Thursday, 30 August 2007

How to poach an egg

I bought the September Delicious magazine yesterday, and read Sydney chef Matt Moran's article on how to poach an egg. I thought I already knew. Drop a nice fresh egg in a shallow pan full of very gently simmering water with a dash of vinegar. Leave until white is cooked, drain and serve. But the draining can be a pain, and you can end up with soggy toast. Anathema! Kitchen paper helps, but I've been trying other methods recently and been disappointed. Little gadgets float away, or don't contain the egg properly; the microwave leads to raw bits or explosions. It's always back to Mum & Gran's method.

But Matt Moran's method is a neat trick. You get your saucepan of water simmering as usual - but no need for vinegar or salt. Crack each egg into a gladwrap lined cup, tie up the glad wrap in a knot, leaving as little air as possible, and lower the parcels into the water. Leave for 4 minutes, then cut open the knotted gladwrap and tip the egg onto your plate. It worked really well. Except maybe next time I'll add the tiniest drop of vinegar to make it JUST like Mum's.

We polished off some leftovers tonight. I had the rest of the baked peas with poached eggs, leftover roast sweet potato and turkish toast; the Bloke ate the chilli. The baked peas went brilliantly with poached eggs; I think that recipe's a keeper.

Cooking today: Leftovers.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Two Posts in One Day, with peas and roast veg.

I stumbled-upon this recipe for baked peas with tarragon, yoghurt and pistachios, and have been meaning to try it, especially since the new tarragon is just coming in for spring. And I've also been meaning to try to upload an image. Both seem to have worked.

Since I worked from home today, I could start the oven early and get back to work for a while. I put a mix of potato, pumpkin, sweet potato and onion on to bake, with no extra herbs or spices. When nearly done, the peas went in the oven, and the pork chops went on the grill. I also left the chops plain, so as not to muddle the tarragon and pistachio flavours. Though I did warm up the apple compote as an extra side dish. Pork and apple are such a classic.

Cooking today:
Pork chops with baked peas and roast veggies.
Recipe: Baked Peas with Tarragon, Yogurt, and Pistachios

450g frozen baby peas
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh tarragon leaves
2 spring onions, white and green parts, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 200C.

Put the peas in a casserole dish and thaw (microwave is fine), stirring occasionally.
Puree the tarragon, spring onions, olive oil, yoghurt, salt, and 1/4 cup of the pistachios in a blender.
Mix the puree into the peas, and sprinkle the top with the remaining pistachios.
Bake for about 15 minutes - about the time the top will begin to brown.

Notes: If you don't have Greek yoghurt, pop 1/2 cup regular natural yoghurt in a kitchen paper lined sieve over a bowl for a couple of hours. I used Vaalia low fat, which is very mild; I think a nice sharp Attiki would work better. My version looked creamier than the image.

Recipe and image taken from 101Cookbooks - but I reduced the tarragon, as I find it very strong, and there wasn't that much in the garden yet. Also, it said 500F, which is ridiculous; it must have been a typo. The nuts would burn in 5 minutes at that heat.

I <3 Eclipse

I've not been working in java for 5 years now, but I need to get back into it. And I've suddenly been reminded that 5 years is like eternity in software. I used to use a Borland IDE way back when, but Eclipse seems to have turned into the Java IDE of choice. It's free, it's huge, it's supported by IBM's Linux drive and a massive developer community. And it's unbelievably full featured, so much so that it's hard to get a beginner grasp on. But now I have discovered a set of video tutorials, and I'm in love.

It hit me around about lesson 7, where we followed a test-driven development method, and wrote a test for a non-existent class. Of course this fails to compile, but then comes the thrilling thing. Click on an error and you get a range of autofix suggestions - including generating code stubs for the new class. I made a whole class to match my test - data field members, constructors, getters & setters and all - with just a few mouseclicks and a couple of lines of typing actual code. It even makes a TODO list to remind you of the code stubs it's generated so you can go fill them out.

I'm now wondering if their PHP subproject is going to be better than my usual emacs. Hmm. Kids nowadays don't know how lucky they are; I have actually written real working code on punchcards; had to get up before we went to bed, eat a bowl of gravel for breakfast, had to pay 't millowner to let us work there...

Monday, 27 August 2007

Night Markets and Sunday Cooking

Canberra's inaugural Night Markets were on last week, for 3 days only. The Bloke and I went to check it out on Friday. It was so very pretty, I really wanted to love it. The lights were shimmering reflections in the lake, the bare trees were sculpturally lovely in red, blue and green floodlights, a cheerful band was playing something Afro-Latiny, and there was the scent of mulled wine in the air. How could you go wrong?

Well, by undercatering. There were a few food stalls, but the only one with a queue less than 50 people deep was the Chameleon icecreamery. And even if you were prepared to wait for your food, you'd then have to stand in another even longer one for your mulled wine. We're not a fan of queues, so we had a bit of a peek at the stalls - which were also few and very crowded - and buggered off for a quick Thai dinner in Braddon. I don't feel that I missed much by leaving early; the stall holders were mostly recognisable from EPIC and Kingston. But I do really hope they do it again next year, only better.

So onto Sunday and the cooking. I usually get home from work around 6.30 or 7pm, so getting well-prepared for the week is an important part of the weekend. I shopped at the Belconnen markets on Saturday. Asian veggies were cheap, so I decided on Shanghai noodles with brown bean sauce for Sunday night. I also cooked up some old apples into an interesting stew with dried quandongs. Something to top the breakfast porridge, while winter lasts. I picked up some rabbit sausages from Eco Meats, which I'm thinking of cooking with lentils later in the week. And the Bloke requested a chilli, so I got some roo mince (Eco Meats again) for a big pot of Chilli con Skippy. It only occurred to me when I got home that everything was minced. Oh well.

1. Aussie Apple Compote
30 g dried quandongs
6 small-medium apples
1 tablespoon brandy
2 tablespoons redgum honey
Soak the quandongs in 1/2 cup hot water for an hour. Peel, core and quarter the apples, and toss into the quandong mix. This is a bit acid so no need to acidulate the water. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the apple is just slightly underdone to your taste. Add brandy and honey, and simmer for another 5 minutes until well-mixed and the alcohol is burned off.

Use more or less honey to taste. I like it fairly tart, so possibly you'll want more. I prefer a eucalyptus honey. Cooking times and results will depend on the apples - I had a mix of old golden delicious, which keep their shape, and some mystery reddish ones which went to mush.

2. Shanghai Noodles with Brown Bean Pork Sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 large spring onions (scallions), chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

350g minced lean pork
1 small can water chestnuts, chopped
4 tablespoons brown bean sauce
2 tablespoons hoi sin sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock (or water & 1 teaspoon chicken stock powder)
400g pack Shanghai noodles
2 cups beansprouts
Green veg of choice for accompaniment - bok choy, gai lan, broccoli etc.
1 tablespoon Ketjap manis

Fry the spring onion, garlic and ginger in the sesame oil until the onion is just wilted. Add the pork, and fry until coloured. Add the water chestnuts, bean paste, hoi sin and stock, and simmer for 10 minutes. This can be made ahead and reheated.

Rinse your bean sprouts in a large colander. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and add the noodles. Cook for 5 minutes, then drain them right over the top of the bean sprouts. Stir the now wilted sprouts through the noodles and serve them up with the sauce on top, and a side of steamed Asian veg drizzled with ketjap manis.
(Serves 4)

Notes: This is adapted from a Terry Durack recipe, from his Noodle book - he says it's like a Chinese spaghetti bolognese. Compared to Terry's version, I changed the spice balance a bit, reduced the meat and added the water chestnuts, for an interesting crunchy texture which contrasts well with the soft noodles. The various brown bean sauces available from Asian grocers can be quite different, making this a little unpredictable. I do find it's usually quite salty, so beware if you are averse to salt.

Cooking today: Nothing; that was all yesterday. We had the chilli tonight; I'll save a recipe or thoughts on that for later.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Grillade des marinières du Rhône

A real meal at last.

I managed a quickie readymix Indian dinner on Tuesday, which turned out rather well. I used tandoori paste to coat some lamb and mushroom kebabs, and made a side veggie curry with a tin of crushed tomatoes, a packet of frozen peas, carrots & cauliflower, a tin of kidney beans, and some rogan josh paste. Add basmati rice, a few pappadams, and some yoghurt and chutney for a decent work-night meal.

But the star of the week was the Grillade that we ate last night. This is a recipe from Elizabeth David's An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. It's supposed to be a casserole made by busy boatmen, who needed to put a dish on to cook and then ignore it while they worked. I've made it enough times now that the recipe is in my head. One day I must check and see how different it has become.

You need about 1kg beef. I like to use a topside or silverside roast. Remove fat and tendon, and slice it thickly into small steaks of around 50-100g each. Slice 2 large onions. Put one third of the onion in the bottom of a casserole dish; add a layer of half the meat, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat with onion, meat and onion again on top. Now make a paste of 1 tablespoon each of butter and flour, and dot that in pieces over the top. Seal with buttered brown paper and put the lid on. Bake in a slow oven for 2 hours.

The next step is to make a salad dressing! Mix 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 3 chopped anchovies, a finely chopped clove of garlic, and a handful of chopped parsley. Stir this into the casserole, and bake for another half hour. Done! Serve with new potatoes and steamed green veggies, or just with good bread and a green salad. Serves 4-6.

I was out of parsley this time, so I used rosemary instead - the kind that comes as a paste in a tube. While I mostly prefer to use fresh herbs, this is an exception. Fresh rosemary is too spiky and tough to use this way.

Cooking today: Nothing, we have leftovers and we're going out to the Night Markets.

Monday, 20 August 2007

What to eat when you're not cooking

I've been sick. I went straight home after my meeting and went to bed, and have not emerged much since. Jolly old influenza left me fevered, exhausted and definitely not cooking for some time. On the plus side, I've lost a bit of weight... It's funny, when I'm sick I eat stuff that I would not normally touch with a bargepole. Tinned spaghetti, tinned soup, tinned peaches, jelly and supermarket custard. It's funny - I really love the tinned spaghetti when I'm sick. It's hot, slippery and comforting. No troublesome chewing required. The jelly and custard have the same benefits, only cold.

Since I've been on the mend, the diet has got less bland and slippery. I improved slightly with home delivery Vietnamese (chicken soup FTW) and Lean Cuisine frozen pasta dinners. And yesterday I even had Zeffirelli's pizza and salad, and a lot of Haig's dark chocolate raisins. Yum. Haig's is terrific chocolate. I had some Droste dark pastilles as well, and they are bland and soapy in comparison.

I'm not going back to work until Wednesday but I'm hoping to be up and cooking minimally tomorrow, if only simple cheat's style. I need real food. And not just Haig's.

Cooking today: Nothing.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Reward Time!

Phew, what a day. I finally managed at 7.30pm to get my php script working - it needed some very non-obvious server environment tweaks. Since I want to demo it at a meeting tomorrow, this is a great relief. Much better than "err, I'm still debugging".

So it's dinner time at last, and continuing my "while the bloke is away" theme, I've made devilled kidneys. Which I will eat with more steamed brussels sprouts, and follow with a treat - a mixed fruit crumble made by my friend Belinda. She macerated the fruit - strawberries, apples, gold kiwifruit - in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. It was great. I'll be reheating it in the oven so the topping stays crisp. Microwaves just don't do the job.

Cooking today: Devilled kidneys. There are many, many recipes for these, but the bottom line is lamb kidneys pan-fried in butter, with worcestershire sauce, hot mustard and chilli. My variant today has also some roast tomatoes and some horseradish. It's important to add the mustard late, because cooking it reduces the heat. And what's the point of a devilled anything if it doesn't take the top of your head off?

Monday, 6 August 2007

Online grocery shopping? For emergencies only.

Last week I was too sick with the flu to do much in the kitchen, let alone go out into the cruel cold world to shop. So I ordered groceries from Woolworths online. There was no real choice - Coles doesn't do Canberra deliveries. It's, or nothing.

It was very useful on the groceries. The cats got to eat, and there's a good range of the usual tins and cleaning products and so on. But to my surprise, their selection of fruit and veg was tiny. Their real-life supermarket at Dickson has at least twenty times the variety of the online store. I used in Sydney, and they are very much better too - and they are owned by Woolworths. Why? It makes no sense. Ordering from the couch is going to stay an emergency-only choice for me, and even then it has to be a non-urgent emergency - there's no same day delivery here, either.

Anyway, I got a regular old battery chicken (sorry, brainfuzz prevented me remembering to look for free-range) and squeezed over the juice of a lemon. I shoved the lemon rind, plus the spare lemon rind from my honey, rum & lemon toddy, up inside the chook. Then I sprinkled over some mixed herbs, whacked it in a moderate oven with a couple of large baking potatoes, and went back to sleep for an hour. Nuked some frozen baby peas, and so I fed the bloke despite my sickness. Brownie points! You get great lemony pan juices from the chicken.

Cooking today: leftover roast chicken and brussels sprouts. Just microwaving, really.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

First Post

Well, here I am joining the blogging hordes. Hello to my fan.

I am surprised that there doesn't seem to be a Canberra food blog out there yet. I'm not in any way a food professional, but I do love to cook, eat and shop for foodie stuff and kitchen toys. I'll mostly be posting about food in one way or another, but who knows what other topics may sneak in. Apart from being a food-lover, I'm also a soprano, motorcyclist, atheist, programmer, wide reader, traveller, chess-player and more. I'm a true Canberran: I was born here before there was a lake, in the hospital that exploded. I have returned here more than once, after spates of living in other places like Amsterdam, New York and Sydney.

Cooking today: old fashioned lamb, barley and vegetable soup.
My bloke is going away for a week, so the perfect choice is something warm and comforting that he doesn't like. (Soup with bits in!)