Winter Warmers Part 1 – Boeuf en Croute

Moon set at sunrise over kunanyi/Mt Wellington 30th June 2018

Now we’re past mid winter’s day the weather has taken a much chillier turn (very common for this time of year) and unfortunately it’s wet as well. Normally, most Australians south of the tropics would welcome rain but tanks are full, garden beds are waterlogged (very bad for the garlic crop!) and the chicken’s yard is rapidly turning into a quagmire.

The biggest issue is that it’s kept me housebound. As a rule, winter in Hobart is much drier and colder but we are blessed with crisp, clear blue days, ideal for outdoor activities. Winter is normally the time of year when I want to do things with fruit trees, sharpen spades and secateurs, clean out the greenhouse, prepare beds for spring planting, and generally charge around the yard, doing things to keep warm.

So, although it’s been milder than usual, it’s just been too wet to do a great deal out of doors on the days when I’m home to do so. As a result, I’ve been cooking more and watching a lot of movies!

Last weekend, I started half heartedly taking stock and cleaning out the freezers (yes, I was that desperate to be doing something). There were lots of treasures for winter meals – home made pork and chicken stock, roasted and peeled chestnuts, slow cooked beans in meal size portions, leftover servings of curry and soup and bones from the christmas ham that need using very soon. To my horror, I discovered the last beautifully packaged piece of truffle that was lurking in the back corner of a freezer. I buy a Tasmanian truffle every winter and try and make the most of it fresh and then spend the rest of the year dreaming about truffles, so I was horrified to think I’d neglected this exquisite morsel, hoping it hadn’t denatured or suffered freezer burn. Thank goodness I wrapped it so well – it was fine!

I had a piece of beef fillet that was looking for a good recipe too, and a need to do something special for myself as well as my long suffering partner (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Listened-To). So I decided to make a rather spectacular but remarkably easy dinner. The preparation is everything with this but in my opinion, the easier you can make the flavour profile, the more clearly the core ingredients can shine through, in this case the truffle and the beef. I think it’s worth making just for the aroma. My house smelled amazing for days after ❤

Before we get into it, I just want to talk about expense. At first glance this looks incredibly expensive, and compared to most of the food I share here, it probably is. I did a rough costing and (without wine or power allowances) this comes to approximately AU$70 of ingredients for two generous serves. Given that a quality pub meal in Hobart can vary from AU$25-35 for steak per person and something like this in a restaurant would be more in the order of AU$45-65 per serve, I think this is really good value for something exceptional that most home cooks can easily manage. Now, let’s crack on!

Boeuf en Croute (serves 2)

Beef fillet piece (approximately 500g/1 lb)

1-2 sheets frozen puff pastry

2 rashers of good quality bacon

Truffle (my piece would’ve been just under 20g)

1 clove garlic (optional)

Fresh herbs (I used oregano and sage)

Salt and pepper (optional)

Method:

Heat a skillet to high and sear the beef on each side quickly. The idea here is to seal the meat, not to cook it through, so make sure the skillet is very hot. Remove the meat once every side (ends included) has seen the pan and set it aside to cool completely. (I left mine for about an hour).

Preheat an oven to 180 C (350 F). Lay the pastry sheet(s) out on a parchment covered board to defrost. How much pastry you need is determined by how big your piece of beef is and how much you like puff pastry. Once defrosted you can roll the pastry out a little to make it fit or be lazy (like me) and make a patch with another piece of pastry.

On a clean board remove the bacon rind, chop the garlic and herbs finely and slice the truffle. On a defrosted pastry sheet, lay out the rashers of bacon side by side and cover with the chopped herbs and shaved truffle. I don’t have a proper truffle shaver but find the slicing blade of a box grater does very well. Also, I don’t generally use salt and pepper but if you do, this would be the spot to use it.

Now for the tricky bit! Position the beef on the top side of the pastry sheet like this –

Use the parchment to help make a tight roll. Also, I find rolling towards yourself lets you see what’s happening and poke any stray pieces of truffle or herbs back into place. I used a little water and a pastry brush to tack an extra piece of pastry to one edge and finished the roll, using this as the surface the roast sits on. At this stage, I also trimmed a little excess pastry off the sides and folded the sides tightly, making sure the meat was completely sealed in the pastry. I put a few decorative slashes on top to give some indication where to slice for serving but you can decorate it any way you like.

Place on a small roasting tray and bake on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes. Everyone’s oven is different so adjust your cooking time accordingly. Mine came out medium rare though it looks more like well done in the photograph (and the pic of the pastry lies too – it was nowhere near as dark as the photo!)

Leave the meat to rest for 10 minutes and then carve carefully into four slices. Serve on a bed of wilted spinach or silverbeet (Swiss chard) and a glass or two of good red wine.

Next time, I’ll share how I used the ham bones to make home made Baked Beans – one of the cheapest and heartiest meals ever. Although it costs far less, it actually takes more time to make than Boeuf en Croute!

Also, please let me know if you try this recipe – I always love to hear from you 🙂

Winter Love

Sunrise 19th June 2018

For the most part, I really like winter. Here in Hobart it brings the Dark MOFO festival, which always leaves me enriched emotionally but (happily) broke from concert fees. This year I saw one of my favourite German bands Einsturzende Neubauten again, Australian treasure Tim Minchin for the first time and the magnificent multimedia artist Laurie Anderson live in concert.

The chickens aren’t laying much and I miss the long days in the garden admittedly, but I like the short, crisply sunny days and love the smell of soup or hearty stews in the slow cooker (usually served with a robust winter garden salad) and although me and mine aren’t big on sweet things, we love the occasional winter pudding. Lemon Self-Saucing Pudding is one of the first things I ever baked on my own when I was very young, baked in an old Metters wood stove and supervised by my mother and grandmother. Over the years I’ve tweaked this recipe a lot, ensuring there’s a reasonable balance between the light and golden sponge to rich and luscious sauce, even adding little touches like very finely grated ginger to shift the flavour profile.

Having home grown lemons and limes has encouraged me to bring this beauty out again and I think this is something of a triumph in terms of flavour/texture balance. I hope you enjoy it ❤

Deb’s Lemon & Lime Self-Saucing Pudding

75g butter

1 scant cup of sugar

2 cups milk

¼ cup Self Raising flour

1-2 lemons (see note below)

2-3 limes (see note below)

3 eggs

Preheat an oven to 160-180 C (320-350 F). Cream the butter and sugar very thoroughly. In a clean large bowl, separate the egg whites and mix the yolks with the creamed butter and sugar.

 

 

Grate the lemon and lime rind, juice the fruit and add this to the batter. Add a little of the milk to the mix and once it’s well combined add the flour. Mix this through, ensuring there’s no lumps and gradually add the rest of the milk.

Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks and fold this carefully through the mixture.

Pour into a greased 6 cup soufflé dish and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and the pudding has pulled away from the edge of the dish. If the top has browned but it seems like there’s too much liquid, leave the pudding in the oven (switched off) for another 10 minutes. Serve as is or with a dash of cream for extra richness.

NOTE: My family like very tart citrus flavours and less sugar, so I used 2 lemons and 3 small Tahitian limes to a scant cup of sugar in this recipe. Feel free to adjust to your taste! I also picked the fruit a few days ago, so they’d had a chance to relax a little and reach maximum juiciness.

Let me know if you try this and how it behaves for you. And as always, feel free to add or reduce sugar levels to suit your personal taste 🙂

Hooray for Cider! – A Book Review

This is an extended version of a review I posted on Goodreads this morning. 

I bought my copy online and if you’ve read this book, please let me know what you think – I always like to hear your opinions!

Cider: Making, using & enjoying sweet & hard cider, 2003 (1980) 3rd Edition, by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols, Storey Publishing, MA. 

Cider

Cider by Annie Proulx
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is possibly the most informative and inspiring book on cidermaking I’ve ever come across. Admittedly, it’s aimed at North American readers, but I still found plenty of fascinating and relevant information that I can adapt and use on the other side of the world in Tasmania AU.

I picked this up online and secondhand, but why anyone with even a passing interest in all things cider would part with it is beyond me! My intention was to use it as a reference book, something to dip into as I needed to look particular things up, but it’s incredibly well written and readable – I found myself engrossed in the text and really couldn’t put it down.

Yes, there’s probably a good deal about things I’ll likely never need to use, aimed at orchards on an acreage. At the moment on my little urban farm, I have four dwarf sweet multipurpose apples, a baby Huon Crabapple (all in tubs because of space limitations) and at most, I’ll probably expand it out to ten dwarf trees with cider varieties. So it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever have the need or inclination to learn how to set up and care for large wooden barrels. After reading this book though, I can see the benefit of a small cider press for future crops.

The bottom line is, I was fascinated with the information and how it was delivered. Annie Proulx is one of my favourite fiction writers and I think her influence and love of the subject makes the text flow. Lew Nichols is a professional cider maker and his understanding of the science shines through. And it should be noted there is a quite a lot of science in this book, but it’s written in a way that’s accessible and easily understood by anyone with even the merest grounding in high school chemistry – notably me! The diagrams and charts are relevant, practical and well connected to the text, and many of the old photographs and illustrations are really lovely to look at. Reading the acknowledgements shows they sourced information from many specialists across a wide range of disciplines.

Despite there being a number of reviews on Goodreads about how irrelevant this book is to backyard cider makers, I beg to differ. As an occasional maker of perry, cider, apple cider vinegar and fruit wine, I found a tremendous amount of information here that is very relevant to me, and it’s given me ideas of how to improve my brewing and horticultural practices.

I’m sure this is a book I’ll treasure and keep going back to year after year. Now excuse me please while I go and gather some timber – I want to make a cider press 🙂

View all my reviews

My secondhand copy from the UK

Apples and Anticipation

If I could, I think I’d be a fruitarian. My incredibly tolerant GP and my always dodgy iron levels would have a fit, but (with an occasional green salad) I’d be perfectly happy – especially this time of year! At the moment, besides all the vegetables, I’ve just finished eating fresh apricots and berries and I’m waiting on big crops of plums and nectarines.

In anticipation, I picked about 2 kg of unripe plums yesterday to thin the tree out a little and a big handful of Green Shiso leaves from the greenhouse. Though these are a European prune plum, I’m going to try and make Umeboshi with them, using this recipe I found on Makiko Itoh’s site. I love the salty, sour taste and I think the sake will add a really interesting note to this ferment.

2 kg unripe plums and aromatic green Shiso leaves – aka Beefsteak Plant

After washing, removing stems and soaking the plums most of the day, I packed them in sterilised glass jars, layered with washed leaves and a fairly high percentage of cooking salt (about 12%). I covered them all with a half bottle of good sake that was never finished (shameful, I know!), weighed them down firmly and capped the jars with pickle pipes that allow gases to escape. The three jars are now on my pantry shelf and this morning I increased the pressure on the fruit, the liquid has risen and they’re starting to look and smell like a good ferment. I have no idea if my makeshift adaption of this simple Umeboshi recipe is going to work – but it’s going to be fun finding out 🙂

Over the last few years I’ve been seeking out interesting fruit trees on dwarfing rootstock that I can grow in wicking barrels. I’ve been experimenting with citrus trees, but living in Tasmania (traditionally called “The Apple Isle”), the obvious choice was a few bare-rooted apple trees that I bought from Woodbridge Nursery and put into wicking barrels. After seeing some very healthy growth and knocking all the embryonic fruit off last year, I thought I’d let them go this spring and see what happened. These strong little trees have all flowered and set fruit – and despite my thinning and some wind damage – the results have been outstanding. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to dealing with codling moth in early spring and will need to put it on my monthly garden schedule from now on.

The flavour of any apple you’ve grown yourself is a lovely experience and something I recommend everyone try if you have the opportunity. I’ve been fussing around the trees like a mother hen, gathering a few Royal Gala windfalls the past couple of weeks and found for the most part, they’ve been quite ripe and incredibly sweet. (Brown seeds are a great indicator of ripeness).

I’ve mainly concentrated on dessert apples such as Royal Gala and Pomme de Neige with a couple of crossover later varieties like Sturmer Pippin and McIntosh to extend the season and for cider. So, when I discovered a McIntosh windfall this morning, I wasn’t expecting it to edible let alone ripe!

The McIntosh is a very old Canadian late variety that’s popular as a dessert apple in the US but never really took off here in Australia. I recall having one as a kid and remembering the name and the flavour, as I have McIntosh forebears from Edinburgh. It’s also listed as a great blending apple for cider, providing copious amounts of sweet juice. Well, I can certainly attest to that! This beastie was a wonderful thing to eat, full of rich flavour and beautifully crisp.

Fresh McIntosh apple slices for morning tea

I also have a Medlar, Fig, Oranges, Pears, even a Lime and a gorgeous Huonville Crabapple all in tubs and growing well. Today’s experience has convinced me to get a few dedicated cider apples to join my mini orchard next year. I’m also currently reading Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols excellent book and being a cider lover from way back, I’m pretty sold on the idea 🙂

Sadly, the last few days have brought quite awful news from the north of the state with respect to all fruit and vegetable growers here. Larvae of the destructive Queensland Fruit Fly (Bactrocera tryoni) has been discovered at Spreyton (a major commercial fruit and vegetable growing area) on a backyard apricot tree. To give you some idea of what devastation they can cause, my friend Rob in Queensland (one of the best gardeners I know) can show you better than I can describe it! (As an aside, Rob’s YouTube channel is an absolute must for any urban farmer and where I initially learned about making self-watering wicking containers!)

I’ve searched over my ripening chillies, nectarines and plums as best I can but will be setting out syrup traps in the next couple of days to see exactly what’s coming in to my yard and greenhouse. I just hope that as a fruit loving community, we here in Tasmania can rally together to keep a vigilant eye out. This is an insect we can well live without!

My first home-grown McIntosh apple!

No Resolutions – 2017 in Review

kunanyi/Mt Wellington sunset from my backdoor

Well, here we are again. Another year has sped by and I’m in the midst of some well-earned time off from teaching and contract work.

The garden beds are looking a little better as I’ve had more time to pull some weeds, which keeps the chickens happy. In turn, they give me and mine enough eggs to make summer pavlova to go with raspberries from the ever-expanding patch. Vegetable peelings go to the chickens and also to the three worm farms that are on constant rotation and in turn, replenish the garden beds with casings and provide foliar fertilizer. So, there’s plenty of salad greens for picking, plus finger eggplants, the first of the zucchinis and chillies coming on.

First eggplant for the year

The rabbits (our other weed eaters) laze in their shady spot near the chestnut tree, which has just finished flowering. The waste from their hutches goes back onto the various veggie beds and fruit trees as a feeding mulch. Although I do bring in some extra materials (particularly magnesium and dolomite), it’s all a circle really.

This past year has been a lot of hard work (especially with respect to study) but it has brought many rewards, both tangible achievements and simple, old fashioned happiness. Above all, I’m well aware of how lucky I am, living in one of the loveliest places on the planet, grateful to get paid for doing things I love and that I’m surrounded by wonderful people (you know who you are – and thank you!)

I have no personal resolutions for 2018, just to be in the circle for another trip around the sun and to continue what I’ve been doing – studying, urban farming, writing, teaching music, watching films, cooking and writing film criticism.

It’s quite a lot really, sometimes almost too much – as my partner and GP both like to remind me! – and while I was preparing photos for this post, I discovered this glorious bee I snapped a couple of weeks ago in the chestnut tree. It reminded me the name Debra comes from the Hebrew and means “industrious, as a bee”.

Seasons greetings to you all and may the coming year be all you want it to be ❤

Chestnut in full flower

Time to Sleep – Day 16 NaBloPoMo 2017

Well, that was a ride and a half!

I’ve just submitted an 1800 word short story and 500 word exegesis for my Speculative Fiction assignment and I feel like I could sleep for a week. Unfortunately, there isn’t time for that!

Tomorrow (Friday here in the southern hemisphere) is the day I get to play music with The Superstars at Oak Tasmania, and we’re deep into preparation for a private function we’re performing at next weekend. These men and women are simply fantastic and I’m truly blessed to be able to write and perform with them ❤

Maybe I’ll be able to post some photos next week of our performance – I always love action shots 🙂

Meanwhile, there’s lots of gardening that needs doing over the weekend, a jam session at a friend’s place to go to and lots of new movies to see. I’m particularly keen to check out the Kenneth Branagh Murder on the Orient Express, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Loving Vincent and Jungle. Let me know if you’ve seen any of these films, I always like to hear other people’s opinions 🙂

I’ll leave you with a wonderful discovery I made in the greenhouse yesterday – the first Rocoto chilli flower for the season ❤

Sick Day Blues – Day 5 NaBloPoMo 2017

Well, best laid plans and all that jazz……..

I was supposed to go out to the wonderful MONA today for a special lunch with a whole bunch of female musician friends but no such luck 😦

Last week, I got a Whooping Cough and Tetanus booster shot from my GP because there’s a very small and extremely precious brand new member of our tribe I want to hang out with. My doctor warned me I might have some pain from the Tetanus part of the deal and it would hang around for a few days. Yep, he was right on all counts – but I’m sure it will be worth it!

When I got up this morning I had trouble lifting my arm above my shoulder, so hanging the washing out was pretty hilarious – not! Combined with very little sleep last night, I feel utterly wrecked today, so I’ve decided to rest up so I can make music tomorrow with my friends at Oak Tasmania.

Meanwhile, after wrestling with the clothes, I found some lovely bits around the yard that made me smile. I live in a fairly moist climate and there’s always water in the garden for bees and native birds. But because I breed rabbits, I try and avoid mosquitoes as they carry some truly awful diseases. So, I got some tadpoles from my friends Josie and David and was really pleased that they’re thriving in a tub I eventually plan to turn into a wicking barrel. I spotted some fat little chappies this morning, feasting on mosquito larvae 😀

And over near the chook house (aka as Frankenhutch) I drank in the heady perfume of lemon and lime flowers ❤

The lime in particular is thriving, after surviving the Tasmanian winter and after the flowers have gone, I plan to leave a couple of flowers and see if we can have a few fresh limes next year.

I’m resting up now, dinner’s in the slow cooker (Beef and Bean Curry) and I’ve movies to watch and uni work to do.

See you all tomorrow!

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