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.