Monday, January 29, 2007

Slow Food Melbourne Farmer's Market

On Saturday I went to my first farmer's market - the Slow Food Melbourne Farmer's Market at the Abbotsford Convent. I had an absolute blast. Bear with me while I go into excited tourist mode. All the produce there was awesome! The fruit! The seafood! The meat! The dairy! The bread! Straight from the producers. So delicious! And so cheap!

I have no idea why I've not been to a farmer's market before. It would make sense for me to, seeing as everything's way cheaper than usual, and I spend a ridiculous amount on food and cooking. Oh well, better late than never!

The Abbotsford Convent is a pretty wicked place. There's a cafe in there, and it's where they bake the bread for all the other Chimmy's cafes around town. (My favourite cafe! Pop into the Bridge Road branch and say "Hi" to Richard!) Their artisan bread is organic, sourdough and baked in a wood-fire oven. Fantastic. I am particularly obsessed with their wonderful panini bread - it's crunchy, chewy, sour and just YUM!

Today I bought a latte to fuel my food-shopping, and a ham panini for later.

The grounds of the Convent...

We got some mussels from the Flinders Fresh stand. I always think I don't like mussels, but that's only because it's so difficult to get really, really fresh ones without hiking down to Vic Market.

Then we got some cute little potatoes and squash from a fruit & veg stand...

... some coffee and plain almond nougat from the Larder Fresh stall...

... some super-sweet white nectarines...

We got caught in the rain, but still managed to get a good haul before heading home for lunch.

- 1kg mussels $7
- 2kg white nectarines $5
- 2 x 350g tubs Schulz organic quark $10
- 1 jar Gippsland Gourmet sweet pickled asparagus $5
- 1kg potatoes (I forget the price... maybe $3?)
- 1 kg squash (About the same price... $4 or something like that)
- 1 ham panino from Convent bakery $5.50
- 1 latte $3.00
- 2 punnets Sunny Ridge strawberries $9
- 1 block almond nougat $6.50
- 1 block coffee nougat $6.50
- 100g Raj Wicked Chai tea $5

The Slow Food Market is on the 4th Saturday of each month at the Abbotsford Convent from 8am-1pm; definitely check it out!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ice-Cream Sunday 5: Happy Australia Day!

If you are in the habit of making custards and ice-creams, it is inevitable that you will amass a great deal of egg-whites. I didn't realise quite how many egg whites I'd collected over the past year, all neatly glad-bagged and stashed in random locations around our freezer, until my mother and I cleaned it out a few weeks ago.

Ahem. This weekend, being the Australia Day weekend, presented me with a good opportunity to work my way through these egg whites. I volunteered to make a couple of pavlovas for my friend Jordy's barbecue on Sunday, a gooseberry ice-cream meringue stack, and some mini-pavlovas for my family to eat on Australia Day itself (Friday).

The full-sized pavlovas are now all baked and sitting on the kitchen bench, ready to be transported to Jordy's house on Sunday for some cream-and-fruit action.

The pavlova recipe I use is, as always, Nigella's pav from How to Eat, which I think is actually Stephanie Alexander's recipe. I think that most basic pav recipes will work just as well as each other, you just need to remember the meringue rules.

Meringue Rules
- have the whites at room temperature
- have all bowls and whisks clean and dry
- be gentle when transferring the delicate mixture from bowl to lined tray
- do NOT open the oven until the pavs are cooked and slightly cooled.

In her recipe, Nigella also says to preheat the oven to 180C, but to turn it down to 150C as soon as you put the pavs in. She says this helps the pav to keep its shape. I'm not sure how much this helps, because despite this, all my full-size pavs tend to collapse a bit and crack anyway. But I'm sure that following the rules can't hurt. But at any rate, you don't need to fear the cracks - the more cracked a pavlova is, the more cream you can use! Mmm... cream.

As you can see from the first photo, I topped the mini pavlovas with cream and various fruits, most retrieved from the icy-depths of my freezer - stewed rhubarb, gooseberries, redcurrants, blackberries and raspberries. I suppose it seems a bit incongruous to have expensive northern hemisphere fruits on Australia Day, but I just love them too much not to have them with a pavlova. In fact, my German friend who ate with us said that she had almost all of those fruits growing in her garden back in Germany! Lucky girl.

Just out of interest, I made an ice-cream meringue stack as well. In How to be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella says you can make any ice-cream meringue cake by layering thin discs of meringue with softened ice-cream and refreezing till firm. I thought this would be a good way of salvaging the too-sour gooseberry ice-cream which I made a few weeks back.

Here's a close-up of the layers. It's not actually as big or decadent as it looks - this was a mini-stack, as you can see from the size of the lone gooseberry adorning it. We cut it into even smaller pieces to share. It's quite difficult to cut, even once it's been out of the freezer for a little while, so a sharp knife and a sturdy plate are essential. It was still a bit sour, but the contrast of textures between meringue and ice-cream layers was very nice.

Mmm... sugar high!

Happy Australia Day!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ice-Cream Sunday 4: Bellini Sorbetto

I cannot resist a bellini, that wonderful cocktail of white peaches and sparkling wine. Whether in the fabulous original setting, at any random Melbourne bar, or even just at home, they are always welcome and delicious.
This recipe for bellini sorbetto was in my Iced book, and was made with yellow peaches (no thanks!). I decided to use white peaches, and Italian prosecco. Very conveniently, both were extremely cheap at Aldi. Score!

A sorbet is generally made of fruit purée, mixed with sugar syrup and lightly beaten egg whites. For the bellini sorbetto, you poach and then peel the peaches in sugar and water, and then process the flesh with some of the poaching liquid and champagne. You then churn it, adding the egg whites just towards the end of churning. Easy peasy.
I actually had the tub of bellini sorbetto sitting in my freezer for a couple of weeks before I thought to try some. I thought it might be impossible to scoop, but luckily after a short 15 minutes of softening on the bench, it scooped easily. (I've noticed that the fruity and icier varieties of ice-cream tend to set very hard, whereas the creamier ice-creams are generally a bit more co-operative).

It was very refreshing and had a strong fruity peachy flavour. Unsurprisingly, it tastes just like a frozen bellini. I think it would be great as dessert after a heavy meal, as a treat on a hot day, or even as a palate cleanser between courses if you're being a bit posh.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Risotto! - My own concoction

Mum and I have been clearing out our freezer lately. It really was time; it was getting a bit feral in there. We've all sorts of random stuff - endless bags of egg-whites, tubs of stock, chicken carcasses, bags of bacon, fruits, meat and so on.

For dinner the other night, I decided to contribute to the ritual clearing-of-the-freezer by making a risotto. It had chicken stock (freezer), a few slices of pumpkin (bottom of the fridge), blue cheese (fridge), and bacon (2 rashers, neatly bagged up in the freezer, as Nigella instructs you to in How to Eat), and a bit of Prosecco (half a bottle still left from Christmas - it's just a little flat, it's still good, it's still good).

Does everyone know how to make a risotto? I couldn't, until last year, before which all my attempted risotti either took hours to make, never cooked properly (mmm, crunchy!), or tasted gluggy and munting. Most books seem to have a different-yet-similar method, but I've found Giorgio Locatelli's tips to be most successful. Quantities depend, obviously, on how many are eating and how hungry y'all are.


1. On a medium to low heat, sautée finely chopped onion in oil and a little butter with a pinch of salt until soft and translucent.

2. Add your rice, and turn the heat up to toast the rice. Stir it until all the rice is slickly coated with the oil.

3. Add a splash of wine, which should hiss in the heat of the pan. Stir to cook until the alcohol is evaporated.

4. Turn the heat back down, and start adding ladlefuls of hot stock (Giorgio says homemade stock is the only way; I'm not nearly as energetic and often use powdered). Stir until the stock is absorbed, before adding another ladleful of stock. Continue in this way until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked. You may need to use more or less stock - it changes each time, depending on the rice, I think.

So that's your basic guide to making risotto. Jamie Oliver also has a step-by-step guide in most of his books, if you can't get your hands on Giorgio.

Back to my particular risotto. As I was stirring the rice, I had my pieces of pumpkin roasting in the oven at 200C for about 30minutes. When the rice was cooked, I added the pumpkin and some crumbled up blue cheese, and the bacon, which I'd fried to a crisp. Stirred it all through, and it became lovely and creamy. And bright orange!

Et voilà.

I was quite pleased with the way it turned out. Off-the-cuff suppers can be quite hit or miss, but this one tasted good. And the family loved it. Always important.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Quick and easy suppers

Here are some of the dishes I've been making this week...

Bill Granger's spaghetti with garlic and spinach (Every Day with Bill Granger)

This one is super simple and light, as you'd expect from Monsieur Granger. You fry some garlic in olive oil with chilli, add some white wine, and toss the lot through cooked spaghetti and baby spinach leaves. Delicious and fast! (This one's for you, Fembotanist!)

Nigel Slater's baked couscous with chicken and spices (Real Cooking)

From Nigel Slater's recipes, I expect nothing but the best. And I have yet to be disappointed. For this recipe, you marinate chicken pieces in a mixture of dried chilli, cinnamon, curry powder, garlic and oil, and then bake them in the oven. For the couscous, you soak it in an equal amount of water for 15 minutes, mix through some sultanas, dot with butter, cover with foil and bake it in a separate dish while the chicken's cooking. Once both are cooked, you mix them together and sprinkle over some mint.

Jamie Oliver's pumpkin, pancetta and chestnut soup

I'm not quite sure where this recipe was published; I think it was a magazine. My friend DG has made it before and raved about it. She didn't have the exact recipe on her, but I winged it from her description. I think in the original recipe Jamie instructs you to roast cubes of pumpkin with chilli and coriander seeds, but I started with the pumpkin puree already in my fridge. (I had quite a bit of pumpkin leftover from my disastorous pumpkin rice of 2 days ago.)

Sautée a chopped onion in oil with some pancetta, crumbled vacuum-packed chestnuts, and sage...

... then add the cooked pumpkin and some stock (I used chicken), and simmer for half an hour.

Then blend it in a blender, and it's ready to eat.

Absolutely fabulous. Much easier than it looks, and very hearty and satisfying with a complex flavour. The weather is way too hot to be eating this type of soup at the moment, but really, don't let that stop you. Some things are too good to wait for the seasons to change.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Jamie Oliver's Hamilton Squash

In Jamie's book, Happy Days with the Naked Chef, he gives a recipe for butternut squash filled with rice. The squash is hollowed out, the flesh mixed with rice and other spices before being packed back into the squash. Then it needs to be baked for an hour and a half, until the squash and the rice is all cooked. The method sounded really interesting, and I had a big round pumpkin knocking about in the fridge, so I thought I'd give it a go. It was supposed to be my lunch yesterday.

While it was cooking, I prepared a salad to go with - Nigella's cucumber and pomegranate salad from Feast. It always looks beautiful, and is light and refreshing against a spicy or substantial meal. You toss small dices of cucumber with pomegranate seeds, finely chopped mint leaves, olive oil and lime juice.

Now, after the allotted time in the oven, the pumpkin flesh was well cooked, but the rice was still hard! Grr. I covered it back up and put it in for another half hour, by which time the rice was still hard, and the pumpkin was becoming disconcertingly mushy. I was starving by this stage, so I gave up on the pumpkin and reheated some leftovers. *Sigh*. It was probably too ambitious of me to try the recipe without a butternut squash. I assume that the recipe will work with a long, thin butternut squash instead of a big old round pumpkin, and it did smell nice... so I'd probably still give it a go in future.

It seemed like a waste to chuck out the pumpkin, so after lunch I scooped the rice out and put it in a pot, added a bit of water and cooked it for 5 minutes until it was all soft and edible. We had it for dinner that night, and it was actually quite tasty!

As for the pumpkin flesh, I put that in a separate bowl to be refrigerated and used the next day...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ice-Cream Sunday 3: Gooseberry and Elderflower Ice-cream

I love gooseberries. They taste so good! Mini kiwi-fruits without the hairy exterior. A burst of delicious flavour in every bite. It just sucks that they're hardly in season here, and when they are, they're incredibly expensive! I needed 3 punnets for this ice-cream, at $5 each. Gasp! I actually made it a few weeks ago, during the short gooseberry season, and have had it in the freezer just waiting for a day like today.

I ate a bowl of it today in the afternoon, to try and get a respite from the oppressive heat and humidty that seems to have gripped Melbourne. It was very light, tart, and refreshing. A little too tart; I had to sprinkle castor sugar over the top to make it more palatable. It did, however, have a fabulous texture. I've found that fruited ice-creams tend to be a bit icier and harder than the creamy ice-creams, but this one had a good scooping texture. (I also managed to let it sit out on the bench for a good half hour before digging in, which helped).

The recipe is Nigella's, from Forever Summer. It is made of 3 parts. The first is a purée of gooseberries, elderflower cordial and water, which you cook on a low heat until the berries collapse; the second part is a custard made with single cream, caster sugar and egg yolks; and the third part is a tub of double cream. You just fold all the parts together (making sure they're nice and cold first), and then churn it in an ice-cream maker, before putting in the freezer to freeze completely. Just a little hint: the mixture tastes absolutely heavenly (even better than the finished product, in fact), so save yourself a decent amount for scraping out of the bowl, the saucepan, the spoon, the churn...

The recipe makes a generous litre.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Dinner for the Relos

Two of my cousins from Queensland have been staying with us for the past week, and last night we had a big dinner at my house for all the family who live in Melbourne. There were 10 of us in total, and I wanted a meal that was simple to make, fresh, light, healthy and delicious. Finished with a massive crème brûlée, naturally.

Pasta al forno con pomodori e mozzarella (Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Italy)
Roast pumpkin and red onion with honey dressing (Bill Granger, Every Day)
Rocket, parmesan and pomegranate sald with balsamic (Tessa Kiros, Falling Cloudberries)
Crème brûlée (Nigella Lawson, Nigella Bites)

These dishes, I thought, would be suitable for a large family dinner. They're all large and easy to share, look very welcoming lined up on the table, are not-too-challenging for the eater or cook, and are fine if left to stand around for a short time after being cooked. This gives you all the time you need for your aunts and uncles to exclaim how much you've grown! As for the dessert, my cousins had never had crème brûlée before, and wanted to try it. More importantly, though, I have a brand new blowtorch which really needed to get broken in! Can you see it in the top picture? My dad bought it for me half-price blowtorch in the Boxing Day sales. Woo-hoo! Filling the thing with WARNING: HIGHLY FLAMMABLE butane gas is a bit of a scary experience, but my mum and I managed between ourselves. (Well, I say "between ourselves", I really mean she did it while I cowered behind the island bench).

I started off my afternoon of cooking by making the crème brûlée. Nigella's recipe is a little different from most other ones that I've seen. Rather than cooking a custard on the stove, and then in a waterbath in the oven, she simply instructs you to make a very thick and rich custard on the stove, then chill it in the fridge until firm.

Whilst it was chilling, I got on with the roast vegetables. The roast vegetable dish consists of wedges of unpeeled pumpkin and onion, tossed through chilli flakes and olive oil, which you then roast in a hot oven for 45 minutes. At the end, you boil honey and red wine vinegar, and pour it over, finished with a good sprinkling of mint.

I have made the baked pasta once before. It's fantastic! You just make a simmered tomato sauce (onions, garlic, tinned tomatoes, red wine vinegar & basil - easy peasy)...

There's nothing like a big pot of tomato sauce to make you feel like a hot Italian Mamma.

...boil the pasta (I used penne instead of the orechiette specified because it was vastly cheaper in such gigantic quantities), mix the pasta with half the sauce, and layer it in a dish with parmesan and mozzarella. I ended up filling 2 large dishes, with more pasta leftover. I do love cooking in industrial quantities! Then you just shunt it in the oven for 15 minutes until it is all hot and golden and bubbling and making your house smell just like a home should.

Here it all is...

Rocket, pomegranate seeds and juice, parmesan shavings, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Toss together in whatever quantities please you, and there it is.

I had doubled the quantities for the pasta, but not for the vegies or the salad. You can't make friends with salad, and I've generally found that people don't really go in for side dishes when you're cooking for a crowd. This time, however, I was wrong. The salad and the vegies got absolutely demolished! I guess I forgot... I wasn't cooking for a "crowd", I was cooking for a Malaysian family! I needed double of EVERYTHING. (Triple quantities probably wouldn't have hurt).

After dinner, I retrieved the custard from the fridge. It wasn't exactly firm enough to hold its shape out of the dish, but it looked and smelled good anyway. I suppose if you're not going the waterbath route, then you need to cook the custard until super thick, and it'd need a good long time to firm up in the fridge.

It was easy enough to sprinkle demerara sugar over the top, and use the blowturch to transform the custard into crème brûlée...

Tap, tap....