Tag Archives: home cooking

In my Spring kitchen, October 2018

How lovely that Spring is here, which means there is a lot more going on outside the kitchen.  The chooks are past their winter slow down, and laying up a storm, and lots of planting is going on.

Outside my kitchen is a collection of fruit trees.  A couple of months ago I pre-ordered some rootstock from Yalca Fruit Trees – a dwarf pear, dwarf apple, dwarf peach and dwarf plum, which we plan to put in the courtyard once the renovation is done, as well as a fig and two mulberry trees. Two months later and they are thriving! I can’t wait till we pick our first fruit.

I’ve also planted several tomatoes and zucchini which are coming along nicely.  Everything has to be carefully netted at our temporary home as it’s a possum festival at night.  The chooks also adore tomatoes.

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I still have to plant a few more things, having bought an interesting collection of seeds from The Seed Collection.

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Back inside, recently I took a look at Jamie’s new book, Jamie Cooks Italy.  I don’t buy too many cookbooks these days, partly because at the moment I have nowhere to store them, but also because our local library has a rather amazing cookbook section.  There are some nice recipes in this one.  I tried his vegetables al forno (before and after shot), which is really a cross between a zucchini parmigiana and an eggplant parmigiana.  It was very tasty. There are a few other recipes I have bookmarked.

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The (not so) Small People had a birthday and it was baking time for a family afternoon tea.  I made an apple cake, a blueberry crumb cake, some M&M cookies and a lemon ricotta cake.  It won’t be long till they are taller than me, but they will always be my Small People.

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Have a lovely Spring! Have a peek at other kitchens on Sherry’s Pickings, our lovely IMK link up host.

 

A Sunday Savoiardi extravaganza

My godmother (or comare in Italian), who I adore, is a fabulous cook.  Like Mamma Rosa and others who grew up in Italy in the decades following the second world war, they took simple ingredients, often home grown, and figured out firstly how to make them go as far as possible, and secondly how to make them as flavoursome as possible.  Once in Australia they adapted and learnt new things and new ingredients – comare’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni crepes are to die for –  but may of the traditions and recipes remain true.

Also like Mamma Rosa, comare is a damn good biscuit maker, both of them can whip up amaretti and crostoli like nobody’s business.

A while back my comare bought me a particular plate of biscuits that I loved and I wanted to learn how to make them.  She called them savoiardi but was quick to point out that they aren’t “savoiardi della nonna”, the traditional variety.  So this morning comare and I met half way in Mamma Rosa’s kitchen for a Sunday baking session. Laughs were had, stories were told, hugs were given.

In typical Italian handed down fashion, there isn’t a strict flour measure.  It’s the good old phrase you’ll find even now in many an Italian cookbook: the flour should be “quanto basta” or “quanto se ne prende” (literally “however much is enough” or “however much it takes”, both extremely useful measures). You need a piping bag for these, the mixture is sticky and difficult to handle – if it is easy to manage with your hands then you know you’ve gone too far on the flour.

My comare’s savoiardi

These use only yolks, so you’ll have a dozen whites to use – so often after making a batch of these she makes almond bread.

Ingredients
12 egg yolks from large eggs, at room temperature
1 slightly heaped cup of caster sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup Grand Marnier liquor
2 teaspoons baking powder
Approx. 450-500g self raising flour, sifted

Making them

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees fan forced and line a tray with baking paper
  2. Using an electric mixer, whisk the yolks, then add the caster sugar and whisk until thick.  Then add the canola oil and the liquor and continue to whisk until combined
  3. Finally add the sifted flour and the baking powder and combine.  The mixture should be reasonably thick but quite stickysavoiardi (2)
  4. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a large attachment for biscuits (ie not one for pastry decorating).  Comare had a bad ass version, have to get me one of these. You can go for either ridged or smooth, but the ridges largely disappear as they rise. savoiardi (1)
  5. Pipe the biscuits to the desired length and then put in the over for 10-15 minutes until golden.

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So so good.

After we whipped these ones up, comare says “let’s make the other ones too”.  Who am I to argue?

Savoiardi della Nonna

These follow largely the same method, just a slightly different mix of ingredients.

Ingredients
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 slightly heaped cup of caster sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons baking powder
Approx. 500g self raising flour, sifted

Making them

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees fan forced and line a tray with baking paper
  2. Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs, then add the caster sugar and whisk until thick.  Then add the canola oil, vanilla extract and lemon and  continue to whisk until combined
  3. Finally add the sifted flour and the baking powder and combine.  The mixture should be reasonably thick but quite sticky
  4. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a large attachment for biscuits and pipe the biscuits to the desired length and then put in the over for 10-15 minutes until golden.

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Thank you comare xxxx

Winter warmers

I know it isn’t officially Winter yet, but it has certainly felt like it with some of those cold, dark, stormy nights.  There’s nothing better than a warm and hearty – but still healthy – meal on nights like that.  Of late I’ve been preparing a lot of stuffed vegetable dishes that go into the oven, usually on a Saturday or Sunday as during the week I keep things pretty simple.  On the weekend I like dishes where I can do some or all of the ingredient prep in stages throughout the day, as I’m ducking in and out of the house constantly in between the boys sport and other myriad of activities.  Then when evening comes I can just put the dish into the oven, all the prep and cleaning up done.

One weekend I made stuffed cabbage rolls.  I used rice and mushrooms, with some toasted breadcrumbs for texture.  Mamma Rosa also likes to use noodles.  As I’d bought a whole cabbage and still had a good bit left, the next day I chopped it up and slow braised it with some leek and a little stock, its a nice little side dish.winterwarmers (2)

Stuffed artichokes.  Traditionally in Italy these are stuffed with a meat filling, but a simple breadcrumb, parsley and parmesan filling can also work very nicely.  You can cook them in a tomato sauce or mix some white wine, olive oil, stock and herbs.winterwarmers (5)

Another weekend I did some stuffed large mushrooms.  In these I put tuna, pinenuts, chopped boiled egg, parsley and breadcrumbs, drizzled with olive oil and into the oven they went.  You can be very versatile and imaginative in your fillings for all these vegetables, whatever takes your fancy.  Spinach and ricotta works nicely too on the mushrooms, and throw on some coarse breadcrumbs to add texture.winterwarmers (3)

In an effort to minimise waste, I used the large stalks from the mushrooms as part of a mushroom stock for a mushroom risotto the next day.winterwarmers (1)

During the week it is simple soup dishes like this that take about 15 minutes.  I sautéed some onion in some olive oil, added couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and sautéed some more, a litre or so of stock, a cup of risoni, some cannellini beans, and to finish throw in some baby spinach and grated parmesan.winterwarmers (6)

The other day I had a craving for a soup that Mamma Rosa used to make me when I was a little girl, so decided to make it – its a polenta soup, with tomato and broccoli.  This is “cucina povera” – peasant food – at its finest.  Delicious.winterwarmers (4)

Product review: My Food Bag

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Growing up I remember Mamma Rosa frequently saying “what should I make for dinner tonight?”. I took it for granted that there was quite a lot of effort involved in putting together a dinner for six people seven nights a week; it was never just one course, and invariably delicious. Fast forward and I often find myself asking my husband and boys “what would you like me to make tonight?” (and sometimes quietly crossing my fingers that they won’t suggest something that is hugely time intensive, because once I’ve offered them the choice, I can’t really say no to what they ask for).

So along came My Food Bag, which takes all the angst out of deciding what to cook, opens your eyes to possibilities, saves you a lot of time, and is fun to boot. Launching in New Zealand in March 2013, where it has been hugely successful, it launched in Sydney in July 2014, Melbourne this month, and is soon to launch in other Australian cities. My Food Bag delivers to your home a selection of recipes, AND everything you need to make them (minus a few pantry staples). There are three different Food Bags on offer, delivered on a Sunday so you’re all set for the week ahead:

The Family Bag, designed for a family with 2-3 young children ($169 for 5 people for 5 days)
The Classic Bag, designed for a family of 4 with two older children or 4 adults ($129 for 4 people for 5 days)
The Gourmet Bag, designed for two people ($149 for 2 people for 4 days)

They also have a great Christmas Bag available at the moment, which caters for a feast for 8-10 people, and have just launched some personalised cookbooks. Fruit bags are available too.

The website is full of information, telling you what kitchen equipment and pantry staples you’ll need – and the average home cook would pretty much have all they list. No sous-vide machines required here.

foodbag8I realise quickly that it’s a well run operation. On Friday I get an email telling me what recipes I’ll be cooking next week. They all look delicious and I can’t wait to get started. On Saturday they send me a text telling me the two hour window for my delivery. And on Sunday it arrives as promised. Its feels a bit like Christmas as my husband and I unpack all our beautiful goodies. My husband’s family owned a fruit and vegetable business for many years, so he is quite critical of quality, and declares everything to be “top notch”. The proteins look great – organic meat and free range chicken – and everything is meticulously labelled. The tinned tomatoes are Mutti which is a Mamma Rosa approved brand, and the cannelloni shells are Barilla which is approved by all 200 of my cousins in Italy.

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Your first delivery will also come with a little folder where you can store your recipe cards. It is all too easy. The seasonally based recipes are developed by their head Chef, Miguel Maestre (from Channel 10’s The Living Room), in consultation with the team in their test kitchen. You can give feedback on the recipes on the website or on their Facebook page; each week the team behind My Food Bag pour over the client comments to see what the response has been to that week’s dishes and putting them together.

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That week I cooked chorizo, kale and ricotta cannelloni, macadamia crusted snapper with asparagus, seared beef with pumpkin and beetroot salad, and prosciutto wrapped chicken with pistachio stuffing, corn salsa and watercress salad.  I can’t plate up like Miguel, but you get the drift!

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The recipes vary in time and complexity, some are all done in 25 minutes, but the cannelloni took closer to an hour. I would cast my eyes over the recipe for that night in the morning, and see if there was any prep that would be easy to do before work. So for the cannelloni I prepared my filling in the morning and put it in the fridge, ready to assemble that evening. But the fish dish was all done and on the table in 25 minutes, and with the potatoes, fish and asparagus being prepared in the oven, clean up was minimal which was an added bonus. They even tell you the calorie and fat count for dishes, as well as suggesting a wine paring.

Here are the things I really liked:

Little food waste. Food waste upsets me, and Australia, the Land of Plenty, is one of the world’s worst culprits. We throw away an estimated $8 billion of food each year (this is more that the entire GDP of several countries). Over the last few years I’ve made a very conscious effort to buy only what I’m fairly certain we will use or on an “as needed” basis (Mamma Rosa often looks very alarmed at the relatively bare state of my fridge and thinks I may be starving my children). My Food Bag, by giving you the exact ingredients that you need, really cuts down on waste.

It makes you more adventurous. There were some great salad combinations, and ingredients I don’t normally use like radish, or poppy seeds thrown in for texture. The team behind My Food Bag are committed to variety – in the first 15 months of operation, they never once repeated a recipe, and are only now doing the occasional recipe repeat based purely on customer demand

It teaches you that great food can be quick. Most meals probably take an average 35 minutes, and it’s really quite surprising what you can get on the table in that time when you don’t have to think about it, someone has thought of it for you.

The convenience factor. It really can’t get much easier than this.

Flexibility. You can have a standing “subscription” where it is delivered every week, suspend it during holidays, or just order it on an as desired basis

Quality – great stuff!

Good portion size. I found the portions to be generous, they were probably just right for my husband and a little too big for me.

My Food Bag
http://www.myfoodbag.com.au

Disclosure: Napoli Restaurant Alert was given a sample of My Food Bag’s Gourmet Bag. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.