Thursday, 31 March 2011

Grandma's Little Bakery

"Grandma's Little Bakery" looks like a misnomer to me. It should probably be called Ia-ia's or Nonna's or Siti's. This cafe, function centre and shop is located in the Fedra olive grove, just off the Federal Highway in the Collector region. They specialise in olives, of course, and other Mediterranean products, and they serve meals as well as selling foods. They seem to be doing pretty well - we dropped in on our way back from Sydney last week and the place was packed.

The shop is quite the treasure trove. You can find freshly made hummus, pestos, olive and ricotta dip, tapenade, and more. There's a range of home made nougats - the pistachio and apricot is great - and other confectionery. There's ingredients such as syrups of rose, date, and pomegranate, dry goods such as lentils and couscous, and a big range of spices, whole and ground including exotics like za'atar and baharat. But the spice tub sizes are a bit too large for me; they'd be stale by the time I finished. You can buy their specialty boreks packed frozen to take home. There's also fresh baked bread, bagels and pastries, and they stock the well-known Lynwood farm preserves.

We didn't actually stop for lunch or arvo tea, since we'd just had a big brunch in Sydney. But having checked the place out and enjoyed their produce, I hope to make it a destination sometime.

Sunday, 27 March 2011


"Slice" is a very useful generic concept for clearing out the fridge. It's so generic that it doesn't have a name besides just "slice". It could be spinach slice, or zucchini slice, or mixed veggie slice, or many other things.

The idea is that you locate all the non-watery veggies that need using up. Clean them and grate them or chop them or whatever. Spinach, chard, silverbeet etc should be lightly steamed, then squeezed and chopped. I find that zucchini can be grated then squeezed out to remove excess water. Some mashed pumpkin is good, or precooked cauliflower or broccoli. Defrosted frozen spinach can be used, too. But no tomatoes in the mix, they are too wet!

Anyway, you pop them in a big bowl. Add any odds and ends of cheese that you have, grated if it's firm. Cheddar, ricotta, and cottage cheese are good basics, but there's nothing to stop you using fancy bits of brie or gruyere. Then add some cooked rice - one of those sachets of precooked rice from the supermarket is handy here, if you don't have leftovers and don't have time to cook it. I like to make this with brown rice.

Chuck in some flavouring agents. I like to use plenty of dill and lemony herbs like sumac and lemon myrtle, and some chopped spring onions. But perhaps some fresh basil and garlic might suit your fancy better. I usually like to make it fairly mild, and then add some chutney or sauce to taste at serving time. You can add other little bits and pieces of stuff for an accent - leftover antipasti, a handful of pitted and halved olives, some chopped sun-dried tomatoes or roast capsicum. If you're not cooking for a vegetarian, some chopped ham or cooked bacon pieces could well go in.

Now have a closer look at your bowlful of stuff. Will it fit into your shallow casserole dish or pie plate for baking? If it looks like too much, then scoop some into a storage container to freeze for next time. If it's not enough, add another grated zucchini, or some frozen spinach or frozen peas or something.

To finish off, take 4-8 eggs, depending on the size of the dish. Break them in, and mix well. If they're a bit old, because this is also good to use up excess eggs, then break them into a cup first to check that there are no bad smells. Put all in your oven dish and top with sliced tomatoes if you want, maybe some breadcrumbs for crunch, and definitely some grated cheese - more cheddar, or some parmesan. Bake at 160C until the egg is set - 30-60 minutes depending on the depth of the baking dish. Don't rush it with a high temperature, or it will tend to separate and get watery.

Serve it in big slices, like a lasagne. This is a complete meal in itself, with veggies, protein and carbs all together. But it's good to have something else alongside for variety. That could be a nice crisp salad, or any side vegetable, or even a sausage for the meat-eaters, or a slice of smoked salmon - that's especially good if you've gone for lemon and dill as your flavours.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


Pretty colours!

Here's a sample from today's market. Early autumn produce - new season apples, plums, rainbow chard, a big fat leek, and more. Even bananas! These ladyfingers from Coff's Harbour were selling for only $7 a kilo, excellent value at the moment. This is actually a small collection I've put together for B1, who is back in Canberra at last but couldn't get to the market today. I've also got a couple of slices of very fine leg ham from Balzanelli - smallgoods people from Fyshwick. They specialise in Italian style pork products, from pork & fennel sausages to pancetta and coppa. They slice to order, so I have nice fat slices. Yum.

I didn't buy any tomatoes or beans or figs, because last week I picked a good kilo of beans and 2kg of tomatoes from my minuscule veggie garden. I can highly recommend these "purple king" beans to any neglectful gardener. All my peas and snowpeas died, but these beans just kept on going. I put in four seedlings on a wire obelisk, added a handful of fertiliser, a dash of snailbait. Helped along by plenty of rain, they are now producing about half to one kilo of beans a week. They're a pretty deep purple, but they turn green when they are cooked.

And while the figs on my tree aren't ripe yet, there are hundreds of them coming soon - if the birds don't get them first. So much as I love figs, I'm not paying $1.50 each at the market.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Spaghetti Squash!

It's always exciting to try something new. I'd heard of spaghetti squash before, but never actually seen one in real life until just now. I found one in Choku Bai Jo, and I'm told that they grow quite well in the Canberra region. Since it's such an oddity, I've taken lots of photos.

So here it is in its original state, looking a bit like an elongated honeydew melon. There's a nice big avocado next to it for scale. The first step is to cut it in half, where it now looks like a cross between a melon and a pumpkin.

Now you need to cook it, and this is where the advice I found differs. Either you can put it in a greased oven tray, or on one with a couple of centimetres of water in it. Place it cut side down, and bake at 180C for about 30 minutes, until it's quite easy to pierce the rind with a knife. Take it out and scrape out the seeds. You can leave it to cool first, but I found holding it with an oven mitt and scraping with a spoon was fine.

And now, take to it with a fork and scrape lengthwise along the squash, and you will end up with a lot of strands, like angelhair pasta - that's very thin spaghetti. Serve it how you will.

Don't expect it to taste like spaghetti, no matter what the low-carb diet books say! It's definitely a squash, more like zucchini. But the texture is fun, and it makes for a nice light meal. Good for summer, tossed with pesto, olives and fetta, perhaps. We actually ate it with a tomato, olive, bacon and chilli sauce. It seemed to need cheese quite a lot. I've also had some tossed with tuna, chilli, peas and corn. It seems to leave me a bit unsatisfied, like having a salad for dinner. A hunk of nice bread would help complete it. Or it could be a side dish - I think it would be good in a gratin.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Hot Hobart Berry Cake

A couple of weeks ago I was at a friend's place, and spent a little time browsing How to Cook a Galah by Laurel Evelyn Dyson. This is a fascinating book about Australian culinary history, with plenty of recipes. I copied down a couple of recipes to try out. This one is a sort of fruit sponge, originally titled Hot Hobart Mulberry Cake. Apparently the original cook had a friend with a mulberry tree.

The recipe is dead easy, with no fussy creaming of butter and sugar, just a simple stir through. I didn't have mulberries, but I did have some blackberries from the Borenore Hillside orchards and some boysenberries from my back garden, picked about a month ago and frozen. So here is my variant.

Recipe: Hot Hobart Berry Cake

450g berries
juice of one lemon
300ml light sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla brandy
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour

  • Preheat oven to 180C.
  • Beat together the sour cream, vanilla and eggs.
  • Sift the flour and sugar together
  • Wash berries and dry well, then coat with lemon juice.
  • Grease a round casserole dish.
  • Stir the sour cream mix through the flour and sugar.
  • Turn out into the greased dish.
  • Pour berries on top.
  • Bake for 45min-1 hour, until sponge is done in the centre when tested with a skewer.
  • Serve warm, with cream or icecream.

Notes: There was no vanilla in the original, and of course the sour cream was not light. I'm also guessing that they used butter to grease a dish, rather than a spray of rice bran oil.

Vanilla brandy is what I have on my shelf, it's a small bottle of brandy with vanilla pods in it. Use 1 tsp vanilla essence and 2-3 tsp brandy for the closest equivalent. It's quite a thick batter, and I think the extra dash of liquid is helpful. Possibly the original cook's sour cream was thinner, or her lemons juicier or eggs larger.

It came out very delicious when warm. It did take quite some time for the centre to set - 55 min even in my fan forced oven. By that time the outer part was a little crusty.

It went very well with a scoop of vanilla icecream, and I think pouring cream would be a good option, too. On the whole I think this is better warm than cold, and even better with more berries. Luckily it microwaves up alright with 30-60 seconds a serve.