Sunday, April 30, 2006

Jerusalem Artichokes or How I Finally Get Around To What Jamie Oliver's Always Told Me

Well, not me personally. But in his books and his shows he is constantly banging on about jerusalem artichokes. In the first Naked Chef series, I remember him cooking some up with his little poussins for Christmas dinner. Now I am, ahem, a bit stubborn. When something gets rammed down my throat, I tend to ignore it. Repeatedly. So the more I heard about jerusalem artichokes, the firmer became my resolve not to try them. (Figman said to me "You must have been a difficult child"!)

But I was walking around the Prahran Markets with something approaching a shopping list when I came across a small sackful marked "artichokes". My list did include artichokes, I think I had aspirations of some fancy-dan salad. But these were obviously not artichokes. I mean, if you can't tell the difference between an artichoke and a jerusalem artichoke, then all I can say is that your cooking is going to be very intriguing. Ahem.

The jerusalem artichokes were small and knobbly and didn't look that difficult to cook, so I scooped some up and went forth. Jamie Oliver and Stephanie Alexander have different methods of preparation - he is for the straightforward scrub, while she prefers the peel. They are a great deal easier to peel once some of the knobblier bits have been cut off but I didn't find it too tedious a task. It only becomes laborious when you look down and see how many you've still got to go!

They do discolour slightly but I didn't bother with the acidulated water. They were being peeled, chopped and thrown in with a leg of lamb as it roasted. The beauty of this is that they cook very quickly, so a lazy cook like me can prep them as I go.

Jerusalem artichokes have a lovely nutty taste. I roasted them with sweet potato and the contrast between flavours was great. It might be a little mild to enjoy on its own, unless you are deliberately seeking subtle. They have a GI value of 50 (same as sweet potato) and 3g of carb per 100.

I found these lovely ones at Fernleigh Farm, just outside of Daylesford. Owner Fiona Chambers told me that they had just been dug that morning and their crisp white flesh covered in rich earth seemed to confirm it! These ones were at least twice the size of those at the markets and absolutely delicious. I am in danger of becoming a convert ...

So I might have to admit that occasionally Jamie Oliver knows what he's going on about. Ahem.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Cooking for Children 1: Easter Treats Round Up

Well here it is - the inaugural Cooking For Children foodblogging event! This month's theme was Easter Treats and it was lovely to see the creativity and variety involved.

The picture above is from Kate at Pie in the Sky and her Eggspanding, Organegg Eggstravaganza! Kate mentioned to me that the souffle part of her Eggstravaganza might be a little hard for little hands, but using natural dyes to colour the shells and then turning them into herb planters is just right methinks! And for the curious at heart, there are updates here and here.

These Meringue Mice came all the way from Montreal and aren't they amazingly cute? Just look at those almond ears! They remind me of the sugar mice in the Enid Blyton books I read avidly as a child. Zoubida at Kitchen Culture whips these up for her sons each Easter. A great idea for a contrast to all the chocolate!

Fellow Melbourne girl Vicious Ange made Nigella Lawson's Easter Egg Nest Cake. I mentioned that I'd made this one year, but Ange's looks far more together than mine, (which was a bit of a shambles, but the kids only had eyes for the tiny coloured eggs). Ange managed to get her hands on some of those too, but I recommend stocking up early! This dessert is a rare thing - a rich chocolately adult taste but with such appeal for children too!

Ramya from Cooking Within My Grasp decided to join in the fun at short notice and I'm so glad she did. This is a fruit Easter bunny, made of sliced bananas and apples. Ramya says that this is her "simplest treat for my little boy" but it's also delightful!

Another Melbourne blogger at Lazy Cow came up with a plateful of goodness - Hot Cross Buns courtesy of Delia. My heart just melts when I look at the expression on the Girl's face as she reaches for one. This is what festivities are all about.

My own little effort at Trish Deseine's Easter Eggs can be found here (or you could just scroll down the page, he he). I had more ambitious plans to tackle these little cupcake Easter chickies as mentioned by Cate from Sweetnicks, but a trip to my favourite Nut Shop found them all out of shredded coconut. Now I thought it unlikely that everyone in the area had suddenly decided to make Spring Cakes (dear Martha's not that big in Melbourne, or Australia really) but I couldn't be bothered to trek round and find some more. Next time perhaps.

And speaking of next time, I'd like to nominate Birthday Party Food as the next theme (could she possibly have an ulterior motive you ask?). Please email your entries to favouriteplum(at) by 29 May 2006. And remember, it doesn't have to be a new post - any great ideas from your archives are very welcome here!

A very big THANK YOU to everyone who participated. And I know that a couple more contributions might be in the works - send 'em on in and I'll put them up. Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Naked Grape

What kind of person buys wine because it's described as "toffee apple"?? I mean really, would you want me to choose your drink for you?

Wandering around Bay Street before Easter with visitors, we had some time to spend. After a leisurely coffee at Readings bookshop (Plumbaby got to play with the toy trains and I got to check out Tessa Kiros' gorgeous new book Apples for Jam), CDs were purchased, muffins were consumed and then it was off for a stroll. Sweetshops, pet shops (try separating the Plumbaby from a kitten and see what happens!) and much more.

Then we came to the Naked Grape and the activity stalled. They sell a range of Australian wines, labelled as "Naked Grape" and generally around the $15 mark. The store is filled with cartons standing in stacks and bright posters, declaiming the wine's provenance and tasting notes. One of our party undertook a detailed tasting, while I simply wandered around aimlessly until the words "toffee apple" caught my eye. Hook, line and sinker.

There was much joking as this was poured out, several hours later, but it actually wasn't bad. Nor is $15 spent for a 2003 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir. Figman cracked open a bottle of the considerably more expensive Tasmanian stuff the next night and, sad to say, it wasn't as palatable. Score: One backdown by Mr "You can't find good Pinot under $50". Here's to aimless wandering!

Reminder: please send your Cooking For Children Easter Treats to me at favouriteplum(at) by 23 April 2006.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Cooking For Children 1: Easter Treats

A few days after Easter and here it is! I had hoped to have the Plumbaby help me with these, but a little accident meant that his hands were in bandages and melted chocolate was a no no. But he could still enjoy the finished product with gusto! I mentioned here that I was using a Trish Deseine recipe for Easter Eggs. A very simple one, this requires simply chocolate and breakfast cereal of your choice. I used Callebaut 53% dark chocolate callets and Rice Bubbles and Vita Wheaties.

To make, I melted the chocolate in the microwave on medium heat. Stirred until the last of the chips were melted. Added handfuls of Rice Bubbles until the grains were coated well and then pressed into a clean dry mould. Once the cereal is added, the chocolate begins to set quite quickly and while you are finicking around with a rogue Rice Bubble, you may find that half your mixture has now stuck hard to the side of the bowl. Ahem. I'd recommend making this in several smaller batches, particularly when children are helping in the kitchen.

I tried both the large "hollow" egg halves and the solid smaller egg halves. The density of the mixture makes it difficult to obtain a truly hollow shell unless you have a giant mould, and the size of the cereal grains affect how solidly a small mould can be filled. Some of the solid ones were not particularly egg-shaped. I mean, they had a vague egg-shape, but when you compare them to these small ones which were filled with raisins and chocolate ...
The wholewheat Vita Wheaties cereal produced a crunchy spectacle!
This cereal is a healthier option than the Rice Bubbles, which also contains sugar, salt and various additives. I bought some puffed brown rice, but the grains are twice as long and don't shape well. But otherwise, it's an Easter Treat which is considerably lower in sugar than standard milk chocolate eggs. Not bad for the little cooks and well, the big ones liked them too!

Reminder: please send your Cooking For Children Easter Treats to me at favouriteplum(at) by 23 April 2006.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter Tales

They're coming, they're coming soon, I promise.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cooking For Children: C4C

AH HA! Yet another foodblog event to feel guilty about, you say. No, it's not like that at all. Truly. I'd just like a place to collect all those tried and tested recipes that children love.

Food to cook for kids (like my little one, who isn't quite at the sous chef stage yet).

And food for children to make alongside you.

And perhaps, if they are budding little chefs, food that children can make for you while you have a lie in and a read of the paper. (Yeah, right!)

I'd been thinking about this for a while, and when local boy Tankeduptaco wrote about his concerns for children's party food, I decided I would start a monthly event called C4C and that birthday food would kick it off. But it dawned on me yesterday that I have dawdled so much in getting started that it's practically EASTER! So the first theme will be Easter Treats. Big Cooks can email me their link at favouriteplum(at) by Sunday 23 April. Actually, given that some people might like the inspiration, I'll put these up as received, but the summary will go up on the 23rd. I don't mind if it's something from your archives, all entries will be happily received!

In Easters gone by, I've dyed the hardboiled eggs and rolled them down a hill. I've painstakingly stuck halves of chocolate eggs together while hoping the shells wouldn't crack. I even made Nigella Lawson's fluffy Chocolate Cloud Cake, covered with pastel speckled eggs one year. The children, needless to say, were far more impressed with the tiny eggs which came out of a packet from the supermarket! This year, I think I'll take Trish Deseine's idea of moulding melted chocolate and breakfast cereal. Much easier for little hands and that great crunchy taste! Tune in for updates ...

To sum up:
First monthly event of Cooking For Children C4C is Easter Treats
Posts to favouriteplum(at) by 23 April 2006.

Have fun!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Weekend Market: Collingwood Children's Farm

I didn't make it to Collingwood Children's Farm today (I was busy wasting my time elsewhere) but it DID remind me that I hadn't posted these pics from a month ago. I rarely take pictures at the markets because my hands are otherwise occupied and a camera is likely to be squashed under a giant pumpkin or four heads of broccoli and I don't remember anything in my warranty agreement about that. The photo above captures one of my favourite spots in the world. You come through the great gates and wander down the little path. Turn a bend and then suddenly this view opens before you. Graceful trees along a river bank. Grapevines nestled next to the footpath. Higgledy piggledy allotments, growing here there and everywhere. It makes me happy.

I was very cross when I looked at this photo and realised I'd missed out on the fresh pistachios! And even more so when I read this. But I can hardly complain. Apart from the smoked trout and overload of coriander, I scooped up vegetables and honey, a box of yellow peaches and the plumpest little sultanas I have ever seen.

Children love it here - the animals and the green add to the sense of freedom - they run wild on the grass or munch roasted corn on hay bales. This market is not strictly organic, but they do require "no spraying" at a minimum. I always am determined to limit my purchases and I always come away with way too much. The farm loans out its wheelbarrows to cart your stuff back to the carpark, but it's a farm and I'm never too sure what's been in there!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Weekend Market: Gisborne Olde Time Market

One thing about moving to the country is that a whole slew of markets which were previously out of reach are now just a hop, skip and a jump away! Weekend markets and now farmers' markets, have become huge in Victoria, so much so that there is a thick little book for sale which lists hundreds of craft, food and treasure markets across the state.

The change of clocks for daylight saving, meant that we were actually up reasonably early for once and managed to get to this market just as it was opening at 9. When we left 2 hours later, it was absolutely packed; hopefully this will strengthen my resolve to ignore the lure of the warm bed and make it bright and early to other market days!

The Gisborne Olde Time Market (why not "Olde Tyme" I know?) is a mix of crafts and food, plants and toys. Vintage Action Men for $3 next to a poffertjes stand. Kiddiwinks got a salty Bretzel and had to be dragged protesting from the bouncy castle. Figman found a decent local Pinot Noir for $20 and managed to add to the organic herb collection. And me? Not surprisingly, I was mostly weighed down with food! The bread pictured above - a light rye and a dense heavy rye, the kind I've been craving. I grew up with traditional German rye bread and a lot of what passes for rye these days doesn't cut it with me (or the lovely bakerina either)! 2 kilos of oranges, unsprayed and picked just two days ago. A couple of kilos of tomatoes (I contemplated the 10 kilos for $15 box and walked on. Let's face it, was I really going to get around to making sugo?).

Two lovely little jars - lemon pesto and red curry paste from the Flambe preserves range. I haven't tried the curry paste, but the lack of nuts appealed to me as the mother of a toddler. And the lemon pesto - simply amazing. The stallholder told me that the pistachio pesto was her bestseller, but to me the zesty lemon one just sang. This goes up on my list of The Best Things I Put in My Mouth in 2006.

Some of the produce was not particularly local. The nice chap behind the rocky road stand assured me that his confectionery was made locally - in his kitchen in Altona! That bread? Baked in Richmond. And the oranges and their seller came from 350 kilometres away in Swan Hill. I gazed at the orange man in astonishment. "How can that be worthwhile for you?" "As soon as it stops being worthwhile, I'll stop doing it" he replied dryly. I suppose with the orange glut and dumping of 25,000 tonnes in this state recently, $2 a kilo might not be so bad after all.

This particular market only runs from October to May (I know, just when I found it!) but the Gisborne Farmer's Market starts up soon. I've had a flick through the list of local markets and I think we're going to be very well fed around here. And you thought moving to the country would change my ways .... !