how to win at breakfast

breakfast

Some people wake up starving. With breakfast on the brain. Ready to fuel the body and start the day. Yay for them! But my first thought is backwards. I am all about, what time is it? Did I miraculously wake up before my alarm, do I still have three hours more to sleep?

Food is not an option for me in the wee, fresh hours of the morning. To be honest, it makes me feel a bit ill. This disappointing attitude strongly contradicts the rest of my day, where I am constantly looking forward to the next meal.

Past methods of dealing with this affliction have largely revolved around waiting until I get hungry and then buying something to eat at that point in time. But my options between 8-10 am are the kinds of naughty in-transit foods that are yes, delicious, but also Not Good For Me. And the money, right? (I’m looking at you, bacon and egg sandwich, ham and cheese croissant, and even you, virtuous-sounding-but-still-evil spinach and ricotta pastry).

In response to this pattern of grease and guilt, I did my research and can happily report that I have found my breakfast dreamboat. And that I have been loved up with this combination for a few months now.

It’s basically breakfast trifle, or parfait. It’s as simple as layering fruit-yoghurt-muesli. Ground breaking, no!?

But it’s one of those things where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And it meets my needs of:

  • Can be prepared the night before for maximum sleep in time
  • Is not disappointing compared to when it is served hot
  • Delicious and not unhealthy
  • Cheap to run

Let’s look closer.

VIP ingredient no. 1: Soul mate yoghurt. This is not the brand, this is what I have found after many attempts at finding a Goldy Locks yoghurt, i.e. not too tart, not too sweet, not too fat-free-y. Gippsland Smooth and Creamy Yoghurt. Winner. Find your soul mate yoghurt and insert here.

VIP ingredient no. 2: Delicious fruit. Be it fresh, canned, stewed, frozen. I won’t judge. I am currently alternating between stewed rhubarb from the in-laws garden, and frozen blackberries from last summer.

VIP ingredient no. 3: Muesli. I adapt Shutterbean’s recipe to whatever good things are hanging around our kitchen. This is seriously killer. The glazed nuts? Phwoar. My last batch was an Almond/Coconut/Cranberry.

Chop a couple handfuls of nuts and glaze in butter and whatever come to hand in the sticky-sweet category (honey, golden syrup, maple syrup, apple jelly) and a little vanilla essence or beans if you are lux.

Half a kilo of rolled oats. I will sometimes stir through a quarter cup of orange juice through the oats.

A handful of coconut and seeds you like, maybe sunflower, pumpkin, sesame. Mix these into the oats.

Spread thinly onto a baking tray and then experiment with times in your oven, check every few minutes until you have got it sussed. Mine likes 10 min at 150 C. Try not to wander off. It waits for you to do this so it can burn.

Let it cool, and then mix through the nut clusters and some dried fruit. Fig? Yes please. Peach or blueberry? Excellent. I don’t believe in sultanas.

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Balmy for Salami

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In Italy many years ago, dispatching and sorting the pig into curable meats was the job of my father’s family. The brothers would go from home to home assisting the villages in turning la porcetta into whichever salami they liked best. In our region of Veneto, located at the very top of Italy, they called it Salami Veneto. Not the most creative name I admit, but what the northern Italians lacked in creativity in name they also lacked in spice, in a good way.

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The Veneto salami is as un-enhanced as it comes, the pork has very little in the way of spices or other flavours and so the quality of pork we use must be perfect and the very freshest. This year our pig was supplied by James Mele of The Meat Room, who hosted us for the salami sessions a couple of weekends back.
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So this weekend past we set up shop Gian Carlo’s home and with knives sharpened and benches sanitised we awaited our sow. We set to butchering early Saturday morning and by that afternoon had turned a near 100kg pig into its parts there of. Minced then graded, we had various piles of meat around the room, the fat ratios are just as important as spice, Gian Carlo exclaims.
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Now days we don’t just have one style of salami, no matter how delicious it is. This year we made several including, Veneto, Calabrese cacciatore, Sopressa, Salamini and Cotechino, The first of which should be ready in four or five weeks.
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I’m not here to claim we have the best recipes and nor will I publish them, but we are certainly happy to help with advice and instruction. If you are interested in or about to start making salami or any charcuterie then fantastic, what you’re about to create will turn you off store bought small goods forever. Home made is best made. Please stay tuned for the results.
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I was going to be a baker, but I couldn’t raise the dough.

Bread. Whether baguettes or bagels, focaccia or flatbread: it’s delicious, and something all of us can enjoy, Unless you’re gluten intolerant, in which case it can kill you. Celiacs aside, Bread has been a staple for over 12,000 years and is one of my favourites.

It’s Paris and your appartment is just off the Rue de Rivoli and not too far from Hôtel de Ville. You wake to the smell of freshly baked bread and you’re instantly compelled to find it and make it your own. “You stay here and make coffee while I pop downstairs to retrieve breakfast”. This bakery is so small that they only bake a dozen loaves at a time, so they bake all day, and it’s all day that you get this amazing aroma filling the street, Paris is not the city for dieting. But I’m not in Paris today, nor do I feel like dieting, so it’s time for a spot of bread and the baking of it.

Many people have trouble baking bread, Some use packet bread mixes or even go as far as to buy a bread maker. They may be considered shortcuts or not really baking by many but I personally have no problem with whatever method you chose. Whatever it takes to get you out of the supermarket aisle and into the kitchen is fine by me. Its not all that difficult and here is a great recipe I’ve used for some time now that works a treat.
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But first some tips.

Flour, Get some good bakers’ flour, 10kg of good bakers’ flour can be purchased from any good market for under $20. Yeast, I use freeze dried yeast that I add to a 1/4 cup of water with a pinch of sugar and let it sit for 20 minutes prior to adding it to dough. And time, dont rush your baking, a good bread shouldn’t be rushed.

  • 500 grams baking flour
  • 320 mls Warm water
  • 15 grams Yeast
  • 15 grams Salt
  • 15 grams Sugar
  • 15 grams Olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or mixer and knead into a dough for about 5 minutes. Cover and place in a warm place and let rise for at least half an hour.

photoFrom here I knead and shape the dough and in this case I’ll sprinkle a course flour (Semolina or Polenta) of the top, then I cut some lines atop the loaf, this isn’t purely decorative, it also helps to prevent bursting. It also adds extra crust which every bread lover knows is the tastiest part of the loaf. Let the dough rest again for another 30 minutes and preheat your oven to as hot as it will go.

I use a stone to bake on, you can pick up a baking stone or pizza stone from most kitchen shops and is well worth it. A preheated oven with baking stone is as close as you’re going to get to building a brick baking oven and for now it’s a great start.

After your dough has re-risen, sprinkle your baking stone with some course flower and slide your dough into your preheated oven, turn the temperature down to 180-200C and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.  When baked place bread on a wire rack to cool and listen to the crust cracking. Serve with anything!

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Biscuits Rigoni

Just out of Cleveland, Tasmania on the Midland Highway  you will find the Saint Andrews Inn, Its always worth stopping here.  It’s a stunning old couch house and B&B with a menu of classics, Tassie’s curried scallop pie is always worth a try but for me I can’t go past a biscuit, any biscuit, all the biscuits! During my first visit here some years back, a friend bestowed to me the tag Biscuits Rigoni and I love it. The Best Lemon Shortbreads I’ve ever had are made by Pat Williams of Ross, who for some time supplied the biscuits for the St. Andrews. Nice work, Pat.

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But we’re back in Victoria and it’s late April and getting colder by the day, Anzac day is just around the corner so time to get baking. There are many variations of the recipe, some people love them crunchy and some insist that they have a chewy centre. The Presbyterian or Country Women’s Association Cookbooks are a must for any kitchen and both offer Anzac biscuit recipes. But here’s one to get you started.

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  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • 125g butter
  • 1 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
  • 1 tablespoon boiling water

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl with the grated rind. Put the butter and golden syrup in a saucepan on a low until butter is melted. Mix the boiling water and bi-carb soda in a cup. Then mix all that in with the dry ingredients. Roll into balls (approximately one teaspoon of mixture per ball). Place on oven trays and flatten with a fork. Cook at approximately 170 degrees for ten or 15 minutes, or until golden.

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Half a dozen eggplants or six aubergines

IMG_0590Growing up in a home full of hand made goodies and preserves we had everything you might expect, from Fowlers Vacola jars of peaches and fruit to long neck beer bottles of tomato sauce, everything that could be bottled usually was. Anyone who had a similar experience knows that the flavours and freshness of what you can produce at home is always superior to what you can purchase for your local supermarket. So we grow up and seek out to master and reproduce these handed down recipes.

But somehow I forgot all about this one. A Melanzane  (Italian for eggplant) sandwich with mortadella and parmesan cheese is a thing of beauty, toast it for lunch on a cold winters day and you have a very happy Rigoniman. A recent trip to my parents’ reminded me of this delicacy and at the end of the weekend I was on my way with recipe and an appetite for something I hadn’t tasted in years.

Any local fruit and veggie store will sell eggplants and in season you can pick them up for a bargain, alternatively they are easy to grow and one plant should produce at least  half a dozen jars. Here are the steps.

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  • Wash and sterilize jars.
  • Remove stems and peel, cut fruit into 6-8mm slices.
  • Lay slices in colander and sprinkle about 1/2 a teaspoon of salt between each layer, weigh down for 2 hours.
  • Bring enough vinegar to the boil and add sliced fruit, boil for three minutes taking care not to over cook.
  • Remove fruit and rinse, pat dry using paper towel or tea-towel, you must remove all moisture from the fruit.
  • Cut the slices into 2cm thick widths and begin packing jars, pack fruit into jars in layers adding a pinch of chilli, pepper corns and sliced garlic every 3-4 layers then top up with olive oil. Continue layering until jar is almost full and fruit is covered with oil. Pack fruit tightly making sure to remove all air bubbles.

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The jarred fruit matures in flavour and will be best after a couple of weeks, store them in your larder and they should last at least to then next year’s Malanzane season but good luck, we’ve already eaten our first jar.

Chickens

If you have ever wanted all the benefit of waking at sun up with none of the inconvenience of setting your alarm, then you should consider keeping your own chickens. Most people will tell you that a rooster is happy to take the place as said alarm and this is certainly true, but in keeping only hens you may still find yourself with a wake up call, although somewhat quieter. Not to put anyone off the idea but you do need to be aware of what you’re getting into. Plus, the benefits far outnumber the alarm. We rise early and for most of the time take pleasure in the call of our rooster waking us accompanied by his lovely clutch of hens. IMG_0871

Eggs! If you have Peter Russell-Clarke on hand and his egg cooking skills then fantastic, but most of us we are going to have to get creative. Obviously your breakfast forecast is going to be rich, a favourite of ours is poaching. No need for any fancy centrifuge or vinegar with your own fresh eggs, just pop them in and by the time your toast is done so is your poaching. Breakfast is only the start, frittata or quiche, devilled eggs, and you’ll never have to buy packet pasta again! The options are plentiful and the outlook is delicious. In times of egg glut, barter them with friends for whatever you can’t produce yourself. Like the elusive lemon tree, something every home would of had only a generation ago, try as we might, they just won’t grow in Woodend. Thanks to this system we are kept in lemons too.

You can hunt out a poultry auction or most town markets will have someone flogging fowl, of course you could just ask at your local poultry supply store. Seek out advice and read up online about which breeds suit your local environment. But here’s some food for thought: Australorps are a big bird that lay well and are a good meat bird, ISA Browns make great layers and Bantams are smaller and happy to be cuddled, but we love them all.

The chicken run is important too,  and the internet has some great advice on how to set up their new  home, a search in your preferred search engine will offer all the advice you’ll ever need. The basic things to keep in mind are: IMG_4709

  • Make sure the run and coop is big enough for your birds.
  • Hens need a dry place to scratch about and perch at night.
  • Always make sure they have enough food and water
  • If you are keeping your hens in a coop, they will occasionally enjoy a visit about your yard. A free range chicken is much happier, productive and tastier!

Other than eggs the other commodity your chickens and more likely roosters produce is meat, once again the internet is full of useful guides and videos on how to harvest this. Many people may turn their nose up at the idea of this but it’s something that almost everyone in this country would have done not all that long ago, many people in other countries still do today. I had to question whether I should be eating meat if I couldn’t go through the steps involved to harvest it and it’s something I would ask everyone to consider.

IMG_0265So if you’re in need of a pet, some food or an alarm clock then chickens might be the right move for you. And the by product (chicken manure) is fantastic for your garden, our tomato crop is weeks ahead of anyone in our neighbourhood. More on this soon…

BWACK!

Pomodoro per passata

What do you get when you combine over a third of a ton of bursting ripe roma tomatoes, just as much red wine and the labour day long weekend. The answer is one of the busiest preserving weekends of the year, and this year’s was our biggest yet. To be honest, tomato season came a little early this year, so away we went…

IMG_0469Most greengrocers or markets sell tomatoes but the ones you’re looking for are best and cheapest in peak season, normally toward the end of summer. From late February to early April all over the country tomatoes are being boxed up by the truck load and sold by the box load. This year our supplier came by mere coincidence during a trip to a local ham and smallgoods factory in Thomastown, Melbourne. The hand painted Pomodoro Per Passata or “Tomatoes For Sauce”  sign was the clue, and we were off, a short detour through an industrial estate and we found it. Tomato Town, Piazza Pomodoro or just some disused shed come alive for six busy weeks.

Here’s the deal. A small sun-bleached Mediterranean gent is going to wander out, if he greets you in Italian you’re in! If not no bother, he still knows you have cash and more than likely want some of his merch. Load up with tomatoes, advice and whatever else Antonio insists you need and hit the road.

A side note on the tomato purchase. A box can vary in size, the poly styrofoam boxes pictured are most common and hold about 18kg but we have purchased boxes as small as 10kg.

How much? I’ve seen tomatoes from as cheap as $6 for a 10kg box to $25 for a 18kg, a good price about $1.20 a kilogram but this depends on the season.

What type of tomatoes are best? Most people say Roma but you can use whatever you can get your hands on. Romas have a thicker skin, using this method we remove them so keep this in mind. And remember, if in doubt, ask Antonio.

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By now you may have noticed some of your tomatoes are less than perfect, this is fine and completely normal, sauce tomatoes can be seconds or fruit too ripe to send to the shops. The riper the tomatoes, the richer the sauce. it’s like my Italian grandmother says “The riper the tomatoes, the richer the sauce”. First wash your fruit, this is done by submerging your fruit in a bath of water, washing and then moved to a second bath to rinse.

In a large pot bring some water to the boil and add your fruit or as much as will fit in batches, Boil for three minutes and drain. This step helps to remove the acid from the sauce, If you have ever seen a bottle of sauce with a clear liquid floating on top the sauce, this is what we are draining here. Another option is to roast your tomatoes, this takes longer but can result in a stronger flavoured sauce.

And now we pass the boiled and drained fruit over to Giancarlo and Ricardo to pass through some kind of separator, this step removes the skin and seeds and leaves us with the pulpy tomato extract. There are many ways to do this, by hand or machine but when you are processing large quantities a good sauce separator is a must.

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If you’re planing on keeping your sauce for the year you need jars, wash them and dry sterilise them in your oven. We add salt and sugar, garlic and basil in the following ratio.

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  • Per 1 kilogram of pulp
  • Five gams Salt
  • Five grams Sugar
  • One peeled clove of Garlic per bottle
  • Two of three Basil leaves per bottle

The filled jars are then processed at boiling point for 1 hour, and cooled over night on a wooden surface. Our favourite uses for the passata vary from Italian ragout to spicy curry goat, but the limitations are only from your imagination.

Bon appetite!

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