book reviews · recipes

Sophie

It is with barely contained glee that I can announce, we saw the trailer for Spring 2015 here today!

Yes, all of the highlights – bird twittering, daffodil nodding, lawn mowing, cat sprawling and of course sun drenching – were condensed into the happy daylight hours of this late winter Saturday. And if the coming season is anything close to what this trailer alluded to, it’s going to be a cracker! So, inspired by this exciting preview, I thought it fitting that the opening image to this post about Sophie Hansen be the spring illustration from her book, Local is Lovely.

But before I continue, I just need to take a quick side-step up to a soap box, and restate my passionate belief yet again – we all need to continue to cook. We need to take produce from around us, where possible, in it’s simplest form and slice it, mix it, bake it, steam it, roast it, mash it or whatever needs to be done to it to produce nourishing, appealing food to fuel healthy lives. And most vitally, our children need to see this happening. They need to be exposed to basic raw materials being crafted into meals so that when their time comes to take responsibility for their own nutrition and/or the nurture of others, this will be their default. Because it’s what they saw.

They need not have seen elaborate haute cuisine, but simply, basic combinations of fruit, vegetables, proteins and grains with a measure of fats and oils keeping things balanced and delicious. If that means thick slabs of bread loaded with generous slices of tomato, fresh cheese and garden herbs, topped with some pan-crisped salami, then the job is done. And if it can’t happen this way each day because the pace of life takes precedence, then that’s ok – just so long as there are times when it does.

So this now brings me to Sophie, a food writer and one-woman cheersquad for the local farmers/producers in her neighbourhood, within which, her farm in Orange, four hours west of Sydney is located. She is a strong advocate for sourcing food locally not only for the deliciousness of it but also to support the local growers, whom she believes are the heroes of our land. In her beautifully laid out read, you will be taken through the seasons, inspired by earthy delicious cooking using seasonal produce and intrigued by a sprinkling of profiles of her local farmers.

local is love

As well a being just a pleasurable, inspiring read, Sophie’s message within these pages is clear, to source locally, cook seasonally and enjoy the process.

Now I realise that most of us may not be located bang smack in the centre of a regional food bowl, and the local supermarket may be as close as it gets to sourcing our produce, and that’s fine too. It is amazing though, if you attempt to sniff it out, there are sources of locally grown staples, even in inner urban areas that can be drawn upon. I have a free-range egg farm close by and I imagine that many of you have a monthly farmer’s market in your vicinity. Some of us have neighbours with fruit trees whilst others are making it their business to learn the art of foraging and finding wild delights ripe for the taking. My point is, use what is available to you when you can and become aware. It’s not about making sweeping overnight changes, but gradual shifts toward a healthier and therefore more enriched lifetime.

So while you ponder this, here is a Chocolate Blackberry Loaf, one of Sophie’s Winter Baking recipes (that you can receive in a free ebook that can be downloaded when you visit her and sign up for her newsletter) to enjoy.

1 cup plain flour
5 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
good pinch salt
1/4 cup espresso coffee (I used one shot from our little machine at home but you could also make a really strong plunger coffee and use 1/4 cup of that)
1/2 cup natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla paste
150g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
1 cup blackberries (raspberries or blueberries would also be good)

Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a large loaf tin. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb and a good pinch of salt and set aside. In another bowl, combine the coffee, yogurt and vanilla and stir well. Now cream the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer, until pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the yogurt mixture and mix in on low speed. Then, by hand, fold in the flour mixture and finally fold through the blackberries.
Spoon batter into the tin and bake for 45 minutes or until the cake is just pulling away from the tin’s sides and it feels firm to touch

Chocolate Blackberry Loaf

Postscript: and apart from the ethical, nutritional, sustainable and economic values Local is Lovely expounds, anyone who creates a cake recipe combining chocolate, coffee, blackberries and greek yogurt ought to be worth paying attention to.

book reviews · recipes

Fika

Fika Ikea Baking Book

As formalities continue to be shed in an effort to live in a more simplified fashion, so too our food has begun to follow suit. More frequently we are encouraged to eat our meals in a ‘deconstructed’ form. Jamie now scatters his communal dinners across a chopping board, cheesecakes are commonly served up in drinking vessels and salads regularly layered in kilner jars (maybe this is my cue to toss a scoop of Vegemite, a few cheese shavings and some bread in the lunch box for some deconstructed school sandwiches). But I digress. The Scandinavians, or more specifically, Ikea, have had the jump on this mode for years. Their latest contribution to our pared-down existence is their new baking book, Fika, illustrating each recipe as a collection of deconstructed ingredients. Intrigued? So was I.

Fika is the Swedish term for a coffee break, generally shared with others. This book offers a host of recipes perfect for such events. Based on your level of experience and time affordable, you can dip in and out of this baking collection and come up with some delicious treats. The Rustic Biscuits caught my eye, basically because in my ‘deconstructed pantry’ all the elements were present and equally because the bakes could be made in two stages (dough needs to be chilled a while) allowing me to fit swimming lessons in between. And what lovely, crispy little gems they turned out to be:

Rustic Biscuits

Even on a day when baking is not within your reach, this book is a lovely browse, as rarely have I seen a collection of recipes photographed in such a simplistic form. For novice cooks to be able to see baked items broken down this way, leaves very little hiding space for uncertainty or self-doubt to settle. Dismantling kitchen fear and apprehension my friends, can only be a good thing.

100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp. golden syrup
35g blanched almonds, chopped
225g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tbsp milk (optional)

  1. Cream butter, sugar and syrup.
  2. Combine almonds, flour and bicarb of soda and then add this mix to the creamed mix.
  3. Work into a dough (at this point, you may or may not need to add the milk, depending on how dry your dough is).
  4. Roll the dough into a long sausage, about 3 cm thick and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate for up to an hour or freeze.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Remove cling film and cut slices of dough about 1 cm thick. Lay these out on trays lined with baking paper.
  6. Bake for 6-8 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

You will need to be forgiving with some of the text in Fika, as we are crossing a fairly challenging language barrier here. The odd ingredient may be foreign, and occasionally ml is used in place of gram, but remember, we are working on our flexibility.

Rustic biscuits and coffee

Postscript: By the way, Fika is a marvellous word to have in your vocabulary when you burn your hand on the oven tray whilst young family members are present.

book reviews · recipes

Petite

Rachel Khoo

On occasion I have succumbed to kitchen envy. Lamenting lack of space, aged appliances and pokey cupboards, it was easy for my eye to travel in an emerald fashion over magazine splashes of the latest designs. If anything was to cure me of this, it was Rachel Khoo and her Little Paris Kitchen. It was and she has.

Have you not yet become acquainted with Rachel, then let me introduce you. Rachel Khoo, an English girl at a tender age, travelled to Paris,without a word of French and enrolled in and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu cookery school. She lives in a tiny apartment in Paris, from which she runs an even tinier restaurant (one table) and cooks for her guests whatever she feels is most seasonally delightful on the day. From this eventually flowed the BBC2 series The Little Paris Kitchen, where many of us have come to know her well.

The essence of Rachel’s cooking is French at its simplest. Through her series and book, she inspires us to close over the Larousse Gastronomique, and gather a handful of fresh ingredients to turn out delightful French classics – simply. And what snared my interest above all, is that she does it in a space far from cat swinging. A little two burner cooktop and an (almost) camp style oven, along with her basic utensils suspended on a rail above, Rachel’s lovely dishes appear without complication or stress. No imported stone bench tops or European appliances within coo-wee.

Rachel’s book is a beautiful adjunct to the series and is a great place to delve into when it’s time to be reminded of the beauty of the basic. My first LPK recipe was Quiche Lorraine, because I had quite forgotten the charm of eggs, cream and bacon on buttery pastry. Quiches have been overloaded in recent years and it was lovely to enjoy one in its simplest form tonight.

Quiche Lorraine

I’m guessing you’re also keen to relive the memory, so here is Rachel talking you through the Quiche Lorraine recipe from pastry to filling. If you have a little space on the bookshelf and need a bit of a nudge to remember how wonderful simple food really is, then this publication will be a valued acquisition.

The Little Paris Kitchen

Postscript: and I haven’t even begun to tell you about the gorgeous vintage dresses and the smashing red lipstick!

book reviews · family · homemaking

Pippa

Celebrate by Pippa Middleton If you can’t squander an afternoon leafing through a beautiful new book at this time of year, then when can you?

After perusing her newly published book, it appears Pippa Middleton and I may be kindred spirits. I say this sheepishly, as I initially let the media hype color my view of this young lady, and was reticent to open the cover. So glad I pushed past this bias, because I now have a lovely reference of simple ideas to add to my repertoire. Should you need a little inspiration, this is a valuable book to visit.

You may not wish to follow Pippa’s ideas slavishly, but a good 30 minutes spent within the pages serves as a wonderful reminder of the simple things you love to do – and need to carve out more time for. summerSet across the seasons, each section contains doable recipes, practical family activities and plenty of shoestring decorating ideas. With charming photos and illustrations as well as a smattering of childhood verse and cheery text, this is certainly a feel-good read.
Trifle

Luxuriating in the post-christmas peace, I can think of no better way to reward recent efforts, than disappearing into a new book – particularly one that sparks the imagination and opens the door to a sea of new projects to embark on in 2013. If you were the recipient of a new read this christmas, make sure you spend some quality time with it before the hubbub of the new year begins again. I’m happy to take your recommendations, as I’m sure ‘Celebrate’ will be devoured by the end of the week.

Postscript: It was this candid opening in Pippa’s book that really won me over –  ‘It’s a bit startling to achieve global recognition (if that’s the right word) before the age of thirty, on account of your sister, your brother-in-law and your bottom. One day I might be able to make sense of this. In the meantime, I think it’s fair to say that it has its upside and downside. I certainly have opportunities many can only dream of, but in most ways I’m a typical girl in her twenties trying to forge a career and represent herself in what can sometimes seem rather strange circumstances.’

book reviews · health and wellbeing · recipes

Rosemary

Rosemary has been an asset to me over the years. Not only for boosting the flavour of many a lamb roast, but also for the most reputable nutritional guidance one could ever hope to receive. The former of course, being the glossy green herb and the latter, Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM, one of Australia’s leading nutritionists.

Rosemary Stanton received her OAM (medal of the Order of Australia) for her services to community health. She has dispensed, across the decades, sound evidence-based information regarding food and nutrition, and during sessions of nutritional wagon falls, it is her books I turn to with a cup of lemon balm tea. My advocacy of her work is not solely based on her most recent enlightening book, The Choice Guide to Food, but by virtue of the fact that, dietary recommendations she has made in her early career and over the years, still stand today –  whilst a multitude of other nutritional claims and fads have come and gone.

When a delve into the science of human nutrition is required, we need the information to be delivered in simple terms, so we have the ability to surface with knowledge that is relevant and practical for us to live by. Rosemary’s style of writing supports this. I was thrilled to discover in her latest publication, not only does she cover food from the view of our physical health, but also for that of the health of our budget and  the planet.

To boost your own nutritional wellbeing, incorporate a couple of her recipes into your weekly meal rotation, they can be found in many of her publications or in various pages on the web. Here is her farmhouse soup from which to launch.

Let’s not overlook, however, the other rosemary who has also done a fine job throughout her career in my kitchen. Scattered over roasted potato wedges, blended through soups and kneaded into bread dough, Rosmarinus officinalis could also qualify for her own medal – for services to our taste buds.

Postscript: this post was written with a salute to Remembrance Day