17 December 2012

Christmas Curry

I decided to take a run at the Jamie Oliver 30 minute meal "CURRY" - basically it is a vego (pumpkin, cauliflower & chickpea) number with a few nummy sides. I like that the book also calls for "BEER". The full title of the 30 minute meal is CURRY ROGAN JOSH FLUFFY RICE CARROT SALAD POPPADOMS FLATBREAD BEER. Page 80.

As we have discovered, Jamie has some very big eaters for friends, and so I halved the amounts. I left out a few ingredients and also missed his carrot salad, pickled lemons and poppadoms (which we spell puppodums over here, never really thought about that before!). I added a raita as well. Somehow, between two overseas trips, an interstate trip and a massive charity dinner at my house, I seem to have come out with NO RICECOOKER anywhere in the house - which led me to run around, dilated crazy catseyes & poofy frazzle tailed, until I read in Mr Jamie's book that you can apparently cook rice some way OTHER THAN A RICECOOKER? - crazy non-Chineseses! First time ever making rice by the absorption method, felt very proud and also dirty.

I told my seestah and my bro-in-lo to come round, coz it's more fun cooking for company and having a billion leftovers, than eating alone and having a bajillion leftovers. My freezer's only small, you know. We did "present-ing" (two Capricorns in one relationship, lord help us) and had alcoholic and desserty accoutrements. Bro-in-lo responded to a last minute bat-signal and provided (very nice) beer. All in all a big success.

PUMPKIN/VEGO CURRY de Jamie by Deanne:

Boil a kettle of water and have it standing by. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Peel and slice an onion, add it to a large pan on high heat with a splash of kettle water and a drizzle of olive oil.

Use a pre-halved (love ya work, IGA) butternut squash/pumpkin (lengthways). Remove the seeds with a soup spoon, halve the half again lengthways (ie into a quarter-pumpkin) and chop into 1cm wedgy chunks. Jamie omits the seed bit, but I didn't find it took that much more time. Add to the pan.

Remove the tough outer leaves of a cauliflower half (thanks again, grocery store) and then cut into bite sized chunks, higgledypiggledy and chuck them in the pan, with two big handfuls of cashews. Stand and stir and stare vacantly into the pretty colours and watch as the flame transforms the outside corners of the vegies into blackened sweet spots of flavour explosion. Mmm, stir. Stir. Ahem.

Add half a teaspoon of chilli flakes, then a couple of cloves of finely chopped or minced (if only I had a garlic press on both coasts of Oz!) garlic, a generous splash of kettle water, a jar of store-bought curry paste/sauce mix (I used a jar of Korma paste I found in the back of the pantry). Open a tin of chickpeas but don't drain - just pour in the chickadees and their juices straight into the pan. Salt, pepper, stir and fire up the heat. Cover if you have a lid or don't if you only have a wok and no big pans in your house. Ahem. Stir when you remember to, add kettle water when you remember to.

RICE by Jamie's Absorption Method, or non-Chinese witchcraft, as I like to call it:

Pour a mugful of rice into a medium saucepan with a "lug" of olive oil and a few cloves, salt and pepper. If you don't have cloves, use a chicken stock cube. Ahem. Cover with two mugfuls of boiling water from the kettle (same mug as the rice ie 1:2), put the lid on and boil on medium heat for 7 minutes. Yes I did watch the clock. Then after that, take off the heat with lid still on and sit for 7 minutes to steam through.

FLATBREAD Jamie says Chapattis, I say Naan Breads, let's call the whole thing off!

Scrunch up a large sheet of baking paper under running water, flatten it out on a baking tray, layer the store bought flatbreads on top, with a spray of olive oil and a sprinkle of chopped garlic between each bready doona (or turmeric if you are Jamie). Wrap them in the paper and put them on the middle shelf of the oven at 180 degrees.

RAITA or as I was once told by a waiter in a posh resort restaurant in Alice Springs once "no, we don't have any raita sorry but this is mint and yoghurt sauce to go with your meal."

Shred/use vegie peeler/slice etc a small lebanese cucumber into unembiggened slivers.
Chop up a handful of mint.
Pour a tub of natural yoghurt on top. I used "Greek" style but in future I think I will seek out the "European" style next time, I find it more tart (no comments, thanks).


Thank your bro-in-lo profusely for complimenting your "very classy bottle opener" that was actually a freebie/stolen from a crab smashing event. No really.

Compliment your bro-in-lo on his excellent taste in beer.

Serve up, with presents on the side (a touch early this year as I'm going back interstate to my "other home" for the silly season).

Happy Curry everyone!

02 December 2012

Pasta cheat!

Sometimes, I walk past my local Italian restaurant and all I can think is alio olio alio olio alio olio...vongole...
Then I get home and realise that all my recent travel has meant that a) I have no alio b) I've killed my basil plants and c) I have not been shopping in ages and I have no fresh seafood. Like last night.

Fortunately I had a full tub of Chunky Basil, Cashew and Parmesan dip (do you remember, back in the early noughties when these first started appearing on supermarket chiller shelves? What a godsend!), a few squashy old mini-Roma tomatoes, half an onion from who-knows-when, some instant spaghetti (cooks in 8 minutes!) and my usual pantry staples.

So I boiled up the pasta and at the same time drizzled olive oil & balsamic vinegar into a frying pan and blackened the tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and powdered garlic. I then added the chopped onion and cooked through until translucent to get the flavour out of its sorry bones. I then smooshed the tomatoes hard with the back of the spoon. The basil dip tub was unceremoniously dumped into the pan and then the pasta was done so I mixed it all up in the frying pan to coat the strands and hey presto! Alio olio tomato pesto.

27 November 2012

Just cos

So here's a post just for my friend who has posted this very funny pic on Fbook:

Yes I must admit that yesterday I did crack a lovely bottle of extremely wooded chardonnay. However today, when opened the door of the fridge, I spied a little baggie of something that is a healthier kind of weakness.

My local Independent Grocers (yes people, IGA stands for something more than just "convenience store") has the most amazingly fresh, plump, crisp, young cos lettuce leaves and I never can resist a bagful whenever I am in there. Sadly the Hass avocadoes were a little overripe so my usual go-to of "Cos, avo, lemon juice, olive oil" soupy salad was a no-go.

As my hand reached into the fridge for milk for a post-dinner cuppa, it emerged clutching the bag of lettuce like an addict. So here's the craving recipe of the day, healthy-style:

Rinse young cos lettuce leaves.
Decide they are too pretty to slice up.
In a coffee mug, pour some olive oil, then a splash (roughly 1:3 or 1:4) of balsamic vinegar, ground salt, ground pepper and some dried thyme from your homegrown windowsill stash. Swill it around and then pour it in lines over the leaves.
Pick up the leaves by hand and eat them, letting the dressing run all over your hands and cover your phone with oil when you decide to take a photo halfway through:

crunch crunch crunch smile

I did also have a cuppa. Now, I spy some leftover chardonnay in the fridge, excuse me...

15 November 2012

...because we all love a good Kanga Banga...

I just got home from Peru, and had been chatting away with a bunch of North and South Americans about the Australian love of Skippy. To eat, that is. (I ate lots of delicious alpaca dishes, and I even tried guinea pig!)

So, I had a metric sshttonne of things to do after almost forty hours in transit - unpacking, work catchups, clean the house, get the bung oven door fixed... but no, it all had to wait because I NEEDED to cook. Every now and then I just crave fresh food and the joy of wielding a knife into it. I popped down to the local IGA and bought some you beaut fresh fennels (did I mention I forgot my oven was limply hanging open and not safe for use?) in amongst a basketful of luscious green stuff. I knew I had a freezer full of meat and on my arrival home I was pleased to see these bad boys in the top drawer:

A quick defrost in the micro-onde and a cue for Sale of the Century thinking music. Yes, I often build my meals around the protein.

I introduced my Dadsy to fennel with my oven roasted warm salad, and as is his way, he's made it his own by making it the star of many a stirfry, often with beef. I ran with that idea at a recent impromptu extended rellies Shiraz Shindig, serving pan seared kangaroo steaks sliced on the oblique and juicy atop my ovenated fennel.

So, what was it for lunch? Bush tomato Skippy & Fennel Stirfry of course!

It went something like this:
(Jetlag permitting)

Slice the fennel into 1cm-ish width short strips, chuck into hot wok with a generous drizzle of olive oil; pull out some frozen lemon slices from your stash (fresh or bottled juice would be fine too) and chuck them in too. Pour over some water, loads of cracked pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar to help with the caramelisation.

Meanwhile, grab your defrosted kangaroo snags (mine already had herbs and bush tomato flavouring) and snip the skins off with some scissors or a knife.
Chuck the meat into a big bowl and smoosh into chunks with a spoon.

Add equal splashes of light soy sauce and dry sherry, heaps of pepper and a punch of sugar or tiny bit of balsamic. By now the fennel is pretty much cooked through (go for soft, not al dente) and the liquid in the pan has reduced. Add the lovely roo meat lumps, stirfry the bejeezus out of the mix...

...and hey presto, lunch is served!

(Albeit, not particularly photogenic!)

I'm a very lucky girl, my past self really looks after me, so I was able to have a box of rice reheated out of the freezer in a jiffy. However, I reckon this recipe could be served with pasta, potatoes or cous cous as the carb base. Also, I reckon the addition of some olives and a dollop of tomato (tins, paste or sauce) could easily convert this to more Mediterranean feel.

Mmm, next time I'll use roo steak (more on that later). But only because good alpaca can be hard to find here.

Yay, leftovers for dinner too. Good to be home in the kitchen.

15 October 2012

Holy guacamole! So many handy hints!

Cooking dinner tonight, I had another one of those lovely moments where you realise you are making something that until quite recently you had no idea how to do!

Back before the Mexican renaissance of late, we used to frequent a Tex Mex bar in Perth known as Santa Fe, I used to impress people with my ability to scarf down the entire serve of ribs, and guacamole was a mysterious delicacy of avocadoey goodness wrapped in a riddle, served as an enigma.

I have since taught myself to make guacamole, with a lot of trial and error, and a little help from Ready Steady Cook, a fervent conversation with my friend Luke and some heated debate with my ex-boyfriend Chris - which has led to a very flexible recipe. I'd love to know other people's variations!

I was making guacamole today as a filling for my steak sandwich/wrap; plus a few family gatherings of late have featured bro-in-lo's bro Tim's taco salad, which will have to have its own dedicated blog post soon (when I attempt to make it myself!) so I was feeling the avocado vibe.

Avocado and tomatoes are a staple on my grocery list, and guacamole is definitely a go-to now that I've mastered it.

In my mind, you MUST have:

- lots and lots (tonight's recipe featured one and a half Hass avocados, my breed of choice)

Handy hints with avocado:
#1 - when buying an avocado, very gently squeeze the narrow top part between thumb and forefinger. If it's unripe it will be too firm to have any "give". Too ripe and you'll lose your fingertips into it from squashyness. Just right and you'll feel a bit of give but no permanent dentage.

#2 - chop citrus (eg lime or lemon) with your knife first or drip some citrus juice on it to prevent oxidation of the cut edges.

#3 - to chop an avocado, halve it lengthways and give the halves a twist and pull apart. To remove the stone, slam your knife into it firmly at 90∘ to wedge the blade in there (fortune favours the brave, be firm). Turn the knife handle clockwise (and attached stone) like a lever and it should just plop the stone right on out of the flesh without too much hassle and slipperydippery. Now half your halves again ie cut the avocado into lengthways quarters. At this size, it is very easy to simply grip the skin firmly at one tip and peel the skin off the flesh, as if you were peeling a banana. No more wasted flesh smooshed into the skins!

- I then dice the avocado very finely and transfer it to a bowl to mash with a fork; or if it is very very ripe you can just mash it without dicing.

- a bit, finely diced (I prefer to buy a punnet of Grape tomatoes when I do my regular grocery shop, but this time I used the slightly larger Mini-Roma tomatoes; for tonight's guacamole I used 8 of them to go with my one and a half avocados). Here's a pic, with a teaspoon for scale, and my pretty new red knife (it comes with its own red blade sheath too!):

- a generous amount (I used the juice of one lime to the above ratio of ingredients)

Handy hints when juicing a lime (or any citrus fruit):

I'll assume you are using your hands - as Rick Stein's Spain programme has taught us, "citrus juicers are for wusses"!

#1 - Microwave the lime for 10-20 seconds to release the juice more (or run it under hot water briefly)

#2 - Cut it in half transversely:
Once you have squeezed "all" the juice out of the half segment that you can (squeeze with one hand and use the other to catch the pips if you are pip-phobic, or two hands and then just pick the pips out, up to you) - cut the spent half-segment in half again (transversely, as shown):
You will see exactly how much more than "all" the juice you got out is left! Now you can squeeze the end stump and totally bleed that cheeky cheek dry. Mmm, juicy.

#3 - Whilst you cannot compost what's left, unless you have a major problem with alkaline soil; you can save those skins and use them to make natural cleaning solution which I now make (with lemon, mandarin, any citrus peel) and pretty much use for everything around the home.

Ground black PEPPER (20 grinder turns)
A pinch of SALT (2 grinder turns)
The extra zing can come from ONION (very finely diced red onion or spring onion or chives); SHALLOTS and/or GARLIC; but I find this is not always to my liking, depends on your mood.
CHILI is fun, but not really my preference. Cayenne or paprika or even finely diced capsicum are sometimes called for in recipes but I don't really swing that way (capsicum gives me the toots, and a sore belly sometimes so it's best to avoid it in my case).
I do enjoy adding some finely chopped fresh PARSLEY. As I am currently growing a small 'living spice rack' on my kitchen bench and the parsley was plentiful I did go for it tonight.

Handy hint with parsley and fresh herbs:
#1 - Invest in a good pair of sharp small scissors for the kitchen garden. Harvest herbs with scissors instead of pulling or plucking as the plant will be much healthier and happier.
#2 - Plonk the harvested herb into a tumbler or mug, stick the scissors in and chop chop chop; I find this so much easier and less messy than trying to wrangle them all on a board with a knife as I am not a chef with mad knife skills!

Some recipes (and fanatical people) really like adding sour cream to the mix presumably to extend the avocado and bulk up the volume. In fact I will admit to trying this and even using Philly cream cheese when I'm running low on avocado. However, I actually think I prefer my avocado nude, as I feel that filly ingredients tend to also dilute the flavour, but I can see how people do prefer the creamy texture that comes from a mix.

Guacamole handy hints:
#1 - If you do have some left over, you can keep it for a day or two. To prevent oxidisation and that horrible brown appearance, place glad wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole, and squeeze out as many air bubbles as you can with the back of your hand:
#2 - Enjoy and experiment to find the way that you like to make it most, and try to use it in many different ways - as a dip with corn chips or crackers, as a topping or condiment for nachos and other delicious Mexican dishes, as a spread on toast, or as a flavour packed filling in sandwiches and wraps. Its fresh taste is so yummy, it's easy to make and the bonus is it is also very healthy!

06 October 2012

Inspiration of the day - Rick Stein and the Spanish Ringo Star

Thanks ABC for airing Rick Stein's Spain - just caught up on Episode 3 over on iView (sorry non-Aussies you might not be able to view it).

I'm finally settling in to my new place in my old city, now single once more, and I am warming up to the idea of some more experimental cooking. I find at a time like this, when I'm still trying to find my feet, and my centre, I do tend to stick to tried and tested "experecipes" and comfort food. Now that I'm a bit more sorted, the urge to set fire to things, erm, and make tasty new dishes is coming back slowly but surely.

Tonight I had a simple home-made sukiyaki dish, which is one of my top ten "go to" dinners (but more about that later). As I nommed and slurped and watched Rick Stein's iView Ep, his conversation with Antonio, the lovely "Spanish Ringo Star" (a man who used to be in Spain's equivalent of The Beatles) about how he used to be a drummer, but now he cooks pretty much summed it up for me:

"Why do you cook?"

"It’s a mystery… passion… I mean, cooking is an artistic thing, I cannot paint a nice picture but I can do something here full of colour, but not only colour… smell... taste... everything! Everybody must do that. Why not?"

Ah, cooking. So universal, so beautiful and always something to learn from so many different people! Bring it on!

Handy hint - let's twist again

I still cannot thank Jamie Oliver enough. He's taught me about a very large proportion of what I like to cook, in particular, he unexpectedly helped me conquer (and pretty much own) the lamb roast.

I was on a plane recently, and had one of those fancy back of the seat tv set entertainment systems to play with, and I was lucky enough to watch his sustainable seafood show as part of the Fish Fight campaign. Sadly, I haven't been able to find the show online, but here are some great recipes on the Fish Fight site.

The crusade for sustainable seafood is extremely worthy (please, do have a look at the Fish Fight recipe and also for my lovely readers in Australia, there is an amazing Sustainable Seafood app for us too on the Australian Marine Conservation website.

However, (wait for it) - in regards to today's amazing handy hint, sustainable seafood is just... a red herring! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Jamie was demonstrating a delishy fishy recipe, and his handy hint made me gasp at the simplicity of his genius. Out loud. On a plane.

When you cook long pasta (fettucine, linguine, spaghetti) - grab it in both hands, then GIVE IT A TWIST before you drop it into the pot. GASP! This way it all fans out evenly into the boiling water, and is less likely to stick and get gluggy or clumpy. Blows my mind to think that something so simple is able to help so much when preparing a great meal instead of a merely 'okay' meal. Mind blown.

21 September 2012

Give your f*ing roast potatoes the kick in the arse they f*ing deserve.

That's right, today's 'I can't believe I never thought of that tiny touch but oh my word I'm so glad you did' tip is courtesy of Gordon Ramsay himself, by way of his quite delightful 'Christmas with Gordon' specials. He can cook! He has a gorgeous set of kids! It's not just all swearing and throwing pots & pans about!

So... Little drummer boy drum roll...

Add a touch of chili flakes to the oil when you make roast potatoes. OH MY WORD it makes you very popular! Plus your taste buds will absolutely tap dance!

At a recent family gathering I made potato and sweet potato wedges, crazy-style:
Wash potatoes (I rationed a 1.5 potatoes:1 person serve) and cut into rough wedge shapes, peel-on. Depending on the size of your spud you may need to go for sixths, eighths or twelfths, as long as the end product is roughly the same width for even cooking.
Chuck wedge cuts into a freezer/microwaveable bag. Microwave for a few minutes. In the meantime wash and chop into wedges your sweet potatoes, and then add to same freezer bag as potatoes. Microwave again holusbolus for a few more minutes. Leave in micro in bag to self steam whilst you deal with the lamb or other vegies.
Then, wearing oven mitts (!) pull the bag out. Pour in some olive oil, grind in some salt and pepper then add half a teaspoon of dried chili flakes. Twist the top of he bag shut and toss the mix to coat the wedges well. Empty out ini a roasting pan/tray then cook in the oven on 180-200 degrees for as long as it takes for them to be done, or at least after you've joined the guests for a glass of wine and some antipasto for starters!

I promise you, the zing of the chili will be just the top note you need to really make your next roast sing! Thanks Gordon!!!

19 September 2012

All the little things..

Sorry to my lovely blog readership (what's left of you, if any) for my prolonged radio silence. What with an interstate move (including a bonus surprise flight back a week later to pack the car and a trip away for a course a week after that) and a new kitchen with hardly any cookware in it (yet), it's been way too long between kitchexperiments as well as blogging.

The last couple of weekends I have had the honour of cooking big hearty meals for family and friends to celebrate my return to first hometown. It's been such a relief to be able to cook again, and each time I did my usual thing of brainstorming an idea or hankering, ducking out to the shops, seeing what was fresh, then making sh*t up! With great times to be had by all!

Which got me thinking, what is it that has made me so confident in the kitchen that I think I can just lash out, let loose and just ...cook!? I still remember when I first attempted cooking and the whole thing just seemed like mysterious alchemy, witchcraft and terrifyingly easy to burn. After talking with my kitchen gurus Mumsy and Dadsy about it whilst cooking up a big Father's Day lunch; and a recent chat with a new colleague about cooking TV shows... I think I know the answer, a little bit. It's not a definitive moment, but rather, a series of little moments. A cumulative sum of all these small victories or massive failures that add to your mental data bank, your muscle memory and your skill tool belt. Which is why I'm such a fan of the genre of Experimental Cooking a la bork bork bork.

So while I'm warming up into the swing of things, there's a few 'little things' I want to share with you. Soon I will work out what other grand notions to post. In the meantime, enjoy!

Tonight's modest ideas come courtesy of the ever loved Rick Stein, who tonight on my telly, from Spain, enthused about all the little things he was learning (and earnestly writing down in a notebook) from local chefs. The episode is currently up on ABC iView at http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/26392 for any Aussie readers who would like to view it (be prepared to drool and turn green with envy!). In particular whilst he was watching a nice man cook Hake, beginning with a Roux-like mix of onion, flour and oil, Rick was chuffed to learn exactly the degree to which the chef 'sweats down' the onions, or the way the chef turns the heat off right before he adds the flour to stop it from burning; these gems 'you never find in the recipe!' - exactly Rick! Well said! That's the great thing about cooking, you build up a repertoire, but you can still constantly be learning and joyfully discovering! Thanks for inspiring me to return to my blog!

12 August 2012

Although, it's not 'experimental' if someone else has already done it, is it?

Never mind, I still find a place in bignomslittlenoms' heart for these greatly inspiring compilations. Thanks buzzfeed!

So inspired in fact, that I may have to return to ACTUALLY blogging... apologies to all for the radio silence of late... life seems to get in the way sometimes! Watch this space x

10 July 2012

Note to self

Ten recipes to try and perfect. Or at least "get inspiration from and make something kinda similar depending on what's in my kitchen"...

27 June 2012

...and now for something completely nutty...

BASE! This is not something I cooked, obviously, but it will help me to bounce around the kitchen like the old days and inspire some mad cooking sessions...

Just try not to dance (and laugh out loud), I dare you!

06 June 2012

Macauliflower Cheese

A blog post in honour of my friend Emma who is fearlessly blogging her cooking adventures here, the first two of which have been care of Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals (please click this link to see Jamie's very very helpful tips and techniques videos and search recipes).

Recently in Oz we were treated to the TV series Jamie's 30 minute meals, which was conveniently aired on Channel Ten at early tea-time so I would have it on while I was cooking (by which you now know I mean "throwing random ingredients at cookware and hoping something turned into food") dinner.

I was inspired by his great idea to combine two old favourites, Macaroni Cheese and Cauliflower Cheese into one big cheesy easy love-in.

Now the first time I made this, I followed the recipe from the book fairly precisely (it just looked so delicious on the telly that I thought for once I'd give the recipe some obedience)
- which was awesome, except for the fact that Jamie obviously has a kitchen made for GIANTS and I ended up needing to use TWO baking dishes

and, like Emma, had leftover pasta for days on end. Not that that's a bad thing, but I was a tad overwhelmed! I don't have a food processor for "waz"ing up food, but I do have a blender which, with a bit of persistence and jiggling, works just fine for the breadcrumb mix.

The second time dosen't really count as I "made" this, I was actually a little bit unwell and staying at a lovely mate's house and she was very kindly babysitting me (watching rubbish daytime TV with me and feeding me - for which I later was able to return the favour, thank goodness). She also had a copy of Jamie's 30 Minute Meals, and an even unholier love of Mac and Cheese than me, so she cooked up a lovely batch of this dish for us to eat for dinner. Even though she reduced the amount, there was still HEAPS left!

Third time was the other night I decided to do a half-amount... turned out pretty well. Although this time I couldn't be bothered with the bread/crumbs and blender, so I just hand crumbled the prosciutto and grated some Gruyere on top... Big nom!

So, here's the sort-of recipe:

Macauliflower Cheese

4 rashers of pancetta or prosciutto
1/2 a large head of cauliflower
250g dried macaroni
125g of grated cheese
(I used Gruyere leftover from the Eurovision wine & cheese viewing that just kept on giving; Jamie suggests mature Cheddar)
2 thick slices of country bread or a large handful of breadcrumbs
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary (or a sprinkle of dried is fine)
1-2 cloves of garlic
Most of a 200g tub of crème fraîche
Salt, pepper
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese to serve (optional)

Lay the pancetta/prosciutto in a baking paper lined roasting dish and put on top shelf of oven set to 220°

Tear off any dried out outer leaves from the cauliflower, trim off the tough end of the stalk. Then cut the half-head in half or thirds. Chuck it into a large saucepan core down, with the pasta, onto stove set to high heat. Cover these with boiling water from the kettle (you may need a 2nd boiled kettleful to cover). Season with a generous pinch of salt, a splash of olive oil, then stir and cook for the amount of time on the macaroni packet instructions (mine was 13 minutes - this makes for soggy cauli, if you want al dente cauli maybe withhold it until the pasta's really bubbling away then add it 2nd?) leave the saucepan lid on half-on-half-off or wedge open with a wooden spoon to prevent volcanic eruptions.

Remove the pancetta/prosciutto from the oven (leave the oven on), pop it into the food processor/blender with the bread, rosemary, a drizzle of olive oil and pepper and "waz" it up until it is a coarse breadcrumb consistency.

Strain the cauli/pasta mix over a bowl or jug to collect the cooking water.

Tip the strained cauli & pasta into the roasting tray that had the porky rashers in it. Add 200mL/a small mugful of the cooking water, crush in the garlic cloves, mix in the crème fraîche and the grated cheese, gently stirring and smooshing up the cauliflower with your tongs or spoon or implement. Season to taste. If the mix is not nice and loose when you give the dish a shake, add another splash of the cooking water until it is. Give it a shake/spread it evenly in the dish; then scatter over the breadcrumb mix.

Put the dish in the top shelf of the oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Shave or grate parmesan over the top once cooked/upon removing from oven to serve. Omnomnomnom.

04 June 2012

Zucchini and corn fritters

So I had one of those "THERE'S NO FOOD IN THE HOUSE!" panics yesterday, but the inertia of the pyjamas and the disconcerting cold outside (of the slap-me-in-the-cheeks-with-a-frozen-fish-and-I'd-feel-warmer) led me to scrounge around and find some great stuff kicking around in the fridge and pantry, namely zucchini, a tin of corn and some out of date flour. A quick look in my friendly recipe file (in my early twenties, trying to get fancy with the cooking living out of home for the first time I religiously collected recipes and cut and pasted them into it, which has paid off in spades... well dishes...). It was about that time that I was a little bit obsessed with fritters and patties. So after some recipe melding and inventionation (my love of crêpes has given me some clues about batter consistency), I give you:

Zucchini and Corn Fritters:

1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Half teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 eggs
1 tablespoon milk or olive oil
420g can corn kernels, drained
300g (2 medium or 3 small) zucchini, coarsely grated
Half an onion, finely grated
Salt & pepper
Olive oil for frying

Sift flour, baking powder & cayenne into a bowl. Whisk eggs with milk/olive oil then add to flour mixture - stir to form a thick pancake-like batter. Add corn, zucchini, onions and season with salt & pepper. Stir until just combined (I used a fork, it helps).

Pour a thin layer of oil into a large non-stick frying pan and place on medium to high heat.

Add large spoonfuls of mixture to pan, flattening slightly to form shapely, even fritters. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side or until golden brown and cooked through.

Drain on a paper towel on a ceramic plate, which you can rest on top of a bowl of boiling water to keep them warm whilst you continue cooking (also an excellent crêpe trick).

I was eating them for dinner, so I decided to bulk it up with some meat - Coppa was on special for $4.99 for 100g last time I was out shopping so I have a stockpile in the back of the fridge. A perfect dinner and happy to avoid a supermarket dash in my jarmies in the dark for another night!

Note to self - Potato Bread Recipe

Potato Bread recipe to try in the near future... mmm, potato + bread = 2 favourite things at once...

01 June 2012

Fuztastic Fennel

...and a handsome fellow he is too...

So, it's only in recent history that I've discovered how much I like fennel. The first time I cooked it was an absolute disaster. To this day I still have no idea if it was hideously undercooked or a bad specimen. I had had such delicious fennel dishes (or usually as a side salad, often with orange) that I persisted with trial and error.

I now know it is delicious both raw (snap off some of the smaller inner pieces as a pretty and delicious fingerfood addition to an antipasto plate; or shave/slice thinly and dress for a fast and delicious salad) or roasted. You can eat all the parts - the fluffy leafies can be used as a very similar replacement for dill; the stalks and bulbs are crunchalicious and the seeds are (as Simon on The Cook and The Chef reminds us) the cause of the distinctive Italian pork and fennel sausages.

After lots of trial and error, my preferred method for roasting is as follows:

Roasted Fennel / Warm Fennel Salad

Line a large roasting pan with baking paper; and spray some olive oil on. Preheat oven.

Wash two large fennel bulbs (usually sold with about 3 inches of stalks and leaves poking out in a very mohawky style). Tear off the fluffy leaves and place into the roasting pan. Slice off the stalks from the bulb, slice off and discard top dried out portion, then slice stalks thinly and chuck into roasting pan. Cut the bulbs in half and slice very thinly. Try not to nibble on ALL the inner "petals" as chef's privileges whilst doing so, I challenge you! Place slices into roasting pan.

Drain (and -optional- cut in half) a small jar (or half a large jar) of pitted kalamata olives.

Mix fennel, a splash or spray of olive oil and a splash of white wine (or if you're detoxing water will do).

Cut a whole dwarf meyer lemon (or if you don't grow these on your balcony, half a regular lemon) in half lengthways, squeeze juice over contents of roasting pan then very very exquisitely (but don't cut yourself - lemon juice! ouchie!) thinly slice the lemon rind/flesh and put into the roasting pan on top (so people can opt to pick it off if they can't hack it).

Basically I tailor this to whatever else is in the oven. For al dente - if you want a quick cook go for 200° and 30-45 minutes (consider adding aluminium foil cover to prevent burning; if doing a roast or bake at 180° at the same time it will take you 45-75 minutes; slow roasting meat as well at 160°, will take approx 90 minutes - just keep checking back and taste for consistency, and mix occasionally to avoid too many top burnt bits.

Serve as a side dish or a large salad. Goes particularly well with the roast chicken a la Mediterranean that I have previously described.

To be honest, I hadn't blogged sooner about this mainstay of my vegie repertoire because it all seemed too simple. However, the simple things in life are often the most delicious. The other day I had heaps of this dish leftover, and a huge bag of Imperial mandarins - all good things to take advantage of in winter - and I had an epiphany - reheat this dish and top with thin (half a centimetre) slices of mandarin and hey presto - heaven is a place on earth in winter! Enjoy!

29 May 2012

Glass noodles come with a warning, but no sharp implements

This evening was a bit of a slow TV night, nothing to watch, grumpy grumpy grumpy. The fridge is also looking a bit sad and sorry tonight. Just the remains of a massive wine/cheese/antipasto platter I had for Eurovision (crud, all my chopping boards and knives are all filthily strewn about the apartment), a bottle of tomato juice and some leftover takeaway Chinese roast duck. Oh yeah, some random vegies rattling around in there too. Hmm, glass noodles in pantry. A-ha!
Wok on, ingredients in (in this order):
Shredded duck meat and skin by hand
A splash of olive oil
Green beans snapped into pieces
A bunch of watercress torn into short segments
Soy sauce
Dry sherry
Black pepper
Glass noodles (which I soaked in cold water at the start of the wokking)
Enoki mushrooms
The remainder of the takeaway plum sauce (I seem to have no sugar at all in my apartment at the moment)

Heat off, stir stir stir


Except I could not for the life of me convince myself to not have a third helping, even thought I KNOW that glass noodles swell up in my stomach and render me incapacitated with a mild bellyache for the rest of the night.

Ah, it was worth it. Yum yum yum!

18 May 2012

Ultimate comfort food - Sweetcorn Soup

A friend of mine was feeling a bit under the weather, and I remembered we had had a conversation about how much she used to love Sweetcorn Soup as a child when she was unwell. Luckily, I also remembered that my Mumsy had recently told me about how ridiculously quick and easy it is to make it. So on my way out to visit my friend, it was onto the parental bat-phone and a quick recap of the recipe. Here's what she told me:

Mumsy's Sweetcorn Soup

Empty one 420g tin/canful of creamed corn into a small saucepan.
Using the conveniently empty tin, add a 1:1 amount of water (ie one tinful).

{Add meat* if required at this stage}

Bring to the boil. {If using meat, wait until meat is cooked/heated through}
Meanwhile beat an egg.
Once saucepan contents are cooked/boiling, turn off heat and immediately vigorously stir in the beaten egg, it should cook and flake up instantaneously.
Add salt and/or pepper to taste.

Serve piping hot to patient on couch, preferably with some rubbish daytime television to watch on the side.

*Meat variations (Mum reckons no more than 10g/a couple of tablespoonsful):

1 - Shred some cooked chicken (eg store-bought BBQ chicken breast or leftover cooked chicken)
2 - Buy a small tin of pre-cooked crab meat
3 - Marinate some pork or beef mince/dice with a splash of soy sauce, a pinch of sugar & powdered garlic (and some dry white or sherry)

[Bonus recipe:

Mumsy's "Diced Pork and Sweetcorn Rice"

Mum also says this recipe can easily be made into a delicious casserole-y type sauce to serve on rice.
Simply omit the water, brown diced or minced marinated pork or beef first in a tiny touch of oil then add the can of creamed corn and finish with egg as above.
The resulting consistency should be "kind of like bolognaise sauce".]

I remember having this a lot as a kid. Who knew two dishes for which I have such fond memories could be so easy to reproduce!?

13 May 2012

Apple and Pear Pudding or "Fruity toad in the hole"

This evening I invited a few friends (who, like me, do not have their Mums in the same city as us to celebrate Mothers' Day) around for Sunday dinner. Did my standard lamb roast with honey & mustard (if I haven't blogged this recipe I will soon) which is often the orphan's Sunday dinner of choice at my place. Whilst I was waiting for everyone to arrive, I noticed my fruit bowl had a couple of huge red delicious apples and beurre bosc pears rattling around from last week's grocery shop and I decided dessert could be fun. After a quick squizzer on taste.com.au, searching apple+pudding, I found a lovely "Apple Sponge Pudding" recipe as a starting point. Basically I followed the recipe except I used two large red delicious apples and two large beurre bosc pears in lieu of the 6 apples the recipe calls for. I also could not for the life of me find my jar of "mixed spice", so I added cloves to the fruit stew mixture and cinnamon to the pudding batter. I had also run out of icing sugar (I have been interstate for 3 of the last 5 weeks) - brown sugar sprinkled on top was just fine. There was some chocolate icecream in the freezer but no vanilla, which was a tad weird but still delicious. Will definitely try this recipe again, possibly with more fruit, and a different baking dish. Plus icing sugar and vanilla icecream. For a quick and easy pudding it was pretty good!

17 April 2012

Vongole (or let's be honest, any shellfish) Linguine (or let's be honest, any long pasta)

Here's a time-travelling one for you. I recently had a conversation with my lovely bestie Woffles. I'm not entirely sure how we gave her that name between today and all those years ago in Year 5, but it is definitely spelled with an "o" as in the Woffles, the talking rabbit in the Enid Blyton books - not with an "a" as in the foodstuff; and it certainly suits her. Anyhow, I was out walking with her by the river and we were talking about my love of molluscs, in particular bivalves - I often go to the markets and buy the freshest live mussels or clams that I can find and work my dinner plans around them. A very useful recipe I have tucked away in my recipe file is this gem for Spaghetti Vongole - yet another Neil Perry / Qantas Magazine recipe. My preferred long pasta is Linguine with Vongole but Fettucine (good with mussels) or Spaghetti or otherwise works just as well. I also refer to this recipe when cooking shellfish and just use the first part of the recipe as a reminder of cooking times and accoutrements. I can't seem to find my picture of the first attempt (and thus most faithful to recipe version) but will look through my other computer just in case. In the meantime here's an adjusted, musselicious & pastaless version of the recipe:
I believe these were live Mornington Peninsula mussels purchased that day from South Melbourne Markets in honour of a parental visit... and quite delicious, if memory serves...

19 January 2012

Free food Lamb Ragout

I'm living in employer-provided accommodation, and remembering how flaky and unreliable electric cooktops and ovens are!
The kind person who lived here before me left me a bunch of food on our contract changeover, including vac-packed gnocchi (which I had never cooked with before) and a frozen tray of leg lamb steaks.
Having recently eaten a modest/shared serve of very delicious ragout at a Tapas-style hipster caf on a short holiday, I had a hankering for more and was happy to use up the mysterious free food in the flat on my return as it was all too hard to go to the grocery shop.

Ragout is so yummy and restaurant-y, but I have worked out (see also Roo Ragoo) it is basically a case of:
brown the meat in olive oil in a hot pan (seasoned with flour/salt/pepper or not) & remove from pan;
add new oil and onion/garlic/herbs/spices to the pan, then vegies & re-add the meat;
then smother with a tin of tomatoes, tomato paste, stock (chicken, beef or vegie) & wine; bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for at least 2 but ideally 3 hours.
There is a flurry of activity at the start, but then you can just sit back, enjoy the soothing sounds & smells of simmering whilst watching TV/drinking/socialising etc...

I had the leg lamb steaks (mostly thawed), which I browned. I left them in the pan due to a minimalist accompaniment of half a large jar of kalamata olives (drained and rinsed) which I then added over the lamb. I seasoned with HEAPS of black cracked pepper, dried thyme, dried oregano, some wilted rosemary sprigs found in the back of the fridge, powdered garlic, powdered ginger and a sprinkle of chili flakes and salt. Then in went a tin of diced tomatoes, 2x 50g sachets of tomato paste and a 250mL box of pre-made chicken stock. I added a small dash of balsamic vinegar and a splash of worchestershire sauce (another freebie) to add some oomph. I sadly did not have any wine or onions, which made me nervous as these have always been a mainstay in the past (of my pantry and my ragout). It was all brought to the boil (the high setting on the stove is like HADES! bubbling cauldron of doom!), then down to a happy simmer, lid half on.

I watched telly, unpacked my suitcase, did a load of laundry, watched more telly, played on the internet, watched more telly... I think in total I had simmered it for almost two hours when I realised the whole steaks, maybe from being frozen prior, were not really flaking and falling apart as I had expected. I took the meat out of the pan and cut it into chunks then flaked/shredded with a fork and returned it to the liquid to continue. I think just before the three hour mark I got hungry, so I boiled up the gnocchi, which was quite a fun experience - add to boiling water then skim them off as they float to the top like a triumphant "ta da! I'm done!".

It was actually quite delicious, if not a tad light on vegetable matter. I pre-made serves in takeaway boxes of gnocchi plus ragout and I am pleased to say it lasts well and microwaves well too. My only problem was that that first night when it was fresh made I was hungry, it was yummy and I ate two HUGE serves, so didn't quite have enough left to last my next stretch of shifts. Not really a negative, a positive for taste I suppose. I'm very happy at being introduced to this instant gnocchi concept. I'll definitely try another version again!

11 January 2012

Making friends with ovens with chicken

It was the turn of the century (sounds classier than "entering the noughties"). I was watching TV and channel surfing ("you're worse than a man!" was one of my ex-boyfriend's exasperated cry once) as I do. My puny ADHD brain managed to pause just long enough on the lovely Stefano's Gondola on the Murray TV show (at least I think that's what it was) to see a lovely family picnic dish of moist, tomatoey chicken with crispy parmesan and oregano crust surrounding by a loving nest of potato wedges. That image has burned itself into the "comfort food" lobe of my brain, and I have made this dish (in many Impressionist brushstrokes incarnations) more times than I can count as a go-to for dinner parties, a nice treat for myself or comfort food in times of disquiet.

As I am currently living in employer-provided accommodation in the desert, and was a teensy bit unwell and homesick, here is the latest version to prove yes, you can make friends with ovens, no matter how basic and crochetty they may be, and even if you are cooking with disposable tinfoil trays for want of an actual roasting pan:

For comparison, here is an earlier study of the same work ("Chicken descending staircase with pyrex frame, real oven method #2" I like to call it):

"Enough painterly analogies!" I hear you cry. So here is the (or my version of a sort-of) recipe (idealised, open to intrepation, and I do):



Ideally 8 skinless chicken thighs (or 500g to a kilo of chicken, depending on shop tray sizes)

6 medium potatoes or equivalent

Tub or sachet of tomato paste
Similar amount of water
Similar amount of white wine
A squeeze of lemon juice
- or, a jar of pre-made tomatoey pasta sauce (as in picture #1)

Olive oil spray or neat
Dried oregano (or marjoram; or twice as much fresh, or a mixture of both)
Parmesan cheese (powdered is fine)
Cracked black pepper
A touch of salt

An optional handful of kalamata olives and/or halved cherry or grape tomatoes.


Use a generous sized roasting pan (or tinfoil BBQ tray).

Preheat oven to 180-200 degrees.

Cut potatoes into wedges, peeling optional. Microwave or parboil them before or after wedging until just cooked. Coat with a light sheen of olive oil, salt lightly, pepper heavily, generously apply oregano and parmesan. Arrange around the edge of the roasting pan.

Cut the chicken thighs in halves or if using other chicken parts cut into manageable and/or uniform sizes (I prefer thighs, then drumsticks, then wings, less so breast meat for this dish). Place pieces and drained olives in centre of roasting pan surrounded by potato fortress. Apply tomato paste + water + wine/instapastasauce and lemon juice, and mix until chicken is coated well. Some staining of nearby potatoes is encouraged. Over entire pan apply liberal amounts of cracked pepper, oregano and parmesan which will form crispy crust of deliciousness.

Place entire pan into oven. The dish will take roughly 45 minutes to 90 minutes to cook depending on how much you have put in the pan and how crap your (albeit rent free) oven is. Have tinfoil to cover the dish for the first 15-30 minutes of cooking then uncover to allow to crisp up the crust.

Serve with a salad of cos and avocado with lemon/olive oil/thyme dressing; or a roasted fennel salad depending on the season.

Best enjoyed with a big group of friends at a dinner party (chuck it all in the oven, then drink with your friends while the place fills up with the awesome aroma) or picnic (just carry the whole big dish to the rug or table) - who will ooh, aah then say nothing at all as they stuff their faces. Surprisingly, this dish is also good as a simple "keeps well" dish for sectioning off into take-away boxes for a week's worth of work food that you definitely won't get sick of!