Friday, April 29, 2011

Home-grown and Marinated Olives

The olives we were soaking in brine are finally ready! Wow, it took a long time, sorry about that. It was worth it though because now we have four fully-stocked jars sitting on our pantry shelves, marinating in rosemary, thyme, fennel, lemon and garlic. It sounds like a lot of flavours doesn't it, but I think the more the merrier when it comes to olives. It's also lucky that I have turned into a great big jar hoarder lately, because they were all put to good use today, and at least i'm not hoarding cats, right?

If you have olive trees in your garden, or on your farm or wherever you live, give this a try. We spent year after year sweeping up the squashed, soft olives from our tiles at the end of every Autumn and threw them in the rubbish. Every season we said we would brine them but just never got around to it. From now on it's going to be a yearly tradition, just like the Italians spend a day making tomato passata, storing it in jars to last the year, we're going to do the same with our olives. Well I hope we do anyway. 

The recipe seems a little long and arduous, and yes, it does take a while, but if you have the olives already growing in your backyard, then make the most of them. The matter of rinsing them really isn't that hard. You might even find yourself starting to like it!

Marinated Olives
an original recipe

Recipe makes 1kg of olives, you will need to begin this recipe approx 6 weeks ahead if you are using unbrined olives straight from the tree. If you like, buy unmarinated olives from a deli and just marinate them yourself instead.  
1kg fresh, unbrined olives
1kg sea salt(you can use table salt too, but sea salt is better for you and has a brighter flavour)
3 large sprigs each of fresh thyme and rosemary
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
juice of 1 small lemon
thin strips of lemon rind from 1 lemon
olive oil

Pick 1kg of olives (or however many you have, adjust the recipe accordingly) off the tree when they are large and have turned black (taste one if you dare, it's not very nice but you will get a better understanding of how they are meant to taste when they are ready to eat). In Australia the best time to pick them is around the beginning of March

Fill a large Tupperware or plastic container up halfway with cold tap water. Add 1/2 a cup of salt to the water and stir until it has all dissolved. Add the olives and if needed, add more water until the olives are just covered (they will float a bit, don't worry about that). Place the lid on top of the container and store in a cool, dark place. Every 2-3 days for about 4-6 weeks, drain and rinse the olives in a colander and prepare a fresh brine bath using the same method as above. After 4-6 weeks, feel the olives, they should have begun to soften. The olives are ready when they are quite soft, and a little spongy, like a regular olive from the shops feels. Taste one, it should taste quite salty. 

When you think that the olives are ready, rinse and drain them as per usual, and fill the container up with fresh water, do not add salt this time. Leave for 1-2 days. Rinse and drain the olives and pour them into a large mixing bowl. Add the thyme, rosemary, fennel seeds, garlic, lemon juice and rind and 3/4 cup olive oil. Stir until all the olives are coated in the marinade.

Fill approximately four sterilized jars with the olives, making sure that there is a balanced spread of marinade ingredients in each jar. Add an extra 1/4 cup of olive oil to each jar, tightly screw on the lid and gently shake as to evenly distribute the oil and marinade.

Store in a cool, dark place (like a pantry) until ready to use, I would recommend marinating them for at least a week before serving, so the flavours have time to infuse.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter-Egg Porridge

We hauled our tents, tarps, tea and things down the south coast for a three-day camping extravaganza over the Easter long weekend. A friend had hunted down pretty much the best free camping place in all of NSW. Amongst the trees, right next to the beach, away from (nearly) everyone, it was pretty perfect.

Not counting the four or so music festivals in the years since school, I hadn't exactly spent much time in The Great Outdoors, you know, amongst The Great Unwashed, since Timbertop in grade nine of highschool. That year, we spent 60 nights camping. We fried up hunks of spicy salami (we called it donga, sounds appealing, I know) on our tiny little camp stoves, a slice of cheese bubbling on top. We used to butter sheets of Mountain Bread, spoon mounds of sugar onto the butter, fold the whole thing up into a neat little parcel, then fry the package in a pat of butter until the sugar melted into a toffee. Not many veggies in sight I'm afraid. That's what you get when you give 14-year-olds the responsibility of cooking for themselves. 

This time around, things were a little different culinary-wise. In between dips in the ocean and attempts to surf the mini waves, we cooked up batches of a ridiculously delicious Easter-egg porridge, a dish thought up by Amy and Co. while brainstorming ways to sweeten their oats with no brown sugar or honey within close reach. 

It poured down in the middle of our Easter Sunday fishing session, just after I had caught (and thrown back) a fish with poisonous spines. We ran back up the dunes to the camp site, peeled off our soggy t-shirts and pulled on our woolen jumpers that had been smoked to high heaven the night before while drinking too much fireside red wine. We huddled under the tarp and ate triple ginger cake with honey and lemon icing and drank milky billy tea. Pasta with tuna, chili, sun-dried tomato and olive sauce was stirred and tossed on the little camp stove, and we huddled around talking nonsense into the night and shrieking at the rogue possums attempting to nibble at our cheese and leftover steaks.

Easter-Egg Porridge: for Camping Trips or Otherwise

Serves 2

1 cup quick oats
1 1/2 - 2 cups milk
a pinch of sea salt
4 milk chocolate Easter eggs

Combine oats and milk in a medium pot over a grate on the campfire (or on the stove at home). Stir constantly with a wooden spoon for 5-10 minutes until oats thicken and the porridge coats the back of a spoon. If the oats start to stick to the bottom, remove the pot from the fire, or turn the heat down to low on the stove, and continue stirring continuously. Once the oats are ready, add the salt and Easter eggs and stir slowly so the chocolate melts into the porridge. Serve with a drizzle of milk and eat immediately, accompany with billy tea.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fresh Pita Bread

A few of us have this funny little TV-dinner club going on every Wednesday. We all crash out on the couch at one of our houses, kick of our work shoes and critique the hell out of the people inside the box. There have been hearty stews involved and a glossy chocolate golden syrup sauce in attendance too (I'm so lucky to have lady-friends that know the way to my heart!).

TV = Farmer Wants a Wife, and dinner = lamb wrapped in pita, a simple yet remarkable meal to snack on in between debating whether or not "sensitive farmer Mark" is not just sensitive, but actually gay. If you're looking for a TV show to sit in front of and blindly judge judge judge this is the one for you, your face will cringe, crease and crinkle in the most delightful way, it's just about as addictive as this bread.

I didn't have a photo of the pita bread post-BBQ, or even pre-BBQ, but I do have a photo of me cooking it! Which I thought was more interesting anyway. As for the pose, I think I was in the middle of shaking my butt at my sister when this was taken, thus it looks a little helter-skelter but I happen to like helter-skelter so I'm ok with it.

Pita bread fresh off the BBQ is something you all must experience. Sprinkled with a good shower of sea salt, still warm, soft and a little smokey, it is so much better than the supermarket kind so dry it sticks to your palate for far too long. If you don't have a BBQ, you could just use a grill pan, you could even bake it with a smear of smashed garlic and some parsley. You can dip it in hummus, you can wrap it around a juicy piece of lamb or you can eat it as "straight" as farmer Mark.

 Fresh Pita Bread
Recipe from Good Weekend Magazine, July 3 2010

Makes 12 pieces

1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
460g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl and leave in a warm spot for about 20 minutes or until the mixture foams.

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt, then make a well in the centre. Add the olive oil and the yeast mix, and combine. Work the dough until it comes together, then turn out onto a lightly floured bench and knead for a few minutes until it becomes silky and smooth. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a tea towel and leave it to prove for 15-20 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the barbecue to medium (or heat a non-stick pan over medium heat). Divide the dough into 12 and roil each piece into a flat, thin, even disk about 16cm in diameter.Stack the bread in between layers of baking paper, so they don't stick together.

Brush a flat bread with olive oil and place it, oil side down, on the bars of the barbecue, gently brush a little oil on top as well. In seconds, the bread will start to puff. After 20-25 seconds, flip it over and cook for 20 seconds more. Do not cook for too long or the bread will dry out and become crisp. Repeat with the remaining discs. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Stack the cooked breads and wrap them tightly in a clean tea towel or aluminum foil to keep warm.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Birds of a Feather

I just bought this watercolour from here with birthday money from my Grandpa.
Isn't it pretty? I can't wait for it to arrive! 
I have the perfect place for it too. Soon enough i'm going to run out of wall space.

Monday, April 4, 2011

121BC Cantina and Enoteca, Surry Hills - Sydney

There isn’t a lot of space at 121BC for lollygagging, you’re here for the business of serious sipping, and with only about 25 seats in the whole place you had better drop what you're doing and sprint over there. There is a simple and foolproof method to the titillating madness of Vini’s new love child, located as far as a well-arced wine spit down a laneway off Holt St in Surry Hills. The narrow bottle shop attached to the bar is the obvious starting gate. There’s a choice between Italian wine… and Italian wine. Lucky for you Italian wine is where it’s at, and here it’s cheap, too. A bottle of Primitivo for a staggeringly cheap $21 is our suggestion, the $15 corkage fee is a pretty great deal these days, although there are a heap of wines offered by the glass written up on the blackboard. Take your chosen bottle with you and perch yourself at the solid and central bar where Giorgio, 121BC’s legit Italian maestro, will point you in the direction of tasty morsels that such terrific wines demand. Chargrilled mortadella sausage with onions was a standout, and there’s no skipping over the ribs balsamic or the soft roasted olives. If wine ain’t your thang then reach for classic Italian aperitifs, aperol and campari and pretend you’re in Rome somewhere and are totally down with the lingo, prego!

121BC Cantina and Enoteca
Gladstone st, (off Holt St) Surry Hills, Sydney.