Friday, January 30, 2009

Sigh-ing over spilt milk

Catching up on all my reading recently, an article posted by Slow Food Australia caught my eye. 
Milk on tap talks about a new machine out and about in Italy that captures the fresh milk of cows, keeps it at optimum temperatures and makes milk available for the general public who are unable to visit the farm direct but still want that 'fresh from the cow' experience.
The article, by Co-leader of Slow Food Perth, Pauline Tresise, goes on to specify that you can fill up your own bottles, the prices compete well with other milk sources in the market and after 24 hours the milk left in the refrigerated machines is used to make cheeses like ricotta. Sounds like a dairy dream to me...! 
All I can say is that as a home cheese maker who is finding it increasingly difficult to access appropriate and cost effective fresh milk, I can't wait until this sort of technology hits Australian shores. But until we relax our raw milk regulations still further, I wistfully marvel at the idea and contemplate yet again buying my own bessie to provide our dairy needs, or joining 'the Dairy  farmer wants a wife'- though I can't say my other half would be too pleased.
In the meantime, I'll just keep adding 'got milk?' to the shopping list, working with what we currently have available and dreaming of fresh milk raining from the sky. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What's that Skippy?

Ok, i'll admit it... I'm conflicted. On many levels about many things, that's true- but in this instance it's mainly about kangaroos & Australia day. Why?
So many reasons- it seems a common theme amongst my peers to be more than a little nonplused about the idea of celebrating European settlement- to the point of referring to the public holiday as 'invasion day' and celebrating nothing but the JJJ hottest 100 countdown and the chance to take a day off work and swim...
I pondered all of this as I wondered what sort of food might be best for a day with so many question marks hanging over it, food would just be another one.
Really, what do you eat on invasion day? I thought long and hard about pavlova or some lammingtons, but was not convinced... too cliche? Should I boycott it all together and eat something from my other heritage- English spotted dick or Dutch speculaas perhaps? Should I be honouring the guardians of this lovely dusty land and serving bunya nuts and warrigal greens? A little too saccharine perhaps? Maybe just too PC. So the answer finally came clear- if it's such an uncomfortable day, why not go all the way?
A controversial meat for a controversial day- and what better than the national icon- Kangaroo- what's that skip? You say you're not really hungry??
It's a favourite question of mine- do you eat roo?? I've even been known to ask some vege/aqua-tarians in my time. After all, a sometime vegan friend went through a phase of eating nothing but plant matter with the exception of our bouncy friend- 'it treads more lightly on the land' you see- all well and good until she discovered that you still have to come to terms with the clubbing of pouch young when mothers are harvested... so there you have it!
Yes, it might be more gentle on the environment, and the harvesting process from the wild is designed to be as stress and cruelty free as possible, but no matter how you look at it, there will always be some kangaroo that does not meet the most humane of deaths... still hungry?
This is where I weigh up the debate- against the knowledge that in every animal harvesting process there are problems that need to be addressed- organic, free-range, abattoir, the questions on each type of meat you purchase always need to be faced squarely, how else would you find an answer you can stomach? We owe it to ourselves, if not the generous animals that help keep us. No morbid contemplation intended- just a feeling that being aware is a great thing.
So what did you do for Australia day? We went out of town to the glorious Heronswood House & Gardens at Dromana. We sat happily on the lawns under the shade of a pepper ash and guiltily ate our patriotic (?) lunch, then had a good poke at the heirloom vegetable selction that Heronswood has for display and retail. My dreams of planting a garden that will provide three courses from entree avocado to dessert ice-cream bean will yet be ralised I say! But in the meantime we wandered the luscious grounds with views to Rosebud beach and pondered the culinary uses of the Cardoon and the humour of the Dutchman's Pipe...
Happy Australia Day? I'm still trying to decide.

Kangaroo Burger:
  • 1kg of kangaroo mince (Woolworths/Safeway, Coles or IGA stock MacroMeats)
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 tablespoon tabasco
Method: Combine all ingredients, lightly oil a heavy based fry-pan and heat some olive oil. Form mince into patties and lightly fry for 2 mins on each side. Serve on fresh hamburger buns with iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced tomato, mustard and BBQ sauce. Great the next day, even better served as a pick-nick burger.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Of Strawberries & Cherries

We finally made it! After months of umm-ing and ahhh-ing and generally not getting our act together- we finally put aside some time this week to head over to the glorious Mornington Peninsula and raid a field of strawberries. 
As the days become increasingly warmer and time grows ever shorter I had visions of last year when by the time we said 'lets do it'- the season had closed and we had to wait... 
Not so this year. We had a beautiful day of it at Sunnyridge Strawberry farm- armed with ice-cream tubs and large brimmed hats, we headed out to the fields and found a spot just far enough away from the school excursion that was dominating the row next door.
There were four of us milling about in the sunshine, three adults and a two year old, and  I can assure you that there is nothing quite like watching an inquisitive and active child run amok in a patch of berries! We came away with sticky hands, sticky pants, sticky faces and shirts- claiming that not one of us could read the polite little signs reminding us that there was to be 'no eating in the fields'. Yep, try telling that to a two year old moving at eye level through a field of berry treasures!  

The sun beat down and the rows stretched out before us- and you would not believe how quickly we each filled our buckets, ferreting away amongst the bushy green leaves, teasing out their little red secrets!! And then, what to do with 2kg of 'ready to go' strawberries?  Simple, stop on the way home for some of the seasons last sour morello cherries, pick up some blackberries and you've got yourself the makings of a summer berry pudding. Hooray for sun warmed strawberries I cry!

But really, there is nothing better than the taste of the simple fresh berries, still warm from the field with juices so fragrant and sweet that to add anything extra almost seems a crime. It's a timely reminder to look beyond the supermarket when you can, because picking your own is so rewarding and your chances of finding anything as special as this on the pre-packed shelves is pretty slim. For a start they simply don't pack, travel or keep well... and so we must eat them now while they are good... you can find me in the kitchen with a bowl of berries and a smile.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Joost anyone?

If you have not had a chance to visit the Greenhouse by Joost (cafe & bar) at Federation square in Melbourne, then now is the time! It's only around for another ten days before they deconstruct the temporary framework and take it away in all its loveliness! 
I admit that I waited too long before I stopped by, and now I am lamenting the fact that it will be gone on the 29th of Jan, leaving nothing but a lush green memory. A testament to the fact that it was designed to be a.) temporary, b.) environmentally friendly (recycled & recyclable) and c.) a lovely experience. 
We had breakfast there on the weekend, and I have to say it really is a great thing to know that where you are dining has every intention of being as gentle with the environment as possible- it also does not hurt that the decor and service adhere to the 'old is new again' gimmick with such great style. Who'd have though that coffee served in a jam jar could be so beguiling? Or that tins as vases could impart such a rustic feel? Personally, I really enjoyed being surrounded by bales of hay as walls- if I was younger I might have pretended to be a cosy little sparrow in a nest, there were certainly plenty of little sparrow visitors to keep us amused. 
Skyward stacks of 'live growing' strawberries in crates frame the entrance way and a huge Bromley painting stretches out behind the bar, lending an 'Alice in wonderland' feel to the already magical space. The selection of food on offer is certainly 'wonderland' worthy- with the fresh baked breakfast quiches a lovely morning treat, pastry melting in the mouth.    
I was very pleased to discover that not only were the chairs made of recycled packing materials and comfortable to sit in, but they also looked really stylish and you can purchase them from Joost. Oh to add some to my home collection!!! So if you can manage to find the time in the next few days, stop by and appreciate the efforts that the designers have gone to- and don't forget to check out the rooftop bar, surrounded by shipping crates filled with growing produce like potatoes, zucchini and nasturtiums. So very pretty. Sigh....        

Friday, January 16, 2009

Culture Quest

On New Years Eve we had some friends over for all the drinks and food festivity that goes with bringing in the New Year- there were cocktails, cheese platters & dips- but my pride and joy for the evening were the cinnamon and cardamom buns that we made for one of our friends who is from Finland where they are a tradition (Korvapuustit I think?). 
The recipe came from Tessa Kiros' book 'Falling Cloudberries' and they were not only delicious, but so much fun to make with the beautiful cinnamon swirls. We were so proud of them and waited with baited breath to see what our friend thought. I think I nearly cried when they got the Finnish thumbs up- but that might have been all the cocktails!
Our friends have now invited us over for a 'Finnish' dinner tomorrow night, and I can't wait to see what's on the menu! 
In the meantime, and in conjunction with my new found interest in my own heritage, I baked them some traditional Dutch cookies to inspire a cultural exchange of sorts.

Pepernoten- Dutch Christmas Spice Cookies:
Growing up on the North Shore of Sydney, we always had these little spice cookies in a tin in the cupboard. I have always wanted to make them, but up until now have never actually got around to it. I used to love the notes of nutmeg and clove in the gingerbready goodness. The ones we had always came from the supermarket (our Dutch heritage comes from Dad, and in our house Mum always did the cooking - Dutch ginger snaps were just not in her already diverse repertoire). Sometimes we would also have the German version with a hard white outer coating of sugar icing, such perfect and sleek little nubbins, like unspoiled mushroom caps waiting to be cracked.
These little gems are steeped in Dutch Christmas tradition and at our place were almost always kept in a tin decorated with St. Nicolas (Santa Claus)- though as we had them all year, not just at Christmas, I didn't really make the connection until I was older- all I knew was that they were the perfect treat to break into the pantry for.

Pepernoten Ingredients:
Note: Now I found several recipes for these, but this is a version that I have modified until I think it is just right. You can add or subtract spices as they suit you.
  • 150grams self raising flour
  • 80grams brown sugar
  • 90 grams butter (softened and cubed)
  • About 3 tablespoons of milk
  • 3 teaspoons of 'speculaaskruiden' * 
*Note: You can make this yourself with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg (fresh grated is best), cloves, pimento, ginger (ground) and cardamom- I like to do this so that I can tweak the spices myself.

Preheat the oven to 180'C.
Mix all the dry ingredients together thoroughly, then mix in the butter until it is evenly dispersed. Add enough milk to make a firm dough. Adjust with extra milk or flour if necessary. Form into small balls, place on a lined baking tray and press down to make small disks (or any shape you like).
Bake for 15-20mins or until just firm.
Cool, dust with icing sugar if you like and serve!   
They keep well in an airtight container and are just divine with a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

'Eet smakelijk' (Dutch) and 'Hyvaa roukahalua' (Finnish- I think??)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

From Turkey to Netherlands, finding heritage...

I had an epiffany last night- one of those rare moments when everything just becomes clear. The revelation may not be a new one,  but this time, it appears with a clarity that sparkles like shattered glass- and it suddenly makes so much more sense than it ever did before!
Ash took me for an impromptu dinner at the gorgeous Rumi in Brunswick (certainly we were lucky to get a seat, cosied up as we were at the window) and the energy of the place made me bubble up with enthusiasm and excitement. There is nothing quite like aniseed-y Arak and tangy labne to ease the mood into a pleasant sense of wonder. As we sat and lazily picked at the last remaining morsels of spiced goat and wondered if we could replicate the amazing salt mix at home, a realisation dawned on me.  Food is best when it is served with passion. Pure, deep passion. Knowledge and flair also help- but passion for the food at hand is certainly the driving force. A desire to share with others food that has influenced your life and your experiences.
I spend all my spare time looking into the food of other cultures, searching for the best food experience that I can find. I fritter away countless hours playing with interesting food in my own kitchen and dabbling in the history of any new flavour that takes my fancy- but I have never once showed any real interest in the cultural food roots of my own geneaology. This surprises and somewhat horrifies me when I think of all the personal history that I have chosen to overlook in favour of what (at first glance only) seems to be more 'exotic food'.    
I have a terrible problem that I like to call 'information anxiety'. When I have an interest in somehting, I need to find out as much as I can about it- read up, look into, test, poke at- but I am somehow always deeply convinced that I am reading or looking at the wrong thing, that there is something better out there that will give me a clearer insight into my new found interest, and I panic. I create within myself a sense of frantic searching... I drown myself in the facts... I wallow about in the new information and flail around at the sensations and flavour....and I love it- it's a self perpetuating cycle that leads me ever onwards to more discoveries, more 'information anxiety' and I live my life with a certain sense of panic that there is always too much to know about food and never enough time! 
And so right here right now, I set myself a new course. One that will certainly wander from time to time- but one that I believe I owe to myself. To stop ignoring the food of my own heritage and to embark on a conscious exploration of it instead. To embrace the food of my family and its roots and to try and find the pockets that have influenced it along the way. I am heading out to 'find Dutch'- and this time I vow to look beyond the cheese! It will be an effort make a methodical rediscovery of my heritage, a chance to take the time and not panic- A chance to take another look at the foods that I have long taken for granted.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cool food

It's a typically hot summer day. Australia in January, not a cloud in the painfully & beautifully blue sky, not a thought to be heard above the screaming cicadas and the steaming tarmac of the road.
You're hungry for a snack, but what on earth could tempt you in this blistering heat? Better yet, you have friends coming round and need to have a little something on hand to offer them with a cool drink - you want something that can come straight out of the fridge, satisfy that sweet tooth, not melt on contact and still be a little ball of delight, right?
Right- so that's where this gem comes in!
It's best served chilled, satisfies all the cravings of a 'sweet surprise' addict and is still (happily enough) actually pretty good for you!

Jane's chilled almond-carob-bliss-bombs:
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (toasted if desired, but not necessary)
  • 4 tablespoons desiccated coconut
  • 4 tablespoons carob powder (I recommend the Lotus Organic Foods brand)
  • 4 tablespoons of chopped walnuts (you can also use almonds, or any combination of nuts)
  • 4 tablespoons of almond meal 
  • Sultanas or raisons of desired
  • 4 tablespoons of honey (replace with maple syrup for a vegan option)
  • 4 tablespoons of tahini paste
  • enough water to help dampen and bind all ingredients
Place all dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix together until well combined. make sure you break down any lumps in the carob. 
Add the honey, tahini and mix well.
Add enough of the water to form a very stiff paste. Go slowly, as you can't take it out once its added and you want the mixture to be able to hold its shape once formed into balls.
Wet you hands, scoop up enough of the mixture to form into a small ball & roll it. Place the the ball on a tray and repeat until all the mixture is used up. Put the finished balls in the fridge until cold. Serve chilled with a cool drink and some chilled berries.
I find that this quantity makes about 8 good sized balls- but you can vary the size to make more or less.
Note: rolling the balls in a little extra carob powder or desiccated coconut before chilling is also fun. 

Monday, January 12, 2009


So we had some sad looking oranges sitting on the bench- and no one had the heart to chop them up into those 'half time' segments that remind us all of our sporting days... but my sister is in town and she just has a way with dejected fruit. Somehow, she manages to raise them up and shine a light on their more positive features. This is the recipe for a cake that she pulled out of thin air to rescue our sad citrus- and what a cake it was- moist and pungent and full of still crunchy almond slivers. The lesson here is, boil the orange and blend it all! ALL I say! 
The natural oils in the orange rind will impart a beautiful fragrance and orange essence that is much deeper than just the juice...

  • 5 eggs
  • 1 & 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 cup almond slivers
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 whole orange
Boil the whole orange in a saucepan of water for 1 hour- making sure that the whole orange is covered and occasionally turning. 
Beat together the eggs and sugar, then mix in the almond meal, almond slivers, cardamom, flour and baking soda. 
Cut up the boiled orange and discard any seeds, then blend the whole orange (skin and all) and stir it through the rest of the cake mixture. 
Grease a ring tin, pour the mixture in and bake for one hour at 180 degrees C, or until firm and golden. 
Cool in tin, then turn out and serve.

Note: The cake is nice and moist on its own- but it's even better served with this almond & orange 'gooze' sauce:

Gooze sauce ingredients:
  • Juice of half an orange
  • Long strips of orange rind (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tsp cardamom (fresh ground is best)
  • Almond syrup (or cordial), equal to the orange juice
Gooze sauce method:
Mix all ingredients together and allow to sit so that flavours can combine. The longer you let it sit, the better it is. 
Pour this over the cake just before you serve it and watch it absorb into the top. 
If you like your cake moist and textured- then save those last few sad oranges from the bottom of the bowl and get to work!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ham season

'Tis the season of left over ham- and there really is only so much 'ham on toast' & 'ham & egg pie' that one can handle. In addition, I would be very surprised if some of us couldn't do with a lighter meal here and there after the many indulgences of Christmas and the New Year. 
So what to do with all that luscious left over ham-y goodness?
Simple answer- peas are in season!- And so springs forth the answer of 'pea & ham soup'. But this is not your run of the mill split pea soup- this is what happens when the Christmas ham needs a new home and fresh shelled peas are looking for company.
This particular pea & ham soup was originally inspired by the recipe in Stephanie Alexander's 'The Cooks Companion', but has taken on a feel of its own with the addition of lemon zest and lettuce among other things.

Zesty Pea & Ham Soup- chilled.
1 large onion (diced)
1 bay leaf
2 large cloves of garlic (smashed)
half a sweet potato (diced)
1/3 head of iceberg lettuce (shredded)
1 tablespoon of lemon zest
cracked black pepper to taste
salt flakes to taste
3 tablespoons fresh thyme (roughly chopped)
300 grams peas (fresh shelled)
Bulleted List3 small potatoes (diced)
Left over ham pieces (skin/fat/bone- whatever needs rescuing)
3 liters water

In a large pot bring the water to boil and then add all ingredients. Bring back to the boil and then simmer with the lid askew for 
around an hour, until all vegetables are nice and soft.
Remove bay leaf (and any ham bones or pieces of skin that you wish to discard) and puree the vegie mix until the texture is even and silky.
Test for seasoning, garnish with any other left over pieces of ham and extra lemon zest.
Serve hot, with toast or croutons.
This version is also delicious served cold on a hot Aussie summer day with a sprig of mint on top.

There is something so magical about the vibrance of fresh green peas. They look as though they are trying to promise nourishment through colour alone! I can't avoid a sense of joy when I see them bubbling away in the pot.  
A happy, healthy and vibrant New Year!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Eating them out of extinction

Just before Christmas I wrote this article on eating rare breed meats: "Eating them out of extinction, rare breeds"- written for the brilliant website 'I eat, I drink, I work'.

To view the article, go to:
(and click on the feature article 'Eating them out of extinction')

I hope you enjoy it! I certainly enjoyed writing it.

A very Victorian Christmas

(Note: article written before Christmas- 10.12.08)

Christmas is coming. So what’s a good locavore to do?
Eating locally produced food is not always an easy thing to do, and with a Christmas menu it gets tricker again. There is a sense of tradition that must be upheld, certain dishes that are expected to feature. So with good intentions (to reduce the travel distance of major ingredients), and with good will (to support local industry), is it possible to have a ‘very local Christmas’ and find everything you need for that perfect Christmas dinner right here in Victoria?

“You bet,” Says Miranda Sharp, President of the Victorian Farmers Market association.
“you can get everything you need, from the turkey to the pork. You can even get your pudding fully made- and feel good that the money is going to Victorian producers.”
For Sharp, the trick to achieving a ‘locavore Christmas dinner’ is to recognize that all of Victoria is local, not just those producers who are within 100kms of Melbourne.
“I buy Victorian- in a small state we would be doing a disservice to those who are struggling if we only stuck within a particular range of distance.”
Regular farmers markets turn up a huge variety of locally produced items, from heirloom tomatoes for crisp cool Christmas salads, to plump and juicy naturally dried Victorian muscatels for your Christmas pudding or cheese platter.

“Victoria is proud of our food industry,” says Sharp, “our restaurants and our bars. Well, if we don’t buy locally to support our farmers, we won’t have an industry.”
So where do you start? Here are four Christmas essentials produced right here in Victoria.

1.) Ham it up:
Fernleigh Free-Range takes orders for Christmas hams, with a range from full leg, to boneless ham. All their hams come from their free-range ‘Wessex saddleback’ herds grown locally in Bullarto.
The farm itself has a strong focus on limiting its environmental impact.
“Consumers are becoming far more aware of where their food comes from and how their buying decisions are making a difference.” Says Fiona Chambers, owner/manager of Fernleigh Free-Range.
“I think that more people are realising that they are ‘Co-producers’ rather than just ‘consumers’. How they buy and eat every day impacts on farming, farmers and the environment...”
And the other benefit to buying local, free-range ham?
“Well, speaking for my hams I would certainly have to say flavour” enthuses Chambers. “Saddlebacks do grow more slowly, and have deliciously marbled meat.”

2.) Lets talk Turkey:
Russell Mickle of Milawa Free Range has been supplying Victoria with local free-range poultry (including Christmas Turkey’s) through farmers markets for over 6 years. His poultry are raised free range in Milawa and the farm is moving towards organic certification.
Customers’ pre-order turkeys, which are brought in from the farm and processed for the farmers markets at the ‘farm gate’ in South Yarra. None of his turkeys are frozen for transport, as the final product itself never has to travel more than 10kms from processing to customer.
“They’re alive when they leave the farm, we process them and then they’re at the market.”
He agrees with Sharp that as long as you buy fresh produce from within Victoria you’re doing ok. The less it travels after processing, the better. “That 100mile thing is tricky, it should be a Victoria wide thing rather than just 100 miles.”

3.) Say cheese:
Every Christmas dinner needs a cheese platter. And Jan and Trevor Brandon’s Red Hill Cheeses are award winners. At this year’s Melbourne Specialist Cheese Show they scooped up two gold medals (one for the Mountain Goat Blue and one for the ashed ‘Paradigm Log’). All the milk that goes into the artisan cheeses from Red Hill comes from within Victoria.
“Our cows milk is from friends in Gippsland whose 90 cow dairy now has bio-dynamic certification” Says Jan Brandon.
“The goat dairy is just around the corner, where a young couple milk goats for us. It’s a large property where the goats range freely to browse.”

When it comes to the quality and environmental sustainability of choosing to eat locally, Brandon believes that “Artisan products are made with passion, & therefore the producer will want to use the best ingredients. It's re-assuring when you know the creditability of a local person. You don't have to be a genius to understand that something un-natural has been done to an imported cheese (usually industrially made) for it to be able to travel half way around the world & still be "fit" for consumption.”

4.) Bottoms up:
A hot Christmas day wouldn’t be complete without a cold beer. For the guys at Mountain Goat brewery in Richmond, keeping their product local has the classic two-fold effect of the locavore ideal.
“Obviously we are conscious of the environmental impact that we have.” says Dave Bonighton, co-founder and chief brewer of Mountain Goat Brewery.
“But hand in hand with cutting down our impact on the environment, and key for us, is that beer is a volatile substance. Like milk, it’s best drunk fresh and as close to the source as possible.”
So the team keep as much of their locally brewed product within Victoria for distribution as they can- up to 90% of it.
“If there are two beers that people can choose from and one's less environmentally aggressive than the other I think more and more people will choose the one with the lower impact - its the way we all have to go really. But it's got to be good beer first and foremost, that's the key.”
So what do our local producers recommend with Christmas dinner?
With the turkey and ham all sorted, “It'd have to be the Hightail Ale - its delicate maltiness is perfect with a roast.” says Bonighton.
For Brandon? “The ‘Granny’s Blue’ cosies up nicely with fruit and nuts.”
Locally sourced of course. So this year, what better way to toast your friends and family than with a ‘very local Christmas’.

* Victorian Farmers Markets:
* Melbourne Community Farmers Markets:

For details on product outlets and which markets the producers attend:

* Fernleigh Free-Range: or (03) 5348 5566
* Milawa Free Range: Russell- 0428570 492 (Farm Gate by appointment, Davison Place, Rear 519 Chapel Street, South Yarra)
* Red Hill Cheese: or (03) 5989 2035. The Cellar Door Cheese Shop: 81 William Road, Red Hill Victoria.
* Mountain Goat Brewery: or (03) 9428 1180. Corner North and Clarks Streets, Richmond, Melbourne.