Saturday, September 29, 2007

more tales from the spring clean

Nature has a way of giving our body just what we need, exactly when we need it. In summer all that sweet, juicy fruit cools us down. Autumn gives us delicious stores of energy by way of nuts and grains. Winter vegetables come from the ground with starches to keep us going. Spring wakes us up and gives the liver a kick.

It is no accident that I choose this season to do a little detoxing. Leading me into this phase has been some great cleansing foods, fresh herbs like turmeric and nettles. Now as I pull out the other side of a week of mainly fruits and vegetables – it is time for one of my fast becoming favourite medicinal foods: artichokes.

This edible thistle is not only a flavoursome treat but a nifty way to lower cholesterol, encourage healthy liver function and a whole lot more. As Melbourne commences it’s down hill run – from grand final day today (aha, that’s why I can here people screaming outside!), through the spring racing carnival, then into the Christmas/New Year sprint – this liver assistance could not come at a better time.

While you can simply steam artichokes and dip the leaves in something luxuriously fatty, like olive oil or melted butter, I prefer to turn them into a complete meal. This is another variation on the Significant Eater’s stuffed artichokes. Befitting the upside of the end of my detox I whipped up this vegan, gluten-free version for lunch.

Vegan stuffed artichokes

nut mix
raw pistachio nuts (we were out of pine nuts)
1 cloves of garlic/per artichoke
a handful of parsley
1 sun dried tomato/per artichoke
(or a dash of salt and pepper)

Grind together in a food processor

Combine 1 part nut mix with 1 part rinsed, uncooked quinoa. I’m always amazed at how much stuffing can fit into the nooks and crannies of an artichoke. Depending on the size, you can squeeze in up to 1 cup.

Trim the top off the artichoke and rub with a little lemon juice to stop discoloration. Discard any outer leaves that are tough. Cut off the stalk and set aside to steam. Now start stuffing. Starting on the outside, ease apart the leaves and push in the mixture. It is easiest to use your hands. I tend to do it over the bowl holding the stuffing mix. Ease your way around, to fill in as many layers as you can be bothered with. I’ve often thought of Shirley Conran when I do this and mutter “and you thought life was too short to stuff mushrooms – try artichokes sometime!”

Place the stuffed artichokes in a steamer, along with the stalks and cook for 45-60 minutes. The leaves should be tender and the quinoa all light and fluffy.

To eat, peel off a leaf and scrape the stuffing off with your teeth.

Definitely not a dish for knives and forks.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I've had an extraordinary amount of hits with the following search line:

"which grumpy Torquay hotelier shares his name with a herb"

It seems rather obvious, doesn't it?

But my question is what quiz or puzzle in the UK is asking this?


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

detox discovery #1

I've realised I really don't like sprouted mung beans. I've always loathed peas and now with tastebuds so acute I've decided they are too pealike to enjoy. They've spoiled 2 salads so far til I realised what it was.

This confirms it - I never was, nor never will be, a hippy!


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an aside

I seem to not be the only one not writing about food.

The Age's Epicure publishes each Tuesday, with a a few odd extra articles thrown in along the way. One that appeared yesterday was most curious - a puff piece about Jamie Oliver's sex appeal. Not about food at all, unless you stretch things a little. Afterall the point of the article was to say that Antipodean women find him a tasty dish.

Come on Epicure, stick to food and leave mindless PR pieces for the glossies.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

spring clean

Fresh peppermint from the garden, straight to the pot for tea.

Apples, about 5 or 6, thinly sliced and munched through the day.

A few pots of ginger, cinnamon and lemon tea.

This is not the most exciting tale to tell on a food blog but this is all I consumed yesterday. The previous weeks have been littered with celebrations – bottles of sparkling and cool sauv blancs on sunny days, seafood and salads, the morning hit of espresso to fuel the writing.

All this is gone for a short hiatus. So too is reading other peoples accounts of food or watching gastroporn on TV.

I documented my spring clean detox last September, so scroll back to the beginning of the month to catch up on the highlights. So as not to repeat myself, I’m taking this week off – til normal eating resumes!

My parting thoughts are – remember it is just food, nothing more, nothing less. It is always good to take a break from our obsessions.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Inspired “adult” party food of my childhood

Ah parties! In our little neighbourhood this meant it was either New Year's Eve or Election night. Us kids would be allowed to stay for a while to hand around the food and be patronised by adults before we were packed off to bed and the real fun started.

Memorable highlights of such suburban delights include:

The “snip, whisk, dip” dip: packet onion soup and reduced cream served with crisps

A cube of cheddar and a chunk of tinned pineapple skewered on a toothpick and artfully jabbed into half a grapefruit, hedgehog like

Crudités: always celery and carrot sticks, another hunk of cheddar and probably some gherkins

If things were a bit smaller or classier – the occasion would call for a round of prawn cocktails. Actually they were small tinned shrimps on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce held together with this pink goo, misnamed as mayonnaise. The dressing involved condensed milk* and Worcestershire sauce. It was considered the height of sophistication

What forbidden grown up food did you use to covert as a child?

* the really scary is that if you search "shrimp cocktail" + "condensed milk" today you will get thousands of hits for cocktail sauce recipes ‘updated’ with exotic additions to the canned milk, like mango chutney or lime juice.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

love it or hate it

This horny creature is a durian.

Not living smack bang in the middle of Asia, these goodies take a while to get here. This one was rather brown but the fruit was still creamy and sweet.

It's a rich food, full of natural fats and sugars. To me it tastes of slightly burnt caramel.

Now the problem is some people don't like it because it's a bit whiffy. The odour is due to a number of volatile constituents including ketones and sulfur. Some might say that could mean the bastard offspring of a rotten egg and nail polish remover. But really, it is not that bad.

There are various customs around how and when durian is eaten, which I never heard the first time I had this luscious fruit. It was hacked apart about the time a bottle of delightful champagne was opened and the combination of the two made many increasingly unhappy returns!

These days a segment of durian eaten straight, in the sun is good enough for me.

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...and here's one I did earlier

It has been a slack week, not really, just a busy one. So in the tradition of all things media "make and bake: - here's something I prepared earlier.

One of the quickest things to whip up when friends come by is scones. In rural folklore a farmer (I was going to say farmer's wife - but all women living on farms do the work to earn the primary acolade) on seeing a visitor drive through the gate could knock out a batch of scones in the time it took them to meander up to the house.

This one is a basic Alison Holst scone recipe - with my usual twist of replacing cow's milk for soy, swapping the flour for wholemeal and with the addition of some sundried tomatoes. Great with butter - on their own or with a vegetable soup. The whole thing can be made in food processor, rolled out and into the oven in a matter of minutes.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

just a little treat or 2 before the detox

as I began writing this a sweet, young thing walked past my window talking on her phone, she sang "summer time and the drinking is sangria!" ...well it made me giggle :)

Spring has arrived - the puddles of warmth are hinting at picnics yet to come, salads are already back on the dinner table and for some it apparantly means sangria season (though for me it is the return to sauv blanc and sparkling). Spring also means detox time. This year it has been harder to slip in, with a an apparent solar-fueled rush to socialise again. A date has been set, quarantined from requests to sup and dine. I think you will notice when it begins.

In the meantime a neighbour offered me a dozen eggs "fresh from the chooks bums" - how could I refuse. Having already had scrambled eggs for breakfast, I felt some compulsion to do some baking or something otherwise extravagant with the surplus. The early hint of hayfever puts me off a full on flourfest but an old family recipe came to mind and I whipped up a round of irresistable chocolate mousse - this time even richer with a block each of Lindt 70% and 85% chocolate. While the dark goodness melted I dipped a few of the ridiculously out of season strawberries the Significant Eater insists on buying. This way there is a chocolate treat tonight, while we wait the agonising 12 or so hours for the mousse to set.

Spring is known for many things - patience is not one of them! I'd better enjoy it while it lasts as a week or two of austerity beckons. All the better to enjoy the other delights of the season!

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

WHB #99 - Kaffir lime leaves

As the sun has decided to smile down upon us again an automatic gear shifting has crept into the kitchen. The porridge pot is put away and instead the oats are soaked in soy and eaten cold with fresh fruit and nuts. Likewise the desire for salad is consuming me. All week I have been blanching and tossing all sorts of green things with dressings.

The trip to the market rendered the dearest little spring stalks of asparagus, practically vibrating with organic goodness. Blanched for less than a minute, at this end of the season they have amazing sweetness. The other find was a bag of fresh kaffir lime leaves. I have a weak spot for these flavour bursts of lime. Sure you can use them in curries but uncooked, finely sliced they add life to salads when sprinkled on top or incorporated in a dressing.

Chickpea and asparagus salad, with kaffir lime dressing
Serves 2 hungry vegetarians as a main or many for a side dish

2 cans organic chickpeas (home cooked would be better), rinsed well
a generous handful of asparagus, blanched and refreshed in ice water
1 avocado, diced
2 organic eggs, hard boiled and diced
a big handful of parsley, chopped
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds, toasted

Assemble in a pretty bowl, dress and toss.


the juice of 1 lemon
twice as much olive oil to lemon juice (pumpkin seed oil also goes well)
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2-4 tsp Dijon mustard
1-2 kaffir lime leaves*, very finely chopped
a little sea salt and ground black pepper

Shake the ingredients in a jar or whisk in a bowl. I like it on the tangy side but you can add more oil if you don’t. The lime leaves add an extra burst of citrus.

* kaffir lime leaves store well in the freezer in a ziploc bag and can be used straight away. The photo above is taken of a leaf that had been frozen for a few days, snapped a couple of minutes out of the freezer. Other than having a tree in your garden or in a pot, this is the best way I have found to preserve the flavour and deep green colour.

Weekend Herb Blogging is bought to you this week by Katie at Thyme for Cooking - don't forget to check her site on Tuesday for this weeks round up.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

blind cooking

No, not cooking for the vision impaired, or even blind baking – this is creating in the kitchen without tasting the food. It is a concept that is alien to me, not checking the seasoning, trusting only sight and smell. But twice recently I have cooked meat dishes for my parents, casseroles to tide them over for a few days before I fly off back to Australia. For years I couldn’t even contemplate the idea of smelling meat but at least their kitchen is well ventilated and the joy of casserole making is that most of the cooking is done safely enclosed in both a dish and the oven.

Considering it is at least 2 decades since I last ate meat, I can’t even think of when I previously cooked it and if I ever made a humble beef stew in my life. Some how, once learnt, the techniques never leave you. I’m told both versions of this dish were tasty and well appreciated. They are simple and surely no great variation on what has been made for years. But I will record them for posterity, just to show – though I don’t want to ever make it or smell it in my own home, there are some things you will do for your family.

Food I don’t eat any more #2 – Beef Casserole

quantity depends on how much you want to make – just play it by ear

mustard powder (optional)
olive or other vegetable oil
500-750 g diced beef (go for grass fed/organic where possible)
1 large potato, peeled and diced into chunks
2 carrots, sliced
1 large onion
2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
mixed herbs, a large pinch
1 can tomatoes, chopped OR 1 large glass of red wine (something heavy like a cab sauv)
1/2 – 1 litre beef stock (avoid the nasty cubes and go for a preservative-free liquid version)
salt and pepper to taste

In a clean plastic bag toss in about 1/2 cup or more of cornflour, seasoned with salt and pepper, and a tsp of dry mustard powder if desired. Now throw in the diced beef and shake til coated. In a heavy based fry pan, heat oil and add the beef in batches, so they can seal on the outside (go a bit brown) without getting overcrowded in the pan and start stewing instead. When the meat has begun to brown place in a casserole dish. If you wish, deglaze the pan with some stock so all the meaty bits are scraped off and added to the casserole. Add all the remaining ingredients (veg, herbs, tomatoes or wine and seasoning) to the dish, cover and cook long and slow in the oven -160-180c for a couple of hours should be fine. If you’d like the gravy to be a bit thicker, put a couple of teaspoons of cornflour in a cup and scoop out a little liquid to thicken it into a paste, then add back to the stew.

I reckon mushrooms would be nice too.

This nostalgia dish is gluten-free, dairy-free but unfortunately is not vegetarian friendly.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

even more eating in Wellington

Another mad dash across the Tasman to attend to family affairs. In 4 days I managed to cram in 2 birthdays, a 2 part breakfast on the same morning, eat 3 other meals in Asian restaurants, a lunch at the wonderfully quirky Maranui SLS Café and cook 2 dinners.

One old favourite stood out - Kazu in Tory St, is a better than average mid-priced Japanese restaurant. By Australian standards, even before you get the benefit of the dollar difference, it is very good value for money. The sushi was tender, as was the calamari with miso and garlic. The tempura included pieces of fish and 2 discs of a vegetable and shrimp medley which got full marks. Our final dish of eel on rice appeared as a large fillet of teriyaki eel which was tasty and generous. If we’d had room for it, one of the specials – a vegetarian sharing plate (NZ$18 for 2) was very tempting.

sushi at Kazu

I have mixed feelings about Ernesto (Cuba Street). A member of the Havana/Fidel’s empire, I keep going back for more. I like the feel of the place, light and spacious with art and wood. This kind of look wouldn’t be out of place in Melbourne. There is table service, which varies from professional to haphazard. When it is good, it is very, very good – but in half a dozen excursions (for breakfast, lunch and dinner) in the past 9 months – I still can’t put my finger on what is missing. Mostly the food is great, though the cornbread with roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach is a touch on the small side. The coffee is reliable, as it is in most Wellington establishments these days. Something just doesn’t add up – but not so badly that I don’t go back to check them out every now and then.

As for cooking, I hope to be back on the horse any day now.

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