Australian garlic vs imported garlic – what’s the difference?

When you toddle off to the shops to pick up your produce do you ever wonder where it comes from? If you are anything at all like me, then you are probably trying to make the shopping as fast and as painless as possible, as you slot it in between the other multitude of tasks on your agenda on any given day. It is generally easy – and necessary – to just whizz through the shop, grab what you need and get on to the next thing and grocery shopping really shouldn’t take up too much head space – or should it? If we are to have any control at all over what we are putting in our family’s mouths we need to be as informed as possible because even the simplest of purchases can become an ethical dilemma these days.

Continue reading

Love and cheesecake – Italian style

Besides chocolate, nothing makes me happier than a good read so I was tickled to bits when, recently, I was given a copy of a new book to review. Published by Adelaide’s own Wakefield Press, it is by an Australian writer called Victoria Cosford whom I coincidently met up with while in Canberra for the Slow Food weekend. This is her first book and was quite some time in the making but, I think, worth it – I enjoyed it immensely! It will be officially released at the Byron Bay Writers festival in August, but is available in the shops now and if you like food, men or Italy you won’t be disappointed. I particularly loved the gorgeously seductive cover photo, which Victoria told me was a photo she took herself while wandering through the Boboli Gardens in Florence. If it is as cold and windy wherever you are, as it is on our hill today, then you could do far worse that to curl up with a copy of this book!


Continue reading

Slow food

If you follow me on Twitter (although I seem to have lost the little birdy thingy off my blog page!?) then you will know that I have just returned home from the Slow Food national congress and annual general meeting in Canberra. The Slow Food movement was formed in Italy by Carlo Petrini in 1986 in response to plans to open a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Since it’s beginnings, Slow Food has expanded and now boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries, organized in groups called “convivia”. These groups are not just a bunch of people getting together for a nice long lunch, as some seem to think, but are people whose aim is to advocate for “good, clean and fair” food. In promoting this the movement cooperates with the development of seed banks, preserving local culinary traditions, preserving and promoting local food products, educating the public about the risks of monoculture, fast food, industrialized food production and agriculture and lobbies for and supports organic food production.

There were various speakers gathered for the congress, including Stephanie Alexander who spoke about her wonderful Kitchen Garden project, but the one I found to be most inspiring was the Slow Food International Secretary General, Paolo Di Croce, who had come to Australia specifically for the meeting.

Continue reading

Beer and skittles

“And the bar tender says to Renee Descartes, “Another beer?” And Descartes says, “I think not” and disappears.”
Alfred Bester

Winter bared it’s teeth just a little up here on the weekend and on a chilly, grey Sunday afternoon the idea of a hearty lunch in front of a roaring fire held significant appeal – especially if I didn’t have to provide the hearty lunch. There is a very popular boutique brewhouse just up the valley from our town, which serves good hearty fare and, with the two older teenagers refusing to be seen in public with their parents, that left only the youngest to be lured out with promises of dessert.

Sitting in front of the requisite roaring fire, awaiting our meals and admiring the big, shiny beer vats gave me time to think about the role of ales – because beer is, in fact, one of the oldest known beverages with a documented history that can be traced back to 6000 BC. It became popular in the areas of Europe where it was not really possible to grow wine, but was considered barbaric by the Byzantines. Beer was consumed on a daily basis from ancient times in many cultures and often made up a substantial amount of the daily calorific intake of the poorer proportion of the population. While starting the day with a cleansing ale is somewhat frowned upon these days, in Medieval Europe, breakfast for the upper classes was often a long affair of several courses with ale and wine as the beverage, while the first meal of the day for labourers and peasants often consisted of simply bread and ale. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, beer was more readily able to be mass produced, signaling the move away from artisanal manufacture and the beginnings of the giant multinational brewers common now. However, artisanal brewing is not quite dead, as the popularity of our local brewery can attest – there is obviously an interest in tasting and drinking beers of more complex flavours, especially on a lazy Sunday afternoon!.

From what I have heard about his mis-spent youth, The Husband was fairly preoccupied with beer – particularly in his football playing days, but time moves on, waistlines move out and hair vanishes. These days Himself is a pillar of virtue whose occasional tipple is more likely to be a sophisticated red wine and beer is seen mostly in food dishes around here. Beer, ales and stout give a wonderful richness of flavour to many casseroles and stews and can also be used to make fantastic quick breads. These quick breads don’t use yeast as a raising agent and so are great for a quick loaf. They tend to have a consistency more similar to scones and go brilliantly with any warming winter soup. I used dried tomatoes and cheese in this one, but next time I might try finely chopped rosemary and some pine nuts. You can use cheddar or substitute some parmesan to get the cheesy flavour with less fat. It is important to remove the bread from the pan as soon as you take it out of the oven – otherwise it will get soggy as it cools.

TOMATO AND CHEESE BEER BREAD

500 gms SR flour
pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
1 can of beer
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
1 cup grated tasty cheddar (I used about 2/3 cup cheddar and 1/3 grated parmesan)

Preheat oven to 180C and grease a loaf pan.
Sift dry ingredients together, add chopped tomatoes and cheese, then stir in liquid ingredients and mix.
The dough will be sticky, but that’s ok as you don’t have to knead it.
Tip into pan and bake for approx. 40 minutes.
Remove from pan immediately and cool on a rack.

Printable recipe TOMATO AND CHEESE BEER BREAD.

Oh – and I lied about the skittles!

“Fresh” food and tragic teens!

The Husband and I had a sudden and unplanned evening out at the movies last weekend, after a phone call from a friend during the day. Not at the glitzy, overpriced chain cinemas with the comfy chairs, but at a small, slightly draughty community hall in the hills. While the seating didn’t quite compare to the big chains, the $5 entrance fee for two movies, a cup of soup with bread and a cup of tea with cake at intermission more than made up for it! Presented by Adelaide Hills Sustainable Communities and the Adelaide Hills Climate Action Group, the two movies were “In Transition” and “Fresh”. The former is a film about what is known as the Transition movement, where a growing number of communities around the world are responding to the issues of peak oil and climate change on a local level and in an enormously positive fashion. Rather than feeling powerless and beaten by the inability/unwillingness of world governments to address these problems, this movement shows that it is truly possible for small groups of people to achieve change and positive outcomes. The second film gives us a glimpse of what the cost of the industrialization of agriculture really is, but focuses largely on some remarkable men and their responses to this. This, too, was a very positive movie which shows that there are real, workable, practical options available to those of us who would like to work towards more sustainable food production. Food Connect will be screening “Fresh” at the Mercury Cinema, 13 Morphett St., Adelaide at 7.30pm on July 7th – a great opportunity to see the film and listen to a couple of local speakers share their ideas on the same subject!

While Himself and I were out sipping herbal teas and kicking up our heels we left the teenagers palely loitering around the house for the evening. Contrary to my conviction that they were just trying to appear interesting, it has since become evident that they were actually sickening for whatever the latest viral lurgy is that is going around and have subsequently spent most of this week home from school. I have been stepping over their prone bodies as they clutter up not only the house, but my headspace too, reminding me of the days when I had very little time to myself! In an effort to get them well and out of my hair back to school I have been trying to feed them up with maximum nutrition coupled with – as ever – minimal effort. Our lovely hens are still laying very well, despite the shortening days, so eggs are still a popular standby for me. Looking for a way to use up some leeks and half a pumpkin, I came up with this easy, but very tasty little number – a frittata. These are so very simple that one barely needs a recipe, just some ideas and whatever is lurking in the bottom of the fridge and this recipe would just as easily make a very nice quiche instead. This recipe makes up a big pan of frittata and would happily serve 6 adults, but could be halved if desired. Served with a fresh green salad, this is just as nice cold or hot.

CARAMELIZED LEEK, PUMPKIN AND THYME FRITTATA

4 leeks, rinsed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
750 gms pumpkin, peeled and diced approx 2cm square
60 mls olive oil
8 eggs
200 mls light cream
bunch of fresh thyme, chopped
salt
black pepper
100 gms grated parmesan

Steam pumpkin until almost cooked through, drain, set aside.
In a large pan, saute leeks in olive oil, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes until golden and caramelized, adding the garlic for the last 2-4 minutes of cooking. Add cooked pumpkin and mix together gently.
Beat eggs together, add cream and season with salt and pepper, add chopped thyme and whisk through.
Pour eggs over vegetables, then cook over a gentle to moderate heat until the egg is set around the edges, but still quite moist towards the centre.
Preheat grill, sprinkle the top of the frittata with the grated parmesan and place pan under the grill. Cook until the top is set and starting to turn golden brown.
Let stand for 15-20 minutes before carefully slicing and removing from pan.

Printable recipe CARAMELIZED LEEK.

Treasured plants – and people!

The foodie binge that is “Tasting Australia” is finished here in Adelaide for another two years. It is an eight day long celebration of all things food-related and anyone who is anyone on the national and international food scene can be seen prowling around our acclaimed Central Market at some time or another throughout the course of the week. During the festival I was very fortunate to be able to meet and spend some time with a much-loved Australian institution – Peter Cundall and his considerably more restrained, but no less committed wife, Tina. Peter is nationally respected for his enthusiasm and passion for gardening, with a particular focus on teaching others how to build and maintain their own vegetable gardens. He has also come to public attention in recent months for his very vocal opposition to the controversial Gunn’s pulp mill, planned for the beautiful Tamar Valley of Tasmania, but is no stranger to political activism having been a past Senate candidate for the Communist Party (1961) and Chairman of the Wilderness Society during the successful battle to prevent the building of the Franklin River Dam. During our conversation he spoke enthusiastically about “The Lost Seed“, a Tasmanian company dedicated to the protection and cultivation of heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables which, in turn, reminded me of seed banks and a remarkable story.

Seed banks are institutions set up to collect and store seeds with the aim of preserving, as much as possible, food crop security and plant biodiversity for future generations. Many plants that were cultivated for generations are no longer considered useful for commercial agriculture and are becoming rare – if not conserved they will be lost forever. Further, a great deal of food crops are now genetically modified and frequently genetically homogenous which could conceivably leave them vulnerable to disease or pest attack. There are many hundreds of seed banks throughout the world, storing countless gene types, but still only representing a fraction of the world’s biodiversity. Of the more notable facilities there is the Svalbard International Seed Vault built into a tunnel in the side of a mountain in Norway and designed to withstand nuclear war and the Millenium Seed Bank Project, co-ordinated by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, whose purpose is to insure against the extinction of plants in the wild and who aim to collect and store seeds 10% of the world’s dryland flora.

In St.Petersburg, Russia, is the Valivov Institute of Plant Industry, one of the earliest seed banks in the world, set up by Nikolai Valivov. During World War II St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) was subjected to a blockage by the German army, which lasted for 872 days. The city was isolated, with disruption to the supplies of food and water causing the deaths of thousands from starvation. The botanists who worked in the facility guarded the seeds – many of them edible – during the siege, with unbelievable diligence. When the blockage was lifted and troops and supplies were able to get into the city several of these men were found, starved to death guarding their charges!

One heirloom plant which is in no way endangered and is currently very much in season is rhubarb. Rhubarb is an ancient plant, having been used medicinally for centuries and mentioned in a Chinese herbal reference believed to have been compiled in 2700 BC. It was not used as food until some time in the 17th century, when sugar became more affordably available to the general populace. While we are all familiar with it’s use in pies and crumbles – often with apples – I was interested in finding other uses for it and turned my thoughts to the humble muffin. I was very pleased with these muffins – they have little fat, the flavours go well together and the odd burst of tartness from the rhubarb is an excellent counterpoint for the sweetness of the sugar. I used white flour, but there is no reason that wholemeal couldn’t be used, just add a little more liquid if the mixture is too stiff and remember – never over mix muffins or they will be tough!

RHUBARB MUFFINS

1 1/4 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cup rhubarb, finely diced
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups SR flour
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 cup buttermilk
zest and juice of 1 orange

1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180C.
Combine diced rhubarb with dry ingredients.
In separate bowl, whisk oil, egg, vanilla, buttermilk, orange rind and juice.
Add dry ingredients to liquid and mix with a wooden spoon until JUST combined – about 20 strokes of the spoon.
Spoon into muffin pan.
Sprinkle with sugar/cinnamon mix and bake 15-20 minutes.

Printable recipe RHUBARB MUFFINS.

Chocolate 101!

Looking back over my previous posts, since the very beginning of this blog, I feel I have been admirably restrained. While alluding to my fondness – ahem, passion – for chocolate I have resisted the urge to include a mention of this fine foodstuff in every post. There are no rambling paragraphs about the sensual texture and seductive mouth-feel of great chocolate, the soothing psychological effects it has, the medical benefits of the anti-oxidants in good dark chocolate or the many and varied ways in which chocolate can be prepared and presented.

As I said – admirably restrained!

Chocolate is a product of the cacao bean, which originated in South America. The earliest indications of it being included in human diets go back as far as 1100 B.C. Cacao beans were used as currency throughout Meso-america and the consumption of chocolate was limited to the elite in Mayan and then Aztec culture. The Spanish discovered it during their aggressive romp through South America and took it home to Europe in the 16th century, where it became the fashionable drink of those upper classes. Cacao was laborious and time consuming to process into chocolate, thus it remained the almost exclusive pleasure of the wealthy until the industrial revolution brought about the development of mechanical grinders and processors. As a consequence of this, chocolate production became economically viable and soon it was available to just about anyone who wanted it!

Cacao production is now one of the world’s most important cash crops, with beans currently selling for well over $3,000 (USD) per tonne. Of course, cacao beans vary in quality and the exclusive chocolatiers of Europe and America guard their sources of prime beans jealously, using only the very best to produce chocolate of complex flavour and exquisite texture. Makers of mass-produced chocolate merchandise source cheaper beans grown largely on the Ivory Coast of Africa, but these beans come with a hidden cost. In order to keep their production costs down and maintain their position in a very competitive market, these growers will frequently use child labour on their farms. These, sometimes very young, children are often stolen from their families or sold into what is basically a form of slavery by extended family members. They are expected to work for long hours performing dangerous tasks and are given no access to education. Organisations have been set up to try to prevent the use of children in this way, but unscrupulous growers and buyers frequently find ways to circumvent the rules set in place.

So, the next time you are out shopping and decide to buy chocolate, I would suggest that you think about these hidden costs before you make a purchase based solely on the cost of the item. Higher quality chocolate has virtually no additives to make it more “chocolatey”, contains more anti-oxidants so is better for you, is more satisfying meaning that you are likely to eat less of it and tastes infinitely better. Worth paying a little more for, surely!!

The following recipe is one that has become a great favourite in our house. Watching the television one evening, I saw Nigella make these. They were so seductively lovely and easy to make that I scribbled down the recipe and raced into the kitchen. Brilliant for a dinner party, they can be prepared in five minutes and put aside until you are ready to pop them into the oven – equally, the kids can knock them up for a quick, indulgent dessert. The original recipe made four puddings, but I often eke it out to make five with no-one feeling short changed. I use Lindt 70% chocolate to make these and serve with a dollop of very thick cream.

MOLTEN CHOCOLATE PUDDINGS
125 gm butter
125 gm dark chocolate
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
3 tbsp plain flour

Grease 4 or 5 ramekins. Preheat oven to 210C.

Melt chocolate and butter carefully together in microwave. I usually put it in at about 80% for 1 minute which melts the butter, then stir until all the chocolate is melted.
Beat eggs and sugar together well, add the flour and whisk it in.
Add chocolate and butter and stir to blend well.
Pour into prepared ramekins, put in oven and cook for 10-11 minutes.