December 14th, 2008 — Food for Babies and Children, Recipes, Vegetarian and Vegan
This summer I am having the biggest adventure ever and going to Asia for the very first time. It’s my 40th birthday present to myself, and although I initially planned the trip as a running away affair, I eventually decided to take the little one with me. Only problem is, he doesn’t like chilli.
I can understand that. I wasn’t raised to eat chilli, being Tasmanian as well as growing up in the house of a 10 pound pom with serious issues with flavour. It wasn’t really a feature of cooking in the student houses I’d lived in and I remember arriving in Sydney and perusing Thai and Sichuan Chinese restaurant menus in desperation, because everything seemed to have more chilli in it than I could bear.
My awakening was a Thai beef salad that hurt so much to eat it made my face burn purple and caused fat oily tears to roll down my cheeks but, once the 90 seconds of agony passed the flavour was so exquisite that you were prepared to do it all again. I never looked back, although I remain bemused by friends, particularly blokes, who seem to have permanently destroyed their tastebuds by overdosing on chilli. Nor would I ever eat an entire dorset naga. This Aussie bloke reckons it destroyed his sense of taste for 36 hours. Why would you do that?
The other extreme is, of course no chilli at all, and it has been hard living with a boy who is determined to avoid spice. He did make a concerted effort when he was five (announcing ‘I’m going to change my life’). Like most New Year’s resolutions, it didn’t last. But now we have to get into serious training, otherwise he’ll be stuck with Chinese food in Thailand, and what a shame that would be.
Fortunately he is prepared to take on the chilli challenge. Last week I bought a green chilli, and chopped the end off it for him. He ate it, apprehensively, but survived and was prepared to go one step further. My fingers were laden with the juice from the seeds so I placed one finger lightly on his tongue, and watched while he went ‘phwoar!’ and realised, for the first time, that chilli is joyous, as well as painful. Now he sees chillis in the supermarket and wonders …
We’re so excited about the trip, and I know that nothing we make here will ever taste as good as it does over there. I also know we can’t really prepare for the blasts of chilli to come and there will be tears – mine as well as his. But we’ve enjoyed upping the chilli ante and there have been some cool experiments, including chilli chocolate. One of those experiments, which I was inspired to make following a discussion on this blog about caramelising onions, was this nice quick chilli sambal. It involves my favourite chilli sauce, sambal oelek, which I love for its saltiness, particularly when blended with things like tempeh and Vietnamese mint.
Quick chilli onion sambal
Take two onions and slice them very thinly. Warm a tablespoon of sesame or peanut oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the onions and cook, covered, on a slow-moderate heat for at least 10 minutes until they go transparent and are beginning to brown. Take the lid off the pot, step up the heat a bit and add a tablespoon of brown sugar (or palm sugar) and a tablespoon of sambal oelek. Sit with it and cook it off until it’s a nice rich sticky, orangey brown, gloopy mess (don’t let it catch and burn). You end up with this;
The sugar and salt counter each other perfectly. It makes a terrific sauce for fish, or alongside spuds – it would be very good with tofu or tempeh. I also ate it with Francis Xavier Holden’s beef curry and it was fine. Obviously, if you want it properly hot, doubling the sambal oelek doubles the heat, and the onion can take it. Not sure the seven year old can …
September 5th, 2008 — Dinner, Feeding people, One Dish Meals
I was walking up Spadina St, which is where much of Chinatown is in Toronto, looking for bits for a ‘thank you’ dinner party for my Canadian hosts.
Many of the grocers have baskets of produce out the front and one shop owner had to periodically wipe the snow off piles fruit and veg. It was all pleasingly charming and disorientating (no pun intended).
Anyway, one of these baskets was full of small, dried, white figs of the same type that I had discovered back home in Sydney earlier that year. They come from Iran and are often labelled as “Iranian figs”.
I bought a bag and popped one in my mouth for the walk home which, when I almost broke a tooth, was how I discovered I’d actually bought several handfuls of dried chestnut kernels.
Taking them back with me to Halifax I sought a recipe. And there in my sister-in-law’s collection was a doozy.
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June 9th, 2008 — Dinner, Entertaining, Notices and Announcements, Recipes, Vegetarian and Vegan
Nothing like inviting people around for soup on a chill Autumnal evening. Knowing that you’ve invited foodies adds a bit of pressure, but I chose soups that had been tried and praised before, so the only pressure was to cook them well: Lamb Shank & Penne Soup, and Spinach & Dahl Soup.
The Lamb Shank soup comes from one of those generic newsagent cookbooks: the Family Circle Pasta & Noodles Book. I’ve been trying to remember when I got this, and whether I inherited it from my mother when she had a clean-out, or whether I bought it from a garage sale. It’s quite a dull book, but there’s a couple of winner recipes that I’ve discovered and treasured. This is one of them.
The Spinach & Dahl soup was bought as a packet mix of spices produced by a fab little family company called The Saucy Spice Co., based in Pambula on the Far South Coast of NSW. They peddle online, but also have a stall at the Canberra Bus Depot Markets every Sunday. I highly recommend their spice mixes. They buy fresh supplies, and their simple packages are always marked with a use-by date so that they are never stale (unless you stash them in the back of a cupboard and forget them).
They sell packages of spice mixes for specific recipes, and you provide the rest of the ingredients. The ingredients needed are listed on the label, but the actual recipe is inside the packet. Their curries and soups are superb. I can’t include the recipe for the Dahl soup here, mainly because they tell you which spices they’ve used, but not the quantities, so I encourage you to buy a packet or two of their wares and enjoy. The heat of each recipe is always indicated, and they have some fantastic mild recipes that kids will love. I highly recommend their Javanese Chicken, my son loves it.
The Dahl soup needed blending at the 2/3 point of cooking, and I’d given my stab blender away to my mother years ago, once I’d stopped making my own baby food. I just never seem to need one. So I asked Zoe to bring hers… talk about the awesome power of the blend! It had a life of its own, with scary suction action…
I forgot to take a photo of the finished soup on the night, but I managed to catch one of the bowls when we had leftovers a couple of nights later:
Yum! Coriander garnish, and we added yogurt on the leftover bowl (both of which, stupidly, I forgot to offer during the dinner party. Sorry guys.) There’s a drip on the bowl, too, for which you can mentally slap me on the wrist.
Now, the Lamb Shank Soup. I’ve been promising Zoe this recipe for years. Here it is.
PENNE, PEA AND LAMB SHANK SOUP
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 1 hour, 15 mins
Serves 6 (just)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 lamb shanks (about 1 kg), well trimmed of fat
2 medium onions, cut into strips
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 whole cinnamon stick
1 dried bayleaf (I used fresh)
4 cups water (I added more later)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup penne pasta
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 cup fresh or frozen broad beans
1 clove garlic, crushed
1. Heat oil in pan. Add lamb, cook over high heat for about 3 minutes each side or until well browned. Remove from pan, drain on absorbent paper.
2. Add onions to pan, cook over medium heat for about 3 mins or until well browned.
(This browning of meat and onion is essential, because it dictates the colour of the soup. It becomes a lovely rich brown soup instead of a pale broth.)
2 (cont) Return lamb to pan, add wine, peppercorns, cumin, cinnamon, bay leaf and water; bring to boil. Reduce heat, simmer covered, 1 hour or until lamb is tender.
3. Remove lamb from pan, discard bay leaf and cinnamon stick from stock. Add soy sauce and tomato paste to pan, stir until combined. Bring to boil, add pasta, simmer, covered, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. meanwhile, cut lamb into bite-sized pieces; discard bones. Return lamb, peas and broad beans to pan, simmer, covered, a further 5 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Stir in crushed garlic just before serving.
Yum! I forgot to photograph this one before serving as well, so here is the cookbook version, followed by the result of happy eating:
May 18th, 2008 — Bachelor Fare
One of my favourites and I feel an excellent example of bachelor cooking at its best. Why? Because it works as a v. tasty and stylish addition to a romantic candlelit dinner on the balcony or as comfort food spooned right out of the saucepan while watching “Enter The Dragon” in your undergarments. And like most bachelors of independent means, it’s rich and thick. Also you only have to wash up one saucepan and two or three utensils afterwards. (Anyone who gets round to inventing a combination clothes and dishwasher has got my dollar.)
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May 8th, 2008 — Breakfast, Celebrity Chef!, Cookery Books and Food Writing, Ingredients, Recipes
Phil Lees writes a terrific blog called The Last Appetite and has just started a world food blog at the SBS television site, cooking from the Food Safari back catalogue. It should be fantastic, as his writing is characterised by great humour and expertise. I have already left a comment asking him to do something about Maeve O’Meara’s shirts, so no need for you to worry about that.
Coincidently I caught the last bit of SBS Food Safari last night, where O’Meara explored Lebanese food. The last item, running quickly over the credits, was a breakfast pizza called manouche. Owen started groaning about how good it looked – and as we’d coincidently had pizza for dinner and there was coincidently some dough left over I told him he was in luck.
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