Winter 2012

Uncle Chris logo

SMOKE . . . a burning issue

Probably shouldn’t admit this, but a few years ago when I was building our house-for-ever-more I made one mistake. Yes folks, just one.

Uncle-Chris telling the dog to get off the couch

I didn’t want a wood-heater installed in the living room. Could it have been because I was born in Switzerland and like the cold? No, that’s not it. I thought wood-heaters were messy and splitting wood can be a bit of a chore.

But every winter the electricity bill went up and up. One day Boris bounded into our lives, looked around the house and in his doggy way suggested we needed a wood heater.

I got some advice from the bloke selling wood heaters on the right size for the area we wanted to heat.

Now Boris is happy sleeping in front of the warm glow, twitching every now and then and dreaming whatever it is that dogs dream about.

I have a mate in the local EPA (okay Boris, that stands for Tassie’s Environmental Protection Agency) who’s given me a few tips about wood heaters, and I’ll pass on the info, which all makes sense.

First, some don’ts ...

• Don’t burn treated wood. It creates unpleasant odours and toxic fumes.

• Don’t burn unseasoned or wet wood. Wet wood will make a lot of smoke. Stack wood under cover in a dry, ventilated place. You know your wood is dry and seasoned when it makes a sharp cracking sound when struck together.

• If a fan is fitted, don’t use it when burning the fire slowly, because the fan will cause the wood heater to cool down and create too much smoke.

• Don’t close the air control immediately after lighting the fire or loading wood.

• When starting the fire use scrunched up newspaper and layer small, dry kindling on top. Place small logs on top of the kindling and a sheet of newspaper on top of the logs before you light the fire to create a good draft.

My mate at the EPA also gives these tips once the fire is burning well:

• Place the wood end-on in the firebox rather than sideways, but only if it fits easily;

• Leave at least a 2cm gap between pieces of wood, and leave a gap between the wood and the window;

• Reload regularly to ensure that new wood ignites quickly, but do not overfill the heater;

• Burn on high air-flow for 20-25 minutes after adding wood to the fire;

• Keep the fire burning brightly so it doesn’t smoulder – never choke the fire;

• When you go to bed, let the fire burn itself out overnight – only turn down the air supply when you have a bed of glowing charcoal. Closing off all the air supply to a fire just produces a lot of smoke and little heat.

My EPA mate says I should take a walk outside occasionally – with Boris, of course, who needs to stretch his legs – and check that the chimney is not smoking. If I see smoke I should adjust the fire so it burns better.

He tells me: “A well-maintained modern heater should not produce any visible smoke when the fire is burning well.” Makes sense, but you probably knew that already.

You should have your flue cleaned out each year. Some insurance policies state this must be done – read the small print!

My EPA mate says wood heaters are not necessarily a cheaper alternative to electric heating.

He says the EPA prefers the use of cleaner fuels (such as electricity), especially on days when there are significant emissions from forestry/agricultural or other fires.

THE TRUTH about brussels sprouts

Bonsai-cabbage-960Okay folks, spot the spelling mistake in George Haddon’s cartoon ... I’ve given you a hint in the line just above. Brussels sprouts, not brussel sprouts. I guess because they were first grown in Brussels, in faraway Belgium. Now George is a great cartoonist ... did you know he was named Australia’s Cartoonist of the Year in 2004 by fellow cartoonists all around Australia? True. But his cartooning mates didn’t judge George by his spelling. Back to brussels sprouts ... the truth is the name is hard to spell and they’re not so tasty when cooked to a grey pulp. In fact, when cooked too long they’re disgusting!

But they’re great when prepared and cooked properly. First, buy ‘em fresh. Hand-pick each one so they are the same size for even cooking. Avoid the ones that are too big and the soft and loose-leafed ones; they should be firm, clean and green.

To prepare for cooking, give them a rinse, trim off the stem, but not too much, and cut a shallow X where the stem was. This allows for even fast cooking.

I like to quickly steam them, adding some salt when the water is boiling.

Check them with a sharp knife after a just a few minutes. They should be ready – still firm and green. Drain, add a dob of butter, and perhaps a sprinkle of pepper and nutmeg. Shake and serve!

You can also serve them with crumbled bacon or slivered almonds on top, grated cheese or fresh lemon juice.

Brussels sprouts are a valuable source of vitamin C and other things that are good for you. I don’t care ... I eat ‘em because they’re yummy.

George also loves them – they help him draw, even if he can’t spell!

WHAT’S in a name?

Okay folks, did I tell you the time when I was serving up meals for oil rig crews in the Timor Sea? The men were often hard to please, but they were no connoisseurs when it came to what was placed in front of them. To amuse myself I would make up names for some of the meals.

For instance, the men on one rig told me they weren’t keen on eating brussels sprouts. So one evening when I served them up, I called them bonsai cabbages. They tried them ... and yes they went down well.

Have you ever heard of Irish pizza? Probably not because I invented the name of the recipe. “What’s that?” grumbled one of the oil rig crew when I served up a meal. “Irish pizza,” I replied. He and his mates tried it and loved it. From then on ‘Irish pizza’ was served up once a week on the rig.

Here’s the recipe ... and you don’t have to work on an oil rig to enjoy it!

FILLED boiled potatoes . . . aka Irish pizza 8 scrubbed large potatoes

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Meat filling;

1 tablespoon butter
150 g minced meat
75 g chopped
bacon 1 onion
4 sage leaves chopped, or dried sage
4 tablespoons fresh cream
150 g sour cream
1⁄2 teaspoon salt and some pepper
1 teaspoon ground rosemary
1 teaspoon melted butter

Boil the potatoes, then cut them lengthwise to form a shallow lid (about 1/3rd the depth of each spud). Hollow the potatoes carefully with a spoon to avoid breaking through the skin. Mash the scooped out potato and potato lids with lemon juice.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan, add mince and bacon and fry. Add onion and sage and fry with the meat. Add fresh cream and cook for 5 minutes. Mix the mashed potato and sour cream with the meat, and season to taste

Brush inside of hollowed out spuds with melted butter, then fill them with the meat mixture and bake in a prewarmed oven at 220C for 15-20 minutes.

A garden salad served with this dish makes a wonderful economical meal.

WINTER warmers

POTATO cream soup

400 g peeled and cubed potatoes 1 tablespoon butter
1 onion chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
1⁄2 leek sliced
750 ml vegetable stock
300 ml cream
pinch of pepper and nutmeg
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped marjoram, or dried

Heat the butter in a pot, add onion, garlic and leek, add potatoes and the stock and simmer until soft. Mash the mixture, then add the rest of the ingredients, season and serve.

TOASTED cheese

8 slices of old white bread 200 ml white wine
400 g cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons flour
2 eggs
freshly ground pepper

On a baking tray arrange the bread slices and grill them in the oven until brown on both sides.

Sprinkle 50 ml of the wine on the bread slices.

Grate the cheese and mix the flour into it.

Whisk the eggs and remainder of wine and pepper; fold the cheese and flour mixture in to it.

Place mixture on each slice of bread and bake in preheated oven at 250C in for 10 minutes

Serve with a salad.

SALMON steaks

4 salmon steaks
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice flour as needed
butter or oil as needed for frying
2 tablespoons extra butter
1 onion sliced in rings
100 ml white wine

Lay the salmon steaks on a plate and season both sides with salt and pepper and lemon juice.

Put some flour in a soup plate and flour the salmon steaks both sides, shake off excess flour and fry in the pan with the heated oil/butter until both sides are brown.

Keep warm in a 60C oven while you prepare the onion rings.

Toss the rings in the flour and roast to a golden brown in the extra butter.

Place the onions in the warm oven, separate to the salmon. Deglaze the pan with the wine.

Place the salmon on individual plates, garnish with onion rings and pour the pan juice over the top.

Serve with boiled new potatoes.

LAMB stew

600-700 g cubed lamb
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
2 sprigs of fresh thyme or dried thyme leaves
500 g green beans
6 potatoes peeled
100 ml white wine
100 ml beef stock
2 large tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the mustard through the lamb. Heat the oil in a casserole dish or large pot, and fry the meat on all sides in small portions. Remove the meat, reduce the heat and put the onion, garlic and thyme into the pot. Cut beans in half and add to the pot.

Cut peeled potatoes in large cubes or wedges and add them together with the meat into the pot. Add wine and stock, bring to the boil, cube tomatoes and add. Reduce heat and simmer in the covered pot for 1 hour. Test if meat is tender, season with the salt
and pepper.


600 g boiled potatoes
250 g cheddar cheese
2 carrots sliced
500 g broccoli
dob of butter

Peel potatoes, grate with the cheese and mix.

In a pot of boiling water, blanch the carrots and broccoli, but don’t let them go too soft.

Rub a baking dish with butter and alternatively place the potato/cheese and vegetables in layers.

Next step:
180 g milk
180 g sour cream
1 egg
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
pinch of pepper and nutmeg

Whisk together, pour over the baking dish and bake in a pre-warmed oven at 200C for 25-30 minutes. Served with a green salad, this makes a nourishing meal for 4 people.

PUMPKIN gratin

500 g boiled potatoes peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion chopped
2-3 cloves garlic chopped
500 g pumpkin cut in cubes
50 ml chicken stock
280 g red kidney beans
1 red deseeded chili chopped

Heat oil in pan, add onion and garlic and fry, then add pumpkin. After 2 minutes add stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add potatoes, red kidney beans and chili, mix and pour into a greased baking dish.

Then add;
200 g sour cream
100 ml milk
1 egg
1⁄2 teaspoon salt and some pepper,

Mix with a whisk and pour on to the vegetables. Bake in a prewarmed oven at 220C for 25 minutes.

This goes well with lamb chops.

PEPPER black and white ... and pink and green

Pepper is one of the most popular spices in the world. It is often called the king of spices. It was the search for the source of pepper more than any other spice that led European sailors eastward centuries ago. At one time peppercorns were more valuable then gold.

The best pepper is said to be grown in India, along the Malabar Coast.

Black The green berries are dried on mats in the sun and raked several times a day for a week until they are wrinkled and black.

White The red and orange berries are packed in sacks and soaked for a week under slowly running water. This process rots the outer husks of the berries so that they can be easily removed. The husked berries are white pepper.

Green These are occasionally available fresh, still on long stems. Used particularly in Thai cooking, green peppercorns also complement game and duck dishes, terrines and creamy sauces. Green peppercorns are available pickled in brine or vinegar or freeze dried. Remember to rinse pickled peppercorns before use.

Pink Native to South America, they are also grown in Reunion, an island in the Indian Ocean. They are picked when ripe and dried or pickled in brine. Pink peppercorns do not have a strong aroma until they are crushed, when they give off a sweet peppery smell, with only a peppery aftertaste.

Pink peppercorns are more a food fashion trend; dried pink peppercorns are used to mix with other peppercorns in a clear pepper mill, to look attractive.



Salted water ... add salt to water only when it is boiling, otherwise the un-dissolved salt crystals sit on the bottom of the saucepan and can damage the metal surface.

To keep cauliflower white ... add some lemon peel to the water when cooking.

Making mint sauce? ... dip fresh mint in white vinegar before chopping – this will help the mint retain its bright green colour.

No tears please ... use a small fan when you chop onions – this will keep the tears away!

Never ever boil! ... if you make your own stock, never boil or put a lid on the pot. Just simmer gently. In this way you keep the stock clearer.


LET’S hear it for the left-overs!

FRITTATA di pollo

A great use for left-over chicken

650 g boiled potatoes and carrots
400 g sliced cooked chicken
8 eggs whisked
100 ml chicken stock
3 tablespoons grated cheese
chopped parsley
1⁄2 teaspoon salt and some pepper
1 tablespoon oil

Mix the ingredients in a bowl. Heat the oil in a pan, then cook the mixture slowly on low heat for about 35 minutes.

Serve with a green salad.

LEFT-OVER mashed

500 g leeks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons water
500 g mashed potato
2 eggs
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
pinch of nutmeg and pepper

Heat half the butter in a pan, add rinsed and sliced leeks, then the water and steam until limp. Strain in a sieve.

Mix the whisked eggs, salt, nutmeg and

pepper, then mix with mashed potato and the leeks.

Warm up the extra butter in the pan, and use a tablespoon to drop the mixture in dollops into the pan, flatten them slightly and bake on both sides.

They make a scrumptious economical meal with salad or can accompany a roast.


POTATO burger

300 g left-over boiled potatoes
300 g minced meat (beef, lamb or pork) 1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 bunch of parsley chopped
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 whisked egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon curry
pepper to taste
8 slices cheddar cheese
oil or butter for frying

Grate potatoes, mix with minced meat and all the other ingredients. Kneed the mixture with wet hands to form
8 burgers.

Heat oil or butter in a pan and fry the burgers for 4-5 minutes on each side.

Place a slice of cheddar on each burger and melt in a warm oven or in the pan covered with a lid.

Serve with a fresh garden salad.

SALT . . . but in moderation

In my recipes I say ‘season according to taste’. It’s another way of saying ‘salt in moderation’.

Salt is a universal seasoning ingredient used to bring out the flavour in food.

Too little salt can make the meal rather bland. Too much salt ruins the meal and, if you crave it, salt can also damage your health. High blood pressure, etc ... well, you know I’m no doctor.

Ironically, salt is now used as the basis of restoring a chemical balance in our diet. Hence the now compulsory use of iodised salt in commercial bread making. It seems we do not have enough iodine in our bodies for our own good.

If you are on a diet which limits or restricts salt, you can mask this lack of seasoning by adding herbs, pepper and a touch of chilli. And I am told that those on a salt-free diet can buy iodine at chemists.

Like the intake of sugar, we can control our cravings by reducing the amount of salt we consume.

Rock salt is fairly coarse and some cooks believe it has superior flavour.

Refined (or table) salt is free flowing with the addition of magnesium carbonate to prevent it from taking on moisture.

Sea salt is produced by evaporating sea water, either naturally or by artificial means.

English sea salt comes mainly from Maldon in Essex. The flakes have an excellent salty flavour and can be sprinkled on bread rolls or salty biscuits.

Black salt is dark grey and has a pinkish tinge when ground. It is used as a seasoning or a spice in Indian cooking.

COOLEST kitchen garden

Yes, it’s getting mighty brisk out there but it’s really not the time to be doing your best impersonation of a hibernating Eskimo.

It’s best to hit winter head on.

Rug up, get out and do some gardening. You’ll get your blood surging and in no time you won’t even notice the cold – and your plants will love you for it.

Despite what many believe, there’s lots you can do in a winter garden, especially in the vegie department.

Winter is a great season to get healthy, home-grown produce heading in the right direction with a select line-up.

If you’ve taken my previous advice, you will have set up a kitchen garden bed or two in a sunny spot that drains well. If you haven’t, get to it now; it’s not too late.

And if your soil is a bit on the ordinary side, dig in some decayed animal manure (sheep and cow are nutrient winners) or a couple of bags of compost.

WINTER winners

So what to plant?

One of my big winter favourites is broad beans.

While it’s best to sow seeds before May, you might still get a few going, or prepare the bed now and hold off actual sowing until August.

Once plants are producing, either cook and eat the beans and pods when young, or when older and larger, de- pod the beans and peel off their tough outer skin. For something even yummier, check out Jamie Oliver’s Moroccan Style Broad Bean Salad with Yoghurt and Crunchy Bits on his website (search under ‘broad bean’ at

Also right for late-winter planting is rhubarb. Grow it from crowns (parts of dormant roots) in rich soil that drains well. Keep the soil around it moist (but not sodden) over dry periods and well fertilised.

The stalks are right to cut and eat from about November – and do yourself a favour, combine it stewed with apple in a pie to remember.

Importantly, don’t eat the leaves because they’re poisonous. It’s claimed, though I can’t verify it, that because of vegetable shortages during World War I they fed British troops boiled rhubarb leaves and several died.

One of the hardiest cool-weather contributors is winter or prickly spinach. Grow it from seed in slightly raised beds that drain well and pick it leaf by leaf as wanted (wash it well, blanch and serve simply drizzled in olive oil).

savoy-cabbage-400Come latish August, you can safely allow yourself to fall victim to spring- planting fever. Get in seedlings of things like cabbage (try the crinkly-leafed savoy for a change, a winner in coleslaw), cauliflower, celery, broccoli, lettuce, onion and leek in well fertilised soil.

But be aware that frost can play havoc with young seedlings. Around Brighton it’s not unknown to suffer a rogue frost as late as the end of October, rarely even early November – so it pays to take precautions, maybe with a makeshift shadecloth cover above them overnight when frosts are predicted.

As you get more proficient in your gardening, you might invest in a cheap mini greenhouse (they’re available from the hardware chains for less than $40 these days) to create your own seedlings from seed.

You could also get in a few crops of onions (brown, spring and/or salad onions). Give them rich soil and avoid too much nitrogen-rich fertiliser. They take a long time to mature but they’re keepers so are worth the effort.

TIME to choke

Whether you eat them or simply marvel at their fabulously showy flowers, artichokes are amazing plants that can be planted in winter. But don’t get them confused.

There are two – globe artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes – and they are unrelated.

Globe artichoke flower

The former, sometimes called the gourmet’s thistle, is treasured for its edible flower buds from spring into summer and grows about 1.5m high in typical thistle fashion.

To prepare for eating, the artichoke (flower bud) needs to be trimmed of its stem, thorns and rough outer section before being steamed, boiled or microwaved. While the inner yoke is unpalatable, the fleshy lower leaves are good in salads or as a vegie.

It’s worth growing a few globe artichokes to trial – and if you don’t like them, allow the flower buds to develop into striking bright purple, almost iridescent blooms. They’re stunners! A warning, though – they can become weedy so watch them.

Jerusalem artichokes, on the other hand, produce fabulous golden yellow sunflowers in early autumn.

They can be grown from tubers in late winter and, unlike globe artichokes, you get to appreciate their flowers before later eating the crop of new tubers that is produced underground.

The tubers are best harvested in autumn when the plant has died down.

Like potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes can be roasted or boiled. Or mash them with potatoes, pumpkins or carrots. A good trick when roasting is to first boil sections in water until tender and then bake in the oven, maybe after covering them in breadcrumbs and a white sauce. Scrumptious!