One of the best things about a weekender is arriving late on a Friday, sitting on the veranda with a glass of bubbles in hand, and watching the late afternoon light play across the hills. Surrounded by 100 acres of Australian bush, with neither phone nor television to disturb, and the electricity occasionally taken out by a passing kangaroo, it’s the perfect place to escape and recharge the soul.
Part of that serenity comes from not stressing about cooking. Simplicity is always best. With the place being only an hour from home, bringing fresh food is not a problem, plus local fruit and veggie stalls line the way. We’re lucky enough to have the Great Northern Trading Post five minutes away (complete with the oldest continual liquor licence in the colony outside of Sydney), which serves the like of grilled spatchcock or steak with pommes frites, yet it takes little effort to have the makings of meals for every time of day.
My pantry consists of a one small cupboard and a plastic tub (to deter bush mice). Anything left out or not sealed will get eaten – although, since a diamond python took up residence in our roof, the food stocks have remained virtually untouched. This small space is enough to keep a stock of basics, so simple meals are easily prepared from scratch. Friends who stay are welcome to use whatever they can find, on the proviso they leave something else in return (plus we charge a bottle of wine per visit). As a result, my tiny cupboard usually contains a few eclectic extras.
Basic Stores For My Small Pantry
Here’s a list of what I found in the cupboards and fridge at the last visit:
Pasta – spaghetti, fusilli, risoni, penne
Rice – jasmine, arborio, brown
Lentils – red, puy
Tinned Beans – cannellini, kidney, black
Biscuits / crackers / Lavosh bites
Peaches (vacuumed sealed)
Oils: olive, canola
Salt, pepper, chilli, coriander, garlic, ginger, dried herbs
Vinegar – white wine, red wine, balsamic
Long life milk and cream
Sauces– soy, satay, teriyaki, mussaman, korma, green curry
Coffee beans, (the espresso machine is for me a necessity) tea, sugar
Flour – plain, bread
Yeast – dried, plus my sourdough starter
In the small herb garden: coriander, parsley, chives, garlic chives, marjoram, thyme, mint (usually nibbled by the possums)
Our fruit trees in season: apple, plum, quince, peach, pear
Even after a glass of two of champagne, from these stores a range of tasty meals can be prepared.
Some Of My Simple Weekender Recipes
Here are some basic suggestions – more detailed recipes will follow:
The simplest of risottos can be prepared with garlic and onion, chicken stock, a dash of wine and peas. I usually add herbs from the garden at the last moment, grate some parmesan on top, then serve the risotto with a salad and fresh bread. Bacon or pancetta is a great addition, if I have them.
Another variation is with tuna, capers, olives and parsley.
Alternatively, I replace the risotto with risoni (a type of pasta cooked in the same manner as risotto, but taking much less time). Ah, memories of Florence with each mouthful.
A simple tomato and basil pasta is always easy, fresh and delicious. The variations are endless: add chicken or meat if I’ve brought any, tinned tuna, olives, a sprinkling of fresh parsley, a dash of red wine.
Alternatively, roast then puree the tomatoes, or else drizzle some cherry tomatoes with olive oil and roast for some 15 minutes or so as the pasta is being cooked. Gentle sauté some onions and garlics, add the tomatoes and any juices, some salt and pepper and fresh herbs, toss through the hot pasta, and grate cheese on top. Adding a diced capsicum to the onions will add colour and crunch.
In colder weather, soup is always easy, and I usually have one simmering away atop the potbelly fire in the lounge room.
Simply sautée some garlic and onion, add whatever vegetables I wish and sautee a little longer before adding the stock. Vegetables such as pumpkin and sweet potato have more flavour if roasted first.
This can then be pureed for a cream of vegetable soup; otherwise add some tomato, tomato paste, beans, small pasta, and left over meat for a cheat’s minestrone. Top with grated cheese, serve accompanied fresh bread and perhaps a salad.
I usually make my own bread – this might sound a hassle for a weekend away, but making bread doesn’t take long, I simply need to be organised.
My sour dough starter survives in the fridge, provided I feed it with fresh flour and water at each visit. (I made this years ago by letting a sloppy mixture of bread flour and water sit on a bench for a few days, fermenting with natural yeasts. Some people add currants to aid the process.) If not too tired I start a batch of sourdough when I arrive, let it rise overnight (for natural yeast take much longer to prove than bought yeast), then shape the bread in the morning, letting it rise again to bake at lunch or dinner.
Instant yeast is much faster; I can let it rise, knock down and shape and rise again overnight to bake for breakfast, or else start in the morning to have ready for lunch.
Some Other Options
With prepared sauces in the cupboard, it’s easy to make the likes of a green chicken curry or a mussaman beef, a stir-fry, or a satay-based dish. Even a Vietnamese-style pho is easy with a decent stock.
Accompaniments both make and complete a meal. A green salad is always quick to prepare, as are rice salad, potato salad, or even a roast vegetable salad. In summer, when cases of avocados and mangos are sold by the roadside, salsas or guacamole accompany every meal. A quick mango salsa of mango, finely diced red onion, some mint, lemon juice, salt, pepper, a touch of olive oil takes a few minutes; the flavour improves with time, and a touch of chilli adds a spicy variation.
Having a weekender can seem like running two households, but for me it is a blessing, not a burden. All it takes is a little forethought and creativity – and a supply of recipe books (our bookshelf space vastly exceeds that of the pantry!)