Lemon Rush

Not sure about everyone else, but I’m ready for the warmer weather to start. I’ve just about cooked everything in my winter repertoire and my taste buds are ready for a change! Is it just me or do we all seem to stick with the tried an tested recipes? I think it’s a time/effort scenario. In winter if I can cook it in bulk and freeze leftovers I’m happy, or just throw everything in the pan and let it cook by itself. I’ll sometimes try a new variation-but mostly it’s the same dish just re-worked. Lamb shanks got a re-work this year. Traditionally I’ve gone the Italian route with a tomato base sauce, but this year I was into the Moroccan spices. You can find my recipe in list above or in a previous post here. The addition of dried apricots, prunes and chickpeas made for a nice change in many of the Moroccan dishes I tried, but the one I really loved was the preserved lemons. The sharp fresh flavour of the lemons was just so good. Sharp & fresh aren’t usually words you associate with winter cooking. Anyway we have an abundance of lemons this year so I thought I’d give it a go and preserve some of our lemons.
This is a recipe based on the one in Stephanie Alexander’s book “The Cooks Companion”

Preserved Lemons & Lemon Curd
Preserved Lemons
250g Coarse Kitchen Salt
10 Lemons, washed and cut into quarters
1 Bay Leaf
2-3 Cloves
extra lemon juice
Place a spoon full of salt into a sterilised jar (approx.1 litre capacity)
In a separate dish mix the lemons and salt. Stephanie suggested massaging the skin…I think this would have been easier before I’d cut the lemons.
Place the lemon quarters into the jar along with the bay leaf and cloves. Press down on the lemons as you go to release as much juice as possible. I found that squeezing each piece as I put it into the jar helped released more juice. Place any leftover salt into the jar along with the extra lemon juice. The idea is that the lemons are covered by the juice. I found that I was a little short on the juice so I topped it up with some boiling water. I also added 2 extra teaspoons of salt so that the brine remained salty enough.
In every recipe that I’ve read they always mention that if the lemons are not covered by the brine they can develop a white mould on them. Apparently its harmless-it just looks yuck!You can probably see from the picture of mine that because the jar wasn’t packed tight with lemons so when I added the extra water they floated to the top. I’m not sure if this is going to effect the end result-we’ll just have to wait and see. I did get a tip from my friend Natalie from at Moore Farm Fresh Produce. She sliced her lemons so they sat flat in the jar. This allowed her to stack them up to the top of the jar. Clever! I think I’ll try this next time.

Winter Weekend

Heading back from our afternoon walk and we caught the last rays of daylight just before the sun dipped behind the hills.



Another perfect weekend here in the Hunter Valley. For the first weekend in ages we didn’t have any specific plans. It was  actually lovely to take life at a much slower pace for a change. I rode my horses, we caught up with friends and took the dogs for a long afternoon walk. Total rest and relaxation!
It also meant that I had time to potter in the kitchen. I had  Moroccan Lamb Shanks simmering away on the stove for most of Saturday afternoon. So delicious and so easy. I’ve put the recipe below.
I also made a batch of Paris Butter. Have you tried it? It’s similar to a herb butter but with a few extra ingredients. Well worth the effort I must say. Once you made it you can keep it in the freezer for a few weeks.  A small knob on top of a beautifully cook steak is just out of this world. Also great to add to a bowl of steamed vegetables or boiled potatoes. Plain food is my nemesis…I know adding butter to steamed vegetables is counter productive but  you really just need a tiny bit….or so I keep telling myself!

Speaking of food! I’m looking forward to this upcoming weekend. We have the “Taste of Wollombi” food & wine festival happening on Sunday. It will show case all of the wonderful food and wine producers in our little valley. It’s an easy drive from Sydney or Newcastle so it’s a perfect day out. Hopefully this stunning winter weather will continue and it will be a big day for the local community. I’ve added the link below if you need a bit more information. Hope you are all having a great week so far.

Moroccan Lamb Shanks

1 tablespoon of olive oil
4 Lamb shanks
1 large leek, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1L Chicken stock** 
600g  sweet potato (kumera) peeled, coarsely chopped
1 x 400g can chick peas, rinsed, drained
12 dried apricots roughly chopped
Fresh coriander to serve.
** I didn’t have liquid stock so I used stock powder with boiling water and it was perfectly fine.


Here’s how it’s done.

Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole dish (one with a lid) over medium heat. Add the lamb shanks and cook for a few minutes. Turn them a few times so they are brown all over. You don’t want to actually “cook” then just brown them. Once they are brown transfer them to a plate.

Add the onion, carrot and garlic to the dish and stir until combined. Add the cumin, turmeric, paprika and cinnamon. Stir together for about 30 seconds. Add a small amount of stock to the pan and stir to release any of the browned lamb that may have caught on the bottom of the dish. Add the remaining stock. Return the lamb shanks to the pan. Put the lid on and cook over a very low heat for about 1 1/2 hours. The pan should be only just simmering. If the liquid is evaporating during this time add some boiling water.

Finally add the sweet potatoes, chick peas and dried apricots. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for a further 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and rest for 10 minutes.

Serve the lamb shanks on a bed of couscous with some of the delicious sauce and sprinkled with coriander. Enjoy!

Note: I’ve cooked a few variation of this dish. It’s also great with lentils and prunes. Just depends what I have in the cupboard. I also great served with brown rice.

 
 

 

 

 

Almond Cake with Lemon Syrup


So the weather forecast was not entirely correct. Go figure!!
Saturday was ok, so I managed to ride both of my horses, weed around the fruit trees and give them a little fertiliser. (aka horse poo that I’d picked up.) I then tackled a few of the more mundane household task that I had been putting off. Funny how they don’t magically disappear even when you ignore them….
Sunday was cold and raining. Most people would find this depressing but I found it just perfect for relaxing by the fire reading my book, drinking cups of tea and eating cake. Almond cake with lemon syrup to be precise. With lemons from our very own tree! Recipe below. Hope you enjoy.

Cake

4 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g melted butter
1 cup almonds- (1 cup almonds blitzed in the food processor)

Lemon Syrup

1 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup water

1 tsp vanilla extract or essence
2 Lemons thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 160C and grease either a large loaf tin or a square cake tin.
Note for young players- a loaf tin works best. The cake takes longer to cook in the square tin and you risk the outer edges drying out.

Lemon syrup; combine the sugar, water and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon slices and simmer for 15 minutes or until they are completely soft. Arrange the slices on the base of your cake tin and then pour in the syrup.
For the cake batter; combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk for 10 minutes, or until the mixture is pale and tripled in volume. Fold in the flour and baking powder. Then gently fold in the butter and almonds.
Spoon batter into the cake tin, smooth over the top and bake for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Let rest for about 5 minutes then turn out onto a platter making sure to collect all of the syrup. Serve as it is or with vanilla ice cream!! 

2015 we’re off and racing…

This is the image I’m holding in my head for 2015. When I start to feel overwhelmed with all the things I need to do, should do or want to do this will be my focus. 
Today was my first day back in the office. My real job. Not the farm job. I do sometimes feel like I have two separate lives. It’s a good thing.
Christmas was a constant flow of family and friends. No sooner had one group left than another was arriving. We like it that way.
So what’s on the agenda  2015?  Gardens & landscaping. As with most things “farm” it’s a bit more than a Saturday morning trip to Bunnings for a few bags of potting mix. It takes planning. Lot’s of planning.   The vegetable garden will be a series of raised beds. Irrigation is essential. We did a test run with our herb garden and the a drip system attached to a timer  works perfectly. I remember my Grandparents loved watering their garden. It was their post dinner ritual every night over summer. Realistically we wont have that luxury, so a reliable water supply is essential. The garden bed’s will also require some form of netting to protect them from the wildlife. I’m not talking about insect & bugs. I’m talking kangaroos, birds, possums and wombats!
We also have plans to plant along the retaining wall at the back of the house and around our pool.  Timing is essential here. Instinct tells me that Spring is the time to plant but we have found March/April is our best time for general planting. The plants have time to get established before the winter frost, and then have their growth spurt in spring.
We’ve had great success with our herb garden. One bed has rhubarb, silverbeet and shallots. The other is a mixture of herbs. We love the young silverbeet simply tossed in a pan (think stir fry) with garlic, butter, salt and pepper. Yum.

Cooking Class-Stuffed Grape Leaves.

What a fabulous day!! Today I joined Rita from “My Fathers Table” and a few others for an afternoon of cooking. We cooked Warak Enab or Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves. Her hands on classes are amazing and truly “hand on”.
First stop was Moore Wollombi Garlic to talk with Natalie Moore about all things garlic. They have just harvested their second crop of garlic. The smell was soft & delicate. Not the overpowering acidic smell you normally associate with garlic.
Next stop Noyce Brothers Vineyard to pick Verdello grape leaves. Rita gave us a quick lesson in identifying the perfect leaves for our rolls.
Then we headed straight into the kitchen to learn the time honoured technique of stuffing &  rolling the leaves.

The rolls take around an hour to cook and then left to cool in the cooking liquid. Once we had prepared our rolls and layered them in our pot’s they were ready for us to take home and cook.
Luckily for us Rita had prepared a large pot of the rolls earlier, so we were able to sit down and enjoy a traditional Lebanese feast. 

Almond & Pear Tart



I’ve rolled this dessert out a number of times over the last few months, and it’s always gone down a treat. A few people have asked for the recipe so here it is. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  Frozen Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
 50g Soft unsalted butter
 100g castor sugar
  100g Ground Almonds (or Almond Meal)
  2 Eggs
  1 Tablespoon Brandy (or Rum)
  1 Teaspoon Almond extract
  1 Tin of Pear Halves –drained

Method

Defrost pastry and line a 25cm tart tin with a removable base.
Use a fork to prick the base of the pastry.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or as long as it take you to make the batter)
Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and mix until the butter is light and fluffy. I’ve done this in the large mixer and with a little hand electric beaters. The result is the same.
Stir in the ground almonds. Add the eggs, rum and almond extract and mix to combine.
Pat the drained pear halves dry. You can slice then or cut them into quarters depending on how you want to decorate the tart.
Remove the pastry from the fridge. Pour the batter into the pastry case. Spread the batter evenly over the pastry case. Arrange pears in a circle on top of the batter.
Bake in a moderate oven (160 C) for 30-40 minutes.

The tart is ready when it has a nice golden colour.
Serve warm from the oven or at room temperature.



Tips & Traps for young players

The first few times I made this I sliced the pears thinly and fanned them out in a circle. It looked great but was very fiddly and not really worth the extra effort.

Don’t be tempted to overcook the tart. Once it has a nice golden colour it’s done, even if the batter still looks a bit shiny or soft.

Decorate with toasted almond slivers if you want to be fancy

Serve with ice cream or cream.

Great times with old friends…

This is what happens when great friends get together for a weekend! A few bottles wine, a few laughs and LOADS of amazing food. Given the amount of laughter coming from the kitchen I think the boys were getting worried that dinner might not actually happen….

Entree
Home made hummus, cheese & dips.
Main
Marinated lamb shoulder, slow cooked in the wood fired oven for 4 hours
Garlic Mash “al la Thermomix”
Assorted greens fresh from my garden
Bread baked in the wood fired oven.
Dessert
Almond & Pear Tart
Assorted Amazing Wine-lot’s of it!!
Sunday Morning was crisp & clear….alas
 the guest were not!