Friday, 15 August 2014

The Family Table: Part 11. STEPHANIE ALEXANDER

A couple of years ago when I first started writing this blog I thought about what it was that I wanted to share.

It started as a way of me sharing my food knowledge and my passion for preparing real food for our families.

More importantly though I like to think that I give people the confidence to appreciate that the magic that is the Family dining experience is NOT just about the food.

While the food is what draws us to the table it should be considered but ONE of many things that are shared and indeed NOT the most important one.

LOVE to me should always be the single most important ingredient that is shared at our family table. Without LOVE the food and the entire dining experience is just another meal. But with it our souls as well as our tummies are nourished.

It is with this in mind that on Fridays I will be sharing with you my new series- The Family Table- where super special guests share their family dining experiences with us. It is a way of appreciating that there are infinite ways of dining together.
My wish is that every single one of my readers makes The Family Table part of their own family life.

This week I am INCREDIBLY excited to share with you a cook I have long admired.
You probably have too!
She was a pioneer for real food before it became a 'thing' and finds herself in almost every Australian kitchen (including mine) with the book that I think is arguably THE most practically useful cookbook ever published - 'The Cooks Companion', which she recently transferred into a digital app form (you can read about the app here).

It's none other than STEPHANIE ALEXANDER!

Continuing her online presence, this week Stephanie launched her latest project, her new website,
It is exciting for me to see Stephanie making this transition from paper books to reach a whole new group of cooks via her online publications.
For me - the more people we can encourage to cook real food from scratch is a thing worth celebrating.
Her work with children in her Kitchen Garden Foundation is something that each and every Australian should be pleased to have in place. Thousands of children are gaining an understanding of where food comes from and learning the skills necessary to be able to transform garden produce into nutritious & delicious meals in Primary Schools around Australia. This kind of groundbreaking work gives access to skills that can possibly transform the health and wellbeing of our future generation. I am so thankful for her efforts in this area. 

Stephanie and I follow each other on Instagram where I love to see a little glimpse into her kitchen and travel adventures.
You can follow her too by clicking over here.  

I thank Stephanie so very much for being a guest in my series of The Family Table.

1.) Can you please share a little about how your family shares food? 
These days my girls lead independent lives but we regularly meet up for family dinners. Always sit down with properly-set table (water, bread, wine, butter, olive oil,  salt/pepper) and cloth napkins – never paper (hang the washing and ironing). Most often at my place. I plan a meal that means I sit and talk and listen, not fuss in kitchen. Slow-cooked casserole, pie, baked fish, salad washed and dried rolled in a towel at the ready, often a vegetable gratin or else quickly blanched greens of some sort. Priority is talk and exchange of news, and a good time. 

2.) Do you have hard & fast eating rules?
I permit a good stack of the dishwasher but no washing-up done by others. Assistance with dishing-up when necessary but prefer dishes to centre of table. Always a moment to admire, respect and comment on the dish before tucking in.

3.) Can you share with us where your cooking influences/inspiration are from?
The Mediterranean most often, especially France and Italy. Have travelled in these regions a lot. Been to a lot of markets. Love olive oil but also love butter. Love vegetables and salad and good sourdough, less keen on munching through too many grains.

4.) Do you have a favourite cuisine?
As above. Provence, Puglia, simply cooked seafood and shellfish either as done on Atlantic coast in france, or in Andalucia in Spain, or anywhere really where seafood is fresh. I love Asian dishes when others cook them for me. Don't cook them myself.

5.) Can you recall a super special meal or eating experience that has stayed with you forever?
So many. Warm nights, bare legs, roasted lobster and herb butter. 

A freezing night recently at Rosetta in melbourne and a stunning entrĂ©e of grilled seafood that included calamari, octopus and scampi. 

6.) Would you please share the recipe of your favourite family meal with us?
Can you beat a perfectly cooked lemon delicious pudding? Looks spectacular, is so easy to cook and quietly cooks itself whilst you are enjoying the earlier part of the meal. 

Readers can find the recipe on my new website here: 

7.) What music would be playing? 
No music at dinner – just conversation!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Hearty Beef Cottage Pie topped with Buttery Mash

Sometimes life serves you up a big warm hug just when you need it doesn't it?

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend Craft Victoria's Craft & Design as a Career conference at Fed Square.

I caught up with ace sorts and was surrounded by amazing creative people.

It filled me to the brim.
I'd had a tough time as I talked about in my previous post and this was just the sort of pick-me-up I needed.

One of the things I am SOOOOOO excited about after yesterday is attending the Lost Trades Fair in Kyneton next year. Have you heard of it? Maybe you have!
I hadn't until yesterday but now I am super happy to have found out about it. Hoorah.

The Lost Trades Fair is an event celebrating the trades that are at risk of dying out.
Old school magnificence.
Creative arts that are functional yet exquisitely beautiful in their forms.
I hadn't heard of this before but it is RIGHT up my family's alley.
Already Lisa and Glen have gathered 80 people to share their skills. I can't wait!

Listening to the passion with which all of the speakers shared their stories was soul filling.
There are so many GOOD people out there doing great things.
Plugging away at their thing unheralded.
So good at what they do, yet so many of them unheard of.

There was a common thread amongst the speakers of getting to their creative success via a wonky path. Life doesn't take us on straight paths very often. But every bit of the wonky is an integral part in the puzzle. None of us would be the whole that we are without all the other bits we gathered on our wonky ways.

Going to an event like this is a great reminder that there is so much unseen good going on around us at any one time.
And yet we tend to hear only of the bad.

I'm really grateful to Craft Victoria and in particular to Gemma Jones for such an inspiring event.

For some reason yesterday I was craving a Cottage pie.
I had a little of my latest delivery of Naomi's amazing butter left & some gravy beef  from Warialda.
Cottage pie usually uses Mince but I think it is better with large pieces. Gravy beef is the perfect cut as when cooked slowly it becomes soft and unctuous.

This recipe is so so simple but tasted absolutely incredible. A testament to the fact that food can be a simple as simple can be but if you use amazing produce it will take it to a whole other level.
Total comfort food.


  • 1kg gravy beef, cut into large chunks
  • oil
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 4 carrots, peeled chopped roughly 
  • 1/2 bunch italian parsley chopped roughly
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon Worcesteshire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • S & P
  • 6 large potatoes
  • 100g butter ( i told you it was buttery mash!)
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
Heat a large non-stick pan to medium high. Add oil and pan & fry the gravy beef in small batches so as to brown and seal. Remove and set aside.
Add onion and fry till onion translucent.
Add garlic and fry for a minute or two. Add bay leaves, parlsey & carrot. Now add the flour and pop the beef back in the pan.
Stir well to coat.

Add Worcesteshire & Tomato paste. Stir and cook for a minute or two.
Add beef stock and S & P.
Bring to boil and immediately reduce heat to low.
Cover well and cook for 2 hours. ( you could do this in the oven - temp 170C).

Meanwhile peel & chop spuds into large chunks.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add potatoes.
Cook till soft.
Drain and mash lightly.
Now add the butter and mash until as smooth as possible (I do it this way as the butter melts well into the hot potatoes).

Add milk and almost use your masher to almost whisk the mash- this is how I get my mash super light and fluffy.

Heat the oven to 170C.

Add the cooked beef to an ovenproof casserole dish. Top with mashed potato and place into the oven until brown (about 20mins).

Serve piping hot.
Let's listen to this shall we?
My big two have been playing it loud at my place this week.
I reckon I was exactly their age when my mum listened to it about eleventy bazillion times as I played it our house too.
Some good things never change........

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Love and gratefulness.

It's windy outside.
Flurries of air throwing itself in unexpected gusts.
I feel overwhelmed.

The internet is feeling too much for me.
I don't know what to write. I don't know what to read.
So I just don't.
I feel like I don't know what to share & what not to.
Where do I start?  Where do I stop?

I'm afraid of not knowing important things but so much of what I see is so big and so heavy that I feel as if I can't process it.
So much information so much of the time. Do I really need to know all this stuff?
How do I sift the stuff that really is good for me to know?

I've stopped looking at Facebook and stopped looking at twitter.  I have even stopped looking at Instagram.

So much bad news.  So much stuff. Stuff I just don't feel I could get my head around.
Sometimes it all gets too much.  I feel as if the struggle to keep up with everything becomes this cloud growing like a mushroom over my head.
Yet at the same time I am sucked down a rabbit hole clawing at the falling.
I want to look. I don't want to look.

It's hard right to find the balance between keeping informed and being overwhelmed? How do we pare down the info we look at to just the stuff that is important? How do we find the sensible, clever writing in amongst the sensationalist non-news stories?
I don't know the answer to that.

I started to think about it and I didn't like how I felt.  More questions than answers. Just this overwhelming spinning feeling.

My friend Kate wrote this yesterday & just felt like I was nodding along the whole way.
Her words spilling on the screen as if they had spilt out of me.
It was more like a little shake up/wake up.

Times when things are so overwhelming is the exact most important time to step right back into our inner most selves and find the only things that matter.  But the ones that in times of cloudy busyness get lost first.

I kept looking at what I do thinking "I need to be a better me, I need to be a better blogger, I need to be doing better at the work I do, I need to be a better mother, a better wife, a better daughter, a better sibling, a better friend".
I am doing so many things, not feeling like I am doing anything very well at all.
Really I need to just learn & trust (again) that I am ok.  And OK is good enough.

And then today I wake up and it's the baby that I borne yesterday's SIXTEENTH birthday. How am I even the mother of someone so grown up & so magnificent?
I look at him and feel such pride at what an ace human he is.
So full of optimism, complexity, intellect, humour, thoughtfulness, sensitivity and just so so nice to be around.
I'm so so grateful. My family make everything make sense.

So many things don't make sense.
But I need to remember that making sense of stuff doesn't always amount to anything of importance.
What does make sense is that all that matters is love. And gratefulness.
So today I will focus on these two very important things.

Grateful for all I have.  Grateful that my life is filled with love.
And that in itself is more than enough.

Slow Cooked Spiced Pork Belly with Peanut Chilli Sambal:
This is what my kid has requested for his birthday dinner.

I have published it before here.

For the Sambal:

  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 lime- zest & juice
  • 3 red chillies, chopped super fine (de-seed if you are not keen on firey chilli!)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted peanuts , chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons Palm Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Fish sauce
  • 2 eschalots
  • the roots of 5-6 fresh coriander plants chopped super fine
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • water if necessary
For the Pork Belly:
  • 1.5kg Organic pork belly (have your butcher score the belly well)
  • 2 tablespoons of Salt & Pepper spice mix (recipe here
  • extra salt


Preheat oven to 120C.

Boil a full kettle of water.

Place belly on a rack in the sink and pour entire contents of kettle over the belly & let drain away.

Dry with paper towel and place rack onto baking tray.

Rub well with Salt & Pepper spice mix & extra salt (not more than a tablespoon) to coat skin well.

Add about 2 cups of water to the baking tray and pop in oven, skin facing UP.

Roast for 8 hours.

You can make the Sambal while the pork belly cooks slowly.

Heat canola oil in a saucepan to medium heat and add the eschalots and garlic.

Cook till soft & fragrant and add the chilli & palm sugar, stirring well till the sugar melts.

Add the coriander roots & peanuts, stir to coat.
Now add the fish sauce & lime juice- adjust if necessary to taste.

Add water if necessary & simmer for 5 minutes.

Set aside to serve with cooked Pork (can be reheated if desired).

Once Pork has been cooking for 8 hours turn up the temp to 220C.

Roast for a further 20 minutes or until crackling is crisp.

Remove and serve with steamed rice, Asian greens & Chilli Peanut Sambal.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Slow Roasted Ham Hocks (and Citrus & Mustard Ham Hock Hash)

Ham Hocks are one of the ultimate comfort foods.
Most people use them in soups.
This is a way to cook them that you may not know of.
There will be no turning back!

Slow roasting them with lots of aromatics leaves you with the richest, most unctuous meat that can be used in all sorts of things- shredded and put into fritters, popped into a salad of Roasted Winter veg, shredded & used in the ultimate Quiche Lorraine, shredded and served alongside eggs, the possibilities are endless.
The aromatics I choose leave the meat perfumed with a sweet citrus loveliness. Just perfect for winter.

I like to make a kind of Hash with the meat.
It requires a bit of forethought but boy oh boy the result is worth it.

I roasted the hock the day before and then whipped up the hash the following day for breakfast.
Oh my, the JOY!

Maybe you could do this over the weekend?
Delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
So simple, so DELICIOUS.
Slow food at it's very best.



  • 1 ham hock
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 bunch thyme
  • 1 whole orange, remove the rind in large sections & reserve the juice
  • 10 whole allspice
  • 2 large red chillies
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 150C.

Place the ham hock in an ovenproof roasting dish. make a couple of incisions across the hock.

Place all ingredients into the dish.

Cover well with tin foil and place into the oven for 4 hours.

Check after 2 hours and add a little water if looking too dry

Remove, allow to cool and shred meat, discarding bones.



  • shredded meat of one slow roasted ham hock
  • 3 large potatoes, cut into 2cm dice.
  • 1/4 cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • juice of an orange
  • 1 large tablespoon wholegrain mustard
  • olive oil
In a non stick pan, heat a tablespoon olive oil and add diced potatoes.
Pan fry till crisp on the outside and cooked through- about 10-15 mins.

Add garlic & mustard and fry for a minute or so.
Add shredded cabbage and cook while stirring for 2 minutes.
Now add the ham hock and the orange juice and stir through.
Finally add the parsley, stir through and serve.

Great live improv duet by two of my absolute fave musical fellas- M.Ward & Howe Gelb.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

How to cook Stinging Nettle

I have vivid memories from my childhood of the stinging nettle patch.

It was right behind the chook shed.  Under the grapevines.

It was lush and green but had that hint of danger. The sting of nettles is biting & leaves welts not unlike mosquito bites. It's sting is not enduring, not unlike the burn of wax- fleeting yet felt!

I also have fond memories of the soups that the leaves of the collected nettles made.

It is one of the plants that is seeing a bit of a renaissance in the food world alongside other 'weeds'. One of the reasons perhaps is the knowledge of how incredibly nutrient dense they are.

I bought some at the Farmers Markets on Saturday (it seems kind of strange to be buying them rather than foraging them but when I saw them I just had to have them).

I thought you may be interested in knowing how to cook them.  Perhaps you didn't even know you can cook or eat Stinging Nettles.

For me there is some sort of extra pleasure in cooking something that is a little wild, a little uncommon and a little hard to handle.

For a plant with a bite when it is alive; when it is cooked it is delicate, fragrant and gentle. And yields the most glorious vivid green imaginable.


Nettles are easy enough to prepare- especially if you wear kitchen gloves.

They are a great substitute for Basil in Pesto (some blanch it first before processing, others don't) and can be used as a substitute for Spinach in Saag dishes too.

If you do blanch be sure to ice immediately to help retain that amazing green


  • 1 large bunch Stinging Nettle
  • 1/2 bunch Italian Parsley
  • 6 large potatoes, washed & diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 1/2 litres chicken (or veg) stock
  • S & P
  • knob of butter


Using gloves, strip leaves of the woody part of the stem and pull the tops off- stem and all. Rinse nettles well and dry off in a salad spinner or in a teatowel.

In a pan melt the butter and add the clove of garlic.

Fry till fragrant and add potatoes & parsley.

Add chicken stock  & bring to boil.

Cook for 10 minutes or until potatoes are soft.

Add nettles, bring back to boil.

Reduce to simmer and cook for further 5 minutes before blitzing.

Season and serve.

I served ours with Goats cheese on Sourdough toast. DELICIOUS.
I was listening to this on Saturday as I cooked. An old fave from an old fave band.