Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Real Food Companion

You would think this book alone would be enough for me to write a raving review of it, but it's not the only reason I must spend this Wednesday trying to sell you something I love instead of writing a recipe or a whimsical domestic tip. It's not the only reason to purchase this book.

This book, in it's near four hundred pages, is probably the best cookbook for the money you could buy if you're into real homegrown homemade down to earth food. Basically, if you're a reader of this blog. With recipes for basic chicken stocks and classic Italian dishes from grandmother's memories, you will not be disappointed in the array for any diet in this book.

Not content with mere recipes, Matthew Evans discusses in great length the proper ways to kill animals, the proper ways to eat them and even the proper ways to grow them. If that weren't enough, he also talks about the best places within Australia and the world to get the ingredients for the most fabulous fresh dishes you can create.

If I haven't made Matthew Evans sound like a wonderful author and chef already, I must add this small thing he did that just blew me away. When I missed his arrival into my town this week I had been looking forward to, I emailed his website in distress. Expecting nothing or an employee-written reply, I was not prepared for a self-written email addressing all my questions with a friendly and welcoming demeanor. Yes, that's right, he wrote me back:

G'day Elizabeth,

so sorry to miss you in Brissie.

It was a very brief trip, as most are away from the farm. Animals are very unforgiving.

I am just finishing my book tour in South Australia this weekend, then spending quite a bit of time at home re-doing the pig paddocks and all that kind of outdoorsy stuff.

Love to sign your book, but it is probably only possible by mail at this stage. I could sell you one and send it, but since you already have the book it would cost twice in postage. A 3kg express post bag will cost a shade under $12 so you could mail it to me with an addressed envelope inside, though that does seem excessive. Happy to do it though. You could always plan a holiday to Tassie and come to our market stall....

I believe Avid are putting some footage on the web, somewhere, if you want to see what we talked about.

best Matthew

So not only is Matthew Evans a fair-trade fair-growing excellent master chef with a myriad of delicious recipes, he is also a down-to-earth sort of fellow you can't help but find yourself loving over and over again. If you buy any cookbook this year, I fully recommend purchasing The Real Food Companion.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tight-Arse Tuesdays: Sorrel

I just discovered sorrel.

I know, I'm a bit behind the curve. The French have been eating sorrel for eons, and Foodies In The Know all seem to love it. But I grew up in a different climate and it wasn't on the menu when I was a kid. Last weekend at the farmers' market they were sampling some, and I was transported. I knew I'd found one of my new favorite vegetables.

That was three days ago, and I'm already out of sorrel and sad about it.

If you see sorrel at the market, BUY IT. Buy lots! You don't want to run out of it in three days. It looks kind of like spinach or chard, but it has a very sweet, fruity taste reminiscent of kiwi fruit. It goes with almost anything. It's very inexpensive, and easy to grow yourself - I've been seeing seeds and starts all over the place, and I'm getting a few sorrel starts for my own garden. Two bucks for unlimited sorrel all season long? Hellsyeah!

In the meantime, here's what became of that first $1.75 bunch of sorrel I got at the farmers' market...

1. Lunch Saturday was a quick saute of leftover chicken with some garlic, to which I added leftover rice and beans. Once that was mixed up and heated through, I piled it on top of fresh chopped sorrel and garnished it with a spoonful of salsa verde. The sorrel provided the perfect crunchy sweetness to go with the other flavors; I don't think I've ever enjoyed a Leftovers Lunch quite so much. (See pic above!)

2. Sorrel in salad. 'Nuff said.

3. Frenchie Breakfast. I sauteed a sliced leek in butter, then threw in the sorrel, then a splash of red wine with a bit of tomato paste. Let that cook through and served it over cheesy polenta (okay, not French) with radishes on the side (very French). The sorrel broke up a bit in the polenta, lending its distinctive fruitiness to the creamy texture. Great stuff.

4. Chicken soup. The rest of the leftover chicken, a mess o' veggies, stock made with the chicken carcass, and just before serving I stirred in the rest of the sorrel (just like you'd do with spinach). It was fabulous. The only reason I didn't fully enjoy it was because I knew that was the last of my sorrel.

Overall, I'd say I prefer it raw to cooked. It goes mushy when cooked, just like spinach but even moreso. And the flavor gets even sweeter when it's cooked, possibly too sweet. But it's still delicious cooked, and it is transcendent served raw. I can't believe it took me this long to discover it... but now at least I get to make up for lost time.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Anzac Biscuits

While yes, I am aware Anzac Day is on a Sunday and today is Tuesday, Australia time, I still feel the need to share this delicious recipe of Anzac Day Biscuits for my friends and family. They go over very well every year and are a classic Australian treat, once given to our Australian Soldiers in the battle of Gallipoli.

200g flour
200g rolled oats
100g castor sugar
2 tablespoons ground wattleseed
100g desiccated coconut
125g butter
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 tablespoons golden syrup
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Oven: 170°C

Combine oats, flour, wattleseed, sugar and coconut. In a saucepan, melt the butter and butter and golden syrup. Mix in the water and the baking soda then stir into the dry ingredients. Take tablespoonfuls of mixture and place on lightly greased oven trays; allow room for spreading.

Bake in oven for 20 minutes, then remove from oven and allow to cool on cooling racks.

For those that don't know where to get ground wattleseed: bought and delivered within two days!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chicken and Beef Stock

What can be simpler and more delicious than homemade stock? Nothing compares and you can make a whole bucket in advance and simply freeze it until you need it. No more mysterious powders and terrifying ingredients. A good base for anything, including healthy eating, is a simple handmade stock.

My good camera took the good photos of me preparing the stock, but then the camera died. So I give you just a photo of my freezer, with 6 bottles (3 litres) of chicken stock and four bottles (2 litres) of beef stock.

For the chicken stock, I simply threw a whole raw chicken into four litres of water along with some flavourings I wanted. I had leftover woody ends from aspargus I had for dinner and they make an excellent flavouring. Always always always add a celery stick, it makes a lovely base. I also chucked in an ear of corn and some rosemary, because that's how I like it. Throw whatever vegetables in your like the flavour of: carrots, parsnips, onions, bay leaves - all of it is optional and entirely preferental.

Bring this and four litres of water to a boil for ten minutes then put the lid on and turn the fire off. Let cool and you'll have 3-4 litres of chicken stock and a boiled chicken, which I use to make sandwiches all the next week.

For beef stock, simply do the same exact thing except using fresh marrow bones from the butcher. About a dollar's worth for four litres of beef stock makes a hefty stock. The only reason I have less beef stock than chicken stock is because I only have one pan that holds four litres so I made the beef stock in the crockpot and let it slow cook overnight on low, so I lost a lot of water.

For an added bonus: use the same pan you made dinner in, if it had the same meat. Some of the flavouring will rise from the bottom and create a delicious addition to the stock.

As you can see, I put mine in plastic beer bottles. Mainly because they're much easier to get in Australia than Ball jars and a lot cheaper. 16 bottles cost me $12, whereas here, 12 jars will cost me $24, before lids.

About half an hour before I intend on using it, I simply give it a bath in warm water and I always have fresh stock on hand - preseparated into 500mL (two cups) of stock, which tends to be the average amount a recipe calls for.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tight-Arse Tuesdays - Tuesday Date Night

In an attempt to save money, my partner and I have been trying to cut back on our date night spending. Not our date nights, just the spending we'd do during said nights. We still want to spend time together, like any couple, but find it difficult with our weekly $50 budget each we've imposed on ourselves. So here's a few creative ones we came up with in times of desperation:

1. The best part of picnics is you can justify the spending as 'food money' instead of 'spending money', thus the price of the date is merely your DVD rentals or drive to the country. The rest of the food can be stored and made into lunches for the next few days and thus isn't really a date expense. I believe me, you should too. Roast chicken, cheesy garlic mashed potatoes and some cobb bread with a beetroot dip, the entire meal cost me about twenty dollars, which was then used for about four more meals. This is Australian, so this is cheap. This was our 'home picnic' date night, where we decided to stay home and have a picnic in bed, as opposed to going for a drive to the country, which we also do.

2. You'd be surprised these days how fun it actually is to read together. I'm not talking sitting next to each other under a shared blanket reading (although that's nice too, it leaves no room for conversation). I'm talking about buying a book or loaning one from the library and literally sitting down and taking turns reading it to each other. The tackier the better. I'm talking Goosebumps books and trashy romance novels. Why? Because you have FUN. Because watching the look on your partner's face as they try to describe Sanchez's rippling loins is hysterical. For the Goosebumps books, throw on some cheesy Halloween music and use a flashlight on your face. Guaranteed to make you laugh.

3. Not one to forget the obvious, check your local paper. You don't even need to have your local paper, what with the internet (which I'm assuming you have if this is not being fed directly into your brain) or simply the local coffee shop, which also makes for a great date-morning. A cup of coffee together, read the paper and find what's going on. Many many times I've spotted a tiny ad for a free movie premier at the local arthouse theatre. Only once has this venture disappointed us and even then, we got to laugh about it together. Combined with a mini-on-the-go-picnic (what I call lunchbags), I've just given you an entire DAY of dating here for the price of two coffees and leftovers.

4. Yardsaling is a fun date. Especially since women and men both like to think they're better than the other at picking up a bargain. Usually my husband will find some sort of expensive fishing rod for only ten dollars and I'll laugh at him because, look, I got a whole bag of seeds for a dollar! I can feed the family for months off that! What can your fishing rod do? Oh yeah... feed the family for months. Curses.

5. Speaking of the above - fishing. If you actually enjoy spending time with your partner where all you can do is watch the water and talk, this is wonderful. Usually you can find a friend who will lend you a cheap boat (or a friend who knows where a good creek is) and licences are yearly and twelve bucks, so you can get many dates out of this. If you're any decent at actually catching the fish (I'm not), you'll also get a whole heap of free food. Bring a small picnic (I'm really pushing that today) and sit by the water with your lover, feeding each other, baiting hooks (wash your hands between the two, my suggestion) and comparing who caught the biggest fish that day. Then go home, scale and steam yourself what might be a few night's dinner. If you've had a particularly good day, you can sell some of the fish off to people on the harbour quite easily. Nothing like a whole day date you MAKE money off of, eh?

6. Farmer's Markets are surprisingly fun and cheap morning dates. Sampling the ripest tomatoes and talking about farm life with the locals can make for a fun addition to your already boring grocery shopping. Why hang around in dully lit overpriced markets when you can turn Sunday into a fun date morning and incorporate your love-life into your love of food life? Don't bring a picnic here, you might find the baker has a whole loaf of organic grain bread for a dollar and you might want to split that with some fresh butter, another dollar. The best part is, all of this is just grocery shopping on the cheap! But together you can discuss what is best for that glorious bag of heirloom tomatoes you grabbed for two bucks.. salad or grilled? With the money leftover, you can buy some old woman's fresh flowers to adorn your table and then cook up an amazing roast lunch to have at home. I look forward every week to my Farmer's Market date. I really love smelling the fresh picked green onions.

7. Do I really need to say museums and galleries? I think that one is an obvious one, but I put it here anyway. Usually free entry, liven up your knowledge of the arts a bit... makes a good fun little time out. Check your paper for fun ones at the same time as the free premiers and you'll be good to go.

8. Challenge yourself. I know it's hard to come up with a cheap way of showing your partner you love them - but if you make it into a personal challenge, it's much more fun. In the beginning my partner and I liked to see who could spend more money on the other (I won, I should mention) and finally we decided... who can spend the LEAST money on each other, but still be creative? This is where gifts like an altoids can miniature toolbox came in. Or my current favourite, making sexy scratch off lotto tickets that say things like "You win a free day of cuddles!" or "You win a picnic" (again?) or "You win a story told to you by flashlight.".... make it fun.. make it creative! Just because it's cheap doesn't mean it's.. So challenge yourself. See what you can come up with. I bet it's fun!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Meatless Monday: Eggy Barley Bread

We had a beautiful sunny weekend, but today looks like a chilly rainy day again, so lunch is vegetable barley soup and fresh-baked eggy barley bread. You don't get much more warm and cozy than that!

I'm a big fan of barley, which for some reason does not get the attention today that it did in the previous century. As a whole grain, it's got a chewy, hearty texture and wholesome flavor that is the perfect accompaniment to soup; you can also make risotto with it instead of rice. As a flour, it brings a lovely rich warm flavor and a creamy softness to breads.

This is a good recipe for the bread machine, if you have one. If you don't, you should get one! I don't often bake my breads in the machine, but I do when I'm busy and it still churns out hot, delicious, crusty fresh-baked bread with only five minutes of effort from me. It's cheaper than storebought bread, as well as fresher and more delicious. So get you a bread machine post haste, and then make...


1 cup water
1 egg
1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup barley flour
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp yeast

Get the water in your measuring cup and then crack the egg in. Beat the egg and water together slightly, then pour into the bread machine. Sprinkle the flours over so that they float on top of the water. Cut up the butter into chunks and drop it into two corners of the machine, then add the sugar to another corner and the salt to another. Make a little well in the middle with your finger and pour the yeast into it. Switch the machine onto its basic setting and let 'er rip.

Come back when it's done, and transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool. Make sure you cut a big slice for yourself (and anyone you like) and butter it while it's still hot. Have that slice with vegetable soup. Watch the rain fall as you eat and think about how much you love life.

Friday, April 16, 2010

It Works!!

I just have to give a big endorsement of Lizzie's recipe for baking soda shampoo. Sure, it's cheap and it's all-natural, but why not just use regular shampoo?

Aside from avoiding phthalates, it turns out there's an even better reason. This stuff cures dandruff better than any expensive high-tech dandruff shampoo on the market!

For some reason, most of the guys I know suffer from dandruff issues, and my husband's were getting bad. Head & Shoulders didn't fix it, and he only got moderate results from a very pricey bottle of KMS. He had to use the dandruff shampoo every single day to avoid that festive Christmas-flocking effect.

Then a few days ago, he ran out of shampoo and didn't have time to go out to buy more, so he whipped up some of the baking soda shampoo and vinegar conditioner from Lizzie's blog post. (See, men can read and enjoy our blog too!) Lo and behold, his hair is glossier, silkier, less oily, and there is not one hint of dandruff. We haven't seen any in days!

So, I'm a convert, and I hope y'all don't mind the double post. I just had to share these awesome results and encourage the world to give this a try. Don't you just love it when the best solution also turns out to be the cheapest one?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tight-Arse Tuesday: Mashup!

Everybody likes mashed potatoes. They go beautifully with everything, especially meats, and when done right they have a nice creamy comfort-food quality. Don't let anyone tell you that potatoes are bad for you, either; they're rich in lots of vital nutrients! Plus, as we all know, they're cheaper than the dirt they grow in. (Literally.)

Still, 'taties are not known for huge flavor, so we tend to load them up with butter, gravy, and other flavorings. That's one way to do it, and I certainly won't turn down buttered mashed potatoes, but I much prefer to boost their nutritional content along with their flavor and use them as a base for more veggies.

There in the picture you can see a mashup (hey, it works for music!) of potatoes, turnips, and sunchokes. I made it vegan because we don't mix dairy and meat, and honestly I did not miss the butter. Neither did my husband, and he's a butter guy (like there's any other kind).

Take this recipe, and feel free to tweak it - you can add carrots, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, whatever you like. Just don't forget the turnips! Even if your mash is only turnips and potatoes, you will tell a huge difference because the turnips bring a sweetness that goes so nicely with the potatoes' creamy texture.

(serves 3-4)

2 medium potatoes
2 medium turnips
1 lb. sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the veg and cut them into chunks, all about the same size, chucking them into a big pot as you go. DO NOT peel them! Most of the vitamins are in the peel and anyway the peels are good to eat. They make mashed potatoes interesting, give them texture. So just give them a good scrub and chop 'em up.

Cover with water and bring to a boil. Salt them if you want to. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes or until the veggies are fork-tender. Drain, and return to the pot.

Mash those veg up until you don't see the cut edges anymore. It's okay if they're still chunky! You don't want a smooth puree. When they're all mashed up, add the remaining ingredients, mixing after each addition. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

'tis the season for a hot toddy..apparently.

I do recall mentioning a couple times on this blog I had every intention of being away for ten days on a glorious silence retreat where no bill collectors or salesmen could contact me and my only job would be to simply exist and meditate. According to my body? Bugger that.

I have what you would call a dreadful calamity. The flu. Seeing as I can't find inner peace in the mountains of the Sunshine Coast of Australia, it looks like I'm going to have to find pleasure in my tissue box at home. Or.. in my liquor cabinent.

I have to admit, I never heard of this drink in America when I lived there. It seems to be, to me, a very British and Australian thing to have. I'm not surprised Australians would have a keen eye to adopt liquor as a medicine at the first chance they got. Thus, I give you: the hot toddy.

100mL of Bundaberg rum (because I live in Queensland and we're all about local booze here)
2 cinnamon sticks
12 cloves
1 lemon
1 tbsp honey
boiling water to taste

Combine all the ingredients in the pot, first squeezing the lemons and then chucking the bastards in (I can curse, I'm sick). You don't have to but I adore the taste of lemon peels in my teas. Pour boiling water in. The less you poor in, the more liquored up you'll be. To be fair, I'm guessing on the 100mL of rum as well. I kinda went, "Hm, here's a flask of rum... about half that is 100mL. A little extra in case my measurements are off and well.. I already have most of the bottle gone, I might as well finish it up." Obviously I've embraced my new-found Australianisms. You should too.

Let steep for a few minutes before pouring or skulling and feel better soon!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

...and we're off!

Hello again Apron Strings (this is my new nickname for you readers),

It seems we're live on! That's a bit of a harder chore than I thought! Also - a bit of an easier chore than I thought! You know when nothing works and finally when it does you go, "Agh, is THAT what I had to do? That's easy!" Well, that was me for the last week.

Well, here we are settled into out new home. Plus we have many many more updates coming with some fabulous news. Keep watching this space and you'll soon be seeing a million treats and a million new additions. I am looking forward once more to being able to read Kimberly's posts.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Hello Apron Strings!

Sorry about the mess around here lately but we're trying to launch our website very shortly and seem to be having more than wardrobe malfunctions. Kimberly and I are working hard to make sure this site is up and running in the proper area and we apologize for the lack of posts lately.

We'll see if we can get you to our regularly scheduled nudity as soon as possible.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pity the Fool!

What better day than April Fool's Day to make a nice and tasty fool?

This British dessert is a great way to showcase seasonal fruits. Usually, the fruit is pureed and then blended with whipped cream and egg whites to give it a fluffy, mousse-like texture. Occasionally the fool is then layered with cake or pastry to dress it up.

Jamie Oliver has a better version in his excellent book Jamie At Home. I made it recently to celebrate the delicious rhubarb which is so abundant right now, and I found this recipe as quick and easy at it was delicious. It got rave reviews at our table, especially from guests who had never had rhubarb before. And it came together so quickly and easily that I was still able to enjoy hanging out with my guests.

By the way, if you don't already have a copy of Jamie At Home, you need to get one. It's all about fresh, simple food made from homegrown ingredients, and it includes gardening tips, seasonal cooking, and even a chapter on wild game. The photography is so sensuous it borders on the pornographic, and the writing style makes it the kind of cookbook you can curl up to read on a rainy day. And, as you will see here, the recipes are fantastic.


For the rhubarb compote:
1 lb rhubarb, trimmed and chopped
1/3 cup sugar or vanilla sugar *
Juice of 1/2 an orange **

For the wafers:
3 Tbsp confectioner's sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Piece of frozen puff pastry

For the flavored yogurt:
2 cups plain yogurt
zest of 1 orange
1 heaped tablespoon honey

* I used 1/3 cup sugar plus 1 tsp vanilla; next time, I will substitute 1/4 cup honey.
** I used all the juice of the whole orange just because I wanted to.

Jamie says: "Get yourself a small pan and throw in the rhubarb, sugar and orange juice. Put a lid on top, bring to the boil for a couple of minutes, then remove the lid and simmer for a few more minutes until you get a thick compote consistency."

Meanwhile, sift the confectioner's sugar and cinnamon onto a clean countertop. Cut 4 slices about 1/2" thick from the puff pastry, then roll each slice out to 1/4" thick, turning it over a few times as you go so that it gets coated in the sugar and cinnamon. Cut the strips in half so you have long triangles, then fry those triangles in a hot dry skillet until golden brown on both sides. Cool them on a rack.

Mix the yogurt, honey, and orange zest together in a bowl. You can do this ahead of time and keep it chilled; you can also make the compote and pastry triangles ahead of time too and just assemble when you're ready to serve dessert. To serve, glop some yogurt onto a small plate or into a pretty glass bowl, then top it off with some rhubarb and pastry, and repeat the layers.

Welcome to April, Fool!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How To Get Dressed In Seconds

One of my favorite things about spring is the return of Salad Season!

During the summer, I pretty much live on salad. It's good for breakfast, it's good for lunch, it's good for dinner, and it's good for just a random snack. If you grow your own salad greens and veggies, it's even better, but you don't have to. Just make sure you're going to a farmers' market or a good produce stand for the good stuff; plastic-wrapped iceberg lettuce really has no place on anyone's table.

Salads don't have to include lettuce at all, of course. It's great if they do, but you can be creative. In the summer, I make salads out of nothing but tomatoes piled high, sometimes sprinkled with crumbled cheese, and of course tossed with dressing. Tonight I'm making a sunchoke salad (think potato salad with more flavor), and last summer I made a fabulous salad out of grilled vegetables (which included eggplant, potatoes, onions, and turnips, if I remember right).

The real secrets to a good salad are the dressing - we'll get to that in a minute - and, most importantly, variety. Salads are satisfying when they combine lots of different flavors and textures into one huge sensory experience. The one in the picture, which was our lunch the other day, was made of a mix of young spring greens topped with sliced artichoke hearts, diced avocado, carrot shreds, raw kohlrabi, leftover BBQ chicken, and sunflower seeds. Think about all the nutrition in such a meal! So many vitamins, good fats, proteins, and everything else the body needs. It kept us full for hours, much longer than you'd think "just a salad" would.

But now for the dressing, which is crucial. Most of the time when you go to a restaurant, they'll serve you a perfectly healthy salad and then drown it in a dressing which is actually worse for you than anything else you could order. For example, here's how a salad at Wendy's weighs in:

1/2 Pound Double Cheeseburger - 750 calories, 42 g fat, 1520 mg sodium
Chicken BLT Salad - 790 calories, 53 grams fat, 1670 mg sodium

That's right, almost all the day's fat intake and most of your calories (and way more sodium than you need) in a damn SALAD! Some of that is in the processed chicken they use, but almost all of it is in the dressing, and bottled dressing from the grocery store is not much better. So make your own. (It's a lot cheaper that way too!)

Salad dressing, contrary to popular opinion, is super-easy to make yourself. All you need to remember is two parts oil to one part acid (which can be vinegar or acidic fruit juice). Play with different oils and different vinegars, and add whatever spices you like (paprika and cumin are delicious with balsamic and olive oil, for example). Here's my most common, foolproof standby dressing - it goes really well on just about everything, from green salad in the spring to tomato salad in the summer to hot potato salad in the fall and winter.


1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 Tbsp lemon juice (see note!)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Few drops of hot sauce, optional

Note: If you made the Preserved Meyer Lemons I posted about two weeks ago, use the juice from that and don't add any more salt to the dressing. You can even chop up one of the lemon wedges very fine and stir that in for extra zing!

Add all the ingredients together right there in the measuring cup and whisk them together with a fork for ten seconds. Pour into a pretty little serving container if you want, and serve. If you're keeping this on hand to use a little at a time, just store it in a jar and shake it up before using, or give it another whisk with the fork.