Sister Outlaw on single women’s (good) food

I am very good at cooking for other people, but very bad when I am by myself. Other people get lavish meals like lamb shanks in Middle Eastern spices on preserved lemon couscous with carrot, beetroot and parsnip roasted in brown sugar and olive oil, followed by lemon delicious pudding. But when I am child-free and left to my own devices I eat crap. Some nights I’ll just get chips and gravy for tea, or cook pasta and cheese, or fried eggs on toast (NB: no veges). I also have an unhealthy obsession with dukkah (sesame seeds and nuts and spices like cumin with salt) and have been known to eat half a jar of the stuff, stuck with olive oil to most of a loaf of fluffy white bread (gosh, I’ve been wanting to own up to this for ages, it feels good to get it off my chest). It was delicious, but I did not feel so good the next day.

Recently returned to a single state, I have resolved that I simply have to devote as much attention to cooking nice things for myself as I do when cooking for other people, or I will become lardy and unhealthy. As we know, being lardy and unhealthy is inimical to dating but, more importantly, leads to permanent ill-health and it’s hard enough to meet a bloke in Katoomba without confining yourself to the hospital grounds.

But enough about non-dating in the Blue Mountains. This post is about how virtuous I am for cooking even though I didn’t really feel like it, how I managed to work dukkah into the meal without overdosing on the stuff, and how it’s important to just get going and do stuff for yourself, because the results are really special. And it doesn’t take much effort, or cost much.

This week, I made a VERY yummy celeriac and parsnip soup, which was dead easy. You just take a celeriac – a funny lumpy vegetable that manages to be like celery, potato, cauliflower and ginseng all at once – and chop the tops and bottoms off it. Then you quarter it, eight it, peel off the skin and chuck it in the pot with two quartered onions, two or three cloves of garlic, some water, some dry white wine, two peeled parsnips, a bay leaf and some thyme. Cook it until the veges are soft (about 20 minutes) and then blend it to bejeesus, add some soy milk or stock to get it to the consistency you want and warm it through with some salt, pepper and a vege stock cube if it’s not savoury enough. Serve it with some crumbly parmesan on the top and drink the rest of the wine while you eat.

But the nicest dinner of the week incorporated green veges AND enabled me to eat dukkah. I just love simple pasta dishes like grated zucchini or pumpkin tossed through spaghetti. Tonight, I fried an onion with some small pieces of sweet potato, garlic and a finely sliced piece of preserved lemon (my most specialist secret ingredient). When that was rocking I shredded a small bunch of silverbeet into the frypan, tossing until the colour brightened. I mixed it up with some fetta, a bit of butter, a smidge of cream and a small handful of coriander leaves. Then I mixed it into hot, fairly wet pasta (so the pasta water made a kind of sauce) and sprinkled dukkah over the top.

DSC00894

It came out lemony, with plenty of bite in the silver beet and the salt of the feta and nuttiness of the dukkah hanging perfectly off the sweet potato. I even had enough left overs to ensure that I don’t have to buy lunch tomorrow, which is good in these global financial crisis-ridden times.

I am really interested to hear about other people’s eating vices so invite PDP readers and writers to share their sins against fine dining. However, to ensure we honour the goals of this blog, perhaps it’s best to temper stories of vice with tales of how we have managed to redeem ourselves by cooking clever and artful food, even when we is by ourselves. So, c’mon contributors and commenters, share.

Masterchef fantasy restaurant menus – here’s mine

Tuesday’s Masterchef this week featured the remaining contestants (other than Lucas and Julia) being given an opportunity to make a three course meal that they would love to serve in their own restaurant/cafe. There’s much entertaining to-ing and fro-ing about the structure of the program, etc, at Reality Raving. I for one assumed that they’d been given some notice so that the ingredients they wanted – unusual in Chris’ case, unseasonal in Sam’s – could be organised.

While I will never enter Masterchef, wanting neither a career as a chef nor a role in a reality TV show, I can indulge for a few minutes a happy fantasy about what I might cook given a similar challenge.

My fantasy joint is both local, and seasonal, so to start I would offer a little glass of creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle straws. It would look a little like the fennel/orange/truffle soup from this post at Helen’s Grab Your Fork, but homelier rather than foamlier. Jerusalem artichoke soup has great depth without weight. It also provides lots of opportunities to make comments about flatulence, which might get any first date awkwardness off to a flying start. FWIW I think the soup is so good it’s worth a fart or two.

For a starter, I would offer a tasting plate of charcuterie and preserved veggies. With the Mountain Creek Farm heritage breed meats I so love I’d make a rustic pork terrine, accompanied by a tapendade made with the oily black Homeleigh Grove semi-dried olives, and a little medallion of poached and pressed beef tongue topped with some of my home-pickled, home-grown plums from last summer. I’d serve it with a herby salad – radicchio, baby endive, parsley, hazelnuts and thin tangelo segments in a mustardy dressing made with new season olive oil.

Main course would be a perfectly baked free range chook (that means a LOT of butter, some garlic, lemon and thyme) with a cauliflower gratin. Yep, cauliflower in cheesy white sauce – it might be naff, but hands up who hates it? The chicken would be sauced with a very simple puree of eschallots and sorrel which had been sweated in butter and finished with splash of cream and OK, I never said the Heart Foundation loved me, butter. There’d be some black (aka Tuscan aka lacinato aka dinosaur aka most alternatively named vegetable available or what) kale braised with olive oil and garlic, and some sweet baby carrots. The chook might look a bit like this:

But that’s not all for you, don’t be greedy. For dessert, I’d make a more elegant (and smaller) version of this Skye Gyngell – sourced recipe I made recently for a dinner party at my dear friend Cath’s place in Elizabeth Bay. I would make her give me her dear old dead Nan’s golden edged plates to use again (that’s Cath, not Skye). Little meringues, gooey inside their crisp shells, with a quenelle of chestnut poached in milk with vanilla bean* and chestnut honey, poached prunes and runny cream. Pardon the horrible flash photograph but it was a lovely long dinner and by her own admission Cath has more wine than God:

meringue cooked

Is that something you’d like to eat? And what would I be eating at your fantasy restaurant?

* Vanilla bean in Canberra I hear you ask? I’m not a purist on the seasonal and local thing – it’s a matter of emphasis, not a religion.

Words to the wise from Dr Sister Outlaw

I am a quiche maker extraordinaire, and a dab hand at buttery shortcrust. The quiche I made for last night’s Earth Hour/40+something-too-big-to-tactfully-mention-any-more-party literally flew off the plate, with much ooing and aahing about my magic ingredients, which in this case included sage, oregano and thyme and a judiciously sliced preserved lemon quarter, in a mix of eggs and ricotta.

But before you go all funny about me blowing my own trumpet, I would like to share with you some of the learnings I have gleaned in the last week’s baking, during which I made three quiches, one successfully:

  1. Always check that one actually possesses a rolling pin before one makes the pastry. An old bottle of Cascade Ultra-C is not a worthy substitute. (Observant readers may recall that I have mentioned my rolling pin deficiency on this site already. You would think I would learn, but alas, I forgot I lacked a rolling pin twice in one week.)
  2. Olive oil is no substitute for butter in pastry, no matter how many foody websites insist that it produces a nice workable crust. On the other hand, if you actually want a biscuit crust that tastes like olive oil and falls away from the bottom of your quiche, go right ahead. Personally, I would just cut your losses and make frittata, but then maybe the rolling pin deficit is to blame?
  3. Silicon baking dishes are robust, but not robust enough to tolerate being set on top of a lit gas jet for some minutes.

Just in case you thought this was a blog restricted to people who are actually competent in the kitchen.

Really, it’s springtime

Spring “officially” starts in Australia on 1 September, apparently because the colonial soldiers were so desperately hot in their woollen jackets they couldn’t bear to wait until the vernal equinox, when it was properly Spring, to be allowed to wear their hot weather uniforms. It’s never really seemed right to me, so I’ve always waited until the equinox on 22 September to begin the new season.

Early Spring’s not that fancy if you pretend it’s three weeks earlier than it actually is. As Cath wrote at the beginning of the month at The Canberra Cook, even the real early spring was still pretty grim pickins if you were growing your own food. Because I mostly shop at Choku Bai Jo, I mostly eat fairly local and fairly seasonal food. I haven’t eaten a tomato (except for some cherry tomatoes) for months and months and months. But we’re inching closer, and now the Spring foods I’ve been missing are starting to appear.

All of a sudden the shops are full of asparagus and strawberries. The early bearing Camarosa strawberries that CBJ has for $3.50 aside, all the strawberries I’ve had have been pretty pale imitations of a ripe strawberry. Not to mention harbingers of the endtimes, which are fast approaching {⇐ Evidence}

We planted some asparagus crowns last year, and looky! Unfortunately that picture shows our entire asparagus crop for this year, thanks to the chickens. But what a spear!

I don’t much like that skinny asparagus that some people fancy, as I find they can be stringy. So when I saw nice big bunches of fat asparagus at 3 for $5 last week, I pounced.
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She’s got eggs. Knows how to use ‘em

Like Mr Perry in last night’s BBC Emma (go here to discuss!), I am not altogether against eggs. We’re lucky enough to keep some chickens which crap free range all over the yard. Despite having pretty much the best eggs available to humanity, I’m not a huge fan of the breakfast egg. In fact while I love eggs in quiches, frittatas or a nice spanish-style tortilla, I almost never face off an egg straight up.

We often have two breakfasts on weekends. The first is emergency carbo loading of early waking children, usually porridge, often at an inhumane hour. A hour or so later is still a very long time before morning tea, let alone lunch. This weekend’s second breakfast was baked eggs, from a recipe in the Sydney Morning Herald/Age weekend colour magazine last month by Andrew McCo. I ripped the end of his name off, poor love, and the paper doesn’t seem to include the weekend recipes on their zhuszhy site. So sorry, Andrew.

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