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Cooking From The Heart

Healthy Eating & Living Guide

Tips For Entering A Regional Show Cooking Competition

As the Newcastle Show Cookery & Jams Competition draws closer (March 16-18) I’ve had a number of friends mention they would like to have a crack at entering. Their reasoning is that if Dean can win Best Chocolate Cake then surely it can’t be too hard. And they would be right. With a little preparation everyone has equal standing for a first prize medal. There’s nothing sweeter than victory in a cooking competition, especially if it’s your first time. Of course, Dean and I will both be back defending our titles in 2012.

To help the novices, I’ve drawn up a list of do’s and don’ts. Some of these I learnt as a result of the live judging that took place at the Newcastle Show last year, and some gleaned from speaking with Cookery Steward and medal-winning competitor, Ellice Schrader.

I’d also recommend purchasing The Country Show Cookbook if you intend on entering any classes that don’t provide recipes. These are recipes from successful entrants at Country Shows all around Australia. This is the book from which my award-winning scones came from. I also would never have realised chocolate chip biscuits are different to chocolate chip cookies without the help from this book.

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Peach Jam

The Magic of Preserves

For many preserving is classed as one of the dark arts of the kitchen. A mystifying process reserved for those with a supernatural ability to calculate a fruit’s pectin potential by just looking at it. These are people who have the innate ability to mix measured quantities of fruit and sugar in large pots and make the mix miraculously gel. They know the rules, they cast the spells. They collect the resulting concoction in recycled jars with homemade labels to adorn their pantry shelves while they await the inevitable apocalypse, or gift-giving season, whichever comes first.

The truth is, preserving will cast a spell on you. But only once you realize just how easy it is to do. The only magic going on is the simple pleasure of spreading a taste of summer on a piece of toast on a cold, wintery morning. And if you aren’t the kind of family that gets through jar after jar of jam, the feeling of goodwill  as you hand a friend a jar is heartwarming. Homemade always means something more.

Always the pedant, here’s a low-down of the different preserving definitions, just so we are all on the same page. All use the same process which is to heat fruit and sugar which releases pectin, the natural setting agent in fruit.

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The Great Decider

My first experience with cider is one that will most likely be shared by many others. It involves being underage, overzealous and out of my depth. ‘Tis the reason I avoided it at all costs…until recently when a friend of mine was diagnosed with coeliac disease. Unable to imbibe his preferred tipple of beer (coeliacs are intolerant to gluten, a protein found in some components of beer such as barley malt and wheat starch), he turned to cider to keep his whistle wet. Any time he joins us for a bbq I case out bottle shops for less lackluster offerings than the one I’d had the misfortune of overindulging in all those years ago. And yes, I’d end up partaking in a glass or two as an act of comraderie for my friend who would otherwise be the only one drinking cider. And I have been enjoying it immensely.

It’s quite apparent that cider has undergone a revival of sorts over the last few years, with growing numbers of cider labels popping up in bottleshops and cideries opening in many regions of Australia. Particularly in the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and south of Perth. While the varieties of cider apples grown in Australia is considerably less than in the UK and Europe, this hasn’t stopped cider being made from more widely available eating varieties such as Granny Smiths, Pink Ladies and Galas.

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Chilli Trepidations

Chilli Trepidations

Brrrr! The chill factor is extreme for this time of the year don’t you think? I don’t know about you, but autumn seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. I’m into winter comfort food in a big way already, with lots of recipes popping into my head that involve slow cooking on the stove top or a bit of spice to heat us up from the inside out.

Out of pure ignorance, I was once completely terrified of all foods hot. If there was the slightest hint of chilli I’d got for another item on the menu. Heat in food is just something I didn’t grow up with and with only movie references to practical jokes involving chilli as my reference; I came to the conclusion that it was to be avoided at all costs. Worse, I equated anything with spice or pepper to be ‘hot’ and as such any foods including such items were blacklisted.

Over time, I started to get an inkling that I was missing out. There were just so many delicious-smelling meals I’d refuse all because of an unsubstantiated fear. With the encouragement of friends, I started on working on overcoming my trepidation by introducing some not-so-hot foods, one of which was a mild laksa. It was love at first slurp.

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Tasty Brownies

Brownies

I had a little trouble deciding whether to include Rocky Road or Brownies in The Design Files chocolate story so I asked Twitter and the responses came back with Rocky Road winning by a narrow margin of just one vote. So I thought it best to include this great little Brownie recipe here so no one misses out.

My allegiance to Rocky Road is high having grown up eating Darrel Lea’s version and Brownies are a relative new-comer having only been exposed to it in its physical form after many visual reference on The Brady Bunch and other American TV shows in the 70s & 80s. There’s a million different Brownie recipes out there. I’m not much of a fan of those that include nuts so when I came across this recipe from Alice Hart’s Alice’s Cook Book gave it a try with stunning results.

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Mushroom

Mushroom

Have you experienced a mushroom explosion in your backyard recently? It’s as if a village of Smurfs decided to set up camp on our lawn, at the base of the old fig tree and beside the lettuce, seemingly overnight. It’s a pity identifying them is next to impossible because the white ones in the lawn look quite delicious. Having them around has me thinking my favourite way to eat mushrooms; large flat field mushrooms stuffed with lemon, chilli and oregano, flavoured ricotta and baked in the oven.

There’s quite a diverse range of mushrooms available at the farmer’s market and at supermarkets these days. I’ll have to see to it that I start marking up some more mushroom recipes beyond the flatties. Here are some I’ve bookmarked:
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Breakfast

The Design Files

Hello! I’ve been a busy bee these last couple of weeks preparing for a spot as a guest blogger at The Design Files this week. I nearly fell of my chair when Lucy asked me if I’d like to offer up some food-as-gift ideas. The Design Files is only one of my favourite blogs of all time. I’ll still be posting up a couple of treats here this week, but do be sure to head over to the guest blog each morning this week to check out some tasty gift ideas and nose around the rest of the blog. It’s a treasure trove of Australian interior and design goodness. Thanks Lucy & Jenny!

cakes-rich-fruit-scones

The Show Part I

Regional Shows are the last bastion of home baking and preserving. Recipes for traditional cakes, slices, scones, puddings, biscuits, pickles, relishes, jams and marmalades are put to the test by Country Women’s Association judges at Agricultural Shows and in town halls the country over. Traditionally the domain of seasoned home cooks, a new dawn is rising in the world of competitive cookery with men, children and women bereft of any prior baking and preserving experience putting their grandmother’s recipes for pumpkin scones and choko pickles through their paces.

Dean’s chocolate cake, my plate of four scones and marble cake.

Last weekend was The Newcastle Show and I entered the cookery and jam competition for the first time. The categories I entered were plain scones (plate of 4), marble cake (round, not iced), strawberry jam and traditional orange marmalade. I persuaded my husband, Dean, to have a go at the chocolate cake in the men’s section for which a recipe is provided. I had woken early last Friday morning, the first show day and the day all entries are to be submitted, to bake my batch of scones.

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Pear

Entrée to Autumn

This week’s visit to the Farmer’s Market turned my attention to pears. Yet another signal of the arrival of Autumn, alongside getting dressed into jeans first thing in the morning and having to change to shorts by 11am. The joy of in-between seasons.

I grew up thinking pears were the poor cousins to apples because they never stood up to lunchbox brutality like a Red Delicious. But if treated with care and eaten at the peak of ripeness, which it seems you never can tell until the morning of, they offer a juicy tenderness in their give where the apple smacks of sharp crunch.

That being said, I don’t mind a pear on the crisp side of ripe to eat with a good blue cheese. Add walnuts and you’ve got the trifecta for stinky cheese perfection. Forget crackers. Simply take a slice of pear, add a triangle of blue and crown with a toasted walnut. Pop in your mouth and….Heaven.

This Stephanie Alexander salad takes this idea and moves it from hors d’oevres to entrée.

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Cook Book

Favourite Cookbooks Part 2

So, after last week’s Part 1 post I couldn’t help myself and went on Booko over the weekend to finally order Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries and Tender Vol 1, plus Rose Bakery’s Breakfast, Lunch, Tea. Naughty I know, but after so many recommendations how could I not? Besides I am excusing flagrant cookbook buying behaviour as an upcoming birthday present(s) for myself. Anything to justify more cookbooks for a bookshelf already groaning under the weight of more than my fair share. I tell you though, I felt a whole lot better about the situation when I saw Rodney Dunn’s cookbook collection (above). No matter that he is a former Editor for Australian Gourmet Traveller and owner of the beautiful The Agrarian Kitchen just out of Hobart, Tasmania. My collection is measly in comparison. Let temptation lead us astray once more with recommendations for favourite cookbooks by some of the internet’s loveliest foodie and design bloggers, with this, Part 2.

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