18 October 2013

It was Fish'n'Chip Friday and I had Rainbow Chard to harvest

A photo had popped up on Jamie Oliver's Facebook account of delicious looking Italian style greens (Ricetta tipica per verdure verdi), just as the "Silverbeet/Rainbow Chard" mix in my vegie patch was starting to mature.

I decided to give the olive oil & acid treatment to it for my usual "bring vegies" duties for Friday night dinner at my sis and bro-in-lo's:

They are fantastically good-looking vegies!

I split the stems from the leaves as they would take more time to cook.

Aren't the colours appealing?

Then tossed in a wok (stems first, then leaves) with olive oil and lemon plus a little splash of balsamic for some sweetness (but no garlic as sis don't like it). Heavenly!

(I did make a second version for my parents the other day when they came over to help me demolish a ginormous frittata I'd baked to use up the dozen eggs rattling around the back of the fridge that I'd forgotten about. Instead of chopping into such fine pieces I just had half-lengths of stems and far bigger leaf pieces which was somehow tastier. I must report that this dish definitely tastes more nommy with garlic! Yay for two-second dishes!)

17 October 2013

Honey soy duck leg

I've had a really lovely day, but it did involve a fair bit of racing around. Racing home in my car, I pulled in at the local grocer's to pick up a specific item and, I thought, some instant dinner (they make roast dinners in a box) as I had absolutely no "actual food" in the house. In the end I went with semi-instant real food; so here is how you make a stupid-easy-quickie dinner that I guarantee will make you even happier than you were before. (I do luv duck, and I certainly luv Luv-A-Duck!)

Here's how you do it:

Screech home, pull out the rice cooker, plug it in, pour about a cupful (or what's left in a bag in the back of the pantry shelf) of rice, fill with water until the waterline above the rice is up to your first knuckle (distal PIP joint for the technicals amongst you) - this is the ancient measuring system I was taught by my Mum. Push the button from 'warm' to 'cook'.

Turn the oven onto 180∘c.

Race out the door to walk the dog around the block. If you don't have a dog, you may omit this step. Don't go out of your way to source a pet just to follow the recipe, that would be daft. You can do something else whilst the oven pre-heats, honest.

Race back in the door, open the duck pack and place the honey soy duck legs onto a baking paper-lined backing tray and plonk it in the oven.

Save the duck pack as it will have rendered then re-solidified fat in it (which will look disturbingly like atheroma, just ignore that. Stop being so technical!). Scrape a spatula-endful out and splat it into a wok on high heat. Chop up the bunch of broccolini you bought - stems chopped, chuck them in the wok first; then the florets; then a tray of mixed mushrooms in order of cooking lenghth. (King oyster, shimeji, oyster, enoki.) The rice will have cooked and the duck will be crisp and perfect.


(and don't forget the sprinkle of fresh chives off the windowsill)

Then eat. Watching Jamie Oliver on the telly. He would be proud. Fast food but not too naughty!

P.S. Watching Jimmy and Gwyneth Paltrow play chubby bunny was just too funny!

11 September 2013

and this is what Keith cooked

You'll have to excuse me, I've just had a massive oven cook up and accidentally eaten two types of roast dinner this evening (honey & mustard lamb rack with wok charred dark soy brussel sprouts; and slow cooked pork with roast apples and fennel)! So no blogging tonight, and more on that later. I'm in a food coma!

Luckily, my friend and I were chatting on Facebook (after I posted my roast dinner photos) and he has decided to share with us the benefit of his hard work with experimenting with Creme Caramel recipes in this excellent guest blog post. He assures me that this will turn out beautifully if you want to give it a go:

Keith's Creme Caramel

There are multiple creme caramel recipes out there, using exactly the same ingredients that this version calls for. However, most recipes give imprecise quantities (e.g. specifying measurements in cups), or give dangerous cooking suggestions (e.g. 180C oven!). If you follow these instructions, you will be rewarded with a smooth, bubble-free, and really eggy creme caramel.
This recipe does not call for any special equipment other than a digital probe thermometer, which I suggest you buy because it is a worthy investment.
Assuming you have 250mL ramekins, this recipe will make enough for 8 serves.

- Digital weighing scales
- Digital probe thermometer
- 8x 250mL ramekins
- Blowtorch (optional)

- 1L full cream milk
- 320gm egg yolks (about 8 egg yolks)
- 420gm whole eggs (about 6 eggs)
- 180gm caster sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 10gm salt
Tip: whisk the eggs for easier weighing
Pour the salt and sugar into a saucepan then pour the milk on top of it (this stops the milk from catching and burning at the bottom). Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out, then add to the milk. Heat the milk to 80C, then turn off the heat and allow to infuse for 1 hour. Meanwhile, make the caramel (recipe below).
Add the cooled milk to the egg yolks and eggs, then beat until incorporated. Strain the mixture, discarding the vanilla skins. This will get rid of any bubbles and egg shells.

- 300mg sugar
- 100mL water
Mix the sugar and water together and bring to boil in a saucepan. Prepare your ramekins, making sure they are dry. You will need to work fast as soon as the caramel is made. You will find that the caramel will continue to darken in the pan, and will easily pass the burnt stage by the time you reach your sixth ramekin if you do not take precautions!
As soon as the caramel starts to take colour, observe it closely. Just as it passes golden brown, remove the pan from the heat and immediately plunge the bottom of the pan into water in the sink for 15-20 seconds, making sure you do not get any water into the caramel. This will cool the pan and stop the caramel from overcooking.
Immediately pour the caramel into the prepared ramekins, swirling the caramel to coat as high up the sides as possible. Work quickly - it helps to have an extra pair of hands to complete this stage.

Preheat the oven to 90C, fan forced. This is a much lower temperature than is typical in most recipes, and the reason is simple - high heat causes liquid to boil, boiling liquid produces bubbles, and bubbles in your creme caramel produces a rough texture.
Choose a baking pan which will fit all 8 ramekins. Line the bottom of the pan with folded tea towels, making sure that it is absolutely flat. If your ramekins are tilted, you will get lopsided creme caramels.
Pour the creme caramel mixture into the prepared ramekins. Let rest for a few minutes - any bubbles will rise to the top. Pop the bubbles by passing a blowtorch very quickly over the liquid. Cover each ramekin tightly with foil, then poke a few holes to allow steam to escape. Place the ramekins carefully onto the folded tea towels in the baking pan.
Boil enough water to reach 2/3 the height of the ramekins, then pour into the pan.
Bake the creme caramels at 90C for about 60-90 minutes, or until a probe thermometer reads 82C. Turn off the oven, leaving the door open. Allow the caramels to cool to room temperature unmolested (about 2-3 hours). Note - if you try to remove the caramels too soon, they will cool too quickly and shrink, leaving cracks.
Chill the caramels in the fridge. Before serving, immerse the ramekins into boiling water for 60 seconds, then run a knife around the edge. Invert a plate over the ramekin, then turn the whole thing the right side up. The caramels should unmold easily. Garnish and serve.

Definitely one of my favourite ever desserts! Might even convince me to try making sweets a bit more often! Thanks mate!

08 September 2013

Celeriac Remoulade

I absolutely love celeriac, and celeriac remoulade, that most European of dishes, is no exception. I made it the other night to bring to our family's regular "Fish'n'Chip" night at my sister's house, and describing it over the phone I came up with "it's like a very fancy, delicious coleslaw".

For those of you who have not met celeriac as yet, here is what you can expect to find:

It tastes like celery flavoured root vegetable if you are wondering, but there's just something about it that is some kind of magical.

I love Celeriac Mash (slice off the stems and tough outer skin, chop into pieces then boil with equal parts milk and water; drain and mash. AMAZING! You can also combine with equal parts potato pieces if you want a starchier texture.) I've mentioned it before in this blog post.

The other way I use it is as a side for roasts. Roast Celeriac did feature at my Father's Day lamb roast lunch this year. Simply slice off the outer skin then cut into wedges or batons, apply oil, salt & pepper and roast as you would for any other root vegetable. So morish!

So, Celeriac Remoulade seems like a difficult thing as I find it features on menus in french bistros and fancy restaurants over here, but I was determined to give it a go. Fortunately for us, we have the delightful Neil Perry at Rockpool, who is always open to sharing his recipes, plus google gave me a few more gems, such as this classic recipe from Nigel Slater.

As you may know, I have injured both my right wrist and my left index finger recently - the right arm was giving me grief, with lots of pain on gripping or movement; whilst the left finger is trussed up in a funny batman-mask splint. I was concerned I may not be able to shred the celeriac finely enough. I had recently bought a new device from the Vietnamese store which is designed to shred green papaya and mango for salads:

It worked well but was quite labour-intensive as the celeriac was just that little bit hard, and slippery. I don't actually own a food processor, but if you do, I think this dish would be so easy to make, you'd just slip in the julienne blades and "wazz" it up as Jamie Oliver says. Fortunately I have unearthed most of my kitchen stuff from over east (the injuries haven't helped with unpacking!), and my big mandolin was floating around, so I was able to julienne in a timely fashion (you can't be late for fish and chip night! Soggy fry up! What a disaster!).

So once that pesky julienne problem is overcome, it's actually a remarkably simple dish to make, just a classic combination of taste sensations!

Celeriac Remoulade a la Fish'n'Chip night:

Julienne the flesh of one celeriac (stems and outer skin removed) and immediately place in acidulated water.
Combine several generous dollops (3-5 tablespoons) of whole egg mayonnaise and 1 large dollop of dijon mustard.
Rinse and chop three cornichons and 1 tablespoon of capers and mix into the dressing. Add a large pinch of dried parsley because it is too cold to go outside to the herb garden to harvest fresh dill, parsley and watercress, and you don't feel like braving the slugs. Squeeze in the juice of half a monster lemon (having recently harvested an entire vegie drawer's worth of lemons from the monster tree in the front yard). Decide to leave out garlic that some recipes suggest as your sister has a weird aversion to it (she thinks she can feel it oozing out of her pores the next day).

Mix thoroughly and toss in the drained celeriac julienne, coat well. Plonk the lot into a takeaway box for quick transport and take a photo for your blog (curses! no time to dress it up in a nice bowl!). Enjoy whole heartedly with family as an excellent side dish which will definitely steal the show. And have this conversation with your brother in law:

"I don't know, you don't make friends with salad."
"Come on, it has whole egg mayonnaise in it, it's hardly a purist's salad."
"I'm in."


04 September 2013

Learning the classics

These last few months I have been focusing on teaching myself (or reworking) what I believe to be classic dishes to add to my repertoire.
Hokkien Mee got a trial by fire a few weeks ago, I recently made Celeriac Remoulade for the first time and last night I used a left over ham hock in the freezer (from my previous Choucroute Alsacienne) to create a version of Pea & Ham (Lentil, Ham Hock & Tuscan Kale) Soup, which I had never attempted before - more on that later.

Having said that, my staples have been getting a work out too with a nice big lamb roast or two in the last few weeks of winter.

I stumbled across this "10 Recipes Everyone Should Master" article today. I'm not 100% sure I agree that these are the absolute top ten classics, but I will definitely have a go at that chocolate pudding!

Hokkien Mee pour moi

So, I have a big list in my mind of dishes I'd like to conquer, and Hokkien Mee was pretty high up there. A friend on Facebook had been posting lots of amazing food photos (he has far more technique than me!) but when we got into conversation about this delicious South East Asian staple, he said dejectedly that he didn't have a good recipe that would allow a "cook at home" Hokkien Mee.

Challenge accepted.

Now, I am aware that there is no hope of having as great a version as the true hawker style, side of the road, middle of the markets Hokkien Mee at home. The noodles have to be dark, almost black, with additional charring and dryness that you simply can't get from a domestic stovetop, there just isn't as much heat. However, it's still nice to have a "home version" of most things, so here is my take on the dish from a couple of weeks ago.

First I consulted the interwebs to get some inspiration and found two versions of the recipe, one I will refer to as the "Dark" recipe and the other as the "Lard" recipe.

In my mind, it's noodles, very fine slices of char siew and choy sum which sing out from this dish. The additional ingredients are somewhat flexible. So to start with I sliced a large piece of uncarved char siew (which my parents had kindly brought over last time we had a roast duck/bbq meats takeaway dinner) as finely as I possibly could, pulling off the fat first (see below). Then chopped the choy sum into fairly uniform pieces, splitting the stems and the leaves (as they cook for different amounts of time so this alters the order in which they should hit the wok). I can't remember what the packet instructions were for the noodles but I followed them as with any noodle dish (some need pre-boiling, others you can just pour over some hot water, some need soaking in cold water).

Then the standard taste combo of finely diced garlic, matchsticked ginger and long pieces of onion (but I used shallots as that was what I had in the fridge). As the "Lard" recipe was so adamant on the need for fat, I also chopped up the plump strips of lard/pork fat that I had saved from the char siew into a dice to add to the wok with these initial "flavour injectors".

I felt like I needed just one more texture so I went with a tin of oyster mushrooms that was rattling about in the back of the pantry. Again I opted for long strips which I find more pleasing to have in stir fried noodles (we've already discussed the importance of shape and grain in stir fry, and my hatred of inelegant chubby diced pieces they sell at the store, I'm sure).

So here is the recipe/pathway for My Hokkien Mee:

Oil - heat a generous couple of lugs of olive oil in a wok over high heat; add diced pork fat to render
Flavourings - in the oil, toss garlic, ginger and onion or shallot for a couple of tosses
(Normally I'd add marinated meat at this stage but this dish calls for none)
Vegies - add the choy sum stems and stir fry until a subtle colour change to glossy or tender; then the leaves; then the mushrooms
Precooked meat - add the slices of char siew to colour up and heat through. Agitate or arrange well to allow maximum meat to wok contact
Marinadey sauce - pour over some dry sherry or rice wine, a sprinkle of sugar then LOTS of dark soy sauce.
Noodles - add the prepared noodles and stir to coat with sauce and mix through the other "stuff" (in chinese we refer to the "stuff" that isn't rice or carbs as "soong" ie the vegies and the meat).

I ended up with a wokful of noodle stir fry:

...but it wasn't quite Hokkien Mee. I ended up adding LOTS and LOTS more dark soy sauce and it almost looked like the Hokkien Mee of my mind's eye. It was quite delicious!

In the end, the secret was discovered a day later, when I pulled out a smaller amount from the batch as leftovers and re-wokked it. Having a small amount in the wok allowed for much higher heat distribution and I managed the get the charred, dark, dry look I was hoping for; and the taste was even better than before. So if you are struggling to get enough heat despite having a thin, large wok with a large, hot flame, perhaps try making a teeny tiny batch, or pulling out smaller portions to char up after the initial batch is made. The re-fried leftovers were so delicious I completely forgot to take a photo of these later versions! A good endorsement!

20 August 2013

Very educational - Olive Oil choice

A friend of mine directed this commercial - enjoy!

Whilst it does remind me of the funny series of Perfect Italiano ads that came out a few years ago...

...I did enjoy a nice belly laugh this morning, and this new ad is a touch more educational I suppose!

11 August 2013

Winter Warmer - Choucroute Alsacienne

At least once a year, when it's cold and blustery, I find myself craving this dish, which I was introduced to as an exchange student in the French Alps. My host mother was an amazing cook, and I have very fond memories of the time I spent living there, so this dish makes me feel all cosy and nostalgic. My lovely boyfriend Patrick recently lived in France; plus we both pride ourselves on our cooking efforts, so I decided it was time to share this beautiful dish with him, and as is often the way my sis & bro-in-lo.

My sister let me steal her Year 11 book prize "French Family Cooking" by Françoise Bernard many years ago, and there is a recipe in there that I have always used as a framework:

As the translation suggests, this dish is basically sauerkraut with sausages - pork pork pork, potatoes, cabbage - but the fun is in the trip to the local butcher shop and the astonishment this dish will cause.

Essentially, I bought 2.3kg of meat:
- American smoked bacon
- British pork sausages
- A pork shoulder roast, cut in halves (in lieu of the veal knuckle)
- A bacon/ham hock, cut in halves ("yay! meaty band-saw!" cried the butcher, well I imagine)
- An Italian spiced sausage
I was unable to fit both halves of the pork shoulder and the hock in the pan, so all up I imagine it was roughly 2 kilos in the end.

I had 3 cans of sauerkraut, which made between 1 to 1.5 kg and as soon as I decided it was on, I rinsed and then soaked the sauerkraut in cold water, for the time it took to go to the butcher and grocer nearby.

I then put my large casserole on the stove with the hock, shoulder and generously diced (1" oblongs) bacon covered in water, to bring to the boil. In the meantime I peeled and halved or quartered the potatoes and finely sliced the onion. I usually omit the carrot, I find the sweetness takes away from the dish, and today was no exception (and anyway I had run out of real estate in the pan!).

Once the meats were at a boil, I took them off the heat; then rearranged, in layers: the bacon; drained (and hand pressed & untangled) sauerkraut & onion; then the pork shoulder, ham hock & spiced sausage; more sauerkraut; clove, thyme, parsley, salt, pepper, pepper, pepper and juniper berries. Then some dry apple cider instead of wine and water to cover.

There is then time to clean up the kitchen hurricane as you bring to the boil then simmer everything for just over an hour. Then it's time to remove the meat "garnish" (the French to English translation in this book is very confusing at times). I placed the hock and shoulder into an ovenproof bowl with a lid in the oven just under 100°c to keep warm, with a ladle-full of the soupy pan juices. Then back to the sauerkraut on the stove, add the potatoes and push them in until they are submerged in the soupy-juice and covered with a warm doona of sauerkraut. Boil/simmer for about half an hour. I say "boil/simmer" because in my current house the gas is either "on very flamey" or "low flame but precariously likely to suddenly go out and continue to fill the room with unburnt gas". Plus as long as you pop by every now and then, it should be fine. Some extra heat or time is not necessarily a bad thing here as the flavour just gets better and better. You can top up with water at any time to counteract the boiling.

After that, put in the pork sausages (or if you follow the recipe use frankfurters - they didn't have any that I liked the look of at the butcher by mid afternoon) and push them under the surface gently. Then plonk the rest of the meats in or on; heat for 20 minutes, then you're ready to serve (or just pop the lid on on low heat or in the sub-100 oven until all your guests are in the door, salutations and settings are done.

Get ready for a feast, food coma and family fun times! It's totally worth the effort - well, at least once a year! I split the larger ingredients to make for safer serving and then once we'd all had a go, I popped everything back in the pan together. This amount was good for all four of us to have a decent serve, and seconds, or was that thirds, plus three generous leftover serves that I savoured over the week to follow. Rye or sour dough bread to sop up all the delicious soup-juice is highly recommended! I favour apple cider with this dish, but as we all proved that night, choucroute goes well with beer, white wine and red wine to suit all drinking tastes!

Bon appétit!

25 June 2013

Tuscan Kale Crisps

In my previous research for nasturtium recipes I also discovered that Kale Chips are allegedly addictive.

I have some Tuscan Kale (Cavolo Nero) coming up in the back yard, so I thought I'd give it a go out of curiosity.

So, as per the recipe, I chopped out the stems, then mixed up the leaves in a freezer bag with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and ground sea salt. Then I popped then into the oven on 200 degrees, admittedly a few minutes too long out of absent-mindedness.

I'd aim for ten - fifteen minutes but they were in for about 20 by accident, and turned out a touch too browned/black.

They came out crunchy, salty and delicious, but the bitterness of the Tuscan cabbage and the "furry tongue" spinach after taste were a bit too much for me, I only ate about a third of the batch before feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately they keep perfectly fresh and crispy in a zip lock bag. That was Friday, today is Monday/Tuesday (night) and they are still there as a handy zing of texture and flavour to have when I get home from late shift. If you love bitter greens and that spinach-y/dark-greeny flavour, I can see how they'd be morish, but unfortunately it is just too much for me.

I have a feeling the curly kale used in the recipe will be a more mellow bite, and I've seen bunches of curly kale in the local grocer's so I've got that as another option to try, I'll let you know!

12 June 2013

Nasturtium Stir'ems

As you know, my front garden is alight with nasturtium plants this winter, and I had heard that they are quite edible. Eaten raw they are SUPER peppery; even for me who is in love with watercress as a salad base. So I thought I'd pick a bagful and try them out cooked. They really are quite appealing, lovely looking leaves and stems:

So I decided to add them to my standard Duck and Glass Noodle Stirfry Salad in place of the usual watercress (which is getting easier to buy, but is really rather difficult to grow).

All in all it was pretty straight forward, I just cut up the stems and leaves with a pair of scissors and added them into the wok at the appropriate time.

I only used duck, green beans, garlic and ginger as the other stuff so I could really see what the nasturtiums had to say.

It turned out nicely (although I have a right wrist injury in a splint so left-handed stirfrying caused a bit of kitchen carnage I must say):
...but I must say the nasturtium didn't really add much flavour that I could notice, not like watercress does; but the stems add a nice texture, and you are left with a funny tongue coated peppery feel once you finish eating, which is a new sensation.

I think the verdict is that I'll use the front yard plants for my stirfries if I haven't got watercress to hand, but I can't say it will be replacing it all together. I'll carry onto the next nasturtium experiment...

Fire and spice

Time for a confession: I am a massive chili WUSS! I love a little tang of chili on the tip of the tongue, such as my favourite Italian restaurant puts in their alio olio; or as a pinch of chili flakes in my stir fry sauce but that's about as far as I can go.

However, I love having chili plants in the garden, and I have put in two gorgeous dwarf ornamental pepper plants - one has purple foliage and produces deep purple to red chilies; whilst the other has standard green leaves and green to red chilies. My parents saw this and decided to give me another MONSTER chili plant which had been rambling wild in the rosebeds and growing too fast to harvest:

Oddly enough, my little black dog has been quite taken to wrapping her mouth around the chilies and gumming on them like lollipops. I'm worried about what might happen if she actually chews so it's living on the patio table for the moment. I used a couple in a stirfry the other day, and of course my family decided to have a chili chew-off - my bro-in-lo who is a chili gun was a teensy bit red in the face! My seestah had tears streaming down her face! I sensibly had picked out the volcano pods of doom and quite enjoyed the stirfry. The trick is to leave them whole as it is the seeds which are the killers!

So. Too many chilies. What to do? Make chili oil! It's great as to douse on things in the same way you would use any good olive oil - to oil a pan; finish a pasta or even dress a salad. You can opt to use the soaked chilies themselves or just the infused liquid if you are a chili wuss like me.

I made a small jar for my friend Tina recently as I had not had enough time to knit up a baby blanket for her and was finally able to catch up with her and her gorgeous bub, and I hated to turn up empty handed:


Sterilise a jar (by which I mean, put it in the dishwasher, if you are lazy like me)

Harvest a handful of thyme (I used lemon thyme for the jar above) and as many chilies as you want to fill your jar with and wash thoroughly. Trim the stalks off the chilies. You can leave them whole, which is pretty, or halve them lengthways to show off the seeds and increase the heat of the oil flavour more rapidly.

Skin and chop up a couple of cloves of garlic.

Place the thyme, chilies and garlic in the jar. You can simply chuck it all in; or put them in layers for a large jar. In the case of a small jar like the one I made for Tina, I like to keep the thyme on its stems and wind it around like a big bird's nest inside the jar - this provides a framework for the chilies and garlic chunks - just tuck them in with a fairly even distribution all around the jar (layering as you go in a circular motion).

Add a pinch of black peppercorns from your grinder (this way you'll get some whole ones and some semi-smushed ones).

Then pour over the oil, tapping or agitating the jar as you go to try to release the tiny air bubbles out of the centre of the chilies. In theory, by getting all the air out and having all the organic matter covered by the oil, it shouldn't be able to spoil, and will keep for ages and ages.

A simple yet effective way to use up all those chilies!

- Variation - I like the flavour profile of thyme, chili and garlic; but if you don't have thyme or you want to try something else, you can also use any or all of the leafy stalky herbs such as rosemary, oregano or marjoram. Try them all, it's so easy!

30 May 2013


I was so angry when I first moved here, the previous owner (or was it the estate agent?) had basically thrown a packet'o'mixed seeds all over the garden beds so it looked a bit like a Jackson Pollack flower spew! I got a gardener in to help me rip out everything except the big lemon tree, the bottle brush tree and the hibiscus tree in the front yard, and I started again with a country cottage style garden - I've planted marigolds and mint in a pretty row along the driveway; some pizza thyme by the letterbox; a row of standard iceberg roses and tuscan rosemary along the footpath; some lavender, heirloom sage, native lillies and watercress in the front garden bed; and two bay trees in formal pots by the front windows. Everything is edible, except for a port wine magnolia which I wanted for the fragrance near the front door. However, in the meantime, the entire front garden bed has filled up with a sea of nasturtium plants, popping out all over the place as if to say "hey! we're edible too, you know!". I've been tasting the leaves - MAN they are peppery. You know I love the peppery taste of raw watercress, but the nasturtium leaves sure pack a punch - I've had tears in my eyes with the last few nibbles! So I'm on the hunt for nasturtium recipes - in particular I think I will try substituting them in place of watercress in stir-fries, but here are a couple of recipes I wanted to keep here as links to remind me to try them later:

We're eating flowers

Herb and nasturtium biscuits

Thai Rice Salad with Nasturtium

Please let me know if you have any further ideas or recipes that you've tested!

14 May 2013

Monday Mayhem!

(A post made possible with the contribution of my lovely friend Bex)

So, it all started with this yummy jar of Spiced Yabbies that I bought down south in a winery, sadly I can't remember which winery! Although technically, I'm not sure if in WA we are supposed to be referring to them as Gilgies to avoid confusion. That didn't work. I had served up my own jar as part of an antipasto platter for rellies. Bex moved back interstate and was on the same road trip, so she gifted me her jar as well. Also, Bex introduced me to a cute little shop/café called The Ingredient Tree near her place when she was living here. I had recently returned from an adventure on the Amazon Basin in Peru, and had spent every single day there eating the most delicious Heart of Palm salad that I am sad I never got the recipe for. So to my surprise, this little shop had a shelf full of tins of Palm Hearts, so of course I grabbed one... not really knowing what to do with it. Nor the yabby meat in spices. It had been months of thinking, and mind-marinating, but not much inspiration. Then it turned out the Yabby Meat was about to expire:

I had considered making a Yabby Meat Linguine, similar to my vongole/shellfish standard.
A Chargrilled Yabby Salad?
A Yabby Cous Cous?

As for the heart of palm, maybe a modified Caprese?
Or just eat it all in a big palm heart splurge?
Or a Heart of Palm Cous Cous?

Hmm, I really like cous cous and I haven't had it in an awfully long time... and I'd just bought a nice new set of stock jellies to try (one little one makes 2 cups' worth, which is perfect!).

A googlywoogly and a similar sounding combo later, and I finally came up with this idea:

(Warm Salad of) Heart of Palm and Spiced Yabby Cous Cous

Let's do this! If you want to know how long it takes, start making this with the start of Bargain Hunt on the telly in the background. You should be done well before the ad break that comes just before the auctions. Convenient timing, I ate my dinner in front of the suspense filled scenes.

So first things first, as above I just boil water in the kettle to pour with cous cous in a 1:1 ratio. For this one, pour out two cups' worth of water to mix up your stock jelly cube. Add two cups of cous cous, and stir/fluff with a fork to avoid play-doh clumps forming. Set by the stove and completely forget about it.

So I had never really handled these palm heart do-dads, so in case you are the same, here's a pic of how they come out of the tin. They didn't have a very strong fragrance in the brine, so I just sliced them up and hoped for the best.

Then I decided to go for a blend of the following vegies - thinly sliced zucchini strips, halved mini-Roma tomatoes, a diced 3/4 of a red onion plus the grated zest and juice of half a lemon - fresh off the tree from the front yard!

Herbs and spices were a bit of a fun blend - dried mixed herbs from the spice rack, cracked black pepper, powdered cumin and powdered garlic. Then I braced myself against the cold night air to grab a handful of chives which I then snipped up with scissors.

Then I drained the yabbies, but left in the spices that they came with.

The boxes arrived today from my East coast place, but I was not going to dig out the Circulon casserole dish and so here we are again, cooking inappropriate dishes in a wok.

I fried up the onion and zucchini slices in a generous splash of olive oil, with a single slurp of balsamic vinegar and all the dried herbs and spices. Then the yabby meat Then I added the tomato, lemon zest & juice and then used a garlic press to add a couple of cloves of happy goodness. Then in with the palm hearts, then using the fork for maximal fluffiness, the cous cous in small amounts with vigorous stirring in between. Heat off and away we go with a bowlful of warm salad to go and see what Tim Wonnacott has to say about stately homes and the fripperies of royal visits. Oh you saucy minx! Delicious.

08 May 2013

"Wow!" Factor Wednesday

...or, Rock out with your Wok out Hump day.

So I've gotten into the habit of cooking up a big batch of somethin' somethin' the day before a round of shifts, boxing it up into generous serves and feeling super prepared for the energy drain of the work week.

In related news, I've also been working on my new vegie and herb garden now that I have access to ground floor dirt. The perennial basil has been going off like a frog in a sock, with fat, tart leaves and huge long stems of edible flowers.

So I decided to come up with my take on the legendary Thai takeaway staple of Beef with Basil.

The first round was for when Mumsy and Dadsy came over unexpectedly for dinner one night, and it's had many new versions inventified since then.

The last batch brought into work made me happy due to nomming, yes; but also quite chuffed because every time a new person would walk into the tea room they'd say one or all of these things, in this order:
"Wow! Something smelllls amaazing!"
"What are you eating? That looks amaazing!"
"You made that? Wow! Amaaazing!"
Which isn't too shabby for a leftover stirfry!

BEEF WITH BASIL, experimental cooking style:

Have a weird habit of buying budget/on sale beef steak, and filling your freezer full of it. Despite this, have no recollection of your past self already doing this, and end up with lots of steak to use up. For this recipe it's best to use budget lean steak with no fancy marbling to confuse the beefy issue. Pull a tray of said steak out of the freezer and allow to thaw whilst you attend to vegies.

Harvest a metric shit-tonne of perennial basil. Wash, pick off caterpillars, then strip the flowers and leaves off the stems - separate into three piles.

Slice and dice some vegies to add to your stirfry. I still haven't nailed exactly which vegies I like best in here, or whether I should just be a purist and leave them out altogether. So far my favourite has been cauliflower, as shown above. There is something quite intense about getting those nice nutty charred bits of cauli to add a bit of oomph, but it also is neutral and flavour absorbing enough to not detract too much from the star players. I've tried field mushrooms (the large fleshy flat cups) and celery pieces (stalks and leaves all in), which have both worked well as well. If you can think of a more traditional, green leafy that would work well, please let me know.

Finely slice an onion.

Finely dice some garlic (no such thing as too much) and sliver up a generous (1-2cm) chunk of ginger lengthways.

Now back to the beef. My Mum would constantly moan and groan about how butchers in Oz can't seem to understand that 'stir fry meat pieces' are NOT in fact those big, long, 'with the grain' beef strips that will work so well in stroganoffs and such love-you-long-time simmer stews. Essentially, stir frying is a flash fry attack, where you literally chuck in the meat at the end just as long as you would to brown something then agitate with one or two stirs as the pieces are so thin and tender that that is actually all they should need. I never used to realise what all the fuss was about until I started to Wok out myself. So unless you have an Asian butcher nearby, which I'd like but is not the case in these particular burbs, use semi frozen slabs of meat to cut into bite sized chunks then slice across the grain into thin (3-5mm) slices of happiness. You can attempt this with a mega sharp knife and unfrozen meat, but sadly I am just not that talented!

As you go, place slices in a bowl. Apply the following Mum-approved marinade (all at once or in splashes for each layer if you are doing a huge amount:
Light soya sauce - a generous splash to coat the pieces
Dry sherry or rice wine - ditto
Lots of pepper (ground black or powdered white); dried powdered garlic and ginger
A pinch/half a teaspoon/2cm length of a chopstick end-full of sugar.

I also add a tiny bit of chili flakes to this marinade now.
I decided to be brave and use dark (or mushroom-style dark) soya sauce to really coat and gloss up the beef (brave as Mum used to only ever reserve this strong stuff for the soya sauce chicken, it was never really vetted for general stirfry use!)

Assemble each ingredient near your stovetop in little bowls, plates or generic receptacles within arm's reach. Once your start the stirfry, it needs to be done all in a flash so none of the elements overcooks.

You ready? Start the Wok!
Place your wok over high heat.
Pour in a drizzle of neutral tasting oil. I use olive oil. Vegetable, canola etc are all good.
Plop the garlic and ginger pieces and the basil stems into the oil they'll start to sizzle and infuse the oil and the house with delicious aromas.
Then the onion pieces. I also add cashew pieces here sometimes.
Stir stir stir sizzle. Fish out the basil stems.
Now add the cauliflower/vegie pieces. Allow to contact the wok freely to add some small charred areas then stir stir stir.
Now the beef, marinade and all. If it's too dry, add a splash of water. If it's too soggy, Dad taught me a trick of gently sprinkling over some cornflour to thicken the sauce up - but be ready to go stir-crazy or you'll end up with unfortunate lumps.
So. Stir sizzle stir add the basil leaves stir add the basil flowers stir sizzle, and you're done! Delicious stirfry fit for a feast or a week's worth of workday dinners! Wow!

07 May 2013

Traditional Taste Sensations

There are some flavour combinations that have stood the test of time. Tried and tested, trusted, tasty.

Let's talk about this one: Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella.

What is it about this combination that keeps me coming back for more? Is it the sweetness of the tomato? The tang of the basil? The chewy mozzarella (or bocconcini)? I think it is, but in an "all of it together" kind of way. Add some garlic, olive oil, and/or balsamic and you're officially in "fast" food heaven. I mean it. It is fast when something works soooo well. Use it on top of bread, pizza dough, pasta, gnocchi or cous cous and you're pretty much a legend. I'm not even a vegetarian! Here, have some recipes, although they are so easy, I am blushing at the simplicity. Heaven... must be missing... three ingredients...

(Having Heirloom Tomatoes available at your local convenience shop definitely adds to the joy and amazement, I must say!)

Two Second Salad:

I was first introduced to this marvellous delicious rapid recipe on a Prix Fixe menu in a Café Roma or some such other generically named place in Paris. I am ashamed to say (I grew up in an Italian stronghold), I would never have thought to order Caprese Salad (that's right, it has its own Wikipedia page, three ingredients are a powerful thing) of my own accord. Truth be told I took one look and thought it was a rip off, but the second the flavour combination hit my tastebuds I was hooked!

Here's one I prepared earlier, for a Father's Day Feast last year:

1. Slice fresh tomato/es (or if using mini-Romas, grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, use halves)
2. Remove basil leaves from stalks (home grown is so satisfyingly fresh - I always keep some in a pot of "Sweet"/standard basil by the windowsill or on the balcony/courtyard near the door)
3. Slice fresh mozzarella - my favourite is buffalo if you want supercreamy or teeny tiny bocconcini if you're using teeny tiny tomatoes

Arrange on a plate in the above order.
Hey presto! Insalata!

(Dressing - optional - Drizzle over olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar and/or salt & pepper.)

Three Second Caprese Skewers:

Use the above combination on skewers for a fun and festive appetiser plate. Ideally use halved cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, halved bocconcini, then repeat. I drizzled over the dressing, but with a bit more thought I think a shallow saucer of dressing to gently dip/roll the skewers in on the side (much like satay stick sauce is often served) might work best.

(I served these up at the start of Christmas Dinner last year and they were eaten so quickly! I should definitely double the amount next time...)

Three step pizza:
(Pizza Margherita to her friends)

Use pizza dough/a pre-bought pizza base/pita bread with a topping of:
1. Tomato paste (I add a fine dusting of garlic and mixed herbs; sometimes pine nuts)
+/- optional fresh tomato slices or small chunks (5mm-1cm big)
2. Basil leaves - Large fresh ones if you can, store bought dried or squeeze tube if you can't
3. Shredded/grated mozzarella

Bake in oven, I usually go 200∘C for ten minutes (or as long as the top can take without going from browned to blackened). Then I eat. Omnomnomnomnom.

19 April 2013

Friday Frittata

When I was a little girl, Mum used to joke that if you are what you eat, I must have been made of potatoes. Apparently, if there was a choice between any kind of food or even delicious treats and (mashed, steamed, fried, boiled) potato, I'd be all over the potatoes like a rash as if it were candy. Weird. I wonder if I had some rare elemental nutrient deficiency? Is it selenium that somes from spuds? Let me know!

Anyhoo, I'm a bit more balanced in my diet now, but I must admit that potato is still my go-to carbs over other choices, probably because I've devoted such a lifetime to discovering fun and interesting ways to cook it. This includes the time that my parents got the "evil" (according to my Year 2 teacher) microwave device, and I would cook a potato in the microwave plain, then pour Maggi seasoning sauce (essentially soya sauce with MSG added) on and feel like an evil genius gourmand. The babysitter who taught me how to make home-made crisps by thinly slicing potatoes and frying them as an after school snack is still my favourite, and we are still in contact 25 years on! No surprise then that my aforementioned recipe clipping folder contains an entire section devoted to potatoes:

...and my favourite recipe is potato frittata, which has taken many many forms in my topsy-turvy-many-housey lifetime. I can't believe I haven't blogged it yet for you!

Potato frittata (or "potato based quiche") is a versatile dish. It is a great dish to cut up into little finger food/tapas sized pieces for people to nibble as an appetiser at parties and goes down well as it is substantial but snacky enough to bring to "bring a plate" functions or to work. It's also a lovely comfort food that you can serve up, country café-style on a plate with a simple salad. You can bake it, then keep it in the fridge as leftovers to eat cold or reheated for breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper; which is perfect for the times when I've been living the solitary shiftworker lifestyle and can only work up enough energy to cook once for a big round of days or nights on. I'm actually post-nights, and eating a big leftover slab of it right now as we speak.

(No seriously, when can I quit my day/night job and run a little country café?)

I've also found that in lieu of having the entire thing as a dense layer of potatoey goodness, you can also substitute many combinations of ingredients for the middle and top layer without too much fuss. Shredded turkey, chopped BBQ chicken, grated zucchini, broccolini pieces, mushrooms, sweet potato and leftover Christmas ham are amongst some of my tried and tested concepts. You can completely replace the potato, if you have a weird childhood trauma aversion to them (Irish ex-boyfriend, are you listening?), but I would suggest you use them for the very base layer just to add some structural integrity. You can also make two different combos in the same dish:

So here is the basic recipe, but if you can imagine it is three layers, one potato, one onion +/- bacon/ham; one potato, feel free to substitute in any cooked meat or vegies for the top two layers.


For a lasagne dish 18x27cm
--> Line the dish with baking paper and oil it (I use olive oil spray but butter or oil smear works just as well)
--> Preheat the oven to 180degrees.

Base and top layers
1kg (approx. 10 medium sized) potatoes, thinly sliced (Kipfler or waxy potatoes are best, not mashing potatoes)
--> Boil, steam or microwave these until al dente. These will be for both the base and top layers. As I do them in the microwave, I put half first into the microwave. While that is cooking I then sort out the middle layer (see below). Then while the second 500g (of potatoes or other vegies) is cooking I can start layering the first layer of cooked potatoes into the dish.

If I have limited time on one day or know I plan to make frittata a day later, the other option is to cook all the potatoes, then allow them to cool and keep them in the fridge until you are ready for assembly.

Middle layer
1 large or two small (red or white) onions, finely chopped
2 rashers of bacon or slices of ham, finely chopped (optional)
1 small red chili, seeded and finely chopped OR a tablespoon of sweet chili sauce
--> Fry these together in a pan with a spray or splash of olive oil until the onion is translucent and soft.

--> Layer the bottom layer neatly with your first 500g of cooked potato slices. Season with a sprinkle of:

Seasoning mix
Parsley (dried or chopped fresh), chives or spring onions finely snipped
Ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese (instant stuff in a jar or grated fresh are both fine)

--> Then layer on the middle layer mix; and again sprinkle on the seasonings.

--> Then place the top layer ingredients (your 2nd 500g of potato slices, or whatever cooked meat/vegie mix you want to incorporate. If you have heaps of leftover vegies to use up or a cooked chook in the back of the fridge, you can skip the middle layer to allow more room for this stuff and to save time. Again sprinkly over a fine layer of the seasonings.

Egg mix
8 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk or milk, mixed in with the eggs
--> Pour this mixture over your layered goodies. Allow to settle/gently encourage the ingredients down below the egg line with a fork.

--> Bake for 45 minutes, or until the egg mix is set (which you can check by inserting a skewer in the middle which should come out cleanly if it is cooked through). I find most ovens are not 100% even, so I often pull it out at about 20 or 30 minutes to give it a gentle jiggle to check the firmness, then I rotate it around in the oven for more even baking.

--> Allow to cool out of the oven once done to let the excess steam escape and the egg mix to firm up. I then use the baking paper and a couple of spatulas to lift the whole thing out of the pan onto a chopping board to allow for easier slicing. If you want to make small tapas sized pieces, use a very sharp knife and allow it to cool further before slicing to really firm up the mix (often I refrigerate it overnight then slice it the next day for this effect).


For a standard sized round quiche dish, 3-4 potatoes are enough for each layer (see purple recipe above) and then alter the middle and top layers accordingly; use 6 eggs to 1/2 a cup of milk for your egg mix.

For a larger roasting pan, use 11 or 12 eggs to one cup of milk, and larger potatoes or more meat/vegie mix.

It's an art, not a science! Enjoy!!!