Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

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My dark secrets

July 6, 2009

Organic ChocolateSenor & I are backing off on the booze this month, albeit without going the whole Dry July hog as we did last year (now that was a looong month – can’t believe I even attended the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival and stayed off the vino. I see they’re being more humane this year, and putting it back to August where it belongs…).

We’re thinking of this month as Quite Damp July instead, cutting out the booze except for weekends (and yes, I do include Friday and Sunday!).

While I still find this midweek abstinence exceedingly dull, especially if socialising with friends over dinner, it’s a hell of a lot easier now I have figured out that my traditional bodily six-o’clock wine time alarm bell may actually be, apart from the signal for the welcome end-of-working-day reward, a craving for sugar as much as for the booze itself.

I discovered this because, in compensation for lack of wine, I have begun dosing self with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate and a cup of peppermint tea at 5.30pm. Presto. No ‘GodDAMN I want a drink!’ cravings, which I used to think were entirely psychological. So unless I have created a successful self-medicating placebo effect (can you placebo-fool yourself?), I think the ol’  bod actually craves sugar at the end of the day, and because I’ve never been a dessert person or had a particularly sweet tooth (or so I thought), the only real sugar hit I get is the vino. Interesting.

So – on to the topic and my new drug of choice: chocolate. Dark chocolate, to be specific. Not too sweet, but sweet enough to get a girl through the evening. At the moment I’m swinging between Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70% Chocolate, which is nice and bitter, and not too sweet at all;  and Lindt’s Excellence dark chocolate with chilli – a little sweeter than the G&B’s, and with that nice added mouth-warmth from the chilli.

I know there are serious chocolate connoisseurs out there, but suspect I’ll never become one of them – too much of a salt fiend to get seriously into the choccies. However, I did come across this nice piece  in the New Yorker, in which a chocolatier called Rick Mast, “New York City’s only bean-to-bar chocolate maker”, pairs different literary masterpieces with the appropriate chocolate, from Leaves of Grass to Pride and Prejudice to Walden. And here I found mention of something I might seriously like: a chocolate called 81% with fleur de selcan such a perfect combo really exist?! I’m not sure if this is a joke or no, but here’s Mr Mast on Shakespeare and my fantasy chocolate:

Othello, “Othello,” by William Shakespeare
81% with Fleur de Sel
This proud, lovesick Moor should be paired with eighty-one per cent dark chocolate, seasoned with chocolate’s version of the Venetian Sea, fleur de sel. The sea salt gives context to the sugar, intensifying not only the floral and cinnamon notes but also the sweetness. The complexity of the delicately salted chocolate may even surpass Othello’s jealousy, but at least your mouth will have a happy ending. Avoid your own jealous rampage by not sharing.

Hmm. Investigation needed, methinks.

Oh and if you are looking for a chocolate cake recipe, as it’s the only kind of cake I seem to make (apart from my new love, the whole l’orange variety…), I can vouch for the following two chocolate triumphs. These  both involve little more than melting some of the good stuff and bunging in ovens, but as usual I end up cooking these for much longer than the recipes say.

The first is the chocolate fudge cake in Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous eponymous cookbook (he of the excellent New Vegetarian column in the Guardian) – I highly recommend this book, as it’s full of surprising, flavoursome dishes that are incredibly simple to make but have beautiful complexity of flavour, and heaps of it is vego. Not to mention that the book is a beautiful shiny luscious thing in itself.

The second is Maggie Beer’s absolutely divine chocolate cake with whisky-soaked raisins and orange zest. Oh, my. I think this recipe title speaks for itself, don’t you? It’s from her book Maggie’s Kitchen, about which I have raved before.

OK. I’m feeling quite faint with all this cacao-bean chaos on the loose, so I must go and have another cup of tea and a good lie down. But while I’m resting, do tell me  all your dark chocolatey secrets? Favourites to buy or make? July is a long month, after all …


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Winged victory – chicken brodo

June 18, 2009

brodoI have never been a big fan of chicken wings – too fiddly, greasy, just annoying, and for what?

But Ms Karen Martini (I only just thought recently what a killer name this is. How I would love to be called Charlotte Martini) has changed my mind, and found an excellent use for the delights of these tender moist little bits of flesh without the finger-licking tedium. Or at least, the tedious bit is only the cook’s job, not the diners’.

Here is Ms M’s chicken & vegetable brodo faithfully reproduced by some other braver recipe-sharing blogger  (the original is from KM’s second book Cooking at Home – buy it, it’s brilliant apart from way too many arty personal kitchen and/or new baby photos – why do people do that??), and below is my slightly altered version, replacing a few ingredients with whatever we had in the fridge. But the big debt is to KM.

Getting the flesh off the chook bones is the fiddliest bit, but from start to finish it took a bit over an hour, and was sooo delicious – was feeling a little off-colour with burgeoning headcold (swine flu?) yesterday arvo, but after a bowl of this stuff was bounding with good health.

I urge you to make this at least once in the next week – I promise it’ll cure what ails you!

Chicken & vegetable brodo, with thanks to KM

  • 1kg chicken wings (mine were organic from woolies, and cost six bucks. Bargain.)
  • 2 litres chicken stock
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, ditto
  • 1 small red chilli, split
  • 3 fronds silverbeet or cavolo nero – stems diced, leaf roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stick, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • ½ chorizo sausage, finely sliced (optional, can leave out)
  • ½ cup arborio rice
  • Small handful spaghetti, broken into 5cm sticks ( I acidentally used tube spag, but it was still fine)
  • 2 zucchini, sliced
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • Chopped parsley
  • Grated parmesan, to serve Read the rest of this entry ?
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Beef Bourguignon, Bennelong style

June 15, 2009

guillaumeMy cyber-savvy mother-in-law cooked dinner for eight on Saturday night, including us, and her main was a spectacular beef Bourguignon she found on the SBS Food Safari website.

The step-by-step recipe is all in an online video with the Opera House Bennelong restaurant’s Guillaume Brahimi showing the way. The result was too good to describe – and one of the fab secrets is using pureed carrot instead of flour to thicken the stew.

Of course, being a fancypants chef, he used Wagyu beef (hello??) – but he also says he’d have no trouble using ‘any piece of beef’ so I guess I’d go for chuck. Annie if you’re out there, what did you use? It was soo tender.

Anyway, here’s the video – I might give it a whirl this week, will report back with results. And thanks to Annie for the amazing taste test.

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Sitting duck – cheat’s cassoulet

June 14, 2009
Assembled, not yet baked...

Assembled, not yet baked...

Today, with gloomy rainy cold weather and a heavily pregnant friend here for lunch en famille, we decided to go all-out on the winter stodge and revisit a deliciously easy duck cassoulet I made a few times years ago.

The cassoulet recipe is a great Brigitte Hafner dish, from Good Living in May 2004 – a very stained and blobbed-on bit of newsprint that lives in our big folder of cut-out recipes. The original has a whole fresh duck chopped up and roasted in pieces, instead of the traditional confit duck, which makes it not so pricy and still pretty easy, but today I went the total Convenience Cassoulet route with bought confit duck and canned beans, thereby bastardising this into an even simpler recipe which still packs an excellent punch.

Bless the internet, because I’ve just found the original Brigitte Hafner version here, and below is my even quicker version. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Zest for life

June 2, 2009

lemon zestFurther to our earlier discussion of simple but essential kitchen gadgets, I hereby withdraw my remarks to Hughesy about the humble zester being interchangeable with a grater.

For I now am in love with a six-dollar zester – it takes up no space, and is perfectly designed to take exactly the right depth of citrus peel for flavour and texture.

I realise now that a grater either takes too much or (in the case of our super-fine Microplane), too little, with the latter result being a sort of vaguely citrusy fairy floss instead of the sharp, fresh zing required. And digging too deeply, of course, means icky bitter pith. 

And as for lemons, oranges and limes, and why these zesty friends must be included in  life’s truly essential ingredients – well, you all know. ‘Sundry items too numerous to mention’, as the old clearance sale adverts in the Cooma-Monaro Express used to say. We’re talking sharpening up and /or sweetening everything from lamb shanks to roast chook to fruit salad to curries to chocolate cake.

Maggie Beer puts citrus peel in everything – from this incredibly delicious Moroccan poached ocean trout (have cooked several times, it’s from my treasured copy of  Maggie’s Table that chefbro Hamish gave me for Christmas – personally signed and everything, following their cooking gig together in Shangers) to the completely different but equally luscious  Haloumi & Citrus Lentils (ditto).

Skye Gyngell is another lemon freak, and her wonderful book A Year in My Kitchen is one of my favourites.  Here’s what she says about lemon zest:

The zesting of a lemon could never be described as a recipe, but this is an ingredient I use so often that it warrants a mention …  

Lemon zest works beautifully when tossed into a simple salad whose leaves include basil, mint, chervil and rocket. The addition of grated Parmesan, lemon juice and good olive oil is all that is needed, in my mind, to creat a perfect green salad. 

The tangy zest also cleans up the flavour of many desserts that would otherwise seem a fraction too sweet. Similarly, it works well to counteract the potentially cloying flavour of pickled fruits. In essence, lemon zest is a simple, quick way to add freshness to your cooking. There is no real secret, just be sure that to use the finest holes on your grater and only use the yellow part of the skin. The white pith tends to taste very bitter. Grate your zest as close as possible to the time that you are going to use it, as it will dry out fairly quickly if left out uncovered, or indeed even covered in the fridge overnight. 

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Ladies, bring a plate

May 30, 2009

Delicious plattersYesterday I was invited to speak at a literary lunch fundraiser, which took place in a large boat shed overlooking a beautiful bit of the harbour, full of very nice women who all seemed to be uber-professionals (radiologists, MCA guides, painters, doctors, etc) and at the same time very warm and generous people.

They also made the food – or at least a small band of great cooks from among their ranks did – for the 130 gals in attendance. And even before those women were thanked I could tell, looking at the buffet table, that this food came from good home cooks rather than profit-making caterers – it’s the generosity, people. Quality ingredients, bounteous servings and good taste: perfect rare roast beef, succulent chicken marbella, mounds of silky smoked salmon & capers, gorgeous salads, good bread and real butter. 

I love a bring-a-plate* function myself, and I love that everyone has a signature dish or two. The Empress, for example, is duty-bound to lug a huge bowl of her incredible baba ganoush pretty much wherever she goes (I believe her secret is to smoke the aubergine first … mmmm). My own chart-toppers are a roasted carrot & mint salad, and a braised green bean, tomato & dill number for which I can never find the recipe and thus have to phone my sisters whenever I need it.

So I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. Here’s the simplest carrot salad in the world, and always beloved by all. Read the rest of this entry ?

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When your fingers do the baulking

May 26, 2009
  

Finger food fiasco - the kind of creation that ends with an olive in the cleavage (& a toothpick in the chef's eye).

Finger food fiasco - the kind of creation that ends with an olive in the cleavage (& a toothpick in the chef's eye).

Note to party caterers: when finger food can’t be eaten with the fingers, it’s not finger food.

 

Very enjoyable couple of hours at the A&U publishing party the other night, at which NSW Premier Nathan Rees gave a short and very welcome speech about his support for territorial copyright and opposition to parallel importation of books, and then enthusiastically nattered to writers. Imagine – a politician who likes to speak publicly about how much he enjoys fiction, and then wants to talk at length to the kinds of people who write it. All a bit of a shock.

Anyhoo, twas a great party all round, except the finger food was rather too frequently impossible to eat with the fingers – so that when a young woman appeared with a huge tray of food, a gaggle of starving people gathered round her and stared down at this big platter of something scattered with a wet-looking salad and what appeared to be lentils. Then everyone simply looked confused, then disappointed, said ‘ah, no thanks’ and stuck their noses back in their glasses.

It was the image of how one should eat it that put one off: just scoop up the bits in two hands, perhaps? Or tilt one’s face to the platter and bite it off the surface, like bobbing for apples? Bizarre. 

Then there is the mix-of-things-on-an-Asian-flat-spoon approach, which I have no qualms about, provided the mound of stuff is able to be got into the gob in one go. Having a big gob, I managed better than many more delicate guests who nibbled  round the edges of a high pyramid of squiddy-salady stuff, neck extended turtle-style to avoid getting food on themselves when bits of it inevitably began falling. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Some things beginning with ‘P’

May 25, 2009

pork chopAn oldie but a goldy for an autumn Sunday night – Jamie Oliver’s pork cutlets with parsnip, pears & potatoes.

It’s a very simple and heady and hearty dish – and best of all can all be cooked in, and even served from, one roasting pan.

Method is tres basic.

parsnipsMarinate some good thick pork cutlets (our butcher now only sells free-range pork, they reckon – hard to believe but I’m happy to have faith) in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic & heaps of rosemary and lemon peel for a good couple of hours, and then toss the peeled & quartered parsnips, halved peeled potatoes and quartered & cored pears in the same marinade.

Chuck in a hot oven with the chops on top of the veg for up to an hour, depending on the size of the chops. The best result is everything caramelised (from nice drizzles of chop fat) and slightly chewy and deliciously lemony.

(I think next time I would actually maybe just pan-fry the chops near the end, as mine ended up a tad too dry – but then you would miss out on the porky goodness in the veg though, so am not sure about that.)

pearsThe other excellent bit of this is the minted bread sauce – soak some day-old bread in red wine vinegar and oil, then whizz in the food processor with a bunch of mint  (or even just chop the mint very finely) and some Dijon mustard. Serve the sauce in a bowl at the table and smear all over the choppies. Very good.

 

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Pancetta with a pulse: beany soupy stew

May 11, 2009

pancettaAs the Empress is fond of saying, “there’s nothing in life that can’t be improved by bacon”.  

I nominate pancetta as one of life’s essential ingredients – toss a few scraps through everything from steamed beans & peas, brussels sprouts, boiled taties. Throw it into pasta sauces of all kinds, wrap a chicken breast in it, throw a bit into stuffings of any kind (like the zucchini flowers), wrap a bit of salmon or a sardine in it, or go stuff a quail with it if you wanna get fancy. 

Tonight I made a beany stew adapted from Karen Martini’s delicious looking “Northern Italian olive mill soup” in yesterday’s Sunday Life mag. Hers was made with dried borlotti beans but I took the usual open-a-can route, and hers included radicchio and cavolo nero, whereas I just chucked in some silverbeet instead. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Floral tribute

April 23, 2009
zuch-flowers5Had a few people round last night, which gave me an excuse yesterday to come over all Stepford and cook three courses for dinner – which my friends will tell you is virtually unheard of.

Senor is usually dessertmeister, but I replicated his orange and quince cake (more on that later) from the weekend, and the main was Neil Perry’s cinnamon-scented lamb, which is the new Syrian chicken as far as I’m concerned (foolproof and everyone loves it).

But my major Proper Little Housewife moment came in stuffing zucchini flowers as a starter.

Have never done it before, but having now discovered just how easy it is, I plan to get stuffed much more often. Read the rest of this entry ?