Archive for January, 2010


Lentil fortitude

January 30, 2010

This is one of those ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ dishes: lentil tabbouleh, from Greg & Lucy Malouf’s Saha book. In fact, this combo is so obvious, you all probably eat it five times a week, but it’s a delicious revelation to me.

While you could easily do this with canned lentils, I used dried Puy lentils as per the recipe and was reminded again how fantastic they are – they hold their shape so beautifully, and the ever-so-slightly-squeaky texture is a brilliant contrast to the soft moistness of the other ingredients.

My only tip is to add the tomatoes at the last minute before serving, as they start to lose their colour a little once mixed in.

100g Puy lentils

juice 1 lemon

1 cup mint leaves, chopped

1 cup parsley, chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

2 tomatoes, seeded & diced (this is one occasion where I actually do seed the tomatoes, to prevent sludginess)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground allspice

salt & pepper

I’m pretty sure you can figure out what to do now – cook the lentils in boiling water for 20 mins or so, till just tender; cool; chuck everything in!


Rules to dine by…

January 28, 2010

Dunno about you, but I am a sucker for rules. Love ’em.

Not so much the ones involving denial and effort and sacrifice (ew) but still, a book of rules nonetheless gives me lots of comfort. I used to love how-to-write rules when I first started out in fiction – it feels lovely and safe to be told what to do and when to do it – but now they seem rather limited and dull, and very often incorrect.

Now I’m sure it’s the same with food ‘rules’, but until I discover the flaws in them myself, I am pretty keen on the idea of my mate Michael Pollan‘s new book,  Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. It sounds like a kind of precis of everything he’s done on food so far, prompted, he says, by doctors who say they wish they had a summary of his earlier books to hand to patients who eat garbage. Pollan writes:

Another doctor, a transplant cardiologist, wrote to say “you can’t imagine what I see on the insides of people these days wrecked by eating food products instead of food.” So rather than leaving his heart patients with yet another prescription or lecture on cholesterol, he gives them a simple recipe for roasting a chicken, and getting three wholesome meals out of it — a very different way of thinking about health.

Nice one, doc.

Anyhoo, I am keen on these rules, possibly partly because Pollan is such an engaging writer and his remarks on food are sensible and witty. We saw him speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival a while ago, where he invoked one of his very first rules: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.” To demonstrate this, he had an array of supermarket ‘food products’ on the table before him, and raised a long, pink, thick, phallus-shaped object up for the audience to view.

“Would your great-grandma,” he asked slyly, “know how to administer this to her body?”

Turns out it was some kind of ‘yoghurt drink’ encased in plastic.

Anyhoo, despite the Empress’s chiding (she thinks we already know all this stuff and don’t need books to tell us), I couldn’t resist and bought Food Rules. It’s a nice slender little mini-paperback, and the Empress is right – we already know this stuff. However, there are still some nice bits and bobs, like this one: “Be the kind of person who takes supplements – then skip the supplements”. Meaning:

..people who take supplements are generally healthier than the rest of us, and we also know that in controlled studies most of the supplements they take don’t appear to be effective. how can this be? Supplement takers are healthy for reasons that have nothing to do with the pills. They’re typically more health conscious, better educated, and more affluent. They’re also more likely to exercise and eat whole grains.

And so on. Lots of stuff like that. And for the gutsers and food-bolters among us (hmm, who could that be?), very good advice: “Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it” and “Serve a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds.” That last is the killer in our house …

Our only real rule in this house is that we don’t eat any processed food (I guess rice crackers are processed, but you know …) but that’s because we love to eat and cook; it’s for reasons of pleasure, not denial.

Anyway – check it out if you can be bothered, or check out the Sydney Morning Herald’s own version by Jill Dupleix apropos of the Pollan book. I like this and lots of the comments too. And if you have any eating rules you live by, do share, won’t you?


Getting figgy with it

January 25, 2010

About mid January each year I start stalking the grocery shelves for figs.

I’m not sure what it is about figs that just gets my blood fizzling – the textural feast, perhaps? The soft, creamy interior with that slightly powdery skin? Or maybe it’s just that I pretty much always eat them with prosciutto, and that ol sweet/salty flavour bomb is simply irresistible. And then there’s the absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder factor; with such a relatively short season, their arrival is cause for celebration and one is simply obliged to make a fig festival of the fact each year.

On Saturday I saw the first display in our grocer’s – of local figs that is, not Californians which have been there for a while, priced at something like four bucks each – and so of course I pounced on a big punnet of squat, heavy little beauties. That evening, before we had a chance to eat them, we went to dinner at our friends Mr & Ms Lilyfields’, and were served a fig salad so delicious that I was compelled to try to replicate it immediately the next day.

Ms Lilyfield used the classic combo of prosciutto, soft cheese & figs (I’ve used gorgonzola and other blue cheeses before – and oh, my it’s good) but she chose that amazing Persian feta, to which she added the lovely, slightly bitter, sharpness of radicchio. The finishing touch was a drizzle of luscious caramelised balsamic vinegar.

As I say, we loved it so much we tried a similar thing ourselves the next evening, and it was fantastic. So here’s my made-up copycat version. You gotta be careful not to overdo the sweetness in this, specially with the dressing. You can buy caramelised balsamic (I was given some of this last year and it is gorgeous stuff), but it’s also very simple to make. Oh and I reckon this salad would be incredible with labneh too; that’s my next plan.

Ms Lily’s luscious
fig salad with caramelised
balsamic dressing

– 1 punnet fresh figs

– 4-5 slices prosciutto, torn

– radicchio leaves

– basil leaves

– marinated feta cubes

– ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

– 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)

  1. Cut figs into halves or quarters and brush with a teeny bit of olive oil.
  2. Grill these on a tray with the prosciutto for a few minutes until the figs are warmed & the prosciutto crisp.
  3. Meanwhile, simmer the balsamic vinegar and sugar in the smallest pan you have, and gently reduce it till it’s thick and syrupy.
  4. Arrange the radicchio leaves in a bowl (or, more glamorously, on separate plates for each person) and drizzle with good olive oil.
  5. Top with the figs, prosciutto and add as much feta as you like – about three tablespoons is probably plenty.
  6. Gently mix these and the leaves together with your hands, add the basil and drizzle the lot with the balsamic syrup and season.
  7. Stand by for groans of delight.

Of course there are lots of other things to do with figs, including just popping one in your mouth for the pleasure explosion – I’m keen to hear your faves. Any fig festival contributions to share?


Seeing red: my tomato crop

January 22, 2010

Just because I’m feeling proud, here is a picture of some of our home-grown Roma tomatoes.

Since this photo was taken last week, our harvest has zoomed along, and there are bowls of Romas everywhere. Gotta love a glut – it makes a girl feel sooo agricultural.


The ultimate fast food: the omelette

January 21, 2010

Now, I know I banged on at length about eggs not so long ago (by the way, in sad news just to hand Charlotte Chicken just got going in terms of supreme egg production – she was up to double-yolkers, for godsake! – when she and Shirley had to return to their grandpa at Rentachook. Apparently, while much loved, they laid waste to the (not-theirs) garden which now resembles Maralinga or something. Still. We chookless urban dwellers are very sad to see them go.)

Anyhoo, I just wanted to bang on a little bit more about eggs – specifically, the joys of the omelette.

The thing is, if you can believe it, until two months ago I had never in my life made an omelette – and then I did, inspired by this Julia Child TV demo. But now I know how seriously fast and fabulous this little baby is, I’m slinging one into the nonstick pan twice or thrice a week for lunch.

Now, as you’ll see on the video Julia goes nuts with the butter – as she is, of course, obliged to do – and uses three or four eggs per person (mmm). But it’s just as good with a teensy bit of olive oil, and I’ve gotten used to two eggs plus tossing in whatever is to hand – fresh tomato, a little bit of grated Parmesan, lots of chopped herbs, salt & pepper.

But be warned – omelette making is a superfast and furious game. I’m talking about a single minute in the pan, so you gotta have everything ready to go before you chuck the eggs in. But do watch the video for the joy of Jules as much as the excellent pan-shaking technique.

I never get the thing to slip and slide out so elegantly the way she does, of course – I just use a spatula to fold and flap and scoop it out any old which way. It’s still divine.


Punk rocks

January 19, 2010

I love having vegetarians in the family circle. In the past fortnight we’ve had a squillion extended family dinners on both sidess, with various visitors coming to us and we going to them. Among the 18 kids in our family are three child vegetarians, a boy and  two girls, all under 15. It’s brilliant that kids are thinking about this – but only if they eat vegetables. It can be tricky stuff for a parent with a picky eater to find themselves landed with even narrower cooking options, specially when you have to think about developing brains and bones. Luckily the two kids I cooked for in the past week are pretty easy to please, and well brought up in the sense that their parents make sure they at least try new foods before they’re allowed to refuse them.

And it’s great to cook for non-meat-eaters, especially kids, because it makes one want to make interesting veg food so they get enough variety and nutrition. The other night, after some initial reluctance the younger one happily chowed down on some chickpea fritters; convinced to try one, she plunged in for more.

The other feature of that night’s veg-friendly spread (apart from lamb chops, hmmm – but also yummm) was this roast pumpkin salad I’ve eaten in various incarnations at others’ tables, but till now haven’t done myself.

Verdict: Love it. Punk, pine nuts, feta – what’s not to love?

Pumpkin, pine nut & feta salad

If it’s well roasted and soft, I reckon pumpkin skin has that luscious bittersweet thing going – delicious – and helps the punk hold its shape. But if you really don’t like it, remove the skin before serving.


  • 2 cups pumpkin, skin on, cut into large chunks
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 bunch rocket
  • 3 tablespoons marinated feta cubes
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper


  1. Roast the punk  pieces in a slosh of olive oil in a moderate oven, till soft and caramelised.
  2. While the pumpkin is cooking, dry-roast the pine nuts on a separate tray in the oven for five minutes or until golden.
  3. Remove both & cool.
  4. Wash, dry and dress the rocket leaves with a dressing of 1 part balsamic vinegar to 3 parts olive oil, salt & pepper.
  5. Arrange the leaves on a large plate and add the pumpkin and pine nuts – gently mix the salad so the pumpkin receives a coating of dressing without falling apart.


Fortunate … and not so

January 17, 2010

Last week I received the best fortune cookie I have ever had. But my friend, the Emperor, was not so lucky …


Four-letter word, and it’s not ‘food’

January 12, 2010

I am indebted to my friend Eileen for alerting me to this nugget of gold from The New Yorker’s Shouts & Murmurs: The Cursing Mommy Cooks Italian. Perfect antidote for a crap day in the kitchen (or the marriage!) …


Saturday seafood

January 11, 2010

Funny how you can have a groaning bookshelf full of cookbooks and still sit round wondering what to possibly cook for dinner, isn’t it? Which is where the weekend papers come in (I barely read them really – just flick to the books, which are hardly there anyway these days, and the recipes)…

So Saturday’s dinner was this seafood curry, a thrown-together version of Terry Durack’s Good Weekend kingfish curry. I used prawns and barramundi instead of kingfish, because I decided on dinner just before five o’clock, the perfectly adequate fish shop across the road had no kingfish, and it was way too hot to bother getting in the car to go to the best local seafood place we have, Faros Bros fish market (it’s a beauty).

I am an ignoramus about seafood generally, being an inland-bred girl, and am sure barramundi is not supposed to be great for curries – too delicate, or you overwhelm it or something, but it was lovely.

My version was given extra oomph because I had made & frozen a prawn stock which the Empress urged me to do after we ate these fantastic Neil Perry marinated barbecued prawns with her & the emperor on Christmas Eve, and she said the grilled shells were too good to waste. I can’t tell you how amazing that stock was – gave the whole thing a deep richness it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Anyhoo – here’s what we did for our Saturday seafood curry, shopped for at five, eaten by seven. It was more than enough for two, probably more adequate for four non-greedy-grunters, so our (ahem, small) leftovers are safely in the freezer for some midweek surprise sometime.

Seafood curry in a slowish sort of hurry

  • 100ml rice bran oil
  • 2 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 8 curry leaves
  • ½ an onion, chopped
  • 3cm knob ginger, finely chopped
  • coriander roots & stems, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes
  • salt
  • 1 fresh birdseye chilli (only because we had a single one on our teeeeeny chilli bush – use as many as you like)
  • ½ cup tomato passata
  • 1 – 2  cups prawn stock (use water or chicken stock in its place)
  • 1-2  handfuls frozen peas
  • 100g shelled green prawns
  • 2 barramundi fillets, cut into three or four pieces each
  • 1 tablespoon natural yoghurt
  • ¼ bunch chopped coriander
  • lime wedges, to serve
  • Basmati rice
  1. Heat the oil, and when hot toss in mustard & fenugreek seeds & curry leaves. When they start to pop & crackle, add the onion, garlic & coriander stems, cook a few minutes till translucent.
  2. Add other spices, passata & stock, and simmer gently, covered, for around 20 -30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cook some Basmati rice & leave to fluff.
  4. When you think the rice is ready, toss in the peas and cover to cook for two or three minutes.
  5. Chuck in the prawns & slip in the fish pieces, turn the heat to low (or even off, if you aren’t quite ready to serve),add the dollop of yoghurt, and leave a few minutes.
  6. When you’re quite ready to eat – table set, rice fluffed & on the table with the lime & the glasses ‘o wine – up ze fire (as an old Italian friend used to say) enough to ensure the fish is just cooked, then put the curry in a bowl.
  7. Sprinkle with coriander & and take to ze table.
  8. Serve with flourish and flush of pride.

* By the way, the rice here is served in a beautiful wooden bowl given to me at New Year’s by Miss Jane J, she of Ali’s mention in an earlier comment. Isn’t it gorgeous? Did you get any good kitchenish presents for Christmas? Do tell. And if you got any shockers, even better!


The summer cocktail hour …

January 9, 2010

Well hello again, and happy new year to you all.

I am finally emerging from Christmas / New Year chaos and family visits galore alternating with some beachside lazing. But as of next week, being visitor (and fun-) free, it’s back to work with a vengeance. My resolutions are the usual – work harder, write more, drink less, ease up on the gluttony, you know the drill. Gotta get a book written this year if it kills me.

But it ain’t Monday yet, and here in Sydney it’s a stinker of a day, hot and humid. So I think it’s appropriate for us to think about weekend summer afternoon drinks, don’t you?

A few weeks before Christmas we had a little progressive do here, starting with drinks at my friend Mr Pimm’s around the corner. I haven’t had Pimm’s for years and years, so when he suggested it, I leapt at the idea. At his beautiful house we sat lawnside with Pimm’s and lemonade, plus a little plateful of matching retro canapes, the devil you know. It raised my memory of the first time I was introduced to Pimm’s No. 1 Cup many years ago, at a Gatsbyesque lawn party in the homestead garden of an otherwise droughtbaked farm at Nimmitabel outside Cooma, where I grew up. The garden of this party was large and elegant, with cool green lawns and enormous weeping willow trees, and we lounged on the grass while others played tennis. I was an unworldly young woman, to put it mildly (as I recall, my drink of choice at the time was gin and squash – eww), so I was tres impressed when my sophisticated friend Bridget handed me a tall glass of Pimm’s and dry ginger ale with  a curl of cucumber peel spiralled inside the glass. It was possibly the most refreshing thing I’d ever drunk. I still love it. The cucumber peel, I have discovered, is essential in cooling off the sweetness.

This holidays we’ve been indulging in my other favourite summer arvo drink, the Americano. Its stunning crimson colour and the slight bitterness of the Campari makes it a winner in my book – refreshing and zingy, with as much or as little kick as you like, depending on the amount of soda you add at the end (when Senor is mixing, for example, it’s best sit down time).

An Americano is simple – chuck into a glass equal parts Campari & sweet Vermouth, a few cubes of ice and a wedge of orange – and top up with as much soda water as you like. If you add a slug of gin, it’s a Negroni.

So there you have it – a Saturday arvo summer drink to quench your thirst and cool your brow.

Here’s to a fab 2010 for you all, filled with good food and fine experience. And what might be your favourite summer cooling drink?