Sunday, April 27, 2008

long weekend in food

A great, long weekend in this part of the world, with as much time as possible spent in the sun, reading and lazing under the grapevine. There has been some cooking and a little eating out but thought I’d share what I've done with some of that shopping.

Thursday – roasted the snapper (actually following a tried and true recipe from a cook book). First you whiz up some fresh coriander, a little chilli, garlic and oil to make a marinade/paste to smear over the whole fish. Half an hour later you throw it into a very hot (240c) oven surrounded by sliced potatoes, tomatoes and green olives. The previously mentioned roasted green beans and brussels sprouts went well with it.

Friday while it was still warm and bright took the table out onto the deck and breakfasted on scrambled eggs. I diced the leftover potatoes from dinner and added them to the eggs along with a few dried tomatoes and fresh parsley.

Still outside, lunch was a mixture of salads accompanied by the cabbage rolls from the market. A simple, fresh rocket, cucumber and radish salad with a dressing of sherry vinegar, mustard and macadamia oil. A variation on this pumpkin and chickpea salad with the tahini dressing, adding some toasted pistachio nuts and baked cauliflower.

Friday night was dinner at the Kent Hotel, am a bit over the regular menu and fortunately there was a seafood special in a tomato “broth” (thicker than the term would suggest). It was spiked with tarragon and very tasty.

Saturday morning the weather began cooling down so I started the day with porridge, slow cooked with dried cranberries, grated apple and some ground nutmeg finished with a drizzle of maple syrup. We went across town to see a couple of exhibitions and grabbed a late lunch at Black Ruby to line our stomachs before the annual sherry tastings at Rathdowne Cellars. Although I like Black Ruby, there is often something not quite right about the flavour combinations in of some of the dishes. I had a go at a vegan, gluten-free lunch item (because any mainstream restaurant that goes out of the way to provide these kind of options needs to be supported in my book) but even before the first bite I could see the black bean sausages were desiccated beyond hope. The vegan sweet potato mash was moist and bland, though filling. The combination just lacked any zing.

Fortunately there was zing aplenty across the road at Rathdowne Cellars. The throng was working its way through the 9 or so sherries on offer, ranging from a salty, bone dry manzanilla to a sweet end of the line (which are way beyond my palate).

For dinner, our favourite green leafy of the season – silverbeet, was finely sliced and cooked with onion, garlic, black pepper and olive oil then mixed with tuna and beaten egg and layered in filo pastry spanakopita style.

Sunday – I’m retiring from the kitchen, though am tempted to make an apple strudel with the leftover pastry. Though that romanesco looks good, what should I do with it?

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Friday, April 25, 2008

roasted green beans and other inspirations

Inspired by a post on Got No Milk I roasted some green beans last night. I must admit that I hadn’t thought about cooking them this way til I came across it. Going the whole hog, I also prepared some wee organic brussels spouts, tossed them in olive oil and put them in a hot oven first. After 15 minutes I threw in the oil tossed beans. A further 10 minutes later I added a splash of balsamic vinegar and returned them to the oven for a couple of minutes. They were so good, even I enjoyed the sprouts!

Now I have managed to knock off one recipe I have earmarked while trawling the web, I thought I’d share what else is getting my taste buds excited in the hope of actually making them one day.

Number 1 is this luscious recipe from Heidi at 101 cookbooks for coconut macaroon pancakes. It must be heading towards winter because sweet things are starting to tempt me and these little darlings use coconut milk rather than dairy. I might pull back a bit on the honey though.

From the recent event, a neb at nut roast, Lisa’s mushroom nut roast in puff pastry caught my eye. Combining nuts, quinoa, dried tomatoes and a variety of mushrooms all rolled up in pastry it seems perfect for the chilly nights that are just around the corner.

Being a bit of a spudophile this Sydney Morning Herald potato and olive terrine is rather tempting, though might have to wait til the Significant Eater lifts the salt ban. Yes, I am not allowed to cook with salt at the moment which I am finding a tad restrictive.

Enjoying reading about the many dairy-free delights at Got No Milk but these almondy macaroons particularly peeked my curiosity. I’m starting to see a trend here!

That’s enough for now, really.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

market goodies #2

This little foodblogger went to market,
This little foodblogger came home,
This little foodblogger got out her camera
And went click, click, click all the way home.

Well not quite, but with all this talk about the rising price of food thought it would be timely to see just how much the fruit and veggie shopping cost this week. Admittedly we still have a fair amount of fruit, vegetables and some other staples left over from an extra mid-week shop or two last week.

All the vegetables are organic, though not the fruit. The whole snapper came in at $16 (just over $14 a kilo) - it is cheaper to buy it in Melbourne than Wellington despite NZ being the country of origin. There is some wild rice, dried cranberries and oats (also raw pistachios not included in the picture). Vegetables - silverbeet/chard (to go with lots of garlic, onion, lemon and olive oil on gluten-free pasta), zucchini, sweet potato, carrots, red and brown onions, garlic, rocket, tomatoes, radishes, romanesco broccoli (isn't it pretty!), brussels sprouts (the Significant Eater has a thing for them), desiree potatoes and pak choi. Fruit - bananas, persimmons and mandarins. And lastly some low salt Lingurian olives, eggplant dip and a couple of vegetarian cabbage rolls.

Total cost: Au$107.50

What is the cost of food where you are and what does your weekly shop look like?

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Why I loved Melbourne food from the first mouthful

My first grown up meal without my parents.

Does being taken out by your neighbour from home, while visiting your sister on your first overseas trip count? I was very young but perhaps this is the meal that cemented my love of both food and Melbourne in the first mouthful.

I ate at least courses and though underage, was plied liberally with alcohol. (This was the same neighbour who called us over to sample a new cocktail "It's a Harvey Ballbanger" he said with a straight face. I was in primary school at the time.) Despite the wine and port, this may also have been my first grown up restaurant meal that I ate without throwing up afterwards. As a child I had a passion for creamy sauces (all that 70’s/80’s heavy European food, like veal Marsala) long before I found I was allergic to the stuff.

I remember being so excited by this meal at Gordon Place, a restaurant in a massive atrium built around a large palm tree, with it’s menu full of fresh flavours and new foods. This was my first experience of quail and ‘bugs’ an exquisite Australian crustacean. I ate at least 3 courses, if not 4 if the pencil marks on the menu I souvenired are to be believed.

While the menu from the early ‘80s bears many hallmark dishes of the time – crumbed brains and bacon, chicken stuffed with cheese, beef Wellington and the quintessential creamy veal dish – I’d still begin with the Morton Bay bugs with lemon mayonnaise and end with the seasonal fruit salad today.

Anything take your fancy?

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

running out of chocolate in the pantry is not the same as the global food shortage

I am wondering if it is just a little obscene at a time of increasing awareness about global food shortages, to be spending so much time writing about the joys of eating.

So I am going to take a moment to give thanks for having adequate personal resources to be able to shop each week at a plentiful market. Sure I shudder at the price of organic fruit most days but at least I have the choice to shop elsewhere if eating conventionally is better than having no fruit at all. What a luxury.

There has been a flurry of media activity this week, as a result of the IMF meeting last weekend, warning about global food shortages. Sure diverting land once dedicated for food to crops for biofuel is a large part of the problem. It is such a typical quick fix reaction to try to solve one problem by creating another. Global warming is already impacting on food costs in Australia where drought and floods are affecting production costs, so too the high cost of oil to cart the stuff around this vast land. Increased wealth in countries like China, creating a greater market for meat, coupled with a looming recession and inflation in the west are shooting prices up around the world. But can’t we take a step back from the hullabaloo and think holistically for a change? This article on the rising cost of food in India looks at not only the problems,
Already, about half of India was not eating full meals; going through days without food. With the price rise, I can see about 70 to 80 per cent of India will be pushed into hunger and starvation
but provides broader analysis of the real problems and appropriate ways of finding a solution.

In the meantime, I give thanks for the ability to put food on my table and support organisations like Oxfam and world food programs through Chez Pim’s ingenious annual Menu For Hope.

I’ll get off my soapbox now but first I ask all of us food oriented folk to spend a moment contemplating the issue and see what other ways we can find to make a ripple of change in the global food shortage crisis.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

bonito and me - Sri Lankan fish curry with tamarind

I’ve done it again! Not once but twice followed the “cook a recipe to the letter” challenge.

This time I used a recipe the Significant Eater had hunted down and recently made - a delicious tamarind based, fish curry. The ingredients are simple, as long as there is a good Asian grocery near you to buy the Ceylon curry powder. If not, this version of the powder is probably a close match to the one we used.

I am a recent convert to the tang of tamarind, in this recipe the water from the soaked pulp is mixed with the curry powder, turmeric and chilli to form a marinade for the fish. A short time later you fry off some curry leaves and fenugreek and throw in the fish and spicy juices.

For the curry, I used bonito. This is sometimes referred to as a type of tuna, though it is a member of the mackerel family. It is quite a striking medium sized fish. It’s skin is shiny, with lines down it’s body and appears to have no scales. But here in Australia it is not a popular fish. This may be because it is rarely offered as fillets and still there are too many people with an aversion to cooking whole fish. I have cooked with it whole once before and just the mention of bonito still attracts an extraordinary amount of hits. It is a remarkably cheap fish, coming in at under $10 a kilo. This time I got the fishmonger to fillet it for me and all that was left was for me to remove a small strip of bones and I was left with rich, red chunks of flesh. Baking it whole, I’d thought the flesh was quite dense but handling it as a fillet it was clear it is actually softer than tuna, necessitating some respect in order to not turn it to shreds. Accordingly, I cut the cooking time in half. But I swear that was the only adjustment to the recipe!

So here it is – Sri Lankan Fish Curry with Tamarind, I didn’t create the recipe so you will have to honour it by clicking the link. A simple, tangy fish dish that goes well with rice and salad.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

journeys with my thermos

With all this talk about lunch lately – I thought it was time to discuss essential gadgets for eating on the go. When it comes to food on the run, my one and only is the humble thermos flask.

You may have noticed that not a single recipe on the site uses the miraculous “kitchen TV”. I have not been taught to salivate, Pavlovian like, at the ping of at microwave. I don’t like what they do to the texture of food nor wish to trust my health to one for the sake of so-called convenience, let’s leave it at that.

So, enter the thermos. This simple device keeps food and drinks hot or cold. It means you can eat when you are out and about without a power source or any other equipment. It is the ultimate recyclable food or beverage container.

Here are a few notable uses of mine:

Thermos porridge: Think cooking oatmeal conventionally takes too long or is too messy to clean up? Try this simple recipe I got from a hippy book written in the 70’s.

Before going to bed, first warm your thermos with some boiling water for about 10 minutes. Take 1/2-1 cup whole rolled oats and twice as much boiling water (or boiling milk of some kind) and pour into a wide-mouthed thermos. You can add sultanas or dried cranberries if you like, a little cinnamon or nutmeg – whatever accoutrements suit your palate. Screw the lid on well. You can wrap it in a towel too if you want extra insulation if it is somewhere cold.

In the morning – wherever you are – simply pour out the contents (into the handy bowl/cup that sits on the top if you are away from home). Voila – porridge. A healthy, warm, sustaining breakfast of champions.

Soup in the snow: I used to go out with a snow bunny. I will be forever grateful for him taking me on my first trip to Lake Mountain. For a kiwi who’d only skied downhill before, cross country skiing amongst the gum trees, on a blue skied winter's day was one of the most beautiful experiences I have had in Australia. What made it even better was the trusty thermos.

The night before I made a pot of hearty bean and vegetable soup. Getting up at the crack of dawn, I heated the pot on the stovetop while I showered the sleep from my eyes and donned my thermal clothing. Once again I warmed the thermos, poured in the aromatic soup and headed off in the car a few hours out of Melbourne to the snow. I can assure you that after a morning of falling on my derriere, soup has never tasted so good! He did his part by carrying one of those blue thermal mats for us to sit on and we dined amongst the snow gums. The perfect winter picnic.

Some people have even be known to take soup to work for lunch.

Pre-theatre drinks: In the final days of the docks before it became an artificial city, some of the old buildings that once stored cargo were put to a good use as a venue for dance parties and theatre. One spring evening I caught the tram down to see a performance with a friend and sat on the edge of the old docks with a flask of perfectly cool cocktails – brandy, freshly squeezed orange juice and ice. Very pleasant and ultimately more memorable than the show.

The thermos was invented in 1892. I wonder if the microwave oven will be so widely used and loved 115 years on from it's inception?

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Weird but tasty snacks

Feeling a little peckish?

How about a few slices of uncooked smoked tofu topped with wasabi paste?

It sounded so unimaginable when I first heard about it, that I had to try it. Now I've become addicted. It is a perfect use of leftover smoked tofu when you’ve made this.

Am also fond of:
Mayonnaise and nut paste mixed together, on crackers
Bonito flakes softened in a little tamari on leftover rice
A fried egg sandwich (but only once a year)
A spoonful each of cashew or almond nut paste and maple syrup on corn thins or rice cakes
Raw tofu and tamari

So that got me thinking, what are you known to snack on, that makes others go ‘what the?”

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Friday, April 04, 2008

I've always liked a drop of port

After a week of domestic cooking, old favourites on high rotation (kedgeree, spanish omelette, stir fry...) time to kick back and relax before anything more creative can grace the kitchen.

The Sydney Mail, 1938

Have a good weekend.
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