Free-range eggs & sad bacon

Last time you ate out for breakfast, did your menu have free-range eggs, fair trade coffee, and organic milk on it? What about the bacon – was it free range? Probably not.

In fact, 70% of pork smallgoods in this country are made from frozen imported pork from pigs grown in even worse conditions overseas.

On the very minor chance that the menu said ‘free range’, did you ask where from? Because of course we all know a lot of ‘bred free range’ bacon is sold as free range, so it’s worth knowing the difference and which farms are which.

I’m not going to name names of cafes, providores, butchers and indeed producers who may be misleading you or failing to provide free-range bacon. You can work out who they are for yourself – just ask. Ask every time you buy pork, every time you eat out. Only if you keep asking (and saying no to everything except pork from pigs grown out on the paddocks) will things change.

Here’s a list of genuine free-range pig farmers around Australia to help you decode the answer.

But just what is it with the hypocrisy of ‘free-range eggs & bacon’ – that is, free-range eggs served with sad bacon – and our general willingness to accept it?

While coffee is the new black – one restaurateur was quoted saying, “While they’re at it, we’d love to know where the beans are from and where they were roasted. Heck, we even want to know who roasted them!” I want to know – what about the bacon?

On wine, I read: “The wine list is motivated by the notion of terroir and regionality – the idea that a wine can reflect, not only the grape variety and winemaker, but the soil and site from which it’s grown and nurtured. In the same manner a dish may transport you to a specific place, a wine with terroir can carry you to a far away vineyard.”

So what about the pigs? If they’re raised in sheds, I guess there is no terroir, and in sheds they’re all roughly the same breed (mostly Landrace, aka ‘pink pigs’), so no breed variety to taste there. And you won’t usually find intensive growers standing up and telling you all about their pigs – this is not an industry that favours publicity.

To be honest, I’m over it. If I’m eating out, I ask about the provenance of the pigs. If they can’t tell me, I don’t eat pork.

If you feel like you just can’t make it without bacon that morning, substitute feta.

I’m really glad that free-range eggs are so prevalent, but until free-range bacon is in all the cafes, I prefer my breakfast at home, thanks.

Ethical ham & cheese scones

sconesAustralian scones slightly bewildered me when I first arrived here 21 years ago – ‘so they’re biscuits, right?’ But as I’ve shared in my locavore bacon & eggs, biscuits & gravy recipe, they may be virtually the same recipes, but they are eaten in very different ways, with very different things. And so having given you my savoury brekky biscuit recipe already, I will now share a savoury American scone recipe just to really confuse you. 🙂

American scones are typically enormous things, and I remember most of them being a slightly bulbous triangular shape. They were a morning staple in my years at UCSD, where I’d wander in my homemade plaid cotton trousers and wildly mismatched tie-dye t-shirts into the Grove to linger over a philosophical discussion with ‘the Wanderer’ (his real name was Brian, but he… wandered) and other nascent intellectuals, slurping at a precycle/recycle mug of mocha java and nibbling for hours at an oversized sweet scone – my favourite was blueberry at the time.

The overwhelmingly savoury palate I developed through my thirties led to a singular decline in my interest in such scones, or any kind of muffins or (goddess forbid) cupcakes. But as we prepared to host Eat Your Ethics at Jonai Farms, my mind turned immediately to ham and cheese scones – what could possibly be more suitable to commence the day of exploring all things pig?

So here’s the recipe, adapted from one of my favourite American cookbooks for baking, The Cheese Board Collective Works.

3C unbleached flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Pinch cayenne

Pinch of salt flakes

2T fine polenta

125g cold butter, cut into smallish pieces

250g sharp Cheddar, cut into 1cm cubes

250g ethical ham, cut into 1cm cubes

1/2C cream

1C yoghurt

 

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line baking sheets with baking paper.

Mix flour, baking soda, cayenne, salt & polenta. Cut in the butter until it’s the size of small peas. Gently mix in the cheese and ham. Make a well and add the cream and yoghurt until just combined. A little loose flour should still remain in the bottom of the bowl.

Place the dough on a generously floured surface and pat it into a rectangle that’s about 3cm thick. Cut it as you like into squares or triangles of your preferred size.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until light brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Locavore bacon & eggs, biscuits & gravy

 
IMG_1074

A decadent staple brekky in our global repertoire of extravagance is bacon & eggs, biscuits & gravy. My Dad is from Alabama, and taught my Mama (from Oregon) to make this when they were first together, then pretty much never cooked anything ever again, except a mean barbecue.

In Australia, when I say ‘biscuits & gravy’, people say ‘what in the world are you talking about?’ And having had two requests for my biscuit recipe this week alone, I figured it’s time to share, especially since we’ve recently been enjoying ours with the first Jonai Farms ethical bacon, which ups the nom factor considerably. We much prefer ethical diets over calorie-counting ones around here…

American-style biscuits are roughly what Australians would call scones – usually more like drop scones. Today I made our biscuits with the divine buttermilk from the Butter Factory in Myrtleford. I resisted buttering the biscuits with some of Naomi’s truffle butter as well, figuring the gravy was enough. Normally, though, I use the yoghurt we make weekly with milk from the dairy on the other side of our volcano. And as we now buy our flour from Powlett Hill about 30km from us, this is serious locavore food. 😀

For those looking for your nearest free-range pig farmer, I compiled an Australia-wide list a few years ago. Flavour Crusader also has a list that may be more up to date than mine!


IMG_1056

 

Biscuits

All measurements are approximate, depending on the weather, your mood, and your desired moistness and yoghurty goodness…

2C flour

1tspn baking soda

2T butter

1C  yoghurt (or buttermilk, in which case you’ll reduce the milk quantity)

1/2C milk

Pinch salt

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Either oil a baking tray or line it with baking paper.

Mix the baking soda and salt into the flour. Cut butter into the flour. Add yoghurt (or buttermilk) and mix with a rubber spatula, then add milk to the right consistency. Think ‘drop scone’ dough…

Spoon out the amount of dough for the size biscuit you prefer – in our house, that’s usually about the size of my palm or a little smaller. Make sure they’re relatively equal in size so they cook evenly.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven. I usually turn them around mid-way through cooking as my oven is hotter at the back than the front.

IMG_1072

Gravy

The best gravy is made from bacon grease (otherwise it’s really just bechamel!). In the American South, there’s a huge variety of gravies, from a straight millk gravy through to one introduced to me by the gorgeous Gabriel in Oxford, Mississippi – red gravy –  which is made with tomatoes. The core ingredient seems to pretty much always be bacon grease. The simplest though, and the one we make the most often, is the one Dad taught Mama to make when they were first married.

Bacon grease – however much you end up with after making bacon for brekky (or about 1T if you’ve saved it in a jar, which is also Doing It Right)

2T flour

2C milk (pre-warmed in the microwave)

Salt & pepper to taste

While the bacon grease is still hot in the pan from makin’ bacon, add flour and stir until it browns lightly. Add warmed milk and stir continuously with a whisk until it thickens. Season to taste. Serve in a jug or bowl with ladle – your choice.

In our house, some of us like to break up our biscuits and pour the gravy over the top. Others pour the gravy on whole biscuits, and some of us even break up our bacon and sprinkle it through the biscuits and gravy. Personal preference rules! We almost never have biscuits and gravy if we aren’t having bacon and eggs – these things are made to be eaten together!

Kids in the Kitchen

Every year it’s the same. ‘Mama, what do you want for your birthday?’ is answered with ‘for all of you to be lovely to me and each other for the entire day, and you could make me brekky…’ with hopeful eyes. This year surpassed my wildest expectations as my dear elder children (aged 11 and 10) made me (and Stuart and his parents) brekky, lunch AND dinner. And folks, it wasn’t tea and toast.

It was a beautiful Sunday and all I wanted to do that day was work on pig-proofing the fences in the first pig paddock.

A happy birthday girl, out fencing.

And so when the kids started menu planning the night before I was delighted, but anticipated the need for a fair bit of adult assistance during the day. They chose their recipes from the wonderful Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Cooking with Kids, which does an excellent job of being thorough in its descriptions without being patronising or pitching too low. Every recipe we’ve used from this cookbook has been delicious!

Shortly after sunrise they were at work on brekky – baked eggs with spinach, herbs and tomato, served on the sourdough I’d made the night before. They had a little bit of assistance from Stuart with managing the 10-inch cast-iron frypan, but that was about all. And wait for it… Oscar roasted and ground the cumin seeds in the mortar and pestle. Most of my adult friends don’t do that!

The meal was delicious – truly great flavours and textures as one would expect from experienced cooks. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the skills, patience and love from my children and in heaven at the result!

Out to fencing we went, and the kids commenced almost immediately on lunch. They worked away cheerfully, only pausing to enjoy the luscious almond chocolate cake for morning tea made by Nana Ros with Atticus’ help.

If we thought brekky was impressive, lunch knocked me out. Oscar made falafels, once again toasting and grinding cumin and coriander seeds, and fried them beautifully as Antigone made fresh pitas – pointing out to us that she made the dough by hand as the stand mixer was full of dough for that night’s calzone.

They chose to make a selection of dips as accompaniments: hummus, guacamole and pico de gallo, all served beautifully on a platter with fresh capsicum and wedges of lemon. In fact, their presentation was as flawless as their flavours. Once again, I was blown away, as were Stuart and his parents.

Surely they couldn’t top all that with dinner? Well, in fairness, I wouldn’t say they topped it, but dinner was equally delicious – a herb and cheese calzone served with tabbouleh. The only help on this one was that I put a sourdough on for them in the morning with a little commercial yeast to speed the rise. As the adults were still working outside through until dinnertime, they had no help at all with dividing, rolling, filling and cooking the calzone, nor with cooking the bulgur.

As we sat there sated and raving about their efforts for the day, my awesome pair hopped up and quickly whipped up some lemon crepes for dessert. Yes, I’m serious.

To what would I attribute this display of skills and showering of love from my much-beloved children? I can give the obvious answer that they’ve cooked with both Stuart and me since they could stand on a chair at the butcher’s block, and that in our house cooking is definitely a way to show love.

But a really important ingredient in their success had nothing to do with me – and that’s Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Kitchen Garden program (and no, I don’t work for them!).

We tried to get the program into our old school but a resistant Principal (thankfully now retired) thwarted the Council’s best efforts. But at the kids’ new school there is a thriving kitchen garden program with wonderful teachers. Oscar and Antigone had each had one class before my birthday. One class was all it took for their confidence to click – and I think the fact that Oscar’s class had made falafels and tabbouleh that week gave the level of familiarity he needed when they searched the recipes. But they’d never made baked eggs, I can assure you, and we’ve always made calzones together, as we have pita (and other) breads. They’re dip makers from way back, but new users of the food processor, though I saw no signs of uncertainty!

So was this the best birthday ever? It just may have been (though last year’s Gala de Tammois was pretty amazing too…). I was well worked, well fed, and well loved, with the added feel-good bonus of thinking I must have done something right to get such great kids. What a perfect balance, making for a very very happy day.

I am one lucky Mama. Thank you, Jonai kids!

Rural rhythms…

Rhythms are so much better than schedules. One day might be at a super fast tempo, the next a slow, dreamy waltz. As someone who has never enjoyed regular schedules, I revel in developing rhythms.

In cooking, as in life, rhythms should respond to the seasons. When warmth comes from the sun, it’s the season for light, sharp chopping and cold, crunchy vegetables. When the woodstove warms the hearth, it’s time for slow-simmering stews, endless loaves of bread and a bottomless pot of chai.

Frosty mornings

Jonai Farms is teaching us its rhythms. Frosty mornings call for a hot oven to bake the sourdough that rose overnight as we watch another perfect sunrise.

Bread rising with the sun...
Love that big new oven

Days that can’t break 10C beg for a chai station on the woodstove, which also doubles as a temperature regulator for the nighttime yoghurt making brought on by the endless supply of fresh milk from a local dairy.

Chai station

Perfect spot for setting yoghurt
Real milk

A farmer’s life of physical toil from sun-up to sundown justifies fresh eggs daily on the morning’s sourdough with thick lashings of butter, and sometimes Greenvale Farm‘s most excellent bacon.

A farmer's breakfast

Warm days invite us out for lunches al fresco, but the mercury drop that trails just behind sunset demands enamelled cast iron be filled with luscious lamb shanks, a huge pot of dahl, or cinnamon-spiked chili.

Dinner our first night at Jonai Farms - big pot o' chili

When a big storm knocks out the power for the night, break out the hurricane lamps and shift that osso bucco out of the electric oven and onto the gas stovetop.

Cooking like they used to

A couple days of meaty wintery dishes lead us naturally back to gado gado or palak paneer kofta.

gado gado
Palak paneer kofta, masala dahl & fresh yoghurt

And no matter where we are or what the season, ‘peace and happiness begin, geographically speaking, where garlic is used in cooking’ (Marcel Boulestin).

These are the rhythms making the Jonai happy beyond our wildest expectations of farm life. What a privilege to be both grateful beneficiaries and mindful custodians of the land.

Motorhome Mama Cookin’

I have my first Motorhome Mama Cookin’ post up over on the wonderful @crazybrave’s Progressive Dinner Party. You can read all about my cast iron and knife fetishes, as well as our current Mexican binge, buttermilk biscuit-making & sourcing local produce for inspiration. 🙂

Gourmet Poverty



In 2005, living in a chaotic house with three kids under 6, I cooked myself sane. And then, in response to lots of requests from friends for recipes, I was inspired to write my own cookbook, which I gave to about 60 friends in Australia, the US and the UK for summer solstice that year. I’ve since sent the pdf to dozens more friends, old and new.

I’ve had a dream that I would pitch the book, which is called Gourmet Poverty, to a publisher one day. The realities of study, work and family life have meant it’s remained low on the priority list. I’ve also long intended to write a second version, which I’m sure I’ll do once we’re out on the farm. But for now, I’m simply going to share it here. It’s full of recipes and stories of where I got them and who we’ve eaten them with, as well as possibly an overdose of photos of my much-adored brood.

For those of you with your own copies, you’ll see I’ve made a couple of minor revisions – I strongly encourage you to cross out the original pizza recipe and follow the new one!

Here it is, world, Gourmet Poverty by Tammi Jonas. 🙂

Making Yoghurt: A Gateway Process to Cheese-making

Back from endless travels and feasting our way through Tasmania, our normal Farmers Direct milk delivery started up again. We love the convenience of the twice-weekly delivery, which means we never run out of dairy at inopportune times. But then, the day after our big delivery, the kids were unexpectedly invited to shelter from the scorching heat for two days in their grandparents’ pool. This, of course, meant more productivity for Stuart and I, who are both working from home this year, but it also meant more milk than we knew what to do with. Or did it?

I live for the occasional milk glut, when I can make paneer, as it’s a high milk to cheese ratio (you only get a litre of cheese for four litres of milk). But Stuart mentioned yoghurt, and squeeeeee! We were away. I got the recipe from Sandor Ellix Katz’ Wild Fermentation. (I also made paneer and Stuart attempted to make mishti doi, which didn’t set, probably because he jiggled it while it was setting.)

1L full cream milk

1T fresh live-culture plain yoghurt

Heat the milk slowly in a saucepan to 82C (or just under the boil), then allow to cool to 43C (which is where you can just keep your finger in the hot milk). Mix in the tablespoon of yoghurt (I used Farmers Union Greek Style) and pour into a preheated glass jar. NB I only made 500mL due to our desire to make the other dairy delights.

Yoghurt, paneer & mishti doi on the boil
500mL into a jar

You should have pre-heated an esky (unless, like @tomatom, you have access to an Aga to keep it warm), either with jars of hot water or with hot water poured straight in. I foolishly used our large esky, which meant it took a stupid amount of water to heat it up – I used it on the garden the next day, but next time I’ll use our smaller esky and I’ll just pour the water straight in and not bother with the jars.

Yoghurt in the warm esky

Place the yoghurt in the warm esky – I kept mine pretty warm, probably around that 43C mark – and leave it for 8 to 12 hours. Don’t move it, as it likes to be quite still to set apparently.

Next thing you know, you’ve totally made yoghurt! It’s so simple, and so exciting! Mine is sourer than even our favourite Greek style, but I like it that way. I’m now so inspired I plan to try mozzarella – @littleredhen has inspired me and I’ve been watching @beeso’s cheesemaking over on the Twitterz with envy for a year now.

Yoghurt!
Fresh yoghurt on muesli with Stu'd plums

This post is also part of Fight Back Fridays over on the excellent Food Renegade site! Check out the others!

Camp cooking, cast iron style

Cast Iron Camping means a loaded car!

One of the major highlights of camping for me is the opportunity to cook and eat outside for days on end, coupled with the wonderful challenge of limited cold space and cooking with only two burners. When we accepted our lot as ‘car campers’ after having children, with whom we’ve been camping since the eldest was 5 months old (and #2’s first camp experience was at 11days old!), we discovered the joy of Cast Iron Camping and have embraced it in all its tasty results.

First, some basics. Although I would never suggest you *must* travel with these items to make good food (you need only look to Great Depression Cooking with Clara for proof), it certainly makes it more pleasurable for me. Therefore, I travel with two good knives (usually my Chinese cleaver and a 10” Dick – ahem, this isn’t a joke, it’s the brand), preferably my big chopping board, but a medium-sized one will do, a 10” le Creuset (any enamelled cast iron large pot will do – we scored ours on somebody’s nature strip in North Carlton) and a 10” cast iron frypan. The lid for the le Creuset comes in handy for camp pizza on the frypan too.

I bring along a smaller stainless steel pot as well for cooking the odd sauce or hot chocolate for the kids. Obviously, a spatula & wooden spoon, plus a mixing bowl is helpful. I also try to bring one or two more plates & bowls than we need for dining to hold ingredients as I chop. Arguably not essential but rather pleasant to have along is a stovetop espresso maker… you can indeed make coffee old-school in a pot, but we all know which is tastier.

I like to bring a tupperware of my favourite spices, and absolutely essential (for me) is a container of salt flakes and a pepper grinder, as I can’t bear iodised, granulated salt or powdery pepper. Oh, and this year I started taking my sourdough starter along to make a leavened damper, and let me tell you, it’s worth it! But I’ll get to that…

You never know what spice you might need...

We picked up a secondhand ‘Eva Kool’ esky a couple years ago after admiring our friends’ on repeated long, hot summer camping trips. This thing will keep brie in good form for 10 days, and in fact we’ve seen it keep ice for that long when kept in the shade and with wet towels over it in 40C weather. Between that and our vintage Coleman stove Stuart picked up at a garage sale, we are indeed happy campers. So what do we eat?

Sourdough Damper

As mentioned previously, this is now a staple for us when we’re camping. I’m very glad I only took half of Fran, my starter, as a wallaby ate her halfway through the trip. She made some brilliant bread before she went though. My total aversion to supermarket bread also means we have to make our own while camping, as no good bakery bread will keep well enough. We do, however, rely on tortillas & Sorj bread as our ‘long-life’ option.

The recipe is simple. Pour some starter, flour, salt, water & a bit of olive oil into the mixing bowl. Mix/knead for a minute or two. Put dough in the le Creuset (this is why I bring enamelled cast iron, btw) with some oil in the bottom, rubbing a bit more on top. Cover & let rise overnight. In the morning, it will take about half an hour to bake – you should flip it after about 20 minutes (conditions of your stove, the weather, your pot, etc will make this vary, of course). The result is a lovely, airy loaf with a crispy crust, thicker than foccacia but not as tall as a normal loaf usually, perfect to enjoy with eggs.

Breakfast

Brekky is important to me. (Stuart would say that’s an understatement.) Having grown up in America with a love of cooked brekkies, I’ve maintained my desire for nearly two decades in a land of muesli eaters. Don’t get me wrong, I like raw oats with nuts & Stuart’s stewed plums, but not as much as I like eggs and roast tomatoes. So here’s a sample of our camp brekkies:

  • ham/cheese/tomato scramble on turkish rolls – this was simpler than an omelette with the same ingredients as I would normally cook the fillings separately and re-introduce them to an omelette. While camping I was minimising extra washing up, because no matter how fun the cooking is, I’m less enthusiastic about washing up (especially with cold salt water…). I prefer mozzarella for this for the gooeyness.
  • poached egg on mushies with prosciutto & pecorino on fresh sourdough damper – I poached eggs in sea water with spectacular results.
  • breakfast burritos – egg, tomato, prosciutto, tasty cheese, optional yoghurt – Mexican, or American versions thereof, is standard on our menus, and brekky burritos make a nice change to the regular fry up, as well as being a simple option on a day without damper.
  • fried eggs, Boks bacon, fried tomato, fresh sourdough damper – we sought out local produce wherever possible along our Tasmanian adventure, and Boks bacon, though apparently only ‘bred free range’ instead of fully free range (and there is some controversy around all of this that I won’t go in to as I don’t know the story well enough), is really delicious bacon.
  • roast tomatoes & avocado with hand-whisked hollandaise (on very boring local ‘bakery’ bread) – I’m cheating here as we made this in a serviced apartment at Port Arthur, but I wanted to include it both to give Ev (who slept on our floor as we all escaped the endless rain) kudos for hand-whipping the hollandaise. It wasn’t as a thick an emulsification as if he’d had so much as a whisk to do the job (I gave him a fork…), but it was delicious nonetheless. You could definitely do this camping, and just fry the tomatoes.
  • french toast from leftover Zum bakery sourdough, zucchini flowers stuffed with chevre & egg, egged & fried in butter – I couldn’t pass up the zucchini flowers at the Hobart Farm Gate market, and we weren’t sorry.
  • fried tomato & Rare Food bacon on fried day-old sourdough – I know, we had bacon and we fried the bread. It was so bloody good we did it two days in a row. It’s an excellent solution to stale bread. The Rare Food bacon is from Matthew Evans of Gourmet Farmer fame’s pigs, which the Cygnet butcher then cures. It’s quality product, but the bacon is a little smoky for my palate.

    Zomigod, fried bread is *good*.

You admittedly couldn’t eat such rich breakfasts every day of your life, but hey, we were on holiday and couldn’t resist all the local free range eggs, amazing produce, free range bacon and stunning range of cheeses. Besides, it was important that I share the amazing variety of options one has when camping with you, dear readers. I did it all for you, and I liked it. 🙂

Lunches

Lunches are typically a deceptively simple affair when we camp as brekky and dinner are ostensibly the main acts. Their simplicity relies on picking up high quality local produce and making lovely rolls or a ploughman’s lunch with them.

  • Ploughman’s lunch – fresh baguettes, avocado, chicken liver pate, Bruny Island Cheese ‘Tom’, green olive tapenade, beetroot dip, tomato, cucumber, pickled walnuts – we sourced most of these ingredients at the lovely Pasini’s Cafe in Bicheno.
  • Wineglass Bay picnic – fresh rolls, salami, cheddar, avocado, tapenade, tomato
  • Hobart’s Botanical Gardens – oysters, BISH smoked trout, Bruny cheese ‘Tom’, tomatoes, cucumbers, Zum Bakery bread

    Happy picnics every day
  • camp pizza – quick pita/pizza dough, passata, salami, tomato, mushie, shallot, feta, pepper – make a pita dough from flour, baking soda, salt & water – you can add a little oil to keep it from sticking. Set aside and prepare your toppings, roll out your dough (I don’t carry a rolling pin as a bottle of wine does the job nicely) and cook it first on one side, then flip it, add the toppings & cover. It should be ready in less than 5 minutes.

Dinners

  • oysters, oysters, oysters – my new year’s resolution was to eat oysters every day we were in Tassie. Sadly, I failed to eat them on five out of 20 days, but I’m pretty sure I still ate my own weight in them. We reckon the best ones came from Get Shucked on Bruny Island.
    Another reason to carry a pepper grinder
    Prosecco goes rather well with oysters

  • beef stroganoff a la bourguignon – I often do some kind of beef stew when we camp, mostly because I’m happy to store beef for longer in the esky than most other meats, and it makes a very simple meal on around the fourth night. I improvise each time, and as I made this one, I chuckled to myself that I wasn’t sure whether I was really making stroganoff or bourguigon, nor could I remember exactly how I usually make either, hence I reckon this one was kind of both. I just cook up some onions, shallots & garlic, then add the beef and mushrooms. In the other pot, cook the pasta. Once the beef is just barely cooked, I push the bits aside, add a knob of butter (& a little reserved pork fat from that morning’s brekky), melt, then add flour and brown off before pouring in a bit of wine to thicken. Mix all the bits back through, strain the pasta and mix together in the big pot. You can add a bit of yoghurt or sour cream at this stage, as well as a healthy dose of freshly cracked pepper. Voilà – a two pot bastardised but tasty dish. 🙂

    Nothing fancy here, just noms. 🙂
  • Chipolata sausages with onion, capsicum & garlic on cheesy polenta – polenta is a genius camping starch, as is cous cous. I like to mix some mozzarella & pecorino through it to give it some creamy flavour.
  • Soft tacos/fajitas with spicy bolognese, onion & capsicum, fresh tomato, cheese, yoghurt, fried corn tortillas – I had some frozen bolognese, which served first as an ice pack in the esky, & later a very simple addition for a delicious dinner. I just added a bit of cumin and chili to change the flavour profile, fried up some onion & capsicum, & lightly fry the corn tortillas in oil to improve their store-bought texture. The kids go nuts for these.

    Soft taco
  • Sir Loin Breier Butcher’s eye fillet in shallots, served on fried potato/onion/garlic, topped with creamy mushies – this butcher in Bicheno (never mind the silly name) is turning out high quality grass-fed beef, as well as a range of sausages and apparently smoked mutton bird in season. This very simple dinner is another camping staple for us. Also, as we had one and a half two many steaks (they were big!), the next day we had more lovely fajitas with them. I do this with lamb usually, making kebabs with garlic sauce and doing my own pitas.
    Steak and potatoes

    Sir Loin Breier Butcher's eye fillet day 2 - fajitas!
  • scallops with onion, garlic, capsicum, fish sauce, sugar, lemon, Vietnamese black pepper, rice – once again, picking up the local produce pays off, and the scallops from the Freycinet marine farm were excellent cooked very quickly and served with rice.

    Bounty from Freycinet Marine Farm
  • pasta with mushie/garlic/shredded zucchini cooked in passata – I know I say everything is simple, but seriously, dried pasta for which one makes a sauce with passata and a couple of vegies, topped with the last of your pecorino (another great camping cheese as it lasts for ages) is easy enough for even the most reluctant cook, and an excellent choice after a week or so of camping when you’re meat free (assuming you were eating meat at all, of course) and need ingredients that keep.
  • quesadillas made with Bruny Island ODO – cheese, tomato, spring onion – we always travel with tortillas, and quesadillas are a Jonai staple whether at home or away. Very quick, lovely served with yoghurt, guacamole, jalapeños, and/or Tabasco. These were a guilty pleasure using Bruny Cheese’s excellent ODO (One Day Old).
  • vegie curry – last jar of my green tomato curry with zucchini, ginger, garlic, shallots, garam masala, coconut milk, served on cous cous, enjoyed with Bruny Island Pint Noir – I can’t imagine camping without at least one curry, and this one was particularly delicious. I credit the garam masala.
  • stir fry with zucchini & egg, bit of vinegar with shallot, garlic & ginger, cooked in pork fat – yep, you read it. There’s that pork fat again, making everything more delicious. It also means you’re saving and re-using fat instead of working out how to dispose of it responsibly in pristine wilderness. Another nice excuse, eh?

Dessert

Those who know me or regular readers here will know that I’m not really a dessert person. I have a relentlessly savoury palate, much to Stuart and the children’s chagrin. However, some local nectarines and goat’s cheese inspired me to make one dessert on the Tassie holiday.

  • nectarines cooked in butter, topped with chevre and local honey

I should mention that for a long camping trip without a re-supply, I would usually cook & freeze one or two lunch &/or dinner options the week before, such as lasagne, quiche or stroganoff. This means you’ve got extra ice in your esky for the first couple days, and have a substantial, delicious meal as fresh stuff starts to run out. For our Tassie trip, we were only camping 3-4 days at a time with a break to re-stock and do some washing in between, so I didn’t bother.

Another useful trick is to freeze water in ice cream or yoghurt containers for the esky so that when it melts, you have containers for leftovers. 🙂 And always pre-chill your esky the night before loading it up for the big trip!

May your produce be fresh, your cast iron strong, your knives sharp, your esky cold and your cooking fuel never run out. 🙂 Happy camping, all.

The banal pleasures of cooking

I was recently asked to peer review an article about gender and food preparation, and it brought me back to an old pet peeve when it posited ‘food prep’ as separate from ‘leisure time’. I’ve written about this before in a variety of ways, but the central point for me is that cooking is leisure sometimes, and when it’s arguably not, that is, even when you simply have to get dinner on the table after a long day, it can still be a very pleasurable activity if that’s how you frame it.

Banal activities are too often framed as ‘chores’, ‘exhausting’, ‘tedious’ or even ‘hard’. While I reckon not many people love vacuuming (though I know some who do), cooking has all the ingredients to be anything but boring or a chore. It’s a creative process, it’s nurturing, it can require dexterity and finger memory, linking one to family traditions and far flung places once visited. To reject cooking as leisure or pleasure is a life sentence of perceived drudgery. What a waste it is not to take pleasure from something most of us need to do every day of our lives.

This brings me to the summer holiday we’re on at the moment down at Stuart’s family’s beach house. We gathered here for Christmas with the family, and all up we have been eight grown ups and five children. Summers here are always full of good food and wine, with a heavy emphasis on seafood. This year I arrived with a clear desire to cook myself back into a homely space after a very busy year that saw me interstate constantly for work. And cook I have! I actually feel a bit guilty at my total dominance of the kitchen, and only hope I haven’t kept anyone else from cooking when they really wanted to (though they assure me they’ve been happy with the constant stream of dishes…). I’ve barely even sat down to read for a week, as my mind constantly ticks over what ingredients are in the fridge, formulating new combinations even as the last meal digests.

It started moments after we arrived, when I learned that a family friend who traditionally gives us loads of prawns, crayfish, mangos and cherries had in fact come through with the noms (though we got lychees instead of cherries as I understand this year’s harvest was destroyed by the floods – I wish all the farmers out there better luck next season, and hope the disaster wasn’t too debilitating for you). Immediately ‘shrimp and grits’, which I so enjoyed in Mississippi last year and have made a couple of times since, sprung to mind. I had polenta (grits being rather hard to come by in Oz), a selection of lovely cheeses (I used an aged cheddar and pecorino) for the ‘cheese grits’, and a beautiful eye of Fernleigh Farms free range bacon. A hint of cayenne pepper, plenty of garlic, the prawns and a garnish of spring onion finish the dish off.

Christmas Eve it was time to play with the crayfish. With a decadent half a cray each, obviously I needed to make aïoli. 🙂 Some small sourdough rolls made from leftover pizza dough (which were actually like little stones, oops!), lightly steamed asparagus and a fresh salad was the perfect dinner the day before the real feasting would begin. We concluded dinner with a fabulous round of D’Affinois provided by my generous father in law, who is renowned for his excellent choice of sensational cheeses. Lucky us!

A highlight of Christmas was receiving a KitchenAid mixer, leading to even more bread making than usual, and much dreaming of the sausage attachment. But let’s get onto Christmas dinner…

We had two small turkeys (only about 3kg each) – one free range from Birregurra and one conventional turkey, which was a lot plumper than the rather lean organic one. I did two different styles – one the way my American brother in law shared with me from Thanksgiving, and the other roughly following what I remember of Stephanie Alexander’s that I’ve been making for years. My version of the recipe from Gary involved cooking at a high temperature (220C) for about 45 minutes with no stuffing under an aluminium foil tent, then out of the foil at 200C. It produced hardly any juices and was a bit dry, but still tasty with the onion, garlic, olive oil, butter under the skin, salt and pepper.

The other turkey goes in at about 210C on its side with a stuffing I made from onion, garlic, free range bacon, bread crumbs, red wine, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. After 15 minutes you flip it onto its other side for another 15 minutes, before popping it on its back at about 195C for the final hour. It was totally delicious, as was that stuffing. In fact, I reckon I’d be happy to just eat stuffing for Christmas dinner every year.

For sides I did green beans with toasted almonds and a balsamic reduction, roast beetroot with feta and pepper, smashed potatoes with rosemary, salt and pepper, and someone threw together a simple roast pumpkin. And of course there was a huge free range ham that we’re still enjoying in many forms.

Boxing Day lunch was a very simple affair of ham and fresh bread with a coleslaw made of cabbage, capsicum, spring onion & Stuart’s olives, dressed with more aïoli and the leftover balsamic reduction. Wayne brought out the D’Affinois again, as well as a lovely English Stilton and a Saint Agur – in the war of the French and English, I reckon the French win in the soft cheese department.

For dinner that night I was inspired by a recipe in one of Stefano Manfredi’s cookbooks, Seasonal Italian Favourites, to make a parsnip soup with the lovely turkey stock from the day before. Parsnip, leeks, garlic, Swiss brown mushrooms and a few potatoes made a glorious soup, topped off with a dollop of yoghurt and a few fried slivers of the ham, served with a fresh loaf of sourdough and luscious Lurpak butter.

My KitchenAid also inspired me to attempt croissants for the first time, which is rather hilarious as the mixer is only useful for the initial kneading, and after that, all the fiddly work is manual. Fiddly it was, but I was pleased with the results of my first attempt. Antigone helped me roll them and reckons next time we should roll them out thinner and then do a looser roll – and I think she is exactly right, the clever girl!

For breakfast the next day I did a simple omelette with the ham, tomato and mozzarella, served with another fresh loaf of sourdough, which I’m finally working out how to give a chewy crumb. I’ve been adding too much starter, I think, creating too acidic an environment to get strong gluten, so I’ve reduced the amount and kept to minimal kneading and long proving times (usually overnight). Thanks to Steve and Collette for your advice on the twitterz!

Lunch was inspired by a visit to the local fish shop, where we found Coffin Bay oysters and local mussels. Obviously this called for a simple Provençal style mussels as we had loads of gorgeous tomatoes asking to be eaten up. Onion, garlic, tomatoes, white wine and a hint of basil, served with sourdough sliced, coated with garlic and olive oil and toasted into crostini. Mollusc heaven!

My last effort was to finish off the kilos of prawns, so I made a tom yum goong last night. I had a quick look at the Gourmet Forager’s post on David Thompson’s recipe from Thai Street Food, and adapted it to what I had to work with. Inspired by Stuart’s desire to make a prawn stock with all the heads from our copious bounty, I fried off of the heads and skin briefly, then added water and coriander roots and brought it to the boil. After 15 minutes I strained it out and there was my base stock. I also grabbed the final leg of turkey and made a small stock with the bones & gristle, plus some celery in want of using. I only had it on for about an hour and a half, but it still contributed to deepening the flavour of the prawn stock, which would otherwise have been a bit insipid.

Into the stock went a bit of sugar, then bruised slices of galangal, lemongrass, lime skin (I didn’t have kaffir lime leaves) and chilies. Once I got the piquancy of the chilies, I added quartered mushrooms and tomatoes and cooked for about five minutes, before adding some of the delectable Phu Quoc fish sauce I hauled back from Vietnam and lime juice. A few little flavour adjustments to ensure I had the sweet, salty, spicy, sour combo right, and then I threw in the pre-cooked prawns just long enough to heat them through before serving topped with coriander leaves. I cannot explain how happy I was with the result of this soup!! Years of cooking and paying attention has finally paid off, and constant tasting throughout preparation has got me to a point where I can wing it like this and pull it off. Happy happy happy!

For those who’ve read this far, thank you for indulging me. 🙂 I love writing and thinking about cooking almost as much as I like doing it. Having developed such a profound love of this banal activity has been one of the most rewarding choices I have made in my life. Thank you to all the eaters who provide me with the opportunity to indulge my passion.