Friday, 28 December 2007

Dhal Panchphoran

Perhaps feeling in need of some healthy food, the bloke requested lentils. Tonight's dinner was a gentle dhal, with some brown basmati rice, chopped cucumber & tomato, yoghurt and chutney, and a few slivers of cold meat. This dhal is a favourite of mine; I make it quite often. It's from a Madhur Jaffrey book, but of course a little altered.

Recipe: Dhal Phanchporan

180g red lentils
1 large onion, sliced into fine half rings
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
3 to 6 oven roasted tomatoes.
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 whole dried long red chillies, crumbled roughly
1 tsp panchphoran
Skin and chop tomatoes roughly, measure volume and make up to 1 litre with water. Put lentils, turmeric, garlic and half the onion in a lidded saucepan, with the tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil, and skim any scum. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 45 minutes or until lentils are well done. Strain off any excess liquid, add salt, and mash well with a potato masher.

In a small pan, heat the oil very hot. Add the panchphoron and the chillies, stir for 30 seconds or so, then add the remaining onion. Reduce heat and fry gently for 5-10 minutes, until the onion turns reddish brown. When this is ready, pour this as a topping over the dhal. Serve immediately.

Notes: the original recipe is even simpler - all water, no tomatoes, and no garlic. If I have no roast tomatoes on hand, a standard tin of tomatoes will do. Panchphoron is "five spices" - a mixture available from Indian grocery shops. You can make your own with equal proportions of whole cumin, fennel, mustard, fenugreek and nigella (kalonji) seeds.

No-knead Bread

Make this! It's amazing!

This recipe was first given to me on a message board that I no longer frequent, by a poster with the nick of B_Cereus, but it's been around. Apparently it originally came from a New York bakery, and spread via the New York Times out on to the internet to mutate and evolve. It worked for me first time and every time since, but in case you have problems, have a look at Clotilde at C&Z. She tried it out with problematic success, but persevered until she got it right. Or you could check Jaden's blog - with photos at each stage.

My version of the recipe seems to have slightly morphed from the original, but it works! The bread is excellent - it has a golden crust and a chewy open crumb, reminiscent of good Italian bread.

No-Knead Bread
3 cups bread flour
400mls lukewarm water
1 sachet dry yeast (7g)
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 scant teaspoon sugar
about 1/4 cup extra flour, to coat

Mix all into a loose dough in a bowl. Cover with gladwrap and leave to rise for 18-24 hours. Turn out onto a well-floured surface that you can pick up later - I use a silicone baking mat - and fold over in three to make a rough loaf shape. It will be very soft and loose. Turn seam side down. Sprinkle flour over surface, cover with gladwrap, and let rise for another 2-3 hours. The dough should double in size, or a bit more, and will not bounce back easily if you poke it.

Place a large covered casserole dish in the oven, and pre-heat to 220C. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. (It's hot!) Sprinkle some more flour into the pot. Pick up the dough by holding under the mat and flop it over into the casserole dish, so it lands seam side up. Shake pan once or twice to distribute dough more evenly, if necessary.

Cover pot with lid and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove lid and bake for another 15 minutes, or until loaf is nicely browned.

Notes: I use an enamelled cast iron casserole dish, but the recipe I got it from said ceramic or pyrex is OK too. Also there was a suggestion to replace a cup of the white flour with wholemeal and add stuff if you want, but I've never tried this. And you can use some cornmeal instead of the flour for the coating stage.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Pressies & Puddin'

People seem to have me pegged. I have 2 microplane graters and a travel coffee plunger from the bloke; a charity cookbook and a set of cheese knives with Tasmanian sassafras handles from his Mum. And I bought the icecream maker and Maggie's Harvest (a mammoth tome by Maggie Beer) with money from my Mum, so I think that counts as a foodie present, too.

I haven't cooked much. We had Xmas lunch at my mate Jon's place - an extraordinary cold collation of roast goose, ham, cured beef, two kinds of duck pies, a cheese and mushroom pie, and assorted salads, followed up with pudding, chocolate truffles, shortbreads and more. Everything was home made or cured by Jon and his family, except for the ham and a panettone. He's a great cook, but of course the trouble with going out for Xmas is the lack of leftovers for snacking on in the next week. To alleviate this problem, I bought a large hunk of pre-cooked turkey breast from the supermarket, and made a tray of sage and onion stuffing. I also bought a Maggie Beer pudding and made a frozen brandy cream to go with it, and I made a summer pudding with red currants from my mate Beth's garden and some frozen mixed berries. I intend to do a ham for January, with luck I can get a nice one on sale.

Today we nibbled on the turkey and the summer pudding. Summer pudding is an amazing substance; how could soggy bread be so delicious? It comes out fresh, light and fruity - dollop on some cream and it's heaven, or try it with a good yoghurt for a decadent yet not too heavy holiday breakfast. My recipe is adapted from Stephanie Alexander's.

Recipe: Summer Pudding

1/2 loaf good quality sliced white bread

200g fresh red currants
300g frozen raspberries

300g frozen mixed berries

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons vanilla vodka
Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan large enough to hold all the berries. When it is thoroughly dissolved, add the frozen berries and warm through. Add fresh berries and simmer for another 30 seconds, then leave to cool. Add the vodka, stir well, then drain off and keep the liquid.

Cut the crusts off the bread, dunk each piece in the liquid and line a pudding bowl. Toss in the berries, and top with more soaked bread. Put a plate on top of the pudding, and a weight on top of the plate, and refrigerate overnight. Unmould and serve.

Notes: Well, this is as I made it, but it is a very flexible recipe. Use wholemeal bread or brioche - but not multigrain, it needs to be smooth. Use vanilla vodka or Grand Marnier or creme de cassis or what you will. Use more or less fresh or frozen fruit. Drizzle a little more vodka over the base if you run out of berry juices.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Xmas Breakfast Eggs

Today's Breakfast Menu:
Irish coffee, made with Laphroaig
Xmas scrambled eggs with grainy seedy toast
A chocolate or two. Or three. (Lindt ball? Guylian shell? Decisions, decisions.)

Recipe: Xmas Scrambled Eggs
6 eggs
2 tablespoons cream
3 eyes of bacon, pre-cooked & sliced in fine strips (optional)
6 large sundried tomatoes (the softish kind), sliced in fine strips
2 teaspoons real pesto, extended with a tiny bit of olive oil if it's not runny enough to drizzle.
15g butter
Toast of choice

Beat eggs with cream. Melt butter on a gentle heat. Toss eggs in and scramble SLOWLY, over the lowest heat you can manage. Add bacon and sundried tomato strips during the scrambling.

Serve with toast. Drizzle pesto over the top so you have green & red Xmassy colour to your eggs, as well as yumminess. Serves 2.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Cake or Death?

I'm hungover, so I lean toward Death as an option. Owwww.

The cake in question is actually really nice, to my slight surprise. It's low fat, and has no sugar. I got it from an issue of Australian Healthy Food Guide, the only food magazine which comes with a bibliography. It's packed with references to academic medical and nutritional journals. This recipe was sent in by a reader (Margaret Petch), and then I modified it some more to suit my tastes.

Recipe: Pumpkin Fruit Cake
125g raisins
125g currants
125g chopped dried apricot
125g mixed peel
1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup brandy
1/3 cup amaretto
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 cup cold mashed pumpkin
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
2 tablespoons brandy, extra
Preheat oven to 180C. Line 20cm round tin with baking paper.
Put dried fruit, honey,brandy, amaretto in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Remove from heat, add bicarbonate of soda and stir well.
Leave to cool.
When cool, mix in mashed pumpkin and eggs.
Gently fold flour and spices through the mixture
Bake for 45 minutes or until done.
Remove from oven and brush with extra brandy.

Notes: I used butternut pumpkin. The original recipe had apple juice rather than brandy, and a longer baking time. My oven is really fast, though. Also, I like currants more than sultanas.

Oh, OK, I choose cake.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Icecream and Iron Chef

Ah, winding down. Since I last wrote I've made a chocolate sorbet - late on Thursday night, after choir practice. And I've made a fruitcake, shopped, and been to Sydney, had dinner at Belmondo, and come back again and rustled up a quick mini lamb roast dinner. And now I'm on the couch, watching Iron Chef, with my dessert: a scoop each of the sorbet, and Gundowring honey walnut icecream. Bliss. There's only one more day of obligations - tomorrow I have a choir carolling gig, after which we are hosting a cocktail party - and then there's nothing to do but sloth about as I please. It's strange this year; we're having Xmas at home with no relatives and no specific cooking plans. I keep thinking that I must have forgotten something.

The new KitchenAid ice cream attachment is great. It's good having a whole freezer bowl, not just a disc in the bottom. The mix freezes up quickly to a great soft serve texture, then it's off to the freezer to mature overnight. Although I did have some at the soft serve stage - at which point I discovered that I hadn't let the chopped chocolate melt quite enough before chilling the mix. It's rich and intense, as promised, but also it's just slightly granular. Since the grain is only chocolate, it does melt in your mouth, so no big drama. My sorbet is merely slightly short of perfection. Obviously I have to practice some more...

Dinner at Belmondo was nice. The location and view is terrific, the food and drink is pretty good, the service was a bit slipshod and slow, but mostly OK. I got to see fireworks over the harbour as I sat by the window. I had a spaghetti vongole entree - excellent pasta, with lovely buttery juices, but the clams were a bit gritty. The roast duck was very well done, falling off the bone tender, with a rich port jus. And the honey torrone dessert with figs was nice, but tonight's Gundowring ice cream wins. I was cheerful though, with a cocktail and a few glasses of wine in me, and good food that I wasn't paying for. It's a little sad seeing all the Good Food awards and chef's hat certificates and so on lining the wall on the way to the toilets. They all date around 1997 - 2001 - back in the days when it was Stefano Manfredi's family restaurant. Perhaps it's not such a great idea to keep them there.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Back to the kitchen

A night at home at last. After a couple of days of finger food - the Slow Food party, a work drinkies, and a music studio concert and nibbles - it was good to have a real meal of meat, potatoes and veggies. I made quick baked potatoes, defrosted the last of the grillade, and steamed some broccoli and asparagus in the microwave. I also took the opportunity to put last week's tomatoes on to roast, and make the base mix for the chocolate sorbet that I plan to make tomorrow.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Slow Food in Canberra

I got back from the Slow Food Canberra Xmas party at Majura Winery - riding with some trepidation down their gravel drive with several kangaroos on either side - and realised I'd forgotten to tape Mythbusters. And it was the Pirate episode, too. Bugger.

Well, it was a very pleasant evening anyway. I sampled Minto Galloway beef sausages and meatballs; Cypress Valley smoked rainbow trout, Holmlea olives, Tallabung ham, and Kim de Poorter's terrines and rillettes, as well as an assortment of other finger food, bread, fruit, cheese, nuts and so on. I would have sampled the wine, too, but I was riding at dusk and thought I'd better keep my wits about me. All of the products I named are local, and sold through the EPIC growers' market. The ham and beef are organic free range products, and excellent. The ham was brilliant. Baked with a whisky and marmalade glaze by umm, some bloke in the group, it was moist and juicy. With no nitrates, it lacked the chemical tang of the supermarket cheapies. I want one, to do up with the Bloke's Mum's Guinness and cardamom glaze, but I don't think I can get to the market before Xmas. Bother!

This was my first outing to a Slow Food event, and I intend to join up. The people seem friendly, and there's a mix of ages and types - some growers and producers, some chefs, and plenty of ordinary people like me, who are just interested in food and not professionals at all. They also like to wear funny hats, which is another plus. I can't wait to unleash my chicken hat on them. I am a little nervous, though. I've told a couple of people that I have a blog, so I might get more readers... Will they like me? Oh, the anxiety! Melodramatic pose!

I am very much in favour of the Slow Food philosophy. It's not just about buying and eating good food, but about promoting biodiversity, and resisting the mass market degradation of our food supplies. Here is their philosophy statement from the main international site:
We believe that everyone has a fundamental right to pleasure and consequently the responsibility to protect the heritage of food, tradition and culture that make this pleasure possible. Our movement is founded upon this concept of eco-gastronomy – a recognition of the strong connections between plate and planet.

Slow Food is good, clean and fair food. We believe that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.

We consider ourselves co-producers, not consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process.
That works for me! Sign me up, folks!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Saucy Shows

After a big week of conference organising, what better to wind down with than a few drinks and some naughty shows. We saw Miss Kitka's House of Burlesque present "A Night at the Pink Flamingo", and Masters of Space and Time (what a name!) present "Saucy Panto". What fun!

Miss Kitka's group is an amateur troupe, with some seriously good singers and dancers, as well as some not so good... But it's all a great romp, and the amateur parts only add to the charm. I love this because it's not slick mass produced stuff - there are bodies of all shapes, ages and genders. Very cool.

This show was a pisstake of the sleazy 50s casino. A pair of drunken ratpack crooners hosted, showgirls in corsets and pink feathers strutted around, there was singing and dancing and comedy and stripping, sometimes all at once. This show was at the Casino, in an upstairs room that has clearly seen better days. Bad astronomical paintings represented its Galaxy nightclub phase; the bar seemed more confusedly tropical with sombreros and hula skirts. And we had plastic glasses for our G&T! Very tacky indeed. It would have been perfect for the show, if the space had been smaller. The audience was rather swimming in it, though we gamely pulled our tables to the front and pretended. I felt all conspiratorial and part of the act, and I had a hugely fun time. Look out next year for a world war two themed show, and I hear rumour of a fairytale one.

The next day I saw the Saucy Panto the Street Theatre. It was in theatre 2, which I think is the smallest theatre I've ever been in. Even the Gorman House youth theatre space is bigger. The show was a hoot; chock full of stereotypes and all the in-you-end-oh you could wish for in a panto. It's not a traditional fairy tale; though there are some good Cinderella bits. The story concerns an evil club manager who is trying to put on the best show to outdo his rivals. He is thwarted by a sexy accountant, and ripped off by the performers - the Lord of Misrule as a TV show host, with his bearded Dame wife, and two creepy murderous daughters. Their put-upon plucky stepdaughter of course finds true lurve with the principal boy, who is the curiously buxom and high-voiced "son" of the would-be sinner vicar. A puppet elf, oddly named Winky, not Wanky, supplies commentary, love potions and other plot devices. The set was very simple but well-dressed; a clever gigantic Xmas parcel box featured in the action.

The troupe performing there were young professionals, and they were all terrific. The Lord (Arran McKenna) was a dervish-like force of nature, vile, gluttonous and hilarious. David Clapham strode about in terrible drag as the Dame, full of charisma like a young Bill Oddie. He's a multi-talented bloke; he was also a director and designer. If I had to name a flaw, the script's little framing lectures delivered by the puppet-master seemed a bit condescending and redundant. I was at a panto, not a lecture, thank you. The puppet's constant wanking was overdone - yes, it was clever, but all the time? And the bar was closed at interval! What a terrible shock! I was all set to buy a pint of gin, as advertised in the program.

Parsnip & Pumpkin Gratin

The first meal I've cooked in a week turned out pretty yummy. We had grilled roo fillets, with a cajun spice rub. I accompanied the roo with baked potatoes and onions, a parsnip & pumpkin gratin, and some lightly steamed snowpeas. Lovely. There's cream in the gratin, but all the rest is low fat so it's not a heavy meal.

Recipe: Parsnip & Pumpkin Gratin
500g pumpkin
500g parsnips
1 cup cream
3 cloves garlic
a handful of fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs
Peel and roughly chop the garlic. Add it and the herbs to the cream. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and let it infuse for an hour or so. Peel pumpkin and parsnips, slice finely, and layer in a baking dish or pie plate, drizzling strained cream over each layer. Bake for 45 mins at 190C.

Notes: Exact quantities? Meh. Use what you have. Herbs? Whatever's in the garden. Thyme matches the cajun rub, so that's a plus here.

Monday, 10 December 2007


I have made Dwarf Combat Muffins.

I actually tried to make bran muffins, on the theory that healthy portable breakfasts might be useful this week while I'm running round being an organiser at a conference. I used a recipe from 101Cookbooks, and being me, I made a few small substitutions. Oat bran instead of wheat bran; maple syrup instead of honey; macadamia oil instead of butter; low fat yoghurt instead of full-fat. I also made 12 regular size muffins, rather than mini-muffins.

I would have thought this would be OK. But no; they are very heavy. I'm not sure if it was because of my swaps, or because the recipe had so little leavening. 1 1/4 tsp carb soda seemed too little for 2 cups of flour, but I was trying to stick as close to the basic recipe as I could. I'll try again with SR flour, I think.

They are not a total failure - they're nice to the taste. Buttered hot from the oven, they were delicious. I ate two - and shortly after felt that it was a mistake. I was stuffed full of heaviness. I needed no lunch. Cold, they are too heavy to be nice, so they are useless to carry around. Unless perhaps you want to hurl heavy raisin-studded projectiles at an opponent.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Warm Beef Salad with Thai Dressing

A free day on the schedule at last, and I've done some shopping, some Xmas preparations, and made a nice salad for dinner. And blobbed on the couch with teh internets for a reasonable time.

The shopping was highly successful - I now have some decent wet weather pants and a new motorcycle helmet, and the house is well stocked with cherries and mangoes and assorted sandwich makings and random Xmassy ingredients that I'm sure I'll think of some use for. Glace fruit and raisins and pistachios and cranberries. Bound to be useful.

And I am getting a new icecream maker! My old one had a freezer disc that went in the bottom of the bowl, but the disc started leaking. Anti-freeze flavoured icecream seems like a Bad Idea, so that's off to the bin - it's ten years old; no replacement parts seem to be available any more. Oh well. I'm getting an attachment for the KitchenAid, and the shop said they'd have it by Wednesday. And then they rang me to say they'd found one in the back room! I'll go get it tomorrow. Clotilde's chocolate sorbet is calling to me...

This isn't a proper thai beef salad, but it shares the basic flavours.

Recipe: Warm Beef Salad with Thai Dressing
Thai Dressing
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated palm sugar
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

4 cups mixed lettuce
1 large tomato
1/2 lebanese cucumber
3 spring onions
1/4 cup chopped coriander leaves (1/2 bunch)
4 tablespoons chopped mint leaves (1/4 bunch)

1/4 cup mixed roasted nuts
1 bunch asparagus (8 medium stalks)
2 lean steaks (150-200g each)

Mix all dressing ingredients well. Taste and adjust flavours as desired.
Toss all salad ingredients in a bowl.
Heat grill, cook asparagus for 2 minutes, and then cook steak to required done-ness. Rare is best! Slice thinly.
When all is ready, assemble salad: toss through dressing, then top with steak slices, asparagus and nuts.
Serves 2 as a main meal salad.

Notes: Of course this is more of a concept than a recipe to be followed exactly. Use your favourite salad vegetables and extras. Proportions are flexible. You must have mint, coriander and onion - but spanish onion or shallots will do. Some thai basil would be a nice addition. The dressing is likewise important - it's a very strong flavour base, with a mix of sweet, sour, salt and hot. But if you have no palm sugar, then jaggery or dark brown sugar will do; and fresh chilli is good to use instead of flakes.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

The Salmon Report

A quick lunchtime post - the cured salmon worked well. I'm currently eating slices of it, together with a rice salad made of leftover brown rice, capers, cornichons, spring onion & mayo. I also have some radishes and sugar snap peas. Yum.

I left it to cure for a day and a half. When I lifted the salmon out of the brining bowl this morning, it seemed a little hard around the edges. But just sitting in my lunchbox in the fridge for a couple of hours has evened it out nicely.

Later edit: it keeps really well once it's cured. I finished the last chunk on the 15th.

Monday, 3 December 2007

No time!

Successive days in the next couple of weeks look like this:
Tomorrow work drinkies & rehearsal; rehearsal; music lesson & rehearsal; work Xmas party & concert, SATURDAY!; concert; conference & dinner; conference & dinner; conference & dinner; conference, music lesson & rehearsal; conference & show; drinkies with friend & show; SUNDAY! MONDAY! Concert; WEDNESDAY! Rehearsal; dinner in Sydney; Saturday in Sydney; Concert; then finally on leave for Xmas Eve.

There's certainly not a lot of cooking time in there, although there is plenty of singing and eating.

The main concert is a Messiah, presented by CAMRA. Not a beer thing, this CAMRA a small organisation in which my singing teacher Pat is a major player; they put on a couple of major musical performances a year. It is going to be good; the choir is really nicely balanced with plenty of tenors. It's at St Phillips in O'Connor this Friday and Sunday, at 7.30pm. (Follow the link for details.) I also have a studio concert on Tuesday 18th, in which Pat's students sincg Purcell and Xmas music for each other and a few friends. And on Sunday 23rd Dec, my regular choir Cantorion (oops website out of date) will be singing at the National Museum of Australia - it's a free program of Xmas music, at 1pm.

And then in addition, work is busy. I'm on the organising committee for the conference, so that makes for a very hectic couple of weeks before and during. We're setting up local cheapie dinners for each night that it's on. I might squeeze in a few reviews here and there...

Tonight I was going to make that prawn noodle salad from Delicious, but it was raining and cold, so I ended up making the prawns into a stirfry instead. There's enough leftovers for a couple of meals, and we've got a good stock of salad and sandwich makings. But when I'll be shopping and cooking again, I don't really know. I do intend to make a cake, though it's way too late for my usual boiled fruit cake. That needs three months of maturing with regular brandy baths. But I have found an intriguing recipe with mashed pumpkin and dried apricots, so I'll be trying that out close to Xmas. We're spending Xmas at home. Peace and quiet - I hope!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Sorrel and Salmon

... though not together, which now I think of it is a pity. They ought to match rather well.

I got to the Growers' Market at EPIC yesterday, for the first time in months. Some changes are dramatic: with the November rains and the spring growth, prices have come way down on salads. Stone fruits are making an appearance, and the cherries are in, hurrah! I got me a kilo of beautiful dark Rons for $7, and I'm half way through them already. I have no restraint with cherries. The only recipe required for me is "Rinse. Eat."

I bought some sorrel, which I have never cooked before, and I ran a small experiment. After looking in my cookbooks and googling, I found that some people recommended cooking it for 10 minutes, and others recommended using it raw, or nearly so. I tried a small leaf, and it is deliciously lemony and tart, but with a slight astringency. This would make it unpleasant in bulk in a salad, but it should work as a herb accent.

I made myself a test sorrel omelet for lunch. First, I rinsed the sorrel, de-stemmed it, and shredded it finely. I cooked half of the sorrel well, by pan frying it gently in butter for 5 minutes. The other half I just blanched by pouring boiling water over it in a colander. The pan fried version reduces very quickly - two cups of very loosely packed shreds reduced to under two tablespoons of puree. I put the blanched version on one half of the omelet, and the puree on the other half, folded it up and ate it with some beautiful grainy sourdough toast. The result was unambiguous - well cooked wins! The lightly blanched half had more volume, and more in-your-face attitude, but it was also notably more watery. It also retained some of the astringency of the raw leaf. The pureed half balanced much better with the eggs, and was more delicate, while retaining a good lemony bite.

The salmon part of this post is another experiment, but even more uncontrolled. This month's Delicious has a cured salmon recipe, while Good Taste has a gravlax one. They are drastically different - one hour cure vs 2 days; 25og salt/sugar mix for 1kg salmon vs 750g salt/sugar for 300g salmon! Well, how can you go wrong with that range of options? I decided to make up my own.

Recipe: Cured Salmon
375g coarse sea salt
250g white sugar
rind and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons limoncello
400g skinless salmon fillet

Mix the salt, sugar, lemon rind, juice and limoncello together in a non-reactive bowl. Pin-bone the salmon and cut into 3 or 4 even sized pieces. Coat the pieces in the curing mixture, cover and refrigerate for some time: 1 hour to several days... When ready to serve, rinse well, and dry with paper towel. Slice finely.

Notes: I can't tell you how well this works, because I only put it in the fridge before lunch. You could leave the salmon whole if you have a nice even chunk. Also, that pin-boning thing is a pain. It's easy enough to detect the fine bones by running your fingers over the fillet. But getting them out isn't so easy. It helps to get a solid grip on them - my tweezers were not effective - and notice that the angle is determined by the grain of the flakes in the fish.

Review Index

Canberra & Region Cafes & Restaurants & Pubs
Alto - Revolving restaurant on Black Mountain
Banana Leaf - Sri Lankan and modern Australian, a favourite, in Civic.
Beppe's - Italian cafe & deli in Belconnen Fresh Food Markets.
Bharat - Very cheap & good Indian cafe in Belconnen
Blu Ginger - New Indian in Civic.
Cafe Momo - a pleasant and useful cafe in Bruce
Carlo's - cafe in Watson
Charcoal Restaurant - old fashioned steak house in Civic.
Cream - Large modern cafe/bar in Civic (and again)
Courgette - Fine dining at the university end of Civic.
Debacle - Good upscale pub/cafe in Braddon.
Delissio at Curtin - Mostly Italian cafe-restaurant, serves good food.
Dendy Premium - Cafe/Bar with in-seat service at the movies.
The Dumpling Inn - Good Chinese at Jameson
Edgar's - Neighbourhood pub at Ainslie shops
Elaine's Gourmet Pies - Excellent pie shop in Dickson.
Ellacure - Classy cafe/restaurant in Bruce.
Firestone - Woodfired pizza, Italian food and bar at Dickson
Flathead's - Fish & chippie at O'Connor shops.
Four Rivers - Szechuan and Yum Cha at Dickson. (More a mention than a review)
George Harcourt - Pub at Gold Creek Village.
Godori - A tiny Civic cafe with great Korean food
The Gods - Very nice cafe at ANU Arts Centre
Grazing - Fine dining with local produce in a historic old hotel at Gundaroo
Jewel Of India - Food-court fast Indian, with gorgeous naan.
Le Tres Bon - Lovely country style French restaurant in Bungendore
Lemongrass - Superior Thai food in Civic.
Little Thailand - Good standard Thai in Dickson.
Lerida Estate - Cafe in a winery (not a review, food not tried there.)
Lyneham Pide Hut - Reasonable Turkish pide joint.
Maddisons - Tuggeranong club restaurant, stone grill gimmick.
Merino Cafe - pretty country cafe in Gunning, nice food.
My Cafe, Manuka - Useful standard cafe in Manuka
My Friend - Cheap and cheerful Vietnamese, at Watson shops.
National Portrait Gallery Cafe - Pretty good cafeteria, near the lake in the tourist precinct.
The Oaks Brasserie & Gallery - Yarralumla garden cafe, bit exy & slow.
The Old Canberra Inn - Good old fashioned pub in Lyneham. Regular Blues nights.
ONA Coffee - public service lunch spot with very good coffee and curry.
Podfood - Cafe/Restaurant in Pialligo garden setting.
Pulp Kitchen - Ainslie brasserie with simple and good European dishes.
Rani's - Moderately cheap and cheerful Indian, in Civic.
Rocksalt - Relaxed modern Australian fine dining, in Hawker.
Rubicon - Fine dining in Griffith.
The Studio - The National Film & Sound Archive's charming courtyard cafe.
Rocksalt - Classy mod Oz restaurant at Hawker shops.
Satis - Great little vegetarian cafe at Watson shops.
Sub-Urban - useful bar with decent pub food, in Dickson
Taj Agra - Indian in Dickson
Tak Kee Roast Inn - Great Chinese BBQ in Dickson.
Tien - new Vietnamese in Dickson, seems promising.
Trattoria Italia - Italo-Australian club bistro, in Forrest.
TurkOz - Good Turkish pide house in Dickson, a favourite.
University House Cellar Cafe and Bar - lovely beer garden at ANU.
Vanilla Bean - Reliably good cafe in John Curtin building at ANU.
Yum Thai - A good Thai place in Dickson. (And they deliver!)
Zambrero's - Good fast food, Mexican style, in Civic.
Zen Yai - Thai, in Civic.
Zierholtz Brewery - Fyshwick brewery, recently added a German restaurant/bar.
Zucchero - simple and good cafe/patisserie on Manuka lawns

Canberra & Region Shopping

Ainslie IGA - umm, the Ainslie IGA.
Bharat and Exotic Spice Centre, two Indian grocery shops in Belconnen.
Bungendore Food Lovers - deli cafe, cures their own ham.
Bruno's Truffels - chocolatier and baker, cafe at Mawson
Canberra Region Growers' Market at EPIC. Essential!
Cedars of Lebanon - wonderful Lebanese grocery at Mawson
The Cherry Seed - cupcakes at Ginninderra
Choku Bai Jo - and again - new farmers' produce outlet in North Lyneham
The Cook and Grocer - small gourmet food supplier and cafe in Gungahlin
Cooking Coordinates - kitchenware retail, and a little kitchen theatre at Belconnen market
Eco Meats - organic butcher with interesting game selection, at Belconnen market.
Fresh Mart - middle Eastern baker and grocer at the Jamison centre.
Fruitylicious - amazing Italian & European deli and mixed business at Gungahlin
Handmade Market - local handcrafts, occasionally at the National Convention Centre (It outgrew the Albert Hall long ago).
Grandma's Little Bakery - cafe, bakery and middle eastern food shop on the highway near Collector.
The Hub Asian Supermarket - Huge and accessible south east Asian grocer at Gungahlin.
Kim's Groceries - Korean and Japanese groceries in Civic.
Knead - bread and patisserie at Belconnen Fresh Food market. Good coffee.
Night Markets by the lake, in winter.
Nuts About Bungendore - Hazelnut and chestnut orchard, pick your own, just outside Bungendore.
Pialligo - a region with several good things to check out
Saigon Grocery - a Vietnamese grocery shop with great fresh veggies

Other Canberra & Region
I decided not to bother indexing plays and concerts and other one-off events. You missed them already! I'll note some recurring items, though.

The Hive - semi-regular variety show at Gorman House. (Defunct as of 2009.)
National Folk Festival - a huge festival with a very wide definition of folk, annually at EPIC.
Stomp! - quarterly dance showcase & classes & dancing at the Albert Hall.
Tableaux Vivantes - art, music, dance and a wild blend of Canberra's subcultures at the Front.
Australian Blues Music Festival - annually, at Goulburn. Only an hour away.

Belmondo, the Rocks, Sydney
Byron Bay - various places
Cafe Albion - good Braidwood cafe
Cairns - lots of places mentioned here
Chocolate Dog - South Newtown cafe with good breakfasts
North Street Cafe, Bateman's Bay
Malaysian Laksa House, Sydney city cheapie in QVB basement
Melbourne Miscalleny, many places briefly mentioned
Monet, Bateman's Bay
Not Bread Alone, Crows Nest, Sydney
Red Oak, Sydney boutique brewery
The River Moruya - and again
Star Deli - reliable Bateman's Bay cafe/restaurant (not a deli)
Suzanne's Bakery, Mogo - and again
Tetsuya's! Sydney city. World famous.

Recipe Index

Categories: Salads Soups Baking Desserts Veggies Mains Misc

Asparagus Salad
Balsamic Mushroom and Bean Salad
Caramelised Chickpea and Orange Salad
Cheese Salad
Chicken Noodle Salad
Finger Lime Vinaigrette
Greek Salad Dressing
Jicama Salad
Mixed Bean Salad
Silverbeet and Orange Salad
Tarragon & Mustard Potato Salad - and a second variant
Tomato and Onion Salad (Indian)
Thai-ish side Salad

Curried Cauliflower Soup
Green Pea Soup
Leftover Roast Whatever Soup (and again)
Lentil and Chorizo Soup
Pea and Ham Soup
Pumpkin, Chestnut and Potato Soup (not a proper recipe)
Roast Tomato and Red Lentil Soup
Silverbeet and Lentil Soup

Aussie Apple Compote
Boozy Fruit Compote
Caramel Cider Pears
Chocolate Sorbet
Cinnamon Icecream
Creme Brulee, Christophe's recipe with truffles
Creme Caramel, Maggie Beer's recipe
Fruit Sorbets
Generic Clafouti
Grapes in Yoghurt
Lemon Delicious Pudding
Midnight Black Fruit Compote
Orange Jelly
Rhubarb & Berry Sago
Self-saucing Chocolate Pudding
Sherry Berry Trifle
Stewed Rhubarb
Summer Pudding

Baking - Cakes, Bread, Biscuits, Pies etc.
Also pancakes & dumplings & such. You know. Floury things.

5 Minute Chocolate Cake
Anzac Biscuits
Beer Bread
Berry Muesli Muffins
Blueberry Bran Muffins
Boiled Fruitcake
Buttermilk Scones
Cake decorating glaze
Chocolate Chickpea Cake
Chocolate and Raspberry Cake
Coconut Passion Cake
Cranberry Marmalade Muffins
Crazy Cake
Finger Lime Tart
Hot Cross Buns
Hot Hobart Berry Cake
Iced Fruit Mince Scrolls
Impossible Pie
Lemon Meringue Pie
Maple Apricot Scones
Molasses Cookies
Muesli Bars
Muffin of the Week (random use-up)
No-Knead Bread
Orange Macaroons
Pineapple Upside Down Muffins
Pumpkin Fruit Cake
Pumpkin Pie
Raisin Polenta Cake
Raspberry Spice Cake
Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes - version 1, Donna Hay
Ricotta Mixed Berry Pancakes - version 2
Spinach and Cheese Damper
Sweet Potato Muffins
Treacle Bran Muffins
Tunnel of Fudge Cake
Welsh Pancakes
Wheatless, Eggless, Butterless, Milkless, Sugarless Cake (for real!)
Xmas Cake (same as boiled fruitcake above)
Yoghurt Fruit Loaf
Zucchini Bread
Zucchini Muffins (just ingredients, see Muffin of the week for technique)

Vegetarian Mains and Vegetable Side Dishes

Baked Peas with Tarragon, Yogurt, and Pistachios

Beetroot Greens Agrodolce
Braised New Potatoes
Briami (Greek potato, tomato & zucchini casserole)
Cauliflower/Macaroni Cheese
Cheat's Dhal Makhani (Three Tins Dhal)
Chestnut & Potato Mash
Dhal Panchphoran
Impossible Spinach Quiche
Mushroom Risotto
Pea & Lettuce sambal
Pumpkin & Parsnip Gratin
Roast Cauliflower with Sage and Almonds
Roast Tomato, Capsicum and Garlic Pasta Sauce
Saute Cabbage with apple
Smashed Potatoes (with duck fat!)
Sorrel and Brie Baked Frittata
Sorrel Omelette
Spiced Spinach (Moghlai Saag)
Spinach, Cheese and Rice Bake
Spinach Dahl
Spinach and Potato Bake (a random use-up, not quite a recipe)
Truffle Omelette
Truffled Mushroom Fettucine
Weeknight Baked Potatoes

Main Dishes, Non-VegetarianArrabbiata Pasta Sauce
Artichoke Dip
Asian Style Poached Chicken
Baked Beans With Ham
Baked Black-eyed Beans with Ham
BBQ Lamb with lemon and herbs
Beef Bourguignon
Beercan Chicken
"Bolognese" spaghetti sauce
Bourbon Marinade (for kangaroo)
Chicken Cacciatore
Chicken and Vegetable Pasta
Carolina BBQ/Slow Cooked Pork (Slow Cooker)
see also the Turkey variant
Christmas Dinner Risotto
Corned Beef in Beer (Slow Cooker)
Cured Duck Legs
Duck Breast with Cherry Sauce
Greek Lamb Casserole (Slow Cooker)
Green Chilli Turkey (Slow Cooker)
Grillade des marinières du Rhône (beef casserole)
Ham and Ricotta Lasagne
Kangaroo Keema
Lamb and Black Bean Chilli
Lamb meatball curry
Lamb Saag (lamb and spinach curry)
Lamb and Spinach Curry (exactly the same but with more veggies and a different take on veggies.)
Larb (Thai minced pork salad)
Masak Fauzi (meat almost-curry in chilli & onion puree)
Meatloaf (a random fridge one, not really reproducable.)
Northern Thai Pork and Tamarind Curry
Pasta with Pesto, Bacon and Cream Sauce
Pasta Saltimbocca
Pulled Pork - aka Carolina BBQ/Slow Cooked Pork (Slow Cooker)
Pumpkin and Potato Kibbeh Topped Mince
Roast Chicken with stuffing and gravy
Seven Hour Saltbush Lamb (Slow Cooker)
Slow baked lamb with lentils
Shanghai Noodles with Brown Bean Sauce
Slow Roast Hoggett
Smoked Chicken Microwave Risotto
Spag Bog
Warm Beef Salad with Thai Dressing

Miscellaneous - drinks, dips, nibbles, pickles, preserves, sauces, breakfasts, or otherwise unclassifiedBrown Rice Porridge
Cured Salmon
Couscous porridge with apricot orange compote
Daikon Pickles
Duck Stock
Egg & Caviar Dip
Grapefruit Salad (breakfast, not dessert, IMO)
Gravy, traditional style from pan drippings
Honeycomb Toffee
Hot Toddy
Light Parsley Sauce
Mango Salsa
Native Pepper Dip
Pesto, Traditional Basil
Pickled Garlic
Sage and Onion Stuffing, for chicken
Seville Orange Marmalade
Smoky Devils on Horseback
Spicy Feijoa & Green Tomato Chutney
Strawberry Jam
Vanilla Extract
Xmas Breakfast Eggs

Saturday, 1 December 2007


I've been rethinking this blog thing. Actually, Kate Harding made me do it. She's just got into the A-list blogerati, which is a fine achievement for a fine blog. I refuse to countenance the "word" "bloglebrity", despite its use here on the very page that does the classification into list groups. There's a little widget for you to test your own blog, so of course I did. I expected to be Z-list, if there is such a thing. And there isn't, so I make D-list. Wheee!

Apparently, to be influential, you need to post persistently and often. Certainly some of my favourite blogs not only refresh pretty much every day, but even have several posts per day. Kate Harding and PZ Myers spring to mind. But this isn't true of all of them - Clotilde's Chocolate and Zucchini is updated much less frequently.

I'd rather like to be a Clotilde, only for Canberra rather than Paris. That sounds like a comedown, doesn't it? But Canberra has its good side, and Australia in general can easily rival France for quality and variety of food. Anyway, I don't think my posting frequency is going to slow me down. But it is about the quality of the content. And to bring that up to scratch I should consider my hypothetical audience, not just my friends.

So hello, hypothetical audience. I imagine that you are probably from Canberra, or at least planning to visit, or maybe moving here. In that case, my reviews and local activities will be of interest, even if you don't care for my recipes and cooking tips. You might like both, of course, but there's no guaranteed overlap. Or you may be a food-lover who has wandered in from a skeptic or atheist message board, since those are the places I hang out on the net. In that case, a few recipes will be the main thing for you, and perhaps the odd thoughts on topics totally unfoodie. Also, I'm sure I need more pictures. By coincidence, I've just got a new phone with a camera. That should be a bit easier than remembering to dig out the SLR whenever I go out for a meal.

To help keep things clear for this hypothetical audience, I need to have separate posts for separate topics. And things need to be easier to find. So in the interest of clarity, I'm going to create a recipe index and a review index; and before it's too late I will rethink my labels. "Food" was a bad idea, for instance, and I've used it inconsistently. I'm much more in need of a "not food" label. Oh yes, I have one: "blah blah blah".

The management apologises for any disruption to service while this fiddling about is going on. And also for how long it's going to take, because why would I reorganise a blog at the busiest time of year for me, when I've got performances and conferences and all the Xmas prep to do? Procrastination is the only plausible answer, and maybe that's not a good thing. But at least I can start with the multiple small posts vs one big post plan.

Vietnamese FTW

Mmm, Vietnamese. One of the great cuisines of the world.

I had a little synchronicity event yesterday. The Dec/Jan edition of Delicious has a recipe for a Vietnamese prawn & glass noodle salad, which I instantly wanted to make. And when I dropped into a second hand bookshop (to buy a copy of Black Beauty as a Secret Santa gift for someone on an internet forum that I frequent) I found a Vietnamese cookbook. It's Lemongrass and Lime, and I just had to have it, because the pictures are so beautiful. Even if at one point it shows a picture of longans and labels them as mangosteens. Huh.

And the final touch was that the Bloke and I and a friend went for dinner to our local Vietnamese. We're back on the rice and spice train now - I knew the all-western kick wouldn't last long. Our local is "My Friend" at Watson shops. It's your standard Asian cheap and cheerful in style, with plastic tablecloths, BYO license, fake flowers, Vietnamese popular art on the walls, and a long menu. They do home delivery, and I was very glad of their chicken and sweetcorn soup while I was so repeatedly sick last winter. The bloke was also glad of it as I was not cooking, and he doesn't care to cook for himself.

The service is just fine for the kind of place it is: attentive enough without hovering, casual but competent. They give you a basket of prawn chips to nibble while you peruse the menu, which is a nice touch, and the food generally arrives in good time.

Their food is pretty good, too. It's not full-on gourmet, but it fills the local niche nicely. We had some truly excellent prawn and pork ricepaper rolls, a prawn and chicken hotpot, pork with cashews and snowpeas, and beef with lemongrass and chilli. Add in some garlic fried rice, some plain steamed rice, and whatever they charge for corkage for our 6-pack of beer, and it was $60 to stuff 3 people very full. There are minor flaws: they tend to overdo the sugar, soy and salt in their dishes, and at other times I've found their chicken stir fries to be too fatty for my taste. But the vegetables are fresh and crisp, and the pork is nice and lean, and it's served piping hot, and it hits the spot very well with a cold beer or three.

It's a very convenient local and I'm very glad we have it. I'd recommend it to anyone in the inner north area, though it's probably not worth specially trekking across from distant suburbs. I'm sure you have your own local cheap and cheerfuls.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Lunch at the Studio

The Studio is the cafe at the National Film and Sound Archive. It's a tiny space near the reception, across from the shop, where you order your food and drink. You can then take it out to a spot in the gorgeous courtyard, where there are tables all around the deep verandah, and next to the fishpond. I had lunch there today with my mate Beth, and we'll be back. It's handy for those of us who work at ANU, and it's also open for the film screenings. One day I'll get to one of them. When life is less busy, and we can all kick back and watch the pigs soar lazily overhead.

They have a nice practical menu of ready-made sandwiches ($4.50) and assorted well-chosen things that can be microwaved and served with salad ($9-13). The coffee is pretty good, and there's an assortment of cakes and slices with no prices attached. Cupcakes $3.50. If you're going for a movie, you might also be interested in the wine, beer or packets of chips and lollies.

At lunchtime today the staffing was minimal - one man taking orders and making the coffees, and one woman in the kitchen getting the meals ready. There's no table service; you just wait and collect your food and drink as it is done. It worked OK for us, but I think it could easily go out of control. They'll need another person if it gets any busier. It was a bit marginal today. There was no water or water glasses out, and neither the barista nor the cook seemed to have time to do anything about it. I didn't see any tables getting cleared, either, and I wonder whose job that was supposed to be.

We enjoyed our lunch very much. The setting is beautiful, and the weather was perfect for sitting on a shady verandah. The pumpkin and spinach lasagne was delicious, and the spicy vegetable pattie (sic) came with a good coating of mixed seeds. The accompanying salads were crisp and fresh, and the coffee was good. I couldn't resist a cupcake, and picked a brown one. It turned out to be quite a solid chocolate mudcake, with a fabulous caramel praline icing. Not the light sponge I'd expected, but I coped. They had pink ones too (Hi Belinda!) but I'm always afraid that pink will be strawberry, which I hate. I'm fussy, I only like fresh strawberries.

It was rather odd to walk in there, as the last time I visited it was in the 70s. Back then it was the Institute of Anatomy, and you could go look at Phar Lap's heart, and actual real human skeletons. I remember it as dusty and chemical smelling and a bit dilapidated. Now it's sparkling clean and a beautifully and sympathetically renovated little gem of art deco and neo-classical architecture, with cute little Australian touches like the wombat head bosses over the arches, and the platypus skylight. Yes, seriously, go look at that link! The old portrait masks of scientists are still up the walls at reception. They include Pasteur, Darwin and Lamarck. Huh? Lamarck? How odd, but of course when it was built his name was not a by-word for getting biology wrong. Poor guy, I believe he did some very good work besides his big goof, and he could not possibly have known at the time. He, and the building, pre-date modern knowledge of DNA.

Cooking tonight: It was going to be spaghetti bolognese, but I only had bucatini. So bucatini bolognese it was. That's with the sauce I made on the weekend. A bit of extra simmering and long mellowing is a good thing.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Burgers and Chook and Spuds

Continuing on the no-curry kick, we had burgers from Flatheads yesterday, and a chook with baked potatoes and salad tonight.

Flatheads is in the O'Connor shops, on McPherson Street. As the name implies, they are a fish-and-chippy place, and I can attest that their fish is very good: it's always ultra fresh, and with excellent crispy batter. They also do the best takeaway burgers in the inner north - and if you disagree, please let me know where else to look! It's real meat, fresh salad, and real bread, and beetroot comes standard. If you want extras, the bacon they use is very good - a bit smoky and lean - and the cheese is real cheddar, not that plastic stuff. The torpedo buns are a bit unorthodox, but I really don't care if my burger is round or oval. The only drawback - and it's a big one - is that their service is consistently very slow. It's a good idea to ring your order through half an hour in advance, and I've known it to be even worse than that at times. Immensely frustrating if all you want is a quick burger - for speed you'd be better off ordering one from the All Bar Nun bar menu, though it won't be quite as nice and will cost more.

Tonight I came home from work about 6pm, and we were eating our roast chook and baked potatoes at 7pm. To do this, I turned the oven on the moment I was in the door. While it was preheating, I fed the cats and butterflied a smallish chicken. I then whacked said chook in a hot oven (200 fan forced) for 45 minutes, with a bit of lime juice and Herbie's cajun seasoning sprinkle over the skin. After 15 minutes, I added a dash of some leftover white wine to increase the pan juices enough to baste it with. I used my potato technique described below, and made up a salad. Simple and good.

Technique: Weeknight Baked Potatoes
To make quick baked potatoes, give your spuds a good wash and scrub, then poke a few holes in the skin. Pop them uncovered in the microwave on high - 5 minutes for two medium baking potatoes works well. Take them out carefully - they will be hot and there maybe som esteam in the microwave. Skewer each one with a metal shish-kebab skewer. Put these directly on the oven rack in a hot oven (you guessed it, 200C fan forced) and leave them alone for 20 minutes.

The effect of this is really pretty good - the skin ends up a bit crunchy, the inside nicely done. They're not quite as fluffy as slower baked ones, but the skewer and open oven does remove a lot of the excess moisture that you expect from a microwave treatment. And hey, weeknight! What do you want? Perfection, or dinner at a reasonable hour?

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Italian and Greek

The Bloke and I are both hanging out for western food. No curries! No rice!

I was too tired to cook on our first day back. We had breakfast at a Newtown (Sydney) cafe, lunch at Debacle (yummy lamb, sweet potato and spinach salad) and dinner takeaway from Zefirelli's (pizza, pasta and salad). Zeff's serving sizes are ridiculously huge: a "main meal" spaghetti bolognese has done us for four meals!

So far I've cooked simple steak and salad, greek lamb casserole, bolognese sauce for spaghetti for sometime next week, and I have a small free range chook to roast for tomorrow. Tonight we're going to the Backyard Backanalia's election special, and they usually have good old sausage sangers. What with all that and vegemite toast, we're set to survive at least a week with no curry. The lamb was good, so here's a recipe.

Recipe: Greek Lamb Casserole (Slow Cooker Method)
  • 8 large lamb chops - chump or lean BBQ.
  • 2 large lemons
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • Several big handfuls of fresh oregano and thyme
  • 8 new potatoes
Prep: Trim any large chunks of fat and rind from chops. Get large strips of peel from lemons with a potato peeler; squeeze out juice.

Drizzle oil into slow-cooker bowl. Add sliced onion and coarsely chopped garlic, stir to coat. Add a layer of chops, a layer of herbs and lemon peel, and repeat until all lamb & herbs are used up. Pour over white wine and lemon juice, and leave on high for 3 hours, flipping layers occasionally if you can; it's good to let all the meat get to the liquid. Stir around, add new potatoes on top, and leave for another two hours. Fish out the chops and potatoes, and serve with some of the juices, and a side of steamed green veggies or a salad.

Notes: I realise I've not been putting serving sizes in to any recipes, but I think you're a cook then you can probably work it out. I'd say this one serves 4. More if you have entrees and desserts and big serves of salad and veggies. Less if you are really starving.

Leftover edit: We ate leftovers from this stew later in the week. I deboned the remaining chops, halved the potatoes, strained the juices, and used them to poach some mushrooms and spinach. I then added the meat and potatoes back to heat through. The onion, herbs and lemon peel go in the bin, they've done their flavouring job.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

I'm ba-ack!

I tried to log in once or twice from overseas, but had bad net connections on the few chances I got. So now I'm back, with 4 Indian cookbooks and no Bhutanese one because there's no such thing. However, Lonely Planet mentions a website of Bhutanese recipes and google tosses a few hits back, and I plan to get cooking once I've recovered from my cravings for western food. I especially want pasta, vegemite toast, steak, and real coffee.

The trip was brilliant - mountains, scenery, chillies, yaks, mountains, roads with bits missing, roads with the whole road missing, mountains, blinged up TATA trucks, roads with streams running across them, monkeys, mountains, pashminas and silks, mountains, roads with ludicrous gradients, tea gardens, goats, roads with ludicrous gradients AND bits missing, elephants, beer, mountains... The Enfields cope with just about anything; it's like riding a two wheeled tractor.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Last Post for a While

I don't know when or if I'll have a chance to blog in the next month; and even if I have a chance, I may be too busy to care. I'm off to Bhutan and India, on a motorcycle trip run by Saffron Road. We go to Sydney tomorrow, and fly out to Kolkata on Friday morning. Today's been a busy run of collecting all the doco and bike gear and toiletries and gadgets and cables and clothes. I haven't packed, but I have piles of stuff set out ready to be packed tomorrow morning. I decided to take my new phone with me, and leave the iPod at home and I've been spending the evening transferring music over to it (after a quick run in to Civic to buy a 2GB memory card). And greasing up my boots with leather conditioners, and charging batteries and testing the photobank hard drive storage thingo...

Food has not been very exciting; I've been on a use-up campaign. Last night Belinda came over, and we had some champagne and an all-microwave extravaganza dinner. I reheated a mixed dhal from the freezer, with basmati rice, pappadams, and one of those Indian ready-meals. All microwaved. Add some yoghurt, pickles and chopped tomato and cucumber salad and it was quite satisfactory. The "MTR" packet palak paneer wasn't great, I must admit, but it added a bit of variety. Then tonight we used up the cheese, tomatoes, spring onions, bacon and capsicum in a simple pasta sauce. We're about out of everything now, so I think we'll have breakfast at Satis tomorrow.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Marinaded in Bourbon

Kangaroo fillets, not me. We had this with broccoli, and a beetroot, fetta & onion salad.

Recipe: Bourbon marinade
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 cup soy
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 small onion, chopped.
Combine all, and marinade red meat, turning occasionally if you get the chance. Grill meat as preferred, brushing with marinade from time to time. Quantities work for about 500g meat.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

ZenYai disappoints, pineapple muffins are good

Last night we had a beer at the Wig & Pen, dinner at ZenYai Thai, and saw Rod Quantock's show at the Street Theatre. It should have been a good night, and it was, except that ZenYai was very disappointing. I've been there before, though the most recent visit was about a year ago. They won awards in 2003 & 2004, and I really enjoyed their food back then. I wonder if they have a new chef, or if they have changed hands?

We didn't have a dinner booking, and were just wandering in along London Circuit looking for a place to eat. We didn't get in at Lemongrass, and then at ZenYai the waitress quite apologetically offered us a small table near the door to the toilets. That was OK with us; we were only in for a quick bite before the show, not a leisurely dining event. We ordered mostly very standard food - spring rolls and steamed wontons; red curry chicken and beef salad with garlic rice. It arrived promptly, as did our first drinks. Second drinks were a bit harder to obtain; the bloke had to resort to semaphore to get any attention for our table in Siberia.

I am unfamiliar with Thai steamed wontons, but I trusted in the good name of the restaurant - clearly a mistake. As far as I could tell they, and the spring rolls, were straight out of the supermarket frozen dim sum selection. There was nothing distinctly Thai about them, and the wontons were just very ordinary small dim sims, a bit overdone and leathery. The red curry was passable, though quite mild and dull of flavour. It was not very rich, either. I've made better myself with a tub of paste and tin of coconut cream - especially since I took a Thai cooking class a couple of years ago and learned a few tricks. And the beef salad was a great disappointment. I really love a good Thai beef salad - Yum Nua - and it needs to have fresh herbs in it. Coriander, mint, onion and chilli are essential... ideally some roast rice powder, maybe the salad vegetable choice is optional, maybe some Thai basil can go in, but definitely there MUST be herbs. Just google for a recipe, go on! ZenYai's had none, just slightly limp lettuce with cucumber, carrot, tomato and onion. Their dressing was rather short on the palm sugar and lime and long on the fish sauce, too. Overall, the whole meal was bland and dull.

Oh well. Rod Quantock's show, "The John Howard Farewell Party", did not disappoint at all. It was great fun. Rod corralled a bunch of people from the back of the queue to be official "latecomers". We got caught up in that, and were made to sing Mandy Vanstone's hilarious pastiche of Land of Hope and Glory while the rest of the audience pretended to be an orchestra - except for one designated heckler. I did my loudest bad soprano schreech, just because I could.

This morning I woke up and made pineapple muffins, and wrote this blog post. Yum. Here's the recipe.

Recipe: Pineapple upside-down muffins
Dry Mix:
1 cup white SR flour
1 cup wholemeal SR flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup rolled oats

Wet Mix:

2 eggs
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup light oil
1 tsp vanilla
300g crushed pineapple and 2 tablespoons extra juice
1 large carrot, grated (1 cup)
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped macadamias


1/4 cup chopped macadamias
12 tsp brown sugar

Preheat oven to 200C.
Grease your muffin pans, if you haven't already moved to silicon. Put the topping into each of 12 muffin cups: 1 tsp brown sugar and some chopped macadamias apiece.

Mix all the dry ingredients well in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar well with the vanilla and oil, then add the rest of the ingredients for the wet mix and combine evenly. Fold gently through the dry mix, and then divvy up into your muffin pans. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden, then turn out onto a rack and leave upside down to cool. Or do like we did and scarf some of them down piping hot.

Notes: This is adapted from this recipe. I used cranberries rather than raisins only because I'd run out of raisins. I used a 400g can of crushed pineapple in juice, and currently have some left over in the fridge. Next time I do this, I'll add the extra pineapple to the topping - this version came out quite solid, not caramelly and syrupy as the original recipe suggests. It's good, anyway.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

On Losing Weight

I've done it. I lost 12 kg in 2006. In 2007, I've gained and lost and gained and lost a couple of kg, but I've kept the big loss. Eventually I want to lose maybe another 15-20kg, which would take me down to the "normal" BMI range. I'm not really doing much about it now, though. I'm settling around the BMI overweight/obese border - and if you think that makes me an elephant, well, here I am in my burlesque alter ego. Not skinny, sure, but not exactly spherical. (Photo credit to the amazing Allyeska.)
I've been reading some sites that made me think about this thing. The evidence of harm from obesity per se is nowhere near as solid as you might think from the media. Or, for that matter, from common wisdom and diet books and government advisory offices. I'm especially impressed by Junkfood Science here at blogspot. And this particular post from Shapely Prose summarises a lot of the common arguments. As a die-hard skeptic, I especially appreciated CSICOP's take on the subject. I'm not quite so sure of the credentials of this one, from The Center for Consumer Freedom, whoever they are; it has a slight astroturf flavour. It can be hard to judge the truth of what's on teh internets.

It's looking more and more as if the main health issue is fitness, well over and above diet. And with diet, it's about being mostly healthy, rather than obsessively meticulous about counting calories and avoiding fat or carbs or whatever. And BMI is a sucky measure. People with lots of muscle turn up as overweight or obese. People in the "overweight" category seem to have a lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and most other diseases, than people in the "normal" category. And the whole fat-morbidity correlation goes away when you factor in fitness. I'd better get back on that bicycle!

This ties in with some other things I've been reading, such as the "Don't Go Hungry Diet" of Dr Amanda Sainsbury-Salis and the "low GI diet"of Dr Jennie Brand-Miller. There's sound scientific reasons for not starving yourself, and eating the slow-release carbs can help with that. All you need to do is simply eat a good variety of food, with most of it healthy, traditional foods - whole grains, fruit, veg, dairy, seafood, lean meats. Or even more fatty foods if you're off for a day's heavy toting of barges and lifting of bales, but most of us aren't these days. And add a bit of sugar or oil for the taste; it will not kill you. Listening to your body is the best guide. That New York Times article by Michael Pullan that was being passed around the net a while back was similar - remember, the one that started with "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

It sounds sensible and unarguable, but surprisingly, even this is unsupported by actual research. Diet seems to matter less than anyone thought. On the whole, though, I think the popular idea of healthy eating is largely correct. When really eating "ad lib", I naturally want to eat plenty of fruit and veg; I start feeling logy and bloated if I eat too much high fat food. I'm satisfied by very small servings of chocolate or cake.

One thing that I think is missing from most of these discussions is the problem of "portion distortion". This page has some contrasts in standard serving sizes from 1950 to 2003, or you could look at the slightly annoying portion distortion quiz. Other research suggests that we are psychologically very easily led to overeat simply by large plates and containers. The "not too much" in Pullan's piece is a very important part of the puzzle. It's also a theme in the popular "French Women Don't Get Fat" book. Sure, eat your patisserie and fry your steak in butter - but in small amounts. Take the filet mignon, not the 2lb steak challenge. The Japanese variant mentioned the same thing, as I recall from skimming in the bookshop. (I couldn't bring myself to buy "Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat". Really?? What do they do? Shoot them? I have every intention of getting old thank you.) But anyway, it's like the French one: eat many tiny portions of varied and beautiful food, and stop when not quite full. Mmm, must go to Iori again sometime.

I found that my few months with Weight Watchers was simply invaluable for getting a grip on sane serving sizes. I needed this. I hated the primary school hectoring style, and the group-think, and the commercialism, and the lame educational materials that assumed that everyone was a housewife, but I still feel that I got my money's worth. I've never been much of a junk food eater. I couldn't give up soft drinks, or stop eating chips in front of the telly, because I'd never started. But I could reeducate myself on how much pasta or rice or butter or steak was a reasonable serve. It took a few weeks of feeling that I was eating far too little, but it eventually stuck, and I readjusted. I'll need to watch that this does not creep back up.

I'm pretty sure that I will lose more weight eventually. I'm getting more active, although I lapsed badly over winter with my many illnesses. I'm getting better at stopping eating when I've had enough. And I'm get better at eating what I really want, rather than just what's there on the tea table, or comfort food. This is surprisingly hard - genuinely eating "what you want, when you want" requires a fair bit of emotional self-awareness and maturity. A bad day at work doesn't necessarily have to mean chocolate or beer - though usually it does, still. A plate full of chips doesn't need me to eat it just because it's there. There is no shortage. Over time all of these changes have got to have some effect. But if I just get healthier, will that be enough for me? I don't know. I'm not too obsessed with the BMI and kilogram numbers. But I do want to be a size 14 again, as I was in most of my 20s.