How does your garden grow?

As I suggested in my Sustainability in the Supermarket post, I am really missing being able to get fresh, local, fruit & veg from a Farmers Market, since the move north. So what does a sustainability nut do in that position? They convince their lovely husband to build some raised garden beds, and shovel large amounts of horse poo, so they can grow their own vegies.

The Husband used some old hardwood pallets that I collected from work to make the garden beds, then we lined them with weed mat, just to make sure we didn't have our precious soil leaking out anywhere. Then we loosely followed the method for a no-dig garden that Stephanie Alexander describes in her book, The Kitchen Garden Companion.

Some components were quite tricky for us to find in Port Hedland, so we had to make adjustments, so I ended up with the following layers;

  • 5mm newspaper
  • 1 bale lucerne (approx 10cm)
  • watered in with bokashi bucket juice diluted in a watering can
  • 10cm horse poo from local pony club
  • 6L water with 8 teaspoons Yates water crystals, smushed in to the poo
  • 1 bale pea straw (approx 10cm), soaked (in a wheelbarrow, or on a tarp)
  • watered in with bokashi bucket juice diluted in watering can, plus pea straw soaking liquid
  • 10cm horse poo from local pony club
  • 6L water with 8 teaspoons Yates water crystals, smushed into the poo
  • all topped with 6 bags mushroom compost

I then watered it all in well, left for 1 week to settle a bit, and planted! Given how hot & dry it is up here, we also installed reticulated drippers, that run for 30 minutes every morning.

Initially I planted cos lettuce, basil, capsicum, tomatoes and sugar snap peas. The lettuce, tomatoes & basil were definite successes, the capsicum & sugar snaps, not so much. The second garden bed was asian vegetables (a mixed seed packet - tatsoi, chinese broccoli, pak choy), spring onions and parsley. The asian vegetables were successful, but the spring onions have failed miserably, and the parsley is about 50/50. But working out what vegetables really work for your garden is part of the challenge. What your family will actually eat, and what grows well in your climate & garden bed location, are all factors in deciding if something will be a repeat plant. For us, basil, asian vegetables and lettuce are definite repeats, I'm unsure on the tomatoes, and I am keen to give snake beans and kale a go next. 

We're also lucky enough to have an established mango tree in our back yard, which has just started fruiting (yum!) and have also planted lime & pomegranate trees, which are flourishing, but probably 1-2 years away from giving us any fruit.

Do you garden? Have you been surprised by some of your successes?

All things falafel

Anyone who's followed me here from my food blog Alphie in the Kitchen knows of my love for Middle Eastern food. And as much as I love to make it all from scratch, it's not always feasible in a house of two people working (often more than) full time. Falafel make a regular appearances mealtimes at our house - we have at least two vegetarian dinners a week, and falafel is high on the rotation. I rarely make them from scratch, and have on occasion resorted to buying the ready made ones, we usually split the difference and use a dry mix. The Husband's favourite is 'the one in the yellow box' (I think the brand is NSM, it's in quite an old, 70s-style box). Anyway, I don't love it - there's something in the mix that I can't identify, that just doesn't do it for me.

I found Mount Zero Olives while looking for a supplier of Australian grown quinoa (more on that here), and quickly realised they had a lot more to offer than just quinoa. I have since bought olives, olive oil, salt, various lentils, and, the most delicious falafel mix ever.

All of the Mount Zero range is Australian Produce, grown/harvested/manufactured/all of the above, in Australia, and a lot of the range is either certified biodynamic and/or organic, if that’s your thing. The olives are divine, and I may have been so smitten that I bought 4kg worth in a single order… I’ve also been loving the French-style lentils, which have made a number of appearances in a super-versatile broccoli salad (it’s much better than that sounds, I promise). But the absolute pick of the bunch for me has been the falafel mix.

I’m not sure how much of the reason I love the Mount Zero falafel mix is due to the somewhat unconventional preparation – rather than just adding enough water to form a thick paste, you are instructed to combine 1 cup of the mix in a food processor with half an onion, and a handful of fresh herbs (parsley, coriander & mint have been our choices so far), then add the water. I have not tried it, but I assume you could skip all that and just add water, but I would suspect they won’t be quite as delicious. Regardless of the chosen method, this is always where I step back, and The Husband forms the mix into the most perfect quinelles and deep frys until brown and gorgeous (I hand over here as both my quenelle-ing and deep frying skills are sub-standard – it’s important to know your limits).

We almost always serve falafel with huge bowls of both hummus and tabouli, only occasionally do we stray from the formula, serving tzatziki or beetroot dip, or a fattoush salad. Given the abominations I have seen being passed off as tabouli (no carrot, please!) I thought I'd share our recipe with you.


Serves 4

  • ¼ cup bughul (I buy mine from 2 Brothers)
  • ½ bunch spring onions
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 good sized bunches of continental/flat leaf parsley
  • 2-3 sprigs of mint
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 2 Lebanese cucumbers (arguably not traditional, but I like them)
  • Olive oil, not your best – just a regular cooking one is best.
  • Sea/rock salt and freshly ground pepper (optional)

In a small bowl, soak the bughul in just enough boiling water to cover. Set aside for 15 minutes or so while you make the rest of the salad.

Trim & finely slice the spring onions, and add to the bottom of a large bowl. Cover with the juice of half a lemon, and let steep to minimise the onion-y-ness, while you make the rest of the salad.

Wash & dry parsley if it’s a bit gritty (I don’t usually bother), and roughly pull the leaves off the stems, no need to be fussy about this, you can keep quite a bit of stem in there. Finely chop the parsley, and add on top of the onions. Finely chop the mint, and do the same.

Halve the cucumbers lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds (and freeze them to chuck in a green smoothie), then finely dice the cucumber, and add to the bowl with the parsley. Dice the tomatoes, and add to the bowl.

Lastly, check that the bughul has absorbed all the water (drain/squeeze out any excess, if not), and add to the bowl. Drizzle over 1-2tbs olive oil, and the juice of the other half of the lemon. Toss to combine, add more oil or lemon juice to taste, as well as a good sprinkle of salt, and pepper if you must (I do, despite numerous oppositions that it is most definitely not traditional).

Tabouli tastes best if it’s had a few hours to sit before you eat it, but ours rarely gets that. So, if you can, make it ahead of time, but if not, no need to worry – it just means the leftovers will taste even better tomorrow!

Serve with falafel, hummus, and flat bread, and enjoy!

What are your thoughts on falafel? Some hippy food that only vegetarians suffer though, or delicious Middle Eastern delight?

Sustainability in the Supermarket

Since moving to the Pilbara, my shopping options have decreased significantly. Where I used to pick and choose my suppliers, going to the local Farmers Market on the weekend for my vegies, the butcher for meat .... I now just have two choices - Coles and Woolworths. And the occasional visit from the North West Mobile Butcher and The Pilbara Fish Truck.

I tend to favour Coles, as the fruit and veg seems to be fresher, and they usually have a better range. One thing I learnt pretty quickly here is that you need to pick your shopping days, and if you time it wrong (i.e. the day before the truck is due, rather than the day after), you'll end up staring at empty supermarket shelves, wondering what on earth you are going to cook this week. 

Some of my favourite supermarket picks are explained below.

Mayver's spreads - Dare I say it, but I think I like Mayver's peanut butter more than the Ridiculously Delicious Peanut Butter I discovered last year. Using all Australian peanuts, and just a touch of sea salt, with easily removable labels on the jars for re-use, what's not to love? We've been using the Hulled Tahini for ages, but have recently tried the Almond, Coconut & Cacao spread as well. A lot of the Mayver's is stocked at most Coles & Woolies now, although unfortunately the local Coles doesn't stock the Peanut Butter, so we make a trip to Woolies for that.  

McKenzies beans & lentils - As I mentioned in my To the River Chickpea post, a large proportion of McKenzie's dried lentils & beans are Australian grown. The chickpeas, red lentils, and French style lentils are favourites here, but the Borlotti beans, yellow split peas, and pearl barley are Australian grown as well.

Coles Australian Frozen Blueberries - I have smoothies for breakfast a lot here. The 5am alarm, for a 6am start, coupled with the heat mean they're often the only thing I can manage. We have a freezer full of diced fruit, bought when on special for just that purpose, but fresh berries are never on special enough to buy in bulk. So, frozen is the way to go. Coles have a pretty good range of frozen berries, with an Australian grown option for blueberries. Given the hepatitis scare earlier this year in relation to imported frozen berries, these are the only ones we buy now.

Ardmona tinned tomatoes - I know these aren't the cheapest ones on the shelf, but they're Australian made, from Australian tomatoes, and SPC have a strong commitment to Australian grown fruit & vegetables. For more info, see here.

Nuts - Finding Australian nuts has always been a challenge for me. I know they are gown here, but they have been hard to find in non-commercial quantities. Thankfully, Coles seem to have realised that there's a demand for Australian grown produce (possibly lead by Curtis Stone's 'makeover' of their range??), and they now have a good selection of Australian nuts. But, this is the trick, don't look in the nuts/baking aisle, they are next to the fruit & veg section - at my Coles at least. The almonds, peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts are all Australian grown, and there are salted & dry roasted options too.

Orange Power and Earth Choice cleaning products - we use a combination of these products at home. Both companies are Australian made & owned, with a focus on minimising environmental impact, while still delivering products that work (always helpful!). Orange Power/Aware as our first choice (Orange Power multi-purpose cleaner, pre-wash stain remover, and air freshener, and Aware washing powder and soaker) as the brand is 100% palm oil free. And Earth Choice where there is no Orange Power option, or our store doesn't stock the Orange Power version (dishwashing liquid, dishwasher tablets, wool wash). Earth Choice is not completely palm oil free, but a number of products are, and they are working on palm oil free formulations for those that aren't, and using fully traceable sustainable palm oil (CSPO) in the interim.

Fruit and Veg - I have started using the Coles app quite heavily, and have worked out the fruit & veg specials cycle for our store. Once the specials for the week have come out, I use that to help plan the shopping - usually if it's on special, it's in season and local, but sometimes they trick you with cheap imported cherries in July or something like that so make sure you check, but the app always has the origin details for the fruit & veg on special, so it's not too hard to keep on top of it.

They're my favourites - what are your fave sustainable supermarket choices?

12 months on...

Helloooo....! And apologies for the absence.

Looking back I realise just how long it's been since I was here. I don't really have any excuses, I just let life get in the way. But so much has changed since I was here last, so I better fill you in.

Around the time of my last post, I was pondering my career, my future, and where I wanted to go next. I decided that going back to Uni was what I needed, and started down the path of applying for an MBA place. GMATs, applications & interviews, took over my life for a while there, but I was lucky enough to get a sponsorship to study at UWA as part of their first ever Full Time MBA program. I was keen as mustard to go back to study (not something I thought I'd ever say!), and my focus was on moving out of engineering and into operations management, hopefully in a food manufacturing or related field, where I could actually effect the kinds of change I write about here. But, like everything, life sometimes has different plans for us. Not long after I accepted the MBA place, I was asked to apply for a new role at work, strangely enough, in the operations management space (funny how these things happen). It was really to good an opportunity to pass up, so I accepted the role, and deferred the MBA place.

But... the job was not in Perth. It was in Port Hedland. By another twist of fate, after 4-odd years of FIFO into Port Hedland, The Husband's work had been pushing us to make the move north for a while. So, we packed up the (new to us) house, talked my sister, and a friend of ours into renting it off us, and moved 1,600km north to Western Australia's Pilbara region.

 Sunset from our campsite at Cape Keraudren, looking out towards the beach.

Sunset from our campsite at Cape Keraudren, looking out towards the beach.

What a learning curve the last 6 months have been. Port Hedland is at once exactly what I expected, and also so much more. It is hot and humid, dry and dusty, but at times lush, and green, and bursting with life. The sunrises and sunsets are some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen, and always different. It's a small town, similar to the size of the town I grew up in, but missing many of the services that I now realise I took for granted growing up, but the community spirit is just something else. I'm not sure if I've not noticed it elsewhere, but the number of community organisations and small businesses that step in to fill the gaps in services and facilities is amazing. The local environment group runs a monthly recycling morning where you can drop of glass, paper/cardboard & some plastics, as the council rubbish collection doesn't have a recycling service; a community theatre shows blockbuster movies a few times a week and hosts comedy and theatre tours; we have a 'fish truck' that comes through once a week, a mobile butcher once a month, and a mobile stockfeed and garden supplies guy (Farmer Andy - an absolute savior if you're trying to get a vegie garden up and running here!) once a month, and then a whole host of people running small retail businesses from their homes selling everything from gym wear to health foods to stand up paddle boards! All things you need to dig a bit to find out about, but the 'locals' are always keen to help you out, and facebook has been a lifesaver in that regard. Add to that the significant job change, and it's been a big 6 months!

 Python Pool in the Millstream-Chichester NP.

Python Pool in the Millstream-Chichester NP.

Now that we've settled in a bit, we're trying to make the most of our time here, and explore the barren beauty of the Pilbara, a region we'd have been unlikely to see otherwise. We've day tripped to the Millstream-Chichester National Park, the first time I'd seen hills since the move north; Burrup Peninsula, in search of Australia's largest collection of petroglyphs; Marble Bar, to the infamous Iron Clad Hotel and to the jasper lined waterways that give the town its name; and to the De Gray River, desperate for some greenery & shade. And even a camping trip, our first non-festival camping experience, to Cape Keraudren, on the southern tip of 80 Mile Beach.

So that's me up to date, and hopefully you'll all hear more from me now on. 

Do you free range?

When I first thought about writing this post, I was confident I was already doing the 'right thing'. Now I'm not so sure.

There is an abundance of information out there on the internets about free range eggs, and once I started wading through it, I quickly realised it was not as straightforward as I had thought. Just because the words ‘Free Range’, ‘Cage Free’ or even ‘RSPCA Approved’ are on the label, doesn’t guarantee you’re buying eggs laid by hens that are truly free to roam.

It all boils down to this; there is no one free range standard. Various industry bodies - Australian Egg Corporation Ltd (AECL), Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia (FREPA) or the Free Range Farmers Association Victoria (FRFA) – and animal welfare organisations (e.g. RSPCA and Humane Society International) have certification programs, but there is no consistency across the requirements, and they are all voluntary.

Some of the maximum stocking densities (look at me, learning all these farming words!) for the various certifications are;

  • 750 hens per hectare - Free Range Farmers Association (Vic)
  • 500 hens per hectare (fixed range area) - RSPCA
  • 2500 hens per hectare (rotational range access) – RSPCA
  • 10,000 hens per hectare - Coles and Woolworths own brand ‘free range’ eggs
  • 20,000 hens per hectare - Australian Egg Corporation Ltd (rejected by the ACCC)

As you can see, there is quite a range. And all of them will have free range written on the label, in some form or another. There is also a National Model Code of Practice (1500 hens per hectare), published by the CSIRO as a guide to the poultry industry, but again, it’s completely voluntary.

For those of you that are not conversant with units of land measurement, a hectare is 10,000 square meters, or a 1000m by 1000m (1km by 1km) square. These numbers equate to anything from 13 square meters per hen, to 1 square meter per hen.

Added to that confusion, there have been occasions where farms that sell both cage and free range eggs, have passed cage eggs off as free range to meet the demand for free range eggs, and making an increased profit along the way.

So, what does this all mean? What eggs should I be buying? And which ones should I avoid? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

I personally try to buy my eggs at farmers markets, as I feel more comfortable being able to talk to someone who’s actually seen the hens that have laid the eggs. However, that’s not always possible. Animal Welfare Labels – a website managed by Humane Society International, as part of their campaign for Truth in Labelling – has a great egg guide detailing the most common supermarket egg brands and the details of their hen treatment, so you can make a decision based on the practices that are important to you.

I’m sad to admit that I have bought two of the brands that are now before the ACCC for misleading labelling (Eggs by Ellah, and Swan Valley Free Range), but my other supermarket regulars, Margaret River Eggs seem to be ok –not certified by any of the bodies above, but claims a density of 2,500 hens per hectare (I really should have shortened that to hph before now…), and the owner is president of Free Range Egg Association.

So, unfortunately, all I can suggest is to do your research, and look for eggs specifying a density of less than 2,500hph.

Do you buy free range eggs? What’s your favourite way to eat them?

 A recent Sunday breakfast at our place; chickpea, chorizo and tomato baked eggs.

A recent Sunday breakfast at our place; chickpea, chorizo and tomato baked eggs.

Cookies and biscuits, oh my!

By now you’ve probably worked out that there’s palm oil in almost every cookie or biscuit you can buy at the supermarket. McVitie’s Digestives, Oreos, Tim Tams… nothing is safe. There is not a single sweet biscuit in the Arnott’s range that is palm oil free, and the Coles and Woolworths ranges (both bakery and house brands) are only marginally better.

Aldi is slightly better again, and there are a couple of smaller brands that have palm oil free products, but the options are heavily skewed towards shortbread-type options (I guess, when you’re calling it butter shortbread, you can’t skip out on the butter and use palm oil!).

So, if you’re not the shortbread type (or even if you are, but just want something different occasionally!), I’m sharing a foolproof and super versatile cookie recipe with you – so you can make your own. Not only will they be palm oil free, but you’ll know exactly what’s gone in to them!

 Macadamia, white choc and cranberry cookies ( ½  cup of each, using the recipe below)

Macadamia, white choc and cranberry cookies (½ cup of each, using the recipe below)

I can’t take the credit for this recipe, it was posted on a cooking forum that I love, by a member who’d got it of a member of a different forum! You’ve gotta love those recipes that just get handed on again & again. I don’t really have a name for them, as they were originally posted as ‘White Chocolate & Macadamia Cookies’, then ‘m&m Chocolate Chip Cookies’, and I just use whatever ‘mix ins’ I feel like on the day! So, we shall call them Sares’ Cookies (after the original poster).

Sares’ Cookies

  • 125g butter, softened
  • ½ cup caster sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1¾ cup self raising flour
  • 1½ cup ‘mix ins’ (approx.)

Preheat oven to 180°C, and line baking trays with paper.

Beat together butter, sugars and vanilla until the mixture is pale.

Add a lightly beaten egg and beat some more until it is well combined.

Sift in flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. Then, using clean hands, mix/knead the dough until it all comes together.

Add in half the ‘mix ins’ and continue to mix with your hands. Keep adding more until the mixture won't take any more. You know you've put in enough when you try to fold in some more and others fall out.

Shape the dough into small balls and place on prepared oven trays, allowing a little room for them to spread.

Bake for 10-12 minutes; they will still look pale and a little uncooked when they should be taken out. A good way to tell is the bases will be a little browned, but the top of the cookie won't look set (mine in the photo above are a little overcooked...). Take them out of the oven and allow to cool on the trays for 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.


  • White Choc & Macadamia (the original) – ¾ cup each of white chocolate chips & roughly chopped macadamia pieces
  • m&m Choc Chip - ¾ cup each of chocolate chips & m&m’s
  • Chocolate cookies – replace ½ cup of flour with cocoa powder

Also worth remembering that the dough freezes really well. You can just keep a ‘log’ in the freezer wrapped in glad-wrap, and slice rounds off to bake as you need. And look like a domestic goddess with freshly baking cookies at a moments notice!

Please let me know if you make these cookies – I’d love to hear what variation you come up with!

Soap Me Up!

So, I’m probably the only one who is going to get excited about soap, but we’re all already aware that I’m more than a little strange. I was in Port Hedland for work most of the last week, and stayed in one of the many ‘camps’ in the area that provides accommodation to the FIFO and transient workforce. Having been given my key, I scrutinised the map to work out where my room was (I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in the same room twice…!), clomped on over in my steel cap boots, and unlocked my door. Apart from the fact it was an unusually large room (win!), the first thing I noticed was the soap, sitting atop my allocated two towels at the foot of the bed.

Two, hotel-sized rounds of Country Life soap. With the magical words ‘No Palm Oil’ written just under ‘Australian Made’. Winner!

Yes, that sneaky palm oil is in soap too… If I try really hard I can remember learning about soap production at uni – don’t ask me why, I guess it was a relatively simple process to use an example for something – and it goes a bit like this; oil/fat is treated with an alkali/base to create soap and glycerol/glycerin (roughly – I am stretching the memory banks a bit here).

Back in ye olde times, the fat was commonly an animal fat – beef, lamb and even whale (!) fat were all regularly used for soap production. But as consumers have started to ask more questions about the origin of their products, and we’ve become more squeamish about using animal products, ‘plant based’ soaps have become increasingly common. Some of these, such as Castille soap, successfully use liquid vegetable oils (olive oil, in the case of Castille), to make a firm soap that lathers well. However, in my search for a palm oil free soap, I have tried A LOT of squishy slimy soap that just does not hold up when it gets wet – a pretty crummy property for a soap if you ask me! Enter palm oil. Since it is a more solid vegetable fat, it slots well into existing soap production methods, so as far as most manufacturers are concerned, it’s a win-win. They don’t really have to change much, and they get to put things like ‘plant derived’ and ‘vegan friendly’ on their labels.

Apart from the palm oil thing, in my opinion, tallow is by far the more sustainable option. It is primarily available as a by product from the meat industry, and not using it is just plain wasteful. The animal has been killed for a fillet steak (or some other prime cut), so we should do our best to use as much of the rest of it as possible. Marie at Humblebee & Me has a pretty good article addressing this - ‘Why I Use Lard or Tallow in My Soap (And Why You Should, Too)’.

So, with all that in mind, which soap should you buy??

My first choice is Wildthyme Natural Soaps, after meeting the lovely Judy at the Kalamunda markets a few months ago. While they’re not 100% palm oil free, the palm oil that is used is certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), and Judy tells me she only uses the minimum amount she needs to get a solid bar. However, I can’t always get to the Kalamunda Markets when we’re running low on soap, so Coles branded soap is my supermarket backup (100% palm oil free). There used to be a range of these to choose from (shea butter was my favourite), but it now seems they only stock the 'Revitalising Citrus Fresh’ scent, which, in my opinion, is a bit OTT on the ‘citrus fresh’ and consequently reminds me of disinfectant.

These ones are also palm oil free;

  • Wrights Traditional Soap
  • Woolworths Homebrand (NOT Woolworths Select)
  • Scrumpy Soap Co (available at selected gift & health shops around South West WA, and online)
  • Pompadour soaps (available at selected gift shops and spas, and online)
  • Sally’s Soap Shoppe (available at markets around Melbourne, and online)
  • Lush have some 100% palm oil free soaps, but I am not sure which ones they are, and all Lush soaps use a palm oil free base (i.e. they don’t use palm oil as the oil base for the soap, but some derivatives of palm are used elsewhere in the process)

And the following list all contain palm oil;

  • Palmolive
  • Country Life [Yes – I know this is the one I am raving about above, they used to be palm oil free, but they have recently switched to a palm oil base. I guess the camp has old stock they were working through.]
  • Lux
  • Dove
  • Pears
  • Imperial Leather
  • Eco Store
  • Just to name a few…!

For a more exhaustive list of palm oil free soaps, check out my Palm Oil Free Directory.

Seasonal Recipes - Asparagus

My thoughts on asparagus are much like my thoughts on strawberries - the less you interfere, the better. And I am quite content to eat it lightly steamed, with no other accompaniment. However, that doesn't make for much of a blog post. So here we are.

Asparagus (asparaguses? asparagi?) have started to show their tightly packed heads, just coming in to season at the beginning of September. While it is available almost year round in the major supermarkets, most of the time what you see on the shelves has been imported from Peru (where, by the way, I only saw asparagus once in my 3 weeks!).

You all know my thoughts on imported fruit & veg, but food miles aside, locally grown asparagus is miles (ha! mind the pun...) better than the imported product. Having come from only a few hundred kilometers away (instead of a few thousand), it is infinitely fresher, and hasn't been in cold storage for a week or more, giving it that slightly withered appearance and woody stems.

I am relishing in the beginning of the relatively short season (September to December/January), buying multiple bunches at a time and putting asparagus in everything. Salads, stir-frys, on pizza, roasted, you name it, we've done it.

Asparagus seems to work especially well with fish, eggs and cheese. I love it in salads, especially in place of beans in a Salade Nicoise (fish and eggs there!), but to be honest, it takes almost any salad up a couple of levels. Quiche or tart is another classic (again, eggs & cheese), as is anything with smoked salmon, and it also works quite well with pasta or risotto (I think it's the cheese...)

Some of my favourite uses, or recipes I've bookmarked are below;

 Lemony tuna & asparagus salad box

Lemony tuna & asparagus salad box

 Jamie's asparagus scrambled eggs with smoked salmon

Jamie's asparagus scrambled eggs with smoked salmon

 Ginger & prawn soba noodles

Ginger & prawn soba noodles

 Asparagus and lemon spaghetti with rocket and pine nuts

Asparagus and lemon spaghetti with rocket and pine nuts

 Trout salad with asparagus and fennel

Trout salad with asparagus and fennel

 Warm asparagus salad with walnuts, Parmesan, lemon and olive oil

Warm asparagus salad with walnuts, Parmesan, lemon and olive oil

 Ocean trout and asparagus with caper dressing

Ocean trout and asparagus with caper dressing

 Asparagus and pecorino tart

Asparagus and pecorino tart

 Asparagus risotto

Asparagus risotto

If you're after more ideas, the September issue of delicious. magazine is drowning in asparagus recipes - I counted at least 5 on a quick flick through.

And if you still prefer the simplicity of lightly steamed, my only suggestion is to add hollandaise sauce. As a kid, asparagus in our house was almost always accompanied by hollandaise, and I was the chief saucier. However, there was no whisking over a bain-marie for me, I devoutly subscribe to Margaret Fulton's blender method, and it's done me well, as an 8 year old and a 28 year old!

Margaret Fulton's Blender Hollandaise Sauce

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbs water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • freshly ground white pepper
  • 125g unsalted butter

Put the egg yolks, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper in a blender. Cover and blend at a high speed for a few seconds.

Melt the butter (microwave is fine - clearly cutting corners is allowed here).

While blending on high speed, add the hot melted butter very slowly to the egg yolk mixture and blend until creamy. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if necessary.

What are your thoughts on asparagus? Are you a lover or a hater?

Bulk Bins, Blueberries & Black Beans

I have long been a fan of whole foods stores, rows upon rows of bins of loose dry goods. Some so unequivocally good for you - oats, quinoa and lentils, I'm looking at you - and others nutritionally a little questionable - honey roasted almonds, chocolate coated apricots and soy crisps, perhaps... That crazy mix of products somehow turns me from a sedate list-following shopper, into a madwoman who must have at least one scoop of everything.

My only problem with whole foods stores in the past (apart from the above mad-shopper tendencies), is that it's often hard to know the country of origin of the produce, and in the case of things like the soy crisps - what the ingredients are.

Some time last year, I stumbled upon the perfect solution to both problems - 2 Brothers Foods. A West Australian based online wholefoods store. Most of the products have the country of origin listed on the product page, and ingredients are listed too, where relevant. Shipping is cheap and fast to Perth Metro, and the same low rate applies to all of WA & SA (rates are higher for east coast deliveries, sorry). And they have the same crazy mix of produce as all the best whole foods stores, Ord River (WA) chickpeas, Australian grown dried fruit, as well as choc coated ginger and sugared almonds. All of the fun stuff!

I've found that since it's online, I am a little more considered about my purchases, and am now much less likely to grab 'just one scoop' of that random chocolate coated thing, and really do only buy what I need. My last order consisted of;

  • Organic cacao nibs
  • Ord River chick peas
  • Dried blueberries
  • Dried cranberries
  • Dried Australian apricots
  • Dried Australian peaches
  • Medjool dates
  • Pitted dried dates
  • Almond meal

No impulse purchases there! Plus, I ordered on Wednesday morning, and it was on my doorstep when I arrived home on Thursday afternoon. Can't get much better than that - I wouldn't have made it to a shop in that time frame anyway!

Are you a whole foods shopper? Do you love those bins of loose goods as much as I do?

(I have no connection to 2 Brothers Foods - I'm just a happy customer!)

Pastry Predicaments

Ah, pastry. Delicious, buttery, flaky pastry. But is it really butter? Or the cheaper substitute, palm oil? Sad to say, in most instances, it is palm oil. Pastry made with margarine, or vegetable fat, will always contain palm oil.

Show how do you avoid it? Well, you could make you own pastry; rolling and folding slabs of butter into dough for the ultimate buttery puff pastry; or deftly rolling out shortcrust with a minimum of contact (and the requisite cool hands). But if that's not really your thing - it's certainly not mine! - there are some great palm oil free pastry's out there if you know where to look.

While I don't imagine most of them set out to be 'palm oil free', the demand for high quality, 'artisan' pastry sheets, spurred on by shows such as MasterChef and Great Australian Bake Off (or Great British Bake Off - so much love for GBBO in this house!), has resulted in some great palm oil free options. And most are locally made using Australian ingredients - bonus!

My favourite is the Careme Pastry range. Careme is a Barossa Valley company, producing a range of hand made (yes - it's actually kneaded by hand!) puff and shortcrust pastry, using locally milled flour from Australian grains, high quality NZ butter (unfortunately Australian butter is too variable due to our super hot summers and cool winters) and local free range eggs (pastry made with yolks only don't use free range eggs as they can't find a supplier). The only issue here is that Careme is not yet available in the major supermarkets, but it is readily availible in most independent grocers - see their website for the full list.

For a full list of palm oil free pastry options - see my Palm Oil Free Database (link also in header).

For something with just a few ingredients, pastry has given me more than its fair share of failures, it is one of those kitchen things that just eludes me. I can make macarons with my eyes closed (almost!), but ask me to make pastry (or poach an egg!) and I'll start looking for the door. 

That said, I have been conscientiously trying anyone and everyone's never fail shortcrust pastry recipes, in an effort to find my own never fail recipe to share on the blog. Consequently we have eaten way more than our quota of pastry round these parts of late, but it's all in the name of research - what can I say, anything for the blog. I still haven't quite got it 100% never-fail, but, to be fair, I have come a long way from the soggy-bottomed, massive shrinkage issues I've had in the past. The wonderfully glamorous Nigella Lawson held the key for cracking this challenge, not in a recipe, but in the method, and a bit of a formula (us engineers like a good formula).

Almost Never-Fail Shortcrust Pastry

The formula is this: twice as much four as fat (by weight), and up to 1/4 cup of liquid to combine.

These quantities will give you enough for one single crust pie (or quiche).

  • 300g plain flour
  • 150g butter, cold, chopped.
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1-2 tbs chilled water

Place flour and butter in the bowl of a food processor, and chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

Blitz in a food processor until crumbly. Add the egg yolk & keep blitzing. Then add just enough water to bring it together - if you can press a few bits together and it sticks, you're done. DO NOT wait for it to form a ball - it will be over processed, and probably have too much liquid.

Tip it on to the bench, and work it just enough to bring it together. Then wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 min.

It's now ready to use, but I'd suggest once you roll it out and line the tins that it goes back into the fridge for 30 minutes, then straight into the oven from the fridge.

How do you feel about pastry? Do you deftly kneed and roll, ending up with a crisp, flaky pastry? Or is it frozen all the way?