Saturday, July 31, 2010

my life in 10 dishes

Jill Dupleix mused about her life in 10 dishes in the Sydney Morning Herald this week.
There are lots of ways of tracing your own personal history. You can go back through family photo archives and trace the hair styles. You can do it with music, by listing the songs that symbolize special times in your life. Or you can do it with food.

How could I resist?

1. Cheese on toast. The standby meal/snack from as far back as I can remember that lasted til my mid-twenties, when I realized my relationship with delicious dairy was a dysfunctional one. On Sundays when we’d been to my Nana’s for a roast lunch, dinner would be Maggi chicken noodle soup and cheese on toast in front of The Wonderful World of Disney. Life didn’t get better than that.

2. Chop suey. Mum would fire up the electric fry pan and toss together onion, garlic, veal, cabbage and soy sauce. A dish that the entire family liked so was in regular rotation with the other staple – chops and veg. Very classy home cooking C1970.

3. Afghans. Opening the biscuit tin after school and finding a fresh batch of afghans, with the obligatory piece of walnut on top of the splodge of chocolate icing, was pure bliss. I’d love to find just such a tin in my grown up life house.

4. Beef stroganoff. At twelve years old I cooked stroganoff, a dish I’d never eaten before, for my mother and aunt one night. Mabel said, “You’ll make someone a good wife”…Perhaps if I’d continued cooking with meat and dairy I would have?

5. Baked chicken breasts. Leaving home at 18 I moved into a soon to be condemned flat with a lovely housemate and his German shepherd. I remember partaking in illegal substances on the stovetop in the cupboard-sized kitchen but for dinner I’d use my shiny new toaster-oven and bake chicken breast slathered with garlic.

6. Quiche. The year was 1983 and my on-the-verge-of-coming-out housemate taught me how to cook quiche. The house was slightly better than my first flat and although the gas stove was suitably antiquated I still knocked up cakes, curries and the odd quiche.

7. Baked potatoes. In London I was vegetarian (I rarely ate seafood due to the Irish sea being radioactive) living with two pregnant/lactating women, an accountant, a witch, two blokes, three small children and a couple of chickens. The house was big, warm and better than anywhere I previously lived. Best of all was the American-style double oven in a huge kitchen with a wooden table that comfortably sat 10. The worst crime was not cooking enough food, so that meant scrubbing at least two dozen potatoes, to serve baked with a big pot of ratatouille .

8. Vegan Mexican feast. Living in Melbourne exposed me to exotic foods from many cultures. There was a short lived Mexican grocery store in Lygon Street in the early ‘90’s and I threw a few dinner parties featuring fresh blue corn tortillas, refried beans, salsa spiked with jalapenos and jugs of margaritas.

9. Whole fish. Apart from scrubbing fewer potatoes, life beyond shared houses meant I cooked and ate more seafood. Growing up fish meant fillets, so exploring the world of cooking the entire beast was virgin territory. From simple, just a few lemon slices or a handful of herbs in the belly, to baked with spices, olives, tomatoes and slices of potatoes, I love this economical way of eating fish.

10.Curries, tagines and the spicy life. Though I cooked my first vegetarian curry from scratch in the quiche house a couple of decades ago, it’s been a long journey to roasting and grinding my own dried spices and growing fragrant green herbs. The last decade has been flavoured with sambals, Sri Lankan curries, fresh harissa paste, tamarind, kecap manis and Vietnamese mint. The herb cupboard overflows and the tagine is a utensil not a decoration. Please don’t make me choose a favourite!

So what dishes characterise your life so far?

P.S. - I'm guessing like many biographical entries, what we did in the past doesn't always represent our present. I can only eat 7-10 (plus a modified #3) these days but it was sweet to remember them none the less.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

more than about eating

This weekend I want to be in the moment.

When I peel the mandarin I want to breath in the fine spray of oils as they fly off the skin.

I want to taste the rose water in the Turkish delight.

I want to meditate on the honey-like sweetness of the dates.

I want to be at one with the shocking bitterness of our homegrown radicchio and observe the fresh walnuts, orange and fennel mediate the harshness when I toss them in a salad.

If wine is to be drunk, I want it to be mellow and aged (like that wonderful 11 year old shiraz I drank last weekend), sipped slowly with respect.

I want to remember what it feels like for my stomach to be fully empty, awake and ready before I am fed.

I want to eat more slowly and laugh more deeply.

What are your plans for the weekend?


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

grown up chocolate rough

Outside it was hailing. The steep green hills were shrouded in precipitation and it felt like the school holidays from my childhood all over again. Marooned in the suburbs all I could do was go with the flow and revert to what I used to do when school was out in winter.

Either bake or have a tantrum.

I chose chocolate rough.

My mother, the baker’s daughter, always had homemade biscuits or slices in the tins for a snack after school. Chocolate rough, a thin biscuit base with a slab of chocolate and coconut icing, was a family favourite. I doubt that I’ve eaten it since I left home.

Other than having a stab at converting the recipe to metric without the aid of the internet or other references (I ended up mistakenly cooking it at 150 c, it took twice as long but worked just fine) compared to the original recipe I’ve reduced the sugar and added more cocoa, as well as concocting a wickedly adult icing. Not being a fan of the over-sweet, I went for 85% chocolate for the icing. Though initially worried it would be too bitter, the combination balanced out perfectly. For this version a thinner layer of icing is better. It made a richer, more grown up slice than the original recipe. For children, or for those who are not a fan of dark chocolate, make the icing as directed in the original recipe (see photos below).

Update: This could be easily veganised - I reckon replacing the butter with (semi solid) coconut oil would be fantastic. The chocolate I use is already vegan and it's a lovely egg-free recipe. Likewise for the wheat-free/gluten-free folk, the flour is used to bind rather than for a fluffy texture and is easily replacable.

Shirley’s chocolate rough
(A note on quantities: This yielded 2/3 of a small baking tin. I’d recommend you double the quantities if you wish to use a Swiss roll or medium sized tin)

115 gm butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tab cocoa
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup coconut (shredded)

Heat the oven to 175 C.

Cream butter and sugar, then mix in the remaining ingredients with a wooden spoon. The mixture will be a little on the dry side but don’t worry. Press into a greased tin, until even. It only needs to be about 2 cm deep.

Bake at 175 C for 10 minutes.

Allow the biscuit base to cool a little in the tin til it is firm to touch but still warm.


100 gm chocolate (70-85% cocoa solids)
20 gm butter
1cup coconut

Melt chocolate carefully in a double boiler, then stir through butter and coconut. Remember to ice while the base and the icing are still warm.

Warning - you may have to fight your family for the last piece!

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Links from the lost zone

I’ll be offline for a few days (if this delayed flight ever eventuates) and would like to leave you with a few morsels in my absence.

Reading this piece about cooking with quinoa in the NY times last month made me realise how food wise I tend to move on from one infatuation to another. I haven't made creamy quinoa for breakfast for over a year. However, I did have an amazing quinoa dessert at Mamasita recently that was sweet and orangey and delicious.

I’m impressed. The aforementioned Melbourne eatery is entirely gluten-free. More allergy-aware local dinning options listed recently in The Age. The list seems a bit sparse to me. Hellenic Republic for example asks about dietary restrictions when you book and my coeliac friends say they have lots of options. Munsterhaus, while not top end dining, also caters well for the dairy or gluten intolerant. If I was still in lecturer-mode I’d have told the author that he “could try harder” and “needs to do more research”. Or perhaps “stop cribbing the notes of your classmates and do some original work”?

When the weather warms up again can someone remind me to make Heidi’s grilled tofu and soba noodles? There’s nothing like slurping cool buckwheat noodles on a hot day.

If you’re not used to cooking soba, especially the 100% buckwheat variety, there’s quite an art to it. If you cook them the regular way in a pot of boiling water then drain and serve, they end up a gooey, sticky, tangled mess. The way that works for me is the 3 cups of cold water way. Add the noodles to boiling water. When the pot comes back to the boil add a cup of cold water. Do this two more times (boil/water/back to the boil/water etc) and the noodles should be perfectly cooked by the time the pot is boiling again after the last cold dunk.

See you when I'm back for the land of the wrong white crowd.

Very bored at Melbourne airport, drinking bad coffee and wondering if my plane will ever show up.

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