Archive for October, 2009

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Golden delicious

October 31, 2009

poachedeggHow to poach an egg

It’s the weekend. The weather is perfect. And in our house the breakfast cook is not me but Senor. The discrepancy between our skills with an egg became clear many years ago; he is the undisputed breakfast champion, which suits me perfectly (to say I am not a morning person is something of an understatement.)

Poaching an egg, I believe, is one of the most delicate and highly-skilled operations in the kitchen, and in my opinion the world is divided into two classes – people who can poach an egg and those who can’t. I am in the latter category; whenever I have tried I end up with a pan full of watery skeins of disintegrating egg white and a hard-yet-sodden little grey ball of yolk.

But Senor has developed the art of egg-poaching to perfection – the white is always just cooked through and perfectly un-drippy on the toast, and the yolk holds its shape before oozing gorgeously when cut.

So because I love you all, I hereby present Senor’s egg-poaching technique, dictated to and faithfully transcribed by yours truly.


  1. Take a non-stick frying pan & fill with about 5cm cold water. Make sure the pan is wide enough to poach a couple of eggs without them touching each other.
  2. Place pan over medium heat and immediately, and very gently, crack eggs into the water, making sure the white does not disperse too much.
  3. Now you play the waiting game. Use this time to make the toast and butter it.
  4. Occasionally test the firmness of the eggs by gently swishing the water near them to determine the wobble factor.
  5. When the egg is not quite as cooked as you like it, carefully remove it from the water with a non-stick slotted spatula, tilting the spatula for a few seconds to allow water to drain off. The whole egg-cooking procedure should take around 7 or 8 minutes.
  6. Carefully place the egg on your buttered toast – the egg will continue to cook as you bring it to the table. Best bread is Turkish or sourdough because it has crevices and holes for the  soft yolk to pour into without making the bread soggy.
  7. Best served with the Empress’s tomato oil pickle … Unless she hasn’t given you any for a while ... quite a while …

 

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Quinoa Salad: Son of Citrus Couscous

October 30, 2009

quinoaQuinoa salad with bits and pieces …

Those of you who’ve enjoyed the citrus couscous recipe I posted a while ago might be keen to try a new salad that I am totally loving at the moment. It’s a very slight bastardisation of a fabulous quinoa salad from Ottolenghi, the Israeli & Palestinian chef duo from London whose book and newspaper column combined are the most interesting source of vegetarian food I’ve ever found.

The original recipe, for Quinoa and Camargue red rice is here, and our adapted version below. My friend Caro first made this for me, using those craisins (dried cranberries) that are easily available in the supermarket, and I liked the slight sourness and the lovely ruby red colour so much I have done it with both craisins and the barberries I got ages ago on the Empress’s and my Persian excursion.

Unlike craisins, however, I’ve found quinoa itself rather difficult to get hold of. I’m told it often resides in health food / organic shops, and I found mine at the Norton St Grocer, but I hope it becomes more freely available because it is my new favourite grain in the world.

It’s pronounced ‘kin-wah’  and as far as I can tell you use it like couscous, but it’s much easier to manage as it doesn’t stick together as couscous can, and it has a delightfully bouncy texture and nutty flavour.

I’ve learned that quinoa is an ancient ‘grain’ (but not really, as it’s not a grass but is more closely related to spinach – we eat the seeds) originating in the Andes, and best of all, it’s gluten-free so people with Coeliac disease and so on can enjoy with impunity. Excellent!

Anyhoo. Enough lessons. On with the deliciousness.

  • 200g quinoa
  • 50g wild rice
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra for frying
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • handful of barberries / dried cranberries / currants or a mixture of any dried fruit you like
  • 30g pistachio nuts, lightly toasted
  • handful rocket / baby spinach leaves
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Bring to the boil two saucepans filled with salted water, and simmer the quinoa and rice separately: the first for 13 minutes, the second for up to 40, depending on how nutty and firm you like the texture.
  2. Drain both and spread out flat to cool more quickly.
  3. While the grains are cooking, fry the onion in a little olive oil until golden brown. Allow to cool.
  4. Soak the dried fruit in orange juice and zest in a bowl with all other ingredients except nuts and spinach/rocket.
  5. In an oven preheated to 170 degrees C, dry-roast the pistachios for up to six minutes or just until the colour changes. Check halfway through, because they can burn in an instant and the flavour is vile if they are even slightly overdone and you’ll have to chuck them out.
  6. Mix the cooked grains with all other ingredients and season generously, adding a little swizzle of oil if it’s too dry. Serve at room temperature.

 

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Food as loneliness (in London still)

October 28, 2009

londonAm excited this week, because our anthology, Brothers & Sisters, is finally out, in the shops, published, released into the wild. The launch is in a couple of weeks – I would love all howtoshuckanoyster friends to come along, so if you are in Sydney and available on the evening of Tuesday 10 November, let me know!

It’s so much easier to be vocal about and proud of a book I’ve edited than one I’ve written – quite a joyful experience, quite  unlike the usual nauseous tremor that accompanies the release of a novel, and that ghastly fear every time you see a newspaper that within its pages you are being evaluated, judged, pilloried or – better, but still weird – foolishly praised … This time, though, I am so confident about the quality of the book because of the skill and talent of the writers within its pages, that I feel nothing but happiness that the stories and essays about siblings are finally reaching their readers.

I am also thrilled because I’ve wanted for ages to post my friend Tegan Bennett Daylight‘s brilliant passages about loneliness from her story, Trouble, but have been resisting until the book is actually available.

Trouble is narrated by a young woman who’s moved to London with her sister Emma, and the narrator’s loneliness as she watches the more confident Emma embrace the big new world they find themselves in while she herself is struggling to find her feet. They share a plush apartment belonging to some family friends, but Emma is out a lot – at her groovy architect’s job, or with her new boyfriend – while the narrator stays home, watching out the window at the city, feeling fat and out of place, halfheartedly looking for a job and trying to ward off  London’s cold, rainy misery.  It’s a beautiful story about growing up, about loneliness and desire, and finding your own way in a world far from home. Here are a couple of bits I particularly wanted to share.

Emma’s office was only a few tube stops from our flat, and I met her for lunch sometimes, but mostly I sat at home, too weary to struggle along in the fine bubbles of her wake. I couldn’t get warm. It was only September, and the flat was centrally heated, but I was doing nothing except sitting at the table in our white kitchen, whose window overlooked Vauxhall Bridge Road. Sometimes I ate porridge oats, dry, from a bowl. There was something solid and sustaining about them. You could make porridge in your own mouth, mashing the oats into a warm paste with teeth and saliva. I could eat two or three bowls at once. I looked in the newspaper for work. Sometimes I had baths to try to ease the cold ache in my sides and legs.

Eventually she gets a job in a department store.

After a month or so I gave up eating in the cafeteria at work, no longer exercised by the horrible fascination over the other staff’s eating habits. At first I had just sat and watched as slender, clear-faced girls collected trays of lasagne and chips, bowls of chocolate pudding, and Diet Cokes. Everything came with chips. London was the only place I had been where you were offered chips with Chinese food. Not even Parkes, not even Dubbo had food like that.

It was partly the food, but partly also that I didn’t like people to see me eating. Later on I would wonder why I’d thought myself so fat – I was merely plump, a word I hated nearly as much as chubby – but back then there seemed to be no doubt about it. Whenever I could, now, I went over the road to Harrods to buy my lunch. In the food hall you could get a mango, or a bag of dates or figs. I always tried to get outside if it was sunny, but often enough I spent my whole lunch break in the food hall, sneaking figs from a paper bag while I stood in front of the bread display, or the butchery. Everything was beautiful in the food hall – the tiled floors, the columned rooms, the elaborate plaster ceilings. There were no windows, but the lighting was generous and warm. There was nowhere to sit, but I sat all day at work anyway, and there were always enough people to prevent me from feeling conspicuous as I walked around.

One lunchtime I was waiting at the fruit counter when someone beside me said, ‘Hey.’ I looked up. The voice belonged to Tony, our floor manager. I had never spoken to him before. He was a tall, skinny man who always wore the same loose-fitting suit. He had a walkie-talkie clipped to his trousers and thick, slicked-back hair. Sometimes I saw him conferring with the white-shirted security men. I don’t think he liked Rory, he rarely came into our section. But I saw him in the distance sometimes, talking to an outraged customer. Women in particular became angry very easily, and it was his job to soothe them and make them want to come back.

He had a gentle Cockney voice and quite a large mouth. He grinned at me. ‘Hungry?’ he said.

I blushed and blushed.

‘Seen you in here before. This lady was first,’ he said to the woman behind the counter.

‘No, you go,’  I said, stepping back so fast I trod on someone’s toes. ‘I was just looking.’


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A quickie on Julie/Julia

October 27, 2009

Yesterday the Empress, the Parsnip Princess and I went to see the Meryl movie, Julie & Julia. And loved it, as anticipated. That Julia Child was a woman of appetites, if this film is any kind of a biopic. We left the cinema drooling and wanting boned duck stuffed with pate and cooked in pastry for dinner.

And the other thing we all seized upon was that despite eating their body weight in butter each day, smoking and drinking and generally having a high old time of it, Julia Child and her husband Paul lived to the ages of 91 and 92 respectively. Don’t you love those stats?

The Empress declares this one more piece of evidence for her theory that home cooking (i.e. good home cooking, with fresh, varied, unprocessed food) is the key to a long and healthy life (hmm, I won’t mention my own parents and their early deaths despite lifelong home cooking here – except to remark that to my mind, their growing up in postwar England did not equate to being reared on good food!) .

My last word on the Julie/Julia phenomenon is to point you to By Designa terrific Radio National program my friend Mark Wakely produces, hosted by Alan Saunders – and the fact that years ago, long before Hollywood found Julie Powell, RN interviewed her about the blog that led to this whole hullabaloo.

By Design just replayed the interview this month, and it’s great – she talks about the actual cooking, and how she went about working her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking (and the strange fact of her having never eaten an egg until the age of 29!) Listen to the interview on By Design’s website here.

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The temperature and the times

October 25, 2009

thermometerAs you will have deduced, I am quite the fan of a big lump of roasted red meat, a deep and abiding love that I regret persists despite the fact of its ethical and environmental indefensibility. I know not how it will end, except it’s clear this affair cannot last forever if I’m to live with myself …

But until the break-up, let’s talk about roasting. If you are a meatlover like me, but have been frustrated by uneven results in the roasting department – is it cooked through? is it wobblingly raw? is it charred on the outside but inedibly cold and raw in the middle? – I have two words to say to you, Kimmie: meat thermometer.

I was first introduced to the joys of the thermometer by chefbro Hamish, who, being a restaurant guy, is all about consistently perfect results in the kitchen. He gave me a nifty little digital thermometer, needle-thin, which you stick into the meat at intervals through the cooking. I loved and used this little red rocket of a thing until it fell to bits. I then bought a fancy Zyliss digital thingummy with a silicone thread and a metal probe, which involved the magnetic digital dial and timer bizzo sticking to the outside of the oven while the probe stayed in the meat and the silicone cord went, umbilically, from one to the other. Then I lost the instructions and have never been able to figure it out since. It just lights up and beeps and makes me crazy.

All of which led me to my trusty, daggy, oldfangled  Acu-Rite thermometer, pictured here. I love it to pieces. I believe it came from a kitchenware shop but I’m sure I’ve seen them in any old daggy supermarket. Cheap – and how cheerful. You simply shove it into the thickest part of the meat before cooking, and leave in for the whole time. If you position it right, often you don’t even need to remove the pan from the oven to check the temp, but just peer through the open door or even the glass with the light on.

As everyone’s definition of ‘medium’ and ‘rare’ seems to differ (there’s no problem really with ‘well done’ – just ruin the meat by cooking it to buggery and you’re sorted), it might take a little time to work out your own preferred temp.

But as I like my meat red-to-pink, generally with a sizable piece of meat (e.g. leg of lamb or whole rump /Scotch fillet of beef, enough to feed six or more) I take it to around 60-65°C for both lamb & beef. This is generally medium-rare in the centre, while allowing any well-done eaters some cooked-through bits on the ends.

The beauty of the thermometer is that it takes into account the coldness of the meat before you begin. I try to get meat to room temperature first, but most of the time that’s near impossible, by the time it comes from the butcher’s cool room, and so on.

I haven’t paid too much attention to the recommended cooking temps on Acu-Rite’s dial here (cute name, huh), although they roughly correspond to what I do. But my advice comes from Stephanie Alexander, every Australian gal’s kitchen matriarch, who provides cooking temperatures in The Cook’s Companion sections on beef (rare = 60°C, medium = 70°C, well done = 75°C), lamb (rare = 60°C, medium = 65°C, well done = 80°C) and pork (“…one does not have to cook pork until it is dry and splintery as a precaution. The safe internal temperature for pork is in fact 76°C. At this temperature the meat is both safe and juicy.”)

One thing to remember is that the internal temperature keeps rising after you remove the meat from the oven – I believe Hamish told me it “rests up” 5°C; Stephanie A says it rests up 2-3 degrees, so the message is you need to take it out a little before you reach the desired temperature. (I find this whole thing puzzling – how does this happen? – but it’s true.)

And, as always, the final secret to tender, juicy roasted meat is to rest it for as long as you can before carving. Keep the roasting pan on top of the stove or in another warm place, very loosely covered with a double layer of foil, for up to an hour.

If you do all this – and so long as you’ve bought decent quality meat in the first place – I guarantee it will be good, and stress-free, every time.

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Little Patty

October 18, 2009

salmonpatties1Last weekend’s birthday party excesses left us with a heap of leftover poached salmon – the perfect excuse to indulge in some sixties-style comfort food: the classic salmon patty.

I made these last Sunday for a friend whose French mother happened to telephone as I was cooking and, being French, asked what was for dinner. My friend graciously described these little babies as salmon croquettes, which sounds far more glamorous. You can call them what you like, but they are sweet, crunchy, deliciously simple.

I enjoyed them so much that I cooked them again in a different house a few days later – this time not with leftover salmon but one medium fillet. Both times I discovered that a little salmon goes a hell of a long way (a single salmon fillet and one large potato made 12 medium-sized patties, for example), so I had leftovers to freeze both times. The second time I steamed the salmon fillet till just cooked through. This recipe is for the single fillet as it’s easier to work out quantities, but you’ll be able to judge for yourself – I’d suggest marginally more salmon than potato, and enough egg to make it bind.

What you need:

  • Steamed/cooked salmon, flaked
  • 1 potato, peeled, cooked & mashed
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/3 bunch dill stems, finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • very fine breadcrumbs (I hate buying them so made my own, but whatever works)
  • salt & pepper
  • vegetable oil, for shallow frying
  • yoghurt, honey & chopped dill, for dolloping

salmonpatties21. Fry the onion, garlic & dill stems till soft.

2. Combine the potato, salmon & onion mix in a bowl.

3. Add the broken egg and mix till well combined.

4. Form the mix into patties about 5cm diameter, and while the oil is heating, coat in breadcrumbs on either side.

5. When the oil is quite hot, shallow-fry on both sides till golden, and drain well on kitchen paper.

Serve with a green salad and a big fat dollop of yoghurt mixed with a little honey, lots of salt and chopped dill.

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Sweet eats: the Empress returns

October 15, 2009

stephprofiterolesI think it’s clear by now that if you want to delve into desserts, howtoshuckanoysterland is not your first port of call (if you’re a salt freak, on the other hand, come on down!) .

Lucky for you then, sugar, that we have the Empress and her culinary meanderings around this city to bring some sweetness and light to this salty little land we call home.

Steph’s last two columns for the SMH have been a sweet tooth’s heaven: first, she told you where a girl can find a profiterole to fiterole (! sorry bout that, chief)  and second, this week’s column, on banana desserts.

stephbananaYes, really. Apparently banana desserts are good.

Cooked banana being one of the rare things I find quite repulsive, I’m not one to comment – but She Who Must Be Au Fait says these things are good, so I’m prepared to change my mind.

Check out the yellow peril here.