Monday, December 7, 2009

Silly Season

It's the silly season and so far I haven't done a lot for it. Traditionally, I get cooking in the first weekend of December and start turning out ginger bread, fruit mince and so on, followed by finding a new place to hide said goodies from Tim. This weekend I made a pathetic stab at soaking fruit in grog. Tim took one look before reaching for some kind of shop bought abomination we had lying around.

The first weekend in December also sees me putting up the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, it took me about twice as long to put up half the decorations on a tree that Tim very kindly assembled for me, before retreating to the garage which suddenly needed an urgent tidy up. Maybe it was the Christmas CD I had on a loop? (Well you can hardly erect a Christmas tree without the appropriate sound track playing, can you?!) The whole exercise resulted in me needing a lie down. (This recovery thing is getting old).

Anyway, I feel that Christmas cooking is on the cards in the next few days. I think I'm just about ready to get into the kitchen again, I mean, for something besides toast. At least most of the beverage purchases have been taken care of and that's important. Nothing says 'Merry Christmas' like bubbles...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From the vintage kitchen

I'm in 'pottering' mode at the moment since I feel well enough to be up, but not well enough to do anything much. I'm in a phase of rifling through forgotten boxes, dark cupboards and drawers, to see what I've got lying around that could be given away, sent to the Salvos or eBayed. It's amazing what one accumulates over the years, and I seem to have accumulated all manner of vintage kitchen stuff. Some of it is still functional, some dangerous and some, well I don't actually know exactly what some of this stuff is.

First of all are my gorgeous old Salter kitchen scales. Salter has been around for years and is a bit of an icon. I used these scales, (and an even older set involving free weights in ounces), until about two years ago when I splurged and invested in an electric set. Still, I can't part with old faithful.


The same can't be said for the Sparklet Corkmaster. It's a bizarre looking object that was made for about 20 years in the UK, I suppose in an effort to revolutionise the removal of corks from wine bottles. Whether it works that well is something I've not tested and don't intend to try. Interesting trivia includes that quite a lot were sold to the US Department of Defense, and at a dinner to which James Bond was invited in 'Diamonds are Forever' the baddie brandishes one. Enough said.


Dutch cocoa has also been around for a long, long time. Droste is still made today and in fact, on my honeymoon earlier this year, I found the current product in an obscure little supermarket somewhere on the coast. Droste still uses the same picture. The cocoa is excellent too. The Muisjes I believe are little sprinkles. My mother hails from the Netherlands originally, and I remember them as a kid.


Now this one I'm not sure about. Are you meant to make a bomb, somehow out of Schnaps? Is it like the Jager Bomb? Or something more sinister? The best I can do is that I think this is a dinky little glass flask and aluminium protector for the transport of Schnaps. Am open to suggestions.


Excuse the slightly smudgy shot (Tim will have a fit when he sees this) but this always makes me smile. It doesn't work that well as a shaker because whatever you've got inside comes out a bit clumpyand the lid sticks, but it reminds me of the robots in the original Dr Who show so I can't get rid of it. You know, the ones that gave kids nightmares and everyone in the show ran from in panic, even though they couldn't fit through a door? Funny, funny stuff.


And finally, I give you the Birko food and drink heater. My mother tells me that the Birko is an all-in-one sort of appliance that people had in their caravans and bedsits. Apparently you can boil water, make soup, cook eggs a half dozen different ways, and so on. So all the basic stuff was covered for a person on their own in small premises. Occasionally I look at it and think I should try it out and see what it can really do. But then I remember I have a great big stove that I really love using, even when it's just me for dinner.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Me, a knitter?

For the last week, knitting has really been a salvation. Each day, after doing the ordinary stuff like making coffee and putting the dog out, I get to settle down in front of a DVD and pick up the needles. I really look forward to that time now. In fact, such are my days at the moment that starting a new colour has become a highlight worth calling Tim at work to boast about. He's thrilled. And very interested.

If you can't tell from the photo, I'm knitting a baby's blanket. I have several friends with babies and several friends due in anywhere from a few days to a few months, so it seemed like the thing to do. I've got enough wool to blanket the whole house, and a range of colours because I keep changing my mind and obliging siblings have driven me to the wool shop a couple of times to buy more. It's an outing.

I'm not sure how to describe the technical side of things. You'd think I'd know by now, being an avid reader of Bellsknits. Helen very kindly supplied me with a pattern and the kind of useful advice you won't get from just anyone. Now I know about all sorts of stuff I would never have considered, such as circular needles - brilliant. I know about easy-care wool - fantastic if you're knitting for a baby and something I would never have thought to look for. I know about matching dye lots - actually I picked that up from a man at the wool shop, but good to know nonetheless. It's a whole new world and one that I'm thoroughly enjoying in the absence of being able to cook.

Now I'm operating in the belief that whatever I create will be good enough to impose upon my friends and their newborn offspring, for whom they want only the best. I don't think my current effort is looking too bad for someone who can only knit in straight rows, but then I am on a lot of pain medication. I'm also assuming that my friends are too polite not to praise my efforts and thank me profusely. Sorry unsuspecting friends who read this. Finally, I'm assuming that my recouperation activities are interesting to anyone other than me. Humour me - I'm on a lot of pain medication...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hospital Food


I spent last week in hospital. I put it in the category of 'one of those things' that sometimes crops up in life, unexpectedly and seemingly without reason.

The whole thing happened quite quickly. In the space of a few weeks, I had minor surgery, lots of tests and a lovely trip to Bowral (with it's brilliant cafes and kitchen shop it was such a difficult day) to see a specialist. I found myself scheduled for major surgery in Sydney almost immediately. While it didn't go entirely to plan, I feel fortunate to have had such an experienced specialist in charge, and be treated in an excellent facility without having to wait for months.

I also feel incredibly blessed to have received (and still be receiving) so much support from family, friends and colleagues. My mum and godmother came to Sydney with me, stayed 600 meters away and visited twice a day, bringing trashy magazines and decent coffee. Both necessities when one is confined to a hospital bed.

Since I've been back in Canberra, I haven't spent a single night alone. With Tim away some nights, there's always been someone here just in case. Last night it was my brother, the night before, my sister. My dog has been fed and walked, milk has been purchased, and one brilliant friend even sat patiently with me for several hours at the ER the other night. So thank you everyone for the calls, messages, cards, visits, etc. It has made this whole thing as un-depressing and as easy to deal with as could ever have been possible.

Now, surgery and pain aside, hospital wasn't too bad. I had my own, very nice room with a view of the water (well I could see the boats anyway), cable TV, aircon, pain relief at the push of a button and staff who couldn't do enough for me. This included the catering staff who made a point of letting me know what flavour jelly was available before doling it out. This was very kind of them, since jelly was on the menu each day, at every meal.

For the first couple of days I was allowed only clear fluids, and I couldn't manage much of that anyway. Then things picked up. For one lunch I had smoked salmon. On another occasion, I had the chef's salad which, despite my shabby photo, was really nice and fresh. One night they even brought me white wine, although I couldn't touch it at the time and am still off alcohol.

Since I can't cook at the moment and am living on pre-prepared meals and toast, I have taken up another activity for the duration. Knitting. Yes, seriously. Not only can I do it while lounging about, but I'm finding it so therapeutic and I love the instant gratification factor of seeing something form in front of me, even if I am slow and not very good.

Thanks to Helen at Bellsknits for the help with getting me started. It was a lot of fun going and choosing wool and I've revised my colour scheme twice already. I probably shouldn't be so precious with a first effort, but I can't bear the thought of undoing all that knitting and starting again because I no longer think my original colours work. Anyway, I'll take some photos of my efforts and post something later this week. Just be kind - remember, I cook!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another tart

Yes, I am slightly obsessed with savoury tarts at the moment. Should I call them quiches? Does it really matter?

I've had an over-abundance of fresh, free-range eggs lately, as well as lots of other good stuff that goes really well with baked egg. (Well that's what it is, when all's said and done.) Today's effort involved asparagus, wilted baby spinach leaves and little tomatoes.

Once again, follow my basic recipe for the egg and pastry. Fry up some onion and bacon, toss in the asparagus for about two minutes and the leaves for about one minute. You want to just take the edge off and slightly wilt them, not kill them. Season to taste and spoon it into the tart case, trying to spread it around as evenly as possible. Pour the egg over, dot with little tomatoes and bake. Could it be simpler?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Frangipane jam drops

Another winner from my little freebie recipe book - Frangipane Jam Drops. Is the frangipane thing about the almond meal and butter? I should check my Larousse, but it's pretty late and I just can't do it. Whatever the case, I really, really liked the cookie dough this time around. I just can't go past almond meal. It makes for such a rich, textured mix and goes beautifully with butter. So that's the first good thing about this.

The second thing is it's a really easy recipe. Those good folks at Woman's Weekly have the easy, 'anyone can do it' recipe down pat. And, these cookies are lovely. Very old fashioned, to be enjoyed with a good cup of tea. Tim calls them 'jam spots'.

The one thing I didn't rate was making a hole with a wooden spoon handle. The dough was too sticky for that, so I just sort of pressed the jam in with a teaspoon. It worked fine and didn't stop my cookie thief who didn't think I noticed the mound slowly diminishing...

Ingredients
125g butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
1 cup (120g) almond meal
1 egg
2/3 cup (100g) plain flour
2 tbsp raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 180º C/ 160ºC fan forced. Grease oven trays; line with baking paper.

Beat butter, extract, sugar and almond meal in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg, beating until just combined; stir in sifted flour.

Drop level tablespoons of mixture on trays 5cm apart. Use handle of a wooden spoon to make small hole (about 1cm deep) in top of each biscuit; fill each hole with 1/4 tsp jam. Bake about 15 minutes; cool jam drops on trays.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pretty patty cakes

Yet another weekend has passed, but what a productive one! We've seen just about everyone we know, the house is sparkling clean and I now have a freezer full of dinners, including a dozen doggie dinners. Good stuff! In the middle of all of this, I thought some pretty little patty cakes might be the go. Tim didn't disagree.

Now I'm not a regular reader of Woman's Day, but the other day I was in line at the supermarket (trapped, you might say) and this week's copy caught my eye. No, not because Simone's taken Shane back again, but because of the neat little cook book glued to the front as a freebie - The Women's Weekly "Baking Favourites." I couldn't resist. It turns out to have been a an excellent purchase and one that made buying the magazine worthwhile. I've already made two things out of it this weekend and I'm pretty happy with both. I'm also up to date with all the celebrity gossip.

The first is Patty Cakes with Glace' Icing. This is quite a traditional cake mix, and I just added a little more vanilla. You could also add some lemon zest for a bit of zing. They cakes came out light and fresh and fragrant.

I used some cute little papers I found in a fantastic kitchen store in Bowral a week ago. There's pastel blue, pink, yellow and white in the one packet. I topped them with glace' icing and sweet little sugar flowers I found in the same store. These cost about eight bucks for 20 pieces, and they're very fragile, but so cute and perfect for a special occasion! They made it back to Canberra with only about two broken. Then of course I dropped one and broke off a petal. But I still had enough.

About the glace' icing, I found this looks good but you have to work quickly because it dries very fast. I kept it over the hot water but occasionally added a few more drops of water when it became too thick. You could just use a water and icing sugar mix though.

Ingredients
125g butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 (165g) cup caster sugar
3 eggs
2 cups (300g) self-raising flour
1/4 cup (60ml) milk

Glace' icing:
2 cups (320g) icing sugar
20g butter, melted
2 tbsp hot water (approx)

Preheat oven to 180º C/ 160ºC fan forced. Line 12 hole muffin pan with paper cases.

Place ingredients in a medium bowl; beat with electric mixer on low speed until ingredients are combined. Increase speed to medium; beat about 3 minutes or until mixture is smooth and paler in colour.

Divide mixture among cases. Bake about 25 minutes. Stand cakes in pan 5 minutes before turning, top side up onto wire racks to cool.

Meanwhile, make icing: sift icing sugar into small heatproof bowl; stir in butter and enough of the water to make a firm paste. Place bowl over small saucepan of simmering water; stir until icing is spreadable. (I actually just threw everything in a bowl and stirred over the simmering water)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Super energy slice

I don't have a lot to say about this one. Tim rides a bicycle. A lot. So do his mates. They are constantly hungry, especially before, during and after big rides. Where most of us would be worried about fat and sugar content, these guys insist on cramming in as much of both as physically possible without throwing up. Anyway, apparently my last effort wasn't nearly energy-dense enough. Specific feedback included that it needed chocolate. So here I go again.

This is the new and improved version, dubbed iSnack2.0 by Tim, who incidentally thinks it could have been sweeter. Sigh...

Ingredients:
1 cup coconut
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup fresh apple juice
1/2 cup craisins
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
1/2 cup rice puffs
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 egg
100g melted butter
1 tbsp cinnamon

It's simple - mix everything together really well. Press into a greased or lined tin and bake at 180º until golden brown, but don't let it go hard. This should take about 20-30 minutes.

Melt 375g white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Add a half a cup of chopped craisins and stir. Spread over the cooled slice. Allow the chocolate to set and then cut into slabs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A stylish tart

I'm really enjoying savoury tarts at the moment. Don't ask me why. I certainly didn't grow up in a quiche making family. My father baulked at the idea of eggs that didn't come out looking like eggs, so my mother never made quiche. I've never gotten into making them before, except for the mini-party kind. Just now and then. Recently, it's been a lot more now than then. Nobody's complaining.

One of the appeals for me is that they're super-easy to make and very hard to mess up. They freeze, slice and travel well, and keep for several days in the fridge without a drama. Also, you can stick whatever you want in them which is handy. On more than one occasion, I've scoured the fridge for vegetables, any member of the onion family I could lay my hands on and anything resembling ham and/or cheese.

As if this wasn't enough, a savoury tart can look fabulous, like you've spent hours cooking when really you threw it together in ten minutes flat! Just choose a nice tin and put some effort into arranging some tomato, asparagus, salmon, herbs, or whatever you've got, on the top. Serve with some nice salad and interesting chutney to round out the meal.

This week's effort involved the same basic recipe as the broad bean and bacon tart, but instead of broad beans I used spinach in the egg mix and cherry tomatoes to garnish. The result was tasty, healthy and looked beautiful.

[Don't worry - I have a sweet recipe for you next!]

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!!!

Mr Pumpkinhead is back! That must mean it's time to say happy Halloween to all you girls, guys and ghouls. Have a great night, whatever you're eating.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Broad bean & bacon tart

Growing up, broad beans were something that I never really liked and ate only under protest. I had relatives who grew them prolifically and they were always in abundance at the dinner table. I got sick of being told how good they are for me and I suspect more beans were surreptitiously slipped into pockets and onto the floor than made it into my mouth. I'm not sure exactly what it was. Perhaps it was the smell of them cooking, or the thick grey skin that you get on older beans. I just wasn't impressed.

These days, the tables have turned and I get excited when I find fresh broad beans in their shells for sale anywhere. I love carefully choosing them from the box, all the while imagining what I'm going to do with them when I get them home. I love announcing to Tim that I found fresh broad beans and I love peeling them and placing the fresh green beans to one side, and the pods in a bucket for the chooks or the compost. I really love that particular shade of green they turn when just blanched and are still tender and full of flavour.

Infatuation aside, what I don't love is eating them as a dish all by themselves. For me, broad beans have to be the high note in another dish; a key point, a little treasure that distinguishes an ordinary dish from something special, however simple it may be. Recently I've had them in risotto and pasta, and this week I worked them into a savoury tart. And it worked very, very well.

Ingredients
180g fresh (podded) broad beans
4 rashers bacon, thinly sliced
4 free range eggs
2 sheets of puff pastry
1/2 a large brown onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp light sour cream
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
olive oil
salt & pepper

In a frying pan, splash a little olive oil and fry the bacon and onion together. You can brown, but don't crisp the bacon. You really just want the flavours infusing and the onion softening. This should only take a few minutes and when done, set aside to cool a little.

Grease a tart tim (mine is 23cm) and line it with the pastry to form a shell. I used puff pastry this time, but only because I'd run out of short crust. It worked pretty well, but you can't bake it blind because of the puff factor.

Pierce holes in the pastry with a fork and spread the bacon and onion mix evenly.

Heat a small pan of water, and when boiling rapidly, throw the beans in for three minutes. You really don't need any more than that. When done, drain and plunge in ice cold water to retain the colour. Drain and then scatter the beans over the bacon and onion.

In a bowl, beat the eggs, milk, sour cream and parsley together until well mixed. You can add some salt and pepper if you want to. Carefully pour this mix over the bacon, onion and beans.

Cook at 180º oven for half an hour, or until golden brown. Serve hot or cold, with or without salad. This also keeps really well for a couple of days in the fridge.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rolled chicken with craisins

It was the weekend. We'd spent it productively. We were going to go out to dinner as a gastronomic pat on the back for everything we'd achieved. Then we realised what the time was and that we were tired, grubby and just wanted to have a shower before sitting down to a decent meal and a glass of something cold and refreshing, preferably while dressed in (clean) trackies. Ah, life in the suburbs.

So, while Tim finished unclogging the down-pipe in the back yard, I rummaged through my fridge and pantry, desperately trying to find something worthwhile. Tim had been away and I'd been busy, so I hadn't done the groceries yet. I had some fresh, free-range chicken breasts. I had a packet of craisins. I had sweet potato. I had an idea!

It was as simple as stuffing the chicken with a few fresh ingredients, pan frying to a nice brown, and then letting them cook through while the sweet potato boiled and I turned it into mash. By the time Tim had washed up, dinner was on. Nice. Sometimes the best meals are the unplanned, quick jobs that you don't have time to mess up.

Ingredients
2 free range chicken breasts
1/3 cup polenta
1/4 cup craisins
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp lemon zest
tsp dried parsley leaves
juice of 1/ lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine or verjuice
1 tbsp butter
olive oil
salt & pepper

Place the chicken breasts on a board with the thickest part facing you. With one palm flat on the breast (the chicken breast, not your own or somebody else's), slice horizontally through the breast until you're almost all the way through.

In a small bowl, mix all the other ingredients well, except for the butter, olive oil and wine or verjuice. Fold the chicken breasts open, being careful not to break them completely open. Take half the mixture and press it onto the bottom half, and then press the top half of the breast over the top. Cram it all in and secure at the side with a skewer. The breasts should now resemble little bulging packages.

In a heavy fry pan, splash in some olive oil and the butter and heat it up. Brown the breasts on both sides. Pour in the wine and if you want to, throw in another small handful of craisins. Turn the heat down and cook, covered, for 20 minutes or until cooked through but not dry.

To make the sweet potato mash, peel and chop up one large sweet potato. Boil it until soft, drain and mash with some butter or olive oil. Salt to taste.

When the chicken is done, remove the skewers and slice into thick pieces. Place on the mash and pour some of the juices over and sprinkle with some finely chopped, fresh flat leaf parsley. Serve with a small, green salad and a nice glass of white.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Birthday cake

Yesterday was my birthday. It wasn't very exciting. Not that I was really expecting it to be, especially when it became clear that if we were going to have birthday cake, I'd have to make it myself.

To put this in perspective, I've been cooking ever since I was a kid and I can't actually remember many occasions when I haven't made my own birthday cake. There was the time when I was about eight that my cousin made something with lots of cream and blue icing. And another time mum made a M*A*S*H themed cake with a helicopter on top. But that's about it. I suppose the up-side of the arrangement is that I do whatever I feel like on the day.

Yesterday, I felt like chocolate and rum should be combined in some fashion. At the same time, I didn't want a really heavy, nut-meal based cake that wouldn't rise very much or would be too rich. I felt like your basic type cake. I haven't had one of those in many years.

I used a white spelt flour to achieve the basic style cake, although you could just use a normal self raising wheat flour and forgo the baking powder. I liked it and since people asked for seconds, I think it was a winner.

Ingredients
2 cups white spelt flour
200g dark chocolate
125g butter
3 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 - 1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp rum
1 tbsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 180º C.

In a bowl over a saucepan of hot water, melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring as it melts.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture looks pale and thickens slightly. Fold in the chocolate and butter mixture until well combined. Add add the sour cream and rum and combine well. Sift in the dry ingredients and add 1/4 cup milk. Fold in gently or use the slow setting on the electric mixer. The mixture should not be overly runny, but if you feel that it's too stiff, add some more milk.

Line a spring form baking tin and spoon the mixture in. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. At 45 minutes, test whether it's cooked by stabbing it with a skewer. Push it in right the way to the bottom of the cake. If it comes out clean, it's done.

I iced this with a plain white icing spiked with melted white chocolate and topped off with little pink hearts. I enjoyed it, including for breakfast today.

Oh, and I've carefully cut myself out of this photo and left the much more photogenic Layla in as the face of the evening.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When a man loves a burger...

Find me a man who doesn't like a hamburger. Seriously. I dare you.

Your average bloke, even ones with a developed palate, seem all too willing to throw caution to the wind for a hamburger from any greasy spoon, franchise or road-side wagon if they're hungry enough. Or if their mates suggest it after a few beers. Personally, I'd rather go hungry than eat from most of these places, and generally don't have a choice because of the whole 'can't eat wheat' thing. Sadly, your average hungry bloke requires more instant gratification.

To prove the point, I give you my sister's boyfriend. He's a fantastic cook. He's also smart, sensitive and gives a damn about food and where it comes from. He keeps a stock of good ingredients. He owns a bread maker and can use the ravioli setting on my pasta maker better than I can. Last night when my sister was here, he called to let her know he was home safely. Then came the inevitable "what did you have for dinner." Silence. I heard my sister ask "did you have McDonalds?" followed by "you always mumble when you've had McDonalds." And then "well, you deserve it."

I sat there wondering if that meant she was cross at him for eating fast food and thought he deserved whatever digestive issue he may have during the night as a result? Or, did it mean that lining up for a burger and fries prepared by some exhausted uni student towards the end of their shift, was perceived as a treat? Frankly, I couldn't see how but then I remembered my sister loves this man and would hardly wish him to spend a night kneeling before the porcelain goddess.

A couple of weeks ago there was a lot of talk about a burger wagon in Kingston. Sightings of this fairy-lit, red wagon of pleasure were being bragged about online and it seemed everyone was raving about it. Funnily enough, one night Tim announced he really felt like a burger, I shouldn't have to cook (it was his night) and it would be a good exercise to take photos of food at night. Sure...

It wasn't hard to find the Brodburger wagon. It's red and lit up, just like the legends say, and had a couple of dozen people milling about it. All sorts of people were there - young, old, couples, dogs, you name it. And everyone was chilled and happy to wait. The whole atmosphere was pretty relaxed and friendly. We got talking to people who'd come from the far north and the far south, such was the Brodburger reputation.

Each time the little window slid open, you could almost hear the waiting crowd draw a sharp, collective breath, each person hoping that they would be called next. With hope and expectation on their faces, the lucky ones moved forward when their number was called, reached up and were handed their little parcel of burgery goodness. A few people stood around, huddled in little groups of confidents, eating cosily and boastfully. Most people took theirs away to savour privately in cars and homes all over Canberra.

Then it was Tim's turn. He got the Brodburger Delux. We drove over to the bus depot car park where we could check it out without pressure. It had two beef patties, lots of fresh salad, and I'm pretty sure two types of cheese. The bun was fresh and crunchy and the whole thing smelled divine. I tried the beef and it was very, very good. Not sausage meat; it tasted like real steak with very little culinary interference. It cost about $14 but Tim felt it was worthwhile.

To put it in perspective, Tim can go out for entree, mains and dessert, and then go home and have toast and cereal for supper. (And yes, he stays exactly the same size.) The Brodburger hit the spot. No supper required.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A carnivore's dream

Tim and I didn't used to be much into meat. Not any particular view about it, just not something we ate a lot of. Since Tim did a stint in the north, he has a taste for steak. Unfortunately for him, steak is something I don't cook at home. Ever. I leave that to the experts, and to Nathan, the 'king of the grill' (or so his apron says). For me, steak is a real going-out meal; a treat. I'm not a great steak cook, so I don't try. I think it disrespects the meat to cook it badly. And besides, nobody likes gnawing on rubber posing as sirloin. So I stick to other meat dishes.

One of Tim's favourites is a rolled veal dish I do from time to time. It's a real carnivore's dream. Meat rolled in meat. I've seen many versions of this sort of dish. My mother cooks little rolls of beef in tomato sauce and serves with pasta. Yum!

I got this idea from a French cook book and what I really love about it is the difference in texture between the meat and the potatoes. It's important to make sure that the ingredients are all chopped very finely because the last thing you want is a chunk of onion or a big flat leaf of parsley ruining the texture. Having spent time chopping and grating on the finest setting, I have to say it is a very simple dish to make and yet somehow impressive. Tim refers to it as meatloaf. It sort of is, but just a little bit fancy...

Ingredients
500g pork and veal mince
400g veal steaks (about 4-5)
2 eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
3 tbsp finely grated parmesan
1 finely chopped garlic clove
scant tbsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp fine lemon zest
1 tsp salt

In a large bowl, combine with your hands everything except the veal steaks. If the veal steaks are a little thick, flatten them slightly with a meat mallet. They don't need to be super thin though.

Place a quantity of the mince mix in the middle of a piece of steak. Roll it up and secure with a toothpick or skewer. Repeat with the rest. Brown these off very slightly in a fry pan or oven-safe pot in a little olive oil. You just want a little bit of colour - you're not trying to cook them. If you're using a fry pan, remove them after cooking and place into a lightly oiled oven dish or pot with a bit of room. Add the following to the dish or pot:

1/2 red onion, coarsely chopped
3 sprigs thyme
1 cup beef stock
1 cup dry white wine
6-8 small potatoes
1 tbsp corn flour (sprinkle over)
salt to taste

Add the dry ingredients first and then pour in the wine and stock. Cook, covered, in a moderate oven for around an hour, until the potatoes have soaked up the flavour and have softened without becoming mushy. Enjoy with some crusty bread and fresh butter, and a glass of something cold.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Friends and baked salmon

I'm sitting here exhausted and slightly sore, but I can't complain. It's been the kind of weekend that I love - busy and full of friends and food. We had our friends from the UK, Sue and Pete (Jayne's folks) stay for a couple of nights and while they brought the English weather with them, we managed to show them a side of Canberra they really enjoyed.

Having done the main sights before, and being too wet for Floriade, we thought our activities should be inside as much as possible, and revolve around food. It wasn't just my preference - Sue used to be a caterer.

We started in Fyshwick, went to the markets in Kingston, and wound up in Woden. Along the way, I picked up organic tomatoes, salad greens, cucumbers, and the most delicate little grey zucchini I've seen in years. I bought a deliciously fresh foccacia for lunch, and we also got honey, chocolate and nuts. Sue and Pete really enjoyed all the taste testing along the way, and on Saturday night we had a party of seven for cannelloni and Italian mascarpone tart with blackberries (that Tim and I picked last summer) and we culminated last night with dinner of baked Atlantic salmon, salad and kipfler potatoes with garlic and parsley.

Then this morning they left. Tim and I were a little sad to see them go because they're great company and we've enjoyed ourselves immensely. To ease the pain, we threw ourselves into shovelling some more of the 20 cubic meters of mulch that was delivered to our driveway on Saturday morning, as well as lots of weeding and shredding. The upshot is not only that we've been well fed, but our front yard is looking less like a dirt farm tonight. I have to say, it's such a satisfying feeling to see the results. Almost as good as turning out a perfectly cooked meal.

This evening, in between rain storms, we finally took Ladybug for a well-deserved walk up the hills. She went slightly nuts. Tim and I just tried to keep a decent pace and not think about how tired we were. From the top of the hill, at my favourite spot, we stopped to look around. What I took in was inspiring. Towards the Brindabellas there was deep purple and grey and thunder and rain; to the north, Telstra Tower was shrouded in pinks and mauves and a downpour of light grey; the airport was looking dark and menacing and we were both happy not to be flying tonight; over the south, the sky was clearing and there were actually patches of blue. We watched planes come and go for a bit, and I found myself thinking how much I love this place.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Another wedding

I'm sitting here at the end of the week feeling drained and looking forward to cracking the Verve in the fridge and spending what I hope will be a relaxing Saturday night with some of our best friends. Tim thinks I'm nuts because I want to make pasta from scratch, but since he doesn't cook, he has no veto powers. It's actually not that hard or time consuming and I'll share my recipe for spelt pasta next week. It's also highly satisfying to plop your pasta into a pot of boiling water and watch it cook without falling apart. But I digress...

In a few days, Tim and I will have been married for six months. Six months! When did that happen? It feels so much longer. I still haven't gotten my dress back from the shop and I'm only hoping they've managed to repair the damage they did when they attempted to clean it. Sigh...

On the other hand, our godparents, Ali and Dave, have notched up 25 years! That's right folks, a whole quarter of a century. A silver wedding anniversary! And these two still act like teenagers in love. (It can be a little sickening to be honest.) Congratulations!!!

To celebrate, we threw a party and they renewed their vows. It was a really beautiful day with wonderful weather and wonderful friends , some of whom were at the first wedding. Ladybug doubled as flower dog, complete with silver tutu, and she was great (although she had to be dragged down the aisle) and the food was well received. Champagne flowed and the mostly white chocolate and berry cake didn't melt. I burned myself on the oven, but champagne's a great anaesthetic. I can only hope I can still cook for 35 people without batting an eye for Tim and my silver anniversary in 24.5 years!

[Ali is the stylish lady in red in the middle of the top photo and David is the old bloke (who also scrubbed up pretty well) talking to me in the bottom photo.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sausage rolls

Sausage rolls are another Tim favourite. I remember being able to eat them - the tasty, salty, meaty filling with just the right amount of fat and all encased in light puff pastry and beautifully enhanced by a good splash of tomato sauce. Sigh...

My mother's are brilliant. Tim raves about them and she knows it. I sometimes get the question from him on a Friday night: "I wonder if Christiana is making sausage rolls this weekend?" How would I know?

I also get calls from her when she has made them and they've just gone into the oven. It's a sort of sausage roll alert system, if you will. I can be at work, or scrubbing the bathroom or out with friends and if that call comes through, it's usually followed by "now, can you come and pick some up for Tim while they're still hot?" Of course mum. I'll just leave my job/chores/friends right now and come get some sausage rolls for my under-fed husband. (!) Neither of them think this request is unreasonable.

Last weekend I decided to whip up some of my own. They're super easy and much healthier and tastier than anything you'll get at a shop. If you make the large variety, one (or four in Tim's case) will make a good meal with some salad.

I was pretty happy with these. I still can't eat them, but Tim tells me they worked for him, although they weren't the same as Christiana's. Not better or worse, he tells me, just "different." I'd be concerned, but then being different didn't stop him from devouring the whole batch!

Ingredients
500g beef mince
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 eggs
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 sheets puff pastry
sesame seeds
tbsp milk

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for one of the eggs, the milk and the pastry. Mix well with your hands, making sure everything is properly combined. Wear disposable gloves if your squeamish about touching meat because this is one occasion when a wooden spoon won't cut it,

Make up an egg wash by beating the second egg and the milk together. Brush each sheet of pastry with the egg wash and cut in half.

Divide the meat mix into four equal amounts. Place one quantity of the mix into each of the four pieces of pastry and roll. You may need to flatten the roll out so it makes a large, cafe style roll. Brush each roll with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake for 30 minutes (or until golden and puffy) at 180º C.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dinner with Maggie Beer

Earlier this week, Tim casually suggested we go somewhere nice for dinner on Friday night. He said he'd make a booking and I thought we'd probably go to one of our favourite places in town. Yesterday morning, I asked him where we were going and after mentioning things like 'that pizza place' he said we were going to dinner with Maggie Beer. I didn't really believe him.
Anyhow, it became clear last night, once we were rounding State Circle that we were headed for Old Parliament House and Maggie's Table.

Pre-dinner drinks with friends in the courtyard were nice, followed by a Maggie-inspired three course meal. There was a live band, nice wines and Maggie and Janet Jeffs regaled us with some funny stories and Janet's vision for food in Canberra. Maggie and Janet then went from table to table to thank everyone for being there. It was a nice touch. I also managed to meet Maggie on the stairs and she graciously agreed to let Tim take our photo.

The Kitchen Cabinet is officially opening today and once the hysteria of a Maggie opening dies down, I'll go and have a look. I love the idea of having another outlet for regional and seasonal produce that supports local growers. The notion that Canberra can become a Barossa-style centre for food is one that appeals to me and was a theme of last night. Canberra is quite capable of making its mark as a great food destination. The region has so much to offer in culinary terms and I for one will be making more of an effort to support our local industry.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Minestrone: the right kind of soup

I’ve never really been into soups all that much. I have to really be in the mood. I don’t order them when I go out, and I rarely make them at home. However, when the mood does strike me, I’m happy to cook up a big pot of something hearty and tuck in.

One thing I can’t do is leftover soup. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps it’s the fact that a lot of soups sort of congeal into a slippery, stodgy looking, unattractive mass when refrigerated. Perhaps it’s the sight of waterlogged pieces of veg or meat floating like so many corpses in cold broth that turns me off. (Not that I've ever actually seen a floating corpse, but I watch a lot of Midsommer Murders.) I suppose it’s a question for the ages and best left alone, lest I turn anyone else off.

I think the one exception for me is a decent minestrone. Not any old minestrone, but one that I know the providence of. Seriously. The issue for me is that so many versions of minestrone seem to contain too many indiscernible ingredients tied together by mushy shell pasta and labelled ‘minestrone’ as if that’s meant to comfort and convince. I won’t touch it with a ten foot barge pole. Or soup spoon for that matter.

Minestrone should have a clean, strong, wholesome feel about it. It should be hearty and satisfying. It shouldn’t be strewn with random vegetable matter, but with carefully combined ingredients. The pasta should go in at the end, having been par-cooked and drained. If meat is included, it should not be great, soaking, sinewy chunks. Minestrone should be able to count as a meal all on its own and able to stand up for itself the next day. But for that to happen, you need a solid recipe. Here’s mine, based on years of contemplation.

Ingredients

1 small brown onion, finely chopped

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 cup potato, diced

1 cup carrot, diced

2/3 cup celery, diced

1/2 cup red capsicum, diced

1 x 400g tin kidney beans

1 x 400g tomatoes (crushed or chopped)

1 raw chorizo, diced (optional)

1 sprig thyme

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley

1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika

enough beef or vegetable stock to cover ingredients

salt & pepper to taste

1 cup small shell pasta, par cooked and drained

This is completely simple. Lightly brown the onion, garlic and chorizo together in a large pot. Throw in all the other ingredients and cover with stock. Let it simmer gently until the veg starts becoming tender but not soggy. Once the soup is cooked, add the pasta. The pasta will soak up the juices and flavours and soften so you don't need it to be too soft to start with.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A bit of a tart...

I was inspired the other week by some stuff I saw in a cafe display case. Not inspired in a good way mind you - just inspired to do better. Sorry if that sounds trite, but the half dozen ordinary looking, still partly frozen savoury tarts in the display case did nobody any justice. I could see the condensation collecting on the limp strip of pepper draped over the top as they slowly thawed. Yuck! They looked soggy and unappetising.

In the week that followed the defrosting tart incident remained very much on my mind. Am I obsessive? Maybe. Am I determined? Definitely. What did I do about it? I decided to get creative and make my own.

Now I don't come from a quiche or tart sort of family. Dad didn't eat that sort of thing, so mum didn't cook it. It was as simple as that. And, since I do come from a 'everything is made from scratch' type of family, we never bought the ready made variety when he wasn't around. My point is that my experience is somewhat limited to the occasional lunch at a friend's house or cafe adventure.

But back to my plan of action. I rummaged about in the fridge, and found some seasonal ingredients that I really love: leek and potato. What a marriage made in culinary heaven these two are. Throw in some free range eggs, some nice cheese, parsley, etc, and there you have it - a potato and leek version of the humble savoury tart. It was pretty quick and simple too and kept well in the fridge and lunchbox.

End result? I was pleased. Very pleased. So was Tim. (Especially since I took the easy route, used bought pastry and couldn't eat any of them myself!)

Ingredients:
50g unsalted butter
1 cup sliced leek (white part only)
200g thinly sliced potato
1 sheet short crust pastry
2 eggs
1 tbsp light sour cream
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated grana padano

Place half the butter in a fry pan and soften the potatoes for about five minutes at a low temperature. Add the rest of the butter and the leek and cook for ten minutes. Salt & pepper to taste.

Lightly beat the eggs, and then add the cream, milk, parsley and cheese.

Oil four 10cm (diametre) tart tins, quarter the sheet of pastry and gently ease each one into a tin. Cut the excess pastry away. Prick the bottom of each with a fork.

Spoon a quarter of the potato and leek into each tin, spreading it out evenly. Then spoon in the egg mix over the top. Tap the tins to settle the mixture.

Bake for 20-25 minutes at 180º C. Serve with tomato relish, salad and a glass of white wine.

Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards

I like the idea of an award for the best maitre 'd. See story in the SMH.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Take 5 - again!

Well here we are in all our glory as the Take-5 Reader's Choice winners. I would like to state for the record that this photo doesn't look much like me (don't know why that is) and I definitely do not talk like that. Oh, and my mother has never called me darling. That's all.

Thanks to everyone who voted!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chocolate caramel slice

What a weekend it has been! Lots of cooking and photos and running around generally. I've had a few flops and a few successes. It's all a learning experience and this afternoon it's perfect weather to stay inside and tell you all about it.

I started the weekend with a chocolate caramel slice from the Donna Hay Simple Essentials: Chocolate cook book (p32). It's something I've wanted to try making for years. I remember school fetes and morning teas when someone's mum made caramel slice. I was fascinated every time. I thought it was this magical, mystical creation that took much more skill than I had. Well it turns out that it's not actually that hard, even when converting the base to wheat free. (There are some things I'm not prepared to forgo taste testing of!)

The recipe worked well although I'll use more chocolate on top next time. The one thing I found was that the base can dry out quite quickly and become a bit hard. I think this is because the base is baked twice - once with and once without the caramel filling. Or perhaps it's just because I don't have a feel for this recipe yet? Whatever the case may be, it hasn't deterred Tim and I've had to hide a large portion of it. I want him around for a long while yet and I fear that if he gets his hands on this and acts with his usual abandon, it will go in a flash and may cause a little artery hardening. Yes, there's a fair bit of butter in this one.

Ingredients
base:
1 cup plain flour (I used spelt flour)
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup brown sugar
125g butter, melted

caramel filling:
1/3 cup golden syrup
125g butter, melted
2 x 400g cans sweetened condensed milk

topping:
200g dark chocolate
3 tsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Place the flour, coconut, sugar and butter in a bowl and mix well. Press the mixture into a 20cm x 30c slice tin lined with non-stick baking paper and bake for 15-20 minutes until brown.

To make the caramel filling, place the golden syrup, butter and condensed milk in a saucepan over low heat and stir for 7 minutes or until the caramel has thickened slightly. Pour over the cooked base and bake for 20 minutes or until the caramel is golden.

Refrigerate until cold, then melt the chocolate and oil and pour over the top.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dishwasher Love

If you've been following this blog for any period of time, you'll know that I started with a kitchen that was, frankly, a dangerous place. I finally cracked it a couple of months ago (after yet another hot plate on the badly installed stove broke and I got an electric shock) and made my demand: a new kitchen or I stop cooking. I got the new kitchen.

You'll also be aware that Tim and I got married earlier this year. A group of wonderful friends gave us a voucher for a dishwasher. I think this came after hearing me complain way too many times about things like Tim getting distracted mid-wash and the lack of rinsing that was taking place.

Finally, with the kitchen purchased and about to be installed, it was time to go out and purchase the dishwasher. Here Tim took control. The pre-purchasing research was phenomenal. Thank goodness for the internet. After several weeks of intensive study, Tim decided on a lovely white Bosch model with simple mechanics, rather than the type with the flash LED display panel. I like it. As you can see from the picture, Tim likes it even more.

Thanks to all our friends for the most wonderful gift. Now that it's been connected, it's even more useful!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Me vs Madeleine

Everyone has their kitchen achilles heel. It's that one thing that no matter how hard you try to get right, you just can't. You can try over and over and something is slightly off every time. It's so frustrating and doesn't seem fair, especially when you follow a recipe to the letter.

For me it's Madeleines. They're so small and seem so simple. I wish I could tell you that I'd succeeded in making perfectly textured little morsels that look fabulous and taste great. Unfortunately, success evades me.

I've tried different recipes, from traditional French to modern 'no-fuss' versions. I've used different flavours from lemon to chocolate to coffee. I've bought a new tin. I've had Tim supervise and double-check my measurements. But nothing! I cannot seem to get them right.

I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing wrong which makes it all the more frustrating. All I know is that my madeleines, when I can even prise them out of the tray, are lumpy on the upside and the kind of texture that I'm sure isn't right. Because I don't like to believe that any culinary challenge is too much for me, I will keep trying. Perhaps one day I'll get it together, or perhaps not. Either way, Tim will be taste testing a lot of Madeleines in the future.

Anyway, the photo you see is my most recent and successful batch so far. They don't look too bad, they weren't too lumpy on the up side, but they were a bit dense. In spite of this, Tim ate all two dozen. I guess that counts for something?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Julie & Julia

This is the story of Julie Powell cooking her way through Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' and blogging about it. Well, there's actually a bit more to it than that because it is about a personal journey through which cooking every recipe in this iconic cookbook seems to have been the one constant. It's a funny, poignant story and one I recommend reading if you can find a copy. Or else go and see the movie, starring Meryl Streep, no less.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Frank Sinatra, pot roast, and me

I have had some particularly odd dreams lately. I have a feeling they're food related on account of me either having eaten new and unfamiliar things for dinner that have set me off, or because there are things I'm thinking about cooking. Whatever the cause, it's made for strange times.

The other night I had what began as one of those unforgettable dreams. I dreamed I was dancing with Frank Sinatra. It was when Frank was arguably at his sexiest too. He was about 40 years old and had filled out a little bit, but still looked fit. I recall his blue, blue eyes, the cut of his beautiful suit, the cocky hat and the commanding way he held me while we danced. He was gently crooning something into my ear. I don't recall what song it was. I was entranced and had decided not to resist the inevitable attempt to seduce me.

Just as Frank drew me close with those strong arms around my waist, I stepped back and took the sight of him in, breathlessly. I looked into those clear, blue eyes that were smouldering with lust, and I asked Frank Sinatra to hold on while I went and cooked dinner.

What the hell is wrong with me?!

I told Tim. He laughed and wondered what it meant. I have no idea. Would I turn down Frank Sinatra to cook dinner? (I mean, if I was a single woman of course.) I just don't know. The point is that unfinished business has haunted me for days as I wondered why I stopped to cook dinner, for whom was I cooking and what kind of a dinner was so damned important that it couldn't wait until Frank had finished his song?

Instinctively I think I must have gone off to cook a pot roast. I've waxed lyrical about the pot roast on several occasions so I think it's a pretty good bet. It's a stable, wholesome meal and one that a woman probably would have stopped to cook in the 1950's in the middle of a Frank Sinatra seduction. Anyway, I think it's probably time to share my way of doing it. (Since I can't share how Frank did it.)

1. Use almost any cut of meat. For today's demonstration, I've used just over a kilo of roasting beef. You could also use pork or lamb (pork is amazing done this way). The slow, long cook time should soften the meat and make it just about melt in your mouth.

2. Heat up a decent splash of olive oil in a heavy pot that can be transferred to the oven. If you don't have one, use a frying pan for this step. Throw in a quartered onion and several unpeeled cloves of garlic. Place the beef in the pot and sear each side. You're not trying to cook the meat through, just brown.

3. Throw in one large, roughly chopped carrot, about a tablespoon of sweet paprika, half a cup of good beef stock and a bouquet garni - parsley stems, thyme and bay leaf. Add some salt and pepper. I also threw in about a tablespoon of chopped parsley leaves that I had left.


4. Put the lid on the pot and put it into the oven for about four hours (or until very tender) at 160º C. At about every hour or 45 minutes, baste the meat with the juices.

5. When it's all done, I don't strain the juices for serving purposes, but I do remove the carrot and bouquet garni. You can use the juice as is, although I often slightly thicken it with a little corn flour.

Dream well.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Croquembouche conquered...almost

For a long time now I've wanted to try making a croquembouche. Why, I hear you ask? Well, why not?

I guess I see it as one of those ultimate kitchen challenges. Tim has always thought this a bit of a silly idea and steadfastly discouraged me from attempting such a foolhardy exercise. He has pointed out that it involves hot sugar, which he assured me has a much higher boiling point than water. Also, boiling sugar is sticky. That makes for one big 'ouch' if you come into contact with it. I don't always listen to Tim.

Instead I called my sister Esther. I distinctly remember her high school home economics teacher commending her choux pastry efforts. Esther imparted what would become my mantra for the pastry making part of the deal - just keep stirring. One sore arm later, and I had several dozen fairly decent little puffs. Tim said they were shaped a bit like doggy do. He still ate them.

I'd read somewhere that profiteroles are best for croquembouche use the day after they're baked because they dry out a bit. I think this is true. I baked on Friday evening and constructed on Saturday morning and they did seem drier. I threw together a very thick custard filling that seemed to do the trick and piped it in about two dozen profiteroles.

At this point it was toffee time. I followed a recipe of sugar, glucose syrup and water and boiled until it started changing colour. I then dipped the top of each profiterole, without incident, and put them aside.

Finally it was time to construct. I was fairly confident, even though I didn't have a mould. Since the tower I was making wasn't that big, I thought I'd be fine. With the bottom layer down - the ground work you might say - it was time to put to work all that icy pole stick construction practice I'd had during various team building exercises over the years. Not quite the same thing but it still involved gluing somewhat unwieldy objects together to form a recognisable shape. And this is where it got nasty.

While dipping the bottom of a profiterole in molten sugar, I managed to drip some onto my right index finger. (Being right handed I could hardly have picked a worse spot for a bad burn.) It's true - molten sugar is very sticky and and very, very hot. And you can't stick your finger in your mouth for instant relief because you'll burn your mouth and hurt for hours in two places at once.

I don't recall swearing. I didn't cry. I stuck said finger under cold running water. In fact, I spent most of the rest of the day with a container of cold water at the ready for finger dunking. What didn't help was re-burning it later on when I went to get a hot tray out of the oven. I'm pretty sure I swore on that occasion. Ladybug certainly got a fright. I'm also pretty sure that I could just about pinpoint the spot in my brain where I felt some sort of chemical release every time I stuck my finger back into the cold water and relief washed over me. It was weird and strangely satisfying.

Besides the huge blister, I now have a sense of achievement and a healthier respect for hot sugar.

Oh, and Tim has offered to buy me special heat proof gloves, just in case I try this again. He's so thoughtful.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The most revolting dish ever devised

I recently read an article about Elizabeth David and the fact that she would scrawl notes in recipe books that reflected her thoughts on the recipe and/or its creator. Let me tell you, she did not hold back.

I've never really gotten into her work and don't own anything by her, although I've read bits and pieces about her as a woman who was passionately interested in food. It seems that she was adventurous, loved Mediterranean cooking, abhorred a lot of the old English cooking traditions, and was quite forthright with her opinions. I think she also came along at the right time, before the masses knew what prosciutto and arborio rice and verjuice were. But that is how history is made.

In any case, I don't disagree with her view of the most revolting dish ever devised. I can safely say that I will never, ever try this one. Not even just to see for myself. I can also safely say that having spent most of my life around Italian cooking, I have never, ever come across anything like this. But you be the judge...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Angelina's lemonade scones

Scones are a unique part of any Aussie childhood. They're one of those things that every kid remembers someone in particular being pretty good at. Often it's grandmothers who do the scone thing well. I had ethnic grandmothers and neither were into scones. Well, one wasn't into cooking much at all, but the other one was and I guarantee she never cooked a scone in her life. Mum, on the other hand, has always made a killer scone. She says her secret is sour cream. Let me confess that I've tried the sour cream trick and it's not that simple.

The problem is that the humble scone is so deceptively simple looking. Made from a few basic ingredients, it doesn't seem like anyone could ever possibly get it wrong. Well I've had the unfortunate experience of trying many a hard, or dry, or bicarb laced scone in my time. These versions of the humble scone are rarely pleasant and often barely edible.

It seems to take a special touch to have a scone come out with a light texture that lets it break open from the middle, properly risen without half a box of bicarb, and just sweet enough without being sickly. A good scone involves getting some air into the flour and not over-working the dough. In my experience, very few people manage this.

One young lady who can is Angelina, the daughter of a friend of mine. Angelina's mum kindly shared her recipe for lemonade scones with me, assuring me that they work every time. Now I can't eat them, but last weekend I had a houseful of Canadians keen for the Aussie experience. I gave them a go and true enough, they worked beautifully with minimal effort. But then maybe that's the thing with scones - keep it minimal? Whatever the case, I recommend this brilliant little recipe. Thanks Angelina!

Ingredients
4 cups self raising flour
300 ml cream
1 can lemonade
1/2 tsp salt

It's simple - mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Once properly combined, turn the mixture out onto a floured bench and gently knead until everything is sticking together well. This should not take long. Don't over-work the mixture or your scones will come out tough.

You can roll the dough out, although I just eased mine gently into a flat shape. Using a cookie cutter, cut rounds out and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cook at 200ºC for about 15-20 minutes until brown. Serve hot with butter and jam, or cold with jam and cream.

Note: I glazed mine with a little milk & egg but it's not strictly necessary.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Winners are grinners!

Thanks everyone who voted for me in Take 5 magazine over the last week. The good news is that it was not in vain. I got a call this afternoon telling me that I won the Reader's Choice prize.

Tim and I are both thrilled and pretty excited about it, not only for the neat prizes, but because it's our first foray into the world of competitive cooking.

We won some Kitchen Aid appliances (my all time favourite kind) and a Breville grill. Not bad! Together with the Royal Doulton cooking and serving gear we nabbed, our kitchen is going to be better fitted out than I ever expected it would be. It's just brilliant and we really appreciated everyone who took the time to make the call.

There will be some sort of follow up story in next week's edition for those who are interested.

Thanks again!!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Inspired by the Tour

Tim loves cycling and every year when the Tour de France rolls around, I wind up staying up late on lots of nights to watch with him. Of course, I'm not as hard core a fan as Tim, but I do ok.

One thing I really love about the race is the incredible shots of the scenery, especially the overhead stuff. The green fields, the sunflowers, the blue skies and the amazing chateaus and other centuries-old buildings just make me want to throw caution to the wind, apply for all my leave at once and spend an idyllic summer in the French countryside.

Imagine learning to cook in some little town, and then wiling away the afternoons lying in the sun, magazine in one hand and a glass of red in the other. Or proper champagne. Sigh...

Since I can't have that, I've been cooking a lot of French, or French inspired things over the last few weeks. My favourite is probably beef bourguignon. I cooked this on Friday night for some friends from Canada. Shortly before they arrived, Tim informed me that one was a proper French Canadian and I had a slight stroke. He wasn't and the meal was good anyway so it would have been a moot point.

My second favourite is something of my own - French green lentils with smoked pork & chorizo. (I know, chorizo is Spanish, but it works!)

What I love about this dish (besides being incredibly easy to make) is the wholesome, comforting feeling it brings. First, it bubbles slowly on the stove until the meat just about falls of the hock and all of the flavours are infused. Then, you get to eat it really warm with some crusty home made spelt bread and creamy butter. Heavenly on a cold winter night! Tim went back to the pot four times so I consider it a success.

Ingredients
2 cups French green lentils
1 smoked pork hock
2 raw Spanish chorizo
175g French shallots, peeled (just over a cup)
1 lt stock (beef or vegetable)
olive oil
3 bay leaves
about 10 sage leaves
2 tsp sweet paprika

In a decent splash of olive oil, just brown the chorizo and onions together. Add the stock and then the rest of the ingredients.

Cook slowly until the meat is tender and you can gently tease it off the hock. This shouldn't actually take too long - perhaps an hour or so. The beauty of the French green lentils is that they really maintain their shape and texture with cooking and don't go all mushy like I've seen the brown sort do.

When the meat is tender, take the hock out of the pot and remove the meat. This should come off really easily but you'll need to slice it into manageable pieces. Put the whole lot back into the pot. Stir, taste and add salt and black pepper. Don't be too hasty with the salt though. You don't want to mask all the other lovely flavours, and there is a lot of salt in the meats already. If you wind up putting in too much salt, try adding a little lemon juice.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Australia's Best Home Chef?

You be the judge!

I have made it to the dizzy heights of top 5 finalists in the Take 5 Magazine competition to find Australia's best home chef.

Now it may not be Masterchef, but then there's no public meltdowns, war of the words or sucking up to the judges involved. Just straight cooking. And, I'd really like to win!

There are two categories of winner - judges choice and reader's choice. To vote for me, you can ring 1902 554 994 or SMS 199 54994. Voting code is 55.

Voting ends on Tuesday at midnight (or does that make it Wednesday?)

Fingers crossed...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Classic Aussie Trifle

The new kitchen, and especially the beautiful stove, has inspired me to start cooking again in earnest. Looking through my mother's trusty black covered 'Good Housekeeping' that was the only cook book I remember growing up with, I thought I'd branch out into the wonderful world of of Swiss rolls. How hard could it be, I asked myself?

I managed to come up with an edible version of a basic jam-filled Swiss roll from spelt flour (I didn't want to be left out), but I wasn't thrilled. They're such dry cakes and unless you pull them out of the oven at exactly the right moment and then move quickly, they crack and don't roll properly and generally suck. No problem. That's what trifles were invented for - to make dry cake appear appealing.

Is trifle an Aussie invention? I always assumed it was. What other country could bring together jelly, custard, cream, fruit and alcohol in such a horrific fashion??? Brought out every hot summer holiday, it was the bane of my existence as a kid. I hated it. I hated the smell of it, the cheap, mock-cream filled Swiss rolls soaked in far too much sweet sherry, covered in tinned fruit, jelly and sweet, sweet cream. YUCK!!! Thank God (and I sincerely mean that) my mother never made trifle. It was just that every single other mum, aunt and neighbour did, clearly labouring under the false impression that trifle was the height of sophisticated desserts and should be served as often as possible to kids who must politely accept man-sized portions slopped into plastic dishes, or risk being considered spoiled and badly mannered. Sigh...

Taking inspiration from some old recipes, I put a decent trifle together, although I opted for individual glasses, instead of throwing the whole lot together in a large bowl. Although, you could do that if you like it the old-school, hope it stays together while you're serving, look. Tim, my mum and I have enjoyed trifle this time around. I'm pleasantly surprised.

Ingredients
1 packet Aeroplane jelly crystals, raspberry flavour
1 large jam filled Swiss roll
600ml thickened cream
1/4 cup sherry (actually I was out of sherry and used Dubonet)
1/4 cup custard powder
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 large can peach slices, drained (825g)
1 punnet strawberries
flaked, toasted almonds to garnish

Make up the jelly as instructed and pop it in the fridge until it starts to set but can still be poured. Make up the custard by placing the custard powder with a little milk and the sugar in a small pan and stir into a paste. Then add the rest of the milk and bring to the boil, slowly, without burning. Take off the heat and cool a bit. When cool, stir in 1/2 cup of the cream. Whip the remaining cream until stiff.

Cut 6 slices of Swiss roll, about 2 cm thick each. Place one slice each in 6 large glasses or individual sweet bowls. (Alternatively, you can make this up in one large bowl). Gently spoon some alcohol onto each slice of cake. Pour the jelly over each slice of cake and place back in the fridge until properly set.

When the jelly is set, arrange the peach slices on top . Pour over the custard, followed by a generous helping of whipped cream. Place sliced strawberries and toasted almonds on top.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Truffle Festival

Just a quick spot of news as I settle into the new kitchen (read: madly clean up because the outlaws are coming to dinner tomorrow night). The Australian Capital Country Truffle Festival is on. I'd love to do a cooking class, but we'll see how we go. I'd love to hear from anyone who has taken part in events or classes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Out with the old...

It's finally happening - the new kitchen is here!  Well that is, it's sitting on a tarp in the dining room, waiting to be installed. I don't care! It brings me one step closer to having a functioning space to work in. It's all shiny and new and covered in protective plastic and looking like it will make me very happy, once it's in. I can't wait. Step by step, it's taking shape.

The picutre above is of the old (clean) kitchen, ready to be demolished, with the new one sitting in the background. Note the sexy 1970's overhanging shelves. Some thoughtful design there. (!)

Bizarrely enough, I found myself cleaning the bench tops shortly before the demolition guy arrived. I know! Ridiculous but I blame my mother's influence on me for that one. I mean, one wouldn't want the demolition guy thinking one was a grot! (I won't describe the demolition guy, but suffice it to say that I don't think he would have noticed an un-wiped bench).

The rip-out happened yesterday morning. I can't help but think that it must be many a young bloke's dream job. Crow bars, large hammers and other heavy instruments were involved, and there was a lot of loud noise and chucking of stuff about carelessly because it's not like it matters if it gets broken.

At this juncture, I think it's only fair to share pictures of some of the contact shelf lining that will most definitely not be missed. c 1973?

Next, the plumber arrived to do plumbing related stuff. All good, although when he got the blow torch out and fired it up, without so much as a set of protective glasses or gloves in sight, I just had to walk away, close the door behind me and hope for the best.

The sparky was great. He pointed out that it was going to cost $64 to move a perfectly placed and functioning power point from one spot to another. He kindly offered me the choice of not agreeing to this and saving said $64. What a good bloke!

Finally, at around 5.30pm, the plasterer arrived. Not that impressed with the rip-out guy's work, he decided enough was enough and he'd be back on Sunday morning to take care of things. OK...

So I anticipate my weekend will be spent pottering about the place, trying not to get in anyone's way and occasionally making a cuppa for the men who are charged with making me more happy than I've ever been in that kitchen! It's worth it. 

Here's what we're currently left with: