Monday, 31 December 2007

December Vegetables and Salutations

I am so in love with our veggie garden right now (apologies to David Lebovitz readers, otherwise known as those who profess to hating the word veggies. I shall continue to use the word unashamedly). We have harvested multiple batches of lovely zucchinis, which we have grilled on the barbecue, grated into zucchini slice (or 'cake', as Mini Chef wishes it to be known), shaved on a mandolin and drizzled with vinaigrette for a carpaccio, and stuffed with goat's cheese and topped with pepper and fresh mint, wrapped in foil and thrown onto the Webber. I can't wait until the little experimental eggplanty ones are ready to simmer with our green chillies (not yet taken by possums - fingers crossed it stays that way) in a curry.

We've also harvested plenty of cherry tomatoes, however I think our grape tomato plant is one of those high yield, low taste varieties. To overcome the issue, we roasted them with garlic and fresh thyme, then added them to breakfast pizza and pasta dishes (recipes to come at some stage in the not too distant future).

The Rosemary looks extraordinarily healthy... since planting it out last year it has just gone wild, maybe because we eat so much of it that it's constantly being pruned.It has served us well with many stews and roast lamb dishes. My personal favourite involved an entire bottle of rosé - minus the glass I had to have during the preparation, of course. I'd quite like to use this particular variety of rosemary as an edible border in the front garden, as it's bushy enough that it will probably make for quite a good sound barrier (unfortunately we are located down wind of an RSL with an all night liquor licence). It's so hardy that even if you just chop off a bit and plop it in the dirt, it manages to take root.

What I'm most excited about though, is the latest trial plant, the Lebanese cucumbers. Clever Husband made a little teepee for the three plants to climb up, and they seem very pleased with the arrangement. One of the plants has a cucumber that's ripe for the picking, and I plan to do just that this evening. I was thinking I might make a little salsa with the cucumber, vine-ripened tomatoes, red onion, garlic (also from the garden) yellow capsicum and maybe some of the green chillies if I can find any that look big enough to eat.

I've always appreciated the thrill of skimming through a cookbook or food magazine to plan the perfect meal, but the whole experience becomes so much more exhilarating when the ingredients are coming from your own garden. Makes you feel sort of creative and a bit smug... and for some reason, the voice in my head has a British accent when I write (or think) about the veggie garden. I must be channelling Monty Don, or Alan Titchmarsh, or someone. Admittedly, Clever Husband does most of the growing... I weed, prune and pick and, well, cook.

Wishing all the growers, cookers and eaters out there a delicious New Year's celebration meal... let's hope that 2008 is filled with more tasty treats than our food-obsessed minds can conjure.

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Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Cassoulet Revisited

For those of you who were interested in my earlier, Cassoulet inspired post ...

I was doing a bit of browsing in my (clearly copious) spare time, I came across this amazing blog entry (with even more amazing pictures) about the famed dish. Have a look at David Lebovitz's gorgeous food blog. Imagine how cool it would be to be this into food AND live in France. Mmmm.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Letter from Japan – Part 3

The final instalment. Miraculously, I was not put off sushi after this experience. In fact, a few days after returning home I found myself craving the salty goodness of fresh, raw fish. There’s something pure about it, something that is lost as soon as you cook it. Eating raw food is a grounding experience, every mouthful reminding us of where it came from. Perhaps it also reminds us that it simply a matter of luck that we ended up higher up in the food chain, and should be thankful that we are the ones doing the eating.

September 24, 2004

Only four days left here in Ise before heading back to Nagoya on Wednesday for the flight home. Can't believe how much the trip has flown. . . am looking forward to coming home and having a rest before going back to school though :-)

For those who have made enquiries, I still haven't tried out the squirt-up-ya-clack (clearly I'm referring to the toilet), but have it on good authority that it is a rather painful experience. Was taken out for dinner and to a pub on Wednesday night by the two Assistant Language Teachers, Jess (Australian) and Caesar (English). Becky, a Canadian ALT from another school told an hilarious story about how she decided to give it a go, but found it so uncomfortable that she actually cried out involuntarily in pain. She said it was a very long 10 seconds, especially considering that Japanese walls are paper thin, and she was convinced that her host family would think she was some kind of pervert.

The ALTs seem to have a lot of fun over here. They are paid more than first year teachers in Australia (not difficult) but they don't need a teaching qualification. They get set up in an apartment, are given a bike, and basically just have to run a lesson or two a day, do a bit of conversation practice and mark a few essays. Not a bad life. Of course, they seem to spend more time partying with each other than working. Caesar (very funny guy) tells me that he plans to stay for three years, because he has, quote, 'absolutely no prospects at home'. Three years is the maximum you can stay, but most can only handle it for one or two years. The rigidity of the culture apparently gets to you after a while, especially because teachers are supposed to set an example, so have to be really careful about following the 'rules' (see previous e-mail for more details). Jess has been told off by her supervisor a couple of times (he is an uber-anal freak who has no friends and is clearly in need of a shag).

I am still a bit battered. I have a huge bruise on my arm (to match all of the other bruises caused by the poisonous mosquitoes), which I acquired in Nara, whilst climbing through a Buddha's nostril. There was a breathtakingly gorgeous temple with a GIANT Buddha statue, and near the statue was a wooden pole with a hole in it, claiming, 'Hole same size as Buddha nostril. Please climb'.

Of course, we had to do it. I was actually very scared at first. It was a small opening, about 1 metre long and you had to kind of go through with your arms above your head. It took me a few goes to work up the courage. After watching a fat American go through first, I was able to do it. I must have got the bruise as I scrambled out the other side (after staying put for about five minutes for many photos and videoing. These kids always take the opportunity to catch embarrassing moments on camera).

Yesterday was a public holiday, but we all had to come into school for a PR exercise which involved our students making sushi with the students from one of the local junior high schools. The students worked in groups of five to make the 'sushi' (a loose term), which was then judged by a group of highly regarded food connoisseurs (myself included). My concerns began when I was told that the sushi would be judged on taste, looks and 'creativity'. Personally, I prefer my sushi to be less creative, more palatable. A number of the pieces (I was supposed to eat 8 in total - a hard task even when they taste good) were okay, but a couple of kids had creatively combined ingredients such as 'wieners' (frankfurt-esque things which are made out of fish paste with a tempting, spam-like texture) and chocolate sauce. I think the Principal got that one. I managed to avoid the totally disgusting ones. Justin however, who had a rather large night the night before (he was taken out by some of the male teachers to dinner and a bar) was having a lot of difficulty keeping some of them down, and spent a suspicious amount of time in the toilet. Poor 'Big J' (as the students now call him; my nickname alternates between 'Calvin' and 'Skanky Ho'...don't ask) will never be able to look at sushi the same way again.

Must dash - class now. See you all soon xx

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Wednesday, 12 December 2007

4th Annual Menu for Hope

If you love food and also love the idea of helping others, have a look at the Menu for Hope Fundraiser. It's a worldwide event, in which food bloggers work together to raise money for the UN world food program. The Asia-Pacific Organiser's blog Grab your Fork) provides a list of the amazing prizes to be won, including dinners at fabulous Melbourne restaurants Attica and Interlude, magazine subscriptions, weekends away and other foodie prizes. Each entry costs $10 US, which buys you a virtual raffle ticket for the prize that takes your fancy. To enter (or for more info), follow this link:

Foodie Blogroll

Friends with a healthy appetite for reading food stories, recipes and reviews may like to check out the Foodie Blogroll, now to be found in the bottom right hand corner of this blog. Some great links to foodie blogs all over the world. Happy procrastinating!

Letters from Japan – Part 2

Reading this second letter makes me realise that whenever you are travelling, you discover, and describe, your experiences as though you are the first person ever to observe a new culture. On one hand, it comes across as extremely naive, but on the other, it means that even as adults we are capable of child-like wonder as we encounter new things. An exhilarating experience to be cherished.

September 21, 2004

I don't really feel that I did the idiosyncrasies of Japanese culture justice the last time I wrote - I was too wrapped up in talking about where I have been and the weather.

I had the ultimate stereotypical experience the other day in observing the school's Sumo club train. A dusty little tin shed, 10 sweaty, heavy-set Japanese teenagers, one coach and 11 loin cloths. Hmm. The coach very generously asked our male students if they would like to join in, but they all declined, no doubt concerned about how their little chicken legs would look sticking out of the turban-like cloths. My fellow chaperon did decide to have a try, some of which I captured on video, but I must admit, I was not to keen to stick around. Nothing you want to see less than a colleague in a nappy.

I have also been impressed by the myriad rules governing the wearing of shoes in and around Japanese buildings. You take you shoes off at the entrance to the school, and get around in some very attractive, burgundy vinyl slippers. If you want to go into building two, you change your slippers at the door. Slippers off completely for the gym. Pink plastic slippers for the food room and red slippers for the computer room. Slip out of your everyday slippers when you go into the toilet, and put on the comfy green slippers, which are lined up neatly, awaiting your arrival. Oh - and don't forget the brown slippers for the third floor.

Needless to say, it is sometimes hard to keep track.

Speaking of the Gym (was I??). . . saw the funniest PE class ever the other day. Our students were most horrified as I filmed them marching on the spot, walking in circles and performing standing exercise that were straight out of the 1950s. All in time to brass band marching music. I was laughing so hard that I had tears streaming down my face, but of course I couldn't use a tissue because it is very rude to do such things in public. It's okay to fall asleep in a gym full of people while listening to some naff speech (as long as you don't fall over or snore), but don't ever blow your nose in public. Nor is it a good idea to do anything whilst walking. There are little seats located next to vending machines where you may sit and have your drink/ snack/ smoke, but make sure you don't move around - poor form. The only case in which this does not apply is when eating an ice-cream. These, for some reason, are portable fare.

Enough of the funny ha-ha at the expense of Japanese customs. On Thursday night we were taken out to dinner with the staff of our host school for a welcome party. Justin and some of the men were getting stuck into the Sake, playing some hideously dangerous drinking game where you pass the little shot cup to the next person you want to challenge. The Sumo coach was so pissed by 9 o'clock that he fell asleep at the table. Justin can't remember anything from about the second challenge. Luckily, the Vice Principal, Kenji (JFK for short) was getting stuck in too, so no rules of etiquette were broken. The place where we ate was a Yakitori bar, which is like Tapas but Japanese food. Piles of delicious morsels like little chicken and fish skewers, edamame peas, soups, silken tofu, sashimi. . . yum. I even tried - wait for it - raw
chicken! As first I was hesitant, but then I thought, “I can't not taste this because it is way too good a story.” It was cut into quite small pieces, which you dipped in a soy sauce and ginger mix. It actually tasted okay, a bit like raw fish, but in my head I was hearing, "I'm eating raw chicken, I'm eating raw chicken, I'm eating raw chicken, swallow, swallow, swallow," which of course made it very difficult to swallow. I only ate one piece.

Yesterday we went to Nagashima Spa Land, which is a massive Disneyland type amusement park with the biggest roller coaster I have ever seen. It was so big, that the highest parts were in the clouds. (!!!!) Went on heaps of rides with the kids, despite considerable trepidation. Have an hilarious photo of me taken by the camera at the top of one of the big drops on the roller coaster - I look like I am about to scream out a tonsil. Did not feel queasy until right at the end of the day, after going a freaky ride called the 'frisbee'. You can imagine what that looks like (except whatever you are picturing, think 10 times as big and upside down). Hence was not impressed by the chundering lady in the toilet next to me before the bus ride home. Yum.

Must go - the bell has gone. Will write again soon. Hope you are all happy (yay for school holidays!)

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Saturday, 1 December 2007

Letter from Japan - Part One

I love Japan. Although I was only there for three weeks, I was in absolute awe of the temples, the landscape, the people and of course, the food. I can’t wait to go back, but I’m not sure that I’m brave enough to travel overseas while Mini Chef is still in the nappies and tantrums period (so, maybe after he turns 16). Anyway, in the spirit of reminiscence (and a strong desire to win Tattslotto), I thought I’d share some of my observations from that visit with you. Just to clarify, the ‘kiddies’ I refer to are a group of year 10 students I was chaperoning, along with a Japanese-speaking colleague. Reading back, it sounds rather like we abandoned them regularly, but I can assure you that they all got home safely, after only one minor incident with customs and the Federal Police (a story for another day).

September 16, 2004

Have done so much travelling this week I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps I should start with a whinge, and get it over and done with.

Japan is very hot. Stickily, brain-fryingly hot. We have all taken to carrying fans around with us in an attempt to overcome the sweltering heat (and just in case anyone didn’t realise we were tourists). I also have a heat rash and have discovered that I am allergic to Japanese mosquitoes, whose painful bites cause me to break out in swollen hives which eventually turn into bruises the size of my hand.

Now that’s out of the way...

The fun really started on the plane on the way to Sydney. My learned colleague and I decided to have (one last) drink with dinner, but the flight attendant obviously believed that I was one of the students and asked my age. Much to the amusement of the actual students who were sitting around us. This trend has continued; teachers get in for free at historical sights over here, and there have been a few confused looking employees trying to decide which one of the females looked the oldest. Honestly, I don't really look that young, do I?

We spent the first day wandering around Tokyo in a somewhat bewildered state, and from there moved on to Miajima, a little island that was hit by a massive Typhoon just a week before we arrived. Some of you may have seen it (or seen pictures of it); it’s the shrine that sits right out over the water with a huge golden gate a little further out into the bay. An amazing sight - took a whole roll of film there. The island is also home to hundreds of wild deer (mmm - venison), who, a little like the emus at Healesville Sanctuary, try to snatch things out of your hands.

We also visited Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb monument and museum. This place has the same kind of effect on visitors as a concentration camp in Europe. Horrific images and artefacts - I won’t go into too may details but let’s just say that some of the kids thought they may have taken it a step too far with the life-size models of the melting people running through the flames.

We then went on to a little town on the west coast of Japan called Hagi. It’s surrounded by mountains, and is well known for it's beautiful pottery and pretty little streets. We hired bikes and rode around all day, and Justin and I happened upon this funky little bar right on the beach with a delightful view. Obviously we decided that the kids needed a bit of free time, so we let them loose one the locals for an hour (this is an understatement - they have taken to saying Konichiwa to everyone who walks past, and often follow that up with an invitation to go swimming. Not sure why. Think that’s all they can say in Japanese).

Later that night we went out to a Karaoke box - quite a bizarre little place. It is literally a boxy room with a table and a huge TV screen and a microphone. Much like that scene in 'Lost in Translation', you program the songs you want into the TV and sing along as it blasts out through the speakers, while hilarious images are displayed on the screen (think early George Michael or Rick Astley video clips). As you can imagine, I was totally in my element. We played a game to get everyone to join in, where if they sing they get to choose a song for the next person. Fortuitously, ‘You’re the one that I want’ from Grease was chosen for me by some of the girls, which I performed in a very entertaining manner (don’t worry, there’s video evidence). The girls also chose a Justin Timberlake song for Justin - heh heh.

Kyoto was next on the itinerary. Having spent just two days there, I have decided that that’s where Adrian and I are going for our next holiday (okay, honey?). There are over 2000 temples, little cobble-stoned streets, markets, leafy parks, streams, bars with views of the river... it was just amazing. And the FOOD! (Can you believe that I'm this far into the e-mail and only now mentioning food??) Yesterday, Justin and I got rid of the kiddies (here's a map, go shopping, be back by 7) and went to a little restaurant near the Ginkoku-ji temple and had Sashimi and Kirin with a view over the whole city. The fish was incredible - mackerel, swordfish and salmon. Who would have thought that raw flesh could taste so good?

And while we’re on the food topic, had the best tempura I have ever tasted in Tokyo at this little lunch bar thingy. Prawns, squid, okra, pumpkin, served with rice and miso (are your mouths watering??)… Mmm.

Have had a couple of funny experiences so far - not digging the Japanese style toilets, for one. As I have mentioned to the girls, it's just weird being that close to the business. Now the host family I'm staying with have a very snazzy electronic toilet that plays music (!!!), can give you a bit of a watering (bidet) and flushes itself. There's a seat heater too, but I don't really need to use that at the moment.

The girls have been really good with the showing together in communal bathrooms thing, but the boys have been totally wussy about it, and have been going in one by one. Speaking of the boys, two of them arrived back at the hostel in Kyoto the other night (punctually, after finding their way back with the map we gave them) wearing matching pumpkin outfits. They had little orange berets with a little green stem on top and these orange suits made out of felt, with arm and leg holes and a Halloween pumpkin face. Most hilarious. Apparently they had been walking around Kyoto like this for an hour or so, saying ‘Konichiwa’ and asking people for high fives. Of course, we had to try them on - I believe there is photographic evidence of that too.

So now we’re at our sister school in the South East part of Honshu. My host family here in Ise is very nice (three kids - 18, 17 and 15) and Taka's wife is an excellent cook. She kind of runs around them all the time, serving, cooking, cleaning, etc. She was most impressed when I explained to her that my husband did all the washing and cleaning; Adrian - I think she wants you to come over and teach Taka a thing or two (he looked amused but also slightly nervous when this was suggested).

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Mini Chef gets a stove and some utensils

Clearly a present I would have cherished as a child. Probably second only to the Hansa Supermarket I so coveted.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Crumbed Zucchini Flowers

Many great things can be done with a nice zucchini (ignoring the obvious puns). My Nan's zucchini slice, for example. Or you could try it thinly sliced, marinated in fresh chilli, olive oil, parsley, coriander and lemon juice, then char grilled for a few minutes on the barbie. Despite their aesthetic appeal (see delightful example of this year's early crop, above), I was always somewhat anxious about recipes involving zucchini flowers, because they seemed such delicate little things, whereas I am more of a robust dishes kind of gal. Last summer however, we had a bumper crop of zucchinis, courtesy of several plants that all seemed to peak around the same time. I could not bring myself to sit idly by and watch those glorious flowers wither and fall to the ground. Luckily for me, that wonderful Karen Martini, whose praises I have regularly sung, had come up with a solution for even the most heavy handed cook. No stuffing involved. And there's crab. Nothing can ever be bad when there's crab. Here is a modified (bit less fiddly) version.

Crumbed Zucchini Flowers with Crab Mayonnaise
Where the Heart Is, page 64

8 zucchini flowers with zucchini attached (style removed)
2 cups soft breadcrumbs
salt flakes and pepper
1 handful finely chopped parsley
2 lemons, finely zested
1/2 cup plain flour
2 eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 spring onion, finely chopped
i clove finely chopped garlic
200g fresh crab meat
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup pouring cream, whipped
2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Canola oil for frying
chopped chives and dill
lemon wedges to serve

Mix breadcrumbs, seasoning, zest and parsley in a shallow bowl. Dust Zucchinis in flour, then dip in egg, then roll gently in the breadcrumb mixture to coat. Set aside.

Place olive oil, spring onion and garlic in a saucepan over a low heat until onion is just cooked. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Place yoghurt, cream, mayo and lemon juice in a bowl, stir and add onion mixture and crab meat. Season to taste. Refrigerate until required.

Heat Canola oil in a large saucepan until hot (175C). Deep fry zucchinis for 3 to 4 minutes then drain on kitchen paper.

Serve scattered with herbs, with the crab mayo and lemon wedges. Mmmm.

Serves 4 as a small entrée.

Note: You will have heaps (at least half) of the crab mayonnaise left over with this recipe, but it can be used the next day as a delicious accompaniment to grilled veggies or fish. Either that, or fry more zucchinis; two each is never enough anyway!

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Saturday, 11 August 2007

Greek Banquet

A couple of weeks ago, Maeve O'Meara inspired me to prepare a Greek banquet. I love Maeve, but I do question her dress-sense. To use a food related euphemism (or, as my Nan might say), "Mutton dressed up as lamb". I think she needs to have a convo with Trinny and Susanna. Anyhoo, I was watching the Food Safari DVD last night, and oh my, did I salivate. Actually, I always salivate whilst watching Food Safari (and not because of Maeve's tropical-fruit-coloured apparel). The battered figs served with a raspberry and rosewater sauce (link takes you to the recipe)... brings new meaning to the term 'gastroporn'.

Back to the food. We began with a Meze of marinated octopus, stuffed green olives, home made tzatziki, and some amazing marinated anchovies courtesy of Ample, a lovely little deli/ cafe in Belgrave (they were my favourite). Once again, I failed to take a photograph before all the food had been ingested, so imagination will have to suffice. We followed that up with Stephanie Alexander's version of Spanakopita, taken from the first edition of her 'Cook's Companion' (aka: bible). It is a deliciously creamy recipe; whenever I am making it, I always think there isn't enough cheese, but it works. The recipe calls for spinach, but I've also done this with silverbeet, and it works just as well. The span worked a treat with George Columbaris' nouveau (sorry, but that's the only word that adequately describes his style) Greek salad, which is made up of all the usual suspects (olives, fetta, tomato, cucumber, red onion) with the deliciously clever addition of rustic, oven baked croutons (I used ciabatta). Fantastic with a red wine vinaigrette. Another Food Safari gem.

In the interests of spreading the word of the food-God, I'm sure that Stephanie would be happy for me to share her lovely recipe.


1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbspn olive oil
2 spring onions, very finely chopped
1 large bunch spinach, stemmed, washed, dried and chopped
2 tbspns freshly chopped mint
2 tbspns freshly chopped parsley
freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs
125g fetta cheese
125g fresh ricotta
60g freshly grated kasseri, pecorino or romano cheese
freshly ground black pepper
120 unsalted butter, melted
10 sheets filo pastry

Preheat oven to 180. Sauté onion in oil until softened. Add spring onion, spinach, herbs and nutmeg and cook, stirring, until spinach is soft and there is no liquid in the pan. Tip into a colander resting over a plate to cool. Beat eggs in a large bowl, then add cheeses and cooled spinach mixture. Adjust seasoning with pepper.

Select a rectangular metal baking dish (Steph says, 28cm x 18cm x 8cm, but I'm not such a pedant). It should be a bit smaller than half a sheet of filo. Brush with a little melted butter. Cut pastry sheets in half and, brushing each sheet with melted butter. Settle 10 pastry layers in the dish, pressing pastry up sides. Spoon in spinach mixture and settle a further 10 buttered sheets over spinach, tucking any overlap down the sides. Score top of pie into squares, being careful not to cut through the bottom. Bake for 1 hour until golden and serve warm or cold.

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Friday, 27 July 2007

Do I really want to cook a Cassoulet?

A hearty stew is as essential to winter as a warm blanky, Ugh Boots and a hot water bottle. I am always on the lookout for a nice, interesting variation, but this year, I've been somewhat preoccupied with the idea of preparing an authentic Cassoulet. For those unfamiliar with the delights of French cookery, a Cassoulet is a traditional stew of pork, sausages, duck (or goose) and haricot beans originating from the Languedoc region of central France. It is creamy, and yes, it is as fatty as it sounds, but oh my, is it exquisite. I've found no shortage of recipes, however one which balances authenticity with time constraints is proving rather elusive (perhaps I am being a little naive in thinking that I can find a recipe that is simple, yet still authentic).

My first stop was the bible - Larousse Gastronomique (because I don't own a copy of Elisabeth David). According to Larousse, there are a number of different variations on the dish, and what meats you include depends upon the specific region the recipe comes from. For example, the inclusion of mutton is 'sacrilegious' according to the proponents of the Toulouse version, whereas it is considered 'essential' in Carcassonne. I myself, am leaning towards the no-mutton variety (she says tentatively, as members of the Carcassonne Cassoulet Preservation Society throw they hands in the air and cry, 'merd!') Anyway, if I want to give one of the Larousse options a crack, I am going to need vast quantities of goose or pork fat, a baker's oven, and a glazed earthenware pot, called a toupin (not to mention about 27 hours to cook the thing).

Valiantly, I continued my search. Next I turned to Stephanie Alexander's Cooking & Travelling in South-West France. According to her PR, this book won best French Cuisine cookery book in the WORLD a few years ago (not sure what happened to the French cookery books that were actually French, but anyway) so should provide some useful suggestions. Unfortunately, Stephanie's Cassoulet (as it is entitled - a little narcissistic, if you ask me) requires minced pork fat, rind from a loin of pork, rendered duck fat... the fatty list goes on.

So at this point, I was thinking, maybe I like the idea of making a Cassoulet more than I like the Cassoulet itself (forgive me for the existentialism). After all, I've only really eaten it a couple of times (whilst on a brief foodie-jaunt in the Lot region of France). Perhaps the challenge is what's keeping me so focussed on this (thus far) fruitless search? I'm not sure, but I do remember that Cassoulet tasting pretty freakin' good. I remember the confit duck falling from the bone, I remember the sweet and juicy sausage bursting in my mouth and I remember the creamy beans and crusty bread that soaked up all the delicious juices. Mmm.

Onwards and upwards. Given that this whole episode was inspired by John Burton Race (that's him... the picture comes from the Channel 4 promo page for the program) frolicking around the stunning countryside in French Leave (if you haven't see it, you should; it's yummy and hilarious), I thought I'd check his recipe out. John spent weeks visiting copious little old ladies demonstrate their own version of the classic before embarking on a marathon session of his own. It began at 5am and didn't finish until the dish was presented at 8 that night to the 'Order of the Cassoulet' (not a Harry Potter parody). Members of the Order, who were actually wearing hats shaped like a toupin, gave it the thumbs up (stressing that it was excellent for 'an Englishman'), however they all suggested that it should have been cooked a little longer. Longer?!?

JBR's recipe is about 150 lines long (and that's just the list of ingredients), and he wants me to find juniper berries to crush, and veal shin for the stock and now it's all seeming a bit too hard. I may just have to concede defeat and find one of those celebrity chef, quick-fix bastardisations of a classic recipe. You know the ones; the title is usually preceded by the word 'lightning'. I bet there's a Jamie Oliver or Ainsley version out there somewhere. I'll keep you informed.

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Sunday, 22 July 2007

Mini Chef

You're never too young to learn how to cook (or to wear a chef's hat).

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Syrian Chicken

Karen Martini is a legend. Apart from the fact that she named her baby Stella (an excellent choice, I feel) she manages to devise recipes that are absolutely packed with flavour, but still maintain a rustic, bistro vibe (it's Mabo) to them that just makes you want to rush out and buy all of the ingredients immediately (it also makes you want to give her a big cuddle and mumble, "thank you," into her ample bosom. Or perhaps that's just me). Her cookbook, appropriately titled, Where the Heart is has been in my possession for around six months now, and I have already cooked at least twenty recipes from it. Considering the number of cookbooks (not to mention food mags) I own, this is high praise indeed. Karen Martini is personally responsible for every purchase of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine I buy. Since receiving the precious cookbook as a Christmas gift, I've noticed that a number of the recipes have already been published in a glossy Fairfax mag, or dumbed down for Broken Homes and Gardens. Sometimes though, Karen pulls a swifty, and stuns us all with a weekend recipe that we won't be able to find elsewhere. Take this Syrian Chicken recipe, for example. It's been published twice (on request) in the Sun Herald and Sunday Life in the past twelve months. I, for one, cannot get enough of it. Eat - then let me know if you agree.

Syrian Chicken

2 tspn salt
2 tspn ground cumin
2 tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn ground turmeric
1 tspn freshly ground black pepper
1.4 - 1.6 kg chicken, cut into 8 pieces
100ml olive oil
5 cloves garlic, bruised
2 brown onions, thickly sliced
100g fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 red chillies, split
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 pinches saffron threads
1/2 tspn cumin seeds
5 sprigs thyme
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tbspn honey
100g currants
2 tbspn vegetable stock powder
1/2 bunch of coriander

Combine salt, cumin, cinnamon, pepper and turmeric in a large bag, add chicken and shake to coat. Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based pan over a high heat. Add chicken and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add onions, ginger, garlic and chillies to pan and cook for around 3 minutes, adding a little more oil if necessary. Add tomatoes, saffron, cumin seeds and thyme and cook for 2 minutes.

Return chicken to pan and add lemon zest, juice, honey, currants, stock powder and enough water to cover. Cook, covered for 10 - 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer for a further 10 - 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and sauce is slightly reduced. Stir in coriander and serve with couscous and roasted vegetables.

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Thursday, 5 July 2007

Wedding (it's not) Fare: Postscript

I have just eaten three of the most delicious chocolates (actually, it was six. I ate my husband's as well. I managed to casually ask him if I could have them before telling him how good they were. I gave him a bite of the last one out of guilt). These scrummy morsels were provided as gifts to the guests of the wedding mentioned below. Unfortunately I can't include a picture, because they are, of course, already gone. My favourite was the passionfruit ganache with a white chocolate casing. A wonderfully tangy, creamy ganache filling that left me with a overwhelming sensation of requiring more (hence the hostile acquisition of the remaining three). Chiara's House of Chocolates can send samples my way any time.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

All dishes should be this easy

Given that my 'quick and easy' recipes are in such high demand (okay, about four people have asked for more, so now I think I'm turning into Donna Hay without the wanky photos), I thought I'd throw this delicious little number into the mix. It requires you to purchase some (probably expensive) fresh, filled pasta, but other than that is the epitome of lemon squeezy (literally). If you don't live near a good Italian deli or market (as is my unfortunate position) I can highly recommend Mimas fresh pasta. I personally favour the Roasted Capsicum Mezzaluna, but the choices are many. It's available at independent supermarkets, and, according to their web site, at Coles. Just stay away from that evil Latina stuff. Anyway, this dish is a revelation of buttery, lemony yumminess... one of those, "Oh my God! I can't believe how good this actually tastes for something with no meat," kind of experiences.

Give it a red hot proverbial.

Filled Pasta with delicious Lemon & Butter dressing

1 packet of filled pasta of your fancy (500 - 700g)
1/2 bunch of basil leaves
Good wodge of butter (about 100g??)
1 lemon - zested then juiced
100g marinated fetta (preferably Persian)
2 - 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 good handfuls (about 100g) baby spinach leaves (or rocket)
1 good handful of excellent quality Parmesan (Reggiano, etc)
Some pepper and salt to season, if you wish (but it probably doesn't need it)

Cook pasta until al dente.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small sauce pan until frothy, then allow it to turn a nice brown, nutty colour, being super careful that it doesn't burn. Once browned, throw in the lemon zest and juice and stir. Add in the basil leaves now, then pour the mixture over the cooked pasta. Carefully (hands are best) stir through the spinach leaves, half the parmesan, some of the pine nuts and fetta, then pour the lot out onto an impressive platter. Scatter said platter (Haha, that rhymes) with remaining fetta, pine nuts and finally the parmesan. Mmmmm. Don't forget the crusty white bread for all those juices.

Should serve about 4. Maybe.

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Thursday, 28 June 2007

Wedding (it's not) Fare

I know this is an age-old complaint which began eons ago, before I was even a twinkle in my father's eye, etc, etc... but why, WHY, is it not possible for reception venues to provide wedding guests with more than just an adequately-nutritious-yet-nevertheless-totally-tasteless meal?

I attended an otherwise lovely wedding on the weekend. After the gorgeous and moving ceremony (held in the stunning treetops room at the Melbourne Museum) I was eagerly anticipating celebrating the marriage of two very good friends... with a few glasses of sparkling, some witty conversation and a decent dinner. The venue, I knew, was very highly regarded. This was no Springvale-Road-Nightmare, designed to cater for hundreds of irritated guests. This was not a tight-arsed affair. The reception was held in a beautifully restored home, located in a leafy inner-Melbourne suburb. A venue of choice, if you will. I admit, my expectations might have been a little high, but I experienced what can only be described as bitter disappointment the moment the first round of 'canapés' were circulated. Note to all Function Coordinators: prawns become soggy and cold very quickly, even when encased in a bizarre, desiccated coconut batter. The Samosas were a little lacking in flavour but definitely the best of the three options, but the third 'vegetarian' selection... well, let's just say I don't often pity herbivores (you make your own bed, etc), but in this case, my indignation on their behalf was profound. My theory is that the kitchen staff had realised too late that they had run out of the real finger food, so decided to nip out to the supermarket to purchase some capsicum dip, a jar of those sliced black olives and a several packets of pre-cooked mini quiche cases, et Voila! Canapé!

Please don't mistake me; it was by no means the worst wedding food I have ever eaten (that award goes to the Croydon venue where I was served some approximation of a chicken vol-au-vent for entrée, followed by Beef Wellington, followed by apple strudel. A puff pastry ménage à trois of nightmarish proportions). The entrée was actually very nice; a Peking-style duck Maryland served with some thin and buttery crepes and slivers of spring onion. Yummy. The problems really started as the main course was served. I was offered the chicken. Putting aside any issues I have with alternate setting service options (when you are paying $100 per head for a meal, I believe that it is not unreasonable to expect at least a limited à la Carte menu), the chicken was not up to scratch. It appeared to have been crumbed, seared and baked. Reasonable start. Then, for some inexplicable reason, some genius had obviously decided that it needed 'jus', but rather than creating something that would compliment the dish, decided to use up the plum sauce left over from the afore-mentioned Peking Duck entrée. This was accompanied by some mashed potato from a packet, and several severely wilted vegetables, including a piece of corn, a snow pea and a floret of broccoli.

It's important to point out, I feel, that I in no way intend to deflate or belittle my friends or their planning of the wedding. This is not their fault. To blame are the owners of reception venues everywhere, who hear an imaginary 'ka-ching' every time the word 'wedding' is mentioned. And, I hasten to add, that I have no problem whatsoever paying over $100 per head for a meal. What I really want to know is, if your average local restaurant can handle 100-plus covers on any given night, why on earth can a venue designed specifically for the purpose of catering to large numbers at once not serve up anything more exciting than a piece of overcooked chicken and some mixed veg that's become far too familiar with a bain-marie?

Food for thought.

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Saturday, 16 June 2007

Magazine Dreams

I own every copy of delicious. (does anyone else find that full stop annoying?) and Donna Hay ever printed. They, along with my Gourmet Travellers and - ahem - Good Taste magazines, are proudly displayed on my kitchen bookshelf in CHRONOLOGICAL order. I'm not joking. I even have little post-it tags on marking my favourite recipes to make them easier to find at short notice (or should I say had; one of my son's current diversions is gleefully ripping them out and crying 'paper!', which sounds more like 'pappa'). Every now and then, when a new shelf becomes full and magazines begin to overflow onto neighbouring chairs, coffee tables and other available surfaces, I consider a cull. I say 'consider', because not once have I been able to part with a single issue. A year ago we moved into a new, larger (read: family friendly) home and one of the things that most pleased me was the amount of built-in shelving I could use for my magazines. Occasionally I wonder what will happen as my collection builds. I admit, I no longer look at recipes from the gone-but-not-forgotten Elle Cuisine (may she rest in peace), or copies of Good Taste pre-2004. I have also calculated, to my dismay, that even if I cooked a new dish every day, it would take me 50 years to attempt every recipe in those mags, and that's without even considering my covetable cook book collection.

Does this mean I am ready to part with any of these precious volumes of gastro-porn? Sometimes I think I might be able to ditch at least a dozen or so of the Good Tastes. Someone once offered to 'take some off my hands'. However, when it came time to give them away, I couldn't do it. As I was about to hand them over, a little voice in my head cried out in panic, "Wait! What if there's a fabulous recipe in there that you haven't tried? Once it's gone, it will be lost forever!" A melodramatic little voice, I know. But still, I just can't help feeling that if I get rid of even one magazine, I might be losing something special. Occasionally my husband, bless, asks what I intend to do when all of the shelves are full. My response is nothing if not predictable: "Build more".

Tonight's dinner, you'll be pleased to hear, is a Rose roasted lamb leg from the latest Donna Hay, followed by a blood orange tart from (for nostalgic reasons and possibly to prove a point) an ancient delicious. Who knows what horror might have befallen tonight's dessert if I had thrown it away?

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Romas go home

After this year’s bumper crop (which we have attributed to the drought, smoke haze from the bushfires and loads of Charlie Carp), we have decided that there is little better than home-grown tomatoes. The Romas came first, all deciding (rather considerately, as it turns out) to ripen at once. At first we tried eating them in sandwiches and salads, but soon discovered that they were somewhat watery and lacking in flavour. So, I referred to the trusty copy of ‘Fork to Fork’. If you’ve never heard of it, Fork to Fork was a most excellent program run on the Lifestyle channel several years ago. It followed this couple, Monty and Sarah Don (who are apparently quite well known in the UK) around their spectacular organic garden, as they planted, tended and cooked their produce through the seasons. We were simultaneously engrossed and tortured with jealousy through every episode. They had spent ten years planting fruit trees, walling the garden beds with WOVEN BRANCHES (for goodness sake!), composting, more planting... it was like ‘The Good Life’ on HGH. They even had an original baker’s wood oven in the farmhouse on the property, and had ‘discovered’ and done up an AGA (oh, but how I coveted the AGA) for the purposes of everyday cooking. Unfortunately, there is no DVD available for the program, but you can get a hold of the accompanying book through Amazon.

Digression. So I checked in the Fork to Fork book, and Monty, bless him, had a suggestion for what to do with slightly tasteless, as he described them, ‘English’ tomatoes. You basically just cut them in half, drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle over a few cloves of some finely sliced garlic and herbs of you choice (I used fresh thyme), season, and put them in a hot oven for half an hour or so.

My, oh my, were they tasty. I would have included an after shot as well, but we ate them too fast. I served them as an accompaniment to a yum-yum meatloaf wrapped in prosciutto. I cooked about a kilo of them, so we now have several containers waiting patiently in the freezer for the perfect occasion to arise. I’m thinking pizza. Mmmm.

Here’s the meatloaf recipe to make you hungry, hungry hippo. It makes a huge portion, so you might want to halve it. It’s based on a recipe in last year’s winter edition of Donna Hay magazine.

Posh Meatloaf

750g quality minced meat (I used half pork, half beef)
1 large carrot, grated
I large zucchini, grated and squeezed
1 ½ cups of cooked couscous
6 green onions, chopped
1 cup chopped oregano or thyme leaves
1 cup chopped basil leaves
sea salt and cracked black pepper
12 slices of prosciutto

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Place all the ingredients except the prosciutto in a bowl and mix well to combine. Lightly grease a loaf tin and line with the prosciutto, leaving enough excess over the edges to cover the meat loaf later. [Important note: in Donna’s recipe, they suggest an 8 x 26cm tin, but this isn’t a standard size. Mine was shorter and wider, which increased the cooking time considerably.] So then you just push the meatloaf mixture into the tin and fold the prosciutto over the top. Bake for 45mins – 1 hour 15 mins (depending on the width of the tin), or until cooked through. Remove from the oven, rest for a bit then turn out and slice. Serve with afore-mentioned, roasted tomatoes.

Serves 6 – 8.

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Saturday, 21 April 2007

Kickarse Pasta Puttanesca

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It has been 8 weeks since my last blogfession. A little guilt-inducing needling from a fellow Blogsketeer last night has driven me, head hung low in shame, to the keyboard. I have of course, been unfathomably busy since last we met. What, with taking care of Number One Child, working, studying and the aftermath of Stingray’s untimely death on Neighbours (blood poisoning, I ask you!) I’ve hardly had time to scratch my proverbial self. Hopefully the goodness that follows will make up for this unacceptable absence.

I thought it was about time I published an actual recipe, rather than just describing one. This is a tasty version of one I saw on Tony & Georgio, a fabulous English cooking program that aired on Seven’s Saturday Kitchen last year. It’s a great show… haven’t been able to find a DVD copy or a related cookbook title, so I’ve had to try out the recipes from memory (too lazy to get up off the couch and find a pen). I saw the Puttanesca on the ‘Hangover’ episode. Tony (English geezer) and Georgio (Italian love-God) charge around London downing bevvies and generally running amok. The Puttanesca was Georgio’s answer to the greasy fry-up Tony had suggested as a possible cure for their self-induced ills. Feeling somewhat fragile myself, I decided to cook it that night. Verdict? It kicks arse. In fact, it could also potentially be renamed ‘Lickarse Pasta Puttanesca’, because it would serve very well for one of those, ‘please forgive me for my minor misdemeanour’ type dinners. Easy AND impressive. Outstanding qualities for any recipe.


½ tin chopped tomatoes
handful of small basil leaves, washed and dried
small tin of GOOD QUALITY tuna in oil
tablespoon salted capers, rinsed and drained, chopped if you like
3 – 4 anchovies, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
300 grams dried pasta

Get your pasta cooking (I think dried spaghetti or bavette works best with this recipe). Heat a deep frying pan over a medium heat, add a lug of olive oil then throw in the garlic. Stir for thirty seconds (make sure you don’t burn the garlic) then throw in the anchovies and stir for a bit. Once the anchovies begin to melt, add the tuna and capers. Don’t break the tuna up too much; it’s nicer chunky. Finally, add the tomatoes and basil. Resist the urge to put in the whole can. This is a tuna sauce with tomato, not a tomato sauce with tuna (thanks, Georgio). Let this simmer gently until the pasta is al dente. Drain the spaghetti, addling about ½ a ladleful of the pasta water to the sauce. Toss the pasta through the hot sauce. Yum. Doesn’t need any parmesan, but hey, whatever gets you through the day.

Serves 2 greedy people.

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Monday, 19 February 2007

Jamie’s not at home

I am aware that I made some fairly disparaging remarks about Jamie at Home, but seriously Channel Ten, is that really a reason to pluck it from the air?

I was most disturbed last Thursday, when my digital hard drive automatically recorded Kim Watkins’ presents Saving Babies instead of Jamie. (Watched it. Cried, despite irritating presence of Kim Watkins. That woman gets my goat. Mainly because she titters at everything David ‘I’m a complete moron who doesn’t know what a placebo is’ Reyne. Is it just me, or is that woman EVERYWHERE at the moment. I’m surprised she hasn’t turned up on Seven’s Dancing with the B-Grade Stars. Anyway, clearly I am a sooky la-la.) I checked on Ten’s website, which lists Jamie as one of its ‘personalities’. According to the TV Shows section of the site, the program ‘returns soon’. What is the meaning of this? First you promote the bejeezus out of the new Jamie instalment, then you program two episodes and rip it off the air again! it’s enough to force one to write a ‘Dear Aunty’ style letter to the Green Guide! Do I sound irate? Good. I feel utterly enraged.

After my Jamie-bashing last week, I feel it necessary to sing his praises in the form of a referral to a recipe from his Jamie’s Kitchen cookbook. I’m pretty sure that’s the one that was circulating via e-mail (hey, we all got a copy of it, don’t judge me), but I am happy to report that I received a hard copy for Christmas (yay, Kris Kringle).

I don’t think Big J would like me to publish the recipe here, but try the ‘Best Chargilled Steak’ on page 260. Mmmmm. Smokey bacon, mushrooms, herbs, garlic and steak in one delicious concoction. I’m pretty sure my cholesterol spiked immediately following the meal, but what’s a little heart attack when food this good is involved? It’s also well worth the effort of making the accompanying Salsa Verde. A wonderfully tasty dish.

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Monday, 12 February 2007

Why I love (and hate) Jamie Oliver

He’s a tough one, that Jamie. I can never seem to decide if I love him or I hate him. I’ve been watching the new show Jamie at Home, and I can’t decide if I am more irritated by the obvious staginess of the whole thing (see below) or if it is just some good old fashioned, ill-disguised jealousy. So I was thinking I should make a list. Lists always help to make the tough decisions easier. As you can see here, I found more reasons to hate him than to love him (and you could probably come up with a whole lot more yourself). Either way, I always watch him. Can’t drag myself away from the TV. I’ve even got some of the old stuff on video and I own heaps of his cookbooks (mostly gifts, but I use them often). So although on a rational level the bad outweighs the good, he still seems to be winning. Perhaps love really is blind.

Reasons to love J.O.
1. Ten(ish) years ago, he brought cooking to masses of people who thought it wasn’t very cool (let’s face it, Delia isn’t really the most happenin’ spokesperson of all time). Of course, this might also be a very good reason to hate him.
2. He gives kids who’ve had a bit of a rough trot a go in his kitchens around the world. Despite the marketing value of Fifteen, you can still admire its mission.
3. Jamie’s School Dinners was brilliant. There was something incredibly satisfying about seeing a bunch of kiddies go from not being able to identify an onion to saying, “Erghh!” at the sight of a chicken nugget.
4. His first two books have great tasting, accessible recipes and pretty pictures. Have you tried that salad with peach, prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella? You should. Yum.
5. He knows what he’s good at and has a crack (metaphorically. Well and physically, obviously, but that wasn’t the crack I was referring to). Kudos for having the balls to go for it.

Reasons to hate J.O.
1. Happy Days, Dead Puckka, Lovely Jubbly, etc. I needn’t go on.
2. The live shows. I went to one (I know). It was like a cross between Rent and Ready Steady Cook.
3. Jools (sic). Do you remember her banshee-like declaration that she would allow, “Nothing to spoil her perfect family!!!!!!” Scary. Not to mention the fact that her tits are plastered across many a double-paged spread in the ‘cookbooks’.
4. This one’s for my husband. The drumming, the band, that load-of-shite song that they used for the outro of series 2 of The Naked Chef. Stick to what you’re good at, mate. There’s a reason you’re a celebrity cook, not a celebrity musician.
5. He tries to make is seem like he does all the prep himself when you know for a fact that he has about 50 researchers, food sourcers, and kitchen hands slaving for him. Three minute fish stew? I think not.
6. Have you seen the new show? Jamie at Home. The name (not to mention the pretend ‘Jamie’s garden notes and doodles’ they use for each segue way) suggests that it’s just him and the fam, pottering around the English countryside, selecting a bit of this and that from the kitchen garden for their High Tea. The veggie garden is absolutely amazing, and totally organic, yet so far only one gardener (other than Big J himself) has appeared on camera. It’s just been the J-man, kitted out in his stylishly askew gardening outfit (including trendy beanie. In the middle of summer. I ask you!) and some gorgeous little antiquey things adorning the shabby chic ‘pieces’ behind him in the kitchen. Nobody has that much vintage, coloured enamel gear on display, let alone in use in his kitchen. Except perhaps Donna Hay. I suspect that even the dirt under his fingernails has been put there by a stylist.
7. The biggest problem of all, of course, is that he basically acts like a bit of a knob (a ‘pucking wanker’ puns my clever husband). I’d like to know what the people who have worked with him really think.

Make up your own mind and visit his site

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Saturday, 3 February 2007

Duck Pies

Mmmm. I love duck. I love pies. The logical progression? A pie that is filled with duck!
My best friend Tam and I have both been known to utter an involuntary 'Yum' as we pass innocent (and possibly protected) duckies, swimming or waddling along, oblivious to the danger they face in our presence. I can't help myself. I see cute little feathered animals and some hidden switch in my head immediately flicks to 'lunch'.

This particular recipe comes from a friend of my mother's. She passed it on to me on condition of a promise that I will never publish it anywhere or pass it on to anyone I know. Serious stuff. Given the threat of death, I will refrain from sharing its recipe in its entirety, however I can tell you that the filling is a delicious combination of Asian condiments, Chinese BBQ duck, and a small member of the onion family. Give it a go.

Despite the exquisite outcome, the production of a large quantity of the pies has been for me and my devoted, pastry-cutting minions, an exhausting task. I first attempted the bite-sized morsels of quacky goodness for a good friend's engagement party. His mother was doing most of the catering, and given my culinary reputation amongst my friends (sorry, modesty not a virtue) I felt the need to offer a contribution. I had tasted the pies a month earlier and already begged its owner for the recipe.

After the offer, I forgot about the whole thing for a couple of weeks. Until that is, I next spoke to my friend, let's call him James, to discover that the Engagement Party's guest list had blown out to 130. "Eek," was my private response. Still, alarm bells weren't quite ringing loudly enough to deter me from the task. How bad could it be? A few ducks, some mini muffin tins, a bit of pastry? "No sweat," declared my cocky self to the grateful James. I'd catered before, spent three days cooking for a 30th when I was 36 weeks pregnant, in fact. I was sure I could handle it.

As soon as I actually sighted the recipe, the volume of the alarm bells increased from a faint, wind-chime like tinkle, to a living next door to the airport, jet-engine roar. "Makes sixteen entree-sized pies". The recipe, amongst it's other important ingredients, listed one Chinese BBQed duck.

"Okay," I rationalised. "Let's not panic." I was, after all, not making entree-sized pies. I was making mini pies. Using mini muffin pans. If one duck made sixteen entree-sized pies, then I should be able to get at least 24 mini pies to a duck. After a brief discussion with James, I calculated that I should be able to get away with four ducks, to make around 100 pies. Didn't matter if there wasn't enough for one each. There were a number of vegetarians (heathens) invited and a few people (crazies) didn't like duck, so we'd be right.

I enlisted the help of a friend, who had volunteered herself and her boyfriend to fill the muffin holes with pastry, while I filled, topped and cooked the pies. It started relatively simply. A one and a half hour round trip to Box Hill, chiller bag and infant in tow, to buy the ducks. Luckily I used to work in the area and knew where to park. Once home, the ducks were deboned and chopped (juices reserved) in a little over an hour. They were then refrigerated overnight, due to an ill-timed dinner invitation. The following morning, the unpaid help arrived and I set to work making the filling. Half an hour later, we began to fill the pies. Luckily, the recipe calls for store-bought puff pastry sheets, so it was just a matter of cutting out the bases and lids with cookie cutters, filling the pies, trimming to make them look pretty, basting with egg wash and placing in the oven for around ten minutes. Easy, right?

As I began to fill the pie trays, I noticed that each little base was taking around a teaspoon of the pie filling. I had a very large pot of filling (four ducks, remember) and only seven mini muffin trays. I had expected that there would need to be some rotation of trays, but after half an hour of filling pies and baking had made barely a dent in the vast quantity of filling before me, I began to get nervous. There was no way I was going to waste any of that gorgeous (not to mention expensive) filling when I knew that there were 130 duck-hungry (minus a few weirdos) mouths to feed in a few short hours.

So on we worked. We cut, we pressed, we filled, we forked and we basted. We went to the supermarket for more puff pastry. We voted (the party happened to fall on the day of the Victorian State Election). After four and a half hours, we had around 200 duck pies in containers and trays filling our usually ample fridge. And about minus 30 minutes to get to the party on time. I barely had time to wash the eu de canard from my hands and we were out the door.

The effort was certainly well appreciated (but probably not with a full understanding of the scope of my team's efforts - nobody likes a whinging gift horse) and the pies a hit. There were 12 left over, and I brought them home, revelling in the memory of the many accolades my contribution had received.

It was probably the buzz of victory (and possibly that of the champagne I was quaffing) that lead to my next dubious offering on Christmas Day. My brother's lovely financè was talking about the date of their engagement party, planned at her parents' home, her mother intending to do most of the catering herself.....

You can see where this is heading. The party was last night. Miracle of miracles, the same friend offered her support. The pies, again, a hit. And my maths is improving. I halved the recipe.

The resulting pies, cooling:

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Wednesday, 31 January 2007

What's old is new (to you)

I've decided to include some older musings from my travels overseas. I've back-dated the entries so that they can be viewed in the context of the time that they were written. Now that I am a wise and worldly 32, I can see with some perspective the naivety of my 20-something commentary ☺

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Luscious Laksa

What better way to start an Australian food blog than with a classic Malaysian noodle soup? The original bones of the recipe (quantities of paste, stock, coconut milk and seasonings) came from a recipe in the Sunday Age about 10 years ago. I'll admit that, when done from scratch, this recipe takes time. In fact, I myself have not made a Laksa since giving birth 15 months ago. However, I feel that this recipe's fabulousness warrants the honour of first recipe posted. Since the first time I made this version, I haven't been able to order Laksa in a restaurant, for the simple fact that nothing tastes as good. I am not kidding. It is a special occasion, major wow-factor production. It also looks divine in the dish. Thou shalt appreciate and revel in the wondrous Laksa.

If you can't be bothered making your own paste (it takes three hours even if you don't, so I would go for the packet stuff), there are a couple of very respectable brands available in the supermarket.


3 tablespoons Laksa paste
1 tablespoon chilli sambal (sambal oelik)
500 - 600ml coconut milk
1 litre of chicken stock
25 ml fresh lime juice
30 ml fish sauce
12 large green prawns
500g hokkien noodles
150g green beans (round), washed and cut in half lengthways
2 red birdseye chillies, finely chopped
12 fish balls
2 tablespoons coriander leaves
2 tbspns Vietnamese mint leaves
shallots (1 -2)
100g bean shoots
1 pack of fried bean curd

Preparing the ingredients:

Prawns & stock

1. Shell and devein the prawns. leaving the tails intact. Keep the heads and shells for stock. Refrigerate until required.
2. Bring about 1 litre of chicken stock to the boil.
3. Fry off the prawns head in a bit of oil, until they turn pink.
4. Put the heads into the stock, lower heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes whilst you prepare the other ingredients.

Vegies etc.

1. Wash and prepare beans, bean shoots and herbs.
2. Wash and finely chop the chillies.
3. Finely slice the shallots. Fry over low heat with a little oil until golden.
4. Simmer fish balls in a small pot of water for several minutes. Set aside.
5. Slice the beans curd and arrange evenly in bowls.
6. Finally, strain the fish heads from the stock and set aside. You will need to bring the stock to the simmer again later, so leave it in the pot.

Making the Soup:

1. Infuse the sambal, laksa paste and the coconut milk in a large pot or wok. Simmer gently for 10 minutes.
2. Add the simmering prawn stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a further 8 minutes.
3. Add the beans and simmer for 5 minutes (or until cooked to your liking).
4. Add lime juice and fish sauce, taste and adjust if necessary. If it’s too tangy, add a tiny bit more fish sauce. If it tastes a bit bitter, add more lime juice.
5. Put the prawns in the soup and simmer for 2 minutes until prawns turn pink.
6. Add the noodles and fish balls. The noodles should soften and warm through.
7. Distribute prawns, beans, noodles and fish balls evenly in bowls. Pour about 2 ladlefuls of soup into each bowl.
8. Put a small handful of bean shoots over soup. Sprinkle on herbs, chilli and shallots.
9. Serve to an adoring audience.

Serves 4

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Monday, 29 January 2007

The big bang

It wasn't long ago that I discovered the world of blogging. A slow starter, I know. I mean, I'm not completely unsavvy. I had heard of blogs. Even see a few of them ( "some of my best friends..." etc). Needless to say, it did not take me long to decide that I wanted one of my very own. Much better than a pony. Of course, it took me a long time to decide what it would be called, what it might be about, how I might like to write... and a million other procrastinations designed by my clever little subconscious to help prevent me from actually achieving anything. Ever.

Then, two days ago, in a semi-drunken haze, it came to me. I was cleaning up the debris following a rather rowdy dinner party (more on that later) and a question came to me. Why do I love my kitchen? The answer is that I don't, really. Not the physical kitchen, anyway. It's got nasty, early 90s decor; think mossy green laminex bench tops and beech veneer cabinetry, plus the most awful Copperart-esque rangehood you have ever laid eyes upon. There isn't enough room for my fridge, which has to be housed in a doorway, and there is a cream 'tile boarder' (I guess that's what they're called) depicting joyful (unfortunately I think they are actually smiling) bluebirds nestled amongst prolific pink buds. Despite these obvious flaws, I find myself passing an awful lot of time in there (I have to admit that I spend a fair bit of time daydreaming about the elusive Tattslotto renovation). My kitchen table is large, and always covered in cookbooks, food magazines, shopping lists, toys picked up off the floor and notes we leave for one another. It is often surrounded by friends, nursing cups of tea, with heavy heads (or hearts) obsessing over the banalities of day to day life. Meals are savoured, the proverbial bread is broken and the wine is drunk. At the risk of sounding like a sentimental tosser, if home if where the heart is, then the kitchen is beat. It's where the action happens.

So that's what this blog is about. A lot about my passion, food and drink, but a fair bit about the conversations that happen while we prepare and consume it. I hope there will be something here for you to savour.