Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas and the Crazy Cake

You might want to know that there is a pre-Christmas market at EPIC on Thursday 23rd, and then a break until 15 Jan. And despite the rains, there's still plenty of cherries to be had.

And the day is nearly here. This year it's a really weird one for me. Hardly any cooking - no relatives visiting; and we're going to a friend's place for lunch, then going to Sydney to spend some time with B1 & M. I have made a cake, and in a vague effort to get in the spirit, I made a turkey risotto tonight. Though with pre-cooked turkey breast from Woollies, and packaged stock it is nowhere near as awesome as a proper leftover feast.

There have been work Xmas parties - three, count them: my unit, our group and the whole institute. And there were musical events - my teacher's studio concert, and the St Phil carols. I've contributed cookies and fruit plates and cakes and pies, and eaten mince pies and old-fashioned white Christmas, and some amazing coconut sticky rice (Maneerat has promised to give me her recipe for that.) The tree is up and the kittens, now small cats, have pulled off the first decorations to roll round the room.

The piccie here is of a "Crazy Cake", cut up and decked with fruit ready for the supper at St Phils. It's a strange recipe, that I couldn't resist trying out. I don't even remember how I found it, but the recipe comes from a vegetarian site. Maybe one of my facebook friends mentioned it, or something. It has no egg and no dairy, and was apparently a depression era invention.

Recipe: Crazy Cake
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sifted good quality cocoa
1 very high heaped teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 pinch salt
150g chocolate flakes (Dutch dark vlokken)
5 tablespoons rice bran oil
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cold strong brewed coffee
1 tablespoon icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C (170 fan-forced)
Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and bicarbonate of soda.
Mix the water, oil, vinegar, vanilla and coffee together.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix well.
Pour into a baking-paper lined 22cm square cake tin.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a test skewer comes out clean.
When cool, dust with icing sugar to serve.

Seriously, amazing. It works. The vinegar is important to react with the carb soda for leavening, it does not end up tasting vinegary. It's an American recipe, so the tablespoons are 15ml. (And the flakes weren't in there originally. I guess they were about 3/4 cup.)

If you look at the original recipe you'll see I have changed a bit, using coffee instead of water, a different type of vegetable oil and vinegar, a lot more cocoa, chocolate flakes, and a smidge less sugar and salt. And I lined the tin - and would recommend that strongly.

But I've got nothing on the commenter who said "1)I used whole wheat flour, 2)I used applesauce instead of oil, 3)I used a cup of sugar-free raspberry preserves instead of sugar, 4) I used rice milk rather than water, 5) I added 1 cup of Sunspire Grain Sweetened Chocolate Chips to the batter, 6)Rather than greasing the pan, I lined my cake pan with Reynolds Release Non-Stick Foil, which worked perfectly" I mean, is that even remotely the same cake?

If you do read the comments, you'll notice lots of other variations, and a couple of things that worried me - some said it was dry and tasteless. Well, lots of extra cocoa would have sorted the tasteless. I suspect it might go dry if you leave it in the oven too long? Anyway, mine came out moist and very fluffy. I may have overdone the bicarb. It actually seemed better the next day, when it had settled and solidified just slightly.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

A quick plug:

Traditional Kings' College Style Xmas carols and lessons at St Phil's, O'Connor, Sunday 7.30pm. Plenty of old favourite singalong carols, and some very interesting and fun choral pieces. Supper in the courtyard (weather permitting). I will be singing. Come along! All welcome, and it's free!

Note that - also in wonderfully traditional style - our local government has decided that NOW is the perfect time to resurface the driveway leading to the church parking area! I mean, who would be wanting to use a parking lot at Christmas? So, it's street parking only, and in O'Connor at that. Bicycles and feet are highly recommended as transport.

PS to those unfamiliar with church vocab: "lessons" means readings from the Bible, not actual lessons in, say, Latin grammar, or how to do long division. I must admit that there is a *little* bit of Latin, but I promise there is no quiz.

(No actual "read more" content, it's buggy. I'll fix this one day. Next year when the moon is blue.)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A big day

I had a big day of cooking today, turning out 2 dozen molasses cookies, an impossible pie, a pot of poached apricots, an arrabiata pasta sauce and a roast chook for dinner. The cookies are for a work morning tea on Tuesday, and I'm hoping the pie will freeze well, so I can take it to a Friday evening Xmas thing.

The pie is from a Kerry Greenwood book - if you don't know these already, I highly recommend her as a writer of delightful Melbourne based cosy mysteries. In the Phryne Fisher series, it is always and eternally 1928. Private detective Phryne is a poor girl turned rich, with sound feminist, socialist and anti-racist sentiments, and a love of fast cars, fine food and beautiful young men. The Corinna Chapman series is set in modern times, and stars a baker of ample size who lives in the a classical themed apartment complex with many other interesting characters. Several books feature recipes at the back. This impossible pie is from her latest, Dead Man's Chest.

Recipe: Kerry's Impossible Pie
1/2 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup coconut
1/4 cup flaked almonds
4 eggs
vanilla essence to taste
125g melted butter
1 cup milk
extra 1/4 cup flaked almonds to sprinkle on top.

* Mix everything together thoroughly.
* Pour into a greased pie dish, and sprinkle reserved almonds on top.
* Bake at 170C for 35-45 minutes, or until it seems all just set.

If you have too much to go in the pie dish, the remnant can be baked in a ramekin or two. I did one today - you can see it sitting there on the festive green and red silicon baking sheets. This is a good idea anyway - that way you can have a test serve and check out the taste and texture before taking it to the party it's planned for. For me that's next Friday night. So I really really hope it freezes well! Serve this warm or cold, on its own or with some stewed fruit - perhaps poached apricots? Yes. By the way, poached apricots are very nice with a dash of rosewater and a sprinkle of toasted flaked almonds.

The molasses cookies were also nice and easy, and a great success. They're sweet but with complexity from the molasses and spices. I got this recipe from an American blog called "Not Martha". She has some wonderfully gorgeous stuff there, like mini gingerbread houses for perching on the side of a mug of hot chocolate, and miniature fruit pies.

Recipe 2: Sparkling Chewy Molasses Cookies, by Not Martha.
2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
3/4 of a 250g packet salted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses, blackstrap works well here
about 1/2 cup demerara sugar

* Beat the butter, sugar, egg and molasses together well.
* Sift the flour, spice and baking soda together.
* Add the flour to the butter/sugar mix and mix well.
* Spoon out tablespoons of dough at a time, roll to balls in your hands.
* Roll the balls of dough in the demerara sugar.
* Lay them out on a baking tray, about 5cm apart.
* Bake at 170C for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are firming up.
* Let cool on the tray for a few minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

this is American, but keeping the same proportions is OK. Although I used an Australian tablespoon, and this may be why mine cracked more than the picture in the original. I also baked 2 trays at once in my convection oven. I made 2 dozen (yes, two are missing from the picture, how odd!), and froze the third dozen unbaked.

I have removed the salt, but used salted butter; and I used cassia, which is commonly used as cinnamon in the US. It's a bit hotter than true cinnamon.

Molasses is available from health food shops, or you could use treacle. Microwaving your jar of molasses for 20-30 seconds makes it easy to pour.

Demerara sugar is a light brown sugar made to a larger crystal than regular raw sugar, but you could use raw sugar if demerara is hard to come by.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Couscous porridge

With winter passing into memory for another year, we've still had enough of a Canberra spring - warm and sunny one day, freezing the next - to feature porridge. This is another find from my recent Jamie Oliver book, "Jamie Does..." a couscous porridge with apricots. There are two good concepts here, one is the honey-sweetened couscous as a porridge, and the other is the fresh, uncooked dried apricot dish.

Recipe: Couscous Porridge with Honey and Orange Apricots
200g couscous
500-600ml milk
2 tablespoons honey
200g dried apricots
1 orange
Extra honey, nuts and cinnamon to taste

Prepare the apricot compote in advance.
  • Zest and juice the orange.
  • Chop the dried apricots finely.
  • Just barely cover the dried apricots and orange zest with boiling water.
  • Let soak until cool, then drain off a little of the water and add the orange juice.
  • Soak overnight, and mash roughly with a fork.
When ready for breakfast, make the couscous.
  • Put the couscous, 500ml milk and 2 tablespoons honey in a saucepan.
  • Bring to a simmer, and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  • Add a little extra milk or water if it's getting too thick; it should be quite wet.
  • Serve with a dollop of the apricot mix, a drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and some toasted pistachios or almonds.
Notes: Of course it's varied from the original - I so rarely follow recipes these days. Jamie Oliver serves this with pistachios that have been toasted on the spot, and drizzled with honey. I'm not fiddling with that at breakfast time. And he purees the apricots in a blender, while I prefer a more chunky style.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Ave atque Vale

Hail to the Spring! I got to the growers' market for the first time this season, and it's obviously spring. Fresh new asparagus, garlic, cheap new snow peas and sugar snaps, early heirloom tomatoes, broad beans, mulberries and blueberries - and the first of the stone fruits are in. I didn't queue for a tray of nectarines, but I did buy cherries and blueberries.

Today's breakfast: watermelon, rose petal and green almond jam (from Silo), on buttered sourdough, with a side of fresh cherries and a small fresh squeezed OJ. *bliss*

Farewell to winter. The last of the oranges were there in profusion, and a stall selling fresh squeezed juice. A young chap up the back of the stall was pouring it from the juicer into bottles for easy takeaway. Borenore still has lovely apples from the cold store; it will still be two months for the new season.

And while I haven't been blogging I've noticed a few good things pass. So I'll tip the hat in sorrowful farewell to them now. My favourite pho place, Huong Viet, is now long gone and replaced with a pizza place. The wonderful TurkOz of Dickson has gone, to my great sorrow - they did the best pide in town, possibly excepting Mawson which is a bit far for me to go regularly. And in Manuka, Ironbark has folded, so there's no more of their wonderful native Australian foods - if you want a boab shoot salad or a bunya nut felafel, you'll have to seek out the ingredients and make it yourself. I'm also sad about the departure of El Torogoz, with its authentic central American cuisine. Goodbye and good luck!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A very belated Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday to me! I'm a hundred and three! I look like a monkey, I'm sure you'll agree.

OK, not really, but it was a contender for Worst. Birthday. Ever. I spent it on the couch snorting and snuffling with a nasty sinus infection, looking at all my facebook messages (which was nice) and failing to get a doctor's appointment. Luckily CALMS had appointments, so I got antibiotics on the Saturday and felt improved enough to bake, if not 100%. Even so, I had to get 2 more rounds of antibiotics after that one.

But damn, why was I writing that tripe? Pathetic whinging has its place but surely the entire point of a birthday post is CAKE!!! So let us discuss CAKE.

*deletes worst of whining*

The custom at work is to take in a cake for one's birthday. Tuesday was the next working day, so I baked on the public holiday Monday. I intended to make a chocolate chestnut cake, but I couldn't find the recipe in my half-hearted search, so instead I made a chocolate raspberry cake from Chocolate and Zucchini - not the blog, but the book. This is one of those cakes that's more like a fudgy mousse. Almost solid chocolate.

It's pretty easy to make, and quite impressive.

Recipe: Clotilde's Chocolate and Raspberry Cake, Cath's minor variation.
225g (and a bit) salted continental style butter
225g good dark chocolate
200g raspberries (frozen is fine)
Extra raspberries, to serve, optional.
200g sugar

4 eggs

50g self raising flour

  • Defrost raspberries if needed, and mash well.
  • Preheat the oven to 180C (or 160C fan forced)
  • Grease a 25cm springform pan thoroughly with a little more butter.
  • Roughly chop the butter and break up the chocolate, and place in a microwave safe bowl.
  • Microwave for 20 seconds, then remove and stir well.
  • Repeat this procedure until all the chocolate is melted.
  • Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
  • Pour into a mixing bowl, and mix in the sugar, then the raspberry puree.
  • One at a time, break each egg into a cup, mix with fork, then blend in to the mix.
  • Sift the flour over and fold in gently.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, place on a rack, run a knife around the edge and then loosen the spring form.
  • Leave to cool for an hour, then cover and place in fridge overnight.
Notes: To serve, slice thinly as it is very rich. Add a dollop of cream and a raspberry or two if desired.

The variations I used were minor - salted butter rather than unsalted butter plus salt; 10g extra flour; self raising rather than plain. I added the little more flour because the mix was so sloppy I thought it would help. Using self-raising was an accident from vagueness, but it seems to have worked fine.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Smug mode, on!

Wow, has it really been over 3 months since I last posted? I wasn't intending to quit, but it's been hard to find the inspiration. I was rather annoyingly sick over a lot of winter, and also away on holiday for nearly a month and then immediately sick again when I got back. I did write a birthday cake post back in October, but it was so full of whining that I never got round to editing it to a fit state for publication. But now the weather is warming up and I'm feeling some inspiration at last!

Tonight I'm feeling VERY smug indeed. I got home from work about 6.30pm, and while The Bloke was off helping B1 with a dodgy internet connection, I managed to whip up a lentil and chorizo soup and a "spinach and cheese" damper made with silverbeet from the garden - and have dinner basically ready for 8pm when they came back. And to top it all off, we can have homemade gingerbread for dessert. A three part meal with all parts cooked from scratch! Not bad for a school night, if I do say so myself!

The soup was a recipe from AB, with some slight variation. The damper was a generic damper tweaked around. I'd picked the silverbeet on the weekend, as it was running to seed, and cleaned and steamed it and chucked it in the fridge, thinking of perhaps a mid-week frittata. The gingerbread I made on the weekend, to take in for a work morning tea. It's a recipe from an old favourite book, Elisabeth Ayrton's Cookery of England. A gorgeous fat Penguin paperback from 1977 full of regional and historical recipes; it was the first cookbook I ever had with history. And it has a recipe for home made crumpets which now that I think of it, I must do again sometime.

But first, here is tonight's menu:

Recipe 1: Red Lentil and Chorizo Soup
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 tsp sweet paprika
3/4 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
1 cup red lentils
120g pre-cooked chorizo, chopped
1 litre chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 - 2 tsp balsamic vinegar, to taste.

  1. Finely chop the onions and garlic, and fry in the oil until golden.
  2. Add spices and fry for another minute, then add the lentils and stock and all other ingredients except the balsamic.
  3. Simmer for 35 minutes, then mix well and taste.
  4. Add the balsamic half a teaspoon at a time, stir, taste and continue until you are happy with the result.

Note: You could fry chorizo slices with the onion if you don't have it pre-cooked on hand. Balsamic vinegar varies a lot in strength so it's best not to overdo it. Also, AB's recipe has 2 finely chopped celery sticks and specifies 800ml homemade stock. I used a tetrapack of Campbells, sorry AB!

Recipe 2: Silverbeet and Cheese Damper
300g white self-raising flour
150g wholemeal self-raising flour
90g butter
300g cooked, cooled, chopped silverbeet or spinach
120g sharp cheddar, grated
about 100ml milk
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 200C
  2. Cube the butter and rub it into the flour.
  3. Add the cheese and silverbeet and mix well.
  4. Add the milk bit by bit, stirring well, until it comes together in a soft, but not sticky, dough.
  5. Dollop onto a baking sheet
  6. Bake 30-40 minutes, until golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Notes: Drain the spinach really well after cooking. Squish it down hard to get as much water out as possible. Also, this would be good with fetta and some spring onions, but I didn't have any.

Recipe 3: Yorkshire Gingerbread
300g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
120g chopped dates
150g treacle or golden syrup
120g dark brown sugar
90g butter
1 egg
3/4 tsp bicarb soda, dissolved in 3 tsp milk

  1. Preheat oven to 160C
  2. Heat the butter and syrup in a small saucepan until the butter is melted. Set aside to cool a little.
  3. Grease and flour a 25cm square cake tin.
  4. Sieve flour, salt and spices together.
  5. Add dates and mix well.
  6. Beat together the egg and sugar.
  7. Add the butter/syrup mix in dollops, to the flour, mixing as you go and alternating with dollops of the egg/sugar mix.
  8. Stir in the bicarb/milk mix, and add water if the dough needs a little softening. It should be soft but not sloppy.
  9. Dollop into cake tin and smooth out top.
  10. Bake for 1.5 hours or until skewer comes out clean.
  11. Cool on a rack.

Notes: This is quite a dry
gingerbread, and goes very well sliced thin, and buttered. I used a mix of 100g golden syrup and 50g treacle. I varied it by adding 30g of finely chopped glace ginger to the mix, which I definitely recommend.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Easy fruit loaf

This is the tag end of a date, ginger and walnut loaf that I made a few weeks ago, to a dead simple recipe. I've made it three times now. The first time I encountered it was as a dessert, when our Easter visitor AB served it hot with a scoop of icecream. Mostly I've had it as a breakfast or snack loaf, either with butter or just plain. OK, once with Nutella. It takes five minutes to prepare, then a little over half a hour to bake.

The funniest thing about the recipe that A left me is the handwritten corrections: cook for 35-40 minutes, crossed out, no, 33 mins? 35-36 mins! Now this is not foolish - AB is one sharp cookie. I have also had problems working out the time in my own oven. The loaf seems cooked and I poke a skewer in it and nothing clings. Yet when I cut it, there is a little unbaked patch in the middle. I must be missing the exact spot. So, yeah, I think it must be 38 minutes. Perhaps I'll get it right next time.

Recipe: Yoghurt Fruit Loaf

1 cup self raising flour
1 cup Greek yoghurt
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
1 cup dried fruit, chopped if large
1/2 cup nuts, chopped roughly
1/4 cup dessicated coconut

* Preheat oven to 170C
* Grease or line or otherwise prepare a 22x8cm loaf tin
* Mix all ingredients together
* Dollop out into the loaf tin
* Bake for 33 mins? 35-38 mins or until a skewer inserted dead centre (and not a little bit off-centre) comes out clean.
* Cool in tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.
* Serve warm, or later on, toasted.

AB likes dried cranberries, and I do too. Especially with some glace orange peel. Raisins and currants and chopped dried apricot works well, too. Date and walnut and glace ginger is another good option, but don't leave out the dessicated coconut like I did this time. The texture isn't as good without it. Full fat Greek yoghurt is best, but low fat is OK too.

And in other news, the freezer-emptying project continues. I've made a quick pasta arrabiata with a tub of frozen roast tomatoes, and random muffins with frozen blackberries and raspberries this morning. I'm finding that adding yoghurt to the random mix helps to keep them moister when cold.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Drawing Down the Freezer

Next week there's going to be electricity pole maintenance, and we're scheduled for an all day power outage. Yikes! In this weather, the ordinary fridge stuff will be fine in an esky, or just with a bag of ice in the fridge. But I have a stuffed freezer.

And in an added stroke of bad timing, I had just decided to cook up a huge batch of chilli con skippy. What I do with this is make a generic mix of the meat with onion, garlic, veggies and tomatoes, then freeze a batch to convert to Spag Bog later. Mix the rest with your chosen spices and kidney beans, and some more veggies, make an inauthentic but yummy chilli, eat it for 2-3 meals and freeze half for later. This is very efficient. But not so great, actually, if you are going to be without power to your freezer.

So I've started drawing it down. It's time to do a chuck out anyway, and there were definitely quite a few things to be tossed. Gone is that pack of frozen prawns that didn't taste so great, but I thought would be OK for a curry. The kittens can eat the frozen chicken mince that I bought to tempt Shadow, and then could not bear to eat later. The pack of kidneys can go out, too. I turned a bit against them when suddenly we had cats with kidney disease, and my doc was making me have a kidney function test of my own. (No problem, a false alarm.) I'm over it now and would cheerfully make devilled kidneys, but now they are old and freezer burned. And that chocolate cake is at least 2 years old. Out with it!

But most of it is for eating, or for finding a safe stash for the day. I started by making pea soup on Monday, which used up a couple of things. And then I discovered to my shock that MasterChef has stolen my recipe!

I bought the magazine to check it out, and there it was, my pea soup! Oh, they'd disguised it by making it vegetarian, and leaving out the butter and cream and leek, so mine is actually better. But still, it's close. The colour is the same very bright green as in their picture in the magazine, not yellowy-green like an old fashioned pea and ham soup with dried peas.

Recipe: Green Pea Soup
1 leek
1 tablespoon butter
600g frozen peas
2 cups chicken stock
100ml cream
2 tsp mint in a tube
150g chunk ham

* Wash and chop the leek and fry gently in the butter.
* Add the stock and frozen peas, and bring to a simmer.
* Simmer for 15-20 minutes, then add cream and mint.
* Whiz up in the saucepan with a stick blender.
* Thin with water to desired texture.
* Add diced ham.
* Serve with buttered rye toast.

Adjust the taste at the end - a pinch of salt, perhaps if you're not adding ham. A pinch of sugar if they're cheap overgrown peas with too much starch, but not if they're baby peas or sugar snaps. I did use a mixed bag which had some sugar snaps in it. Obviously fresh mint would be better, but that Garden Gourmet tube mint is OK in a pinch. Vegetarians can use veggie stock and use the MasterChef idea of Persian Fetta sprinkled on top instead of the ham.

So there we go. A frozen tub of chicken stock and a pack of peas gone from the freezer. And I had Maggie Beer lemon icecream for dessert - leftover from Easter, but still good. I took a frozen pasta leftover thing in for lunch at work today, and tonight we're eating sausages, oven chips and more frozen peas.

There's still far too much to eat before next Friday, though I will do my best. I still have roast tomatoes, several packs of rhubarb, some more icecream, some soy-cooked chicken, more chicken stock and turkey stock, and quite a variety of meat and berries. Oh, and some chilli and the makings of a spag bog.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Making the most of a truffle

Yep, scrambled eggs.

So, as is becoming customary, I apologise for not posting much these days. I have been thinking of taking up tweeting, because that way I could have said stuff like "Hi all, truffles at EPIC market this week!" and "Hey, 40% discount on cookbooks at Borders this weekend" at a time when it was actually relevant. Like two weeks ago. Too late now. I intend to get a fancy new iphone sometime soonish, but meanwhile I am such a late adopter that I still haven't got round to net connecting my old Nokia.

So, sorry if you almost missed truffle season. There are still some remnants around - the Truffle Festival runs for the whole month of July, and there's truffle dinners still happening at Flint, Pulp Kitchen and Locanda.

My way to make the most of truffles is pretty much what I did last year. Buy a small piece, pop it in a box of risotto rice and fresh eggs, and let it infuse for a week. I only had about 15g, and by the end of the week it was a bit less. It dehydrates somewhat during the infusion process.

I used a third to add to about 300g of mushrooms, panfried in butter. Two thirds of these went into a simple mushroom and leek risotto, made with the infused rice and another third of the truffle. The final third went into the scrambled eggs, which were made with the infused eggs. And voila: truffled scrambled eggs, served with truffled mushrooms, sourdough toast and a fried tomato.

At that Borders sale I bought the new Jamie Oliver book - I'm not crazy about his TV personality, but I do like his cooking style and his recipes. This one is "Jamie Does...", based on a TV series that I haven't seen and probably won't. He goes to Fance, Italy, Morocco and more, and this is the recipe collection. He has a truffled omelet recipe in the French section, where he uses 5g black truffle for 3 eggs. I had more eggs, but they were infused.

And remember those lentils? They were from the same Jamie book. And just to make sure I didn't miss out on any truffled goodness, when I saved the mushrooms for risotto, I deglazed the pan with some Fino sherry and chucked that into the lentils. I didn't mention that last time, because it's not reproducible.

PS: No, I do not like Master Chef either.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Best Lentils Ever

According to Jamie Oliver, that is. And since I futzed around with them, probably not exactly, but they were damn fine. Unphotogenic, though.

I've just finished Sunday dinner in front of Dr Who, with a plate of slow cooked lamb on a bed of lentils, with home made mint sauce and roast potato, pumpkin, onion and fennel, and steamed broccoli. With a 1999 cab sav, Harper's Range by Seppelt. I went on line to look for it, and found it's still only $25 a bottle, so we didn't score very much by keeping it in the cupboard for almost a decade. Oh well. It's very yummy anyway, and at least it didn't go off.

I was very pleased with this. If you've ever made one of those lentil dishes with some fatty meat, you know you're supposed to add some vinegar to finish it. Balsamic, almost certainly. And if you are a roast lamb traditionalist, you will be thinking mint sauce. And if you are old enough, then you will remember fresh mint from the garden, chopped with sugar and doused in excessively potent malt vinegar.

Sooo... Balsamic or Malt? Hmmm... I've solved this: neither. Mint sauce old-style - but made with Homeleigh Grove Apple citrus vinegar. It's much more delicate, but still assertive enough to add the required sharpness to the lentils.

Recipe: Not Quite Jamie Oliver's French Lentils with Lamb
2 cups Puy lentils
2 carrots
2 onions
3 cloves garlic
1 small leek (2cm diameter)
1 medium potato
splash olive oil
splash brandy or cognac
1 litre beef stock
Bouquet garni
A small lamb roast
2 tablespoons mint leaves
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon caster sugar

* Chop the carrot and onion small, and fry gently in a good glug of olive oil until onion is translucent.
* Add chopped leek and finely chopped or crushed garlic and fry another minute or so.
* Deglaze with a splash of brandy, then add in stock.
* Add lentils, chopped potato and bouquet garni.
* Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
* Add lamb to the top of the lentils.
* Cover and bake at 150C for 2 hours.
* Uncover and give lentils a good stir, crushing the potato in to make a creamy base.
* Squidge the lamb down into the lentils, so it's mostly covered; skin side up and uncovered.
* Bake for another half hour uncovered.
* Remove from oven and let rest for half an hour.
* Chop mint leaves with the sugar sprinkled over (this helps to bruise them). Put in a small jug and stir in the vinegar.

To serve, remove lamb and carve up. Put a mound of lentils on the plate, top with sliced lamb and pour over a generous serve of mint sauce.

Notes: My bouquet garni was a generous sprig of rosemary and thyme, tied up in string with 3 fresh bay leaves. I used Australian Puy-style lentils, available from most gourmet delis. My lamb roast was a small leg - just 1.3kg. I can't remember who raised the lamb, but it was from one of the stall-holders at EPIC.

The half hour rest gives you time to turn up the oven and crisp up a tray of baked veggies - they can be started for an hour in the slow oven.

We have lots of leftovers from this meal, and I only made enough mint sauce for one go. I'll have to do more sauce for the re-heat.

Jamie's recipe uses parsley instead of rosemary, and duck fat instead of olive oil; and veggie stock instead of beef. For meat, he has confit duck added right at the end, instead of the lamb cooked in the lentils, and he adds a swirl of creme fraiche at the end. No mint sauce, of course - Jamie uses balsamic vinegar. His lentils only take 45 minutes, with no baking, so his is the quicker option unless you confit your own duck. But they won't be as richly meaty as mine!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Things I've learned

Recently I was looking at cracked.com, that scary site of internet crack; it's second only to tvtropes.org in addictiveness. Just ONE more funny list. I'll just follow that ONE more link. No, OK just ONE more. Oh, I wonder what that next one is like. Hang on, how did it get to be 3am? So with due warning given, look at just this ONE list of the 10 most important things they didn't teach you in school. It's hilariously and totally true, all of it.

In the spirit of that, but on a very much lesser scale, here are some things I've learned recently.

1) You know when you cut yourself while chopping up food, and put on a bandaid really tightly, because you remember from first aid that compression stops bleeding? Always remember to loosen it within the hour. Ow.

2) You really shouldn't pot roast one of those heart-tick extra lean cuts of meat. It will come out much too dry.

3) An overly dry piece of meat can be turned into a rather good cottage pie, by chopping it very finely and adding tomato paste, herbs, stock, wine, carrots, onions, peas etc, then simmering together for an hour or so to meld. Then add a good topping of mash and bake until hot.

4) You don't have to peel your spuds under cold running water. Dunking them in a bowl of warmish water will do nicely, once to peel, once to rinse clean. It feels much better in midwinter, and it saves water.

5) Don't use a serrated knife to chop up cold (dry) meat. Use a chef's knife or carving knife. (See point one.)

Friday, 11 June 2010

On the importance of shopping

It's almost a cliche now that the best chefs do their marketing in person. You have to get in on the ground to find the best and freshest, to get a nose for what's in season. You see this on TV shows from Iron Chef via Jamie Oliver to Rick Stein - and our own local Jan Gundlach actually has his premises right there at the Fyshwick market. Of course in reality, a lot of top chefs will outsource this task to trusted providores, but it's nevertheless true that to get a great meal, somebody has to have done a great job of the shopping.

It's even more true when you're not making stuff from scratch. I've made this same pasta dish twice now. And while it was from the identical recipe, the results were spectacularly different. One was sublime, the other just rated "meh, not too bad, it will do for a week night".

The recipe is from a little cookbook produced as a work social club fundraiser. I bought it on the day I started the new job. We have several keen cooks where I work, though why they insist on doing their Red Cross fundraiser bake sales on a Friday I don't know. I can easily bake stuff on a Sunday arvo, but Thursday night is beyond me. Just this Sunday past I made roast chicken in the Stephanie Alexander style (lemon and rosemary and olive oil) with accompanying baked veg; a beef potroast braised in Guinness with parsnips and prunes; a leek and potato soup; I got some tandoori chicken wings on to marinade; and I roasted tomatoes for a dhal. But Thursday? On Thursday, it's eat leftovers or eat out. Or I could make this pasta.

Here is the fantastic/meh pasta recipe.

Recipe: Tortellini with bacon and pesto cream sauce
1 packet bought tortellini (or ravioli)
1/2 cup pesto
3/4 cup cream
4 short cut bacon rashers
150g baby spinach leaves
A handful of pine nuts

* Cook pasta according to packet directions, in lots of boiling water.
* Meanwhile, lightly toast the pine nuts and chop the bacon.
* Drain the pasta and set aside.
* Spray pan with a little olive oil and fry the bacon for a couple of minutes.
* Add pinenuts, pesto, and cream, and mix well.
* Stir in the baby spinach and let just barely wilt.
* Stir through the pasta.

Serve with a sprinkle of good parmesan and a salad or steamed broccoli. It's quite rich from the cream.

The "Fantastic" options:

I used Wee Jasper Pasta spinach, ricotta and pinenut ravioli. These people sell their handmade pasta at the EPIC markets on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month. And the pesto was made by chef Tom Moore of Gundaroo Grazing restaurant, with basil from their garden. I doubt he'll be making more until next summer.

The "Meh" options:
I used Latina fresh spinach & ricotta ravioli, and a pesto that I found in the supermarket. It's called "inspire", and it's really rather good for its genre. It does at least contain some pine nuts, which most supermarket brands don't.

to toast pine nuts, toss them in a dry frying pan on the rangetop, or a pie plate in the oven which you shake regularly. Watch closely, they will burn very quickly once they start to change colour. You want golden, not dark brown!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Handmade Food

The handmade market was on yesterday. If you haven't discovered these already, you should check them out! I'm a huge fan. The market seems to have found a stable venue at the Kamberra Wine Centre, after outgrowing the Albert Hall and trying out the Yarralumla Woolshed. The next one will be 11th September - a great chance to start your Xmas shopping. But if you want to get in earlier, there's now also a shop in Civic which has a good selection of the various designers' wares.

The philosophy of Handmade is that the stuff it sells is, well, handmade. It is to local arts and crafts people what the Growers' market is to to local farmers and small food producers. You'll find cards, books, quilts and quilt supplies, felted gear, handmade clothes, bags, teapots, jewelry, slippers and much more. This is the first time that I did not come home with a piece of jewelry by cardog. But I did get a new top by Wendy Leigh - it's made of stretch dark green rayon ribbed velvet, with a black knit cowl neck and a small black lacy sequinned feature.

And then there's the food! Well, here's the full list. Most of them will be familiar if you go to the EPIC and Kingston markets. There's a mix of people selling things to take home and things to eat there. The large area out the back had plenty of seating, an entertainer making balloon animals for the kids, and lots of yummy food for sale. Gourmet pizza and sausages and muffins and more. Also, for the grown-ups, there's Zierholz beer, and local wines and spirits. I wasn't entirely persuaded by the Grog Shed, run by Wombat Heights Liqueurs. I'm not a fan of fruit wines, but if you are, why not give it the walnut rum and cherry port a try.

And scattered through the front open air markets and the indoor stalls were many other food producers. The Curious Chocolatier was there, and I bought a bar of dark choc with walnuts and honey. She makes mostly bars rather than individual pieces, in some very unusual flavours. Coffee and fennel, anyone? Strawberry and Szechuan pepper? There was Lindsey and Edmunds, too, and the Lime Grove and Homeleigh Grove people, and some people making popcorn and caramelised nuts (not together, though I must ask why not?)

And cupcakes - there was not one but two cupcake makers. The ones illustrated are amazing pieces of fondant and buttercream art, from Liz Wright at pARTycakes. I had to buy some for arvo tea - a friend was making a flying visit to Canberra for lawyer and accountant reasons, and a good cup of tea and a cupcake was clearly needed. (And a martini, but that's The Bloke's specialty.) The cakes are not just decorative, but also good to eat. Thankfully, Wright's fondant isn't so sweet as to make you gag, as some are. The cakes themselves are on the solid mudcake side rather than fluffy sponge, good moist rich chocolate and caramel flavours. At $25 for six, these are special occasion cakes.

The other cupcake seller's wares were a little cheaper at $4 per cake, and less dramatically artistic in presentation. They were topped with simple buttercream swirls. But they are good cake - I had a passionfruit one, also quite dense and moist. These are made by A Moment on The Lips, who will deliver you a dozen cupcakes, as well as do more arty things. Check out the gorgeous cupcake bouquets on their website! And they had a very cute fondant sculpted baby dragon and egg cake on display.

The other stuff that I bought was from Crankypants - I know they're regulars at Kingston, but for some reason I don't make it there often enough. I got some proper piccalilli, lemon curd, and smoky caramelised onions. The onions were great topping homemade steak sangers last night. Lemon curd on crumpets for breakfast, and a cheese, tomato and piccalilli sandwich for lunch. Yum.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Feijoa time again

It's almost a month since I last posted. I don't have any major food news, since for a lot of that time I was sick - a nasty cold developed into an even nastier chest infection, for which I've been taking mega-antibiotics and using an inhaler of nasty tasting drugs. Bleah. What can I say? Tinned soups and spaghetti is pretty dull stuff, but at least I did get to eat my stewed quinces and apples - pretty good to perk up a tub of Le Rice. I like the caramel or vanilla flavours, heated up with the stewed fruit.

Meanwhile, the garden has delivered the last of the season's rhubarb, a bucket of feijoas and three mutantly huge butternut pumpkins. Well, stewed or roast rhubarb is lovely, and pumpkins make good mash, baked veg or soup. Or a sweet spicy pie filling, though not everyone agrees... But what is there to do with feijoas?

I've been eating the best of them for my lunchtime fruit, feeling very exotic as I stand in the kitchen at work peeling them and cutting them up onto a plate, along with a sliced persimmon. I prefer to leave them for a couple of days after collection, to soften a little before eating. The inside goes from greeny-white to cream, to pale beige, to deeper beige to brown as it ages. I find the cream stage is best, and I cut off anything past the palest of beige. I'm also not mad on the skins, so I usually peel them. But it is actually edible.

Last year I made a feijoa chutney, which I speculate was invented by someone who was very sick of feijoas. It was more like a Branston pickle, sharp, dark and malty, and I still have masses of it left. This year I decided to try a jam instead. And since feijoa isn't exactly my favourite fruit, I thought of zesting it up with some ginger for interest. This is my first attempt, based loosely on a recipe found on the net somewhere random. If I do this again next year, I'll add even more ginger.

Recipe: Feijoa and Ginger Jam
1.5 kg feijoas
2 lemons
150 g preserved ginger (glace or crystallised)
5 cups sugar

* Chop the ginger finely.
* Wash the lemons, halve and juice one half piece. Save the skin.
* Put the juice of half a lemon in a large bowl, with about 3 cups cold water.
* Peel and chop the feijoas quite small, dropping the pieces into the lemon water as you go.
* Transfer 375ml of the water to a large jam pan.
* Strain the feijoas and add them to the pan.
* Add the chopped ginger, the juice of the 1.5 remaining lemons, and the lemon rinds in large pieces.
* Bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes.
* Add the sugar and turn up the heat.
* Stir until dissolved, and then boil rapidly until set point is reached (10 minutes).
* Remove the lemon.
* Pour into sterilised jars, and seal.

Notes: To get 1.5kg of feijoas, you will need 2-3 kg of raw fruit, depending how bruised they are. They do say not to use bruised fruit for jam, to which I say - nonsense! Sure, don't use the actual bruised part, but just chop it off and use the good bit. Feijoas fall from the tree when they are ripe enough, and they often have a bruised portion if they land on hard surfaces like a concrete footpath. So here we see the upper one is brown and goopy - into the compost. Lower one, fine. Cut off bruised bit, at left.

Also, jam setting time is a little random. The lemons provide the pectin here, as well as a dash of flavour, but you could use jamsetta instead, and follow the packet directions.

I clean my jars very simply: wash them in the dishwasher and set aside in the cupboard until needed. Then pop them in a sink of very hot water and leave for 10 minutes. Then put them in a warm oven to dry off. Put their lids on when it's still hot.

Jam is really very forgiving; the sugar is a powerful preservative. Scare stories about bottling tend to be about preserving vegetables, with no sugar involved. Chemical sterilisation and very careful attention to detail is much more important there - and one reason among many why I don't actually do that. (Not often having a surplus of veg, and the existence of tins and supermarket freezer sections are other reasons.)

Friday, 30 April 2010

More Autumn Gold

Pretty! Here are some quinces sitting in the dish, when I was testing them to see if they would fit. They cme from Pialligo, via Choku Bai Jo. The next step was to wash all the fluff off, and chop off the stem ends and get them ready for roasting. I put them on the bottom shelf of the oven, which I was roasting some tomatoes on the top shelf.

Recipe: Pot roast quinces
5 quinces
150ml honey
vanilla bean shards

Wash quinces well, chop off the tops and trim the tail, and place in a pot just the right size to wedge them all in upright.
Pour over the honey, and drop in the vanilla.
Add water to cover two thirds of the way up.
Bake slowly at 120-140C for two or three hours, turning a couple of times.
If it seems to be getting too dry, put the cover on the pot for the last hour or so.

Notes: the cooking time is quite arbitrary, they can go a very long time without disintegrating. They blush a pale pink when just done, and the longer you cook them, the darker this colour gets, all the way to a deep burgundy. You can eat the skins, or peel them off if you don't like the texture. But do cook them in the skin, it helps to enrich the juices.

Serve warm with cream or icecream (Maggie Beer's quince & bitter almond would be a nice luxury). Cut some up to go with porridge or yoghurt for breakfast. Cover with a sponge topping for an old fashioned pudding or scone dough for a cobbler. Whatever you like to do with stewed fruit.

I used up the remnants of the vanilla bean I'd used in the creme caramel, washed of course. And a large part of a jar of generic honey that I thought was a bit boring. I prefer my honeys powerful, like stringybark and ironbark, or interesting like lavender, coffee-blossom and orange-blossom. This was a good way to use it up.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Old fashioned things, and the importance of numeracy

My good friend B1 has been out of town a lot, for personal reasons that I won't go into on this blog. Recently she was back, and hinted shamelessly at me about lamb shanks and creme caramel. So what could I do but comply? I even managed to put this together on a weeknight by dint of moderate planning ahead.

I didn't quite manage enough forward planning to get market lamb, so I had to get the shanks from Woolworths, who sell them as whole bones, not the easier to manage French trimmed version. They're not particularly cheap - they averaged about $4.50 a piece, which for the actual amount of meat makes it's cheaper to buy a hunk of rump steak.

I do actually remember when they were cheap - the offcut bit, good for a soup, or a cheap family meal, but not fit to bring out for company. That was before the revival of the slow cooked homestyle food in fancy restaurants. My Mum hasn't kept up with the trends, and a while ago was horrified when some visiting friends chose to eat lamb shanks at a fancy restaurant. To her generation, it sounds like ordering spam. But really, it's good - I remember trying to bags the shank end of the lamb roast whenever possible. Sticky, tender and full of flavour.

I more or less followed this recipe from allrecipes.com.au, which involves browning the meat & veg, then a slow cook in red wine, tomatoes and stock, with lots of herbs, and in my addition, some strips of lean bacon. For six lamb shanks, that's two tins of tomatoes and a whole bottle of red, then stock to top up. Then it's overnight in the huge cooking pot in a very slow oven (120) - my slow cooker was too small to take them. Simply reheat for dinner. I served it with mash, which I enriched with a little leftover cream, and frozen baby peas. Half the shanks minus bone, and most of the veg and sauce went into the freezer, to be a ragout later on. With the Italian tomato, garlic and rosemary flavours, it should go well with pasta.

I had leftover cream, of course, from the creme caramel. This is another easy one to cook ahead, I made the caramel on a Monday night, baked the custard on Tuesday and served them on Wednesday. In this case, I used a Maggie Beer recipe, from the Maggie's Harvest book. I looked up several to get the proportions, and decided to use the one with the whole eggs. I have too many egg whites in the freezer already.

The importance of numeracy comes in here. Check the recipe and see if you can spot the problem!

Recipe: Maggie Beer's Creme Caramel
110g sugar
125ml water
4 large eggs
125g caster sugar
250ml cream
300ml milk
1 vanilla bean

First, make the caramel. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Continue to heat until it turns into a dark amber colour - watch carefully when it first starts to turn, because it can be quite quick to change. Pour the hot caramel into 4x120ml capacity individual ramekins, and swirl a little to get it around the edges. Leave to set.

Heat the milk and cream together with the vanilla bean and scraped out seeds. Bring to just off boiling, then remove from heat and let cool. Overnight is fine. Later, make the custard by beating the eggs, sugar and re-warmed vanilla infused milk together. Strain this into a jug.

Prepare a large roasting tin with a folded tea-towel on the base, then the caramel ramekins. Pour the custard into the ramekins in situ, then gently pour hot water around them to soak the tea towel. Fill up as high as you can manage around the edges of the ramekins, without getting water into the custard when you move it.

Bake in a 180 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until set. Allow to cool in their water-bath, then refrigerate until ready. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the ramekin and invert it onto a plate. The caramel will mostly have dissolved into a sauce, though if you've done a thick layer there may be some left.

Actually I reduced the sugar in the custard from the 145g in the recipe, and slightly changed the milk/cream balance because I had low fat milk in the house. (Hers: 375ml milk, 190ml cream.)

And did you spot it? If the eggs make up about 200ml, then what we have here is about 650ml of custard. This is not going to fit into 4x120ml ramekins! I spotted the need to get more ramekins - I used six. I also increased the caramel amount by half, which I think was unnecessary, since the caramel layer came out much thicker than it needed to be.

Making the caramel dark gives it a bitter-sweet sharp edge, which makes the dessert more interesting and less cloying. You can make it a bit lighter, if you prefer.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


Bless you!

Is it an egg? Was that an Easter display? No, actually this is a fruit. Though adding some tamarillos and some real eggs might make it into a good Easter display, it's unfortunately very tightly seasonal at the moment. February only.

It's from Bolivia, via Far North Queensland, with a last stop at Ziggy's, in Belconnen Fresh Food Market. I picked up a few to try, way back on some Sunday in February, and I was glad that I thought to check the web first. It came with a little leaflet explaining how you pop them open and slip out the fruit, but that didn't explain that you can infuse the skins for a drink.

Here's some recipes from the growers' website. It's quite a good website for a food supplier: real information, pretty pictures, recipes, no funky but unusable flash, no boring corporate speak. Well done, them!

The fruit is a relative of the mangosteen, and is called achachairu when it's at home. It's got quite large stones which the fruit clings to, and it's a bit tarter and less perfumed than the mangosteen, though with a very similar texture. And cheaper. I'll be looking out for them next year.

I ate them straight, and put the skins in a jar of water in the fridge to infuse. After 24 hours it was quite well coloured, and tasty. It's a little tart and fruity, but much lighter than a juice. More like an iced tea. I didn't think it needed sugar, but then I like my iced tea unsweetened, too.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

What happened at Easter

Plenty! Of course we had the Folk Festival, with our regular visitors A,J & C. Eight year old C was very taken with the kittens, and so we need another photo of them. (Any excuse, eh?) Here they are being uncharacteristically quiet and well-behaved. Archie on the left, Zeppo on the right.

Anyway, this means our annual dinner, and lots of fast food at the folkie. The festival food is actually remarkably good - plenty of fresh veggie options and good ethnic eating. With some junk if you want it, but why would you? The satay chicken and fritter people were my favourite this year. They had chicken breast (or tofu) skewers with thick peanut sauce, served on jasmine rice with a fresh beansprout salad; or zucchini, fetta & corn fritters with sourcream and smoky tomato relish - bacon optional. Spaghetti Junction is another favourite - I do love seeing the fresh spaghetti come spiralling out of the pasta machine. They do a very good vegetarian puttanesca - no anchovies, but with almonds - and their creamy walnut sauce is rather fine, too.

We had our dinner on Friday night, to which HH brought her terrific pot roast chickens in vermouth, with potatoes. I provided entrees, veggies and dessert. All was very successful. The chicken went on to make a few sandwiches and some rather excellent stock which I'm planning to use tonight in a risotto.

For entrees, I went modern and did goat cheese and caramelised onion tartlets set on a salad of rocket and balsamic dressed beetroot. I made up the recipe as I went along, and then I found that it's such a common idea that mine is pretty much the same as the one that's first up when you google. Delia Smith's, in this case. Though I used a plain shortcrust and no thyme, and I made half of them with blue cheese. The goat cheese was a very mild one that I picked up at Choku Bai Jo; the beetroot also from them, home baked then tossed with balsamic glaze.

For veggies, I did yellow pattypan squash roasted with olive oil and herbs (rosemary and bay from the garden). I also steamed some green beans, and tossed through a bit of butter and toasted slivered almonds to make them a bit more special.

And for dessert I wanted to make Key Lime Pie, but I don't know if you can even get key limes of lime juice in Australia. I used plain old Tahitian limes. I followed an Epicurious recipe, noting some suggestions from the comments. If you have a smaller pie plate than specified, the basic recipe could work. But if you have a deeper 25cm spring form pan, then double the filling quantity is definitely the way to go. It would look pretty pathetic at half the depth. I also added the zest of the limes, and used an entire pack of granita biscuits, and did not bother baking the crumb crust. The picture's not the best, but it's an idea. This is quite delicious, and I served shop bought icecream on the side - Maggie Beer's orange and lemon curd, and Serendipity blood orange sorbet.

I remembered near the last minute that pregnant people aren't supposed to eat uncooked eggs, and the pie does contain egg that is probably not heated enough. So I thought of an alternative, and made some poached pears for P. This was a very lucky, as it's a great favourite of hers. Here's the recipe I made up - very easy!

Recipe: Caramel Cider Pears
4 firm pears
375ml cider
4 tblsp dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick

Peel the pears, leaving them whole. Do not remove the stalk, but do cut off any fibre-y bits at the base.
Put the pears in a saucepan, with the cider, sugar and cinnamon.
Poach gently for 1 1/2 hours, turning regularly to get even coverage.
Leave the saucepan lid on for the first hour, then remove lid to reduce sauce.

Serve these warm with some Maggie Beer burnt fig, honeycomb and caramel icecream if you can!

Notes: I used corella pears, and a stubby of strongbow dry that someone had left behind at a party sometime - we're not cider drinkers. And also, on the night, I included a somewhat old golden delicious apple, which completely fell to bits and made the sauce a bit thicker and more apple-y.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

We Have Kittens

Kittens! Two of them! We're still thinking of names, though the dapper chap with white shirt and spats is probably Archie. The other one isn't Misty or Smoky or Hazy or anything so trite, but we're not sure what he is called. For a placeholder, he's Silver.

Plummet isn't happy about it, but we expect he'll adjust. There's been a bit of hissing and sulking. It's going to be a bit complicated for a while, especially since we have houseguests arriving in a few days for the folk festival, and the kittens are bivouacked in the main bathroom. Perhaps we can move them to the bar.

I was thinking of making a key lime pie for our annual co-operative dinner, since I have a bag of limes, but I seem to have got it mixed up. I thought key limes were the small West Indian ones, but now that I read more, they seem to be more closely related to the Tahitian kind, except smaller. Oh well, I can make some sort of lime tart anyway. And I can buy some Maggie Beer Lemon curd icecream, since I will be working Mon-Thurs and not have much time to do anything fancy.

Tomorrow, by the way, is the Handmade Market. Always worth checking out, this time it's at the Kamberra Wine Company just up the road from me.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

O hai, I can has weekend?

I haven't had many at-home weekends recently. I've been madly gadding about like a mad gadding thing. I've been to the Goulburn Blues Festival; Corinbank; a friend's birthday (staying away the night); visiting a friend in Sydney; and last weekend I was off to the global atheist convention in Melbourne. It's been fun, but exhausting - this sort of schedule doesn't mix well with full-time work. But yes! I have finally had a weekend at home! And I even have another whole free weekend before we have our Easter houseguests.

For a while I was feeling a bit guilty about not blogging, but I got over it. It's supposed to be some fun for me, not an obligation. I do keep thinking about it, so I don't think I'm over the whole blogging thing yet. Plummet decided to wake me up at 4.30 this morning, so I'm feeling a bit ordinary. But nevertheless I've had a good go in the kitchen, and am feeling quite proud of my production, and feel like telling the world.

Hello, world! Today I made roast tomatoes, stewed rhubarb with mixed berries, Thai red curry pork with veggies, and a spinach and cheese potato bake. The spinach and spring onions in the potato bake, as well as the rhubarb were from the garden, so that's extra gratifying. And yesterday I took a cake baked in the octopus shaped tin along to Skeptics in the Pub, where PZ Myers was speaking.

The curry was just from a paste, Mae Ploy brand. I used some lean pork, and added eggplant, green beans, red capiscum and bamboo shoots. And I used light coconut milk, not the proper rich coconut cream kind, so it's a bit thin. It's OK for an easy dinner, though it's a bit hotter than I intended! My previous tub of Thai red curry paste was Maesri brand, which I now know is milder.

The spinach bake is a trifecta of virtue: home grown veggies, using up some things that were on their last legs, and preparing for the work week in advance. Can you actually see my halo? *ting*

There's no recipe per se, but this is what I did.

* I mixed together a tub of low fat cottage cheese, some leftover fetta marinaded in olive oil & sumac, and 7 eggs. All of these were very close to their use-by dates.
* I ground in some pepper and chucked in some extra sumac, pine nuts, a handful of grated parmesan, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, and three chopped spring onions from the garden.
* I picked lots of spinach from the garden, washed it and chopped it roughly. Microwaved it to wilt it, then wrung it out and chopped it up.
* I decided there wasn't enough spinach for me, so I defrosted about 250g of frozen spinach and added it in.
* Oiled a cake tin that seemed about the right size. (It's silicon, but I'm getting less trusting about the non-stick qualities of that where eggs are concerned.)
* Washed, peeled and finely sliced up four large potatoes (Dutch cream, they really are quite yellow).
* Layered it the cake pan - potato, spinach, potato, spinach, potato, spinach, potato.
* Took a picture part way through the layering.
* Baked it at 150C for half an hour, then added a bit more parmesan on top and baked it for a further twenty minutes.

And that's it - I made it up as I went along. I don't know yet exactly what it tastes like, since I haven't cut it open, but I'm sure it will be fine. It's hard to go wrong with spinach and cheese. And it will come in very handy this week. It can be reheated in wedges in the microwave, as cafes often do with their frittatas, or in a slow oven.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Reasons for not blogging

* Too tired, because I'm not getting enough sleep, because Plummet wants to show off his mice at 2am and 4am.
* Getting used to 5 day weeks again.
* Out of town for the Blues Festival.
* Out of town for a friend's birthday.
* Moving all my stuff from one computer to another, so I could give my old one to B1, who is stuck in Sydney for the long term.
* Manually rebuilding all my photo libraries, contacts, bookmarks etc since Migration Assistant didn't do it right.
* Trying to get ahead with my Canberra Times stuff, so the editor can have a break.
* A new Mystery Case Files game.

I haven't actually given up. I have a few plans and partial posts waiting in the wings. Now that I've got my phone resynched and my camera connection reset, I can upload the photos to go with them. But now I have to go shopping. It's time to get the weekend food prep underway, and I need to buy some cream to fatten the cat.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

ONA Coffee

This has been popping up all over town recently, but the home site is in Belconnen, obscurely tucked into the Benjamin Offices, Aqua building level 3. It's open to the public and a walking ramp goes up there from the big carpark up the back. Ostensibly a normal Public Service lunch spot, this is actually something quite special. Great coffee! In Canberra!

They seem to have quite a big business going - apart from the cafe, there's roasting and distributing coffee complete with cafe fitout, and office lunch catering. The cafe has some flyers which are, sadly, very desperately in need of a good proof-read. Even their slogan "Pure Decadence" is spelt wrong. And who knew that a coffee company might need barristers? Their baristas have been winning awards, for espresso as well as for coffee art, but their barristers' achievements seem unsung. And don't get me started on the apostrophes and the cemicals and the ceaser salad.

Oh well, with coffee this good, what more do they need? Apparently, a curry chef! There's a curry of the day ($10) every weekday, and it's made in house from their own fresh ground spice blends. I had lunch there on Monday with infoaddict, who had a red beef curry - not a Thai red style, it was more rendang like. Thick, rich, spicy, with a nice chilli bite, it was terrific. I got her to pick me up a takeaway on Tuesday, which turned out to be a green Thai veggie curry - again rich, thick, and with enough chilli to bite back. Perfect to reheat for an instant dinner. Yum.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Internet blackout week is over

...and I'm going to pretend that's why I didn't post last week. Not that I was too busy playing games, or drinking too many martinis, or going to work, or too busy doing Canberra Times stuff or anything. Not at all. Lalalala internet blackout week.

Last week's food highlight was that I finally managed to visit Ellacure. For a couple of years it's been a favourite of several people I know, and yet I never got there. But now it's just round the corner from me. I had lunch there with infoaddict last week, and this pic is my amazing green veggie risotto with pesto and spinach and asparagus ($18). It was very delicious, as long as you enjoy a light style - not so creamy and cheesy as risottos often are. But lots of good strongly flavoured bits and pieces.

Infoaddict had the open chicken BLT ($16), which came with some rather nice chips and a mustard aioli. We had coffees ($3.50), and they are also pretty good, especially by Canberra standards. It's not the cheapest place, but it's a nice spot, with quite a long winelist and a smart casual look. There are bigger meals up around $30, and fancy desserts around $14 - fine dining prices!

The Canberra Times last year mentioned it as being a spot to check out the AIS students. It is near the AIS, on Braybrooke & Battye Sts, Bruce. But I think the AIS crowd must be there on weekends, when they have a breakfast menu. On a Wednesday lunchtime, it was rather full of middle aged public servants, mostly female. Sadly no young lycra clad extra-fit chaps on show.

The service was good - quick enough for a work lunch, and when I didn't like my Virgin Mary they remade it for me without any fuss. Seriously, does this look like tomato juice to you? It's their house style, the waiter said - so the bartender must just absolutely LOVE Worcestershire sauce. I've never seen such a brown one before.

Anyway, it was nice and I'll cheerfully go back for a moderately special lunch, like a birthday or something. Pizza, pasta and risottos all come in around $15-20. And the breakfasts seem quite appealling, though not overly different to the usual cafe. Free range eggs, bacon, haloumi, chorizo, banana bread, french toast, that sort of thing.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Autumn gold

Wait, what? It's January. But yes, these are new season apples. They are Early Golds from the Borenore Hillside orchard, the largest fruit stall at the EPIC Growers' market, and one that I find consistently reliable. These new ones are so crunchy and juicy - just fabulous! Obviously they are related to Golden Delicious, a supermarket staple which is pretty reliably horrible, unless you are lucky enough to find them fresh in season. Apples are one fruit that I simply won't buy from the supermarket any more.

And there were these large yellow figs. It's always interesting to go to the market after a month away and see what's changed. I was hoping for early figs, and there were some though not very many yet. Plums, peaches, nectarines and berries galore, and rhubarb and melons too. The fruit was amazing and I may have over-bought. The most notable veggies were beetroot and cauliflower, but I didn't need any. Next week, perhaps.

I've eaten the figs, and made some slightly dodgy muffins with fresh blueberries (too much baking soda, oops). Tonight we've eaten steak and salad, made with another market purchase, a Homeleigh Grove apple vinaigrette. This is made with their fruity olive oil and a light, sweet cider vinegar. It's a nice simple one; I like it. Tomorrow's breakfast may feature fresh blackberries with yoghurt and granola. Sounds like a good start to a Monday.


Friday, 29 January 2010

Sherry Berry Trifle

Blueberry, that is. I contemplated a Sherry Cherry Trifle, but who has time to pit cherries right before Xmas? A trifle, though, is traditional for Christmas, and it's quite useful. It's a dessert that can be made in advance, with whatever is on hand, and yet is quite festive. It's also a traditional way to use up stale sponge cake - though that's not a common thing in my house.

They can be pretty dire, when made from the supermarket jam roll soaked in Aeroplane jelly with tinned fruit and packet custard, and a splash of wino's cheapest sherry. Though if done with care, even that can have nostalgia value. But there's plenty of room to improve on any or all of those options without much effort. Even packet custard can be tweaked into something rather better. And since the packet kind sets, it's actually a better option than a proper egg yolk custard sauce, if you're planning to put it in a large bowl and empty it over a couple of days. And I do still like to have jelly, even though I'm grown up.

Recipe: Sherry & Blueberry Trifle
625g blueberries
3 tablespoons vanilla sugar
150ml water
1 sachet gelatine
1 250g sponge cake
1/2 cup medium sweet sherry
750ml custard
300ml cream

* Tear up the sponge cake and put it in the serving bowl.
* Drizzle the sherry over the cake.
* Wash 500g of the berries, and pop them into a saucepan with the sugar and water.
* Bring to a gentle simmer and stir well to make sure the sugar is all dissolved and the berries are a bit broken.
* Remove from heat immediately.
* Drain berries, reserving juice.
* Sprinkle cooked berries over the cake.
* Make a jelly with the juice and the gelatine, topping up with water if necessary to make 500ml liquid.
* Pour the warm liquid jelly over the cake and berries, and refrigerate to set.
* When set, top with cold custard.
* Top that with whipped cream, and decorate with fresh berries.

Extra Copious Notes

Cake options -
Make your own sponge, and spread it with a good jam. Make your own swiss roll. Buy a bakery or supermarket one - the quality need not be too high, since it will be soaked.

Soaking options -
A decent sherry matters here, and you want at least a semi-sweet, not a fino. Pedro Ximinez is lovely, if expensive, for a chocolatey one. Or for fruity options, an Amontillado style or premium cream sherry. Other kinds of soaking liquid can be used to taste. Port is traditional, but you could also consider muscat, tokay, a dessert wine, a liqueur or for the non-drinkers, a fruit juice. Or hmmm, how about black coffee, or earl grey tea, or chai?

Fruit options -
Go for cooked fruit (including tinned) unless you are going to eat it very quickly. Fresh fruit is nice, but much less so after a couple of days. You can use frozen berries to make the cooked part, but fresh will still look better as decoration on top.

Custard options -
I made a custard from packet custard powder, you may be shocked, shocked! to learn. But I used 750ml of full cream milk, with powder enough to set 500ml milk, and also added two whole eggs, well beaten, into the mix. This is much less likely to split than a straight egg custard, too. Bought custard could be used - the premium Paul's variety is pretty good for a dollop.

You can probably improvise for the rest. Use your favourite Aeroplane jelly from childhood, or a wine jelly, or no jelly at all. Top with soft thick cream dollops, or whipped cream, use any fruit or nut or even lollies for topping decorations... It's a bit of fun, not a rigid haute cuisine recipe.

I'm sorry I didn't take a picture. I got a bit otherwise preoccupied during Xmas. I will say that it looked very pretty, with a ring of whipped cream around the edge, dotted with fresh blueberries and some maple toasted pecans from the market nut sellers. The pecans didn't age well, though. The sugar coating dissolves, and the nuts start to soften. That would be a same-day decoration option, not good for 2-3 days.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


There's a few places that I've avoided for some time, not liking either their food or their attitude. But I revisited a couple of them last week, and was pleased to find improvements.

Carlo's at Watson is one of them. I had a very pleasant pre-rehearsal brunch there with B1, and enjoyed a mango & passionfruit frappe ($5) and a "half" breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and tomato. The food arrived in good time. The radio in the kitchen wasn't set to deafening levels, and there wasn't even a powerful smell of cooking oil! Even more miraculous, the waitress was polite and helpful, and she even went and organised an off-menu side order for B1. Incredible!

I shall put Carlo's back on my list of possibles. OK, the breakfast was a tiny bit overdone - the scrambled eggs were a bit watery - but I like my bacon crisp and my tomatoes well done, so no great harm. Carlo's has usually had pretty good food - I like the buckwheat pancakes particularly - but in the past I've had such terrible service that I haven't gone back in 5 years. This was such a huge improvement on my previous experiences there, I'm quite delighted. They still won't split bills, though.

The other place I revisited was Taj Agra in Dickson. In their case, the service was never a problem, it was the food. I had a couple of very oily and bland curries,from them shortly after they opened. One also had very gristly meat. I was completely put off, and even a second try didn't improve it, so I crossed them off my list.

But last week the Bloke and I decided to give them another go for a quick post-rehearsal dinner, and they are now back on. We ordered a beef saag and an aloo cholay, with naan and raita, and it was very nice indeed. We asked for medium heat, and that was pleasant for us, but also the cholay (chickpeas) were interestingly spiced under the heat. The beef was lean and tender, if a little bit dry, and its spinach puree sauce was tasty. Neither sauce was at all greasy. I still think that Bollywood is nicer - a bit classier presentation, a bit better cooking. But they are also a bit more expensive, and often full.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Summertime, salad time

Hot sunny days have been good for these little grape tomatoes. They are "honey grapes" that I got from Bunnings, and they are well named. They're amazing little bursts of sweet tomato goodness. I have them in a self-watering pot, which makes sense considering what a slack gardener I am. These and the Russian Brown have survived the heat well.

I'm also still getting plenty of rhubarb, and a bit of spinach, and lots of herbs, but not much else at the moment. My lettuces went to seed, and I didn't replant the hydroponic thing after removing them. My beans died in the heat, maybe because I didn't water them enough. Or was it snails that killed them? Or both. Whatever. There's a butternut pumpkin vine and some Kipfler potato plants, and a lot of figs coming on the small tree, but they aren't ready to harvest yet.

In this heat, salads are welcome. Here's one I made on the weekend - cured salmon, avocado, mixed greens, cucumber, and a simple dressing of good olive oil and lemon juice. So there's another use for that avocado. I would have added some grape tomatoes, but I ate them all after I took the picture. I'm now waiting for the green ones to ripen - and the plant has some flowers too, so there's even more to come.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Avocados, please

Avocados are expensive right now. Yesterday I did a big Woollies shop to restock after my last week of being too busy to cook or clean up. And it's nearly $4 for an avo - $3.98 each (or whatever, it's close). And then I spotted the organic ones - a two-pack for $3.42. Ahahahaha!

And did you know that the organic avos are packed on a nice recycled cardboard tray, not that styrofoam tray kind of thing that they pack meat on? Any other pre-packed veg is on one of those trays. I don't often buy much F&V from Woollies, so I haven't noticed this until now. What's the point here, I wonder?

While I was there, I did my good deed of the day by advising a small group of young women in the meat section that chuck steak is for casseroling, not grilling.

I don't really have any formal recipes to add here. But avocado smushed on rye toast, with a good sprinkle of lime juice, is an excellent breakfast. Cayenne optional. Also, while I'm handing out tips, never cook avocado! It goes very nasty and bitter with prolonged heat. If you want it on a pizza or in a pasta, it's OK to add it at the last minute so it just warms gently.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Concert tonight!

I nearly forgot! I haven't been cooking or shopping this week because I've been far too busy getting ready for this!

Details here: http://www.theq.net.au/pages/eventdetail.asp?id=132

A program of Spanish choral music, at the Q in Queanbeyan tonight. It will be amazing - Red Book of Montserrat medieval stuff; Victoria Missa Ave Maris Stella; Lauridsen Nocturnes; Catalan folk tunes.

If you only go to choral music once every seven years, make it this one! You very rarely get such a solid bass and tenor sound in a choir. Not to mention the mix of youthful energy and bright voices with the older and more experienced full voices.

(Damn, gotta fix this HTML, there is no read more.)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Ramz at Dickson, and other things

On Saturday I was off at my favourite Asian grocer, Saigon, buying bean sprouts and gai lan and such. It's my favourite because they have great fresh veggies and fruit there (deliveries Friday and Tuesday arvos, IIRC). I got some weird looking pink fruits, that I think are Australian water-roseapples. And almost next door, there is a new grocery called Ramz Spice Mart.

Ramz fills a gap in Dickson. We've got plenty of Vietnamese and Chinese grocers, and they tend to stock other south-east Asian goodies, but this new one is an Indian specialist. It's run by a Fijian Indian family, who are new to Canberra, and I wish them success.

They stock every kind of dahl you could want, several of them in flour form, too. And huge bags of rice and a great array of chutneys and pickles and spices galore, of course. And the odd things Fijians seem to want, like tinned corned mutton. There's also a freezer with Fijian reef fish and goat meat, as well as samosas and other snacks, and a good selection of frozen vegetables. There's drumsticks and mehti leaves and karela and other more common things. And paneer in the fridge. (See recipe at end.)

It's not a huge shop, like the supermarket in Belconnen, but they still have room for a few oddities. There's a small rack of shiny sequinned bags and sandals and clothes up the back; and some cosmetics and cookware on the shelves.

Speaking of Dickson, Woollies seems to have finally finished their "upgrades". I'm not thrilled. It's bigger since they've moved the grog shop out, but the aisles are narrower. And they've got those annoying self-checkouts replacing most of the old express queue. I would not mind those so much if I didn't have to get help every damn time I use them. I tend to commit sins like not putting my two mangoes down at exactly the same split second, or trying to use a non-standard bag. I find them very irritating. Also irritating is the change to coin-op trolleys. I've never stolen a trolley before, in fact I never even thought of it. But now I really really want to. I have no idea what I'd do with it, I'm just a contrary type.


Now we've got that out of the way, what do we do with paneer? Mattar paneer is a classic, and the paneer packet had a recipe on the label. But because I had spinach (half from Woollies and half from the garden) I made a mixed Mattar Saag Paneer. So there.

Recipe: Mattar Paneer with extra greens

250g Sharma's Kitchen Paneer (or any paneer)
2 medium onions
5 cloves garlic
large thumb sized knob of ginger
1 tblsp coriander seeds
2 green chillies
1 tin tomatoes, crushed
1 cup plain yoghurt
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp turmeric
2 fresh green chillies, or chilli powder to taste
pinch salt
4 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup ghee or vegetable oil
250g frozen peas
4 cups fresh spinach, chopped
chopped coriander leaves

* Puree one onion, the fresh chillies (if using), garlic and ginger and the coriander seeds, with just a dash of water.
* Soak the paneer in hot water for a couple of minutes, then cube.
* Heat the oil and fry the paneer until golden.
* Remove paneer and drain.
* Add the second onion, chopped, to the pan with the bay leaves, and fry until golden.
* Add the puree and the turmeric and fry until oil starts to separate.
* Add yoghurt, tomato, cornflour, chilli powder (if using) and salt and stir very well.
* Stir constantly until it returns to a simmer.
* Add paneer and the water.
* Simmer gently for 20 minutes.
* Add peas and spinach, and return to a simmer for 5 minutes.
* Sprinkle with plenty of chopped fresh coriander to serve.

Notes: I wanted to link to the website, http://sharmaskitchen.com.au but they seem to be down right now.

Anyway, this isn't very much modified from the original. I added the extra greens, as I mentioned. Also, the cornflour is mine - it helps to stop the yoghurt curdling. And the option of chilli powder instead of fresh chilli. I also reduced the oil from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup, and I'm not quite sure that was right - the paneer stuck to the pan a bit.

But it was yummy, and also very creamy despite the fact that I used low fat Greek yoghurt. Definitely worth doing again.