Tuesday, 31 March 2009

M is for Manuka

I know, I know, I had a request for Mawson. And I kept thinking I'd get out there soon, and I kept putting it off, and going to Fyshwick and Civic and Dickson and North Lyneham and Manuka and Kambah, and never making it to Mawson for a proper trip. And now it's well over a month since I did my last alphabet post, so it will just have to wait for another time.

So, M is for Manuka this time. I go to Manuka quite often - dinner and a movie with the Bloke, or coffee and cake with friends, or just for work reasons. It's a big area for food in Canberra - mostly as a cafe, restaurant and bar precinct. Locals know that you pronounce Manuka as MAAH-nuh-kuh. It's not Ma-NOO-ka like the tea tree plant, source of the famous honey, even though it is in fact named after the plant. Legend has it that some minor British royal declared the place open in 1920-whatever with this pronunciation, and it stuck.

I don't like grocery shopping in Manuka. There's a Coles, and a bakery and fruit shop in the newer section, but I find the supermarket poorly laid out, confusing and claustrophobic. And the prices are targetted to Canberra's rich list. I do appreciate Manuka Fine Foods, and also the Food and Wine Providore: they may be pricy, but you are paying for high quality gourmet nosh there. You know to expect it.

Restaurants and cafes come and go here. There's always something new. But some of the old favourites just keep on going - when I was a teenager in the 70s, my parents would sometimes take us out for pizza at Le Rendezvous, and Chinese at Timmy's Kitchen. Both are still there, redecorated but still going strong thirty years on. The old milk bar is still there, too, selling lots of specialty chocolates, and milkshakes in old-fashioned metal cups.

I have a few recommendations to share. There's no particular order, and missing a place may simply mean that I haven't been to it. Or not since the 80s: I must try Le Rendezvous again one day... As always, tips are most welcome in the comments.

Manuka Fine Foods: in Palmerston lane, this place has the best cheese room in town! There's also a deli and cafe, and the coffee is good. They have stock from quite a lot of regional suppliers. Some of it seems overpriced to me, especially some of the biscuits, but I suppose that depends on your priorities.

Zucchero: on the lawns, this does a decent coffee and cake, and excellent sandwiches on the house sourdough bread. It's an unpretentious spot, and serves breakfast until late.

El Torogoz: in Palmerston lane, this place has the most authentic central American food to be found in Canberra. Seriously good if you stick with the central American menu items. Try the soft tacos, and the unusual cheesecake with parmesan.

Jewel of India: upstairs, on Bougainville St, above the courtyard with Le Rendezvous. Some of the best Indian food in Canberra.

Legends: upstairs, on Franklin St cinema-side. Legends does Spanish food, including terrific tapas. They stock Spanish wines, sherries and beers. I was there with some friends in February, and we sampled a good range of the tapas. The kidneys in sherry cream sauce and the pipis were great, with generous serves. They run at about $12 per plate. One day we'll have to have a proper meal there, but if you want proper tapas, this is your place.

Mecca Bah: If you prefer mezze, here is your spot, on Manuka Terrace, Flinders Way. They do Moroccan and middle eastern food. I love the middle eastern coleslaw with pastirma. Great pides, and OMG, the icecream! Halvah, date, yoghurt, roast apple, turkish coffee ($9 for 3 scoops and they will let you mix). Must go back soon, it's been too long.

Ironbark Cafe: Australian food, using not just native meats but also fruits, spices and greens. Service is very laid back in pace. They do burgers ($18), wraps ($12), salads and cakes as well as more substantial dinner fare. The exact menu varies a bit, as availability for native ingredients tends to be sporadic. Check the specials board and watch out for the boab root felafel and the bunya nut pancakes. Fabulous.

Ginseng: good quality Chinese, on Flinders Way.

Timmy Kitchen - good quality Malay/Chinese, on Furneaux St. One of Canberra's oldest restaurants, almost an institution. Excellent value for money.

Wasabi - Japanese, teppanyaki style or a la carte. A huge sake selection and a proper sushi bar. A little pricier, but also with more upmarket dishes, than its Dickson counterpart.

The Julep Lounge: seriously good cocktails, upstairs on Franklin St.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Seedcake for tea

Seedcake is so very old-fashioned. You never see it in a cafe, but it is lovely. This one is a simple plain cake with hints of orange. I made it for a solemn occasion: a funeral for a friend's much-loved cat. It has a lovely "tea at the vicarage" charm about it, and it's not bad with a glass or 7 of sparkling, either. We finished it off this afternoon with a cuppa on the back deck, among the scattered gardening tools.

I got the recipe from a book of "British and Irish Cooking", a 1978 publication by Sally Morris. I bought it for $1.95. Not second hand, that was the recommended retail price. It's a wonderful old book, with recipes for plum cake, steak and kidney pie, Chelsea buns, Richmond Maids of Honour and much more. Some of them even use lard and suet.

I've always contended that British food is, despite its reputation, actually pretty bloody wonderful. I think that some of its bum rap comes from the war years, and the many years after when rationing was in force, and there was simply not enough butter, cream, bacon and eggs and so on. And of course, a lot of the best of it was simply done in private. Budget travellers encountered the horrendous cheap rooming houses with landladies dishing up over-boiled cabbage and a lump or two of gristle. Meanwhile the upper crust was feasting on Scottish salmon, rare roast beef with horseradish, devilled kidneys, stilton cheese and fresh watercress, and taking afternoon tea with seedcake, scones, strawberries and clotted cream.

Seed cake is worth reviving, I think.

Recipe: Seedcake
1 orange
3/4 cup salted butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon orange flower water
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 cup icing sugar

Zest the orange finely, and juice it.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the orange zest, orange flower water, and caraway seeds.
Sift the flour, and fold in gently in several batches.
Use about 2 tablespoons of the orange juice to lighten it, but keep the batter quite thick.
Tip into a 20cm cake pan, prepared as you usually prefer.
Bake at 180 for 40-50 minutes, or until a testing skewer comes out clean.
Allow to cool before icing.

To make the icing, sift 1 cup of icing sugar into a bowl. Add two teaspoons of orange juice, and mix well. If it seems too thick, add a little more. Smooth over the top of the cake, allowing a little to drizzle down the sides.

3/4 cup of butter is the measure in the original - odd, for a British book. It's a simple 3/4 packet, about 185g. And this cake mixture has a tendency to curdle at the addition of the eggs. It's common with this style of cake. Do not worry if that happens, just keep going and the flour will smooth it all out again.

If you are concerned about the age of your caraway seeds, soak them in the orange juice for half an hour first. They come out quite chewy in texture, but they are very small, so it doesn't really matter. Orange flower water is also known as neroli extract. A single drop of the essential oil might perhaps work instead, but it's a lot more powerful than the water. Be careful - or just skip it.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Easter Rant

Easter is coming soon, as I'm sure we all knew since the supermarkets stocked up on chocolate eggs and hot cross buns on Boxing Day. But I'm not upset about that. I find that a little ironic detachment about the silliness of it all is helpful. What does annoy me is what they've done to hot cross buns.

I have entirely given up on buying hot cross buns from the supermarket, and now only buy them from the best bakeries. This does not include Bakers Delight and Brumby's. I know that Cornucopia in Braddon does a nice one: they are the ones in the picture. I tried to buy some from Flute last week when I went to get a new shelf from the Government furniture disposal shop to use as a temporary pantry, but they'd sold out. Tips are welcome... And yes, I do make my own at Easter, but I'm not an everyday baker.

What is it that bothers me? Supermarkets sell no-fruit buns, which is silly but I guess probably sort of OK for fussy children. The chocolate chip hot cross bun may be a bit weird, but I can accept that as a modern development. I don't want to eat chocolate for breakfast more than about three times a year, but I can see the point.

It's the mixed peel. I like mixed peel. I like the little bitter citrus bite giving that little kick to offset the sweetness. You don't need a lot - there's maybe 3 to 5 pieces in each of the Cornucopia buns. But three or four years ago now, the big bakeries started advertising "No Peel!" on their packs of buns. As if that were a good thing. Oh well, I just bought the other ones. But as time has gone by, they have nearly all dropped the peel, and no longer advertise it. I fish out my glasses and try to read the small print on the ingredients, but none of my regular supermarkets now stock an old-fashioned bun with mixed fruit. Some varieties even have no currants, just sultanas.

Damn you modern world! I want an old-fashioned bun. What makes me really cross is the big bakeries' pretence that this little bit of cheapening is somehow a good thing. I'm reminded of the story of the airline that saved millions by cutting one olive per salad serving. Shaving away at the corners is a pure bean-counting exercise. It's all about saving production cost dollars. It's a cut in quality that they think will go unnoticed. Cut all the corners you can, bugger the customer!

Friday, 27 March 2009

The Merino at Gunning

Last Sunday I went off to Gunning with B1 & M, for an afternoon in the country. M was singing in a concert: the Oriana Chorale's "Choral Cabaret" at the Gunning Courthouse. We had lunch and wandered the streets looking at the antique shops and art galleries - like many country towns, they do aim for the tourist trade. Then off to the Courthouse for the concert, a quick beer at the pub, and home.

We had lunch at the Merino cafe, one of the two cafes on the main street. It's the one that doesn't serve chiko rolls... Yes, these sheep sculptures are out front. Their menu is quite modern city cafe in style, but with some excellent country touches. I had a mediterranean salad ($14.50) for lunch, since I had a big meat feast planned for dinner. It was a good one - plenty of marinated eggplant and fetta and a swirl of pesto, with nice fresh greens.

We were sitting under a shade sail in this lovely back garden full of roses, with the interesting corrugated iron fence decor. It looks like a Rosalie Gascoigne art installation. Up the back, a garden bed featured a flourishing stand of silverbeet.

The burgers ($8) looked very tempting - they have several varieties on offer, including a couple based on lamb rather than beef. I saw some being made, and they were based on huge sesame seeded rolls, with lots of fresh salad, and served just so, with no chips. B1 and M took advantage of the all day breakfast menu, and reported that their food was good. There's a good range from toast on up to the "Shearer's Breakfast" - for $17.50 you get egg, bacon, sausage, lamb chop, onion, tomato, spinach, tomato relish and toast.

I also liked the look of the cakes and slices. I had a florentine ($3), of the inelegant but satisfyingly thick peanut and cornflake style. Yummy. There was also an unusual meringue-topped jam slice, and some other things that looked homemade. Or at least, not made by the same kitchen that supplies half of Canberra's cafes. I didn't have a coffee, but B1 that said hers was surprisingly weak. It might be worth trying a double shot - I find weak coffees to be a very common feature of country cafes.

By the way, I don't much recommend the pub: gentrification and the tourist trade have passed it by. It's totally old-school, both in decor and in stock. There's Reschs & Tooheys & Hahn light on tap, with no fancy boutique beers, or even premium beers. Not even in bottles - not a James Squires or a Cooper's to be had. There's also a barren and depressing "beer garden" out the back. The tables out the front verandah on the street were much more pleasant, so that's where we sat with our downmarket beer, wine & G&T.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Meat lovers: check this out

A mob called Bonah are putting together meat packs. It's organic and free range, and you can get pork, beef and lamb packs. Chicken is coming soon. It's $15.99 per kilo, and the boxes range in size from 2-3kg samplers up to 15kg. You get a mix of roasts, chops, mince, stirfry strips etc.

My freezer is a bit too full at the moment, but while the renovations are on I'm trying to eat from the pantry and freezer and not buy too much more. When I get some space, I'll check it out. I'm especially keen to get free range pork - lamb and beef in Aus are mostly free range anyway, but pigs are still kept in quite cruel conditions.

I'm not 100% clear on the concept, and the website is quite irritating. All flash, with insufficient information, and it plays music (hate hate hate). But at least you can turn the music off. If I understand it right, you put in an order with the local distributor, and the Bonah people deliver the pack there for you to collect.

Who is the local distributor? It's the farmers' outlet, Choku Bai Jo in North Lyneham. They have flyers. Go check it out.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Farewell my pantry

It was a good pantry. With a light in the top, and wide U-shaped shelves so you could still reach things at the back at the top. And now it looks like this. It's at the right, a mere empty frame where the new laundry door will slide in. There is no replacement coming up in the immediate future: I'll be living with shelves in the laundry until we re-do at least some of the kitchen.

It's not so easy to cook with all the ingredients in boxes on the floor. I managed a stirfry on the day the pantry went, and we've been eating the chilli. Tonight I've got ham steaks. I know I've said "never buy ham steaks", but these are different. Free range pork, from the wonderful Eco Meats at Belco Fresh Food market; they are all lean meat. I'm going fruity with them: panfried ham steak with fresh panfried pineapple, plus some "Ham Jam" spicy cherry relish. Add some spuds and a green salad and we're done. I'm actually cooking one steak for the two of us tonight, and a smaller thinner one for 'Ron. I'm going to brush it with Hoi Sin, and pretend it's BBQ pork, and slice it up into a laksa. I usually make laksa with a pre-made paste from the Asian grocer; but maybe one day I'll make a project of it and do my own.

I've also made the bright green pea dip "poicamole" from Clotilde's Chocolate & Zucchini. It's dead easy, and very nice as a dip or a sandwich spread. Note that 300g baby peas only need about 5 minutes to microwave from frozen, if you choose that over the steaming that she recommends.

Today's harvest was 2 figs, the 400g rhubarb, and two medium-small zucchini. It's not much, but at least I'm keeping up with it easily. Today I'm cooking up the rhubarb with four old pink lady apples, to make some breakfast stewed fruit.

I'm microwaving it rather than roasting. I have no tomatoes left over to roast this week, since I used them all in the chilli, and I prefer not to use the oven for a single small dish. It seems like a waste of electricity. The microwave is very energy efficient, and works well on most things that you'd usually steam or boil.

I just chucked the cleaned chopped apple & rhubarb in a glass bowl, with a scant 1/4 cup sugar and a drizzle of Bundaberg ginger beer syrup. Nuke it for 5 minutes, stir, test, keep nuking for 2 minute blocks until it's done. The hardest part was finding the box which had the sugar in it.

This is rather haphazard, and depending on the variety and freshness and fineness of chopping of the apples, you might not get both fruits cooked at once. But it's only for me and I don't care if the rhubarb turns into a sauce. Cooking is much less of a fine art than people often think - perfection is hard, but "reasonably edible" is almost guaranteed with a bit of common sense.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Hello to all my new fans!

Naturally my Canberra Times exposure yesterday will have caused me to catapult to fame, fortune, stardom and all that. I'm waiting for my book contract now, and the movie deals. I would like my role to be played by Cate Blanchett, thank you. Katherine Hepburn would have been even more ideal but she's sadly a bit dead. Diana Rigg would also be a good choice. Any minute now, right?

So hi and welcome to any new readers. As you can see from the archives, I've been doing this a while, mostly for my own amusement and my friends. I'm also trying to create a bit of a resource for my fellow Canberra region cooking enthusiasts. I am not the Canberra Cook; I write a blog titled The Canberra Cook.

There's an index of reviews and recipes down the left of the page somewhere. And a set of tags for topics. My alphabet series has stalled at M, but I promise to get back to it soon.

In my local news:
* The little fig tree has grown up enough to produce a modest crop. It's very nicely ripening 3-4 fruit a day. Just enough for me to eat for breakfast.

* The rosemary needs a big trim to get it off the pathway. Does anyone want some? Or have any suggestions for using up a lot of it, rather than just chucking the trimmings in the compost?

* And my pantry has gone. The bathroom renovation plans met reality on Tuesday; and reality won. All the pantry contents are now piled into a few boxes, three of which are the actually the containers from the worm farm that I failed to get going three times. They're all over the kitchen floor and bench.

So I'm going to be living without a pantry now until we get some kitchen updates done. Could be months, or even a couple of years. I hope not that long, but I haven't had a bath for seven years now, so who knows? We plan to get some make-do shelving into the laundry on the weekend, so stuff will get off the floor. Meanwhile I suppose I can chuck out all the outdated stuff that got lost up the back of the shelves.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Chilli Con Not Very Much Skippy

I talked about my generic spag bog recently; and generic chilli is very much the same except with different herbs and spices. And kidney beans.

Today I thought I'd do a quick weigh-in of the veggies before cleaning them. It turns out that this time I'm using:
200g onions
400g mushrooms
400g zucchini
400g capsicum
400g tinned tomato
750g fresh tomato
500g kangaroo mince

What I'm doing right now is cooking the mince mixture without adding any flavours at all. After about half an hour simmering to reduce the moisture, I'll be freezing half of it. That will be the base to make another chilli or a spag bog. Each potful will probably serve up around 6 meals, once you add a baked potato or spaghetti and some salad to the dinner.

Pretty frugal on the meat, eh? That works out to about 42g of low-fat meat per serving. And yet the meat-loving bloke does not complain; in fact he loves these two household staple dishes. The Heart Foundation would surely give me a tick for this one! Until they saw how much cheese I add, but we won't mention that, will we?

Monday, 16 March 2009

Another Ad

I sing in choir. Bach is pretty. You come listen.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

MEAT-loaf. With MEAT. And MEAT.

Here's a very yummy random meatloaf that I made last night out of 3 kinds of meat (bacon, veal, and pork saussage). I had been thinking of BBQ snags, and then the rain came. Lovely, soaking, heavy rain, wonderfully good for the garden and the dams and the tanks, and absolutely crap for the BBQ.

I made this up out of things from the fridge & freezer. You almost certainly can't replicate it, and I almost certainly never will. But it may inspire. The recipe, that is, not the picture. It's not the most photogenic thing. It makes me feel a bit guilty about that time I sent the Canberra Times photographer off to take a photo of liver and onions.

Recipe: Random Meatloaf
6 eggs
4 pieces eye bacon
500g leftover lean cold wine-poached veal
750g Italian spicy pork sausages
2 large field mushrooms
olive oil

Softboil and shell 4 of the eggs.
Chop the veal quite finely, but not to mince. Around 0.5cm dice.
Mix half of the sausage meat and a raw egg into the veal.
Mix the other raw egg into the rest of the sausage meat.

Layer in, from bottom to top
* the bacon
* half the sausage & egg mix.
* half the veal & sausage mix.
* the eggs, end to end.
* the remaining veal & sausage mix.
* the remaining sausage & egg mix.
Bake at 160C fan forced for an hour.
Add sliced up mushrooms to the top, spray with olive oil.
Increase heat to grill for ten minutes, or until done to your taste.
Turn out onto a small chopping board, then invert it onto a larger one to slice up.

Read on for the notes

Notes: the point of this layering is partly to get a contrast in textures, but also partly to protect the lean meat from drying out. The sausage meat is relatively fatty and this helps keep it moist. Also, the streaky end of the bacon rashers would have been much better for lining the pan. But you work with what I have.

If I had made a meatloaf from scratch, with mince, I would have spiced up the meats with whatever took my fancy at the time. An English style sage and onion perhaps, or one could go Asian with chilli, ginger and garlic, or Italian with tomato, olives, garlic and basil. In this particular case I didn't add any extra flavours, because both the sausage and the veal were already strongly flavoured. The veal had been poached in white wine, and the sausages were Country Pride from Lyneham, and very spicy and flavoursome.

I served it with steamed broccoli and pattypan squash; a tomato relish made by B1's Mum; and soft white bread rolls from the Kambah bakery. It was very good. We also accompanied it with a spot of champers, a couple of friends, and a DVD of Young Frankenstein. Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!

I'm a vegetarian for today. And I got the first figs from my little tree.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Five Easy Pieces

I've eaten out quite a few times in the last month, and not written about it at all. It's probably time I did, so here you go.

Italo-Australian Club
The Italo-Australian Club is in Forrest, not far from Manuka, on Franklin St between Dominion and National Circuits. It's a club, with pokies. You walk in past a bank of them facing a row of Michaelangelo posters on the opposite wall. We were there for a Shortis & Simpson gig at the Folkus room, for which I got comped by Culturazi in exchange for a review. We ate at the Italian bistro, which the Folkus room largely takes over for their evenings.

It was a wonderful night because of the show, but our food was not so great. The bistro was overwhelmed with numbers, and had stopped taking pizza orders. This was a pity, since the couple sharing our table had got in early enough, and they declared the pizzas to be very good. The Bloke ordered a canneloni ($15), and I gamely tried the veal parmigiana ($20). Well. It took a long time, as we were warned, and when it finally arrived, his canneloni was unaccompanied by anything. No veg, no salad. A moderate serving size: just add a salad and it would be a decent meal. I offered him some of my veg to make up for it, but they weren't exactly appetising, being rather soggy and overdone. Possibly they were responsible for the fact that the crumbs on my veal were not crisp, but totally soggy and horrible. I scraped them off, and then the meat was quite OK, as was the eggplant, tomato and cheese topping. The Bloke's canneloni was actually pretty good and tasty.

I expect we'll be back, whenever some good music turns up. But the lesson learned is to order pizza, pasta and salad. They all looked rather good.

Read on for the other four...


Rubicon is in Griffith and it's lovely. Fine dining, with cleverly crafted dishes and and a good long wine list. We went with friends, and I picked a vegetarian main just because it sounded so good. And it was.

I had an entree of seared scallops wrapped in pancetta, with plum vinaigrette, lemon and fennel salad ($19.90). I love that scallop/salt pork combo - it's ubiquitous for a reason. My main was the chargrilled balsamic marinated field mushroom, port and red currant glaze, caramelised garlic, eschallots and creamy rosemary polenta chips ($28.90). Amazingly good: rich, tender and soft, with all the flavours matching perfectly. I was less thrilled with my dessert: Angostura bitters meringue with passionfruit, pomegranate syrup, clotted cream and pistachio praline cigar ($14.90), because I felt it was texturally unbalanced. The flavours were great, but the quantity of meringue was too much for the small amount of cream, so it came out a bit dry in texture. I'd hoped for more of an Eton mess kind of thing.

This is not an everyday sort of place, but I do recommend it for a flash night out. I especially like the covered courtyard out the back, with the fairy lights overhead like stars.

Blu Ginger
This one is in town, across from the new Griffin Centre and adjacent to the new Tongue & Groove bar. We were there on their second night, and I swear the staff were all auditioning for the role of Manuel in Fawlty Towers. "¿QuĂ©?" The acoustics didn't help matters, and their unfamiliarity with the menu and ordering system was almost comical. They did seem to be very nice and eager to please, so hopefully the glitches will get worked out soon.

The food was pretty good Indian fare. Naan breads were fresh and hot out of the oven. The vindaloo was nicely hot and with more wine than vinegar in the sauce. The unusual pumpkin & almond lamb was gentle and tasty, and there was a good range of vegetarian dishes. They did a mattar paneer variant with mushrooms, which I particularly enjoyed, and the coconut veggie curry was also very good.

I didn't make note of the prices at the time. They seemed pretty standard Indian restaurant rates, but there were a couple of sour notes. The raita serve was tiny, in a little chutney pot. The pappadams were undercooked, and really, $8 for those 3 small baskets? 6 pappadams? Seriously? And they charged us $27 for rice, and all we had was two medium sized bowls between five of us. The first serve was really not enough. This is probably a marketing error. You really shouldn't charge for extra rice, it looks mean and stingy. Add a dollar or two to the mains, and it looks much better and everyone feels happier.

This one will be worth revisiting when it's had a chance to settle in.

The Oaks Brasserie & Gallery
This cafe is set in a stunning English garden adjacent to the Yarralumla Nursery near Weston Park. The gallery is in the adjoining cottage, where the kitchen and cash register is. The seating is outside: huge oaks, white beeches, outdoor tables on the grass beneath the trees; it's gorgeous. Sadly, though it's also slow and expensive. Last Saturday lunch, with a largish group, we waited half an hour for our drinks, and a full hour for our meals. Luckily I ordered an iced coffee, so I had a substantial drink with icecream and cream. Otherwise I would have been starving.

The Bloke and I both had focaccias, and for $12.50 what you get is exactly what's on the menu. Turkey, cheese and cranberry sauce. One parsley sprig. No salads in or beside the thin toasted focaccia. That would have been $6 extra.

While we were waiting we had plenty of time to peruse the menu. They have a section for dogs, which is nice. But I was startled by some of the breakfast prices: mushrooms & tomato on toast $23! Eggs Benny for $20. No, not in a deal with coffee and juice, just as is. I've been there before, on a weekday afternoon, and enjoyed it more. Coffee and cake, or Devonshire tea is more reasonable value for money, and the service is better out of rush hours. The scones are good, though the jam was a cheap Kraft packet and the cream a substanceless whip.

Yes, this is a cheat to fill it out to five. Sorry. I have eaten Subway once in the last month, when we went to see the Burlesque Hour at the Street Theatre. We were very short of time for some reason, and just grabbed a sandwich en route for fill-up purposes. What can I say? It's better than Maccas. Their olives are those Californian ones that always remind me of rubber-tire fragments, but otherwise it's edible. The breads are too sweet and soft for my taste, but it'll do in a pinch.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

ORLY, Delicious?

I mentioned back when I was making the zucchini muffins that Delicious magazine this month has a zucchini bread recipe. And my zucchini plant is continuing production. I even had the traditional experience of discovering one as thick as my wrist, that I was sure hadn't existed on the previous day. So, well. Zucchini bread. Here it is.

I made it yesterday, and I'm eating some for breakfast as I write this. I'll put the recipe under the fold, but here are some selected quotes from the magazine. "Savoury Breads have taken over from quiche as the perfect lunch snack", and "a savoury fruit and nut bread served with soft cheeses and prosciutto is the perfect lunchtime snack." (March '09 issue, p73)

Honestly, Valli, what were you thinking? Did they swap a different recipe in at the last minute? This recipe contains nearly 400g of sugar, and no ingredient that might be construed as savoury, unless you count the zucchini. I reduced the sugar in my version, and it's actually pretty nice, but I do feel that I'm eating cake for breakfast. I can imagine it with cream cheese, but prosciutto would be going too far.

Recipe: Zucchini Bread
400g self-raising flour
200ml melted butter & sunflower oil
1 heaped tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 large zucchini, grated
3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries (craisins)

* Find a loaf tin that holds about 2 litres, and prepare tin as you prefer for baking.
* Preheat oven to 150C.
* In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients except the flour and butter/oil. Stir very thoroughly to distribute the spices evenly.
* Mix through the butter/oil blend well, then finally fold in the flour gently.
* Pour into the loaf tin, and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until a testing skewer comes out clean.
* Cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack.


Original recipe by Valli Little, Delicious magazine. This variant of mine is different in that:
1. I use self-raising flour, instead of plain plus bicarb plus baking powder.
2. I used 1/2 tsp allspice instead of 1/4 tsp mixed spice, and heaped up the cinnamon. Next time I think I'll add nutmeg, too.
3. I reduced the caster sugar from 1 1/3 cups to 3/4 cup. This could go lower.
4. 200ml of sunflower oil in the original became a melted butter & oil mix, because, well, I had butter to use up.
5. I used a bit more fruit and nuts. It could go even more, I think.
6. I used pecans, the Bloke hates walnuts. (But it might be too sweet for him anyway.)
7. I changed the mixing order a bit.

Also, I really wish she'd given a cup or weight measure for the zucchini. "Three large ones" is a bit vague. I suspect she didn't mean my huge one. I used that and a small-medium one, guesstimating that it's about the same amount as 3 of the largest you commonly see in shops. I'm wishing now that I'd measured it at the time. Isn't hindsight wonderful?

By the way, I measured my loaf tin by filling it with water from a cup measure, then I dumped the water in the bucket which I keep for the garden. To prepare the tin for baking, you can grease & line the tin, which is the old-fashioned way; or use a silicon pan as is, or line one with baking paper.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A Couple of Curries

I found a lamb meatball recipe last week, from the "Taste & Create" event, and I also found a recipe for a cashew curry while browsing for non-legume vego dishes. With some lamb mince at the market, courtesy of the saltbush lamb people, and the Bloke's OK to go for meat, this sounded like a good combo. And it is. Not terribly aesthetically appealling, I know. My photos aren't that encouraging.

I kept pretty closely to the recipe for the "Rista" meatballs. I did not have any Kashmiri garam masala, though. I do actually have some "Kashmiri Masala", but it's a paste, not a powder, and has that red colouring you get in tikka. I had a look at it, and decided to just go for regular garam masala, and add a little extra cardamom for the Kashmiri theme. I'm also not convinced that my saffron is any good. But at least my meatballs look much the same as Happy Cook's.

My variant on the Capsicum-Cashew Curry came out a little differently to the original picture. I seem to have much more potato and green and much less cashew. I suspect the author of cheating :) Anyway, it's delicious, a simple dry curry. I varied it in several ways.

First, I did not actually have any black gram dal, nor any asafoetida. Nor did I want to drive off to Belconnen to get them. Remembering that asafoetida is often used instead of garlic, I swapped in a couple of mashed garlic cloves. Also, Pratibha Rao says that usually this dish is made with some other vegetable called "tendle" that I don't know anything about. With her example, I felt free to do some further swapping. I only had one green capsicum on hand, so I added an equivalent bulk of green beans. I also decided to add the capsicum and beans later in the process so they wouldn't overcook.

It's a pleasant dish - gently spiced, warming and filling with the potato. The raw cashews, when soaked and cooked, become soft and a bit bean-like in texture, but they still taste like cashews.

Links to the originals, for reference.
* My Kitchen Treasures - Rista, lamb meatballs in saffron cream sauce
* The Indian Food Court - Capsicum, Potato & Cashew Curry

Saturday, 7 March 2009

EPIC Chaos

The EPIC markets are back after the show, and they are bigger than ever. Some changes have been made - there's a list on the website. Basically, the two sheds have been renovated into one huge shed, and the carpark has been moved. You can't get in by the service station any more. There's access from Flemington Road somewhere - past the racecourse and turn right into the showground and wiggle around. Or you can go in from Wells Station road, which is up Northbourne, past the old access road, turn left on the dirt road.

It was chaos today - no-one understood the parking. There were guides explaining but still a lot of very confused people. And then inside, no-one knew where to find their favourite stalls. The recently adopted "two sheds" policy, separating the actual growers and producers from the agents and re-sellers made no sense any more, since it's now one big shed. It should settle down soon as people learn their way around, and it's good to have more space. They've also provided some disabled parking spots; and about time.

The one lasting problem I can see is with the Wells Station Road access. It's a mess. Getting in there, on a left turn from Northbourne, is OK. But it's a dirt road, and with how much traffic? It's bound to need work soon. And getting out from there has the potential to be downright dangerous. You need to turn right onto Northbourne (Federal Highway), and there's no traffic light and unaware, fast-moving, on-coming traffic.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Real Blokes Eat Quiche. And Burgers

Especially a decadent rich quiche. I made a caramelised onion, chargrilled capsicum and brie quiche, and it met with blokey approval. I haven't made a quiche for ages; they tend to be rather rich and heavy. This combo was no exception, but very good. You can do more or less work on it as you buy or make the fillings. On this occasion, I used caramelised onion marmalade from a jar, and grilled my own capsicum, but you can also buy capsicum in jars, or from deli counters. Look for the antipasto sections.

Recipe 1: Caramelised Onion, Roast Capsicum and Brie Quiche
1/4 cup caramelised onions
1 very large red capsicum, grilled and peeled
125g pack Brie-style cheese
3 eggs
150ml milk
pinch salt
20cm pastry case, blind baked

Cover the base of the pastry case with the onion. Add a layer of chopped capsicum. Mix the egg, milk and salt well and pour in. Arrange the sliced brie on top.
Bake at 180C for 30-40 minutes, until filling is set.

Notes: The cheese will melt, so a test knife may not come out clean. If you want to be super-decadent, use cream instead of milk.

To make the capsicum, char it over a gas flame - I just drop it on the burner and turn over regularly to make sure all sides are done. The skin can go quite black. Put into a plastic bag and twist it closed. Leave for 5-10 minutes, and then peel. The blackened skin will mostly just flake off, and the rest will peel easily. Also, oven-roasting them is an easy option, if you are preparing in advance. Skins peel off very easily from a well-done capsicum.

How do you make a pastry case?
Recipe 2: Pastry Case
2 cups plain flour, plus a little extra
1/2 cup butter
iced water

This is the simplest pastry I do, and it's even easier in a food processor. Dump flour in the processor, add roughly chopped butter, and whizz until it's mixed well. It sort of looks like breadcrumbs. Add iced water - start with a tablespoon, whizz it up again, and then add teaspoons as a time until the dough just comes together. The amount of water varies with the weather, the type of flour and butter, the phase of the moon, and the number you last thought of.

Remove dough, knead very briefly, and let it rest for half an hour. Roll out on a floured board or benchtop to make a pastry case size; trim and edge by pressing with a fork. You'll probably have enough leftovers for a small turnover or something. (I made a rhubarb & raspberry jam turnover with the trimmings.)

Prick the pastry gently with a fork, not going all the way through. Line the case with baking paper and pour in some pastry weights or dried beans. (You can't cook the beans later, but you can save them to re-use as weights.) Bake at 200C for 10 minutes, remove weights. If you are going to return it to the oven with a filling, bake for another 5 minutes. Otherwise, if you will fill it cold, with no further cooking, give it 10 minutes.

So that was the quiche - serve with a salad, it is rich. We actually ate mostly vego all week, though not 100%. I rummaged through the freezer when we got back from Corinbank, and converted some leftover wallaby curry with lots of sauce and little meat into a veggie curry. So it was a curry, this quiche, and then there was also a wholemeal pasta dinner.

I've never had any luck with the dry kind of wholemeal pasta - I can never cook it right, it was too raw or total mush with nothing in between. But the Latina wholemeal ravioli with ricotta and spinach worked pretty well. I'll buy then again. I made a simple roast tomato, onion, zucchini and fresh basil sauce for it.

We did this diet switch on medical advice for the Bloke, and he didn't object much. But when the tests came back negative, he wanted a burger, stat! So I made us cheezburger last night. In this pic: cheezburger, made with Belted Galloway beef mince and my favourite supermarket cheddar - Bega vintage strong'n'bitey. Also, McCain's heart-healthy oven chips, baked with a good shake of Crankypants cajun seasoning, and a salad.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Best of Corinbank

Corinbank was totally awesome. I'm not going to dare to judge the acts or the art. But I had a wonderful time, and the highlights for me were:
* the choir. I got to sing backup to Chanel Cole and Simone Penkethman. Yay! I am so rock!
* the lineup at the Bally: Madame Mona Chromatique, Petite Sideshow presents Petite Freak, Bawdeville Allsorts Burlesque
* Mr Fibby!
* just wandering around taking in all the different artworks and people and music.

In terms of food and drink:
Best beer: The Backyard Brewery (as run by The Bloke)
Best breakfast: Huevos Rancheros by the Mayan Coffee stall
Best coffee: Non-colonialist coffee from the Mayan Coffee stall
Best cold drink: Iced Guarapo (panella sugar, lime, chilli) from the Mayan Coffee stall
Best dinner: Chicken mole from the Mayan Coffee stall

Umm... is anyone else seeing a pattern here?

An honorable mention goes to the sausage inna bun folks. They sold huge Kranski sausages from the Calwell butcher, who I am told smokes his own meats. They were indeed rather good, but the amount of fat in them is rather daunting. I don't often eat Kranski, and that one will probably suffice me for another year.

Monday, 2 March 2009

What, is it March already?

Damn, I was supposed to cook something for the "Taste and Create" blog event from My Kitchen Treasures last month and with all the travel and festivals and stuff I didn't get round to it. Actually I'm a little confused about the deadline, since I only got the email on 13 Feb. Does that mean I have a month, so I'm not late? Anyway, my partner has got in quickly and made my arrabiatta pasta already, so I'm dragging the chain here.

I really liked the look of this one, so I'm sorry about being slack. The anonymous blog author, "Happy Cook", lives in Belgium (beer! chocolate!) and posts a lot of Indian recipes (curry!) I'm pretty sure she is actually Indian herself; from the way she writes it seems to be her home cuisine. I do so love Indian food, I want to make heaps of these recipes.

My first thought was to try these lamb meatballs in saffron cream sauce, but I'm currently supposed to be cooking low purine type foods for the bloke - this puts red meat and pulses off the agenda for a while, so there goes a whole lot of great food. Not even a dhal. And then I really need to reduce my sweet intake a bit, so those lovely Indian sweets sound just a little too dangerous. What to do? I could just take the lazy way and whack together some vanilla extract.

Actually, why not? Get it done now. This is especially interesting because I am a fangrrl of Chocolate & Zucchini, and Clotilde also posted a homemade vanilla extract recipe recently. Happy Cook of My Kitchen Treasures uses 350ml vodka to 3 beans, while Clotilde does 250ml vodka to the same amount. I guess it doesn't matter that much, so I shall find a bottle of around the right size and go for it. Here's the recipe:

Vanilla Extract by Happy Cook
350ml vodka
3 vanilla beans

Split vanilla beans. Put into a bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid, and fill with the vodka. Store in a dark cool place for at least two months before using.

I can do this.

*steps away from the computer*
*measures possible bottles*
*checks liquor shelves*
*pops up to local shop*
*buys bottle of Finlandia (on special!)*
*makes extract*
*takes photo*

Done! The hardest thing was persuading Plummet that I didn't need help.

But the lamb meatballs and the mango kulfi are still totally on my "to do" list.