Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Flashback – citrus couscous

December 13, 2013

citruscouscousLast night I made this lovely couscous salad – we haven’t eaten it at home in a couple of years I think, and now I can’t imagine why. It’s very good. I remembered it because I watched Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals the other day and he made some terrific lamb rissoles with pistachio, honey & thyme, and he served it with couscous.

The recipe for this salad is here, posted way back in 2009!

The meatballs were excellent – I’m a big fan of the J-man – and extremely easy. The recipe isn’t online, but I’m wondering if that book might be a very good present for cooks for Christmas (though of course everything takes longer than 15 minutes – I’d double the time personally, though the meatballs certainly didn’t take any longer than that).

But anyway, back to the couscous. Recommended – and it keeps forever and ever and a day.

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Grrrr, apology

December 9, 2013

Hello subscribers! Sorry about that chief – WordPress destroyed my last blog post immediately after I made it. I’ve rewritten and reposted, so it is available again here: https://howtoshuckanoyster.com/2013/12/09/christmas-material-a-festive-salad/

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Christmas material: a festive salad

December 9, 2013

photo 2[2](Take two! Sorry about the disappearance of first draft – I blame WordPress!)

A few weeks ago, when we had some pals round for dinner, I made a salad. I had planned an attempt at replication of one of the most perfect dishes I have ever eaten – a beautiful little salad I ordered as an entree in a Rome restaurant back in October (I could go on, and on, and on about that holiday but I won’t for fear of bursting into bitter tears of post-holiday-self-envy).

It was such a simple thing: a scattering of semi-roasted cherry tomatoes, a handful of tiny, sweet Ligurian olives, and a large, perfectly fresh zucchini flower – uncooked – filled with the most delicious ricotta I have ever tasted. It was one of those dishes that depends absolutely on the quality of each element, yet was so utterly simple, who wouldn’t want to try making it?

photo 5Well, things didn’t exactly to go plan for my dinner. For some reason the day came and rapidly went in a shambles of chaos and disorganization. I can’t recall what  put me in such a flap that day, but it was one of those afternoons of delays, interruptions, annoying shopping glitches – I couldn’t get enough zucchini flowers for the number of people, and the flowers were nowhere near the fresh, springy, silky quality of the one I ate in that dish. And nor could I find any really good ricotta in time. And I decided to add some asparagus to make up for lack of flowers, and my Ligurian olives were boring old kalamatas. By dinnertime, I had reverted to my usual cookery approach: 1. Get all the stuff. 2. Chuck it in a bowl. 3. Stick it on the table.

photo 3The one thing I did get right was the roasting of the tomatoes – little cherry lollybombs of sharp, salty sweetness with a concentrated delicious flavour. Easy to cook, but also easy to overdo at the last minute.

Still, despite being a completely different animal from the elegant entree of my memory, the salad was really quite nice. And one of the friends present liked it so much she told me later she’d decided to make it for her family’s Christmas lunch.

Well. I happened to run into her last week, and she told me she’d given it a trial run at home from her memory of the one we had, as you do. Her bloke and daughter ate the test dish, gave her a dubious glance and said, “Well, it’s not Christmas material.”

Not Christmas Material.

Them’s fightin words, pal.

When I repeated this outrage to Señor and said I’d be making it again and this time writing down what I did, he said: “Is that going to be the headline? Not Christmas Material My Arse?”

So here, in the spirit of reputation reclamation and hopefully the restitution of a Perfectly Good Salad to Miz G’s Christmas table, is a recipe.

The key thing, I reckon, is to use as high quality everything as you can, and  to make sure to roast the tomatoes very slowly. You can do the whole thing ahead of time and then just eat it at room temperature – or eat it warm just after cooking.

Ingredients

  • assorted cherry tomatoes
  • sea salt
  • spray olive oil
  • 2 or more bunches asparagus spears, cut into thirds or halves
  • best black olives you can find – the little sweet plump Ligurian ones are perfect
  • fresh zucchini flowers with tiny zucchini attached
  • best quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing
  • Best quality soft goat’s cheese or Persian feta

Method

photo 1[2]1. Halve the cherry tomatoes and arrange on baking paper, sprinkle with salt and spray with olive oil. Roast slowly for a couple of hours – I did these at 125 degrees C in a fan-assisted oven for two hours, then turned off the fan and turned down the oven to 100 degrees for another half hour.

2. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for maximum one minute, the refresh in cold water.

3. Halve the zucchini and flowers lengthwise. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick pan and then fry the zucchini on the flat side for a minute over moderate heat. Splash a little water into the pan, add the asparagus and cover for a minute, cooking till both zucchini & asparagus are tender.

photo 3[2]4. In a wide shallow bowl or platter, toss the vegetables, tomatoes and olives gently in a dressing of three parts oil to one part vinegar.

5. When it’s all mixed, dollop a few blobs of feta or goat’s cheese over the platter.

Who knows, with its red and green baubley goodness, this one might even make the grade as Christmas material for our table this year.

So what are your plans for Christmas cooking, hmm?

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Backyard grits

November 29, 2013

photo 2The sound of summer round here is the whoosh of the barbecue flame as it lights, the clunk of crockery on the outdoor table, the clicking of crickets and cicadas, and the occasional high tinnitus whine of a mosquito in your ear. Lazy, cruisy evenings outside are one of the great pleasures of the season in the suburbs, don’t you think? It’s been so rainy around here lately that we’ve taken every opportunity between showers to eat dinner outside.

One of our midweek go-to dinners is a few chunks of salmon chucked on the barbecue and a salad. And the star salad of this week turned out to be this beany number, which now has me addicted to canned flageolet beans.

photo 1A friend who moved from Melbourne to Sydney a couple of years ago was horrified to find that these beans are all but impossible to find in this city. A major problem, it turns out, because as I discovered this week – with a single precious can given to me by said friend – the flageolets are a completely different creature to all the other siblings in the canned pulse family. Much more buttery in texture, smaller and altogether sweeter and more delicious than cannellinis or borlottis, these babies are just too good to miss.

My friend has now found a mail-order source, which just shows how essential they are. But if anyone reading this knows where to get them in Sydney, let me know! (I must say I was horribly ashamed of my city on this matter, because it provided some justification for the gasps of distress from pals greeting news of my friend’s move from the south. One actually asked in consternation, “But where are you going to get food!?”)

Anyway, this salad would of course work just fine with other canned beans or even chickpeas. But with the flageolets it was sublime.

photo 3Ingredients

  • 1 can flageolet beans, drained & rinsed
  • handful of fresh broad beans, cooked & double peeled
  • half a red onion, finely sliced
  • a few anchovies
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • large handful parsley, finely chopped
  • juice of half a lemon
  • a slug olive oil
  • good splash raspberry vinegar  (this really made it pop)
  • salt & pepper

Method

Chuck everything in!

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A sucker for octopus

November 26, 2013

photo 4For ages I’ve wanted to try cooking Big Octopus, as opposed to the baby version which has always seemed much more approachable. But over the last while, a few thick slices of pickled or marinated or grilled but always sweetly tender occy in tapas or salads at cool places like Movida and Bar Lourinha in Melbourne and our beloved local Harts Yard in Sydney have given me a taste for tentacles.

So I decided last night to have a crack at a grilled octopus salad. Off to the fish market where I bypassed the baby and medium octopi for the big mamas, and bought a single octopus which weighed a bit over a kilo (our fishmonger removes the head and the beak – if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to do it yourself). After a little research I decided to take a punt with a mix of this and this recipe.

photo 1[1]There’s a lot of advice around about how to cook octopus, but most agree that for tender tentacles, it’s essential to boil or simmer it first. Some folks boil up a big batch and then freeze it (another step in the tenderising process, apparently) so all that’s required is thawing and grilling. I like that idea and might try it in future. I didn’t bother with all the other  recommendations like putting a cork in the water (something to do with tartaric acid) or bashing the crap out of the creature on the back patio first to tenderise it.

photo 2[1]Instead I just brought a big pot of salted water to boil, threw in some eschallots and a few fresh bay leaves, and then dunked the creature into the deep three times. I have absolutely no idea why this is a good idea, but lots of people recommend it. This explains the blurriness of these pictures – it’s quite hard to wrangle a dripping kilo of octopus in tongs in one hand while photographing with the other! Then I dropped it back in, admiring those stunning suckers all the while, covered it with some baking paper (again, not sure of the rationale but I’m an obedient lass) and brought it back to the boil, then turned down to simmer for around 45 minutes.

photo 2When it felt tender when pierced with a skewer, I drained and cooled it under running water, whereupon quite a bit of soft purple skin came away. After that I cut the ‘wheel’ in half and laid the now-soft and still slightly warm tentacles in a glass dish with lots of olive oil, several long sprigs of fresh oregano from the garden, a chopped clove of garlic (received our annual five kilos of Patrice Newell garlic the other day, yippee) and the juice of one lemon. Squidged it all together with clean hands, covered it and bunged it into the fridge for a few hours. Advice for marinating recommends anything from half an hour to overnight, so take your pick. Mine ended up being in there for around five hours.

Then I returned to the desk for an afternoon’s work – back to the novel in progress (and an exciting online project I’m working on with psychologist and coach Alison Manning about managing the emotional ups and downs of the creative life – artists and writers, stay tuned! 

imageOf course it began raining just when I wanted to use the barbecue, so instead I tossed the tentacles in a hot non-stick pan in two batches, cooking for two minutes each side to get that nice lemony golden crust. Then threw them back in the marinade while I fried a few sliced of haloumi for a minute or so each side.

I sliced the tentacles into a few pieces and then chucked the lot into a pile of fresh lettuce leaves (growing lettuce in pots is one of the joys of summer, so easy and soooo much better than bought stuff) with a dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and some chopped preserved lemon.

The result was just about perfect – crisp outside, tender inside and not even faintly rubbery. This would be a lovely lightish yet still substantial entree for four people – but because we are greedy we ate the lot for dinner between two.

Now I’ve mastered the art of tender tentacles I’m going to experiment with lots more uses – tapas, canapés, braises and pickles. Could be the dish of the summer –  if this scarily intelligent species doesn’t rise up and take over our world first, that is…

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On painting, cooking and eating

August 20, 2013

ImageMartin Gayford’s Man with a Blue Scarf

In an experiment in disconnection over the past week (a diary-style magazine piece on what it’s like to return to total offline life for seven days) I’ve done a lot of reading. In time away from the internet I discovered a lovely rich sense of privacy and mental spaciousness, even allowing for a little rereading. One of the books I’ve dipped into again is an old favourite: Man with a Blue Scarf, by Martin Gayford. It’s an account of sitting for two portraits for the great Lucian Freud, an experience that took over eighteen months altogether.

This is such a beautiful book. I first read it as I wrote this piece here, for The Monthly. It’s perfect for dipping into, as it’s written in short, reflective, elegant pieces.

One of Freud’s conventions is to eat dinner in a good restaurant with his portrait subjects after each sitting, as the latter is a surprisingly demanding physical feat. But Gayford points out it is not just a pleasant reward for what could become ‘a grind’ – it’s also a chance for the painter to keep observing the sitter at close quarters.

There is a complicated relationship between painting, cooking and eating. Quite often the subject matter of painting is food, or as we call it in English, ‘still life’. The French term, nature morte, or dead life, describes it with bleaker honesty. The eatable is, generally speaking, dead matter, animal and vegetable, which if not consumed will soon decay. Living flesh is made by consuming other organisms. That is a fundamental biological process, one that is punningly recalled by Lucian Freud’s painting of a nude with two fried eggs (Naked Portrait with Egg, 1980-81; p 16), as close a visual analogy between the human body and comestibles as exists in the whole of art. 

Artists who are interested, like LF, in the physical being of people are necessarily interested in food.  Francis Bacon used to insist that we are meat, and – though one might disagree about whether there is more to the question – that contention is undeniably true. Moreover, painting – especially the thick and luscious variety often employed by painters who attempt to evoke the texture and weight of bodily existence – often uses techniques that verge on the culinary. Rembrandt, it has been discovered, used a liaison of oil and egg yolk to thicken those wonderful dollops of pigment that he used to recreate the bulge of a nose or the currugations of a forehead. In other words, he was painting with a variety of mayonnaise.

A remark by Sickert comes to mind: ‘The more our art is serious, the more it will tend to avoid the drawing room and stick to the kitchen. The plastic arts are gross arts, dealing joyously with gross material facts … while they will flourish in the scullery, or on the dunghill, they fade at a breath from the drawing room.’

‘Gross material facts’ are exactly the subjects of LF’s pictures, very often. And though many would dispute he deals with them joyously (though I am not sure I would), he does so – I believe – with sympathy, tenderness and, certainly, intense seriousness. From this first evening, the sights and smells of restaurants are mingled in my mind with those of the studio: linseed oil and olive oil, saffron and yellow ochre.

I highly recommend this book – it’s a lively and rich philosophical discussion of Freud, portraiture, friendship and painting. It’s an absolute jewel, and you can buy it here

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Dinner Guests: Kathryn & Lucy’s roast chook

June 11, 2013

roast chook 2Like many bloggers, I often receive offers from companies or people wanting to contribute a guest post here. I almost always decline, because it’s usually someone trying to flog some crappy product or other, with boring writing to boot. But when the excellent and generous Kathryn Elliott of Limes & Lycopene got in touch about the beautiful quarterly magazine she produces with photographer Lucinda Dodds of Nourish MeAn Honest Kitchen – I jumped at the chance. Kathryn is a nutritionist who manages to write about food with generosity and heart. She understands that cooking and eating should be pleasurable, not punitive, and her recipes and advice are always fantastic. She has also been personally generous to me in all kinds of ways so I’m chuffed to have Kathryn & Lucy’s post here – specially as anyone who knows me will recognise that a good roast chook is one of the great joys of my cooking life. Here’s a way to make it just as good but a little better for fitting into one’s jeans. 

Roast dinners: a makeover

Roast dinners are one of those classic, hearty family meals. However we feel many people now hesitate to make this old favourite. Roasting a joint of meat leads to a lot of leftovers and if there’s only a few of you at home, then making good use of those leftovers can become tedious. No matter how good the original roast, nobody wants to still be eating leftovers four days later.

Plus there’s the health factor. The traditional roast, centred on a big joint of meat, with sides of potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings is a heavy, stodgy meal, one which can leave you feeling stuffed and lethargic at the end. If you’re trying to have healthy meals then avoiding the family roast may seem like a good idea.

However, in our latest issue of An Honest Kitchen we’ve taken on the challenge of making over a number of meals, including the traditional roast, because we think a roast dinner can be a good thing – simple to cook, manageable even if there’s only one or two of you at home and healthy. Our Makeover has fewer kilojoules, lots more vegetables and more fibre. It’s a better balanced meal with more nutrient complexity and variety than the traditional roast

roast chook 1How to makeover a roast dinner

In the course of our makeovers we developed a few guidelines which you could use to revamp your own favourite roast dinner:

  1. Use less meat: Rather than cooking a whole big joint of meat, choose a smaller cut with a bone in it. This will cook in a fraction of the normal time, but you’ll still end up with a juicy and flavour filled dinner. In our recipe below we’ve used chicken thighs on the bone.
  2. Don’t avoid potatoes: Roast potatoes are an integral part of the traditional roast and while the anti-carb movement has left them with a poor image, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of potato. It’s all about the size of the portion you eat and what else you put on your plate. Try to make the potato no more than a quarter of the space on your plate.
  3. Make sure you add LOTS of vegetables: Roasting is one of the best ways to cook vegetables. They are simply delicious and you can easily pack a variety of vegetables into the meal. We also avoid peeling and chop the veg into large chunks so there’s no fussy prep work required.
  4. Be careful with the fat: Traditionally a roast chicken is smeared with butter or another type of fat, which gives a crispy skin but is hell for the waistline. Instead we’ve actually skinned the chicken thighs and then added minimal fat in the cooking.
  5. Add flavour: Don’t be afraid to add unusual and strong flavours to your roast, the results can be spectacular. In our recipe below we’ve used Chinese five-spice powder, soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine to produce a roast with a difference. It’s still a roast and still delicious. This was a huge hit with our recipe testers and we’d love to share it with you.

Five Spice Roast Chicken

A twist on the normal roast chook. The whole meal is cooked on a baking tray, so you’ll either need one large tray, to fit all the ingredients, or spread them out over two smaller ones. Serves 2

  • 2 chicken thighs on the bone (about 400g)
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
  • ½ lemon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 400 – 450g potatoes
  • 2 red onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 200g green beans

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Remove the skin from the chicken: If your chicken thighs have skin on them, then it’s easy to remove. Take hold of the skin at one end and gently, but firmly, pull it away from the flesh. You may need to use a knife to help it along. Cut the chicken skin off, using a sharp knife.

Flavour the chicken: Slash the chicken pieces all over, with a knife.You can do this quite enthusiastically, as you want each piece to have several deep cuts on both sides. Place these on a large baking tray. In a small bowl, whisk together the five-spice powder, soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine. Pour the marinade over the chicken pieces and, using your hands, rub the mixture into the chicken pieces. Make sure you push the marinade into the cuts in the chicken and all around the bone. Squeeze the juice from the lemon over the chicken. Roughly chop up the leftover lemon shell and add to the baking tray.

Add the potatoes: Cut each potato into chunks, about 4cm in size. Add these to the baking tray. Drizzle over the olive oil. Place the chicken and potatoes in the oven for 20 minutes.

Prep the vegetables: While the chicken is cooking, peel the red onion and cut each into 6 wedges. Scrub the carrots and cut into 2cm-ish chunks. Trim the beans.

Add the vegetables: After the chicken has been cooking for 20 minutes remove the baking tray from the oven. Turn each piece of chicken and potato over. Add the onion, carrots and green beans. Move them briefly and gently around in the five spice flavouring. Place the baking tray back in the oven and cook for a further 20 minutes.

Let the chicken rest: Take the baking tray out of the oven. Gently remove the chicken to a plate, cover with tin foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Give the baking tray with the vegetables a quick wiggle, to spread the vegetables out and then place the baking tray back in the oven, while the meat is resting. After 10 minutes serve the chicken, together with the vegetables

Cooking Notes:

Chinese cooking wine is made from rice and is often called Chinese rice wine or Shaoxing Wine. Taste-wise it’s a similar to sherry, although it has a more bitter, stronger flavour. Some supermarkets stock Chinese cooking wine and it’s also available from Chinese grocers. You can buy Chinese rice wine in many grades and a brand at the cheaper end of the scale is fine for this meal.

Chinese five spice powder is a staple in Chinese cooking. It’s a mixture of five spices, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, sichuan pepper and fennel seeds and has a wonderful aromatic smell and manages to be sweet, sour, bitter and pungent, all at the same time. Five spice powder is available from the spice section of many supermarkets. It can also be purchased from Chinese grocers.

– Kathryn & Lucy

FrontCoverFor more ideas on making over the meals you love take a look at Kathryn & Lucy’s publication An Honest Kitchen: Makeovers. An Honest Kitchen is a regular publication all about real food that’s good for you. It costs $9.95 for 31 pages of beautifully photographed and punchy, nutritionally balanced recipes – in the very friendly PDF format. 

Each issue is full of simple recipes, practical cooking information and healthy eating advice. The latest edition, Makeovers, in which we revamp popular meals is available in e-format from 11 June.

http://anhonestkitchen.com.au/