July 8th, 2009 — Bachelor Fare, Dinner, One Dish Meals, Recipes, Salads and Veg, Thrifty
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.
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.
July 1st, 2009 — Eating Out, Entertaining, Feasting, Feeding people, Food on the telly, Notices and Announcements
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:
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.
March 17th, 2009 — Dinner, Feeding people, Food for Babies and Children, Not Safe for Vegans, One Dish Meals, Recipes
One of the joys of Canberra is the four distinct seasons, and of all of them Autumn is my favourite. Although this summer wasn’t as bakingly hot as it has been for the last couple of years, it was still hot enough that I’m enjoying the beginnings of briskness in the mornings and snuggling in a warm bed at night.
If you try to eat seasonally, particularly if you grow some of your own food, Autumn is the best time of year. I live in a cul-de-sac of eleven houses, four of which have veggie gardens, and it’s quite common to see someone or other ambling across the road with a handful (or a box) of excess produce. It was our turn last week, when our neighbour Kev dropped in with two lovely early butternut pumpkins from his patch. I’m hoping for some figs, as our tree is tiny. It’s one of three in this street and the next grown from a cutting from No. 8′s magnificent tree.
One of the best arrivals with the cooler weather is lemons. Meyer lemons seem to be the most commonly grown variety locally because they tolerate cold fairly well, but I spotted the first fresh thin-skinned Eurekas of the year at Choku Bai Jo last week. While they’re very common and often cold-stored to sell over the summer, freshness really brings out their appetising sharpness. I love their colour too which is more “lemony” than intensely yellow.
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July 16th, 2008 — Ingredients, Recipes, Salads and Veg, Vegetarian and Vegan
A few days ago we went to stay with my old friend Tallullah (not her real name). She is a very old and dear friend, but has always been a rotten cook. In fact until recently the only interesting thing she’d ever put on a dining table was her naked self and her moistie of the moment. It was a crap old share house table and of course it broke.
Would you believe they then proceeded, lust undiminished, to the kitchen table and then broke it too? Well, they did. What propelled this concupiscent wreckery to the realms of share house legend was that they had resorted to busting tables only because the entire household – four flatmates and one weekend guest – had scored on the same evening. At a bar called, “The Private Bin”, about which I shall make no further comment. Tallullah, while a resident, had got home too late that night to enjoy the privileges of her own bed. (So you see why I did that with her name, now, huhn?)
That was nearly fifteen years ago, and Tallullah’s cooking has come a million miles from the two minute noodles and sliced up oranges she used to serve for dinner. Last week we had a very tasty lasagne – she told me she’d been working on improving her cheesiness, and the cheesiness level was excellent, intense and creamy but still light. She’d also made a beautiful salad of chunks of avocado, tomato, and cucumber with butter lettuce. Tallullah’s known me for a long time too, so she waggled a bottle of “Fat Free French Dressing” at me and said “You don’t want this, do you?”
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June 6th, 2008 — Celebrity Blog Chef!, Eating local, Recipes, Vegetarian and Vegan
It can be a bit annoying for a seasonal cook reading Northern Hemisphere food blogs. Like what the hell are “garlic scapes“, known for their extreme curliness, which are bursting into their brief season in the Northern Hemisphere now? Are they – as I strongly suspect – the same dead straight thingies that are imported into Australia from China and sold as “garlic stems”? Inquiring cooks need to know.
Another recent mention of these garlic scapes came from Heidi Swanson who lives in San Francisco and writes the humungously popular 101 Cookbooks. Last week she published a recipe for Broccoli Pesto and Fusilli Pasta.
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May 7th, 2008 — Dinner, Eating local, Food for Babies and Children, Recipes
I’m conscious that I haven’t posted much yet about what or how I cook – bit of an oversight, really. This was last night’s dinner – trimmed lamb chops marinated for a couple of hours, cooked in a grill pan and served in flatbread with mixed greens (the leftovers from my Choku Bai Jo shop ten days ago – still crisp and fresh), red chilli oil and a sesame sauce.
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