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.

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.

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.

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...

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.