Monday, 28 December 2009

Internet Salmagundi, Special Xmas edition

This is not exactly how I did my turkey, though mine did also involve a bacon wrap. But it sounds even more awesome. Though there isn't any stuffing and I'm not sure if you'd get good pan juices for gravy. Perhaps it could be modified.

A while back, some people were discussing raw milk - here's a good article on the subject.

And some funnies:

Atheist Holiday Traditions

The War on Xmas

And look.. it's Santa Cephalopod!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Notching up the achievements

Done massive supermarket shopping trip
Done smaller market trip for pudding and salmon
Put salmon on to cure
Made bottom half of trifle
Decorated cake
Made panforte
Made brandy butter
Took cat to vet to be put to sleep
Made breadcrumbs for stuffing
Collected first batch of relatives from the airport
Cleaned out part of the fridge (more to do there)
Written lists for final market and supermarket trips

Still to go before the day:
Wrap all the presents
Do final market and supermarket trips (twilight EPIC market tonight)
Organise relatives to get the turkey & ham & bacon while I'm at at work Xmas eve
Make rest of stuffing
Finish trifle

One of these things is not like the others. It's not so easy to be festive at the moment.
funny pictures
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Saturday, 19 December 2009

On the countdown

Last weekend before Xmas!

I was just looking back on my blog to see what I did before, and I realised that I have not done a proper Xmas dinner at home since I started writing here. My basic reference is Delia Smith's Christmas book, which I use for things like turkey timing and assorted inspiration. It's not ideal: being British, Delia assumes we'll have winter seasonal fruit and veg. Now I have bought Margaret Fulton's Xmas book, after nobody gave it to me last year despite copious hints, but I haven't had a lot of chance to read it yet.

And now there's less than a week to go, and we'll have eleven people to lunch on Friday. Two of us, seven relatives, and two friends - B1 and M. With my new job, I'll be working up to the 24th, so I'll be buying more than I usually do. I've been to the market this morning, where I bought a huge macadamia and brandy Christmas pudding from Pudding Lane - expensive, but I had a sample and it's awesome. I also got a few mince pies from the "bush breads" people. If I like them, I'll get more at the twilight market on Wednesday. I've tried several supermarket brands, and most of them are easily beaten by a spicy fruit roll biscuit.

I usually make Delia's cinnamon icecream, and sometimes I make a frozen yule log with that as the filling in a chocolate sponge roll, but this year I'm just buying premium cream and icecream, and B1 is bringing a non-pudding dessert. I may even buy pre-made custard. The ham and turkey are on order at Eco Meats, and I'm planning to dispatch some of the relatives to collect them while I'm at work. Luckily B1 is bringing veggies, so there's another thing not to worry about.

This morning I bought a kilo slab of salmon to cure, which I've just now got started. I also have blueberries, which I'm using for a trifle. So far I've stewed them up with vanilla sugar and water. Expect more on that later. For now, here's the salmon, ready to go in the fridge for a few days cure. And now it's time to get on with the next jobs: decorating the cake, cleaning out the fridge, tidying the house, wrapping the presents... weekends are too short!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Oh, Diana!

Here's another back-post from the "drafts" queue.

Diana Lampe writes the vegetarian kitchen column for the weekly Canberra Times food and wine pages. She's a very nice person and I usually like her recipes. Back in October, she had a recipe for "Anglesea Eggs", a recipe from north Wales. You can tell that it's Welsh, because it has both Caerphilly cheese AND leeks in it! I not only have Welsh ancestry but I also had some nice leeks on hand, so I decided to make it. And I have to say - never again!

It's not that it's bland, though it is. It's warm cheesy comfort food, and you don't usually want that sort of thing to be highly spiced. (Or if you do, then some chutney, HP or chilli sauce at table will do well.) The problem is that you really don't want to use so many saucepans, or do so much prep, to achieve just a simple bit of comfort food.

Recipe: Anglesey Eggs
2-3 medium leeks
500g potatoes
6-8 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
20g butter
1 round tablespoon plain flour
300ml milk
100g Caerphilly cheese
2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
nutmeg, salt, pepper
butter to grease baking dish

* Hard boil and shell the eggs. (saucepans: 1)
* Peel the potatoes, and boil them, then mash them. (saucepans: 2)
* Clean the leeks well, and cut into slice about 1cm thick.
* Saute them gently in the olive oil. (saucepans: 3)
* Add a pinch of salt, a dash of water, cover and stew gently until soft.
* Remove lid and reduce liquid.
* Combine leeks with the warm mashed potato, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a dash of milk if it's too dry. It should be soft, but not sloppy. Enough to hold a shape.
* Warm the milk. (saucepans: 4)
* Melt butter over a gentle heat, and stir in flour to make a roux (saucepans: 5)
* Remove from heat and add the warm milk gradually, stirring well each time.
* Return to heat and cook, stirring often, until thickened.
* Add all but 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese, and stir well to melt the cheese.
* Grease a baking dish, and spoon in the leek mash mix. Flatten it and hollow it out in the centre to make a sort of pie shell shape.
* Halve the eggs and lay them on top of the mash.
* Spoon over the cheese sauce.
* Grate on a little nutmeg, and sprinkle remaining cheese and breadcrumbs over the top
* Bake at 180C for about 30 minutes.

Final count: 5 saucepans, one baking dish. Of course you can reduce the saucepan count by re-using the egg pan (which needs only a quick rinse) for the spuds. And a jug in the microwave works well to warm the milk. But don't forget you've also peeled hardboiled eggs and potatoes and washed and chopped leeks, and grated cheese and made a mornay sauce. And maybe cooked some bacon strips to add to the mash, like I did. You can just see them in this part-way picture. So that's six saucepans! All that for a homely simple meal. As I said, never again - unless I happen to have a lot of leftover mash and veg from some other meal.

Diana suggests serving this with baked asparagus on side, which is an excellent idea.

She also suggests cheddar instead of the Caerphilly. Now, Caerphilly is quite hard to find, though one of the Belconnen delis gets it occasionally. It's a slightly sharp firm white cheese, which will crumble rather than grate. White Leicester is not a terrible substitute, especially if you mix it with a quarter amount of fetta to add some sharpness. Cheddar is just different.

By the way, if you're reheating this for another day, pop it in the oven. Or remove the eggs before nuking. Microwaves make hardboiled eggs go rubbery.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Rhubarb may be in at the market, but I'm not buying any. I'm getting about half a kilo a week from my plant, and like last year's, it's still green. The first batch of the year was nicely red, but then after that it's not coloured up again. A neat trick with this is simply to cook it with something red.

Last January I tried a raspberry and rhubarb sago recipe, which came out to something that wasn't what I had wanted. The raspberry was far too dominant, and the sago was pointlessly minimal. I haven't worked out a sago recipe, but I have worked out a better balance that lets you still taste the rhubarb.

Recipe: Roasted Red Raspberry Rosey Rhubarb
500g rhubarb
100g raspberries
2-3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons rosewater

* Wash and slice up the rhubarb, and place it in a shallow baking dish.
* Stir through the raspberries.
* Sprinkle over the sugar and rosewater.
* Bake at 180C for 20 minutes, or until done to your taste.

Notes: Frozen raspberries are fine. You can use different oven temperatures, if you have the oven on for something else. Slow is no problem, and very fast is OK as long as you keep an eye on it and stir it so the top doesn't scorch too badly. A little scorching is actually fine, and adds some nice toasty toffee flavours, but you don't want a lot.

Redcurrants do rather well in this, too. And Americans love the strawberry & rhubarb combination, but I'm less fond of cooked strawberries. Try it if you like, though.

It's good for breakfast, with yoghurt. Or add some whipped cream or icecream, and have it for dessert. Maybe with almond bread.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Marketing again

I made it to the Growers' Market again yesterday. They now have flyers with the times. There are two markets left this year:

* Saturday 19th December 2009 8am to 11am; and
* Wednesday 23rd December 2009 Twilight Market 4pm to 7pm.

And then next year they resume on 16 Jan.

In stock at the moment, there is lot of stone fruit, especially cherries. Some early peaches and apricots are out. New season garlic is also in, with big braids of purple, white, Russian and elephant garlic featuring all over the place.

I stocked up on cherries, and bought a few plumcots. Otherwise, I mostly bought bread and meat and salad, as I have too many veggies in the crisper needing to be used up. A good veggie curry seems like the plan for that - and I bought some hoggett chops to make a meat one. I'm also planning a noodle stirfry with fresh beansprouts and the remains of last week's herbs, and I picked up some frozen ravioli. I've got the old tomatoes and a head of new garlic in the oven to roast for a sauce.

I'm intending to go to the Xmas twilight market for a big stock up on Xmas fruit and veg. Maybe flex off work a little early if I can manage it. (Ooh, the novelty of flex!) I'll have family in town by then, so I can take them along, and nonchalantly point out Lindsay and Edmunds, and Robin Rowe...

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Ask a Question

I keep seeing people asking questions on really old posts. I don't have an alert for that, and anyway they're often not relevant to the post. So here is one you can use for general questions, that I will check more often. I'll link it up the top right with the indices and spam reporting things.

A New Start, A New Cafe

The first week back in full time work, after all this time off, has been a bit of a shock to the system. I'm lucky in that I have flextime, and my supervisor is quite happy if I start work at 9.30am. Also, I never got into terrible late night habits during my time off - a lot of the time builders were arriving at 7am. But I'm out of the habits of planning meals and doing some dinner prep in the morning.

So last week we had simple dinners. One leftover curry; one mixed grill with steak, sausages and oven chips; one quicky pasta with a pre-made tomato sauce and some cauliflower, capsicum and sausage pieces chucked in; one pide from the Dickson TurkOz - the best pide in town, IMO!

And I bought lunch three times, all from Cafe Momo. This little cafe is right next to my new job, less than five minutes walk away. It caters to a range of tastes, with a hot box of chips and pies and such; a sandwich bar; and a sit down cafe with some full meals and a short wine & beer list. There's inside tables, a pleasant little deck out the back, and a small room that can be closed for a private group of maybe a dozen. There are some pictures on their website; I snaffled one showing the approach that I take, walking in from the back. Pretty!

The prices are very reasonable compared to town. Once I had a chicken and avocado salad sandwich ($5.50 I think) which was nicely fresh and well filled. Another day I took in some fruit, and supplemented it with a pepper steak pie ($4). It was a good pie, made in house, with big chunks of lean meat and a lovely golden pastry top. The pastry bottom was a bit soggy, though.

And I had a sit down lunch with my friend F, who works across the road. She had a Thai beef salad ($16), and an iced chocolate heaped high with cream. I had zucchini fritters ($14.50), which you can have with smoked salmon or roast capsicum. I chose salmon this time, and the serve was generous. The fritters are those standard blobby shaped ones, Turkish restaurant style, drizzled with yoghurt and served with mixed leaves. They were cooked well - no soggy insides. F's salad looked good, too: plenty of beef and beansprouts, and made a bit substantial with noodles. I'll try that one sometime soon.

I also bought a muffin one day when I missed breakfast. That was due to chasing down our wandering sick cat, and then making him take pills and coaxing him to eat. But I wasn't rapt with it - too cakey for my taste. I don't like muffins to be too much like cupcakes, I prefer less sugar and a more solid style, given some guts with bran or wholemeal flour. Cake for breakfast is just wrong. Next time that happens, I'll just get a vegemite sandwich on wholegrain.

I'm pretty pleased with Cafe Momo, despite its minor flaws, and I'll certainly be a regular there. The coffee is decent, too. It's not the greatest, but it's not too bad. A little on the weak side, it's overly light and sweet in flavour. But hey, at least it's not burned or cold or obviously stale. Canberra is not strong on great coffee, unfortunately. I count myself lucky to find a drinkable one out here in Bruce.

Cafe Momo is at 14 Thynne Street, Fern Hill Park, Bruce. They are open Mon-Fri 7.30am to 4.30pm, and Sat 8am-2pm.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Lazy Way

I know it's all uncool, and serious cooks make their own pasta sauces and curry pastes; and do all their own meat & veg prep from fresh; and blend their own spice mixes from whole spices; and all that sort of thing. But I'm quite a sucker for a nice looking sauce being sold at a market stall. Or a good name on a product in a supermarket. Sometimes this works really well; sometimes it's just OK and a useful time-saver. And sometimes you just want to tip it in the garbage and pretend it never happened.

On the "works really well" scale:
1) Frozen baby peas. Shelling fresh peas is one of those jobs that you need to do in company, or at least with the radio or TV on. I was reminded of this recently when I bought a kilo of peas in the pod from the market. Shelling peas isn't unpleasant work, but compared to the ease of just chucking some frozen peas in the microwave, it's ridiculously laborious. And the frozen ones are more reliable. I was sampling as I shelled (of course) and while some were beautifully sweet, some were insect attacked, and some were mealy and tasteless.

2) Tubs of Thai curry pastes. Honestly, many Thai people use these too. On the advice of a Thai chef, I usually buy Maesri or Mae Ploy brands. Find them in most Asian grocers.

3) Crankypants Adobo marinade. Yum! It doesn't seem to be listed on their website, so I hope they haven't discontinued it. Find them at the Kingston Sunday markets, and the Handmade markets.

4) Herbie's spice and herb blends. He knows what he's doing. Find them at Cooking Coordinates, Manuka Fine Foods and many other places.

5) Ameet's Homestyle curry sauces. I bought a jar of Kashmiri Masala from a lovely young Indian woman with a thick plait of dark hair down her back, at the Growers' Market last week. I fondly imagine that it's her mother or grandmother's recipe, but anyway, it's a small Australian company. There's so artificial colours or preservatives, and it was very delicious. I used some Galloway chuck steak in it.

Less successful things follow.

Reasonable for rush hour:
On the "it's OK" level of the scale, there's a lot of things. Some good examples from the supermarket include:
* Patak's Indian curry pastes
* Some of the Paul Newman and Five Brothers jarred pasta sauces
* Some of the San Remo and Latina refrigerated pasta sauces - the plainer tomato ones, mainly.
* frozen "oven chips", spinach and green beans - but only if the beans are for a longer cooking time, they won't be crisp. In a veggie curry, for example.

Got very close to tipping in the garbage
Foodlover's macadamia satay sauce - to my taste, it is thin and harsh, and the nut flavour seemed artificial, like in those flavoured coffees. But I added lots of peanut butter and lime juice and chilli, and it turned out OK. Hmm, but now I think of it, so would water.

Ainsley Harriot's "citrus kick" couscous - this seemed to be very heavy on citric acid and dried onion in flavour. Not nice at all. If I hadn't had a lot of chilli to cover it up, I might have tipped it out. I never bought it again, and won't now try any others in his range.

Actually tipped in the garbage:
This almost never happens, as I'm against waste. I'll still eat food that isn't very good. It's got to be seriously dire to go uneaten into the bin. That usually means badly burned, or gone off, or well past its use-by date. But one product made it to the bin: Jamie Oliver's tomato and chilli pasta sauce. This tasted to me like tinned tomato soup with a dash of tabasco. And I had such lovely ham and olives waiting to be to put in it that I couldn't bear to spoil them. An ordinary tin of tomatoes was a much better choice.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Fauzi's dinner

I have no idea who Fauzi is or was. But I consulted a friend who speaks several languages, and she explained that the title of this dish, Masak Fauzi, is the Indonesian and Malay word "Masak" for "to cook", with "Fauzi", a name. The recipe comes from a 1970s pamphlet called simply "Curry Recipes" put out by Community Aid Abroad, who are these days known as Oxfam. This is one of the first ever curries I cooked, when I was in my teens, but I haven't made it in, oh, at least a decade. I rediscovered the pamphlet in a recent tidying phase, and decided to give it a try.

And of course you need some greens for a balanced diet, so I tried a veggie dish from the booklet, too. It involves cooked lettuce, which may seem weird but is really quite alright. It's a nice bright look, so that's the photo. Fauzi's yummy brown sludgy thing looks like a brown sludgy thing. Not so photogenic.

Recipe 1: Masak Fauzi
1 lb (450g) meat
5 onions
10 dried chillies
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
2 carrots
salt and sugar to taste

Slice onions and fry with chillies and a tablespoon of oil, until quite soft.
Pound them to paste.
Brown the cubed meat in the other tablespoon of oil.
Add the onion paste and tomato sauce to the meat.
Simmer until meat is tender and onions are reduced well.
Add raisins and chopped carrots and simmer for another half hour.
Add salt and sugar to taste.

Notes: This is quite sweet, even without adding any sugar, and reminds me a little bit of a sauerbraten with that mix of meat, raisins, vinegar. It's not a normal curry, as there are basically no spices. I used 550g of lamb. I tipped my onions into a bowl and used the stick blender to make the paste instead of a large mortar and pestle. Ah, technology.

If you feel tomato sauce is just too appalling, you could use a tablespoon of tomato paste, a tablespoon of vinegar and two teaspoons of sugar.

Recipe 2: Pea and Lettuce Sambal
2 teaspoons sunflower oil
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4-6 large lettuce leaves, shredded and rinsed
1/2 medium capsicum
1/2 cup peas
1 tablespoon dessicated coconut
salt, lemon juice to taste

Chop the onion, and fry it in the oil until translucent.
Add the crushed garlic and ginger and continue to fry for 2-3 minutes.
Add the spices, stir for a minute, then add a dash of water and stir well to loosen it up.
Add the peas and capsicum, stir, then add the wet shredded lettuce leaves on top.
Cover pan and simmer 5 minutes.
Stir in the coconut.
Add salt and a dash of lemon juice to taste.

Notes: This is a good use for those larger outer leaves of a cos lettuce, that are a bit strong and tough for salad. Iceberg outer leaves work, too. If you hate the idea, you could try using spinach instead. I used red capsicum, and a few extra green beans, in the pictured one.

By the way, this is a blog post that I had underway two months ago, before I took the break. I made the green veggie sambal again recently; it makes a good side dish for any meat curry. The second time I used fresh peas, and green capsicum.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Well, I'm back.

Happy December, everyone!

We're on for the count down to Xmas, and all the foodie stuff that goes along with that. I've ordered a free-range turkey and half a ham from Eco meats; the cake has been soaking up its weekly dose of brandy for almost two months now; and the Farmers' market special Xmas times have been scheduled. I'm annoyed that I forgot to pick up a leaflet, since they haven't posted hours on their website. I'm pretty sure there's an evening market on 23rd Dec.

In the market, it's cherry season. You pay from $6 to $12 a kilo, depending on the variety and quality. So I simply have to go to the market every week for a couple of kilos. I have sweet black rons and sharper bright red merchants in the fridge right now. So good! Blueberries are also pretty good, though not as cheap - I got 500g for $12. I've been eating them straight, and I made some blueberry muffins on Sunday.

The garden's doing alright. A few things got crisped in the week of 30-38 degree heat, so I've replanted a bit. I've been picking rhubarb and herbs, and the apricot, tomatoes and boysenberries are setting fruit. A few redcurrants are nearly ripe, though there won't be enough of those to do anything with except maybe adding to the breakfast cereal. Or perhaps to the rhubarb.

In personal news, I'm starting a new job next week. The Public Service has got me at last! It's actually my first preference out of all the public service jobs I applied for, so I feel pretty lucky. I got the job offer officially on 19 Nov, and we went off and bought a new car the same day. I'll be working in Bruce, near Cafe Momo and Ellacure, neither of which I've managed to get to yet.

So hey, I'm not DOOOOOOMED to useless unemployment and depression (well, duh). I have recovered some cheerfulness and enthusiasm. Recently I've been thinking of blog posts that I should write. I'm planning to get back to this more regularly, maybe twice weekly or so.

The cats are OK. Plummet is cheerfully getting fat on his renal diet food and Shadow's leftovers. Shadow is still alive, bright eyed and bouncy, though he's taken up a few odd habits. Sleeping under the car is the most annoying. He has to be coaxed to eat, and won't touch anything but real meat and tuna. He got some fillet steak trimmings a week or so back, and I was thinking how extravagantly cat-tragic a thing that was. And then I worked out the price of the k/d tinned food that Plummet is supposed to eat. The steak was cheaper. Lucky I've got that job, now.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

So, how's it going?

One does adapt to circumstances. After our initial scare that Shadow might have to be put down immediately, it was a great relief that he's responded well enough to his treatment to be able to come home. So now we merely have kittehs with a terminal disease, one very far advanced. They also have very silly haircuts. We're trying to get Plummet to accept the renal diet, which he's kind of almost OK with, except that he can smell the tuna and meat that Shadow is getting. Shadow won't eat anything else, and since he won't last long, he may as well enjoy his last few months.

That renal diet is expensive! About ten times the cost of whiskas. The vet gave me a list of recipes to make your own, which I was quite keen on until I read them. I'm pretty sure they are American. Cans of clams aren't exactly standard fare around here. Oh well. As long as he's eating moderately well, that's the main thing. They're both bouncing around the house seemingly as healthy as horses. That's kidney disease for you - all well until sudden collapse.

In other news, I'm still feeling a bit down and slightly off my food. The job situation is getting to me, even though I know that the Public Service processes are very slow. Not very much music is happening either; my singing teacher is down with a very nasty shoulder injury. Too much facebook game time is going on. Hey, wanna be my friend, and play cafe world and fellowship and that zoo game thing and farmville and treasure mania and bejeweled blitz? Hmmmm. Could be slightly excessive there...

Well, I'd better look more on the bright side. I'm still reviewing for the Canberra Times, so I get to go out for fancy dinners even while unemployed, yay! And it's springtime and the garden is doing well. I planted Kipfler potatoes and they are up and flourishing. There's spinach and rhubarb coming along and my hydroponic lettuces are growing quickly. Perhaps too quickly, they're stealing the water from the other plants in the box. The baby apricot tree is setting fruit, the fig tree and the new cherry tree are sprouting leaves. And we've had a lovely display of irises, too.

I have cooked a few things, mostly simple repeats like the pulled pork, brown bean sauce noodles, spag bog, and grilled meats and sausages. I have a half finished post on a curry dinner that I made before all this fuss. I should finish that one off, I suppose. I've also made an egg and leek and potato dish that won't be reappearing on the menu because it needs too many saucepans. I've also made the annual Xmas cake, and I used my gorgeous new birthday cake pan to make the orange cake that came on its label. This is it - photo is not ideal, and some icing would enhance it, but I think it's clear enough to work out what it is. Cool, eh?

I've also been out for a few meals. We've done pre-theatre quick dinners at several places. The Wig & Pen - great beer, tolerable pub grub - is an old standard and close to the Street Theatre. Tosolini's is pretty good food, convenient to the Canberra Theatre. Entree sized pastas are enough if you have bread and salad, too, and it's pretty quick. And we also tried out Coo, which had terrible, terrible service. We only ordered sushi, and though you'd think that would be quick, only two of our 4 items actually made it to our table in 45 minutes, and then we had to leave. It is very new, though, so I'll be giving them another chance some time. And the food we did have was delicious, and they apologised a lot.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

See you later

I'm feeling much too upset to do the cheerful voice of this blog. One of my cats (Shadow) is dying of kidney failure, and his brother (Plummet) has a 50% chance of having the same genetic disorder. He's being tested tomorrow. I'll edit this with an update, but otherwise I'm calling a short break.


Update 1/10/09.
Shadow has polycystic kidney disease. He responded well to his rehydration and antibiotic treatment and is now back home with us. He may last for weeks, or a few months. Plummet also has the disorder, but in his case it is much less advanced. He goes onto a special renal diet, and needs monitoring. His life expectancy is obviously shortened but there's no saying by how much. They are just 7 years old.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Rocksalt and freekeh

B1 has been sick for some time, but she's finally out of bed. To celebrate her recovery we had lunch at Rocksalt in the Hawker shops. It was terrifically good, and I'd recommend it highly. It's modern Australian fine dining, with a relaxed casual edge.

Actually, we've liked this place for a long time, and I've been a little puzzled by the occasional bad reviews online. Perhaps the service was erratic in the past, and we were always lucky. If you had a bad time before, do try it again - the management is new this year. Co-owner and maitre d' Geoff is a charming character. We chatted with him quite a bit yesterday - the lunch trade was very light, so he had time.

We started with light meals, to save room for dessert. B1 had a beetroot and kipfler potato salad ($18), B2 went for the crispy tofu with green salad. (Both $18 in small sizes, mains for $28 I think, I didn't record it.) I had a goat ragout with housemade gnocchi, last chance before the spring menu changes come in. I'm quite attracted to wintry food at the moment. I've been making baked puddings, for instance. It must be that "last chance for the year" effect.

We all enjoyed our mains very much. They were well-balanced and interestingly complex without fussiness. I had a lovely Tasmanian pinot noir with mine, and B1 and B2 split a glass of Innocent Bystander pink moscato - and yes, Geoff was happy to split a one glass serve into two glasses. He's quite the wine buff, and an enthusiast for the Canberra region wines. When we had dessert, he gave us a sample of a local sticky - and again I neglected to record what it was. Maybe the Lerida Estate Botrytis Pinot Gris? He's trying to find the best match for B2's dessert - a divine pannacotta with banana walnut bread and caramel sauce - and was keen to get our feedback.

It was a good match, and I thought it went pretty well with my hazelnut creme brulee, too. I was impressed with that - I love a good creme brulee, but I find that fancy flavoured ones can often be overdone. This was beautiful - a rich custard with a good clear unfussy hazelnut flavour. A sprinkle of hazelnut praline on side, and a house-made frangelico icecream were excellent complements.

While you may not get quite the same level of personal service when the place is busier, I'm sure it will be good with Geoff at the helm. And they make a very good coffee, too. Ah, coffee - there's one advantage to going out to lunch. I can't drink coffee at night, so I always miss it when I review. And the final note, a little melting moment petit four was delightfully melting and lemony.

Our gud wimminz day out to celebrate the rising of the near-dead continued after lunch, with a spot of shopping. We went to Jammo, where B1 bought some new skirts at Cassidy's and B2 picked up a few cheap plants from Aldi. And we toured a new food shop. Fresh Mart offers middle eastern foods, including fresh baked goods. The young man at the counter was the baker, and he gave us a sample cookie. I was a bit full to appreciate it properly, but it was light and lovely.

The grocery range includes the fresh baked middle eastern pastries and biscuits, and several breads - Afghan, Turkish, Lebanese. There's a hot box of roasted nuts and seeds, and interesting cheeses in the fridge. Plenty of pulses, both bagged and tinned, and syrups of rose, date, tamarind and more. It's not quite the Aladdin's cave that you get in Mawson at Cedars of Lebanon, but it's definitely worth a visit if you're a northsider.

I resisted the temptation of the baklava and almond shortbread and bought some novelties. A Lebanese honey of orange blossom and spring flowers from Jabal el Sheikh, and a box of freekeh from Jordan.

Freekeh? Wut? Well, I have seen this mentioned on the internet and SBS, but I have not until now seen it in real life. It's roasted green wheat, and can be used as a side dish like rice or couscous. The instructions on the box are in beautiful Engrish. The idea is that you wash it, pan-fry in butter for a few minutes, then add twice its volume in stock and cook on "calm fire" for half an hour. Then "serve the FREEK in rather big plate putting the meat or chicken on the top.Then throw roated almond or pine on the surface." Nom? We will see, sometime soonish.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The World's Greatest Puddings

Well, that's arguable. Lemon delicious is top, without any doubt, and I won't take arguments! But what's next? Sticky date? Sussex Pond? Christmas? Marmalade roly-poly? Spotted dick? Self-saucing chocolate is a fine candidate, and it even seems to be an Australian invention. Last weekend and the previous one we had a friend round for a casual dinner, and I made puddings.

The self-saucing chocolate pudding didn't come out perfectly. I found a recipe on that had a different technique than my old recipe, and I tried that with my recipe's ingredients. The more modern one has you melt the butter, rather than rub it in. It came out a bit too fluffy - it fell apart - and with not enough sauce. So I'll give you my old recipe instead.

Recipe 1: Self-saucing Chocolate Pudding
1 cup self-raising flour
4 tablespoons cocoa
75g butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup boiling water

Beat eggs together in a cup.
Cream butter and half of the sugar.
Slowly add in eggs
Sift flour and half of the cocoa together.
Fold flour/cocoa mix into the butter/sugar/egg mixture, adding milk and vanilla as you go to keep the mixture soft.
Turn into buttered baking dish.
Sprinkle over the remaining half cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of (sifted) cocoa.
Pour over boiling water.
Bake at 180C for 30-40 minutes.

Notes: Serve with vanilla icecream, or plain pouring cream. I used a couple of nips of that vanilla vodka, and correspondingly less water. And I think I needed to reduce my oven temperature a bit. My oven is very fast, even without the fan setting on.

And now for the lemon pudding - this was good. Very good. The top is maybe a tiny bit browner than I'd wish, so perhaps I should have reduced heat a little. But it's light and fluffy and there's plenty of sauce. It doesn't really need any icecream or cream, it's fine all by itself.

Recipe 1: Lemon Delicious Pudding
1 oz butter (30g)
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons plain flour
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup milk
small pinch salt

Cream butter and sugar together.
Gradually beat in egg yolks and lemon rind.
Fold in flour.
Mix in lemon juice.
Slowly add milk.
Whisk eggwhites stiff with the salt.
Fold eggwhites through.
Pour into pudding dish.
Place dish in baking pan of water, and bake at 175C for 45 minutes.

Notes: Do not be alarmed that the mixture is very liquid. This serves 4, or as we did, 3 generously. You could serve with vanilla icecream, cream, or better yet, some of that Maggie Beer lemon and orange curd. But it's fine just as it comes.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Followups and repeats

So yes, I have been cooking without blogging. It's been repeats, along with a couple of pudding that I have assigned to a new post. I have recently made a ham and olive arrabiatta style pasta sauce, a "bolognese" pasta sauce, a keema, a roast chook, a risotto with leftover chicken; steak & salad; a massaman curry from a tub of paste; and sausages and salad. When I started this blog I was wondering how long it would be before I ran out of ideas, but it seems the answer is not too soon. Even though the Canberra Times has taken a lot of my review writing options, I still experiment with new ideas and techniques. Truffles and duck featured recently, as you may recall.

And I do follow up some of the ideas I spot on the net. Here are a few followup notes:

1. I made Alton Brown's granola, though I decided to use golden syrup. Maple is so expensive, and I do really like golden syrup. I also chucked in a half cup of sesame seeds. It's fine, but I still prefer Nigella's. Alton's is less sweet, which is good for me, so I will reduce the sugars on that next time I make hers. I had a problem with the cashews, too. 250F is only 120C, but even so they were starting to burn, especially the ones sitting around the edges. I reduced it further to 100C after that, but there are still some over-scorched ones. Since I caught it early, they are dark brown rather than black. But be warned - toasting cashews takes a lower temperature than almonds.

2. The vanilla essence proved disappointing. It darkened to a nice medium-weak tea colour after a couple of weeks, which was encouraging, but then it stayed put. It's more of a strong vanilla vodka than a real essence. I am now using it as a flavour, in cases where you need quite a lot of liquid so you can splash it in generously.

3. Those devilled kidneys. Let me remind you of the quantity for eight kidneys. You need two ounces of butter, and:

“I have accurately exacted the following measures. They are: three tablespoons of worstershire sauce; one heaping tablespoon of Coleman’s English mustard powder; one tablespoon of freshly squeezed juice of a lemon; half a table glass of water; one two-ounce canister of Fullers Earth, one substantial tablespoon of cayenne pepper; a heaping pinch of ground black pepper; and four drops of Tabasco sauce.”

Holmes was being sloppy here. It's "Worcestershire" sauce, and Fuller's Earth is basically fine clay (in the story, Watson surreptitiously removes this). There's also an amusing contrast between the substantial tablespoon of (potent!) cayenne pepper and the mere four drops of (mild) Tabasco.

I can only assume that Holmes' cayenne came in a slow ship from India, and it sat in warehouses for a year or two, and then on a grocer's shelf for another year going slowly stale. However, my cayenne comes from the Indian grocer and it is knock-your-socks off hot. I used a heaped teaspoon instead and it was still very potent. I had to go eat a tub of yoghurt for dessert, just to cool down.

So, well, use your judgement about your hot foods. I find that the heat comes off the mustard quite a lot with cooking, so this amount is fine. I used Keen's, since that's what I have. And water? Really? Just say no. The kidneys release quite a lot of juice, so you don't need much extra liquid. A tablespoon of brandy is the ticket here.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Hot Tip!

If you are a lover of L'Occitane products, pop in now. If you spend $75 including a rose product, you get a little gift box with a couple of extra rose items, and... drum roll.. a two ticket pass to see Julie & Julia! SQUEEEEE!!!!

If you're not familiar with L'Occitane, you can find their shop on level 1 of the Canberra centre. They are a French company, who sell handcreams and perfumes and shower gel and that kind of stuff. It's a bit pricy compared to supermarket brands, but they are very nice. I've been using their moisturisers, as they work well on my rather dodgy sensitive skin. And a few soaps and hand lotions are always handy for Xmas presents. (Speaking of which, eeek! It's nearly time to start the cake!)

Oh, and another tip - fresh raspberries, $5 a punnet, Woolworths. NOM.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Internet Salmagundi XV

Flags made from food! The Australian one is a meat pie, of course.

Supposedly the 50 best foods on the planet, and where to eat them. No Australians, but then the selection is rather highly debatable. It has best milkshake and burger and pizza, and trendy high end items, but no best kangaroo steak. Nor anything but the most famous of non-Anglo ethnic foods.

Speaking of Anglo ethnic foods, 'tis the season for devilled kidneys. Lamb kidneys $3 for 6 in that Civic butcher whose name I can't remember. Progressive Dinner Party has a hilarious Holmesian story and recipe, which I think I must make soon.

Notes on the food revolution - an article at Salon about this new book, Cook Food by Lisa Jervis, that I WANT MUST HAVE GIMME NOW PLS!!eleventy!11! Who is Lisa Jervis, you may ask? Well, she's awesome, but not commonly known as a food writer...

Not Food
Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Yarrr.

The UK government has apologised for the appalling treatment of Alan Turing. A surprisingly good statement from Gordon Brown, there.

My favourite biology/atheism blogger, PZ Myers is coming to Australia next year. I'm tempted to go, and naturally wear my octopus shirt. Also there will be Richard Dawkins and Sue-Ann Post. Fangrrl swoons.

You think your internet connection is slow? Try the pigeon test. In case you're wondering, this is not why I haven't written anything for a week - that's more due to job panic, plus a bit of can't-be-arsedness, plus no really notable cooking or eating to report. Hmm, maybe I'll do a backlog of the repeats next.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Market Report

The Handmade Upmarket, that is. And look - they had beer! So the bloke was happy. He and I have just got back, though with very little loot. Just another bit of food-themed bling from cardog, which I might designate as a birthday present if anyone gives me moneys, and some Crankypants pickled onions, and some Xmas cards. I almost bought some cute purple underwear, but the stallholder did not take cards and I was at the end of my cash.

The market has moved to the Yarralumla Woolshed, and the food has increased hugely in variety. We got there a bit after 2pm, after running some errands in connection with the Bloke's new bike. (The old CBR1000 has now gone, after thirteen years of faithful service. The new one has yet to arrive.) As we approached the woolshed, there were cars parked out on the verges. It was huge! We were almost going to turn around and go home, until we spotted a lucky park.

We started with the food outside in the sunshine. The woodfired pizza place was closing up, but the Mountain Creek sausage inna bun folks were going strong. They were fabulous - a gourmet snag in a good substantial crusty white roll, with pumpkin and onion and relish and salad ($9). A Zierholz pils (middy $4) helped wash it down nicely. There was quite a queue at the Alchemy slushy place and the icecream by Ross, but I did get a little tub of Ross' rather good chocolate icecream ($4.50) a bit later, just before we left. Most flavours had sold out. No wattleseed, choc-chilli, black sesame or fig left.

Inside there was a Crankypants cafe - pie oven, hot food and so on, with tables and chairs - and again most was sold out. They had a stall for their jams and pickles and marmalades. I am resisting buying chutneys and pickles and sauces, as I have far too many that need using up, but some pickled onions seemed like a good idea. They're using plastic jars now, which seems a little odd but I suppose must be lighter to carry around. I see they've also just started a website, which is as yet not much use.

And there were local wineries, and coffee carts and cupcakes and chocolates and many more good things. Not to mention all the gorgeous scarves and jewelry and photography and pottery and clothes and handbags. I am so pleased that this market has taken off as it has. It's such a great thing to be able to support local craftspeople as well as the local growers. If you missed this one, don't worry - there's one more coming before Xmas. There will be a twilight market on Friday 20 November 6-9, and the main market Saturday 21 November 10-4pm.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Scum Mushrooms and Magnificent Bikes

We've been to Sydney. The key reason was to go to IKEA, but of course other things fit in. We visited our friends with the orange tree, and the Bloke's family. And I got in my required Galaxy and Abbey's fix. I came home with only 8 new books - quite restrained of me, I thought. The Bloke didn't get to test ride his proposed new motorbike because the shop stuffed up, but at least he got to gaze in wonder at some amazing classic and custom bikes. And we got a new kitchen table.

In addition to mind-numbingly enormous selections of shelves, beds, tables etc etc, IKEA also stocks smaller things like kitchenware and food. The kitchenware is right at the end, and my mind was too numbed to comprehend it. I did have a scant quarter of a brain left for food, and since it was right there next to where we had to wait for our table to be got out of the warehouse, I browsed around and bought Swedish food. Because IKEA, as any fule kno, is Swedish. I skipped the refrigerated stuff and got lollies, cloudberry jam, and a bread mix. If I get a chance some time, I'll buy some cheese and caviar and pickled herrings, but frozen meatballs seems a little silly when they're so easy to make. I half wish I'd got to the cafe and had princess cake or real cinnamon rolls, but we were pretty full from brunch.

Anyway, these Skumkantarell lollies are quite inoffensive, despite the funny name. Actually, "skum" means foam - and "sylt" means jam. They are cute little white mushrooms with pink caps who - according to the packaging - like to wear glasses and take baths. The actual lollies are not anthropomorphic, so you don't have to worry about biting their heads off.

When you open the pack, the chemical raspberry essence smell hits you. They're very much like our milk bottle sweets, only raspberry flavoured and slightly softer. The other lollies I got were fruit gums, and they were also mostly harmless - except for the salmiaks. It's hard to describe salmiak to the uninitiated, but salted ammonia licorice comes close. I'm not a fan. Luckily these are easy to avoid, being a distinctive black.

We ate at several places, of course. On Friday night, we were at The Harp in Tempe. Their bistro has a fair amount of Irish-style food as well as burgers and such. We sat in a booth in the main bar, and I drank Guinness. For dinner, I had the pork knuckle ($20), which was delicious - mash, red cabbage, apple sauce and cider gravy with a huge lump of roast pig. Actually it's mostly bone, like a lamb shank, but it looks impressively enormous, and the meat is similarly gelatinous. Plus bonus crackling!

Saturday brunch was at Deus ex Machina, in Camperdown. This place is completely awesome. It was my second visit - I had a weekday lunch there about a year ago, and it was pretty quiet then. But Saturday late morning it was packed. I had a huge breakfast of poached eggs, bacon, tomato, mushroom, asparagus and toast ($17), all generously portioned - half a dozen fat asparagus spears, yum. And a rather good coffee. The space is a converted warehouse, and the hugely high ceiling makes it feel very spacious.

It's a gorgeous space with amazing art works, especially featuring bikes both motor- and push-. There's an associated bike shop adjoining, and we browsed around there without actually buying anything. I admit I was tempted by the polka dot open-face helmet, but it would look rather silly on my Kwaka with my boring practical body-armoured jacket. The Bloke picked out half a dozen retro and vintage styled bikes that he's going to get any day now, just as soon as we win lotto.

We had dinner with The Bloke's family - BBQ lamb and salads, and a classic chocolate mousse with cognac. The Bloke used to make this mousse, long ago before he got so out of practice in the kitchen. One day I must make it again; I see it's been a very long time and it is very good. The key thing about the mousse that it's made purely of eggs and chocolate, and a small splash of grog. There is no cream or butter or anything else filling it out, although a bit of cream is good to have with it.

And we tried to go out for brunch, but it was Fathers' Day and our preferred Cherrybrook cafe was running a fixed menu, which was excessive for us. We shared a pretty decent pizza next door instead. While we were in the shopping centre, I also visited the kitchenware shop and the lovely deli. I bought some fabulous pistachio & amaretto stuffed dates at the deli - not cheap at $2.60 each, but they are large and very well-stuffed. The Bloke's Mum gave me a very fabulous early birthday present which came from that very kitchenware shop. But I am not going to show it here, or even play with it, until closer to time. Three weeks to go!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Icecream and Jelly

I've had an orange jelly in mind ever since my houseguests gave me some oranges from their backyard Sydney tree in late July. They came with a warning that they were very sour, which on an early test was proved to be true. A sprinkle of sugar was necessary to finish the wedges I'd cut. Then it took me a month to get round to it, by which time I'd had to throw three out for being moldy. But I got a cup and a half of juice from the remainder, which was enough.

And then I was toying with the title option: "Icecream and Jelly" or "Cold Jelly and Custard" since I had both options. Which would it be? The custard is just a Dairy Farmers, bought for my sloppy food phase last week. If I'd made a nice custard, things might have been different. The icecream is also a bought one, but it's pretty special. It's a new one from Maggie Beer: lemon and orange curd. Wow, it's a good one - very smooth, tangy and not too sweet, a nice pale lemon colour with no artificial extras, and some little dots of candied orange peel. A grown-up icecream to have with your grown-up jelly.

Recipe: Orange Jelly
1.5 cups orange juice
0.5 cups boiling water
10g (1 sachet) gelatine
30ml cointreau
2 tblsp caster sugar

Pour the boiling water into a small jug or mug.
Sprinkle the gelatine over, and stir very vigorously to dissolve.
Add the sugar and stir well until that also dissolves.
Leave for a couple of minutes and stir vigorously again.
Add the juice and cointreau, stir well, and pour into a bowl or mould.
Refrigerate to set.

Notes: You can use a bit less sugar if your juice isn't sour. Or more if you like it really sweet.

The double stirring bit is just because I find that powdered gelatine can be tricky to dissolve. Sometimes you think you've got it, and then there are lumps after all. You can even heat it up in the microwave to soften it again if it starts to set, and you find lumps. But I wouldn't do this is it has the juice in it. The freshness of the orange juice would be spoiled.

I know the foodie magazines often say to use leaf gelatine, not powdered, but this is one case where I don't buy it. Gelatine is a simple protein, there's no difference in taste, just in ease of use. And looks, and price.

Here's some more information on gelatine at Oddly, they say that boiling can destroy gelatine's ability to set. But I've certainly never encountered that with a chicken stock!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

N is for Narrabundah

I've let this series fall into disuse, by accident. But on Monday I found myself off in Fyshwick picking up upholstery fabric for the kitchen banquette seat. It's going to be purple microsuede. Because, that's why. So, of course I had to go to The Flute for bread. And Narrabundah is so close, why not drop in and resume the series?

It turns out that Narrabundah is absolutely packed with food choices. We have D'Browes and La Cantina for upscale dining. I have had La Cantina on my 'to review' list for some time but I fear that Bryan Martin may pip me to the post on that one. It's classy Italian, and looks totally gorgeous with white table linen and red brick walls. D'Browes is also supposed to be good, though I haven't tried it. Bryan got to that one a year and a half ago, and rated it 14 - which is a pretty good score, though not outstandingly brilliant.

There's also an Indian restaurant, the Kashmir House, with a fairly standard North Indian menu. There's also a nameless hamburger place, a coffee shop and a bar. The bar is Das Kapital, and I've been there a couple of times. They do OK bar snacks, nothing thrilling but not bad, either. I was going to grab a coffee at the Rouge Espresso Bar to check that out, but they are closed on Mondays.

In retail food, there is a medium sized IGA. They have no deli counter, but they stock refrigerated cold cuts and olives and so on, and they have nice things like free range chicken and Maggie Beer products. The fruit and veg section is small and limited in choice, but everything looked very nicely fresh.

There's also an old-fashioned bakery, Danny's, with a tattooed baker there selling pies, lamingtons and vanilla slices as well as an assortment of breads. They do sourdough bread, in white and multigrain, so I bought a couple of rolls to test. And a vanilla slice, which was your basic classic style, well done. I enjoyed it. The rolls were a little bit disappointing. They were lacking in that robust sourdough sourness and chew. Clearly not an artisanal sourdough, but a bit denser textured than your regular bread. They were rather nice, actually, as long as you weren't set on a Silo bread.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Three at once

So I've risen from the sickbed, considerably improved but still not feeling overly creative or energetic. In an attempt to save work, I've got going on three at once. To the rear, looking quite orange, we have a keema, made with much less effort than the one in the link. It has 350g lean beef mince, a tin of tomatoes, garlic, ginger and some of a jar of Patak's Madras paste. There will be frozen peas to finish. We can have it on Monday with some leftover rice, naan and dahl from our dinner out yesterday.

And to the front, in more purple tones, we have a bolognese sauce, with mushrooms, zucchini and quite a bit of leftover wine that wasn't stored well enough to drink. It's two bottle ends, a shiraz and a tempranillo. It has the other 350g lean beef mince from the packet, and alos some onion and garlic and herbs. The bloke is actually quite keen on mince, so two mince based dishes in a week are quite fine by him.

And I set some of the mushrooms and onion aside to do a quick tossed together pasta tonight. One of those ones where you cook the pasta, then mix all the bits through rather than making a separate sauce. It's going to be sort of a carbonara, with egg and ham and Poacher's Pantry smoked tomatoes.

While I was making the bolognese, I tried a comparison. I used two tins of chopped tomatoes, one Woolworths' Select and one Home Brand. There was very little difference in colour or taste. There is a consistency difference: for 30c more, you get a slightly thicker product. The juice was a little runnier in the Home Brand kind, but not very much. I think Home Brand comes out better value for money.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Under the Weather

I haven't been posting this week, because I haven't been cooking or shopping much. And when I did shop it was no gourmet experience, since I'm down with a lurgi. I actually drove to the shops to pick up my prescription, which is a first in the seven years we've lived here. It's a whole 500m walk. So while I was there, I stocked up on slops, and the dreaded tinned pasta and soup have featured strongly in my diet. Why does tinned soup taste so tinny?

The better stuff has been pulled turkey leftovers from the freezer, and home delivery from the fabulous Yum Thai at Dickson. I also bought myself some sticky rice and red bean pudding from Saigon, my favourite Asian grocer. I was there because I had to go to ACTPLA. We need to rebuild the fence, since it blew down in that big wind on Monday night. I wanted to check the plans for our block to see where an easement goes, and Saigon is just round the corner.

And I've defrosted some of last summer's rhubarb, and bought some custard. It's an adventure defrosting it - will it be the spicy ginger one, or the rosewater and vanilla version?

Monday, 24 August 2009

Spinach and cheese pide

I made a spinach pide. It was not bad at all, though not up to TurkOz standards. But it was fun, and probably a bit healthier since I used light ricotta. I got the recipe from the Taste website: here it is. I did mangle it a little, but not very much. And I have some comments on how it went, and the lessons learned. Basically it's a stuffed pizza, much like a calzone but differently shaped, so you need a pizza dough recipe and a filling.

Recipe: Spinach and cheese pide filling
150g good fetta
250g light ricotta
4 eggs
450g spinach

Steam or microwave the spinach, and then let cool.
Squeeze out as much water as possible, and chop roughly.
Mix in crumbled fetta, ricotta and eggs.

The spinach was 2 bunches from Choku Bai Jo; and the 450g was the trimmed weight after discarding stalks and before cooking. It came down to 300g after. And I really don't think I squeezed out enough water. The filling was just a little too liquid - as you can see in the assembly photo, it's a little runny round the edges.

Here's how it looked at assembly. I made 4 long pieces, rather than the six suggested in the recipe. I also found that it was best to allow an hour for the second rising, after filling. Half an hour might do in summer, or if you prefer a thin crust.

Recipe: Pizza dough for pide
375g (2 1/2 cups) plain flour
1 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
1 tsp salt
250ml lukewarm water
1 tbs olive oil
Plain flour, extra, to dust
Sesame seeds

Combine flour, salt and yeast in a bowl, and make a well in the centre.
Add the olive oil and water, and stir well with a wooden spoon.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 3 minutes.
Roll in a ball, brush with a little oil, return it to the bowl.
Cover with gladwrap, and leave to rise for an hour in a warm place.
-- wait an hour --
Punch down, knead briefly, then divide in four pieces.
Roll each piece out into a long oval.
Fill, then pull edges of dough in to the centre and squeeze together.
Lay out on baking paper lined baking tray.
Brush with egg or oil, and sprinkle with a few sesame seeds.
Let rise again for 30-60 minutes.
Bake at 200C for 20 minutes, swapping trays around half way to keep the baking even.

Notes: this is the recipe at; but it has different quantities. I've done what the pide recipe said, and altered the quantities while keeping the technique. You can leave a strip open at the top, instead of enclosing totally. if you prefer.

I kept the flavours very basic - but when I do it again, I'll probably put some lemon or dill in with the filling mix. We added some olives and jalapeno slices on the side. It was pretty good, except that the filling was too liquid, and after the rising it had oozed out a bit. I drained most of it off before baking, but there was still a bit of messy egg making the base a bit soggier than it should have been. Oh well, whatever. It was edible. And did I mention that it was fun?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Save the Fringe!

You may have heard that the Fringe Festival is being de-funded. In the goverment spin, this is presented as funding the National Folk Festival to host Fringe, and allowing the multicultural festival to focus more on our local cultural diversity. Yah, right. As long as it's very traditional cultural diversity and not postmodern gypsy punk eastern European storytelling, I guess.

I got this letter from a couple of people who have been involved as performers and organisers, and are very concerned about this direction. Please read and take what action you can.

Dear Arts lovers,

As you may know by now the Fringe Festival in Canberra has been defunded with a small portion of the previous funding being re-allocated to the National Folk Festival to do something "fringey". The Canberra Times is taking a big interest in this so please take the time to write your opinions down in a letter to the editor.
Points to think about:

* $30,000 is a mere fraction of the amount of money required to put on the grand scale we've seen in the last few years
* The folk festival is expensive, not free like fringe was and attracts a limited demographic
* The folk festival is a music festival with very little focus on theatre and visual arts which the fringe has always promoted evenly
* Local artists have relied heavily on the fringe as an affordable way to produce art and reach the wider canberra audience that only comes out of the woodwork for large scale free events in the middle of the city
* The folk festival is not central

Letters to the editor must be 200 words or less and sent to

You can also send a letter online at

I also suggest writing to Jon Stanhope, whose full contact details are at Or his email is

My take on it, as a regular of both festivals, is that the Folk Festival is too big, too focussed, and too isolated to do this well. Do you host it onsite at the National? It's already overcrowded out there, what venues will they use? And how much overlap in the audience will there be anyway? Fringe fans are not going to want to pay steep entry fees to the Folkie to see their shows. It's $85 a day if you buy at the gate. We usually buy season tickets early, which will be $166 this time.

And if you put it in town, that won't work well either. Folk fans from around Australia stay onsite in camp grounds - they won't go into town to watch their shows, especially not with our appalling public holiday bus schedules. How involved can the Folkie management possibly feel, in dealing with something offsite and well outside their usual audience's interests? They run on volunteer labour already; an extra job that few of their patrons care about is not likely to be done well!

And Easter is a bad time to attract audiences anyway. We all know that locals use the last warm long weekend of the season to go out of town. It was working well, but this is a mess. Why take a successful event and nobble it?

Friday, 21 August 2009

I did it again

That goulashy thing with dumplings. Also, I made chicken stock out of the remains of a shop BBQ chook. And pizzas with bought ingedients - bases from Baker's Delight, sauce & pizza cheese from Woollies. I made one with pesto, fetta, dried tomato and capsicum, and the other one with tomato, olive & jalapeno. This is the sort of stuff I don't usually blog.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Marmalade Time

The Sunday before last, I dropped into the Belconnen Fresh Food Market, after a trip to Bunnings for more house fixity things. The Bloke has now fixed the leaky dishwasher, hurrah! On advice from Infoaddict in a comment here, I checked out Wiffen's. I'm mostly a Tom's fan, but I'm really happy that I did this. Wiffen's had some good things, including persimmons and mangosteens at $1 a piece. I grabbed a few of those, because I adore mangosteens and hardly ever have them. And I picked up some generic salad & veg stuff that I needed since I didn't make it to the EPIC growers market that Saturday. Green beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, a $2 bag of parsnips. Useful things.

The best of it was that they had Seville oranges! I am excited yet again, as I had run out of marmalade. I've been buying it, but I have yet to find one that to my taste is anywhere near as good as my own. Even the Lynwood Seville, star of the great jar opening saga, is not bitter enough for me. Crankypants' grapefruit was pretty good, and the lime was OK - nicely sharp, but not the bitter I really want. Cumquat isn't bad, either, but nothing beats Seville for me. And now I have made eleven jars! Yay!

My marmalade recipe comes from a former workmate, Airlie Moore. She was the office administrator at the company I last worked for in Sydney. Airlie was raised on a farm, and later raised her own kids in the country. She's one of those wonderfully tough, no-nonsense women without whom executives would crash and burn in chaos. I imagine if she'd been born a decade or two later she might have been PM, or a high-flying CEO or something. And she was also kind and friendly, and very easy to work with as long as you were sensible. Airlie gave me this recipe, which is the best ever. You can see it's an old country recipe from the non-metric ingredients.

Recipe: Airlie's Seville Orange Marmalade
2 lbs Seville Oranges
4 lbs sugar
4 pints water
1 large lemon

Wash the oranges first.
Put whole oranges and water in a large pan.
Cover, and simmer gently for two hours, then allow to cool.
Remove oranges from the water and slice finely, saving the seeds. (see notes)
Add seeds back to the water, and also add the juice and pips of the lemon.
(see notes)
Bring to boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes.
Strain out pips, and return orange slices to the pan.
Boil to reduce by about half.
Add sugar and boil rapidly for 10 minutes, or until set by your preferred test.
Turn off heat and let stand for 15 minutes before jarring.

Notes: The 15 minute stand is to allow a partial set, so the peel can be evenly distributed. Use one lemon per kilo of oranges, and adjust quantities to suit your orange supply simply keeping the ratio. It works out in metric to 2.4 litres/kg. But given the boiling down to "about half", there's no need to be scrupulously exact. I had six oranges, a total of 1.7kg, and used 4L water and 3.4kg of sugar. When you add the sugar, this bulks up a lot - I needed my largest stock pot. You want at least 10cm clearance, and more is better. It froths up a lot as it boils, and can spit a bit.

When you get to the point of slicing the oranges, you can just keep the peel and discard the innards, or you can squeeze the insides through a sieve to get pulp. With the seeds, I like to wrap them in a bit of muslin for easy removal. My oranges this time had no seeds at all, but the lemons were very seedy indeed so that helped. You could use some Jamsetta for pectin, if you like, instead of fussing with seeds.

My preferred set test for jam and marmalade is to put a couple of saucers in the freezer. Drop a quarter teaspoon or so on the edge, leave for a minute, then push on it to see if it wrinkles. Or, if you have a jam thermometer, 105C is the canonical temperature measurement. I tried that and it seemed not right. The wrinkle test actually passed at 108C - which may mean that my thermometer is a little inaccurate. The moral is: don't just trust meter readings, without adding common sense and experience.

In terms of jars, I like to use old vegemite jars. They accumulate easily. I rinse them and their lids in very hot water, then dry them out in the oven. A jam funnel eases the filling procedure remarkably - that's one gadget I use over and over.

Apart from the brilliant result, I also love this recipe for the simplicity of preparation. Anyone who's made marmalade the regular way knows how much of a hassle it is juicing and/or slicing the fruit. When it's soft from the boiling, though, it is dead easy. It's also quite useful because you can do it in stages. Boil oranges one day, cool, add pectin and reduce next day - and if necessary, add sugar and do the jarring the next day after that.

Now, did you see what I did there? There were 13, not 11 jars in the top photo. Did you spot the ringers? Here are the two ringers again, with a new one for comparison. Of the two extras, the part-eaten one is the Lynwood that I decanted into a different jar. The other is from the same recipe, but it is six years old - not even from my last batch, but the one before. It was hiding in the top cupboard stash, behind a lot of jars of chutney. It is almost totally black now, but like wine, marmalade ages well. I detect notes of treacle...

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Cauliflower and/or Macaroni Cheese

This is what we had for dinner yesterday. As I was making it, I remembered that a white sauce or bechamel is sometimes seen as a bit tricky and off-putting, yet there I was doing it entirely by eye. And it worked just fine. Which means not that I am a super-genius chef, but really that it's not all that hard.

Cauliflower cheese is one of those old stock favourites, simple old-fashioned comfort food. So is macaroni cheese. My Mum used to make cauli cheese when I was a kid, and she'd usually serve it with some bacon or fried mushrooms on the side. Combining the cauliflower with macaroni is my idea, though. Sometimes I use a light white sauce for it, much the same as the light parsley sauce that goes with corned beef.

Recipe: Cauliflower & Macaroni Cheese
1/2 medium cauliflower
250g macaroni or other short pasta
Cheese sauce made with about 600ml milk (see below)
30-50g finely grated cheddar or parmesan, to top.

Boil the macaroni until barely al dente.
Split the cauliflower into florets, and steam or microwave until barely done.
Combine the two in a deep casserole dish.
Make a cheese sauce, and pour it into the dish.
Stir to make sure everything is well coated with the sauce.
Sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Bake at 140C for 1 & 3/4 hours.

I've often baked it shorter and hotter, but this slower cooking works better. The sauce can split (separate) at the hotter temp. This was also perfect timing to put it in oven, go to dance class, and then come home ready for a hot dinner. I popped in some large chunks of pumpkin, and when I got home all I had to do was microwave some frozen peas. And there's plenty left over for another dinner and a lunch or two.

Not Recipe: Cheese Sauce
OK, if you want to see a proper bechamel, you can find it on the web, or in most basic cookbooks. Your classic cheese sauce is just a bechamel with grated cheese mixed in. You do this mixing off the heat, after the sauce has thickened. Stir well to melt the cheese into the sauce, add a smidge of nutmeg, and you're done. Here's a Delia Smith version.

The good thing about doing it properly is the flavouring of the milk with the onion and parsley. Stodgy old British plain cookery tends to skip this nicety. The bottom line basic is the plain white sauce - here's a site with measurements. What I did this time was much closer to the stodgy Brit version than the French, though I did add some extra flavour.

I whacked a large spoonful of margarine in the saucepan. I was all out of butter, so I had to use the Bloke's anti-cholesterol marg that he keeps for his toast. Which, judging by the sputtering, contains quite a bit of water. Melt it, then stir in about twice the volume of plain flour. Stir over the heat until well mixed. Pour in about 600ml cold milk all at once. Stir very well - in fact, use a heat-resistant whisk. Keep stirring until it thickens. If it's still lumpy, whisk it some more
, but it's best to get the lumps out before it gets hot enough to thicken. Add two tablespoons of sherry and half a teaspoon of mustard and stir well.

If it's too thick add a little more milk. If it's not thick enough, a teaspoon or two of cornflour dissolved in a little water will fix it up. A thin pouring custard is about the idea, not one of those premium heavy ones.

Remove from heat and add plenty of grated cheese - I used 50g of parmesan, 50g of sharp cheddar, and about 75g of "pizza cheese". Stir well until cheese is melted and mixed in well. Taste, and add a pinch of salt if you like. I usually add a little nutmeg, but I forgot this time.

This is good for using up loose ends of cheese. Remnants of ricotta or cream cheese can go in as well as the hard cheeses.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Maple Apricot Scones

This was a nice easy breakfast for a weekend morning. I found the basic recipe in Delicious, labelled as "Buttermilk Scones", suggested to accompany a soup. What appealled to me most is the complete lack of any butter. I do love a good scone, and my friend B1 makes the best date scones ever. But I can't be bothered with that rubbing fat into flour first thing in the morning. That's why I like muffins so much. The technique is simply "dump stuff in bowl, stir". I can do that before my coffee.

Recipe: Maple Apricot Scones
2 cups self raising flour
pinch salt
1/2 cup chopped dried apricot
1 cup buttermilk
2 tblsp maple syrup
a little extra flour

Mix the flour, salt and apricot in a bowl.
Mix the maple syrup into the buttermilk.
Combine the mixes, and stir well.
Dump onto a flour-coated baking tray, turn over to cover the top with flour.
Pat it out to a rough circle, and cut into 8 triangles.
Brush top with a little extra buttermilk (the scrapings from the measuring jug will do.)
Bake at 180C for 15 minutes.
To serve, split in half and butter if desired.

Notes: The original recipe does not contain fruit, and suggests more kneading. And cutting in rounds. Of course you could use any fruit you like - sultanas, dates, currants. I had a packet of chopped dried apricot, and the bloke does not like dates. I also found this mix to be too sticky for easy kneading. So I just dumped it out on the tray and cut triangles. Fussing with cutters is also not for pre-coffee times, and anyway, the less you knead a flour-based dough, the more tender it is.

These are even low fat, since buttermilk does not contain butter. It's a cultured product, very like an unflavoured drinking yoghurt. Traditionally it's made from the leftover milk after the butter has been extracted. I wonder now if it would work with wholemeal flour, to be even healthier. Next time, perhaps.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Finally, Cassoulet

Well, the end result is here. Cassoulet can actually be made with a huge variety of meats. Stephanie Alexander's, in her book Feasts and Stories, features pork neck, pork belly, pork hocks, cotechino sausages, preserved duck legs and veal stock. Julia Child's has a loin of pork, toulouse sausage (for which she gives the recipe), bacon, and a shoulder of lamb or mutton. She mentions variations including goose, turkey, veal and polish sausage.

So really, you can do what you want. The basic concept is white beans cooked in stock, with a variety of cooked meats mixed in, then baked with a breadcrumb topping. The flavours are classic French parsley, bay, thyme and garlic - plus, of course, all the meat juices.

Recipe: Cath's Canberra Cassoulet
375g haricot beans
a batch of duck stock
2 cured duck maryland pieces
500g toulouse sausage, cut in half lengths
1 tin chopped tomatoes (or equivalent fresh)
2 onions
2 carrots
2 cloves garlic
2 cups breadcrumbs, made from a baguette
pinch salt, black pepper

Soak the beans overnight in plain water.
Chop the onion and carrots quite small.
Drain beans, add them to a large pot with the onion and carrots.
Add the duck stock, and simmer for an hour.
Add the tin of tomatoes.
Simmer for another 15 minutes, or until beans are just tender.
(Do not discard liquid)
Meanwhile, rinse the salt cure mix off the duck, and pat dry.
Pan fry it until golden.
Remove, and brown the sausage well in the duck fat.
Remove, leaving any meat from loose ends behind in the pan.
Strip off the skin and fat from the duck, and chop skin into small dice.
Fry these duck cracklings until crisp.
Add two cloves of crushed garlic and the breadcrumbs to the pan.
Fry until golden brown.
Mix in chopped parsley, salt and pepper
Mix the meats and beans in a casserole dish.
Top up with stock to barely cover.
Sprinkle crumb topping over.
Bake, uncovered, at 170C for an hour.


Notes: Boil the stock down a little if need be, rather than discarding any excess. The duck cracklings in the topping is not traditional - that idea came from the Epicurious recipe.

A simple vinegary green salad and a few slices of proper French baguette is a good match. My baguette was not the best - the bakery I went to had run out - so I sprayed a little olive oil on the cut surface and toasted it in the sandwich press.

I'm quite pleased with how this all worked out. The beans, sausage and crumb topping are excellent. We've got two dinners out of it, and some freezer stock. The crumbs won't be as crunchy later on, it will instead thicken the bean mix quite a lot. I plan to add some extra tomatoes or wine when I eventually reheat them. The duck I'm less thrilled with. I'm not very experienced with cooking duck, and I found that both of the duck meals came out a little tougher than I'd like. Not bad, just not great.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Cassoulet Project Continues

We need some stock to cook those beans, so here it is just getting started.

Recipe 1: Duck Stock
1 duck carcass and wings
3 bayleaves
a handful of parsley
2 large garlic cloves
4 cloves
1 tsp thyme
1 carrot
1 onion

Cover with water and simmer all together for 3-4 hours.
Strain, and refrigerate the liquid.
When cold, skim fat off (save for other uses).

Save the fat for other uses. You don't need to be too scrupulous with the skimming, some fat in the beans will help make things even tastier. But a whole cup would be way too much.

Recipe 2: Cured Duck Legs
2 duck maryland pieces
4 bayleaves
Black pepper
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup salt

Mix the sugar and salt, and rub into duck.
Grind a good amount of black pepper over it.
Layer with bayleaves in a non-reactive container.
Store for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

This recipe is from Stephanie Alexander's big book, labelled as "Cath's sugar-cured duck legs". Mine! She suggests roasting then for an hour at 180C until golden brown, and serving with cabbage. I intend to pan-fry them to brown, then finish the cooking with the cassoulet.

So the cassoulet isn't ready to eat yet, but we're moving along. Tonight, perhaps? Or later? I get home late on Mondays, so yesterday we needed quick reheatable meals. This time we ate from the freezer - a Moroccan casserole made by our Easter houseguest A. I added some microwaved green beans, and a quick couscous with lemon. On Wednesday evening I have my first wine tasting class, so it might be better to do it tonight.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Launching the Cassoulet Project: Duck!

I want to make cassoulet before winter is out. And so last time I was in Woollies, I looked for the dried beans. Nope. Not there. No haricots, no kidney beans, no cannellinis, no chickpeas, except in tinned form. They did have some dried split peas and lentils, for soups, but no other pulses. Luckily my local IGA was much more useful, so I didn't have to drive off to the Indian grocery.

I have a duck which needs using up. I bought it frozen, thinking of cooking it last Xmas, but I never got round to it. I intend to use half of that, and some very tasty Toulouse sausage from the "Bangers" stall at the market. The other half was Sunday dinner - see recipe below.

Now possibly some purists are thinking "She's not really going to make proper cassoulet, is she?" and they are dead right. I have been consulting the Julia Child and Stephanie Alexander recipes, and the authentic cassoulet is a major production, involving many days, many steps, and enough food to feed a small army. I'm making something much simpler, but still keeping the basic idea. The epicurious recipe is closer to what I have in mind.

To start with, I am not going to confit two duck legs. To make a confit, you cook the meat very slowly in fat. And this preserved it for the winter, in a pre-refrigeration era. Now I simply don't have that much duck fat to go around and I'm not going to buy it. Nor am I going to buy one of those tins of goose fat from the Essential Ingredient. And I am not going to use a full kilo of haricots, a whole leg of lamb and a pork hock.

What I am going to do is cure the duck legs, and make a proper duck stock from the carcass. I got the duck out to defrost on Saturday, and I have used my expert chicken jointing skills (as learned from Christophe last month) to split off breasts for dinner, marylands to cure, and a carcass for stock.

I have soaked 375g of haricot beans. The next step will be to finish cooking them in stock. Meanwhile, we still needed to eat. I just happened to have a couple of duck breasts - a Sunday duck dinner with cherry sauce and smashed potatoes and something green sounded like an excellent plan.

Recipe 1: Roast Duck Breast with Cheat's Cherry Sauce
2 duck breasts
salt, pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 orange
75g "Ham Jam"
1 tablespoon brandy

Preheat the oven to 220C.
Slash the duck breast skins, and pan fry in the olive oil until golden.
Transfer to a baking dish
Bake for 7 minutes; remove and rest for 10 minutes before serving.

While duck is resting, mix the cherry jam with the orange juice and brandy. Heat to bubbling, and stir well.

The sauce can be heated in a microwave, or a small saucepan. You don't need much oil - duck is fatty. Save the fat, it is good. Brush it over some potatoes. And what, you may be asking, is Ham Jam? This is Ham Jam. It's a savoury cherry jam, and contains no ham whatsoever. It is, however, good with ham. Use cherry jam and add some vinegar, cinnamon and cloves if you don't have it.

The duck breast technique, and the idea for the cheating sauce came from Anthony Worral Thompson at the BBC food site. Orange from P&R's backyard tree.

Recipe 2: Ducky Smashed Red Potatoes
Small red potatoes
Duck fat
Pink Murray River salt

Preheat oven to 220C
Parboil potatoes until barely done, about 15 minutes.
Grease a baking tray with duck fat
Put the potatoes on the tray, and squash each one down with a potato masher.
Brush with melted duck fat and sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 20 minutes, until crisp and golden.

The smashed potatoes are, of course, a variant on Jill Dupleix' recipe. I'm not very experienced with these, but I find that it's important to whack the potatoes briskly with the masher rather than gently squish them. They're a little hard at that stage.