Monday, July 24, 2017

Homegrown mandarins

We are loving mandarin season here at the moment. In years past we've jumped for joy when imperials appear on our supermarket shelves and expressed disappointment when the honey murcotts take over. But this year is different.

This year we're all about the home grown! Not from our own garden, but from the gardens of our neighbour and our aunt, who have generously gone overseas during peak citrus season and encouraged us to enjoy the spoils of their labour.

Last year mandarins were still a little tart for our twins, who are now two-and-a-half, but this year any sharpness is overlooked for the excitement of peeling the things. "My do it" is the common phrase from the pair. This is fortunate, because anyone familiar with homegrown citrus knows that sharpness can vary. A lot.

I'm not sure how much is getting eaten. Sometimes it's more about the challenge of the peel and the joy of spitting the seeds out, a skill they've only just learnt. I'm just happy there's some enthusiasm for something healthy. Particularly from Tommy, who would otherwise survive on nothing but weetbix, eggs and custard.

I've always thought mandarins a little tricky to cook with. So much more fragile than other citrus fruit. How do you grate the rind or juice the interior without rendering the whole thing to mush?

I can't provide the answer to this (can you?) but I can provide links to three mandarin recipes that have caught my eye from my own cook book collection and online. Our newly purchased house backs onto bushland and there is a "wild" mandarin tree down the gully. Next year I might give it some love (ie water and fertiliser) and see what we get. I'm optimistically thinking we might need these recipes to get through a glut... 

Goats cheese platter with mandarin preserve from delicious magazine... if you're anti-goats cheese stop turning up your nose and simply substitute a good smelly washed rind. I love how minimal prep is required for this preserve. 

Mandarin salad with cherry tomatoes and nuts, because someone out there might be a little healthier than me. 

Dark gingerbread cake with mandarin compote from Gourmet Traveller because I can't resist cake and again with the easy-prep. Mandarin is surely the lazy gals' citrus?

NONE of these recipes have been tested by me. I have three kids under three, and two of them are devouring most of the bounty. If YOU cook one of the recipes, I'd love to hear what you think. Keeper or not?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to cook truffle

A good friend called me the other day and said she had some truffle. I jumped to conclusions and thought I was about to get a dinner invitation. Yippee. 

But no, this mum of three including a young baby, was discharging truffle responsibility to me, another mum of three including a young baby. I can't say I blame her, I'm not leaping to host dinner parties either.

She'd been gifted the truffle, enjoyed some of it herself and thought that I was the most worthy recipient of the remainder. I should have felt honoured. And I did. But I also felt a bit of a fake. I wasn't even sure I liked truffle.

I'm in a lucky minority who has tried the black fungus before, but each time left me a little bewildered. 

The first, shaved onto raw egg yolk at Melbourne's Movida, was never going to end well given a) I'm not an egg fan and b) I became accidentally inebriated during the dinner. Rich, rich, rich food and a woozy head. 

The second was three years ago at said friend's house.She did a wonderful job, finely grating the truffle over risotto, but I was pregnant at the time, so the over-rich, woozy connotations gained more traction. Finally, I'm not even sure the third time counts. Truffle mayonnaise served with butterflied chicken? Rich food during a hot Tamworth summer.

Hence my challenge. I dared not waste this precious piece of black gold, regardless of prior experience. So I set out online to find a recipe. Risottos and pastas were common, but as a mum of three I have limited capacity to prepare a meal that must be eaten immediately.

Instead I found Roast Chicken with Warm Truffle and Cauliflower Salad, from French chef Guillaume Brahimi. Guillaume recommends slipping shaved truffle under the chicken skin. I didn't have enough so I reserved it for the warm salad. And can I say it was amazing? Or is that a bit egocentric given I cooked it myself? Best truffle experience by far!

Coincidentally Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food included an article on truffles the following week. My take-homes from the article were:
  • Don't heat the truffle above 80 degrees.
  • Store wrapped in paper towel in an airtight container in the fridge and change the paper towel daily. 
  • Allow 3-8g of truffle per person per course.
Finally, don't over think it. You don't' need anything elaborate to carry the flavour. Simple dishes are best, such as pasta, risotto, roast chicken and scrambled eggs. We hold the truffle up to some lofty aspirations in the form of French Brasseries and silver service, but try to think more of the marvel's humble, earthy origins when looking for inspiration.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Holidaying with kids... or not

I feel like everyone I love to follow online has been on holidays.

Instagram is packed full of trips to warm sunny beaches, my favourite fashion bloggers write about their respective trips to Bali and Croatia, and the final kick comes when I see my Aunt's photos from Turkey. I didn't think they were going until July. Then I realised it is July.

This is Lisa in Turkey.

And this is me feeding Audrey, our six month old. 

This is Lisa seeing the sun rise.

And this is me seeing the sun rise.

I'm actually not that jealous of the exotic locations (ok, maybe a little bit jealous of the warm locations), I'd simply settle for a staycation, but I'm pretty sure my husband would love a week away. Which begs the question:

Where do you take three children under three when the weather is cold? 

Truth be told, sometimes a holiday with kids just feels like parenting in another place, with a stressful pack up at start and finish and none of the conveniences of home. Remove the toddler-sleep-inducing excitement of a beach and I'm just not sure it's really for me.

Having twins has meant travel has always been a little more challenging. Two sets of stuff and two little babies to manage. Car trips were production enough, we barely considered plane trips.

However, at least two couples I know well have both recently taken their baby overseas and found the experience reasonably refreshing. Yes there were plane trips, lots of packing and some logistical challenges, but once they arrived they found they were forced to slow down.  

These seasoned international travellers realised it's quite relaxing to have a nap in the middle of the day and the sights were still there the next day.

Children teach us to slow down sometimes and if we can embrace it, wherever we are, we can truly enjoy living in the moment. Personally, I think I'll be trying to live in the moment at home for now.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Words to inspire

Apparently I am a cook and a writer. But these days I do very little of either, caught up instead in the time-poor business of motherhood, with three under three and a 6 month long house move thrown into the mix.

When I was studying to hone my craft nearly ten years ago, we all wondered when we would officially be writers. Our teacher at the time simply told us to get writing and hey presto, you're a writer!

So if all you have to do to be a writer is start writing, does that mean you can no longer claim the title if you stop?

Thanks to motherhood I devote a lot of mental energy to the concept of identity. Sometimes it's fair, other times I get a little caught up and just need to get on with it.

With that in mind I thought I'd share some quotes that have struck a chord with me in the last week. Writers who've so articulately captured the realities of their subjects and made me both jealous of their skill and inspired to get going again. One day.

Beth, from BabyMac, on toddlerhood:
She does everything so completely, much in the way two year olds do everything. They are ALL happy. They are ALL sad. They are ALL mad or ALL excited or ALL tired or ALL awake. There’s no in between. It’s quite refreshing really, except when she is ALL losing her shit. That’s never fun. 

Anna, from Mamma Bears Kitchen, on grief (via Instagram):
It's hard to describe the pain in your heart that never leaves. It is forever with you. At times it finds a resting place deep down inside you, barely a whisper.... At other times it rages through you like a beast and consumes you with agony. Just like labour, you have to just let it be what it is. Eventually each tempest will pass and you can go on living again, a new normal. 

ABC journalist Sara James on democracy:

Jefferson believed passionately in freedom of thought and expression. He believed in the messy, fractious work we call democracy.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Did you catch me on ABC New England today, talking canapés? It's always a laugh chatting with Kel & Anna about food, but this week even more so, as I can hardly call myself an expert on the topic. Nor on French pronunciation or translation. But we went there!

I got a bit confused between hors d'oeuvres and canapés. We use French terms a lot, particularly with respect to cuisine but the meanings get a little lost. Hors d'oeuvres means "apart from the main work" and refers to starters or appetizers. And then sitting under that, canapés are a TYPE of hors d'oeuvres, designed to be eaten in one bite, and usually decorative.
Traditionally Canapés have a base of bread, crackers, toast or pastry with savoury toppings. The word comes from the French word for couch, which is a reference to the fact that the garnish sits on the base the way we sit on a couch. Cute, huh?

We talked mini quiches, chicken satay sticks, pork belly and small bites on Asian soup spoons. And I provided three recipes.


1 cup plain flour, sifted
1 Tbsp caster sugar
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
180ml milk
1 egg
25g unsalted butter, melted

Combine ingredients, whisking until smooth. Spoon batter into a hot, buttered frying pan, aiming for 50c piece size blinis. Cool completely on paper towel.
For toppings, smoked salmon, creme fraiche and chives is always popular. Otherwise soak dried figs in sweet sherry (16 halved figs to 60 ml sherry) for 2 hours. Top blinis with mascarpone, figs, jamon (or prosciutto) & chervil.

Trout Rillettes

We had a discussion about what Rillettes actually are and Anna hit the nail on the head when she suggested "like pate". Trout Rillettes with wasabi mayonnaise are a favourite canapés amongst my in laws, who buy pre-made Rillettes from Sydney's Brilliant Food. Locally we can buy Arc en Ciel trout and use the following recipe:
1 smoked trout, flaked
1/2 cup creme fraiche
2 lemons, zested & juiced
1/4 cup finely chopped dill
Mix together ingredients. Serve in savoury tart cases or in lavish biscuits, topped with a little wasabi mayonnaise.

Pork Larb

My final idea is a little less traditional when it comes to canapés: pork larb. I've seen lately a lot of hors d'oeuvres morph into "roving entrees" at weddings and events. More substantial items that can still be eaten standing up so guests can continue mingling over drinks. Things like sliders and noodle boxes. Pork Larb is great because it can be largely prepared the day before and looks fantastic. I blogged about this recipe a few years ago, so head to the back catalogue for my run down and a link to the recipe.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Semolina for breakfast? And a crumpet recipe

I'm not an egg eater. Quiche or frittata is as eggy as I get. This presents a few problems at breakfast time. You know, first world kind of problems. There might only be three items on the menu that don't feature eggs. In actual fact, when you're as indecisive as I am this is probably a good thing.

Needless to say, going out for breakfast doesn't always set my world on fire. Cooking something nourishing and comforting to start the weekend does. Sometimes this is as simple as a cracker cup of tea and a piece of good sourdough, thickly spread with butter and home made jam. In winter I exercise my love of porridge and in summer I feel very virtuous with a bowl of oats, yoghurt, fresh fruit and a little milk.

I've had a funny little recipe cutting in my "yet to cook" pile. It's been there for as long as I can remember. Back when Matthew Evans used to write his column in the Good Weekend Magazine. Evans precedes his recipes for Honeyed Breakfast Polenta and Breakfast Semolina with the following:

"Tell me a joke and sing me a song, stroke my brow gently and cuddle me along. It's the weekend today, with comforting food, so let's have a slow brekky to get me in the mood."

Isn't that lovely? I feel like it's Saturday morning already.

This morning I was talking all things breakfast on ABC Local Radio with Jennifer Ingall and Anna Moulder. What a great excuse to finally exercise this recipe cutting. I made the Breakfast Semolina, with pale yellow semolina and full cream milk. It came together quickly and was so white. I expected a stodgy gruel; but, when eaten hot, it was creamy and mild. I added the suggested rosewater and pistachio and substituted quince jelly for the raspberry jam.

Would I make it again? Probably not. Did I gain some satisfaction out of a warm bowl of creaminess and the ticking off of another "yet to cook" recipe? Yes I did.

I also made crumpets. I'm seeing a lot of crumpets at the moment. In magazines, on instagram and in conversations with friends. If you've got an hour up your sleeve they're super easy. I'd go as far as saying easier than pancakes. By complete coincidence, the recipe I used was another Matthew Evans gem, this time from SBS Feast magazine (polenta also made an appearance - the same recipe, this time with salty caramelised pears).

What I love about these is they taste fantastic straight out of the frying pan, but they're also just as good toasted the next day. You could even try adding a little cinnamon to the mix.

My tip? Once the crumpets are looking dry in the pan and ready to turn, the crumpet or egg rings should lift away easily, so you can easily flip.

Recipes and/or links below. Have a great weekend everyone.

Breakfast semolina

1L full cream milk
pinch salt
130g semolina
Quince Jelly or your favourite jam (raspberry was recommended)
A few drops of Rosewater
A handful of pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Warm milk, salt and semolina together in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to stir for a few minutes until you get a smooth, thick consistency. This can come together quite quickly.

Serve into warmed bowls. Drip rosewater, scatter pistachios and dollop jam.

Sweet polenta with salty caramelised pears
Find it here.

Crumpets with whipped leatherwood honey butter
Spot it there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The real four ingredients

Often the simplest recipes are the best, and four ingredients really is all you need. Not the four ingredients of the cookbook fame, with all their preservatives, flavourings and packaging, but the pantry staples that your great Grandmother would recognise. 

Eggs, cheese, salt and pepper for an omelette. Flour, baking powder, butter and milk for scones. Lemons, eggs, sugar and water for a lemon pudding.

Sure, the recipes aren't always low in sugar, salt or fat, but they're made from real ingredients with no nasties.

Since the birth of the twins, I've found myself relying on my mother-in-law's currant loaf more than once if I need to whip something up quickly. It's easy, can be frozen and relies on ingredients commonly found on my shelves. Although I confess, last time I made it I put out a desperate call to family up the road for some currants. I can happily report I am now restocked.

Janet's Currant Loaf

1 cup currants
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup warm tea
2 cups self raising flour

Place fruit and sugar in a mixing bowl and pour tea over. Let stand one hour or more. Stir flour into mixture and pour into a greased, lined bar tin. Bake in moderate oven for 1 hour (try 160).


I love the flavour the tea imparts and I'm keen to try it with earl grey, or maybe a strong smokey blend. Serve fresh with a little smear of butter... If you can bear to break with four ingredient traditions.