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.