Friday, December 31, 2010

merry eatmas

Back from across the ditch, a place where the wind blows at 170 km/hour (I kid you not). Fortunately Christmas day in Wellington was not a southerly buster, smiling fine weather upon us.

French bubbles, smoked eel, kick-arse prawn cocktails and the ever spectacular chocolate mousse all added a bit a oral enjoyment to the day.

hope you had a good one too.

See you in 2011.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

curry with a great provenance

The genesis of ideas fascinates me. Recipes, like family history, have a habit of unfolding, blending and recreating themselves. It excites me to find other people's scribbles and cross-outs in cookbooks (though never, ever in fiction!), a meeting of social anthropology and culinary exploration. It gives me a thrill to find a library book, splattered from a visit to a borrowers kitchen, with a secret message of a substitution or deletion pencilled into the margin.

I’m pathologically incapable of following a recipe exactly. I do my best to honour the spirit of the inventor but when it comes to savoury cooking I really struggle to toe the line if I don’t have all the ingredients. Perhaps it’s sheer laziness that leads me to be so adaptive?

For my final recipe post of the year I can trace back the provenance of the dish. This great curry comes to you from Jamie Oliver, via Reem's adaptation, wih a Food Nazi veganization for good measure.

I don’t own a single Oliver cookbook. I’ve always been ambivalent about his boyish charms, though I admit he’s likable… in a Shane Warne of Cooking kind of way. But what the man excels in is simple, flexible recipes. The Jamie/Reem curry is dead easy and quick as well, which always ticks my boxes.

So I bring you their favourite curry sauce for fish, from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef.

Only it doesn’t have any fish in it.

Though it would be very tasty with seafood.

Oh and I changed the flavouring just a teeny bit, with fresh turmeric, coriander seeds, kaffir lime leaves and some palm sugar. I swapped green chillies for red and dropped the curry leaves.

But does anyone know where Jamie got the recipe from in the first place?

My (new) Favourite Curry Sauce
(Quantities for two)

1 tab coconut oil
1-2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1/2 -1tsp Fenugreek Seeds (optional, I think I’ll give them a miss next time)
1 tsp fresh coriander seeds (or dried if you have to)
I tsp of finely chopped red chili (or this preserved version)
2-3 kaffir lime leaves, split in half
1 small onion
1thumb sized pieces of ginger, peeled & coarsely grated
1 thumb sized piece of fresh turmeric
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
200 ml coconut milk
1 tsp tamarind concentrate
1 –2 tsp grated palm sugar
A large pinch of salt
Vegetables, chopped into small pieces
1 block, Tofu – pressed to remove excess water, cubed

Heat a tablespoon of coconut or plain vegetable oil in a heavy based pan. Add the mustard seeds and stir. When they start popping add the fenugreek, coriander seeds and chili, stir some more. Take the onion, ginger and turmeric and chop in a food processor. Add to the pan. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Now add the chopped tomatoes (or even better, whiz them in the already dirty food processor) and you guessed it, stir some more. Add the coconut, tamarind concentrate, kaffir lime leaves and palm sugar. Allow the paste to cook down a little and thicken. Add a pinch of salt and adjust sugar/salt/tamarind as necessary to balance the flavours.

Your sauce is ready to receive whatever you fancy. Jamie/Reem used seafood (which would work especially well with the citrus tones of the kaffir lime leaves) but I was on an end of the week vegetable crisper clean out – so in went carrots, cauliflower and chunks of zucchini. Make sure the vegetables are well coated in sauce. You may need to add a cup of water too loosen as it cooks down. Five minutes before serving add the cubes of tofu and allow them to soak up the flavours.

Garnish with fresh coriander if you want to be fancy.

Serve with rice or roti.

Notes – The curry is a gorgeous brick red colour and the fragrance is amazing. The fresh coriander seeds were wonderful. Keep it subtle and they marry with the other seeds. I had no curry leaves and though I know the kaffir lime gave the curry a different accent it was worth the deviation. As for the sugar, something tasted slightly bitter (maybe I’d scorched the fenugreek?) and the sugar along with the salt (what no salt in the original recipe?!) and the acid of the tamarind corrected the balance.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

seven more sleeps!

My Facebook status has belied that I’m limping, rather than frolicking, through these final weeks of the year. This has resulted in making grown up decisions about how I use my energy – consequently I’m not en route to Sydney today to celebrate my favourite de facto uncle turning 80, nor did I make it to best Christmas party of the year.

My state of exhaustion has been both helped and hindered by the following high and low lights of the past week.

1. “Note to self” – tossing mustard seeds in a very hot wok licked with vegetable oil is not a good idea, unless you want to be pelted by an instantaneous explosion of miniature molten cannonballs. Nothing like a tattoo of little burns across ones cleavage to celebrate the festive season! You’d be surprised by just how many mustard seeds quantify a heaped teaspoon, how far they can fly and for how long they reappear lodged in nooks and crannies.

2. Smoothies – I’ve fallen in love with the simplest breakfast on earth. A small, ripe banana augmented with a handful of strawberries or half a mango. My preferred milk is now rice, yes it’s rather thin and insipid but the banana turns it into a thicker substance, creamy with mouth feel. Pomegranate molasses continues to be the magic ingredient; it really lifts the flavour and enhances the fruity tones. Any smoothie without a teaspoon or two of the ruby syrup is lacking by comparison.

3. A drink or two at the Westin Hotel. On the only perfect summer’s day this week, when the barometer hovered around 30 in Melbourne, I met old friends and hung out in the opulent air-conditioned lobby and caught up with refugees from the London winter. Though I swear the waiter forgot the vodka in my VLS, the company and ambience was perfect place to catch up on the last 9 years, while waiting for tardy dinner guest delayed on a trans-Tasman flight.

4. Dinner at Gingerboy, I’m sorry but food wise this was an equal lowlight (though not as painful as the mustard seed tattoo). While I didn’t miss the reflux caused by my first visit there was a serious lack of “wow” through the whole meal. We had fun popping the son-in-law eggs, whole, into our mouths but the vegetarian dish featuring asparagus was bland and starchy. The biggest disappointment was the previously loved corn cakes. Apart from them not appearing until the last dish was served, despite saying “we want lots of corn cakes, give us corn cakes!” enthusiastically when ordering – the sad balls arrived a sunburnt shade of brown, burnt on the outside but damp within. Nothing like the fluffy balls I’d remembered. Waiting staff were fab though, along with the calibre of my dining companions but the kitchen let them down big time.

5. Nibbles and drinks at Gerald’s Bar. How lucky am I to have this bar as my “local”? I don’t know any other “all occasion” kind of place that hits the right note every time, let alone one a short walk from my front door. A quiet drink with my partner while dinner cooks slowly in the oven at home, the perfect end to a night out with overseas visitors, a catch up with my favourite wine, liqueur or coffee snob, a celebration with some close friends, an impromptu dinner at the bar or a quiet table in the back room – Gerald’s manages to deliver whatever I need with ease. The place can be rollicking, packed with high energy on a Friday night, yet perfectly cruisy on others. Last night the place was on a roll but a moment after squeezing through the door one of the bartenders eyeballed us and ushered us to a table for two in the backroom. Perfect for a planned catch up with a friend. The next minute the elusive Gerald appeared from the kitchen door “What can I get you girls*? A G&T? Some bubbles?” No, a perfectly priced rosé and a bowl of freshly fried crispy whitebait. Another glass and some of his delicious smoked salmon and a plate of vegetable pickles. All served with aplomb from the host with the most.

6. Fish burger, hold the chips. The tapas and rosé were wonderful but a few hours later was tweenie hour. No more wine for me, grazing plates had knocked the edge off my hunger but there was room for just a little more. Getting a late table at any of the Rathdowne Street eateries would be pushing it and all we wanted was a small serving of something simple. A brilliant plan was hatched, a fish burger to go from the anonymous looking takeaway place next door. Cooked to order for a mere $7, a classic spongy white bun burger, with a freshly grilled fillet, lettuce, tomato and tartare sauce, piping hot and eaten on my neighbours couch. Feet up, pussycats patted, music playing, water consumed – a perfect end to a hectic week. I’m so glad I conserved my energy, selectively picked and chose my social life.

I might just make it to Christmas after all.

Speaking of which, next Friday will find me trawling the providores of Wellington. I have no idea what I can feed my picky family this year (if only I could import my Melbourne favourites – fresh Aussie prawns, luscious mangoes, Chicken Pantry’s perfect turkey sausages that my father declared “the best turkey he’d ever eaten” and a swag of Noisette mince pies). It will be whatever is fresh and local, seafood and vegetable-wise and if I can unearth my mum’s trusty Kenwood, a batch of chocolate mousse. To be honest, a bowl of cherries, a glass of bubbles and a touch of chocolate is all I need, other than being grateful my rather fragile parents are still here to celebrate another yuletide. How are your (meat-free) Christmas food plans going?

* I’ve now hit the age where being called a girl no longer annoys me, a far preferable greeting than “madam”…a greeting that makes me want to splutter an Ab Fab response of “mademoiselle!”

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Thursday, December 16, 2010


Right now I've got a bad case of end of year fatigue causing me to triage my social life severely. Sheesh it's tough being a grown up sometimes.

While there's a great recipe posts brewing (the best vegan curry ever!) all I'm up for right now is to pour a long, cool glass of mineral water, have a lie down and share some vego-political humour spied today at Garden Organics.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

solstice giving update

At winter solstice I gave thanks and started an experiment. In gathering my (and your) favourite healthy cookbooks I linked them to a Fishpond (online Australasian bookstore) affiliate program. The promise was to give any profits from affiliate sales to my favourite charity. As an act of faith I donated $200 in advance to the Smith Family’s Learning for Life and I’m glad to say that has almost been met in affiliate sales.

Today, while listening to 774 I caught Ian Thorpe talk about his foundation. Those of you who’ve read my other (ranty) blog may know I’ve had a thing for Thorpie over the years. But all jokes aside, after listening to flipper feet talk I’m proud of what he’s done to encourage literacy in Aboriginal communities. So continuing the theme of giving I’ve donated $200 to his charity. If you’d like to support it too by purchasing books via this Fishpond link or directly through the foundation, good on you.

As for the virtual bookshelf I’m building elsewhere, it’s still a work in progress. The list of things to consume my post holiday replenished energy supplies in the New Year grows ever longer! You’re welcome to continue to add your thoughts on healthy food related reading.

A big addition to my original list is my cookbook of the year, Tony Chiodo’s Feel Good Food.
Feel Good Food
Feel Good Food
I’ve broken my minimalist rules this year with a small haul of recipe books and Chiodo’s is certainly the healthiest.

Lisa Dempster recommended
The Asian Vegan Kitchen: Authentic and Appetizing Dishes from the Continent of Rich Flavors
The Asian Vegan Kitchen: Authentic and Appetizing Dishes from the Continent of Rich Flavors
I like the idea of an Asian cookbook that avoids mock meats/sauces and focuses on the authentic vegetarian recipes. It’s winging its way to my letterbox right now!

I’m keen to check out Lucy’s suggestion, it's just a pity I didn’t remember it when I ordered the Hema Parekh’s book! But good to see that Fishpond currently have it on sale.
Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking with What You've Got
Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking with What You've Got

A few of you also suggested
The Yoga Cookbook: Vegetarian Food for Body and Mind
The Yoga Cookbook: Vegetarian Food for Body and Mind

Speaking of cookbooks I made an interesting discovery recently. Do you ever fall in love with a book in the shop, bring it home, touch it lovingly from time to time but never really end up cooking anything from it? This year I realized that the key to success is committing to make at least one recipe from the new book within the first week of purchase. This reduces the likelihood that it will languish on the shelf with its recipes mere pipe dreams.

What books are tickling your fancy, culinary or otherwise, this season?

A big thanks to all of you who clicked through to Fishpond in the last 6 months and bought all sorts of wonderful books and electronic equipment via the affiliate link. It gives me a buzz to think that your reading choices are helping some Australian children learn to love words and become readers for life.

Hope you all are keeping your head above water and remembering the spirit of the season.

Update: Lucy added From Spiders to Water Lilies Cambodian cooking for a great cause.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

fresh, green and vomit-free!

I came late to the party as far as coriander (cilantro) is concerned.

To be honest I thought the herb smelt like vomit, so why would I want to taste it? The journey from outright disgust to tolerance of this plant has been a long one. It’s only in recent years that I’ve begun to embrace it. So to celebrate this newfound love, inspired by Christina’s wonderful post mid year, I’ve grown coriander for the first time.

Beyond the joy of being able to harvest a bunch of coriander fresh from the garden while knocking up some Asian delight, I’ve patiently waited for the plant to go to seed. In the past when annuals have bolted, I’ve felt a little melancholy. This time my excitement was palpable.

You see it’s the seed bearing umbels that really turn me on. So much of what I cook now begins with toasting and grinding coriander and cumin seeds. How perfect to harvest my own seeds to use after the plant has died? Then my mind sprung to the next logical conclusion, if dried seeds bring me so much olfactory joy, what about FRESH coriander seeds? How cool would they be to cook with?

For the past week I’ve battled torrential rain, the odd swarm of mosquitoes and fretted about locusts, just to harvest my new best friend. The first batch went mouldy, stupid really as I know all about drying herbs. Fortunately there’s been more bounty on the leggy, near dead, plant. My first foray into using my new love was to simply crush a head or two of seeds with the back of a large knife and adding them to a mid-week kedgeree. The seeds lifted the flavour, adding a fresh pungency to the spices.

Have you every cooked with fresh coriander seeds or have an inkling on how you’d use them?

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