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…


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.

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.

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

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.


Three bucks, well spent

The other day, I invested in more kitchenware.

No, I don’t have the space, and have had to be creative about storage, but it’s going to be money incredibly well spent.

Schlemmertopf closedAnyone else out there old (or young) enough to remember clay baking pots? They were fashionable in the 1970s in the UK (and possibly elsewhere, I can only speak of my own knowledge), but these days the main source is eBay, gumtree and other online options. A clay baking pot is essentially a fired, unglazed terracotta casserole with a high domed lid. When new and unused, you plunge it into a bath of water for half an hour to absorb moisture before using it to cook in the oven. After that, you only have to soak the lid for about 15 minutes for each subsequent use. The idea is that the moisture absorbed into the unglazed terracotta is converted into steam, and this helps to cook the food, as well as the radiant heat of the hot pot itself.

Schlemmertopf openMy mother had one. I can recall the serious “stand back, it’s incredibly hot” command when she removed it from the oven and placed it on the wooden chopping board, protected by a tea towel.  She had an especially thick pair of oven gloves for this big red monster, and the lid was always opened away from herself to ensure the resulting billow of steam wafted out away without burning her. The smell was always indescribably good. There sat a meltingly tender piece of meat or a roast chicken on a bed of vegetables, a stew or a ‘fridge dinner’ (you know, creative use of leftovers…).  The meats had produced at least 300ml/10 fl.oz of broth, full of flavour and only such fat as the meat itself contained, since she added none before cooking. If there was no meat in the pot, she’d  have added liquid to rice in appropriate amounts, or a little stock to roasted vegetables, for example, to help prevent sticking. Fond memories, awesome meals…

Schlemmertopf baseAnyway, I was checking out one of our local op shops (aka charity or thrift shops) for something completely different, and as I walked out, my eye fell on a Schlemmertopf. A brand new one. There are two main brands of clay baking pots: Römertopf, the royalty of the genre, and Schlemmertopf, the aristocracy. All others are pale imitations. This, the 832 size, big enough for, say, a 2.5kg/5½ pound chicken and some vegies, was pristine, never used and rather than the $100+ plus postage you’d be paying if you bought it new online, it was three whole dollars. So of course, I bought it. Like cast iron cookware, a lot of people don’t know how to use or care for them and they end up in charity shops or being used as planters.

We christened it with a leisurely bath in the kitchen sink, and then plonked into it the chook I’d been planning to roast in my small electric oven. A sprinkle of salt, a minimal spritz of olive oil, lid on, and into a cold oven. Yup, you heard right. You put your cool, water-saturated pot into a cold oven, and then turn on the heat. Put a cold pot in a hot oven and it cracks. Put a hot pot on a cold surface and ditto. You also have your oven about 50°C/ 120°F hotter than normal, but cook for about half an hour less. So this chook got 1.5 hours at Mark 7 or 220°C /425°F in my gas oven, mainly because the lid is too tall for my small electric oven. One more bonus: no splatters, no oven cleaning! When I went to investigate, there sat my lightly bronzed chook in a delicate bath of self-generated stock, literally falling off the bone, juicy and tender. We attacked it like wild beasts… Clean up? Fill with warm water only, leave to stand for 20 mins, and then scrub off any residue with a brush. No soap. No dishwasher. No hassle. The more you use it, the better seasoned it becomes and the less things stick.

Two days later, the leftovers are still moist and juicy, and the bones, skin and scraps have made a wonderful stock. (I wonder how long I should decently wait till I roast another one…?) So, on the To Try list for the same treatment I have beef brisket, lamb shoulder, lamb shanks, shin beef, etc. All those cuts where normally you need long, slow cooking to break down the connective tissue and deliver a moist, tender result. In addition to the meat, I’ll roast vegetables, bake apples, and maybe even one of these days try baking bread. I’m told you get a wonderfully moist loaf with a tremendous crispy crust. It may require considerable experimentation, considering I’d be making a gluten free loaf, but still worth a try, wouldn’t you say?

I’ll keep you posted. And if you see anything that looks like the object above, grab it. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.