Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Adventures in Gluten Freedom

I'll preface this by saying I don't, nor do I ever intend to follow a gluten free diet.

Nonetheless, in the interests of a full understanding of the human experience, or maybe just in a Hillaryesque quest to do it 'because it was there', I have baked my first batch of Gluten Free Bagels.

I'm still working on the recipe, but here is my humble first attempt.

The recipe was from Delight Gluten Free Magazine and adapted by me since you can't get most of the ingredients in Australia.  If you follow the recipe on the link, I strongly advise you to ditch the dough hook and use the mixer attachment. The whole point of dough hooks/kneading is to develop the gluten.  No gluten, no need to develop, but you do need to make sure the whole batch is mixed up good.

For what it's worth, I waaaaayyyy prefer working with the gluten-ful type bagels.  Much less mess and stickiness, but I have to say the results where eminently edible and I was more than happy to share them with my coeliac guinea pig.  At any rate, I don't think I did too badly overall.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Saving the Summer

I have a topsy-turvy relationship with the Australian climate.  One the one hand, I come from a long line of anglo-celts who have no business being exposed to extreme levels of UV radiation.  No matter how well I douse myself in sunscreen and cower under the widest sombrero available, I still end up covered in freckles at the end of summer and cop a good sunburn once or twice a year. 

On the other hand, the mild weather means that I can grow fresh herbs in the back yard, year round.  The woody herbs, Rosemary and Thyme, along with the minty-type things, are there for me year round, but my favourites herbs, basil and tarragon, die off or just plain die in the winter months where overnight temperatures occasionally plummet into the single digits (NB: Yes,  I am being sarcastic).

So this year I am attempting to put some aside for the terrible three months. For the tarragon, I've just straight up frozen the picked clean leaves into vacuum sealed (OK, a straw and a deep breath) ziploc bags.  

For the basil, there is only one option - pesto. We actually have a perennial basil that is like haute cuisine for the bees, but I find it a tad too peppery for pesto, so I have no choice but to get my stick blender out and make up a monster batch of basil pesto.  This is good to make earlier in the season when the leaves are big and floppy (that's the technical term).  You end up with a sweeter pesto that way. I've probably left it a bit late, but we still had a number of big/floppy basils due to my obsessive planting regime.  

Basil Pesto 


  • 1/2 C olive oil 
  • 3 T pine nuts (I am a bit agnostic about nut choices.  I've also used macadamias and even blanched almonds)
  • 1/3 C grated parmesan (purists would say you need something fancy like pecorino romano - I have to say I've never noticed the difference).
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • 2+ C fresh basil leaves, picked and washed
  • Can also add parsley to sub for basil leaves if you are short on basil (this should never happen, but we live in an imperfect world).

Optional (after tasting):

  • zest of 1/2 lemon (if pesto needs a bit of zip- really good if you need to pair it with something a bit heavier like a ravioli)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon  (thins out the pesto and also adds zip, though less than the zest)
  • 2 or 3 anchovies (maybe leave off on the salt if you do this).
I use my trusty stick blender to combine all the non-herb ingredients them first.  Add more olive oil or lemon juice if the mixture looks too thick (entirely a matter of opinion), then add the herbs and whizz up.  The less contact the herbs have with the metal blade, the better your pesto will keep.  If you really want to be hard core you can use a mortar and pestle, which will result in a chunkier pesto.

So - tell me - do you have favourite summer treat that you have learned to keep aside of Winter?

Friday, August 23, 2013

You say it's your birthday

It's my birthday too!  I'm having dinner in Sydney tonight while my  man cooks me a special Ramen-tic birthday dinner for tomorrow (and takes care of our special needs dog) We've recently developed a fanatical love of ramen, and with few options available to us, besides the excellent Asa Don on King St, we've been forced to do for ourselves.  

Ramen is simple in a complex way.  The tonkatsu ramen broth is basically boiled pork trotters, with a bit of veg and seaweed.  The complexity is in the treatment of the ingredients (you have to do quite a bit of work with the ingredients to ensure the broth is pure.  Even more so, the complexity is in the sensual experience of the finished product where the broth feels like soft-skinned cherubs rolling around with joy in your mouth.  Other flavours are added before serving, in the form of a concentrated chicken/bacon/soy paste called tare, or miso for an umami kick.

I should say, I didn't eat pork for about three  years after travelling in  SE Asia. The fact that I'm now ordering trotters on a regular basis speaks to how far my journey of culinary exploration has taken me. It also makes me want to revisit some of the places where I turned my nose up at the pork options.

We've yet to tackle the pinnacle of Ramen devotions, making our own ramen alkaline noodles. I can't say this will be the final stop on our pilgrimage in our own kitchen; the great thing about loving food is there's always something new to try.

Have you ever developed a cult-like, fanatical  food love that took you well out of your comfort zone?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Winter Eating

A big southerly whoosh just reminded us all that our nearest souther neighbour is Antarctica and that was all the encouragement I needed to head down the street for a steaming bowl of Pho. In spite of my perception of Vietnam as a fairly warm place, there is nothing that hits the spot like a nice hot Pho with plenty of spicy salad and chilli to pep it up to my individual specifications. This is supported by the fact that Pho was a regular dinner option for us in the frozen wilds of Anchorage.  

I have heaps of theories on this, but I really think it comes down to the fact that good Pho is just so damn good in any season.  It's the kind of thing that seems really simple - how hard can beef broth be, right? But then you buy a cookbook or download a recipe and you realise there is so much finesse that goes into the final product that the subtle flavours will never be recreated in you own kitchen, no matter how many episodes of Luke Nguyen's Vietnam you watch. Believe me, I've tried and now I'm humbled every time a bowl of delicious pho
 is placed in front of me.  

So tell me - what food you think is best left to the professionals?

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Five Commandments of Tacos

I'll start by saying, I've never been to Mexico, nor have I consulted with any actual Mexican people in the writing of this post, so what I'm saying is completely uninformed by any actual...experience...or knowledge.  Bit like the Catholic Church, really.  

Nonetheless, I have serious opinions about tacos and now that Mexican is the flavour du jour in Australia, verily I say unto thee :

One: Thou shalt not request cheese or sour cream with thy taco
Cheese and sour cream are for losers who can't handle the magic carpet ride of heat and flavour that a good spicy taco brings.  if this is you, Enjoy your chiko rolls and potato scallops and go home. 

Two: Thou shalt not use beef mince and Old El Paso taco seasoning and call it spicy beef filling.

 In fact thou shalt not ever be in the presence of Old El Paso seasoning without washing thy mouth out with Cholula hot sauce.  Which would not be pleasant. 

Three: Thou shalt explain to me who thought up hard tacos.  

What a stupid idea.  Who wants to eat something that breaks apart and spills juicy yumminess all over you?  It's street food, dumbass.  It's meant to be held in your hand and gobbled down quickly. 

Really, who was that person? i'd like to give them a big smack in the face.

Four: Thou shalt use two corn tortillas per taco.  

Do not skimp unless you want to annoy your people by having tacos fall apart all over them.  See commandment number four, regarding street food and the whole point of tacos being not to get all over you when eating.

Five: Thou shalt not even try to open a place selling tacos and not have carnitas* tacos. 

Carnitas = braised pork and goes beautifully in a taco. And if you don't like/eat pork, you can do the same thing with lamb and it will still be yummy.  This is possibly just a personal preference, completely uninformed by having ever visited Mexico, rather than a commandment, per se, but if you're going to make commandments you might as well make them work in your favour. 

*sorry vegetarians - it's possible to make a passable tofu taco, but you're not going to pick one up on the streets of Oaxaca.  Or maybe you will.  As I mentioned, I've never been there.

What commandments do you feel should be issued about YOUR favourite food?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

(Kitchen) Space Oddities

Before I moved in with future husband, I’d been living alone on a student budget for a while.  In spite of my fiscal constraints I managed, with some pride, to eat well and have an uncomplicated, if well stocked kitchen.  As far as I was concerned, I could spend what I was saving on kitchen gadgets on nice food from the local gourmet grocery store, five minutes’ walk from my flat.  My place was small, but managed to avoid clutter, by virtue of the fact that I did not enough money to clutter it. And I ate well.
Fast forward to a gainfully employed (alleged) adulthood.  I still eat well. Our kitchen is a galley-style number with some standard MDF cabinetry and I find myself with a stunning lack of space to put supplies (edible or functional) anywhere.  Since losing the all-important ‘on top of the microwave’ storage area in an unfortunate rice-cooking incident[i], I’m re-evaluating the usefulness of some of the items around the kitchen.
There’s only two people (plus one dog) living in the house, and the list of things that we use all the time is fairly short:
  • non-stick fry pan
  • saucepan
  • knives (we have a magnetic rack for them, so no need to downsize there)
  • spatula
  • cutting board
  • wooden spoon
  • mixing bowl
  • coffee press
  • coffee mugs
  • electric kettle
  • coffee grinder
  • tea cups (handy one cup volume, so I use them instead of cup measures)
  • wok
  • strainer
  • mortar & pestle
  • salad spinner
  • Kenwood Chef (aka ‘Kenny’)
So why is my kitchen bursting at the seams?  If I’m honest, I can only blame myself.  I'm the one who came home from the supermarket with a bag full of spice containers (although they are really handy and magnetic and attach themselves to the side of the fridge).  I’m the child of a pathological hoarder, and I’m fairly confident that these tendencies can be inherited and might be expressing themselves in my need to have:
  • four other fry pans (stainless steel, ceramic, unknown Aldi material)
  • six wooden spoons
  • five cutting boards
  • four strainers
  • three sets of measuring cups (two metric, one imperial)
  • four spatulas
  • set of four nested mixing bowls (which never get used because they are a pain to get out of the cupboard, and also the lids for them have warped and don’t fit) plus two other regular stainless steel mixing bowls.
  • three woks (all beautifully seasoned, mind you)
  • second Kenny (this is the hand blender Kenwood Tri-blade, AKA ‘Kenny II’)
  • second Mortar & Pestle
Other things I have but never use:
  • 8 L Slow Cooker (not so useful for two)
  • deep fryer
  • second food processor
  • second coffee grinder (for spices, of course)
  • second stick blender
Of course this only scratches the surface, because if we were to get into obscure spices, weird dried beans or strange condiments we would enter my dark world of well meaning, but ultimately unachievable recipe ‘projects’[ii].
So tell me - am I alone in my kitchen hoarding tendencies or do we all share a bit of the pack rat once we settle down?

[i] Mystery best left unsolved
[ii] Like the Eurovision-inspired Moldovan Lamb Stew

Monday, July 29, 2013

Eating for One

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf.”
Epicurus (341?-270 BC

As soon as I wave goodbye to my significant other I head straight for the market to get supplies for the week ahead.  I’ll be cooking for myself.   

Solo dining is so often shaped in such a miserable context: a broken heart, a lonely soul or a grieving widow; a person so lonely and aching to share with another. Cookbooks are usually for factors of two.  Romantic dinners for two, family meals for four, dinner party dishes for six or eight.  So few recipes tackle the culinary challenge of home cooking for one, almost as though the oven is a cavernous void that will seize up if one tries to tackle a single portion. To dine alone and plan to enjoy it seems so decadent and selfish. 

My journey of solo eaterdom began with “Eating In” by Khym Lam (now lost in an endless cycle of addresses in the late 90’s),  a wonderful recipe book that was published with the purpose of getting the twenty-something eater-outer (like myself) to not be so afraid of pulling a few ingredients together and turning on the stove.  My first attempt was spaghetti with dill and salmon.  It was simple, delicious and made absolutely to my specifications (not too many capers and easy on the cream). Obviously something stuck because by the time the noughties rolled around I was a contented home cook.

Maybe it’s the only child in me, or the solo traveler, but I relish the opportunity to eat alone.  I’m not an epicurean hermit - far from it. Eating with others can and should be wonderful; a meal shared with good friends can be a meal enhanced by the condiment of the social, but I’m unrepentantly, selfishly  joyful when I get a chance to eat what I want and when I want. 

“Do you cook like this every night?” friends will say. “Doesn’t it get lonely on your own like that?”.  Not in the least and I’m surprised that more people don’t see it as an opportunity for culinary exploration.   With a whole week in front of me, with no one to think of but myself, I look on this as the opposite of loneliness.  It’s more like joyful onliness. 

Suddenly a world of opportunity opens before me: I can have breakfast for dinner and popcorn for lunch; I can eat a whole bowl of ramen and not worry about leaving enough for a second helping, or have nothing but risotto for two nights in a row.  I can pick up foods that would never make it onto the table if there were two of us: mysterious Asian foods in banana leaf wrappers; a strange brown paste that makes the clerk laugh and ask if I was sure I wanted it; an exotic condiment with no internet-searchable provenance.  I can do multi-day projects that leave a mess in the kitchen, or teeter on the edge of explosion with my beloved and much-maligned pressure cooker.  I can stock up on stocks or bake a month’s worth of bread.  I can eat the same thing twice in a row, or skip a meal entirely if I just can’t be bothered.

Not that I can’t do any of these things normally, but without telling anyone what I’m doing, or explaining when the kitchen will be free, or what dinner will look like I become an intrepid explorer in my own path of edible wandering.

So I’m embracing my week of solo eating.  I’m giving in to my culinary selfishness and indulging my non-sharing nature.  If it’s really good, I’ll keep it for myself (for who else could I share it with)?  If it’s dreadful I will unashamedly toss it.  If I feel like inviting someone over, or calling someone to see if they want to go out, I will, but I suspect I will spend my week happily eating and indulging myself in the pure and shameless whatever-I-wantfulness of a week on my own in the kitchen.