31 May 2012

Discovering quinoa

Quinoa is my new favourite thing. I’m a girl who can’t cook rice without a rice cooker, but quinoa is a breeze.

This funny-looking little grain is having a bit of a moment. Lots of new books out on how to cook with it, always a magazine article trumpeting how good it is for us (high protein, fibre and iron — we should all be eating this by the bucketload) and how it’s been the staple for some ancient civilization for thousands of years (if you’re truly interested, Wikipedia gives a great snapshot).

If you can boil rice, you can make quinoa. In fact, even if you are rice-challenged like me, quinoa is a doddle (it’s even tempting me to overcome my fear of the absorption method). Simply put one part quinoa in a pan, add three parts water (I use boiled water from the kettle to hurry things a long a bit), put the lid on, and when it starts to get going, turn it down to low. Like rice, it gets those curious funnels as it really cooks. It seems to take around 15 minutes; at the end, take the lid off and stir the pot to ensure all the moisture is gone (wet quinoa is not a good thing).

I’ve found you can cook a small batch to last a couple of nights, then use it as a time-saver base for meals, especially on yoga nights when I’m prone to coming home, hungry but lazy, and reaching for crackers and butter. Now I can pull out my little tub of cooked quinoa, fold through some tinned chickpeas, and some vegie chunks (steamed or roasted from the night before) and/or raw salad ingredients like cucumber, mushrooms and red capsicum. Dress with a little olive oil, sweet balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, and I can feel smugly healthy in less than 15 minutes (the truly virtuous-goddess vibes are at their strongest and most delusional after my weekly yoga class).
Anyway, it’s another spin on my what I call my warm salad thing, and becoming a regular player in my weeknight meals.

I have read many times that quinoa can make a kind breakfast porridge, but I can’t make that leap yet. Besides, I rather love my rolled oats.

I’m looking forward to finishing my bag of anonymous supermarket quinoa, as the Aproneers stocks the stuff grown in Kindred, Tas! Where is Kindred??

What’s your favourite way to eat quinoa? Can you expand my repertoire?

30 May 2012

Anna del Conte and why Italian food is the best

Was just looking thru my journals for a recipe and I came across this I had copied out from an Anna del Conte book (I am sorry, I did not record the book title):

Italian cooking ... is a cuisine of few surprises but of deep satisfaction, of few innovations but of innumerable variations. It is basically home cooking of great simplicity, where the only important elements are good ingredients and love.

I'm sure this is why Italian is my favourite way to cook and eat.

I am currently reading Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries (for the third time), and I just picked up from the library Tender (also by Nigel Slater) and Stephanie Alexander's weighty Kitchen Garden Companion. I'm sure I'll be inspired - to plant, cook, eat, write.

What are you reading right now?
And Italian is my favourite - what's yours?

Roast pumpkin + broccoli tart

Weekend cooking is lovely. You have the time, the leisure, to everything slowly and to enjoy the process of making a meal. On Sunday afternoon I made this roast pumpkin and brocolli tart, which I have been eating for my lunch this week.

I steamed the bright green, tight florets of broccoli and gave them ample time to dry. I roasted small chunks of pumpkin - a beautifully dark coloured and deeply flavoured one from dad - and slowly, slowly cooked finely sliced onion, crushed garlic and chopped mushrooms, in plenty of grassy green olive oil, until it was golden and silky. I had to restrain myself from halting the tart plans there and just eating this marmalady concoction.

I made my pastry from scratch. Pastry is not  hard to make; if you have a food processor it is a doddle. For so little effort, the rewards are magnificent (on the plus side, you know exactly what is in it). Pastry is also a beautiful thing to make, and again, on the weekend you have time to enjoy rolling out the silky, pliable dough. Since buying a marble rolling pin (which I keep in the fridge so it's always cold and ready for action), rolling out pastry is even more 'one of life's little pleasures' (if I can admit that without sounding kinky). Its substantial weight makes easy work of any dough.

I used my favoutite pastry recipe - actually, the piece of paper it is written on says 'BEST PASTRY' - but because this was a savoury tart (I usually use it for fruit tarts), I added a pinch more salt and lots of cracked black pepper.

I went through the tedium of blind baking the tart case - I get so impatient at this stage (even with ample time). But it does allow me to use another of pastry making's accoutrements, my ceramic pastry weights. They don't get out often enough!

Then I spread the onion and mushroom mix onto the base (this time, I did sneak a spoonful) and then arranged the broccoli and pumpkin on top. Then I poured over a mix of eggs, sour cream, ricotta and parmesan, and a little plain flour, then added some crumbly shards of my new favourite addiction - Mersey Valley's basil and garlic pesto cheese (I have deliberated over whether I should name products on my blog, but this is so wonderful I have to share it with you - you might want to try it, and then wonder how you lived without it! Mersey Valley might send me truckloads of the stuff (I'll share, mum)! But honestly, now that basil growing season is finished here in Hobart, this is a bright, sharp reminder of summer, and it added a punch to this tart). I popped the lot in the oven and baked it for about 30 minutes - til the batter was set.

All of these stages - I would never have the time or energy to do this after work. But on the weekend, I could slowly stir the onions, wait for the pumpkin to caramelise perfectly, and enjoy the pasty yielding beneath my heavy rolling pin. I could enjoy the wait for the oven bell to go off, instead of impatiently peering thru the glass door while my stomach growled.

Best pastry
I used double this quantity but had excess once fitted into the tart tin. I just tore it off, rolled it even thinner, and baked it into little crisps. I don't know where I got this recipe from.
  • Add to a food processor 1 cup plain flour, 1/2 tspn sugar, 1/8 tspn salt, 80-85 grams salted butter.
  • Whiz up then with the bowl still running, slowly add enough cold water until the dough starts to ball up. Remove and roll out and use.
  • Proper pastry people would chill the dough in the fridge for half an hour before using, but ... I'm not a proper pastry person.

26 May 2012

Nigella's dense chocolate loaf cake

I hope this was worth waiting for.

Woman cannot live by apple cake alone. While I adore baking and eating apple cakes, and no doubt I will return to them (when dad delivers the next boxful), I need a respite.

I’ve also decided that as we head into the cooler, darker days of the year, I need the comfort of something familiar, of a tried and true recipe, rather than the thrill of a new one.

So I pulled out my big folder of the recipes I have successfully cooked (as most come torn from magazines, photocopied from library books or downloaded from the internet, I use a folder system to keep all the successful ones separate from the ones yet to try. I’m sure I was a librarian or an archivist in a past life).

I settled in with a cup of tea and some post it notes for tagging, ready to re-acquaint myself with an old friend and step outside the current apple zone. As I flipped thru, I realised I could remember making and enjoying most of the recipes in this time capsule. Ask me to remember something I did last week and I flounder, goggle-eyed, but food — ah, now that’s quite a different matter!

In the end I actually went to one of the few cookbooks I own: Nigella’s ‘How to be a domestic goddess’ (a present, years ago, from my friend, the gorgeous M). I am a big fan of early Nigella and I think ‘Domestic goddess’ is wonderful. It is imbued with her personality but it’s not rampantly flamboyant. I much prefer Nigella on the page than the TV screen (I also think her earlier book ‘How to eat’ is even better, if you love reading about food and eating. Her writing is glorious).

Anyway, I immediately found a cake that ticks both boxes for my original search: something far away from apple cake as you could get, and something familiar, as you can see from my page notes:

It's a very easy recipe, and very economical too, with only two eggs. It seems strange to cream the butter and sugar (and more on the sugar below) and then add boiled water - it seems contradictory to whip something up then sog it down with hot water. But it works in the end.

With admirable constraint, I made this last night and did not cut it until my parents visited this morning. Nigella advises leaving it a day or two, to let it 'improve'. It's fudgy like a good brownie, and perfect with a strong cup of fragrant earl grey.
Update, Wed 30: this cake is getting better everyday - squidgier, deeper, darker.
Should you decide to make this yourself - and you really should - here are some notes (which I need to add to my above scrawl).
Don't be alarmed at the quantity of sugar specified. Well, do be alarmed, but feel the fear and do it anyway. It all works in the end, and the cake is not (surprisingly) cloyingly sacharine. And it's the brown sugar gives that lovely brownie-like crackle on the top.

Also, instead of a cup of boiling water, use two thirds water and one third Tia Maria. Or Frangelico. Or whatever floats your fancy. I have these in the cupboard, they need using!

Nigella's dense chocolate loaf cake
Adapted from the Domestic Goddess. But please read the recipe in her book - it's as enjoyable as the actual cake is.
  • Preheat your oven to 190 and line a tin (I've used loaf, round and this time, a brownie tin) and have some muffins tins prepped too, just in case. This makes a lot and and never fits into any of my tins without needing to go to the cupcake option.
  • Melt 100 grams of dark cooking chocolate and allow to cool while you get on with creaming 225 grams butter and 375 grams of the darkest brown sugar you can find. Then add two eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Then beat in the chocolate. Lots of finger and spoon licking required at this stage.
  • Next add 200 grams of plain flour, 1 teaspoon of bicarb soda, and one cup of boiling water (or water and boozy stuff) - alternate dry ingredients and liquid. This will be a fairly liquid batter; you can easily pour it into your prepared tins.
  • Bake for 30 mins at 190 then reduce to 170 and bake another 10-15 minutes (remember to watch your cupcakes if you have those). As Nigella advises, this is a sticky cake, so your skewer might not be completely clean when you test.
  • Leave to cool on a wire rack, then transfer to an airtight container, shut the door on the kitchen, and patiently await the next day. If I can, you can. 

Shop review: The Aproneers

I am not self-sufficient; far from it. I get a little produce from my garden; I get most of my fruit and veg from my dad’s bounteous garden and orchard. I’m even lucky enough that work puts on a weekly fresh fruit basket.

But there are times I have to hand over money for food. Either we’re not growing it, I haven’t seen my parents for a delivery, or it’s things like bananas that we don’t grow!

I prefer to go to the smaller F&V shops, mainly because I like supporting small, local businesses. And if the shop is chic and gorgeous and allows me to live out the fantasy that just by being there, I am chic and gorgeous as well, even better!

How wonderful then that the Aproneers has opened in Lindisfarne. It looks stunning, is one of a kind, and when I visited on their very first day of business it was filled with colourful juicy produce and trendy looking locals (who knew? I thought Lindisfarne was full of retirees). It plugs into the desire for local food and organic, sustainable farming practices.

The brilliant thing about the Aproneers is that their price tags told you exactly where the apple or cabbage or potato you buy comes from. Exactly - not just ‘Tasmania’ but ‘Kindred, Tasmania’. I’d not heard of some of these towns – they need a map up in the store, with red push pins showing where these places are!

On my first visit I bought brussels sprouts, the first I’d had of the season – tight little babies, green and delicious. I also bought ‘farm churned’ butter, almost crumbly and deliciously salty, just how I like my butter, and just perfect on thick toasted slices of the Pidgeon Hole fruit sourdough I also bought (if you see me and I’m getting fatter, it’s because I’m eating that butter, like cheese, in thick slabs on crackers). I should swoon too over the way the bread was tied up in paper and brown twine.

My parents joined my friend F and I as went back this weekend for the special opening. By the time we got there, the crowds had lessened somewhat. But there was still lots chatting over coffees or bowls of soup, and lingering as they chose cheese or bread or flowers. There were plenty of staff on hand to welcome and chat, so I made my suggestion of the big map. The man I spoke to pointed over my shoulder and said 'See that big white wall? We'll put it there!'.

I left with free-range eggs, mushrooms, more brussel sprouts from Kindred, an organic cauliflower and some broccoli. Mum and dad bought a big bag on onions and a huge savoy cabbage, which they split in half when we got home and shared with me. And F bought meat, wasabi cheese, some vegetables and a pasta sauce for her dinner. We were sure we'd return, too. It's amazing to have something like the Aproneers in little old Lindisfarne.

21 May 2012

Vegie garden audit

I realise I have started writing online about ‘home-grown’ when there’s not actually much growing in my vegie garden. The last couple of weekends, I had nothing to do in the patch; I desperately scratched around for some weeds to pull (the pea stray I lay as mulch about a month ago has started sprouting in the recent rains) and watered (because those recent rains are few and far between. Whoever tells you Hobart is a rainy city is lying to you).

So in lieu of actually doing any gardening, I’ll do a stocktake.

Rhubarb: limping along. Spindly, anaemic. For someone who loves rhubarb, this is an insult.

Silverbeet: better news here. Reliable, wonderful silverbeet. See previous post; my hero.

Cabbages: see previous post. Settling into their new homes nicely.

Chili plant (my first ever): it’s doing me proud. Granted, it’s also growing into a lopsided shape, but it hasn’t yet stopped putting out long, fiery-red peppers – such a spark in the garden.

Climbing beans: just about finished now, but what delicious meals they gave me over summer and the early weeks of autumn! Green beans are one of my favourite vegies. These were my first successful go at growing beans up a trellis, and they really make the garden look like a serious venture. Like I know what I’m doing. Anyway, I really should 'let go' and pull the sad vines out now

Larkspur: yes, a flower. I have a gazillion little seedlings coming up everywhere! They are a beautiful flash of cobalt blue that attracts bees to the garden, so they will stay.

Curly kale (above): an old row that isn’t doing much (it's in a dry area close to my fruit trees), but a new row planted about a month ago doing quite well.

Curly leaf parsley: planted at the same time as the kale above. No luck at all. But plenty of new larkspurs coming up.

This means that apart from the silverbeet, sadly not much on my dinner plate is from my garden at the moment.

What's growing in your garden at the moment?

19 May 2012

She'll be apples (and raspberry muffins)

My dad has many apple trees, of different varieties, which means (thankfully) I do not have to rely on my single apple tree for a supply (because the birds get to the un-netted fruit before I do).

But it also means I am (currently) faced with this prospect every time I walk into my kitchen:

 Unless you grow you own apples, you don't often see such gnarly specimens as this: small. Tough-skinned, some of them; others, waxy and thin. Some are lumpy and calloused from rubbing against their tree's branches; mis-shapen and un-perfect and how real apples are.

There is more here than I can munch through, and truth is I much prefer cooking with them. I plan on stewing some up with a little mixed spice, to have on my breakfast oats, and I shall be consulting my collection of apple recipes for cakes. I love apple cakes - they are one of my favourite kinds to bake because they are usually sweet, moist, a bit old-fashioned, which is my style of baking.

Apple cakes can be 'just apples', but usually the fruit is paired to perfection with a spice (cinnamon or mixed spice). I love apples with other fruit, too: think a classic apple pie studded with sultanas, or a crumble of mixed apple and rhubarb (and plenty of cream, of course).

This week I made apple and raspberrry muffins, based very loosely on a recipe found in a recent Good Food magazine that someone had put in the tearoom at work (thank you whoever you are; please bring in more!). They look ugly, but trust me: they're lovely!

 Actually, mum and I made them together last weekend and we decided the recipe needed some tweaking, so I've made them twice again since and have tweaked each time. The quantity of fruit has been doubled, I've played with cooking times, and omitted the rather dry crumb topping.

These are not obviously apple muffins; the fruit is part of a well-balanced ensemble cast that includes oats, and raspberries (I'm lucky to have a stash in the freezer of dad's berries I can pull out thru out the year). There's just enough cinnamon to round out the flavours, rather than dominate and be blatantly 'spicy'. These also include natural yoghurt, which I haven't used in baking for a while (my go-to dairy is sour cream, regardless of what the recipe specifies). The yoghurt added a lovely lightness and freshness to the finished cakes.

These little cakes are also very quick and simple to make - grating the apple was the fiddliest bit, and really, that's not hard, is it?

Apple and raspberry muffins
Adapted from Good Food magazine
  • So, preheat your oven to 180 and prepare a muffin tray (butter, or use paper cups). In a large bowl combine 1 1/2 cups SR flour, 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1 tspn ground cinnamon. Grate two apples into this, skin and all. Watch your fingers, says the voice of experience.
  • In another bowl, combine two eggs, 1/2 cup of light olive oil, and 3/4 cup natural yoghurt. This will look like a curdled mess, but don't worry. Mix this into the dry ingredients, and when combined add 1 cup of frozen raspberries and stir til just mixed through.
  • Pop into your prepared muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean and the  kitchen smells really warm and wonderful. And enjoy!

16 May 2012

Tall, dark and handsome: silverbeet

I have a real soft spot for silverbeet. I know that’s an odd confession, but I love this reliable, old-fashioned and under-rated leafy green.

It’s not as trendy as spinach (which to me is a ring-in from somewhere else – Britain? America? Though don’t ask me to substantiate that!). It’s not as lauded as broccoli, say, for its super-food antioxidant life-giving nutritional properties.

No, silverbeet is that quiet achiever, growing in the garden just about all year round; just half a dozen plants reliably supply me with all I need. Mine looks pretty smart, too, with its brightly coloured stems: some ruby-pink, some lettuce-y green – I don’t actually have any at the moment that is the plain white variety. The dark and gently puckered leaves wave about like flags, and in their neat row they are like disciplined sentinels imposing order and standing guard at the edge of my vegie patch.

And silverbeet’s robust flavour reminds me of my childhood. We must have eaten it regularly, and maybe that’s why I have such affection for growing and eating it myself.

My favourite way to eat silverbeet now is to chop it finely, stalks and all (mine are fairly tender) and then steam it. Then I drain it well, perhaps chop it up some more, and stir it into a hot pan of golden onion, garlic and olive oil, making sure there is just enough oil to ensure the silverbeet is glistening nicely, but not too gluggy.

I might heap this onto a chewy, thick slice of ciabatta bread or toast, or serve it with a soft-boiled egg on top, or fold it though some rollini pasta (fusilli would work nicely too). Sometimes I steam green beans with the silverbeet, too, or broccoli. Or some tinned chickpeas, which lend a nutty, sturdy contrast to the silky darkness of the silverbeet. Or i might stir thru some good quality tinned tuna if I’m feeling really fancy. But mostly I love the silverbeet by itself.

How do you like your silverbeet?

14 May 2012

My secret fantasy

Have you ever tried to photograph chickens?!
Do you have a dream, a wish, something you’d really like to do with your life? Travel the world, climb a mountain, become a rock star?

Mine: I’d own chickens.

I’d have a chicken house – nothing fancy, just solid and safe from the weather and predators – and plenty of room for the chickens to scratch and forage and have dust baths to their hearts’ content.
I’d wander down on a sunny day (not a cloud in the blue sky) and collect a rustic-basketful of fresh eggs – maybe daubed with a little poo, a-flutter with a downy feather – for the morning’s baking or my evening omelette. I’d feed the girls – only half a dozen or so; some chocolate brown in colour, some speckled ginger, others pristine white with black necklaces – I’d feed them wheat and silverbeet and fruit and table scraps. Talk to them and listen to their cackles and calls, and feel calm
and contented.

I would love chickens but I have a suburban backyard that I don’t think has the space chickens deserve. My vegie garden takes up probably 40-50% of the land; I cannot conceive of a good area for them.  Also, there are neighbourhood cats; I’d have to build a huge protective enclosure for them, and where’s the romance (or freedom) in that? It would be like Alcatraz; depressing.

Finally, I get rats every autumn – I don’t want to further entice these nasty vermin in with a year-round supply of chicken feed.

I went to a chicken show with mum and dad recently and my fantasy chicken life flared up again as I wistfully admired the pretty hens and fierce roosters. I picked up brochures on how to keep chickens in suburbia.

But I realised later that night it was just not practicable.

So I content myself with chicken shows, and visiting mum and dad’s chickens (as I did this weekend), saying hi to the girls and collecting their adorned eggs. And thinking, one day.
My mum's chickens. And mum.

9 May 2012

How to plant cabbages

Here’s one I prepared earlier! I've always wanted to say that ... This is from the gardening and cooking journals I keep. It’s fun to look back at what I was doing in the garden - this is from 14 april, only a few weeks ago. My how the weather has changed!

Another hot autumn day. Hot as in hot early in the morning, wishing I’d worn shorts on my start-the-day bike ride. Hot as in need a hat and plenty of water – for me and the garden.
I thought last weekend’s hard work in the garden would be a kind of last hurrah – feeding and mulching the soil one last time before tucking it in for its winter rest.
But this week I belatedly read my gardenate.com planting list and realised: cabbages!
I love eating cabbage, and last year I had some modest success growing the sugarloaf variety. It grows vertically – think of a large pointy pine cone sitting on its end. It’s smaller than your usual soccer-ball-round cabbage – making it a very efficient vegetable. Great for single gals like me: I get only one or two meals from it, so there are no greying vegies sitting reproachfully in my fridge. It’s compact size is also great for backyard gardeners with limited space.
So once at the nursery, I get seduced by a punnet of savoy cabbages too.
A savoy cabbage is round and big – but I love its darker, tightly crinkled leaves. To me, it’s the most spectacular variety of cabbage. The sugarloaf is practical – the savoy is magnificent.
These big beauties need lots of space – which I don’t have! So I just ignore the spacing recommendations and hope for the best.
How to plant your seedlings (how I do, anyway):

1 Prep your soil. Dig over where you want to plant, plus some space all around for the roots to venture into. I used my hoe, shipping then turning and lifting as if sifting flour. I add a good sprinkling of something called ‘rooster booster’ which I think adds nutrients into the soil. I’m not sure now – reasons lost in the mists of time – I just do it. Draw a light line in the soil as a planting guide (if you like straight lines like me). Then dot out where you’re going to put each seedling, using the spacing instructions on the punnet as a guide (or ignore them, if you’re like me).
2 Water the punnet of seedlings then pop out (like you would ice cubes). Gently, gently break and tease apart each seedling. Take your time; it can be tricky both if you’ve bought a young punnet where the roots are small and underdeveloped, and if you have one that’s been sitting at the nursery a tad too long and the roots are well developed and locking together. Sometimes it’s better to leave two together if they are too intertwined, rather than risk damaging them fatally.
3 Use your hand trowel to wiggle a little pocket into the soil, and then place the seedling into the opening. Gently firm the soil back into the pocket and around the seedling up to its base, helping it stand upright.
4 Protect your future dinner. Do you have wonderfully active blackbirds as I do, who love nothing more than digging out your seedlings to get to the worms you have tilled up to the surface for them (yes, this whole exercise was about them and their dinner, not you and yours!)?
Then put a guard around your seedlings. I have a collection of old plastic pots, with the bottom cut off them. I have also used largish yoghurt or margarine containers I have washed out and again, chopped the bottoms off. Place these over and around your seedlings, pinning down if necessary (I have some U-shaped wired, about a hand span long, that I made at dad’s place for this very purpose).
5 Next replace any mulch you’ve pushed back from the garden, placing it right up against those pot guards (which also stop the mulch from completely covering the small plants).
6 Water in the plants with a drink of seasol, diluted in your watering can. Apparently the stuff stops ‘transplant shock’ and gets plants off to a good start in life. Stinky stuff but good stinky. Then sprinkle around some snailbait (I like the small lurid turquoise ‘lentils’ that mum and dad gave me). Some people are anti-snailbait – I guess if you have children or pets you should be. But me, it’s essential. I want to be the one that eats these cabbages, not the snails and slugs!
Finally stick the punnet tag in the ground nearby, with the date on it, Stand back and admire your hard work, and dream about the meals to come!

Tomato soup: summer memories

Last night’s post-yoga supper was absolutely Proustian. Is that the right turn of phrase? As I stirred and heated the orangey-red tomato soup, inhaled the gentle smells of woody marjoram and green basil, watched the golden flecks of olive oil dance on the surface, I was taken right back to the afternoon mum and I made this to use the last of the tomatoes from dad’s garden.
My creaky memory recalls nothing more than a little oil, some quickly chopped sweet red onion cooked gently til translucent (which produces such a seductive smell you are almost tempted to end the cooking there and just eat the onions). Then the tomatoes – scalded and skins removed (a bearable job when two of you are at the sink), cut into rough chunks, and added to the pot. Simmered down and only slightly whizzed up with mum’s hand wand whizzer thingy. There were still plenty of chunks there to remind you that this was homemade, from real tomato chunks.
In the final moments, the herbs swirled thru. The debate then about basil: mum is adamant basil loses its flavour once cooked, and she was against me using her precious bounty into the soup. But I’m glad I won out, because the aniseedy aroma that wafted up last night was magical.
Tomato soup – homemade tomato soup – is light but deep with sunshiny flavours. It’s a beautiful thing to pull out of the freezer on a cool autumn night. Indeed, I would say tomato soup is wasted in summer, when tomatoes are better enjoyed fresh and raw and juicy in salads or on toast (or just as they are).
All I needed with my bowl of yum memories was toast. Hot buttered toast. I defer anyone to eat a bowl of tomato soup without a plate of buttered toast soldiers. I love something hefty, grainy to chew on, to contrast with the slurpiness of soup (Bergen’s pumpkin seed bread is my chosen vice, so I can nibble, mouse-like, on each individual pumpkin seed).
It’s funny that the other memories this meal evoked where from my childhood, when cold wet days might mean a tin of tomato soup – and the buttered toast. For some reason, I think milk was added. I loved the thick, bright red, perfectly smooth stuff. This was before dad grew his own tomatoes, and before I would know any better. But now I do.

5 May 2012

Winter days and apple pudding

Yesterday was sodden with rain, shrouded with mists, and, well, winter. Miserable weather. Thankfully I was spending it with my friend B, so we ate and talked and worked our way thru it all. Thankfully today is truly opposite: I am sitting outside as I write this, basking in the sun like a cat, drinking green tea and popping sweet red grapes.
This is a lovely moment because I don’t get into my green space now except on weekends. With shorter, cooler days, I come straight home from work and go – and stay – inside. I peer at my garden thru the windows, and it’s not the same as being in it.
During the summer I am such a part of my garden that I do feel a sense of loss at this time of the year when I am no longer so connected with it (even if there is not much work to do).
Even while I’m sitting here though, I know this gorgeousness could be gone in a flash – all it takes is for one cloud to scuttle across the sun and I’d be chilled to the bone. And the evening will definitely be cool,  so I’m glad I have an apple pudding waiting for me.
‘Pudding’. Don’t you just love that word? It’s not glamourous like soufflĂ© or fancy like tart. It’s like a plump old cook wearing an apron tied around her ample waist, sleeves rolled up ready to… okay, I know I’m getting carried away here.
But ‘pudding’ – you now you’ll be well-fed, well-nourished, maybe a little undo-your-top-button full by the end of it. What’s wrong with that? On a winter’s night you can roll away from the dining table and recline on the couch in a happy food-coma.
The pudding I made is mum’s apple and lemon pudding. It’s wonderfully fast to make, especially mid-week when you have neither the time or energy for involved recipes. The secret to the speed is melting the butter rather than creaming it (a blessing too if your kitchen is as arctic as mine in the wintertime and working with butter can be a challenge).
So, zap 100 grams of butter in the microwave to melt it, then stir in half a cup of sugar, two eggs, half teaspoon of vanilla and two third cups of self raising flour. A lovely, fast batter.
This pudding is also a good way of eating your fruit quota. I fall behind eating fresh fruit at this time of the year – frankly, I prefer to eat vegetables, or cooked fruit. So combining apples with pudding is a very sound nutrition decision, as far as I’m concerned.
So take four or five apples and cut them into thin slices or wedges, whatever you’re fastest at. I leave the skin on because a) that’s where the vitamins are and b) I’m lazy. I’ve made this with apple varieties that cook down to a lovely mush as well as those that hold their shape. All are delicious.

Next, zest a lemon over the apples, then add the lemon’s juice, plus half a cup of brown sugar and a quarter of a teaspoon each of cinnamon and (my favourite) mixed spice. Tumble it all into a well-buttered baking dish; top with the batter; and sprinkle over flaked almonds. Once cooked (180 for about 35 minutes), the almonds’ toasty crunch contrasts nicely against the pillowy pudding layer and the beautifully cooked apple, all at once sweet and spicy and tangy – and comforting, the way a pudding should be.

4 May 2012

Mac cheese with extras

I bring a cooked hot lunch to work with me most days – lunch is my big meal of the day (I try to have a lighter supper. And dessert, of course). Sometimes it’s leftovers, but mostly I cook up a big pot of something over the weekend, to save time during the week. I am quite happy eating the same thing every lunch for a few days – especially if it smells and tastes good, I know I’m in for a treat!
This week my lunch has drawn many enquiring noses and envious looks (I have to brag!). Because it does smell good, and look comforting and warming. It’s perfect for the cold weather that has finally thudded down upon Hobart.
It’s a sort of macaroni cheese – loosely a macaroni cheese - with extras. I saw a recipe in one of the supermarket magazines and took that as my starting point; a recipe like this is really just a rough suggestion for ways of making it your own. Which means I won’t be guaranteed of making it the same way twice.
The base of this is pasta and a creamy cheesy ‘sauce’. First deviation (yes, there were many): I didn’t use elbow-shaped macaroni. Instead I boiled up longer, twistier pasta (number 25 by Divella) (aside: I’ve noticed this pasta is ‘denser’ or more substantial than my usual supermarket stuff, so it’s good when you really want to feel like you’ve done some chewing and have a nice belly full of carbs).
While the pasta was boiling along happily, I multi-tasked by steaming some of my favourite vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus) that I’d chopped into small pieces – and then chopped up some more once cooked. I also fried slivers of chorizo (i prefer a chorizo that is quite dry and hard in texture, but wonderfully fiery in the mouth).
Once everything is ready, put the pasta in a big mixing bowl and add a couple of generous spoonfuls of sour cream and a generous amount of grated cheddar. This is the cheat’s beauty of this recipe: no making a roux-based cheese sauce. Saves having yet another saucepan to wash, and saves stirring the butter and flour and milk and … if you make cheese sauce, you know what I’m talking about.
If you’re one of those cooks who like precise directions and quantities for your dishes, you’re probably on the edge of your seat by now, so: to my 200 grams of pasta I started with about three big (serving) spoons of sour cream, and a very large cup of grated cheddar. You need just enough to coat everything and help things move around; a sloppy, liquid ‘sauce’ is not the point of this dish. Start conservatively and add more if necessary, once you’ve added the chorizo and vegies.
I then blobbed the mixture into individual ramekins – ready to take to work – and sprinkled some normal breadcrumbs, panko crumbs (essential, I’ve decided for their delicate crunch, which contrasts to the pasta stodge) and grated parmesan I had loitering in the fridge. I then baked them for about 15 minutes at 180 degrees until golden brown.
I love having the vegetables mooshed thru, and the heat of the chorizo stops this being bland. It’s a wonderful combination. But I’m already thinking of using tinned tuna (tuna mornay!) and subbing the chorizo for lots of parsley and dried chili flakes.
Hmm, maybe I could eat this every day for weeks on end!