recipe


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.

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!

 

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

Having just made the most delicious fried chicken OF MY LIFE, I feel compelled to share immediately! First of all, anyone who wants to complain that ‘this is too hard/too much work/I don’t have the right [insert utensils/mod cons]‘, it’s important that you know that we made this dinner in the RockVan, a 1977 GMC motorhome, deep in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Fancy Gap, Virginia.

The RockVan

So go for it – you won’t be sorry.

Ingredients

1 free-range chicken, jointed (we were fortunate to have a Polyface chicken)

buttermilk

bread crumbs (making your own from a nice loaf of sourdough is best, but after drying slices on the dash while driving, then mangling them with our secondhand hand blender, Stuart reckons we’ll buy some next time for RockVan ease…)

cinnamon

cayenne

turmeric

salt & pepper

onion

garlic

flour

vegetable oil

Method

Soak the chicken pieces in buttermilk for a few hours (out of the fridge so it will fry evenly when the time comes).

Soaking the chicken in buttermilk

Turn the onion and garlic into a paste – you can do it with a mortar and pestle, but in this case, I cannot see why not to use the hand blender, which is all we have in the RockVan anyway. Set aside in a bowl.

Garlic/onion paste

Blend your bread crumbs until fine-ish, then add all the dried spices – salt & pepper to taste, but I would encourage you to be liberal with both.

Dredging the chicken in spiced breadcrumbs

Pull pieces of chicken from the buttermilk, dredge very lightly in flour, then in the garlic/onion paste, then in the spiced bread crumbs. You can either shallow fry (with enough oil to virtually half cover the pieces) or deep fry.

Pop in the oven for 10-20 minutes – totally depends on the size of your pieces, heat of your oven, etc.

Having served ours with artichokes tonight, I reckon I never need anything else for dinner. This is very happymaking food.

Fancy Gap fried chicken & artichokes.

Y’all come back now. ;-)

 



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. :-)

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!

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.

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.

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