Use it or lose it

Well our freezer literally went into meltdown yesterday. Unfortunately we didn’t notice until late in the day by which time all that remained of our once lovely fruit leather was a rather unpleasant sticky mess. It did at least prompt us to have a good clean out of the whole fridge so at least I’ve now found my two remaining jars of blackberry curd which I will attempt to eat in fairly short order.

Our breadmaker, which has had a good workout in recent years also passed into mechanical heaven a few weeks ago. I was rather shocked and it took me a while to remember that I would actually need to go and buy some bread at the shops. Yes I hear you say why didn’t we hand make a loaf? Well sometimes even in the suburban idyll that is Chez Fork we are just plain disorganised. Anyway a replacement has been purchased and we are making our way with learning how the new beast works. TB has cooked a sourdough loaf and my first offering is a fruit loaf made with some of our dried persimmons, some home-candied citrus peel and a good slug of mixed spice. The only problem was that as I didn’t quite follow the recipe it didn’t quite cook completely. Anyway I ended up flinging it into the oven for an extra 30 minutes and it worked out just fine.

Persimmon_bread

On another topic I see that ABC1 will be screening a documentary based on Micael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire this coming Thursday at 9.30 pm. Pollan’s premise it that plants have actually used humans to help them spread around the world and not vice versa. The focus is four familiar plants, apples, potatoes marijuana and the tulip. The book was really interesting so I’m looking forward to seeing it on the small screen.

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Frozen Assets

With temperatures consistently falling to below zero since the beginning of the month, there is not much incentive to go outside to harvest from the garden. Instead we’ve found that our frozen bounty from summer is keeping us in good stead, not to mention good cheer.

Last weekend TB had some ‘left over’ cheesecake mix after making a cheesecake for a work BBQ. He decided that what was left, enough for us and our friends to enjoy, would be decorated with some of those raspberries that I had stored in the freezer. At the time the raspberries were ripening our few small plants were not producing sufficient berries to allow you to do anything fresh with them. Likewise the strawberries. Now we have enough to make some memorable dishes.

Raspcheesecake

The other late summer bounty of tomatoes was also frozen and these have featured heavily in recent stews, incluing the Osso Bucco I’m preparing for tonight. It was so simple to just cut the tomatoes into chunks and throw them into the freezer without any further preparation. Of course you can only the use them in stews or dishes where you don’t need whole tomatoes, but I haven’t really found that to be a limitation. Just throw them in in their frozen state and let the slow cooking do the rest.

Ossobucco

Weeding – getting down and dirty

It’s been fairly quiet on the garden front in recent weeks, partly due to having distractions such as visitors and mostly because the cold temps and the reasonably frequent rain lately has made gardening a less than pleasant prospect. Anyhow the day has been sunny and weeding the onion bed beckoned.

This was a task that needed to be done. While it was hard to sometimes distinguish between the onions and the winter grass sprouting through them at least it was easy enough to replant the onions when I dug one up by mistake! Checking back on my notes I see that the onions were planted almost exactly two months ago. The Cream Golds currently have the sturdiest stems while the Rosa Longi di Firenze are still having a bit of a grow slow. If not much is happening above ground then at least down below there is some action. While digging out the grass, which invariably is growing right next to your onion plant, I discovered that the root systems did seen to be growing quite actively and spreading out quite a way from the slender stems. I hope this is a sign of good things to come.

As you can see from the photo there isn’t much to see after all my hard work.

Onion_bed

On the Table

Just in case you are labouring under the misapprehension that we are living a life of hedonistic indulgence at Chez Fork I offer you last nights’ meal of hearty peasant origin – Lamb neck with lemon and barley.

The recipe is included in Hugh Fearnley-Whitiingstall’s book Rver Cottage Everyday and can also be found here. This is a really flavoursome hearty meal. What I like about it is the great combination of lemon and thyme which can really stand up to the rich lamb. The pearl barley bulks things out and the kale or other greens, in our case we used our cavalo nero and collard greens, extend the meal. Both of these greens are robust enough to take the cooking and still retain their flavour. The preparation and cooking is dead simple. If you have the time the lamb neck could benefit from a longer, slower cook, before adding your pearl barley and completing the recipe as described.

As lamb neck is one of the cheapest cuts of lamb around you should try getting a decent neck from either the farmer’s market (I paid just under $5 for 600 gms of neck from Ingelbrae Meat, Northside Farmers Market) or from a good butcher.

Lambneck

A Good Red Wine Inside Gumboots

It can be hard to describe the aroma of a truffle. The title of this post was courtesy of someone trying to come to term with truffles at last weekend’s truffle talk and lunch at the Kitchen Cabinet (Old Parliament House). Once again we had gathered to hear from a local producer, Sherry MacArdle-English who grows of one of the world’s gourmet delicacies, that most exclusive of mushrooms, the European Black Truffle (Tuber melanosporum). It turns out there are also Australian native truffles that grow on the root systems of gum trees. However it is suggested that unless you are a bandicoot you should probably not try to eat them.

Sherry and her husband farm truffles on the slopes of Mt Majura. The truffles, a type of fungus, grow on the roots of oak trees. The trees are inoculated with the spores of the truffle when they are still tube stock. The property currently has some two and a half thousand oak trees growing and an additional 80 hazelnut trees as a trial plot. Don’t get too excited because it turns out that not every tree produces every year and truffles are very fussy about their growing conditions. I think we were all pretty bowled over by Sherry’s description of the amount of preparation, not to mention the expense that has to be committed to develop a project like theirs. Thankfully their preparation has stood them in good stead as their trees started producing truffles in year three of their operation. This is much earlier than other growers have been able to achieve.

Back to the aroma. Truffles are all about aroma and should be thought of as a food enhancer – like garlic – rather than a meal in themselves. As a teaser for the lunch to come a container of truffles was taken around the dining room to allow everyone to smell this most amazing fungi.

Truffle

Even if you could afford them, you couldn’t actually eat a meal solely of truffles, unless you want to be very sick.

Sherry suggested that if you haven’t met a truffle before that you take a sniff of one, them a short time later you have another smell before making your mind up. Apparently as adults we are somewhat inclined to reject unfamiliar smells such as that of the truffle so giving yourself a second smell allows your brain a better chance of assimilating and categorising the product. Of course you may just think that they smell really bad and you won’t go near them again.

Chef Janet Jeffs also sent out a small cup of truffle infused chicken stock to help ‘warm-up’ peoples palates for the lunch to come.

Truffletea

The truffles are located in the ground with the aid of sniffer dogs, in Sherry’s case her American Cocker Spaniel, Snuffles. Sherry rejected using pigs, having seen in France the hand of one too many growers missing part of their fingers, a result of having lost the fight to get the truffle away from their pigs. Dogs, unlike pigs, do not consider truffles to be edible.

Lunch consisted of a Truffle boudin blanc (chicken sausage) with truffled mash potatoes and steamed greens. If the boudin blanc tasted deliciously familiar it was. The sausages were made by Robert Campbell of Ted’s Butchery in Milton. Robert used to make sausages for Select Meats when that shop was in the City Markets. Looks like we now have another detour on the way back from Sydney!

Truffleboudin

The main was followed by Truffled Petite Vache brie with crackers and fruit.The brie was sliced in half then slivers of truffle were placed in the middle of the cheese. The cheese was then left to absorb the flavours of the truffle. The crackers were really good, but for me the pear poached in vanilla which accompanied the brie was really superb.

Trufflebrie

While this is all very nice for restaurant food, if you want to try truffles at home I think the best and about the easiest thing to do is make scrambled eggs with them. This is a classic way to serve truffles and with good reason. Firstly place your eggs in a sealed glass jar along with your truffle and leave them closed up for a minimum of 24 hours. Sherry says they are much better if you can hold out for 48 hours. Take your eggs out of the jar. The aroma of the truffle will have completely spread through the eggs’ permeable shells. Cook your eggs as you prefer them and then shave very fine slices of truffle on the top of the eggs when you serve them.

Sherry also suggested that you try storing rice with your truffle and then use the rice make a risotto. There are also some very simple but tasty Italian pasta dishes that use truffle, although they would traditionally be using the Italian White truffle rather than the French Black truffle.

To keep truffles at home they need to be stored in a sealed glass jar on a piece of paper towel as the truffles will ‘sweat’. The paper towel should be changed every day. The truffles will only last a maximum of 12 days, similar to your everyday mushie. The good news, you can add sliced truffles to infuse some olive oil, but again this will only keep for up to 3 weeks in the fridge. The bad news – your expensive truffle oil you bought in the shops isn’t. It’s just oil with a bit of rejected undersized poor quality truffle shoved in the bottom for effect, with artificial truffle flavour added to the oil.

Alright the elephant in this truffle-infused room is the price. Currently in Canberra you can buy this seasons truffles for about $3 per gram. Yes. A minimum of 5gms or up to 10gms of truffle, if you are feeling generous or wealthy or both, is the suggested amount to allow per person for cooking. Be aware that truffles are also graded A, B, C based on density, colour and aroma so you should expect to pay more for the higher grade product. Truffles can be bought at the Northside Farmer’s Market and also at the Kitchen Cabinet at Old Parliament House (probably also at other places that I haven’t come across as yet).

I’d honestly encourage you to try truffles – they are a seasonal delicacy – so at least you are not going to be eating them year round. They do grow locally (in Canberra that is). They are a truly wonderful indulgence and worth trying, hopefully more than once in this life!

The Pleasure of Persimmons

Way back in April we started drying persimmons to produce what we hoped would be the winter delicacy that is enjoyed in Japan.This week we have been eating the resulting produce and I’m happy to report that not only has the drying been successful, but the result is definitely worth it.

I started out with some 70 persimmons. We lost some at the beginning to mould because the weather, at the time, was a lot warmer than expected. In the end TB suggested running the fan on low to help dry the fruit out. This worked very well. We more or less forgot them for a while, until it was time about a month and a half later when I started to massage the fruit. The idea is to redistribute the moist juices in the interior to encourage further drying.

We ended up with a full bowl of the dried fruit. Definitely a bowl of small treasures to be savoured.

Dried_persimmons

It was a bit difficult to decide when to start eating them as it wasn’t clear whether they should be fully dried or still somewhat soft. We’ve now tried the fully dried as well as some that are still soft and we definitely prefer the latter. The resulting persimmon is very much like a high quality date – both in texture and flavour. Our friends, neither or whom like the ‘fresh’ persimmon, found the dried version incredibly tasty. This could backfire on us as our persimmon supply comes from R’s mum’s tree. Next year we’ll probably have some competition for the fruit!

As we tasted the fruit we discussed whether using a dehydrator would yield the same results. We concluded that there might be some difficulty in fitting the full-sized fruit onto the trays, but cutting up the fruit would not give the same result. Given you need to peel the fruit before you start to dry them they would also need to be started off at least on baking paper to avoid them sticking to the trays. Ah well an experiment for next year.

So here are the before and after photos. Don’t worry the bloom on the dried fruit is the natural sugars that have come to the surface of the fruit not mould.

Kakicompare

Pigs in Winter

There is, apparently, a Portuguese saying that the happiest times in life are the first year of marriage and the week after you slaughter a pig. While we do not grow pigs ourselves I know that TB would love to be able to do so, if only for all the wonderful products that can be made from this animal.

As we are now in the depths of one of our coldest Canberra winters in some years (we had a minus 5.8??C during last week and we are regularly going down to minus 3??C) this is the perfect time to be making pig products. You need the cold weather to be able to hang your products for air drying without them going off. Last year TB bought a pork leg and made his first prosciutto, he???s also tried his hand at various salamis.

Pork_shoulder

Take one shoulder of pork ….

Sausage_machine

Use one big boy’s toy …

Salami2Salami1

Produce salamis and hang to dry.

This year, encouraged by a range of authors, (see the list at the end) he has stepped up a notch and has purchased two shoulders of pork from Inglebrae Meat at the Northside Farmers Market. These come from Black Pigs which were grown free range. The aim is to make a number of salamis, a picnic ham and sausages. There will be other treats along the way, including Chinese Pork Bones for tonight???s dinner!

Pork_bobes

Pork Bones on rice

Meanwhile in the garden the Broad-beans continue to grow and it is definitely time for tying them up. I???ve noticed with the hard frosts that several of the taller plants have fallen over so this is a job that needs doing now. The Snow Peas, in the Red Poles bed, are growing so vigorously up their support that I will need to put another row of twine even higher up the poles to help them. Clearly no one has told the Warrigal Greens that they are not supposed to be frost hardy as the plant continues to grow outside with no protection.

Alas all is not so well in the polyhouse. Our transplanted capsicum has definitely keeled over after the hard frosts of this past week. However the Vietnamese Mint which we are also trialling by over-wintering in a pot is looking quite chipper. It never ceases to amaze me how hardy some of the Asian vegetables are.

Our broccoli is still growing but so far not producing any heads. By comparison friend M???s broccoli is producing regularly ??? a sign of the much more favourable microclimate in her garden which, while it is only a few suburbs away from us, is much more protected than Chez Fork.

For those of you looking to go down the pig product route TB recommends the following books: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Poleyn, Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli, Meat by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Preserving The Italian Way by Pietro Demaio.