Monthly Archives: August 2012

Vegetables and rejuvenation

I’m baaaack! Oh, y’all. I had such an amazing two weeks at home in Georgia. August is my favourite time to be in the South. Long, hot days give way to rolling thunderstorms that cool off the evenings and make you want to sit on the front porch with a cold drink and listen to the rain. The vegetable gardens are full to bursting with juicy tomatoes, fuzzy okra pods and shiny green chillies. Family dinners require little more than a crunchy baguette, some freshly chopped tomatoes and a few torn basil leaves.

Savoury and spicy gazpacho with a dab of sour cream at the Buford International Market’s cooking class taught by Chef Alex Reethof.

I know that most people believe the stereotype of American food as all deep fried, goopy cheese-topped and huge. And there certainly is that type of food to be found. But, at least in our house, vegetables rule. Especially after we enjoyed a wonderful cooking class at the Buford International Market.

Chef Alex Reethof leads a class on making salads with the bounty of Georgia’s summer produce.

Rich and creamy red potato salad is given a kick by tangy mustard and toasted fennel seeds.

My mom and some friends and I attended a fantastic cooking class in which we learned the steps for making seven different seasonal salads. The class, which was taught by Chef Alex Reethof, included lots of detailed demonstrations, tastings of each of the yummy salads and plenty of laughs.

Cous cous is mixed with a riot of roasted root vegetables in this hearty and filling salad.

We learned to make chilled gazpacho, red potato salad with mustard and fennel seeds, cous cous with roasted vegetables, grilled Mexican-street-style corn, watermelon salad with feta and black olives, and panzanella. By the end of the class we were stuffed full of fresh vegetable goodness.

Smoky grilled corn is mixed with lime juice, crumbly Mexican cheese and a dab of mayo to make an incredible summer salad that could easily be a main course.

And all these vegetables, all the time with my family and the time spent outside, all of these good things have meant that I’ve arrived home in Sydney feeling rejuvenated and invigorated. I’m so incredibly excited about announcing what’s next for us and how you can all join us on a very cool adventure.

Crisp and cool watermelon mixed with creamy feta and tangy black olives.

Panzanella made with chunky tomatoes, cucumbers and toasted pita bread.

Mi Casa-Su Casa. We’re going to be opening one of Sydney’s ONLY supper clubs. Think speak easy. Think in-home dining. Think meeting new people, eating delicious home cooked food and enjoying proper Southern hospitality.

Get excited, everyone! This is going to be fun!

Chilled Gazpacho Summer Soup

from Chef Alex Reethof

1 English cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, cored and chopped
1 yellow pepper, cored and chopped
1 green pepper, cored and chopped
6-8 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped and mashed
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup coriander, finely chopped
1 cup mixed herbs (parsley, basil, mint), finely chopped
3-4 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper
Sour cream, sauteed shrimp, chopped avocado for topping (optional)

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until combined (don’t over blend, you want some chunks!) Chill for several hours and serve cold, with your desired toppings.

The Mill Stone Tea Room… a guest post by SK’s dad.

(Hello, happy readers!  As most of you know, because I’ve been totally unable to shut up about it, I’m currently on holiday back in the States.  Family time!  Summer food!  Baseball!  Hurrah!  To fill a gap in my blog whilst I’m away, my father volunteered to write about a fantastic meal that my parents ate recently.  So, without further ado, here’s the first ever guest post on Mi Casa-Su Casa, by Mr. Tom Kirk!)

Summer time road trips are a Kirk family tradition.  This summer my wife and I planned a road trip that would begin in our home state of Georgia and take us up to Pennsylvania, onward towards northern New York, out east through Rhode Island and home again via Washington, DC.  We planned to kick off the trip with a visit to the D Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia on our way to spend the 4th of July in Pittsburgh with my sisters.  I spent a little while looking for a nice place to eat nearby the Memorial and came across a wonderful website for The Mill Stone Tea Room. I called ahead and made reservations for two, and Nancy and I spent time anticipating the fine menu and the beautiful setting.  Charlotte, the lady who took our reservations, could not have been nicer.

We left for Bedford on the last day of June. As we were pulling out of the driveway, at the very beginning of our 6-hour-long drive, our mobile rang. It was Charlotte to tell us that there had been a violent storm the night before. The Mill Stone Tea Room, and most of the rest of the county, was without power! She was unsure about being able to serve us that evening, but asked that we call back in the afternoon to get a final word. We drove away…into the unknown. Da Da Da Daaa!

Four hours later, Charlotte called back with the bad news. The vicinity would be without power for a week to 10 days! We thanked her for her concern, wished her the best of luck, and made a vague reference to seeing her some other time…knowing that that would never happen. We made several calls…to the hotel where we were booked…to the Memorial itself…and got no reply. Nancy came up with the bright idea of calling the local Police Department. The fine young officer who answered the call advised us to steer clear of central Virginia all together! We plowed on North toward Pennsylvania.

Within an hour or so, just as the sun was starting its descent, I started to notice that all of the roadside signs were bent almost in half. I mentioned it to Nancy just as we noticed a long, long line of cars on the side of the road. Ominously, some of them had gas cans strapped to the hood. That half-mile-long line of cars ended at a gas station.

We had driven into the aftermath of one of the most violent storms of the last half century.  The storm had killed 22 people and knocked out power to more than 4 million homes and businesses on a line from Washington, DC to Southern Indiana! In addition to the half-mile-long lines to get gas (premium grade only, the regular gas was gone hours ago) we discovered that there was no prepared food to be found. No worries, we had plenty of fresh fruit and cheese, some crackers and water.

As it got darker, we realized that we weren’t seeing any lights anywhere.  All of the homes and businesses were in complete darkness. It was point-blank eerie. With all of the hotels closed, we came to the conclusion that we were going to have to drive 4 or 5 more hours to reach my sister’s home in the wee, small hours of the morning. That decision made, we both relaxed and strapped in for the long haul.  We crawled out of the car at about 2am…14 hours after we’d left home.

Fast forward two weeks…The Pirates at PNC Park on the 4th of July…Nancy’s brother’s beautiful lakefront home…the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown…one of the most beautiful drives I ever taken across Central New York State…time with Nancy’s family in Rhode Island…that drive across the George Washington Bridge into New York, New York…Dinner with our niece in DC…We had a fine, fine fortnight!

Nancy and I enjoy the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC.

Exploring the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. framed by the REAL home run king’s locker.

It was while on the road south of New York City that I mentioned that we really had no one waiting for us in Georgia…that our original plan had us getting home on Sunday, and that if we drove straight home from Washington DC, we’d be home on Friday night. The cat was cared for through Sunday…we could still visit Bedford, the Memorial and the Mill Stone Tea Room. Nancy’s eyes  lit right up!

Our new G.P.S. machine is a marvel! Without it, we would have been without the marvelous food that the Mill Stone Tea Room provided! The Mill Stone Tea Room is (as we say in Georgia) “out in the county”.

Enter a two room building with low slung ceilings, a muted yellow color all about,  a bar to your left and a the dining room to your right. It was a joy to lay eyes on Charlotte; the sweet lady who had steered us away from Central Virginia two weeks earlier.

Charlotte told us that they had inherited this 150-year-old chopping block. They don’t chop stuff on it any more..

The shot from our table. Through the window are three tables and a wine bar.

Nancy was driving, so I felt free to ask for a local brew. Any and every time we travel, I search out something local…a beer with character. Our British friends, who were here a few months ago were properly impressed by American beers, (and there were several)…not the mass produced, mass marketed, Olympic Sponsors that most of the world can’t get away from, but a beer with heart and flavor and passion. Such a beer was ‘Legend Brown Ale’. I was extraordinarily impressed!

Legend Brown Ale… a very fine local brew.

Nancy and I shared two appetizers.  The first was a beautifully prepared dish consisting of a perfectly balanced variety of locally-grown mushrooms on a bed of stone ground grits.

Local mushrooms on a bed of grits.

Our second appetizer was fresh and seasonal gazpacho.  The gazpacho was the perfect counterweight to take the glow off of a hot Virginia day spent outdoors at the D Day Memorial. I remember cucumber chunks lending a cooler, happier bite.

Cooling and delicious gazpacho.

When it came time to order our main meals, I debated the wisdom of a full on ‘grits attack’ and then succumbed to my desire for their shrimp and grits…I’m from Georgia after all!

I didn’t even know, up until 5 or 6 years ago, that the combination of shrimp and grits was a possibility. I have become a bit of a shrimp and grits snob in the recent past. The Mill Stone Tea Room’s shrimp and grits was top of the line. I was especially impressed by the ‘stone ground’ nature of the grits. They had a wonderful crackling flavor that you needed to take time to appreciate fully, while the shrimp were done to a state that I could only describe as al dente. They were perfect, as was the size of the portion… no oversized “American” portions here!

I risked a “grits overload” to try the shrimp and grits.

I also managed to steal a few bites of Nancy’s main meal, a big, thick pork chop with unique summer beans and white gravy, which she described as “remarkable…brilliant…memorable…faaaaaantastic!”

Nancy’s main meal of a pork chop with summer beans and gravy.

I turned down dessert in favor of a second round of Legend Brown Ale, which left me in a state of restaurant bliss. It was truly one of the dozen best meals I’ve ever eaten.  Our trip…delayed as it was…to The Mill Stone Tea Room in Bedford, VA remains a sweet memory. I’ve promised myself that we will return…perhaps with friends…perhaps with you!

Mulled wine memories

It was Christmas Day, 2009.  Andy and I were living in a town called Winchester in the UK.  We’d decorated our flat with sparkling lights and a huge tall Christmas tree and a holly berry wreath on our front door.  I’d bought a turkey crown from the local butcher to roast for just the two of us.

A bottle and a half of shiraz in my favourite green pot.

We’d gotten up early to see what Santa had left in our stockings, which had indeed been hung by the chimney with care.  We’d eaten pork pie for breakfast… a traditional recipe that everyone in my family has on Christmas morning.  We were full and warm and Christmas dinner was still hours away.  So, we bundled up and went for a little walk.

Oranges, cinnamon and Brandy are added to this basic and simple version of mulled wine.

It had snowed several days before and the ground was still covered in a layer of white.  We crunched our way down through the silent town, all our neighbours still tucked up in their houses enjoying the day.  We walked around the cathedral, through some small back lanes and felt like we had the town to ourselves.

Squeeze the orange zest over the pot so that the lovely oils are released into the wine.

Orange juice makes the mulled wine aromatic and sweet.

Until we pushed open the door to our favourite pub, which was packed with people!  We were just going to stop in briefly for a cup of tea to warm us up for the walk home… but how could we resist all the happy red-cheeked faces?  The merrily burning fire with a scruffy old dog lying in front?  The smell of cinnamon and spices that wafted through the warm and stuffy air?  How could we resist a mug of mulled wine?  After all, it was Christmas!

Sprinkle in a little sugar… and then taste! How much sugar you use really depends on how sweet your wine and oranges are. I don’t like overly sweet mulled wine, but there’s nothing wrong with adding more sugar to make it just to your taste.

And now it’s August.  For many of you, hot drinks and scarves and crackling fires are probably the last things on your mind (I’m talking to you Mrs. One Heat Wave After Another North America!) But, Down Under it’s winter again.  And after a recent winter day spent wandering around Sydney, my thoughts turned once again to a warming glass of mulled wine.  It may not be as cold and crisp and Christmas-y outside, but inside our apartment the smell of oranges and spices transported us back to that happy day three years ago.

Mulled wine Down Under!

Mulled Wine

1 1/2 bottles of red wine (don’t use a fancy or great wine, as you’ll be adding lots of stuff to it.  A cheap bottle of shiraz or cab sauv would do just fine.)
200ml Brandy
2 oranges
2 cinnamon sticks
4 tbs sugar

This is so easy and your house will smell like Santa’s workshop whilst the mulled wine is simmering.

Begin by preparing your oranges.  Cut thick strips of the zest off one of the oranges.  You’ll need 5-6 long strips with no white pith on them.

Pour the wine into a large pot.  Then add the Brandy, the orange zest (squeeze it as you add it to release the oils), the juice of the orange, the cinnamon sticks (broken in half), the sugar and a sprinkling of nutmeg.

Allow this mix to simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  Then ladle it carefully into glasses (you may need to strain it first to remove chunks of cinnamon) and garnish with thin slices of the second orange.