Thursday, 28 February 2008

A simple week, with ducks

I missed out on the show, after all, as I spent most of Saturday on the couch feeling rather flu-ish. I did feel better on Sunday - enough for lunch at Beppe's and a bit of light shopping, and was recovered nicely in time to go back to work (chiz chiz). Oh well.

In view of that, it was a simple week. I made a chicken curry with a good jar of paste - Charmaine Solomon's butter chicken. I dropped the cream from the recipe on the jar and used some light sour cream instead. This worked pretty well for texture, and it seemed rich enough anyway. I also made a bolognese pasta sauce - with pre-sliced mushrooms, yet. I usually resent paying double for the convenience of having someone else slice them up for me, but when I'm not well it suddenly seems sensible.

I went out to lunch with Beth on Wednesday, and for a change we went to University House. The cafeteria, not the fancy restaurant, that is. It's a lovely place to be on a sunny day. There are a lot of outdoor tables set on the grass among tall trees, and the university grounds are full of birds. I spotted a family of superb blue wrens on my walk over, and while we were eating a flock of choughs was hopping about the grass and cadging scraps. And just as we were about to leave, a family of a dozen ducks came walking up the path. They were quite comically striding along the paved pathway, all the way across the garden to the courtyard exit, where we found them dabbling on the fishpond as we left. The sun was sparkling on the clear water, and the orange koi and pink waterlilies added colour.

University House Cellar Cafe and Bar is not a place to go to for good food. It's really all about the beer garden. I remember this fondly from my student days, as an escape from the usual undergrad end of campus, to a form of civilisation, with jugs of Coopers. The food is not much above college food. They run to stews in bains marie, frozen chips, a few pre-made rolls, commercial bakery cakes, and a salad bar. Beth took the only vegetarian option they had - a large egg salad roll ($6) - and I had a pie with chips and salad ($9.50). The chips were soggy, the pie was a standard commercial one, but I must admit the salad was rather good. We didn't have coffee - as I recall it's a bit on the weak side, not worth the bother of going back inside for.

As long as you know what to expect, it's a reasonable if ordinary bite to eat. I've had some of their stews, and they've been quite tasty, and the vegetables are usually pretty respectable. They do evening meals, too, until about 8pm, which can be very useful. There's not a lot of options on campus after 5pm. Be aware, though, that it's closed on the weekend. Your best bet is to go for a beer on a Friday arvo, when they often have live music in the warmer weather.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

No Markets :(

Damnit, there's no Growers' Market on this weekend because of the show. I was quite keen to go and stock up on Loriendale apples and Gleann na Meala greens. Oh well. I will go to the Canberra show, for the first time ever, so I will have something local to report on. I totally missed the entire multicultural festival this year, and it sounds like there was some really cool stuff on, especially at the Fringe. So much for my woman-about-town pretensions.

On the food front, the plan last week was a success. I hope I can do as well next week. I'm thinking of a chicken curry and a good old spag bog, but that may change as I shop.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Beer, pork, peanuts, chilli - oh yes!

I've been reading recipe threads on assorted websites and felt inspired. I made some stewed pears which I'm freezing, with thoughts of a sorbet for a dinner party in March. And in addition to the Carolina pulled pork, which has been slow cooking all day in its chilli-vinegar-tomato bath, I've also made beer bread and a peanut-sesame noodle sauce. This all fits in with the plan for the week. Here's the plan.

Sunday: pulled pork, beer bread, coleslaw. Mango sorbet dessert.
Monday: mini teriyaki steaks, soba noodles with peanut & sesame sauce, and baby bok choi.
Tuesday: reheated pork
Wednesday: spinach & cheese tortellini with ham, peas and ricotta
Thursday: reheated pasta

The peanut sauce comes from Epicurious, with tea instead of water, and rice wine vinegar, not red wine vinegar. And beer bread is just one of those simple things.

Recipe: Beer Bread
3 cups flour, self-raising
1 stubbie beer (375 ml)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Sift flour, mix dry ingredients well, mix in beer, toss in loaf pan, bake at 180 for 30-45 mins, until a skewer comes out clean.

Notes: umm, I used 2/3 wholemeal this time. And Tooheys Old. Oh, and my loaf pan is silicon, so no worries about greasing or lining.


Courgette is one of Canberra's fine dining restaurants. It's located on Marcus Clarke Street, near the Barry Drive interesection, where Fringe Benefits used to be. It's a nice space with well spaced linen-draped tables, a view of a miniature garden, and enough carpet to keep the sound levels good for conversation. Apparently there's a private dining space in the cellar, which sounds like fun. The Bloke and I went there last night for a very civilised dinner with some old friends, and enjoyed it immensely. Good food, good wine, good company - it was the very definition of convivial.

I was slack on the note-taking front, and completely forgot my camera, so I have no photos and I forget the detail of some dishes and which wines. You can download a menu from their website, but it was slightly varied last night. I imagine that in a few months it will be very different, as the seasonal produce changes. According to this website, chef James Mussillon is the owner of three restaurants, Courgette, Sabayon and Aubergine, and executive chef at Courgette. The kitchen is slightly open - you can peek in at the service windows on the way to the loo - and he looked not so much executive as thoroughly hands on.

We skipped the degustation and went for a three course menu. An amuse-bouche of duck and shitake sausage set the scene as we browsed the menu, and I sipped my Tio Pepe Fino sherry. I ordered the assiette of quail, followed by a crisp skin snapper fillet with scallops set on blue swimmer crab and saffron broth. Paris mash and steamed green vegetables came as separate side dishes to order. The dishes were outstanding - somehow merging simplicity of concept with complexity of detail and execution. My quail assiette was a marvel of tiny bites - a single raviolo with mushroom, a tiny sausage-like ballotine with chestnut and a quail egg, a roast breast and miniature drumette with a disk of truffled potato, all united by a rich jus. The Bloke let me have a taste of his confit duck, and it was brilliant, with subtle Asian spicing and scallops for contrasting texture.

The mains were equally spectacular. My chunk of snapper was done to absolute melting fresh perfection, and the scallops, fennel and asparagus added complements and contrasts. I requested a spoon to scoop up the last of the salty saffron broth. More of the silky Paris mash might have done, but I had to leave room for dessert... My companions were all very impressed with their meals. The venison looked spectacular, blood red rare accentuated with beetroot; and the Wagyu beef was by the Bloke's account "very nice". Not much detail there, sorry.

After our main courses, we were given small scoops of lychee sorbet as a palate cleanser. The dessert menu came with a separate and extensive cheese menu, with good descriptions. I was quite tempted, but as I actually wanted something light and fruity, I chose the fruit in champagne jelly. This came set on a thin disc of meringue, surrounded by little dots of mango curd, and topped with a thin shaving of pineapple, and a scoop of pineapple and basil sorbet. The jelly was pleasant; the sorbet outstanding - the pineapple and basil pairing was remarkably good, and well balanced.

On the extreme nitpicky front, I think that the service could have been slightly better paced at the beginning, the bread roll was too bland (needed salt?), and the broth with my fish was too salty. And I do dislike the very common habit of charging extra for vegetables. But it's a place you have to work very hard to find fault with, and it truly was an outstanding meal. I'm interested to try the others in the stable. It worked out to $130 a head, with two bottles of wine, predinner drinks and a couple of glasses of wine between the four of us.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

...or "Granola, Beppe's and Pulled Pork"

I commend Nigella's Granola recipe to you all. It's in Feast, which is one of my favourite recipe books. I've made the granola a few times, and followed the recipe faithfully, even to the extent of buying rice malt syrup specially. But yesterday I went random and substituted all over the place - extra oat bran and quick oats because I didn't have enough rolled oats in the house. Also I used less brown sugar and apple puree, more honey, and pepitas instead of sunflower seeds. It seems to have worked pretty well anyway, though I do recommend whole rolled oats over quick oats for the best texture. Also, reducing the sugars somewhat was definitely a plus for me. I tend to eat it with sweetened fruit yoghurt, rather than plain.

After the morning's cooking, I went to Belconnen market for lunch at Beppe's, and a little light shopping. Beppe's is wonderful. I recommend them. It's a cafe, with a modest range of Italian food for sale. They have house made pasta and pasta sauces, as well as coffee, bread, gelato, and assorted antipasti. Being in the Fresh Food Market, they are open Wednesday to Sunday for the breakfast and lunch trade. If you're lucky you can get their great fresh pasta for half price on Sunday arvo.

The cafe side of operations is well worth the visit. It's a pleasant airy space, with excellent coffee and simple Italian food. They have an assortment of Italian style cakes and biscuits, some made in-house and some imported. Lunches feature their own pastas, bruschettas, pizzas, frittatas and similar simple foods. Yesterday I had a vegetable lasagne, and an affogato with a scoop of chocolate gelato and a very hard pistachio biscotto. It was all delicious. I had been hesitating over which dessert to have, and I got to take one home by surprise. Belinda bought me a piece of the ricotta and pear torte. I ate it next day and it was wonderful - a lightly sweetened ricotta cream with poached pears and a touch of pear liqueur, set between two soft layers of a biscuitty cake.

More on shopping follows, and a recipe.

Included in the shopping was a few expensive but great Tasmanian cherries (February!), a tray of mangos which I split with a friend, and a shoulder of pork. I'd been reading a recipe thread on my favourite message board, and I had "pulled pork" in mind as an option. I managed to get a shoulder of good pork from Eco-Meats, complete with the excitement of watching the butcher cut it off the carcase specially for me! It's from "Bush Hall Hogs", who are not in fact at Hall but Berridale. Lovely quality stuff, it seems almost a shame to drown it in vinegar and chilli, but that is what I bought it for. I'll have to let the warm inner glow of using organic free range meat compensate for the price, as I doubt I'll really notice the superior flavour this time.

I'm fond of Eco Meats. They are a proper old fashioned butcher in some respects - the butchers are right there in store and will get you whatever cuts you want. And they are also a modern organic high end provider, with quality free range meats and game, and some processed foods. You can get kangaroo or emu salami, rabbit or bison sausages, pates and sauces and marinade. There's an interesting range of deep frozen foods, too, including whole rabbits, hares, game birds and various cuts of kangaroo. The prices are variable - the roo, salami and sausages are reasonably cheap; local organic free range pork quite a bit steeper than your Woollies factory farmed variety. But you do get what you pay for.

Recipe: Thlayli's Carolina-style BBQ pork
Approx 3lbs pork roast of some sort
1/2 cup vinegar (cider)
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 heaping tbsp crushed red peppers
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes

Combine everything except meat in pot; stir it up y'all. Put meat in and stab it like a hooker. Flip meat to get the other side, and stab it some more. I allowed it to marinade overnight because I didn't want to have to get up early to prep it AND cook it.

Cook on slow 8-10 hours, high 5-6 hours. Shred the meat before you serve it.

Notes: These are Thlayli's own words unamended. I decided I was stabbing it like a motherfucker, rather than a hooker. Choose your own crazed killer metaphor. Also, of course, these are American units so watch out. This is traditionally served in bread rolls, or with potato salad and coleslaw. It's called "pulled" pork because you pull it apart with a fork. I'm not quite sure why it's called BBQ, though...

I haven't cooked it yet, so I'll have to report on the outcome later. It's not the sort of thing you have on the day you buy it. What I actually had for dinner was a chicken schnitzel at the Old Canberra Inn - with music from Smokin' Joe Robinson, Lloyd Speigel, and the Young Guns. A good evening on the whole, though Smokin' Joe really needs to grow up and learn more musicality. Joe's technically a good guitarist, but it's all flash, he lacks sensitivity and soul. However, he's only 16, and he's hanging around with good people, so there's a chance.

Well, that was Friday. Saturday features granola for breakfast (yum), writing this, actually assembling the pork, doing the supermarket dash, and going out to have a fancy dinner at Courgette! Another review coming tomorrow.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Not too well, and not too planned, but Goulburn rocked

I was away for the weekend in Goulburn, for the Blues Festival, which totally rocked. Or bluesed. Or something. Canberra's own Jonno Zilber was one of the real standouts. It was an amazing weekend. Goulburn is definitely the best Blues festival of all that I've been to in Australia. They specialise in Australian acts, and there's a good range of styles. Acoustic, electric, jazzy, rootsy, big band, small band, solos - and not too many that weren't really blues at all... And you do get that at some so-called blues & roots festivals. Hint: modern R&B is neither blues nor roots, and indeed modern R&B as a genre sucks. There's an interesting program running on ABC now on black American music - apparently R&B was originally coined as a term to replace "race music". That stuff, I do like. Jumpy jazzy gospelly bluesy swing, you can't go wrong.

Back to Goulburn - you can usually find a seat, as the venues are mostly large and there's a lot of different acts running parallel in the lineup. These venues are local pubs and clubs, with a set of outdoor gigs in Belmore Park on Saturday. The outdoor day gigs are usually interspersed with dances from the local kids' dance teachers, whose real name I can never remember, but I think of them as Sparkle Motion. It adds a delightfully wrong and surreal note to the proceedings. Sadly, last Saturday it was quite cold and drizzly, so that wasn't as much fun as usual. We heard some of it from the verandah of the Rose Cafe, which does a very nice line in coffee and breakfast, but was closed on Sunday (why?!). But then we went off to find warmth and dry down at the Tatts with Jonno.

Other acts I really enjoyed included The Blues Preachers, Diana Wolfe and the Wolfe Gang, The Young Guns, and Beachhead. Lloyd Spiegel wasn't there, but he's at the Old Canberra Inn tonight, so that's where I'm off to this evening.

On the blogging front, I was not very well last week, and didn't get round to it much. Except for that one essential non-food post, after listening to Kev's sorry on the radio. I did manage to organise food from the freezer and pantry - we had defrosted lamb & black bean chilli, with baked potatoes and chopped salads. And I made a three-tins dhal, and bought a pack of nice Country Pride sausages. We had those to accompany dhal (look, just pretend it's a kofta curry) and for sandwiches. The fridge is pretty bare now, though. Better go to market tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


As just one Australian, I hereby add my voice to today's long overdue apology. Here's the ABC story. Well done, Kev.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Throw it in

I've varied the week's plan slightly, to have chicken tonight, and reheated frittata and salad tomorrow. And I've made a fruit dessert for tonight, just for me. Because some stuff needed using up. Both of these are non-recipe, thrown together kind of things. I'm going to write them up as recipes, but that's not really the spirit.

Recipe 1: Pasta with Chicken and Vegetables
200g chicken strips
1 large onion, sliced in strips
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 red capsicum, sliced in strips
1/2 green capsicum, sliced in strips
2 small zucchini, sliced in strips
2 tablespoons shredded fresh thai basil
6 roast tomatoes, peeled & chopped
Pasta, cooked

Fry onion, garlic and chicken in olive oil. Deglaze with brandy. Add tomato and vegetables. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add herbs. Serve with pasta.

Notes: Why Thai basil? Because I had half a bunch on hand. The vegetables happened to be in the fridge; I had some chicken that needed using. Throw it in.

Recipe 2: Midnight Black Fruit Compote
2 large fresh black figs
1/2 punnet blackberries
6 prunes, pitted
1/3 cup marsala
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon cocoa

Cut fruit to size of the blackberries. Toss in saucepan with the marsala, and bring to boil. Careful of flames! Add honey and cocoa, and simmer for a few minutes, then tip into a bowl and refrigerate. Leave for an hour before serving to chill, and let prunes swell up. Serve with a scoop of chocolate sorbet!

Notes: I felt this deserved a name of its own. It's good. But basically, the fruit was going to go off if I didn't use it soon. And I had some chocolate honey that was a gift - I thought why not, dark fruits, chocolate, a good match. Toss it in.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Planning Ahead

It's dawned on me that it's February, and my after-work commitments are starting this coming week, or next week. I'm going to need to be prepared with the dinners, because an unfed Cath is a cranky Cath. I don't want to spend hours getting dinner ready, when I've only got home at 8pm.

Last year I'd usually work out a rough menu for the week on Saturday after shopping, and make most of it on Sunday. I've been able to lapse from that over the summer break, but it's time to get back to the routines now. So reheatables and leftovers and make-ahead dishes are going to have to be the thing. I've made a plan. I don't know if I'll keep to it, but here it is.

Saturday (yesterday) - Shanghai noodles with brown bean pork sauce.
Sunday (tonight) - BBQ lamb sausages & cajun roo, salads, and sorbets
Monday - stir fry chicken with chilli & Thai basil & rice & veg
Tuesday - Sorrel, Potato & Brie Frittata bake; salad
Wednesday - leftover frittata & salad
Thursday - refrigerator pasta with roast tomatoes
Friday - off to Goulburn for Blues Festival. Pub Grub.

Tonight we're having a BBQ dinner tonight with old friends, and I've promised meat and sorbet. I have saltbush lamb sausages, and roo fillets marinaded in bourbon, lime juice and Herbie's Cajun mix. I've got most of the mango sorbet still, and I've added a chocolate one. To my horror, Chocolate & Zucchini was offline yesterday when I wanted to make the mix, so I had to snaffle the recipe from the Google cache. I'm saving it here (below the fold) for emergencies.

Here's how it works. On Monday I can do stir fry prep while the rice is cooking. I have the chicken now, defatted & sliced to BBQ piece size, in case anyone objects to kangaroo. Tomorrow I can just slice it further to stir fry pieces, and freeze some if there's too much. On Tuesday I may leave a note for the bloke to turn the oven on, so when I get back from dance class I can toss it in the oven & have dinner in 20 minutes. Wednesday after a different dance class is even easier - just reheat. Thursday I have a singing lesson, but I should get home early enough to make a random pasta. I have some ready cooked in the freezer, from a semi-failed recipe, which produced *way* too much pasta for the quantity of sauce and number of diners. I'll add the tomatoes I roasted yesterday, and whatever else needs using up. Maybe the odds and ends of chicken; maybe leftover BBQ meat & veg.

I've also saved brown bean sauce in the freezer for the future; and I have a single night's serve of the lamb chilli. That should form the basis of the following week's meals. I'm so together. Yay for me. Bring on term 1, week 1.

Sorbet & frittata recipes follow.
Recipe 1: Sorbet Chocolat Noir
550 ml water
80g unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
200g sugar
175g dark chocolate, chopped as finely as your patience allows
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
A pinch of salt

Pre-freeze the bowl of your ice cream maker as instructed by your friend the manufacturer.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, cocoa powder, and sugar. Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking continually. Remove from heat, and add the chopped chocolate. Let rest for 30 seconds as the chocolate begins to melt, add the vanilla and salt, then stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Let cool on the counter, then refrigerate until chilled.

Whisk the mixture again just before using, and freeze using your ice cream maker.

Notes: Makes about 1 litre. Recipe adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini, which is also adapted from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz. The quality of the chocolate and cocoa do matter here. Dutch cocoa is amazingly dark and rich compared to the old Cadbury's. The sorbet is not very sweet, but it is rich and intense.

Recipe 2: Sorrel and Brie Frittata Bake

350g potato, cubed
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
150g sorrel
1 tablespoon butter
100g firm Brie
6 eggs
pinch salt

Fry the potato cubes gently in the olive oil for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly so they do not stick. Add crushed garlic and stir for another minute. Set aside.
Fry the sorrel in the butter for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Beat eggs and salt until well combined.
Chop Brie, combine with potato and sorrel, and mix in eggs. Pour all into a large cake tin, and bake at 180C for 20 minutes or until set.

Notes: Sorrel will shrink massively, and turn an ugly dull green like overcooked spinach. This is perfectly fine. Keep going.

Also, why firm Brie? Well, I found some left over from Xmas, rather dried out, up the back of the fridge. Still in date, definitely not off, but not going to be good enough to eat on its own. So cooking it is the thing, and a frittata is a great use-up dish.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Friday Night Beer, Curry & Movie

A good kind of Friday night. We had a couple of beers at the Wig & Pen, a curry at Rani's, and saw Lust, Caution at the Dendy.

Rani's is quite new - they opened about two months ago in East Row, where Niche used to be. It's a straightforward midrange cheap and cheerful Indian. They have black velvet paintings on the wall, and paper tablecloths. They're licensed, with a small bar. There's takeway, and a $15 lunch buffet, and at dinner it's a la carte, with a good selection of the usual suspects. There's Tandoori dishes, and North Indian and Goan. Butter chicken and beef Vindaloo and Mattar Paneer and such, for $11.50-14.50 a dish (prawns to $19). We had Chicken Tikka Karara ($12.50), a dry tandoori dish with hotter spices than usual; and Lamb Rogan Josh ($13.50). Add in a couple of pieces of Naan, some chutney, raita, salad and rice, and a beer and a lassi - and we paid just under $60 for the two of us.

But although the menu is unsurprising and unspecialised, the execution is well above average. The chicken pieces were still juicy, the lamb was lean, tender and without gristle. The spices were nicely balanced, and the "hot" dish had a good bite. It was neither murderously hot, nor blanded out to some mythical Australian chilli-hating palate. The condiments were plentiful and good quality. The tandoori Naans were really excellent. It's a welcome addition to the range of options in Civic.

After dinner, we rolled off to the Dendy, which was packed. Our film session started just a little bit late, so we waited in the bar area. This was made pleasant by a quiet jazz trio playing old standards; they were very sweet and young looking and I suspect may grow up to be very good one day. Especially the pianist.

Lust, Caution is an excellent movie, but not one for a night of light entertainment. It's set in World War Two Shanghai, amid the terrors of the Japanese occupation. There's a lot of emotionally wrenching sex and violence. It was a long movie, too, so we didn't get home until nearly 1am, and then were a bit too mentally engaged to get to sleep easily. The bloke has been fighting off a nasty chest infection, with the aid of a course of antibiotics, and this didn't help. Today we've been pretty weary, and not up to much except some shopping. (Sorry, Shelby!)