Saturday, July 30, 2005

Getting into Templemode...

Today we went to Box Hill and did a big shop to stock our cupboards for next month, during which I plan to follow Nigella’s low-fat principles, cooking almost exclusively from the Low Fat chapter of How to Eat. At the start of the chapter, Nigella gives a big list of the basic ingredients that you should have at home when you are trying to eat low-fat. Luckily for me, lots of Nigella’s low-fat recipes are Asian in derivation. This means that most of the basic ingredients, such as soy sauce, rice, sake, fish sauce, dashi, chilli sauces, dried shitake mushrooms, shrimp paste, sesame oil etc. are already sitting in our pantry. This is partly because we ARE Asian, but also because Asian foods in general tend to be much more commonly used and cheaply available in Australia than in England. But for your interest, here’s what I’ve had to buy extra…

Sauces and Stocks
- Soba Noodle Soup Base (even though the traditional sauce for cold soba noodles is super easy, I do occasionally prefer instant gratification)
- Sukiyaki Sauce
- Knorr Shitake Broth Cubes (contains MSG)
- Massel Beef-style All Vegetable Stock (MSG Free)
- Massel Choice Vegetable Stock (MSG Free)
- Instant Dashi powder (MSG Free)

Noodles (didn’t need to buy any Soba seeing as we always have them in the cupboard)
- Somen Noodles
- Jumbo Udon Noodles
- Dried Egg Noodles

- 4 x Baby Bok Choy
- Red Capsicum
- 3 zucchini
- 3 tomatoes
- Broccoli
- Mixed lettuce
- 2 x Baby Cos lettuces
- 1 Fennel bulb
- 2 x 150g packets Sugar Snaps
- 2 bunches spinach

Breakfasty-type stuff
- Jalna Fat Free Plain Yogurt
- 1 x twinpack Yoplait No Fat Honey Crème Yogurt
- Rolled Oats

Herbs etc.
- Spring Onions
- Coriander
- Shallots
- Garlic
- Lemon Grass
- Fresh Ginger

I’m planning on buying my meats and fish as I need them, and getting new vegetables or dairy products as I run out.

However, so that I don’t fall behind on recipes (especially the seasonal Winter menus in the Weekend Lunch and Dinner chapters), I’m planning on doing one non-low-fat family meal (including pudding) each week.

By the way, I’m not just doing the Low-Fat chapter for the sake of getting through more recipes – I’m actually trying to lose weight. Thus, I’m also planning to go to the gym more (I went twice this week, yay!). And when I’m out at uni or socialising, I’ll try to choose low-fat meals (e.g. salads, sushi etc), and avoid alcohol. And at work… well… I’ve just gotta stay away from the dessert trolley!!

Anyway, after today's big shopping expedition, coming home laden with lovely green vegetables, I was totally in the right frame of mind to start my low-fat month. When lunch-time rolled around, however, I had a look in the fridge, and decided to make a chicken sandwich slathered in my real mayo, and have a couple of pieces of two-year-old defrosted birthday cake (still good). Then I went out in the afternoon with some friends. A Boost Juice, one Stella Artois, two cigarettes, some fried noodles, a Mexican hot chocolate and a Strawberry Chocolate fondue later… oh dear... and I’m even more in need of Low-Fat August!

Bring it on.

2 days to go…

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Wednesday Night Dinner

I stayed up till 3am last night watching The Producers on DVD, and had to get up at an ungodly hour (8am) to get to uni. Needless to say, when I came home at 4pm, I was absolutely buggered, and fell asleep instantly. I woke up at 6pm when my mum rang, asking me what we were having for dinner… I'd only planned dessert, nothing else... whoops. So, I quickly flicked through the Fast Food chapter, Mum came home five minutes later, we went to Safeway, came home at 6:30, and dinner was on the table by 7pm. Schweeet.

69. Chicken with Pesto (Fast Food)
70. Canned Pulses (Fast Food)
71. Rhubarb, Muscat and Mascarpone Trifle (Cooking in Advance)

The chicken and pulses are suggestions from the beginning of the Fast Food chapter. For the chicken breasts, you smear them in a mixture of butter and bought basil pesto, and grill them. The last time I did chicken breasts, I mishandled them terribly, and misjudged their cooking time. They were dry and tough on the outside, whilst still ferally pink and raw within. This time, I pounded them flat between sheets of glad wrap with a pestle, so that they’d cook in a reasonable time.

Chicken & Pesto - extremely tasty and moist. What a fab idea!

I’ve made these canned pulses once already, before I started this project, so I knew they were going to be delicious. It’s just a matter of blitzing up some onion, garlic, and parsley, (Nigella suggests pancetta and celery as well, but I don’t do pancetta, and had no celery…), cooking them until soft and turning some drained canned pulses in them. I chose chickpeas, because they were cheap at Safeway, and also I love them. By the way, this is the first time I’ve gone back to tinned chick peas since trying them soaked. Soaked is definitely better!

Canned Chickpeas

Dinner took a grand total of 45 minutes to plan, purchase and prepare, but the dessert itself was done in stages, over three days. Nigella's recipe serves 12-14, so I halved the quantities and used a very wide, shallow bowl with a 1.25 litre capacity.

Monday Afternoon

1. Bake trifle sponge

Trifle Sponges – a very simple, plain and shallow sponge. (I made this in its full quantity, and freezed half).

Sliced Trifle Sponges with excess rhubarb liquid (Nigella doesn't say to do this, but I didn't want to waste the lovely rhubarb liquid).

2. Make rhubarb jelly and rhubarb pulp

Like I said previously, the Vagina Jelly we had for dessert last night is also an element of this trifle. To make the jelly, you cook the rhubarb, and mix the liquid with gelatine. The leftover rhubarb pulp isn’t used in the jelly, but you do put it in the trifle.

Rhubarb layer

So, I spread half the rhubarb pulp on the trifle sponge, and put it in the fridge. (The remaining pulp is in the freezer now).

Tuesday Night

3. Pour jelly into trifle

We ate half the jelly as dessert last night, and late, late late on Tuesday night, I melted down the remainder for use in the trifle. It was such a gorgeous jelly, that I almost felt bad about melting it.

Jelly layer

Wednesday Morning

4. Make mascarpone cream

It’s a mixture of mascarpone, sugar, egg yolks and beaten egg whites. I made it this morning and spread it over the jelly layer as I was eating breakfast.

Mascarpone Layer

Wednesday Night

5. Remove from fridge and sprinkle with chopped pistachios

The Trifle - Spectacular

I just realised, that despite Nigella's passion for trifles and her numerous recipes for them, this is the first one I've ever actually made. And I have to say, I wasn't disappointed at all. It was absolutely gorgeous. I love the deep flavours, and it's wonderful how the textures and colours and flavours of the different layers complement each other perfectly.


But despite all my wordy descriptions of the trifle, I think my brother said it best...

Daniel: Fucking awesome!

Damn straight!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Oxtail Stew and Vagina Jelly

Yup, you read my title. We had an Oxtail Stew with Red Wine and Marjoram for dinner tonight, followed by the Rhubarb and Muscat jelly.

67. Oxtail with Mackeson and Marjoram
68. Rhubarb and Muscat Jelly

It was a bit of a mission getting oxtail – we have two excellent butchers close by, and it took three phone calls, and three separate trips to the butchers to get my oxtail. Neither one had oxtail when I first called, and I had to order it in. I ended up getting one tail from Belmore Butchers, and another from Rendinas Butchery.

Nigella says you should get oxtail pieces that are nice and chunky, and as near to the same size as is possible. Because I got two whole tails (which the butchers cut up for me), my pieces ranged from teensy to large. But given that it was so difficult to get my hands on, I wasn’t about to start complaining about its girth. I did chuck the superduper small pieces in the freezer though, to make stock with later. Bring on the brodo!

I started cooking the stew on Monday morning, so that we could eat it on Tuesday night. You need to cook it a day ahead so that the stew can get cold enough to be degreased effectively. But Nigella says, “I’m happy with the fat left in: I love the artery-thickening deep and unctuous sauce is provides.” Thank goodness, because I forgot to degrease it.

She also says to use Mackeson (which is a type of stout, I think), but says you can substitute with red wine. I couldn’t find any Mackeson, but did have a half-finished bottle of red wine sitting in the kitchen, which is what I ended up using.

You cook some onions in oil, and add marjoram, garlic and parsley, then set it aside. Look at how beautiful it looks, all mushy and green-flecked.


Then dredge your oxtail pieces in flour, mustard, and cloves, and brown them in the same pan. I love my Le Crueset! On top of this you pile the onions, some tinned tomatoes, some carrots, bay leaves, celery, stock or water and the alcohol. Then cook it in the oven for 3-4 hours. I did this in half quantities, and thus it only needed 3 hours. Actually, I put it in the oven as I left for uni, and gave my brother strict instructions on how and when to turn off the oven. When I came home in the evening, the oven, the house, and the stew were all fine. He’s a clever boy.

Once it’s cooked, you’re supposed to chuck out the celery sticks. I fished them out and was going to chuck them out… but then I remembered that I adore really mushily cooked celery, and ate them. Damn, they’re tasty! All the oxtail flavour soaked into those mushy, mushy sticks. Cook's treat. Don’t throw them out!

I let it sit overnight, and today I got my mum to heat it up and cook some basmati rice while I went to yoga in the afternoon. (Yes, that’s right, I went to the gym today! Let’s have a parade!) Nigella suggests mashed potatoes or basmati rice. As lovely as mash is, I just wasn’t up for eating something drowned in butter and cream, which is the only way to have mash. Unbuttered mash is just lumpy cardboard. Feral. Don’t bother.

Oxtail with Red Wine and Marjoram

Here it is, sprinkled with parsley, which Nigella says “seems to give it the gloss of a seventeenth-century Dutch painting”. It’s not quite Girl with the Pearl Earring, but it tasted fantastic.

Dad: This smells good… takes one bite… Oh wow..! The flavour…yum… this is definitely in the top five of Nigella recipes.

It was so awesome! It tastes just like a proper stew should. And given the freezing cold weather, it was perfect. And the oxtail itself is so wonderful, soft, and it comes away from the bone so easily. I actually regret not making it in full quantities. We’ve got some leftover, but it’d be great to have a decent amount to stash in the freezer for upcoming dinners. Oh well…

Ok, onto the Rhubarb and Muscat Jelly. Or as I’ve come to call it, the Vagina Jelly. Nigella says not to make it in a ring mould, because once it’s set and shining and gently wobbling, the jelly’s pink colour “makes it looks slightly gynaecological”. Well, as soon as I read that, I knew I just had to make it in a ring mould! A pink copper one, with flower patterns around the top, no less. I made it last night with the rhubarb I bought yesterday and carried around in my bag all day.

Poached Rhubarb

This jelly is made from the drained juices of rhubarb poached in the oven with water, sugar and orange juice. I decided to use half the rhubarb pulp in a rhubarb trifle (coming soon), and freeze the remainder. The juices are mixed with some muscat (we had an old bottle lying around, from the seventies I’m sure, which happened to have just the right amount of liquid in it!)

Jelly elements - heating the liquid in the small pan, remaining liquid in the big jug, and pulp in the sieve.

I’d never used leaf gelatine before, and was excited to find it at King and Godfree (gourmet foodstore near uni) yesterday. Here’s a picture of it soaking in water if you’ve never seen it before. It looks like plastic. Once it had softened, I squeezed it out and whisked it into the heated red liquid in the small pan, then combined it with the remaining liquid in the big jug.

Then I poured the liquid into the well-lubed pan (I used heaps of oil cos I was afraid it wouldn't come out cleanly), and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

And here it is! Gorgeous! I never thought that we were a jelly type of family, but we loved it. It's got a very deep toned flavour, but isn't overly sweet. Fabulicious.

Rhubarb and Muscat Jelly

Tthe next rhubarb dessert we're having is the Rhubarb, Muscat and Mascarpone Trifle. You need to make another Vagina Jelly to go in this one, in the same quantity. The trifle recipe serves 12-14 (GASP!), so I'm halving it. There's no way we're gonna be able to eat that much trifle! Thus, rather than getting another whole kilo of rhubarb and starting all over again, I decided that we'd only eat half the jelly tonight (actually, we could have easily finished it, if I'd let that happen...). The remainder will be melted down, and used in the trifle, thus enabling me to have it both ways.

The randomest lunch

Ok, so this isn't anything new, or even from How to Eat, but it's what I ate for lunch today, in a mad rush to get out of the house and to the bus on time.

I'd actually gotten up exceptionally early, 8:26am, to be precise, and didn't need to leave the house until 12:20pm, but ended up late and in a rush, almost missing my bus, because I used my morning to chat online and to take photos of all my favourite shoes to show my friends.

And here's the lunch...

Toasted white bread, spread thickly with ace mayonnaise, some roasted peppers (which my mum made), and some mixed lettuce. See, my logic says that if you put lettuce in something, it stops it from being fattening. Hmm...

It was yum.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Monday Night Dinner

So, I went back to uni today. Woohoo. I know I said I'd be taking it more seriously this semester, but yeah...

Today, in between classes, I went down to Safeway with my friend An to pick up some rhubarb. Low Fat August is coming up, and I need to get as many of Nigella's eight rhubarb recipes out of the way before this happens. Also, rhubarb happens to be in season until about September, October at the latest, I think.

It was so funny, I had a kilo of these massive rhubarb sticks in a plastic bag, and I tried to shove them in my uni bag, so that I wouldn't look so gimp-like, carrying groceries around uni. But the rhubarb could only fit (just) when I removed the biggest book I was carrying - How To Eat. So I ended up carrying a cookbook around in my arms like a textbook, with these massive rhubarbs sticking out of my bag and bumping into people as I walked. And I thought I was going to be focusing on my studies this semester!

Rhubarb in the bag - they were actually covered in plastic today, but I took it off so you could see the lovely red colour.

So after all that, dinner!

66. Spaghetti Aglio Olio

This is from the One & Two chapter, and Nigella suggests it for a night when you're extremely exhausted. Perfect for me! I still haven't taken any down time to recover from last week's spate of going out, staying out, late night chats, cooking, and 3 consecutive nights of work. Anyway, back to the spaghetti... I tripled it to feed three of us. It's super easy, and super quick. I actually made it this evening whilst preparing other parts of my upcoming first rhubarb recipe. (Stay tuned...)

You simply turn some cooked spaghetti in some oil (I used extra virgin - with so few ingredients I assume you need the best quality), which you warm in a pan with some garlic and crumbled chilli peppers. I added chopped parsley, and we added grated cheese (pecorino for me, parmesan for my parents) at the table.

Spaghetti Aglio Olio

It's incredibly satisfying - tasty and warm and nourishing. It's a very simple, storecupboard standby dinner. Mmm...

Bring on Lady Marmalade…

In my attempt to get through all of Nigella’s Seville Orange recipes during their short season, I made Seville Orange Marmalade last week on Monday. And it was only today, a full week later, that I managed to eat it for breakfast.

My breakfast... a cappucino, a glass of soymilk, toast with vegemite, and toast with cream cheese and Seville orange marmalade.

65. Seville Orange Marmalade

Nigella prefaces this recipe with the admission that she has never made marmalade, but she has a friend who “swears it’s easy”. Not exactly confidence-inspiring, but I was prepared to give it a go.

The recipe says to boil 700g Seville oranges, in 2 litres of water until soft. Ok, so I poured the water over the oranges, let it boil, and went to watch an episode of Arrested Development. And then I came back…


It had boiled dry and had started to catch on the bottom of the pan. Whoops. Still unpeturbed, I ran to my How to be a Domestic Goddess for advice. (In the few years between How to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella seems to have increased her jam-making abilities extensively). And in that book, it just said to cover the oranges with enough water to let them float freely, rather than specifying an amount of water. So, I fired up the kettle and covered them generously with the boiled water. Then I let them boil until soft.

Still ok on the inside

Then you cut them up, remove the pips, boil them in some water, and chuck both oranges and pip-water in a pan with 1.4 kilos of sugar. Now, according to How to be a Domestic Goddess, you boil them until a drop of the marmalade placed on a cold saucer wrinkles when prodded. This should take about 15 minutes. I tested at 10 minutes, at 15, at 17, at 18… and never quite reached this mysterious setting stage. But by 20 minutes, the sludge in the pot was looking quite dark, so I gave up on the idea of discovering a setting point, and turned off the pan and let it cool, before spooning it into jars.

Pretty, huh?

This was all well and good until a couple of days later, when my mum tried to eat some for breakfast. The marmalade was rock solid!! SHIT.

I was all prepared for the marmalade to go the way of the rubbish bin and for me to start again, but my mum (now known as “Lady Marmalade”) wasn’t so easily put off. Unbeknownst to me, over the past couple of days, she was working on this marmalade. Firstly, she put the jars in a tray, and poured hot water up the sides to soften the jam. Eventually, it got soft enough for her to scrape out and into another pan. Then she added water, and put it on a gentle heat until it was all combined and fabulous.



P.S. The marmalade tastes great! The perfect balance between bitter and sweet. I think I cut the oranges up too thickly though – my mum said they should have been cut finer. But the most important thing about this is to just boil it for 15 minutes, like the recipe says, so you don’t get a big solid pile of crap like I did!

Friday, July 22, 2005

More leftovers…

Last night as we were inhaling that Victoria Sponge, I realized we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be able to finish it, and thought of Uncle Mike.

So I gave him a call, and we arranged for him and his wife Aunty Helen to come over for morning tea today.

Mum: So explain what this cake is.
Me: Well, it’s a Victoria Sponge with Seville orange curd, which I made myself, and mascarpone.
Aunty Helen: A Victoria Sponge is more a butter cake than a sponge cake isn’t it?
Me: Yes, because you don’t whip up the egg whites.
Uncle Mike: Well it’s a very nice cake, whether the egg whites are whipped or not.


Even Aunty Helen said it was a good cake – she’s not the type to mince words or lie, so it means a lot that she liked it.

Between the five of us (Uncle Mike, Aunty Helen, my parents and myself) we almost finished it. There’s just one piece remaining. Any takers? Get in quick, because my mum’s eyeing it…

And a little bit later, for my lunch…

I scavenged all the cold meat off the roast duck carcass…

The duck's dead... wrapped in plastic

And served it with some of that insanely good mayo and some salad.

Duck, seville orange mayo and salad


The Perils of Leftovers

A problem of exclusively making lots of Nigella recipes is that, due to her enormous portions, there will almost always be too many leftovers. Over the past four days, we accumulated a piece of
cidered mackerel, some cabbage with caraway, half a roast duck, a bowl of Seville orange curd, half a Seville orange curd tart, and some petit pois à la francaise.

So for tonight, I said… “Stop the madness! I’m not cooking! We’re having leftovers!”

The plan was to make a Victoria Sponge, filled with Seville orange curd and mascarpone (similar to a suggestion from How to be a Domestic Goddess). And for dinner, I’d make some mayonnaise with Seville orange juice, to serve with the cold duck, as per Nigella’s suggestion in the “Foods in Season” section of the Basics etc. chapter.

63. Victoria Sponge
64. Mayonnaise

I made the regular-sized (not mini) Victoria Sponge in the afternoon. I’ve never made one before (don’t forget, I’m not English), and was surprised at how lovely it was! It just smells so yummy and cakey and homey. And when you take them out of the oven, they’re so much lighter and softer than the cakes I usually make. I sprinkled the top of one of the cakes with vanilla sugar as it cooled, just to increase the aroma of domesticity.

I have to admit, my decorating skills are a bit retarded – I wasn’t sure which way up the cakes should go, and um-ed and ah-ed a bit, flipping them a couple of times whilst spreading the filling, which meant I had to add yet more curd and mascarpone over the top to hide the evidence of my excessive flipping. It still didn't look "finished" though... and I wasn't sure what to do about it...


Then I got started on the mayonnaise.

Making mayonnaise is the most tedious experience I’ve ever had. It just takes ages, and you have to stand there adding the oil drop by drop. Yawn! Unfortunately, it actually curdled once I'd added all 300ml of oil. Even worse, my parents were superhungry, and in the time it took me to make my mayo (aka curdled mess), they'd made rice, a mushroom omelet, and a chicken curry, and had started eating!

I was going to try and fix the mayo, following Nigella's instructions of starting with a fresh egg yolk and slowly beating in the curdled mess. But by this stage I was so tired and over it that I left the mayo for the moment, and changed plans. I ended up raiding the fridge, and microwaved the leftover mackerel and cabbage, and some petits pois.

Me fixing mayo after dinner - face down to hide seriously pissed off expression.

But you know what? In the end it was totally worth it! I went back to the mayo after dinner, whilst my parents were washing up, and it worked out fine. I tried a teensy bit with a strip of cold duck, just to make sure it was ok - it was heavenly. It's that kind of dreamily thick, creamy mayo that you get in Amsterdam to have with fries.

"I've seen them do it man, they fucking drown it in that shit!" - Vincent Vega

I'm crazy for this type of mayonnaise - I just totally love it. You can get it at the Belgian Beer Garden in the city. And I remember eating it with fries on the Markt in Brugge. Mmm... we'll be having the duck with mayo and salad for lunch tomorrow... can't wait! Maybe I'll indulge and pick up some fries too...

Mayo - Yeah, baby, yeah!

So, the mayo was finished, the dishes were done, and we had the cake for our supper / dessert / evening tea. At the last minute, I decided that some fresh strawberries would complement the citrus flavour (which they did), and more importantly, hide the dodgy icing job.


My brother and I had tea, whilst my parents had coffee. This cake is so, so incredibly good!! It was light and fluffy and just a lovely, lovely cake. I've found that when people start learning to bake, they tend to go for the most indulgent, richest, (usually chocolate) cakes they can find. And cakes in restaurants and cafes seem to be always getting more chocolatey, bigger, richer, denser, sweeter... (Have you seen the cake cabinet at Cafe Greco? Yurgh!) And in this constant quest for increasingly indulgent cakes, the pleasures of a simple, fresh and tasty sponge cake can often be forgotten.

Victoria Sponge on the inside

We ended up pigging out and eating half the cake between us. (It's rather large). Love it. Then Dad and I went for a brisk walk. (PS I had a slice of Seville orange curd tart in the afternoon too... God, I need Low Fat August!)

Dad: munch munch... Oh wow... munch munch... this is a fucking good cake... munch munch... yeah, munch munch... good cake.. munch munch... mmm cake....

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wednesday Night Dinner – A Seville Orange Orgy

Yes, the Seville oranges are now in season. And I’m excited. Maybe a little too excited. I saw them for the first time last week at Victoria Market and snapped up 2.5 kilos, ready for Seville orange action.

I actually attempted making Seville Orange Marmalade the other day, but it didn’t work out. Stay tuned for a post on that disaster.

Tonight’s dinner, however, was the “Seville Orange Orgy” (so named by DG), and it was much more successful than the marmalade.

58. Scallops with Bitter Oranges (Basics etc.)
59. Canard à l'Orange (Basics etc.)
60. Petits Pois à la Francaise (Cooking in Advance)
61. Seville Orange Curd Tart (Weekend Lunch)
62. Shortcrust Pastry (Basics etc.)

My brother and I went to Box Hill today to pick up all the supplies, and I started cooking at around 4:30. Yes, that’s right, I started making pastry at 4:30, and the curd at 5:00pm… cutting it very very fine time-wise. Eeek.

The scallops and ducks come from the Basics etc. chapter, and are basically suggestions on how to use the seasonal Seville oranges.

For the scallops, you fry them in some butter for a minute on each side, then the corals, then deglaze the pan with Seville orange juice. Nigella says to serve them with watercress, but as watercress isn’t in the shops at the moment, I used some mixed lettuces.

Scallops with Bitter Oranges

Mmm… this was so delicious! Scallops are my favourite seafood, and I managed to find fresh ones on the half-shell today, which are so much better than frozen.

For the duck (I made two so we could have leftovers), you shove half a Seville orange in the cavity, and brush with a mixture of Seville orange juice and honey. Now, about the ducks themselves – Nigella says to use a mallard, and in fact DG warned me that I had to use the right species of duck.

“Don’t use the Peking duck duck as it’s too fatty and won’t crisp up.”

However, I don’t think our Australian butchers are quite as illustrious as the English ones, and the only ducks I could find at the poultry shop, without ordering them specially, were generic roasting ducks, species unspecified. (And I think that the ones I got were the “too fatty Peking duck” ducks). See, Nigella says 40 minutes at 210c for a duck, whereas the duck packet said something like 30 minutes per kilo plus an hour at 180c. I ended up using Nigella’s times and temperatures, but got worried about them burning before being properly cooked, and turned the heat down about halfway through. They cooked through, but weren’t very crispy.

There’s also a recipe for Petits Pois à la Francaise in Feast, which I’ve made heaps of times and absolutely love. The only problem with those peas (cooked in stock), is the resultant unpleasant “stock-breath”. However, How to Eat's Petits Pois are made stock-free. Fab! Even though you can make them a few days in advance (thus reducing the workload on the night of your dinner), I didn’t plan very well, and just made them tonight for tonight.

The ducks were really tasty, and we hacked at them hungrily with hands and knives (none of us are brilliant carvers).

Dad: ripping out a duck leg and putting it on his plate... F*#&! This is hot!

I prefer the How To Eat peas to the Feast ones. Yum. I’m so obsessed with peas right now.

Double Duck (what am I supposed to do with the neck? Do I cut it off or tuck it under?) + Petits Pois à la Francaise

Ducks from the rear

Dessert was the Seville Orange Curd Tart. FYI, for the pastry, I used half vegetable fat, half butter, because we had some vegetable fat sitting in the fridge. The pastry was flaky and light. Nigella suggests either shortcrust or sweet pastry, and I opted for the plain shortcrust. I think, though, that I'd prefer a sweeter, more biscuity pastry for this type of pie. The pastry-making process was, again, no drama. The only problem is that my flan tins are too large for Nigella’s recipes, so I’ve ended up with very thin tarts that can’t support their filling. I’ve got to go shopping for a new one, as there are quite a few tarts in How to Eat.

Making the curd is quite similar to making custard, which made me panic a little, but it wasn’t too difficult. It’s a mixture of eggs, extra yolks, sugar, Seville orange juice and zest, and butter, which you stir over a medium heat until it thickens and boils. I was being too timorous to let it boil properly, (didn’t want it to curdle) and just stopped when it got thicker. I then poured it into the pastry case, but I was worried the curd wouldn’t set, so I stashed it in the fridge until dessert time. Also, because of the thinness of the tart, I’ve got quite a bit of filling leftover, like a small bowlful… I might make a Victoria sponge or something to use up the rest.

The colour of the curd is fabulous…

Colour - very intensely orange

Tart – quite thin, and not terribly even

Gooey pie with double cream

I loved the vibrant, intense taste of the tart, but it was actually very, very sour. Perhaps my oranges were exceptionally sour or juicy. However, the tartness was offset easily, with a spoonful of double cream. I knew that double cream would be just right, because the mini lemon tarts that we serve at work have a quenelle of cream on top, and extensive taste-testing on my part has shown me that the sharpness of the filling is wonderful against the bland fatty cream.

Tonight's dinner was lovely, but definitely not something that can be whipped up for quick midweek meal. Thank goodness it's holidays now. I'm actually very tired now - 4 straight days of work, and very little sleep on Monday or Tuesday nights. After preparing that huge meal, I'm quite ready to pass out under the kitchen table.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Monday Dinner

I know I should save the Fast Food recipes for non-holiday periods, but we had creme fraiche in the fridge and I need some way to use it up.

55. Mackerel in Cider
56. Cabbage with Caraway
57. Buttered Apples

So, mackerel. My usual fishmonger in Box Hill used to have "greasy mackerel", but not today for some odd reason. So I wondered over to a different one, and picked up some "Spanish mackerel", which comes in great big whopping cutlets. I took two tail pieces, and made the fish-guy cut them into fillets. (We kept the bones though, for future stock-making purposes).

The method is similar to the Chambery Trout, that is, you put the fish pieces in a dish, pour the alcohol over it (with some sliced shallots in this case), cover it tightly with foil and bake it. Nigella says to remove the skin once you've cooked it, but it was too difficult to remove cleanly, (and was too hungry to be arsed) so I just flipped the fish over. Not that we care about fish skin; we always eat it. The cider I used was a single bottle of Strongbow Dry ("Get it any way you can"), because that was all I could find at Safeway.

Nigella suggests cabbage as a side dish, or potatoes and spinach, or watercress and fennel. I chose cabbage because it's a separate recipe (therefore one more off the list). More importantly though, we love cabbage! The cabbage is well easy - shred it in the processor, stir fry with caraway seeds, pour stock over and simmer away.

Once the fish is cooked, you set it aside, and pour the juices from the dish into a small pan, and simmer it down with some double cream or creme fraiche. I used creme fraiche, because it was leftover from an onion tart. You're supposed to strain the little pieces of shallot out before you serve it, but I forgot. This wasn't a bad thing though, I love their oniony taste and texture.


Mackerel in Cider with a glass of cider in the background - Dad drowned his cabbage in tabasco sauce, but I forgave him.

Dad: I love this, this sauce!

He then drowned his fish in the sauce, and I decided against telling him that it mainly consisted of 60% fat creme fraiche.

Dessert! Buttered apples! This was my chance to shine! (This is the kind of stuff I get paid to make for hours on end at work, see). Put butter in a pan with some apple pieces, let them brown, then sprinkle with sugar and let it all bubble and brown into a deliciously sweet caramel. Nigella doesn't suggest flambeeing it, but seeing as I'm a professional flambee-chick, I really couldn't resist.

To flambee, I wouldn't bother faffing around with heating brandy in a pan, lighting it and pouring it over, as I've read in some books. Just get the pan really, really hot, then pour some brandy around the circumference of the pan, and tilt the pan so the fire comes into contact with the liquid. WOOOOSH!

Flambee baby - you can't really see the flames in the photo, but trust me, it happened!

Served with my home-made vanilla ice-cream, melting creamily into the sauce. Mmm... delicious! The tart apples (Granny Smiths) against the supersweet sauce is wild... but a warning. Once the apple's gone, the sauce is just too intensely sweet. I'd already had two coffees today, but after a spoonful of apple-less sauce, I needed a third coffee, immediately, to cut through the sweetness.

To conclude, the mackerel in cider rocks! (Heaps better than chambery trout!) And the apples are great too! Flambeeing is fun. Give it a go!

I've just read the entire Christmas section...

... I think... I'm... going... to cry!

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Day After Mum’s Birthday

This morning when I got up at eleven o’clock, my parents were just heading out the door. So I had a lazy morning, pottering about the house and going on-line. And at about midday, they came home and surprised me with a gift to say thank-you for last night’s meal. And guess what it was! A set of cream Living Kitchen cappuccino cups! Wow! It was totally unexpected, and exactly what I wanted!

So I made coffees for my mum and I, and made good use of the egg-shaped saucers.

Cappucini with Teddy Bear Biscuits and Hobnobs. It’s all about the biscuits.

And for lunch I made soup out of the leftover pumpkin purée (Nigella says it makes wonderful soup), by adding boiled water and three-quarters of a stock cube. It was really good, especially with crusty baguette.

Pumpkin Soup

And this has absolutely nothing to do with How to Eat, but here is a close-up of my shoes…

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Happy Birthday Mum!


Pea and Garlic Crostini
Roast Pepper with Green Olive Paste Crostini
Onion Tart with Green Salad and Sourdough Baguette
Roast Rockling, Pumpkin Purée and Mixed Mushrooms
A Moorish Cake

This is the birthday dinner I made for my mum. I spread out the workload over two days. Yesterday I made the cake, prepared the pastry and onions for the tart, roasted the pumpkin, and roasted the garlic for the pea crostini. And today, I did the rest!

48. Onion Tart
49. Rich Shortcrust (Basics etc.)

The first thing I did for this was make the pastry, following Nigella’s method in the Basics etc. chapter for rich shortcrust pastry. There’s really not that much to say about the pastry-making process, except that Nigella’s method is really stress free. (Although to be perfectly honest, sorry, I’ve never found making pastry to be intimidating, and I’m not exactly sure what all the fuss is about. Maybe I’ve just been very lucky and always come across very well written recipes, with clearly set-out instructions.) Ooh, but I did cut my finger opening the plastic crème fraiche tub.

Now, the onions. They’re sliced very finely and cooked to a fine brown mush. When you pour some Marsala over and let it bubble away, the smell is amazing.

Delicious Tangle of Onions

So, if you do this the night before, on the day itself, all you have to do is blind bake the case, add the onions, pour over a mixture of eggs and crème fraiche, and bake again. Easy! For blind-baking, I used an old packet of lentils which I bought a few years ago and never used.

50. Pumpkin Purée

The recipe says to wrap each piece of pumpkin, buttered, in foil and bake them. I had wrapped about half my pumpkin pieces when I ran out of foil. Disaster! But luckily we had some plastic Glad Oven Bags, so I put the rest of the pumpkin in them. I’d never used those bags before, but it says they’re ovenproof on the packet. They were fine, better than the foil, in fact.

Pumpkin in Glad Oven Bag. (Actually, it's butternut squash, because I'm too uncoordinated to chop up a large pumpkin.)

Once they’re cooked, you scrape the flesh out and beat it with a wooden spoon. I cooked the pumpkin last night, puréed it this morning, and re-heated it just before we ate it.

51. Mixed mushrooms

I cooked these this morning, and reheated just before serving. It’s a mixture of porcini, button, Swiss brown, shitake and field mushrooms, cooked in butter, with garlic, shallots and sherry. (I have no idea where to find chanterelles or trompettes de mort, despite a lengthy Google-search last week!)

Look at this enormous field mushroom in my hand!

After cooking it, it looked like an intensely-flavoured ugly black sludge, which was quite worrying, as I wasn’t sure how fussy my parents’ friends were. Or if they even liked mushrooms for that matter. Breathe, Sarah, breathe!

52. Pea and Garlic Crostini

All the crostini recipes (there are eight) involve thinly sliced, oiled-dabbed slices of baguette, which are toasted in the oven and then covered with a topping. My bread of choice was sourdough baguette from Laurent (bought yesterday), which I transformed into crostini at about 6pm (guests arriving at 7:30pm).

This filling is sorta like the upmarket mushy peas. But this one has oven-roasted garlic (done last night, with the pumpkin) in it. How I love peas!

Pea & Garlic Crostini – how very GREEN... it's a Miss Sixty shirt in crostini-form

53. Roast Pepper with Green Olive Paste Crostini

I chose this because my mum loves roast capsicum (aka peppers). And it’s supposed to be easy.(Nigella says to use store-bought roasted peppers and olive paste). However, I enjoy roasting peppers, so I did them myself. Furthermore, I couldn’t find any olive paste at Coles! I’ve since learnt that you can get it at Harrods, in London. Useful. It is my dream one day to be have the means to do all my food shopping at the Harrods Food Hall. But for now, I’ve got Coles Box Hill to deal with. What I could find, however, were these tins of green olives stuffed with anchovies, made by Carbonell. So I bought a couple of them, drained them and whizzed them up with a few teaspoons of crème fraiche (thus undercutting the sharp saltiness), to approximate what I imagine to be green olive paste. It looked khaki, and tasted fabulous.

Roast Pepper with Green Olive Paste

So, people arrived around 7:15-7:40, and were standing up, talking and munching on crostini until about 8:15.

Uncle Eric: You know ah, I don't like this green thing... peas. And I don't like capsicum.

Er, thanks Uncle Eric.

Uncle Richard: Aiya, you should try it. You don't know what you're missing. These are nice... munch... I like the capsicum, I like the peas.

Aw... let's invite Uncle Richard over more often!

Then, it was time to eat the pie. I stuck the eight grown-ups in the dining room, whilst the “children” – my brother (23 years old), our friend Tim (22) and I (21), were a bit more laid back in the kitchen. Stashing the guests in the dining room instead of the kitchen (which is where we usually eat) also meant that I could prepare the main course without being under the watchful eyes of my parents’ friends.

Aunty Ee-Ling: Sarah, you cooked all of this yourself? Wow, we should introduce you to my sister-in-law's sons, quite cute you know.

Dining room table set for grownups (8 of them) – baguette & bread rolls, onion tart, salad with basic dressing

Onion Tart close up

The onion tart is nice. The pastry is quite light and flaky, if a bit floury (my fault, probably), and the onion flavour is lovely. Also, because there were eleven of us, we only got small pieces – which I think was a good move, as I think it could get a bit rich in larger quantities. Mum absolutely loved it though - success!

Anyway, whilst everyone was eating my pie, I got started on the main course.

54. Roast Monkfish (I used rockling fillets)

According to the recipe, you fry the fish on either side before chucking it in the oven. I tried frying the first couple of pieces, and after two minutes of painful oil splatters and my fish not getting brown at all (so what’s the use in frying?), I gave up and just bunged all the pieces straight in the oven.

Removing fish from oven... check out my shoes

OK, so huge apologies to everyone… I was so frazzled (moi, frazzled?) but I didn’t get a picture of the whole table with the fish, pumpkin and mushrooms on it. And it did look lovely. Imagine me, graciously placing down the plate of white fish, the dish of orange pumpkin and the dish of black mushrooms on the table, smiling, saying “Enjoy your meal!”, and teetering delicately back into the kitchen in my high heels…

…then picture me, thirty seconds later, running from the other end of the kitchen, bursting into the dining room, exclaiming, “OH SHIT! I FORGOT TO TAKE A PHOTO! Mum, quick! Your plate still looks good! Give it here!”, and yanking it from her to quickly snap a pic.

Fish with parsley, mushrooms, and pumpkin puree

One plate - love the colour combo

Fish good. Pumpkin good. Mushrooms… incredible! It’s all about the porcini flavour. Despite my earlier doubts about our guests’ possible reactions to the mushrooms, they were the most popular thing all night. Everyone went back for seconds, and the dish was cleared. The clearing of a plate is always a good sign, and it’s even better when Nigella-quantities are finished!

Ooh, and don’t forget when you make this yourself, to use bread to mop up the black and delicious mushroomy juices. Preferably do this alone, straight from the pan once you’ve transferred the mushrooms to a serving dish – cook’s treat.

Dad: Oh that fish was fantastic. But you know what was really good? Those mushrooms! You know me and mushrooms, I can either take it or leave it… but those were good!

Aw, shucks Dad!

So after eating, everyone just sat around, talking, drinking and laughing. And then it was time for cake. The cake was very moist, and absolutely delicious! I actually think it's better than the Clementine Cake. And that blood orange syrup is absolutely insane...

Look at that red, red syrup

Mmmmmm – how I love that syrup.

My brother was unusually quiet all night. Well, he was up til 4:30 last night playing Tekken 5(tsk tsk), and had to get up early this morning for our tradition of birthday breakfast noodles, and then had an eight-hour shift during the day. But when he ate that cake...

Daniel: AWWWWWESOME cake. Well done.

So, despite all the "adventures" of trying to get all our supplies for the night, it was a fun and relaxed dinner! Phew!

Mum & I – Happy Birthday Mum!