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Guest post: Farmers markets May 7, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Guest post, Vegetables.
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As I’m currently travelling overseas, I present to you a very special series of guest posts. This is the last in the series, and is by my friend Adelaide. It always amuses people when they find out we are friends, as Adelaide is a vegan and, well, I’m rather the opposite of that. While it’s true we have some fundamental differences in what we think is acceptable to eat as food, we are still friends and she is currently babysitting Fitzwilliam for me. Adelaide doesn’t have a blog but tweets as @lallylives, including about her love of farmers markets, as you will see below…

Hello, my name is Adelaide and I’m a market-holic.

There are many different ways this post could go – but, I have to confess, it’s not going to include recipes.

Not because it couldn’t (if you know me, you’ll also know that it’s fairly obvious that I’m good at the eating bit) but because I thought that it might interest you to look at the bit before the recipes – and that is the life of the urban hunter-gatherer.

Now, every corner seems to have a supermarket on it – all the big chains are well represented in our part of the world -but they’re soulless. I think I could negotiate around all of them half asleep – the marketing gurus at headquarters have decreed that sales are highest when the tinned chickpeas are always next to the bottled asparagus, and the crisps are almost always in the same order (and the dog food is next to the rat poison – which does rather epitomise the odd relationship the standard urbanite has with fauna) – and there’s no minimum wage shelf stacker that’s going to argue with that. I’ve walked into supermarkets in Europe, Asia and Australasia, and been able to find exactly what I needed in seconds through understanding the psychology of shopping. While it’s convenient, it’s boring…

So, the urbanite in search of a challenge has to look further afield than the obvious. For me, for the past year or so, this has paired up with my core belief that each consumer can make a difference by being aware of their power as expressed by where they decide to put their dollars. If I buy tinned tomatoes from Italy, I add food miles to my plate – and add to the possibility that local tomato growers and cannery workers – and the communities of which they are part – won’t be there for much longer.

But, for all that’s a good thing to do, there’s a whole lot of middle men between me and that tinned tomato. There’s the canning company, a freight company, the warehousing workers, the shopkeepers… and perhaps more than one of each. That seems like a lot of people – and while I’m happy I’m supporting local industry, it’s obvious that there’s a few cents being creamed off the amount that goes to the tomato farmer by every pair of hands that they pass through.

So, if I want to reduce the number of hands that fondle my fruit (stop sniggering in the back row), I need to get in touch with the producer. And luckily for the lazy urban hunter-gatherer, the farmers market is the perfect opportunity to meet producers without actually having to go to, well, the country.

Being quite the laziest of hunter gatherers, I’ve developed rather a fondness for farmers markets. There’s any number in Melbourne and nearby. There’s the trendy ones – Abbotsford Convent, Collingwood Children’s Farm, Gasworks, and Veg Out in St Kilda, where Tristan and Isolde can play on the grass in their organic cotton overalls while their parents swap stories about Montessori kindergartens, and the suburban ones, like Kingston, Boroondara and Casey-Berwick, where the silent green revolution of middle Australia carrying their rallying flags of reusable shopping bags swarms happily amongst the venison, buffalo mozzarella, sourdough and heirloom tomatoes. Further afield there’s Korumburra in Gippsland – potatoes and blueberries a speciality, along with banana jam – and Trentham – where along with fantastic produce, the canny ladies running the St Mary Magdalen op shop open up on market days as well. Lancefield market led me to squeeze three fruit trees into the back of the car (I really should plant them soon), and Mt Eliza gave me a musical experience I may never forget – ‘B-I-N-G-O was his name-o‘, sung uniquely to a mariachi guitar.

But it’s not just about the experiences, it’s about the food. There’s little that tastes better than fruit picked that morning, enormous pumpkins for stuffing, zucchinis so big and prolific that the stallholder gives you an extra one saying ‘take it, please – I’ve got so many’ and the freshly frothed coffee you drink while the buffalo bloke chats lovingly about mozzarella – and eight years of early market mornings, buffalo sausages and the rising tide of awareness of the richness of food possibilities for consumers.

It keeps you in touch with the seasons, too – this week the family we buy our stone fruit from is looking forward to no markets for a while as we go into winter – while the family we buy our winter fruit from is gearing up with their different varieties to try. Their teenage son – all gawky Adam’s apple, spots and a lankiness he’ll grow into – is transformed as he tells me that the pears will be beautifully ripe in a few days, and then confidently offers a sample of gala apple to another customer. One stallholder rushes across to pet our West Highland terrier – ‘I adore them – my two are at home’ she says – and we chat until she’s called back to discuss what she feeds her hens with a customer wanting to know details. We buy garlic – and when we say that we might try to grow it, the grower puts himself out of a job by picking good cloves for planting for us – and then gives us a five minute lesson in Essential Garlic Growing Tips.

I think that the original hunter-gatherers had it hard, walking long trails to find exactly the right water lily roots, fighting swarms of bees for their honey and needing to know exactly which of the twenty similar fungi was the one that didn’t have you seeing pink elephants for a week, or – more likely- poisoned you. While jumping in the car, driving to suburban parks, historic sites or country towns, chatting with producers and driving home with the boot bulging is hardly in the same league, there is a little, primitive part of me that knows that, although the only danger I face is Tristan or Isolde cannoning into me, or there being no home made black pudding left – maybe, just a little, farmers markets make sure this lazy hunter gatherer is getting closer to the earth.

You can find a list of Victorian Farmers Markets here, and the Victoria Farmers Markets Association here. Their newsletter is fantastic, and the market finder has inspired many day trips.

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Guest post: Deer ‘n’ Beer April 23, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Drinks, Game, Guest post.
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As I’m currently travelling overseas, I present to you a very special series of guest posts. This post is by my friend and colleague, Antonina. Antonina and I hit it off immediately upon meeting when we realised we had a shared interest in food and cocktails! Antonina doesn’t have a blog, but tweets about craft beer, cocktails, music and art under @aylewis

Hello! Pour yourself a drink and let’s get acquainted…

My favourite detective fictions are the novels of Kinky Friedman, starring his eponymous dick for hire. Who is, I suspect, probably about as far removed aesthetically from Nero Wolfe as you can get. However, the two characters do share an appetite for good food, and I wouldn’t hesitate to serve either one of them a version of this venison and chocolate casserole. It’s a minimum-effort maximum-reward one-pot meal that ensures you’ll still have plenty of time for pre-dinner discussion of orchids, corpses and country music.

Prep: cut venison rump into large chunks & toss in seasoned flour to coat; slice some bacon; roughly chop selection of vegetables of choice – I used onion, carrots, leeks & garlic. You’ll also need fresh thyme, a bay leaf, crushed mixed peppercorns, smashed juniper berries, dark beer (Kinky) or red wine (Nero), stock, oil, salt, and a couple of squares of dark chocolate.

Set oven to 180°C. Heat a little oil in a casserole dish on the stovetop and sauté bacon for a few minutes, then remove and set aside. Add a bit more oil to the pan and cook the floured venison over a medium flame until browned all over. Remove meat from pan and set aside with the bacon. Put all the vegetables into the pan, along with the herbs, crushed peppercorns and juniper berries, and another splash of oil.

Cook, stirring regularly, until onions start to go translucent and golden, about 8 minutes. Pour in a glass of alcohol and bring to the boil, stirring to loosen any bits that have stuck to the base of the pan. Add a cup of stock. You want enough liquid in there to cover the ingredients but not so much that they’re swimming in it. Any kind of stock is fine – I used a vegetable stock, as the flavours are pretty rich already. Add salt and pepper to taste, cover with lid and transfer dish to oven. Cook until the venison is buttery tender: as a guide, about 2 hours, turning the oven off after 90 minutes. Remove dish from oven, find and discard the thyme stalks and bay leaf. Stir through 20g of finely grated dark chocolate.

I usually make this casserole with red wine, but I wanted to try it with a dark beer this time. To harmonise with the chocolate in the dish, I went with Mildura Brewery’s new chocolate stout, Choc Hops. This worked well, although the final result did have a slightly bitter note in the flavour profile compared to the red wine versions I’ve made before. Next time I’d probably go with a slightly sweeter beer, maybe a chocolate porter (something like Holgate’s Temptress) rather than chocolate stout. Come to think of it, either of these would also render an awesome pie filling… If you’re using red wine, go with the varietal or blend you like best. Just keep in mind (similar to the choice of stock): a full bodied Australian cabernet or shiraz will bolster the richness of the dish, so you might want to be a bit more restrained with the pour. Pinot, merlot, old-world style, you can be more generous.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the end result. So, here’s desert instead: a glass of Choc Hops paired with a slice of flourless chocolate and beetroot cake.

There’s a fine line between fiction and non-fiction and I think I snorted it…

-Kinky Friedman

Guest post: Double-shot chocolate cake April 8, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Guest post, Sweet things.
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As I’m currently travelling overseas, I present to you a very special series of guest posts. First up we have Kathy from Play, eat, learn, live. Kathy and I have collaborated before on cake-related activities and she is a fantastic cook – her cooking made the more difficult (I always think) by the fact that she’s a coeliac. She’s also a mad keen mystery novel reader, as you will see below…

As I have mentioned a few times, I am a fan of mysteries. My favoured sub-genres within the broad church that is mystery fiction are cosies and puzzle / locked room stories, and I also have a fondness for a well-written police procedural. I dislike horror-mysteries and anything too blood-soaked, hence I rarely read modern hard-boiled stories (although, like every other self-respecting mystery fan, I’ve read my share of the classic pulp authors, and my shelf contains a respectable smattering of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard).

A lot of series cosies – in fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say most cosies – have a “hook” of some kind, a unifying theme that links the books other than the presence of the core protagonist/s. This isn’t so true of the giants of the Golden Age; Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, and to a lesser extent Ngaio Marsh didn’t seen to need such a binding to compel devotion from their readers. Of course, each of these writers had very discernible areas of interest that reappear in their books – Marsh was a theatre person and the theatre motif appears again and again; Christie was married to an archeologist and a round dozen of her books deal with archeological themes. However, these writers didn’t set out to write, say, mystery books featuring cats, or mystery books about mystery books, or mystery books threaded through with food.

Food is a very common binding theme in modern cosies. I can recall easily 10 popular series, without even trying, that rely on the fact that lots of people love to read about food and eating, and find it relaxing and pleasurable to do so (it’s why cookbooks are called food porn, after all!) One of the most successful of all these food-based series, to my mind, is Diane Mott Davidson’s series about Aspen Meadow caterer, Goldy Schultz. The 16th book in the Goldy Schultz series is coming out this year, and it’ll certainly be on my list for Christmas.

Goldy Schultz, the narrator and main protagonist, of these stories, is a caterer in a smallish but affluent Colorado town. She’s married to a food-loving, gentle and generous cop (Tom Schultz); mother to a teenage son from her first, abusive married (Arch Korman); divorced from the now-deceased cartoonishly-villainous and abusive doctor, John Richard Korman (“the Jerk”); and best friends with a wealthy and hot-tempered woman who was also once married to the Jerk (Marla Korman). Other recurring characters, such as Marla’s nephew Julian, who’s training to be a chef / caterer like Goldy, round out the series.

The things that I enjoy about this series are:

  • The integral role that food plays in the stories. This is a family that is seriously in love with food and its preparation, and an author who knows her stuff in this regard in no uncertain terms. The love of food and the act of expressing loving bonds through food is intertwined throughout each of these books.
  • The growth of Goldy’s character over the series. Goldy started off as a little mousey and, to be honest, a little too much the V for Victim for my taste, but 15 books later, she’s really developed into a well-rounded character. I still think she takes too much nonsense from the other characters, who, with the exception of Tom and Julian, all have the most astoundingly rude dialogue put into their mouths at times. But hey, maybe that’s the reality of working in a service industry – having to tolerate the crapola.
  • To a lesser extent, the puzzles themselves. They vary widely in terms of cleverness and guessability – some of them feature pretty obvious Xanatos gambits, with Goldy, always, in the role of manipulated pawn, while others are frankly cheats, relying on hidden information that the reader could not possibly decipher. However, the better ones are quite challenging and engaging as puzzles.

One of the better novels in the series, to my mind, is the one that *finally* killed off Goldy’s nasty first husband, the Jerk. (He was always implausibly uniform in his bastardry, to my mind, and was getting boring). This book is 2004’s Double Shot. And one of the things to love about this book is is extremely wonderful-sounding recipes in it. We decided to have a go at the magnificently described decadent Double-Shot Chocolate Cake.

The beauty of this cake, for me, is that it is gluten free by ingredient, being a flourless cake. It’s called a double-shot cake because it has both a large quantity of dark bittersweet chocolate and also cocoa in it – a double hit of chocolatey goodness. As you can imagine, with an ingredient list of butter, chocolate, cocoa, sugar, vanilla and eggs, it is extremely dense and fudgy.

The first step was to melt the chocolate with the butter in a double-boiler (aka one saucepan on top of another, the bottom one filled with water).

My 7 year old broke up the chocolate and cut up the butter for the pan, then asked, “Why don’t you just melt in a saucepan?”

“Because it burns, then it stinks,” her father replied succinctly. The voice of experience talking there!

While the butter and chocolate were liquefying, the 7 year old greased the pan and cut a piece of baking paper for the base, and I put an inch of water in the bottom of a long roasting dish and put it in the oven. In common with many fudgey cakes, this one cooks in a water bath.

“Why?” asks Miss 7.

“Ummm … to keep it from drying out?” I guessed. I later Googled it and corrected my mistake; it’s because of the eggs, apparently.

“Water baths are often used for egg-based dishes. The proteins in the eggs are very heat sensitive and only need to be warmed to cook thoroughly. They will start to get firm at only 145 degrees. Cooking them with a slow, gentle heat keeps the eggs soft and smooth. ”

Next we whisked together the caster sugar and cocoa,

then added the chocolate melted mixture to it. Last, we beat 8 whole eggs until they were foamy, combined with the chocolate stuff and the vanilla, and poured into the pan.

Into the oven inside the water bath for 40 minutes,

then out, cooled, and dusted with icing sugar.

We served it with chantilly cream, which was actually made by one of our brunch guests on the day as I was busying myself with cooking the brunch food.

It was a delicious and fairly straightforward cake, but incredibly dense and rich – a tiny sliver each, drowned in sweet cream, was enough.

All in all, though, a definite win for Diane Mott Davidson – and it has inspired me to try more of her recipes, given how well this one worked!