Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Panzella ...

It’s Monday evening and a hot night, and the salad you bought on Saturday is nearly gone, and that half eaten designer sourdough loaf is turning into a house brick. And, no you didn’t think to stop off at the supermarket on the way home

What to do?

The answer is Panzella - italian torn bread salad. To make i a reasonable quantity for two people you need

  • half a can of good diced canned tomatoes
  • a decent glug of olive oil
  • a couple of garlic cloves
  • half a slightly stale artisan loaf
  • dried tomatoes/capers/anchovies to taste
  • parsley
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Combine the canned tomatoes, olive oil and crush the garlic to make a chunky cold sauce. Chop the bread, say around 250g worth, into 2cm cubes, into a decent sized bowl. Pour the sauce over and release your inner child byturning the bread cubes over several times so that the start to absorb the liquid.

Add some dried and semi dried tomatoes to the mix, along with two or three chopped anchovies and some capers. If you have some small cherry tomatoes cut three or four in half and add them to the mix.

Taste the sauce and add any extra salt or black pepper. Cover in clingfilm and place in the fridge for half an hour to fully absorb the liquid while you watch the news.

Garnish with parsley and serve.

Panzella’s best served along side something else. Last night we had some left over barbecued chicken so we chopped it up, added some walnuts and what left over salad and rocket we had, and dressed it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you don’t have any left over chicken you could try a simple tuna salad, or even chickpeas with oil, lemon juice and garlic - it really depends on your imagination and what you have left in the fridge ...

Monday, 2 December 2013

Merimbula - rainforest and goannas

December 1st is officially the start of summer in Australia, and this year it conveniently fell on a weekend, so we decided that the only way to celebrate the start of summer was a night on the South Coast at Merimbula, about three hours away and conveniently situated between two national parks.

Merimbula used to a busy summer resort but these days, with cheap flights to Bali and Thailand, it’s less popular than it was, but it still has a range of good cheap motels and you can walk into town,

We were up uncharacteristically early on the Saturday and off to Merimbula by eight thirty. Instead of the main road through Bega we cut off via Candelo, a pretty little farming town, and across the Bega valley to Merimbula.

We stopped off at a supermarket outside of Merimbula for petrol and some stuff for a picnic lunch and then off to Bournda and Hobart beach.

Hobart beach is a long, empty stretch of beach fronting onto the Pacific Ocean. It is deep, shelving, unsafe for swimming or surfing, and so almost always completely deserted. The real secret of Hobart beach is that you can walk along it for several kilometres, and then cut back along a track through the forest back to the national park car park.

On the way back through the forest we saw a goanna, the first of many. Goannas are large lizards, really small komodo dragons, but mostly harmless. Clap your hands and make a noise and they’l usually scuttle off, or up into a tree out of your way.

After Hobart beach, it was back into Merimbula for a coffee and to check into the hotel.

We’d half a plan that instead of eating in Merimbula, we’d go to the fish co-op in Eden, about 8km south, where the local fisherman’s co-operative runs a good fish restaurant. Typically, we couldn’t remember what it was called, and neither the yellow pages or google was any help, so we decided to drive down earlier than we would normally do so for dinner, to see what was happening, reckoning that we could always go for a walk on the wharf if necessary.

Good thing we did. When we got there we discovered that the restaurant roof had blown off in a storm in early November and they were understandably closed. Nowhere else in Eden looked worth eating in, so we headed back to Merimbula.

Determined to eat fish we tried a fish restaurant on the wharf, but it was fully booked. However there was a slightly incongrous Mexican restaurant across the road and they had tables, well actually they squeezed us in, which was good of them, given that they were busy with several large groups.

The food was good, freshly cooked, and they had fish. We were happy.

The next day we walked down to a cafe  in town for breakfast, and then went of to Ben Boyd national park for what we thought would be a relatively easy coastal walk to Green Cape.

It was less so than we thought, there was quite a bit of timber down and while the worst of it had been cleared from the track, there were a few scrambles along the way.

The track tantalised us - mostly through scrubby rainforest it would periodically veer towards the cliff top as if offering us a view, and then dive back into the forest before quite delivering.

Mostly it was just us and the goannas. Eventually we came to an open section and a track down to Pulpit Rock, so instead of carrying on to Green Cape we walked down to Pulpit rock, had lunch on the cliffs and then walked back to the car. It didn’t feel particularly hot but it was humid in the rainforest and we both sweated a lot on the walk back.

Then it was a case of dipping our feet in the ocean and a drive back to Canberra, back through Candelo and up over Brown mountain to be greeted by the cat, who miaowed accusingly at us for daring to leave him behind with only his automatic catfeeder for company.

A pizza from what we had in the fridge, a glass of wine while watching the sun set and that was us - a long but truly enjoyable weekend

Friday, 5 July 2013

Okra and tomato curry

While we were in Sri Lanka, we ate a lot of vegetarian food. One recipe that really pushed our buttons was okra and tomato curry. Last night we tried recreating it at home and got pretty close.

Here's our version if you want to experiment:

400g Okra
250g firm green beans
1 large brown onion
2 large cooking tomatoes
4 tsp good quality Sri Lankan curry powder (or a good quality Indian one)
2/3 of a can of chopped tomatoes
Generous pinch black mustard seed
Generous pinch fenugreek seed
1 tsp coriander powder
3 cloves of garlic
2 dollar sized chunks of ginger, roughly chopped
Peanut oil

Heat the peanut oil in a heavy cast iron pot. Coarsely chop the onion and add it to the oil with the mustard seed and the fenugreek. Once the onion has begun to cook crush and add the garlic, the ginger, the coriander powder and half the curry powder. Stir, turn down the heat, put the lid on the pan and let the onion sweat a little.

Meantime, cut the tops off the okra and slice lengthwise. Top and tail the beans and cut to two or three centimetres length. Roughly chop the cooking tomatoes. Add the vegetables to the pan with the remainder of the curry powder and leave to sweat for another five or so minutes.

Add the tomatoes, stir, taste etc. Decide if you need more curry powder, additional chilli or any of the other spices. Leave to cook slowly for twenty five to thirty minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still have texture and crunch. Check the flavour periodically. The aim is to end up with crunchy vegetables in a spicy tomato curry sauce.

Serve with Basmati rice.

As with all these recipes your mileage may vary. We use Herbies Sri Lankan curry powder, but a good quality Indian one will do, eg Maharaja, although you may need some extra ginger and chilli. Don't be afraid to experiment, but the key to this dish is its simplicity and fresh vegetable textures.

When we had this in Sri Lanka it was not massively spicy, although, like all Sri Lankan food there was definite heat and spice involved.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Ah, winter

After an unseasonably warm autumn, winter's here with a crash and a bang, with ice on the windscreen last Tuesday, lows between -4 and -5C this weekend and highs in the low to mid teens.

The wood stove is lit, and suddenly dressing for warmth is de riguer. The cat  has taken to sleeping on a cushion next to the stove.

Even though winter's been long expected it's still a shock to go from t-shirts to thermals in a single week ...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

First frost of winter

Canberra tradition is that winter really starts on ANZAC day (25 April to the uninitiated).

This year it was a day early with the first frost today (-2C). The cat went out an hour before awn, came back five minutes later and esconced himself at the end of the bed and refused to move.

It was May 04 last year before we had to light the wood stove, let's see when it will be this year ....

Monday, 8 April 2013

Clock Change day

Yesterday was clock changed day, the day when we put our clocks back an hour for winter.

Typically it was a gloriously warm sunny autumn day, and ideal for pulling out the last of the zucchini plants and other summer vegetables and planting out what will hopefully grow to be our winter greens.

It used to be that clock change day was always a little edgy, back in the days when computers did not always reliably update correctly but these days seem gone - now it's a matter of changing the oven and central heating timer and the clock radios, not to mention our last two analogue clocks.

It's interesting that as we've got more and more devices that tell us the time reliably we have fewer and fewer clocks around the place. Like the old stereo we have in the kitchen for music in the evening and news radio in the morning. It still works, but the backlight on the display died years ago, and since we only ever use it to play CD's or flip between a couple of preprogrammed radio stations, not having a readable display was not a problem. I noticed this morning that it said 0415 - obviously we'd never reset it after the last time the power went out a couple of year ago.

If fact the only person confused by clock change day was the cat - he of course runs on his internal clock and the fact we were in bed later and didn't seem to want to feed him when he expected was confusing.

In fact I quite enjoyed the change and especially the fact that when out for my morning exercise this morning there was the hint of light in the sky, rather than bludnering around in the kangaroo infested dark ...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

there's a snail in my mailbox ...

Yesterday evening I went to check the house mailbox. Why I don't know, all our bills come electronically and no one writes to us using traditional technology, or if they do they know to use our post office box and not our street address

Anyway, in among all the junk mail from real estate agents and car dealers was a snail. Quite a big one, nibbling on some junk mail from Amex.

Gives a whole new meaning to snail mail...

Friday, 8 March 2013

Exercise and a nature diary

I've already written elsewhere about my exercise regimen, and it's still going well.

There's another aspect about it that's good - it's put me in touch with the seasons and the phases of the moon.

Not that I'm going all new age - but starting early definitely makes you more aware of the environment.
When I started it was just getting light when I set off and you could see the sun gradually light the city. Now of course, it's dark, and nothing but a million orange lights.

Except that's not true, - between the first and third quarters of last month the moon provided a decent amount of light, but now it's most definitely waning I'm back to relying on the orange lights.

And the wildlife has gone. The birds are still asleep in their trees and the kangaroos have disappeared - I suspect more to the fact that we've had some rain and consequently a late burst of growth in the grasses making foraging on the hill a more attractive option than coming down into the suburbs to search for a feed ...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Spelt Pasta with Tuscan cabbage and bacon

Last night we had a simple dinner - spelt pasta with tuscan cabbage and bacon and it was so good I thought I'd share it.

As always you can do your own thing - if you can't get spelt pasta, use a good quality durum wheat pasta, if you can't get tuscan (black) cabbage, improvise, use savoy and mix in some silver beet. Good hard traditional smoked sausage might substitute for the bacon nicely. Try it, experiment, it's what we do.

This recipe is for two people.

What you need

250g spelt based short pasta, eg rigatoni
2 rashers traditional thick cut smoked bacon - we use Schulz's
1 bunch tuscan/black cabbage say 250g
100 grams frozen peas
2 cloves garlic
olive oil, salt and pepper


Set the pasta boiling in a big pan of boiling water with salt and olive oil added. Cook until slightly al dente - say 10 minutes, but check first - some spelt pastas take a little longer.

While the pasta's cooking, chop the bacon into centimetre square lardons and crisp in a little olive oil. (if your bacon or sausage is slightly fatty, you might be able to cook it in its own fat) Then, shred the cabbage, de stalk if necessary and cook in a second pan with a little olive oil and two cloves of crushed garlic. Add the frozen peas once the cabbage is cooking nicely. Should be ready when the cabbage turns a nice deep John Deere green. Add the lardons and stir.

If you've timed it right the pasta should be ready at the same time. Drain the pasta, wipe out the pasta pot and then return the pasta to the pot. Add the cabbage pea and bacon mix, and stir well to combine. Serve in bowls with a generous serve of coarsely grated parmesan on top.

Goes well with a glass of something decent, dry and white. Shouldn't take more than 15-20  minutes from fridge to table.