In My Kitchen, January 2018. Summertime

Boxing day, December 26th, is the most casual and relaxed day of the year: grazing on Christmas leftovers then lolling about on couches or deck chairs under a shady tree, what could be more pleasing? Summer is still benign. The following five days of sloth are Boxing Day extensions before pushy New Year budges in with its commitments, resolutions and calendar reminders. Those fireworks at midnight look and sound like a whole lot of fun to the uninitiated but what they really signify is the end of lazy days. Time to get cracking again folks, says that last fizzer. As it turns out, although I’m technically ‘retired’, January is my busiest month, as the summer vegetable and fruit crops mature and the kitchen turns into a preserving factory. In this small window of opportunity before this onslaught, I’m enjoying pottering about. Sometimes things happen in my kitchen and sometimes they don’t. Can someone kindly pass me a peach and a glass of Prosecco?

While all the peaches came and went, barefoot servants too.

The peach season came and went. There is nothing in the world like the taste of a perfectly ripe peach, plucked from the tree, slightly soft and sun-kissed, whispering I’m ready. Miss Daisy tested the peaches in the days leading up to Christmas, her hand gently pressing the furry blushed spheres, as she reached up high inside the bird netting. She has learnt that when a peach is ready, it will drop into your cupped hand without any tugging. Many were eaten somewhere between the tree and our back door but a few made it into the kitchen. Daisy sat by the pool one day, eating her splendid peach, reminding me that some moments in time are unblemished and glorious. A few peachy shots followed.

Girl with Peach.

Daisy is my cooking muse and I am hers. She has appeared occasionally in my posts over the last four years, mainly because she is almost a kitchen fixture when she visits. We feed off each other. She inspires me with her love of food, perfect sense of smell and curiosity and I inspire her with my creations. She knows the contents of my pantry like the back of her own hand. We make huge messes together which Mr Tranquillo cleans up.

Licking the spoon, licking the bowl, kids in the kitchen, good for your soul.

Chickpeas are making their presence felt in my kitchen since I mastered the use of my pressure cooker. I bought a combination slow/pressure cooker around four years ago but all my attempts at using the pressure cooker function ended in disaster. As it turns out, it had a faulty rubber gasket: I discovered this only when Breville contacted all the owners of this defective product three years after its purchase. It had been sitting in the larder, swanky word for converted laundry space, gathering dust: it couldn’t even be recycled given its dodgy performance and was probably destined for the hard rubbish. Once¬†Breville sent out the new rubber seal, the big black pot has spent more time chugging away on the kitchen bench and all is forgiven. I can now cook a pile of chickpeas, ready to use, within 45 minutes without pre-soaking. Chick peas end up in Middle Eastern Buddha bowls,¬†Indian curries with tamarind and fresh coriander, Italian pasta and ceci soup and of course, hummus.

Cooked in the pressure cooker- from woe to go, 45 minutes.

Just before Christmas, friends gave us a big bag full of perfect mangoes, part of the annual charity mango drive run by the local pre-school. A few left over mangoes went into this mango chutney. It’s tropical, spicy and jammy, but perhaps needs a bit more fresh chilli.

Mango Chutney for Indian days. Grazie Helen e Chris.

Bread making took a festive turn when I made a batch of Celia’s sourdough fruit bread. I used walnuts, sultanas, apricots and dates, and upped the spice a bit. I’m keen to use up the excess dried fruit I bought before Christmas. More of these fruit and nut studded loaves will be made during the early morning hours of January.

Fruit and spice sourdough, randomly slashed! Summer breakfast covered.

Before leaving Pavia in Lombardy last November, Alberto gave me a sack of his own freshly harvested rice, nicely packaged in festive fabric. Grown in the classic rice-growing zone of the Po Valley, the rice was milled in October in Novara, Lombardia. I can’t wait to try it and team it with something from the summer garden.

Il riso d’ Alberto, San Martino Siccomario, Pavia. Ottobre 2017. Grazie Albe`.

When I’m trying to escape the siren song of the kitchen, a fish and chip night is called for. As it’s a 12 kilometer return trip for a take- away, we don’t consider this option often. He drives, I cut up the lemons. On a lucky night, I might even throw a green salad together. Thanks Sherry for hosting the monthly In My Kitchen series. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for an inside view of other world kitchens.

                                                          Buon Anno a Tutti

Flounder and chips, c/o Hurstbridge Fish and Chip shop.  Bring it on.

Get My Swan Costume Ready. School Holiday Pavlova

It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, with kids in the kitchen and mess everywhere. The girls wanted to make something sweet but both have radically different tastes. After some negotiation, a pavlova was agreed upon, after some squabbling about suitable toppings. Before we grabbed the electric beaters, a detour through history into the life of Anna Pavlova was fun, something I had never thought about much before their visit. As Tchaikovsky played in the background, we admired all the beautiful old photos of Anna Pavlova in her divine longer tutus and portraits of her with her pet swan, Jack.

Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack
Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack. Photo from Pinterest.

We discovered other wonderful facts about Anna’s life, including her last words on her death-bed, “Get my Swan costume ready.” This is now our secret code for beating up egg whites or dying like a swan, which ever comes first.

kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen sculpting a Pavlova

Pavlova is an easy dessert¬†for young cooks to whip up. It doesn’t matter if it cracks or turns out¬†misshapen. It will still taste great. Just crack and separate the eggs for them and hand over the electric beaters. They love watching the whites whip up into a big fluffy tutu. Once the eggs are standing up, the younger child adds in the sugar until the boss (me) says they are ready. Add a little cornflour, white vinegar and vanilla and let the kids do the sculpting on a papered tray.

Basic 4 egg Pavlova Recipe ( serves 6-8 )

  • 4 egg whites ( room temperature)
  • pinch of salt
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • few drops of pure vanilla

Preheat oven to 180¬įc. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Draw a 20 cm circle on the paper. Beat egg whites and salt until satiny peaks form. Beat in sugar, a third at a time, until meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and fold in lightly. Mound onto paper lined tray and flatten top and smooth the sides. Place in the oven, immediately reduce heat to 150¬į c and cook for 1¬ľ hours. Turn off the oven and leave pavlova to cool. Invert pavlova and pile with chosen topping.

From Stephanie Alexander’s¬†The Cook’s Companion

While the meringue cooks and cools, it’s time to make the topping. I usually settle for whipped cream and brandy macerated strawberries or, in season, passionfruit. Daisy was happy to settle for this mundane option but not Charlotte. After rejecting a few of my suggestions, including a lemony custard, she decided on a chocolate mousse filling!! Warning, the following photos of this chocolate mousse¬†pavlova may make you want to utter those dying swan words sooner than expected. This is a pavlova for kids and the young at heart.

Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.
Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.

Fast Chocolate Mousse Filling.

  • 200 gr packet of cooking chocolate, 45% solids.
  • a dash of rum or brandy
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ¬ľ¬†cup sugar
  • some whipping cream to loosen.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water. Loosen with a little brandy or rum.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale and thick. Add gradually to the bowl of melted chocolate.

Beat the cream until thick, then add to the chocolate mixture. Stir in well then set in the fridge.

A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.
A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.

PS. The chocolate mousse topping was ridiculously rich. from Charlotte ūüôā

Anna Pavlova and jack the swan
Anna Pavlova and Jack the swan

In My Baking Kitchen, October 2015

A duck full of sugar
A duck full of sugar

School holidays bring a flurry of baking as the young folk flock to the kitchen for pancakes, chocolate chip biscuits and cake making. This, along with my renewed passion for sourdough bread making, makes the kitchen the centre for flour, sticky bowls and general mayhem.

I asked him not to pose!
I asked him not to pose!

This batch of buttery biscuits was devoured in less than two hours. The kids pick out the biggest ones to eat first then claim to know exactly which biscuits they personally made. At times ‘there’s a fraction too much friction”, there are monsters in my kitchen.

Concentrating on shapes.
Concentrating on shapes.

I invested in some bread making paraphernalia. This whisk is designed to stir wet dough at the initial mixing stage. Impressed by the man on the Breadtopia site, I ordered one and then added a few other items to make the postage from USA worthwhile! Included was a silicon mat which I hope will encourage better pastry making. I used the whisk this evening and soon dumped it for my hands! Maybe more practice is required before I whisk like the man from Breadtopia.

Bread dough whsk
Bread dough whisk

Other bread making gear was purchased in my favourite shop of all time, Costante Imports in Preston, Victoria. Costante is a shrine to self-sufficiency. The shop has expanded over the years and the place is always abuzz. They sell equipment for wine making, small frantoi for pressing olives, sausage making gear, pizza ovens, cheese and bread making equipment, copper pots and brass rustic hanging lights. The surrounding conversation is Italian as young chefs gather to buy authentic pots and pans, and suburban grandmothers come for corks and bottle tops. It is a land of temptation and a source of inspiration. http://www.costanteimports.com.au/

bannetons for bread rising.
Bannetons for bread proving from Costante.

My flour collection has taken up residence¬†in the laundry, which is slowly morphing into a larder. The flours include one huge supply of white bakers flour, this one in a 12.5 kilogram bag for $12.00 and milled in Yackandandah, Victoria. I also keep a softer white flour for pastry, biscuit and cake making as well as a self raising flour. Then there’s a Tipo ’00’ from Italy.( It is sometimes impossible to¬†find the ‘best by’ or packed on date on Italian produce, which is a concern for bread making where fresh flour is important). Then comes the finely stone ground semolina, Atta, Australian wholemeal and spelt, rye, and buckwheat! This is ridiculous I know, but it will get used.

My new starter, Sorella, is bouncy and reliable: thanks Celia for the emergency back up. I make two types of bread when not experimenting: a plain white and a 75% white with 25% spelt. Both are equally popular.

Sour dough white, Celia's recipe.
Sour dough white, Celia’s recipe.

I preheat the oven to 250c, add metal trays at that point, then dust a pizza paddle with fine semolina, turn the proved bread onto the paddle, slash ‘with panache’, then slide it off onto the hot tray. I give the bread and oven a quick spritz with water then quickly close the door and reduce the temperature to 220c. Performing this action with two loaves at once is proving tricky while trying to maintain oven heat, like a clumsy kitchen ballet performed by a strega. The ‘spring’ on my latest loaves is much better, the texture much lighter, but retaining the sour dough taste, so the performance is worth it.

Soudough with spelt
Sourdough loaves with spelt

Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial hosts this monthly kitchen event. Check out some of the other posts. Celia is also responsible for spreading the love of bread making throughout her global community, which always feels local and close.