Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Spoils of Country Living

One of my favourite things to do on a spare afternoon is make fresh pasta.  I cannot remember the last weekend I had free to do this at my leisure.  It has usually been a rush to the finish with friends due to arrive for dinner at any minute and the pasta still not rolled through the machine!  So it was a rather delightful prospect for me to have an entire day before me with nothing but a kilo of strong pasta flour, some gorgeous free-range eggs and my somewhat neglected pasta machine before me.  I made my pasta in two batches, for ease of kneading, resting and rolling.

Perhaps it was the aforementioned aspect of more time, that in turn meant a longer and more effective kneading time, that produced what I believe is some of my best pasta ever!  The dough was beautifully silky, but not sticky.  

I made the majority into fettucine, that I – cleverly, I thought – decided to bundle into portion-sized mounds to dry, so that I could easily ascertain how much pasta I needed when I went to cook it. 

Not a good idea, as it turned out.  The weight of the pasta turned the mounds into patties, and the warm, wet weather we have had here meant that the pasta did not dry properly and has gone mouldy.  Oh, well, at least we had one batch of the fettucine for dinner fresh the following night.  With the rest of the pasta, I made spaghetti, which I hung to dry on the rack Grant bought me many moons ago.  What an investment!  The spaghetti has dried perfectly and is in an airtight container in the pantry ready to be used when I have thought up a suitably delicious saucy topping.  Will see what the farmers’ market this weekend turns up…

Speaking of farmers markets, we made it to the Kyneton market on Saturday morning, bright and early as it started.  Which was a good move, as the day was already very warm by the time we were leaving at 9.30am.  While small, the selection of produce and stall holders was good, and we were able to purchase a wide variety of in-season fruit and veg to stock us up for the week.  I know I promised photos, and indeed I took my camera, however negotiating other shoppers, bags of goods and an excited puppy was more than enough to manage without pulling out the camera as well!  I did, however, take some pics of our haul once we got it home.

Our list for supermarket shopping was satisfyingly small and restricted almost entirely to canned goods, toiletries and dairy.  Our menu this week has included Caponata (Sicilian Eggplant Stew), Beetroot burgers (made with homemade bread rolls and home grown alfalfa sprouts) and Grant’s famous pasta dish of parsnip, zucchini and carrot in a carbonara-type sauce served with my fresh pasta…Yum!

Kyneton is very fortunate to have many of it’s streets lined with lovely old fruit trees.  One street a block from us is lined on both sides with cherry plums.  While we were walking Jessie late last week, we noticed how heavily laden some of these trees were with fruit, so hurried back armed with a plastic supermarket bag that we filled almost to bursting with these lovely little fruits.  In total, we gathered just over 3kg. 

I decided that I would make jam with this profusion of fruit, so spent some time online searching for others who may be able to share a recipe or some insight into the quality of the fruit for jamming.  Having found many sites that swore by cherry plums as a great beginners jam fruit, I felt confident to proceed.  So, on Saturday afternoon, while Grant worked on rebuilding his mountain bike, I sat down to the mountain of cherry plums to de-stone them prior to jamming.  Two and a half hours later, with sore hands and a stained apron, I had a huge bowl of fruit ready to be made into jam.  I will post on that separately, with a blow-by-blow account in case any others are interested in trying their hand at jam-making.  It really is very simple, and very satisfying.  I now have 13 jars of gorgeous, ruby coloured jam ready for gifting…Scones anyone?

At the request of the lovely Julie, I am going to finish this post with the recipe for pizza dough I always use, and used for our BBQ pizzas on New Year’s Eve.  I picked it up years ago, and cannot for the life of me remember who to credit with it.  If you are using a pizza stone, you can reduce the cooking time to 5 – 8 minutes per pizza.  This recipe makes enough dough for two good sized pizzas, but I made three for the sake of variety.  I made all the pizzas with an olive oil base (no tomato sauce) and toppings of:
  1. Bocconcini, fresh tomato and fresh basil
  2. Ricotta, zucchini (cut into ribbons with a vegetable peeler), goat’s milk feta and chilli
  3. Roast pumpkin, caramelised onions and gorgonzola

Pizza Dough (makes 2 large pizzas)

  • 1 sachet dry yeast
  • 2 tsp white sugar
  • 2 ½ cups plain flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp olive oil

  • Place yeast, sugar and 2/3 cup of warm water in a bowl.  Combine, then leave for 5 minutes or until yeast is bubbling.
  • Place flour and salt in a large bowl and made a well in the centre.  Add olive oil to the yeast mix and pout into the flour.  Using your hands, work the liquid into the flour until it forms a thick dough.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until the dough is shiny and elastic.  Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and stand in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  • Preheat oven to 180C.  Roll out thinly, place on a pizza tray and cover with a clean tea towel.  Leave in a warm place for another 30 minutes.
  • Add your toppings and bake for 15 minutes or until base is cooked and toppings are bubbling and golden.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year!

…and here’s to the Year of Slow Living!  2011 has started promisingly for us, with the last few days being very relaxed.  As previously posted, we had planned a quiet New Years’ Eve at home, with homemade pizzas on the BBQ (thanks to Jane and Jonesy for the beaut pizza stone!).  The only alteration was the swap of red wine for white – as in Melbourne, we had a very warm 31 December and, unlike our place in Melbourne, no air-conditioning here!  Despite struggling to stay awake until midnight, we dug in and were able to see in the New Year with half a glass of wine and a pat for the dog.  Party animals that we are, we were in bed by 12.15, and, briefly before falling asleep, marvelled again at how quiet it is here at night…even on New Years’ Eve!

My New Years Resolution is to become inseparable from my camera, in order that I can illustrate my stories here more effectively.  We’ll see how that goes…

One of the nicest things about living here has been the visits from friends and family.  Lunch tends to be an all-day affair, beginning in the late morning, while dinner results in a houseguest and company for breakfast the next morning too!  While we are not that far out of the CBD (I have to keep reminding myself that many of our neighbours commute every day to Melbourne for work) guests don’t tend to do the ‘quick drop-by’ on their way through from another commitment.  We have the luxury to sit and chat for hours over meals and those intervening periods well filled by another glass of wine or a cup of tea.
So it was when my sister and brother-in-law came to have lunch on Sunday.  Arriving soon after 12pm, they were taken on the requisite tour before sitting in the sunshine out the back, admiring the new vegie patch and tucking into warm olives with fresh rosemary from the garden, and brie with freshly baked gluten-free bread.  That rolled into lunch, followed by a walk to stretch the legs and the stomach in preparation for dessert that my sister had brought with her.  Already failing in my resolution to take more photos, credit to Lauren for taking some snaps of her delectable Angel Food Cake with Poached Strawberries and cream (photo below).  Oh so good – we polished off the remainder for dessert last night – still fantastic!  Coffee in the lounge rounded off the afternoon.  What a pleasant way to spend a Sunday!

On Monday – Grant’s last day of holidays before heading back to work – we decided to do a bit of a tour (with Jessie in tow) of the local towns and villages surrounding us.  We started in the very picturesque village of Malmsbury with a picnic lunch in the Botanic Gardens.  As we sat by the artificial lake, eating and drinking, watching the ducks on the water and the children in the park opposite, I realised I had left my camera at home again…what a pity, as the day and the surroundings were so beautiful!  From Malmsbury, we drove through Taradale and Elphinstone (two very small historic villages) before taking the road towards Daylesford, aiming not for Daylesford itself, but for the Chocolate Mill on the road between Daylesford and Castlemaine.  Grant has mentioned the Chocolate Mill many times since we moved, mentioning that it is famous for its Hot Chocolates (served in white, milk or dark chocolate) and that they have recently been awarded Victoria’s Best Hot Chocolate.  I finally took the hint, and so we ended up there yesterday afternoon, and, yes, the Hot Chocolate really is all that.  We ordered both a milk and a dark hot chocolate, in order to ‘share and compare’.  Trumps for dark chocolate.  Our final stop of the day was Trentham, where we had a stroll down the main street.  Intrigued by a truffle shaver in the window, I stopped in at Idyll Foods, where I found a small but rather delicious range of fresh fruit and veg as well as pantry ‘essentials’.  The shopkeeper, speaking with another customer, pricked my ears when discussing local winter truffles, and how Trentham was a truffle-dog training centre, and that they hold a truffle festival in July each year.  Have already marked it in my diary and will ensure an adequate report ensues.  I limited my purchases to some gorgeous looking kipfler potatoes and nectarines that I could smell from two metres away.  Back home, I cooked up a simple dinner, with those kipflers (roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper) taking pride of place next to an unassuming but rather satisfying brown-rice bake and tomato and herb salad.  Pleased to report that I remembered to get my camera for recording that!

This morning, as I was watering the vegies (a rather unrewarding job before the seeds begin to shoot!  I feel like I am just watering the dirt at the moment) I saw the first shoots on my broccoli seedlings.  These are currently being raised in a seedling tray, and will need a few more weeks there before I can transplant to the main vegie patch – but at least it feels like a start!

This weekend is the first that we will be able to get to the Kyneton Farmers’ Market – will be sure to take my camera and post lots of snaps.  It will be lovely to be able to walk with the puppy to a farmers market and home again with all our goodies!