Archive for the ‘winter food’ Category

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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/

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Home on the range: Mr Slater’s aubergine

July 11, 2012

Regular visitors to this blog might recall that I am an avid fan of the aubergine.

And winter visitors to our house know that I am also a fan of roasted or oven-baked things of every kind, as it means I can justifiably keep the heat cranked … while Senor reclines in t-shirt and shorts in an oven-induced tropical torpor, I find this kind of temperature juust right…

I’m also a fervent admirer of Mr Nigel Slater, whose recipes and writing in the Guardian I have always loved for their elegance and flair. I have his wonderful veg book Tender, and I shortly hope to deepen my acquaintance with hm via the TV series showing on the ABC – haven’t seen the show yet but look forward to it, to see if he can replace Mr Fearnley Whosywhat in my affections.

I do feel I know him quite personally now, as recently my nieces Anna and Rosie, both budding fine cooks (cue gratuitous photo opportunity – there they are below, after teaching me how to make pasta), sat me down at their house to watch the rather wrenching film version of Nige’s autobiography Toast (they had seen it twice – their other fave watch-over-and-over again movie is Julie & Julia. You can see why we get along).

Anyway – this week my warm feelings for Nigel, the oven and aubergine converged in perfect harmony when I came across Mr Slater’s wondrous Baked Aubergines with Thyme and Cream in Tender, also handily online here at The Guardian. This rich, rib-sticking winter food is something the English do particularly well, I think, do you?

I have now made this twice – once as per his recipe, and once with a couple of very minor variations. Nigel salts his eggplant slices and then fries them in oil before layering with the onion and thyme and garlic, but given that one then swamps the whole thing with cream (oh yes) and also that I am lazy, the second time I just sliced the eggplant and grilled on the barbecue before layering. Or you could dry-fry them or brown in the oven with the same result, I think. I also added some chopped tomato to the onion & garlic, taking a little passegiata down the parmigiana route. The second time I made this I served a big dish of it with some slow cooked lamb and lentils to a table of eight, and everyone loved it.

Nigel’s pristine recipe is at the link above, but my slightly lazier version is this – to serve 8. And I promise, what it lacks in elegance it more than makes up in popularity …

Nigel Slater’s creamy baked aubergine – serves 8

  • 2 large eggplants, sliced 1cm thick & grilled, baked or dry-fried till brown and floppy
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small bunch thyme, leaves picked
  • 600ml thickened cream
  • a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmesan
  • salt & pepper
  1. Saute the onion slices gently in some olive oil till soft, then add garlic and fry a few more minutes.
  2. Add tomato, cook till soft and combined.
  3. Lay half the eggplant slices in the base of an oiled baking tray, then spread most of  the tomato-onion-garlic mixture over the top.
  4. Scatter the thyme over and season this layer.
  5. Layer the remaining eggplant over the mix and then the last of the tomato mixture  (I didn’t do this the second time but it looks nicer and more golden if you leave some onion on the top so I will from now on).
  6. Pour the cream over the whole dish, making sure to go to the edges.
  7. Season, sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake in a moderate oven for around 30 to 40 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
  8. Remove from oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.
Offcuts
Thought I might start to include a small list of other random things I’ve cooked lately at the end of these posts – this week’s list includes:
  • Yoghurt, my new hobby as you know.
  • The slow-roasted lamb served with this aubergine was very similar to this one, though with less liquid and just loads of garlic instead of the other vegies, and as the lamb was only a bt over 2kg I cooked it at 150 degrees for only about four hours – was perfectly falling-off-the-bone and delicious though.
  • Chicken stock (if I don’t have chook stock in the freezer these days I get a bit edgy – but the other day I didn’t think of it till mid-evening, so just chucked everything in the slow cooker till morning –  it was fab, and addressed recommendations I’ve recently been given by more than one good cook to barely simmer the stock and cook it much longer).
  • Our old standby fish curry with salmon instead of prawns & fish – love it – and this time I also made a very basic Charmaine Solomon mattar paneer  (peas & paneer cheese) to go with it (leaving the peas out of the fish one) and the always-fabulous CS leeks mirisata as an accompaniment.
  • Senor made two of Karen Martini’s amazing seafood pies and a huge batch of spag bol for some family friends who are having a rough few weeks. The rough puff pastry for the pies was mine, happily leftover and waiting in the freezer after my beef pies (see below). The seafood pies include Israelis couscous and lots of leek and tasted divine.
  • Another weeknight standby – pasta with cauliflower, chilli, anchovy & pine nuts – ours is adapted from a Neil Perry book but is a standard classic and very similar to this one.
  • And last, as I’m heading off for an intensive writing retreat with some friends next week I’ve made and frozen a few meals – beef pies (from my book but adapted from these ones of Maggie Beer’s), and Maggie’s quite amazing moussaka (more eggplant, hooray!) which includes a layer of pureed pumpkin and is one of the most delicious things you will ever eat – it’s from her Verjuice book which is a revelation.)
What about you all – any weeknight faves you wanna share? Or random triumphs that need boasting about? Eggplant issues? Love to hear your thoughts.

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Walking on sunshine

May 8, 2012

Hello all … well, Love & Hunger has been out for a week today, and I’ve been a little taken aback at how frenetic that week has been. A few radio interviews, a newspaper extract here and there, a couple of reviews, few pieces on others’ people’s blogs – I’m pooped! And on Thursday I’m off to New Zealand for the Auckland Readers’ & Writers’ Festival – very excited as I’ve never been to NZ before – then straight back into the Sydney Writers’ Festival starting in Katoomba on Monday and Tuesday, then more events in Sydney at the end of the week. Plus a couple more interviews. And then more festivals and travelling to come …

When my darling writer friend Tegan (whose novels and stories are some of the finest you shall ever have the pleasure of reading) read Love & Hunger she said I should prepare myself for much communication, because of its conversational nature. She was right.

I have had emails from radio listeners, including one woman who took me to task for my offhand remarks about bad Australian food in the 1970s (“the food of the 1950s to the 1970s is in fact far superior to the food served up today”), and another very moving one from a woman coping with chemotherapy without the support of her friends. I’ve had a gorgeous podcast listener from south-west France email to invite me and my husband to come and enjoy the food of his region, and another lump-in-the-throat email from a young uni student who bought my book after reading The Age extract: “I feel your every word directed to me personally … perhaps you have given me what Elizabeth David gave you all those years ago.”

I have had the most beautiful messages from friends and family who have already read it, often sharing with me what they’ve cooked that day for someone else, or offering me a new recipe apropos of something that’s come from the book. I absolutely love this passing on of ideas and knowledge and experience – as in Tegan’s lovely comments here the other day. It means that for these people at least, the book has worked in the way I hoped it would – as a conversation, a lighter of flame, a nourishing presence. I can’t tell you how happy it’s all making me.

That long and busy week was topped off by seeing Senor playing trumpet at a gig for the first time in a long time for me. It made me so elated to see him play again, because he so talented, and he enjoys it so much. And that event gave  rise to yet another conversation and a new idea, about bringing people together through music, in a new little experiment we’ve got started.

More on that later – but in the meantime, the weather is sharp, and blue-skied, and cold. Which means it’s perfect for this sunshiny roasted pumpkin risotto. It is the business – comfort food with zing and vibrance, first made for me many moons ago by the Empress, and which has become one of my faves. It’s also excellent frugal food, but with absolutely no sense of poverty about it whatsoever.

Roast pumpkin risotto for 8

  • 1 big lump of pumpkin – I used about a quarter of a medium punk for this one, I suppose around 1kg or a bit more…
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • white wine or verjuice
  • 1.5 litres chicken / vegetable stock
  • butter
  • Parmesan
  1. Cut pumpkin into big chunks and roast in olive oil in the oven for up to an hour, until nicely browned and very soft and mashable
  2. You already know how to make risotto, but just in case: gently fry the onion & garlic in oil, pour in the rice and stir until the grains begin to stick to the pan, deglaze with a glass of white wine, then lower the heat and add the hot stock a cup or so at a time, stirring very frequently until the rice is just al dente, and adding boiling water if you run out of stock.
  3. Meanwhile, mash up the pumpkin and then when the rice is just tender, add it to the pan and stir in to get a beautiful orange risotto.
  4. Add a big lump of butter and stir, loosen the mix with more boiling water or stock until it’s nicely sloppy – I detest a stiff risotto – season and then add to a bowl with grated Parmesan and lots and lots and lots of pepper.

 

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Cooking as conversation

April 27, 2012

I have just read Julian Barnes’ The Pedant in the Kitchen, a slender, amusing challenge to sludgy writing of all kinds. I read it in an evening and found it very bracing. It’s come at exactly the right time for me, as with my new book coming out I’ve been asked to write bits and pieces about cooking for various food mags and websites. Anxiety on the release of a new book always makes me feel rather timid just as you’re supposed to project lots of confidence, and as I think about what to write for these things I have felt myself teetering on the edge of a deep crater of magazine-speak about food. You know the kind of thing: “There’s nothing nicer than lunch made with seasonal produce, sharing good food with family and friends,” and so on. The sort of stuff that is accurate enough, yet utterly banal.

So when I visited the lovely people at Books for Cooks in Melbourne earlier this week (if you haven’t been here and you like to cook, you must! But beware – it is a seemingly endless rabbit warren of cookbook goodies, and they have an online store!) and found this handsome yellow volume I found myself clutching at it like a drowning woman. And I hope it’s going to save me from an infection of triteness, because it’s reminded me that all that is really needed for good writing is the truth. A dash of style helps, of course, but the very appealing thing to me about this book is Barnes’ confidence in his own cranky obstinacy. He’s hilariously uptight about recipe books and their instructions, attributing his pedantry to having grown up in a house where men had nothing to do with cooking, and the “late onset” of his own interest in it.

The result of all this…is that while I now cook with enthusiasm and pleasure, I do so with little sense of freedom or imagination. I need an exact shopping list and an avuncular cookbook. The idea of carefree marketing – waltzing off with wicker basket over the arm, relaxedly buying what the day has best to offer, and then contriving it into something which might or might not have been made before – will always be beyond me.

In the kitchen I am an anxious pedant. I adhere to gas marks and cooking times. I trust instruments rather than myself. I doubt I shall ever test whether a chunk of meat is done by prodding it with my forefinger. The only liberty I take with a recipe is to increase the quantity of an ingredient of which I particularly approve. That this is not an infallible precept was confirmed by an epically filthy dish I once made involving mackerel, Martini and breadcrumbs: the guests were more drunk than sated. 

..

My wrath is also frequently turned against the cookbooks on which I rely so heavily. Still, this is one area where pedantry is both understandable and important: and the self-taught, anxious, page-scowling domestic cook is about as pedantic as you can get. But then, why should a cookbook be less precise than a manual of surgery? (Always assuming, as one nervously does, that manuals of surgery are indeed precise. Perhaps some of them sound just like cookbooks: ‘Sling a gout of anaesthetic down the tube, hack a chunk off the patient, watch the blood drizzle, have a beer with your mates, sew up the cavity…’) Why should a word in a recipe be less important than a word in a novel? One can lead to physical indigestion, the other to mental.


What’s so appealing to me about this is my desire to argue with him throughout the book – a sure sign of engaging writing, don’t you think? But it comes from the fact that he seems to have given free rein to his true self – nitpicky, bossy, anxious and a little pooncy. Of course I have no idea what Julian Barnes’ true self is actually like, but a great energy bounces through this work that I feel it would be difficult to fake. And it leads to this feeling that one could really have a great conversation with this book – the opposite of boring public-relations talk of so much food writing, which is the equivalent of talking about the weather all evening at a dinner party. That kind of thing makes you want to dig your eyes out with a spoon, does it not? I think it comes from a desire to be liked –  always death to a piece of writing. 

Barnes also gives voice to lots of kitchen quandaries I have never seen written about before – like his passivity in the face of a surly butcher, for example, or the feelings of betrayal when a recipe’s instructions are belied by the photograph in the book (he has a particularly amusing beef with Nigel Slater). I loved it.

Another thing to love about this book is its brevity. I think it must be a collection of columns from the Guardian newspaper – anyone know? Regardless, each chapter is short and sweet and lively. Which has inspired me to rethink  this blog a bit – it seems to have morphed from a loose collection of short bits and bobs in the early days to a slightly more essayistic form lately. That has been enjoyable, but it means I keep putting off writing here because I feel I don’t have time to do it justice – and I miss it!

So I declare a return, for the next little while anyway, to shorter posts, with or without recipes that may or may not have anything to do with the post itself. Like the one below for a sort of zucchini gratin.

And while we’re on the topic of conversation, I am booked in for lots of events to talk about Love & Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food, which seems to be trickling into bookshops now – official pub date is Monday. Two of the Sydney talks will be with two of the best cooks among my friends – Caro Baum, at the Sydney Writers’ Festival – and Steph Clifford-Smith, at Newtown Library. We are going to have fun (even if I am rather daunted by sharing the stage with Proper Chefs at SWF – eek!) and we would love to see any of you there.

I’m not sure how much to blab about my book here … while it definitely is on-topic, I can understand if you resent me using this blog as a self-promotional tool so tell me if you hate the idea of me citing events and media stuff here? I won’t be offended, I promise. But just before you tell me to shut up I will put a link to the podcast of an interview I did with the charming Joe Gelonesi on ABC Classic FM last week, and another to a chat at the lovely cooking blog of YA novelist Sophie Masson, with whom I had a wonderful natter about food when we met at the Bellingen festival recently.

Zucchini ‘gratin’

Julian Barnes would hate this recipe because I’m not even giving quantities – take that, uptighty whitey Barnsey! This is a dish from an old magazine recipe that I used to have in my clippings folder, can’t remember where it came from, and have now lost. But I just put it together the other night from memory and it was perfectly nice, and very easy. You need:

  • zucchinis, sliced
  • a few dollops of sour cream
  • breadcrumbs, lumpy!
  • thyme, leaves picked – lots
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
  1. Toss your sliced zukes in some boiling water for a few minutes until just tender.
  2. Drain well and mix with the thyme and as much sour cream as you like – I like it quite sloppy – and season well.
  3. Put this in an oven-proof dish while in a separate bowl you mix up the breadcrumbs and Parmesan – however much you wish of each, but enough crumbs to cover the top of the zukes.
  4. Chuck the dish into a moderate oven and bake for around 20 minutes or until the top is golden and crunchy.

We had this with roast chicken, some roasted fennel and carrots with chorizo bits. It was all very fine. 


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The Big Frill

July 9, 2011

Adventures in Offal, Part I

For some time now I’ve been thinking the origins and illogic about my squeamishness about offal. This was prompted by my coming across a rather wonderful essay titled ‘Picky Eating is a Moral Failing’, by Matthew J Brown, in this book, Food and Philosophy.

Brown’s essay elegantly articulates the frustrations I usually feel when I hear someone say “I don’t eat olives / oysters / pumpkin / spinach /whatever”.  The crux of his argument is that to be a ‘picky eater’ – he exempts ethical vegetarians and people with physical conditions like peanut allergy or lactose intolerance – is not only to create distance between oneself and others (especially a host who may have offered the prohibited food), but to choose a narrow, ignorant path through life. He says picky eating is a wilful decision to close one’s mind, shutting down the possibility that a previously unpleasant experience could at another time be found bearable or even pleasurable, and leads to the limiting belief that obstacles should be avoided rather than overcome. In short, Brown believes that to cordon off various foods on the basis that you ‘don’t like’ them is generally to limit one’s potential to grow into an open-minded, generous, fully rounded human being. I love what he says, and agree with pretty much all of it.  And I love the fact he’s prepared to take the risk of such a provocative title, too.

Anyway, of course the article challenged me to think about my own food aversions. I like to tell people I eat anything, and I certainly would eat any food offered to me by the person who cooked it – but reading this essay made me think more about my own quite extreme squeamishness where offal is concerned. Although I am an enthusiastic meat eater, I have never really eaten innards, apart from the odd taste here and there, when I have been surprised into enjoying some of it (most particularly in Asian restaurants, Chinese and Laotian especially). But I have certainly never cooked it, nor chosen it from a menu of my own volition.

At the same time as I became enamoured with Brown’s essay, I was reading a little about the US academic Paul Rozin’s research into the emotion of disgust – and how much of it relates to animality. After decades of research Rozin and his colleagues have concluded, it seems, that the things that most disgust us in Western society are those to do with what might be called base bodily functions – shit, piss, vomit, snot and so on – and with the breach or violation of the ‘body envelope’. With the deep taboo, that is, of innards. Rozin thinks we are disgusted by these things because they remind us of our own animality – and, closely related, our mortality.

So it would seem that according to Mr Rozin, my aversion to liver, kidneys, tongue, brains, gizzards and so on can be traced to a quite natural human fear of my own death. I see a cow’s tongue on the plate, which looks so like a tongue – looks, indeed, so like my tongue, with its entirely recognisable tongue-y shape and little bobbles of tastebuds. And so, deep in my mind is drawn a connection between the death of the creature who owned this tongue, and my own death.

It all makes perfect sense to me, this theory of disgust and my own fear of death – for my aversion to offal doesn’t extend to beef cheeks, say, or pig’s trotters. I love meat of all kinds – the outer casing, if you like, of an animal. But it’s the innardness that has always made me squirm.

But all of this makes no logical sense, of course. And it’s wasteful  – to decide that some bits of an animal are perfectly fine to eat, but others taboo, goes against all the other views I have begun to hold dear about not wasting food. And surely eating meat is slightly more acceptable if the whole creature is put to use, rather than the more decadent-seeming practice of picking and choosing small bits and wasting the rest?

So far, so psychological.

In light of all this I decided it was time to have a good look at and begin to test these fears of mine, to see exactly how strong was my aversion to handling, cooking and eating offal – and whether my squeamishness was purely psychological or did have something to do with taste and texture after all.

So begins, friends, my adventure into offal. Enter the frilliest of all innards – tripe.

I chose tripe (the lining of an animal’s stomach, as you all no doubt know – in this case, cow) as offal adventure number one for a couple of reasons. First, because I have only ever eaten it once before, as a child, and it was so disgusting (in sludgy white sauce, natch) that even my parents didn’t eat it and allowed us all to leave it on our plates – unheard of in our house. But as adulthood has brought many examples of how decent cooking methods and recipes can render previously disliked foods into new favourites, and if the Italians love tripe, smothered in tomato, garlic, parsley and so on, I figured – how bad could it be?

Second, I decided that tripe could surely be no more squidgy and bouncy and rubbery than squid or octopus, both of which I love, and must be bland enough in flavour to allow the aforementioned tomatoey goodness to mask any creepiness of taste.

So today, I tried Stephanie Alexander’s ‘beginner’ tripe recipe – “Tripe with tomato and lots of parsley”.  Here is my introductory tripe dish, Ms Alexander writes, a blend of French and Italian traditions. It can be prepared well ahead and reheated before serving. If you don’t like this, you don’t like tripe. 

First job was to thaw the tripe we bought from the ordinary butcher across the road – if I was going to do this thing, it was a case of seizing the moment and I hadn’t seen tripe on the list at www.featherandbone.com.au, though I’m sure they would have got me some if I’d asked. Tripe is often sold frozen, apparently – I guess because hardly anybody wants it anymore.

Stephanie makes it clear the tripe should be bleached and parboiled, though our butcher (who seemed quite averse to the whole thing himself) couldn’t tell us whether it had been parboiled. A re-reading of Stephanie’s tripe section seemed to indicate that if it’s white or creamy coloured you can assume it’s bleached and parboiled, but times vary (unbleached tripe is grey, apparently, and I can tell you now there is no way I would have managed to be grownup about this if I were faced with grey innards – euurrgggh).

Once thawed, the whole bit of tripe (about 200g) was quite a pretty little pouch of a thing – a kind of soft, frilly sea sponge, and lovely to the touch. Next step was to cut it into strips, make the soffrito, add some bacon (mmm), tomato & vinegar, and then bung in the tripe bits, cook for 30 to 45 minutes. This is where I grew a bit nervous, not knowing what exactly the texture should be.

I decided that I would pretend the tripe was squid – both as a textural guide and to start bending my resistant mind to the possibility of eating it – and was hoping for a similar texture once cooked to tenderness. I consulted Twitter’s resident expert on all things culinary, @crazybrave (aka Miz Zoe who you will recognise from the comments round these parts) who confirmed that I was on the right track. It should have ” a little resistance to the tooth and then be slippery and springy”, she said.

I ended up cooking it for a bit over an hour to get this texture, which was almost right I think. I wonder though if another 10 or 15 minutes might have made it just a tiny bit softer and more pleasing. I tossed a few big spoonsful into a ramekin, topped it with parmesan cheese and bunged it under the grill for a few minutes., as suggested by Stephanie.

Then came the big moment – I tried one piece, and found it really quite revoltingly springy and chewy, though it was tender enough. What was really quite fascinating to observe was how it was my mind that caused the problem. With every chew, my mind screamed: Stomach lining! Quivery Slimy Thing! Animal Innards! DEATH! 

I decided the size of the piece was an issue, and cut the remaining pieces into much smaller ones – Stephanie recommends a strip 2cm by 6cm, but I would suggest for tripe novices these are too confronting. A much smaller slice, eaten with lots of the extremely delicious sauce, is far easier to contemplate. In this way, and by focusing very hard on imagining how my mind would be working if this were squid – Yum! Springy! Tender! Lovely Surprising Texture! – I chomped happily away on a small ramekin full of tripe. Yes, there was a teeny tiny odd twinge of an unusual flavour – which could just as easily have been my imagination – and yes, the frills certainly added a textural frisson that might take some getting used to. But all in all, it was completely fine.

Senor arrived home just as the eating experiment began, and wolfed into a bowl of tripe himself. Being the iron-guts and utterly unflappable gourmand he is, of course he had no truck whatsoever with my mental carry-on, and pronounced it delicious. We still have three more bits of tripe in the freezer, and Senor has declared he’s going to get into a bit of tripey experimentation himself.

So what’s my verdict? What’s the disgust quotient? Well, it was perfectly fine. I was not revolted, as I had expected. But I didn’t love it, and I am fairly sure it will be a long while before I try cooking it again. I have other adventures in innards to pursue, after all.

But if I visited your house and you plonked down a huge bowlful of this stuff, I would no longer stiffen in terror and allow my stomach to flip over itself in panic and revulsion. I already feel much more grownup about tripe, and as a result have much more interest in exploring other offally avenues. And who knows, on another tasting or two (Senor’s cooking next time) I might even find, as I have with so many foods since childhood, from chilli to muesli to oysters, that it soon grows on me and I like it very much.

So what about you? Any offal fans? When was the first time you ate it, and what made you like it?

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Ugly ducklings: Brussels sprouts & chipotle

June 27, 2011

I have never understood why the poor old Brussels sprout is so unfairly maligned.

Even as kids in our house, when the standard treatment for all vegetables was boil till textureless, we never complained about Brussels sprouts, and to my knowledge everyone in my family still chomps down on them with enthusiasm. But I guess the earthiness could be off-putting for kids, and I suppose the occasional metallic sort of bitterness one can experience has given them a bad name. For many winters now I’ve been simply tossing some Brussels sprouts in loads of olive oil and hurling into the roasting pan with other veg, for as we know well on this blog, a little roasting makes everything taste better. And I’m dying to try the pasta recipe offered by Diana in comments on the cabbage post here

It wasn’t until I had eaten these babies prepared by my friend Silas a few years ago that I really fell in love with their gutsy flavour. He steams them, then halves and stir-fries them in the wok in very hot peanut oil until they’re quite charred and deliciously crusted with fried bits.  

It was this approach that I was inspired by last week after I made the acquaintance of a very fabulous new friend, the chipotle chilli. Now, I am very late to learn of this miraculous ingredient. I was alerted to it by a Twitter chat with the fabulous Kathryn Elliott and some of her friends, about vegetarian substitutes for this and that, and chipotle – smoke-dried jalapeno chilli from Mexico – was mentioned as a good substitute for bacon. I was intrigued, as a lack of bacon would be one of the most saddening things about embracing vegetarianism, I have always thought. So off I went to Herbies Spices to get myself a couple of packs of these amazing chillies.

If you have never smelt a chipotle, you are in for a treat – open the pack and the waft of delicious smokiness is overwhelming. Once I opened that packet I wanted to play with its contents immediately, and given that chopped bacon or pancetta has always been a fab thing to add to Brussels sprouts, I decided to give it a whirl. And I am so glad I did.  There seems a kind of poetic justice in the fact that these two ugly ducklings combined – the sturdy, no-nonsense sprout and the wizened, shrivelled lumpy brown chilli – create a thing of such beauty, not only to look at, with the brilliant green and ochre red, but to eat. The chipotle was beautifully smoky, with a mild, rich heat. Its melding with the earthy sprouts and a good squeeze of lemon just gave a great big whack of flavour.

We served it with some good steak and roast fennel. And we’ll be doing so again before too long. This served two gutsers, but could probably go further among those of more restrained appetites. The amount of chilli will depend on the size of the particular one you have, as they seem to vary quite markedly in size, and on the amount of heat you like. Experiment to find your favoured level of warmth. 

Brussels sprouts with chipotle 

  • 250g Brussels sprouts
  • ½ one large chipotle chilli, chopped and soaked for a few minutes in hot water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • sea salt
Method
  1. Steam or boil the sprouts until just tender – mine took 7  minutes – then drain immediately and halve lengthwise, allowing to cool.
  2. Heat the oil in a wok or non-stick pan until very hot.
  3. Toss the sprouts gently in the hot oil until very browned, almost charred, but taking care not to mess them around so much they fall completely apart. 
  4. Add the chilli and a little of the water to the mix and stir. 
  5. Add the lemon juice a little at a time, tasting all the while. 
  6. Add a liberal scatter of salt and serve. 
Has anyone else used the chipotle much in cooking? I would love to learn more about it, and what to do with it next. I am thinking grilled corn on the cob would be pretty darn fabulous with it – and am concocting all kinds of ideas for bacon-substitution in other dishes for my veg friends. All hail the chipotle! 
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Cruciferous crusader

June 13, 2011

Does anyone else find themselves eating significantly more meat in winter?

Sydney weather has turned utterly miserable in the last little while –  freezing temperatures, wild winds and absolutely bucketing rain. It’s fantastic cooking weather so long as you have a well-stocked pantry and fridge, because going out into the rain to forage is vile. I’ve been on a pastry roll (boom tish) during the past week, as I’m determined to improve my competence in that department and have done some experimenting with blind-baking pie bases versus not doing so, with gratifying results, which I’ll post about soon.

But while this weather is perfect for pastry and all that comes with it – rich meat pies, chicken and mushroom pies and so on – the downside to all this is of course the stodge factor, the high meat factor, and the accompanying risk of increasing boombalahdism.

So my challenge in the next while is to find some hearty and delicious winter dishes that depend more on vegetables than meat. I’m happy to notch up the carbs for a bit, because it just feels right to load up a little for winter, but having worked hard to lose some weight in the first half of the year, I would rather not blow all that by going too crazy with the carbs and fat and meat for the next few months.

Enter the humble Brassica family.

My favourite thing of last week was a cabbage accompaniment to some very good pork chops – an old Jamie Oliver number I posted about way back in the early days of this blog. It’s a delicious fatfest – pork, pears, potatoes and parsnip – and needs a sharp accompaniment to balance all that sweetness and stodge.

Cabbage is one of my favourite overlooked ingredients. I think we can all hark back to childhood for some reasonably ghastly memories of flabby, colourless boiled cabbage and that sad, defeated smell. But when it’s done well, cabbage can provide a wonderfully sparky lift to a meal I reckon.  And there is also the virtuous cancer-fighting glow that comes from consuming any member of the Brassica family (love that it sounds so like a contemporary primary schoolgirl’s name, except of course the spelling would need some adjustment.  “Brassikah! Come here! We have to go pick up Crucifera from ballet!”)

In the summer just gone I was introduced to an incredibly good shredded cabbage and Parmesan salad by Caro (she of the roasted cherry chutney and many other goodies on this blog), which I will tell you more about some other time. But this not being salady weather, this week I adapted a couple of different recipes to come up with the following side dish. I recommend it.  Oh and please forgive the low photo quality – all this getting dark at 5pm makes good evening photography an impossibility…

Cabbage with caraway and currants

  • olive oil
  • ¼ cup (or less) finely chopped bacon, pancetta or speck
  • 2 French shallots, finely chopped
  • few cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ head of shredded white cabbage
  • ½ cup of cup verjuice
  • large handful currants
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. Saute the bacon, shallot and garlic in a good splash of oil until soft.
  2. Add the cabbage and stir thoroughly to coat with oil, fry over high heat for a few minutes.
  3. Add the verjuice and stir to mix well.
  4. Add currants and caraway seeds, cover and cook for a few minutes more until cabbage is tender but retains a touch of crunch. Season & serve.

And now I’d love some ideas from you about hearty, warming, non-meat dishes for winter. What are your favourites?