Food Friday: Rosemary Farro with Roast Carrot & Creminis


Every now and then, I make a meal which is exactly right for that particular moment. Then I eat far too much of it and spend the rest of the evening watching television and groaning, incapable of moving at all.

I made one of those meals last night. It was good the first time a few months ago, and even better last night. I’d been aiming for an earthy flavour and a meal that wasn’t too heavy and this delivered perfectly – until I ate two full portions of it. Oops.

Anyway, if you haven’t tried farro before, you really should. David’s not usually a huge fan of my experimentations with various grains and seeds (he tends to turn up his nose at quinoa and just doesn’t see the point in chia seeds) but we both love the nutty flavour and slightly chewy texture of farro. It’s really quite a lot like barley, but sort of like a brown arborio rice, but not…just try it. Trust me.

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{Ingredients}

3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into large chunks

10 medium cremini mushrooms, rinsed and chopped into chunks

2 large leaves dinosaur kale, roughly chopped with stems removed (or equivalent of any other leafy green like baby spinach, chard, curly leafed kale)

3 small cloves garlic, crushed

1 large sprig rosemary

1 1/2 cups farro, cooked according to the packet

2 tbsp olive oil

crumbled feta to serve

{Preparation}

Lightly oil a baking pan with 1 tbsp of the olive oil and roast carrots at 450F until they are lightly browned around the edges and softened. Set aside.

In the meantime, cook farro to the directions on the packet. I recommend using a mix of vegetable stock and water – you want the extra flavour of the stock, but you don’t want the stock to overpower everything else.

While the farro cooks, add the other tbsp of olive oil to a fry pan. Heat the oil, then add the garlic and mushrooms, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Once the mushrooms start to soften, add the rosemary and the kale and saute until the kale is thoroughly wilted. Add the roast carrots to the fry pan and stir through. Once the farro is cooked, add to the pan as well. Stir thoroughly, making sure that the farro is evenly distributed through the vegetables.

Serve with a liberal sprinkling of crumbled feta.

{Serves 4 (or 2 ridiculously hungry folk)}

 

Food Friday: Grow your own


It’s the most glorious day here in Austin. Our garden has been gradually progressing over the last of winter as I’ve hauled out acres of weeds and started mulching with grass clippings, but I feel confident that it’s now warm enough to start actually planting and I’m really, really excited.

We tried to grow some vegetables last summer when we first arrived. I took such good care of the tomatoes, peppers and basil for a handful of atrocious, 100-plus degree days before the plants suddenly started disappearing. One day there was a thriving tomato plant, the next day there was a thriving half of a tomato plant and the day after, there was no evidence that there had ever been a tomato plant at all. It took a while, but I eventually discovered the culprit. Squirrels. I was heartbroken. I love squirrels! I didn’t want to think ill of them! But the evidence pointed fairly and squarely at squirrels, and as a dumb Australian, I wasn’t quite sure what to do.

This is what we’ve done:

You can barely see the netting - it's really fine, which means it's not the eyesore we'd anticipated.

You can barely see the netting – it’s really fine, which means it’s not the eyesore we’d anticipated.

We’re still not 100% sure how well it will work, but it feels relatively squirrel-proof. Basically, we went down to Home Depot last weekend and bought a bunch of tall stakes and deer-proof netting. We’ve wrapped three sides in the netting, with the fourth attached to an additional stake, which we can lift out as needed, kind of like a gate. We’ve also covered over the top of the garden, because if you’re going to do a job, you may as well do it properly. Now we just need to create some tent-peg-style things to hold down the netting at the bottom – and once that’s done, we can get everything into the ground.

So, what’s everything? Well, this season we’ve got two different types of heirloom tomatoes, one hot and one mild red pepper, the tiniest wee snow pea (a gift from Ronin Cooking at Foodways), lots of sweet basil and an Italian parsley (already planted, since it’s less appealing to squirrels). We’ve still got crazy thickets of oregano and mint left from last season too – somehow they survived the intense heat of August and September, and then the severe frosts of December and January (I’m pretty sure they could handle the apocalypse at this stage). We should hopefully have everything in the garden and thriving by the end of the weekend.

Please excuse our insanely lush grass - we only mowed two weeks ago! It's crazy!

Please excuse our insanely lush grass – we only mowed two weeks ago! It’s crazy!

I really can’t wait until harvest time. Leaving behind our garden in Sydney was one of the tough parts of moving overseas. Making basil pesto is one of my favourite things, and there’s a certain special pleasure that comes from growing, harvesting, prepping and cooking things from your own garden. Not only does it usually taste a thousand-fold better, I love that sense of connection to the earth, and that sense of achievement when you’ve done something yourself, right from the start.

What are you planning to grow this spring? Those of you in the southern hemisphere, what did you grow over summer?

Food Friday: Cinnamon Fruit Bread with Seeds


It has been the most stunningly gorgeous day in Central Texas. Inspired by the sunshine, I  reverted to my domestic goddess type – opening all the windows, stewing apples and being chased around the kitchen by an inquisitive bee (or five) that found its way inside. I also decided to make bread.

I’ve made bread before, following an excellent recipe in my favourite Stephanie Alexander cookbook, which, due to weighing in at about 5kg, is safely stowed in a storage unit in Sydney. I managed to find a similar recipe online though, and adapted it today to create a delicious, hearty fruit loaf full of cinnamon, apricots, sultanas and sunflower seeds.

Adapted from this basic bread recipe. IMPORTANT NOTE: Far be it from me to argue with Stephanie Alexander. The woman is a kitchen queen and deservedly so. That said, I found that the amount of flour and water she’d recommended did not work for me and I had to add in around another 150g or so of flour to achieve the recommended consistency. This might have been a problem at my end, but I’d recommend having more flour than you need on hand, just in case. If your mix isn’t thickening as it should, shake in additional flour gradually, mixing very thoroughly until you get the desired “sticky ball” consistency (if you can avoid this though, do – it will weigh down the bread a little).

{Ingredients} 

500g white whole wheat flour

7g sachet of dry yeast

1 tsp salt

500 mL warm water

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp cinnamon

1/2 cup sultanas

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

The basics

The basics

{Preparation}

Tip all the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast. Stir once or twice with the wooden spoon. In a measuring cup, mix together the honey and warm water. 

Using the wooden spoon, push the flour away from the centre of the large bowl to make a well in the middle. Pour in the warm water and honey mixture. Mix in the flour gradually. Once combined, add the sultanas, apricots, sunflower seeds and cinnamon. Stir the mixture vigorously until you end up with a sticky ball of dough. If your ‘sticky ball’ seems determined to stay more of a ‘runny mess’, add a little more flour, bit by bit and stirring constantly.

Sprinkle your work surface liberally with flour. Sprinkle a little extra flour on your hands and the dough mix too. Tip the dough onto the floured surface and pat all the pieces into a pile. Squash it all into one lump. Knead constantly for about 3 minutes.

Lightly grease a bowl. Place dough ball into bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave in a warm place for at least 30 minutes. The dough should roughly double in size.

After 30 minutes, re-flour your re-cleaned work surface. Take the dough ball and knock out all of the air (trust me, this is the most satisfying part of all). Knead the dough again, this time for 1-2 minutes. Return to the greased bowl, cover with the tea towel and leave for another 20-30 minutes.

While the dough is sitting, preheat the oven to 200°C or about 390-400°F and lightly grease a baking tray. When the 20 minutes has passed, transfer the dough to the baking tray and bake for around 4 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow.

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The bread should be fragrant and slightly chewy. It’s even better toasted with a little butter.

Food Friday: Local restaurants # 1 – Hopdoddy


This Friday, I decided not to share a recipe. Much as I love doing that, I just wasn’t super inspired by the meals I made this week (lentil pasta bake and fried rice). They made enormous quantities though, which meant I only needed to cook twice and then we had acres of leftovers – score!

What I’ve decided to do instead is to intersperse my own recipes with reviews of restaurants and cafes here in Austin that are doing great things while using local produce as much as possible. For the first week, I want to talk about Hopdoddy. Why Hopdoddy? Why not a smaller, single-venue restaurant? Well, I’ve chosen to start with Hopdoddy precisely because it’s big. Bigger organisations by their very nature, can affect more change than smaller ones. They serve more people, they can share their modus operandi with more people and thus can hopefully have a real impact on more people. That’s not at all to say that small operations aren’t doing great things and letting as many people as possible know about it. But when you see the queue winding around the South Congress Hopdoddy every evening and every weekend, it’s hard to dismiss the impact that they’re having on the local food scene.

So, what do they do that makes them in any way better than any other burger bar? Well, for starters I do think that their La Bandita black bean veggie burger is up there as one of my favourites. Their tuna burger is pretty phenomenal too, and I’ve been told by my more carnivorous friends that their meatier burgers are all that and a bag of chips (puns!). But more than that, very little of their produce is from outside Texas, excepting their potatoes (and in fairness, we’re not really in potato country around here), their cheddar (from Tillamook, an Oregon cooperative farm) and their bacon. Much of it comes from very local farmers and producers. So, for example, their beets are from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, a fantastic local and organic farm, which helps to keep money in Austin’s vibrant and thriving urban farming community. Similarly, their eggs are from a local egg farmer just half an hour’s drive away in Lockhart and their goat cheese is from just two hours away in Houston.

This is all admirable in and of itself, but Hopdoddy also broadcasts it. Loudly. There is a fairly comprehensive listing of where their food is sourced from on their website. The table dividers in their restaurants are rectangles of information about respecting the environment and eating local. There are signs up around the walls telling you where their ingredients are from.  As I say, at least some of those crazy folks queuing for hours must be getting the message. And that’s why I feel like Hopdoddy is worth getting excited about, even if there are some other restaurants in town that are doing things a little more locally and maybe even a little bit better.

Also, you should really try their veggie burger. It’s something special.

Image from Hopdoddy’s Facebook page.

Food Friday: Lemon Cake


I don’t bake often. I do love a good cake, but I find that baking can be frustratingly precise. My style of cooking is much more stream-of-consciousness than how-to manual – I get ideas for colours and flavours and add a dash of this, a pinch of that and voila! It’s like a very tasty kind of abstract art. Baking though, takes a lot more precision. Too much of one thing, too little of another and you suddenly have one giant wonky cookie instead of the twelve neat ones that had gone into the oven (I still don’t know what went wrong. It tasted good, but it was a long way from pretty).

So far though, this cake has been pretty-much failsafe. I was taught it almost 10 years ago now, by a lovely ex-boyfriend who was an absolute kitchen wizard. Luckily, it was a very amicable break-up and we’re still occasionally in touch, so I can still eat this cake without any feelings of resentment.

For this recipe, you will definitely need a set of kitchen scales. You’ll also need a love of lemony, sweet-tart goodness and very rich cake.

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{Ingredients}

3 eggs (room temperature)

The exact same weight of the eggs in:

  • plain flour
  • butter (room temperature)
  • sugar

2 medium sized lemons (zest and juice)

Pinch of baking soda

Icing sugar

{Preparation}

Weigh the eggs and note down their weight. Measure out exactly the same weight of sugar, flour and butter. Gently grate the zest of both lemons, either with one of those lovely lemon zesting tools or a standard grater.

In a bowl, beat together butter, sugar and lemon zest until well combined. Add lightly beaten eggs and mix until combined and slightly fluffy.

In another bowl, mix together the flour and baking soda.

Add the flour and baking soda to the butter/sugar/eggs and beat until the mixture is smooth.

Pour mixture into a well-greased cake tin and bake at 350F for 30 minutes (due to oven problems I had to cook mine for 45 minutes, with the last 15 covered by foil. It really didn’t do the cake any favours and I got a bit of sinkage in the middle). At this point, you can also lick the spoon, if that’s your thing.

Test whether cake is cooked with a knife or fork. Once this comes out clean, the cake is cooked and you can remove it from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

{For the Icing}

Squeeze the juice of 1 1/2 of the lemons into a bowl, saving the remaining half for emergencies. Gradually add icing sugar to the lemon juice, stirring steadily. Once the icing is becoming difficult to stir, but is still slightly runny (depending how juicy your lemons are, probably this will take 1-1 1/2 cups icing sugar), you’re ready to ice!

Spread icing thickly onto the cake, allowing it to run down the sides.

Slice and enjoy!

NB: I only had whole wheat flour on hand and I would not recommend this. I’d really suggest you use the plainest, whitest flour you can find. Your cake should look much more yellow and much less orange as a result.

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Food Friday: Sweet Potato Tacos with Chipotles in Adobo


If there’s one thing I can tell you about Austinites and food, it’s that they really like their tacos. Breakfast, lunch or dinner is irrelevant – there’s a taco for every time of day and every occasion. Luckily, I love tacos. They’re filling, super cheap and easy to make and very versatile – you can put just about anything on a fresh tortilla and have it taste delicious. So, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – experimenting in the kitchen with a variety of taco fillings. It’s been a lot of fun.

This is one of our favourites so far. Sweet potatoes are right in season at the moment, so they’re cheap and plentiful and tasty. Their sweetness combines well with the savoury starchiness of the beans and the smokey bite of the chipotle. Which reminds me, there’s a definite kick to the chipotles in adobo, so if you don’t like your food with a bit of heat, I’d recommend halving the quantity in this (or even quartering if you’re just not that into spicy food).

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Sweet Potato Tacos with Chipotles in Adobo

{Ingredients}

1 medium-large sweet potato, chopped into small chunks

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 200g can chipotles in adobo sauce

1 400g can corn kernels

1 400g can beans (black beans, kidney beans etc)

1 800g can diced tomatoes

fresh tortillas

1 medium avocado

feta cheese to taste

salt and pepper to taste

{Preparation}

Lightly coat sweet potatoes with oil. Roast at 400F (about 200 Celsius) for about 30 minutes or until soft (sorry I can’t be more specific here – my oven has a busted door at the moment that lets all the nice warm air out, so it’s hard to judge. The downside of renting? Having to wait for other people to fix things!).

While the sweet potato is roasting, sauté onion in a fry pan with a little olive oil until soft and transparent. Add chipotles in adobo and stir through, breaking up the chillies into smaller pieces with the spoon. Add the can of tomatoes and leave to simmer on low heat. Drain the corn and the beans and then add them to the frypan as well. Leave to simmer until the sweet potato is done, stirring occasionally. The longer it simmers, the less ‘wet’ the tacos will be.

Once the sweet potato is soft and slightly roasted around the edges, add to the frypan. Stir through, adding a little salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the mix on fresh tortillas, sprinkled with feta cheese and sliced avocados. Enjoy!

{Serves 6}

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*NB: Please, please excuse my awful food photography. I’m working on it, I promise, but these skills take time! In the meantime, please be assured that these meals taste much better than they look!

Food Friday: Shiitakes and Creminis


I thought that this year might be as good a time as any to bring back my old weekly segment of Food Friday. I’ve been spending a lot more time in the kitchen lately, and I’m really loving it. It seems to me that the next logical step is to share some of my tasty, local creations with you, in the hopes that you might enjoy them too.

This last weekend David and I visited the local farmers’ market, where we found a range of delicious, fresh mushrooms. The farmer had portabella, shiitake, button, cremini and field mushrooms on hand, so we brought a variety home with us. The portabellas I used to do stuffed roasted mushrooms, the cremini and the shiitake went into an amazingly tasty risotto.

Enjoy!

Mushroom Risotto with Spinach and Truffle Oil

{Ingredients}

About 4 cups sliced mushrooms (I used cremini and shiitake. Both are rich, earthy flavoured mushrooms, but you could use any sort that you prefer)

1 1/2 cups aborio rice

4 cups vegetable stock

2 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped (another leafy green of your choice would also be fine, such as kale or collard greens)

1 cup shaved parmesan

olive oil (for frying the mushrooms)

truffle oil (for serving)

salt & pepper to taste

{Preparation}

Thickly slice the mushrooms. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan and add mushrooms, stirring until they are slightly tender. Add in the arborio rice and stir until it is lightly coated with the oil. Add the vegetable stock and salt and pepper to taste, and leave to simmer with the lid on.

While the rice is cooking, wash and roughly chop the spinach. Shave parmesan (I like to use a fruit peeler). Keep an eye on the risotto and stir occasionally to prevent it sticking to the pan.

The rice should take about 20 minutes to absorb the water and be tender. If all of the water has been absorbed, but the rice is still a little crunchy, add a little more water and monitor closely. Once all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is soft, add the spinach. Mix through the rice and replace the lid. Leave for about 3 minutes.

Once the spinach has wilted into the risotto, remove from heat. Add the parmesan and mix through .

Serve, drizzled lightly with truffle oil.

{serves 4-6}

Not gonna lie, making a risotto look pretty is nigh on impossible

Food, Ethics and the Environment – a Michael Pollan talk


From michaelpollan.com

This guy? One of my food idols.

The other day as I headed to uni, I listened to a presentation that Michael Pollan made on Food, Ethics and The Environment at Princeton University, back in 2006 (I found it on iTunes U if anyone is interested in the whole thing).  It was extremely interesting and there was one part of his talk in particular that resonated with me. I’ve transcribed it as best as I could below.

“The omnivore’s ethical dilemmas are not easily resolvable.  You need to choose often between competing values.  And the reason that I don’t tell people what they should eat is that depending where they start out, depending on what they value most, if their concern is energy, if their concern is the land, if their concern is their health, if their concern is the animals, they’re going to come out in a different place.  And you know, that’s fine….that’s absolutely fine.  They’re going to come out a lot better than most of us are today (…) that’s why what is most important (…) is the ethic to know.  To  know what you’re eating, to know these few simple things – what are you eating? Where did it come from?  How did it find its way to your table?  And what, in a true account it really cost.  The sacrifice of life and labour and ethical principles that went into preparing it.  Basically to eat with consciousness is really the key.

 And that’s what brings me to the corporate responsibility part.  Eating with consciousness is impossible wen the food chain that we’re at the end of is opaque and secretive.  When the slaughterhouses bar the doors to reporters, or the companies refuse to tell us who their suppliers are or exactly what’s in the food.  And I think that’s something we can all agree on as consumers and citizens, to demand a more transparent food chain.”

I don’t think there is any way I can say it better than that.

Food Friday: Spicy Roast Pumpkin Soup


I hadn’t posted any Food Friday recipes for a few weeks, so I did feel that it was about time. As such, one of my favourite experiments of the last couple of weeks…

Spicy Roast Pumpkin Soup

About a week ago, David came home with an entire Jap Pumpkin. Apparently this was the only size that our tiny local grocer had. We’ve been slowly chipping away at it, but with half a pumpkin at risk of getting mouldy and manky in our fridge, it was time for soup.

Ingredients

1/2 medium Jap Pumpkin (butternut pumpkin would work just as well)
3 small carrots (these were also a bit close to the edge)
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 400g can cannellini beans
2 tbsp Cajun spice OR a pinch each of cumin, ground chili, salt, pepper and oregano.

Cook It

Grease a baking dish with olive oil. Remove seeds of the pumpkin, chop into chunks (smaller is better if you’re in a hurry, as it will cook faster). Peel and chop carrots. Throw the lot into the baking dish and lightly coat in the oil. Roast at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes (this will depend on the size you chopped your pumpkin and carrots).

Meanwhile, add a touch of oil to a large saucepan and sauté the onion on low heat with the spices. Set aside.

Once your veggies are nice and roasted, add them to the pan. Rinse and drain the beans, then add them too. Mix thoroughly.

In batches, process the mix until it is smooth. It will have a fairly thick consistency.

I felt the need to share this photo of our awesomely retro blender. It's a hand-me-down from David's parents and I'm fairly sure it's got about 10 years on me.

Spoon into bowls and serve with bread (which I completely forgot!) and/or any other vegetables of your choice.

*I was super lazy and left the skin on.  I’d probably suggest being less lazy and removing this, as it did add an unusual (not bad, but slightly odd) undertaste.

**You could also add the spices to the roast instead of the onion mix.  I don’t know that it would ultimately change the flavour though.

Food and referring to the past


There is a longer post coming soon, but I thought that today I would just share some fantastic old wartime posters about food and food waste.  The change in attitudes between times of want and times of plenty is really quite incredible, as is the disparity between what we eat and what we actually need (best example?  Right here).

From: http://wallblank.com/products/food-with-thought

USA – First World War

From: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/gallery/2010/mar/04/imperial-war-museum-rationing-food#/?picture=359229448&index=10

UK – Second World War

From: http://www.sirc.org/timeline/1942_large9.shtml

USA – Second World War (1943)