Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Back To School

Back to life, back to reality ...

As I shake the sand off our feet and head back into the fray, there is a lingering unsettling feeling. Of dooooom. And then it hits me - school lunchboxes must be made. Gah.

I've written about this here and here before, yet it remains the bane loving duty of my life. Heading into Term One trying to keep it fresh, I took some tips from Matt Preston and our resident chocolatier Tad Lombardo.

These qukes (yes they are actually called that) have been a lifesaver. Around 10cm long, they fit perfectly into brain food boxes and are perfect for snacking. They also mix it up a little when kids groan "Carrots? Again?". They may need wholegrain carbohydrates for energy but any lunchbox heading out of my kitchen is loaded with raw vegetables, protein and dairy.

Qukes, baby capsicums & tomatoes from Russo's Fruit Supply

Golden coloured baby capsicums have also gone down a treat, along with the baby tomatoes. Red capsicum has more Vitamin C than oranges, so it's a go-to-food in this house. Dip, as always, is sometimes required to coax the younger palates to it but a delicious tub of homemade white taramasalata from one of our delis will generally do the trick.

Tad snuck a cupful of red capsicum into his pizza pinwheel recipe. Under the topping and cheese, kids are unlikely to notice. The Vitamin C helps iron absorption and with many little noses turning up at red meat, they need all the help they can get.

Pizza Pinwheels

2 cups self-raising flour
Pinch salt
90g butter, cut into cubes
2/3 cup milk
Plain flour, to dust
3 tbs tomato paste
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
150g ham, chopped
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 cup red capsicum, finely chopped
1 tsp oregano
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a tray with baking paper.
2. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the milk. Use a round-bladed knife in a cuttin motion to mix until evenly incorporated and the mixture begins to hold together.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead (about 5 minutes) until smooth. If the dough is still sticky, sprinkle with a little more flour.
4. Roll dough into a 20cm x 40 cm rectangle and spread with tomato paste. Sprinkle with ham, cheese, spinach, capsicum and oregano.
5. Turn the dough so the long end is in front of you and roll up. Slice into 10-12 pieces and place side-by-side on the tray.
6. Brush with egg and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

 Matt Preston recommends freshening things up a bit with rice paper rolls over sushi. You can take a tip from our Sushi Gallery and replace most of the rice vermicelli noodles with shredded vegetables (or you could just buy them from the Sushi Gallery, whatever floats your boat).

As much as I look longingly at Karen Martini's recipe for Roast Duck, Pickled Mushroom and Perilla Leaf Rice Paper Rolls, I'm not going to be banging these out at 7.30 in the morning. (I'll be saving that one for a Sunday supper, in the late afternoon sunshine.) My lunchbox philosophy comes down to a handful of basics: raw fruit and veg plus leftovers. Cooking up a pile of sticky ribs from Gary's Meats for dinner - leave three or four over per lunchbox. Chipolatas from Ian's Quality Meats on the barbie - grab the last handful for finger food the next day. The occasional treat to keep it interesting and (shock, horror) the occasional dull Vegemite sandwich to keep it real*.

It happens to all of us. I salute you fellow parents, as we get ready to box.

*Disclaimer, my children are actually forced to eat VegeSpread from Ripe the Organic Grocer instead

Local blueberries at Paddlewheel

Tad will be making blueberry muffins tomorrow in the Blanco Kitchen. The beauty of these is that you can substitute any seasonal fruit (peaches are fab at the moment) as you please. They freeze well and I often make them in smaller muffin tins as a tiny treat. 

Blueberry Muffins

2 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup caster sugar
80ml olive oil or vegetable oil
1 cup low fat, natural yoghurt
2 eggs
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped (you can also use walnuts or almonds)
1/2 cup dates, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 180°C and place paper cases in a muffin tray (12 large cupcake size).
2. Sift flour and cinnamon into large mixing bowl. Add caster sugar.
3. Combine oil, yoghurt and eggs, whisk to combine.
4. Pour liquid into dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
5. Stir in blueberries, pecans and dates. Spoon mixture into paper cases.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the muffin comes out clean.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Packing for a Picnic

Picnic time, glorious, glorious picnic time.

As we slip out of summer, it's just right for an evening picnic on the banks of the Yarra or kicking back on a blanket while listening to the Sunset Sounds in Victoria Gardens.

And picnic food can be the simplest thing.

Years ago, I would picnic with my friends every week or so. We eventually got it down to a fine art; one would cut up a barbequed chicken, another made a salad, another brought wine. One girl had the picnic basket and cutlery, another friend would wash and cut up fruit. The one couldn't cook was the designated-chip-buyer. Some dips, a loaf of bread and we were very content.

Last week I went to another Melbourne institution, the Australian Open. And we decided to picnic, in the grounds, before heading in to watch the players tear it up, gladiator-style.

And in my basket I packed tiny baby cucumbers and strips of red capsicum from Reliable Fruit & Vegies. Also picked up a gorgeous 2 kilo box of Tasmanian cherries that Joe assured me were the best he could find.

In the back fridge I found whole little pansies, purple and yellow, which I froze in ice cubes for a little floral touch to our elderflower cordial.

Chasos' Gourmet Deli provided vivid green Sicilian olives and feta stuffed peppers, tiny tubs with just the right amount to last a couple of hours (who wants to take leftovers home from a picnic?).

Then some beautifully thin prosciutto and breasola from Pete n Rosie's, along with a wedge of Comte, and a pack of pate. Fancy wholemeal crackers from Foodhouse Deli. Dips from Naheda's Choice.

And we sat in Melbourne Park and nibbled and drank under the vividest sky. And just before we rose and took our seats, I pulled cold cold lychees from the ice. A final surprise on a gorgeous night, good food, excellent company, simple things.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Do You Detox?

Detox's a funny thing, a loaded word.

We've gone from looking at abstinence as worthwhile to being a pointless, hair-shirt kind of exercise. The doctors and dieticians are out on this one as well - that the benefits are not proven, that the "purification" is pretty pointless.

But after the heady excess of the festive season, I don't think it's a bad idea to lighten up a little, loosen up the waistband a bit. And summer is the perfect time for this - it's so easy to look at a solid salad for dinner or beautiful stone fruit with yoghurt for breakfast, when everything is at its best. A tray of oysters for lunch in the courtyard, when it is simply too hot to cook and the only thing simmering is your temper.

Two places that immediately spring to mind at this time are Shop Neutral - full of lovely little pamphlets on doing the detox (if you MUST) and Health Bowl Cafe, where you can find hefty salads full of organic produce from right here in Harvest Hall and grain-filled wholemeal buns from BACKhaus Bakery. And Leah will make you a fresh juice while you wait, with heaps and heaps of vegetables.

 Get your health on and your taste on at the same time - it is the best of both worlds, really.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Checking Over Last Year's Resolutions

Are you thinking of broccoli? Apparently it's detox time but I'm not concentrating on that. Last year I wrote about my New Food Resolutions. Let's see how many I can tick off the list ...

So, I didn't buy a mouli or a Thermomix last year. I did buy another mortar and pestle, but really, you need an appropriate one from each country when you cook their cuisine or it is not properly authentic, okay? (It is actually very interesting how a Balinese mortar differs from a Thai one and yes I need them all.)

I did not buy a food processor but I have to say that is tempered with the word yet. The Essential Ingredient just received these gorgeous ones in different colours - orange, navy and the yellowest of pineapple yellows. I don't think I can resist. Either that, or I just don't want to. And 2013, apart from being the year of the 5:2 fad (remember that?) was also the year that Jamie's 15 Minute Meals popped up everywhere on Instagram. Suddenly instead of the boring old rotation of spag bol Monday night, stir fry Tuesday night etc, my friends were banging out Hoisin Chicken with Coconut Buns and Pickle, or Crab Briks with Couscous Salad and Salsa.  Not in 15 minutes granted, but often in 25 and On A Weeknight people. What struck me particularly, was the amount of vegetables on these platters and giant breadboards. Always conscious of trying to get more veg in our diets, this seemed the way to go. Having picked up the cookbook, the first thing I noticed was that virtually every recipe relied on the use of a food processor. You can move fast when you've got a Magimix behind you but these recipes are otherwise not achievable at those speeds. So, fate and a gift voucher and it seems, this will be my new workhorse of 2014.


Yes, this was actually an achievable goal. Finding trays of $1.00 mangoes is not hard when you work here and my icecream has been hitting fruity heights. This year, I propose to perfect my cherry icecream recipe. And with the release of the Chin Chin cookbook, can finally get my hands on the Palm Sugar Ice Cream recipe. I see happiness in the future.


Okay, I cooked with pastry this year, but am yet to make my own. (With my new food processor it'll be a breeze.) And I discovered that you can buy handmade brik pastry at Sweet Greek which is practically the same thing.


Confession time, not once but twice I took sea urchins home and didn't get around to eating them. They always look so exciting and then somehow ... I forget. So last week I cut straight to the chase and bought the roe, already extracted from the spikiness, from Claringbolds. A little hour-old linguini from the Fresh Pasta Shop, a little lemon, amazing.
Prahran Seafoods
This is probably not what most people think of when they talk of food waste but hey, it's a start. Progress, people. I also froze more food that would otherwise have gone rotten, and planted my own herbs in pots to stop buying bunches of fresh ones that slowly go a manky black in the crisper.
Herb planters from Prahran Garden Centre

I still haven't cooked an artichoke. I don't want to talk about it. There is always some room for improvement ....

Pixie at the Mussel Pot

But mostly, I hope that this year will be about listening more. Listening to traders, who generally know how best to treat an ingredient, when it will be in the height of season, when it needs to be handled carefully. Listening to shoppers as they walk by, swapping recipes as we wait to be served at a busy counter. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, these are almost as old as time. But the words that bind us are not, and in 2014, I hope that there will be more of them.