cooking

Limoncello

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Earlier this year we had a glut of lemons, so I decided to make Limoncello as an experiment. I don’t remember where I found the recipe (it was many months ago when this experiment took place!) but it went something like this:

Ingredients

  • 5 lemons
  • 1 bottle of vodka
  • 200g sugar

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Method

  1. Zest the lemons. Mix the lemon zest with the vodka.
  2. Add a little bit of lemon juice.
  3. Close the lid and store it for 2 weeks.

Two weeks later

  1. In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar over low heat in 160ml of water.
  2. When the syrup is cool, add it to the vodka.
  3. If you want to, you can strain the Limoncello to remove some or all of the lemon zest.
  4. Store for another 4 weeks to allow the flavours to mature (hence why I’m only drinking it now!).

This limoncello is delizioso! It’s best served from the freezer and/or over ice, and a great way to use up some of your excess lemon crop.

Pumpkin and choko dauphinoise

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Sliced ingredients, ready for the baking dish
Sliced ingredients, ready for the baking dish

In another of our series of choko recipes, this is a variation on the classic potato dauphinoise, only with pumpkin, choko and radishes.

The method is simple:

Slice the ingredients thinly, using a mandolin or knife.

Layering up the vegetables
Layering up the vegetables

Then layer the vegetables in a small, high-sided baking dish. Alternate the ingredients, adding small knobs of butter as you go. I also added some dried sage (home-made of course!), salt and pepper.

Then pour in cream, to come up the level of the vegetables.

Bake in a 180°C oven for 45mins. I then added a layer of grated cheese (why not!), and baked until golden brown.

Delicious!
Delicious!

The result was delicious with pork sausages and peas 🙂

Sauteed choko with tarragon

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As posted earlier, we have a lot of choko, kilos worth. Thankfully we’ve discovered that it’s actually delightful, not the horrible make-do vegetable of reputation.

To demonstrate this, I’ll share a few recipes that we’ve used to get the most of choko, starting with sauteed choko.

Sauteed choko, delicious with sausages.
Sauteed choko, delicious with sausages.

Sauteed choko with tarragon

Cut the choko into thin “chips”, discarding the outside skin if tough.

Heat up olive oil in a frying pan, with some butter.

When the oil and butter starts to foam, add the choko, along with a sprinkling of dried tarragon.

Toss in the oil, and cook until the choko is tender, when tested with the point of a knife.

Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve!

This works wonderfully alongside meat, such as a steak or sausages. Yum!

 

Wattleseed scones

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Homemade wattleseed scones, soft and delicious!
Homemade wattleseed scones, soft and delicious!

I recently ordered a bunch of “bush food” ingredients from Wild Hibiscus Flower Co, including ground wattleseed, ground mountain pepper, whole native pepperseeds, and whole bush tomatoes.

So with Australia Day last week, I had a hankering to use some of these wonderful native ingredients. Wattleseed scones were the first thing to come to mind.

These are a ‘classic’ bush tucker item, and I’ve heard them mentioned often. They’re also listed on the menus of many restaurants and catering companies.

But how hard was it to find a recipe! I looked through all my native food cookbooks, and spent 45mins searching on Google. I finally found a recipe buried in the middle of a Northern Rivers Landcare PDF.

I ended up varying it a bit, so here’s my version, to help others more easily find a recipe:

Wattleseed scones

1 egg
150ml cream
½ cup milk
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla essence
2½ cups self-raising flour (add more if needed, if the mix is too wet and sticky)
3 tsp ground wattleseeds
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder

Mix together the wet ingredients. Add the dry ingredients, and mix, making sure you don’t overwork the batter.

Spread into a 2cm thick layer, and use cookie cutters to cut out circular scones. Place these side-by-side on a non-stick baking dish, and bake for 10-15mins in a 190°C oven, until brown.

(How were they? Delicious! The wattleseed has a distinctive flavour, almost like coffee, and we had the scones with homemade rosella jam and strawberry jam.)

 

Seven weeks without food shopping? Too easy, let’s keep going

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Still plenty in the pantry!
Still plenty in the pantry!

Priscilla returned this weekend, making it a full seven weeks without food shopping. How did it go, you ask? Was I down to thin gruel by the end? Hardly.

In fact, the seven weeks have been super-easy, and I’ve hardly made a dent on our pantry supplies. There’s even meat still in the freezer!

It’s proven to be a worthwhile exercise, for a number of reasons:

  • I uncovered a number of items well past their best, including a tin of malted milk powder with an expiry date of 2005. (The usual story, happens to everyone.)
  • There were bugs in a number of the stored items, including a whole civilisation of crawling things which had made half-opened packets of pasta their home.
  • Some of these dead items went to the chickens (pasta, yum!), the rest to the worms.
  • As a result, I spent some time getting most things into sealed jars, with good labels. That should keep things longer, keep out the bugs, and make them easier to find stuff.
  • It’s also uncovered some hidden treasures: bottles of vegetable oil, lost at the back of shelves; a lifetime supply of tinned chickpeas and lentils; plenty of tinned tomatoes.

So far Priscilla has dinners such as roast lamb (frozen left-overs) risotto with kale, and sausages with mashed potato and steamed home-grown cauliflower. So we’re not starving!

We’re going to keep going, to see how long we can last. Nine weeks? Perhaps ten? Or even twelve?

I’ve bought some breakfast cereal for Priscilla (she’s not keen on porridge), plus some milk. On the flipside, with plenty of oranges and grapefruit in the garden, no need to buy orange juice.

I’m looking forward the challenge of still cooking delicious meals, as our supplies drop and the options narrow. 🙂

For seven weeks, I’m not shopping for food

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No shortage of food here!
No shortage of food here!

It’s easy to hoard food, particularly with a pantry the size of ours. Jars, tins and bags of ingredients lie dormant at the back of shelves, unearthed a decade later, long past their best.

Since Priscilla is away for a seven-week work trip, I’ve decided to do something about this.

I’ve set myself a challenge: I’m not going to shop for food for seven weeks. Instead, I’m going to eat entirely out of what’s in the garden, pantry, and freezer.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • I want to deliberately run down my stored food stocks, to make sure everything gets used before it goes off.
  • It’s a challenge as a cook I’ve wanted to do for a while: work with what I’ve got, rather than running to the supermarket for specialty ingredients, just because a recipe asks for them.
  • Explore what eating frugally turns out as, and whether it’s easy or a burden.

I’m a bit behind on my blogging, and Priscilla has already been away for four weeks, with three weeks to go.

So far it’s been pretty easy, and I’m actually starting to worry that I won’t make enough of a dent in my supplies before Priscilla returns!

A few practicalities

In the spirit of full disclosure, and to show that I haven’t become a hippie fanatic:

  • I am doing a small amount of shopping ($20/week), for three items: milk (no cow at home), tonic water (hey, a man needs some pleasures!) and cat food.
  • I had a number of work trips in the first few weeks, and then our big work conference, so that cut down on the number of home-cooked meals.
  • When the guys come around each Monday night, we order take-away food.
  • I’m still buying lunch each day at work, because life is busy.
  • I bought a bag of sugar, to make some marmalade.

All that being said, I didn’t do any stocking up before I started, other than buying one bag of potatoes

What have I been eating?

For dinners, I’ve been eating well, including:

  • stir-fried Chinese cabbage and purple beans
  • chickpea curry with home-made flatbreads
  • lamb chops with celeric and potato gratin
  • vegetarian fried rice
  • Indian lentil curry and pan-fried cabbage
  • vegetable soups (from stocks in the freezer)
  • (to name just a small selection)

For breakfast, the Weetbix in the cupboard won’t last long, so I’ve also been having fermented porridge or eggs on toast.

Every weekend, I bake sourdough bread, including white, spelt and rye loaves.

I’ve had guests around at various points, and I’ve cooked:

  • five-element Japanese meal for two, featuring pumpkin simmered in sweet sake
  • Sunday lunch for three, including home-baked sourdough bread, roast beetroot salad and home-made pickles
  • home-made pasta for two, with basil pesto
  • potato and lentil dal for two, with rice and cucumber pickles

In short, so far so good! I’m enjoying the challenge, and may even stretch it out by a few more weeks…

Farmer George: community supported agriculture in action

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A lovely shoulder of lamb, and nothing like meeting the farmer himself
A lovely shoulder of lamb, and nothing like meeting the farmer himself

“Community supported agriculture” is a hot topic within the sustainability space at the moment. The idea is a simple one: farmers and other producers provide directly to consumers, cutting out most (or all) of the middlemen.

This creates a closer connection between between consumer and producer, and benefits both parties. Consumers typically get better prices or better food (or both); producers create a loyal customer base, and get some freedom from the tyranny of supermarket supply chains.

The pork we get from Farmgate is an example of this, and so is the lamb we’ve started ordering from Farmer George. Based out at Mudgee, Farmer George provides “packs” of lamb, either from his own lambs, or those of his neighbours. Once a month, he delivers them to your door.

We tried this for the first time last month. Farmer George sells either “half packs” (11kg) or “full packs” (22kg). Through a mix-up we ended up with a full pack, rather than a half pack.

With 22kg on our hands, and a household of two, we had a small panic. But the problem was quickly resolved by spreading the word in our small office. At a bit over $10/kg (half to a third of the price in the supermarket), there were quickly many takers.

The photo above shows the shoulder of lamb we took, along with several racks of lamb, sausages and chops. The shoulder roasted wonderfully, and the chops were divine.

So: great lamb, great price, and you get to chat directly with the farmer. What’s not to like!

We’ll definitely be ordering from Farmer George again 🙂

Preserved cherries

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While we were in Hobart on holiday we visited Big Fat Pig’s stand at the Taste festival and tried out the cheese platter. Not only did it have a range of cheeses and pork but there were some fantastic pickled cherries which inspired us to make our own.

As it’s such a good year for cherries we had no trouble buying over a kilo of good quality fresh cherries for less than $10 from Leichhardt. We pickled them using a very simple recipe found in a magazine. I also have a favourite recipe from a French cookbook for brandied cherries so we have a few saved away for desert later in the year!

Jars of home-made pickled and brandied cherries.
Jars of home-made pickled and brandied cherries.

Making home-made bacon

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Our first slices of home-made bacon
Our first slices of home-made bacon

The wonderful roast pork belly we had over Christmas reminded me that pork belly is also the starting point for home-made bacon.

So I returned to Farmgate, and picked up a 1kg de-boned pork belly, as well as some tips from Melinda who runs the shop.

I had two starting points: the The art of home-made Bacon blog post by Milkwood Permaculture, and a set of instructions in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book. In the end, I did a blend of the two as follows:

Lightly crushing the spice and herb mix.
Lightly crushing the spice and herb mix.

Home-made bacon

Ingredients:

  • 1kg de-boned pork belly
  • 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar
  • celery juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • bunch lemon thyme
  • 6-8 juniper berries
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1.5 star anise
  • 20-30 mustard seeds

Process:

  1. Finely slice the bay leaves and add to a mortar and pestle with the rest of the spice mix. Lightly crush.
  2. Combine the salt, sugar and spice mix.
  3. Mix with celery juice until a damp/wet mix results.
  4. Rub the salt mixture into the pork belly, and place in a sealed plastic container.
  5. Store in the fridge for 7 days.
  6. Remove the pork, give it a wash, and voila!
The pork belly covered in the curing mix, ready to go into the fridge for a week.
The pork belly covered in the curing mix, ready to go into the fridge for a week.

Notes:

  • In commercial settings, “pink salt” is used to maintain the pink colour expected by consumers. This contains nitrates as well as food colouring. No go for an organic project!
  • Celery juice is naturally high in nitrates, and this was recommended by Melinda at Farmgate and in the Milkwood blog post.
  • The star anise was suggested by Melinda, as it increases the Umami in the bacon.
  • You can either hot smoke the bacon (see Hugh’s book), or cook it in a 100C oven for two hours (Milkwood post).
  • Or, following Hugh’s lead, you can do neither, storing it in the fridge wrapped in greaseproof paper for up to a month, and then freeze it. (This is what we’ve done.)
The pork belly after 7 days of curing, straight out of the fridge.
The pork belly after 7 days of curing, straight out of the fridge.

The result?

Bacon, but not like you get in the supermarket. Unlike the bland-flavoured, even-coloured commercial bacon, this is richly flavoured, salty and more-ish.

In just a week, the pork shrinks noticably in size, and becomes quite firm. The rashers are very fatty, and can be a little overwhelming if eaten “straight” with eggs and toast.

We used a thick-cut slice of bacon in home-made “split pea and ham” soup (or in our case, split pea and bacon soup). This classically thrifty soup is superb with the bacon!

The final result: bacon!
The final result: bacon!

Possible modifications

  • The bacon was very salty and strong in flavour after 7 days of curing. For “eating” bacon, I’m going to try just 5 days of curing. For “cooking” bacon, the 7 days is perfect.
  • I’m going to talk to Melinda at Farmgate about cuts of meat, to see if it’s possible to get a cut with more meat and less fat (perhaps the thicker end of the belly?). I’ll report back.

All in all, we’re declaring this experiment a success! It’s actually very simple to do, and highly recommended.

Interesting way to use summer veggies

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Bibimbap is a Korean dish that contains a range of summer vegetables and an egg on a bed of rice.

Our version of Bibimbap had Lebanese cucumber (softened in salt water), spinach (blanched and dressed with sesame oil and sesame seeds) and carrot (lightly fried in rice bran oil) all harvested from our garden less than an hour before dinner, along with a couple of eggs from the chook pen. Delicious!

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