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.