in the morning and drink tea the Chinese way, topping up the same leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMr Tranquillo likes a beer after work and this is his current drop of choice, Tsingtao of course.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI always keep a kitchen Buddha nearby to help with the day.  My Chinese kitchen sits very comfortably within my Australian kitchen, alongside the Italian cuisine, when I’m not cooking Turkish. Thanks to Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting the ‘In My Kitchen’ monthly, thus allowing me to expose my love of China. Visit Celia’s site and open the many links to worldwide kitchens.

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In My Kitchen, July 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my kitchen is an Australian colonial kauri pine dresser and in the top drawer is my collection of antique cutlery.

This drawer full of treasure threatens to disgorge its heavy contents whenever I yank it open.  Despite the disorder, this drawer makes me feel simultaneously happy and nostalgic. I think of my grandmothers, old fashioned soups, puddings and Sunday family gatherings. My modern cutlery, by contrast, is simply functional, quotidian and dishwasherable. It evokes little!

Although still on the road in Asia, I couldn’t miss the chance for a simple little post on Celia’s monthly round of IMK. See Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for more world kitchens, cookbook recomendations and gadgets.

 

 

In My Kitchen. June 2014

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I am attempting to clean up my Kitchen Chaos so that semi- resident family members and friends may find a user friendly kitchen while I am away.  Unfortunately, this does not extend to the pantry, which is far too small and has a secret life of its own.  I am attempting to use up all perishables, but the following items are always present in my kitchen:

  • good olive oil. I only use Australian extra virgin cold pressed oil, and for everyday use, I buy Cobram. It wins many prizes internationally, it isn’t doctored with crap – (imported Italian products are generally guilty of this and often have imprecise labelling).  Cobram oil is fruity, young and delicious. The date of harvest is mentioned on the bottle or large can. It is what it claims to be. I buy this in 3 litre containers and decant it  as needed.
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  • good parmesan cheese. Unlike my approach to olive oil, I only buy imported Parmigiano. Grana Padano or Reggiano Parmigiano is an essential pantry/fridge item and one that my offspring/grand offspring expect to find. I usually find a good ‘stagionato’ parmesan at the Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick.
  • Pasta varieties. Here again I feel compelled to buy the imported product as I love De Cecco pasta and keep lots of pasta shapes on hand.

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  • Cans of tuna ( check labels for ethical fishing methods), cans of tomatoes, large cans of anchovies, cans of ceci, borlotti beans and so on for whipping up some minestrone.
  • bread making flour and yeast. All my kids make Pizza. Renato, who will also visit, doesn’t use any of these products, earning himself the title of “Plastic Luigi”.
  • Plenty of home grown garlic.

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With these basic supplies,and abundant herbs, lettuces and veggies from the garden,  plus the eggs that my girls lay, my family can make lots of good things. All they need to bring along is a hunk of cheese or some good bread. But hands off my good wine!!

You can find other inspiring kitchens at Celia’s ‘Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’ this month.

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