Thursday, August 28, 2008

a laksa of sorts

Something very odd has happened in Melbourne this week. We’ve stopped moaning. Instead, little satisfied coos can be heard as some semblance sun returns.

While not bathed in lashings of sunshine, today was the first in months warm enough to eat lunch outside. But what dish to celebrate such a shift in the seasons? Moving away from cool weather stodge I wanted something quick and herby. Though I’m still not sufficiently thawed to embrace salads just yet.

This pumpkin and tofu laksa caught my eye. I had the two key ingredients but would have to improvise with spices.

What emerged twenty minutes later was pumpkin and fried tofu in a fragrant coconut broth. There were rice noodles for comfort and the much desired herbage.

I don’t care what you call it but it made my tastebuds sing.

Improvised pumpkin and tofu laksa*

First make a quick spice paste:
Blend together some garlic, ginger, red chillies, coriander roots, kaffir lime leaves and a dash of vegetable oil. There was no lemongrass in the house alas.

Fry off the spice paste in some vegetable oil. Stir frequently. You’ll know it is time to add the stock because the smell of the gently frying herbs tickles your nose. Add some stock (I used fish because I had some in the freezer but veggie stock would make this suitably vegan). Throw in a handful of pumpkin cut into small wedges.

While the stock comes back to a simmer, cover some rice noodles with boiling water and cut some fried tofu into triangles.

I had time to nip to the garden (it is only a few paces away from the stove) and grab spring onion and fresh mint.

Put a splash of coconut milk and a dash of fish sauce in the soup and have a taste. Of course there are many vegan substitutes such as tamari, soy or sea salt. The pumpkin should be just about cooked.

Now it is time to put it all together. I threw in my wedges of tofu to let them heat through. The soaked rice noodles suitably softened went into the bowl, next the soup and lastly I garnished it with mint, coriander leaves and spring onions.

* more memoir than recipe, go to the BBC site if you want something with nicely set out quantities and method – however just once in your life, wouldn’t it be nice to improvise?

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

winter vegetarian classics while dreaming of spring

In the hope that it banishes this seemingly endless season, I have cooked a run of classic winter vegetarian fare. Early on I embraced and celebrated the soup or stew but now with spring a whisker away I am sick of such food. Nothing left but to resort to the fiddley stuff. But these wintry, labour intensive, baked dishes leave me a little resentful about the effort-to-wow-factor ratio.

Take lentil shepherds pie. It is about combining some relatively dull ingredients. Sure each has its merits but really I find it difficult to wax lyrical about a mound of brown lentils or a mass of root vegetables. Then there is the time and mess factor. The lentils are to be soaked (I know it is optional but I like to give them a bit of a swim) then cooked. There is always a bit of scum left on the pot that needs some extra elbow grease as well. The potatoes peeled, cooked then mashed. The rest of the guts of the dish peeled, chopped and sautéed. Finally the three parts come together, the dish is assembled and it all goes into the oven. There is a mass of cleaning to fill in the time while it bakes.

What came to the table is a pleasant enough looking mound of golden crusted mash, topping a mix of lentils, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, celery, onion and garlic. There is a dash of smoky paprika and salt to season. But at the end of the day it is brown food. Warm, filling, tasty even, but lacking the half-pike twist of excitement.

Last night I was back at the stove and oven chopping, cooking and assembling once more. This time a gluten-free, dairy-free vegetarian lasagne. The eggplants were sliced and placed under the grill. A napoli sauce slowly bubbled. There was a massive cauliflower from the garden that needed to be eaten so that went into the mix. Not my first choice of vegetable for a lasagne but worked much better than a long ago housemate’s insistence to put cabbage into his version, every single time. The GF pasta sheets were not the instant variety so they needed a little cooking in a large vat of boiling water. Fortunately there was no cheese sauce to make, just more of the delicious fasting fetta (made from soy) to sprinkle on top. It was hot, packed with vegetables and had the bonus of being ‘cheesy’, Lasagne is more wow than a lentil pie but still for an hour or more of preparation I’d like to swoon when it finds its way to the table.

The good news though is that the winter vegetables have finally begun to be harvested. The massive cauli is very timely – the prices for this humble vegetable having spiked last week at $7 a piece. The broccoli is coming up the rear though I don’t think the sprouts will come to fruition. The rocket has peaked and now gone feral. The silverbeet has been a delight, now cut back twice over there is a little left to welcome spring. The most amusing thing to appear in our little patch is the persistent nettle. This is brand new soil yet the air in this part of Melbourne must be impregnated with nettle seeds. No matter what I do, the nettle reappears. At least I know how to cook it now.

But for now I am hankering for the return of crisp salads, food that is seared and cooked in a flash. I’ve had enough of the stove warming me while I toil in the kitchen and dream of cooking with the door wide open and light still pouring in at dinnertime.

Spring is only a week away.

I can’t wait!

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Monday, August 25, 2008

bread and circuses

Public radio is a bit like blogging. Independence allows freedom, not just from dreary top 100 play lists, mind numbing boring ads and news items pruned to keep the station owners happy but to have whole programs of food without the pressure to sell products. A local food blog seems to have got the connection and now has a sponsorship 'ad' playing at peak times on RRR.

But freedom comes at a cost and without government funding or selling out to the commercial devil, public radio needs money to stay on air.

To keep programs like Eat It on air (too busy to listen on Sunday, I'm so happy it is podcast now) as well as to have some great music and discussions to be your soundtrack in the kitchen - share the love with RRR during radiothon.

If that isn’t enough and prizes of travel or gadgets don’t interest you, food and beverage wise prizes include an espresso machine to make your friends green with envy (complete with grinder, a home coffee course and enough coffee to stop you sleeping for a year), all sorts of beer, chai and even a meal with the Breakfasters at La Luna. Or if you would prefer there is always the boot camp sessions with Fitstyler to compensate for all that over indulgence.

So roll up and subscribe to my favourite circus in town!

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Monday, August 18, 2008


It began with a bag of P.A.N.

I found myself in Casa Iberica. One of those iconic, Melbourne stores that’s been serving the community for decades. In this case it is all things Spanish and Latin American. Just walking across the threshold is a cause for celebration. Although their opening hours appear respectable, it always seems to be shut when I stroll past it.

Each shelf is crammed with exotic flours, dried herbs, chillies in every form, tins of heart of palms and hominy. Overhead giant sized paella pans are stung, large chunks of cured meats, more chillies on a thread, kitsch decorations. The language spoken is Spanish, tired women pile kilo’s of yerba mate into their baskets, well padded men can be found loitering at the counter waiting for their custard tarts. It’s that kind of place.

So the first packet I see before is masa harina. The bright yellow package immediately recognisable from this great post on making arepas, over at Gluten Free Girl. Months ago it was. I coveted them, then filed the magic ingredient away in the too hard basket. Til this moment when it all came together.

Without hesitation in went the packet of P.A.N. I saved my indecision for standing in front of the dried Mexican chillies (it would take a second trip to the store days later before I could really commit to one). My hand quivered over the solid blocks of 100% cocoa for real hot chocolate. I coveted the tortilla press. But on this visit it was just me and the P.A.N. that made it home together.

Arepas are a South American staple, especially in Venezuela and Columbia. The flour is made from pre-cooked corn, making it both smooth and gritty in the same instance. The basic recipe seems to revolve around the masa harina, warm water and a touch each of salt and oil. Some people pour the flour into the water, others do the opposite. There is little mixing. With no gluten there is no need to work the mixture or even let it rest. Cooking falls into a choice of frying, baking or a combination of both. You can stuff them with cheese before cooking, or make them plain. Once cooked you can use them to scoop beans or fill them like a roll. So simple you can make them every day.

Following the method demonstrated by Shauna’s friend Karen I started with a bowl with 200 mls of warm water. Tossing in a pinch of salt and a scant tsp of vegetables oil, a just started pouring in the flour with one hand, the other in the water doing the mixing. Daring, I know, using no measurements but very swiftly the dough, came together. Literally in seconds the masa harina thickened in my hand. It took about a minute or so from start to finish to get a while ball of damp dough that stuck together without leaving bits behind on my fingers.

Shaping the little darlings is the more challenging part and I am still on my L Plates but it is a good excuse to keep practicing. About the size of a crumpet is about right.

Continuing with Karen’s method, I used my well seasoned cast iron pan, wiped a tiny amount of oil over it with a paper towel and put in on a medium flame. After cooking each disc for a few minutes on each side to make a decent crust, they went on a baking tray in to the oven for 20 minutes at 175 c. Tap them to see if they are cooked, they should have that telltale hollow sound like bread.

ok I need a little more shaping practice but you get the idea

We ate our arepas two ways. A batch at night was used to scoop up some great chilli beans, flavoured with the slow smoky heat of chipotles. Splitting the hot arepas in half it seemed slightly damp in the middle but didn’t taste at all doughy. A lick of butter, a trial run with some Greek Fasting (milk free) fetta and a dollop of the bean and vegetable mixture on top. We were in heaven.

I’d reserved some of the dough to play with the next day. This time I baked some eggs with mushrooms, garlic, spring onion, ‘fetta’ and zataar with the fresh batch of arepas in the oven. I think the first ones were better but still the tasted the same – not heavy, not too light, ah just right!

More info to feed a new arepas addiction

A great story about PAN and arepas under Chavez at Papaya Pate.

A search on Youtube will show you more demos of making arepas than you can poke a stick at. This one proves that food is the international language.

Casa Iberica is at 25 Johnston St Fitzroy 3065
(03) 9417 7106

The alleged trading hours are:
Monday to Thursday: 9am to 5pm
Friday: 9am to 6pm
Saturday: 9am to 1pm
Sunday: closed.

Note: There are more gluten-free flours in this shop than your average supermarket – PAN, chestnut, chickpea, manioc … to name but a few. You can even buy pre-cooked arepas, stuffed with cheese. Just steer clear of the Portuguese custard tarts.

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The Omnivore’s Hundred

Always a sucker for these big list style memes, it seems before meat and cheese left my plate I made a decent stab at being an omnivore. However, those items are off the list now - but I think I can live without eating horse or intestines from now on.

What to do
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at Very Good Taste linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes banana wine and beetroot wine being the most memorable
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes even grown my own
22. Fresh wild berries I’ll never forget the small wild strawberries I found in Oregon
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans_
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper Ouch!
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo Though I doubt it was authentic
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects unintentionally!
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel I’m a one woman eel appreciation society
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone Pau fritter is a national icon
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini Can’t stand gin, vodka’s another story though
58. Beer above 8%
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores that holiday in Oregon has a lot to answer for
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian I don’t mind it at all!
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare still had some pellets in it too
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

3 new ingredients and 3 new recipes

It's a bit overwhelming.

Three new ingredients and three new recipes, in just two days.

What has come over me?

Like a kid whose had too much red cordial the words that spill from my fingers are too voluminous, clumsy and verbose. So will leave you with these thoughts.

Harina P.A.N.
Milk-free, Greek fasting Fetta cheese.

Soy bombs.
Baked eggs with mushrooms and fetta.

I’ll be back when the glow of getting my kitchen mojo back calms down. In the meantime – P.A.N. anyone?

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

anarchy in the kitchen

The time had come. For days I’d found myself drawn back to the recipe. Exactly 30 minutes before I was meant to leave the house to head out into the dark night for a farewell party – I’d decided it was time to make some bombs.

Cindy and Michaels soy bombs that is.

Of course when my half hour was up, the last batch still frying, I began to understand how the little morsels of tofu got their name. It sure looked like an incendiary device had gone off in the kitchen – oils platters and flour explosions as far as the eye could see.

Note too self: Next time I am going to cook something for a party, especially anything involving plumes of white flour, do not wear a black jumper intended for the evening’s event.

So as I lazed about in that hour before I hit the kitchen, the (non-psychotic) voice in my head kept whispering “time to make the bombs”. I’d read the recipe heaps of times, got put off by the shallow frying but kind of liked the idea of the squeaky clean ‘goodness’ of a vegan finger food, dirtied up with a little dip in sizzling oil. After all, what is a party without a bit of fried food?

I had the vital ingredient – a 500 gm block of firm tofu but 90% of the rest of the recipe would end up being ad libbed in typical Food Nazi style. Not because I thought it needed improving, just the usual improvising with what was in the cupboards. However I personally think that recommended 3 tablespoons of soy sauce is way over the top (teaspoons may be closer to my sodium tolerance) and substituted it for a pinch or two of sea salt. Also with such quick frying I opted for cooked onion rather than raw. I also couldn’t’ resist adding some garlic.

Soy bombs a go-go

1 small onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
500g firm tofu – squeeze the water out if necessary, then crumble into small pieces
2 slices of bread, crusts removed, turned into crumbs in a food processor
(or 1/2 cup of ordinary crumbs or suitable gluten-free alternative)
1 tablespoon each of: peanut butter, nut paste (I used ABC spread) and tahini (or 3 tabs of any kind of seed or nut ‘butter’)
1 tsp of sea salt (or 1- 2 tsp tamari)
A generous handful of fresh parsley, or green herb of your liking, finely chopped
Approx 1/2 cup cornflour
Vegetable oil for sautéing and shallow frying (I used about 1/2 cup of raw sesame oil)

Finely chop the onion and sauté in a little oil, add garlic and cook on low-medium heat til transparent.

Crumble the tofu into a large bowl. Add the onion/garlic, breadcrumbs, nut butters, parsley and salt. The only way I could figure to combine the gluggy tahini etc with the other ingredients was to use my hands. Roll your sleeves up and work the mixture til everything is evenly combined. You are going to get your hands dirty anyway because once this is done it is time to roll into balls. Shape about a dessertspoon of mixture with your hands. A little gentle pressure is all you need for them to stick together. I was aiming for falafel sized balls, slightly squashed down to make them easier to fry. Once you are happy with the shape of your balls, put the cornflour on a plate and lightly coat each one. I use cornflour, not just because it is gluten-free but is makes things crispier than ordinary wheat flour.

Pour about 2 cm of oil into a fry pan or wok, over a high heat. When a little drop of the mixture sizzles, it should be hot enough. Now start frying the balls in batches, being careful to not overcrowd the pan. Have some kitchen paper at the ready to drain them once they are done. A minute or 2 each side is all that is needed.

I’m with Cindy when on first tasting the bombs, she uttered:

“Holy mother of tofu! These are incredible”

I wouldn’t describe them as meaty tasting in any way. Mine were kind of cheesy and morish.

When finally finished and changed my clothes, I piled a couple of layers of balls into a bamboo steamer – one of my favourite ways to transport food to parties. Fortunately I found the remains of a bottle of sweet chili sauce for dipping.

I was slightly trepidatious as to what a gathering of meat eaters would make of them, especially as they would be served cold.

First cab off the rank was a couple of globe trotting, 21 year olds who eyed them off the moment the lid was removed and asked what they were made from. “You tell me”, I said. A mouthful later the first exclaimed “Tofu” and I didn’t know whether he’d spit it out or swallow. Even I was a little surprised when they turned into a hit for young and (not so) old.

They did a great job at sopping up the Cosmopolitans that flowed a little too freely.

Can’t wait to play with this recipe again. However next time I reckon they’d be better paired with a chaste glass of beer or dry white wine.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

bargain du jour

This time of year fresh local produce is still in its wintry doldrums. But the best buy at the moment is blood oranges. Sure regular navels are ridiculously cheap right now (I snatched some conventionally grown ones for the SE’s morning juice for just under $1 a kilo) but these marbled organic beauties were still a bargain at a mere $3.50/kg.

Even sweeter – they were cheaper than all of their conventional counterparts; one stall was even asking a whopping $5.99/kg.

They are pretty, tangy and have an edgy name. Best cut into quarters and sucked straight off the rind, as an after dinner palate cleanser.

Further more, their juice on the board makes great Rorschach tests.

I see a demented woman who’s well and truly over winter, what about you?

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Monday, August 11, 2008

c o l d

There is snow on the hills and the sky has an ominous hue foreboding more of the same. A pot of mystery soup (last week's vegetables, with a can of organic tomatoes and kidney beans) cooks on the stove.

Too cold to think, let alone write - so here are some more pics from last month’s trip to Hobart.

more pumpkins than you could poke a stick at

you’ve got to love a coeliac aware pub

A strange name for a café, really

UPDATE: No idea why we found that last one so funny? This educational video might help. (Err actually it is an ad for ice cream but just ignore that).

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

the dating game

Unusually for me, it has been over four years since I last had a first date. I’m not one of those creatures who pair for life and lets just say, in the dating department there has been a fair amount of H20 under the bridge.

Now as much as I am free to “date” (the SE and I are hot on honesty and cool on ownership) its been months since I've met a new soul that has made my heart flutter. We were in a group, sharing a lunch and chatting our little heads off. I knew something was up when I struggled to get through even half the food on my plate.

What struck me most, when I read this piece in The Observer’s last food magazine about what to eat on a first date, was the bits that Jan Moir left out.

I was amused when it covered all the things that could go wrong in selecting your venue, with the conclusion that you leave the choice of restaurant to your date so they can take the heat if it is a bad choice. Rubbish! One of the things I’ve always enjoyed is trying to match a person to a restaurant. Perhaps on a first date the lack of knowledge about the fellow dinner can be a bit of a challenge but surely it breaks the ice a little in the pre-date chat to talk about food and what kinds of places you most enjoy eating in. For me my radar would go off if anyone came in with a strong preference on either end of the scale – from ‘I never eat out, restaurants make me feel uncomfortable’ (oops I should have listened to that one when it happened) to someone who names only the current top hot spots (trying too hard to impress).

Years ago I had a first date at the Vegie Bar. It had just opened in a little corner restaurant, before it expanded to the current barn-like space next door. We’d bought a bottle of plonk (in the days where the only places in a student price range were BYO) but it hadn't got its liquor license yet. The owner colluded to hide the bottle and we drank it out of teacups. Far from being a disaster it bought about conspiratorial closeness, a story to tell and a memory that has lasted much longer than the accompanying night of smooching.

Moir advises against ordering oysters (too obvious), sushi (chopstick embarrassment making you look like some kind of uncoordinated, messy fool) and strong smells like garlic or coffee. It sounds like a very boring date to me! Even worse, she advises against getting plastered, which we all know is the only way to survive some of the more hideous first dates. Well maybe total inebriation will only lead to tears but I disagree with the advise on ordering a type of beer based on sophistication. Order what you usually drink so as not create a false impression, would be my advice.

One of my most memorable first dates involved being taken on a picnic in my hometown. It was a spot I’d never been to before, a cliff top from where you could see the South Island. He’d cooked and I bought a thermos of orange juice laced with brandy. Fortunately we had met before, otherwise such a remote location may have been tinged with palpitations of fear rather than excitement.

So what are Melbourne’s best first date restaurants? If I am meeting someone I really don’t know, I prefer a coffee in daylight, or a glass of wine somewhere low key. A meal implies a longer period of time spent together and it is much harder to leave half way through. Much worse would be lust at first sight, ordering a fabulous meal and not being able to stomach more than a mouthful or two. Sadly the first flutter of attraction is about the only thing, bar illness, that makes me loose my appetite.

My last first date was to meet for casual drinks at dusk on a Sunday. There was no assumption that it would turn into dinner or more, just meeting up when he was going to be near my neighbourhood. There was a glass of wine at a good first date pub – comfortable chairs, a fireplace, pleasantly full of people but not too noisy you can’t hear each other. A couple of hours later dinner seemed the natural progression and we headed down the road for Spanish (lots of garlic!), a glass of sherry and paella to share (the not eating much being less obvious with a shared dish) and then not ready to say goodbye – we strolled back up the street to a swish intimate bar for a nightcap.

Some dates work best when you break all the rules!

Provincial Hotel
299 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
Enough light to see what the date looks like but not too bright to show all your flaws. Avoid the Friday night crush though.

De los Santos
175 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
For first date garlic breath.

401 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Low lights, plush velvet, great cocktails.

First date tips and disasters - the comments section eagerly awaits your response!

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

turtle beans and soft floury breads

Beans. They come in all shapes and sizes. Each a powerhouse of complex carbohydrate goodness.

The pantry excavation continues. Like a culinary archaeologist on a dig, every few days a forgotten gem is bought out into the light.

This week’s challenge was turtle beans. Little black beans, that I am sure I had some grand plan for a year or two ago when the kitchen was all sparkly and new. I set them to soak in the morning, having no coherent plan as to how they would transform into dinner by the evening. What turned up on our plates was a pleasant surprise.

Though I have a pressure cooker, while getting to know a new bean I prefer to cook them conventionally to see how long they take to cook. This provides a wonderful excuse to crank up the stereo and settle into some serious Scramble playing on Facebook.

The plan that evolved, between connecting letters to make cunning words, was for refried beans. This is a simple process of combining onion, garlic and cumin with the starchy bean of choice, mashing the bean into the flavours to make a kind of creamy, leguminous mixture. I added a generous pinch of salt and some fresh coriander and stirred them through once cooked.

A large, organic tomato (the last in the bowl) became a simple salsa – diced finely with a fresh red chilli and jazzed up with some coriander green tops and a squeeze of lemon.

There was also a lonely avocado begging to be used. This was eked out into slices. Though if there had been more it may have been transformed into guacamole.

But how to turn these ingredients into a meal? Rice just didn’t seem right. This needed something beadlike – a tortilla or taco, to wrap around the vegetables. Nothing in the house fitted the bill and I was tempted to head to the store. Fortunately the spirit of the challenge stopped me in my tracks and for the next half hour searched the net for tortilla ideas. In my usual style I read the lot and melded them into something that my diet would allow.

Kneading the dough on the cool granite bench top was pure therapy. It made me want to make more, despite the fact I eat so little wheat these days. This batch size is enough for 2 - double or triple as desired.

Simple tortillas

2 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
10 – 15 grams butter (or oil, vegetable shortening)
1/2 –3/4 cup warm water

extra flour for rolling

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the scant amount of butter or shortening and rub it through the flour mixture with your fingers. You can use more if you want. The texture you are aiming for is uniformly sandy with no buttery lumps. Take your time, this process is a kitchen meditation and incredibly soothing if you are in the right mood. Once that stage is complete (a good 5 minutes) slowly pour in some warm water and mix with your hands until a lump of dough is formed.

Turn the dough out onto the bench or a board sprinkled with flour and knead until it feels stretchy and smooth. When completed, cover plastic wrap (or a damp tea towel) and leave in the fridge for half an hour.

When you are ready to eat, heat up your largest, heaviest bottomed frying pan. My cast iron number (the sister to the French pot) was perfect. This amount of dough makes 6 large or 8 smaller (large saucer sized) tortillas. Choose the size and divide the dough into the desired amount of pieces. Roll into balls and roll til thin. One recipe said “1/8th of an inch” but to be honest in my metricized world I could not visualise such a width. I just rolled until it was about 1/2 centimetre or so.

If you have prepared the tortillas ahead of cooking, cover with a damp tea towel so they don’t dry out. Place a round of rolled out dough into the dry, hot pan. In a minute or so a little bubble will start to rise in the dough. Turn it over and cook for another minute. Eat immediately.

The soft, warm floury breads were filled with the refried beans, salsa and avocado and made a very satisfying meal.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

on cooking with love

Life with the Significant Eater is relatively harmonious. There are only two reoccurring issues of contention. One involves what city we ultimately live in (we both love living in Melbourne, its just a bit more complicated than that) and the other is about cooking meat.

Though I am not a rabid member of PETA or a radical vegan, I just don’t like the smell of meat cooking. In fact, lamb now makes me feel as nauseas as the awful aroma of offal did as a child. We’d planned to get a barbecue to overcome part of the issue but a new one is not in our budget right now (hint: anyone got a decent one with a wok burner that they’d like to get rid of?). The house is tiny, the kitchen and the living room is one functional space. Sadly the double extractor fan over the stove has not lived up to the promises of the manufacturer and the smell of a stir fry or using the cast iron grill can last for days.

While he cooked himself a steak while I was away last, which is ok with me, I’m told it did stink the entire house out. He hasn’t raised the issue since. However with his lingering lurgy he made a plaintive plea for chicken soup to help his never ending cold.

On market day last week I began a labour of love. From the Chicken Pantry I got two chunks of chook still on the bone. All their fowl is raised the old fashioned way with no additives; I figure conventional chicken can’t be used for medicine. At home realising the function of the skinny curved knife that sits in the block is designed for boning I managed to easily fillet the flesh. The cats got the skin and a few trimmings and that made them very happy.

Into the pot went the meaty chicken bones, some celery, coriander roots and a knob of ginger. It simmered away happily for an hour or two, til I went out (to eat a delicious lunch at Cookie). Later it would be drained and any fat scooped off the top.

Home again and feeling rather merry, I assembled the soup, a chicken version of healing soup. It featured carrots, Chinese mushrooms (shitake and oyster), spring onion, chilli, garlic, coriander, ginger, a splash of fish sauce and I am sure, many other things. My memory is a little blurry. There was chicken of course, cut into generous slices. But the main ingredients were love and care. Really I know that sounds soppy but for me the ultimate act of devotion is to make something absolutely scrumptious for someone else that I cannot eat!

He ate two large bowls and seemed very happy.

He’s still got a cold though.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

i n e r t i a

In bed.

I am quite well thanks. Between the sheets is where I want to be right now. Actually lets clarify the time frame, now means the last couple of months. It is cold outside and the sunlight unreliable. Inside with the cat purring, competing with the macbook for my lap. A high thread count, warm, cotton cocoon.

Not lot of cooking goes on in the bedroom. I am ambivalent about what may be eaten in bed as well. Nothing too crunchy or crumbly. Something that can be consumed with a fork, a spoon or one hand. Nothing drippy or too liquid.

Spurred on by Kathryn’s challenge, you know the one that has synchronistically had many local bloggers excavating the nether regions of their pantries, I had barley for breakfast. I bought it on a long ago spring clean, no doubt with a thick veggie soup, stew or maybe some kind of risotto like concoction in mind. It never happened. Well barley porridge may work for her but it got a definite thumbs down in this house. Well soaked, adequately cooked, jazzed up with a little rice milk, maple syrup, passionfruit and a few slices of banana. The fruit made it bearable but it was boring. Good texture but bland.

Back to the drawing board.

I love oats or quinoa as warm breakfast cereals. I am tempted to make a much forgotten recipe from the Atomic Cafe Cookbook that features cornmeal and dried apricots. I may even consider millet. Buckwheat? Maybe not, surely eating something grey for breakfast on a cloudy day would tempting the blahs just a little too much.

Has anyone found the ultimate winter’s breakfast?

What do you like to eat in bed?

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