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.

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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.

It’s Time … Dr Sista Outlaw’s annual zucchini fest

Zucchini, how I love it. There is nothing more delightfully buttery or charmingly versatile, or, for that matter, quite so easy to grow. Mine are bursting at the seams right now, pushing over the chook wire, and trying to run over the ground, fruiting in black and green stripes, with a pattern like 1960s barkcloth. Having just had a quarter of a year’s worth of rain in one weekend, they’re turning into marrows. And, as I am dead broke until the arrival of the Kevin Bucks, it’s time to get working on ways to use this luxurious, yet cheap, food.

Zucchini Muffins look so damned good the boy recanted his anti-zucchini stance and tucked in. They are also easy. Take a giant marrow or a few small ones and grate until you have 400 grammes worth. Then add: 1 cup white flour, 1 cup of polenta or some polenta and wholemeal, 1 tsp of baking soda, 1 tsp sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 lightly beaten egg and 60g of butter you’ve melted in the microwave. You can add flavourings such as a big handful of grated parmesan; a small handful of shredded herbs; six semi-sundried tomatoes sliced up; a big chunk of crumbled feta; ham, bacon, salami or smoked salmon in chunks; a handful of lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts. Or any combo. Mix it all together until it just comes together into a lumpy mess and put big spoonfuls, lumps and all, into a lightly greased muffin pan. Bake at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes in a shiny new electric fan-forced oven, if, like me, you have one (I truly love my oven), but any one will do.

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Outwitting the vegetable averse child

I have a strange variety of child. He is unceasingly articulate, disarmingly good at reading and bright in very many ways, although, admittedly, not in mathematics. For this last I blame his parents, who both have PhDs in the humanities. My child is also uncommonly tall, with shining hair, white teeth and peachy skin and is actually quite good at sport, despite his parental burdens.

I am not biased, all this is true, being recounted simply for the purpose of remarking upon how children manage to grow themselves up without much in the way of nutrition. For my child achieves all these miracles without meat, unless it comes in the form of a sausage or chicken drumstick. He was once offered a deluxe cut of wagyu beef, cooked just for him, and rejected it. He doesn’t like fruit either, at least not much. He manages bananas and loves stone fruit and watermelon and a nice pink lady apple, but rejects most other things, including strawberries.

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Harry presents: (the first in a series)

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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The gift of food

I’ve been sick for nearly two weeks (I’m never sick!) and both the kids are feverish snot covered whirlwinds. So yeah, not cooking much.

Thank God for my friends Nigel and Willa. Nigel turned up early yesterday morning bearing his mother’s heirloom casserole dish full of a beautiful tomato and silverbeet soup (with cinnamon) made by Willa.

Some cous cous to improve the child spoonability factor, and lots of pepper and a squeeze of one neighbour Billy’s Meyer lemons for the grown ups. Wonderful.

Giving food is a beautiful gift, particularly for new parents or single parents. Don’t be shy, just make up a big tray of something delicious and take it around. This is the one situation where I think disposable foil cooking trays can be a Good Thing, because the new parents feel no obligation to clean and return other people’s cooking equipment. (I prefer the beautiful dish this came in and will enjoy returning it, but I don’t have a newborn. Which is also a Good Thing.)

When my dear friend Jude had her second child, her neighbour arranged seven households into a roster, and for one night a week for six weeks, we cooked for the enlarged family. It was such a wonderful thing to turn up, drop off the food and see the relieved faces. Sometimes I would stay for a glass of wine, but usually I would just scoot off after no more than ten minutes or so. And how I loved cooking for them! I would turn up with things like a big bowl of washed and picked over leaves, a little bag of really good vinaigrette and a container of marinated and grilled chicken, baked sweet potato and very fresh nuts. And always a dessert. Breastfeeding women need sweets.

There’s a simpler way we can give food too, by just clicking at the hunger site.

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:


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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