It’s a jungle out there…

I have been a single lady for a while now and having been in a situation where:

a.) most of my friends are married and their partner’s friends are also paired up.

b.) I am not comfortable going to a bar or a pub to meet someone.

c.) no way am I going to look at work.

So what is a woman to do nowadays? Well, like most of the single, computer literates, I signed up on an online dating service.

What can I say about online dating? Well it’s a lot like ( from what I can remember ) going to the local meet-market ( read: bar/pub ) and seeing what talents are about. I remember going to a CBD bar with girlfriends ( before we got ground down ) to watch the action – being a city bar, you have the gangs of brokers clustered around the bar draining their boutique beers like there was no tomorrow, the IT techs lining the walls looking uncomfortable holding lemon-lime-&-bitters or a coke, the executive types with their bottles of wine in the cooler bucket lording over their gaggle of young ladies on the sofas, and the groups of women in their short skirts cruising like a school of barracuda trying to catch the eye of one of the brokers or the execs. Needless to say we usually have a very entertaining night just people watching and always go home alone after. Anyway I digressed…

Online dating – well, it’s a lot like that city bar, except no one seems to be too concerned about being on their best behaviour in cyberspace. There are a lot of profiles that seem too good to be true which usually is. There is also a feel of a supermarket about the whole thing where one need not settle for the first flavour one sees, not when there are many more shiny, sparkly choices to look at. I can only take so many rejections or rudeness from nameless strangers before I come to the conclusion that cutting off my own head, and bouncing it off a wall like Steve McQueen did with the ball in the Great Escape, is probably more fun. Oh well, good thing I actually don’t mind my own company.

Over the years I have also had a number of girlfriends going through the same experience and weepy moments have ensued from those encounters for the ladies involved. I have found one common panacea: Chocolate. ( Well, and alcohol, but my liver doesn’t appreciate it these days )

Chocolate is a fabulous, magical substance. It makes people,  from the very young to the very old, happy when they eat it. It can be in the form of a truffle, a hot drink, a small cake exquisitely decorated in fondant and topped with a candied violet, or just a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. I use to visit a little chocolate shop in the Pitt St Mall once in a while for their Belgium chocolate truffles when I was feeling down. I didn’t have to get much from there, just 3-4 pieces. It could be dark chocolate hearts with a lemon fondant filling, a little white cornet filled with coffee cream, or a milk chocolate with a marzipan filled cherry. I slowly eat them over a couple of days, savouring each and enjoying every moment, feeling better about life and the world with each bite.

When I first started to bake, I would look up every single chocolate cake recipe I could find and imagine making a black forest torte or a massive 7 layer coconut chocolate cake with rich chocolate ganache between the layers. At one stage I got quite obsessed with making choux pastry, so eclairs and cream puffs drenched with a sauce of chocolate melted in hot cream regularly appeared. These days, I prefer something a little less labour intensive. It could be a chocolate mousse for one( or two if you are nice to me ), a chocolate cheesecake muffin or a Mars Bar slice or even a lovely little chocolate Bliss Ball.

I’d like to imagine that one day I will be that crazy old woman who wears all leather trailing a long Dr Who ( ala Tom Baker ) scarf eating chocolate mousse made for one. Awesome. 🙂

Elizabeth David’s Chocolate Mousse

This is a very easy chocolate mousse and very rich – I used the Black and Green dark chocolate with orange spice and it came out really dense.

per person:

1 egg

30 gms good quality chocolate melted

1/2 teaspoon sugar ( optional )

Separate the egg, and stir the yolk into the melted chocolate.

Whip the egg white along with the sugar, if using, until stiff and glossy.

With a metal spoon, add a little of the egg white into the chocolate mix and stir until mixed through. Gently fold the rest of the egg white into the chocolate, using a figure 8 folding motion so not to deflate the whites.

When thoroughly mixed( don’t worry too much if there are small specks of white ), pour into small ramekins and chill in the fridge until set.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and strawberries if desired.

 

Chocolate Bliss Balls

I went through something like 10 vegan/raw food sites and ended up putting together a few recipes I found, tweaking as I went. Most of the sites were American and they tend to like their sweets a lot sweeter than I like it. So feel free to add Stevia, honey, maple syrup or any sweetening of your choice. I find that the dates are usually more than sweet enough. Sometimes I like adding dried blueberries, sour cherries or cranberry by rolling the truffle mix around a piece of fruit. Makes a nice little surprise in the middle. Dried mango, pineapple or kiwi would be lovely too.

1 cup raw nuts of choice ( I like a mix of almonds and cashews, but walnuts, pistachios, pecans or macadamias are also lovely! )

1/4 cup desiccated coconut

6-8 fresh dates

2 tablespoons raw cocoa or any unsweetened cocoa powder

Optional – melted coconut oil

extra desiccated coconut or cocoa powder for coating

Put the nuts, coconut, dates and cocoa into a processor bowl and blend. If the mix is too crumbly, add a tablespoon or two of the coconut oil, however if the dates are moist you probably won’t need the oil.

Then roll tablespoons of the mix into balls and coat in the extra coconut or cocoa. Place in fridge to firm up and then serve.

Store in the fridge.

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Slowly Does It

I have  a slow cooker. Not one of those fancy, multifunction, 20 button, can make a 20 course dinner and walk your dog kind of machine, but a generic, nameless, ancient ( well, almost 20 years old anyway ), Japanese, 1 dial, 2 speed cooker, with the generic brown ceramic pot inside an aluminium outer casing decorated in pastel flowers. It has left home with me when I finished university and moved to Sydney, it has traveled with me when I moved to another country for work, and it has survived god knows how many ham fisted moving men throwing the box it was hiding in around the moving vans over the many moves between apartments! I kept saying to myself when this one has made its last stew I will replace it with said transformer meets the terminator style cooker, but it kept hanging on and continued to work outpacing and outlasting the expensive new model machines that friends have got for themselves.

Old reliable has provided me, over the years, soups, stews, congees and other slow cooked wonders that warms up the insides on cool nights when a salad would no longer do. Now that the weather is getting cool here the mind turns to meals that sticks to ones ribs.

One of my favourite thing to do is to make bone soup in it. Some days it could be a meaty spare ribs with bitter melon or daikon, or chicken with chinese medicinal herbs. Lately I have been slightly in love with Japanese Tonkotsu broth. If you are not sure what it is, it’s pork bone broth that is made with marrow bones that have been simmering for about 12 hours. It cooks the goodness from the bones – all the collagen, the bone marrow and the minerals are slowly infused into the broth making it lip smackingly sticky with a lovely deep meaty flavour. I would not claim to know the secret to tonkatsu broth but I have adapted some of the techniques that the Japanese chefs use to make my take on the  broth. I start with blanching the cut marrow bones first to get rid of the surface blood and get rid of that abattoir smell, then place the blanched bone pieces into a pot of clean cool water then bring that to the boil. Then scoop out all the gloopy froth as they form until you have a more or less clear broth. Transfer the contents of the pot to the slow cooker. At this point I would drop in a knob of ginger because I love the warmth it adds. Then leave the pot on a very very low simmer for the next 8-12 hours, adding water if it gets too low. Season simply with salt. At the end you end up with a white milky looking broth that is surprisingly comforting drunk out of a mug when I get home from work. Apparently it’s also very good for your skin since it’s rich with collagen, though I have absolutely no idea whether it’s true.

Another favourite is oxtail which also takes an absolutely age to cook. Mum taught me how to make this when I first started to cook seriously for the family. Her version is thick with peppercorn, ginger, garlic, onion, seasoned with thick dark soysauce, oyster sauce and a tiny bit of rice wine to start the liquid. It’s one of those things you spend 20 minutes to start and can then forget. Well almost. Go shopping, see a movie, catch up with friends then come home to a house filled with the scent of ginger and garlic. Steam some rice or boil up some noodles, and dinner is ready!

 

Mum’s Oxtail Stew

  • 2 Kg oxtail, jointed
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 inch piece ginger sliced
  • 1 whole head of garlic cloves peeled
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorn, roughly crushed
  • Thick dark soy sauce or mushroom soy
  • Oyster sauce
  • Sugar
  • Chinese cooking wine – Shaoxing or other rice wine
  • 2-3 large carrots ( Optional ) peeled and cut into 1 inch segments.
  • oil
  1. heat 1 tablepoons oil in a large pan with lid, brown the oxtail pieces in batches. Set aside.
  2. Add ginger, garlic cloves and onion, and cook until garlic starts to colour.
  3. Add the peppercorn, stir in the hot oil until fragrant.
  4. Return the oxtail to the pan, and stir to coat in the spices. Transfer to the slow cooker.
  5. Add about 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, 1/4 cup of the dark soy and 1/4 cup of oyster sauce to the mix.
  6. Deglaze the pan with about 1/2 cup of wine and pour over the beef.
  7. Set the slow cooker to medium setting. Add the carrots now if using.
  8. Leave to simmer for about 6 hours. Check liquid level occasionally. Stew is ready when the meat is tender & falls off the bone.
  9. Check seasoning and serve with steamed rice, plain sauteed greens.
  •  The left over meat is great shredded, warmed with a bit of the sauce, served over thick rice noodles with blanched beansprouts and finely sliced spring onion for lunch.
  • It also makes a great filling for jaffles.

Weekend Cooking

Since I decided to start cooking again, I am finding bits and bobs in my fridge and freezer that needs to be used up. A few months ago, I went to Strathfield with a Japanese friend in search of kim chi. While there, we found some amazing mentaiko that were the size of a small banana! For those of you who don’t know what it is, mentaiko is the salted roe of cod fish. When cut into chunks, it looks quite unappetising to the uninitiated. It is very salty with the taste of the sea and the fish it came from, and is delicious eaten with hot rice. You do not need to cook it, so I guess it’s like a salt cured sashimi of fish eggs.  Anyway, I bought some when we were in the shop and when I got home, I stuck it in the freezer and forgot about it.

Last Saturday, I decided I would turn it into mentaiko spaghetti. I had no idea how to make it and the Japanese home cookbooks the girls got me last year for my birthday did not have this recipe. So I looked online to see what is out there.  For every post I found, there was a recipe that was different from the others. After going through about 20 of them, the general gist seems to be: to serve two, you need about 100 grams of roe, some butter, one onion, and pasta; then a whole host of seasoning, liquids added, cooking method etc. Eventually I came up with my own version and to my amazement the meal was ready in as long as it took for the spaghetti to cook! I invited a Polish friend over for dinner and dvds. He was not at all sure about the pinkish sauce but once he tasted the finished dish, the plate was quickly emptied. I guess that would be the result any cook would want to see. 🙂

Tonight, after the very rich pasta, I decided I would go veggie instead. I had a hankering for pumpkin and chickpea. Autumn is a fantastic time for pumpkins. When I got to my favourite green grocers, there were pumpkins galore to choose from. I decided on a large wedge of Japanese pumpkin and a beautiful bunch of chard.

Pumpkin & Chickpea Stew

  • 1 Kg pumpkin – Japanese or Butternut. Peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 large bunch silverbeet or kale, leaves only, roughly chopped.
  • 2 cans chickpeas rinsed & drained, or 1 cup dried chickpeas soaked overnight and simmered until tender about 45 minutes
  • 1 can of peel tomatoes
  • 1.5 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 dried chilli ( optional )
  • 6 anchovie fillets in oil ( optional )
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • salt
  • oil
  1. heat 2 tablepoons oil in a large pan with lid, add onions and cook until soft.
  2. Add ginger, garlic and chilli( if using ), and cook until garlic starts to colour.
  3. Add the cumin and cinnamon, stir to coat onion mixture and cook until fragrant. Add the anchovies if using, stir to break it up and meld into the spices.
  4. Add pumpkin, stir to coat pumpkin in the spice mix.
  5. Add the tomatoes including the juice, crush to break up a little. Add chick peas. If a little dry, add some water, or if using home cooked chickpeas, some of its cooking water.
  6. Add the sugar, and add the salt to taste, on the generous side.
  7. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes, until the pumpkin is starting to get tender, add the chopped spinach leaves. You may need to do this in several batches – the leaves will wilt down into the stew.
  8. Leave to simmer for another 10 minutes. The pumpkin should be very tender and the leaves should be soft.

Serve with rice, couscous or crusty bread.

Variations:

  • Left overs can be turned into soup by the addition of some stock and blended to make a creamed soup.
  • Use white beans instead of the chickpeas.

Been a while…

It has been quite a while since I last posted. There is a reason for that. I became quite uninspired to cook as I went on a diet to try to lose some flab.

The diet itself was not that bad. It was a completely catered for affair where I get my breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as two in between snacks, delivered in an insulated foam box. The frozen stuff had their own section with a large chunk of dry ice to keep things cold, these were things like bread slices, “bacon”, omelette etc for breakfast, and rice bowl, the usual frozen dinners for well, lunch and dinner. The “fresh” stuff were things like fresh fruit, cereal in their individual packets, salads for lunch etc. It’s all nutritionally sound and I am never very hungry. There was just one problem – it was BORING.

There are lots of choices for the food, but after 5 weeks of it, I ended up cheating on my own diet with crispy roast pork on rice!

Friends were supportive, however the general comment was since I could cook well, so why can’t I cook healthy low fat food for myself? So I decided to explore healthier cooking for one, but realise I have one big problem…. I am terrible at portion control!

So I went back to basics and tried to do some research. From various source, I am told I should eat something like 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day, if I eat meat – it should only be the size of a deck of cards. And no, UNO cards are not acceptable! I should have about a cup of carbohydrates a day, a small handful of nuts ( something like 10 almonds ), no more than 3 tablespoons of fat etc etc etc. By this time my head had started to spin.

To cut a long story short, I decided that what I WILL do is to cut back my intake of meat to a practically vegetarian level, and cut down the amount of carbs at night to half of what I would normally have. To start with I went off and got a few new vegetarian cookbooks. One of my favourite cookbook in my collection has been the Moosewood cookbook, particularly for their very imaginative salad dressings, so I decided to order a few of the other Moosewoods and a friend pointed me to Deborah Madison’s books. I am particularly in love with Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers and have been reading it in bed. Sad I know.

Anyway – after a few weeks of absorbing ideas from the books I finally started to cook again for myself. This time with a vegetarian slant and I am cutting down my portion size. Time will tell if this works. I will keep you posted on this.

Pasta with braised mushrooms

  • 250 Grams wild mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced – any type of mushroom is fine as long as it is tasty, I used saffron milk caps since it was in season for Autumn.
  • 25 grams butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
  • glass of fruity white wine
  • 200 grams short pasta
  • salt and pepper
  1. bring a large pot of water to boil, add a generous amount of salt and the pasta. While that is cooking, heat a large frying pan or wok on high heat.
  2. When hot, add the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When melted, add the onion and garlic, cook until the onion is softened.
  3. Add the mushrooms and stir briskly to coat the mushroom evenly in the butter and onions. Add the oregano.
  4. Stir in the glass of wine and let evaporate a little to cook off the alcohol. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Simmer until only a little liquid is left at the bottom of the pan.
  6. When the pasta is cooked, add the drained pasta to the frying pan and toss through the mushroom mixture.
  7. Serve hot, with a little freshly grated parmessan if like.

Serves 3 as a side.

Roasted root vegetables with Basalmic vinegar and olive oil

  • Small bunch of beetroot ( around 4 beets )
  • Small bunch of baby carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • basalmic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat the oven to 190 Degrees C.
  2. Peel the beetroots – you may want to wear gloves unless you don’t mind pink hands. Cut into wedges – about 1 cm thick.
  3. Scrub the carrots. There is no need to peel if they are small. Cut in half legthwise, and cut into 1.5 inch lengths.
  4. Peel the onions, and cut into wedges. Take off the loose outer skins of the garlic, and leave the last layer on.
  5. Place the vegetables in a bowl, add 2 tablespoons basalmic vinegar, 2 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
  6. Pour the vegetables into a roasting tray, drizzle over the oil and vinegar left in the bowl.
  7. Roast in the oven, tossing the vegetables once or twice, for around 1 hour, until the vegetables are tender.
  8. Serve 3-4 as a side. Or let cool, then add 200 grams feta cheese crumbled or chopped into small cubes and about 100 grams walnuts. Drizzle some virgin olive oil and mix well.  Serve as a salad.

Poached Quinces In Cinnamon and Ginger Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar – I used 1/2 caster and 1/2 brown sugar.
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1.5 inch piece of young ginger, peeled and slice thickly
  • 4 medium quinces
  1. For the syrup, in a large pan ( approx 25 cm ) with a lid add 3 cups of water, the sugar, cinnamon and ginger.
  2. peel, quarter and core the quinces. Drop the quince quaters into acidulated water ( lemon and water) to stop the fruit from browing while you prepare the rest of the fruit.
  3. Heat the syrup until it starts to boil, add the drained quinces and bring to the boil. Cover and turn the heat down to low, so that the fruit is at a low simmer.
  4. Poach for 2 hours, until the fruit turns a lovely deep rosy colour and is very tender.
  5. Serve warm with custard as a dessert or with granola and yoghurt for breakfast. The ginger is also yummy.

Feeling A Bit Delicate Today…

I hate feeling unwell.

Especially after I moved out of home almost 20 years ago and having to look after myself since then.

When I was a child and caught one of my fevers, mum would cook congee for me. For those who don’t know, congee is basically rice porridge. However in a Chinese household, that is like the proverbial chicken soup – a panacea for all ills.

Mum would make it either plain just flavoured with ginger to be eaten with sides of pickled lettuce hearts, canned fried dace (a kind of sardine) with black beans, boiled salted ducks eggs, century egg; or cooked with pieces of chicken on the bone, slowly poached in the gently bubbling porridge; or with minced pork, ginger, and chopped century egg. The porridge would then be my lunch and my dinner until I feel a lot better.

At other times, when we were feeling a bit “heaty” – symptoms will be a sore throat, dry scratchy eyes, and a general feeling of malaise, she would cook fairly plain foods in order not to stir up the heat any further. This could be pork rib soup with bitter melon and tofu or pickled mustard, tomato and tofu or chinese herbs, or steamed eggs with mince, or steamed chicken.

The soup would be a clear broth, made from slowly simmering a kilo of meaty ribs in 2 litres of water, with a large knob of smashed ginger and maybe a chopped onion for about an hour. Then the bitter gourd – cut in half lengthwise, the pith and seeds scrapped out, and chopped into segments, along with a packet of soft wobbly tofu would be added to the broth, seasoned with salt and cooked until the bitter gourd is soft.

If making the pickled veg and tomato version – a whole pickled mustard green( available from Chinese groceries ), sliced to lengths of around an inch, soak in water for 10 minutes to remove the excess saltiness. Add that, along with 2-3 ripe tomatoes cut into quarters, skinned if prefer, and a packet of soft tofu, cubed. Simmer until the tomatoes have fallen apart and the greens have softened. If not salty enough, add some salt.

Nowadays, it is so easy to make the herbal soups – all you need to do is visit a chinese grocer and there would be pre-packaged mixed herbs for any health complaints. You can get packets of herbs for improving your brain function, for improving your circulatory system, for improving your respiratory system or even those that claim to help improve your youthful looks. A friend of mine who is a scientific sceptic would scoff at the claims, but having grown up on the black herbal soups my mum made me, I am not about to get into an argument with him about it. Maybe it’s all just in my mind, but whenever I come down with something and in need a tonic, I would go find the packets of dried red jujubes, honey dates, dried lily bulbs, ginseng roots, chinese bitter almond kernels, lotus nuts, luo-han fruits, dried goji (Yes we were eating this stuff a long time before it became fashionable, and no, we do not eat them on our cereal!), fox nuts, dried beetroot, angelica, and a whole host of other herbs which I have no English names for. And then I will get a kilo of chicken bones, and a kilo of ribs (yes my family loved ribs) or soup bones. The meat would go into a slow cooker with a kettle of hot water poured over, then the herbs would be added. I would then leave it to slowly bubble away for the rest of the day on the low setting, or at least for 4-5 hours on the high, and go back to bed. When done, my dinner would be the soup along with the ribs dipped in oyster sauce and plain steamed rice.

Cheat’s chicken congee

  • 2 cups cooked plain steamed rice
  • 6 cups hot water
  • large knob ginger, about 2 inches, peeled and smashed
  • 300 grams chicken thigh meat cut into 1 inch cubes
  • light soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • sugar
  • Shao Xin wine
  • Sesame oil
  • corn starch
  1. Put the rice and the hot water into a large sauce pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat down to a simmer, stir to break up the lumps of rice. Add the ginger. Leave to simmer, stirring occasionally, for around 45 minutes, until the rice have “flowered” or broken apart. The congee should have quite a thick soupy texture.
  2. While the congee is cooking, marinade the chicken in 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon of corn starch and 1 tablespoon of wine.
  3. When the congee is thick, stir in the chicken and simmer until the chicken is cooked, around 10-15 minutes.
  4. Serve hot with sides of pickled lettuce hearts, preserved tofu (nam-yu), coriander, hardboiled salted ducks eggs or century eggs.

Steamed Eggs with mince

  • 250 grams minced pork
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 inch young ginger finely slivered.
  • light soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • sesame oil
  • corn starch
  • 2 salted duck’s eggs ( optional )
  1. mix together the pork, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of corn starch, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon oyster sauce, 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil in a bowl. Transfer the mixture to an oiled deep sided dish, like a Pyrex pie dish.
  2. Beat together the eggs, 6 tablespoons of water, 1/2 tablespoon of light soy, a few drops of sesame oil, and the whites of the ducks eggs if using.
  3. Chop the duck’s egg yolks into small pieces, if using, and scatter over mince mixture. Pour over the eggs.
  4. Add at least 2 inches of water to the bottom of a steamer, and heat until boiling. Place the egg mixture over the steamer, and turn heat down to medium-low to gently steam until cooked. Around 45 minutes.
  5. serve hot with plain stir fried greens with garlic and rice

Cooking With Friends & Cooking For Friends

I have been a fairly avid cook for the last 20 years. In that time, I have not found many others who have the same passion for preparing food as I have. Grandma and mum, who were the greatest influence in my cooking experience, were very talented home cooks who cooked because they had a family to feed, but they did not cook because it was fun. So it was always a pleasure when I meet a new friend who is passionate about cooking. I have one friend who loves seafood cooking, another who is a wonderful pastry cook and a Japanese friend who is terrific with her family recipes.

Last weekend I threw a charity brunch to raise money for breast cancer research. I formed a cooking team with a new friend Peta who is the fabulous pastry cook and we set about creating a menu for 12 people. She came over on Saturday and we set about cooking. To begin with we made the baked goods that need to be stored overnight to improve their texture and deepen the flavour. Peta made a wonderfully moist and zesty pineapple and ginger loaf and I made a dark chocolate brownie with white chocolate and macadamia. The fun thing about cooking with a friend is the amount of gossiping we do while chopping up the nuts and the crystallised ginger. Afterwards, we wandered down to the beach for a fish dinner at my favourite gourmet fish & chip and a well deserved ice cream.

The next morning we got busy with the serious cooking. The menu was: individual smoked salmon and brie quiches, buttermilk pancakes, summer fruit salad, baked herbed mushrooms with haloumi cheese, grilled bacon, Antipasto platter, and white chocolate & mixed berries muffin; And of course the Pineapple & Ginger Loaf, along with the brownies.

Making the quiche was a lot of fun – I was originally planning to do a baked frittata with spinach and feta or creamy slow cooked scrambled eggs as the eggs course. However a few people I know either did not like spinach or did not like feta. Then the scrambled eggs idea was scratched because it involved stirring the egg mixture (if you’re interested, for 1 person, it’s a mixture of 2 eggs, ¼ cup of milk or cream if you’re feeling decadent, salt, white pepper and a good tablespoon of cheese) in a saucepan over medium heat until it thickens to a thick custard consistency, almost like a sauce. Incredibly delicious over buttered toast with smoked salmon & capers and freshly made espresso on a cold day, but really tedious and I did not have the time with all the other things to cook. Also it was not very nice when cold and would not keep if there was any leftover. So I decided on the quiche. I was thinking of a black olive, semidried tomato, caramelised onion and roasted capsicum quiche, but a friend was also on a doctor prescribed diet of no caffeine, and no acidic foods – so that meant anything with tomatoes, lemons etc was out. So I decided the least offensive combination would be smoked salmon, creamy brie, caramelised onions and chives. And since I had some cheddar cheese left, I used that as well. The quiches turned out better than I thought since I made the recipe up only the day before! So this recipe is definitely a keeper.

The buttermilk pancake has always been my standby recipe for when I have guests for breakfast. I just make the batter up and leave it until I need to cook it. Pancakes were the first thing I was experimenting with when I first started cooking. When I was around 8 or 9, Mum taught me a recipe of savoury pancake with prawns. It was the first thing I could make with no supervision and I was even allowed to wield a knife to cut up the prawns and the onion – I felt so grown up back then! I think it’s a variation on the Korean pancake, Jeon, and other pancakes like it. It basically involves ½ cup of plain flour, mixed with a good pinch of salt, a little pepper or chilli powder, an egg, some light soy sauce, a couple of tablespoons of cornflour, a few drops of sesame oil to add a fragrance and enough water to make a thick sticky batter. Then add a few chopped green prawns, a few slivers of green onion, chopped coriander (cilantro if you’re in Nth America) and whatever else you feel like. Heat a frying pan, add a teaspoon of oil and pour in a few spoons full of the batter. Fry until the top look dry and the bottom is golden. Flip and cook until the other side is also browned. This made enough for one or two hungry 9 year old. Eat hot with tomato sauce. Nowadays when I make it I would use whatever I have in the fridge – salami, olives, any leftover roast, any seafood, or Antipasto vegetables. And I would still eat it with tomato sauce.

One of my favourite TV shows was (and still is) Food Safari on SBS. In one episode Maeve O’Mara, the presenter, visited a Turkish family and the dad prepared a fruit salad of watermelon and other fruits, at the end he added a couple of capful of rosewater to the mix, so I had wanted to try it ever since. Another reason I wanted to play with rosewater is because I love Turkish delights, or Lokum, especially those you get fresh from the Kebab shops or the Middle Eastern delis. I always have trouble choosing from the lemon, rose, plain, orange, lime, mint, vanilla and sometimes more exotic flavours ( to me anyway ) like pomegranate, melon, and mastic. When I was at school, I used to get the Fry’s Turkish Delights chocolate bars, but when I discovered the freshly made ones, there was no going back. Once I tried making it myself to see what that was like, it turned out to be harder than I thought. It started off easy enough as a cornstarch and sugar syrup mixture, but it soon became hard work stirring when the mixture started to get thicker as it cooked. I actually broke two of my favourite wooden spoons trying to stir the almost done mix. The flavour I made was a simple lemon with pistachio. It came out fine, wasn’t as firm as those from the shop, but it had a squishy consistency that was quite satisfying and it kept very well in the fridge. The verdict? Well, let’s say Mr Fry won’t be seeing me again for a while. Anyway, back to the fruit salad, I ended up using strawberries, blueberries, golden kiwi, a couple of new season mangoes, and 5 passion fruits. Then I added some rosewater to the mix. The perfume was incredible – it was a musky, sweet, voluptuous fragrance mixed with the sweet smell of the passion fruit – Mixed with some yoghurt on top of the pancakes, yum.

The brunch was a huge success. People started arriving for the brunch around 11 and we broke out the bubbly, in this case the Brown Brothers Zibibbo Rose which went very well with the fruit salad and a bottle of Chandon. It was good to have everyone in the same room, just catching up and also for some of my newer friends to meet other people. One of the Japanese girls was curious how else you would use rosewater, so I showed her how to turn a very ordinary white wine into a sangria like cocktail – muddle in some soft fruit (in this case a little of the fruit salad with at least a piece of each fruit from the bowl) and a few drops of the rose water to the glass of wine. And voila! Now I just need to figure out how to use the orange blossom water.

We finished up around 3 and Peta stayed to help me clean up. By then we were absolutely exhausted, as we have been up since 7 that morning to start cooking – we put our feet up for a while with a well deserved glass of wine and started planning our next cooking adventure.

I can’t wait.

Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 2 cups self raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 500-600 ml buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs (approx 60 grams each) lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter (around 25 grams)
  1. Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl.
  2. Mix in the eggs, buttermilk and butter, whisk until combined. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Heat a small frying pan on medium heat until hot. Grease with some melted butter or non-stick spray.
  4. Pour in about 4 tablespoons of batter to make a 10 cm round.
  5. Leave to cook until the surface is bubbly and the edges are dry, around 2 minutes, then flip to cook other side for another minute.

Serve with maple syrup, fruit salad or bacon rashers.

Makes around 16 pancakes

Smoked Salmon & Brie Quiches

  • 1 packet (5 sheets) shortcrust pastry
  • 2 onions sliced
  • 150 gm smoked salmon shredded
  • 100 gm Brie chopped to small cubes
  • 50 gm tasty cheddar cheese
  • 12 eggs
  • 300 ml thickened cream
  • 4 tablespoons chopped chives
  1. Heat a large frying pan. When hot add 2 tablespoon olive oil and the onions. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the onions until caramelised. Set aside to cool.
  2. Spray 3 6-holes jumbo muffin tins with non-stick canola spray. Heat the oven to 200 C (180 C in a fan force oven)
  3. Cut each sheet of pastry into 4 squares (you will only need 4 ½ sheets – save the other ½ sheet for something else), and stretch the pastry square to fit the muffin tin with the 4 points and edge of the pastry draping over the top of the tin to form wings.
  4. Bake the pastry shell in the oven for 15 minutes until pale golden and cooked through. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
  5. Turn the oven down to 180 C (or 170 C in a fan force oven).
  6. Distribute the onions, salmon, cheese and chives among the pastry cases
  7. Whisk together the eggs, cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a generous shake of pepper.
  8. Pour the egg mixture into the pastry cases. Bake in the oven until slightly puffed, golden on top and just set, around 20 minutes.

Makes 18 single serve quiches

Baked mushrooms with Haloumi (Vegetarian)

  • 12 large mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced thickly into 1 cm slices
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped herbs of your choice ( I used chopped chives and lemon thyme )
  • 50 gm butter
  • Olive oil
  • 300 gm Haloumi cheese, thickly sliced
  1. Heat the oven to 200 C (or 180 C in fan force oven)
  2. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat until hot then add a tablespoon of olive oil and the onions. Cook until the onions are brown and turn out into a large baking dish to cool.
  3. Add the butter to the same pan with another tablespoon of olive oil. When the butter has melted add the garlic and cook until the garlic is soft but not brown. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat in the butter mixture, turn into the baking dish and mix with the onions. Sprinkle over the chopped herbs.
  4. Distribute the cheese slices over the mushroom mixture and drizzle the cheese with a little olive oil.
  5. Bake in the oven until the cheese is golden and the mushrooms are soft.

Serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Oh Offal!

There has been a lot of interest in “head to tail” eating in the recent years. Quite a few British cooks have been serving up dishes like baked marrow bones, buttered tripe, devilled kidneys, even liver and onions,  and making it all trendy again. I think it’s wonderful when the animal that has been killed for food is completely used rather than having the bits that offends the modern sensibility being turned into dog or cat food. Not that I have anything against Fido or Mittens getting the off cuts but why should we as consumers be so wasteful of what is sometimes up to 40% of the animal that could be used for food? I respect the wonderful creature that gave up its life in order for me to have a steak, so turning its ear into a pet chew toy seems a little, well, sad.

OK I will get off my soap box now.

My dad, when he was alive, was a great fan of offal soup, until his cholesterol level shot through the roof and he was told by his doctor to stop eating the stuff. Now that would sound gross to a lot of western diners, in fact my cousins’ reaction has always been quite colourful when presented with liver soup. However, when prepared properly it is a hearty, delicious way to start the day. Mum has a friend in Kota Kinabalu who made her fortune running a noodle shop selling ( yup you guessed it) offal soup. Whenever I use to go back to KK for a trip to visit the folks, I would drop in to have a bowl of soup with rice noodles and Auntie Mary’s homemade beef meat balls. The place would always be heaving with people trying to get their noodles in the morning. The soup would be a clear beef broth with a strong beefy flavour and secret spices – I think there were star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, ginger, dried citrus peel and something else in there, but I never found out what that something else was…. The meat would be a jumble of offal, it would be the smooth, honeycomb and the funny looking fanned tripe, a few slivers of liver, spleen, tender flank steak, tendon, sometimes kidneys, a bit of heart, and, my favourite, ox tongue. These have all been cooked separately in a soy based sauce and simmered for hours until the tripe has softened to an almost buttery consistency. I will have to confess I am not a fan of the spleen, there is something about its texture and flavour which never sat well with me. Anyway, the finished dish, which is a mound of rice noodles, you get a choice of the kue teow, which is the ribbon rice noodles or mee foon, rice vermicelli, on top of that goes the mixed offal, a few meat balls, bean sprouts and then that wonderful soup. You then slurp all that down with gusto, and if you like heat, add some bird’s-eye chillies with soy sauce.

Mum use to cook offal at home too. I loved it when she used to cook ox tongue in a garlic, pepper and soy sauce. We would all go nuts when she made oxtail stew. One thing that never really caught on with the kids was her bitter gourd and liver soup, which is supposedly a blood cleansing soup. The only person who would eat all the liver slices would be dad, who covered them in chilli and eat it with rice. Mum would also stew tripe sometimes but she didn’t use to like preparing it at home because the tripe would be sold in a “natural” state. Not to say the butchers did not clean them out, these were emptied of their contents, however they will still retain the residual essence of its original utility, shall we say. So out would come the bi carb of soda and lemons. Mum and the maid would take turns massaging the tripe in the mix of bi carb and lemon juice until the whole thing is snow white. Then into the pot it went to be scalded by a few changes of hot water, and finally it was braised for the next 2 hours in a rich sauce of soy, pepper, onions, garlic, rice wine and oyster sauce.

When I was living with grandma in the 80s, there was not that availability of offal in the shops in Adelaide as people did not really eat it any more. There were a few English grannies who would still buy tripe from the butchers to make tripe in parsley and cream sauce, and some of them still had their tins of dripping saved from when they made the weekend roast. I don’t think these would have passed with the health inspectors nowadays but back then some of the older folks were still eating the dripping on bread like they did post World War II. Grandma had a few offal recipes as well, and the one I really wanted from her was the crispy deep fried large intestine in spiced salt. However, this was one of the recipes she would not share with me as she said they were too hard as a) you can’t get good large intestines in Adelaide b) if you do manage to find it, it is disgusting to clean c) if I did find cleaned ones, well, grandma wanted to keep that recipe all to herself. Hmm. Thanks grandma!

Spicy Crispy Large Intestines (reverse engineered)

  • 500 gms pigs’ large intestines, cleaned. You can find this sometimes in Asian butchers, especially Vietnamese, Chinese or Korean butchers.
  • salt
  • 5 spice powder
  • corn starch
  • fresh small chillies ( optional ) finely chopped. remove the membranes and the seeds if you don’t want it too spicy. You can get these from Asian green grocers.
  • light soy sauce
  • Chinese rice wine – Zhao Xing wine is fine.
  • oil for deep frying
  1. Slice the intestines into 1 inch lengths and marinate for 30 minutes in a mixture of 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of rice wine.
  2. Drain and dry on some kitchen paper.
  3. Mix together 1 tablespoon of corn starch, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of 5 spice powder, and, if using, the chilli in a bag. Add the meat pieces and shake to coat. ( anyone remember shake and bake chicken? )
  4.  Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a wok until hot. Drop the meat a few pieces at a time into the oil and deep fry until golden brown and crunchy. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve while hot with beers.

 

Mum’s braised ox-tongue

  •  1 large ox tongue ( around 1 kg ) cleaned.
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and bashed
  • 1 large piece ginger, around 1-2 inch, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked
  • dark soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • rice wine
  • sugar
  • vegetable oil
  1. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the tongue, on high heat.
  2.  When hot add the onion, garlic, ginger, cook until fragrant and the garlic starts to colour 
  3. Add the tongue and the pepper, turn to coat in the herbs and spices.
  4. Now this next bit is an approximate. Pour in enough dark soy to coat the meat, around 2 tablespoons. Add 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce and a generous splash ( around 1 tablespoon ) of rice wine. Sprinkle over 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  5. Check the level of the liquid, there should be about 1/2 inch of liquid at the bottom of the pan, if not then add some water. Bring to the boil and cover. Turn the heat down to low and leave to simmer for an hour and a half. Turn the meat half way through so the other side gets a coating of the sauce also. The sauce will get stickier as the meat cooks. Add more water if getting too dry. Check the seasoning – this dish should be quite peppery, salty and sweet-ish.
  6.  When ready, the meat should be very tender with a knife easily piercing the thickest part of the meat. Remove from the heat and pour the sauce into a bowl or a sauce boat. When cool enough to handle, slice the meat to thin slices and pour some sauce over. Serve with steamed rice and some greens.
  7.  The sauce will turn into jelly in the fridge. The meat is great as sandwich filler in crusty bread rolls the next day with cucumber ribbons and some of the jellied sauce.

 Note: If you know of a recipe for Persian sheep’s head soup or any such exotic offal recipe, please let me know!