Thursday, August 14, 2008

My winter of (fat) contentment

The installation of our slow combustion wood heater has had a few negative impacts.

The first is that it is now very hard to leave our house on the weekends. Example one. Lets check out Movida next door tonight. Actually lets eat something from the freezer and stay in front of the fire and watch Buffy DVD's. Example 2. it is raining and howling outside, should we a) go to the gym or b) curl up with a good book in front of the heater?

The other rather bad impact is that eating and sitting in front of the fire seem to go hand in hand. Why, I am not sure but it might help explain the sudden weight gain. Sigh. And now I can take that one step further and combine the heat from the fire with the actual cooking of food! Just like in the good old days (which were not actually my good old days, but you know what I mean).

After reading Neils post on jacket potatoes in his fire I was just itching to try it in my fire. Unfortunately it worked too well and I am now blaming him for my weight gain. Ok that is probably not fair and my husband is loving the whole potato in the fire thing so I really should be thanking him.

The winner so far has been serving the potatoes with a slow cooked chilli con carne. I made way too much of it and froze some batches so we have been pulling it out for easy dinners. So easy! And gives me more time to watch Buffy. I didn't say that. We have also popped some spuds into the fire to have with roast chook and just for snacks. All good!
The recipe below is rough and I probably added more stuff to it (as I usually do) but it is a hardy recipe, and using cheaper cuts of beef is the only way to go here as they tenderise with long cooking times and allow a richer flavour to develop.

Chilli Con Carne (makes a fair bit)

1kg chuck steak
diced onion
crushed garlic
diced carrot
diced celery
diced leek
ground cumin
ground corriander
cardomen pods, bashed lightly
bay leaf
cinnamon stick
chilli powder and fresh chilli (to taste)
tinned tomatoes
frozen corn
tin of red kidney beans
salt, pepper, etc

Basically, gently saute the onions, carrots and leaks in some oil, add the spices and fry for a few minutes until fragrant, season, add tomatoes and stock/ water. Bring to simmer and add chuck steak (not diced) and simmer gently for 2 hours or until tender. At this point, i remove the chuck steak and shred with 2 forks before returning the meat to the pot with some corn and kidney beans and simmering for 10 more minutes until cooked.

Serve over potatoes, in a burrito or over rice and with guacomole, sourcream and grated cheese. Eat in front of fire and follow up with chocolate. Or worse, a chocolate pudding.

For the potatos, we pierced them with a fork a few times, wrapped them in foil and put them at the front of the fire box (not in direct flame). After about 40 minutes we put them directly over the coals for 10 minutes so that the potatoes develop a nice jacket. And dont have the fire roaring as you dont want to incinerate the spuds.

I need to take a better photo of our fire but you can see the two big foil wrapped spuds in the left front corner there. mmmmm spudy goodness.
I am going skiing at thredbo next week and have been coming up with meals we can cook for 7 people (hungry after a day of skiing) that is easy and nourishing to cook. so far i have come up with spag bog (with kangaroo mince of course), a chicken stirfry, a veg curry, a dahl and some frozen soups for lunches. Any other ideas for good dinners that are simple and scaleable for many hungry people?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Winter Beetroot Salads

I am in love.

My love is sweet as can be, tasty, versatile and knows how to make me feel better when winter is getting me down.

My love does have one fault though...

Purple stains.

Not that that is so much of a problem. Unless you want to go out after dinner and have to explain to people why your hands have strange purple stains all over them.

I cannot believe that up until about 2 years ago, my only real exposure to beetroot had been of the canned variety. Not that the tinned beetroot doesnt still have its place on the salad sandwich, but I didn't know how much better it could be.

My beetroot education started off with roasting it along with other tubers for roast dinners. It then grew to beetroot curries (is there anything more dramatic than a very purple curry?). Then I discovered salads, and I havent looked back. Until I also discovered that the leaves of the beetroot were also edible and tasted great in salads.

This one is simple. Roast baby beets covered in foil for about 20 minutes or until soft. Peel off skin with fingers (I suggest gloves at this point). Cut in half, and add to the leaves of the beetroot if they were in good condition (or else use other salad leaves such as rocket). Add sliced red onion, raosted walnuts and goats cheese or fetta. The salty cheese works very well with the sweet beetroot. Dress with a vinegar/ oil combo. I love macadamia oil and red wine vinegar at the moment.

Apologies for this terrible photo. I would never have attempted grated raw beetroot if it was not for my food processor. Basically, grate beetroot (sans skin) and then add to a bowl with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and the rind of an orange. Sit for 20 minutes for the flavours to develop. I then add chopped parsley, any type of roasted nut, salt and pepper and often a cheese of some sort too, though it doesnt really need any of these additions. Goes great with roast chook or fish and well, anything actually.

I have been treating myself to organic beetroots lately - I figure I can get two uses out of them (leaves and bulb) so really it is worth it to get the best looking stuff I can, right?

SO what do you guys out there use beetroot for? I have not been brave enough to try the soup version yet.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What to do with a box of….

Part 1: Apples

I love buying things in bulk. Not only is it cheap, but it forces me to come up with new ways to use things. One Saturday we were driving around some of the local farms and came across one selling a box of granny smith apples for 5 bucks. My husband couldn’t resist and hey, it was a bargain! What I love is that these apples didn’t have that waxy coating that so much fruit has these days. It might make it look shinier and prettier in the supermarkets, but what the hell am I eating?

You can see the box in the background there with my fabulous apple corer in the foreground. Now, one may accuse me of having some unnecessary items in my kitchen, but I don’t think that my apple corer/ slicer is one of them. Yes I don’t use it all the time, but you try coring, peeling and slicing apples by hand, and then try a whole box, and you will understand why it is useful!

The original idea was to use it for juicing and as snacks in our lunchboxes, but we were not getting through them quick enough. So we had to use our imaginations a little…

So the first thing I tried was making an apple and pecan crumble cake. This recipe was taken from ‘Mix and Bake’ by Belinda Jefferies.

It was an olive oil based cake with pecans throughout the cake as well as on the crunchy topping. Nathan thought the crunch had a strange consistency but I didn’t mind it. The recipe did say to put it in a bundt tin which I didn’t have so I used a round tin. It needed a much longer baking time and I was still unsure if it could have done with a bit longer, but the olive oil keeps it very moist.
The next thing I made was apple and walnut muffins. These were based on Stephanie Alexander’s general recipe for muffins to which I added a grated apple, cinnamon and walnuts. The preparation takes about 10 minutes and then the baking 25 minutes. I love easy recipes like these!

Towards the end of the box, we still had a lot of apples left and they were starting to get a bit floury for eating. At this point some friends of ours loaned us the use of their dehydrator. Basically a load of trays with a heater and a fan, we loaded up the trays with cut apples (dipped in a lemon bath to stop discolouration) and then left them overnight. The resulting dried apples then went into a jar which was snacked on. They would have stayed good for a decent time in the pantry, but we got through them in under a week (I’m pointing the finger at Nathan here!). It did occur to me though that if I had children, these would be a great substitute for lollies as they are sweet, tasty and completely natural.

So that concludes part one of my series of ‘What to do with a box of…’. The next instalment will be carrots – some friends and I went halves on an organic box of carrots (20kg for 25 bucks) and we are still making our way through it…

I have my eye on the neighbours lemon tree which is so full the poor thing looks like it will collapse under the weight of all the lemons, and they don’t even use them!! They have just moved in and I haven’t introduced myself and am feeling a little reluctant to do so as they also just got a new dog which they don’t give enough attention too so it spends all day tied to the deck crying. I love dogs and don’t think people should get dogs if they don’t intend to give them the attention they need (and no we don’t have one for that reason).

But those lemons! I want to make preserved lemons, lemon curd, lemon tart, marmalade and of course use it for juicing. I have to find a box of lemons for 5 bucks somewhere… anyone?