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My son is here for the weekend with some of his friends, so I get to do my favourite thing in the world and feed a mob of young urbanites.

But they sleep in!

So while I’m waiting, I thought I might give you a preview.

mandarins carambola grapefruit

First up, winter fruit – carambola, mandarins, grilled pink grapefruit, with yoghurt.

Then poached free range eggs on sourdough toast with lemony garlicy  mushrooms with goats’ cheese.  The mushrooms have been braised in garlic, butter and lemon juice, and I’ll pop these in the oven just as they come to wilt the spinach and melt in the cheese a little.

garlic mushrooms with spinach and goats cheese

With a side of haloumi and winter tomatoes (which I’m very proud of at this time of year) on a bed of rocket.  I’ll fry the haloumi in a little olive oil and dress with  balsamic at the last minute.

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With homegrown coffee and homemade sourdough with lime or kumquat marmalade.

lime marmalade

There was mention of lemon butter last night so I’m thinking pancakes with lemon curd for tomorrow’s breakfast.

The wood stove is lit, the sun is shining, music on the record player, guests for breakfast – life is good.

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Parmesan Crumbed Mushrooms

I made a mess of the bread this morning. I’ve been experimenting with baking my sourdough in an electric bread maker, so it is using our excess electricity rather than gas – I’m so cranky at the way gas companies are using Orwellian double-speak to try to sucker people into believing that coal seam gas is “natural” that I don’t want to give them any money at all.

But I haven’t quite got the quantities right. I made a loaf that grew and grew till it overflowed out the top of the bread maker, then, when I tried to rescue it in the oven the top fell off.

It tasted good – just looked like something from a science project.  So I made breadcrumbs out of it.  Which then inspired these parmesan crumbed mushrooms.

It’s too simple for a recipe.  Just good bread processed in a food processor to fine crumbs.  Mixed with finely grated parmesan cheese – I use about half as much parmesan as crumbs.  Beat an egg or two till frothy.  Dip the dry mushrooms in egg, then in the parmesan crumb mix to coat.  (Make sure the mushrooms are dry, or it won’t stick, and you can squeeze the crumbed mushrooms to make the coating stick even better if you need to.) Shallow fry in light olive oil, hot but not too hot, turning with tongs till they are crispy on the outside and the mushroom inside is soft.  Let them cool before eating or you burn your tongue! Serve just as they are as a snack or little meal, or with a tomato sauce and green salad for a main meal.

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I thought I might have left these a bit too long. I found them in a bed that the chooks are about to go into, lost and forgotten parsnips. They would be about nine months old, and in a few weeks they will want to go to seed.  But I harvested them in time and they were smooth and sweet and very delicious, Just the big one on its own was enough for a main meal for two of us that turned into one of the best Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes of the year.

Once they’re established, parsnips are amazingly hardy and productive.  The hard part is getting them going. I germinate them the same way I germinate carrots – in the shadehouse in little leaf pots.  You need fresh seed, and you need to keep them moist for quite a long time till they come up.  I love parsnips, and I can get them most of the year, but the best ones are the ones harvested in winter, which are the ones planted in late spring – the absolute hardest time to keep things moist for weeks while they decide to germinate.

Once they’re established though, they cope with even the hot dry of summer and the frosts of winter and yield a lot of food for the space they take.

Parsnips make the most amazing mash – very low GI, low calorie, but smooth and luscious and much sweeter than potato mash.  And full of soluble and insoluble fibre and lots of vitamins and minerals.

The Recipe:

Start with the mushroom and onion gravy.

You need a big, heavy bottomed fry pan, or if you are making this for more than a couple of people, a big wok.

Finely slice one onion per person and 150 grams of mushrooms per person.  It will look like a lot, but it reduces right down.

Melt a knob of butter and a swig of a sweet, mild flavoured oil.  I prefer macadamia or peanut oil for this – olive oil has its own flavour. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook on high, stirring, for a few minutes.  Add about half a teaspoon per person of finely chopped fresh thyme and a pinch of salt.  Then turn the heat right down and continue cooking for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Move on to the parsnip mash:

Peel one normal sized parsnip per person and chop into smallish pieces.

Pressure cook for 5 minutes or simmer for 15 till the parsnip is quite soft when poked with a fork.

Blend the parsnip in a food processor or with a stick blender, along with a little knob of butter, a pinch of salt, and, if needed, a little milk or a little of its own cooking water, till it is very smooth.

Assembling:

You want the parsnip mash to be served warm, so assemble everything else before you blend it.

I lightly steamed some peas and snow peas to have with it – a bit of crunch is good.

To the onions and mushrooms, add some plain wholemeal flour and stir it through to coat.  For two people, I used a tablespoon of flour. If you are making four serves, you will need more flour, but less than double – probably two scant tablespoons.

Add, for each serve, a dessertspoon of Worcestershire sauce, then add water.  You will need about half a cup per person, but add it bit by bit till you get the right consistency. It should thicken up almost immediately to a nice thick gravy consistency.

Make a ring of mash on each plate and fill the centre with onion and mushroom gravy.  Garnish with peas and snow peas and serve.

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I’m starting to pick the first of the season’s real spinach.  I have silver beet growing most of the year – there’s a couple of months in midsummer when it’s a bit too vulnerable to fungus diseases, grasshoppers and bolting – but with successive planting I can get it most months.  And it will substitute nicely for spinach in most recipes.  But there are some recipes where only real spinach will do. And real spinach is a delicacy this far north.  I can plant in Autumn with successive planting through to midwinter, and harvest from June through to September, but as soon as the days start to lengthen and the weather gets warmer it bolts.

Real English spinach is milder and more tender than silver beet. It takes less time to cook and works better in gnocchi. It is really rich in antioxidant beta carotene, iron and folic acid, and the bit of lemon juice in this helps make the iron available. Mushrooms are loaded with dietary fiber and a good source of potassium, copper, selenium, and B vitamins. With some eggs and feta for protein, this makes a very healthy  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge dinner.  And not much cheating either – this comes together really easily within the half hour of the rules of the  Challenge with just a little bit of multitasking.

The Recipe:

Makes 2 adult serves. Double the recipe for more.

Put a kettle on to boil. The gnocchi needs to cook in lots of boiling water.

Mushrooms:

Get a large, heavy fry pan with a little olive oil hot, then fry over a high heat:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 200 gm mushrooms, sliced

The idea is to caramelise, not stew, so you need the pan hot. Halfway through the cooking, add a little knob of butter.

Give it a stir every so often and cook until the onions are soft and the mushrooms brown. Tip out into a bowl.

The Spinach Gnocchi:

While the mushrooms are cooking, blanch a big handful of spinach – about a packed cupful – in boiling water for just a minute.  Drain well, pressing down to drain off all the water.  Then blend the drained spinach with:

  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup OO bakers flour (I use the bakers flour that I use for my sourdough)
  • 150 gm low fat feta cheese

I use my food processor, blending just for a minute or so, to make a stiff batter that still has flecks of green rather than an overall green-ness.

Flour your benchtop well and tip the mix out onto it.  Put an handful of flour on top and you should be able to knead. Knead in enough extra flour to make a smooth, non-sticky dough.

Divide the dough into two and roll out into two long snakes about 2 cm diameter. Cut the snakes into 2 cm slices and use a fork to squash each gnocchi slightly.

Boil the gnocchi in two batches in a big pot of boiling water for just a couple of minutes until they float to the top.  Remove them with a slotted spoon into a colander.

Finishing:

Get the pan you cooked the mushrooms in hot again.  You may need to add a little more olive oil.  Add the drained gnocchi and cook for a couple of minutes, turning gently, till the gnocchi get a little bit of colour. Add the mushrooms back in, along with:

  • a good handful of chopped parsley and chives or spring onion greens
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (adjust to taste)
  • a good grinding of black pepper
  • a little bit of salt – doesn’t need much – the feta is salty.

Toss to combine, top with a grating of parmesan, and serve.

Please feel free to join in the Vego Tuesday Challenge –  fast, easy, healthy, in season, real food –  and add your link or recipe in the Comments.

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garlic mushrooms

The year is rushing towards the end now. I just realised that there are only five more  Breakfast Cereal Challenges  in this series. Wow, that went fast. And, just as with the Muesli Bar Challenge, I don’t feel like I’m anywhere nearly finished.

I’ve been waiting (impatiently) for garlic season to make this recipe.  It’s my very favourite way to eat both garlic and mushrooms.  Garlic and mushrooms are both superfoods, with a wide range of vitamins and minerals including some that are not that common.  They are both among the highest sources for selenium, an essential mineral that is often low, and they both contain phytonutrients that are anti-carcinogens, anti -inflammatory, and generally good for you.  This recipe uses a lot of both.  I’m working at home today, luckily.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes based on in-season ingredients, that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal”. The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

The Recipe

The trick with this is that it is a slow braise, not a stir fry – not too slow for breakfast – but it does need a good ten minutes to cook, preferably fifteen for the garlic oils to penetrate right through the mushrooms.

You need a heavy pot or pan with a lid.

  • Put it on a medium heat with a good knob of butter and an equal amount of olive oil.
  • While the butter is melting, chop up lots of garlic (fine) and lots of mushrooms (into slices). I use four cloves per person – a whole corm between the two of us, and half a dozen large field mushrooms each.  The mushrooms will shrink,  so you need a lot more than you think. If you have fresh home-grown garlic, you can use all the tender part of the stem too.
  • As soon as the butter is melted and starting to froth, turn the heat down low. Put the whole lot of the mushrooms and the (raw) garlic in at once and put the lid on. Cook, checking and stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or more.
  • While the mushrooms are cooking, make toast, and chop up a spring onion or two.
  • Towards the end of the mushroom cooking time, take the lid off if necessary to evaporate the juices. Add the spring onion, a dash of soy sauce, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
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Some friends for dinner who had never eaten kangaroo before and were a bit dubious.  In this pie, you really can’t tell the meat is kangaroo – it could just as easily be chuck steak.  Not that I usually try to disguise it – kangaroo is our red meat of choice these days, for all sorts of reasons –  ethical, ecological, cost, health benefits – but taste is also up there.  Maybe I’m just used to it now, or maybe methods of harvesting and processing have changed, but I find the kangaroo meat I get in the supermarket these days isn’t gamey at all, and for most people it’s just the idea of eating kangaroo that gets in the way. For me, the idea works the other way.  I like the idea of organic, free range, non-greenhouse-gas-producing, adapted-to-the-environment meat. My problem is with the idea eating meat from factory farmed animals.

You could easily undo the health benefits of a very lean, low cholesterol meat, by putting it in a pie with a standard shortcrust though.  I’ve been playing and experimenting lately with making pastry without butter.  This pastry is a bit fragile and tricky to roll out, but it is lovely and short and no saturated fat.  Meaning the whole recipe is super heart friendly.

The Recipe:

The Pastry:

Mix 2½ cups of wholemeal plain flour and a teaspoon of salt in a bowl.

Fill a cup half full of low fat milk and top it up to full with olive oil – half a cup of each.  You don’t need to mix them.

Tip the cup all at once into the bowl.  Stir and then knead just enough to combine into a dough.  Don’t overwork the dough or it will get tough.

Cover the bowl and put the dough in the fridge to cool while you make the filling.

The Filling

Put a handful of plain wholemeal flour in a plastic bag.

Dice 400 grams of kangaroo steak and put in the bag.  Shake to coat the meat in flour.

Heat a good dash of olive oil in a heavy pan till the pan is very hot, then brown the floured meat.  You will probably need to do it in two batches so it sears rather than stews.

While the meat is browning, dice two onions and several cloves of garlic.  Take the meat out, add another dash of olive oil, and sauté the onions and garlic.

At this stage I like to add a little bit of something with some heat – either a diced chili, or a teaspoon of seeded mustard, or a couple of teaspoons of green peppercorns. They all create something different but they’re all good. But if you don’t like spicy food you can leave it out.

While the onions are cooking, slice 250 grams of mushrooms.  Add them to the onions.

Return the meat to the pan and add a jar of tomato passata and half a cup of water.

Simmer to reduce and thicken.

Filling and Baking

While the filling is simmering, roll out the pastry.

This pastry is quite fragile.  The easiest way to do this is to divide the dough into two balls, one slightly bigger than the other.  Put a sheet of greaseproof paper on your bench top, put the bigger ball on it, and cover with another sheet.  Roll the pastry out between the two sheets, turning once or twice to un-wrinkle the paper. You can then peel the top sheet of paper off, flip it into the pie dish, then peel the other sheet off.

Line a pie dish with pastry, fill, cover with the other sheet of pastry.  Pinch the edge decoratively and poke the top with a fork to allow steam to escape.

Bake in a medium hot oven for around 30 minutes till brown.

Really good served with potato or parsnip mash and steamed greens.

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There is a small miracle in the number of things that grow well together, taste good together, and are good for you together.  Corn and beans, tomatoes and basil,  broccoli and cheese, turmeric and pepper…

Spinach and lemon juice join the list.  I first had very lemony mushrooms and spinach at The Gun Shop Cafe in Brisbane many years ago, and it was one of those simple but sensational dishes that brilliant chefs make.  It’s not co-incidental that they are in season together – simple dishes depend on fresh, perfect, in season ingredients.  Neither is it co-incidental that they are so good for you in combination – our ancestors who liked the taste of things that kept them healthy got to live to be our ancestors! It all makes sense, but it still feels like such a nice little miracle .

The hollandaise sauce looks so decadent, but it truly takes just 2 minutes to make and has just a teaspoon of butter per serve.  It’s a very tasty way to add a bit of protein to the breakfast.  I’m harvesting the first of the season’s spinach now, rich in antioxidant beta carotene, iron and folic acid, and the lemon in the recipe makes the iron available. Mushrooms are loaded with dietary fiber and a good source of potassium, copper, selenium, and B vitamins. Put it on homemade sourdough and you’re set.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes based on in-season ingredients, that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” . The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

The Recipe:

This recipe makes two good serves.

Put some good wholegrain sourdough on to toast.

Then start with the hollandaise.

Melt a dessertspoon of butter in a small pot. Take care not to brown it.

Use a blender, stick blender or a whisk to blend together 1 egg, three dessertspoons of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

With the blender going, pour the hot butter very slowly into the egg and lemon mix.  It should go thick and creamy.  If it isn’t thick enough, pour back into the small pot and heat, stirring, for just a few seconds.  It will turn almost instantly.

Now on to the mushrooms and spinach.

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy pan till it is quite hot.  Then add 300 grams of sliced mushrooms (about 10 medium mushrooms).  You can add a clove of crushed garlic if you like.

Cook for a minute till the mushrooms start to brown then add two cups of baby spinach leaves, or larger spinach leaves roughly chopped, along with a little squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Cook for just a minute more until the spinach wilts.

Pile the mushrooms and spinach on the toast and top with a good dollop of hollandaise.

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I can’t say this is fast and easy.  It’s a long slow Sunday afternoon recipe, and it creates quite a bit of washing up!  But there’s a good return on investment – for an hour or so of Sunday afternoon baking, you can have several very healthy dinners and lunches made ready for the week.  And you won’t get sick of eating it.

There are three parts to this recipe:  the vegetables, the tomato sauce and the bechamel sauce.

The Vegetables:

Turn the oven on to warm up.

You can use a variety of vegetables in season. For this version I used an orange sweet potato,  half a pumpkin, two large eggplants, 400 grams of mushrooms, and a bunch of baby spinach, but feel free to substitute.

The eggplants are the slowest process, so start with them.  Slice into centimetre thick slices, sprinkle with salt, and put in a colander in the sink to drain.

Next the sweet potato.  It needs a bit of a head start cooking, so slice it into centimetre thick slices, massage with olive oil, spread out on a baking tray and bake to half cook, so the slices are just starting to get tender.

Slice the mushrooms and pumpkin into centimetre thick slices too.  Leave the spinach leaves whole.

By now the eggplants have drained enough.  Rinse and pat dry, massage in oil, and add to the sweet potato in the oven.

The Tomato Sauce

Saute a large onion, diced, in a little olive oil.  Add two or three cloves of garlic, chopped fine, and a diced capsicum, then half a dozen large tomatoes, diced (or a can of tomatoes) and a good handful of basil chopped.  Simmer gently to reduce to a fairly thick tomato sauce.

The Bechamel

In a saucepan, cook four good dessertspoons of plain wholemeal flour in 6 desertspoons of olive oil till it foams.  The idea is to explode the starch in the flour without browning it.  Add two cups of low fat milk and half a cup of low fat ricotta or cottage cheese and two bay leaves.  Cook, stirring, till it thickens. Fish out the bay leaves and add salt and pepper.

The Assembly

Oil a baking dish and place the partly-cooked sweet potato in a single layer in the bottom of it.  Cover with half the tomato sauce, then half the bechamel.  Spread a layer of pumpkin slices on top, then a layer of mushrooms and a layer of spinach leaves.  Cover with the other half of the tomato sauce, then the partly-cooked eggplant slices, then the other half of the bechamel sauce.  Sprinkle the top with grated parmesan.  Pop it back in the middle of a moderate oven and bake for about 25 minutes till the cheese is golden on top and the vegetables are tender.

It’s good hot or cold.

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