Monday, May 30, 2011

cool as a cucumber sandwich on a rainy day

Usually when it's pouring with rain, like it's been these past few days in Sydney, I dream about hot, nourishing stews and cup after cup of coffee. Perhaps it was all the kale flowers and vegetables I saw on my travels today but all I could think about was cucumber sandwiches. Something simple and reassuring to be eaten quietly at the table, whilst enjoying a good book and a hot cup of something. It's a strange day that I don't still love a good coffee or several.

This is the sort of thing you don't really need a recipe for - in the manner of toast or eggs or many other of those intuitive, sort of obvious things - it is more of an exercise in assembly. I have found though, after many a cucumber sandwich, that a good level of buttering, salt and pepper and a zingy mayonnaise add very much to the enjoyment of the essential ingredients: bread and cucumber. Crusts on or off is really up to you. I cut them off but ate them anyway because white bread is such a rare childhood-esque indulgence that I didn't want to waste any crumbs.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

halloumi saturday

A weekend of little delightful discoveries so far. It's not often that you think I could really handle some halloumi and realise that you have some in the fridge. That was our wonderful find on Saturday, resulting in halloumi salad to accompany our sausages for lunch.

We also walked around the neighbourhood and discovered a little patch of wilderness just off a main road, a mending wall (just like in the Robert Frost poem), a viaduct and some glorious foliage. Then we treated ourselves to coffee at Le Comptoir, a cute little cafe in Annandale, that has fantastic sandwiches and bagels.

For my part, I rediscovered an old favourite - cinnamon toast, and also found a bunch of old Japanese fabrics and placemats that I had forgotten about, from our visits there. I'm looking forward to jazzing up our table arrangements with them.


Thursday, May 26, 2011


This afternoon, I was sitting in my study feeling the temperature dropping and becoming more and more hunched over and cold when I decided there was nothing for it but to run my hands under warm water for a few seconds (works wonders) and put the oven on. It was also afternoon tea time and since I've only got a few more days off before starting a new job I thought I should take the opportunity to get baking mid-afternoon, whilst I still can.

We are getting low on ingredients of all kinds in our house at the moment, but we did have some pumpkin and I had an idea. I love putting pumpkin into sweet things, being a little bit sweet itself, it adds a richness to the mix and such a golden yellowy hue. I've been enjoying the autumn colours so much lately, it feels like a visual pay off for weathering the colder temperatures. Similarly with food, there's something about eating colourful, especially golden, ingredients - it feels like you're ingesting light and warmth.

Pumpkin and ginger muffins
Adapted from this recipe
Makes 12

200g plain flour
100g wholemeal flour
75g brown sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
1 lightly beaten egg
120g pureed pumpkin
dollop of honey
75ml skim milk
40ml sunflower oil
3 Tbsp chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 175C or 350F. Line a muffin tin with baking cases.

Chop and steam the pumpkin and then puree.

In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients with a spoon.

In a large bowl, beat the egg, pureed cooked pumpkin, milk, oil and honey until well combined. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and fold together, adding the crystallized ginger in at the end, being careful to avoid over-mixing.

Spoon the mixture into the baking cases and bake for 20 minutes. Remove muffin tin from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes. Take out the muffins and cool on a rack.

Now, here's the enjoyable bit. Make yourself a cup of tea, or a coffee could be rather good too, and find a patch of afternoon sun to sit in whilst you eat enough muffins to feel like you're glowing from the inside.

Have a happy and warm weekend!


vegetables with a side of deja vu

Today, I took a stroll around the city, spotting citrus eye candy and strange lists;
finalised details of an exciting new job;
met my friend Gianna for lunch at the building of my old job (a bizarre bit of deja vu) and enjoyed chocolate dipped ginger and coffee, as well as some laughs (hence the blur);
got out all the vegetables in the house and made vegetable and halloumi skewers with lemon rice, as suggested by a friend Jacqui a few days ago;
and enjoyed devouring the above skewers, whilst cosying up on the couch to watch Fringe with Kristian.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011


So very cold and windy here in Sydney today. You can almost feel the kiss of those Antarctic winds out there. I'm normally not much of a winter person but this year I'm determined to look for the good things about the colder months, to find the beauty in the season, the opportunities for enjoyment. And so, it's perfect weather really for rugging up and snuggling up and indulging in pudding or porridge - both are rather nice. Today, I hid in my jacket for much of the morning, drank several wonderfully warming coffees, kicked some Autumn leaves and then made snags and mash for dinner. I think the winter warmers have begun a week early.


Monday, May 23, 2011

up and down

Autumn is becoming one of my favourite times of the year. Much as I adore Summer, nothing quite compares to the glorious riot of colour that happens around here in April and May. The green and golds, the blazing reds - it's quite a tonic for the eyes. I don't think we celebrate the seasons in the same way that they do in Europe and Asia, but there are subtle changes happening every day.

Today I took a little stroll around our neighbourhood, coffee in hand, and marvelled at nature doing her thing. These are the best kind of walks, I think, the ones where you take the time to look both up and down. You see the most amazing things.


a vegetable conquered

I honestly never thought the day would come that would see me craving brussel sprouts, yes craving. Not thinking about in an it might be nice kind of way but positively enthusiastic in an eating straight from the oven kind of way. What brought about the change? Well, two things really - baking and balsamic. Ok, and well also possibly age.  I don't know that brussel sprouts have a natural affinity with the childhood palate but maybe it's not so much that, as the fact that it seems most of our collective memories of horrible, mushy, bitter brussel sprouts seem to stem from childhood experiences of having them boiled and served on their own.

Recently, out of the blue, perhaps brought on by the colder weather and a foolhardy sense of adventurousness, I decided to give them another crack with a few tweaks, and now at long last I'm a bit of a convert. My Dad, a brussel sprouts advocate for years, will be ever so pleased.

Balsamic Baked Brussel Sprouts

2- 3 cups brussels sprouts, sliced in half
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tspn honey
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Whisk together the vinegar, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Slowly incorporate the olive oil until a dressing is formed.

Place the brussels sprouts in a single layer on a greased baking tray with a small drizzle of oil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven, drizzle the oil and vinegar over the sprouts and gently toss to coat, then return to the oven for another 5 or so minutes, until the sprouts are brown and crispy.

The sweetness of the balsamic and honey cuts through the bitterness of the sprouts and goes amazingly well with the salt. They make a great accompaniment to home-made meat pie or are nice just on their own, with perhaps a nice glass of red and a few episodes of Fringe for accompaniment. Just a suggestion.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

river deep, mountain pie

A few photos from the past week and a few dinner experiments too.

We've discovered that unleavened mountain bread is a fantastic and healthier substitute for pie pastry, so there has been several pies to warm our cockles: salmon and vegetable quiche and then chicken, spinach and brown rice pie with cottage cheese. The mountain bread crisps up at the edge in a most satisfying way.

I think at this rate I'll be scone-ing and pie-ing and pickling and generally baking myself warm all the way through winter.

Carry on cold snap!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Sydney sure knows how to put on an autumnal show. It's been a bit of a sunshine party these last few days and we've been soaking up those warming rays and enjoying the amazing light at every opportunity. Yesterday I enjoyed a glass of wine in the sun with my friend Sarah at the Sydney Writers' Festival and this morning, breakfast at Clipper Cafe in Glebe, where we watched inquisitive dogs and enjoyed homemade baked beans and poached eggs. Delightful.

All this outdoorsyness has not kept me away from the kitchen though because the minute the sun goes down, the oven goes on. There have been more pies and a few more crumbles and some vegetables too, that I will share with you soon. Until then, grab some sunshine where you can and here's to a wonderful weekend!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

keeping warm

A few quiet moments from the weekend. 

We went north to Newcastle for a family lunch on Saturday and had our hair whipped into a lather by the onshore breeze but enjoyed delicious coffees from our favourite place, Scotties, to warm us up and then a pretty damn nice lunch at Jonahs. Our niece stole the show with her considerable excitement at being able to enjoy both fish and chips and her magnetic elmo book simultaneously. The tomato sauce was a considerable hit as well. A favourite with me too. 

When we returned to Sydney, it was cold and so we indulged in vast amounts of comfort food. Vegetables will definitely be making more of an appearance this week! But first, tonight, I think spaghetti and meatballs may be on the cards.

Hope you all had a good weekend and are keeping well rugged up! 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

in a pickle

I realised at the end of this weekend that I had entered something of a nanna state. Somewhere in amongst going out to see the excellent Smoke and Mirrors and preparing for a job interview, I managed to make pumpkin scones, a spinach and chicken pie and about 7 jars of pickles. I also somehow sprained my wrist whilst sitting on the couch. Achievements all round. But let's get on to the pickles because they were quite exciting, in a way that preserves tend to be.

My gran and I were both big supporters of pickles and cheese on toast, actually, make that most things and cheese on toast, but especially pickles. I am instantly transported back to her tiny kitchen whenever I dip into that lurid yellow preserve. There is something about pickles that is homely and nourishing and just plain good and so I thought it was about time that I made some from scratch.

This would be the point where I found Gran's handwritten long lost recipe but alas I couldn't find anything of the sort amongst all my cookbook paraphernalia and so I turned to the excellent and reliable Homecooked - favourite recipes from Australian kitchens (with recipes selected by Maggie Beer, Valli Little and Ian McNamara). It's a little hard to find but I heartily recommend owning a copy of this little gem. It has so often had a recipe for something obscure/ old fashioned that I've got it in my head that I want to make and haven't been able to find anywhere else, such as: savoury cheese puffs or passionfruit flummery or puftaloons or... you get the idea.

Anyway, there in the back was a recipe for green tomato and cucumber pickles that looked to be just the ticket. I didn't have any green tomatoes but I didn't let that put me off and instead substituted carrots and leek for the tomatoes. I also quartered the recipe because otherwise it produces 27 cups and whilst I like pickles, I probably couldn't put away that many of them.

Adapted from Homecooked, ABC Books
Makes approximately 7-9 cups

125g salt
4 cups water
500g onions, chopped roughly into chunks
500g cucumbers, unpeeled and chopped
250g of leeks, finely sliced
250g carrots, chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup plain flour
3/4 Tbs ground turmeric
1/2 tspn white pepper
3/4 Tbs curry powder
3/4 Tbs mustard powder
2 1/4 cups white vinegar
1/2 tspn ground allspice

Dissolve the salt in the water in a large (non-aluminium) saucepan on low heat. Put the vegetables into the saucepan and stand overnight. Next morning, place the pan on high heat, bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain and rinse the vegetables well.

In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, turmeric, pepper, curry powder and mustard powder and mix to form a paste with 1 cup of cold water.

Put the vinegar and allspice into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir in the paste mixture and return to the boil until it all thickens. Add in the vegetables and stir through to combine. Pour into clean jars and seal immediately. Keep in the fridge for afternoon snacks or for any time you feel like a slab of bread with pickles and cheese, or just pickles, or whatever your fancy.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

One of the signs that you're really living in the moment is when you don't think about saving stuff for later. When we visited the Bathurst Farmers' Markets, I was so enamoured by the sights, smells and tastes on offer that I completely forgot to buy any foodie souvenirs to take home.  I couldn't believe I'd missed out on all the good jams, pickles and oils, despite all the wonderful potatoes, tomatoes and bacon we did find.

But I was rewarded later. As we were just about to leave the farm, Sophie's mum Anne headed into her herb and vegie patch and enthusiastically pulled out great bundles of flat-leaf parsley, mint, rosemary and, most exciting of all, rhubarb. I was a very happy little vegemite on the way back to Sydney planning what I was going to make with it all.

The parsley was used much in the manner we had become accustomed to at the farm - as a garnish for just about everything - on eggs, in curries, atop salads.  The mint was made into a Pimms cup. The rosemary took a little longer to be incorporated but I have been enjoying just lifting the lid on its container and inhaling the amazing aroma.

But the rhubarb, oh the rhubarb, was destined for greatness.  The minute there was even the merest hint of chill in the air I was poised and ready to crumble.

Rhubarb and apple crumble
Adapted from this recipe

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup rolled oats
½ tsp ground cinnamon

100g butter, chopped
3 rhubarb stalks, cut into ¾-inch pieces
2 apples peeled and chopped into cubes

¾ cup granulated sugar
zest of one lime and a generous squeeze of the juice

a splash of Pimms

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and oats and then rub in the chopped butter until the mixture resembles clumpy breadcrumbs. Pop in the fridge for about half an hour. 

In another bowl, combine the rhubarb with the granulated sugar, the remaining ¼ cup flour, Pimms, lime zest and juice. Transfer the rhubarb mixture to an ovenproof baking dish, and distribute the crumble topping evenly over the rhubarb. Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Serve warm, with cream or yoghurt. 


Monday, May 2, 2011

to the country

It's hard to believe it's already been a week since we got back from our little escape to the country. I promised some details on our trip to a friend's farm in Bathurst and now, after baking up a royal storm last week and eating a ridiculous number of scones and cucumber sandwiches, I'm finally ready.

So, on Good Friday, not too long ago, we hit the open road, wound our way through the beautiful Blue Mountains, discovered a magnificent pie shop in Blackheath, and emerged into sun-drenched, eye-stretching vistas on the other side. After a five hour or so drive we finally rolled up the front drive and set eyes on the farm.

It was incredibly beautiful and I could barely contain my camera snapping enthusiasm for most of the weekend, mainly because the light was just spectacular, changing throughout the day from cool tones in the misty mornings to bright gold at lunch and then deepening through the sunsets. The weather was pretty amazing as well, crisp, clear and sunny - perfect for bushwalks and some river weeding, as well as dog chasing with Tuppence, Moey and Poppy (the most hilarious dogs ever), endless cups of tea, checkers playing, wine drinking, star and planet gazing and of course cooking and eating.

Over the weekend we cooked up some big, hearty meals with produce from the local farmers' markets - spaghetti bolognese, sausages with mashed potato and peas, scrambled eggs...but some of the most memorable food was also the simplest, requiring only a handful of ingredients. The curried parsnip soup that Soph's mum made for lunch, from parsnips grown at the farm, and the corn blinis and mashed potato cakes with smoked salmon and loads of fresh chopped parsley keep coming to mind. We even enjoyed custard made with saffron we plucked ourselves from the flowers in the front garden.

It was wonderful to have such a close connection to the food we ate and it has inspired me to try and grow more herbs and vegies in our little backyard. There's something about being able to pop out and snip off some fresh parsley that is quite magical.

Now that the weather is getting noticeably cooler, I think this soup may be making a few appearances on our Saturday lunch time menu.

Curried Parsnip Soup
Adapted from Soph's mother's instructions and this recipe

20g unsalted butter
1 tbs curry powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 leeks (white part only), sliced
4 parsnips, peeled, sliced
4 cups vegetable stock
dash of milk (or pure thin cream)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the curry powder and turmeric and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the leek and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, then add parsnip and toss well to coat. Add the vegetable stock, season, then simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes until parsnips are tender.

Cool for 5 minutes, then whiz in a blender, in batches, until smooth and creamy. Add a dash of milk or cream if you like. Return the soup to the pan to reheat through. Serve the soup with a sprinkle of parsley and some crusty bread. Now close your eyes and imagine you're in the country.