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There is an old Chinese curse…”May you live in interesting times”. (Actually, it’s apocryphal, but an apt way to start this post.)

The second half of April was indeed an interesting time. My poor mum fell and broke her wrist, requiring surgery on the same day that Small Man started his HSC mid-year exams. Which coincidentally happened to be the same day the huge Sydney storm hit (it lasted three days). The weather dropped fifteen degrees overnight and our gas heater died, joining the long list of breakages we’ve had in the last six months – the dishwasher, oven, airconditioner, microwave, alarm and our entire computer system have all needed repair or replacement.

Later that same week, we had a massive hailstorm (be warned, the video below is very loud). The hail obstructed all the gutters and drains on the roof, causing the skylight in the kitchen to leak like a sieve. The garden was completely shredded, but the chickens were fine. While we were trying to sort out the kitchen, water came in through the bedroom ceiling and soaked our bed.

It was a very interesting week.

. . . . .

Maintaining routine seems to be the only sensible option at times like these.

I continued to bake – I find it very therapeutic – and our overnight sourdough loaves are perfect when things are chaotic. Because they involve so little hands-on effort and prove on the bench while everyone is asleep, they’re easy to fit into our routine, regardless of whatever else is happening. I baked these two loaves to trade with Andy the dishwasher repairman in exchange for a new seal on the powder dispenser. I gave him one loaf for the rubber seal, and one for being kind enough to deliver it to us…

. . . . .

Fulfilling a promise I’d made the week before, I bought Grace a $10 pink wig. She refers to it as her mermaid hair. If you ever need to buy a hairpiece, I ordered this one online from The Wig Outlet and found them most efficient to deal with…

. . . . .

On ANZAC Day, after clambering onto the kitchen roof to scrape off hail and positioning buckets under the skylight and hairdryering the bed, we needed a simple dinner. God bless Tanya and her easy Spanish recipes – chorizo tapas and vegetarian arroz caldoso, accompanied by garlic and cheese bread – were quick to make and perfect comfort food for a cold, wet evening…

 

. . . . .

Over dinner, I raised the question of whether or not to cancel a $5 a month data plan on my phone. We’d put it in place when we were last away, but it hadn’t been used much in recent months. I pointed out that $5 was basically a takeaway coffee and it was good to have it there if we needed it.

Then Small Man said, “Mum, that’s $60 a year.”

Big Boy added…”That’s two dinners from the charcoal chicken place…”

Small Man.. “or a dozen games at the next Steam sale…”

Big Boy…”or eighty coffee pods…”

I can’t tell you how happy that conversation made me. It was reassuring to know that they’ve listened and absorbed the conversations we’ve had over the years about living within our means. Our sons never take anything for granted. I honestly couldn’t be any prouder of them. Needless to say, I’ve cancelled the data plan.

And you know, that three minute conversation was all it took to make everything right again. To readjust my brain and see the day as exciting rather than arduous, to give thanks for warm food shared with a loving family, to sit back and hold Pete’s hand and watch our sons animatedly converse over dinner as they always do.

. . . . .

Even during the most interesting of times, life is always grand!

In my kitchen…

…is an amazing bottle of limited edition vintage Dom Perignon 2004, a gift from our dear friend PeteA…

In my kitchen…

…is the only trombie to survive the massive hailstorm we had last week. The rest of the garden was shredded (more on that in the next post)…

In my kitchen…

…is Sarawak pepper, a gift from my cousin Lynette. I use both the black and white varieties…

In my kitchen…

…is Australian made Massel stock powders. Despite the chicken and beef labels, these are all vegetable based. Fran put me on to them last month. The vegetable stock is deliciously sweet and not overly salty…

In my kitchen…

…is a Laguiole cheese knife set from our neighbour El…

I love how each piece has the signature bee emblem built into it…

In my kitchen…

…are new season chestnuts. I’ve been roasting them and then stashing them in the freezer for future meals

In my kitchen…

…is another green chicken curry, this time using our trombie in place of eggplant. I cooked it in our small cazuela…

In my kitchen…

…is a silicone rolling pin, a gift from lovely Lorraine, and a new bread book. It’s rare for me to pick up a paper cookbook these days, but this one wasn’t available in e-book format…

I bought it specifically to try the French baguette recipe. Here’s my first attempt – it’s not perfect, but it wasn’t bad…


In my kitchen…

…is another batch of Pete’s magic praline, this time studded with roasted blanched hazelnuts. It’s very dark but not bitter. Pete now makes his caramel in the copper pot using just sugar (without adding any water)…

. . . . .

Tell me, what’s happening in your kitchen this month?

If you’d like to do an In My Kitchen post on your own blog, please feel free  to do so. We’d love to see what’s happening in your kitchen this month!  Please link back to this blog, and let us know when your post is up, and we’ll add it to our monthly listing. Please upload your post by the 10th of each month.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of baking this month!

For Easter, I baked eight dozen hot cross buns – two dozen yeasted and the rest sourdough (not including the batch I made for Dan). They were hoovered up, mostly by Small Man, who over the course of the Easter break ate 23 in total. In the photo below, half were coated in a milk glaze (for Small Man), the rest in crabapple jelly (for Pete). They do get fussy here…

. . . . .

Small Man is studying for exams, so he’s ravenously hungry all the time. I was feeling lazy and he was starving, so I baked a batch of our man’oushe fougasse (they’re very easy to make). Small Man loves za’atar and he ate two of the fougasse for morning tea…

. . . . .

On Saturday, I mixed up two batches of sourdough – a high hydration (90%) dough, and a white sandwich one. I’m always amazed that two formulas with such similar ingredients can produce such different results. I wrote a bit about dough hydration here (point 6)…

The high hydration dough was seriously soupy and fiddly to work. It needed numerous folds over the course of the day to build structure. But it was worth the effort, because the finished loaves offered a thin crispy crust and a very tender, elastic crumb…

This isn’t the bread I make most of the time, because it doesn’t suit our routine very well – it needs to prove during the day (so I can look after it), which means baking quite late in the afternoon. Usually I make the overnight sourdough recipe because it’s so easy, and I can shape and bake it in the morning, giving us fresh loaves for the day.

Having said that though, these high hydration loaves, with their open, delicious crumb, are definitely the family favourite…

By contrast, the sandwich loaf was classically shaped with a tight, but still tender, crumb. It sliced and toasted brilliantly. I baked the Romertöpf version this time – it made a nice change not having to preheat the oven…

. . . . .

Inspired by an email from my friend Sally, I tried the black pepper and Parmesan loaf from the Josey Baker Bread book. I followed the instructions fairly closely, but I cut the salt down by a third, and only proved the shaped dough at the end for an hour rather than two to three. I find Priscilla never needs such a long second rise…

Even with the reduced salt, the loaf was still very strongly flavoured. It was also the most artisan-looking loaf I’ve baked to date, with a dark burnished crust and an elastic, open crumb…

. . . . .

My cousins Kathryn and Lynette were in town last weekend, and we ended up having an impromptu dinner at our house. With nothing planned, we rummaged through the fridge and freezer to pull something together. The freshly baked loaves were a huge hit, and we accompanied them with tapas-style chorizos, smoked trout with homemade lime mayo and assorted antipasto, edamame beans (not in the photo) and a slice of the fondue cheese log. It was a wonderful night of catching up and nibbling!

. . . . .

Any exciting bread being baked at your house at the moment?

Grace Young describes this dish as “restorative food”.

The recipe is included in her wonderful book The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. It’s been on my bookshelf for years and I love it so much that I’ve recently bought a Kindle copy (thanks Carol!), just so I can take it with me when I’m out and about…

. . . . .

I’ve followed Grace’s instructions fairly closely – the only major changes being the use of eye fillet instead of flank steak, omitting the bicarb soda, and the substitution of Basmati rice for the more common Chinese long grain varieties. I also increased the sauce quantities by just a tiny bit, as my first attempt (above) was a touch too dry.

  • 250g beef eye fillet
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and finely shredded ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Shao Hsing rice wine
  • 2 teaspoons (light) soy sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • good pinch of ground white pepper
  • 1½ tablespoons (6 teaspoons) oyster sauce
  • 3 tablespoons water (60ml) for sauce
  • 200g Basmati rice (about 1 cup)
  • 440ml water for cooking rice
  • light olive oil
  • 2 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped

1. Wash the Basmati rice in three changes of water. Place the rice into a large bowl, cover with water and allow to soak for 30 minutes. After soaking, drain the rice well and add it to a microwave proof container. Add 440ml water and cover with a lid. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, then on half power for 18 minutes. I have a 1000 watt microwave.

Note: use any rice you like and cook it in any way that you’re familiar with – in a rice cooker or on the stove should work equally as well.

2. Slice the beef finely, making sure to cut against the grain for maximum tenderness. Peel and finely julienne the ginger (I like to add quite a lot)…

 3. In a small bowl, combine the beef, ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, cornflour, sesame oil and pepper. Stir to combine. In a separate bowl, stir the oyster sauce with the 3 tablespoons of water.

4. A few minutes before the rice is cooked, stir two teaspoons of oil into the beef mixture. Heat up a frying pan and add a tablespoon of oil. Add the beef carefully, spreading it out into a single layer as much as possible. Allow to sit for a minute, then stir fry for an additional 30 seconds until the beef is brown, but still a bit rare. Stir in the oyster sauce and chopped spring onions…

5. Arrange over the hot rice. Replace the cover and heat in the microwave for a further minute or so, but be careful not to overcook or toughen the beef…

All three of my men loved this dish. Big Boy specifically asked for the recipe so that he could add it to his repertoire of easy to make dinners!

A few bits and pieces from the past couple of weeks…

I was tempted to write a post on this chocolate bar, until I realised that the first instruction would be “get Pete to make a batch of his special caramel”. I roasted almond slivers until deep golden, then Pete used his magic copper pot to make a very dark, almost-but-not-quite burnt, caramel. The nuts were stirred in, then spread onto a greased tray. Once cool, the praline was crushed and added to a tempered batch of dark chocolate (63% cacao). It’s quickly become a friends and family favourite…

. . . . .

We’re now down to four hens, having lost Mrs Gronkle a couple of weeks ago – she was laying thin-shelled eggs and we now suspect one might have cracked inside her. It’s a very common problem (dodgy shell gland) in ISA Browns. The remaining chooks are still in fine form, but they were quite nasty to Mrs G near the end – apparently chooks will detect any weakness and attack it. I’ve renamed them the Bitches of Eastwick…

. . . . .

I slow roasted a shoulder of lamb – with sides, this 1.5kg cut ($18) is enough meat to feed the four of us comfortably. It takes about five hours (including resting time) from start to finish. When it’s done, the bones pull out cleanly, and the meat is easily shredded with a fork. Pete has announced that this is how all lamb should be “carved” from now on…

. . . . .

I’ve now received three arrangements this year from FreshFlowers. Every single one has been superb – this latest box was a gift from my sister…

I pulled the flowers out of the box and popped them into the clay jug that Nick and Mary brought back from Greece for me over a decade ago…

Apparently these tiny lime-green button chrysanthemums are this year’s trendiest cut flower – they last for ages…

 . . . . .

Remember my young friend (formerly Baby) Grace? She and I have an understanding. I adore her completely, and she doesn’t bother trying to boss me around because she’s figured out it doesn’t work. During the school holidays, she refused to go to the Sydney Aquarium unless she was allowed to wear her hammerhead shark costume…

See why I’m so fond of her?

. . . . .

Life has been getting in the way of blogging this month! Hope you’re all well! ♥

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