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........