Category Archives: food and cooking

Long time friends and lazy lunches

It was just going to be the most fabulous day… the sun was shining, the breeze was gentle, the house was tidy… and some very special guests were coming for lunch.

I could barely wait. It was years since I had seen any of them, and so much had happened in all our lives.

Who were they?

Only a small group of the most precious people in my life outside my own family. My school friends.

No, really. We had always been so close, but when school was over we all went in our separate directions.

Growing up in a beautiful rural coastal town was a great way to spend our teenage years, with long days on the beach, picnics in the bush, fish and chips down at the harbour, and hanging out at the ice-cream parlour on the main street – oh, yes, and, um, going to school – but life after school meant going away to uni if we were to grow any further.

...having fun and letting our hair down after the HSC exams

…having fun and letting our hair down after the HSC exams

We kept in touch, writing lots of letters in the early days (long distance phone calls were way too expensive for our student budgets, especially since one of our number actually went overseas!) and, of course, making the journey to attend each others’ weddings as we each shifted from studying to career and family life.

Then slowly it sort of became birthday greetings and Christmas cards, each writing ‘the letter’ (filled with the year’s news and, recently, carefully chosen photos), and actually getting together became an increasingly rare event…

…but we are still so, so close.

So, Em was in the country, and visiting our part of the world… could we arrange a meeting? Serendipitously, and most unexpectedly, Effie emailed about something, and Row doesn’t live too far away… so it was time for me to get my organising shoes on (a rare event) and invite everyone out to Seventy Seven Acres. A date was quickly chosen to match Em’s days in Canberra, and Effie was happy to drive for four and a half hours, while Row would pick up Em on the way through.

All that was needed now was a pretty table and a simple lunch, and old times would do the rest.

...a very simple start to a centrepiece for the table

…a very simple start to a centrepiece for the table

I settled on a frittata that I could whip up the night before and serve cold with a freshly made garden salad. I also made a simple dressing of lemon, lime and pepper in cold pressed olive oil, and used my new juicer to make a cordial of green apples and grapes with ginger and lime. The girls were bringing dessert, but I had a fruit plate with rockmelon (cantaloupe), grapes, and kiwi fruit, + some nice cheese and crackers, if needed.

 

... a simple meal ready to be served

… a simple meal ready to be served

Simple zucchini and bacon frittata with cheese

ingredients

2 or 3 rashers of bacon (trimmed and cut into tiny pieces) – I use a delicious biodynamic bacon, cured by my favourite butcher

1 small zucchini (courgette), sliced super thin

about a cup of your favourite cheddar cheese, freshly grated (so much better than the store bought pre-grated variety that is thick with anti-caking agents, and it only takes a moment to do) – more if you really love cheese (+ you can get creative and try different varieties if you feel adventurous)

6 large eggs (it goes without saying that I choose free range)

herbs to taste (basil & oregano work well – fresh or dried)

cracked black pepper (also to taste)

olive oil

method

1. coat a medium sized casserole dish (I like stoneware) with a fine layer of olive oil, preheat the oven to about 170-180o C, and make sure that you have chopped, sliced and grated any ingredients as necessary.

  1. start by frying up your tiny bacon pieces until they are just starting to turn golden, then put them out onto a piece of absorbent kitchen paper to drain off the excess fat and cool.
  2. Beat the eggs until all bubbly and frothy, adding in your herbs and pepper as you go.
  3. Put a layer of zucchini into the bottom of your dish, sprinkle with a layer of cheese, followed by a layer of bacon.
  4. Repeat, saving a little cheese to sprinkle over the top.
  5. Carefully pour in beaten egg/herb mixture and sprinkle the last of the cheese on top.
  6. Pop into the oven and try to be patient because this will take about 40 – 45 minutes – some recipes suggest that you can cook fritatta at 200o C for about 20 minutes, but in my experience this seems to lead to a runny middle while the outside looks quite ‘done’. Try it. It might work for you.

Serve up hot with veg of your choice, or chill for a cool accompaniment to a big, fresh, crunchy salad. It will comfortably serve 4 very chatty girl-friends, with some left-overs, but you might have to upsize for a family of hungry, rugby playing boys.

...simple zucchini and bacon fritatta, topped of with a garnish of freshly picked opal basil

…simple zucchini and bacon frittata, topped off with a garnish of freshly picked opal basil

And, yes, it was an absolutely fabulous day, and we reluctantly parted company at about 8pm, having laughed, cried, hugged and talked our socks off, pledging that it wouldn’t take that many years before we get together again.

They’re always welcome at Seventy Seven Acres… but, then again, there’s always a cruise up the Rhine to consider…

Hot days and sticky nougat

 So, this was one of those lazy days when I intended to spend the afternoon sitting in the shade, drinking in the breeze, sipping cider and reading a book to while away the time until the thunderstorm arrived and brought more cooling rain.

That was what I intended to do.

What I ended up doing was quite different, although it all started quite well. There I was, under the vine covered pergola, glass in hand and several books to choose from…

... a shady spot under the vines

… a shady spot under the vines

…so tell to me how it was that our son’s growing interest in cooking turned into me whipping egg whites to firm peaks, explaining how to check that the sugar syrup has reached ‘brittle thread’ stage, and advising that blanching the almonds and organising the cooking tray would have been better done before starting to heat the syrup?

Needless to say, I had worked up quite a sweat by the time the tray of nougat had been installed in the fridge. I was actually quite envious. Of the nougat. Was there any chance that I could fit in amongst all the Christmas leftovers?

I can’t even eat the finished product – not without some serious tweaking that I can’t expect an over-eager 11 year old to work out. He had already made a passable and very simple toffee – slightly crystalline in texture, but given the tick of approval by Dad – but this was rather more… complex. Nougat. He found the recipe in a book entitled ‘Cooking Class’, so you’d think it would spell out all the steps. Or I would, anyway.

At this point I might add that this book was my bible back in my Uni days when I was living away from home in Hall and trying to work out a hundred and one things to do with a pound of mince (the title of a different book, that I didn’t own). At the time, I didn’t notice that it wasn’t quite as helpful as you – okay, I – might expect. I had apparently learnt something from the dreadful cooking classes that I had been forced to take at school. Horrors.

Anyway, this book helpfully lists the ingredients then explains the preparing of nougat in 4 steps, leaving out one or two, um, helpful things that a mildly experienced cook might know, but a raw beginner could do with having pointed out in no uncertain terms.

Which explains why I am the one who was beating the eggs to firm peaks. He was stirring the boiling syrup. 

Ah well. The nougat is in the fridge, and I am excited that Will is embarking on his cooking adventure. Hot, but excited.

The rain didn’t arrive either.

Things didn’t turn out quite right, and I have rewritten the recipe for him with a couple of extra steps and hints thrown in that might help next time:

Recipe for Nougat (slightly amended)

Ingredients:

2 cups of sugar                           2 egg whites

1 cup of glucose syrup                1 tsp vanilla

½ cup of honey                            125 g of butter

¼ tsp of salt                                 60g whole blanched almonds

¼ cup of water

Method:

Start by preparing a tray in which to set the nougat – either grease a lamington tin or line it with baking paper (my preference – less washing up) – and getting all your ingredients together.

  1. If you have to blanch your almonds (ie get the skins off) do this now by soaking them in boiling water. Once the water has cooled enough to touch, the almonds should slip easily out of their skins. Don’t let them slip all the way onto the floor.
  2. Now is also a good time to chop your butter into little cubes and let it sit around getting soft.
  3. Beat your egg whites. Now. Not when the syrup has reached ‘hard ball’ stage. It’s too late then. You can stop when they form firm peaks (this is a cooking lesson all of its own – and great exercise if you’ve broken your electric whisking device). Set aside.
  4. Make syrup by putting sugar, glucose, honey, salt and water in a pan and stirring over a low heat until dissolved. Bring to boil and cook, stirring, until the mixture forms a hard ball when a tiny amount is dropped into a glass of cold water (it should take approximately 8 minutes or reach 122o C if you are lucky enough to own a confectionery thermometer).
  5. Pour about a quarter of this hot syrup onto your egg whites – beating constantly. Keep beating until the mixture is firm enough to hold its shape.
  6. Continue to cook the remaining sugar syrup until it forms ‘brittle threads’ when you drop a small amount of it into the glass of cold water (5 minutes / 157o C ).
  7. Pour the syrup over the egg mixture, beating constantly until the mixture is very thick.
  8. Add butter and vanilla and keep on beating until mixed.
  9. Stir in almonds (using a wooden spoon – there is a reason for this, I just can’t remember what it is).
  10. Put the mixture into the prepared tin and pop it into the fridge to set.
  11. When firm, gently turn the nougat out and cut into little pieces. Wrap in waxed paper and store in the fridge. Or eat it. But not all at once. You should have a kilo of the stuff.
...some very sticky nougat

…some very sticky nougat

Sorry, this is the only photo I have, because this is not what we did, bearing in mind I came in after the process had been begun, slightly differently, by my enthusiastic young chef-in-the-making.

Yours should look a lot more nougat-like. And white (Will used raw sugar). And a lot more appetising. I suspect that Will and Matt will be eating this with a spoon. Never mind. We had fun, learned something, and – get this – Will did the washing up.

NB: The original recipe (with pics) can be found in Women’s Weekly Cooking Class Cookbook, circa 1970 or 80 something. Actually a cracking good book as a starting point for a whole range of recipes. Not many containing mince, though.