Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Skippy from the vaults

There's not been much cooking going on since Friday, and won't be for a while. I'm still not too well, though I'm definitely better - enough that I'm going back to work tomorrow, but pretty low on energy. We've been eating the leftovers, with some extra frozen veggies. Now that they're gone, it's time to raid the freezer.

I've got some chilli con skippy out for tonight, with baked potatoes and salad. Back when I made the chilli, I set some of the mince and tomato mix aside before adding the spices and beans. I often do this - it can turn into many other meals with a few tweaks. This time I've added basil, oregano and red wine. Skippy bolognese for tomorrow, yum.

I've felt compelled to call kangaroo meat "skippy" ever since I heard some fool propose that we should rename it to "austral" to hide its origins for the squeamish. It didn't take, and now I can't even find this mentioned on google. Excellent. I'm all in favour of eating kangaroo - it's a native product, very low in fat, much better for our environment than beef, and as cruelty-free as a meat can get. There are no feedlots or abbattoirs; the animals must be killed in the wild by licensed shooters, who must adhere to humane standards. You can read the industry statement here.

After the roo, the plan is to go out for a nice curry dinner on Thursday. And then the bloke is off to a conference in Chicago, and I'm off for a couple of days holiday with the grrls in a health spa type place. Massages and bushwalks and getting wrapped up in mud and glad wrap, oh my! I've never done that before. After that, I'll have a week on my own before the bloke gets back. That will also be a bit light on the cooking front, but I will be making a cake on the holiday Monday. It's my birthday, and local work tradition is to bring cake for morning tea. I wonder if they'll recognise me after all this time off...

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Seven Hour Saltbush Lamb

The dinner party was a great success on the food front. Here's the recipe for the lamb. It is really good - and I think it counts as "Aussie" tucker even without the shake of lemon myrtle. Saltbush is grown in places with salinity problems, and this flavour-infused meat is unique to Australia. I kept the flavourings minimal because of that, but this is a great method for regular lamb, too. I like to do it with lemon, garlic and oregano for a Greek touch. Stephanie Alexander has a similar recipe for a French style slow cooked lamb with haricot beans.

Seven Hour Saltbush Lamb
A large leg of saltbush lamb
5 cloves of garlic
olive oil
herbs (2 bay leaves, 3 large sprigs rosemary, 1/2 tsp dried lemon myrtle)
1 cup dry white wine

Brown lamb in the olive oil, in a frying pan. Transfer to crockpot, or a heavy casserole dish.
Deglaze pan with wine, pour over lamb. Throw in peeled garlic and herbs. Put on lid, and place in 120C oven - or run crockpot on low - for 7 hours. Lamb will come out meltingly tender, falling off the bones. Carve and place on serving platter. Serve reduced and strained juices on the side.

Notes: Turn it over once or twice during cooking if possible, and add a little stock or wine if it looks like drying out. I find the crockpot keeps it a lot moister than the oven. It's good to use the crockpot as then you have the oven free to make roast veggies.

Cooking today: Not much. I'm still not very well, and we still have plenty of stuff to use up. We'll eat out of the freezer this week, I think.

Friday, 21 September 2007

It's on

A cancellation and a last minute ring in, and it's six for dinner. I have far too much food. We'll be eating leftovers all week. I decided the impossible quiche was too overcooked for a party, so we'll eat that tomorrow. I'm doing a frittata for our vego instead.

The menu
1. Cocktails and antipasti
of mixed olives, artichoke, eggplant, salami, melon & prosciutto, native pepper cheese dip, duck and peppercorn pate, crackers.

2. Seven hour saltbush lamb OR Baked spinach & fetta frittata
with broccoli, baked fennel and beetroot, roast potato, sweet potato and parsnip.

3. Crèmes Brûlée
with cognac macerated strawberries.

4. Coffee, tea, etc
with almond and raisin chocolate bark.

The bloke is catering drinks, and there's no shortage - martinis, champers, red & white wine, whiskies... I have some Queensland coffee liqueur which I may bring out.

Full report tomorrow.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Getting better...

Something's taken the edge off the cough - could be time passing, the antibiotic, or the cortisone. Whatever, I'm glad of it. I made it up the road to the shops, and I'm doing odd bits of prep work for tomorrow. I'm running little cycles of 10 minutes prep, 30 minutes lie down. I've got the Crèmes Brûlée in the oven as I type. I used a Donna Hay recipe, but I'm suspecting that it will be too sweet. I wish I'd cross checked other recipes before adding the sugar. Oh well, done is done. Perhaps it will be better when chilled. I'm also making the impossible quiche today, and a native pepper cheese spread.

Recipe 1: Native pepper dip/spread
2 tsp native pepper berries
1 tsp lemon myrtle
1 tub Philly spreadable, light cream cheese.

Break the pepper coarsely in a mortar and pestle. Blend it all together. Add a little milk if it's too stiff - for a dip it needs to be looser than for a spread. Let it rest for several hours for the spice to infuse - it will go pink.

Recipe 2: Impossible Spinach Quiche
Part 1:
200g cooked, chopped spinach.
2 or 3 large spring onions, chopped
100g fetta, crumbled
100g cottage cheese
1 tsp lemon myrtle
1 tsp dill (the dried leaf, not seeds)

Part 2:
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup self-raising flour

Topping: Grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Preheat oven to 200C. Mix part 1 ingredients in a bowl. Mix part 2 ingredients in another bowl and whisk well until smooth. Combine gently, pour into quiche dish or large pie plate, sprinkle with topping, and bake for 45 minutes.

Notes: I used one of those Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker thingos instead of a mortar and pestle for the dip. It's quite a useful gadget. Frozen and defrosted spinach is fine for the pie recipe.

Cooking today: As above, and for tonight I've bought Latina ready-made pasta and sauce. I'll add some bacon and chilli flakes, to make a sorta kinda arrabiata. And I'll nuke some broccoli. Nothing with too much work.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007


Bah. I am so sick of being sick. This is my fourth round this season - a cold, followed by a bad cold, then actual influenza, and now bronchitis and tracheitis. Fun fun fun. I am getting very bored. I can't move much without coughing, my brain is too fuzzy to do anything serious, and there's only so much solitaire and Stumble-Upon surfing one can do. I can't phone a friend because talking sets off the cough.

If I actually had a week at home while healthy, there's so much stuff I could do. Singing or piano practice, tidying up, sorting out my tax, cleaning out the wardrobe, gardening, baking... Or even just reading - I've been trying to read Sean Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful and my brain keeps switching off. I did manage to finish Trick or Treat, the new Kerry Greenwood cosy, but I can't remember what happened, or if it made sense. Something about a Melbourne Greek Jews Nazi stolen treasure hunt Halloween revenge murder plot. With witches and cake and bread. Umm.

I am *not* going to cancel the Friday dinner party. I've worked out a menu - mixed antipasto, 7-hour saltbush lamb, creme brulee. Assuming I can shop tomorrow, or even Friday, I can buy some antipasto & green veg. And I have everything else I need. I *will* be better! I have drugs. I'm mixing them with gay abandon - nurofen plus, a nighttime rum toddy, antibiotics, cortisone, multivitamins, cough mixture. Work, damn you , work!

Or I would have everything I need if I hadn't just got word that one person doesn't eat meat. I think I'll just add a quickie spinach & cheese impossible quiche to the mix.

Cooking today: Reheating the chicken, chickpea & potato curry; with a vacuum packed ready-made curry of green things on the side (Mattar mehi). This is voluntary, I must note. The bloke is not some slave driver forcing the sick from their beds. He'd be buying Vietnamese from up the road, or making baked beans and toast, if I hadn't done all the shopping & cooking on Sat & Sun before I got quite so sick.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Sunday Cooking, More Dumplings

I've made chicken curry and veal goulash for the week ahead. Neither is especially authentic, but they are quite simple. This is good because I am bloody sodding well sick again. I can't believe it, but this jebus-, FSM- & IPU-damned motherfscking cough certainly seems to believe in me. Insert more expletives. And a few more. $%^&#@. Paging George Carlin.

The chicken curry uses more of the vindaloo sauce from my little accident with the spice premix last week. I've tossed in a tin of chickpeas and a large cubed potato. I got some cubed chicken breast on special, so that goes in to simmer for 10 minutes when the spud is done - you don't want it to cook too long, or it dries out badly. The simmer and the brief reheat should be OK. The spice mix turned out not to be as hot as I expected, and reasonably tasty. It's Mangal vindaloo masala, which at least is an Indian company. I'll serve that tomorrow with basmati rice, some mint yoghurt, pappadams and mango chutney.

I'm planning dumplings for the goulash, unless I become further paralysed by the cough. (As you see from the pic, I made it.) The goulash is also a throw-together that no self-respecting Hungarian would recognise. It's a simple stew of veal, mushrooms and tomatoes, flavoured with a lot of paprika, some garlic, and a little marjoram. I've used my own roast tomatoes, as well as a tin. We'll have it with the dumplings, and a green salad, and some broccoli.

Recipe: Simple Dumplings
1 cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
pinch salt
2 teaspoons butter

Beat egg, mix in milk and salt. Melt butter (microwave is good); add it to the milk. Now add this mixture slowly to the self-raising flour, stirring well, until you get a smooth firmish dough. Divide into 8 lumps. Toss these on top of a simmering stew in a wide pan; cover and leave for 15 minutes. Eat.

Notes: I usually use non-fat milk. If you use full cream, maybe try a bit less butter? Add any herbs, spices, cheese, whatever you fancy. I put some caraway seeds in these ones. Or add a bit of sugar and spice, and poach in golden syrup & water for an old fashioned dessert.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

The Hive and the Market

I have two things to review today, and a recipe.

Last night we went to The Hive, a variety show at Gorman House Theatre C. This is a very tiny, err, intimate, venue mostly used by the Canberra Youth Theatre. They're planning to do it every two months; the next one is 30 November and we'll be there. It's a collation of short local acts - it could be anything next time, who knows? We saw some dance, a theatrical monologue, circus tricks, "real science magic" (do a Monkey Magic type song in your head for that), improvised rap, a demo of a weird 90s dance party board game, an art exhibition and more. Some acts made use of the accompaniment of the Dr Stovepipe trio, who also played in the bar before the show and during the interval. The performers are all volunteers: some amateur, some professional performers who are trying out new acts. It was a very good night, assisted nicely by the mojitos offered by the hip but friendly bartenders. (Is Canberra the only place where the young and hip don't have to sneer at everyone else? Nice. I like it.)

This morning I donned my foodie persona to visit the local Growers' Market. I've been a fan of this since it started - it's only a short stagger down the road for me. I'm told it starts at 8am, but I was queueing at the Jindebah coffee stall at 9.15, half amazed at myself for getting out of bed. It's been a while since I visited - heading out in freezing early mornings with the flu is not a good idea. I so love this place. The best fresh produce to be found anywhere. There's a rule that the suppliers must be from the region, but this includes people who truck seafood in from the coast, or who locally roast imported coffee, or who bake their bread or make their dips or pates in the region. I bought masses of beautiful crisp apples for $2.50 a kg - so unlike the supermarket woolly old rubbish. There's close to a dozen different bakers of different styles. There are garden stalls full of herbs, fruit trees and native shrubs. There's local lamb, pork, beef, goat, trout, and chicken. People sell Australian bush spices, paperbark, macadamia oil, lavender, live chickens, honey, preserves, olives, nuts, exotic mushrooms. It's heaven.

I came home with a leg of saltbush lamb and some duck pate, for a dinner party on Friday, as well as a good supply of veggies for roasting, gorgeous salad greens, Italian bread, apples, mandarins, macadamia oil and probably more that I'm forgetting. I'm going to do some caramelised roast beetroot on Friday, and the bunch I bought had fantastic fresh green tops. So I cooked that up tonight to eat with the last of the lentils and sausages.

Recipe: Beetroot Greens Agrodolce
400g beetroot greens, well washed, torn to pieces, thick stems discarded
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon chilli flakes

Fry the onion in the olive oil until golden, then add the garlic and fry gently for another minute. Add the sugar and chilli, and the beetroot greens, and stir until the greens are wilted. Lower the heat, add the vinegar, and let simmer for another 5 minutes before serving.

Notes: Agrodolce is Italian for sweet and sour. I used plain white sugar and cider vinegar, but you could vary this - and the amount of chilli - to taste. Verjuice would be great. Silverbeet is good cooked this way, too. Oh, and if the greens have had time to dry after their wash, add a little water.

Cooking today: Leftover sausage and lentil casserole, beetroot greens, chicken curry.

Friday, 14 September 2007

A Debacle

I had a frustrating day at work, though not really a debacle. But certainly annoying enough that when the bloke suggested going out for a beer I was all enthusiasm. We decided on Debacle, in Lonsdale St, Braddon - another favourite place. They have dozens of interesting beers from all around the world, and even their tap beers are unusual: they include Coopers, Zierholtz, Chimay and Old Speckled Hen. And Mercury cider. (Hi to my friend Fiona!) I'm told they have an excellent wine list, too, but I rarely seem to get to that. I started with a German Ale from Fyshwick brewers Zierholz - another great local product - and moved on to a German Weissbier.

We ordered a couple of small pizzas - I wanted anchovies, so no sharing was happening - and a salad. Service was very quick, despite how crowded the place was. The pizzas were excellent - a well-risen yeasty crust, and a good balance of toppings, not too heavy on the cheese. Mine was a variation on the classic napolitana, with fresh basil and roast capsicum as well as the olive and anchovy. I didn't get any of the bloke's pepperoni one, but it looked good. The rocket, baby spinach and parmesan salad is delicious, with super fresh greens and a very generous hand with the cheese. Ahhh, pizza and beer. Is there any ill you cannot cure?

The one big problem I have with Debacle is that it's horribly noisy. The interior is a big cavernous concrete-floored space, with walls and ceiling all flat, sound-reflecting surfaces. Add a lot of cheerful drinking people, chattering away and clinking their glasses and plates, and it's almost impossible to converse with anyone whose ear is not right there in front of you. And if there's sport on the big TV, the roar is even worse. It's better in summer, or on a sunny day, when you can sit outside. They do have outdoor gas heaters, but all the tables near heaters were taken last night.

Their blackboard dinner menu always sounds fabulous, but this kind of atmosphere screams "bar", not "restaurant", and I've always stuck to pizza or their delicious, if rather salt-laden, tapas. Can you really eat a chef's special fine meal while surrounded by people shouting? Obviously some people do, but not me. Perhaps a Monday night might work better. It's also usually good for brunch, when people are a bit quieter - any weekend morning you'll find it packed with cyclists. Or it's great for a lunch, when it's a bit less crowded. The breakfast and lunch menus are well worth the visit - great food, though the coffee's been pretty average in my experience. Try the potato rosti at breakfast, or the sugar cured salmon salad for lunch. Yum.

Cooking Today: Probably just leftovers - there's lentil & sausages to either finish up or freeze.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Lesson of the Day: restart the sodding server. And eat lentils.

Aaaaaaarrgghhhhh! JSP is hard, let's eat.

OK, so as a generic bioinformatics IT type, I have to deal with all kinds of code. I don't get to specialise in a language. Get a JSP app running when I've never even read, let alone coded, a JSP page before in my life? Sure, no worries. It's only code, how hard can it be? I've downloaded and unpacked the source, popped it into tomcat, it mostly goes. But there are errors. I have to get this file upload page working. I fix the database problem with the duplicate statements. I fix the javascript error with the windoze-specific file separator. I'm feeling good, powering along, and then comes the jsp refusing to compile.

That turned into an all-day battle. It can't resolve a type. I find the library with the relevant class in it - it's org.apache.commons.fileupload. It all seems to be correct, it's right there in the WEB-INF/lib directory. I don't understand this. I try everything I can think of - moving it to other possible directory structures; putting it right in tomcat's lib directory; editing the import statements to get only the specific class needed; fully qualifying the class name... I send begging emails to the friendly Italians who wrote the original code. (Yes, I am trying to debug code with occasional comments like "Non ci sono input". No, I don't speak Italian.) I can see it's attempting to recompile each time, so it's not a caching error. I check that the jar file is complete and contains the class. Yes, it's not corrupt, it's fine. Nothing works. And then the bloke says to me "did you restart the server?"

Well, no. I hadn't. It didn't occur to me - and why would it? Tomcat is clearly attempting to recompile the jsp each time I reload - it's aware that the code has changed. But apparently it's NOT aware that libraries have moved. But that is the trick, and finally it works! Or at least, I no longer have an error on line 32 but on line 75, which is good enough for me to call it a day. Talk about a trap for new players.

Since I've been working at home for the last few hours, dinner is almost immediately available. I just need to wash and steam some greens. The sausage and lentil casserole is sitting there in the slow cooker. It's warm and comforting - both healthy and tasty. The thin rabbit sausages from EcoMeats are mildly spicy, and they match the earthy herby lentils nicely. Last night I fried up a finely diced onion and carrot, browned the sausages, and deglazed the pan with brandy. In the morning, I tossed it all in the slow cooker, with the de-fatted lamb stock, a bit of red wine, Australian green lentils, and some bay laves, thyme and rosemary from the garden. When I left for work I turned it on low; I came home early after a meeting and it was smelling great.

See? I knew I'd think of something to do with that lamb stock. Oh, and the curry yesterday was fine - actually it turned out a bit too mild. Rescue mission successful.

Cooking today: Sausage and lentil casserole.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Chinese BBQ, and Catching Up.

Dickson is the closest thing Canberra has to a Chinatown. The back streets there are lined with Asian restaurants, grocery shops, video and souvenir shops. It's not all Asian, there's a mix of others - Indian, Ethiopian and Italian spring to mind. Oh, and the eminently ignorable KFC and Maccas. Never mind. I regularly visit the pork butcher - who stocks frozen seafood and dim sum, too; the Saigon grocery (fresh veggies delivered Friday arvo); and the BBQ shop.

The Tak Kee Roast Inn, on Woolley St Dickson, is well known for its BBQ pork, duck and chicken. It's good food, and good value. They sell it by the kilo in takeaway containers. You might be inclined to overlook the chicken in favour of the more glamorous duck, but don't - the chicken is beautifully moist, quite outstanding. More adventurous people might like to try out the weird wiggly things - I recognise the pigs' ears, but some of the other things escape me. If you fancy eating in there, they do a nice line in noodles, soups and congees as well as a selection of the more common stir fry dishes. Bright fluoro lights, a waving cat statuette, laminex tables, soft drink fridges, and slightly confused but willing service by people with dubious English make this place very much not fine dining - just simply fine eating.

Today I just bought a carton of pork on my way home. I stirfried some noodles with sesame oil, garlic, ginger, onion, red capsicum, bok choy & beansprouts; tossed in some sweet chilli sauce and plum jam (cheat's plum sauce), and served it up with the pork. A nice easy dinner for a week night.

And since I didn't get round to my regular weekly cooking binge on Sunday, I needed to do a bit extra. I tried to rescue the vindaloo by straining the sauce off, adding potato, and returning a small part of the sauce. I'll freeze the rest in portions. I'm also simmering the lamb bones (I used BBQ chops) to get some stock; and roasting the leftover tomatoes from last week. I don't have any specific plans for them, but something will no doubt turn up.

Cooking today: stirfry veg noodles with BBQ pork; roast tomatoes; lamb & potato vindaloo; lamb stock.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Sunday Cooking Cancelled, Dumpling Time!

It may have been the number of bottles glasses of champagne I had yesterday, but I was just so not up for cooking today. I tried. I cut up the lamb for the vindaloo, but I cut my finger while slicing the onions. And then I put in the whole pack of spice mix, instead of the 2 tablespoons I needed. Whoops. And then I got a text saying a bunch of people are going to the Dumpling Inn tonight. That's it. Cooking's off till tomorrow. It's going to be an unplanned week.

The Dumpling Inn is in fact the reincarnation of the Aranda Dumpling Inn that burned down maybe four years ago. I never made it there, but people had raved about the quality. This version is in Jamison, in Lawry St, near the Turkish restaurant. I won't write a lengthy review, I'm too tired. Suffice it to say that I'm stuffed very full; the dumplings were great; the food was fresh & good; the toffee apples tooth-rottingly yummy. I can't move.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Indian Grocery Shopping

Yesterday I went shopping for Indian groceries with my mate Beth. We had lunch at Bharat International, at 1/17 Oatley Court, Belconnen, next door to Ruchi. It's just a corner of laminex tables in the huge grocery store; the service style is all plastic plates and pick your food up from the counter. But what food! We had dhal makhani, mattar paneer, and rice, with pooris the size of footballs, and thick mango lassi. We were well stuffed for $10 each, and determined to go back and sample more. The curries were wonderfully tasty - the paneer notably fresh, the spices lively.

After lunch we prowled the aisles, and I picked up lots of odds and ends. There's a truly enormous selection of rices, flours, spices, chutneys, pre-pack curries and much more. If you want himalayan black salt, red rice, lentil or chickpea flour, any kind of curry paste, you'll find it here. There's a fascinating freezer section full of vegetables I've never heard of before: green kidney beans; "drumsticks"; purple yam, fenugreek greens. I'm definitely going to try some of these when I get the freezer empty enough. And then there's the sweet counter for your fresh made jalebis, gulab jamons, barfis and other mysterious goodies. Do you need an idli pan, or a gas tandoor? How about some Holi colours, a Krishna statuette, incense and sandalwood soap? It's all there - it's a real treasure trove.

In the same part of town but a short drive round a couple of corners, there's another Indian shop - the Exotic Spice Centre at 1 Rae St Belconnen. Half the shop is devoted to their range of Bollywood and other Indian CDs and DVDs; the other half is groceries. There is an overlap between these two places, of course - both have halal meat in the freezer, and similar spices, pulses and condiments. Apart from the video store setup, the Exotic Spice Centre is also differentiated from Bharat by its very strong Fijian focus - frozen reef fish, taro, corned beef and mutton, Fijian cosmetics and so on. There's a good range of snacky foods - spicy peas, bhuja mix variants. And they had cocoa beans! I had to buy some, even though I have no idea what to do with them.

Both places are well worth a visit, though I am a bit more taken with Bharat for the sheer size of the grocery range, and the diner food.

The rest of the day involved more eating out - afternoon tea, or rather, chocolate, at Koko Black; dinner and blues band at the old Canberra Inn. I'll write about these places another time. (Hint: I like them.) Meanwhile it's time to get dolled up for Amanda & Chas' wedding...

Cooking today: Nothing again. Lunch at Satis, dinner at wedding reception in Ainslie.

Friday, 7 September 2007

On Eating Leftovers for a Week

I had a lot of food in the house - too much, really. The Bloke forgot to tell me that he was going to Sydney for a few days until *after* I'd done the shopping. I froze what I could, but there was still the remains of Sunday's vegetarian feast, assorted other vegetables and salads, some poached chicken breast, bacon, and deli sliced turkey to deal with. And only me to eat it.

Here's how it went. Vego feast components italicised.

Monday: Turkey salad rolls for lunch, and for dinner, a stir fry with capsicum, snowpeas, spring onions, chilli jam and cashews, and the poached chicken. Rice, too.

Tuesday: I finished off the turkey, sweet potato and the rest of the baby spinach and rocket in a big salad. I added cucumber, capsicum, tomato, spring onion and cheese, and a simple raspberry vinaigrette dressing. For dinner, I reheated the eggplant with the remains of the fetta cheese crumbled on top. I baked the cauliflower with garlic, lemon & olive oil, and nuked a few baby peas for green.

Wednesday: For lunch, I used the pumpkin and cauliflower to pad out to the remains of the stirfried chicken. (I'd already eaten all the vegetables out of Monday's version.) For dinner, the last 3 fritters and the drained yoghurt were finished off, with a salad of watercress, orange, spring onion & capsicum. Very pretty, that was - red, orange & green.

Thursday: cauliflower, pumpkin, tuna, chilli & cheese a la microwave mush for lunch. Roast tomato, mushroom & bacon pasta for dinner, finishing the final bit of perishable feast leftovers. The Bloke was due back, and said he'd appreciate dinner. The way to this woman's heart is definitely by praising her cooking. Well, that, and chocolates.

Friday: I'm goin' out. Bugger leftovers. I won't be cooking again until Sunday. I'm contemplating roast pork.

Apart from the food listed, I also ate up the fruit - strawberries, grapes, oranges, pears, passionfruit. I made a grape dessert that's worth a recipe.

Grapes in Yoghurt
200g natural yoghurt (I used attiki low fat)
400g seedless grapes, washed
2 tablespoons honey
4 passionfruit
Mix the yoghurt, honey & passionfruit pulp together. Add the grapes. Stir gently to coat.

Notes: The texture contrast of the creaminess and the juicy grapes is the main point of this. You can use other flavours for the yoghurt - brown sugar, lime zest & dark rum is very good. The recipe is based on a thing my Mum used to make in the 70s - sultana grapes in sour cream, sweetened with brown sugar. If you're not worried about your weight, this is excellent.

Cooking today: Nothing!!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The Wednesday Morning Read

If you're new to Canberra, you may not know that the Canberra Times has a food section on Wednesdays. It's usually worth picking up, especially since the section has no on-line presence. You'll find local restaurant and cafe reviews, and regular sections on wine, beer, coffee, vegetarian cooking, nutrition and gardening. And then there's assorted feature articles on local shops, seasonal products, personalities and events. Very useful.

This week's big feature is on Chuck Hahn, and therefore, of course, beer. Chuck Hahn is responsible for Hahn beer, but he sold the brand a long time ago and now runs the fabulous James Squire range. He's an enthusiast out to convert us all to the way of good beer. He's a American by birth, but we won't hold that against him. There's a discussion of the different malts used, on matching food with beer, and a set of recipes using beer. Baked mushrooms with IPA (India Pale Ale) and the chocolate & porter mousse sound particularly impressive. Beer and food - two of my favourite things! I'm saving this one.

The Canberra Times is now owned by Rural Press, after spates with Fairfax and PBL. It's quite independent editorially, and has a good balance of world, national and local news. It's a remarkably good newspaper for a town of our size - we're lucky to have it.

When I was in Sydney I used to read the SMH, but I don't usually bother now. However, yesterday's SMH Good Living is worth a note: it has their annual chef's hat awards for NSW and ACT. Canberra restaurants with one chef's hat are: Artespresso, Courgette, Ottoman Cuisine. And not too far off in the tiny little tourist town of Berrima, there is a pair of one-hat restaurants: Eschalot and The Journeyman. Something to check out - I have a birthday coming up soon. (I refuse to put the date in my blogger profile, because it will put my star sign up there, but it's Oct 1.)

Cooking today: Leftovers. I'm planning to post about what happened to the vego feast leftovers on Friday.

Monday, 3 September 2007


I'm a big fan of Nero Wolfe, the stout New York food-loving detective created by Rex Stout. The books are a joy, and the TV series is magnificently stylish. It bears much rewatching; it's fun to spot the different roles played by members of the ensemble cast. Nero's highest praise is a grunt of "Satisfactory". Nero's factotum Archie Goodwin - fine dancer, stylish dresser and hard man when needed - has on occasion managed "highly satisfactory", but that requires superhuman exertion.

Satis, the new cafe in Watson shops, is eminently satisfactory. The bloke and I had breakfast there on Sunday. Everything is vegetarian and organic, but don't think tragic hippie. Think dark wood and stained glass lights, and Jasper free trade coffee. The coffee is excellent: rich and strong without bitterness, it's among the best in Canberra. The kitchen space is tiny, but turns out lively-flavoured treats. We both enjoyed our free range eggs with chilli-basil-fetta topping, toast and hash potatoes. I must get around to trying the wild rice porridge and home made granola some day. Be there before noon for breakfast. Lunch and afternoon tea are also well catered, with a daily varying soup and veggie burger, and assorted cakes. If you need gluten free there are usually options.

I've been there several times now - it is my local, after all. There have been occasional glitches in the service, but it's friendly, and mistakes are apologised for. If I have any complaint, it's that the salads seem to focus too much on grains - some more leafy greens would be welcome. And that it's too small. I do hope they don't get all flushed with success and move to larger premises somewhere else.

Cooking today: Stirfry veg & poached chicken with chilli jam & cashew nuts.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

A Vegetarian Feast

The Bloke actually requested vego food. Something about eating too much junk recently, it seems. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I remembered this month's Delicious recipe for zucchini fritters.

So here's the feast. We have a salad, baked pumpkin & sweet potato, drained yoghurt, cavolo nero with garlic, an eggplant stuffed with onion & roast tomato, baked mushrooms, and the zucchini fritters. Some of this is for Ron - good old Lata Ron - because there are only two of us. The eggplant didn't get touched, but the option was there, and I have lots of leftovers to eat in the next few days.

I won't post recipes for everything. The cavolo nero was boiled, drained, and pan fried with olive oil and garlic. It came out a little too dry; I must have been overenthusiastic with the draining. The mushroom were drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and chopped parsley - and just 1/4 cup water to help keep them moist. The eggplant was similarly simple - fried onions & garlic & roast tomatoes. I make roast tomatoes most weeks, to use up any that didn't get eaten in salads or sandwiches.

Recipe 1. Simple cheese salad
A good handful each of rocket and baby spinach leaves.
A nice vine-ripened tomato, cut in wedges.
30g aged provolone cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler.
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar, to taste.
Place all ingredients except oil and vinegar in a bowl, toss, and drizzle with the oil and vinegar separately. It doesn't get much simpler than this. Serves 2.

Recipe 2. Zucchini Fritters
I want to link to the Delicious recipe, but it's not online at taste.com.au yet. While searching I noticed that there are already four zucchini fritter recipes from Delicious. This month's version is flavoured with parsley, mint, onion, fetta and sumac. When taste.com.au is updated I'll link it in, promise. Here it is at last!

Cooking today: See above.

My knickers fell down at Stomp

Saturday night's Stomp went off with a bang. This is the second one I've been to, and I intend to keep on going. They run quarterly at the Albert Hall, raising funds for charities. For your $25 you get a couple of half hour dance classes (be in at 7pm), a DJ playing anything from Jazz & Swing through Latin to trashy 70s, a live band, and demos from lots of different dance groups. Miss Kitka's and Jumptown are my personal favourites, but some of the Latin dancers are spectacular. The band this time was Big Boss Groove - a bright and cheerful local band, with brass and multiple vocalists, and a nice range of danceable tunes.

You get a good chance to have a dance - and if you need a break, it's pretty wild just watching the crowd doing their individual things. Who cares what the music is? Salsa away to a swing tune, swing on to disco, do the twist to some hot latin number...

And yes, my knickers did fall down while I was dancing, but since I was wearing turquoise velvet trousers under my groovy purple & blue paisley kaftan, they didn't go far. No-one could have noticed. (Kaftan?? Did I mention the 60s theme? Well, that's why. Peace, man.) I had a quick look at said knickers before I threw them out, and was chuffed to notice that the elastic had not gone bung. They were simply too big for me. Yay! It's nice to have these confirmations of progress.

I've been working on losing weight and getting healthier since January 2006. At the time I was 97kg, well into the obese range. Now I'm on the overweight/obese borderline, 14 kg down on where I started. I'm about halfway to my goal. My blood pressure is down; my fitness is up. Even with residual tiredness hanging round from that damn flu, I could still dance more and longer than I could have 2 years ago. I'm not losing weight very quickly, but it is moving slowly but steadily in the right direction. It's not easy to combine a love of good food and cooking with weight loss, but it is possible. It's all about learning proper portion sizing; choosing quality over quantity; loving your fruit & veg & pulses; cutting out boredom & social eating in favour of eating only when hungry; and choosing exercise that is actually enjoyable. For me, this is dancing, cycling and walking. I've been considering jogging, but I hear the ice falls out of your glass if you do that.