A new arrival

It has been a while since I last posted because we’ve had an addition to our family: a beautiful little daughter. We are totally in love with her but it does cramp my cooking. I think it will be some time before I’m back pottering in the kitchen! So, I may not post for a while, but stay tuned for thoughts on baby food…

 

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Keeping the home fires burning

When we left London back in August 2010 we were taking a well earnt career break. I hadn’t anticipated mine to last quite this long, but landing back in Aus with a bun in the oven isn’t entirely conducive to convincing an employer you’re a job candidate with a long term future. So, instead of working I’m keeping the home fires burning while I slowly expand bellywards.

I’ve always made muffins, usually whipping up a batch on a Saturday morning for breakfast and weekday morning tea provisions. Banana choc chip or date, raisin and spice were the usuals, but because of the Queensland floods this summer, bananas have become a luxury item and not something to be merrily left hanging around getting brown and squashy as cheap filling for sweet treats.

When our stuff arrived from London and I finally had a fully equipped kitchen, it gave me an enormous sense of contentment and satisfaction to produce my first batch of muffins after six months.

Since then I’ve been experimenting and, thanks to Belinda Jeffery’s fantastic book Mix and Bake, have branched out into tea breads. I don’t have a massively sweet tooth (although late pregnancy has apparently brought on a craving for jubes, so there you go), but I am a fiend for anything spiced and, given the dessert menu, will tend towards the gingered, the cardomom scented or the cinnamon infused. Belinda is heavy handed with the spice rack in all her tea bread recipes and they make a welcome change from the regular muffins.

Below is a picture of her spicy pumpkin, pecan and raisin tea bread (although I had dates in the cupboard, so I used those instead. I am totally incapable of actually making a recipe to the letter).

Spicy pumpkin pecan tea bread. Made for morning tea

I’ve made this twice now and, like carrot cake, it is sweet, spicy, toothsome and vaguely wholesome. Made for laying on the butter and eating with a cup of proper tea mid morning. And it freezes well (and eats well while frozen!).

Another winner is her spicy apple, aniseed and hazelnut tea bread, which I don’t have a picture of. Of course, I used the pecans I already had from the pumpkin loaf recipe because it seems I have an allergy to actually obeying a recipe. Equally delicious, the aniseed makes it very aromatic and the applesauce used in the mixture gives it a softer crumb, so it’s actually easier to slice it from frozen than fresh.

But can a girl claim to be stocking her larder if she doesn’t have some chutney stashed away somewhere? I think not. Perhaps it’s the nesting instinct, but I have been collecting olive and pickle jars to recycle for a chutney session and a couple of weeks ago made a batch of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s  River Cottage chutney.

OK doesn't look so great in the pot, but on sourdough with cheddar yummmm!

Bottled deliciousness

Chutney is a play on sweet and sour with the bulk made up of a combination of (usually excess) fruit and vegetables. Hugh’s aims to use up those monster marrows old English men feel some Freudian urge to grow, but I just used a cheap kilo bag of zucchini. The sweet and sour element comes from the sugar and vinegar, which are also important preservatives, and the dried fruit. Hugh specified sultanas, but I have a bit of a horror of chilli and sultanas in the same dish (think 1960s “curry”), so used dates. Also they were in the cupboard and sultanas were at the shop.

This is the second batch of chutney I’ve made; the first was Nigella’s apple and cranberry, made as Christmas pressies in 2009. After impatiently waiting two weeks to crack Hugh’s open, the sharp spike in the number of cheese, salad and chutney sarnies in our house is undeniable proof of its success.

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15 minutes of fame: my Olive Magazine feature

Very special thanks to Shared Table’s lovely sister for uploading the pics.

Every year Olive Magazine, published in the UK by the BBC, has a special readers’ edition where readers are invited to submit recipes in a number of categories as well as whole menus. Last August I was one of the featured readers with my “relaxed, Italian inspired summer menu for six”. I have to admit there was a bit of insider trading going on – my former boss’s wife is the editor of Olive and knows I’m a big foodie so I was approached to submit something.

Olive Magazine readers' edition

But, contacts notwithstanding, this is a really great entertaining menu because it gives you just the right ratio of pre-party kitchen pottering to maximum guest enjoyment time. I made a version of it for Easter lunch last year, which started as lunch and continued through the afternoon till past midnight, all six of us comfortably squashed round our table in our ‘bijoux’ sized north London kitchen.

Emily and her lunch menu featured in Olive Magazine

The published menu starts with Guacamole and babghanoush with crudites, marinated olives and baked ricotta with grilled peppers. I don’t tend to make formal three course meals so the dips are something to get people in the mood and look lovely – all different colours.

Olive Magazine spread of the grazing plate, to get the guests in the mood

Although lamb is the traditional Easter lunch offering (seems a bit gruesomely symbolic…) I chose porchetta, an Italian slow roast, fennel scented pork shoulder and served it with green bean & hazelnut salad and potato salad. In my family, I am the authority on potato salad.

The porchetta with bean salad. Isn't their food styling gorgeous?!

I should also add that for the Easter lunch, but not included in the Olive feature, I made the outstanding Ottolenghi baked mushrooms with pearl barley, preserved lemon and feta for a vegetarian friend. They are so good they’re now regulars in my repertoire. Again, genius because they can be made in advance.

And for dessert, the delicious almost trifle-like zuccotto. Although we’re not remotely Italian, the zuccotto has become something of a tradition in my family for Easter. My mum has made it several years running to follow the roast lamb, which we usually eat outside in the autumn sunshine.

The zuccotto. There are never any leftovers. Everyone wants seconds.

Introducing the menu, I said that my inspiration was that, to me, cooking is about creating a shared, convivial space that brings people together around the table. I’ve learnt (the hard way) that it’s impossible to have happy people in your kitchen if you’re a ball of “oh God the potatoes still haven’t been peeled” stress! So I designed my menu to create not only delicious food, but also a welcoming environment for my guests which means low-stress hosting for myself.

I am still so chuffed to have been featured and have to thank L, editor of Olive Magazine, for so kindly inviting me to be part of their readers’ edition. What a 15 minutes of fame!

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Things I like: laugh till your tummy hurts

I laughed till my tummy hurt reading these malapropisms. I particularly like number 10.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/daves4/supermarkets

Shout out to The Man for the link.

 

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Kitchen gadgetry

In general, I don’t really get geeky for gadgets, but over the years I’ve collected various bits of specialised kitchen equipment that I now wouldn’t do without. Having just moved hemispheres and then across the breadth of the continent, I’m a little light on in the batterie de cuisine department while I wait for my lovely things to arrive from London.

When we got to London we bought a cheap fying pan, a large pasta pot, a cleaver type knife and chopping board and that was pretty much it for the first six months. Fast forward 5 years of course, and my can’t-live-without implements had multiplied. Arriving in Sydney has repeated the London scenario: although this time we have a very flash non-stick pan (thanks Mum), a large pasta type pot on loan (thanks Mark), a cleaver type knife and a chopping board. And that’s about it. I exaggerate slightly, because we do have a few useful bits and bobs salvaged from the packing boxes of our old pre-London life, stored away for nearly 6 years as well as some beautiful wedding presents.

Setting up all over again has been an interesting exercise in re-learning what is essential and what is nice decoration. I’d say that, when push comes to shove, the above four items are essential, but would also add to the must-have list:

grater

colander

stove top espresso & djezva (for hot milk)

wooden or plastic stirrer

baking tray (any size)

The things that I would put on my list of can-live-without-but-would-really-prefer-not-to are:

mandoline for finely slicing veggies – get one, you’ll discover uses you never thought of!

stick blender – not a regular jug blender, I find them too messy and faffy

muffin trays – I make a LOT of muffins and feel bereft without my much used tray in the cupboard

small food processor – for pesto, chopping garlic, chilli & ginger for curry, various excellent uses

roasting tin

salad spinner

I’d really like to know what your must have and nice to have implements are. I know lots of you are living with cramped and/or shared kitchen quarters (Shared Table’s sister, I’m talking about you!).

So, what is it you really, really can’t live without? A microwave? A toasted sandwich maker? A cheese slicer? And what would you put on your birthday wish list?

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Show us ya pantry!

I am a deeply domesticated girl. Much to my mother’s amusement, at age 15 I was already collecting a bottom drawer full of treasures bought on my St Vinnies raids, ready for the day I moved out. An aside here – I had, at that point, never heard of a “hope chest” and wouldn’t have know how to pronounce trousseau, so I wasn’t worryingly precociously preparing for my marriage!

While travelling through Europe and Turkey was an amazing trip, I am definitely not a nomad. Nearly 4 months on the road, then staying with (very welcoming, happy to see us) family for 6 weeks and then living out of a backpack again for a month here in Sydney is hard on a person who likes her domesticity. That is, who likes her own kitchen, her own cookbooks, her own space.

But hurrah! We have been in our new Sydney pad for just over a month and are slowly taking it from anonymous modern apartment to home. I was so excited the day we moved and even more excited the next day when we did a Proper Big Shop to restock my pantry. I am indeed living la vida loca. The thought of replenishing my pantry with all the essential oils, condiments, sauces and pastes that I really can’t cook without made me quite giddy with joy. I’m really not exaggerating. Check out my lovely cupboards, baby!

Since I took these pics I have only increased my supply of must-have stores. Maybe I missed my calling as Quartermaster General?

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Stuff I like: goldfish cheesey crackers

We’re not exactly at the point of feeding a fussy toddler, in fact we’re only at week 24 in utero actually, so this is a little preemptive. But. How cool are these cheesey goldfish crackers from Smitten Kitchen?!

 

 

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