February Tuesday night cook book club with Hetty McKinnon

February is usually the hottest month of the year in Australia so a perfect time to being out the salads and what better way than to comb through Hetty McKinnon’ s three recipe books to find inspiration.

I first heard about Hetty when I was following one of my favourite bloggers  Lorraine Elliott with her notquitenigella daily blog about food related stories.  Lorraine mentioned meeting a woman in the centre of Sydney who started delivering freshly made and healthy salads by bicycle.  Professionals who worked from home who wanted a delicious meal with having to spend time and effort leaving their office. years or so on and we find Hetty, her husband and three children relocated to Brooklyn in New York city and the author of three wonderful cookbooks ‘Family’ ‘Neighbourghood’ and ‘ Community ‘.  Though I am not sure in which order they were released though I do know ‘ Community’  has just been rereleased with stories and interviews with some of her long term followers.

These vegetarian salad recipes are stand alone meals and not something to accompany a barbeque or lamb roast.  So what did we have?

I made a salad with frozen peas, roasted baby potatoes and boiled eggs all bought together with a fabulous chimichirri and because I love roasted cauliflower made one with lemon, pine nuts, parsley all bought together with a whipped feta and  lemon dressing.

Roasted eggplant with sofrito, chickpeas and almonds was a favourite and my friend who travels from out of town with her delicious roast pumpkin with chick peas and pepitas.  I know the dessert wasn’t in any of Hetty’s books but everyone made salads so I quickly made a buttermilk panacotta with a fresh fig compote.

I was interested to read that Hetty has a formula in which to make your own salad which covers the necessary components to make it  substantial that I thought I would share with you. To start choose one or two vegetables and team with a hearty legume or grain (and not be afraid to use a can of lentils, chickpeas or butter beans).  Add some leaves for greenery (I notice she used spinach and kale often)  then herbs for freshness and nuts and seeds for freshness.  The crucial elements is the salad dressing and Hetty uses yoghourt, lemon, ricotta,  olive oil, garlic, capers, & feta plus salt and pepper of course.  And always a fried egg on top of a leftover salad is a fabulous idea (and one I use often!)  Don’t be afraid to roast vegetables to bring out flavour.  I personally love roasting pumpkin, carrots, beetroot, fennel, eggplant…..enjoy!

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Rosa’s Farm….Tuesdaynightcookbookclub for March with Rosa Mitchell

At The Books at the Brewery before Christmas a year or so ago we had the pleasure of meeting local residents who were involved in the food industry.  One of these guests was Rosa Mitchell.  Rosa has a farm near Yandoit in which she and her husband produce much of her vegetables at her Melbourne based restaurant ‘Rosa’s Canteen’

Although Rosa was born in Sicily she has spent most of her life in Australia but her roots are firmly from her homeland and each year she takes a group of foodie types for a tour to get a sense of her early life.  In fact when I visited her restaurant with a friend I was disappointed that Rosa was leading one such tour.  However her staff did not disappoint with her food.  Generous portions of freshly made pasta was followed by a sublime lemon tart.  Wine was served by the glass and the service professional but helpful.

20200310_183046So it was no surprise that I chose one of the two cookbooks that Rosa has written for our Tuesday night cook book club. One of my friends has her other cook book so we were spoilt for choice.  And it was a difficult choice as you wanted to cook so many of her recipes with ingredients unfamiliar to me.  Things like wild fennel and nettles and farro and hare.  But I ended up choosing for a barley salad.  I like barley but had never cooked it and it made a simple salad with fresh tomatoes,  red onion and a dressing.  Not happy with just a salad of course I could not help myself and a made a chocolate, pear and pistachio cake.  Then I saw the fig and fennel biscuits.  Whoever thought of such a combination.  Very popular!  Other favourites were fennel fritters and a ricotta and fig tart.  Another successful evening with great company and delicious.  A glass of masala went well with those 20200310_18501120200310_19044820200310_18430820200310_19053920200310_190513desserts too.

Next month….will we even be getting together at all.  We all hope so and I have suggested recipes from Diana Henry ‘Plenty and ‘ Simple’ which are two of her books though a friend has several others.  Maybe we won’t have a book club after all or if we will it make with what you can make with a can of chickpeas or lentils, or a packetof frozen peas or from your late summer garden.  Challenges regardless are in store.

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Wild about ‘Wild’!

 

When I heard about another eatery opening in my adopted home town I thought…’oh no!’  We don’t need another cafe in town with places opening and closing regularly.  Not to mention eateries looking deserted.  I actually find it hard to enter a place which is open but empty!  Do you?

But then I heard about ‘Wild’!  It was to open in what was once a one hatted venue which was the former fire station!  It opened not long before Christmas with no fanfare or advertising and yet it was drawing crowds and even better for them repeat customers.

20200207_210159With family visiting for Christmas it was a lovely introduction.  Shared plates, great local wines and professional service.  My son announced his margarita was the best ever and the rest of us were happy with our local Harcourt rose.  We shared eggplant croquettes, a roasted cauliflower dish, a bean and fish dish and the roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic were perfect.  Dessert was a buttermilk pudding and a liquorice sauce and poached peach.  I had to try the liquorice sauce which was sensational.  I just wanted more.  Some crispy ricotta donuts with a lemon curd went down well.

Next visit was on New Year’s Eve which is a night I usually prefer to be in bed after the early fireworks but friends were keen to try this new place in town and a perfect venue for some celebratory drinks and food.  I always do worry slightly when I talk up a place to friends and find they are disappointed so it was a relief they were happy with my recommendation.

A charity dinner with matching wines with funds going to CFA and Wildlife after the recent bushfires in Victoria was another example of dining as I like it.  Wines donated for a silent auction added to the funds and a wonderful menu was exciting.  Some new dishes I hadn’t tried before were equally delicious.

An excuse to celebrate a friends birthday and I was back.  Her first visit and my fourth. She was happy to let me order though we both wanted to share an exquisite chocolate and fig tart.  Please keep this on the menu!

I am actually one of the nerdy sweet tooth people who checks out the dessert menu before I order anything else and sometimes wonder if customers order dessert and follow it with something savoury!   No …always savoury and then sweet!  Like at a High Tea!

20200227_194823Recent favourable media reviews have only made Wild another popular food establishment in Castlemaine and we are very delighted! And on that note will leave younwith this slice of the action.

 

 

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Welcome 2020

Many of us are pleased to be seeing the last of 2019 but I have to admit that there have been some wonderful memories and highlights during the year.

Apart from starting my Tuesdaynightcookbookclub I managed some exciting food trips in May to Greece, Turkey and Portugal and later in the year a trip to Russia, Georgia and Armenia.  What did I enjoy the most?  Friends  and family quizzed me.   I can say I loved visiting Greece after too long an absence and before the summer crowds was ideal.   It looked just like the photos you see in a travel brochure.  Having a guide on a food trip who is a chef is a bonus and especially when you have to opportunity to share food at their family restaurant.

The food in St Petersburg wasn’t a highlight but the architecture was.  It finally was real and almost takes your breath away…such opulence and grandeur and history was a standout of our Russian trip.  The food …well the food!  It was not all bortch and dark bread and vodka!  The honey cake was outstanding (I am yet to replicate it at home for fear I will eat all of it) and some wonderful savoury pies, delicious mushroom soup and potato pancakes, crepes with condensed milk.  But it was in St Petersburg I discovered some Georgian restaurants.  Words like kaphapuri and pellini now slip off the tongue like vegemite does.  Some deliciousness!

But what of the New Year!  Resolutions?  I always make them and always break them so this year no more diets or being tidier or more exercise.   This year I have challenged myself to read fifty books!  Almost one a week which is a tall ask but may get me off social media more.  Then for every cook book I buy I donate one to our Farmers Market library. And I plan to try a new recipe every week and a new restaurant every month or maybe a new market!  That is a start as I want to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

Travelling back to Russia will do that with two long (23 hour)  rail journeys from Moscow east.  Arriving in Kazakhstan and flying onto Uzbekistan for a tour there will help that push to find myself out there in less comfort and more challenges. A food trip to Turkey will complete the journey.

But before that a family wedding in the South of France with my eldest son marrying his long time girlfriend.  They have opted for a small family wedding and we are excited to be spending a week in a gorgeous villa close to food markets, galleries and wineries.  I am following this with a food trip from Venice to Naples. Tough I know but I promise to post pictures and blog about the food.

But January is over…how did that happen?  Reading a few of the fifty books I promised myself (cook books not included here….I only browse them and google recipes), watch a lot of tennis from my air conditioned living room.  I tried new recipes and ingredients….lavender, pink peppercorns and my love affair with polenta continues…..And mostly vegetarian.  An accidental vegetarisn!  But not a vegan with my love of cheese and eggs!

20200131_141255It is important to make the most of every day, surround yourself with positive, supportive people who make you laugh, get rid of negativeness  in your life .Life is too short to put up with that crap!   Smile and get a dog!  Walking my gorgeous rescue and retired greyhound is the best part of my day.  SusieQ or her racing name Stealthy Blonde!  My best friend!

 

Happy New Year….even though it is now February! Just!

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A Silent Auction and welcome to 2020 Tuesdaynightcookbook club.

The bush fires seemed  to be burning out of control across the  length and breadth of a hot dry windy summer in our country.   I found I could not watch the heartbreaking daily news updates with further news of families losing their homes, pets and animals. Donations from all over the world came in millions of dollars for wildlife rescue and firefighters.  One felt one had to do something to help.  Donate to a charity!  Which one?  Will the money actually get to where it is meant to go and not be gobbled up in administration charges or something more sinister.  Donating clean but well used towels to animal welfare didn’t cut it.  That was when I came up with the idea of a silent auction with our first Tuesdaynightcookbookclub of the year.

Make a donation or something with a food orientation product I suggested.  We had wine, cookbooks, a sour dough starter, home made limencello, art products, chocolates and mixing bowls.  Invitations were issued to friends of the group and we had a lovely evening raising $500 as well as enjoying our finger food and dessert.  This will go towards the CWA however and to drought affected areas.

First up some of the finger food.  A tart with gruyera, silverbeet and onion tart with the best pastry ever (read butter and sour cream), san choy bau with marinated tofu, zucchini bread with pickles and marinated feta, avocado with crabmeat and lime, polenta with a eggplant, basil and tomato and of couse sausage rolls.

Dessert included a fig, pistachio and yoghourt cake, some old style individual pavlova with lemon curd, cream and fresh rasberries.  A ginger biscuit.  And again some home school rum balls and a marshmallow slice…both with the secret ingredient of wheatbix.

If you are wanting a gift to friends overseas about Australian ‘ real ‘ food or even a gift to yourself I really recommend this book (Farmer Recipes and Stories from the Land) please consider this.  The recipes are wonderful and homely and the articles about people on the land and the photographs are stunning.  And proceeds go towards the CWA (Country Women’s Association)  and sent towards the farming families suffering from drought.

Another recipe from this book were the Corn and Zucchini fritters which I didn’t make for our dinner but made for a family birthday a week later.  Since I have posted it on Instagram friends from everywhere have requested the recipe.  So good!  I  added some tomato, cucumber, pickled red onion and avocado with feta (not shown)20200126_112859

Next month February and perhaps out hottest month with no foreseeable rain, our attention will  be vegetarian salads and of course dessert from any of the three Hetty McKinnon recipe books ‘ Neighbourhood, ‘ ‘Family,’ and a recently revised ‘Community.’  Formerly from Surry Hills in Sydney (my home town) she delivered salads from her bicycle locally.  She now lives in Brooklyn NYC with her husband and three children and still making great salads.

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A year in review- Tuesday night cook book club 2019

20200104_125754Last year I started a cookbook club.  I think the name came to me as I wanted to find like-minded food obsessed people who loved food and cooking as much as I did.

Tuesday night seemed like a good night as there was not a lot happening in town that night.  Living in a small country town which attracted city visitors for long weekends made sense.

Keeping it simple was my mantra and ironically  ‘ Simple’  the sellout cook book from Yothan Ottolenghi was my choice to start.  If you didn’t already have a copy borrowing from the local library or friends was easy enough and the recipes were not too challenging and they were delicious!  Some of the ingredients were new to us but with some research one could locate ‘ burrata’ and ‘rose harissa’

Six to eight seemed a good number and one prepared one dish to share with the guests.   I did a little research here a few days before would call and check to see what people were bringing so there were four tomato dishes or three desserts. And looking back on the year every meal came together very well.

I liked to have the table set in advance and provide chilled water and suggested that the group bring a bottle of what they would like to accompany the food.  Come at 6.45 for 7 pm start and aim to wind up @ 9pm (though often it would be later).

A few left and new ones joined but I was happy to accommodate six (limited dining table) most evenings but it was a fun and entertaining evening.  Choosing a recipe from a particular cook book often pushed one outside of one’s comfort zone but several months the cook/chef had released not just one but several books with a common cuisine so sharing cook books had been fairly easy….and there is always the internet for additional browsing.

One of the group fondly called it ‘ the best restaurant in town’!  Thinking back I feel two of the most interesting meals were our first and last for the year.  The first was exciting and new and was it going to work curiousity….especially with new ingredients (mentioned earlier).  And our last was the most challenging as it was Russian food as i had just returned from a food trip there.   Russian cookbooks …written in English…were not so easy to find (but we did) and it was we agreed the better food than we had in Russia! Perhaps it was enhanced by two of my fellow travellers on that trip who made the journey for the meal made it more special.  I have blogged about this meal and the others in earlier stories.

What is ahead for the New Year?  Firstly we are doing a CWA evening which will be a retro night with recipes from cook books my mother produced many years ago when she was involved in the organisation. With the bush fires destroying our country at present I think,it timely we salute the CWA (Country womens association) who provide sandwiches and drinks for the firefighters and volunteers at this crucial time and hopefully we can add to their coppers.  The 20200105_171644main book I have in mind for this is ‘Farmer Recipes and Stories from the Land’

Other cook books I have in mind are from the former USSR including Jewish cooking.  And Italian food…just because I am doing a food trip there in June!  And a vegetarian night too. Do you have any suggestions or if you would like to start your very own cookbook club and need inspiration let me know.  Oh and I went to a

charity for glasses and some jugs for water.  Keep it simple. And keep cooking! Pictures from our wonderful Russian night!

 

 

 

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Tuesday night cookbookclub – Russia

When I announced to family and friends alike that I was going on a food trip to Russia there were some raised eyebrows.  ‘Russia!  Oh to eat potatoes and cabbage, rye bread and drink poor quality vodka!  Beetroot soup’ were some of the comments I received.  But Russia has changed since the USSR broke up in 1991 I think it was.  What was I doing then I tried to remember?  Oh yes a baby, a toddler and a three year old!  No wonder I think I was in a fog for a few years.

Admittedly the best food we ate in st Petersburg was at Georgian restaurants with their delicious katachupuri and pelmini, but food in Russia was changing!  Our guide Ksenia told us that going out to eat at a restaurant did not happen when she was growing up.  One grew as much as they could in their gardens no matter how small and vegetables were pickled and preserved for the colder months.   In one home we visited there were huge jars and bottles of preserved summer vegetables and maybe some homemade vodka stored in an underground cellar.  Resourceful certainly!

20191210_112903And to prove it I selected Russian food from the only two cookbooks I could locate for our Tuesdaynightcookbookclub.  With some online browsing for additional recipes we ate a feast of Russian food that was second to none.

But yes we did eat some delicious food in Russia…from the honey cake, to the mushroom soup, to the potato pancakes and lovely pies we did not starve.  Buckwheat was delicious and the dark rye bread with fish.

I started Tuesdaynightcookbookclub earlier in the year with the loose idea of choosing a cookbook each month and making a dish to bring to share with a small group of like minded friends.  A simple idea.  Bring a bottle to share and I would set a table and we would eat and talk essentially about the food, and the book.

We started with Yotham Ottolenghi and moved to the Rick Stein with Indian food and last month Rachel Khoo and her newly adopted home of Sweden.  But Russia was more of a challenge.   An American friend recommended a cookbook with origins from a Russian restaurant in Portland Oregon.   Another source of information came in the form of a Siberian born English educated with Jewish ancestry woman in her cookbook.  And a friend gifted me a copy of a Russian food book purchased from a second hand store.  All three books were also a source of information in Russian history so well as food.

But let’s cut to the chase and see what was on offer at this month’s feast.  I had also invited two of the group of the Russian food travellers who made the trip with a dish to share and a bottle of wine (not Russian).

So we have a smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber crepe stack to start.  There was a delicious chilli, cucumber salad with garlic.  The dish with pine nuts on top was a eggplant salad or dip.  On the next row we had a yeasted pirogi with mushrooms or cabbage.  Eggplant again with walnuts and stuffed eggs with beetroot.  Of course lots of dill and parsley.

A beef stroganoff was next which should have had buckwheat but after two failures to make a satisfactory dish I made mashed potatoes.

And as if that wasn’t enough a semolina cake to finish with whipped cream and strawberry compote.

Yes it was a challenge but it was a fun and memorable evening.  And yes I am going back to Russia next year to explore more of it…starting in Moscow this time and heading towards Kazakhstan…a few long train journeys included.  And then onto Uzbekistan for some more adventures.  Maybe this time next year out a Tuesday Night Cookbookclub will offer food from Tashkent.

 

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