Amaranth – Part 2

Whilst on that farm in Byron Bay, I was shown the Amaranth flowers.  It is a grain that is not a regular part of my family’s diet, so  I took many photos of the flowers, fascinated in how easily it seemed to grow and took some home. Maybe I could grow some in my own garden and I imagined it growing around the veggie patch, providing shade and colour.  But, I just wanted to keep feeling quiet, I did not want to create a  new project, so I decided to use the grains I had to cook with. Not only did I use what was there, but I also bought some at a local health food store to compare.  I feel a sense of relief in this decision not to go pour energy into growing my own,  instead, I got to explore the amaranth from another angle.

 

The grain from the plant was much sweeter and appealing than that I purchased.   As I did research, I learned that it can be prepared in many different ways, utilised as many grains are as an alternative to pasta or rice, in salads or in baking. But, I became fascinated by the Mexican sweet Alegrias, that use amaranth.  The nutty grains tasty in caramelised sugar sweets. Other similar sweets came to mind, Peanut Brittle from the UK, Praline from France, Pastelli from Greece, Chikki from India, Australian Sesame Snaps.  All using local seeds and nuts, and whatever local sweetness is around (sugar, sugar syrup, sugar cane, cane sugar, honey…). My own version that I made had some popped amaranth and fresh amaranth with nuts for texture.  I used both honey and a little bit of raw sugar.

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The result was really special.  Saturday afternoon slowed down as everyone passing through the house (both residents and visitors) paused to eat and chat over a hot drink.  A plate was sent to contribute to an afternoon birthday gathering.  I was beginning to taste the joy of slowing down.  It is that afternoon that I want to capture.  Not the start of a new project, just an indulgence of my curiosity about the grain amaranth, and the satisfaction of making something completely new.  What I want is the joy that comes from just slowing down and bathing in what is right in front of me.

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Allegrias

Ingredients:

200g honey

150g raw sugar

2/3 cup of amaranth

2/3 cup nuts

Method:

1. Oil a tray and set to the side, I have a brownie tin that was perfect.

2. I used half fresh amaranth and half toasted (I put the store bought amaranth in the pan and heated it until it popped like pop corn)

3. Toast the nuts in an oven

4. Heat the honey and sugar in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture darkens slightly.

5. Stir the amaranth and nuts through the honey mixture and pour immediately into the oiled tray.

6.  Allow to cool slightly and cut into squares.

7.  When completely cool, turn out onto the bench and serve.  They can be kept in a airtight container for over a week, mine did not last very long.

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Amaranth – Part 1

 

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It has been a long time between posts, and this is not because there is nothing to write about.  On the contrary, I have had so many experiences and thoughts that have past through my mind, and my life, but there just doesn’t seem to be a chance to take them further.

Making the time to stop and capture one’s thoughts has become increasingly hard over the last year.  I have reflected on it many times without resolution.

The only rationale I can find for the absence of my posts is simply the pace at which I have allowed myself to exist.  Life has swept me into an express lane, and without realising, I have let it happen.

Over a month ago, I attend a slow living retreat in Byron Bay hosted by some incredibly gifted individuals.  Even at the workshop as my mind began to settle into what was surrounding me, I still did not grasp the fact that I was not in living in way that I could flourish.  Weeks later, I am still struggling with myself to just slow down.  But, thankfully, I hungrily yearn for the slow living rhetoric more and more each day.

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Grounding moments exist in the stories of the other workshop members that I can now visit regularly through the virtual world.  I could write for a very long time about the incredibly inspiring and intelligent people I met during that weekend.  It has been a very long time since I have been so taken aback by an experience.

Surprisingly, the result was not an abundance of ideas to explore, or an inspiration to go and see more.  Instead, all I want is to pare down all that is around me.  I just want to be calm again.

 

 

 

Chestnuts

 

Admittedly, chestnuts don’t seem to grow abundantly in sub-tropical Queensland.  However, when I saw them at the markets I really felt I needed to grab some and put them to use.  Their shiny brown skins brought back memories of my childhood, where I used to see them scattered on the ground in different places of my upbringing – lands with much cooler climates.  They were always on the ground in Tasmania and New Zealand.  Their green spiky outer coats could be unwrapped to find treasure.  I would collect them, thinking they must have a use, as they were so pretty.  Alas, my ignorance meant that they eventually got thrown in the garden.  I do remember seeing them roasted and sold in brown paper bags in Europe, but did not have the fortune of trying them.

 

It was not until I was an adult that I really got to try chestnuts as a food.  Living  in Maleny, I visited friends who were very excited to make chestnut bread, an italian bread made with chestnut flour.  For them it is a real treat for special occasions.  The taste was really unique, and it was a  real treat.  I think that was the first time I realised that you can actually cook with chestnuts.  I knew, somewhere in my mind, but it was still a bit of a revelation.

So, when I saw the chestnuts at the markets, I just had to have them.

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First of all, I made a chocolate chestnut cake.   Once again, so many recipes online, I think I just came up with my own adaptation.  Nigella Lawson had a good looking chocolate chestnut cake, as well as a recipe from the French Market website.  I hope the italians and and french do not mind that I have combined their recipes to fashion a chocolate chestnut cake.

The first obstacle was that both called for chestnut puree, which I did not have, so I had a go at making my own.  To be honest, I have no idea if it was a success, as I have never had chestnut puree.  The end result in the cake was probably the most delicious cake I have ever had.

Chestnut Puree

Ingredients

  • approximately 200-300g chestnuts
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1T brandy
  • water

Method

Take each chestnut and do an incision of a small cross in the top of each (this is to stop them from exploding).  Place in a pot and cover with water – bring to the boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes and leave to cool slightly in water.  They must be peeled whilst warm, or it is pretty tricky.  I let my cool too much and had to rewarm them.  Take each chestnut, cut them in half and scoop out the inner nut.  Place in another saucepan.  Add the sugar and brandy and enough water to just cover.   Bring to the boil again and let it cool slightly, stirring to ensure the sugar is dissolved.  Mash or blitz in a blender (I mashed mine).

There are an abundance of recipes that use chestnut puree, which I intend to try next year when the season comes around again.  The simplest is placing the puree in a glass with whipped cream on top, with a sprinkling of dark chocolate.

Yet, I digress.  Back to the most delicious chocolate cake I have ever had.  The thing that I think I loved so much about the cake, is that it had substance, and was extremely moist.  I prefer savoury foods as a rule, and the heartiness and the delicate flavours was a really special combination.

Chocolate Chestnut Cake

Ingredients

  • Chestnut puree
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 3 eggs
  • 125g butter

Method

Preheat the oven to approximately 170 degrees celcius.

Melt together the butter and chocolate (I did this in the microwave). Stir through the chestnut puree.  Allow to cool.  Beat the eggs together and stir through the mixture.  Pour into a buttered cake tin and cook for approximately 40 minutes until there is a very very slight wobble in the middle.  When cool, dust with icing sugar.  Delicious with cream.

And finally, I wanted to try something savoury and see what roasted chestnuts tasted like.

 

Once again I did the little crosses and put the chestnuts on a tray.  I only had half a dozen left.  After 15 minutes in a hot oven, I took them out, and when they had cooled a little, I peeled them so that they were whole.  I then chopped a couple and dry roasted them in a pan- leaving two whole ones to go back in the oven. I made a simple risotto.  At the finish I stirred the chopped chestnuts through.  It was a lovely meal for two served with a whole chestnut on top of each with a sprinkling of parmesan and italian parsley.  Very delicate and sweet.

Looking forward to next season

Crabs

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We try and put out a crab pot whenever we can.  It is really easy to do.  They just need some sort of bait, like an old fish skeleton, even chicken wings.  They can be dropped off a jetty, or a boat ramp.  Sometimes we paddle in a kayak and leave them in a waterway.  We will often drop a pot and fish nearby or have a picnic.  Just always make sure that if you keep any crabs, they meet local catch requirements.  It is very important to keep sustainable stocks in our waterways.

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At the moment, the sand crabs seem to be our great success.  Last month we would drop our pots in clumps of tidal mangroves, and have the most heavy mud crabs waiting.  There just don’t seem to be many around anymore  - the season has changed I think.  Don’t get me wrong, sand crabs are fantastic.  Their flesh sweet, so so sweet.

Most of the time we boil them up in sea water, or the homemade equivalent – for 8 minutes per 500g.  When ready, we then eat them with a bit of lime aioli on the side.  It has become quite a family ritual, crouching around the bowl picking out the flesh.  Delicious.

Crab meat can be used in so many ways.  Cooked meat can be stirred through pasta, added to a risotto, or as the star of a salad.  Lately we have been mixing it with herbs and making ravioli.

My favourite luxury, if we have been really lucky with our catch, is sand crab lasagne.  The first time I had this was about 10 years ago at Avanti restaurant in Brisbane.  Since then I have come to know Gillian Hirst’s version, and everyone raves about Il Centro’s version.  Since then I have adapted the sand crab lasagne to suit the tastes of our family, and to make it lighter – I just don’t like things as rich anymore.  It seems sweeter that way as well.

Sand crab lasagne

Ingredients

  • Crabmeat
  • Lasagne sheets (fresh)
  • Bechamel sauce (I make mine on rice milk, it tastes much better)
  • 1 t Roasted curry powder
  • Homemade tomato pasta sauce
  • 1 T brown sugar

Method

Mix the roasted curry powder through the  béchamel sauce, and the sugar through the tomato sauce.

Add a very thin layer of the tomato sauce to the bottom of a baking dish, then add a layer of lasagne sheets.  Do a thin layer of crabmeat topped with the tomato sauce. Then another layer of lasagne sheets, followed by a layer of the béchamel sauce.  Repeat until the ingredients are all used – be sure to finish with a layer of béchamel sauce.  I like to have a lot of layers of pasta, but construct to suit your tastes.  Cover with foil.

Bake in a moderate oven for 25 minutes, then take off the foil.  Then bake until golden on top – 20 minutes or so.

Leafy greens

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The thing about greens is that they can get a pretty strong response from people.  Unfortunately childhood experiences of being made to eat overcooked grey bland spinach can leave its mark on one’s memory.  When I was pregnant with my first son, living in Chile on a pretty tight budget, I had a desperate craving for greens.  To my luck, I met a resourceful and very interesting English girl who gave me unbridled access to her veggie patch.  Greens everywhere, abundant.  I was like a locust, and the love affair started.  It looks very weird in writing, but I do truly love greens.

Leafy greens such as spinach, silver beet, kale, chard can grow with ease at home.  I have grown them on my windowsill, in egg cartons and these days, in my veggie patch.

 

The great thing about leafy greens is that they are so robust, they grow of their own volition.  Sorrell grows all year round, I just pick the leaves off as I need them.

 

Fresh young leaves can be eaten raw, mixed through salads, stirred through a risotto or pasta sauce before serving.  The older the leaves get, the earlier they can be added to a dish.

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The thing I really love about them is that they are dish in their own right.   A family favourite is spinach and fetta pie, which can really be kale and parmesan pie or sorrel and ricotta pie.  It is essentially a mixture of whatever greens you can get your hands on, mixed with whatever cheese you can get your hands on.  It never fails.  I was chatting with my friend Kate the other day, and she was telling me of her father’s famous spinach and fetta pie.  Lot’s of ingredients, but most importantly, chorizo.  That was her Sunday Lunch.  Here is my version.

Spinach and Fetta Pie

Ingredients

  • Leafy greens – large bunch
  • Herbs
  • Finely sliced onion
  • Fresh nutmeg
  • Handful of rice
  • Cheese (as many or a little as you want)
  • Pastry

Method

Wash the greens and the herbs thoroughly and leave to drain so that there is little moisture left.  Soften the onion in a pan and add the greens with the herbs.  Cook to soften and remove some of the moisture, but not for very long, they need to keep their colour.  During this time, add the rice and stir through.  When ready, turn off the heat, add the grated nutmeg and pepper.  Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.  Mix the cheeses with the spinach and herbs.  If the mixture looks dry, I often add a whisked egg, but this is not necessary.   Line a pie dish with pastry add the mixture, put pastry lid on top.  Wash the pastry with milk, or oil.  Bake for 20 minutes or so, until golden.

Serve hot or cold.  We use it in lunches cold when we have left overs.

 

The mixture above can also be used to make lasagne or cannelloni.  I make (or usually buy) fresh lasagne sheets and roll the mixture, in the shape of a tube, in the sheets.  I line a baking dish with the little parcels and put a fresh tomato pasta sauce on top.  With a sprinkle of cheese it in baked for 30 minutes.  Yummy.

Bunya nuts

It is funny how the memory works.  My fascination with Bunya Nuts was instantaneous when I first discovered them.  Yet, last night I made an interesting connection.  A friend from Chile came for dinner the other night and he asked if I cooked with the pine nuts whilst in Chile.  I hadn’t, but I had been lucky enough to eat some bread that had the nuts.  I remember being told about the nuts, and how the Mapuche had used them.  It had completely gone from my memory, and of course, when I discovered the bunya nuts, I did not make the connection at all.

With the help of the internet I have discovered that the nuts in Chile are in fact from a tree called Araucaria araucana.  They look very like my lovely bunya pines.  It is such a small and beautiful world.

Bunya Nuts

Bunya nuts grow on native Bunya Pines here in Queensland and Northern NSW.  Most of the nuts are cut off the trees by local councils as they can be a real hazard to people and cars…they are truly massive.  The bundle can hold hundreds of nuts and weigh kilosDSC01348.

Bunya Pines grow mainly on mountains, that is where I first discovered them, in the Blackall Ranges.  Apparently, they were so highly prized that the indigenous aboriginal people used to have big Bunya Nut festivals where different tribes would travel huge distances.  I can’t help but imagine the happiness, dancing and singing as people gathered, reunited to celebrate the abundance.  The smell of them is so fresh, and the earth under the tree rich and earthy.

They are harvested from January to March, when the ripe cones fall to the ground.  I have seen them from time to time at the markets.  Every January, I know it is time to keep my eyes open for the distinctive bunya pine (Araucaria Bidwillii), and sometimes I get lucky.

Eaten raw or cooked, the nut is best opened using a sharp knife at the top of the shell, cutting right through the middle.  They are hard work, and to be honest, I just can’t face the thought of shelling them raw, I boil them every time – usually for 45 minutes.  They are nutritious, full of protein, creamy and very special.  I usually freeze a batch and use them within 3 months.

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Sometimes I just serve as an accompaniment, like a salad, chopped with lemon juice, chives, salt and pepper.

My most favourite thing to make, loved by everyone in the family (very unusual to be able to please everyone), is bunya patties.  I got this recipe from a really special cookbook called Wildfoods Recipes, published by Barung Landcare.  These patties are the perfect vegetarian feast.  For the vegans, the eggs can be left out, but you just need to be really gentle whilst cooking them.  If you don’t have any bunya nuts, any nut meal, or chickpeas will do.

Bunya Patties

Ingredients

  • Bunya nuts (cooked)- equivalent of 1 1/2 cups when minced
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 medium onion – chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (the good stuff)
  • 2 T fruit chutney (I always use indian mango)
  • oil to cook in

Method

Place the nuts and rice in a food processor and blitz until fine (they can also be put through a mincer or pounded with a mortar and pestle).  Add the onion, eggs, peanut butter, chutney and curry powder.  Process/mix until well combined.  Leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Shape into patties and shallow fry in a frying pan.

 

Another great use for bunya nuts is pastry.  It is great for quiches, pies and sausages rolls.  Extra protein for a spinach and fetta roll.  Recipe taken, once again, from Wildfoods Recipes.

Bunya Pastry

Ingredients

  • 1 cup self raising flour
  • 2 T butter
  • pinch salt
  • squeeze lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup minced cooked bunya nuts
  • iced water

Method

Combine flour, Bunya nuts and salt.  Rub in butter.  Add lemon juice and sufficient cold water to make a firm consistency.  Put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

 

And finally, a recipe of my own creation.  I have sort of adapted it from making Claudia Roden’s middle eastern orange cake for years.  It is really not better than the traditional orange and almond cake, but it is still nice and moist and a melt in the mouth.

 

Orange and Bunya Nut Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 large oranges
  • 6 eggs beaten
  • 1-2 cups minced bunya nuts
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder

Boil the oranges in water for about 2 hours and leave in the water overnight.  Cut them roughly, making sure to take out any pips.  They can be really bitter if you miss them.

Blend the oranges, eggs, nuts and baking powder well in a food processor.  Pour into a lined springform tin.  Bake for about 1 hour (until it has no wobble) in a preheated oven of 190 degrees celcius.

Cool in the tin and serve with a dollop of cream.  To make it pretty for serving, I will dust it with icing sugar and place a pile of candied peel in the middle.  I usually make the candied peel at the same time I boil the oranges.

 

Limes

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For Australia Day we went out to a friend’s property for an early evening BBQ.  Next to the patio area, where we sat, were two beautiful lime trees.  They were laden with fruit.  Scattered all over the ground there were ripe limes.  Eager to share her fruit, our kind guest gave us all a large shopping bag each, full of fragrant shiny green tahitian limes.  We do have some limes on our little tree at home, but this was a real treat.

Our kitchen was perfumed as I put the big overflowing silver bowl out on the bench.  All of our salads and cold drinks became instantaneously dressed with lime juice.  Every time I had the opportunity, there was a flourish of lime.

I made an experimental lime pie.  It was quite successful, if I don’t mind saying so myself.  It is an adaptation of a Key Lime Pie, without the cream.  This I swapped for coconut milk.  To be honest with you, I looked at so many recipes on the internet, I am unsure of who to give acknowledgement to.  I think in the end, I just made it up.

Coconut Lime Pie

Base

  • Crushed packet of digestive biscuits
  • 125 g melted butter

Filling

  • Juice of 9-10 limes
  • Zest 5 limes
  • Can of coconut cream
  • 6 eggs
  • 125g sugar

Method

  • To make the base, line a springform tin with foil.  Mix together the melted butter and biscuits.  Press into the tin using a straight edge glass.  Refridgerate for 30-60minutes.
  • Preheat oven to approximately 170 degrees celsius.
  • Whisk together all of the filling ingredients and pour gently into the set base.
  • Cook in the oven for approximatey 40 minutes, or until set and slightly golden.
  • Allow to cool before serving.  I sprinkled the pie with shredded coconut and lime zest.

 

Another use for the limes was to flavour some biltong.   My boys love biltong, and when I feel as though I am struggling to get them to eat something healthy and nutritious after all of their exercise, it seems like a very sensible option.  They love it.

For the adults, biltong is very nice on a Saturday afternoon with an icy cold beer.

I use Mark’s recipe from his selfsufficientme.com website.  The lime and black pepper is my twist.  I had only eaten Biltong whilst I was in South Africa, and then I tasted Mark’s.  I realised I had really been missing out on something.  It was the most delicious thing I had eaten in a very long time.

Lime and Black Pepper Biltong

Ingredients

  • Rump steak
  • Rock salt
  • Vinegar (Mark recommends apple cider, but I only had malt and it worked fine)
  • Black peppercorns crushed
  • Lime zest from 5 limes

Method

  • Trim the fat off the steak.  Sprinkle salt generously on both sides.  Lay the steaks on a rack over the kitchen sink for 1 1/2 hours.
  • Scrape off as much salt as possible.  Submerge the steaks in a bowl of vinegar for 2-4 minutes.
  • Smother each steak on both sides with the pepper and lime zest, rubbing it in as much as possible.
  • Line  trays with baking paper and cook overnight (approximately 12 hours) on 40 degrees celsius.
  • Test that the biltong is cooked by cutting it in half.  If it is slightly pink in the middle, its ready.  If it is anymore underdone, put it back in the oven for a bit longer.
  • Slice thinly and store in a air tight container.  I wrap the pieces in baking paper or paper towel until they are eaten.  I put mine in the fridge for good measure, but apparently you don’t need to.

And finally,  another bit of flourish, Julie Goodwin’s Lime Aioli.  I got it from her book Our Family Table.  It truly is beautiful with seafood.  We had some last night with crab cakes.  It is so fresh, it is really a delicious kick.

 

Lime Aioli

  • 1/4 cup dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 cloves of garlic (I don’t usually include these)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 300mL olive oil
  • salt, to taste

Blend together the mustard, lime juice, garlic and egg yolks.  Whilst it is still beating, add the olive oil teaspoon at a time until mixed through.  Season with salt.  Keep in the fridge.

 

 

Mangoes

We have been very lucky this season with Mangoes. At the end of December, there was an abundance of Bowen Mangoes in parks and on roadsides. As we went about our day, we would grab them as we could. On one occasion we came across two large trees in a large park not far from home.  They were loaded with large heavy green mangoes.    We collected as many as we could, put them in brown paper bags in threes and put them in the sunroom. It wasn’t long before we had sweet delicious mangoes to eat for breakfast, in smoothies, or grilled on the BBQ with our evening meal. It really felt like summer was here.
As the novelty began to wear off, we made mangoes sorbet and ate it with a dollop of cream. Not too dissimilar to a Weis Bar really. I have been making mango sorbet from Stephanie Alexander’s ‘The Cooks Companion’ for many years, and have come to adapt it for those around me that do avoid dairy.

Mango Sorbet

2 Mangoes
Honey to taste
Juice of a lime

Freeze mango cheeks in the freezer overnight. When ready to eat, puree with honey and lime juice. Eat straight away.

There were times when we would travel home from the coast and the roadside sellers would be offering trays of mangoes for little cost. We would pull over with excitement, load our treasure and keep driving home with the smell filling the car.

As summer progresses, the Bowen mangoes have disappeared and the Stringys are around. It seems a shame to leave them rotting on the ground unused.

Our favourite dish for the Stringys has been salsa. Thanks to our friend Benjie, we got to enjoy mango salsa at it’s best – in fish burritos.  Going to the effort of making homemade tortillas (soft tacos to some) was well worth the effort.  The fish was flake in this instance. We bundled it all together with some finely shredded cabbage – delicious Benjie.

Fish Burritos

Mango Salsa
1 mango
Fresh coriander
Chopped Red Onion
Lime juice

Fish
Firm white fish (we used flake)
Garlic
Ground paprika
Ground cumin
Ground cayenne pepper
Salt

Finely shredded cabbage

Chop the mango salsa ingredients and mix together. Set aside. Cook up the tortillas, keep warm in a clean tea towel. Cook up the fish ingredients together, adding the spices to suit your tastes for 3-4 minutes. On an open tortilla add the cabbage, the salsa, then the fish. Wrap and eat immediately.

We have pretty much had our fill of mangoes for this season. There are still plenty around at the markets. The extras we had collected are stored in the freezer for the moment we need to bring summer back into our home.

Have any readers got some tales to tell of eating mango? Any great mango finds whilst out hunting and gathering?