Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Green peas with ham

Scrabbling in the back of the fridge for a lost chutney last week I came upon the last of the forgotten Christmas ham, well not really forgotten, but certainly not in the front of my mind. As it was organic, properly smoked, wrapped in its cotton bag and kept at the same cool temperature as a northern hemisphere cellar, it was still perfectly fine to eat, if a tad salty and hard. Not good for sandwiches but perfect for a pea and ham soup.

I love pea and ham soup, its easy to make, virtually cooks on its own once its underway, is filling and tasty to eat, stores well in the freezer and it often uses up leftovers, all good things.

I don't have a recipe as such, I usually make it up as I go along, for this soup I put the ham bone in the soup pot, added an onion studded with a clove, two carrots, four cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, fresh marjoram from the herb pots, 500 gms of dried green peas, pepper, no salt as the ham was very salty, plus salt makes dried beans go hard, then covered the whole lot with our filtered tank water.

This mixture was brought to a slow simmer, cooked for about two hours, basically until the ham fell off the bone and the peas were mushy and soft. I let it cool for a bit, pulled out the ham and the big bits of herbs and cloves from the onion, then blended the rest in batches, it went a lovely pea green colour. Next I chopped up the ham from the bone and added it to the broth. Easy peasy!

This yummy soup is now packed up in two person batches in the freezer, ready for the cool weather to return again.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shopping spree

Continuing the theme of not buying it I have a hunger for new work clothes. My current ones are getting tatty, particularly the back of the jackets where my backpack rubs against them and its getting harder and harder to make my shirts look good and get those pesky lunch dribble stains out.

So I have being sorely tempted by the siren call of the designer suit collections - buy, buy, buy...... and I could not resist, I wandered dazed through David Jones, seeing 25% off every item, thinking this is so good, its even on sale. I tried a Sportscraft suit on, it looked elegant, but it was wool so I hesitated as its really too hot for an airconditioned office and took it back to the racks. I wandered more dazedly up and down and found the Table Eights sale, but they had nothing in my size so I was scuppered again. I tried a Sportscraft shirt on and while I was musing on it, J-L bought it for me, and that was the end of the spending spree.

Today at lunch I popped into Broadway Vinnies and for an outlay of $8 bought an 'as new' Portmans light charcoal gray jacket and a pearl gray silk dress shirt (designer label). The shirt and jacket go beautifully together and both will go with a pair of dark charcoal pants I already possess, an instant suit.

My shopping urge has been satiated and I am saved until the siren call beckons me again.....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Home made pizza

We are currently in a 'not buying it' mode, inspired by the Judith Levine's book and blog Not buying it: my year without shopping that we read just after Christmas. We aren't being as strict, we still go out for meals and wine is an essential food, as are books essential brain food and things for creativity in the studio, still and all we have reduced our spending and we think about everything before we put our hand into our wallets to bring out the plastic, either EFTPOS or credit.

This has changed our Friday night 'tracky dack and slippers' nights', i.e. an easy social evening with friends, telly or cards or board games and conversation with easy food options, before 'not buying it' we often organised take-away - indian, chinese, pizza, hamburgers (from the real take-away shop not a burger chain). We now make these meals at home and of course the food we make ourselves is far more interesting than the fairly standard ethnic fare available in the Blue Mountains, which is sadly very 'white bread' dumbed down to be almost unrecognisable as ethnic food at all.

This Friday we made pizza and then 'home delivered it' as the evening was spent with Kathleen and Susan at their place and they provided a desert of a scrumptious home made ginger cake and ice cream. Hopefully Kathleen will put the recipe up on her blog so I can link to it.

Pizza made with proper yeast dough is something that your head tells you is too time consuming for a work night but in fact is as easy as a roast dinner, 15 minutes to knead the dough and then it just sits there quietly rising while you cut up the bits and bobs for the topping and simmer a simple sauce, all the while chatting with your good friends with a glass of wine, enjoying the fact that you are nurturing your friends, putting love and care into a meal for them. This is actually pleasurable and relaxing and a great way to wind down from the busy and, lately for me, emotionally fraught working week.

I use a variety of recipes for my pizza dough, a basic dough from my ancient but excellent 'Women's Weekly Italian Cooking Class Cookbook', Nigella's Pizza Pasareccia from her 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' (this is nice and quick and homely) but the one I used for this pizza was Stephanie's pizza alla Romana adaptation from her 'The Cook's Companion', p.29-31:

This recipe makes enough for two large pizzas, so make another one at the same time and freeze it for 'ron.
1 tablespoon instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
400g plain flour (bread flour is better I've found as the gluten is stronger)
olive oil
1 cup lukewarm water

Heat your oven to 250oC, grease your pizza tray (Stephanie says 2 x 26 cm but I use old square trays that I have had for years), sprinkle trays with polenta (this stops it sticking),

Mix yeast and salt and flour. Mix 1 tablespoon olive oil with water and beat into dry ingredients, Stephanie recommends an electric mixer with dough hook, but I prefer to use a knife and then my hands. Kneed mixture until its smooth and elastic, around 15 minutes by hand and 8 by machine. Grease a clean bowl with olive oil. Transfer your dough to this bowl, cover with plastic (I reuse old plastic bags) or a clean tea towel and allow to rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size (an hour at least), knock down and then let rise again for another 30 minutes. Knock down again and then spread dough out on your pizza tray, add your sauce, add your toppings, bake for 15 minutes, then lower temperature to 200oC and bake for a further 5 mins or until the pizza base is crisp. Pizza is ready when the edges are crisp and golden and they sound hollow when tapped.

My tomato sauce is really simple to make, chop one brown or red onion, gently fry in olive oil until clear, add garlic, then add four large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped (I never skin or seed but you can if you want to), sea salt and ground pepper to taste, add fresh or dried herbs, I like fresh basil when I have it to hand, rosemary is good as well, I always seem to have that in the herb pots as the possums don't like it. Simmer this until its mushy but not too cooked as it will also cook on the pizza. You can slosh a bit of opened wine into it if you want, not too much as you want a thick mixture, I've often used beer or cider as well.

An even simpler sauce suggested by Susan is to use one of those pesto and nut dips that you can get from the grocer, I've not tried it but she assures me it tastes great. I'm going to give it a go next time but I'll use my own home made pesto from the freezer.

Toppings, well less is more, don't overcrowd it, your base will be soggy and all the flavours will compete and don't overpower it with cheese either - lightly, lightly is best. This one was topped with boccocini, tomatoes and zucchini from Kathleen's garden and fresh mushrooms. We served it with a green salad with shop and garden grown leaves, cucumber and zucchini and a simple oil and vinegar dressing.

Give it a try and save yourself some money for a book or a few balls of wool.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


This cool weather has brought on knitting fever in the household.

I have commenced a new pair of bed sox in a variegated green yarn, man made fibre as I am allergic to wool directly against my skin.

I'm using a 1950's knitting pattern.

JL is doing a rather complex fair isle pattern that she has designed herself and it is looking fabulous.

As you can see, in almost the same time that I have knitted half of my ribbed band, J-L is a third of the way up the front of the vest, well she did start knitting as an infant after all!

I used to really dislike knitting, probably because I was very clumsy at it, but I have persevered over the last two winters and have improved my knitting style and can now throw my wool over the needle in true professional knitter style, its a much more efficient and easy way to knit, but it was hard to get the skill into my head and the knack of it into my hands. It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks after all and it also helps that J-L is there to fix all my 'training wheels' mistakes!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Baked dinners and the first knitting of the year

I love baked dinners and it took me many, many years to get them on the table with ease in the manner of my mum, but now it all runs like clockwork and is the easiest meal to create for guests and they think I have gone to so much effort LOL!

I am roasting a chook tonight, with baked veggies of sweet potato, pumpkin, potatoes, onions and carrots that have marinated in lemon, fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil, we'll have peas cooked with mint as well. The chook has a rice stuffing as one of the guests is a coeliac and we are also having gluten free bread and butter pudding for 'afters' - yum! For a good 'how to' roast chicken and veg visit the The Canberra Cook for Cath's post on her Classic Roast Chook with Stuffing and Gravy.

J-L has the knitting out, the drop in temperature has got her fingers itching for yarn and needles and the lounge room resonates with the gentle click of her needles and her counting under her breath. I love it, I feel nurtured and full of the feeling of love and home when she knits. She's starting a fair isle vest, if I get around to it I'll take some piccies eventually.

I'm going to start some sox, I'm not really a knitter, mum never was and I learnt as an adult (well we did it at primary school, but that was a rather non-event learning skills wise). I have absorbed knitting from J-L, 12 years of watching her do it very winter has rubbed off and I have made myself two lovely jumpers using 1940's patterns and I got into sox two years ago when I slipped my disk, I taught myself from a book, J-L has never knitted sox so I feel very chuffed that I have, not that I'm competitive or anything.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love and music

I have just finished reading Sara Hardy's Love and Music, a brilliant biography about Dame Joan Hammond .

Joan was a famous Australian opera singer who has been sadly forgotten and over shadowed by the other Dame Joan, Sullivan that is, who followed her.

Sara's biography tells a brilliant tale of a woman who could have been great as a world champion golfer but instead she choose singing and her struggles to achieve vocal quality and success in a time when Australia had no opera companies and training had to be achieved overseas (though have things really changed in 2009?) makes the book a thrilling read.

Its also a fabulous tale of a long and loving friendship between three women in a time when such relationships were hidden from sight.

Sara is a personal friend of mine and I am lucky to be able to use her monologues when I go to the occassional soiree. Her dialogue has ensured that my 'party pieces' are always well received and successful.