Passata Day 2016

In which we turn 215kg of tomatoes into delicious bottled tomato pulp

Yesterday we did what has become an annual tradition, turning a bunch of tomatoes into passata, a tomato pulp with the seeds and skins removed. We transformed a huge wall of tomato boxes into two 44 gallon drums of bottled passata in one big 8 hour push.

The process is pretty straightforward:

  1. Wash the tomatoes
  2. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water
  3. Push the tomatoes through the passata machine, which separates skins and seeds from the pulp
  4. Push the seeds and skins through the machine two more times
  5. Bottle the pulp into clean bottles with a leaf or two of basil
  6. Sterilise the bottles in drums of boiling water

At the end of that, we end up with mountains of shelf-stable tomato pulp. Perfect for when you need a little bottled sunshine in the depths of winter.

Of course the tomato gets everywhere and it's a pretty messy day, but lots of fun and the results are delicious and super useful.

Awesome Q

For Mother's Day I did some racks of ribs in the smoker. Mostly followed this recipe but used a commercial BBQ sauce for the final basting. They turned out amazing. Lip smacking good. No leftovers.

Served with coleslaw, cornbread and a sweet potato and feta salad. Delicious. Will make the same again next week for my work colleagues.

5:2: a diet for greedy people

I've never been a skinny guy. The fittest I've ever been, playing rugby in my mid-teens, I was still chunky bloke. Helped me avoid being bullied. As an adult, my weight has gradually crept up. Finally I've decided to do something about it, mainly because the 5:2 diet came along and appeals to me.

The idea is you can eat anything you like 5 days a week, but for 2 days a week you drastically reduce your calorie intake, 500 kCalories for women and 600 for men. This has an important psychological effect. With a normal diet, high calorie foods you really love are pretty much off limits. This diet means that on fast day you can say to yourself you can eat the thing tomorrow. You won't necessarily eat it (I find my appetite is somewhat lower the day after a fast), and obviously you can't go absolutely nuts and you should aim for normal moderation on non-fast days.

You'll read some stuff about other health benefits from fasting, things like the "repair gene" and the like. I'm dubious. The science behind these claims is only solid for different patterns of fasting: long-term fasts, alternate day fasts and the like. There hasn't been much research into this particular pattern, though the weight loss parts are pretty clear.

For me, I've been doing it since the end of October and in those eight weeks I've lost about eight kilograms. That's about as fast as you want to lose weight in a sustained fashion. Other indicators are also good: I've dropped three belt notches, my "tight" jeans are starting to feel loose, I'm contemplating buying a bunch of new clothes, and my blood pressure was described by my doctor as "perfect" last week, which is awesome.

I think the psychological aspect of this diet makes it really easy to sustain. It takes some planning and being a data nerd I have a spreadsheet to track what I eat and various measurements to track my progress. By planning things in quite a bit of detail, you can focus on bulky but low calorie foods that will fill you up and ward off hunger. I rarely feel particularly hungry. Lunch time I actually have later than normal days, though I do drink a fair whack of caffeine on fast days. By dinner time I'm generally quite hungry, but not for hours beforehand, and if I've chosen good food options I'm not hungry again until morning.

The eight weeks have flown by, Tuesdays and Thursdays are my regular fast days and I've developed a bit of a routine. On fast mornings, I get up and make the kids their breakfast. Then I start my own breakfast of Shakshouka, a North African dish of tomatoes and eggs that I've been eating regularly for a fair while.

While that's simmering, I chop up a huge amount of vegetables, particularly carrots, to eat raw for my lunch. I might pop out into the garden and harvest whatever's going there too, mostly lettuce and rocket. While I'm preparing all this, I weight and write down each piece. Once I get to work I'll look up the calories pm Calorie Count and fill in my spreadsheet, which gives me my calorie budget for dinner.

Shakshouka (~240 kCal, but weight your ingredients)

(This picture is taken pre diet and so it's probably a fair bit bigger and has some other ingredients.)

  • 1 tspn cumin seeds
  • Half an onion, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tspn olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  1.  Dry roast the cumin seeds over low heat until fragrant.
  2. Fry the onion in the oil until soft, add the garlic, tomatoes and 1 tspn water.
  3. Cook gently until softened (about 10 minutes).
  4. Make two hollows in the tomato goop and crack the eggs in.
  5. Cover until the eggs are cooked. Serve.

Dinner is often some simply cooked fish like flathead and some more vegetables, steamed or raw, eaten with the kids. Tuesday nights have become fish night in our household. We've also been enjoying Haemul Paejeon, a Korean prawn pancake, which is ridiculously quick to make and packs a massive amount of flavour. I've also tried out a few other recipes, there's loads on the net.

So I'd have to say I strongly recommend this approach to weight loss. I've been doing it two months and don't feel like I'll stop until I hit the healthy BMI range, which at the current rate will be about February or so. Even then I think I'll go on a maintenance regime, perhaps a fast a week. We'll see how I go over the festive season, there may be some setbacks...


I first ate shakshuka the morning after an outdoor rave near Sydney, cooked by a bunch of Israeli psy-trance types. It was the perfect refuel after a night dancing under the stars. Tomato, onion, egg and a touch of spice.

This morning I got up late and was too busy for breakfast. When it finally came time for breakfast I was ravenous. Since I'd just picked up our co-op's latest fruit and veg box I was looking around at what needed using up and three super ripe roma tomatoes from the last shop caught my eye. Shakshuka! Perfect.

It's a surprisingly quick cooked breakfast. I fried up some little batons of pancetta (not very authentic for this North African dish), a tiny red onion and some garlic, then dropped in the roughly chopped tomatoes and a tablespoon or two of water. Simmered it down, stirred in some harissa paste, then cracked two eggs in and covered. Then topped with chopped parsley and served with toast. I forgot to add any cumin but it was still excellent.

Delicious! Wish I'd taken a photo. This photo is just one found online but very much what mine looked like. Made it again on Sunday with grape tomatoes from this week's shop and remembered to take a photo this time. Remembered the cumin too.

My favourite recipe comes from Yotam Ottoleghi:

Pork with apple and cider gravy

Last night we had Matt & Maz around for dinner, a lovely roasted piece of pork shoulder from Urban Food Market, served with roast potatoes, onions and turnips. For a sauce to accompany the pork I'd stumbled upon this recipe which used cinammon and sage to flavour an apple sauce. I've never been a big fan of generic apple sauce with pork. It's normally just a sweet apple mush and never seems to quite go with pork. But this recipe intrigued me.

The sauce I made start out simmering four peeled and cored granny smith apples, a bit of Scott's excellent Tasmanian cider, a cinammon quill and some ripped up sage leaves for about 40 minutes. I then fished out the aromatics and squished it all to a pulp. Next I added a little powdered vegetable stock and a little more cider to loosen it up. Finally, while the roast was resting I deglazed the roasting pan with a bit more cider and poured that in.

The pan juices took it from a generic apple mush to a light brown gravy colour, and pushed the flavour through the roof. An unctuous and slightly sweet but still highly savoury gloop that just shouted porky appleness to your tastebuds.

Our guests, Matt and Maz, asked for bread to mop up the sauce. That's the best compliment you can get for a sauce.

I've got an absolutely amazing rack of pork from the same source sitting in the freezer. I'll try and codify this recipe a bit more when I cook that. Try and get some pictures too.

Recent reading: gambling politics, nose to tail, non-rail public transport and the Chernobyl death toll

I've been using Instapaper to push longer articles to my Kindle for later reading. The tool isn't without some significant limitations but it works well enough for me.  It's great to no longer skip reading longer pieces of text, but instead read them at leisure.

Here's some of the stuff I've been reading recently.

Grog's Gamut digs through his own experience in the gambling industry and the Productivity Commission's report to demonstrate how evil poker machines really are. Key points are that clubs make 40% of their gambling earnings from problem gamblers, not the people having a fun flutter, and the supposed benefits bestowed by clubs don't really exist.

This event in Germany sounds awesome, though I definitely draw the line at raw pork. Have these guys not heard of trichinosis?

The basic idea here is nothing new. Rail is really expensive, slow to build and inflexible. Other methods like buses can be great. The biggest problem with on-road public transport in Australia is that our politicians are loathe to give up road space and dedicate it to public transport, rather than storage of private vehicles. Just try catching a bus down King Street, Newtown on a weekend when cars are allowed park.

George Monbiot idiotically claims only a few dozen people died from Chernobyl, Helen Caldicot claims a million. The truth is somewhere in between, and can't be boiled down into a simple soundbite.

Fishing, Jinja Safari and Cloud Control gig

Last night Holly and I had a grandmother looking after Louis and tickets to a gig. Date night! Lots of fun was had.

First, dinner at Arisun, the latest stop on our quest for the best Korean Fried Chicken. I have to say, this one is the goods! Crispy, spicy, unctuous. Mmmm.  Brilliant stuff.

Next up, the gig.  It's not often we want to see a band and both supports, but this gig had three bands we wanted to see.  I'd caught Fishing with Ben Askins late one night at the Peats Ridge Festival, randomly wandering into a tent and really digging them.  Holly had done the same with Jinja Safari while I was looking after Louis one night.  Holly got to see Cloud Control while I was looking after Louis, so I was keen to catch them at last.

All three bands were great.  Fishing are particularly awesome, with a wonky kinda live electronic vibe going on. You can check out their single here. I really like their sound and can't wait for some more releases!  Cloud Control were sensational, very polished, and the crowd were rapturous and singing along to every song, which I imagine is a bit novel now they're in London and nobody's ever heard of them.

Pretty exhausting though, given we're used to bed times closer to 21:30...