Sunday, 26 February 2012

down a cobbled lane..

a steamy rainy afternoon breathing easy after days hot days dry days windy


 noticing beauty in asymmetry and random colour juxtoposition 


crisply dry peeling paint reflective of imminent autumn baring it's naked silhouette


pink vibrancy mirrored in autumnal berry bounty


the visual sound of drip drip rain drop rusty patches 



leaves crunch crunch underfoot turning to dust whirling eddying tamed by rain



winter's puffs of vapourous breath nudging relentlessly boisterously arriving..

Friday, 24 February 2012

tomato preserves..three ways..

i planted several roma tomato plants last year in anticipation of preserving my own tomatoes this year but all of my tomatoes, including the romas, failed to produce a decent crop..next spring i am going to plant  them in a southerly position where they will receive plenty of eastern and western sunshine but where they'll be protected from the dry, harsh northernly wind and sun..hopefully i will then be harvesting tomatoes again..my northerly garden seems to produce great winter vegetables but it's just far too hot for many summer vegetables..

so, because i haven't had my own and since i've wanted to do some preserving, i've bought tomatoes for that purpose..32 kilos to be exact..and i've made three styles of preserved tomatoes..


1.
16 bottles of fowler's vacola tomato puree preserves-i wanted to do more today but it's predicted to be 38 deg c here today and so i will do more next week when it's cooler

dehydrating tomatoes
2.
semi dried tomatoes with garlic slivers, parsley, olive oil and salt-these tomatoes require refrigeration and will only last a week
3.
fully dehydrated tomatoes with added home grown chilli flakes
 and covered in extra virgin olive oil-no refrigeration required


i'm doing another batch of fully dried tomatoes today and so because they take at least 18 hours to dry i'd better get going..

happy weekend everyone..x

Monday, 20 February 2012

lemon verbena soap

my cold processed soap making is a bit like my cooking..

'now what do i have..ah..a nugget of beeswax, some grape seed oil that's been around for a while, some castor oil i bought the last time i made soap..gosh is it really four years ago?..oh well..that's renovating for you..and some olive oil..now all i need is some coconut oil and some sodium hydroxide (caustic soda)..oops..nearly forgot..what about scent?..it's expensive to buy the good stuff and i've found it often doesn't survive the saponification process anyway..i know..i'll use that lemon verbena i have growing out the front and see how that goes..'

i can't give you a recipe because i really don't remember what the proportions that i used were but what i did went something like this..

i processed a whole lot of lemon verbena leaves with some warm grapeseed oil and left the mix to steep for 2 days..i then sieved it and put the resulting highly fragrant oil on to heat in a saucepan with the beeswax and olive, castor and coconut oils..in a separate container i added the sodium hydroxide to water (when sodium hydroxide and water are combined the chemical reaction produces a very hot and caustic substance known as lye)..when the oils and beeswax and the lye were at the same desired temperature i combined the two and stirred the mix 'til trace ..i then poured the soap into a greased mould, covered it, and left it for 24 hours..the next day i removed the soap from it's container and cut it into bathing manageable sized blocks..



the soap only has a faint lemon verbena scent and as you can see it is a light brown/green colour.. it's still quite soft but i'm hoping it will firm up a bit more before i use it after the five or six week maturation period..i think i might have discounted the lye or superfatted the soap a bit too much which, if it does firm up, will make a lovely emollient soap that will be beautifully moisturising for my winter sensitive skin..

wishing you a happy week..x

Friday, 17 February 2012

raw zucchini, tomato and trachana soup

this original 'tea with hazel' summery soup recipe is the third in a series of seven zucchini recipes i'm aiming to make in the next few weeks that i referred to a few posts ago..




raw* zucchini, tomato and trachana** soup 

ingredients

1 large onion cut into medium dice
4 garlic cloves cut fine
4 small homegrown celery stalks strings removed and cut small
1 red chill cut fine
1 green chilli cut fine
1 2cm slice of bacon cut into medium dice
3 L fresh tomato juice***
1/4 cup finely cut celery leaves
1 cup (for each person) of grated zucchini (seeds removed)
4 small potatoes cut into medium dice
extra 300 mls tomato juice
1/2 cup trachana
a few chives cut fine
grated aged (preferably 36 month old ) cheddar cheese formed into walnut sized balls (one for each person)
olive oil
salt to taste
pepper to taste

method (soup base)

pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into the base of a large saucepan and heat..add onion and celery and saute for a few minutes..add chilli and bacon and continue to saute until the onion is translucent and starting to brown on the edges..add garlic and potato and stir for a minute and then add the tomato juice..bring to boil..lower to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender..add celery leaves..stir and turn off the heat..

method (trachana) 

when the soup is nearly cooked bring the extra tomato juice to the boil in another saucepan..add trachana and cook stirring for 5 minutes..turn off heat and cover until the soup is ready..

to serve

in a large shallow soup bowl place a large serving spoon of the trachanas and a cup of grated zucchini..pour over soup making sure each bowl gets some potato and bacon..top with a ball of cheese..sprinkle with chives, drizzle with olive oil and lastly a grating of black pepper..

notes:
* i like using grated raw zucchini because it gives the soup a summery freshness..the zucchini is cooked enough with the heat of soup as it's poured into the bowl..and if i make a big pot of the base soup the zucchini doesn't end up being overcooked when the soup is reheated..

** trachanas is available commercially but some greek women still make it by hand..i made it once under the instruction of my landlady..it consisted of making a dough with flour, yoghurt and eggs which was rolled out thinly, covered, and left to dry inside on a sheet covered table..as it dried it was progressively crumbled and then once completely dry stored in calico bags..it's often served for breakfast where it is boiled in water and served with crumbled feta and a drizzle of olive oil..

i don't add it directly to the soup because it's easier to apportion when cooked separately and to avoid the problem as with the zucchini of overcooking it when reheating

***i bottled some more tomato puree this week and, because the tomatoes were very juicy and i wanted a thick puree, i drained the tomatoes in a colander after skinning and deseeding..this left me with several litres of a lovely fresh tomato juice some of which i used in this recipe to form the base of the soup..

text highlighted in green represents homegrown ingredients




i originally wanted to use fontina cheese in this recipe for it's melting softness but i think the 'bite' of the cheddar offered a more interesting contrast to the other flavours..

happy weekend everyone..x

Thursday, 16 February 2012

sour milk bread

i bought a two litre bottle of unhomogenised organic milk late last week from my local greengrocer who stocks some quality grocery items and at the time he warned me that the particular milk i was purchasing tends to sour quickly..but i didn't really give it a lot of thought until i noticed a faint sour milk taste in a cup of tea a couple of days later.. interestingly the sour smell and taste of this milk was not as strong and unpleasant as other milk that i've had sour in the past..anyway, i have a tendency to avoid waste, so i used some of that expensive soured milk to make some yeasted bread yesterday..now i know yeast is fast acting and that's why i used it instead of my sourdough starter but i was really surprised at how effortlessly and quickly i had a couple of loaves cooling on my bench in time for dinner..

sour milk bread

ingredients

250 gms bread flour
250 gms wholemeal flour
300 mls warmed sour milk*
1 tbs treacle
2-3 tsps salt**
1 (7 gm) sachet yeast
i also threw in about 1/3 cup of discarded sourdough starter and a little bit of left over melted butter from making my spiral spinach pie last week..

2 bread tins

method


place all ingredients in a bowl and mix on low speed for 2 minutes..rest for 10 minutes and then knead for 2 minutes again..remove bowl from mixer..

cover the bowl with cling film and leave until doubled..

remove dough to a floured bench..cut in half..knead and shape to fit tins..cover the tins loosely with cling film and leave to double..

spray with water and sprinkle with fine oatmeal

bake at 220 deg c for 10 minutes..reduce heat to 180 deg c and bake for another 20 minutes or until the top is well browned..remove bread from the tins and return the loaves to the oven for a further 5 minutes..

* when i heated the milk it separated into whey and a solid yoghurt like mass
** i use murray river salt so a bit more than processed salt is required






it's quite a while since i've had a yeasted loaf so i was surprised by the pleasant pillowy softness of the crumb..another positive was the absence of the unpleasant yeasty smell i've sometimes had with yeasted loaves in the past..and in case you're wondering the bread had a lovely flavour with no sour milk flavour at all..and i'm perfectly well this morning.. :)


Sunday, 12 February 2012

say cheese...cake

and i did when my children asked me what i would like them to make me..it's still one of my favourites and when it's been made for me by my children it's even better..






happy monday everyone...x

Thursday, 9 February 2012

spiral spinach pie (strifti hortopita)

you know when you make an iconic recipe on and off over the years and it turns out ok but it never really quite hits the spot..and you're not sure why at the time but you don't really think about it much after you've made it..well..life just moves on and it's not til the next time you make it that that lingering dissatisfaction creeps back into your mind..well..that's how it's been for me with spinach pies..

it's many decades since i made my first spinach pie in the small town of edessa..i made my own phyllo for that pie using a recipe given to me by the mother of my dear friend katie..i met her through my husband's friendship with her father..he was the carpenter for the army unit where my husband was based while he was doing his mandatory national service..katie and i became firm friends and we shared a love of many things including cooking..

i can't imagine making that phyllo again though because it was made with rendered pork fat..now..that may sound really strange but we're talking here about the type of frugality that came with a financially impoverished village life back then..

that pie took me ages to make because first of all i had to gather the ingredients..and it wasn't a case of drive to the supermarket, buy the goodies, drive home and start to cook.. i had to walk the four kilometre round trip to the weekly market held out of town for the greens, eggs and cheese..the pork fat i was able to get through the butcher son of our landlady and the remaining ingredients were purchased from a shop in the town..then of course i had to render the fat and wash the greens and make the phyllo dough and roll the phyllo and assemble the pie..then i had to walk to the local baker to have the pie baked..and then of course i had to go back later to pick it up..and all that was done before midday..

my husband and i took that pie with us on a picnic that we went on with a group of friends..after our long walk to the picnic site we set everything up at our usual spot on the side of a hill where we sat on the cushiony soft needles that had fallen from the canopy of pine trees above us..and we ate that pie with relish as we gazed across the fertile agricultural valley in front of us..

although i've continued to make spinach pastries i only ever made my own phyllo once more..since then i've used store bought phyllo but as i said earlier no matter what style of spinach pie i've made i have never been that happy with the outcome..for instance with the triangular style there's too much pastry to filling and with the large dish pies the ratio of filling to pastry is often too much..and in the latter case the slices tend to be hard to manage, especially if it's picnic food, and also the pastry has a habit of going soft pretty quickly..but until this week i'd never made a spiral style spinach pie..yeah..i'd seen them in greece but i don't remember trying this style of pie..certainly no one i knew ever made it..and even if there was ever a very faint flickering of the idea that i could make it i had quickly doused that little flame with notions of too difficult..

well people listen up..i am here to tell you that this pie is not only easy to make but it's delicious, it cuts and serves well, the ratios of pastry and filling are right as is the ratio of soft to crispy pastry..so i think i've found the holy grail of spinach pies..






spiral spinach pie (strifti hortopita)
adapted from here

ingredients


1 large bunch of spinach
250 gms feta cheese crumbled
250 gms ricotta
1/3 cup grated pecorina
2 eggs beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped dill
6 spring onions finely cut (including green part)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp oregano
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1 packet of phyllo pastry (thawed if frozen)
melted butter

method


pre heat oven to 180 deg c

wash spinach well in several changes of water removing any thick stalks and/or damaged leaves..drain the spinach and place it in a large saucepan and cook over moderate heat turning the leaves often until they are softened..drain the spinach then cut it up into small pieces..place it in a colander and press the spinach with a spoon to remove as much moisture as possible..

place the spinach in a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients (except for phyllo and butter)..mix well..

place phyllo covered with a dampened tea towel on work surface..layer six buttered phyllo sheets and then spoon some of the spinach mixture along one long side of the phyllo..roll the phyllo and then making a coil place it into the middle of a round dish (tapsi)..continue in this fashion buttering the ends of the phyllo so that the next coil adheres to the last..

butter the top of the pie and spray with water

bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is well browned..

may be eaten warm or cold










as you can see i served the pie with a lentil soup..because i don't like waste i used the tomato juice by product of my tomato puree bottling from the day before as the base of the soup..and i added some thin strips of zucchini as a garnish..and a drizzle of oil..

the only thing i'd like to try now is to make and use my own phyllo again which would amp it up to the utter sublime..but......

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

zucchini feta and dill omelette

the scrambled eggs with feta my mother in law theodora first made for me decades ago was the inspiration for the omelette i made for lunch today..and it's my second zucchini recipe in a series of seven that i am aiming to make in the next few weeks..







zucchini feta and dill omelette

ingredients


2 eggs
30 gms feta crumbled
approx 1/4 cup grated zucchini
1 tbs milk
pinch chilli flakes (home dried and processed)
1 tbs chopped dill
pepper to taste
olive oil

method


put a heavy frying pan on to heat and heat grill to high
beat eggs with milk
add other ingredients except for oil
put a little oil in the hot frying pan and turn down heat to low
add egg mix and cook until the base is well browned
place omelette under grill for a couple of minutes or until just browned


i served the omelette with a diced tomato and spring onion salad dressed with raspberry vinegar, salt and olive oil..

a simple, tasty and nutritious meal..but my zucchini supply looks the same..

Sunday, 5 February 2012

apricot cakes

i found an old recipe book circa about 1950-1960 (there's no date printed in the book) in my local op shop last week..when i was reading it i came across a recipe for 'apple cakes' that transported me back to the wonderful fruit filled summers of my childhood..


we had many fruit trees growing in my childhood garden but the one that invokes the strongest and most poignant memories is that of the apricot tree..early on in the season it was festooned in luscious orbs that we were encouraged to eat as snacks or after meals if we wanted something sweet..then later in the season i can picture the ground covered in apricots at varying stages of disintegration with multitudes of bees buzzing frenetically about the pulpy orange mass..

my mother's lamentations about her fear of waste would be the same each summer as she picked the early apricots for bottling and then as she valiantly tried to salvage as much of the fruit on the ground possible..this she turned into various sweet edibles such as delicious ice blocks which she served to us in flat bottomed icecream cones..another sweet she made were little apricot filled cakes with a simple lemon icing..

the reason the apple cakes evoked my childhood so strongly was because they sounded so much like the apricot cakes my mother made..i vowed this week to buy some fresh apricots and make them to see if the recipe was as i remember it but unfortunately my greengrocer didn't have any australian apricots..so, remembering that my mother also used dried apricots for this recipe, i bought some juicy looking australian dried apricots instead of imported fruit..



apricot cake recipe (with australian dried apricots)

ingredients

280 gms self raising flour
113 gms butter
85 gms sugar
1 egg
1 tbs milk
approx 20 apricots
extra sugar
water
apricot jam (i used home made apricot and brandy jam)
1/4 cup of pure icing sugar
lemon juice

method

heat oven to 180 deg c

grease a shallow patty pan tray

put apricots in a saucepan with a little water and about 2-3 tbs sugar and cook with a lid over low heat, adding water if needed, until the fruit is softened..check for sweetness as the apricots soften and add extra to taste..put aside to cool while preparing the pastry..

mix flour and salt and either rub in butter by hand or in a food processor

add sugar

beat egg and milk together and add to the dry ingredients and mix until it forms a ball (this is a very soft dough and because the weather is warm i proceeded in the following manner rather than as directed in the recipe book)

cut the pastry in two and put one half in the refrigerator while working on the other piece..

place the dough in between two pieces of baking paper and roll out thinly..cut 12 larger circles to fit the bases of the patty pans..carefully lift the circles with a spatula and place in the tray using a small piece of dough to press the dough into the cavities..place the tray in the fridge..

roll the second piece of pastry out in the same manner but cut 12 smaller circles to fit the top of the tarts..place the circles of dough in the fridge..

remove the tray from the fridge and place half a teaspoon of apricot jam in the base of each pastry shell..then add an apricot..remove pastry lids from the fridge..wet the edges of the lids with a little water and press them gently onto the pastry bases..make a small incision in each lid..

bake for 25-30 minutes or until well browned

allow the cakes to cool a little in the tins and then remove them and set aside to cool..

mix the icing sugar and lemon juice to a thick but manageable consistency and ice the apricot cakes when cooled..








these apricot cakes are similar to those that my mother made but the pastry is different..next time i will make them with a sweetened short crust pastry because i have a feeling that's what she would have used..but having said that this version is highly acceptable..