28 Apr 2012

Beef Stew - A rare treat for a change of season!

There has been a distinct change of season around here.
Indications this week included:- 

  • a request for porridge for breakfast,
  •  wearing boots all day, 
  • the first athletics of the season,
  •  wood chopping and the first open fire of the season, 
  • the searching for the winter school uniform and once again teaching tie tying, 
  • wheat packs at bed time 
  • and a strange yearning for beef stew!!

Stew is something each of us has mentioned missing from time to time since we largely gave up meat. So today (with our true vegetarian away) we decided we'd have one for old times sake. (Eva agreed to eat beef just this once as long as it was organic.)

It was delicious and warming! 
The recipe came from Jamie Oliver (a reliable source of all comfort foods I find). 
We put it in the slow cooker before we went to athletics around 11.30am and it was perfectly cooked at 7.30pm when we were ready to sit down.

The sprinkling of rosemary, garlic and lemon zest at the end tasted fantastic on this - it made a huge difference to the final flavour.

Beef and Root Vegetable Stew with Rosemary Gremolata in the Slow-cooker.

• olive oil
• a  little butter
• 1 onion, peeled and chopped
• a handful of fresh sage leaves
• 800g/1¾lb stewing steak (I used organic blade), cut into 2cm pieces
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• flour, to dust
• 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
• 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
• ½ a butternut pumpkin (squash), deseeded, peeled and roughly diced
• optional: a handful of Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and halved (I couldn't get any but think they'd be great if you could)
• 500g/1lb 2oz small potatoes
• 2 tablespoons tomato purée
• ½ a bottle of red wine
• 285ml/½ pint
 beef or vegetable stock
• zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
• a handful of rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
• 1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

Put a little oil and your knob of butter into a small frypan. Add your onion and all the sage leaves and fry for 3 or 4 minutes.

Transfer onion to slow cooker.

Toss the meat in a little seasoned flour, then add it to the slow-cooker with all the vegetables, the tomato purée, wine and stock, and gently stir together.

Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and just a little salt.

Put slow-cooker onto high setting for approx 2 hours, the switch to low for 5-6 hours until the meat is tender. Test by squashing  a piece of meat and if it falls apart easily it’s ready. (Note if you won’t be around to turn the slow cooker down just cook on low and switch to high when you get home if needed)

Once it’s cooked, you can leave it on low until you’re ready to eat. 

Mix the lemon zest, chopped rosemary and garlic together and sprinkle over the stew just before eating. Just the smallest amount will make a world of difference – as soon as it hits the hot stew it will release an amazing fragrance.

Ladle into bowls and serve as is or accompanied by fresh, warmed bread
 and a bowl of steamed greens

Hope you are Enjoying the season where ever you are and which ever way it's changing!


ANZAC Biscuits

I did a guest post on my daughter's blog - Little Blue Bicycle this week while she is away. I baked ANZAC biscuits - a traditional Australian Oat and Coconut Cookie. Click here if you'd like to see it!!

21 Apr 2012

Quince Paste - An Autumn Ritual

Quinces hitting the markets are a signpost for me, a season changing symbol. Every year I buy a batch and pile them on a platter to admire for while, most years I find the time to turn them into thick, deep purple quince paste squares. As I write this a batch is bubbling away, lava-like in my kitchen filling the house with it's gorgeous autumn scent.
My recipe and process is based on "George's Quince Paste" in "The Cooks Companion" by Stephanie Alexander. It is a very slow process. You need a day like today - torrential rain, school holidays, no car, no where to be.

4 large quinces, peeled
1 cup water
juice of 1/2 a lemon
sugar (The quantity depends on the weight of puree you end up with. In my case it was 1.18kg sugar)

The first step is to hack them apart (I always forget how tough they are) into chunks. Keep the core and pips of one of the 4 to add to the mix for the pectin which allows it to set.
Next I cooked them in a little water and lemon juice until they were just tender (about 25 min) in a non-reactive pan with a tight fitting lid.
Then they pass through a mouli (or in my case the Oscar juicer/food mill) to make a thick puree.

Now, a little maths - weigh the puree and add 3/4 of it's weight in sugar. I came a little unstuck here - our just-back-from-holiday pantry was pretty bare - so I used all the sugars in the house - white, brown and icing to make up the 1.18kg I needed.

Next put the stirred puree and sugar on a very low heat for 3-4 hours (mine took 4) until you have a thick paste. You need to stir now and then through this process (Be careful because it bubbles a lot and can spit). A Silicon spoon is good here as it scrapes any down from the edges each stir.

Pour the mix into a shallow tray lined with baking paper, and leave to dry for a few days. The recipe suggests in  gas oven with the pilot light on - but as I don't have one I'll just leave it in a sunny spot. The recipe also mentions someone who used to leave it on the back shelf of their car under the rear window and drive around with it for a week or so and it dried well, but I imagine it would hurt if you stopped in a hurry so I just stick with the sunny spot in the kitchen idea. (I hope for some sun tomorrow!!)
When it's dry, cut into squares, wrap in greaseproof paper and foil and then keep it in an airtight tin indefinitely.
I usually serve it with soft cheeses like brie. The original recipe suggests it goes especially well with sheep's milk cheeses I'll try that with this batch and let you know!

As yet there has been NO sun and the paste hasn't had a chance to dry so I thought I'd post as is. I'll update when it dries and I get to cut it and eat it with cheese!!

12 Apr 2012


We are on the Gold Coast (Queensland, Australia) enjoying the last bits of summer sun!

We drove up in 2 days. One 6 hour drive to Coffs Harbour, The a 4.5 hour drive to Kirra Beach.
The drive passed smoothly with an audiobook ("The Giver" - intriuging) and the card/I spy game "Are we there yet".
We have been here 2 days and have done lovely holiday things - swiming, playing cards, reading, walking along the beach at dusk etc. We've had 2 bigger adventures. The girls went hang-gliding near Byron Bay on the way up - quite an adventure - you can read more about that at The Little Blue Bicycle. We also had a great day at Seaworld. Highlights were amazing viewing of a polar bear playing and swimming, seeing Gentoo and King Penguins in close proximity, a gorgeous Dolphin Show and a whole family (3 generations) Flume Ride.

Food has not been a huge feature of the trip so far with limited,  shared kitchens,  compact packed picnics and very little of our equipment and ingredients but we are well nourished.

Lunches have pretty well been sandwiches. Tuna by the road side, Egg salad at Sea World, Vegetarian sausage and salad in our holiday apartment. A lunch on the road in a small town looked a little challenging for vegetarians. Mia and I settled on salad rolls are were asked "Which type, the chicken salad or the ham salad?"
Dinners have been unadventurous but tasty. Our first night was a tomato pasta, cooked on a clunky, plug-in hot plate in a kitchen/lounge/bedroom in Coffs Harbour, but with fresh salad, homemade dressing from home and good parmesan it made a lovely meal by the pool.
The first night up here was a simple BBQ sausage (chickpea ones and free range chicken and pork ones for the varying diets amongst us), mash and salad affair cooked within moments of arriving and unpacking.
Since then we have had packet spinach Paneer curry (when everyone else was having meat) and Grandma's tasty tuna casserole.
Tonight we are eating out at the night markets in Surfers Paradise.
Later in the week our two remaining meals are our trusty fish pie and a soya Chicken with rice and bok choy. This is a tried and true classic in our house which is rarely used now. I will try it with chicken tofu in a second pot this time and if that is successful this may once again become a household staple!  The remaining meal will be cooked by Grandma.

Coming up in the week are a day trip to Brisbane and a couple of outings with a friend of Eva's who lives up here - Bowling and a Maze which she wants Eva to see. Hopefully a lot more beach walking, reading and time in the spa in between!

After our 7 nights here we will head back in a massive 8 hour driving day as far as Hawk's Nest on the NSW coast where will have a night with friends and then we will head back to reality just in time to pack the fruit co-op on Tuesday. Then a few days more off work (where the cooking should get more exciting) and then the term 2 grind will start as the days get shorter and colder!

Happy Holidays (or Spring Break) if you are in a part of the world that is breaking right now.


6 Apr 2012

Around the world in 18 Fridays- Week 9- Latin America

You can tell I'm starting to run out of countries, can't you?

Not that it's a bad thing to be discovering new and ususual cuisines. In fact, I guess that's the point of this whole thing!

This week, I made empanadas. They were really, really good! 

Maybe not entirely authentic...

but they still tasted amazing!

They had black bean, corn and cheese, which is a great combination, and beans are high on protein for all us vegetarians.

The original recipe called for empanada dough, but quite frankly there wasn't time.

Instead I used shortcrust pastry, and then I ran out of that, so I used puff. Just that frozen stuff you buy at the supermarket!

If I had time in future I would probably make the proper dough for a more authentic flavour, but these tasted just fine.

Shortcrust was slightly more like the real thing than puff though, so I'd recommend using that if you've got a choice.

So why not try something a bit new this week?

Black Bean and Corn Empanadas
Based on: http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/snacksstreetfood/r/cornempanadas.htm

  • Empanada Dough (here), or a packet of frozen shortcrust pastry
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 5-6 scallions, chopped fine
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained or 500g prepared black beans
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 225g Tasty cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 egg
  1. Prepare the empanada dough and place in the refrigerator to chill, wrapped in saran wrap.
  2. Pour boiling water over the golden raisins and let soak for 10 minutes, then drain. Set aside.
  3. Add the vegetable oil to a heavy skillet and place over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, cumin, garlic salt, and aji paste, and sauté until the onions are very soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, the green onions, and the sugar and sauté, stirring, for about 5 minutes more, or until excess liquid has cooked away and tomatoes are beginning to stick to the pan.
  5. Add the black beans and sauté, until excess liquid is cooked away, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the corn, raisins, and lime juice, and cook for five minutes more.
  7. Remove mixture from heat and scrape into a heat proof bowl. Let cool to room temperature, then stir in the cheese cubes and the cilantro.
  8. Chill mixture for 2 hours, or overnight.
  9. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  10. If using pastry, divide each sheet into 4 and skip to step 12
  11. Divide the dough into 20 pieces (for large empanadas), or about 40 pieces (for small, appetizer size empanadas). 
  12. Roll each piece of dough into a circle about 1/4 inch thick. (Circles will be about 6 inches in diameter for the larger empanadas, and about 3 1/2 inches for the smaller ones).
  13. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of filling in the middle of each piece of dough (1 teaspoon for small empanadas).
  14. Fold the dough over the filling to make a semicircle or triangle. Press the edges together firmly to seal.
  15. Fold the edge over itself and crimp decoratively.
  16. Brush empanadas generously with beaten egg. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.
  17. Let cool and dust with powdered sugar.
  18. Serve warm or at room temperature.

4 Apr 2012

Cookbook of the Month - "Vegetarian" By Alice Hart

I love this book!

I don't technically own it, but I feel I do. My library conveniently bought it but insists I leave it there now and then, though mostly it sits happily in a stack in my family room!

Last time I had it I made Smoky Blackbean and roast tomato soup and carrot and corriander fritters with haloumi and sweet lemon dressing and both were great and different and I was sold.

Over the past fortnight I have made:-
* Cumin Potato Skins and Guacamole - Thus was very tasty and pretty simple - I put potatoes in before starting the fruit co-op sort, then when I'd finished they were ready to hollow out, crispen up and fill (in about 20 minutes)
* Spiced Pumpkin and feta Puff Pastry Tarts - Eva made this. Simple and looked striking. Made great lunches too.
* Camembert, watercress & marinated figs with walnut dressing - We loved this. The figs and the dressing were the highlight - I couldn't get watercress and just did it with green oak lettuce but will do it again and get the cress next time. We are still using the sweet figgy balsamic leftover in dressings and loving it! Plus I got to use my home-made camembert.

* Smoky Blackbean and roast tomato soup (Again) - This is so good to eat (though the colour of the soup isn't stunning) The corn salsa that is served on it really lifts the dish. This will become a staple!

* Salad Potato Griddle cakes with olives and poached eggs - Yum, potato cakes! We always have a potato glut, many eggs in the neat and olives in the pantry so I can see this coming out again. I managed to make it whilst chatting to a friend whilst our kids ran through and only a small bit of attention was being paid to the process - and they still were great! A little salad, lemons from the tree, a whole meal!

I still have quite a few planned to try in coming weeks:-

  • Their Entire Breakfast Chapter!!
  • Butternut Pumpkin & corriander felafel with cucumber Yoghurt
  • Potsticker Dumplings with Black Vinegar dipping sauce
  • Spring Vegetable Pakoras
  • Warm Salad of slow-roast Tomatoes, Labne, Almonds and Mujadhara (rice and lentils)
  • Quinoa with parsley Pesto, Cranberries, hazelnuts and mushrooms
  • White Gazpacho
  • Winter squash and corn chowder
  • Cashew fried rice
  • Parsnip, sage and Mascarpone risotto
  • Braised Aubergine with bok chot, peanuts and thai basil
  • Sambal Telur (a Malaysian egg curry)
  • Shredded root vegetable gratin with creme fraiche and gruyere

Sadly due to an oversight in returning another book this one can't be renewed now and the library want it back again! The sooner they accept it really belongs with me where it is loved the better!!


Update 4 July 2012. I have now made the Spring Vegetable Pakoras, which were fabulous. Follow the link in the list above.