Tuesday 31 March 2015

Preserving Olives and Climbing Trees - Part 2

Well folks, now we get to the good part!  Since my first post about harvesting my scant and rare crop of olives, I have been faithfully monitoring and brining them over the last 3 and a half weeks.  It has been wonderful watching them change colour and become softer and tastier every day.  For the first ten days or so, I changed the brine every day - i.e. I poured out the old brine, and then made up a new brine of 1 tablespoon of salt to each 250 mls of water and filled up the jar again with the fruit and the brine.  Summer is just not letting up here, and we have been having hot, steamy days over 30C relentlessly, day after day.  We are all beginning to droop!  I was getting a bit worried about my precious olives, and I noticed the tiniest bit of mould on the top of the jar.  Eek! I yelled to myself, and hurriedly rinsed out the jar and re-brined the olives.  Right I thought, from now on they go in the fridge.  So that is where they have been residing over the last couple of weeks, while I have waited anxiously to see if they would be ok.  While they were lolling about in the cool depths, I changed the brine every second day till the big day came at last.  Mr Pickings agreed that these little beauties were good enough to eat!  But they were salty I have to say, so I let them sit in cold plain water for 2 more days to dilute the somewhat too salty flavour.
Came the weekend and yes it was bottling day.  The olives were rinsed in water, then patted dry. Then came the fun bit - putting them into clean, sterilised jars (you know the drill; wash in hot, soapy water then into a low oven to dry for 20 mins.) and covering with extra virgin olive oil.  I can't wait to eat them!

pour them into a colander to drain the brine off 

drying off the fruit before packing in olive oil  

spooning the little darlings into their jars  

push them down under the oil  

topping off with the olive oil  

in they go!

all done  

Such a sense of satisfaction when you have jars of your own produce for the coming months.  It was interesting to see how the olives became less green or brown and became more uniformly the same. Also quite amazing that even after 3.5 weeks of brining, they still retained an oily taste and scent. Such a brilliant little fruit!

Thursday 26 March 2015

Savoury Vegetable Cheesecake from Shetland - and a book review

My dad's family originally came from Scotland.  The family myth is that our great-great grandfather Jock came over under somewhat suspicious circumstances, escaping from who knows what? - a pregnant girlfriend, a bit of break and enter, maybe a touch of murder - it is a mystery probably never to be solved.  Mr Pickings and I have spent some time in Scotland, and absolutely loved it.  It is so beautiful, and its history and architecture (and accents) touch my heart.  We won't speak too much about the food; needless to say I am sure it is much better these days.  We were amazed by the signs in corner stores for Iced Drinks! as though it were something really special.  The fridges were tiny and only held a few cans; perhaps the electricity was hugely expensive?  And we never did get around to trying fried Mars Bars which were readily available at the local takeaway stores.
We spent a wonderful few nights on the Isle of Skye; never have I seen such deeply black skies with not a light to be seen anywhere.  We walked about a hundred metres away from the Hostel, and had to turn back as it was pitch-black. We did a bit of walking over the Scottish moors and hillsides, up to our ankles in mud, while the gentle rain kept us soaked all day.  We struggled up Ben-Y-Vrackie, a mountain near Pitlochry in our boots and wet weather gear, while ladies in their 70s blithely strolled on by, wishing us good day.  We felt like wimps!

File:Ben Vrackie (worldofjan).jpg
(image Wikimedia Commons Author Jan Zeschky "world of Jan")   

I subscribed a while ago to the Facebook page of the Shetland Times.  It is full of interesting news about the mackerel quota, the crimes committed on Shetland (not many it seems), and the recent up-Helly-Aa festivities celebrating their Viking past.  I get a smile every day from this page.  I loved the recent story about a chap who was arrested for lurking outside a house where he had no business to be.  I love it that he wasn't arrested for attempted burglary, or any such crime, it was just that he had no reason to be there!  There was also a story about one of the fellows who was staying on a large boat they have in the harbour, being exiled from Shetland.  Apparently there is nowhere for these workers to live, so they grabbed an old cruise ship or some such so that 500 blokes had a bed. Unfortunately, one of them got a bit drunk and disorderly so was ordered off the island, never to return.  Mmm maybe a practice to emulate?!
Some months ago, I came upon mention of a wonderfully interesting cookbook called Shetland Food And Cooking by Marian Armitage.  I had been reading the blog elizabethskitchendiary - "possibly Britain's most northerly food blogger"; she is resident on Shetland so I bet this is true:).  Her Instagram page had a photo of this book and I was determined to get hold of it.  I tried through AmazonUK to no avail as they didn't post this to Australia, so I went to the source - The Shetland Times who are the publishers.  Within a couple of weeks, I had it in my hot little hand even though it was over the New Year break.  I was impressed with their speed:)  It is a delightful book, full of fascinating recipes like rhubarb hooch, and sassermaet clatch, something like shepherd's pie apparently.  There are all sorts of recipes, including dishes like ceviche and lasagne, herrings, curry, breads, desserts, you name it!  I love the way it is a hodge-podge, with sweets coming before and after meat recipes, and then back to more sweets or breads or fish.  It is a real roller-coaster ride!
I am planning to make some more of these recipes but for now, I have made this one - Savoury Veg Cheesecake, an interesting idea and "quite surprising" says Mr Pickings.  I hope he meant in a good way; I think he did:)


250g diced and roasted vegetables - I used pumpkin and carrot
75g. butter
120g. oatcakes
2 tbs toasted sesame seeds - (just noticed the recipe says 2 tsp-oops!  it was nice with the extra but use less if you fancy)
50g. vintage cheddar/tasty cheese - grated
400g. ricotta
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbs cornflour
1 tbs chopped fresh herbs - recipe says tarragon but I used parsley and dried oregano
black pepper to taste
salt to taste


Chop the veggies into smallish dice and toss in 1 tbs oil and season to taste
Roast for about 20 mins in a 220C oven till tender
Allow to cool
Turn the oven down to 160C
Throw the oatcakes into a processor and blitz till you have fine crumbs
Melt the butter and mix in the oatcake crumbs, sesame seeds, some black pepper and salt
Take off the heat and stir in the grated cheese
Press into a lightly buttered 20cm. spring-form pan
Place in the fridge to chill
Grab a large bowl and add the ricotta, eggs, cornflour, herbs, pepper and salt
Whisk till smooth
Spoon half the mix onto the base, then spread the veggies evenly over it
Spoon the rest of the cheese mix over the top
Bake for about 45 mins - you want it to be a bit wobbly in the middle as it will firm up in the tin
Leave to cool in the tin
Serve with salad in summer or steamed veggies in winter
Serves at least 4

roast the diced veg for about 20 mins at 220C  

toast the sesame seeds and blitz the oatcakes   

grate the tasty cheese 

mix in the cheese with the butter, oatcake crumbs, sesame seeds and seasoning  

push into the lightly buttered spring form pan and refrigerate   

whisk the wet ingredients together till smooth   

all smooth!

dot the veg evenly over half the cheese mixture  

spoon on the rest of the cheese mixture over the veg.  

ready for the oven - about 45 mins at 160C    



Remember to make sure the oven is on 160C when baking the cheesecake!  The recipe calls for Shetland butter and oatcakes but alas I could only find Bath oatcakes.  I am sure they are equally delicious.  Personally, I think this dish would be improved with some protein; a bit of roasted, diced chicken or salmon tossed through it before baking but I leave that up to you, readers.

Mackay tartan (Wikimedia Commons T. Steifer 2006) 

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Melbourne Trip Feb 2015

If you're a foodie, you must be a bit in love with Melbourne.  So many cafes and restaurants, so much shopping, so much produce, so much more to see and do.  We ran around like mad things on our recent trip down for a niece's wedding but hardly made a dint in what I had hoped to catch up on.  Ah well, a great excuse for another trip.  We had such a fab time last month down there, and I took so many photos and oh shucks, I just have to share a few more photos of our trip. So here is a bit of a photo montage of things seen and places been.  Oh, and many things eaten!

dinosaurs at the Melbourne Museum  

my nephew and I at his sister's wedding-yes purple was the theme 

gorgeous niece (not the bride) with Mr Pickings 

inside the rightly famous Bendigo Gallery     

Mr Pickings's burger on crockery made especially for the Gallery by Bendigo Pottery  

beautiful blue walls in the Gallery - oh and some nice artworks!  

very fascinating sculpture by Patricia Piccinini  

how beautiful is this cake?  

a rare sighting of the Pickings clan outside Burch & Purchese 

I don't need to say anything here really  

edible wall at Burch & Purchese  

chocolate shop in Daylesford  - Sweet Decadence at Locantro  

Mr Pickings having high tea at Cafe de Beaumarchais - ok I was there too:)   

one of the Art Series hotels in Bendigo; fab place but rooms weren't big enough to swing a cat!

selfie in our tiny hotel room; Oscar Wilde quote on the pillow  

church outside our hotel in St Kilda - so pretty and so quiet 

Arthur Boyd fridge at Bendigo Regional Gallery

famous cafe in the Dandenongs; go for the atmosphere rather than the food I'm afraid  

who can resist Puffing Billy?  

Looking at these photos, I am getting itchy feet!  Mmm I think Christmas is sounding like a great time to visit again.

Friday 20 March 2015

Nikuya Japanese Restaurant - review

Nikuya is a swanky restaurant in the Valley just outside the Brisbane CBD.  It resides in M & A Lane, a bit of a hipster hangout by the look of it.  Mr Pickings and I were settling in for an evening at home recently when we got an unexpected call from friends asking if we wanted to try out a restaurant with them. "Why not?", we cried casting aside our bowls of gruel and throwing on our glad rags.  An hour later we were on our way in their swish new 4WD, being chauffeured to our culinary destination.  We love Japanese food, so we were very excited to be trying out the BBQ delights on offer upstairs in this 2 level establishment.  Downstairs they have the Izakaya menu, and upstairs is where the BBQ'ing goes on.  I confess I am not entirely sure what Izakaya means.  I did look it up and was informed it means a drinking establishment that serves food. Ok -  not much clearer:). Anyway you know it means food!  Gyoza, sushi, sashimi, seafood, chicken, pork, you name it.  And speaking of pork - they use meat from a special type of pig called Kurobuta (aka Berkshire Black), which is apparently a special old breed.  You will also find Wagyu beef here, which as we all know has intense marbling, and a lot of fat.  Fat = flavour, as the chefs say!
We took the service lift up to the 1st floor as my knee is still acting up (there were a lot of stairs). You find a very large space with queer, copper tubes hanging down.  These are the extractor fans that hang over the BBQ plate at each table. Really beautiful in themselves, and practical too.  Our friends are the insurance brokers for this restaurant (no, we didn't get freebies), so they knew that the fit-out had not come cheap.

ground floor Izakaya space as you enter the restaurant     

beautiful aren't they?  copper extractor fans     

cooking up our Yakiniku platter 

it didn't look like much meat but at the end, we were full!  

The 4 of us chose the banquet for $55 per head, which was a very satisfying and filling meal.  It included meats, soup, salad and ice cream.  Oh and spring rolls, and sashimi and kimchi and edamame.  So no, you won't go home hungry. There are also other banquets at $70 and $90 per head. Our friends decided to try the Sake Tasting List, which consisted of 5 different types of sake.  They were surprisingly large tastings we thought, and our friends got a bit heady after trying them all.  I had plum wine flavoured with brown sugar - oh my, so delish, so moreish - so I had another.  Mr Pickings had his usual ginger beer, only one as he is the designated driver when we go out together, and he just couldn't get out of the habit even though he wasn't driving!

Mr Pickings loves ginger beer  - $5

brown sugar plum wine - so delish!   - $8.50  

steamed rice and dipping sauces

miso soup

octopus balls - I ate Mr Picking's share as he just can't stomach octopus:)   

prawn spring rolls - I have to admit I ate Mr Picking's share of these too 'cos he doesn't eat shellfish!   

salad on a beautiful plate- very fresh and palate-cleansing  

edamame (soy beans in their pods)-crunchy and moreish  

sake drums  - now that's a lot of sake  

I loved this sword/beer tap contrivance.  Look at the condensation!    

green tea ice cream 

toasted sesame seed ice cream 

The ice creams were really different and delicious.  I had a try of the sesame seed version; it tasted at first like sesame oil which did odd things to your brain as you expected it to then be savoury but it was sweet, and Miss Mandy said you just forgot about the savoury aspect as you kept eating.  The green tea ice cream had a very intense tea flavour, and was a great end to the meal.

looking down on the pendant lights from the stairs   

a seriously gorgeous kimono hanging in the stairwell   

I would love to go again and eat downstairs as that seems less formal, and it is very close to the bar which has single malt whiskies, which apparently is all the rage in Japan at the moment.  Also, as Mr Pickings and myself are not usually big meat eaters, I would like to try other dishes like the sushi and sashimi and the dumplings, etc:)  You can't deny though that the meat here is seriously delicious, tender and flavoursome.  So carnivores will be very happy, as will anyone who likes fresh, delicious and interesting food.  Oh, and one last thing, the house specialty is "passionately coated loin"- how could anyone resist that?

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