cooking


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.

Alex Herbert was the chef and owner at the wonderful Bird Cow Fish in Sydney, and now sells ‘breakfast and stuff’ at the Eveleigh Market. I first discovered her offering little morsels of food ethics in 140 characters or less over on twitter, and had the pleasure to enjoy a meal from her delicious local, sustainable, ethical menu before she closed Bird Cow Fish. This is a talk Alex posted on Facebook yesterday that struck me as a beautiful reflection on the meaning and value of local food, and a great contribution to the discussion here on Food Ethics. You can follow Alex on twitter where she’s @birdcowfish

I was asked to give a little talk at the Sustain Northern Rivers Forum the other day. It went something like this….

“To bee or not to bee? That is the question”

There was a young woman called Sarah, say in her early thirties who had taken up the practice of ceramics many years before. She had been taught by a master and had acquired rapidly diminishing skills. Her work was unique.

She had held down several jobs at once to try to make ends meet but she had now decided that she wanted to concentrate on her ceramics full time and pass on her skills and knowledge. She was faced with the new challenge of trying to make a living solely from her craft which she had studied and practiced for many years.

She created a series of beautiful plates but when it came to deciding what price to sell them for she was at a complete loss so she asked the advice of a friend. This friend knew nothing about the value of ceramics but she responded with a series of questions.

“Tell me, how much money do you want or need to make a year? $65,000

“Now tell me how many weeks a year do you wish to work? “I’d like to have four weeks off a year.

“How many days per week do you wish to work?” Well I would like to try to only work 4 days per week.

So you need to make $340 dollars per day after costs.
How many plates can you make per day?

I could probably make 10 plates per day by the time I do all my other stuff and each plate costs me about $10 in materials.

Right so you need to sell $440 of plates per day. So that’s 10 plates, so each plate needs to cost at least $44

The young woman was shocked. She thought no one will pay that for my plates?

The Food Industry like the Arts is one that is built upon a whole heap of passion.

All the way along the Food Chain we can hear the wonderful stories of how people came to be involved in it. And when I speak of the food chain I am referring to all the elements that link the food from the farm to the table.

Many are born into the family business whilst others like myself seemingly fall haplessly into it then only later realize that the love as in my case for cooking was in fact always there bubbling away below the surface.

Of course there are two parts to the Food Chain. There is the Boutique and the Mainstream. Each however faces the challenges of “sustainability” which I will take as meaning being able to survive economically, socially, environmentally and politically.

One of the problems facing many “ Boutique” producers is just how much do many subsidise their product through their passion. How many days a week do most small business owners work?

One of the questions that hang over more mainstream, commercialized operations is just how much are other factors such as the health of the land and its people subsidizing the product? The horror stories of Indian farmers taking their lives because of being locked into seed contracts with Monsanto despite failed crops and escalating debt is an extreme but real example of what can go terribly wrong when profits are put before everything else.

So despite these two extremely different scenarios one question is still appropriate to both.

What is the True cost of food?
What are the long term risks that we face?

Well we know that farmland is getting scarcer. The lure of property dollar value can be an overwhelming temptation especially when viewed alongside declining margins and the fact that many of our children would rather work 9 -5 on a good weekly wage than become their hardworking parents.

So we are losing land and skills that are going to be almost impossible to get back.
What can we do about it?

Well we can try and take responsibility for it.

We are all part of the Food chain some as producers and distributors but we are all consumers. I am sure there is some old saying that goes something like “good housekeeping starts at home”.

The title on today’s invitation read “Keeping our food local”. I would like to propose that it is even more important to “Keep our Local Food”.

I had dinner last night with two friends, Pete and John. They were amongst my original Eveleigh Market customers from over four years ago when the market first started and now they live in Byron.

They moved into their new house in March of this year.
Within a few weeks of moving in they noticed that they had a lot of bees at the back of the house. As the bees swarmed their suspicions were aroused. Finally they found that the wall of the upstairs bedroom was very warm. Very, very warm. So they searched down a bee keeper.

Yari was found and confirmed that there was a hive between the outside brick and inner plaster wall.

The bees had to go.

A fumigator could have done the job but fumigation would have also left behind a trail of dead bees and honey locked away forever.

Yari however offered to remove them and so he was engaged to perform the daylong task of rescuing the bees and their honey.

Bees are precious. We know that they play a crucial part in the pollination process. Yari knows this but he also just loves bees. The bees now live in Nimbin. Over 10kgs of honey comb was gathered and shared from a hive that had been growing for years. Peter has wonderful pics of everyone from the day sitting around diving out the honey comb. The wall has been plastered up.

Yari returned for two more visits following the initial rescue to collect the straggler bees. Small swarms of bees collected over the subsequent days. Peter has pictures of them attaching themselves to the wall where the hive used to be. Hiveless, Queen less bees. It was so sad. Yari managed to collect many of these but the remaining died.

So this is a pretty good example of local food right?

It’s a really good example of preciousness that had no money value attached to it. ….Priceless in other words.

How do you put a $ value on saving some bees and sharing some honey?
How do you put a value on cooking a meal? (I will come back to this later)

When I had my restaurant Bird Cow Fish I held many Regional Food and Wine Dinners. They were wonderful dinners where we were able to showcase producers and products that weren’t ordinarily available to us. These dinners along with having been a Delicious Produce Awards judge for the last three years has exposed me to many wonderful local foods.

So here is my take on local food. On a micro level it is imperative that we support out local producers but I do not believe that it should be at the exclusion of other “local foods”. I’m not an exponent of the 100mile ONLY rule.

Sourcing, selling and eating local foods means we are more likely to have a direct relationship with those who have grown it. We are more likely to know their story. We are more likely to place greater value on that product simply because we are connected to it.
Supporting local food provides these producers a base from which to build from. It can create an acknowledged Food Bowl, community of collaboration and support.

Supporting local food also means that the elements in the food chain are reduced. The less hands involved in the process generally means the smaller the gap between what the primary producers earns and the final cost of the sale product.

That being said I also believe in supporting all local foods and not just those that are local to me (easier said for me as I live in a city). But the reason for my thinking is not just because of my circumstance but because diversity is important as is promoting regions who specialize in certain foods. The sustainability of many producers’ business means that they cannot limit themselves to only supplying a local market. Finding a like minded distributor can be the key. Feather and Bone in Sydney are an excellent example of a distributor who works with his producers to educate and distribute the product.

But transportation and logistics are a huge challenge. I remember on of my dinners The Hilltops Region in NSW with Brian Freeman’s wines I wanted to use this magnificent Texel lamb. I did eventually get it but not until bob had dropped it at his mates place Len who then took it to Max at the pub and then Joan his wife who was driving to Sydney delivered it to me. The most gorgeous lamb that was being sold at the local supermarket with no hint of its origins or quality.

Wendell Berry, a highly regarded writer and farmer who lives in Kentucky in the US said “Eating is an agricultural Act”.

I think that one of the main keys to local food is not just supporting what is local to you but also wanting to know the story. Where has my food come from regardless if it is from over the fence or across the river? What makes it taste so good? Why does it perhaps cost more than other like products? What makes it valuable?

These are questions as a chef that I am used to asking my suppliers.

I now cook breakfast and stuff at the weekly Eveleigh market in Carriage works at Redfern in Sydney. I am surrounded by producers. The products that I use in the food that I produce are all sourced from the market. My customers ask me all the time whose eggs do you use? Whose bread? Whose milk? Just as much as they ask me HOW I made something.

They are interested in the stories like the wonderful collaboration between John Fairleigh from Country Valley Milk and Pierre from Pepe Saya butter who uses his cream. These two me are a wonderful example of how local producers are working together to value add to their products, educate the end consumers and have a lot of fun along the way.

I firmly believe that education is the key.
Educate people about the product and how to use it.

Michael Pollan in his book “Cooking” argues that “To cook is to vote” To cook at a time when one doesn’t have to is to make a conscious decision to be a producer and not just a consumer”

So back to “To be or not to be”

“To cook or not to cook” perhaps that is the question?

For me as a chef I agree with Pollan. I believe cooking is empowering. It means that I am in control. I can feed myself and my family. But this food security is dependent upon being able to source food locally, regardless of where I am.

As Wendell Berry said in his Jefferson speech, it turns on affection, 2012 “There is no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused the other suffers.”

The value of being able to shop for locally produced food, the value of being able to cook, the value in sharing a meal are all part of belonging to a community. Its hard to put a dollar value on these attributes but one that we need to if we are going to preserve them.

So back to our lady friend Sarah who wanted to make plates.
She realized that if she wanted to make her plates for a living that it had to be sustainable. She had to be able to support herself. She couldn’t just do it because she was passionate about it.

She had to understand what the true cost of her time was in the making of the plates. She had to appreciate and value the time and energy that she had put into learning her craft over many years.

She had to accept that the market for her plates was probably going to be quite small as she was only a very small artisan producer and could not compete with the larger, industrialised producers of similar but not the same plates.

New markets could be found but only through communicating her story to a wider audience. She needed to educate them as to why her plates were so special and worthy of their price tag.

And when she did all this suddenly her plates didn’t seem so expensive any more because she had taken into account their TRUE value.

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‘What’s this bit then?’ asked Bron. ‘Err, brisket? No, blade!’ I hazard to guess after scrutinising the MLA cut poster for the 107th time. This was on Saturday. By Monday, I was naming unidentified cuts ‘pirate fillet’. So. Much. Beef.

As you’ll recall, this year we’re only eating our own meat here on the farm, and so a couple weeks ago we butchered our first steer with only a poster, an English butchery book and an Australian video as our guides. Oh, and youtube, when the internet was fast enough. NBN anyone?

My butcher told me I was crazy, and I told him to be more optimistic. Turns out we were both right, I’m crazy, but optimism pays off. So do knife skills, perseverance, and a strong back.

The steer was hung for a week at the abattoir before Stuart brought it home in quarters. Our cattle are Lowlines, a breed stemmed from Angus, but short in stature with a high feed conversion ratio, so we got a 209kg carcass back. This sounds a lot (and trust me, it’s a lot to cut up), but compared with many other breeds, it’s pretty small. I hadn’t considered how grateful I would be for that smallness when it came time to butcher it! It still took us three nine-hour days…

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So following on from my growing experience of butchering pigs, I had an armoury of sharp knives at the ready, and a few buckets and bins for all the trim that would become mince or soap (seriously, we planned to make soap with the tallow we would render from the fat… sadly, we failed to do this. It’s on the list for next time though…), and for the glorious bones (I may have shouted ‘phở!’ when I boned out the first leg…). I didn’t think through the irritation of using a book from the UK and an Australian video, so that when I followed one initially, the subsequent cuts wouldn’t match the first ones… ‘live and learn’ was a bit of a mantra…

It wasn’t just me – I had Stuart, my dear friend Bronwyn, and 13-year-old amazing son Oscar to help on Saturday. Sunday was just me and Oscar while Stuart did pork deliveries and dropped Bron back at home.

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Monday was just me in the morning, with Stuart re-joining after farm chores for the final stretch that afternoon. I just want you to know these details so if anyone else reads this thinking a very inexperienced smallholder can just ‘cut up a cow in a day’ you’ll know you really really need more people, not to mention more skills! It’s a Very Big Job to cut up a cow*. (*Never say ‘cut up a cow’ to a farmer, who will make you feel a right idgit for appearing not to know the difference between a cow and a steer.)

So we started with a forequarter. No matter which way I looked at it, it a) wasn’t a pig, and b) didn’t look like any of my butchery instruction pictures.

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Sure, I made the first cut okay, but then it was all just ‘soooooo, I’ll just follow *that* muscle…’ Seriously, though, when Stuart cut the first osso buco, I was totally sold.

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If some brisket was mislabelled as chuck, or blade as brisket, I can live with that – we know it’s all muscle meat and will cook it accordingly. As the first cuts slid into the cryovac bags, the satisfaction of the 2013 Our Meat Is Real project hit full force. Not just pigs anymore, we’re now self sufficient in beef and pork, and soon we’ll be adding lamb to our repertoire – amazing!

As we moved along the first half of the beast, things got more exciting, if only because who can’t identify a rib eye when they see one?! And just as it is with the pigs, it’s very useful to learn just how little of this prime cut you get from one steer, and why it’s therefore so prized. I’ll be cooking these with reverent joy in the months to come – and I reckon each one can feed about four people!

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The flank was also easy to identify, but if you think this section of the carcass went more quickly, you might be wrong as sawing through beef bones (phở!’) is really hard work.

The first hindquarter was also rather daunting – it’s a lot bigger than a ham!

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And then there’s the matter of ‘top side’ or ‘top round’ and ‘bottom round’, as distinct from the rump, and which bit is silverside again? So, yeah, we have some lovely roasts that may not know their top from their bottom, but will surely all taste delicious. We brined three pieces – two for corned beef (we ate the first one last night, actually, and it was sensational cooked up in a pot with kohlrabi & celeriac, onion, garlic, peppercorns and cloves), and one that I’ll be smoking this week for pastrami, along with a streaky bacon… the joys of home butchery and curing! And then there was the second osso buco! Yessssssss…

We finished up around 6pm, washed our hands and faces, and dashed off to our mate Cait’s 40th with a bunch of freshly butchered ribs and the first tenderloin, which we barbecued very simply with salt, pepper and olive oil. It was fun to regale everyone with our amateur efforts, and the beef was as well received as the few pork chops we also brought along in a marinade of plum sauce, soy, and star anise.

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Day 2 dawned. Half a beast remained. Stuart and Bronwyn left Oscar and me with encouraging words…

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One thing I won’t do again, I think, is start at the middle on the second half. My brain is perhaps too linear, but I should have repeated the pattern I did the first time and started at the forequarter. As I was still trying to work all the cuts out, jumping around led to extra unnecessary confusion in an already confusing job!

Straight to the ribs we went, though, cutting out a scotch fillet roast this time instead of individual rib eye steaks. I left it intentionally big in anticipation of a lovely winter feast with a large group of friends… who don’t seem in short supply when they hear there’s Jonai meat on the menu!

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While it was much slower going with only two of us to cut, Oscar was a marvel of knife skills, and served diligently as Chief Trimmer all day. He can trim the silverskin off a cut with less waste than any of the rest of us, I’m proud to report.

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On this side, rather than pulling out the tenderloin (or eye fillet as we usually call it here in Oz), I cut out porterhouse and t-bone steaks – and without a bandsaw, I left them reaaaaallly thick – dinosaur steaks! Each one should easily feed our family, though I suspect there may be some competition for the tender eye…

The porterhouse end...

The porterhouse end…

The t-bone end...

The t-bone end…

Dinosaur steaks!

Dinosaur steaks!

This is also where I realised a mistake I was making all along – I trimmed off too much fat. :-( There are different sorts of fat on cattle, and without an experienced butcher to guide me, I sort of just fell into a habit of trimming most of it off, much to my later dismay when I sat back and thought about it. We love fat – fat is flavour! Nick Huggins was quick to point out the error of my ways on Facebook, and I’ll certainly do that differently next time.

When Stuart got back from doing deliveries all day in Melbourne, he found Oscar and I a mere halfway through the second side of beef, and pretty knackered at that… a very quick dinner of garlic and cashew stir fried Jonai beef served with sweet & sour vegies was our reward before an early night to bed…

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Day 3. For those still with me here, yes, I said ‘Day 3’. I woke to tight shoulders, a sore neck, and growing forearms, feeling pretty pleased with myself. Stuart of course thought this was an opportune time to juice 150kg of windfall apples with our lovely WWOOFer for the week, Arata, and the kids. Oh, how he loves to test me…

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For those wondering where we kept the carcass these three days, it was hanging in the shed. Temperatures were cool, but by the third day we were very conscious that this meat needed to get colder again! The pressure was on…

The two littlest Jonai made it home from a few days with their grandparents and cousins down the coast the night before, so were now ready to help with the home stretch. Atticus quickly discovered just how hard it is to saw through a leg bone…

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As we were cutting the final forequarter around 5pm on Monday night, I carved out a brisket roast, browned it off in my cast iron, chucked in an onion, some lovely Angelica organic garlic and rosemary plucked from the garden, and poured a bottle of Stuart’s homebrew dark IPA over it, then popped it in a low oven for three hours.

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Stuart sawed the fourth and final osso buco (have you noticed I quite like osso buco?), we washed everything down, and sank wearily but happily into our seats to feast on the most delicious roast I think I’ve ever eaten. Cutting up a whole beast has that effect on flavour, I reckon. ;-)

I do look forward to the next steer, though it will be nearly a year before we need another one for our own consumption, we think. I also look forward to doing it with a coolroom at my disposal, and a fully fitted out boning room, including a bandsaw!

 ***

If you’d like to support our efforts to become skilful, local butchers of our own meat, in a facility we’ll also make available to other smallholders like ourselves, check out our Pozible project to crowdfund a boning room here on the farm!

laksa

You’ll recall that this is the year our meat is real – where we only eat meat from animals we’ve grown ourselves here on the farm. As the first quarter of the year is nearly past, I figured this was a great time to share a vegetarian recipe, as for the first six weeks of eating our own meat, we didn’t have any!

It was an interesting experience having six weeks as predominantly vego, but not entirely, as we had homemade chicken stock from our own chooks still in the freezer, plus some chops and our pancetta from the first pig. So while our meals were overwhelmingly plant-based, there were delicious little morsels of ethically-raised meat added to some of them. I had to keep catching my former vegetarian brain from admonishing me against the bit of pancetta or the chicken stock, remembering that I wasn’t seeking to be a vegetarian, just to rely on our own meat!

A quick look at our meals in the first month shows that we enjoyed the following list of fantastic plant-based meals: fettucine with pancetta & mushies, cheese souffle & garden-plucked artichokes, veg Hokkien mee, veg penang curry, banh mi op la, stuffed parathas, 2-cheese ravioli (made by 11yo Antigone), rice paper rolls, gado gado, pasta puttanesca… and that was just the dinners! Our brekkies, as usual, included a wide range of egg-based dishes, including: Beijing-style egg & tomato, spicy Indian omelet, eggs en cocotte, Chinese fried eggs with oyster sauce, spring onions and chili… and a bit of Bircher muesli for good measure.

It’s telling that most of our vegetarian meals tend to be from the sub-continent or southeast Asia, given their much longer history of primary reliance on a diverse range of fresh vegetables. So here’s one of our family favourites, the luscious laksa lemak, which the delightful @bronya_l has patiently waited for me to post. :-)

Laksa Lemak

Oh, laksa, how I love thee. The diverse, spicy flavours in a coconut-rich stock that squeezes so delightfully from each mouthful of tofu puffs, punctuated with the crunch of fresh bean sprouts and the aromatic appeal of Vietnamese mint… this is warming, delightful comfort food. There are many varieties of laksa – our favourite is probably closest to what would be called a vegetarian laksa lemak, though as we use chicken stock, it’s not in fact vegetarian…

The only real work in making laksa is the paste, but a decent food processor can make this a pretty quick task as well. My own food processor is not really that decent and leaves the harder ingredients such as galangal and lemongrass a bit gritty in the paste, so I’ve always preferred my mortar & pestle.

Because this is such a favourite in our house, sometimes the craving won’t be denied though the larder is lacking. I’ve found that adding dried turmeric for fresh, though not as pungent and magical as the lurid orange rhizome, is definitely sufficient for the job. A lack of galangal is a problem, in my opinion, as its aromatic qualities are not easily replicated with anything else. And although many traditional laksas call for rice noodles, we love the fat toothiness of hokkien noodles. But be bold and you’ll be eating laksa of many creative varieties in no time!

Paste

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 med onion, chopped

2 tspn belacan (shrimp paste)

1T galangal, finely chopped

1 tspn fresh turmeric, chopped

2T candlenuts (hazelnuts or macadamias work in a pinch)

3 coriander roots, chopped

1 kaffir lime, zest only

2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped

1-2 chilies, depending on their heat & your tolerance

1-2T peanut oil

(NB this will make a small jar of paste, which will keep in the fridge for a few weeks. )

Soup

1.5 L homemade stock

400 ml coconut milk

Dark soy sauce to taste

2 limes, juice

Bok choy or silverbeet

Fried tofu puffs, chopped in half

Bean sprouts

rau răm (aka Vietnamese mint or laksa leaf)

Crispy shallots

Hokkien noodles

Method

It’s simplest to make the paste in a food processor, but when you have a bit of time or need to work through some aggro, a mortar & pestle is definitely your friend. It also makes a smoother paste, in my experience, with the flavours pushed together better.

Once the paste is made, heat a drizzle of peanut oil on a medium flame in a large pot and pop 3-4 T of the laksa paste into the pot. When it colours and before it burns, pour the coconut milk in and stir frequently. Once it’s hot, add your stock (we use homemade chicken stock, but of course a flavoursome homemade vegie stock is an excellent option as well) and heat through.

Add lime juice and soy and taste – adjust to your palate. Add your leafy greens and the tofu puffs and heat through.

I pre-heat the hokkien noodles in a bowl of hot water, then drain them and add them into the soup at the last minute. Alternatively, after warming in a bowl you can put them straight into the bowls and pour the soup over the top.

Garnish each bowl with bean sprouts, Vietnamese mint, and crispy shallots. A small bowl of chopped chilies for the strong-tongued is a nice addition to the table, and of course some sambal oelek should be offered.

The only real trick to laksa is how to eat it without splattering your chest, something I cannot profess to have mastered reliably. Enjoy!

 
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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. :-D

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!


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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.

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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!

Blood. It drains from our face when we’re shocked, flushes our cheeks when we’re embarrassed, heats our veins, and is chilled by bad news. Blood is reputed to offer immortality to those who would drink it, and its symbolism is potent enough to ostracise women through history during their monthly flow.

Blood is life’s most basic building block, and yet most of us never think to feed it.

The only time I remember consciously ‘feeding my blood’ was when a bad case of influenza left me with the white blood cell count of a leukemia victim. As well as my usual whole foods diet, I included vegetable juices every day with a slice of aloe vera in them as I read that aloe boosts liver function (that great engine room for healthy blood cells). Once healed, I returned to feeding my soul, nurturing my family, and winning hearts with vast feasts. I forgot all about blood once again.

And then came the day that my beloved Mama got blood cancer, or Hodgkins lymphoma. (more…)

 

I’ve been making tacos and burritos at home for a very long time, and it was with great delight I went on a hunt for a tortilla press on our recent Road Trip USA (I came home with three – two for me and one for Zoe). Now that I have the presses, plus access to instant masa flour from Casa Iberica in Melbourne, corn tortilla making is very simple indeed.

So it was rather amusing that as I was making tacos de carne asada the other week food writer John Lethlean tweeted a request for a recipe for soft tacos. @FlavourCrusader put me forward, which motivated me to write out my recipe. With the current craze for all things Mexican in Melbourne, I hope this helps all the home cooks see what the fuss is about.

Tortillas:

3C Masa flour
2C water

Carne asada:

1 large flank (skirt) steak
2 limes
salt
pepper
sliced white onion
chopped coriander

Pico de gallo:

diced tomatoes
minced red onion
minced chilies
chopped coriander
lime juice

Guacamole:

2 avocados
1-2 cloves garlic – minced or bashed in mortar & pestle
salt
pepper
juice of 1 lemon

For the tortillas, mix masa & water and knead until a smooth dough – this doesn’t take long. If too dry, add a bit of water – should be slightly tacky but not sticky. Roll into 16 balls and cover with a damp cloth until ready to cook.

When ready, place baking paper on press, put ball in centre and press flat, then place tortilla on dry hot griddle and cook until brown spots appear on both sides. Keep warm in a tea towel until serving. If you don’t have a tortilla press, these are easy to roll out with a rolling pin.

For the carne asada, squeeze juice of limes (I typically use 2 for one steak) over steak, add pepper, cover and set aside for an hour while steak comes to room temp. Just before grilling, salt liberally, then grill to taste (we like it med rare). Rest for a couple minutes before slicing thinly.

For the pico de gallo, dice tomatoes, red onion and chilies and mix with coriander and lime juice. It’s best done at least half an hour before serving to develop the flavours through the tomato. We often leave the chilies out for the kids and just add Tabasco at the table.

We like the simplest guacamole: mash avocados with minced or bashed garlic (1-2 cloves to 2 avocados), add lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste.

You can either construct them in the kitchen and bring them out on plates served with frijoles or Mexican rice, or let people construct at the table. The order for us is usually: tortilla, carne asada, white onion, pico de gallo, guacamole, coriander. Sometimes we add a bit of homemade yoghurt (which we use instead of sour cream for pretty much everything), and we usually let everyone opt in or out of the coriander. Thinly sliced purple cabbage is also a delicious addition.

This entire meal, though it includes a number of separate processes, can take less than half an hour to prepare for a family of five! It’s a Jonai staple. :-)

Nearly two years ago I set out to make reliably good sourdough, and in the last two months I think I got there. There have been many months of experimenting, unreliable record keeping, distracted successes and focused failures along the way, and for those of you who don’t want to wait two years to make good bread, I’m going to give you my recipe.

I use a stand mixer for mine, which does save time and makes working with a wet, sticky dough a lot easier, but it can easily be done by hand without a lot of extra time required as I use a minimal kneading technique. I’ve learned that supermarket, stock standard flour doesn’t make great bread – these days I’m using 12.5kg bags of pizza flour from UCG Wholesalers. Pizza flour is a ‘strong flour’, that is, it has a higher gluten content, which is better for bread and pizza. Low gluten flours (which are typical of most self-rising and plain flours in the supermarket) are best for cakes and pastries. As I bake almost every day, I get through 12.5kg every three weeks or so, and it’s great value from UCG (there’s one in Melbourne CBD and one up on Bell St in Preston). I play with other flours occasionally too, especially rye, but my results are a lot more variable to date.

As for my starter, Fran, I feed her about a tablespoon of flour & a bit less of water each day, give her a quick stir and leave her on the bench with a lid loosely perched on the plastic honey jar in which she resides. In really hot weather I usually pop her in the fridge or she gets a bit manky (we must be related). It took me ages to learn not to add too much starter to my bread – the acidity keeps the gluten from making a lovely, stretchy, chewy crumb.

I’ve stuck with adding a bit of commercial dry yeast to get a reliable rise, and if I need to speed it up (when there’s no time for an overnight rise), I just add a bit more.

The key to sourdough is long rises, not loads of labour, in my experience. Hence putting a dough on in the morning, popping it into tins before bed, and into the oven in the morning seems to work perfectly, with minimal effort on my part and maximum time for farming all day. :-)

Recipe

1T starter (give or take – I often make double quantities, but only up the starter by about half)

2C pizza flour

1C tepid tap water (I reckon our rainwater has improved the bread too, by the way)

pinch flake salt

1tsp dry yeast

drizzle olive oil

Method

Pour starter into bowl. Add flour, dry yeast, salt, water and oil. Knead on lowest setting or by hand for about 1 minute – just until combined. Let stand 15 minutes. Knead again for about 30 seconds.

Brush a light covering of olive oil on top and leave to rise (prove) for 6-10 hours. The wetness of the dough and temperature and humidity in your house will determine the right length of time, but you can also make it suit your schedule. If you get home late from work, it may have fallen from the top of its rise a bit, but it doesn’t really matter, you’ll still get great bread from the second rise.

For the second rise, I don’t really ‘punch it down’, I simply pour it out of the bowl and fold it over like a book, turned at 90 degrees repeatedly, to form bubbles inside until it’s quite tight and doesn’t want to stretch any further. Then I put it into a lightly oiled (and usually with polenta on bottom) bread tin for the final rise. NB oil your hands and the board for this bit to avoid loads of sticky dough everywhere. Allow to rise overnight.

A quick note on stickyness – I love the results of a wetter dough, but too wet and it doesn’t rise with structure (so needs to be in a tin, not on a tray), too dry and you get dry bread. A really wet dough may rise beautifully but collapse before you hop up in the morning to bake it – the result will still be good, but just a bit shorter with a tougher top crust. Keep experimenting until it’s how you like it best.

Sunken loaves from a wet dough left to rise too long - still noms!

My favourite bit is waking up with a gorgeous sunrise washing through the house and turn on the oven to warm the kitchen.

I bake my bread on the lowest rack at max temp (which on my oven is around 250C) for about 20 minutes – until the top is golden & the bottom makes a hollow sound if you tap it. Occasionally I remember to put a water bath on the top rack or spray some water in for more yummy holes in the bread.

Enjoy your warm, fresh loaves every morning and take time to reflect on what a mood enhancer they are.

There’s no doubt that making bread feels good – it’s homely, nurturing & nostalgic – and if you’re making good bread, it’s especially satisfying. And given I devote around 10 minutes prep time to mine (that includes all stages), I no longer believe anyone who says it’s too hard or too time consuming, or that it’s some Little House on the Prairie anti-feminist practice.

What’s the best thing since sliced bread? A whole loaf you made yourself.

Mood leaveners

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!

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.

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