Entries Tagged 'Vegetarian and Vegan' ↓

Pammy Faye finds over 120 varieties of home-made bliss

There is a man called Keith who lives in Huskisson on the NSW south coast. Keith loves jam and relish. In fact, he loves jam and relish so much that he has dedicated that last 17 years of his retired life to the business of making and selling over 120 varieties of the stuff.

It’s a rough and ready operation, a back yard job turned semi-professional but nevertheless one that appears to be carefully observant of food safety and handling regulations (all his bottles are labelled with a ‘best before’ date but I didn’t ask how he sterilises the jars). He uses recycled jars and his niece makes the labels for him on her home computer. On his business card Keith describes himself as a “Maker of Quality & Fancy Jams & Pickles for Australian & Continental Tastes”, and I would not disagree. They are indeed quality, and many are really rather fancy.

I discovered Keith’s jams during a three-week writing retreat I organised for myself late last year. Every day after my early morning ocean swim in Jervis Bay, I’d make myself a strong cup of coffee and a plate of toast with lashings of jam, and sit quietly in contemplation of the words ahead. Under conditions of self-imposed social isolation, this ritual of morning toast and jam was incredibly comforting, so much so that it quickly became habit. And Keith, god bless him, was my dealer.

Hundreds of jars of jams and pickles line the walls of Keith’s modest weatherboard home. He’s got your tried and tested traditional sorts: plum, strawberry, raspberry, apricot, and smooth and creamy lemon butter with just the right amount of zest. He’s also runs a line of offbeat moderns and fusions: tomato and pineapple jam, chilli jam, mango jelly, rhubarb and apple jam, onion jam, and banana jam. He makes over fourteen varieties of marmalade including cumquat, ruby grapefruit, melon and lemon, bush lemon and tangelo.

Then there are his relishes and chutneys, many of which give expression to his love of all things spicy: mexican tomato chutney, choko chilli garlic chutney, plum and chilli bbq sauce, and cauli chilli relish. For the curious, a chutney is a form of relish, specifically indian relish, derived from Hindu word chatni. A relish is a form of pickle served as a condiment. and we all know a pickle is something that is difficult to get out of. And for those of you are aware of my passion for all things beetroot, you can only imagine how excited I was when I discovered both beetroot chutney and spiced baby pickled beetroot.

One could spend a lifetime tasting them all. What a pity I’ve only got a few days over Christmas and limited luggage space in the Troopy .

Keith grew up on a farm in the nearby district of Tomerong. The farm had over twenty different fruit trees, all of which were at various times in glut and therefore preserved and shelved in his mother’s walk-in pantry. Keith didn’t lay eyes on a commercially produced tin of jam or relish until he was married; in fact he reckons he didn’t even know they existed. Keith went on to spend his professional life working in kitchens, and when he retired just kept on cooking, preserving whatever local produce he could get his hands on. He makes his LillyPilly jam, a delicate little jewel which might be compared to a good sparkling from the fruit of the LillyPilly trees [insert link to LillyPilly info page on net] he planted in his front yard.

Keith and I both agree that his fig and ginger jam constitutes his masterwork. I didn’t ask him which was his favourite pickle, but his recommendation of green tomato and chilli mustard relish to accompany our Christmas day ham this year was genius and did not disappoint. As you can see, it hasn’t taken us long to put a rather large dent in it. Home made bliss indeed.

Marmalade Today, Jam Tomorrow

I find that after a piece of fruit, some muesli and yoghurt and a milky coffee, I don’t have the appetite for toast at breakfast anymore. But today I made myself a mid-morning snack of toast with mandarin marmalade accompanied by a cup of black lapsang souchong tea. Half the pleasure came from the fact that I’d made the marmalade myself.

+ tea

I’m not much of a jam maker: it’s probably anxiety associated with figuring out when ‘setting’ stage has been reached, and the fiddliness of sterilising lots of jars. One solution to the jar issue would be to make smaller batches, but this seems a bit counterintuitive. I tend to associate making jam with making lots of jam. It’s partly because, as Gay Bilson has pointed out, we tend to make the error of thinking in terms of the fruit, when we should be thinking in terms of the fruit and sugar combined. It’s also about seeing preserving as a way of dealing with gluts and windfalls: you know, that box you got from the market near closing time. Or we make lots of jam because we want to move large amounts of it at the school fete.

Anyhow, the recipe, which is disarmingly simple, is below, but it got me thinking about the history of marmalade, and food history is always insightful, not least because it puts some of our current concerns about globalisation into some sort of perspective.

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Pamela Faye says: Beet this

Glorious beet, the queen of the garden: vibrant, voluptuous, earthy and packed full of more goodness per gram than any other vegetable. If beets had beds they would insist on a four-poster with velvet curtains because the humble root just doesn’t get lusher than this. Even the six rather pathetic looking specimens I picked up from an almost empty tray in the back corner of the local Woolies proved capable of filling the pot with an explosion of colour and flavour.

A gathering of disparate friends in a small suburban kitchen on a cold winter’s night (a thick frost had formed on the cars outside even before we had finished mains) was the perfect occasion to bust out a bit of beet action in the form of a borsch. What I love about this particular recipe is the degree to which each guest can nuance the taste and texture of their bowl to suit their mood. Feeling like a little tart? Add a bit more sour cream. Need to carbo-load for the ten minute walk to the shops in the morning? Add some potatoes. Your razor-sharp wit getting in the way of small talk with the cutie sitting next to you? Add a little dill. Served with a cheese board of cheddar, stinky blue, organic figs, dried apricots and roasted almonds, and a choice of fluffy white or fruit loaf, this went down a treat.

Two cattle dogs wrestling under the table and oodles of red wine added considerably to the pleasure of the borsch and the general chaotic atmosphere of the evening. The conceptual-artist-turned-art-blogger hypnotised my puppy, and then called the independent-activist-documentary-filmmaker on her paranoia about all things ‘nano’. At the other end of the table myself and another anthropologist grooved to some Italian lounge jazz, while an expert in Taiwanese art tried to get her head around the difficulties of building houses in remote Aboriginal communities being explained by a bureaucrat in a position to know. The only time the ruckus died down was when the historian of Jewish Lithuanian execution sites shocked us all with a detailed account of how to identify mass graves using ground penetrating radar.

If it sounds like I’m bragging about how interesting my dining pals were it is because I am. They are all ace individuals whose munificent friendship, along with the borsch and the wine, helped to take the chill off my winter blues for at least another day.

souper

Luscious Borsch

Ingredients

6 beetroots
Veggie stock to taste
1 large onion
2 sticks of celery
Lemon or vinegar
Dill
Parsley
4 boiled eggs, chopped into chunks
4 boiled potatoes, chopped in to chunks
Sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Trim and boil the beetroots for half an hour or so, until tender. Cool, skin and dice into small cubes. Brown finely chopped onions with celery, add beetroot and stock and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for twenty minutes. Add finely chopped dill and juice of one lemon, or a tablespoon or so of vinegar, and simmer for another ten or until done. Puree, and if too thick add a little water.

Serve hot. Provide sides of chopped boiled potato, sour cream, more dill, chopped parsley, and chopped boiled eggs (or anything else you think might go well – pickles? chives?) and add these to your bowl with generous whimsy reflecting the mood of the moment.

Demystification recipes: blog amnesty edition

A few weeks ago I did a session on things to cook with possibly unfamiliar things from the Asian grocery store for my women’s group. I came home and started to write it up, and then my laptop died and I am still resting between computers. On a borrowed laptop for the moment, and claiming the blog Amnesty originated by Eating With Jack and used to such great effect by Jackie herself, then extended by Claire of Melbourne Gastronome and enthusastically (and gratefully) joined by Ed from Tomatom and Sarah of Sarah Cooks. It’s twitter’s fault.

This is approximately how much stuff you need to demystify your average Asian grocery store, with the addition of a bonus Hairy McClary backpack full of nappies, wipes, toddler snacks and a cold drink. If your car is getting fixed, you’ll be needing a large hand truck. Fortunately I didn’t have far to go.

img_1990 goodies

When you get there you’ll need tables to fill up with all manner of until-now mysterious things, like giant packets of fungus and small jars of stinky fermented tofu, bundles of greens, jars full of bark, tiny bottles of mustard oil so pungent it burns your nasal hairs, etc, etc.

I think one reason why some people are cautious about buying things from an Asian grocery store is that so much stuff is packaged, and if you don’t know what it is, or what the thing you want looks like, it gets confusing. So we ripped open all the plastic and set about rehydrating, sniffing, poking and tasting.

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It’s Time … Dr Sista Outlaw’s annual zucchini fest

Zucchini, how I love it. There is nothing more delightfully buttery or charmingly versatile, or, for that matter, quite so easy to grow. Mine are bursting at the seams right now, pushing over the chook wire, and trying to run over the ground, fruiting in black and green stripes, with a pattern like 1960s barkcloth. Having just had a quarter of a year’s worth of rain in one weekend, they’re turning into marrows. And, as I am dead broke until the arrival of the Kevin Bucks, it’s time to get working on ways to use this luxurious, yet cheap, food.

Zucchini Muffins look so damned good the boy recanted his anti-zucchini stance and tucked in. They are also easy. Take a giant marrow or a few small ones and grate until you have 400 grammes worth. Then add: 1 cup white flour, 1 cup of polenta or some polenta and wholemeal, 1 tsp of baking soda, 1 tsp sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 lightly beaten egg and 60g of butter you’ve melted in the microwave. You can add flavourings such as a big handful of grated parmesan; a small handful of shredded herbs; six semi-sundried tomatoes sliced up; a big chunk of crumbled feta; ham, bacon, salami or smoked salmon in chunks; a handful of lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts. Or any combo. Mix it all together until it just comes together into a lumpy mess and put big spoonfuls, lumps and all, into a lightly greased muffin pan. Bake at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes in a shiny new electric fan-forced oven, if, like me, you have one (I truly love my oven), but any one will do.

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Dr Sister Outlaw: the food averse child is taking da heat

This summer I am having the biggest adventure ever and going to Asia for the very first time. It’s my 40th birthday present to myself, and although I initially planned the trip as a running away affair, I eventually decided to take the little one with me. Only problem is, he doesn’t like chilli.

I can understand that. I wasn’t raised to eat chilli, being Tasmanian as well as growing up in the house of a 10 pound pom with serious issues with flavour. It wasn’t really a feature of cooking in the student houses I’d lived in and I remember arriving in Sydney and perusing Thai and Sichuan Chinese restaurant menus in desperation, because everything seemed to have more chilli in it than I could bear.

My awakening was a Thai beef salad that hurt so much to eat it made my face burn purple and caused fat oily tears to roll down my cheeks but, once the 90 seconds of agony passed the flavour was so exquisite that you were prepared to do it all again. I never looked back, although I remain bemused by friends, particularly blokes, who seem to have permanently destroyed their tastebuds by overdosing on chilli. Nor would I ever eat an entire dorset naga. This Aussie bloke reckons it destroyed his sense of taste for 36 hours. Why would you do that?

The other extreme is, of course no chilli at all, and it has been hard living with a boy who is determined to avoid spice. He did make a concerted effort when he was five (announcing ‘I’m going to change my life’). Like most New Year’s resolutions, it didn’t last. But now we have to get into serious training, otherwise he’ll be stuck with Chinese food in Thailand, and what a shame that would be.

Fortunately he is prepared to take on the chilli challenge. Last week I bought a green chilli, and chopped the end off it for him. He ate it, apprehensively, but survived and was prepared to go one step further. My fingers were laden with the juice from the seeds so I placed one finger lightly on his tongue, and watched while he went ‘phwoar!’ and realised, for the first time, that chilli is joyous, as well as painful. Now he sees chillis in the supermarket and wonders …

We’re so excited about the trip, and I know that nothing we make here will ever taste as good as it does over there. I also know we can’t really prepare for the blasts of chilli to come and there will be tears – mine as well as his. But we’ve enjoyed upping the chilli ante and there have been some cool experiments, including chilli chocolate. One of those experiments, which I was inspired to make following a discussion on this blog about caramelising onions, was this nice quick chilli sambal. It involves my favourite chilli sauce, sambal oelek, which I love for its saltiness, particularly when blended with things like tempeh and Vietnamese mint.

Quick chilli onion sambal
Take two onions and slice them very thinly. Warm a tablespoon of sesame or peanut oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the onions and cook, covered, on a slow-moderate heat for at least 10 minutes until they go transparent and are beginning to brown. Take the lid off the pot, step up the heat a bit and add a tablespoon of brown sugar (or palm sugar) and a tablespoon of sambal oelek. Sit with it and cook it off until it’s a nice rich sticky, orangey brown, gloopy mess (don’t let it catch and burn). You end up with this;

onionjam

The sugar and salt counter each other perfectly. It makes a terrific sauce for fish, or alongside spuds – it would be very good with tofu or tempeh. I also ate it with Francis Xavier Holden’s beef curry and it was fine. Obviously, if you want it properly hot, doubling the sambal oelek doubles the heat, and the onion can take it. Not sure the seven year old can …

Dr Sister Outlaw’s justly famous Christmas pudding

I’m not joking. My Christmas pudding is about the best thing there is in the entire world. If you are in any doubt, ask Ampersand Duck, who paid tribute to it in 2007 after devouring one with Zoe and their other halves. For some years I’ve made special ones that I’ve set aside to give to Ducky and her Best Beloved, as they love them almost as much as I do and so, after much begging from Duck and some not so subtle hints from Zoe, I’m finally going to share the recipe. The world needs more pudding love.

I’d just like to say at this point that I hope nobody confuses my love of Christmas pudding with love for the festive season or even Christmas dinner. For me, the only good thing about Christmas is the pudding and it has to be perfect. This one is. It’s based on Stephanie Alexander’s mum’s recipe, AKA Emily Bell’s Christmas Pudding. However, over time I’ve worked in some important enhancements. Mine is more alcoholic and has nuts and treats in it. Best of all, I’ve learned how to do it vegetarian, which is helpful if you want to show Christmas love to people who object to consuming beef fat with their fruit.

Make it now so the flavour develops over the coming weeks. It takes some planning, so I’ve laid it out in stages – both vego and suet versions are included. The given quantities make two puddings, each of which furnishes about eight slices. You can do the math, because there are families in which eight slices will go a long way, but mine is not one of them. Just halve or double, depending on your pudding needs.

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Dr Sista Outlaw presents: Kitchen garden (or garden kitchen?)

I know this is a cooking blog, but for me cooking and gardening go hand in hand. Growing food inspires me to cook, and my desire to eat good food sends me into the garden. I’ll get to the cooking bit, but not before I ramble over the garden (rambling over the garden then heading into the kitchen is a habit of mine).

Over the years I have moved a lot, and had many herb and vegetable gardens. Building them has proven to be an essential part of my settling into any new place, even if the landscape is not ideal. I have gardened in tight spots, in pots and sour soil, dealt with overshadowing, put up with short term leases and, in the first home I owned, accommodated the tendency of my then partner to steal the best spots for spiky grevilleas.

My garden tends to reflect my mental state. If it flourishes there is every chance I am procrastinating mightily, but my soul is mending. The reverse applies. The garden in my last house fell over and decayed because I got too busy writing a PhD, but my relationship was also withering on the vine. In the year that passed between moving out and buying my new house I had no garden – just a few styrofoam pots. I didn’t even have a compost heap. Now I have a new house, Maxholme, and this is the backyard, as it appeared on my first day of ownership.

It’s a 611 square metre blank slate, so the work begins to build a garden that reflects who I am – a woman on the very brink of turning 40, with no inclination to please anyone other than myself and my hungry child. A blank slate suits me very well indeed, and I will fill it with food. In these days of financial uncertainty and mortgage stress it is quite fashionable to be worrying about food security, but that doesn’t matter one jot to me, I’d be planting food anyway.

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