Sunday, 31 May 2009

Don't Clean The Stove!

Not while baking, anyway. The stove still had a few sticky patches from yesterday's chutney - on the oven door handle, so I didn't notice it yesterday. This morning when I popped a batch of muffins in, I noticed the stickiness. So I grabbed a sponge, wiped away, and cleverly managed to shift the temperature dial from 190 to 230. So there I was, sitting in the lounge, confident that the timer would go off in good time to test them. Not being in the kitchen, I didn't even get the smell cue. Bugger.

They were not burned through, so trimming off all the burned bits was actually possible. I cut off the tops and scooped out the crumb - I had two inside bits of muffin and a couple of feijoas for breakfast. Obviously I wouldn't present these to guests, but it would be a waste to just chuck them in the bin when parts of them are still edible! It was lucky that I'd decided on Texas muffins, so that cutting off the crusts actually left some muffin for my breakfast.

I had been very pleased with my muffin idea. I had about half a jar of a light sweet orange marmalade left behind by guests, that I was not ever going to eat. Using it in muffins seemed like a good plan. I also found some frozen cranberries at one of the chicken shops at Belco markets a month or two ago. And while I've seen recipes using whole cranberries in muffins or teacakes, I've never made any until now. The berries are very sharp, so the muffin needs to be sweeter than usual to compensate. They are good, really!

The rest of Sunday worked out a bit curate's eggish, too. I went for what should have been a lovely lake shore walk with B2, combined with a visit to Kingston markets. I bought no knickknacks - I really have too much Stuff and ought to prune rather than buy. I was also resistant to the lure of yet more jams, honeys, spice pastes, chilli sauces etc. I need to use some of them up before buying new ones. I did buy some great fat green olives, a crusty Italian loaf with rosemary and roast garlic, and a couple of packs of Wagonga coffee. And for a real luxury, some gorgeous fresh raspberries.

The problem was that although it was sunny when we left, an icy cold rain started falling when we were a good 10 minutes walk away from shelter. Not pleasant at all, we had no choice but to soldier on back to the car. That bit was no fun, and now I've come over all dwarfish. (That's sneezy and grumpy and dopey and sleepy.) Bugger.

Recipe: Cranberry Marmalade Muffins
1 cup white selfraising flour
1 cup wholemeal selfraising flour
1 1/2 cups frozen cranberries
1 egg
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
4 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/2 teaspoon orange flower water

* Preheat oven to 190C.
* Warm marmalade slightly so it will mix easily - 30 seconds microwave.
* Mix marmalade, milk, oil, egg and orange flower water well in a small bowl.
* Mix flours and sugar in a larger bowl.
* Mix cranberries through the flour, toss to coat.
* Mix liquids through the flour mixture
* Spoon into 6 Texas muffin cups
* Bake for 25 minutes or until done

Don't turn the oven up!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Feijoas, Green Tomatoes and Cauliflower

I've been on a spree to use things up. The things I had were feijoas and green tomatoes from the garden, and an old cauliflower, bought to make roast cauli with almonds, to go with a chicken risotto. But I didn't get around to making it until this week, and the cauli had gone rather limp. I bought a small fresh half to make the roast veg, and relegated the older one to soup.

I was quite happy about this, as we'd had a lovely curried cauliflower soup while visiting friends in Melbourne. It was a novel idea to me: curried parsnip is a classic, but cauliflower? I couldn't quite remember the details, but we had a a brief email exchange and A reminded me that coconut was the missing element. I went on to make a soup inspired by hers, rather than the exact same soup.

I got the green tomatoes from my plants. They went all brown and crinkly one night, so we must have had a frost. The feijoas just fell out of the sky. Well, OK, the tree. But you find them on the ground.

Feijoas are very popular in New Zealand, and the trees grow quite well in Canberra. They're bushy and evergreen, and have pretty flowers with a central fireburst of red stamens. They do like a reasonable amount of water to set good fruit, so the one in my back garden closer to the water tank did much better than the one down the side.

The fruit is always green. It simply falls off the tree when it is ripe. If you try to pick it, then if it just falls off into your hand, it is ready. Or you can shake the tree. If the fruit falls onto cement it will get bruised, but a good mulch ground cover is enough to protect most of it.

I've been eating the larger better ones straight. They have a sharpish rather guava-like taste, and as with guavas you can eat the whole thing. I was intrigued to read that if you peel them and mash the pulp you can use it as a substitute for mashed banana in baking. I haven't tried this, and I won't until next season as I've either eaten them all or chutnied them. Unless someone gives me some, that is. There were some in the supermarket this week, but the prices are ludicrous. It's only worth it for homesick NZ expats.

When you cut a feijoa across the middle, the pulp inside is white to cream, with a four-quarter pattern of softer gel-like flesh around the seeds in the centre. It also browns with air exposure: the ones in the picture are just starting. If this centre is obviously brown, it is overripe. Bruised pieces will be brown generally, not just at this centre - these can be trimmed and the good bits used.

I managed to salvage 750g of usable fruit from a kilo of feijoas, and I turned it into a dark spicy chutney with some dried fruit, onion and green tomatoes. I got the idea for the recipe from a NZ morning TV show site, but it was one of those annoying ones with weird quantities. What on earth is a packet of currants, or ginger? I decided to just wing it. Chutney is pretty flexible - it's even easier than jam as you have no need to worry about pectin. It's just boiled down to the texture you want, and that's it.

Recipe 1: Curried Cauliflower Soup
1 medium-large cauliflower
1 medium onion
1 stick celery
1 tablespoon schmaltz
375 ml chicken stock
375 ml coconut milk
375 ml milk
2 tsp curry powder
pinch salt

* Chop onion and celery and fry gently for a couple of minutes in the schmaltz.
* Add chopped cauliflower and stir fry for another few minutes, until golden tints occur.
* Add the curry powder and fry another minute, making sure it does not catch.
* Add in all liquids, and bring back to boil.
* Cook until the cauliflower is just soft.
* Puree to your desired consistency, and add salt to taste.

Schmaltz! I love that word. It's yiddish for chicken fat, and I had some from the top of the homemade stock. I actually used the stock to make the risotto, and used a tetrapack for the soup. If you have no schmaltz (or are a vegetarian), some nice fruity olive oil would be good.

I used a stick blender to puree it to a rough porridge texture. You could take it smoother if you like, with a blender. If you like the rougher texture, a potato masher will also work fine.

A's soup has a potato and a bayleaf, too. There's no reason you couldn't use some other vegetables. Parsnip might be good...

Recipe 2: Feijoa and Green Tomato Relish
750g feijoa
530g green tomato
230g onion
200g dates
150g currants
250g crystallised ginger
2 cups malt vinegar
1 kg sugar
2 tblsp treacle
1 stick cinnamon
2 tsp cassia
1 tsp cayenne
2 tsp garam masala
1 tblsp mustard seed

* Cut the feijoa, onion and green tomato into small dice.
* Chop the dates and ginger into smaller pieces
* Toss in a non-reactive saucepan and add the vinegar and spices.
* Simmer for 20 minutes, or until fruit is softened.
* Add the sugar and treacle, and boil moderately until the mixture is a loose jammy consistency.
* Discard cinnamon stick, and allow to cool slightly.
* Pour while still warm into well-cleaned hot jars.

Notes: The exact amounts are merely what I had once I'd cleaned and chopped the fruit & veg. Roughly similar quantities will be fine - chutney is so flexible. Swap in any dried fruits you prefer, use green apples instead of green tomatoes. Use cider vinegar for a lighter flavour.

I bought some crystallised ginger to do this, as the lot I was given by my Easter houseguests is so good that I am eating it as an after dinner sweet. I whizzed the ginger and dates in the food processor to chop them finely. You can leave the mixture part-cooked during the reducing stage, and heat it up again next day to finish. (Pan must be non-reactive - enamel or stainless steel - or the vinegar will attack it.) Ideally leave it for a week or two before eating, but if you have some nice bread and cheese waiting, well, what can you do?

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Experimental Crockpotting

I'm into experiments at the moment. The latest is a simple beef stew in the slow cooker, which I made up after searching for a good half an hour for a decent recipe. Seriously, what is it with crockpot owners and tinned soup? Any time you google for crockpot or slow cooker recipes, you get a million of them with cream of mushroom soup as a major ingredient. I'm unimpressed.

So I made up my casserole in a minimal and lazy manner, just to see if it would work. I wasn't too worried if not: the materials could be recycled into a chilli or pasta or something if need be. But it turned out fine. We ate it on the first day with small potatoes and spinach from B1's garden.

And today, we ate it with dumplings and broccolini. I made a variant on my usual dumplings with parsley and ricotta - the Perfect Cheese freebie. I also cooked these in the slow cooker, with some trepidation. I had a recipe in a crockpot cookbook which was too large a quantity, but it did give a 30 minute cooking time, unlike the usual 15-20 minutes it takes on the stovetop. This did not work too well, but we did still end up with an edible dinner, so it could have been worse. Recipes follow.

Recipe: Slow cooked beef and red wine stew
1.25kg topside beef
500g button mushrooms
500g small onions
375ml red wine
2 tblsp worcestershire sauce
2 tblsp tomato paste
large bunch of rosemary
sprig of bayleaves
salt to taste

Peel the onions, leaving most of the root end attached. If they are very small, leave them whole, otherwise halve or quarter them. Put them in the crockpot.
Wipe the mushrooms clean, trim if neeeded, and put them in the pot.
Cut the beef into large cubes. Add it to the pot.
Pour over the wine and worcestershire sauce.
Top with the whole bunch of herbs, and cover.
Cook on low for 4 hours.
Remove herbs, stir, and replace herbs on top.
Cook on low, stirring occasionally, for another 4 hours or until meat is tender.
Taste, adjust for salt, and discard herbs.

Notes: I used this layered method because I have read - and noticed - that vegetables seem to take longer than meat, and it's hotter at the bottom of the pot. Also, the herbs sitting on top scenting the steam that drips back in may seem a bit wasteful, but if you have massive garden trimmings, it's not an issue. If you don't have ridiculous amounts of rosemary on hand, I'd recommend a couple of teaspoons of the tube variety, like Garden Gourmet. I have no freebies from them, I just like this as it mixes well without leaving tough spiky leaves everywhere.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Ricotta & Parsley Dumplings
1 1/4 cups self raising flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon butter
75 ml milk
100g ricotta
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
pinch salt
1 big pot of stew!

Set your slow cooker to high an hour in advance, so that your stew is bubbling gently.
Beat together egg, milk, parsley, ricotta and salt.
Melt butter, and add to egg mix.
Mix all of this though the flour.
Stir to combine well.
Dollop tablespoons of the mix on top of the stew.
Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. (ORLY? or until done)

Makes about 8 dumplings. I used the last of the Perfect Italiano low fat ricotta, and of course the beef and red wine casserole above.

Now, importantly, this didn't work quite right. My crockpot's high setting may not be as quick as the one in the recipe book. Or I may not have let it heat up long enough. My dumplings took more like an hour, and even then the innermost ones were still a bit sticky. But we were hungry and didn't want to wait any longer. The flavour and texture of the cooked part was still pretty good, but still I'd prefer the more reliable stovetop method.

Melbourne Report

O hai. Mai naem is Perl and mai hoomanz let in sum straynj hoomins to stae at mai hows. Thay wented owt 4 sooshee and ated THIS MUTCH and did nawt brings me anny!1!! But thae patteds me lotz sew iz OK reely.

Who said they wanted more cats on this blog? You're sorry now, aren't you? At least it's a nice photo despite, or rather because of, the crappy phone camera.

So anyway, the Bloke and I were in Melbourne recently, and of course ate and drank at many varied places. We stayed with A, J & C, the people illustrated by the pile of plates. They live in Coburg, which is an easy tram ride from the city centre, and a magical multicultural wonderland for food shopping. I noticed Greek, Lebanese, Turkish, Italian, Vietnamese and Indian places. J obviously loves it - he introduced me to George the Greek deli owner, and the lady in the Bollywood sari & bling shop, and pointed out all the best places for fresh roasted coffee, nuts, cakes, bread and much more.

We also went out to eat a lot. Our first night we dined up at the Paris end of Collins St, dahling, near Bvlgari and Gucci and all that. We ate sushi from a sushi train - hence the collection of plates - and it was wonderful. The standouts for me were some seriously excellent sashimi, a tataki beef salad, and some cute little red bean paste buns that looked like mini-iced chocolate doughnuts. The place is Sakura, at 1/61 Little Collins St.

We spent an evening at the Tiki Lounge in Richmond. We had a pre-dinner MaiTai in a ceramic tiki mug, then popped round the corner to the Grand Hotel for pub grub, on the recommendation of the Tiki Lounge bartender. Their dining room is quite expensive and the menu reads like very fine food. It has a one chef's hat rating. But the Lounge Bar is more affordable. For $24 I had a superb veal pot roast, with potatoes and spinach, the meat melting tender and the juices as good as my friend HH's pot roast chook. Which is high praise, let me tell you. The Bloke had a $13 pizza, which he pronounced to be good. After that we went back to the Tiki Lounge for dessert cocktails and slightly tongue-in-cheek lounge music from the Kahuna Daddies.

I also enjoyed a scenic brunch at Fairfield Boathouse. I inhaled coffee, fruit salad with cream, and porridge with cinnamon apples and maple syrup, chatted a bit blearily, and declined to go boating. It didn't seem quite right the morning after several cocktails. But it was lovely sitting on the terrace looking over the water and watching the others row about.

We met up with some other friends at Cookie, on Swanston St. This upstairs bar boasts antique pressed tin high ceilings, a long wooden bar, and absolutely massive wine and beer lists. I'm told they do good Thai food, too, but we just had a few chips for bar snacks.

We had one takeaway lunch from Akaar, the Lebanese pizza spot in Coburg (254 Sydney Road). I saw a couple of other "Lebanese Pizza" places about, but as far as I know this idea hasn't spread to Canberra yet. It's good food: a thin yeast dough with fillings baked on top like a woodfired pizza, but then it's folded in half. Sort of like the missing link between Italian pizza and Turkish gozleme.

And our hosts provided for us as well, even though we were out and about so much. A made us a great pancake breakfast one day. She also made a cauliflower curry soup, which I'm using as inspiration to make my own variant. Very unusual, and good.

Monday, 25 May 2009

A Very Canberra Walk

On Sunday, I took a walk along the lake shore with B1 & B2. The lake wasn't looking its best from close up, but there were still black swans and cormorants, flaming red Manchurian pear trees and yellow weeping willows, and the carillon was playing Bach. A flock of black cockatoos was flying overhead. The mist sculpture was running in the National Gallery sculpture garden as we walked through aiming for the Portrait Gallery.

We followed up our walk with lunch on the Portrait Gallery cafe verandah. This is a lovely spot, looking over Reconciliation Place and the High Court, towards the lake. I had a rather good artichoke, spinach & goat cheese toastie ($7) with a fresh mesclun side salad ($4) and a sparkling guava and cranberry juice ($4). It's cafeteria style - you queue up, order and pay, and a lot of the food is in the counter fridges and bains-marie. But they do bring your food out to you: no wrestling with trays.

The food was pretty good, and there is a nice range on offer. There are several different vegetarian choices: there were two toasties, two pies, an omelette and a soup yesterday. The sweets were unusual. There was a quince and almond bread and butter pudding, which was tempting, but I ended up choosing the toasted sour cherry and walnut loaf ($5). I also love the idea of the extra small cupcakes, biscuits and caramel slices ($2). It was all very pleasant, with a minor exception - the cashier made a typo with our table number and in consequence the server couldn't find us with our desserts.

It's a good affordable casual lunch stop, this place - unlike the revamped Waters Edge, which no longer offers brunch. I was happy to see the change of management, though. We had very poor and snotty service there a couple of years back. But it's now run by Canberra's star chef James Mussilon, and has recently got a Canberra Times rave review (by Bryan Martin, not me). We stopped to peek at the menu as we walked past, and we're talking $36 mains, or $70 for a 3 course meal. Lunch is only a little cheaper. It's well into serious fine dining territory, and I'd love to go there sometime and try it out. Perhaps for a birthday lunch.

After our walk and lunch, we went back to B1's place and she gave me a lot of lemons and spinach from her garden. The spinach came with a few yellow ladybirds, which I tried to shake off. But I still ended up with four of them in the car, that I felt obliged to catch and release outside. To top it off, there was a huge flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos in my front garden when I got home, feasting on the autumn crop of acorns from our massive pinoak street trees. A beautiful day, in a very Canberra style.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Handmade on Saturday

The Handmade Market yesterday was a runaway success. I met Julie, the driving force behind it all, and if I remember correctly, she said there had been 3000 people by 11am. It was definitely packed. There were more stalls than last time I went: the hall was full and also the foyer and the area outside. Two coffee stalls had very long queues at 10.30am, and the parking was very difficult. B2 & I were very lucky to find one in the Hyatt carpark as some people left.

I love this because it is to crafts what the EPIC markets are to food. You can chat with the makers; they live just down the road. It's a personal connection, and it's more ethical. Not only do you save air miles, but also if you buy trinkets made in China, the working conditions are likely to be sweatshops. And of course, the whole market is a fundraiser for Motor Neurone Disease. Four levels of win!

I bought a few things: a gorgeous onyx and grey agate necklace from cardog; a cheerful small bag in leather applique work from Karmen Sega; and a jar of lime marmalade from Crankypants. And a present for my sister. (Heheh, Gill, you have to wait to Xmas to find out what!) The picture at the top of this post is from Rummage - you can see more of their works at the link. It was my pick for the best stall of the day. Even though I didn't buy anything, the humour of it stuck with me throughout. Had that "I must not eat the cooking chocolate" cushion been in colours that I like, I would certainly have bought it.

Of course, picking one favourite was a massively difficult task. I fell in love with a photo by Col Ellis: a truly stunning double print of a tree trunk overlying sedimentary rock. Sadly it was way above my budget: it's one of his limited edition art works. It's not the one in the picture here - the one I love has a white Y-shaped tree trunk - but it's similar in technique. (Col, I grabbed this from your website, which I assume is OK since I'm crediting you & promoting you. If not, let me know and I'll delete it.)

I also loved the Born Again Books, reconstructing old books into journals with recycled paper. And Little Miss Cupcake, one of the few food stalls, with real and beautiful butterfly cakes. And Sinead Buckley's silver jewellery, and many more whose names I have forgotten to write down.

I liked the scented candles at one stall, but the owner's blurb put me off. She had a canned spiel about how terrible paraffin wax is, and how soy is so much better. And paraffin is made of, like, toxic oil sludge. So buy my stuff.

Wait, what? Paraffin? That stuff nanna uses to seal her homemade jam for storage? Paraffin is one of the least toxic substances known. It's actually named for that characteristic, from the Latin parum (= barely) + affinis with the meaning here of "lacking affinity", or "lacking reactivity". (wiki) It's not just in candles, it's cheese wax, and waxed paper, and milk and juice cartons. It's in cosmetics, especially skin and hair care. And it's even in sweets, fruits and medicines, as a totally inert glossy coating. We're talking tested out the wazoo, USDA and European and Australian food grade safe. You can eat a bucket of it without harm, not that you'd want to. If you burn it unevenly so that you get smoke, the combustion products may well be carcinogenic, but that applies equally to any oil, including soy. In fact, that applies to pretty much anything that burns, whether petrol, wood fire, steak, chargrilled veggies, or incense and smudge pots.

I'm not even convinced about the ecological argument. Soy is one of the nastiest monocrops of Big Agribusiness. It's a heavy water consumer, and also pesticide and fertiliser consumer and polluter. Of course you can reduce some of that by using a GM variety, which I expect the new age natural products mavens also wouldn't like. Paraffin, well, here we're refining oil into non-toxic inert matter. And partaking in the modern world's troublesome dependence on oil. Nothing's perfect. I'd need more evidence to make up my mind on that point.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Cheese news, and a short break

Last Thursday I went to Kingston in search of fine chocolates for a gift, and I thought that while I was there I would buy some local olive oil. The Essential Ingredient would no doubt supply me... but I was wrong.

Lindy at All Things Chocolate was most satisfactory. I got a decent collection including the wonderful orange, pistachio and cardamom creams, though she hadn't any of my other favourite licorice creams with star anise at the time.

But The Essential Ingredient didn't work out. It was closed down! I was rather disturbed, and started wondering whether the economic climate had struck down a posh foodie place. But then I got closer and read the little sign - about a month ago they moved round the corner. They are now on Jardine St, in a rather bigger shop, and they have put in a cheese room. That makes Canberra's third, if I am not missing any. It looks lovely, and if I hadn't been madly packing for a Melbourne trip I would have browsed and bought. As it was, I wanted local produce, especially oil. And they had none. The website says they stock La Barre, from Yass, but there was none. Luckily Manuka Fine Foods did have some, so I finished my gift collection in good time.

And then it was off to lunch with B1 & B2, where we ate the remains of my spinach & cheese bake, then home to finish packing and catch a cab to the airport. And we had a very good weekend in Melbourne, which I shall save for another post.

We got back yesterday night, and had frozen "ready-meals" for dinner. No, not Lean Cuisines or that ilk. I had turkey quinoa pilaf, and the Bloke had sausage with Briami, a Greek vegetable casserole that I make quite often. I do have some more good stuff in the freezer, but I still don't know when the risotto will happen. The cooking options are looking limited. I need to go out for a review dinner sometime; we are meeting up with friends on Thursday night at the Parlour; and then the Bloke is going away for the weekend on Friday.

Tonight we grabbed dinner at the Wig & Pen - I'd gone in to do a small favour for an old workmate, which stretched into a long afternoon wrestling with a very annoying Mac OS problem. Damn thing was refusing to read the ~2GB files that I wanted to transfer by USB drive, and then refusing to burn a DVD of them once I finally managed to get them. Argh!! Many aaarghgghhs! I needed a large beer, and was in no mood to cook. The curry there has really improved; I enjoyed it a lot. I went and told the two cooks in the kitchen, and they seemed surprised but pleased.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

I wish I had one of these

A frying pan with a temperature sensor in the handle! How amazing is that! And the handle can be removed for washing, too.

Tonight we ate turkey steaks with a quinoa, kale, red capsicum and almond pilaf, loosely based on this recipe. And then I cooked up the last of the ricotta pancake batter for dessert. Three days later, it's not as good as it was. The batter has been covered, in the fridge, of course. It separated slightly, but could be mixed back together and fried up. It doesn't rise as fluffy as the first time, but the pancakes are still OK.

Of course, as is traditional with all pancakes, the first one is lousy. While usually my first pancake is tough from too slow cooking, with this mix, it's easy to burn it by cooking too fast instead. If only I had one of those frying pans...

Monday, 11 May 2009

Cheese, Grommit!

We had a cheesy day on Sunday. Ricotta berry pancakes for breakfast; spinach and cheese bake for dinner. I like the combination of spinach and cheese very much, whether it's English spinach or silverbeet. In this case, it's both. As you may guess from my previous post, it's the Perfect Italiano brand that I got for free the other day.

The spinach bake is a very flexible recipe; it's another one of this things that I do without a recipe, making it up as I go. Today's version is rather like the old fashioned Hunza Pie popular in the seventies, except without the pastry. I measured as I went, so I could give you the recipe. It's mild in flavour, so you might like to bump up the herbs, or do as the Bloke and I like and add some HP sauce or a dollop of chutney.

Recipe: Spinach, Cheese and Rice Bake
1 large bunch silverbeet
250g frozen spinach
250g ricotta
100g light ricotta
100g light fetta, chopped very fine
250g cooked brown rice
1 large onion
4 eggs
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon dill
1 teaspoon lemon myrtle
2 teaspoons mint puree
3 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 cup grated cheese

Strip the silverbeet leaves from the stems. Chop the stems finely, discarding any brown bits, and fry gently in 1 teaspoon olive oil, until soft.
Tip into a large bowl.
Fry the onion in another teaspoon of oil, until soft, and add it to the bowl.
Chop the silverbeet greens and steam (or microwave) for a couple of minutes, until wilted. Press out excess liquid.
Thaw the frozen spinach.
Add spinach and silverbeet greens to the bowl.
Add in the cooked rice, the ricottas and fetta, and mix well.
Beat the eggs with the herbs and garlic, and then add this to the spinach/rice mix.
Use the remaining teaspoon of olive oil to grease a medium casserole dish.
Pack the spinach mix into the dish, and cover with foil.
Bake at 180C for 30 minutes.
Remove foil, top with grated cheese, bake for a further 15 minutes until nicely brown.

Notes: The silverbeet came to about 500g once it was cooked, so that's 750g of spinach/silverbeet all up. You could use some other vegies - a grated zucchini, for example.

The ricotta was Perfect Italiano for savoury, and Perfect Italiano light. The grated cheese was 1/2 cup of Perfect Italiano pizza cheese, with a little extra of the Perfect Italiano shaved parmesan. How about that? Every kind of cheese that they sent me in one recipe. The fetta was a South Cape; the rice was a sachet of Tilda pre-cooked brown basmati; the mint puree was a Gourmet Garden paste. We ate it with some sauteed field mushrooms and steamed green beans from Choku Bai Jo. *makes TV gameshow host prize gestures*

Recipe: Ricotta Berry Pancakes
250g ricotta
1 cup milk
3/4 cup plain yoghurt
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups frozen mixed berries
butter for frying

* Start by mixing the yoghurt and milk in a medium bowl. Let stand for an hour at room temperature (or refrigerate overnight). Beat in egg yolks and vanilla.
* Whisk egg whites until stuff.
* Mix flour and sugar in a large bowl.
* Fold in milk/egg yolk mix, then ricotta, then berries.
* Gently fold in egg whites.
* Heat up a frypan and add a tiny dab of butter. If it sizzles on contact without burning, proceed.
* Add a little more butter and swirl to coat pan.
* Drop tablespoons of batter in the pan. Cook until bubbles appear, then flip over and cook other side. Regulate heat to keep the cooking time to about 3-5 minutes per side.

Notes: obviously this is a variant on the Donna Hay recipe that we used previously. I used the regular ricotta in this - I would have used the sweet one but they didn't send me that. Perhaps they meant to; I got two tubs of regular, one of light and one of the "ricotta for savoury".

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Of Markets, Graft and Delivery

I'm not fully up and cooking yet, but it's getting closer. Meanwhile, I do have a couple of points of interest.

The quarterly Handmade Market is coming closer - only two weeks to go. Sat 23rd May, 10-4 at the Albert Hall - bring cash, there's no money machine. Many vendors do take credit cards, but not all. There's going to be a Crankypants food stall there, selling not only their yummy jams and spices that you can get at Kingston market, but also food for eating on the spot. Julie forwarded me their menu; this is a selection:
* lightly curried pumpkin soup with coconut milk and yoghurt
* creamy cauliflower and blue cheese soup
* hearty vegetarian gluten-free minestrone
* homemade chicken and leek pies, chunky beef pies & roghan josh pies
* roast pumpking, mushroom and lentil pie
* cranky in a blanky (ie kransky in a puff pastry)
* mild green chicken curry
* pumpkin and red lentil curry
(Tee hee at "pumpking". It's their cute tyop, not mine.)

Graft and delivery?

I've been contacted by the Perfect Italiano Cheese people, a curious experience that I'm still not quite sure what to think of. They have sent me some free cheese and recipes, and in return I write about it on my blog. I have full editorial control, so I can say "it sucks" if I want to. My first commercial. Hmm. Obviously it's very cheap for them, but then my readership isn't huge.

Well, hey. Free cheese, and it's a brand that I do buy anyway. It's no imported Italian premium brand, but then neither is the price. It's perfectly good for routine home use, though I'd probably crack the wallet at Manuka Fine Foods for a dinner party. And being made in Australia, there's no air-miles on it either.

I do have some cooking plans, but so far I have tried three of the products.

* Shaved parmesan: I used some to jazz up a supermarket tomato minestrone soup with a tasty garnish. I've also used this before to make a variant on a cheese salad. My linked recipe used aged provolone because I had some, but any decent parmesan will be good shaved into a rocket and balsamic kind of a salad.

* Pizza plus: I had some of this in the freezer anyway. I keep it there because I don't use it fast enough, and grated cheese goes mouldy rather quickly. It's handy for a quick home pizza if you have a pre-made base or some lebanese bread. I made one with fresh tomato and capsicum, plus salami and olives. This pre-grated cheese is a mix of mostly mozzarella, with some cheddar and parmesan. I like this quite a lot - it melts nicely but not quite as stringy as pure mozzarella, and it's also tastier that pure mozz.

* Ricotta Light: this sucks. Well, it sucks on its own: I suspect it will be OK in cooking, and I do intend to use up the rest in a gratin or maybe pancakes. I tried some on pikelets with jam, where I'd normally have cream cheese or butter. It's pretty tasteless and has that slightly granular ricotta texture. The texture doesn't work well here, even though it's nice when there's also the creamy freshness of regular ricotta. I'll be sticking with low fat cream cheese or full fat ricotta on my toast and pikelets. Full fat ricotta is still pretty low fat as cheese goes, about 10%.

The inner north has gained a new delivery place: Yum Thai from Woolley St, Dickson now deliver! Yay! They have a $35 minimum order and tack on $2.50 for a delivery fee, but I don't care - if need be I'll fill it out with extra food for lunch leftovers or a second dinner. I'm very happy to have a home delivery option for Thai food, and especially from a place that doesn't suck. Yum Thai does good food; I've eaten there several times. It's my favourite local Thai, though the even newer Little Thailand seems to be shaping up as good competition.

We ordered grilled salmon with chu chee sauce ($23.50), which is one of their priciest meals but well worth it - two very good sized pieces of salmon, cooked just right to moist and flaky, served with some green beans and a good spicy sauce. The saffron (really turmeric) and coconut rice ($3.40) is aromatic, and also quite a large serve. Just what I wanted. Yum. We also had a chilli basil chicken ($14.50) and a beef massaman curry ($14.60), both pretty good, though the meat in the massaman was a bit dry.

And the Bloke ordered tempura vegetables ($7.50), which was a mistake. I usually make a point of not ordering deep fried food for delivery, because it will almost certainly go gluggy and horrible, as indeed this one did. I guess, based on the thinness of the soggy remains of the batter, that it would be good to eat in the restaurant. It must have been a very light batter; ten minutes steaming away in the foil bag in the car totally ruined it.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

More experimental porridge

My diet yesterday was:
* breakfast - porridge
* lunch - tinned spaghetti
* dinner - tinned chicken soup, with extra frozen veg
* dessert - lemon yoghurt
Oh dear.

I'm not feeling any better this morning. Glands like walnuts, sore throat, earache, headache, hurts when I chew. Blecch. I've been making bad swine flu jokes on facebook. My favourite so far "I called the swine flu help line, but they are overwhelmed. All I got was crackling." (Yes, I do count myself lucky they haven't worked out that way to stab people in the face over the internet.)

Anyway, today's porridge was going to be a sachet of Wild Oats Hot Stuff. I found it in Woollies while I was stocking up on tinned spaghetti and soup on Monday. It's multigrain. Ready in 90sec in the microwave. Made in Australia. Almond and vanilla flavour, and says it's all natural - so I optimistically hope that it has actual vanilla and not vanillin.

Well, I made up the sachet and looked in my small bowl, at the little lump of porridge sitting there, and thought WTF? Who eats this little breakfast? Maybe someone who follows it up with bacon and eggs, I'm guessing. Or a small child.

I give it a taste, and it's so sweet I can't eat it. So I put on a half cup of quick oats (2/3 cup water, nuke for 2.5 minutes) and mixed half of that in. It's quite nice now. There's a reasonable amount, and the sweetness is cut to a tolerable level. Excellent - it won't be a waste, I can eat the rest in a mix with extra quick oats.

Like all sachet cereals, it's expensive compared with making your own. I do like the almonds in it, but you can easily add a few flaked almonds to regular porridge. I also like the fact that it's multigrain. It has barley and rye and linseeds. I want to find multigrain porridge again - I did have a bag of Monster Multigrain porridge, but it's almost gone and I don't remember where I got it. Woollies at Dickson doesn't have it any more, if they ever did.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Experimental Porridge

With red quinoa!

Our regular Easter houseguests bring us presents, because they are lovely polite people. And since they are friends and know us, they bring good presents. I now have a selection of interesting ingredients to play with, once of which is a bag of red quinoa.

I've eaten this in a lovely tabouli-like salad at Satis, but the weather took a change for the cold recently and I fancied something hot. So I went off googling and found this quinoa porridge recipe at Feasts and Fotos. It's not a regular read of mine, but it looks like a good blog. Nice pics: her photo skills put me to shame.

There's another quinoa recipe there that I'd like to try: quinoa with kale and walnuts. I'd have to make it almonds instead, for the sake of the bloke, but it seems nicely seasonal. Choku Bai Jo had some great black kale in stock last week. And if you are wondering about the quinoa, there was some at Choku Bai Jo, and also the Dickson health food shop stocks both red and white varieties. I'm sure it won't be too hard to find.

So, anyway, back to the porridge. I put it off for almost a week, because cooking something for half an hour in the morning before breakfast is not usually on my agenda. (Weekend and holiday brunches are different.) And then I had an idea: make it for lunch one day, and make enough to see whether it would reheat successfully next morning in the microwave. And the answer is yes, it will - with a caveat. Read on for my recipe variant and notes.

Recipe: Red Quinoa Porridge
1 cup uncooked red quinoa
1 cup water
2 cup milk
1 stick cassia cinnamon
2 tbsp chopped dried apricots
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp plain yogurt

Put quinoa, water, cinnamon and 1 cup of the milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed.
Add the remaining cup of milk and the dried fruits.
Simmer for about 15 minutes or until it reaches your desired consistency.
Add the syrup and the yogurt and stir to combine.

Notes: This quantity made three servings for me. It's not creamy like an oat porridge, but it does have a pleasant slightly chewy grain texture. It's a good winter breakfast; I'd make it again.

It reheated just fine in the microwave, so that made for a good quick weekday breakfast. But a small warning: the original author says "Adding some yogurt might seem odd to some of you, but trust me, it provides a lovely silky consistency." Yes, it does. But I'd advise adding it to your bowl, not the saucepan. I think this texture effect is lost on reheating.

I've doubled the quantity and used different dried fruits and sweeteners from the original. I also found that the time needed to be longer - whether that is because my taste differs, or it's the difference between red and white quinoa, I do not know.