Archive for the ‘summer food’ Category

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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?

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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.

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Loaves and fishes: my list of miracle foods

December 15, 2009

Okay, I know Christmas isn’t strictly related to that particular miracle (reminds me of the time my heathen brother-in-law demanded of my mother what the hell Easter eggs had to do with Jesus being born in Bethlehem anyway…), but one of the things I really like Christmas & New Year holidays is the tendency toward spontaneous and sprawly gatherings over food.

You know the kind of thing, two people for lunch turns into ten, and an instant party ensues. But to make that kind of thing fun it’s gotta be stress free – so here’s my list of good stuff you can pull out at the last second for lunch or picknicky dinner, or take to a friend’s place to blast off their Christmas stress.

Some are old summer holiday faves, and some gleaned from these pages this year. Most of this stuff can be bought in advance and shoved in the fridge, freezer or pantry to pull our for miracle-working when requried…

  • Oysters – of course! Buy them unopened a few days before Christmas and keep in a bucket with a wet towel over them in a cool place – they keep for a couple of weeks.
  • Glazed ham – leftovers, for weeks. Mmmmm.
  • Chutneys & pickles – years ago the Empress introduced me to the killer recipe for Christine Manfield’s eggplant pickle.
  • Smoked salmon – or Virginia & Nigella’s cured salmon! – w creme fraiche and/or salmon roe & sourdough
  • Smoked trout –  keep a couple in the freezer and pull them out any old time
  • Cooked prawns, green salad, mayonnaise
  • Bread – keep a supply of sourdough in the freezer
  • Green salad, nicely dressed with good oil & vinegar
  • Chickpeas – of course! Chuck em in a bowl with bottled roasted capsicum & marinated feta or labneh, or try these ideas
  • Baba ganoush & Steph’s beetroot dip – plus packets and packets of rice crackers
  • Quinoa salad or citrus couscous (make a huge batch – both of these keep forever)
  • Lots of luscious, ripe avocado – buy a heap of those rock hard ones now to have softies on hand for later.
  • Lots and lots and lots of ripe tomatoes
  • Devils on horseback – everybody loves them! And you can keep sealed pancetta & pitted prunes on hand for months…
  • A couple of fillets of salmon in the freezer and a couple of spuds can yield a heap of salmon patties for a crowd.
  • Peas! I am never without a huge bag of frozen peas in the freezer. Actually there will be a new post on peas coming shortly…
  • Eggs – chuck a few halved, hard-boiled eggs in a green salad with some chunks of fresh, cured or smoked salmon and you have a delicious twist on nicoise.
  • Labneh – mmmm.
  • Quiche – if you have frozen shortcrust pastry in the freezer, a quiche takes about fifteen minutes to throw together and another twenty to cook. Fast and fab.

Okeydokes, that’s Santa’s (or Jesus’s?) list of magic expandable food for now – but you must have lots of things to add …

*Oh, and today’s Christmas Excess Antidote is courtesy of www.kiva.org– I absolutely love this site. At the click of a mouse you can provide a micro-loan (as little as $25) to someone in a developing country who’s making a go of things with very slim pickings indeed. I love it so much because your loan just keeps on giving – you can either get the money back (though what kind of a person …) or choose that it goes to someone else in the chain. Perfect!

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Finding a cure – my first Twitter recipe

December 7, 2009

I try not to hang round on Twitter too often, as whole days can whiz by while I’m distracted by shiny baubles, but sometimes you can find gold there – like this easy wasabi & sake cured salmon.

It’s my first Twitter recipe – I’ve been resisting actual Twitter recipe providers, as I don’t think I’d ever get my head around all the acronyms they’d need to jam any decent recipe into 140 characters.

This is basically gravlax without the dill, with a Japanesy twist. Virginia, a brilliant web designer and food blogger, tweeted that she was making this dish, and I asked her for the recipe.

It’s so simple she could tell me with just a few tweets, but she also tells me it’s a Nigella Lawson original, so I also Googled around to find it available here, called ‘gravlax sashimi‘.

But if you can’t be bothered clicking away, just read on – preparing the whole thing takes about ten minutes max, and then it’s just a matter of waiting for the cure.

The recipe here says you can leave for up to five days, which I did because we were out for a couple of nights in a row after the third day. Yesterday I unveiled and sliced the salmon up and it is delicious.

It’s like gutsy-flavoured smoked salmon, and very silky, with the faintest wasabi tinge in the flavour. Too good. I am going to make batches of it to have on hand for Christmastide nibbles …

1. Mix 1 tbs wasabe, 3tbs caster, 1.5tbs sake, 3tbs salt into a paste.

2. Smear over both sides of a 500g salmon fillet.

3. Cover fillet & dish closely in cling wrap (tucking round the fish) and leave for three days, weighted with cans or jars or something. ‘Slice thinly and serve with other awesome things,’ as Virginia says.

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Leaves of class

December 1, 2009

This will be a short post. I just wanted to show off the salad leaves grown in our garden. If I could only grow one thing, salad leaves would be it. These days it’s not hard to find beautiful tomatoes (in season), good herbs and so on; but there is absolutely nothing like the texture of salad leaves eaten within half an hour of picking – they are satiny, springy, silky and full of fresh flavour. Truly. Do it.

We have the little lettuces and clumps of sorrel and leafy whatnots sprinkled about the garden (and when I say ‘garden’ I mean 4m x 5m paved courtyard!)  in among the other plants, and around the base of some small trees in pots. All they need is a good bit of sun and decent watering and a feed of seaweed stuff & worm juice now and then and they go ballistic. (Jamie, any other growing hints?)

To harvest, we use the cut-and-come-again method, just snipping off the outside leaves as needed, and gathering a mixture of different types of lettuce, some Asian salad greens, a bit of cress, some tiny beetroot leaves and a few herb leaves (basil, mint) each time. There are weeks when there’s nothing to take, of course, and then there is the time of plenty – best to stagger the plantings and plant new seedlings every three or four weeks.

As soon as the lettuces start to go to seed – when they grow tall and gangly – the leaves begin to turn bitter, and I think that inadequate watering makes them bolt faster, so keep the water up and keep nibbling away at the outer leaves to get the best crop.

Once I pick them as close to eating as possible, I stick them in this mini-sinkful of cold water for a good 10 minutes or so (ice cubes in the water if it’s a really hot day) and then spin them in the salad spinner (another girl’s best friend in the kitchen) to dry as much as possible, before either eating or tossing into a zip-seal plastic bag with plenty of air in it in the fridge.

To me, the perfect salad dressing is 3 parts best olive oil to 1 part best balsamic vinegar, plenty of salt and pepper. But other friends make gorgeous dressings, especially my friend E, whose dressings I think always include raspberry vinegar. E, if you’re out there, can you provide your secret? And the Empress is a fan of a little walnut oil in her dressing, I believe? And what about the rest of you; what makes your green salad spin?

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The platters that matter…

October 13, 2009

4candlesMenu for a 40th birthday lunch

My absence here over the past week has, till now, been almost entirely food-related. Well, celebration-related anyway – and in my family that means food. My sister’s 40th birthday on the weekend involved a bunch of us staying in houses on the coast just south of Sydney, and a few others popping down for the day. The main event was a birthday lunch for 25.

All our old family favourites (both human and culinary!) came to the table – a table groaning with platters of lovely food, it must be said, and as the last stayer at the coastal house I am the beneficiary of my sister’s generosity, still chomping my way through the leftovers.

Sadly I was too busy on the day to take pictures, which is a shame cos it looked beautiful. But nevertheless thought I’d share the menu with you here in case you ever need some stalwart standouts to cook for a crowd – everything on this menu is low-stress, almost all of it can be made ahead of time, every dish can be served warm or at room temperature, the platters set down a long table create an impression of great, colourful generosity and luscious diversity, and with a couple of vegetarians and one coeliac among our guests, this menu makes everyone happy. I’ll gradually add these recipes to the blog down the track – right now I’m still in culinary recovery – but let me know if any strike you as desperately urgent to have now.

  • Oysters – of course! – freshly shucked, with a squeeze of lemon
  • Rare rump of roast beef, according to Stephanie Alexander’s instructions
  • Poached whole salmon (with a horseradish cream for both this and the beef)
  • Zaatar chicken – from the fab Ottolenghi lads
  • Green beans braised in olive oil, garlic, tomato & dill
  • Roast carrot salad with mint & balsamic
  • Citrus couscous salad
  • Fennel, feta, tarragon & pomegranate salad – another Ottolenghi fave
  • Chickpea, roasted red pepper & marinated feta salad (all from jars & cans, but it looks and tastes fab)
  • Lentil, sundried tomato, parsley and Balsamic salad (ditto)
  • Crisp roast potatoes with minted creme fraiche dressing
  • Dessert, made by sweeter cooks than me, was an incredibly good chocolate and coffee birthday cake (Alice, we’ll have the recipe for that, please?) and the Manna from Heaven chocolate crunch made by Miss Jane; this is a lusciously dastardly version of the old fave hedgehog cake, updated into an utterly irresistible  death-by-chocolate experience.

Lunch went on for hours, the birthday girl looked a million bucks, the speeches were lovely, the wine flowed and the love goes on. Thanks Lou and J&B for a great weekend.

And thanks for the leftovers…

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Summoning summer: citrus couscous

September 11, 2009

couscous2One of the many salads we devoured last weekend on our tropical mini-break was a holiday favourite – we have eaten this on every summer camping or beachside weekend away for years and years, so whenever we eat this, it always feels like summer to me. It is spectacularly good with flaked smoked trout and a dollop of mayonnaise. I think the original recipe is from a Gourmet Traveller some years ago, but have no more specific source than that except my friend J, who first gave me the recipe.

The only other thing I know about this dish is that anyone who tastes it loves it, and it keeps happily for days and days as leftovers. So if you would like to summon up summer this weekend, go ahead and try it out. This quantity works well for six greedy grunters (us) or eight more sedate eaters.

Citrus couscous

  • 2 cups couscous
  • 2 cups orange juice (about eight oranges – best if freshly squeezed because you can use the pulp tooo)
  • 1 knob of butter
  • salt & pepper
  • 3 or 4 zucchini, sliced on the diagonal
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 bunch shallots, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (don’t blacken them too much like I did in this pictured one!)
  • 1 bunch mint, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
  • lemon juice to taste (about half a lemon’s worth is good)
  1. Bring orange juice to boil in a small saucepan with butter, salt & pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in couscous till well combined. Leave for at least half an hour.
  2. Lightly toast the pine nuts in a non-stick pan.
  3. Saute zucchini slices in olive oil until well browned and soft.
  4. In a large salad bowl combine all remaining ingredients, and season well. Add the cooled zucchini to the mix.
  5. Take the saucepan and gently comb and scrape the couscous until the grains separate – this takes a while and it’s important to be patient, otherwise you end up with big lumps. Empty the loose grains into the salad bowl as you go. Often the last thin layer has to be discarded.
  6. Stir other ingredients loosely through the couscous until well combined and check seasoning.