Miz Lizzie Adventures: a food safari

It was our last day here at Nambucca Heads, and we’ve tried to make the most of it.

This morning we took off into the wilds and went to Eungai Creek Buffalo Farm. Wilds is an exaggeration, of course, but it’s unspoilt bush and farmland, reached by a partly unsealed road. They raise water buffalo for milk and meat, show visitors around the farm and have a rather nice little café where you can sample both. I’ve come away with a tub of buffalo mozzarella in brine, and we enjoyed a coffee and a small scoop of buffalo gelato, flavoured with Davidson plum, spice and chilli. I have to say, it was luscious and the flavour was outstanding. I don’t regret the subsequent tummy ache at all (being lactose intolerant means no ice cream, mostly). The view from the café is peaceful, and beautiful so long as you’re not looking at the muck spreader in action in the yards! Still, on a working farm, you’ve got to expect some rural-type activities, haven’t you?

On the way back, we nipped into Macksville, and visited MacNuts, who process and roast locally-grown macadamias. They sell about 10 different flavours, including my personal grand champion, the dark chocolate coated ones, plus macadamia oil, macadamia butter and macadamia oil-based personal care products. You won’t be surprised to learn that we came away with samples…

We decided to treat ourselves to a final lavish lunch overlooking the sea and the V-Wall, a rock sea wall which has been made available by the local council for decoration by the public. It’s surprisingly tasteful and harmonious, given the human propensity for ugly graffitti, and has become a bit of a tourist destination, both to look and to leave your mark 🙂

We’re mostly packed up, just a few things left to put away in the morning, ready for our first 500+ km stage on the long journey home. It’s starting to get a bit chilly here, so heading north to Mackay’s warmer climate is looking fairly attractive!

It’s been a lovely holiday, peaceful and restful. Such a pity we have to get back to harsh reality!

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Clean food

By which I mean food free of things which do not nourish. Like pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, etc.

We’re trying to pay more attention to what we eat, and changing the nature of the things we put in our mouths. It has been months since I opened the sugar jar, and I’ve actually moved it out of the kitchen and into the store room. We’re buying heaps more vegetables, to the point where I’ve had to fire up the second fridge again; the weather’s too hot and humid here to keep them out of a refrigerated area. It’s paying off, we both feel better, sleep better and have less wobbly stuff to try and cram into our clothes. But up to now, it’s been a bit of a struggle to find some foods that are more rather than less as nature intended.

Until today. We have discovered a new Farmer’s Market which has been going for a short while in a lovely spot next to the Pioneer river in the centre of town. As this is still so soon after Christmas, there weren’t too many stalls yet, but I’m told that going forward, many others will return after their Christmas break.

On sale we saw: Home made jams, sauces and pickles; culinary and dessert sauces and locally made rum liqueur; freshly caught local seafood and fish; local garlic and herbs; local salads and greens; local pineapples, picked that morning; local pumpkins and zucchini; local jakfruit, watermelons, sugar bananas, pawpaws and mangoes; organic grass-fed, biodynamic pork, beef, bacon, sausages and proper pastured free range eggs; local musicians and coffee stalls, and more…

clean-foodI love a good porky snag (sausage, if you’re not an Aussie), so I bought a pack of them from Freckle Farm: pork, leeks, garlic, rice flour and salt. I needed eggs, so I bought a dozen of those too, from the same place. The hens are allowed to range freely, not yarded, and they are stocked at only 150 per acre rather than up to 4,000 per acre, which is apparently what the egg producing industry feels is free range. I don’t, and I’ll be buying these whenever I can in future. The farm uses no pesticides or herbicides, the animals are pasture raised on biodynamic principles, and visitors are welcome to see the animals and inspect their living conditions. I picked up a price list for the pork and beef, and while it is significantly more expensive than either the supermarket or the good butcher, I suspect we’ll be happier to eat smaller quantities of this superior product.

The Husband likes something a bit bitey with his eggs and snags, so we bought some sample pots of chilli sauces and chutneys, and we’ll buy a big jar of whatever he likes best next time we go. And finally, the nice man on the banana stall gave me a free sugar (Ducasse) banana and some very useful info about where to buy licensed slips for bluggoes (a kind of plantain), as I’ve seen no cooking banana types anywhere. This is a banana-producing state, so you have to go to a licensed supplier to avoid cross-breeding, pests and diseases.

If there’s anyone close enough to Mackay to pay a visit to the market, it’s well worth the time. Here’s the FaceBook page link, so you can see what’s on and what people think.

I’ll be going back next time I need eggs, that’s for sure. And I’m pretty sure the Husband’ll be wanting more of those snags…

Foolproof…

The thing about gluten free bread is that it’s cranky.

By which I mean that results are variable, the ingredients expensive, the taste can be…odd, and the process time-consuming.  I also don’t want to make a whole loaf, and then only manage to eat half of it before the remainder goes as hard and dry as an old brick, which happen pretty quickly with GF bread.

Since my back problems 6 months ago, I’ve put on weight. Being unable to walk for more than a few minutes and unable to stand up straight will do that for you, and I haven’t managed to lose the extra lard since. So I decided it was time to revisit what, and how much, I eat. Cutting back hard on sugar, hugely increasing the amount of vegies I eat and greatly reducing the carbs is working nicely, and I’m showing a slow but steady decrease in the tightness of my clothes!  But sometimes, I want a bit of bread. And here is a recipe which combines the virtues of being low(ish) carb and gluten free, and tasting good and being very quick to make. It makes a small loaf, two large rolls or 3 or 4 small ones.

Ingredients:
1¼ cups almond meal, either bleached or natural, whichever you prefer
5 tablespoons psyllium husk powder
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1¼ cups boiling water
¼ cup of sesame seeds, pepitas, sunflower seeds or linseed (optional)

Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F. Mix the dry ingredients, and whisk together with a hand beater to ensure the baking powder is well distributed. Mix the egg whites and vinegar, and add to the dry ingredients. Beat in, then add the boiling water. Beat well for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, till the mixture starts to thicken, turning from a slightly wet and lumpy batter to a dough. Don’t over-beat, or the bread will be gummy. Put whole into a small oiled bread tin, or divide into rolls with oiled hands and put into the oven on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment. Bake for 50 minutes for small rolls or 1 hour for large rolls or a loaf. Cool well before cutting.

You can double the quantities for a larger loaf, but you’ll have to adjust the cooking times upwards  a bit. You can also add a tablespoon of dark brown sugar, half a cup of raisins and half a teaspoon of  cinnamon for a raisin bread, and can brush the crust with melted butter if you want a bit of a shine. It doesn’t have the yeasty flavour of true bread, but it’s not as odd tasting as some GF recipes, and it is wonderfully substantial if you’re hungry!

This is based on an original recipe by Maria Emmerich.

A bit of silliness…

I was making pumpkin soup this morning.

Bustin'Into my pot go onion, pumpkin, carrot, orange sweet potato and white potatoes. I buy ‘ugly’ carrots, those with bumpy, irregular shapes instead of the perfect smooth cylinders you see in the super-market. It reduces farm wastage, gives the farmer a second income stream and they taste exactly the same, or maybe better.

Into the bag went my hand, and out came this beauty. Well, you can see why I had to laugh. The Husband reckons you should never plant carrots when you need to use the bathroom.

I simply think this is a new variety, called Bustin’

What do you think?  Got a better name for a carrot which is clearly trying to hold it all in? Or better still, have you got an even funnier vegetable photo?

Bacon Jam

I made this for the first time 4 days ago, and I’ve already had to give out the recipe twice…

Properly speaking, it’s Bacon, Bourbon & Maple Syrup Jam. Yuh. Sounds kind of fabulous, doesn’t it? It’s not jam at all, of course, but the consistency is about right and there’s no other good way to describe it.

Bacon JamIt’s oniony, garlicky, tangy, bacony, sweet and smoky. I could eat it every day for every meal, but given the content, that’s probably a Bad Idea. A friend I gave it to decided it was best eaten straight from the jar with a teaspoon, but then, he’s a bloke and they do that stuff. It’s good on cheese sandwiches, any kind of barbecued meat, ham & eggs… in fact, anywhere you want a tasty, savoury condiment of some sort.

Drooling yet? Away we go, then.

Ingredients:
700g (1½ pounds) mixed back and streaky bacon, cut into 5mm (¼ inch) shreds*
2 large red onions, peeled and finely diced
4 crushed cloves of garlic
½ tsp hot chilli powder
½ tsp smoked sweet paprika
½ cup bourbon
½ cup maple syrup (not the best quality, you just want sweetness and a hint of maple flavour)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup soft brown sugar

Method
Sterilise three 400g (14 ounce) jam jars by running them through a hot dishwasher cycle, or boiling jars and lids in a pot of water on the stove for 10 minutes. Keep hot until you are ready to fill them.
Fry the bacon shreds in batches till brown and crispy, and the fat runs off them. Drain on paper towel to remove as much fat as possible. Leave some bacon fat in the frying pan, about 2 tablespoonfuls.
Fry the onions over a medium low heat until they soften, become translucent, and start to become slightly golden. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Add the chilli powder and paprika and stir through.
Turn heat up to high, and add the maple syrup and bourbon to deglaze the pan – be careful, it’ll spit viciously. Scrape up all the yummy bacony fragments from the bottom of the pan. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2 or 3 minutes.
Add the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, stir through well and boil for another 3 minutes.
Add the bacon, stir through and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes or so. The mixture will thicken gradually.
Remove pan from heat. If there is a slick of fat on the jammy mixture, you can if you wish remove this by straining. I didn’t see enough to worry about…
Transfer the hot bacon jam to the hot jars, and screw down the lids. Allow to cool a little, then refrigerate. I have no idea how long it’ll keep. Ours was eaten long before there was any chance of it going off. And in any case, it’s full of salt, sugar, alcohol and vinegar. Perfect preserving media, all of them…

It’s best heated up a bit in the microwave if you’re going to dollop it onto your meats. Pretty darn fine cold on a sandwich, too…

(Based on at least a million other recipes on the internet. Even I could never have thought of bacon jam…)

*Note: As you can see from the photo, I didn’t cut the bacon fine enough the first time round, which is why I’m suggesting shreds, which will integrate better into the mixture. My knife skills are not ninja-level, and I’ll cut the bacon with kitchen scissors. It’s nice and quick.

And that’s how you make bacon jam.

Teal Tea-Time

I finally managed to get into the kitchen.

Doing my best Quasimodo impression, I lurched about (the back pain is ramping up, bring on the surgery), making a gluten free caramel mud cake batter. I spread it across three cake pans in descending order of size. Of course, I didn’t have the right size for the smallest one, so that got made in a little pie pan and is therefore a slightly strange shape.

Teal Time Cake

The caramel mud cake was splodged with peppermint flavoured teal-coloured (or as near as I could get) buttercream frosting (it helps to disguise the lopsided cake!). Also, my cake stand isn’t blue, but, dear Esther, here is your fabulous paper piecing pattern brought to life in a very wonky and not quite as tall, but rather tasty way. There’s about three-quarters of it left, and I don’t think the remainder will last.

Peppermint gateau

And here’s what it should look like…

What do you think, people? It tastes pretty good, mint-caramel combined.

But not as good as Esther’s block looks….

A short interlude for dessert: Coconut pannacotta

Occasionally, and this may come as a surprise to some of you, I do things unrelated to sewing…

Here’s one of them. For those not already in the know, I am a coeliac and a year ago discovered I’m also lactose intolerant. This makes desserts tricky. A person can only eat so much fruit salad whilst watching everyone else tuck into sticky date pudding, ice cream, death by chocolate, etc. So when I recently had a wedding anniversary dinner with the Husband at the lovely resort where we got married, I managed to wangle the recipe for my dessert from the chef by playing for sympathy and some shameless flattery. I have made a few tweaks to adjust the spice balance a little, and I’ve dressed it up differently, but it’s still luscious! Creamy, mild, delicate and exotic. A proper grown up dessert and such a nice change from bloody fruit salad.

Coconut pannacotta ingredients

This is your one picture. For the rest, It’s a white liquid being stirred with a few unattractive lumpy bits in it, then poured into white ramekins. Nothing I can do will make that look interesting… I could have shown squeezing the gelatine but that needs two hands, and besides, it looks a bit, well, gross…

Coconut pannacotta

1 x 400ml (14 oz) can of coconut cream, well shaken
250ml (8 oz) thick cream (I use treated lactose-free, but it doesn’t have to be)
3 ½ sheets of leaf gelatine, soaked in cold water till soft (about 3 mins)
1 tablespoon castor sugar or coconut sugar, which I prefer
1 shredded kaffir lime leaf OR thinly peeled zest of 1 small lime
2 lightly bruised cardamom pods
½ cinnamon quill
½ star anise pod
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (not essence, or paste, which will colour the dessert and make it look unattractively grey)

Put everything except the soaking gelatine into a small heavy saucepan and bring very slowly to a simmer, stirring till the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Scoop the now rather slimy lump of soft gelatine out of the bowl of water and squeeze gently in both hands to remove as much water as possible without squidging bits of gelatine out between your fingers. Put into the pan of hot coconut mixture, and stir well until fully dissolved. Set aside again for 20-30 minutes to allow the aromatics to infuse into the mixture. Don’t leave it much longer than this or the gelatine will start to set. (You should be aware that leaf gelatine is an animal product, so if you’re a vegetarian, you’ll have to experiment with a vegetarian alternative such as agar agar, which will give a slightly grainier and softer set.)

Transfer the contents of the pan into a jug. Using a fine sieve, pour the mixture into small ramekins, or if you’re going to go all posh, oiled dariole moulds. There’s just over 600ml or 20 oz of mixture, so you can fill 4-6 small ramekins, and the dessert is very rich, so you don’t want to make the portions too large. Put in the fridge to set for 2-3 hours. If you’re going to turn them out, run a knife very gently around the top edge of the mould, plunge the base of the mould into hot water for a second or two then turn out. I’d tend to serve in the ramekins, less chance of disaster…

Serve with a coulis or purée of something tart, like passionfruit, raspberry, etc. It’s rich and needs the contrast. A sprinkle of toasted coconut flakes or a couple of crushed macadamias on the top is nice too. I made it first with kaffir lime leaves, and found the flavour too strong, it made me think of Thai curry too much. I like it better with lime zest. I also used less sugar than in the original recipe and also prefer this as it lets the aromatics speak out more, especially using coconut sugar which seems to enhance the flavour. If you don’t want to use dairy at all, put an extra can of coconut cream in the fridge overnight, open carefully and spoon the thick ‘head’ of coconut cream from off the the coconut water underneath and use this instead of dairy cream. And if you don’t have any problem with dairy and don’t like coconut that much, do the whole thing instead with pure thick cream! Actually, that would be tasty with a bit of strong coffee instead of the lime zest.  Well, you see how versatile this thing is!

I’m currently working on a citrus version of this, without any fat. But it will not, of course, like so many commercial alternatives, be dull, boring, filled with chemicals and over-sweetened as a a result. Just a little bit less naughty. So you can eat it more often, duh!

See how hard I’ve been working on your behalf to test and perfect this recipe?  All those experiments and tastings…. Oh, the suffering and hardship… Go on now, give it a try. You’ll thank me.