Archive for October, 2010


Going postal

October 25, 2010

Don’t you love getting food in the post?

I have only had this pleasure a few times (apart from deliveries from Feather & Bone, of course, which land at one’s door rather than in the postbox, and when you send them to yourself they don’t really count, I think) and I just love it. Why is it so much fun, I wonder? If it’s a surprise, of course, that’s part of the pleasure, but there’s something else I can’t put my finger on, that makes getting a jar of home-made pickles or biscuits – or a parcel of garlic shoots! – from the postman such a huge treat.

I am starting to investigate the posting of food in a bit more detail, because there are so many times when I would love to send off something very perishable just as a gesture of cookery love. Last Christmas I mailed off a couple of packets of brownies, which worked just fine, but what I have really wanted to send lately, but didn’t have the guts to, is a bowl of chicken soup to a friend who was flattened by illness and general misery.

Is that mad? I thought she might think so, and also find that a dripping parcel of potentially lethal substances might make her even sicker, so I decided against it.

But what do you reckon? Think it could be done? I am going to experiment soon and try it. I think if you packed a tub of soup – frozen solid – in a sturdy insulated container packed tightly with some soft ice packs, and made sure it couldn’t move and taped it down securely, and then sent it Express Post so it arrived next morning, it must surely be okay?

Australia Post proudly chats about a cheesemaker who uses their Express Post service here, so with some extra ice for insurance, I reckon it must be okay. Will test it out first on some siblings, perhaps, before I venture into sending soup to people who might actually sue me (you wouldn’t do that, would you, siblings?).

Other, less perishable food is a total cinch to send. I even sent a box full of preserved lemon, preserved home-grown tomatoes and some chutneys and whatnot to a friend in Switzerland recently, and because I’m an idiot I didn’t realise till I’d left the post office that I’d accidentally sent them by sea, so they took months and months to arrive – but all safely, and to my knowledge without any subsequent poisoning taking place.

More recently, I ordered some of Moon over Martinborough’s gorgeous first harvest of olive oil – if you haven’t read the MoM blog, you’re missing out on some deliciously entertaining writing (and even podcasts!) about the adventures of two American lads landing in New Zealand and starting an olive farm. I ordered their oil from their local wine & olive oil centre, and while the postage made it a slightly more expensive option than usual, it was so worth it for the excitement of its arrival and the quality of the oil itself, of course.

And now, after my barging in on a Twitter chat between @orwellski and @judyhoracek about their love of marmalade from a particular Melbourne annual fete, @orwellski (who, it turns out, happens to be the beau of the fabulous writer Kate Cole-Adams!) has promised to post me a jar of said marmalade! Okay, so I kind of demanded it, but that doesn’t diminish my great excitement at its imminent arrival.

I would love to hear if you too love food by mail – what have you sent or received, and how did you ensure its safe passage?


Good golly it’s cauli

October 23, 2010

I have shared my love of cauliflower with you not so long ago, but last week I discovered a new way to express my undying adoration, in the form of cauliflower soup.

After the pickled pear sensation that came via Skye Gyngell’s book to accompany her cauli soup, I decided to follow her lead. Ms G, as is her wont, does a funky glam makeover of a basic cauliflower soup, adding gorgonzola and creme fraiche and the relish. Looks amazing and I’m sure tastes incredible. But as I am an old hag of simple tastes, I did it without the bling – and the cauli did its magical flavour trick once again.

From almost no ingredients at all came the most deliciously creamy, nutty, rich and silky soup. I am totally hooked. I added a tiny bit of leftover seeni sambol (as mentioned here), but the pickled pear relish would work perfectly of course, or just nothing at all.  (And for those of us who might be trying to stave off the inevitable end-of-year gluttony bulge this soup must be a total winner because it’s so rich and satisfying, but as I find all calorie talk about as interesting as conversation about real estate or mobile phone plans, let’s never speak of it again.)

Anyway. Here tis. Tell me if you make it and if it’s as good as I think, or whether I have gone cauli crazy.

Cauliflower soup

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • olive oil
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 1 medium head of cauliflower broken into small florets
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1litre chicken or vegetable stock
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Heat the butter with a good glug of olive oil. When the butter starts to foam, add the onions and sauté over low heat for a few minutes until soft.
  2. Turn up the heat, add cauliflower and sauté for about10 to 15 minutes, turning regularly so it has a chance to turn golden all over.
  3. Add the stock and herbs, then turn down the heat and simmer cauliflower until very soft.
  4. When cauliflower is falling apart, puree the soup with a stick blender or in batches in a food processor till thick and creamy.
  5. Season with sea salt & pepper.



Palette on the Pier: Dinner for 1000

October 18, 2010

Regular visitors here will know that I rarely venture into cheffy territory, but today I’m making an exception for my friend Hannah, who’s involved with the Palette on the Pier event coming up in Sydney next week.

Palette on the Pier is a fundraiser for Regional Arts NSW, the body devoted to helping plan, promote and fund arts activities in non-metro areas across the State. And it sounds like a particularly gorgeous way to raise dosh for a worthy cause.

On Wednesday 27th October, up to 1000 diners will sit down – at one gloriously outsized table – along Pier 2/3 at Walsh Bay (just round the corner from The Rocks) to an al fresco six-course dinner provided by surrounding  restaurants, in full dazzling view of the harbour and the Bridge. Dinner will include six matching wines from the Canowindra region in the Central West of NSW (my old stomping ground).

Turns out Pier 2/3 is being handed over for redevelopment for arts and cultural use under a 99 year lease, and this is the first event to celebrate it. There’s also be a charity art auction, but with participating restaurants including Ottoman CuisineFireflySimmer on the BayRestaurant Arras and Ventuno Pizzeria Enoteca Birreria, the focus will most definitely be on the food.

Tickets are on sale for $150 a head from Sydney Theatre Company Box Office, phone (02)  9250 1777  – for more details visit And if you can’t go, you can always click here to make a tax-deductible donation to help our regional brothers & sisters get greater access to more arts events and activities of the kind we city-dwellers often take for granted.

Pictured, left to right above, are the chefs taking part in this very cool event: Adam Humphrey (Restaurant Arras), Roberto Taffuri (Ventuno), Chloe Kinajil (FireFly), Serif Kaya (Ottoman Cuisine), Teresa Gibbson (Simmer on the Bay) and Brigid Kennedy (Simmer on the Bay).



Doing the wild thing

October 15, 2010

I could spend all day admiring the glossy black spikes of wild rice.

Aren’t they stunning? Like dropped sea urchin spines, or an echidna’s shrugged-off party frock.

There’s something tribal and daring about the look of this rice family’s younger punk sibling, which is apparently not rice at all but a type of aquatic grass,  from the genus Zizania.

I haven’t used it terribly often – have you? – but I love the chewy texture and nutty flavour that comes when the grain splits as it cooks. The stuff I buy comes from North America, where several Zizania species are native. Other species are native to different parts of the world (like China), and there is even a completely different wild rice plant, Potamophila parviflora – not available commercially, which is unsurprising given our water problems – native to  Australia.

I’m told it takes about 45 minutes of boiling for wild rice to properly cook, and in truth I’ve never really measured the time but just drained it when the kernel splits to reveal the white inside – the shorter the cooking time, the chewier the texture.

You may remember that my favourite quinoa salad, a bastardisation of a quinoa dish by the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi, includes wild rice.  And I’ve used it in stuffing for chicken, with nuts and dried fruit. But I would love to hear how you use wild rice, so do share your ideas.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with an easy rice and lentil side dish I made the other night to accompany some chermoula-barbecued salmon fillets (more on chermoula soon). I just threw this together and liked it so much I’m going to do lentil and rice combinations much more often. We did cheat a bit with this, having brought home a container of seeni sambol, the deliciously sticky, jammy, spicy Sri Lankan caramelised onion sambal from Kammadhenu the other night.  This stuff is the business, to add a kick to any dish you like, from soup to rice to whatever. If you can be bothered making your own, I bet it would be amazing. But otherwise you could just fry some onion till very dark and stir through this pilaffy number at the end.

  • ¼ cup wild rice
  • ½ cup Basmati rice
  • ¼ cup Persian red lentils
  • ¼ cup currants soaked in red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon seeni sambol or 1 whole onion, sliced and fried till very crisp and dark
  • 1 tablespoon torn mint
  • sale & pepper

Cook the rice and lentils in three separate pots of boiling water till tender (the wild rice will take up to 45 minutes), then drain and mix.

Stir through the currants, sambol or onion and mint, check seasoning and serve.

Now your turn. What do you do with this dark and spiky little number?




Bitter is better

October 13, 2010

This week I learned something new: sweetness counteracts bitterness.

Ah, lessons for life, you might be thinking. But I’m talking about soup.

Now you all probably knew this sweet-bitter thing years ago, but I didn’t, and am constantly surprised by how happy the discovery of such a simple thing makes me.

My adventures in bitterness began when leafing through the fabulous Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells (given me by the Empress, so it must be good), I came across a recipe for watercress and potato  soup. Sounded delicious, and it was, but only once I’d managed to figure out how to balance out the bitterness. Not sure what I did wrong, because Patricia mentions nothing about bitterness. It could have been the cress itself, of course.

Or it could be that I am what’s known as a supertaster, as explained to me by the Parsnip Princess ages ago during her research for a story on tastebuds for Good Weekend magazine, when I was one of her guinea pigs sucking on small strips of paper with various odious flavours.  “Hmm, looks like you could be a supertaster,” she said, peering down at her notes. “Well,” I laughed modestly, “I always secretly thought I perhaps might be a just little superior-” , but that’s when she interrupted: “It’s not a good thing.”

Around a quarter of people are supertasters, apparently, which means we have more tastebuds than the rest of you, resulting in distorted sense of various flavours (and as the princess  informed me – a little too smugly I thought – chefs are generally not supertasters). One of the flavours we most over-detect is bitterness. Now, please don’t tell any of the bakeoff contestants about my supertasting deficiencies, and in fact I have doubts about my status, because according to this site supertasters are supposed to dislike coffee and dark chocolate, both of which I adore. So who knows.

But whatever the status of my tastebuds, the fact remained that my watercress soup was too bitter. I didn’t think the stems were woody so didn’t discard them, but perhaps a few more needed chucking. I got online and discovered that the way to counteract bitterness was to add sugar, so that’s what I did. Seemed odd to put sugar in a soup – but it did work. Still, depending on one’s particular fondness for bitterness, I thought even a little more sweetness might be needed. That’s when I remembered Skye Gyngell’s pickled pear relish.

Skye Gyngell, you will recall, is the author of this fabulous book and one of my favourite cookery writers. She adds this relish to several things including the cauliflower and gorgonzola soup in the link above (more on cauli love later).

I made the relish, with a little adaptation in the cooking time, and added a dollop to my next bowl of watercress soup. The combination was absolutely startling. The bitterness of the soup was still there as a kind of dusky undertone, but the caramelised, sticky relish gave the whole dish a kind of bejewelled zing  I absolutely loved. So, supertaster or no, I have decided that bitter is better so long as there’s a little bolt of complex sweetness somewhere along the line. Here’s the combination for you to try yourself. Love to hear if you try it, and what you think.

Pickled pear relish – adapted from Skye Gyngell’s recipe

  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon currants
  • 75 ml red wine vinegar
  • 2 pears
  • 1 apple
  • peppercorns (I used only a single peppercorn of this beautiful Tasmanian native pepperberry given me by my sisters recently – I have never gotten into fancy peppers or salts, but this is brilliant stuff, very hot and slightly fruity and chewy. You use about a tenth of the normal pepper amount.)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 25g butter
  • thyme
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • olive oil

1. Soak the dried fruit in the red wine vinegar for  a few minutes to soften.

2. Core and roughly chop the pears & apple, leaving the skin on.

3. Melt butter over a low heat and toss in the fresh fruit, cooking for a few minutes before adding all the other ingredients and cooking till very soft.

Now, the recipe says to cook for a further 8-10 minutes, but I cooked it over a low heat for much longer – around 45 minutes  – until the fruit was soft, adding olive oil now and then when it got too sticky. Perhaps my pears weren’t ripe enough – the recipe says to use very ripe pears – and so the long cooking was needed to get the fruit very soft. But it also made for a lovely jammy, sticky relish. Remove the cinnamon stick at the end before putting into a sterilised jar and keeping in the fridge.

Watercress & potato soup a la Patricia Wells

  • 2 bunches watercress
  • 50g butter
  • 1kg potatoes, peeled & cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2litres chicken stock
  • salt & pepper

1. Wash & pick over the watercress, discarding any woody stems & leaves that are past it (and watch out for tiny slugs – they won’t taste good). Roughly chop the cress.

2. Melt butter in a large pot and add the cress, cooking for several minutes until thoroughly wilted.

3. Add potatoes, stock & salt to taste (if using shop-bought stock, watch the salt until later).

4. When potatoes are very soft, whizz the soup with a stick blender or food processor till smooth.

5. Serve with a dollop of the relish, and swoon.

V: Simply swap the chicken stock in the soup for vegetable.


Taking the cake: A&U bakeoff revisited

October 8, 2010


One table, fifteen plates, two notebooks and great deal of salivating. That’s what greeted the Empress and me as we stepped into the hallowed halls of Allen & Unwin‘s Sydney offices the other week.

Long-term visitors to this blog will recall that last year Steph and I had the same honour – judging the A&U staff bake-off. We love A&U, not only because they publish the Empress’s book as well as my own, but because frankly they are the most enthusiastic cake-baking publishing house we know of. We believe if more publishers paid this level of attention to their morning teas the world would be a better place, and not just because the proceeds go to such worthy causes such as the Indigenous Literacy Project.

But back to the judging. The Empress and I must admit to some relief on seeing this year’s table carrying only 15 entries this year, because last year’s tasting of 27 cakes, biscuits, slices, quiches and pies took about a year to work off.

The bakeoff went all wild-card this year because neither of last year’s butter-and-sugar-fingered winners competed this time. One is overseas (or that’s what they told us).

The other, serial winner Anthony Bryant, has clearly become so much of a threat that shortly before the contest he met with a mysterious “accident”, resulting in a broken leg and the inability to nip around the kitchen to make his customary dozen or so outstanding entries. Poor man couldn’t even make it up the stairs to the bakeoff morning tea. I told you they were serious. (Anthony, give us a call. I know someone who for a modest fee can help you out with some ‘protection’ next year.)

Once again, the judging was taken extremely seriously. By the Empress anyway, who is quite experienced in these matters (she actually does food judging, for real!) and goes so far as to wear no perfume so as not to interfere with her senses, and sips only water as she makes her way studiously around the table.

I, on the other hand, was doused in perfume (Chanel, darling, if you must know) and slurped coffee the whole time. See how we complement each other?

The Empress and I made our way through the blind tasting in four categories this time, separately keeping our scores out of 10 each for presentation and texture, and out of 20 for flavour.

This year we also added an optional extra point for X-factorness and general pizazz. Once again, our scores were remarkably similar, varying only by a point each time.

And the winners were…

General: Susan Suhood’s delicately balanced and stunningly presented lemon tart (top).

Chocolate: Andy Palmer’s tiramisu – rich, exquisitely layered, and artfully balanced with the surprise element of delicious lumps of hard chocolate throughout (pic 2).

Savoury: Fiona Wilson’s perfectly textured and beautifully sharp & crumbly cheese biscuits (pic 3).

Slices, biscuits, friands & muffins: Kate Calhau’s rich, velvety berry & almond muffins (right).

So, thanks to all bakers and Jo and Fiona from A&U for having us back, and for showering the Empress and me with a copy each of this most brilliant and divine gift (more on this perfect book later!).

Lastly, congratulations to the winners – from left below, the Empress with Fiona, Andy, Kate and Susan. Till next year!