Sunday, 11 April 2010

Harvest Lunch @ Five Oaks

 A couple of months ago, we decided that we would very much like to attend the inaugural Smaller Wineries of the Yarra Valley Harvest lunch at Five Oaks winery in Seville. The menu was e-mailed to me and looked irresistible. Three courses (as soon as duck is mentioned anywhere on a menu I find it impossible to concentrate) plus canapes, and a lovely selection of Yarra Valley wines. Best of all, it was scheduled for the 28th March, the first weekend of the school holidays and one, convenient week after my birthday.

Unable to secure a five-seater taxi (Silvertop: we can take you there, but can't guarantee a pick up), my husband took matters into his own hands and booked a limo.

"People will think we're wankers," I fretted.

"No, they will think we are very responsible alcoholics."

It was white with an electric blue interior. Although the cringe factor was high, it was a wise decision, as it turned out, because rather than a choice of three wines per course, we were acutally provided with three full glasses of wine per course. Hmm. Hilarity, as you can imagine, ensued. The atmosphere was jovial, the food comforting and delicious and the wines plentiful. According to Five Oaks wine-maker Wally, the notorious (and now cancelled) Grape Grazing festival had become less like a harvest festival and more like a buck's party. In response, the small wine-makers guild came up with this series of lunches, designed to take the Yarra Valley events back to the old-school. A true celebration of the grape.

Twice-baked crab souffle with salad dressed with red wine and raspberry vinegar reduction.

Duck confit served on garlic mashed potatoes, with seasonal vegetables and pickled cherries.

Hot ganache chocolate pudding with ice cream.

Too many glasses.

By this time, the people at the table next to us were singing.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Mexican Fiesta

10. Guacamole Lupita Feint
11. Pico do Gallo (Tomato Salsa) Lupita Feint
Mole Chicken
Cointreau and Chocolate Mousse delicious.

I am slightly irritated by the fact that I spent lots of time preparing and cooking a large number of dishes for this Mexican Fiesta, yet only two of them actually came from the book. Must improve on this in the future.

The planned Mexican feast came with a number of hurdles. First, I was organising a surprise dinner party for a friend, so a) couldn't moan about how much work I was doing and b) I had to hold it on a Friday night, so as to coincide with afore-mentioned birthday. I don't normally 'do' Fridays. They pose problems in terms of preparation, and having to be organised diminishes the exquisite relief that the end of the working week brings. It also means that I can't have the bottle open before I have even put my bag down. Instead, I have to get my shit together... get changed, find recipes, start dicing... frankly, it's all a bit much. Fridays should be reserved for slovenly behaviour. A quick pasta, a few wines, some trashy TV and potato chips on the couch.

Having resigned myself to this sacrifice early, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to cook and how long it would all take to prepare. This did not mean that I was able to come home early and begin preparing it. What it meant was that we didn't eat until 9pm. Luckily we had plenty of nibbly, tappasy stuff to tide us over. The two Food Safari dishes were lovely, and made me fell a little guilty that they were the only 'challenge' items on the menu. I was a bit concerned by the absence of garlic in the guacamole, but managed to adhere to the recipe and we were duly rewarded. The tomato salsa was definitely improved by the inclusion of the last of the tomatoes from our garden (those not ravaged by the evil hail storm). I served it with a quesadilla, the recipe for which I actually saw on - ahem - Sunrise a few years ago. It's basically just grated cheese, fresh coriander and finely chopped jalepeno squished between two flour tortillas.

Back to the hurdles. Obstacle number two: Mexican stuff. Once again, I failed to procure the authentic ingredients I needed. This time, I didn't even pretend to try. One quick Google search revealed that the only Mexican warehouse in Melbourne is location in Tullamarine. If you're not from Melbourne, that's near the airport. A long way from the Dandenong Ranges. They may even have a different breed of possum out there (one which has developed a resistance to aviation fumes). So, rather than modify the recipes, I decided to find recipes that I could work with. Hence the tomatillo-free mole. Sorry Mexicans. You can rest assured that it was missing that special something, which may have been tomatillos, but I wouldn't know for sure, because as I've mentioned, I would have to drive for an hour and a half and spend about $15 in tolls to buy some, so I've never tried them.

City-link inspired digression. Sorry.

I used my trusty delicious. recipe index to find a suitable recipe for mole. I got a bit excited when I found it actually, as it seemed quite authentic (apart from tomato-tomatillo substitution).

Recipe: Chicken Mole
delicious. June 2004, page 64

2 onions
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large chicken, jointed
2 sprigs coriander (including roots), plus extra leaves to garnish
2 dried red chillies
410g can chopped tomatoes
4 tbspns toasted sesame seeds, plus extra to garnish
1 tspn smoked paprika (pimenton)
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn ground cloves
1/2 tspn allspice
2 pieces day-old bread, crusts discarded, chopped
2 tbspns olive oil
1 bay leaf
25g Mexican chocolate
Steamed rice, to serve

Roughly chop 1 onion and place in a casserole dish with the garlic, chicken pieces and coriander, the nadd enough water to cover chicken. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and skim any scum from the surface. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Remove the chicken and set aside. Strain the poaching liquid, discarding solids and reserving the liquid. Remove 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the cooking liquid and pour it over the dried chillies. Allow to soak for 30 minutes, then place the tomatoes, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin, cloves, allspice, bread, chillies and their soaking liquid in a blender and process until smooth.
Finely chop the remaining onion. Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan and cook onion for  1 - 2 minutes over low heat until softened, then add the the chocolate and chicken. Add enough of the reserved poaching liquid to just cover chicken and simmer, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes.
remove the chicken, cover loosely with foil to keep warm, then reduce the sauce until it is a thick enough consistency to coat. Season with salt and pepper.
Coat the chicken in the sauce and garnish with the extra sesame, coriander leaves and serve with the rice.

I began my preparations enthusiastically. It is all a bit labour intensive (anything with 'stages' tends to make me a little antsy), but not difficult. I was chatting away happily (the margaritas possibly contributing to my buoyancy) to my guests, and happened to comment to one, 'this seems like it will have a bit of a kick - I hope you like chilli'.

As I watched her face fall, I immediately realised my error. I should not have said anything. Non-chilli loving guests would then have eaten my offerings, with me, totally oblivious, and perhaps bitched about me later. Instead, I was now RESPONSIBLE for ensuring that the meal was not too hot. I privately cursed my friendly off-handedness and considered my options. The chillies were soaking in the poaching liquid which was dangerously read and full of seeds. I had no alternative main course. I was torn. Mexican is supposed to be hot. My guest of honour had requested Mexican. My need to avoid upsetting anyone was causing me to panic. At the last minute, I decided to replace the lava-esque chilli liquid with some fresh poaching liquid.

I was both relieved and dismayed to discover upon serving the dish that it was rather mild. To me, it was missing the kick I had anticipated (although, as I've already mentioned, that could have been the tomatillos). Having said that, all guests were able to eat, and luckily, by the time main course was served, most were sufficiently lubricated that it probably didn't matter (little voice in my head is screaming, "but it matters to ME!!!!"). I now have no choice but to make the dish again. And chilli it up, I will.

We finished with a cointreau chocolate mousse, which was probably a bit too dense for me. Does this make me a hypocrite? In saying this, I am I not just like someone who claims not to like chilli?

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Spanish Part 1

Manchego y Jamon (Cheese and Cured Ham)
7. Gambas al Pil-Pil (Garlic Prawns) Penelope Lopez
8. Paella Carlos Lopez
9. Asadillo de Pimientos (Roasted Capsicum Salad) Frank Camorra

Pan con Chocolate (Chocolate with Bread and Olive Oil) Frank Camorra, (MoVida Rustica)

Apparently, you don't need to know anything about cheese, cured ham or sausages to work in a gourmet deli. Whoever is doing the buying for Maxi Foods in Ferntree Gully knows what they're doing - evidenced by the Jonothan's sausages, Barossa Valley ham, Shaw River buffalo mozzarella and the Meredith goat's cheese. Unfortunately, this knowledge does not seem to extend to the teenage deli staff. Cheap labour is obviously of greater importance to the management than an ability to understand what it is that you are trying to proffer.

I picked out the manchego by the colour (very white - logic tells me that this must be a sheep or goat's cheese), the zig-zaggy wax coating, and the Spanish writing (Maeve says that you should look for 'queso puro de oveja' on the label), next to a drawing of sheep and goats frolicking in a picturesque, mountainous location. My deli assistant then spent 5 minutes looking through a long list of cheeses for a name matching that which I had selected. Eventually, he called another juvenile over for help, and they flipped through the list together, for another 5 minutes or so. They then asked me what the cheese I had selected was. I told them I was pretty sure it was manchego. Eventually, they gave up searching and charged me $24.99 a kilo (bargain). From there, we moved on to the Serrano Jamon, which proved impossible, despite the fact that I had seen it there before. I was irritated enough to breach supermarket etiquette and argue with the slightly more experienced adolescent about the difference between Sopressa and Serrano. Spectators began to gather, some gawping openly, some feigning disinterest, clearly thrilled at the prospect of witnessing a public fracas about the origins of cured meat. I eventually settled for some nice proscuitto. Sorry, Spain, but I was more concerned about my appearance as the Crazy, Ham-obsessed, Lady than adherence to cultural boundaries. Finally, I confounded him with my accurate pronunciation of the word 'chorizo'. It ended with the kid exhaling with relief as I turned my trolley towards the spices, and me sounding like a wanker in front of a small crowd of locals. Excellent. Sometimes I rue my idyllic, foothills location.

The rest of the hunter-gathering was a little simpler; I knew I wouldn't be able to find any fresh crab or pippis for the Paella, so I had already planned to substitute some fish (I chose some lovely snapper) and scallops. I managed to get my hands on some excellent fish stock so I didn't have to make my own (it was $12.99 a litre, so I only bought 500ml and planned to top up with water). It appears that only three banquets into the Challenge, I am becoming a bit laissez-faire regarding the utensils, as I had not even bothered to try to source a cazuela for the prawns, deciding that the base of my large tagine closely resembles the clay pans the Spanish use to cook and serve their tapas (North Africa, Southern Europe - same, same).

Given that the only Spanish dessert listed in Food Safari is rice pudding (which you obviously can't serve after Paella, unless you want the meal to resemble a poorly planned wedding with a 'alternate settings' menu), I knew that I needed an alternative. Luckily, I had received the MoVida Rustica cookbook for Christmas (unlikely to get much of a look-in given the Food Safari thing I've got going on, but a good cookbook should be able to stand the text of time), which includes a Spanish variation on chocolate mousse, which you sprinkle with salt and serve with very thinly sliced, toasted bread and sweet olive oil. Mmm. This I prepared first, as it needed to set in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. As usually happens when preparing chocolate mousse, the chocolate split as soon as it came into contact with the egg. I have no idea how to avoid this (feel free to enlighten me). Maybe the eggs need to be at room temperature, or something. I just kept stirring it until it came back together again, then added the butter.

After sorting the mousse, I prepared everything else. I roasted and sliced the 12 capsicum, cleaned and chopped the squid, sliced the meat, blanched and peeled the tomatoes, chopped the garlic and chilli, diced the onions, scrubbed the mussels - I even chopped up the herbs. It was all very TV chef; you know that excessively annoying thing they do, where they tell you something takes five minutes to cook, when actually, all of the ingredients are cut up and measured out in little glass bowls by their minions, and are then left waiting to be added to the dish. I once saw a documentary about the "Jamie Oliver LIVE!" stage show, which included a funny scene where his food stylists/ prep staff were sniggering as they impersonated Jamie claiming something could be prepared from scratch in the same time that it would take to order and receive delivery of a take-away. Anyway, I did all of this work so that I could take everything outside and cook my gambas and paella on the new barbeque. The little dishes took up one dishwasher-load on their own, but it was nice being able to cook in the presence of the dinner guests (who were embracing the spirit of the evening by enjoying the balmy, late summer weather over some Spanish wine), rather than being confined to the kitchen. I had to send a runner back to the kitchen for forgotten utensils and ingredients about every 60 seconds, but other that that, it was lovely.

The manchego and jamon/ proscuitto must have been great, because it disappeared very quickly as our starving guests waited for the prawns. The tagine worked surprisingly well as a gambas vessel. They were juicy, garlicky and delicious, and we had cleverly put aside some of the bread to soak up the oil after all of the prawns were gone.

I assembled the salad, then started on the paella right away, because experience has led me to the conclusion that risotto and paella always take about twice as long to cook as their recipes suggest - even without counting all of the chopping and measuring. I had also, somewhat defiantly, decided to add chorizo to the Paella, because it just felt all wrong without it. I set the paella pan (a wedding gift, but let's pretend that I got off my arse and bought one especially) right on top of the barbeque grill plate, as I wanted an even heat and don't own one of those fancy gas rings that Maeve says she uses (the woman must have a whole room devoted to her specialist equipment and appliances). It worked well; the rice crackled nicely, it all bubbled evenly once I'd added the stock, the chicken and squid were not overcooked and the mussels looked quite spectacular. But... it just didn't taste as totally awesome as I wanted it to. The prawns had been so full of flavour that, by comparison, the paella seemed a bit (gasp) bland. Maybe I am being harsh - I should probably say the flavours were 'subtle', or something. It was improved with lots of lemon juice squeezed over the top (not in the recipe, but I always serve Paella with lemon), but if I do it again, I will add more of everything - more garlic, more paprika, more saffron and more salt.
The Asadillo was lovely and sherry vinegar is the best thing. I used some yellow capsicum as well as the red ones, just to add a bit of colour. We had piles of it left over (after all of the cheese, ham, prawns and rice there wasn't much room, and we were saving ourselves for the chocolate mousse), but we ate it the next day with chicken wrapped in flour tortillas, with sour cream, coriander and avocado (Spaxican??).
The mousse had set very nicely, though was a bit tricky to get out of the tin. I was supposed to invert it onto a serving dish then slice it. That was never going to happen, so I tried to slice and remove it one piece at a time, but I ended up having to squash a couple of the bits back together and smooth over the cracks with a knife. Presentation was never a strength.
I served the Chocolate with Phillipa's incredibly thin, toasted almond bread, because I couldn't be bothered toasting my own Pan (some would call it laziness, but I like to think of it as prioritising). The salt, olive oil and bread somehow prevented the mousse from being overwhelmingly rich, but we did have some left over which, tragically, I was unable to face the next day and kept forgetting to take with me to work. Eventually I had to throw it out.

Spanish Part 2 may have to wait a while, as the San Jacob (unbelievably delicious-looking crumbed pork, filled with cheese and ham) Arroz Con Leche (creamy rice pudding) look to be more wintery fare. Instead, the next challenge will be Mexican, which, I predict, will be more challenging than the old man and the cute little kid in the Old Elpaso 'Stand and Stuff' ads would have us believe.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Lebanese Part 2

2. Baba Ghanouj Katya Faraj
3. Hoummus Greg Malouf
4. Tabbouleh Samira Saab
5. Kafta Fouad Sayed
6. Kousa Mahshi (Stuffed Zucchini) Judy Saba

In some ways, I feel like this was the real start to the Food Safari Challenge. Lebanese Part 1 was a bit of a trial - just one recipe that looked pretty, but that I didn't even get to taste. This was the first banquet with invited guests and excessive planning. I warmed myself up by watching the Lebanese episode from series one of Food Safari. Meave, her usual resplendent self, was an inspiration, 'mmm-ing' her way orgasmically through every sampled recipe.

I had been yammering on about venturing forth into as yet unexplored (by me) areas of Melbourne to source tools and ingredients. Of course, I left it too late, and was forced to rely upon the fresh food market and General Trader at my nearest shopping centre.

My first challenge was to find a manakra, a small tool that looks a little bit like a cross between an apple-corer and the thing you use to get crab meat out of claws (what's that called?). I needed it to hollow out the zucchinis for the Kousa Mahshi. As you would imagine, despite visiting numerous foodie shops, I was unable to find a manakra. I discussed it with a foodie friend at work. She suggested using a small melon baller, but when I explained that the zucchinis needed to stay whole, she agreed that this probably wouldn't work. I considered the pointy, end bit of my Zyliss peeler. It is the same shape as the manakra, but I figured was probably not going to get me right down to the bottom of the zucchini. In the end, I used a metal 1/4 teaspoon measure that has quite a long arm. It did the job well enough, but the lack of handle made it all a bit slow and eventually painful, and I was quite pleased that I only had 7 zucchinis to stuff, rather than the prescribed 10. The zucchini was, surprisingly, the stand out dish. I'll return to that later... first the barbeque fire.

Yes - Fire. Complete with flames and Fear Of God.

As I needed to make a couple of dips, I decided to do the Baba Ghanouj the day before. I don't have a gas stove in my kitchen, so wanted to use the wok burner on my barbecue to blacken the eggplants so that they would have that lovely, smokey flavour. What I didn't know was that a spider had decided that the pipe connected to the burner would make a lovely, snug home in which to have lots of spidery babies. When I started the gas up and tried to light the burner, the whole thing caught fire. Given that the wok burner is positioned directly above the gas bottle itself, I panicked, and almost lost my voice screaming for my husband's assistance. What can I say? I live in the hills. Flames scare me.

The upside was that it meant I needed a new barbecue. Shopping for appliances being one of the great joys in life, we headed off to Barbeques Galore the following day, and procured a shinier, bigger and altogether sexier new barbeque. Fortuitously, the store was relocating, and we managed to score some outstanding floor stock at around half the retail price. We were thrilled; there is nothing more satisfying than an unsolicited Barry Bargain, particularly of such magnitude.

This was all too late for the eggplant, which I had prepared directly after the Great Fire (straight back on the horse) turning to the trusty camp stove to baba my ghanouj (or is it ghanouj my baba?). It was worth the threat of death. The flavour was so fresh that I was afraid it wouldn't taste as good the next day, but I needn't have worried. The smokiness had mellowed slightly - probably a good thing, as it had been almost overwhelming the day before. The hoummus was good but a bit dry, so I added extra garlic and lemon juice. This may have been because I didn't use the '9mm chickpeas' recommended by Greg Malouf. I toyed with the idea of tracking them down, but then the rational (smaller) part of my brain took over, and convinced my perfectionist self that measuring chickpeas would, quite frankly, be taking the whole gastro-adventure thing a step too far.

As I said, the zucchinis surprised me. I was a little concerned about the fact that they were to be cooked in simmering water with tomato paste. Even Maeve's 'mmms' had left me unconvinced. To digress for a moment, I have a theory that you can tell if Maeve is genuinely in awe of dish, or if she is just being polite by the pitch of her 'mmm' and the comment she follows it up with. An 'Oh my God...' means that something is really awesome, whereas a 'wow, that's really good,' not so much. This was definitely an 'Oh my God'. People who do not normally go for cooked vegetables were asking for take-aways and/ or the recipe. A good sign. I wouldn't recommend following the recipe's suggestion to make any leftover stuffing into meatballs and add them to the sauce to simmer, though. They basically fell apart as soon as I tried to remove them from the pot, and ended up resembling bolognese mixed with a little bit of rice.

The tabbouleh was a revelation. I have eaten great Lebanese before, at Abla's, in unpretentious suburban restaurants such as Dunyazad, and have had as many middle of the night souvlakis as anyone else who has lived and studied in Melbourne. Never before has tabbouleh floated my proverbial boat in such a manner. It may have been the freshly picked herbs and garden tomatoes, or perhaps it was that the cracked wheat was soaked in lemon juice rather than water and retained a bit of crunch. Whatever it was, it was incredibly zingy and moreish, and worked perfectly with the kofta, bread and dips. These we ate, as instructed, by folding the large pita, which had been spread with some dip and the tabbouleh, around the kofta like a napkin and sliding it off the metal skewer. You then tear off small pieces of the bread, pick up a little meat and salad and get to work. Thus allowing you to dispense of vast quantities of food without really noticing that you've eaten enough to feed the cast of the Biggest Loser. Be warned, pants, you will be unbuttoned.

While it's great fun to cook my way through the Food Safari Cookbook banquet-style, it provides somewhat of a dilemma. Not all cuisines include recipes for desserts, multiple side dishes, or a great enough variety of meat. Of course, I need to try to remember that there is always too much food, but nevertheless, this week I felt I needed more. One of my guests, Ann-marie, came to the rescue with some delicious baklava from Vanilla Cakes and Lounge in Oakleigh (interestingly, they have their own appreciation society on Facebook), and Guil picked up the bread from her local Lebanese bakery. Having just linked all of the recipe titles to the Food Safari website, I discover that it is not just the recipes featured in the book, or even on the episodes, that appear on the site. This makes me a little nervous, as I am sure that I will now be compelled to 'pad out' my banquets with additional dishes from the site. This week I added a Fattoush sans the bread (had run out of energy for preparing more ingredients by that stage), because I felt we needed a little more green. Totally unnecessary as it turned out, but excellent.

Although Lebanese is now off the list so far as the challenge goes, I am already craving another round of that amazing baba ghanouj. Maybe this is what's going to happen every time. Instead of each banquet making me curse strange tools and impossible to find ingredients, it will leave me feeling slightly guilty, like I'm just skimming the surface of each culture (which clearly, I am).

I get the feeling that the safari may not end with the book.

Next challenge: Spanish

Friday, 8 January 2010

Lebanese Part 1

1. Tarator-Style Salmon Greg Malouf

Looks amazing, smells amazing, tastes.... not sure, but we'll get to that later. I decided to cook this one first for two reasons. One - because Maeve said it was the best thing she had ever eaten and two, because I already had the fish. Well - almost. I had a trout. Near enough.

Every year, my uncle catches an prepares a trout for Christmas Day. It may be just an excuse to go fishing during the hectic lead up to Christmas, but it is an excuse we are all prepared to let slide, given the end result. Usually, he steams or smokes it, stuffing it with lemons, dill and parsley.

In late December, when my father and I were surrounded by magazines and cookbooks, bickering about what to prepare, this was the dish we agreed upon first. I also quite liked the fact that it looked a bit fiddly, mainly because it annoys my mother, who likes to hover around during the afore-mentioned recipe search, screeching, "just do something easy!" This is most likely motivated by the fact that she is often one of those left to deal with the carnage that is the kitchen after a couple of days of food preparation. Let's just say that our mise en place is not so much "en place" as "all over the place." Anyway, the Tarator-style Salmon (trout) was an easy decision; the central focus of what became a Middle Eastern themed Christmas banquet.

We didn't have enough room to prepare the meat and the fish at home, so the plan was that my Uncle would ring for the cooking instructions on Christmas morning. This is where we began to seriously deviate from the recipe. Greg/ Maeve instruct us to bake a 4 kg salmon for 20 minutes on either side in a 150 degree oven. The fish should be seasoned with salt and pepper, drizzled with olive oil and wrapped in baking paper before being placed in the oven. This, I related to my father, who, in turn passed the instructions on to my Uncle. The following conversation ensued.

Uncle: What, with noting in it? Not even wine?
Father: "He wants to know if he can put wine in it.
Me: No. No wine. We need to follow the recipe. Greg knows best.
Father: She says nothing else on it.
Uncle: It won't be cooked evenly. I should cut it half.
Father: He says he should cut it in half so that it will cook.
Me: No! Turn it over half way through, like to recipe says. Anyway, we have a 2.5 kg trout, not a 4kg salmon. I'm sure it will be cooked. You might even need to reduce the cooking time.
Father: She says don't cut it.
Uncle: Well it's too big to fit in the oven, so I'll need to cut off the head.
Father: He wants to cut off the head.
Me: No! #$%@! It needs to be a whole fish!
Father: Look - you talk to him yourself!

Uncle agreed to follow my instructions (his exact words were: your wish is my command) but went ahead and threw in some wine, garlic and chilli anyway. The fish did remain whole, though.

A couple of hours later, well into the prep, my Uncle's partner arrived, bearing fish. "Ian's not coming," she proclaimed. My first thought was that I'd pissed him off with my pedantic adherence to the recipe, but according to Jenny, he had 'food poisoning'.

Allow my to digress for a moment in order to briefly discuss my thoughts on food poisoning. From my understanding, food poisoning occurs when some bug or another gets into your food. Everyone who eats the food, gets sick at a around about the same time, give or take a few hours. Reactions to bacteria in food can take between 6 and 72 hours to take effect. Apparently, nine times out of ten, when someone thinks they have food poisoning, what they actually have is viral or bacterial gastro. They blame their last meal because chucking it up is so unpleasant. Gastro scares me. There is nothing worse than feeling like death, as the same time everyone else in your household feels like death. Not only that, you can't eat anything, which is just evil. The only positive side-effect is the weight loss. The last time we all had gastro was last Easter, on holidays with two other families. Six adults and four children. We all went down like flies, one after the other.

When quizzed, Jenny confessed that others in the household had been sick in the previous week. "Did Ian do the fish?" I asked, trying to disguise my alarm.

"Yes, but I made him wash his hands!"

I decided at that moment that I was quite happy to prepare the fish, but that I would not be eating it. So, I made the dressing, the salad, roasted the walnuts and even scattered a few pomegranate seeds over the top. It looked gorgeous. Quite a lot like the picture, except the tahini dressing slid off a bit, so it probably needed a bit more yoghurt. The fish was also a little bent (as in 'not straight'), which gave it the appearance of trying to leap off the platter, as it was too big to fit in the oven.

Apparently it was delicious. And nobody got sick.