Autumn Glory

Autumn is my favourite time of year. I love living in Melbourne and seeing the seasons change.  As the days grow shorter ,the trees start to lose their leaves.  The weather gets colder and it’s time to get out warm woollen jumpers, coats and scarves.  Our climate is temperate, we get cold nights but the thermometer rarely drops below zero in the city. It’s when I go to bed with a hot water bottle to keep my toes toasty warm.

It’s also time to start cooking hearty, warming meals.  Soups, casseroles, braises, stews, pies and bakes.  I love this type of cooking. Soup is one of my favourite lunches.  With a slice of good sourdough bread and butter, I could eat (drink it?) every day. Or a toasted cheese sandwich, the perfect accompaniment to a steaming cup of soup.

I’ve already been making soup at the store for a few weeks now.  The weather has been a bit changeable so I may have been a bit premature but they will be a permanent feature on my menu from now on.  Toasted sandwiches will be there too.  The girls at the chemist shop a few doors down from me are certainly enjoying them.

A lot of people tell me they can’t cook.  I think soup is one of the easiest and most nourishing things you can make.  This was one of the first things I learnt to cook when I moved out of home.  I never really had a recipe, I just remembered how my mum Helen made it.  Almost every weekend during autumn and winter there was a big pot of soup made on Saturday morning, this was one of my favourites, even though I didn’t like pumpkin!

The way my mum makes pumpkin soup couldn’t be easier.

Helen’s Pumpkin Soup.

3-4 large leeks, washed and roughly sliced.

A large piece of pumpkin (she usually uses Kent or Queensland Blue), peeled, seeded and chopped into chunks

A few potatoes (a good floury type like Sebago), peeled and chopped in to chunks

Boiling water or hot stock (chicken or vegetable)

Salt and pepper to taste

Leeks usually have lots of dirt inside them.  Remove the tough outer leaves and cut down the middle then cut across into big chunks.  Put them into a large bowl and cover water, give them a bit of a swish and leave while you deal with the pumpkin and potato. When everything is chopped, lift the leek out of the water.  If you try to pour the water off, the dirt will come out with it.  Make sure the leeks are clean, if not put back into the bowl with clean water and rinse again.

Put the vegetables in a large saucepan and just cover with the hot water or stock.  Return to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10-15 minutes of until the vegetables are tender.  Blend the vegetable with the liquid until they are smooth and there are no large lumps.  If you have a stick blender you can blend the soup in the saucepan you cooked it in.  If you don’t you can use a blender or food processor.

Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve in a bowl with a dollop of cream or sour cream.  It tastes great with some chopped chives sprinkled on top too!

Just right for a cold autumn lunch or easy dinner.

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Mend and make do

Roast Beef and Vegetable Pie

Roast Beef and Vegetable Pie

It’s a Sunday morning in early January and I’m sitting in bed as I write this.  This is unusual for me as it’s now after 8 am and the house is very quite.  My partner has taken our three kids to stay overnight at a friend’s farm on the outskirts of Melbourne.  My alarm went off at 6 am but I kept on hitting snooze, relishing the opportunity for a sleep in on a cool and quiet morning.  

It’s been awhile since my last chance to look at this blog.  I started writing this back in November and then things started to get a bit crazy.  I had leased a shop front back in July while still at school fulltime doing a Patisserie course.  As the year started to wind up, I needed to do something about getting it open.  The events of the last two months are the subject of another (soon to be written) post but in the meantime, here’s one I prepared earlier…

Mend and make do was the way people used to live before 24 hour supermarkets, convenience stores and on-line shopping.  I’m old enough to remember when the shops shut at 12 pm on Saturday and didn’t open again until 9 am Monday morning.  Things seemed to move a lot slower then.  The cars didn’t go as fast, mail was delivered by the postman and the milkman still delivered milk in glass bottles with foil tops.

It’s a concept that seems foreign to many and old fashioned to most.  Why fix something when you can go buy a new one?  Shopping has become a recreational past-time rather than a necessity.  What do you want to do today? I don’t know lets go shopping.

After spending Saturday morning at the Collingwood Children’s Farm Market helping my de-facto cousin in-law Naomi on The Butterfactory stall, I came home laden with fresh local produce.  A succulent piece of bolar blade roast beef from Warialda and potatoes, pumpkin and parsnips from Kinglake were destined to become a Sunday Roast.

Sunday morning was spent in the Red Cat Food Store kitchen.  The strawberries my mum had picked up in the Yarra Valley became rather runny strawberry jam,  I’m calling it strawberry sauce.  It’s great with natural yoghurt and my coconut toasted buckwheat muesli for breakfast.

When I got home on Sunday afternoon, I put the piece of roast beef in the oven at 250 C and cooked it for 15 minutes before turning the temperature down to 160 C.  This ensured that the thick layer of fat started to render and crisp up.  After another half an hour the vegetables were put in and cooked along with the meat for another hour.  When the meat was cooked, I took it out and rested it covered in foil while I made the gravy.

We pulled broad beans out of the garden to make way for the summer tomatoes.  These were shelled and cooked in a pot of boiling water, then the skins were peeled off the beans and they were coated in a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil and garlic.

The now succulent beef was sliced thickly and put into a serving dish and all was served on the table with a jug of gravy.  I find with three small children it’s often easier to bring all the food to the table.  The kids seem to eat more when it’s there in front of them and it means I can enjoy a meal without having to get up and down all the time.

As the piece of beef was more than sufficient for one night’s dinner and I always cook more roast vegetables than we could possibly eat, there were plenty of leftovers.  What remained was chopped up and used to make the most fantastic Cottage Pie I’ve ever had.  That’s a pretty  big statement as my mum’s Cottage Pie was and still is a favourite of mine.

Mend and Make Do Pie

This is not really a recipe with measurements and a list of ingredients, it’s more of an idea and a method that will hopefully get you thinking about how you can re-purpose last-night’s leftovers.  

All the leftover roast meat was chopped into smallish pieces after removing the fat layer from the top.  The fat was also chopped and added to a hot cast iron frying pan to render.  When the fat started to run, I added diced onions and cooked them to translucent and golden.  Then the meat and diced roast vegetables (potatoes, pumpkin, parnips, carrots, onions and garlic) were added with the left over gravy and peas.  This was then cooked until bubbling and thick.

The filling awaits it's potato topping

The filling awaits it’s potato topping

I could have stopped there and served it up as a roast meat and vegetable casserole but decide to boil some potatoes and mash them with a generous knob of butter and a little milk.  The meat mixture was placed in a square pyrex dish and topped with the mashed potato.  A sprinkle of parmesan and some more butter to finish it off and into the oven at 350C for about 30 mins or until the top is golden and crisp and the gravy is bubbling.

Absolutely delicious! This would also make a great pie filling and this method could be used with any leftover roast meat.  The kids devoured it and my eldest who hadn’t been so keen on it the night before came back for seconds and thirds.

Dinner, the easy way…

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur for me.  My partner is often away for work. Usually it’s two-three days at the most.  This time it’s different.  He’s in Europe on business (and pleasure!) and he’ll be gone for 4 weeks in total.  Today marks the end of the third week.  He was due to return tomorrow, but is staying away an extra week. Lucky him!

Tonight I had to pick up my eldest from a play date at his friend’s house at 5:30, right in the middle of dinner prep.  Whilst doing the food shop today I picked up some chicken schnitzel at the butcher.  For anyone who knows me, this is unusual.  Normally I would buy the chicken and crumb it myself but after three weeks of solo parenting whilst also going to school three days a week, I was looking for something quick.  So at about 5 pm I decided I should get dinner organised.  Obviously chicken schnitzel was on the menu, but the last few times I’ve cooked it, I’ve found it a bit oily.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about paleo diets and not using processed oils, so I needed another way to cook my schnitzel.  Why not cook it in the oven, so I Googled and came up with this recipe.  It solved both my problems of frying and using oil.  Fantastic, Butter Baked Chicken Schnitzel.

Whilst searching for recipes I came across a Jill Dupleix recipe for Chicken Parmigiana  which took my fancy, so by combining the two recipes, and steaming some vegies, I had dinner on the table in half an hour of arriving home. As I don’t have a microwave, this was a bit of an achievement. I made the sauce from Jill Dupleix’s recipe. It took 5 minutes to chop the garlic (and onion, not in her recipe, as I realised after I’d chopped half of it!).  Then I threw the lot in a saucepan, brought it to the boil and simmered for 20 minutes.  That was done before leaving to collect son number one.

When we got back, I put the potatoes in the bottom of the steamer, covered them with water and brought them to the boil.  I brushed the crumbed schnitzel with butter, put them on an oven tray and baked in a hot oven for 10 minutes.   By the time they were ready to turn, the potatoes were almost done, so I put the broccoli, cauliflower and carrots on to  steam.

The kids all turned up their noses at the idea of chicken parmagiana, so I was on my own. I put the sauce and cheese on one lonely schnitzel and put under the grill while I served up the kids meals.  Being 3, 5 and 8 they like their food to be simple.  I need a bit more flavour.  It turned out to be a delicious meal with a minimum of stress, just what I needed.