A big, informal pie, one with an unfussy crust and a richly flavoured filling, is always a crowd pleaser. The crunch of a spoon breaking through pastry, a veil of steam briefly shrouding the pie before revealing a creamy centre is not only satisfying to watch, but also to hear. A spoonful of chicken and leeks topped with a jaunty piece of crust is a welcome addition to any buffet plate. Which the 14 people who snuggled into my kitchen on a crisp Autumn afternoon to share an Easter feast will attest to.
Preserving food at the end of Summer requires respect for tomorrow’s hunger. The effort of chopping up fruit, sterilising jars and dabbling in science to capture the sweetness of the season brings no immediate gratification. But when the chill of the evening air takes your breath away and the sun is keeping its distance, a twist of a lid to reveal a soft peach or sticky jam is heavenly.
This week I found myself with a tomato glut, ripe for my future cravings. Continue reading →
I’ve been keeping a hungry eye on one particular plant in the corner of our veggie patch. It shot up quickly, its deep purple stems thickening and extending into large, violet-edged leaves. Crinkly, delicate mauve flowers opened with a shock of yellow stamen protruding from their centre, promising the arrival of my favourite nightshade – eggplant. The bulbous beauties have indeed developed, but are not quite ready for the picking. So when I saw a basket of oddly shaped organic eggplants at the market, I was happy that other plants could feed my craving.
It was an early rise for me on Saturday morning, the start of a long weekend and the first day of Golden Plains music festival. We packed up the car at 5.45am and headed to Meredith, a small town about an hour and a half from Melbourne. Meredith is the home of the goats that make my favourite goat’s cheese as well as a family-run farm that opens its gates to thousands of music fans and an impressive lineup of artists twice a year.
The early start was in aid of securing a prime camping spot near the (super)natural amphitheatre which is the centre of the weekend’s action. The strategy was successful, but we were left with time to kill between setting up tents and the first band picking up their guitars. Also, we were starving – getting up that early is hunger-making work.
A few spectacular storms and crisper, darker mornings have heralded the start of Autumn in Kyneton. The grass in the backyard is becoming less crunchy underfoot as it soaks up the rain, soothing its sunburn, and the pear and apple trees have started to give us their fruit.
This is my first Autumn in 18 months. The endless Spring/Summer afforded to me from a cross-hemisphere move six months ago has been delightful. I’ve had a year of juicy stone fruit, fragrant tomatoes, crisp lettuce (some of which I grew myself), barbecued meat and long, warm evenings sitting outside with friends.
But as I pack away Summer, preserving fruit, making tomato sauce and pulling up the bolted lettuce, I’m anxious to start a new season of cooking. The produce at the Farmers Markets is also in transition and my basket had a bit of each season in it this week. When I spied a bundle of watercress I also picked up a potato and some spinach to go with the broth I had bubbling away in the slow cooker at home. It’s (finally) time for soup! Continue reading →
Sometimes good cooking starts with space. Space in the weekend to experiment, to plan ahead, prepare and store. It requires mental space too. Some time away from to do-lists and social events to allow thoughts of nourishment and nurture to come to the fore. When cooking is approached from this space, it is more expansive and often more wholesome. And in this case, it’s a lot more ugly.
Last weekend I made bone broth, a rich stock made by slow cooking bones and veggies for many hours until I had a cauldron of thick, gelatinous, boney soup. Sounds awful! But when strained, this stock is a deeply nourishing elixir that can be consumed as a simple, warming broth or used like any other stock as the base of a soup, to cook grains like quinoa, to braise vegetables or for gravy.
Baking soda, or bread soda as the Irish call it, came into kitchens in Ireland in the 1800s. It was relatively cheap and quite a magical ingredient for it meant that people without ovens, and that was most people, could bake their own bread. They combined wheat from their fields and buttermilk from their cows with baking soda in a cast-iron pot and nestled it into hot coals to make bread. The baking soda replaced yeast and kneading to leven the bread, which meant it wasn’t only more accessible, but much faster than baking normal bread. Which is why I like it.