Monday 31 December 2007

Bulgar Chilli in the Backyard

I made a chilli non carne on Christmas Eve because I had leftover bulgar wheat in the fridge from making Green Bean and Broccoli Tabbouleh. Years ago I had been fond a recipe from Alison Holst’s Meals Without Meat called Bulgar and Bean ‘Chilli Con Carne’. The bulgar added a lot of substance and texture to the chilli. So I decided it would be a good way to use my leftover bulgar.

The chilli non carne I made was based on Alison Holst’s recipe but I added lots of vegetables. This dish was made with the intention of having lots of leftovers in the freezer that I could defrost for a quick meal when I was too tired or busy to cook.

But there was another reason for lots of colourful vegetables. Recently I heard about a book called What Color is Your Diet: the 7 colors of health by David Heber. He says that most Americans’ diets are 'beige' and don’t have enough colour. He suggests we should eat daily from each of the colour groups he has identified: red, red-purple, orange, orange-yellow, yellow-green, green, and white-green. I have long believed that eating a variety of colours helps me eat a good range of nutrients, after reading something about this years ago, but it was interesting to have some actual evidence for this theory. So I felt pleased that this chilli non carne covered 4 or 5 of his colour groups.

I was also pleased to have this chilli on hand after Christmas when friends, Kym and Nick, were visiting from Perth. I could offer dinner and not have to then spend the evening cooking rather than talking. It easy to defrost the chilli non carne and cook some rice.

It was a balmy summer evening so we ate in the backyard. (Unfortunately the fine weather meant that the flies and mosquitoes also were out enjoying our company.) The chilli non carne was appreciated by Nick and E. We ate it with grated cheese, salad and beer – a perfect summer meal. However, Kym declined to taste it because it is not her thing and she had eaten a big lunch – though she did commend me on my rice! When I said I had forgotten her dislike of vegetarian food, she reminded me that she knew me before I went vegetarian!

I don’t think this is my best chilli non carne but it was still a good one. It could have been a bit thicker in texture (more tomato paste, less water?) and I disagree with Alison's suggestion of serving it with rice - together with the bulgar there are too many carbs competing against the pleasingly spicy flavour. Next time I might try serving it with some tacos (or even cheese quesadillas) on the side, and a salad. I liked the added texture of the bulgar wheat so it wont be the last time I try this recipe. However, I notice the Moosewood Cookbook has a different chilli non carne recipe with bulgar in it which I also intend to try, but maybe without the rice.

Bulgar and beans chilli non carne
(adapted from Alison Holst)
Serves 6-8

1 cup water
1 onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 stalk celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced

4 button mushrooms, chopped
2 tsp cumin (I only had one so added 1tsp bush spices)
1 tsp oregano dried
1½ tsp chilli paste
1 x 450g tin tomatoes
1 x 450g tin corn
1 x 450g tin kidney beans
1 x 450g tin of water
500g pumpkin, peeled and diced

2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
1 cup water
2 medium zucchinis, diced
¾ cup bulgar wheat soaked in about 1¼ cups boiling water for 10 minutes
Ground pepper

Actually this is not much of a recipe because I didn't take too much notice of what I was doing. This is more a list of ingredients that I put in. I took a leisurely hour chopping and adding the ingredients in the order of the list. I have broken up the list into three groups to give you an idea of which to add together and cook about 5-10 minutes before moving on to the next group if you are much quicker than me.

Alison says it should be the consistency of a thick spaghetti sauce – mine was a bit more watery so you could probably leave a little of the water out and, maybe, add more tomato paste.

On the stereo:
Hvart/Heim: Sigur Ros

Saturday 29 December 2007

About Me, Part 2 – mostly about travels and food

Following on from my last post, I continue to indulge myself in foodie memories and lists of favourites – for fun, for insight and for the curious!

As I previously explained, this post is split into two parts. Part 1 is mostly about living in Melbourne. Part 2 is mostly about my travels and my time in the UK, where I lived for four and a half years (mostly in Edinburgh where my partner, E, hails from).

No doubt these lists will change as I encounter more amazing foods and experiences. These two posts are to give a little taste of who I am. But for future fabulous moments in food, you will just have to read my blog.

Hope you enjoy savouring more of my memorable moments with food!

List of Lists:
- Most Memorable Foodie Job Experiences
- Favourite Foodie Travel Experiences
- Oddest travel experiences
- Best UK vegetarian food:
- Most indulgent food experiences in Edinburgh:
- Fantasy Dinner Party Guests
- Bloggers’ recipes I must make soon

Most Memorable Foodie Job Experiences
I’ve worked in many places as a student, a backpacker and as a 'grown-up' (now in the academic world though I am not an academic). Some jobs have involved food preparation and others have involved developing some of our best ideas while sharing lunch or dinner.

i. The Pineapple Massacre – I had a few unsatisfactory student jobs with food. One of these was working in a ‘fresh and healthy’ café (though I don’t know if that is how I would describe the chicken schnitzel sandwiches that were so popular). I never quite got along with my boss and one day she lost her temper with me over how I was cutting the skin off a pineapple. She told me that I’d taken too much off and one day I’d be making clothes and my staff would cut too much material off and lose me money too. It seemed a stupid assumption at the time and still does – yet I am not keen on cutting up pineapples to this day!

ii. Death by Chocolate in the Laboratory – when I was a full time student, I worked part time as a bottle washer in a research laboratory. It was very unglamourous but flexible and we had great morning teas on Fridays – brought in by staff according to a roster. Occasionally we had Death by Chocolate morning teas when anyone was welcome to bring in a plate of chocolate goodies. These were amazing morning teas which made it worth rinsing each bottle 15 times in normal water and 4 times in distilled water!

iii. Kibbutz Kitchen Hand – while living on Kibbutz in Israel during my travels I was lucky enough to work in the mornings as a kitchen hand making salads – much preferable to working in the cardboard factory (which I did in afternoons)! I worked with an Israeli boss who didn’t speak English. I remember her saying to me ‘green, green’ to describe a vegetable while I looked on in total bemusement til one of the English-speaking kibbutzniks translated for me. The salads were fantastic – I was fond of a deep fried eggplant salad (like this one), and it was here I learnt to appreciate cucumber which I had always hated.

iv. Christmas Lunch in Darwin – a couple of years ago I went to Darwin for a work Christmas lunch. Sounds extravagant to fly four and a half hours for lunch – actually I had other meetings but it was a treat to be able to celebrate with colleagues up in Darwin whom I do a lot of work with. We went to the Hanuman on the Esplanade. A modern restaurant that does Thai and Indian food and has over-efficient air conditioning. We had a set meal which catered well for vegetarians. The one dish I remember is a spicy eggplant dish which is cooked to melting perfection. Much preferable to the lunches I have in Darwin at the hospital cafe which ironically get less and less healthy each time I go there.

Favourite Foodie Travel Experiences
When I first tried to think of favourite food experiences on my travels, I could not remember individual meals but I kept thinking of so many wonderful food-related places that still are full of delightful memories for me.

i. Europeans breads: I love a good heavy sour loaf of bread. I remember fondly the bakeries in Northern Europe with rows and rows of just such breads – Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin and Amsterdam are the places that come to mind – dark dense chewy loaves. I suspect a few have even stowed away in my bags when I have returned to the UK when I lived there. One of my favourite bakeries was the Bakker Schwinkel in Amsterdam where I told it was ‘very Dutch’ when I had cheese on my fruit toast.

ii. Cafes with a past. At university I studied literature and history. I love soaking up the cultural life of a city, especially in a café with a history of food and artists. E and I saw a mouse in The Dome Café in Paris where Sartre and de Beauvoir discussed existentialism. Nearby was the fine bookshop Shakespeare and Company which is not food-related but deserves a mention for its wonderful book cluttered cubby holes. We had a drink at Vesuvius café in San Francisco where the Beat writers fantasised about freedom. And I had a snack in the Four Cats in Barcelona, a bohemian bar frequented by Picasso and friends. Once I even went to a café in Sheffield where I had read that Jarvis Cocker had hung out in his youth!

iii. Markets – As a vegetarian backpacker, finding healthy meals was difficult – lots of carbs and cheese and chocolate. So markets always gave me such joy to see piles of colourful fragrant fruit and vegetables. Each was a veritable oasis in my poor diet. Markets also are filled with characters acting out the hurly burly of local life. How could I forget markets in the Jerusalam Old City, the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, the Ramblas in Barcelona, and of course the Left Bank of Paris. I remember sitting exhausted and culturally satiated in a hostel on my first trip to Paris, eating baguette, cheese, capsicum and tomatoes from markets I had stumbled across and never found again on subsequent visits. (Maybe just as well because my Swiss army knife, that I sliced bread and cheese with, has been confiscated at an airport in the aftermath of September 11)

iv. Country towns cafés – Not to be forgotten among the glamour of international travel, is the travel in my own state of Victoria. There are so many wonderful places we have visited and most memorable are some of the great quirky cafes run by old hippies and sea changers – the gourmet deli that doubled as a café at Beechworth , the booklined cafe at Apollo bay where we were given a soft toy to identify our table to the waiter, the colourful cafe in Daylesford where our table cloth was a large piece of butchers paper and our table settings included crayons to draw on the paper. These experiences are available in the city too but are special in the country as they offer the additional relaxation of having left the rat race behind.

Oddest travel experiences
Travel has exposed me to new people and new cultures in the most unexpected ways.

i. Christmas dinner in Ireland – My first Christmas away from home was spent with my sister in Dublin. We were invited to Christmas dinner at the home of another sister’s friend. They were so warm and welcoming. There was an elegant tree and the table was set with beautiful festive decorations. But I found it odd that they served me stir fried vegetables while everyone else had a fairly traditional roast dinner.

ii. Rural England without Shops – For a couple of months I was the carer for an elderly woman in a tiny town in Warwickshire. It was a town with no shops (thanks to the VAT, a neighbour informed me) – although there was a pub up through the fields. The elderly woman lived on an odd diet of sausages, fish in a bag, chocolate fingers and polo mints. I had to order in our food once a week, which was a new experience for me. In addition, the gardener, Jack England, occasionally brought me vegetables from the garden, and I begged pumpkin off the next door neighbour.

iii. Beef Stew in Poland – I took a bus into Warsaw but couldn’t communicate with the bus station staff to make them understand I had a bus pass out of Poland. Instead I met a woman at the bus station who took me home to her family where they kindly put me up for the night in their small two bedroom flat. They were so generous but their English wasn’t too good, so I graciously accepted a bowl of beef stew, unable to explain that I was vegetarian. They drove me to the bus station the next morning and translated for me but the bus driver still wouldn’t let me on the bus. I ended up paying for a train to get out of the Poland.

iv. Thai Wedding Cake – We went to Thailand for the wedding of my brother Andy and my sister in law Erica. It was a beautiful beach wedding with a sumptuous banquet in the hotel afterwards. But the most bizarre moment of the night was when they brought out the wedding cake. It comprised creamy white layers and was topped with bride and groom figurines - just like the wedding cakes we know and love. But the hotel staff whisked off the figurines before we knew it – luckily my sister, Fran spotted this in the background and we had to request they be put back on so we could photograph it. But once we had taken our photos, the cake was cut up with no opportunity for Andy and Erica to perform a ceremonial cutting of the cake. I felt like the staff were aware of this tradition without understanding it.

Best UK vegetarian food:
Australians are quick to complain about British food but I just love how the Brits embrace their vegetarian fare. It is so much easier to come by in the UK than back home.

i. Pubs – pub grub in the UK is far superior to the old counter meals that used to grace Australian pubs. There are now some great Australian pub meals but they can never achieve the ambience of cosy historic pubs in the UK. One of my favourites was The Last Drop in the Grassmarket Edinburgh which had excellent mulled wine and hot port on my last visit. I also loved the vegetarian sausage sandwiches at the Firkin pub off the High Street. So many good hearty vegetarian options and bonny cheer.

ii. Fried breakfasts – E is particularly fond of a good fry-up. I have always been a bit wary, given that I don’t eat meat and don’t like eggs – seems that all is left is the grease! But in the UK which is so considerate of vegetarians, I have had some wonderful fry-ups, particularly in friendly B&Bs – some nice bread, vegetarian sausages, a good range of fried vegetables will do the trick. And I mustn’t forget the wonderful Scottish potato scones that E’s parents used to fry for us so often.

iii. Covent Garden Cranks – The UK has some excellent vegetarian restaurants. Most memorable is Cranks in Covent Garden, London which used to serve the best vegetarian sausage rolls in the world. They were never made to taste like sausage – why would they when they could taste better than any meat sausage roll! Unfortunately I think on my last visit that these heavenly treats were no longer on the menu (and according to Wikipedia that store is closed.)

iv. Haggis on baked potatoes – I have never had the dubious delights of eating meat haggis but was pleasantly surprised in Scotland to find vegetarian haggis so readily available (and so delicious) – in department stores, in pub meals and at the hot potato shop! It seemed such a treat, while working in Edinburgh, to be able to visit the hot potato shop (in Cockburn Street) on my lunch break and indulge in vegetarian haggis on baked potato.

Most indulgent food experiences in Edinburgh:
I was quick to complain about eating out when I lived in Edinburgh but I was treated to some superb food experiences.

i. The Witchery - Located up by Edinburgh Castle, this is a fancy restaurant located in one of the Old Town’s atmospheric ancient buildings. It has a dark and spooky grandeur. We went here for our first wedding anniversary and had an appropriately special meal. I remember being overwhelmed by the novel-length wine list, enjoying the fine dining, and having a decadent chocolate tart for dessert.

ii. Tower Restaurant - This lofty restaurant is located above the newish Museum of Scotland which was walking distance from my workplace. When I left Edinburgh, two of the councillors I worked with took me there for a farewell lunch. I can’t remember the food except some perfectly cooked green beans, but I do remember the stylised elegance and the fantastic views of Edinburgh Castle. You can see the castle from many places in Edinburgh (including our old flat) and it is such a breathtaking sight that it is enough to make anyone question leaving the town.

iii. Plaisir du Chocolat – I had some happy lunchtimes in Edinburgh with work colleagues sampling the extensive hot chocolate menu at Plaisir du Chocolat. I remember the pleasing warmth of the hot chocolate with chilli, and the chocolate espresso which was like a espresso cup of ganache. My last visit there was during a freezing winter day when hot chocolate laced with cointreau did indeed warm me up, even if it was too rich to finish. I heard a rumour that this café has closed – but I was relieved to find they have just reopened in the New Town!

iv. Christmas German Market – Christmas in Edinburgh is special – carols and mince tarts in the Grassmarket, Norwegian pine on the mound, the ice rink in the Princes St Gardens, the big Ferris Wheel beside the Scott Memorial and of course the German Market. For an Antipodean like myself, it was a treat to be able to walk around in a warm coat and winter woollens, gaze at all the wonderful lights blazing in the dark winter afternoon, and indulge in rich winter food to keep out the cold. One of my favourite festive activities was to walk around the German Market and sample the mulled wine and stollen. Christmas never felt so right.

Fantasy Dinner Party Guests
This is a dilemma I love to ponder – who would I invite to share a fantasy dinner party? It goes without saying that I would invite E. But who else? I have chosen an eclectic group of personalities who have fascinated me at various times in my life and would be lively guests. The first three would relish a good argument but I think would be balanced by Martin Donovan who seems so lovely and calm.

i. Virginia Woolf - writer
ii. Jarvis Cocker –musician
iii. Germaine Greer – feminist
iv. Martin Donovan – film star

Bloggers’ recipes I must make soon
Lastly, there are so many other wonderful blogs that inspire me - so many good recipes and so little time. I have chosen a few recipes I'd really like to make soon - hopefully you will see them on my blog in the not too distant future.

i. Roasted beetroot and haloumi salad – by Wendy at A Wee Bit of Cooking (I made it here)
ii. Pea pesto - by Holler at Tinned Tomatoes (I made it here)
iii. Leek and tomato crumble – by Lucy at Nourish Me
iv. Brand D chocolate cake (with red wine) - by Cindy and Michael at Where’s the beef?
v. Fruit and nut tahini slice - by Katherine at Limes and Lycopene (I made it here)

Go to About me, part 1 - mostly about Melbourne

About Me, Part 1 – mostly about Melbourne and food

Indulge me, if you will, in a trip down foodie memory lane and then a meander along the footpath of foodie favourites. Starting a blog with so many wonderful food experiences behind me, means I wanted to have an ‘About Me’ page to record a little of what has brought me to where I am, to share some quirky stories and to give some insight into my cooking and eating. (Update: I now have written a more recent About Me page.)

At the moment my favourite foodie experience is probably eating dinner outside in our backyard with my partner E and our wee white cat Zinc. But some months ago Wendy tagged me for the ‘Famous Four’ lists which made me think about foodie experiences that had delighted and amused me. My post evolved into a quite different and much longer lists which have been fun to write up over some time.

I have decided to split the lists into two posts because they are so long. Part 1 is about living in Australia, mainly in Melbourne. Part 2 is mostly about my travels and my time in the UK, where I lived for four and a half years (mostly in Edinburgh where E hails from).

Hope you enjoy savouring some of my memorable moments with food!

List of Lists:
- Childhood Food Memories
- Evocative places in Melbourne
- Pivotal share house foodie moments
- Favourite eating out in Melbourne (and surrounds)
- Favourite Melbourne picnic spots
- On the Stereo Favourites
- Favourite Foods
- Other posts about me

Childhood Food Memories
My love of food goes back to childhood in a small town and all the wonderful food at home, at slide nights, at country fetes, at church celebrations, at school. Food for me, then and now, was a delight, an adventure and part of the bonds of friendship. I know all these memories sound a bit Enid Blyton but I have the right to censor the embarrassing bits and make my childhood sparkle.

i. Grubs at school camp – Our school camp, half an hour bus ride out of town, was in the midst of the bush – or so it felt. Next door to the camp was one of my school mates dairy farm. Each year camp would include bushwalks and watching the cows being milked. Just as mandatory were midnight feasts and we often took along little chocolate balls called grubs which had to be eaten with shushed giggles and chatter, long after the teachers thought we should be asleep.

ii. Jelly slice and a secret club – I did grow up reading plenty of Enid Blyton and often played the Famous Five games. At one stage, my friends and I decided we needed our own secret club and called it the Secret Seven, with a dog as one of the members. We had a notebook, a password, a badge and held just one meeting without ever solving a mystery. At this meeting we all had to bring food and the most memorable one was the jelly slice which a friend brought on her bike but after riding along the gravel roads, it was in pieces, and we were in fits of laughter at the mess.

iii. Fish and Chips in a tent – When I was young, takeaway food meant fish and chips. In summer we often had fish and chips on the beach at Lorne, and in Lent we often had fish and chips on Fridays. So when my school mates and I decided to camp out in a tent on a friend’s farm, we got her mum to take us to town to buy fish and chips. It felt grown up at the tender age of 10 but ended in disaster when there was a fearful wind which covered our dinner in dust.

iv. Christmas Cake decorating – I have fond memories of spending time in the kitchen helping my mum, particularly in the summer holidays leading up to Christmas. The radio would be on in the background with talkback and music, school was over and the air crackled with eager anticipation of Christmas. In year 10, I learnt to decorate Christmas cakes with almond icing and royal icing. For years I would do it for my mum on the fruit cakes she baked for Christmas. At first it was fun to do lots of pictures and figures with icing. Then I could barely find time to cover the cake and put a few plastic decorations on it. Now I struggle to find the energy to even cover the cake.

Evocative places in Melbourne
I didn’t grow up in Melbourne but my parents were both from Melbourne and had lots of family and friends there, so we often visited. Today I still see parts of Melbourne that remind me of these visits. Here are some of the food-related ones.

i. Skipping Girl Vinegar sign – I am not sure why this is important - probably just a fun landmark! My dad would often point it out to us as kids, probably going out of his way to drive past it. These days, members of my family have been known to drive out of their way to show special people the skipping girl vinegar sign because it is part of our family history.

ii. Hot Jam Donut Van at the Queen Vic Market – the Queen Victoria Market is a special place with all the wonderful fruit, vegetables, produce, and colourful characters. But one of my favourite places is the Hot Jam Donut Van – I have been going there since I was a child and still think they have the best jam donuts I have ever eaten – but they have to be eaten fresh – usually with hot jam dripping down your chin. (see my Vic Market reflections)

iii. Biscuit Counter at Myer – I added this because smells are so evocative (like the smell of butter and golden syrup that always takes me back to home economic classes at school) and this counter until very recently was right by the Lonsdale St door of the Myer Department Store. My dad worked at Myer as a young man and so there was a sense of our family having a connection with Myer. Every time I walked in these doors the the sweet smell of butter, sugar, and spices would make me feel like a child again with my dad bringing home a big bag of these biscuits. (For a discussion on what I mean by biscuits go here).

iv. Melbourne University Food Cooperative – the food co-op reminds me of hope as a university student – I had just decided to be vegetarian, had made new friends, and was learning about a new way of seeing the world. And the food co-op was full of discovery of exciting new foods in the wholefoods section – herbal tea leaves, whole grains, tofu, tahini, and wonderful freshly ground peanut butter. I worked as a volunteer selling salad rolls and pies and vegan chocolate cake. If I could find those wonderful tofu and tempeh pies they used to sell I would be a happy woman (favourite university food along with the vegetarian dim sims they used to sell at Monash – sigh!)

Pivotal share house foodie moments
I added this section because share houses are where I learned to cook and discovered the joys of sharing cooking and meals with friends.

i. My First Curry – this was the moment I realised I needed recipes. I had just moved into my first house in Fitzroy and decided to cook a curry. I had helped my mother in the kitchen often enough and had youthful confidence. Ignoring, a childhood collection of recipes, I just threw some curry powder and vegetables in a saucepan. I don’t know what I did but I remember it ending up a ball of vegetables on the end of the wooden spoon. After that I started trying out recipes and haven’t stopped since.

ii. Becoming Vegetarian – in my first share house I ate less and less meat until I was seeking a vegetarian share house. I met someone at university who had a spare room and moved in. I remember one of my housemates referring to meat as carcass. Within a few weeks I had become vegetarian (shortly after my mother took my dad, my brother and my sister out for bull’s pen1s soup). I never wanted to eat meat again, and still don’t. It was in this North Carlton 3 bedroom terrace house that I learnt just how exciting vegetarian cooking could be – nutroasts, stirfries, curries and pasta.

iii. Market Gardening Birthday Cake – as a child my mum made us wonderful sponge cakes for birthdays but I dreamed about the novelty cakes I saw in the Women’s Weekly. In my North Carlton terrace house, one of my housemates made me a special Market Gardening birthday cake with a market garden shed and rows of carrots in the garden on top of a chocolate cake. At the time I was studying the history of market gardening buildings and loved having a cake to reflect my current obsession. It taught me that with vision and courage, you could create anything with food.

iv. Household Dinner Parties – in a 5 bedroom double story terrace in Princess Hill (as they call that area of North Carlton) we loved being organised and once asked someone to leave for being too easygoing. Between the five of us, each was able to spend a lot of energy one night a week on cooking, and we ate very well. So it made sense every now and then to have a dinner party where we each took responsibility for a dish. Again these dinners seemed to be stress free because we all contributed (once we had argued over who cooked what course). And full of fun. We typed up menus, set pictures on fire and had one onion soup so full of brandy that we were rather tipsy before the main course. Needless to say, we had an ‘elephant’s sufficiency’ at each dinner party and were happy we only had to waddle down the hallway to bed.

Favourite eating out in Melbourne (and surrounds)
This was a hard one to narrow to four. Melbourne has many fantastic food experiences to offer. I have chosen places which are rich in ambience and good memories as well as fine food.

i. The Station at Bannockburn (1 Geelong Road, Bannockburn, 03 5281 1667). Having traveled widely, this converted railway station, 15 minutes drive from Geelong, is the scene of one of my favourite eating out experiences. Outside the building is a country railway station but inside was all gilt and lace that felt more like a European chateau. It was a seven course meal that lasted all afternoon. The chef was French trained and she explained all about the meal before we commenced. My dad had arranged a group booking and had spent some time with the chef talking about what we did and didn't like, including my vegetarianism. I remember large serving dishes of roasted beetroot, celeriac salad, stuffed vegetables and a large side table for all the dishes to sit on as we ate at our own pace for the duration of the afternoon. It was a grand and unique dining experience.

ii. Monsalvat - (7 Hillcrest Ave. Eltham, 03 9439 7712) Monsalvat is one of my favourite places in Melbourne, although it is quite a drive to the outer suburbs. It is an old artists colony that feels like a French village (see photo at the top). There is a grand hall, a tiny stone chapel and the artists’ workshops. It is a place of banquets, art exhibitions and peacocks. I love taking visitors from out of town there. The lovely café is in a rustic building with tables set with crisp white linen. Most memorable food I have had is the wickedly rich chocolate cake. (read about my visit here)

iii. Vina Bar (253 Lygon Street, Carlton, 03 9347 2510) This unpretentious little Vietnamese café in Lygon Street seems at odds with all the pizza and pasta joints but is a fresh and healthy alternative. My favourite meal is probably the spring rolls with the noodles and vegetables. It is one of my favourite places near to work and the Cinema Nova. I once came in for a meal with work colleagues and was embarrassed to be summoned elsewhere by a phone call from our boss before we could even order. However, I had been able to return and enjoy many wonderful meals since. (update: sadly it has now closed but you can still read about my visit)

iv. Shakahari - (201-203 Faraday Street, Carlton, 9347 3848) This is a Melbourne vegetarian institution full of ambience and creativity. When you enter into the old terrace house, you are greeted with warm yellow and reds and Indian prints. The menu is full of wonderful combinations of tastes and flavours. It is always a pleasure to eat at a vegetarian restaurant where I am spoilt for choice and never worry about accidentally ordering a meat dish (like the time I ordered a lentil burger elsewhere and it was topped with bacon!). The laksa, croquettes and curries are always excellent but you can’t beat their chocolate pudding.

Favourite Melbourne picnic spots
With the approach of summer, Melbourne offers a tyranny of choice in outdoor events. There is nothing like packing the picnic rug, going to the Queen Vic Market for some fresh food and feasting like kings in front of a film or musical performance.

i. The Botanic Gardens – it seems to me that the Botanic Gardens was where the 'entertainment picnic' began. I remember a sunny evening in 1989 when we made the long walk from our home in Fitzroy to ‘the Bot’ with a packet of cheezels and a blister on my heel to watch a Midsummer’s Dream performed in the park. Since then I have been to lots of great plays and films in the gardens, always accompanied by a picnic of dips, chips, crudités, falafel, fresh fruit and chocolate cake. One of the most memorable experiences was seeing the 1922 film version of Nosferatu accompanied by an organist and the swooping bats overhead. (See post on moonlight cinema in the gardens here.)

ii. The Zoo – in summer it is always enjoyable to take the picnic hamper, rugs and fold up chairs to listen to one of the bands that perform at the zoo. There is something relaxing about wandering around the zoo at dusk before the animals go to bed. Of course I always have to say hello to my favourite giraffes. Then while the animals sleep, the musicians entertain, accompanied by the crinkle of crisp packets, the crunch of raw vegetables and the slap as another mosquito tries to suck your blood!

iii. Fitzroy Gardens – The picnics I remember at the Fitzroy Gardens are not accompanied by films or musicians. They are full of families enjoying Christmas dinners on Boxing Day. Our family would bring bread, salads, cold meats, pavlovas and summer puddings. Of course I would have my nutroast with me. Then when we have caught up with each other and eaten our full, small groups of us would wander down to see the Fairy Tree, the Miniature Tudor Village and Captain Cook’s Cottage. I have been going there since I was a small child and still find it the perfect place for a family picnic.

iv. Sidney Myer Music Bowl – This venue with a covered stage, a large expanse of grass and a cluster of burger and chip vans, is a Melbourne institution. I’ve never been here to Carols by Candlelight but I have enjoyed many evenings of ballet, classical music, and bands such as Neil Young, the Pixies and Jarvis Cocker. Being outdoors gives a freedom to munch on food so even when we don’t bring a big meal, we take crisps and fruit to pass among us while we watch the acts on stage.

On The Stereo favourites:
I end all my posts about recipes with ‘On the Stereo’ to show what I have been listening to while cooking or eating the meal. My partner, E, is a muso with an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. These days E has a day job but still does some creating and reviewing. We don’t see so many live bands anymore but we have a large CD collection to keep our house alive with the sound of music. (see my list of food related music)

E goes through phases of listening to different genres which since I met him have included: lo-fi, country and western, blues, Americana, American folk, Celtic folk, industrial, krautrock, electronica, classical, post punk, progressive rock, reggae, funk, psychedelic, turntablism, neo-folk and lots more. His tastes are eclectic and account for a lot of what we hear. I love Britpop, folk and indie music, but listening to E’s selection has broadened my mind. (Oh, and I have a brother who is a muso too!)

I started writing On the Stereo at the end of each post to challenge me to listen to more of my CDs and not get stuck in a rut listening to the same old music. And it works so I will continue it. Here is a taste of the four phases of my musical journey (though by no means a complete list):

i. Youth: Patsy Biscoe, Danny Kaye, Rolf Harris, Bushwhackers, Wham, Billy Joel

ii. University Days: Killjoys, Wild Pumpkins at Midnight, Billy Bragg, Paul Kelly, Rob Clarkson, The Smiths

iii. Travelling: Pulp, Divine Comedy, Belle and Sebastian, Blur, Scott Walker, Will Oldham

iv. Recently: Jarvis Cocker, Reindeer Selection, Decembrists, Missy Higgins, Barb Waters

Favourite foods
Of course I love so many foods it is hard to narrow it down to four but I have tried, despite the regret for all the wonderful food that is not included!

i. Broccoli – green green green
ii. Peaches, nectarines and cherries – the sweet juicy fruits of summer
iii. Chocolate cake – the richer and denser the better
iv. Sourdough bread – the heavier the better

Other Posts about me
To read the second part of this post go to About Me, part 2 - mostly about travels
Update: Or go to my more recent About Me for an updated information.

PPN #44 Pumpkin Sauce and the Grim Eater

Tis the season to eat leftovers – and any food your mother sends home with you. Coming home from Christmas with the family, I had been given a bag full of chives, leek and pumpkin. I was pleased to find a pumpkin sauce in my Vikki Leng cookbook that both interested me and would use up the vegetables.

I substituted leeks for onions and parmesan cheese for pecorino but otherwise followed the recipe. One thing I love about pumpkin is the way it can be pureed to a velvety smooth sauce, despite me using a handheld blender which didn’t do a great job on pureeing the leek. I served it mixed with badly cooked fettuccine (due to a lack of concentration), and accompanied by a spinach, rocket and strawberry salad (left over from our recent salad and fruit salad), and chunks of leftover nutloaf.

I was quite pleased with the meal. The sauce was tasty, smooth with a hint of sweetness of the miso and pumpkin. It looked cheerful with the bright orange of pumpkin and the green and red of the salad. And nutloaf is a great addition to any meal.

Then E chose to be the Grim Eater (a name you might recognise if you too have seen the Ratatouille DVD recently). He said he wasn’t keen on it. When I asked why, he told me that it didn’t have any tomatoes in it. Perhaps his British palate is still not accustomed to pumpkin because he didn’t spend his childhood eating it like I did. But I can’t help but feel a little black affronted because earlier in the evening he had told me that years ago, before he learned that pasta sauce came in jars, he would serve himself pasta with brown sauce. I know which sauce I would prefer.

But that wasn’t all. He told me that strawberries in the salad were too avant garde. (I replied that I put fruit in salads because sometimes it is the only way to guarantee it will be used.) Then he suggested that he could throw it over the back fence!

No matter, I thought, I will post it on my blog and some of my readers will appreciate it. So this is my moment to express my grateful to you for sharing my meals, my experiments and my enjoyment of food. (To be fair, E does usually enjoy my meals and when deprived of my home cooking for too long, he does miss it.)

In the spirit of sharing, I am sending this to Ruth at Once Upon A Feast for Presto Pasta Nights.

Pumpkin and Pecorino Sauce
(from Vikki Leng)
Serves 4-6

500g pumpkin, peeled and chopped
1 large onion or leek, washed and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup (250 ml) vegetable stock
½ cup milk
2 tsp white miso
2 tbsp finely chopped chives
Cracked black pepper
2 tbsp pecorino or parmesan cheese
125g fettuccine or other pasta

Place pumpkin, garlic, onion/leek, and vegetable stock in a largish saucepan and cover. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes or until pumpkin is tender.

While vegetables are cooking, cook and drain the pasta according to package instructions.

When vegetables are cooked, stir in the milk and remove from heat. Blend in food processor or with a hand held blender. The handheld blender doesn’t work too well but it is much preferable to me than the alternative of transferring boiling liquid into a food processor.

Bring sauce to the boil again and then remove from heat. Ladle a little of the hot sauce into a cup and stir in the miso. Stir in miso mixture, chives, pepper and cheese. Toss sauce through cooked pasta and serve.

On the Stereo:
Closer by Joy Division

Friday 28 December 2007

My Christmas Nutloaf

When I first became a vegetarian, I had many challenges in trying to fit in with my meat-loving family. No time was this such a problem as at Christmas. My mum makes a big roast dinner for Christmas, no matter what the weather, and my family live on turkey and ham leftovers for days. A vegetarian friend told me that he once had a tomato sandwich for Christmas dinner but in my early days I wanted to prove that vegetarians could enjoy food as much as omnivores. Having recently being introduced to nut loaves, I decided they were the answer.

On my first Christmas as a vegetarian, sixteen years ago, I chose a simple cheese and walnut loaf from a recently acquired Sarah Brown cookbook. Every Christmas since then, except once when I was travelling, I have made this nutloaf. Initially my family laughed at my nutloaf, but now it is as much part of our Christmas traditions as turkey, and I am not the only one to enjoy its charms.

This nut loaf is quite plain. It is easy to make at a busy time of year, and it is simple enough to need the accompaniment of vegetable dishes. It reminds me a little of sausage stuffing that my mum used to make – which was always my favourite meat before going vegetarian. Plus it slices up easily, so when the rest of the family are eating turkey sandwiches I am eating nutroast sandwiches. I have also taken leftover nutroast to extended family gatherings so no one needs to go to extra trouble for me. It is delicious cold with salads. You can even eat it as a snack in slices topped with chutney, with a little pomegranate molasses (as suggested by SpacedLaw) or with dip such as muhammara (as suggested by Cindy).

These days it is no longer just my nut loaf that breaks with tradition. This year my mum did a seafood starter, served a pumpkin stuffed with spiced rice, nuts and cranberries instead of roast pumpkin, and offered pavlova and chocolate cake as an alternative to plum pudding.

A few practical notes about this nutloaf. I make it the day before Christmas and then reheat it in the oven (covered in tin foil) for Christmas dinner. I always double the recipe at Christmas because it keeps for days and others will ask for some. Doubling ingredients means it is less likely to cook through and can be a bit soft inside.  It is firmer if cooled and then reheated.  This year I baked it for 60 minutes in a silicone loaf pan – the silicone pan meant the sides browned less than they would in a tin, and it was cooked through. It is a moist loaf but be careful reheating it that it doesn’t dry out too much.

Cheese and Walnut Nutloaf
(from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Cookery)
Serves 4

250g (8oz) cottage cheese
50g (2 oz) walnuts, ground
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 cup (125g or 4 oz) dry breadcrumbs
8 black peppercorns, crushed
2 eggs, beaten

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Spoon into prepared loaf tin (I use 13 x 22cm loaf tin and line bottom with paper except if using silicone pan.) Smooth the top down with the back of a spoon. Bake in moderate oven for approximately 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Serve hot or cold.

You can also read about my vegan version of this nut roast.
Click here for more nutroast recipes and information.

On the stereo:
The Original Christmas Album: 20 Party Christmas Crackers: Various Artists

Thursday 27 December 2007

Christmas dinner for two

Each year E and I have an intimate dinner for two at home to celebrate Christmas before the larger family dinner on Christmas day. (Actually we had company this year – our cat sat on the floor and watched the whole time but I am just thankful she isn’t the type to jump on the table.) It is a nice opportunity to set a festive table, play some carols and feel Christmassy. E hails from the UK where they do Christmas so well. He misses the Christmas lights, the Christmas number 1 on the pop music charts, Christmas television specials, Christmas movies. We may not have dark cold nights to showcase festive lights, but we did have Hogfather on the telly and unseasonally wet and cold weather outside.

I have already posted about our dessert and now here is the main course. I love a traditional Christmas dinner on the actual day, but I also enjoy the opportunity at our dinner for two to experiment with different festive menus. I chose dishes that felt a little special and looked festive.

The showpiece I chose was a broccoli and tomato roulade. A roulade is something that always feels a little out of the ordinary in my kitchen as it is the sort of dish that I fear and avoid – too many eggs and too much risk of things that can go wrong. But I was feeling brave. And I liked the green and red of broccoli and tomato. This was the roulade recipe with the least eggs, and Sarah Brown included it in an ‘impromptu’ dinner menu so it couldn’t be so difficult, could it?

The next time I do a roulade I will be seeking advice beforehand. I was fine til I had rolled it. Then suddenly nothing I read made sense. How was I to get the roulade from the teatowel to the platter? I have realised on re-reading the recipe that I should have wrapped it in greaseproof paper rather than just a teatowel but nevertheless it was like lifting a rag doll with no spine whatsoever. It looked fine on the teatowel – despite the tomato sauce staining my teatowel for life – but collapsed in a landslide once I transferred it to the plate. Never mind, it still tasted delicious – broccoli and tomato are a classic combination and the lightness of the eggs was pleasing.

The salad is one I have done before. It needs a bit of time because the pecans slowly cook in a cool oven, but it looks spectacular. I love the chewy crunchy spicy sweet pecans and the interesting mix of colours and textures. I am not a big fan of goat’s cheese and left it out but the recipe was quite sweet and needed the strong saltiness which can be found in cheese. The rest of the meal balanced it enough but next time I will add something like parmesan or fetta.

Lastly I did some potato parsley stars. They look so cute and festive. They are so simple, that it still amazes me a little that they work. They are merely mashed potato cut out into stars like biscuits or scones. My head says that mashed potato shouldn’t act like a dough but it does. They possibly were a bit crunchy as I didn’t quite have the oven space on the top shelf or the proper temperature to follow instructions but I liked the chewy well-cooked outside and creamy mashed potato inside. Definitely a recipe to impress kids and adults.

Broccoli Roulade with tomato sauce
(from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Cookbook)
Serves 4

225g broccoli (I used more, maybe twice this)
40g butter
2 tbsp wholemeal flour (or gf flour)
150ml milk
3 eggs, separated
2-3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
½ tsp chives, chopped

Tomato sauce:
450g tin of diced tomatoes
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp marjoram (I used mixed herbs)
1 tbsp tomato paste

First, make the tomato sauce. Place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cover and simmer over gentle heat 15-30 minutes until you have a thick sauce (it took me 30 minutes).

While tomato sauce is cooking begin to prepare the roulade. Chop the broccoli into small florets and place in microwave for 2-3 minutes. (Sarah says to steam broccoli and then chop it but I wasn’t about to burn my fingers this way).

Preheat oven to 190 C. Line a 33cm x 2cm swiss roll tin with baking paper.

Melt the butter and stir in flour. Cook over low heat about 2 minutes. Add milk gradually, stirring to avoid lumps. Bring to boil so that it thickens. (Sarah then says to simmer 2-3 minutes but I am not sure why and I didn’t). Remove from heat. Add egg yolks, broccoli, parmesan and herbs. Mix well. Season. Whisk egg whites til stiff but not dry, and gently fold them into the broccoli mixture.

Spread mixture into prepared swiss roll pan and bake for 17-20 minutes. (Actually I may have baked it a little longer to get a little golden colour on the roulade, although it was still a fairly pale colour!)

Turn out onto a clean (old) teatowel covered with a fresh sheet of greaseproof paper. Spread the filling over the roulade and roll it up, using the teatowel. Don’t worry if it cracks slightly (this is what Sarah says but she doesn’t give any clarification on how to stop it cracking when trasnferring it from teatowel to platter. See my comments above for more whinging). Sarah now says to sprinkle with grated cheese before returning to oven for 5 minutes before serving. I didn’t do this or garnish with slices of tomato (or cherry tomato) but as I was too demoralised by it collapsing but if yours is looking good, this is probably a good suggestion.

Avocado, Pear and Pecan Salad
(Adapted from Tesco Magazine)
Serves 4

2 tbsp golden syrup
3 tbsp pecan nuts (approx 12-16)
1 large mild chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
75g mixture of baby spinach and rocket
½ - 1 pear (I used half a packham pear), cored and thinly sliced
½ - 1 avocado, diced
150g cherry tomatoes, halved
½ red pepper, thinly sliced
100g goats cheese or fetta cheese or parmesan shavings or nutritional yeast (optional)

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp strawberry balsamic vinegar (or raspberry vinegar)
1 tsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 120 C. Mix golden syrup, pecans and chilli. Spread on a baking tray - I put baking paper on the baking tray – because past experiences have shown these nuts stick to the tray easily, and I mixed them up on the tray. Bake up to 1 hour, tossing regularly until caramelised and crispy – or until an hour is up, because in my experience, it is easier to notice they are caramelised and crispy when they cool.

Whisk dressing ingredients together and season. Toss remaining salad ingredients together except cheese. Drizzle dressing on salad and toss to coat. Just before serving scatter pecans and cheese over salad.

Potato Parsley Stars
(from Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Christmas)
Serves 4-6

900g potatoes (I used 750g)
25g butter
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Grated nutmeg

Peel potatoes and cut into chunks. Boil til tender. Drain really well then dry and little over heat. Mash with parsley, butter and seasoning to make a smooth, stiff dough.

Turn out dough onto a floured board and ‘knead’ til smooth (which for me meant just trying to push it all into a smooth ball). Press dough out to 1cm thickness on a floured board (if the board is not floured when you press it out, the stars will stick to it – I can tell you from experience). Using a star shaped cookie cutter, cut out star shapes and use an eggflip/spatula to transfer to tray lined with baking paper.

Bake in 200 C oven about 30 minutes til golden (that is Rose’s advice. I actually had other things cooking and in my oven it was about 60 minutes moving them around shelves with the oven temperatures ranging from 180 C to 230 C – but I am willing to believe Rose’s advice in an ideal situation). She also advises you can freeze them and bake or grill from freezer – if freezing you should only bake for 20 minutes before cooling for the freezer.

On the stereo:
Ultra Lounge Christmas Cocktails: Various Artists

Monday 24 December 2007

Christmas truffles and fruit salad

Yesterday I spent the afternoon cooking a Christmas dinner for E and me at home. We usually have our own dinner each year before spending Christmas day with my family in Geelong. It is a tradition that actually started in my vegetarian student households, when we enjoyed a big vegetarian Christmas feast before heading off into the land of turkey and ham! Dessert is the first and easiest post on the meal – I suspect details of the main course will have to wait til after Christmas.

I made truffles a few days ago because I thought I would take some down to my parents. It was my mum who had suggested making them when she helped me scrape the pudding crumbs off the cloth from my Christmas pudding some weeks ago. These crumbs have sat in my fridge in a tub waiting to be used, and happily they have kept well. Originally I was going to do chocolate and cream with crumbs but E had just used up our cream. However, we did have brandy butter (cream with brandy and a bit of sugar) in the fridge. E likes brandy butter on warmed mince tarts at this time of the year. Despite now living in Melbourne, there are some aspects of a Scottish Christmas he can’t give up.

So I checked out recipes for truffles with pudding crumbs in them and I don’t think I found one on the net. Seems the sort of thing you always see til you start looking for it. I did find this recipe for cake crumbs, mixed fruit and some liqueur and melted chocolate. Confirmed it was possible. But I wanted some cream in it, so I had a little look at Holler’s white chocolate mint truffles for some guidance.

I not only had brandy butter, but I also had leftover condensed milk. One of the best ‘fudge’ recipes I ever made was just chocolate, condensed milk and a bit of butter. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try this with the pudding crumbs. I quartered the ingredients and got 20 very rich truffles – the original recipe says it makes 16 squares! I would also be interested to try mixing pudding crumbs into the cream cheese truffle recipe that Tara makes.

Both truffles worked well and were overwhelmingly rich and pleasing, as Christmas food should be. But because we live in the Southern Hemisphere I decided to do a fruit salad. This fruit salad is so simple and so good and so seasonal. It features cherries and berries that are so much better and cheaper at this time of year. Which means I get to use my cherry pitter – one of my most frivolous kitchen implements because it can only be used for the few months of the year that cherries are in season. My mum says that she uses a hairpin to pit cherries, so I feel like I’ve come up in the world.

The fruit salad also has Cointreau in it, which rather than overwhelming the fruit, enhances the flavour in a subtle way. E approved. ‘Call me an old soak,’ he said, ‘but it is one way of making fruit more palatable!’ He still didn’t eat all his fruit. But I love this fruit salad – it has wonderful summer fruits and no melon. I substituted kiwifruit for raspberries because the quality of raspberries was so poor in the supermarket, and it gave pleasing Christmas colours.

This is excellent dessert for a heatwave when you can’t face rich and heavy food. I made it a few years ago for a festive dinner on a night that was so hot that we just sat dripping with sweat in front of the fan. The weather lately has been wet and cold for this time of year. With all the drought we have had in recent years, it seems odd that it just keeps raining, and raining heavily. Good for the farmers and reservoirs and those with water tanks in their backyards (except those whose tanks were installed with a hole in them and the water just runs right through – as happened to a work colleague recently). However, we had eaten an elegant sufficiency by dessert, so truffles and fruit salad were quite enough.

Red Fruit Salad
(from The essential dessert cookbook)
Serves 2

Handful of cherries, pitted
½ punnet of strawberries
½ punnet of raspberries (I used 2 chopped kiwi fruit instead)
1 tbsp Cointreau
1½ tsp brown sugar

Toss the fruit together. Stir the Cointreau into the fruit and leave for 20 minutes. Meanwhile mix the brown sugar with 1 tbsp water. You can either simmer on stovetop for 3 minutes (recommended by the original recipe) or microwave for 30-45 seconds on high (which I did). When sugar syrup has cooled mix with fruit mixture and serve. (easy to assemble between main course and dessert)

Brandy Butter and Pudding Truffles
Makes 20

125g dark choc
¼ cup cream or brandy cream
1 cup Christmas pudding crumbs
Icing sugar and cocoa

Melt chocolate. I put mine in the microwave on high for 30 - 60 seconds (check and stir every 20-30 seconds). Stir in cream til mixture is glossy. Stir in crumbs. Cool in fridge a few hours – I only did 1 hour and it wasn’t really enough but I just muddled through with soft mixture. Roll into balls the size of walnuts. Toss truffles in mixture of icing sugar and cocoa. Harden in fridge – I left mine in overnight.

Condensed Milk and Pudding Truffles
Makes 20

125g dark choc
¼ cup condensed milk
20g butter
1 cup Christmas pudding crumbs
Icing sugar

Melt chocolate and condensed milk and butter together. I put mine in the microwave on high for 30 - 60 seconds (check and stir every 20-30 seconds). Stir in crumbs. Cool in fridge a few hours – I only did 1 hour and it wasn’t really enough but I just muddled through with soft mixture. Roll into balls the size of walnuts. Toss balls in icing sugar. Harden in fridge – I left mine in overnight.

On the Stereo:
Christmas – Low

Sunday 23 December 2007

Christmas Snowflake Biscuits

Last Christmas I was given a set of snowflake cookie cutters. I am not a bit fan of making or eating cookies or biscuits which are rolled out and cut out. These cookies seem to be all about style over substance. They look fantastic but the always seem to me to make better Christmas ornaments than afternoon tea. I much prefer an ugly chunky mass of cookie which is dense with choc chips and texture. (You might have noticed on my blog that I am a better cook than photographer!) But the cutters were so cute I had to hang on to them for a moment when inspiration hit.

Then I got the December issue of Australian Table magazine and found a roll and cut biscuit recipe with condensed milk and chocolate – my two great loves when it comes to baking. The moment for the cookie cutters had arrived!

Rolling out the cookies was a bit of a trial. Confirmed how I feel about doing it. So I was not surprised that although the snowflake shapes looked cute, they collapsed in my hand as soon as I tried to transfer from rolling out board to baking tray. But I followed my intuition when I kneaded the off cuts and added a couple of tablespoons of flour. When I next rolled out the dough, it was much easier to handle. This was more like the dough I remember from my youth.

I just used milk chocolate due to convenience rather than a mix of milk and dark chocolate as suggested in the recipe. Actually I think white chocolate would look best on the snowflakes. I have seen a few inspiring snow flakes on the Christmas cookie round up at Food Blogga, particularly those from Bitter Sweet, Redacted Recipes and Soul Fusion Kitchen. My biscuits looked better than my usual efforts. And I used up some of the cherries that were leftover from the Christmas pudding (rather than letting them become hard crystallised balls like I did last year). These biscuits tasted good but not as good as a dense choc chip cookie.

I took a tin of cookies down to my parents place in Geelong yesterday for a family gathering to decorate their Christmas tree. My parents have a fine collection of decorations. They don’t have the paper decorations they made for their first Christmas and I think all the fragile glass balls have broken by now, but my dad was saying the Christmas tree lights are about 38 years old and they can’t buy replacement light bulbs for the set any more. So it will be a sad day when the next bulb goes and they are off buying a new set of lights. My favourite tree decoration is the little angel I remember from my childhood.

Of course you can’t decorate a tree without mince tarts. My mum always makes her own with home made pastry and store bought mince. She even sent some to my sister in Dublin this year. They are worth sending half way across the world. We also had my biscuits and I took down some chocolate truffles. My little nieces looked at the snowflake biscuits and called them flowers. They did look more like flowers than snowflakes but they felt Christmassy with the cherries and chocolate decorations.

I am sending these cookies to Susan at Food Blogga who is hosting the Eat Christmas Cookies, a food blog event. She is adding new cookies as they come in – there are lots of fantastic cookies at this link already– so check them out.

Choc Cherry Cookies
From Australian Table December 2007
Makes 25-30

125g unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup (75g) brown sugar
1/3 cup (85g) castor sugar
1 egg (50g)
¼ cup (60ml) condensed milk
2 cups (300g) plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
Sprinkle of mixed spice and nutmeg
1/3 cup (65g) dark or milk choc bits
¼ cup (50g) glace cherries
150g dark or milk chocolate

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Beat butter and sugars using spoon or electric mixer. Add egg and condensed milk and beat until smooth. Stir in flour and baking powder til a ball forms. Knead until smooth. Mine was a little sticky and at this point I should have added a few tablespoons extra flour.

Roll dough out to 5mm thickness. (The recipe suggests rolling between two pieces of baking paper – I found it a bit awkward and ended up placing it upon baking paper and rolling out. I found it easier to roll out without piece of baking paper on top of the dough.) Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Reroll and cut off-cuts.

Place cookie shapes on prepared baking tray. Decorate with chocolate chips and cherries. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. The colour on top wont change but they will be slightly golden underneath.

Cool on wire rack. The recipe said to wait 5 minutes to drizzle with chocolate – I waited a lot longer. Place chocolate in bowl and heat in microwave – should take 30 – 50 seconds on high (check after 20 seconds and stir). Drizzle with melted chocolate using a fork.

On the Stereo:
White Christmas: Bing Crosby

Friday 21 December 2007

Green Tabbouleh and Pomegranate Molasses

A few days ago I had a yen to buy pomegranate molasses, having come across it in blogs once too often. I live in an area where there are lots of poky little Middle Eastern food stores so I went to one nearby and was overwhelmed at three brands to choose from. I bought a bottle with a little piece of nougat and the woman waved away my attempts to pay for the nougat. I was touched by that little gesture and thought, this would never happen in a supermarket, and was determined to shop more at the smaller local shops.

Firstly I had to decide what to make to sample the pomegranate molasses. I looked back over my recipes and also surfed the net for some inspiration. The most common ideas were adding it to eggplant dishes or in a salad dressing. As usual there were too many good recipes to make, but here are a few that I have on my wishlist:

- Muhammara dip made by Chocolate and Zucchini
- Maple, Coriander, and Pomegranate Glazed Acorn Squash made by Raspberry and Eggplant
- Bulgur Salad with Pomegranate Dressing and Toasted Nuts made by The Wednesday Chef
- Pomegranate & Berry Cakes made by Esurientes

I liked the sound of the bulgar salad above but wanted more vegetables in it. I have another bulgar salad that I found recently and decided to try it instead. It is quite some time since I cooked with bulgar wheat but it seems a common enough ingredient – after all, tabbouleh is a common salad. So, avoiding the supermarket, I headed off to a local deli.

I found bags of grains and legumes on a shelf but no labelling (apart from the price and the deli name). I wasn’t sure which one I needed. I asked the older man who was sorting bread. He didn’t know what I was talking about. So he had to go to the counter and ask someone, and she didn’t know. They were checking with all of the staff if anyone had heard of tabbouleh. Thankfully they found someone who could help, but my assumption that tabbouleh is a common salad has been quite shaken. The green grocers and the nut shop seemed a breeze after that.

The pomegranate molasses was great – added a depth of zing beyond the lemon juice. I look forward to using it more. I was well advised in my travels through the blogosphere to go easy with it because it has a strong taste. I started with one tablespoon and added another after tasting the salad. A quick bit of research on the web shows that pomegranates originate in Iran and are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants.

Then I realised why pomegranates seem particularly exotic – they feature in the legend of Persephone in Greek Mythology which I read as a child. Persephone is daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. When Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld, Demeter went into mourning for her daughter, the fields ceased to yield a harvest. Persephone was rescued but was first tricked into eating some pomegranate seeds which condemned her to spend some time each year in the Underworld. Fruit of goddesses in the underworld – sounds exotic. But it is so sad too that this small fruit meant a mother grieved the loss of her child so much that world enters the barrenness of winter for part of each year.

But enough sad stories. When I prepared the bulgar wheat, there was so much of it that I scooped a lot of it out for another meal. I have adjusted the ingredients in the recipe below accordingly. I served it with just a few dolmades but E and I agreed it was a bit much to eat most of it on its own. My inclination is that next time I will serve half of it with another salad and maybe burgers, and E thought chips and sausages would go well with it. I also think some fresh tomatoes or sundried tomatoes might be a nice addition. But it did taste good and had lots of pleasing green colour that might signify growth and joy of Persephone returning to our world.

Green Bean and Broccoli Tabbouleh
Adapted from The Age Tuesday August 27, 2002
Serves 6-8

1 cups fine bourghul (bulgur) wheat
1¾ cups boiling water or vegetable stock
1 cup green beans, trimmed and finely sliced
1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets
1 packed cup flat-leafed parsley, chopped roughly
1 tbsp good-quality capers, rinsed
½ cup roast hazelnuts, skinned and chopped roughly
2 tbsp unrefined hazelnut oil or olive oil
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or balsamic vinegar)
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp sea salt

First, prepare the bulgur by placing it into a large bowl with the salt (if like me you forget the salt, just add it later). Pour the boiling water or stock over the top and cover firmly with a lid so that all the liquid can be absorbed, around 10 minutes. Lightly fluff with a fork and set aside to cool. (I used water but think stock might be better.)

Put the beans and broccoli separately in the microwave for about 2 minutes on high (or blanch on stovetop in a saucepan). Refresh under cold running water and drain. Mix beans, broccoli, bulgur, parsley, capers and hazelnuts.·

Make the dressing by whisking together the oil, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, garlic, and black pepper. Pour over the salad, toss it and allow it to stand for 15 minutes (if you have more patience than me) before serving. Season if necessary. Eat at room temperature.

On the stereo:
Trans Europe Express: Kraftwerk

Thursday 20 December 2007

Nutroast for dinosaurs

E picked up a bunch of basil that I had sitting on the bench and looked at it knowingly. Usually he takes no interest in my ingredients until they are looking up at him from the dinner plate. But the previous night we had watched an odd sci fi movie Anonymous Rex about herb loving dinosaurs who used holograms to look like humans. (Shape shifters anyone?) It was very odd seeing our hero eating a pinch of oregano at a society function, while his dad had an basil addiction, and the bad dinosaurs were planning to overtake the world with thyme gas. Very odd but is it possible that sci fi movies could actually interest young kids (and big kids) in herbs?

I was making a nutroast recipe I found in Leah Leneman’s Single Vegan cookbook. The assumption that vegans might be only cooking for one seems clever (how annoying is it to downsize ingredients when you are cooking for one) and a wee bit sad (eating alone each night). But the flaw in her logic is that even if you are cooking for yourself, whether in a family of rabid carnivores or living alone, you really want to have leftovers so you are not slaving over a hot stove every night of your life.

So I ask you, nutroast for one? Really? No no no. That is crazy-talk when nutroast leftovers are so good. So easy to reheat, and so good in a tomato pasta sauce, a chilli non carne, sliced in a sandwich, mashed into burgers. The possibilities are endless. I even made the suggested oatmeal gravy which worked best when first made (after a while it did look like porridge) and I think the leftovers of this gravy would be great mixed with leftover nutroast and some extra breadcrumbs to make burgers.

Needless to say, I didn’t make the small proportions that Leah suggests, but increased them to serve four – that means one night with roast potato and pumpkin, and one night with chips and roasted zucchini, capsicum and asparagus. I had to juggle the ingredients a bit to supersize the loaf. I added a few fresh touches with fresh basil rather than dried basil, and the addition of sun dried tomatoes.

The texture was a wee bit on the crumbly side but I wouldn’t add any more moisture. The taste was superb. The ground nuts become wonderful creamy in this mixture, but the loaf has crunchy edges. The sautéed mushrooms and seasonings give a richness that rivals meat without the heaviness - admittedly I haven’t eaten meat for so many years I probably don’t really know, but it did taste so good. Plus the occasional sweet explosion of sundried tomatoes. Who could ask for more? With the addition of fresh basil, even the dinosaurs would love it!

Walnut and Mushroom Loaf
(adapted from Leah Leneman)
Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
200g mushrooms, finely chopped
1 scant cup walnuts
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup soy or cows milk
1 cup dried breadcrmbs
1 tbsp flaxseed meal (optional)
½ tsp fresh sage, chopped
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
½ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
sea salt to taste

Heat oil in large frypan. Sauté onion over medium heat til translucent. Add mushrooms and sauté an additional 5 minutes til mushrooms are cooked. (The recipe says tenderised but this just reminds me of meat too much. I also followed the recipe and just sautéed the onions and mushrooms together but I felt the onions needed more time than the mushrooms – although they were fine in the loaf.)

While the vegetables are sautéing you could dry fry walnuts til they smell roasted. Then process walnuts and sunflower seeds in food processer til coarsely ground.

Mix mushroom mixture, walnut mixture and remaining ingredients. Spoon into a greased loaf tin (mine is 13 x 22cm – it was a silicone one so I didn’t use paper but I usually line a metal loaf tin’s base with baking paper for a nutroast). Press the mixture into the tin with the back of a spoon. Bake in moderate oven for about 45 minutes. Stand 5 minutes. Turn onto serving dish and serve with oatmeal gravy (below)

Oatmeal gravy
(adapted from Leah Leneman)
Serves 4

½ cup fast cooking oats
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp promite or other yeast extract
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
Soy sauce or salt to taste

Recipe says to put oats, water and oil in food processor and blend thoroughly, then heat in saucepan with flavours til thickened. My oats didn’t really blend much so I think in future I would just put all ingredients in a saucepan, maybe whisk the oil into the liquid, and heat. I think it is better served straight away. Add more water as needed, especially if reheating it.

On the stereo:
The Good, the Bad and The Queen: The Good the Bad and the Queen