Acts of Kitchen: episode 1: talking to my mother


That’s right folks, here’s a new podcast! It’ll be fortnightly, and feature me interviewing someone about food and cooking as well as a bit of me talking about… stuff.

ETA again: It’s on iTunes and everything!

In the podcast we talk about an amazing dish from my childhood called Mighty Mince, the annoyance of feeding fussy eaters, and the ways that my mother’s cooking has changed over the last few years. She’s not on any social media but if you’ve got anything you’d like to tell her, I promise to pass it on.


Recipes: Mighty Mince, chow mein, slow-cooked lamb, lemon delicious; Jerusalem (Yottam Ottolenghi)

I’ll be asking future guests how they store recipes they like (thanks to Terri for this suggestion. My mum said:

“Usually in my very old folder of recipes that you updated for me many years ago. Sometimes in a book that has similar recipes e.g Thai recipes in my Women’s Weekly book of Thai food.”

Feedback gratefully received: you can email actsofkitchen at gmail dot com

Wholefood from the ground up

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen&Unwin, at no cost. The RRP is $39.99 and it’s available 9781743365373.jpgfrom today (May 25).

Recipes I’ve tried

Potato and celery salad with celery leaf pesto

My darling isn’t a huge fan of basil pesto, as a rule, so I was curious to see how he felt about this one. It’s made with the inner celery leaves (the yellowy ones), parsley, capers, pine nuts and pecorino (I used parmesan) plus the other normal pesto bits. And the answer was that he really liked it – as did I. It’s a lot subtler than basil pesto (which I do love), but still very tasty. This recipe puts the pesto with boiled potatoes and inner celery stems. I served it with those and chicken, and ate the leftover chicken with leftover pesto the next day. Very nice.

Baked spicy cauliflower, chickpeas and fresh dates

First change: no fresh dates, so used dried ones. Anyway – cauliflower with cumin and coriander and garam masala, baked; always lovely. Cook onion and add chickpeas, then throw those on top of the cauli and add the tahini which you’ve mixed with orange juice and zest and a bit of sweet. I served this by itself but would definitely make it again to serve with other salads. Very tasty and I enjoyed the mouthfeel of cauli with tahini. I suspect this may become a favourite pairing.

Pocket pie: moroccan-spiced pumpkin, silver beet and goat’s cheese

Look, it’s fair to say that this recipe caused some anguish. This is probably largely on me, because Blereau’s recipe calls for shortcrust pastry to be made from spelt and barley flour, but the two places I tried – the supermarket (I live in a hipster and immigrant area, so it’s not that ridiculous) and a bulk-food place – did not have barley flour. So I subbed in ordinary flour. I did not do the research into whether or how barley flour deals differently with butter compared with ordinary flour. The pastry was very short and I found it very difficult to deal with. There might have been some shouting. Still, with the soothing hands of my beloved we did end up making them, and they were tasty enough; it seemed like a lot of butter, because they went very crispy. The filling was ok – roasted pumpkin with coriander, cumin, and fennel.

Split pea, fennel and winter vegetable soup

Again, neither of the places I checked had green split peas. The supermarket had a spot for them, but they were out of stock. So I used a normal soup mix. This is a very nice soup but it’s not anything out of the ordinary.

Creamy fresh corn polenta with refried black beans

I think I’ve made polenta maybe once, and that was to cut it up into squares and bake it (which was nice). This recipe recommends cooking the polenta in a fatty stock, and I realised that I had a lamb ‘stock’ in the freezer from ages ago – I think it was liquid I drained off some dish and couldn’t bear to throw. So I used that to cook the polenta, and it was delicious. The refried black beans were also really nice, with capsicum and coriander and a little too much chilli for my tastes (c/ beloved being a little heavy handed). We didn’t add the corn to this because we’re not huge fans; I didn’t think the dish suffered for its lack.

I ignored most of the section on ‘basics’, like using kefir grains in… stuff… and preparing and cooking beans, lentils, and grains.

The book itself

It’s a well presented book, as you’d expect from Allen&Unwin; it’s one of those big cookbooks, with what feels like a solid spine, and generally appetising photos throughout. Each recipe has dietary info about whether it’s dairy or gluten free, vego or vegan, and other allergy stuff. However the recipes, while nicely set out on the page, sacrifice font size in favour of white space, which makes reading from a distance something of a struggle – not great from the other side of the stove.

I have two main issues with the book. One is perhaps obvious from comments above: there are ingredients in here that were not easy for me to find. I do not know what kombucha or kefir grains are, nor where to find them. I live near the city, in a hipster area. Probably I could find these things, and I know I could find them online, but the point remains that this is not an easy, automatic book to cook from – and that’s not acknowledged anywhere, as far as I could find. Connected to this is the reality that this is not a book for the economically poor, nor the time poor. This is not necessarily a problem, if you’re buying for yourself and willing to put in the time and money, but it is something that should be acknowledged. Blereau is all in for pre-soaking beans and grains and then cooking for however long, so you need to be prepared for that if you want to follow the recipes precisely. And of course being prepared for the time it takes to make cultured cream and so on with your kefir grains.

And then there’s the wholefoods thing. I am not on the wholefoods bandwagon. I am all in favour of cooking food from scratch if you have the time, I understand some of the issues with overly processed stuff, and so on. But when I read the introduction to this book, I ended up getting out a pencil and making annotations in the margins because I got annoyed with it. For instance, there’s the suggestion that industrialisation of food in Australia started in the 1960s and 1970s, and grossly generalised statements about ‘traditional cultures’ that enjoy ‘good health and happiness’ all understanding that our physical bodies are ‘formed of and governed by the forces of nature’… whatever that means. And then there’s her suggestion that she grew up with a ‘strong, intact food culture’ and that many people today are ‘without a strong grasp of food culture.’ Maybe ‘food culture’ means something really specific that I’m not aware of, but I think that is bordering on offensive. (Do not get me started on the idea that herbicides and fungicides are ‘derivative of nerve gases left over after the early wars’ – my note in the margin says “what, Persians? Assyrians?”)

In the end, I think that this book has some interesting recipes in it, but if you’re not completely on board with wholefoods you might find it more annoying than not. That said, if you ARE into wholefoods (which is totally fine I would just rather have a more scientific discussion about it), this may well be the book for you, especially if you’re just starting out and are interested in exploring different sorts of grains and how to actually use them in meals.

It’s available from Fishpond. 

Vegetable garden

IMG_0973.JPGFirst, we bought wood, and scoped out the area where we might sacrifice some lawn to the Greater Needs of Vegetabling. That wood is 2.4m in length. It was Quite The Adventure getting it home. Let’s just say that I had to be careful where I moved my head while in the car. IMG_0974.JPG



Then came Building the Boxes. These are their final resting places but before being stuck together – we put down weed mat, of course, to prevent Evil Grass from infesting Beautiful Vegetables. Yes there’s shadow, but it should get enough sun, we think, for most of the year.

The next step was filling the boxes with dirt – a vegetable mix we got delivered. And then spent a few hours shovelling. On my beloved’s birthday. Great present, huh??

IMG_3805.JPGAnd here we have the vegetable boxes with actual plants and a watering system. The planting out involved some… false starts… well, one: I bought broad beans from Ceres, and beetroot and broccoli as well, but kind of forgot that brand new 1.5sq m of soil is likely to be quite dry. So I didn’t water them in enough. Which meant that the broad beans got totally  deaded, and I got sad. So while I was out sourdoughing, my beloved and a friend went back to Ceres… and went a little mad. Buying broad beans (good), as well as snow peas and broccoli and beetroot. Forgetting or not realising that those already exist in the garden – snow peas are sprouting in toilet roll containers As We Speak. They also didn’t think about the fact that maybe I had planted some stuff that was, like, not yet above ground? Like garlic? And that maybe I had a plan for where other things would go? The upshot is we’re going to be (hopefully) eating a rather large amount of broccoli in the coming months, and beetroot too.

Seeds I have planted in the beds: rocket and spring onions and fennel and leeks (and, in a pot, cauliflower which has maybe sprouted? Turns out I’ve forgotten which pot I put those in). None of these have sprouted yet and I’m worried that the lack of water was a problem. But now! we have an automated Very Fancy water system, c/ the beloved (as so much of this is). And, because we can, we also have hothouses. So maybe this will encourage Growth.



IMG_0977.JPGA friend of ours who’s really into permaculture came over a few weeks ago and gave us a bit of a rundown about what we could change around the place. We’ve since created a vegetable patch – more on that later – and we’ve also invested in a worm farm.

We looked at the tiered system like you can get at Bunnings; we looked at the converted wheelie bins at Ceres; in the end my darling’s research powers led us to HungryBin. It sits very neatly in a corner with the wheelie bins; it’s not especially convenient to the kitchen but it’s not like we live on a massive property so that walking out is a problem.

The neat thing about this is that the ‘worm tea’ drips onto the tray at the very bottom, while the worm castings accumulate in an easily removable tray at the bottom of the bin. Apparently. We’re not there yet. Where we are is many litres of compost, about 2000 worms (apparently; it was a kilo), and beginning to add scraps. IMG_0976.JPG

This is what it looked like when I first put stuff in. I ended up taking out the mint from on top, and I’ve realised I needed to cut things up more before putting them in.

The worms seem happy in what is now being called the Earth BnB. I’m making this assumption based on the fact that they are frequently on top of the soil when I check (which isn’t every day… promise… or at least not more than once a day. Now that I’ve had it for a little while) and that the amount of food scraps is definitely decreasing.

Amusing fact: pumpkin seeds will sprout in worm farms as well as in compost.


Sourdough Course

Once upon a time I decided that doing a sourdough course was a good idea. That was backIMG_1010.JPG in January when I saw a sign at the RedBeard Bakery in Trentham advertising their courses. I took a photo; sent it to my friend Gill; and all of a sudden I was booking us in.

Our course was this past weekend, and it started with  RedBeard’s “nice buns” and golly they were nice with a lashing of butter. There were originally nine on the plate….

Next we moved into the baking area and we got stuck IMG_1016.JPGinto actually making bread. Firstly we made a wholemeal dough, using RedBeard’s own leaven; this involved flour (1kg wholemeal, 200g rye, both stoneground) and water and salt and leaven, and then a lot of kneading. I love kneading; it’s wonderfully cathartic, and although it’s intensive I also found it lulled me with its rhythm. It looked like this, eventually. Very appealing, I think you’ll agree. It was way wetter than any of us (eight people on the day) had expected, which John – head baker and owner and teacher – stressed was incredibly important in creating a good sourdough.

IMG_1013.JPGThen it had to rest for a while, so then we had a go at IMG_1012.JPGmaking a white sourdough with a dough that had been started a few hours beforehand by John’s sidekick. When John poured it out of the bucket, it reminded me of nothing else so much as the magic mud of my childhood (it’s all in the meniscus). With that dough we shaped cobs, using these awesome baskets that RedBeard has been using for however many years, and we made Vienna loaves, using their Belgian linen to make sure that the bread didn’t stick and stayed in shape.

These also had to wait for a while, before baking; IMG_1015.JPGI think we then had lunch. To be honest, it all blurred together a bit – the order of things, that is – because it was a long day (10am to about 5pm). But I remember lunch very clearly, because it was amazing. There was bread, of course, with lashings of butter; and smashed roast potatoes and garlic; and a great salad with sprouts and lettuce and tomato and seeds; and a truly incredible free-form tart involving leek, goat’s cheese, roast capsicum, and other bits of deliciousness. The whole day was great but lunch was a really delightful moment of sitting down and appreciating food.

After lunch we shaped the wholemeal into three loaf tins. We also got to make our own leaven: potato peel, and rye flour, and water. That’s it. So now I have a leaven that I need to feed ‘for the rest of my natural life…’ – or if I’m going away I either need to phone a friend, or just accept that it’s deaded and I have to make another one. Happily, it only takes about three weeks for a leaven to be ready to use. Given IMG_1018.JPGour household doesn’t eat THAT much bread, that’s not so bad.

Eventually it was time to cook the loaves, and that involved the most intimidating part of the day: using paddles and putting the bread into the very large, very hot oven. I didn’t die. No one died. When all of the bread was out, it looked like this. Yes, all of that that bread was shared between eight participants (and John took some too, actually). I came home with seven loaves. I made a lot of people at work quite happy when I gave it to them. (I did, rather guiltily, put a couple of the cobs into the freezer – John said we shouldn’t but I wanted to see what it was like for myself.)

The day wasn’t just about making and cooking bread. John was a wealth of information about the history of the bakery itself and sourdough in general. He’s very dismissive of ordinary yeast bread, rather than fully fermented sourdough, which made me a little dismissive because I do love making ‘normal’ yeast bread. It will be interesting to see whether I give it up in favour of the sourdough completely….

When I got home, we had leftover salad and bread.IMG_1019.JPGI now have a list of things I think I need – at least some sort of basket for shaping the cob, because there’s just something about a cob that appeals more than the high tin, for me. I also need to put bricks into the bottom of the oven, in order to increase its thermal mass; this is apparently a good idea for any oven, since it keeps the heat in rather than letting it all whoosh out when you open the order. Happily my darling doesn’t seem to mind the idea.

Edited to add: this is what my leaven looked like when I fed it for the first time, two days later…IMG_3807.JPG

Sure hoping that’s ok!


Candied orange peel

Take some orange peel. Bring it to the boil a couple of times to soften them and lose some IMG_0983.JPGof the bitterness. Then let them simmer in a heavy sugar syrup (1:1) for about an hour. Allow to drip for a day… or more… then roll in sugar and stuff into jars.

This is courtesy of Stephanie Alexander; the recipe is actually for candied lemon peel, which I’ve also made and is delicious. You can eat it by itself – Stephanie says a piece with a post-dinner coffee is delightful – or put it on things: I put a piece on top of some IMG_1021.JPGgingernuts before baking and that was a winner. Not sure where these will end up, as yet, but I anticipate they’ll keep pretty well.

Later: well, unfortunately some orange peel kept well, and some did not. Given that IMG_1020.JPGthis is the same batch of orange peel I can only assume that I did not sterilise this jar as well as I should. Which is a really shame, since I think they were going to be very tasty.

Le sigh.

Coconut cupcakes

IMG_0984.JPGMore birthday cupcakes! I’d been eyeing these off for a while but the ingredient ‘creamed coconut’ put me off because I had no idea what it was. I finally googled it and it’s just coconut butter/ oil – which I have, so that was easy. Interestingly, although they have both coconut butter and desiccated coconut, they ended up tasting more lime-y than coconut-y to me. They have lime zest in them, and I had a nicely sized kaffir lime on the tree so I used that. I’m not complaining about the taste – in fact I thought they were quite lovely (yes I make more than I give. Of course). I’ll be making these again – when I have limes to use, anyway.