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.