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!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Fridge Frittata

What with the busy weekend I've just had - every night out Friday to Monday - the cooking and shopping lapsed a bit. We've had a simple steak, salad and oven chips dinner, featuring the last of the salads from the previous week's shopping. Luckily stuff from the growers' market is so fresh that it keeps longer. About half of the remains in the fridge was compost material, but we still had enough good for a decent green salad. We've also had takeaway noodles from Tudo in O'Connor, and a nice meal at Pulp Kitchen in Ainslie.

I did manage to make a "fridge frittata" to use up all sorts of odds and ends. This is a great one for the everyday repertoire. Basically, it's just leftovers, odds and ends, and eggs. I used some fabulous free range eggs and the colour was a gorgeous bright yellow. That is no false colour in the image, it was that lurid!

To make this one, I chopped an onion in medium dice, and sauteed it in olive oil over a low heat for about 10 minutes with - wait for it! - uncooked oven chips. I was going to use some old potatoes, but they were too far sprouted and soft. Compost for them, too. I remember reading somewhere that you could make quite a decent frittata with leftover chips, and this seemed worth a try. It worked OK.

After ten minutes I added some softer vegetables - some red and green capsicum, and a zucchini. Five minutes later, the lightest - shredded silverbeet and sorrel leaves. When everything was done, I poured over half a dozen beaten eggs. You want enough to cover the vegetables. Let it mostly set on the stovetop, finishing the top under the grill. A non-stick frypan makes it easier to extract neatly.

This one was very simple: no herbs, no cheese, nothing. With it, we had steamed broccoli and some grilled haloumi with a squeeze of lemon. I liked it; the Bloke seemed to think it was too vegetabley.

You can ring all sorts of changes on this basic idea. Herbs, spices, cheese, any vegetable as long as it's cooked by the time you add the eggs. Nothing too watery, or the egg won't set enough: be sparing with tomatoes, and dry your spinach well. You can add meat, like salami, sausage, bacon or ham. The Bloke would probably have liked it better that way.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

F is for Fyshwick, and Friday, and Flute

You might think that there's nothing foodie in Fyshwick, Canberra's light industrial centre. Furniture, car repairs, motorcycles, home renovation supplies, whitegoods, sex shops and brothels, yes, but food? If you are new to Canberra and that's your impression, then you'd be wrong. There are several notable foodie things in Fyshwick. Though I really don't recommend chocolate body paint from the sex shops. Nasty stuff, that, but I guess everybody has to try it once.

There's actually quite a few places worth mentioning. First, of course, is the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets. These are across the railway line from the more industrial zone, with access off Canberra Avenue via Dalby St. It's almost Kingston. It's open Thursday to Sunday, and boasts a couple of delis, an Asian grocer, two fish shops, a poulterer, a couple of bakeries, two butchers, an organic fruit & veg stall, and a lot of general fruit & veg retailers. I'm fond of the nut stall, with the fresh roast nuts and shop-ground peanut better. I don't go out there that often, though, since Belconnen is usually more convenient for me.

Even in the industrial zone, there are several places worth a visit. Last Friday I had to go to pick up a motorbike part, and I took the opportunity to go to Cosmorex coffee and The Flute bakery. Cosmorex, at 44 Kembla Street, sells coffee equipment of all kinds: grinders, plungers, roasters, espresso machines, mugs, and more. They also sell their own blends of coffee and tea, some of it nicely packaged up for Xmas gifts. The coffees are around $8-10 for 250g, unless you want the famous Jamaican Blue Mountains - at $180/kg, they keep a little in stock around Xmas but otherwise you have to place a special order. They're open Monday to Friday 8-4.40, and Saturday mornings 9-12.

The Flute Bakery, at 8 Barrier St, is even less accessible to the full time worker since it's a Monday to Friday concern, and they close early. I think it's 8am-3pm. But I'm only 80% full time, so I can get there now and then. I do love my Fridays! This little bakery and patisserie is very impressive - they turn out a terrifically good crusty white sourdough loaf, as well as multigrains and rye and fruit loaf and so on. I'm told their pies are excellent, too, but I haven't yet tried them. Their patisserie is wonderful: it's a hard choice between all the little French fruit tarts and cheesecakes and profiteroles and mousses. One of The Flute's specialties is the mini fruit-filled brioche. I took home a blueberry and ricotta one for Saturday breakfast, and had a pear and almond tart with my Friday morning coffee. The tart had a lovely crisp sweet shortcrust, and a creamy almond base under the fruit, and a pistachio garnish. Yum. And to top it off, the coffee was brilliant! It's seriously one of the best in Canberra: full bodied, aromatic, rich and strong without any burned in bitterness.

Also in Fyshwick, there are a few new looking cafes around to cater to the local workers and the weekend furniture shoppers. I haven't tried any of them yet, so if you have any suggestions, please do pop them in the comments. The one place that I really want to get to soon is Zierholtz. I've been to the brewery, and the beer is really great. Debacle keep a couple of varieties on tap, if you want to try it in town. But now a cafe/restaurant has opened up, and I'm hearing rumours that it's got good food as well as beer. I want to get there soon!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Robyn Archer is a God

Amazing, I'm just blown away tonight. Robyn Archer did a *2* *hour* set at the Street Theatre, ranging over a century and a bit of French song. Jacques Brel and Aristide Bruant and Edith Piaf and so much more. She's such a dynamo - singing and speaking for two hours straight, and still full of comic bounce at the end.

Monday night she's doing German song, in which I expect a lot of Brecht. We'll be there.

Silly Hat Day BBQ & Cake

I've been meaning to post this for a few days now, but I've mislaid my USB card reader for my camera. So here it is without pictures. I'll add them in later. (Later: not found, but replaced. The cats must have hidden it. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.)

Last Tuesday was a public holiday here, and we hosted a small BBQ party. I made a couple of salads and a couple of desserts, and our friends brought bread, and more cake, and things to cook on the BBQ. In honour of the day I wore my chicken hat. For a little while, anyway. We made up a sweepstake, and went inside to yell at the horsies for a few minutes around 3 o'clock. All of mine lost, chiz chiz. But apart from that, it was a lovely day.

I made a potato salad and a silverbeet salad, and we barbecued lots of mushrooms, and some saltbush lamb sausages and steaks. For desserts or afternoon tea we had Robyn's mini muffins, Sandra's moist lemon cake, a raspberry spice cake, and the wattleseed pavlova that I described in my last post. People were trying to guess the flavour, and coffee was the most common pick. It was pretty good, though it came out more chewy and less crisp than I'd intended. I had been pretty slack about monitoring the oven temperature and time, so this surprise result was, well, really not a surprise. The raspberry spice cake was very successful. Read on for the recipes.

Recipe 1: Potato Salad
1 kg small new potatoes
1/2 red onion
3 hardboiled eggs
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons seeded mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
watercress to garnish

Boil the potatoes whole, in their skins, for about 20 minutes or until done. Drain and cut into large chunks.
Meanwhile, chop the onion finely, and blanch it for 30 seconds in boiling water.
Mix onion with mayo, mustard, tarragon and vinegar in a large bowl.
Add the hot potato chunks to the dressing and stir gently to coat.
Stir through chopped hard boiled egg.
Refrigerate, and garnish with watercress when cold.

Notes:Like all salad recipes, this is flexible! And here is the evidence: another version, that I forgot that I'd written up before.

I'd have liked to use tarragon vinegar, but I didn't have any. Lemon juice and dill would work very well instead of vinegar and tarragon. You don't have to blanch the onion, if you prefer a stronger flavour. Light or whole mayo works, or a blend. Oh, and special thanks to Fiona's chooks for the eggs.

Recipe 2: Silverbeet & Orange Salad

1 bunch silverbeet
4 medium oranges
1/4 medium red onion
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
pinch salt

Wash the silverbeet, and trim it by cutting off the stems at the base of the leaf. Pick over, and save largest outer leaves for cooking if they're a bit imperfect.
Shred the good leaves and place in your salad bowl.
Slice the onion finely, and add to bowl.
Peel and slice 3 of the oranges, discarding seeds. Add orange slices to bowl.
Toast the pine nuts, and add them.
Juice the last orange.
In a small jar, mix 2 tablespoons of the juice with the olive oil and a small pinch of salt. Shake vigorously, and pour over salad at serving time.

Notes: Just drink the leftover orange juice, OK? To toast pine nuts, you can put them in the oven, or in a dry frying pan, but you can also microwave them. Place on a saucer, and nuke on high setting for a minute. Stir them, and continue to heat in 30 second bursts until they brown.

Recipe 3: Raspberry Spice Cake

450 ml self-raising flour
300 ml brown sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
250 ml raspberries
2 eggs
200 ml cream
50 ml melted butter
50 ml sunflower oil

Preheat the oven to 160C.
Butter and flour a 25cm cake tin.
Mix all the dry ingredients, except fruit, in a large bowl.
Melt the butter, combine with the oil and cream.
Beat the eggs together in a small bowl, then mix in the butter, oil and cream mixture.
Add the wet mix and the raspberries to the dry mix, and stir well to combine.
Dollop into the cake tin, and bake for an hour, or until done when tested with a skewer.

this is a fairly thick mix, and the fruit stays nicely suspended instead of sinking to the bottom. I found the recipe when browsing some US election blogs and following odd links. Mine is different from the original, in that I used whole frozen raspberries instead of mashed cranberries, and swapped some spices (2 tsp ground cloves? Srsly? I don't think so!) Also I misread a couple of lines, and used ten times more cream and butter than I was supposed to. But this recipe here is what I actually did, and it worked well. Here's the original: search the page for "cake" and it's the second match.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Saturday Food Binge

It was a big day yesterday. I went to the market and the supermarket; I cleaned out the fridge; I planted tomatoes; I cooked a lot of things. And I wrote two blog posts. Yes, two. I'm cunningly phrasing this as if I were in the future, and setting it to autopublish on Sunday. Woooh, spooky.

Things I made yesterday:
* roasted rhubarb
* roast tomatoes
* fruit salad
* bacon bits, croutons, poached eggs, caesar-ish salad
* granola
* wattleseed pavlova base

A proper recipe and some general chatty how to stuff follows. Basically everything is either just chopped up and assembled as is, or baked in the oven.

The granola comes from Nigella Lawson's Feast. I've made it several times before. Last time I see was February; this one was more faithful to the recipe, though I still made a couple of substitutions. I swapped golden syrup for the rice malt syrup - some insect got into my rice malt syrup and died, so I had to toss it. And I swapped dark brown sugar for light, and I'm using dried blueberries and craisins instead of the raisins.

Caesar salad: well, there are classic versions, and there are variants. Mine was a variant. It's basically the most unhealthy salad you can imagine. Bacon, egg, anchovy and cheese with croutons and a creamy dressing. Oh, and cos lettuce, just so you can pretend it's a bit healthy. I made a slightly healthier variant by making my own bacon bits and croutons - oven roast rather than fried, and with the fat drained off the bacon. Add a poached egg, and a sprinkle of parmesan, and some anchovies for me but not the Bloke. Finally, I made up a random dressing by lightening some mayo with lime juice.

Roast tomatoes and roast rhubarb are simple things. They just get bunged into an oven and left until they look ready - slow or fast, it doesn't matter as long as you watch carefully. Slow is better if you can. Wash the rhubarb well and slice it up, pop into a pie plate so it's just one layer. Sprinkle over vanilla sugar generously, and roast until soft. Yum. I didn't weigh anything, but sugar really is a matter of taste.

The fruit salad was originally a bad melon. Not off, of course, but I had another flavourless early rockmelon. I thought that chopping it up and mixing it with tinned passionfruit, nata de coco, and a small pineapple would improve things. And it has. Some slivers of glace ginger went in, too. It's turned into a decent dessert, with some icecream. Or breakfast, with yoghurt and granola.

Recipe: Wattleseed Pavlova Base
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup caster sugar
1.5 tablespoons ground wattleseed

Whisk egg whites to a light froth.
Slowly add caster sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.
Add cream of tartar after about half the sugar is in.
Whisk until eggwhite forms stiff peaks.
Fold in wattleseed.
Line a 24cm cake tin with baking paper, and pour in meringue mix.
Use a spatula to scrape out the whisking bowl, and smooth the surface.
Bake at 140 for 1.5 hours, and let cool in oven.

To assemble pavlova, simply layer on whipped cream and strawberries. Don't worry if the top cracks, no-one will know. You could put some wattleseed in the cream, too if you like.

The pavlova is for Tuesday - we're having a Silly Hat Day BBQ, which now seems to be getting a bit out of hand. Salads for 15? Eek! There's some horse race on in Melbourne, too.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

E is for EPIC: the Growers' Market

This is another alphabet gimme. I was thinking of actually going somewhere new, like Evatt, but this morning was so lovely that I just had to write about it.

EPIC is "Exhibition Park in Canberra", because "Showground" is like, so old fashioned and doesn't have enough syllables. It's a large complex, located across from the racecourse, on the corner of Northbourne Avenue and Flemington Road. However, the important foodie part is the Capital Region Farmers' Market, held weekly on Saturday mornings. The official hours are 8am to 11am; I mostly go about 9am.

The market is not accessed through the main gate. If you're driving, continue north up Northbourne, and turn left at the petrol station. You can't miss it: apart from the petrol station, there's also a traffic light, and Stirling Avenue going off to the right. Market parking is straight ahead; other exhibitions such as dog shows and car fairs are nearby.

Today's visit was my first in many months, and there have been a few changes. Most notably, while I was away there was a small scandal. It turned out that some dealers had been buying up fruit & veg from the Flemington wholesale markets in Sydney, and trucking them up to sell at premium prices in Canberra. The market organisers have now started a policy of inspections, and the liars have been turfed out. Well done! I was especially pleased to see that none of my favourites were caught in the net. And a couple of large stalls that I was always a bit sus about have vanished. (Ha ha, insert snarky "I was right" noises here.)

Anyway, this market is a delight. It's lovely to browse around - there's a lot more than just fruit and veg. You'll find bread, cakes, lots of meats, chocolates, garden supplies, nuts, tea, coffee, preserves, dips, fish, oysters, dried fruits, olives and much more. It's not a craft market, though there is the occasional sideline like soap and handcream. And you can trust that you're buying reasonably locally, either from the producer themselves, or a direct agent of the producer. There's a list of stallholders here, though they're not all there all the time.

This morning's haul is a fair example - each point is a purchase from one stall
* chilli peanuts, maple pecans and caramel macadamias
* sourdough rolls
* seedlings: three tomato and one zucchini
* lettuce, salad mix, spring onions, sorrel, coriander and watercress
* sweet corn and silverbeet
* rhubarb and broccoli
* sugarsnap peas, green beans and "Ming's Mum's Satay Sauce"
* apples (from the cold store, of course, but good ones!)
* strawberries
* tomatoes and asparagus
* mushrooms
* saltbush lamb sausages and lamb rump steaks
* lavender soap
* plain gnocchi
* cherries

Yes, cherries! The first of the season. Yay!