Tuesday, November 23

There's No Business Like Show Business

Life has done a full circle. On Saturday we sunscreened-up and headed for the 150th Kyneton Agricultural Show, the sweet sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival ringing in my ears courtesy of the teenagers next door. The Snake Handlers were up first. Surprisingly, I had the courage to touch many reptiles, not least of all a junior crocodile (with its mouth taped shut) and an enormous olive python. Mr R was a little more wary and when I bellowed “scaredy cat!” at him he retorted that repeatedly stroking a dry old snake just for the sake of it was not his idea of fun, nor he suspected, the snake’s. Welcome to my world.

Next, and possibly my favourite part of The Show was the poultry competition. This little poppet won ‘Best Behaved Bird’.

I suspect any sort of misbehaviour might mess up that marvellous bouffant, clearly her pride and joy. There were also prizes for ‘Cheekiest Face’ and ‘Best Prepared’. ‘Best Prepared!’ Imagine the prestige back at the hen house. All those early morning exercises, trips to the salon, careful dieting, they paid off!

There were vegetable competitions too, and prizes for the best pavlova, fluffiest scones, loveliest saucer of flowers and biggest bottle of pickles. As the proud inherited owner of a patch of rhubarb, I was pleased to see mine almost measured up to the prize-winning bunches. 

And on doing some research, I was excited to learn that rhubarb is actually a vegetable! (Except in the USA where in 1947 it became a fruit for tax purposes). The rhizomes ('roots') contain stilbene compounds (including rhaponticin) which seem to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic mice.

Not being the weather for hot puddings, I decided to experiment with rhubarb ice-cream and this is what happened… I cut a bunch of rhubarb stalks into even chunks, added half a cup of caster sugar, a tablespoon of water and two capfuls of rosewater then let them simmer away in a small saucepan until the rhubarb had cooked through and broken down. Whilst it was cooling I used a hand mixer to beat one cup of caster sugar with one and a quarter cups of milk (in order to dissolve the sugar). Then I stirred in a 600ml bottle (nearly three cups!) of thickened cream. It’s not called ice-cream for nothing. Once the rhubarb had cooled I stirred that in too and added about three extra capfuls of rosewater. This was then transferred to the ice-cream machine for churning which took about thirty minutes. If you don’t have an ice-cream machine then I'm sorry, sucker! Once churned and a delightful pale pink, I popped it in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up. Served with strawberries, Master R pronounced it ‘a triumph’. Personally I think I was a tad heavy-handed with the rosewater and that it could have benefited from being served with a sharper fruit or possibly lemony or almondy biscuits. But they're for another day.

  • Rhubarb and Rosewater Ice-cream

Monday, November 15

Return of the Vegi

It's a wonder you're not getting a whiff of day-old garlicky breath through your monitor such was the ferocity of yesterday's Caramelised Garlic and Goats Cheese Tart.  But what a tart!  And what a fine way to kick-off the season of the Summer Sunday Luncheon (SSL). 
Garlic is grown globally, but China is by far the largest producer of garlic, with approximately 10.5 million tonnes (23 billion pounds) annually, accounting for over 77% of world output. India (4.1%) and South Korea (2%) follow, with Russia (1.6%) in fourth place and the United States (where garlic is grown primarily as a cash crop in every state except for Alaska) in fifth place (1.4%). Garlic has been used throughout history for both culinary and medicinal purposes as this man can attest...

And so to the recipe.  For which we have to acknowledge the pretty amazing Mr Yotan Ottolenghi,  (http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/)...  To begin I rolled out some defrosted all-butter puff pastry (from the shop!) that lined the base and edges of a non-stick fluted tart tin.  I stabbed it many times with a fork then sat it in the fridge for 20 minutes to come to terms with its new dimensions.  Whilst it was resting I pre-heated the oven to 180 and cut out a circle of greaseproof paper to put on top of the pastry and under some brown rice (in lieu of ceramic baking beans).  The pastry was then baked blind for 20 minutes before I removed the paper and rice and put it back in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown.  At this point it can be taken out and left to its own devices for as long as it takes you to prepare the filling. 
And what a filling!  Put the peeled cloves of three heads of garlic into a small pan and cover with water.  Bring them to a simmer, blanch for three minutes and then drain well.  Dry the pan, return the cloves to it and then add about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Fry for about two minutes then add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar (the best a man can get) and 220ml of water. They will look like this -

Which might not look like much, but by God, it smelt like heaven.  Fragrant enough to awaken Mr R from his Sunday morning slumber.  Add nearly a tablespoon of caster sugar, a teaspoon each of freshly chopped rosemary and thyme and a mere quarter of a teaspoon of salt.  Continue simmering until most of the liquid has evaporated and the cloves are coated in a glorious dark caramel syrup. 
To assemble, break 120g of hard goat's cheese and 120g of soft goat's cheese and scatter on the pastry case then spoon over the garlic cloves and syrup.  Whisk together two eggs, 100ml of cream and 100ml creme fraiche with some salt and pepper and pour the mixture into the case making sure to leave the cloves sticking out through the top.  Throw on a few strands of thyme and pop in the oven  (at 160) for 35 to 45 minutes.  Well that's what the recipe said.  In reality my tart took almost an hour to set and then I just turned the oven off and left it in there to keep warm.  Served with a tomato and herb salad and fresh asparagus it went down a treat (though all that cream and cheese will probably be lodged in one's aortic arch for some time to come).


Sunday, October 3

Why Don't You Come Back?

Mrs Robertson and her vegetables will return to the blogosphere from a new country kitchen location in a few short weeks... xxx

Monday, September 13

I Loathe the Red Hot Chilli Peppers

So spring hasn’t sprung after all. But I socked it to Mother Nature, taught her a lesson she’ll not forget in a hurry. In spite of her wintry persistence I prepared a cold dish! Perfect for a balmy spring evening with a chilled glass of whatever takes your fancy followed by the first mangoes of the season.

I like to call it Sesame Soba Salad and it features this week’s lucky vegetable, the good ol’ capsicum. Or the bell pepper. Or the red pepper. The Capsicum is a genus of flowering plants in the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Its species are native to the Americas, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years by the people of the tropical Americas, and are now cultivated worldwide. As a medicinal plant, the Capsicum species has been used as a carminative, digestive irritant, stomachic, stimulant, rubefacient, and tonic. The plants have also been used as folk remedies for dropsy, colic, diarrhea, asthma, arthritis, muscle cramps, and toothache. Handy to have in the refrigerator.

I began by cutting up three red peppers, placing them on a non-stick baking tray and roasting them in a hot oven until the skin was bubbly and charred. Then I popped them in a sealed plastic bag to cool and enable the easy removal of the skins. Meanwhile I cooked a packet of organic soba noodles (the buckwheat variety) in boiling water for four minutes before rinsing in cold water, splashing them with sesame oil (to stop them sticking together), and leaving them to drain. Meanwhile, meanwhile I topped and tailed a generous handful of long green beans and gave them two minutes in the microwave before plunging them headfirst into a bowl of icy water to stop them from continuing to cook and to maintain their emerald hue.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile I toasted about 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds and thinly sliced a small red onion. Now to the soy and chilli dressing. I must admit my quantities were a little haphazard and the end result was achieved purely through tasting and muttering, muttering and tasting. I mixed the following ingredients together to make about two-thirds of a cup of dressing – tamari, vegetable oil, sesame oil, lime juice, raw sugar, rice wine vinegar, mirin, minced garlic, minced ginger, chopped fresh chilli, salt and pepper.

Having relieved the red pepper pieces of their skins, I cut them into strips and added them to the noodles along with the beans, red onion, sesame seeds and a cup of coriander leaves. Then I poured the dressing over, gave the salad a gentle but thorough toss and served it topped with cubes of marinated tofu and some more fresh coriander. It was alright. Admittedly if I was a contestant on Iron Chef I’d be marked down for not duly featuring the feature ingredient. But hey, what’s a poor housewife to do?
Sesame Soba Salad
Chris Bell (Pepper)!

Sunday, September 5

Just Beet It!

Oh Dear Reader! I was all set, truly prepared to rustle up a beetroot, walnut and goat’s cheese risotto on a rainy Saturday evening. It was supposed to be all special, in honour of Father’s Day. And then the father in question, our very own Mr R, sidled into the kitchen and sheepishly announced that he really doesn’t care for risotto and cannot abide walnuts and how about we have a pizza instead? Eighteen years I have known this man, eighteen years! And now I really don’t know him at all.

What to do? A lesser housewife would have ordered in and a better one would have set the yeast to rising and whipped up some dough in no time at all.  But I chose the middle way.  With tears in my eyes and a pain in my heart, I pulled a packet of Bazaar Gourmet Pizza Bases from the pantry and began to “cook”.

With beetroot, which is this week’s star vegetable. And I hope the last we’ll be seeing of the wintry root vegetables for a good long while. Bring on spring I say! Anyway, the beet (Beta vulgaris) is a plant in the Chenopodiaceae family. Beet pulp is fed to horses that are in vigorous training or conditioning and to those that may be allergic to dust from hay. Beetroot can also be used to make wine. The consumption of beets causes pink urine in some people.

I peeled and chopped five little beets into quarters, drizzled them in olive oil and seasoning and set them to roast for about half an hour (until they were quite purple and withered). Meanwhile, I mixed 250grams of goats cheese in ash with two generous tablespoons of chopped fresh thyme and spread it over the pizza bases with a palette knife. I added some finely sliced red onion for a bit of bite and the now sliced and roasted beetroot. A glug of olive oil and some more black pepper followed and hey presto they were ready for 15 minutes in a hot oven. After that I rather recklessly threw rocket at them as well as toasted pinenuts, that ol' balsamic vinegar, more olive oil and some sea salt flakes.  They looked like this...
And tasted much better than beetroot risotto!   

Sunday, August 29

Mrs A Young's Apple & Celery Salad

Lovely Launceston, terrific Tasmania, I bid thee adieu!  Having been at a conference for the past four days and now awaiting my flight back across the strait, I don’t fancy my chances of serving up a vegetarian feast this evening.  Though there’s every chance the boys will have one waiting for me.  Every chance.

I do have in my hot little hands however, a copy of the 21st Birthday Cookery Book of the Country Women’s Association in Tasmania.  It is a splendid publication, reissued this year but not altered I am assured, since it was first published in 1957.  This becomes quite evident when one reads the advertisements contained within its hallowed pages – “A Gift She Will Always Appreciate – Fowlers Vacola Fruit Bottling Outfit – To Mother with love from Dad and the Children.”  Or there’s “Housewives!  You can easily make this tasty dessert to suit all the family – Merry Widow Junkets!”  Yum.  Or my personal favourite depicts two hat-wearing gentlemen having a likely conversation I'm sure – “My wife’s a real Pet!  That’s nothing, mine’s a Prizewinner, she uses McAlpin’s Flour (the housewives choice since 1900)!” 
From the shop window of The Tasmanian Country Women's Association

For this week’s star vegetable my initial plan was to test one of the country women’s recipes but the problem is that there are incredibly few vegetable recipes to be found among its 240 pages.  Although starting off promisingly with artichoke soup (artichokes, tick), the only other vegie recipe I can see is in the Salad Section.  Simply called ‘Apple and Celery’ the ingredients are one head of celery and four cooking apples.  Peel and slice apples and celery into small pieces then sprinkle over finely cut lettuce, advises Mrs A. Young of Evandale.  I bet Mr A Young of Evandale could barely contain himself at the thought of Mrs Young’s special Apple & Celery dish after a hard day’s yakka on the farm. 

I could always try Sheeps Tongues with Sauce, Pigeons on Toast or Jugged Kangaroo, I suppose.  Though what I’m really looking forward to is heading to the baking section for proper scones and sponges, the preserving section for delicious chutneys and jams, and the pudding section for goodness knows what else.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  

Pat Boone was top of the Hit Parade in 1957.  I wonder if the ladies of the Tasmanian Country Women's Association cooed over his beautiful babyface whilst they were kneading their scones and bottling their pears?

Sunday, August 22

She's a Celeriac

Celeriac.  Also known says Wiki, as knob celery (!)  Someone very knowledgeable, someone whom I would call if I ever found myself in a bit of bother, informed me on Friday night  that I need not cite Wiki.   Apparently it has been successfully argued in universities in the United States that Wiki is "common knowledge" and therefore does not need to be referenced.  So henceforth, I shall pretend that I'm far more clever than I really am.  There are a number of celeriac cultivars available, especially in Europe. Among them are 'Prinz', 'Diamant', 'Ibis', and 'Kojak', which all received Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit designation in the trial in 2000. 

I simmered two cups of puy lentils for about 20 minutes until they were soft but not falling apart.  Meanwhile, I prepared the celeriac by discarding the top (which in retrospect would have been quite nice finely chopped and added to the salad), and 'peeling' it with a knife.  Then I diced it into one-centimetre cubes and sauteed them for 15ish minutes in olive oil, crushed garlic and the obligatory salt and pepper.  I mixed the drained lentils and crispy celeriac cubes together in a large bowl and added about half a generous cup of roughly chopped roasted walnuts.  I threw in some leftover beetroot for good measure, the juice of two and a half lemons, about a tablespoon of sumac, and some glugs of olive oil.  I covered the bowl with a plate to keep the concoction warm whilst I cooked 250 grams of seasoned and sumaced haloumi over a hot griddle.  The haloumi went atop the warm lentil and celeriac salad (to which I had added a cup of chopped italian parsley) and was garnished with lemon wedges and another glug of olive oil.  Lovely soaked up with some steaming seeded bread.  Looking back I could have played it differently and the ratio of lentils to celeriac should have been more even.  It seems that celeriac, whilst smelling like celery when raw, takes on a sweet mellow flavour when cooked which was almost lost amongst the earthy, lemony  lentils and the beetroot.  Almost, but not quite.  Close, but no cigar. 

Sumac haloumi with warm lentil and celeriac salad

Sunday, August 15

A is for Artichoke Again

I am fielding requests from international readers!  Solly Billen* (59) of Riverton, NZ wonders how one might prepare globe artichokes.  Having previously been too terrified to attempt cooking such an unweidly vegetable I have decided that today is the day.  Wiki informs me that a globe artichoke is in fact a type of thistle thought to originate from North Africa in Roman times.

In my search for a manageable recipe I've noticed that many advise simply boiling or roasting the beasts and then peeling off their leaves one by one to dip in olive oil or aioli (or areola as Mr R likes to call it).   Not finding this a very appealing nor substantial option for a miserable winter's day, I have settled on making artichoke and goat's cheese ravioli as featured in 'The Modern Vegetarian' by Maria Elia.  Not as challenging as one might first think, because Maria's a cheat and recommends using ready-made wonton wrappers instead of homemade pasta for the parcels. 
Firstly, one must prepare three artichokes.  I cut them horizontally through the middle, removed their stalks and all of the hard green leaves around the outside.  (Maria says that anything green is tough and anything yellow is tender).  Then I scooped out the middle or the 'choke' which is apparently hairy and inedible.  Basically you're left with something about a third of the size of the orginal vegetable and this has to be plunged into lemony water immediately or else it will discolour.  Also in the lemony water I put the lemon halves, two bay leaves, two squashed cloves of garlic and a big sprig of thyme.

This simmered away with some baking paper and a plate on top of it (to keep the artichokes submerged) for about 20 minutes until the artichokes were tender and the sort of greenish grey colour one associates with overcooked broad beans at granny's.  I left them to cool in the liquid and then drained them and diced them.  
I then added about 250grams of soft goat's cheese, 30grams of roasted pine nuts, a big tablespoon of freshly chopped basil and thyme, the zest of one lemon, a couple of squeezes of lemon juice, salt & pepper and then I mixed and mashed for England.  To make the parcels I lined up six wonton skins at a time, brushed the edges with water and placed a teaspoon of the artichoke mixture in the middle of each square.  From there I folded each in half to form a triangle and folded in each corner as well, taking care to squeeze out air and seal edges.  For beauty's sake I pressed a fork around each edge to give a corrugated effect.  I lined them all up on a floured tray, dusted them with more flour and popped my dear little raviolis in the fridge until cooking time.

 Here's my inner 15 year old's favourite song to keep you amused until cooking time...

Quite accidentally we called in to the neighbours on our way back from a rainy walk at 3.30pm.  It is now 7.41pm and I have been sitting beside the neighbour's outdoor fire drinking red wine and recounting tales of lost virginity for quite some time.  I shall now attempt to cook the ravioli alongside some roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine...  Et voila! Cooked the suckers in salted boiling water for approximately 6 minutes.  Given that half of them fell apart, I'd recommend sticking to the recipe (instead of concentrating on your blog)  and cooking them for 3 minutes before removing with a slotted spoon and drizzling with olive oil and fresh thyme.  The taste, according to Mr R, was "creamy, the artichoke subtle yet pervasive and the pine nuts a welcome bit of bite."  Though to be honest, I don't know about artichokes.   If I had my time again, I'd save myself the trouble and open a jar.  Heathen!  Heathen that I am! 


*names have been changed to protect the innocent

Monday, August 9

Sunday, August 1

It'll Have To Be The Carrot

It's Shopping Day.  But Mr R is away 'working' at a music festival and is thus unavailable to amuse Master R by sword fighting down the aisles whilst I spend inordinate amounts of time comparing the potato content of different brands of gnocchi and staring lovingly at the frozen peas that come claim to come from Timaru.  It's also cold, it's gloomy, I have a headache and my hair is limp.  I have cancelled Shopping Day!   Handily though, a bag of carrots and a slimy looking piece of pumpkin remain in the cupboard from last week.  I shall pick the less fancy of the two (like I always do when choosing Christmas Trees just in case the ugly one gets left behind to spend Christmas alone) and pronounce the carrot as Vegetable of the Week!  Congratulations carrot. 

Not the carrots in my cupboard
An urban legend says that eating large amounts of carrots will allow one to see in the dark. It developed from stories of British gunners in World War II who were able to shoot down German planes in the darkness of night. The legend arose during the Battle of Britain when the RAF circulated a story about their pilots' carrot consumption as an attempt to cover up the discovery and effective use of radar technologies in engaging enemy planes. The story reinforced existing German folklore and helped to encourage Britons—looking to improve their night vision during the blackouts—to grow and eat the vegetable. Genius!
Some time later... My bag of carrots has now materialised into a batch of carrot and walnut muffins and a pot of spicy pumpkin and carrot soup.  There are two lovely loaves of plaited sesame bread cooling on wire racks as accompaniment.  Unfortunately you will never see their true beauty because along with my heart, Mr R has taken the camera away for the weekend.  I can assure you however, that they look very much like this...

For the soup I sauteed a large brown onion in olive oil and a little butter, added four cloves of crushed garlic, a finely chopped red chilli, a good dollop of 'lazy' ginger and a liberal smattering of black pepper. Then in went four chopped carrots and about a third of a medium pumpkin (also chopped).  I added enough vegie stock to cover the contents, then bought it to the boil and simmered for as long as it took for the carrots to become tender ( the carrots always take longer than the pumpkin so best to cut them into smaller pieces).  When it had cooled slightly, I whizzed it up with my new whizzer and checked the seasoning.  Lastly, I poured in about a third of a cup of coconut cream, ( makes all the difference).  And there we have it, a smooth, spicy, warming soup to enliven even the limpest of hair. 
As for the tunes, Missy Elliot's 'Work It' got me over the line today.  I love the ending when Missy says "this is hip-hop man, this is hip-hop" and then my i-pod morphs it into the next song which is never ever hip-hop and today in fact was My Morning Jacket's 'The Way That He Sings'. I'll add them both for your aural pleasure...

Monday, July 26

Holiday Edition

Hardly looked at a vegetable last week, let alone cooked one, so the serious business of Vegetable of the Week will resume in next week's exciting installment of Mrs Robertson Presents. Our holiday diet consisted mostly of grain waves, buffalo feta, chocolate ice cream and sparkly wine.

Actually, we did have breakfast in a cafe where the 'chef' was so visibly angered by Mr Robertson's request for eggs benedict sans ham that we knew, just knew that he'd hoicked in the hollandaise. And my mushrooms! My mushrooms were out out of a can and smothered in evaporated milk! "Haven't these people heard of garlic and olive oil? I mean really, evaporated milk, it looks like semen!" I snorted to Mr R. Oh, we laughed. And then we laughed some more because they were playing the Spin Doctors on the stereo. "I hear you've brought your own music along!" joked Mr R. We're going to be just fine in the country.


But I digress. Last night, consumed with guilt for having been on holiday instead of performing my housewifely duties I whipped up some 'Winter Bake' and a f#*king incredible crumble. The winter bake consisted of a layer of mashed kumara and potato, topped with a layer of sauteed leek, savoy cabbage, baby peas and oregano then finished off with another layer of the potatoes mixture and some grated cheese. Plenty of black pepper for good measure then baked in the oven for 20 odd minutes. Went very nicely with some suspiciously meaty vegetarian sausages, wholegrain mustard and steamed baby carrots.
The crumble was of the rhubarb variety.  I stewed the rhubarb and two apples in orange juice and brown sugar.  Made a crumble mixture from equal measures of wholemeal flour and ground almonds, added more brown sugar, a generous handful of oats, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and some whole hazlenuts.  Then I rubbed the lot together with a generous chunk of softened butter, put it on top of the stewed fruit and baked for half an hour until the rhubarb was bubbling away at the sides.  Mr R enjoyed his with ice-cream and Master R with custard.  I treated myself to some no fat, no sugar, no taste yoghurt.  One likes to keep trim for Mr R.    

Sunday, July 11

The Mighty Red Onion

Today is a lucky day for the red onion! For today she shall feature as the main ingredient in my soup! Usually she plays the supporting role, the wind beneath the tomato's wings or she's overshadowed by her plainer but very dependable cousin the brown onion. Even on wiki it's suggested that the red onion article be merged with onion general (discuss). Oh the injustice.

I have fielded several 'suggestions' since last week's entry. The first being from "Your Mother of Melbourne" who very much disliked the term 'moreish as crack'. She suggested a more suitable phrase might be 'moreish as chocolate'. By way of a compromise I have settled on 'moreish as chocolate crack.'

The second was from "Your Husband of Melbourne", who feels some mention of modren music would increase the hipster appeal of my blog. He was quite the hipster himself 10 years ago so he knows a lot about these things. So for the record, whilst making today's dish I listened to 'Come Feel the Illinoise' by Sufjan Stevens. Loudly, very loudly.
But I digress. First I peeled and finely sliced (using my amazing new microplane), eight red onions. They bubbled in their own juices and a few glugs of olive oil for about 25 minutes until they were melty and translucent. Then I threw in about half a cup of port, a generous teaspoon each of chopped basil and thyme, a bay leaf, four crushed cloves of garlic and plenty of salt and pepper. When the port had all but disappeared I added a litre of vegetable stock and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile I prepared some french bread by rubbing it with garlic, sprinkling it with olive oil and placing it under a hot grill. To the soup I added two tablespoons of tamari and some more black pepper then ladled it into oven-proof bowls. I spread the toasted bread with goats cheese and a drizzle of oil, placed it atop the soup and popped it back under the grill to melt. A sprinkling of thyme for garnish and bob's your uncle, red onion soup. Pronounced "lovely and meaty" by the vegetarian boys.

Assuming that I'm not strangled by a python or castrated by a cassowary, next week's installment will come to you from the tropical paradise that is Mission Beach in Far North Queensland. (Mind you given that the trip is in aid of one's 10th wedding anniversary, a bit of python strangling mightn't go amiss!)

Sunday, July 4

Et voila! (Though the egg could have been runnier and in fact would have been had my father-in-law not phoned and my next-door-neighbour not knocked right at the crucial moment)...

Introducing Vegetable of the Week

This week it's the turn of tuscan cabbage which wikipedia informs me is a variety of kale known to have a sweeter taste following a bout of frost. I braised it in olive oil and a little butter with plenty of salt and pepper and a goodly amount of aged balsamic then threw in a cup of shelled broad beans at the last minute. The balsamic is a present from my mother and her second husband who have just returned from a jaunt around Italy. It is thick, almost syrupy, sweet and sharp and moreish like crack.

The plan is to pile it atop a swirl of parmesan polenta and baked feta then finish it off with a soft poached egg...