Sunday, December 11, 2011

A few of my favourite things...

It´s been more than a year.

Of that year, I have spent almost half travelling through Europe, and still, not a peep.

While I can´t begin to make up for all the missed meals, I can start up again now and let you know about a few of the absolute stand out,(food) experiences that I have had this trip.

Chronologically, because I could not even begin to order things otherwise, these have been a few of my favourite things:

- Cote de Provence Rose sitting at an outdoor table in the Parisian summer

- Spinach (or other wild greens) and cheese burek washed down with cold natural drinking yoghurt in Belgrade (and all through the Balkans)

- Peaches, quite simply perfection, from the market in Montenegro

- Eating $2 bowls of borscht with a hard boiled egg at a plastic table in Poland´s soviet hangover `milk bars`

- Organic blueberry, pomegranate and pear gelati (separately, but at the same time) in Bologna.

- French "hyper" markets, with 4 cheese sections, 2 aisles for butter, beautiful yoghurts in tiny glass jars, artisan ciders, cans of everything from ratatouille to duck confit, 38 cent baguette perfection... I could go on.

- Olive oil that makes everything else look like a poor imitation, bought from a lady´s garage at the side of the road in Puglia

- Everything with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and a sprinkle of oregano in Greece

- Naples. Pizza. Perfection.

- Naples. Sfogliatelle. Perfection.

- Tapas, clearly from a can, and at $5 a bite, a total rip off, but coupled with a glass of cava and a crowded bar, deliciously worth it.

- Coffee in the early morning sun at 3000m in Andorra

- Gluwine at Christmast markets everywhere from Bern to Baden.

That brings us about up to the present, though I´m sure I´ve missed at least two dozen unforgettable experiences.

For now at least, I feel better about having gotten some of that down.

Stay tuned... I won´t make you wait a whole more year for a new post this time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A la naturale

I’ve been gone. That’s what happens when you decide to take up a masters course and continue with your day job. But I’m back. It’s late spring, and there are lots of delicious things to eat.

As a quick catch up, so you can have some idea of all the exciting things you missed out on when I wasn’t posting, over the past couple of months I’ve been eating a lot of:
- sautéed broccoli, kale or other green with lots of garlic, a bit of chilli, and poached egg and lots of parmesan cheese plopped on top.
- Miso soup with soba noodles, steamed vegies and a poached egg on top
- Boiled artichokes/baby leeks/asparagus with vinagrette and a hard boiled egg on top

And that’s pretty much about it. So don’t worry, you haven’t missed anything, except perhaps an inordinate number of eggs.

This recipe comes from Luisa at The Wednesday Chef – she wrote about it whilst lamenting the last days of summer over in Berlin. Back on this side of the world, this dish is a perfect celebration of what can be called, “pants off weather”. It’s not as outrageous as it sounds, it’s just that we’re finally starting to get those evenings that are warm and slightly sticky. Those evenings when catching the train is like a Dali painting, everything slowly melting. Those evenings when you drag yourself up the three flights of stairs to your apartment and the first thing you do is pull off your jeans to cool down, and they stay off.

Even when you know full well your neighbours can see into your apartment, there’s nothing quite like sitting down to dinner in your undies.

This recipe is quick and simple, light and summery and works perfectly whether you are dining solo a la undie or have some company and more clothes on. I ate it sitting on the couch, in my undies, with the end of a fresh sourdough rye loaf, frantically reading my bookclub book (got to be finished by tomorrow night!!)

I could see it going just as well as a side dish for a more substantial meal or served as part of a mezze/range of salads type dinner.

Whatever you do, try it once just in your undies, for me.

Zucchini salad with harissa
I’ve tweaked the salad a bit to make it for one person and also to match what I had in the fridge. Feel free to play around with it – the amount of harissa will make it quite spicey which is great in the warm weather, but not everyone’s cup of tea.

3 small zucchini cut into 1cm thick rounds
Juice of ½ a large lemon
1-2Tbs harissa (taste and see how you go)
3Tbs good olive oil
1 small garlic clove minced
Handful of olives, pitted and roughly chopped (Luisa used Kalamata but I only had Spanish green in my fridge, they worked well)
¼ cup roughly chopped feta cheese
Small handful of flat-leaf parsley roughly chopped

Steam the zucchini over simmering water until tender but not falling apart (about 7-10minutes)

In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, harissa, oil and garlic.

Once zucchini is done, transfer into serving bowl, pour over half the dressing and slowly toss through.

Sprinkle olives, feta and parsley on top, add a little more of the dressing (to taste) and toss gently.

You can serve it immediately as a hot side dish or at room temperature.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Our parents help shape who we are. Some of their influence comes through genetics (e.g. my bizarre mixture of pale, freckled skin and afro hair) and some through years of successful brainwashing (e.g. my love of all things healthy and green.) I’m not sure which one of these powerful sources has influenced the way I feel about winter…

As we edge further and deeper into the winter months, I worry not so much about the cold, as the dark. I think about the next couple of months less as “the big freeze” and more as “the long dark”. Like my father, I’ve taken to counting the days until we reach the official shortest day of the year, and then breathe a sigh of relief as the days continue to get colder but start brightening a little more each day.

I think the thing is that there’s always a cure for the cold. Crank up the heater or light a fire, throw on an extra jumper, pull out your winter pajamas, wrap yourself in a woolen blanket and read your book. There is no cure for dark mornings, grey days and afternoons like midnight. Or is there? How about something that heats your house as it cooks on the stove at a bare simmer, or in a very low oven for hours? That fills the house with smells of vanilla and spices? And that most importantly splashes cheerful bright pink all over your morning porridge? How about gorgeous ruby red poached quinces!?

Before it’s cooked to pink perfection, the quince is quite an unprepossessing fruit, yellowy-green, lumpy and sporting some sort of unidentified dusty scrofula. (Dave’s choice of word, not mine!) The smell is another thing altogether. Pop a couple of quinces in a bowl in your living room (or along the windowsill for lack of space as we have) and they will reward you with a heavenly slightly apple, slightly tropical altogether other-worldly air-freshener for weeks for before you actually get around to cooking them.

When you do get around to cooking them, it’s a slow and gentle process – that will transform slices of hard, dry apple-like fruit into glorious, fragrant, tender fruit pieces, pink enough to brighten up even the darkest of winter days.

I’ve only really just gotten onto cooking quinces so I’m still in the experimental phases. Below are a couple of different methods for cooking. I’d be happy to hear about any other favourites.

Simple Stove Method

4 cups water
1 cup sugar (most recipes call for much more than this but I find for breakfast quinces once cup is plenty)
½ vanilla bean pod, split
3-4 medium quinces
1 lemon

Gently dissolve the sugar in the water on a low heat.

Peel, core and chop the quinces into about eighths – be sure you get the whole core out, they’re quite deep and very woody.

Pop the vanilla pod and quince slices into the simmering sugar syrup.

Cover and allow the quinces to cook at a bare simmer for about 1 ½ hours until they are soft and slightly apricot in colour. The pink will develop over the next couple of days in the fridge.

Take the quinces off the heat and squeeze in the juice of one lemon.

That’s it – they’ll store in a jar in the fridge for a week or two (if they last that long.)

Slow-baked spices quinces

7 cups water
1 cup sugar
½ cup honey
Mixed spices of your choice – star anise, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fresh ginger – just don’t go too crazy, you still want the flavour of the quince to be the star
½ vanilla pod
6-8 quinces (they vary a lot in size!)
1 lemon - juiced

Preheat the oven to 150.

Gently dissolve the sugar and honey in the water on the stove in a heavy pot that can be put in the oven.

Add the spices, vanilla, lemon juice and quinces to the pot. Cover tightly and pop in the oven.

Cook for at least 4 and up to 8 hours.

The quinces will come out heavenly and rosy.

So start poaching, and start each deep dark winter morning with a splash of pink.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Soups on Sundays (or how to avoid porridge)

As an independent adult living out of my parents' home, I get to choose whatever I want to eat for dinner. Weeknight dinners are usually quick, healthy and something which will make good leftovers for lunch at work the next day. Saturday night dinners are usually out. Sunday night dinners are either one of two things – a complex, new recipe that’s taken all day to cook and makes the most out of the fresh and exciting ingredients I get at the farmer’s market on Saturdays, or greasy take away recovery food (this past Sunday was definitely the latter!)

But that’s now, rewind about 15 years and Sunday night dinner was a very different choice - porridge, or tuna pattie melts. Perhaps I should explain...

As a kid Sunday afternoon was more often than not spent at the house of cousins, friends, family friends etc. The general scene was this: at least 10 screaming kids running wild in someone’s backyard, and parents sitting around inside eating afternoon tea. Sure, we’d eat a bit, grab a biscuit here, a scone there but food was never the main attraction for the under-16s at these afternoon gatherings, we were too busy running amok and teasing parents' friends' weird kids. (Hey - don't judge me, some of them were seriously wacky, and kids can be cruel!) The parents on the other hand, ate, lots! Afternoon gluttony led them to believe that Sunday night dinner wasn’t required, and we were duly offered porridge, or tuna pattie melts.

I had forgotten all about this Sunday night tradition until Mother’s Day. Having spent the afternoon at Nana’s for an afternoon feast, my little sister begged me to stick around at my parent’s place for dinner and order some take away or cook something delicious to avoid being told “you can’t possibly be hungry after that afternoon tea! Let’s just have porridge or something for dinner!” I realised with some shock that I wasn’t hungry either, I didn’t really feel like any dinner – I had crossed over.

Adult (afternoon tea-wise at least) or not, I would never return to porridge for Sunday night dinner. Surely there’s something else quick, easy, savoury, comforting and light that can be whipped up without too much effort? Of course there is, there’s always soup!

This is a slightly special soup, in fact it’s fancy name is “Roasted Carrot, caramelised garlic and red lentil soup” which I think sounds like a very special Sunday night dinner. But it's pretty simple really - the carrots and garlic are roasted in a hot oven until sweet, brown and caramelised and then whizzed up with some stock, a few aromatics and some simmered lentils. It’s also probably very easy to modify according to what veggies you have in the fridge – a wedge of pumpkin, some sweet potatoes, even cauliflower would probably work well here (although give it a shorter blast in the oven.)

So without further ado, I give you what is possibley the perfect Sunday night dinner (plus delicious leftovers! What a bonus!)

Roast Carrot, Caramelised Garlic and Red Lentil Soup

1kilo carrots (about 5-6 carrots)
4 cloves garlic (skin still on)
2Tbs olive oil
2Tbs butter
1 brown onion chopped
2 stalks celery chopped
1 red chilli finely sliced (optional but highly recommended)
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander
1/4tsp cracked black pepper
1tsp salt
4cups veggie stock
½ cup red lentils
3Tbs quark/yogurt/sour cream (optional but again delicious)
Salt and black pepper to serve

Preheat the oven to 200c

Roughly chop the carrots and pop them in a baking dish with the garlic and toss through the olive oil. Pop the whole lot in the oven – they should take about 20-25 minutes to cook through.

While the carrots are roasting, pop a big pot on a medium heat, melt the butter in and slowly fry off the onion, celery and chilli till soft and translucent – obviously the chilli won’t go translucent, but you know!

Tip in the spices, salt and pepper and fry off for about 30 seconds.

Rinse the lentils under cold water and then throw them in the pot and fry off for a bit (like rice in a risotto)

Pour the stock into the pot and turn up the heat to bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer

While the lentils are simmering, pull the carrots out of the oven.

Remove the garlic cloves from the dish and squeeze the mushy, brown, sweet delicious garlic out of their skins and into the pot, then throw in the carrots too, and any juices/oily bits left on the bottom of the baking dish, they’re the most delicious!

Continue to simmer until the lentils are soft (15-20mins)

At this point I pull out my handy bamix and give the whole lot a good whizz till it’s smooth and creamy. If you don’t have a bamix, you can whizz in a blender, but make sure you don’t overfill it! Hot liquid expands when whizzed – dangerous stuff!

I love to stir in a couple of tablespoons of delicious organic quark to round out the flavours. As I mentioned in the ingredients, you could use yogurt or sour cream here too.

This makes a very thick soup. One that will keep thickening in the fridge overnight, but it’s also very flavoursome, so don’t be afraid to thin it out to your desired consistency with a bit of water. I personally like my soup almost like a thick puree. Yum!

Enjoy with some buttered toast on the couch, watching masterchef – and say goodbye to Sunday night porridge forever.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Breakfast Dessert

Me: So, can I please have the sautéed mushrooms with dukkah and goats cheese and a strong soy cappuccino.

Waitress: Yep

Sister 1: I’ll have the baked beans and a skinny latte please

Waitress: sure, no problem

Sister 2: And I’d also like the baked beans, but with no feta, plus a poached egg and a soy latte thanks

Waitress: Ok

Me: and then for breakfast-dessert we’ll have the gingerbread with poached plums and mascarpone

Waitress(eyebrows raised in judgemental disbelief): huh? Breakfast what now?

...and so it goes, most Saturday mornings.

I’ve never understood why breakfast is the only meal of the day when it’s unacceptable to have dessert. Want a brownie with your post-lunch espresso? Go for it! Scoop of ice-cream on the couch after dinner? By all means! Gingerbread and poached plums after poached eggs? You must be mad!

You see, I never want a full sweet breakfast – the thought of going out and ordering bircher muesli makes me shudder – I can soak my own oats in apple juice thank you very much! But I do like something sweet in the mornings, thus breakfast-dessert was born.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we order a slice of Bailey’s cheesecake each at 9am (urgh, who would ever eat Bailey’s cheesecake, but I digress!) we tend to share one sweet dish off the menu after our eggs. That sweet thing often tends to be banana cake, or bread – if you want to delude yourself that because something is shaped like a loaf it’s not full of butter and sugar.

Banana bread is fairly ubiquitous on breakfast menus in Melbourne – some incarnations with spiced honey labne, pistachios and poached rhubarb (for example) are more adventurous than others, but generally, all are delicious, and make a perfect sweet ending to breakfast.

Banana bread is also incredibly easy, and should by no means be something that is only eaten in cafes. Everyone should have a foolproof, quick and easy banana bread recipe at home for when they don’t quite get through that bunch of bananas before they get overly brown. In fact, to be honest, I usually buy more bananas than we could possibly eat in a week just so I can make banana bread (or choc-banana ice-cream.)

This recipe is from Stephanie Alexander’s bible The Cook’s Companion which I love, love, love! (Did I mention I love it?!) I have tinkered with the recipe a bit – largely health-ing it up a tad, using much less sugar, substituting some of the flour for wholemeal and reducing the butter a bit to make it a more versatile, every day cake. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best versions of banana bread out there - it’s not only the perfect breakfast-dessert, it’s also a delicious afternoon snack with a cup of tea, a breakfast in itself toasted and topped with a blob of greek yogurt or even a bit of a sneaky light lunch smeared with some ricotta and sprinkled with extra cinnamon – the possibilities are endless!

So head out, buy some bananas, twiddle your fingers while they go nice and brown and mushy, then make yourself some breakfast-dessert at home, and avoid the judgemental raised eyebrows of the waitress at a cafe near you.

Breakfast dessert banana bread

100g softened unsalted butter

1 cup of raw sugar (normal sugar would work fine too)

2 eggs

3 medium overripe bananas mashed

1/2tsp pure vanilla

1 cup plain flour

1 cup wholemeal flour (you could just as easily use 2 cups plain - but not 2 cups wholemeal)

1 tsp bicarb soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger(you could also use allspice or a tiny pinch of nutmeg)

1/2 cup of plain yogurt or buttermilk (you can make buttermilk easily by putting 1Tbs lemon juice in 1 cup of milk and leaving for 10mins)

Preheat oven to 180c and butter and flour your chosen baking tin. I used a 25cm loaf tin.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale - if you're using raw sugar it won't get as pale as normal sugar.

Beat in banana, vanilla and eggs, one at a time.

Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture alternately with yogurt/buttermilk.

Stir until combined.

Pour into your tin you are using and bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until cake tests clean when skewered. My oven leaves a lot to be desired and it usually takes my cake at least an hour.

The top should be nice and brown and a bit cracked - you can always tent with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Cool completely before storing in an airtight container - alternatively, you can slice it up and freeze it for easy long term access!

P.S. I realise I owe you a photo, but it's been a month since I last posted and banana bread waits for no one. I promise next post will have at least 2 photos to make up for the omission

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Make like a mushroom

“If you call yourself gruzd, then get into the basket.” Is an old Russian proverb which, as far as I’m concerned could mean anything from “May you become old and toothless like a donkey” to “May your daughters prosper and never cost you a dowry” but apparently it’s actually got to do with mushrooms; very special orange mushrooms which are found only under pine trees, are absolutely delicious, and called gruzd in Russian.

Wikipedia has it that mushroom hunting is a very popular and common family activity in Slavic countries, and that the Poles and Russians adore wild mushrooms. So I guess it should have come as little surprise over the weekend when Dave (descendant of Polish grandparents and a Siberian born father), who had wandered into the pine forest adjacent to our campsite to relieve himself, returned a short while later, wild eyed and grinning, arms full of bright orange mushrooms.

Turns out the pine forest around our campsite was a veritable hothouse for gruzd, or red pine mushrooms, or lactarius deliciosus if you want to get serious. So it wasn’t long before we chopped up the delicious specimens, threw them in a pan with some oil, garlic and chilli and chucked the whole lot over some hot coals. What resulted was some of the most spectacularly meaty, smokey, juicy mushrooms I’ve ever eaten, and a whole lot of interest from our fellow campers.

Dave quickly became the local mycologist (mushroom expert) instructing kids around the campsite to search for the fluted orange mushrooms with pale rings on the cap, bled orange sap when cut open, and bruised a strange greenish blue colour when damaged. Upon reflection, encouraging kids to search for mushrooms in the forest and then eat them may not have been the wisest idea, especially considering our four year old tent-neighbour Hugo picked a seriously deadly looking red and white toadstool and proudly brought it back to camp. In fact, now that I mention it, unless you happen to have a father who regularly goes mushroom hunting, you have generations of mushroom picking in your blood and you’re 110% sure that the mushrooms are safe, I would recommend NOT picking wild mushrooms and eating them, no matter how delicious they may look.

That having been said, 4 days and about 4 large servings of foraged mushrooms later and here I am, still typing away.

I sadly didn’t manage to take any photos of the mushrooms we ate while camping, but in a happy coincidence, upon our return, it turned out that Dave’s dad had spent the day in his favourite (and top secret) mushrooming spot near Daylesford, and had bags of them for us to take home. Yum!

So last night, Dave set to work preparing the mushrooms, and I made some potato gnocchi. I’m not going to bother with a gnocchi recipe here, partly because they were really just a vessel for more mushrooms, but also because there’s a wonderful step by step recipe for perfect gnocchi at tummyrumbles which I would recommend to everyone wanting to make their own.

This is a very simple recipe, but there’s just something about mushrooms; they’re not quite plant, not quite animal, mysterious, often poisonous and supremely delicious – so if you can get your hands on some interesting wild mushrooms, then make like a gruzd and get into this recipe.

Oh and by the way - I've decided to enter this post in Weekend Herb Blogging #228 (even though mushrooms are technically a plant, they're a fungus.) WHB was started by Kalyn and is now organised by Haalo. This week the event is being hosted at The Cabinet of Prof. Kitty.

Panfried wild mushrooms

500gm wild mushrooms
¼ cup good olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 sprigs thyme
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp paprika
1tsp salt
1tsp fresh black pepper

Prepare the mushrooms by wiping them down with a paper towel to remove any dirt and grubs. Check the stems of the mushrooms, many of the larger ones will have been eaten by bugs, so remove the stems that look a bit rotten through the middle.

Thinly slice the mushrooms – your hands, the knife and the chopping board will be stained a lovely bright orange colour – don’t fear, this is normal!

Heat the oil in a pan over a medium high heat and add the garlic, paprika, thyme and cayenne and fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant but not burnt.

Throw the mushrooms into the pan along with the salt and pepper.

Continue to cook the mushrooms, tossing occasionally for about 10 minutes or until well cooked through. (These mushrooms should not be eaten raw!)

Serve the mushrooms over potato gnocchi, polenta, on toast or just eat them as they are with a fork, from the pan – preferably sitting in front of a campfire, next to a running stream, in the shade of the enormous pine forest you gathered the mushrooms from.

Friday, February 19, 2010


...and the living's easy.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like this song should be playing on repeat.

Back when I moved into my new apartment 8 months ago, the mornings were dark, the evenings were darker and howling winds blew straight from Antarctica into my bathroom window (which never closes properly). The whole place shuddered and groaned with cold, and my little faux-fireplace gas heater became my best friend. But I knew then that the time would come, in late summer, when the decision to live directly opposite the beach would be the one of the best I ever made. And indeed it was.

We have now entered late summer, or, as it seems in Melbourne, true summer. The days are ridiculously long, the days are hot, the nights are warm and the beach beckons every day as I trudge home from the station. There’s nothing quite like scurrying across the hot bitumen in nothing but a bikini and bare feet, having a quick dunk and splash in the cool sea, and then scurrying home again for a cold beer – especially if the whole exercise takes you no longer than about 5 minutes.

Of course, the one downside to all this glorious weather is that it’s just too too hot to cook anything. Believe me, last night I made a bit of a Lebanese feast, which required 3 burners on the stove and the oven on – it was about 50 degrees in that little kitchen of mine! Remind me not to do that again, and rather, to stick to cold beer, juicy peaches, homemade banana ice-cream (recipe to come soon) and the occasional refreshing, crunchy salad – just to even out the sweet/savoury ratio.

This salad is the perfect summer salad – cool, fresh, easy to put together, and with enough substance to pass as a proper meal when served with some crusty sourdough bread.

I’m usually all for innovation and creativity in the kitchen, and fully support making substitutions and experiments with basically every recipe I post – this one is different. I wouldn’t change a thing, ever. The flavours couldn’t be more perfect if they tried. So throw one together, as soon as the next hot day comes along (which will probably be tomorrow around here) and enjoy a clean, crunchy, fresh salad for dinner.

Fennel Pea and Ricotta Salad

Inspired by an old Karen Martini recipe

Serves 1

1 small head of fennel

¼ cup peas (I used frozen, but fresh if you’ve got them)

Juice half lemon

100g ricotta

Small handful mint leaves

Olive oil

Bring a small pot of water to the boil. Drop in the peas and let them cook for 30 seconds – no longer or they’ll get shriveled and sad rather than sweet and juicy.

Drain the peas, pour over the oil, lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper.

Coarsely chop the mint leaves and add them to the peas

Trim the stalks and fronds off the fennel

Shave the fennel as thin as possible cross-ways with a sharp knife if you want to hone your knife skills, or a mandoline if you’re lucky enough to have one and haven’t chopped your finger off on it yet – thereby swearing off mandolines forever.

Toss the shaved fennel and reserved fennel fronds through the minty peas.

Smear the ricotta onto a plate and top with the salad.

Drizzle with a bit more olive oil.

And that’s it, you’re done! Best enjoyed sitting on the balcony in still slightly damp bikini bottoms on a warm evening.