Archive for the ‘eggs’ Category

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Something borrowed

November 5, 2012

As any visitor here will know, the sharing of food is one of the great joys of my life – but I don’t think we’ve ever really talked about the whys and wherefores of actually sharing recipes and ideas for dishes. It seems self-evident that folks who read – and write – cookery blogs have a natural, internalised desire to share knowledge and ideas about cooking, so it has always stunned me when people talk about having “secret” recipes.

Secrecy over recipes and the fierce withholding of kitchen expertise plays a central role in the film Toast, the dramatisation of Nigel Slater’s memoir of the same title (I’m assuming the same events occur in the book) . From Slater’s Wikipedia page:

[Slater] used food to compete with his stepmother – the former cleaning lady – for his father’s attention. Their biggest battle was over lemon meringue pie – his father’s favourite. His stepmother refused to divulge her recipe, so Slater resorted to subterfuge in order to turn out his own version. “I’d count the egg-shells in the bin, to see how many eggs she’d used and write them down. I’d come in at different times, when I knew she was making it. I’d just catch her when she was doing some meringue, building up that recipe slowly over a matter of months, if not years.”

Whatever the truth of Slater’s step-mum’s kitchen caper might have been, his portrayal of her represents a figure some people know well. I wonder if this kind of woman – always a woman in the stories I’ve heard – is still around, or is she only a figure of bygone eras, when a woman’s power in society was so limited that she felt she had to wield it in this manner?

Or am I inventing this Fifties Femme?

My own mother couldn’t give a damn about who had her recipes, but then she was never a particularly passionate cook to begin with. Unlike a friend’s aunt, who staunchly refused for decades to share the recipe for her legendary melting moments. Eventually, suffering a brief attack of magnanimity, Aunty Mean deigned to offer the recipe to her niece, a brilliant cook – but only on the proviso that she promised never to share it with her mother!  Rather takes the cake (boom-tish) for sibling rivalry, don’t you think? My loyal friend politely declined the offer, managing not to add, “It’s only a fucking biscuit!”

The holding of recipe cards close to the chest in this way speaks of all kinds of things that have, obviously, nothing to do with the biscuit. It implies that cooking is a contest, that the only value in making beautiful food for others is in your power to impress them, and indeed that one’s esteem in the eyes of others is so fragile that refusal to share something as trivial as a recipe will actually help maintain that esteem. When of course it just does the opposite – paints you as desperate rather than skilled, mean-spirited rather than generous. In fact the whole concept of generosity is completely absent in this kind of syndrome. As well, when all recipes spring from other recipes, it seems somehow dishonourable to suggest that my recipe alone is original, and therefore so much more valuable than yours. It also smacks of a lack of confidence about the bounty of creativity – this recipe is so precious because there will never be others to take its place. I’ve known writers like this in my time, who obsessively, vigilantly – and in vain – inspect the work of others for similarities to theirs. What such people seem not to understand is that this fearful obsessing over other people’s wells of creativity means that their own will always be in danger of drying up completely.

Anyhoo, I’m happy to say that among my friends and family, recipes and food ideas fly back and forth and round and about with complete abandon. Take the unbelievably good lemon curd fool we ate at the Empress’s palace last week, which I then immediately pinched for our dinner guests on Saturday night. It’s one of the easiest, quickest and yet most swooningly striking desserts you’ll ever try. Bizarrely, I had never made lemon curd until that day but now I know how easy and how very fine it is – my favourite meld of citrussy tartness and sweetness –  I’m going to find many other desserty avenues for it.

Which brings me to another part of the pleasure of sharing recipes; one leads to another, which then morphs into another which gives birth to another and another, in a rich cycle of generosity, abundance and plenty. And as soon as I “invent” – or am given! – a suitably delicious new incarnation of this luxurious dessert I’m inviting the Empress over to eat it.

Lemon curd fool

  1. Make a lemon curd – I used the recipe in Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, but there are thousands about – and let it cool, then chill (I made ours the day before).
  2. Whip some cream into stiff peaks – from memory I used 300ml pouring cream for a curd of 1.5 times Stephanie’s quantity.
  3. Mix the two together – that’s it! Simplicity itself.

We served ours in small glasses with a sploosh of passionfruit pulp on top of each one. The Empress had a wafer of home-made biscotti sticking out of hers. I can imagine all kinds of lovely toppings and additions –  crumbled pistachios maybe, or a little finely chopped mint?

Love to hear your tales of recipes shared or protected. Do people still refuse to share recipes? Or, as women have actually begun to take part in the world beyond the kitchen, has such desperate recipe-protection become a thing of the past? And I wonder if the syndrome has arisen among men as they begin to take up more space in the kitchen? Or am I looking at this whole thing from the wrong point of view? Is there any virtue in keeping “secret recipes” that I’m overlooking?

And if you have a favourite use for lemon curd, do share ……

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Dinner with the Kids: The Movie

October 8, 2012

A visit from the nieces on the weekend was great fun, especially because they brought with them a birthday gift for me & Senor of a pasta machine. Rose & I got adventurous and made our own cooking TV show, as well as dinner. Here’s the result – and the rav was excellent!

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/50913394″>Ravioli with Rosie</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user8019348″>Charlotte Wood</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

A few notes: We used two fillings but cooked and served it all mixed. The fillings were a Jamie Oliver ricotta, pine nut & herb one, and a quite delicious sweet potato, amaretti and bacon one from her majesty Marcella Hazan (the recipe is for prosciutto but as we didn’t have any we used cooked bacon instead).

The egg separation method was learned from regular howtoshucker Julie as she sent me this amusing video – but as you can see from our experience, it takes a bit of a knack and more than one egg went astray the other day! Kids absolutely loved trying it though ….

Not long before dinner I rather desperately Googled “how to stop ravioli falling apart” and discovered that some people recommend freezing the finished ravs, so we bunged ours in the freezer for about 20 minutes before cooking on a gentle rolling simmer. We taste tested a couple of times during the cooking; nine minutes was optimal. Next time I think I would dry the ravs for a little while and then freeze them for at least an hour.

And Rosie’s mum Alice made a perfect napoli sauce with capers – you’ll notice that my separation anxiety prevented me from finessing the presentation (!) but a beautiful day and a delicious dinner was had by all.

I highly recommend a ravioli-making session if you have a day to fill with kids – it certainly took most of the day to do, but once we mastered the pasta and got rid of the tears and holes (it didn’t take long) it was lots of fun. Do recommend the ravioli frame thingo though, as I understand they’re more likely to fall apart if you don’t have a way of sealing them very firmly.

I imagine that lots of you are much more experienced pasta / ravioli makers than us – any tips? Things we were doing wrong?

And I wonder if you have done any adventurous cooking with kids lately? Do tell.

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Separation anxiety

January 3, 2011

Happy New Year everyone. I hope you are all still on languid holidays involving lying about reading, dozing, or foraging in the fridge for feasts of lazy food. And if you’re back at work, may the holiday feeling continue just a wee bit longer.

My first post of the year is yet another embarrassing culinary confession: I am crap at separating eggs. I’m even pretty crap at just cracking them, to be honest. This rather demeaning lack of expertise was brought home to me several times in the lead-up to Christmas. First, in the making of forty-five packages of chocolate brownies for Senor’s best customers and a few friends (that was a lot of egg-cracking), and second, in the making of 10 times the quantity of these spiced nuts, which I once again stuffed into the family food gifts this year.

Around the same time I was watching Nigella Lawson doing her Express cooking on telly (just to keep my outrage pilot light aflame, you understand – can’t abide the woman but it’s difficult to look away…) and finding my usual irritation rising tenfold when she seemingly effortlessly cracked an egg with one hand and then proceeded to go about her work without wiping her hands. Seriously, I watched for five more minutes just in the hope she would at some point run her eggy hand over something – her bosom, anything! – to wipe it clean, but no. Apparently The Goddess’s assets include spotless yolk-free fingers among her other skills.

So let’s talk about this – I want to hear how you do it. For myself, the method varies. I try to blithely snap the egg on the side of the bowl a la Nigella, but usually this results in me just efficiently dinting the shell into a minutely crazed patch, all ready for tiny bits of shell to fall straight into the egg once I do get it open. Then I spend long minutes chasing shreds of shell around the bowl with another bit of shell, which may or may not break and add to the problem.

Otherwise, I crack a sharp knife on to the egg held in my hand and hope it doesn’t go right through the shell into my palm. This does give a cleaner break (to the egg that is, boom tish), but lacks the panache of the side-of-bowl approach, and also leads to eggy hands if the blow is a little too sharp and cracks the egg more deeply than anticipated.

Now on to separating. I seem to have a deep anxiety about this, perhaps instilled in childhood. There is an almost pathological fear of escaped yolk infecting the white, and so I seem to spend inordinate lengths of time with held breath, tipping the yolk from one half-shell to the other –  a feat made more difficult by my hopeless cracking (see above), which often results in the ‘halves’ being most unequal, and thus I can be scooting an egg yolk from one cavernous bowl of shell on to a teeny jagged shell plate the breadth of a thimble, then back again, for long, terror-filled minutes.

I don’t think this is normal.

There is, of course, the method often favoured by lascivious folks like Nigella – plopping the whole lot into your hand and letting the white seep through your fingers into the bowl. Now, I’m all for the sensual pleasures of cooking, but quite frankly I find this disgusting. Not to mention inefficient – if you’re like me, half the white would end up dripping down your arm and into your apron pockets, and then how the hell do you measure whether you have enough white left for the recipe? And there’s the contamination factor – my cooking hands are always washed several times during the process, but if  a bit of yolk equals major systems failure, what about the inevitable oils or detergents or butter or other cooky stuff that must remain on the hands at least some of the time?

Now, I suspect that some of you will advise me to take the coward’s path and acquire one of these contraptions or even, God forbid, one of these (thank you Jules, I knew I’d get to use it one day…) but frankly I will take such advice as an insult. I want to know your best methods of unaided egg cracking and separation, and I want to know them now.

Please share! How do you do it? Are you an egg-all-over-the-shop cracker like me, or a spotless Nigella type? Do you share my separation anxiety? Any tips? I know that at least one of you has an intriguing shell-retrieval method passed down by her mother, so come on, share the love!

A wee announcement

This year is going to be a huge one for me, as I have not only my new novel Animal People to edit and get ready for publication in October, but I have managed to persuade the wonderful Allen & Unwin to let me write another book, which will be published in April 2012.  I am very excited about it, as it’s a complete departure from fiction (and may – shhhh – involve matters close to our hearts here in howtoshuckanoysterland!), but it’s going to take up an enormous amount of my time between now and the end of August when I need to have it finished. That’s started, middled, and ended. Yikes.

Now, I desperately want to keep this blog ticking over regularly, but I’m thinking the best way to do that without growing stressed and resentful about getting everything done is to pull back a little and post an entry here around once a fortnight. I very much hope you will stay with me, as your readership and conversation here are among the great joys of my life. If you can, maybe subscribing by email (fill in the bit at the right of the screen, headed ‘get email alerts’) will save the irritation of finding no new posts online when you visit. This function sends you an email alert only when there’s something new to read here – no new post, no email.

But now, back to the crucial questions: how do you crack your eggs?


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Feeling a little crabby?

December 6, 2010

In which practice actually does make perfect

Flicking through the recipe books in search of something special for a friend’s birthday dinner the other week, I happened upon Damien Pignolet’s crab soufflé. But I soon grew daunted by the gazillion steps, and then breathed a big sigh of relief when I remembered one of our guests can’t eat gluten, as the soufflé had flour in it. Then another idea struck: crab mousse! Retro enough to be surprising – or possibly raise a laugh – but I figured it would also involve just enough velvety lusciousness and feel-the-love effort to make a birthday girl feel special.

Next step, hello internets. My friends, there are so many bad recipes online, have you noticed? Obviously there are squillions of brilliant ones too (*bats eyelashes*), but lordy me. Google ‘crab mousse’ and you will find yourself immersed in more lists of cream cheese, powdered onion soup, gelatine, emulsifiers and other icky goop than you can poke a whisk  at.

Happy was I, then, to find this baked crab mousse recipe from  Tamasin Day-Lewis. But never having baked such a thing as mousse before I decided, most uncharacteristically, to give it a practice whirl a few days before the birthday do. Usually I don’t bother practising, being blessed with forgiving friends who are usually happy to be experimented upon and whose manners are impeccable even when served less-than-fabulous meals (Ms A, I’m thinking particularly of you and the grass-clippings chicken a short while ago – you were a model of composure).

Anyhoo – in this instance practice was a good idea. The first time I made the recipe I kept the oven at its standard fan setting, but it was too hot. I also used the recipe’s method of covering each mousse with greaseproof paper but that was a total dud idea for us, as the paper simply curled up, and given the hot oven the thing began to brown round the edges, which is not what you want on a delicate, pale, crabby moussy thing like this. Also, served after five minutes as recommended was way too hot. And finally, presentation-wise it tended to look a little wan and needed a bit of bling. However, the texture was not bad and the flavour was good. So good. So very good.

On the second attempt – birthday dinner day – everything went swimmingly. I used foil to completely cover the ramekins instead of the paper; I turned the fan function off on the oven; I cooked the mousse a little longer and let them cool for longer in the pots. And as a garnish I added a blob of creme fraiche with torn dill and a teeny dollop of caviar. And I am here to tell you it was good. The birthday girl loved it and so did we.

Baked crab mousse with dill & caviar

Adapted from Tamasin’s Great British Classics

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • meat picked from body & claws of 4 cooked blue swimmer crabs, or about 250g crab meat
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 400ml thickened cream
  • 4 tsp dry sherry
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • biggish pinch cayenne pepper (be careful – taste at half a pinch first)
  • 2 tbsp finely grated Parmesan
  • 6 dollops of creme fraiche
  • a few fronds of dill
  • caviar or salmon pearls
  • salt & pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170C. If you have an adjustable fan setting, turn it off or to lowest setting.

2. Lightly grease 6 small ramekins.

2. Puree crab meat, eggs, cream, pepper, mustard and sherry until smooth.

3. Stir in the Parmesan and season to taste.

4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins and cover each with a round of aluminium foil.

5. Sit the ramekins in a roasting pan and pour enough near-boiling water into it to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

6. Bake for 25 minutes and check. If they are still very wobbly in the centre, keep cooking for another five or ten minutes. The centre should be just lightly set.

7. Remove pan from oven and leave on the stove top, leaving ramekins covered in the water bath until ready to serve. I left them sitting for a little over an hour, and the temperature was perfect – just slightly warm is the perfect temperature.

8. Remove foil lids, wipe away any condensation from the rims and top each one with a dollop of creme fraiche, a tiny spoonful of salmon pearls or caviar and a teensy frond of dill.

9. Serve with champagne & teaspoons.

In this case, practice made (almost) perfect, and I’m glad I did the test run. I doubt I’ll take up testing recipes first on a regular basis – who can be bothered? – but would love to know if you do. Are you a routine practiser or do you use your friends as guinea pigs? Any fabulous disaster stories? Do tell.


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Mission Impossible

September 11, 2010

When I made a version of Stephanie Alexander’s Crustless Silverbeet, Pine Nut & Olive ‘Tart’ for a friend recently, she recognised it instantly as a picnic favourite that her friend calls Impossible Pie. I have no idea what makes it so impossible, except the fact it’s basically a robust, chunky quiche without the pastry, which I guess leads to the cutseypie moniker. Whatever the reason, Impossible Pie has stuck  in our house, and it’s become a weekend lunch staple that easily feeds a gang of eight.

The original recipe is from this book here, which I still love to death. Stephanie’s version is entirely vegetarian, and very good too, but for omnivores  I have usually added a handful of chopped bacon or pancetta (for as the Empress is fond of saying, “there’s nothing in life that can’t be improved by bacon”). And I think next time I might sling in a few chopped anchovies too.

Speaking of vegetarians, I’ve been having a little Twitter discussion on the topic lately so look out soon for a post on how to make a vegetarian happy. And I’ve decided that as much as possible, from now on I’m including veg options for any recipes here, using this little green V symbol at the end.

Silverbeet Impossible Pie

  • 1 sizable bunch silverbeet
  • olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons chopped bacon / pancetta
  • 3 tablespoons currants
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 12 black olives, pitted & roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rinsed capers
  • 5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g natural yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • a little butter

Method

1. Wash silverbeet & separate stems & leaves.

2. Chop leaves into strips and stems into 1cm chunks.

3. Throw stems into simmering water for 2 mins, followed by the leaves for another 2 mins. Drain and cool under cold running water for a few minutes. Dry in a tea towel or salad spinner.

4. While silverbeet is blanching, toast pine nuts in a little oil until golden brown, then remove and toss into a large mixing bowl.

5. Saute onion and garlic with bacon or pancetta for a few minutes until bacon is crisp and vegetables are soft.

6. Pulse silverbeet a couple of times in a food processor to roughly chop a little more, then add to bacon mix and fry for a few more minutes.

7. Add the vegetables & bacon to the pine nuts in the large bowl, then add currants, olives and 4 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs. Season and leave to cool.

8. In another bowl, lightly whisk eggs and yoghurt together till well mixed, then add to silverbeet mix.

9. Lightly grease a glass or ceramic pie dish and coat the sides and base with the remaining tablespoon of breadcrumbs (add any leftovers to the mix), then plonk the vegetable mix in, top with the grated Parmesan and a few dots of butter.

10. Bake the tart in a moderate oven for 30-40 minutes or until it feels firm and the top is crisp.  Serve warm or cold with a green salad.

V: Just leave out the bacon

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Secrets of a corn star

February 22, 2010

Every time I opened the fridge door on Saturday I was accused by three shrinkwrapped corn cobs bought two weeks ago. Food waster! Abandoner! they cried, in their tiny little corny voices.

They were a teeny bit worse for wear, and it was lunchtime, and I was home alone. The thought of eating three corn cobs there and then didn’t appeal. But corn fritters did. I checked a recipe and then made my own version according to what I had in the house – using yoghurt instead of ricotta cheese and rice flour instead of ordinary flour. And they were pretty darn good! I ate several and froze the rest.

Then Sunday morning, when Senor was hankering for something luxurious, I whipped up the most fab breakfast in minutes (I was sooo Bill Granger – shame about the non-matching teeth): into the pan went the corn fritters, a few shreds of proscuitto; half a chorizo sausage, thinly sliced; leftover roasted tomatoes. I think it may have been the best breakfast I have ever made.

Corn fritters

  • 3 cobs corn kernels
  • 4-5 tablespoons rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon yoghurt
  • 1 handful each finely chopped basil, parsley, chives
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • salt & pepper

1. Shuck the corn (don’t you love that word?) by standing the cob on its end and running a knife sharply down the side.

2. Mix everything in a bowl, adjusting the flour if it gets too watery (it does look unnervingly runny, but that doesn’t really matter in the end).

3. I threw two-thirds of the mix in the food processor and pulsed just a couple of times to get a rough blend, then returned to the bowl.

4. Heat some oil in a non-stick pan over med-high heat and cook the fritters in batches. Depending on the amount of oil you use and the runniness of your mix, the texture tends more to the pikelet than fritter, but either is delicious.

5. Drain on kitchen paper before serving.

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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.