Sunday, January 28, 2007


A bowl of lush red chilies, of unknown hotness, has come my way. I love gifts from people's gardens. This season of abundance is full of many delights. So what to do with 7 chilies?

Pound up some hot curry paste
Slice finely to scatter through a Thai salad
Make a pot of vegetarian chili beans
Spice up a stir fry

What would you do?

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Real women make quiche…and multitask

She slices, she dices, she make four dishes simultaneously - she can even bake blind!

On Thursday night I whipped up a savoury flan for dinner while charring an eggplant for babaganoush, prepping the ingredients for smoked salmon tartlets, salsa and sundry other morsels for an Australia Day get together.

The ability to multitask can amaze me some days.

I’d decided to transform the robust bunch of silverbeet into a flan with leeks and tomato. While I thawed the pastry and fired up the oven, it occurred to me that I could be sweating off some onions in advance for the next day’s feast and while I was at it, why not cook the eggplant for the dip? From there it snowballed into a 90 minute frenzy. Surprisingly, everything turned out just as it should.

the onions slowly cook, while the eggplant is licked with flames on the back burner, out of shot the silverbeet soaks, the leeks are sliced and eggs are beaten

It has taken me more than 6 months to risk defiling the new stove top to cook eggplant the only way to make the tastiest babaganoush. Short of having a wood fired barbecue to cook it on, the best thing is to slowly char it on the gas burner. I did take some precautions – laying down foil to catch the drips and covering every possible part of the burner. It’s a very primitive way to cook in a modern kitchen, but that is perhaps why it is so satisfying. It helps to have an efficient extractor fan to stop the smoke detectors being set off. Turn the eggplant frequently as it cooks with a pair of tongs. It is done when a skewer can easily go through the flesh. Once cooked place it in a strainer and let it drip over the sink. When cool enough to handle, peel away the burnt skin. A few specks of black are ok, adding to the wonderful smoky flavour.

a flaming fruit is not the easiest thing to photograph while multitasking madly

Smoky babaganoush

1-2 eggplants, cooked and skinned
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1-3 tablespoons, tahini
1-2 lemons or limes, juice
a pinch of salt

Mash the eggplant with a fork, resisting the urge to put through the food processor which makes the dip too smooth. Add the other ingredients, tasting and adjusting as you mix. The final product should have a little texture, enough garlic to flavour without overwhelming and a balance between the deep nuttiness of the tahini and sharp tang of citrus.

Silverbeet and leek flan

Make some puff pastry or thaw a premade sheet. Oil a flan tin and set the oven to hot, about 185-200c. Line the dish with pastry – pricking it all over, cover with baking paper and fill with beans or weights. Cook for about 15 minutes and remove from oven. This is called blind baking but to be on the safe side, keep your eyes open.

Wash the silverbeet well and strip away the thick spines. Chop roughly and leave to drain.

Slice the white parts of some leeks (1-2 is enough) and sauté in a large pan with some olive oil and garlic til soft. Slowly add the silverbeet a handful at a time, as it cooks down there is room for more. Do so til the silverbeet is just cooked. Grate in a little nutmeg before taking off the heat.

Beat some organic eggs with salt and pepper. The amount of which depends on the size of your flan tin and how eggy you want it to be. I used 5 small eggs, with no milk, for a medium sized dish.

Place the leek and silverbeet mixture in the pastry shell, cover with the beaten eggs and top with slices of tomato and a few slivers of dried tomato if desired.

Once again size will determine how long this takes to cook – usually 20-25 minutes. Start checking after about 15 minutes.

The flan is delightful hot, but can be eaten cold.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

If you can’t stand the heat

My journey cooking whole fish continues.

Another hot Melbourne day with some time to idly flip through cookbooks. For such tropical weather, “Luscious” (a Marie Claire production) seemed to fit the bill and with 2 small snappers in the fridge it was hard to go past their very simple recipe for coconut snapper.

This is the weather for lazy cooking, low effort, easy to both prepare and digest. I love short, uncomplicated recipes – a modest list of ingredients and succinct method seduces me more than a multi-staged, all day in the kitchen extravaganza. Though as much as I hanker to be a disciplined cook and follow recipes to the letter, I usually falter at the final jump and take a little detour. If I’d followed my instincts with this one I would tweaked the recipe more significantly, but in an attempt to be dutiful to the writer I only added one ingredient and played with quantities a little.

Coconut Snapper From “Luscious”, with a small Food Nazi detour

Note: this dish requires 2 hours to marinate and some free shelf space in the refrigerator.

2 small (400-500 g) snappers, cleaned and scaled
2 spring onions, finely sliced (on the diagonal looks good)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tab finely grated ginger
1-2 red chillies depending on your ability to deal with fire
1 tin (300ml) coconut milk

…and also
a large splash of fish sauce

…and next time I will add

2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
1-2 stalks of lemon grass, bruised and roughly chopped
the juice of 1 lime
1/2 – 1 tab palm sugar

First prepare the snapper. Make sure the fish really is clean and all the scales have been removed - its worth the extra effort to avoid coming across rogue scales when you are eating. Make several deep cuts into the thickest part of the snapper, on both sides of the fish. Set aside.

In a bowl combine all remaining ingredients.

Sit the fish in a single layer in a suitably sized baking dish and pour the coconut mixture on top. Cover the dish with foil and leave to marinate in the fridge for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180c and bake the fish, covered with foil, for 20-30 minutes or until cooked through.

Verdict: On reading the initial recipe I was attracted to the simplicity but thought it looked a little bland. The addition of the fish sauce helped lift the flavour but it really needed some citrus and a touch of sweetness to elevate it to true fabulousness. Even without the added twist, it was an enjoyable meal, served with some basmati rice and some salad.

Bonus: The cooking dish was surprisingly easy to clean afterwards, the marinade and moderate cooking heat meant no baked on mess.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The prizes are drawn, so pop by and see if you are a winner in the Menu for Hope raffle at Chez Pim.

The real winner is the UN World Food program, who thanks to food bloggers and their friends are the recipient of almost (US)$61,000, which will fill many less fortunate bellies than our own. Not bad, don't you think? run along and check the prizes!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

vegetarain festive dishes

Despite a previous brain melt down I did manage to whip up some transportable vego treats to add to the Christmas table. Along with dips and other store bought goodies, my sister and I managed to throw together a small mountain of cooked dishes that could be dispersed amongst the turkey, ham, salads and baked vegetables that groaned before us. My motto has always been “the simpler, the better” and with only an hour or so to spend in the kitchen before we journeyed over the hill, time and transportability became the deciding factors. The winners in the festive food sweepstakes were tarts and frittatas. Frozen puff pastry is a goddess send when trying to make something seem a little less ordinary and a dozen eggs can always be whipped into an impressive dish.

Tomato Tart

1 sheet of puff pastry (frozen is fine)
4-8 tomatoes
a little olive oil or melted butter to drizzle on top
2-3 tsp caster (superfine) sugar

Heat the oven to 180c.

Arrange the (thawed) pastry sheet on a lightly floured baking sheet and lightly mark a border of about 3cm. Inside the border place slices of tomatoes til pastry is covered. Fold over the border to create a slight rim around the tart. Sprinkle with oil/butter and sugar.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes.

Before serving scatter some finely chopped green herbs (eg: parsley) for contrast.

Tomato, goats cheese and olive tart (made by Sue)

1 sheet of puff pastry
sliced tomato
pitted Kalamata olives
crumbled sheep or goats cheese
garlic, crushed (optional)
sea salt and crushed black pepper.

Heat the oven to 180c.

Mark out the pastry to form a border as above. Layer tomatoes and then scatter with olives, cheese and garlic. Season with salt (go lightly) and pepper. Form an edge around the tart. Sprinkle with a little olive oil.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes.

Before serving scatter some rocket (arugula) or torn basil over the tart.

A trio of mini frittatas
(gluten-free, dairy-free )

Line muffin tins with non-stick baking cases or grease well.

The custard
eggs (about half an egg per frittata), beaten with a little salt and pepper

The fillings
slow cooked, or caramelised onion slices cooked with garlic
plus: sliced sun or semi-dried tomatoes
or: crumbled fetta or goats cheese with finely chopped green herbs
or: strips of smoked salmon and capers

Line the muffin pans with the cooked onions and top with your choice of additional fillings. Cover with the egg custard, to about 2 cm from the top of the pan. Cook in a moderate oven (around 170 c) for about 15 minutes. Test with a skewer to check the frittata is cooked.

* this trio worked well suiting the nonlacto vego, the non-cow vego and the meat eaters who loved the smoked salmon.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007


I really want to post. I'd like to write about tomato tarts and mini frittatas, mention the delicious roasted cauliflower pasta and other simple treats. I do, I will.

Just now it's hot. Too many bushfire smoke filled days in the 30c's. Too little sleep, tossing about on nights where the barometer doesn't slip below the 20c's.

I'll be back with the next cool change.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

cooking for the not so young or restless

A belated welcome to another year of all things food! I’ve been recovering from a rather difficult trip to my homeland. In the past such festive visits have featured much eating and drinking, with special treats like my mum’s chocolate mousse and rhubarb stewed fresh from the garden. There’d be lemons on the tree (that never really thrived but provided just enough) and plenty of fresh parsley in the herb patch. Though the house and people are still there, nothing is left of the garden. My mother is not well and thoroughly over producing 3 meals a day for my now retired father.

I took on a week or 2 of caring for my parents. Finding a balance of small treats to tempt one ailing appetite and another ferociously hungry from neglect. A small wedge of omelette with a touch of salad on one plate and a large slice on the other with grilled bacon. My father craving meat after too many dinners of frozen fish fingers and peas, while my mother could barely stomach any flesh foods.

As a child I’d read home nursing books, ancient tomes from a bygone era. The pages were musty. They talked of strict routines and ridiculous rules. I remember giggling at their archaic protocols. As silly as it was, we have lost the concept of convalescence and caring for an ‘invalid’. Though the types of foods suggested back then would turn my stomach – blancmange, things in aspic and lots of insipid white food. For now my quest was encouraging someone as they aged to find easy but nutritious choices. While plating food for my mother, the advice of small serves on a pretty plate, came back to me. Ultimately she would eat twice as much if it were divided into half serves, casually asking if she’d like a little more.

In a supermarket I found some delicious vacuum packed varieties of smoked fish in the refrigerator. The kingfish was firm fleshed and I would have preferred to toss it through a salad of mixed lettuce with a tangy citrus dressing. For the older generation I knew it would need to be cooked and certainly if salad was to be made it could only have ‘real’, aka iceberg, lettuce. Abandoning my own desires, I substituted the smoked kingfish for the smoky bacon my mother had used in the past for a delicious home fried rice dish. It went down a treat and they barely noticed I’d slipped in a few more vegetables than they were used to. The next week, I used some smoked blue cod in a classic kedgeree, alarmed when I found the very old container of Madras curry powder for the only seasoning but relieved when despite its age it still packed a delicious punch. Both dishes were a winner, pleasing all ends of the appetite spectrum.

The role reversal was made even more humourous by being the healthy child trying to coax fussy adults to eat more fruit and vegetables. The kedgeree hid finely grated carrot that I’d sautéed with onion and garlic, the colour camouflaged by the turmeric in the curry powder.

Kedgeree Kiwi Style

Other than the carrot (which no one noticed) this looked and tasted like a more traditional version of the dish. For a different version check out this earlier recipe

2 cups cooked basmati rice
1 large onion, finely diced
1-2 carrots, grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder (or similar, quantity to taste)
Smoked cod – 100-200 gm per person, cut into smallish pieces
2-3 boiled eggs, quartered
Vegetable oil

Remember to cook your rice and boil your eggs before starting on the rest of the dish. I cook rice by the absorption method – bringing the rice to the boil in twice the quantity of water and simmering for about 12 minutes. Then set aside with lid on to continuing steaming while I start the onion.

Sautee the onion in a large, heavy based fry pan with sufficient oil. Add carrot and garlic then curry powder. On a low heat, add the fish and warm through for a couple of minutes. Add a knob of butter and stir through the still warm, but not at all soggy, rice. The butter helps coat the grains with the spicy sauce. The rice should turn golden from the curry powder. Check the seasoning, add salt if necessary – some smoked fish can be very salty so leave this til last to get the right balance.

Optional: A generous quantity of chopped parsley or coriander is great to add, the best I could do was sprinkle some finely sliced green tops from spring onions.

Top with quartered boiled eggs and lemon if you wish.

Notes on cooking for the sick or the elderly

Use smaller plates. From the remains of their wedding crockery were some lovely entrée (in the English rather than American sense of the word) plates sized between a bread and butter and main course plate, which was perfect.

Don’t crowd the plate, use small portions and if cleared, leave a few minutes and offer a little more.

Peel and cut pieces of fruit into bite sizes – a small bowl of quartered strawberries to nibble on after dinner worked well.

Cut vegetables into small pieces to mix through with other ingredients, rather than heap large chunks of veg on the plate.

Go easy on fats, they are hard to digest and dull the appetite.

Alcohol is another appetite suppressant, try to skip pre-dinner drinks, or use bitter aperitifs in a small glass.

Keep them hydrated. Tea, coffee and alcohol deplete body fluids. Spring water in a medium sized crystal glass with a slice of lemon can look more appealing.

Don’t tip toe over too many eggshells – remember humour can be the best medicine.

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