In My Kitchen, June 2020

Sometimes it occurs to me that writing about food seems inconsequential, perhaps even pointless, when the world has become so dark. I’m also aware that blogging is a pastime for the well- off, those like me who have more time, money, food, and housing security than most people in the world. As our world staggers from one disaster to the next, the deep and underlying fissures in society are being exposed. Environmental disasters caused by climate inaction, the current pandemic which has not yet run its course, imbecilic, corrupt and dangerous national leadership in many countries, shifts in global trading patterns, a potential American civil war, ongoing structural and institutional racism, gender inequality and political manipulation in the elections in so called democracies- the list of modern ills seems infinite. The only safe place is in the kitchen, where the focus is directed towards family, nourishment, and the preservation of ancient food cultures.

Although I’m still reticent to venture out, especially for the time wasting amusement gained by shopping for more things I don’t need, whether they are new or pre-owned, I have enjoyed buying a few things online, including some kitchen ware, and may continue to shop this way in the future. I was also delighted when some social gathering restrictions were eased and I could see my family again. No hugs yet but at least we can eat and drink in the same room. We have also enjoyed one dinner away from home with friends. Sitting at distant ends of the table, the large vegetarian lasagne was a joy to behold and eat- at last something not made by me or Tranquillo.

Zuppa cereale, made with freekeh.

My granddaughter, Daisy, has been a delightful presence in my kitchen. “Can I help?”or “What are you cooking?” are some of her words that I love to hear, as is the sound of her small cooking stool being dragged into place at the bench. She chops, crumbs, mixes, and tastes for correct seasoning and balance. She prefers anchovies to sweet things, and can wax lyrical about her favourite dish, a white bean and silver beet soup. From the age of two, her refined sense of smell has led her to the kitchen: she’s a natural chef with a strong desire to learn. Now that she is ‘allowed’ to come here for her home schooling, we’ve enjoyed more time together in the kitchen: this has been the up side of the pandemic for me. After we finish the set school tasks, we reward ourselves with some good cooking. Last week she made her own Kolokithopita, mastering the triangular shape, while I rabbited on about equilateral triangles, trying to slip in some math. Kolokithopita is a Greek pie stuffing using pumpkin. I simply substitute some oven baked pumpkin for the spinach in a spanakopita recipe, adding lots of fresh herbs and chopped spring onions. Daisy likes making these mainly because of the smell of the warm melted butter used to paint the pastry sheets. What a nose.

Daisy at 10, with her fillo parcels. 2020
Daisy shelling beans, 3 years old,  2013

I’ve been baking sourdough bread for 7 years, with four loaves baked weekly along with three large tray pizzas which are delivered to my extended family each Wednesday. Storage of flour and baking equipment was becoming a huge problem, along with RSI in my arms caused by the unusually high kitchen benches. I’ve been longing for a kitchen renovation but am fearful of the expense involved. The solution came in the form of an online purchase of an Ikea stainless steel trolley and a large bread making board. The lot is now wheeled to my dining table where I can work at the right height for dough handling, which for me is around 75 cms.

Cheaper than a kitchen reno.

The lime trees are still covered with fruit. This week I’ve begun an Indian style lime pickle. Below, a bowl of sliced and salted limes, waiting for the next step. Meanwhile, home grown lemons are preserved in salt. Ancient preservation traditions from India to the Middle East.

One of my favourite pasta dishes in winter is Pantacce, bietola, gorgonzola e noce. I found a small piece of blue cheese hiding in the fridge, which I melted into some cream, tossed in a handful of toasted walnuts, and cooked the chopped silver beet briefly in the same pot as the pasta. The components came together in a deep frying pan. A more precise recipe can be found on my post here.

Pantacce, gorgonzola cream, silver beet, walnuts

I posted these Friday Night Indian potatoes last week here: they were popular, and can be whipped up in no time.

Rye sourdough, with unusual scoring. Almost an indigenous pattern?

Thanks Sherry once again for hosting this series on Sherry’s Pickings.

In My Kitchen. May 2020.

There’s something very fishy going on in my kitchen. Yesterday, I finally braved the big scary world beyond the front gate and went in search of fresh fish at my favourite market, 30 kilometres away. The weather was chilly, with rain and sleet and a predicted top temperature of 10ºc. Swaddled in my trusty feather padded puffer jacket, mask and disposable gloves, Mr Tranquillo commented that I looked like a protagonist from a Scandi Noir series. The mask idea was a flop, making my glasses fog badly. The choice was clear, blindness or corona virus angst, fish or no fish as I eyed off the well fitting masks on the faces of other shoppers around me.

Next trip to the market, I’m wearing this to scare off other shoppers.

I had been yearning for fresh fish and had lost count of the days and weeks without it. Along the way, I had tried some very ordinary frozen stuff, and did visit the lacklustre display of pre-cut flaccid fish fillets at a nearby supermarket. I left empty handed. There’s something annoying going on during this health and economic crisis. Australian fishermen pay dearly for licences to fish our clean waters. Their life on the sea is arduous and often dangerous. But due to the closure of restaurants, much of our finer fish is frozen then exported overseas. Meanwhile, Australians are often reduced to buying sub- standard imported frozen products, often farmed or fished in questionable waters, while the major supermarkets offer mundane products, bought at a national level, bearing no relationship to the local seasonal offerings at all. If there’s one message in all this, is is support your local fishmonger. There aren’t many of them left. They are trained at selecting and purchasing, handling, gutting, boning, filleting, and selling local fish. There are no fishmongers employed by supermarkets and the choice is limited. Avoid frozen imported fish at all costs. You have no idea how it was fished, the working conditions of the fishermen, or the toxic state of the waters.

Crabs lying in wait- Linguine with chilli crab.

The Preston Market offers 6 fishmongers, small businesses that have continued to serve the public during throughout this lockdown period. One of my favourites is Nick the Fishmonger. The boss there knows exactly what his customers love and buys local fish early each morning at the wholesale market and then fillets them to order. Yesterday’s display drove me demented with desire. Each fishmonger has his/her own specialty and you get to know each one personally: the smiling Vietnamese lady on the corner, who has been there for the last thirty years, the ‘Aussie’ crew next door, who source local squid from nearby waters, the Greek guy around the corner who sources Mt Martha mussels. I came home with fresh blue swimmer crabs, flathead fillets, a kilo or more of squid, and some huge, frozen tiger prawns from South Australia. All these are now stashed in portion sizes in my freezer, though the crabs have been earmarked for today’s linguini, crab and chilli, while some of the flathead fillets and squid became yesterday’s fritto misto. I’m in heaven. It was worth the wait.

Fritto Misto. Portami in paradiso.

 In my kitchen, like many others, I’ve been doing more cooking than usual. Supplies have been delivered by guardian angels and if there’s one up side to this self isolation business, it has been the sharing of shopping trips. My daughter visited a well stocked Indian grocery two weeks ago. As she toured the shelves, she messaged photos to me: I felt like I was shopping alongside her. She returned with bags full of pulses and chickpeas, fresh spices and ghee. Another friend, Helen H, was heading down to Psarakos, a busy store a few suburbs away, a 30 minute drive. She returned with a giant wedge of Grana Padano parmigiano, big enough to see me out. My eldest son calls every two days and checks to see if we need basics from the supermarket. Fiona dropped off a bag of freshly gathered wild pine mushrooms. My granddaughter found a source of Baker’s flour, some passionfruit, and happily collects our wine order from Nillumbik Cellars, where they specialise in Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio from the King Valley. Thank you angels.

For all other activities In My Kitchen, I’ll let the pictures below do the talking. Thanks Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this round up each month.

The last of the apple pick, Tome Beauty.
Walnut sourdough bread and Meredith goat cheese
Ricotta, orange and almond cake, Recipe on last month’s blog
Muttar paneer, recipe on last month’s blog
Pakora. recipe on last month’s blog

Artisan Bread. Sourdough Cinnamon Raisin Swirl

I’m not sure about the title of this post. The word artisan, or artigianale in Italian, has become the word of the decade. Once indicating a handmade product to distinguish it from the quotidian factory or machine-made version, it now stands for something else, something more desirable and elite, carrying with it a certain snob appeal and a price tag to match. Kevin McCloud, of Grand Designs fame, sprinkled his series with the terms artisan, bespoke and atelier, giving rise to various Kevin McCloud drinking games at the time. And so while I’m loathe to sound like a braggadocio,¹ I accept that the term ‘artisan’ may not carry the same overtones of wank that it once did. And so the title remains.

Golden flax and spelt

I received a copy of a wonderful book for my birthday, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, by Emilie Raffa. The book is a gem, a wonderful addition to my bread book library. I’ve known about this book for some time- many of the sourdough bread makers I’ve met through Celia’s blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, have also bought this book. The opening bread recipe is identical to the one I use everyday- I think Celia and Emilie may have collaborated on this basic loaf. The other wonderful bond we share is our sourdough starter. Some years ago, Celia sent her starter around the globe, to Emilie in New York, to me in Melbourne, and to hundreds of others, and in doing so, created a bread making community, all using a clone of her bubbly starter, Priscilla. I’ve also shared this starter as, no doubt, many others have too. Perhaps there are now thousands of Priscilla clones out there. Emilie’s recipes are straight forward and accessible: the book is useful to the beginner and the experienced sourdough baker. Once the basic recipe is mastered, outlined in detail in the first chapter, the proceeding chapters explore sweet and savoury artisan loaves, pan loaves and sandwich breads, whole grains and specialty flours, foccaccia, rolls and flatbread, bread art, leftovers and a few extra recipes.

My plan is to work through each recipe and settle on my favourites. The two loaves I’ve made to date have both worked really well. Emilie’s Golden flax and spelt sourdough is a good everyday loaf, while her Cinnamon Raisin Swirl brings back childhood memories. It is a fitting loaf for Easter and an alternative to hot cross buns. And it’s fun to make. Don’t be put off by the longish recipe below. It really is rather easy. This is Emilie’s recipe, though I have Australianised the ingredient list.

Sourdough Cinnamon and Raisin Swirl.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl

Before starting the recipe, feed your starter over a day or so till active and bubbly.

Dough

  • 50 g bubbly active starter
  • 365 g warm water
  • 480 g bakers flour ( bread flour)
  • 20 g wholemeal flour ( whole wheat flour)
  • 9 g fine sea salt ( not iodized)

Fillings

  • 65 g raisins
  • 65 g walnuts
  • 50 g  sugar ( I used caster sugar)
  • 6 g powdered cinnamon

Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk the starter and water together with a fork. Add the flours and salt. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 30- 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, while the dough is resting, soak the raisins and walnuts in just enough water to cover. Drain well before using.

Add the fillings: Add the raisins and nuts to the bowl. Gently knead the fillings into the dough to incorporate, about 1 minute. The dough will start to feel slightly sticky at this point; add a sprinkle of flour to adjust the consistency if needed.

Bulk rise: Cover the bowl and let rise at room temperature, 21°C, until double in size, about 8-10 hours.

Shape and rise: Remove the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Let it rest for 15 minutes. A longer rest at this stage will relax the dough, making it easier to stretch into a rectangle. Line a 25 cm oval proofing basket with a towel and dust with flour. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.

With floured hands gently stretch the dough into a long rectangle, about 40 x 20 cm. Lightly brush the surface with water. Then evenly sprinkle the cinnamon mixture over the top, leaving a small border at the top, bottom and side edges. With the short end facing you, roll up the dough into a lob, pinching in the ends to seal. Place it into a basket, seam side up.

Second rise. Cover the dough and let rest until puffy. ( 30- 60 minutes)  Preheat the oven to 230 C. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the size of your pot. Place the paper on the bench, gently invert the dough onto the paper. rub the surface with flour and slash diagonally, making two or three cuts, keeping the depth shallow to preserve the filling.  Use the parchment to lift the dough into the baking pot.

Bake the dough on the center rack for 20 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and continue baking for 40 minutes. When finished, remove the loaf to a wire rack and cool before slicing.

( Note, I found the loaf required less time with the lid off)

Cinnamon raisin swirl

¹Braggadocio- empty swagger. Originating from Spenser’s Faerie Queene, 1596, the name given to his personification of vainglory.  English writers at the time were taken with sprinkling Italian words throughout their works. From the Italian, braggadocio, meaning bravado, haughtiness, boaster, braggart. “I wrote the Art of the Deal. I say that not in a braggadocious way,”Donald Trump 2016.  Now who would ever want to accuse Trump of braggadocio?

Emilie Raffa, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. A beginner’s guide to delicious handcrafted bread with minimal kneading. 2017. I highly recommend this book to all my sourdough making friends and readers.

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 sautéed 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.

In My Kitchen, December 2017

I’ve been dithering around in my kitchen since returning from our long trip and am feeling totally uninspired. Where’s the menu and those kitchen fairies who clean up? Returning to an overgrown vegetable patch, and the loss of 13 chooks, courtesy of Mr Fox, has robbed me of fresh ingredients, my backyard larder and the inspiration for most of my meals. When I look back on my December posts from the last four years, I can see energy, seasonal fruits and vegetables, garlic braiding, Italian biscuits, summer fruit cakes and short breads. This year, none of those things have happened -yet. 

Making do with what’s available, I made a huge batch of dolmades using leaves from our grape vines. Blanched in boiling water for two minutes then drained, they are ready to rock and roll. Although tedious to stuff 65 little parcels, once made, they become a staple in the fridge for hot summer nights, preserved with oil and lots of lemon juice.

The berry crop is huge this year, especially the boysenberries. They make a sweet addition to home-made yoghurt, something cool and luscious for breakfast. Making the weekly yoghurt is such an easy thing. I’m finding that 1 litre of organic milk creates a firmer and tastier yoghurt than the cheaper milks. Yoghurt is added to tahini and lemon for a quick drizzling sauce for falafel, or as the basis of tzaziki, or whipped through puréed mango for lassis, or served on the side with red lentil dhal and a few stir fried greens.

Another frugal standby is Pasta e Ceci, one of my favourite soups. I ordered it twice while in Italy this year and on both occasions I was disappointed. I put this down to the use of canned chickpeas, which retain a bullet like texture when used whole in these soups, and the lack of depth in the accompanying brodo, which should have hints of rosemary, a touch of chilli and tomato and good olive oil. The old Italo- Australiane, the Italian women migrants who cooked for their families in the 1950s and 60s, brought with them the old contadine ways of  turning cheap ingredients into something deeply satisfying through slow cooking, herbs, and knowledge based on tradition. Modern Italian restaurant cooking has lost much of this old knowledge and has turned to economical shortcuts and speedy cooking. 

I have resumed bread making. Despite our local and wonderful artisan baker in St Andrews, I can turn out two large loaves for $2 and there’s no need to leave home. It’s a way of life now thanks to Celia.

Last week’s loaves. I need a new slashing tools. Everything is blunt.

And in my kitchen are these gorgeous gifts from Alberto’s family in Pavia, Italy. His grandmother edged this tablecloth and napkin set. The work is exquisite. Grazie ad Alberto, Dida, Stefania e Claudio per la vostra meravigliosa ospitalità e amicizia durante il nostro soggiorno a Pavia.

Hand crocheted edging by Alberto’s grandmother.

Two litres of Campari jumped off the duty-free shelves on my way back into the land of Oz. I developed a taste for Spritz in Como, but based on Campari, Prosecco and soda, rather than Aperol which is not so pink and a little too sweet. Summertime drinks by the pool? You bring the Prosecco.

Hand over the pick stuff.

Thanks once again Sherry for making In My Kitchen happen so smoothly each month. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for more posts on the kitchen theme: you might even find the C word in some of them.