Summer 2014/15

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THE NOT SO BOUNTIFUL BUNNY... a great feed, if you can find it! 

The rabbit has a charming face; Its private life is a disgrace.
I really dare not name to you The awful things that rabbits do.

 

  magic ChrisThat little ditty was written by someone called Anon (yes, I know it’s really Mister Anonymous) about 90 years ago, when rabbits were running riot across Australia.

Farmers were dynamiting and flooding the bunnies’ burrows; ferreting, trapping and shooting them ... and 3200km of allegedly rabbit-proof fencing was erected in the Outback, only to have the bunnies facing each other on both sides of it!

They were breeding like, well, rabbits. And decimating farms right across Australia.

Rabbits were brought to Australia with the First Fleet which arrived in 1788. They were destined for the pot, but apparently some, shipped to Hobart Town, escaped and in the 1820s their rapid breeding was causing concern in Van Diemens Land.

But the real damage was done in the 1850s when a wealthy farmer in Victoria imported 12 pairs of European wild rabbits so he could have some fun with his gun. The rabbit population exploded in mainland Australia and did so much damage to farms and the environment over the next 100 years.

They were out of control. A female can produce 30 offspring a year, and these offspring can produce their own young when they are just three months old.

When myxomatosis was introduced in the 1950s, it wiped out an estimated 600 million bunnies, according to Australian Geographic. Dunno who was counting the corpses, but that was about 99 per cent of the population.

Myxo, spread by mosquitos, is still effective. But almost 20 years ago, when rabbits were reaching plague proportions again, they were hit with calcivirus – newly developed by the CSIRO.

At the same time this worthy team of Aussie scientists were developing a new strain of rabbit to be farmed commercially – ‘cos as we all know, or should, bunny meat tastes good and is low in fat. The CSIRO called this new breed of bunny the Crusader.

The ban on rabbit farming had been lifted in most states in 1987. Restaurants were clamouring for rabbit meat – whether it be a wild bunny felled by a bullet or the big white Crusader.

Unfortunately, the two CSIRO programs have clashed. Commercial breeders were starting up right across Australia and the bunny business was booming ... until the Crusaders began falling victim to calcivirus.

Ten years ago there were an estimated 80 rabbit farms in Oz. Now there are only four. To keep themselves in business the breeders have to annually vaccinate the bunnies against calcivirus, which is spread through insects which have been in contact with wild rabbits.

So breeders – pet owners too – have to spend around $10 per year to safeguard each animal.

The introduction of calcivirus has not been the only problem for the breeders. The feed they need is now more costly and there have been issues with the animal rights people.

So what’s the difference between the meat from the two types of bunnies? Wild rabbits are smaller, the flesh is darker and many people say it has a better taste. The commercial variety are heavier and the meat is more tender.

Rabbit cooks well with a variety of foods – bacon, prunes, carrots, onions, garlic, parsley, celery and wine. And it can handle a variety of herbs – thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, tarragon.

My mate Jack once had bunny cooked in a chocolate sauce. But he was in a restaurant in Victoria, so serve him right!

THINK BIG and you will achieve

Tristan ThomasHey Brighton

It feels like a lot has been happening since I last wrote and hopefully that is the case for you guys too.

Reading over my last few pieces in Uncle Chris, I now see that I could perhaps come across to some of you as constantly overly positive. But don’t be fooled.

After the hardship of recent surgery that may (hopefully not) cut short my sporting life and a loss of all financial support to run, things certainly aren’t always any rosier for me. This is, however, why I think I can be of value to those on the journey to fitness.

The truth is that any one of you can become amazingly healthy. You don’t need me or anyone else for that.

There are no tricks, it is just a matter of trying things outdoors,
be it sports or chasing the dog or going for a walk with the family. In the end it will ultimately come down to setting a goal, finding the right people to support you and sticking to your program.

What I do have to offer you and the thing that has made me different from many others more talented than I is that I have a dream and refused, and still do, to give up on that.

I have spoken to a range of young people over the years and it is great to see how many want to be doctors, or full forward for the Magpies. It’s refreshing to see the range of dreams out there. Nothing is impossible.

I often reflect on where I came from, growing up in suburban Hobart and going to school. I think how easy it would have been to give up along the way. As much as there have been rubbish moments at times, I am proud that I never listened to those voices that said I couldn’t do it.

What I love about Brighton is it’s full of talent. This is the kind of place that breeds a champion and I know there have been quite a few who were born and bred in Brighton. When I went to Brighton for a Little Aths day everyone had so much energy and seemed to love being involved. Life has an annoying way of providing distractions, but the kids I saw had the potential to do anything. It was exciting to be a part of that experience.

I will return to Brighton soon now that summer is finally coming back and see how well the Little Aths club is doing.

I hope you all watched the Commonwealth Games and got inspired and to see that ‘sports stars’ are just people too. We don't just eat lettuce, many of us are scared of spiders. We are no different.

My favourite thing to say to young people is to remember that everyone was young once.

For those of you under the age of 15, I hadn’t even started running by that point ... so it is never too late.

Think big, keep dreaming and enjoy proving the doubters wrong. Tristan

FIRST find your bunny

he not-so-youngies will remember the days when rabbits were cheaper than chicken. Some people then called rabbits underground mutton.

Boy, were they cheap ... and so plentiful! In cities around Australia, they were sold in pairs by street sellers called rabbitohs, because that was the call they made.

Today, rabbits are not nearly so plentiful and rabbitohs have disappeared into the folklore of Australia, although a Rugby League team in Sydney still uses that name. So I’m told; I don’t follow that footy code.

There are two types of rabbit that can sometimes be purchased at the local butcher – wild and commercially bred.

The commercially bred rabbit is bigger and more tender than those running wild, but some foodies say the wild ones, with darker flesh, taste better.

One butcher tells me if he advertises bunnies in the window, they’re snapped up. Many rabbits are sold direct to restaurants, and they are becoming harder to buy direct from the butcher.

One butcher in Hobart sells wild rabbits for around $15 each and they weigh about 800 g.

Farmed rabbits are $22 a kilo – that’s if he can get them!

When I owned my farmhouse restaurant in Tea Tree a few years ago, a popular dish was rabbit casserole.

I was breeding my own rabbits for the pot, but the wild rabbits were running rampant around Tea Tree then. The calcivirus wiped them out, along with the bunnies I was breeding!

Anyway folks, there are still plenty of healthy rabbits in the bush, and if one comes your way, here’s my excellent (said I modestly) rabbit casserole.

 

RABBIT casserole

1.2 kilo rabbit cut into pieces game seasoning (see left)
plain flour
clarified butter
75 g diced bacon
1 stick of celery chopped
1 onion quartered
300 ml beef stock
200 ml marsala or sherry salt and pepper to taste

Rub the segmented rabbit with game seasoning and sift flour on to a plate. Heat the butter in a casserole, roll the meat in flour, tap off excess flour and fry in batches for a few minutes. Remove rabbit pieces from the casserole and fry the onion, celery and bacon pieces for a few minutes.

 

Return the meat to the casserole, add the stock and marsala, bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 1 hour.

 

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Prepare for a feast

To make a casserole or stew with game meat I always use a marinade/seasoning to prepare the meat. It works with rabbit, hare, deer (venison) and also with wallaby or kangaroo.

 

Game marinade

1 litre red wine (if you can’t drink it, don’t cook with it) 100 ml red wine vinegar
1 large onion cut in half and decorated with two bay leaves and four cloves
1 clove of garlic
1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
1⁄2 teaspoon thyme
1⁄2 teaspoon rosemary
1 carrot cut into pieces
3-4 crushed juniper berries

 

Game seasoning

This herb mixture can be used on all game and local bush meat.
4 dried bay leaves
1⁄4 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cloves
5 juniper berries
1⁄2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon rosemary needles
1 tablespoon thyme leaves

 

Crush to a fine powder in a mortar
or spice grinder.

 

Add a pinch of ground ginger and nutmeg. Keep this mixture in a small jar until needed

ARE YOU GAME? Put wallaby on the menu

wallaby-500Did you know, folks, there are more than five million wallabies roaming our state. That’s around 10 of them for every one of us humans.

Now we all know they’re cute little critters, but they are now in plague proportions and they’re causing real concern to our farmers, competing with the fodder that should be for the cows and sheep.

About 1 million wallabies are harvested each year, but they’re here to stay in our landscape.

Lenah Game Meats in the north of the state is making productive use of some of the culled wallabies. Husband and wife team John and Katrina Kelly began the business in 1993.

Now their processed wallaby meat is being sold not only across Tasmania but also in the mainland, because only Tasmanian wallabies are commercially processed for their meat. Restaurants as far away as Cairns are buying our wallaby meat.

The people at Lenah have a wonderful slogan for their wallaby products – “it’s the pinot of red meats”. The Kellys say it’s more tender and sweeter than kangaroo.

But some advice for cooking: because it’s so low in fat (and therefore very healthy), pan-fry a wallaby fillet for only a few minutes.

It’s an inexpensive meat. The other day, in a local supermarket, it was selling for $4.50 for a 500 g pack – and that would feed a family of four. It can be used as a substitute for beef in bolognaise, shepherd’s pie, nachos or tacos.

John Kelly says: “We like to think we invented wallaby meat. We’re the largest producer in the state. Before we started it was just used in pet meat or in patties.

“It’s a bit like the abalone story. Before the Chinese pointed out that abalone was worth $100 a kilo, Tasmanians used to mince it for patties.”

GAME casserole

Put all ingredients into a small pot and bring to the boil. Wait until until the marinade has cooled, then pour over the meat. The meat has to be covered. Keep in a fridge for 4 days.

Take the meat out of the marinade and pat dry. Boil the marinade, then pour it through a sieve covered with a muslin cloth to strain. When cool, use as described below.

11⁄2 kilos game meat cut into 3 cm cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons plain flour, plus some extra for dusting the meat
400 ml cooled and sieved marinade
200 ml beef stock or game stock if at hand
100 ml cream
salt and pepper to season

 

Dust the meat with flour, removing the excess, and fry in the heated oil in multiple portions so as not to crowd the pan.

 

Remove the meat, add the two tablespoons of flour and roast until brown. Add the sieved cold marinade to the pot and whisk to prevent it from getting lumps. Season with salt and pepper, add the meat and simmer on low for at least 1 hour, adding the stock whenever more liquid is needed. When tender, remove the meat from the sauce and keep it warm.

 

Put the sauce through a sieve and back into the pot. Reheat but do not boil the sauce. Add the cream, check the seasoning and adjust to taste. Add the meat and serve in the sauce, garnished with either roasted bread cubes or crispy bacon or pancetta.

 

Don’t forget the mashed potatoes!

 

For another version of game casserole using the uncooked marinade. You need:

 

100 g sliced carrots
100 g sliced onion
10 g sliced shallots
1-2 sliced garlic cloves
1-2 ground cloves
1 bay leaf crumbled
2-3 sprigs thyme
750 ml white wine
175 ml white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Cook using the same routine above.

 

GAME loaf

11⁄2 kilos game meat cut into pieces
game marinade
game seasoning
350 g bacon
2 eggs separated
100 g fresh breadcrumbs
100 ml cognac or brandy
salt and pepper to taste
1⁄2 handful of flat leaf (Italian) parsley
butter for greasing the mould

 

Prepare the game loaf the day before. Put game seasoning over the meat, cover with the marinade and refrigerate for 24 hours. Remove meat from the marinade and chop finely or mince together with the bacon. Whisk the egg yolks and mix with the breadcrumbs, add to the chopped or minced meat together with the cognac or brandy. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the mixture together with the parsley.

Season with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 150C. Grease a mould with the butter, fill it with the meat mixture. Place the mould in a tray half filled with water and bake for 2 hours. Can be served hot or cold.

 

GAME schnitzels

If you have a nice back strap of wallaby or kangaroo, cut it into schnitzels and prepare as follows.

 

8 schnitzels
2 tablespoons butter
game seasoning
black currant jam

 

Heat the butter and fry the schnitzels, turning them when a light crust has formed. Season the meat. Make sure that the schnitzels are still rare in the middle. Baste with some black currant jam and keep warm while you make the sauce.

 

1 tablespoon castor sugar
1 orange, zest only and juice
1 lemon, zest only and juice
100 ml port
100 ml white wine
200 ml clear jus (game or chicken stock)
1⁄2 teaspoon cornflour

 

In a small pan melt the sugar until it is light caramel brown, then remove from the heat and add the zest and juice of the orange and lemon, then add the port.

 

Put the pan back on the heat and simmer so the sugar dissolves in the liquid.

 

Add the jus and simmer for a few minutes. Mix the cornflour with the white wine and add to the boiling sauce. Season the sauce, then pour it over the schnitzel and present the rest of the sauce separately.

 

This goes well with red cabbage, green beans and boiled potatoes. Poached pears or apples filled with red or black currant jam also go well together, so too does chestnut puree.

SPICE (and herb) up your meals

Coriander

Coriander is a great addition in the kitchen, be it seeds (which is usually classified as a spice) or fresh leaves (which is a herb).

 

APRICOT chutney 800 g chopped apricots

1 chopped onion
50 g sultanas
150 g sugar
100 ml white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 cloves
1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Put all ingredients into a pot and cook for at least 20 minutes. Place the chutney in sterilised jars and seal. The chutney can be kept for up to six months in a cool place.

 

VEGETABLE curry

2 tablespoons oil or butter
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 cm fresh ginger chopped
1 teaspoons coriander seeds
3⁄4 tablespoon curry
2 small aubergines (eggplants) cut in 3cm cubes
1 small cauliflower cut into small rosettes
100 ml water
2 tablespoons mint leaves chopped
200 g frozen peas
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and cubed
1 teaspoon salt
pepper as needed
2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts
coriander leaves for garnish

 

Heat the oil or butter, add onions, garlic, coriander seeds, ginger and curry. Add aubergines and cauliflower and mix for 3-4 minutes, then add water. Cover and simmer on low heat until almost ready. Add mint, peas and tomatoes . Season with salt and pepper. After 5 more minutes serve in a casserole garnished with coriander leaves and pine nuts. Can be served with pasta, rice or potatoes.

Basil

With the warmer weather approaching, basil will be more readily available and you can grow your own.

 

PESTO

75 g basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
3 crushed cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
150 ml olive oil

 

Crush the ingredients in a mortar or vitamiser, slowly blending in the olive oil. When the mixture is a fine paste, fill clean glass containers with it and cover the top with olive oil to seal it off from the air.

 

Before serving on crostinis, stir some freshly grated parmesan under a smothering of pesto.

 

TOMATO & basil soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 clove of garlic chopped
1 kilo ripe tomatoes cut in quarters
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon sugar
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
300 ml vegetable stock

 

Heat the olive oil, add the onions and garlic and soften, but don’t let them brown. Add all the rest of the ingredients, except for the stock and fry for a minute or two. Then add the stock and simmer for about 30 minutes.

 

Pour through a sieve and press the tomato pulp through, discard the herb remains, skins and leftover onion and garlic. Return to the pan and heat up.

 

4 tablespoons basil leaves chopped finely 50 ml whipped cream
Take half of the cream and basil leaves and add to the soup, serve in individual soup plates and garnish with the other half of cream and basil.

Dill

Dill is another great fresh herb, cooking diminishes its flavour.
When you have surplus, make a sweet dill mustard sauce which goes very well with gravlax or smoked salmon.

 

SWEET dill mustard sauce

1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 1⁄2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
3 tablespoons chopped dill

 

Mix all ingredients well and serve as needed.

 

FISH ragout with dill

200 g white firm fish without bones
200 g salmon without bones
8 large peeled prawns
1 small gherkin cut in half, peeled, deseeded and then cut in to 1⁄2 cm strips
1 tablespoon butter or as needed
200 ml fish stock
250 ml cream
3 tablespoons dry vermouth
1⁄2 teaspoon cornflour
1⁄2 teaspoon water
1⁄2 lemon zest
salt and pepper as needed
4 tablespoons chopped dill

 

Cut the fish in 3cm cubes. Melt the butter in a large pan, fry the fish, prawns and gherkins in small portions, season with salt and pepper, remove and keep warm.

 

Add the stock, vermouth and cream to the pan and reduce by half. Mix cornflour and water and add to the simmering sauce. Add fish, prawns and gherkins to the sauce to warm up. Add lemon zest, season to taste, then sprinkle the chopped dill over the dish as garnish, together with some sliced lemons.

SAGE advice

Herbs are a lot like magic dust. Whack a few of them in the most boring dish and, abracadabra, you have a culinary masterpiece.

I once knew a cunning woman who, whenever she had guests, would get out a can of tomato soup and rev it up with a good sprinkle of herbs and a dollop or two of cream. Then she would pass off the soup as a gourmet dish she had cooked from start to finish in her kitchen. Few ever doubted she was a great cook.

Herbs can do that for your cooking.

Boring meals as bland as cardboard can be brought to life. So if your meals are a bit on the mundane side, maybe it’s time to herb them up. It’s easy to set up a herb garden, and your meals will love you for it.

Start with a few favourites such as basil, parsley, mint, rosemary, sage, dill, coriander, marjoram, oregano and thyme.

Your roast lamb will taste a treat when cooked with a sprig or two of rosemary, and what’s a meaty pasta without a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley?

The secret with growing herbs is to realise that few herbs look good year round, and that some actually die down.

basil-400Some, like basil, one of my favourites and yum with any tomato dish, is an annual, so it dies completely after one season. Basil is a summer sensation cheaply grown from seed or seedlings. Many gardeners claim it repels

pests from tomatoes. I reckon that’s an old wives’ tale without scientific fact, but tomatoes and basil sure do grow well together.

A mate of mine reckons you should nourish young basil seedlings with warm water. Keep the soil moist, fertilise regularly and pick leaves often. Snipping off the flowers will extend a plant’s life, although allowing just a few to flower will give you seed for growing new plants next year.

Others herbs, like sage and rosemary, are perennials, so they’ll come again.

Rosemary is a lazy gardener’s delight because it grows as a bush, generally for several years. Give it a clip back once a year to keep it virile and attractive.

They reckon that evil women, witches and the like, grow the best parsley. As I tell my wife often, she’s one of the best damn parsley growers I know. And she’s no witch!

Parsley can be grown from seed in spring, but this time of year seedlings are best. Plant them in rich, moist soil that gets a little shade throughout the day, and plant both curly-leaf and Italian flat- leaf varieties to give a choice

ParsleyFlat-leaf parsley – that’s the Italian variety – has more flavour, but the curly leaf variety looks good on the side of a plate.

There are many types of sage (also called salvia), but common sage with its grey-green leaves and blue-purple flowers is the one to grow. It is a short-lived evergreen that does best in full sun. Use the leaves fresh (or you can dry them) for stews and poultry dishes.

Now to two of Uncle Chris’s favourites. Dill can be planted as seed, ideally just as the last frosts are finishing in spring. Coriander, sometimes called Chinese parsley, is best planted as seed in spring and autumn.

Like most plants, herbs need to be watered regularly during dry weather and some perform best when cut back. Most of them do well in a sunny, wind- protected spot with good drainage.

Before planting any herb, read the label. They often have all the info you need to get the best out of them.

Whichever herbs you grow, don’t fall for the trap of plonking them in any old bit of vacant earth. Set up a proper bed for them. Find a few old bricks and brick around the outside of a bed. Maybe create a circular bed broken up into wedges radiating out like pieces of cake. This way there’ll be a sense of permanence when your herbs are throwing a visual wobbly.

A checkerboard of square paving slabs, alternating slabs with bare earth for herbs, can look good too. And don’t be afraid to grow a few flowering plants like marigolds in among your herbs.

If short on space, grow your herbs in pots. But don’t just grow them. Use them for cooking and you will appreciate the fabulous lift they can give meals.