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.

Nabakov presents: Spag Bol al Dante

compleat bachelor fare archive

Ah Spaghetti Bolognaise! The bachelor’s friend, muse and destroyer of waistlines. Here I offer a hot new take on an old favourite. All measures are calculated for two people of firm appetite with enough left over to fill a few jaffles on a hungover late winter morning.

This one’s a bit tricky though as it involves not one (1) but two (2) hotplates. You’ll need all your project management skills here.

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A turnip for the looks

Five weeks now without a car, although the insurance company promises me it’ll be fixed on Wednesday. Promises, promises.

Having no car, even in Canberra, even in winter, has been absolutely fine until this last week when I’d already been sick for a week when both the kids got really crook. Bit of a bugger walking a five year old home from the doctor and having to wait while he vomits because he’s been coughing so hard. Could be worse, of course, as no-one has cancer (we hope) and everyone has all their limbs, but I felt sorry for the little bugger all the same.

So on Saturday morning I pounced on my dear friend Steevy when he dropped by IN HIS CAR and inveigled him into taking us to Choku Bai Jo. It was lovely to see Cristy, Paul and Lily there, even though I had to confess that I was buying a bunch of baby turnips just because they were tiny! (the largest nearly an inch wide) and cute! although I had no idea what I was going to do with them.

Pasta with baby turnips, bacon and turnip greens

This needs about 10 minutes preparation time and up to 15 minutes to cook, depending on the pasta you choose (wholemeal spirals for us). Will serve 3 adults or 2 adults and two kids.

Ingredients

1 bunch baby turnips, washed thoroughly with the greens cut into 3-4 cm lengths.
2 rashers bacon
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
toasted walnut fragments
romano cheese, grated finely
black pepper
a sturdy pasta that you like

Preparation

Put on a big pot of water to boil.

I’d planned to leave a little of the stems on the turnip bulbs, Japanese-style but was defeated by the tiny grit filled folds of stem and cleanly beheaded them before slicing each one into two or three thick slices. Go with whatever you’ve got the patience for.

Parboil the turnips for a minute or so and retrieve them. Add the turnip greens to the pot for just a minute and drain them, then add salt and the pasta to the pot.

Chop the bacon into 1 cm slices and fry gently. I only had that poxy flabby packet bacon – thanks, Dad – so cooked it veerrrrrrry slowly until it had crisped gently and then splashed on some some Camellia Oil. I have fallen in love with Camellia Oil thanks (again) to Fuchsia Dunlop – it’s earthy, peppery and delicious. Add in the crushed garlic and turnips and after a few minutes stir through the greens. In just a minute the pasta will be ready, and you can throw some in the pan.

Serving

Serve in a nice deep bowl, and sprinkle generously with parsley and walnuts and a bit less generously with cheese and pepper. The turnips are mellow and subtle, the greens are zingy and delicious and the pasta gives you enough energy to chase children all afternoon. Ann, you may omit the bacon, but then you’d want to add some salt.

So now I have to work out what to do with the cavolo nero (aka Tuscan kale, black kale or dinosaur kale) that was the other thing I couldn’t resist …

cavolo nero

Ampersand Duck presents – Duck Souper

pasta-bookNothing 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:


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Heidi Swanson’s broccoli pesto

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.

broccoli-pesto-detail

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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