Monday, 29 December 2008

Classic Roast Chook with Stuffing and Gravy

I missed a small but very important part of Xmas this year: the stuffing and gravy. I really love a roast turkey with stuffing and gravy. I almost share my mother's position on this, which is that the turkey is mostly relevant for providing the raw material and excuse for stuffing and gravy.

I seriously thought about buying a turkey, so that I could do it anyway. But there are only two of us, and the only ones I've seen on special so far are those "self-basting" ones with the weird butter-flavoured grease injections. I have instead got a proper chicken - a 1.9kg free range beast from Lilydale poultry. So I'm going to have my roast with stuffing and gravy anyway. Chicken used to be a Christmas treat, back before the factory farming methods made them cheap and relatively tasteless.

The gravy is a bit make-do, since there were no giblets or neck with the chicken. I've simmered a common stock cube with some carrot, celery, herbs and leftover flat champagne to get the liquid. The stuffing is a classic with a twist: I've used native pepper instead of the usual black pepper. I've just got roast baby potatoes and steamed green beans to go with it. Nothing fancy, just a pure classic. I even looked up the cooking time in an old Margaret Fulton book.

Recipes follow.

Recipe 1: Sage & Onion Stuffing

6 slices wholegrain bread
1 medium onion
50g butter
1 teaspoon native pepper berries
1 tablespoon shredded fresh sage leaves

Remove the crusts from the bread, and tear up into very small pieces.
Crush the pepper berries in a mortar and pestle.
Mix pepper and sage into breadcrumbs.
Slice the onion into small dice and fry gently in the butter until translucent and starting to turn golden.
Tip onion and butter into the bread crumbs, and mix well.
Stuff into the chicken.

Notes: You can use a food processor to crumb the bread if you like. It's also easier to do by hand if it's a bit stale - leave the bread out of its plastic bag overnight, for instance, or let it sit in the warming oven for 10 minutes.

Recipe 2: Roast chicken
Umm, really? A recipe? Bung chook in oven. Keep moist somehow. Add flavours if you want. Cook until done. High or low, either can work. OK, seriously, here we go.

1 chicken

Wash chicken inside and out, remove fat from vent area, and stuff if desired. Place chicken in a flame-proof baking dish, with a little oil underneath to prevent sticking. Spray a little oil on the breast, and drape foil over the top. Bake at 200C for 20 minutes, then lower to 180C for a further 25 minutes per 500g weight. Baste with pan juices and a little white wine about every 20 minutes. Remove foil for last 20 minutes to brown.

The chicken is done when it's at about 80C on a meat thermometer, or leg and thigh can be easily wobbled about and torn off, or the juices from the thigh run clear, and not pink, when it's pierced with a skewer. Rest, covered with foil, for 15 minutes before carving.

Notes: Oh, look, there are about ten billion variations here. Stuff with lemon and herbs. Cook slower or faster. Cook on a rack. Stuff tarragon butter under the skin. Drape breast with bacon instead of foil. Use a spice rub. The flame-proof roasting pan is necessary if you're making gravy, otherwise you could easily use a glass dish. This oven temperature is NOT for a fan-forced oven. My fan element is broken, as you might recall.

Recipe 3: Old-fashioned Gravy

The roasting pan and its juices
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
2 cups stock, mixed with white wine if you want
Gravy browning

While the chicken is resting, make gravy. Strain juices from the pan into a fat separator, or just remove excess fat with a spoon. Save a couple of tablespoons of the fat. Put the pan over the heat and stir the flour into the reserved fat and juices, to make a roux. Add hot stock gradually, stirring well. If it goes lumpy, just use a whisk. Bring to a simmer to cook the flour and thicken the gravy. Add gravy browning if you like a darker colour.

Gravy browning is also called Parisienne Essence, and it's basically a dark colour made from caramel. You could use a bit of worcestershire or soy sauce instead, for a dash more flavour. Mine was dark enough anyway, this time.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Of Lollies and Cake and BBQ Lamb

I'm back again. We spent a few days in Sydney at the Bloke's Mum's place, where we had a quiet and pleasant Xmas and no internet. Moira made her signature ham, baked in Guinness - the best ham ever, if you ask me. We had that for Xmas lunch, and prawns & veg & turkey, and we finished off with a "Pudding Lady" pud with Moira's homemade brandy icecream. And a nap.

For our contribution, we bought the ham for Moira to cook, and I added a jar of "Ham Jam" and a dozen mince pies from the gourmet food place at Belco markets. The "jam" was very good - a spicy cherry relish. I also took some cherries, and a hunk of my Xmas cake, a bit spruced up with glace fruit and a bauble. The fruit is glued on and glazed with apricot jam, sieved and thinned with a little brandy. You warm it up to a liquid, then paint on a layer to the cake, add the fruit, and brush it with more glaze.

Today we had a couple of friends round for lunch. I had a butterfly leg of lamb in a Greek marinade from Meatways, so I decided to cook that on the BBQ, and throw together a couple of salads. These were a simple bean salad, and a Greek salad. The bean salad is a standard: just a tin of mixed beans, some cooked fresh green beans, blanched red onion, and an oil & vinegar dressing. This time I added some strips of sun dried tomato. The Greek salad was a mix of tomato, cucumber, onion, capsicum, fetta cheese and kalamata olives, with a herb and lemon dressing.

We finished off with a lovely refreshing green apple sorbet and shortbread biscuits, made by Helen. I'll have to ask her for the recipe, but the trick was that the apple is not cooked at all, simply frozen and then minced finely in the food processor. The resulting sorbet is a little bit granular, since the apple can't be made totally smooth. It comes out somewhere between sorbet and granita - really brilliant on a hot summer afternoon.

For no good reason, I had been thinking for a while of making some honeycomb toffee. I finally decided to do it this evening after our guests had gone home. I hardly ever make sweets, but it's Xmas season, so why not? It only takes about ten minutes. If you want to make your own hokeypokey icecream, this is the stuff to use.

Recipes follow.
Recipe 1: Cake Glaze
2 tablespoons apricot jam
2 teaspoons brandy

Sieve the jam to get rid of any large chunks. Put it into a small glass or jar, and add the brandy. Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds, or until boiling. Stir well. Brush onto cake, to use as glue for decorations. Apply a second layer over the fruit. Reheat for 10 seconds to re-liquefy, any time you need.

Recipe 2: Greek Salad Dressing
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic
50 ml lemon juice
25 ml good olive oil
small pinch salt

Peel the garlic cloves and partially crush with a knife blade, so that they stay mostly whole. Put everything in a small glass jar, shake well and leave for 3 hours before using. Remove garlic before adding to salad.

Recipe 3: Honeycomb Toffee
200g sugar
50ml water
1 tablespoon golden syrup
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda, sieved.
light vegetable oil for greasing tin

Put sugar, water and golden syrup in a large saucepan. Bring to boil, and continue boiling to "hard crack" stage. This is when a drop of the sugar mix, tipped in a glass of cold water, sets to hard filaments as it sinks. If you have a sugar thermometer, that's 150C. Remove from heat and toss in the carb soda. It will foam up a lot. Stir quickly and tip into an oiled cake tin to set. If you want neatish cubes, use a square tin, and score with an oiled knife when partly set. Or just break it up in shards, as I have.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The great pumpkin pie disaster

I've had a small hankering to make a pumpkin pie, ever since US Thanksgiving. So when I found a recipe at my Taste & Create partner's blog it seemed like the right thing to do. Nicely cross-cultural, and also festive. It's been an adventure. This has *not* been a flawless execution of the concept.

To begin with, the pumpkin puree was no problem. I got a nice big half butternut, removed the seeds and strings, chopped it in rough chunks and microwaved it for 10 minutes. I let it cool, and noticed that some water drained out just like that. Then I removed the peel, mashed the pumpkin with a potato masher, and put it in a paper towel lined sieve to drain. I used paper towels on top as well and squished it down, and eventually came up with 2 US cups, and half a metric cup extra of puree. So far so good. I have an old fashioned cup measure, so the 8 fluid ounce US cup is no problem.

For the next step, I made the pie filling. Here's Stephanie's recipe.

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Filling
2 cups mashed, cooked pumpkin (reviewers suggested using more like 2 1/2 cups)
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger (we skipped this; Mom doesn't like ginger)
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
Pastry for 2 single 9-inch pie crusts

Prepare pastry. Roll out pastry to fill two pie plates. Partially prebake crust to keep it from getting soggy: Line crust with a double thickness of foil. Heat oven to 425 and bake foil-lined crust for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 2-4 minutes until crust is just barely starting to brown. Press down any bubbles with a fork. Don't prick the crust, though; you don't want filling leaking through.

In a large bowl with mixer speed on medium, beat pumpkin with evaporated milk, eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Mix well. Pour into a prepared crust. Bake 40 minutes or until when a knife is inserted 1 inch from the edge comes out clean.

Not being a big follower of exact recipes, I varied it a bit. I really don't like evaporated milk, so I substituted cream, of the plain pouring kind. I used dark brown sugar rather than light since that is what I had on hand. And I totally forgot to add the salt, though I had intended to cut it down to a pinch. Finally, since another of Stephanie's recipes for pumpkin pie spice includes cloves, I added just a pinch of ground cloves - and I kept the ginger. I chucked it all in the blender and whizzed it smooth. It seemed nicely tasty in this state; so far so good... The white ceramic ginger grater is in the photo because I use that to grate nutmeg, but perhaps fresh ginger might be nice to try sometime.

I needed a plate of something to take a work Xmas party. So I decided to make pumpkin pie bites rather than two pies. I used Stephanie's technique of cutting pastry circles and stuffing them into muffin cups, although I made mine smaller than hers. The fluted edges on some are because I have brioche moulds. I use these to make muffins, mostly. They make very cute shapes with no hassle. My oven seemed to be overheating slightly and I overcooked a few in the blind baking phase, but I noticed in time to save most of them. I let them cool, and then filled each one with about a dessertspoon of filling. I guessed at the baking time for these and monitored them closely. The idea is to bake until the testing toothpick comes out clean. They took about 15 minutes at 180C in this case.

I took them to the party, and people ate them and enjoyed them. I ate a few myself, and they were sweet, spicy, smooth and creamy. I really liked them, and looked forward to having a whole wedge of pie made from the leftover filling. But this is where things started to go wrong.

First, I started to blind bake the tart shell. This was after dinner last night. Once again the oven seemed to be overheating. I rescued it at what I estimate was "just a bit too dark", but still OK for home if not for show. Oh well. I poured in the filling, gave it a foil fringe to save the brown edges from getting even worse, turned the heat down a bit, set a timer to check at 20 minutes, and went off to watch some telly.

20 minutes later, no sign of setting. Another 20 minutes, and there was a strange smell of burning, but I couldn't find anything that would explain it. The pie wasn't set. Another 20 minutes... Obviously I was not paying too close attention, because it took me an hour to twig that the oven was actually quite cool, only around 120 degrees. What? I fiddled around with the controls, wondering if I'd accidentally turned it off. It's a SMEG brand (cue Red Dwarf fan sniggering) and there is a timer switch that can easily be turned to the wrong position by accident. I flipped that around, then wondered if I had the right setting, noticed that the thermostat light seemed to be on so surely it must be heating now... Well, no, it wasn't. But why was it warm? Residual heat? What?

Eventually I gave up and shoved the pie in the fridge. This morning I tried again, and with the oven definitely cold to start, it was easier to work out what was actually happening. The fan-force element has died entirely. It fans, but generates no heat. But the oven has two more elements, top and bottom, so I was able to bake the pie using a non-fan setting. To avoid burning the pastry any further, I let it go at 180 for 40 minutes. It came out OK, looking quite nice - though still a bit darker around the edges despite its foil protector. This is definitely not a showpiece. Oh well.

I left it to cool on the counter, feeling a bit annoyed about the oven, but satisfied that at least I had a tolerable pie. And an hour or so later, the bloke came in and said "there's a cat that likes your pumpkin pie". Aaaaarrgh!! I really should have covered it. Plummet has licked up a neat square from one side of the pie. Well, I don't care, I've just wiped it down in case he's licked any more, and cut that bit out. I'm going to eat the rest anyway - all of it, if the bloke and his mate object. I shall not lie about the cat.

I've already eaten a slice for afternoon tea while writing this. I tossed the burned crust edge in the bin, leaving it as more of a slice than a pie. The taste is still delicious - the spice blend, pumpkin and cream are great together. The texture is not as good as the small pies, probably due to the partial two-phase baking. It would also be better more deeply filled. If I do this again, I'll make the big pie first, to be sure of having enough. No, that's *when* I do it again. I have some Easter visitors in mind. Don't worry, I promise to keep the cat away.

On balance, I suppose it could have been worse. Disaster is an overstatement, although it sounds good in the title. On the negative side, I have:
* the pie shell is semi-burned
* my oven is broken. smegging smeg.
* the cat ate part of the pie

On the positive side, at least the oven didn't break when I was making the first batch of mini-pies, so I got my work party show-off moments. And I have now got a yummy pumpkin pie recipe, and some pumpkin slice for dessert tonight. This is good stuff.

I is for Isaacs

When I found out that That Bagel Place is in Isaacs, I decided that Isaacs must be my letter I. I also heard that there was a wood-fired pizza joint there, so surely that must give us a bit of a choice for a Friday lunch.

Well, no, there isn't. There are no lunches available at Isaacs, unless a pie from the general mixed business will do you. There is indeed a pizza place, called Pizza Viva. But it is open evenings only, Wed-Sun. There's a few tables, but judging by the pile of boxes, take-away or delivery is their biggest thing. I did find one very positive review with google, so if I happen to be out that way and need a pizza, I'll definitely keep them in mind. There's also a Chinese restaurant called Silk Road; it seems very standard of menu and was likewise closed for lunch.

Even my reason for visiting, That Bagel Place, turns out to be only a bakery, with not even a retail counter, let alone a cafe. Though you can buy their bread and bagels next door from the aforementioned general mixed business, so it wasn't a totally wasted trip. I'd normally buy their goods from the EPIC farmers market, or the Kingston markets. They also sell at the Southside farmers market, which I haven't yet visited.

The sourdough breads ($5) are excellent - I love the deeply flavoured and robust rye and caraway. The bagels, well, they are pretty good. They may well be the best bagels in Canberra. I like them, and I'll buy them again. They sell at $6 per half-dozen, which I'd rate as very good value. However, they are still not as dense and chewy as the ones at New York's finest Jewish bakeries. Nostalgic US ex-pats won't be 100% satisfied. Also, I was disappointed that the cinnamon and raisin is actually cinnamon and sultana. I wanted raisins, damn you! *shakes fist*

There's one more food-related thing out there. Delightful Baskets looks like a very useful place, if you need to buy gift hampers for delivery anywhere in Australia. You can do this online, or by phone, without actually having to drop into the shop - indeed, their website doesn't even give their street address. There's a big selection, starting at $40.

In the end, Isaacs is another place that I can't see any reason to visit again, although if I'm out there at the right time to sample the pizza, I'm in. But the biggest foodie noise there is the bakery goods, and personally, I can find them more easily elsewhere.

BTW, I forgot my camera, took some pix with Belinda's phone, and neglected to extract them before she went to the coast. Oh well, yet another text-only post. You'll cope. I have lots of photos planned for my next one.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Internet Salmagundi X

A Few Things Xmassy:
For the traditionalists, St Philips in O'Connor is doing a Kings College style "lessons and carols" service on Sunday 21st, at 7.30pm. I'm singing. You can, too: there's quite a few audience participation numbers. They're even nice ones like Gabriel's message and Personent Hodie with English words (long ago prophets knew). Definitely not Away in a manger or Jingle bells.

The Christmas story, retold yet again. This is kind of traditional, too.

I MUST have one of these for Xmas!

Also, two turtle doves sounds rather good.

And thinkgeek now has an entire category for kitchen geek goodies. Coooool.

Marginally Xmas-ish:

Everybody loves a strong kickarse sexy woman in the movies - or do they? Is this what we really want? Whose fantasy is it, anyway? Thought-provoking, especially at this time of year when I usually go to lots of movies.

A big collection of choral humour.

And totally non-Xmassy, but cool:
You may have noticed I'm fond of the bioephemera blog; here's another amazing picture from there.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


No more work until Jan 5! I clocked off a little early this arvo, about 5ish, and I have since made pumpkin puree, baked rhubarb with rosewater, little mini pastry cases, a fruit mince pasty, and a dinner of pan fried roo with redcurrant glaze, steamed butter beans and roast baby potatoes with rosemary. Yay!

Yes, Beth, that was your redcurrant jelly I used for the glaze. It worked well. Yum.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Taste & Create: first impressions

I signed up, I got my assignment, and it's off to view my partner's blog. Stephanie writes Fun Foods on a Budget. She's in many ways my opposite: a homemaker, with kids, from America, and devoted to eating on the cheap. While I'm an IT worker, with cats, from Australia, and happy to spend a lot on my food, as long as it's also good quality, or good ethically - preferably both. Free range eggs and meats cost more, but in my worldview, they're worth it.

So what are we going to cook from each others' blogs? We have until 15 January, so no great hurry. I'm contemplating pumpkin pie, since I've been wanting to try that out. I'm thrilled that her recipe uses real pumpkin, not canned. We don't get canned pumpkin here, and anyway, I hate to use anything canned when I can use fresh. I also thought of something Xmassy, and her cranberry sauce looks great - but we also don't get fresh cranberries here, and even frozen ones are very hard to find. DJs food hall in Sydney used to stock them... Or since it's summer, how about a salad: this wheat and chicken mix sounds good. I've never cooked whole wheat berries before - and I've now learned to my amazement that they have canned chicken in the US. Or perhaps I should do a pizza - Stephanie uses a pizza for her banner, so that's got possibilities. It's not very adventurous, though.

Stephanie, if you've popped over here to have a look, do check out my recipe index. If I may be so bold as to recommend something to you - and all my handful of readers - do try the Roast Tomato and Red Lentil Soup. I really really love it, and it should suit your winter season. Lentils are certainly cheap, though perhaps fresh tomatoes won't be.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

H is for Hackett

I originally thought of doing H for Hawker, so I'd have an excuse to revisit Rocksalt. But I don't have time for that in the near future, so I'll save that for the next go through the alphabet. Meanwhile, I was feeling vaguely ashamed of never having even visited Hackett, because it's just one suburb over. Of course, this nearness is the very reason that I haven't gone. I have a decent local already.

I decided to pop in to pick up some milk and catfood, and check the place out. It turns out that this is an easy one to write up, because there's very little there. It's rather sad-looking at the moment, with a large shop boarded up and wire-fenced off, and another standing empty. There's an odd-looking op shop cum community centre, and a hairdresser with a plaintive notice in the window about supporting local business.

Hackett has one restaurant, the King Ruby Chinese, which offers a very traditional Western-Cantonese style menu. They do home delivery to my area, but I honestly can't remember if we've had it or not. We're not big on Chinese: both the bloke and I prefer Vietnamese or Thai.

And finally there is an IGA. This one has a Local Liquor outlet, and otherwise it's straight groceries. No deli counter, no hot chickens, just fridges with pre-packed deli items. The fresh meat section is very small, but it does include Gourmet Game roo and Lilydale free range chook. The fruit & veg section is also small, but the produce looked fresh and quite reasonable in quality. There's a good range of standard groceries, and a few more unusual lines for an IGA, like Maggie Beer, Outback Spirit and Chilliman. It's quite a decent little supermarket. If I lived next-door, I'd be happy to have it as my local. But it's not somewhere that I'll go out of my way to visit.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

I still exist

I'm currently eating lunch: rye & caraway sourdough bread from That Bagel Place; smoked ham from Meatways; with Dijon mustard, mixed lettuce, yellow baby capsicum, and kumato. Kumato is an odd brown tomato variety, it's quite small and very sweet. You can often get them from Woollies, though I got mine from Wiffen's at Fyshwick.

Life ended up being rather fraught last week, and probably will be for a while. I'm not sure how regularly I'll post. Though there will be a holiday soon, and I do have a couple of alphabet posts underway: I & K, but I must do an H first! My main challenge for today is to see what I can rescue from the fridge. Last week I did a big shop, and then didn't use most of it because I ate out nearly all week. It may not be very exciting, but feel free to click for more details.

What & where did I eat?

On Sunday we ate at home. I made a beef & bok choy stir fry, with Ming's Mum's Satay sauce from Ming's EPIC market stall.

On Monday I had lunch with Beth at the Studio cafe of the Film & Sound Archive. Dinner was burger & beer at Sub-urban, the new incarnation of Belluci's at Dickson. The chicken burger had good chook & bread; so-so chips.

On Tuesday I was at home, and it was just me since the bloke had to go to Melbourne on business. I had a vitello tonnato - with salad for lunch, and with hot roast vegetables for dinner.

On Wednesday I had more vitello tonnato salad for lunch, and at night I went to Wagamama with Belinda. I had some nice but unremarkable noodles, and an interesting black sesame icecream. Belinda recommends the ginger cheesecake.

On Thursday night I had a cheese sandwich for lunch (cumin-spiced Dutch gouda). Dinner was at the Gods - they're not usually open for dinner but this was a private function. It was the end of a day of celebration for my once & former boss Sue Wilson. Lovely meal, lovely people. I love the Gods. Yay!

On Friday I had a terrific Brunch with Belinda & Beth at Bruno's BTruffels in BMawson. At night I was going to go to Mecca Bah with the bloke's workmates, a sort of informal Xmas party. But I was too tired from sleeping badly and dashing about in the rain and stress and stuff. I ate a small serve of, err, surprise! - vitello tonnato.

What have I cooked and what's leftover?

As for the leftovers, I now have the week's tomatoes in the oven to roast. I did have a chicken, but I froze that as soon as I realised the bloke was going away. I do have a fair chunk of the poached veal left, but I am so over it right now that it's going in the freezer. I managed to eat all the cherries and quite a lot of the salad vegetables - lettuce, golden grape tomatoes, asparagus, cucumber - but there are some wilted things, including herbs. I'm going to try to rescue most of the basil in a pasta sauce with the roast tomatoes. There's some bacon that really needs using - that can go in too. I suspect some of the lettuce will be compost, but luckily most of the rest is carrots and apples and such firm things that keep quite well.

If you're curious about vitello tonnato, I do suggest trying it out this summer. It's a classic Italian dish of cold poached veal, served with a very potent sauce made of tuna, egg yolk, capers and anchovies. Eat as antipasto, or with a salad. Or even eat it with hot veggies on the side, an English approach that I'm quite fond of for the less balmy spring days.

If some of your friends or family is opposed to fish, they can have mayonnaise. I was going to do a basil mayo for the bloke, until I found out he was travelling. But I think the tuna version is delicious, or at least my version was. Yes, even though I'm over it now. Well, maybe just one last go tonight - there's a bit of sauce left which I mustn't waste.

I've never eaten this dish in Italy, or even a restaurant, so I don't know how authentic it was. I found a squillion recipes on the net. This Jamie Oliver blogger site has a sauce almost identical to the one in Il Cuccaio Argento, the Italian classic. So that's pretty much what I did. Though I had a much larger piece of veal - free range organic, if you please, no inhumanely crated beasties for me. The veal I poached according to the method here.

The other thing that I cooked was a roast cauliflower. While the result was tasty, it really didn't work as advertised. It was this recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini, and the saffron did not work. The oil stayed mostly pale, the colour really didn't come out. I am wondering why. Was my saffron a cheap knock-off? Does it have to be infused in water, as most recipes say, and not oil? Or does my oven simply pre-heat too quickly, so it didn't have enough infusion time?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Interesting Times

I'm having some Interesting Times at work, so not keeping up with the blogging right now. Back soon. Probably on the weekend.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Sausages and Cake, Nom Nom

I haven't been eating quite as healthy as I should in the last week. Though it has been rather delicious. We ate two meals of sausages and I had three kinds of cake. Four if you count this morning's muffin. And then there was the lemon meringue pie. (Post now updated with photo.)

To make a meal of the sausages, I assembled one of those briami style potato, onion, zucchini and tomato bakes. I used new potatoes, and just a little oregano and the rest of the roasted garlic for flavouring. Then I threw the sausages on top for the last 20 minutes. I'm very taken with this method: it's very tasty and very adaptable, and seems like less work to me than making mash and a green. It's certainly less washing up: it's a one dish meal. Two, if you add a salad or extra green. We ate it with gorgeous pork, pine-nut and fetta sausages from Meatways in Kambah, with a mesclun side salad. The leftovers we had on another night with Poachers Pantry smoked lamb sausages and green beans.

The cake - well, that was a bit of a story. I needed something for my "Find" column, and someone suggested Cherry Seed cupcakes at Ginninderra. So I went off there with Beth one lunchtime, only to discover that they'd already been written up by the person who did the column when I was in China. Argh! Well, we were there, so we couldn't waste the trip. We had to buy cupcakes. And eat them. They were good.

Read on for more about cake and about the EPIC markets.

Cherry Seed is a specialist cupcake place. It's in the rougher gardeny part of Ginninderra Village, near the Green Herring and Lilitu books. It's fitted up in an old-fashioned country look, which fits the retro concept of the cupcakes perfectly. They serve tea and coffee, and their own cupcakes and cookies. You can pre-order any amount, but if you just drop in there on spec they limit you to six. They're about $3.50 each, or there's punnets of mini cupcakes. They look lovely: a cupcake has its own appeal that a slice of cake doesn't quite match. The discreteness of the item gives a very personal feel to the indulgence.

I had one chocolate cake, and one blueberry, yoghurt and almond cake. And then I spoiled the discreteness by cutting them in half. The bloke enjoyed half the chocolate one, and agreed with me that it was a good texture and definitely a much better cake than the microwave experiment. It managed to be both richly flavoured and light. Good stuff. I wasn't so impressed with the buttercream topping, though. It seemed excessive, and much less flavoursome than the cake. I thought the same about the blueberry one. This cake was different: more solid and a little granular from the almond meal, it sat somewhere between friande and sponge cake in texture. A very good cake indeed, but again the buttercream was the dull part. I think I'd have preferred a simple glaze icing in both cases.

My next cake came from Knead at Belconnen Fresh Food Markets. I was out there yesterday with my mates, buying some Herbie's spices from Cooking Co-ordinates to make up an Xmas present to post off to the US. Otherwise we weren't shopping much. For me it was just a quick visit to Eco Meats, and some bread and coffee and cake from Knead. Knead Patisserie is quite new at the markets - it's indoors, around the middle, not far from the Chinese BBQ place and the health food shop. I heard about it first from Ninaribena the Canberra Stylist, who has lots of lovely photos.

There's a few casual ironwork tables outside the shop, a large table inside - which is where we sat to drink our coffees. I had a peach and coconut cake, which was quite delicious: moist and fruity, with large threads of coconut. The coffee was quite remarkably good - one of Canberra's best, in my opinion. Props to the gorgeous big lady with the red hair who operated the machine! The sourdough bread that I took home is a good robust and chewy white loaf, with a crisp crust. At $5 a loaf it's perfectly respectable: I didn't think any of the prices were unreasonable for what was on offer.

The final "cake" of the week was a mixed berry muffin from Rosa at the EPIC market this morning. I was disappointed in that one - it was a bit underdone, which made it damp and stodgy. But don't let that put you off Rosa altogether: she makes beautiful Florentines and lasagna and gnocchi.

Well, it's been delicious, but this week is going to be a bit healthier, I hope! I've just got back from the farmers' market with beans, cherries, raspberries, bok choy, salad greens, watercress, basil, parsley, tomatoes, pumpkin, garlic, olives, cauliflower, apples, carrots and asparagus. The early stone fruit are in, but mostly small and hard. One stall looked good for nectarines and peaches, but they had a long queue. Anyway the bloke doesn't eat them, and that kilo of gorgeous big fat dark cherries isn't going to eat itself, you know.

A quick Xmas note: the market will be held as normal next week. It will be at the racecourse on Dec 20th. There will be a mini market on Tuesday 23 Dec, 2-5 at Kamberra Wines on Northbourne Ave. The normal pattern will resume on Sat 10th January, after Summernats. With Xmas coming up, there's a few seasonal items on sale. There's a tree stall - $45 for a very bushy and well-shaped medium sized tree, larger and smaller available. There's puddings and cakes and mince pies. And some of the gourmet food producers have got special gift packages. 1kg of maple roasted pecans, or caramel macadamias? I'd die! I have a terrible weakness for sweet nuts.

I'm not quite sure what I'm going to cook this week. I was pleased to see a nice cheap cauli since the wonderful Clotilde has just posted a recipe for Saffron Roasted Cauliflower. I'm also toying with the idea of a proper vitello tonnato, and a European variant on my Thai beef salad, and something involving a roast chicken. Or maybe a Hainan chicken rice. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Internet Salmagundi IX

Happy December! Tim Minchin is a sweetie, and very talented too.

And here's a series of funny Xmas cards. Well, I think they're funny, anyway.

And it's a few days late, but these Advent Podcasts at New Humanist are worth a look. Scientists and comedians say which scientist or philosopher they would like to celebrate, and what scientific gift they'd most like to receive. It starts with Stephen Fry, who I totally adore.

GetUp has a campaign against the stupid internet censorship proposal; go sign the petition.

I've discovered a new Canberra food blog: A Cracking Good Egg. Actually, it's not a new blog, just new to me. KJ beat me onto the Canberra food blog scene, and is kind enough to have a link to me. Added to my Canberra blogger links.

And I've signed up for a community food blogger thing called "Taste and Create". I get to cook something from someone else's blog, and blog about it - and vice versa. Since I use Australian measurements and products, this might led to some confusion.

Bretzel or pretzel, here's a recipe and some history for the soft, slightly bagelly kind. I discovered it while doing some research for a Canberra Times column.


Thursday, 4 December 2008

I Get Perks!

I went to the Canberra Times Food & Wine section Xmas drinks last night, and came home with a couple of cookbooks. We had a few drinks and nibbles at the Parlour Wine Rooms, a door prize raffle for a hamper, and we were allowed to grab a book each from the review stash. I was just going to have the one, but Robbie from Lynwood Cafe, who won the hamper, thrust the one she'd been holding on me at the last moment and I couldn't possibly refuse! My protests were exceptionally feeble.

I have ended up with Christine Manfield's Stir, which is a moderately practical volume. She gives recipes for a number of spice pastes and for each one, a small collection of recipes using that paste. I hope to actually try some of those out.

The other book is the huge, heavy and ornamental tome Alinea, by chef Grant Achatz. There's introductory chapters by a number of people, including Jeffey Steingarten. It's a cookbook from the Alinea retaurant in Chicago. There's a website just for the book, which gives an idea of how beautiful it is. And probably hints at how difficult and flat out impractical it is for a home cook. This is cuisine as high art, with prices to match - the shorter tasting menu is a mere $145 US per head, and that's without wine. Or hey, you can buy a gift certificate for a friend: it's a mere $US 1050 for a complete dinner for two including 25 course meal, wine, taxes and service.

The book features complete recipes for four 20-30 course meals, one for each season. They're listed very simply, main ingredient first, then a list of other ingredients or a technique. For example from the summer menu we have: "CORN, coconut, cayenne, mint", "RHUBARB, seven different textures", or curiously, from spring there's an Australian theme: "LAMB, akudjura, olive, eucalyptus veil".

So what if you were going to make something from this book? You'd need some equipment and special ingredients, but you could do a fair bit at home. There's a whole chapter with advice on adapting the ideas. You can make you own "anti-grill", for instance, by buying a slab of dry ice and putting it under a metal baking sheet. Agar agar is widely available from any Asian grocer, carrageenan is sometimes found in health food stores, and some of the highly specialised starches can be mail ordered. A home dehydrator is not hard to buy.

But even the simplest dishes involve many complex operations and assemblies. For example, take that RHUBARB one. Guess how many sub-recipes there are for that dish! Try the LAMB or CORN, too. Then click on the link to find out:

There are thirteen of them in RHUBARB. CORN is remarkable at only three, and LAMB has five. RHUBARB is slightly exceptional, but many have five or eight. Here's the list of sub-recipes in the RHUBARB dish.

1 * Beet spheres - sweetened beetroot juice made into little frozen-shelled spheres with a liquid centre.
2 * Rhubarb juice - with sugar, cooked & strained.
3 * Dried rhubarb - a puree with wine & Thai pepper, rolled to a sheet and dessicated
4 * Gin compressed rhubarb - raw, but sweet. Macerated in juniper & gin syrup under vacuum.
5 * Rhubarb sponge on bayleaf - not a cake, a foam made by whipping rhubarb jelly. Decorate with dessicated grapefruit.
6 * Lavender-poached rhubarb - wine & lavender syrup poached.
7 * Lavender pudding - a lavender agar gel pureed to a custard-pudding texture
8 * Goat's milk custard - made with lavender and rhubarb, set with carrageenan
9 * Rhubarb sorbet - a straightforward sorbet.
10 * Oatmeal struesel - a simple topping of oats toasted with brown sugar, then blended with cream to a smooth icecream.
11 * Rhubarb gelee - or jelly, to us. Set the juice (above) with gelatin
12 * Fennel Candy - a toffee flavoured with fennel juice
13 * Green tea nage - a sauce of green tea, sugar and salt emulsified with soy lecithin

And finally the assembly step, which I didn't count a a recipe, although it is very detailed about the exact plating and adds some garnishes.

Just the thing for your next dinner party, eh? No, I don't think so either. But some of it is possible: lavender poached rhubarb, with a rhubarb sorbet and oat crumble icecream terrine - that's quite do-able. I'm oscillating between appalled and inspired.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Another of those weekend food reports

It's been pretty good. I did some shopping at Gungahlin on Friday, which left me with some useful ingredients. A few more ingredients arrived via the Bakeshoppe and Meatways in Kambah, which I am saving to write up when I get to the letter K. And yet more came in from the garden: I picked 1.5 kg of rhubarb, and a few late lemons.

A friend needed a bit of cheering up after some stressful times with illnesses in the family, so I made her dinner last night. For a scratch meal, it was pretty bloody good, if I do say so myself! We had veal, sage, prosciutto and wine wine ravioli, with proper parmigiano reggiano cheese, both from Fruitylicious. And a very simple roast tomato, capsicum, garlic and balsamic sauce - with no extra herbs, so as not to compete too much. We had a green mixed leaf salad with olive oil & balsamic dressing, and a dessert of Maggie Beer quince and bitter almond icecream, with stewed rhubarb and an orange, almond & spice biscotto from Cook & Grocer.

Tonight we're going over to a friend's place for dinner and I'm taking dessert. I seriously contemplated doing a pumpkin pie, since that's all over the blagosphere at the moment with US thanksgiving. But I eventually decided it was probably too weird a concept for Australians, and it's not ideal to experiment on people that I don't know very well. There were some rather fabulous sounding recipes about: bourbon-pecan-pumpkin cheesecake, anyone? It's on my "one-day" list.

Anyway, I finally decided to make a lemon meringue pie. And then I had an attack of the lazies and bought a pre-baked pastry shell from Woollies. It claims to be premium butter shortcrust. We'll see. The lemon filling doesn't quite fit in the tart shell, so I'm also trying some Pampas frozen pastry shells - a new line, you get 12 unbaked shells in little foil cases for about $4.50-ish. I'll report on the quality later. And maybe try to grab a picture.

Update: done. As for quality: the Woolworths pastry seemed quite good, really. It's more expensive than making your own, but handy when you have no time.

Recipes follow.
Recipe 1: Roast tomato, capsicum and garlic pasta sauce
4 large tomatoes
2 medium red capsicums
1 head of garlic
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
Roast the tomatoes, garlic and capsicums in a pie plate, in a low oven for 1 1/2 hours.
Allow to cool. Set garlic and capsicum aside.
Over the pie plate, skin tomatoes and discard hard stem end. Let the juices drip into the pie plate. Return tomatoes to plate and squash. Let sit for 5 minutes to dissolve pan drippings.
Skin capsicum and chop, discarding stem and seeds.
Remove 4-6 large cloves of garlic from the head, or cut the top off and squeeze out 2 tsp of roast garlic paste.
Put the garlic, capsicum, tomatoes and juices into a saucepan and simmer gently to reduce slightly to your preferred sauce consistency. Stir well to distribute the garlic.
Season to taste with pepper, balsamic vinegar and salt.

Notes: Serves 4 sparingly, but it's richly flavoured. If you are serving this with a plain pasta, rather than a flavoured ravioli, some herbs might be nice. I'm imagining some shredded fresh basil.

Recipe 2: Stewed Rhubarb
1.5kg chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 tsp rosewater
Cochineal or red food colouring (optional)

Wash rhubarb well, rinse in a colander, but do not dry.
Put in saucepan with no extra water.
Pour over sugar and rosewater and stir well.
Add whole vanilla bean.
Bring to simmer slowly, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring regularly, or until done.
Add colouring to improve pink colour if desired.

Notes: I actually did mine in a casserole dish in the oven (since it was on for the tomatoes anyway). It doesn't come out as whole as the roast variety, since it's so deeply filled, that it stews rather than roasts. My garden rhubarb was very green, so I added colouring for prettiness.

Recipe 3: Lemon Meringue Pie
1 20cm shortcrust pastry shell, prebaked
3 large lemons
1/2 cup caster sugar
another 1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
25g butter
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar or cream of tartar

Zest and juice the lemons - you want about 175ml juice.
Top up the lemon juice with water to make 350ml.
Mix cornflour and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan, and gradually mix in the lemon/water mix, keeping back about 75ml. Add the lemon zest.
Heat up, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens and boils.
Simmer for one minute further, stirring well.
Remove from heat and add butter. Stir until melted and well combined.
Add remaining lemon/water mix, and stir well.
Add the egg yolks, and stir well.
Set aside to cool.

Whisk the egg whites until just stiff.
Slowly whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, in about 6 batches.
Add the vinegar or cream of tartar, and whisk again

Preheat the oven to 150C.
Spoon the cooled lemon filling into the tart shell.
Cover it with the meringue, being sure to seal it right up to the edges.
Fluff it up a bit by dabbing with the spatula to make lots of little peaks.
Bake for 45 minutes, until pale golden.
Cool before eating; serve lukewarm or cold.

Notes: The Woollies Select brand pastry shell was a bit smaller so I had some leftover filling. But this doesn't make a lot of meringue, so I used it all and had a few plain lemon tarts left in the Pampas brand mini shells. If you want to make your own pastry, 1 cup flour and 60g butter is about the right amount.

This is an old fashioned version of this classic pie, with a little meringue rather than the massive fluffy towers you get in cafe versions. You'd need a lot more eggwhites to do that. The filling is lighter than the modern lemon tart - these are usually made with a lot of egg yolks and cream, and no cornflour and water filler! I got the recipe from a book that I've had since 1982 or so: Philippa Davenport's 100 Great Dishes Made Easy. I think I bought it at Mary Martin's bookshop in Civic, anyone remember that? The only modification I've made to the original is to use more lemon juice. I like my lemon bitey.

Wildlife Sightings

Look what the cats dragged in! It seemed totally unhurt, so I passed up the opportunity to eat lizard and released it in the garden. I didn't get a decent photo of the blue tongue, but I do have a badly blurred one showing the colour.

And we have a possum hiding in the shed. I don't know how we're going to get it out; it's up high near the ceiling and currently is settled in for a nice nap. Perhaps a few flash photos and loud music and a gentle poking with sticks might dissuade it. Yelling "possum pie" at it seems to have no effect :)

Friday, 28 November 2008

G is for Gungahlin

Wow! I never thought that this would be such a great destination, but I am now officially adding it to my regular must-visit list. Gungahlin, as most of you know, is not a suburb but an entire district. It's the newest part of Canberra, lying north of Belconnen and west of the Federal Highway. It's rather dismal looking to my eye - not enough trees, and far too many medium density modern houses designed by architects with a disdain for the golden ratio. I suppose that time will remedy the tree problem, at least.

Anyway, Gungahlin has a town centre, which includes the big supermarkets and chain shops. There's Coles and Woolworths and Aldi and Big W, and a gigantic Magnet Mart up the hill. I've very rarely visited, except for the odd quick dash to Woollies while the bloke went to Magnet Mart. I noted with some depression that there isn't a single bookshop out there. But this time Beth and I went off for lunch and a little explore around the Gungahlin Place and Hibberson Street shops. The Gungahlin centre is not all mall, there's a lot of shops lining the street in a country town style that's unusual for Canberra. I like this more open air approach.

We went to three shops, and peered in the windows of several cafes and Asian restaurants in this area. Red Chillies Vietnamese looked rather nice; Ginger & Spice has a nice name but the menu seems pretty straight Cantonese with a tiny touch of Malaysian. There's a noodle and Chinese BBQ joint called Fortune Box. Of the shops that I actually visited, I enjoyed the Cook & Grocer, but this one place wouldn't persuade me to return. Fruitylicious, on the other hand, is totally reason in itself to go back, and if I were in any doubt, then the Hub Asian Supermarket would clinch it.

Our first stop on this dark and stormy day was a light lunch at the Cook and Grocer. At 1pm, they had sold out of most lunch dishes, but I did have a very enjoyable roast vegetable and parmesan baguette ($6.20) and a "Morgan's handcrafted coffee" ($3.50). Beth had a veggie quiche with a side of Greek salad.

We browsed around the shelves, noting that they sell a small but carefully chosen selection of fine foods. There's Homeleigh Grove olives and oils, Toby's Estate teas, a few select local wines, Lime Grove products, Whisk & Pin products. They also have their own range of interesting biscuits, including cardamom butter biscuits, cinnamon Xmas cookies and Almond, orange and cardamom biscotti. They're luxury priced, around $4-6 for a small packet. It's everything you need to make up gourmet gift hampers. They do special orders, as well - we just missed the deadline to order a Saskia Beer Black Pig ham for Xmas.

Their other main line is in takeaway dinners - as in, good food that you can take home and reheat for dinner. There wasn't much in the fridge at lunchtime, just some sticky date and chocolate puddings, and a lone beef casserole. This is because it's made fresh every day - the fridge is stocked up by about 4pm, with casseroles around $12 and veggie dishes around $7. Not supercheap again, but fresh made, and if my sandwich and biscuit is any guide, probably rather good!

Fruitylicious is at 123 Hibberson St Gungahlin, and this is the place where I gasped in amazement and decided to come back. It's a large mixed family business, combining a deli, fresh fruit & veg, a juice and smoothie bar, and a small bakery with coffee and home made pastries and cakes. There's even a small catering business, offering fruit, cake, and assorted savoury platters for parties. This place has everything! The main emphasis is Italian, with some Eastern European and Mediterranean goodies. With Christmas on the way they stock an extraordinary array of panettones. There's Italian softdrinks, and grappas and spirits. There's Australian premium lines - Maggie Beer again, and others with less memorable names. (Yeah, sorry about my poor note-taking.)

The deli at Fruitylicious boasts not just one but four different varieties of prosciutto - three Italian and a Spanish Serrano. There's a staggering range of cheese, both Australian and imported, including various kinds of provolone and parmesan, a house marinated fetta, and an aged Dutch cheese - I've never seen one that in Canberra before. There's marinated vegetables and coldcuts galore, and the friendly ladies behind the counter will give you a tiny sample and advice if you're unsure what to get.

I picked up a small semi-random selection of stuff, which will give you an idea. I have Peppe's frozen ravioli with veal, sage and white wine; a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano; a few slices of Calypso hot salami (made in Sydney in a traditional Italian style); a hunk of aged Gouda; a bottle of Croatian Maraska Amarena sour cherry syrup for cordials; and a tin of Polish Bakalland poppy-seed filling for baked goods. I don't know what I'll do with that yet, but I'm sure google will come to my aid somehow.

Our final stop was the Hub Asian supermarket at Gungahlin Place East. This is one of a small chain: there's another in Tuggeranong, and a Belconnen one is planned. The owners seem to be smart people, aiming to expand the market for Asian groceries to people who might be nervous about shopping in tiny places with staff who have little in the way of English. They also seem to have a penchant for photos taken at odd angles. The shop is larger than many suburban supermarkets, and brightly lit with wide aisles. It's sparkling clean, with a multilingual and multinational staff who all speak English. There's a staggering array of goods, including fresh vegetables, nicely labelled in English, and takeaway Thai salads and Vietnamese rolls. There's fresh made sweets, delivered on Tuesdays and Fridays with the fresh produce.

There's fresh noodles and tofu and kimchee and chinese sausage in the fridges, and every type of dim sum you could imagine in the freezers. Also in the extensive freezer section, there's a baffling variety of meats, fish, vegetables, desserts, and vegetarian fake meats. There's aisles of Asian soft drinks, lollies and biscuits. There's curry pastes and stirfry sauces and spices; there's tinned vegetables and fruits; there's noodles and rices and, well, I don't know what there isn't. It's south east Asian in focus, with a moderate Japanese selection, and a very tiny Indian range.

I'll definitely be dropping back from time to time. I won't be changing my favourite Asian grocer: Saigon in Dickson is more convenient for me, and I'm usually happy enough with their range. I think they get some of their sweets and fresh produce from the same suppliers as the Hub. But if you don't live near Canberra's mini-Chinatown, these Hub supermarkets in our satellite town centres will be a godsend. When's Woden due, guys?

So there you are: Gungahlin proves not to be a foodie wasteland at all! I will be going back, for sure.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Who Am I?

Typealyzer claims to analyse your personality, or rather your blog's personality, in that Myers-Briggs test manner. Mine comes out as "ESFP - The Performers", which is described as "The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions."

It's especially funny because whenever I do these tests I always come out as "INTJ": the exact polar opposite of this. And yet the description doesn't seem too bad, which makes me wonder if these Myers Briggs things are like astrology. No matter what you get, it matches - you know, give 200 people the identical horoscope and they all agree that it describes them perfectly...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Podfood and other Sunday Things

Belinda and I had breakfast at the famous Podfood in Pialligo at the most unreasonable hour, for a Sunday, of 10.15 am. This was the latest they'd take a breakfast booking, though, and I really wanted to check it out, so we dragged ourselves out of bed and staggered off in the rain. Weekend brunches ought not to finish so early, it's just uncivilised.

Well, I was disappointed. I've been wanting to go there for a nice fancy lunch sometime, or to do some of their Thursday night cooking classes, but now I'm not so sure. I know the weather was a bit miserable, so we couldn't sit outside and enjoy the garden. But inside was very loud, and the service was a bit off - they forgot our second coffee order. And guys, seriously, the disabled toilet has all that space on the floor for *wheelchairs*, not for extra storage space.

Not happy, Jan. The food was very pretty and not too highly priced for breakfast - with the Sunday surcharge it was just under $50 for the two of us. That covered two coffees and a French Toast apiece, plus one fresh OJ. The coffee was quite good, though why don't they have a mug size? The breakfast was well below what I'd expected. The berries were frozen, not fresh, which is fair enough - but some were still icy inside. And the French toast was only coated, not soaked through, in its egg and milk mix. Luckily they made it on fresh French bread, not stale as is more traditional. At least that meant it was soft textured where there was plain bread inside. Belinda even complained about it when we were asked how things were, and it did no good in the way of apology or discount. So, we're probably not going back there now.

The rest of the day was much better. After breakfast we wandered through the adjacent gallery, admiring especially the magpie exhibition room with the wonderful 3-D patchwork sculpture magpies. Belinda wants a lovely cat picture, surprise, surprise. We also popped into one of the nurseries, I forget which now, and I bought some cat-safe snailbait, and seedlings of jalapeno chilli and vietnamese mint. It was too cold and damp to work in the garden, so they're on my kitchen bench waiting to go in later.

After that, I started off making a curry for tonight and later in the week. It's a beef rogan josh, made with blade steak, and a bush tomato spice blend that I picked up in Cairns. I've added some native pepper to keep up the theme, but I'm not sure it's that noticeable. I also got a dhal panchporan mostly done, just ready for its topping to be made tonight. This time I roasted the garlic and onion along with the tomatoes - a good idea, that was, I'll do it again.

Later in the afternoon, the bloke and I spent a couple of hours over at Olims, in the rather sad sports bar area, listening to blues guitarist Owen Campbell. I first heard of Owen when he was busking outside Dickson Woollies a couple of years ago, and have been idly following him since. This time he was on a double bill with his Dad, Satch. Satch plays more folk than blues, in the Dylan and Pogues line, which he sings in a lovely Scottish accent. I enjoyed Satch's set, and I love Owen's slide guitar, but I didn't enjoy the bit of country banjo-pluckin' stuff that they did together. Well executed, but not at all my cup of tea.

Then I had a quiet evening at home while the bloke went off to catch up with another blues band and a friend at the OCI. I took the chance to make myself a simple pasta dinner of bloke-hated food: tuna, sweetcorn and asparagus. And also bloke-approved items like chilli and baby peas and too much cheese. Yummy. I had more of that for lunch today.

Oh, one final note. Sadly for alphabet fans, I have completely failed to make it to anywhere starting with G in the last week. Will try harder.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Canberra Handmade Market

I've skipped the EPIC market this morning in favour of a visit to the Canberra Handmade Market. Where, of course, being me, I went for the food themed items. This magnificent stand of knitted cupcakes and doughnuts was made by Posie Patchwork - these ones are purely ornamental, but there are some made as rattles. Belinda does not know how lucky she is not to now be the owner of a knitted watermelon baby rattle. So tempting... This stall also had a lot of patchwork stuff, which my eyes glazed over at, and some very cool retro magnets and coasters. I also bought a little pirate-theme coin purse, umm, well, because, that's why.

It was a delightful place to shop - if I hadn't already done most of my Xmas shopping in China, I might have spent up really big. As it was, I bought some soap from YUUM, and some jewelry: an amazing red coral necklace with all the pieces shaped like chillies, a couple of pairs of silly earrings, and a gorgeous copper and green beaded bracelet. I went with Beth, and on the way home we decided that it was a lot like going to the growers' market. Instead of chatting to the grower of your food, you get to chat with the designer of your jewelry, or bag, or clothes. That direct producer to consumer relationship is a wonderful thing. It doesn't just cut out the costs of the middleman, but gives you that intangible reward of feeling part of the community.

There wasn't a lot of food there, but I did buy up at the CrankyPants stall: an adobo marinade, creole spices, Boston baked beans and a grapefruit marmalade. These people are from Merimbula, and have a stall at the Old Bus Depot markets - which reminds me that it is ages since I've been there. Actually, quite a few of the designers have stalls there, and with Xmas trading on both Saturdays and Sundays in December, that's probably worth a revisit soon.

The handmade market is a new venture, and they're planning to make it a recurring event. The next one will be on 7 February 2009, so put it in your diary and don't miss out. If you know anyone who does food crafts - preserves, chocolates, spice blends, whatever - pass the word on. I understand that the management is looking for more food product stalls.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Internet Salmagundi VIII

As we all know, Bazza O. will be the first black US president. And on a personally scary note, he's the first one who's younger than The Bloke. Not me, though. Obama was born in the same year as me, but he's still older than me. Cartoon collection here. And the key question we're all asking, I'm sure: who will be the new White House chef?

Yet more wacky hijinks from loony American Christians: a burning cross is the perfect Xmas lawn decoration! Really!

Here's a very encouraging development in the search for a cure to AIDS.

It's been a good fortnight for music. Two Robyn Archer concerts; and a Jonno Zilber CD launch. And I stumbled on this music site: 100 greatest blues songs.

Cectic is back, yay! Only one a week, but it's better than nothing.

Funniest diet ever. Up yours, Atkins!

And now for something serious. Do you want your internet connection slowed down by 30-85%? Do you want your access blocked to random sites that vaguely resemble some that some wowser dislikes? Like maybe breast or testicular cancer information, or support groups for GLBTQ teens, or anything from Scunthorpe? Or are you an adult who *gasp* wants to read adult content online? The Rudd government needs a wake-up call on this totally ridiculous net censorship rubbish.

It's technically totally stupid; it's treating adult citizens like naughty children who can't make their own decisions; it's putting us up for justifiable international ridicule; it's a massive and stupid waste of public money for no reason other than to pander to the wowsers. Start at the No Clean Feed site for more information about what you can do. And do it! Yeah, join the facebook group, but don't leave it at that level of slacktivism.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


Is your cat plotting to kill you?

And in other news, last night I announced dinner by saying "U can has cheezburger!" Homemade cheezburger with real strong cheddar and lean organic beef mince. Nom.

That is all.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

5 Minute Chocolate Cake

Here's a recipe that's going around on the email & noticeboards. I simply had to try it. Hat tip to Magdlyn at Talk Rational.
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.
EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

And why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world?
Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!

OK, so let us disregard the irritating arch naughtiness of diet-obsessed Americans. (Virtue and danger?) This is simply a fabulous concept! But how well does it work, you may ask? I selflessly undertook to find out for my loyal readers. All five of them.

Here's the points I considered in using an American recipe.

First, the ingredients. You'll obviously want to use self-raising white flour, and regular white sugar. You could possibly drop the sugar a bit, since American tastes are super-sweet. But not too much, as sugar is important to the texture of baked goods.

A good Dutch cocoa is surely a good choice, and note that you may want to sift it. Though stirring cocoa in with the sugar can usually break up lumps quite successfully. If you make real cocoa at home, you probably know that. And you'll want a light flavoured oil: I keep sunflower oil around for general use. Maybe melted butter would be better, but I stuck with the original fairly closely.

Next, note that an American tablespoon is closer to 15ml than the standard Aussie 20ml, so use a 15ml one if you have it. Or just eyeball a reduced amount. Some of these are easy: 4 tablespoons US is 3 tablespoons Aus; 3 tablespoons US is 2 Aus plus a teaspoon. Keep them level, and lightly packed for the dry ingredients.

Finally, how big a mug? I had no idea - I mean, they sell coffee in those ridiculous milkshake and bucket sizes over there. I used a fairly standard one, and put a plate under it in case of spills.

How did it work? Like this:

Obviously I should have used a somewhat larger mug, but it unmoulded quite easily. I ran a knife around the inside of the mug and it just tipped out. The flavour was not bad at all - quality chocolate and vanilla will do that. The texture was moderately light, though it was a little dry. I didn't include the optional chocolate chips - perhaps spots of melted chocolate would have helped there.

I can't say it will be a great temptation - it's quite OK, and I suppose if ever a chocolate cake emergency arises, it will meet the need. I wouldn't want to eat the whole thing; it serves two easily. A dollop of icecream or cream would help stretch it to three serves, and also help with the slight dryness.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Smoky Devils at the Tiki Party

We went all out for last Saturday night's cocktail party. The Bloke assembled an amazing outdoor bar with lots of fake flowers and vines, flaming torches, and swivelling barstools. He even provided leis for everyone, and the first couple of rounds of drinks. Later on, Master Mixologist Len presided over the bar. I recall a planter's punch, and a lime rickey, and a margarita, and several Campari based drinks...

And when you're going retro, you've got to have retro food. I went for the classic cheese & pickled onion hedgehog; egg & caviar dip; and devils on horseback. With Jatz for the dips, of course. We also had melon balls in a basket, and french onion dip, and coconut cherry cupcakes, and mini sausage rolls (home made), and lots more. All good for soaking up the cocktails. I made up a smoky variant on the devils on horseback, which people seemed to like quite a lot. But man, this is not something you want to do too often! See the recipe for more detail...

Here the divine Miss Em models with a hedgehog and one half serve of the egg dip. I'm sure you don't need a hedgehog recipe - put cheese cubes on sticks with luridly coloured pickled onions; shove into half grapefruit. It may look tacky, but it gets eaten - who doesn't love a bit of cheese and pickle?

Recipe 1: Egg & Caviar Dip
10 free range eggs
250ml sour cream
2 tsp finely chopped fresh dill
1 tblsp finely chopped green spring onion
1 small jar black caviar (lumpfish)
1 small jar red caviar (salmon or lumpfish)
additional finely chopped herbs to garnish

Hardboil the eggs.
Peel and cool.
Mash eggs with herbs and sour cream.
Put into a bowl, and decorate the top with the caviar and herbs.
Serve with Jatz biscuits to dip.

To hardboil eggs straight from the fridge, put them in the saucepan and fill with hot tap water. Leave for 5 minutes to warm up. Then drain, refresh with more hot tap water, and put on the stove. Leave to simmer for ten minutes. Bash them around under cold water to break the shells thoroughly, and then you can leave them to peel later if you like. If you put cold eggs in boiling water, they crack easily. If you leave boiled eggs sitting around hot for too long, then they go grey around the yolk.

I actually made this with light sour cream and it didn't work quite as well as I'd intended. It was too sloppy. Oh well. I sat the leftovers in a sieve for a couple of hours and got some very nice egg salad for my lunch.

Recipe 2: Smoky Devils on Horseback
500g large pitted prunes
1 kg bacon rashers
250g smooth smoked cheese
packet of melba toasts
1/2 cup red wine

Pour the red wine over the prunes and leave to soften for an hour or two, stirring occasionally.
Cut the smoked cheese into short straws, about 1cm long and 3mm in other dimensions.
Stuff each prune with a piece of cheese.
Remove the bacon rind and eyes. Use short lengths of the streaky bacon to wrap each prune, securing with a toothpick. Cutting it lengthwise may hep if they're wide rashers.
Lay the devils on a baking sheet, and bake at 180C for 15 minutes, or until bacon is crisped.
Put each one on a piece of melba toast.
Serve hot.

Yes, you do have to be slightly insane to stuff and wrap 70-odd prunes. The 1950s were a very strange time, much better in fantasy than reality, what with all the segregation and unequal pay and McCarthyism going on. By the time I'd finished putting these together, not to mention all the cheese and onion skewering, I was thinking of adopting a gin-and-valium soaked desperate housewife persona. But luckily I recovered by the time of the party.

The cheese needs to be the smooth kind, not a crumbly cheddar. The dimensions are, of course, general guidelines to what makes it easier to stuff. Try one or two to see how big they should be for your prunes. It's not as bad as it sounds; the machine pitted prunes have a hole at each end that you can shove your cheese in quite easily.

I didn't have quite enough streaky bacon so had to use some of the eye pieces to wrap the last dozen or so. The rest of the lean bacon went into BLT sandwiches for us on Friday dinner (we weren't too hungry after our lunch out), and into the lasagna.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Sunday Eating

Today I've been feeling just a little morning-afterish from yesterday's cocktail party - I have a post on that in the wings. But I managed to assemble some muffins, on a whim. And I also assembled, as planned, simple light lasagna and salad dinner. And I ate lunch out. Not too bad for the tired & thirsty.

These muffins are made with natural muesli, which is an ingredient that I sometimes need to use up. I'm a very erratic muesli eater. Sometimes I like it, and sometimes I get bored with it and switch to toast and granola for a while - and then find that I have a slightly stale half-eaten bag of muesli left. It's no longer nice to eat, but not bad enough to toss out. Muffin and biscuit recipes involving muesli are the perfect solution to avoid waste here. The muesli makes these muffins pretty healthy: high on the fibre and wholegrains, and I even use high antioxidant berries to boot. Health food! I swear!

Later in the day I dropped off our overnight houseguest in the city - after we'd had a bit of a swear at the bloody taxis putting you on hold for ever and the uselessness of the ironically-named "Action" busses. And I took the opportunity to do a little window shopping, for the Xmas list. I was getting a bit hungry when I found myself around Borders, and so I grabbed some lunch from the Jewel of India - yes, in the foodcourt. I hadn't noticed before that they actually have a tandoor oven right in the front of the outlet. They make the naan right there in full view, and it smells great. I got a piece of naan that I'd watched being removed from the oven mere seconds ago. Yum! I ate it with a small serve of beef vindaloo which was quite OK. A bit unsubtle in the spicing, a bit on the oily side, but the meat was lean and tender. Excellent by food court standards; this curry would be kind of meh, OK, not bad, in a restaurant. For just under $10 with an iced tea, I was happy.

Since I came home, I've mostly vegged on the couch with occasional ten minute stints in the kitchen to make the lasagna. This is inspired by, but not at all the same as, Clotilde's recent post on Chocolate & Zucchini. It's quite amenable to the tired. No bechamel to make, just a quick ricotta mix. Start the red sauce, let it simmer for an hour or so. Do the assembly. Little bits. In between, I have wargs and liches to slay, and blog posts to write, and older posts to add photos to. (Fridge Frittata and Silly Hat Day.)

Recipes follow.
Recipe 1: Berry Muesli Muffins
1½ cups Natural Muesli
1 cup self-raising flour
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup frozen "high antioxidant" mixed berries
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup oil
1 cup milk

Combine all dry ingredients.
Combine milk, oil and egg, and beat well.
Mix all together coarsely.
Ladle into muffin pans
Bake at 180C for 25 minutes, or until golden and done.

Notes: You could use any other kind of fruit, chopped smallish. The good thing about the Creative Gourmet frozen berries is that they require no chopping. And this brand contains black currants, which I've taken quite a liking to recently.

Recipe 2: Ham & Ricotta Lasagna

Fresh lasagna noodles
500g ricotta
2 eggs
2 tablespoons pesto
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
100g bacon
100g ham
1 large zucchini
8 oven roast tomatoes
2 bayleaves
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil
pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup red wine
grated parmesan cheese
grated mozzarella cheese

White layer:
Mix ricotta, eggs and pesto in a bowl.

Red layer:
Saute chopped onion, bacon, ham, zucchini and crushed garlic in olive oil until onion is lightly browned and soft.
Add red wine, and stir well to deglaze the pan.
Add crushed tomatoes and all their juices.
Add herbs.
Simmer gently for an hour

Smear a little red sauce on the base of your baking pan.
Add a layer of noodles.
Put 1/4 of the cheese mix on to the noodles and spread out.
Add a layer of about 1/3 the remaining red sauce.
Add another layer of noodles, and repeat.
In the middle white layer, sprinkle over some grated parmesan.
For the top, smear over the last of the white mix.
Spinkle on some grated parmesan and mozzarella.

(red-noodle-cheese)-(red-noodle-cheese)-(red-noodle-cheese)-(red-noodle-cheese)-grated cheese

Bake at 160C for about an hour, covered with foil for 40 minutes, then open to brown the top. (Mine's a bit over-browned in the pic. Shoulda set a timer.)

Notes:It's a good idea to lay out the noodles first to see how many layers you will get, and adjust the ratio of sauce accordingly. You can fiddle around with this a lot. More or less cheese on top. A bolognese style sauce is traditional for the red layer. You could top it with a red sauce and grated cheese layer instead of the white sauce that I've done this time.

And that red sauce is very flexible. I had stray bacon and ham lying round needing using, and roast tomatoes from the freezer. A large tin of tomatoes would do instead, and you could use all ham, or all bacon, or all veggie or whatever. Some roast capsicum would have been nice but mine had gone moldy.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Delissio at Curtin

Our financial advisor bought us lunch yesterday, no doubt to soften the harsh blow of recent financial events. Or perhaps to have himself a tax-deductible duck and red wine lunch. (*) We went to Delissio, in Curtin - oddly located not in the shopping centre, but down the road near the schools at 83 Theodore St.

This was only my second visit to Delissio - I went once before as part of a large group, and enjoyed the food but not the atmosphere. They have this odd long table down the middle, which makes it hard to talk to your group. It felt a bit like pigs at the trough. But with only three of us, I thought it went very much better. The service was a trifle slow for a weekday lunch where people might need to get back to the office. Sadly, we didn't have time for an after-lunch coffee. I've heard it's good and the cups going past to other tables had chocolate truffles with them! Damnit, missed out! But our waitress was friendly and helpful, and they got all our orders right, so no big deal.

It's mostly Italian in style, featuring plenty of pastas and risottos and pizzas. There are a few international dishes including a jambalaya and a szechuan-spiced calamari. They have daily specials, too.

We shared the generous serve of hot cornbread ($7). It was surprisingly light and fluffy, and came with a mild chilli cheese dipping sauce. For main course, I had the salad which is pictured on the Curtin side of their web portal page right now. That looks like an entree size ($14), my main course ($19) was larger. It's a teriyaki steak salad, with hot tender slices of fillet steak, in a rocket salad with pickled ginger, cucumber, rocket and sesame. I enjoyed it very much - a very well balanced dish, and the rocket was fresh and young. The Bloke had a chicken, bacon, dried tomato and pesto rigatoni, and scraped up every bit. Our adviser went for the confit duck with sweet potato, which looked fabulous, I had been tempted by it, but decided it was too heavy for me at lunchtime.

To drink, I had a fancy Norwegian mineral water, which came in a bottle that looks like a giant perfume bottle. And I had one glass of a Knappstein Cabernet Merlot. Very nice. I'd have liked a coffee, or one of their rather good sounding desserts, but we were out of time, and I was too full for dessert anyway. That just adds motive to go back. I hear they do a good brunch...

They've also opened a sister restaurant in Braddon, where Coggans used to be. I'll have to check that one out soon. That's much more convenient for me.

(*) BTW, Dean, if you're reading this: I'm just teasing!