Monday, January 26, 2009

Plums and Australia Day weekend

I came home on the Friday night before the long weekend with about 10 kilos of blood plums that a colleague had harvested off her tree. This year the harvest seemed particularly good because of the vigilance of her cat who warded off marauding birds by choosing the plum tree as a favourite place to rest. So I'll be interested to see how many more kilos of plums make their way to work this weekend. Thanks Aileen and Doyle!

But, don't misinterprete what I am saying! I wasn't a reluctant receiver of these plums: I had been waiting for them to ripen and seeking updates on their status regularly. Last year at the about the same time I took home a batch and experimented with making a batch of Maggie Beer's plum sauce. I blogged about it here later in the year when I was eating some of it and it was a great favorite with a number of friends. So I was keen to repeat the exercise. I only cooked about three kilos and made one batch last year. This year the kitchen became quite a production line as I washed plums, chopped onions, belted ginger, dashed out to buy extra sugar and vinegar, simmered it all, strained and bottled it. Finally I could stand back with relief and admire my 14 bottles of plum sauce - the product of six kilos of the plums.

I won't repeat the recipe and the method here as I basically used Maggie Beer's recipe. However, I varied it a bit and also varied the ingredients between the two batches. I used red wine vinegar in one batch according to Maggie's recipe, but in the other I used apple cider vinegar as I had a lot of it on hand. I will be interested to see the difference in taste. I was also rather loose in sticking to the recipe in terms of the onion, ginger, peppercorns and cayenne. But then I always am. I also added the strainings (ginger, plum stones, peppercorns etc) from the first batch to the cooking of the second, in addition to all the other ingredients. The strainings are also nice to keep and add to various other dishes, I found last time.

And the rest of this batch of plums? Well, I decided I would stew them. I washed them and cut off various weathered bits, then I simmered them with about a cup of apple and peach juice and half a cup of currants. That will keep me in breakfast fruit for a while.

Now to clean down all the surfaces in the kitchen which seem spattered with plum! I have had a lovely long weekend immersed in plum cooking with the Australian Open tennis playing along in the background and providing a very Melbourne January sound that brings back decades of memories.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Christmas pasties

Inevitably Christmas Day ends and there is food over! We divide the spoils and head home with ham, turkey, chicken, spanakopitta, roast vegetables, pudding, pavlova, berries - and vow that next year we will not bring so much. Well, of course, that remains to be seen. And let's face it, we always say it.

As usual I was responsible for the vegetables and did a tray of delicious vegetables roasted with garlic and rosemary. But people also said they wanted carrots and peas cooked on the stove top. So I did a big pot of those too, thinking that the vegetarians at least would eat them up. The vegetarians didn't seem too keen and like everyone else piled their plates with roast vegetables. One of them even said later she didn't like peas and carrots. Humph. Next year they are not being cooked despite what anyone requests.

Meanwhile, I went home with a big pot of peas and carrots. What could I do with these? Well, initially I stuck them in the freezer and during the week, in response to a moan about them, my friend Sue said the magic word: PASTIES. Now I hadn't made pasties for decades, but it seemed a great idea particularly once I saw a recipe in Stephanie for pasties made with ham, mustard and leeks. So I decided that I would make Christmas pasties with ham, mustard, peas and carrots!


1.5 cups chicken stock
2 potatoes
1 parsnip
2 cups cooked peas and baby carrots
1 egg
Ham cut from ham on bone
Dijon mustard
Puff pastry


Preheat oven to 220 c
Heat stock in pan
Peel and dice potatoes and parsnip and add to stock
Add cooked peas and carrots
Simmer until vegetables are tender
Roll out puff pastry to desired thickness and using dinner plate or smaller plate if desired cut circles for pasties
Beat egg
Place ham at bottom and add dollop of Dijon mustard (or other mustard of choice)
Spoon on vegetables, making sure not to overfill
Brush edges of pastry with beaten egg
Bring the edges together and pinch to form pastry
Brush with beaten egg
Repeat to make as many pasties as desired
Bake in 220 c oven until golden

Enjoy! Be careful not to overfill or the pasties will open up while cooking like mine did. They still tasted delicious but the look left something to be desired. And the rest of the vegetables? Well, given the unseasonal wintery weather, they became part of a vegetable soup. Of that, maybe more anon.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Preserved Lemons

I love preserved lemons and always have some on the go, usually from Maggie Beer but also from resourceful friends. But I had never actually preserved any myself. Cleaning out the pantry was the trigger for this burst of activity, as was having a few days at home. I found two jars of coarse kitchen salt at the back of the pantry: I had bought it when I was into making my own olives. So what could I do with it? A friend said she wished she had known about my stock before she had to buy some to make preserved lemons! Now was the time to preserve lemons, especially as I was doing a census of my empty jars.

I read recipes in Stephanie's bible and also had a look at Claudia Roden. And let's face it did a bit of a Google too. Some recipes require storing for at least a month, while other recipes suggest tips for practically instant gratification such as freezing the lemons or cooking them in advance. A special touch Greg Malouf gives is to add honey: I knew this because I have bought his ready made. After all this, I decided to do the non-instant variety, to marinate them (as it were) overnight, to add cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, coriander seeds, and then to mix some honey with the final lot of lemon juice a la Malouf. We'll see how they turn out in a month or so.


7 large, thick-skinned lemons
1 cup coarse kitchen salt
3 dry bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
coriander seeds
1 dessertspoon honey


Scrub and quarter the lemons and place in a large stainless steel bowl
Pour in salt and mix well
Cover and leave for 24 hours
Break up bay leaves and cinnamon sticks and put cloves and coriander seeds at hand
Pulpate lemons in salt to release as much juice at possible
Pack lemon quarters into jars with rind facing the edge, pressing down hard to release juice
Insert pieces of bay leaf and cinnamon stick and cloves and coriander on different layers as packing
Heat dessertspoon with hot water and spoon honey into remaining lemon and salt mix
Place the bowl briefly on fire and stir until honey is melted
Spoon the salty mixture into the jars, pressing down firmly to ensure that liquid penetrates and covers all the fruit
Wipe jars and cap tightly
Store for at least a month in cool spot.

Then enjoy either as a condiment with fish or cold meats, or for cooking. These should last for years without refrigeration, says Stephanie!


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